I was pleased to read at the start of last week about the attention being given to boosting trade between the North East and Scandinavia by neighbouring authorities as well as regional MPs.
There used to be a very popular direct and regular ferry link to Scandinavia from North Shields. In its last twenty months over 275,000 passenger trips were made between North Shields and Western Norway. This is in addition to the freight demand for the route which saw fluctuating performance in the years leading to its cessation, but a significant increase once the Gothenburg/Kristiansand service was discontinued.
This demonstrates to me that there was a demand for the link on both a passenger and freight service. Whilst the economic recession which took hold in 2008 onwards will undoubtedly have been a contributory factor in ceasing the service, I believe now is the time to look at whether the route is viable. We should look to maximise the opportunities and links be that via sea or air with our neighbours and I think now, as we come out the other side with strong export growth, we should consider the merits of re-opening this link.
Recently, as part of my business visits I met with a local firm, which specialises in distribution in Norway. The removal of the service has not stopped its growth, but has impacted on its business, both in terms of trade and cost. I am sure they will not be alone in terms of the ending of the service costing time, effort and potentially in some cases, jobs.
Re-opening the link would not only boost the tourism sector, one of the key objectives for the Local Enterprise Partnership and local authorities’; but it will also boost business growth to a market we once had extremely close ties to, and one which Scotland is making strong links with.
I know there is already some interest in reviving the ferry link but it would require high-profile leadership from a public and private sector partnership. I hope that in seeking to strengthen both our economic and cultural links with Scandinavia, re-establishing the ferry service is given the full consideration I feel it deserves.