The appropriate provision of marine aids to navigation preserves life at sea and protects our coasts from pollution, a task the Government entrust to the three general lighthouse authorities for the United Kingdom and Ireland. However, we must balance this responsibility against the efficiencies demanded of all public sector organisations and our continued drive to minimise cost.
In my written ministerial statement of 26 July 2010, Official Report, columns 75-76WS, I stated my desire to provide the shipping industry with long-term stability in the level of light dues paid for marine aids to navigation. In December 2010, I made a commitment not to increase light dues for at least three years; the industry welcomed it, and I remain committed to it, Official Report, column 24WS.
Over the last year, I have continued to work with the general lighthouse authorities to identify where it is prudent and appropriate to rationalise services, enlisting the expertise of the authorities’ joint strategic board to examine the question of pension liabilities and ever-closer working between the general lighthouse authorities themselves. We have identified and exploited considerable opportunities for greater efficiency, the most notable relating to aids to navigation monitoring centralisation, buoy yard reorganisation and staffing reductions. These have succeeded in lowering running costs substantially, against a targeted five year reduction of 17% the general lighthouse authorities now expect to achieve 19%.
Furthermore, the Department for Transport tendered and replaced part of the general lighthouse fund investment portfolio to facilitate its use for a general lighthouse authorities staff pension reserve; the new portfolio reduces investment risk and facilitates stability.
These initiatives and efficiencies have enabled me to freeze light dues this year. Since I became shipping Minister, there has been a real terms light dues reduction of around 10%.