British Marine needs to be more meaningful than ever, says Ian Cooke

Ian Cooke was looking forward to his British Marine presidency (he took office in July). On his radar was making the new national agenda meaningful and fostering a new spirit of collaboration. But then Boats2020 happened, or rather, it didn’t.

“Frustrated is the best word for it,” Cooke says of how he’s feeling about the show’s last-minute cancellation. “On one hand, one government department says ‘go back to work, return to the office, go shopping’ and all of that encouraging stuff. On the other hand, the health department says ‘don’t go out at all’. It’s a nigh on impossible minefield to negotiate.”

It’s a field he’s trying to find a path out of. After an unsuccessful appeal to the Secretaries of State for Public Health and Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, British Marine is still seeking answers.

“We owe it to our members to get all the info we possibly can and make sure there is nothing else that could have been done,” Cooke says.

“We all went into the show with our eyes open and knew cancellation was a possibility, we all knew what might happen – but having it cancelled at the 11th hour wasn’t part of the plan.

“Everything, all conditions, were met, we were all ready to go. Even the safety advisory group had signed it off in the afternoon. It was shut down a few hours later.

“Frankly it is unfathomable. There is a clear public health concern, but when shopping centres across the road have twice as many people indoors, you have to question the logic.

“It was done purely as a result of concerns that number of cases could rise – not that they had, not that they were rising.

“If there was something specific being applied universally across the city, we’d understand it. But there are unmanaged situations inside premises like shopping centres.

“My personal view is that Southampton City Council made the decision in haste without understanding the effects on the marine industry.

“The conflict’s between the government wanting to get the economy going but unable to deal with the pandemic. Until the government sorts itself out, we’re stuck,” Cooke says.

With the pandemic packing such an economic punch, Cooke’s really keen on making sure that the industry understands the value of trade organisations going into the 2020s.

“Businesses need to understand that a seemingly irrelevant event or argument ‘to them’ can be relevant to the industry,” he says.

“The constant challenge is for individual companies to recognise this fact: our industry needs to be successful for companies to be successful.

“Take SIBS. The majority of the industry doesn’t exhibit, but the health of business across the sector is related to the number of boats sold at the show – the whole supply chain is affected.”

British Marine’s representational element is central and essential, he says, in such a diverse sector where individually companies are all quite small, but collectively pretty large.

“Sailboat manufacturers don’t have as loud a voice as powerboat manufacturers, and they don’t have as loud a voice as all manufacturers. Bring in retail, holidays, the charter industry, marinas etc., and suddenly we have a £4bn voice. And that becomes relevant and noticeable.”

That then is what Cooke sees as relevancy: British Marine acting as a body to collate opinions and act on them effectively.

“We can make sure our voice gets heard. If we don’t do it, who will?” he asks.

And he’s keen to foster not only one industry voice, but collaborations across the piece.

Cooke cites two projects currently ongoing as exemplars of how this new-feel British Marine intends to develop. While he applauds the enthusiasm behind previous projects to increase participation in water sports, he notes that the organisation isn’t really set up to do this, but the RYA – consumer facing and in touch with a wide range of ‘end users’ – is, which is where the joint #summeronthewater campaign came from.

He says that the difference is between supporting those in a position to provide on water activities (British Marine members who may also be RYA training centres) and British Marine trying to provide those experiences itself.

“We represent the industry,” Cooke says, “so our approach has got to be a more intelligent way forward.”

With this in mind, he says that British Marine is collaborating with the Motorsport Industry Association on technology and research development to see how different industries can work together to mutual benefit.

“The world’s changing, industry is changing, and British Marine needs to change,” Cooke says. “As we evolve and grow, we need to stop, self-assess and check if it’s the right direction. That’s the process we’ve been through – and that’s the new approach and attitude.”

The new approach extends to training too.

“Talking to schools has set us on a learning curve on how to access young adults and make opportunities available,” Cooke says. In a previous role as chairman of British Marine South,
it became apparent that there is a skills shortage in the south, and a new approach needs to be taken to fill that gap.

“The really hard part of creating a successful workforce,” Cooke says, “is accessing the number of kids needed to make a real difference”. He’s realised from first-hand experience that there simply aren’t enough people with time available to give enough ongoing careers talks in schools, and a new approach is needed.

“We’re educating the educators,” he says. “We’re spending time with careers advisors whether Hampshire County Council in the south, or nationally, trying to make them aware of the diversity of opportunity in the industry. It’s an ongoing process and not an easy one.

“We then need advisors to point students in the right direction and then into a relevant qualification.

“We have to make everything we do at a level that is really meaningful,” he concludes.

Ian Cooke is also MD of C-Quip.

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One response to “British Marine needs to be more meaningful than ever, says Ian Cooke”

  1. Nick Vass says:

    BM is far too expensive for small and self-employed members of the marine industry and is out of touch.

    They are member-centric and not helpful when boat owners complain about a member’s services or goods. They close ranks to protect BM member.

    Sorry but BM needs a big shake up.

    Marine industry is not the gravy train that it used to be and members won’t be renewing subs just to get the SIBS discount.

    Boatshows and the UK marine industry has to evolve just like the rest of the world.

This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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