Publication of the Support for Maritime Training (SMarT) review

Circular No: NP/0113/17


Our ref: S3/4/17

19th July 2017

Dear Colleagues

Publication of the Support for Maritime Training (SMarT) review
Further to circular no. NP/0173/15 of 22nd September 2015, recommendation nine of the Maritime Growth Study (MGS) called on Government to review its Support for Maritime Training (SMarT) scheme for sea-going trainees, officers and ratings. The Government commissioned private consultants Frazer Nash and Oxford Economics to carry out this work and the findings were published online yesterday, here:

The SMarT scheme is the main source of public funding for training UK-based merchant seafarers, worth £15m annually, although the vast majority is allocated to training officer cadets. Despite this, the c£110,000 per year provided for ratings training through SMarT 3 and SMarT 5 has not been fully taken up by employers over the past five years, as revealed in written answers to MPs in the RMT Parliamentary Group.

Your union provided evidence as part of the SMarT review and it is encouraging to note that the first recommendation to government is that the SMarT fund is retained and funding level increased, in order to develop and increase the number of UK based and trained ratings, as well as officers.

Furthermore, recommendation seven states that the Government should, as a high priority: “Review and refine the [SMarT] training scheme for ratings to ensure a flow of high quality seafarers.” And recommends the following specific actions to improve and increase ratings training, not limited to SMarT:

•    Raise the funding per rating trainee (for watch ratings & general purpose ratings) to provide an incentive for industry to increase training numbers.  
•    A clarifying note should be sent to trade bodies and companies claiming tonnage tax, explicitly illustrating the option in tonnage tax of replacing cadets with trainee ratings. This could be by using a worked example, stating the preferred training pathway, stating the implications for at-sea training (e.g. greater provision of berths required) and highlighting the available funding.
•    SMarT funding should be made available to facilitate the professional development of ratings to more senior rating roles (i.e. in addition to the rating to officer conversion). Experienced British senior ratings are highly regarded by industry and this will strengthen the UK’s ability to provide high quality senior ratings. This will require further work in consultation with trade bodies to develop this case.  
•    Whilst tonnage tax issues lie outside the scope of this review, we suggest that consideration be given to allowing more flexibility within the rating tonnage tax option than the current restriction to Able Seafarers (for example, extend to watch ratings and general purpose ratings). The Post Implementation Review after the initial trial of the tonnage tax Minimum Training Obligation for ratings should consider the type of ratings training covered and the most appropriate rating: officer ratio.

Whilst the terms of RMT’s SOS 2020 campaign make it clear that UK seafarers and future ratings do not have time for long, drawn out reviews or ‘clarifying notes’, the recommendations of the SMarT Review provide an effective point of political pressure which the union is in the process of applying to the Shipping Minister, John Hayes MP. In doing so, your union recalls the words of the Shipping Minister during the parliamentary debate on the future of the UK maritime sector on 12th January this year when he said: “We need to recruit and train more British seafarers. It is as simple as that.”

The value for money that SMarT funding represents was also assessed as part of the review. The review could not say whether SMarT funded ratings training constitutes value for money due to ‘factors which are more difficult to quantify’ but helpfully states: “The value for money of SMarT 3 and 5 [ratings training routes] therefore rests on a political judgement of whether the government wishes to continue to invest in the training of seafarer ratings to maintain a merchant naval capability which can be operated without reliance on non-UK seafarers.”

It is clear that on its own, SMarT funding cannot hope to reverse the decline in the training and employment of UK ratings. But it can make a higher and more consistent contribution than it currently does. In that sense, the review is of use to the union’s SOS 2020 campaign and we will be using it to lobby industry, MPs and the Shipping Minister to take immediate action to significantly increase the training of new deck, engine, catering and hospitality ratings.

It would be appreciated if you could bring the content of this circular to the attention of all branch members and you will be updated with further developments.

Yours sincerely

Mick Cash
General Secretary