THE government has been challenged to appoint a “Coastal Powerhouse minister” to champion the maritime sector that makes up a huge slice of the Solent’s economy.

The call came at the start of Seafarers Awareness Week from Maritime UK, the umbrella body for Britain’s £46billion maritime sector.

The minister would be responsible for improving the lives of the three million people living on Britain’s coast, who may be worst hit by the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Maritime UK says the sector is worth £3.3bn in the South East, employing 40,200 directly and supporting 265,400 jobs in the supply chain.

Previous figures have said marine and maritime account for more than a fifth of Solent’s GVA (gross value added), supporting 40,000 jobs and more than 3,000 businesses.

Before the pandemic, forecasters at CEBR said maritime jobs would increase by 15 per cent until 2023, creating 30,000 new roles. Maritime UK says there is cautious optimism that this growth is still achievable in the medium term, driven by a commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The green maritime sector is predicted to be worth £12billion by 2050, delivering a £550m boost to the economy.

Harry Theochari, chair of Maritime UK, said: “We are calling on government to create a minister for the Coastal Powerhouse, a move that would help turbo-charge the development of our coastal communities.

“With the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine, we have seen what is possible when a minister is held accountable for the economic development of a certain region.

“Coastal communities have been some of the hardest hit in this crisis, and we need accountability to ensure the ‘left behind’ are not left behind once more.

“There is a fantastic opportunity here. Coastal communities can be at the heart of massive new growth opportunities: increased global trade through our ports, new green maritime technologies, moving freight off the road and rail network to coastal and inland shipping, advanced manufacturing, modern shipbuilding and by encouraging more people to get on the water,” he added.

“As an island nation, and with a global ocean economy predicted to be worth £2.4trillion by 2030, where better to look for exciting new growth opportunities than in our coastal communities.”