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Ex-Marine Surveyor appointed New Maritime Minister

Published on: 20 February 2020

Kelly Tolhurst

As part of the Cabinet reshuffle, the Prime Minister has appointed Kelly Tolhurst MP, a marine surveyor by trade, as the new Maritime Minister. Kelly is also the MP for Rochester and Strood.

British Marine offers its congratulations and looks forward to working with the new Maritime Minister as part of the continued focus on the Government’s Maritime 2050 Strategy.

British Marine recently launched its own National Agenda which sets out how it will support and influence the future of our industry for years to come.

Over the coming weeks and months, we will continue to engage with the new Maritime Minister and MPs on our National Agenda to ensure we create a thriving industry which delivers amazing on water experiences for everyone.

In January 2016, British Marine interviewed Kelly Tolhurst MP as part of the British Marine magazine, a full extract is below. 

Most readers will have followed news reports of Rochester and Strood MP Mark Reckless’s change of allegiance to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in 2014. Few will have realised his successor is a qualified marine surveyor and director of a British Marine member company.

Kelly Tolhurst MP’s family own a boatyard and a Dunkirk Little Ship. She is a keen Dragon racing sailor on her favourite Medway waters. Not that much sailing is happening at present though; a relentless House of Commons schedule is keeping Kelly off the water, for now. “Being a small business owner I was at least used to long hours,” she reflects with a smile.

We’re meeting at Westminster, eight months after Kelly was elected. She originally had no ambition to enter the House of Commons – it was her passion for her hometown of Rochester that propelled her there, founded upon her life on and around the River Medway.

“I’m the daughter of boatbuilder Maurice Tolhurst and always wanted to do something in the marine industry myself. I helped my father with the boats at the yard from a very young age and learned how working in the leisure marine industry is a lifestyle and vocation.

“My father and I bought Skipper (UK) in the early 2000s to distribute Skipper’s Line paints and varnishes from Italy. I then retrained to become a marine surveyor and we run both companies from our family boatyard in Rochester.

“I became a councillor for Medway Council in 2011 and worked to get a River Medway strategy in place. We need to encourage economic development and improve leisure use to replace declining commercial activity. One success has been the restoration of Sun Pier, which now provides boat access to Chatham, below Rochester Bridge.

“It was Mark Reckless’s defection that triggered the next step. I thought ‘this is my hometown, if anyone is going to represent this area I want it to be me’. I put myself forward, lost the by-election but won the general election.”

Kelly hit the ground running with several important constituency issues to deal with but is determined to serve as an advocate for boating. “I understand the marine industry and want to represent it in Parliament,” she explains. “People think that rivers and the sea are complicated, so it’s good to have some members that understand how it works.

“Mark Garnier MP and I have set up an All-Parliamentary Party Group (APPG) for marine leisure. It’s early days but we plan to take forward issues within Parliament as well as provide British Marine and the RYA with access to parliamentarians.

“A key thing for me is making the Government aware of growth in the marine industry. Many companies within it might only have small numbers of employees, but they are still really important – especially in constituencies like mine where 74 per cent of businesses employ less than five people.

“We also need focus on riverside development, to ensure thought is put into future infrastructure and sustainability of marine businesses. In my constituency we are seeing a lot of riverside locations that were once ports or boatyards being developed for housing. Once it’s gone, its gone. We have to preserve what we have got and ensure it is valued.

“One of the challenges I’m seeing in my part of the country is the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) regulation governing dredging. I’m looking into the requirements that people are having to go through to maintain their deep-water moorings.

“Another thing I have learned, across different industries, is that a lot of small businesses believe they are not able to export. Many our marine organisations do very well internationally, but we need to ensure that all companies with the right products are getting them out.

“New exporters could be very important to the economic growth of the marine industry. Developing markets want European built boats and products and the British brand is well respected.

“My business exported to China. and UK Trade and Industry (UKTI) was extremely helpful. No business is too small for UKTI; if you have a product that you can sell overseas, then you should seek its help.

“I now serve on the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Select Committee and we are examining UKTI’s support for organisations and how it can be improved.

“Another strand is how to generate interest for more people to use our waters. They may consider a river as an obstacle for travelling around their area rather than understanding it can be very cheap to get into watersports and then appreciate what’s on their doorstep.

“Promoting access to water does take commitment from local authorities. I’ve been impressed with Brightlingsea and how the town there has improved the harbour so that more people get involved with it. I’d like to see that happen on the Medway, with local economic benefits.

“I’m here serving as an MP because I care about the Medway towns and want to ensure my part of the South East is as good as it can be. It needs to receive its fair share of investment and infrastructure delivery. We have a very successful port in Dover predicting increases in freight. Big new housing developments are planned.

“We must ensure that the marine industry is in the mix, to take up the opportunity of the extra population by offering leisure facilities and sustainable businesses that employ local people and preserve skills. We need to keep the new generation of boatbuilders and marine engineers in work. We also need colleges to offer appropriate training courses for marine apprentices.

“I’m starting by sorting my priorities and want to make the marine leisure APPG a valuable group within Parliament. One thing you can be assured of though – when my time ends as an MP I’ll be back in the marine industry!”