Joanna Richardson

Joanna Richardson

British Marine’s Senior Public Affairs and Policy Executive

Joanna Richardson’s appointment last year as British Marine’s Senior Public Affairs and Policy Executive was a neat squaring of the circle for someone who started her career with a passion for the water, as she explains: “I grew up in Torbay, in a family of hoteliers, but spent most of my time hanging around the harbour, rigging boats and became a qualified RYA sailing instructor as soon as I could. Whilst some people were pulling pints during their student years, I was out on the water teaching sailing and encouraging others into the sport. After graduating in politics, I raced across the Atlantic and worked on charter yachts in the West Indies.

First steps in politics

“One day, sitting in English Harbour Antigua, sipping my rum punch and reading about people back home getting real jobs, I thought perhaps it was time I also got a real job! It turned out to be a non-political role working in the heart of Westminster for the House of Commons’ Clerks Department where I learned firsthand about parliamentary procedures and the detailed work of committees. I then moved to work for the deputy chairman of a political party – his role was like that of a chief executive of the organisation which was getting ready for a general election. Once that was over, he went into government, and I worked in a PR company in Bristol for a while before taking a break to crew on a Dragon one design keel boat and sail in a World Championship regatta.

“Then it was back to the House of Commons, working for several senior MPs, including five years managing the office of the then Attorney General, Sir Nicholas Lyell. Nowadays MPs have a lot of staff, but then it was usually just me looking after his House of Commons office. I was kept busy, liaising daily with his Ministerial Private Office and managing the huge array of constituency casework.

“With over 10 years’ experience of working inside Parliament, it was Nick who persuaded me to run for election myself. That led to spending a year as a Parliamentary Candidate in Cornwall – a large rural constituency that stretched south from the Helford River, beyond Lands End out to the Isles of Scilly. Whilst the political winds were not in my favour that year, it was an amazing experience. I loved meeting so many people and having to get to grips with multiple topics. It led to me working as a Special Advisor for the Shadow Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Peter Ainsworth.

Into local government

“When Peter resigned, I decided it was time for a fresh challenge, so I lined up a place at Exeter University to move into teaching. However, en-route to the West Country I stopped off at West Berkshire Council in Newbury for an interview where I was offered a Policy Adviser role working on health and social care.

“My accidental shift into local government became more deeply embedded five years later when I continued to put my parliamentary experience to good use by working as Policy Adviser to the Leader of Hampshire County Council. I was there for 13 years until increasingly deep local government funding cuts gave me the perfect excuse to take another year out to do more sailing, once again crewing on a Dragon in the highly competitive European circuit.

“One very windy day, whist helping a friend sail a small boat from Southampton to the Isle of Wight, my phone rang – it was someone asking if I would be interested in a public affairs job with British Marine. I was delighted and threw myself into the interview task on how I’d run a public affairs campaign on the tricky topic of ‘end of life boats’. I learnt so much just preparing for that and I am still learning today.

Representation is vital

“Since taking up my post, I have been struck by the breadth of the public affairs role. Although an experienced sailor, I am otherwise relatively new to the industry, so it’s been a steep learning curve.

“Representation can be undervalued but I think it’s vital for the industry. Take the run-up to the next general election which is likely to be held next Autumn – we now have a few critical months ahead to listen to our members, work with our strategic partners, and try to inform and influence politicians of all persuasions.

“Other important tasks include monitoring what is happening within government and responding to calls for evidence that are relevant to our members. Taking an example, the Department for Transport (DfT) is considering banning the sale of new non net zero vessels. When we spoke to DfT a few months ago it was heading straight into a consultation phase. We drew their attention to the complexities around this topic and the Department has decided to step back and first issue a Call for Evidence before launching its consultation. This is important because the consultation will be a draft that reflects DfT’s views, whereas we want a chance to first inform that draft before it is put out for consultation.

Challenging policies

“We have also been dealing with the Scottish Government’s Visitor Levy Bill which, as drafted means marinas and other mooring providers, even voluntary sailing clubs, will have to start charging a tourism tax for people mooring their boats overnight, irrespective of whether boaters stay onboard overnight or whether onboard accommodation is even possible. Head of Public Affairs, Member Relations & Research, Brian Clark, and I are working closely with British Marine Scotland as we want ‘boat moorings’ removed from the Bill and have recently secured support of the Scottish Tourism Alliance and RYA Scotland in calling for this amendment.

“Another major government announcement was the next funding settlement for the Canal & River Trust (CRT) - £400m over a 10-year period from April 2027 which the CRT estimate would be a real term cut of 40 per cent. So, we are now seeking assurances from central government and from all the navigation authorities that there will be sufficient funding to keep the waterways fully open and safely navigable as we have members whose businesses depend on this. It is why we, together with the RYA and Inland Waterways Association (IWA), are part of a new action group – ‘Fund Britain’s Waterways’ – which launched in June. Crucially, we will continue to highlight the economic contribution that inland boating businesses make to local communities and the wider national economy.

Informing and learning

“Red Diesel has been another important focal point. Brian and I addressed The Yacht Harbour Association (TYHA) Marina Conference in May on this topic, reminding members of the need to abide by the latest HMRC guidance or run the risk of losing their RDCO licenses. We since followed this up with a members’ webinar with HMRC officials (see

“People and skills is another important priority for British Marine. Earlier this year, I organised a roundtable for boat builders to talk about workforce issues and challenges. We investigated details around the Skilled Worker Visa Shortage Occupation List, including whether there was a need for further changes and have also considered apprenticeship schemes.

“Some of my time is spent assisting members who are either seeking or opposing planning permission. That recently included assisting British Marine South in its stance against a large planning application for a gravel extraction site on the former airfield in Hamble.

“I am also supporting our Technical Team with developing British Marine’s Decarbonisation Programme. Earlier this year, our CEO Lesley Robinson met with the Maritime Minister, Baroness Vere, to make the case for differentiating appropriately between leisure marine and big shipping when planning the transition to net zero. The conversations will continue and have extended an invitation to the Minister to attend this year’s Southampton International Boat Show.

“I am now planning a series of round tables, starting with electric propulsion, and supporting infrastructure. We are gathering members’ views on the barriers and challenges they face in transitioning to net zero so we can feed this information back to the government and shadow ministers. I am also organising a meeting to bring together members at the forefront of new trends with boat clubs and growth in the coastal charter sector – again with the aim of understanding their ambitions and challenges so we know what action to take.

Need for member engagement

“We are also speaking with associations to ensure we understand key sectoral and regional concerns. It is all about identifying realistic asks that we can put to the major political parties for them to consider adopting in their own plans and to pursue beyond the next election.

“That provides just a small overview of the many things Brian and I tackle every day. It’s important we communicate what we are doing for members, but it’s equally important we hear from our members too. Representing the industry, associations and individual member companies is only as effective as the evidence we can present. This is why gathering case studies from our members and partners on what is happening on the ground is so helpful.  It’s the part of my job that I enjoy the most – meeting members, understand their issues and help ensure they are understood in Westminster.

Raise awareness

To highlight any issues of concern to your business or the wider industry, please contact Joanna at

Article first published, BM Magazine, Summer 2023