A GOVERNMENT minister is meeting a Southampton marine company today ahead of launching a nationwide competition to improve the industry.

Ocean Safety, based in York Street, Southampton, specialises in service and hire of marine safety equipment like life rafts and lifejackets.

Its staff will have a summit with Business and Energy Minister Michael Fallon during the London Boat Show.

Mr Fallon is also expected to announce the opening of a new research and development competition at the show worth £3m to the maritime and marine sector.

The competition is called Vessel Efficiency II: better systems at sea and is run by the Technology Strategy Board.

It aims to build collaboration across the marine and maritime sector, strengthen supply chains and create opportunities for smaller businesses.

Mr Fallon said: “The marine industry is of vital importance to the UK economy, contributing around £19 billion each year, and employing 367,000 people.

"We want to encourage the very best in creativity and innovation within the industry in order to ensure its long-term success and global competitiveness.”

Board chief executive Iain Gray added: “There is huge appetite among UK companies in the maritime and marine sector to deliver innovation, particularly in achieving more low carbon and efficient systems. The number and quality of proposals submitted last year was excellent and we look forward to receiving a positive response to this new competition.”

The county will have a strong presence at the eight-day extravaganza, being held at the Excel Arena.

Hampshire’s America’s Cup winner Sir Ben Ainslie will return to the show with his JP Morgan BAR AC45, while a number of new vessels will make debuts.

Over the course of the event there will also be top sailors competing in regattas, yacht races and an Adventurous Cruising Zone, where visitors can pick up tips from industry experts.