Extend Freeports To More Regions, Government Urged

The British Ports Association (BPA) has said the announcement of eight new freeports in last week’s Budget was a welcome move, but it wants to see many more.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak listed East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe/Harwich, Liverpool, Humber, Plymouth, Solent, Thames and Teesside in his Budget speech as the sites for the new freeports.

However, while this may be highly beneficial for a shipping agent in Hull or Felixstowe, the BPA is concerned that unless more are established, many parts of the country will miss out on the benefits they will bring.

Chef executive of the BPA Richard Ballantyne commented: “We welcome this as a first tranche of freeports in England but there will be regions that are disappointed not to have been recognised.”

He described the choice of ports listed by Mr Sunak as “interesting” and pledged to keep working with ministers, who “rightly recognise” what such ports can do to create prosperity and underpin industries in coastal areas.

“It is important that the Government now considers how it can extend many of these benefits elsewhere if it is serious about its implementing its levelling up agenda”, Mr Ballantyne added.

He suggested that consideration should be given to ports that are “not successful” at present, but still play a key role in “supporting a number of growing sectors from logistics to offshore wind to tourism”. This could be done without formally making them freeports, but still providing some of the tax benefits.

The benefits of freeports have been much debated. As well as the BPA, they are backed by the right-leaning thinktank the Centre for Policy Studies, which predicted in a report last year that they could create 86,000 new jobs in Britain. 

However, freeports have their critics too. In 2019 an article in the Economist suggested they simply take trade away from elsewhere and noted that Britain used to have some freeports until 2012, with them being phased out without any notable fuss or complaints.