British Ports Association tells UK Government not to ‘enforce’ freeports on Wales
The British Ports Association has told the UK Government not to “enforce” freeports in Wales and Scotland, instead saying that they should be “implemented properly and fairly”.
Despite the Welsh Government saying they remain committed to sorting out the issue with the UK Government, Welsh Secretary Simon Hart has previously threatened to impose a freeport on Wales “come what may”.
Welsh Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said in July that they had “consistently attempted to engage constructively with the UK Government” but that the UK Government was pressuring them “to redirect its resources to deliver a UK Government policy priority”.
The British Ports Association said that the progress on establishing freeports in England was “heavily juxtaposed against the marked delay” in Wales and Scotland.
“Industry understands that talks between the UK government and the various national administrations of the UK have been unproductive and marked by disagreement and delay – that has ultimately put ports and businesses in harm’s way,” a spokesperson said.
“Ports have spent significant time and money in anticipation of bidding. Governments of all administrations owe them certainty and must not continue to allow them to get caught up in political tension.
“There has also been speculation of threats by the UK government to enforce the UK freeport model on the devolved administrations.
“However, this is not welcomed by industry as in this case, the Freeport package would not include devolved levers such as planning, enterprise and certain tax mechanisms. For freeports to be implemented properly and fairly, ports must have access to the same mechanisms or be resigned to being less competitive with ports in England, hindering the model ineffective in devolved regions.”
Welsh Secretary Simon Hart had said in May that the UK Government planned to go ahead with the plan for freeports in Wales whether the Welsh Government consented or not.
He said that it was a “source of some frustration that we have yet to get it over the line”.
“Now very clearly we would like to do that in collaboration with the Welsh government which is where the blockage currently resides but we can – and if necessary we will – proceed to deliver on our manifesto commitment come what may,” he said.
He added: “It’s a manifesto commitment, the only obstacle standing between us and delivering it is currently Welsh government”.
Goods that arrive into freeports from abroad are exempt from tax charges. These taxes are only paid if the goods leave the freeport and are moved elsewhere in the UK. Otherwise, they are sent overseas without the charges being paid.
The UK Government’s hope is that freeports could help regenerate deprived areas such as Anglesey.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said in March that they “will not be keen to sign up to a freeport proposal that leads, for example, to a reduction in environmental standards. The UK government has agreed conditionality with the Scottish government in that way”.
“We would look for joint decision making given that devolved and non-devolved responsibilities are at stake in freeports, and again the UK government has agreed joint decision making with the Scottish government.
“Then we’d look for the same level of funding for a freeport in Wales as is being made available to all freeports in England – that’s £25m available to a freeport in England, we’d expect to see the same level of funding for a freeport in Wales.