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Council chief says Freeport bid is the greatest opportunity she has seen in her career

01 Feb 2023 5 minute read
Port Talbot Waterside. Photo Neath Port Talbot Council

Karen Jones, the Chief executive of Neath Port Talbot council has described the bid for Freeport status as the greatest opportunity she has seen in her professional career.

The bid which was set up by Associated British Ports, alongside Neath Port Talbot Council, Pembrokeshire County Council and the Port of Milford Haven, was launched last year, with the aim of becoming Wales’ first free-port.

Free-ports are special areas within the UK’s borders where different economic regulations apply, such as tax incentives for eligible businesses within them.

They also offer simplified customs procedures, and streamlined planning processes to boost redevelopment in the area’s near to them.

Backers for the south west Wales region have previously claimed that their bid, known as the Celtic Freeport, could create more than 16,000 new jobs and generate up to £5.5bn of investment for the two areas.

Huge amounts of money

Speaking to the LDR service Karen Jones, said: “The Freeport bid will accelerate the opportunity that exists for the area to benefit from the developments in the renewable energy sector, with proposals to licence a development out in the Celtic Sea that will see a significant floating offshore wind-farm, with ongoing work to create and develop hydrogen technology as a replacement for fossil fuels.

“The bid that we’ve put in proposes that the port of Port Talbot would be ideally placed to manufacture and fabricate the structures for the turbines, and then the port of Milford Haven would be best placed to do the ongoing maintenance of the turbines.

“We estimate that the economic benefit of the Celtic Sea wind-farm will be something like £54 Billion pounds, so you’re talking about absolutely huge amounts of money, and what we want is to make sure that flows back in to the UK, and in to Wales in particular.”

“We also estimate 16,500 jobs could be created by this, and they would be new jobs because they’d support the new green industry that’s emerging. Because it’s co-located on the same site as Tata there is also an opportunity that this development could actually create work for the steel works and help to de-carbonise the steel works as well.

“Jobs are the big thing, with the economic benefit that comes from that, but for us we’ve got an area that has been really blunted by the decline of the mining industry, and I’m not aware in my whole professional career of an opportunity on this scale that can start to reverse the economic situation of our former mining areas, as well as keeping our brightest and best people in the county borough.”

Jones who has been the chief executive of the county borough since taking over from Steve Phillips in 2020 went on to discuss how a free-port could attract a number of new businesses to the area as well as how it could impact residents.

Tax concessions

She said: “A free-port gives tax concessions to new economic activity, so there’s an incentive for companies to set up there. For us then we’d get to retain business rates so we think we’d get around half a billion pounds over the lifetime of the free-port programme that we can use to invest in infrastructure, so that will enable us to create an even more attractive environment for bringing investors in.

“This won’t just be developments around roads and bridges and that type of thing though. It will also enable us to invest in skills and training because we are really keen that local people and local businesses can benefit from this.

“We’re mapping the supply chain right across the south west Wales region, but it’s also wider than that because the supply chain for this industry will need to be very significant, so many businesses across the whole of Wales would benefit.”

In terms of the timeline, Jones said with the results of the bid being released some time in the spring, it could mean work would begin as early as 2024 if successful.

Nptc Chief Exec Karen Jones. Photo Neath Port Talbot Council

She added: “For us we are clear that we think we have the most compelling bid because it’s linked to this particular opportunity around the floating off-shore wind-farm. The intelligence we’ve got indicates that it will probably be early March when we find out, so its not too far away.

“What has to happen then is because the free-port policy is very expensive, the treasury in London would want to be satisfied that the cost to the public purse is going to be justified by the benefits that we’re going to deliver.

“What we will have to do is compile a final business case where all of the detail of what we’re going to do across the two ports would need to be mapped out before the treasury will give a tick in the box to say they are satisfied, so there’d be a lot of work to do.

“We’d have to set up a free-port company to oversee the running of the free-port itself, but the two councils then would have control over the money so we’d also have to have a joint investment board where we’d have recommendation about where they want the investment to go.

“For me, I grew up in the Rhondda valley and I’ve lived through the decline of the mining industry and I’ve seen the impact that’s had not just on individual people but on whole communities, so I think if we can get investment of this scale in to the borough we can have a much brighter future.”

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Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
1 year ago

“Ten reasons why freeports are a bad ideaPosted on February 5 2021 I was asked yesterday if I might be available to discuss freeports on the media and what my ‘top lines’ would be if I did. These were what I suggested was wrong with them: 1) Freeports are bound to reduce the protection for workers. Light touch regulation always does in the end. Employers NIC is already going. Maybe it will be pensions next, and then what, as desperate measures are taken to make this policy work. 2) Freeports increase the risk of criminals using the port, whether for drug… Read more »

1 year ago

The article states that the bid could give NPT “Wales’ first freeport”, this is incorrect, as Cardiff had freeport status, but the company was dissolved after failing quite miserably, just like all the ones in England that failed and were closed down by the Tory gov in 2012.

Richard Jenkins
Richard Jenkins
1 year ago

The Chief Exec has badly misunderstood the purpose & value of Freeports.
she needs to read Professor Richard Murphy on this.

Dr John Ball
Dr John Ball
1 year ago

Here we go again. If the scheme is big with lots of telephone numbers it must be the next economic miracle – and we’ve had a few of those in Wales, haven’t we? The idea of freeports is simple enough; less red tape and taxation. Goods are delivered (by sea), worked on in some way and then exported by sea. Aside from the fact that freeports have failed spectacularly in the UK, this scheme needs careful examination. As was the case with Enterprise Zones (remember those?) many – perhaps all – businesses attracted to the freeport will simply move in… Read more »

1 year ago

Freeports are not for the average person. A few extra job for the rich to have a play place, no thanks. Irony is once forced to do customs checks due to brexit, we lost our real usable freedom from duty at the borders, for all.

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
1 year ago

The benefits of freeports are another one of those ‘Britannia Unchained’ delusions. Deregulation will benefit the rest of us – its just rubbish. It’s been tried in the past and failed. They are just a bad idea – they know and we know it.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 year ago

If there is money for the professional classes to scam there always will be folks to facilitate it…just look at all the EU funded white elephants there are around the place…now we can add all the crooked levelling up deals that are bound to follow recent events…

Last edited 1 year ago by Mab Meirion

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