Council leader slams Tory leadership hopefuls as Swansea considers freeport bid
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
The leader of Swansea Council said he didn’t have any confidence that Conservative leader hopefuls Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak would “do anything good for Wales”.
Cllr Rob Stewart made the comment during a discussion about Swansea potentially being in the mix for freeport status.
Cllr Lyndon Jones, leader of Swansea Conservatives, said the council should be sending out a positive message on this subject.
The UK and Welsh Governments are inviting applications for Wales’s first freeport, which should be operational by next summer. The freeport will be a special zone promoting high-quality jobs and regeneration, with simplified customs procedures, relief on customs duties, tax benefits, and development flexibility.
Cllr Jones said it was really important that MPs and Senedd members in Swansea and Gower supported a bid for the city to gain freeport status, as he said Ynys Mon MP Virginia Crosbie was doing in her Anglesey constituency.
Cllr Jones said he understood Wales would have two freeports and “it is so important” that Swansea is one of them.
In reply, the Labour council leader said he shared Cllr Jones’s ambition but he felt the details and position coming from the UK Government were unclear.
He also felt two freeports in Wales was restrictive, and he would like to see the whole of South Wales become a freeport area.
Cllr Stewart said his reading of the criteria needed to achieve freeport status “significantly disadvantaged” Swansea.
Liberal Democrat leader, Cllr Chris Holley, asked what Swansea would gain as a freeport, and wondered if it could be “an election gimmick”.
Cllr Holley said Cardiff was a freeport many years ago and it was “not very successful”.
He said he would want communities in Swansea to benefit from it rather than international trade, and asked if the freeport status criteria could be made available to councillors.
Cllr Stewart said the criteria was publicly available, but the UK Government in his view did not have a good track record in making fair and transparent decisions for schemes in Wales.
And, referring to the two candidates to replace Prime Minister Boris Johnson, he said: “I do not have confidence that either of them will do anything good for Wales.”
Cllr Jones said positivity was needed, referring again to the freeport lobbying of the MP for Ynys Mon.
“I think the negativity we heard tonight is not good news,” he said.
Wales Green Party
Earlier in the meeting, Wales Green Party councillor Chris Evans asked how confident the council was in getting UK Government funding to help Swansea become net zero in greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 rather than 2050.
In response, Cllr Andrea Lewis, cabinet member for service transformation, said councils were the “perfect vehicles” for administering support to householders to make their homes more energy efficient, but that the cutting of government grants had made this option less affordable.
She said there wasn’t a more important time for energy efficiency, and added: “We will continue to lobby the UK Government, but my confidence levels are on the floor.”
The new leader of the Conservatives will be announced on Monday, September 5.
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I think our politicians should treat the ‘gift’ of Freeports as a poison challice and insist that those in Wales must meet a whole host of high standards that the Tory Government wishes to drop. Richard Murphy has a good blog on the subject for those who are interested [https://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2022/07/25/freeports-are-a-threat-to-democracy-in-the-hands-of-sunak-and-truss/]