‘Extend freeports to entire coastline’ say Tory MPs the day after Welsh Government accepts one port
Conservative MPs have called on the new Prime Minister to extend freeports to whole UK coastline, just a day after the Welsh Government opened the bidding process for Wales’ first freeport.
Yesterday, Welsh Ministers said they had agreed to support freeport policies in Wales following the UK Government’s agreement that it would meet the Welsh Government’s demands.
But now a group of 13 MPs, including former leadership contender and Portsmouth MP Penny Mordaunt, has written to Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak to urge whoever wins the Tory leadership contest to extend freeports to the whole of the UK coast.
They said: “There are serious challenges facing the country – and whilst the UK coastline continues to attract millions of visitors this summer, for the people living there it can be a very different story.
“Our coastal communities have been amongst the hardest hit by the pandemic and will be hit further by the rising cost of living. Without urgent intervention they stand to fall even further behind.”
The MPs, including senior figures such as Nusrat Ghani, Bernard Jenkin and Sir Desmond Swayne, called for freeport benefits to be extended to the whole of the UK coastline and connectivity between the coast and the rest of the country to be improved.
They added: “Growing industry in coastal communities is vital to turn the tide. Industry roles, such as those in maritime, pay £9,000 more than the national average per year, and for every £1 generated by the sector, a total £2.71 is generated across the UK economy.”
A Welsh freeport will be a special lower-tax zone with the benefits of simplified customs procedures, relief on customs duties, tax benefits, and development flexibility.
The Welsh Government agreed to one on the condition that UK Ministers provide up to £26 million of non-repayable starter funding – the same as with the deals offered to each of the English and Scottish freeports.
They also said that they had “successfully argued” that a Welsh freeport will need to operate in a manner that aligns with the Welsh Government’s policies on fair work and social partnership.
Initially Wales was being offered just £8m to set up a Freeport. Wales’ former Welsh Secretary, Simon Hart, had also threatened to impose a Freeport on Wales without an agreement from the Welsh Government.
Communities Secretary Greg Clark said freeports were “already delivering benefits to businesses and communities across England”, and added he looked forward to seeing “similar benefits for Wales”.
The letter on freeports by MPs was organised by Maritime UK, which represents maritime industries and last year published a manifesto proposing ways to boost the coastal economy.
Chief executive Ben Murray said: “The contest deciding Britain’s next prime minister is in its final days, but we have yet to see a clear plan for growth in our coastal communities from either candidate.
“Not for the first time, the people living in these communities could be forgiven for feeling forgotten.
“We have a real opportunity to put coastal areas at the heart of Britain’s green growth. But this will require an economic plan that treats these areas as places of business and trade, not just bucket and spade.”
A 2021 Survation poll of 1,000 young people in coastal communities found 49% planned to move away, with lack of jobs the overwhelming reason.
Yesterday’s news on the establishment of a freeport in Wales was welcomed by the Ynys Môn MP Virginia Crosbie who said today that she was “delighted” that the UK Government and the Welsh Government had launched the freeport bidding prospectus.
Anglesey’s bid will be headed up by Stena Line Ports.
Mrs Crosbie has campaigned for several years for Anglesey to be home to a freeport, she told the local democracy reporter service.
“I am delighted and thrilled we are now able to put forward a brilliant case for Anglesey to be a freeport and all that means for jobs and investment for our island if we are successful,” she said.
“For too long Ynys Môn has been neglected and now we have a chance to change this. This bid will be about levelling up, regeneration, decarbonisation, attracting investment in green technology and other industries and securing us as the Energy Isle for decades to come.
“The generous customs and tax incentives to attract businesses and seed funding to develop key infrastructure are huge game changers for us here on Anglesey, if we can get them.
“I am very pleased this transparent, fully competitive bidding process will be overseen by officials from the UK and Welsh governments with both having an equal say on the final selection.
“I am already planning my next moves to ensure Anglesey is chosen. I will be banging on quite a few doors and making quite a few phone calls as I do everything I can to support the bid and make sure we are successful.
“There’s a way to go and there can be no guarantees but I know Stena and others who want this freeport here on our island will do the best they can.”
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