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Simon Hart claims colleagues of Mark Drakeford ‘mystified’ by his opposition to working with UK Gov on tax free port

28 Oct 2021 4 minute read
Simon Hart (left) by Chris McAndrew (CC BY 3.0). Mark Drakeford AM (right), picture by the National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

The Welsh Secretary Simon Hart has said that Welsh Government colleagues of the First Minister are “mystified” by his opposition to a tax free port in Wales.

Eight English ports are being granted controversial tax breaks – to “generate trade and jobs”, the chancellor has claimed – at a cost of £200m, in what has been hailed as a benefit from Brexit.

But Simon Hart said the Welsh Government “don’t want to come to the party” on the subject of setting up a freeport in Wales, and that he was happy to overrule them and go ahead with one anyway.

Speaking to the Welsh Affairs Committee he said that he would be justified in overruling the Welsh Government as it was a “manifesto commitment”.

In response a Welsh Government spokesperson said that it’s “deeply disappointing” that the UK Government have failed to “bring forward firm proposals for Wales” despite freeports being launched in England.

The spokesperson added that “any Welsh Freeport must receive the same financial support as the English sites”.

Simon Hart said: “I would urge colleagues of the First Minister who are less ideologically opposed – and some of them are – I’ve spoken to some of them in fact. They’re as mystified as I am, and I hope we can get back around the table.”

He added that it was a “tragedy” that Mark Drakeford wasn’t willing to go along with a freeport. “I think jobs are being lost to English freeports and I think it’s an ideological resistance,” Simon Hart said.

“It’s mystifying and I think it is political. We reserve the right and we would much rather not, as some colleagues would be pleased to hear, but we reserve the right to go down the route of a reserved freeport. We’ll do that if we have to – this is a manifesto commitment.

“I’ve said before in front of this committee that it’s a case of when not if. There’s always room for manoeuvre in these things but we’ve attempted to be as open for business as we can on this particular issue and I very hope we can persuade Welsh Government.

“It’ll be Michael Gove trying to persuade Welsh Government to re-enter the ring.

“The clock is ticking. The displacement argument that investment to Wales may be being lost to England is a very real threat.

Yesterday the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) said that freeports would fail to boost the UK economy.

“We have assumed that the main effect of the freeports will be to alter the location rather than the volume of economic activity,” its report says.

“So the costs have been estimated on the basis of activity being displaced from elsewhere.”

‘Deeply disappointing’ 

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “It is deeply disappointing that the UK Government have launched Freeports in England while failing to bring forward firm proposals for Wales.

“We have been clear that any Welsh Freeport must receive the same financial support as the English sites and that joint decision making is in place to ensure smooth delivery across both levels of government. It must be delivered in line with our fair work and climate policies to protect people and our environment.

“The UK government is fully aware it is not possible for one government to deliver this in isolation, and it is unfair to leave Welsh businesses in the dark indefinitely. No formal offer has been presented to the Welsh Government and we continue to urge the UK Government to resolve this as a matter of urgency.”

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Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
11 months ago

“Mystified” ? He knows damn well why, not just Drakeford but the entire Welsh government, is in opposition to freeports in Wales as proposed by the UK government. Benefits of Brexit ?? We were quite free to set up freeports while we were in the EU, in fact we did and then were scrapped for some of the reasons the Welsh government is in opposition to them ! I’m really getting tired of Hart’s rubbish.

11 months ago

More money for the English freeports, than has been offered to the ones in Wales and Scotland, has been a regular quote of both devolved Gov’s as reasons for the impasse. Hart will conveniently not mention this, as it does not fit with Tory rhetoric.

Kerry Davies
Kerry Davies
11 months ago

Yesterday the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) (created in shadow form by David Cameron and officially launched by the new Tory government in 2010) said that freeports would fail to boost the UK economy.

That isn’t some crazed leftie thinktank it is their own “ independent and authoritative analysis of the UK’s public finances.”

11 months ago
Reply to  Kerry Davies

Just moving the deck chairs around. Will just move jobs from one location to another at a cost of £200 m according to the ORB. There are also concerns being flagged up about potential corruption being an issue with Free ports.

11 months ago

I just wonder if those expressing doubt on freeports have any visited or had experience of them ? As a concept they have existed over a thousand years and across the world. Bad examplea certainly – but plenty more of good ones also. They do work – though only as part of local or regional spacial planning / and managed by local partnerships engaging the host community stakeholders.. The only real danger is that some centraly managed ones encourage an oasis effect on surounding areas. Folk need to look further than petty rows between Westminster and Cardiff Bay. On this… Read more »

Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
10 months ago
Reply to  Richard

If this is the only problem with freeports – their effects on the surrounding area – which could be managed, why were they scrapped? Freeports operate with little regulation and that leads to corruption and employee abuse.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
11 months ago

Is this the same Simon Hart who threatens Whitehall imposition if the Welsh Government doesn’t jump to his & their tune. Bloody fool! He’s no Welsh Secretary. but an English overseer to Wales. An antagonist, not a intermediate. A free port will not benefit Wales, especially under the current climate. Where England has numerous ports in the South & East to the European mainland and wider world , Welsh ports only serve one European nation, and that’s. Ireland. Our two major seaports are in the North West & South West, being Fishguard & Holyhead. Both were once a main routes… Read more »

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