UK Government handling of Wales’ low-tax freeport plans ‘chaotic’ say Labour
The UK Government has said that its planned freeport in Wales remained on course despite Labour saying that successive changes in ministers had resulted in an “appallingly chaotic” rollout.
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 set one up 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.
But Shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens told the Commons that in practice the arrangements had been “chaotic” because of problems within the UK Government.
“The Welsh government finance minister Rebecca Evans is now dealing with her sixth chief secretary to the Treasury,” she said.
“Can the Secretary of State explain how it is possible to progress the Welsh freeports prospectus with such an appallingly chaotic and unstable UK Government ahead of the October 31 budget announcement?”
Welsh Secretary Sir Robert Buckland replied: “I can assure her that the time that I have had as Secretary of State has been time well spent. Through the summer I made sure that the prospectus process for the freeport initiative was maintained. I worked with the then-secretary of state for levelling up to make that so.
“I can assure you we have not lost a beat in my time in office and the fact that there may be changes in personnel does not change the Government’s growth strategy, which remains on course and deserves I think the support of all sides of the House.”
Sir Robert and Ms Stevens had earlier paid tribute to the victims of the Aberfan disaster, which happened 56 years ago this week.
Different parts of Wales are currently bidding for the freeport designation.
Plans to explore the case for a ‘green’ freeport in south-west Wales were launched by a consortium last month, focusing on ports in the areas of Milford Haven and Port Talbot.
The consortium that consists of councils in Neath Port Talbot and Pembrokeshire, as well as the Port of Milford Haven and Associated British Ports, will now explore the potential bid.
A spokesperson on behalf of the consortium said: “Combining this potential with the region’s skill base, existing facilities and proximity to key markets offers a compelling argument for a potential freeport bid.
“A south-west Wales freeport could bring together the ports of Port Talbot and Milford Haven to unlock the widest possible opportunity for Wales and for the UK by accelerating investment and fast-tracking modern skills development for new green industries.
“It would also strengthen export opportunities while supporting the Welsh and UK Governments’ ambitions to drive economic growth.”
A bid for a freeport in Anglesey is also being headed up by Stena Line Ports.
The news that a freeport will be set up in Wales was welcomed by the Ynys Môn MP Virginia Crosbie who said last month that she was “delighted” that the UK Government and the Welsh Government had launched the freeport bidding prospectus.
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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