Freeports: Fresh Wind in the Government’s Sails

This week, the Government published its long-awaited response to the consultation on proposals to establish ten Freeports across the UK. The initiative is identified as a strategic priority as ministers seek to kickstart the UK’s economic recovery, and deliver on its stated ambition of ‘levelling up’ towns, cities and regions considered to have been left behind.

“Our new Freeports will create national hubs for trade, innovation and commerce, regenerating communities across the UK and supporting jobs,” the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, said. “They will attract investment from around the world as we embrace new opportunities following our departure from the EU and will be a key driver for economic recovery as we build back better post coronavirus.”

The response from industry, based on our discussions with business leaders over recent days, has been overwhelmingly positive. The consensus is that the Government’s thinking now goes far beyond what was originally conceived – constituting a comprehensive and holistic approach with the potential to make serious waves.

First and foremost, the concept of ‘virtual freeports’ has been taken forward – meaning goods can move between two or more secure sites within a Freeport boundary. This means that towns and cities with conflicting models can now submit a joint bid. Additionally, it means that ports confined in terms of space, such as Dover, can take part in the scheme.

Secondly, a package of tax reliefs to “boost trade, promote regeneration and employment, and create hotbeds for innovation” has hit the markEverything from Business Rates Relief to SDLT relief will be given to businesses operating within a Freeport, serving as a major financial incentive.

Finally, a streamlined planning process to aid brownfield redevelopment as part of this No. 10’s forthcoming radical reforms to the UK’s planning process will speed up the process, eliminating red tape that may have caused some to baulk at the idea of embracing Freeports until now.

The Government has confirmed that the bidding process for English ports will open shortly – and it is likely to be a hugely competitive race, with a crowded field of candidates.

Our understanding, based on discussions with policymakers, is that at least 25 ports have expressed an interesting in submitting a bid. But with only ten ports to date guaranteed to receive freeport status and a minimum of three of those to be located outside of England, the majority will lose out. There will be winners, yes – but there will be far more losers.

The establishment of Freeports will undoubtedly prompt businesses to relocate, and individuals flood into their surrounding area. For those ports selected, significant opportunities lie ahead. The onus is therefore on ambitious organisations to steal a march on their rivals and make the case for their participation in the project. For ports putting forward a bid, showcasing their business offering will only be part of the process.

If you want to learn more about this initiative and talk through what it could mean for your business please do get in touch – simon.jennings@humebrophy.com