Ten free ports is not enough, says in­dus­try

Bri­tish Ports As­so­ci­a­tion says lim­ited scope of free ports plan will leave some fac­ing sig­nif­i­cant job cuts

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business - By

Lizzy Bur­den

THE na­tional as­so­ci­a­tion for ports has called on the Chan­cel­lor to cre­ate more than 10 free ports or risk dis­tort­ing com­pe­ti­tion and leav­ing be­hind some coastal towns in the Gov­ern­ment’s “lev­el­ling up” agenda.

A 10-week gov­ern­ment con­sul­ta­tion ends this week on plans to at­tract in­vest­ment into post-in­dus­trial coastal ar­eas by cre­at­ing zones where goods do not face tar­iffs or other taxes usu­ally slapped on im­ports, along­side other in­cen­tives in­clud­ing re­search and de­vel­op­ment tax cred­its, cap­i­tal al­lowances, dis­counts on stamp duty and busi­ness rates, and lo­cal re­lax­ations of plan­ning laws.

How­ever, in a let­ter to Rishi Su­nak seen by The Daily Tele­graph, Richard Bal­lan­tyne, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Bri­tish Ports As­so­ci­a­tion, ex­pressed the group of more than 400 ports’ “se­ri­ous con­cern” that the pro­pos­als ap­peared to have “lim­ited as­pi­ra­tions” to es­tab­lish only up to 10 sites.

“The in­dus­try has strong reser­va­tions that this cap might dis­tort com­pe­ti­tion and pro­mote cer­tain re­gions over oth­ers,” he said. “The ar­bi­trary num­ber could mean that the Gov­ern­ment picks win­ners and in­ter­venes in the mar­ket.

“Choos­ing only a small num­ber of ports to re­ceive free port sta­tus se­ri­ously un­der­mines any sug­ges­tion that all re­gions are go­ing to be in­cluded in the Gov­ern­ment’s re­gional growth agenda.

“There should be no doubt of the sever­ity of this warn­ing; some ports an­tic­i­pate that there will be sig­nif­i­cant job losses for their area if they are over­looked while com­pet­ing ports are awarded free port sta­tus.”

Mr Su­nak has been a cham­pion of free ports, hav­ing put his name to a 2016 pa­per by the free-mar­ket Cen­tre for Pol­icy Stud­ies think tank, which ad­vo­cated for free trade zones.

Tyne is one port bid­ding for free port sta­tus, based on its po­si­tion as Bri­tain’s sec­ond-largest ex­port hub for cars. Matt Bee­ton, the port’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, said: “Ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing has been hit dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic and a free-trade zone cov­er­ing the re­gion’s high value clean en­ergy and au­to­mo­tive sec­tors would give the North East a ma­jor boost.”

Mr Su­nak is un­der­stood to be plan­ning to start the bid­ding for towns, cities and re­gions to be­come free ports in his au­tumn Bud­get as part of ef­forts to over­come the ef­fects of a re­ces­sion that is ex­pected to be the worst the UK has faced for 300 years.

Pro­po­nents also hope that free ports will boost “Global Bri­tain” post-Brexit. The zones are ex­pected to be fully op­er­a­tional within 18 months of the UK leav­ing the cus­toms union and sin­gle mar­ket at the end of this year.

Mr Bal­lan­tyne added that “while we wel­come the an­nounce­ments around bor­der fund­ing and ease­ments, these new changes are likely to cre­ate added pres­sure on the UK’s ports and lo­gis­tics in­dus­try”.

It comes as a sur­vey by the In­sti­tute of Di­rec­tors (IoD) found that only a quar­ter of 978 busi­ness lead­ers said their or­gan­i­sa­tions were fully ready for the end of the Brexit tran­si­tion pe­riod. Al­most a third said they needed more de­tails from the Gov­ern­ment to be able to pre­pare. Com­pa­nies in the fi­nan­cial sec­tor were more likely to be ready than man­u­fac­tur­ers.

“Di­rec­tors want to take ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­ni­ties that can come with an in­de­pen­dent trade pol­icy,” Jonathan Gel­dart, direc­tor-gen­eral of the IoD, said. “With so much go­ing on, many di­rec­tors feel that pre­par­ing for Brexit proper is like try­ing to hit a mov­ing tar­get. A phased im­ple­men­ta­tion pe­riod is in ev­ery­one’s in­ter­ests, and di­rect fi­nan­cial sup­port for smaller firms would be a huge boost at a dif­fi­cult time.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.