Major PortsGroup welcomes strong freeports bids
A significant number of strong freeports bids have been submitted by the Government’s noon Friday 5th February deadline. We understand that this includes bids involving major seaport operators in regions such as the Thames, Kent, Suffolk, the Humber, Tees, Tyne and Northumberland, Cumbria, Merseyside, the Avon and Somerset and the Solent.
The strengthof bids is clear in a number of ways:
•Bids have come through from all around England, with all the major seaport operators involved in one or more bids.
•The bids, rightly, demonstrate broad support from stakeholders in each area –operators of transport hubs, other local businesses and their representative groups, local government at various levels, skills providers and others.
•Bids contain not just ambitious plans for economic value –such as investment and job support and creation –but also social value –such as skills development –and plans to lower emissions and improve the environment.
Commenting, Tim Morris, Chief Executive of the UK Major Ports Group, said “It looks like bidders have risen to the challenge issued by the Government to deliver bids that offer real potential for stronger global gateways for trade, to boost prosperity and opportunity for coastal communities and that drive innovation. They also demonstrate commitment to high standards and growing social value. The challenge is now back to the Government to assess fairly and in a considered manner a significant number of strong but quite different bids.”
What needs to happen now?
The Government now has before it a significant number of strong but quite different freeport bids from across England. It now has the challenge to assess these bids. A number of things are essential in the coming weeks and months:
A fair and transparent process
Many port operators, together with local stakeholders, have submitted detailed and wide ranging freeports proposals. For industry and potential investors, it is crucialthat the process for becoming a freeport is fair, transparent and evidence based.
Enough time and flexibility in the assessment process to capture the most benefits
The benefits of freeports, like most major investment stimulation efforts like Development Corporations, accrue over decades. We should not risk compromising the assessment process due to a narrow focus on speed of assessment. Also, the Government has rightly given itself the flexibility to take forward additional exceptional bids. That is a flexibility that should be utilised, rather than counterproductive penny pinching.
Using some of the freeports ‘toolbox’ more widely
The significant socio-economic challenges faced by too many of our coastal communities are not limited to freeport locations. It is essential to look at ways –including low to zero cost measures already in the freeports ‘toolbox’ that can be applied more widely.
Moving beyond England
The current freeports bidding process is just for England. There is significant interest in developing freeports or locally appropriately equivalents in each of the Devolved Nations. We would urge the Governments in each Nation to engage further with industry so we can collectively move forward job and prosperity boosting opportunities in each Nation.