The UK Major Ports Group (“UKMPG”), the voice for the UK’s largest port operators, has today submitted its detailed response to the Government’s freeports consultation setting out what Government must do to make freeports a success for the UK.
Tim Morris, Chief Executive of the UKMPG said “The UK Major Ports Group strongly supports encouragement for further investment and development of ports in the UK. Handling 95% of the UK’s exports and imports today, development of our sea ports is key for boosting the UK’s global trading capability and at the same time supports increasing jobs and prosperity in coastal regions all around the coast of the UK. The Government has set out a freeports strategy and, done right, this should be an important part of achieving these important goals.
Mr Morris continued “Whilst we support important parts of the Government’s proposed approach, such as freeing up planning system brakes on responsible development and maintaining high standards, there are clear areas of concern. The Government’s cap of 10 freeports lacks evidence and risks limiting the benefits of a freeports. It would be far better if the Government was guided by the number of compelling proposals rather than an arbitrary limit.
“Also, Government needs to be clearer what it’s priority is for the freeports strategy. Headline goals of creating national hubs for global trade and promoting regeneration and job creation are sensible. They are also linked. A strong underlying trading hub and a business-led approach with strong local support give the best chance of sustainable job creation both locally and nationally. History teaches us that solely ‘build it and they will come’ approaches have resulted in missed potential.”
The Major Ports perspective is rooted in learning lessons from the positive impact that freeports, sometimes operated by UKMPG members, have had elsewhere in the world and from the successful experience of UK ports in attracting inward investment and developing port estates. But positive impact is not guaranteed. There are serious choices to be made and risks to be addressed.
With the UK leaving the EU, freeports have come back into focus. The UK has of course had the ability to establish freeports as an EU member- the UK had a total of seven freeports between 1984 and 2012 – and could indeed tweak duty rules today.
But the opportunity now before us is to take a step change approach that this country hasn’t done before, really harnessing the potential of a full package of measures including, but certainly not limited to, duty treatment.
Looking at examples where freeports have been successful it is clear that long-term success depends on more than just adjusting tariffs. Although components of success need to be tailored to national and even local / sectoral need, we believe the following are important parts of a ‘toolbox’ that should be available to freeports in the UK:
Freeports are not a silver bullet for the risks of Brexit or ‘levelling up’ coastal communities. Particularly in terms of addressing the deprivation that exists all around the coast of the UK, freeports must be seen as one element of a wider ‘levelling up’ strategy. Just focusing major advantages on a small number of locations and casting aside ‘the rest’ risks make a difficult situation worse for a lot of communities. Practically, there are important measures (such planning reform and connectivity) being discussed in the context of freeports that could and should have broader applicability for ports and coastal communities as a whole
For more information please contact:
Tim Morris, Chief Executive, UK Major Ports Group
Tel: 07387 091 407
About the UK Major Ports Group:
The UK Major Ports Group is the trade body for the UK’s major port operators. It represents nine of the top ten port operators in UK. Our members collectively handle 75% of the UK’s port volumes through 40 ports. These include the largest ports in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. UKMPG members together already invest around £500 million per year in the UK’s ports and related infrastructure.
Current UKMPG members are Associated British Ports, Belfast Harbour Commissioners, The Bristol Port Company, DP World London Gateway, Forth Ports, Hutchison Ports UK, PD Ports, Peel Ports and the Port of London Authority.
For more information please see http://ukmajorports.org.uk/.