Freight News, Sea

Time running out for Scots and Welsh freeports, warns BPA

[ March 19, 2021   //   ]

The British Ports Association has called for a four-nation approach to freeports ahead of the Welsh and Scottish elections on 6 May, warning that time is running out to agree criteria. It says that it is important to ensure ports in the devolved administrations are not disadvantaged by delays to setting up the concept compared with their competitors in England

BPA says that concerns have been raised following a letter sent to industry stakeholders on 18 March by Scottish Minister for Trade, Innovation and Public Finance, Ivan McKee, which implies that any delay to Scottish Freeports has been brought about by the UK Government and its hesitancy to approve a number of the Scottish Government’s key criteria. He states that “the UK Government has effectively withdrawn” from the process if it has not confirmed the applicant prospectus can be launched by close of business on Monday 22 March.

In January, the Scottish government published its own version of the UK Government’s freeports scheme, ‘Greenports’, saying that it will press for high employment standards and green credentials, saying that it would take steps to address concerns over deregulation and the risks of criminality, tax evasion and reductions in workers’ rights.

BPA says that the industry in Wales has been told also that the Welsh Government is not going to be in a position to make a statement on Freeports before the election. BPA states: “We were disappointed to hear this news and had previously written to the Chief Secretary of the Treasury in support of the Welsh Governance on their representations for ports in Wales and to urge time sensitivity.”

It warns that unless timescales are aligned, there could be a greater risk of economic displacement away from areas waiting for a Freeport designation. This would be to the detriment of UK ports and the coastal communities in which they operate.

The BPA wrote to ministers in England, Scotland and Wales in November 2020 to note the time-sensitivity of the Freeports proposals and to ask them to bear in mind that further delay would ensue should discussions not conclude before purdah begins ahead of the elections.

BPA chief executive Richard Ballantyne, said: “The BPA has been supportive of the concept of Freeports across the UK and believes they can be a force for immense good – socially and economically – if implemented properly and fairly. However, there are legitimate fears amongst ports in many of the devolved administrations that they will miss out and be left behind.

“Developments this week suggest potential deadlock between administrations regarding progressing to the bidding rounds within the devolved administrations. We are asking Government to consider the importance of ensuring the level-playing field is not disrupted and Freeports are set up on an even keel and awarded an equal amount of seed funding.

“Ports have also spent significant time and money in anticipation of bidding – Governments of all administrations owe them certainty and must not allow them to get caught up in political tension.”

Ballantyne added: “It is also now clear that the arbitrary cap of locations is causing a real issue. Ports in the devolved administrations are keen to catch up with the English process while a number of unsuccessful and non designated locations in England would like to benefit from many of the regulatory easements to avoid any market distortion.”