UK gov’t launches bidding process for Freeports

The UK government has launched the bidding process for the first seven Freeports in England to be created as part of the country’s post-Brexit strategy.

Image Courtesy: BPA

Freeports will be designated areas where goods can be imported from outside the country without paying customs duties. In 2019, the UK announced plans to create up to ten Freeports across its regions.

The British Ports Association (BPA) has welcomed the launch of the bidding process and the publication of the bidding prospectus for Freeports in England.

The association of ports also welcomed recent suggestions that the Treasury would consider the establishment of more than ten Freeports in the event they receive a large number of high-quality proposals. However, the newest announcement does not yet represent the same significant step for ports in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the BPA believes.

“This stage represents a key step forward to the establishment of a more advanced model Freeports than we have seen before. However inclusivity and consistency around the UK is still something policy makers need to consider to avoid any inadvertent consequences of perceived ‘winners and losers’,” Richard Ballantyne, Chief Executive of the British Ports Association, commented.

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“The BPA remains excited by the prospect of Freeports and we value Government’s recognition of ports as engines for local and national economic development.  Coastal communities are often found in areas of high deprivation, so this policy has the potential to be transformative for certain regions.”

On the other hand, the association said it is ‘somewhat cautious’ of the potential economic displacement occurring in England too and the implementation of UK Freeports must not disrupt the level playing field upon which UK ports compete.

The UK Major Ports Group (UKMPG), the voice for the UK’s largest port operators, also welcomed the launch of the Freeports bidding prospectus.

“Port operators across the UK are developing ambitious proposals to respond to the Freeports opportunity. The UK Major Ports Group and the port operators themselves look forward to working closely with the Government to build ever stronger gateways for the UK’s global trade, boost prosperity for coastal and inland communities and maintain high standards,” Tim Morris, CEO of UKMPG, said.

“However, potential bidders face a real challenge in submitting the kind of detailed proposals involving a range of different organisations that the Government is asking for. This is particularly difficult at a time when port operators are both working hard to keep pandemic impacted supply chains moving and preparing to mitigate the impact of UK/EU border disruption. Simply put, bidders need more time,” Morris continued.

Turning to other actions needed to drive the most benefit for often hard-hit coastal communities all around the UK, Morris said: “It’s a concern that what we’re seeing today is the launch of a process for England with no clarity on when Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be setting out their intentions.”

“Port operators in these nations want to move forward to. And we must not forget that deprivation is unfortunately widespread in the UK’s coastal areas, not just in around 10 freeport locations. There are good policy measures in the freeports Prospectus that Government must consider applying to all coastal communities.”