The UK free port model could be a “transformational tool” and their development might be boosted through Brexit, panellists said in a debate that looked at how to make free ports work in the UK
PD Ports and CILT jointly arranged a panel debate – Discussing the framework for free trade zones – as part of London International Shipping Week.
This came after the UK Government launched a policy review of this area and gathered a panel to advise them on the UK model.
British Ports Association chief executive Richard Ballantyne said “We met for the first time last week and it is quite a diverse panel. We been tasked with presenting a model they can consider to open a competitive process. At least 10 [ports] could be chosen initially.”
UK Major Ports Group chief executive Tim Morris (also on the government panel) told delegates “We see free ports as a potential transformational tool in the right conditions. We want to see them developed and want to see them developed as part of a broader strategic approach. They should be seen as part of a suite of measures. The outcome should be new investment and job creation.”
Explaining what he believes the free port model should be in the UK, he said “We see a package of incentives and think it should be a package of measures.” He cited capital allowances, making existing facilities more user friendly and practical, and that the free port concept must link to building blocks for long-term success, for example, relationships with skills providers and local education providers.
Mr Morris warned “They should not be cut and pasted on other locations around the world, we need a UK-specific solution.
He said there was a “strong sense there is a lot of urgency in the government to make this happen”.
Fellow panellist Adam Smith Institute director Eamonn Butler said there should be one window of regulation and tax, simple planning, and there was a post-Brexit ambition to cut tariffs.
He added “It must be easy to start a business, and attract, retain and develop business. There must be real demand for business to be located afresh. Customs bonding should be much easier. There must be good transport links and the right opportunities to build a skilled workforce.”
Mr Ballantyne said “We are looking for a planning agenda keen to look at a preferential regime zone around the port that has a teaser offer or incentive on business rates that encourages not just the terminal operator, but other operators such as warehouses and manufacturers to take advantage.”
He explained “A lot of UK ports are in relatively deprived coastal areas. They have facilities and ports with a lot of land away from more congested areas and there are opportunities to cluster businesses and start-ups, but there has to be incentives for them to do that, like business rates.”
Finally, PD Ports chief operating officer Jerry Hopkinson said “Without a shadow of a doubt the opportunities that Brexit brings, irrespective of your political position on remain or leave, on this particular topic on freeports, are quite manifest because of the releases Brexit gives us on the constraints that currently cover competitive practice in EU member states.”