Alexander Stafford: A freeport in South Yorkshire will prove our commitment to the Blue Wall

27 Feb

Alexander Stafford is MP for Rother Valley.

As the first Conservative Member of Parliament ever to be elected to serve Rother Valley in its 101-year history, repaying the trust of my constituents and ensuring this Conservative Government works for them has been my mission from day one.

Here in the Blue Wall – and let’s call it that now – the key Conservative priority of levelling up has to become a reality if we are to hold seats like mine in 2024. It’s that simple.

Whether I’m here or 160 miles away in Parliament, my constituents must see how the opportunities and potential we all enjoy – as the world’s fifth largest economy – mean real economic rewards for everyone right across the United Kingdom. Global Britain can’t just be an idea, it must be a reality accepted and embraced in every home in the Blue Wall and right across the country.

Last week, I joined some of my Blue Wall colleagues in writing to our fellow Yorkshire MP, Rishi Sunak, asking him to consider our bid for a freeport in South Yorkshire.  This simple but effective idea of a tax and customs-free economic zone has been supported by the Chancellor for years, and we share his vision on the potential of freeports to transform our economy.  It would have direct and clear benefits for places such as Maltby in my constituency.  That’s why we are determined to see South Yorkshire chosen as one of the ten new freeports in the coming months.

Our plan – backed by a large number of businesses, community and political leaders – is for a freeport in an area around Doncaster Sheffield Airport and the nearby iPort rail terminal.  Our driving purpose is to support and grow our advanced manufacturing base, creating new opportunities, increasing employment and contributing to the levelling up that South Yorkshire needs and deserves.

The figures are stark, and exciting: our freeport could boost imports by £306 million and exports by £410 million, transforming the Sheffield city region into a net exporter of goods by the end of the decade.

And, most importantly to my constituents, 28,700 new jobs could be created – well-paid ones in advanced manufacturing, too, with wages around 19 per cent higher than average. Unlocking or accelerating over £570 million of investment is within our grasp should the freeport be granted. Imagine what a huge difference that would make in an area that for too long has been an afterthought to those in Westminster.

A freeport in South Yorkshire could even become the largest advanced manufacturing hub in Europe. It could boost clean mobility too, building and testing cleaner, more energy efficient and renewable technologies, contributing to achieving Net Zero by 2050.

International businesses have long made their home in the area – names such as Sheffield Forgemasters, Liberty Steel, Hird Group, Boeing, McLaren Automotive, Rolls-Royce, Airbus and Siemens can see the potential of South Yorkshire, and I know our bid will make that even clearer.  More globally-recognised names will be drawn to the benefits of the freeport, further boosting the potential of the region and bringing investment to build back better, now and far into the future.

On Wednesday Sunak will give the most closely-watched Budget in a generation. The unprecedented fallout from the pandemic, and the brave and necessary amelioration measures the Chancellor has implemented, cannot continue forever. Furlough and the vast array of other support businesses across the UK have received from the taxpayer have quite literally put food on the table for millions. But, of course, at some point we will have to begin to pay back the billions we borrowed in 2020. .

As the hugely effective vaccines programme administered by our NHS and volunteers allows us to emerge from the restrictions caused by the pandemic, the pressure will be on the Chancellor to plot a way out of the economic challenges we currently face. I agree strongly with him that the development of freeports will help to crank up the economic engine needed to drive our economy forward. It is important that, as we emerge from this global pandemic, the Government makes the decisions required to get our national finances under control whilst also ensuring families are supported and businesses can flourish once more. Freeports are one tool that the Chancellor has in his economic toolbox to help us do this, and I look forward to hearing what else he has to say when he addresses the House of Commons next week.

By establishing freeports, businesses and investments that would have gone elsewhere will be drawn to the UK, creating jobs and boosting confidence. By establishing them across the country, I know we can tackle deprivation, raise living standards, scale up manufacturing, and reconnect our constituents with the good that business does.

As the Prime Minister has often reminded us, votes from the Blue Wall are often only lent votes. Let’s use freeports to repay that trust our voters have placed in the Conservative Party in 2019 and give them yet another reason to vote for us again in 2024.

Alexander Stafford: The tests that any Johnson Brexit deal must pass

23 Nov

Alexander Stafford is MP for Rother Valley.

Boris Johnson is likely to bring a deal back to the country in the near future. The question is whether this deal will match up to the expectations of the nation – those that propelled him to his landslide electoral success last year.

In my view, the Centre for Brexit Policy has produced the definitive list of tests that the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal will need to pass to be considered a success. These tests are broken down into four main areas: sovereignty, the UK-EU trading relationship, governance, and compliance with the 2019 Conservative Election Manifesto.

The country will never forgive the Conservative Party if we do not uphold the manifesto commitments that led to the storming of the Red Wall. Therefore, it is vital that the Brexit deal that Johnson brings back to the nation will respect the promises we made before the 2019 election.

We must take back control of our laws, borders, money, and fish. We cannot have any part of the UK remaining part of the EU customs union or single market. Nor can we allow the new relationship to be based on EU laws or treaties, rather than free trade or friendly cooperation.

Any deal that will prevent the UK from full control over our trade policy is likewise unacceptable. We must be able to regain our sovereignty and be free to conduct ourselves as a free and independent trading nation. Any constraints or EU control over our decision making, our laws, or our trading arrangements would fly in the face of the freedom that the country voted for. For example, are trade negotiations with other third countries going to be undermined or hindered by the terms of the coming Brexit Deal?

One of the most important challenges will be to have fully removed the UK from the control of the European Union’s legal power – for example, our freedom to provide state aid to industry. Britain cannot be considered a fully independent, sovereign nation if we are still beholden to the European Court of Justice and legally required to apply any aspect of EU law to any part of the UK – especially if it breaks up the internal customs market of the UK. If the Brexit Deal ensures that EU law has ‘direct effect’ and supremacy in UK courts over UK domestic law, including over Acts of Parliament, then it simply is unacceptable.

We know that the Red Wall turned Blue in large part due to our party’s stance on Brexit. We must repay that trust because, if we do not, we risk losing all that we have gained in the region.

Previous polling of Red Wall voters carried out by Savanta ComRes – especially those who switched to the Conservative Party – has shown, if the Conservative Party were not to deliver on its promises to “Get Brexit Done”, to deliver Brexit by the end of 2020, to leave the single market or the customs union, a quarter of Red Wall voters would be less likely to vote Conservative. Reaching the level of our 2019 victory – where we won more votes than any party for 25 years – would likely become unattainable.

Voters would see that, on the most pressing issue of the past 40 years, the Conservative Party was unable to keep its word. But I have ever confidence that we will deliver and finally, fully, free us from the EU.

Alexander Stafford: Renewables – not just providers of green energy, but enablers of levelling up

15 Jul

Alexander Stafford is MP for Rother Valley.

In every conversation around the clean recovery there is, rightfully, a tendency of NGOs and commentators to look at how we can take the steps needed to achieve our net zero ambition. Job-rich initiatives such as energy efficiency and EV charging development are particularly alluring. The development of green hydrogen is promoted as strongly for its regional growth benefits as much as its importance for decarbonising heat.

The potential role of renewables in the green recovery is celebrated, but often overlooked. But it is these that are already driving jobs in the North of England and would help with this Government’s “levelling-up agenda”, as well as being the most publicly popular.

The Government has an ambitious target of 40GW of offshore wind by 2030, which will bring over £50 billion of investment into the UK over the next decade. The industry is already transforming ports across the country such as Grimsby, Great Yarmouth and Tyneside, employing thousands in high-wage high-value jobs and supporting our levelling up ambitions.

What’s more, as the cheapest large-scale new power source, the offshore wind that the UK will be building in the coming years, and indeed the onshore wind and solar, will be helping the British economy stay competitive.

Our competitive market framework of Contract of Difference auctions has ensured consumers get the lowest cost renewables, whilst supporting the development of a world-leading supply chain. New companies like Tekmar in Sedgefield have emerged as world-leaders in cables. Traditional oil and gas companies such as James Fisher, headquartered in Barrow-in-Furness, have found new contracts servicing offshore wind farms. However, we could be doing much more to support the development of the UK’s supply chain.

The Prime Minister is looking for infrastructure investment which will unlock future regional growth. The next generation of offshore wind turbines will be almost as tall as the Shard, so it is essential that we re-develop our ports so that they’re able to handle these incredible machines and their component parts.

Similarly, our manifesto rightly saw the opportunity of floating offshore wind, and the Government is looking at the CfD reform needed to develop it. We are well placed to become world leaders, with an established wind industry supply chain, expertise, and great wind resources. There’s the potential to power millions of homes by developing floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea and deep in the North Sea, but we need to invest in ports like Milford Haven and Nigg to do so – vitally, to maximise the development of the UK supply chain in the process.

We know proactive industrial strategy works in renewables. It was a mixture of market opportunity and Government support that unlocked £310 milliom of private investment in the Siemens Gamesa blade factory in Hull, which now employs over a thousand people, 96 per cent of whom live within a 30 mile radius of the factory.

We need to reignite bilateral conversations with major supply chain companies, and set up a policy environment that better supports the vast number of UK SMEs. Test facilities like the ORE Catapult in Blyth are fantastic in allowing UK innovators to trial new products on wind turbines but, once they’re proven, we will need to ensure the grants, tax relief or financial de-risking schemes are in place which help these innovators to scale-up their businesses.

Increasing our research and development funding to the levels of competitor countries like Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Japan will ultimately ensure UK’s companies are at the forefront of innovation and remain competitive in the global market.

When the global market in offshore wind is set to increase to at least £30 billion a year by 2030, we should be increasing our export ambitions and the support that government gives companies in entering these global markets.

Just as Denmark has an ecosystem of multiple agencies working to boost renewable exports, we too should work across Government. We’re rightly levering our role as COP President and world leadership in offshore wind to encourage countries such as Brazil, Mexico and India to take advantage of their vast wind and seabed resources too. We do so for the future of the world’s climate. But we should also acknowledge that, in doing so, we’re developing markets for our supply chain companies, and departments should act accordingly.

Finally, and most importantly,  the Government shouldn’t lose sight of the importance of also ensuring that people are re-skilled so they can take advantage of the jobs we create through the nurture of our renewables sector. We need to manage the transition.