The Budget. Sunak’s strong message that operation “level up” is under way.

4 Mar

There were all sorts of striking announcements in Rishi Sunak’s Budget yesterday, from the £5 billion grant scheme to help hospitality businesses in England recover from the pandemic to the less welcome news that the Government will raise the rate of corporation tax to 25 per cent.

The Government will be told it spent too much/ too little; that it shouldn’t have gone for corporations, and so forth. But one thing you cannot accuse it of is forgetting its commitment to “level up” the country, which was a big theme in the Budget.

The Conservatives were elected on this promise – to spread “opportunity across the whole United Kingdom” and move away from being South/ London centric – and Sunak’s speech did not disappoint in this regard.

“If we are serious about wanting to level up, that starts with the institutions of economic power”, he said firmly, before announcing that there will be a new economic campus for the Treasury in Darlington. This means that 750 employees will move from the Capital to that area.

In another interesting development, Sunak announced eight freeport locations in England for East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, Humber, Liverpool City Region, Plymouth, Solent, Thames and Teesside.

While it quickly became obvious (on Twitter, at least) that some people don’t know what a freeport is, let alone have a view on whether they’re a good idea, many councils have been working hard to put in bids for these.

All five council areas in Tees Valley worked together in developing one for Teesside, and it has paid off. Its freeport will be the largest in the UK, spanning 4,5000 acres (2,550 football pitches).

The freeport is expected to increase investment to Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool by over £1.4 billion and create around 18,000 skilled, good quality jobs within five years. The Government will also be hoping it can boost the chances of Ben Houchen, the Tees Valley Mayor, to get re-elected at the end of this year.

Speaking about his vision for Teesside, Sunak said: “Now, when I look to the future of Teesside I see old industrial sites being used to capture and store carbon. Vaccines being manufactured. Offshore wind turbines creating clean energy for the rest of the country. All located within a Freeport with the Treasury just down the road and the UK Infrastructure Bank only an hour away” (the bank will be in Leeds).

In another part of the Budget, Sunak singled out Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, where the Government is also increasing public investment.

It is putting £225 million into rail stations and the reopening of old railway lines. Government support will also go towards a major housing and commercial development scheme around the upcoming HS2 Solihull Interachange, along with other regeneration efforts.

Responding to these developments, Street said: “The Chancellor has done exactly what we asked for him, and set out clear and wide-ranging support to help West Midlands businesses and the self-employed through the end of the roadmap and into the recovery stage.”

So you can see that, while covering off lots of areas, yesterday’s Budget sent out a strong political message that the Government can hear people outside Westminster (now literally moving departments to other parts of the country).

The Budget may even have an appeal to Generation Rent throughout the UK, as through trying to correct regional disparities, the Government can also help shift demand for housing, which is overly focussed in the South East.

But overall, it was a show that now the Government’s got “Brexit done”, operation “level up” is well and truly under way.

Andrew Gimson’s Budget sketch: The Chancellor quotes Tennyson and delivers a lesson in levelling up

3 Mar

“That which we are we are,” the Chancellor declared as he reached the end of his Budget Statement.

Could heavens! Could this prosaic figure be about to raise our spirits by launching forth into the final lines of Tennyson’s Ulysses?

There can be little doubt those words were in the mind of whoever drafted Rishi Sunak’s peroration:

…that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Sunak has the benefit of a traditional English education, and will surely have spotted the reference.

But Tennyson’s ending was presumably felt to be at once too lyrical and too modest. For although the Chancellor admitted the economy has suffered its largest fall “in over 300 years”, he had no desire to suggest we have been “made weak by time and fate”.

He adopted instead the manner of a teacher addressing a mixed ability class whom he intends to “level up”, as he put it, even though most of us are not much good at maths, and economics is dismal science we do our best to avoid.

So Sunak had to be slow, and lucid, and conceded that if we would rather leave the economics to him, that would be fine.

“I do want to be honest about what I mean by sustainable public finances,” he assured us, and then, a moment or two later, “I have and always will be honest with the country about the challenges we face.”

Not long afterwards, he said of the changes to corporation tax, “I recognise that they might not be popular but they are honest,” and announced that he wants to be “honest about the challenges facing our public finances”.

Even the dimmer members of the class were starting by now to get the message that the Chancellor wishes us to accept that he is honest, but not all of us were sure we fully understood what he meant by “challenges”, a term other politicians often use when they mean “insurmountable difficulties”.

The Chancellor proceeded to give us a geography lesson. He said that a Treasury which acts for the whole United Kingdom “demands a different economic geography”. In this way, he explained in a level tone, we shall achieve “the levelling up” which we require.

There followed the grand recitation of the eight new freeports in England, stretching from Plymouth to Teesside, after which we hoped to get Tennyson, but were disappointed. Perhaps the speechwriter just had a bet with a friend that he could get a line of the poet into the speech without anyone noticing.

Boris Johnson will certainly have noticed, for his head is full of poetry. He sat listening in a supportive way, emitting audible “hear hears” from behind his mask, but jiggling his right knee up and down in a manner suggestive of unbearable mental tension.

Sir Keir Starmer rose to reply, and was rather good: in a different league to Jeremy Corbyn. Insofar as it is possible to hold an almost empty Chamber, he held it.

But if he is to be Prime Minister, he needs this Government to fail, and Sunak spoke with the self-confidence of a man who has not yet failed at anything.

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.

Ben Houchen: The Budget. On Wednesday, Sunak must hear the voice of the North – and kickstart a new era of job creation.

26 Feb

Ben Houchen is the Mayor of the Tees Valley.

With spirits buoyed by the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of pandemic restrictions, and the light at the end of the Covid tunnel finally in sight, all eyes now turn to the Budget on March 3.

This could be one of the most influential Budgets, both for our nation and for the region I represent, in a generation. Crucial decisions need to be weighed and judged by the Chancellor to ensure that our comeback from Covid is powerful and that the light at the end of that tunnel proves to shine on a better future.

There is no doubt in my mind that the top priority for Rishi Sunak is jobs and rebuilding the economy – an economy battered by the necessary restrictions on lives and livelihoods. I know from talking to local businesses how many are fighting on the edge, and it’s to the Government’s credit that the furlough scheme and other financial support have kept so many businesses alive and people in employment.

The “Red Wall” communities in my area overwhelmingly backed Boris Johnson in the last election, and it’s essential that the faith they put in him is returned. The Prime Minister promised a new kind of government, free of Brussels blinkers and Whitehall hand-wringing, which would address ordinary people’s concerns.

The best way to prevent low incomes and low opportunities from blighting the lives and hopes of adults and children, especially in the UK’s left-behind communities, is to do all we can to create new, good quality, well-paid jobs, on an unprecedented scale.

However, for a jobs agenda to be effective, it needs to be directed with strategy and precision. This can’t be an illusory statistical employment growth driven by foreign workers on contracts in the south. At the last election, the country was promised better policymaking for towns, villages and rural areas, and a transformative levelling up programme which would see growth, prosperity, and potential finally realised in communities across the nation.

This is the moment for a step-change in that levelling up agenda, to drive a jobs revolution in areas like Teesside, Darlington, and Hartlepool. Only by marrying the levelling up agenda to the jobs agenda will we ensure that new growth is serious, sustained, and benefits everyone.

There are two key ways in which the Chancellor can kick-start the recovery, levelling up, and the creation of good quality, well-paid jobs in my area. I and my team have done the groundwork, and the question is: will the Government grasp these golden opportunities?

The first, and most essential, step needed is for the Chancellor to give the green light to my plans for the Teesside Freeport. With thousands of acres of developable land, the largest deep-water port on the east coast, a nation-leading focus on delivering net zero technology and clean growth, and a pathway to pioneering innovations to support the whole UK freeport ecosystem, I passionately believe that a Teesside Freeport can be a jobs dynamo, a roaring engine of economic growth, and a flag-bearing project for Global Britain.

There are huge opportunities for job creation here. The wide package of tax reliefs, simplified customs procedures and streamlined planning processes freeports will benefit from can bring in the investment needed to unlock Teesside’s latent economic power.

Sunak was an early supporter of freeports himself, so I know that he understands the enormous potential we have here. The Teesside Freeport could create more than 18,000 skilled, good-quality, well paid jobs over the next five years and boost the local economy by £3.2billion. It would also increase inward investment into Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool by over £1.4 billion.

Now the Chancellor needs to have the courage to overrule any official arguing to delay pressing ahead with this game-changing jobs catalyst. As soon as Sunak gives us the green light, I’ll be driving this forward, unleashing the potential of Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool.

The second action I’m looking for from the Chancellor is another where I know he understands the opportunity, but where again he needs to cut down the unimaginative Sir Humphreys within his department.

The Government’s plan to relocate 22,000 senior Whitehall civil servants out of London by 2030 will see 800 civil servants moved from Sunak’s own department to a new northern economic campus, dubbed “Treasury North”.

The vast majority of people don’t live in metropolitan cities, they live in our towns, our villages, in the countryside and on the coast. By moving out of London these civil servants will be able to develop a greater understanding of the issues and opportunities people are confronted with on a daily basis and, ultimately, develop better policy that is anchored in real knowledge gained by living in the communities it will impact the most.

For decades, talented local people in my area, graduates of fantastic northern universities and people who should have played an important part in our communities, have been sucked away by over-centralised bureaucracy. Now this self-perpetuating cycle can be broken. More than 100 local business leaders, both Teesside and Durham Universities, and political leaders from across the political spectrum have backed my proposal to bring Treasury North to Teesside.

It would be tragic if the prospect of opportunity and in-tune government was dissolved into a cluster of London civil servants being flown to Manchester, Leeds, or Newcastle. Such an outcome would fail to deliver better policymaking for towns like Hartlepool or Darlington, villages like Stillington or Skinningrove, or rural areas far and wide, and it would fail to deliver the promised levelling up agenda.

On Wednesday, the Chancellor has the chance to set a defining roadmap for our economic recovery from Covid. As a northern MP himself, I believe that he will hear the voice of the North and kickstart a new era of job creation. The tools are in his hands. The nation is waiting for Sunak to equip us to get to work and create the jobs of tomorrow.

Kate Willard: Why I, as the Government’s Thames Estuary Envoy, back Thames Freeport

25 Jan

Kate Willard OBE is the Thames Estuary Envoy & Chair at the Thames Estuary Growth Board. This is a sponsored post by Thames Freeport.

The Thames Estuary is brimming with untapped potential.

In 2018, the Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission recognised that in its ground-breaking report, concluding this place could contribute £115 billion to the national economy by 2050 and 1.5 million new jobs if fulfilled.

That’s our challenge now. As the Government-backed Thames Estuary Envoy, I lead a private/public board charged with delivering an ambitious, transformative plan to evolve this region of blurred edges comprising north Kent, south Essex, east London and the river itself, by turbo-charging growth.

Called “The Green Blue” – our blueprint begins to realise the enormous potential of the Thames Estuary by stimulating, endorsing and enabling a substantial range of infrastructural, technological, environmental and cultural projects.

Everything from enhanced transport hubs, river crossings, roads, rail, ports and airports to super-fast digital infrastructure, innovative business parks and a world-class theme park. All backed-up with strategies around skills, employment and housing so people can genuinely access emerging opportunities, and with emphasis on “good green growth”.

Our exceptional private/public growth board is working to leverage significant amounts of private sector investment and make the Estuary the most compelling investment proposition in the world. Each board member is brilliant: possessing a high level of expertise in their area. They are at the razor-sharp, cutting edge of business and high-calibre place leaders, and all are crystal clear about the Thames Estuary we want to create.

Securing a freeport for the Thames is crucial to us. Our plans hinge upon the advantages, benefits and opportunities that freeport status would unlock.

We have played a role in shaping the bid by making it clear to bidding partners the outcomes we needed from a Thames Freeport. We called these our “principles” and set out our requirements under six thematic areas; economic, investment, innovation, environment, regeneration and community. The bid is progressing strongly against all of them.

The last one of our principles is the most important to us.

The Estuary is one of the poorest and most deprived areas in the UK; a situation exacerbated by the pandemic and Brexit uncertainty. The east London borough of Barking and Dagenham itself is ranked in the top five local authorities for deprivation. Its unemployment rate is 74 per cent higher than the national average – one of the highest rates in the country. Thurrock’s unemployment rate is above the national average. It is among the country’s top 25 most skills-deprived areas and the neighbourhoods surrounding Tilbury are among the top 10 per cent of overall deprivation.

Getting a freeport is an essential part of the Estuary’s recovery and will help it to level-up. A freeport would be a major shot-in-the-arm for communities along the river, unlocking £400 million of port investment in deprived areas and creating more than 25,000 well-paid jobs, with significant investment in up-skilling opportunities ultimately boosting ravaged local economies. A skills-accelerator programme would bring local education providers and employers together to ensure local people can capitalise on new career opportunities.

DP World, Forth Ports, Ford Dagenham and Thames Enterprise Park will deliver a pioneering world-class freeport, which will be a magnet for inward investment. No other port cluster in the south of England has the global connectivity and capacity to substantially expand its operational area. The zone will be a catalyst for commerce, creativity and prosperity unrivalled by other regions in the UK.

The environment is at the front-and-centre of our plans. We want to create the greenest estuary on the planet. A Thames Freeport will support that ambition through investment in clean energy generation, including hydrogen fuel production, storage and fuelling infrastructure. Ford plans to trial new and green technology initiatives at its Dagenham site. This will further support local and national net-zero targets.

We want to take freight off the region’s roads and shift it to the river. Securing freeport status would be a positive step in that direction. The freeport will link sites along the Thames Estuary by river into the Capital via operational wharves. This will reduce the time and cost of transporting goods, alleviating road congestion and reducing pollution along the A13 corridor.

The Estuary has excellent links into central London and major European cities and vast swathes of riverside and brownfield sites, many with planning consents in place, shovel-ready for building on. As the UK looks outward for new trading partners and brokers deals with other countries, the Estuary is ready to play its part. We have everything an international business needs to set-up base in, or close to, our global capital city. Those advantages would be significantly boosted by freeport status. It would make us the most attractive investment prospect anywhere on these islands.

We’re confident our world-class bidding partners have an irresistible pitch. The Government is cognisant of the wide-ranging advantages of this place to its global trading ambitions. It must act now to capitalise by backing the Thames Freeport bid.

Andrew Rosindell: How close we came to waking up in the backstop

8 Jan

Andrew Rosindell is the MP for Romford.

How close we came to waking up on January 1 trapped in the backstop. That misery would have been quickly overtaken by the new national lockdown announced on Monday night. But this would in no way have diminished in the longer-term the ramifications of being trapped in a customs union with no way out.

To the true Brexiteers, the sensible outcome to the Brexit process was always a Canada-style free trade agreement which took back control of our laws, money, borders and waters, while still allowing both the UK and the EU to trade together as equal partners on mutually-beneficial terms.

Unfortunately the EU spent the next few years in a desperate and arrogant attempt to punish our nation for the Brexit vote. It tried to trap our nation in a customs union, demanded tens of billions in exit fees, demanded a continuing role for its courts in UK affairs and made blood-curdling threats of economic punishment.

In a way it showed self-awareness. Because it is only with threats and traps – much in the fashion of the Chinese Communist regime (with whom the EU is now engaging in a nauseating romance) – does EU membership become preferable to the freedom of being a sovereign, independent nation.

All told, the EU generally appeared aghast at the affirmations by the British people of their democratic right to decide their future. To me this demonstrated that the only way out was a completely clean break: to walk away, for good if necessary.

It is why I and my Spartan colleagues voted on three separate occasions against Theresa May’s Brexit deal. If we hadn’t held out against the pleas of our colleagues, from both the Remain and Brexit wings of the party, then we would have woken up on New Year’s Day trapped in the backstop. What should have been a moment of restored sovereignty would simply be a new future paralysed by the EU’s protectionist trading bloc.

The Prime Minister voted for that deal, at the third attempt. I believe he feared for Brexit if the deal wasn’t passed. Fortunately for him, the Spartans gave Brexit a chance. And once Boris was at the reigns he was always ready to walk away. He realised no deal really is better than a bad deal.

With this strategy he was able to bring before the House of Commons an agreement which facilitates free trade with zero quotas and tariffs, without the UK being part of the Single Market or Customs Union and with no control over us by the European Court of Justice.

It will give us the freedom to chart our own course. It will mean the establishment of freeports and new enterprise zones to turbocharge the regions. It means we can change our VAT policy, for example on home insulation products as my friend and colleague John Redwood has noted.

It means we can revitalise nationally important industries with targeted support, such as shipbuilding. It means we can sign free trade deals with our closest friends and allies in the Commonwealth, and improve economic ties with some of the fastest growing economies.

Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for International Trade, has already negotiated trade deals with 61 countries, including one deal, the UK-Japan FTA which goes beyond the existing EU-Japan agreement, particularly on data and digital matters. The backstop would have precluded much of this.

The new agreement with the EU is not perfect. There are flaws in the deal. The transition period for fisheries is too long, the Northern Ireland protocol threatens to divide our country and I am nervous of the separate deal on Gibraltar, given Spain’s record.

Finally, I was disappointed that our British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies did not seem to be fully included. I also share David Davis’s comments on this website, where he highlights how far ahead of the EU we are in many areas of regulation, particularly animal welfare, but also on energy and labour law. Any arbitration panel which rules on deviations from the “level playing field” must recognise that there is no “level playing field” at present. It is the EU undercutting the UK in many ways.

There are problems, then. However, I and my colleagues have come to the conclusion that this is still a good agreement: it restores our sovereignty, avoids temporary disruption of ‘no deal’ and avoids the acrimony which would define UK-EU relations going forward if no agreement had been reached.

There is nothing in the agreement which compromises our sovereignty in the manner of the backstop. Yet where there are flaws, there are fights still to be had. I have demonstrated that I am ready for these battles, as have my fellow Spartans.

For now, let’s celebrate the restoration of sovereignty to these islands and move onto the next challenge: getting the country vaccinated, lifting these Covid-19 restrictions, and revving up the UK economy for a new, better, more prosperous and, I hope, a more united decade.

Thames Freeport: River regeneration – an economic opportunity not to be missed

5 Jan

This is a sponsored post by Thames Freeport.

“Regeneration through job creation” is the vision for a Thames Freeport being unveiled today.

DP World and Forth Ports are bidding for a Thames Freeport, with London Gateway, the Port of Tilbury and Ford’s Dagenham engine plant at its heart – highlighting the role of the River Thames in a prosperous, global Britain.

This comes after decades of government initiatives targeting growth and regeneration across the largest development area in the UK, the Thames Gateway.

Now is the time to use the freeport policy’s special economic measures to turbocharge the best of the private sector to level up the left behind communities along the estuary.

Our Thurrock-based freeport will deliver dispersed wealth, just as the old Port of London did in the past.

Parts of the estuary are in desperate need of this support.

Thurrock is among the country’s top 25 most skills-deprived areas and the neighbourhoods surrounding Tilbury are among the top 10 per cent of overall deprivation.

Barking and Dagenham is ranked in the top five local authorities for deprivation – the borough’s unemployment rate is 74 per cent higher than the national average.

Initial modelling suggests that a freeport will unlock more than 20,000 new, better paid jobs and many more through local supply chains, while securing over £400 million in port infrastructure, which will lead to a doubling of port capacity.

The pandemic shockwaves continue to reverberate and have brought every element of the economy into stark focus.

Our proposal will re-connect Britain’s biggest market with its industrial engine.

A Thames Freeport will be a magnet for new investment, jobs, skills development and the adoption of greener technology.

This will drive innovation and transformational productivity gains by turbocharging regional clusters in next generation logistics, automation, clean energy, and advanced manufacturing centred around two global hubs – London Gateway and Tilbury – supporting regeneration in Thurrock and economic growth across the Thames Estuary.

The zone will be a catalyst for commerce, creativity and prosperity.

For example, Ford plans to build on its advanced technology capabilities to electrify, connect and automate vehicle solutions in-and-around the freeport to reduce pollution and ease congestion.

More than ever, size matters for UK plc.

With almost 1,000 acres of land ready for development – much with planning consent secured – no other port cluster in the south of England can come close to matching our offer to deliver meaningful economic change and linked community benefits in the lifetime of this Parliament.

Our speed of delivery is matched by our global connectivity, with direct shipping routes to every continent for exporters to get their goods to market at speed.

The freeport will link sites along the estuary to the heart of the largest market in Europe via operational wharves helping to reshape urban logistics, alleviating road congestion, and reducing pollution along the A13 corridor.

This is where road and river dovetail – seamless integration of global freight into local supply chains – as Ford builds on its advanced technology capabilities to electrify, connect and automate vehicle solutions in-and-around the freeport.

The freeport will be key to catalysing the Thames’ net zero transformation, including the promotion of investments in clean energy generation, such as hydrogen fuel production, storage and fuelling infrastructure.

This is not uncharted territory, freeports are in our DNA.

DP World began as a free trade zone in Jebel Ali, while Tilbury was a freeport until 2012.

Harnessing our customs expertise, we intend to link the Thames’ trade hubs and manufacturing sites using our track-and-trace technology.

This tried-and-tested system will provide a viable technology platform to ensure the freeports policy is a success at ports across the country.

The Thames Freeport will be a new centre of excellence for the country as we electrify, automate and digitise our future.

We are confident we can replicate that success today to boost the economic prospects of global Britain.

The Thames has historically been a trading and industrial powerhouse, serving the whole UK.

A Thames Freeport will draw on this proud history and established expertise as the catalyst for a green revolution founded on new technology and new trading links, bringing new skills to communities otherwise left behind.

Judy Terry: Proposal for a Suffolk Freeport

4 Jan

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

Suffolk County Council (SCC) has been busy in recent months, bringing community, university, and business leaders together to restore confidence and rebuild the economy as the country extricates itself from the Brexit and Covid shambles. Focusing attention on optimising the potential of the region’s coast and ports, including improving some neglected infrastructure, will be crucial.

Firstly, public and private sector business and local government leaders across the eastern region have set out their joint vision for an innovative new Freeport on the East coast, linking the Ports of Felixstowe and Harwich. Both owned by Hutchison Ports, and employing thousands of highly skilled workers, it would be a strategic hub linking UK importers and exporters with suppliers and customers across the globe at the heart of vital trading routes to Asia and Northern Europe.

Already Europe’s largest container port, handling some of the world’s biggest container ships, Felixstowe is a super-efficient operation, as I was lucky enough to discover during a private tour a couple of years ago. There is no doubt that developing further links with Harwich will create an impressive partnership, whilst continuing to respect the wide range of wildlife, including seal habitats.

Pioneering the next generation of ports to drive and support the government’s local and national regeneration strategies, Freeport East will build on excellent road and rail links to the Midlands and North of England, currently the destination for almost a third of Felixstowe’s throughput.

Creating a manufacturing, green energy, and innovation hub, capitalising on the latest advances in digital technology and scientific centres across the region, as well as the Galloper Windfarm maintenance base at Harwich, Freeport East is ideally positioned to lead on decarbonisation of the country’s energy needs, boosting economic growth.

Work is now in hand to formulate a detailed bid in response to the government’s Freeport prospectus.

Clemence Cheng, Executive Director of Hutchison Ports, said:

“The combination of these two ports offers the UK a unique opportunity in the post-Brexit world, sitting as they do at the main junction between the UK’s principal trade route to and from the Far East and key freight links to Northern Europe.

“Together with the leading edge technical skills that come with the partnership with universities, including Cambridge, this combination can serve as a powerful magnet to bring new investment into the UK, and the immediate area around the ports.”

Meanwhile, in a positive boost for Lowestoft, the Government finally approved the strong business case to construct the new Gulf Wing bridge, allowing the council to access £73.39m funding from the Department of Transport. Construction should now start on the town’s third crossing next spring, with a view to opening in the summer of 2023.

Also in East Suffolk, funds have now been committed to refurbishing the bailey bridge crossing the River Blyth, connecting Walberswick with Southwold. Deemed unsafe, it was closed in October 2018 for temporary repairs, reopening that December, subject to developing a long term strategy. Now completed by Suffolk Highways, a detailed review of the bridge’s sustainability will ensure its viability in the years to come, with essential works planned for 2021.

Cllr. Richard Smith was delighted at the news:

“The bridge is an incredibly important structure in the east of the county, used by thousands of visitors and locals exploring coastal walks, or shopping and working between the two communities. Its refurbishment is a top priority, although requiring another temporary closure for safety reasons, but we will engage with local parish and town councils, as well as key stakeholders to minimise the impact.”

As Brexit pressures accelerate, Suffolk’s Public Sector Leaders have monitored its impact through a special Task Force, recruiting two specialist Trade Business Advisors in 2019, planning mitigation measures for residents and local businesses. It has now agreed to invest a further £490,000 over the next three years to support continued strategic growth.

The money includes £140,000 from the Government’s Brexit fund, with the balance of £350,000 from a pooled business rates budget. It will be used by Suffolk Chamber of Commerce to strengthen proactive engagement with EU businesses, providing tailored guidance to local enterprises looking to enter international markets, as well as protect their interests under new rules applying from 1st January.

Cllr Matthew Hicks, SCC’s Leader, who also chairs the Public Sector Leaders Group, explained:

“This is an investment in the future prosperity of Suffolk’s economy and our communities, supporting business supply chains both locally and across the rest of the UK. Our ambition has always been to work collaboratively to minimise the risks posed by Brexit, preparing businesses to maximise the opportunities with information and counselling, alleviating the anxiety and uncertainty to drive growth in employment and skills.

“Our aim is to expand long term capacity, reaping the benefits of future trade agreements.” 

Suffolk exports nearly half a billion pounds worth of goods per annum. Key issues in future will include border controls and supply-chain resilience, as well as access to new markets, and arrangements with freight forwarders and businesses in the logistics/shipping industries.

Ben Houchen: My advice to the Prime Minister. Go green for more jobs in the Red Wall – and double down on levelling up

19 Nov

Ben Houchen is the Mayor of Tees Valley.

2020 has been a tough year for Britain, and people across the world. At a time when the Government should be delivering on its manifesto pledge to level up the North, it is fighting for lives and livelihoods while fending off partisan attacks from supposed statesmen.

Mounting criticism from the opposition, fuelled by partisan political interests, and a changing of the guard in Number 10 have yielded talk of a “reset”. This is music to the ears of the Prime Minister’s opponents, both outside of the Conservative Party and within it. Quite what a reset would entail remains to be seen – it is a vague enough concept at this stage to allow anyone to dream.

Anyone, that is, but the millions of first time Conservative voters in the North of England who want the policies they voted for enacted. Their dream of a better life and a better Britain was made clear in 2016 and again in 2019, while the prospect of them becoming loyal Tory voters in future elections hangs in the balance.

If a reset means a return to the Notting Hill set’s 2010 vintage policies, with their almost slavish devotion to the Green Book and its bias towards investments in London and the South East, then it also means abandoning the North’s new Blue Wall. I know voters in the Tees Valley and similar regions won’t stand for this, and that their new Tory MPs won’t either. Going back to 2010 is no reset at all.

The Government cannot merely flick a switch and suddenly appeal to the same coalition of voters that supported it a decade ago. While many have remained loyal, some were put off by our determination to deliver Brexit and our decision to prioritise left behind communities over the metropolitan liberal elite. Conservative majorities in seats lost to the Lib Dems in the South and the SNP north of The Wall won’t just rematerialise overnight.

The Prime Minister has rightly identified that a Green Industrial Revolution can deliver both post-Covid-19 economic recovery and his Levelling Up agenda. This policy, whilst surely popular with middle class voters in the South, will also go down well in the UK’s industrial communities.

Many of the people I represent have little time for the Hug a Husky politics of the pre-Johnson era, or the increasingly bizarre publicity stunts of extremists like Extinction Rebellion. They’re just as into clean air and against pollution as anyone, but the real draw of a Green Industrial Revolution is that it will mean more good jobs, both skilled and professional. Good jobs close to home too, not roles necessitating long commutes and weeks on end away from family.

The latest clean technologies, including carbon capture and hydrogen power, can simultaneously bring the UK closer to net zero while creating good-quality jobs in the places they’re most needed. The Government has already announced the Tees Valley as the home of Britain’s national Hydrogen Transport Hub and has signalled its support for the Net Zero Teesside Carbon Capture project, which will deliver on these new, well paid jobs of the future.

Projects like these can yield thousands of jobs in the Teesside area alone, and tens if not hundreds of thousands nationwide, but that’s only part of their appeal. By decarbonising our existing energy intensive industries we can secure their future for decades to come, rather than let them become uncompetitive as penalties for emissions build up.

Another key plank of the Government’s levelling up agenda for the North is the creation of Freeports. These low-tax zones encourage trade, and investment in industry by making it easier and cheaper to do business. A Freeport would be an economic boon to any of the UK’s port towns, especially Redcar where I am bidding to create the largest such zone in the country.

Freeport incentives alone can incentivise inward investment and job creation, and even bring about the reshoring of some of our long-lost manufacturing activities. When combined with net zero technologies, especially carbon capture, they can cut the cost of going green and bring about net zero sooner.

A low-tax Freeport with on-site access to carbon capture facilities, that store CO2 miles under the sea rather than releasing it into the atmosphere, could be the perfect home for a clean steel making plant. This would mean all the benefits of domestic steelmaking without reliance on coal, by using electric arc furnaces. This steel could even find itself used in the production of offshore wind turbines for multi-gigawatt windfarms like Dogger Bank, just 80 miles of the North East coast.

On top of new industrial jobs and a general shift of the UK’s centre of economic gravity in a more northerly direction, another big Government promise that could yield results in this parliament is the relocation of the Civil Service. It’s easy to understand that moving public sector jobs to towns like Darlington and Stockton means more opportunities there and a commensurate uptick for the local economy, but there is a much more important rationale for this long overdue reform – taking back control.

When the people of the North voted to leave the European Union they did so in hope of a better life, and in the knowledge that their vote was one to take power from an unelected and unaccountable elite and bring it closer to home. Moving decision making from Brussels and Strasbourg to London and other big cities like Manchester just won’t answer that demand.

If we are to affect a fundamental shift in the way our country is governed then the civil servants that design and implement legislation – real decisions with real world consequences – must be drawn from a much wider area. Meaningful change will only happen when Whitehall moves north, but it must be to the ‘blue wall’ and not just another metropolitan city. That will do nothing for voters in Teesside and will be the façade of levelling up without actually levelling up.

New job opportunities, whether they be in engineering and manufacturing on Freeport sites, in relocated Government departments, or in the professional services firms that will move north to support these institutions, will be of a quantity and quality not seen in decades. They would represent a step change in economic opportunity for people outside of the capital that was unimaginable even a decade ago.

For the first time in my lifetime we have a Government ready to make the right investment to redress the imbalance between the regions and London, and a reset cannot be allowed to stop this. The Prime Minister, and Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, are on the cusp of delivering a once in a generation change in the fields of politics and economics. Now is the time to forget about the reset and double down on levelling up.