The sites for the eight freeports in England have been revealed as part of the Chancellor’s Budget.
Pledged in the Conservative Party 2019 manifesto, Rishi Sunak announced that East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, the Humber region, the Liverpool City Region, Plymouth, Solent, Thames and Teesside are all set to benefit from the post-Brexit status.
Mr Sunak said the “special economic zones with different rules to make it easier and cheaper to do business” would come with simpler planning, cheaper customs – with favourable tariffs, VAT or duties – and lower taxes, with “tax breaks to encourage construction, private investment and job creation”.
The announcement, which could potentially boost investment, comes only weeks before the local and mayoral elections, with the Tories looking to hang on to the Tees Valley mayoral seat, currently held by Ben Houchen, in May.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay, quizzed about freeports by MPs last month, said he had expected the locations to be announced in “the spring”, with the first freeports “ideally … operational by the end of the year”.
The freeport model works by allowing companies to import goods tariff-free and only paying once it is sold into the domestic market, or exporting the final goods without paying UK tariffs.
In 2016, Mr Sunak – before he was given a ministerial role – authored a paper for the pro-free market think tank Centre for Policy Studies calling for freeports to be set up once the UK had left the European Union.
Tudor Evans, Labour leader of Plymouth City Council, tweeted that freeport status could bring thousands of jobs to the city and more than “£100 million in investment”.
Tim Morris, chief executive of the UK Major Ports Group, said “ambitious and exciting bids” had been recognised.
He added: “However, freeports alone are not a silver bullet for addressing deprivation in coastal communities.
“The Government should look at extending some of the low-cost, pro-investment measures in the freeports ‘tool box’ to port areas more widely.”
Further announcements are still expected on freeports within the devolved administration, with the manifesto committing to creating 10 in total in the UK.
In other Budget details impacting the regions, Mr Sunak announced city and growth deals in Ayrshire, Argyll and Bute and Falkirk, adding there will be three more in North Wales, Mid Wales, and Swansea Bay.
He added there will be funding for the Holyhead hydrogen hub, the Global Centre of Rail Excellence in Neath Port Talbot, the Aberdeen Energy Transition Zone, and the Global Underwater Hub and the North Sea transition deal.
More than £1 billion will also be given for 45 new so-called bespoke “town deals”, which support areas that do not qualify for city deal-style funding.
Meanwhile the UK Infrastructure Bank will be located in Leeds, while the Treasury is to establish a new economic campus in Darlington, the Chancellor said.
Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), criticised the “politically driven” decision to base the Treasury campus in Darlington, calling it “not the right economic choice”.
He tweeted: “You need a hub for high quality civil service jobs building on strengths of the likes of Leeds or Newcastle. It doesn’t work to dot a few jobs around in a whole set of different places.”