Freeport plan for Portsmouth and Solent hoped to create 50,000 jobs

BILLIONS of pounds could be pumped into the area’s economy and tens of thousands of jobs created after the government backed a ‘once-in-a-generation’ bid to create a new tax-free freeport in the Solent.

Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 9:35 pm
An aerial view looking over Portsmouth, which has been named as one of the areas to become a new freeport Picture: Shaun Roster

Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled the new business boosting measure as he set out his 2021 Budget in the House of Commons.

Mr Sunak said the plan would turbodrive the economy, allowing businesses to grow, transport links to improve and encouraging new investment through tax breaks or lower tariffs.

The free port announcement means the Solent - which includes Portsmouth - will become one of eight new zones around the country to benefit from import and export tax relief.

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Speaking to MPs, Mr Sunak declared: ‘Coronavirus has caused one of the largest, most comprehensive and sustained economic shocks this country has ever faced and by any objective analysis this gov has delivered one of the largest, most comprehensive and sustained responses this country has ever seen.

‘We’re using the full measure of our fiscal firepower to protect the jobs and livelihoods of the British people.’

Regional leaders have celebrated the news, which they claimed could help lift the area’s economic prospects to new levels.

The Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which spearheaded the bid, said it could create up to 52,000 new jobs and had the potential of attracting ‘£2bn of investment’ into the region.

Brian Johnson, Solent LEP chairman, said: ‘This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the region that we’re delighted has been supported by the government.

‘Today's announcement represents the start of a new era for the Solent as we begin our work with government to create jobs, drive innovation and build sustainable, long-term opportunities now and in the future.’

Portsmouth International Port has been named as one of the locations that will benefit from the new announcement.

Dunsbury Park, one of the area’s newest industrial and manufacturing hubs on the outskirts of Havant, will also feature as a freeport location.

The relaxed tax and tariff rules the site will benefit from means there is a greater chance to attract international manufacturers - although at this stage, it is not yet clear which tax reliefs will be available.

But Alan Mak, Havant MP, was confident the news would ‘incentivise businesses to create jobs and attract inward investment’.

‘This is positive news for Leigh Park and the Havant area, and I’m delighted the bid that I backed in Westminster has been successful,’ he beamed.

Nicola Bailey, development manager at the Federation of Small Businesses, represents firms across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and was excited by the news.

‘The fact that the Solent's ambitious bid for freeport status has been shortlisted by government is a real boost for the wider Solent area.

‘The proposal has the potential to attract £2bn investment and create 52,000 jobs; through opening the potential to bring tax reliefs, simplified customs procedures and streamlined planning processes to promote regeneration and innovation which can only be positive for the whole Solent economy.’

However, Paul Gilmour, lecturer in criminal justice and policing at the University of Portsmouth, has warned freeports have the potential to be used as taxhavens for criminals.

He said: ‘Freeports can be great for the local economy and great for employment. But on the flipside they can allow companies to operate in secrecy.

‘There is a risk criminals can use them to launder money and evade tax. That is something the government needs to be mindful.’

Regional leaders have hinted the first local freeport sites could be up and running before the end of the year.