Submissions to launch freeports by port authorities around the UK will be formally made today, with winning bids expected to open for business later this year.
More than 20 possible sites could be in the running with around ten winning bids expected to be named.
With hopes rising around the concept, however, the number of winning bids may not be capped, the Times reports.
Regeneration and innovation
Freeports are seen as potential levers for regeneration in some of the most deprived areas of the country.
Firms operating within them could benefit from favourable customs duties and processes, VAT suspensions and business rates relief.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Our new freeports will create national hubs for trade, innovation and commerce, levelling up communities across the UK, creating new jobs and turbo-charging our economic recovery.”
Contenders include a joint bid for a new ‘Thames Freeport’ from Thames Gateway, Tilbury port and Ford Dagenham, which could create around 25,000 new jobs.
Bids in England are expected to come from Felixstowe and Harwich, Dover, Southampton and the Humber ports, among others.
Each of the devolved nations is expected to get a freeport as well.
In Scotland, several ports have expressed an interest including Cromarty, Aberdeen and Dundee, the Herald reports.
However, the Scottish government has taken a slightly sceptical view of freeports, fearing that they will provide low-paid jobs only.
In Wales, Milford Haven has set out a bid, reports Business News Wales.
The UK’s largest energy port faces competition from Associated British Ports’ South Wales hubs in Port Talbot, Swansea, Newport, Cardiff and Barry.
There are also calls for the Port of Holyhead to be granted freeport status, and Cardiff Airport could also bid, reports Business Live.
In Northern Ireland, Derry and Larne are among contenders.
While freeports are seen as a tool in the government’s levelling up agenda, the Loadstar points out that they have already existed in the UK during the 80s and 90s when ports like Tilbury and Liverpool offered freedom from customs duties.
The next generation of freeports offer a more comprehensive package of benefits than their predecessors, but critics worry they will simply move economic activity around the UK rather than attract new investment and jobs.
The government has countered that “bidders will be invited to provide evidence and potential displacement mitigations as part of their bids”.
The winning bids are expected to be announced in spring this year.