The British Ports Association (BPA) has set out three priorities for the establishment of freeports for UK governments.
It comes as the industry expressed its welcome of the recognition from governments across the UK that ports have an important role to play in industrial policy, supporting innovation and prosperity in coastal communities and beyond.
The BPA has been making the case for several years that ports are more than just gateways for passengers and freight but “have the potential” to be hubs of industrial activity, jobs and growth.
Whilst welcoming the focus from the government, the BPA has warned how intervention in a competitive market could have unintended consequences.
Since major reforms to the industry thirty years ago, the industry has operated entirely independently from government in terms of its funding and governance which in turn has brought huge benefits such as ports investing hundreds of millions of private capital every year in infrastructure and contributing £2bn a year to the Exchequer.
The BPA is now calling on governments to ensure that the selection process must be fair and transparent.
The association expressed its concerns that the benefits of freeports will be offered to a “small and arbitrary” number of winners picked by the government, which could disrupt a “well-functioning and competitive” market.
Additionally, BPA has asked for a continuity to work with the industry to ensure a sound regulatory environment is established. Finally, the association has called for a “level playing field” across all UK nations.
Already Scotland has accepted the UK government’s freeports offer, but industry is still waiting on key details to ensure these designations are equally beneficial. BPA said it “strongly encourages” the Welsh government and Northern Irish executive follow suit to avoid displacement to English and Scottish ports.
Phoebe Warneford-Thomson, policy manager and economic analyst, at the British Ports Association said: “The BPA has been lobbying for this freeports package for years, so this is a welcome and exciting milestone. We have long argued that ports can play a wider role in local and regional economies and we are delighted that ministers have recognised this.
“We hope that the Government will assess each bid on its merit and not place an arbitrary cap on our ambitions. We would be surprised if there are not more than 10 high quality and compelling bids so we hope the government will assess each on their merits and retain an open mind on numbers.”