UK Ports Industry Calls on UK Administrations to Prioritise Industry Over Politics

Ahead of the Welsh and Scottish elections on May 6, and the approaching period of purdah on March 25, the BPA has called for a four-nation approach to ensure ports in the devolved administrations are not disadvantaged by a significant delay behind the English Freeports.

Concerns have been raised following a letter sent to industry stakeholders yesterday by Ivan McKee MSP, Minister for Trade, Innovation and Public Finance, which implies that any delay to Scottish Freeports has been brought by the UK Government and their hesitancy to approve a number of the Scottish Government’s key criteria.

The Scottish ports industry has now been left with questions about how Freeports will develop in Scotland after McKee’s comments, as he states that the Scottish Government “will conclude that the UK Government has effectively withdrawn from this process” if they have not confirmed the applicant prospectus can be launched by close of business on Monday 22 March. Industry has not been party to a response from the UK government.

This follows word fed to industry this week that the Welsh Government is not going to be in a position to make a statement on Freeports before the election. We were disappointed to hear this news and had previously written to the Chief Secretary of the Treasury in support of the Welsh Governance on their representations for ports in Wales and to urge time sensitivity.

Indeed, the BPA has remained firm throughout discussions on Freeports that principles of fairness and inclusivity are critical to the success of the policy. The industry is market-led and a level playing field for ports across the administrations to compete with one another is critical.

Unless timescales are aligned, there could be a greater risk of economic displacement away from areas waiting for a Freeport designation. This would be to the detriment of UK ports and the coastal communities in which they operate.

The BPA wrote to ministers in England, Scotland and Wales in November 2020 to note the time-sensitivity of Freeports proposals and to ask them to remain sentient of further delay should discussions not conclude before purdah begins ahead of the elections.

Commenting, Richard Ballantyne, Chief Executive at the British Ports Association said:

“The BPA has been supportive of the concept of Freeports across the UK and believes they can be a force for immense good – socially and economically - if implemented properly and fairly. However, there are legitimate fears amongst ports in many of the devolved administrations that they will miss out and be left behind.

Developments this week suggest potential deadlock between administrations regarding progressing to the bidding rounds within the devolved administrations. We are asking Government to consider the importance of ensuring the level-playing field is not disrupted and Freeports are set up on an even keel and awarded an equal amount of seed funding

Ports have also spent significant time and money in anticipation of bidding - Governments of all administrations owe them certainty and must not allow them to get caught up in political tension.
It is also now clear that the arbitrary cap of locations is causing a real issue. Ports in the devolved administrations are keen to catch up with the English process while a number of unsuccessful and non designated locations in England would like to benefit from many of the regulatory easements to avoid any market distortion.”

The BPA itself represents 43 out of the 50 major port locations in the UK and our membership accounts for 86% of all tonnage and includes all the major port operators in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and many more.