Calls to create free port at Berwick - though chiefs fear it will not meet criteria

Calls to create a free port for Northumberland have again come to the fore – this time in Berwick.

By Ben O'Connell
Monday, 24th February 2020, 10:40 am
Updated Friday, 28th February 2020, 6:32 pm
Picture c/o Google Streetview
Picture c/o Google Streetview

The Government announced earlier this month that it is planning to open up to 10 free ports across the UK, which would allow businesses to import goods and then re-export them outside normal tax and customs rules.

A 10-week consultation has been launched ahead of a bidding process, with the aim of announcing the location of the new zones at the end of this year so they can be open for business in 2021.

At a full meeting of Northumberland County Council, the ward member for Berwick East, Coun Georgina Hill, highlighted that the Government says its goal is to target former industrial heartlands and coastal communities, and ‘level up’ the country.

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She asked: “Do you agree that Berwick would be ideal for such a scheme and will you lobby Government for the inclusion of Berwick and north Northumberland in this?”

Council leader Peter Jackson responded that while the criteria have not been confirmed pending the consultation, it ‘could be safely assumed’ that the selected 10 were likely to be major deep-water ports with very large industrial hinterlands – something that is not available in Berwick.

Coun Hill followed up by calling for efforts to be made to ensure that ports like Berwick would not be disadvantaged by these ‘superports’ elsewhere.

Coun Jackson had earlier said that all of the Berwick councillors would be aware of the support that the Port of Berwick has had from the authority and that it is in the process of approving regeneration projects for the town through the Borderlands deal.

There are also calls for Blyth to become one of the free ports, with the area’s new Conservative MP, Ian Levy, raising the issue through his first question at Prime Minister’s Questions last week, highlighting its strategic importance to the renewable energy industry.

In response, Boris Johnson said that Mr Levy ‘makes an excellent point about the potential of Blyth, although I must remind him that the allocation of free ports will be decided in an entirely fair and transparent way’.

“The Port of Blyth is a key employer in the town and they’re also a major investor in our economy and a vital part of the town’s community,” Mr Levy said afterwards. “I will be doing all I can to help the port’s growth, starting with making the case for free-port status.”

What are free ports?

Free ports, also called free trade zones, are designated areas where normal tax and tariff rules do not apply.

This allows goods to be imported, manufactured and exported without being subject to tariffs, checks and paperwork.

Companies operating in the zone tend to pay lower taxes, such as reduced VAT and lower rates of employment tax.

Seven areas existed in the UK between 1984 and 2012, when laws permitted them ended.

The areas included Liverpool, Southampton, the Port of Tilbury, the Port of Sheerness and Prestwick Airport.