Thinktank report author questions East Midlands ‘freeport’ plans

The projected economic boost of the proposed East Midlands ‘freeport’ has been questioned by the author of a study looking into the wider freeport network.

Monday, 13th September 2021, 6:30 am

Full details of the region’s freeport bid were unveiled for the first time last week, outlining plans for as many as 55,220 estimated jobs and an economic boost of £8.4 billion over 25 years.

The bid is being backed by councillors, MPs and business leaders from across Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire.

But Jonathan Portes, a senior fellow at thinktank UK in a Changing Europe, has questioned some of the figures and suggested estimates may not be ‘as big a number as [they] sound’.

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East Midlands Airport is earmarked as a freeport hub.

Current projections suggest 25,789 direct roles and almost 30,000 indirect jobs could be created by the project, which will focus on three anchor sites within the East Midlands.

The Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, in Rushcliffe, is expected to be the largest beneficiary of new jobs, with green energy company Intelligent Energy to create a renewable Hydrogen Gigafactory on-site.

This, the company confirmed, will create up to 1,000 jobs and lead to ‘thousands more’. It plans to bring its own supply chains with it to the Rushcliffe hub.

Thousands more jobs are expected on-site, as well as within the East Midlands Airport and Derbyshire Toyota Island hubs.

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‘Magic bullet’

However, Mr Portes, who co-authored a report in the spring saying freeports may not be a ‘magic bullet’ for regional economies, said ‘perspective is required’ on these figures.

His report questioned whether jobs may be displaced by freeport plans, rather than created, and suggested these roles may have been created ‘without the freeport’ benefits.

He said: “On job displacement, the argument is not these are not ‘new’ jobs, or jobs simply moved from somewhere else.

“It is these jobs would have been created, either in the East Midlands or somewhere else, even without the freeport tax breaks or subsidies.

“Perspective is required here. Total employment in the East Midlands is more than two million, and that, in turn, means several hundred thousand new jobs are created in the East Midlands every year.”

He also questioned the projected 25-year, £8.4bn boost to the region’s economy.

The region produces an annual GDP of almost £130bn, with Mr Portes believing it is ‘not instantly obvious’ whether the projection is as big as supporters would suggest.

But Scott Knowles, chief executive of the East Midlands Chamber, has come out in support of the freeport after the bid was lodged to Government this week.

He says it will offer ‘huge benefits’, with the freeport to be the only in-land site and located close to the airport. This, he says, puts the region in a ‘unique position’.

He adds the free trade zone – offering lower taxes, import and export tariffs and business rates to freeport businesses – will ‘give investors something tangible’.

He said: “Our region already has fantastic national and international trading links – something highlighted during the pandemic – and freeport status means we can cement our role at the centre of Britain’s post-Brexit global trading relationship.

“For our workforce, it will provide much-needed new opportunities for high-skilled, well-paid and more productive jobs.”

The bid, submitted to Government in outline form last week, is expected to be approved in full by December or January, with sites becoming operational by March.

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