A STRING of Teesside trade zones promising to bring 18,000 new jobs in the next five years have been launched.

The Teesside Freeport will begin operating next month after the region was named alongside the Humber and Thames as hosting the country’s first three in this week’s government spending review. 

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Tax relief zones have been lined up to cover Teesworks, Wilton Engineering, Teesside Airport, the Port of Middlesbrough, Port of Hartlepool, Liberty Steel, LV Shipping and Teesport.

A new freeport brand with the tagline “Global trade, global scale” was unveiled at Wilton Engineering on Thursday after being designed by Middlesbrough-based firm Better. 

Teesside’s freeport will be the UK’s biggest and is set to be the first to be up and running in November. 

Freeports allow goods to be imported without tariffs, excise duties and other taxes being paid before materials are shipped on again.

However, tariffs may be payable on finished products when they reach their destination.  Combined authority officials say it will drive billions into the region’s economy by encouraging long-term inward investment in the region and enhancing trade without sacrificing environmental protections or workers’ rights.

But concerns have been shared about freeports just transferring economic activity from one place to another – particularly given the past record of “enterprise zones” in the UK.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen and Conservative Redcar MP Jacob Young were in attendance at Haverton Hill alongside business leaders for the brand launch. 

The Northern Echo:

Mr Houchen told an assembled crowd the freeport would be operational by mid-November. 

And he believed it would add more than £3bn to the economy once fully developed.

The mayor added: “It sees us as a global UK hub – especially around the fact that Teesside is ground zero for net zero. 

“This is the start and this is the thing we can build upon to make sure we’re part of that green industrial revolution.”

The freeport was name-checked as a factor behind the arrival of General Electric to build their upcoming offshore wind turbine plant. 

Mr Houchen believed the zone would bring “better wages for local people” and offer Teessiders more disposable income. 

Conservative MP Jacob Young said it would give investors a “hook to invest” by benefiting from tax changes and relaxed planning rules. 

And he believed the freeport was a big opportunity. 

Mr Young said: “This will bring thousands of jobs to Redcar and the Tees Valley in the clean industries of the future. In offshore wind, green energy, hydrogen and life sciences.

“This is the biggest opportunity for our region since Henry Bolckow looked up at Eston Hills and said: ‘You know what? I reckon there’s iron in there’.”

“Long way to go”

Eight freeports, including Teesside, were announced in spring this year.  Mr Houchen warned there was still a long way to go for the region – with challenges when it came to increasing skills among the population in the Tees Valley.  There have also been doubts over whether the freeport concept will deliver on its brief.  The UK hosted seven freeports when it was part of the EU between 1984 and 2012.

New zones are set to offer more freedom on certain tax concessions which can be offered.

However, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has also sounded misgivings over the economic boost freeports could bring. 

A row broke out between union Unite and Mr Houchen last week after assurances were sought over “genuine protections” for workers to ensure there was no “race to the bottom”. 

The Northern Echo: Redcar MP Jacob Young

Conservative MP Jacob Young

The mayor accused the union of “politicking” and “worrying workers across the region for no reason” – adding there would be no change in rights and regulations for employees within freeports.

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Union leaders in turn called the barbs from the mayor “surprising and absurd”.  On the freeport last week, Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald said they all wanted good jobs coming to the region but he also shared concerns about what it would bring for working people as well as misgivings about the zone’s governance arrangements. 

The Labour MP added: “All of this will be for nothing if it doesn’t deliver secure, unionised, well paid jobs and feeds into the direct economy of the Tees Valley, to begin to address some of the endemic inequalities in our communities.

“Unless we see income levels rise and levels of poverty and child poverty reduce drastically then it will have failed.

“We want to make sure the voice of working people is heard.”

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