Gary Chapman, Co-head of North regions and Director of industrials and infrastructure at Lloyds Bank, notes that the opportunities created by Freeports extend beyond just the ports themselves.
"The extent to which Freeports will benefit the UK in the future is still a question mark for a lot of our clients. However it is clear from discussions that Freeports offer a big opportunity, especially along the East Coast. There is a lot of excitement around the inward investment opportunities that exist there. Clients in the South are reporting that they are dealing with many inbound enquiries which is a really positive sign of things to come. We are also seeing businesses in the South looking at the new opportunities that have appeared as a result of having a Freeport status.
"Many of our clients have close links with port operators who were granted Freeport status and there was a great deal of speculation and interest around the opportunities available following the Government’s announcement.
"There is a wide recognition as a bank that the Freeports are about the creation of opportunities within the free zones and not just the ports themselves. It is essential to recognise that the ports are the facilitator, and that we need to put our arms around the wider hinterland to ensure success for wider regions.
"The main issue with Freeports is security. They hold the potential to become home to fraudulent activity, which poses as a danger to the UK. However, technology holds the key to solving this issue and we are seeing a lot of development around this for customs processes generally. As the Freeport status is one that is given to a location for five years, it is beneficial to address the slightly counterintuitive nature of this time scale. It may not be enough time to fully invest, see manufacturing productivity come to fruition or see a fully stimulated economy. The attraction of manufacturers to the Freeport areas and the building of factories takes time, which within the five year window may not see all goals met.
"One of the key drivers for success will be avoiding displacement and ensuring that jobs are not moved from an already prosperous area to one that is less so. We must also ensure that stakeholders work collaboratively. Collaboration for the greater good and entire regions is the only way we will see real economic growth and success from the proposed Freeports."