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Plymouth and South Devon Freeport

The Plymouth & South Devon Freeport came into being under a Conservative government, with a Conservative run South Hams District Council.  There was no public consultation and the Conservatives ensured it was fully signed and sealed before they lost control of the council to the Liberal Democrats in 2023.

 

The Liberal Democrats, as a party, are concerned that freeports will simply move jobs and investment to different parts of the country, rather than create new ones; that they could lead to costly tax cuts for big business, and that there are risks for illicit economic activity. Creating tax havens is no way to prop up a stagnant economy.

 

Here in South Devon I am concerned that the P&SD freeport could cause jobs to be relocated from other areas of Devon, causing regional inequality and putting yet more pressure on rural communities especially, where year-round employment is vital. The leaders of Plymouth City Council, SHDC and Devon County Council have the final say in whether companies can relocate to the freeport from elsewhere or not. 

 

All of these concerns have been shared with colleagues at SHDC. 

 

I recognise the public concern on freeports and the concerns of the local community around the freeport here, including concerns around the lowering of environmental standards and workers’ rights. 

 

As MP for South Devon it would be one of my priorities to ensure that the freeport was in compliance with all UK legislation and I will be monitoring developments there very closely. I will always encourage my colleagues at SHDC to be open and transparent about the integrity and economic effectiveness of the freeport project.

 

As regards Dartmoor - Dartmoor is not part of the freeport. Three tax sites have been designated in the freeport and cannot now be expanded, nor can additional tax sites be added. They were designated as employment sites in the Plymouth and South West Devon Joint Local Plan which was agreed in 2019 and which went through a thorough public consultation process. Additional customs sites could still be designated within the outer boundary of the freeport, but they would require the business concerned to submit a planning application in the usual manner which would have no preferential treatment because of freeport status. Existing planning laws governing Dartmoor National Park cannot be circumvented.

 

To be clear, no Liberal Democrat government would have introduced freeports. We believe that the government is wrong to present freeports as a silver bullet for international trade and growth. We know that they won't go near offsetting the damage done by the Conservatives' terrible trade deals, or the effects of their economic mismanagement, and carry very real risks both economic and environmental.

 

We are now in a partnership agreement signed by the previous Conservative administration at SHDC, which imposes legal obligations on the council, and this government is clearly not going to cancel their flagship freeports project, despite mounting concerns. It remains to be seen what a future Labour government will do. For the moment, we must be pragmatic and do everything we can to ensure the existing freeport remains tightly controlled by UK legislation and works for the people of South Devon—with no options off the table.

 

One of the key concerns for people in this area is jobs and investment – retail and hospitality jobs are not enough. We need long-term, year-round, skilled and well-paid jobs for local people. I want to make sure that that is what we gain from the P&SD freeport.

 

Our role now is to make sure that SHDC helps shape the direction of the freeport; ensuring new jobs are based around the green economy and local skills, are well-paid and with good employment conditions. That the freeport operates under the same legislation as applies to the rest of the country in both employment and environmental areas.

 

What we want to see here are new, clean, green, high-tech jobs that can capitalise on the excellence in the Plymouth and South Devon area in marine technology, R&D and innovation, jobs that echo the passion we see locally for environmental protection and nature restoration. Jobs that push forward the green revolution and develop the industries of the future, while offering opportunities for workers at all levels and for all ages. 

Feb 2024

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