Freeport isn’t ‘silver bullet’ for Devon

Lib Dem, Reform UK, Conservatives and Labour addressed a Devon Chamber business hustings (image: Radio Exe)

But candidates agree it's a good idea The tax-busting Plymouth and South Devon Freeport is not a "silver bullet" for the area's economy, a number of parliamentary candidates have declared at a business hustings. The much flagged private/public partnership, which offers tax breaks for companies and it is claimed could bring 3,500 jobs to the area, is not something that has got voters excited about either, it appears.

Speaking at an event at Plymouth University organised by Devon and Plymouth Chamber of Commerce and Radio Exe, South West Devon parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats Julian Brazil said he had knocked on around a thousand doors during his campaign and not one person mentioned the freeport. He said whilst he supported the freeport for the inward investment it might bring to Plymouth and the South Hams, he believes freeports are "no use whatsoever" because they displace businesses from one area to another. The designation has brought GBP25 million from the government and GBP20 million from Devon County Council.

South Hams District Council is expected to put in around GBP3.5million. The partnership also includes Plymouth City Council, a number of local businesses and the Universities of Plymouth and Exeter. "I favour a freeport in this area because it will bring inward investment and support the residents of the places I represent," said Mr Brazil, who is leader of South Hams District Council.

"But the idea that the freeports are a silver bullet that are going to solve problems, promote growth and improve the economic output of this country is tosh. "We got it done to us, and we will do what we can to get the best return but not a single person has raised it on the doorstep to me." Other candidates at the event - Stephen Horner (Reform UK), who is standing in South West Devon; Daniel Steel (Lab) in South Devon; and Gareth Streeter (Con) in Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, support the freeport.

Mr Horner said it sounded good in principle but he accepts the execution of it might be difficult. "It's not a silver bullet, and it is a bit of a distraction from some of the fundamental changes that are needed nationally and here, but I am not against it. If there is anything to make the south west stronger economically then I am going to go for it.

Daniel Steel (Lab) said the freeport aligned with plans to create training and jobs in the marine and green energy/ environmental sectors which included a new City College hub in the Civic Centre building in the heart of the city. He said the Labour-led Plymouth City Council is investing in future skills training and the freeport is integral to this. When challenged on the point that freeports were not in Labour's manifesto, he said not everything could be included in the document's 130 pages.

Gareth Streeter, standing in Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, has called on all Plymouth candidates to sign his 'Freeport Protection Pact'. He claimed the last MP, Labour's Luke Pollard, did not support that pact. Mr Streeter claims that job opportunities across Plymouth and South Devon could be at risk if Labour renegotiates Britain's relationship with the EU, should the party win next week's general election.

The style of freeport that exists in the city would not be permitted if the UK aligns too closely with the rules, regulations or institutions of the European Union, he claimed.

He added that people may not have mentioned the freeport on the doorstep, but they were worried about jobs and the freeport is a means to get jobs.

A show of hands in the audience showed about two-thirds of those attending backed a freeport for the area.