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Welsh Government ‘frustrated’ by lack of progress on freeports

The Welsh Government has still not received a formal proposal from the UK Government to establish a freeport in Wales, despite repeated appeals from Cardiff.

In July, Wales’ finance and economy ministers, Rebecca Evans and Vaughan Gething, asked UK ministers for urgent discussions on the policy.

Yesterday at the Welsh Parliament, in response to a question by Labour Senedd Member Joyce Watson, Ms Evans confirmed that there has been no progress.

Mrs Watson, who represents the Mid and West Wales region, said:

“I have put on record my doubts about freeports. I’m not convinced of the economic argument, and I have concerns relating to the environment and labour standards.

“What I am sure of, however, is that Wales must not be short changed, our key strategic ports must not be disadvantaged, and policies must not be imposed on us by the UK Government.

“Has there been any progress on these issues since July, which is when you last outlined the details coming out—or lack of details coming out—from UK Ministers?”

The Welsh Government has said it is open to the idea of freeports and wants to come to an agreement with London. In May, however, Welsh Secretary Simon Hart threatened to impose one on Wales, with or without Welsh Government consent.

Replying to Joyce Watson, finance minister Rebecca Evans said:

“There’s been no real progress since July, unfortunately. And, in frustration, in August, I wrote a joint letter with Ministers from the other devolved Governments to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury seeking an urgent meeting on freeports, and I’m very disappointed that we have yet to receive a response to that.

“We do remain committed to working collaboratively with the UK Government on freeports, although we do share Joyce Watson’s concerns.

“There are three things that are really important if we are to work with the UK Government on this, the first being joint decision making between the UK Government and the Welsh Government in terms of where those ports will be and what the parameters of the deal will be. Conditionality, because, like Joyce Watson, we are really concerned about the effect of freeports, potentially, on standards – it’s important that any freeports in Wales reflect our values and priorities, in terms of environmental standards and fair work. And, crucially, it’s important that we do receive a fair funding settlement.”

The Welsh Government has previously complained that, under the Barnett formula, Wales would be offered £8m to set up a freeport, while ports in England would each receive £25m in financial support.

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