Leaders in Northumberland and Tyneside could seek ‘freeport’ status to help protect the region’s economy after Brexit.
Northumberland County Council leader Peter Jackson told the North of Tyne Combined Authority’s cabinet last Tuesday that it is ‘essential’ to consider the move to protect jobs.
If the Ports of Tyne and Blyth were to become a freeport zone, it would be considered to be outside of the UK for customs purposes — meaning companies could import and export goods without paying the usual tariffs.
The call came just days after Nissan dealt a major blow to the North East economy by announcing a decision not to build the X-Trail SUV in Sunderland as planned.
Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen has previously backed the idea for Teesport, after a report he commissioned concluded it could create 25,000 jobs in the North East.
Coun Jackson, a fellow Conservative, told the cabinet meeting: “One of the main opportunities I can see for our area is for us to go for this ‘freeport’ status.
“If we are going to change the trade rules and the way we trade with other countries and economies, I think it is essential for us as the North of Tyne to take seriously this idea that we should be a freeport area.
“We have many, many years – centuries – of trading on the international stage. I think we can build on that and create more opportunities for the people that live here. I will be pressing for us to do what we can to impress upon central government that this is one of the best areas in the country to create this freeport status area.”
The North East is expected to be the region worst-hit by the economic impact of Brexit, with a recent CBI warning that a no-deal Brexit would result in the region’s economy shrinking by £7billion a year by 2034.
Treasury Minister Robert Jenrick said last year that the government was open to the idea of establishing freeports.
The combined authority – which covers Newcastle, Northumberland, and North Tyneside – has also agreed to set aside a ‘small amount’ of a new £1m investment fund to offer financial support to businesses plunged into a cash crisis by Brexit.
Newcastle City Council’s Labour leader Nick Forbes said: “I think it is absolutely appropriate that we set aside some resources from the investment fund to help our region overcome the potential turbulence that could be caused through Brexit.
“We don’t know what shape the exit from the EU will be. We are all preparing contingency plans, but doing it without a clear direction from government is like navigating a maze in the dark, blindfolded, and without a plan.”
He added: “We can do important things as a combined authority to provide confidence, stability, and certainty about the future in terms of our own plans.”
The cabinet has agreed to create an Inward Investment Grant Fund with an initial budget of £1million per year to encourage foreign or UK-owned businesses to invest in the North of Tyne region.
By Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporting Service