DEVON councils behind the Plymouth and South Devon Freeport have been accused of ‘pouring public funds into private enterprise’ and going ‘rogue’.
The claims come after the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, announced on Wednesday that the county’s freeport is up and running.
Freeports are special areas where normal tax and customs rules do not apply and imports can enter with simplified customs documentation and without paying tariffs.
The idea is to stimulate economic activity in certain areas.
Plymouth and South Devon Freeport will now receive up to £25 million in seed funding and could retain tens of millions in local business rates to help support regional businesses including the marine, defence and space sectors.
Conservative leader of Plymouth City Council and councillor for Southway, Richard Bingley, said it is an important step.
‘The freeport will deliver 3,500 well paid jobs and provide a free trade hub which will include advanced manufacturing and IT for Plymouth and South Devon,’ he said.
‘It’s putting this area on the map for foreign investment and attracting businesses to relocate here.
‘This is a huge deal for this city and the wider region and I’m really excited about the opportunities it will create for our residents and our businesses.’
The government claims the freeport could bring investment worth over £100 million into the Plymouth and South Devon economies in the next two years and create thousands of jobs.
But Devon County councillor Jacqi Hodgson (Green) suggested the freeport scheme focuses money on the wrong things at the wrong time.
‘I am astonished that despite the major national economic crisis that is rapidly turning into a stress strewn black hole for many residents across South Devon and Plymouth,’ said Cllr Hodgson.
‘Both the government and our local authorities see fit to continue with this shameless pouring of public funds into private enterprise that will benefit only the private sector.’
Cllr Hodgson said the councils had ‘steamed ahead’ with their business case for the freeport based on them borrowing millions of pounds through treasury funded loans totalling £29 million.
The figures include £15 million for Devon County Council, £9 million for Plymouth City Council and £5 million for South Hams District Council.
‘My view is that they should be borrowing these monies to invest in much needed social housing and renewable energy projects that would bring the real levelling up to the people who need it,’ said Cllr Hodgson.
‘It seems incongruous to me that we should be investing in luxury yacht enterprises and even more concerning is that the CEO of Princess luxury yachts heads up the consortium running this bid.
‘That there has been no public consultation speaks volumes. Have these local authorities gone rogue?
Wednesday’s announcement means councils and landowners can bring forward three sites for new businesses and employment.
The sites include: