What does a Freeport mean for Ipswich?

The Port of Felixstowe. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

The Port of Felixstowe will be at the centre of the new Freeport East project - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

The government is creating just eight new Freeports across the UK, one of which will be on Ipswich’s doorstep.

Harking back to Britain’s proud maritime history, Freeport East will be a gateway to global trade, bringing a hub of manufacturing and new job opportunities to the area.

A freeport is a special tax zone, which takes advantage of the UK’s new freedoms following Brexit to establish a customs zone which benefits businesses within a specific area. Like the duty-free in an airport, special tax zones are exempt from import duties while within the zone. This means businesses will have an economic incentive to manufacture within the special zone, bringing jobs and economic activity to the region.

The UK has established infrastructure for shipping with some of the biggest ports in Europe. Felixstowe is the largest, handling 48% of the UK’s containerised trade - in September, the world’s largest container ship came to the port.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt. Picture: PARLIAMENT LIVE TV

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt says skills and training will be essential to help Ipswich people take advantage of the thousands of freeport jobs on offer - Credit: Archant

The new freeports will boost trade in the UK by a predicted £12 billion a year, with huge benefits for the British economy. But what does Freeport East mean for Ipswich?

About 6,000 Ipswich residents are already employed directly or indirectly in port of Felixstowe activity. With the three tax sites located at Felixstowe, Harwich, and Stowmarket, our town is conveniently placed to benefit from the increase in economic activity and employment – Ipswich still stands to gain hugely from the Freeport, even though we do not house a freezone site. I’m really pleased to see the Freeport status given to Felixstowe, and I think the impact in levelling up Ipswich’s economy will be significant.

As many as 13,500 new jobs will be created by the freeport label given to Felixstowe. These new job opportunities will require highly skilled workers as the freezone will target agri-tech, engineering, and renewable energy to name a few. 

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For Ipswich residents to take full advantage of the new employment brought to the region by Freeport East, we need technical training with relevant and applicable skills to be accessible to local people.

Currently, average wages in Ipswich are below the UK’s national average. The Freeport offers jobs which can boost our wage-level locally, giving local people a route into skilled, high paid employment. But this requires an education sector focused on upskilling the local population. 

I want to see local people see the benefits of these high-paying job opportunities. This means providing technical education and training which is directly relevant to new opportunities at the Freeport in industries like engineering and manufacturing.

How the Freeport East green hydrogen hub would work

How the Freeport East green hydrogen hub would work - Credit: Freeport East

If Freeport East is going to be a success, the education sector in Ipswich is central. I want people in Ipswich to be directly linked up with new job opportunities through the education sector. I don’t want people from outside taking the bulk if these jobs, which has often been the case in the past.

As MP for Ipswich, I am working with key stakeholders like Suffolk New College and University of Suffolk to make this skills provision a reality.

Ground-breaking green connections with Suffolk New College will see hydrogen power the freeport. Net zero ambitions for the freeport include plans to use hydrogen and nuclear power to ensure the hub is renewable and forward-thinking. The freeport will also drive investment in offshore wind energy, promoting further renewable energy solutions. The Suffolk New College Tech Campus is receiving almost £1million of funding from the Town Deal to support provision of apprenticeships and technical education: fostering the connections between further education and exciting technical opportunities is essential to see local people benefit. I think that skills are fundamental to levelling up: making sure that the infrastructure is there to prepare Ipswich people for better opportunities is important.

As well as new jobs for local people, new freeports bring the potential for greater investment. While ports like Felixstowe already have the infrastructure to handle 400m container ships, government investment accompanying freeport status will see improvement in roads, education and training for skills, and the transport necessary to keep a new freeport running smoothly.

This has obvious benefits for the area too – in Ipswich, infrastructure and transport projects such as the northern bypass are prime candidates.  Over the next five years the freeport would attract more than £500m of investment, while the total gross value added to the UK economy is £650m. I want to make the most of this future investment in our region, which could uplift local transport, education and infrastructure.

It’s important that Ipswich residents can take advantage of the new job opportunities, and have the technical training and skills support to do so. Ipswich has been deemed officially ‘in need of levelling up’, with significant pockets of deprivation. Initiatives like the freeport have the potential to bring huge gains in economic activity, investment, and employment to areas most in need, levelling up Ipswich and the surrounding area. However, the benefits to local people rely on a strategy for skills and education being properly executed.

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