LCR Freeport poised for launch, with £25m funding following government approval

Liverpool City Region Freeport is poised for launch after the Government approved SSO International Freight Forwarding as its first Customs Site Operator.

It will officially open when the Government accepts the final action points from the full business case, which will release £25m in funding to be spent locally.

Once fully open, it is estimated the freeport could create more than 14,000 jobs, deliver £800m of investment and generate an additional £850m of GVA for the Liverpool City Region’s economy.

Freeports have attracted criticism on the grounds that health and safety and environmental rules can be relaxed, but Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram and local leaders say they have been clear throughout the entire freeport bidding process that the region is pursuing this for the opportunities it will bring for regeneration and building on expanding capacity in areas such as research and development – and not to pursue a ‘race to the bottom’.

The Mayor has said he would not accept any dilution of workers’ rights, safety practices or regulatory standards. Mayor Rotheram said: “Throughout the process, I’ve been clear that I will only use our Freeport as a force for good, to help build an economy that works for everyone in our region.

“I want to attract investment into our region who believe in and support our local ambitions – those who will help us to protect workers’ rights and uphold standards, and who want to work with us to deliver regeneration and funding in the areas that need it most.

“The establishment of the Liverpool City Region Freeport has the potential to help our drive to attract international investment, create more well paid, highly skilled jobs for local people and build on our existing strengths.

“I want to ensure that there is purpose behind this status that not only drives our economy, but fuels greater social mobility, innovation, and inclusion for our whole region – including the integration of our Fair Employment Charter.

“Today, those plans have taken another step forward. I will be pressing for it to be up and running as soon as possible so local people and communities can begin to feel the benefits.”

By grouping high productivity and innovative businesses close together, the Freeport can play a role in the region’s work to tackle the underlying weaknesses in the local job market such as productivity, pay and job security.

The region’s leaders say they have chosen to pursue businesses and industries that align with the values and priorities of the combined authority. These include innovation in advanced manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and green energy – with a particular focus on the region’s target to be net zero carbon by 2040 at the latest.

Cllr David Baines, leader of St Helens Borough Council, said: “This is fantastic news for SSO International Freight Forwarding, our borough, and the region’s Freeport ambitions. With Parkside and other potential sites ready to give a boost to our existing businesses and provide new opportunities for others to make St Helens Borough their home, the future looks bright thanks to LCR Freeport status.”

A Freeport customs site operator provides a secure, enclosed customs zone where some normal customs rules do not apply. SSO International Freight Forwarding is an experienced freight forwarding specialist based in St Helens, offering a full range of import and export services.

It will now operate a designated customs site consisting of its brand new 50,000 square foot secure warehouse in Haydock, with easy access to the M62 and M6, as well as Liverpool and Manchester airports, and the Port of Liverpool.

SSO international Forwarding’s relocation to the Haydock warehouse in 2021 was supported with a £125,000 loan from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’s Flexible Growth Fund.

Angus Hirst, head of customs from SSO International Forwarding, said: “Becoming the first Customs Site Operator for the Liverpool City Region Freeport is brilliant news for us as a company and even better news for our customers, who will be able to take advantage of the many tax and customs benefits this opens up to them.”

The Freeport is a designated area covering 45km, where a range of economic incentives will be available, covering customs, business rates, planning, regeneration, innovation and trade and investment support. Local councils will be able to retain 100% of business rates growth generated by the Freeport tax sites – located in Birkenhead, St Helens and Widnes.

Centred on a mix of infrastructure including the deep water container terminal at the Port of Liverpool – the UK’s biggest western facing port, which already handles 45% of trade from the US –it is the key coastal access point to the UK’s largest concentration of manufacturing.

Targeting key sectors including automotive, biomanufacturing/pharmaceuticals and maritime, the Freeport will support and attract new advanced manufacturing, logistics and low carbon energy industries.

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