Agenda item

Thames Freeport: Business Rates Policy and Governance Structure


The Assistant Director of Economic Growth and Partnerships introduced the report and stated that it formed part of a wider government policy for increased investments in trade; innovation and regeneration; and levelling up to improve people’s employment prospects and contribute to initiatives aimed at improving health and wellbeing. He stated that the Outline Business Case for the scheme had been submitted to government and was approved in October 2021, with the sites designated alongside other financial aspects in December 2021. He stated that the Full Business Case (FBC) had been submitted in January 2022, and was currently being quality assured by numerous government departments at Whitehall. He added that the partners were hoping to receive formal approval of the FBC by the end of March or early April. He thanked partners at the London Boroughs of Barking and Dagenham and Havering for their joint work on the project.

The Assistant Director of Economic Growth and Partnerships stated that the Freeport could provide approximately 21,000 new jobs and would see additional private investment of over £4bn, the majority of which would come into Thurrock. He commented that the Freeport would provide opportunities for businesses both during construction and operation, and Thurrock were hoping to link small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to the Freeport through the supply chain. He added that the Freeport would also present opportunities to upskill the local workforce as Officers were currently looking at how they could target opportunities available and upskill people to be able to apply for these jobs. He stated that targeted pathfinder programme would be available that would help people to access jobs and remove their barriers to employment.

The Assistant Director of Finance added that the business rates scheme for the Freeport had been active since December 2021, but the proposed policy provided clarity for businesses regarding business rate relief. He stated that the process for business rate relief sat within the Council, but business rates would be compensated for by central government. He stated that Thurrock were the lead local authority and accountable body for the Freeport, and that any further funding would go through Thurrock as the accountable body for the other three local authorities.

Councillor Kent queried the different between the new proposed Freeport and the freeports that had existed until 2012 and had been removed in 2014. He also asked if the Thames Freeport would work on the same basis as the other 5000 Freeports worldwide. He questioned what the basis for the business rate retention was and if this was up for negotiation. The Assistant Director of Economic Growth and Partnerships replied that the difference between the Freeports in 2012 and 2022 related to the different policies, additional levers and processes in place. He stated that the new Freeports connected multiple different departments across central government and involved new regeneration policies. He explained that customs arrangements for Freeports remained the same as in 2012 but there were ongoing discussions with HMRC regarding this issue. The Assistant Director of Finance stated that the customs site provided ongoing benefits for the Council and businesses, and 100% of business rates would be retained for 25 years, and would help generate larger capital programmes.

Councillor Kent asked how the Council would work to ensure businesses did not move from other areas in Thurrock into the Freeport area to receive business rate relief. The Assistant Director of Finance replied that the Council were working hard to ensure that issues regarding displacement did not arise across the three involved local authorities. He stated that every application to the Freeport would be considered and government guidance was scheduled to be published on this issue. Councillor Kent asked if an update report could be brought back before the Committee. The Chair and Committee agreed to this and a report was added to the Work Programme for next municipal year. Councillor Collins queried how the Freeport would be funded. The Assistant Director replied that £25mn would be from seed funding; £22mn from Thurrock Council; and £3mn from Ford. He explained that this would accelerate the preparation to get businesses on site, for example through land remediation programmes. The Assistant Director of Economic Growth and Partnerships added that this funding would speed up the investment and other processes by approximately six-eight months and would support infrastructure such as junction improvements. Councillor Collins asked if any business could apply to become part of the Freeport. The Assistant Director of Finance replied that certain businesses would be rejected if they did not meet the objectives of the proposal, for example residential and retail areas in the Freeport. The Assistant Director of Economic Growth and Partnerships added that the Freeport would focus on four sectors: advanced logistics; light manufacturing; automotive manufacturing; and energy/circular economy. He stated that these sectors built on Thurrock’s current economic strengths and business base.

RESOLVED: That the Committee:

1. Commented on the report and the recommendations to be considered by Cabinet on 9 March 2022:

That Cabinet:

a. Approves the Thames Freeport Business Rates Policy at Appendix 1.

b. Delegates authority to the Section 151 Officer to make necessary amendments to the policy as required, in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Finance, and the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Strategic Planning and External Relationships.

c. Approve the Chief Executive’s appointment as the Council’s representative on the Thames Freeport Governance Board, who will be responsible for briefing and updating the Leader of the Council, the Cabinet Member for Finance, and the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Strategic Planning and External Relationships on key and significant activity.

d. Endorses the relevant Officers to participate in and represent the Council on the various Thames Freeport Sub-committees as necessary and delegates authority to the Chief Executive to appoint Officers to appropriate sub-committees e.g. Skills, Levelling Up and Regeneration.

e. Delegates authority to the Chief Executive, in consultation with the Corporate Director of Resources and Place Delivery and the Monitoring Officer, to enter into any Memoranda of Understanding with government and Freeport bodies in order to deliver the activities of Thames Freeport in consultation with the Leader of the Council, Cabinet Member for Finance and the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Strategic Planning and External Relationships.

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