THE UK Government’s plans for a freeport in Wales remain on course, the Welsh secretary confirmed, after Labour claimed successive changes in ministers had resulted in an “appallingly chaotic” rollout.
Sir Robert Buckland also told the Commons ministers are committed to establishing the first Welsh freeport, a low-tax, low regulation trade zone, by next summer.
Shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens told the Commons the Welsh Government’s finance minister Rebecca Evans “is now dealing with her sixth chief secretary to the Treasury” in discussions about establishing a freeport, following this year’s turmoil in Westminster.
Ms Stevens asked: “Can the secretary of state explain how it is possible to progress the Welsh freeports prospectus with such an appallingly chaotic and unstable UK Government ahead of the October 31 budget announcement?”
Sir Robert replied: “I can assure her that the time that I have had as secretary of state has been time well spent. Through the summer, I made sure that the prospectus process for the freeport initiative was maintained. I worked with the then-secretary of state for levelling up to make that so.
“I can assure you we have not lost a beat in my time in office and the fact that there may be changes in personnel does not change the Government’s growth strategy, which remains on course and deserves, I think, the support of all sides of the House.”
Sir Robert had earlier told MPs: “We are committed to establishing at least one freeport in Wales by summer of next year with £26 million in seed funding.”
It is not clear where a Welsh freeport would be located.
The Welsh secretary also accused Plaid Cymru of having an “ideological opposition to growth” after raising concerns about the impact of freeports.
The party’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts told the Commons: “His Government has been forced to U-turn on its fundamental ideology that slashing taxes magically leads to economic growth. That same ideology underpins freeports and investment zones.
“Both will shrink the UK Government’s tax revenue and, in turn, the Welsh Government’s budget, which is already facing a £4 billion shortfall.
“With inflation now over 10 per cent, what is he doing in Cabinet to protect Wales’s budget?”
The Welsh Secretary replied: “She has now laid bare Plaid Cymru’s ideological approach to things.
“They believe that it should be an ever-shrinking share of wealth that means that our public services will decline. We on this side of the House believe that the way to pay for public services is to grow our economy.
“It is through initiatives like the freeports and investment zones that we will do just that. I do hope the Welsh public note Plaid Cymru’s ideological opposition to growth.”
At the start of the debate, Sir Robert and Ms Stevens paid tribute to the victims of the Aberfan disaster, which happened 56 years ago this week.