Alexander Stafford is MP for Rother Valley.
As the first Conservative Member of Parliament ever to be elected to serve Rother Valley in its 101-year history, repaying the trust of my constituents and ensuring this Conservative Government works for them has been my mission from day one.
Here in the Blue Wall – and let’s call it that now – the key Conservative priority of levelling up has to become a reality if we are to hold seats like mine in 2024. It’s that simple.
Whether I’m here or 160 miles away in Parliament, my constituents must see how the opportunities and potential we all enjoy – as the world’s fifth largest economy – mean real economic rewards for everyone right across the United Kingdom. Global Britain can’t just be an idea, it must be a reality accepted and embraced in every home in the Blue Wall and right across the country.
Last week, I joined some of my Blue Wall colleagues in writing to our fellow Yorkshire MP, Rishi Sunak, asking him to consider our bid for a freeport in South Yorkshire. This simple but effective idea of a tax and customs-free economic zone has been supported by the Chancellor for years, and we share his vision on the potential of freeports to transform our economy. It would have direct and clear benefits for places such as Maltby in my constituency. That’s why we are determined to see South Yorkshire chosen as one of the ten new freeports in the coming months.
Our plan – backed by a large number of businesses, community and political leaders – is for a freeport in an area around Doncaster Sheffield Airport and the nearby iPort rail terminal. Our driving purpose is to support and grow our advanced manufacturing base, creating new opportunities, increasing employment and contributing to the levelling up that South Yorkshire needs and deserves.
The figures are stark, and exciting: our freeport could boost imports by £306 million and exports by £410 million, transforming the Sheffield city region into a net exporter of goods by the end of the decade.
And, most importantly to my constituents, 28,700 new jobs could be created – well-paid ones in advanced manufacturing, too, with wages around 19 per cent higher than average. Unlocking or accelerating over £570 million of investment is within our grasp should the freeport be granted. Imagine what a huge difference that would make in an area that for too long has been an afterthought to those in Westminster.
A freeport in South Yorkshire could even become the largest advanced manufacturing hub in Europe. It could boost clean mobility too, building and testing cleaner, more energy efficient and renewable technologies, contributing to achieving Net Zero by 2050.
International businesses have long made their home in the area – names such as Sheffield Forgemasters, Liberty Steel, Hird Group, Boeing, McLaren Automotive, Rolls-Royce, Airbus and Siemens can see the potential of South Yorkshire, and I know our bid will make that even clearer. More globally-recognised names will be drawn to the benefits of the freeport, further boosting the potential of the region and bringing investment to build back better, now and far into the future.
On Wednesday Sunak will give the most closely-watched Budget in a generation. The unprecedented fallout from the pandemic, and the brave and necessary amelioration measures the Chancellor has implemented, cannot continue forever. Furlough and the vast array of other support businesses across the UK have received from the taxpayer have quite literally put food on the table for millions. But, of course, at some point we will have to begin to pay back the billions we borrowed in 2020. .
As the hugely effective vaccines programme administered by our NHS and volunteers allows us to emerge from the restrictions caused by the pandemic, the pressure will be on the Chancellor to plot a way out of the economic challenges we currently face. I agree strongly with him that the development of freeports will help to crank up the economic engine needed to drive our economy forward. It is important that, as we emerge from this global pandemic, the Government makes the decisions required to get our national finances under control whilst also ensuring families are supported and businesses can flourish once more. Freeports are one tool that the Chancellor has in his economic toolbox to help us do this, and I look forward to hearing what else he has to say when he addresses the House of Commons next week.
By establishing freeports, businesses and investments that would have gone elsewhere will be drawn to the UK, creating jobs and boosting confidence. By establishing them across the country, I know we can tackle deprivation, raise living standards, scale up manufacturing, and reconnect our constituents with the good that business does.
As the Prime Minister has often reminded us, votes from the Blue Wall are often only lent votes. Let’s use freeports to repay that trust our voters have placed in the Conservative Party in 2019 and give them yet another reason to vote for us again in 2024.