The UK’s seaport operators have a long, proud record of operating with high standards of sustainability and broader integrity. We operate under a rigorous framework of regulation and legal duties and expect this to be the case for freeports as well. We also operate under high standards of corporate governance, set out in general rules such as the UK Corporate Governance Code and in specific ports legislation. As freeport proposals develop the major UK seaport operators wish to put on record their unequivocal commitment to upholding such high standards in the operation of freeports.
Sustainability takes various forms, commonly categorised as environmental, social and economic. There are important interdependencies between them. The commitment of the UK’s seaport operators spans all categories. In addition, sustainability is founded on security & integrity.
UKMPG and its members are committed to high standards of environmental sustainability. Seaports are already subject to a broad range of environmental regulation and standards in the UK. We expect that the environmental standards in a freeport maintain high standards of environmental integrity – whether that be on emissions reduction, biodiversity or habitat protection. Freeport regulation should allow the timely achievement or demonstration of environmental standards, supporting responsible development. It should not be around lowering the standards themselves.
It is a sad reality that many of the communities all around the UK’s coast face significant socio-economic challenges. It is essential that freeports deliver benefits for these communities. Seaport operators overwhelmingly draw their colleagues from local communities and we would anticipate that this would remain the case with new jobs created by the freeport. We are not seeking to diminish or dilute employment rights in freeports. Seaport operators are also already committed to skills development, such as high-quality apprenticeships, and that commitment will be carried over into freeports. Finally, seaports operators have well established collective relationships with trade unions and other bodies. We would anticipate that freeports developers would engage with trade unions once freeports are designated as part of these relationships.
As an island nation, seaports have been essential to the UK’s economic sustainability for millennia with many of today’s ports having been in operation for centuries.Proposals for freeports by seaport operators may be very different but they are likely to share the common characteristic of being focused on growing long-term investment in physical, intellectual, and social capital. Such investment, alongside efficient operation, is the foundation for economic sustainability and the prosperity and opportunity which stem from it through good job creation and local regeneration.
SECURITY AND INTEGRITY
A sustainable enterprise is also one that ensures appropriately high levels of security and integrity. The Government’s freeports bidding prospectus includes requirements that Operators of Freeport customs sites must adhere to the OECD Code of Conduct for Clean FreeTrade Zones – and the specific anti-illicit trade and security measures therein–as well as maintaining the current obligations set out in the UK’s Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017. These are requirements that the seaport operators supporting this Commitment have no hesitation in signing up to. Indeed, they would go further in committing to maintain any higher standards they are currently subject to through the secure and customs compliant facilities they already successfully and securely operate. They are already harnessing the power of new digital solutions to boost security and are committed to rolling out such solutions in freeports.
Freeports should be an opportunity to stimulate significant investment that would further strengthen the UK’s capability to trade and bring more jobs and prosperity to areas that need it. UK seaport operators are committed to fully playing their role in ensuring that these benefits are also delivered sustainably and securely.