Rishi Sunak announced the locations of eight ‘tax haven’ freeports to be created in the UK.
The Chancellor said the zones would “make it easier and cheaper to do business”.
But critics say they will allow firms to dodge import taxes, turning parts of the UK into tax havens.
The Freeports – “special economic zones with different rules to make it easier and cheaper to do business” – will be located at East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, the Humber region, the Liverpool City Region, Plymouth, Solent, Thames and Teesside, the Chancellor announced.
Mr Sunak said the freeports will have “simpler planning”, “cheaper customs – with favourable tariffs, VAT or duties”, and lower taxes – with “tax breaks to encourage construction, private investment and job creation”.
Supporters estimate freeport trade areas could trigger a 150,000 jobs bonanza, generating billions for the economy, while revitalising struggling industrial regions.
The scheme could allow areas to operate outside the UK’s customs regime, meaning taxes on imports would not apply.
They can also offer tax breaks, including waiving business rates and giving companies in the free zones a holiday from paying employees’ national insurance contributions.
He asked about the Government’s levelling up agenda: “For the Chancellor, levelling up seems to mean moving some parts of the Treasury to Darlington, creating a few freeports and reannouncing funding. That isn’t levelling up, it’s giving up.”
He added: “Instead of putting blind faith in freeports, the Chancellor would be better served making sure that the Government’s Brexit deal actually works for Britain’s manufacturers who now face more red tape when they were promised less, for our financial services still waiting for the Chancellor to make good on his promises.
“For the small businesses and fishing communities whose goods and produce are now left unsold in warehouses and for our artists and performers who just want to be able to tour.”