Thames Freeport was launched on 15 September, during International Shipping Week 2021. Wayne Butcher attended it and shares the insights he gathered from this event.

The launch was headlined by keynote speeches from the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak and Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps. It also included a detailed speech from Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, the CEO of DP World, one of the critical private sector partners in the vision for an East London freeport.

A "vote of confidence"

The Chancellor and Transport Secretary collectively commented that the freeport strategy will be instrumental in raising capacity across the UK to deliver more trade. Thames Freeport is key for delivering this because of its proximity to Europe, the UK's largest consumer base.

The government welcomed DP World's commitment to providing a £300 million investment in Thames Freeport and said that this was a “huge vote of confidence” in the freeport strategy, indicating that the policy agenda has played a part in the company deciding to invest here in London.

It was said that it was great to be together in person as part of London International Shipping Week 2021. With COP26 closely in focus, this event was the first in a key series between now and the end of the year, recognising the links between delivering this ambition and the need to “green-up and propel the UK forward in terms of global trade”.

It was also commented that most people don't understand the importance of shipping to the UK. It's not an industry of the past, but of the future — shipping will be a core component in building back from COVID-19, with net-zero at the heart of it.

Ahmed bin Sulayem's vision

Bin Sulayem also presented his vision and shared his hopes for building on the experience of DP World across the globe. He commented that this is the company's most significant investment outside of the UAE. Both London and Southampton (within the Solent freeport) are significant growth areas for the company.

In terms of wanting to build on DP World’s experience, the CEO talked about the Jebel Ali free zone and how the success of this is based on giving companies a place where they feel comfortable to be so that they can focus on the delivery of their operations.

He also mentioned that the private sector often does not know what governments are thinking, so DP World values and welcomes the certainty that freeports bring, with a clear set of rules around trading. Today, the CEO stated that Jebel Ali hosts 8,000 companies and 150,000 employees, so the opportunity for the UK is enormous, given how much larger it is than the UAE.

Bin Sulayem noted his satisfaction with the Solent freeport and how it and Thames Freeport will collectively support inclusive economic growth. 

You can see this in these statistics:

  • London is forecast to generate £4 billion in gross value added (GVA) from Thames Freeport, which is the fastest-growing in the UK
  • Combining the operations set out in the Southampton and London strategies, this ambition has the potential to take 300,000 vehicles off the road, contributing to the wider net-zero agenda

A need for skills

The CEO closed with a note on the need for skills and attracting people from abroad to support this vision. He commented on the misconception that the reliance on China in many supply chains is framed around being the cheapest place to produce, but there is also a wealth of talent and expertise to achieve this delivery capability.

He concluded that there are lots of people who want to move to be closer to the consumer markets they serve, so he's confident that we can attract people to be part of this fantastic opportunity.

If you're interested in more information on freeports, get in touch with Wayne Butcher.

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