18,000 jobs projection is realistic say experts

Local industry leaders believe Teesside is set to enjoy the first wave of an estimated 18,000 jobs potentially being created on the back of the region’s new freeport status.

Covering 4,500 acres – the equivalent of 2,500 football pitches – the Teesside Freeport is the largest in the UK and forecast to provide a £3.2bn boost to the local economy over the next five years. Freeports are secure customs zones located where business can be carried out inside a country’s land border, but where different customs rules apply.

They can reduce administrative burdens and tariff controls, provide relief from duties and import taxes, and ease tax and planning regulations. While located geographically within a country, they essentially exist outside its borders for tax purposes.

Asked when the jobs boom can be expected to start, Jerry Hopkinson, chief operating officer and vice chairman of PD Ports, replied: “It’s already started.

“You only have to look at what’s going on at the Teesworks site and the announcement by GE Renewable Energy. There’s a plant to be built, a quay, a blade factory, then there are people to be employed to staff and operate, manage, handle and manufacture in that facility.

“We won’t see 18,000 jobs pop up overnight, but what we will see in my opinion is an ever- escalating stream of good news announcements into the region.”

Jerry was taking part in Tees Business Leaders, a weekly chat hosted by Dave Allan of Tees Business, along with fellow guests Andy Koss, CEO of Sembcorp Utilities, and Bill Scott, CEO of Wilton Universal Group.

Sembcorp, a leading energy services and sustainable solution company, has its UK base on the Wilton International site, which along with the former steelworks site of Teesworks, PD Ports’ Teesport and the airport is part of the new freeport.

Andy believes the zenith of the jobs boom will happen in five years’ time.

“I certainly think we should be looking at a five-year time horizon,” he said. “We will see a gradual build-up of jobs as they feed through the supply chain and I’ve no doubt by this time we will have seen those 18,000 jobs materialise – along with others.”

Bill, whose business is based on the north bank of the Tees alongside the Transporter Bridge, added: “It won’t happen overnight, but certainly the jobs will start now.

“Within our on organisation, we are deep in conversation with a party who are really interested in setting up a manufacturing plant in Hartlepool.

“Whether those talks will come to fruition, I don’t know, but they are encouraging. We are working hard and these are the kind of incremental gains you will see over a period of time.”

All three leaders were thrilled with the chancellor’s news of the freeport as well as the Treasury North jobs for Darlington and see the benefits not only for Teesside but the wider North-East region.

“I’m going to pinch one of (Tees Valley mayor) Ben Houchen’s sayings,” said Bill. “He spoke of the announcements being monumental, and that sums it up for me.

“People have been talking about levelling up for quite some time and you couldn’t get more levelling up than that. It was a great day to be a Teessider. I was very proud.

“Of course, now we have to look at the bigger picture. We need to start looking at schools and colleges and training, and to ask if there are enough hotels for constructions workers.

“It’s going to be something we’ve never seen before and providers need to start talking to businesses now to find out what’s going to be needed in the years ahead.”

Jerry agreed that it’s time to move the good news from word to deed and that collaboration is key.

“With regards to the freeport, what we now have to do is use an OBC – an outline business case. There’s a lot of in-depth work to be done around a five-point model that government expect us to answer some very detailed questions on.

“How we are going to develop it strategically; how we are going to develop it economically. What are going to be the key commercial drivers for it? How does it work out in terms of finance and how are you going to manage it, govern it, grow and develop it? That’s what we need to work on collaboratively in the region.”

Andy agreed: “The way to make a success of these opportunities is collaboration, good governance and strong links between parties.

“All of us can help each other. There will be skills needed – so how to do we plan for those skills? How do we talk to the colleges, university and schools and make sure that happens?

“Can we help each other along the supply chain and share opportunities with each other? We want to grow the region as a whole and there’s a great opportunity to work together now to make that happen.”

• Tees Business Leaders is hosted by Tees Business in association with our partners PD Ports, statutory harbour authority for the River Tees, and owner of Teesport, one of the fastest-growing UK ports. PD Ports is also one of the largest employers in the Tees Valley and is now celebrating 20 years of supporting young people in the region through its apprenticeship programme.