Innovation and plugging the region’s net zero skills gap were at the heart of discussions at a Humber Freeport business engagement event held in Grimsby.
The event, hosted by Humber Freeport’s Innovation Liaison Group, gave businesses the chance to share the challenges they face around innovation and skills, and the support they need to drive growth and create new employment opportunities.
Held at ORE Catapult’s O&M Centre of Excellence in Grimsby, a panel event was followed by a series of discussion groups, giving businesses the chance to speak to experts and gain invaluable contacts.
Humber Freeport’s Interim CEO Simon Green opened the event and acknowledged a number of key announcements involving freeports which were made in Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement.
Those announcements included a five-year extension to freeport tax breaks, from 2026 to 2031, giving freeports time to secure high-quality investments across their tax sites.
The panel event featured Katharine York from ORE Catapult, Katie Hedges from industry-led training provider CATCH, William Izod from rare earth specialist Pensana, and Dafydd Williams, Head of Policy, Communications and Economic Development at ABP Humber.
William Izod is the Chief Commercial Officer at Pensana, which is building a £150m rare earth processing facility at Saltend Chemicals Park in Hull – part of the Humber Freeport Hull East tax site.
He said: “When it comes to the decarbonisation agenda in the Humber, innovation is so important.
“We have got to change a huge amount of what we do, the way we work, and how we do things. For all of that to happen, innovation is key.
“To maximise the economic benefits of the energy transition, that innovation needs to be cutting edge, so the Humber can compete on a global scale.
“With innovation comes new green jobs and skills, creating employment opportunities for generations to come.”
Mr Izod told the audience Pensana looked at sites across the world for its new facility, before choosing the Humber, due to its strengths around decarbonisation, renewable energy and its ports complex providing a gateway to Europe and beyond.
To meet the growing skills needs in the region around clean growth and decarbonisation, CATCH is targeting 1,000 apprentices a year passing through its training centre by 2029.
It would represent a ten-fold increase on the current figure of 100 apprentices a year.
Innovation, skills and decarbonisation are the three workstreams within Humber Freeport – emphasising their vital importance for the future of the region.
Mr Green said: “When you talk about innovation, people immediately think about new products and technologies but, in reality, it is much deeper than that.
“We have got to make sure the Humber has an advantage over other trading estuaries, not just in the UK but across mainland Europe.
“When education, private and public sectors all come together, that is when really exciting change happens and you can make a difference.”
Halina Davies, Projects and Programme Executive Manager at the Greater Lincolnshire LEP, said: “ORE Catapult’s O&M Centre of Excellence is a fitting venue in which to host an event centred on innovation and skills.
“Humber Freeport, working alongside industry and academia, will accelerate the region’s research and engineering capabilities, driving new innovation, setting the skills agenda and generating game-changing inward investment.”