British public strongly supports economic benefits of freeports, research finds

The British public believes that freeports will have a positive impact on the economy but, according to new research from economic development and infrastructure communications specialists, Copper Consultancy, many remain unclear on exactly how they will work.

Copper’s Attitudes to Freeports report, which will be released tomorrow (Thursday 3 June), considers the views of a representative sample of 2,000 UK adults who took part in a dedicated survey conducted by Censuswide. The research found that, though a majority of the public believe that freeports will be beneficial to the economy, aspects such as their role in fostering clean growth and innovation are less well understood.

Following the announcement of eight new freeports in the Budget in March 2021, the survey was designed to provide both quantitative and qualitative insights into attitudes towards the Chancellor’s flagship policy. Despite the high profile given to the announcement in the Chancellor’s Budget speech, the report identifies low levels of awareness of freeports, with just 36 per cent of people claiming to be aware of them.

However, the report also found that, once made aware, the public believes that freeports will have a positive impact on the economy, with 60 per cent of respondents viewing freeports as a positive force for economic good. Just 15 per cent of those surveyed thought freeports will negatively impact the economy.

Respondents were less clear on how freeports will deliver these economic benefits. When provided with eight statements setting out potential benefits and impacts, only freeports’ role in creating jobs for local people attracted strong agreement from more than 20 per cent of people. While statements on clean growth and innovation appeared to have less cut through, neither did fears around the creation of tax havens or lowering of environmental and employment standards.

Commenting on the research in his foreword for the report, UK Major Ports Group Chief Executive Tim Morris said: “Copper’s research shows there is work to do to raise public awareness about the positive benefits of freeports, suggesting a challenge for the selected freeport consortia to paint a picture of their contribution to a thriving post-covid Britain. But the research also shows that there is space for such a case to be made, with many people in the undecided camp.”

James Gore, Copper Consultancy’s Director of Economic Development, said: “This report shows that freeports enjoy support from the public, but more could be done to clearly explain the freeport model and its potential benefits. While many understand how freeports could boost exports, fewer associate them with innovation and clean growth. Clearly articulating a positive vision which puts freeports at the heart of a high-tech, green future will go some way to securing wider support as the eight successful bidders deliver their plans.”

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