Future freeports

Think tank: CLES

Author(s): Sean Benstead

July 18, 2023

This report from UK think tank CLES looks at the claims on both sides of the debate and explores how freeports could be done differently.

Freeports have been contentious since their announcement. Trade unions, public bodies, think tanks and commentators have all voiced concerns that they will accelerate the extraction of wealth from hard-pressed communities by diluting workers’ rights, displacing businesses and facilitating tax evasion and other economic crimes. However, local and combined authorities are pressing forward with plans for freeports and testing the limits of the opportunities they bring, by facilitating new economic activity and high-quality job creation. This paper examines the claims on both sides of the debate and uses the findings from case studies to explore how freeports could be done differently. We propose a six-point plan for the freeports of today to mitigate against the worst excesses of wealth extraction and two ambitions for the future of freeports, which would transform them from being problematic drivers of inequality into being key vehicles for local accountability and economic change.