Client Story

Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

Bringing prosperity to deprived communities through the UK Freeports programme

Freeports are the UK government’s flagship vehicle for driving its ‘levelling up’ agenda to harness the economic potential of deprived areas across the UK. They are designed to create jobs for local people, increase trade and investment, turbocharge innovation, and stimulate localised net zero transitions.

To make Freeports a reality, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) recognised that it would need to take an innovative approach to strategic programme delivery. The approach would mean putting in place the support structures to guide Freeport design, whilst working across government to define how Freeports would need to operate. They needed expertise across a range of technical areas to design policy, accelerate delivery, and develop solutions.

Our consortium – including consulting firm, WSP and special economic zones consultancy, Locus Economica – worked with the DLUHC and other government departments to get UK Freeports off the ground in a matter of months. The DLUHC drew on our expertise in investment and trade promotion, innovation, net zero, infrastructure delivery, and free zone design to support the delivery of the programme.

In a short time, our experts have enabled DLUHC to accelerate Freeport design and planning, with our support continuing to help make Freeports operational. The UK’s first Freeports in Plymouth, Solent, and Teesside are now fully up and running after receiving final government approval. They will act as an engine of job growth and wealth creation that will help to build a positive human future.

Freeports are a bold idea to stimulate investment and unlock prosperity and productivity. They’re also a new vehicle for regenerating and levelling-up the UK economy. PA and its partners have given us a whole additional means of delivering our policy. They have provided deep technical assistance and capacity support as well as bringing insight and learning from their wider international experience to help us to deliver our policy and deliver it well.”
Head of Delivery, Freeports, Department for Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities

Key successes

  • Accelerating delivery – Worked with all eight English Freeports to deliver multi-million pound business cases within 10 months
  • Delivering early results – Enabled three Freeports to achieve tax status designation within three months, supporting their promotion efforts
  • Laying the foundations for future success – Supported the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) with technical advice, creating the conditions for Freeports to be delivered now and in the future.

Freeports: A new route to ‘levelling up’ the UK economy

Freeports are designed to ‘level up’ deprived parts of the UK by attracting businesses and creating jobs, stimulating innovation, and boosting prosperity. Freeport status helps make areas more attractive destinations for investment and trade by granting tax and customs reliefs to businesses operating on those sites.

The UK government has announced eight Freeports in England with further Freeports to follow in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Freeports will receive government funding to invest in land assembly, site remediation and transport infrastructure to improve connectivity with and within Freeports. Freeports will also retain business rates locally to invest in skills, innovation, and wider initiatives.

To become a Freeport, each bidding organisation is required to develop a full business case to allow them to receive official status and begin realising the associated incentives. Given the importance of Freeports as a vehicle for levelling up the UK and the complexity associated with delivering the programme, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) realised it needed specialist technical and strategic delivery expertise. We brought together a unique team to enable the department to shape the Freeports programme across government and support the Freeports in developing compelling business cases.

Freeports are a vehicle for growth. Not only can businesses benefit from tax and customs reliefs, but the Freeports themselves can access seed capital funding as well as being able to reinvest business rates locally. This money can go into things like skills programmes, innovation hubs and infrastructure. This means more power and autonomy to transform local economies – a crucial part of levelling up.”
Sustainable aviation expert, PA

Hitting the ground running

Our role was to work with each Freeport to understand each Freeport design, how it had been influenced by the economy and geography of the area, and identify where support was needed. Over a one-month period, our team rapidly worked to appraise current Freeport designs and business cases to determine how and where our experts could add value.

Harnessing these findings, together with DLUHC, we developed a programme of strategic interventions alongside responding to requests from Freeports. These were in the form of one-to-one support as well as the development of shared products that would have utility for two or more Freeport teams. This also enabled our team to understand what technical expertise was needed at what point, and when to bring in the right experts from across the consortium.

We had to move fast but also work smartly. Each Freeport design and proposal was different and rooted in diverse local and regional economies. We mobilised our core team within a week, segmented our assessment by technical domain, and leveraged the business case and economics capabilities in the team to bring together our findings and plan in a single inception report. We knew getting this phase right would act as a springboard for our wider programme of support.”
Economic development expert, PA

Delivering effective demand-driven support

Our team worked with DLUHC to deliver a range of strategic support across the programme. Guidance was given to enhance Freeport designs and business cases by providing strategic advice across a wide array of areas – from net zero to innovation and investment promotion, to customs and trade. This included developing over 20 products and toolkits, including an investor tax relief calculator and a series of target market assessments to support targeted investment promotion.

Meanwhile, our team worked with DLUHC to support the management of the programme and to encourage cross-government collaboration. This included providing support to the Freeport Regulation Engagement Network (FREN) to identify solutions to regulatory challenges impacting Freeports. Together with DLUHC, we delivered over 100 separate interventions across the programme as well as provided a range of ad-hoc technical and programme management advice in the first ten months alone.

You have areas like Teesside, with its roots in heavy industry, the East Midlands, with its potential as a multimodal transport hub, and Solent, with its unique geographic proximity to the world’s busiest shipping lane. Each Freeport’s context was different as were their needs for our support. There wasn’t a standard approach we could take with all of them. We needed to be flexible and demand-driven to deliver genuine impact.”
Government and public sector expert, PA

Realising rapid results

In tandem with DLUHC, our experts ensured all eight English Freeports submitted their business cases within ten months. Three of those Freeports were able to receive tax site designation within three months, which meant businesses investing at the site could avail of the Freeport-related tax site benefits.

With the first Freeports in Plymouth, Solent, and Teesside now fully up and running after receiving final government approval, the greatest benefit will be the creation of new jobs. It’s estimated that each Freeport will produce thousands through new factories, innovation hubs and infrastructure projects.

It’s clear that Freeports are going to be a critical enabler for growth and levelling up across the UK looking forward. We are committed to working with each Freeport and DLUHC to continue to bring ingenuity and unconstrained thinking to help ensure the programme’s success and transform the lives of people around the UK.”
Innovation expert, PA

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