The government has recently released its Freeports Programme monitoring and evaluation strategy. But what are the government planning to monitor and evaluate? The Freeports Programme objectives and opportunities are outlined in the strategy, but in a nutshell those are:

Objectives 

  1. Establish Freeports as national hubs for global trade and investment;
  2. Create epicentres for innovation by focusing on private and public sector investment in research and development;
  3. Promote regeneration through the creation of high-skilled jobs in ports linked to the areas around them.

 Opportunities: 

  1. Trade and investment: opportunity to increase total trade in the UK which has been declining over recent years;
  2. Innovation and productivity: opportunity to increase business research and development spending which is typically below the OECD average in the UK;
  3. Regeneration and levelling up: opportunity to revive deprived UK communities.

We then have the Levelling Up White Paper’s plans which underpin the Freeports Programme:

  1. “Productivity: boosting productivity, pay, jobs and living standards by growing the private sector, enhancing transport infrastructure, digital connectivity, and R&D;
  2. Quality of life: spreading opportunities and improved public services, improved education, skills, health, and well-being;
  3. Pride in place: restoring sense of community, local pride, securing paths to housing ownership, and reducing crime;
  4. Leadership: empowering local leaders and communities, devolution of power, and more resilient institutions.”

Still with us? So, we’ll bet you’re now wondering – which of these will the strategy actually focus on? Well, er, that would be the Freeports Programme three main impacts, which are ‘aligned with the objectives’. The three main impacts are:

  1. “increasing trade and economic activity;
  2. enable increased competitiveness, sustainability and productivity across Freeport areas;
  3. job creation and increased wages in deprived areas surrounding Freeport areas.”

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the objectives may be diluted by the myriad outcomes that the Freeports Programme will hopefully achieve, but hey – the more achieved, the better! 

Although the monitoring and evaluation framework (which will be more detailed than the strategy) is yet to be published, the research questions outlined in the strategy to be used to collect data will form the basis for the monitoring and evaluation, with evaluation hoping to achieve insight into processes, impact and value for money. As well as this, there will be 10 key research topics of ‘particular interest’ for evaluation, focussing on the Levelling Up White Paper’s plans. This is meant to provide the accountability for the implementation and overall impact of the Freeports Programme, however it appears that the questions may give rise to a more subjective rather than objective approach due to the abstract nature of some of those questions. As well as this, theory based and quasi-experimental approaches to evaluation are being taken, rather than relying solely on raw data. These approaches may leave the results open to interpretation and allow for skewing of the collected data, which is often an unwanted attribute when looking for accountability – although we know this is a very cynical approach to take and on the whole, we believe that the Freeports Programme will be a success if taken full advantage of.

Anyway, any issues with the strategy may yet be cleared up by the publishing of the framework, and admittedly the strategy makes clear that the ongoing monitoring and evaluation exercise will be an iterative process.

Watch this space for more of an update in relation to the monitoring and evaluation of the Freeports Programme once the framework is published.