BUSINESSES are preparing to invest more after the government announced plans for eight new freeports including one for the Solent region, research suggests.

However, a substantial number remain unconvinced of the benefits of the policy and there are fears about the ability to find enough skilled staff.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced in March that Solent would be one of eight areas chosen to pilot freeports, which mean lower taxes and red tape for firms in designated areas.

Business advisory firm BDO commissioned one of two pieces of research into the impact of freeports.

Its report, Rethinking the Economy, surveyed 500 mid-sized business and found hospitality and leisure were leading the way in planning to invest, with 76 per cent set for investment, along with 74 per cent in technology and media.

However, 30 per cent of respondents in the Central South thought freeports were an ineffective policy.

Stuart Lisle, senior tax partner at BDO LLP in Southampton, said: “Given that the initiative is at a relatively early stage, it’s encouraging to see such a high proportion of businesses making decisions based on the announcement. It shows the mindset of the region’s mid-market businesses is to invest in long-term growth for their own businesses and the wider region.

“However, our research also shows that a significant number of local businesses are still to be convinced of the benefits. Hopefully, as more detail is revealed, this policy will win over the sceptics.”

The transatlantic law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, which has offices in Southampton and London, also carried out research on freeports, polling 500 UK businesses in a range of sectors and of different sizes.

Its report, which includes contributions from Lloyds Bank, Connected Places Catapult, Brittany Ferries and the British Ports Association, showed 43 per cent of respondents in the South East thought freeports would have a positive impact for their business.

However, only 16 per cent of respondents in the region felt they had a clear understanding of how freeports would operate and how governance would work.

Fifty-one per cent regionally agreed that freeports had the potential to regenerate areas and create highly skilled jobs and 45 per cent in a freeport area said they would seek to create more skilled roles in 12-24 months.

Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association, said: “If achieved, the numbers of new jobs created at freeports could almost triple the number of people employed at UK ports across the entire UK, and we would expect these jobs are likely to be skilled and well paid.

“Unfortunately, coastal regions are often areas with higher levels of unemployment and this might create training and up-skilling challenges – although this issue in itself could become an opportunity.”

Jon Hales, partner and head of WBD’s Southampton office, said: “We would like to see the government expand the possibilities of customs and tax benefits within regions by allowing customs warehouses or those with appropriate authorisations to link up more formally with the freeport sites.” This could make it really exciting, creating mutual benefits and expanding the success in the region as long as there is commitment between the sites.”