Proposals have been unveiled for a new model of ‘green ports’ focused on inclusive growth, fair work practices and delivering a net zero economy.
The Scottish Government is developing plans which would adapt the UK Government’s recent freeport proposals, offering streamlined planning processes and a package of tax and customs reliefs.
The green ports would make it necessary for operators and businesses benefitting from the package of incentives to:
- pay the real Living Wage;
- adopt the Scottish Business Pledge;
- commit to supporting sustainable and inclusive growth in local communities; and
- contribute to Scotland’s just transition to net zero.
The plans were announced by Trade Minister Ivan McKee, who will hold discussions with the UK Government next week.
He said: “The reputation of freeports across the world is mixed, with concerns about deregulation and risks of criminality, tax evasion and reductions in workers’ rights raised – that is not a model nor an approach that this Scottish Government will sign up to or allow here in Scotland.
“It is clear that freeports cannot and will not undo the damage being caused to Scotland’s economy by the UK Government’s decision to take us out of the EU, the world’s biggest single market.
“Instead, we propose to take the freeport model and apply Scotland’s priorities to it, so that it meets our ambition to deliver a net zero, wellbeing economy that upholds the highest standards of environmental protections and fair work practices and supports our strategy of building clusters of high productivity businesses across Scotland’s regions.
“We have listened to what businesses and communities have said and there is an appetite for new ways to support our economy through the recovery,” McKee added.
However, Scottish Conservative MSP Maurice Golden called the move an “extraordinary u-turn”, pointing out that McKee had previously attacked freeports.
“Now McKee has embraced them with open arms – let’s hope the SNP’s dithering hasn’t cost Scotland too much time.”
Another Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser added that after having been denounced by McKee as “a shiny squirrel”, they will go ahead with the tax breaks. “A welcome – and striking – change of tune.”
Scottish Greens environmental spokesperson Mark Ruskell said: “Simply calling a free port ‘green’ doesn’t guarantee environmental and workers standards, and presents a real risk of greenwashing.
“We haven’t seen any detail of the environmental standards these ports will be expected to uphold – they must not be part of the Brexit race to the bottom in standards and protections or given free reign over planning decisions, which must remain accountable to local communities.
“The Minister acknowledged that money laundering and illegal activity is associated with free ports, but with powers over our borders in the hands of Tory-run Westminster what protection can we expect that Scotland’s waters don’t become a haven for illegal activity?”
In October, the Treasury set out details around the creation of at least 10 new freeports across the UK, aiming to create jobs, drive investment and regenerate communities.
Responding to a consultation on the proposals, sea, air and rail ports in England were invited to bid for freeport status, with the first expected to be ready this year.
Designed to attract domestic and international investment, the enterprise hubs will allow business to be carried out inside a country’s land border, but where different customs rules apply.
A firm can import goods into a freeport without paying tariffs, process them into a final good and then either pay a tariff on goods sold into the domestic market, or export the final goods without paying UK tariffs.
Bob Buskie, chief executive of The Port of Cromarty Firth – speaking on behalf of Opportunity Cromarty Firth – said he was delighted about the proposals.
“This will ensure ports are able to compete on a level playing field with their counterparts in the rest of the UK and help the Scottish ports sector play a full role in delivering a green economic recovery.”
He added that Cromarty Firth is ideally placed to become a greenport.
“It is uniquely positioned at the heart of a host of multi-billion pound renewable energy projects including offshore wind and green hydrogen, potentially worth many billions of pounds, which in turn would create quality jobs and business opportunities across the Highlands and the whole of Scotland on a level not seen since the oil boom of the 1970s.”
Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, added: “Whilst we await further detail from the government, it seems they have listened to the key asks from business including the provision of investment incentives and a package of tax and customs reliefs.
“Scotland’s green ports approach, which couples the incentives of a UK-freeport model and Scotland-specific initiatives, has the ambition to drive business growth and job creation – this is an important step to ensuring Scotland remains attractive and competitive to domestic and international investors.”