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MSP Rhoda Grant: Comment On Freeport Plan

26th January 2021

NORTH MSP Rhoda Grant has called on the Scottish Government to approve plans for a freeport which could return the Cromarty Firth to its "glory days".

At the close of a Ministerial Statement which announced the Scottish Government was giving the green light to freeports, the Highlands & Islands Labour MSP asked ministers to approve a forthcoming bid from the Port of Cromarty Firth.

She said: "The Cabinet Secretary may be aware of a bid from ports in the Cromarty and Moray Firths, which include 12 stakeholders. They promise high wage, high quality jobs creating a renewable energy hub that would benefit the whole of Scotland.

“Will the Scottish Government favour such bids that would deliver high value jobs and growth to Scotland as well as tackle climate change, over locations which primarily import goods and are typically dependant on low wage economies?"

Ivan McKee, Minister for Trade, Innovation and Public Finance, responded, saying that was “very much the criteria” the government would be favouring as part of selection process.

He said: “The model, as a green port model, will attract investment and business and grow exactly those green jobs and those good jobs and will make use of Scotland's tremendous assets and technology and in the skills that we have in renewable energy”.

Afterwards, Rhoda said: “The Port of Cromarty Firth’s proposal offers the chance to take the Firth back to its glory days. It will be a massive boost to the area. I am aware specific concerns have been raised about numerous aspects including marine protection and statutory employment rights and protections. Scottish Labour has sought reassurances that there will be no reductions in current protections and the government has given a series of commitments on which they will firmly be held.”

MSP Rhoda Grant said:"I know there are concerns about the reduction in worker's rights which is why I am only in support of a tailored Scottish approach to the tried and tested Free Port model. I will not be signing up to a model that does not uphold the highest of environmental practices and fair work practices. Under the rules, Free Ports in Scotland or Green Ports as they will be called, will be tied to obligations. The operator of the zone and all those new businesses working within the boundary which benefit from government assistance through tax incentives will have to, for example, pay the Real Living Wage and work to low carbon economy initiatives. However, while I welcome the Scottish Government’s announcement that this Green Port scheme will have a First Work First focus, and I support its policy on pay, I need a stronger pledge that ministers will work closely with the trade unions and I need further guarantees that the pursuit of Green Ports will not lead to a race to the bottom on workers' terms and conditions. This cannot become yet another example of SNP rhetoric on green jobs which fails miserably to match the reality.

“So, provided the correct protection are in place, I support the creation of Green Ports. There is concern Scotland could see displacement of projects to the North of England if we are unable to compete on a level playing field and join the national competition and I believe they could help the economy to recover from COVID-19. There is a need to create high value jobs in this area and the Scottish Government has said that in any Green Ports competition it would favour ports which offer added value services that deliver high value jobs and growth to Scotland over locations which primarily import goods and are typically low wage economies. Most ports are split largely between two functions. They are either (Type 1) transport nodes for economic impact elsewhere, particularly container terminals and tanker terminals. The other type of port (Type 2) is a service base for generating wealth from offshore resource and activity: fisheries, oil and gas and now offshore renewables.

“The former (Type 1) is effectively taking a cut on wealth generated elsewhere for access to markets. Where imports dominate (i.e. most UK ports), value added is minimal and wages in the area are not lifted by port activity.

“Type 2 generates wealth from offshore resource with high secondary impacts. Value added is high and the impact on local wages is significant. e.g. Lerwick - fish and oil, Aberdeen - oil, Cromarty Firth - oil / renewables. So, from that perspective, we have right here in our region four facilities in a consortium – Port of Cromarty Firth, Nigg, Highland Deephaven and Inverness Harbour – which are working to create a renewable energy hub which could benefit the whole of Scotland. The consortium is made up of 12 different organisations and they have the ability to create a renewable energy cluster which can encourage inward investment and all new businesses to start up creating actual new jobs, instead of companies just moving in to take advantage of tax breaks, moving wealth from one part of Scotland to another."