The UK Government risks “undermining devolution” if it was to choose which Scottish sites are granted freeport status without the backing of Holyrood, it has been warned.
We exclusively revealed earlier this year discussions between Holyrood and Westminster had stagnated over issues regarding the use of the SNP’s preferred “green ports” name, as well as the possibility of the UK Government deciding which Scottish ports were given “free” status.
On Thursday Scottish Government business minister Ivan McKee warned the UK Government would “undermine” devolution if it chose to “impose their model in Scotland” and said he would challenge “any attempt” to do so.
A UK Government source told the PA news agency the Scottish Government’s claims were “nonsense”.
Port of Dundee owners Forth Ports, with backing from Dundee City Council and in partnership with the Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc (MSIP) will bid for one of the “green port” spots.
Aberdeen is seen as the most likely port to benefit but more sites could also be in the running. A bid free port in the Cromarty Firth is being backed by accountants and business advisers Johnston Carmichael, it emerged earlier last month.
Freeports are given special status and can defer paying tax until products are moved on.
Writing to Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, Mr McKee said Westminster’s plans would create an unfair “advantage” between Scottish and English ports.
He said: “Collaboration and joint working across devolved and reserved competencies requires joint decision making, and I would ask that you reconsider this position and agree to joint determination, or I must conclude that you are making an offer that you wish us to reject.
“We cannot sign up to a UK policy which does not respect devolution, undermines the Scottish economy and fails to provide equivalent funding to what is on offer for ports in England.
“UK ministers have failed to work with us to ensure their proposals best meet the needs of business and communities in Scotland.”
He added: “To ensure there is not a race to the bottom on workers’ rights and the environment, the Scottish Government will challenge any attempts by the UK Government to impose their model in Scotland by legislating in devolved areas, which would be a breach of the spirit of the Devolution settlement.
“I would strongly encourage the Secretary of State for Scotland and other UK Ministers to work with us to ensure we can deliver green ports in Scotland.”
The source at the UK Government accused Holyrood of “playing games”, adding the Scottish Government was the one not working constructively.
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “The UK Government is committed to bringing freeports to Scotland and Wales.
“It has huge potential to boost the Welsh and Scottish economies and create hundreds of highly skilled jobs.
“We know there is strong support from stakeholders, who are keen to see progress. We hope the Scottish and Welsh Government will decide to work with us on this.”
The Welsh Parliament has also written to the UK Government warning them of similar fears.