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Two freeports on the cards for Scotland after UK and Scottish governments get back round table

Aberdeen is among the ports hoping to be selected for 'freeport' status.

Two freeports with special tax status are being eyed up for Scotland after “positive” talks between Holyrood and Westminster.

Discussions collapsed between the two governments last year after the SNP-Green administration at Holyrood said it wanted to pursue its own “green ports” plan.

But it is understood the two governments are now on the “verge of a deal” to create two freeports north of the border.

However, a Scottish Government source said “whoever is spinning the story from within the UK Government clearly hasn’t been very close to the negotiations”.

This is one more than had been expected for Scotland. There are eight already selected in England.

It emerged on Wednesday that “positive” discussions have taken place between the Scottish and UK governments over the past fortnight.

Aberdeen, Peterhead, Cromarty Firth, Dundee, Forth port and Clyde port have all expressed an interest in freeport status, which gives sites the ability to defer tax until products are moved on.

SNP Trade Minister Ivan McKee told MSPs earlier this week that UK counterparts have “returned to the table” on the basis of the Scottish Government’s “red line” requests.

These include the payment of the real living wage, which Scottish Secretary Alister Jack had previously indicated he was unwilling to consider.

Yet in a twist, the UK Government stressed it was “wrong to suggest” the UK Government has changed its position on key criteria.

But both governments remain hopeful of a deal being signed imminently.

‘On the verge of a deal’

A UK Government source said: “It is fantastic news that we are on the verge of a deal.

“The Scottish Government has come a long way to work with us to deliver two Scottish freeports, which will bring a tremendous economic boost as part of our levelling up agenda.

“We want to work with the Scottish Government to deliver for the people of Scotland so it is great they have overcome their initial hostility.

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes.
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes has been praised for keeping an “open mind” on the issue”.

“Kate Forbes deserves credit for keeping an open mind on the issue. By Scotland’s two governments working together Scottish freeports can benefit from the full range of reserved and devolved tax breaks and be part of the internationally recognised freeport brand.”

North-east Conservative MSP Liam Kerr said having two freeports for Scotland would unlock the “massive potential of our ports to boost the post-pandemic recovery”.

He added:  “Both Scotland’s governments must now work with them to seize this golden opportunity.”

A Scottish Government source said: “Whoever is spinning this story from within the UK Government clearly hasn’t been very close to the negotiations – but like everyone else, they will be able to see the contents of any agreement once it is published.

“We want to maximise any economic opportunity for Scotland, but as we have also made very clear, treating workers fairly, looking after the environment and moving towards net zero are central to our agenda, which is why those are red lines for us.”

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