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McKee cools on free ports

Jack and McKee clash over call for joint growth plan

Port of Cromarty Firth

Port of Cromarty is keen to set up a free trade zone

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack today called for cross-border cooperation to rebuild the economy, but was faced with immediate resistance from the Holyrood government.

Mr Jack told the Scottish Conservative conference that key initiatives including City and Growth Deals, the Union Connectivity Review and freeports can deliver a transformational economic boost and create tens of thousands of jobs.

He stressed that Scotland’s two governments must work together to maximise potential benefits and urged Scottish Government ministers “to stop seeking conflict” with the UK Government as part of their campaign for independence.

He accused SNP ministers of being “half-hearted in their support, or even openly hostile” towards joint initiatives, adding that they are “dragging their heels in backing our Freeports plan, despite interest from a number of sites in Scotland”.

He will told today’s conference: “Sadly, it seems the SNP’s determination to start a row with Westminster outstrips their desire to support Scotland’s economy and Scottish jobs. They consistently put the nationalist interest ahead of the national interest.

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“SNP ministers need to take the batteries out of the grievance machine, stop stirring conflict with the UK Government, and seek to work with us instead.”

His call for co-operation looked unlikely to win support from the Scottish government. Scottish Trade Minister Ivan McKee claims free ports will not offset the damage that will be caused by Brexit.

Mr McKee is inviting views from business and public sector organisations on ways to stimulate the economy, including designated economic zones such as Enterprise Areas and the free port model.

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“Free ports won’t offset the damage that will be caused by Brexit and we remain concerned that the UK model might focus on low cost, low wage and low value opportunities,” he said.

“That is why we are keen to explore how they align with our ambitions for a low carbon, wellbeing economy.”

Mr McKee said enterprise Areas have formed part of the Scottish economic landscape since 2012 and although they have been extended for another two years, it is important “to take stock and consider their future beyond that point”.

The team behind Opportunity Cromarty Firth are promoting the creation of up to 10 UK freeports which are legally outside the country’s customs territory. Earlier this week the Treasury invited bids for seven free ports in England.

Goods incur no tariffs until they enter other parts of the economy. This way they can become international hubs, attracting manufacturing and innovation.

The last of the UK’s seven freeports closed in 2012 with the expiry of the Statutory Instruments which allowed them to operate at Prestwick Airport, Liverpool, Southampton, Port of Tilbury and Port of Sheerness.



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