Jack says SNP ‘just wants to be different’ on freeports
Alister Jack: Scottish green port will be uncompetitive
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has accused the Scottish Government ministers of once again deliberately “being different” in their insistence on imposing extra conditions on a tax-efficient freeport.
Mr Jack said Holyrood’s insistence on calling them green ports in Scotland and demanding workers receive the real living wage will make the concept uncompetitive.
Speaking at a panel event at the Conservative party conference, Mr Jack accused the SNP of “irresponsible nationalism” designed to provoke arguments with Westminster.
Friction between Westminster and Holyrood over the freeports plan has rumbled since the idea was proposed by the Chancellor earlier this year.
These designated areas will have different tax structures to the rest of the country and already there are eight in England.
However, plans by the Westminster government to set up two in Scotland have met with resistance from the SNP-led government which wants to add layers of protection for workers. The Westminster government says these protections already exist in law.
Because of Westminster’s refusal to impose rules and conditions that do not apply in England, the Scottish government has chosen to go its own way, but proposes only one freeport despite Mr Jack’s warning that it will not be competitive.
Businesses, such as Forth Ports, have expressed frustration over the failure of the two governments to reach agreement, amid concern that the country will lose trade to lower cost English ports. Nine expressions of interest were submitted for a Scottish green port.
Mr Jack told Tory delegates: “We have eight freeports announced for England. I want to announce a freeport for Scotland after a sensible bidding process.
“Yet, the Scottish Government want to call them green ports and introduce other uncompetitive restrictions like making it a legal requirement to have the real living wage, which is not set by government. As you know, that’s the real minimum wage.”
Mr Jack spoke about a review conducted by Sir Peter Hendy into connectivity between different parts of the UK, and was heavily critical of the Scottish Government’s lack of involvement in it.
He explained: “These things are a challenge for us, and it’s being different for the sake of it.
“The Scottish Government were offered £20m to do feasibility studies to upgrade rail [and] road links in Scotland, and they rejected that money.
“So as I say it’s irresponsible nationalism, and not working with us, I think, just for the sake of being different.”
Mr Jack said that “60% of Scotland’s trade is with the rest of the United Kingdom” and millions of jobs relied on it, and questioned why the Scottish Government did not take part in the review.
Sir Peter Hendy’s review was due to be published this summer, however has been delayed with the final recommendations due to be released “soon”, according to No.10.
These were expected to include the feasibility of a fixed link connecting Scotland and Northern Ireland, dubbed the ‘Boris Bridge’, however last month it was announced the plan had been scrapped.
A spokesman for Net Zero, Energy and Transport Secretary Michael Matheson: “We’ll take no lectures on cooperation from a UK Government which recently ignored 19 separate requests for a ministerial meeting with the Scottish Government on a single issue.
“We will engage with the UK Government in Scotland’s best interests but we will not be complicit in Tory attempts at a power grab on the Scottish Parliament, or their bid to encourage a race to the bottom on workers’ rights and environmental standards.”