John Swinney has said he is “very optimistic” about the two green freeports announced for Scotland, as he sought to reassure MSPs on environmental standards and workers’ rights.
Under a scheme jointly agreed by the UK and Scottish governments, areas around Inverness and the River Forth were announced as winners of freeport status last week.
The status offers special tax incentives and lower tariffs around ports, with the aim of stimulating economic growth.
Updating MSPs on Wednesday, the Deputy First Minister said officials from both governments had been involved in choosing the two winners from five bids representing different areas in Scotland.
He said: “The announcement last Friday marked an important milestone.
“Creation of these two green freeports will support businesses to create large numbers of good green jobs; will promote growth and regeneration; and will make a significant contribution to our transition to net zero.
“They will help us to create internationally competitive clusters of manufacturing excellence, building on specific areas of sectoral strength and able to compete on an equal footing with ports in the rest of the UK and internationally.
“Over time, they should yield real and lasting benefits to Scotland’s local, regional and national economies.
“The hard work to deliver on that promise starts now. But I am very optimistic about the potential.”
He said work is now starting on a detailed business case for each freeport and they are expected to begin operating by the end of this year.
SNP backbencher Emma Roddick asked who would be accountable for environmental standards and workers’ rights at the freeports.
Mr Swinney said: “The Scottish Government would not sign up to arrangements that would dilute any of the existing commitments.”
A governance structure will be put in place for the green freeports, he said.
Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said the announcement showed the benefits of the UK and Scottish governments working together, saying: “I would suggest that this public and Scotland’s business sector will want to see more of this going forward.”
The Deputy First minister said there was equal decision-making in the process.
He said: “Perhaps the Conservative government in London could reflect on the importance of that being the approach to how we take these things forward.”
The issue of freeports has led to disagreement between the SNP and the Scottish Greens, despite the latter party having ministers in Nicola Sturgeon’s government under a cooperation agreement.
Green MSP Ross Greer said: “There is nothing green about freeports.
“They are mini tax havens, the EU found that they attracted money laundering, smuggling and other criminal activities.
“And the last time the UK tried them they only increased regional inequality.”
Mr Swinney said the Government would remove freeport status if the areas in question breached environmental and labour requirements.
He said: “Obviously, I will try hard over the period ahead to persuade Mr Greer of the merits of the steps that we are taking.”
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