The prospect of establishing a freeport in the north-east of Scotland offers a superb opportunity.
For centuries our outward looking coastal communities have cast their eyes far beyond these shores to forge the thriving trading relationships which have brought prosperity to the area.
The creation of a freeport is an unprecedented chance to write the next chapter in the story of the north-east by bringing thousands of new jobs, fresh inward investment and extensive trading opportunities.
Our compelling vision
We have a compelling vision of how a freeport based around Aberdeen and Peterhead would boost the north-east and Scottish economies by taking advantage of and building on the region’s unrivalled skills and expertise.
A recent feasibility study has shown that it has been calculated that up to 22,000 jobs would be created as a result of the hugely attractive freeport package of tax breaks, customs benefits and the creation of innovation hubs.
Our plan is for a city region freeport based around Aberdeen Harbour and the port of Peterhead, which includes Aberdeen International Airport. Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council will work in concert with port authorities and other interests to drive the initiative forward.
The freeport model of boosting trade and encouraging innovation is a perfect fit given the area’s global reputation and impressive track-record in research and development.
We are at a critical juncture
The opportunity comes at a critical juncture in the area’s illustrious maritime history as the north-east leads the transition from fossil fuel energy to renewables.
As the energy industry continues to transform, we believe the establishment of a north-east freeport is absolutely crucial to our ambitious vision to bring green jobs and investors to the area.
We have seen how freeports elsewhere in the world have stimulated regional economies and we believe the same can be done here.
Freeport not ‘greenport’
Fundamental to that aspiration to boost trade and commerce with our friends in other countries is the fact that the name freeport resonates across the globe. The freeport brand is internationally recognised and we strongly believe that it must not be altered.
For more than 50-years the north-east has made an unmatched contribution to the economy through the development of off-shore technology, which has been crucial to keeping the lights on and powering industry.
The area has built up unrivalled prowess in the energy sector. Those skills, which are the envy of the world, must be kept in the north-east.
At the heart of our freeport vision is taking those hard-earned skills and using them to produce green energy as we transition to a zero-carbon future.
Already we are at the forefront of developing hydrogen, offshore wind as well as carbon capture and storage technologies. The UK and Scottish governments together have invested more than £50 million in our Energy Transition Zone next to Aberdeen’s £350 million south harbour development.
A freeport innovation hub would drive even more research into renewable energy, capitalising on our existing engineering and technical skills.
Inward investment attracted by freeport tax breaks such as those offered on National Insurance, business rates and LBTT would support companies with net zero ambitions, while the customs incentives offered would stimulate the movement of goods through the area.
We believe a north-east freeport would bring high end jobs and we are determined that standards are maintained and protected by employment law.”
Some have attempted to characterise freeports as a “race to the bottom” in terms of protection of workers’ rights. We, however, believe a north-east freeport would bring high end jobs and we are determined that standards are maintained and protected by employment law. The same rigour will be applied to achieving high environmental standards.
The north-east’s great seafaring and trading tradition can be traced at least as far back as David I of Scotland who established Aberdeen Harbour as a going concern in 1136, making it the UK’s oldest existing business.
The ingenuity, courage and farsightedness that led to medieval merchants trading with their counterparts in Flanders has also been demonstrated by those who established the great fishing fleets sailing from ports like Aberdeen and Peterhead.
Similar strength of character was shown by the pioneers who struck oil in the North Sea, bringing an unprecedented employment, wealth and energy expertise to the area.
As we strike out for a net zero and global future those same qualities would ensure our freeport vision thrives.
Jenny Laing and Andy Kille are leaders of Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils