The head of the north’s largest independent business organisation has hailed the “enormous benefits” establishing a free trade zone on the Cromarty Firth could bring to the Highland economy.
Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce (ICC), yesterday said the scale of the opportunity offered to the area by a bid to win free port status “cannot be underestimated”.
The UK Government is planning to create around 10 of the zones, which will become independent jurisdictions for customs and regulatory purposes, around the country, as part of its post-Brexit economic growth strategy.
Led by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the initiative is aimed at boosting international trade, innovation and regeneration.
Goods can be manufactured, imported and exported inside the zones without incurring tariffs.
Under the banner Opportunity Cromarty Firth, a drive to have a free port established in the north was launched in August by a steering group formed by a group of private and public sector organisations in the area.
The bid is being led by the Invergordon-based Port of Cromarty Firth (PCF), which has responsibility for the waters of the North Sea inlet.
ICC is the latest in a number of north bodies that have voiced their support for the plan.
Mr Nicol said: “Opportunity Cromarty Firth recently shared with us and our members the enormous benefits that free port status could bring to businesses in the Highlands.
“The scale of this opportunity cannot be underestimated, and in our opinion no other location is better positioned to realise its full scope. As a result, we firmly believe that free port status for the Cromarty Firth will profoundly benefit our network of businesses.
“Inverness Chamber of Commerce is delighted to give our full support to the proposals and we trust more businesses across the Highlands will do the same.”
The chamber’s backing was welcomed yesterday by PCF chief executive Bob Buskie.
“Opportunity Cromarty Firth is delighted to have gained the support of Inverness Chamber of Commerce,” he said.
“Free port status would bring skilled jobs and high-wage opportunities to the Highlands on a level not seen since the oil boom of the 1970s.”
He continued: “The Cromarty Firth, with its deep natural waters, is uniquely positioned at the heart of the majority of current and future multi-billion-pound offshore renewable projects.
“It has the facilities, and above all the local supply chain – many of whom are members of Inverness Chamber.
“My thanks go not only to Stewart Nicol but also to the chamber’s membership for their vision in seeing the benefits that free port status would bring the Highland economy.”
A dozen public and private sector organisations, including the Inverness-based Global Energy Group, which owns Nigg Energy Park at the entrance to the firth, have backed the bid.
Other backers include Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the University of the Highlands and Islands, Inverness Harbour Trust, Skills Development Scotland, Highland Resources and Semco Maritime.