The leader of Aberdeen City Council warns local authorities will be “caught in the crossfire” unless Holyrood and Westminster work together on freeports.
Jenny Laing met UK Government minister Michael Gove in London where the pair discussed plans to set up ports with special tax status in the north-east.
Talks broke down last month after the Scottish Government backed out of the scheme and set up their own separate proposals, accusing Boris Johnson of failing to provide guarantees over fair pay and set-up funding.
Aberdeen and Peterhead are among the port authorities bidding for freeport status, which gives sites the ability to defer tax until products are moved on.
Ms Laing said she “made it clear to Michael Gove that Aberdeen wants to work with the UK Government” on setting up freeports.
The pair also discussed the city council’s bid for cash from the UK Government’s post-Brexit Levelling Up Fund.
The local authority wants £20 million to deliver a new international market on the site of the former British Home Stores branch on Union Street.
‘Caught in the crossfire’
The Aberdeen City Council leader says it is “unfortunate that if there’s an argument between the two governments that local authorities get caught in the crossfire”.
The council is keen to pursue freeports as it believes it would tie in with plans around the energy transition in the region.
Ms Laing adds: “It’s unfortunate that the Scottish Government at the beginning were not all that receptive about freeports.
“And because they took that stance I think they have had to look at ways to try to change what that freeport might look like in order for it to be more palatable for them.
I certainly made it clear to Michael Gove that Aberdeen wants to work with UK Government.”
Jenny Laing, Aberdeen City Council leader
“We’re all working to make sure that the prosperity within our local economy is maintained because that’s good news, not just for Aberdeen and the north-east, it’s good news for Scottish and UK economy as well.
“I would urge them to think again and try to work together because we want to ensure we get a maximum package of incentives around freeports and I think that could be achieved by both governments working together.
“But I certainly made it clear to Michael Gove that Aberdeen wants to work with UK Government because they hold a number of the levers around those incentives directly as they’re not devolved powers.”
Talks collapsed last month as the Scottish Government could not get Scottish Secretary Alister Jack to adopt to red-line requests, including fair pay.
However, in a move seen by Tories as a warning sign, the SNP’s new Green coalition partners previously described freeports as “state sponsored tax dodging with no place in a progressive Scotland”.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “While we were prepared to work with the UK Government, and had a joint draft green port bidding prospectus ready to launch in March, we are not prepared to implement a port model that did not include a firm commitment to fair work and net-zero.
“After six months of delay on their part, the UK Government’s eventual port offer did not reflect this – nor did it provide fair set-up funding for Scotland or indeed recognise the vital role the real living wage plays in secure pay and employment contracts.
“The Scottish Government therefore had no option but to progress plans to further develop a green port model which meets the specific needs of Scotland’s economy.”
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “It is disappointing that despite strenuous efforts to work together, the Scottish Government has so far chosen not to work with us to bring freeports to Scotland.
“We will continue to work to ensure that Scotland can enjoy the benefits of the model.
“Freeports will create hubs of global trade, support thousands of jobs, regenerate communities and turbocharge Britain’s post-Brexit growth, all part of the UK Government’s commitment to boost economic activity, levelling up towns, cities and regions across the UK.”