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John Swinney blames UK Government for ‘obstacle’ around freeports plan

Aberdeen Harbour is one of the ports vying for freeport status.

Scotland’s deputy first minister says the SNP “fully engaged” with the UK Government’s freeports plan amid claims he is playing “political games”.

Talks collapsed between the two governments earlier this year over how to set up ports with the ability to defer tax until products are moved on.

Douglas Lumsden, Conservative MSP for the north-east, accused Mr Swinney of “playing petty politics with thousands of jobs”.

Interest has been shown from ports in Aberdeen, Peterhead, Cromarty Fith, Dundee and Grangemouth.

Freeport agenda

Speaking in the Holyrood chamber, the deputy first minister said the Scottish Government has “fully engaged with the UK Government’s freeport agenda”.

However he pointed to remarks made by Scottish Secretary Alister Jack on Monday when he told the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster that the governments “disagreed” over paying the real living wage at the sites.

The real living wage is voluntarily paid by almost 9,000 UK businesses who pay a wage related to living costs.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney
Deputy First Minister John Swinney blamed the UK Government for freeports “obstacle”.

Mr Swinney claimed the Tories are “only interested in perpetuating low pay”, as he criticised them for failing to commit to the payment of the higher wage.

The SNP-Green administration at Holyrood has said it wants to pursue its own “green ports” plan, after talks collapsed with UK counterparts.

SNP Trade Minister Ivan McKee had been moving to an agreement in the summer, but could not get the Scottish Secretary to adopt red-line requests, including around pay.

The deputy first minister told MSPs said a key obstacle is the real living wage.

“The Conservatives want to support a low-wage economy,” he claimed.

‘Political games’

Mr Lumsden urged the Scottish Government to “get back round the table with the UK Government for the benefit of ports like Aberdeen and Peterhead”.

A total of eight freeport locations have been selected across England, with the UK Government committed to establishing “at least one” each in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Mr Lumsden added: “Both Aberdeen and Peterhead have voiced strong support in wanting to be a part of the UK Government’s freeport development which will drive up investment and create jobs.

“But as always, John Swinney and the SNP want to turn their back on the north-east to suit their obsession with separation.

Douglas Lumsden has criticised John Swinney for playing “petty politics” over freeports plan.

“The transformative Teeside Freeport opened for business last month, creating 18,000 jobs while generating billions of pounds for the local economy and the same can be done with the north-east.

“Yet despite this, John Swinney chooses to play political games and is willing to cause harm to our region in the process.”

Real living wage

Speaking to the Scottish Affairs Committee on Monday, the Scottish Secretary said “where we disagreed is the real living wage” instead favouring the minimum wage.

He said the real living wage – which is voluntary – is not a legal requirement and is “not something that’s within our control”.

Mr Jack added: “The UK freeport model, we want it to be competitive in Scotland so it attracts the inward investment and it attracts the jobs so we don’t want to put it at a disadvantage which creating a higher wage structure would do.

“We want the freeports in Scotland to have the same terms and conditions as the freeports.”

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