The Scottish Government has been asked to support a potential north-east freeport bid which could be “monumental for the region”.
Two Scottish freeports will be named this summer after a £52 million deal was eventually struck between the Holyrood and Westminster governments.
Liam Kerr, north-east Conservative MSP, spoke of his support for a joint bid between Aberdeen Harbour, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire councils, Aberdeen International Airport and Peterhead port.
Speaking during portfolio questions at Holyrood on Wednesday, he said the bid “could create up to 22,000 jobs if it were brought forward”, as he urged Trade Minister Ivan McKee to publicly back the proposals.
It follows concerns after a freedom of information request showed no record of the Scottish Government having any briefings with Aberdeen or Peterhead over a bid.
Mr McKee said this was “incorrect” and told MSPs he had attended an online meeting with Bob Sanguinetti, CEO of Aberdeen Harbour Board in the “last few weeks”.
Aberdeen freeport bid
The SNP minister added he was “surprised the Conservatives are nailing their colours to the mast with regard to Aberdeen”.
He said: “Does that mean they don’t support the other nine bids that are potentially coming forward across Scotland?
“I think local communities will be interested to hear that.
“There are nine or 10 expressions of interest across Scotland and I have talked to many of those, visited many of those and will continue to do so over the coming period.”
Mr Kerr later said he was “frustrated that Ivan McKee couldn’t even bring himself to acknowledge the significant benefits that I raised in parliament about a bid”.
He added: “He should realise that as the north-east embraces a gradual transition to renewable sources of energy to meet net-zero commitments, being one of the two freeports in Scotland would be monumental for our region.”
The freeports agreement, which was reached last week, follows lengthy and difficult negotiations between the two administrations.
Talks collapsed between the two governments last year over the best model to use for the ports, with the Scottish Government insisting on “red line requests” including payment of the real living wage.
Ports at Aberdeen, Peterhead, Cromarty Firth, Dundee and Grangemouth have all expressed an interest in bidding for the special status, which offers tax reliefs and other incentives.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already hinted Rosyth could be on track to be named as as one of the two sites.
A joint prospectus and assessment process is expected to be published next month, with winning bids announced over the summer.
But the Scottish Greens have slammed the deal as a “corporate giveaway” despite the party being in government with the SNP.
Mr McKee told MSPs the Scottish Government will scrutinise all bids for evidence of a commitment to fair work practices, including “payment of the real living wage, delivering on net zero aspirations and supporting fair work practices”.
He continued: “Applications which do not meet these high standards will not succeed.”