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3 big demands from the north-east to Liz Truss as she settles in to Number 10

Prime Minister Liz Truss outside Number 10.
Prime Minister Liz Truss outside Number 10.

Prime Minister Liz Truss has been urged to “right the wrongs of the past” and ensure investment in critical industries for Aberdeen and the wider north-east.

The new UK leader is already facing calls to confirm job-boosting “freeports” with special tax status, a decision to kick-start carbon capture and support to help the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

From politicians to industry leaders, here are the three big demands facing the new prime minister in her first week of power.

1. Green freeports

The UK and Scottish governments will make a decision soon on which two bids in  Scotland will be awarded job-boosting freeport status out of five contenders.

The Press and Journal supports calls for the UK and Scottish governments to support the proposals put forward by North East Scotland Green Freeport and Opportunity Cromarty Firth.

Aberdeen South MP Stephen Flynn is among those pushing for a north-east win.

Aberdeen South MP, Stephen Flynn.

He urged the new Tory leader to “make the necessary investment” in office to back the joint bid by Aberdeen and Peterhead ports.

A “green freeport” is a large zoned area within a defined boundary which includes rail, sea or airport, and offers tax reliefs and other incentives.

Aberdeen International Airport is heavily involved in the north-east bid, which includes creating a so-called sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) plant at St Fergus, Aberdeenshire.

Jon Matthews, group head of capital and planning at the airport, said: “We have a real opportunity to establish our region as the net zero capital of Europe.

“This will deliver a sustainable economic future for the region with 32,000 fair-work long-term jobs.”

The Cromarty Firth and Aberdeen Harbour.

Fergus Mutch, Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce policy adviser, said the prime minister has a “golden opportunity” to demonstrate her government’s confidence in the future of the north-east.

He added: “Failing to award green freeport status to the north-east of Scotland would not only be a betrayal of our region, which has contributed so much to the UK Exchequer over many decades, it would also set progress towards energy transition backwards.”

Andrew Bowie, Tory MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, said his party’s MPs and MSPs have been in “constant contact with the bidding partners”.

North-east Tories swung their support behind the Aberdeen-Peterhead bid, and have written to Ms Truss, and Scottish ministers, to make the case for the proposals.

2. Don’t snub us again on carbon capture

The UK government last year chose to overlook plans for a carbon capture project that promises to deliver thousands of north-east jobs.

The Scottish Cluster, which has the Acorn Project in St Fergus, Aberdeenshire at its heart, was rejected in favour of two schemes in northern England. 

Mr Flynn picked out the scheme in a letter to the new prime minister.

He said the decision was “met with disdain from those across the political spectrum and shocked the industry”.

The decision not to award funding followed an earlier snub in 2015 when a carbon capture and storage project at Peterhead Power Station had to be scrapped after £1 billion of funding was pulled.

St Fergus gas terminal, near Peterhead, is at the heart of ambitious plans for carbon capture and storage.

North-east Conservatives say they are “engaging with the UK Government and Acorn’s partners towards a bright future at St Fergus”.

But it emerged earlier this week that UK ministers have declined a meeting with the team behind the project. 

The Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce is among the organisations pushing for the project to be taken forward to “unlock vast economic potential” and meet net zero ambitions.

Ms Truss will face cross-party calls to rectify the decision now she is in post.

3. Help offshore workers go green

The Scottish Government unveiled a 10-year £500 million “just transition” fund for the north-east and Moray last year to support the move away from fossil fuels.

The first £20 million was included in this financial year’s budget but it is still to be officially confirmed what projects will receive funding.

One of the projects in line for funding from the pot is the campaign to reinstate rail links from Aberdeen to Peterhead and Fraserburgh.

But official announcements are expected within “days”, a Scottish Government spokesman confirmed.

The SNP calls for the UK Government to match the funding which the Scottish Government has provided to help the region transition.

Aside from the £500m fund, there was an earlier £62m funding pot set up in 2020 to help the energy sector recover from Covid-19 and the oil and gas price crash.

But Mr Bowie blasted the SNP for having not yet actually spent any of the £500m funding pot and highlighted previous funding from the UK Government.

He said: “Not a cent of the SNP’s transition money has been spent in the region, with a paltry £20m outlined for this financial year.

“That’s less than half the UK Government’s financial support for Acorn so far, not to mention the £16 billion North Sea Transition Deal agreed last year.”

Mr Mutch said both governments have to get moving.

“Westminster should match the Holyrood’s funding to leverage even more private investment into a diversified, green economy,” he said.

“However, the Scottish Government also need to raise their game — getting more of their £500m fund into the hands of businesses and organisations sooner, to secure prosperity and jobs in the north-east over the coming decades.”