Forth Green Freeport bid: Leith people are being let down by their own councillors – Iain Whyte

Last week Leith and wider Edinburgh were let down by the very councillors elected to stand up for the port.
The Forth Green Freeport bid includes Leith, Grangemouth and Rosyth (Picture: Ian Georgeson)The Forth Green Freeport bid includes Leith, Grangemouth and Rosyth (Picture: Ian Georgeson)
The Forth Green Freeport bid includes Leith, Grangemouth and Rosyth (Picture: Ian Georgeson)

I am a proud Leither and I’m very interested in the port’s history and heritage. I want to see Leith prosper. That’s why I was delighted when Forth Ports drew up a bid to the UK and Scottish governments’ Green Freeport scheme.

Spanning the Forth estuary, the Leith part of the bid seeks to create 11,000 highly paid, highly skilled jobs in manufacturing and maintenance for offshore wind generation, along with training to help locals access these careers. It could also help the creative sector that has recently found a home at the port.

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Any additional business rates generated in the Freeport would be kept by the council to spend locally rather than being swallowed in the Scottish pot and the proposal includes wider economic and physical regeneration for Leith through a ‘place-based’ investment fund.

As I write, the UK and Scottish governments are still to announce which Scottish bids are successful, but I hope the Forth is a winner because it could bring in 50,000 jobs to the wider region, help decarbonise our energy, convert former oil industry sites to clean energy, and see £850m of investment in Leith. It’s the best Green Freeport bid in Scotland by a distance.

Last week the council was asked to support it to help diversify our local economy into engineering and manufacturing and bring additional opportunities for future generations. Disappointingly, a series of councillors used the opportunity to find fault with the proposal over imagined environmental and health and safety flaws and the suggestion that somehow the skilled jobs wouldn’t be “fair work”. This despite these issues being specifically addressed in the bid process agreed by the two governments.

What was most appalling was the approach of the SNP leader, a Leith councillor, to a process his own party’s Scottish Government put in place. He openly argued that we shouldn’t support the bid. The benefits meant nothing to him as the plan involved “big business”.

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He even claimed Edinburgh is prosperous enough and doesn’t need the jobs or investment which could go elsewhere in Scotland. A man who regularly claims he wants to fight poverty and climate change and seek a “just transition” to net-zero emissions argued against a huge opportunity to deliver what he claims to seek.

In the end, none of the three Leith councillors supported the bid. They openly rejected a plan to renew Leith’s engineering and seafaring heritage in a clean, green way for the future.

My memory of Leith’s trade unions and left-leaning politicians of the past is of people who would argue for jobs and inward investment for their area, especially well paid and highly skilled jobs. The current approach of Leith’s councillors eschews that idea.

It’s time Leith people looked past the political label, avoided voting tribally and asked themselves who will really do the best for them and their interests. I know that might not bring them straight to my party but I am certain they are being badly let down by their current representatives.

Thankfully, the council managed to pass a resolution that supports the Forth Green Freeport bid. Let’s all hope it is successful.

Iain Whyte is Edinburgh Council’s Conservative group leader

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