Kenny MacAskill calls for action over ownership of Scottish ports

The "unhealthy monopoly" in Scotland's ports should be broken up to promote Scottish interests, East Lothian Alba MP Kenny MacAskill has said in a debate at Westminster.

By Ian Swanson
Wednesday, 8th June 2022, 4:55 am

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The former Scottish Government justice secretary said Forth Ports, which owns and operates Leith, Grangemouth, Rosyth, Methil, Burntisland and Dundee, was owned by a Canadian pension fund, while the major ports on the Clyde were owned and operated by Clydeport, part of Manchester-based Peel Properties, one of the largest property investment companies in the UK.

Mr MacAskill told fellow MPs that Brexit and blockages at key ports had underlined how fundamental commercial harbours were for trade and the health of the economy.

He said: "Ports were privatised in 1992 and that lies at the heart of the problem and remains a serious concern in Scotland today.”

What should be national assets were instead run for private profit and the wants of other communities or even countries dominated.

“Forth Ports are owned by the Public Sector Investment Board, a Canadian Crown Corporation. The fundamental duty of that organisation is to maximise revenue for the pensions of Canadian public sector workers current or already retired. A laudable aim that I do not criticise in the least as its no doubt pensions well earned through hardwork and endevour.

“But the duty of the Canadian Public Sector Investment Board is not to ensure the maximisation of the Port Asset for the local community, let alone ensure the growth of the Scottish economy. No wonder many residents in Leith, and even some employees, view them more as a property developer than a port operator.”

The Port of Leith is one of Forth Ports' sites on the estuary. Picture: Jane Barlow.

And he said Forth Ports also owned and operated Tilbury, part of the Port of London, which carried more traffic than all the Scottish ports combined.

"It’s when you realise not just where ownership lies but where the major source of operation for them is sited, that a problem appears.

"It means that what should be Scotland’s major east coast port area is owned for the benefit of pensioners across the Atlantic and where the strategic focus of management is on the Thames not the Forth. The interests of the Forth and Scotland are swamped by those of a Canadian Pension Fund and a competitor estuary.”

Mr MacAskill said ports were critical for Scotland’s communities and essential to the country’s economy. “Key harbours and estuaries are vital for trade, tourism and work. Yet in Scotland the two major Firths have owners whose interests aren’t those of the local communities or the nation. Indeed owners whose operations actually conflict with the needs and wants of the Forth and Clyde.

Kenny MacAskill says ports are a vital part of a nation's infrastructure.

“This is an unhealthy monopoly and it is damaging Scottish interests. It should be broken up with the Government seeking action from the Competition and Mergers Authority to ensure Scotland’s interests are both protected and promoted.

“If not, then compulsory purchase or the creation of new ports should be pursued by the Scottish Government. The Forth and Clyde cannot be drowned by the Thames and Mersey.”

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