Leith community will benefit from Green Freeport, says Forth Ports boss
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He argued the special status would boost the regeneration of the area and bring vital benefits to the community as well as helping Scotland reach net zero.
The UK and Scottish governments are due to designate two Green Freeports in Scotland later this summer after receiving eight bids, including the one from Forth Ports, which would cover Leith, Grangemouth, Rosyth and Edinburgh Airport with the potential, it is claimed, for up to 50,000 new jobs.
The scheme offers financial incentives to attract new investment, with specific areas of land being identified where companies which set up new manufacturing or research centres can enjoy tax and customs benefits – no stamp duty, no National Insurance, accelerated capital allowances and five years of paying no business rates.
Speaking to the Evening News, Mr Hammond said: "We already have manufacturers interested in locating to Leith and they are already calculating the benefits the freeport status could give them. A manufacturer might look, for example, at eastern Europe and compare costs there and in Scotland. Can the freeport status help to balance these costs?
"What it's really offering is money from the UK government to facilitate investment which will create local high-quality jobs and to help with that there's seed funding for skills training and technology.
"The way I see it, it's not the port that's getting the benefit out of this, it's the community. If you get a manufacturer who creates local jobs, we then use the training funds to get people who are furthest from the job market. There are areas of Leith and Granton that are some of the most deprived in Scotland. The idea is to give the young people in those areas the aspiration that they can find a job locally in the new green industrial area in Leith.
"I've been in the ports industry a long time and it has always bothered me that the ports themselves have done well and they offer a very good living – paying 20 per cent above the UK average wage – but despite that some of the areas they're in are some of the more deprived areas in the UK. We're interested in how we can deliver some of the benefits of trade into the communities so they translate into green jobs which are secure and can give you a bit of aspiration."
Forth Ports’ declared ambition with its Green Freeport bid is to act as a catalyst for the re-industrialisation of Scotland, delivering on the country’s net zero targets, attracting £6 billion of private and public investment and giving a £4 billion boost to the economy.
Construction of a £50 million renewables hub, the biggest in Scotland, is already under way at Leith and is due for completion next year.
Mr Hammond said: “The Forth is Scotland's main trading hub. It therefore has the greatest potential in that transition to create jobs and relieve deprivation.
“Grangemouth is going to be all about developing the technologies that allow us to manufacture low-carbon or zero-carbon fuels like hydrogen; for Leith, it's going to be the ability to manufacture and handle the component parts for offshore wind; and Rosyth will play ts part as being not only an innovative freight hub to complement Grangemouth, but also facilitate modern forms of shipbuilding and ship development.”
He said economic modelling suggested the 50,000 jobs figure. That includes direct employment in offshore wind manufacturing, logistics, R&D, technology and training in Leith, manufacturing and transition to low-carbon fuels in Grangemouth, and freight and logistics in Roysth, but also the “ripple effect” of indirect jobs like those provided by small start-up companies to supply and service all that is happening. In both Leith and Grangemouth, land has been allocated as part of the bid for green start-up businesses.
Mr Hammond said: "When you look at the ports industry, for every job we create there are usually something like ten jobs in the wider economy, sometimes more.”
He believes the Firth of Forth Green Freeport is a “strong contender” to be one of the two successful bids. "As the main trading hub in Scotland, this should be the bid with the greatest weight in terms of its economic impact.”
As well as its Scottish sites, Forth Ports owns Tilbury port in London, which is at the heart of the Thames freeport, one of eight announced in England. Mr Hammond said: “The Thames freeport bid was the second highest of all the bids in England, so we think we know what it takes to produce a compelling proposition and if anything we're probably more excited about the potential of the Forth bid.”