Cromarty Firth freeport will help reverse Highlands depopulation, says Rishi Sunak

Scotland's first green freeports will attract thousands of jobs and help reverse depopulation in the Highlands, Rishi Sunak has claimed.

Areas around Inverness and the River Forth have been awarded the status under a scheme agreed by the Scottish and UK governments. The two winning bids were formally announced on Friday morning as the Prime Minister made his first official visit to Scotland.

Freeport status offers special tax incentives and lower tariffs around ports, with the aim of stimulating economic growth. The new sites have been backed by up to £52 million in UK Government funding and ministers say they will create around 75,000 new, high-skilled jobs.

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The Inverness and Cromarty Firth freeport will focus on industries around offshore wind, hydrogen and nuclear, covering sea ports in the region as well as Inverness Airport. It is expected to create 25,000 jobs and generate up to £4.8 billion in investment for the area.

Rishi Sunak. Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Meanwhile, the Forth freeport will be based around renewables manufacturing, alternative fuels, carbon capture and shipbuilding, as well as a new creative hub.

Speaking to journalists in Invergordon on the Cromarty Firth, Mr Sunak said: “There are some very clear practical benefits and the most obvious one is jobs. Over time there will be thousands of jobs coming as a result of the investment that will be coming."

Asked if the Cromarty Firth freeport could help tackle depopulation by enticing younger people to stay, he said: “I completely believe that is what it will do. That is what levelling up is about. I represent a very rural area in the north of England, so I would say the same thing, and [Scottish Secretary] Alister [Jack] would say the same thing.

“We don’t want our young people to have to leave home to fulfil all their dreams and ambitions and that is why if we can bring the investment and the jobs and the opportunity to them, that is what levelling up should be about and that is what freeports do.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (centre) visits Port of Cromarty Firth in Invergordon, Scotland. Picture: Russell Cheyne/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

“We have seen them work around the world and we have seen them working in England. And that is why we are so excited to bring those benefits to Scotland, and it’s a good example of that partnership between the UK Government and the Scottish Government making a tangible difference to people’s lives, spreading opportunity and it is really inspiring to see how everyone here has reacted to it this morning.

“We were talking to some young people who had finished their training course. They are already out working, and they are all so pumped up because of what it is going to mean for them and their colleagues and their friends and their neighbours, and I think that will feed over the months and years, and everyone will see the momentum that this has created.”

A survey previously found nearly half of young people in the Highlands and islands plan to move away in the next five years.

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The freeports will benefit from tax reliefs and other incentives using powers at both the Holyrood and Westminster levels.

However, the Scottish Greens, who have a power-sharing agreement with the SNP, have argued they will funnel public money to private corporations and drive down environmental standards, while failing to deliver the promised economic prosperity. They have also raised fears over criminal activity.

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