The bidding process in Scotland for green ports, criticised by some as a ‘green-washed’ version of the deregulated freeport proposals brought forward by the UK Government, were due to be launched this month ahead of the election period.
However, in a letter sent by trade minister Ivan McKee to stakeholders, the Scottish Government has hit out at a “lack of willingness” on the UK side to “sign up to our green port ambitions on fair work and net zero”.
The letter states: “We have been working with the UK Government on the applicant prospectus for green ports in good faith.
"Regrettably, it would now appear that there is a lack of willingness on the part of the UK Government to sign up to our green port ambitions on fair work and net zero, and we have to assume that they are not as committed as we are to protecting workers rights, protecting the environment and getting on with action to drive economic recovery.
"We have made it clear all along that inclusion of these elements is essential to Scottish Government’s support of any green port model. We will not engage in a race to the bottom on this.”
The letter adds the bidding process may be delayed beyond the date of the Holyrood election in May unless the UK Government agree to launch the process on Monday.
Mr McKee added: “Therefore, if we do not have confirmation that the UK Government are ready to launch the applicant prospectus by close of business on Monday, March 22, we may have to conclude that the UK Government has effectively withdrawn from this process.
"If that is the case, I would call on them to confirm that and explain it to Scotland’s ports, airports, local authorities, the wider business community and other stakeholders with interest in this policy.”
However, this announcement was criticised by industry stakeholders, with one source saying that it was another example of politics getting in the way of good ideas.
One senior transport industry source said: "This seems to be another idea which is being complicated by the Scottish Government for no good reasons other than political ones.
"We're not sure that blaming Westminster is the strongest of arguments here. The green ports idea is one that can really benefit our country as we recover from Covid.
“Businesses are collaborating on it. Is it too much to ask governments to do the same?
"We need clarity if we're to invest, not playground taunts and further delay.”
Responding to the letter, a Treasury spokesperson said: "Free ports will be a key part of building back our economy after Covid.
"We look forward to delivering free ports in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as soon as possible."
However, they gave no indication as to whether the March 22 date would be met.
Mr Mckee said in a statement issued last night: “We share industry’s frustration and have been working with the UK Government on this in good faith. We are completely perplexed as to why the UK Government won’t agree to launch the process now.
“The Applicant Prospectus, which has been drafted jointly by both governments, is ready for publication now.
"We have put it on our website for industry to see, but we need both governments to agree to launch the process and the UK Government is stalling and prevaricating for no good reason.
"It puts Scottish businesses at a disadvantage to those in England, they need to answer why they are doing that.”