Cromarty Firth reveal hopes for free port to boost jobs for 50 years

Ambitious plans to turn the Cromarty Firth into a free port that could secure work and jobs for the next 50 years have been revealed.

The Press and Journal can today reveal that Opportunity Cromarty Firth – made up of private and public sector bodies including the Port of Cromarty Firth (PCF), Global Energy Group (GEG) and Highland Council – has formed to drive forward the free port bid.

If successful, the Cromarty First would became an independent jurisdiction from customs purposes.

PCF chief executive Bob Buskie said free port status would make the area a “vital hub of industry, trade and employment in a post-Brexit Scotland and UK.”

Last year, the UK Government announced plans to create up to 10 free trade zones, also known as free ports, around the UK, where goods can be manufactured, imported and exported without incurring normal barriers to trade like tariffs and customs duties.

With at least one zone earmarked for Scotland, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the Press and Journal he was minded to grant Aberdeen or Peterhead such status – potentially creating thousands of jobs in the north-east.

The backers of the Opportunity Cromarty Firth bid, which also include development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), have not yet estimated how many new job opportunities it could create.

But they are confident it would “help secure much-needed post-Brexit supply chain opportunities and provide skilled employment in the Highlands for the next half a century.”

They added that the ambition behind the plan was to “stimulate economic activity and employment, attract inward investment in innovative renewable energy technologies of the future and equip local people and businesses with the necessary skills to bring transformational regeneration to the north of Scotland.”

Highland councillors were briefed on the vision last night and a virtual public launch event will take place later this month.

Mr Buskie said: “We believe Cromarty Firth is the ideal location to establish one of these free trade zones, and we hope those who come to the virtual public event will be as excited as we are at the opportunities a free trade zone could bring to our area.

“Cromarty Firth is steeped in industrial history, having supported North Sea oil and gas activity since the 1970s and is now playing a critical role in the Scottish offshore wind sector.  The firth hosts a number of leading supply chain companies as well as a locally skilled workforce with essential engineering experience. This is coupled with first-class port infrastructure and manufacturing facilities, which have benefited from over £110million of industry-led investments in the past 10 years.” . . . .

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