Cromarty Firth Free Trade port plan 'could secure jobs for 50 years'
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An ambitious new initiative is being launched to create a Free Trade Zone in the Cromarty Firth that backers say will secure a sustainable 50-year pipeline of work and jobs.
Opportunity Cromarty Firth is backed by the Port of Cromarty Firth (PoCF) along with partners from industry, academia and the public sector including Global Energy Group, Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), and the University of the Highlands and Islands.
Project leaders believe the creation of a Free Trade Zone will help secure much-needed post-Brexit supply chain opportunities and provide skilled employment in the Highlands for the next half century.
The ambitions of the project are 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 in these sectors to bring transformational regeneration to the north of Scotland.
PoCF chief executive Bob Buskie said: “The creation of Free Trade Zones, also referred to as Free Ports, are part of the UK government’s economic growth strategy post-Brexit – and there are plans to create up to 10 across the UK.
“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 £110 million of industry-led investments.
“Thanks to our Highland location, Cromarty Firth is in a unique position as 15 of the 17 sites identified in the draft Marine Plan for offshore wind development are on our doorstep. Not only that, our ambitions and pipeline will support Scotland and the UK meet their climate obligations, helping to build offshore wind and hydrogen deployment at scale.
“Our facilities are some of the best in the UK, we have a proven track record of attracting new business to UK Plc, and we have a strong connection between local government, business and the Port.
“Becoming a Free Trade Zone will make Cromarty Firth and the Highlands a vital hub of industry, trade and employment in the renewables sector, driving forward a greener economy in a post-Brexit Scotland and UK.”
Alasdair Christie, Highland Council depute leader and chairman of its recovery board, said: “The Cromarty Firth Free Trade Zone bid holds significant potential for the Highland region and its economic recovery, and could open up major opportunities for future employment and skills for our workforce.It points to the unique position that Highland is in to accommodate such innovations, with services and businesses ready to help drive forward a green economy and to support future jobs.The Council is supporting and advising the Steering Group on relevant issues as they prepare the bid for Free Trade Zone status.”
James Gibbs, HIE area manager for the Inner Moray Firth, said the ambitious initiative could bring many potential benefits to manufacturing and the wider supply chain companies in the region, particularly those in the energy sector.
"There will be strong links to Scotland’s green recovery and the drive towards an economy based on net-zero emissions," he added.
"We look forward to working with all partners involved with a view to securing those benefits for the wider region and for Scotland.”
Roy MacGregor, chairman of Global Energy Group, said his buisnes was delighted to be working with PoCF and other stakeholders on an opportunity that could present numerous opportunities for the area and wider Highlands.
Mr MacGregor added: “It is our continuing desire to support the development of the Cromarty Firth and turn the Port of Nigg facility into an all-round Energy HUB. The investment that has been made into Nigg since our purchase in 2011 has meant that we have been able to develop an extensive track record in the delivery of renewables project both in manufacturing and as a staging port for two major Offshore Wind projects.
“Our world class facility, people and companies are ideally placed to support the future of the energy industry and would welcome the additional prospects that the Free Trade Zone status will inevitably present. It is our hope that the Cromarty Firth, with its enviable location will put the Highlands on the map and ensure a sustainable future for the region and beyond.”
Opportunity Cromarty Firth is set to outline its plans in full at a virtual public launch event on Thursday 20th August. The event, to be held via WebEx (Cisco), will include presentations from key partners, information on the process involved in becoming a Free Trade Zone, and a Q&A session so people can share their own ideas and views on the project.
For those interested in attending the virtual public launch event, please complete the Eventbrite registration form here https://opportunity-cromarty-firth-virtual-public-launch.eventbrite.co.uk. Event spaces are limited, so participants are asked to sign up well in advance.