Business leaders and government ministers are being brought together to unlock stalled talks to establish ports with special tax status in Scotland.
The SNP government claimed it has been “frustrated at the lack of co-operation” from Westminster but now hopes to end a stalemate.
Scottish trade minister Ivan McKee invited businesses to note their interest in setting up what the SNP administration calls “green ports” and UK government describes as “free ports”.
As well as differences of opinion on the name, there have been tensions over what conditions should be attached on tax relief, fair work practice and contribution to environmental targets.
Mr McKee said: “The Scottish Government remains committed to working in partnership with the UK Government to ensure the benefits of green ports are equally felt by businesses across the UK. However, we have been frustrated at the lack of cooperation from the UK Government who appear to be unwilling to agree to our green port ambitions on fair work and net zero.
“We want to ensure businesses in Scotland receive the same level of incentives and assistance from the UK Government as those offered to freeports in England. I have therefore written to UK Ministers outlining our position and invited them to join us in meeting with industry leaders on June 30 where we can hopefully find a path forward that delivers for business and ensures a level playing field.”
We revealed in March that the UK Government was preparing to step in and set up free ports in Scotland if an agreement could not be reached with Holyrood ministers.
The suggestion inflamed a long-running row over attitudes to devolution, but both sides have continued to hold discussions at official level.
The UK Government’s vision for freeports includes being able to defer paying tax until products are moved on. The SNP want as many as two, but there has been no assurance from Whitehall on the number.
Aberdeen is seen as the most likely port to benefit but more sites could be in the running. A bid free port in the Cromarty Firth is being backed by accountants and business advisers Johnston Carmichael, it emerged earlier this month.
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “We very much welcome the Scottish Government’s decision to drop their initial opposition to Freeports and back an internationally-recognised initiative which will boost the Scottish economy.
“We have had extensive engagement with the Scottish Government and are committed to working closely with them. We hope to issue a joint prospectus for bids in the near future.”
Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Liam Kerr, a North East MSP, said: “It’s welcome the SNP are finally on board with creating freeports in Scotland. Ivan McKee previously claimed freeports were a ‘shiny squirrel’ and the SNP’s own conference backed a motion that slammed them.
“Businesses across Scotland are desperate to reap the benefits from freeports. SNP Ministers should be working constructively with the UK Government to ensure that happens rather than using any opportunity to ramp up their grievance machine.”