HAVING SCREWED FERRIES WE MUST DEFEND OUR PORTS.

For immediate release: Tuesday 7 June 2022 FORTH AND CLYDE PORTS MUST NOT BE DROWNED BY THE THAMES AND MERSEY DEMANDS MACASKILL IN WESTMINSTER DEBATE “The Forth and Clyde cannot be drowned by the Thames and Mersey.”  This is the demand which will be made later today  (Tuesday) by ALBA Party Depute Leader and MPContinue reading "HAVING SCREWED FERRIES WE MUST DEFEND OUR PORTS."

HAVING SCREWED FERRIES WE MUST DEFEND OUR PORTS.

For immediate release: Tuesday 7 June 2022

FORTH AND CLYDE PORTS MUST NOT BE DROWNED BY THE THAMES AND MERSEY DEMANDS MACASKILL IN WESTMINSTER DEBATE

“The Forth and Clyde cannot be drowned by the Thames and Mersey.”  This is the demand which will be made later today  (Tuesday) by ALBA Party Depute Leader and MP for East Lothian Kenny MacAskill when he opens a Westminster Hall Debate on the Regulation of Ports and maximising economic and maritime potential on the Forth and Clyde.  Mr MacAskill will shine a light on the fact that Forth Ports PLC and Clyde Ports are both privately owned by interests outwith Scotland thereby hampering the economic and maritime potential on the Forth and Clyde.

Forth Ports PLC own and operate Grangemouth, which is Scotland’s principal container port, as well as owning the ports of Leith, Rosyth, Methil and Burntisland, the other major ports on the Firth. They also own the Port of Dundee up on the Firth of Tay, the next firth or estuary up the coast.  Forth Ports PLC is owned by a Canadian Pension Fund, the Canadian Public Sector Investment Board.  

The major ports on the River Clyde, Glasgow, Greenock and Hunterston, as well as Ardrossan down the Ayrshire coast are owned and operated by Clydeport.  The owners of the major harbours on the River Clyde are Peel Ports PLC, part of Peel Properties and one of the largest property investment companies in the UK.  Based in Manchester, the majority shareholder is John Whittaker, a billionaire who lives on the Isle of Man.

According to Mr MacAskill both Forth Ports PLC and Clydeport “are owned and operated for private profit and where the wants of other communities, even countries, dominate”.  This “has created a monopoly situation. One which I believe is harmful to local needs and Scotland’s national interests.” 

He will argue that: “Ports are critical for our communities and to our economy. Key harbours and estuaries are vital for trade, tourism and work. Yet in Scotland the two major Firths have owners whose interests aren’t those of the local communities or the nation. Indeed, owners whose operations actually conflict with the needs and wants of the Forth and Clyde.”

Continuing Mr MacAskill will state:“This is an unhealthy monopoly and its damaging Scottish interests. It should be broken up with the Government seeking action from the Competition and Mergers Authority to ensure Scotland’s interests are both protected and promoted.”

Concluding Mr MacAskill will state:

“If not, then compulsory purchase or the creation of new ports should be pursued by the Scottish Government. The Forth and Clyde cannot be drowned by the “Thames and Mersey.”             

ENDS

WESTMINSTER HALL DEBATE – Tuesday 7 June 2022

Regulation of Ports and maximising economic and maritime potential on the Forth and Clyde. 

Opening the Debate Mr MacAskill will state:

It’s a pleasure to serve under your Chairmanship

As post – Brexit chaos has all to vividly shown, ports are a vital part of a nations infrastructure. Scottish and UK exports have been hindered and harmed by Brexit itself, but also by blockage at key ports. Commercial harbours are fundamental for trade and the health of the economy. Indeed, the UK Government even sought to reopen a port as the crisis loomed and at significant cost, albeit failure.

Meanwhile, Ireland has seen ferry and container services to the continent greatly increase, allowing for both outbound exports and inbound tourism. Scotland, though, remains devoid of even one direct ferry service to Europe. There have been past debates about that issue and the continued problem and so today I wish to focus my remarks on another aspect of maritime policy. But one which equally constrains Scottish economic growth and the potential for Scottish Tourism.

It is related and inextricably linked, as ferries and ships ply their trade and take their goods to harbours. This issue is Port ownership and regulation. Ports were privatised in 1992 and that lies at the heart of the problem and remains a serious concern in Scotland today. Hence, why although transport is largely devolved and much to do with ports and harbours rests within the domain of the Scottish Government, a debate in this Parliament remains hugely relevant and indeed vital. 

As well as being caused by the UK Governments actions in privatisation it also impacts upon their current reserved powers, as it has created a monopoly situation. One which I believe is harmful to local needs and Scotland’s national interests.   

Of course, trust and municipal ports still exist and mostly perform well for their communities. I have many in my own constituency, others can be even bigger such as Aberdeen. But there are critical areas in Scotland where what should be a municipal, indeed a national asset, instead are owned and operated for private profit and where the wants of other communities, even countries, dominate.

Scotland has many estuaries, but industrialisation and population have ensured that perhaps the two most critical are the Firths of Forth and Clyde. They team with people and businesses, as well as being redolent of Scottish history. They are vital for access not just to the east and west coasts of Britain but far beyond for trade with Europe, America and the rest of the world. Who owns them and what effect does that have on our nation?

Let me start on the east coast. I was born in Leith, for long the principal port on the Forth, if not in Scotland, until trade moved west. Nowadays I can see the river from my flat in Dunbar and therefore know the estuary well. Ask anyone in either of those communities or indeed anywhere on the banks of the river, who owns Forth Ports? And they’ll say, perhaps, the council or the Scottish Government, or maybe even a wealthy Scottish industrialist.

But no, they’d be wrong and they’d be gobsmacked to know that Forth Ports are owned by the Public Sector Investment Board, a Canadian Crown Corporation. The fundamental duty of that organisation is to maximise revenue for the pensions of Canadian public sector workers current or retired. A laudable aim that I do not criticise in the least, as its no doubt pensions well earned through hardwork and endevour.

But the duty of the Canadian Public Sector Investment Board is not to ensure the maximisation of the Port Asset for the local community, let alone ensure the growth of the Scottish economy. No wonder many residents in Leith, and even some employees, view them more as a property developer than a port operator.

Or that Forth Ports see the construction of a wharf allowing for cruise liners to dock as being the responsibility of the Scottish Government rather than them, despite their name and ownership. But that’s how it is. It’s not Canadian Pensioners to blame but port policy or the lack of it, in Scotland and the UK.  

But it gets worse. For not only is Forth Ports owned by the equivalent of an absentee landlord, and Scotland knows how harmful they can be, its worsened by the other ports that Forth Ports PLC own and which they also operate. There the Forth becomes the equivalent of a branch factory and again Scotland knows how harmful that position is.

So, who are Forth Ports PLC? Well for sure they own Grangemouth, which is Scotland’s principal container port, as well as owning the ports of Leith, Rosyth, Methil and Burntisland, the other major ports on the Firth. They also own the Port of Dundee up on the Firth of Tay, the next firth or estuary up the coast.

All fine and well you might think? But it’s what else they own and operate, despite the name Forth Ports PLC, which causes a conflict of interest. For they also own and operate the Port of Tilbury, which is part of the Port of London and situated on the River Thames, not the River Forth or indeed any Firth in Scotland.

So, what you might say?  But it’s when you realise not just where ownership lies but where the major source of operation for them is sited, that the problem appears.

Tilbury carries more traffic than all the Scottish ports combined. Forth Ports corporate website last year indicated that 16 million tonnes of cargo went out of Tilbury but only 9 million from Grangemouth, which is by far the largest Scottish port. Tilbury as well as dominating in trade, dominates in passenger numbers. The cruise liner turnaround hub at Rosyth mentioned on the corporate website is dwarfed by the London International Cruise Terminal, boasted of at Tilbury, and on the same corporate site.  

In a nutshell what does this mean. It means that what should be Scotland’s major east coast port area is owned for the benefit of pensioners across the Atlantic and where the strategic focus of management is on the Thames not the Forth. The interests of the Forth and Scotland are swamped by those of a Canadian Pension Fund and a competitor estuary.

That’s the issue on Scotland’s east coast but what’s it like on the west. It too remains vital to Scotland even if much focus has once again returned to the North Sea and away from the Atlantic. It’s rooted in the Scottish psyche, as well as soul, from the tears of emigration through ships which were built that sailed the world, to songs still loved and sung today. The Clyde remains Scotlands largest urban concentration, still has a manufacturing base, as well providing world class food and drink exports, and possessing scenic sites that many around the globe long to visit. The basis for a vibrant port or even ports you’d think?

The major ports on the River Clyde, Glasgow, Greenock and Hunterston, as well as Ardrossan down the Ayrshire coast are owned and operated by Clydeport. But since 2003 ownership of them has moved from the Firth. As with the Forth ask a resident on the Clyde who owns the major harbours on the river and a similar response of government local or national, or a local worthy will be forthcoming.

But now the owners of the major harbours on the River Clyde are Peel Ports PLC, part of Peel Properties and one of the largest property investment companies in the UK. They’re based in Manchester and indeed, the majority shareholder is John Whittaker, a billionaire who lives on the Isle of Man.

Again, reflecting the situation on the east coast on the River Forth, the interests are not the local communities or even the nations economy. Instead, as well as owning other harbours which I’ll come to shortly, they have an extensive property portfolio including John Lennon Airport in Liverpool, as well as the Manchester Ship Canal. They also own Cammell Laird Shipyard and Tranmere Oil Terminal on the Mersey.

Now I’ve nothing against any of those operations and wish them well. I’ve no doubt they try to do the best for their workforce and customers. But they’re not similar to the interests, and certainly not the needs, of the Clyde or Scotland. Moreover, the principal beneficiaries aren’t Clyde communities or the Scottish economy. Instead, it’s for the benefit of a Manchester based company and an Isle of Man billionaire.

Once again, as with the Forth, the situation of ownership is worsened by the operation of the ports by what in many instances should be competitor harbours. So much for the free-market extolling and liberating competition. That’s because Peel Ports PLC also own the Mersey Docks and Harbour company which in turn operates the Port of Liverpool. Indeed, they also own Heysham, Great Yarmouth and London Medway, that latter one described by them as their “flagship port”. 

It’s not just in praise from the principal owners where the Clyde loses out but in trade. In terms of tonnage of trade according to DfT data for 2020, the Mersey dominates with 31 million tonnes in and out, with Medway at 9 Million and leaving the Clyde trailing in their wake, at under 7 million tonnes.

As with the Forth both ownership and operation neither have the local community nor the national interest at their heart or as their focus.

There are additional issues on the Clyde which worsen those conflicts of interest. Whilst they could also arise on the Forth given the circumstances, they’re certainly live on the Clyde. Firstly, as a consequence of harbour ownership Peel Ports are in charge of Inch Green Dry Dock in Greenock. So what you might say?

But that dock is potentially critical to reviving shipbuilding on the Clyde, as well as securing the future of the last remaining yard on the Lower Clyde at Fergusons in Port Glasgow. There are issues there with ownership and construction of ferries that I don’t have time to go into today. The wrong ferries ordered, incompetence by the procurement agency CMAL and rush and failure by the Scottish Government.

But what remains clear is that Scottish island communities have a desperate need for new vessels and Fergusons is the yard to build them. When work is required and an industrial future sought, its there not Turkey that orders should go. Moreoever, the workforce has not just the history but the skills to build them. But in doing so and given the needs of island communities, future expansion may well be needed and that’s where Inch Green comes in.

Rather than ensuring it can be used for shipyard expansion, instead they’ve sought to lease it as a breakers yard. The skilled jobs are far fewer and the work less profitable. In any event even the breakers yard hasn’t opened so far. Would it have anything to do with Peel Ports PLC also owning Cammell Laird Shipyard on the Mersey who compete with Fergusons for orders?

I don’t know but it certainly doesn’t look right. Where’s the free market competiton so extolled by this Government, when the interests of a Clyde shipyard, as with Clyde communites and the Scottish economy are drowned by those of the Mersey.

There’s an additional issue following on from privatisation and that’s dredging. Clydeport as with Forth Ports have become the Statutory Harbour Authority and therefore responsible for dredging in the river. But so far on the Clyde there’s been no recent dredging up stream beyond the BAE sytems site. Yet Govan Docks have recently been taken over and the new owners have ambitious plans. How can they ensure that dredging takes place, when its carried out by a rival port owner and one who may have no interest in its success.

Chair, ports are critical for our communities and to our economy. Key harbours and estuaries are vital for trade, tourism and work.

Yet in Scotland the two major Firths have owners whose interests aren’t those of the local communities or the nation. Indeed, owners whose operations actually conflict with the needs and wants of the Forth and Clyde. 

There’s no way that Canada would allow the Port of Montreal to be owned by New York. Or that the USA would allow Los Angeles to be run by Vancouver. Nor would Belfast or Dublin benefit by being run by the other. 

It’s not perhaps surprising that the island of Irelands two major ports are thriving and that they’re municipally or nationally ownded, as well as focused on their national interest not someone elses.       

This is an unhealthy monopoly and its damaging Scottish interests. It should be broken up with the Government seeking action from the Competition and Mergers Authority to ensure Scotland’s interests are both protected and promoted. 

If not, then compulsory purchase or the creation of new ports should be pursued by the Scottish Government. The Forth and Clyde cannot be drowned by the Thames and Mersey.      

  
MY COMMENTS

Once again it is Alba MP’s fighting Scotland’s corner, this time Kenny MacAskill in the front line. Delighted to publish his remarks on Yours for Scotland.

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