Councillors have backed a bid by Cromarty Firth Port Authority to win free port status.
A report presented to the economic and infrastructure committee yesterday outlined the positives and negatives for the initiative – which includes fears about illegal activities being carried out, including counterfeiting.
Free ports are areas of the UK that are outside the country’s customs territory, meaning goods can be manufactured, imported and exported inside the zones without incurring tariffs.
The UK government has asked for bids for free ports throughout the UK, including Scotland.
The Port of Cromarty Firth in Invergordon, which currently deals with the manufacture of wind turbines, repair and maintenance work for oil rigs and vessels, as well as playing host to hundreds of cruise liners, is submitting a bid and seeking the backing of Highland Council.
Cromarty Firth ward councillor Maxine Morley-Smith said: “Other ports including Aberdeen, Orkney, Ayrshire, Forth and Hunterston are thought to be also submitting bids to become a tariff-free port.
“These bids will have the necessary backing of their own local authorities. This is key to success. The main UK favourite ports remain as Tyne and Tees, near Newcastle.
“Should any of the aforementioned ports be successful over Invergordon, then the Highlands will potentially see a drain of talent and expertise leave its area, as well as companies relocating and choosing not to come here.”
She added: “The Invergordon port is part of an impressive consortium of business and enterprise agencies, who have come together to create a masterplan for the Highlands.
“This includes a Hydrogen Hub, which would potentially allow the Highlands to become carbon neutral, also creating jobs but skilled jobs, as well as attracting other big industry to the area.
“It also includes financial benefits from large companies wanting to come and locate in the Highlands near to the port.
“Part of the plan would be to create a Future Technology Centre, which would assist the large wind turbine companies in their manufacturing, making sure these jobs came to Highland and are not whisked away to the continent, as has happened all too often in the past with renewables and the oil sector.
“The consortium will need to first gain ‘free port status’ as all of the above is conditional
on making the bid attractive to outside companies.
“Coming along with this would also be millions of pounds of capital investment from the various governments into the Highland infrastructure, including road and rail and ultra-fast broadband connectivity.
“For me this is so exciting for the ward that I serve, as well as Easter Ross and the wider Highlands.
“We have long talked about not being entirely reliant on tourism for jobs and this is an ideal opportunity that cannot pass us by.
“We should be shouting this from the rooftops and getting right behind it.”