THE apparent decision by the UK Government to proceed full steam ahead with its freeport proposal might be politically advantageous for those of us who intend to try to resist this economic, and social Trojan Horse.

The Scottish trade union movement must take up an unequivocal stance. To be fair, some unions, such as Unison, have been preparing to develop a position.

It’s now time for the whole trade union movement – I was a trade union activist in customs and excise before I retired and am now a councillor full time – to get into full campaigning mode.

The same applies to other parties although Labour have, as far as I can see, some complicating factors in relation to their nine-strong group in Aberdeen City.

In my view the resistance to freeports should become not just an issue in next year’s local government elections but should be widened out into a popular campaign among the people, particularly, though not at all restricted, to those local government areas that will have to deal with the impact of lower-paid jobs, insecure jobs and burgeoning criminality.

It’s time to mobilise against freeports the same way local government mobilised Scottish society against the privatisation of Scottish Water. In other words, develop a strategy to allow the people of Scotland to decide if they want to be beggared by giving them a say in a freeport referendum.

My professional life allowed me to develop significant insights into the freeport concept particularly as it has been tried in many jurisdictions before.

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In essence, goods and materials can be taken into an area (which is much larger than the port itself), manufactured, and then re-exported without the payment of duty or tax. Elsewhere in the world, the nomenclature is normally “free-trade zone” or, sometimes, “export production zone”.

Notwithstanding the differences in emphasis between the Scottish and UK governments’ iterations, there would be no enforceable union recognition agreements and no stipulations on where companies are registered.

This is important in terms of accountability if things go wrong – as experience shows, they often do. If the operators are not registered in the UK, how can they be meaningfully acted against? How can employment rights be pursued? There are no guarantees that at least the Scottish living wage will be paid, no guarantees that UK health and safety regulations and laws will be applied. No environmental rules and regulations and even if they were, no meaningful way to enforce them.

Examples are rife of smuggled goods, counterfeit goods and other merchandise being trafficked through freeports. Given the trade instabilities caused by Brexit, these problems may grow and one cannot discount the criminals’ trafficked goods of choice – people.

THERE is, of course, an immediate threat to local jobs and local economies and local workers’ rights, but the freeports’ invidious reach is much greater. The attraction to concentrate industry in one centre for tax benefits is easily understood but all of the downsides need to be considered.

There are security issues too – not only local but national ones. There is the obvious risk of goods being fed into the economy. Goods from freeports, being duty, VAT and tax-free, could be diverted to the home market and not exported, so undermining revenue and taxation income, and the domestic industry leading to loss of employment.

Freeport companies still make their profits but their cheaper goods into home markets have major effects if there are no checks and controls.

For example, goods can be “lost” in transit between sites, with environmental risks if there are not adequate controls. There are the potential threats in terms of illegal goods, counterfeit goods, illegal chemicals, firearms and other potentially hazardous materials.

All could leave a freeport unchecked or unverified as such because in a sense as they were “never there”.

Then there are the challenges faced by the local authorities in the places where freeports are located. On the environmental front will they have responsibility for cleaning up any mess if things go wrong or worse? What future for local regeneration planning is there in the face of such unfair competition? Crucial also is the potential to misunderstand what a 21st-century “freeport” actually is. It’s not just a coastal port as it can include airports and sites quite far inland too. Often, they are industrial estates, usually a fenced-in area of up to 300 hectares.

On enquiring if there would be recruitment for additional control staff and inspection, I am informed that there are no plans to do so. It’s ironic that the freeport model is on the retreat in other parts of the world and the EU, though possibly another consequence of Brexit.

After a career in customs and excise in the UK and overseas jurisdictions and now as a senior local government elected representative, I appeal to all involved to think again and to Scottish society encompassing political parties, unions and local authorities to mobilise against them.

SNP councillor Peter Henderson is the leader of South Ayrshire Council. He continues to be a Prospect union member. He was previously a lay official for a number of civil service unions and is currently a Convention of Scottish Local Authorities representative