A range of public, private and academic organisations have joined a campaign to create a ‘freeport’ in the Highlands in a bid to attract inward investment in innovative renewable energy technologies.

Johnston Carmichael, one of Scotland’s largest independent firms of chartered accountants and business advisers, is the latest company to join a steering group of 13 public, private and academic institutions working to create a freeport in the Cromarty Firth.

The Opportunity Cromarty Firth steering group also includes the Port of Cromarty Firth, Global Energy Group, Inverness Harbour Trust, The University of the Highlands and Islands, and The Highland Council.

The committee’s ambition is to establish the Cromarty Firth as one of the UK Government’s planned 10 freeports, following the Scottish Government’s backing of the initiative.

Additionally, it hopes to help it achieve ‘green port’ status, with a focus on attracting international investment, regeneration, innovation, fair work, sustainable and net zero priorities.

If successful, it is anticipated that the green port, which will be based at Port of Cromarty Firth (seen pictured above) would stimulate further economic activity, equip local people and businesses with skills and technologies to bring transformational regeneration to the Highlands with benefits across the country.

Freeports are usually located near shipping ports, or airports. They present a number of benefits for businesses, including the duty-free import and export of goods, simplified customs procedures and enhanced capital allowances.

Becoming a free trade zone would therefore make it easier and more attractive for large companies to invest and set up research and development facilities and manufacturing sites in the region.

Mark Stewart, head of energy, infrastructure and sustainability at Johnston Carmichael said: “Opportunity Cromarty Firth has already shown that it has the backing of the Highland’s leading organisations and it is with great pride that we join this steering group to help make this green port vision a reality. We believe that the Cromarty Firth is uniquely positioned to offer the perfect location to support and enable job creation and economic growth which could bring transformative change across not only the Highlands, but Scotland as a whole.

“The freeport model includes a unique package of tax reliefs, including ‘enhanced capital allowances’, designed to attract international investment and manufacturing. This provides the UK with a major opportunity to maximise activity and trade with overseas markets.”

Founded in Moray, Johnston Carmichael now has offices based throughout Scotland and within the Highlands, in Inverness and Elgin.

Bob Buskie, chief executive of Port of Cromarty Firth – speaking on behalf of Opportunity Cromarty Firth – said: “We are delighted that Johnston Carmichael has joined the Opportunity Cromarty Firth steering group and we welcome them as we concentrate our efforts on giving the region the best possible platform to become a freeport and achieve green port status.

“Their unrivalled accountancy and tax expertise will be essential to maximising the key advantages stemming from the freeport business model in order to deliver a sustainable pipeline of jobs and supply chain opportunities to the Highlands. The attractive business rates and tax benefits associated with freeports will help the region attract more investment and deliver on our ambitions from the significant prospects in offshore renewables.

“Through our collective assets and resources, and with the addition of Johnston Carmichael’s expertise, we will work to ensure the benefits of implementing a freeport in our region are realised.”