THE SNP have backed a motion by the Leader of South Ayrshire Council that places constraints on any bids to create Freeports in Scotland.

Councillor Peter Henderson, a former Director General of HMRC on the Isle of Man, brought the motion which sought to address some of the concerns that accompanied an apparent ‘u-turn’ by the party in opening the door to the controversial policy of looser regulations and controls.

Ayr has been touted for freeport status in recent years, while Prestwick Airport was the last to close in 2012.

Having opposed the freeport idea being pushed by the UK Government, the SNP at Holyrood said they would consider them if they met certain conditions earlier this year.

The motion at the weekend’s SNP conference aimed to ensure that the conditions around any freeport plan were much stronger.

This centres on areas such as a ‘real’ living wage, local government support to maintain services, carbon emissions targets, trade union recognition, compensation for local communities, along with stronger controls for health and safety, pollution, security and law enforcement.

The Freeports plan has been pushed by Boris Johnson’s government as a solution to some of the issues posed by Brexit.

However, Freeports only ended in the UK in 2012 – ironically at Prestwick Airport – when legislation governing the policy was allowed to run out.

Councillor Henderson told the conference: “It may appear freeports offer solutions, but without the correct controls or regulations in place, the detrimental impact on the economy and environment, public safety, local economies and Scotland’s reputation will be damaging.

“The proposal from Westminster is a direct attack on devolution and local democracy. It centralises control.

“It has no input from local authorities, except to pick up the mess when things go wrong.

“The last freeport in Scotland was at Prestwick Airport in 2012 and it is worth noting that Freeports are being closed in Europe and around the world. Britain alone seems to see them as a saviour.

“They are tax havens with an area technically not in the country and are associated with criminality at all levels, and money laundering, counterfeit goods, banned substances and, as an example in Europe, the storage of stolen art.”

Cllr Henderson pointed out that the proposed Freeports had less regulation than previous iterations.

He continued: “There is no guarantee that companies operating in a Freeport will pay the real living wage, and without union recognition, there are no controls for workers, pensions or health and safety.

“Local government gains nothing as there will be no rates charge, and what happens if there is an incident, say a chemical spill?

“How will local government be compensated to deal with this? What happens to local employment? What happens if the local industry transport to the Freeport area or move to another part of the country?

“What benefit can be gained in reaching zero targets for emissions if there are no controls in place?

“Especially if they cannot be enforced. Controls and registration of companies in the UK and Scotland must be in place, in order to be able to act if the company leaves or defaults.

“Security controls of the area must be in place, and enforced, not just for the diversion of duty of tax-free goods that can be taken into and destroy local economies, but if they’re illegal.”

Delegates voted by 476 votes to 16 that ‘without the six requirements set out above in their entirety, Freeports should not be established or permitted within Scotland.’

Conservative opposition Leader at South Ayrshire, Councillor Martin Dowey, has been a vocal supporter of bringing Freeport status to the area.

Earlier this year he said he had written to Boris Johnson calling on Freeport status for Ayr, Troon, Prestwick Airport and Newton Goods Yard.