Private Port Ownership – 9 June 2022


Born in Leith and with the river visible from my flat, the Firth of Forth matters. So does the Clyde, its beauty never failing to please and its history , whether told through the tears of emigrants or through shipbuilding, is burned in the soul.

But the Tory privatisation of ports in the 1990’s threatens the well-being of what are Scotland’s two principal firths, with no disrespect intended to the others adorning our coasts.

There’s an issue with port ownership. Most residing on the banks of either firth would be gobsmacked to know that Forth Ports is owned by the Canadian Public Sector Pension Board and what was Clydeport is now owned by Peel Ports plc, a Liverpool company which is owned by a billionaire in the Isle of Man.

The main port operated by Forth is Tilbury on the Thames and for Peel it’s Liverpool on the Mersey. The tonnage traded from those ports south of the border is greater than that of all the Scottish operations from the numerous ports on the Scottish firths.

There are still more issues caused by this private monopoly. Privatisation has left those two private operators as the statutory harbour authority. That gives rights and bestows responsibilities.

One aspect of the latter is dredging. But where’s the impetus to dredge waters if it’s not your harbour that’s sited there?

In Glasgow, the Govan Graving Dock on the south bank has been acquired and steps are being taken to reopen it following a £500,000 restoration programme. The A listed drydock dates back to the 19th Century and hasn’t been used for more than 40 years

Govan Drydock Ltd wants to return it to a fully operational ship repair and maintenance yard but it hasn’t been dredged there for many a year.

Can the new operators be assured that the river will be dredged to allow them to operate?

Peel Ports also own Inch Green Dock in Greenock. It is a potential site for expansion of shipbuilding from Fergusons in Port Glasgow but, so far, the company has leased it for ship breaking.

The future direction of our wonderful firths, which are key to trade and our economy, is in all too powerful corporate hands.