Early in 1992, the UK Government privatised the operation of the Clyde port area by creating Clydeport Limited and transferring to it certain ‘assets, rights and liabilities’ and retaining others in the continuing Clyde Port Authority. This was done under Statutory Instrument 1992 No 304.
Clydeport Limited was effectively a management buy out, run by management and staff formerly of Clyde Port Authority.
It was deemed necessary on 1st March 1992 – in this transfer of ownership to former public sector personnel experienced in Clyde Port Authority’s operation – to retain for the Clyde Port Authority: ‘all functions conferred or imposed on the Authority by any provision contained in the Clyde Navigation Acts 1858 to 1965, the Greenock Port and Harbours Acts 1913 to 1957, the Clyde Port Authority Orders 1965 to 1977 or any other local statutory provision.
If it was necessary on 1st March 1992 to retain such functions within a constitutionally senior authority, the nature of whose membership was also closely defined at this time – why, 17 months later on 4th August 1993, was it deemed right to dissolve the Clyde Port Authority and, in the words of Statutory Instrument 1993 No 1970: ‘On that day any property, rights and liabilities to which the Authority are entitled or subject immediately before that day are by virtue of section 7 of the Ports Act 1991 transferred to and become property, rights and liabilities of the Authority’s successor company, Clydeport Limited’.
Between the two Statutory Instruments came the offer for Clydeport Limited by Peel Ports / Peel Holdings – a private, for profit company freed by the dissolution of Clyde Port authority and the transfer to the company it acquired – Clydeport Limited – of what was nothing other than the right to supervise itself.
Tom Allison, the smooth and interestingly well connected operator who, as CEO led the effective management buy out of the Clyde port operation and then obligingly sold the new, private sector Clydeport Limited to Isle of Man tax exile, John Whittaker of Peel Holdings, under a year and a half later – and kept his position with Clydeport. Mr Allison has since become Chair of Peel Ports, Clydeport’s immediate line owner – and is a Director of Peel Holdings, John Whittaker’s uber-company.
The stench of the very large and very quick bucks made by the management buy out team still lingers unpleasantly in the air – personal fortunes made for being in the right place at the right time at the expense of public money and of a massive public asset.
This has led to the continuing inability of Glasgow and the Clyde to benefit from its own physical maritime history in the very extensive land and property holdings of the once upon a time Clyde Port authority.
Today Peel Ports is havering on a deal to sell Inchgreen Dry Dock to Jim McColl who now owns and had has genuinely exciting plans to develop Ferguson Marine at Port Glasgow. If they do anything they might lease it to him – which would not itself justify the scale of the investment he is willing and would need to make to enable Inchgreen to build the much more ambitious big boats he has in mind for Fergusons.
It would be the sort of grace unlikely to come from a man who has made his fortune on the assets of this country but who chooses to be a tax exile from it, were Peel and Clydeport to sell Inchgreen for the greater good of the potential revival of shipbuilding on the Clyde.