Connect with us


Who Owns Urban Scotland? Controlling Scotland’s infrastructure



The findings are part of a special series by The Herald called Who Owns Urban Scotland?, which investigates the firms behind major parts of Scotland’s towns and cities.

Airports, sea ports, power suppliers, the Grangemouth oil refinery, and Scotland’s digital infrastructure were all investigated as part of the series.

The research found that Scotland’s three largest airports and some major sea ports are linked to offshore entities, and that a firm building Scotland’s digital infrastructure is ultimately owned by a private equity fund.

The findings, which are made in conjunction with investigative journalism co-operative The Ferret, have prompted concerns over who owns key national assets and the potential for money to flow from Scotland to firms in secretive locations for tax reasons.

However companies stressed that they abide by regulations, provide substantial employment in Scotland and pay tax in the UK as required by law.

The Scottish Government said it welcomes private investment for infrastructure and pointed out that legislation around corporate tax avoidance is reserved to the UK Government.

Edinburgh Airport is run by a private company called Edinburgh Airport Ltd, a subsidiary of a UK entity called Green Bidco Ltd, whose parent firm, Green Luxco, is registered in Luxembourg. Green Luxco’s parent firm is Green Guernsey Holdings, LP, based in Guernsey.

The ultimate controlling party of the airport is a consortium of investment funds led by Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), a private equity firm headquartered in New York City.

Read more: Who owns Scotland’s cities, high streets and urban centres?

The Herald: The ultimate controlling party of Edinburgh Airport is led by a private equity firm headquartered in New York CityThe ultimate controlling party of Edinburgh Airport is led by a private equity firm headquartered in New York City (Image: Newsquest)

GIP’s funds are managed by Global Infrastructure Management LLP which is linked to corporate entities registered in Delaware, a US state deemed a tax haven by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and Harvard Law School Forum.

The group running Edinburgh Airport also comprises Future Fund, which is Australia’s sovereign wealth fund, and Australian Retirement Trust, the largest pension fund in Queensland, Australia.

A spokesman for Edinburgh Airport said: “Edinburgh Airport Limited is the operator of Edinburgh Airport, is incorporated in Scotland and pays full corporation tax on profits and other employment taxes and business rates.

“As regards [to] transparency, our approach to tax is published on our website, and we are confident that the airport makes a substantial social and economic contribution to Scotland and the UK.”

Glasgow Airport and Aberdeen Airport are owned by AGS Airports Ltd, a joint venture between Spanish multinational, Ferrovial, and Australian financial group, Macquarie, which controls half of the business through a firm called AGS Ventures Airports Limited, registered in the tax haven of Jersey.

Macquarie, based in Sydney, has been dubbed the “Vampire Kangaroo” for its tough pursuit of profit – a moniker it rejects.

It has a swathe of UK assets and claims to have ploughed more than £50 billion into UK infrastructure projects in recent years. Its projects include the M6 toll road, Southern Water and National Grid’s transmission system.

A spokesperson for Macquarie Group said: “AGS Ventures Airports Limited is a UK tax resident and pays tax on its income like all other UK companies.

“We are proud of the contribution we have made to Aberdeen and Glasgow’s international gateways since our investment in 2014, including the additional support provided to help navigate the challenges posed by the pandemic.”

The Scottish Government owns Prestwick Airport which it bought for £1 in 2013 to protect jobs, after its last owner failed to find a buyer amid mounting losses.

Read more: Who owns Scotland’s cities, high streets and urban centres?

Grangemouth – one of six oil refineries in Great Britain – supplies two-thirds of the petrol and diesel for forecourts in Scotland. About 2,000 people are employed at the site.

In 2011, the global chemical company, Ineos, and PetroChina – one of the largest oil and gas firms in the world – formed a joint venture company, Petroineos, to operate refineries at Grangemouth, and Lavéra, France.

PetroChina is the publicly listed arm of China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) – ranked as the world’s fourth largest company on Fortune’s Global 500 list.

CNPC was accused of violating trade laws this year after allegedly selling 1.32bn barrels of oil to private refiners.

In 2020, the founder and chief executive of Ineos, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, quit Britain for tax-free Monaco. Ratcliffe is Britain’s richest man, with an estimated £12.58bn fortune.

Ineos has been accused of “greenwashing” over plans to keep burning fossil fuels and mitigate the impacts by carbon capture and storage. Ineos was asked to comment.

Scotland’s ports were privatised in 1992.

Forth Ports, which owns and operates Leith, Grangemouth, Rosyth, Methil, Burntisland and Dundee, is owned by the Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP), a Canadian pension fund.

Forth Ports also owns the Port of Tilbury, London. Forth Ports’ parent firm is Otter Ports Limited, whose ownership structure, as reported by The Herald this year, is linked to the Caribbean tax haven of the Cayman Islands and Canada through Otter Ports Holdings Limited.

A spokesperson from Forth Ports said: “Forth Ports is a proudly Scottish-based company that is registered and headquartered in Scotland where all major decisions are taken.

“The company, which is a real living wage employer, invests heavily in Scotland – £50 million in the Port of Dundee; £60m in the Port of Grangemouth; and the recently announced £50m to create Scotland’s largest renewable energy hub at the Port of Leith.

“Otter Ports Group Holdings Limited, which is the ultimate holding company for Forth Ports Limited, is a UK tax resident entity and pays corporation tax to HMRC like any other UK registered company.”

Ports on the Clyde are owned and operated by Clydeport, one of the largest property investment companies in the UK.

Clydeport, which oversees 450 square miles of the River Clyde, is owned by Peel Ports Group. Its ultimate holding company is Tokenhouse Ltd based in the tax haven of the Isle of Man.

A Peel Ports spokesman said: “We’ve invested multi-millions of pounds into various operations on the west coast, providing hundreds of direct and indirect jobs for Scotland over many years.

“From the cruise facilities at the Ocean Terminal in Greenock to ambitious plans for the former coal port at Hunterston, our intentions are fully aligned with the country’s economic strategy.”

The Herald: Ports on the Clyde are owned and operated by Clydeport, with its ultimate holding company based in the tax haven of the Isle of ManPorts on the Clyde are owned and operated by Clydeport, with its ultimate holding company based in the tax haven of the Isle of Man (Image: Newsquest)

ScottishPower is owned by the Spanish company, Iberdrola, which was accused of greenwashing last year because it has opened four new gas-fired power plants in Mexico since 2019.

The Herald revealed in August that ScottishPower has handed nearly £7bn in dividends to its foreign owners since being taken over 14 years ago.

A spokesman for ScottishPower said Iberdrola is “one of the world’s largest renewable energy companies and world leader in wind energy” and aimed to become carbon neutral by 2040.

He added: “In the UK, ScottishPower was the first integrated energy company to go 100 per cent green and only generates renewable electricity.

“ Last week we increased our investment in the UK to a new record high of £6.7bn to be spent between 2023 and 2025.

“That will support the delivery of a record number of green infrastructure contracts across our renewables and networks businesses in the UK, including 19 new renewable energy projects and upcoming essential construction and upgrades to its electricity grids.”

The rollout of 5G requires greater physical infrastructure, including new fibre-optic cable in the ground and more 4G masts.

The S4G1 programme will be delivered by infrastructure provider WHP Telecoms, a firm registered in England which is a subsidiary of Whistler Topco Ltd, whose ultimate controlling party is a private equity firm based in London called Equistone LLP.  WHP Telecoms was asked to comment.

Paul Monaghan, chief executive of Fair Tax Foundation said: “Worryingly, many of the jurisdictions flagged by this investigation are not just tax havens, but also secrecy dominions. Scotland needs to have a clear sight of who owns key national assets, and the revenue, profits and taxes that flow from this at a country level.”

“More broadly, government procurement and commissioning should be newly allowed to factor in the tax conduct of corporate entities; however, currently, the UK Government is firmly blocking the advance of such considerations at both a national and local level.”

Kenny MacAskill, the Alba Party MP for East Lothian, said that the “problem of foreign land ownership” in Scotland is well known but the control of vital infrastructure is “far less so yet arguably even more important”.

He added: “It’s not just profits leaving the country, but the lack of control and even being subservient to the interests of others. In ports, the owners of the Forth and Clyde Ports have a greater stake in the Thames and Mersey. That affects investment and the economy of the country. It’s the same with airports as we’re hubbed into London and with other equally critical sectors.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said it seeks to develop constructive working relationships with those investing in facilities such as ports and airports, adding that commercial entities provide “substantial employment” and “contribute significantly” to the country’s economic growth and prosperity.

The spokesperson continued: “While legislation around the acquisitions of facilities in sectors including energy and transport, and legislation around corporate tax avoidance, is reserved to the UK Government, the Scottish Government expects all owners and investors – both domestic and those from overseas – to, of course, comply with all relevant laws and regulations.”

The UK Government was asked to comment.

Who Owns Urban Scotland is an investigation carried out by The Ferret for The Herald looking into the firms controlling Scotland’s towns and cities. Support our journalism by becoming a member for £5 a month at

From November 21 to November 30 2022 the Herald is running a Black Friday subscription offer which provides full access to our unrivalled coverage of news that matters for just £1. To find out more visit:

Continue Reading