Ports billionaire accused of leaving Scots site to ruin bagged £22m in a year

John Whittaker has been accused of hurting the Scottish industry in order to protect shipbuilding on the Mersey -Credit:Internet Unknown
John Whittaker has been accused of hurting the Scottish industry in order to protect shipbuilding on the Mersey -Credit:Internet Unknown

A billionaire tax exile accused of failing to maintain one of Scotland’s main ferry terminals banked a £22 million dividend from his ports empire last year.

CalMac interim CEO Duncan Mackison has warned a lack of investment by Peel Ports at Ardrossan had left it in a dilapidated condition meaning many sailings to Arran have had to depart from Troon.

Peel Ports is controlled by John Whittaker, 82, an Isle-of-Man based businessman who took control of 450 square miles of docks, shipyards and waterways in the West of Scotland in the early 1990s.

Former dock worker Robert Buirds. -Credit:Mark Anderson
Former dock worker Robert Buirds. -Credit:Mark Anderson

Last night it was branded an “appalling example of bandit capitalism” which has led to decades of underinvestment, Glasgow MSP Paul Sweeney.

The Isle of Man-based tycoon has been accused of blocking the development of key industrial assets like the huge Inchgreen dry dock, in Greenock, which was built with public money in the 1960s but has been largely mothballed for decades.

Despite this Peel, which also operates facilities in London and Liverpool, paid £88.9 million in dividends to its shareholders last year, up from £38.9 million the year before, according to accounts for 2022.

The Peel Group, 68 per cent of which is owned by the Whittaker family, owns 37.6 per cent of Peel Ports, which entitles them to around £22million.

Campaigners and politicians have reacted with fury to our revelations and demanded key Scottish ports and shipyards and returned to public ownership.

Robert Buirds, a retired shipyard worker and trade unionist who has long campaigned for the development of Inchgreen, said: "The Privatisation of our River Clyde over 30 years ago has been an utter failure.

"The Clyde was a bustling river with ships plying their trade, now it’s dead. We must return our river to public ownership if we are to regenerate our remaining marine facilities and provide work and skilled jobs for its communities."

CalMac services to and from Arran have been badly affected by the emergency closure of Ardrossan’s Irish berth earlier this year after safety inspections.

Ferries have increasingly been sailing from Troon, 15 miles further south, but there are poorer rail connections and the journey to Arran takes longer.

Inchgreen meanwhile has lain virtually dormant for decades, despite being one of the biggest and potentially most valuable shipbuilding assets in the UK.

Whittaker has been repeatedly accused of neglecting the site to protect his Merseyside yards from competition.

After a series of Sunday Mail stories highlighting the scandal, the Isle of Man-based tax exile made a personal commitment in 2018 to resurrect Inchgreen - claiming it is “vital” to his ship repair strategy.

But since then, a project to use it to decommission vessels has failed to materialise. Peel Ports took control of the Clyde in the early 90s and owns more than 450 square miles there, including docks, shipyards and waterways.

The Whittaker family are believed to be worth around £2billion however the true figure could be much higher.

A spokesman for Peel Ports said: "Despite the increasingly wild claims by some, we’ve invested tens of millions of pounds into our facilities at Ardrossan, Inchgreen, Greenock Ocean Terminal and elsewhere.

"Our operations are successful because we invest in them, creating jobs and opportunities for other businesses in those areas."

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