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20 April 2010

Making fuel prices fairer

The cost of filling up the car with fuel is again frequently at the forefront of people’s minds as the average price of a litre of petrol across Scotland has risen to £1.20 and is over £1.30 in some areas. At a time when budgets are already tight, this is an extremely unwelcome additional cost for families to bear.

For many in rural areas, the relative remoteness and weather conditions such as those we saw earlier in the year make regularly using a car an absolute necessity rather than a personal choice. This inevitably means that when we see a spike in fuel prices, those who have to use their car most often are the ones that pay the biggest price.

In Banff & Buchan, fuel prices have a significant impact on many aspects of the fishing industry and the profitability of their businesses. The road haulage industry too, relying as it clearly does upon fuel, is particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in what they pay at the pumps. Any business needs to be able to predict what its operating costs will be with some degree of certainty if it is to be successful, but this is obviously extremely difficult when a business relies so heavily upon variable fuel prices.

This is why the SNP has long been pressing for the introduction of a fuel duty regulator which would see the substantial tax duties placed upon road fuel go down when the price of oil goes up. When the price of oil goes past a certain point, a freeze in fuel duty would kick in while any extra cash raised from increased VAT receipts on higher fuel prices would be used to fund a corresponding reduction in fuel duty. This would give much needed stability to fuel prices at the pump and even out the spikes in forecourt prices that we see when the price of oil rockets.

This measure has the backing of numerous industry groups that rely upon petrol or diesel to operate, including the Road Haulage Association, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the National Farmers Union Scotland. However, each time that the SNP group in Westminster has tried to introduce it in recent years, the London parties have joined forces to block the measure. This makes some of the fuel related promises trotted out recently in other parties’ election manifestos hypocritical at best and downright disingenuous at worst.

Motorists, the haulage industry and other businesses like the fishing and farming sectors don’t need empty promises trotted out during election campaigns when it comes to fuel prices, they need the kind of action that only the SNP group in Westminster has been consistently pressing for over the years.

Leading the way

I have written frequently about the way in which Banff & Buchan’s fishing industry is leading the rest of Europe when it comes to introducing pioneering new techniques aimed at securing a sustainable, profitable future for everyone in the sector. This was recently underlined by a recent visit from a Dutch delegation to Scotland, examining the way in which the Conservation Credits Scheme operates.

The Dutch delegation looked at a range of conservation measures that are in use across the Scottish fishing fleet, such as real time closures and selective fishing gears, and how they feed in to the Conservation Credits Scheme. With other European Union countries adopting the measures pioneered in Scotland, I have a feeling that the Dutch will not be the last visitors who come to learn from the example our fishing industry continues to set.

6 April 2010

The importance of coastal traditions

The rich and extensive nature of Scotland’s museums and historic collections is something that many people often take for granted, but knowledge of the past is essential to understanding where we have come from as a people and to considering where our nation is going in the future. That is why I was delighted by the recent announcement which saw Museums Galleries Scotland invest in historic collections across the country and in particular by the news that the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh is to receive £63,063.

Coastal communities across Banff & Buchan know just how important the fascinating industrial and social history of Scotland’s lighthouses is, and the museum in Fraserburgh is rightly considered home to a Recognised Collection of National Significance. It is an important educational resource to children and adults across the region, but is also a key attraction for visitors to the region.

I recently had the chance to speak about the prospects for tourism in Banff & Buchan as a guest of the Portsoy Boat Festival Dinner and while the economic downturn has clearly proved difficult for the tourism industry, fantastic facilities like the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses create real opportunities for growth in Banff & Buchan.

The area’s coastal heritage and traditions draw in visitors to a variety of events across Banff & Buchan. Last year’s Portsoy Traditional Boat Festival saw well over 20,000 visitors to the town over the four days it ran and has exciting plans for the future as it aims to bring in more overseas visitors. The aquarium in Macduff draws in visitors all year round and wildlife tourism in the waters off Banff & Buchan’s coast is an increasingly important lure for tourists.

However, it is perhaps food and drink tourism that has the most potential to make Banff & Buchan a more obvious tourist destination. Scotland was recently acknowledged as one of the world’s most attractive destinations for this sector and with so much quality produce available, there is a real opportunity for businesses in Banff & Buchan. Whether it is the fantastic fresh fish, the high quality of our farms or the reopened distillery at Glenglassaugh, there is real potential for increasing visitor numbers.

As more and more people choose not to holiday abroad, we can all hope that Banff & Buchan may become a tourist destination for greater numbers of people.

Banff & Buchan paying the price

In my last column I wrote about the damaging effect that transmission charges were having on energy producers across Scotland as a result of the manifestly unfair way in which they are set. My point could not have been more clearly demonstrated when just days later Peterhead power station announced that the high cost of transmission charges were forcing it to consider closing unit two of the power station.

This closure would cost numerous people their jobs in Peterhead and is the direct result of the UK Government’s continued failure to address this issue and bring about a fairer system for transmission charges, as the SNP continues to call for. It is not only affecting the potential for creating future jobs in the energy industry, but jeopardising exiting jobs in Banff & Buchan.

As an issue it is gaining in urgency and I have no doubt that it will be an important part of the coming election campaign in Banff & Buchan. A system of transmission charges that does not penalise Scotland is essential to our future, and the case for changing the system has never been stronger.

Stewart Stevenson
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