30 October 2007

Farmers Suffer as UK Government Shirks Responsibility

Anger and disappointment have been the prevailing sentiments within the Scottish farming industry over the last three weeks as farmers were badly let down by the UK government.

We recently witnessed another dramatic u-turn by the UK Government following their decision not to call a November election - this time by Environment Secretary Hillary Benn. After the snap election had been suddenly cleared from the agenda, Benn likewise reversed his planned statement on compensation for Scottish farmers affected by this summer’s Foot and Mouth outbreak south of the border.

The First Minister Alex Salmond exposed this cover-up by revealing two documents, one a daft statement by Benn pledging £8.1M in aid to Scottish farmers and the other the final statement which guaranteed assistance to the English livestock sector to the tune of £12.5M, but made no mention of the £8.1M previously devoted to Scotland. On the contrary he effectively washed his hands of the problem north of the border, leaving compensation solely to the responsibility of the Scottish Government.

Needless to say, Benn’s rethink came as a severe blow to our farmers and caused ructions across the industry in Scotland which had been seeking a £50M compensation package. At a summit in London last week between farming representatives and the Environment Secretary, Scottish farmers were told that their problems were not serious enough to merit compensation.

Farmers have suffered a severe financial burden due to substantial movement restrictions, further exacerbated by the time of year at which the outbreak occurred. August to October is the period when most cattle and sheep produced on hill and upland farms are marketed.

The UK Government appears to have overlooked the blatant fact that this outbreak came from a state-controlled facility in Surrey. Furthermore, under the devolution agreement they are responsible for funding animal disease control costs. They have a clear moral and legal duty to Scottish farmers.

Drawing New Blood into Our Agricultural Sector

In contrast to such negative and discouraging actions towards our agricultural industry, this side of the border the Scottish Government has been delivering further on its farming manifesto commitments. Indeed only this week the Tenants Farming Forum consultation on the Scottish Government’s proposals to introduce a new entrants’ scheme for farmers had its first meeting here in the North east, on our own doorstep in Oldmeldrum.

Farming is one of our oldest traditional industries and a vital aspect of country life, particularly here in Banff & Buchan. However, it can be difficult to get started in farming, especially for those who were not born into a farm-owning family. That is why the Scottish Government, as promised in its election manifesto, has asked the Tenants Farming Forum to investigate the barriers facing young people who want to embark upon what is a rewarding and fulfilling career in farming.

This proposed scheme is a fantastic initiative which will make farming a more viable and attractive career option for young people and will breathe new life into the Scottish agricultural sector. It is only by continually drawing new blood into the industry that we can preserve it as an integral part of rural life and make it sustainable for future generations. I would therefore encourage anyone in Banff & Buchan with an interest to go along and contribute to this very worthy consultation.

16 October 2007

The Election that Never was

There was cause for more than a little embarrassment at Number 10 this week as Gordon Brown finally announced that his much anticipated general election was, after all, a non-runner. After mounting speculation and hype, which the Prime Minister allowed to accumulate, he has now performed a momentous u-turn and left the public baffled by his inconsistency.

For weeks now the public have been led to believe that a November election was on the cards. It has been commented on that Brown allowed his campaign team to sensationalise speculation through the media, and hype up the odds of an early election. The people of Scotland and indeed the UK had been prepared for a snap election only to be hit with a total contradiction by Brown, turning the whole affair into a pantomime and a pointless build-up of public expectations.

Through this foolish move, Brown has lost an enormous amount of credibility, not only for his own leadership but also for the Labour party. He has plainly revealed the shaky foundations of his party both North and South of the border. This was already clear in Scotland, with a recent survey showing the majority of Scottish Labour MPs to be opposed to an early election. However, with the publication of a new poll last week putting Labour and the Tories neck and neck, Brown turned overnight from a seemingly confident leader to an indecisive waverer running scared from any test of his popularity and performance in Government. Such indecision, poor judgement and lack of confidence does not bode well for Brown’s future as an effective Prime Minister. However, when he stops wavering and finally decides to call an election, the SNP will, as ever, be ready and fit for the contest.

Celebrating our Vital Fishing Industry

On the home front, this week saw Scotland’s fishing industry being celebrated and placed at the forefront of the agenda here in Banff & Buchan and across Scotland. The annual Peterhead Fish Fest brought a host of features and events to the blue toon, from fish related stalls in the town centre to cooking demonstrations and displays.

Aside from the cultural and entertainment value of the festival, the week was also of immense political importance to the Scottish fishing industry. For the first time in history the four UK Fisheries Ministers came together on Scottish soil and right here in Banff & Buchan, for a tour of Peterhead port. And as the largest white fish port in Europe and such a vibrant fishing community, there was no place more appropriate for this historic meeting to take place. The meeting came after the Scottish Government launched its blueprint for the future of North Sea cod stocks. Amongst other initiatives this plan calls for EU measures not to be rushed through without full analysis or consultation and for greater tailoring of fishing restrictions to regional circumstances, which would allow for greater local control and be of major benefit to the industry here in the North East. It also advocates that more responsibility be delegated to the individual Member States and proposes an increase in cod quotas. This is further evidence that the SNP Government has the Scottish fishing industry’s best interests at heart and is committed to representing and defending them to the best of its ability at national, UK and EU level.

2 October 2007

Extra Safety in Our Communities

With the glowing autumn season now upon us, the familiar run-up to the festive period is coming clearly into sight. As we look forward to the seasonal celebrations this year, we have a further reason to be positive and anticipate an enjoyable and sociable Christmas and New Year for everyone here in Banff & Buchan.

This year, as a result of a new anti-violence campaign and extra government funding for various street safety initiatives we will see greater security on our streets and in our communities in Banff & Buchan. An extra £1 million will be made available to Community Safety Partnerships to fund projects designed to reduce violence and tackle the scourge of alcohol-fuelled anti-social behaviour in city and town centres. £10,000 of this sum has been designated to the Aberdeenshire Community Safety Partnership which will go a long way to protecting communities in Banff & Buchan and ensuring a more secure atmosphere on the streets of towns like Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Banff over this festive period.

Initiatives to be created as a result of this funding include late night taxi marshal schemes, Safe Zones, extra enforcement at areas where frequent trouble occurs and a more visible police presence. This is an excellent, proactive response by the new Government to the many social problems associated with alcohol misuse in Scotland – primarily violence. This follows other measures outlined by the Justice Secretary to crack down on alcohol misuse such as banning irresponsible drinks promotions which encourage binge drinking.

Antisocial drinking is a problem which affects the welfare of all of us in society – from the health of those who engage in such behaviour to the safety, peace of mind and general wellbeing of the rest of the public. It is a basic right of every individual to feel secure and unthreatened in their localities. While the government has no wish to restrict the social and responsible enjoyment of alcohol, irresponsible, excessive drinking reaps only negative consequences for individuals, families, communities and our society as a whole. This behaviour must be curtailed to ensure that the actions of the few don’t impinge on the freedom and enjoyment of the many.

Poetic Expressions
While some believe poetry to be a declining art enjoyed only by a minority of people, it is a tradition which is alive and well in Banff & Buchan. Indeed I had the pleasure last week of presenting prizes at this year’s Banffshire Maritime Heritage Association poetry competition. It was a most interesting event which showcased some truly quality pieces of poetry from writers hailing not only from here in Banff & Buchan and but from across the world – an event of both local and international significance.

The subject was the sea and the diversity immense as entries came in different dialects, with the winning poem written in Doric, plus a huge variety of themes and styles. Amongst the prize winners were poets from Portsoy, Banff, Portlethen and somewhat further a field, from the Isle of Wight and even Tasmania, Australia. It was fantastic to see not only the art of poetry, but also our maritime tradition being celebrated in such a creative way. Appreciation of our local arts and culture is clearly important to the people of Banff & Buchan and events like this ensure that that tradition remains strong.

Stewart Stevenson
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