27 December 2011

A Momentous Year

As another year draws to a close, it is only fitting to look back on what has been quite an extraordinary year and once again look forward to what the next year might have in store.

There can be little doubt that for almost everybody one of the biggest issues over the last year has been the state of the economy and the impact it is having on people’s day to day lives. Already low levels of economic growth in the UK economy are falling and there is a significant danger of a plummet back into recession. That will have a real and damaging impact on jobs and livelihoods and will undoubtedly be the biggest issue facing us in the year to come.

Measures that will encourage economic growth are desperately needed, yet it is against this background that Scotland is facing sharp reductions in our budget as a result of spending decisions made by Westminster. The budget for capital spending has been reduced by 20% in this financial year compared to the last and by 2014/15, will be 32% lower than it was in 2010/11. It is capital spending that provides the greatest stimulus to an economy, which is why the Scottish Government is using every lever at its disposal to increase spending on infrastructure despite the handicap imposed on us by the UK Government. With greater powers over our own finances, we would be able to do substantially more and the case for doing so is one we will continue to press despite the intransigence of the UK Government.

No look back over the past year in Scotland could fail to mention the Scottish Parliament elections and the incredible faith that the people of Scotland placed in the SNP. To win a majority in an electoral system designed to make such an outcome highly unlikely was in incredible feat in anybody’s book. It has taken Scotland into new political territory and with a pro-independence majority in Holyrood for the first time, it will continue to have a huge impact on the shape of our country in the years to come.

In the run up to the election, we promised to hold a referendum on independence in the second half of the parliamentary term and that is a timetable we fully intend to keep to. Yet there will undoubtedly be extensive discussion and debate on the constitutional future in the coming year and that is something I am sure people across Banffshire & Buchan Coast will want to play a full and active part in.

The fishing industry in recent weeks faced a huge threat of a reduction in its days at sea as a result of an utterly wrong-headed interpretation of EU fishing rules. Frenzied negotiations successfully staved off this threat in the end, but it is once again a clear demonstration that the rules governing the Common Fisheries Policy are simply not fit for purpose and their reform cannot come soon enough. The annual danger that the industry is put in is simply no way to manage fish stocks. What will be welcome though is that quota increases for some key stocks were successfully secured, in clear recognition that the conservation efforts of the Scottish fishing fleet are paying off.

I hope that everyone in Banffshire & Buchan Coast has a merry Christmas and a very happy new year when it comes.

23 December 2011

Stewart's Christmas Poem

the "message‬"
In the sense of a year’s work over,
Defined by honest weariness, not by pain,
Promising us rest from our endeavour,
Entering now into emotional gain,
Denying us nothing we ever wished for,
Certain Christmas will bring us all succour.‬

‪In the dark midwinter’s gloom,
Depression seems round every turn,
Pending spring’s hints, none too soon,
Delivering us from winter’s icy burn,
Not for aught do we wait all that while,
Certain the New Year is to bring a smile.‬

‪Instead of idleness and excess,
Delivered from all gluttony and drink,
Perhaps now even more success,
Now working, now read, now think,
Denying ourselves no efforts to win,
Certain two-twelve, a great year to be in.‬

stewart stevenson
Christmas 2011‬

(copyleft 2011, fair re-use permitted)

13 December 2011

An opportunity slipping away

In my column a few weeks ago I wrote about the hope that was growing that Peterhead power station could once again be in line to benefit from the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. Previous efforts to bring this world leading technology to Peterhead collapsed in 2007 as a result of UK Government dithering and the project was transferred to Abu Dhabi. Meanwhile the hopes of a separate project at Longannet in Fife were brought to an end a few months ago, again by a lack of sufficient support from the UK Government.

It was this most recent failure to support Longannet which many believe has put Peterhead back at the head of the race for support from a £1 billion fund to develop the technology. Such a project could create an estimated 937 jobs over the construction and lifetime of the project, providing a real boost to the economy of Banffshire & Buchan Coast.

I wrote in that column that Westminster had twice failed Carbon Capture projects in Scotland and it simply must do better with the opportunity Peterhead represented. How infuriating then, that just a few short weeks later the Treasury has delivered a hammer blow to the future of this project.

At the time the plans to fund a CCS plant at Longannet collapsed, UK Ministers promised that the £1 billion fund would be ring-fenced for a new carbon capture competition and it was widely expected that the funds from this would be disbursed within this Westminster parliamentary term. However, all that was undermined by a recent radio interview in which Danny Alexander revealed that the Treasury had raided that funding to reallocate to different sorts of projects.

This means that the UK Government intends to spend little to nothing on developing CCS technology before 2015, pulling the rug out from underneath investment plans that were gathering pace following a recent deal between Scottish & Southern Energy and Shell. With financial and political uncertainty obscuring what money will be available following 2015, the certainty that businesses need to invest in this technology has been shattered at a stroke.

History seems once again to be repeating itself and the UK Government has for the third time undermined the future of CCS technology and severely let down a local community in Scotland. I am appalled by the ineptitude that has again been displayed and I have no doubt that there will be real anger in Banffshire & Buchan Coast, especially from the many people who would be hoping for jobs as a result of this project.

Progress on emissions

Developing new technologies such as CCS has a huge part to play if Scotland is to meet our world leading carbon emission reduction targets of 42% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Significant progress is already being made, however, with an audit Scotland report showing that Scotland has successfully reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 28% in the period to 2009.

There is still a long way to go and we cannot afford to be complacent or let up in our continuing efforts if we are to reach those targets. Even in these difficult financial times, we should not accept anything other than further progress towards meeting these targets and seizing the economic opportunities that they also represent.

Developing technologies to harness the vast wind, wave and tidal energy resources that Scotland enjoys will play a key part of our economic future and the level of investment that is already taking place demonstrates how confident businesses are in our energy future.

Stewart Stevenson
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However Google who publish for us, may do.
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