18 March 2014

Raw deal for our pensioners if we vote NO

Alarming news has emerged this week that the North East may be getting a raw deal on their pensions if Scotland decides to stay with the UK.

The facts show that although the Scottish Government is doing everything it can to improve the welfare of the country, people in Scotland have a lower life expectancy than people living in the rest of the UK, and a one size fits all pension policy will not work in our interests.

Older people in Scotland, and indeed the North East, spend a lower portion of their lives in retirement than those in other parts of the UK, and this is a fact that Westminster governments fail to take into account.

The state pension age (SPA) for women across the UK will increase from 60 to 65 between 2010 and 2018. An increase to 66 for both men and women will be fully implemented by October 2020. A further phased increase in the SPA to 67 is planned between 2026 and 2028.

Although the Scottish government accepts that the SPA should rise to 66 in line with the UK’s existing timetable, the rapid move to 67 is a genuine concern. The lower life expectancy in Scotland compared to the UK means that Scots currently enjoy fewer years in receipt of state pensions, and this could be increased.

To address this, in a Scotland that has voted Yes, an independent commission would report to parliament within the first two years of independence on whether or not Scotland should increase the SPA to 67 between 2026 and 2028.

A recent National Institute of Economic Research publication shows that Scotland is disadvantaged by having the same state pension age as the rest of the UK.

It is not surprising then that surveys consistently show that Scots want to make decisions on pensions and welfare closer to home, in Scotland. The latest Social Attitudes Survey found that 57 per cent want the Scottish Government to have control over these areas.

There could be a fairer pension system for Scotland, and indeed the North East where hard work is rewarded, people are given the incentive to save, and pensioner poverty is tackled as a priority.

It is only a Yes vote in September’s referendum that will ensure that our pensions policy accurately reflects the lives of people in Scotland. It is only then that a pension age can be set that is appropriate for where we live.

As well as an independent commission, the SNP have promised that the single-tier pension would be set at a rate of £160 a week in 2016, which is £1.10 a week higher than the rate currently expected for the UK. Savings Credit would also be retained – which at the moment stands at £18 a week for a single person – benefiting around 9000 low income pensioners.

And we can afford a better pensions system. The amount of money spent in Scotland on social protection, which includes pensions and other welfare spending, is lower as a share of GDP than in the UK. This means that pensions are more affordable for Scotland. The Scottish Government also have a good track record on caring for the elderly. Despite extreme spending pressures over the last few years, free personal and nursing care, and concessionary travel, have been retained.

Recent research from Professor David Bell has shown that pensions in Scotland are six to eight per cent less expensive than the rest of the UK. He also demonstrated that under current UK schemes, there will be a transfer from Scotland to the rest of the UK of almost £50 million per year by 2020.

The Westminster Government has mismanaged the pensions system over many years, to the extent that an estimated 140,000 Scottish pensioners are now living in relative poverty.

Scots should be able to look forward to a full and active retirement where they are rewarded for all they have contributed during their working lives. We can do this for generations to come in an independent Scotland.

4 March 2014

Shell and SSE Move Ahead with Carbon Capture

Peterhead is another step closer to becoming the carbon-capture capital of the world after the welcome announcement this week that they will receive millions of pounds from the UK Government progressing it to the engineering design phase.

In fact, the Peterhead Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) project, creating the very first plant of its kind, is one of the EU’s largest commercially sized projects, and represents the very first gas CCS project.

The home-grown engineering expertise and industrial knowledge of the North-east has been recognised by the Scottish Government with their support over the last 10 years for the carbon capture project. It promises a brighter and greener future for the area for years to come with unrivalled storage capacity in the North Sea – enough to store at least 50 years of annual CO2 emissions from the European Union.

The UK Government is finally recognising the carbon capture potential in the North-east, as they are now supporting it with their £1 billion Carbon Capture Storage programme. Around £100m of this budget will go towards the detailed planning and engineering of the project, which could provide over 2000 jobs during construction, and clean electricity for over a million homes when it is built.

The project in Peterhead would create the world's first commercial-scale full chain CO2 capture, transportation and storage development. It would collect up to 10 million tonnes of CO2 emitted from Peterhead Power station over 10 years, and store it in the Shell-operated Goldeneye gas reservoir, 100km offshore.

This is a visionary opportunity for Scotland, harnessing the great resource that is the North Sea, and opening up the waterway as a global centre for the carbon storage industry, which in turn will bring investment and long-term growth to the region.

The move has been supported by WWF Scotland, whose director Lang Banks this week reportedly said that the project would enable those involved to test the technology and cut emissions from the energy sector, while the country is in the transition to an increasingly renewable future.

Testing CCS in Scotland is key, as the technology could be transported globally, making Peterhead the blueprint for other countries to follow. For the good of future generations, we want to make the most of the rich renewable energy sources present in Scotland, and make sure our fossil fuels are dealt with expertly and cleanly.

This has also been recognised by Shell which has praised the latest development as a hugely important step to making gas even cleaner than it already is.

CCS is also a welcome addition to reducing carbon emissions, while the global demand for energy continues to rise, and calls for action on climate change fill column inches. This project would help Scotland meet the target to reduce carbon emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050.

And it can only boost the North Sea oil and gas industry and help to secure its commercial viability for the future.

The project in Peterhead will be a world first, as there are currently no gas-based carbon capture and storage projects in existence. As nuclear remains an unknown quantity in terms of commercial success, cost and safety concerns, carbon capture could illuminate the future, and create sustainable economic growth for decades to come.

This is especially welcome as the UK government have taken their time to recognise the vast potential for carbon capture in the North-east, something which the Scottish Government has done for the past decade, and is keen to harness for the good of all those in Scotland.

Stewart Stevenson
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