22 November 2016

Time for Enthusiasm on Renewables

Banffshire and the Buchan Coast is one of the beautiful places in the world. Many probably take that for granted. It’s a simple reason to love this place – but it’s one of many good reasons.

We shouldn’t take Scotland for granted. The Scottish Government hasn’t. That’s why we’ve had the most ambitious targets on climate change. We’ve even managed to hit our previous targets six years early. And as recently as last week, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Climate Change, Roseanna Cunninghame, announced £400,000 to improve our peatlands. Funding which will be used to improve biodiversity, water quality, and natural flood management. But our work continues.

Climate change affects everything. It affects our crops, our seas and our homes. Over the last few years we have seen weather events that have caused flooding. Here in the North-east homes have been destroyed by flooding. If we fail to tackle climate change, these things will happen more often.

One of the ways we tackle this is through renewable energy. The Scottish Government has been extremely successful on this front – as former Minister for Environment and Climate Change; I took the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 through the Scottish Parliament. I would consider it one of our greatest achievements as a Parliament.

That is why I find the hypocrisy from the Westminster government particularly galling. Last week, Tory Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, took credit for the success of onshore wind in Scotland. At the same time, Mr Clark’s government is responsible for slashing support for the sector.

Mr Clark even managed to debar our island communities from bidding for millions pounds in contracts for difference – Contracts which would allow them to access funding for onshore wind. These island communities have some of the greatest renewables potential in all of Europe.

But this more than just an annoyance. It’s damaging. The Tories damage not only our climate change policies. But also our economy.

If you remember, last November, the Tories dropped another project. It was a competition to set up a carbon capture storage plant. A project that might have seen £1 billion pounds of investment come to Peterhead – giving us the ability to reduce our carbon emissions while creating jobs in the North-east.

Time and again the Tories have taken jobs out of Scotland. Now when they do it, they also are weakening our ability to tackle climate change. If they care about people having decent jobs here ­– why slash funding to a growing sector that creates high paid, high skilled jobs?

The UK Government have shown little concern for the environment and even less regard for creating jobs in Scotland. They choose to wreak havoc with renewables funding and hinder our ability to tackle climate change.

The Scottish Government has a different approach. We recognise the need to tackle climate change and also realise the potential to create jobs in Scotland. It’s the Scottish Government that has tackled climate change in Scotland – not the UK Government. It’s time the Conservatives found some of their own achievements on climate change, instead of stealing ours. I for one would welcome it.

8 November 2016

Fumbling in Face of Devaluation

At the moment it seems there is much we can disagree on. People have all kinds of opinions in our society about every subject.

But today I may have found something we can all agree on.

We can agree that everyone needs to eat. People want to be able to go out to the cinema, or dinner or perhaps even a holiday. We can agree that people tend to appreciate having a little extra cash. This seems obvious.

Strangely, the UK Government doesn’t understand that – let me explain.

Earlier last month we saw Tesco and Unilever disagree on product prices. Tesco initially refused to accept the price rise from Unilever. Unilever in turn refused to supply products. Unilever argued that the drop in the pound had driven up the cost of imports – which prompted their request for a 10% increase in their price. Their dispute may be resolved, but this is just the beginning.

Typhoo Tea and British Airways have both already warned of a price hike. As more firms warn of raising costs, the quality of life for those in the UK will continue to descend.

Winter is almost upon us. And as the nights get colder, more and more we will need to heat our homes. Many throughout Scotland already have difficulty paying for fuel costs.

But just last week energy experts warned of the effects of the UK’s deteriorating pound and pressure on wholesale prices. They suggested that suppliers may introduce a 5% rise on electricity bills. On a standard tariff, that will cost 18 million families across the UK £465 million a year.

And how did the Tory Government respond? In the Tesco-Unilever dispute, the PM’s spokesman said, “It is a decision for companies how they market and sell their products…It is a commercial decision.” In other words – not her problem.

The PM has yet to speak to energy suppliers over the challenges posed by devaluation in the pound. Again leaving ordinary people to suffer the consequences of Tory inaction. The actions the Tories have taken are laughable.

Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has placed Jam, Tea and Biscuits as a one of her key strategic target. I agree we have some of the best food and drink in the world – but tea and biscuits isn’t a comprehensive trade strategy. It will not counter the costs of trade tariffs or a crashing pound.

The result of Tory inaction is clear – costs will rise at a rate that income will not. People will have less money for food, seeing family and friends and even going on holiday.

The Conservatives have offered no solutions to any of this – watching as quality of life for ordinary people continues to fall. Their inaction and hard right tendencies will see families and companies across Scotland poorer. I hope we can safely agree that no one voted for that. It’s time the Conservatives did something about it.

Stewart Stevenson
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