Saturday, 4 October 2008

Diary in the Ross-Shire Journal

The huge fall-out from the credit crunch has dominated First Minister’s Questions for three weeks on the proposed merger of HBOS with Lloyds TSB. Obviously the two banks have branches here in Dingwall, for how long? Our EET committee questioned representatives of the financial services and house builders. Meanwhile various solutions to save HBOS jobs and indeed the very substance of our oldest Scottish bank fill the airwaves.

Poignantly I picked out a copy of the Bank of Scotland’s history in the new Dingwall library at the Academy. It celebrated three hundred years of service since 1695. The copy was inscribed by the members of staff in the Dingwall branch. How much longer will they serve us as a proud and independent high street bank?

Alex Salmond’s call for greater regulation of financial transactions is welcome. I note that these disappeared almost entirely during the reign of Gordon Brown as Chancellor and PM. I also note that the eighteen year trade cycle has once again brought misery to many without Brown or the USA addressing the issue. Yet many of our neighbours such as France and Germany have much tighter banking regulation and have no such huge crisis in their economies.

SCOTTISH Parliamentary business is brisk. I sit on two committees with overlapping remits that involves extra seminars on energy and climate change. We are pursuing a detailed energy enquiry and preparing for the Climate Change bill expected in December.

That’s the staple diet of committee work. Also a hectic series of chamber debates affect us in Ross-shire. I spoke on the Government Future Programme on our first day back citing the importance of the North in contributing to our clean energy targets. The following week it was our Ferry Enquiry. We scrutinised Less Favoured Areas to seek a way forward for our livestock sector and vibrant communities in tough financial times. The next day I had to sum up for the Economy, Energy and Tourism [EET] committee as to whether we can grow our tourism income by 50% in the next seven years. All go!

A FORTNIGHT ago I attended a Highland Health Summit in Inverness Townhouse. Ideas for our public health were debated. MSPs, NHS, the police, prisons and Highland Council officers pitched in. Staff credit unions were suggested, credit crunch well in mind. Other suggested that volunteering even for an hour a month would be health promoting. A strong lobby sought the targeting of families with lower health prospects who often came to the attention of schools, doctors, social work, the courts etc.

My suggestion was that everyone should be given the opportunity to grow some of their own food. We heard that prisoners take pride in the cabbages they grow in Porterfield. Medics were intrigued at the idea of families having a few square metres of deep beds or allotments. Then I was delighted to read in The Herald Magazine that Monty Don is back to health. The former presenter of BBC Gardener’s World believes that the Scottish Government first national food and drink plan is in stark contrast to the UK Government’s lack of concern for home production. He envisages a national network of local communities sharing seed, knowledge, time and elbow grease, and believes he has enough of the common touch to persuade people to do it.

When you drive north on the A9 from Alness neat rows of huts and plots at Milnafua are seen. Demand grows in Inverness. We heard that Highland Council agreed in August to promote allotments so local food is on the menu with every year that passes.

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