On Thursday 5th March we debated National Planning Framework 2 that identifies national planning priorities for the next ten to fifteen years. I majored on the potential of the Pentland Firth marine power, of the container hub at Scapa Flow, but particularly welcomed the commitment to upgrade electricity lines south from Dounreay.
I can’t underline enough the sequence of development needed to harness our wave, wind and tidal electricity resources. We need power lines upgraded on land and later undersea cables. This is because it will take far longer to get the undersea cables laid and relies on big developments offshore which will take between three and fifteen years.
This was confirmed by a cross party meeting also held that day in the Parliament. I was able to discuss the developments planned by SeaEnergy and their Portuguese partners EDP renewables, the fourth largest wind farm developer in the world. They have submitted bids to the Crown Estate for UK Round 3, and hope to hear of a successful outcome by the end of 2009.
Scotland is truly on the verge of a huge renewables take off.
I attended a crisis meeting of the Scottish Building Federation in Inverness last Friday. The firms present from Highland and Moray employers were hoping against hope that the public sector can kick start their businesses. Agreed spending targets at Scottish Government level have to be turned into new projects to stop inevitable redundancies of apprentices and tradespeople who work for house builders and general contractors.
We all agreed that the banking crisis had stopped building in its tracks in the Highlands as elsewhere. The Downing Street downturn is well understood. What firms want is agreement to start projects earlier than planned. But we hear that Highland Council feels it does not have matching cash to start council house building. New build by Housing Associations will be key. How we facilitate this will be a high priority for me in quizzing Ministers.
We know that the SNP Government has made sure Scotland is ahead of the rest of the UK in tackling the economic downturn by acting quickly to bring forward measures to give businesses and households a helping hand. Some key points are as follows:-
1. The Scottish Government’s spending of £120 million on the Affordable Housing Investment Programme is roughly twice, on a pro-rata basis, as the £550m English package dedicated to new supply.
2. The Scottish Government is making £25 million available to support the building of new council houses. The provisional figure for the number of new council houses started in England in 2007-8 was 250 compared to 432 in Scotland.
3. The Scottish Government launched its new energy assistance package and spends more pro rata. For 2009-10 the £55.8m budget in Scotland, is almost 15% of English Warm Deal Budget (£374m) while for 2010-11 Scotland’s £55.8m is almost 28% of Westminster’s £200m.
This is swift, decisive action by the Scottish Government in responding to the challenges thrown up by the current economic climate. The SNP’s six-point economic recovery plan announced by Scottish Ministers last October – more than a month ahead of the UK Government’s plans – forms the basis of the Government’s strategy for making sure Scotland is well-placed to weather the downturn and emerge stronger, and in a position to take advantage of new opportunities.
I will be seeking opinions around the North to gain our share on top of the NDA work and tidal powers development. Please feel free to contact me.
The SNP’s positive approach is in sharp contrast to Secretary of State for Scotland Jim Murphy’s speech at Labour’s Spring Conference last weekend in Dundee. He should have said three things in his speech.
First, he should have apologised for the UK Government’s role in causing the recession. For 12 years, they have presided over the ‘age of irresponsibility’, resulting in the Downing Street downturn.
Second, he should have announced the scrapping of Labour’s disastrous plans to impose £500 million of cuts each year in Scotland’s budget.
And third, he should have said that Labour’s part-privatisation of the Post Office will be scrapped.
Since Jim Murphy did none of these things this confirms that he is indeed the UK Cabinet’s man in Scotland. It was an unremittingly negative conference – almost entirely focussed on criticising the SNP. This was a reminder of exactly why Labour lost the last election.
The SNP are entirely confident about taking our positive case for Scotland to be an equal and independent nation – with full economic and financial powers so that we can overcome the downturn – to the people in a referendum. It is Labour and the other London parties who are running away from the people’s verdict.
Two years into government and the SNP Government are ahead in the polls on the basis of our excellent record of policy delivery.