Friday, 27 August 2010

North can't afford to miss the boat

GOOD news for council tax payers this week on the results of the three-year freeze. And it was added to by rising take-up of business rate relief that was pioneered by the SNP Government.

The freeze each year since 2008 has saved council tax payers hundreds of pounds based on what they would have had to pay to fill the gap had our local authority not received its share of the £70 million across Scotland.

The cumulative difference is £164 for band-D council tax payers in Highland. And this week the CBI has warned against calls from council administrations like the Lib Dem, Labour and Independent one in Inverness which wants to increase the council tax.

CBI sees council tax increases in the past 10 years rising 10 per cent above inflation rates at a time when more cash came from the Treasury as a whole.

Of course, in times of deep cuts ushered in by the Con/Dem coalition Government in London - in response to the previous Labour Government's financial black hole - protecting Scottish taxpayers is a prime task of the SNP Government.

Additionally, small businesses, the backbone of our communities, show increased take-up of the SNP's Small Business Bonus Scheme (SBBS).

An estimated 18 per cent more Scottish small business properties benefited from various non-domestic rates reliefs over the last year.

This means that 85 per cent of eligible small business properties paid less. Under the SBBS alone, some 63,000 business properties (almost 30 per cent of all non-domestic properties) were helped in tough times. A further 11,000 properties had 50 or 25 per cent of their bills cut.

Around 110,500 premises in Scotland received rates relief in 2009/10 compared with 94,000 in 2008/09, according to new uptake figures published by Scotland's chief statistician.

These include around 74,000 business properties that paid zero or reduced business rates due to the SBBS in 2009/10 - up from 64,000 recipients the year before.

The Scottish Government has been working closely with the Federation of Small Businesses (Scotland) and local authorities to increase take-up and the first minister will now write to thousands more small firms potentially eligible for relief under the SBBS. Good news indeed in this hard-to-cast-off recession.


IT is good to read in the Groat that encouraging progress is being made with redevelopment plans for Scrabster harbour.

The employment of a Halcrow team as funding go-getters will speed the plans that have the approval in principal of SNP ministers and public agencies.

The need for these facilities to be ready for marine renewables and offshore wind construction, operation and maintenance was driven home to me by the launch of the scoping study by Moray Offshore Renewables Ltd (MORL).Though launched in Inverness it will tour many communities around the shores of the firth.

The roadshow visits Wick on Tuesday from noon to 8pm in Mackay's Hotel. Helmsdale, Brora and Tain, all the way to Peterhead, follow on.

What makes this so important for all around the firth? MORL combines a Portuguese wind energy company, EDP, that is the third biggest in the world with SeaEnergy, which installed the two test turbines beside the Beatrice platform.

Their plan is to build 200 five to eight MW wind towers in the Eastern Bloc before 2020.

It will take support from many surrounding harbours and facilities, and create hundreds of jobs in the process. Not to forget that building the jackets will employ many more as the prospects for Nigg and Ardersier look up.

Many say that they'll believe it when they see it. Why develop the Far North when there are easy pickings in shallower seas?

The Moray Firth wind towers will be in much deeper water than others and promise worldwide application. This time the North can't afford to miss the boat.

Each power source compliments the other and the careful progress of MORL helps our ports such as Wick, where a survey boat sails to the grounds east of Beatrice, and our commercial port at Scrabster to seek their share of this work.

These plans are underpinned by NRIP, the National Renewables Action Plan, now in its third phase as produced for the Scottish Government by Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.


REAL money is pouring in to develop wave, tidal and offshore wind. The preparatory work by MORL alone costs £40m. However, the story of the siege of RBS HQ at Gogarburn in Edinburgh has a link.

RBS has been very poor in its investment in Scottish renewables, before and after the crash. That means a new bank to pump prime development is needed to augment government support from London and Edinburgh.

I am campaigning for a green investment bank (GIB) to be based in Scotland. My motion in parliament notes that the UK Government's proposal for a GIB would channel public and private sector investment into energy infrastructure.

I consider that Scotland has enormous potential to develop on and offshore renewable energy with wave and tidal power resources in areas such as the Pentland Firth, and therefore urge the UK Government to base the GIB in Scotland near the companies and individuals working at the front line of decarbonising the economy.

We also need to open up access to Scotland's fossil fuel levy with around £200m sitting in a London bank and introduce a fair transmission charging regime.

Between them they would demonstrate the UK Government's understanding of and commitment to Scotland's renewables potential.

Apart from a Green MSP, all who have signed up to my motion so far are Nats. We need cross-party support to succeed.

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