The meeting this week of the UK Cabinet in Aberdeen was a clear demonstration of the British Government’s commitment to Scotland and our region in particular.
Important announcements were made in support of the North Sea oil and gas industry. These came in the form of a grant for the next phase of the Peterhead Carbon Capture and Storage scheme with potentially more to follow, and positive endorsement of the Wood Review which could lead to a new regulatory body to co-ordinate future North Sea developments and optimise the use of infrastructure.
For both of these I believe the UK is best placed to ensure the best long-term investment and development of our industry. The sector currently employs around 450,000 people across the UK, providing an integrated support system for our own production and support for our growing global market. If the full carbon capture scheme eventually goes ahead, it could cost up to £1 billion of public money. This would be supported more easily by all UK taxpayers rather than presenting a tenfold larger burden on Scottish taxpayers. The Wood Review was commissioned by Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey who was also instrumental in taking forward the CCS scheme.
The Cabinet’s visit gave me the opportunity to take two of our Ministers on local visits within Gordon. First I took Scottish Secretary, Alastair Carmichael to visit a major contractor to the oil and gas industry.
Then I took Schools and Cabinet Office Minister, David Laws, to one of our local secondary schools where he learned of the different developments in our schools curriculum compared with England. Not only was Mr Carmichael shown the amazing innovative technology being developed here in the North East but he learnt too of the opportunities for young people and the challenge of finding enough of the right calibre of recruits to train.
Delivering Liberal Democrat policy in Government
The evening before the Cabinet met in Aberdeen, Vince Cable and Alastair Carmichael spoke at a well-attended gathering of Liberal Democrats in Aberdeen.
Naturally questions did focus on issues relating to independence but Vince spoke of his role in helping to build a stronger and better balanced economy - in particular in the manufacturing sector - citing partnership between his Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the car industry, aerospace, the creative industries and, of course, energy, including oil and gas.
He also pointed out that this Government, thanks again to the Liberal Democrats, had stopped the closure of local post offices and invested to support and maintain the Post Office network.
He defended the privatisation of Royal Mail as a success which would secure the future of the universal service by enabling investment in modernisation. This (along with raising the tax threshold) was a policy for which I led the development when the Liberal Democrats were in opposition and I was successively Treasury and Trade and Industry shadow Secretary of State. Liberal Democrat ministers can and do deliver Liberal Democrat policies in Government.
School Closure Shock
The closure of Hamilton Place School in Aberdeen clearly came as a shock to most of the parents, some of whom live in my constituency. The inspectors report contained numerous, serious allegations affecting the welfare of children. Nevertheless, it seems these concerns were not shared with parents until they were told to come and collect their children from the school which was being permanently closed with immediate effect.
The school operated as a private business for 40 years but is effectively forced into immediate liquidation.
The question raised with me was, effectively, how has it come to this - namely immediate and permanent closure without any warning? Why was there not earlier intervention to work with the school to address problems and concerns and give it a chance to turn itself around?
Sad passing of Dr Halldis Mackie
I was very sad to hear that Dr Halldis Mackie, wife of Maitland Mackie, passed away recently. I was one of hundreds who attended a very touching family funeral at St Machar Cathedral. I had known Halldis for many years, yes as Maitland’s wife, but also as a very popular local GP in Insch and staunch champion of the local hospital and community medicine.