A week at Westminster with Gordon MP Sir Malcolm Bruce

Ethiopia testing ground for food security and violence against women

My committee is currently visiting Ethiopia which is set to receive the largest allocation of UK development assistance of any African country (more than £250 million in the next financial year). It is the second largest population country in Africa with over 85 million people and has a unique and different history from anywhere else.

I last visited the country five years ago shortly after an election when the opposition polled well but the consequences were less than auspicious.

At that time the Government locked up a number of the opposition leaders. In turn, probably unwisely, the opposition, who had won control of the capital Addis Ababa refused to form an administration.

The outcome was that the ruling coalition won almost every seat in the most recent election. So as a role model for plural democracy or human rights, Ethiopia is not in the forefront.

Last time the committee met with the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who died last August and was replaced by his deputy Hailemariam Desalegn whom we hope to meet on this occasion.

The two issues we are seeking evidence on are food security and violence against women and girls.

Ethiopia was, of course, the epicentre of the famine which led to the emergence of Live Aid nearly 30 years ago. Famine has been repeated in East Africa but Ethiopia has been less affected having taken steps to tackle food shortages. Controversially this has involved resettlement of some land with reported displacement of some farmers and pastoralists. Dams aimed at providing managed irrigation and electricity are similarly proving controversial in some quarters. We will be visiting a region where “villagisation” has been carried out.

Similarly, we will be looking at projects seeking to reduce violence against women and girls which is endemic in many societies and an obstacle to development and progress as well as a basic denial of human rights.

We have already taken evidence in London and have been shocked at the scale of female genital mutilation in some societies. Indeed, it is even happening to girls in the UK where an estimated 24,000 are deemed at risk.

Of course, in the end, stopping this shocking practice will have to come from within the societies and we will be meeting women’s groups who are taking up the issue and finding how they can be supported – and indeed whether any men will speak out. I hope we will be able to produce reports that show what is working and how our development assistance can make a positive difference.

Scottish Secretary sees local success story

I was delighted to accompany Michael Moore, Secretary of State for Scotland, on a visit to Balfour Beatty in Kintore last week.

He heard an interesting local success story which began in the 1960s after the closure of Inverurie Loco Works.

At the time, the closure of the loco works was seen as an economic disaster with the loss of long established engineering jobs. Gordon Cruickshank was persuaded to relocate his small electrical engineering business to part of the vacant premises where it proceeded to prosper, supplying substations to the electricity supply industry at home and abroad.

Subsequently Balfour Beatty acquired the company and looked to relocate it. At the time there was a real possibility that the entire business could be moved away from the North East of Scotland altogether. However, local management recognised the value of an experienced and dedicated work force and managed to secure a site on the newly established industrial estate in Kintore, where it has continued to expand and prosper. What is now BBES Power Systems is headquartered in Kintore and employs over 600 people across the UK with an Asian subsidiary in Sri Lanka. Over the years it has given me real satisfaction to see a company that moved to our area when our economy was depressed, with population and employment opportunities falling thrive and grow, serving an engineering market sector of unrelated to the offshore oil and gas industry.

Particularly welcome is the company’s policy of offering training opportunities to school leavers who are offered work experience which can lead to jobs and career development from skilled apprenticeships all the way to degree level qualifications and progression to management.

The Secretary of State was anxious to visit businesses located in rural areas that have established sustained success. Balfour Beatty in Kintore is precisely that.

Missing Fly Cup but glad to give support

Another welcome event last week was the official opening of Fly Cup’s new centre at Burghmuir Circle in Inverurie. I have been a great fan of the charity since it started. My staff and I were regular visitors to the cafe in St Andrew’s Church Hall next door to my office and have really missed it when they moved across the town.

However, I was delighted to view the new and spacious custom made premises which works well for the trainees by bringing the kitchen and cafe together. It was clear to me that the volunteers, trainees and invited guests were all having a great time when I dropped by – then why wouldn’t you with all those great canapés sandwiches and tray bakes?

I have promised to make sure I and my staff will go on supporting them even if we can no longer walk across the lane. This is a worthwhile charity that delivers results thanks to the hard work of so many volunteers. I am advised that they are always looking for more voluntary help so if you have some time and would like to get involved get in touch. I have no doubt you will find it rewarding.