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Keep up to date with the latest news and stories from across Dumfries & Galloway.

 

LOCAL MSP CRITICISES GOVERNMENT FAILURE TO PROTECT ACCESS TO CASH

South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has criticised the UK Government for failing to do enough to protect communities against bank and cash machines closures, after research by consumer watchdog Which? warned that rapid changes that many Scots are at particular risk of having no access to cash.

 

ColinSmythMSP

 

Research by Which? found 339 Scottish bank branches had closed their doors since 2015, while 290 ATMs had been withdrawn in the past year.

Which? said the closure of cash machines, the majority of which were free to use, had hit Scotland harder than other parts of the UK because of its "many rural communities, combined with an already devastated bank branch network".

In Scotland, withdrawals from machines were down just 3.3% in 2017-18, compared with larger drops of 8.5% and 7.7% in London and the south east of England respectively.

Which? warned the UK risked "drifting into a cashless society that could shut people out of paying for local goods and services".

Labour are calling on the UK Government to introduce a statutory duty to protect access to cash.

Commenting Colin Smyth said, “What this report from Which? reveals is that when we have bank closures these are often followed by the loss of cash machines.

Given the huge number of bank branch closures, we have seen locally in recent years, some of our villages no longer have a bank at all. That means access to cash machines is becoming more and more difficult for many communities. Despite new methods to make payments like contactless, we still need access to cash at the very least as a back-up or to use in the many places that don’t have alternatives.

It’s clear UK Government have done nothing to protect against the closures of local bank branches and cash machines and we need more action from them. They should change the law to ensure that banks cannot close their branches where it is the last in a town or village without proper consultation and the final decision should be made by the independent Financial Conduct Authority. A legal duty should be placed on banks to provide a certain number of free cash machines in an area. Without such action cash machines will soon follow bank branches in moving out of our towns and villages”

Engagement with corporate leaders in North America.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has engaged business leaders and promoted Scottish firms abroad, while visiting Canada and the United States last week.

 

Scottish FM Nicola Sturgeon

 

With £6.1 billion of Scottish goods and services exported to North America in 2017, it is one of Scotland’s most important markets. There are also currently 550 US-owned enterprises in Scotland, employing more than 106,000 people, and 40 Canadian-owned firms employing nearly 4,000 people.

In New York, the First Minister visited Morgan Stanley’s Fusion Center to discuss collaborative projects at the firm’s centre of excellence in Scotland. The company employs 1,550 people in Scotland and is a key part of the country’s financial services industry.

The First Minister also addressed a Scotland is Now investor lunch, hosted by IBM, where around 50 leading business people heard about Scotland’s strengths and assets as an investment location and trading partner.

When in Washington D.C. the First Minister met representatives from Verdant Power and the technology firm Leidos. She also met Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriott International, to discuss their further expansion of hotel operations in Scotland, and addressed the Global Women’s Innovation Network, who will be visiting Scotland later this year.

In Canada the First Minister hosted an 85 person event to launch the Scotland is Now campaign encouraging people to work, study, invest, visit and live in Scotland. As well as championing food and drink exports, she set out the potential of Scotland to the Toronto Stock Exchange, met representatives of the Toronto Region Board of Trade and toured MaRS Discovery District to share learning on how to further boost entrepreneurial and start up activity in Scotland.

The First Minister said:

“North America is one of Scotland’s most important trading partners around the world, with the US alone being our most valuable export market with an estimated £5.5 billion of exports in 2017.

“It’s been invaluable to have the opportunity to speak directly with representatives of many of the US and Canada’s leading businesses and sectors, making clear the many benefits Scotland has to offer as a business location.

“It has also been hugely important to meet existing investors and partners to discuss how we can work together through the challenges ahead.

“With Brexit continuing to pose the biggest threat to our economy, it is vital that we do all we can to promote Scotland as a great place to establish yourself and invest in, and show we remain very much open for business.”

Steve Dunlop, CEO Scottish Enterprise, said:

“The USA is Scotland’s top international export destination, and one in five investments originate in the US, making North America a crucial market for Scotland.

“With uncertainty around Brexit there has never been a more important time to strengthen links with vital international markets and visits like this allow us to do just that.”

£6 million awarded to local food processors.

Eighteen projects icluding one in Dumfries & Galloway have been awarded a share of more than £6 million, enabling companies to invest in infrastructure, upgrade or replace facilities, and purchase new equipment, as well safeguarding 345 jobs, and creating 156 new ones across Scotland.

 

 

The Food Processing, Marketing and Cooperation (FPMC) scheme funding includes an award of £122,681 to AH & HA Brown in Newton Stewart. 

Quality Pork Processors in Brechin were also amongst the recipients, receiving £558,965.40, to increase infrastructure and purchase equipment, helping to safeguard 72 jobs and create a further three jobs in the process.  

Welcoming the news, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said:

“Food and Drink continues to be one of Scotland’s success stories of recent years, with a turnover of more than £13.9 billion last year – and directly employing more than 110,000 people across the country.

“And the Scottish Government is doing everything we can to support the sector’s long-term ambition to double in value to £30 billion in the next 12 years.

“The FPMC scheme is an important part of that ambition, using joint Scottish Government and European Union funding to give local businesses a helping hand, which will ensure the long-term viability of our primary producers, and maximise export markets for our fantastic Scottish produce.”

Petra Wetzl, Managing Director of WEST Beverages Ltd, said:

“We are thrilled to have been awarded an FPMC grant. This will allow us to build a state of the art drinks production and packaging facility in Scotland enabling not only WEST to achieve its ambitious growth plans for the next 10 years but also to support other thriving drinks businesses across Scotland by helping them with their ongoing kegging, bottling and canning requirements.” 

“WORKERS TAX” A DISTRACTION OVER GOVERNMENT CUTS TO COUNCIL BUDGETS

South Scotland MSP and Scottish Labour’s Transport Spokesperson Colin Smyth has labelled plans by the SNP and Greens for a tax on ‘workplace parking spaces’ as a distraction from the real budget issue of massive cuts to council budgets.

 

 

The plans to give council’s the power to introduce such a levy are part of a deal between the SNP Government and Green MSPs to secure support from the Green’s for the Government’s budget.

However, as a result of the budget Dumfries and Galloway Council faces having to make over £16m of cuts to balance the books- taking the total cuts to nearly £100m since 2010.

South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth said, “The proposals for a so-called Workplace Parking levy are unravelling before our eyes as everyday new questions are asked that the SNP Government simply can't answer such as who will be exempt. Under the plans a Health Board Chief Executive on over £100,000 a year won't have to pay but a Carer who works for charity on the minimum wage will. A company cleaner will have to pay the same levy as a company boss, so you really don't get much more regressive than this workers tax and that's why Labour will oppose it in Parliament". 

“But the real tragedy of the deal between the Greens and the SNP on the budget is the massive cuts to council budgets will still go ahead and the debate over the workplace parking levy is a real distraction. If this budget goes ahead we will see hundreds more council jobs being axed and local services being cut by another £16.5 million and that will be devastating for our area”

DGCouncil Rules Out Tourist & Parking Taxes

In an open letter to residents and businesses in Dumfries and Galloway, Council Leader Elaine Murray has ruled out the use of the Workplace Parking Levy “Parking Tax” and Transient Visitors Levy “Tourist Tax”.

 

 

The two Levies are expected to be written into legislation over the coming year with discretion given to local authorities to determine if they wish to use the measures. The introduction of the Levies was part of the SNP/ Green Budget Deal which leaves Dumfries and Galloway Council with a £16million funding gap for the next financial year.

There has been considerable opposition to the ‘Parking Tax’ from local Trade Union representatives who have concerns that local low paid workers could end up forking out hundreds of pounds a year to drive to work.

In her open letter to residents and businesses, Councillor Leader Elaine Murray rules out the use of both levies and confirms there are no plans to implement them in Dumfries and Galloway.

Councillor Elaine Murray said, “Under my leadership the Council will not be introducing either a Tourist Tax or a Workplace Parking Levy as they are not appropriate for our rural area. Neither address the real challenge facing local authorities which are the cuts in Government funding.

As a direct result of the UK Conservative Government austerity and cuts in funding by the SNP Scottish Government our Council faces a £16million funding gap, taking the total cuts imposed on our Council to over £100million since 2010.

There has been much debate by local politicians over the use of both of the Tourist Tax and Workplace Parking Levy over the past week. There have never been any plans, or any desire, to implement either of these in Dumfries and Galloway. I would ask local politicians to stand up for our region and argue for a fair funding deal for Dumfries and Galloway which ends the cuts to our Council and to local services.”