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SCOTTISH LABOUR LEADER, RICHARD LEONARD, GIVES BACKING TO A75 AND A77 CAMPAIGNS

Scottish Labour Leader, Richard Leonard MSP, has given his backing to the A77 Action Group and the Dual the A75 campaigns to seek major improvements in the two trunk roads.

Richard Leonard met with representatives of both the A75 and A77 groups and representatives of ferry company Stena Line along with local Labour MSP and Labour Transport Spokesperson Colin Smyth when he visited Stena Line’s Loch Ryan Port on Monday 6 August. 

Mr Leonard gave his backing to the campaigns and said a Labour Government was determined to increase Government investment in infrastructure, which would benefit trunk roads in the region.

The Scottish Labour leader said, “Meeting with the A77 Action Group and the Dual the A75 campaign has made it clear that the two trunk roads are being left behind by the current SNP and Tory Governments.  The two campaign groups have set out a compelling case highlighting not only the fact the region hasn’t always got its fair share of investment in the past, but they need to address that now.

“The A75 and A77 trunk roads are not only vital for the communities and economies of Dumfries and Galloway and South Ayrshire, but also have a huge strategic importance for the whole of the Scottish economy.

“The Labour Party is the only party that rejects the politics of austerity and has set out clear plans to increase spending in our infrastructure, which is being starved of investment.  You cannot cut your way out of recession.  We need to be honest with the public, make the case for higher public spending and say that will mean higher taxes for those with the most wealth.  A Labour Government both in Westminster and in Holyrood would significantly increase funding for infrastructure projects which would help to grow our economy and that increased funding would help the people living here along the A77 and A75.”

Colin Smyth MSP said, “I am delighted that Richard Leonard was able to come and speak to the A77 Action Group, Dual the A75 and Stena Line.  I stood for Parliament because I felt that our region wasn’t being listened to and was too often forgotten about.  The current state of the A75 and A77 is a clear example of this, and I am pleased that Richard came to the region to make clear his support for investment in the major infrastructure serving our region.  It is vital that we get that message across to Government, so I hope that the new Transport Minister will not only also meet with the action groups but actually visit the region to see for himself how the lack of investment in the A75 and A77 is impacting on the local economy.”

Donald McHarrie, a member of the A77 Action Group said, “We are grateful to Richard Leonard making the time to come a meet with us at Cairnryan in his role as Leader of the Scottish Labour Party.  We fully welcome his support and look forward to working with him and Colin Smyth MSP in the future.  We would also like to encourage the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson MSP, to attend our planned conference in October this year so he sees for himself the dire need for investment here on the A77 and A75.”

SCC Comment on Interest Rates Announcement

The Monetary Policy Committee voted to raise interest rates today by 0.25 percentage points, increasing the Bank of England base rate to 0.75%, the highest level since March 2009.   Responding to the rise, Liz Cameron, Chief Executive and Director, Scottish Chambers of Commerce said:

“It is disappointing the Bank of England has opted to increase interest rates in the absence of conclusive evidence that now is the right time to do so for the UK economy.

“The unanimous decision of the Monetary Policy Committee comes at a time when inflation has been falling towards target, and much of the current pressures holding it at current levels are driven by external factors, such as the value of sterling and energy prices.

“The Bank of England must tread carefully when it comes to further changes in interest rates at the ‘gradual pace’ they outline. Whilst businesses continue to trade, despite challenging political uncertainty, it is critical continued investment is made to plug skills gaps in the workforce and improve digital and physical infrastructure. Recent labour market data illustrated that pay rises are only just managing to outpace inflation, so this increase is likely to do little to encourage consumer confidence among the millions of Britons with variable rate mortgages.   It is also unlikely that this change will provide much benefit to savers, or any lasting boost to the value of the pound, with currency markets much more concerned about further clarity in the Brexit negotiations.

“Future changes in the base rate must be conducted with a keen eye on the economic data and sentiment of businesses and consumers across the UK.   There is no appetite for interest rates to return to pre-crisis levels amongst business or consumers, and the Bank of England must carefully consider what the ‘new normal’ should be for both the pace and level of interest rate rises.”

LATEST STAGECOACH CUTS SHOW BUS SERVICES SHOULD BE RUN FOR PASSENGERS, NOT PROFITS, SAYS MSP

Local Labour MSP and Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, Connectivity and Transport Colin Smyth has said that the latest reductions in services by Stagecoach highlight the need bus services should be re-regulated and run for “passengers, not profits”.

The local MSP plans to put forward a number of amendments to the Government’s Transport Bill when it comes before Parliament after the summer recess, including allowing local councils to set up municipal bus companies to run services instead of simply leaving it to private bus firms. He also plans to propose that when bus companies change timetables, they must carry out a consultation with the local community.

Colin Smyth recently wrote to Sam Greer, the Interim Managing Director at Stagecoach West Scotland after the company made cuts to the 246 service between Dumfries and Cumnock.

The changes to the 246 Dumfries to Cumnock service in early July saw the complete removal of the 1830 Northbound with the 2235 service axed on a Friday and Saturday. The 2030 service will now terminate in Sanquhar.

On the Southbound route the 1811 service will be removed completely with the 2329 service from Kirkconnel removed on a Friday and Saturday night. The 1945 service from Sanquhar will also be removed.

The MSP was angry not only at the cuts but in the failure of the bus company to consult passengers or the local community ahead of changes.

In a reply from Stagecoach West Scotland have made clear their first priority was to save on costs rather than consult with the local community.

Colin Smyth said, “In their response to constituents concerns, Stagecoach have made clear that the services they have axed don’t make a profit therefore they are no longer interested in running them and won’t change their mind. These damaging cuts to bus services in Mid and Upper Nithsdale highlight the desperate need for radical change in the way our buses are run. These aren’t the first cuts in bus services from Stagecoach in our area and won’t be the last. Over the past decade we have seen the number of passengers and therefore services plummet.

Cuts to bus services like the 246 have a major impact on the communities that they are supposed to serve. When there are cuts to commercial services there is no consultation with local communities in advance and it is more likely to be our most vulnerable residents that are left worse off as a result. This is a systemic problem in our bus network and the only way to fix it is to see a change in the law.

As Parliament debates the Transport Bill in the next session I will be submitting amendments changing the law to lift the ban on local councils setting up local bus companies to run services, rather than always leaving it to big private bus companies. I will also be proposing a law change to ensure that bus companies have to carry out proper consultation before they make changes to services.

By re-regulating our bus network we will be able to see real change to ensure profits made on our buses are re-invested in the network.

I would encourage all local politicians to support the amendments that I will put forward over the next few months. There is no point in politicians claiming they oppose the recent cuts in services but then failing to take action to prevent further reductions in the future. Only a change in the law over our bus network will prevent a repeat of the impact currently being felt in Mid and Upper Nithsdale.”

MSP EXPRESSES DISAPPOINTMENT OVER VISITSCOTLAND PLANS TO AXE VISITOR INFORMATION CENTRES

South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has expressed his disappointment at the news that VisitScotland plan to press ahead with the closure of Visitor Information Centre’s in Stranraer, Kirkcudbright and Gretna.

VisitScotland have confirmed that after a period of consultation since October, the three centres will cease trading from 17 February 2019. The Dumfries centre will remain open as a “regional hub” for Dumfries and Galloway.

Colin Smyth MSP said, "This news won’t come as a surprise to anyone, given the fall in the number of people who use Visitor Information Centres. However, that doesn’t make the announcement any less disappointing, not only as far as promoting tourism in the area is concerned but also the impact on loyal staff based at the centres. Staff have provided a comprehensive, impartial advice invaluable service for many years. Throughout the whole closure programme, I have stressed to VisitScotland my concerns over the impact on staff. Whilst they have given a commitment to no compulsory redundancies, geography will make it difficult for staff to access new opportunities within the organisation. If you have family ties and other commitments, you can’t suddenly move for employment so VisitScotland have a duty to provide support to help people find alternative jobs in the area.”

“The latest three closures will all have an impact on the individual communities affected”

“The Stranraer Centre, on the waterfront is a key location and it is vital that a way is found to retain a permanent physical presence in the town for visitors to continue to get information from when visiting the area”.

“At a time we have just celebrated the opening of the new Art Gallery in Kirkcudbright to add to the strong tourism offer already in the area, many people will see it as a backward step to lose the information centre in the town”.

“The Gretna centre is located in an area visited everyday by thousands of people and was a great way to promote our region. It is vital that a presence is maintained in what is the gateway to Dumfries and Galloway.”

“The decision to retain the Dumfries centre as a regional hub is at least one consolation, given how important tourism is to our region’s economy”.

“It is vital that any savings made by VisitScotland over these closures is used to market our region which still suffers from a lack of promotion compared to many other parts of Scotland, despite the fact we have so much to offer visitors”.

VISITSCOTLAND CENTRE CLOSURE DATES CONFIRMED

The VisitScotland iCentres in Stranraer, Kirkcudbright and Gretna will cease trading from 17 February 2019. Information provision will however continue across Dumfries & Galloway through our VisitScotland Information Partner programme (VIP).

With a steep decline of 58% in footfall to VisitScotland iCentres across Scotland in the past decade combined with two in three visitors now accessing information online, it is clear that the way visitors get information has changed significantly.

We must reflect this by switching investment to new initiatives in order to reach more people with personalised information at every stage of their journey so that they stay longer, spend more and grow the visitor economy.

In response to the changes in the way visitors access information we announced in October that we would be making necessary changes to our information provision. As a result, the VisitScotland iCentre network will consist of 26 high impact regional hubs across Scotland.

As part of the October announcement, it was considered important to carryout an additional review and consultation to determine the best location for the Dumfries & Galloway regional hub. A strategic review and consultation has been carried out in the months since October and we can confirm that Dumfries iCentre will become the regional hub for the area.