01 September 2015

Programme for Government 2015-16


Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I, too, congratulate the First Minister and all the Government team on an excellent programme for a stronger Scotland and, in particular, the support to tackle many of the social ills that are in our society.

There are a number of proposals in the First Minister’s statement and the Government’s programme that I want to touch on. Let me start with food and drink. The industry is an important source of employment in my constituency. We are the home of excellent beef and lamb, and fishing is a strong industry in the north-east of Scotland. We have seen oilseed rape move from being simply a commodity that puts nitrogen back into the soil to delivering first-class extra-virgin oil, which is used in the best kitchens in these islands and beyond. We have seen the north-east of Scotland become a centre for garlic production—we are exporting garlic to France. We are innovating and we are continuing to improve.

There are challenges for the food and drink industry, and I hope that the Government, in supporting the industry, particularly through funding for small and medium-sized enterprises, will look at how we can improve branding for SMEs. Some of the recent troubles in the fish-processing industry in my constituency are based on the inability of even quite large firms to control their own destiny to an adequate extent. Firms do not own the brands but are doing work for others, on short-term contracts, and when the contract moves the effects can be devastating. Firms also do not control the sources of supply of the raw materials for many of the products that they produce. I would like to think that the Government could give support, through the enterprise agencies, to enable companies to develop branding and more robust channels of supply of raw materials. We produce some of the best food and drink in the world, but we can do more and we need more support.

The Government said that it will look at the planning system, which can also touch on the subject of food and drink. When we grant planning consent, be that at local government level or at Government level, we are granting a privilege to the commercial companies that have applied for consent, so we should perhaps be more ambitious about what we seek to get in return. For example, when we are giving planning consent to supermarkets, which exercise heavy control in the food and drink sector, planning consent conditions that require local sourcing could be a part of national policy, which would be implemented by local councils and elsewhere. Under European law, “local” is likely to mean “within Europe”, but we could say that produce must come from small and medium-sized enterprises. We can perhaps create the opportunity for such companies to grow by operating the planning system slightly differently.

The document “A Stronger Scotland: the Government’s Programme for Scotland 2015-16” talks about digital infrastructure to some degree. During the recess, our week away was in Plockton, which was an absolute delight. The town has 6 Mbps broadband, an airport and a railway station—three things that I do not have at home. We even had a 2G phone signal, which I do not have at home. The UK Government’s programme for new masts and phone coverage does not do terribly well; there is not a single new mast in Scotland. I hope that the excellent results that we are seeing in the delivery of better broadband across the Highlands will take us to near universality. For those rural dwellers on exchange-only lines, like me, who cannot be connected to superfast broadband, I hope that some priority will be given to the development and implementation of solutions.

We are making terrific progress and we are ahead of where we might have expected to be some time ago. The programme for Government is excellent, and I commend it to all members.


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