Breadalbane Quair – June 2012

As I write my Quair column, I look forward to joining together with Robbie McIntosh, Marie Curie’s Scottish Events Manager, to officially open the Marie Curie Cancer Care Etape Caledonia which starts in Pitlochry.

This year’s event is going to be the most popular year to date, selling out in record time, with more than 5000 participants signed up to take part in the UK’s biggest closed road cycling event.  I am delighted to be opening this year’s Etape. I have watched this event grow and blossom over the past six years and it is undoubtedly a flagship event, not just for British cycling but for Highland Perthshire as a destination. With thousands of participants raising money for Marie Curie Cancer Care, this event creates a long lasting legacy that will be appreciated by many for years to come.

I was very concerned to hear of plans to do away entirely with the Black Watch name, as well as those of Scotland’s other historic regiments.  To suggest that units like the Black Watch no longer have close ties to their traditional recruiting grounds is absolute nonsense and a slur both on the soldiers of the Black Watch and the communities from which they come.

The numbers that came out recently to welcome the Black Watch home from Afghanistan are testament to the link that still exists.  Perthshire is – and will always be – proud to be the home of the Black Watch and Aberfeldy holds a particularly close bond with the regiment.

These brave soldiers are sent off to war, but we have to understand the things that are really important in bonding them together into the efficient, effective fighting force that they are.  This is precisely what was warned would happen when the merging of the historic Scottish infantry regiments took place.  We were assured that, despite the merger, regimental distinctiveness and traditions would be retained – the ‘golden thread’ as it was called.  Well, that thread has been well and truly snapped and frankly was a fraud from the very start.

Another thing that has made me angry recently, has been the hike in the cost of stamps and first class stamps in particular.  The rise of more than 30 percent in the cost of first class stamps from 46p to 60p is around 10 times the rate of inflation. The increase comes as Ofcom suggests there should be no cap on prices for the vast majority of Royal Mail’s services, including business post, bulk mail, and large letters or parcels sent second class.

For Highland Perthshire businesses and individuals who rely on the postal service, this is a serious blow. A 30 percent hike in first class postal costs is very significant and could make rural businesses less competitive through no fault of their own.

The SNP group at Westminster has led calls for Ofcom to better protect consumers and have repeatedly warned of the risks, particularly to rural communities, of eroding the Universal Service Obligation, the mechanism that makes postal costs the same regardless of the point of origin or the destination in the UK.

Our local businesses are already under pressure from ever increasing costs, especially of fuel, and a lack of access to lending from the banks, so this latest blow is far from ideal. The situation may yet get worse, with Ofcom proposals to allow Royal Mail to charge whatever it wants for first class services, while the cost of second-class postage could eventually rise by more than 50 per cent.  This increase may well be a sign of things to come, and we now need coherent and strategic action from the UK Government to protect Scottish postal services.

I can be contacted at my office in Blairgowrie at 35 Perth Street, Blairgowrie, PH10 6DL, you can call me on 01250 876 576 or email me at wishartp@ parliament.uk

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