Category Archives: Breadalbane Quair

A Long Road For Farepak Customers

You may recall in previous Quair articles, I raised the issue of constituents who had lost money following the collapse of Farepak, the Christmas savings firm.  I also held a public meeting in Aberfeldy.  We have now heard that customers and agents of Farepak will ultimately receive half of the money they lost when the company collapsed – after liquidators BDO said that final payments will be made to those who lost out at the end of August.

Farepak collapsed in October 2006 owing £37m to more than 119,000 savers and I was contacted by a lot of constituents who had been affected.  While savers are to recover just half of their money back the final bill for the administrators and their legal advisers has already exceeded £8 million. It is understood that the UK Government will also meet the costs of the company directors who have been cleared – costs estimated as much as £6million.

After a six year wait it is shameful that customers and agents will only receive half their money back while administrators pocket millions and taxpayers pick up the tab for the company directors’ legal costs.  There is something seriously wrong when liquidations can take years to finalise.  Sadly, over 200 of those waiting for compensation have actually passed away while waiting for the insolvency gravy train to come to a halt.

It should be stressed that Farepak’s liquidator has confirmed that dividends will be paid to the next of kin or, where applicable, the estate of the agent or customer.  Also, creditors who have changed their address since submitting their original claim but have not notified the Claims Management Team should register their change of address by sending details of their name, their agent’s number, the amount of their claim, their old address, their new address and their signature to Claims Management Team, Farepak Food & Gifts Limited – In Liquidation, PO Box 3404, Swindon, SN2 9EQ within two weeks.

Having waited for so long, I would hate to see anyone missing out on getting back at least some of what they are due.

I was delighted to be in Aberfeldy recently to perform the tape cutting ceremony to  officially open the new garden green space which has been created from the jungle of weeds that had developed over the years at the back of the Town Hall.  The area has been landscaped with the help of a grant from the Griffin fund.  During the day the Horizon Social Club held their all day garden tea party to raise funds.  Despite the rain, there was a good turnout, and the Horizon Club all day cafe was very popular. Congratulations to all those involved.

I was pleased to give a warm welcome to the announcement by the Scottish Government’s Minister for Infrastructure, that the £3bn programme of work to make the A9 dual carriageway all the way from Inverness to Perth will start two years ahead of the original schedule. This will mean that work on these important improvements will start two years ahead of the original schedule.

Since 2007, we have already seen £50million invested in improving safety and traffic flow on the A9 and once this programme is completed the road will, at long last, be dual carriageway along the whole of that stretch from Perth to Inverness.

The A9 is a massively important arterial route running along Scotland’s spine and giving goods, commuters and visitors access to the many communities along its length.  Any fatal accident is one too many but the number of accidents and the number of fatalities on the A9 have born tragic witness to the need for this work to be done.  I am proud that after years and years of campaigning by the A9 communities, it is our Scottish Government that has put in place the plans, the money and the timetable that will see these important safety improvements brought into being.

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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Breadalbane Quair article – July 2012

I mentioned in last month’s Quair article about the threat to the Black Watch name.  I was so concerned about this and I had received so many representations from constituents, that I obtained a debate in Parliament on this.

This debate was the first opportunity for Ministers to clearly set out the UK Government’s intentions. While taking some encouragement from the Minister apparently ruling out any threat to the golden thread of regimental names, cap badges and insignia, it is disappointing that he did nothing to unequivocally end the uncertainty over the future of our historic units. This is an issue about numbers as well as names.  My SNP colleagues and I will certainly seek to hold the Westminster Government to account on this.

I want to highlight to readers the fact that hundreds of millions of pounds of Housing and Council Tax Benefit are going unclaimed in Scotland. Improving take-up rates for income-related benefits would benefit low-income families and would also enable them to be more active in the local economy.

It is particularly important as we approach the implementation of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, that no-one misses out on transitional support they may be entitled to. Research by Children 1st has revealed that the total loss of Housing and Council Tax Benefit to Scotland is between £248 – 443million.  That is a huge amount of money that could be of real help to those who are struggling to make ends meet in these difficult times.It is estimated that between 15,200 –24,000 couples with children in Scotland are losing out on an average of £15 a week or £780 a year in unclaimed Council Tax Benefit.

Given those figures, I am sure that there are many hard-pressed families in Perth & North Perthshire who are not getting the support they are entitled to and I would urge anyone who thinks they might be missing out to get their entitlement checked out.

The UK Government was recently forced into some policy u-turns over their ludicrous plans for both a ‘pie tax’ and a ‘caravan tax’.  These very poorly thought out proposals would have had a huge impact on small businesses across Perthshire.

This daft and damaging, half-baked idea would have upped the price of a pie and would have meant more paperwork and reduced profits for many hard-pressed businesses.  The Westminster Government claimed the aim of the change was to ‘clarify the definition of hot takeaway food’, but ended up in a muddle that was as clear as gravy, leading to some utterly ludicrous potential scenarios around the question of when a pie would count as hot or not.  Campaigners rightly pointed out that these plans were a recipe for disaster and I am very pleased that they have finally been ditched.

I am also pleased that they have backtracked on another daft scheme they had up their sleeves – the planned ‘caravan tax’ – which had also angered many people.  I have received numerous representations from constituents on this issue and I raised it with the Treasury.  The UK Government could do with a bit more reversing on this one, though, as they still intend to impose VAT on static caravans, albeit at 5% rather than the original 20%.

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

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

Breadalbane Quair and Newsround North – May 2012

I was concerned to see the recent UK Government tax credit changes, which came into force at the start of April.  I believe that the decision will cause severe hardship for working families and could plunge many households into poverty.   A document produced by HM Revenue and Customs in December 2011 showed that 84,900 households in Scotland will no longer be eligible for tax credits when the changes to the threshold kick-in.  This will mean that 118,700 children in Scotland will be affected.

If these families cannot find up to 8 hours extra work a week, they face the loss of £3,870 from their household income.  To try to force people to find more hours of work to make up for the reduction in Tax Credits ignores, firstly, the very real difficulties that there are in the UK job market as a result of the UK Government’s austerity programme and, secondly, the impact that might have on childcare arrangements.

The families affected are not living a life of luxury; they are low income households who will be forced to cut back on basics such as heating costs and new clothes. In addition there is an impact on the wider economy with households spending less money locally, reducing even further the availability of jobs.

The recent budget at Westminster also spelled out a number of difficulties for local people.  The Chancellor’s failed to act on fuel prices, as he used the Budget to confirm that fuel duty will increase in line with inflation.

My SNP Westminster colleagues and I have repeatedly called for a fair fuel regulator, which would prevent high prices at the pump and stop the government receiving a windfall from higher prices.  People in Highland Perthshire, and right across Scotland, are crying out for action to bring down fuel prices, but the Chancellor has ignored calls to reduce fuel duty and forgotten about his pre-election pledge to establish a regulator.

We are producing millions of barrels of oil every day in Scotland yet we are subjected to the highest fuel prices in Europe. With the bulk of the pump price made up of tax, the Treasury should stop this highway robbery because soaring fuel prices are hindering economic recovery.  It means less money for ordinary people to spend, higher costs for producers and is especially damaging in Highland Perthshire where car reliance is high and fuel is a necessity and not a luxury.

In July 2008, George Osborne launched plans for a ‘Fair Fuel Stabiliser’, describing it as a ‘common sense plan’.  As well as being common sense, it is unanswerable and fair for Scotland, given that we pay among the highest fuel prices in Europe. With record North Sea oil and gas revenues flowing to the Treasury, we need to see some of that money used to bring fuel prices down – and to keep them stable – through a fuel duty regulator.

I believe that the decision to freeze personal tax allowances for the over-65s will hit pensioners hard.  Higher personal tax allowances granted to those over the age of 65 – £10,500 for those aged 65 to 74 and £10,660 for those aged 75 plus (2012-13) – will be frozen until they come into line with the basic personal tax allowance.  While the increased personal tax allowances for those under 65 are welcome, the decision to freeze the higher age allowances granted to those aged over 65 will hit pensioners hard.  Given the pressures of soaring fuel and energy costs and significant food inflation pensioners are going to be hit very hard by this new blow to their income.

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