Category Archives: Newsround North

Winter Preparedness in Enchanted Perthshire

It was a great privilege for me to be asked to formally open the 10th Anniversary show of the Enchanted Forest, a Perthshire Big Tree Country event and Scotland’s premier sound and light show at Forestry Commission Scotland’s Faskally Wood near Pitlochry.

The event celebrates its 10th Anniversary this year and it is hoping to beat all previous box office records, attracting almost 30,000 visitors in 2012. This is undoubtedly one of Scotland’s finest events. Not only does it provide an essential boost for the local economy, it opens up the beauty of this area’s stunning scenery to literally thousands of people, and showcases it in a brand new light. I can’t think of a better way to cheer up these October evenings than a trip to The Enchanted Forest.

The number of visitors that The Enchanted Forest draws into Perthshire at a time that might otherwise be pretty quiet in terms of tourists is simply magical.  I hope that those who come initially just for the show might be tempted to return after seeing just how beautiful Perthshire in autumn can be.

The 2012 show “FLOW” has been designed by a creative team led by Derek Allan which includes Scottish designers Simon Wilkinson (lighting) and RJ McConnell (sound), as well as Dundee based visual artists Dalziel + Scullion, whose work is supported thanks to the generosity of a grant from Creative Scotland in celebration of Year of Creative Scotland 2012. Together they have created a dazzling and engaging show which not only celebrates 10 Years of The Enchanted Forest, but is in itself a celebration of the stunning woodland setting in which the event is set. For further information about the Enchanted Forest, visit the Enchanted Forest website at http://www.enchantedforest.org.uk 

Along with Councillor Mike Williamson, who represents Highland Ward on Perth & Kinross Council, I recently met with representatives of Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE).  The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the issue of the disruption to electricity supplies in Highland Perthshire, following adverse winter weather.

Readers will be aware that last year saw a disruption to supply and confusion over the compensation offered to residents.  Mike and I were keen to hear about SSE’s plans for the coming winter to ensure that similar difficulties do not arise.  We met with Roddy Grubb and Alan Broadbent.

Last winter saw five exceptional events within four weeks, with high winds and large rainfall.  I asked what caused the long term issues last year.  I was told that operatives need to make sites secure before they can resolve issues and this can involve removing trees to gain access to areas.  This can be difficult in severe weather.  Also when wet snow lies on powerlines, it can be the equivalent of trying to hang a mini car on the line!

We were informed that SSE has now put clear compensation arrangements in place and they are to be proactive about getting their message across.  They have Facebook and Twitter feeds that are manned by a dedicated team.  They will also be giving details to SSE stores to get information to as many outlets as possible.  It is clear that SSE has learned lessons from previous winters and has contingency plans in place.  I hope that the winter is not as harsh this year and that the contingency plans do not require to be enacted.

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 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

Newsround North Article – March 2012

I was pleased to see that plans for widening the 10 mile stretch of the A9 between Luncarty and the Tay Crossing at a cost of £200 million recently went on display to the public.  I recently visited the exhibition in Bankfoot

The Scottish Government has prioritised the dualling of the A9 in a way in which none of its predecessors came close to achieving.  We now have a firm commitment with timescales and price tags for the whole route between Perth and Inverness.

I was delighted that plans for the stretch between Luncarty and the Tay Crossing were on public display in Perth, Dunkeld and Bankfoot, and it was good to see so many local folk attend the exhibitions, examine the plans and provide feedback to ensure that the detailed designs will best reflect local needs and minimise the disruption that the work will inevitably cause.

My SNP Westminster colleagues and I have called on the UK Government to step-in and speed up the compensation process for Farepak families after liquidators confirmed in a letter that 207 agents and customers of the Christmas saving scheme have died since the collapse five years ago.

Many of my constituents in Highland Perthshire lost Christmas savings when Farepak collapsed in October 2006 owing £37m to more than 119,000 savers (20,000 customers in Scotland).  I also held a well attended public meeting in Aberfeldy on this issue.  More than five years later, savers are likely to recover just 5p in the pound, while the final bill for the administrators and their legal advisers has already exceeded £8 million.

It is very sad to learn that, five years after Farepak collapsed, more than two hundred customers have died waiting to receive any of their money back.  There is something seriously wrong when liquidations can take years to finalise and people are actually dying before the insolvency gravy train comes to a halt.  That really does underline the serious need for an overhaul of the insolvency industry

Five years on from the Farepak collapse that nightmare of Christmas past is still being felt by many low income families.  Savers are likely to recover just 5p in the pound, while the final bill for the administrators and their legal advisers has already exceeded £8 million.  It is simply disgraceful that, years after the company collapsed, there are customers still waiting to get any of their savings back.

Current UK insolvency regulation has failed.  Part of the problem seems to be that the industry is largely self-regulated.  UK Ministers should step in without further delay bring this sorry tale to an end and ensure that the savers receive a reasonable return rather than their money going to swell the already bulging pockets of large accountancy firms

Research has shown that Farepak families are not alone in losing out, with other High Street and high profile examples include: Zavvi, the music retail chain, which went into administration in November 2008, owing unsecured creditors nearly £185m – including 510,000 unredeemed vouchers worth an estimated £4.1m. Creditors are just receiving 15p in the pound, while administrators Ernst & Young collected millions in fees.

Furniture chain, Land of Leather, went into administration with debts of £37m in January 2009. Creditors received just 9p in the pound, while administrators Deloitte and Touche collected fees of £2.5m.

Liquidations have no statutory time limit and some, such as the Israel-British Bank, which entered liquidation in 1974 was only finalised in September 2009. Also in 1974, holiday firm Apal Travel went into liquidation – finalised only in August 20089 by which time some of the holidaymakers entitled to receive the 74p in the pound settlement had probably died in the intervening 35 years.

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