A Week at Westminster

By MP for Gordon, Malcolm Bruce

Time for transport investments to come good

Transport developments should feature big time this year. Most of us are hoping that the final obstacles to the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route will be removed allowing it go ahead along with the Tipperty completion.

I also hope that clearance will be given for the Third Don crossing to allow for it to get into the budget so that the artist’s impression of the bridge can become a reality.

I am delighted that Dyce station is to get improved access. This has been one of the most successful station openings of the past 20 years and I hope that it won’t be too long before Kintore joins in the success.

Positive discussions with Network Rail give a glimmer of hope that the bottleneck at Inveramsay Bridge may be resolved although it remains to be seen where it fits in Transport Scotland’s budget. I am trying to establish what effect the long term commitment to a dual carriageway for the A96 will have on projects such as Inveramsay. I don’t want it to be delayed as Tipperty has been through linking it to the AWPR.

It is also welcome that the coalition government’s offer of a contribution of £50 million towards the upgrade of the sleeper service appears to have been matched by the Scottish Government.

I hope Ministers will also give up the idea of trying to end the East Coast main line franchise at Edinburgh thus extending the journey time between London and Aberdeen. It would also necessitate changing at Edinburgh – with luggage handling challenges and difficulties with through seat reservations – in other words a wholly bad deal for the passengers.

Government backs post offices with £1.34 billion

The post office network faces the New Year in better shape than at any time I can remember. The Minister for Royal Mail and the Post Office network is my good friend and colleague Ed Davey who has made it clear that unlike its Labour and Tory predecessors there will be no programme of closures.

£1.34 billion is being made available over the next four years to secure a network of 11,500 post offices. The objective is to sustain and improve services and speed up transactions. Retail trials of the local post office model of a partnership between retailers and the Post Office have proved popular and subsidies will continue for post offices that provide a vital social service but cannot be profitable.

One small benefit of the nationalisation of the Royal Bank of Scotland is that its customers can now use the Post Office network, something that was strenuously resisted when it was in private ownership.

The Minister has also made it clear that the universal service and six day delivery will continue.

Meanwhile I have signed a House of Commons motion tabled by my colleague, neighbouring MP, Sir Robert Smith calling for an end to discriminatory charging by mail order companies to the North East. In some cases, retailers are charging a premium even when goods are sent by Royal Mail and no premium applies. I hope we can get this practice ended soon.

Archives reminder of my role on gas gathering

The opening of the public archives under the 30 year rule always uncovers some interesting items, some revealing and others just a reminder of half forgotten history.

One that affected me was the decision by Mrs Thatcher to veto a proposed North Sea gas gathering pipeline. At the time, I was the Scottish Liberals Energy Spokesman and a prospective candidate for the seat I was to win two years later. I was also an oil and gas journalist at the time, and close to many of the key players in the industry.

The idea was for the UK and Norwegian Governments to underwrite the proposed pipeline network, which would be financed by the industry. It would secure gas from the British and Norwegian sectors of the North Sea, justify massive investment in downstream processing, and provide tens of thousands of jobs in construction – using the UK as a land bridge to the Continent.

My telegram to Mrs Thatcher did not have the desired effect, but the fact that David Howell resigned as Energy Minister reveals a divided cabinet and I suspect, as I did at the time, that Mrs Thatcher’s opposition was largely ideological – not least because the Norwegian part of the project was driven by Statoil, the kind of state oil corporation of which she disapproved. So, a great opportunity was lost and the network was built in a piecemeal fashion over the ensuing thirty years.

After 2011, caution tempers 2012 forecasts

Given the unpredictability of how 2011 turned out it is hardly surprising that commentators are cautious at predicting what 2012 may have in store. Nobody predicted the Arab Spring or the UK’s intervention in Libya.

The scale and longevity of the euro crisis has exceeded even the gloomiest predictions – and it is still far from resolved. Turmoil continues in Syria, with a horrifying scale of violence.

Growth continues in the developing countries but its continuation cannot be guaranteed. Nevertheless, export-minded Scottish companies should surely be casting eyes at the likes of China, India, Brazil and some African countries for overseas market opportunities.

The North East is to a considerable extent cushioned from the worst effects of the downturn, with the high oil price continuing to attract investment. Nevertheless, if we are to have a long term sustainable industry and the potential to scale up renewable energy, the Budget will need to offer further incentives.