A week at Westminster with Gordon MP Malcolm Bruce

Jubilee sees union flags aplenty

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee has been celebrated with real enthusiasm across the UK and around the world. Whether you are a monarchist, royalist or even a republican there is recognition that the Queen has given remarkable service and weathered sharp changes in the fortunes of the public view of the Monarchy.

I remember as a child the sudden death of George VI which brought the queen to the throne at the unexpectedly early age of 26. I remember the Coronation – for many of us the first time we watched television – on a small, grainy, black and white screen.

Throughout the UK, celebrations took place almost everywhere. Most were modest, community events such as the picnic in my own village with permanent memorials being unveiled.

The media tried to make out that somehow Scotland was less enthusiastic than the rest of the UK. However it was difficult to see how that was the case as Union flags proliferated and in the North East, we play host to the royal family every summer.

I think flags should be used sparingly on ceremonial occasions. The saltire, the EU flag and the Union flag all have their proper place.

NHS targets deliver but caution needed

There is little doubt that setting targets for the time patients have to wait from diagnosis to treatment has been a significant driver of improvements to the NHS. However, it can also lead to a distortion of priorities. The focus tends to be on high profile illnesses.

This may mean that other priorities are downgraded – especially with ever tighter budgets. There is also an issue of defining waiting times. A health authority may have difficulty providing local treatment within the time scale and will offer a treatment elsewhere - knowing that in most cases patients will elect to wait longer to be treated by the consultant they know, rather than travel.

In fact, if all or most patients elected to travel it is doubtful if the capacity would exist. As a result, published data on how long patients wait for treatment is, at best, misleading.

However, this is not a case for abandoning targets. We just need to have a more transparent presentation, and some flexibility to ensure that sectors of the NHS do not become neglected ‘Cinderella’ services.

“Listening” government blurred its budget message

The Government has announced a climb down on a number of tax changes announced in the budget – namely the so-called ‘pasty’ tax, the static caravan tax and the charities tax. The Government’s case is that it was consulting on the proposals and has listened, and therefore should not be criticised for taking public opinion into account.

The trouble is, of course, that a huge amount of negative attention has been focused on these relatively minor proposals, distracting from an unprecedented increase in the personal tax allowance which cut taxes for 24 million and taken millions out of tax altogether.

That, and cuts in levels of corporation tax and inflation indexing of most benefits was the real and positive story of the budget which became lost in the furore over tax changes.

On the pasty tax, for example, local bakers welcomed the proposed changes which put them on a level playing field with supermarkets and national chains whose publicity machines have swamped the debate.

There remains an issue of what is to be done about tax paid by the very rich. Thanks to the Lib Dems, capital gains was raised from the 18% rate set by Labour to 28%.

Yet, at a time of economic squeeze where most people are finding incomes frozen or cut, there is justifiable resentment against huge bonuses paid for less than successful top management. Government must tackle that.

Lincolnshire not the wind model for Aberdeenshire

A few weeks ago in this column, I supported the case for a moratorium on dealing with planning applications for wind farms across Aberdeenshire.

Lincolnshire County Council has adopted a policy that would effectively stop further wind farm developments altogether. It is, to an extent, gesture politics as applicants will simply appeal to the Secretary of State.

There needs to be a balance between planning and national policy. It would also help if the economic benefits of wind energy were more equitably shared with the local community.

I know from my post bag that there is a vocal minority totally opposed to all forms of onshore wind. There are others who have legitimate concerns over specific proposals.

Environmental considerations do matter and the planning process needs to be able to evaluate them objectively.

The Lincolnshire approach is not the way for Aberdeenshire. A balanced and measured way forward is.