Thursday, 29 January 2009

Carnegie College - an economic driver

This week the Scotland Office hosted a briefing session and reception for the Principals and Chairmen for Scotland’s forty three further education colleges including Bill McIntosh, the Principal of Carnegie College, and Graham Bowstead, his Chairman.

It was a valuable exchange – even after I tipped a glass of wine (fortunately white) over Bill’s suit. Bill – hope it’s dry now!

The part that the college can play in the economic recovery that will be necessary in West Fife to overcome this recession is immense. Upskilling and reskilling thousands of young and mature students, including those for the new Aircraft Carriers, is vital work. The college is a real economic driver. And Bill wants Fifers to increasingly be given the opportunity to study degrees and beyond through the college hence their tie up with Napier University.

Bill, with Graham’s support, is not only revolutionising the image, standards and efficiency at the college but is also playing an important role in Dunfermline’s revitalisation through the festivals, Royal Dunfermline and much more.

The College and Dunfermline has many challenges but with Bill I am confident that they can be overcome.

Alex Salmond is not the Queen

"It would be important to recognise that the first minister is not the prime minister, nor is Alex Salmond the Queen.”

This was Tavish Scott on Radio Scotland this morning. He’s a natural communicator – with a touch of humour.

Tavish is doing a grand job as our Scottish Leader. Not only did he lead the charge on the HBOS/Lloyds TSB merger but has remained principled and responsive throughout Alex Salmond’s budget debacle.

Keep going Tavish.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Missing the moment

I missed President Obama’s historic inaugural speech. Watching the event in the Commons’ Tea Room a huge collective groan followed the Division bell rang just as the President opened his mouth to speak to the world.

We all obediently trooped through the voting lobbies to cast our vote on the Financial Crisis Motion. It was the Tories who called the vote so was it sour grapes from them? Or was it Labour’s fault for the timing of the debate? Whoever was to blame their timing was immaculate.

I gave my staff time off to watch the proceedings. It was a pleasure to see so much joy and hope in the US, all parts of the world and, most of all, in 1 High Street, Dunfermline. We need to give this great man all the support he needs to deliver.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

John Cairney

After a packed day of meetings and surgeries, Janet and I had a hugely entertaining evening at Blair Castle in Culross as guests of Roy McCormack (from the Culross Festival) and his wife. Out of retirement of the umpteenth time John Cairney had an audience of eighty or so spellbound for two stints of forty five minutes as he took us on a journey through the life of Robert Burns. He has a natural passion for Burns which I don't believe I have ever seen before.

John is such an engaging communicator as he pulled different members of the audience into his performance. Interspersed with the beautiful voice of local singer Mandy Vipond it was a splendid evening. It was a real Homecoming for John as he has recently returned from a life in New Zealand - I'm glad he's back.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Fife Veterans Association

At Defence Questions yesterday I took the opportunity to praise the work of the Fife Veteran's Association. Meeting regularly at the Royal British Legion they do a good job at providing social and campaigning support. Here's what I said:

"Will the Minister join me in praising the work of the Fife Veterans Association, who do the sort of work that he described—voluntary work, promoting and standing up for veterans throughout the kingdom? The association does a splendid job promoting the rights of those veterans, and it deserves the support of the House and beyond.

Kevan Jones, the Minister, responded:
"I am pleased to join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Fife veterans. I visited Scotland before Christmas and met Veterans Scotland. I pay tribute to them and the range of organisations involved in Veterans Scotland that are doing a fantastic job in Scotland to promote veterans' affairs and offer practical assistance to veterans."

New scanner is simply not enough

The Health Minister officially opened the new MRI scanner at Queen Margaret Hospital today.

There is still a lot of bitterness in West Fife that Kirkcaldy was chosen over Dunfermline for Fife’s main specialist hospital. I have been pressing to secure many more services for Queen Margaret as I don’t want people for West Fife to have to travel to Kirkcaldy unless it is absolutely necessary.

Although the new MRI scanner, which is being installed ahead of schedule, is welcome it is simply not enough. Medical advances are being made all the time which will allow more services to be delivered without trauma and critical care back up. Local people I speak to want those services at Queen Margaret and they don’t want to wait years for them to be delivered.

At the last Scottish Parliamentary Election the SNP’s representative promised to reverse the “downgrading” of Queen Margaret. Only weeks after the election the Health Secretary rejected that. If she is not going to deliver on her candidate’s promise she should at least provide the additional services that our hospital needs and deserves.

Monday, 12 January 2009

They make buses in Dunfermline!

Did you know they make buses in Dunfermline? Simclar is not just an electronics firm they also fabricate the bus shell for Alexanders in Falkirk and make the cable networks for Bombardier Trains. I spent the afternoon at the firm on Pitreavie Industrial Estate as the latest stage of my business tour.

That morning I plunged down into the depths of the dock at Babcock to witness the preparations for the construction of the aircraft carriers. It's a huge and surprisingly complex project that involves building the foundation runners for the super crane, new gates, a wider dock and a temporary dam to hold back the River Forth. There's certainly a sense of anticipation of great things to come at the yard.

Craig and Rose are the internationally renowned paint makers for the Forth Bridge. Based at Halbeath they are now a small volume specialist and high quality paint makers. With a sound business model they have been substantially insulated from the recession as they have not been dependent on the new build housing industry.

Towards the end of my four day tour I dropped into Parsons Peebles Generation which is a leading worldwide supplier of high voltage motors and generators. Their General Manager Troy Saunders is passionate about the business which after a few years of turmoil is now thriving and growing.

The drive and energy of our leaders and their staff is the most powerful asset that our business leaders possess.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Business Tour - first half

As those generous Parliamentary authorities have given us MPs an extra week of recess I decided to spend that week touring the industrial estates of West Fife to get a feel for how these businesses were coping in the recession.

And so far I have found a tremendous fighting spirit from almost everyone I meet. The recession is not hitting all businesses uniformly as different markets have been affected in different way. For example customers are seeking repairs rather than buying new whether that be a car or a house. So some businesses benefit from changes like this and others are adapting to the new circumstances.

Take Kenny's Music in Elgin Street. Owner Kenny Graham (pictured with me above) took over after Sound Control went bust just when the banks started to get into trouble. But Kenny is shrewd businessman. He knows his market and his customers. The quality of service and advice attracts the wise customer from far and wide who want the confidence to know what they are buying is good quality and right for them. I am confident he will make that business thrive.

I'm not saying that all is rosy in the garden - far from it. Some businesses, especially those connected to the building industry, have seen a considerable drop in trade.

We need a financial stimulus to boost trade and build confidence at this crucial time. I favour building more social housing, new railway lines and investing in renewable energy schemes - it's important we boost the economy in a sustainable way. However, the businesspeople I have met on the first half of my four day tour are fighters who haven't spent years building up a business only to see it collapse in a recession.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Reckless behaviour

Today we heard that the Labour Government has rejected the SNP Government's plea for their capital spend to be brought forward so that they can pay for the new Forth Crossing. I suspect there's a bit of cheap politics on both sides here with the SNP wanting to exploit differences between Edinburgh and London and the Labour Government wanting to remind voters that the SNP have mismanaged their capital spending programme.

What's galling is that we've waited eighteen months for this clash. Meanwhile every day the old bridge gets a little bit older and a little bit weaker steadily reaching towards the date when it has to close to vehicles. It's not just important that the new crossing is built on time but it's also vital that the business community in Fife believes so. Otherwise confidence starts to fade and in the current climate that's the last thing Fife needs. So it's vital a conclusion is reached on the funding - quickly.

Therefore this unseemly squabble must come to an end.

What would be most sensible would be for the SNP to accept that their Scottish Futures Trust is a busted flush. They should accept the Public Private Partnership model of funding as the future of Fife's economy is more important than their hollow commitment to replace PPP.

If the SNP continue to be reckless the UK Government should step in and make the funding available. It's vital that they do.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Dunfermline Heritage Walk

With family in tow and complete with camouflage (a Carnegie Harriers hat) today was an opportunity to learn about Dunfermline's heritage courtesy of the Carnegie Trust and Dunfermline's Heritage Guides led by the inspiring Jack Pryde.

When the official guides graduate from the Jack Pryde Heritage University a fine umbrella and a badge is the only evidence of their participation . That is apart from a sound and deep knowledge of Dunfermline's rich heritage. And there's lots to know as we found out as we travelled from the Mercat Cross, down the High Street, through the Glen, meandered the grounds of the Abbey and completed the tour in the Abbey Church Hall with refreshments.

However, my 4 year old son hasn't yet learned the finer judgements required for public life. Informing me on the steps of the Abbey that the tour is "BORING" is not something I want to hear when whispered but when the decibel level is sufficient to be heard at the dockyard it creates one of those awkward moments when a quick assessment of the effect is essential. I determined that quickly removing Stephen from the earshot of the group was the best course of action.

The walk quite rightly attracts a couple of hundred people each year and is a splendid way of keeping our city's heritage alive. Thank you to everyone who makes this annual gathering possible.