Diary of MSP Alex Fergusson

Prompt payment

As anyone running a business knows, getting the cash that you are owed into the bank is the single most important thing that ensures the sustainability of the business.

For too long, public bodies have been guilty of postponing payments to their creditors for as long as possible, and many still are. This makes life tough for any business, but particularly so for small local businesses such as those on which our region is heavily dependent.

So a recent report putting Dumfries and Galloway Council at the top of the tree for making payments within 10 days is to be loudly applauded. Our council actually achieved 91% of all payments within the recommended timescale – ahead of all other councils in Scotland, some of whose figures are nothing less than disgraceful. If nothing else, that shows that our council recognises the difficulties of running small businesses and that is to be greatly welcomed.

Speeding

An interesting situation regarding speeding offences was recently brought to my attention by a constituent who had been “done” south of the border. Instead of an automatic fine and points on his licence, he was offered the alternative of attending a speed awareness course. He would have to pay for the course. Being understandably attracted by this alternative penalty, he made inquiries as to where he could attend a course, only to discover that there are none in Scotland.

I was aware this type of alternative penalty existed in the USA as my son had attended one having been caught speeding in North Carolina (he must take after his mother!). But I was not aware they existed in the UK until I was contacted by my constituent. So I wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to ask why these courses hadn’t been introduced in Scotland, and secured a pretty non-committal reply.

I am left asking whether it is right that I can be caught speeding in Cumbria and be offered a speed awareness course as penance whereas if I am caught speeding on the A75 I’ll get fined and three points on my licence. Clearly not everything south of the border is bad!

Abseiling to Save the Children

A couple of months ago I spoke at a lunch in Ayr for the local branch of Save the Children, at which I was informed of an event in Dumfries and Galloway which is being held to raise funds for that same excellent charity. It is a new event in the calendar and takes the shape of an abseil down the lighthouse at the Mull of Galloway, which will take place on Saturday, September 15. Despite my recent act of foolhardy bravado on the zip wire at Laggan Outdoor Centre, I remain someone who gets dizzy at the top of a small flight of stairs, so the thought of lowering myself down the outside of a lighthouse is not one that instantly appeals.

The cause, however, does appeal and, while I made no promise to take part myself, I would encourage those of a less pathetic constitution than I to help to make this a huge success. Details can be obtained from Jennifer Miller on 01776 853 272 – see you there (maybe!).

FC Twente – the link

Readers will, I’m sure, remember the great occasion a couple of years ago when the owner, staff and players from the Dutch football club FC Twente came to Stranraer. It was a fantastic experience and I am certain none of the youngsters who took part in the training sessions will forget it. It came about by some guys in Stranraer helping to get tickets for Hampden for a terminally ill FC Twente fan – a whole relationship grew from that heart-warming story and it is a relationship that continues to grow.

How fantastic therefore that a “team” (I use the word in the loosest possible way) was recently invited over to Enschede to take part in a Dutch version of a Highland Games. Much of the detail is best to gloss over, but suffice it to say that the Stranraer representatives were treated like royalty, twice appearing on TV and being mobbed by locals wanting to know more about Stranraer and Scotland. The idea is to make this an annual event, and it is one that should attract support, as I believe a growing link with a town like Enschede could only be to the long-term benefit of Stranraer. Well done the team. You did us proud.

Pinta price

The price of a pinta milk – or a litre in this day and age – has been much in the headlines of late, and it is understandable that should be so. Dairy farmers are used to getting a bit less for their milk during the summer months when, in theory, it is a bit cheaper to produce. So the 2p per litre reduction that was imposed in June was probably no great surprise. However, a further 2ppl cut in August has proved to be too much. I completely sympathise with farmers’ frustrations. Most are tied into contracts with the processors (who are in turn tied into contracts with the retailers) that are virtually impossible to break, with the result they end up being price-takers rather than price-makers. The 4p cut takes them dangerously close to the cost of production.

Charity begins at home

Or perhaps nowadays in an empty shop. The sight of charity shops in any high street is never a welcome sight, as it tends to suggest the premises in question cannot make a go of things commercially, though that is not always the case. However, an empty shop in St John’s Town of Dalry has prompted locals to get together to run a community charity shop, and it’s great. There’s stacks of merchandise – books, china, glassware, clothing, CDs and more – all of excellent quality, and most of what can’t be sold can be recycled, bringing in a small income. Everyone benefits, but no-one more so than the community itself. Well done, Dalry.

Jobsworth

I recently moved from my Edinburgh flat, and inevitably had a number of items that required a special pick-up by the council. I duly booked the pick-up, paid in advance and was impressed to receive a text message the evening before to remind me the goods should be on the pavement by 7am next day. They were. So far so good.

Four days later they were still there, according to my former neighbour who texted me to ask when they were going to be removed. Needless to say, some interesting calls took place, and I got nowhere until I enlisted the help of a friendly and helpful City of Edinburgh councillor who, presumably, administered an appropriate kick to the relevant backside.

At the end of the second day of my interesting calls, I had an increasingly heated conversation with a hopeless official with whom I was making little, if any, progress. Having conveyed my frustration and anger I assured him that while my anger was not aimed at him personally, I felt it was fully justified. His reply took my breath away.

“Yes, sir,” he said. “But I must ask you whether Edinburgh City Council has handled your inquiry to your satisfaction.” I can only assume he was new to the job!