MCALPINE WELCOMES MEASURES TO IMPROVE SERVICES FOR RURAL COMMUNITIES

South of Scotland MSP Joan McAlpine has welcomed plans by the Scottish Government to set up a Rural Connectivity Commission.

The body will be established after independence to consider how to improve issues such as mobile and broadband coverage, postal services and transport links for rural communities.

 It will consider how to deliver a better deal for our rural communities and businesses while also ensuring clarity for industry and stability for investors.

The Commission will work within a new Scottish regulatory landscape intended to ensure that Scotland’s vital utilities remain sustainable and that markets operate in the long-term interests of all customers.

The paper, which will be published as the Scottish Cabinet visits Wick, will also confirm that on independence, the Government will take steps to ensure that all coastal areas of Scotland, such as Caithness and Sutherland, receive 100 per cent of the net income from the Crown Estate seabed leasing revenues.

The paper sets out five areas where independence would improve rural connectivity including; improved digital connectivity, fairer parcel and delivery charges, beter transport links, fairer fuel prices and achieveing the true potential of rural renewables.

Ms McAlpine said:

“Our rural communities make a very valuable contribution to Scotland’s economy and have huge potential to develop even further.

“Too often people who live outside urban areas poorly served by the market and the UK Government when it comes to services vital in the 21st century.

“For example – Internet and mobile coverage are becoming almost as essential as water and electricity – yet fewer than half of all households in Scotland get superfast broadband compared with 71 per cent in England. That is because the Westminster controlled regulators insist on coverage on areas of high population density.

“It does not have to be like this, We could reach the standard of other small countries like the Netherlands and Switzerland, which are among the best connected in the world.

“We have a quarter of Europe’s wind and wave power, half the tidal power, and the opportunity to reindustrialise our country through a green energy revolution.

“I have been told that upgrading the National Grid to carry this new energy alone could create 450 direct jobs in south-west Scotland and 1500 across the country as a whole.

“But – the UK Government are withdrawing support from green energy projects in response to pressure from Tory backbenchers.

“With independence, we will have the powers to regulate these crucial services and to remove barriers which are holding back rural areas from achieving their full potential.


“There are opportunities to change so much for the better.”

Notes

The commission will be announced in the constitutional paper Connecting Rural Scotland, being published today (MON).

The five key areas for improvement are:

Improved digital connectivity, including mobile telecoms and broadband. In an independent Scotland, we would have the power to issue future spectrum licences and could include coverage obligations that ensure maximum availability of mobile telecoms throughout Scotland as a whole. We would also be able to consider more flexible approaches for broadband that could extend digital services.

Fairer parcel and delivery charges and ownership of the Royal Mail. Independence will put the regulation of mail in Scotland into the hands of the Scottish Parliament, enabling fairer prices to be delivered across all Scotland, including rural and remote areas. The Universal Service Obligation will be maintained, with a mail service to match, as a minimum, a six days a week mail service.

Fairer fuel prices and energy bills. With independence, the Scottish Government will examine the benefits of introducing a Fuel Duty Regulator mechanism to stabilise prices for business and consumers and how this could be made to work alongside our Scottish Energy Fund. We also plan an on-going permanent cut in energy bills. With the powers of independence we will permanently remove the costs of the Warm Homes Discount and Energy Company Obligation (ECO) from household energy bills.

Better transport links. Successive Scottish Governments have improved transport within current devolved powers, and this Government has prioritised investment in transport infrastructure, including upgrading of the A9, and a £5 billion package of funding and investment for rail, including the Borders Railway development. With independence, we will be able to take forward this Government’s commitment to reduce Air Passenger Duty (APD) by 50 per cent, with a view to eventual abolition.

Achieving the true potential of rural renewables. The right policy support in an independent Scotland – based around the continuation of the GB-wide electricity market and a fairer transmission charging regime – has the potential to have a transformational impact on rural communities. This Scottish Government has made the commitment that, with independence, island and mainland coastal communities would receive 100% of all leasing revenues from activities in their adjacent waters, including those from renewables deployment. This would reverse the current situation where this income is taken by the Crown Estate Commissioners.

The Rural Connectivity Commission Payer can be viewed here: www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2014/07/8193

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