Rod Campbell MSP meeting with FSB in Fife update

Our report on our meeting with Rod Campbell MSP on 10th June 2011.

PURPOSE AND OUTCOMES: To meet the newly elected MSP for North East Fife area. Find out his priorities to support business and convey concerns of FSB members to what adversely affects their business and what changes they would like to see brought in by the Scottish Government.

The meeting opened with a lively discussion about planning issues in the Cupar area and in Fife in general.  A number of the attendees expressed concerns about the fact that the local planning department had closed and that planning issues were now being dealt with centrally. There was a lengthy debate about the fact that this had caused planning issues to slow down: this was certainly the experience of many of the attendees, even though the reason for centralising planning was to ensure that everyone could view all Fife planning applications and to smooth the planning process. Mr Campbell’s understanding was that the statistics over Scotland generally showed that the planning process had speeded up but he did not know whether this was the case with Fife.

Mr Campbell accepted that a slow and/or difficult planning process could be a serious deterrent to doing business in Fife and that he was due to speak to the new planning minister and would raise this issue on our member’s behalf, focussing on timescales and the speed of the process.

Discussion turned to the proposed northern relief road. Many of the attendees had strong views on the fact that Cupar and the east of Fife desperately needed this road. The original financing for the road was to have come from housing developers but with the down turn in the housing market, it is likely that the road will not be funded in the near future. Mr Campbell was asked whether the Scottish government would support funding the road. Mr Campbell responded that he would look into this, but his understanding was that the road was not high on the list of capital projects being funded by the government. He encouraged us to continue to lobby as this would increase its chances of going up the pecking order of capital projects.

The was further discussion over the need for the road and Mr Campbell accepted that it was vital for attracting industry to the area and also for encouraging tourism in eastern Fife.

Mr Campbell was asked whether the government would revisit the ‘Tesco tax’. He believed not, although David Clegg of the Courier thought otherwise. A more general discussion over business rates ensued. Businesses often suffered from a real lack of understanding about how rateable values were calculated and the view was expressed that, with a majority, the SNP should be encouraged to consider a more radical review of the business rates system.

Concern was expressed about Fife council’s determination to attract renewable energy businesses into Fife. The issue was that with larger companies coming in, it was likely that local manufacturing industries may find their skilled staff being poached on the promise of much larger salaries. There was some debate over whether this was likely, but the point was well made and Mr Campbell accepted the risk that this could happen. The discussion turned more generally to the question of whether Fife was training people to do the available work and if the education system was letting down young people by not ensuring that they were exposed to all types of work, rather than just encouraged to get qualifications. One of the attendees was particularly passionate about the lack of local people willing to work in the tourist industry and what that said about us as a nation.

Finally, Mr Campbell spoke briefly about the closure of RAF Leuchars. He is on the committee campaigning to keep it open and expressed how impressed he was with the commitment of the local people to save it. He understood that the decision would be announced around 19th July 2011 and the most likely option was that it would be turned into an army camp for soldiers returning from Afghanistan and other combat tours.

The meeting ended with our thanks to Mr Campbell for attending and we looked forward to meeting with him in the future.

David Torrance MSP meeting with FSB in Fife update

Our report on our recent meeting with David Torrance in Kirkcaldy on 27th May

PURPOSE AND OUTCOMES: To meet the newly elected MSP for Kirkcaldy area. Find out his priorities to support business and convey concerns of FSB members to what adversely affects their business and what changes they would like to see brought in by the Scottish Government.

David Torrance said that his main aims would be to support renewable energy projects at Methil; support local employment, including 60 young apprentices at Methil; encourage money to be spent locally and get people though the doors of local businesses. He said that the SNP Government will support the Small Business Bonus Scheme.

A lively discussion ensued with local businesses.

There were concerns that the Kirkcaldy High street area was experiencing a decrease in footfall, especially since the expansion of the Retail Park. There were hopes that the new swimming pool once built would encourage people back to the town centre and a longer term hope that the building of a new cinema within the Mercat would increase leisure spend.

To try and give a more upbeat picture of Fife’s improving economy, George Sneddon gave an overview of Fife Council’s efforts to bring new business to the area, albeit big business, but with the hope that this would increase local spending power. Amazon were bringing 900 full time, plus part-time and season jobs to the Dunfermline area; The Diageo £200m expansion in Leven would create 425 jobs; and Fife Council will ensure the supply of commercial development land and serviced plots. There are also plans to have available business incubator units at Methil to encourage expansion of small businesses in the renewables sector. He did admit that many of the existing commercial business units, especially in Glenrothes, had reached the end of their life and new buildings were needed.

He stressed that Fife Council was keen to be responsive to small business needs, including offering support by Business Gateway.

He did say that the provision and development of serviced plots was being hampered by the work- ing practices  of the Utility companies. Charges for installing services were too high and time taken to start and complete services were very protracted. Several people told of their experiences, which bore out that there is a problem. The regulation of the Utility companies is a Westminster issue and David Torrance was asked whether the Holyrood Government could put pressure on Westminster to review this sector.

The much debated subject of town Centre parking was a hot topic for discussion, with views on the  level of charges, poor signing, the provision of short term low cost or free parking.  The Council do not seem minded to rush into any changes, always putting up the argument that parking has to be controlled to encourage turnover, that free parking would be taken up by ‘the workers’. The argument was put to George Sneddon that it might just be worthwhile to try something different, even as an experiment, to guage whether more people might be encouraged back to the High Street.

The question was put to David Torrance, as to what the SNP Government would do to improve rural broadband speeds, as they were generally currently unacceptably slow, and how would wi-fi be developed. He replied that part of the SNP legislation for economic growth was to promote the availability of wi-fi in buses, trains and public areas.

The Chair of Kirkcaldy BIDS said that wi-fi was available in the BIDS public area . George Sneddon said that Fife council supported  better internet access and broadband speeds, but that providers would take commercial decisions regarding locations.

In a round up of the morning, Janet Torley asked round the table for specific views people wanted to put to David Torrance. The following points were put to him.

  • Would the price of alcohol be regulated in supermarkets. He replied that the SNP will pursue the policy of minimum pricing and look at a supermarket tax which would be used to help town centre regeneration.
  • Would Corporation Tax be reduced and VAT. He replied that the SNP would like to see both reduced, but these were Westminster controlled.
  • Fuel costs were too high for business, what could be done. He replied that as we have to get our goods as cheaply as possible to the markets, fuels costs have to be reduced. He said that he was aware that lorries were filling up additional tanks in Belgium before they came to the UK to uplift goods. Westminster need to introduce legislation to reduce business costs.

 David Clegg pointed out that The Courier had run a campaign to reduce fuel costs and had sent a readers’ petition to George Osborne, but no changes had been achieved yet.                                               

  • Fife needs to think more on tourism and to have more access to MSPs. He pledged to be accessible and hoped to have an office in Kirkcaldy by 1st August, but in the meantime he could be contacted through his parliament email address.
  • Will Holyrood keep its commitment to keeping business rates down as the Small Business Bonus has been very welcome in reducing operating costs.He replied that this was indeed SNP policy

At this point David Torrance had to leave for another engagement and Janet thanked him for coming and listening. He assured everyone that he would do his best and that he would be accessable and ready to help when required.

Questions for David Torrance, MSP

Please post your question here for our breakfast meeting with David Torrance at The Steadings, Bennochy Road, Kirkclady on 27th May at 8.00am – we will do our best to make sure it is included

Questions for Rod Campbell, MSP

Please post your question here for our breakfast meeting with Rod Campbell at Elmwood Golf Club on 10th June at 8.00am – we will do our best to make sure it is included