Enjoying taste of quality
The variety of quality food and drink on display on Tuesday at the annual Taste of Scotland event held at Dover House, home of Scotland Office in London, was again a sight to behold.
The week of Burns Night was an excellent time to celebrate Scotland’s iconic food and drink industry. Our reputation for being home to some of the world’s best produce is unrivalled.
One objective we have is to encourage more businesses north of the border to take advantage of all the UK Government offers to maximise export potential.
The new trade deals we’ve confirmed and are negotiating since Brexit are creating massive opportunities. I saw this myself during a recent trade visit to Vietnam, where sales of Scotch whisky have already increased fourfold.
We will continue to work on these new trade deals, to reduce trade barriers and open-up even more international markets to bring our amazing Scottish products to the world.
Food and drink is a vital part of Scotland’s economy and, as the Stranraer Oyster Festival demonstrates locally, can deliver extra income and footfall to communities in many different ways.
From agriculture to producing quality yoghurts and distilling whisky to distinctive gins, our area already has much to offer.
Back at Dover House, I’m told, one of the favourite cheese flavour and textures sampled during the day was, of course, Galloway!
Advice teams’ vital service
There can be few with such a breadth of knowledge and insight into modern life and its challenges than Citizens Advice staff and volunteers.
Whilst the UK and Scottish Governments are amongst the major funders, the free-to-use service is healthily independent and also supported by a range of other organisations, including local authorities, utilities and charities.
In this region, we are well served by Dumfries and Galloway Citizens Advice Service (DAGCAS), which recently celebrated their 25th anniversary and has a network of branches.
There is a full bureau at Stranraer with regular outreach services at Newton Stewart, Whithorn, Wigtown, St John’s Town of Dairy and New Galloway.
I was pleased to recently receive a copy of chief executive Phil Stewart’s annual report in which he includes interesting statistics.
Over the last year, the local organisation supported 8,493 people with 38,985 issues, putting £8,110,000 back into clients’ pockets, which also indirectly benefited the local economy.
My congratulations to everyone at DAGCAS on reaching this important milestone and for the excellent service they provide, face-to-face, phone and through a range of online communication platforms.
Tough times for councils
It was good to see a largely positive independent report from the Accounts Commission on Dumfries and Galloway Council.
Strong leadership, sound financial management and clear vision in recent years were flagged up although making changes to service delivery to balance future budgets was seen as a challenge ahead.
Like most local authorities Dumfries and Galloway has accumulated substantial levels of debt, although they are far from the worst in the national league tables.
It seems to me though, that the SNP-Green Scottish Government are good at devolving additional tasks for local authorities to do but not so effective at providing the extra funds and resources needed to fund them.
Region an arts haven?
There has long been a vibrant arts community in Dumfries and Galloway and I’m delighted to hear suggestions that continues to be the case.
Whilst the coastal town on Kirkcudbright was historically a magnet for artists, I’m told the number of skills, arts and crafts being carried out elsewhere in the region has been increasing.
From painters to ceramicists and jewellery-makers to furniture crafters creative skills are being maintained and shared and that is good for our local economy, tourism and, many would argue, health and well-being.
The artistic attractions of Dumfries and Galloway are something I’ve described to MP colleagues and I’m confident some pass on the good news to their own constituents, who hopefully consider visiting to sample for themselves. Art, of course, also features in some of the Stranraer regeneration plans, which is another positive.
It perhaps comes as no surprise, therefore, to learn that Dumfries and Galloway’s annual Spring Fling Open Studios Weekend, from May 25 to 27, looks set to have a record 104 studios open to the public.
As has been shown over the last two decades, the event makes a perfect shop window for what is on offer in our area. I certainly hope my diary allows me to get along to some of them.
Red squirrels returning
One of the UK Government’s largest sites in Dumfries and Galloway is the Ministry of Defence (MoD) training area on the Solway Coast near Dundrennan.
The estate, east of Kirkcudbright, provides a valuable training and testing facility for our armed forces and is a source of local employment within the region.
Although the 4,700 acre secure Kirkcudbright Training Centre’s military role dates back to World War Two, it is also an extensive natural asset and home to a range of wildlife.
I was delighted to learn a couple of years ago that an experiment to help protect native red squirrels was being launched by encouraging pine martens to settle by placing den boxes at appropriate locations.
As the pine martens had been known to suppress the non-native grey squirrel population in other places, the hope was that this could help restore native red squirrel numbers locally.
The greys not only take much of the red squirrels' food they can also be carriers of squirrel pox, a serious threat to the reds.
Latest reports, I’m pleased to see, indicate that the pine martens and wider conservation efforts at the site appear to be leading to increased red squirrel sightings.
I would like to pass on my congratulations on a job well done to the MoD staff involved and their counterparts at the Dumfries and Galloway Pine Marten Group, who have also been involved in the project.
Rising to weather challenge
As this week’s named storms, Isha and Jocelyn, demonstrated, the weather has the capacity to disrupt the best laid plans.
Cancelled ferries, railways closed, flooding and collapsed trees blocking roads all effected parts of my constituency at times.
There were also some power, landline telephone and internet services lost in places and, I understand, several radio station signals vanished in the east of the constituency for a spell because of weather problems at a transmitter in Cumbria.
Fortunately, for most people, the disruption was limited, mostly thanks to efforts of those working in a range public services as well as those looking after our essential utilities, who carried out repairs as swiftly as they could and are still doing so at some locations.
As I conclude this month’s Free Press column, the wind is still gusting outside, and I’m sure most readers will join me in expressing gratitude to the professionals who maintain our services and those who are purely good neighbours. Well done.