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The Secretary of State for Scotland was in Lochgilphead for talks with Argyll and Bute Council over proposals for a Rural Growth Deal – as reported in last week’s edition.
While David Mundell MP was at the council’s Kilmory headquarters on August 28, the Argyllshire Advertiser took the opportunity to quiz him on a number of local matters.
Here are his answers.
AA: According to the Argyll and Bute Economic Forum, one of the factors inhibiting economic growth in the region is connectivity – both broadband and mobile. What are your views on improving these?
DM: ‘Obviously these are vitally important for rural areas. What Argyll and Bute Council wants to do as part of the Rural Growth Deal is to have the highest possible broadband speeds.
‘You are not going to get people to live in or visit rural areas if they don’t get the level of connectivity they are accustomed to. It is right at the centre of the consideration in this deal and I am very supportive of it.’
AA: Another potential obstacle to economic development in Argyll and Bute is transport links, given the region’s unique geography. Would you support the development of fixed links such as tunnels and bridges for this area?
DM: ‘These are much more a matter for the Scottish Government, as roads and transport are devolved, but it’s self-evident that to get products such as seafood to market quickly you need to have those transport links.
‘I’m sure the council will be pitching to the Scottish Government to have those transport links improved. I also think it is worth looking at how other island communities deal with these sort of problems.’
AA: Would Westminster support such projects financially after Brexit?
DM: ‘Up until the point we’ve formally left the EU, all funding arrangements are guaranteed. Beyond that we will be looking to put in place the ‘Shared Prosperity Fund’, which will be the equivalent of EU structural and other funding.
‘We will shortly be consulting on the form the Shared Prosperity Fund should take.’
AA: RBS has threatened to close its Inveraray branch, having already closed branches in dozens of other towns including Campbeltown and Rothesay since the turn of the year. What are your thoughts on this, from a UK government perspective?
DM: ‘The first thing to say is that it isn’t possible, contrary to what some people have suggested, for the government to tell RBS what to do. While the government is a shareholder, it is not running RBS.
‘My own view is that the approach of RBS over these branch closures demonstrates that they do not place any importance on serving rural Scotland. I have encouraged people to play a full part in the consultations over threatened branches.
‘I do think we have to be very alive to the wider issues about people being able to get access to cash in rural areas. That’s something the government is very cogniscant of.
‘RBS have demonstrated no commitment to rural areas and that is very disappointing.’
AA: Is Scotland ready for Brexit?
DM: ‘I hope so. What we’re trying to do in relation to Brexit is get the best possible deal, and I still believe it’s possible to get a deal.
‘I want to see everyone rallying around the Prime Minister and her proposal, which meets the needs of Scotland by continuing to have close trading links with the EU whilst ensuring that we do, in fact, leave in acordance with peoples’ wishes in the referendum.
‘It will ensure that we leave the Common Fisheries Policy and Common Agricultural Policy – but have that trading relationship with the EU.’