Letters to the editor – week 27

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EU Trade

Sir,

A recent piece of news which largely passed under the radar, so is the UK’s Brexit obsession, was the fact that the EU and South American economic bloc Mercosur have clinched a huge trade deal after 20 years of negotiations.

It is the EU’s biggest deal to date and aims to cut or remove trade tariffs, making imported products cheaper for consumers while also boosting exports for companies on both sides.

The agreement is set to create a market for goods and services covering nearly 800 million consumers, making it the largest in the world in terms of population. It should be noted that the EU is already Mercosur’s biggest trade and investment partner.

A matter of days later, adding to the irony, the EU and Vietnam signed a long-awaited free trade deal that will slash duties on almost all goods.

Both these deals neatly highlight that the EU is one of the world’s great global trading powers, and follow recently concluded trade deals with Japan, South Korea and Canada.

As an EU member state the UK automatically benefits from 40 trade agreements the EU has in place with more than 70 countries. These are trade agreements that on leaving the EU the UK will have to renegotiate, in a world that is becoming increasingly protectionist.

So, while Brexiteers talk of a ‘global Britain’ that will trade freely with the rest of the world, they will soon find out, to the detriment of us all, that not only will this take a considerable amount of time, but any terms agreed will not come close to being a match when compared with the benefits we currently enjoy as members of the EU.

Alex Orr, Edinburgh

Planning Bill

Sir,

The Planning Bill has become an SNP-Tory stitch up which fails to deliver transformative change.

The SNP and Scottish Conservatives joined forces to block Labour’s plans to secure the power for a community right of appeal as well as remove key changes made by MSPs at an earlier stage.

Scottish Labour has been pushing for amendments that would rebalance power in the planning system and give communities a right of appeal with developers to level the playing field and make the system fairer.

Such a move would have given local people more say over decisions made in regions, but SNP and Tory MSPs voted against the proposals to reform the planning appeal system, choosing instead to side with big developers.

Scottish Labour pushed for amendments to give communities a right of appeal on proposed developments, secure more protections for live music venues, require the Scottish Government to legislate for land value sharing to allow for more public sector-led development and increasing land values to be invested in communities and put public health at the heart of the planning system.

The SNP has teamed up with the Tories to push through their timid approach to planning reform, blocking the chance to give local people more say in decisions about our local area. It’s a shameful missed opportunity.

SNP Ministers have failed to read the public mood on planning and have chosen to side with big developers over local people.

David Stewart MSP, Highland and Islands

Big Heart Garage Sale

Sir,

May I thank everyone who took part in the Big Heart Garage Sale at Christ Church two weeks ago?

It was really good to see items such as mobility aids finding new homes where they are needed. Plenty of things strange and amusing found new admirers; and the charities raised useful money for their work through their soups and teas.

With lots of hard work the church made a worthwhile profit too, and everyone enjoyed themselves. Thank you for your support.

Father Simon, Christ Church, Lochgilphead.

Child poverty game changer

Sir,

I welcome the SNP’s announcement of a new social benefit designed to lift children across Scotland out of poverty.

By the end of 2022, eligible families in Argyll and Bute will now receive an extra £10 a week for every child under 16. Low income families with children under the age of six will be fast tracked and start to receive the benefit in early 2021.

This announcement means that eligible families with two children under 16 will receive an additional £1,000 a year to spend on day-to-day essentials from clothing to school equipment.

The announcement has been celebrated by anti-poverty campaigners who have branded the new benefit a ‘gamechanger’.

This is a radical and very welcome announcement – and it’s exactly what we need if we are to reduce child poverty levels here in Argyll and Bute in the face of ongoing welfare cuts from the UK Tory government.

I know the new Scottish Child Payment will be a welcome boost to many young families in Argyll and Bute when it’s fully rolled out over the coming years.

But the sad reality is, this SNP Government is fighting poverty with one hand tied behind its back – without Westminster imposed austerity this benefit could do go further and reach more families.

This move is the mark of a serious Government – willing to take bold action to address the needs of Scotland’s people.

Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell.