Hello and welcome to my August Parliamentary report, where you can find details on my activities over the last month as your MP.
In July, I met with Virgin Money to press them to look at retaining staff and services in Ellon as they announced the closure of the branch. Retaining access not just to cash but also to a full range of banking services is important, and I will continue to press to maintain as many of these services locally as I can.
Although Parliament is currently in recess, my work for constituents continues. If I or my team can assist you or your neighbours in the next month, please email me at richard.thomson.[email protected] or call on 020 3545 2236 to get in touch.
CPTPP - Government's Own Figures Suggest Very Little Benefit
By the UK Government's own figures, their much-trumpeted CPTPP* trade deal will improve GDP by only 0.08% in the next 10 years - in contrast to the projected 4% hit to GDP caused by Brexit.
I asked the Minister whether he refuted this figure, and gave him the opportunity to defend a bad deal for our consumers and our farmers.
Instead of offering any serious rebuttal, the Minister gave me the same old faux-outraged spiel over his disappointment I had the temerity to ask a question he'd rather not have to answer.
*CPTPP is the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Learn more here.
You can find the UK Government's own admission of only a 0.08% increase to GDP buried on page 60 (of 66).
Question to the Leader of the House
I once again had the opportunity this month to lead for the SNP Group at House Business Questions.
I began by marking the 35th anniversary Piper Alpha disaster, noting the continuing impact the tragedy has to this day.
I also welcomed the 75th anniversary of the NHS, noting the inspiration it took from the pioneering Highlands and Islands Medical Service, which was established in 1913.
The Leader of The House seems to see it as her job when responding to the SNP to read out pre-scripted and highly fictionalised accounts of the alleged performance of the Scottish Government and public services in Scotland. So, the week before, since we are supposed to be there to ask questions about the future business of the Westminster Parliament, I had deliberately chosen to ask the Minister for debates on the woeful performance of her UK Government when it comes to policing and the state of the Health Service in England.
With no sign of these debates forthcoming, I repeated my request, before suggesting a further debate on the 20 NHS trusts and integrated care boards across England which currently languish in 'special measures'. Unsurprisingly, this seems to be something else that neither the Leader of the House nor her Government is keen to talk about...
Northern Ireland Budget
It was disappointing to once again have to debate the passing of measures which rightly should be passed in the Northern Irish Assembly at Stormont.
As Front Bench Spokesman I kept my remarks brief so that MPs from Northern Ireland would be able to make their voices heard. Yet again, Conservative MPs spoke as if the situation Northern Ireland finds itself in has nothing to do with the choices made by this UK Government and the impact that their chaotic version of Brexit has had on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Speaking during a debate on the automotive industry and the UK Government's industrial strategy, I noted the dismissive attitude towards manufacturing shown from the post-1979 Thatcher Governments right up to the chaotic UK Government of the present.
I highlighted the absurdity of the position taken by Labour, apparently unwilling to discuss the elephant in the room that is Brexit and its impact on the very topic of the debate that they tabled.
At a time when the best the Tories seem to be offering is the stability of decline, it is simply irresponsible that Labour appear to have decided to embrace Brexit, out of fear of frightening their former voters in the 'red wall'. It is depressing that they have adopted a strategy of simply just saying whatever they think people want to hear, rather than having an honest discussion about the future.
Directors Briefing Podcast
I was pleased to speak with Catherine McWilliam, the Nations Director for Scotland at the Institute for Directors on the IOD's Directors' Briefing Podcast.
Times Radio Political Panel
I appeared on the Times Radio Political Panel, hosted by Ayesha Hazarika. Topics of conversation included the UK Government's belated announcement that the ACORN project at St Fergus will receive funding.
You can listen to the full broadcast here.
Across the Constituency
15 July - New Deer Show
I spent the day at the New Deer Show, an important event in the North East's' agricultural calendar that has over 170 years of history behind it.
The economy is still fragile in many ways and it was useful to be able to speak to a range of farming and rural businesses to get their view on current trading conditions.
It’s clear from several of the issues raised that while the Brexit vote is now over seven years ago, the consequences of that are still very much with us and impacting some areas of our rural economy quite adversely.
The Show Committee put in a huge amount of work in organising such a successful event which attracted a large crowd from the community.
Turriff Show 2023 & NFU Scotland meeting
On 31st July I took part in a vibrant discussion at the Turriff show hosted by NFU Scotland. At this roundtable we discussed food, energy, and climate security. One clear theme emerged from these conversations, and this was the continuing adverse consequences of UK energy policies and poorly negotiated trade deals.
These conversations are extremely useful in terms of the feedback on the issues of the day as they affect farming and getting that real grassroots view of everyone involved in the stewardship of the countryside.
There are always actions to take away from these meetings and I will continue to follow these up in the coming weeks.
Virgin Money Branch Closures
I met with senior managers at Virgin Money, to discuss the closure announcement of branches in Ellon and Turriff. These closure announcements are a blow to the respective communities, and I was keen to explore with the bank what options had been considered prior to the announcement.
At the meeting, I was joined by Ellon and District councillor Louise McAlister, Mid Formartine councillor Jenny Nicol and their Turriff colleague, Councillor Alistair Forsyth.
Discussions covered the prospect of maintaining a branch presence but reducing the counter opening hours and having staff assist with call centre queries and internet banking whilst based at the branch. I also sought assurances about an ATM provision in Ellon.
While there are currently a number of free-to-use ATMs around the town, a lot of these are provided by private companies and there has been an alarming trend recently for other providers introducing charges for withdrawing cash. Free cash withdrawals will be greatly protected if Virgin Money will agree to commit to maintaining an ATM in the town centre.
UK 'Hydrogen Champion' Meeting
Between the New Deer and Turriff Shows, I arranged a meeting with the UK Government's 'Hydrogen Champion', Jane Toogood. This was after NFUS members - particularly local renewables innovator David Smith – made the case for more recognition of the key role of on-farm production of green hydrogen, which, produced at a farm level, can enable farming and other rural communities to become self-reliant, low-carbon energy producers and exporters.
Ms Toogood was extremely positive about the potential that Hydrogen has for the farming sector and seemed to 'get it' in a way UK Ministers never really have. Hopefully this will be the start of a productive ongoing relationship for farmers across Scotland.
The Open University in Gordon
In July, the Open University shared a recent profile of its students in Gordon. This revealed that 450 people were accessing Open University courses in the constituency.
The popularity of the Open University is not surprising; it offers high-quality online skills and learning to students, lifelong learners, employees and businesses, working in partnership with other universities, colleges, NHS social care, the third sector and over 230 employers across Scotland.
In the news...
Grampian Online, 14 July: Bird Flu safety advice is highlighted
Grampian Online, 28 July: Summer programme can provide support to north-east families
Press Release, 26 July: Local MP Reinforces ABIs Advice for Holidaymakers
Press Release, 26 July: Gordon MP Raises Fears New UK Trade Agreement will Allow Sub-standard Egg Imports
Press Release, 11 July: MP Urges UK Government to Get a Grip on Post Office Horizon Scandal
Press Release, 16 July: Report on Fuel Prices Broadly Welcomed but Falls Short on Action