Brussels in spring. What could be nicer? It’s certainly better than those dark, damp days in December waiting for the latest terrible pronouncement from the fisheries ministers over the deal they have patched together which achieves nothing.
On Monday I arranged to meet three separate European Commission departments to pursue a variety of Shetland and national issues.
I met Neelie Kroes, the Competition Commissioner responsible for fair competition across Europe, whether it be the price of cars, mobile phone charges, airline monopolies or first time fishermen’s grants in Shetland. In other words she is the State Aid lady.
There is somewhat of a difference, I suggested, between allowing national governments such as the UK to invest billion into failing banks and stopping a grant to a small business in Shetland.
She agreed. “Ah but Mr Scott, the issue is for you.” Not me personally, but the member state and in this case that means Edinburgh.
The EC state aid rules have a number of categories. If an application for grant assistance can fit into the category it will be fine. Every other part of Europe bends over backwards to use these rules creatively to help business and local authorities get things done. It’s what we need to do as well.
The UK Government has put billions of taxpayers’ money into RBS and the Lloyds TSB. But what we the customer face is less banking competition. At some stage towns across Scotland, including Lerwick, will lose either their TSB or Bank of Scotland. So, as one goes, there is less competition.
Does this matter? Well for small Shetland businesses, mortgage payers or individual customers it’s one less place to get financial services.
Will the Commission be looking at this, I asked on Monday? Yes, very closely, was the reply. I hope that scrutiny will be a force for good in protecting bank customers from facing ever rising bank charges and the like.
I met the European agriculture commissioner’s right-hand person and asked about sheep tagging and the Less Favoured Area scheme. I was briefly in the quiet lambing park last Sunday. But, as 400-ish Suffolk lambs charge around the Keldabister parks, I wondered how, and more to the point why, an electronic chip in each lamb would help prevent the spread of animal disease. That appears the main motivation for this mad plan.
I put this to the Euro powers that be. They promised that these practical issues were being worked on. That’s fine but it’s more than just practice. We also talked about the revamp of the LFASS which is potentially very important to Shetland agriculture. It’s some way off but the Scottish government are drawing up new maps. Our local agriculture leaders need to get those maps and make sure we’re on them and not in a box in the Moray Firth as usual.
Tavish Scott MSP