On Monday, I attended the NFUS annual dinner which was a great evening and a chance to catch up with old friends and discuss the concerns and opportunities currently facing the farming industry in Scotland.
As local farmer Nigel Miller comes to the end of his term as president of the Union, he was given a great send off with many expressing their gratitude for the way he has represented farmers from the Borders and the whole of Scotland during his tenure.
Alongside my Liberal Democrat colleagues, I campaigned for many years for a Groceries Code Adjudicator to stand up for farmers and producers against mistreatment from supermarkets. I am pleased to say we have delivered the Adjudicator in Government which is great news for farmers here in Berwickshire. A few weeks ago the Lib Dem Business Secretary, Vince Cable, also secured the final agreement to enable the regulator to impose fines on supermarkets found guilty of breaching the Code of Practice.
A report published recently on the Economic Impact of Scotch Whisky that showed that the industry contributes almost £5 billion to the UK economy. It also supports over 40,300 jobs across the UK, 37,000 of which are based in Scotland, with a fifth based in rural areas like the Borders. Here in Berwickshire, we grow the high-quality barley used to make Scotch whisky so it’s great to hear that the industry is booming and making a significant contribution to the UK economy. I am sure that as the industry thrives we will continue to see the benefits here in the Borders for our local farmers.
A couple of weeks ago, the Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael visited the Borders to highlight the importance of apprentices, an issue I have been campaigning on for many years. We saw how local businesses are making the most of apprenticeships and how Borders College is providing excellent training as the apprentices start out on a vocational career.
The Liberal Democrats in Government have made supporting apprenticeships one of their top priorities. From April, National Insurance (NI) will be abolished for apprentices under 25, saving businesses money on their NI bills and encouraging them to take on an apprentice. I will be working with companies across Berwickshire and the Borders to urge them to take advantage of this and give our young people more opportunities to take their first step into a career.
Last week I attended a community event hosted by Scottish Water where we heard about the £12million investment the company has made in the Borders. This money has been spent on building or modernising a number of treatment works including a £850,000 project at the Tweed and Leet Water, two new septic tanks in Birgham and the refurbishment of water mains in Duns, Coldstream, Chirnside and Eyemouth. It was encouraging to hear the work they are doing to ensure local residents have access to the highest quality drinking water as well as to protect our natural environment.