David Duguid: Centralised closure decisions leaving some communities without opportunity to thrive

David Duguid is hoping to help raise more awareness about the syndrome.

I was disappointed to read the recent Press and Journal report that jury trials were to be moved from Peterhead Sheriff Court, in my Banff and Buchan constituency, to Aberdeen.

The Aberdeen Bar Association rightly criticised the move as a dilution of local justice for the sake of saving money. Solicitors have raised concerns that there will be a backlog of cases, resulting in trials being delayed.

There will also be an issue for anyone from the Peterhead area involved in a court case, for any reason, having to travel back and forth to Aberdeen, when at the moment, they do not have to.

I think most people would view this is a first step towards the ultimate closure of Peterhead Sheriff Court.

It won’t be the last, and is certainly not the first in Scotland to meet this fate in the name of “efficiency”.

It is yet another symptom of increasing centralisation in this country.

In recent years, our local police constabularies have morphed into a national force, the same for our fire brigade.

Police offices have shut their doors, while local control rooms, the nerve centres for our emergency response crews, have also gone.

Health facilities – even maternity units – are gradually being pulled towards major cities, while decisions on funding for the Scottish NHS are made in Edinburgh, rather than locally.

It is not limited to the public sector, however. For example, when bus routes are scrapped because they have become unprofitable, there will be a knock-on effect on the local community.

We need to stop and think every time a decision is made to shut something down in our towns and villages.

My background, before entering politics, was in the business world. Decisions can often be made on the basis of cutting costs without sufficient consideration of the community impact. In my experience, those types of decisions do not end well.

At the very least, communities need to be adequately engaged and consulted.

But more importantly, if we continue to strip services out of our communities, what exactly are we leaving?

The people are not going anywhere, yet with everything that closes, we lose an element of what makes up that community.

There is also an issue around local democracy.

We should be empowering local areas to make decisions and have greater control of their own environment, not taking decision-making away.

The Scottish Conservative manifesto for last year’s local elections included a pledge to take some of that power back.

The argument was that devolution should not stop at Edinburgh. The same principle of powers coming north from Westminster should apply equally to local areas in Scotland.

At present, too many decisions are being made in Edinburgh without a real understanding of the circumstances of the communities affected.

As Holyrood has taken on more powers, it seems the distrust of local decision making has increased.

One glaring example, the failed attempt by the SNP to take council tax raised locally in the north-east and redistribute that income in the Central Belt was a case in point.

Had it not been for the efforts of my Scottish Conservative colleagues – and a couple of by-election defeats last year here in Aberdeenshire – that tax grab would have been approved.

Most people won’t begrudge paying local taxes providing they see some benefit in their own area.

But voters soon made their feelings known when they thought that their contributions would be spent elsewhere.

This should not be taken as a parochial argument, about localism for the sake of it.

This is about nurturing local communities and ensuring that they can continue to thrive.

If we are to encourage growth in our towns and rural areas, then we have to reverse the mentality of centralisation we have seen in recent years.

I will be doing my best over the coming months and years to speak up for the Banff and Buchan area, but this applies to communities across Scotland.

Of course, major legislative decisions must be taken by parliaments. However, politicians must consider how those decisions will be delivered on a local level and, more importantly, what impact they will have on the people they were elected to represent.

Totally unacceptable

I was always aware that there were difficulties with rural broadband coverage.

However, since becoming an MP, my mailbag is testament to the full extent of the situation.

Concerns over download speeds are among the most common complaints from my constituents.

I am determined to do all I can to improve both the availability and speed of connections.

I think it totally unacceptable that those in rural areas should be disadvantaged.

Broadband should be treated as any other utility – readily available to all with no significant extra cost due to location.

I am lobbying UK Government ministers to raise awareness that the problem is far more widespread in rural areas than suggested by Scottish Government statistics that are typically based on population rather than geographical coverage.

I am also calling on the UK Government to enact the necessary secondary legislation to the Digital Economy Act 2017 to ensure a statutory Universal Service Obligation of 10Mbps minimum speed.

While BT has proposed to deliver that, they have already said it may be too costly to deliver above that for about 60,000 rural homes. The debate on the minimum standard will be crucial to ensuring that everybody gets the best deal.

“Good luck Daddy”

It is fair to say that my life has completely changed since the general election on June 8.

I feel honoured and privileged to have been elected as MP for Banff and Buchan and I will always do my utmost to serve my constituents well.

Since being elected, and indeed during the campaign, there are sacrifices to be made in terms of the amount of time that can be spent with family.

Like many MPs, I have young children – Cameron, who is five and Peggy, who is three.

The family are used to Dad going away to work in my previous jobs in the oil and gas industry, but the upside now is they can come along to some of the social events.

Peggy already has the awareness to say “Good luck Daddy” when I head out the door, leaving the children with my ever-supportive wife, Rose.

Cameron, who just started back at school this week, took a different tack.

He has decided that, nowadays, Daddy has become “one of those boring guys on TV”.

David Duguid – Conservative MP for Banff and Buchan

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