I want to start my first Banffshire Journal column of 2023 by wishing all my constituents a very Happy New Year.
Last week, figures revealed that the UK economy had unexpectedly bucked predictions and grown slightly.
Wholesale fuel prices are also starting to show signs of coming down – although still fluctuating.
While this news is welcome and avoids us going into recession, the economy continues to beimpacted by the ongoing war in Ukraine, and the ongoing effects of a staggered reopening of global supply chains since the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the end of last year, a series of coastal state negotiations means that in 2023 we can expect an increase of 30,000 tonnes or £750,000,000 worth of quota for UK fishermen.
Successive years since our exit from the EU Common Fisheries Policy and becoming an independent coastal state have seen a steady improvement in catching opportunities for the Scottish fleet – particularly here in Banff and Buchan.
It is clear that those involved in negotiations – including Scottish Government ministers and officials – have a far stronger voice now than if we were still in the European Union.
Earlier this week, the SNP/Green Scottish Government announced an energy strategy that even the SNP Leader at Westminster had described as "crazy” in its aims to shut down domestic oil and gas production at the soonest opportunity.
The oil and gas industry is of course vital to the economy and jobs here in the North East but also has a critical role to play, not only in ensuring energy security but also in the energy transition to net zero.
In Prime Minister's Questions, I obtained Mr Sunak’s ongoing commitment to expand carbon capture and storage (CCUS) capacity in the UK, particularly with the Acorn CCS and hydrogen Project at St Fergus.
The SNP's attempts to talk this project down and exaggerate delays are unhelpful.
The project is still very much in progress with ongoing engagement with the UK Government.
The project has already received £41 million of UK Government funding, and a total of £1 billion is committed to getting at least four clusters operational by the end of the decade.
The UK Government has also introduced a new business subsidy system.
The EU's subsidy control regime often blocked devolved administrations and local authorities from delivering funds to businesses and communities.
We now have the opportunity to create a new regime that is tailored to the needs of communities right across the UK.
The new subsidy control system came into force on 4 January and means that public authorities across the UK will be free to deliver money to businesses in a quicker, fairer, and simpler way, without longwinded and unnecessary approval processes.
I continue to work with UK Government Ministers to ensure that those energy consumers who use heating oil receive their £200 payments at the soonest opportunity.
It is reasonably straight forward to know which households are on the gas grid but less so to determine precisely which specific addresses are not.
It is estimated that about 37% - one of the highest proportions in the whole UK – of households in Banff and Buchan are ‘off grid’ using ‘alternative fuels’ such as heating oil, biomass and coal.
And I am assured that every effort is being put into making sure these payments are paid in February