Austerity and economic challenges expected

Chancellor’s Budget: More austerity and economic challenges lie ahead

When the Chancellor for the Exchequer, George Osborne, stands up in the House of Commons this Wednesday to announce his latest budget, me and the people of the Highlands will no doubt draw our breath, expecting more bad news. We’ve come to expect austerity and economic challenges with tory budgets.

His speech has already been trailed in the media, and we have been led to expect new cuts to public spending until 2018. In particular, deeper cuts to disability benefits have been suggested, which may just be an exercise of ‘spin’. I hope so. However, more austerity and even greater economic challenges lie ahead, that much seems certain.

I will be working hard to defend the interests of the people and businesses in my constituency against the austerity excesses being implemented at Westminster. With the help of constituents, we are seeing some success on this front.

In the fight against fuel poverty, for example, I’m hearing excellent reports from people in the constituency who have switched their energy providers after I advised that valuable savings could be made through this process.

Wrote one constituent: “I followed your advice to switch my electricity supplier and I am predicted to save £629.14 per annum. Thank you very much for prompting me to do this (I have been putting it off)!”

Another wrote: “Would you believe me if I said that I have just switched deals and will apparently save £525.36 a year?! Absolutely unbelievable and worth the risk, especially since there are no exit fees for the new contract.”

I urge everyone to take a similar route and discover how you can ensure you get the best deal from energy providers. Remember to let me know how you get on at my website

Another key focus for me is broadband connectivity as potentially it has such a big impact on business and therefore jobs. At Westminster, I have formed an All Political Party Group (APPG) on Digital Economy. In the chairman’s role, I am working for universal service obligations, especially as rural areas like ours are always at the back of the queue for broadband infrastructure. I was therefore delighted to hear First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announce that 100% of Scotland will be covered – including, crucially, rural areas.

I’m also calling for a “cast-iron commitment” from the UK government to act on the 4,500 miles of road across the UK where there is no mobile phone signal, as you may recall this is in addition to the demand I made for an “opt-out” for those who wish to get out of a mobile phone contract, usually 18-24 months, due to poor signal which has won the support of regulator Ofcom.

Of the 4,500 miles of roads across the UK that have absolutely no mobile phone coverage, 452 miles are in the Highlands – which means that people on these routes can’t make or receive calls or even send a text.

The U.K. government now need to agree that these coverage blackspots will be plugged. Sufficient mobile coverage for the whole of the UK should be a top priority for them, in order to ensure the safety of those travelling for work and leisure or to aid the emergency services.

For too long, poor mobile phone coverage has gone unchallenged and we need to see immediate action from the UK government in addressing this.

For those who took part in my Facebook Q&A session, thank you for your contributions and feedback, it was very helpful, keep your issues coming, together we will make a difference.

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