The start of the new Parliamentary session has been typically busy – the Government’s cabinet may have changed but, unsurprisingly, the debate around ‘spending priorities’ has not.
Just weeks after the UK Government forced a vote to renew the Trident Nuclear missile system – at an eye watering £167 billion – the call to renovate the Westminster Parliament is back on the agenda.
It’s understood that plans to repair the palace that houses Members of Parliament and the – unelected – Lords, is likely to take up to six years and could end up costing the taxpayer around £7bn. This, when the Westminster government’s ‘austerity’ policy is hitting some of the poorest in society.
These numbers are obscene, especially when we’re continually told that cuts to support for disabled people must be made or that there is no more money in the pot to end unfair changes to pensions for women who were born in the 1950’s. One thing is for sure, you can expect more fireworks than Guy Fawkes Night when MP’s finally get to have their say on this matter.
The numbers game continued to baffle as the UK Government announced a further 13 military sites for closure. With more to come, our Fort George remaining very much ‘under review’. Indeed, only last week, in a letter to me, the Scottish Secretary, David Mundell, stated: “it is likely that some sites in Scotland will be released for disposal as part of the wider plan”. Closing Fort George as a military base would be devastating to our communities – an estimated loss of up to 750 jobs and around £16 million pounds out of the Highland Economy. This week, after another very successful Highland Military Tattoo, the matter is particularly poignant.
While they are proposing spending many billions on Nukes and Westminster, relatively small MOD cost savings like these are being forced through at great expense to conventional military services, families and communities like ours.
Similarly, last week I had to deal with yet another pressing example of the wrong priorities in cost cutting – this time in maritime. The removal of one of two emergency tugs in the North of Scotland has long been a concern that has cross party support and that of all of the Highlands and Islands councils. Along with fellow SNP Highlands & Islands MPs, I presented a petition to Downing Street; calling for the reinstatement of the second emergency towing vessel.
These boats are designed to act swiftly to protect lives, our coastline and our environment if, and when, there is maritime incident – to prevent it becoming a disaster. When you consider our vast coastline, having only one of these specialised vessels means that there is an impossible amount of water for it to cover. In the past these vessels have protected us – even rescuing a stranded nuclear submarine off Skye. By comparison the one that is left took around 18 hours to reach the oil rig than hit rocks off the Western isles, spilling oil into the sea. Far too late to intervene and pure luck that things were not worse.
There are always choices to be made when it comes to spending decisions, but it seems that this Governments biggest spending choices dwarf those that mean the most to us. There is, still, much work to do