I took part in one of the final debates of 2015 in the Scottish Parliament, speaking about the important topic of land reform.
The Scottish Government is currently trying to push through a new Land Reform Bill which will, among other things, give it the right to force you to sell your land if it doesn’t like what you are doing with it. The bill will also introduce new business rates for shooting estates, risking jobs and putting estates at a competitive disadvantage to those across the border.
Nationalists are too quick to stereotype landowners as wealthy individuals who are not working in the interest of local communities or the land they own. The reality is that, particularly in the Borders, they are hard-working stewards of the land who contribute to tourism, employment and housing, and should be seen as part of the solution, not part of the problem.
I voted against this bill, but unfortunately the SNP is forcing it through parliament. As it progresses my colleagues and I will be seeking to improve the legislation it as far as possible so that it supports communities, landowners and tenants.
One really bad piece of news we discovered in the final weeks of 2015 was that Scottish Borders Council’s budget will be cut by £6.6million, despite the Scottish Government’s total budget rising by £400million.
For years, finance secretary John Swinney has portrayed himself as a prisoner of Westminster austerity, but the reality is that he has £400million more to spend next year.
It is clear that the SNP government is choosing to slash local authority budgets across Scotland and Scottish Borders Council will have to deal with one of the largest decreases.
As we all know, the council is already struggling to properly fund our schools, roads and bins service. A further cut of £7million next year will, I fear, only make matters worse and difficult choices will inevitably have to be made.
I will continue to stand up for the protection of front-line services and argue that savings must be found from elsewhere.
Early on in the new year, my party will be setting out our proposals for reforms to council tax which will seek to make local authority funding more sustainable in the long term.
My weekly surgeries throughout my constituency of Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire will start up again in January.
I will be in Coldstream and Duns on Wednesday, January 20, and Jedburgh and Kelso on Wednesday, January 27.
All the details and further dates can be found on my website – www.johnlamont.org.
No appointment is necessary, so please feel free to come along if you have a problem which you think that I might be able to help with. Alternatively, please call my constituency office on 01450 375948, or send me an email and I will do my best to assist.
For tours of the Scottish Parliament, please contact my parliamentary office on 0131 348 6533.