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Scottish Parliament Speech: Freight Facilities Grants (January 2011)

See this speech in context on They Work For You

This debate is set against the background of great shifts in natural resources. The price of oil was $10 per barrel in 1999 - the year of the Parliament's inauguration - but we are now on the edge of the $100 barrel, a figure that was not expected before 2030.

That has already affected the USA, where the 50 cents gallon has given way to the $3 gallon, a fact that underlies the declining fortunes of the American middle class and the emergence of the sub-prime generation. One result of that has been the declining profitability of road transport. In Scotland, we are presently menaced by rises in fuel duty. One hopes that that will be reversed, but it will not be the last such situation. In October last year, the coalition Government tabled the introduction of road freight lorry user charging following success in Switzerland and Germany with the Brummi-Maut - the lorry toll. That is bound to have a significant impact on road haulage in Britain.

Meanwhile, despite the recession, rail freight increased by 65 per cent between 1997 and 2009. Freight grants have, yet again, made Aberdeen a major centre of freight transfer, with three depots. Large amounts of goods for supermarkets run in dedicated trains from the English midlands to destinations in Aberdeen and Inverness. Given the right regime, rail is expected to rise fivefold during the next 20 years. Much of that could now be put at risk.

Some might ask whether, if growth is coming anyway because of rising fuel costs and so on, we need the freight facilities grant. In Germany, for example, a market has been enforced by restrictions and taxation on road haulage rather than by subsidy. In the case of the capture of supermarket traffic, those restrictions were probably the driving functions, rather than subsidies.

However, an important further challenge is waiting for us, and that is rail's contribution to Scotland's renewables revolution. We will require seamless transit from European factories to Scottish assembly plants. One key site is the Fife energy park at Methil, which is the host to Burntisland Fabrications Ltd's assembly plant for jackets for offshore wind farms. The components for those can come from up to a dozen different countries. In the opinion of Neil Henderson, the BiFab site manager, a railway siding into the Methil yard from the Thornton to Levenmouth branch line, which is mothballed at the moment and would require £46 million to be restored for passengers and freight, would, in his words, be ‘a godsend’. It would add to a number of important local shifts from road to rail, notably that of the Diageo distillery, which produces whisky, Gordon's gin and Smirnoff vodka - as Michael Caine would say, not a lot of people know that - at Cameronbridge. Diageo has been trying for some time to get rail access from Network Rail. Surely it is time for rail access to that major region, which has a lot of social problems and enormous possibilities, but which is also an area in which freight facilities grants could be an implement of revitalisation. I plead with the minister to grant that.

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