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Rail travellers in Glenrothes and Levenmouth will have been shocked and saddened by the sudden death last week of Colin Reed, Markinch stationmaster. Colin was a great character who always went further than the job demanded, welcoming passengers into his station as if they were old friends coming into his living room. He would always take time to make sure customers got the best deals going on their tickets (last year I joked with him that I only turned 60 because I got fed up of him asking if I qualified for an over 60’s concession). During the pandemic lockdowns he had regularly been phoning people he knew were on their own to check that they were OK. My deepest sympathies go to his wife Effie and all the family. I have submitted an Early Day Motion to parliament in his memory which you can view by clicking here.

The Chancellor’s budget contained few surprises (the Government had given most of it to the press several days earlier, something that would have meant automatic resignation not that long ago). I was pleased that he finally provided financial support for some self employed people who had previously been excluded from Covid funding, but I’m continuing to call for support for the remaining 2.4 million self employed people and small business owners who have not been allowed to claim under any of the coronavirus support schemes. We’re going to rely on small businesses to drive our recovery from the pandemic and the fact that nearly half of self employed people say their experiences during the last year have made them less likely to want to stay in business is a warning the Government can’t ignore.

In my speech in response to the budget I also criticised the lack of any plan for our retail and aviation sectors. For different reasons both these industries were facing major changes anyway but they’ve also been among the worst hit during the last year. We may see hundreds of thousands of jobs being lost for ever in those two sectors alone. In Fife we’ve seen what happens when huge numbers of job losses are just ignored by the Government. We can’t allow the Government to abandon workers in retail, aviation and other industries in the way a previous Government turned its back on the miners.

Figures released last week showed that the value of UK exports to the European Union plummeted by over 40% in just one month after the end of the Brexit “transition” period. However hard the Government tries to put a positive spin on it, the reality is that Brexit is making it much harder for thousands of Scottish businesses to sell their goods to what had been the UK’s biggest market. Even after the chaos of early January had been partially fixed, a lot of businesses are struggling to survive. The Government’s own advisers have said Brexit will do more damage to the economy than all the Covid lockdowns and restrictions.

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