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Robbie Rowantree
Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate

The people of Caithness Sutherland & E.Ross are facing their most interesting election for years. Robert MacLennan is retiring, having been my MP since I was five and the Scottish Parliament is now a reality. In the world at large, changes in society and business are occurring at an ever-increasing pace and we will face many challenges and uncertainties as we move into this new era.

As the local candidate, brought up and educated in the constituency and the only one who lives and works here, I think that I can offer a real, practical understanding of the challenges we are all facing. I also have the very best reason for wanting to get things right for the North, my family and the community to which we belong.

If the provision of health care isn't well funded in this constituency, my family lose out along with everybody else. If education isn't fully supported in this area, my children will not get the education that they and every young person deserves and that will allow them to achieve their potential. That is why, if I am fortunate enough to be elected as the Member of Parliament, that I will always fight, tooth and nail, to see that the North gets its share of the resources necessary to allow the individuals, families and communities of Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross to meet their needs and aspirations.

That is why I will always campaign unashamedly on local issues that impact on the people of this constituency.

As a Community Council Chairman, I see how Quango's and bureaucrats treat local communities. As a member of the community councils group that is fighting to retain Migdale Hospital, I have witnessed the flawed consultation exercises that have been loaded to deliver a pre-determined outcome. The way that the Helmsdale community has been served by the NHS Primary Care Trust, supposedly appointed to serve the people, in their efforts to secure a GP, another case in point. There is also the serious threat to the Consultant led Maternity Services Unit at the Caithness General in Wick, which, in the opinion of Caithness GP's, will lead to the eventual downgrading of the hospital. If elected as your MP, I will always promote effective representation over flawed consultation.

When volunteering as a Special Constable, I have seen firsthand how the law, hidebound these days by Political Correctness, is failing the victims of crime and benefiting the criminal. When officers take convicted criminals to prison to serve a sentence, only to find them released back onto the street before the officers themselves have been back through prison security, something must be wrong.

As a partner in a small business, I struggle to cope with the burden of tax and regulation forced on me in ever increasing amounts. The bulk of the Highland economy is made up of small businesses. Small businesses play a major role in creating wealth and employment, yet more and more responsibilities are being loaded onto employers. The Small Business Research Trust revealed in a report in Sept 1999 that the average small business spends 31 hours a month complying with regulations and paperwork, rather than working to make the business grow and employ more people. Brian Prime, chairman of the Federation of Small Business said in a press release ; "small firms are now being over regulated to such a degree that it is too costly and too risky to employ staff". Having personal experience of the difficulties facing small business makes me an effective representative, who will always put the case for enterprise.

Living as I do in a fairly remote strath, I have to bear the cost of the most expensive road fuel in the world. There will never be a cost effective public transport system where I live and in many other areas of this constituency. So we have to buy fuel if my wife is to get to work or go shopping and if my children are to attend music lessons, sports training or other activities and if we are to have any social life at all. I have campaigned on this issue for years. As the Public Relations Officer for the Institute of Transport Administration, I sent a letter in February 1999 to all 9 North of Scotland MP's, pointing out that transport is the lifeblood of the Highland economy and that taxation of fuel was having a disproportionate impact on the poorest members in society who have to spend a larger part of their income on necessities. Only one, Calum MacDonald, replied. I will continue to campaign for a fair price for fuel. Recently, due to "stealth taxes", taxation has risen fastest on the poorest 20% of society. Taxation should be fair, transparent and based on the ability to pay.

No one will doubt the assiduous attention that Robert MacLennan paid to his constituents in the North, as a representative of three political parties. This underlines how important the personal qualities and experiences of a Member of Parliament are. I hope that the electors will ask themselves who will best represent them, who knows firsthand the effect of government on the area and who will best plead their case based on real experience of living and working here in the North.

The future of the North of Scotland is the responsibility of us all. How bright that future will be depends on the efforts that we all make. MPs, MSPs, Councillors, the various agencies, voluntary bodies and communities must work together if we are to achieve our goal of a prosperous Far North.