Secretary of State for Scotland praises legal highs campaign

20150902- Secretary of State visit 'Angus Council's Chief Executive Richard Stiff, Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell and Angus Council Leader Iain Gaul are pictured in Forfar. ''Copyright Andy Thompson Photography / ATIMAGES ''No use without payment.
20150902- Secretary of State visit 'Angus Council's Chief Executive Richard Stiff, Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell and Angus Council Leader Iain Gaul are pictured in Forfar. ''Copyright Andy Thompson Photography / ATIMAGES ''No use without payment.

The campaign against legal highs run in the Angus titles of Johnston Press was praised last Wednesday by the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Following a meeting with senior officers of Angus Council, the Rt Hon David Mundell MP praised the “Supporting Safer Communities” campaign against legal highs run this year in the Forfar Dispatch, Kirriemuir Herald, Brechin Advertiser, Montrose Review, Arbroath Herald and Carnoustie Guide and Gazette.

Mr Mundell said: “I think your newspapers, people locally here in Angus, have done a really great job in highlighting the issues and concerns, and that partly has resulted in legislation which will hopefully clamp down.

“That legislation has to be enforced and we have to make sure that, even if they are not doing it in a shop on the high street, they are not doing it at all, whether it is in clubs or pubs or anywhere else.

“There has been mounting concern about these substances and that is why there is legislation going forward which will, I hope, deal with it.

“The bill is in the Lords at the moment.

“It will make it an offence to possess and supply such substances which have this psycho-active effect.

“As I understand it it is worded in such a way that new substances will be caught by it as well. I think that has been one of the issues that has arisen in relation to clamping down on legal highs - one item has been removed and then some variant comes along.

“Any person looking at what is actually contained in these products, even a non-expert, could be absolutely clear that they couldn’t have a positive effect on the person.”

Our papers have reported on shops selling legal highs in Arbroath and Montrose, and earlier this year we highlighted concerns locally in Forfar when it was revealed there were plans to open a shop in North Street - in between two night clubs and near to Forfar Academy.

Local campaigners set up a petition and councillors joined together to condemn the possible opening of the store.

To date the shop remains closed.

During his meeting with councillor Iain Gaul, leader of Angus Council; Mr Richard Stiff, the local authority’s chief executive, and Councillor Paul Valentine at the council offices at The Cross, Mr Mundell discussed issues which affect the various burghs in the county, and steps being taken by the UK government to address them. He is currently visiting all 32 local authorities in Scotland and after the Angus meeting said: “We have had a very productive discussion.

“As Secretary of State, what I am committed to doing is working closely with all of Scotland’s local authorities.

“The UK government still has a large number of responsibilities, many of which councils are directly involved with, such as the welfare system.

“I want to have a direct relationship with local councils and hear the specific issues that they have that arise from the work of the UK government.”

He explained there had been some “very good discussion” around welfare and the operation of Jobcentre Plus, looking at the council and Jobcentre Plus working more closely together.

He suggested the Jobcentre could use some council facilities to carry out their work.

Also on the agenda was the important preparation for the roll-out of the new Universal Credit which will come to Angus next year, and the need to ensure everybody is prepared for that.

He continued: “Specifically we talked about digital access because that is an issue for many people, whether they have the skills or the facilities to use on-line services.

“I wanted to make it very clear that everybody would have support regardless of whether they have the skills online or their own computer.

“We are looking to have a closer relationship in that regard.”

There had been a “good discussion” about the east coast main (railway) line and the council’s desire to see both the UK government and the Scottish government invest further in the line and cut journey times.

The upcoming Strategic Defence Review was also discussed with Mr Mundell stating: “Angus is one of the local authorities which has the greatest interest in the Armed Forces’ footprint in Scotland.

“We in the Scotland Office are committed to getting the best possible outcome for Scotland from the Strategic Defence Review and we want to make sure Angus Council is fully part of the discussion and debate.

‘‘The Strategic Defence Review is looking again at the whole military footprint in the UK and what our defence needs are.

“Military personnel are very positive about being here (the Royal Marine base at Condor, Arbroath) and we want to make absolutely sure that the case is not being questioned at all.

“It is a big exercise and it is very important that Angus Council is fully part of that; but there is no suggestion that there will be any change. They have an important interest and I want to make sure they are represented in that.”

Another issue which has been a hot topic recently in Angus has been applications for wind farm developments.

Mr Mundell commented: “The government has changed the arrangements for wind farm subsidy, which I fully support.

“I think we have reached the point where, if wind energy is viable, then it should be capable of funding itself.

“I think we have also reached the point where, in many parts of Scotland, many people feel overwhelmed by wind farm development and are particularly disappointed, as was confirmed in some information released yesterday, that the Scottish Government seem determined to over-ride the wishes of local people and local councils in pushing through wind farm developments which have been rejected locally.

“I think many people across Scotland feel, in relation to on-shore wind development, that enough is enough and that we have large chunks of rural Scotland which have taken their fair share of on-shore wind and that we need to move the focus on to off-shore and other renewable sources.”

The Secretary of State for Scotland said his visit to Angus had been a “very useful discussion” adding; “I am determined to understand the specific needs of each different local authority.

“I think it’s important that I should come myself and get out and about in Scotland so that is what I am doing.”