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28 November 2006

Battling Villagers Rewarded For Efforts

THIS week I had the pleasure of congratulating community activists in New Deer as they won the Calor Scottish Community of the Year Award, when I attended the ceremony which was held in Edinburgh.

I am absolutely delighted for the village and for the people who helped bring this honour to Buchan.

I believe one of the main reasons it was won has been the positive and battling spirit displayed by the village when it was faced with losing its only bank.

It is quite unprecedented for a community faced with this situation to take the campaign to other financial institutions and manage to attract a new bank to set up in the village.

There are many other facets of village life which make New Deer such a great place, but this campaign was absolutely key and I am thrilled for the campaigners that their hard work has been recognised in this way.

I hope that other villages and communities from Banff and Buchan will be following in New Deer's footsteps by challenging for next year's award.

These awards highlight the benefits of village life and shows that there is such as thing as society.

I am never surprised when the Banff and Buchan character is recognised, because having encountered and sampled the hospitality and friendship of the people of the area I know that others too would appreciate it. This is another selling point that some people might say is unique to the North-east.

And, I must say, I am proud and honoured to be representing the people of Banff and Buchan.

Smoking change in the air

AN EXPERT group on smoking prevention has published its recommendations, and, as a result, the Health Minister agreed to change the law by raising the legal age for buying cigarettes.

This step may be introduced by the first anniversary of the smoking ban, which so far has proved a success, as the vast majority of Scotland's citizens have observed the ban.

The response from those people who have worked in places where smoking was rife have stated that they feel the health benefits, so I welcome the fact that there will be legislation to raise the age of buying cigarettes from 16 to 18.

We must remind ourselves of the stark facts associated with smoking. About 12 times more people in the UK have died from smoking than were killed during World War II.

And the population of Scotland – 5 million people – died from smoking-related diseases across the world in 2000.

In Scotland, tobacco use kills 13,000 people in every year, and this makes it one of Scotland's greatest public health challenges.

When it comes to the youth of Scotland, the more barriers we can put up to stop them entering a lifelong habit of smoking must be acted upon.

Five per cent of boys and 7% of girls are regular smokers at the age of 13. This rose to 14% and 24% by the age of 15.

This highlights the need for a change of thought and, if the new law is passed, I hope that it is just as successful as the smoking ban.

It's time that Scotland kicked its sick-man of Europe tag into touch.

1 November 2006

Scotland missing out on trained physiotherapists

IN THE Scottish Parliament this week, we saw the ethos of the people's Parliament being met as hundreds of physiotherapy students and graduates made the trek to Edinburgh to lobby their MSPs.

I had the opportunity to meet with students from outwith Banff and Buchan, as well as those from the constituency.

The reason they came to Parliament was to highlight the depressing fact that, four months after graduating, 81% were still looking for their first job. This seems at odds with the bizarre situation we currently have, as there are 28,000 patients in Scotland waiting to see a physiotherapist.

If a patient has to wait, they run the risk that their condition becomes chronic due to lack of early physiotherapy intervention. The fact is that there is a pool of talent that is not being drawn from, and this is wasteful and damaging. If these graduates are not employed and trained, we will not have the senior or specialist physiotherapists in the future on whom the NHS heavily relies.

In order to maintain their skills, many graduates are seeking work abroad, and this will be a drain on our skilled workforce. And with the latest estimates suggesting that it takes £28,580 to train a physiotherapy graduate, the job shortage would represent a potential wasted investment of £2.5 million. The Scottish Executive must and should be doing more to protect taxpayers' investment. We have the opportunity to act to prevent a crisis, and this must be acted upon.

Scotland can ill afford to lose our well-trained graduates, who are desperately needed to treat patients more quickly, as many patients can be seen by a physiotherapist rather than having to wait to see a consultant.

I must say that I was very impressed with they way the students from Banff and Buchan made their case. It shows that the public can and should become involved in politics.

Speaking both as a local politician and as someone who has had the need of physiotherapy treatment in the past, I hope that once those students graduate, a job will be waiting for them.

There was welcome news with the release that a record number of overseas visitors came to Scotland last year. There were nearly 2.4 million tourists in 2005, a 50% increase on 2001 – which happened to be the year of a double blow for the industry with the foot-and-mouth outbreak and the World Trade Centre attacks. The reason that this is significant is that the tourism industry is worth an estimated £4.2 billion to the Scottish economy, with £1.2 billion spent by overseas visitors alone. More could be done, however, to promote Scotland as a tourist destination, and in particular the North-east.

Tourism can part fill the financial gap of communities whose main industries have dwindled. I know for a fact that the North-east has a great deal to offer that would greatly interest many of those visitors from abroad who seek Scotland as a place to visit. After all, we have breathtaking scenery, warm and friendly people, local food and other produce, which has a distinctive flavour that encapsulates the Scottish larder. And our coastal and historical sites add to the unique selling point that the North-east offers.

But as we know, the car remains the primary means of travel for tourists. Travel by car in industrial countries accounts for more than 70% of all tourists' journeys. That is why my party, the SNP, have called for more transport investment. Scotland needs world-class transport connections to attract greater numbers of tourists in the future. The roads that service the North of Scotland have been deeply under-funded, which has led to great driver frustration. At times this has caused grave accidents. If we are really serious about making Scotland a premier holiday tourist destination, we have to invest in our transport infrastructure for the benefit of tourists and locals alike. It's time that Scotland achieved its tourism potential.


Stewart Stevenson
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