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28 August 2008

Positive action on the economy

Talk of rising oil prices, inflation and 'the credit crunch' have been impossible to avoid in recent weeks, not only in Scotland but throughout the Western world. The news has all too often been dominated by gloomy economic reports while at Westminster the response has been underwhelming and utterly disappointing.

While the UK Government appears paralysed and powerless in the face of global economic troubles however the SNP Government recognises the need to take action. Instead of being negative and claiming nothing can be done the SNP is acting positively to protect the people of Scotland against the impacts of inflation and rising living costs in the short-term and to secure the health of our economy in the long-term. While we cannot control the economy or insulate ourselves completely from global events there is still much that we can do – and must do.

In a decisive move, we have introduced a package of common-sense measures to strengthen the Scottish economy. The package includes a practical plan to bring forward £100 million of investment in affordable housing from 2010-11. I know this will come as welcome news to many first-time buyers in Banff & Buchan who are finding it difficult to get on the property ladder. The initiative will also do a great deal to boost the Scottish construction industry at a time when it needs it and to tackle the long-term shortage of housing in Scotland.

Housing is a basic human need and as such is accorded a place high on the SNP agenda. Safe, adequate housing at an affordable cost is essential to a person's security, health and wellbeing. This is why, since entering power we have been striving to address the dearth of affordable homes in Scotland and to match housing supply with the need that exists. We must provide the right type of homes in the right quantity and in the right places – and that is another priority that this initiative will deliver. Through pragmatic measures like ending the Right to Buy which seriously damaged the supply of social housing in Scotland for many years, we wasted no time in tackling Scotland's housing shortage head-on.

Added to our action on housing the SNP Government has undertaken a number of other initiatives to make efficiency savings and to grow our economy. At a time of increasing oil prices we have introduced a plan to bulk-buy electricity across the public sector – a move which will reap millions of pounds worth of savings for the public purse. We have also taken further steps to ensure Scottish tourism gains maximum benefits from Homecoming 2009, a year to mark 250th anniversary of Robert Burns's birth through a series of fantastic events and celebrations.

Though we do not yet have full control over Scotland's finances under the devolved settlement we in the SNP are using the powers that we do have to the absolute maximum effect for the benefit of the people of Scotland.

Our vision for Scotland is a positive one. Despite a global economic downturn Scotland is showing positive resilience and we are confident that with the helping hand of a supportive government at Holyrood it will not only remain strong but grow and flourish. We have high ambitions for Scotland and we are thinking big for our country's future. With a dynamic economy backed up by an effective government we believe there are no barriers to what Scotland can achieve.

Valuable time in the constituency

With the summer now drawing to a close it is back to Holyrood for the start of another parliamentary year. The summer recess has afforded me extra time in Banff & Buchan which I have greatly appreciated. It has given me the opportunity to do a great deal of travelling around the constituency and to meet with my constituents, not to mention to attend some of our many festivals and shows like the Turriff show, the New Deer show and Peterhead's Scottish Week festival, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. I return to Parliament refreshed and eager to serve all of my constituents to the best of my ability in what promises to be another parliamentary year full of activity.

13 August 2008

A helping hand for our fishing industry

It is the responsibility of any good government to promote and protect a country's national industries. In times of difficulty when they are in need of support the Government must act. This is why the SNP Government has taken firm action to sustain the Scottish fishing industry for the present and the future.

Crippling rises in fuel costs in recent months have been felt by everybody in Scotland – individuals, families and business. Amongst industries however fishing has been hit particularly hard. While most businesses can pass on rising prices to the consumer, as fish is sold for the most part at auction the fishing trade has no such option. With fuel costs now accounting for as much as half the earnings of boats, the profitability and sustainability of many businesses has been put under severe strain. Indeed in my time in the constituency this summer I have heard the concerns of a number of local people involved in the sector.

The SNP Government has taken the issues facing the fishing industry seriously and responded decisively, without delay. We have delivered a multi-million pound funding package to support the industry plus a three-year plan to ensure fishing's long term sustainability.

Through Scottish Government and EU funding the Government has made £29 million available over the next three years to help the industry adapt to the current reality of higher fuel costs.

The use of these funds will be two-fold. Firstly it will be used to fund a range of fuel efficiency measures such as grants for fishermen to buy equipment like fuel flow meters or fuel-efficient engines. This will cut down significantly on fishermen's fuel expenses and also boost the environmental sustainability of the industry.

Secondly, the funding will be used to finance marketing initiatives for the sector. Scottish fish is of the finest quality and one of our premium national products. It is vital therefore that we fully promote the product and maximise its market potential at home and abroad. With the support of Seafood Scotland and the Seafish Industry Authority resources will be channelled into boosting the brand, reputation and value of Scotland's fish.

This initiative will come as a considerable help to the industry at a time when it needs it most. But it could only be achieved with the close and solid cooperation of the fishing industry itself. The three year plan was developed through the Fuel Taskforce, made up of industry representatives. Indeed from the SNP's first day in power, our Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead has been consulting and working in partnership with fishing stakeholders to secure a better future for the industry. Relations between the Scottish Government and the industry have been fundamentally changed under the SNP. We have granted stakeholders a central role in the decision making process.

In contrast to these proactive measures the UK Government's actions so far have been vastly inadequate. The SNP Government will continue to press for their financial support and action to bring energy costs under control as this remains the responsibility of UK Ministers. However, it is clear that the days of Scotland simply waiting for Westminster to deliver for our fishing industry are well and truly over. For the first time in history Scotland has a Government that will stand up for its fishing interests and give it the support it needs to have a vibrant, healthy future.

Stewart Stevenson
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