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19 November 2008

Helping Scottish businesses

Businesses in Banff & Buchan, and Scotland as a whole, are coming under increasing pressure as a result of the current economic problems afflicting the Country.

In Scotland, the SNP Government is making a real difference to small businesses through the Small Business Bonus scheme. Since April this year, businesses with a combined rateable value of up to £8, 000 have seen their projected rate bill slashed by 80%, and from next year they will pay nothing. In Aberdeenshire alone, 6, 839 businesses will soon no longer face the burden of paying rates, increasing their profitability and viability in these difficult times. Businesses with a combined rateable value between £8, 000 and £15, 000 have already seen reductions in their rates bills and from next year will have seen them cut by between 25-50% helping a further 1, 141 businesses in Aberdeenshire.

Through the business rate bonus and freeze in council tax across Scotland the SNP Government has taken decisive action to help Scottish families during these unprecedented economic times.

However, more must be done and Westminster must live up to its responsibility to help hard working families. Soaring fuel bills remain the responsibility of Gordon Brown’s Government and action is needed to help hard pressed families cope with the threat of fuel poverty. That is why the SNP has called for VAT on fuel to be suspended over the colder months, an extra £100 for pensioners to cope with winter fuel bills, and a cut in VAT on energy efficiency products. This would make a tangible difference to those being hit hardest by current economic problems.

Tourism growing on the Banffshire Coast

Despite the difficult economic times we are facing, one business sector that has continued to grow on the Banffshire Coast in the last year is the tourism industry. According to research undertaken by the Banffshire Coast Tourism Partnership, for the second year running there was an increase in the levels of trade enjoyed by the 70 businesses involved in the partnership
With Homecoming Scotland 2009 fast approaching, I sincerely hope that the sector will enjoy even greater success next year. The Homecoming celebrations will mark the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth with a celebration of Scotland’s contributions to the world: Burns himself, Whisky, Golf, Great Scottish Minds and our rich culture and heritage.

In the Banffshire area, events such as the traditional boat festival at Portsoy, the Turriff show and the Coast visual arts festival at Banff and Macduff will all incorporate a Homecoming theme.
With people from around the world who are of Scottish descent, Scots living abroad, or who simply feel an affinity with our country invited to ‘come home’ to Scotland, 2009 will be an exceptional year for tourism in Banff & Buchan.

5 November 2008

Delivering on our dentistry promises

Access to an NHS dentist is something that should be available to all who need it. It is a principle that is important to the SNP, but one that for too long before last May’s election was neglected. In Banff & Buchan, and indeed across the North East, the level of access residents enjoyed to an NHS dentist was woefully poor.

Good dental hygiene, particularly for children, is something that is vital to everyone’s health and wellbeing. That is why I am delighted that the period since the SNP government came to power has seen a marked increase in the level of access to an NHS dentist that people across Scotland enjoy. In Banff & Buchan alone, the level of access has risen 6.4% with 4976 more people now registered with an NHS dentist.

Public Health Minister Shona Robison recently joined the first students to enrol at the new £21 million dental school in Aberdeen. This school will see 20 extra dentists qualify in Scotland every year. Incentives will be put in place to ensure that they enter the NHS when they graduate and I am confident this will have a positive impact on the various challenges that have faced dentistry in the North East in recent years.

The Scottish Government are delivering on our election commitments and tackling the problems in dentistry in the North East after many years of neglect. I am proud that we are living up to our promises and I am sure that this will be welcomed by people across the region.

A triumph of hope over fear

Congratulations to Barack Obama on being elected to serve as the 44th President of the United States of America. I agree with the First Minister who described the victory as a "a victory for optimism over pessimism, for hope over fear". I think for the first time in the lifetimes of most of us, there is a real sense of expectation that the leadership of the free world is in the hands of someone who wants to set a direct action of change.

Mr Obama was kind enough to send a message of support to the Scottish Government in April for the Tartan Day and Scotland Week celebrations in the US earlier this year pointing out his own Scottish ancestry. Mr Obama joins at least eleven previous US Presidents in having Scottish descent. So it seems there's another Scot in the White House and that must be a good thing!

Stewart Stevenson
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