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28 May 2013

Helping the Young into Employment

The employment market is different for each of us. For example, young people seeking work face a very different market from that which I and others of my age experienced when we were youngsters. The economic environment was very different then.

This is true of different areas in Scotland too. In the North-east we face challenges related more to a lack of appropriately trained staff than a lack of jobs for people to go into. In comparison with other constituencies in Scotland, my constituency, Banffshire and Buchan Coast, has one of the lowest proportions of school leavers who go into tertiary education. The reason for that is, ostensibly, a good one, in that school leavers can go into employment without having to do further training. Nonetheless, it is important that we provide support for people to enter, for example, modern apprenticeships, given that the comparatively easy transition into work that is experienced in the North-east of Scotland does not necessarily equip people for a lifetime of employment.

The North Sea oil industry, for example, will provide many decades of employment, which could mean a lifetime’s employment for those who so choose and renewable energy will provide similar opportunities. In fact, it is estimated that Scotland’s energy industry – across all sectors – will need 95,000 more skilled people between now and 2020. This is a huge opportunity for Scotland - by ensuring our workforce has the right training and experience we can support our energy industry and ensure people can access the jobs that are available.

To fulfil this need, the North-east’s colleges will remain crucial in supporting increased employment for our youngsters.

Therefore, I very much support Banff and Buchan College and Aberdeen College, which have focused their efforts on providing training that is appropriate to local needs. Largely, that means engineering training. We have had excellent support from local employers, such as Macduff Shipyards and Score in Peterhead, which employ huge numbers of apprentices and, indeed, advertise for apprentices. Like all apprenticeships, those are linked to employment. It is particularly good that a huge proportion of those who complete an apprenticeship remain in employment six months later.

Moreover, The Energy Skills Scotland training centre is right at the heart of this plan, and the recent announcement that its funding support is to be doubled by the Scottish Government, is naturally very welcome news as its students look to maintain Scotland’s place at the cutting edge of energy technology.

Similarly, we must encourage not just young men but young women to go into technology and engineering. It is quite interesting how many of the high-performing apprentices in the north-east turn out to be young women who have acquired mathematical skills in school that they have gone on to apply in college and in employment.

Of course, it is more expensive to train someone in engineering skills than it is to train people in certain other disciplines. Historically, until the Scottish Government engaged with the college sector in a different way, it was difficult to get adequate funding for courses that cost significantly more. Therefore, I am very pleased to see the Scottish Government almost invariably finding space to support youngsters in apprenticeships and further skills training through the mechanism of the contracts that it lets. I am always delighted to meet apprentices whose jobs had been created directly as a result of the Scottish Government placing contracts. The Government is doing at its own hand the kinds of things that it should be doing, and it is creating the educational environment for people to acquire the skills that they will need.

In youth employment, as in so many things, the Government is doing a terrific job with the powers that it has. Imagine what we could do with the full powers of an independent country.

14 May 2013

Regulation of the Press

The Scottish Parliament recently debated the potential incorporation into Scots law of the Westminster Royal Charter on the Regulation of the Press prompted by the much-publicised Leveson inquiry on media ethics, carried out in the wake of the hacking scandal and invasion of privacy by various media outlets.

Regulating the press is a balancing act between ensuring the right to fair comment and freedom of speech which never unduly compromises anyone’s right to privacy. It is this evaluation which is of primary importance.

However, it is not just upon individuals that press regulation legislation would have an impact, as it is still to be made clear exactly to whom these laws would apply.

For example, to keep up with news in the constituency, I rely upon several local papers. Where is the boundary between a mainstream paper that is covered by the charter and a periodical carrying news that is published in a parish for a readership of perhaps 150 parishioners?

Where does that leave a community radio station, which broadcasts on the internet or through the airwaves? Are they a broadcaster for the purposes of the law? Some of the time they will be the media and the press and will be covered by the charter, and some of the time they will not.

Even we as politicians could be caught by it if we provide something that is news and which perhaps carries advertising in promoting our electoral campaigns. Is such material included?

The reality is that we need to look at the whole picture, and ensure that we cover all the ways in which people get news and that they are properly controlled, but also free to inform, educate and entertain.

The definitive test of this will be that of what is “in the public interest,” and, of course, who will be the guardians of that interest, because, ultimately, it is the test of public interest that determines what turns information into news.

Year of Natural Scotland

2013 is the Year of Natural Scotland, a nationwide celebration of our breath-taking scenery and diverse, unique natural heritage. An exciting series of events is in place for the coming months, including arts, music and sport, all of which are in a spirit of celebration, as well as conservation, of our great outdoors.

The Year of Natural Scotland is also an opportunity for us all to consider our environment, both in terms of our immediate surroundings and our broader eco-system, and to take action to protect and sustain Scotland’s natural heritage. Indeed, in the North-east, we boast a diverse array of flora, fauna and natural habitat which, while there for us to get out and enjoy, also needs our protection.

To this end I, and several of my parliamentary colleagues, have signed up to the Scottish Environment Link Species Champion programme.

The species being championed range from iconic animals and plants to lesser-known fungi and invertebrates. Each of the species listed is currently affected by a range of human impacts such as development-driven habitat loss, climate change and pollution.

Each of us Species Champions will be learning first-hand from members of Scottish Environment LINK who have a tradition of environmental expertise throughout Scotland. We will then be working together to provide a brighter future for these species, and pass on that knowledge throughout Scotland’s political community to shape policy and promote biodiversity.

I have adopted the, albeit not cuddly, but still beautiful Spiny Lobster, also known as the crayfish, whose numbers have been in decline in recent years. Over the coming 12 months, and beyond, I will be doing what I can to raise awareness of the plight of the spiny lobster, and ensuring that it is being fished responsibly.

Stewart Stevenson
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