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21 July 2015

Stevenson on Tour

It’s that time of year again when I get into my caravan for the annual surgery tour around Banffshire and the Buchan Coast – knocking on doors in the farthest of constituency corners, so that I can answer your questions, queries, and let you know what I’ve been doing in the past weeks and months for the area.

Starting on Tuesday 14th July, my 15th tour will cover 37 communities from Rothiemay in the far west to Boddam at the south-eastern end, and inland to Aberchirder, New Byth and Memsie. It’s a great chance for me to meet all those who can’t make it to the traditional surgeries in towns and villages throughout the year, and I find the whole experience enjoyable and engaging.

Even though a lot of our communication these days is done electronically, there is no substitute for meeting face-to-face and I still think this is vitally important. And for the very small communities, this may be the only chance I’ve had all year to come and visit.

One of the issues that will always have people talking is how much money they have in their pockets after the Chancellor’s latest budget for 2015/16.

The recent offering from George Osbourne looks set to hit working families, the poor and young people the hardest. The harsh austerity agenda continues to hit people where it hurts – particularly given the savage cuts in tax credits.

We do welcome the increase in the minimum wage of course, but the cuts to the incomes of those that can least afford it cannot be ignored. The living wage in Scotland is currently £7.85 and the proposals are that this figure would be effectively lowered to £7.20.

Cuts to the living standards of young people are also severe – including the scrapping of student grants for those that need them the most. The SNP Government will continue to deliver grants for the poorest students in Scotland, demonstrating the benefits in having these powers closer to home.

Although there were welcome measures such as the freeze in fuel duty, there was nothing in the budget to encourage innovation or exports. People need to be inspired in order to develop ideas and business plans, and they need help along the way.

The austerity agenda is being imposed on Scotland, despite the election of 56 SNP MSPs who wholeheartedly rejected austerity, and an electorate who only returned one Tory MP north of the border to Westminster. It’s worth remembering that the Tories secured their lowest share of the vote in Scotland since 1865 in the recent election.

The latest budget just furthers the SNP case to have economic and welfare powers in Scotland so that are more dynamic economy can be created – boosting tax revenues and resulting in a fairer society – where policies benefit the many.

This is just one of the hot topics I would really like to chat to you about if this is something that interests you.

For more details on where I am having surgeries year around, please go to http://surgeries.stewartstevenson.scot/. No appointment is necessary for my caravan tour, although constituents with ongoing cases will probably find it useful to advise their attendance on 01779 470444.



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7 July 2015

Our graduates are well equipped for life

School’s out for summer and for those finishing their university courses – quite possibly forever.

And the latest statistics show that graduates from all across Scotland are leaving with excellent prospects for the future.

Figures from 2013/14 published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that a degree from a Scottish university stands our young people in good stead as they look forward to the world of work.

For leavers from Scottish institutions – 90 per cent went into employment, further study or both, and 73 per cent of full-time first degree leavers entering UK employment were employed in professional occupations. This is up from last year’s figure of 69 per cent and is the highest figure for all UK administrations.

Graduates leaving university with their first degree in Scotland are typically able to earn up to £22,000 – up £1000 over the past year, and again the highest figure for all UK administrations. And only five per cent were unemployed in the year since leaving further education – down from six per cent last year.

After a long and expensive journey through university, it’s heartening to note that Scottish graduates have excellent prospects on leaving. And Scotland is not losing out as the full time first degree graduates are finding the majority of their professional jobs north of the border.

The Scottish Government’s investment in higher education is paying off for all those involved. Scottish universities are already viewed as world leading around the globe with four institutions in the world’s top 200, more than any other country per head of population apart from Switzerland.

To give an example - for those who are still in further education and want to strengthen their job prospects - they will also now have the chance to benefit from travel as part of their studies in this year’s round of the Outward Mobility Fund.

Over 270 students from Scottish universities will be able to travel to India, China the US and Europe as part of their studies thanks to £143,000 in grants to be shared between nine universities and one students’ association.
The benefits of studying abroad are well documented - language skills, intercultural understanding, new ways of working and greater employment prospects are just a few - this year more Outward Mobility Fund money is being provided than ever before.

Importantly, the fund will support students who might otherwise find it difficult to take up these opportunities, and benefit from travelling.

As part of the grant allocation, Edinburgh Napier University secured match-funding to take a group of college and university computing students to meet their counterparts in collaborative project with University of Pittsburgh, and Glasgow Caledonian University biomedical students will go on a four-month study exchange to Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Closer to home, Robert Gordon University has been granted £19,197 for a multi-disciplinary health and wellbeing project in Manipal in India.

So whether you are still in further education or you are one of the fortunate ones this summer donning a gown and picking up their graduation scroll, studying in Scotland will give you good prospects for the future – all the best!

Stewart Stevenson
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