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18 August 2015

Fighting for the Living Wage

As the latest statistics on unemployment in Scotland demonstrate a welcome drop - Banffshire and Buchan Coast remain among the lowest for unemployment rates across Scotland.

However although this is good news, it is equally important to ensure that those employed are earning wages that they can truly live on.

The SNP has proved that it is committed to the Living Wage – the hourly rate of pay set independently by the Living Wage Foundation – which currently stands at £7.85 in Scotland.

As part of a Scottish Government drive, employers are being encouraged to provide the living wage to employees – with a target to get 500 businesses to sign up by March 2016.

Recently, the Beatson Cancer Charity became the 300th business in Scotland to be accredited as a Living Wage employer. The well-known charity delivers patient and family support, including patient wellbeing and complementary therapy services, as well as providing specialist care. These are delivered through their award-winning Wellbeing Centre, the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre, and related facilities across the West of Scotland.

By promoting the living wage scheme across Scotland, the government is demonstrating its commitment to fairness and supporting those on the lowest of incomes. Earlier in the year, the Scottish Government made sure they led by example by becoming the first accredited government within the UK to sign up.

As part of this, they have been working with the Poverty Alliance to encourage employers from the public, private and third sectors to seek this accreditation.

Research has shown that the Living Wage can enhance productivity, reduce absenteeism and improve staff morale – but companies need to sign up so that these benefits can be passed on to workers.

Last December, I welcomed a report highlighting that the introduction of the Living Wage and the council tax freeze could be improving health across Scotland.

The study by researchers at the Scottish Public Health Observatory (PHO) at NHS Health Scotland found that certain regulatory and tax policies could help tackle health inequalities. Dr Gerry McCartney, head of the PHO, said that in some cases “they will save lives”.

Significantly, the report stated that the policy of a Living Wage had a positive impact on health. The SNP government introduced the Living Wage in 2011 which benefitted thousands of workers covered by Scottish Government pay policy, and since then, the SNP has campaigned for more businesses to sign up.

At a summit earlier this year to promote the policy, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon emphasised to business leaders the benefits that would be accrued from adopting the Living Wage, and how a better paid staff can improve business productivity and ultimately drive forward the economy.

Running alongside this is the ‘Scottish Business Pledge’. The Pledge was launched in May and is a partnership between Government and business - working to boost productivity, ensure fairness and generate growth across the private sector and beyond.

In recent weeks, STV became the 70th company – and first broadcaster - to make the Scottish Business Pledge. What makes this relevant is that Pledge companies commit to paying their staff the Living Wage.

Independent research commissioned by KPMG – also a Pledge company – further illustrates the business benefits that flow from paying the Living Wage, including recruitment and retention of staff.

The Living Wage can make a real difference to people in Scotland. The Scottish Government may be committed to having 500 Scots-based Living Wage accredited employers by March 2016, but it is up to local businesses, organisations and charities to now carry this forward.

I would urge local groups and enterprises around my constituency to take a look at these proposals and choose to truly invest in the people that make up your workforce – invest in the future.

4 August 2015

A Future for Fishing

Fishing is one of the flagship industries of the North East and is responsible for some of most abundant and wonderful produce exported all across the world.

Since becoming an MSP for Banffshire and Buchan Coast in 2001, the challenges of the fishing industry and those that work in it have never been far off my radar.

On my travels over the constituency this summer, I have been listening to a lot of fishermen and people working in fish processing, and it is obvious that there are still many concerns surrounding the support for and governance of one of our most important industries. From my chats with individuals, there are some serious reservations about how the introduction of Marine Protected Areas is proceeding.

As an industry with a turnover of around a half billion pounds each year, it is surprising that politicians have so little collective engagement with representatives and workers in this important industry.

It is because of this that I have asked my colleagues at the Scottish Parliament if they would like to start a Cross-Party Group on the fishing industry. I envisage that the focus would be on those who catch sea fish, nephrops and shellfish and on those who process them, and I would like to see a group established early in the next Parliament if possible.

The good news is that members of SNP, Labour, Conservative and LibDem parties have responded positively so it's clear we can move ahead with a group.

Up till now many fishermen's organisations have yet to brief MSPs on how they would like to go forward, while environmental interests are actively seeking to lobby parliamentarians. It may now be time to have a more effective forum for ensuring that Scottish Parliamentarians are better informed about issues that matter to the fishing industry, and it's clear that a Cross Party Group would be a step in the right direction to address this.

Fishing needs strong links to Parliament and we have been missing out on hearing the industry's voice. It is not only about current issues, but also about ensuring that the fishing industry and communities who depend on fishing, have a forum where they can voice their concerns at the highest level.

The fishing industry is never far from the headlines. This July, fisheries minister Richard Lochhead announced that following consultation, new conservation measures to help ensure a sustainable future for scallop fishing will be put in place.

The minimum landing size of scallops will be increased from 100 mm to 105 mm for most of the Scottish coast. This is expected to help protect the breeding stock of scallops and lead to an increase in yield and egg production.

As well as an increase in the minimum landing size in most areas, restrictions will be placed on the number of dredges that scallop vessels are allowed to tow in inshore waters. The standard restriction will restrict vessels to eight dredges per side in inshore waters, helping to limit the effort of scallop vessels in this zone. There will be no change to the current restrictions outside 12 nautical miles.

The scallop sector is very important to our local communities, and it is hoped that the new measures coming into force in spring 2016 will help secure their long-term sustainability in Scottish waters.

There have been concerns about the long-term health of the fishery, and stock assessments show that in some areas around the coast, management needs to be enhanced to preserve the stock.

A few weeks ago at the end of June, the latest assessments showed that North Sea cod, haddock and plaice numbers were on the rise, which should lead to much higher quotas for next year. Encouraging figures were also identified for a number of west coast stocks including megrim and Rockall Haddock.

However, other stocks have decreased including North Sea nephrops and whiting which will present more of a challenge in the coming year.

So, it’s a mixed picture as ever from the industry, but there are encouraging increases in some of our most valuable stocks such as haddock – up by 30 per cent. Our fishermen deserve immense credit for their part in the emerging recovery of the cod stock and they should be thanked for their continued commitment to sustainable fishing.

The Scottish Government is committed to working closely with all parts of the fishing industry over the summer to understand what these new assessments mean for them, and I will continue to talk to workers on the shore as to what they think should be done long term.

Dialogue is paramount, and we need to make sure we are hearing the voices of those who work within our prized fishing industry.

Stewart Stevenson
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