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28 February 2017

Actions speak louder than words

Last week the Scottish Government proved once again that it will protect our local businesses. What’s more is that the efforts of SNP representatives across the North-east have had a positive influence on creating a business rates package that works.

The North-east has been facing unique challenges due to the downturn in the oil and gas sector. That influence has been particularly hard felt by my constituents. Now it’s important to realise that the downturn doesn’t just affect those working in the industry. The challenge is felt right across the North-east. It affects everyone – from those working in the sector to those working in hotels and offices. Businesses across the board have felt the decline many depend on a strong oil and gas sector. That put us in a unique position in the North-east that required serious consideration.

In the face of this serious situation the Tories decided they should focus on making a great noise in the press. But to what end? Political point scoring – certainly. But what have they accomplished for Scottish businesses? 0. That’s right, they have accomplished 0, zilch, nothing for businesses in the North-east.

Take for example the Tory led Council in Moray. They voted down proposals from the SNP to create a fund to help mitigate rises in business rates. They also attempted to do so in Aberdeenshire but failed. Luckily, the SNP led coalition managed to create a £3 million fund that will be used to mitigate some of the costs of business rates. The Tories of course have voted against these constructive measures at every change they got.

If the Tories did genuinely care, they might spend more time working at both council and parliamentary level to ensure local businesses get the best deal possible. But it’s alright; as usual the SNP and now the Scottish Government have already taken action.

Last week SNP Finance Secretary Derek Mackay announced a Scottish Government package that will see 60% of businesses in Aberdeenshire Council Area either getting no change or a decrease in their business rates bill ¬– another huge victory for business in the North-east.

But it doesn’t end there – the Scottish Government has also committed to capping the rates across Scotland for the hospitality sector at 12.5%, meaning that local pubs, hotels and restaurants will be protected from any kind of massive rise in rates. Of course the Scottish Government also made special consideration for the North-east. They announced that offices in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire will also have the protection of the 12.5% cap. This shows once again the SNP is delivering for the North-east.

Meanwhile, the Tories in England are introducing a fee for appealing business rates – essentially an additional tax on businesses to discourage appeals. The truth is the Tories aren’t concerned with protecting business or the communities and people that rely on them for jobs and services. Their aim is to score political points and to give the appearance that they are doing something. They make plenty of pro-business noise but when it comes down to it – they don't care and they don't do.

14 February 2017

Tackling Climate Change – One Person at a Time

Today I want to talk about personal change.

When someone mentions climate change – they immediately think global change. Sometimes it can be hard to see how something so big can relate to our everyday lives. It might even make us feel helpless.

There is a lot of work to be done but personal change is one of our greatest tools. Ordinary people can be the vanguard on climate change ­– it all starts with personal change.

In my own life I’ve instituted huge personal changes. How I get around has been a huge one. About 15 years ago I used to drive 40,000 miles a year. That’s a vast distance – which comes with vast levels of emissions. I decided I had to do something about that. 15 years later and now I drive maybe 10,000 miles a year in a hybrid car – giving me 60 miles a gallon instead of 30 miles a gallon.

But the change didn’t end with my car. I make use of public transport as much as possible. And if I’m not travelling too far I walk. I tend to walk between 5 and 7 miles a day. Not only do I avoid using emission producing vehicles – but I get to improve my health too!

Personal change - all it took was being a little more conscious of what I was doing. By changing the little things I contribute to changing the big ones; like climate change.

But transportation isn’t the only habit I improved. I now make sure I shop locally. It may sound strange but shopping locally can have a huge impact on climate change. I try and make sure that I get produce that’s been grown and raised in the North-east.

In the North-east, our fish are one of the most sustainable resources we have. That should be a huge selling point for fish lovers and people who want to fight against climate change.

Remember when you shop locally you are buying products that haven’t had to travel several thousand miles of ocean. When products travel those kinds of distances they come with huge levels of emissions.

These kind of personal changes allowed me to combat climate change and help local businesses. This is great for local producers because not only do they save on distribution costs but they get to see their products reinvested in their own communities.

Climate change isn’t something happening somewhere else. Nor is it something that’s happening in the future. It’s something that’s happening now and it’s happening to us.

The thing is – I can’t beat it alone. No one individual can. But if we all make an effort to improve our habits – we can do anything.

All of humanities great achievements started with a single thought, a single action and a single person. Our ability to change and improve ourselves is the most human thing about us. From making those personal changes, one small step at a time, everyone will be able to overcome climate change.

Stewart Stevenson
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