24 April 2002

Request for Full-Time fun

These days we seem to have information overload when it comes to choosing which programmes we want to watch on TV and for those of us that can work out how to use the video, we have even more of a choice!

What we seem to forget about is the radio as a means of entertainment, and how better to make a drive in the car more relaxing and enjoyable. It is certainly entertaining when you’re stuck at the traffic lights and you can see someone singing away to the radio, oblivious of all the peering eyes and smiles in their direction.

I was delighted recently when I heard the announcement that Deveron FM is to be on the airwaves again. The only downside is that they are only back part-time, which is a shame. Local radio stations are a rare commodity and have a special appeal. There is nothing better than to tune into a radio station and hear the DJs speaking with the same accent as yourself and talking about local issues, which are of interest to the listeners.

It is great to see the enthusiasm that there is for this wee station that can make a big difference to people’s lives. I know that a lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes and that all those involved are really proud of their achievements. As too I am certain that many locals are right behind in supporting the station and would like to see it go from strength to strength.

Waves Radio in Peterhead and Kinnaird Radio in Fraserburgh do a great job in both entertaining and educating listeners, so let’s hope that we can hear Deveron FM on a more permanent basis in the future.

And remember listening to the radio is not restricted to the home or the car. When you’re out and about enjoying the spring and summer, don’t forget to bring along your friend, the wireless.

Keep tuned!

Information Overload?

We have just completed another marathon session in Parliament. This time it was to complete the ‘Freedom of Information Act’.

And it is a very welcome step forward. If it actually starts to change attitudes to the public’s desire to know more about what is being done in their name that is.

But the Minister retains quite draconian powers to prohibit the publication of information. So the new Information Commissioner – the job advert will appear soon if you want to apply – won’t have the final say in the matter as many of us had hoped.

The Act also includes substantial powers to block ‘campaigns’ from asking too many questions of public bodies. And in this case too many means two!
And yet it has often been the determined asker of questions - journalist, member of the public or campaigner – who uncovers precisely that which an administration wishes to keep well locked up.

Someone once described real news as information the owner does not want you to have. Let us hope that in three and half years’ time when the Act has come fully into play, that are actually seeing real benefits.
The Price of Crime

Almost every document I receive has a price tag firmly printed on its face. In the case of the Statistical Bulletin on ‘Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2001’ it is £2.

Thankfully I get my documents in my role as MSP and increasingly the public download them from the Internet where governments generally publish them free of charge.

But not all make happy reading. The crime stats certainly don’t.

The debate about Peterhead Prison continues to hot up and about 200 Parliamentary questions have been tabled by the SNP on the Scottish Prison Service’s proposals.

The statistics just reinforce the folly of any action that would damage our ability to deal with sex offenders. Because I am reading that there is a 5% increase in sexual offences between 2000 and 2001. So that is even more ‘customers’ for Peterhead. And no sign that the upward trend is slackening.

But there is some good news for our area. The rate of domestic housebreaking in Aberdeenshire is the third lowest of any mainland area in Scotland.

Before we get too comfortable though, I note that neighbouring Aberdeen City is the highest with a rate five time as great. So there might be danger of an ‘overspill’.

Lifelong Learning

Is it not irritating, the modern passion for joined up names for organisations. Just think of visitscotland or learndirect.

But the learndirect one, at least, does some good work, giving access to new skills for people of all ages and conditions.

So well done to our Banff and Buchan College on gaining a national learning award for their local provision of learningdirect.

Just a pity about the grammar.

17 April 2002

True Partnership

One of the buzz words in the Scottish Parliament is ‘partnership’. It seems that nothing the Scottish Government does fails to mention the word.

And on the SNP benches we have taken it on board too.

The campaign to save Peterhead Prison crosses many of the conventional divides in politics. It is quite clear that there are members of all parties who are ‘on-side’.

We just have to manage our activities to ensure, as the Chairman of Hearts football club put it this week after 10 of the 12 clubs resigned from the Premier League, that we do not become a ‘disadvantaged majority’.

Because we have a majority doesn’t mean we win.

So I was particularly pleased to meet with a new group of Peterhead supporters. Not in this case ‘Footballers Wives’ but an altogether more serious and determined group, ‘Prison Officers Wives’.

Being civil servants, Prison Officers contracts mean that they may not speak to the media. But their wives and partners are not bound by the Civil Service Code. And they are determined to be heard!

So partnership for Peterhead Prison is growing every day, inside politics and outside.

The Parliament has received three petitions this week on varying aspects of how our judicial system deals with sex offenders. This shows that the issue is of widespread concern across Scotland.

So it is probably unique that a community is campaigning to retain a unit with 300 sex offenders. And when even the prisoners are alarmed at closure we have the most unusual partnerships springing up.

Time to Spare – Go by Air

As part of my research into prisons, I went to Parc Prison in Wales as part of a wider visit.

Until then I had not realised how difficult Cardiff was to reach and had to fly to Bristol to be collected from there.

So with a flight back from more convenient Cardiff, I thought would be OK. But no.

I found myself sitting in the departure lounge watching British Airways cancel three flights and postpone another by five hours. So I was probably lucky that my BA flight was only postponed by 90 minutes.

But my difficulties paled into insignificance beside the experience of a gentleman who sent me an e-mail recently. He tells me that he has flown from London to Aberdeen on 22 occasions recently. However he is beginning to wonder what he is paying for as only four of them have left on time.

But then I noted that our main aviation radars are thirty years old and require daily maintenance. The National Air Traffic Services have indicated that replacement has been postponed.

So may be it is not just British Airways fault. If controllers cannot see planes, they won’t be allowed to fly.

And I can’t get a solution. It is yet another power Westminster has kept to themselves. So we can’t buy the new radars that would we need to improve our air services.

Stewart Stevenson
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