20 March 2007

Thriving local economies behind our communities

THERE is little doubt that lively and sustainable local communities can only exist with successful local economies at their foundations.

This point is clearly illustrated in Banff and Buchan, where we boast a thriving local economy and a vibrant community spirit. Local shops and business outlets not only provide vital services but serve as the hub of community interaction.

Crucially though, local businesses generate employment, keeping our area viable as a place in which our young people can be proud to live, and build prosperous, successful futures.

Successful small businesses have an important part to play in generating wealth and providing more and better jobs in our area. Businesses in Banff and Buchan have continued to grow and grow over the years, creating top quality employment for local people.

For example, we now have 650 people working in the offshore oil industry for Score Ltd where a further 180 apprentices are being trained.

We boast an average wage higher than the national average and the second highest level of self-employment in all of Scotland. Indeed, I recently took the opportunity to relay these successes to the Parliament in a debate on small businesses.

On a national scale, small local businesses are imperative to the Scottish economy, not only as a force of entrepreneurship but also as a source of local jobs.

In Scotland, 98% of businesses are considered small (0-49 employees) and 93% are micro (0-9 employees). These businesses must be bolstered through pro active support from the government to enable them to compete in the market and sustain a viable trade.

This is why an SNP government will implement a small business bonus scheme that will abolish business rates for 120,000 small firms across Scotland and reduce bills for a further 30,000. I for one want to see our High Streets and Main Streets in Fraserburgh, Banff and Peterhead thriving, with local shops and businesses given the backing they're due.

In an independent Scotland, small businesses will be given the support they deserve and the freedom they need to flourish.

We need only look across the water to our friends in Ireland to see how successful a small independent country can be. With 7% GNP growth last year, they could well afford to celebrate this St Patrick's Day.

With Scotland's dynamic entrepreneurial spirit I have no doubt that once we achieve independence we will be joining our Celtic neighbours as one of the leading economies in Europe.

The SNP will make Scotland a beacon for economic growth, and for my part I will continue to represent businesses in Banff and Buchan and keep the financial wellbeing of my constituents at the forefront of my agenda.


ON A lighter note, aside from the serious parliamentary business this week, I was also doing my bit for comedy. As part of the run-up to the elections, I was asked to take part in a political comedy stand-up show in Edinburgh to which I obliged, though I must admit, with more than a little reservation.

As my £100 fee was going to charity however, it was all in the name of a good cause and a giggle. Thankfully the experience was not as daunting as I had expected and indeed I quite enjoyed the comic relief.

I am, after all, here to serve the people and if that means providing them with a few chuckles now and again, that's fine by me.

6 March 2007

Size matters in ensuring a brighter future

IN PARLIAMENT last week, pupils were at the forefront of debate. The SNP revealed that the Government is going back on its promise to the people of Scotland to improve the education system by cutting class sizes.

Although they pledged after the last election to cut S1 and S2 class sizes for English and maths to a maximum of 20, the SNP discovered that not a single mainland council is reaching this target.

Indeed, the figures made for some fiery clashes between our deputy leader, Nicola Sturgeon, and the man responsible, Jack McConnell.

This is a poor performance on the part of the Ministers, and very telling about the Government's capacity to deliver public services. To add to this, the Lib-Lab coalition is also failing to deliver on its commitment to keep P1 classes to 25 or below. The latest Pupils in Scotland report showed that 41% of all P1 pupils are in classes of more than 25.

Education is one of the most fundamental and vital policy areas. It is not only a universal right to all, but the key to an advanced and prosperous society.

It is only with a highly skilled and educated workforce that we can achieve a successful economy. Skills and training are critical to developing our area and making the transition to modern industries such as technology and tourism.

There is no doubt that our teachers and education professionals are doing a terrific job educating our children and young people, particularly in our schools in Banff and Buchan. The glowing report on Boddam School published by HMIE was a clear indication of the dedication of teachers. However, many teachers are working under strained conditions, with oversized classes and inadequate resources. Study after study has shown that class size is pivotal to creating the right learning environment and guaranteeing pupils a good education.

An SNP government will continue to bridge this gap by increasing staff and cutting class sizes. We will reduce P1, 2 and 3 classes to 18 pupils or less. It is only in this way that we can ensure the brighter future that our young people deserve.

Stewart Stevenson
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