22 October 2008

On your side

The economic turbulence of recent weeks is doubtless causing concern in households here in Banff & Buchan and across Scotland. But amidst these tough times there is reason to be optimistic. As we face a global economic downturn, an effective government that will stand up for Scotland's interests has never been more important – and with the SNP this is exactly what we have.

Far from shying away from the crisis, the SNP is working on all fronts to tackle it. While we cannot halt the global downturn what we can do is minimise its impact on Scotland through a dual strategy of supporting hard pressed households and boosting economic development.

At a special economic Cabinet meeting recently the SNP Government set out a six-point action plan to address the current economic situation. On the business side of the plan we have pledged to re-profile capital spending with a view to bringing forward government projects and to boost tourism through the Homecoming celebrations of 2009.

On the domestic side, with fuel bills soaring in recent months we are taking concrete action to tackle fuel poverty. We have pledged to look at improving energy efficiency measures and providing better advice to households. But moreover, our Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon recently announced that we are investing an extra £10m in the Central Heating Programme this year. From April next year the programme will also be extended to families on income support and those with children under five or with disabled children under 16. This injection of funds will reach some of the most vulnerable in our society at a time when they need it most - not least in the colder North East.

This targeted plan comes on top of consistent action by the SNP over the last year to stimulate the economy and put money back in people's pockets. We have already frozen council tax across the country, cut business rates for 150,000 small businesses and brought forward £100 million of investment in affordable housing from 2010-11 to be spent this year and next.

This is not a time to panic or indulge in doom and gloom. It is a time for a government to be positive, pragmatic and realistic – to do all we can do in the present and to look ahead strategically to when the economy recovers. We are acting now to ensure that Scotland can weather the storm, to ensure that our economy is resilient and in the best position to bounce back when the downturn draws to a close.

It is at times like this when the need for Scotland to control its own affairs becomes clearer than ever. The Prime Minister has lately been congratulating himself for rescuing the economy from disaster. He has even taken the opportunity to run Scotland down and claim that we could not have got ourselves out of such a crisis. However perhaps Gordon Brown should remember that it was within the union - and under his watch - that this financial crisis was born. If Scotland had full control of its finances we could have taken action specifically designed for the Scottish economy. Like our near neighbours, the Irish, we could have acted swiftly to guarantee bank deposits. Or like our northerly neighbours, Norway, we could have invested in an oil fund for Scotland's future generations. But as long as Westminster controls the purse strings the SNP will do all in our power to make sure Scotland's voice is heard. And for my part, in these trying times, I will continue to champion the interests of the people of Banff & Buchan.

8 October 2008

Smarter solutions for our fishing industry

At a time when the Scottish fishing industry faces a number of pressures such as high fuel prices and conservation obligations, it is vital that it receives as much support as possible. We must think about smarter ways we can work to maximise the profitability of the trade.

With this goal in mind the SNP Government is tackling an important issue for the industry - waste. Each year, due to nonsensical European regulations, Scotland's trawlermen are forced to throw away up to £40 million worth of fish.

This disgraceful waste of perfectly marketable produce is a major frustration for fishermen. I have heard from local trawlermen of the soul destroying experience of having to throw away top quality fish. It is of course also bad news for the environment and for the consumer.

These excessive discards point to a clear mismatch between EU policies and local needs. The SNP has responded by taking the issue directly to Brussels and launching a campaign to change some of the rules which result in this shameful waste . Through constructive engagement with Brussels the SNP Government is putting Scotland's case forward.

This is another example of Scotland taking the lead in Europe with innovative measures for the sector. This year we have already introduced a conservation scheme whereby fishermen can avoid areas where there is a high aggregation of cod. We also secured a historic agreement at last year's Fisheries Council to gain more days at sea for boats in return for taking part in conservation measures. The SNP Government has demonstrated that when it comes to EU fisheries policy Scotland does not always have to blindly follow but with smart initiatives like this we can lead the way.

The SNP is working at all levels, at home and abroad to ensure a viable future for the fishing trade. Indeed I recently had a constructive meeting with SeaFish, the seafood industry's authority, to discuss plans to boost the value and reputation of Scottish seafood. Fishing is vital to Banff & Buchan and I can assure my constituents that I will do all in my power to secure a healthy, sustainable future for our local industry.

Gone are the days of our fishing industry waiting in vain for Westminster or the Labour-Lib Dem Executive to stand up for Scotland's interests in Europe. The SNP is listening to stakeholders' concerns and working with them to find smarter solutions to the issues before us and putting those solutions firmly on the table in EU negotiations. We have so far received a positive response to our campaign from Brussels and in the months ahead we will continue to press our case and fight for a better deal for Scotland's fishing industry.

Congratulations in order

I was delighted to hear that our local council has seen off competition from all over the UK to win the award for best large council to work in. Aberdeenshire Council scooped the award, coming in ahead of 94 others, after employees completed a survey on various aspects of working for the local authority. This is great news for Banff & Buchan where many are employed in the council. It is heartening to know that one of the big employers in our area is providing a top standard working environment and conditions for workers. It is also a credit to the departing Chief Executive Alan Campbell and his excellent leadership. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate everyone working or involved with the council on this great achievement.

Stewart Stevenson
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