29 November 2011

Safety off our shores

The close relationship that people in Banffshire & Buchan Coast have with the sea, whether through recreational sailing, working in our fishing industry or our proximity to the offshore oil and gas sector means that we all have a healthy respect for the need to stay safe at sea.

When things go wrong, lives depend on a well co-ordinated response reaching them as swiftly as possible. That is what makes the UK Government’s decision to cut the provision of Coastguard Marine Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCC) in Scotland extremely damaging and disappointing.

Scotland is home to 60% of the UK length of coastline yet as a result of decisions to close coastguard stations on the Forth and the Clyde, will be home to only 33% of Coastguard stations.

On top of this, and of particular concern to the North East, the level of staffing in Aberdeen will drop by 25%. Coastguard staff in Aberdeen have built up an invaluable expertise in working with the oil and gas industry during emergencies and that experience will be severely disrupted by the decision to reduce staff. That expertise can simply not be replicated by additional staff working remotely from other coastguard stations or from their headquarters near Portsmouth in the event of a major oil industry incident.

Aberdeen MRCC is now expected to cover a far larger area with significantly fewer members of staff. It is a move that will cause a great deal of concern to many people in Banffshire & Buchan Coast and has come at the end of a process that has been characterised by poor handling and short-sightedness.

The original proposals would also have seen either Stornoway or Shetland MRCC close in addition to the closures that are taking place, and it is welcome news – not least to the fishing industry – that they will remain open. Yet just because the closures are not quite as severe as originally intended does not by any means make these moves anything other than severely damaging.

These moves have come soon after the scrapping of the fleet of fixed-wing long-range search and rescue aircraft and at a time when the future of the air rescue coordination centre at Kinloss is in doubt. There can be little doubt that safety at sea is being reduced in the name of the UK Government’s cost-cutting.

When lives are at stake, it is simply not acceptable and the UK Government’s approach is completely unjustifiable. If they are not prepared to ensure that such a vital service is provided as fully as possible, then they should be prepared to see it devolved so that the Scottish Government is able to in their place.

Confidence in Scotland

Recent weeks have seen a lot of hot air and scaremongering from the UK Government regarding the confidence that businesses have when it comes to investing in Scotland, in light of the coming independence referendum.

What is notable from these assertions is that not a single individual or company has been identified as previously considering investing in Scotland and now refusing to do so. This is in stark contrast to the long and growing list of major companies which clearly have no concerns over what Scotland’s future will be, given that they have made major investments and brought important jobs to Scotland.

The fact of the matter is that Scotland is the most supportive business environment in the UK and continues to work hard to support businesses of all sizes. Perhaps the many companies that have recently invested are simply convinced we can do even more with the powers of independence.

15 November 2011

Capturing An Opportunity

When it comes to benefitting from the development of new technology, it is often the case that there is a limited window of opportunity to fully reap the opportunities that are on offer. A few months or years can make all the difference when it comes to either being a leader on a technology or playing catch up.

In 2007 it seemed that the then UK Government had completely failed to grasp this fact when its dithering and delay led to plans to develop a world-leading carbon capture facility at Peterhead power station being dropped. The proposed development instead transferred to Abu Dhabi and Peterhead had lost an incredible opportunity to be at the cutting edge of a hugely important technology.

Recently it seemed as if history had repeated itself, when a revived effort to create a Scottish carbon capture facility in Scotland – this time at Longannet in Fife – collapsed. Once again a UK Government had failed to stand behind a hugely important project which would have brought jobs to Scotland, brought opportunities to export technology and expertise in the future, and significantly reduced our carbon emissions.

It was a hugely disappointing development and a bitter blow to everyone who had been working to bring the technology to Longannet. However, the collapse of that proposal may have once again opened the door for carbon capture at Peterhead.

Such a prospect, if it does prove possible, has been made more likely by the fact that Scottish & Southern Energy have signed an agreement with Shell to store carbon dioxide from Peterhead power station under Shell’s Goldeneye gas field in the North Sea.

A report earlier this year concluded that developing this technology in Peterhead could lead to up to 937 jobs over the construction and lifetime of the project, generating £590 million GVA and £130 million per annum during its lifetime. Quite clearly it would be hugely significant to the town and to the whole of Banffshire & Buchan Coast.

Westminster has twice failed Carbon Capture projects in Scotland and it simply must do better with this opportunity. Significant amounts of time have been lost in which Scotland could have been leading the world on this technology because of their previous failure. People in Peterhead deserve better and the UK Government must commit its backing to this essential project for the area.

Supporting people with autism

Recent days saw the publication of the Scottish Government’s much anticipated Autism Strategy, aiming to significantly improve on the services offered to people with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder and their families. People with autism needs a wide range of services that cut across different aspects of the public sector, and this strategy will help to ensure better coordination to deliver higher quality support.

Local Autism coordinators will be appointed to help ensure this change in approach takes place and support is offered in a way that promotes the independence, dignity and emotional wellbeing of people with Autism. Funding will be provided to the Scottish Autism Services network to provide training and expertise to public sector workers to assist them in providing post-diagnostic support. One stop drop-in shops for people with autism to access services will also be created, to make it easier to benefit from all the support on offer.

Publishing a strategy is of course only a first step rather than a final outcome, but it is an important building block for the future and once which should significantly improve the quality of support available to people with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder in Banffshire & Buchan Coast.

14 November 2011

Address to Lowland Deer Network Conference

Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your kind invitation to speak at your conference – I must acknowledge the high level of knowledge and breadth of expertise represented here today.

The management of lowland deer is of course a major emerging issue and one that was central to the thinking behind the changes to the Deer Act which were introduced via the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act – or WANE Act – earlier this year. In recent years we have seen deer populations spring up in new and unexpected places, and sometimes in greatly increased numbers.

This can have an impact on people and the environment, often in new ways. The WANE Act is intended to deliver the public interest in deer management and clarify who needs to take action in relation to the management of deer. It should also help in the resolution of disputes.

It is nearly a year and a half since the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act brought about the merger of DCS and SNH and, although a final evaluation will take place in 2012, SNH reported in February that greater savings than anticipated were being achieved and that staff and stakeholders were supportive of the merger.

Before the merger took place it was acknowledged that there was a clear overlap between the roles of DCS and SNH and that the skills of DCS staff would be a huge asset to SNH. However, ensuring a successful transfer of functions into one organisation did not just happen over night.

This merger has involved considerable consultation and preparation before, during and after parliamentary scrutiny of the Act. All those involved in the merger have worked hard for what has been achieved so far and this includes ADMG role as members of the reference group to the merger programme board.

Integrating the functions of DCS with those of SNH have given the merged body a stronger focus on the benefits to Scotland's economy from the management of wildlife and improved the overall service delivery to customers while also helping to make the most of the natural assets that Scotland has to offer.

We should also recall the thinking that our approach to deer policy is based on. The strategy document – Scotland’s Wild Deer - a National Approach sets out how deer management can contribute to:
  • a high quality and robust environment; 
  • sustainable economic environment; and 
  • social well being.
During the debate on the WANE Bill it was clear that certain NGOs wished to see a statutory requirement for deer management planning, with each and every management plan approved by a Government agency.

This Government did not opt for that approach. The cost in time and resources to SNH would have been serious enough – and would have been much more significant for individuals and businesses managing deer.

So the legislation retained the voluntary principle, with suitable enforcement powers, backed up with a code of practice on deer management – of which more later. The important thing is that deer managers and deer management groups deliver what they have been entrusted to do – that is the public interest in deer management.

That may be protection of the natural environment; ensuring public safety by reducing deer vehicle collisions; or promoting deer welfare. It may also be found in securing employment in rural areas or promoting quality, sustainable local venison.

Alex Hogg (l) and Christian Nissen (r)
with Stewart Stevenson MSP
Of course I recognise the good work that is being carried out by individuals and deer management groups in Scotland. These Groups can be very effective in delivering collaborative deer management, particularly where members have the same land use objectives.

But at least they provide a forum and an opportunity for discussion and hopefully agreement. The question is how to extend and adapt those practices to other areas in the lowlands. For Government the important thing is that deer management delivers the public interest.

As I mentioned, in developing the WANE Act, Ministers retained the voluntary principle in deer management. But the intervention powers available to SNH were refined to make them more usable and more timely.

WANE also provided for the development of a code of practice on deer management, intended to support deer managers and provide practical guidance on what they need to do to deliver good practice. The code was developed in close co-operation with stakeholders and I was pleased to approve it without modification. The next stage is for it to be considered, and hopefully approved, by the Scottish Parliament. SNH is also developing further related guidance under the existing Wild

The Code is intended to support deer managers by providing guidance and setting out how to comply with relevant legislation. But failure to comply with the Code will not in itself constitute an offence. Rather SNH will have a duty to monitor compliance with the code and take this into account when considering enforcement action.

A higher standard is required of public bodies – they will be required to have regard to guidance from SNH.

The intervention powers retain the use of voluntary control agreements, as well as control schemes and powers to take emergency measures.

However, the grounds for intervention have been widened to include damage to the welfare of deer and damage to the public interest of a social, economic or environmental nature. Furthermore, the onus is put on SNH to set out the steps that must be taken to remedy damage and to review progress at least once a year so that everyone is clear where they stand and what they need to do.

I think we are all aware of an increase in the deer population, in certain parts of the lowlands and on the fringes of urban areas. This has resulted in new and unexpected impacts and we need to consider how to manage our reaction to that.

As most of you here will know, the increased population of deer, particularly roe deer, have a wide range of impacts such as damage to agriculture, forestry, and even parks and gardens. They can also cause a public safety risk through deer vehicle collisions. Motorists in the affected parts of the north of Scotland generally know at what time of year and on what stretch of road to watch out for deer – although regrettably accidents do still occur. But the presence of deer alongside busy major roads and even motorways is relatively new.

I commend the work that the Deer Commission, and now SNH, has done in relation to the Deer Vehicle Collisions project, to monitor incidents, provide suitable warning signs and raise awareness of the dangers in motorists. However, this remains an area of where we must remain vigilant.

At my own home in Banff I frequently see deer. There are roe deer in the area and the occasional red deer. Although there is no local deer management group there is local collaboration between SNH and local authorities to address public safety concerns on Aberdeenshire roads.

Other problems can arise with deer in urban areas, leading to wildlife crime such as poaching and deer welfare problems with deer being hunted with dogs or the use of unauthorised weapons.

Of course there are benefits too. Most people are delighted to see deer and they bring economic benefits through tourism and sport as well as providing a source of income from the sale of venison.

But deer need to be managed. And there are areas where there is no tradition of this being done, with no structures to support deer management. We have already seen good work from DCS and SNH in supporting the Forest Research work on the “Management of Deer in Peri-Urban Scotland”.

The WANE Act and the Deer Code will help with advice, the resolution of disputes and refined intervention powers. But we also need to raise awareness of the responsibilities of deer managers.

That is why I am pleased that your Association, together with support from SNH and the Forestry Commission, have taken the initiative to look at these issues and start working towards the development of management structures. This will help to develop a framework for those with responsibilities for deer management to draw up plans for the management of deer and to collaborate in their implementation.

And so, in conclusion, we have wonderful benefits in Scotland, in the enjoyment of our natural heritage. Deer play a large part in that – but there are responsibilities too. The legislation and guidance from SNH can assist up to a point. But we need people on the ground to address their responsibilities. Therefore, I welcome this initiative to develop structures to help people do just that.

I must thank you for the opportunity to speak here today and I trust that you will enjoy a useful conference.

1 November 2011

It’s Starting

While the party conference season south of the border may have concluded some time ago, the same is far from the case in Scotland. Recent days saw the SNP hold its biggest ever conference in Inverness, where around 2,000 delegates, members and visitors flocked to Eden Court for the four day event.

It was always inevitable that the first party conference since winning an outright majority in the Scottish Parliament earlier this year was always going to attract a lot of people, but I don’t think anyone could have anticipated just quite how well attended the event would be.

During the rousing address from our First Minister Alex Salmond, there was such a demand for seats that as well as packing out the main auditorium, five additional theatres were pressed into action as overspill rooms to watch the speech via video and still more people were only able to listen in over speakers in the foyer area.

While the leader’s speech is undoubtedly the highlight of conference though, there were a huge number of impressive speeches throughout the four days and many significant decisions on party policy were debated and voted upon. Perhaps most significant of all events at this year’s conference, however, were the events of the final day in Inverness.

The late Scots Makar, our national poet, Edwin Morgan left the SNP the staggering sum of £918,000 to take forward our efforts to build the independent Scotland he wished to live in. In Inverness it was announced that this transformational sum would be ring-fenced for the referendum campaign and even more significantly the starting gun on that campaign was fired.

During the election we promised to hold a referendum on independence in the second half of our parliamentary term and this is precisely what we will do. Yet beginning now we will embark upon an unprecedented campaign to talk to and enthuse people of all party political persuasions and none, on how our nation will benefit from the power to take our own decisions.

With the publication of our vision for an independent Scotland at, the campaign has begun in earnest and will reach out to every street and household to shape the future of our country.

The words “Scotland – It’s starting” may have been an understated launch to the campaign for Scottish independence, but their impact on improving our country may be felt throughout history.

No place for bullying

You would hope that elected parliamentarians would at all times set a good example of acceptable behaviour, particularly when it comes to something as serious as intimidating and threatening behaviour. Yet it seems this is sadly not the case, with a Labour MP, the chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee Ian Davidson, having threatened my colleague at Westminster Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP with “getting a doing” during a private meeting.

This kind of behaviour is utterly unacceptable in any walk of life and there is absolutely no place for bullying and intimidation in any workplace. Such disgusting attitudes belong in the dark days of the past and it is extraordinary that anyone would seek to defend such behaviour as some are trying to do.

Mr Davidson has shamed Scotland, shamed his constituents and most of all shamed himself with his actions and should step down from his position as a matter of urgency. Eilidh has had the courage to speak out and condemn his behaviour and refuse to be threatened or intimidated by Mr Davidson. That is something she should be commended for and I know she will have the backing of people throughout this area.

Stewart Stevenson
does not gather, use or
retain any cookie data.

However Google who publish for us, may do.
fios ZS is a name registered in Scotland for Stewart Stevenson

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP