21 January 2014

Our Children, Our Future.

Last week I was proud to support the Scottish Government’s proposals pledged its commitment to the youth of Scotland, by taking a landmark decision to provide free school meals for all P1-P3s from January 2015.

It’s a bold move that shows the Scottish Government is in touch with people who live in Scotland, and who have ambitions for a brighter future.

Based on the latest available figures, around 8148 pupils in the Aberdeenshire Council area, and 2787 in the Moray Council area will be eligible to benefit from these free school meals.

The new measures will save families at least £330 per child, a lunchtime special not to be sniffed at, as families seek to make savings wherever they can to stymie the economic downturn.

And this measure reaches far beyond putting food on the table. A well balanced diet has been shown to boost concentration levels in children as they grow and develop, which in turn leads to them successfully fulfilling their potential, for the good of themselves, and those around them.

And it’s not only the SNP saying this. The investment was welcomed across the board by the Scottish Free School Meals campaign, supported by a variety of charities such as Save the Children, Shelter Scotland and the Church of Scotland.

Extending free school meals for all children in early primary school years also takes away any stigma of means testing existing in the present system. It means that all children, whatever their home circumstances, will now benefit.

This universal approach will bring a huge boost to families all across Scotland as they deal with tax credit and benefit cuts, as well as soaring food and energy prices.

Looking after Scotland’s children will further be boosted over the next few years by the government’s £114m care package announced this week. As well as school meals, free childcare will be provided for every two-year-old from unemployed households in Scotland – around 8,400 children – by August 2014.

Parents in Scotland spend around 27 per cent of their household income on childcare, compared to the OECD average of 12 per cent, and the government is committed to doing what it can to shoulder some of this burden.

Extensive provision of early learning and childcare for all families is a hallmark of some of the most advanced and successful countries today. There is a wide range of evidence indicating the potential benefits of funded early learning and childcare, with all social groups benefitting.

I want Scotland to be the best country to grow up in, and the Scottish Government want to create opportunities that will make this a reality. We want to invest in the early years of childhood so that we can hold our heads high with the best childcare systems in Europe.

This means that we need to address child poverty in Scotland, not as an inevitable blight on our nation, but something that can be overcome, and this is the impetus behind these measures.

But as a devolved country controlled by Westminster, we can only go so far. With independence, a welfare system aligned with our education system would be able to tackle child poverty and educational under achievement in Scotland more effectively.

Currently Westminster controls tax, benefits and labour market policy, and Scotland controls education policy. One can undermine the other, such as when changes to welfare increase child poverty.

We know that investment in the early years can bring huge rewards in later life. If we want to make the most of Scotland’s people - our greatest asset - and help them flourish in a vibrant society and economy, it is essential to focus on their development at the earliest stages.

1 January 2014

New Year Message from Stewart Stevenson MSP

Well 2013 has certainly gone out with a blast of some extreme weather.

Looking ahead to 2014 it is certainly going to be a momentous year for Scotland as we make the biggest constitutional decision of our generation in the independence referendum in September.

In recent weeks I have been asked by more and more people locally about the referendum, helping them get the information that they want - information that is often different for each individual depending on the issues that they, personally, care most about.

One of the biggest events of the year was the launch of the Scottish Government’s White Paper on Independence entitled ‘Scotland’s Future - Your Guide to an Independent Scotland’. The launch event was quite an experience with wall-to-wall broadcast media from right across the world covering the event. I mention that aspect of it because it demonstrates how Scotland is recognised as a nation internationally and the respect that we have as a country.

The underlying question that the referendum poses is, of course, are we being the best that we can be? My answer would obviously be that we need the normal powers of independence to do the best that we can for our people and contribute the greatest that we can to our friends in other countries across the world. My job for 2014, along with many others, is to demonstrate why that is the case and why we need a YES vote!

In the coming months up to September I will be out and about dealing with both the ‘normal’ day-to-day work of an MSP but also speaking to as many people as possible about the referendum and setting out the positive vision for Scotland’s future that I know many others out there share as well.

Locally, in a year of more ups than downs we have a lot of things to be positive about. Following the sad loss in 2013 of Buckie Shipyard, there has now been positive news at Buckie Harbour with investment by Macduff Shipyards. The community-led campaign to save Cullen Library succeeded with Moray Council forced into a u-turn. Banff Museum re-opened under community management. Peterhead Prison neared completion and created more local jobs. Fraserburgh launched its ‘Super Saturdays’ which were a tremendous success and got people back into the town centre. I’ve noticed also that a number of new shops and businesses are starting to fill some of the gaps in our town centres.

2014 is certainly going to be an interesting year with challenges and major opportunity. We just need to grasp it!

Stewart Stevenson
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