17 February 2015

Where the Money Goes

This month has seen the passing of the 2015/16 budget for the Scottish Government – a financial master plan which will improve the economy, reduce inequality and reform public services.

Scotland’s position as being a global leader in renewables and low carbon development will be further cemented with increased investment of £20m to provide a total budget of £114 million in energy efficiency, and £3.9 million will be ploughed into supporting cycling and walking infrastructure.

Around £20 million of additional funding will tackle educational inequality and raise attainment for school children across the Banffshire and Buchan Coast, and an extra £10 million has been added to the £41 million allocated for local authorities who commit to maintain teacher numbers.

Frontline healthcare gets the money it needs to continue providing excellent care across the country with an additional £127 million on the budget from last year taking it to £383 million for 2015/16. NHS Grampian has had its frontline investment increased more than any other in Scotland since 2007 and this can only be welcomed by people in my constituency area.

Aberdeenshire will receive a share of the £10.8 billion local government allocation, with investment in the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, Aberdeen to Inverness Rail improvements on top of the significant investment such as in the building of HMP Grampian.

The future’s looking brighter with Finance Secretary John Swinney calculating that our economy is back above pre-recession levels and there are a record number of Scottish people in employment. Employment levels rose by 50,000 over the year to reach 2,612,000 which is the highest level since records began.

It is for this reason that £9.4 million has been allocated for housing across Aberdeenshire so that more people can get on the housing ladder and settle down in the area. Lives have been made harder by harsh Westminster cuts on spending and increased challenges for many a hard working family, and the budget is doing its best to soften the blow. Around £81 million has been provided specifically to mitigate against Westminster’s welfare reform, including the ‘Bedroom Tax’.

Levels of local government funding have been maintained and extra money has been put in for new responsibilities including pre-school nursery care for children. This will help parents get back into work and give children a better start in life – giving working families a fair deal.

This is a budget for a new year and one that builds on the Government’s track record since 2007, taking steps to meet the aspirations set out in last year’s referendum campaign. The SNP desire to work for the people of Scotland has not waned, and we will continually to strive for the very best.

3 February 2015

A Healthy Nation?

The issue of the NHS can be a make or break decision for many when choosing who is best equipped to rule the country.

Our national health service is something that we can be immensely proud of, and I am happy to support a government that is deeply committed to continue investing heavily in a service that is so vital to the people of Scotland.

This month, the vision for the NHS was discussed on the floor of the Scottish Parliament highlighting the fact that the SNP has increased the NHS budget over time, with an additional £65 million recently announced for 2015/16.

Across the Banffshire and Buchan Coast, they will benefit from an extra £15.2 million allocated to NHS Grampian from this additional funding pot. This brings the total extra money that NHS Grampian will pick up for next year to £49.1 million, which represents a six per cent increase in funding from last year, the biggest percentage uplift of any mainland NHS board in Scotland.

When looking at the NHS in Scotland, it is telling to note that for 2014/15 all NHS Scotland boards are projected to break-even, but in Labour-run Wales NHS Wales bodies are projecting a deficit totalling £192 million. 

But although extra funding and encouraging statistics are to be welcomed, there is never any time to sit on one’s laurels when looking after the nation’s health.

For example, the NHS in Scotland already offers round the clock care and there is work ongoing to further improve the services available. Patients across Scotland already have access at any time of day to see a GP or another member of the Primary Services Medical Team. And there is ongoing work to ensure the NHS offers a genuinely seven day service where necessary, with a Task Force set up last year to look at improving services available out of hours. 

Delayed discharges are significantly lower than they were in 2006 but the most recent figures show that they are on the rise again. Therefore a further £100 million has been ploughed in to tackle this issue over the next three years.

When it comes down to it, the SNP is committed to the NHS remaining a publically-funded universal health service, free at the point of need. During the SNP’s stewardship of the NHS, prescription charges have been abolished and free eye tests protected – saving people with long-term conditions £104 per year compared with those in England.
It is to the credit of the SNP that public confidence lies with the ruling party in government.

How important do you think protecting
and improving the NHS is to …?
0 = not important at all; 10 = extremely important
Lord Ashcroft Polls
A recent poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft asked respondents to rate on a scale of one to ten how important they consider protecting and improving the NHS to be to each political party.  The SNP achieved a rating of 7.04 – the highest in the UK – compared to Labour who are on 6.69 and the Tories who are on just 5.30.

Patient satisfaction with Scotland’s NHS has increased by over 20 per cent since 2005 according to the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2013. The survey found that 61 per cent of people in Scotland were either very or quite satisfied with the NHS in 2013. So the Scottish Government must be doing something right. But there is never any chance that the SNP have stopped striving for the very best in our health service.

But it is not all down to government investment – individuals also have to take responsibility for their wellbeing. Lifestyle choices have an unmistakeable impact on individual health. A health warning in The Herald recently stated that lack of exercise may be twice as deadly as obesity. A report from Public Health Wales indicates cot death risk is greater among families with smokers in them – so there is an element of personal responsibility that we cannot ignore.

One of the greatest achievements of the Labour Party was bringing into being the National Health Service in 1948. But before this, the Highlands and Islands (Medical Services) Grant Act 1913 was in place, which for 35 years was in essence a national health service, centrally funded and managed, for the Highlands and Islands. It put the first resident nurse on St Kilda in 1914, for example.

Scotland has traditionally led the way in how we deliver health services, free to people who need them today. Let us hope this continues for generations to come.

Stewart Stevenson
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