27 October 2015

Scotland has it in the bag

This month has brought the very welcome news that the carrier bag fee in Scotland has been a resounding success since it was introduced a year ago.

Retailer research has shown that the use of the single use carrier bag in Scotland has dropped by 650 million since the 5p charge began. This relatively swift move in behaviour goes to show that changes in government policy really can make a difference to public attitudes.

Data from all the major grocery retailers indicate a reduction in bag use of around 80 per cent since 20 October 2014 – which is the equivalent to at least 650 million fewer bags being handed out annually - with funds of around £6.7 million being donated to good causes directly from the charge.

In previous years, statistics showed that people in Scotland used more than 800 million new single-use carrier bags every single year – more per head than anywhere else in the UK.

To see a turnaround in this behaviour by the introduction of this simple policy is something to be marvelled at. It shows that people in Scotland are serious about tackling litter, reducing waste, and creating a cleaner, greener environment that everyone can enjoy.

It is now becoming second nature for shoppers to reuse their carrier bags and to purchase bags made of stronger materials, for the purpose of multi usage over their lifetime. It is vital that we think about our impact on the environment, and this can be as simple as re-using a plastic bag.

Zero Waste Scotland is an organisation funded by the Scottish Government to support the delivery of its Zero Waste Plan and pursue low carbon and resource efficiency policies – such as reducing waste, increasing energy efficiency and promoting responsible water use.

Iain Gulland, chief executive at Zero Waste Scotland, also noted that the change in behaviour has signalled a positive change in consumer habits across Scotland.

He added:

“Many organisations have already agreed to donate money raised by the 5p charge to good causes, by signing up to Scotland’s Carrier Bag Commitment. Other retailers across the country are now being urged to follow suit.”

Many nationwide retailers have also used the money generated for good causes - which is another fantastic result of the scheme.

Those that signed up to Scotland’s Carrier Bag Commitment – an agreement to disclose information on the charge and donations made – have reported that various charities up and down the country have benefited from funds raised by the charge, amounting to at least £6.7 million being donated to good causes.

Morrisons in Scotland have reported that the charge has generated around £700,000 across their stores, which has gone to the Morrisons Foundation to donate to charities across Scotland.

Asda in Scotland have invested over £700,000 in good causes, and The Co-operative in Scotland has pledged more than £750,000 to be redistributed across 1000 community groups, projects and good causes benefitting from grants of £200-£2500.

Boots in Scotland have stated that the funds generated have gone to Macmillan Cancer Support, and from 5 October their proceeds are going to the BBC Children in Need appeal.

The single use carrier bag fee has made a significant impact in Scotland by reducing waste and generating money for good causes. It is just one example of how a small change can make a big difference and should inspire us all.

13 October 2015

Teaching Clever

Teachers are one of the greatest assets of a nation.

Without them our education system would collapse and our youngsters would be deprived of the schooling that gives them increased choice and opportunity in life. It is a profession that should never be undervalued.

It is with this sentiment that I address the ongoing teacher shortage in the North East, and why I brought it up recently with Education Secretary Angela Constance. I asked her specifically about what is being done to address the fact that there are schools across Banffshire and Buchan Coast that are in desperate need of teachers that can either not be found, or fail to be retained in the area.

Ordiquhill School
I also wanted to know if there were ways to encourage local people to teach in the area that they grew up after they graduate. I was delighted when Ms Constance agreed that young people and new trainees should be given good reasons to stay within their communities in the North East – and that the Scottish Government supports this.

She said that the government is working with local authorities and universities to develop routes into teaching that help people stay within their local areas. The numbers of student places for initial teacher education have been increased at the universities of Aberdeen, Dundee and the West of Scotland to help facilitate this. The University of the Highlands and Islands has also been brought on board as an initial teacher education provider.

A summit was recently held in Aberdeen to look at the problems surrounding teacher recruitment in the North East, with representatives from six local authorities along with the Education Secretary there to discuss strategies.

The Government has been working on the problem – student teacher intake targets have been increased in each of the last four years, £51 million has been invested in safeguarding teacher posts, and a teacher recruitment campaign has been launched.

Funding has also been injected into Aberdeenshire via the University of Aberdeen for their part time distance learning PGDE course. This has been developed so that people can train as primary teachers while continuing in their jobs. The positive response that this has received from local authorities means that it is now being looked into for the secondary teaching sector.

But while all these irons are in the fire, no one is resting on their laurels - and I am very well aware that teachers are needed and we must do all that we can to encourage them to come north.

At the summit in Aberdeen, officials from the Granite City, Aberdeenshire, Moray, the Highlands, the Western Isles, the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands joined forces to explore what can be done in the face of unprecedented low numbers of applicants and increased pupil numbers.

The councils involved have already tried to attract larger numbers of applicants by offering "Golden Hello" payments and free accommodation to new teachers, but vacancies remain across primary and secondary schools.

Ms Constance said at the summit that the ongoing national marketing campaign was specifically targeting subjects that have proved hard to fill, such as science, technology, engineering and maths.

She commended the work already being done across North East communities to ensure that high quality teachers are recruited and reiterated that these efforts were very much supported by the Government. The quest for realistic long-term solutions will be pursued so that schools and pupils in the North East are resourced to deal with the teacher shortage.

The six local authorities at the summit have spent about £1million altogether on advertising, and have launched a number of initiatives including innovative financial incentive packages and housing support.

I may be biased but I can personally recommend the North East as a fantastic place to live and work. I hope that teachers will be attracted to all that we have to offer, and to a way of life that is second to none. We will work to ensure that the generation growing up in our rural communities are not let down by a lack of resources and are inspired by the teachers who will start them on their educational journey.

Stewart Stevenson
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