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31 October 2006

SNP and Plaid Cymru Hold Blair To Account


Only 25 votes from disaster for Prime Minister Blair.

After a wide ranging debate SNP & Plaid MPs nearly pulled it off.

But the real test will be the Scottish Parliament elections in May 2007.

GRAMPIAN BUCKS NATIONAL TREND TO SEE BIG RISE IN SEAT-BELT OFFENCES - Press & Journal

by PAUL GALLAGHER, Press & Journal

Drivers and passengers who fail to belt up were labelled selfish yesterday, after sharp rises in seat-belt offences in the north and north-east over the past decade were revealed.

Both Grampian Police and Northern Constabulary have seen rises in the past 10 years.

The Grampian region had 105 fines imposed for breaking the seat-belt laws in 2004-05, nearly a fourfold rise compared with the 27 penalties in 1995-96.

The northern force area had an even steeper jump over the same period, from 17 to 81.

Most other forces saw a fall in seat-belt fines over the decade, including drops from 184 to 79 in Tayside, 795 to 411 in Strathclyde and 495 to 136 in Lothian and Borders.

Central Scotland Police was the only other force to have a rise over the 10 years, from 118 to 185, and the national total declined by 34%, from 1,779 to 1,158.

The figures were given in answer to a parliamentary question from Banff and Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson, who said not only drivers were at risk when they left their seat belts off.

Seat belts have been compulsory since 1983 but Leslie Harrold, road safety manager with Grampian Police, said advances in motoring in recent years seemed to have made belting up less important to some people.

He said: "Grampian Police officers, as part of their normal daily duties, do look out for drivers, passengers and children who are unrestrained in vehicles.

"These people are stopped and given a fixed penalty notice, or then can be reported directly to court.

"Part of the reason for the increase in the number of people being caught is that the occupants have become more complacent since vehicle technology has improved.

"People mistakenly believe that they are totally safe with the airbags and side-impact bars in their vehicle."

Although these features have improved safety within vehicles, wearing a seat belt is the safest thing an occupant of a vehicle can do."

A Northern Constabulary spokesman said: "We have had quite a number of enforcement days over the past few years which are dedicated to officers going out and making sure people are observing the law.

"Any activity like this, of course, has to go some way to explaining this figure."The first thing people should be doing in any vehicle is putting on their seat belt. It's an essential part of driving and we would encourage everyone getting into any vehicle to belt up."

Mr Stevenson said the increases in fines showed police were taking the matter seriously but added: "It also highlights that drivers are taking dangerous risks by not insisting that they and their passengers wear their seat belts.

"We have to reinforce the message that failure to wear a seatbelt is unsafe, selfish and illegal. We must remember that it is not just themselves that they are endangering, it is also the innocent pedestrians and other drivers they put at risk."

for original story click on Press & Journal

30 October 2006

Stevenson Backs Rural Post Offices In Parliament

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has given his backing to a Parliamentary Motion supporting Scotland’s rural Post Offices.

The Motion, which was tabled by SNP MSP John Swinney highlights the threat to the rural Post Office Network in Scotland and calls on the Scottish Government to challenge the UK Government on its policy in this area.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“I am very concerned for the future of the rural Post Office network and note that the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) provides financial assistance to the rural post office network in Scotland and that this is scheduled to be removed in 18 months’ time.

“Whilst the DTI provides this financial support, other UK Government departments such as the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Transport and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are taking decisions that diminish the volume and value of business that helps to support Post Office branches. This, in turn, is detrimental to the viability of these Post Offices.

“It has to be identified that if the rural Post Office network is not supported, there will be severe economic loss and loss of amenity in numerous communities in rural Scotland. Surely, it is time for the Scottish Executive to make representations to the UK Government to provide a steady level of support that guarantees the viability of the rural Post Office network.”
Categories [Environment and Rural Development] [Enterprise and Lifelong Learning]

It's Time for Real Action on Youth Crime

Responding to Jack McConnell's call for hard-line anti-social behaviour powers to be used by more councils the SNP Shadow deputy Justice Minister, Stewart Stevenson MSP, said real action was needed to tackle the scourge of crime in our communities, not a repeat of the same old failures proposed by Mr McConnell's tired and failing government.

Commenting Mr Stevenson said:

"While Government Ministers bluster on about their pet projects, the fact remains that youth crime has continually gone up under Labour and the Lib Dems.

"We need real action to tackle the scourge of crime in our communities, not more of the same old failures proposed by Mr McConnell's tired and failing government.

"Only the SNP can beat Labour at next year's elections and offer a fresh alternative to the failed policies of Labour and the Liberal Democrats which will give real protection to our communities."

29 October 2006

Methadone helps just 4% - Sunday Herald

By Jenifer Johnston and Judith Duffy

A SHOCKING new study has revealed the true extent of methadone programme failure in Scotland, with only a tiny proportion of addicts becoming drug-free through the heroin substitute.

Research has revealed that fewer than 4% of heroin addicts who are given methadone are drug-free less than three years after beginning treatment. Yet almost 30% of addicts who underwent treatment at a residential rehabilitation centre became drug-free over a similar period.

The new research has re-ignited the row over the effectiveness of the multi-million-pound methadone programme in Scotland. While advocates say it helps to stabilise addicts, reduce crime and prevent deaths, critics warn that it is failing to help addicts come off drugs.

Currently only one in 50 heroin users who wants to beat the addiction is offered a residential rehabilitation place, which can cost more than £400 a week and offers intense detoxification programmes. More than 20,000 people in Scotland are prescribed methadone as a means to wean them off heroin.

Figures released earlier this month show that at the end of March this year more than 800 people were waiting for rehabilitation treatment on the NHS, with more than 250 having waited over a year for help.

Opposition politicians yesterday called for more investment in residential rehabilitation services in Scotland in the wake of the new findings.

... ... ...

Scottish Nationalist drugs spokesman Stewart Stevenson MSP said: “We know addicts want to get clean, and methadone can be a useful temporary stopgap to get people stable before they enter programmes that will get them clean.

“But we are using methadone for far too many addicts as a long-term way of managing their condition. We simply need more residential places and we need to get people into them quicker.”

The study, entitled Abstinence And Drug Abuse Treatment: Results From The Drug Outcome Research In Scotland, found that of 695 Scottish drug users who entered treatment for heroin addiction in 2001, only 3.4% of those who had been given methadone were drug-free 33 months later.

However, those who had entered residential rehabilitation programmes were significantly more successful, with 29.4% drug-free after the same time.

The study, carried out by academics from the University of Glasgow and Oxford Brookes University, will be published in the journal Drugs: Education, Prevention And Policy next month.

Lead author Professor Neil McKeg aney told the Sunday Herald that when the results of his study were compared to success rates south of the Border for methadone programmes, “the Scottish services aren’t achieving anywhere near the English services.”

Similar research carried out in England shows that almost 25% of addicts who are given methadone are drug-free after two years.

McKeganey said: “It is absolutely essential that we understand why it is that Scottish methadone services are achieving such a low rate compared to the English ones.

“It may well be ... that services have not really been thinking in terms of getting addicts off drugs, they have been thinking first and foremost about getting them stabilised on drugs.”

He emphasised that the vast majority of addicts coming forward for treatment want to be drug-free rather than take a substitute such as methadone, and questioned why public health officials have doggedly stuck to methadone treatment programmes when residential rehabilitation offers addicts a higher chance of becoming drug-free.

“I think we have to make absolutely sure that where addicts are receiving methadone in Scotland it is a prescription that is of clear therapeutic benefit for them ... if it isn’t helping them to become drug-free, then there is not a lot of point in continuing it.”

He called for more provision of residential services for drug addicts in Scotland, and for an inquiry into why the methadone programme is failing so badly. “It happens that the service we provide least frequently in Scotland is residential rehabilitation, and I think it is absolutely right that we now critically assess whether we ought to be providing more services of that kind,” he said. “It is going to be necessary to ask some pretty searching questions about the methadone programme as to who actually is benefiting from it.”

However, the research sparked a fiery response from the Scottish Executive, which said it was time to end the “unhelpful obsession” of trying to prove which approach is best. A spokeswoman for the justice department said it had spent £66.7 million in the past financial year on tackling drugs problems, including investment in residential detoxification and rehabilitation.

“Methadone prescribing is just one option – an option that allows people to stabilise their lives long enough to think about the next stage of their journey away from drugs,” she said. “There is no clear evidence that residential services achieve better outcomes generally than community-based services.

“Studies that do show better outcomes are not comparing like with like. ”

McKeganey hit back at the Executive’s response. He claimed its position was a “staggering reaction to a solid piece of research”.

“Clearly you are much better planning your services on the basis of what is effective, and the results of this research clearly shows that residential rehabilitation is successful,” he said.

“I think addicts and their families would expect the Executive to try and find the best treatment and encourage researchers to find out what works and what is effective.”

... ... ...

for the full story click on Sunday Herald
Reproduced with permission from The Herald (Glasgow) © Newsquest (Herald & Times) Ltd
Categories [Justice] [Health and Community Care]

27 October 2006

MSP Stewart Stevenson urges people to volunteer at their local Barnardo’s shop over the busy Christmas period.

click for Barnardos web siteMSP Stewart Stevenson will be helping out at Barnardo’s shop at 47 Marichal Street, Peterhead on Make a Difference Day (October 28th) in a bid to encourage more people to consider volunteering with the children’s charity.

The MSP for Banff and Buchan will give up an hour of his time at the shop in Marichal Street where he will be helping with activities like serving customers and preparing stock for sale. Stewart is supporting Barnardo’s Scotland’s latest appeal for more volunteers for its shops over the busy Christmas period.

Stewart Stevenson and Barnardo’s Scotland are encouraging people to give volunteering a try in one of its shops on Make a Difference Day. Tasks could include preparing the stock for sale, displaying it on the shop floor and helping customers, while creative types might enjoy window dressing.

Stewart Stevenson said: “I am delighted to have the privilege of volunteering at Barnardo’s shop in Peterhead and am very much looking forward to helping out with various tasks. Volunteering is a wonderful way of giving something back to the community and is also an opportunity for people to learn new skills. I would very much like to encourage people in Aberdeenshire to consider volunteering at their local Barnardo’s shop, particularly over the busy Christmas period when they could really do with extra help, even if its just a few hours a week. All you have to do is pop into your local shop and find out more."

Angela Sulo, who is the Area Business Manager, said: “We would very much like to thank Stewart Stevenson for taking the time to help us at one of our shops on Make a Difference Day and for supporting our Christmas volunteer recruitment campaign. Volunteers are the lifeblood of our shops and we simply couldn’t exist without them. Many of our volunteers find volunteering a rewarding experience as well as helping them to develop news skills.”

To find out more about volunteering, please contact Alison McLaughlin, Barnardo’s Scotland’s Volunteering Development Manager on telephone 0131 334 9893. Details of the latest volunteer vacancies, which include fundraising opportunities and a chance to work directly with children, are on Barnardo’s website www.barnardos.org.uk/volunteering.

Local shops are:

* 22/23 Castle Street, Aberdeen
* 200 Union Street, Aberdeen
* 34 St Andrews Street, Aberdeen – furniture shop
* 47 Marischal Street, Peterhead

Note:

Over 30 MSPs across Scotland are volunteering in Barnardo’s shops on Make a Difference Day on Saturday, October 28th, 2006 by volunteering in their local shop.

Make a Difference Day is the flagship campaign for Community Service Volunteers (CSV), the UK’s largest volunteering organisation. The scheme is the UK’s biggest day of ‘hands-on’ volunteering and the only campaign that asks people to give time, not money.

Barnardo’s in Scotland works directly with more than 13,000 children, young people and their families in over 60 projects across the country. This includes work with children affected by today’s most urgent issues: poverty, homelessness, disability, bereavement and abuse. Barnardo’s vision is that the lives of children and young people should be free from poverty, abuse and discrimination. Its purpose is to help the most vulnerable children and young people transform their lives and fulfil their potential.
Categories [Education and Young People]

23 October 2006

Stewart Stevenson Launches New Buses With Wheel-Chair Lift For Stagecoach


Today [Monday, 23rd October] at Brodie Castle, Forres, Stagecoach announced the acquisition of new buses with wheel-chair lifts. The "cutting the ribbon" to mark the launch was carried out by Banff and Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson with Councillor Roma Hossack of Moray Council and HITRANS. The 305 Inverness to Aberdeen service where some of the new buses will be employed runs through the communities of Portsoy, Whitehills, Banff and Macduff in his constituency.

Speaking after the event, Stevenson said:

"These new state-of-the-art buses are just what we need. Too many wheel-chair users have had to rely on friends and relatives for transport.

"The lift takes users securely from street-level direct to a space reserved at the front of these super buses. With all the drivers receiving special training, this is a huge step forward for public transport in the North and North-east.

"I congratulate Stagecoach and HITRANS on their collaboration which has delivered this valuable new service."
Categories [Transport]

22 October 2006

11 children aged eight on sex charges - Sunday Times

by

MORE than 250 children, some as young as eight, were charged with serious sexual offences last year, prompting renewed concern about the early sexualisation of youngsters.

Two dozen children were charged with rape, including two nine-year-olds and a 10-year-old. Eleven eight-year-olds were charged with sexual assault and lewd and libidinous behaviour.

Publication of the figures by Scotland’s eight police forces has led to calls for the DNA of children who are charged with a sexual offence to be collected for the first time. Some child psychologists warn that, because of underreporting, the figures may be only the tip of the iceberg. One blamed rap artists such as Eminem and 50 Cent for “dehumanising” women in their lyrics.

“If male role models are sexually thuggish, then boys are hardly learning to court a girl in the way it should be done,” said Professor Vince Egan, a forensic psychologist at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Of the 262 children aged 14 and under charged with serious sexual offences, lewd and libidinous behaviour — including exposure, inappropriate physical contact and the taking of indecent photos — accounted for the largest number, at 120. Almost 80 children were accused of indecent assault and about 20 with public indecency.

Last week, a boy aged 14 appeared at Kilmarnock sheriff court charged with the rape of a six-year-old girl. In January, a boy aged 12 was charged with raping an 11-year-old girl who was attacked near her home in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson, deputy justice spokesman for the Scottish National party, said: “I am quite disturbed to hear that so many youngsters have been charged with sexual offences. This shows you don’t have to be an adult to be a sexual predator and I think we need to consider retaining DNA profiles of offenders regardless of whether the case goes to court.”

DNA samples are only taken from young offenders prosecuted in a criminal court, which account for less than 1% of serious sexual offences committed by juveniles.

The majority are handled by the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration, and there are concerns that the system is so clogged up with persistent offenders that potentially dangerous sexual predators are slipping through the net.

“It is concerning to see this number of young people being charged with such offences,” said Peter Wilson, chief constable of Fife constabulary. “We are seeing an increasing number of young people involved in crime of all sorts, including those of a sexual nature. The challenge is how to tackle this, which is something we are addressing.”

Dr Jack Boyle, a leading Glasgow-based child psychologist, accused some parents of allowing impressionable youngsters to watch graphic images on television.

...click for original story... Sunday Times

20 October 2006

MSP Sheds Some Light On New Leeds Residents' Darkness

Local MSP Stewart Stevenson has solved the mystery of disappearing street lights in the Buchan village of New Leeds.

After taking the matter up with Aberdeenshire Council, Mr Stevenson has been advised that the council will arrange for replacement lighting to be installed.

In a letter to Mr Stevenson, Aberdeenshire Council Head of Operations Mr Tom Mitchell explained that the previous street-lights which were affixed to electricity poles had been removed when Scottish & Southern Energy replaced their overhead cables. While the area in question is apparently not on the Public Register of Roads, since there was a public system of lighting there in the past the council will arrange for replacement lighting to be installed.

Mr Stevenson commented:

“I am pleased that Aberdeenshire Council have agreed to replace the missing street lights.

“It was an issue which was raised with me when I visited New Leeds on my mobile surgery tour. While it may not be a major issue, it is things like this that contribute to the quality of life and was obviously a concern in New Leeds.”

Salmond And Stevenson Express Concern Over Farepak Hampers Collapse

Member of the Scottish Parliament for Banff & Buchan, Stewart Stevenson MSP, and local MP Alex Salmond, have expressed concern for the large numbers of their constituents affected by the collapse of Farepak Hampers.

The Christmas Hamper company went into administration this week leaving the prospect of a bleak Christmas for its thousands of customers. Farepak utilised a scheme whereby customers paid agents money every month towards vouchers or hampers, which the customers expected to receive at the start of the festive season, but this will not now happen and there is little prospect of significant refunds for those affected.

Mr Stevenson said:

“I have been contacted by a number of very distressed constituents who are facing a Christmas period with money difficulties at the forefront of their minds. The people affected by this situation in Banff & Buchan have saved all year to ensure they have a carefree festive period but this will not now be the case.

“Many of those hit the hardest by this situation will be hard-working families on low incomes, who have had their Christmas shattered by this devastating news. I hope that a solution can be found in the run-up to Christmas which will ensure those hit by Farepak’s collapse will have some form of consolation so that they can enjoy the festivities.

“I would urge my constituents, both customers and agents of Farepak, to get in touch with the company in order to put in claims for their losses as soon as possible. Although this matter is unlikely to be resolved in the short term, it is important to push the company to come up with a solution.”

Mr Salmond added:

“The Minister for Trade and Industry noted in Parliament yesterday [Thursday 19th October] that he has already been in discussion with the administrators, BDO Stoy Hayward, and the relevant trade bodies to seek answers on the matter.

“I would urge the Minister to push the issues raised on this matter forcefully with the relevant bodies so that the uncertainty surrounding my constituents’ savings is resolved as soon as possible.

“I hope that a strong investigation by the Minister will proceed immediately in order that Christmas can be looked forward to by those affected. There is no time to waste on this issue and I hope those responsible for this shambles will bear in mind people have worked hard to save for a happy Christmas and they deserve answers.”

Minister Under Pressure Amid New North-East Jail Plans - Press & Journal

by Andrew Kellock, Press & Journal

Prison chiefs are working on plans for a new north-east jail, the Press and Journal can reveal.

They have told SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson that a proposal is being developed which could lead to a replacement for the ageing sex offenders' unit at Peterhead and Aberdeen's overcrowded Craiginches.

Last night he urged Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson to "end the uncertainty" over the futures of both.

She is already facing questions from two local authorities about why a wide-ranging consultation exercise - which had already revealed massive support for a new prison in the north-east - was extended.

Mr Stevenson has played a key role in the campaign to have a replacement built for Peterhead's Victorian-era jail, which houses 300 of Scotland's most reviled criminals.

The Banff and Buchan MSP said last night: "The Scottish Prison Service has confirmed to me that early work is under way to respond to the consultation on north-east prisons.

"When the input from the new criminal justice authorities is available later this year, the final piece in the jigsaw will be in place.

"The delays have been considerable and unsettling for all concerned, so today's news is very welcome.

"But the planning now being undertaken must be translated quickly into a funded commitment to prison places in new premises.

"I have been assured that, should no decision be made by this executive, a proposal will be waiting for whoever is the justice minister after the May 2007 Scottish Parliament election.

"A decision before the election by the present government can end this unnecessary delay. This is a key test of the Labour-Lib Dem Scottish Executive's commitment to the criminal justice system, and to the prison service staff employed in our area."

Mr Stevenson said he now believed a new jail for Peterhead was "a step nearer".

The Scottish Prison Service started a consultation last summer and admitted for the first time that a "super jail" - to replace both Peterhead Craiginches - could be created.

Organisations and individuals gave their feedback on six options.

And 51% of those who responded backed a new building at the existing Peterhead Prison complex at the port's Invernettie.

Another 28% signalled their support for replacing the jail, and possibly Craiginches, on a site elsewhere in Aberdeenshire.

Only 18% were in favour of replacing Peterhead Prison with a new one in the central belt.

Just 3% backed refurbishing the Victorian-era jail.

There was no support for making operational changes at the jail to allow it to comply with human rights rules on issues such as slopping out.

Last month, Scotland's chief jails inspector Andrew McLellan branded conditions in Peterhead "the worst in the country", and said the continued practice of slopping out was "a disgrace".

An SPS spokesman said last night that decisions had still to be made on the size, type and location of any new jail.

He rejected an accusation from Aberdeenshire Council that the consultation exercise had been extended to include Scotland's recently-created criminal justice authorities (CJAs) because the original results were not what the SPS wanted.

Aberdeen City Council has also urged the justice minister to give assurances that a decision on the futures of the two north-east prisons is not being delayed in the run-up to the Holyrood elections.

CJAs are partnerships between councils and other agencies involved in strategies to stop people re-offending.

A new prison could cost between £50-70million.

...to read original story click on Press & Journal

19 October 2006

SNP Welcome additional funding for anti-drugs programs

SNP drugs spokesperson Stewart Stevenson MSP has welcomed the announcement of money for new drugs rehab places across Scotland.

Speaking today Stevenson said:

"We know that the favoured option for drug addicts is to 'get clean'. The focus has for too long been on harm reduction.

"New money for abstinence programs will start to redress an historic mismatch between the Executive's funding for methadone and users wish to stop taking drugs.

"It's time to extend access to abstinence programs to the whole of Scotland. Further delay simply fuels further crime and drug user deaths."

Fishermen's MSP Codemns EU Commissioner's Failure To Stand Up For White Fish Fleet

Stewart Stevenson MSP who represents Peterhead, Europe's biggest white fish port, has today spoken out on Commissioner Borg's stance on Scotland's fishing fleet. Speaking from his constituency, Stevenson said:

"Scotland's fishermen have paid a huge price in recent years for the EU Common Fisheries Policy's failure to protect stocks around our coasts.

"We have been promised that the sacrifice of the biggest part of our white fish fleet would create a viable fleet for our future.

"Today's equivocation by Commissioner Borg when asked about further cuts will simply not do. With fisherman making their first profits in years it's time for stability not further restriction.

"I hope that visits to fishing communities in Shetland and the Western Isles will convine Mr Borg that's it time to support Scotland' fishermen and the many communities that depend upon them.

"It's time to kill off the CFP not our industry."

Stevenson Reveals That North Prison Plans Are Being Prepared

Banff and Buchan MSP, Stewart Stevenson, who has campaigned with the Prison Officers Partners and other community groups to save Peterhead Prison revealed that a proposal is being developed to address the need for new prison facilities in the North-East.

Speaking from his constituency today Stevenson said:

"The Scottish Prison Service have confirmed to me that early work is underway to respond to the consultation on North-East prisons.

"When the input from the new Criminal Justice Authorities is available later this year, the final piece in the jigsaw will be in place.

"The delays have been considerable and unsettling for all concerned so today's news is very welcome.

"But the planning now being undertaken must be translated quickly into a funded committment to prison places in new premises. I have been assured that should no decision be made by this government, a proposal will be waiting for a new minister after the May 2007 election.

"People in the North-East know how hard the SNP have campaigned on this subject. They can be sure of a rapid response from an SNP Justice Minister next year.

"But a decision before the election by the present government can end this unnecessary delay. This is a key test of the Labour-Lib Dem government's committment to the criminal justice system and to the prison service staff employed in our area."

18 October 2006

Stevenson Welcomes PostComm Report

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the publication of a report by Postcomm, the independent regulator for postal services, which calls on the Government to decide what it wants the future Post Office network to look like, in the face of continued piecemeal branch closures.

Mr Stevenson said:

“This report is welcome not least because it confirms many of the points my colleagues and I have been raising about the future of the Post Office network.

“The fact is that the Post Office as a business simply is not making money.  Last year it lost £111 million in spite of the Government’s subsidy to rural post offices of £150 million.  These are massive figures and point to a very uncertain future for the network.

“The Government has to take its share of the blame.  The Post Office lost £168 million in revenue from government transactions last year, as the DWP and DVLA withdraw services from Post Offices.  This sum is more than the Post Office's entire loss.

“In particular the report draws attention to what the Government terms the “social network” of Post Offices in rural areas and deprived urban areas. These are Post Offices which it allegedly recognises as having significance over and above their potential for generating cashflow.

“Nobody who lives in a rural area would question the importance of their Post Office as a community resource.  Unfortunately, I am not convinced that the Government feel the same way, given the death by a thousand cuts which has been inflicted on them.

“As the report states, the Government has to decide what it wants from the Post Office network and it has to do so quickly, while there is still a network worth the name.  If it does indeed accept that rural Post Offices have a social function as important as their financial function, then it must be prepared to support them.”

17 October 2006

Local MSP Highlights Boyndie Windfarm At Party Conference

Banffshire MSP Stewart Stevenson told the SNP’s Annual Conference in Perth last week of the Boyndie Windfarm Co-operative and held it up as an example of good practice in windfarm developments.

The MSP was speaking during a debate on ‘Community Benefit from Windfarms’. Mr Stevenson told assembled delagates:

“Many communities are quite understandably apprehensive when a windfarm is mooted in their vicinity. Generally speaking, offshore windpower is far preferable to vast acres of turbines covering our hills because it is so much more efficient.

“However, there is certainly a place for smaller developments such as that at Boyndie and I believe it is a model of how local communities should be engaged and involved in the process right from the very start. Often, the alternative developments which may take place on brownfield sites such as Boyndie ‘Drome are much less attractive.

“The empowerment of the local community both in terms of the co-operative and the level of consultation and co-operation during the planning phase was handled extremely sensitively and ensured that the community felt a part of the development from day one.”

MSP Welcomes Council Action On Howe Of Gellymill Road

Local SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson today welcomed the commitment from Aberdeenshire Council roads department that a survey of traffic speed will be carried out on the A947 at the Howe of Gellymill.

Mr Stevenson raised the matter of road safety on the stretch of road after being contacted by concerned constituents following a recent fatal accident there. Now, Aberdeenshire Council has written to the MSP advising that traffic speed is indeed a concern and a speed survey will be carried out in the next few weeks.

Welcoming the news, Mr Stevenson said:

“It became clear to me that many local residents were concerned at the speed of traffic on this stretch of road and these concerns are shared by local roads officials.

“I very much welcome the council’s stance on this issue and, indeed, had it not been for some mindless act of vandalism to the roadside monitoring equipment, the traffic survey which the council have promised would already be underway.

“I find it incomprehensible that anyone would damage a piece of equipment which is there to make the road safer for drivers and pedestrians alike and I would urge anyone with information on this to contact the police.

“I look forward to the survey being carried out soon which I trust will allow safety measures to be introduced thereafter.”

MSP Supports Backcare Week

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson is urging constituents to ‘watch their backs’ during BackCare Awareness Week.

The week is organised by BackCare, the charity for healthier backs and aims to raise awareness about back pain. According to the charity, two out of five adults will experience back pain in the next 12 months costing the UK £6bn in benefits and treatments each year.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“I am urging constituents of all ages to ‘watch their backs’. This campaign raises awareness about back pain and how even children are affected by it. According to a BackCare survey, 80% of children carry too much weight in the wrong type of school bag.

“In addition, the charity is trying to make sure that people at work are aware about ways to ensure their backs are kept healthy.

“This is a really worthwhile cause and because so many people suffer from back pain and because there are many preventative techniques out there, I congratulate BackCare on their awareness raising campaign.”

10 October 2006

Stevenson Urges Primary Schools to Take Up Free OS Map Offer

Local MSP Stewart Stevenson urged primary schools across Banff & Buchan to take advantage of the Ordinance Survey’s free maps for 11-year-olds programme.

The scheme offers a map from the Explorer series to every primary seven pupil in Scotland.  The map that is offered to each pupil is the particular edition which covers the area of their school.  Local primary schools have until the end of October to apply, with the actual delivery of maps planned to take place before Christmas.

Mr Stevenson said:

“The OS maps for 11-year-olds programme is an excellent idea which can be very helpful in teaching children more about their local area, particularly about places and things of interest which they might otherwise pass by without noticing.

“The closing date for applications is Tuesday 31st October and schools can apply to the Ordinance Survey at Romsey Road, Southampton, SO16 4GU or by telephoning 08456 05 05 05.

“I believe that the scheme is an important aid in engendering a sense of pride in children about where they come from and I hope as many schools as are able will take up the offer of free maps.”

MSP Welcomes Postwatch Report on Rural POs

Local SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the publication of a report by the postal services watchdog Postwatch into the social and economic significance of Post Offices in rural Scotland.

The future of the rural post office network is under threat as the Government considers this autumn whether to continue to pay the £150 million a year subsidy needed in order to operate a rural post office network.

Mr Stevenson said:

“This report selected some of the most rural areas in Scotland to study, and reached some valuable conclusions.  Most importantly the study concluded that the benefits of rural post offices to isolated communities far outweighed the cost of running them.

“Unfortunately this fact does not make rural branches profitable in commercial terms to the Post Office, which is still left with a serious problem of supporting a network that requires massive government subsidy, the future of which is by no means clear.

“The study also found that above and beyond the post office’s official roles such as sending parcels and administering benefits, post offices in rural locations have an important unofficial role as the centre of a community both as an institution and as place for social interaction.

“I believe this is the first time that these social functions have been officially recognised, and I am glad it has happened.

“The rural post office network faces a very uncertain future.  Many rural post offices have already succumbed to the death by a thousand cuts that has been the slow erosion of the services the government will allow them to provide.

“I feel that it would be a false economy for the Government to drop its requirement for a rural post office network, and saves £150 million a year in subsidy money by doing so.  In UK terms, this is a small price to pay to support what is effectively the foundation of many rural communities.”

6 October 2006

Local MSP Faces Grilling From Pitfour Pupils

Local MSP Stewart Stevenson will be ‘in the hot seat’ on Monday 10 October between 9.15am and 11.45pm when he answers questions from pupils at Pitfour School, Mintlaw.

The MSP will be visiting Primaries 5, 6 and 7 as part of a number of school visits he will be undertaking.  Said Mr Stevenson:

“I always enjoy visiting schools in my constituency and the pupils always manage to think up some fairly searching questions so I will need to be on good form.

“In addition, I have hosted a number of school visits to the Scottish Parliament and I am always delighted to welcome constituents to Holyrood.  If any school is interested in paying a visit then I would be pleased to help arrange this.#

5 October 2006

SNP's Stevenson to Meet Georgian Justice Minister

The SNP's Shadow Deputy Justice Minister, Stewart Stevenson MSP will be visiting the Republic of Georgia to host a workshop on Civic Nationalism with local politicians in Marneuli and to meet Members of the Georgian Parliament in Tbilisi.

Stewart plans to meet leaders of a number of Georgia's parliamentary parties and will discuss the local elections which will take place on 5th October with members of the Georgian Parliament's Committee of Local Self-Governance.

He previously visited this area in March and met young political activists and aspiring local councillors.

Speaking ahead of a meeting with the Georgian Minister of Justice, Gia Qavtaradze, Stewart Stevenson said:

"Since Georgia regained its independence in 1991, it has faced many challenges. In particular the widespread protests that led to the resignation of then President Eduard Shevardnadze in 2003, created instability with which today's government has had to grapple.

"Mr Qavtaradze has difficulties within the country's prisons and in law enforcement generally. I am looking forward to an interesting exchange of views.

"We shall also, of course, be looking forward to next year's football matches between our two countries. And as a token of friendship I shall be presenting a Scotland football strip to the Minister."

Notes:

The Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which is funding this visit, provides money to parliamentary parties represented in the UK Parliament. The SNP has chosen to focus its efforts on Malawi and the Caucuses, building on the work of SNP MP Angus Robertson in bringing people together in Scotland to reduce regional tensions and build capacity in local democratic organisations.

3 October 2006

Stevenson Highlights Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has highlighted the importance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month taking place in October.

Commenting on the awareness month, Mr Stevenson said:

“Breast cancer is a malignant tumour in the breast where the malignant cancer attacks the tissue in which it started and can spread to other parts of the body. The good news is that nine times out of ten, lumps in the breast aren't cancerous. However, it's always best to check any lumps or changes in your breasts with your doctor - sooner rather than later.

“It is vital to stress the importance of self-examination, especially when you view the statistic that breast cancer is the second biggest cause of death from cancer in women in the UK and that early detection of breast cancer can in some cases increase survival rates to 90 per cent. Age is possibly the biggest single risk factor in breast cancer: women over 50 are particularly at risk. It's by no means unheard of for women under this age to have breast cancer, but it is less likely. Finally, we mustn’t forget the fact that men also can develop breast cancer.

“Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an annual national health campaign organised by the major breast cancer and cancer charities to increase awareness of the disease, raise funds for research into its cause, prevention and cure, and offer vital information and support to those affected by it. The importance of early detection cannot be stressed enough with early detection increasing survival rates to 90%.

“For those wishing to find out more, Breast Cancer Care is a national charity that offers information and support to people affected by breast cancer and their family and friends and can be contacted on their free and confidential helpline on 0808 800 6000 or via their website: www.breastcancercare.org.uk.”

2 October 2006

MSP ‘Astounded’ by NHS Decision on Fraserburgh Dental Crisis

Local SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson today expressed his serious concerns that constituents may be denied the full potential for NHS treatment at a new dental surgery planned for Fraserburgh.

Fraserburgh businessmen George Jack and Alex Watt have submitted proposals for a state-of-the-art dental surgery in Albert Street, and had sought funding from the Scottish Dental Access Initiative which would allow the practice to concentrate on dealing primarily with NHS patients. Two qualified dentists and a dental technician from Poland are to join the practice, which may now be forced to concentrate on treating private patients in the first instance.

NHS Grampian, despite their enthusiasm during the months that the project has been under discussion and supplying a letter of endorsement which categorically stated that ‘there is a severe shortage of dentists in Grampian’, suddenly reneged on their support for the project at the eleventh hour.

In a shock letter despatched on the day that he left on annual leave, the NHS Grampian Special Projects Manager withdrew his support for the proposal, citing various measures and plans by other dental surgeries in the area which were allegedly planned to resolve the shortfall in the provision of NHS treatment in the area.

Just ten working days from a letter which admitted ‘we currently have over 15,000 on our centralised waiting list’, NHS Grampian alleged that they ‘have less than 260 patients on the overall waiting list from that area.’ Dental practices in the Fraserburgh area, which include that of NHS Grampian’s Dental Practice Advisor, have previously admitted to ongoing recruitment difficulties.

The matter was taken up by Banff & Buchan MSP, Stewart Stevenson, who has been extremely vocal in calling for urgent measures to be taken to address the shortfall in NHS dental provision in Grampian. On challenging the withdrawal of support with Chief Executive, Richard Carey, NHS Grampian changed the reasons given, citing instead that the proposed corporate structure of the practice precluded their support as it did not comply with the conditions of the Scottish Dental Access Initiative.

Speaking at a Press conference in Aberdeen, Stewart Stevenson said:

“At a time when the provision of NHS dentistry is in total chaos, I am astounded to hear of this volte face on the part of NHS Grampian. The excuses set out in their original letter notifying their withdrawal of support simply beggar belief. It would appear that, either NHS Grampian has been totally unaware of the extent of the NHS dental crisis in the recent years in which they have supposedly been dealing with it – or else we are being asked to believe that they have suddenly managed to make provision to resolve the problem in the Fraserburgh area.”

Speaking on behalf of the new practice, Fraserburgh businessman George Jack said:

“We have been in regular contact with NHS Grampian since the inception of this project, and have kept them fully informed of our proposals at all times.

“This project will ultimately result in our investment of over a third of a million pounds. I was therefore extremely dismayed to learn of their withdrawal of NHS Grampian’s support for our application. It had been our intention to concentrate on the provision of NHS treatment in Fraserburgh, but it would appear that this capacity will now be limited in scope by the need to concentrate on the more lucrative area of private treatment.”

Stewart Stevenson added:

“While certain conditions may well need to be applied to the corporate structure of applicants, it must be questioned whether those presently in force are entirely suitable for a modern age - or are conducive to encouraging an effective resolution to the serious dental crisis which this country is currently facing, and I will be raising these issues with the Scottish Minister for Health directly.

“I would be bitterly disappointed if this was to mean that the people of Fraserburgh were to be denied the opportunity to access the additional good quality NHS dental treatment which could be made available in the very near future.”
Categories [Health and Community Care]

MSP Seeks Further Assurances From Finnie On Cattle Convictions

Banff & Buchan SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson has raised further questions in Parliament following the Scottish Executive’s admission that farmers across Scotland were convicted of breaking cattle movement laws which did not exist.

Twenty-four farmers were convicted and have had their convictions quashed and fines repaid. However, questions arose over the implications of this ruling for those who had faced subsidy penalties for not complying with the non-existent regulations, and those who had been convicted during the reference period for the single farm payment.

Mr Stevenson tabled further questions in the Scottish Parliament. Rural Affairs Minister Ross Finnie has stated that his officials are taking legal advice on the matter, but has confirmed that if his advice is that support scheme payments were affected, then the Government would move to reverse the penalties which had been applied.

Mr Stevenson commented:

“The fact that SEERAD are having to spend so long taking legal advice on the matter is further evidence of the whole bureaucratic nightmare which farmers have to contend with. One would have thought it would be a relatively simple matter to work out how subsidy payments had been affected by applying penalties for breaking non-existent laws.

“I shall be keeping a close eye on the Government’s progress in clearing up this mess.

“This just goes to show that the whole system is a house of cards and is in need of urgent reform to become more user-friendly for farmers. I am confident that an SNP Government after next May under Alex Salmond’s leadership will give urgent attention to reforming measures which will reduce red tape.”
Categories [Environment and Rural Development]

1 October 2006

Film catches a fishing tragedy - The Observer

Behind a lauded screen drama about people-smuggling is the reality of desperate Scottish trawler communities struggling to survive

Thomas Quinn
Sunday October 1, 2006
The Observer


Generations of fishermen from north-east Scotland have battled wind, high seas, rain and icy temperatures. Yet in recent years it has not been the forces of nature that reduced their trawlers to scrap but a government decommissioning programme and the European Union Common Fisheries Policy.

A new Scottish film highlighting the personal cost of this upheaval will be screened for the first time in Scotland this week after winning plaudits at the Toronto Film Festival.

In True North, Gary Lewis plays a trawler skipper facing financial ruin and the loss of his boat. His son, played by Martin Compston, who was in Ken Loach's film Sweet Sixteen, and his first mate, played by Peter Mullan, try to put things right by agreeing to smuggle 20 Chinese workers across the North Sea to Britain from Belgium.

The scheme leads to tragedy, but it is the plight faced by the main characters that strikes a chord. Written and directed by Steve Hudson, the film is in the running for a Scottish Bafta.

'It is bang up to date. You could write the script tomorrow,' said Lewis. 'You feel the fishermen are under siege because they are losing money, whatever they do or however hard they work.

'What struck me most was how emotionally connected these men are to their boats. That isn't some poetic abstract for them. I spoke to one skipper and he talked about launching his trawler in the way a father might talk about the birth of his son. It's that strong a feeling.'

Glasgow-born Lewis, who has played tough, uncompromising working-class men in films such as Billy Elliot and Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York, was amazed by the physical demands fishermen are under.

'I only spent a day on a fishing boat, but having done that I can appreciate just what hard graft it is,' he said. 'It struck me they are the one industry where the workers are never alienated from their product. They are involved at every stage, from kitting the boat out, paying for the boat, catching and gutting the fish, landing it and selling it in the market. No wonder there's such a strong attachment to the job.

'Obviously there are issues about over-fishing, and I accept there has to be some monitoring and control, but the cost to some of these people is high. What my character and his son in True North do is down to a need for raw survival.'

Many fishing communities are fighting for that sort of survival in real-life in north-east Scotland. To meet EU white fish quotas, around 1,000 boats have been decommissioned and as many as 5,000 fishermen forced out of the industry. Coastal communities such as Peterhead and Fraserburgh have changed for ever.

'It's not just the fishermen who are affected. We've lost many businesses too, including butchers who specialised in supplying the boats,' said the area's MSP, Stewart Stevenson, of the SNP.

He gives limited support to a Scottish Executive-led action plan announced last week to develop the industry north of the border. The measures will include new marketing, processing and catching initiatives involving everyone from the fishermen themselves to retailers such as Marks & Spencer.

'It is doing something worthwhile but it could go further,' Stevenson said. 'It's meant to show the fish are coming from sustainable stocks - but they could also look to identify actual trawlers where the fish are sourced.'

The real issue, he and his party claim, is that Scotland's interests are not properly represented by a UK government which does not consider fishing a priority. As a result, the Scottish share of European fishing rights is smaller than it should be.

Morag Ritchie, one of the so-called Fraserburgh fishwives who spearheaded the Cod Crusaders, a high-profile campaign against decommissioning and for Britain to free itself from the Common Fisheries Policy, says they have been defeated. Despite raising a petition with more than 250,000 signatures, including that of Sean Connery, the Westminster government confirmed last month that it will not consider ending Britain's part in the policy.

'The fleet is far smaller now and the boats that have survived have seen an increase in prices this year, and that's helped them,' Ritchie said. 'But they are still fighting all the time - against increased fuel costs and the quota system. The fishermen don't agree with the scientists who say fish stocks are low. They know it's better than it has been in decades.'

The emotional bond fishing people have with the sea is strong. 'Your crew is like part of your family. These men work together, eat together and sleep together. Once they are on shore they socialise together. These are very close knit communities.

'Most Scottish boats are family-owned and are named after personal things and people, your children for example. The transition for some of the fishermen has been extremely difficult - it's led to many families breaking up. The fishermen are used to being at sea. If they are stuck at home they don't know what to do. They haven't got hobbies.'

Some take to drink and drugs. The use of heroin in some of these communities is said to be high, though Ritchie insists that Fraserburgh's problem is no worse than that in other small towns.

The real tragedy is that traditions are being lost, she said. 'Boys who thought they would skipper their father's boat are now looking elsewhere for jobs, many of them on the oil [rigs]. Families are moving out, and in Fraserburgh we are getting a lot of immigrants, people from eastern Europe. Things are changing.'

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