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31 December 2007

A9 Bankfoot improvements move forward

A £1.5 million pound safety upgrade to the key route for northern Scotland takes a significant step forward this month (December 2007).

Transport Scotland has published Draft Slip Road and Side Road Orders for the A9 Bankfoot improvement project, signalling the start of the statutory process.

The planned junction improvements will incorporate new slip roads to and from the southbound A9. This will remove right turns into Bankfoot to and from the A9 improving safety and traffic flow on this vital road for local communities and the northern economy as a whole.

Transport Minister, Stewart Stevenson said

"The local community will be delighted that this project is moving towards the next stage. This investment will improve safety for all users of the A9 and particularly for local residents in Bankfoot.

"This Scottish Government is committed to providing a first class transport network which will support and grow our economy. This project plays a vital part in the delivery of our vision, bringing benefits not just to the North, but to the whole of Scotland."

Subject to the successful outcome of the statutory process, it is estimated work will start in Autumn 2008 taking around six months to complete.

24 December 2007

Boxing clever on road safety

The Scottish Government is paying for a trial scheme to beam anti-drink adverts directly into X-Box games across Scotland.

The adverts will appear on virtual billboards within the games consoles that thousands of young Scots are expected to receive as Christmas presents.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said that with latest statistics showing an increase in road fatalities, it was time to look at innovative solutions.

"With latest statistics showing an increase in road fatalities, particularly amongst young people, we must look at new ways of getting road safety messages across.

Xbox road safety campaign"This is exactly the kind of initiative we should be trying. It is innovative, it is new, and it is far removed from the more traditional methods we have been using. I believe that is what we need if we are to reverse the number of Scots families suffering the tragedy of a loved one being lost.

"Our road safety initiatives are being heard, but there are some who are still ignoring those messages. Many are paying with their lives.

"This is a huge opportunity to try and reach a new audience - 73 per cent of UK 15-24 year olds have access to a gaming console in their home. The technology is non-intrusive, subtle, but the message can be seen in the background, loud and clear.

"We will monitor the results of this trial, but I hope it can be a success. With Christmas approaching, and many young people unwrapping new consoles, this initiative has the opportunity to save lives across Scotland."

Michael McDonnell Michael McDonnell, Director of Road Safety Scotland, said:

"We need to look beyond the conventional methods of addressing key road safety issues which affect young people, and I believe that positioning of the drink-drive message in online games will serve as an ever-present reminder to young Scots about the consequences of doing. What many don't realise is that, when caught drink-driving, they will lose their licence - they're LOS 3RS - and the online message could not be any simpler 'Don't risk it'".

The project will cost £10,000 and will initially transmit anti-drink drive messages. However, if successful, the technology can deliver any road safety message needed directly into any game.

Some of the games to carry the ads will be: Need for Speed: Carbon, Need for Speed:proStreet, Project Gotham Racing 4, Pro Evolution Soccor 2008, NBA Live.

20 December 2007

Abolition of bridge tolls

Parliament today voted overwhelmingly in favour of the 'Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Bill'.

The Bill will now go forward for Royal Assent. It is expected that tolls will be removed early next year on both the Forth and Tay Bridges.

Responding to the vote, Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"This is a great day for the people of Fife, Tayside and the Lothians. This was the first Bill the new Scottish Government introduced when we came into power, and it is the last piece of parliamentary business of the year.

"The start of a new year will bring an end to years of injustice. By February 14, no-one will be paying tolls over the Forth and Tay. I am sure people across Scotland will be delighted."

14 December 2007

Stevenson Welcomes £374.744 Million for Aberdeenshire Council

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the announcement by John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, that Aberdeenshire Council will receive £374.744 million next year from the Scottish Government.

This money will not only enable Aberdeenshire Council to freeze the council tax but also allow the councils:

• to cut class sizes

• invest in social care including support for vulnerable people and for those with disabilities

• invest in our police services

• fund those caring for relatives and friends at risk

Welcoming the announcement from the SNP Government Mr. Stevenson said;

“This is welcome news for people in Banff & Buchan. I am delighted to see that under the SNP Government devolution is extending beyond the Scottish Parliament to local government level.

“The Scottish Government, in making this announcement today is supporting Aberdeenshire Council to deliver key local and national services to benefit people across the area.

“Under the SNP the council’s funding will increase by 4.6% in Aberdeenshire.

“I urge the Council to confirm that with this money they will freeze the council tax and avoid the 3.5% rise that would otherwise land on people’s doorsteps next year.

“People across Scotland suffered the weight of a 60% rise in Council Tax for over 10 years under Labour with the support of their LibDem allies.

“It is unfortunate that Labour, instead of welcoming this deal, are scaremongering, especially among vulnerable groups. The SNP Government is increasing the funding available for people with disabilities, mental health issues and victims of domestic violence amongst others.

“The SNP Government is taking action to ensure Aberdeenshire Council can meet all their commitments to people in the area and that local authorities have the financial freedom to respond to the needs of their local community.

“I hope politicians of all persuasions will welcome the announcement today and that Aberdeenshire Council will be one of the first to commit to freezing the unfair council tax.”

Stevenson Welcomes Funding Award for Banff & Macduff Community Council

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the news that Banff & Macduff Community Council has been successful in applying for a £10,000 Awards for All grant. This award will be used to fund the construction of a new path through a wooded area in Banff.

Banff & Macduff Community Council ascertains, co-ordinates and expresses the views of the community it represents to statutory and public authorities and bodies including the Aberdeenshire Community Council.

Awards for All Scotland is supported by the Scottish Arts Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Sportscotland and the Big Lottery Fund. It awards grants of between £500 and £10,000 for people to take part in art, sport, heritage and community activities, and projects that promote education, the environment and health in the local community.

Commenting, Mr. Stevenson said:

“I am delighted to hear that Banff & Macduff Community Council has been successful in gaining £10,000 after applying for an Awards for All grant for art, sport and community initiatives. I congratulate all of those involved in the Community Council for their success in securing these funds.

“As an important community organization, Banff & Macduff Community Council is a very deserving recipient of this funding. By coordinating the views of local people it represents the community’s interests in a very democratic way.

“This funding will go a long way to ensuring that the Community Council can continue its positive work in the Banff and Macduff area. I am told that this money will be used to construct a new path through a wooded area popular amongst ramblers in Banff to make it safer and more accessible to walkers. This is a fine example of a practical initiative which has come from local people to improve life in their community.”

7 December 2007

Stevenson Congratulates Local Winner at SCARF Awards in Parliament


Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has attended an awards ceremony in the Scottish Parliament organised by Save Cash and Reduce Fuel (SCARF) in which a number of school children from the North East participated.

SCARF, a company established to promote sustainable use of energy and tackle fuel poverty held a presentation of awards to winners of their 2008 Energy Efficiency Calendar Competition. The competition attracts around 4000 entries from primary school pupils, who are asked to submit illustrations which raise issues in relation to energy efficiency in the home.

Mr. Stevenson congratulated local prize winner, Emma Findlay from Clerkhill Primary School, Peterhead and met with representatives of SCARF to discuss the issue of energy efficiency and the challenges of fuel poverty faced locally in the North East.

Speaking after the event Mr. Stevenson said:

“I was delighted to see SCARF bringing its vital message of domestic energy efficiency to the Scottish Parliament. Fuel poverty is an issue of great concern, particularly in the North-east and one which I am happy to see the SNP Government is tackling with practical measures like the extension and improvement of the Central Heating Programme.

“The awards ceremony was an extremely positive event binging young and old together to celebrate the hard work put into the calendar by the winning pupils, but also to push the issue of energy efficiency in the home to the fore.

“The Energy Efficiency Calendar has a very wide circulation and I was extremely pleased to see that one of my constituents had succeeded in having her illustrations published in this year’s edition. I extended my sincere congratulations to the winner from Peterhead who has represented her area in an outstanding fashion and should be very proud.

“I took the opportunity to discuss the issue of affordable energy with SCARF representatives and raise with them the various problems relating to fuel poverty faced by my constituents in Banff & Buchan”

4 December 2007

SNP Government Six Times More Popular in the North East than London Labour Government

A new YouGov poll commissioned by the Scottish National Party shows that the people of Scotland prefer the SNP Scottish Government to the UK Labour government by a huge margin of 5 to 1, and that amongst people in the North East this margin increases to 6 to 1.

Commenting on the poll, Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson said;

"These sensational poll figures shows that not only do the people of Scotland prefer the SNP government in Scotland over the Labour government in London by an overwhelming margin of 5 to 1 but that in the North East the margin is even greater at 6 to 1.

"These figures are of huge significance. It is clear that the minority SNP government is thriving and delivering for the people of Scotland and Banff & Buchan, while the London Labour government is sinking fast in a sea of financial sleaze and internecine warfare."

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Notes:

The poll question and results were as follows:

Thinking about the performance of the Scottish Government and the UK Government which one do you think is doing a better job?

Scottish Government: 54%
UK Government: 11%
Neither: 27%
DK: 8%

The breakdown for Labour voters was:

Scottish Government: 34%
UK Government: 30%

The breakdown for the North East in comparison to Scotland as a whole is shown in the table below:
Scotland North East
Scottish Government 54 56
UK Government 11 9
Neither 27 23
Don't know 8 12


YouGov Survey Results for the Scottish National Party
Sample Size: 1111; Fieldwork: 28th - 30th November 2007

Campbeltown - Ballycastle ferry service

Fresh moves to re-establish a ferry service between Campbeltown and Ballycastle took a step forward today when Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson announced to Parliament that a new economic appraisal of the route is to be undertaken.

Following talks with his Northern Ireland counterpart Nigel Dodds MP, Mr Stevenson said that Ministers have agreed to jointly fund work into the case for restoring the service using the Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG) system.

The Transport Minister said:

"After years of no movement on a Campbeltown-Ballycastle service, I am delighted to announce that I have agreed with Northern Ireland Minister Nigel Dodds to carry out a fresh economic appraisal of the route.

"Communities on both sides of the water have campaigned long and hard for the reinstatement of this service, believing it would bring economic and tourism benefits to the local communities involved and Scotland more widely.

"This appraisal will examine that case.

"Both Governments are in agreement that the previous appraisals carried out in 2000-01 are now too old to be of any practical use in assessing the case for reintroducing the service, or estimating the associated costs and benefits involved. A new appraisal now will allow us to re-examine the economic viability of the route.

"The STAG appraisal will be completed this summer, and at that stage, we will agree with our colleagues in the Northern Ireland Executive, the next steps to be taken.

"The Scottish Government has set aside funding within the budget announced by John Swinney last month for a Campbeltown - Ballycastle ferry service, and we remain absolutely committed to doing all we can to progress this for the local communities involved."

The STAG appraisal of a Campbeltown-Ballycastle ferry service will be completed by summer 2008.

During the First Minister's visits to Belfast on 18/19 June, and at the British Irish Council on 16 July, Northern Ireland Ministers indicated their willingness to work with the Scottish Government to consider ways in which the project might be taken forward. The Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive agreed to examine the case for restoring the ferry service.

Since then officials from both administrations have discussed joint working arrangements for taking the project forward. The Transport Minister has discussed with his counterpart in Northern Ireland, Nigel Dodds MLA MP, at the end of November. During that discussion, it was agreed that a fresh economic appraisal, using the Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG) should be undertaken.

This STAG appraisal will allow both Governments to assess the economic viability of the route. It will also allow us to identify the preferred ferry service option, together with the key terms of a service specification, which might be used for a future tender exercise, and a detailed review of the vessel availability.

28 November 2007

Transport Minister visits Upper Forth Crossing

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson visited the Upper Forth Crossing today to announce the process for naming the bridge, marking another milestone towards delivering the multi-million pound project.

On attending an open day at the site, the Minister revealed Transport Scotland plans to manage a public consultation exercise to find a name for the new bridge.

Mr Stevenson said:

"I am delighted to see the progress on this project to improve east coast connections. The new crossing will open up economic opportunities, ease congestion in Kincardine and improve access to Alloa.

"By announcing the naming process today, we are able to take a real step forward in the overall delivery of this bridge. This approach enables us to engage with local communities to find a name befitting of this fantastic structure."

The public consultation exercise will involve placing adverts in local papers, in the three Council areas bordering the bridge, to invite suggestions from residents . Transport Scotland has received many suggestions in the past, including light hearted ones such as ‘Bridge at Jones Diary’ and ‘Blackadder Crossing.’

Following the newspaper notices, the public will have four weeks to make their suggestions. Transport Scotland will then make recommendations to Ministers, with the chosen name being announced in due course.

The project itself is the largest road construction scheme currently on-the-ground in Scotland and is being delivered by contractor Morgan VINCI, a joint venture between infrastructure services company Morgan Est and VINCI Construction Grands Projets. Construction involves one of the longest deck pushes of its kind in the world and started with the first launch of the bridge deck on Monday 22 January 2007, 90 metres inland from the river bank.

The twenty third launch took place on 16 November and the twenty fourth is scheduled for today (28 November), taking the bridge deck length to 972m. Each launch moves the deck out by 45 metres and takes two weeks. On completion, the bridge deck will be 1.2km long, weigh 35,000 tonnes and will sit on 25 piers which are each filled with 840 tonnes of concrete. There will be a total of 29 push launches.

The project also involves extensive improvements to the connecting trunk road network, with 6km of roads and 5 km of cycleways being constructed, as well as associated roundabouts.

Graham Porteous, Transport Scotland’s Project Director - Construction, said:

"The bridge is moving well towards its target completion date of November 2008

"With significant local interest in the bridge and its name, Transport Scotland believe that this will be a much welcomed process."

For further information see Upper Forth Crossing

27 November 2007

Stevenson Welcomes Extra Funding To Tackel Hospital Infections

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed news of a multi-million pound increase in funding by the Scottish Government to tackle healthcare associated infection (HAI) in Scotland. £54 million is to be invested over the next three years in a raft of measures to combat hospital infections including the establishment of a national MRSA screening programme.

The plan, which will be overseen by a Scottish Government Task Force, will also see increased monitoring of hand hygiene compliance in the healthcare sector and will "raise the bar" on hospital cleaning standards. A series of measures will also be introduced to reduce patients' risk of contracting Clostridium Difficile, as well as other hospital infections.

Commenting Mr. Stevenson said;

“Infections contracted in hospitals such as MRSA or Clostridium Difficile are a concern for many people in Banff & Buchan. There is clearly no easy solution to this long-running problem but the funding the SNP has announced should certainly make a great deal of headway in reducing these infection rates.

"We should recognise that good progress has been made in reducing hospital infections, but we should also be under no illusion that more needs to be done. Today's delivery plan is about upping the ante in the fight against hospital bugs.

"The development of an MRSA screening programme demonstrates the Scottish Government’s determination to tackle one of the main sources of hospital infection. I know this is the right way forward and I am convinced screening will reduce the risk of MRSA infection and save lives here in the North East and across Scotland."


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Notes to editors:

This is the first HAI plan based on evidence of the extent of infections in Scottish hospitals, following the first point prevalence survey published earlier this year, which showed the true level of hospital bugs for the first time.
The Scottish Government's new priority areas are to:
• Target skin and soft tissue infections
• Introduce a pilot MRSA screening programme in 2008-09 which will pave the way for a national screening programme from 2009-10
• Develop "care bundles" to ensure that all patients consistently receive the best care or treatment at all times. These will be aimed at reducing Clostridium difficile; catheter infections; ventilator associated pneumonia; surgical site infections; hand hygiene and urinary infections
• Reduce bloodstream infections
• Implement new policies aimed at improving hand hygiene
• Ensure that additional surveillance information is gathered and put to use in the targeted areas of general medicine and care of the elderly

Improving road safety

The first meeting of the expert group on road safety was chaired by Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson today.

The group was set up earlier this year following provisional transport statistics which showed a 10 per cent rise in fatalities on Scotland's roads for 2006.

Following the meeting, Mr Stevenson said:

"This was a very positive first meeting in which we made progress towards developing a new 10 year road safety strategy for Scotland.

"This group brings together leading experts in the field and we have agreed further work which will help us to deliver solutions to make our roads safer.

"It is clear to all of us that far too many people die or are injured on Scotland's roads each year. Saving lives will require a serious approach to tackling the complex issues involved and resources to back it up.

"The group concluded that one meeting would not be enough to get to the bottom of the complex issues of road safety and as agreed when the panel was formed, there will be further meetings arranged at the earliest opportunity to put forward specific policy proposals to the Scottish Government.

"And this government will back up those proposals up with an extra £3 million being made available over the next three years to support the proposals this group will bring forward and to take forward a new road safety strategy for Scotland which will be published in the summer."

The group includes representatives from the police, road safety experts, a driver behaviour phychologist, and the children's commissioner.

They are:
  • Chief Constable John Vine, ACPOS
  • Neil Greig, Director, IAM Trust
  • Michael McDonnell, Road Safety Scotland
  • Steve Stradling, Professor of Transport Psychology, Napier University. Expert in driver behaviour.
  • Jane Greer, Chair of Institute of Road Safety Officers and first policewoman in Fife to achieve a Class 1 Advanced Driving Certificate
  • Dr Steve Lawson, Technical Director, Road Safety Foundation and European Road Assessment Programme (EuroRAP)
  • Kathleen Marshall, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People
  • Bob McLellan, civil engineer with a doctorate in project/construction management. Head of transportation services at Fife Council and past Chair of the Society for Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland (SCOTS) Engineering Committee
The full year analysis for 2006 was published yesterday, and although there has been no change in the top line figures, the Minister wants to take action to address the number of accidents across Scotland.

26 November 2007

Stevenson Welcomes Cod Quota Increase as a "Significant Step Forward"

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the 11 per cent increase in the cod quota following the EU-Norway fishing negotiations in Brussels this weekend as a significant step forward for the Scottish fishing industry.

Commenting Mr. Stevenson said;

“This 11 per cent increase represents a significant step forward for the Scottish fishing industry and comes as excellent news for fishermen and all of those employed in the fishing trade in Banff & Buchan.

“Fishermen in Banff & Buchan have worked hard all summer to secure this increase by cooperating constructively and making huge sacrifices to conserve cod stocks. This positive result is a tribute to their efforts and indeed to their patience.

“This increase in quota is the first in a decade and comes as a major breakthrough for North Sea cod. It goes to illustrate that the tide is finally turning for the industry.


“As we approach the annual EU Fisheries Council in December we can be sure that the SNP Government is working hard to secure the best possible deal for Scotland.”

23 November 2007

Stevenson Welcomes Extra Measures for Central Heating Programme

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed extra measures announced as part of the Government’s Central Heating Programme which will benefit hundreds of pensioner households in Scotland.

£7 million has been allocated to deliver help to eligible pensioners who have the greatest need and are without heating and hot water this winter. Capacity in this year’s programme will also be heightened and installations increased by 1,600 to 15,000 this financial year – more than in any previous year of the programme.

Commenting Mr. Stevenson said;

I am delighted that the SNP Government has taken this practical step to protect vulnerable pensioners in Banff & Buchan and across Scotland who are without heating and hot water in these the coldest months of the year. .

“This is a pragmatic response by the Scottish Government to the problems faced by pensioners whose existing system has broken down beyond repair. It will give extra priority to these pensioners and extend the capacity of the Central Heating Programme to avoid longer waiting lists and ensure that the system reaches the most vulnerable groups in our communities.

“Fuel poverty is an issue frequently raised with me by my constituents in Banff & Buchan and these measures will go a long way to tackling that problem. I am extremely pleased to see that the SNP Government is addressing the issue of fuel poverty by improving the Central Heating Programme and making it more responsive to the needs of pensioners in Scotland.”


-ends-

Notes to editors:
Scottish Gas, which manages the central heating programme, will identify from existing information from applicants and inspections, those who are likely to be without heating and hot water and those who are the most vulnerable. Those people will be given greater priority than they have at present.
The central heating programme helps pensioners in fuel poverty by providing a new central heating system where they do not have one or, for pensioners most likely to be in fuel poverty, replacing partial and inefficient systems. The programme also replaces systems that have broken beyond repair.
This is not an emergency repair scheme and the greatest impact on fuel poverty is achieved where a system is provided for the first time. The practical situation is that a pensioner who is eligible for a new system and whose present system is broken beyond repair, may not be able to make other arrangements until the system is replaced. This is a particularly acute problem in the winter.

15 November 2007

Stevenson Hails Budget's Good news for North East Dental Services

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed this week’s budget spending review by the Scottish Government which contained much good news for health and dental services in the North East.

The news came as John Swinney MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, made his announcement to the Scottish Parliament today, which included the establishment of a third dental school in Aberdeen and improvements to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

Commenting Mr. Stevenson, a long-time campaigner for increased dental services, said;

“I am delighted at the Scottish Government’s announcements of a new third dental school in Aberdeen plus improvements to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. This comes as excellent news for health services in the North East and for the people of Banff & Buchan.

“While Labour and the Lib Dems for years paid lip service to establishing a dental school at Foresterhill and failed to take any firm action, the Scottish Government has now taken the initiative and committed to a new school in Aberdeen.

“Since elected I have consistently campaigned for increased dental services in the North East. A new dental school for Aberdeen will go a long way to increasing the number of dentists and improving dental provisions here in the North East and across Scotland. I strongly welcome this much-needed boost to our dental services.”

14 November 2007

Budget Review Brings Historic Opportunity for Council Tax Freeze: More Good News and Tax-cuts for North-East

Banff & Buchan SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed today's budget spending review by the Scottish Government which has opened the way for a historic council tax freeze in Aberdeenshire Council and throughout Scotland. This would effectively mean a tax cut for the people of the Aberdeenshire Council area.

The news came as John Swinney MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, made his announcement to the Scottish Parliament today, which included more good news for the the North-east.

Welcoming the opportunity for a historic tax freeze, Mr Stevenson said:

"In the 10 years since Labour have been in Government on their own or in coalition with the Liberals, council tax payers in the Aberdeenshire Council area have had to put up with an 85 per cent rise in their council tax.

"I am delighted that John Swinney has come to an historic agreement in partnership with COSLA over a freeze in council tax over the coming year.

"This meets the SNP's commitment to make life fairer and wealthier for the people of the North-east and I warmly welcome that."


Mr Swinney also announced that there would be a 50% cut in business rates for small businesses next year followed by a further 50% the year after with all businesses rated under £8000 paying no rates from 2010. Welcoming this boost for local businesses Stewart Stevenson said:

"As part of our wider economic strategy the SNP is determined to support the small business sector which had been let down under the Labour and Lib Dem administration.

"Small businesses drive the local economy, not least in Banff & Buchan. They are a source of entrepreneurship and innovation and create a huge number of jobs as 98% of all businesses are classified as small in Scotland

"The SNP Government's plans for cutting business rates are designed to target small businesses in Banff & Buchan and deliver meaningful help to them while at the same time benefiting the wider economy."

12 November 2007

Stevenson Takes Questions from Fraserburgh Primary School Pupils

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has visited Fraserburgh South Park Primary School as part of an MSPs in Schools programme. Mr. Stevenson was briefed by pupils of two P7 classes on the issues that mattered to them. He then participated in a question and answer discussion session where pupils questioned him on a range of local and national issues

Commenting Mr. Stevenson said;

“I am delighted to have been invited to visit Fraserburgh South Park Primary School and given the opportunity to observe the first rate staff and pupils here in their normal working day and to see the excellent facilities at the school.

“I took part in a question and answer session with the P7 pupils, an experience which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was questioned on a broad range of topics from local issues affecting students themselves such as homework and education choices to wider social and political issues of national significance.

“I was highly impressed at how well informed, articulate and assertive this group of young people showed themselves to be. They are a credit to their parents, teachers and to their school. Indeed, the experience was not entirely different from taking questions in the Chamber –certainly a good reflection on these students!”

9 November 2007

Local MSP Welcomes Extra Funding From Scottish Government for Banff & Buchan College

Universities and colleges across Scotland are to receive an extra £100 million capital funding package, it was announced this week.

Local MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the news that Banff & Buchan College is to receive an additional £368,000 of funding from the Scottish Government.

Making the announcement, Cabinet Secretary for Education & Lifelong Learning Fiona Hyslop MSP said:

"This SNP Government is serious about supporting our colleges and universities. We are determined that Scottish money, held on account at Westminster, should be used to meet Scottish priorities. That is why we are choosing to invest these funds in Scottish universities and colleges.

"The investment, which is in addition to any settlement from the forthcoming spending review, will also support our plans to create a Smarter Scotland by helping to expand opportunities for Scots to succeed."


Stewart Stevenson MSP added:

“I am delighted that this additional funding for next financial year will come to Banff & Buchan College.

“The College, under the excellent leadership of Principal Robert Sinclair and his dedicated team, is proving itself an excellent innovator in delivery and many other fields so I am quite sure that this funding will be put to very good use indeed.”


Chair of the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council John McClelland said:

"This additional investment by the Scottish Government is very welcome. It will help the Council to accelerate its capital programme, address backlog problems and provide modern, sustainable facilities in our colleges and universities, which are attractive to students and businesses."

Howard McKenzie, Acting Chief Executive Association of Scotland's Colleges said :

"We welcome this announcement with vigorous enthusiasm as its timing is, from our perspective, almost perfect. This funding means that projects that have been awaiting funding for some time can now progress, and those that are 'next in line' can move further up the queue - benefiting everyone.

"Ultimately, however, the real winners from today's announcement will be Scotland's students who will see a direct benefit in terms of the facilities and equipment available to them.”

Stevenson Welcomes New Procurement Rules

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed new procurement rules will help small and medium sized enterprises better compete for public sector contracts.

Cabinet Secretary for Finance & Sustainable Growth John Swinney announced a change to the Scottish Government's contract rules to allow suppliers to use an intermediary to raise finance without prior permission.

Factoring and invoice discounting can be an important source of finance to businesses and SMEs in particular. The Government has published guidance for other public bodies and expects them to follow suit.

Commenting on the announcement, Mr Stevenson said:

"We can make a significant contribution to sustainable economic growth by reducing barriers to public contracts and making it easier to do business. This SNP Government listens, and this is a good example of what can be achieved when we listen carefully to the views of our regulatory advisors in business.”

Andrew Watson of the Federation of Small Business Scotland said:

"This announcement shows that the Scottish Government is leading the public sector in opening up more choice and opportunities for small businesses. Removing unnecessary restrictions like this can make a real difference to a small business. This simple rule change will allow those businesses which use factoring services to bid for public sector contracts, improve competition and ultimately deliver better value to taxpayers."

Cabinet Secretary for Finance John Swinney MSP also announced that he would chair the Public Procurement Reform Board to accelerate the pace of reform in procurement - worth £8 billion every year. He said:

"I am determined that procurement reform will deliver results. To drive that forward, I will act as Chair of the Public Procurement Reform Board. I hope that shows the Scottish Government's determination to deliver on this agenda and the high priority we attach to it.

"Let me send a clear message. Individuals or public organisations that prefer not to collaborate on contracts, e-procurement, best practice and policy will be expected to be able to justify their position on objective business grounds.

"I thank John McClelland for the work he has done so far as Chair. In addition to serving as a member of the Board, I have asked John McClelland to continue to advise me on good practice, new opportunities and ways we can accelerate the pace of change.

"We now have, for the first time, detailed management information and analysis showing there are significant benefits to be gained from working together on procurement.

"New performance indicators flowing from the reform programme will be implemented early in the New Year and all organisations in the public sector will be asked to report accordingly. These will help raise performance and establish an environment where measurable, continuous improvement is the norm. I am determined to deliver results for the people of Scotland."


An estimated 1,600 businesses in Scotland use factoring or invoice discounting. The total value of finance raised in this way by Scottish businesses in 2006 amounted to around £500 million.

A83 set to reopen

The A83 road is to reopen tomorrow (Saturday) following a recent landslip in Argyll.

Scotland TranServ, which has been working to remove debris and make the road safe, has given the all clear for the road to open over the weekend.

In recent days, a specialist helicopter from Inverness has been called in to assist in the clear up process. Yesterday, high pressure water pipes were used to carry out a controlled landslip of the remaining hazardous material above the road, and the work is now at such an advance stage that the road can now reopen.

There remains a final stage of work to remove the last of the debris which will happen during a temporary 24-48 hour closure early next week, but it is expected that the road will be open permanently towards the end of next week.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"This has been a frustrating time for everyone. The reality is that we are at the mercy of nature, and the weather has hampered efforts this week, but the experts on the ground have been battling as hard as they possibly can to make the road safe. I am sure local communities will be delighted with the good news today.

"Having visited the site on Monday, I have seen for myself the sheer scale of the problem that has faced our roads engineers and know just how concerning this incident has been for local people and businesses. The engineers have worked as fast as they can to open the road, recognising the crucial importance of the A83 for local communities, businesses, and tourists.

"I am delighted that the road is now opening again on Saturday. With one final piece of work due early next week, it looks like local communities can now look forward to the road being open permanently towards the end of next week."

A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful will be re-opened to single lane working, controlled by traffic lights from the hours of 0800 Saturday November 10, until 0800 Monday November, 12. Before this can be undertaken, it is necessary to carry out a package of measures including erection of safety fencing, removal of debris from the carriageway, drainage ditches and the slope and the removal of the temporary diversion signage. This work will be today to allow safe passage of traffic once the road is re-opened.

There remains further work regarding final removal of debris and this will require a further road closure of between 24 to 48 hours on Monday. This is weather dependent, but forecasts indicate the weather window will be Monday November 12 /Tuesday November 13.

8 November 2007

Norwegian Oil Fund Shows Way Forward for Scotland

The SNP has obtained figures showing the extent to which Norway’s Government Pension Fund has grown since it was first established.

Set up in 1990 as the Petroleum Fund with an initial payment of £174 million Sterling, the value of the Government Pension Fund Global was at 30 June 2007 1,939bn Norwegian Kroner – the equivalent of a staggering £174 billion Sterling at current prices. By 2010, the fund value is forecast to have spiralled to a staggering 2856.4bn NOK – or £257 bn Sterling at today’s prices.

Commenting local MSP Stewart Stevenson said:

“These figures are simply extraordinary. From a seedcorn investment equivalent to just £174 million pounds in the 1990’s – made almost 20 years after the first oil started flowing ashore - Norway’s careful husbandry of her oil and gas resources has seen the national fund grow in value a thousand-fold.

“Even Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks recognised recently that the Norwegian approach was the correct one. However, with oil prices currently nudging US $100 per barrel and the resulting revenues which are flooding into Treasury coffers, now is exactly the time to start investing this extraordinary windfall for future generations.

“The last 30 years represent a sad story of missed opportunities and squandered resources. By seizing the initiative and establishing a Fund for Future Generations, instead of repeating the failures of successive UK governments over the past 30 years, Scotland can begin to mirror the successes of our neighbour across the North Sea."

-ends-

Note to Editors: In an interview with the Guardian from 27 October 2007, Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks said: ‘If you could replay history, the idea as in Norway of building up a national [oil] fund is actually quite an attractive one.

Stevenson At Museum of Scottish Lighthouses to Mark National Recognition

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson will tomorrow (Friday) unveil a plaque at the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, Fraserburgh at 3.15pm to mark the museum’s collection being one of only ten in the country officially recognised by the Scottish Government as being of national significance.

Speaking in advance of tomorrow’s ceremony, Mr Stevenson commented:

“I am delighted for the museum staff and indeed the whole of Fraserburgh that the collection at the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses has been recognised in this way.

“It is a tribute to the staff there but is also a huge accolade for the Broch. We in the North-east have always known that the lighthouse museum is a bit special but it is terrific to have that recognised nationally.”


Douglas Connell, Chair of the Recognition Committee, which oversees the Recognition of collections of national significance, said:

“To achieve Recognition status, the applicants had to demonstrate the uniqueness, authenticity, comprehensiveness, and national value of their collection. This first round announcement highlights the wonderful diversity of Scotland’s collections and we are confident the scheme is recognising the best the country has to offer.”

The Recognised collections are:

the Entire Collection cared for by Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow
the Entire Collection cared for by Scottish Fisheries Museum, Anstruther
the Entire Collection cared for by Museum of Scottish Lighthouses, Fraserburgh
the Entire Collection cared for by Pier Arts Centre, Stromness
the Entire Collection cared for by Surgeons' Hall Museum, Edinburgh
the Collection of Historic Musical Instruments cared for by University of Edinburgh
the Archaeology Collection cared for by Dumfries and Galloway Museum Service
the Entire Collection cared for by Scottish Maritime Museum, Irvine
the Entire Collection cared for by Burns Monument Trust, Alloway
the Core Collection cared for by Scottish Railway Preservation Society, Bo’ness.

Transport agency launches new road safety plan

Transport Scotland launched its first-ever Strategic Road Safety Plan today (08 November 2007). The plan sets out its goals for the next decade and the challenges the agency faces in delivering them.

Road accidents cost the public an estimated £1 billion each year, however the human and emotional cost runs far deeper. By taking a proactive approach to tackling this, Transport Scotland’s accident investigation unit will deliver the agency’s safety objectives for the forthcoming ten years.

Stewart Stevenson, Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change commented on the plan

“It is clear that there are far too many unnecessary deaths on Scotland’s roads each year. This Scottish Government wants to do all it can to reduce the number of tragedies experienced by families across the country. We want to work with all our agencies and the experts to see what more we can all do to improve safety.

“Transport Scotland’s knowledge and expertise, through the Strategic Road Safety Plan, is an important component in our vision of a safer Scotland.

“Our work does not stop there though. We have set up an expert group on road safety, and will look at what further action could be taken. That group will meet for the first time later this month. Their views will help inform a new Scottish Government road safety strategy for Scotland. ”

By making the best use of both their knowledge of the trunk route network and how to effectively reduce accidents, Transport Scotland aims to remove risk while prioritising initiatives that will prevent accidents and mitigate the effects when they do occur.

The strategy will deliver actions grouped under seven key themes, including ‘Risk Reduction’ and Vulnerable Road Users.’ Of particular note is Transport Scotland’s planned efforts to tackle the issues of young driver and motorcycle safety through targeted campaigns and events.

The plan marks a shift to a more proactive approach to safety, particularly in the early identification of potential accident locations and the consequent removal of risk to minimise accident effects. This is in contracts to the traditional approach, which looks at historic accident locations to develop remedial measures.

As part of this new approach, Transport Scotland is using intelligent solutions, demonstrating innovation and working with partners, while sharing best practice with roads authorities across Scotland and throughout Europe.

The Strategic Road Safety Plan is now available.

6 November 2007

Major upgrade work ready to let freight trains take the strain

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson today marked the completion of £4 million worth of improvements to rail freight services across Scotland.

The Mossend to Elgin work will now enable up to 12.3 million lorry kilometres of freight to be transferred from the nation’s roads.

This morning Mr Stevenson saw two of the largest containers to be used on the route being loaded onto the freight train at WH Malcolm’s Depot at Grangemouth before waving it off on its journey to Aberdeen.

The train was met upon its arrival at Guild Street in Aberdeen by Councillor Kevin Stewart, Chair, NESTRANS, and Councillor Martin Ford, Chair of the North East Scotland Freight Development Group (NESRFDG).

The Mossend to Elgin Improvement work will enable larger containers – the largest of which is 9 ft 6” high - to carry up to 1.3 million tonnes of freight by rail between the central belt and the north-east of Scotland.

Clearances have been increased along 270 miles of track, involving track slewing, and lowering at 29 structures on the network. The project will keep businesses competitive by delivering more of their goods in less time whilst improving the environment by transferring freight from the roads.

Stewart Stevenson, Minister for Transport said:

“Congestion causes daily frustration to drivers, clogs our transport arteries, and is damaging to Scotland’s economy. This Scottish Government is determined to do all we can to combat the number of cars and lorries on our roads.

“This investment is vital, allowing businesses to take their lorries off our roads and onto rail. Stretching from central Scotland all the way north to Elgin, this freight project will relieve pressure on roads such as the A9 and A90. Anyone who has ever experienced the volume of heavy goods vehicles on these roads will welcome this announcement.

“This scheme will deliver real environmental and economic benefits for Scotland and I encourage freight operators, hauliers and customers to make full use of this excellent opportunity .”

Ron McAulay, Network Rail Director Scotland commented:

“I am delighted that Network Rail has been able to deliver this important project on time, and under budget.

“There are obvious advantages to transporting goods by rail. It is a more environmentally friendly option than the equivalent journey by road, it can offer a less expensive option to companies transporting freight and it allows more goods to be transported in a single journey.

“The work which Network Rail has carried out on the Mossend-Elgin link allows freight to be transferred in greater bulk and opens up greater options for freight operating companies. We believe this latest work will help to encourage even greater use of rail freight in Scotland and we look forward to working with the freight operating companies to deliver it.

NESRFDG Chair Councillor Ford said:

"Reducing carbon emissions is one of the key challenges facing us. Shifting passengers and goods to more energy efficient modes of transport such as rail is a key part of the strategy to reduce the unsustainable environmental impacts of transportation.

“This scheme also delivers economic benefits, offering a choice for the movement of containerised goods.

“Gauge enhancement is part of ‘future proofing’ the north east against road congestion and higher energy prices."

2 November 2007

Stevenson Welcomes Scottish Government's Commitment to Housing

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to end Scotland’s housing shortage by putting forward measures designed to increase access to housing in Scotland.

Commenting Mr. Stevenson said;

“I welcome the Scottish Government’s proposals to increase housing provision in Scotland. It is one of the most frequent issues raised with me by my constituents experiencing difficulties in finding suitable housing.

“It is all too often that my constituents in towns in Banff & Buchan simply cannot find accommodation which is suitable to their needs, and this is particularly so when considering the lack of available council housing.

“There is such a low turnover of council housing in the North East that people can wait for a number of years before getting a house. By focusing on building 35,000 new homes each year by 2015 this Government has put in place the most radical measures to combat the housing crisis in a generation.

“Scotland has come to the point where the escalating costs of purchasing a house are making it extremely difficult for people to get on the housing ladder. These proposals will make inroads into Scotland’s housing crisis and allow people to break into the private housing market.

“At the heart of the Government’s moves is the need to balance a thriving private housing sector, by providing assistance for those who want to buy their own homes, and the need for a social housing sector which is fulfilling its role satisfactorily and providing a steady turnover of housing.

“The reforms put forward this week are a huge step forward which will no doubt benefit people in Banff & Buchan and across Scotland for generations to come.”


-ends-


Notes:

Communities, councils, social landlords, developers, tenants and lenders are being invited to comment on the housing proposals put forward by the Scottish Government, which include:

• Challenging Scotland's local authorities, developers and builders to increase the rate of new housing supply in Scotland to at least 35,000 a year by the middle of the next decade

• Increasing the role of local authorities as landlords by offering financial incentives to councils that have the capacity to fund new council housing

• Ending the Right to Buy on new social housing built by councils and housing associations

• Establishing a Scottish Sustainable Communities Initiative to encourage local authorities and their partners to bring forward proposals for sustainable new settlements to meet demand in particular areas

New Ferry Order For Islay

Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) has announced an order for a new ferry which will be operated by CalMac Ferries Ltd (CFL) on the routes serving Islay from the mainland.

Agreement has been reached with the Remontowa yard in Gdansk, Poland to build an 89.90m long vehicle/passenger ferry. Delivery of the new ferry is expected in Spring 2011.

The overall cost of procuring the vessel and bringing her into service will be £24.5 million and is being financed by a loan from the Scottish Government. All interest and capital repayments will be met by CMAL.

CMAL’s Managing Director, Guy Platten said:

“The Remontowa tender was one of 4 received and represented extremely good value in a very challenging shipbuilding market. The delivery of the vessel in spring 2011 reflects the huge demand for new shipping worldwide and the scarcity of vital components including engines. CMAL and CFL have been working very closely together on this project and are convinced that the ship will be cost-effective, provide value for money, and will meet all of our technical requirements. This new vessel demonstrates the commitment to continue to modernise and improve CMAL’s assets and to maintain reliable and affordable lifeline links to island communities. Once delivered it will provide the operator with the resources needed on the routes from Kennacraig to Islay to offer a first-class service.”

Welcoming the news the contract has been signed, the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change, Stewart Stevenson MSP said,

“We are absolutely committed to delivering first class ferry services for our remote and island communities. That is why we recently announced a study into a road equivalent tariff, and that is why we are today giving a firm commitment to a new vessel for Islay. This service is a lifeline for the community on Islay. Once delivered, the new vessel will provide much needed additional capacity, as well as bringing service improvements to local residents, businesses and tourists. Our commitment to ferry improvements does not stop there. We want to deliver a fairer deal for ferry passengers across Scotland."

The new vessel will be a modern Ro-Ro Euro Class B passenger vessel designed to carry 550 passengers, up to 88 cars, as well as coaches and commercial vehicles. The ship will also be capable of carrying dangerous goods.

Passengers will be accommodated on two well-appointed decks, with access gained at the lower of the two from an enclosed passenger gangway. There will be two lifts, one on each side of the ship, to all decks. The ship will also be built in line with DPTAC guidance on facilities for customers with mobility impairments.

1 November 2007

Stevenson Highlights New Free Grafiti Removal Scheme

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has highlighted the Graffiti removal service available in Aberdeenshire, which is free of charge.

Commenting on the service, Mr Stevenson said:

“We all know how graffiti can blight communities, therefore I would like to bring it to everyone’s attention that there is a free graffiti removal service available for members of the public and businesses who find themselves victims of this crime.

“I certainly welcome this service as it can be very expensive to remove graffiti and even more so if the offenders offend time after time in the same place.

”If you have suffered from graffiti, you should call Aberdeenshire Council’s Wasteline on (0845) 600 3 900 or text (07624) 802722 with details of the location of the graffiti.”

30 October 2007

Stevenson Welcomes Graduate Endowment Bill

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the publication of the Scottish Government's Graduate Endowment Bill, which outlines their proposals to scrap the unpopular fee for students.

The Bill, published last week, highlights the Scottish Government's plans to scrap the fee for around 50,000 students including those who have just graduated and those who have just started new courses.

Graduate Endowment Fee was introduced for Scottish domiciled students and EU students entering a Scottish university from 2001-02 and is a one off payment on successful completion of a higher education course of three years or more.

Commenting Mr. Stevenson said;

"I wholly welcome the Education Secretary's proposals to scrap the Graduate Endowment Fee. Our education system is key to growing Scotland's economy and its reputation as a country of learning and ambition, and by easing the burden placed on students we are encouraging people to become part of a flourishing society.

"Many of my constituents in Banff & Buchan, from all ages and backgrounds, are keen to enter into further education and we must ensure that no limitations are placed on people's potential.

"Abolishing the fee is not just good news for current students but is also in the best interest of the public purse. The fee is an inefficient way of raising income with taxpayers losing around a third of all fee income collected.

"The publication of this Bill means that the SNP Government has once again delivered on their manifesto pledges. The opportunities created by scrapping the fee will mean students in Banff & Buchan can achieve their maximum potential in a flourishing Scottish education system which is fit for the twenty-first century."


-ends-

Notes:

The first students became liable to pay the Graduate Endowment Fee - currently £2,289 - on April 1, 2005.

Students with a disability and lone parents are among those who are exempt from the graduate endowment fee. Around half of graduates are currently liable to pay the fee.

Students can pay the fee in cash, by adding it to their student loan, or a mixture of both. Around 70 per cent of graduates have been adding fees to loans each year.

Approximately £17m is generated in income from the Graduate Endowment Fee annually and reinvested into the student support system. The abolition of the GE fee will not affect the fees, grants and bursaries currently payable by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland. That support system will remain.

There will be no implications for university funding, which will continue to be funded from existing budgets.

It is estimated that around £12.7m has been paid back in cash from the three cohorts of graduates liable to pay the fee with £26.3 million being added to loans. Of this £26.3m only £57,000 has been returned to the taxpayer.

29 October 2007

Stevenson Comments on Labour Vote Against £25M Package for Farmers

Commenting on the Labour party voting against a motion
supporting a £25 million package for Scottish crofters and
farmers affected by the Foot & Mouth outbreak, Banff & Buchan
MSP Stewart Stevenson said;

"Last week the Scottish Parliament gave its backing to the
Scottish Government's aid package for live stock producers, a
package that is twice the size of DEFRA's for farmers in England
when our industry is half the size.

"It was therefore astonishing that the Labour party voted
against this package. Even the LibDems, after some curious
voting behaviour where they backed Labour, had to accept the
scale of the Scottish Government's support for farmers and crofters.

"I have no doubt that farmers and crofters in Banff & Buchan
will be shocked at the Labour party’s politically motivated behaviour.

"This further betrayal will not be forgiven lightly after the
failure of the London Labour Government to come up with
compensation for Scotland's crofters and farmers."

25 October 2007

Stevenson Delighted as Scottish Governmnet Backs Farmers

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the SNP Government’s announcement of a £25million aid package to help Scotland’s farmers and crofters following the hard-hitting Foot and Mouth outbreaks this year.

Rural Secretary Richard Lochhead announced the measures which will provide much needed support to prevent long-term damage to Scotland’s livestock industry.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“I am delighted that the Scottish Government have come to the aid of Scotland’s farmers with an aid package that will do much to assist one of our most vital industries.

“The UK Government have sidestepped Scotland’s farming communities and effectively washed their hands of any responsibility to provide support. This is particularly startling when considering the outbreak originated in a UK Government licensed facility.

“The Scottish Government have throughout the summer and September outbreaks listened to the farming communities concerns and have acted upon them swiftly.

“The large number of farmers who have been affected by Foot and Mouth restrictions will be relieved to see a Government that takes effective action.

“The Scottish Government are all too aware of the importance of Scotland’s livestock industry to our communities to ignore the crisis facing the industry and leave it to suffer a meltdown.

“I have been and will continue to listen to the farmers in my constituency to ensure their concerns are taken on board and acted upon by the Scottish Government.”


-ends-

Notes:

The main elements of the package are:

Payments of £6 a head for breeding ewes. This will cost an estimated £19 million.
Payments for the emergency welfare scheme already under way and cancellation of the second instalment of sheep dip charges.
Payments of £200,000 to the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institute to help individuals in need of support and £60,000 to the Royal Highland Education Trust to help raise the profile of Scottish food and farming in the wider community.
Further investment of up to £1 million for enhancing the resilience of the red meat sector in the longer term.

24 October 2007

Aberdeen To Ellon upgrade moves a step closer

A multi-million pound upgrade to a key route linking local communities and businesses in the north east takes a significant step forward next week (1 November 2007).

Transport Scotland will publish Draft Orders for the A90 Balmedie to Tipperty dualling project, signalling the start of the statutory process for the £51- £64million scheme.

The public and interested parties will have an opportunity to comment on the preferred route and are encouraged to visit Transport Scotland’s exhibition on 1 and 2 November in The White Horse Inn, Balmedie between the hours of 12:00 noon and 8:00 PM on both days.

The planned 5 miles (8.5 kilometres) of new dual carriageway, with fly-over junctions, will complete the missing dual carriageway link between Aberdeen and Ellon thus improving traffic flow and safety, particularly at peak times.

Transport Minister, Stewart Stevenson said

“The A90 is a key artery in Scotland’s trunk road network, and today is a significant milestone in our efforts to improve safety on this important route.

“Local communities will be delighted that this project is moving towards the next stage. This investment will improve connections for businesses and communities across the North East.

“This Scottish Government is committed to providing a first class transport network which will support and grow our economy. This project plays a vital part in the delivery of our vision, bringing benefits not just to the North East, but to the whole of Scotland.”

Subject to the successful outcome of the statutory process, it is estimated work will start in 2010, taking around two years to complete.

22 October 2007

Stevenson Supports Energy Saving Week

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has given his backing to Energy Saving Week, which takes place from 22nd – 28th October.

Commenting on the initiative, Mr Stevenson said:

“I urge all to get involved in this exciting event as it is the perfect way for everyone to make a commitment to save energy at home. By committing to save just 20% of the energy we use everyday, together we can help fight climate change. Of course, energy efficiency is the cleanest, safest and cheapest way of reducing carbon dioxide emissions

“The theme of this year's event is a 'Community a Day' with the seven days (from Monday to Sunday) being: Women’s Day - Cafe Direct, Work Day - Royal Mail and postal workers, Digital Day - The online community via Facebook, Families Day - P&G’s ‘Future Friendly’ campaign, Men’s Day - DSGI and gadget enthusiasts, Home Improvers’ Day - B&Q and DIY enthusiasts and Faith Day - faith communities.

“If each of us were to undertake at least one of ten small measures such as: turning lights off when leaving rooms and only boiling enough water that is required, then this will help to reduce the amount of energy that we consume on a daily basis.

“For those wishing for more information you can call the Energy Saving Trust Scotland on 0131 555 7900 or by visiting the website: www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Scotland.”

-ends-

Notes: 10 measures are:

1. Turn your thermostat down. Reducing your room temperature by 1◦C could cut your heating bills by up to 10 percent. You could save around 40 pounds per year.

2. Is your water too hot? Your cylinder thermostat shouldn't need to be set higher than 60oC /140oF.

3. Close your curtains at dusk to stop heat escaping through the windows.

4. Always turn off the lights when you leave a room.

5.Don't leave appliances on standby and remember not to leave appliances on charge unnecessarily.

6.If you're not filling up the washing machine, tumble dryer or dishwasher, use the half-load or economy programme.

7.Only boil as much water as you need (but remember to cover the elements if you're using an electric kettle).

8.A dripping hot water tap wastes energy and in one week wastes enough hot water to fill half a bath, so fix leaking taps and make sure they're fully turned off!

9.Use energy saving light bulbs. Just one can save you 100 pounds over the lifetime of the bulb - and they last up to 12 times longer than ordinary lightbulbs.

10.Do a home energy check. Just answer some simple questions about your home and we'll give you a free, impartial report telling you how you can save up to 300 pounds a year on your household energy bills.

12 October 2007

Public local enquiry on Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route

A Public Local Inquiry will be held to consider objections to the proposed Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, it was confirmed today.

While the objection period is still open, it is clear, on the basis of objections received so far, that there will be a need to consider these formally.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson also announced additional facilities to lodge objections via a Transport Scotland project website.

Mr Stevenson said:

"It has always been likely that a scheme of this size would be subject to a public local inquiry. Now the final set of orders have been published we will move forward to the next stage in the statutory process.

"The objection period for the road and compulsory purchase orders has another two weeks to run. It is important that people who wish to submit objections do so within that timeframe."

"I am pleased that a dedicated e-mail address has been set up for objections. In view of disruption caused by the postal dispute, this will provide an alternative means of submitting objections."

Background

The Public Local Inquiry is part of the statutory process for building a road project of this scale. An independent Inquiry Reporter will be appointed as soon as possible. The Inquiry will be held in the Aberdeen area early in 2008 at a location to be confirmed. The Inquiry Reporter will report back to Scottish Ministers with recommendations.

The timescale for delivering the PLI has always included provision for a PLI. The PLI It is expected to happen in early 2008.

11 October 2007

Minister welcomes start of £22m South Ayrshire scheme

Transport Scotland has announced the start of a £22million road improvement project that will provide additional overtaking opportunities on the A77.

The work, due to start at two locations at Glen App on 15 October, will create additional good and safe overtaking opportunities.

This project will also open up economic opportunities and benefit the tourist industry by improving journey times to and from Cairnryan and Stranraer ferry terminals.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

“This is vital work which will improve safety on the A77.

“£22 million of investment will bring improved connections for locals, businesses and tourists allowing them faster and more reliable access to our key transport hubs of Cairnryan and Stranraer.

“It will also provide more overtaking opportunities, making the road safer for all who use it.

"The A77 is vital to the local and national economy of this country, and this Government is committed to delivering a safer and more efficient transport network that helps to build a stronger economy for Scotland.”

The work at Glen App, which involves constructing just over half a mile of new carriageway, is expected to last around 18 months. It will be carried out in conjunction with a carriageway widening project at Haggstone, two and a half miles north of Cairnryan ferry terminal.

The project is being undertaken by contractor RJ McLeod.

Traffic management will include the use of temporary traffic lights, lane closures and speed restrictions.

This section of the A77 carries around 3,500 vehicles a day and forms part of the main economic lifeline linking central Scotland to the south west ferry terminals at Stranraer and Cairnryan..

Drivers using the A77 in this area, particularly those travelling to and from the ferry terminals, should plan their journeys in advance as the works are expected to cause some delays. Road users can find helpful real-time information at www.trafficscotland.org.uk.

For further information about the project see project page.

8 October 2007

Stevenson Attends Fundraiser Concert for Community Radio Station

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson and has attended a concert to raise funds for Kinnaird Radio Limited, a Fraserburgh community radio station. The concert included performances by a vocal harmony group from Dublin plus local band, Keep Rock Live! Mr. Stevenson was accompanied by Eilidh Whiteford, the SNP's Prospective Banff & Buchan Parliamentary Candidate for the next Westminster election.

Commenting after the concert, Mr. Stevenson said;

“It is a pleasure to have been invited to attend this highly entertaining and very worthwhile event. The music has been first-rate, from both local and national performers, and the cause – to raise funds for a local community radio station - has been very worthy indeed.

“Kinnaird Radio Ltd is a Fraserburgh based community radio station which positively promotes community interests in the surrounding area and provides a forum for local issues to be debated.

“It is therefore vital that we support and promote the radio station as an important means of local communication and an outlet for people to be informed of and involved in the local issues that affect them. I am delighted to see such good will and local support for the station this evening and trust that the funds raised will prove a huge help in continuing to provide quality local broadcasting.”

Stevenson Visits Local Medical Practice

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has visited Macduff Medical Practice. Mr. Stevenson was invited to visit the local medical practice by the Royal College of General Practitioners (Scotland) to view the facilities and discuss various issues of interest to Practice staff.

Commenting after the visit Mr. Stevenson said;

“I am delighted to have been invited to visit Macduff Medical Practice, to view the excellent facilities here and meet with staff.

“I believe that engaging with health professionals on a one-to-one basis is an excellent idea for politicians and a valuable way to keep in touch with the realities of today’s NHS.

“Health issues are never far from the top of the agenda at my constituency surgeries and today’s visit has been a very positive experience in witnessing at first hand the procedures within a local medical practice and hearing the issues of relevance to NHS staff.”

28 September 2007

Stevenson Encourages Local Nominations for 'Best Rural Retailer' Awards

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson is encouraging local people to submit nominations for the annual Scottish Countryside Alliance ‘Best Rural Retailer’ awards.
 
The competition showcases the rural enterprise, produce and community spirit of Scotland. The awards aim to recognise and celebrate Scotland’s small independent retailers, who often act as ambassadors for their communities as well as promoters of local produce.
 
Commenting Mr. Stevenson said:
 
Here in Banff & Buchan we are fortunate to have some of Scotland’s best independent producers and retailers. Think of almost any type of food, and you will find that we are blessed with our own local producers –fish, beef and farm vegetables to name just a few.

“I am a strong supporter of our rural retailers and believe that, with the backing of local people, they will have a strong chance of gaining national recognition through these prestigious awards.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the best that Banff & Buchan has to offer and I would encourage everyone to consider submitting a nomination.”
 
Anyone can nominate a local retailer in one of four categories:
Best Local Food Retailer
Best Village Shop/ Post Office
Best Diversification
Best Traditional Business

Nomination forms can be obtained from telephoning the SCA office on 0131 335 0200 or can be made online at www.bestruralretailer.co.uk. The closing date for nominations is 6 October 2007.
 
-ends-
 
Notes to Editors:
 
These are the third annual Countryside Alliance Best Rural Retailer awards. The nomination phase closes on Saturday 6 October 2007 and regional judging will then take place. Scottish winners will be announced in December and four UK winners will be named at a reception in the House of Lords in February 2008.

Stevenson to launch New RSPB Strathbeg Facilities

Revamped nature reserve offers great boost for Scottish wildlife tourism
Extensive habitat restoration and refurbished visitor facilities provide unique nature experience in north east Scotland

Extensive upgrades to facilities and major habitat restoration work will feature at special open day and launch event for one of north east Scotland's most impressive nature reserves.

Visitors to RSPB's Loch of Strathbeg this Saturday 29th September will be able to watch up to 40,000 pink footed geese roosting on the stunning restored and diverse habitats surrounding Britain's largest dune loch, all from the refurbished comfort of a completely upgraded visitor centre.

Wildlife enthusiasts or those just curious about nature will also have the opportunity to get involved in multiple activities on the day, including guided walks, wildlife tracking, pond dipping, bird watching, beach clean events and demonstrations by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue charity.

Stewart Stevenson, SNP MSP for Banff and Buchan, will officially launch the new facilities and have a personal tour of the new facilities and habitat improvements at the reserve on the day.

More than £1 million has been spent during the past two years undertaking extensive habitat restoration and improvement works to upgrade the condition of the reserve habitats that play host to a multitude of birds, mammals, insects and plants. Funding for the work has been provided through European Regional Development Fund via ESEP (£480k), the National Lottery through The Heritage Lottery Fund (£367k), Scottish Natural Heritage (£150k), the Gillman Trusts (£20k), the Friends of Strathbeg (£20k) and by Shell UK(£6k) for education projects on the reserve.

Formed in the early 1720s, the 206 hectare loch and surrounding 1,052 hectares of reserve lands are a haven for wildlife, with 260 species of bird having been recorded at the site in addition to mammals such as otters, water voles, waters shrews, insects including more than 18 species of butterfly, 280 species of moth and more than 300 plant species.

However, the freshwater loch system has over the years been progressively collecting silt due to historical water management before RSPB purchased the reserve. This was degrading the ecological condition of the loch, but the works have allowed this to be stopped, along with other measures to rejuvenate the diverse habitats on the reserve and make them more suitable for the many species which live there.

New reed beds have been established, the main feeder burn into the loch has been re-routed to its original course, silt traps have been installed, and water control systems built that will allow reserve staff to maximise the potential of reed and wet grassland habitats for breeding waders and wintering wildfowl, particularly pink footed geese, which can number up to 80,000 on the reserve in winter as they pass through and refuel on their southward migration. Together with whooper swans, ducks including wigeon, teal, shoveler, pintail, and pochard, approximately 40,000 pink footed geese remain at the reserve throughout the winter months, a truly amazing spectacle. The last remaining island on the loch has also been stabilised and another that was lost in the 1970s has been recreated to preserve suitable habitat for breeding terns and gulls in the summer, and 26 hectares of willow scrub has been removed.

In the visitor centre new interpretation boards have been installed revealing fascinating information on the species that can be seen, and a 3x2 metre painting by a local artist Kath Hamper has been hung on the wall. An interactive play area has been created for children, and a camera and TV screen will be installed in the next few weeks to beam live pictures of bustling bird communities on the reserve direct into the comfort of the visitor centre for those cold and wild days when the comfort of an armchair and hot drink are preferred. Two new wildlife observation hides have been built and relocated to optimise wildlife viewing opportunities and cut down visitor journey times between hides, and another existing hide relocated.

Stewart Stevenson MSP said:

"I am delighted that the RSPB has now completed the restoration and upgrades to the habitats and visitor facilities at the Loch of Strathbeg. Inspiring places like this, where Scotland's precious natural heritage is on show and positively promoted to the public, are vital in helping people realise the true benefits that this can bring to the region, both economically and socially. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be able to re-launch Strathbeg nature reserve."

Joanna McFarlane, Loch of Strathbeg's Community Officer, said:

"Together with all the superb habitat restoration works, the upgrade to the visitor facilities here means that the fascinating Loch of Strathbeg experience is accessible to absolutely everyone - and not just the serious bird watcher. Families can come and spend a few hours taking in the unique and boisterous drama of one fifth of the world's population of pink footed geese taking flight in synchronised unison. There are also plenty of other amazing wildlife spectacles to me remembered and treasured for months.

"The Loch of Strathbeg is a truly inspirational slice of natural heritage that would surely be close to the top of any national league table. We just hope that people all over Scotland, but particularly in the north east, will now come and visit and that we can help them to realise the incredible value of our natural heritage and their right to enjoy, cherish and protect it."


Ends.


For more information/interviews/images, please contact RSPB Scotland’s Head of Media James Reynolds on 0131 311 6500 / 07725065186.

Notes:
RSPB's Loch of Strathbeg nature reserve is roughly ten miles north of Peterhead, near Crimmond, just off the A90.
The Loch of Strathbeg formed in 1720 following a storm blowing a sand bar across the channel feeding into the sea. At 206 hectares it is the largest dune loch in the UK. It has a shallow depth range between 0.75 and 1.25 metres, although in times of drought or flood can vary.
With 260 species of birds, 280 species of moths, more than 300 different species of plants, 18 butterflies and more than 20 species of mammal, the reserve is a haven for wildlife and a spectacular place to watch nature at all times.
Historically the freshwater loch water was crystal clear, with leaping brown trout and rich beds of stonewort. However, this changed in the late 1970s and 80s when local agricultural systems intensified, leading to excess fertiliser nutrients running off from surrounding farmland. This 'diffuse pollution' caused eutrophication in the loch system, leading to massive algae blooms turning the loch a soupy green. As a result the stonewort beds and brown trout disappeared. The project works were the first phase of action to redress this issue by cleaning water from the Savoch Burn - the main stream in-flow to the loch system - before it reaches the Loch. This has involved planting a reed filter system and a silt trap. The Savoch Burn has also been 'naturalised' - returning it to its original 1.8km meander rather than a 1.2km canal route to the loch, and significantly slowing the flow rate into the loch from 2-3 hours to 2-3 days. This should reduce the diffuse pollution. At times of flood the burn will over-top along its whole length and spread through the newly-created 23 hectare reed bed combined with the silt trap which will allow suspended material to settle out prior to entering the loch system. In addition a network of water control structures have also been established that allow control of water levels within the Savoch Burn area, reed bed and adjacent wet grassland to maximise their potential for breeding waders and wintering wildfowl, particularly pink footed geese. 26 hectares of mainly scrub willow has been removed from an area of open wet fen that was in an unfavourable condition due to the encroaching woody vegetation. The last remaining island on the loch has been stabilised, and an island that disappeared in the 1970s has been re-established to provide suitable habitat for breeding seabirds, notably common terns.
The loch is presently classed by SNH as in unfavourable condition due to the water quality aspect of the habitat which the completed works are aimed at redressing. RSPB has commissioned a Loch Assessment that will investigate the situation with the nutrient rich silt in the loch and its in-flows, producing a range of options to remedy the problem. Being a shallow loch, any strong winds churn up the loch bed and re-mobilise the silts, allowing a fresh dose of nutrients to become active again. The assessment will produce a range of costed options from the do-nothing option to the full scale silt removal option via dredging etc. If we can start the process of whole-scale restoration we can, over time, return the loch not only to favourable condition, but to bring back the classic description of a system with crystal clear water with a sandy loch bed covered with beds of stonewort and leaping brown trout.
2006's hugely successful Goosewatch programme of guided walks and talks will return in 2007. Join staff one hour before sunrise throughout October and November to experience one of North East Scotland's most impressive wildlife spectacles. Hear about and witness the lives of tens of thousands of pink footed geese as they lift off into the skies above the reserve. Dates for 2007 are: Wed 17th Oct, Sun 21st Oct, ?Wed 24th Oct, Sun 28th Oct, Wed 31st Oct, Sun 4th Nov, Wed 14th Nov, Sun 18th Nov, Wed 21st Nov.
Official public events at the Open day on the 29th September begin at 11am. The Reserve launch with Stewart Stevenson MSP and other VIPs will begin at 10.30am. Events will include:
Children's pond dipping/mini beast hunts/games - 11am -5pm

Adopt-a-beach (Marine Conservation Society) beach clean initiative. 10am, St Combs Beach below Tufted Duck hotel.

Guided beach walk with British Divers Marine Life Rescue seal and dolphin stranding demonstration (please note there will be no live animals). 11.30am and 12.30pm.

Wildlife Tracks and Signs guided walk. (30 mins) A hands on activity for all the family to learn useful tips about identifying the signs indicating what wildlife passed by before you. 12.30, 2 and 3.30 pm.

Farmland Birds under threat. (30 minutes). A guided walk to search for, identify and learn about some of our most threatened farmland song birds and waders. 12pm and 1.30pm.

Guided birdwatching in Tower Pool hide. 11am to 3pm. Observe the reserves thousands of geese, water birds, raptors and other species with staff on hand to help identify and spot the more elusive birds and wildlife.

To book a place on any of the walks or for more information on the forthcoming Goosewatch, please contact Joanna McFarlane on 01346532234 or email jo.mcfarlane@rspb.org.uk. For Goosewatch, members are free. Adults £2. Children £1. Places are limited, so book early.

27 September 2007

Edinburgh Airport rail improvements

Proposals for an alternative to the previous Edinburgh Airport Rail Link (EARL) project were today set out by the Scottish Government and approved in Parliament.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson vowed to provide good public transport access to Edinburgh Airport in order to encourage fewer people to drive there.

He also stated that the proposals will be delivered for a fraction of the cost of EARL project and without high risk.

The proposals are:
  • To add an airport station at Gogar on the Fife railway line. This will complement rather than compete with the tram project. This can be delivered sooner than Audit Scotland believed EARL would have been completed
  • To add an interchange between the tram and the rail network at Gogar, delivered in time for the opening of the tram. This will allow passengers from Fife and further North to easily and quickly access the aiport without need to travel to the city centre as now
  • To build a rail link between the Fife and Edinburgh Glasgow routes - the Dalmeny chord. This would allow Edinburgh and Glasgow trains to stop at the new airport station
Mr Stevenson said:

"The planned EARL project was hugely complex and demanded clear and co-ordinated project management. The June Audit Scotland report told us that the project did not have this. Key stakeholders confirmed this position and it is clear that no agreement had been reached on the most effective way forward to deliver EARL.

"In particular, none of the key stakeholders were willing to take responsibility for the risks associated with the construction of the tunnel. That would have meant tax payers having to take on an unlimited risk. A risk that this government is not willing to take. An Edinburgh Airport rail link cannot proceed in its original form.

"The proposals approved by parliament today will provide good public transport access to Edinburgh Airport to encourage fewer people to drive there. It will also be delivered for a fraction of the cost of the EARL project and without high risk.

"EARL was estimated to cost more than £600 million. The proposals approved by parliament today will be delivered for around £200 million - less than a third of the cost."

The Minister also set out plans for a ten year investment programme setting out how the government intend to enhance the rail network across Scotland in line with the High Level Output Specification. This would involve the electrification of the Edinburgh to Glasgow route, with benefits for the environment, performance for the passenger and lower operating costs.

It is planned that this will include up to six trains an hour on the Edinburgh/Glasgow train route, with express services travelling from city centre to city centre at a journey time of around 35 minutes.

Including investment in other central Scotland routes this could mean as many as thirteen services between the two cities every hour within ten years.

HLOS was announced in July in parliament and today's statement is in line with Minister's Scottish rail priorities.

20 September 2007

Clyde and Hebrides ferry contract

A six year contract to operate lifeline ferry services for the communities of the Clyde and Hebrides has been awarded to CalMac Ferries Ltd.

The award means that the new contract securing these vital services will commence on October 1, 2007.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"We are determined to maintain and improve Scotland's ferry services.

"This contract award secures lifeline ferry services across the Clyde and Hebrides.

"These ferries provide a vital link for goods and services to be transported to our remote and island communities, sustaining their economies. For these communities, a reliable ferry service is just as important as a new road or rail link in a large town or city. In fact, many would argue that it is even more important than that, as it is their only link to mainland Scotland and beyond.

"The CalMac bid has been closely scrutinised, and the contract incorporates some important service enhancements. This contract will deliver real improvements for all passengers using the services.

"I am aware of the strong feelings around the need for this tender, but completing the process was the quickest way to protect these vital services for those communities who depend on them.

"The new Scottish Government is looking at the fares structure for ferry services. We recently commissioned a study into Road Equivalent Tariff, making clear our desire to deliver a fairer deal for Scotland's ferry passengers."

The new contract provides for:
  • Extending the double vessel service to Islay that has, in the past, operated during the peak summer season so that it covers the whole summer timetable period
  • An improved winter timetable for Gigha
  • An additional Friday evening and a Saturday evening sailing between Oban and Craignure on Mull during the winter
  • An additional daily return sailing on the Ardrossan - Brodick route during the winter
  • An additional sailing each week between Oban and Coll/Tiree between late October and Christmas
  • The introduction of a performance regime intended to incentivise the operator to deliver the services to the standards laid down in the contract
The tender process began in October 2005 and has been the subject of two consultation exercises to finalise the service specification. The contract being awarded is a six year block grant public service contract under the terms of the EU Maritime Cabotage Regulation and the EU Guidelines for State Aids in the maritime sector.

V-Ships UK Ltd and CalMac Ferries Ltd were invited to tender in December 2006. V-Ships UK Ltd withdrew from the process in January 2007 leaving CalMac Ferries Ltd as the only bidder. The bid was subject to a robust and thorough evaluation by the Scottish Government assisted by independent financial, legal and maritime technical experts.

The contract, which will be worth £43 million in subsidy in year 1, will commence on October 1, 2007. CalMac Ferries Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of David MacBrayne Ltd, will operate the services. David MacBrayne Limited is in the ownership of Scottish Ministers.

The budgeted subsidy for the first year of operation is £43.0 million, subject to adjustments as necessary in the light of actual inflation and other factors provided for in the grant agreement. Thereafter, the subsidy will be calculated according to the terms of the detailed grant agreement, which was issued in draft to the two companies invited to tender for the contract.

The evaluation of CalMac Ferries Ltd's bid has been rigorous and thorough and has followed two strands - technical and financial. CalMac Ferries Ltd's technical bid was fully compliant, robust and technically acceptable and clearly reflected their expertise and wealth of experience in operating these lifeline ferry services. Likewise their financial bid was financially robust and provided value for money. Overall their bid demonstrated the company's ability to continue to deliver the lifeline ferry services in the Clyde and Hebrides area.

The contract will begin on October 1, 2007 and run until September 30, 2013.

17 September 2007

Stevenson Backs Local Farmers in Wake of Foot and Mouth Outbreak

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson today pledged his full backing to local farmers in Banff & Buchan in the wake of the recent re-emergence of Foot and Mouth disease in Surrey, England. The Scottish livestock industry had only just got back on its feet from the summer outbreak before last week’s blow.

Commenting Mr. Stevenson said;

“The Scottish livestock industry has been left reeling since last week’s re-emergence of Foot and Mouth in Surrey. I am fully committed to supporting the farmers of Banff & Buchan in order that the impact of this latest outbreak can be minimised as much as is possible in the circumstances.

“This second outbreak in a matter of weeks is very serious news indeed for the industry as many of my constituents, as with farmers across Scotland, have been forced to cope with a significant backlog of work as a result of the summer outbreak. It is of immense importance that this second outbreak does not ruin the livelihoods of those involved in the agricultural industry.

“Since speaking to local farmers I have been, and will continue to be, in direct contact with the Secretary for Rural Affairs in order that he can be kept up to date with the concerns of those impacted on the ground.

“Richard Lochhead’s approach in dealing with the summer outbreak was fast and effective, and showed a willingness to make tough and pragmatic decisions in the best interest of the Scottish livestock industry. The next few weeks will be a critical period as we wait for developments, but I am hopeful that Banff & Buchan’s farmers will be impacted as little as possible.”
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