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29 March 2007

Stevenson Speaks Up for Dairy Farmers at SNP Conference

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson highlighted the struggle faced today by dairy farmers at the recent SNP Conference in Glasgow.

Speaking to a resolution at the Conference, Mr Stevenson backed NFU Scotland's campaign for a fair deal for dairy farmers against the unfair pricing of milk by the big supermarkets.

The resolution was passed unanimously by Conference delegates in a show of support for the Scotland's dairy sector.

Mr Stevenson said:

"Agriculture is one of the most essential industries in the rural parts of my constituency, and I am very concerned at the figures which the NFU produced to demonstrate the effect unfair pricing of milk has had on dairy farmers. Over the last six years, one in four Scottish dairy farmers have gone out of business due to the present situation, and this scenario will only degenerate if supermarkets do not alter their present policies.

"I hope that by bringing their campaign to the Scottish Parliament, the NFU will force supermarkets to sit up and take notice, in order to prevent the further decline of Scotland's dairy farming industry and, indeed, to preserve it's long-term future."

MSP Backing for Cancer Awareness

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has highlighted the importance of Bowel Cancer Awareness month, taking place during April, and organised by Bowel Cancer UK.

Commenting on the initiative, Mr Stevenson said:


"I applaud this national campaign which is aimed at raising awareness of the symptoms of bowel cancer and ways to reduce the risk. Research has indicated that 84% of the population would feel too embarrassed to act on the symptoms of bowel cancer. The tragedy is that the number of deaths from bowel cancer could easily be reduced - if caught in its early stages it is highly treatable, with survival rates of up to 90%.


"In the majority of cases, bowel problems will not turn out to be cancer. However, Bowel Cancer UK encourages people to act quickly and talk to their GP.


"It is a proven fact that obesity has links to bowel cancer and by making a few simple lifestyle changes, individuals can help to reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer. These include: eating a healthy diet low in fat and high in fibre, including at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day, drinking plenty of fresh fluids, water in particular and taking up regular exercise to keep fit and healthy.


"For those wishing more information, they should visit the Bowel Cancer UK website: www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk
."

Stevenson Meets with Scottish Fishermen's Federation

PRAWN QUOTA DEBACLE ILLUSTRATES CASE FOR SCOTTISH CONTROL OF FISHERIES

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has met with the Scottish Fishermen's Federation Chief Executive Dr Bertie Armstrong to discuss the industry's wishes for parties standing in the coming election.

Of immediate concern was the apparent breakdown of the concordat which should govern relationships between DEFRA in London and SEERAD in Edinburgh. The SFF had not been consulted before the transfer of prawn fishing rights, developed by the Scottish fleet, to Germany, a country with no previous commercial prawn fishery.

Commenting on this, Mr Stevenson said:

"This is a perfect illustration of the failings of both the EU's Common Fisheries Policy and of the price paid for Westminster control of our fishery. They clearly have no understanding of equity, of the value of the investment which has built up this stock or of the proper process for consultation.

"I will be raising this with Scotland's fishing minster to establish why this appalling decision came to made without any discussion with the industry which is being affected. It has always been bad enough that Scottish fishing interests and the Scottish Minister are left sitting in the corridor when the EU discusses our fishing interests. Now they are left in the corridor when UK decisions are made.

"This all reinforces the need for independent decision-making in Scotland."

Pupils Enjoy Engineering Contest - Press & Journal

by Jamie Buchan, Press & Journal

Teams of bright sparks from schools across the north-east battled it out yesterday in a contest aimed at wooing more students into engineering.

Pupils from Banff and Turriff went head to head in the final round of Banff and Buchan College's Schools Engineering Challenge. The contest was organised by the world's largest multinational oilfield services corporation, Schlumberger.

The company teamed up with the Fraserburgh-based college last year to try and get more students interested in engineering.

Around 750 pupils from Banff, Turriff, Meldrum and Mintlaw took part in the contest.

Turriff Academy pupils Michael Gray and Kay Sheach triumphed at yesterday's contest, beating off rival team-mates Martin Buchan and Megan Jones from Banff.

Both teams had to complete a series of practical engineering tasks within a set time.

The winners were awarded a laptop each and the runners-up were presented with a video iPod each.

The final was opened by local MSP Stewart Stevenson.

He said last night: "I hope that this event will encourage young people to go into engineering and a good base for doing that is Banff and Buchan College as we can be assured that they can achieve there the qualifications they need.

"This is a great endorsement of the college from one of the leading companies engaged in the North Sea and a very worthwhile experience for those pupils taking part in the challenge."

Schlumberger recruitment manager Stephen Patterson added: "We hope this competition provides both pupils and teachers with an insight into engineering and the oil industry."

to read the original article click on Press & Journal

28 March 2007

Stewart Stevenson MSP Supports Daffodil Roadshow as its Nationwide Tour stops in Banff

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson was in Banff this week to show his support for the Daffodil Roadshow for Marie Curie Cancer Care as it continued its nationwide tour to raise awareness and support for terminally ill patients to be allowed the choice to die at home.

At the event, Mr Stevenson visited the Daffodil Roadshow exhibition trailer for a cup of tea and a chat with a Marie Curie nurse about the campaign Scotland Supporting the Choice to Die at Home and services provided by Marie Curie Cancer Care. The exhibition trailer, which has been designed to represent the comfort and familiarity of home, was the focal point of the roadshow which looked to encourage visitors to discuss home nursing as a choice for end of life care.

Commenting afterwards, Mr Stevenson said:

“I am very pleased to welcome the Daffodil Roadshow to my constituency and pledge my support for the campaign, Scotland Supporting the Choice to Die at Home. Currently 75 per cent of people, if diagnosed with a terminal illness would like to be cared for at home, according to research from Marie Curie Cancer Care. In reality, only 24 per cent of terminally ill people in Scotland actually die at home. I will urge my party to look into the possibility of diverting resources to enable terminally ill patients in Scotland to have the choice to die at home.”

The issue of choice of end of life care is becoming increasingly important as highlighted by research recently commissioned by Marie Curie Cancer Care. This showed that 77 per cent of people in Scotland know someone who has suffered from a terminal illness with 73 per cent of those interviewed feeling that government could do more to help fund care at home for those with a terminal illness, clearly demonstrating it as an issue that the Executive should be taking seriously.

Marie Curie Cancer Care aims to help all patients realise their wish to die at home by:

  • Highlighting barriers which prevent people from dying at home

  • Ensuring appropriate information is available to help people choose where they would like to die

  • Seeking increased resources from the Scottish Executive

Stevenson Opens Schlumberger Schools Engineering Challenge

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson officially opened the Grand Final of the Schlumberger Schools Engineering Challenge today at Banff & Buchan College, Fraserburgh.

Speaking at the event, Mr Stevenson said:

“Schlumberger have chosen to sponsor Banff & Buchan College because they feel that it is the best technical college in the North-east of Scotland.

I hope that this event will encourage young people to go into engineering and a good base for doing that is Banff & Buchan College, as we can be assured that they can achieve there the engineering qualifications they need.”

This is a great endorsement of Banff & Buchan College from one of the leading companies engaged in the North Sea and a very worthwhile experience for those S4 pupils who are taking part in the challenge.”

Council u-turn on Taxicard scheme cuts - Buchan Observer

by the Buchan Observer

ABERDEENSHIRE Council has re-extended the eligibility of a service for the disabled after a re-think on the matter.

The eligibility of the TaxiCard Scheme, which provides disabled people discounted travel, was changed by the council after it emerged they were going to be facing a £200,000 overspend.

The changes meant that disabled people who had ready access to a car, who could drive and held a disabled person's Blue Badge were disqualified from holding a Taxicard.

The move caused outrage among many disabled taxi users who relied on the scheme to be able to make important appointments.

But following a meeting of Aberdeenshire Council's infrastructure services committee last week the decision has been revered.

"Since then it has become clear that the revision has had unintended consequences for a particular group of people," said committee chairwoman Councillor Alison McInnes.

"We believe that this year the projected overspend can be managed within the budgets."

More informal dialogue with users of the scheme was also promised.

Local MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the u-turn by the council.

He wrote to the council following approaches from constituents and disabled groups concerned that the move was not fully thought out.

He said:

"I very much welcome the decision by the council to reinstate the original terms of the TaxiCard scheme. The decision to reduce eligibility had caused great concern among service users.

"On the face of it, this must have seemed like a sensible decision to the council in order to reduce its costs. However, the decision was clearly not thought through carefully enough as many people would have been disadvantaged by the change in policy.

"For example, Multiple Sclerosis sufferers, whose condition fluctuates so that they are able to drive on some days but not on others when their condition worsens, have to fall back on TaxiCards in order to get around."

The TaxiCard scheme provides a 75% discount on taxi trips for residents with a physical disability or infirmity, up to a maximum of £15 per journey.

The card entitles users to 52 trips every three months.

The original TaxiCard scheme was amended to allow holders of concessionary bus passes to apply for the card, but the huge increase of applications that resulted led to a further revision in December 2006.

At the time of the change, councillors asked for a report to be brought back to a future meeting of the committee to outline the effects of the changes.

As a result, the eligibility criteria have now been amended to entitle those who have access to private transport, and those in receipt of a mobility allowance, to also hold a TaxiCard.

Convener of the Disabled Person's Housing Service Aberdeenshire (DPHSA), Tony Miller, welcomed the decision but insisted that the saga could have ben avoided.

He said:

"I think it is an indicator of how public pressure can make people in authority see sense. It is a victory for common sense.

"If they had impact assessed it in the first place we would have told them how it would have impacted us and it wouldn't have had to have gone through this in the first place."
to read the original story click on Buchan Observer

Businesses told their water bills must be paid - Buchan Observer

by the Buchan Observer

Publican demands recalibration of meters BUSINESSES affected by increased charges from Scottish Water have been told that they must pay up.

There are currently 34 businesses in the Peterhead area who have made it known that they have received greatly increased water bills in recent months.

Some of them gathered in the town's Palace Hotel last week with representatives of Scottish Water to try and resolve the issue.

But the local business people were left disappointed after Scottish Water insisted that their charges stood.

Around a dozen firms put their case to Gordon Todd of Scottish Water Business Stream including publican Raymond Matthew, who received a bill from Scottish Water amounting to over £1,300 compared to his usual bills of around £300 per quarter.

Mr Matthew, who chaired the meeting, said: "They are adamant that we have to pay." Scottish Water say that the anomalies occurred when water meters in the area were either misread or not read at all over a number of months by contractor H2O.

Two rogue meter readers are said to be to blame, one of which has left the company and the other has been sacked. Scottish Water claim that the bills customers are receiving now are accurate as the charges have simply caught up.

A spokesman for Scottish Water said:

"We are willing to work with the businesses affected but the water has been used and must be paid for."

But Mr Matthew is angry that Scottish Water representatives could not give him an answer when he asked when the meter readings had been re-checked by Scottish Water.

Mr Matthew said:

"I asked them when they last recalibrated the meter readings and they couldn't tell me.

"There is no possible way that they can tell us we have to pay if the meters have not been recalibrated."

Local MSP Stewart Stevenson was unable to make the meeting but in a statement he said:

"Incredibly, after all this time and investigation, Scottish Water are still unable to say whether the meters in question were read incorrectly or not read at all.

"I received an update in which Scottish Water claimed procedures have now been tightened up and lessons learned from this episode.

"It is therefore particularly concerning to learn that more local businesses have been affected."

Mr Stevenson encouraged any businesses that have been affected by the issue to contact his office so he could log their case with the water ombudsman.

to read the original story click on Buchan Observer

23 March 2007

Sufferers' Quality Of Life Should Be Priority - Press & Journal

by Paul Gallacher, Press & Journal

Quality of life is as important for sufferers of a rare form of muscular dystrophy as research into the disease, the Scottish Parliament heard last night.

MSPs debated a motion on Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a progressive genetic muscle-wasting disease which affects about 2,500 people in the UK, nearly all of them boys, and for which there is no cure.

Sufferers spend much of their lives in wheelchairs and die in their late teens or early 20s unless they can be given treatment.

The motion, in the name of Stirling MSP Sylvia Jackson, expressed concern that sufferers in Scotland were dying on average 10 years earlier than those in England and called for an improvement in their "life expectancy and experiences" to be a priority for the Scottish Executive.

The issue was brought to Ms Jackson's attention by the parents of Stirling boy Arryn Widd, who has DMD, but she was unable to attend last night's debate, owing to illness.

Banff and Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson said sufferers should have lives of humour, excitement and participation in activity, like any of their peers and should fit as much experience as possible into their short lifespans.

Highlands and Islands Green MSP Eleanor Scott, a paediatrician, spoke of a boy she knew with DMD who was eventually able to lead a fulfilling life.

North-East Conservative MSP Nanette Milne raised issues about the housing and educational needs of DMD sufferers and echoed recent concerns about wheelchair funding, after a review of the wheelchair service earlier this week proposed its resources should be doubled within three years.

Deputy Health Minister Lewis Macdonald said the executive wanted to help people with the condition lead the best possible lives, and added funding had been approved for clinical geneticist and physiotherapist posts and recommendations of the wheelchair review would be given consideration.

to read the original story click on Press & Journal

Minister Steps Into Pay Row - Press & Journal

Scotland's agricultural wages board (SAWB) has been ordered to look again at its controversial decision to scrap age-related pay bands for farm staff.

by Joe Watson, Press & Journal

Farming Minister Ross Finnie has made the request to chairman John Menzies to reconvene the board and consider further evidence.

The highly unusual intervention by the minister - revealed in a letter to Banff and Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson - comes five months after the board provoked fury by deciding that all farm staff should be paid the same minimum wage.

The board's stance has been roundly condemned as it ignored the 21 representations made to it, all of which criticised it for contemplating moves to scrap the age band structure that has been retained in the national minimum wage and which has resulted in farm apprentices and other young employees getting the same minimum pay rates as senior staff.

Mr Finnie makes clear his concerns at the implications of the board's decision in the letter to Mr Stevenson.

The minister said: "Given the widespread concern about the SAWB's decision, the possible implications for the industry and the apparent anomaly between the SAWB's Wages Order (which has no age-related differentials) and the National Minimum Wage Regulations (which retain said differentials) I have asked Mr Menzies to reconvene his board within the near future to revisit this issue, by seeking further evidence.

"You will also wish to know that the SAWB has the powers to make a new wages order should it decide to do so."

Farmers have repeatedly said that the decision effectively stops them employing young people of whom they say neither have the experience nor the qualifications or licences needed to operate farm equipment, all of which would justify a higher wage.

NFU Scotland's legal and technical committee chairman Jamie Smart welcomed the minister's intervention over what he termed a "huge mistake" by the board.

He added: "We will be seeking clarity on exactly what new information the chairman believes is required to demonstrate that age-related pay bands should be reinstated, as we firmly believe they should be."

Mr Stevenson said the minister's instruction for the board to reconvene was welcome.

"Anything which presents a barrier to the entry or employment of young people in agriculture must be addressed and I trust having identified this as a problem, the board will now take action to address this issue," the MSP said.

Any about-turn by the board could prove embarrassing. It has throughout said that it had no choice in the matter and that it had been legally obliged to remove the age-related minimum pay rates after the recent imposition of employment equality regulations.

Mr Menzies also told the agricultural press that the board had not been given enough evidence by the farming industry to retain the differentials.

The decision to scrap the pay bands was made on the casting vote of Mr Menzies after legal advice from the Scottish Executive.

The new rates, introduced on January 1, mean all farm staff getting at least £5.35 an hour, and £5.70 for those employed after the qualifying period. The reality is that experienced farmworkers get substantially more than the minimum rates.

The board's decision handed 16 and 17-year-olds a minimum £2.05 an hour increase, while those aged 18 got at least an extra 90p per hour.

Other business sectors are, however, bound by the national minimum wage legislation which gives 16-year-olds just £3.30 an hour.

The scrapping of the pay bands had been welcomed by the Transport and General Workers' Union which represents farm staff.

It was yesterday unable to comment on Mr Finnie's order.

to read the original story click on Press & Journal

22 March 2007

Stevenson Concludes Success of Mesothelioma Bill in Parliament

Speaking at the passing of the Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Bill, Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has hailed the successes of the new legislation.

Speaking about the progression of the Bill which amended the law concerning the right of relatives of a deceased person to claim damages for mesothelioma, Mr. Stevenson commended the cooperation shown by all of those involved and highlighted the benefits of the Bill for past, present and future sufferers and their families.

Speaking during the debate Mr. Stevenson said;

“Let us note that we parliamentarians have been but bit players in implementing this legislation. The people who have really brought deliverance to the sufferers of mesothelioma are those who progressed the issue by campaigning on it and bringing it to MSPs' attention. Those people are represented in the gallery today.

“We should commend the work that we have done on the matter today and in recent weeks as a case study that shows members in the next session of Parliament how they can deal with matters that are readily identified as not being party-politically contentious on which they hold a shared objective. Today we have the pleasure of sharing the outcome that derives from that consensus.

“The ‘British Journal of Cancer’ suggests that there will be some 90,000 deaths in the 80 or so years from 1968 to 2050 from mesothelioma. At any point in time, the number of individuals involved is comparatively modest, but over the period for which we expect this terrible disease to affect people in our society, a significant number of people will be affected.

“We are all pleased to help those who are sufferers today, but we are also delivering an on-going benefit for the next 45 years and possibly longer. The merit of today’s work will continue to be felt for years to come.”

Stevenson Welcomes Move on Agricultural Wages Board

Banff & Buchan SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the decision to review the decision by the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board to scrap age-related pay bands.

The change had been causing widespread concern among farmers who believe that the decision to scrap the pay bands for agriculture, whilst retaining them for the National Minimum Wage, created a barrier to new entrants into farming and discriminated against the industry.

The issue was raised with Ross Finnie when he visited North Cranna Farm at Aberchirder, Banffshire, on a visit to the North-east arranged by Mr Stevenson last autumn and followed up by the SNP MSP in writing.

Mr Stevenson commented:

"I welcome the move from Ross Finnie to instruct the Agricultural Wages Board to reconvene to seek further evidence on the issue.

"Anything which presents a barrier to the entry or employment of young people in agriculture must be addressed and I trust that having identified this as a problem, the Board will now take action to address the issue."

In a written response to Mr Stevenson, Rural Development Minister Ross Finnie said:

"Given the widespread concern about the SAWB's decision, the possible implications for the industry and the apparent anomaly between the SAWB's Wages Order (which has no age related differentials) and the National Minimum Wage Regulations (which retain said differentials) I have asked Mr Menzies to reconvene his Board within the near future in order to revisit this issue, by seeking further evidence. You will also wish to know that the SAWB has the powers to make a new Wages Order should it decide do to so."

Stevenson Welcomes Council Rethink on Disabled Travel

Local MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the decision by Aberdeenshire Council to reverse its earlier decision to reduce the eligibility of taxicards for disabled persons.

Mr Stevenson wrote to the council following approaches from constituents and disabled groups concerned that the move was not fully thought out. Aberdeenshire Council had written to taxicard holders advising those who hold a Blue Badge or have access to a vehicle that they will no longer be eligible for a taxicard. A meeting of the council's Infrastructure Services Committee has now reversed this decision.

Mr Stevenson said:

"I very much welcome the decision by the council to reinstate the original terms of the taxicard scheme. The decision to reduce eligibility had caused great concern amongst service users.

"On the face of it, this must have seemed like a sensible decision to the council in order to reduce its costs. However, the decision was clearly not thought through carefully enough as many people would have been disadvantaged by the change in policy.

"For example, Multiple Sclerosis sufferers, whose condition fluctuates so that they are able to drive on some days but not on others when their condition worsens have to fall back on taxicards in order to get around.

"I am pleased that common sense has prevailed on this issue and I am sure that taxicard holders across Banff & Buchan will be greatly relieved."

MSP Visits retained Firefighters at Maud Fire Station

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson and South Buchan councillor Norma Thomson visited Maud Fire Station and met with local retained firefighters and senior management.

The visit was arranged as a result of a suggestion from staff at Maud that the MSP might like to learn more about the role of retained firefighters and help with publicity for potential new recruits.

Mr Stevenson and Cllr Thomson were met by Stuart Heron, Sub-Officer in Charge at Maud; Gordon Moir, Area Manager, Grampian Fire & Rescue Service; Duncan Smith, Group Manager, Grampian Fire & Rescue Service and staff at Maud for a tour of the premises and discussion on the role of retained firefighters.

Commenting afterwards Mr Stevenson said:

“Retained firefighters in stations such as Maud play a vital role. Indeed, just the day after I visited the firefighters I met were involved in tackling a very serious blaze aboard a fishing boat at Fraserburgh Harbour.

“I was impressed by the commitment and dedication of the staff there who carry out their duties in addition to their day-to-day jobs. The team at Maud Fire Station are very much a part of the community and carry out a lot of fundraising for charities.

“I would encourage local employers to support any of their staff who express an interest in becoming a retained firefighter. There are quite clearly benefits accruing to any employer who has a staff member involved in the fire service, such as excellent first aid skills and risk assessment skills.”

14 March 2007

Livestock Hauliers Facing Huge Bills

COST OF ANIMAL TRANSPORT RULE CHANGE REVEALED IN PARLIAMENTARY ANSWER TO STEVENSON

Livestock hauliers are potentially facing bills of over £20,000 as a result of EC Regulations on the transport of animals.

Banff & Buchan SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson has received a Parliamentary Answer which details the cost to hauliers of the new regulations and indicates that those at the top end of the scale may have to fork out over £20,000 per vehicle to meet the new requirements.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“No one at all, least of all hauliers, would dispute that livestock being transported to market or long distances should do so in humane conditions. In that respect, the formalisation into law of what most operators are already doing is welcome.

“However, some of the requirements laid down in statute are, frankly, baffling and seem quite unnecessary. For example, vehicles used for journeys of over 12 hours may require satellite navigation to be installed. What competent haulier is going to need that?

“Also, the fees for driver competency tests for those driving animals for longer than eight hours is more than double that for less than eight hours. I do get the impression that these costs are rather arbitrary.

“Hauliers will be able to phase in some of the requirements over a five year period. I am calling for the Government to introduce a scheme to allow hauliers to phase the cost of these requirements in over five years. At the top end of the scale, we are talking about a figure of over £20,000 per truck. That is a massive investment for a haulier with a fleet of trucks and may even force some to give up livestock transport rather than shell out such a vast sum.

“It is important that we do not lose any more livestock hauliers from the trade than we have already, otherwise it is ultimately the farmers who will pay the penalty.”


Note: The Parliamentary Question and answer is as follows:

S2W-31520 - Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP) (Date Lodged 30 January 2007) : To ask the Scottish Executive what the estimated cost is of changes to the rules for transporting animals.Answered by Ross Finnie (Minister for Environment & Rural Development): Costs of complying with the new provisions in EC Regulation 1/2005 on the transportation of animals are estimated to be:

A one-off fee of £40 for a driver competency test for drivers driving animals over 65km and up to eight hours or £100 for drivers driving animals over eight hours.

The inspection costs for vehicles used on journeys of over eight hours will be between £50 and £150. The approval certificate will last five years. There is no inspection of vehicles used on shorter journeys.

Alterations to the ramp angles to some existing vehicles will be in the region of about £100 (for the smallest vehicles and trailers) to £10,000 for large multi-deck vehicles. This requirement will be phased in over five years.Some existing vehicles used for journeys over 12 hours may require mechanical ventilation, temperature monitoring and warning equipment and satellite navigation systems to be installed. The cost of this could range from £1,750 to £12,250 where it is necessary.

Stevenson Brings Sainsbury's Buyer to Portsoy

MSP Stewart Stevenson brought a buyer from a leading supermarket to Banffshire on Monday in an effort to promote local produce.

James Laws, Commercial Manager and Scottish Buyer for J Sainsbury plc accepted an invitation from Mr Stevenson to come North to visit local companies and first port of call was Gourmet's Choice Ltd in Portsoy.

Mr Stevenson has now met personally with representatives from each of the large supermarket chains in his efforts to promote more sourcing of locally produced food and drink.

Speaking after the visit, Mr Stevenson said:

"I was delighted to be able to facilitate a visit to Banffshire by Sainsbury's. This area has a lot to offer in terms of quality food and drink and I think the Sainsbury's buyer was very impressed with what he saw and indeed tasted.

"Gourmet's Choice Ltd is a thriving local company which is exporting a quality product across the globe from its operation in Portsoy. They deserve continued success and I wish them all the best in their future plans."

13 March 2007

Stevenson Makes Submission to DTI Post Office Consultation

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has made a submission to the Department of Trade and Industry’s consultation on the Post Office Network.

In his submission Mr. Stevenson highlights the importance of post offices to rural areas and the threat large-scale closures pose to local communities in Banff & Buchan. Mr. Stevenson also warned against Royal Mail’s proposed restriction to its Universal Service Obligation (USO) to deliver anywhere in the UK for the same price.

In his submission to the DTI Mr. Stevenson states;

“Post Offices provide valuable public services to my constituents and I believe that the large-scale loss of these services would be detrimental to local communities. Consideration must be given to the local geography, the specific needs of individual communities and the long-term feasibility of the network.

“The Post Office network cannot be treated as simply another private enterprise. It is an essential national provider of public services which must be maintained. This consultation does not make adequate provision for the sustainability of rural communities or outline how the public's loss of access to services will be compensated for after closures.

“This proposed restriction to Royal Mail’s Universal Service Obligation would primarily affect business mail, resulting in companies paying more to send mail to remote areas. By affecting businesses this threatens the economic backbone and therefore the whole viability of rural town lands, villages and communities.

“If this proposal goes ahead it will severely discriminate against the people in my constituency, leaving them marginalised within the postal network. I would strongly urge the Royal Mail to abandon this proposal and for the DTI to do all in its power to prevent it.

10 March 2007

£2.3M For Prisoners' Challenge - Evening Express

by David Maddox, Evening Express

The Scottish Executive has had to fork out £2.3 million on legal aid and compensation to prisoners over human rights challenges.

And the revelation has led to renewed calls for the Human Rights Act to be scrapped.

The pay-outs have been made since human rights laws were introduced in 1999 and it is feared the cost to the tax payer will rise steeply.

Murderer Steven Leisk, who is serving life for killing schoolboy Scott Simpson, is among those who have launched a bid for compensation.

He claims his human rights have been violated because he's forced to "slop out" at Peterhead's Victorian jail.

If successful he could end up winning around £2,000.

The £2.3 million bill for legal aid and compensation payments was made in a disclosure prompted by a question from Banff and Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson, an SNP justice spokesman.

North-east Tory MSP Alex Johnstone said he believes the cost is just the tip of the iceberg.

He said: "There are many more cases to come.

"All this goes to show that human rights legislation was a bad idea and badly thought through.

"We should just get rid of it."

Mr Stevenson said, however, he believed that the human rights laws should stay.

He blamed a lack of preparation by the Executive in making sure that the law wasn't open to challenge in prisons.

to read the original story click on Evening Express

7 March 2007

Stevenson Highlights Importance Of No Smoking Day

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has highlighted the importance of No Smoking Day, which takes place on Wednesday 14th March.

Commenting on the Awareness Day, Mr Stevenson said:

"No Smoking Day is an annual awareness day that aims to help those smokers who want to stop smoking by highlighting the help that is available and offering an opportunity to do so and I am fully supportive of the initiative.

" It is one of the biggest annual health awareness campaigns in the UK and with over twenty years of campaigning, and helping smokers it has made a huge contribution towards the health of the nation.

"Around 1.5 million smokers used No Smoking Day 2006 to make a quit attempt and this year its organisers hope that even more will give it a go. Giving up smoking requires much planning, encouragement, support and motivation. Helping others to prepare to give up can be done all year round but the Day provides an excellent focus and motivation for many smokers to stop.

"For those wishing for further information, they may do so by visiting: www.nosmokingday.org.uk

Stevenson Praises The Work Of Royal National Lifeboat Instituation

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has backed his SNP colleague, Richard Lochhead's Parliamentary Motion praising the efforts of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

Mr Stevenson, who supported a recent RNLI fundraiser in Peterhead with a donation of a bottle of Scottish Parliament whisky for raffling, said:

"I would like to pay tribute to the RNLI which, last year, rescued more than 1,000 people for the first time in its 184-year history.

"What we must all remember is that the RNLI is a charity and therefore is heavily reliable on donations of both time and money in order to carry out its invaluable service RNLI staff and crew who protect seafarers and those using Scotland's seas are to be commended for their courage, commitment and dedication and we owe them all a debt of gratitude."

Stevenson & Salmond Welcome NFUS Support for Subsidy Appeals Reform

Banff & Buchan Parliamentarians Alex Salmond MP and Stewart Stevenson MSP have welcomed the statement from newly-elected NFUS President Jim McLaren on subsidy appeals reform.

It was after meeting with NFUS members at New Deer Agricultural Show last summer that Mr Salmond pledged to introduce a truly independent panel to deal with appeals to SEERAD as part of an SNP administration in Holyrood after May’s elections.

Commenting, Mr Salmond said:

“Jim McLaren is absolutely right when he says that a culture change in the system is needed. When I worked in DAFS [the then Department of Agriculture & Fisheries for Scotland], the prevailing attitude was one of 'what can we do to help move Scottish agriculture forward'. That seems to have been lost in the intervening years and we need to get that back.

“It was clear to me from talking to NFUS members at New Deer Show that the appeals system was just one area where action was needed to reform the system and make it more ‘user friendly’ and I am delighted that Jim has identified this as an area for action in his first week in office.

“I met Jim at Turriff Show when he was Vice-President and could see that Scottish farming had a radical thinker working on its behalf. I wish him all the best in his term of office as NFUS President.”

Stewart Stevenson MSP added:

“Parliamentary answers I received recently revealed that nearly 700 Single Farm Payment claimants in 2005 and 2006 had penalties totalling over £1¼ million applied to their claims due to errors found within the completed forms.

“In the context of overall number of claimants, this is not a large number but it is still far too high and I believe more could be done to address this at an earlier stage in the process.

“Failing that however, an independent appeals panel is crucial to ensure fairness and transparency.”

Note: In an article in Banff & Buchan SNP’s Autumn 2006 edition of Farming First, Alex Salmond pledged to introduce an independent appeals panel if the SNP forms the Government after May 3rd.

Mr Salmond made the commitment after meeting with farmers at New Deer Show who outlined to him the inherent unfairness of the current situation. Mr Salmond said at that time:

“I am fighting to become Scotland’s First Minister after next May’s elections so that Scotland’s vital industries can get the support from Government they deserve. An SNP administration in Edinburgh will reform the appeals procedure so that SEERAD officials are not sitting in judgment on decisions made by their colleagues. The appeals process will be transparent and totally independent.”

6 March 2007

Stevenson Opposes Royal Mail Move To Restrict Universal Service Obligation

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has spoken out against Royal Mail’s recent proposal to restrict the Universal Services Obligation (USO) to deliver anywhere in the UK for the same price. The proposed cut-back which affects business mail would see companies paying more to send mail to remote areas such as the North-east.

Speaking at a briefing for MSPs arranged by PostComm, the postal services regulator, Mr Stevenson registered his opposition to the move and outlined the implications for people living in rural areas.

Speaking at the briefing Mr. Stevenson said;

“To lose the Universal Service Obligation would be a severe body blow to rural areas. I say this with regard to mail going to and coming from rural regions. This cut-back will affect not only the people in country areas but also the businesses and when you disadvantage local businesses you threaten the whole viability of rural communities.

“Residents of remote areas should not be penalised for where they live. Access to postal services should be universal and uniform across the country regardless of postcode or the distance one lives from a town.

“In Aberdeenshire 57% of the population lives in rural areas – a higher proportion than any other council in Scotland. If this proposal goes ahead it will seriously marginalise these people and place them on the periphery of the postal network.

“I am sorely disappointed with this latest move by Royal Mail to further downgrade postal services in rural Scotland. I intend to do all in my power to oppose this proposal, beginning with submitting a response to the Department of Trade and Industry Consultation on the issue.”

MSPs Urge Drugs Giant To Rethink 'Anti-Rural' Supply Plan After Concerns From Pharmacists - Press & Journal

by Jamie Buchan, Press & Journal

A Major pharmaceutical firm will today be urged to rethink its plans to restrict the supply of its medicines which could cause problems for rural pharmacies in the north-east.

Representatives of global drugs giant Pfizer will meet with north-east MSPs Stewart Stevenson and Maureen Watt in Holyrood following concerns that the firm's controversial new arrangements could be a threat to local pharmacies.

Pfizer have introduced a new system which results in the company's medicines being distributed exclusively by UniChem.

But worried pharmacists say the move could put the security of patient medicines in the north and north-east at risk, forcing them to deal with a wholesale firm which has no distribution depots north of Livingston.

Mr Stevenson has visited community pharmacies at Cruden Bay and New Deer to discuss the potential impact of the new arrangement.

He said last night: "Pfizer may be one of the biggest pharmaceutical corporations in the world, but it is clear in this case that they have either not understood the situation in the north of Scotland or have deliberately ignored the difficulties they will create."

Mr Stevenson added: "What we have here is an example of global corporation riding roughshod over the needs of its customers and dictating not only the terms and conditions of how community pharmacies should run their business, but also who they should give their business to."

He said he had been contacted by local pharmacists who were "up in arms" about the proposals.

"I will be looking for some recognition by Pfizer that they have created a potentially huge problem here, and that they have simply not understood the realities of running a business such as a pharmacy in the rural north of Scotland," Mr Stevenson said.

"I will be urging them to think again about this anti-rural policy."

A spokeswoman for Pfizer said the new arrangements would counter the current "vulnerability" of the medicine supply chain in Britain. She said that last year there were three separate cases of counterfeit drugs found and gangs had targeted the supply chain.

New jobs have also been created at the UniChem depot at Livingston near Edinburgh to handle the new arrangements.

to read original story click on Press & Journal

Students showcase their town on new Peterhead DVD - Buchan Observer

ENTERPRISING pupils at Peterhead Academy have come up with their own way of showcasing what Peterhead has to offer, by producing a film about the town.
Around 14 students from the school's Pupil Development Base had been working on the film entitled 'Peterhead - My Town' since the summer of last year, the premiere of which was shown to an invited audience at Peterhead's Community Centre last week.
Pupils from schools in Florence, Italy, and Peterhead's twin town, Alesund, of Norway, were joined in the audience by local councillors and Banff and Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson, who was in high praise of the pupils' achievements.
"This was an excellent film which was very positive and upbeat about the town. It was thoroughly professional and I congratulate all the pupils and staff who were involved in its production," said Mr Stevenson.
"I would very much hope that it can be used to promote Peterhead to potential visitors such is the high quality of this DVD," he added.
The first two copies of the DVD were handed over to the headteachers of the two schools, who had brought over their own films showing a little about their towns, which were shown to reinforce the links between the three towns.
The film shows pupils interviewing staff at businesses throughout the town, visiting Asco, Score, Peterhead Port Authority, the Palace Hotel and the Waterside Inn among others.
Views on the town were also expressed by the likes of Buchan Area Manager Chris White and Peterhead FC chairman Rodger Morrison.
Peterhead Town Co-ordinator Arthur Gill, who also makes an appearance in the film, told the Buchanie: "I thought it was really good, and it shows the fact that these youngsters are proud of their town.
"Many people just associate Peterhead with the fishing industry, however the film shows the town in a different light and shows that it really does have a lot more to offer."
Leisure facilities in the town were highlighted by the enthusiastic youngsters, as was the unique Buchan accent which helps to bring together the community spirit of Peterhead.
The film touches on the past by looking through old photographs to show how the past has influenced the present, and the production comes together by well-wishers of Peterhead summing up their thoughts of the town.
Pupils wanted to find out who and what makes Peterhead a great town, while being able to see for themselves some of the various careers which will be open to them later on in life within the town.
Classroom assistant of the pupil development base Jill McWilliam helped to make the movie by doing the filming, while Alan Strachan of the Youth Strategy team edited the footage. Copies will be available for sale in the near future.
Susan Alley, headteacher at the academy, said: "This is an excellent piece of work.
"The pupils have worked together and through producing this film, have developed their communication skills, enhanced their self confidence and shown themselves to be responsible citizens of Peterhead.
"The academy is very proud of their achievement and as a result, have nominated the pupils for a Scottish Educational Award."
Deputy headteacher Michael Doig added: "A tremendous amount of work has been put in by students and staff at the school in the making of this film, which they should be congratulated for."
to read the original story click on Buchan Observer

3 March 2007

Organic farming debate - Stevenson outlines supports and raises NVZ and pork issues - FarmingUK

Speaking in a parliamentary debate on organic farming Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has outlined the merits of organic farming. Mr. Stevenson also took the opportunity to raise some key concerns of the farming and organic food processing industry such as pork production issues and problems with nitrate-vulnerable zones.

Speaking in the debate Mr Stevenson said:

“I suspect that we will all feel that organic farming has an important contribution to make to farmers' profitability, to the good health of people in Scotland and, perhaps, to enabling our children to better understand where their food comes from and make appropriate choices. Organic farming touches on many things beyond the farm gate.

“The Executive's ‘Third Organic Annual Report’ confirms that there are substantial problems in the pork industry. Because of the diktats of the processing industry and supermarkets we cannot measure the amount of organic pork that is produced in Scotland. It goes elsewhere and we cannot count it when it is returned for sale in Scotland. The problem illustrates the fact that we must give further consideration not just to primary producers but to the chain from primary producers to the plate.

“Nitrates are an important subject throughout the farming sector. Were we to have a less blunt-instrument approach to our nitrate-vulnerable zones, we could farm in a more sustainable way in relation to nitrates. Instead of being driven by an arbitrary calendar that is probably appropriate in only one or two places in Scotland, seasons for spreading nitrates could be locally determined.”

to read the orginal article click on FarmingUK

2 March 2007

Witten Questions - 2nd March 2007

S2W-32132 Stewart Stevenson: To ask the Scottish Executive in how many police operations in each of the last 10 years firearms were issued to officers, broken down by police force.

S2W-32133 Stewart Stevenson: To ask the Scottish Executive how many guns it estimates were illegally held in the last year for which figures are available.

S2W-32140 Stewart Stevenson: To ask the Scottish Executive how many alcohol-related deaths there were in each of the last five years, broken down by (a) parliamentary constituency and (b) local authority area.

S2W-32141 Stewart Stevenson: To ask the Scottish Executive how many vulnerable households were living in non-decent homes in (a) 1996, (b) 2001, (c) 2004 and (d) the latest year for which figures are available, broken down by tenure.

S2W-32142 Stewart Stevenson: To ask the Scottish Executive how many children’s centres there were in each of the last five years, broken down by local authority area.

S2W-32143 Stewart Stevenson: To ask the Scottish Executive how many youth centres were (a) sold, (b) closed or (c) opened in each of the last five years, broken down by local authority area.

S2W-32144 Stewart Stevenson: To ask the Scottish Executive how many school playgrounds were sold in each of the last 10 years, broken down by local authority.

S2W-32145 Stewart Stevenson: To ask the Scottish Executive how many 16-year-olds were recorded as homeless in each of the last 10 years, broken down by local authority area.

S2W-32146 Stewart Stevenson: To ask the Scottish Executive what total number of home help hours was delivered in each year since 1997-98, broken down by local authority area.

S2W-32147 Stewart Stevenson: To ask the Scottish Executive what the expenditure by unweighted head of population and (a) in-year and (b) accumulated financial positions were of each NHS board for (i) 2003-04, (ii) 2004-05 and (iii) 2005-06.

S2W-32148 Stewart Stevenson: To ask the Scottish Executive what the (a) accumulated and (b) in-year financial positions of the NHS were in each year since 1996-97.

S2W-32149 Stewart Stevenson: To ask the Scottish Executive how many knives were handed in to police stations in each of the last five years, broken down by police force.

S2W-32150 Stewart Stevenson: To ask the Scottish Executive how many people were convicted for (a) failing to give particulars or to report a traffic accident within 24 hours, (b) undefined accident offences and (c) failing to stop after an accident in each of the last 10 years.

S2W-32151 Stewart Stevenson: To ask the Scottish Executive how many gun-related crimes there were in each of the last 10 years, broken down by police force area.

S2W-32152 Stewart Stevenson: To ask the Scottish Executive how many cases of credit card fraud were committed in each of the last 10 years, broken down by police force area.

S2W-32153 Stewart Stevenson: To ask the Scottish Executive how many convictions related to cases of domestic abuse there were in each of the last 10 years, broken down by police force area.

S2W-32154 Stewart Stevenson: To ask the Scottish Executive how many (a) violent assaults and (b) arrests took place in hospitals in each of the last 10 years, broken down by police force area.

S2W-32155 Stewart Stevenson: To ask the Scottish Executive how many convictions there were for offences committed in hospitals in each of the last 10 years, broken down by police force area.

1 March 2007

Stevenson Supports Organic Farming In Parliament

Speaking in a parliamentary debate on organic farming Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has outlined the merits of organic farming. Mr. Stevenson also took the opportunity to raise some key concerns of the farming and organic food processing industry such as pork production issues and problems with nitrate-vulnerable zones.

Speaking in the debate Mr. Stevenson said;

"I suspect that we will all feel that organic farming has an important contribution to make to farmers' profitability, to the good health of people in Scotland and, perhaps, to enabling our children to better understand where their food comes from and make appropriate choices. Organic farming touches on many things beyond the farm gate.

"The Executive's 'Third Organic Annual Report' confirms that there are substantial problems in the pork industry. Because of the diktats of the processing industry and supermarkets we cannot measure the amount of organic pork that is produced in Scotland. It goes elsewhere and we cannot count it when it is returned for sale in Scotland. The problem illustrates the fact that we must give further consideration not just to primary producers but to the chain from primary producers to the plate.

"Nitrates are an important subject throughout the farming sector. Were we to have a less blunt-instrument approach to our nitrate-vulnerable zones, we could farm in a more sustainable way in relation to nitrates. Instead of being driven by an arbitrary calendar that is probably appropriate in only one or two places in Scotland, seasons for spreading nitrates could be locally determined."

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