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22 December 2008

South West Scotland gets roads improvements Christmas present

A £27 million investment in three vital road improvement projects is set to bring benefits to road users across the South West this Christmas, Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said today.

Two of these projects - on the A77 at Glen App and Haggstone - have finished three months ahead of schedule, and a third project, an upgrade of the A76 near Glenairlie due to be finished in late December, will provide additional overtaking opportunities.

Meanwhile, the de-trunked section of the existing A76 is being converted to a cycleway and finishing works should be complete by the end of January. All three schemes will open up economic opportunities by improving journey times and connections across Dumfries and Galloway. The investment will also bring faster, more efficient access to the important ports of Cairnryan and Stranraer.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"I am delighted that this important work on the A76 and A77 is complete.

"The routes provide economic lifelines, linking central Scotland to Dumfries and Galloway whilst providing vital access to the ports of Cairnryan and Stranraer. To see the work on the A77 being completed so far ahead of schedule is particularly pleasing.

"This £27 million investment will bring improved connections for local communities, businesses, freight and tourists. The efficiency we have seen in the delivery of the scheme shows just how the collaborative approach adopted by Transport Scotland and contractors RJ McLeod and Raynesway can bring real benefits.

"This is more good news for the region following the announcement of our Strategic Transport Projects (STPR) review last week – a review which is at the leading edge of transport planning. This Government has set out our future transport ambitions for Scotland over the next 20 years and made clear that our investment priorities for the South West include vital upgrades to the A75, A76 and A77, dualling of the A77 around Ayr and a new Dalry bypass."

The work at Glen App has delivered just under a mile of new carriageway and was carried out in conjunction with a carriageway widening project at Haggstone, two and a half miles north of the Cairnryan ferry terminal. Both projects were carried out by RJ McLeod.

The A76 Glenairlie project, managed by Raynesway Construction, involved widening just under two miles of carriageway to provide improved overtaking opportunities to both directions of travel.

Meanwhile, another A77 improvement scheme continues to progress as the consultation on the £11 million Symington to Bogend toll project has come to a close. Transport Scotland has received a number of statutory objections for this scheme and, while it will continue to work with objectors to resolve these, it is likely a Public Local Enquiry (PLI) will be held in the new year.

A PLI is always anticipated for a scheme of this significance and the statutory process has already been factored in to the project programme. Work is expected to begin in 2010 with the construction phase lasting approximately 12 months.

For further details see:

19 December 2008

Construction companies to bid for A96 Fochabers and Mosstodloch Bypass

A multi-million pound road improvement scheme for the A96 between Aberdeen and Inverness has taken an important step closer to delivery.

Transport Scotland has published the tenders for the A96 Fochabers and Mosstodloch Bypass marking the start of the procurement process for this upgrade to a crucial link for businesses and communities in the North East.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"The A96 is a key route for Scotland and this multi-million investment will deliver real benefits for communities across the North East. It will improve journey times, reduce congestion in and around Fochabers and Mosstodloch, whilst making an important contribution to road safety.

"This gives a welcome boost to the construction industry and is more good news following the announcement of our Strategic Transport Projects (STPR) review last week. The STPR identified our investment priorities for the north east, including dualling of the A9, key improvements to the A96 and vital enhancements to rail services across the region."

Two companies, RJ McLeod and Morrison Construction , have been identified in the pre-qualification stage and they now have 26 weeks to submit their tender.

On successful completion of the tender process, Transport Scotland expects to appoint a contractor in late summer 2009. Construction work will begin soon after and the scheme will be open in spring 2011. Meanwhile site clearance works will get underway early in the new year.

This stage follows the ground investigations carried out by contractor Ritchies in summer this year on behalf of national transport agency Transport Scotland.

For further information see A96 Fochabers and Mosstodloch Bypass project

Mobility and Access Committee Scotland (MACS)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Stewart Stevenson today announced the appointment of a Convener and six new Members to the Mobility and Access Committee Scotland (MACS).

The new convener is:

Anne MacLean is currently the Vice Chair of RNIB Scotland and is a board member of the Cairngorm National Park Authority, which attracts an annual rate of £6,936. She was previously an assessor for the Office of the Commissioner of Public Appointments in Scotland, and was a former National Officer with the National Union of Civil and Public Servants.

The new members are:

John Ballantine is a retired solicitor and member of the Equalities Law Sub-committee of the Law Society of Scotland. He is the Treasurer of the Scottish Accessible Transport Alliance and a member of the Edinburgh Access Panel. He is a member of the Communities of Interest Support Network and of the Edinburgh Disability Equality Forum. These posts do not attract remuneration.

Steven Boyd has recently taken up an appointment as HR Partner for Scotland for the WRVS. He previously held various HR & Resourcing Management appointments for different blue chip Hospitality, Media and Engineering companies. His initial management career was as Recruitment Director for a small niche People Consultancy.

James Cohen currently works as a Social Policy Analyst specialising in disability. He is a Member of the BBC Trust Audience Council Scotland, and was previously Queen Margaret University's Equal Opportunities Officer as well as being a former Member of the NUS Disability Campaign

James Glover
is Head of Equality and Diversity at NHS Lothian. He led on the Disability Equality Duty at the Equality & Human Rights Commission, and its predecessor, the Disability Rights Commission. He has set up and been a committee member for community transport projects and organisations. He originally trained as a research chemist.

Andrew Holmes trained and worked as a civil engineer before becoming involved in the wider area of planning, economic development and transport. Prior to retiring in April 2008 he was Director of City Development for the City of Edinburgh Council. He has served on a number of transport related groups and committees at both a Scottish and UK level.

Susan Wood was previously employed as an Educational Development and Support Officer improving quality in pre-school education in Argyll and Bute. She is Chairperson of the Glasgow Access Panel.

These appointments will be for three years and will run from January 1, 2009 to December 31, 2011.

The posts are part-time. The post of Convener attracts remuneration of £150 per day for a time commitment of two days per month. The Member posts attract remuneration of £100 per day for a time commitment of one day per month,

None of the newly appointed members currently hold appointments with other Public Bodies.

MACS was established by Scottish Ministers under the Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland Regulations Order 2002. It is responsible for advising Scottish Ministers on the transport needs of people with disabilities in Scotland. It shall consider and make recommendations about other matters if asked to do so. MACS will, for the main part, hold its meetings in Edinburgh.

The Scottish Government will be undertaking a further appointment round in the New Year to fill the eight remaining member posts.

These Ministerial public appointments were made in accordance with the Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland's Code of Practice.

All appointments are made on merit and political activity plays no part in the selection process. However, in accordance with the original Nolan recommendations, there is a requirement for appointees' political activity within the last five years (if there is any to be declared) to be made public.

Anne MacLean has declared that she was an executive committee member of the Scottish Labour Party until March 2004, and is currently the Chair of the Badenoch and Strathspey Branch of the Party.

18 December 2008

Construction Industry lines up for Glasgow Airport Rail Link

Delivery of the new rail link to Glasgow Airport has taken a major step closer with the news that seven of Europe’s biggest construction companies will bid to build a key element of the flagship transport project.

Stewart Stevenson, Minister for Transport, has today confirmed a shortlist of: BMV (Balfour Beatty, Morgan Est and Vinci joint venture), Carillion, Morrison Construction and Roadbridge/Sisk has been selected to bid for the construction of the "St James Spur" - the main branch line viaduct stretching across the M8 to the new airport station.

The contract – expected to be worth between £90m and £130m – represents the most significant single element in the Glasgow Airport Rail Link (GARL) project and is another boost for the construction industry as part of the Scottish Government’s current infrastructure investment programme.

Transport Scotland took the project over in the summer and following a review and pre-tender consultation with the construction industry, it has taken steps to protect the public purse by reducing the level of cost risk to the contract.

The tender competition will now begin in spring 2009, meaning GARL is now set to be operational in early 2013, well in advance of the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

Passengers will start to see early benefits however, with delivery partner Network Rail set to implement a number of improvements to the existing Paisley corridor from 2010, which will benefit passengers to Ayrshire and Inverclyde.

Mr Stevenson, Transport Minister, said:

"I am delighted by the great progress already being made on GARL, which will be delivered well in advance of the Commonwealth Games in 2014 to help Scotland capture the long term economic growth the Games will bring.

"Through Transport Scotland, our continuing investment in major transport infrastructure projects is currently supporting hundreds of jobs in the Scottish construction industry.

"I am particularly pleased that seven major construction companies, either individually or in a consortium, are lining up to bid for this flagship public transport project in the West of Scotland.

"We are committed to delivering the project as efficiently as possible and have listened to the construction industry in order to take the necessary steps to protect the public purse."

As announced in summer 2007, GARL has been combined with Network Rail’s Paisley Corridor Resignalling (PCR) work to avoid unnecessary disruption to the travelling public and avoid the extra cost of duplicated work to the taxpayer.

Following the Office of Rail Regulation’s recent Final Determination of Network Rail’s costs for the period 2009 - 2014, the current estimated outturn cost range for the combined GARL-PCR project is £365.5m to £395m excluding VAT. This figure cannot be compared to the original cost range for GARL as the project is now combined with a significant Network Rail signal renewal scheme (PCR) as outlined to Parliament by the Transport Minister on 27 June 2007.

Ron McAulay, Director Scotland Network Rail, said:

"Network Rail’s resignalling of the Paisley Corridor, on track for delivery in December 2011, is a key enabler of the GARL project and we look forward to playing our role in delivering this major investment in Scotland’s transport infrastructure."

For more information on the project see Glasgow Airport Rail Link

Glasgow Airport rail link

Seven of Europe's biggest construction companies are to bid to build a key element of the new rail link to Glasgow Airport.

A shortlist of BMV (Balfour Beatty, Morgan Est and Vinci joint venture), Carillion, Morrison Construction and Roadbridge/Sisk has been selected to bid for the construction of the 'St James Spur' - the main branch line viaduct stretching across the M8 to the new airport station.

The contract - expected to be worth between £90 million and £130 million - represents the most significant single element in the Glasgow Airport Rail Link (GARL) project.

The tender competition will now begin in spring 2009 with GARL scheduled to be operational in early 2013 in time for the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"I am delighted by the great progress already being made on GARL, which will be delivered well in advance of the Commonwealth Games in 2014 to help Scotland capture the long term economic growth the Games will bring.

"Through Transport Scotland, our continuing investment in major transport infrastructure projects is currently supporting hundreds of jobs in the Scottish construction industry.

"I am particularly pleased that seven major construction companies, either individually or in a consortium, are lining up to bid for this flagship public transport project in the West of Scotland.

"We are committed to delivering the project as efficiently as possible and have listened to the construction industry in order to take the necessary steps to protect the public purse."

Following the Office of Rail Regulation's recent Final Determination of Network Rail's costs for the period 2009-2014, the current estimated outturn cost range for the combined GARL-PCR project is £365.5m to £395m excluding VAT.

This figure cannot be compared to the original cost range for GARL as the project is now combined with a significant Network Rail signal renewal scheme (PCR) as outlined to Parliament by the Transport Minister on June 27, 2007.

Ron McAulay, Director Scotland Network Rail, said:

'Network Rail's resignalling of the Paisley Corridor, on track for delivery in December 2011, is a key enabler of the GARL project and we look forward to playing our role in delivering this major investment in Scotland's transport infrastructure."

Ferry to set sail in May

Norfolkline is taking bookings for its new Rosyth-Zeebrugge service. Sailings on the route are due to begin on May 18, 2009.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"The launch of the booking service is great news for passengers, tourists and businesses who can now plan their travel with confidence.

"With our year of Homecoming just weeks away, this is a major boost. Visitors from Europe can now make plans to join in our Homecoming celebrations. We have a unique opportunity with Norfolkline to get the ferry off to the best possible start through encouraging friends and family from Europe to travel to Scotland using this new ferry service.

"Maintaining connections with major European markets is vital for Scotland, particularly during these challenging economic times. The route has so far carried nearly one million passengers, 4.2 million tonnes of freight and made a significant contribution to Scotland's tourist industry.

"I am sure the new service will be a great success and I wish Norfolkline, Forth Ports, freight operators and the many passengers who will sail the Rosyth-Zeebrugge route, all the very best."

Greece-based Superfast Ferries ran a service to Zeebrugge in Belgium for the last six years up until the final sailing on September 13. It announced its decision to pull out in May.

Norfolkline is part of the A.P.Moller Maersk Group, and currently employs more than 2,200 people in 14 countries across the European continent, operating out of 35 different locations. In 2007, more than 2.0 million passengers used Norfolkline's ferry service across the English Channel and on the Irish Sea. Norfolkline also carried over 1.3 million freight units between ports throughout Europe.

16 December 2008

STEVENSON HAILS UNPRECEDENTED LEVELS OF FRONTLINE NHS STAFF

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the publication of NHS workforce statistics by ISD Scotland that show a rise in GPs, Dentists, Medical Consultants, Nurses and Midwives across the country. These increases mean that there are now more frontline NHS staff working in Scotland that at any point previously.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“The SNP Government is investing more in Scotland’s health than ever before, and we have been able to deliver such unprecedented staffing levels as a result of this. Putting more medical staff on the frontline of the NHS is key to improving the already high standard of care that the NHS provides, and I am delighted that we have been able to make this investment.

“Opposition claims of cuts in the NHS have been exposed as baseless scaremongering by these statistics. I would challenge them to be big enough to now admit their claims were baseless and acknowledge that with more nurses, doctors, midwives and dentists the NHS is in a better place than ever before to support people across Scotland.

“The SNP is determined to support the magnificent work that the NHS does in looking after Scotland’s health, and we are investing more than ever before to achieve this.”

Views on road safety

'Worrying attitudes towards road safety' among some young people have been revealed in new Scottish Government reports.

The latest research, commissioned to help inform the development of a new Road Safety Strategy for Scotland, explored the views of young people aged 16 to 25. A further study was also undertaken on rural road safety.

The research revealed:
  • Driving at speed was seen to be a source of enjoyment by some young drivers
  • Some young drivers are prepared to take risks with speed on rural roads, testing their driving skills in an environment where there is seen to be lower risk due to fewer vehicles and pedestrians
  • Young people were unsure about the legal limit for drinking and driving. Many had examples of travelling in a car with a driver who had been drinking, or of friends driving while over the limit
  • Young people rarely thought that an accident would ever happen to them
Young people put themselves at risk through inappropriate levels of trust in friends as drivers
Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"Our concern is to ensure the safety of all road users but today's reports find that some young drivers are still prepared to take risks with their own lives, and the lives of others.

"Road accidents are at their lowest level for more than 50 years. However, young drivers continue to be over-represented in road deaths and we cannot and will not be complacent.

"There appears to be a prevalent attitude among some young people in these reports that serious accident and injury is something that happens to someone else, something that happens to other people.

"Sadly, the statistics tell us that it can and often does happen to you.

"You only need to listen to the harrowing experiences of our emergency services or the families of those affected to see that tragedy can strike at any place and at any time.

"Driving at excessive speed is dangerous, it is reckless and if young drivers think that rural roads are safe places to take risks they only need to look at the statistics. The most common factor contributing to rural road accidents is loss of control and driving at an inappropriate speed. It can result in the most tragic of consequences no matter what your level of ability or experience.

"My message to young people is simple - listen to the road safety messages from the police, fire services, road safety organisations and others. It could save your life.

"We are currently working with leading experts on road safety to develop a new 10 year road safety strategy for Scotland. Today's research was commissioned to help inform our new strategy and we will be looking at what more we can all do to improve road safety across the country. We will publish our new strategy in the New Year."

'Qualitative Research with Young People: Road Safety' was undertaken in 2008 to help inform the development of the new Scottish Road Safety Strategy.

'Rural Road Safety: Drivers and Driving' was undertaken in 2007 to investigate the causes of rural road accidents and to gain insights which could be used to tackle the problem.

The Scottish Government wished to ensure that the views of young people were taken into account in developing the new Road Safety Strategy.

The research included analysis of police accident reports (STATS 19), a face-to-face survey of over 1000 current car drivers on rural roads, and focus groups with young drivers and non-drivers, including younger males who drive on rural roads.

Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill has already written to the UK Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly asking her to reduce the drink driving limit from 80mg to 50mg per 100ml of blood and introduce random breath testing to further crack down on drink driving.

10 December 2008

STEVENSON WELCOMES NEW AGREEMENT TO TACKLE COD DISCARDS

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed an historic deal between the EU and Norway over measures to tackle the practice of discarding perfectly good fish as a result of fishing quotas. As a result of the fishing discussions, it has been agreed that there will be:

  • A ban on the dumping of marketable fish
  • A 30 per cent increase in the Total Allowable Catch for North Sea cod - the biggest TAC increase in over 20 years
  • Additional measures to help fishermen make their cod quota last all year
  • An extension to other Member States of the innovative Real-Time Closures scheme pioneered in Scotland

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“I am delighted that this round of negotiations has resulted in much needed good news for Banff & Buchan’s hard pressed fishing communities. The fishing industry here has led the way in adopting innovative new measures, such as real time closures, that will now be adopted by the rest of the EU.

“The increase in Cod quotas represents a fitting reward for the efforts and sacrifices of the fishing industry here. Although there are further challenges for the industry in order to keep fisheries sustainable, I am confident that the industry in Banff & Buchan will lead the way in meeting them.

“This is a real vindication for the approach taken in Scotland towards creating a sustainable fishing industry and with the rest of the EU now following Scotland’s lead, it only goes to underline what Scotland could achieve with a distinctive, independent voice in Europe.”

STEVENSON DELIGHTED AS FINANCE COMMITTEE BACK SNP BUDGET

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the publication of the Scottish Parliament Finance Committee’s report on the SNP’s proposed budget, in which general backing is given to the SNP Government’s handling of the economic crisis and its future plans. The committee has put forward no alternative spending proposals.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“I am delighted that the SNP’s budget proposals have received this support as a result of what were by all accounts more consensual discussions within the committee this year.

“The report has raised concern about the looming threat of £500 million of budget cuts at the hands of the UK Government and has broadly praised the way in which the Scottish Government has taken action to help Scottish businesses.

“However, Labour must now explain why they failed to back the small business bonus and council tax freeze, measures that will put real money back into people’s pockets when they need it most, without offering any alternative suggestions as to how they would help Scotland through the current economic situation

“It seems they are bereft of both ideas and any willingness to help businesses and individuals that are going through difficult times”.

9 December 2008

STEVENSON BACKS ANTI-DRINK DRIVING CAMPAIGN

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has given his backing to the Scottish Government’s new road safety campaign, aimed at curbing drink driving this festive period. The campaign will focus on drivers who get behind the wheel the morning after a heavy night’s drinking.

Grampian Police, along with the rest of Scotland’s eight police forces, have pledged to target early morning drivers who may still have too much alcohol in their system. As well as police checks, all motorists involved in a road traffic accident, even if they are not to blame, will be breath tested.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“This is an important and needed initiative from the Scottish Government and I welcome its launch today. Drink driving claims too many lives on Scotland’s roads every year and it is important that people get the message: if you drive whilst under the influence, you will be caught.

“Drivers are not just putting their own lives at risk, but those of family, friends and strangers. It is important that friends, family members and work colleagues do not turn a blind eye to those intending to drive whilst still under the influence, but instead stand up and urge them to make use of alternative transport.

“You should enjoy yourself at this time of year, but there is no excuse for risking your own life and the lives of others Banff & Buchan’s roads. If you think you are over the limit, don’t risk it.”

2 December 2008

STEVENSON DELIGHTED BY MORE POLICE ON BANFF & BUCHAN STREETS

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the news that the number of police officers in Grampian has increased by almost 100 since the SNP came to power in 2007. Figures show that in the Grampian police area the number of officers have gone up from 1,374 in the quarter ending March 07 to 1,473 under the latest figures ending in September – an increase of 99 officers.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“Since the SNP came to power, people across Banff & Buchan have seen a more visible police presence in our communities, helping to drive down crime and make people’s lives safer.

“”The SNP pledged to put 1000 more police officers on Scotland’s Streets, of which our target was to have recruited 450 by March 2009. 440 have already been recruited, meaning that we are well ahead of schedule in delivering on our promise.

“I am delighted that the SNP Government is once again delivering so effectively on our promises and I know that people across Banff & Buchan will welcome the increased police presence on their streets”.

1 December 2008

East Ayrshire commuters to gain from rail infrastructure enhancements

More seats and more trains are just some of the benefits rail passengers in south west Scotland will gain from a £28.5 million package of rail infrastructure enhancements Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson announced today.

Network Rail is already carrying out extensive engineering works, on behalf of Transport Scotland, to double a stretch of existing track to create a new second line between Stewarton and Lugton.

This means from next year rail users travelling between Glasgow and Kilmarnock will not only have more choice, they will have an additional off-peak express which calls at Stewarton. This will reduce journey times by up to six minutes and give added benefits by speeding up connections across south west Scotland, to Carlisle and onto all parts of England.

During peak periods, commuters in Kilmaurs and Dunlop will be able to take advantage of a half hourly service that offers more seats and increased capacity.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"The rail network in Scotland makes a significant contribution to the Government’s key purpose of increasing sustainable economic growth.

"With over 1500 additional seats on a daily basis, communities will have more choice and a real alternative to the car. We can encourage economic growth and offer commuters across south west Scotland better access to the rail network by maximising this mix of peak local and off-peak express services."

Ron McAulay, Network Rail’s director Scotland, said:

"Network Rail is delighted to be delivering a project which will have real benefits for both existing and future rail users on this route and allowing Transport Scotland to increase the frequency and quality of services. We are committed to growing the country’s rail network and this investment will create new opportunities for business and leisure travellers alike."

Network Rail’s other engineering works on behalf of Transport Scotland include extending existing platforms, renewing and strengthening bridges and enhancing the signalling capacity along the route.

Engineering works should be complete by October 2009, with the new services starting in December 2009.

Steve Montgomery, First ScotRail’s operations and safety director, said:

"We welcome these enhancements. Demand for our services continues to accelerate, and these improvements will bring many benefits to our growing number of customers."

28 November 2008

Stewart Stevenson MSP delivers Christmas encouragement to Royal Mail posties at Peterhead

Stewart Stevenson MSP has visited Royal Mail’s Peterhead Delivery Office to pass on best Christmas wishes and encouragement to the postmen and women at their busiest time of year.

Mr Stevenson was shown round the Delivery Office by local Delivery Office manager and was introduced to all the postmen and women who are working hard doing their bit to sort and deliver the area’s share of the estimated total Scottish Christmas postbag of 214 million items. The SNP MSP also presented a bottle of Scottish Parliament whisky to the staff as an early Christmas present.

Stewart Stevenson MSP said: “It was great to meet the hard-working Royal Mail postmen and women at Peterhead and to see at first hand just how much effort they put into delivering for people at this time of year.

“Posties do such an important job at this time of year and I like to thank them for their efforts and wish them all the best over the busy festive period.”

Garry Saunders, Delivery Office Manager at Peterhead said: “Christmas is the busiest time of year, and our people really do pull out all the stops throughout the year to ensure mail is delivered quickly but even more so over the busy festive period. So we are pleased that Mr Stevenson came along to witness the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.”

He added: “The postal staff do a fantastic job at this time of year to ensure that friends and families stay in touch through their Christmas greetings and gifts. And as usual, we urge our customers to post early so that friends and family have longer to enjoy their Christmas greetings!”

It is also vital that people remember the last posting dates for mail. These are:
  • Saturday 20 December for 1st Class items
  • Thursday 18 December for 2nd Class items
  • Tuesday 23 December for Special Delivery items
  • Friday 12 December for airmail items to Western Europe
  • Wednesday 10 December for Eastern Europe, the USA, Canada and Japan
  • Friday 5 December for mail to the rest of the world
Customers can help Royal Mail ensure that all their letters, cards and parcels are delivered as quickly and efficiently as possible by taking a few easy steps:
  • Use a 1st Class stamp! – Post 1st Class for just 36p and have your Christmas card delivered the next day – anywhere in the UK.
  • Post early! – Avoid disappointment by posting your cards and parcels early. The last posting dates this Christmas are: December 18 for 2nd Class mail; December 20 for 1st Class mail; December 23 for Special Delivery.
  • Use a postcode! – A clearly addressed card or parcel, with a postcode, and return address on the back of the envelope, will ensure quick and efficient delivery.
  • Use Special Delivery – For valuable packages and parcels guarantee delivery with Royal Mail’s Special Delivery, which means your gift is tracked, traced and insured against loss.
  • For more information about Christmas with Royal Mail visit: www.royalmail.com or call 08457 740 740.

27 November 2008

STEVENSON DELIGHTED AS SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT WINS MORE DEVOLVED POWERS OVER SCOTLAND’S SEAS

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the announcement that control over planning and conservation off Scotland’s coast has been devolved to Edinburgh. Following an agreement reached through the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC), Scotland’s authority in these issues will now stretch to 200 nautical miles from her coast, rather than 12 nautical miles as had previously been the case.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“I am delighted that the Scottish Government has managed to convince our counterparts in the other Devolved Governments and the UK Government that responsibility for these waters should be devolved.

“By having control of marine planning and conservation, we will be able to ensure that there is a joint up, complementary approach to fishing conservation and to where offshore power is generated.

“The waters off the Banff & Buchan coast are of vital economic importance to residents thanks to the fishing industry, but they also offer massive potential for wave, tidal and offshore wind power. It is important that our waters are managed effectively, and by extending devolved responsibility out to the 200 mile limit we can ensure that decisions appropriate for Scotland are taken in Scotland.

“This agreement also represents a success for the Joint Ministerial Committee mechanism for discussion and negotiation between the Devolved Governments and the UK Government, which had fallen into disuse before the SNP came to power. One of our earliest moves after winning the election was to successfully press for it to be resurrected and this agreement only serves to demonstrate that we were right to do so.”

26 November 2008

Minister visits £5 million Harthill Footbridge

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson will visit M8 Harthill Services today to officially open the new £5 million footbridge now in use by the public.

The iconic structure, which replaces the old bridge built in the 1960’s, provides much-needed improved access for the Heart of Scotland (Harthill) Services and the Local Transport Interchange (LTI).

Transport Minister, Stewart Stevenson, said:

"While the old bridge stood for many years, this is a fantastic new footbridge which is welcomed by users of the M8 from near and far.

"It is clear that local communities are already benefitting from improved access to the local transport interchange. That is why I am pleased to visit Harthill again now that the project is complete."

The eye-catching steel structure, designed by Buro-Happold, comprises a 65 metre main span with a spiral design and includes a covered walkway. Main contractor Raynesway Construction Limited managed the project, including the delicate operation in October to lift the footbridge into place, using Britain’s largest mobile crane.

Harthill was the first motorway service station to be built in Scotland following the completion of the M8 in the early 1970s. The new footbridge completes the redevelopment of the Harthill site, which includes a Transport Scotland investment in a £1.1 million transport interchange.

For further details see M8 Harthill Footbridge Replacement

25 November 2008

STEVENSON’S ANGER AS WHISKY INDUSTRY IS RAIDED BY WESTMINSTER AGAIN

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has condemned the announcement, hidden in the footnotes of Alistair Darling’s pre-budget report, that whisky duties are due to rise for the second time this year. Even after the fall in VAT is factored in, the 8% rise in duty means that the Treasury’s take on the average 70cl bottle has risen by 29p from £7.42 to £7.71.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“The Whisky sector is vital to the Scottish economy, and for Alistair Darling to bury his tax hike in the footnotes of his report without even mentioning it in his speech is an insult to an industry that has already been targeted by the Treasury this year.

“The budget in March already saw a 9% increase on the duty which led to a £40 million fall in alcohol revenues. Why he thinks that this latest increase will have the opposite effect, and raise more money for the Treasury, is beyond me. Taken together, duty has risen by 80p on the average bottle making this the biggest one-year increase in alcohol duty since 1974-75.

“The Whisky industry is one that is growing, as witnessed by the reopening of Glenglassaugh distillery in Portsoy, but the UK market is a fragile one. Rather than punishing success, the Treasury should be supporting an industry that is vital to Scotland’s economy.

20 November 2008

STEVENSON WELCOMES SCOTTISH VICTORY IN FISHING NEGOTIATIONS

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the news that the rest of the European Union is set to follow Scotland’s lead in adopting the Cod Recovery Plan, based on the pioneering Conservation Credits Scheme already established in Scotland.

The new Cod Recovery Plan decides how much time many European fishermen are allowed to spend at sea. It links their allocation of time at sea with conservation-friendly measures in much the same way as Scotland's pioneering Conservation Credits Scheme.

The adoption of the Scottish scheme underlines the fact that Scotland is leading the rest of Europe in adopting innovative conservation measures and comes as a reward to the many sacrifices made by the Scottish fishing industry.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“The scale of this victory in Brussels is one that should not be underestimated. Under this scheme, much of the day to day management of European fisheries will be handed back to member states to administer.

“Having already adopted much of these new measures, Scotland’s fleet will find it significantly easier to make the necessary adjustments. These measures will help bring an end to the tragedy of discarded fish that are thrown back because skippers have reached their quota limit.

“In much the same way as the Conservation Credits Scheme, the number of days vessels can spend at sea will depend on the strictness of the conservation measures that they undertake, rewarding those who do most to protect fish stocks.

“This Scottish success story in Brussels only serves to underline what can happen when Scotland is able to speak with its own voice in Europe on the issues that are important to it.”

STEVENSON DELIGHTED BY TOP AWARD FOR MACDUFF MARINE AQUARIUM

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has expressed his delight at the news that Macduff Marine Aquarium has won the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions’ Best Visitor Experience 2008 award.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“Macduff Marine Aquarium has seen off stiff competition to scoop this prestigious award, demonstrating that it is one of the best tourist attractions in North East Scotland.

“The staff at the aquarium work extremely hard and I am sure that they will be immensely proud that their efforts have been justly recognised with this award. Many people from across Scotland and beyond visit the aquarium every year and this award demonstrates that what they all have in common is how much they enjoy their experience.”

19 November 2008

Strategic Transport Projects Review

Ministers today set out a multi-billion pound transport blueprint to grow Scotland's economy.

The details were announced in the Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR), which sets out the future investment programme for transport in Scotland over the next 20 years - the biggest and most ambitious Scottish transport plan ever published.

29 major transport investment priorities across Scotland have been identified as supporting the future growth of Scotland's businesses and communities including:
  • A new strategy for a toll free £1.72-£2.34 billion replacement Forth Crossing - delivering a £1.7 billion reduction on original cost estimates.
  • The existing Forth Bridge will be made a dedicated public transport only corridor.
  • A new rail station at Gogar created to integrate with the Edinburgh tram network and provide onward connection for passengers using Edinburgh Airport.
  • Ambitious proposals to revolutionise the rail network including:
  1. Electrification of rail network.
  2. Major enhancements to Edinburgh-Glasgow line reducing journey time to 35 minutes, with 13 services per hour (from current 5-6 per hour).
  3. Key components of Aberdeen Crossrail scheme to be delivered. Improvements to the services between Aberdeen and Inverness will give consideration to a station at Kintore.
  4. Glasgow rail improvements, including construction of new city centre stations linking the rail networks to the north, south and east of the city and the development of a Metro / Light Rapid Transit network across Glasgow, improving access to areas of economic activity and key public services, such as the new Southern General Hospital.
  5. Faster, more frequent rail services linking Fife, Aberdeen, Inverness, Edinburgh, Perth and Glasgow - reducing journey times between Inverness and central belt by up to 30 minutes and by up to 20 minutes between Aberdeen and Edinburgh.
  6. Upgrade of Haymarket Interchange.
  • Upgrades to the A96, including dualling between Inverness and Nairn, new Nairn bypass, new Inveramsay Bridge, and new connection between A9 and A96 providing relief for the Raigmore Interchange.
  • Programme of improvements for A9 including upgrading to dual carriageway standard between Perth and Inverness.
  • Upgrades to the A82, including measures such as road widening at selected locations between Tarbert and Inverarnan and between Corran Ferry and Fort William, as well as climbing lanes and overtaking lay-bys, road alignments, junction improvements, hard strips.
  • Package of improvements to the A90 between Aberdeen and communities in the North East, building on existing plans to dual the Balmedie to Tipperty section.
  • A75/A76/A77 all to be upgraded to boost economic and tourism links with port of Stranraer, including dualling A77 around Ayr and Dalry bypass.
  • Proposals for new Dundee city bypass or upgrade of the Kingsway.
  • Strategy for new national park and ride sites serving Aberdeen at Dyce and Charleston, Dundee, Edinburgh at Pitreavie and Halbeath, and Glasgow at Bargeddie, Fullarton and Bannockburn.
  • Plans for a new national integrated ticketing scheme allowing people to travel across all public transport using just one ticket.
  • Rail and road infrastructure improvements to improve freight links from our major freight terminals of Grangemouth, Mossend and Coatbridge to key points across Scotland and into England.
The STPR is the first nationwide, multi-modal, evidence based appraisal of Scotland's current transport system and as forecast over the next 20 years.

During his statement to Parliament, Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson also signalled progress on fast-tracked STPR projects - the Forth Replacement Crossing and the Edinburgh-Glasgow Rail Improvement Programme, the Highland Main Line between Inverness and Glasgow/Edinburgh via Perth and rail services between Aberdeen and Inverness.

Mr Stevenson said:

"Good transport infrastructure is vital to delivering increased sustainable economic growth.

"This STPR is at the leading edge of transport planning at a national level, it is ambitious and it delivers for the whole of Scotland.

"The programme I am announcing today identifies how we can improve the existing infrastructure we have, as well as targeting future transport investment priorities across Scotland over the next twenty years.

"We are already fast tracking key infrastructure projects such as the Forth Replacement Crossing and the Edinburgh to Glasgow rail improvements programme - projects vital to Scotland's economic growth. But the STPR identifies investment priorities across the country - from upgrades to key Highland routes like the A9, A96 and A82 to improvements to the rail services between central Scotland and our northern economic centres of Inverness and Aberdeen.

"The plans I have set out today clearly identify where we as a government see the priorities for investment against a backdrop of increasing pressure on our budget. This is a significant programme of prioritised schemes for delivery and the whole of Scotland is set to benefit.

"The Scottish Futures Trust will be central to securing maximum value for money for the public purse. As a centre of expertise which facilitates project collaboration, it will help release up to £150 million a year in extra investment in the fabric of Scotland's public services.

"To ensure effective delivery, we will take forward an action programme with key delivery bodies in the New Year. "

Mr Stevenson confirmed the Forth Replacement Crossing project will be taken forward via a Parliamentary Bill by the end of next year.

Meanwhile, the design and location of the new station designed to integrate with the Edinburgh tram network and provide onward connection for passengers using Edinburgh Airport have been revealed. The £37 million station is to be built on the existing Fife line immediately to the north of the A8 (Gyle) roundabout. The station is part of the ambitious Edinburgh Glasgow Rail Improvement Programme announced last September and represents more cost-efficient alternative to the discontinued EARL project.

Mr Stevenson added:

"The Forth Replacement Crossing will be the biggest transport infrastructure project in Scotland for a generation. The serious doubts surrounding the future resilience of the current crossing to general traffic are now well understood. The need for a new bridge has not diminished and progress has and will continue to be made.

"I am therefore delighted we are now in a position to not only set out the next steps for this vital economic lifeline for the East Coast but also, as our work becomes more detailed, identify how to deliver this project as efficiently as possible."

Today's STPR announcement sets out future transport investment priorities for Scotland's strategic transport networks and which will open up business opportunities and deliver sustainable economic growth.

Today's STPR announcement sets out the investment priorities for Scotland's strategic land-based (road and rail) transport networks.

Transport Scotland is the national transport agency responsible for trunk roads, rail and national concessionary travel. It is an Executive agency directly accountable to Scottish Ministers and came into effect on January 1, 2006.

The STPR was carried out by Government agency Transport Scotland, which is already delivering major schemes such as the rail links to the Borders, Glasgow Airport and between Airdrie and Bathgate. Among a number of road improvements, it is also delivering the M74 Completion, Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route and last month opened the Clackmannanshire Bridge across the Upper Forth.

By 2011, Transport Scotland will be well on the way to delivering £12.5 billion of net economic benefit for Scotland and will have supported more than 13,000 jobs across the construction, road maintenance and rail industry in the last year.

STEVENSON DELIGHTED BY NEW MEASURES TO HELP FUEL POOR

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the Scottish Government’s announcement that the budget for tackling fuel poverty in Scotland is to be increased by 20% to £55.8 million a year. The new Energy Assistance Package will help the one million Scots officially designated as being fuel poor through increasing incomes, reducing fuel costs and improving energy efficiency.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“At a time when Banff & Buchan households face rocketing fuel bills I am delighted that the SNP Government is focused on this issue and it shows its commitment to doing all that it can, within the powers that are available, to tackle fuel poverty.

"This statement adds to our announcement of an extra £10 million of funding for the free central heating programme this year and its expansion from next year to include young families who may be at risk of fuel poverty this winter.

"Alongside today's announcement the Scottish Government is also working hard to ensure a fair share of the money for the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) is spent in Scotland. While the SNP Government is using its powers to tackle fuel poverty, the UK Government must act to support people struggling to pay their bills this winter with an extra £100 for pensioners, a VAT holiday this winter to help all households with high prices and reduced VAT on all energy efficiency measures.

"Today's announcement shows that the SNP is focused on the needs of families and the vulnerable in Banff & Buchan this winter. Will Westminster now do their part?"

13 November 2008

STEVENSON WELCOMES VICTORY IN BATTLE TO SAVE POST OFFICE CARD ACCOUNT CONTRACT

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the news that the Westminster Government has caved in to the enormous levels of pressure being put on them by people across the country, and has announced that the Post Office will retain the contract for the Post Office Card Account (POCA).

Gordon Brown’s Government had dithered over the decision and had appeared to be on the brink of awarding the contract to Pay Point, putting thousands of local Post Offices under threat as a result.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“Banff & Buchan has already seen large numbers of Post Offices close in recent years, and the last thing that people across the region who rely on services provided by the Post Office needed was the threat of further cuts.

“The UK Government’s dithering and inaction while it considered privatising the contract is hard to understand given that stripping the Post Office of the Card Account would inevitably have led to further widespread closures.


“The vital lifeline service provided by the Post Office Network in Banff & Buchan has already been savaged by cuts and why the Labour Government was so intent on inflicting further damage to local communities is simply beyond me. I am glad that the UK Government has abandoned its plans and applaud the efforts of the many local campaigners that have caused them to think again”.

12 November 2008

STEVENSON SLAMS WESTMINSTER MOVES TO FORCE SINGLE PARENTS INTO WORK

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has condemned moves by the UK Government to force single parents across the UK to find work or face losing up to 40% of their benefits. From the 24th of November 2008, lone parents with children over the age of 12 will be forced to claim for Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), rather than the current income support, with all the penalties for not finding work that this entails. Over the next 2 years, the cut off age will be lowered further to children over the age of 7.

These changes will require lone parents to sign on fortnightly, and have an action plan for seeking employment of at least 16 hours. The longer they are on JSA the more will be required of them to seek paid work, or else they will face sanctions including losing up to 40% of their adult benefit. As benefits are reserved, Westminster’s policy will also apply north of the border.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“It is clear that Westminster seriously undervalues the difficult task lone parents often face in raising their children. Although lone parents who choose to work should receive as much support as possible, I do not believe forcing them into poorly paid jobs with the threat of sanctions is a sensible measure.

“In two years, single parents with children as young as 7 will be forced into finding whatever employment they can. I don’t believe it is acceptable to classify single parents looking after young children as being unemployed, and making what can already be a difficult situation even worse.

“With unemployment figures rising thanks to current economic problems, does the Westminster Government really want to increase the number of people seeking jobs by viewing lone parents as being unemployed? Lone parents and their children in Banff & Buchan will only suffer as a result of this poorly considered move.”

10 November 2008

£8.5 million plan to keep Scotland moving this winter

Scotland’s national transport agency is investing more than ever before in keeping our roads open for business and communities this winter.

Transport Scotland’s £8.5 million winter maintenance plan sees fleets of gritters and hundreds of staff mobilised across the country, putting months of planning into action.

The early arrival of snow and ice this year means operating companies and contractors have already been busy treating affected parts of Scotland’s 2,000 mile motorway and trunk road network.

Now, with more cold weather expected as winter progresses, road users are urged to ensure they do their bit by planning their journeys carefully. Drivers can access the Traffic Scotland website, www.trafficscotland.org, to get 'real-time' journey planning information about road and weather conditions as well as 95 'live-eye' cameras that give a valuable overview of the network.

Transport Scotland has invested in the Traffic Scotland website to ensure the service is resilient and can cope with the additional demand expected when weather conditions worsen.

In addition to the online information, Transport Scotland’s Customer Care Line - 0800 028 1414 - gives access to public transport timetables, making the decision to use a train or bus easier.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson, said:

"Keeping Scotland moving is vital to the Scottish economy, and this significant investment will ensure that our road maintenance companies are able to keep our lifeline routes open for business this winter.

"Obviously mother nature can interfere with the best laid plans, but our operating companies are as well prepared as they have ever been due to this record investment. With some areas having experienced the first cold spell, we are already seeing the benefits and that is set to continue over the coming months.

"Road users can play their part too, and I would urge people to use the Traffic Scotland website and Customer Care Line to check road conditions and all public transport alternatives. Advance journey planning can be a valuable tool which can help speed up journey times for businesses and commuters this winter, whilst bringing benefits for the environment."

Transport Scotland is committed to ensuring winter operations are delivered in a more sustainable way and one recent aspect of this is the use of pre-wetted salt to treat the roads.

This is the second year that all operating companies will have used this type of treatment that adds brine to traditional salt treatments to help it stick to the road. This makes become effective quicker, uses less salt and is therefore more environmentally friendly.

7 November 2008

STEVENSON APPLAUDS £270 MILLION TO REDUCE NHS WAITING TIMES

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has applauded the announcement of £270 million to drive down waiting times for NHS patients across Scotland over the next three years. Of this year’s funding, NHS Grampian will receive £8.298 million to reduce the length of time patients need to wait between referral and treatment to a maximum of 18 weeks by 2011.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“The period between being referred for treatment and receiving that care can be an enormously stressful time for patients, and as such I am sure that this move to reduce waiting times will be welcomed by residents of Banff & Buchan.

“The SNP government are committed to bringing waiting times down to a maximum of 18 weeks, and I am delighted that we have put the money in place to achieve this over the next three years.

“I am confident that hardworking doctors, nurses and members of staff in NHS Grampian will be able to achieve the targeted reduction in waiting times thanks to the money that the Scottish Government is making available. We are committed to continually improving the NHS in Scotland and driving down waiting times for patients is a vital step for us to take”.

STEVENSON WELCOMES FUNDING FOR FISHING VESSEL SAFETY EQUIPMENT

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has echoed Scottish Government calls for Banff & Buchan fishing vessel owners to apply for a share of the £400, 000 that has been made available to maintain safety equipment on Scotland’s fishing fleet.

Individual boats are eligible for up to £250 each as part of the three year action plan agreed between the Scottish Government and the fishing industry’s fuel task force.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“Banff & Buchan’s fishing industry has faced a significant challenge in trying to cope with rising operating costs. Because fish are sold at auction, they are unable to pass these costs onto their customers in the same way that other industries can, which is why Scottish Government support through the current period is needed.

“As well as ensuring that our fishing fleet is as safe as possible through helping to maintain safety equipment, Banff & Buchan skippers will have one less operating expense to worry about.

“I would encourage all fishing vessel owners in Banff & Buchan to apply for this assistance to help reduce their operating costs. In conjunction with other parts of the £29 million of funds made available, it will at least go some way to combating the cost of high fuel prices”.

3 November 2008

Commuters to benefit from new rail services

Rail passengers across Scotland are set to benefit from timetable improvements introduced this winter. The new services will take effect from the commencement of the winter timetable on Sunday 14 December.

Operated by First ScotRail, improvements for rail passengers on the Aberdeen to Inverness via Inverurie route will see a significantly improved morning service, allowing more people to make the switch to public transport for their commute to work. As part of the service improvements, passengers will see:

Improved frequency of through services between Edinburgh to/from Inverurie via Aberdeen and calling at Dyce, with six services increasing to 10.

An improved spread of morning peak services from Inverurie to Aberdeen, with three extra trains and two extra departures during the evening peak period.

The timetable improvements come in the wake of significant work to enhance Inverurie Station. The single carriage road bridge at the station has been replaced by a new two lane structure and, as part of the project, step-free access has been provided to platform two for Aberdeen-bound trains.

The new bridge also provides a good step free walking route between platforms for the first time, significantly improving disabled access.

Rail passengers on the Edinburgh-Perth-Inverness route will now benefit from:

An hourly service between Edinburgh and Perth, with some services continuing to Inverness, and an hourly Edinburgh-Dundee service introduced as a result of changed stopping patterns in Fife.

A new morning commuter service from Blair Atholl at 0712, calling at Pitlochry at 0726 and Dunkeld at 0739, allowing for an arrival in Perth at 0759.

A new 0510 service from Perth to Edinburgh, providing a connection into the 0700 train to London. Dunblane and Bridge of Allan customers will also benefit from a connection to the early morning London train. The 0530 Stirling – Edinburgh service will start from Dunblane at 0521 and call at Bridge of Allan at 0524.

The package of improvements in the far north will see:

A new fourth Far North service introduced between Inverness and Thurso and Wick, providing an afternoon service from Inverness and connection for the evening Scrabster – Stromness ferry. It also complements the additional southbound service introduced in December 2006.

Four services in each direction (Monday to Saturday) on the Kyle of Lochalsh line all year round.

A new service on Friday and Saturday evenings from Inverness to Tain, departing at 23.20. Three additional Sunday services, each way, between Tain and Inverness, and a fourth train each way between Invergordon and Inverness

Retiming of services aimed at improving connections and frequency of services for commuter journeys with connections from north of Inverness to the morning National Express service to London Kings Cross.

Commuters at Aviemore and Carrbridge will benefit from a retimed morning service, arriving in Inverness at 0846, and Carrbridge customers will benefit further with the 1656 Inverness to Edinburgh service calling additionally at Carrbridge at 1727.

Meanwhile, a package of improvements for rail passengers between Glasgow and Gourock will see revised departure times on Sundays to improve connections with ferry services at Gourock.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"These new services will mean even more people will have the opportunity to make the switch to public transport.

"We are working hard to identify locations under-served by the existing rail network and are investing significantly in extending services – both in terms of expanding infrastructure and plugging gaps in the timetable.

"The rail network in Scotland makes a significant contribution to Scotland’s economic and social health, which is why we are announcing a series of service improvements across Scotland, making the switch to pubic transport an easier one."

Mary Grant, Managing Director of First ScotRail, said:

"First ScotRail works closely with Transport Scotland to identify opportunities to provide additional services, improve journey times and meet the needs of communities across the country.

"This new, more frequent timetable will benefit our customers and help us meet the growing demand for rail travel."

New look, easier to read timetables will be available at staff stations from mid November. Full details of the new winter timetable can also be found online at www.firstscotrail.com.

31 October 2008

CUSTOMS ADMIT HEAVY-HANDED APPROACH TO AGRICULTURAL SHOWS ON RED DIESEL

MSP WINS ASSURANCE THAT POLICY WILL BE REVIEWED

Scottish National Party MSP for Banff & Buchan Stewart Stevenson has won an assurance from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) that they will review their policy on the use of tractors at agricultural shows in respect of red diesel.

Mr Stevenson was prompted to write to Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling following concerns that a heavy-handed approach taken to shows in the North of England could spread to the North-east. Officials at Wooler Show in Northumberland were left stunned when they were told farmers who volunteered to help set up the show using their tractors would be penalised for using red diesel. HMRC then suggested to the show that it should buy its own tractor for the 2-3 hours work it would be required for each year.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“I was concerned to note the rather heavy-handed approach taken by HMRC officials at a show in the North of England. Agricultural shows are one of the mainstays of the rural calendar and many of them rely on voluntary assistance from local farmers without which many shows would simply not be able to take place.

“The advice from HMRC that shows should consider buying a cheap second-hand tractor for such duties, was completely disproportionate, bearing in mind we are talking about an annual event and probably something of the order of a couple of hours’ work each year.

“I therefore wrote to the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, being fearful of the knock-on effects for shows in the North-east. I am pleased to say that the tone of the reply I have received from HMRC is very conciliatory.

“HMRC have recognised that their activities at and around agricultural shows can be seen as heavy handed and agree that the advice given to go out and buy a tractor was completely disproportionate.

“The fact that HMRC have accepted this and are now reviewing their policy in this regard gives grounds for cautious optimism that common-sense might now prevail and shows in the North-east such as Turriff and New Deer won’t be penalised in the same way that Wooler Show was.”

29 October 2008

STEVENSON WELCOMES HIGHER BANFF & BUCHAN DENTIST REGISTRATION NUMBERS

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the news that the number of dental registrations in Banff & Buchan has increased since March 2007. The number of people who are now registered with an NHS dentist in the Banff & Buchan Scottish Parliament constituency has risen from 36, 938 in March 2007 to 41, 734 in June this year.

This increase means that 55.5% of Banff & Buchan residents are now registered, up 6.4% from the 49.1% that were registered before the election.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“It is extremely pleasing that more and more people in Banff & Buchan now have access to an NHS dentist. The ability to access an NHS dentist is something that the SNP strongly believes should be available to as many people as possible, and everyone that is working to deliver this goal should be commended for their efforts.

“The best way to increase the number of people who are registered with an NHS dentist is to increase the number of dentists in Scotland, and I believe that the fact that the number of NHS dentists in Scotland has risen by 4.1% is key to understanding how these improvements have been achieved.

“Although as a constituency we are still slightly behind the Scottish average, we are making clear progress in the right direction and I am confident that as the new £21 million dental school in Aberdeen trains more dentists, we will see further improvements in access in Banff & Buchan.

“There is still further progress to make, but I am confident that the SNP government will continue to do everything in its power to improve the condition of NHS dentistry in Banff & Buchan”.

27 October 2008

Tackling climate change

Scotland will be at the forefront of global action on climate change, Finance Secretary John Swinney said today as he set out the key components of the Scottish Climate Change Bill.

Mr Swinney said that by including international aviation and shipping, emissions from all six greenhouse gases, and annual targets, Scotland will have the most ambitious Bill to tackle climate change anywhere in the world.

Commenting on over 21,000 responses to the Scottish Government's consultation on a draft Climate Change Bill, Mr Swinney said:

"Climate change is one of the most serious threats we face as a global community and we all need to play our part in tackling it. The Scottish Government has always been clear that Scotland will play a leading role in the international fight against climate change.

"I was delighted to hear last week that the UK Government will move to equal the Scottish Government's position of an 80 per cent reduction in emissions. However, the Scottish Bill will go even further.

"This Government has taken the bold decision to include emissions from international aviation and shipping within its targets. Scotland benefits greatly from international trade and travel and we believe it is right to take responsibility for the Scottish share of these emissions.

"Achieving these targets will be challenging. But I'm confident that Government, business and the people of Scotland are ready to rise to the challenge of climate change."

Mr Swinney was accompanied by Climate Change Minister Stewart Stevenson on a joint visit to an innovative Easterhouse community project which uses wind turbines to reduce energy bills and electricity consumption.

Climate Change Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"Climate change is having a major impact on the world we live in and we must all be prepared to play our part.

"As a Government we've put renewable energy at the heart of our vision of tackling climate change and we want to harness our massive clean energy potential and make Scotland the green energy capital of Europe.

"We have already announced a total private investment of 1 billion pounds in renewable energy projects in Scotland, including the huge Clyde windfarm, and we have trebled the budgets for grants for small scale renewables.

"We are investing in public transport infrastructure that tackles congestion and promoting other forms of sustainable travel such as cycling and walking to enable everyone to play their part.

"Scotland's Climate Change Bill will put this country at the forefront of global action."

Welcoming the Scottish Government's announcement Dr Richard Dixon, Director of WWF Scotland said:

"Of course we will have to look at the full detail in the draft Bill but what the Scottish Government are promising amounts to the best climate change legislation in the world. With our great ingenuity and massive renewable energy resources, Scotland is well placed to lead on delivering these kinds of tough climate targets. As we run up to the crucial Copenhagen climate conference at the end of 2009 Scotland will be setting the benchmark for all other industrialised countries to live up to.

"This is a huge success for our campaigners, who sent 20,000 messages of support to the Scottish Government from all over Scotland and from countries around the world. Including international aviation and shipping also helps those working at Westminster to get these growing emissions sources included in a vital vote tomorrow on the UK Climate Change Bill.

Duncan McLaren, Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said:

"The global community will only succeed in preventing dangerous climate change if richer nations demonstrate ambitious steps to cut emissions swiftly. Friends of the Earth Scotland welcomes today's announcement, which offers the prospect that Scotland could take such a role, with a Bill that sets comprehensive targets and provides strong drivers to ensure they are met. We look forward to the Bill itself, and the strategy to deliver it."

Scotland's Climate Change Bill will be brought before Parliament later this year.

Over 21,000 responses were received to the Scottish Government's consultation on a draft climate change bill.

The Bill will establish a legal framework for emissions reductions in the run up to 2050.

20 October 2008

A9 Bankfoot improvement project takes another step forward

The A9 Bankfoot Junction Improvement scheme has taken another significant step forward following publication of the Made Slip Road and Side Road Orders and Compulsory Purchase Order for the scheme.

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. Work will also be carried out to improve the existing junction onto the northbound A9.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"This is an important scheme for communities using this vital route which connects Perthshire and the Highlands with the central belt.

“There is no doubt this scheme will improve safety and boost the local economy once completed. "

Final costs will be known once tenders are received later this year. Construction is expected to start next Spring and last approximately six months.

More information on the project can be obtained by visiting A9 Bankfoot Junction improvement

19 October 2008

Cheaper fares for ferry users

Ferry fares are being cut by up to half on all Western Isles to mainland routes from today as the 'Road Equivalent Tariff' (RET) pilot gets underway.

The Scottish Government is using this pilot to consider how the current ferry fares system can be improved by introducing a fairer RET scheme which would bring cheaper travel for islanders, tourists and businesses across the country.

The pilot will operate until the spring of 2011.

Welcoming the launch of the scheme Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"For years, our remote and fragile communities have been expressing concerns about the affordability of ferry travel and the impact this has on islanders.

"Expensive ferry fares can be damaging, not only to our local economies, but to our national economy. We want to take action to address this.

"This is the first pilot which has sought to overhaul the way fares are calculated and the aim is to establish a cheaper and fairer system for ferry users right across the country.

"While initially focussing on a pilot on routes to the Western Isles, we want this test case to pave the way for cheaper fares for all our island communities. The final phase of the study will involve a full evaluation of the pilot exercise and offer options for rolling the scheme out to our other island communities.

"RET is a vision for the future of ferry fares, and this pilot could open the door to a fairer, cheaper system for every ferry user in Scotland. "

Alex Paterson, HIE's regional director said:

"We welcome the development of this pilot which will test the impact of Road Equivalent Tariff as a fare paying mechanism. This pilot is part of a range of work on reviewing transport options which contribute to the goal of establishing mainland equivalence for Scotland's islands.

"We look forward to the outcome of the pilot and evaluating the social and economic change arising from Road Equivalent Tariff fares being applied to these ferry routes."

Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) involves setting ferry fares on the basis of the cost of travelling an equivalent distance by road.

High ferry fares have been seen by many as a barrier to economic growth on the islands. Lowering the fares to a level analogous to mainland traffic costs could act as a boost to island economies by reducing freight costs to local businesses, lowering the cost of living for island residents and making the islands more attractive to tourists.

The routes for the pilot study will be: Ullapool - Stornoway, Uig - Tarbert (Harris)/Lochmaddy (North Uist) and Oban - Castlebay (Barra), Lochboisdale (South Uist) and Oban to Coll and Tiree.

The pilot commences on Sunday 19th October 2008, the start of CalMac's winter timetable, and will run until spring 2011. This will allow it to be fully assessed on its effectiveness, and to identify both positive and any possible negative implications of a RET scheme. This will include the gathering of traffic statistics and information from, for example, ferry users and local employers (including the freight and tourist sectors) designed to allow the impact of the pilot (especially in economic and social terms) to be assessed.

The study to develop the pilot was carried out by experienced consultants specialising in transport and economics. The consultants will also monitor the pilot and provide a final evaluation. The fares will include a core cost plus an RET rate as set out below:

Passengers

Core rate: £2

RET rate: 10p per mile

Cars

Core rate: £5

RET rate: 60p per mile

Commercial Vehicles (CVs)

Core rate: £20

RET rate: 18p per lane metre per mile.

The findings from the independent research study to establish the most effective structure for an RET pilot confirmed that:
  • The pilot will operate on all the Western Isles to mainland routes.
A formula has been determined for the road equivalent tariff system as follows:
  • Cars and small vehicles will be based on a flat fee of £5 plus 60p per mile, rather than the current fare
  • Passengers will be based at £2 plus 10p per mile
  • Goods vehicles will be based on a flat fare of £20 plus 18p per lane metre per mile
  • The new formula will result in up to 50% off fares
  • All ferry users will benefit from the reduction in fares - islanders, businesses and tourists
  • The pilot will run for 30 months to ensure it can be properly assessed and the policy subsequently developed to ensure it delivers maximum benefits for all
The 60p per mile rate suggested by the consultants was broadly comparable with the cost of running an average family car as identified by both the AA and RAC. Consultants also considered long-standing HMRC rates.

To further simplify matters the fares structure will be based on the cost of a single fare. The proposed costs of the single tickets will be significantly less than, or at least the same as, those currently available when all discounts have been applied, including multi journey tickets. This means that passengers do not need to purchase multi journey tickets to benefit from reduced fares.

The pilot study will be closely monitored and the key stakeholder group, made up of senior representatives of the local authorities, regional transport partnerships and ferry operators, will be closely involved in the monitoring of the pilot with regular updates. Areas not included in the pilot will also be monitored to ensure that there is no negative impact from the pilot on other areas.

The third phase of the study will involve an evaluation of the pilot, making use of the information gathered through the baseline and monitoring exercises. In addition to assessing the impact of the pilot, the evaluation will attempt to quantify both the costs and benefits which would arise should RET be applied on a permanent basis and rolled out to other ferry routes in the Clyde and Hebrides and Northern Isles networks and the likely longer-term impacts of such a roll out. This stage will seek to identify any capacity constraints that would emerge from a permanent roll out and quantify the cost of increasing the capacity to meet demand (e.g. through additional or larger vessels and new shore infrastructure).

15 October 2008

STEVENSON DELIGHTED BY BANFF GOLDEN GIRL’S MEDAL SUCCESS

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has expressed his delight at the news that Kay Copland from Banff has won a gold medal in the 50m prone women’s rifle competition at the Youth Commonwealth Games in Pune, India.

44 athletes are flying the flag for Scotland at the Youth Games where, for the first time, all 71 Commonwealth countries will participate in the competition. It is hoped that many of the athletes who take part and win medals in Pune will go on to compete for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi 2010, London Olympics in 2012 and Glasgow in 2014.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“I am delighted that Scotland’s first gold medal at this year’s Youth Commonwealth Games has been won by Kay. I know that her family, friends, and everybody in Banff & Buchan will be enormously proud of her success.

“With this medal under her belt, I am sure the future will hold many further successes for Kay in the years leading up to Glasgow 2014. Her victory will be a tremendous experience for her and I am sure that all of Banff & Buchan will be cheering her on to further victories in future competitions.”

10 October 2008

MSP Gets Lochhead’s Support on Farm 4x4 Taxes

Local MSP Stewart Stevenson has received a positive response from Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead to suggestions that essential agricultural users of four-wheel drive vehicles be registered for a rebate scheme for road tax or fuel duty. The issues of fuel duty and taxation are, of course, reserved to the Westminster Government in London and Mr Stevenson also wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject following meetings with local NFUS branches in his constituency. Mr Stevenson also took the opportunity to write to Richard Lochhead in the Scottish Government seeking his support in lobbying London for such a move and is delighted that the Cabinet Secretary has done so.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“The financial pressures facing farmers and others involved in the agriculture industry are immense at the moment. Some of these are due to external factors but some of these can be mitigated against by Government action. Clearly, on many farms, the trusty Land Rover or other four-wheel drive is a working vehicle and is used in the day to day running of the farm and tending of livestock.

“There is a case to be argued for these vehicles to be treated differently in terms of the taxation they attract when they are engaged in legitimate agricultural activities. I am delighted that Richard Lochhead has thrown his weight behind the suggestion and has also lobbied HM Treasury in London on this matter. It is now up to the Chancellor to show that he values the contribution to the economy made by Scotland’s agriculture sector.”

MSP Welcomes Commencement of Chalmers Hospital Upgrade

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the commencement of work on the £15.8 million redevelopment of Chalmers Hospital and Health Centre in Banff.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“We have seen with the local campaigns across Banff & Buchan over recent years on maternity units and renal dialysis that local is best so I am very pleased that work has now started on this project.

“It is clear that people want to receive treatment in their own community and this investment in health facilities brings closer the time when a new range of treatments will be available in Banff and district where previously patients had to travel long distances to access these.”

9 October 2008

STEVENSON WELCOMES BANFF ACADEMY PUPILS TO PARLIAMENT

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has met with S4 pupils of Banff Academy during a class trip to the Scottish Parliament. The modern studies class took the opportunity to discuss a range of issues with their constituency MSP, ranging from Scottish independence to the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“I am always delighted when I get the chance to welcome young people from Banff & Buchan to the Scottish Parliament. It is an excellent idea for students to visit the Scottish Parliament, meet with MSPs and witness at first hand how the Scottish political system works.

“I hope that they enjoyed their visit and that it will have given them insights into Scottish Politics that they will find useful in their studies. I was impressed by their enthusiasm and keen questioning that reflects extremely well upon the class and their teacher.”

8 October 2008

STEVENSON APPLAUDS FUNDING FOR BANFF & BUCHAN CARE PROJECT

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the announcement that Deveron Care Services (DCS) will receive a grant of £40,266 from the Big Lottery Fund. The money will fund the Deveron Care and Carers Centre, which will provide a secure base and long term sustainability for DCS, to continue providing care at home services for elderly, infirm and disabled adults.

Through the purchase of a former doctors surgery, this one-year project will enable DCS to retain administrative and training premises in the centre of Banff and gradually expand care services to a wider geographical area and deliver to other disadvantaged community members

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“This is excellent news for Deveron Care Services and the many local residents that they support. The important work that they do has a significant impact on the lives of many of Banff & Buchan’s most vulnerable residents, and I am delighted that they will now be able to expand their efforts thanks to this funding.

“The support that Deveron Care Services provides to families and unpaid carers is invaluable, and this fact has clearly been recognised with this funding.

“I am sure that everyone involved in making this bid a success will be immensely proud of their efforts and I am sure that everyone in the community will share my pleasure upon hearing of their success.”

STEVENSON DELIGHTED BY OPENING OF ABERDEEN DENTAL SCHOOL

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the opening of Aberdeen’s new dental school and the improvements in access to NHS dentists that will follow from it. The centre will help to increase the numbers of qualified dentists across Scotland, with 20 students expected to enter the profession from the Aberdeen school every year.

Incentives are in place to encourage graduates to work within the NHS and it is expected many will choose to practise in the North-East of Scotland, thereby improving access to NHS dentistry for thousands of people across the region.

£21 million of funding has been put into the project by the Scottish Government and NHS Grampian, and students at the dental school will move into their new building from October 2009. The state-of-the-art complex will feature facilities for radiography, restorative dentistry, consultant orthodontics, dental laboratories, student laboratories and office accommodation.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“The opening of this new dental school will help make dental services more easily available to residents of Banff & Buchan. By increasing the number of qualified dentists practising in the North East, we will hopefully help put an end to the difficulties in accessing NHS dentistry that has plagued the region.

“This school is not an overnight solution, but once students begin to graduate from it we can expect to see a real difference to the availability of dental services in Banff & Buchan.

“Tackling the lack of access to a dentist that many people in this part of Scotland have experienced was an important election promise, and I am delighted that the SNP Government has moved so quickly to keep fulfil its commitment.

“There is still a long way to go in reaching the level of access to dentists that we would like to see, but I am delighted that such a significant step forward has now been taken.”

3 October 2008

Giant crane to lift £5 million Harthill Footbridge into place

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson will visit M8 Harthill Services this evening to watch the new £5 million footbridge being lifted into place.

Communities in and around Harthill will have a good view this weekend as Britain’s largest mobile crane carefully manoeuvres the new footbridge into place. The lift marks one of the final stages in Transport Scotland’s project to replace the existing bridge with this new landmark structure.

Transport Minister, Stewart Stevenson, said:

"This is a fantastic project and I am delighted to see this new bridge being lifted into place. It is a much-needed replacement for the existing bridge which will be welcomed by communities in and around Harthill. The innovative design will ensure it becomes an instant landmark, whilst encouraging people out of their cars in favour of the new local transport interchange."

Contractor Raynesway Construction has constructed the project, which will all but complete the redevelopment of the Harthill site, on Transport Scotland’s behalf. Commenting on this significant achievement, Raynesway Construction’s Managing Director Keith Moorhead said:

"Tonight’s event is the culmination of many months of detailed coordination and planning by the project team and the many others involved in this complex operation.

"The safe installation of the footbridge involving the closure of the M8 Motorway at Harthill required the close cooperation of many parties and thanks and appreciation must go to all those involved. The support of the road users and the local communities in and around Harthill is also appreciated.

"This project is a good example of how modern systems of work can safely deliver infrastructure improvements and we are delighted to again be supporting Transport Scotland with this project".

The eye-catching structure comprises a spiral design formed from tubular steel. It has been fabricated off-site and delivered in seven sections which have now been welded together. It has received its final aluminium silver paint finish and its fully enclosed glazed walkway has been put in place ready for the lift.

The crane involved in the lift has a 90m long jib and a lifting capacity of 1200 tonnes. Over 45 articulated lorries were used to deliver the crane components to site and assembling these components was a major feat in itself.

The carefully managed operation to lift the new 92-metre structure into place involves slowly hoisting and rotating it over the existing footbridge. It is a delicate operation that requires the closure of the M8 on Friday between 7.30pm and 6.00am.

For further details of the project see M8 Harthill Footbridge Replacement

1 October 2008

Upper Forth Crossing will open as 'Clackmannanshire Bridge'

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson announced today that the new multi-million pound crossing over the upper Forth near Kincardine will open on 19 November as the 'Clackmannanshire Bridge'.

Transport Scotland’s £120 million crossing, which will open up economic opportunities for the surrounding areas and ease congestion in Kincardine, is close to completion with only minor finishing works to be carried out. The bridge is expected to give Clackmannanshire a major boost, by connecting 'The Wee County' with the motorway and trunk road network for the first time.

Transport Minister, Stewart Stevenson said:

"I am delighted that this landmark project for Scotland is just weeks away from opening. This impressive new bridge will bring economic benefits to communities across Fife and Central Scotland, opening up access, whilst easing congestion, and improving safety.

"That so many people took part in the consultation exercise to name the bridge is a clear indication of its importance to the surrounding communities and we thought long and hard before deciding on the final name. I am delighted that we can now reveal our choice of name as the 'Clackmannanshire Bridge'."

After the M74 Completion project now underway in Glasgow, it is the second largest road construction scheme currently on the ground in Scotland and has been constructed by contractor Morgan VINCI, a joint venture between infrastructure services company Morgan Est and VINCI Construction Grands Projets.

It has involved one of the longest deck pushes of its kind in the world and the 26-span bridge, weighs over 32,000 tonnes and is three-quarters of a mile(1.2 km) in length.

As well as the bridge itself, the project also involved extensive improvements to the connecting trunk road network, with 3.6 miles (6km) of roads and 3 miles (5 km) of cycleways being constructed, as well as associated roundabouts.

The public consultation exercise for the naming process attracted over 178 different suggestions with around 30 per cent of those attracting support from more than one person. Suggestions ranged from the final chosen name to the more light hearted ones such as 'Bridge at Jones Diary' and 'Blackadder Crossing'.

This consultation was held in order to gather everyone’s views and was not a vote. However, responses were overwhelmingly in favour of Clackmannanshire Bridge. New signs with the name 'Clackmannanshire Bridge' will be erected on the near approaches to this bridge.

For further details on the project see Upper Forth Crossing

29 September 2008

STEVENSON URGES BANFF & BUCHAN RESIDENTS TO TAKE UP FREE FLU JABS

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson is urging high-risk groups of society to take up the free flu jabs offered on the NHS, and ensure they are protected for a year. This week marks this start of the Scottish Government’s annual flu and pneumcoccal immunisation campaign running over the winter months, but the SNP MSP is greatly concerned that many people are unaware that they are eligible for a free jab.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“Last year only around 40% of eligible people under the age of 65 came forward for their jab. This is mainly because they do not know that they qualify.

“It’s a common misconception that only older people are eligible. In actual fact, many others are considered ‘at risk’ – including healthcare workers and carers, and people with certain conditions. If these people do not get vaccinated, they are leaving themselves vulnerable to the effects of the virus.

“It only takes a minute to get a jab, but it will keep you protected for 12 months, and could potentially save your life. I would urge all eligible people throughout Banff & Buchan to make an appointment with their GP for their free vaccination.”

26 September 2008

STEVENSON WELCOMES SUMMIT TO TACKLE DISCARDED FISH

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the fishing discards summit hosted in Edinburgh by the Scottish Government to try and tackle the problem of perfectly good fish being caught and discarded to comply with European fishing regulations.

Every year, around 100, 000 tonnes of fish are dumped back at sea when they could have made around £40 million if they had been sold instead. The summit marks the beginning of a campaign by the Scottish Government to bring about changes to European fishing rules so that this hideous waste is brought to an end.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“Discarding so many perfectly good fish is not something that either the fishing industry or the decision makers in Brussels wants to happen. The current rules are responsible for causing this terrible practice, so clearly the rules have to be rewritten to find a better way for the fishing fleet to operate.

“Skippers in Banff & Buchan don’t want to waste perfectly good fish by being forced to throw them back overboard. The practice runs completely counter to the aim of conserving fish stocks and making the industry sustainable.

“The Scottish Government is calling for new European rules whereby the fleet catches less fish overall but is able to land the marketable fish it is currently having to discard. In this way, fishing stocks will be preserved while at the same time the wasteful practice of discards will become unnecessary.

“Obviously there is a lot of negotiating to do if we are to have any chance of successfully changing European rules, but I am confident that every effort will be put into bringing these needed changes about”.
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