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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
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