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30 December 2010

Local Health Services Take Tory Tax Hit

PUBLIC SERVICES BEARING BRUNT

Health services used by people in Banff & Buchan will be hit by a multi-million pound tax bill as the Tory Government’s VAT rise kicks in at the beginning of January. The VAT increase is opposed by Banff & Buchan SNP MP Eilidh Whiteford, and MSP Stewart Stevenson.

Added to the increase in National Insurance payments that the NHS is picking up the total cost to NHS Grampian is around £4 million.

Because the NHS employs a high number of people it is particularly exposed to the National Insurance changes.

In total the Scottish NHS will have to pay around 17 million pounds in extra National Insurance payments to the London Treasury this coming year and a further 26.5 million pounds increase in VAT payments. A total of over 43 million pounds being lost from frontline services directly to the London Treasury.

In the election the Tories claimed they would scrap Labour’s tax on jobs and immediately after the Tory government’s budget David Cameron told Moray SNP MP Angus Robertson that “our action on national insurance contributions has saved the NHS money”. However backtracking by the Tories have left the rise in place.

Commenting on the multi-million pound tax bill directly hitting local health service users SNP MSP for Banff & Buchan Stewart Stevenson said:

“The Tory government is hitting NHS Grampian with a multi-million pound tax bill and the people who will suffer are the patients.

“This is a double tax bombshell for the NHS – a grotesque Christmas present where the NHS has to pay the UK Government back for the misleading pledges of the Westminster parties.

“Labour introduced the damaging changes to National Insurance, the Tories have left it in place and it is Scotland’s public services and our economy that will pay the price.

“The cost to NHS Grampian is equivalent to over 150 nurses salaries per year.”

Local MP Eilidh Whiteford added:

“The Prime Minister claimed he was saving the NHS money when in fact he is costing it millions.

“Whilst all the London parties have shown they can’t be trusted on tax it is the SNP which is the party that stands for Scotland's people and Scotland's interests. While Tory, Labour and Lib Dem planned to take taxes from Scotland’s NHS the SNP has worked hard to put more money into our health service to ensure it remains the first quality service we all want to see.

“Our public services across Banff & Buchan are being hit by massive tax bills in the coming year over and above the huge budget cuts coming from Tory-led government and people in the North-east are facing a double whammy on public services.”

23 December 2010

Stevenson Hails Efforts Of Royal Mail In Wintry Conditions

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament congratulating the Royal Mail on the efforts they are making to deliver the post this Christmas, despite the arctic conditions having caused many private couriers to stop serving Scotland.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“If there was ever any need for a demonstration of why it is essential that the Royal Mail is not sold off, it is the sterling efforts that are being made to cope with the Christmas post despite the heavy snow and ice we have experienced.

“Private couriers have effectively cut Scotland off and this is what we risk happening to our post service if Tory plans to sell the Royal Mail go ahead.

“The universal service obligation is a cornerstone of the Royal Mail and recent weeks have shown how important it is that it be maintained. Postal workers have worked incredibly hard and I applaud them for their efforts at ensuring people in Scotland can enjoy a merry Christmas.”

22 December 2010

Stevenson Welcomes EU Action Over Mackerel Dispute

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the news that European Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki will seek to ban Icelandic fishing vessels from landing their catch in EU ports at a meeting of the European Economic Area (EEA) to be held before January 14. The move follows unsuccessful attempts to resolve the current dispute over the massive mackerel quota that Iceland has unilaterally awarded itself. Norway has already taken action to close its ports to Icelandic and Faroese fishing vessels.

Mackerel is the Scottish fishing industry’s most profitable fish, and the Scottish fleet has won prestigious Marine Stewardship Certification for the sustainable way the fishery has been managed. However, that careful stock management and the profitability of the Scottish Pelagic fleet is at severe risk following the actions of Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“The actions of Iceland and the Faroe Islands in this matter have been utterly unacceptable. Choosing to ignore international agreements and the interests of countries that have been fishing mackerel sustainably for years is little more than piracy.

“Closing the EU’s ports to mackerel caught by Icelandic vessels will not in itself solve the problem, but it does send the clearest possible message that the European Union will not stand for this behaviour.

“Clearly negotiations must continue, but it would be a disaster for Banff & Buchan if the Scottish pelagic fleet loses out as a result of the actions of Iceland and the Faroe Islands. I welcome the fact that the EU seems to recognise this and is moving towards meaningful sanctions.

“I can only hope that Iceland and the Faroe Islands will now recognise that their actions will not be tolerated and will finally see reason over the need to find an agreement which will not cause irreparable harm to the Scottish pelagic fleet and the sustainability of mackerel stocks.”

20 December 2010

MSP Welcomes Announcement Water Charges To Remain Steady

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed today’s announcement that Scottish Water’s combined water and waste water service charges will remain steady for households across Scotland during 2011/2012.

Commenting Mr Stevenson said:

“In these financially difficult times this is good news for hard pressed families and shows that the Scottish Government has been overseeing our public finances effectively.

“With plans to deliver a council tax freeze these charges will be a welcome relief to many families and households in Banff & Buchan.

“Every little helps and all households will feel the benefit of improved services at reduced prices.

“The Scottish Government is doing its best to assist householders in these difficult times and today’s announcement by Scottish Water underlines that hard work.”

15 December 2010

Stevenson Calls For Urgent Reform Following Annual EU Fisheries Negotiations

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has again called for the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy to be replaced with a system of regional management where those with the greatest stake in successfully managing fisheries are given that responsibility. This year’s negotiations saw Scotland successfully negotiate for most of its key priorities, but a number of challenging quota reductions remain for the Scottish fishing industry to face.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“It has almost become a ritual that the annual EU fisheries negotiations see the Scottish fishing industry presented with restrictions that will make the next year even more difficult than the one that preceded it.

“Most Scottish priorities were successfully won in extremely difficult circumstances, including the extension of the catch-quota scheme which allows skippers to land more fish and removes the heartbreaking practice of discards.

“The size of the quota reductions for a number of stocks were also successfully improved upon so that the new limits are not as harsh as they could have been. However, despite that there is no getting away from the fact that the coming year will continue to be extremely difficult for the fishing industry in Banff & Buchan.

“These negotiations again show the urgent need for the discredited CFP to be replaced with a system of regional management that fits the actual conditions in the waters around Scotland. The era of top down management from Brussels has been an unmitigated disaster for Scotland’s fishing industry and it is long past time for it to end.”

11 December 2010

Stewart Stevenson

Please find enclosed an exchange of letters between Stewart Stevenson MSP and First Minister Alex Salmond this afternoon, in which Mr Stevenson tenders his resignation as Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change.

The First Minister will announce tomorrow who will assume Mr Stevenson's responsibilities, and meantime the Finance Secretary John Swinney is in charge of these matters.

Letter from Stewart Stevenson MSP to First Minister:

Dear Alex,

When we met on Thursday night I said to you that I felt I should resign as Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change. You kindly asked me to take Friday to consider whether that was the appropriate action to take. I took that time to think this through and I have decided to resign.

Within my range of responsibilities I have concentrated on developing the Government's winter preparedness and in recent weeks that plan has helped us manage a prolonged and acute spell of weather. On Monday we faced an even greater challenge. Although we put in place significant efforts to tackle the event, I feel that I could have done much more to ensure that members of the public who were caught up in a difficult and frightening set of circumstances were better informed of the situation. I deeply regret that and for that reason I feel I should step down.

I am also conscious there has been a lot of party politics in the last few days and that my continued presence in Government would be used politically by our opponents. I have not devoted my adult life to winning Scottish independence and to working for and serving in this first SNP Government to allow that to happen.

Over the last three and a half years I have sought to give all that I can to serving as a Minister and believe that many of the initiatives put in place have helped to develop our transport infrastructure and support our economy. It was, however, a particular pleasure to be the Minister who steered the climate change legislation through the Scottish Parliament.

I thank you for your constant support and encouragement over that period and can assure you that I will enthusiastically support the work of this SNP Government from the backbenches.

Letter to Stewart Stevenson MSP from the First Minister:

Dear Stewart,

Thank you for your letter. I appreciated the opportunity to meet with you face to face, first on Thursday evening and again this morning.

I accept your resignation with great regret. Even your harshest critic would admit that you have always pursued any task you have addressed with diligence and devotion. Both these qualities have been evident in your service as a Minister in this first SNP Government.

I understand your reasons for resigning but frankly I think it is wrong that you should have faced this situation. You have worked to ensure the preparedness of our transport network for winter weather. These plans have generally proved effective but on Monday we were faced by an unprecedented challenge.

There were indeed problems with communication with those suffering extreme difficulty, but just as no man can tether time nor tide, sometimes the elements are beyond anyone's control. It is reprehensible that while you have been concentrating on addressing the practical issues facing our people, some of our opponents have been engaged in no more than parliamentary game playing. I do not consider that to be fair and neither will most decent people in Scotland.

You have a Ministerial career of substance. You brought forward the Strategic Transport Projects Review. You developed our approach on planning reform. You have taken the Forth Replacement Crossing Project to the point of Parliamentary endorsement. Above all else, your successful championing of our world leading Climate Change legislation is an achievement of which any politician in any parliament should be immensely proud.

I know also that John Swinney deeply appreciates the strength of your contribution to the Finance and Sustainable Growth portfolio.

I warmly thank you for all that you have done in serving this first SNP Government and extend my good wishes to Sandra and to you.

7 December 2010

Travelling public have helped clear-up by avoiding non-urgent travel

The Scottish Government and police forces have renewed their advice this afternoon (7 December) for drivers to make only essential journeys, despite progress made today in opening some parts of the roads network.

The M8 Westbound J1-5 is expected to remain closed overnight, while drivers have also been urged particularly to avoid the A80 Stepps to Haggs and M74 Hamilton Services.

The guidance came as 327 staff using 63 vehicles and spreading over 2,400 tonnes of salt had worked round the clock to clear the motorway and trunk road network across Scotland. There have been more than a dozen instances of jack-knifed lorries on the central motorway network overnight. Pupils who had been forced to spend the night in their schools in Lanarkshire and Glasgow have all returned home earlier today. The Education Secretary has passed on his thanks to the local authority and school staff who helped care for the pupils overnight.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

“This has been a very difficult period for the motorists caught in congestion overnight after yesterday’s ‘perfect storm’ of heavy snowfall at the peak of rush-hour in our most populated region brought key routes to a halt.

“With many people heeding the advice only to travel certain routes this morning where absolutely necessary, that has provided a window of opportunity for agencies to accelerate their work to clear roadways of snow, ice and stricken vehicles, and this has enabled the situation to be improved throughout the day. However, many routes remain treacherous and traffic movement slow.

“As the snow has been cleared, extremely low temperatures continue to pose further challenges, for example on the M8 Westbound which remains closed tonight with thick sheet ice. Heavy plant has been brought in where transport operators reported that two snow plough blades have broken.

“The Scottish Government’s Resilience Room was again active throughout the night, co-ordinating work with Transport Scotland, police and other agencies to tackle the consequences of the extraordinary weather conditions. Police have been working extremely hard night and day, assisting those stranded or who had abandoned their cars - with more than 2,400 officers deployed in the Strathclyde force alone.

“The First Minister chaired a ministerial meeting of SGoRR at St Andrew's House, Edinburgh, this morning and again this afternoon, enabling the various agencies to ensure that resources are most effectively and promptly directed to get people moving.

"Motorists have been incredibly patient during what are the most extreme conditions Scotland has seen in decades and I would urge people to continue to follow local police advice in terms of making only essential journeys while the recovery operation moves towards completion.”

Meanwhile, rail services and bus services continue to be affected by weather conditions and ScotRail and Network Rail are working towards restoring the reduced timetables that the industry has adopted since the onset of the severe winter weather. Travellers are strongly advised to check the ScotRail website and Traveline before they travel.

HGVs’ keeping us on the move

4 DAY EXTENSION TO DRIVER'S HOURS RELAXATION SECURED BY TRANSPORT MINISTER

Scotland’s haulage drivers have been praised as they battle through some of the worst winter conditions since 1965, to keep goods moving across the country.

And with extreme weather conditions causing delays across the network, the Transport Minister has secured a four day extension, for Scotland only, to the relaxation of enforcement of EU Drivers’ Hours rules from the Department of Transport. This extension will ensure vital deliveries get to stores, supermarkets and petrol stations across Scotland.

Stewart Stevenson said

“HGV drivers are a key part of the lifeblood of our transport network, working hard to get goods to supermarkets and vital fuel supplies across the country and I am pleased we have managed to secure a further extension to the relaxation of enforcement of Drivers’ Hours in order to help keep Scotland moving."
For those drivers and work in question, the EU drivers’ hours rules will be temporarily relaxed as follows:
  • Replace the EU daily driving limit of 9 hours with one of 10 hours
  • Reduce the daily rest requirements from 11 to 9 hours.
  • Lift the weekly (56 hours) and fortnightly driving limit (90 hours).
  • Postponing the weekly rest requirement until 23:59 on 11 December 2010, at which stage a driver has to take a normal weekly rest of 45 hours.
  • Notwithstanding the postponement of the weekly rest requirement (see preceding bullet point), a driver must take a minimum rest of 24 hours beginning no later than the end of the eleventh day since the end of his last weekly rest period.
The requirement to take a 45 minute break after 4½ hours driving remains and will continue to be rigorously enforced.

Stevenson Hails Continued Commitment To Policing With Publication Of Latest Police Numbers

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the publication of the latest quarterly police numbers which show that the Scottish Government is continuing to deliver on its commitment of putting more than 1,000 extra police offers on patrol in Scotland’s streets.

In the last quarter there were 1,546 police officers serving in Grampian police, compared to 1,545 at the end of 2009, an increase of 172 since the SNP was elected in 2007. The Scottish Government’s draft budget which was recently budget clearly outlined the determination to maintain additional police numbers as part of the finance settlement with local authorities. Across Scotland the latest figures showed there were 17,371 serving police officers, an increase of 1,137 since March 2007.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“These latest numbers clearly show that having fulfilled our promise of delivering more than 1,000 extra police officers across Scotland ahead of schedule, the Scottish Government has been working to maintain that improved level of provision.

“Although the quarterly figures have fluctuated up and down by small numbers as officers retire and new members of the police are recruited, the fact that police numbers in Grampian are almost identical to what they were at the end of 2009 shows that those extra officer numbers are being maintained.

“What is more, the SNP Government has made clear that we are determined to maintain these additional officers despite the cuts that Westminster’s spending decisions have forced upon us. Crime in Scotland is at its lowest level for 32 years and that is in large part thanks to these extra officers.

“The publication of these statistics continues to demonstrate that the SNP Government is determined to give police the resources they need to maintain their remarkable efforts at keeping Scotland’s streets safe for everyone.”

6 December 2010

Winter staff facing more challenges with latest heavy snowfall

Scotland’s army of winter maintenance staff and all its equipment is working harder than ever to battle the elements following yet another onslaught of adverse weather conditions.
Despite the significant challenge today’s recent spate of wintery blizzards has delivered, more than 160 vehicles and almost 400 staff continue to work round the clock to keep the national road network moving.

Transport Minister, Stewart Stevenson said:

“Scotland has been in the grip of the worst snow and ice conditions in the early winter since the 1960s, every effort has been made to keep disruption to a minimum. Snow was predicted for today but was significantly heavier than expected and timing during rush hour made conditions worse.

“Staff are working hard to clear the delays caused today and this evening train services are beginning to improve however we can not stress enough that travellers should exercise real caution by only making essential trips and planning their journeys in advance using the all available information.

“We can assure the public we are well prepared for winter. In the past ten days alone, an army of winter staff at Transport Scotland’s operating companies have clocked up around 30,000 man hours, travelled in excess of 750,000 kilometres and spread approximately 50,000 tonnes of salt.

“Parents, local authorities, government and people all across Scotland worked extremely hard over the weekend to deal with the severe weather problems, with great success. But both in terms of the volume and timing during the rush hour we were hit with a snowfall worse than forecast. Therefore, efforts have been redoubled to get back to the position we had established at the weekend, so that working together we overcome the difficulties now and move forward.

“That work includes seeking the extension from midnight tomorrow of the general relaxation we secured in terms of hauliers’ hours, so that we can continue to ensure that pressure points in the delivery of vital goods and supplies are resolved.”

Efforts have continued today with frontline staff using adapted vehicles and other resources to clear the large volumes of snow that has fallen in the past 24 hours, particularly in and around central Scotland.

Travellers are urged to exercise caution in their travel plans while this weather continues. Traffic Scotland and Traveline Scotland are also doing their utmost to keep travellers informed with numerous daily updates.

Journey planning information is available at Traffic Scotland and Traveline Scotland websites; iPhone users can download a free travel app that gives them access to all this information on the move.

Drivers should follow four key steps for safe winter driving
  • Check the weather forecast and road conditions,
  • Consider if you need to travel at all or can wait until weather improves
  • Consider alternative routes
  • Consider alternative modes of Transport
The Scottish Government has activated its Ready Winter section of the website which contains practical advice and simple steps for people including weather and travel advice.

Bids invited for concessionary travel technology

TRANSPORT MINISTER ANNOUNCES TENDERING TO START FOR FUTURE READY SYSTEM

Three organisations have been invited to tender for provision of a new concessionary travel asset management system announced Stewart Stevenson, Minister for Transport, today.

The new system, which is to replace the current back office technology, can be used across different modes of transport and will be supported across the whole of the UK.

Fully integrated with smart ticketing, the software will also supply more detailed concessionary journey information, providing a more efficient system for bus operators with a better billing and reimbursement process.

Mr Stevenson said

“The Scottish Government is fully committed to the success of the concessionary travel scheme and I am pleased to see the start of tendering for this important, newer generation technology.

“Being operable across all modes of transport, across the UK, this system is future ready. It will also improve on the current software with a more accurate, more efficient recording system and it is anticipated, through improved processes for electronic ticketing, will also deliver further operational savings.

"Our concessionary travel scheme has already provided over 1.1 million users with greater access to services and facilities. This important service not only allows for greater social inclusion, but also tackles carbon emissions by promoting modal shift from private car to public transport.”

Ecebs Ltd, Applied Card Technologies Ltd and ERG Transit Systems (UK) Ltd have been selected to tender for the c£10m Asset Management System - Host Operator Processing System (AMS-HOPS) contract following successful prequalification. Tenders are expected to be submitted early in 2011.

5 December 2010

Water Consultation

A consultation will be launched this week on ways of giving Scottish Water increased flexibility to help build a low carbon economy.

The Scottish Government will launch 'Building a Hydro Nation - A Consultation', examining how Scotland, and in particular, Scottish Water, as a publicly-owned utility, can better exploit its expertise, assets and Scotland's water resources for the continuing benefit of water customers, the environment and the wider Scottish economy.

The consultation will seek views on the range of opportunities for Scottish Water to take on new activities while remaining under public ownership - from converting redundant treatment works into recycling facilities to putting hydro electric schemes in redundant reservoirs; from upgrading sewage treatment plants to harvest biogas to new wind power projects on its land; and playing a role in international development, either on a commercial or humanitarian basis.

Mr Stevenson said:

"Scotland is rightly seen internationally as a leader in the transition to a low carbon future. We have the most ambitious climate change legislation anywhere in the world, and we are now more than half way to reaching that world-leading 2020 emissions reduction target.

"Scottish Water, already a huge success story, has the potential to play a greater role in the development of a low carbon economy and grow from a successful utility to become a widely based, dynamic, world-leading water organisation, while remaining within public ownership.

"For example, we could use Scottish Water's assets to generate enough renewable energy to meet its own needs and export to the grid, making a significant contribution to our targets.

"Our consultation will seek views on the best ways of ensuring Scottish Water is able to take on additional functions and develop new commercial opportunities."

North East trains on track for return to service

Train services to Aberdeen from Glasgow and Edinburgh are slowly re-opening with the return of near normal rail services despite freezing conditions forecast to continue.

The news comes as national transport agency Transport Scotland also confirmed that the majority of the strategic road network was opened today on Sunday (5 December 2010).

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

“Despite freezing temperatures forecast, it is encouraging to see we are slowly returning to a more normal transport service in and around the North East with more rail services expected to run than in previous days.

“Transport staff across the country are working round the clock to keep our networks open and I am pleased our national roads network is almost entirely re-open again.”

“We have adequate salt supplies to see us through further bad weather, currently four times more than at the worst time in the winter last year and more deliveries due in the next few weeks. We also have a contingency supply ready for use in an emergency.”

With more adverse weather forecast for this week, careful journey planning is still essential. Travellers are urged to make informed and up-to-the-minute decisions with all the available travel news.

Journey planning information is available at Traffic Scotland and Traveline Scotland; iPhone users can download a free travel app that gives them access to all this information on the move.

Drivers should follow four key steps for safe winter driving
  • Check the weather forecast and road conditions,
  • Consider if you need to travel at all or can wait until weather improves
  • Consider alternative routes
  • Consider alternative modes of Transport

4 December 2010

Improvements to north east transport networks as frozen weather continues

After some of the most severe weather to hit the north east at this time of year, transport links are slowly returning to normal Transport Scotland confirmed today.

The national transport agency stated that a limited number of rail services and replacement buses were in operation today while key road links remained open most of the day, news that will be welcomed by communities in the north east.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson
said:

“It is encouraging to see some improvements to the transport service. The Scottish Government remains well placed to tackle winter head-on. We also continue to review salt stocks, ordering more when and if required, as the winter progresses.

“We are reassured that each local authority currently has adequate supplies and are managing their stocks well however following the lessons learned after the harsh weather last winter, we set up the Scottish Salt Group. Amongst other actions, this Group has procured an additional central salt supply for those in need. Part of a recent 25,000 tonne delivery is currently being delivered to the North.

“Recent days have also seen the delivery of strategic salt stocks to Aberdeen. This strategic salt supply is in addition almost 300,000 tonnes already available in Scottish Road Authority depots, and a further 145,000 tonnes on order.

“Careful journey planning is still essential however so we would urge everyone to make informed and up-to-the-minute decisions with all the available travel news.”

Journey planning information is available at Traffic Scotland and Traveline Scotland; I-phone users can download a free travel app that gives them access to all this information on the move. Rail passengers can also get up to the minute information on ScotRail’s journey check web pages: http://www.journeycheck.com/firstscotrail/

Drivers should follow four key steps for safe winter driving
  • Check the weather forecast and road conditions,
  • Consider if you need to travel at all or can wait until weather improves
  • Consider alternative routes
  • Consider alternative modes of Transport
The Scottish Government has activated its Ready Winter section of the website which contains practical advice and simple steps for people including weather and travel advice: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Justice/public-safety/ready-scotland/Winter

3 December 2010

Travel with care

With the ongoing adverse winter weather still hitting large parts of the country, Transport Scotland is urging travellers that if they must travel, to make robust journey plans in advance.

Fleets of vehicles and armies of staff in local authorities and Transport Scotland's operating companies are working around the clock to keep roads as free from snow and ice as possible.

Those efforts are backed up by staff at Traffic Scotland and Traveline Scotland who are making every effort to keep travellers informed of any delays on public transport networks.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"Thousands of people are working across the country and around the clock to keep our transport networks open in often very difficult circumstances. We thank the public for their co-operation and ask that they continue to play their part too.

"Careful journey planning helps keep drivers and public transport users make informed and up-to-the-minute with all the available information. Follow police advice and if you must travel, then leave extra time to reach your destination."

Chief Constable Kevin Smith, Chair of the ACPOS Road Policing Business Area, added:

"During the winter months and in particular this cold spell, road conditions can be extremely difficult and dangerous. Motorists need to pay extra attention and be prepared to adapt to changing conditions. Even the most experienced motorists can find themselves getting into difficulties when the roads are icy or covered in snow. Our advice is to consider if your journey is absolutely necessary and if you must drive then ensure that you and your car are adequately prepared for the journey ahead.

"Police Forces throughout the country will be working closely with local authorities and Transport Scotland to provide members of the public with the most up to date information available. National and local radio, television and press should be checked for information and updates are also available on the Transport Scotland website."

Journey planning information is available at Traffic Scotland and Traveline Scotland; I-phone users can download a free travel app that gives them access to all this information.

Drivers should follow four key steps for safe winter driving:
  • Check the weather forecast and road conditions
  • Consider if you need to travel at all or can wait until weather improves
  • Consider alternative routes
  • Consider alternative modes of transport


Motorists can also check ACPOS site which has a dedicated page with winter driving advice: http://www.acpos.police.uk/roadsafety/

2 December 2010

Stevenson Welcomes measures To Support Doric

"Doric is an important part of Banff & Buchan's heritage and culture" - MSP

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has today welcomed new proposals to promote the needs of, and enhance the status of, Doric and the Scots language across Scotland.

The proposals come from a group set up to advise Scottish Government Ministers on the future of the North-east language. It focused on sectors that have the potential to increase the use and status of Scots and Doric, including education, broadcasting, publishing, literature and the arts.

The report sets out practical and achievable recommendations in these key areas. Ministers will now consider the report and its recommendations before responding formally to the Group.

The Scots Language Working Group's recommendations include the development of a national Scots language policy, increased support for Doric in education, a greater profile for Doric in the media, and the establishment of a network of Scots and Doric coordinators.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“There is a strong Doric language heritage and culture in Banff & Buchan and across the North-east and it is important that we support that heritage and culture. There are opportunities in the classroom, in the arts community and through local products to promote Doric and find new ways of improving its status and use.

“Indeed, I have been very impressed by the work being done in Scots when I visited Buckie High School recently and I know that other schools, such as Inverallochy, are equally as enthusiastic about the language.

“Those campaigning for a greater status for the Gaelic language have been very successful over the years but it is also important that we don’t neglect Doric and Scots. There are practical recommendations from the report, particularly the proposal for local Doric co-ordinators.

“I am very keen to see the status of Scots language enhanced, keeping our local dialects alive and I am sure that these recommendations will lead to good progress in the protection of our language and culture.”

30 November 2010

Thousands of staff and vehicles mobilised to tackle winter

An army of winter staff and vehicles are continuing to work relentlessly with efforts to keep Scotland moving during this brace of cold weather.

With around 1800 vehicles and 3500 staff, local authorities and Transport Scotland's operating companies are working around the clock to keep roads as free from snow and ice as possible.

Those efforts are backed up by staff at Traffic Scotland and Traveline Scotland who are doing all they can to keep travellers informed.

Transport Minister, Stewart Stevenson said: "The Herculean efforts by all those involved in winter service up and down the country is to be highly commended.

"We can assure the public that men and women are working are working round the clock in often very difficult circumstances. While this Government and its partners are doing all they can the public must play their part too by ensuring they keep up to date with all the available information and only making essential journeys if the current weather continues."

Journey planning information is available at Traffic Scotland and Traveline Scotland; I-phone users can download a free travel app that gives them access to all this information on the move.

Drivers should follow four key steps for safe winter driving
  • Check the weather forecast and road conditions,
  • Consider if you need to travel at all or can wait until weather improves
  • Consider alternative routes
  • Consider alternative modes of Transport
The Scottish Government has activated its Ready Winter section of the website which contains practical advice and simple steps for people including weather and travel advice.

BACKGROUND
  • Scotland currently holds a salt stock of around 360,000 tonnes - enough for two months supply at heavy use (6000 tonnes per day) or four months at last winter's average daily use rate
  • Scotland's winter fleet includes everything from snow ploughs, blowers and gritters for treating the roads, to pick-up trucks and even farmers with blades attached to tractors
  • Traffic Scotland has access to over 200 cameras, 114 of those available to users of the website
  • Information for winter service is drawn from over 150 weather stations
  • Over 10 million Traffic Scotland webpages were visited on Sunday 28 November alone - a month's worth of usage in just one day
  • Traveline Scotland and Transport Scotland's joint 24/7 service is the first of its kind in the UK
  • Every single member of Traveline Scotland customer contact centre staff, provided by Becogent, made it into work on Sunday 28 and Monday 29 November
  • Traveline Scotland received 30,000 calls on Monday 29 November, most of these in a short 2-3 hour period - normal call volumes are around 1300 per day
  • 1400 people downloaded the free Traveline Scotland I-phone app on Sunday 28 November alone
  • On the same date, 14,000 people 'tweeted' the Traffic Scotland service looking for travel information

29 November 2010

Scotland ready for icy blast

LESSONS LEARNED FROM LAST YEAR'S SEVERE WINTER WEATHER

Transport Scotland and its partners stand ready to face winter head on according to Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson.

The Minister was speaking from Leith Docks as he witnessed the delivery of almost 25,000 tonnes of treatment salt arriving in Scotland.

Mr Stevenson said

“The Scottish Government, councils and other key services across Scotland pulled together last year to deal successfully with the coldest winter since 1914.

“We are confident that we have planned well ahead with our operating companies and local councils to keep Scotland moving during this brace of cold weather.

“While there is no suggestion yet that we will face similar conditions to last winter, we have ensured lessons learned are already being put into practice as can be seen here at Leith today. With the arrival of this extra salt to supplement our existing stocks, over two months supply at heavy use, we are well placed to tackle winter head-on .

“The Scottish Government’s Resilience Committee will be kept informed of developments over the next few days with a view to convening again if necessary.”

While the Scottish Government is doing all it can to keep Scotland moving, drivers and passengers are urged to play their part by making informed travel choices. Realtime journey planning information can be found on the Traffic Scotland and Travelline Scotland websites.

£4.4million awarded for new low carbon buses

Fifty new low carbon vehicles will soon join the Scottish Bus Fleet thanks to £4.4 million grant funding awarded this week to six bus operators across Scotland.

Stagecoach Scotland West and East, Lothian Buses Ltd, MacEwens Coach Services, First Glasgow and COLCHRI Ltd will all benefit from the Scottish Green Bus Fund which provides help with the up front costs of buying new low carbon vehicles.

This mix of both large and small bus operators will result in the new low carbon buses operating across Scotland with some providing dedicated routes showcasing the new green buses. These new buses are expected to deliver an average reduction in CO2 of around 21 tonnes per year and 300 tonnes over their life-cycle.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"I’m delighted to announce the successful bids from the £4.4m Scottish Green Bus Fund.

“This funding to further reduce transport emissions will help Scotland take another step towards a low carbon economy, using Scotland's vast natural resources to create new green jobs.”

“This investment will offer a greater opportunity for the purchase of low carbon vehicles and stimulate demand for green technology, moves we must make to meet Scotland’s tough targets to tackle climate change, and decarbonise almost all road transport by 2050.

"The Scottish Green Bus Fund will play an important role in achieving our ambitious target of reducing emissions by 42 per cent by 2020 whilst also supporting jobs in the bus manufacturing industry.”

Applications for the fund, which opened in July and closed in October, were so high that the scheme was oversubscribed. All successful applicants must place their orders by 31 March 2011.

28 November 2010

Stevenson Congratulates Buchan Street Hall On ITV 'People's Millions' Success

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has congratulated Macduff Old Folks’ Association for winning a bonus award from the ITV ‘People’s Millions’.

Buchan Street Hall was one of the contenders for the ITV ‘People’s Millions’ which saw the facility go head-to-head on the STV News on 22 November against another good cause from the STV North region. The MSP met with committee members from the Macduff Old Folks’ Association, who own the hall.

Whilst losing out to Keig Village Hall in the telephone vote, the hall committee have been informed they have won the bonus award and will receive the full amount they were seeking.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“I am absolutely delighted for the Macduff Old Folks’ Association and the hall users, of which there are many. The Buchan Street Hall is a great community facility which I know from my visit is well-regarded locally by the various hall user groups.

“The Committee have some excellent plans for refurbishing and upgrading the hall which will bring it right up to standard, not least of which will see improvements to the kitchen facilities.

“The ambition of the committee has paid off handsomely and I wish the hall well as they now progress their plans for improvements.”

27 November 2010

Stevenson Welcomes Commitment To Keep Extra Police

183 EXTRA OFFICERS IN GRAMPIAN SET TO STAY

Banff & Buchan SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed comments made in the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee indicating that ACPOS (the Association of Chief Police Officers) will commit to maintaining the extra 1000 police officers put in place under the SNP Government, of which 183 are in Grampian.

Speaking on behalf of ACPOS, Chief Constable David Strang of Lothian & Borders Police said that “if we are required to maintain police numbers then that will be done.”

Since the SNP came to power in 2007 crime has fallen by 30% and police numbers have risen from 1374 to 1557 across Grampian.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“It is very encouraging news that the additional 1000 police put on our streets under the SNP Government look set to stay.

“The safety of our communities is of paramount importance and the extra 183 police officers in Grampian have made a major contribution to the 30% drop in crime since the SNP came to power.

“The SNP has put funding from Government in place to ensure local authorities have the ability to limit the impact of Westminster cuts on Scotland’s police. While police boards had made predictions of a 10% cut this year, the actual fall will only be 2.6% because of the priority the SNP has given to making Scotland safer.

“Across Scotland crime is at a 30 year low and this drastic fall in crime highlights the importance of maintaining these officers.”

Local MSP On Winter Weather

Banff & Buchan SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson has commented on the early onset of winter with snow hitting the region.

Mr Stevenson said:

“This November cold snap is a reminder of the extremely harsh winter that we faced last year and which gave people weeks of strife with several feet of snow lying in many areas.

“Gritters and snow clearing equipment have already been out in force and I know that salt stockpiles are healthy across the country after the problems last year’s shortages caused.

“As we get the first significant snowfalls in Banff & Buchan it is a good time to remember to check on elderly neighbours and other vulnerable groups who find it especially difficult in this conditions.”

26 November 2010

Scotland Promotes Low Carbon Jobs

STEVENSON TO PRESS INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY FOR GREATER AMBITION

Climate Change Minister Stewart Stevenson is to join with the UK to present a united case for greater international action to combat climate change.

Mr Stevenson will be part of the UK delegation at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun to highlight the significant job and investment opportunities of a low carbon economy and press for global action.

Stewart Stevenson said:

"Scotland has the most ambitious climate change legislation anywhere in the world, and we are now more than half way to reaching that world-leading 2020 emissions reduction target. Our Low Carbon Economic Strategy highlights that we could almost double the number of jobs in the low carbon economy to 130,000, while attracting billions of pounds of new investment.

"Scotland is rightly seen internationally as a leader in the transition to a low carbon future. Our success in seizing the opportunities from tackling climate change is recognised by the UK Government and I will join the UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and his delegation in Cancun to demand greater ambition in international action. Tackling climate change is driving new thinking, new technologies and new investment in Scotland. A low carbon economy is good for the environment and brings significant opportunities for new green jobs. That's the message I will be taking every opportunity to press - a low carbon transition is sensible, sustainable and ultimately unavoidable.

"The UK Secretary of State has talked of getting the world 'within shouting distance' of a deal and the Cancun talks must make progress towards an ambitious, legally binding deal. Yet Scotland and other developed countries must also help the developing world to mitigate the effects of a changing climate. We share a desire with the UK to identify ways to help developing countries adapt to climate impacts, a position which supports our overall approach to international development and desire to see developing countries build a low carbon economy suited to their own strengths."

Tom Ballentine, Chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland said:

"It is great news that Scotland will be part of the official UK delegation. After all, Scotland does have the world's most progressive climate change law. We hope that Scotland's action on this vital issue can act as an example for other nations to follow. We need nations to set a strong foundation for securing a global deal in South Africa next year. That deal must keep any global temperature rise well below the danger threshold of 2 degrees centrigrade."

22 November 2010

Night Bus Relaunch

There can be no argument that 2010 has been a considerable year for Lothian Buses with five nominations at the prestigious UK Bus Awards and a £12 million order confirmed to extend the fleet by a further 60 new buses over the next 2 years. All this and now to illustrate the Company’s commitment to providing a first class service for Edinburgh and Lothian residents Lothian Buses announces upgrades to the Night Bus service.

Managing Director, Ian Craig explains the changes:

“While most people associate the Night Buses with revellers making their way home after a night on the tiles it is also a safe, reliable, inexpensive way for the city’s workforce who work at night to get to and from work .It is important to offer a comprehensive network accessible at all times of the day and night to the people of Edinburgh and the Lothians and by constantly evaluating the services we provide and the ever-changing populous we can do just that.”

While many other towns and cities the length and breadth of the UK are seeing cuts made to their night bus services Edinburgh is one of the very few to see its network expand. Residents in the north of the City will now have access to a brand new night route, the N11 which will operate between Haymarket, Leith Street, Leith Walk, Pilrig Street, Newhaven & Western Harbour. Meanwhile the N16 is being reintroduced on weekday nights to complement the exceedingly popular weekend N16 service.

Ian Craig continues:

“The areas to receive the new routes are now more densely populated than ever before and the need for an extended service after midnight was becoming all the more apparent. Edinburgh is one of Europe’s safest major cities to live and work in and we feel a strong Night Buses network helps to keep it that way.”

Minister for Transport, Stewart Stevenson said:

Picture courtesy of Lothian Buses

"The Scottish Government has some of the most ambitious climate change targets in the world and if we are to meet them we must encourage people to get out of their cars and onto public transport.

"The expansion of Lothian Buses Night Bus network is a very good example of a bus operator responding to the demands of passengers and offers people enhanced opportunities to use buses."

A police spokesperson said:

"Lothian and Borders Police is committed to making sure that those who live, work, and visit the Capital do so safely and using Night Buses is a good way to do this.

"Edinburgh is a safe city, and we will continue to work in partnership with Lothian Buses and other partners to ensure that visitors and residents alike enjoy the safe and welcoming Edinburgh experience."

To support the changes Lothian Buses will also launch NIGHTBUSES.com - a dedicated website offering night bus users access to timetable and fare information. The website is accompanied by a new advertising campaign to be featured on the buses and online.

19 November 2010

Transport Minister views progress on A77

The £5.5m construction contract will significantly improve safety and efficiency on a key Ayrshire route said Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson during a visit to the site today.

The A77 Parkend - Bennane scheme will provide dedicated overtaking opportunities in both directions for nearly 2 miles (1.8 miles/ 3km), just north of Ballantrae. The A77 links the west coast ports to the rest of Scotland and this project is one of a number of upgrades on this key route.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"The construction of the scheme on this lifeline route which links our west coast ports to the rest of Scotland marks another milestone in our ongoing investment in the A77.

"On completion, this project will provide better overtaking opportunities for A77 traffic, meaning more reliable and safer journeys for local communities and tourists, as well as freight traffic.

"Through this investment commercial visitors and tourists will see that Scotland is open for business - supporting long term sustainable economic growth across south west Scotland and beyond."

The contract to build this Transport Scotland funded project was awarded to RJ McLeod (Contractors) Ltd .

This scheme is part of £60 million of planned investment along the A77 and A75, and complements £29 million already invested on these routes.

The 86 mile long A77 is a main link for south west communities and businesses, and this section of the route carries up to 3000 vehicles a day. Project completion is anticipated in spring 2011.

17 November 2010

Stevenson Hails Continued Funding For New Prison In Peterhead And AWPR In Budget

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the fact that funding for a replacement prison in Peterhead and the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route has been protected in the SNP Government’s budget. The Scottish Government has been forced to make previously unprecedented levels of spending reductions as a result of Westminster cutting Scotland’s budget for next year by £1.3 billion.

Despite this, however, funding for HMP Grampian in Peterhead and the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route has been maintained, reflecting the overwhelming need for these projects in the North East.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“This budget has forced some extremely tough decisions upon the Scottish Government as a result of the savage cut of £1.3 billion in this year alone imposed by Westminster. Nobody relishes having to make these hard choices, but our hands are tied by the continued lack of real financial powers for the Scottish Parliament.

“Yet despite these difficult times, I am delighted that the SNP Government has been able to keep the funding for a new prison in Peterhead and the construction of the AWPR in place. We understand just how important these projects are to people in the North East and know that their construction must go ahead.

“The recent publication of the inspection report into Peterhead Prison again underlined the fact that its facilities are simply not acceptable as part of a modern prison system. The need for a new prison in Peterhead is unquestionable and I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government is standing by the decision to construct a replacement.

“Meanwhile the AWPR, which was beset by delays and prevarication under previous administrations, remains a key priority for the economy of the region. The continuation of funding for its construction is a clear statement that the SNP understands just how much people in the North East are crying out for the AWPR to be built.

“Today’s budget announcements have seen the Scottish Government face up to the difficult choices that have been forced upon us. Yet with the continuation of funding for Peterhead Prison and the AWPR, I believe it is a budget that demonstrates that the Scottish Government is committed to delivering for people in Banff & Buchan and throughout the North East.”

Scotland’s low carbon future

REPORT ON PROPOSALS AND POLICIES TO DELIVER CLIMATE CHANGE TARGETS

Scotland’s route map to cut emissions every year was laid in Parliament today.

Climate Change Minister Stewart Stevenson today published a major report - the draft Report on Proposals and Policies (RPP) - showing how Scotland is combating climate change and is poised to take advantage of the huge economic opportunities of a low carbon society

The RPP shows that Scotland is on track to deliver a 42 per cent cut in emissions by 2020 compared to 1990. But that the EU and UK must follow Scotland’s lead and set tougher targets in line with global climate change need. Today’s report also presents additional options to drive emissions down and ensure Scotland’s annual targets can be met each year to 2022.

Mr Stevenson said:

“Our world-leading targets, to reduce emissions by 42 per cent by 2020 and by at least 80 per cent by 2050 are driving new thinking, new technologies, new solutions and new investment. That will ensure Scotland is an early adopter at the forefront of a sustainable, modern, low-carbon economy.

“A range of policies and proposals have been identified in this draft RPP that continue momentum in 2011-12 and show how the annual targets can be met each year to 2022. Other countries are facing similar challenges, and Scotland can be a pioneer and seize this opportunity to demonstrate how a responsible nation can establish an economic advantage through our approach to tackling climate change.

“We need to start looking at the things that we all need to do less of in the future; and the things that we need to do more of. This is the starting point and we look forward to these issues being debated over the next few months.”

Ian Marchant, Convener of Scotland’s 2020 Climate Group and Chief Executive of SSE said:

“This report demonstrates that existing and identified Scottish policies deliver the required 42 per cent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and is to be welcomed. The 2020 Group urges Government to translate this report into a rolling programme of policy delivery.

“Work to develop and implement the full range of proposals much remain a very high priority. This offers Scotland the real prospect of maintaining and developing its competitive advantage in emerging clean technologies. It will also secure the benefits to all sectors of society and the economy from the wide range of related social, health, employment, environment and quality of life improvements which tackling climate change offers.”

Background

The RPP is required under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act to set out proposals and policies for meeting annual emissions reductions targets from 2010 to 2022.

If the EU were to move to a 30 per cent target for 2020 and tighten the EU Emissions Trading System (EST) cap from 2013 accordingly, Scottish emissions would be reduced by a four percentage points in 2020 beyond the 38 per cent reduction achievable through Scottish policies alone. It is the Scottish Government’s firm policy to press the EU to move to 30 per cent and to press the UK Government to match Scotland’s target of 42 per cent. (RPP, p20)

The draft Report will now be considered in Parliament for a 60-day period, and a final Report will be published in the New Year. This report is linked to:
  • the Low Carbon Economy Strategy (published on 15 November), which sets the policy direction for low carbon economic opportunities, and strengthen business confidence in exploiting those opportunities;
  • the Energy Efficiency Action Plan (published on 6 October), which sets out in detail the actions the Scottish Government is taking to achieve a step change in energy use; and
  • the Draft Electricity Generation Policy Statement (published on 17 November), which provides evidence on recent important developments in Scottish electricity generation.
  • the Public Engagement Strategy (to be published by the end of the year), which will explain our approach to informing people about what they can do to help Scotland take action on climate change.

Budget - capital investment

The Scottish Government is to take forward a major new pipeline of transport, education and health infrastructure projects, worth up to £2.5 billion through the Non-Profit Distributing (NPD) model.

Faced with a reduction from Westminster in capital budgets for 2011-12 of a quarter, Ministers are mitigating this and maintaining continuity of capital investment plans. The 2011-12 Draft Budget proposes major investments to support national infrastructure priorities, including initial work on the new Forth Crossing, investment in the South Glasgow Hospitals - both to be delivered through traditional capital funding - and Scotland's Schools for the Future building programme.

In addition Ministers propose a new pipeline of revenue-funded NPD investment to be delivered by the Scottish Futures Trust in partnership with the Scottish Government, local government, NHS boards and other public bodies, involving:

Major transport projects with a capital value of £1 billion - the Borders Railway project (£230-£290 million); upgrade of the M8 Baillieston to Newhouse, M74 Raith Junction and M8, M73 and M74 network improvements (approx £320 million); the new Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route and A90 Balmedie upgrade (£350-£450 million).

Education projects with a capital value up to £750 million - specific projects within Scotland's Schools for the Future programme, subject to the agreement of local authorities (£400-£500 million); improvements to the further education college estate at Kilmarnock and Inverness (around £100 million); modernisation of the Glasgow college estate, subject to the conclusion of a robust and affordable business case (approx £200 million).

Health projects with a capital value up to 750 million pounds - the Royal Sick Children's Hospital and Department of Clinical Neurosciences in Edinburgh (approx 250 million pounds); revenue support to finance projects through the hub initiative (200 million pounds approx); individual hospital projects, health centres and mental health facilities across Scotland (up to 300 million pounds).

Infrastructure Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"Capital investment is undoubtedly an essential driver of productivity, competitiveness and long-term economic growth. The most recent GDP figures for Scotland indicated strong growth in the construction sector - something put at risk by the 800 million pounds reduction in our capital budget imposed by Westminster, which threatens some 12,000 jobs in Scotland.

"We are determined to mitigate the impact of these severe Westminster cuts by using all available levers to sustain investment in vital infrastructure projects, including transport, education and health projects.

"Since 2007 the Non-Profit Distributing (NPD) model has been the preferred option for revenue financed projects in Scotland and using the NPD model to deliver a pipeline of new projects - including the Borders railway, specific projects within Scotland's School's for the Future Programme and individual hospital projects - is an affordable and effective way of delivering capital expenditure despite sharply falling budgets. We are providing vital support to Scotland's construction industry, jobs and public services. The Scottish Futures Trust, set up to deliver better value for money for infrastructure, will play a central role in this programme.

"NPD is a fairer form of finance than PFI, enabling private sector participation and expertise to be utilised in delivering public infrastructure, but setting a cap on the profits that can be made, avoiding the kind of excessive returns and poor taxpayer value we have seen in the past."

Background

The Draft Budget 2011-12 can be viewed at http://www.scotland.gsi.gov.uk/budget. The Scottish Government's capital budget will fall by 800 million pounds in cash terms next year, compared to 2010-11. This is a real terms cut of 26 per cent.

The pipeline announced today follows a number of NPD projects which have entered procurement, been given approval or reached financial close since 2007. For example, the Aberdeen City Schools NPD, NHS Tayside Mental Health Development NPD and Moray Schools projects - worth a combined 255 million pounds - are all currently in construction.

The NPD model aims to retain the benefits of revenue finance such as optimal risk allocation between the public and private sector partners and performance based payments while removing the potential for excessive profits that were seen under some of the original PFI deals.

It is defined by the broad principles of:

enhanced stakeholder involvement in the management of projects no dividend bearing equity capped private sector returns The NPD model eliminates uncapped equity returns which were a feature of PFI projects. Any operational surplus generated is reinvested in the public sector in accordance with priorities agreed with the contracting authority. Stakeholder involvement in the NPD model is ensured through a Public Interest Director, helping to create a more stable partnership between the public and private sector.

Stevenson Applauds Peterhead Prison Staff As Inspection Report Commends Standards Of Prisoner Care

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has highlighted the praise for staff and management at Peterhead Prison contained in Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland’s report. The report criticised conditions at Peterhead, particularly in terms of hygiene, and condemned the continued practice of emptying chemical toilets in a form of slopping out.

However, the efforts of staff to maintain high standards of prisoner care were commended and amongst 16 examples of good practice found, the report highlighted that:

There is adequate access to
  • The prison is safe for both prisoners and staff
  • The provision of medical and mental health services are good
  • constructive activity during the day
Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“It is an important fact that this inspection report rightly recognises the high standard of prisoner care that staff at Peterhead Prison continue to provide. The report inevitably raises concerns about the prison facilities, but that is of course part of the reason why a replacement prison in Peterhead is to be built.

“Despite the challenge posed by the conditions at Peterhead Prison, prison staff are praised for their dedication in the report which found 16 examples of good practice. Although there is always room for further improvement, this is a positive acknowledgement of their efforts.

“It is important that entirely understandable concerns about Peterhead Prison’s conditions and hygiene are not allowed to overshadow the praise that the staff and management have rightly received. It does however confirm that the SNP Government’s decision to build a new prison in Peterhead was the right one to take.

“The new prison will dramatically improve working conditions for prison staff and bring an end to the criticism of facilities that Peterhead Prison has repeatedly faced.”

16 November 2010

Driving out the rogues

MINISTERS SEND OUT CLEAR MESSAGE TO GANGSTERS

Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill will today announce plans for a new scheme aimed at highlighting the responsible and reputable companies within the taxi and private hire car trade.

The announcement - which will allow customers to make an informed choice about their transportation provider - will be made as Mr MacAskill addresses the first ever summit in Scotland to discuss the threat that serious organised crime gangs pose to the trade.

The summit - organised jointly by the Scottish Government, COSLA and ACPOS - will bring together law enforcement and local authority representatives to share intelligence and information to help thwart gangsters intent on using the trade as a front for money laundering, drug dealing and other serious criminal activities.

The development of a taxi accreditation scheme - membership of which would provide reassurance to customers and the wider public that firms had met a number of key criteria - will draw on the expertise and success of other successful accreditation schemes such as the Security Industry Authority's Approved Contactor Scheme.

Mr MacAskill said:

"The fact is that many of Scotland's criminal gangs use - or try to use - a number of respectable businesses as a front for serious criminal activity.

"The taxi or private hire car trade is not alone - but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it is particularly vulnerable to money laundering given the nature of its business transactions.

"We want to protect the integrity of the taxi and private hire car trade. We want to ensure that only legitimate firms get business, whether it be through contacts with the public or private sector, or from hard-working individuals.

"Today's summit will be a key part of the implementation the Serious Organised Crime Strategy and will help to raise awareness amongst participants of the existence and scale of organised crime groups within the taxi and private hire car industry and will provide a better understanding of the extent to which criminality within the trade is recognised by licensing authorities as an issue across Scotland.

"The development of a taxi industry accreditation scheme is the kind of measure that would provide reassurance to customers about the people they are doing business with, while ensuring hard-working, law abiding taxi drivers are not being driven off the road by rogues with links to organised crime."

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson
will also give the closing address at today's summit.

MSP Visits ITV 'People's Millions' Macduff Contender

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson paid a visit to the Buchan Street Hall in Macduff yesterday to hear more about the hall’s bid for funding as part of the ITV ‘People’s Millions’.

Buchan Street Hall is one of the contenders for the ITV ‘People’s Millions’ which will see the facility go head-to-head on the STV News on 22 November against another good cause from the STV North region. The MSP met with committee members from the Macduff Old Folks’ Association, who own the hall.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“The Buchan Street Hall is a great community facility which I know is well-regarded locally by the various hall user groups.

“The Committee have some excellent plans for refurbishing and upgrading the hall which will bring it right up to standard, not least of which will see improvements to the kitchen facilities.

“It’s clear to me following my visit that this is a well-used and much valued facility and I wish the committee every success in Monday’s telephone vote.”

The Hay Memorial Hall in Cornhill is also in the running and it will feature on the STV News on 25 November.

Mr Stevenson added:

“I think it’s great that there are two projects from the constituency who have made it through to the final stage. I hope that both projects get a huge amount of support from local people in their respective telephone votes.”

15 November 2010

Extra one million pounds for Scottish Green Bus Fund

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson has announced an additional £1 million for the Scottish Green Bus Fund on the day the Scottish Government published plans to capture the enormous opportunities the low carbon economy offers.

The fund - which has already benefitted from a £3.4 million investment - provides bus operators, local authorities, and regional transport partnerships with funds to help with up front costs of buying low carbon buses.

Speaking at the Alexander Dennis bus plant in Falkirk, Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

"I’m delighted to announce another £1 million for the Scottish Green Bus Fund to further reduce transport emissions. This comes on the same day as we publish our ‘Low Carbon Economic Strategy’ which outlines plans to create new green jobs and seize the opportunities the global low carbon market offers.

“To meet Scotland’s tough targets to tackle climate change, we must decarbonise almost all road transport by 2050. This extra investment will offer a greater opportunity for the purchase of low carbon vehicles to enter the Scottish bus fleet as well as help stimulate demand for green technology in Scotland.

"The Scottish Green Bus Fund will play an important role to achieving our target of reducing emissions by 42 per cent by 2020.”

The Scottish Government expects to announce the successful bidders for the Scottish Green Bus Fund in the coming weeks.

Appointment To The Board Of Passenger Focus

Stewart Stevenson, Minister for Transport, Climate Change and Infrastructure today announced the appointment of the board member with Scottish Interest to the board of Passenger Focus (previously known as Rail Passenger Council).

James King has been appointed to the board of Passenger Focus following an open competition.

The appointment will be for four years and will run from  15 November 2010 until  14 November 2014.

The post is part time and attracts an annual remuneration of £16, 090.

Mr King was first appointed to this role in 2005. He was re-appointed for a period of one year in 2009 and was also re-appointed to the British Transport Police Authority board in July 2008. He has also previously served as the convener of Passenger View Scotland (PVS).

12 November 2010

MSP To Visit ITV ‘People’s Millions’ Contender

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson will visit Buchan Street Hall, Buchan Street, Macduff on Monday 15 November at 11.00am.

Buchan Street Hall is one of the contenders for the ITV ‘People’s Millions’ which will see the facility go head-to-head on the STV News on 22 November against another good cause from the STV North region. The MSP will meet with committee members from the Macduff Old Folks’ Association, who own the hall.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“The Buchan Street Hall is a great community facility which I know is well-regarded locally by the various hall user groups.

“The Committee have some excellent plans for refurbishing and upgrading the hall which will bring it right up to standard, not least of which will see improvements to the kitchen facilities. I’m looking forward to hearing about the plans from the committee members on Monday.”

The Hay Memorial Hall in Cornhill is also in the running and it will feature on the STV News on 25 November. Mr Stevenson added:

“I think it’s great that there are two projects from the constituency who have made it through to the final stage. I hope that both projects get a huge amount of support from local people in their respective telephone votes.”

11 November 2010

Stevenson Condemns Partisan Posturing As Opposition Parties Let Scotland Down

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has hit out at Scotland’s opposition parties after they gutted proposals to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol from the final stage of the Alcohol (Scotland) Bill which passed through the Scottish Parliament yesterday (Wednesday) evening. Earlier this week, 165 experts from health, justice and other bodies – including former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish – all backed the Scottish Government’s proposals for minimum pricing.

Alcohol costs the Scottish economy £3.56 billion every year in, the equivalent of £900 for every adult in Scotland, with massive bills for the health sector and policing. One in twenty deaths in Scotland are attributable to alcohol and half of all offenders in Scotland were drunk at the time of their arrest.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“Scotland’s political parties today had the opportunity to make real inroads into tackling Scotland’s harmful relationship with alcohol by being responsible enough to put the needs of people in Scotland first and backing minimum pricing. Shamefully, they failed in that responsibility and opted to put party politics first.

“Health professionals, the police, the licensed trade, the Church of Scotland and even Tesco and Tennents all came out in support of these proposals. The overwhelming consensus has been in support of these measures, yet opposition politicians have simply stuck their fingers in their ears and refused to pay heed.

“The effects of Scotland’s relationship with alcohol costs the Scottish economy £3.56 billion every year and the link between the price of alcohol and its rate of consumption is indisputable. Minimum pricing has never been a silver bullet, but addressing the price of alcohol is an essential part of successfully affecting how much alcohol Scotland consumes. By removing minimum pricing from this legislation, opposition politicians have gutted it of its most important measure.

“If they have a shred of conscience then those who failed to back these measures will find it hard to look themselves in the mirror. They have failed to act as responsible politicians should and people across Scotland have been badly let down by these actions.”

9 November 2010

Transport Minister marks the start of works on the A9 at Crubenmore

A ground breaking ceremony marking the start of the £10.4m dualling scheme on the A9 was undertaken today by Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson.

The scheme at Crubenmore on the A9 will see the construction of a 3.2 km (approx 2 miles) extension to the existing dual carriageway near Etteridge on this crucial link to north Scotland.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said:

“I am pleased to be undertaking this ground breaking ceremony marking the latest section to be improved as part of the A9 Route Action Plan recommendations.

“The A9 is a vital link to north Scotland and the Scottish Government is committed to dualling this route, from Perth to Inverness, on a phased basis.

“These works will not only bring employment for local people, but also significant safety and economic benefits to communities and businesses across Scotland.”


The A9 Crubenmore Dual Carriageway Northern Extension is one of a number of improvement schemes recommended for development to help achieve safer operation and more reliable journey times for the A9.

The scheme will form a 3.2km extension to the existing 1.6km of dual carriageway giving additional guaranteed overtaking opportunities in both directions. This will also reduce journey times and the number of convoys.

It is anticipated the scheme will be complete in late summer 2011 and will support businesses, communities and tourism throughout Scotland by improving the access to and from Inverness and the Highlands.

The A9 is the longest trunk road in Scotland and serves many different users, from remote communities to key strategic traffic between the central belt and the north of the country.

8 November 2010

Local MP & MSP Welcome Chinese Whisky Agreement

The Westminster and Scottish Parliamentarians representing part of Scotland’s top whisky-producing county have welcomed the signing of an agreement between the UK and Chinese Government which will ensure much greater brand protection for Banffshire whisky producers.

The move comes after First Minister Alex Salmond, himself a Banffshire MSP, led a delegation to China where details of the new protection measures were discussed.

The deal essentially means that Scotch Whisky being sold in China will be sold according to the same rules as the UK, ensuring that whisky drinkers are getting exactly what it says on the bottle.

Commenting, Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson said:

“The whisky industry is a vital contributor to the Banffshire economy and to the wider Scottish and UK economies.

“China is a major economic force and the market for Scotch Whisky in the country is growing rapidly. We have seen major investment in whisky production in Banffshire just recently with the welcome re-opening of the Glenglassaugh Distillery and this sets the scene for continued growth in the sector.”

Local MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford said:

“Whisky is one of Scotland’s greatest success stories and is an iconic symbol of our country. This agreement with China will help ensure a bright future for a sector that is vital to Banffshire and Scotland.

“This move can provide a basis for further investment in new plant and jobs in the whisky industry, which is always looking at future market growth, especially in rapidly growing economies in the Far East.”

Funding awarded for car club schemes

SCOTLAND DRIVES FORWARD WITH LOW CARBON CAR CLUB IN BUTE

The first car club to be developed with assistance from a Scottish Government grant is being launched this afternoon by Transport Minister, Stewart Stevenson.

The Isle of Bute is the first community to benefit from the grant, which aims to lower carbon emissions through making long term changes to peoples transport habits.

Awarded to Carplus, a national charity with experience of similar schemes for DfT, the £200,000 ‘Developing Car Clubs in Scotland’ grant is set to kick start car clubs and low carbon mobility initiatives across Scotland.

Mr Stevenson said:

“I am delighted to mark this occasion with the launch of Bute’s Give Up Your Car Challenge demonstration project and I hope it leads to a longer term Car Club starting on the island.

“Bute is the first of a number of communities that have embraced this greener transport initiative and I look forward to seeing these car clubs springing up across Scotland in the coming months.

“Your communities, with Carplus and Scottish Government support, are at the forefront of changing peoples transport habits, helping us to achieve our world leading targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

Sheena Stone of Towards Zero Carbon Bute said:

“We are delighted to be one of the first to test a car club and low carbon alternatives including hybrid cars, electric and folding bikes and public transport in a rural community. This hopefully will lead the way to a permanent car club on the Isle of Bute and other rural areas.”

Chas Ball, Policy Director of Carplus said:

“Carplus has for over a decade supported the development of car clubs. We look forward to sharing our experience and expertise with communities and councils in Scotland".

Car clubs improve access to services and complement public transport networks. They also offer a cost effective measure to reduce carbon emissions from transport and we expect them to work well alongside other low carbon transport initiatives.

A review by the Transform Scotland Trust has initially identified eight locations taking the first steps towards car clubs, in Aberdeen City, Cupar, Isle of Eigg, Findhorn, Badenoch and Strathspey, Fintry, Dunbar and the Isle of Bute. These sites complement clubs already started by local authorities in Edinburgh (1999) and Glasgow (2010) and it is anticipated that locations will increase over time.

The scheme is part of the Scottish Governments Energy Efficiency Action Plan, which is committed to working with local authorities to increase the number of car clubs nationwide. The funding will enable the purchase of car club tools such as booking and billing software and vehicle insurance, and provide a network for car club providers to share knowledge and experience.

5 November 2010

Scottish Water Bill

The Scottish Government will consult on additional measures to be included in the proposed Scottish Water Bill, Ministers confirmed today.

The Bill is intended to enable Scottish Water to evolve into a more dynamic organisation better able to exploit its assets and Scotland's water resources to their fullest extent for the continuing benefit of water customers, the environment and the wider Scottish economy.

Ministers wish to enhance these proposals with additional measures and the timing of the proposed consultation will enable the Scottish Government to consider the relevance of any new borrowing measures emerging from the UK Government's proposed Scotland Bill.

In a letter to the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, Stewart Stevenson said the Consultation will be launched before the end of the month.

The Infrastructure Minister said:

"The Government has decided to increase its ambition for the Scottish Water Bill, enabling a more extensive role for Scottish Water as a publicly owned company.

"In his statement on the legislative programme on 8 September 2010, the First Minister set out his vision for the future of the water industry in Scotland. In preparing the Scottish Water Bill, Ministers have recognised we can be even more ambitious in our plans.

"We therefore believe that it would be appropriate to enable a full consultation on our proposals, and will launch the process before the end of this month, prior to introducing the Bill to Parliament.

"We will bring forward the full detail of our plans shortly, and of course the consultation will also enable us to test whether any borrowing measures that come forward in the UK Government's Scotland Bill are of any practical use in this or any other regard."

The First Minister set out the intention to introduce a Scottish Water Bill in his Programme for Government 2010-11 in September.

Further details on the Bill will be available when the consultation is published.

4 November 2010

Stevenson Backs Calls For Regional Fisheries Management As Influential Report Is Published

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the findings of the Inquiry into Future Fisheries Management which has clearly highlighted the urgent need for control of Scotland’s fisheries to be devolved from Brussels to a regional management structure. It has called for Scotland to take the lead in establishing a pathfinder initiative with other member states to trial a devolved management model.

The inquiry also made clear that as the fishing community has a wealth of knowledge in sustainable practices, it is only right that it is given greater decision-making over the way in which the industry operates.

However, the report also warned that the Scottish fishing industry is likely to face greater uncertainty than at any time since the early 1980s, making the need for structural change even more urgent.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“The publication of this report lends significant weight to the many people who have been calling for fisheries to be taken out of Brussels control and managed on a regional basis. The report quite rightly refers to Scotland’s seas as the 'graveyard for the EU's attempt at management'.

“The inquiry has taken substantial amounts of evidence and clearly reached the conclusion that this is the only sensible way forward for the fishing industry.

“However, the report has also rightly pointed out that these are deeply uncertain times for the industry. Now that a clear path forward has been identified, the change that is needed must be agreed to as a matter of urgency.

“The SNP Government and our elected representatives in Europe will be pushing hard for these necessary changes to the CFP to take place. The wellbeing of Banff & Buchan’s fishing industry is at stake and we will do all that we can to secure a profitable, sustainable future for it.”

2 November 2010

Stevenson Hails Massive Boost For Peterhead Renewables Future

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the announcement of a £70 million fund to boost renewables infrastructure in Scotland. Earlier this year, Peterhead was identified as one of Scotland's key sites for renewables infrastructure in Scotland's National Renewables Infrastructure Plan (N-RIP).

Peterhead will be one of the ports able to bid for part of the National Renewables Infrastructure Fund to develop its renewables infrastructure in coming weeks.

Commenting, Stewart Stevenson said:

“This funding will help Peterhead make significant progress towards becoming one of Scotland's infrastructure hubs for the rapidly growing offshore renewables industry. I am confident that with the right bid, Peterhead can expect to see a sizeable portion of this fund invested in the area.

"Scotland has 25% of Europe's offshore wind and tidal energy potential and 10% of its offshore wave energy potential. The scale of the economic opportunities available is enormous, and with the right investment, Peterhead will be right at the cutting edge of these developments.

“This announcement will help to boost the Banff & Buchan economy and create skilled jobs in the area. It is good news for Peterhead and a clear sign of our ambition and support for the economy of Banff & Buchan and Scotland as a whole.

“A similar fund worth £60 million was recently announced south of the border, so this £70 million pot of cash for Scotland will help to ensure we keep a competitive advantage in this important industry.”

29 October 2010

Grant moves freight onto Caledonian Canal

The Scottish government is spending £255,000 on a plan to put freight onto the Caledonian Canal, which it reckons will take 15,000 lorry trips off the road.

The 60 mile Caledonian Canal runs the length of the Great Glen allowing vessels to sail from the west coast via Fort William up to Inverness and the North Sea.

A six month pilot scheme aims to transport 7,600 tonnes of timber on the canal as well as 6,000 tonnes of timber from Loch Etive to Corpach.

In addition, a mobile floating pier on Loch Etive will be used to transfer 108,000 tonnes of timber by water over the next five years.

Following a maiden voyage by the MV Kanutta through the canal, Stewart Stevenson, Scottish minister for transport, infrastructure and climate change, said:

“Not only will this route further open up Scotland for business, it will also support our aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by taking lorries off our roads, and helping to clear congestion on the vital A82 route.

“The Scottish Government is working closely with British Waterways and Highland and Islands Enterprise to enable our canals to become an environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative transport method.”

28 October 2010

Stevenson Hails 29% Increase In Aberdeenshire Apprenticeships Under SNP Government

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed figures which show the availability of Modern Apprenticeships has increased dramatically under the current Scottish Government. During the previous administration, apprenticeship places across Scotland fell by 20% from 20,649 to 16,930 but they have been restored to 20,218 since the SNP took office. Adult apprenticeships fell by just over 4,000 during the previous administration from over 11,000 to 7,359 but have also increased to over 11,000 under the current Scottish Government.

In Aberdeenshire, the increase in places is above the average, with a 29% growth in places since 2006/07. There are now 824 apprenticeships available in the area compared to 640 at the end of the previous administration.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“I am delighted that the SNP Government is successfully reversing the previous administration’s legacy of neglect when it comes to apprenticeship places. Apprenticeships are more important than ever during these difficult economic times as people seek to retrain and learn new skills.

“The situation in Aberdeenshire is well ahead of the national average and is testament to the fact that apprenticeships are clearly important to the fishing and oil & gas industries.

“These places are a key part of our economic recovery strategy and the contrast to the previous administration clearly shows that the SNP is the only party which can be trusted to protect and create jobs for people across Scotland.”

27 October 2010

Stevenson Welcomes Positive Talks With UK Minister On School Transport Safety

Banff & Buchan MSP and Minister for Transport Stewart Stevenson has written to his Westminster counterpart, UK Transport Minister Mike Penning to see if legislation on school bus seatbelts could be transferred to Holyrood.

Mr Stevenson was speaking at a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee. The meeting was also attended by Banffshire campaigner Ron Beaty.

Mr Stevenson said the Scottish Government had previously had talks on the issue with the UK Government "without getting any sense that that would be a request which if made would be accepted". However, with the recent change in the UK Government and positive talks with the new Minister, this is something that Mr Stevenson and Schools Minister Keith Brown would work on.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

"Keith Brown, the Schools Minister, wrote to Mike Penning in June seeking to see what could be done in terms of legislative competence in terms of seatbelts.

"I think we`ve subsequently become aware of what has happened in Wales and how that competence has been given there.

"I`ve been discussing that this morning with the Minister from the UK Government and I think it is clear that is an area where we can make significant progress in terms of taking forward school bus safety."

26 October 2010

MP & MSP Search To Find Lollipop Person Of The Year

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson and MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford have given their support to the Lollipop Person of the Year 2010 event sponsored by Kwik Fit Insurance which is to be launched later this month. The event will help to raise awareness of road safety issues and highlight the importance of lollipop people to children and schools.

Commenting on the initiative, Mr Stevenson said:

“Lollipop women and men deserve a huge amount of recognition for the work they do in regard to road safety and they are greatly respected and loved by the children that they help and also by their local communities. Their dedication to the children knows no bounds and they should be highly recognised for their efforts.

“I therefore urge for all schools within the constituency to get involved in this event, detailing why their lollipop person deserves this special award.”

Dr Whiteford added:

“School pupils can also, as well as casting their vote, explain why they are nominating their Lollipop person which can include drawings, poems, songs and videos.

“To all Lollipop women and men I wish good luck, with the successful person winning £500 and the school winning the grand prize of £3,000 to spend on school equipment. Finally, for those seeking additional information, please visit: http://www.bestlollipop.co.uk/
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