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27 January 2011

Stevenson Hails Go Ahead For A90 Dualling

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the announcement that the decision has been made to proceed with the dualling of the A90 from Balmedie to Tipperty. This will improve journey times by removing the bottleneck that is caused by the stretch of existing single carriageway on the road between Aberdeen and Ellon.

Funding for the project is contained in the budget currently being progressed through the Scottish Parliament as the upgrade to the A90 and the construction of the AWPR will form a single contract.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“This decision is good news for residents of Banff & Buchan and is another clear sign of the commitment this Scottish Government has to improving infrastructure in the region.

“When the upgrade to the A90 from Balmedie to Tipperty is complete, we will see significant reductions in journey times to and from Aberdeen. This is good news for business and good news for the many people in Banff & Buchan who make that journey on a regular basis.

“I know only too well how often people can face significant delays on the A90 because of the existing stretch of single carriageway, so this decision will be extremely welcome to everyone who uses the road regularly.”

26 January 2011

Stevenson Welcomes Big Lottery Fund Awards For Local Schools

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the latest announcement by the Big Lottery Fund, which sees three schools obtaining awards, meeting the 2014 Communities outcome of involving more children in sport and physical activity.

Commenting on the announcement, Mr Stevenson said:

"It is great news that three schools within Banff & Buchan constituency have been successful in securing funding for sporting projects.

"Ordiquhill After-School Club will run taster sessions in a range of sporting activities and the grant will fund coach costs, first aid courses and various equipment.

"Auchnagatt School will use their award to install netball court markings in its playground, providing its extra-curricular netball club with significantly better outdoor netball facilities.

"Finally, St Fergus School will provide educational and recreational activities for children of primary age and are involved in a sailing project.

"Once again, my congratulations go to the successful schools on their awards. I would urge other organisations in Banff & Buchan to apply for similar award schemes, the benefits of which can help new and existing projects alike."

Note: The local awards are:

Ordiquhill After School Club £1,223
Auchnagatt School £540
St Fergus School £960

25 January 2011

The C.I.L.T. Annual Scottish Political Event

Stewart Stevenson MSP, Formerly Scottish Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change - Edinburgh meeting of 25 January 2011 - © John Yellowlees, 2011

In his term until resignation last month over the handling of the M8 becoming blocked by snow as Scottish minister for transport, infrastructure and climate change Stewart Stevenson MSP became the first member of the minority SNP administration at Holyrood to lose a vote - on Edinburgh trams, a subject which his uncle Sir Alexander Stewart Stevenson recalled had gone wrong once before, in 1929 when Edinburgh made a mess of converting its cable-drawn system to the Leith one of a third rail until Stewart Pilcher was appointed from Aberdeen to sort it out.

Stewart Stevenson MSP with
a copy of the
"Airdrie-Bathgate Rail Link" book.
Now TIE chief executive Richard Jeffrey was the best man to sort out the present project, which reflected poorly on politicians who had agreed a quick fix without listening to their project managers. That when politicians interfere in professional matters things go horribly wrong was illustrated also by the Glasgow Airport Rail Link, the cost of whose infrastructure at the airport had risen from £5M to £77M when the Government decided to cancel it.

Politicians react to the need to make choices initially with caution, then increasingly in anticipation but afterwards inevitably with hindsight. Even if a politician brings knowledge from a prior life, his acquisition of it ceases on assuming office and he becomes a non-expert. Sophocles said that there was no enemy worse than bad advice, and Stevenson's own view was not to take life too seriously since you don't get out of it alive!

While studying maths which he applied at snooker, Stevenson met his wife to whom he had been married for 42 years. During his 1304 days in office, he spent only just over 400 nights at home, and made 3380 journeys, attending 2769 meetings of which over one third were outwith government offices.

In his four summers he aggregated only 38 days on holiday, and bequeathed to his successor Keith Brown the responsibility of being duty minister on Christmas Day. When he discussed with his wife last year whether or not he should stand again, her response was "I'm not ready to have you home yet"!

When the SNP came to office in 2007, their team had no ministerial experience. The oldest minister in any Government yet at Holyrood, he became the longest-serving transport minister in these islands for twenty years. Transport ministers were an underappreciated breed - none had gone straight afterwards to the Lords, nor had any been knighted for their service in that role.

On 6 December when he made his fateful appearance on Newsnight Scotland, he had had no sleep in twenty hours and had lost ten pounds in the previous ten days. However afterwards he had done an interview with truckers on Radio Five which went much better, and it had to be remembered that the advice then was that the M8 would be cleared by midnight.

He became so tired that next door in his hotel afterwards he fell asleep with his shoes on - with hindsight he should have sent an official, but he did not trust weather forecasters who had got the area of snowfall right but the depth wrong. Economists and weather forecasters were the only professions where you could be wrong 80% of the time yet keep your job. Forecasts could be widely divergent between RAF Kinloss and RAF Lossiemouth which were only eight miles apart, and nowhere in Scotland had the Met Office any facility to measure snow!

A minister was like a non-executive director who could challenge assumptions, and his insistence on revisiting a previous study resulted in a decision that light rail could be accommodated on the existing bridge, saving £1.5bn on the cost of the Forth Replacement Crossing. Sir Alexander Stewart Stevenson had chaired the Forth Road Bridge Promotion Committee in 1935, and Stevenson himself drove across the new Forth Road Bridge on its first day of operation in 1964 - proof of its lifechanging potential came soon after when his father a Cupar GP drove a heart patient to the Western General in only 37 minutes despite the availability of only two miles of motorway north of it.

Three out of his four ministerial trips abroad had been cancelled days before they were due to happen, so all that he managed was four days in China with twenty engagements. At least being a minority administration meant there wasn't need to consult coalition partners all the time, and he had been surprised by how much was decided at desks rather than in the Parliament. He left office because he faced a vote of no confidence in a week when the Lib Dems wanted to divert attention from their difficulty at Westminster over tuition fees, and while he could have survived the vote and kept his job there would have been a continuing issue for him over the outcome.

A cousin of his father had been munitions minister under Llloyd George, whom the father had served as election agent in his last contest the rectorial election at Edinburgh University in 1942. His grandfather had been a Rechabite schoolmaster at Cromarty who persuaded Lloyd George to include the Royal Hotel there in his nationalisation of pubs to control drunkenness among munitions workers, and it remained state-controlled until 1962. Another reminder that political decisions could have long lasting consequenes was the requirement to bond whisky for a minimum of years so as to help manage its availability in wartime, which improved Scotch's quality and thus laid the foundations for today's successful distilling industry.

The private sector had enabled the Government to get it right on delivery of Airdrie-Bathgate, but some contracts undoubtedly were overmanaged and for the next ScotRail franchise he had sought to reduce its prescriptive nature. He had refused an increase in planning fees until the Government got quicker decisions, and the holding of charettes had helped build consensus. He had had to answer 4647 Questions and made 400 speeches, a hundred more than the next-busiest minister. He was disappointed with the handling of the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, and had retained Regional Transport Partnerships because the Government could not afford to fight on too many fronts at once. There had been a better case for retaining Transport Scotland, which created useful distance between government and delivery.

23 January 2011

Stevenson Welcomes Old Deer Bridge Re-Opening

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the re-opening of the railway bridge at Old Deer this weekend.

The access road from the main A950 into Old Deer and Stuartfield had been closed while contractors carry out works on the road bridge which spans the former railway line at Old Deer. Local people became increasingly frustrated at the long detour this involved as the work had slipped from the original 11 week planned closure.

Mr Stevenson wrote to Aberdeenshire Council Chief Executive Colin Mackenzie two weeks ago requesting that contractors carrying out the works be instructed to “redouble their efforts” and complete the works as soon as possible. Head of Roads Philip McKay responding to the MSP confirmed the road would re-open on the weekend of 22/23 January.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“I am very pleased for the residents of Stuartfield and Old Deer who have been inconvenienced by these works for several months now that the bridge is, at last, open to traffic once again.

“I understand that repairs were necessary and had to be carried out. However, even making an allowance for the recent period of inclement weather, the delay in the completion of these works was completely unacceptable.

“This caused extreme inconvenience and frustration to my constituents in that area and disrupted bus routes. In addition, the closure of a number of local minor roads simply added to the feeling of frustration and isolation.

“The council have given me an assurance that the circumstances surrounding the problems encountered at this particular scheme will be reviewed and I hope that lessons will be learned so that no other community has to suffer the same thing.”

16 January 2011

Stevenson Welcomes Scottish Government Pothole Money

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed a statement by the Scottish Government that a further 15 million pounds will be made available to local authorities to help with emergency pothole repairs following the recent severe winter weather.

The money will be shared amongst all of Scotland’s local authorities and will help to reduce the impact of emergency roadworks on future budgets.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“This extra cash from the Scottish Government to help the Council deal with the huge number of potholes that the recent severe weather has caused to surface is very welcome.

“It is doubly important given that that public bodies are already having to wrestle with tough budget positions as a result of Tory cuts in Westminster. This money will help to reduce additional budget pressure from emergency repair costs.

“Drivers the length and breadth of Banff & Buchan and, indeed, throughout Scotland and beyond have something of a slalom course at the moment but this funding should help get the emergency work of filling in holes progressed as quickly as possible.

“We must also hope for a bit of respite from the severe weather so that workers have time to tackle the potholes rather than fighting blizzards and ice.”

15 January 2011

Parliamentary Recognition For Fraserburgh Academy Young Photographers

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has praised the work of four young photographers from Fraserburgh Academy who won major photographic awards in a national competition recently.

Focus Environment is an environmental photographic competition for secondary school pupils throughout Scotland. The competition encourages young people between the ages of 11-18 to demonstrate their awareness of the natural world around them. A combination of imagination, observation and photographic flair can win cash prizes for pupils and their schools.

At the awards ceremony last month in Edinburgh, Fraserburgh Academy pupils scooped 5 of the 24 prizes, the highest representation from any school in Scotland.

Now, local MSP Stewart Stevenson has put down a Motion in Parliament congratulating the pupils, teachers and the school on their tremendous achievement. Commenting, he said:

“This is a truly magnificent achievement for the young people concerned and reflects very well on Fraserburgh Academy.

“The photographs, which can be viewed online, are simply stunning and show a real talent on the part of the photographers.

“I send my congratulations to the photographers and I’m delighted to be able to recognise their achievements by putting down a Motion in Parliament.”

14 January 2011

Local MSP Meets With Les Taylor Group Receivers

AWPR PROTESTORS CONDEMNED FOR DELAY TO VITAL NE PROJECT

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson met with senior officials from Ernst & Young, receivers for the Les Taylor Group in Mintlaw earlier this afternoon.

The local MSP was accompanied by SNP MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford and local Independent councillor Norman Smith.

Mr Stevenson was heartened by some of the news he was given by the receivers in terms of their expectations for parts of the business and a large number of the employees. However, the MSP was strongly critical of the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route protestors, who have caused delay to the project with their legal challenge.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Stevenson said:

“It’s clear that the Les Taylor Group continued to be a well-managed operation but have been brought down by a substantial burden of bank debt.

“Against a disappointing background we heard better news today that substantially more than half of the redundant employees are expected to have entered new employment shortly.

“We were pleased to hear that Skills Development Scotland and the Continuing Employment Team have been engaged for a week now and will be arranging for the remaining staff to receive support through local offices in Banff, Turriff, Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Aberdeen.

“We also heard that it is likely that the animal feedstuffs business will be sold. They are experiencing their busiest winter ever as it is important to local agricultural interests that there is no disruption to the delivery of animal feedstuffs during this exceptionally hard winter.

“We met a number of employees who are continuing in employment and working with the receivers to seek to deliver the best available outcome and offered them support should that be required.

“It is clear that the civil engineering industry in the North-east is suffering from the delay to the many hundreds of millions of pounds investment that the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route would have represented caused by the selfish actions of a tiny minority. Many companies like the Les Taylor Group could have expected to pick up substantial sub-contracting opportunities but for the actions of the protestors who have delayed this important project. I hope even at this late stage, those who are delaying this vital investment in the North-east will think again.”

Stevenson Hails Latest Winter Preparations As Fresh Salt Supplies Reach North East

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the news that an additional 4,000 tonnes of salt have been delivered to Balmedie to keep North East roads open in wintery conditions with an additional 8,000 tonnes due for delivery over the next two weeks. Scotland has already experienced one of the harshest winters in living memory and more severe weather remains a possibility.

Across Scotland there are now 506,300 tonnes of salt either in stock or on order, significantly more than was used over three months between October and the end of December when the weather was at its worst.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“I am glad that more supplies of salt are continuing to arrive to ensure that roads in the North East can be kept open should we see more of the extreme weather we have already experienced.

“It is essential that preparations are in place to keep the North East moving in the event of further heavy snow and this latest delivery shows that complacency is clearly not being allowed to creep in.

“However, motorists also have their part to play when severe snow hits and I would encourage people to consider the conditions they will face when deciding if their journey is necessary and to ensure they have some basic supplies in their vehicle in case they should run into any difficulty.

“I sincerely hope we are past the worst of the wintery weather, but I am glad that preparations are being put in place to cope if we are not.”

Stevenson Welcomes Strong EU Stance On Mackerel Dispute

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed moves by the EU to ban the landing of Icelandic mackerel into ports across Europe as a result of Iceland’s continued refusal to reach international agreement on Mackerel quotas. Iceland and the Faroe Islands took the decision to unilaterally award themselves massive increase in Mackerel quotas, Scotland’s most valuable catch.

Mackerel holds Marine Stewardship Council certification thanks in large part to the sustainability measures put in place by Scotland’s Pelagic fleet, yet the sustainability of the fishery could now be put at severe risk thanks to Iceland and the Faroe Island’s reckless actions. Norway has already taken the decision to ban Icelandic Mackerel and with the EU following suit, a strong message will be sent to Iceland that such behaviour is unacceptable.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“I welcome the fact that Europe is taking a tough stance and is closing its ports to Icelandic Mackerel. The actions of Iceland and the Faroe Islands in unilaterally awarding themselves such unreasonably large quotas is totally unacceptable and it is right that the EU is taking action.

“This landing ban in itself is by no means a solution to the problem, but it does send an important message to Iceland that their actions will not be tolerated. I sincerely hope it will bring them back to the negotiating table and make them see that there is a clear need to reach a fair agreement.

“Their unilateral actions threaten the sustainability of the species and puts Banff & Buchan’s pelagic fleet in danger of financial ruin. The EU is right to take strong action and must continue to stand behind Scotland’s pelagic fishing fleet.”

Local MP & MSP Meet With Ernst & Young

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson and MP Eilidh Whiteford will meet with senior officials from Ernst & Young this afternoon for an update and discussions on the Les Taylor Group. The meeting will take place at the Les Taylor Group Head Office at Longside Road, Mintlaw. Local Aberdeenshire councillor for Central Buchan Norman Smith will also be attending.

12 January 2011

Stevenson Comments on TV Chef's Fish Campaign

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the publicity given to the struggle that Scottish fishermen face and the heartbreaking practice of discards which ineffective EU rules force upon them, thanks to the launch of TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight campaign.

The first in the series of programmes was broadcast yesterday (Tuesday) and graphically highlighted the CFP regulations which force fishing vessels to dump tonnes of perfectly good fish back into the sea.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“I welcome anything that brings the crazy conditions that the fishing industry to the forefront of public consciousness. Where some previous programmes examining the issue have been less than balanced, I was happy to see that Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall got right to the heart of the matter in identifying the ineffective Common Fisheries Policy as the cause of discards.

“It is heartbreaking for all involved in the fishing industry to be forced to discard perfectly good fish because of regulations that are simply not suitable for a mixed fishery.

“Nobody has a greater stake in building a profitable but sustainable fishing industry than people in the industry itself. Indeed the Scottish fleet has led Europe in trying to introduce more sustainable methods such as selective fishing gears, real time closures and lately the catch-quota scheme which allows vessels to land more but catch less.

“However, the fundamental fact is that responsibility for managing the waters off Scotland’s coast needs to be taken away from Brussels and put under regional control. With negotiations over reform of the CFP approaching, that must be a clear priority for everyone with the interests of the fishing industry at heart.”

Stevenson Calls For End To Fuel Duty Highway Robbery

SCOTLAND’S PARLIAMENT NEEDS FINANCIAL POWERS

SNP MSP for Banff & Buchan Stewart Stevenson has hit out at the reneging of a Tory and Lib Dem promise over soaring fuel prices, as the SNP vowed to make the need for a Fuel Duty Regulator and bringing down the cost of fuel a key Holyrood election issue.

Local MSP Mr Stevenson pointed out that cutting fuel by 10p per litre in Scotland would only cost about half of the estimated £1 billion in extra revenue the Treasury is set to rake in as a result of rising oil prices.

Prices for unleaded in Banff & Buchan are hitting 130p per litre while diesel can be higher than a staggering 140p per litre at some garages in the North-east.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“The country is crying-out for action to bring down fuel prices, and the Holyrood election campaign is a vital opportunity for Scotland to demand that the Scottish Parliament has the economic and financial tools needed to act in the interests of our communities and the travelling public. Westminster – where the powers currently lie – has failed to do anything, and the Tories and Lib Dems have reneged on their pre-election promises.

“Across Banff & Buchan hard-pressed families are being hit really hard by soaring fuel prices in a nation that produces huge amounts of oil, much of which comes ashore in this very constituency. That is just outrageous.

“The untaxed price per litre is less than 50p and margins for fuel retailers are actually quite small. The bulk of the cost is tax with over 70p going to the treasury per litre through fuel tax and VAT.

“This is a huge issue on the doorstep and the forecourts – and the SNP will make it a big issue in the election. It is a key illustration of why we need to build up Scotland’s Parliament, and equip it with the full powers of financial responsibility.

“A Fuel Duty Regulator – which the Tories supported before the election – would bring duty down when oil prices go up. Cutting fuel by 10p per litre in Scotland would only cost about half of the estimated £1 billion in extra revenue the Treasury is set to rake in as a result of rising oil prices.

“It’s a national scandal that, in Europe’s oil-richest country, people in Scotland are paying among the highest fuel prices.”

Stevenson On The Look Out For Banff & Buchan's 'Green Champion'

Local SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson is encouraging constituents to nominate an inspiring individual who is passionate about all things green to be Scotland’s next ‘Young Green Champion’.

The judging panel is looking for examples of volunteering, community action, education, campaigning or from business. Nominees will be judged on the basis of their work, not on the number of nominations they receive. The nominee must be aged between 11 and 25 years old on 9 March 2011.

The Young Scottish Green List winners will be invited, along with friends and family, to celebrate their achievements at a vibrant award ceremony. The ceremony will take place on Wednesday 9 March at Edinburgh University Students’ Association.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“The North-east is a beautiful place to live and work, so it’s no surprise that folk here are passionate about promoting our environment. I know of some great work going on in Banff & Buchan to look after the environment and raise awareness of environmental issues.

“The Young Scottish Green List are look for someone exceptional in promoting green issues and working for a greener Scotland. I know they’ll find many fine candidates in the North-east. It’s great to see young, passionate activists being recognised in this way.

“The SNP Government has put green policies front and centre in our programme for Scotland, and I know from speaking to constituents and community groups that folk here in Banff & Buchan share that enthusiasm.”

Note:

To make a nomination visit www.youngscottishgreenlist.org/nominate before midnight on Friday 14th January 2011.

9 January 2011

Stevenson Calls For 'Urgent Action' On Old Deer Bridge

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has called for ‘urgent action’ from Aberdeenshire Council to bring to completion the works which have closed a Buchan road since October.

The access road from the main A950 into Old Deer and Stuartfield has been closed while contractors carry out works on the road bridge which spans the former railway line at Old Deer. Local people are becoming increasingly frustrated at the long detour this involves as the work has slipped from the original 11 week planned closure.

The MSP has told Aberdeenshire Council Chief Executive Colin Mackenzie that contractors carrying out the works must be instructed to “redouble their efforts” and complete the works as soon as possible.

Mr Stevenson said:

“I understand that repairs were necessary and had to be carried out. However, even making an allowance for the recent period of inclement weather, the delay in the completion of these works is now completely unacceptable.

“This is causing extreme inconvenience and frustration to my constituents in that area and disrupting bus routes. In addition, the closure of a number of local minor roads simply adds to the feeling of frustration and isolation.

“The situation is now urgent and the contractors carrying out these works on behalf of the council simply must be instructed to redouble their efforts and complete these works as soon as possible.

“I hope that Aberdeenshire Council can give local residents some hope that this situation will not be allowed to persist for much longer.”

Local MSP Comments On Les Taylor Group

Commenting following the news that Mintlaw-based Les Taylor Contractors and JG Fowlie Demolition have gone into receivership with the loss of 164 jobs, Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson said:

“It’s very disappointing indeed that a major local employer has found itself in such difficulties.

“Obviously, we knew that there had been a downturn in the business over the last year or so but this has come very much out of the blue.

“I certainly will be seeking to make contact with the company to see if there is any assistance I can provide the workforce in these very difficult times and hope to meet with the receivers and the workers later this week.”
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