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28 April 2014

Use Independence to Impose Better Broadband Provision Regulations - Stevenson

Local MSP Stewart Stevenson has called for an extended Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband provision in rural areas with the powers independence will bring.

The Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP raised the issue of rural areas that will not be covered by the superfast broadband programme at General Questions in the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Stevenson asked Cabinet Secretary Nicola Sturgeon if independence would provide the opportunity to impose a universal service obligation for broadband that would leave no areas of the country uncovered.

Ms Sturgeon said:

“Independence, in providing the opportunity to align policy, taxation funding and regulation, could help to help to deliver a more coherent overall approach to ensuring access to broadband right across the country. An extended universal service obligation (USO) for broadband could certainly play a part in that.”

She added that current EU rules require member states to set a minimum USO to all users at an affordable price, but independence would allow Scotland to go beyond the level currently set by the UK.

The digital Scotland superfast broadband programme, funded by £410 million of public and private sector investment, will extend access to superfast broadband for 85 per cent of premises by 2015-16 and more than 95 per cent by 2017-18.

Commenting, Stewart Stevenson MSP said:

“While the work currently being carried out by the Scottish Government and local authorities in partnership with others to extend and improve broadband coverage is very welcome, there are still rural areas which will have a less than desirable level of coverage. With the powers of independence, a Scottish Government of whatever political colour would be able to set a minimum Universal Service Obligation on the providers which goes beyond that in place currently under the UK Government which means many areas receive poor provision.”

15 April 2014

Stevenson Welcomes Modern Apprenticeships Pledge

Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed today’s announcement that Scotland’s highly successful Modern Apprenticeship programme is to be expanded with a new target that will give 30,000 young people a year the opportunity to achieve a high level vocational qualification within a real job.

Announcing the move, First Minister Alex Salmond told the STUC congress in Dundee that the target for new Modern Apprenticeship starts would increase year by year from 25,000 to 30,000 by 2020, with the additional opportunities focused on higher level apprenticeships.

The First Minister also highlighted how an independent Scotland would use its powers to benefit female workers in Scotland, including promoting female representation at senior management level; strengthening employment protection and transforming childcare to enable more female participation in the workplace.

Commenting, Stewart Stevenson said:

“In these challenging economic times, it is more important than ever that young people are given the support they need to start their careers or undertake further training.

“The SNP Scottish Government has reversed the previous administration’s woeful record on apprenticeships and college places and provided vital options to young people. Young people and their parents will doubtless welcome this announcement and the positive impact it will have for thousands of people across Scotland.”

Speaking at the STUC Congress, First Minister Alex Salmond told delegates:

“During the last two years, the Scottish Government has led key initiatives – together with the unions, employers, business organisations, the third sector and the wider public sector - to promote both women’s employment and youth employment.

“Scotland currently has the eighth lowest rate of youth unemployment in the European Union. It is still far too high - but we have made significant progress.

“Our Opportunities for All guarantee means that all people between the age of 16 and 19 have a chance of employment, training or education. Sir Ian Wood’s Commission on Developing our Young Workforce is producing proposals which will align our education and training systems ever closer to the work place.

“We are ensuring that the great events of 2014 – the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup, the year of Homecoming – leave a human legacy as well as a physical legacy. So far, more than 1,000 young people have participated in our employment recruitment initiative and the volunteering and training scheme.

“And we are delivering 25,000 modern apprenticeships a year, up from 15,000 when we took office. This policy has been an overwhelming success. 92% of people are still in work 6 months after they finish their apprenticeships.

“And it’s because of the success of our commitment – particularly to higher level apprenticeships – that I am announcing today that we will go further.

“We will create thousands of additional apprenticeship places by 2020 – focussed on the highest level jobs and highest level schemes.

“This expansion will take our total target to 30,000 modern apprentices each year – equipping even more of our young people with the skills that they need, for the jobs of the future.”

The First Minister continued:

“And just as we are promoting youth employment, so we are promoting women’s employment. Female participation in the labour market is now over two percentage points higher than for the UK as a whole – 65,000 women joined the workforce in the twelve months to January of this year.

“The percentage of women starting apprenticeships has risen from 27% to 42.9% since 2008/09.

“Angela Constance and Shona Robison have been proposed for promotion to the Cabinet because they are the best people to lead on policies which are crucial to Scotland’s future. Their appointment means that Scotland’s Cabinet has 40% female representation. For public appointments overall the figure has increased to 39%.

“This merit-based approach is the route by which we believe all boards – public and private – can achieve better representation of women. This is part of the inclusive society we will create with independence.

“We will also transform childcare – giving our children the best possible start in life, increasing female workforce participation, and generating the tax revenues for Scotland which flow from that, and which will make that transformation sustainable.

“There is a fundamental point here. It is unacceptable for the talents and expertise of half of our population to be underrepresented in the boardroom or in the workforce more widely. It’s an obstacle to prosperity and an affront to social justice.”

In February, figures for the first three quarters of the financial year showed that the Scottish Government’s target of at least 25,000 new MAs every year is well on course to be met this year with 19,124 Modern Apprenticeship starts. More information is here - http://news.scotland.gov.uk/News/Apprenticeship-numbers-rising-987.aspx

Currently, 77% of participants in the Modern Apprentice programme range from 16-24 years old, with 23% of participants being 25+ years old. More information on the Modern Apprenticeship programme is here -http://www.skillsdevelopmentscotland.co.uk/statistics/modern-apprenticeships/

14 April 2014

MP & MSP Pay Tribute to Former MP Hamish Watt

Hamish Watt
1925 - 2014
Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson and Banff & Buchan MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford have paid tribute to former MP Hamish Watt, who died peacefully at his home at the weekend.

Stewart Stevenson MSP said:

"Hamish was one of the first eleven in every sense of the word. As the Parliamentary Whip for the group of eleven SNP MPs elected in 1974, he played a key role in keeping Scotland on the political agenda.

"And in his contribution to the wider party and community, he undertook his role as MP for Banffshire with passion and commitment.

"In recent times he would pitch up at my surgeries in Rathven to make sure I had the benefit of his sage and measured advice. I welcomed that and was always impressed by his continuing engagement in topical issues.

"He will be much missed by his community, his political colleagues, his friends but most of all by his family.

"I know that he was immensely proud of his daughter Maureen's achievements as an MSP and I extend my sympathies to her and all who will miss Hamish."

Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP said:

“Hamish was the MP for my home town of Macduff in the 1970s and his victory in the Banffshire Constituency in 1974 was part of the big breakthrough for the SNP in the North-east.

“It is thanks to the hard work done by people like Hamish Watt during that time in building up the support for the party based on a reputation for speaking up for our local communities and helping people with the issues of the day, that we are where we are now, only five months out from a Referendum on Independence.

“Hamish will be sorely missed and it is so sad he will not be with us on the 18th of September. My condolences go to his family at this very sad time, who I know will take comfort from the fact that his was a life full of achievement.”

7 April 2014

North Sea Jobs Boost Welcomed

Local MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed an extensive survey of companies in the North Sea oil and gas sector expecting to create up to 39,000 jobs over the next two years.

The survey commissioned by the Bank of Scotland, found expectations of employment growth had increased since last year. On top of this, 69% of executives in the companies were optimistic about their growth prospects in 2014/2015.

The expected number of new jobs created is 5,000 higher than it was this time last year.

Bank of Scotland Commercial area director Stuart White, said:

"The findings of this report are excellent news for the economy, demonstrating the employment-generating nature of the oil and gas industry now and in the future…Scotland should reap the largest share of these new jobs.”

This comes just a week after Enquest - the biggest UK independent oil producer in the North Sea - Chief Executive Amjad Bseisu welcomed that the “Scottish Government plans a stable and predictable fiscal and regulatory regime” and criticised the UK Government’s running of the current system as being “out of date and no longer fit for purpose.”

Commenting, Banffshire & Buchan Coast SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson said:

“These findings showing that a job boom - even greater than previously expected – is predicted for the oil and gas sector in Scotland and serves as a major vote of confidence for the massive value of Scotland’s vast natural assets.

“The Bank of Scotland survey is also further evidence that businesses know that Scotland has got what it takes to be a successful independent country.

“Successful fiscal management of the vast resources in the North Sea is vital for the best interests of Scotland’s future – and an independent Scotland can succeed where Westminster has failed.

“More than half the value of North Sea oil remains – up to 24 billion barrels with a potential wholesale value of up to £1.5 trillion. We must not let Westminster continue to squander the remainder of this hugely valuable resource and deter further investment; instead we must work with the industry and ensure that oil and gas revenues are used to benefit all of the people of Scotland.

“With less than six months until the independence referendum, and poll after poll showing growth in support for a Yes vote, Scotland has a golden opportunity to steward oil and gas for the benefit of the whole nation - and we must grab that opportunity.”

A Scottish Government Spokesperson said:

“This report is very welcome and clearly demonstrates the huge contribution that the oil and gas sector makes to the economy now and will continue to make in the future. The Bank of Scotland have recognised that with most of the UK’s oil and gas firms clustered in Aberdeen and North East, Scotland should reap the largest share of the 39,000 jobs expected to be created in the next 2 years. This is an increase of 5000 on the estimate made only last year.

“It is also very encouraging to see a strengthening of the international expansion of these companies, and this is a trend which is expected to continue. The presence of the oil and gas industry in Scotland has led to the creation of a sophisticated supply chain to service the offshore industry. There is now a cluster of world class companies headquartered in Scotland with strengths in many areas including project management, subsea, well-management and training services. The presence of this world class cluster means that Scotland is now a major player in the global oil and gas supply chain, with Scottish companies now operating in over 100 countries.

“The skills and knowledge developed in Scotland as a result of the development of the North Sea are a key strength for Scotland. We are committed to working with the oil and gas sector to maintain competitiveness, facilitate the transfer of skills and knowledge to other sectors and utilise Scottish based skills in world markets. We have a unique opportunity in Scotland where the expertise gained from half a century of exploitation of oil and gas in the waters around Scotland also gives a particular advantage in the development of offshore renewable technology."

A Billion Pounds Lost to Taxpayers in Royal Mail Sell Off

PRIVATISATION COMPLETELY INDEFENSIBLE

Commenting on reports that taxpayers may be over £1 billion worse off as a result of the UK Government's decision to sell-off Royal Mail well below City banks' estimates, Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson criticised the Westminster Coalition for short-changing taxpayers in the rush to privatisation.

Mr Stevenson said:

“If this transpires as reported then the UK Government have serious questions to answer about the loss of so much taxpayer’s money. It is completely indefensible as part of Westminster’s rush to sell of Royal Mail.

“Royal Mail should never have been privatised, but worse still it now seems that the UK Government have sold off a valuable public asset at well below its true value.

“We have asked many times why did ministers choose to let go of the company's shares at such a low rate? But - as yet -we have had no answers. The UK Government’s decision to privatise Royal Mail poses real danger to the postal service, and in particular, the universal service obligation which is of huge importance to Scotland. A privatised postal service in a competitive market will undoubtedly put pressure on government to reduce the terms of the Universal Service Obligation , as its competitors “cherry pick” the profitable urban routes leading to a reduced service in rural and less affluent areas.

“Figures showed 77 per cent of people in Scotland were totally opposed to the privatisation of Royal Mail - more than any other part of the UK. If these reports about undervaluing it are true, that figure can only increase. Only with independence can Scotland be assured of a mail service that meets the needs of our communities – and one which is brought back into public ownership."

Stevenson Calls for a World Where Scotland Can 'Go, Give and Get'

Stewart Stevenson, SNP MSP for Banffshire & Buchan Coast, highlighted this week that small countries can punch well above their weight – and Scotland is no exception.

In a debate in Parliament entitled ‘Scotland: A Good Global Citizen’, Mr Stevenson praised the work of the Mary Robinson Foundation on Climate Justice, and highlighted the skills that Scotland offers in engineering, food and nutrition that can benefit other countries worldwide.

He said:

“Seventy per cent of small farmers in Africa are women, and it is those small farmers who are most disproportionately affected by climate change. They are the people who are paying the price for the international injustice that the western developed world imposes on people. We in Scotland are privileged to be part of the climate justice campaign, and can make practical efforts to help such people.”

Mr Stevenson praised the smaller countries of the world that hold substantial influence such as Antigua & Barbuda where Mr Ashe, the current President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, is from.

He added:

“Mr Ashe has chaired sessions at the United Nations on international trade and development, and on information and communications technologies. Small countries can do big things on the international stage.”

But Mr Stevenson added that the world must change so that Scotland is also represented on the world stage, rather than getting an occasional invitation.

He said:

“We have to move to a world in which Scotland can go to the important occasions, give what we have to give—which is substantial—and get the decisions that matter to us. Go, give, get. Until that happens, we will not truly make the contribution that we should and must make."
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