14 August 2018

Local MSP Welcomes Public Defibrillator Map

British Heart Foundation, Microsoft and NHS Joining Forces to Save Lives

Efforts from the British Heart Foundation, Microsoft and NHS Scotland to create a new public map of defibrillators across the country will be vital in saving lives, local SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson has said, after plans for the public map were announced.

With many communities across the North-east taking the initiative to raise funds to install a public-access defibrillator, Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the news that proposals for public mapping of the defibrillator network are being taken forward.

Commenting, Stewart Stevenson said:

“I welcome this development and initiative and I am pleased that Scotland will be included in the initial trial phase.

“This proposal has the possibility to help save more lives which we can all welcome. I look forward to the delivery of a concerted public information campaign to raise more awareness of the importance of Public Access Defibrillators and their accessibility.”

13 August 2018

Stevenson Slams Royal Bank For Dividend Payout After Closing Branches

Banffshire & Buchan Coast SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson has condemned Royal Bank of Scotland bosses for announcing they will be paying out a dividend to shareholders – its first for ten years – after axing a string of local branches.

The Royal Bank, which is still substantially-owned by the taxpayer, axed branches in Buckie, Banff and Turriff, as well as removing the Mobile Bank service from Cullen and Aberchirder last year.

The Conservative UK Government still owns around 62 per cent of the shares in RBS but repeatedly refused to intervene to save any of the branches earmarked for closure.

Commenting, Stewart Stevenson said:

“The announcement that RBS is to pay out a dividend after another brutal round of branch closures will come as a slap in the face to customers.

“As I have highlighted recently, one solution to the problems created by bank closures is a community banking hub as proposed in a recent study for Highlands and Islands Enterprise. If just half of the planned dividend payout of 2p per share had instead been put towards that and matched by the other banks, that relatively small sum would have seen a transformation across our now ‘unbanked’ communities.

“It seems clear to me from my inbox and postbag that many people still need or prefer to do their banking in a branch setting. Community banking hubs are an idea worthy of serious consideration.”

7 August 2018

MSP Encourages Farmers to Share Their Views on Rural Funding

Farmers are being encouraged to share their views on the future of rural funding in the event of the UK leaving the European Union.

Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson said with the UK government continuing to progress plans to leave the EU the Scottish Government is making preparations for the impact of Brexit on key sectors such as agriculture.

The First Minister has previously said Scotland’s interests are best served by the UK remaining in  the single market and customs union.

In June, the Scottish Government launched a consultation which set out proposals to stabilise and simplify income support for rural communities in Scotland during the period immediately after Brexit.

Commenting, Stewart Stevenson MSP said:

“The rural economy is vital to Scotland’s economic prosperity but Brexit remains the biggest threat to the industry.

“At the moment, farmers in the North-East and across Scotland, receive valuable support from the EU.

“The paper produced suggests that in the short term there should be support schemes for active farming, food production, environments improvements, forestry and rural development.

“That’s why it is so important we hear directly from those working in the rural sector so they can get the right support to go through the transition period after the UK leaves the EU.”

6 August 2018

MSP Backs Scotch Lamb Funding

Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed a six-figure sum to support Quality Meat Scotland’s 2018 Scotch lamb promotional campaign.

The announcement was made by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as she attended the Turriff Show alongside Mr Stevenson and his fellow North-East MSP Gillian Martin.
The sheep sector plays a significant part in Scotland’s red meat industry, which is worth £892 million to Scotland.

Commenting, Stewart Stevenson MSP said:

“I’m delighted the First Minister came to the Turriff Show to make this important announcement.

“Lamb is an excellent product and part of an important ecosystem that keeps our countryside tidy and attractive.

“There is plenty of scope for increasing Scotch Lamb consumption and I know our farmers stand ready to help.”

Speaking from Turriff Show, NFU Scotland Vice President Martin Kennedy said:

“The announcement by the First Minister of additional funding for Scotch Lamb marketing is great news for our lamb producers.

“The move by the Scottish Government to further support the sector in this way is a significant marker of the positive impact that the Scottish sheep sector has on the Scottish economy.”

3 August 2018

MSP Welcomes Extension of Scottish Government Concessionary Travel Scheme

Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed an announcement the National Concessionary Travel Scheme will be extended.

It comes after the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity Michael Matheson said the scheme would now also include companions of eligible disabled children aged under five.

The move could result in more than 3,000 families and children additionally benefitting from the bus pass.

Additionally, Mr Matheson announced that the age of eligibility will not change for the National Concessionary Travel Scheme and that the options to provide free bus travel for Modern Apprentices will continue to be considered.

The consultation on the scheme closed in November 2017, with nearly 3000 responses received from people and organisations all across Scotland.

Two thirds of respondents felt that that the free bus pass should remain available from the age of 60.

A similar number of respondents felt that Modern Apprentices should benefit from free bus travel, and an overwhelming number of respondents were in favour of providing companion cards for eligible disabled children aged under five.

Commenting, Stewart Stevenson MSP said:

“I am pleased this extension to the bus pass has now been made.

“The bus pass is a benefit that many people enjoy and use as part of their daily lives and the concessionary travel scheme enables independence, accessibility and social inclusivity.

“It is right the Scottish Government carries out this work and ensure the sustainability of the National Concessionary Travel Scheme and I am grateful to all those who took part in the consultation process and helped inform the future scope of Scotland’s bus pass.”

Banking Study Could Show Way Forward For Services - Stevenson

A study into the importance of local banking services in rural areas which recommends a ‘whole system response’ to meeting the banking needs of communities and businesses could show the way forward according to local SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson.

The study was commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) amid a growing trend of rural bank branch closures.

The report says banking facilities need to be understood as core to local community infrastructure. It added that there is a disconnect between local bank closures and efforts to strengthen and grow local economies.

Access to cash remains fundamental to the viability of small retail businesses, prominent in rural areas. This is especially in relation to tourism, where successes in generating income within fragile communities could be hit by the loss of access to cash via local banks.
Commenting on the report, Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson said:

“The recent round of bank branch closures we’ve seen have started hitting large towns, such as Fraserburgh, Buckie and Banff that most people would have assumed were safe from such closures.

“Online banking, Post Office banking and mobile bank vans go some way to providing alternatives but can only go so far. One of the recommendations of this report is a “collaborative approach” to ensuring communities are not “unbanked”. This would involve a range of partners including the banks, the Post Office and local authorities in a service point-type provision which would ensure that a physical presence remains within communities.

“It’s a proposal which is very much worth investigating further. In the meantime however, I would urge people affected by bank branch closures to support their local Post Office and those banks which still remain within their community.”

1 August 2018

MSP Backs Farmers' Calls For Rules Relaxation To Ease Fodder Crisis

Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson has asked Rural Affairs Secretary Fergus Ewing to consider a relaxation on rules on ‘green manure’ crops to assist with the fodder shortage currently being experienced.
The MSP raised the matter with the Cabinet Secretary after meeting farmers at New Deer Show last week. The Scottish Government has also today met with stakeholders from the farming industry including Scottish Beef Association; Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB); Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS); Scottish Machinery Ring Association; Scotland’s rural charity RSABI; Scottish Dairy Hub; Maltsters Association of Great Britain; Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC); NSA Scotland; Scotch Whisky Association; SAC Consulting and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).

Commenting, Stewart Stevenson said:

“There are severe challenges facing farmers at the moment as a result of the wet winter and spring and now an exceptionally dry summer.

“Chief among these is the fodder shortfall which will make for a difficult autumn and winter. I’ve raised the issue of ‘green manure’ crops as fodder at the request of local farmers as a sensible and useful contribution to helping meet the shortfall.”

NFUS Vice President Martin Kennedy, who chaired today's meeting and was among those who met with Mr Stevenson at New Deer Show, said:

“This is set to be an extremely challenging autumn and winter, but those round the table today are committed to helping the industry through it.”

MSP Condemns UK Tory Govt Plans To Take €1 Billion from Scottish Control After Brexit

The UK Tory Government has been criticised for its plans to replace the €1 billion European Structural and Investment Funds, currently distributed by the Scottish Government, with a UK Government-controlled 'UK Shared Prosperity Fund' which will merely “engage” with devolved administrations after Brexit.

The European Structural and Investment Funds, being the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF), help a wide range of projects including initiatives to address poverty, improve infrastructure and the environment and tackle pollution across Scotland.

The announcement, made by UK Tory Government Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government James Brokenshire MP, has been heavily criticised by third sector organisations and the SNP, as new evidence of a Tory power grab on Scotland.

Anna Fowlie, Chief Executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), commented:

“The SCVO has been consistent in our position that powers returning to the UK from the EU should be devolved so that Scotland’s needs can be considered and reflected in decision-making.

“The UK Parliament has promised engagement with devolved administrations on these matters before but their track record suggests they are more interested in England’s priorities and not at all concerned with those of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.”

Commenting, Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson said:

“European Structural Funding has helped to create employment, build roads and infrastructure and help tackle unemployment in every corner of Scotland – particularly in some of our most remote communities.

“To replace this with a system administered entirely by Westminster, instead of here in Scotland, would be completely unacceptable.

“Given their recent form in seeking to tear up the devolution settlement, there would be little reason to trust the Tories.”

The European Structural and Investment Funds scheme is currently handled by Scottish ministers. Money is allocated on a six year basis with the 2014 to 2020 funds for Scotland worth €476 million and €465m respectively.

Schools Suffer Huge Decline in EU Teaching Applicants

Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP has called for the devolution of migration powers, following a massive fall in the number of European Union (EU) citizens choosing to join the education workforce in Scotland, as insecurity surrounding the UK’s impending departure from the EU grows.

The most recently published figures by the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) show that only 14 EU teachers from six nations have applied for registration so far in 2018, a dramatic decline compared to the 186 received last year.

The starkness of this contrast is further illustrated by the fact that over previous years, there had been a steady upward trend from 128 applications in 2015, to 159 in 2016 and 186 in 2017.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP said:

“Scotland voted clearly and decisively to remain within the European Union and we have repeatedly demonstrated that this is the best option for Scotland’s future.

“These figures show the stark reality of Brexit. Already highly-skilled and hard-working EU citizens are thinking twice about choosing to live and teach in Scotland which will not only have a negative impact on the education workforce but our economy and society as a whole.

“Last year we had citizens from almost every EU member country applying for GTCS registration but, so far this year, citizens from just six countries have applied to live and work in Scotland. The GTCS - the independent body that registers teachers - has made plain that Brexit is driving this slump.

“Once again this underlines the clear case for the SNP Government, accountable to the Scottish Parliament, to set the rules for a migration system tailored to meet the country’s needs.

“It is vital we continue to attract the very best candidates to work within the Scottish education system regardless of their nationality. Our young people deserve no less.”

Local MSP Stewart Stevenson added:

“Scotland has differing needs and wishes to England and as such, requires a system tailored to meet Scotland’s requirements. We need EU-citizens with the appropriate skills to come and strengthen our workforce.

“Immigration policy must be devolved to limit the damaging impact of this.”

Rocketing Hinkley Point Nuclear Costs Will Increase Energy Costs - MSP

Latest fears of delays at Hinkley Point where the world’s most expensive nuclear power station is being built, are likely to lead to increased costs for the billpayer, the SNP has said.
from wikipedia
Industry reports suggest that EDF, in charge of developing a new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point, has been forced to delay energy generation at other sites in Europe due to significant plant problems, likely to affect their UK developments too.

This latest warning over the beleaguered Hinkley project comes in addition to the fact the cost of the new plant is already three times over budget - and rising. Hinkley’s ‘strike price’ is already guaranteed to be higher than prices for other energy sources, meaning big increases in electricity bills for consumers.

French power utility EDF announced that there will be further delays and cost overruns at its Flamanville nuclear site in France.

The start-up date for the Flamanville 3 reactor has now been pushed back to the second quarter of 2020, having originally been slated for 2012 when construction began in 2007. The revised cost estimate of 10.9 billion euros is now three times the original budget.

There is now serious doubt over whether a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point can be built by 2025, or within the £20 billion revised budget which is already set to impact upon consumers’ energy bills. Costs running even further above this exorbitant rate will mean further pain for bill payers.

These latest fears over Hinkley and the expensive energy it will produce comes just one week after the Tories announced plans to scrap feed-in tariffs for renewables projects from next year.

The SNP has reiterated its calls for the plug to be pulled on Hinkley and the billions saved to be reinvested in green energy.

Banffshire & Buchan Coast SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson commented:

“Hinkley Point is a complete white elephant; it is already significantly delayed and well over budget. I would be flabbergasted if all these delays and complications didn’t lead to a massive increase in the initially estimated costs. If the project ever becomes operational.

“The UK Prime Minister only two years ago wavered on pursuing Hinkley. She should have followed her instincts and cancelled the project.”

“The biggest tragedy is that this saga is only one of many symptoms of how out of touch the Tories are with their energy policy.

“With one hand they cut support for the clean industries of the future, like the Peterhead CCS scheme, while with the other they continue to throw money at this project which was racked with problems before it got off the drawing board.

“The sooner Scotland has full control over energy policy the better, so we can invest wisely in green energy.”
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