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30 April 2019

Stevenson Warns Older People Could Lose Out in Pension Credit Changes

Changes to Pension Credit by the UK Government could see couples missing out on the entitlement amid changes to eligibility.

Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson has urged constituents whom it might impact to submit their claim before a deadline in two weeks’ time.

Pension Credit is an entitlement for people in the lowest levels of the State Pension.

It means their State Pension is “topped up” to a minimum of £167.25 for a single person and £255.25 for a couple living together.

But if a person is in a partnership where one person is of pensionable age and the other is younger than their State Pension age, the changes mean they will no longer be able to claim Pension Credit unless they have already submitted a claim before these changes come into effect.

It could mean thousands of older couples living in Scotland could be worse off to the tune of £140.40 per week, or around £7,000 a year.

Age Scotland said the changes could have a “devastating impact on the lives of some of the poorest pensioners” and mean couples were better living apart.

Commenting, Stewart Stevenson MSP, said:

“Age Scotland are right to express concern about the changes to Pension Credit.

“As Pension Credit is a “passporting benefit” those affected could miss out on thousands of pounds worth of extra financial assistance such as Cold Weather Payments, maximum help with Housing Benefit, maximum help with Council Tax Reduction and assistance for those affected by the Bedroom Tax.

“Without Pension Credit, people will not have access to claim Social Fund Funeral Payments and they may not be entitled to the warm home discount.

“This decision by the UK Government is deeply unjust and I would urge the decision to be reversed.

“In the meantime, every older person who is eligible to claim Pension Credit should do so before the May 15th deadline.”

Stevenson Backs Charity's Appeal for Volunteers

Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson is backing a charity’s call for people in the North-East to volunteer for a service supporting older veterans whose lives have been distressed by hearing loss or tinnitus.

Action on Hearing Loss Scotland’s Hearing Forces service is part of the Unforgotten Forces consortium led by Poppyscotland.

Now, the charity is looking for volunteers to give a few hours each month to provide local veterans aged 65 or over, their families and carers with vital information and support to help them to cope with hearing loss or tinnitus.

Volunteers will be trained to clean, re-tube and adjust NHS hearing aids and provide vital information about ways to reduce the impacts of tinnitus.

They will also be trained to give advice about assistive equipment, such as amplified telephones or personal listeners, which can make everyday life easier.

Commenting, Stewart Stevenson MSP, said:

“I’m delighted to discover that Action on Hearing Loss Scotland is working with 15 partners in the Unforgotten Forces consortium to provide holistic support for older veterans.

“I encourage people in Banffshire and Buchan Coast to come forward to volunteer for the Hearing Forces service which will provide life-enhancing one-to-one support for many of those who are affected by hearing loss.”

Alan Dalziel from Action on Hearing Loss Scotland said:

“We appreciate Stewart Stevenson MSP backing our Hearing Forces service’s volunteers appeal.

“We’d welcome the opportunity to speak with people from throughout Banffshire and Buchan who are interested in helping older veterans to hear more clearly and participate in conversations with family, friends or neighbours and remain active in their community.”

Stevenson Supports MS Society in Bid to Improve Treatment

Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson has urged constituents to support the work of MS Society Scotland to highlight the condition.

It comes after the organisation visited the Scottish Parliament as part of Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week to discuss the important role of research in the lives of people affected by MS.

MS affects more than 11,000 people living in Scotland and can cause problems with how we walk, move, see, think and feel.

Now the MS Society is driving research into more treatments.

The charity currently funds 10 research projects in Scotland with the studies receiving over £3.56million over their lifetimes.

Commenting, Stewart Stevenson MSP, said:

“The work of MS Society Scotland is vital in supporting those who live with this condition.

“By encouraging new research, we can develop understanding and know-how of other treatments and how they could help improve the lives of the more than 11,000 people who suffer from MS.

“I was pleased to meet with the MS Society Scotland when they visited the Scottish Parliament to find out about the incredible work they do.”

Morna Simpkins, director of MS Society Scotland said:

“This MS Awareness Week we are highlighting the importance of MS research.

“For more than 11,000 people in Scotland, living with MS is a daily reality. This is why the MS Society is driving cutting-edge research into more – and better treatments to ultimately stop MS.

“By contributing and joining a global group of fundraisers people can help us find new treatments for people living with the often painful and exhausting condition.”

MS is an unpredictable condition that is different for everyone. It affects how a person thinks, feels and moves. For support and information, please contact the helpline on 0808 800 8000.

29 April 2019

Stevenson Urges Families to Apply for Early Start Payment

Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson has urged families who may be eligible for a new Early Learning Payment to put their applications in.

The new £250 social security benefit will be available for low income families.

Families with children aged between two to three and a half can use the three-figure sum for anything from children’s clothes and shoes to toys, books or days out.

This payment is part of the Scottish Government’s new Best Start Grant package. This financial support includes the Pregnancy and Baby Payment, which has been open for applications since December and the Best Start Grant School Age payment which will open in June.

When the School Age Payments begin in June, the Best Start Grant package, along with Carer’s Allowance Supplement, will bring the total number of Scottish Government benefits being administered by Social Security Scotland to four.

Best Start Grant is for families in receipt of eligible benefits – including Universal Credit, Income Support, Housing Benefit – and tax credits to help at key stages in a child’s life.

Commenting, Stewart Stevenson MSP, said:

“The Best Start Grant package will be available to families across the North-East and could help between 30,000 to 40,000 families across Scotland this year.

“The investment, totalling £12million, is £10million more than previously provided by UK Government support.

“The new £250 payment will help low income families around the time a child normally starts nursery demonstrating this Government’s ambition to put more money into the pockets of families who need it most.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:

“Since December, low income families have been eligible for a payment of £600 on the birth of a first child, and £300 on the birth of any siblings.

“In just the first two months of the Best Start Grant, the Scottish Government got more money into people’s pockets than the DWP had managed under the old system in an entire year.

“Now, we will go further.

“I can announce that low income families will get a further £250 when their child starts nursery. Applications open tomorrow. And from June they will get the same again when their child starts school.”

25 April 2019

Tory Welfare Cuts Drive Record Foodbank Use

Universal Credit 'Key Driver' of Increasing Need for Food Parcels

Thousands of food parcels have been handed out to families across the North-East hit by the introduction of Universal Credit by the UK Tory Government.

Figures released from the Trussell Trust said its food banks provided more than 210,000 packages to people in crisis in 2018-19 – up from 23% from the previous year.

Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson slammed the figures caused by the “botched roll-out” of Universal Credit.

In Aberdeenshire, 4,800 of three-day emergency food supplies were provided to people in crisis by food banks.

The food bank provider said that issues with the Tories flagship welfare reform Universal Credit were a “key driver” of increasing food poverty.

In Scotland, 42% of food bank referrals made due to a delay in benefits, were linked to Universal Credit.

In November last year, Mr Stevenson visited the Peterhead Foodbank facility to meet with staff.
DWP ministers recently admitted the direct link between Universal Credit and soaring foodbank use – something which Tory MSPs have consistently denied.

Commenting, Stewart Stevenson MSP, said:

“The botched roll-out of Universal Credit has been a disaster – driving people into poverty and forcing families to rely on food banks.

“In a country as wealthy as ours it’s unacceptable that emergency parcels and food banks have become so commonplace – and we know, beyond any doubt, that Tory policies are to blame.

“The fact that foodbank use is growing across Scotland is a clearly damning indictment of UK Government cuts to welfare, it truly is a case of ‘poverty amongst plenty’.

“When I visited the volunteers at Peterhead it was clear they provide a valuable service for the most vulnerable sectors of our society at their greatest time of need.”

24 April 2019

Former Banff & Portsoy Councillor Dr Norman Allan Dies Aged 96

Dr Norman Allan, who served as a councillor for the Banff & Portsoy Division on Grampian Regional Council has died aged 96.

A stalwart SNP member, Dr Allan gained the Banff & Portsoy seat from the Conservatives at the 1986 regional elections and held it until Grampian Regional Council was abolished in 1996. The result at the time was seen as part of the spectacular local SNP breakthrough at those elections, heralding the loss of the Westminster seat by the Conservatives to the SNP the following year.

Banff & Macduff Branch of the SNP honoured Dr Allan in 2017 with lifetime membership. Speaking on that occasion, he said:

“I’ve been a member of the SNP since 1961, when I joined just before leaving for Canada – where I worked as a doctor at the University of Ottawa.

“There was an SNP branch over there that I was the secretary of, so when I came back to Banff, I was naturally involved with the party.”

Paying tribute, Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson said:

“Norman was a stalwart of the local SNP and will be sadly missed by all who knew him. As a regional councillor, he served the communities of Banff and Portsoy for a decade and continued to be a prominent figure in the local community.

“Norman was a regular attender until quite recently at SNP branch and constituency meetings and could be relied upon to offer sage advice on the prevailing political situation.”

SNP councillor for Banff & District Glen Reynolds said:

"Norman was a local treasure, inspiring and enthusiastic for all that life and the area could offer, not least through the companionship he so lovingly gave and received.

“Maybe that was the key to the boundless energy he retained until the end. He never stopped enjoying the company of people and the local community that meant so much to him. In Norman's passing, Banff has lost a faithful servant.”

Former Banff & Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford added:

“Norman was always a source of great encouragement to me and was firmly of the view that it was the younger generation who would deliver independence for Scotland. Our thoughts are with Alison and the rest of his family.”

17 April 2019

Stevenson Pays Tribute to MEP Hudghton's Record of Service

Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson has paid tribute to Euro-MP Ian Hudghton’s record of service to the North-east.
Ian Hudghton MEP on a visit to
Banff with one of his ‘Euro-surgeries'
The long-serving MEP has announced he does not intend to seek re-election to the European Parliament at next month’s elections, should they take place. Mr Hudghton was elected to represent the former North-east Scotland Euro Constituency in November 1998 at a by-election caused by the death of SNP MEP Dr Allan Macartney. In 1999, following changes to the voting system, Mr Hudghton became one of eight MEPs representing the whole of Scotland.

Commenting, Stewart Stevenson said:

“Ian has been a strong voice for Scotland in Europe and has a proud record of serving the North-east.

“Changes to the voting system broke the link between MEPs and constituencies in 1999, when each MEP then represented the whole of Scotland, but Ian always ensured the North-east was never overlooked and was assiduous in attending to local matters.

“In particular, his surgery tours of the North-east were unique among Euro-MPs and ensured that Europe was never remote from the people here, who could always call on their MEP to represent them.

"I wish Ian a long and happy retirement, but suspect he will not be idle given his commitment to Scotland and the cause of independence."

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon commented:

“Ian Hudghton has championed Scotland's cause in the European Parliament for over 20 years, I am sorry to see him go. Ian has been a passionate advocate for what the EU is and does for Scotland, and proved himself a first-class parliamentarian. I wish him every success in the future.”

MSP Urges Local People to Have Their Say on Minor Injuries Unit

Local MSP Stewart Stevenson is urging local people to have their say at a public consultation event on Wednesday 1 May.

The review of Minor Injury Units (MIUs) in the North-east, is moving into the final phase with a series of public consultation events.

At the June 2018 meeting of the Integration Joint Board (IJB), members agreed the findings of the MIU Review and instructed officers to form local implementation groups to continue the work of the review.

The local implementation groups have looked at the feedback received from the public at the first round of events, as well as the data on how many people use the services and at what times and are now ready to share their findings.

Each area that currently has a Minor Injury Unit will host an event, open to all, to share and discuss a range of future operating models. Following these, events a paper setting out the findings of the review and recommendations on the future operating models for 5 of the units will be presented to the IJB for final consideration.

Each event will be an opportunity for local area residents to see and discuss a range of fully costed options for their unit as well as analysis of attendances to the units. Members of staff will be on hand to discuss any of the recommendations or findings.

Commenting, Stewart Stevenson said:

“The Integration Joint Board carries out important work in bringing together elements of the health service and social work which previously operated as two separate entities, which didn’t always lead to a joined-up approach for patients.

“This is an important piece of work on the local Minor Injury Unit in Banff. I know how important local service provision is in a large rural constituency like Banffshire & Buchan Coast so I would urge people to go along to the drop-in session and get the information gathered so far and give their view on how they want to see this local service develop going forward.”

SNP Pressure at Westminster Helps Deliver Fair Pay for Post Offices

Stevenson Welcomes Better Deal for Sub-Postmasters

Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed news that from October 2019 Sub-postmasters will receive better financial remuneration from the Post Office Ltd for key services that they provide to the public.

The announcement comes just weeks after SNP MP Gavin Newlands secured a House of Commons debate on the sustainability of Community and Sub-Post Offices, in which he reiterated SNP calls to give Sub-postmasters a fairer settlement. In recent months, SNP spokesperson for Small Business Marion Fellows MP, has written to the UK Government calling for these changes to strengthen the Post Office network.

At the National Union of Sub-postmasters Annual Conference, the Post Office Ltd announced that they will be increasing the rates of payment that Sub-postmasters receive for taking personal and business banking deposits, representing a near three-fold increase on current rates. The changes have been welcomed by Sub-postmasters.

The SNP has highlighted the rising importance of Post Offices to small towns and rural communities, the overwhelming majority of which are run by Sub-postmasters. As bank branch numbers continue to fall, local Post Offices have become increasingly important to communities - particularly to the elderly and those with additional support needs because of the face-to-face banking services that they provide. This is on top of the role they play in services regarding post, advice, pensions, benefit administration and working as community spaces.

Commenting, Stewart Stevenson MSP said:

“This is very good news indeed and I congratulate my SNP colleagues at Westminster for their campaigning on this important issue. These are important steps in securing the long term financial sustainability of our local Post Offices.

“However, more work is still needed to increase public and business awareness of the banking services available at Post Offices, and to protect Sub-postmasters from the risks associated with handling large volumes of cash.

“The local Post Office plays a huge role in public life – it is both a symbol of the community and a lifeline on everything from pensions and benefits to vital day-to-day banking services. This is particularly important, coming as it does just days after the TSB announced cuts across the North-east to branches and opening hours.

“In many small and rural towns in Scotland, the local Post Office is the last place where a face-to-face service is available, making it essential for the elderly and those with additional support needs.

“Sub-postmasters have continually raised concerns that they are not receiving adequate financial remuneration for services they provide to major banks turning over huge profits, resulting in many post offices operating at a loss. It is great to see that they have finally been listened to.

“I hope that this announcement represents the beginning of the end of this culture of unfair deals and unfair work for Sub-postmasters.”

10 April 2019

Decision to Reinstate Gamrie Bus Service Welcomed by Local MSP

Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson has expressed his delight for local residents following Aberdeenshire Council agreeing to reinstate the supported bus service on Saturdays to Gardenstown.

Mr Stevenson wrote to Aberdeenshire Council last month urging a rethink following representations from constituents concerned at the inconvenience the loss of the Saturday service would cause.

Now, the council’s Public Transport Unit has confirmed the service will continue as funding has been found due to the outcome of the tendering process.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“This is very welcome news indeed and I’m delighted the council has taken on board the concerns that myself and local residents have expressed regarding the withdrawal of this service.

“A number of local residents approached me protesting that the axing of this service would result in the isolation of vulnerable residents. It would also seriously inconvenience the many tourists and visitors who rent summer properties in the village, for which Saturdays are a common ‘changeover day’.

“Now the route has been secured for this financial year, I’m sure the community will demonstrate that it is indeed a valued and important service.”

4 April 2019

Babybox Gets Banff Makeover as over 9,000 Delivered in NHS Grampian Area Since Scheme's Introduction

Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson has hailed the success of the Scottish Government’s innovative Baby Box scheme as figures show that over 9000 boxes have been requested by parents in the NHS Grampian area since the scheme’s introduction.

The news comes as a series of new designs for the Baby Box have been unveiled, including one by 12 year-old Demi Burnett of Banff Academy, whose design was selected from hundreds of entries from a nationwide Young Scot competition celebrating the Year of Young People.

Demi commented:

“I enjoyed really getting to know everybody there, sharing ideas and talking about our past achievements. It was a great experience. It means a lot to me being part of the winning team, it really makes me proud of the team and its work. It just makes me feel happy and content with something I’ve helped to do, knowing it’s also really important competition.

“It honestly just feels unreal knowing that. It’s hard to believe that a team I was part of won such an amazing competition. Knowing how much that box will mean to families in Scotland is heart-warming, it still boggles my mind how my own ideas brought me all the way to Edinburgh to end up winning a national competition.

“It’s just great knowing I’m helping to do something that’ll make families so happy. I’m also just really thankful to get the opportunity.”

Local MSP Stewart Stevenson commented:

“There’s no doubt that the baby boxes have been a hit with new parents with the numbers of those requesting the boxes rising from 85% at its launch in 2017, to 96% today. I’m particularly pleased that a design from this constituency was one of the winners and I pass on my congratulations to Demi.”

Commenting, Minister for Children and Young People Maree Todd MSP said:

“We are committed to giving every child the best start in life, and we do this by ensuring that every family with a newborn has access to essential items needed in the first six months of a child’s life through the Baby Box. 96% of expectant parents are requesting a Baby Box – a big rise on the 85% since they were first launched - and we have now delivered more than 80,000. That’s a huge vote of confidence in Scotland’s Baby Box.

“This new design - by children for children - is impressive in its detail and creativity. Parents have also told us that they love personalising their Baby Box, and as a result my favourite idea from the winning team is the free space left around the trunk of the tree on the lid to allow the family to add their newborns’ hand and foot print.

“It will touch the hearts of many parents that children from across the country have worked together, investing so much time and effort, into creating something truly special for their babies. I’ve met many families who have treasured their Baby Box and I can’t wait to see the new boxes in homes for years to come.”

Louise Macdonald, Chief Executive of Young Scot, said:

“It is wonderful that a new generation of young Scots will be welcomed into the world with a beautiful Baby Box designed by today’s young Scots. I am delighted that 100,000 of these boxes will spark joy in households across the country over the coming years, and I thank every young person who has been involved in their creation.”

Jackie Brock, CEO of Children in Scotland said:

“The quality, creativity and skill shown by all the children and young people who entered the design competition was breath-taking. Each submission demonstrated what a great opportunity the Baby Box provides for showing what is special about being born and growing up in Scotland.

“Families will be really delighted with this addition to their baby’s welcome. Once the baby and their friends are old enough to colour it in, it will make a wonderful toy and memory in future years.”

Scotland’s Baby Box contains a selection of clothes from newborn up to the age of six months, as well as every day must-haves, like a bath towel, a travel changing mat, muslin cloth squares, a bib and a digital thermometer. Every Baby Box also comes with a number of books which parents and children can read together.

Lessons Can Be Learned From NHS Project Success Says MSP

Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson has highlighted NHS Grampian’s success in a project which has resulted in shorter hospital stays for patients and saved the NHS £3million over 3 years.

The HAME (Home and Mobility Evaluation) project is a 3-year project which is being trialled until August this year. Two members of staff - an occupational therapist and a physiotherapist - have been based in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary's emergency department as part of the HAME (Home and Mobility Evaluation) project.

The move ensures the team can engage with patients as soon as they enter the hospital and means those coming into the acute facility have their mobility assessed much more quickly leading to more patients being discharged home and some directly to community hospitals.

Commenting, Stewart Stevenson said:

“I am delighted to hear of the success of this project and I congratulate Aberdeen Royal Infirmary staff on having carried the HAME project out over the last 3 years.

“This is a fantastic project that is helping NHS Grampian get the right treatment more quickly to patients but also saving vital NHS resources.

“Hopefully the lessons learned from this mean NHS Grampian will continue the HAME project onwards which may lead to even more resources saved and patients recovering more quickly.”

Tributes to Former Peterhead Councillor Michael Ross

Tributes have been paid to former Peterhead SNP councillor Michael Ross, who died on Tuesday at the age of 69.

Michael Ross was elected to the former Banff & Buchan District Council in 1988 for the Clerkhill Ward and re-elected again in 1992. When the authority was abolished in local government re-organisation, he stood down from elected office in 1996.

MSP for Banffshire & Buchan Coast Stewart Stevenson said:

“Michael was a well-respected and much-liked teacher at Clerkhill School and it was no surprise that he proved to be a popular local councillor.

“He was very much committed to the job of representing the people of Peterhead and did so with a ready wit and enthusiasm. My condolences go to his family at this time.”

Peterhead South & Cruden SNP councillor Stephen Smith, who represents Clerkhill, added:

“I worked on Michael’s successful election campaign back in 1988 and he made it a fun and enjoyable campaign to be part of.

“While not a teacher of mine, Michael taught a number of my academy school friends and it was clear he was held in high regard by them.

“Michael’s health wasn’t the best in recent years but his role in helping build support for the Scottish National Party in Peterhead was vital to our success in the 1980s and he will be missed.”

Local MSP Calls For New DEFRA Minister Robert Goodwill To Back Scottish Farmers In Funding Review

Westminster Continues to Withhold EU Millions from Scotland

DEFRA must choose whether to “back or betray” Scottish farmers, the SNP has said, by demanding that they receive £160m in funding to which they are entitled.

The call comes as Conservative MP Robert Goodwill, the newly-appointed UK Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food visits the North-east tomorrow. Mr Goodwill was appointed following the resignation of former Minister George Eustice, a casualty of the latest round of Tory in-fighting over Brexit.

In October 2018, DEFRA, under pressure from the Scottish Government, announced a long-overdue review into funding for farmers post-Brexit, but have repeatedly failed to address Scottish farmers’ concerns about Westminster's decision to withhold £160m in convergence payments. This money is an uplift of EU CAP payments which the UK received because of the low per hectare rate of support received by Scottish farmers.

Commenting, Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson said:

“Scottish farmers have not forgotten that the UK Tory Government has withheld £160m in funding rightfully due to them. It is solely because of Scotland that the UK, as the Member State, qualified for this funding.

“The new Minister has an opportunity early in his tenure to set right this historic wrong. With future arrangements for agriculture still unclear amidst the turmoil around Brexit, it is vital Scottish agriculture benefits from the EU support to which the sector is entitled while it still can.

“It is overwhelmingly in the interests of Scottish farmers to, at the very least, remain in the Customs Union and Single Market. The fact that we are a week from potentially crashing out of the EU with no deal at all, and with no indication of the UK’s plans for agricultural support in the medium to longer term, is causing immense anxiety to farmers.

“Farmers will be expecting more than warm words from Mr Goodwill. He needs to send a clear signal to Scottish farmers that he understands their distinct challenges and is prepared to pay them what is rightfully theirs. In other words, he needs to decide whether he will back Scotland’s farmers, or betray them.”

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