Aberdeen CENTRAL

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ABERDEEN CENTRAL CONSTITUENCY (Scottish Parliament)

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KEVIN STEWART MSP

Born and bred in the city, Kevin Stewart was elected as the MSP for ABERDEEN CENTRAL on 5 May 2011, taking the seat from Labour.  Re-elected on 5 May 2016.

Minister for Local Government & Housing from May 2016.  Formerly Convener of the Local Government & Regeneration Parliamentary Committee.

First elected to Aberdeen City Council, for Auchmill ward, in 1999, and led the SNP group for 12 years. Depute Leader of the Council 2007-11.

As Finance & Resources Committee convener, successfully dealt with the Council's  £50million debt, accumulated by previous unionist administrations.   Stepped down as a councillor in May 2012.

 

Contact KEVIN STEWART at his CONSTITUENCY OFFICE:                                                                              

3rd floor
27 John Street
Aberdeen
AB25 1BT

Tel.: 01224 624719   *   Text relay calls welcome

Office hours:   Monday to Friday, 10.00 - 12.00am and 1.00 - 5.00pm.

Surgeries:   Every Monday from 2.30pm at the Constituency Office.  Write, phone or e-mail to make an appointment.

E-mail:       kevin.stewart.msp@parliament.scot                                                                           

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70,000 HOMES delivered since 2007

Scotland is experiencing the highest levels of activity in the affordable house-building sector since the early 1980s.

National statistics show that the SNP Government has delivered an impressive 70,000 affordable homes in the last ten years. 48,813 were for social rent, including 8,819 council homes, 4,936 for affordable rent and 17,112 for affordable home ownership.

To mark the completion of the 70,000th affordable home, Local Government & Housing Minister Kevin Stewart met tenants at a housing development in Edinburgh on December 12. He commented: “Increasing the supply of affordable homes is a key commitment by the Government. We will provide the certainty that local authorities and the sector need to accelerate this progress. Making sure everyone has a safe, warm and affordable home is central to this Government’s drive for a fairer and more prosperous Scotland. We are determined to accelerate housing supply for communities across the country, and I am confident we will continue to increase affordable housing, with our ambitious target to deliver 50,000 homes during the lifetime of this Parliament, backed by £3billion of investment.”

In June, the Scottish Government announced that it would allocate more than £1.75billion to Councils, in a major commitment to stimulate investment in affordable housing. The funding is designed to enable local authorities and house-builders plan their investment, and provide certainty on the amount of funding available until 2021. In 2018-19, £532million will be shared amongst local authorities – rising to £591million in 2019-20 and £630million in 2020-21.

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HOMELESSNESS action group

An action group, which will identify the changes needed to end rough sleeping and transform the use of temporary accommodation, has been announced by Local Government & Housing Minister KEVIN STEWART. 

Speaking on September 22, Mr. Stewart said: “We want to see an end to rough sleeping, and the appointment of our Homelessness & Rough Sleeping Action Group will lead the way in recommending the actions and legislative changes we need to tackle homelessness and the use of temporary accommodation. We are committed to eradicating rough sleeping, and are aware that this requires more than just the provision of housing. Every individual has their own unique needs and challenges. To achieve this, we need to ensure we have a joined-up approach across all sectors to improve prevention. Scotland has led the way in ensuring rights for homeless people, and we want to continue to lead the way and transform the outcomes for those that feel they are stuck in a cycle of homelessness and poverty.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis, will chair the action group, and a panel of members will be appointed shortly. He said: "It is an honour to be asked to chair this action group, which will bring forward solutions to help end homelessness. The Scottish Government has rightly identified that a renewed effort is required to stop more people experiencing different forms of homelessness. Its £50million Ending Homelessness Together Fund, along with its commitment to end rough sleeping and transform the use of temporary accommodation, will change people’s lives.  We know the scale of the problem, and this group will focus firmly on delivering solutions which prevent, tackle and end homelessness for people. There’s some hard work to be done, but I believe the expertise and knowledge of those on the group means we will be up to the challenge, and I look forward to quickly getting to work."

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UNION STREET buildings to get facelift

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is to provide Aberdeen with a grant of £1.2million, which will go towards the rejuvenation of buildings in the city's iconic main street.

The money will go towards the city's Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme, which will focus on restoring and bringing back into use vacant and underused historic buildings. The scheme is designed to aid sustainable economic growth, "by supporting projects that develop an area’s sense of place." Unfortunately, the 16th century Provost Skene's House "sense of place" has been completely destroyed, as a result of the municipal vandalism of Broad Street by the current Aberdeen City Council.

Union Street is in the Aberdeen Central constituency of Kevin Stewart MSP. On March 3, he commented: "It is welcome news that Historic Environment Scotland is keen to play its part in supporting the future of Union Street, and to help return the city centre to its former sparkling glory. I am looking forward to seeing this large-scale clean-up, which I hope will be carried out on time and to budget. Showing pride in our city is something we can all share. This particular project demonstrates how much better off we are when the Council and its partners work with the Scottish Government and bodies like HES, to do best by Aberdeen and its people."

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Cutting BUSINESS RATES

The Scottish Government plans to cut business rates overall, by £155million, in 2017-18.

Small businesses will pay nothing. The Small Business Bonus Scheme (SBBS) was introduced by the SNP Government in 2008. To date, small businesses have saved £1.2billion.

Around 3,500 business premises, with a rateable value of between £15,000 and £18,000, will benefit from a 25% discount on their bills. For those businesses paying rates, the standard ‘poundage’ rate has been cut -- from 48.4 pence in the pound in 2016-17 to 46.6 pence in 2017-18. Only the very largest businesses will pay more. 

To address any disproportionate increase in rateable values in the hotels sector, the Scottish Government will cap bill increases at 12.5%. This relief will also be extended to pubs, clubsrestaurants and cafes. Altogether, some 8,500 properties in Scotland will receive proportionately more support for their sector than is available in the rest of the UK.

The Scottish Government has provided local authorities with additional funds, which can be used to address individual or highly localised impacts of the revaluation process. Finance Secretary Derek Mackay has announced that any Council wishing to offer local relief will have the support of the Government in developing its plans.

Since 2015, the fall in the oil price has had an adverse impact on some businesses in the North-East. In recognition of this, the Scottish Government will cap bill increases for office space in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire at 12.5%. Around 1,000 properties will benefit. The Government has provided support to Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen City and other Councils, to help them use their powers to offer further rates relief at a local level. Aberdeenshire Council has proposed a rates relief scheme of £3million – despite Tory opposition. 

A package of support will be available to the renewables sector. There will be up to 100% relief for qualifying community, renewable and new-build schemes, and a lower payment threshold for community schemes from 1 MW to 0.5 MW. Small-scale hydro projects, producing up to 1 MW, will have their bills capped at 12.5%. Stand-alone heating schemes will have 50% rates relief.

On February 21, Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, commented: "I welcome the Scottish Government's decision to introduce a national rates relief package for the hospitality sector, which will see a 12.5% cap on any increase. It is also gratifying that Finance Secretary Derek Mackay has recognised the economic pressures in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, and has announced that office premises in our area will also see a 12.5% cap applied."

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SINGLE MARKET is vital for Aberdeen 

A report by the Centre for Cities think-tank has shown that 61% of Aberdeen’s exports go to the EU, which works out at £18,100 for every worker involved.

On January 30, Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, commented: “This new report shows exactly why the Tory plan to tear us out of the EU and single market would be so damaging to Aberdeen and the North-East. The city's economy benefits massively from our membership of the single market, which is around eight times bigger than the UK’s. As much as 61% of our exports go to the continent. Anything that threatens this trade with the EU will undoubtedly hit our economy hard and compound the recent uncertainty in the oil and gas sector.

“We’ve already been warned that the catastrophic 'hard Brexit' that the Tories are fully intent on delivering will cost Scotland 80,000 jobs and £11.2billion per year from our economy by 2030. This latest report is yet more confirmation of that. The Tories must respect Scotland’s overwhelming vote to remain in the EU, by fully considering the detailed compromise proposals laid out in Scotland’s Place in Europe. Anything else would be nothing less than yet another Tory betrayal of Scotland.”

### See also ABERDEEN said "Yes" to Europe! below

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Another BANK BRANCH to close

Clydesdale's Riverside Branch, at 19 North Esplanade West, Aberdeen, is the latest in the city to go. 

The closure was announced in an e-mail to local stakeholders. No reason was provided for the decision, other than general platitudes about "more people choosing online and telephone banking."  All customers who used the branch will have their accounts transferred to the St. Nicholas office in Union Street.

On January 28, Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, called on the bank's management to rethink their action. He said: “This is a disappointing announcement from Clydesdale Bank. We’ve seen a number of banks closing branches in the city in the last few years, and I believe that many of our local areas are the poorer for it. Some of the former buildings are still lying empty and many people -- especially the elderly -- are struggling to get to the banks their accounts have been assigned to. I have asked Clydesdale Bank to provide me with a copy of their assessment, because they still have not said why they are closing this office. It is a well-used branch, and its closure will have an adverse effect on many people I represent.”

This is the latest in a series of branch closures that have been made by all of the major "High Street" banks. Clydesdale closed three other Aberdeen branches -- at Bucksburn, Woodside and Bridge of Don -- in 2014. The Bank of Scotland followed suit, in April 2016, with the closure of their Mile End office at 1 Midstocket Road, and the Old Aberdeen branch at 91 High Street, which was used by many university students. At the time, Mr. Stewart commented: "Closing the Aberdeen University branch seems to be somewhat bizarre, considering the amount of effort that banks put into attracting student customers." In October 2016, the John Street branch -- near the MSP's constituency office -- also closed.

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Transforming the PLANNING system

Plans for major changes to the country's planning procedures were published on January 10.

The Scottish Government has set out 20 proposals for revamping the system, which will support economic growth, delivery of houses and increase community involvement in planning decisions. The proposals build on recommendations of an independent review carried out by a panel of experts last year. Key changes include zoning more land for housing, promoting self-build and removing the need to apply for planning permission for other types of development. The consultation will run until April 4, and will pave the way for a bill later in the year.

Minister for Local Government & Housing Kevin Stewart launched the consultation while on a visit to the Pennywell development in Edinburgh. He said: “Planning affects everyone’s lives, from making sure we have the right types of homes to driving forward regeneration. We need a strong and efficient system to support these aims and for long-term economic growth. These proposals will mean we are better placed to make high quality development happen sooner and in the right places. I firmly believe that Scotland's planners can lead the delivery of great places, empower communities and provide a stable environment for investment through the uncertain times we live in. I would encourage everyone with an interest in planning – developers and businesses, professionals and local authorities, communities and members of the public – to tell us what they think of our proposals for change.”

Consultation at:--    https://consult.scotland.gov.uk/planning-architecture/a-consultation-on-...

Kevin Stewart video at:--    https://www.facebook.com/KevinStewartSNP/videos/1864984723748608/

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Leading our COUNCIL ELECTION campaign                                                                       

Local Government & Housing Minister KEVIN STEWART and SUSAN AITKEN, the party's Local Government Convener (pictured), will co-chair the SNP's national campaign in the Council elections in May.   

The announcement was made by Party Leader Nicola Sturgeon on 3 Dec. 2016. Mr. Stewart was the SNP Group Leader in Aberdeen City Council for 12 years, before his election as the MSP for Aberdeen Central. He said: "I'm 'fair chuffed' to be working alongside Susan and the SNP team to achieve many victories in the Local Government elections." Ms. Aitken currently leads the opposition SNP Group in Glasgow City Council.

Commenting on the appointments, SNP Business Convener Derek Mackay said: “I’m delighted that our party heads into the Council elections with such strong and experienced campaigners at the helm. Kevin Stewart and Susan Aitken represent two of Scotland’s great cities — Aberdeen and Glasgow — and bring a breadth of understanding on how we strive to build a better future, an SNP future, for all of Scotland."

“The big political contest won’t be between the SNP and Labour — it will be between us and the Tories. And for all they try to wriggle out of it, Ruth Davidson’s party cannot just shrug off those ties that bind the Tories in Scotland to their colleagues at Westminster. Their relentless austerity agenda, reckless pursuit of a hard Brexit and complete disregard for Scotland’s interests. In May it’s a choice between Scotland’s Party and Westminster’s Party."  Polling day is on May 4.

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River Don HYDRO scheme

Aberdeen Community Energy (ACE) is a society made up of members of the Donside Community Association.

Its aim is to harness the power of the fast-flowing River Don to produce enough electricity to power 130 homes a year. Their £1.2million Donside Hydro scheme is due for completion by October. 

The society is offering local individuals and businesses the opportunity to buy shares in the project. So far, nearly £160,000 of their £500,000 target has been raised. On 22 August 2016, Callum McCaig MP, Kirsty Blackman MP, and Kevin Stewart MSP (pictured) visited the Donside Hydro site, to gain an insight into how the project was progressing.

Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, said the project was inspiring, and showcased the vast range of knowledge and expertise across the energy sectors in Aberdeen. He added: "Green energy schemes benefit us all, as they improve not only how we consume energy but also the impact we have on the environment and what kind of legacy we leave for future generations."

Callum McCaig, the SNP MP for Aberdeen South, is also the party's Energy & Climate Change spokesperson at Westminster. He said: “The Donside Hydro project is clear evidence that not only does Scotland have enviable potential to generate massive amounts of energy from renewables, but that our communities are also enthusiastic to back investment in them."

Kirsty Blackman, the SNP MP for Aberdeen North, said: “The SNP group in Westminster has been pushing for the UK Government to recognise the public support for renewable energy, and it is fantastic to see an example of that here in my constituency. The Donside Hydro scheme is exactly the sort of innovative project we should be looking to encourage and support, especially in Scotland where we have such an abundance of renewables potential.”

For the state opening of the Scottish Parliament on 2 July 2016, ACE founder Sinclair Laing was nominated as Aberdeen Central's "local hero" by Kevin Stewart, and took part in the ceremonial procession down Edinburgh's Royal Mile.

### More information at:   www.acenergy.org.uk/                  

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  ABERDEEN said "Yes" to EUROPE !

The City of Aberdeen -- in common with all of Scotland's 32 local authority areas -- voted REMAIN in the EU Referendum on 23 June 2016.

       

        The result was:--

        Remain.............63,985     (61.1%)

        Leave................40,729     (38.9%)

        Maj.  23,256      Turnout 67.9%.         

 

### More information on the SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT and EUROPEAN UNION pages.

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"RIGHT TO BUY" ends 

The Right to Buy scheme, which allowed tenants in Scotland's social housing to buy their homes, was scrapped on 31 July 2016.

Making the announcement, Minister for Local Government & Housing Kevin Stewart said: "The end of Right to Buy marks a major milestone in the Scottish Government’s efforts to build a sustainable housing policy for the future. It is absolutely vital that people can access social housing when they need it most. Since Right to Buy was introduced in 1980, nearly half a million council and housing association homes have been sold to their tenants. By ending the scheme, we are protecting up to 15,500 social homes from sale over the next ten years, and safeguarding this stock for future generations."

“The Scottish Government is doing everything possible to maximise our investment in housing, and to deliver on our ambitious target of 50,000 affordable houses (including 35,000 social homes) over the lifetime of this Parliament. With thousands of people on waiting lists for council and housing association houses, it was only right for us to scrap this scheme, as we could no longer afford to see the social sector lose out on badly needed homes. Giving everyone access to a good quality, affordable home is a priority for this Government, and we will continue to assist people into home ownership through a range of shared equity schemes, including Help to Buy (Scotland) and Open Market Shared Equity, to help thousands of households to own their own homes.”

Dr. Mary Taylor, CEO of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations said: “SFHA is delighted that all forms of the right to buy policy in Scotland have now come to an end --  and this hasn’t come a moment too soon. Right to buy has had its day and has no place in modern Scotland."  Between the years 1979-80 and 2014-15, a total of 494,580 council and housing association homes were sold under the Right to Buy scheme. in Scotland -- homes that were no longer available to later generations who wanted to rent in the social housing sector.

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 POST OFFICE could be relocated

Aberdeen’s main post office could move from its current location at 489 Union Street (pictured), near Holburn Junction.

The plan is to relocate into a nearby WH Smith store -- across the road at 408-12 Union Street -- in October 2016. The current staff would be retained, and the same services offered as in the previous location. The Post Office has started a six-week consultation to hear the public’s thoughts on the move.

Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, encourages those who use the Union Street office to make their views known. On 1 June 2016, he commented: "A number of people rely on the city centre post office, and even small changes may make a big difference to some. They have the opportunity to have their say on this move. They can give their opinions on the proposed new location, or make any suggestions about other possible venues." The consultation ended on 6 July 2016.

Many people will recall this happening before. When the St. Nicholas Centre was built, a spacious new post office was opened on the upper or roof deck, facing Upperkirkgate. Although it was a popular and much-used facility, the office was relocated to the basement level of the neighbouring WH Smith store. The previous building has been vacant ever since.

### For further information, log onto:   www.postofficeviews.co.uk/images/pdf/union_street_ab116az_letter.pdf                           _______________________________________________________________________________________

Bringing more VISITORS to Aberdeen

More should be done to encourage people to visit Aberdeen.

Kevin Stewart,  the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central said:  “Tourism used to be a big part of Aberdeen's economy, when the city did a very good job of encouraging people to visit again and again. Many will remember when thousands of people came to visit "The Silver City with the Golden Sands", because they knew what a magnificent place our city was and what fun could be had here." As with many similar resorts, Aberdeen's visitor numbers declined sharply when holidaymakers took advantage of ever-cheaper air travel to more exotic destinations like Spain, Greece and Florida. In more recent times, development of the offshore oil industry resulted in a large number of business visitors.

Due to the current downturn in the oil and gas industry, some of Aberdeen's hoteliers are struggling to get bookings, and Mr. Stewart has asked for further efforts to boost Aberdeen both as a business and tourist destination. The MSP has written to Malcolm Roughead, the chief executive of VisitScotland, and Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, calling for collaboration on how to achieve a higher profile for the city in national and overseas advertising. Mr. Roughhead has informed the MSP that Aberdeen is to receive the second highest level of tourism funding in Scotland, and that work is ongoing to establish VisitAberdeenshire, to promote tourism across both the city and shire.    

On 30 May 2016, Mr. Stewart commented: "It is encouraging that VS has recognised the challenges facing the city's hotels. Increased promotion means they will now become more competitive, while there should be many new customers for our shops and restaurants. With the high quality on offer at these and our tourist attractions, I believe that our city will soon start to rebuild its reputation as somewhere worth visiting. Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire are in a wonderful corner of Scotland. The landscape, culture, historic architecture and beaches deserve to be seen and experienced by many more from home and abroad."  

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ASIAN COMMUNITY assists homeless

Aberdeen’s Muslim community has been praised for its work in handing out free food to people in the city who are homeless or going through tough times.                                                                                                                           

Their Foodbox group will provide the needy with freshly-cooked Asian meals, at St. Nicholas Square on the last Wednesday of every month. On 25 May 2016, the project's manager Maaruf Razzak said: “We wanted to make sure we sent the right message to the people of Aberdeen. Foodbox is more than just supplying the homeless. It is about providing food for anyone that does not have dinner on their table. We are conscious that nobody should be hungry in Aberdeen.”

The initiative was warmly welcomed by Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, who wrote to the group to pledge his support and to offer assistance, if required. Mr. Stewart said: “Foodbox is an incredible commitment from the Muslim community to help provide food for those most in need. Like many other religions, the Islamic faith promotes charity, and I am pleased to see Aberdeen Muslims offering to help folk in our city who may be struggling to get by. I commend everyone involved, as it demonstrates a real sense of community in our city. The food will be available to people of all faiths and backgrounds, and will help bring people closer together.”

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Kevin is Minister for LOCAL GOVERNMENT & HOUSING

Following the appointment of the new SNP Cabinet on 18 May 2016,  KEVIN STEWART (Aberdeen Central) is the new Minister for Local Government & Housing.

He will effectively take on the role of two MSPs who recently retired from the Parliament -- Marco Biagi (Local Government) and Margaret Burgess (Housing).

Mr. Stewart and Social Security Minister Jeane Freeman will be responsible to the Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security & Equalities, Angela Constance. The team had their first meeting at St. Andrew's House shortly after being appointed.

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ABERDEEN ROYAL INFIRMARY to get Trauma Centre

This new specialist centre at Foresterhill will be equipped and staffed to provide care for patients suffering from major traumatic injuries, incurred by such things as falls or motor vehicle collisions.

On 20 April 2016,  Kevin Stewart welcomed the commitment to include Aberdeen as part of a major trauma network, which formed part of the SNP manifesto for the Scottish Parliamentary Election. Mr Stewart said: “I am delighted to see that the SNP manifesto has put the NHS at the front and centre of our policies to make Scotland an ever better nation. This includes the commitment to a major national trauma network – including Aberdeen as a vital site. Not only will an SNP Government increase the NHS budget by over £2billion by the end of the next Parliament, but today’s commitment shows how important Aberdeen is to our truly national health service."

The new £30million Elective Treatment Centre at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary will also substantially increase capacity for routine procedures required by elderly patients in the North-East. SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon commented: “People in Scotland are living longer than ever before. That’s undoubtedly a good thing, but we must make sure that we put the right healthcare and support in place to ensure that they can continue to lead active, healthy and independent lives. That’s why it is so important to make sure our health services are fit for the future, and why we are committing £200million for five elective treatment centres at key hospital sites across the country."

“Aberdeen Royal Infirmary serves a bustling city, and a huge number of communities in the region, plus the Northern Isles. Investing in a flagship Elective Treatment Centre at Foresterhill means NHS Grampian will be able to deliver a huge range of procedures, including knee and hip replacements and cataract operations, as quickly as possible. Elective treatment at the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank has been a huge success story. I’ve met with older patients, and heard first-hand how a new hip, or knee replacement can be totally transformational, and give them a completely new lease of life."

“It is important we build for the future – growing capacity across Scotland, and giving local health boards the support they need to deal with an increased demand on their services from an aging population. Central to that is equipping them to do more locally for the communities they serve. In addition to record funding for our NHS, more staff work in our health services than ever before. That’s a strong basis for a healthy Scotland in the years to come.”

### Following on from the new Royal Aberdeen Children's Hospital in 2004, there has been considerable development at or near the Foresterhill site. The Aberdeen Dental School, in Westburn Drive, was opened by Alex Salmond in Jan. 2010.  A new, £110million state-of-the-art Emergency Care Centre came into operation in Nov. 2012. The Scottish Government has also said it will invest £120million in a new Maternity Hospital & Cancer Centre, while the planned multi-storey car park will have space for 1,000 vehicles. The CLAN charity opened its nearby Westburn Road cancer support centre in Oct. 2011.

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TAX OFFICE closure

HM Revenue & Customs plans to close its 17 offices in Scotland by 2021, with the net loss of over 2,000 jobs. The UK Government says it will replace them with two large "regional centres" in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The Aberdeen office -- at Ruby House, near Golden Square -- faces being axed by 2021, with 120 losing their jobs. The Inverness centre will also go by 2018, with the loss of about 50 positions. Apparently, staff in those offices will not automatically move to one of the new regional centres, and most could be made redundant.

On 21 March 2016, Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, called on the UK Government to reverse its decision to close the Aberdeen office. Mr. Stewart commented: “A city of Aberdeen’s size should have its own, dedicated HMRC office so that Aberdonians can easily access services. The staff at Ruby House have specialist knowledge in dealing with oil and gas workers, including divers, and I fear that these specialisms will be lost if functions are moved elsewhere. For these reasons, the UK Government must keep the office open.”

Motion by Kevin Stewart MSP in the Scottish Parliament on 21 March 2016:

ABERDEEN'S HMRC OFFICE. That the Parliament condemns the UK Government's decision to close the HMRC office in Aberdeen as well as other facilities in Scotland; believes that a city of Aberdeen's size should have its own, dedicated HMRC office so that citizens can easily access services; understands that the staff at the Aberdeen base have specialist knowledge in dealing with oil and gas workers, including divers, that may not exist elsewhere, and calls on the UK Government to reverse its decision and keep Aberdeen's HMRC office open.

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Flagrantly SHORT-CHANGED by Westminster

The Scottish Government is investing a total of £379million in the infrastructure of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

Aimed at securing the North-East's economic future, there will be a total of £504million invested in innovation, digital connectivity and infrastructure across the area. The City Region Deal for Aberdeen, announced on 27 January 2016, will see £250million being pumped in over the next five to ten years, which will be funded 50-50 by the Scottish and UK Governments. On top of its £125million share of the Deal, the SNP Government has allocated a further £224million for road and rail improvements, £20million to "unlock" housing sites and a £10million boost for digital connectivity.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "Given the current situation in Aberdeen, with significant job losses announced in recent weeks by the oil and gas industry, it is vital that both Governments send a strong and unequivocal signal that we fully support the region’s position as a global oil and gas hub. The City Region Deal includes plans for a new innovation hub, which will assist Aberdeen in making the transition from an operations base to a global centre for technology and R&D investment. It would also anchor the oil and gas industry as a major success story for the Scottish and UK economies now and in years to come. This deal will also pave the way for diversifying the economy -- building on existing strengths in bio-pharmaceuticals, agri-food and drink. Digital connectivity, supporting the harbour expansion at Nigg, and investment in housing and transport, will also all play an important role in supporting and growing the economy of the Aberdeen city region for the future."

Before anyone gets carried away by the apparent magnanimity of the UK Tory Government, a half share of £250million actually falls far short of the bonanza that Aberdeen and the North-East were initially promised. In June 2015, Kirsty Blackman, the SNP MP for Aberdeen North. led a Commons debate on the issue, during which it was revealed that the Aberdeen City Region was set to benefit to the tune of £2.9billion, consisting of direct grants and borrowing powers. On 28 January 2016, Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, said: "Once again, Westminster has over-promised and under-delivered. David Cameron often tells us about the 'broad-shoulders' of the UK. We’ve heard the same from other opposition politicians. But where were those 'broad-shoulders' today? Don't get me wrong. This latest investment – indeed, all investment into the region – is very welcome. But, all too often, the UK Government views Aberdeen and the North-East as nothing more than a cash-cow.  Over the years, the London Treasury has benefitted by no less than £300billion from direct taxation of North Sea oil, which has flowed straight to Westminster. It’s clear that the North-East deserves more than what was on offer from this Tory Government today."

"In these tough economic times, the funding announced will be in addition to the £1billion that the Scottish Government is already investing in Aberdeen and the North-East. Existing investment includes £170million for improvements to the Aberdeen--Inverness railway line and £745million for the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route. Next Monday, the First Minister will be in Aberdeen for meetings with the oil and gas industry, and to announce fresh Scottish Government support for the North Sea."

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We should control our NORTH SEA OIL

Two academics, who specialise in energy, have called for control of the remaining oil and gas in our marine sector to be transferred to the Scottish Government.

In their special report, published on 19 January 2016, Professors Peter Strachan and Alex Russell, of Aberdeen's Robert Gordon University, highlighted the current plight of the industry. They said: “In the absence of Westminster showing a willingness to help maximise economic recovery from the North Sea, full control of energy and oil within the Scottish sector should be transferred to the Scottish Government, and tax receipts for economic activity taking place within the country should be part of the funding arrangements for Scotland.”

"Despite there still being enough resources in the region to generate the same amount of revenue as that collected in the past 45 years, the UK Government has virtually abandoned the industry.  It is important to stress to Westminster that the industry needs urgent assistance, so that once prices rise again there is an industry left for governments to exploit, to achieve the full maximum economic return on past investments. The UK Government has reaped the enormous amount of £300billion in direct tax income and the oil industry has made significant profits from the North Sea. There are still 22billion barrels of oil and gas still in place in the Atlantic and the North Sea that can generate at least the same amount of income once oil prices rise."

“It is not a case of if oil prices will rise, but when. The economic fate of Scotland should not be imperilled by the mistaken and short-term decision making of the oil majors, to merely get some payback from their proven reserves, rather than taking the longer-game stance of retaining staff in order to continue to explore for new reserves. Neither should it be imperilled by a UK Government that should be incentivising the industry, by matching investment funds pound-for-pound, and by agreeing to impose exactly the same taxation regime on the industry as on any other industry. In January 2015, Fergus Ewing (Minister for Business, Energy & Tourism) set out the urgent need for an exploration tax-credit incentive. But we’re now a year on -- and still waiting for Westminster to act on a system the Norwegians implemented a number of years ago.”

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FLOODING in city -- emergency services commended

Following record rainfall in December and early January, extremely high water levels in both the Dee and Don caused extensive flooding to parts of Aberdeen.

Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, visited some of the worst affected areas, and commended emergency services and others for their work in alleviating the distress, concern and inconvenience caused by the inundation. On 8 January 2016, he commented: "I have spent a large part of today with my colleagues Kirsty Blackman MP and Callum McCaig MP visiting places that faced flood warnings last night, and some which have already experienced flooding."

"I have been very impressed by the efforts that have been made by Aberdeen City Council staff, SEPA, the emergency services and numerous other organisations and individuals, who have helped keep Aberdonians safe. The local media should also be applauded for their diligence in keeping people informed of developments and alerts. It is heartening that people, community groups and businesses are rallying round to help their families, friends and neighbours during these adverse weather conditions.”

Motion by Kevin Stewart MSP in the Scottish Parliament on 8 January 2016:

ABERDEEN'S REACTION TO THE SEVERE WEATHER. That the Parliament commends Aberdeen City Council's staff, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the emergency services for all of the work that they have being doing to keep Aberdonians safe during the flooding emergency; recognises the efforts of the media in the Aberdeen area to provide up-to-the-minute information, including Fubar News on Facebook, which provides what it considers excellent news updates from people in the community; applauds organisations such as Sanctuary Housing and Hanover Scotland in their efforts to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their tenants who have been affected by flooding, and is heartened by the way that it sees that people, community groups and businesses are rallying round to help their families, friends and neighbours during these adverse weather conditions.

On 9 January 2016, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visited flooded areas in the North-East and spoke to residents. She pledged that the Scottish Government would provide the support needed to help individuals, businesses and communities to recover from the damage caused by the unprecedented severe weather. Immediate funding of £12million will be made available to those most affected. This is in addition to the £4million announced by John Swinney in his budget statement. Every household, commercial premises and charity which has seen floodwater damage will be able to claim a grant of £1,500 from their local authority. They can use this to replace lost or damaged items, or to take steps to help flood-proof their home. Any business which has had its ability to trade adversely impacted by the flooding will be able to claim a £3,000 grant.

### The Government's Flood Prevention Action Plan:   http://news.scotland.gov.uk/News/Flood-protection-212f.aspx

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"LEGAL HIGHS"

In late December 2015, police seized packages containing new psychoactive substances (NPS) worth £100,000 from retail outlets in the city of Aberdeen.

Also known as "legal highs", NPS are designed to produce similar effects to controlled drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy. To avoid contravening the Misuse of Drugs Act, the products are often sold as bath salts, research chemicals or even plant food. Upwards of 600 people have already signed a petition calling for the closure of the Harminasion "legal high" shop in King Street. Its previous outlet, in George Street, was shut down by Police Scotland in June 2015, as a result of the "anti-social behaviour arising from the sale of legal highs on the premises."

In response to complaints from King Street residents, Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, voiced his concerns to Police Scotland in July 2015. He had earlier written to both Scottish Justice Minister Michael Matheson and UK Home Secretary Theresa May about shops of this kind. Mr. Stewart commented: There should be no place in our streets for shops selling dangerous products like new psychoactive substances. This case is made even worse by the King Street shop's proximity to a drug rehabilitation clinic and other facilities, such as the Arts Centre & Theatre -- directly across the road -- which are used by young people.”

“I am delighted to see the success of both the police and trading standards in Aberdeen as part of their Operation Alexander. The 5,744 packets seized will make a huge dent in those businesses which are seeking to get around our drug laws. The substances will be tested to see if they are harmful, and destroyed if that is the case. I hope that the people who live near these shops, and those who have dealt with the impact of these substances, will be pleased to hear that something is now being done.”

There appears to be evidence that some individuals have been using the playground at Skene Square Primary School to consume the substances. Cllr. Bill Cormie, who represents the area, said: “NPS packaging has been spotted in the school playground. If a small child were to pick up a wrapper the janitor had missed when he was cleaning up, and it still contained a narcotic substance, it is frightening to think of the consequences.”

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Abolishing the BEDROOM TAX

The UK Government's Scotland Bill will transfer control of around 14% of the current welfare benefits system to the Scottish Parliament. An SNP Government re-elected next May would consolidate these new powers in a Social Security Bill.

The bill is likely to contain an intention to abolish the obligation for any Scottish householder to pay Westminster's Under-occupancy Penalty -- or Bedroom Tax. However, following the publication of statistics which show that 1,691 are affected in Aberdeen, Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, has called on the UK Government to abolish the charge immediately. Speaking on 16 November 2015, Mr. Stewart said:  “These figures highlight the shocking impact the Bedroom Tax has had on families in Scotland, including 1,691 people in Aberdeen."

"“It is very sad to see that so many are still affected by this barbaric attack on those with more than one spare bedroom. Since the tax was introduced, the Scottish Government has committed £90million towards alleviating the financial strain suffered by those who have been affected. While our Government has fully mitigated its impact in Scotland,  the Labour Government in Wales has refused to do so. The UK Tory Government must recognise the impact of this hated levy on families across England and Wales and on public finances in Scotland. The simplest and fairest solution remains for the measure to be dropped by the Department for Work & Pensions."

 

U-turn on TAX CREDITS

As part of its stringent austerity programme, the UK Government is to press ahead with a further £12billion pruning of its welfare budget.

It had originally planned to save £4.4billion by introducing sweeping reductions in the eligibility for working tax credits in April. The SNP had roundly condemned the proposed cuts which, when fully implemented, would have seen some low-income households with children in Scotland losing as much as £3,000 a year. It is estimated that almost 350,000 Scottish children would have been adversely affected. As with the bedroom tax, the Scottish Government would have been required to provide a financial safety-net for some of the neediest families in the country -- by restoring the credits, or reimbursing those who will be worse off. But even these limited powers would not come to our Parliament until April 2017, or even later.  

In a surprise move, the Tory Government performed a complete u-turn on tax credits on 25 November 2015. Although no cuts would take place next year, the credits would be phased out by 2018. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said the move would "change nothing in the long run" because the cuts would still feature in the new Universal Credit system, which is due to replace tax credits by 2018. The SNP's Treasury spokesman Stewart Hosie MP said the UK Chancellor's "complete and humiliating U-turn on tax credit cuts shows that we were right to keep the pressure up to the last minute for the cuts to be scrapped."

In the final House of Commons debate on the Scotland Bill on 9 November 2015, Labour's only Scottish MP voted with the Tories to oppose the full devolution of tax credits to the Scottish Parliament. Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, commented: "An SNP amendment to the bill sought to devolve ALL powers over tax credits which, if passed, would have meant control over this and associated resources transferring to the Scottish Parliament. The amendment was defeated by 477 votes to 56. It is bizarre and hypocritical that Labour joined with the Conservatives to prevent the powers coming to our Parliament --  while at the same time calling on the Scottish Government to mitigate the effect of any Westminster cuts!"

### See also Only limited powers over WELFARE below.

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£205,000,000,000 to replace TRIDENT !                                                                                            

The cost of renewing the UK's nuclear weapon system, based at Faslane on the Firth of Clyde, has been put at a staggering -- and almost unbelievable -- £205 BILLION.

In July 1980, UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher personally negotiated a secret deal with US President Jimmy Carter to replace the submarine-borne Polaris missiles, which had been based at Faslane (just 25 miles from Glasgow) since 1968. The first of the four current Vanguard-class submarines, which carry the Trident nuclear missiles, came into operation in 1994.  Although they are not  due to  be mothballed until 2032, construction of their four replacements is planned to begin in Barrow-in-Furness in autumn 2016, in order to become operational by 2028. 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described this so-called nuclear deterrent as "useless, expensive, immoral and obscene." She added: "It is nothing but a political and military ego-trip. Over the years, the SNP and the wider peace movement have built up an overwhelming case against Trident on both moral and economic grounds. Since the General Election, my colleagues in the SNP Defence Group and I have been building the military case against Trident. It has been easier than we first thought, because Trident -- despite being such a massive drain on the UK defence budget -- is not actually a military weapon. It is a political weapon which can never and will never be used."

Under the slogan Teachers before Trident, Nurses before Nukes and Bairns before Bombs, Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, raised the issue at Holyrood.

Motion by Kevin Stewart MSP in the Scottish Parliament on 26 October 2015:

TRIDENT RENEWAL. That the Parliament notes reports that indicate that the UK faces a bill of £205billion to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system; believes that it is morally indefensible to spend such sums on weapons of mass destruction at any time, but particularly during a period of Conservative austerity, which has led to the slashing of social security budgets, the demise of tax credits and a rise in the use of foodbanks; believes that the UK Government should put teachers before Trident, nurses before nukes and bairns before bombs; calls on the Prime Minister to cancel his nuclear weapons replacement programme immediately, and urges him to bring forward plans to scrap Trident to free these islands of nuclear weapons.

### View Kevin Stewart's speech at:     https://www.facebook.com/KevinStewartSNP/videos/1677782269135522/

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Work begins at BROADFORD site  

After 11 years of total inaction, it has been announced that demolition of some of the mill buildings on the Broadford site has begun.

The derelict textile factory is bounded by Maberly Street, Ann Street and Hutcheon Street, and lies just north of the city centre. The old mill buildings date from the 1800s. Some are judged to be worthy of a Conservation A-listing, which protects them from demolition. Since the factory closed in 2004, the buildings have been the target for numerous acts of fire-raising, vandalism, graffiti and general anti-social behaviour.

Ian Suttie's First Construction company has been granted Scottish Government approval to develop an "urban village" on the site. The £50million development would consist of 517 homes, shops, a restaurant, nursery and a 569-space underground car park. The plans were initially rejected by Aberdeen City Council's Development Management sub-committee in July 2012, but objections were withdrawn five months later. On 6 October 2014, it appeared that, at last, a deal had finally been struck  between the Council and Mr. Suttie, who agreed to contribute to local road improvements and to the Strategic Transport Fund. However, there was no further progress made until March 2, when Listed Building consent was eventually granted by Historic Scotland. Aberdeen City Council was obviously at fault for dragging its feet over the planning application, and for insisting on various nit-picking conditions being met before it gave the green light to the Suttie scheme.

Work on demolishing 32 buildings on the site -- some of them fire-damaged -- commenced on 26 October 2015, and will take around 24 weeks to complete. Thankfully, eleven of the historic buildings, including the oldest (1808) iron-framed mill in Scotland, will be preserved. Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, who has been constantly pressing both the owner and the Council for action, commented: "I am pleased that, at last, there seems to be some movement at the Broadford site.  However, I hope that all of these works are going to be closely monitored by the Council to ensure that there is no damage to any of the listed buildings on the site. Beyond that, I hope that this is the start of not only demolition, but also construction, to ensure that this area is brought back up to a decent standard.”  On October 27, Mr. Stewart added: “I have asked Historic Environment Scotland* to assure me that a close eye will be kept on the scheduled elements within the site to ensure that these listed buildings are protected. Broadford Works has the largest cluster of Grade A listed buildings in the UK, and everything possible must be done to ensure that our heritage is preserved. I hope that Historic Environment Scotland will ensure that this happens.”   

*Historic Environment Scotland, an arm of the Scottish Government, came into existence on 1 October 2015.  It has taken on the combined responsibilities of the former Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland.

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New houses at CORNHILL HOSPITAL                                                                                                    

Work on the construction of 323 new homes in the spacious grounds of  Cornhill Hospital began in December 2015. Some of the existing modern buildings will be retained and converted into residential units.

Demolition (pictured) of the former 19th. century Royal Lunatic Asylum in Berryden Road took place in early October 2015. Like nearby Broadford, these older buildings lay empty for some years, and had been repeatedly targeted by fire-raisers. Much of the granite from the demolished buildings will be incorporated in the new housing on the site.

Bill Cormie, the SNP councillor for Midstocket & Rosemount ward, praised the developers for their speed in commencing construction. He commented: “There were horrendous fires at Cornhill, so it’s really good to see that such quick action has been taken." However, Cllr. Cormie took the opportunity to criticise Broadford Works owner Ian Suttie for "doing nothing", despite receiving planning permission for his site in 2012. 

 

ROXBURGHE HOUSE upgrade

Roxburghe House is NHS Grampian's specialist palliative care unit in Aberdeen.  Constructed in 2004, it is situated near Ashgrove Road, to the NW of Cornhill Hospital. The facility previously occupied a site in Milltimber, a western suburb of the city.

Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, has welcomed news that there is to be an extensive upgrade of the unit. More than £720,000 will be invested, with contributions from the Friends of Roxburghe House, NHS Grampian’s Endowment Fund and Macmillan Cancer Support.  On 27 October 2015, Mr. Stewart commented:  “The upgrade will include building a new day room, upgrading of all of the bathing and shower areas and improving the main nurse base. Roxburghe House provides vital services to patients from thoughout the North-East, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, and also deals with patients from NHS Highland with highly complex needs. This welcome improvement will greatly benefit patients, their families, staff and Roxburghe House volunteers.”  Mr. Stewart also lodged a congratulatory motion in the Scottish Parliament. 

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Labour's "UNDERFUNDING" claims disproved

If ever given the opportunity, the Labour Party in Scotland would set up a "Cuts Commission", whose remit would be to find some way of abolishing some or all of the most popular measures introduced by the SNP Government at Holyrood. 

These include free medical prescriptions, free personal care for the elderly, concessionary bus passes and the ending of university tuition fees. However, the SNP's equally popular 'freezing' of Council Tax bills has led to some recent backtracking by the 'Red Tories'. Some of the unionist party's bosses now realise that it would be politically unwise for Labour to press for local authorities to be allowed to charge what they like. Instead, their tactic has been to claim that the SNP Government has short-changed councils by  "underfunding the freeze."

These claims have been completely disproved by independent research, which clearly demonstrates  that the Council Tax freeze has been fully funded by the Scottish Government. Analysis by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) shows that “the money provided by the Government to freeze the Council Tax has resulted in local authorities receiving more income than they would have done by increasing rates by the Retail Price Index percentage." Indeed, the report says that the funding given to Local Government was such that “it could be said that the freeze, over the period 2008-14, was overfunded."

On 22 September 2015, Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, commented: “This new independent expert research has completely demolished years of bogus claims from Labour. The fact is that the Scottish Government has fully funded the freeze -- by supporting council budgets and boosting family incomes. That key Labour figures have spent eight years condemning a freeze which benefits the poorest people, while spreading completely inaccurate claims, is testament to a party which has completely lost its way. Labour now appears to be more interested in negative politicking than in putting forward any serious vision for Scotland."

“The public sector in Scotland has faced tough challenges in recent years, with Tory cuts passed down from Westminster. The Scottish Government has done everything it can to support front-line services, and it is right that we pay tribute to the council staff who work so hard to provide these services. With independent experts completely rubbishing Labour’s position on the Council Tax, it’s time for the party's leaders to apologise for their grossly misleading claims –- and take the opportunity to completely rethink their negative brand of politics.”

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Only limited powers over WELFARE

Widespread disappointment has been expressed by the third sector, over the limited powers on welfare to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

In written submissions to the Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), Carers Scotland and Enable Scotland called for more powers over social security to be devolved, and emphasised that problems could stem from Westminster's continued control of aspects of the welfare state. The SCVO expressed frustration, on behalf of the third sector, over the "limited nature of the proposals on welfare manifested in the Scotland Bill. The Bill does not appear to transfer true social security powers. It seems only to afford the ability to administer and make limited changes to those benefits being devolved." Carers Scotland said that there was “some disappointment that benefits were not fully devolved." Enable Scotland called for the devolution of responsibility for Access to Work, and noted that there would be increased complexity in the system, caused by some welfare powers remaining at Westminster.

Charities and third sector organisations also back the Scottish Government’s decision not to support legal changes to the definition of 'child poverty' proposed by the UK Government. On 14 September 2015, the SNP repeated its call for the full devolution of powers over social security. Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, commented:  “This evidence from civic Scotland shows how the UK Government's plans on welfare fall far short.  We were promised extensive new powers, and instead the Tories have offered the bare minimum. Of course, any new powers transferred are welcome, but it is clear that the UK Government must go further in order to meet the aspirations of Scotland and its front-line third sector organisations. The 'Vow' made by the Westminster parties in the referendum campaign must be honoured."

"Our third sector organisations are seeing, at first-hand, the appalling impact of Tory welfare cuts in communities across the country, and feel let down by the limited social security powers set out in the Scotland Bill. The UK Government will retain key controls over all benefits, including the ability to impose sanctions on vulnerable people.  The Tories have shown, time and time again, that they can’t be trusted to take decisions on social security on Scotland’s behalf.  It is time that these crucial powers were taken away from people like David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith –  and transferred to our Parliament as quickly as possible.”

 

Vulnerable protected by WELFARE FUND

The Scottish Welfare Fund is one of the urgent measures the SNP Government has been compelled to create in order to protect vulnerable people from Tory cuts.

Since the fund was introduced in April 2013, almost 9,000 people in Aberdeen have benefitted. In 2014-15, more than 6,000 Aberdonians were assisted, and over £1million spent  -- an increase of 34% from last year. Grants from the fund are used to help the vulnerable to pay for essentials like food and energy bills. More than a third of the grants were made to disadvantaged people such as lone parents, and those with disabilities or mental health problems.

Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, is also a member of he Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee, which scrutinises the changes that are being made. On 30 July 2015, he commented: "Vulnerable people in Aberdeen are struggling to make ends meet, in the face of a relentless assault on the poor waged by the UK Tory Government. These grants from the Scottish Welfare Fund are a real lifeline for needy families and individuals in our area. Crisis Grants from the fund help people who are struggling to buy essential items, like food and clothing and with paying their energy bills."

“Of course, Scotland should not be in the position of having to mitigate the social security cuts of a Tory government. The SNP is doing everything possible to protect and support vulnerable people. But there is so much more that we could do if full social and economic powers were in Scotland’s hands."

For further information, log onto:  www.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Social-Welfare/swf/SWF31Mar2015

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Communities benefit from CRIME!

Since the CashBack for Communities Programme was instituted by the Scottish Government in 2007, tens of millions of pounds have been taken from criminals and re-invested back into society.

Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, has welcomed the news that over £1.5million has gone into community projects in Aberdeen, after being confiscated from the proceeds of criminals. The funding has helped create almost 39,000 free opportunities and activities for young people in the city's communities.

On 25 July 2015, Mr. Stewart commented: “This is a great initiative. Crime rips the hearts out of our communities. That is why the Scottish Government is using the Proceeds of Crime Act to ensure, not only that crime in Scotland will never pay, but that the money taken out of communities is able be re-invested -- thereby repairing the damage that has been done to them."

"CashBack has helped fund sports, youth work, culture and employability projects in Aberdeen. This includes the outdoor football pitch at the Sports Village in Linksfield. Various activities for 10 to 25 year-olds have now been organised in the city. If you’re interested in getting involved in any of them, you can search a website for a list of what is being run in your area.”

For further information, log onto:  www.gov.scot/Resource/0045/00452169.pdf

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Effect of AUSTERITY CUTS in Aberdeen

Over 6,000 Aberdeen families -- including almost 9,200 children -- will find themselves adversely affected by changes to working tax credits announced in the UK Government's budget.

In Scotland as a whole, 346,000 children from 197,200 families will be disadvantaged by the cuts. On 24 July 2015, Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, commented: “These changes by George Osborne were always going to hammer those in our society who were already struggling to get by. For anyone who hasn’t grasped the scale of these cuts yet, these figures should help them understand how people in their local area are being hit. It’s also worth remembering that Aberdeen is more fortunate than a lot of places in Scotland. However, our city has 'poverty amongst plenty', as demonstrated by the statistics. It’s time for powers over welfare to be transferred to Scotland. This would allow us to take real action to tackle poverty, and support working parents and their children– rather than continuing on the UK Government’s course, which will push even more children into poverty."

Kirsty Blackman MP's Aberdeen North constituency will be the worst hit in the city, with 5,300 children from 3,300 families affected. She said: “It’s shocking that so many of the families I represent have been hit by this poorly thought-out cut.  Thousands of children are now at risk of growing up in poverty. This is exactly the sort of austerity policy that I was elected to oppose, and I intend to do exactly that. It says everything about the priorities of the Tory Government, that it is trying to balance its books on the back of families that can’t make ends meet, despite being in work. I want to see the UK Government  making proper investment in children and families. It will pay dividends in years to come, with children growing up to be healthier, smarter and able to contribute more to society. If Westminster can't or won't do it, they should give Scotland the powers to do so instead.”

### See also WELFARE slashed again --- with Labour support  on the UK PARLIAMENT page.

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Council's inaction at SEATON 

Aberdeen City Council has been criticised for its continuing failure to tackle anti-social behaviour in two of Seaton's  multi-storey blocks.

In response to complaints from residents, Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, wrote to the Council's chief executive, Angela Scott, on 15 July 2015. Accompanying the letter were photographs showing the extent of the damage.  Mr. Stewart commented:  “Constant acts of vandalism, urine in lifts, discarded hypodermic needles, broken glass and graffiti are causing real grief for the residents of Promenade and Linksfield Courts, and folk say that the Council is not listening to them when they complain."

“In my opinion, the Council must act to eliminate the anti-social behaviour taking place in these buildings. This is by dealing firmly with the people who are causing the problems, and by ensuring that the good tenants in these blocks are protected. The very least the Council can do is to make sure that complaints are dealt with quickly, so that people do not have to enter urine-soaked lifts or have their children walk past used syringes. This situation is intolerable. The Council and police must work together to eradicate this anti-social behaviour so that the majority of residents can live in peace.”

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NHS staff numbers at record high

Figures published on 3 March 2015 show that staff numbers in the Scottish NHS now stand at a record high.

They also showed that Whole Time Equivalent (WTE) staff in the NHS in Grampian has grown by 5.7% since the SNP came to office in 2007.  Not surprisingly, a recent Survation opinion poll* has found that most people trusted the SNP Government with the health service  – by a margin of more than two-to-one over Labour. 

Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, commented: “The SNP’s commitment to our health service is second to none, and is delivering real results for the North-East.  Increased investment in 2015-16 means that Scottish health spending will now be above £12billion for the first time ever, with NHS Grampian set to receive an extra £49.1million. The commitment demonstrated by the Scottish Government is exactly why polls show far more people in Scotland trust the SNP with our NHS than any other party. The SNP will never be complacent with our health service because we know there are always challenges, and more which can be done, to support patients and staff. Our local NHS staff in Aberdeen and the North-East do an incredible job for which we should all be thankful. The figures showing that there are even more NHS staff in Grampian are also very welcome."

*A later YouGov poll for The Times, published on 13 March 2015, found that 47% of Scots thought the SNP would be the most effective in protecting Scotland’s NHS, compared to just 20% for Labour.

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Exceeding our APPRENTICESHIPS target

Scotland is on course to exceed its target of 25,000 new modern apprenticeships this year, including a total of 746 starts in Aberdeen.

Figures released by Skills Development Scotland show that by the end of the third quarter of 2014-15 there were 19,517 modern apprenticeship starts in the country – 78% of the total annual target and a 2% increase on this time last year. On 11 February 2015, Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, commented: “These very welcome figures are testament to the Scottish Government’s commitment to investing in youth employment. Almost 100,000 new apprenticeship opportunities have been created over the last four years. This includes 746 starts in Aberdeen, so far in the current financial year."

“Apprenticeships play a key role in the Government’s efforts to promote youth employment.  While these figures are further evidence of the real results being achieved for our city's young people, there is more which could be done. With the full range of economic powers in Scotland’s hands rather than Westminster’s, we can do even more to boost youth employment and give local young people the opportunities they deserve. This is just one of the reasons we need to elect SNP MPs in Aberdeen North, Aberdeen South and Gordon in May. They and their colleagues will be able to make the case for the ‘extensive’ new powers we were promised, which would allow us to do even more to support Aberdeen's young people into work.”

### Further information at: http://news.scotland.gov.uk/News/Apprenticeship-target-well-on-course-15dd.aspx

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NICOLA calls in

After attending an oil & gas summit meeting at the AECC on 2 February 2015,  First Minister NICOLA STURGEON visited two of Aberdeen's most essential voluntary organisations.

Aberdeen Cyrenians

The FM visited their Summer Street base to discuss the impact of welfare reforms on the North-East’s most vulnerable citizens.

Established in 1968, the Cyrenians run two residential projects in the city, which provide 29 accommodation places for those affected by homelessness,  or experiencing mental health or substance misuse problems.

For more information: www.aberdeen-cyrenians.org

                                                                                                                      

                            Barnardo’s Scotland

Nicola met the staff at their busy Union Street shop.

Dr. Barnardo's has been working in Scotland for more than a century. 

Its purpose is to reach out to the most disadvantaged children, young people, families and communities -- to help ensure that every child has the best possible start in life. 

More information at:   www.barnardos.org.uk/scotland

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Success of CONCESSIONARY TRAVEL scheme

The Scottish Government is to continue its support for concessionary travel for the elderly and disabled.  

In January 2015, Transport Scotland and the bus industry agreed that £414million will be invested over the next two years to ensure the scheme continues to provide free bus travel for the over-60s, the disabled and injured service veterans. Figures provided by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) show that nationally 1,143,860 people over age 60 and 155,368 disabled benefited from the policy last year -- a total of 1,299,228.

Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, warmly welcomed the announcement.  On 27 January 2015, he commented: “The SNP Government’s deal to ensure that concessionary bus travel continues in coming years is hugely significant – and the statistics show just how important this investment is to the 44,550 senior citizens and 5,000 disabled people in Aberdeen, who rely so much on their bus passes. Concessionary bus travel gives people, whose mobility might otherwise be restricted, a greater sense of independence and helps them remain in contact with their friends and family. Funding for the scheme has increased every year since its introduction.  Last year, it allowed the elderly, disabled and armed services veterans to make almost 147million journeys."

### If ever given the opportunity, the Labour Party in Scotland would set up a "Cuts Commission", whose remit would be to find some way of abolishing some or all of the most popular measures introduced by the SNP Government at Holyrood. These include: the Council Tax freeze, ending of university tuition fees, free medical prescriptions, free personal care for the elderly -- and concessionary bus passes. This is being widely seen as a clumsy attempt by Labour to undermine the achievements of the SNP Government: by suggesting that somehow Scotland is "too poor" to afford the luxuries of "something for nothing" universal benefits. UK Labour has enthusiastically thrown its weight behind the stringent austerity measures being enacted by the Westminster Tory-Liberal administration, and is at pains to prevent Scotland being seen to be enjoying comparative prosperity as a result of its more efficient and financially prudent Government.  

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Sloppy roadworks for new DON BRIDGE

After spending years opposing the construction of a vital River Don crossing, Aberdeen City Council is compounding this by its chronic mismanagement of the required road improvements on the Tillydrone side of the proposed bridge.

Residents are facing months of delays and disruption caused by the Council's failure to communicate properly with local people, and a schedule of work that seems to take almost no account of their needs. Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central,  has received a number of complaints from Tillydrone residents in relation to unnecessary inconveniences caused by the Council's sloppy overseeing of the project. Many were already unhappy due to the failure of the local authority to consult with the community prior to the commencement of the roadworks. In addition, they complained of the lack of lighting in Tillydrone Avenue; temporary bus stops not being installed, and No.19 service users having to travel via the terminus before they could disembark; temporary traffic signals not being updated, causing long delays for vehicles; dog-waste bins overflowing for months; grit boxes not being refilled; fly-tipping uncleared and general maintenance work not being done.

Mr. Stewart has been successful in getting some temporary bus stops installed, and has suggested the provision of more stops on St. Machar Drive and around the junction of Great Northern Road and Don Street. He has also succeeded in having the 3-way traffic light sequence in Gordon's Mills Road speeded up. On 7 January 2015, he commented: “Road improvements for the new crossing have been ongoing for weeks, but the Council still hasn't got its act together in addressing the significant concerns of local residents. Management of the project has been a shambles from day one and, unfortunately, doesn’t look like changing any time soon. If the Council had simply consulted with residents, they would have been able to avoid a large number of the problems people in Tillydrone are experiencing. Also, if a project board had been set up to manage everything properly, the issues that have arisen could have been addressed much sooner."

### See also Work to start on new DON BRIDGE on the Aberdeen DONSIDE page. 

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Footing the bill for OIL PRICE downturn

The downturn in global oil prices has produced predictable reactions. The unionist press is only too willing to describe it as a "crisis" for Scotland's North Sea oil.  On the other hand, Oil & Gas UK insists the industry would "weather the current storm".

The issue also propelled the Labour Party in Scotland into making a breathtaking proposal. This was for the Scottish Government to set up an "urgent resilience fund" to assist cities and towns -- like Aberdeen -- which would be the most to suffer from a downturn in the industry. This sounds like a reasonable suggestion, except for one thing. Since oil was discovered in its marine sector, Scotland hasn't received a penny of the revenues generated!  Since 1980-81, the UK Government has eagerly taken more than £242billion in tax receipts from our oil and gas fields. That works out at around £48,400 for every person in Scotland. Westminster has squandered the money on things like the horrendously expensive and unnecessary Trident missile system, futile military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, ultra-costly events like the Olympics, and various major developments in London or the "home counties" of England.

An  independent SNP Government would have opened a Sovereign Wealth Fund, based on what Norway (pop. 5million) set up in 1990, after oil was found in its sector. A share of the revenues would have been invested in the fund: for the benefit of future generations of its people, but also as an insurance against possible price collapses. The Norwegian fund now stands at an incredible £502billion, the largest such investment in the world. Of course, the only hope that Scotland has of equalling this is via an independent Government. Although the Scottish branch of the Labour Party was heavily involved in the referendum NO campaign, they have chosen to forget this gem from one of their Better Together 'factsheets':--

"THE OIL FUND MYTH - The nationalists like to quote Norway's oil fund as an example of what we could do if we were independent. However, this is not the case. Unlike Norway, we have spent all the money we get from oil, so we would have to borrow money to put it in an oil fund (sic), make big cuts in existing budgets, or raise taxes."

Labour's flagrant hypocrisy was blasted by Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central. On 6 January 2015, he commented: “It takes a certain level of bare-faced cheek for Labour to insist that Scotland's oil and gas revenues should continue to go to Westminster, but the bill for helping the industry through a bad spell should be sent to Holyrood. Aberdeen has piped nearly half a century’s worth of oil money to prop up the UK exchequer which, over the years,  has helped to bail them out over one economic crisis after another. Investing sums from oil and gas revenues directly into a fund to help stabilise the economy has been SNP policy for a number of years. I would be delighted to see some of Aberdeen's oil money reinvested in the city. Along with a stable fiscal regime and better regulation, such measures could help our energy sector get back on its feet that bit quicker and provide security for the future. Unfortunately, those powers all lie with the UK Government, and I don’t believe Labour has any plans to devolve them any time soon -- if ever."

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WINNING FOR SCOTLAND!

The SNP won all three ABERDEEN constituencies in the Scottish General Election on 5 May 2016.                       

Election Result:     ABERDEEN CENTRAL

Kevin Stewart                      SNP                11,648                     

Lewis Macdonald                 Lab.                 7,299 

Tom Mason                          Con.                 6,022  

Ken McLeod                     Lib. Dem.             1,735        

 

SNP HOLD.              Maj.  4,349.              Turnout 46.7%