ABERDEEN CENTRAL CONSTITUENCY (Scottish Parliament)
KEVIN STEWART MSP
Born and bred in the city, Kevin Stewart was elected as MSP for ABERDEEN CENTRAL on 5 May 2011, taking the seat from Labour.
Kevin made his Maiden Speech to the Parliament on 26 May 2011. Appointed as the Deputy Convener of Holyrood's Local Government & Regeneration Committee, and succeeded Joe Fitzpatrick MSP as Convener in September 2012. He is also a member of the Welfare Reform Committee and the Cross-Party Group on Oil & Gas.
Kevin Stewart's Parliamentary career followed on from his wide experience in local government. First elected to Aberdeen City Council in 1999, he led its SNP group, with distinction, for 12 years. In 2007, he took the party's 12 councillors into coalition with the Liberal Democrats, and was appointed as Depute Leader of the Council. He also became convener of the influential Finance & Resources Committee -- something of a poisoned chalice, for he was soon made aware of the Council's £50million debt, incurred over the years by profligate and incompetent administrations. Showing considerable courage and tenacity, Kevin Stewart succeeded in making the necessary savings in the Council budgets -- without which the city would have faced near bankruptcy -- and his efforts were recognised by the electors of Aberdeen Central in the Scottish General Election. He stepped down as a councillor in May 2012.
Contact KEVIN STEWART at his CONSTITUENCY OFFICE:
Third 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 - 4.00pm.
Surgeries: Every Monday at 2.30pm at the Constituency Office. Write, phone or e-mail to make an appointment.
E-mail: email@example.com or via this website.
Anything you want to know about the SNP and its policies? Please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org If your query relates specifically to your own locality, please tell us your ADDRESS so that your message can be forwarded to the appropriate MSP, Constituency Branch or Councillor. We also welcome comments and suggestions regarding this website.
ABERDONIANS are saying YES for Scotland !
KEVIN STEWART MSP (pictured) has called on residents of Aberdeen to join the ever-increasing number of Scots who will be voting YES in the Independence Referendum on 18 September 2014.
Mr Stewart said: “Over the coming months, Aberdonians have an exciting opportunity to be involved in the debate on the constitutional future of Scotland. Never in Scottish political history have ordinary citizens been so empowered to forge their own destiny. This is the most significant issue in Scottish politics for generations, and everyone in all parts of our city can get involved. I would encourage all residents of Aberdeen and across Scotland to join the discussions on taking our country forward, and to deliver a decisive YES for Scotland in 2014"
TAKE PART in the YES campaign in ABERDEEN !
Visit YES ABERDEEN's campaign stall in St. Nicholas Street, in the city centre, on Saturdays from 11.00am to 1.00pm.
Like to help in canvassing, leafletting, manning an information stall or fundraising?
Tel.: 07792 281282
Mr. Jenkins said that Aberdeen and the North-East will have its position as an economic powerhouse fully recognised and cherished in an independent Scotland He insisted that it was time to end the "lip service" paid to the region by remote Westminster Governments.
Still UNDECIDED how you will vote next year, and need more information?
Go to the INDEPENDENCE page on the website.
If you can't find an answer to your question, e-mail us at email@example.com.
SMALL BUSINESS Saturday
The busiest shopping day of the year is set to be Saturday, December 7.
While big chain stores will be cashing-in on the pre-Christmas rush, Kevin Stewart urges Aberdonians to remember to support their local shops as well. Mr. Stewart worked in a small business prior to his election as the MSP for Aberdeen Central, and said that it was important for shoppers to buy from small local shops on Small Business Saturday and whenever else they could.
Speaking on November 26, Mr. Stewart added: “Aberdeen’s economy was founded on small and local businesses, long before Aberdeen became the international city it is today. Many big businesses can trace their roots back to humble beginnings, including some in our own city.
"Small businesses are also more likely to buy their supplies locally, and in so doing ensure our local economy is boosted in other ways. They can also offer employees invaluable experience that they may not get elsewhere, and help build a more skilled workforce. I hope that people will be able to make more of an effort to support small business, on Small Business Saturday and beyond.”
Doran misses vote to abolish BEDROOM TAX
A motion to abolish the hated Under-Occupancy Penalty was raised in the Westminster Parliament on November 12. It was narrowly defeated by 252 votes to 226. All six SNP MPs supported the motion.
No fewer than 47 Labour MPs failed to support their party's own motion. One of the ten Scottish Labour members who didn't bother to turn up for the vote was Frank Doran (Aberdeen North). His failure to attend was attacked by Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, who commented: "Mr. Doran has to explain to his constituents why he missed the opportunity to abolish the Bedroom Tax. Given that the motion was brought forward by his own party, he should have made every effort to get to the debate and stand up for Bedroom Tax victims in the city he represents in the UK Parliament. I’ve seen so much heartache caused by this unfair tax and I’m disappointed that the chance to end it hasn’t been grasped. It is particularly gutting to see it fall by so few votes, knowing that more than that number who claim to oppose it did not turn up."
Two theories have been put forward for Labour's apparent reluctance to scrap the tax. The first is that the party is actually in favour of retaining it -- but doesn't want to be seen to be. The second is for cynical and opportunistic political gain. They want it to remain in place until the next UK general election, so that they can include a "pledge" to scrap it in their manifesto.
Early this year, a House of Commons motion to scrap the Bedroom Tax, raised by the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens on February 27, lost by 265 to 224. Kevin Stewart said: “The previous vote also failed by a small margin and, with the damage done by this tax becoming more apparent, it was always going to be a close vote again." One of the Liberal Democrat MPs who favours the retention of the tax is Sir Malcolm Bruce, whose Gordon constituency includes Dyce and most of Bridge of Don.
Voted to RETAIN the tax: 7 Liberal Democrats and 1 Conservative.
MISSED the debate and vote: 10 Labour and 4 Liberal Democrats.
COUNCIL TAX reduction opposed by Baker
The UK Government has virtually scrapped Council Tax Benefit, with a 10% decrease in funding. To make up the shortfall, the Scottish Government and COSLA were compelled to introduce a Council Tax Reduction Scheme.
Finance Secretary John Swinney said the Scottish Government had been asked to bridge the gap. A total of £40million will be provided in 2013-14 to protect 560,000 people from the discontinuation of funding from London. £2.5million will go to social landlords to help people affected by Housing Benefit reductions, and £5.4million to Citizens Advice and similar organisations. Mr. Swinney commented: "Hard-working and vulnerable people are having to bear the brunt of these Westminster benefit cuts. We are using the limited resources we have to ensure vulnerable people do not have to face increasing bills."
On November 5, Kevin Stewart MSP criticised Labour's North-East member Richard Baker for his failure to protect thousands from increased Council Tax bills. At a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Delegated Powers & Law Reform Committee, Mr. Baker declined to vote for regulations needed to have the policy put in place. Had he and the Labour Party succeeded in having their way, more than half a million Scottish households would have lost out on the SNP Government's £40million safety net.
### See also Labour votes against COUNCIL TAX Reduction Scheme on the ABERDEEN SOUTH & NORTH KINCARDINE page.
Fall in Youth UNEMPLOYMENT
The number of unemployed 16 to 19 year-olds in Aberdeen has fallen from 220 in September 2012 to just 135 a year later, a drop of 38.6%.
This figure compares very favourably to a Scotland-wide fall of 25.7%. The reduction is even greater among 18 to 19 year-olds, which fell by 39.5%. In addition, only 1.2% of 16-19 year olds in Aberdeen are claiming Job Seekers Allowance, the third lowest percentage for all of the 32 local authorities.
Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, hailed the work of the Scottish Government in helping to create opportunities for young people. On November 11, he commented: “Unemployment is a curse for many young people as they look to start their careers and begin to live their own lives. The number of youth jobless has fallen throughout Scotland, but particularly so in Aberdeen.
"I have no doubt that Youth Employment Minister Angela Constance has had a role to play in this substantial fall. She has to be congratulated for pioneering the Opportunities for All programme, which ensures a place in work, training or education for the 16 to 19 year-olds who require it. However, there is still work to be done, both in Aberdeen and the rest of Scotland, and I hope to see this trend continuing.”
Losing out on HIGH-SPEED RAIL
The UK Government's planned high-speed rail link is unlikely to reach as far as Scotland. High Speed 2 (HS2) would run from London Euston to the English Midlands, North-West and West Yorkshire.
Although there has been a vague "promise" to extend the line to Scotland's central belt, this is unlikely to happen. In November 2012, the Scottish Government announced plans to build a 46 mile high-speed rail link between Edinburgh and Glasgow and have it operating by 2024. The journey times between the two cities would be reduced to under 30 minutes, and it was hoped that eventually it would be connected to the English high-speed link.
A study by the Dutch-based audit and tax consultancy KPMG (Klynveld, Peat, Marwick & Goerdeler) found that the North-East could suffer economically because of the UK Government's "England-first" decisions on transport in these islands. Aberdeen would be £220million worse off, while Dundee and Angus could forfeit £96million annually. Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, expressed his concerns via a motion in the Scottish Parliament.
Motion by Kevin Stewart MSP in the Scottish Parliament on 21 October 2013:
HS2 RAIL LINK. That the Parliament notes with concern that, according to a KPMG study, the UK Government’s failure to extend the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail link to Scotland will cost the economies of Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire a total of £220 million per annum; condemns what it sees as this flawed transport decision by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat administration; along with it, considers the failure to recognise the damage done to Scotland by policies such as air passenger duty; believes that this shows that the UK Government has no interest in boosting Scotland's economy or transport infrastructure; and further believes that the people of Scotland would be better served by an independent Scottish Government that puts Scotland's economic and transport interests first.
17 FOODBANKS in Europe's Oil Capital
Why is it that the Oil Capital of Europe has no fewer than 17 organisations engaged in the distribution of free food to its neediest citizens? The Aberdeen Food Banks Partnership includes Instant Neighbour, Aberdeen Cyrenians and Community Food Initiative North East (CFINE).
The partnership was launched at Aberdeen's Town House on October 7. It was also announced that the Accord/OneScotland public services concessionary card will be used to monitor who are using the food banks and when. This will help the Council to identify those that could benefit from addition support.
Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, attended the launch and later submitted a Parliamentary Motion to commend the new partnership. He said: “This is a welcome initiative that I hope will be able to help our city’s most vulnerable people. It’s easy to forgot that there is poverty amongst plenty in Aberdeen. The booming oil industry continues to add to the city's economic strength, but this is not reflected in the lives of many ordinary Aberdonians. Living costs have been pushed up, squeezing those who have least."
“Instant Neighbour revealed not long ago that they had given out as much food in the first five months of this year than they had in the whole on 2012. Against that backdrop, it’s obvious why co-operation on this is essential. There’s a range of help and advice that will be available and the hope is that it can help reduce some people’s reliance on foodbanks. The partnership will also allow member groups to deliver their resources more efficiently. I would like to offer any support I can to this partnership, especially while our city is so dependent on foodbanks.”
Our new national FIRE SERVICE
The national Scottish Fire & Rescue Service (SFRS) came into existence on April 1, after the eight regional services were amalgamated. The SFRS headquarters is in Perth, under the command of Alasdair Hay.
There will be three divisions, called the North, West and East Hubs. The station at Mounthooly Way, Aberdeen will be the headquarters for the North Hub, which will incorporate the previous fire and rescue areas of Grampian, Tayside and Highlands. The new service will require fewer emergency control rooms and, although this is subject to ongoing consultation, there is some concern that Aberdeen's may be one of those earmarked for closure. This led the city's three SNP MSPs to meet with Chief Fire Officer Hay and SFRS chairman Pat Watters, at the Scottish Parliament on October 3.
Kevin Stewart (Aberdeen Central) said: "Control rooms are just one aspect of behind-the-scenes service delivery, which includes administration teams and workshops. This morning, we stressed that business cases must be drawn up for all the proposals being considered. In my opinion, the premises and equipment at the Mounthooly control room are fairly new and this should be a positive reason for their retention.”
Mark McDonald (Aberdeen Donside) said: “We agree with the Fire Service that the new organisation must be seen as a whole of Scotland service. Having firefighters on the ground serving their communities is top priority, and Aberdeen and the North-East must have an appropriate share of the national services.”
Maureen Watt (Aberdeen South & North Kincardine), whose constituency is home to fire stations at North Anderson Drive and Portlethen, said: “We recognise that these proposals are for consultation. and that the SFRS has already met with community leaders in the North-East and will continue to listen.”
### At a special awards ceremony at Edinburgh Castle on October 1, the outstanding contributions of three firefighters were recognised by First Minister Alex Salmond. Robert McGillivray, Graham Paterson and Jamie Conley each received a Braveheart Award.
CITY CENTRE regeneration
Aberdeen is one of the places which has benefitted from the Scottish Government's Town Centre Regeneration Fund (TCRF). The fund was instituted in 2009-10, and has provided support to community and business leaders in every local authority area.
Altogether, 89 town centres have received a share of the £60million TCRF, with 66 projects creating around 960 jobs. Grants ranged from £100,000 to £2,745,000 for projects which included: newbuilds and renovation of key buildings; refurbishing of shopfronts, town halls and walkways; and creating open-air entertainment venues, wi-fi zones and "soft play" areas. In Aberdeen, funds went towards improvements in Mastrick, Peterculter, Cults, Rosemount (£686,000) and the Retail Rocks scheme in Torry (£572,500).
In February this year, an additional £2million was allocated for a pilot project which will give developers the opportunity to turn vacant properties in town centres into affordable housing, and put residents back into high streets. Where possible, abandoned and boarded-up shops should be converted for residential use. Councils should also adopt a “town centre first” principle to stop the loss of shops to out-of-town shopping centres, and consider lowering business rates to bring retailers back in.
On October 1, Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, wrote to Aberdeen City Council's chief executive, asking whether the city would be applying for a share of the Town Centre Housing Fund. He commented: “This is a welcome initiative by the Scottish Government and I hope that Aberdeen can take full advantage of it. I have been contacted by people who have struggled to find somewhere to live in Aberdeen. This situation is only going to be helped by creating new housing, which could also go some way to breathing new life back into our city centre. The scheme is also open to Housing Associations and developers, and I would encourage them to consider applying for funding”
### See also Labour U-turn on UNION TERRACE GARDENS on the ABERDEEN CITY COUNCIL page.
New CHINESE Institute
Aberdeen University has a new institute aimed at furthering educational, economic and cultural links between China and NE Scotland.
First Minister Alex Salmond was joined by representatves of the Chinese consulate in Edinburgh, their London embassy and Wuhan University when he officially opened the Confucius Institute, at the Old Aberdeen campus, on September 27. The institute will further interest and cultural exchange between the university, communities, schools, individuals and businesses in the North-East and the People’s Republic of China. Similar institutes have already been established at Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities.
Mr Salmond said: “The Scottish Government is committed to strengthening the bonds between Scotland and China, through academic and cultural collaboration, alongside continuing governmental and business exchange. I’m delighted to open this newly-established Confucius Institute, which is the latest partnership to be forged between Scotland and China for the mutual benefit of our citizens. Our China strategy has a clear and specific objective to expand and deepen education links between our two nations. I warmly welcome the commitment of the University of Aberdeen and Wuhan University to ensuring that, collectively, we achieve that shared goal.”
Short-changed on BROADBAND
The UK Government has backtracked on its promise to deliver "superfast" broadband for the city of Aberdeen, which is one of the highest users of the service.
In autumn 2012, it was announced that Aberdeen City Council would receive £6.5million to enable it to upgrade digital infrastructure in the city. However, council officers have confirmed that this has been cut to £5.58million, and the money will mainly be earmarked for the issue of vouchers subsidising broadband uptake. Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, wrote to the UK's Culture, Media & Sport Minister, Maria Miller on September 18, to ask why her Government has backtracked on its pledge.
Mr Stewart said: "It was announced with great fanfare that millions would be invested in delivering superfast broadband for Aberdeen. Now, without so much as a whimper, it is clear that this commitment will not be met. The city was initially promised £6.5million to deliver superfast broadband. Not satisfied with cutting funding by almost £1million, the UK Government has decided that this money is not to be spent on boosting speed, but on vouchers for people to access subsidised broadband subscriptions."
"The city has amongst the highest uptake of broadband in the UK, but amongst the slowest speeds of any major city. Whilst any support to get people connected to the internet is welcome, the city is crying out for investment that will deliver broadband speeds to meet the demands of both businesses and the public. We have been badly let down by the UK Government, which is unwilling to provide Aberdeen with the investment it badly needs. As a result of this decision, I understand that the Scottish Government has included Aberdeen in its plans for rolling out superfast broadband across the country. This demonstrates, once again, that when decisions are made in Scotland they are delivered."
A not-for-profit social enterprise, Street Soccer Scotland, founded in 2009, provides "football-related services" to socially disadvantaged people.
During a visit to Aberdeen Sports Village on September 27, First Minister Alex Salmond announced £300,000 of new Scottish Government funding for the scheme. This is aimed at assisting young men and women who are leaving care, not in education, training or employment; or facing challenges such as homelessness, mental health problems or addictions. As well as the chance to play football, Street Soccer Scotland programmes offer advice and access to various services such as education, health and welfare support. In a series of programmes over two years, 37,500 places for young people will be delivered in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee.
The First Minister commented: “Street Soccer Scotland shows how sport can bring people together, offer new opportunities and achieve positive change. I’m delighted that thousands more young Scots, many of them facing great challenges, will benefit from Street Soccer programmes as a result of our commitment to securing a positive legacy from the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow."
DUALLING of A96
The Scottish Government has announced its intention to upgrade the A96 Aberdeen-Inverness road to dual carriageway by 2030, at a cost of £3billion.
Transport Minister Keith Brown said, on September 10: “This commitment will deliver major economic benefits to road users, businesses, communities and industry who live along or use this important route between Scotland’s two northernmost cities.” £130,000 will initially be spent on a strategic environmental assessment of the 86-mile route by the Halcrow engineering consultancy. Mr. Brown added: “Along with the more advanced A9 dualling programme, this ambitious project is further evidence of the Scottish Government’s commitment to supporting the economy by competently delivering major infrastructure projects. Transport Scotland is committed to engaging with affected communities and businesses through a programme of consultation. As part of this we intend to hold public exhibitions later this year in venues along the route. This is an opportunity to share our understanding of the challenges we face, and ensure we have a good local input right from the outset of the A96 dualling programme.” The dualling of the Perth to Inverness section of the major A9 artery is scheduled to be completed by 2025.
Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central and a former chairman of NESTRANS, welcomed the Government's announcement. He commented: “I am pleased that the first steps are being taken to upgrade the trunk road between Europe’s energy capital and the capital city of the Highlands. The dualling of this road will benefit business, many local communities and tourism, and will create a safer travelling environment. It is gratifying that the Scottish Government is investing in this vital link.”
UNIVERSITY nominated for three awards
The University of Aberdeen has been shortlisted for three of the UK's Times Higher Education Awards for 2013.
Nominations are for: Outstanding Contribution to the Local Community, Outstanding Support for Early Career Researchers and Most Improved Student Experience. Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Strathclyde and Stirling Universities have a total of 12 shortlistings, with Aberdeen and Stirling leading Scotland's participation with three nominations each. The winners will be decided at an awards ceremony in London on November 28.
Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, contacted the University of Aberdeen to wish them success at the final awards ceremony, backed up by a Parliamentary motion on September 9. He commented: “Our city is already aware of all the great work the University of Aberdeen does, but it is also great to see this being recognised elsewhere. These nominations will ensure that it continues to be one of the best universities in the world -- as it has been for the past five hundred years. I wish the university the best of luck in its bid to win all three of the awards for which it has been shortlisted.”
TECH FESTIVAL returns
TechFest in September is Aberdeen and the North-East's annual festival of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It ran from September 13 to October 2.
The festival celebrated its 20th anniversary by staging 20 days of workshops, demonstrations, exhibitions and talks at various locations in the city of Aberdeen. It is estimated that 22,000 participated in the event, which is highly regarded by education, industry and the wider community. The main sponsors were Shell and BP.
Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, submitted a congratulatory motion in the Scottish Parliament on August 19. He commented: “This is an important event for Aberdeen to be hosting, and helps to encourage kids into the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths, which are so vital to the current economy. The energy sector in Aberdeen is struggling to get recruits with a science or engineering background from within Scotland, so is finding it necessary to bring in suitably qualified talent from elsewhere. We need to make sure that our kids are able to take up these opportunities, so that Aberdeen will remain the energy capital of Europe long into the future. I hope that this will be the biggest year yet for the TechFest, and that we will see an increase in the number of pupils taking up the relevant courses at school and university."
EXPORT SUCCESS FOR NORTH-EAST COMPANIES
Last year, companies based in the North-East achieved over £500,000,000 of export sales to 88 countries. KEVIN STEWART MSP recognised their success by submitting a Parliamentary motion at Holyrood.
Motion by Kevin Stewart MSP in the Scottish Parliament on 15 August 2013:
NORTH-EAST EXPORTS. That the Parliament congratulates the companies in the north east that have helped achieve over half a billion pounds of export sales in the last year; recognises that, according to a report by the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, the area exported goods to 88 countries, with oil industry equipment topping the list of sales; applauds the firms that are making their presence felt across the globe, and hopes that these exports will continue to grow.
Curbing "PAYDAY" loan companies
The level of interest rates levied on vulnerable and gullible people by "payday" loan companies would be capped by the administration of a self-governed Scotland.
On August 5, Kevin Stewart, the MSP for Aberdeen Central, submitted a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling upon all of the political parties to unite in support of the initiative. Mr Stewart said: "The practice of 'payday' loans being given at eye-wateringly high interest rates is immoral, and something must be done to stop the widespread harm caused by these companies preying upon people’s desperation. Unfortunately, that power presently rests with the UK Government, which seems happy to sit by and watch this exploitation of the poor and vulnerable."
"In difficult economic times, it is not hard to imagine why some people are faced with no other choice but to turn to one of these payday loan companies simply to make ends meet. Sadly, the extortionate interest rates they are forced to pay can quickly trap people into a vicious cycle of debt and dependency. Our Government wants to protect the people of Scotland from these predatory companies, but is forbidden to do so as the power is reserved to Westminster. Only with independence will we have the opportunity to remove this scourge." The UK Government had announced in May that it would be adopting a number of minor measures to control the companies, which had received a cautious welcome from Mr. Stewart.
The MSP subsequently wrote to Aberdeen City Council’s chief executive, to call for access to payday loan websites to be blocked on the local authority's computers. Mr Stewart commented: “I have previously requested the city council to follow the example of other local authorities and block these sites. It should be playing its part in protecting the most vulnerable from these companies, and possibly directing folk to the websites of our local credit unions instead."
Motion by Kevin Stewart MSP in the Scottish Parliament on 5 August 2013:
PAYDAY LOANS. That the Parliament welcomes the First Minister’s pledge that payday loans will be subject to tougher regulation, including caps on interest rates, in an independent Scotland; agrees with the motion passed last week by Aberdeen City Youth Council that payday loans are having a devastating impact on society, particularly on the most vulnerable; believes that the proposed measures will provide vital protection for those who struggle to make ends meet, and calls on other parties to match this pledge to ensure that nobody should be subject to what it considers the sky-high interest rates that typify payday loans.
New school for TILLYDRONE?
Could Aberdeen City Council's inevitable decision to shelve its plans for the pedestrianisation of Union Street free up funds for the building of a much-needed new school in Tillydrone?
On July 25, Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, wrote to Council leader Barney Crockett, suggesting that the £10million that had been allocated for the pedestrianisation scheme could now be spent on this far more worthwhile project. SNP councillors unsuccessfully proposed that Tillydrone should be provided with a new £13million primary school at the Council's February 14 budget meeting. This would have been in addition to a £750,000 investment earmarked for early-years education at schools in, or serving, the city’s regeneration areas. However, the Labour-led administration was set on pressing ahead with its uncosted and unworkable plans for pedestrianising part of Union Street in the city centre.
Mr. Stewart said: "A new Tillydrone school would be a major boost to the local area, and would put education right at the heart of plans to revitalise the area. Facilities that are fit for the 21st Century would greatly enhance the learning environment and, as we have seen in other areas of the city, new schools can have a very positive impact on young people’s education. Labour made the wrong choice in February by backing the closure of Union Street over building a new school in Tillydrone. Now that money is not going to be spent as they had intended, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be put towards a building a new school that would act as a hub for the local community."
"I have written to the residents of Tillydrone to seek their views on this matter. With their support we can convince the Labour Party that building this school is the right thing to do. If we are serious about closing the gap in attainment that exists in our schools, we need to invest serious money in those that serve our most deprived communities. Labour needs to show that they stay true to their 'roots'. The administration’s budget had more Tory and Independent policies than Labour's. Having awarded himself a fat pay rise and nice new offices, it is time for Cllr. Crockett to show that he actually cares about the people he is supposed to represent. By joining forces with the SNP, a new school can be built in Tillydrone within three years. It is time for Cllr. Crockett to show some real leadership, stand up to his Tory partners, and deliver for those people in Aberdeen who need it most."
Residents consulted over new BRIDGE
A public meeting to address concerns of Tillydrone residents over the impact of the proposed Third Don Crossing was held at the St. George's Church Hall in Hayton Road on August 8.
The consultation was attended by Kevin Stewart, the MSP for Aberdeen Central, and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, in her role of Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment & Cities. Mr. Stewart had previously written to Aberdeen City Council in March, to ask what work was being undertaken to mitigate against any adverse impact on the community from the new bridge.
It was considered that a full Environmental Impact Assessment should be carried out as soon as possible. Also recommended was a strict weight limit, restricting the use of Gordon's Mills Road and Tillydrone Avenue by HGVs (Heavy Goods Vehicles). Local residents also raised concerns over the number and location of pedestrian crossings that will be installed along the route.
### See also SNP pressure ensures Third Don Crossing by 2015 on the ABERDEEN CITY COUNCIL page.
Two projects benefit from LOTTERY
The Big Lottery Fund has awarded grants to two projects in the Aberdeen Central constituency of KEVIN STEWART MSP.
Nearly £10,000 will go towards creating a sensory garden for Kittybrewster Primary School, and a Commonwealth Sports Tour at ASV for P4-S2 pupils. £6,000 is earmarked for a ten-week programme during next year's final school term. Children will have the opportunity to learn and compete at 10 different Commonwealth Games sports, and will be able to take part in a Multi Games Open at the finale. They will also have passport-style logbooks to complete that will help them learn about the Commonwealth. The sensory garden at Kittybrewster Primary will also be funded by a £3,495 Awards for All grant.
Mr. Stewart submitted Parliamentary motions to congratulate both of the successful applications. On July 5 he commented: “These are two very worthwhile projects and it will be money well spent. The Commonwealth Sports Tour sounds like a great initiative to get children active and interested in new sports. I also hope that pupils at Kittybrewster will be able to make the most of their sensory garden when they get it.”
SHOPMOBILITY’S 21ST Birthday
Shopmobility Aberdeen is a charity whose aim is to increase independence, freedom and choice for people with disabilities.
On July 4, Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, welcomed the group's plans to celebrate its 21st anniversary. The programme will include a "poetry slam", a world tour of Aberdeens for 'Wee Angus the Bull', a virtual walk from Aberdeen harbour to its namesake in Hong Kong and the Christine Brebner Memorial Lecture. A number of Aberdeen groups will be helping with these events including Aberdeen FC, the University of Aberdeen, the Lord Provost, Demented Eloquence, Rainbow City Taxis, Visit Aberdeen and local schools. Wee Angus’s world tour will take the AFC mascot’s cousin to 21 Aberdeens, including those in North America, Australia, Jamaica, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Hong Kong. It is hoped that the tour will help to improve relations between the original Aberdeen and its many namesakes. The virtual walk will require a number volunteers to don pedometers day-to-day as they aim to cover 20 stages, and over 10,000 miles, between the Granite City and Hong Kong. On the way they will be visiting and learning about national capitals in Europe and Asia.
After Mr. Stewart lodged a congratulatory motion in the Scottish Parliament, he commented: “Shopmobility has organised a tremendous and ambitious set of events to mark their 21st anniversary. It's grand to see so many people and organisations in the city getting involved. I hope that, as the year goes on, we will see even more of the community backing this programme, which I'm sure will be a great success. I also hope Wee Angus enjoys his world tour, although I expect he'll be disappointed to miss the rest of the events."
Aberdeen City Council has been asked what improvements, if any, are being planned for the Castlegate in the city centre.
On June 24, Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, sought an update from Gordon McIntosh, the Council’s Director of Enterprise, Planning & Infrastructure. Mr. Stewart commented: “The Castlegate should be a historic icon for our city, but instead it is becoming an eyesore. Ornamental lampposts and planters have been removed, the pavement surface is terrible and the Mercat Cross has more plant life growing out of it than many gardens. The Council promised that it would bring about efforts to improve the city centre, but no-one seems to be bothered about the poor, neglected Castlegate.
“A number of local businesses are doing what they can to make the area attractive, and they are eager to see improvements which would boost this historic location. The Council must talk to the area's businesses and householders, and come up with a plan for improvement. They could begin by cleaning up the Mercat Cross and restoring the original street furniture.”
Lower WELFARE PAYMENTS in Scotland under Labour
► The UK Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has said that parts of the country with LOWER HOUSING COSTS could face lower welfare caps under a Labour government at Westminster.
The announcement brought a sharp response from SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, Kevin Stewart, who is a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee. On June 4, he said: "This is an extraordinary step for Labour to take. Already, a majority of people in Scotland believe that welfare and pensions policy should be decided by Holyrood not Westminster*, and this development shows why having control in Scotland is essential. Scotland has paid more tax per head than the UK average in every one of the last 30 years, and official figures show that we subsidise the rest of the UK -- not the other way round. Yet Labour is now talking about having lower welfare payments in Scotland than the south of England.
The Labour party in Aberdeen, which claims to be the 'party of social justice', has a great deal of explaining to do. Their British boss Ed Balls has now made it clear that if Labour was ever re-elected at Westminster they would adopt the Tory mantra of 'cuts, cuts and more cuts'. His language could not be clearer, in his attack on the universality of pensions by cutting winter fuel payments. This shows us that a UK Government of whatever hue really does mean sticking with Tory cuts. The only way to escape this Westminster austerity is with a Yes vote in the referendum in September 2014."
Which government do you think would be best at deciding welfare and pensions policy for Scotland?
Scottish Government .......53%
Don't know......................13% From fieldwork on 20-22 March 2013. Sample size: 1,105 Scottish adults.
► The Labour Party is wildly out of step with the aspirations of the Scottish people. This has been graphically demonstrated by its failure to support any meaningful devolution of TAXATION & WELFARE.
There is clear polling evidence that a majority of people in Scotland want all tax and welfare decisions to be made by the Scottish Parliament. Despite this, Labour has already ruled out any devolution of these powers from Westminster. Its "commission" has also rejected the Parliament having any power over North Sea oil and gas revenues, Corporation Tax, VAT, national insurance, alcohol and tobacco duties, Inheritance Tax and Capital Gains Tax. Although Labour claims to oppose the attacks being made by the London Tory-Liberal administration, it seems quite content for Scotland to pay the price for the Bedroom Tax and other impositions.
Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, is a member of the Parliament's Welfare Reform Committee. On April 23, he commented: “If last week’s reports are accurate, then people in Scotland will be wondering why on earth it took Labour's commission so long to come up with such a meagre set of proposals. The poverty of Labour's ambition is shown by their decision to deny Scotland any meaningful powers, and that they are wildly out of step with the aspirations of the people of Scotland. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) has pointed out that 71% of the organisations which responded to their survey want welfare policy devolved. Labour's leadership has closed their minds to this, meaning that iniquitous and destructive measures such as the Bedroom Tax would still be imposed on Scotland, despite over 90% of Scottish MPs voting against it. The party's Finance Spokesperson recently admitted that Scotland is not subsidised in any way, so it is indefensible for them to still want to deny Scotland the benefit of its own resources.
Their claim that Westminster’s welfare system ‘has served us well’ simply beggars belief at a time when hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland are facing the brutal reality of the Tory-Liberal’ welfare cuts. If Labour is happy for welfare decisions to be made in Westminster, then they cannot escape the fact that they are also happy for deeply unfair measures like the Bedroom Tax to be imposed on households across Scotland. The parties in the No campaign prefer bad government from Westminster to good government with independence. It is only with a Yes vote in next year's referendum that we will gain the powers we need to shape a tax and welfare system that reflects Scotland’s values, and which will enable us to build the fairer, more prosperous country we all want to live in.”
► As a result of the UK Government's welfare reform programme, something like 100,000 Scots will be worse off, or be forced to move into smaller accommodation. This will be the consequence of Westminster's now infamous Under-Occupancy Penalty or BEDROOM TAX which came into force on April 1.
Kevin Stewart, the MSP for Aberdeen Central, is a member of the Scottish Parliament's Welfare Reform Committee. On January 29, he described the tax as "an attack on single parents and the disabled", and lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament deploring the imposition. He commented: "The UK Government seems determined to drive more Scots into poverty, and threaten family life for thousands. Single parents, and others who are judged to be 'under-occupying' their council or social sector house, will risk losing up to 25% of their Housing Benefit unless they move to a smaller home. Disabled people who live in housing specially adapted to meet their needs may be forced to move into smaller conventional accommodation, in order to avoid rent arrears or eviction." As if to add to this injustice, it was also revealed that Lord Freud, the UK Government's Minister for Welfare Reform, personally benefitted from a Council Tax cap on his 9-bedroom mansion worth £1.9million. The Tory peer's Council Tax is limited to just three times that of a bedsit worth 1/15th of his property!
KEVIN STEWART MSP won the support of 36 MSPs, voluntary organisations, the STUC and disability groups, in his call for the UK Chancellor to scrap the Under-Occupancy Penalty or BEDROOM TAX.
Despite 90% of Scottish MPs voting against the tax, it will still be imposed on Scotland – unless opposition to it forces a reversal of the policy. Mr. Stewart said: “Fundamentally, the bedroom tax is a direct attack on disabled and vulnerable Scots who will be forced out of their homes as the UK Government proceeds with its vicious welfare reforms. The DWP’s concessions on Housing Benefit show that the reforms are already falling apart, but many are still at risk of losing their homes due to an absurd policy." On March 13, Kevin Stewart's letter to George Osborne MP was co-signed by the following:--
Grahame Smith General Secretary, STUC; Ian Hood Coordinator, Learning Disability Alliance Scotland; Brian Sloan Chief Executive, Age Scotland; Leon Wylie Lead Officer, Hepatitis Scotland; Clare Byrne Vice-Chair, Spinal Injuries Scotland; Susan Archibald The Archibald Foundation; Simon Hodgson Director, Carers Scotland; Keith Robertson Disability Access Officer, Scottish Disability Equality Forum; Morag M. Campbell Chairperson, Badenoch & Strathspey Disability Access Panel; Leslie Young Chief Executive, Epilepsy Scotland; Angela Forbes Manager, Advocacy Aberdeen; Satwat Rehman Director, One-Parent Families Scotland; Katrina Michie Shopmobility Aberdeen; Ian Welsh Chief Executive, Health & Social Care Alliance Scotland; Bill Scott Manager, Inclusion Scotland; Grant Sugden Director, Waverley Care; Billy Watson Chief Executive, Scottish Association for Mental Health; Martin Sime Chief Executive, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations; Paul Moore Chief Executive, Quarriers; Barclay Bisset Administration Officer, Aberdeen Action on Disability Ltd.; Gwyn Morrison Area Manager, Sense Scotland; and 36 MSPs (mostly SNP, a few Greens and Independents -- and even some Labour).
► Scottish Parliamentary control over all of the country's TAXATION & WELFARE BENEFITS system has now become an urgent necessity. This became even more clear after a damning report was published on the effects of the UK Government's welfare reforms.
On April 11, a study by the Centre for Regional Economic & Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University estimated that £1.6billion would be taken out of the Scottish economy as a result of Westminster's swingeing cuts to several welfare benefits. This works out at around £480 per annum for every working adult in the country. Areas most affected will be Glasgow, Inverclyde, Dundee and West Dunbartonshire; whilst it is thought that Shetland, Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen would be the least likely to suffer. Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, commented: "This may sound like good news for our part of the country, but doesn't detract from the fact that there are also significant pockets of deprivation in both the city and shire."
► 67,000 DISABLED Scots are destined to lose their benefits by 2018, during the transition from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
The forecast by the UK Department for Work & Pensions was confirmed in a reply to a Parliamentary Question by Kevin Stewart on March 6. The transition began in April, when an estimated 240,000 current recipients of the DLA were reassessed under new criteria. The forecast indicates that, by 2018, there will be around 67,000 fewer disabled Scots being assessed as eligible to receive PIP. The UK Government has previously stated that the new system is designed to reduce its spending on disability benefits by 20%. Mr. Stewart commented: "These estimates are, quite simply, appalling. Fortunately, the Scottish Government has affirmed that the Scottish Welfare Fund will provide additional support to those who are in need, specifically through Community Care Grants. They will enable the disabled to maintain their independence, and reduce the need for institutional care."
It was later revealed, on March 19, that the cost of implementing the new Personal Independence Payment scheme will be £710million. This would be for things like changing IT systems and forms, training DWP staff and dealing with appeals. In her reply to Kevin Stewart's queries, UK Minister for Disabled People Esther McVey wrote: "By October 2015, 170,000 of the DLA claimants who have been re-assessed for Personal Independence Payment will receive no PIP payment." Mr. Stewart commented: "The UK Government’s Welfare Reform shambles have been proved to be ill thought-out, a waste of taxpayers' money and will add to the expenses of those in need. Ms. McVey says that the number of claimants is to be reduced by 170,000. By not implementing this new system, and topping up the balance books of private companies like ATOS, these people could continue to receive their benefits at no extra cost to the taxpayer." It should also not be forgotten that no less than £12billion was squandered by the UK Government on last year's London Olympic Games and Royal Diamond Jubilee.
### See below for The Welfare System in an independent Scotland.
INSTANT NEIGHBOUR under pressure
The Aberdeen charity Instant Neighbour has seen a 268% increase in demand for food parcels to people in need.
A concerned Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, lodged a motion on the issue in the Scottish Parliament on May 30. He commented: “It is concerning to hear that there has been such a huge increase in demand for food parcels in Aberdeen, especially when you consider the strength of the local economy."
“It is just another example of poverty amongst plenty in one of the most unequal countries in the developed world, and I fear it will only get worse as the ongoing UK Government welfare reforms are implemented. Instant Neighbour is among a number of charities that have stepped up to fill the gaps that are now emerging in the welfare state -- helping the vulnerable in our society who have been abandoned by the Westminster Tory-Liberal coalition. Until the UK Government realises what is clear to everyone else, that we can no longer afford austerity, we need to make sure we do what we can to support the great work of these charities."
Confidentiality breached in WORK ASSESSMENTS
ATOS Healthcare, which currently administers the Work Capability Assessment for Employment & Support Allowance, will launch its Personal Independence Payment assessments in June.
Documents received following a Freedom of Information request showed that, in many cases, the confidentiality of clients is being breached. 'Mystery shop'-style visits to a number of Work Assessment Centres in Scotland resulted in 16 being flagged as having very poor soundproofing. One report said "while sitting in an exam room, we could hear everything from other exam rooms."
Kevin Stewart MSP, a member of the Welfare Reform Committee of the Scottish Parliament, wrote to the UK Secretary of State for Work & Pensions calling for assurances that such breaches of confidentiality would not be tolerated. He commented: “The information that I managed to acquire from these ‘mystery shop’ reports was extremely concerning. Confidentiality of some of the most vulnerable people in our society is of utmost importance, and must be taken seriously by the UK Government."
"The assessment process for benefits is an extremely stressful one. Sitting in a waiting room, while being able to hear others being assessed, will only add to the strain on individuals. The UK Government and ATOS must give the people of Scotland assurances that such a continued breach of confidentiality does not continue into the PIP assessments due to start this summer. The burden of the Union is causing the people of Scotland various degrees of stress and strain, and now a breach of their human rights. The only choice to help build a prosperous nation is for the people to vote Yes in 2014.”
FAIR FARES for pupils and students
KEVIN STEWART MSP has called on First Aberdeen to tackle the disparity in bus fares that exists for school pupils aged 16 and over.
The operator's current pricing structure means that 16 to 18 year-olds, who are still at secondary school, are having to pay more for day tickets than classmates who are under 16, or those studying at college or university. On April 23, Mr Stewart wrote to Duncan Cameron, Director and General Manager at First Aberdeen, highlighting the situation and asking the company to ensure that school pupils aged over 16 are not extortionately charged.
Three examples of the disparity were given: (a) a 16 year-old school pupil has to pay £4.70 for a day-ticket.; (b) a 15 year-old pupil, in the same class at the school, only has to pay £2.60; and (c) a 16 year-old college student qualifies for a student day-ticket at £3.50. Mr Stewart commented: This is another example of the shambolic and disjointed pricing system First have in place. There needs to be a complete overhaul of pricing, and anomalies like this have to be among the first issues to be addressed. I think the recent price changes might have been the final straw for many in our city, and understandably so. Hopefully the momentum behind the Say No To First campaign continues and we might start to see a bus service we deserve, rather than the one we have.”
Students at Aberdeen's two universities say that they are being over-charged when travelling on First Aberdeen buses.
First Aberdeen's very busy No.1 and 2 services go from Bridge of Don to the Robert Gordon University (RGU) campus in Garthdee, via King Street and the city centre. In addition, their No. 20 connects the city centre with the main Aberdeen University campus at Old Aberdeen and the Hillhead Halls of Residence. Students are charged £3.50 for a day ticket. Rival operator Stagecoach runs its 9U service between the main Aberdeen University campus, Hillhead Halls, the university's campus at Foresterhill and the city centre. Their charge is only £2.20 for a day ticket in Zone 1 (Aberdeen City area).
Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, wrote to Stagecoach on April 8, to ask the company if it would consider introducing a city centre to Garthdee service. He commented: "Students in Aberdeen rightly feel aggrieved that they are victims of profiteering by First Aberdeen. On the other hand, Stagecoach already offers good value on its 9U service for University of Aberdeen students, and might be able to offer a cheaper alternative service for those at RGU."
POOL gets funding boost
The Scottish Government has created a capital spending fund of £7.4million, aimed at upgrading several sports facilities ahead of next year's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
In March 2012, a £10million fund was established by the Government "to help local communities bring Scotland's sports facilities into the 21st century." On March 23 this year, First Minister Alex Salmond announced that the additional funding, made available through SportScotland, would allow 27 sporting projects to be improved, refurbished or completed ahead of schedule. This means that over 80 projects across Scotland will be completed in good time for the Games on 23 July - 3 August 2014.
One of the facilities to benefit will be the 50 metre, 10-lane swimming pool in the Aquatics Centre at Aberdeen Sports Village. The latest funding was warmly welcomed by Kevin Stewart, the MSP for Aberdeen Central, who submitted a Parliamentary motion recognising the value of the facility to the local community. He commented: "I'm very pleased that SportScotland continues to recognise the importance of this project to the North-East. Many Aberdonians will be keen to 'take the plunge' in the new pool when it opens in 2014.”
Universities losing out on OVERSEAS STUDENTS
Changes in visa rules introduced by the UK Home Office have had a detrimental effect on the finances of Scottish universities, including Aberdeen.
Following the discontinuation of the Westminster Government's Post Study Work Scheme, overseas students who may have originally wanted to study in Scotland are now opting to go to countries like the USA and Australia. Our universities are not only losing overseas students, but also the financial benefits they provide. For example, Aberdeen University has revealed that, due to the new rules, it has lost £600,000 in income. Kevin Stewart, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, wrote to the Home Office to request that the changes be reversed, and raised a motion in the Scottish Parliament. On March 21, he said: "These are truly shocking figures that lay bare the enormous damage that Westminster is doing to Scotland’s education sector. International students are a critical part of the financial health of a university, and contribute enormously to campus life. Westminster’s determination to drive away these students is xenophobic and short-sighted. It represents a threat to Scotland’s cutting-edge research sector and the international reputations of universities like Aberdeen. This is completely unacceptable. The fact that the UK Government cannot be trusted to put the needs of our universities and colleges first, shows why we need the powers to ensure that Scotland has a student visa system that supports the education sector and the economy. Only a Yes vote in next year’s Referendum will secure that."
On May 7, Maureen Watt, the SNP MSP for Aberdeen South & North Kincardine, received a joint letter from the Principals of the University of Aberdeen, Robert Gordon University (RGU) and Aberdeen College. This highlighted the adverse results of new immigration rules introduced by the UK Border Agency. For instance, the numbers of postgraduate international students at RGU decreased by over 25% between 2010-11 and 2012-13. Current UKBA minimum course specifications conflict with those provided by Aberdeen College, in partnership with the oil and gas sector. The industry's training providers are potentially prevented from operating successfully in bidding for contracts. This is an issue which has detrimental implications for both the education sector and the local economy.
Ms. Watt commented: “It is clear that the UK Government’s misguided immigration measures are having a drastic impact on our education providers in Aberdeen. Not only are they seeing a drastic cut in student numbers but, in the case of Aberdeen College, they are also being prevented from working in partnership with the oil and gas sector to export our world-class expertise and training to nations across the globe. Undoubtedly, the potential financial impact of this upon both the College and oil and gas training providers, is extremely worrying and entirely unnecessary. This once again emphasises that the policies of the UK Government do not reflect the needs of Aberdeen and the North-East. I will be writing directly to Mark Harper, the UK immigration minister, calling on him to ensure that sensible changes are made.”
Bid to make Aberdeen ENERGY DEPARTMENT HQ
The Scottish Government is being asked to consider the possibility of locating the Energy Department of an independent Scotland in Aberdeen, following a Yes vote in the independence referendum.
The request was made by the SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, Kevin Stewart, in a letter to Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The Government is currently working on a detailed prospectus on independence, which will be published in advance of the vote on 18 September 2014.
On February 5, Mr Stewart said: "As the Oil Capital of Europe, and a major player in the development of renewable energy, Aberdeen is unquestionably the UK’s leading centre of energy expertise. However, as with all reserved matters, energy policy is implemented and enforced by remote control from London, and by a ministry that seems to have a revolving door of Energy Secretaries. One of the main benefits of independence is that it will allow decisions to be taken much closer to where they will be implemented. The UK is one of the most centralised states in the world. In an independent Scotland, we will be able to locate Government departments in the parts of the country with the greatest concentration of knowledge and skills. In the case of the energy industry that place would undoubtedly be Aberdeen.
"Locating an independent Scotland’s Energy Department in Aberdeen would allow for the development of a much closer and stronger working relationship between Government and industry. We have seen, all too often, how dysfunctional the current relationship is, where ministers based in London take decisions that have drastic consequences. This was most clearly highlighted by the disastrous decision to increase the supplementary rate of corporation tax on oil producers, and although this has now been reversed, countless hours were wasted by the industry travelling back and forth to London to plead their case. It is inconceivable that such a situation would have arisen had Scotland been independent. A 'Yes' vote in 2014 will help unlock Scotland’s undoubted potential. Decisions that affect Scotland will be made in Scotland, and I firmly believe that this will be of major benefit both to Aberdeen and the energy industry."
The WELFARE SYSTEM in an independent Scotland
SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, KEVIN STEWART, has welcomed the establishment of the Scottish Government’s Expert Working Group on Welfare, which will publish a new progressive vision of a national welfare system for Scotland.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the launch of the expert group after the UK Government introduced a Bill which will see support for low earners in Scotland cut by up to £210million. Mr. Stewart, who is a member of the Scottish Parliament's Welfare Reform Committee, welcomed this important initiative by lodging a Parliamentary motion on January 7. He said: "The new expert panel will be able to give the people of Scotland an exciting vision of a fairer welfare system that will protect the most vulnerable in our society. This is another step which proves that the Scottish Government is committed to protecting those worst off, and this support has been unwavering despite the ever-worsening cuts by London. The vicious attacks by the UK Government on those in need cannot be tolerated. The people of Scotland have the chance to ensure that a fair and just welfare system is in place. I believe that they will choose fairness over injustice, and vote Yes in 2014.”
Motion by Kevin Stewart MSP in the Scottish Parliament on 7 January 2013:
EXPERT WORKING GROUP ON WELFARE. That the Parliament welcomes the announcement by the Deputy First Minister that an expert group has been set up to advise on how an independent Scotland’s welfare system would work; welcomes the Deputy First Minister’s call for the system to protect the vulnerable and support Scottish households; rejects the UK Government’s welfare reform agenda, which, it considers, puts the Scottish Government’s work to alleviate poverty and hardship in jeopardy, and looks forward to welcoming a positive vision for a welfare system in an independent Scotland should the Scottish people vote Yes in the 2014 referendum.
### On January 15, Kevin Stewart criticised the UK Government on its decision to add yet another layer of bureaucracy to an already complex appeals system for benefit claimants. The procedure, which came into force on April 1, will require claimants to ask the Department for Work & Pensions to reconsider their decision before any formal appeal can be lodged. Mr. Stewart wrote to the responsible UK Government minister, asking that he reconsider the imposition of this bureaucratic and unmanageable system. Mr Stewart commented: "We hear, time and again, that a high percentage of appeals result in a positive result for the claimant. This extra layer of bureaucracy and complexity appears to be designed to discourage claimants from appealing, resulting in the 'cost-saving' that the UK Government is so determined to achieve. The London Government is playing with people’s lives. Clearly, they are intent on cutting support for those in need, and thus furthering the gap between them and the wealthiest in society, which includes members of the Tory-Liberal Cabinet. The burden of the Union is causing the people of Scotland to be plunged further into poverty as the UK Government removes its support. The only choice available to help build a prosperous nation is for the people to vote Yes in 2014.” Mr. Stewart also lodged a complementary motion in the Scottish Parliament.
Labour's hatred of the SCOTTISH FLAG
On April 1, Scotland acquired a unified fire and rescue service, based in Perth. In recognition of the national status of the new organisation, Saltires were painted on the radiator grilles of some fire engines. Apparently, Grampian Fire & Rescue Service received "complaints" from two unnamed individuals who were "offended" by the appearance of the national flag on the vehicles. As a result, they were removed!
This almost unbelievable decision caused considerable resentment and puzzlement from both firemen and the general public. A concerned Kevin Stewart MSP wrote to the Chief Fire Officer of the Grampian service, on 27 November 2012, for an explanation. He also submitted a Parliamentary motion on the matter, and made Freedom of Information enquires to ascertain the exact nature of the complaints that were made, and by whom. Mr. Stewart said: “In no other country would the national flag be removed from public vehicles. The Saltire is Scotland's ancient symbol that bridges all political divides, and there is no reason why we should be prevented from displaying our national flag at every opportunity. The whole situation is bizarre, and no explanation has been given as to how a Saltire on a Scottish fire engine could possibly be 'offensive' to anyone."
Although the identities of those "offended" have never been revealed, a significant clue was provided on November 30. Employing some classic reverse logic, Lewis Macdonald, the British Labour regional MSP, blustered: "On St. Andrew's Day, of all days, the St. Andrew's Cross should be above politics and the SNP should butt out. The livery of emergency vehicles is the last place for the SNP to be playing party politics. And it's not a place for flying flags of any colour." It should be noted that Mr. Macdonald is also a prominent supporter of the Better Together alliance of Labour and Tories, which is campaigning against the Scottish Parliament being given any significant powers. Labour's dislike of Scottish flags was also oddly expressed by Johann Lamont MSP on 25 September 2012, when she said: "You cannot hide a dole queue behind a Saltire. The Lion Rampant is not an alternative to an opportunity to have an education or a job. Anyone who tells you anything different lacks credibility." When it achieved power in May 2012, the Labour-led Aberdeen City Council removed the Saltire from the Town House flagpole, and replaced it with a Union Flag.
EMERGENCY CARE CENTRE
Aberdeen Royal Infirmary's new Emergency Care Centre (ECC) became operational on 21 November 2012. The £110million building took over three years to construct and now dominates the Foresterhill site.
The ECC brings together emergency and urgent care facilities into one building for the first time, which will improve access to unscheduled care. Patients will also benefit from access to a coordinated team of clinicians. Graeme Smith, of NHS Grampian, said: "This is quite simply the most ambitious development undertaken by NHS Grampian in a generation. The ECC stands taller than any other building on the Foresterhill Health Campus and replaces 40% of the inpatient beds at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. We have got the most modern equipment, including pneumatic tube systems which connect directly to the laboratory so that tests can be turned around much more quickly. The standard of our accommodation is much higher. In our in-patient facilities, 75% of the beds are in single rooms with en suite accommodation and that is much better for the privacy and dignity of our patients." Other projects in the city will also benefit from revenue funding via the "hub initiative". The new Aberdeen Health Village in Frederick Street will receive £15.5million and Woodside Health Centre £4.7million.
Commenting on the opening of the Emergency Care Centre, Kevin Stewart MSP said: "This is an ambitious project that will improve the health service for all those living in the North-East. It is the result of a huge commitment by the NHS, the Scottish Government and a number of charities, and is another step towards ensuring Scots have access to a world-class health service. I will be viewing the new facilities on Friday, and look forward to seeing exactly what this building has to offer.”
Original OILFIELDS to be redeveloped
Two of Scotland's original oilfields are to resume production. On 24 October 2012, Talisman Energy Inc. of Canada announced that they were going to immediately progress their Montrose Area Redevelopment (MAR) project.
The Arbroath field is 130 miles east of Aberdeen. Discovered in September 1969, it was the first commercial oilfield in the Scottish sector of the North Sea. Montrose, five miles to the NW, was discovered two years later. They and two undeveloped discoveries will be integrated in the MAR project, costing £1.6billion. Altogether, the fields are estimated to have 100million barrels, with production expected to peak at 36,000 barrels a day until 2030.
Kevin Stewart MSP (Aberdeen Central) hailed the excellent news by submitting a motion in the Scottish Parliament. He commented: "This is a very welcome announcement. The huge investment by Talisman confirms Aberdeen, the Silver City, to be worth its weight in gold, and helps show the strength of the North-East economy. Hopefully, this will inspire other companies to follow suit and invest in similar projects."
New UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
The University of Aberdeen's new library was opened on 24 Sept. 2012, and named for the Aberdeen-born SIR DUNCAN RICE, who was Principal from 1996 to 2010.
Designed by Danish architects, construction began in Sept. 2009. The futuristic building takes the form of a giant cube. Its exterior is largely of glass, with an abstract pattern intended to suggest "shards of ice". The new building replaces the neighbouring Queen Mother Library, which has been demolished.
The library was the venue for World Book Week, from 26 October to 2 November 2012. The programme included a book exchange; daily Twitter questions and blog posts highlighting the library's collections; a "flash fiction" short story competition; book-binding workshops and community events. Kevin Stewart, SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central, congratulated the University of Aberdeen on its new addition and for organising the exciting series of events. Mr. Stewart, who presented the award to the winner of the "flash fiction" short story competition, also lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament to mark the event.
On October 12, he commented: "World Book Week is a great initiative by the staff of the Sir Duncan Rice Library. They have planned an exciting programme for both students and the wider community. There are a great number of relatively unknown stories waiting to be read, many of them by local authors. I hope that this will encourage more people to read recreationally; and would urge Aberdonians to follow this example, get into the spirit of World Book Week and get reading!"
SMALL ABERDEEN BUSINESSES aided by bonus scheme
The Scottish Government’s Small Business Bonus Scheme has been of considerable benefit to many Aberdeen businesses since it was introduced in 2008.
This was confirmed by Fergus Ewing, Minister for Energy, Enterprise & Tourism, in his answer to a Parliamentary Question put by Kevin Stewart, MSP for Aberdeen Central. In the last four years, small firms in Aberdeen had saved £12.7million in business rates taxation. Statistics published on 27 October 2011 also showed that 2,010 business premises in the city were paying reduced or zero business rates under the Small Business Bonus Scheme.
On 11 October 2012, Mr Stewart commented: "The Small Business Bonus has proved to be an absolute lifeline for many small Scottish businesses; and I know from speaking to business people in Aberdeen how much they value this much needed relief, particularly in such difficult economic times. Had the SNP not introduced this scheme, I think there would have been more businesses facing financial difficulties and even possible closure. When finances are tight, every penny helps, and that is particularly the case for small businesses. I am happy that this scheme has helped so many businesses in Aberdeen, and I am delighted that the Scottish Government’s budget makes provision for it to continue."
Stewart leads debate on ATOS ASSESSMENTS
An individual's entitlement to state benefits as the result of disability or injury now depends on the result of an assessment carried out by ATOS Healthcare Ltd., on behalf of the UK Government's Dept. for Work & Pensions. The Aberdeen assessment centre is at 484 Union Street.
The ATOS assessments have been criticised by organisations representing disabled people and by medical professionals, and were the subject of a debate in the Scottish Parliament on 26 September 2012, led by Kevin Stewart, MSP for Aberdeen Central. Mr Stewart said: "Work Capability Assessments have been discredited by individuals who have gone through the process, and there is overwhelming evidence that they can no longer be seen to be fit for purpose. Despite two years of independent reviews, the research proves that the system is flawed. Having to go through the procedure is sometimes frightening and daunting for claimants; and having to wait up to six weeks for communication from the Department for Work and Pensions is unacceptable. When medical professionals are opposed to a system which claims to be 'foolproof', surely it’s time for the UK Government to scrap it and create a system that works for disabled people?” The British Medical Association called on MSPs to support Mr Stewart’s motion, stating: “The BMA is concerned about the impact that UK welfare reform legislation will have on the people of Scotland.”
Motion for debate by Kevin Stewart MSP in the Scottish Parliament on 26 September 2012:
That the Parliament understands that there are ever-increasing concerns in Aberdeen and across Scotland regarding the work capability assessments for Employment and Support Allowance that are being carried out by Atos; notes the reported fears of stakeholder organisations and individuals that similar concerns will be reproduced with assessments for Personal Independence Payments, and understands that members are receiving significant casework from constituents regarding negative experiences of work capability assessments.
### On 1 October 2012, Kevin Stewart submitted a second motion in the Scottish Parliament condemning the UK Government for awarding a £206million contract to ATOS to carry out work capability assessments for personal independence payments in Scotland and the North of England, which will see the company make profits of between £16-40million. The projections were revealed in a Freedom of Information response from the Department for Work & Pensions. Mr Stewart said: "It is quite breathtaking to see the staggering profits that ATOS will make from carrying out humiliating assessments on disabled people. These assessments have been designed by the UK Government with the sole intention of slashing spending on the most vulnerable in society. That it is willing to take £40million out of the pockets of the disabled, and hand it over to a private company, shows how spectacularly misguided their priorities are. Quite frankly, it is inhumane and crass to put private profit before the needs of vulnerable people. What makes matters worse is that this £40million profit is only the tip of the iceberg, as it only covers Scotland and the North of England. When you take into account the fact that similar contracts will be awarded across the rest of the UK, private companies will be laughing all the way to the bank. Aberdeen was one of the areas where these tests were piloted, and the harrowing tales of humiliating assessments were all too frequent. When people realise that the company carrying out these assessments is making exorbitant profits from the misery of others, I am sure they will be rightly horrified."
Reducing VAT on HOME IMPROVEMENTS
With the aim of giving a much-needed boost to the construction industry, KEVIN STEWART MSP has renewed his call for the VAT on home improvements to be reduced to 5%. Work in the building sector has fallen by 5.2% in the last quarter, as a result of the UK Government’s policy of cutting capital spending. Many people in the industry have been made redundant and many more building jobs are at risk.
Mr. Stewart originally raised a motion on the subject in the Scottish Parliament in July 2011*, which received widespread support from MSPs. On 2 August 2012, he wrote to UK Chancellor George Osborne, urging him to use this cut in VAT to assist the construction industry. He commented: “The UK Chancellor’s spending cuts have been blamed for the recent decline in construction, so he really needs to look at helping the industry at this difficult time. The London Government's capital spending program has been slashed drastically, leading to a reduction in infrastructure investment. Reducing the VAT on home improvements would go some way to limiting the damage his policies are causing. Renovation of residential properties would be more affordable and encourage homeowners to invest in their homes. This would not only provide general assistance to builders, but would also help legitimate businesses compete with less reputable firms which don't charge VAT."
*Motion by Kevin Stewart MSP in the Scottish Parliament on 4 July 2011:
CUT VAT ON HOUSING IMPROVEMENTS. That the Parliament recognises that many small construction firms are suffering because of the economic downturn; notes that new house building is VAT exempt, but that housing extensions and improvements are not, and calls on the UK Government to consider cutting or abolishing VAT on housing improvements and extensions to allow for the security and survival of Scotland’s small construction companies.
On 14 August 2012, it was announced that the Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise will provide £3.3million to enable Aberdeen City Council to complete the purchase of ten hydrogen-powered buses. The city will also be the site for Scotland’s first large hydrogen refuelling station, which will also cater for hydrogen cars as they come onto the market.
Aberdeen Central MSP Kevin Stewart has campaigned for some time to bring hydrogen technology to Aberdeen’s bus fleet, including pressing Scottish Enterprise to contribute funding to the project. In July, he tabled a Parliamentary motion* calling for a debate on Aberdeen's ambitious plans to become a world centre for hydrogen technologies. At its budget meeting in February, Aberdeen City Council voted unanimously to provide £2million capital funding towards bringing these state-of-the-art buses to the North-East. The vehicles will be operated by Stagecoach and FirstBus, and could be in service by 2014.
Mr Stewart said: "Aberdeen has long been at the forefront of developments in the energy industry. The city now has the potential to become a global leader in the development of new hydrogen technologies, and this will be the next step in our evolution as the Energy Capital of Europe. It is already the first city in the world to have hydrogen-powered vehicles available to members of its car club. Hydrogen is a clean and plentiful source of energy. All you need to create it is a wind turbine, some wind, and some water. When this is used in a fuel cell, the only emissions from vehicles are water and oxygen. If you combine Scotland’s renewable energy potential with the possibility of diversification into hydrogen, the sky's the limit. Aberdeen is positioning itself to be at the forefront of this exciting new concept. We can harness our existing expertise in renewables and oil and gas to ensure that the use of hydrogen really takes off. This will not only provide a boost to the local economy, but also lead to an eventual reduction in greenhouse gas. It is a compelling vision for a greener future, and the eyes of the world will be closely following what happens in Aberdeen. It was important that the city's steps towards this goal were recognised at a national level and I thank my Parliamentary colleagues for sharing Aberdeen’s vision. I'm delighted by this announcement and very much looking forward to the arrival of the new buses."
*Motion by Kevin Stewart MSP in the Scottish Parliament on 16 July 2012:
Parliament welcomes the ambition shown by Aberdeen to become a world leading centre for the development and deployment of new Hydrogen technologies; notes that Aberdeen City Council unanimously agreed a contribution of £2m from its capital budget towards the deployment of Hydrogen Fuel Cell buses in the city; further notes that the city’s new car club is the first in the world to trial hydrogen vehicles; recognises that Hydrogen Fuel Cells are one of the most promising technologies to facilitate the decarbonisation of public transport; congratulates Aberdeen City Council on its engagement with partners across the European Union to secure its participation in and funding from a variety of hydrogen projects, and notes the potential links between the city’s oil and gas and renewable industries; considers that the deployment of hydrogen technologies will help maintain Aberdeen’s status as a global energy city, boost the local economy, and help Scotland meet its targets for greenhouse gas reduction contained in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009
Minimum price for ALCOHOL
KEVIN STEWART MSP hailed the 14 May 2012 announcement by the Scottish Government that it will seek to set the minimum price for a unit of alcohol at 50p.
Mr. Stewart commented: “I am glad to see that a minimum price has been announced and look forward to seeing this introduced as law. Aberdeen does not have a healthy relationship with alcohol and I anticipate the long-term benefits that a minimum price will have on health, families, crime and society. I am sure that a number of local shops, pubs and producers throughout the North-East will benefit from this too, by being much better placed to compete with the big supermarkets, breweries and distilleries. This is an innovative and forward-thinking policy and I am sure it will deliver the best for the people of this city.
Making the announcement, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "Too many Scots are drinking themselves to death. The problem affects people of all walks of life. It's no coincidence that as affordability has increased, alcohol-related hospital admissions have quadrupled, and it is shocking that half of our prisoners now say they were drunk when they committed the offence. It's time for this to stop. Introducing a minimum price per unit will enable us to tackle these problems, given the clear link between affordability and consumption. There is now a groundswell of support for the policy across the medical profession, police forces, alcohol charities and from significant parts of the drinks and licensed trade industry, who recognise the benefits minimum pricing can bring -- saving lives and reducing crime."
### MANY CHILDREN'S LIVES are being ruined by alcohol-fuelled violence and, on 3 July 2012, the charity Children 1st launched a summer drive to raise awareness of the issue. With an estimated 80,000 children in Scotland affected by parental alcohol misuse, the charity is urging everybody to take responsibility to protect children. Anyone concerned about a child living with alcohol-fuelled abuse this summer can call the free and confidential helpline ParentLine Scotland on 08000 28 22 33. Alison Todd, Deputy Chief Executive at CHILDREN 1ST, said: “Our message is that it is everybody’s responsibility to protect children from violence fuelled by alcohol misuse, particularly as families prepare for the summer holidays. Every day, CHILDREN 1ST supports children to recover from the trauma of abuse and violence caused by parental alcohol misuse. The impacts include low self-esteem, anxiety, poor health and emotional well-being, with children often subject to physical and emotional abuse or witness to violence between their parents “
Kevin Stewart, MSP for Aberdeen Central, gave his full support to the campaign. He commented: "It is totally unacceptable that at least 80,000 children in Scotland are growing up with their childhoods blighted by adults’ drinking –- and worse, adults becoming abusive and violent towards them. There are too many situations involving alcohol which result in a child witnessing violence or bearing the brunt of it themselves. The CHILDREN 1ST campaign is needed not only to highlight the issue, but also to encourage us all to do more to protect children. We can start by making sure anyone concerned about a child knows to call ParentLine Scotland. It’s awful to think that many children grow up feeling anxious about their summer holidays, rather than looking forward to them. These are days that should be filled with happiness and laughter, but they are often ruined by aggression, violence and anger due to alcohol. I’m supporting CHILDREN 1ST campaign so that, in the future, more children will hopefuly be allowed to enjoy their holidays free from parental abuse.”
The large Broadford Works site is bounded by Maberly St., Ann St. and Hutcheon St., lying just north of Aberdeen city centre. The former Richards textile factory's old mill buildings have lain empty since 2004. Dating from the 1800s, some have a Conservation A-listing, which protects them from demolition.
In the eight years since the factory closed, the buildings have been the target for numerous acts of fire-raising, vandalism, graffiti and general anti-social behaviour. The long-derelict works are in the Aberdeen Central constituency of Kevin Stewart MSP. On 28 May 2011, and again on 15 June 2012, Mr. Stewart wrote to the site owner, Mr. Ian Suttie, calling for urgent action to secure the site until its redevelopment. Aberdeen City Council has since served a Dangerous Buildings Notice on the owner, and several measures have been taken to prevent entry, and monitor the movements of individuals who still succeed in gaining access. The move followed the tabling by Mr. Stewart of a number of Parliamentary Questions on the subject of dangerous buildings. He said: "Local residents and businesses are rightly worried about the goings-on at Broadford, and the lives of those in the emergency services have been put at risk far too often when dealing with the criminal acts that have been taking place there."
Mr. Suttie received planning permission for housing on the site and, on 1 December 2011, gained the support of Historic Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland and the Prince's Regeneration Trust for his intention to redevelop the site as an "urban village." It is envisaged that £95million will be spent on providing 517 homes, shops, a restaurant, nursery and underground car park. The plans were initially rejected by Aberdeen City Council's Development Management sub-committee on 19 July 2012, but objections were later withdrawn on 26 December 2012.
On 8 February 2012, KEVIN STEWART welcomed the announcement by Transport Minister Keith Brown of improvements to two notorious traffic bottlenecks: the HAUDAGAIN roundabout in Aberdeen and the INVERAMSAY railway bridge over the A96, near Inverurie in Aberdeenshire.
£3million was allocated for re-designing the Haudagain junction, while £5million will go towards the expected £12-15million cost of road realignment and upgrade of the bridge at Inveramsay. Mr. Stewart, the former chairman of NESTRANS (NE Scotland Transport Partnership) commented: “I have campaigned for these improvements for a very long time and am pleased that an SNP Government is going to deliver on these projects. This is great news for Aberdeen and the North-East as a whole.”
WINNING FOR SCOTLAND!
The SNP won all three ABERDEEN constituencies in the General Election on 5 May 2011.
Election Result: ABERDEEN CENTRAL
Kevin Stewart SNP 10,058
Lewis Macdonald Lab. 9,441
Sandy Wallace Con. 3,100
Sheila Thomson Lib. Dem. 2,349
Mike Phillips Nat. Front 201
SNP GAIN FROM LAB. Maj. 617 Turnout 43.8%