Holyrood Headlines with MSP Alex Salmond

Scottish Budget for jobs, growth and fairness

I welcome the Scottish Government’s recent Budget which focuses on growth and fairness and measures to boost the Scottish economy.

The Budget sets out the actions the Scottish Government will take to support construction, skills and the green economy, with investment of £180 million over the next 2 years. It also announced an acceleration of the £80 million Schools for the Future Programme and an initiative to create up to 10,000 job opportunities for young Scots.

The Budget confirms the Scottish Government’s continued commitment to a council tax freeze, police numbers, no tuition fees, free prescriptions, concessionary travel and protection for the NHS.

I also welcome key planned infrastructure projects for the North East and the announcement of an Energy Skills Academy to ensure improved links between the industry and the North East’s academic institutions, developing a skilled workforce for this vital sector in the years ahead.

In difficult economic times, and despite Westminster cutbacks, it is welcome that the Scottish Government is protecting frontline services and investing in our young people, showing that it is doing everything it can within its limited powers to protect Scottish interests and stimulate the economy.

The Budget highlights the stark contrast between the direction of the Scottish and UK Governments. It came as the human cost of Tory/Lib Dem cuts to the welfare state were laid bare and as the Lib Dem leader was forced to publicly apologise for breaking the Party’s promise on tuition fees. Meanwhile, the Scottish Budget has a focus on growth and fairness, and concentrates on stimulating capital investment, protecting public services and developing opportunities.

Celebrating links 
with the USA

I spent last week in Chicago, celebrating the cultural and trade links that exist between Scotland and the USA, and witnessing the monumental comeback and historic triumph of Team Europe in the Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club.

Not only was the event a first-rate sporting spectacle, with the North East’s own Paul Lawrie trouncing USA’s Brandt Snedeker in the final day’s singles match, but it also provided an excellent opportunity to showcase Scotland on the international stage. I was encouraged by the huge warmth shown for our country, with over 5000 golf fans flocking to the Gleneagles 2014 stand, interested to learn more about Scotland, the home of golf.

The positive impact of the next Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in 2014 will be felt across the country, with the economic benefit likely to surpass £100 million during the week of the tournament alone.

The Ryder Cup will be one of the main highlights of Homecoming Scotland celebrations throughout 2014, with an exciting array of events in every corner of the country putting our dynamic and creative nation firmly on the international stage.

While in the USA, I also carried out a series of business engagements to highlight Scottish exports, industry and investment potential. I had the opportunity to engage with key players in the Oil & Gas industry to reinforce Scotland’s commitment to investors in this hugely important sector.

Similarly, I addressed business leaders on the subject of Scotland’s cultural and economic strengths and the nation’s constitutional future. One point of particular interest to the assembled audience was that, while Scotland has been a major contributor to the world throughout the ages, it presently has fewer economic powers than the state of Illinois.

This trade mission was an important opportunity to exhibit Scotland’s vibrant culture and investment potential, focusing on the benefits to the Scottish economy, both on and off the golf course.

Funding to help North East 
youngsters into work

I am delighted to welcome £3 million of Scottish Government funding to help young people across Scotland into work. Local charity Aberdeen Foyer, which targets youth homelessness and unemployment across the North East, received £85,497 from the Scottish Government’s Third Sector and Social Enterprise Challenge Fund. Across the country we will see over 2000 young people benefit from the scheme, giving them the chance to significantly improve their employability.

Aberdeen Foyer provides supported accommodation across Aberdeenshire, including a centre in Inverurie. The charity couples accommodation support with education, training, employment support and health promotion services, seeking to address the underlying causes of homelessness. Aberdeen Foyer has transformed thousands of lives since it was founded in 1995, and this significant funding boost from the Scottish Government will help to transform many more.

The Scottish Government is committed to supporting youth employment, and this recent £3 million investment complements the Opportunities for All programme, which guarantees every 16-19 year old in Scotland the offer of a place in education, training or work.

New meat processing partnership to safeguard sector’s interests

Last week saw news of a new partnership to create a multi-million pound meat processing facility at Thainstone, removing current processing operations from a residential area of Inverurie.

The partnership, involving Scotbeef, Scotch Premier Meat and Mathers (Inverurie) Ltd, is aimed at safeguarding the long term security of the meat processing sector in the North East.

It is very encouraging that the industry’s leading lights are coming together to create an exciting vision that will safeguard the sector’s long term interests in Inverurie and the wider region. Our local meat processing sector has faced a number of challenges in recent times given a difficult trading environment and clearly our local businesses are determined to find a way through.

I am keen to discuss with the partners the implications for the existing workforces at both existing plants and the need to retain as many of the highly skilled jobs as possible.

The North East, and Inverurie in particular, is home to some of the best meat production anywhere in the world and it is important that every effort is made to retain this traditional and very important industry.