with Alex Salmond, First Minister and MSP for Aberdeenshire East

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WESTMINSTER DECISIONS FAILING SCOTLAND

This week I attended the Joint Ministerial Committee at Downing Street to meet with the Prime Minister and my fellow First Ministers to highlight the damaging impact that Westminster’s decisions are having on Scotland’s economy, young and vulnerable people.

More than 82,000 households in Scotland have seen their housing benefit payments slashed by the UK Government’s bedroom tax with around 80 per cent being disabled adults. More than 15,000 affected are families with children. Whilst Scotland represents 12 per cent of all those affected by the changes, the UK Government has allocated just under nine per cent of Discretionary Housing Payments funding here. On the other hand, the Scottish Government has added £20 million to mitigate the effect of these welfare reforms - the maximum allowed under current legislation – and shows that it will continue to utilise all of its limited powers to curb the impact of Westminster’s destructive policies.

Scottish charities remain waiting for the UK Government to reimburse £114 million of lottery funding allocated to the 2012 Olympics in London. While £90 million is expected to be returned over a number of years, Scotland’s good causes have yet to see a penny returned.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates that 50,000 additional children in Scotland will be living in relative poverty by 2020 as a direct consequence of UK Government welfare reforms. It is therefore essential that Scotland gains the full economic levers of independence that can be used to craft a society built on fairness, opportunity and economic prosperity.

HOME ENERGY SCOTLAND HOTLINE TO HELP IMPROVE ENERGY EFFICIENCY

I welcome the Scottish Government’s new national campaign encouraging households to take advantage of all available energy assistance and increase fuel efficiency by contacting Home Energy Scotland. The hotline offers free, impartial and expert energy advice and - with a recent YouGov survey indicating that three quarters of people in Scotland are concerned about the cost of their energy bills this winter - it is vital that people know that they may benefit from home energy saving initiatives such as new insulation, boilers and central heating for free.

The Scottish Government has allocated £74 million to improve energy efficiency and combat fuel poverty in 2013/14.

Basic energy efficiency provision will give Scottish families currently experiencing financial difficulties a substantial boost and anyone can apply for up to £1200 to help reduce fuel bills and make their homes warmer, greener and more cost effective.

Over 800,000 people in Scotland have contacted Home Energy Scotland since 2009 and I would encourage all those in Aberdeenshire East to contact the hotline to ensure that they are receiving all that they are eligible for on 0808 808 2282.

BETTER HARVEST FOR 2013

Last year’s harvest, followed by a cold long winter, presented a host of challenges to Scotland’s farmers - particularly those in Aberdeenshire, who were beginning to wonder at one stage if Spring would ever come.

Almost £3.5 million has now been distributed in compensation by the Scottish Government to help those farmers hit by the losses caused by the severe weather early this year.

540 Weather Aid payments, amounting to over £2.7 million, have now been processed and more than 4,000 farmers have received assistance from the Scottish Government’s £750,000 Fallen Stock Fund.

In contrast with last year, I am very encouraged by the recent publication by Scotland’s Chief Statistician of the latest estimates for Scottish cereal and oilseed rape harvest, with an anticipated 11 per cent improvement in overall cereal production from last year.

The agricultural industry is a key contributor to the local economy of the North East, and these figures represent a marked recovery following the largest fall in yields last year for more than two decades.

With both higher yields and areas, production of oats is estimated to increase by around 80 per cent and there is also an estimated increase of 15 per cent in spring barley and a 6 per cent in winter barley.