with Alex Salmond, First Minister and MSP for Aberdeenshire East

CAP Funding

It is greatly disappointing to see that the Prime Minister has refused the calls of the Scottish Government to reallocate CAP external convergence uplift to Scottish farmers.

I recently wrote to Mr Cameron on this issue, which is of vital importance to the North-east’s farming community. The case for external convergence uplift coming to Scotland, worth €223 million, had cross-party and industry support. The UK only receives this money as a result of our very low per hectare payment rates.

I am aware that this has caused significant unrest in the agricultural community and the Scottish Government is still consulting on how to implement the new CAP. The situation would be made much less difficult had all of the funding due to Scotland actually been paid to Scotland. I would urge anyone affected to lobby their Westminster MPs on this issue.

Tarves Pharmacy

Haddo Medical Group’s dispensing rights have again come under scrutiny. I am concerned by this latest move from NHS Grampian and written to the health board following discussion with the Community Council. A comprehensive review was conducted in December of 2012, to have another so soon seems unusual. NHS Grampian had intimated that one of the indicators used to determine satisfactory pharmacy provision was a 20-minute travel time. I have re-emphasised the points made by the community council that this relies on individuals having access to transport. Many are without access to a car or public transport and I hope this will be taken on board by health officials.

Commonwealth Games

2014 is a big year for Scotland as we play host to a vast number of activities, especially the Commonwealth Games. Although most of the competitions will be held in Glasgow it is crucial that the benefits are felt right across the country. The legacy of these Games should be just as strong in Aberdeenshire as it is in Ayrshire. I am delighted that groups in the area are getting involved; it is a credit to Turriff Academy and others. I hope that more will seek to engage with the legacy programme.

Budget

This week the Scottish Parliament will pass the last budget before the referendum. Our focus is very much on the here and now and as such we are financing issues of importance now. The budget will provide a funding increase to childcare, expand free school meals, and support many small Scottish businesses. The budget will also support moves to lessen the impact of Westminster’s bedroom tax which is affecting a number of families in Aberdeenshire. We will be continuing measures to supply a council tax freeze; as well as free higher education; concessionary travel; and prescriptions. The council tax freeze alone has saved residents in Aberdeenshire hundreds of pounds. This is a budget that achieves exceptional targets for Scotland given the disappointing fiscal settlement. The Scottish block grant has been cut by £3 billion. Those cuts are likely to increase unless we act together to do something about it on September 18. This is a budget for employment, funding new apprenticeships; additional college places; and re-investing public services like the NHS. With full fiscal autonomy this list would be considerably longer, and the capacity of the Scottish Parliament, and Scottish Government, to serve the people of Scotland would be greatly increased. Removing Scotland’s requirement to contribute towards the £100 billion Trident bill would be no wee thing for Scotland’s public services. Scrapping Trident from Scottish spending could add up to many more teachers; nurses; doctors; and university places.

A96 – Inveramsay Bridge

Transport Scotland announced last week that it was issuing the main contract notice for improvements to Inveramsay Bridge. This is one of the last steps before construction will begin towards the end of the year. I have worked for quite a number of years to see these plans come to fruition, even since my days as the MSP for Gordon. I am delighted that this is moving ahead, the award of this main contract is a milestone in the process. I know Inveramsay Bridge has been a thorn in the side of commuters and other drivers for some time. I am also aware that it has been a real inconvenience to agricultural traffic headed towards facilities in Inverurie. The works will remove the bottleneck junction and should reduce journey times.