with Alex Salmond, First Minister and MSP for Aberdeenshire East

Earlier this week I was delighted to be on board Flybe’s inaugural flight from Aberdeen to London City Airport.

The North-east of Scotland is lucky enough to attract people from all over the world to enjoy the high quality of life and to work for world-leading companies.

Excellent and convenient travel links to other business hubs across the world are vital for continued growth. Being able to travel from Aberdeen to the centre of London and arrive before 8am ready for a day of meetings or leisure is just one of many advantages of this new service.

Flights operate three times a day between Aberdeen and London, giving customers greater flexibility in choosing when they travel.

Improving Scotland’s connectivity is a top priority for the Scottish Government as it will help to build strong business links and provide a real boost to our tourism industry.

With so many different activities on offer and great places to stay, the north-east of Scotland offers a fantastic experience for tourists and making it easier to travel here is sure to deliver significant benefits to the area. Having a service between Aberdeen and the heart of London is incredibly important for companies in the north-east looking to do business further afield.

The Scottish Government will continue to support Aberdeen International Airport to grow the number of routes to and from the city.

Further opportunities for growth within the business and tourism sectors can be achieved if Air Passenger Duty (APD) is devolved to Scotland.

This is something the Scottish Government have long called for and there is no doubt that the current APD system in the UK holds Scotland back.

It is repeatedly cited by both airports and airlines as one of the biggest obstacles when it comes to securing new direct international services and maintaining existing ones.

By devolving APD to Scotland we could unlock the country’s full potential, bringing significant opportunities for airlines, Scotland’s airports and passengers. We would then be able to re-invest the benefits from growth in economic activity that could be expected to flow from a more competitive APD regime in Scotland.

UK APD is the most expensive tax of its kind in Europe and its impact on Scotland cannot continue to be ignored. It is time Westminster listened to the voice of the industry and took action.

NHS funding

The provision of health and social care is one of the major responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament and Government. Successive Scottish governments have made steady improvements to Scotland’s health and the quality of healthcare, while protecting the NHS as a free, truly public service, consistent with the values of the NHS and the priorities of the people of Scotland.

Despite the Westminster Government reducing the resource budget of the Scottish Government by 6.7% since the Conservatives came to power (between 2010/11 and 2015/16) the SNP protected the NHS budget, and NHS Grampian has had above inflation increases in every year of that same period.

NHS Grampian is receiving £229.1 million more in resource funding in 2015/16 in cash terms than when the SNP came to Government and will increase by 4.4% to £812.6million for 2015/16.

There has also been substantial investment in NHS Grampian infrastructure including the recently-announced £120 million non-profit-distributing (NPD) project to deliver a new cancer centre and new women’s hospital at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

In recent days there have been cries of underfunding at NHS Grampian from Labour politicians and even calls for an independent investigation at NHS Grampian.

I find the suggestion that the health board has not had sufficient financial support from this Scottish Government to be utterly incomprehensible. NHS Grampian did not receive a fair share of NHS funding under Labour despite the Arbuthnott Formula which assesses key indicators of population, inequality and deprivation of the areas covered by each health board to allocate money. In 2006/07 under Labour, NHS Grampian received 9.1% of all frontline funding for NHS health boards which has risen to 9.6% of the total funding for 2015/16. With the introduction of the NRAC formula (which replaced the Arbuthnott Formula) the SNP Government committed that boards should be brought to parity with the sums identified by NRAC by 2016/17 – as sudden large changes would have damaged health boards who were receiving above their share.