David Stewart MSP

Archive for May 2010

Battle over Crofting Future set to continue

7 May 2010

A battle over crofting’s future is set to continue following the publication of the Parliamentary Committee report on the general principles of the Crofting Reform Bill.

The Bill and the report will be debated in Parliament on Thursday (13th May) with Labour members set to move an amendment urging radical changes to the Bill if it is to become acceptable.

The Stage One report to Parliament reveals fundamental differences of view within the Rural Affairs Committee, with SNP and Tory members joining forces in favour of imposing new charges on crofters for administration of regulation and to legislate for a “costly and bureaucratic” proposal for a new and extra map based register of crofts.

Labour members have opposed the new charging regime, the new and additional map based register, and transferring the croft development function to Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Labour members are also heavily critical of the lack of any new extra funding for the extra duties the Commission will have to administer, raising fears that the new charges on crofters will have to rise to help fund the Commission’s basic work.

The report is littered to references of where the Committee could not find agreement on the Scottish Government’s proposals.

The Committee is only recommending that the Bill proceeds to its next stage on the basis of noting that some members believe the Bill needs to be heavily mended.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Peter Peacock, who has been a consistent critic of key aspects of the Bill, said,

“There is still a long way to go in amending this Bill if it is not to damage crofting and dump yet more bureaucracy and cost on crofters, rather than help crofters face a difficult future.

“There is fundamental disagreement with the Scottish Government on some key aspects of the Bill and we will continue to fight those particular proposals.

“We have made it clear that we do not support the Scottish Government’s proposals for a second croft register, to be kept in Edinburgh by the Keeper of Registers, and for which crofters will have to pay a fee.

“We are also opposed to charging crofters fees for ordinary regulatory applications to the Commission and believe that this may be just the thin end of the wedge for escalating costs being dumped onto crofters’ shoulders.

“The Scottish Government have a major challenge on their hands to get the most controversial proposals through Parliament and I hope they will still listen to the views of crofters.”

In some moments of unity, the Committee is backing direct elections to the new Crofting Commission, though with suggestions for improving the voting system and with some (Labour) members urging the Government to think again about whether it is essential for the Government to appoint the Chair of the Commission.

The Committee are also largely agreed on additional measures to address absenteeism and neglect, but emphasise the need to deal with absenteeism very carefully and sensitively, and are urging the Scottish Government to change their policy and allow the new Commission a direct role in local planning in order to protect croft land and act against speculation on croft land.

Peter Peacock concluded,

“There are a few aspects of the Bill which will be helpful and we don’t want to see those aspects lost, the direct elections to the Commission and the possible extra planning powers, for example.

“But any notion that this Bill is somehow, of itself, going to secure a strong future for crofting is well wide of the mark.

“As it stands the Bill is a recipe for more burdens on crofters and few advantages.

“It is the economics of our crofting areas and the economics of crofting itself which will determine its future, and there is nothing in this Bill that will improve that.”

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Written by davidstewart

May 7, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

MSP urges council to approve funding for modernisation of Kingussie High School

07 May 2010 

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart is urging Highland Councillors to approve funding for the much needed modernisation of Kingussie High School.

Mr Stewart and local SNP MSPs Fergus Ewing and Dave Thompson wrote to Highland Council’s Chief Executive Alistair Dodds calling for improvements to be carried out after hearing directly about the poor condition of the school buildings and their impact on students’ results from pupils Toby Mitchell and Fallon Sheffield.

Now Mr Stewart has learned the details of proposals to upgrade the school in a letter from Ron Mackenzie, the local authority’s Head of Support Services, writing on behalf of Mr Dodds.

Mr Mackenzie states: “The current position is that an Outline Business Case has been produced for a £2.5milion building improvement investment at Kingussie High School.

“The proposal is to create a 10 classroom modular construction that will replace the existing 8 demountable classrooms which are in poor repair.

“This proposal will be considered by Elected Members when they agree the Highland Capital programme for the period until 2013/14 within the next few months.

“There is wide recognition that this investment is required and hopefully there will be a positive outcome to this proposed investment.”

David Stewart commented: “I and my fellow MSPs learned from Toby and Fallon just how desperately Kingussie High school is in need of renovation.

“I urge all Highland Councillors voting on the Capital programme to approve this vital investment, which would undoubtedly provide a much better environment for pupils to learn in.”

Written by davidstewart

May 7, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

MSP’s renewed call for a “Scottish Living Wage”

6 May 2010

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart has again called for the introduction of a ‘Scottish Living Wage’ to help families out of poverty.

If proposals made by the Living Wage Campaign get the go ahead a wage of £7 would be introduced and then reviewed annually.

It is estimated that 500,000 workers in Scotland are currently paid less than £7 an hour.

Mr Stewart, who spoke in a Scottish Parliament debate on the matter on 29t April, said:

“The majority of children in poverty have at least one parent in paid employment so a national living wage would make a real difference to their lives.

“It would also mean employers would make savings by retaining staff and thereby reducing recruitment costs.

“Such a scheme would also have the advantage of making families of the workers involved less dependent on benefits and credits.

“Many people criticised the introduction of the Minimum Wage but it has helped lift people out of poverty and I believe a national Living Wage would be of further assistance.”

He added: “Poverty wages are bad for business and communities and have no place in Scottish Society which is part of the fifth biggest economy in the world.

“Making work pay is the route out of poverty.

“Over 70% of people employed in the hotel and restaurant sector, which plays such a big part in the economy of the Highlands and Islands, earn less than £7 an hour.

“If we introduce a Living Wage we can give them a hand-up rather than a hand-out.”

Under the scheme private sector employers and local government and Scottish Government contractors would be encouraged to build a living wage into their contracts.

A Scottish Living Wages Employer Award would be developed to encourage wider uptake by employers in the public private and voluntary sectors.

Research suggests that those receiving the extra money would spend more, pumping between £37million and £91million into the Scottish economy.

Written by davidstewart

May 6, 2010 at 10:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized