People across Europe, and indeed the world, have been left stunned by the Mediterranean Sea tragedy that occurred recently, which has seen hundreds of migrants feared drowned. Scotland’s External Affairs Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, has called for both the EU and the UK to treat the worsening situation as a humanitarian emergency. I think the news is heart-breaking and my thoughts are with those involved and their families. Many of those affected are likely to have fled from war and conflict only to have died in the Mediterranean; more must be done to avoid any more needless deaths.
The whole of the European Union has a moral duty to discuss these issues responsibly, and with respect for those individuals who have been compelled to undertake dangerous voyages through no fault of their own. The UK should be fully supporting multi-lateral and collective efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in danger.
More bad news followed as a massive earthquake hit Nepal, with over 8 million people affected and over 4000 people killed. The country’s most deadly earthquake in 81 years triggered avalanches that have killed 18 people on Mount Everest - the worst disaster in history on the world’s highest peak. The UK, and a number of other country’s, have sent aid to Nepal which will be vital to the recovery effort.
Locally, there has been fantastic news for Banchory, as the town has been shortlisted for the Creative Place Awards 2015. Since their launch in 2012, the Creative Place Awards have been awarded to smaller communities across Scotland, outside of the main cities, to enable them to enhance and promote the creative activities and programmes in their area. The awards recognise the communities’ ambitions in using the arts for the benefit of both local residents and visitors to their area.
A Creative Place Award is both an accolade and a grant, which Creative Scotland awards to a few specific communities each year. The accolade recognises the creativity and co-operation in these communities, whilst the grant funding supports their ambition to further develop their creative programme and profile. The three communities shortlisted to win £125,000 are Banchory, Fort William and Stornoway.
Huntly won a Creative Place Award in 2013, and so it would be great to see another town in the constituency receive merit for their cultural efforts. Aberdeenshire West is a fantastic constituency, with a huge element of community spirit and creativity and receiving this award goes some way in recognising this.
I was pleased to hear that the latest weekly waiting times figures showed further improved performance at Scotland’s core A&E sites, with 91.5% of patients seen and treated within four hours. The figures, which report A&E waiting times during the week ending 12th April, show a small increase on those for the previous week at 91%, and an increase of 5.4% since weekly reporting began on 22nd February. During the same week, core A&E sites in England saw just 88.5% of patients within four hours.
The NHS is working hard to ensure that patients are not waiting long periods in A&E, with emergency departments seeing more than 9 out of 10 people within four hours. More hospitals this week saw performance reach 98% and this is greatly encouraging.
Nicola Sturgeon spoke up recently on how the SNP will always protect the NHS. The SNP has already made clear that it will use its influence at Westminster after the election to boost the NHS budget across the UK by a total of £24bn - £9.5bn above inflation – meaning a total increase for Scotland’s NHS of £2bn.
Last Tuesday, I was delighted to welcome the Rt Reverend Dr Robert Gillies, who is the Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney, along with some of my fellow North East MSP colleagues. We had a productive discussion about some of the key issues facing Aberdeen City and Shire, such as encouraging recruitment of people to the area, education, housing, and quality of life prospects for residents of the area.
Later that day I spoke in Chamber in a debate on tourism and I took the opportunity to tell Parliament how proud I am to represent Aberdeenshire West. There is so much fantastic heritage to be celebrated in the constituency and that sense of history is uplifted by the vibrant community spirit found all throughout the area. I was sure to tell Parliament about some of the many reasons why tourists love to come to Aberdeenshire, and I am especially looking forward to summer in the constituency when I hope to attend as many Fayre’s, Festivals and Shows as possible and look forward to seeing you there.