Category Archives: The Scottish Government

News from Holyrood

Energy Minister wants fast action from the energy companies


This is the text of a letter which Energy Minister Fergus Ewing sent earlier this week to the Big Six energy companies demanding quicker action on prices. The big six are ScottishPower, SSE, E-on, EDF, RWE/Npower, Centrica and Energy UK.

Dear Sir

The price of oil on world markets has moved substantially lower in recent weeks in response to changes in the pattern of global demand and production. The Scottish Government is working closely with the oil and gas sector to understand the implications of these changes for activity and employment in the North Sea.

Another aspect of falling oil prices is, of course, the consequent impact on energy prices more generally. Clearly, the wholesale price of energy, for both electricity and gas, is linked closely to the world price of oil and energy customers are therefore entitled to know when they can be expected to feel the benefit.

In the interests of transparency and fairness, I would be grateful to understand from you when and to what extent the lower oil price is likely to be reflected in lower energy bills for households and businesses in Scotland. I also seek your reassurance that any cost savings will be passed on to customers at the earliest opportunity and to the fullest extent possible.

I do not ask you to reveal any commercially sensitive information but I would be grateful for your high-level perspective as an industry leader on the expected scale and timing of oil price impacts on domestic and business energy bills.

I am writing in similar terms to the Chief Executives of the UK’s other leading energy suppliers and I look forward to your response.


Fergus Ewing

Ebola case confirmed in Glasgow

A confirmed case of Ebola has been diagnosed in Glasgow.

NHS Scotland infectious diseases procedures have now been put into effect and the patient has been isolated and is receiving treatment in the specialist Brownlee Unit for Infectious Diseases on the Gartnavel Hospital campus.

The patient is a health care worker who was helping to combat the disease in west Africa. They returned to Scotland from Sierra Leone late last night via Casablanca and London Heathrow, arriving into Glasgow Airport on a British Airways flight at around 11.30pm.

The patient was admitted to hospital early in the morning after feeling unwell and was placed into isolation at 7.50am. All possible contacts with the patient are now being investigated and anyone deemed to be at risk will be contacted and closely monitored. However, having been diagnosed in the very early stages of the illness, the risk to others is considered extremely low.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has chaired a meeting of the Scottish Government Resilience Committee (SGoRR) to ensure all necessary steps are being taken, and has also spoken to Prime Minister David Cameron.

According to UK and Scottish protocol for anyone diagnosed with Ebola, the patient will be transferred to the high level isolation unit in the Royal Free hospital, London, as soon as possible. This is where the facilities, staff and systems are in place to ensure the best quality and safest care.

While public health experts have emphasised that the risks are negligible, a telephone helpline has been set up for anyone who was on the Heathrow to Glasgow flight last night.

The number is: 08000 858531

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:

“Our first thoughts at this time must be with the patient diagnosed with Ebola and their friends and family. I wish them a speedy recovery.

“Scotland has been preparing for this possibility from the beginning of the outbreak in West Africa and I am confident that we are well prepared.

“We have the robust procedures in place to identify cases rapidly. Our health service also has the expertise and facilities to ensure that confirmed Ebola cases such as this are contained and isolated effectively minimising any potential spread of the disease.

“Scotland’s NHS has proved it is well able to cope with infectious diseases in the past, such as swine flu, and I am confident we will be able to respond effectively again.”

Report investigates football’s relationship to domestic abuse



A report, published today by the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR), highlights a correlation between the occurrence of certain football matches and increased reports of domestic abuse.

The report, which was commissioned by the Scottish Government and carried out by academics at the University of Glasgow and Glasgow Caledonian University, found an increase in recorded domestic violence incidents on the day that football matches were played. Researchers stress that the reasons for this correlation are not yet fully understood and call for more work to be done in the area.

Understanding domestic abuse and how to tackle it is a key priority for the Scottish Government and its partners. Domestic abuse continues to be a serious and persistent social problem rooted in gendered inequalities. To tackle domestic abuse, we must understand any factors that may contribute to it.

The report, which reviewed existing research findings gathered over the last 25 years, suggests that the link between domestic violence and football may exist due to their shared association between particular forms of masculinity, violence, sexism, and alcohol consumption. However, caution should be exercised in the interpretations of research findings, in that correlation should not be interpreted as causation. While recent studies demonstrate that reports of domestic abuse do increase when high profile football matches take place, it is too simplistic to then suggest that football causes domestic abuse.

The researchers from the SCCJR identified that there are relatively few studies in the Scottish and wider UK context that specifically address the relationship between football and domestic abuse. They recommend further qualitative research to investigate the experiences of victims and survivors of domestic violence as well as perpetrators and practitioners working in the area.

Dr Oona Brooks said “Domestic abuse is a pattern of controlling behaviour rather than a discreet incident; linking its occurrence to a particular football match or sporting event may simply reinforce the idea that it is an infrequent act, triggered only at these times. Further research on these issues would benefit from locating domestic abuse within an ongoing pattern of abusive behaviour.”

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “I welcome the findings of this report which give us a clearer picture of the complex relationship between football and domestic abuse.

“The Scottish Government is absolutely clear that there is no excuse and no place for domestic abuse in Scotland and only this week announced our plans to consult on a specific domestic abuse offence. We know the misery this crime can bring and are determined to end the suffering of victims across Scotland. In the meantime our enforcement agencies will continue to track down offenders and use the full force of the law to bring them to justice.

“Clearly, combatting domestic abuse requires a range of actions to tackle this unacceptable behaviour. The Scottish Government is investing £34.5 million in funding between 2012 and 2015 to support a range of initiatives and services to support those who have experienced or been affected by domestic abuse and other forms of violence.”

First Minister starts tour in Glasgow




The SNP has today announced the line-up for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s biggest tour event yet.

The First Minister will tomorrow address a crowd at the 12,000 capacity SSE Hydro in Glasgow. Tickets for the event were booked out in record time when they were released last month.

Ahead of the First Minister’s address, there will be performances from samba band Bloco Yes, traditional Scottish band Trybe, Lou Hickey and friends, Scottish hip-hop act Stanley Odd, Eddi Reader, Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Edinburgh indie band Blank Canvas and Dougie MacLean.

The SNP’s new Depute Leader Stewart Hosie MP and former First Minister Alex Salmond will also address the crowd.

Ahead of the event, Stewart Hosie said:

“This has been a week to remember for the SNP and for Scotland, as Nicola Sturgeon became Scotland’s first ever female First Minister and announced a gender balanced Cabinet.

“The SNP has become the national party of Scotland in all senses – leading in the polls as distrust in the Westminster establishment parties has grown and support for the divided Labour party plummets.

“Over the last month, Nicola Sturgeon has been touring the country speaking to new members of the SNP and people who are not yet supporters about our shared hopes for Scotland. Thousands of people have been coming along to booked-out venues from Inverness to Dumfries to hear Nicola and take part in extensive question and answer sessions. And that engagement is set to continue, with Nicola’s pledge to be the most accessible First Minister ever, continuing to hold regular events throughout the country and Facebook Q&As.

“Tomorrow’s event at the Hydro will be the biggest yet. We are delighted that excellent acts including Lou Hickey, Eddi Reader, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and Dougie MacLean will be joining us to entertain the crowds.

“The referendum reinvigorated Scottish political debate – the fact that so many people are so politically engaged and preparing to come along to hear our new First Minister speak on a Saturday afternoon is further evidence that Scotland is changed as a nation for the better and forever.”

Government invokes conservation order to protect Firth of Clyde


An urgent Marine Conservation Order (MCO) is being brought in to protect fragile ecosystems in the South Arran area of the Firth of Clyde.

This is the first time these powers in the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 have been used.

The move comes after a recent breach of the voluntary fisheries management arrangement in place at the South Arran Marine Protected Area, which was designated in July this year. Fishermen had agreed to avoid an area that is home to delicate maerl beds under the water, which are a nursery habitat for young scallops as well as other juvenile fish and shellfish.

Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said:

“Scotland’s network of Marine Protected Areas has been put in place to safeguard our most iconic marine species and habitats. We take the responsibility for the protection of these 30 sites extremely seriously and that is why I have made this urgent MCO for South Arran.

“Maerl beds are crucial to the biodiversity of the marine environment in this area and scientific evidence shows that dredging can destroy significant proportions of these delicate habitats in just one pass of the gear. Such activity is in breach of the voluntary agreement between Marine Scotland and the fishing industry and so it is disappointing to hear about this incident.

“I’m heartened to hear that the voluntary agreements in operation in other MPA sites around Scotland are working well so far. Our swift action in this case underlines how committed the Scottish Government is to maintain and enhance our marine environment so that is remains a prized assed for future generations.”

The MCO will come into force at one second past midnight on October 1, 2014 and there will be no impact on the vessels that were following the voluntary arrangements for South Arran.

Nicola Sturgeon announces candidacy for leadership

As the membership of the SNP rises to 60,000 Nicola Sturgeon MSP made a speech today confirming her candidacy for the leadership of the party and thus to be the next First Minister. This is the text of the speech:

I am announcing today my candidacy to be the next leader of the SNP and the next First Minister of Scotland. I have also notified the SNP National Secretary of my intention to stand down as Depute Leader at the Party conference – thereby allowing a contest for that post to take place in parallel with the election for leader.

To be the First Minister of my country, especially at this exciting and optimistic time, would be both a great honour – without doubt, the greatest honour – and an immense responsibility. 

I am putting myself forward for two simple reasons: I want to serve my Party and my country. And I believe I am the best person for the job. 

I also hope that my candidacy, should it succeed, will send a strong message to every girl and young woman in Scotland – no matter your background or what you want to achieve in life, in Scotland in 2014 there is no glass ceiling on ambition. 

When I joined the SNP back in the mid 1980s, there was no Scottish Parliament. 

Our standing in the polls was barely in double figures.

An SNP membership card back then was no passport to high political office – in fact it was often a basis for severe criticism

Listening to the No campaign over the last few weeks, it seemed that some things never change!

But what has changed is that today we are Scotland’s largest political party – we have doubled in size in the last week alone.

We hold a majority in the Scottish Parliament

We are – and for the last 7 years have been – Scotland’s government.

This is a party, and we are a nation, on the rise.

That I stand here today seeking to be the second SNP incumbent of the office of First Minister is testament to how far we have come and a tribute to the extraordinary achievements and leadership of the man I aim to succeed.

Alex Salmond transformed the SNP and as First Minister he has made Scotland a better place. He also helped to make me the person and politician I am today. 

The personal debt I owe him is immeasurable. 

I will be proud – if given the opportunity – to build on his remarkable legacy. 

However, at risk of stating the obvious, I am not Alex Salmond. 

His are big boots to fill, but if given the opportunity to lead, I will wear my own shoes – and they will certainly have higher heels! 

I will be my own person and set my own course.

We would not have come so far as a nation without Alex’ vision, tenacity and statesmanship.

But the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow require a different approach. They will demand the ability, not just to argue a case with determination and conviction, but also to reach out, to work with others and seek common cause on the issues that unite us.

I believe as strongly today as I did last week that independence is the best future for Scotland. And I am more convinced than ever that we will became an independent country. But that will happen only when the people of Scotland choose that course in the polling booth.

I accept that last week the majority did not choose that future at this time. 1.6 million people is a remarkable number – but it wasn’t enough.

So my task will be to lead Scotland into an exciting new chapter in our national story. To unite our nation around a common purpose so that we can write that story together – and do so in a way that lives up to the hopes, aspirations and expectations of a country that is, on both sides, engaged, inspired and empowered by the referendum experience. 

As a candidate for First Minister of all of Scotland – not just for those who voted Yes – my responsibility is to look at the result of the referendum and find, not the dividing line, but the interests that unite us.

To reach out and make common cause, not just with those in the Yes coalition of which I was so proud to be part, but with all those who want progressive change in our country, even if they are not yet persuaded of the case for independence.

The fact is that those who voted Yes, combined with those who voted No on the promise of substantial extra powers, form a powerful majority for real and meaningful change in this country. 

It is that change that must now be defined and then delivered.

If I am elected to lead, I pledge today that the SNP and the Scottish Government will be full, active, genuine and constructive participants in that process of change, wherever it happens – in Holyrood, in meeting rooms and, most importantly of all, in discussions across Scotland.

There will be no sitting on the sidelines. 

But let me be equally clear what I believe Scotland expects of that process in return. 

First, that it is open and participative – in short, that it lives up to the democratic example of the referendum. It cannot be left to the Westminster establishment. The role of the Scottish Parliament must be respected and the voice of the Scottish people listened to. The days of back room deals are over.

An early statement of good faith would be a commitment to immediately pass control of its own elections to the Scottish Parliament – so that we can ensure that 16/17 year olds, whose participation so enhanced our referendum, retain their right to vote in all subsequent elections. I will today write to the Prime Minister asking him to agree this change.

Second, that it delivers new powers for Scotland capable of making a real difference to people’s lives. We must seize the opportunity to design a comprehensive and coherent package that will allow us to create jobs, ensure proper fiscal accountability, protect our public services, deliver fair social security and tackle the inequality that scars our nation.

It must be a package that maximises devolution in substance not just in rhetoric. That is what I believe the majority of people of this country now want. 

Through Gordon Brown – speaking we were told with the authority of each of the parties in the Better Together campaign – the promise was clear and unmistakable.

This package would be ‘home rule’ and ‘something near to federalism’.

Well let me say this to Westminster on behalf of Scotland – it had better be. 

If the UK parties move forward in that spirit, they will have, in me, a willing partner for progress.

If not, they will pay a heavy political price – not because I say so but because the people of Scotland will make it so.

So the process of strengthening and empowering the Scottish Parliament must now get underway in earnest.

But let me also make this clear – as that process unfolds, as First Minister it will also be my job to govern wisely and creatively using the powers we already have.

The people of Scotland have made clear that the need for new powers is urgent and irresistible.

But as First Minister, my responsibility will also be to use those powers we already have to make life better – now – for those we serve. 

Any Government I lead will always take seriously its responsibility to make the very best of the limited powers at Holyrood, whilst also arguing Scotland’s case for greater authority and the tools capable of transforming our nation. Those positions are not mutually exclusive – rather they are the essence of responsible national leadership.

My guiding ethos is a social democratic one and that will be the ethos of any government I lead. I believe that a strong, sustainable economy with a vibrant business community, and a fair society with strong public services are two sides of the same coin. We cannot succeed and flourish as a society without advancing both. 

My Scottish nationalism is one of aspiration and hope. If elected, I will see it as my job to help Scottish business grow, to champion Scotland as a place to invest and to support well paid sustainable employment as the central plank of our future prosperity. 

Only with a strong economy can we tackle, effectively and for the long term, the deep rooted social ills which drove me into politics in the first place and which came to light so starkly in the recent campaign.

I have emerged from that campaign with a sense of two over-riding priorities.

First, we must find new ways to harness the democratic energy unleashed by the referendum, not just in our big constitutional debates, but in our day to day decision-making as a nation. It was clear to me on my travels around the country that for many people – particularly those in our island and rural communities – the decisions that shape their lives feel too distant. We must find ways of bringing them closer and handing them back.

It is time to make genuine participative democracy a reality.

And secondly, with whatever powers and resources we have, we must renew and recharge our efforts to tackle the poverty and inequality that blights the lives of too many of our people. So many people who have been so let down by society voted Yes last week because for the first time in their lives it gave them hope of something better. Yes didn’t win but their hope must not die. 

They need to know that there remains a purpose in politics, a point in voting – that it can and will lead to a better future for them and their children.

If the SNP chooses me as its leader and the Scottish Parliament then elects me as First Minister of our country, these priorities of democracy and equality will be at the heart of all that I do.

It is hard to overstate the sense of opportunity that I feel as I contemplate what will be – if my Party and Parliament so decides – the biggest challenge and greatest privilege of my life. If elected, I will bring to this job seven years of experience in government but also a real sense of new and different possibilities. I can’t wait to get to work. 

For now, though, I look forward to subjecting myself to the democratic process of my Party – a process enhanced by the more than 30,000 new members who have joined us in the last few days – and asking them to do me the honour of electing me to be their leader. 

Glasgow at risk from nuclear convoys claims MSP

SNP MSP Bill Kidd has written to Defence Secretary Philipp Hammond calling for an immediate halt
to nuclear convoys travelling through Glasgow – after it emerged that more nuclear weapons were
driven through the city this week.
Mr Kidd has condemned the “unacceptable” risk to the public from the transportation of weapons
of mass destruction through Scotland’s largest city – and has made clear that the only way to ensure
that nuclear weapons are removed from Scotland is to vote Yes in September’s referendum.
Another nuclear convoy which travelled through Glasgow earlier this year was widely condemned –
after it emerged that neither the public nor the local authority were warned in advance.
Commenting, SNP MSP Bill Kidd, Co-President of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and
Disarmament said:- “This practice is deeply worrying and poses an unacceptable risk to the people of Glasgow – the
idea that weapons of mass destruction are being transported through our city while we sleep is
absolutely chilling.
“The impact of any safety breach does not bear thinking about – and I have written to Phillip
Hammond to call for an immediate halt to these weapons being driven through our city.
“The risk to the public from these convoys simply shows the utter folly of basing nuclear weapons
just 30 miles from Scotland’s biggest population centre.
“The people of Glasgow and Scotland as a whole have made clear our opposition to weapons of
massive destruction being based on the Clyde – but yet Westminster is committed to wasting
another £100bn on its obsession with nuclear weapons.
“With a Yes vote will we be able to put a stop to these immoral weapons travelling through our cities
when we sleep by banning them from Scotland for good.”
The Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has an article which it claims proves the convoy took place in the middle of the night. You can read that here.


Education should be used to reduce violent knife crime

Education key to reducing violent knife crime

Education based interventions are more effective than any other initiative in tackling the scourge of knife crime. That’s the key finding of a new Scottish Government commissioned report from the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research.

The report, which involved an extensive review of approaches and interventions that are used to prevent and reduce knife crime throughout the world, found that the most effective way of tackling the problem was by educating those who are at risk of carrying a knife at an early age.

Author of the report, Rebecca Gillian Foster, who was based at the University of Edinburgh at the time of the research, and is now based at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR) at the University of Glasgow said “This report reviews the current literature available and suggests that education based interventions hold the most promise for effectively tackling knife crime.  These interventions should be delivered both at school and within communities, in order to reach all young people.

“While custodial sentences are useful in sending out a message to young people who carry knives to acquire status, their function should not be overstated since they may not have a meaningful deterrent effect on those who carry a knife out of fear.”

The report concludes that fear could be addressed by reassuring young people that the police and other services are working to protect them, and that trust in these agencies is essential.

According to Rebecca Gillian Foster, criminal justice measures such as stop and searches, knife amnesties and tougher custodial sentences have an important place in any anti-blade initiative, for their deterrent effect. However, these should be properly measured and evaluated. “In a multi -agency approach to address knife crime, as is the case in Scotland, it is important that the strengths of criminal justice measures, as well as the strengths of educational and voluntary sector interventions, complement, rather than conflict with, one another. By carefully balancing each, it is hoped that knife crime can be tackled effectively.”

No Knives Better Lives (NKBL) is a Government funded initiative which aims to raise awareness amongst young people of the dangers of carrying a knife. Jane Dailly, National Co-ordinator at the NKBL National Delivery Team at Youthlink Scotland, said:

“The findings of the report support the key principles of No knives, better lives – that education and prevention is key to reducing knife crime. No knives aims to reduce the incidence of knife carrying amongst young people in Scotland by raising awareness of the related risks and consequences, changing attitudes and perceptions, and promoting positive life choices. The report also highlights the fact that many young people carry a knife out of fear, this is something that increasingly informs the content of our educational resources”

Youth arts strategy launched

Launch of Scotland’s Youth Art’s Strategy Time To Shine


Scotland’s first national arts strategy for young people launched  

Youth arts to receive £5million over next two years

Time To Shine, Scotland’s arts strategy for young people aged 0–25, was launched at the end of last week by Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs and Janet Archer, Chief Executive, Creative Scotland.

The strategy – which is centred around the three key themes of creating and sustaining engagement; nurturing potential and talent; and developing infrastructure and support – sets out a vision and key recommendations to enable Scotland’s children and young people to flourish and achieve, in and through the arts and creativity.

Youth arts in Scotland will benefit from £5m new funding from Scottish Government over the next two years and that this funding will support initiatives based on key objectives of the strategy. The initiatives are:

A major new open fund for organisations to develop new routes for young people to participate in and access arts and creative activity. Applications to the fund will open early in the New Year, via the Creative Scotland website.

The development of a new national digital platform to showcase and connect young people engaged in youth arts activity

The establishment of a National Youth Advisory Group (NYAG). A group of young representatives from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland will be tasked with making recommendations on the make-up and role of the NYAG, working in partnership with Creative Scotland who say that individual organisations will implement additional initiatives based on objectives in the strategy, with all work co-ordinated by a new, soon to be established youth arts programme management team.

The full strategy and accompanying documentation can be accessed here.

IMG_3160s-1Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, said:-“The launch of Scotland’s first ever youth arts strategy is an exciting moment. At its heart, the strategy promotes the real benefits and value culture can have on the development of our young people and our communities.
“The Scottish Government recognises the positive impact that arts and creativity can have and the strategy will, for the first time, provide strategic direction, vision and resources so that we can engage and inspire a whole new generation. Time to Shine builds on the well-established links between culture, education, youth employment and personal development.
“It is not only about providing enhanced access opportunities for all of Scotland’s young people but it goes further to support meaningful career pathways for our talent of the future; be it on stage, the screen, behind the scenes or in our world-leading creative industries.
“Perhaps most importantly of all, our aim is that this engagement with culture will nurture personal qualities that will help our young people to grow confidently as citizens and towards realising their ambitions, wherever they lie in the arts or elsewhere.”
Launch of Scotland’s Youth Art’s Strategy Time To ShineJanet Archer, Chief Executive, Creative Scotland, said:-“The launch of Time To Shine follows on the back of amazing work already taking place in youth arts in this country and the skills, dedication and energy of people of all ages involved throughout Scotland.

“Creative Scotland aims to ensure that this work continues and develops through the Time to Shine strategy. Putting young people at the heart of Scotland’s creative future will mean young people’s lives will continue to be enriched through engagement in arts and creative activity across Scotland.”

To read an extract of Janet Archer’s launch speech, click here.

16-year old Tom Strang from Grantown-on-Spey, who takes part in arts activity with Eden Court Theatre and is one of the young people advising on the make up of the National Youth Advisory Group, said:

“The arts give me a way to express myself through music, drama and dance. I hope that this strategy is taken on board by all arts provision providers in Scotland and reaches out to engage people who may not have had the opportunity to access the arts before. I also hope that it will lead to a future of even more high quality art being produced in Scotland.”

20 year old Jocelyn Gowans from Glasgow who works with YDance, said:-“Being involved in the arts means being part of a bigger picture, it expands your horizons. I hope this strategy will bring art forms together so that practitioners can coexist and create a world of endless imagination and inspiration for Scotland’s young people”.

Follow the conversation via #timetoshine

Photos Drew Farrell

New life for our town centres

Plans to breathe new life into town centres across Scotland have been unveiled by Local Government Minister Derek Mackay today.

Included in the plan is an expansion of the rates relief scheme for new businesses to include pubs, restaurants and hotels in a bid to diversify the high street.

The Town Centre Action Plan is a cross-government response to the independent National Review of Town Centres, published in July.

The Action Plan addresses the recommendations of the Review and out-lines proposed joint working between public, private and community sectors.

Actions include:

Expanding the ‘Fresh Start’ business rates relief to apply to pubs, hotels and restaurants from 1 April 2014 and to increase the thresholds of the scheme from property with a rateable value of £45,000 to £65,000

£2 million towards a Town Centre Housing Fund to help bring empty town centre properties back into use

Working with COSLA to develop a town centre first principle. This will include a series of demonstration projects specifically targeting areas identified by the Review group

Powers for local authorities to establish Town Centre Investment Zones

£120,000 for Town Centre charettes – grants available to help deliver community design meetings specifically focused on town centres

Launching a competition for entrepreneurs to drive forward town centre regeneration ideas

Local Government and Planning Minister Derek Mackay named as dedicated Minister for Town Centres

Maintaining the Small Business Bonus Scheme for the life of the current Parliament, removing or substantially reducing the rates burden for thousands of town centre properties

Working with stakeholders to identify support priorities for Business Improvement District (BID) projects

Investigating ways of expanding the role of Scottish Future Trust place-based reviews

Speaking during his visit to Bank Street in Kilmarnock, which, due to the efforts of East Ayrshire Council, local traders groups and businesses, reached 100 per cent occupancy in October this year, Mr Mackay said:-“The Scottish Government is determined that our town centres should be vibrant, attractive and safe places where local people and visitors alike want to spend their time and money.

“They should be accessible places which invite business start-up and inspire innovative ideas from all walks of the community. We welcomed the independent review earlier this year and the crucial role it will play in the regeneration of high streets across Scotland.

“In response to this we are today publishing an Action Plan which will encourage and support action across the wider public, private and community sectors.

“We recognise the importance of securing the future of our high streets as the economic centre of our towns. This is why we have expanded Fresh Start – our rates relief scheme for new businesses – to include pubs, hotels and restaurants and increasing the thresholds for the scheme.

“Our town centres should also be places where we live and socialise, which is why we have allocated £2 million towards a housing fund to bring empty properties back into use as homes and are supporting community design charettes through £120,000 in funding.

“The plan marks a new era for Scotland’s town centres and we will continue to work in partnership with local authorities, private and community organisations to ensure they are vibrant places to live, work and socialise.”

Malcolm Fraser, the architect who led the Town Centre Review, said: -“What I think we have here, is a change of Government mindset: a reversal of the throw-away habit that abandons old towns, with their communities, infrastructure and services, for greenfield sites.

“I’m impressed at the Government’s determination to promote a new, town-centred culture across its policy-making and decision-taking. Next is for Local Authorities to embrace the challenges and opportunities this brings, and for our business and communities to be encouraged and enabled.”

Councillor Douglas Reid, leader of East Ayrshire Council said:-“Within East Ayrshire we want our town centres to be vibrant, bustling places where people can work, shop, live and socialise and we are working very hard to ensure positive change for our communities.

“The Bank Street area of Kilmarnock is the perfect example of what can be achieved. Over many years, this area has benefitted from investment in regeneration projects and owners of buildings have been given help to restore and upgrade their premises. The Council has also worked to enhance the look of the street with improved street furniture and lighting, new cobbles and street artwork.”

During his visit Mr Mackay met with traders on Bank Street, including Coffee Press owner, Alisdair Hood.

Mr Hood said:-“Bank Street is bucking the trend with 100 per cent occupancy and lots of independent shops.

“For me a town centre should be the beating heart of a community and we all have a role to play in developing our town centres.”