I would like to start by wishing everyone a happy New Year and all the best for 2015.
This will be an important year for the North-east, with many challenges requiring attention. While last year was dominated by the independence referendum, with most of the Scottish Government’s time focussed on the campaign, this year must be a year of progress with attention now given to the issues which matter most to people’s everyday lives.
On certain issues, like the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, it is welcome that progress is finally being made, after years of delay. But, while progress is being made in some areas, others have been left to deteriorate.
A prime example of this are the problems which continue to plague our health board. NHS Grampian has faced a wide range of issues over the last year, from key waiting times targets continuing to be missed, to a crisis in recruitment meaning they can’t get the doctors and nurses they need.
This has been evident in the use of locum doctors, being flown in from as far afield as India, as well as patients having to face travelling long distances, in order to be treated in a timely manner.
The issues here are, ultimately, a result of chronic under-funding from the Scottish Government, and I will continue to campaign for progress to be made, in achieving a fair deal for NHS Grampian.
Our local councils also continue to be under-funded, with the council tax freeze further strangling stretched resources. Our councils are being asked to do the same work they have done in the past, but with less money, when we know that the cost of providing these services continues to increase.
We also need to see progress on fuel poverty, which I highlighted only weeks ago. With the number of families facing higher fuel bills and struggling to heat their homes on the increase in Scotland, it is almost certain that the North-east is home to a significant proportion of those households, given our particularly cold climate here. I have asked for a regional breakdown to be provided as soon as possible, to ensure that we can take targeted steps to improve this situation.
So while 2014 may not have been a year of progress from the Scottish Government, 2015 must be and I will continue to push ministers and agencies, where appropriate, to ensure that the North-east gets its fair deal on all of these issues.