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February 2013

February 25, 2013 2:03 PM

Legal Aid

You may have seen the recent controversy regarding the government's reforms to criminal legal aid - the system that ensures anybody who is accused of a crime can get access to proper legal representation. It's a vital system, but the government have now pushed through some major changes in an effort to save money.

Every year, hundreds of people will stand trial in court accused of crimes they didn't commit, and in that situation people want to know that legal assistance is readily available so they can defend themselves against the resources of the state. Knowing that is a vital guarantee for any open and fair justice system.

I'm worried that by placing a limit on who can access legal aid, and requiring financial contributions in some circumstances, more people will risk defending themselves in court. That can't possibly be a good thing for fair justice in Scotland.

Budget

The government's budget for the next financial year passed just before parliament's recent recess, but not without some controversy. I voted against the spending plans - in my mind, they simply don't represent the best way to spend your money.

One of the key demands we made was to extend free nursery care to more two-year-olds. We also wanted to see £34 million of cuts to the college budget reversed. Neither of these things happened.

I also voted against the government's local government spending plans. For years the North East has been badly underfunded, and unfortunately it seems set to continue in 2013. I'm going to be working closely with local councillors to put pressure on the government to change that next year and hopefully ensure that we get our fair share.

Responsible Parking

A new Bill will shortly be coming to parliament that looks to deal with irresponsible parking - a Bill that I've already given my support to. It might seem a minor thing to some people, but I've frequently had contact from constituents whose lives are affected by people parking on pavements.

It's a particular problem, of course, for blind and partially-sighted, elderly and disabled people, but no doubt we all know of a particular trouble spot. The Bill should give councils the power they need to deal with the problem.

Young Farmers

Finally, I want to offer my congratulations to Young Farmers Scotland who are celebrating their 75th anniversary. It's such an important network for so many people in our local rural communities, so here's to another 75 years and more.