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Updates from Holyrood

Alison writes a regular column for local newspapers in the North East to keep residents updated with the latest goings on at Holyrood, and on her work on important issues from around the region. Below you can find a recent column, along with links to those from previous months.

Challenges facing the energy industry

I know many are concerned about the impact the tumbling oil price could have upon their jobs or those of friends and family.

The slowing of the global economy has been accompanied by high levels of production, driving down the oil price. It dropped below $50 a barrel last week - the lowest since 2009 and less than half the price asserted by the Scottish Government in its white paper on independence. Such a fall in the oil price would have necessitated billions of pounds of cuts to public spending in an independent Scotland.

Pooling and sharing resources across UK at least means we aren't contending with such a far-reaching crisis. Nonetheless, these are uncertain times for our energy industry. Its health underpins tens of thousands of people's livelihoods, as well as the vibrancy and competitiveness of the local economy.

The UK Government is taking action to support the industry and encourage £7 billion of additional investment. It announced a new investment allowance last month, guaranteed tax relief for the decommissioning of ageing infrastructure and is supporting seismic surveys to boost exploration.

This week, the UK Government will host a meeting of key industry figures. My Liberal Democrat colleagues Alistair Carmichael, Secretary of State for Scotland, and Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, will also be visiting Aberdeen.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government continues to overlook the powers it already has to support economic and skills development. It could start by giving our region the share of local government and infrastructure spending it deserves.

Our local economy is of national importance. It needs both of Scotland's governments to explore how they can better support the region, encourage investment, protect local jobs and secure its' long-term future.

Emergency services deserve our thanks

Not everyone is lucky enough to enjoy an extended break over the festive period. Indeed, for many emergency services personnel it is one of the busiest times of the year.

Police officers, ambulance crews, firefighters, doctors, nurses and many more routinely put the public before themselves at this time of year. Their day's work might involve responding to the increasing numbers of accidental house fires, coping with extremely high levels of demand at A&E or keeping traffic moving as we travel to see friends and family.

Responding to the most challenging of situations can also be physically and emotionally draining. As well as getting the support they need, it is important that our emergency services get the thanks they deserve for working around the clock to keep us safe, in all circumstances and weathers.

Among them are also countless volunteers, from police special constables to mountain rescue teams and lifeboat crews. They selflessly give their time to help others and safeguard their communities.

I am incredibly grateful for the work they all do for my constituents.

Supporting our colleges

You may recall that a single college for the region was established 14 months ago following the merger of institutions in Aberdeen and Banff and Buchan. It is a similar pattern across the country. In the face of financial and political pressure from the Scottish Government, 47 separate colleges have been replaced by 13 college regions.

Last week I visited the North East Scotland College to receive an update from its' Principal and Chairman. I was pleased to learn that it is performing well in the circumstances and that the merger is progressing smoothly.

The region's college makes a huge contribution to our local community and economy, giving thousands of people the chance to gain new skills and get on in life. Each year it provides further education to 30% of school leavers and enables around 600 people to progress to university. It also delivers hundreds of modern apprenticeship places and works closely with local businesses to provide the skills they need.

However, the sector continues to face challenges. The SNP has cut the national teaching budget in real terms by 28 per cent since 2010. This has led to severe cuts to the number of part-time places, hitting parents, carers and those with work or financial commitments hardest. Locally, the college is struggling to recruit staff and students find it hard to secure affordable accommodation.

Colleges are key to building a stronger economy and a fairer society. That is why improving support for the sector is once again a priority for the Scottish Liberal Democrats during our budget negotiations with the Scottish Government.

My Holyrood Columns