As we begin 2017, many of us will be breathing a collective sigh of relief that one of the most turbulent and challenging years of recent times has finally ended.
What is clear is that Scotland must continue to be the outward looking, modern, hopeful country it has always been. If there was too much fear in 2016, it is time to shape our future with hope. These hopes, naturally, rest on the younger generations and how we can build a better world, a better Scotland, for them.
Our First Minister pledged both before and after the Scottish Parliament elections last May, that creating better opportunities for children and young people would be the key priority of her government. To that end, 2017 will see that commitment pursued with determination.
From next summer, all children born in Scotland will receive a Baby Box – a gift with lots of useful items for parents of new-born babies – from body suits and beanie hats to thermometers, reusable nappies and baby books. The Box itself doubles as a sleeping space and comes complete with a mattress and bedding. Other countries, such as Sweden, have provided similar Boxes for many years, to help achieve one of the best records for infant and maternal health. The Baby Box will make a real and tangible difference to babies’ lives.
Baby Boxes symbolise the SNP Government’s commitment to ensuring that every single child in Scotland gets the best possible start in life. By the end of the current Scottish Parliamentary term, all three and four year old children and around a quarter of two year olds, will be eligible for 1,140 hours each year of free early learning and childcare – almost double the current levels of provision. The babies born in 2017 will be amongst the first to benefit from that expansion.
There will also be a £750m investment over this Scottish Parliamentary term in School Attainment Funds. The aim is to improve educational outcomes for all children while closing the gap in attainment between children in more challenging socio-economic circumstances and those in more affluent communities. In North Ayrshire we see this commitment in action with the SNP Government funding of the Professional Learning Academy which I was delighted to attend with Depute First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education, John Swinney MSP, at Auchenharvie Academy, Stevenston.
And for young people leaving school, it is also important that they continue to benefit from free higher education and have opportunities to pursue modern apprenticeships, college places and fulfilling employment.
2017 will see ongoing local challenges in North Ayrshire & Arran such as ensuring that the Ardrossan to Brodick Ferry is retained; that the fight for women born in the 1950s – 4,800 in this constituency alone – goes on until the UK Government does the right thing and gives these women access to the pensions they have earned.
I am delighted that in the spring my Ten Minute Rule Bill entitled ‘Unsolicited Marketing Communications (Company Directors) Bill’ will be adopted by the UK Government, ensuring managing directors will be held personally liable for any unscrupulous behaviour that their company participates in with respect to nuisance calls, which will help to improve the situation for thousands of people across the country who are blighted by this problem.
I wish all readers a very happy New Year and you may be sure that I and my SNP colleagues will continue to provide a voice for Scotland in Westminster. There is no doubt that 2017 will bring a whole new set of challenges. We are ready to face them.