I think this is my third meeting with the Chamber which shows the importance that the Liberal Democrats place on the North East, the economy and the chamber itself.
It is at this time that the real value of your organisation is clear. Speaking up for business and offering constructive suggestions on the way ahead in a part of the country that too often is taken for granted by politicians in Holyrood.
The determination to keep the oil and gas industry alive is one that is shared by almost everyone. There is an occasional voice against to be heard coming from the forest. The package of tax incentives on supplementary charge and the tax allowances associated with it have set a tax environment that will make the industry viable longer term if the price increases. And industry is playing its part too by reducing its cost base even though we are seeing the painful consequences of those decisions in the news.
Tax changes don’t assist today if companies are not earning enough to pay tax but they do send a strong signal for the future when the oil price improves.
This makes the other economic development measures critical to the future prospects of the area. The commendable efforts, first led by Danny Alexander in Government, to agree a city region deal will help the region diversify. Developing transport links, infrastructure and housing to meet the demands of a growing population is right. Combining that effort with investment in innovation, research and development and internationalisation to ensure that the area continues to contribute substantially to the UK economy for decades to come is an intelligent response to recent events.
Liberal Democrats in Aberdeen city and shire are giving their vigorous and enthusiastic support to the bid.
I am pleased that the city, including the Chamber, came together to support the City Centre Masterplan and the Liberal Democrats are committed to working to deliver this 20 year plan for Aberdeen’s city centre.
Government, industry and councils are getting fit for the future.
But the Scottish Government must step up too. The package of support for the region must include an end to the short-changing of Aberdeen City Council.
The promise from the Scottish Government was that everywhere – including Aberdeen – would get at least 85% of the average funding.
Well, I have to tell you now that the figures for this year have been published and verified by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre overnight.
They show that funding per head in Aberdeen in the coming year will be £1429.
For the whole of Scotland it will be £1773.
The accountants will already have worked it out in their heads.
That means Aberdeen only gets 80.6% of the average.
And the non-accountants will be able to tell that 80% is not “at least 85%”.
So Aberdeen is fully £78 per person short for the year ahead.
That adds up to an astonishing £18million short for the city as a whole.
Quite simply Aberdeen City Council has not been given the support to rise to the challenge in one of its darkest hours. This is the year to support the city that supports a great industry.
People in the city will be justified in feeling bitterness in the way they have contributed so much but get so little when they need it most.
That is why the Scottish Government needs to act.
The Scottish Government has to give Aberdeen the fair funding deal it promised.
And the Scottish Government must respond to the particular needs of colleges in the North East who have seen a reduction in government income being matched by a reduction in income from the oil and gas sector.
We need an urgent review of the government's emergency Bellwin Scheme for flooding to ensure that those affected get the financial assistance they need now. They can't afford to wait months for help. And they can't afford to miss out altogether as Comrie and Alyth did after flooding because of the narrow application criteria.
Just like the North East is getting fit for the future Scotland must do the same too.
Liberal Democrats offer bold, positive, change for Scotland.
You’ll recall that in the UK Government one of our main tasks was to get the economy back on track. As a whole the country is now in recovery.
Between 2010 and 2015 the job growth in Scotland was 174,000.
GDP was up – vying with the USA in the G8 group of countries.
And unemployment was down.
The economic progress continues this week with positive news on the employment front.
We cut taxes to make work pay and we invested in science, technology and green energy.
We were getting the country fit for the future.
To build a sustainable economy for that future where everyone contributes to the economic well-being of the nation we need a plan that extends opportunity for everyone. Just like the best route out of poverty is work and the best route into work is education we also know the best way to build a sustainable, vibrant economy is to deploy the talents of all our people.
A UK Commission for Employment and Skills survey showed that 19% of Scottish employers couldn’t get the skills they needed. That’s higher than anywhere else in Britain.
To get fit for the future our children and young people deserve the best education.
Just look at the reports from recent weeks: the OECD has warned that Scottish education is slipping from our world-beating position; the Scottish Government has missed its targets for early education for 2-year-olds by 75%; and more than 150,000 college places have been lost under the SNP.
And now the SNP have singled out local education authorities for a £500million cut to their budgets.
We can't stand by and watch the destruction of education in Scotland.
We know that education is the essential investment that gives every child a chance to reach their potential.
We have four immediate and urgent proposals for Scotland’s education system. It is a plan that will help Scotland accelerate back up the international education league.
Our plan involves investing in a Pupil Premium to help children who need extra support and tuition at school. The money is for the pupil no matter where they live or what school they attend. It has been successful in England at closing the attainment gap and I want Scotland’s children to benefit too.
The Pupil Premium with £2.5 billion a year has paid for breakfast clubs and one to one tuition; for extra staff and equipment; and for outreach programmes to help engage parents.
It gave schools more than just the money to act – it gave them the incentive to focus on poorer pupils, backed up by Ofsted accountability.
And it has made a tangible difference.
Primary School figures from England showed children from the poorest backgrounds getting their best ever results and the gap between them and their better off classmates narrowed.
The attainment gap between disadvantaged and other pupils narrowed by 4.7 percentage points in primary schools and 1.6 percentage points in secondary schools between 2011 and 2014.
We need to bring this to Scotland.
I also want to expand nursery education as that has been shown to be the best educational investment we can make.
The Scottish Government promised that by now 27% of the poorest two year olds would be receiving 15 hours of nursery education each week. Latest figures show that it is only 7%. That is wholly inadequate. I want to fix that problem and go further.
We need to invest in our colleges and students to repair the damage of severe and disproportionate cuts by the Scottish Government.
Finally, we need to prevent the damage the SNP are about to inflict on our schools with a £500 million cut to the budgets of the local authorities that run our schools. Half of what our councils do is education. That damage must be prevented.
Next week I will make a major announcement on how the Scottish Liberal Democrats will address this crisis point in Scottish education, this watershed moment.
Next week there will be 100 days until the election and I have given you a glimpse of how education will be the centre of our plans for 100 days.
Our desire is to invest to get fit for the future, to give everyone the opportunity to succeed and build a vibrant economy.
And I take courage from the words of Aberdeen’s own Sir Ian Wood in his introduction to his Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce.
“There is nothing more important to Scotland’s medium term economic future than getting the skills of its young people in tune with the very fast changing skills, technology and knowledge requirements of the modern world.“
I take that to mean investing in education now to give every child a chance and getting the future workforce ready for tomorrow’s economy.
This is the Liberal Democrats bold and positive plan for change to get fit for the future.
Thank you for listening.