It has been a busy start to the year, but also a rewarding one. This month I was proud to announce a £12.5 million investment to protect our species, woodlands, rivers and seas. This builds on a £5 million fund that we launched in November and is part of the biggest investment in nature restoration that any Scottish Government has ever made. It will have a real-world impact that will benefit communities across Scotland while showing the difference that Greens can make in government.
We have already committed funding to 54 projects across the country, from cities to towns and villages. This includes support for the Edinburgh & Lothians Greenspace Trust to improve biodiversity in Edinburgh’s urban parks and for Edinburgh City Council to build a coastal meadow network.
Next Monday will see the introduction of free bus travel for everyone aged 21 or under. It’s a big change and I am delighted that we are introducing it.
The scheme requires young people to register for a new National Entitlement Card (also known as Young Scot Card). Older cards will not work, so registration is essential. It takes around 15 minutes to do, with young people under 16 requiring an adult to make the application. If you are entitled to a card and haven’t applied for one then please do it now on getyournec.scot.
I’m really proud that this is a green policy that we have taken from the drawing board and turned into a national policy that will make a big difference to household budgets while helping the environment. This wouldn’t have been possible without your activism and hard work.
In May we have the chance to secure a record number of Green councillors. I was very impressed by the work of Tim Porteus, who was an excellent candidate, and the East Lothian Greens in the Preston, Seton and Gosford by-election. They secured the biggest vote increase of any party and provided an excellent platform for the local elections.
My Lothian team is set to expand in the months ahead. We are in the process of finalising a job description for a paid internship with Inclusion Scotland. This will see an unemployed or underemployed person who defines as disabled joining our team on a part-time basis. The plan is for them to work across my office and Gillian Mackay MSP’s office.
We have had a lot of casework coming in, but have also picked up some good wins for local people, including a dispute with the DWP and issues around social care. I want to thank all of our Edinburgh councillors who have worked closely with my team. I have been grateful for their assistance with casework and their help when responding to correspondence about the proposed Gaelic school in Edinburgh.
I also want to thank the East Lothian Green activists who have helped us in our response to the recent water pollution incident and kept us updated throughout. I have included a summary above, but it is an issue we will be pursuing further.
Those of you who live in target wards may receive a Royal Mail-delivered newsletter from me in the days ahead. We will be issuing these every year as part of my parliamentary work. Unfortunately there are strict restrictions on them so they can’t mention the Scottish Greens or my role as a Minister. Our budget does not allow us to deliver to all households, so we will be delivering them to different postcodes each year.
Finally, I know that the rise of Omicron meant that it was a difficult holiday season for lots of us, so I hope that you are all as well as can be. Hopefully we will see restrictions lifted in the weeks ahead and will be able to return to normality.
I’m looking forward to seeing you and campaigning alongside you in the run-up to May.