Column: Education and a thriving town centre.

Congratulations to all of our school pupils receiving exam results this week, especially to all those who have gained a place at university.

A record number of Scottish pupils will be going to university straight from school – more than 28,700 according to UCAS.

This also includes a 13 per cent increase in placed applicants from Scotland’s most deprived communities.

This is a great achievement for each individual pupil, and represents education being used as a route out of poverty.

It is these pupils who will benefit most from free tuition fees in Scotland, as for many people in comparable economic situations in England, the price of a university education is too great a burden.

Thanks to the Scottish Government, cycles of poverty can be far more easily broken.

I know this first hand, as it was the promise of free education that allowed me to get to where I am today.

As a high school student I was determined to get to university, as I knew I had the ability to go academically where my parents and other members of my family had not managed.

But I knew also they would be unable to support me financially if they were expected to foot the bill for my education.

Free tuition fees allow doors to be open to our brightest and most talented when otherwise they would remain closed, and will allow our school leavers to follow their dreams, passions and potentials to the full.

Many pupils and their families still have all this to look forward to in future, and will be preparing now to return for the new school year.

This can be a particularly difficult transition back from the summer holidays for the pupils themselves – but sometimes even more so for their mums and dads.

Going back to school means having to spend money on new uniforms, backpacks, PE kits, shoes and stationery, which can come at great expense.

For families struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table, this can sometimes be too much.

However, there is help in the form of the Back to School Bank Lanarkshire, a scheme which collects donations and gives them to under-privileged children from vulnerable families.

This means that large and costly items such as blazers, trousers, coats, jackets and pinafores do not have to devastate a family’s budget – but even smaller items such as socks, gym shoes and tights are available for pupils.

This is an excellent scheme which I fully endorse. Every item received by the Back to School Bank goes to a deserving child.

This not only gets them ready for the school year ahead, but helps these children fit in and feel better about themselves – allowing them to focus on attaining those exam results that will see them into university.

While we see progress in education, I am hopeful we will soon see progress in our town centre.

Following my joint report with Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse MSP Christina McKelvie our recommendations for reforms of parking charges and business rates in Hamilton town centre are going through committee at South Lanarkshire Council.

The SNP have taken administration in South Lanarkshire, and it is very welcome to see they are open to a change in approach to the town centre.

I believe mismanagement by the council in the past under the former Labour-led administration brought some of the difficulties we have experienced in our town centre.

We are now on the right path to putting the heart back into Hamilton and once again having a town centre of which we can all be proud.