I'D LIKE to wish all the readers of the Alloa Advertiser a Happy New Year and all the best for the year to come.

On a personal level, the highlight of 2018, was being elected as depute leader of the SNP. Having been a party member for 34 years, it was a real honour.

As the MSP for Clackmannanshire and Dunblane, 2018 was an extremely busy year. I am often asked what I enjoy most about my job and I always say that getting out and about in the constituency, visiting businesses, organisations charities and schools as well as trying to help with individual problems is what I find the most rewarding part of my role as an MSP.

Very often in my work, I get the opportunity to meet inspirational people and groups who are focused on improving life for those around them.

The charities, volunteers, unpaid carers and community activists – all making a real difference where it matters. It is important to acknowledge their contribution to our communities and say thank you.

The impact of local people was never more evident than when I was traveling around the constituency over the last month. The effort put in to mark the festive season in the towns and villages across Clackmannanshire was fantastic and I want to thank all the community councils, groups, their volunteers and local businesses for their hard work and giving up their time to make their communities shine this Christmas.

I would also like to say a big thank you to our armed forces, the health and social care professionals, fire fighters, police, and other emergency response workers, to name just a few, who were ensuring that all the services we may need to call upon were there for us, while we were enjoying our Christmas dinner or bringing in the New Year.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all of them and to the many others who work so hard, not just over the festive period, but all year round.

Building a fairer and more equal country is a key priority for the SNP and, over the last year, the Scottish Government has started to deliver real and lasting change across Scotland.

We have seen the first strong steps from our newly-devolved powers with the launch of Fair Start Scotland, and the first payments from Social Security Scotland.

Efforts have also been stepped up to help end child poverty with the launch of the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan in March, backed by the £50million Tackling Child Poverty Fund.

As the only part of the UK to have taken such action and set in statute the ambition to eradicate child poverty, this is truly something for Scotland to be proud of.

With the roll out of Universal Credit payments continuing, we see those suffering under the Tories' new welfare system struggle to cope and it does sometimes feel as all of the Scottish Government's efforts and good intentions are spent just holding back the tide of inequality and unfair treatment coming from Westminster.

The Fairer Scotland Action Plan published in December sets out the progress made over the last year, but it is clear there is still much more to do in 2019 as we continue to build a fairer and more prosperous Scotland for all.