Daily Political Media Summary: 23 June 2008

All newspaper references refer to Scottish editions

Economy

Oil summit: Gordon Brown attended an oil summit in Saudi Arabia yesterday, in an effort to persuade OPEC countries to increase oil output to ease pressure on oil prices. The Prime Minister, the only non-OPEC head of government to attend, also urged governments to invest in more renewable sources of energy. (Scotsman page 6, Guardian page 6)

Business rates: It is estimated that approximately 35,000 small businesses in Scotland could be paying too much in business rates due to widespread ignorance of the SNP’s Small Business Bonus, a flagship policy which aims to relieve the burden on small businesses. (Herald Business)

Salmond to raise oil issue: Alex Salmond is set to raise the issue of ‘Scotland’s oil’ and high fuel prices when he travels to Westminster for a meeting of ministers of the devolved administrations and the UK Government. It is reported that the First Minister will be able to raise the issue under the agenda of ‘financial issues.’ (Herald page 6, P&J page 5, Courier page 8)

Norway and Scotland’s oil: The Norwegian Government has criticised the Scottish Government’s plans for an oil fund similar to that in operation in Norway. The Ministry of Finance said the scheme could not work because Scotland operated a budget deficit. (Sunday Times page 2)

Cost of living: The cost of living has risen by as much as 11.6 percent new figures have shown. A survey of a weekly shopping basket conducted by the retail magazine The Grocer has shown an increase of £263 compared with last June. This is in addition to a 16 percent increase in travel costs and 13 percent increase in the price of utilities. This is compared to the official government inflation figure of 3.3 percent. (Daily Mirror pages 1, 16 and 17, Telegraph page 1)

Wage restraint: Chancellor Alistair Darling has called for a below inflation pay rises from the ‘boardroom to the shop floor,’ in an effort to curb inflation and prevent a repeat of events of the 1970s and 1980s when pay increases were cancelled out by higher inflation. (P&J page 11, FT page 1)

Tax proposals: People who are late in filing their tax return forms could face ‘tax-geared’ penalties under new proposals from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Those who deliberately fail to pay could face a penalty of up to 100 percent of their bill under the scheme. (FT page 4)

Final salary pensions: Employers which still offer final salary pension schemes are under increasing to make cuts as the credit crunch and slowdown in the economy begins to bite. More and more companies are following the lead of Rentokil who recently stopped their final salary pension scheme to existing employees. (Guardian page 22)

Skills shortage: A shortage of engineers could put in jeopardy the government’s plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations. (Guardian page 23)

Social mobility: Gordon Brown has blamed Margaret Thatcher for the UK’s low level of social mobility accusing her of “denying many children the chance to progress.” (Telegraph page 2)

Crime

Police terrorism training: Every police officer in Scotland is to receive terrorism training in a bid to “disrupt al-Qaeda terror plots.” Scottish forces are being allocated £3.8 million to provide specific training and skills in assessing potential terror threats, such as the stockpiling of fertiliser. (Scotsman page 14, Daily Mail page 29, P&J page 9, Courier page 3)

Court failures: A special report by the Herald (page 1 and page 11) argues that the court system is failing victims with frequent instances of ‘diverting’ perceived ‘low level’ cases from Scotland’s overburdened court system. The recently introduced Crown Office policy aims to deal with offences such as shop lifting and breaches of the peace at the fiscal level, by issuing fines or compensation through the post, thus allowing the court system to focus on the cases deemed more serious.

Transport

Airport strike: It is claimed that up to 2000 airport passengers have had their travel plans ruined by industrial action over a pay dispute at 9 airports in the north of Scotland. (Herald page 8, P&J page 1, 7, Express page 13)

Railway expansion: Plans for five new high speed main lines could bring major English cities within three hours by train to Scotland. The proposals are to be examined in a study commissioned by Network Rail. (Sunday Herald page 5)

Education

One Plus money: The Scottish Government faces having to pay back the money it received from the European Union for the failed child care provider One Plus. The charity went in to liquidation last year losing approximately £10m-£30m of European money in the process, money which the European Commission now wants back. (Herald page 7)

Health

C Diff apology: The senior health board official has apologised to the families of 17 patients who contracted and subsequently died from the hospital superbug Clostridium Difficile. Tom Divers, Chief Executive of NHS Greater Glasgow and Inverclyde said he “bitterly regretted” the deaths which occurred at the Vale of Leven Hospital in Dumbartonshire. (Herald page 9, Daily Mail page 4, C Diff: Telegraph page 1)

Incapacity benefit: It is alleged that nearly 100,000 people in Scotland have been claiming incapacity benefit for more than a decade. Figures released by the UK Government showed Scotland had 96,540 registered Incapacity Benefit and Severe Disablement Allowance claimants, the second highest in country behind the north-west of England. (Herald page 6)

Contraceptive pill: Women will be able to buy the contraceptive pill without a visit to a GP under a new internet service launched yesterday. The website DrThom is offering a three moths supply for £29.99, sparking fears over the supply of pharmaceuticals over the internet. DrThom defended its service saying each client will have to complete a detailed health questionnaire. (Herald page 3, Daily Mail page 1, 4, Telegraph page 8)

Obesity: The Scottish Government yesterday unveiled a “wide-ranging action plan” to tackle the high levels of obesity in Scotland. The £40 million plan also aims to tackle the issue of poor diets amongst the population. In addition, employees will be encouraged to monitor their weight at work, through innovative new interactive software which can be accessed through workplace intranet sites. (P&J page 9, FT page 4, Courier page 3, Express page 4, Telegraph page 8)

Alcohol strategy attacked: Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie has attacked the SNPs recently unveiled alcohol strategy as a “national alcohol tax.” In a letter to First Minister Alex Salmond, Goldie claimed “the wrong solutions can make the problem even worse” (P&J page 9, Courier page 3)

Alcohol: Tom Little in the Scotland on Sunday (page 14) interviews Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who defends the Scottish Government’s war on Scotland’s booze culture.

Local Government

Homelessness: Homeless people may be offered a private tenancy for a year under latest proposals from the Scottish Government. The plan would allow local authorities to a greater degree of flexibility to use the private sector in order to reduce waiting times. (Herald page 6, P&J page 9)

Father’s day: Thousands of school children across Scotland were prevented from their usual tradition of making father’s day cards by teachers and council officials who feared the alienation of children of single mothers and lesbians. The move provoked outcry across Scotland as councils claimed they were merely being ‘sensitive’ to children without fathers. (Sun page 22, Express page 6, Telegraph page 6)

Politics

Referendum call: Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander has been supported in her call for an early referendum on independence by a close ally of Gordon Brown. Alexander reiterated her call for an early vote, something which was supported by Nigel Griffiths, Labour MP for Edinburgh South. (Daily Mail page 12, Daily Record page 2, P&J page 9, Sun page 2, Sunday Post page 1, Courier page 8, Times page 17, Telegraph page 8)

MPs Pay: MPs are in line for a £40,000 pay rise in return for the abolition of the second homes allowance. The ‘top-up’ to MPS current salary of £61,820 would be worth £24,000 after tax which equals the amount MPS can claim under the Additional Costs Allowance. (Scotsman page 13)

MP donations: Senior Conservative minister Liam Fox faces questions from the election watchdog over donations which were not declared properly. The donations were declared to the House of Commons Register of Members Interests by not to the Electoral Commission. (Herald page 6, P&J page 8)

Calman Commission: Joan McAlpine in the Sunday Times (Ecosse page 8) comments on the decision by the Calman Commission not to hold open public meetings.

Gordon Brown: Comment and analysis on Gordon Brown’s position as he approaches a year in office and a survey of grassroots Labour supporters carried out by Labourhome.org revealed 60% wanted the Prime Minister to quit before the next general election. (Express page 17, William Rees-Mogg in the Times, Telegraph page 4, Janet Daley in the Telegraph)