Daily Political Media Summary: 26 November 2009

Reform Scotland

Daily Political Media Summary: 26 November 2009

All newspaper references refer to Scottish editions. Where there is a link to a newspaper’s website, the relevant page reference is blue and underlined.

Economy

Banks charges: A Supreme Court ruling that banks can continue charging arbitrary fees to those who exceed their overdraft limits has caused outrage. The fines raise about £2.6 billion a year for UK banks. The Supreme Court found that the charges did not come under the unfair contract rules; it added that the charges could be assessed under other “fairness” criteria. More than one million people had their claims frozen while the court action proceeded. Campaigners have vowed to continue the fight to recover overdraft fees on behalf of one million customers following the surprise decision in favour of high street banks. (Herald Page 4, Courier Page 1, Press & Journal Page 5, Financial Times Page 1, Times Page 6, Daily Telegraph Page B1, Daily Express Page 7)

RBS: The worst of the job cuts at the Royal Bank of Scotland are over, MSPs were told yesterday by RBS chief executive Stephen Hester. He claimed there would be no more big cuts and a £75million technology investment is to be made in Edinburgh which will see it retain many "high-value" jobs and create a small number of new posts. Unions warned the full effects of the job cuts are yet to be felt and pointed out that Mr Hester had not ruled out further job losses. His statement was also met with scepticism by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott who said: "RBS\’s promise that Scotland has seen the worst of its share of the job losses, will be cold comfort to those already out of work and those who have to continue working under the threat of yet more, albeit smaller scale, job losses.” (Scotsman Page 8)

Water bills: The industry watchdog revealed today that increases in water bills in Scotland will be will be kept below the rate of inflation until 2015 as consumers and businesses seek stability during the recession. The Water Industry Commission for Scotland (WICS), which sets out prices for households and businesses every five years, said customers will pay a year-on-year increase of 1 per cent, with a guaranteed price freeze next April and the possibility of a further freeze in 2011. (Scotsman Page 6, Herald Page 2)

Crime

Fixed-penalty notices: SNP ministers are accused of being soft on crime after a Scottish Government paper recommended extending fixed-penalty notices (FPNs) to minor assault, minor theft and cannabis use and possession. Under the plans, offenders would be given a £40 on-the-spot fine, escaping potential court action as well as a criminal record, leading opposition politicians to claim the plans would "dumb down" the Scottish justice system and send out the wrong message to criminals. In total, 83% of police officers consulted backed the drugs proposals, with senior officers found to be "mostly supportive" of the move to free up police time. (Scotsman Page 7, Herald Page 5, Courier Page 3, Press & Journal Page 9, Daily Telegraph Page 11, Daily Express Page 2)

Local Government

Pay rise: Scottish ministers were last night under pressure to intervene early in a pay row between councils and their employees as the two sides braced themselves for a protracted dispute after a pay claim was submitted by unions yesterday for a 3% or £600 rise, and a minimum pay rate of £7 an hour. Senior council figures branded the claim "outrageous" in the current economic climate. The entrenched positions mean industrial action, including strikes causing a massive disruption to services, could take place early next year if no agreement can be found on the payment of Scotland\’s 150,000 council employees. (Scotsman Page 6, Herald Page 10, Press & Journal Page 8)

Survey: Edinburgh City Council yesterday faced criticism after it emerged it had sent staff to meetings and events to quiz members of the public on their "likes and dislikes" about the capital. Council officials in Scotland\’s capital spent £25,000 asking people about their favourite aspects of the city which unsurprisingly revealed the city\’s world-famous architecture, hugely popular parks and gardens, and cultural attractions to be top of the popularity stakes. (Scotsman Page 18)

Health

Obesity: Government figures have revealed that the number of morbidly obese and overweight Scottish boys has risen dramatically in the last ten years. Over the same period the number of young girls classed as overweight, obese or morbidly obese has remained relatively stable. The results come after a survey by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) revealed on Monday that Scottish parents were "dangerously unaware" of how unfit their children are. (Scotsman Page 19)

Drug abuse: An urgent health warning has been issued about a new recreational drug known as "Bubbles" made from plant food, after five people overdosed on it. The drug\’s main ingredient is mephedrone, which is not a controlled substance; a Tayside Police spokeswoman said, "Mephedrone in itself is dangerous, but there are also concerns about the possible unknown additives in the capsules as well. Health service experts and Tayside Police have joined forces to warn about the potential risks after five people the youngest understood to have been only 15, collapsed after taking the drug. (Scotsman Page 17, Press & Journal Page 3)

Glasgow hospital: Newborn babies will be without the cover of children’s and maternity services on the same site in Glasgow for at least five years, as a further delays were revealed in the completion of the city’s new flagship £841 million hospital complex. Work to replace the Southern General hospital with the new campus will now not be fully completed until 2016, two years behind the initial completion date. Conservatives have warned that it is "only a matter of time" before the scheme goes over-budget and accused the Scottish Government of failing to "learn the lessons of Holyrood". (Herald Page 1, Scotsman Page 22)

Hospital link: The link between the Queen Mother’s Maternity Hospital and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children is under threat as plans to separate the two hospitals sparked a massive public protest and provoked a backlash against NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde (NHSGGC). The Hands Off Yorkhill campaign is fighting to preserve the bond between the two hospitals since the link provides relocation between maternity and child services without the need for risky transfers to other hospitals. The campaign has attracted massive support, with about 160,000 people signing a petition against the closure. (Herald Page 8)

Education

Teachers: A plan to pay 500 teachers to take early retirement to create jobs for newly qualified staff has been slammed as a "panic measure". The proposal by the Scottish Government has been criticised for encouraging councils to take on more debt. Instead of providing funding, Fiona Hyslop, the education secretary, announced she will provide up to £10 million of debt across the country for councils to share over the next two years. Pat Watters, president of council umbrella group, Cosla said: "This is a quick fix and, as is often the case, a quick fix will not solve what is a fundamental problem." (Scotsman Page 17, Herald Page 2, Courier Page 7, Times Page 33)

Politics

Tories: Shadow chancellor George Osborne pledges today that Scotland would be guaranteed powers to raise revenue from taxation under a Conservative government. Mr Osborne was responding to the government\’s White Paper on Scotland\’s future in the UK, which set out its backing for the Calman Commissions proposals for more powers for Scotland. The government said that it would, in principle, support devolving control over airgun legislation to Scotland, as well as giving Holyrood control of speed limits and alcohol restrictions for drivers. The Tories rejected the government’s White Paper on giving Holyrood much greater powers over taxation, borrowing and legal issues by insisting they would publish their own proposals at some point after the general election (Scotsman Page 4, Guardian Page 19, Herald Page 6, Courier Page 1, Press & Journal Page 1, Financial Times Page 4, Times Page 1, Daily Telegraph Page 1)

Alcohol pricing: Landmark legislation that would have introduced minimum prices for alcohol will not become law, after Labour revealed it would not support the move. The decision will leave a gaping hole in the Alcohol Bill, which is being unveiled today by health secretary Nicola Sturgeon and is aimed at tackling Scotland\’s drink problem. Labour will join the other main opposition parties in blocking the proposals and instead back a commission to consider a range of other measures to deal with over-consumption. (Scotsman Page 1, Times Page 18)