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Daily Political Media Summary: 14 December 2009

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Media Summary: 14 December 2009

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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.

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Economy

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Public Sector Pay: Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney is considering proposals to cut the wages of public sector top earners. The Lib Dems have urged a five per cent cut to all public sector employees earning more than £100,000. Mr Swinney said he disagrees with the Lib Dems in Westminster who have recommended a pay freeze for all public sector workers, but that he would consider the cuts for top earners. Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott comments on this in Scotland on Sunday.  (Scotland on Sunday page 1, Tavish Scott opinion piece Scotland on Sunday page 2, Scotsman page 2, Herald page 6, Opinion page 12, Daily Telegraph page 2, Times page 22, Press and Journal page 1, BBC)

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Recession: Research by forecasting group Markit for the Scottish Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) suggests that Scotland’s economy is on the road to recovery. The group found that Scotland’s economy has been growing at its fastest pace for 26 months. However, the findings were countered with a warning that Scotland’s recovery continues to lag behind the rest of the UK. The Scottish Government’s chief economic advisor, Dr Andrew Gouldie, warned last week that Scotland is likely to trail the 1 to 1.5 per cent figure given in the Pre-Budget report. He also warned of rising unemployment and “slow recovery in 2010, with only modest growth likely”.  Markit economist Andrew Self warned that “conditions remain tough” despite Scotland’s growth. (Scotsman page 33, Press and Journal page 15, BBC)

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Scottish Banking: It is barely a year since Scotland’s twin banking citadels came toppling down, threatening the foundations of the UK’s banking system and Scotland’s entire financial sector. Between them, the two biggest Scottish banks lost £29 billion last year, putting them both in the top six for the world’s biggest loss-making banks, according to Banker magazine – not to mention the £850bn estimated cost of the taxpayer bail-out. Simon Bain writes in the Sunday Herald in a special three-part series on the Scottish banking crisis. (Sunday Herald page 46)

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Lloyds Banking Group: Lloyds Banking Group is launching an ambitious big company division for Scotland reportedly in a bid to distance itself from the legacy of serial deal-maker Peter Cummings. The new large corporate division, which includes the business banking units of both Lloyds and HBOS, will target Scottish companies with a turnover of at least £15 million. It is headed by Alasdair Gardner in Edinburgh, who told Scotland on Sunday that he has "made sure we\’ve learned lessons from what we\’ve been through". He stressed that the bank is now "open for business" to lend to the right companies. (Scotland on Sunday page B1)

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Mortgages: Moneyfacts information group found that despite the taxpayer bailout, margins have tripled on mortgages since last year. The group found that banks have seen their real cost of money fall by 4.35 percentage points, yet average mortgage deals have fallen by as little as 0.6 per cent. A spokesperson said “Margins on three to five-year mortgages are still steadily increasing. People would have been expecting to pay really low rates at the moment, but they are quite similar to those available when base rate was 5 per cent.” (Herald page 1, Opinion page 12)

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Rise in Visitors: It has been claimed that the Homecoming campaign has led to a 3.6 per cent increase in the number of visits to attractions across the country in the last ten months. The Visitor Attraction Barometer calculated that churches and cathedrals received the biggest increase – 10.6 per cent, followed by a 9 per cent increase in visits to distilleries. Museums and art galleries are said to be the most popular places to visit. (Scotsman page 12)

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Flyglobespan: The Scottish airline Flyglobespan denied rumours that it was on the “cusp of collapse” after a credit card company alleged overdue payments.  Founder and chairman Tom Dalrymple said he was on the verge of concluding a major funding deal with Halcyon Investments although he did not describe the scope. (Scotsman page 33)

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Games Industry: The Scottish Digital Media Advisory Group will recommend a strategy that calls for a pilot programme of tax and fiscal benefits to support the Dundee games sector in 2010 to increase competitiveness. Stuart Cosgrove, chairman of the group, said “To achieve a step-change in Scotland’s global reputation in digital media we need to increase the number of companies, encourage them to leverage, own and exploit the platforms on which they operate, and extract more value from the intellectual property rights.” (Scotsman page 34, Press and Journal page 15)

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Scottish Parliament Business Exchange: A company set up to help MSPs understand the private sector and the importance of wealth creation has reportedly been bailed out by the taxpayer. The Scottish Parliament Business Exchange (SPBE), which organises place­ments for MSPs, has received a £30,000 handout from the public purse. The SPBE was set up in 2001 as an independent charitable firm, to promote understanding between business and Holyrood. It is funded by membership fees from its corporate members, which include BP, Scottish & Newcastle and Pfizer, as well as receiving help from the Parliament. (Sunday Herald page 22)

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Commonwealth Games: A planned £70million worth of sub-contracts for the construction of the National Indoor Sports Arena and the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome will be available by February next year. (Herald page 24)

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Susan Rice: An interview with Susan Rice reveals that she is still very much involved with Lloyds Banking Group despite stepping down from the board of Lloyds TSB Scotland two weeks ago. (Sunday Times page 9)

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Crime

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Child Trafficking: Experts are warning of a rise in the number of children being trafficked in Scotland. Children as young as nine are said to be brought into Scotland to be sold as prostitutes, domestic slaves or, increasingly, to work in cannabis factories. The gangs that traffic children are said to turn to Scotland as an easier alternative to entering the UK through London. SNP MP Pete Wishart said “We need to redouble our efforts to ensure Scotland cannot be a gateway” and applauded efforts undertaken by Glasgow and Edinburgh city councils. (Herald page 3)

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Health

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NHS Cuts: NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is considering “more radical options” as it faces a potential £60million deficit for the next financial year. The board has already considered offering staff voluntary redundancies, but fears that will not be enough. Trade union Unison claims the current “big plan” among 300 ideas is to cut nursing numbers by 30 per cent and replace them with unregistered nurses performing less complex duties. (Herald page 1)

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Politics

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UK General Election: March 25 is rumoured to be under consideration as the date for the next election. The Prime Minister is reportedly being urged by senior Labour members to hold an election before the Budget report is announced in early April. Conservative leader David Cameron has said that the last Thursday in March is “a likely date” and that his party is “clearing the manifestos” in preparation. Recent polls have differed on whether or not Labour is closing the gap on the Conservatives. (Scotsman page 1, Opinion page 26, Herald page 6, Daily Telegraph page 6, Sunday Times page 1, Times Opinion page page 26, Guardian page 4, BBC)

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There is comment in a number of papers on the forthcoming election. James Cusick in the Sunday Herald page 7, Scotland on Sunday page 2, Tom Peterkin in Scotland on Sunday page 12, Douglas Alexander in Scotland on Sunday page 18, Duncan Hamilton in Scotland on Sunday page 19, Sunday Post page 13

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David McLetchie, the former Scots Tory leader, is to head the party’s general election campaign in Scotland. (Times page 19)

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Copenhagen: First Minister Alex Salmond and Scotland’s Climate Change Minister Stewart Stevenson will be in Copenhagen this week to promote Scotland’s climate change targets and to press for a similarly ambitious global agreement at the United Nation Climate Change Conference. (Sunday Post page 8)

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New Homes: The SNP is adding £24million to be allocated to local authorities to build homes for rent.  This brings the total allocation to almost £50million this year. (BBC, STV)

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Scottish Investment Bank: Alex Salmond’s vision of a Scottish Investment Bank has been dealt a severe blow with the news that the Scottish Government’s plans to apply for £150million in European funds have turned out to be unworkable. The Government was insisting late last week that the idea of setting up a bank to strengthen Scottish business development had not been abandoned, despite the fact it is difficult to see where any new funding will now be found. (Sunday Herald page 52)

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Workers Protection: Labour MSP Hugh Henry has launched a Bill in Parliament that would give more protection for workers who have direct contact with the public and are subject to attacks, such as bus drivers or shop staff. Anyone who commits an offence under the terms of the Bill could face up to a year in jail or fines up to £10,000. Mr Henry said, “Workers who serve the public need to know they will be protected from the thuggish minority who resort to violence.” (Scotsman page 7, STV)

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Energy: Oil services tycoon Sir Ian Wood has criticised the Scottish Government’s anti-nuclear position, claiming it is “in denial” in believing that Scotland’s demand for energy can be met by renewable sources alone. (Herald page 7, Sunday Times page 11, Daily Telegraph page 1)

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Jenny Hjul of the Times argues that Alex Salmond’s green energy policy is politically, not scientifically motivated, and that a more productive approach would involve research into sustainable energy such as nuclear power. (Sunday Times page 24)

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Donations Row: Labour MSP Ian Gray is reportedly facing further questions about the funding of his campaign for the Scottish Labour leadership. (Sunday Times page 1)

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Labour MP Expenses: Labour MP Jim Devine has reportedly been asked to explain why he billed the taxpayer for a new bathroom after it was flooded – despite having insurance. Mr Devine, whose expenses are being investigated by police, claimed back £1,632 after the accident. However, documents show he had building insurance on the same property. The insurance cover was also paid for by the public. (Sunday Herald page 15)

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Nationalist Blogger: Mark MacLachlan, a former aide to Michael Russell, the education minister, is to take legal action against the Scottish National party, claiming he was unfairly sacked for writing a blog with rude comments about political rivals. (Sunday Times page 4, page Ecosse 2)

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Christmas Card: Joan McAlpine of the Times defends Alex Salmond’s use of the saltire on his Christmas card. (Sunday Times page 25)