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Daily Political Media Summary: 29 January 2010

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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Paternity Leave: Government proposals will see fathers given as long as six months paternity leave to allow mothers to return to work earlier. Despite concerns that the move will have adverse effects on struggling businesses, from April 2011 fathers will be entitled to take three months’ paid, followed by three months’ unpaid, leave.  Currently fathers are only entitled to two weeks’ paid paternity leave. (Scotsman page 14, Herald page 5) 

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Job Cuts: Scottish engineering firm Babcock Rail is shedding a quarter of its staff – 300 jobs – as it absorbs cuts in railway track work. (Herald page 5)

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As many as 140 Jobs are also to be axed at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. (Herald page 9)

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Energy Helpline: The Scottish Government’s energy assistance helpline is averaging more than 400 calls a day from householders seeking to cut their bills. (Scotsman page 10, Herald page 7)

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Ski-Slopes: Scotland’s five ski centres have so far sold more than 107,500 tickets this year, not including season ticket holders who have been visiting regularly and some other groups such as schools. In 2008-9, skiing visitors generated about £4 million for snow centres and at least £12 million for the Scottish economy. (Scotsman, page 16)

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Country Estates: A survey of sales by a leading analyst has shown the value of Scotland’s country estates has halved within the last year. The average purchase price for 2009 was £2.6 million, while in 2008 the figure stood as £5.2 million. (Scotsman page 22, Herald page 9)

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Education

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PE Failure: First Minister Alex Salmond has been accused of “abject failure” over government pledges to provide all school children with two hours of physical education a week. Figures compiled by the Conservatives showed only 55 out of 329 secondary schools were hitting the target. (Scotsman page 13, Herald page 6)

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College Funding Crisis:  Research has revealed that Scotland’s 43 further education colleges have been hit by a funding crisis which is causing them to turn away four times as many applicants as last year.  The issue is threatening to dominate cross-party negotiations in the lead-up to next week’s Holyrood vote on the 2010-11 Scottish Government Budget. (Times page 19, Scotsman page 15)

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Teacher numbers: Teacher numbers could continue to fall, Education Secretary Michael Russell has reportedly admitted as he prepares to overhaul almost all the SNP Government’s educations commitments. He is interviewed in the Times Educational Supplement Scotland.  (TESS page 4)

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Crime  

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Sex Slave Trade: Scotland’s 16,200 police officers will be briefed on the sex slave trade as part of a new strategy designed to reduce the number of organised criminals involved in human trafficking that continue to escape justice. Thousands of CDs will be sent out to police forces containing information about how to identify and report cases of human trafficking. (Herald page 1)   

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Transport

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Forth Road Bridge: Hundreds of residents have objected to the £2.3 billion scheme to build a new Forth road bridge. (Scotsman page 10)

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Road Repair Budgets: Edinburgh and Glasgow are set to spend five times as much as normal on road maintenance after this month’s big freeze leaves widespread pothole damage. (Scotsman page 10, Herald page 1)

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Health

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Midwifery: Scottish midwifery graduates are being forced to leave Scotland after struggling to find full time posts. A Scottish Government spokesman said it cannot ensure jobs for graduates in the area where they live and pointed out the job-guarantee scheme, which aims to ensure every newly qualified nurse of midwife receives a job, does not exist over the border. (Herald page 2)

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Suicide Rate: Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the number of UK suicide deaths has risen in direct relation to the economic recession. It is the first increase in ten years. Results demonstrated three times more men than women are taking their own life. (Scotsman, page 9)

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Swine Flu: Cases of the H1N1 virus in Scotland have increased from 3,980 to 3,770 in the past week. (Herald page 2, Scotsman page 13)

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Local Government

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The Gathering: Edinburgh Council chief Jenny Dawe has criticised the Scottish Government for leading firms, owed money by The Gathering, to believe they would be reimbursed by the council. Ms Dawe confirmed there was “no chance” of rescuing the firm that was behind the event from going into administration. Debts of £430,000 are still thought to be owed and an additional £300,000 of public sector cash has been written off. (Scotsman page 17, Herald page 2)

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Councillors’ pay: Scotland\’s local authority leaders are to discuss freezing councillors\’ pay for the next two years.  The body which monitors their pay, the Scottish Local Authorities Remuneration Committee, suggested the move in their latest report.  Council leaders will consider their response later, but a draft reply suggests they will agree to the freeze. (BBC)

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Politics

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Tony Blair: Sir John Chilcot and the four other members of the inquiry will question the former prime minister for six hours today at the QE2 centre in London, where police have mounted a large security operation. Mr Blair has always defended his decision to send British troops to join the American-led invasion in 2003 and today he is expected to strongly assert that he acted in good faith and that the war brought benefits to the people of Iraq. (Guardian page 11, Daily Record page 2, STV, Times page 6, Herald page 4)

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Olympics: Sir Robin Wales, the directly elected mayor of Newham in London’s East End, has criticised Scots’ complaints about the cost of the 2012 Olympics. The mayor, who is from Ayrshire, has labelled claims that Scotland is losing out because of London’s successful bid, ‘narrow nationalism’, and largely blames the SNP for the way the Olympics is used to “drive a wedge into the UK”. (Scotsman, page 13)

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The Environment: The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has been accused of “extraordinary double standards” as its own carbon footprint is shown to have increased over the past year. (Scotsman page 1)

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Public notices: Opposition parties have argued that the Scottish Government should abandon plans to allow the online publication of public notices. Local authorities are legally required to publish public notices in the newspapers, however councils want to be able to publish them on a dedicated website instead, a move that is reported to save £6million a year. MSPs have claimed it would be counterproductive because, while people came across public notices while reading the papers, they were unlikely to go looking for them online. (Press and Journal page 13, Courier page 7, Scotsman, page 24, Herald page 6)

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Creative Scotland: Senior cultural figures in Scotland have said that they had no idea what the scope or function of the new quango, Creative Scotland, was meant to be. The playwright Liz Lochhead said it was viewed with “alarm” and John Archer, the former head of the development agency Scottish Screen, described the process to create it as a “distraction”. (Times page 28)

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FMQs: Alan Cochrane comments in the Telegraph on yesterday’s First Ministers Questions, where Alex Salmond was pressed on issues such as GARL, minimum PE hours, crime and education. (Telegraph page 17, Courier page 9)