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Daily Political Media Summary: 1 February 2010

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Media Summary: 1 February 2010

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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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Redevelopment schemes: The Scottish Government is close to signing a near £60 million European deal to create an urban regeneration fund to boost flagging developments. Senior civil servants and ministers have spent months in discussions with the Luxembourg-based European Investment Bank (EIB) to borrow from its Joint European Support for Sustainable Investment in City Areas (JESSICA) fund. Any deal would be a boon for business after the Scottish Government’s recent decision to withdraw its £75 million application for another EIB fund to help small businesses. However, it would not be available to a large part of the country. (Sunday Herald page 53)

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House prices:  Experts have warned house prices in Scotland could take years to catch up with the rest of the UK as Scottish disposable income remains low and consumers remain frugal.  (Scotsman page 6)

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Olympics contracts:  Scottish businesses have so far only been awarded 17 Olympic contracts despite bidding for 2,806 which has led business leaders and politicians to criticise the uneven distribution of contracts.  A third of all contracts have been given to London-based firms.  (Scotsman page 6)

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Scottish Water: Radical proposals for the future of Scottish Water have been put forward as an alternative to privatisation or mutualisation. A paper, produced by policy consultants Graham Bell and Tom Miers and published on Reform Scotland’s website, suggests restructuring the state-owned water supplier along the lines of Network Rail, the British railway body.  It proposes that the national water utility be run as a plc and, if implemented, it would let Scottish Water borrow against its assets and be controlled by a board of “shareholders”, but it would reinvest the profits into the business. (Sunday Times page B3, Sunday Herald page 50, Herald page 6)

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Macdonald Estates: Edinburgh-based property developer Macdonald Estates (ME) is launching a new division that will focus on helping the banks to make the most out of their toxic assets. Macdonald Estates Property Partnerships (MEPP), thought to be the first venture of its kind in Scotland, is aiming to work with banks on residential, commercial and retail schemes that they have inherited from collapsed partners.  The venture will offer to replace plans for the kind of high-density developments that were popular before the economic crisis with schemes that will be viable in the current climate. ME has hired Alan Meikle, a veteran banker and corporate financier of the likes of RBS and Allied Irish, to be MEPP’s corporate finance director.  (Sunday Herald page 55, Scotland on Sunday page B1)

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Food and drink:  Sales of Scottish food and drink products enjoyed a record festive season.  Sales of Scottish pork roast rose by 56%, halibut by 42%, and roast beef by 8% as Scots enthusiastically supported local brands and producers.  (Scotsman page 7)

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Food prices:  January saw the biggest monthly increase in food prices in two years.  Food prices rose 2.8% as the VAT rate rose to 17.5%.  This suggests supermarkets are applying the VAT increase to food even though food is exempt.  (Scotsman page 18)

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Minimum alcohol pricing:  Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie has claimed minimum pricing for alcohol would be a boon for supermarkets at the expense of pensioners and the poor.  (Scotsman page 18, Telegraph page 11)

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Superfast broadband:  The Tories have outlined plans to bring superfast broadband to the majority of British homes by 2017.  (Scotsman page 22)

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Crime

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Prison theft:  Information released by the police indicates Scottish prisoners aren’t deterred from stealing by being behind bars.  A passport, mobile phones, and jewellery are just some of the items stolen by Scottish inmates in the past two years.  (Scotsman page 24, Herald page 2)

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Local Government

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Street signs:  Councils have had to pay hundreds of pounds in order to fix street signs with spelling or grammar mistakes.  (Herald page 5)

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Housing:  Tenants across Glasgow will be asked to vote on whether they should leave the Glasgow Housing Association in order to form community-based ownership of social housing.  (Herald page 6)

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Health

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Salt:  Research for National Salt Awareness Week found that over 90% of Scots know salt is bad for their health, but most are vague on exactly how salt could harm them.  (Scotsman page 23, Herald page 16)

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Mental health:  People with serious mental health problems are being mistakenly told by the Department for Work and Pensions they are fit for work.  (Herald page 10)

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Education

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Spending cuts:  Scottish councils are cutting education budgets by up to 10% in a drive to find £270 million in savings.  (Herald page 1)

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Universities:  Funding to assist disadvantaged students to graduate from university may be closed off to Scotland’s most prestigious institutions.  Edinburgh, St Andrews, Heriot-Watt, and Aberdeen are the universities whose funding is likely to be suspended.  (Times page 5)

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Politics

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Tony Blair: Tony Blair should be tried in a Scottish court for his decision to take the country to war in Iraq, according to a group of SNP MSPs. The Crown Office, which leads prosecutions, is examining their arguments following the former prime minister\’s appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry last week, in which he expressed "no regrets" over deposing Saddam Hussein. (Scotland on Sunday page 1)

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Nigel Griffiths:  Edinburgh South MP Nigel Griffiths is reportedly to stand down at the next general election.  Mr Griffiths has been a key ally of the Prime Minister. (Scotsman page 1)

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General election:  Recent polls have indicated the gap between Labour and the Conservatives continues to narrow.  (Scotsman page 2)

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MP expenses:  Scottish MPs Ian Davidson and Frank Roy are among 70 who are challenging Sir Thomas Legg’s order to pay back some of their expenses.  Nine MPs have so far won their appeals.  (Scotsman page 8)

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Devolution subsidy:  The Scottish Government have released their own analysis of a report from the Scotland Office which claimed Scotland had reaped a £76 billion dividend in the 10 years since devolution.  The Government’s analysis refutes this claim and states it is Scotland which is subsidising the UK.  (Scotsman page 20)

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Scottish funding:  75% of Tory MPs want to reform in the way Scotland is funded.  The poll, published by the Institute for Public Policy Research, will put pressure on David Cameron to cut Scotland’s funding should he become Prime Minister.  (Telegraph page 1)

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Lockerbie:  Hundreds of pages of documents related to the Lockerbie bombing may not be released for months, if at all, as the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission needs permission from all parties involved in the case before releasing the papers.  (Herald page 2)

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SNP defection:  South Lanarkshire SNP councillor John McNamee has defected to the Labour party.  Mr McNamee had been a rising star within the SNP, but said he had become disillusioned with the party.  (Herald page 6)

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MSPs’ pay:  An outcry over high public sector pay makes it almost certain that MSPs will turn down any pay rise offered to them next month.  (Herald page 8, Times page 17, Scotland on Sunday page 1)

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Reform Scotland is an independent, non-party think tank that aims to set out a better way to deliver increased economic prosperity and more effective public services based on the traditional Scottish principles of limited government, diversity and personal responsibility.

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