Daily Political Media Summary: 31 March 2010

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Media Summary: 31 March 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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Recession: The UK moved faster out of recession than was first thought in the final three months of 2009, official figures showed yesterday. The economy grew by 0.4 per cent between October and December – stronger than the 0.3 per cent previously estimated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). (Scotsman page 2, Erikka Askeland page B4)

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Scotland’s budget: Alex Salmond will demand further upfront cash from Chancellor Alistair Darling today, after one of his closest advisers broke ranks to warn that he may have to privatise Scotland\’s water system and slash free benefits to deal with £3 billion worth of cuts. The First Minister will meet Mr Darling in London to call for a further injection of spending for Scotland, arguing a fiscal stimulus to help the recovery is needed. But it comes after Crawford Beveridge, the man leading the Scottish Government\’s review of the Scottish budget, is reported as saying that privatising Scottish Water should be considered as a way of reducing the Scottish Government\’s costs. It currently pays £150 million a year for the utility. (Scotsman page 8) 

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Tourism: George Kerevan comments in the Scotsman on the need to take tourism seriously and how it could rescue the economy. (Scotsman page B4) 

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RBS: Royal Bank of Scotland has been hit by a £28.6 million fine by the Office of Fair Trading after rival Barclays told competition officials its staff had received tip-offs about RBS’s pricing at industry social events. The Edinburgh bank admitted breaching competition law between October 2007 and February or March 2008. The OFT said it would have levied a £33.6 million fine on the bank if it hadn’t admitted guilt and agreed to co-operate. (Herald page 26, FT page 21, Press and Journal page 18, Courier page 15) 

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Crime

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Drug abuse: The reality of drug abuse among Scottish schoolchildren has been laid bare in a report that reveals more than 100 youngsters aged 14 and under admitted using drugs in Scotland last year. (Scotsman page 6, Courier page 11) 

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Transport

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Severe weather: Scotland was brought to a virtual standstill last night as several of its main road and rail arteries were closed as a result of severe weather. The forecast prompted the Met Office to issue a rare emergency weather warning, with 50cm of snow expected in high places during the night. Severe blizzards, snow drifts and very heavy snowfalls were expected, with reduced visibility on affected roads. Power outages were predicted, along with widespread road closures. (Scotsman page 1, Herald page 1, Telegraph page 9, Press and Journal page 6, Courier page 1, BBC, STV) 

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Train strikes: Taxpayers will have to pay tens of millions of pounds to compensate private train companies for the disruption caused by next week’s rail strike. Network Rail (NR) goes to the High Court today in an attempt to avert the four-day action which is due to begin on Tuesday. The company served papers on the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union last night calling into question the validity of a ballot, even though peace talks were being held in a bid to resolve a row over jobs. (Herald page 1, Times page 3 , Press and Journal page 5, Courier page 11) 

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Health

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Prescription drugs: A rising number of prescriptions for drugs to treat obesity and to help people stop smoking are being handed out in Scotland. Figures yesterday estimated that more than 10,500 people in Scotland are on daily drug treatment for obesity. The statistics also revealed a 31 per cent increase in prescriptions for smokers trying to kick the habit in the past year. Experts have warned that smoking and obesity remain two of the greatest challenges facing public health in Scotland. (Scotsman page 17) 

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Breast cancer screenings: Breast cancer screening saves the lives of two women for every one who receives potentially unnecessary treatment. Research published yesterday suggests some cancers grow so slowly that a woman may die from another disease first while other cancers would cause no harm. The latest research was led by experts from the Wolfson Institute for Preventive Medicine at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry. It focused on data from some 80,000 women from the age of 50 and looked at Sweden and England before and after the introduction of screening. (Scotsman page 26, Telegraph page 1)

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Methadone addicts: Prescribing the heroin-substitute methadone to drug addicts is costing Scotland more than £16 million a year, according to the latest official figures. Nearly 495,000 doses were handed out to addicts during 2008/09, the last year for which data is available. The prescription rate is equivalent to a national average of 96 in every 1,000 Scots – an increase of nearly a fifth in the last five years alone. (Herald page 2, Courier page 3, Daily Record page 11) 

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Education

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Literacy and numeracy plans: Teachers yesterday welcomed proposals by the Scottish Government to change the way literacy and numeracy skills are assessed under the new curriculum.  Michael Russell, the Education Secretary, has decided to scrap the SNP’s original plans for internal assessments of the basic skills. Instead, he is proposing the introduction of externally marked units in literacy and numeracy that would be taught in English and mathematics classes and marked by the Scottish Qualifications Authority. (Herald page 4, Times page 6, Daily Express page 2)

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Politics

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Alex Salmond: Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond bowed out of Westminster politics telling MPs he had never been more convinced of the need for independence. The SNP leader attacked both the Tories and Labour for promising deep cuts in public spending during his valedictory speech in the Commons chamber. Mr Salmond, who is standing down as MP for Banff and Buchan at the general election, said the need for Scotland to run its own affairs had "never been more urgent". (Herald page 6, Press and Journal page 11, Courier page 9)

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Alex Salmond will reportedly accept a resettlement grant of more than £60,000 from Westminster when he stands down as an MP at the forthcoming election.  The First Minister faced criticism after he admitted he would take the pay-off, equivalent to a year’s salary, which is given to MPs when they lose their seats or stand down. (Times page 5, Telegraph page 6, Alan Cochrane in Telegraph page 13, Daily Record page 1, Daily Mail page 1) 

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Hung Parliament: Gordon Brown could continue as Prime Minister for weeks even if he loses the election under Whitehall proposals to prevent a run on the pound in the event of a hung parliament. Unprecedented contingency plans are being drawn up by the most senior civil servant to avoid any economic crisis if Labour or the Tories are unable to secure a majority.  Officials under the direction of Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, are finalising details to ensure a coalition government can be agreed swiftly. For the first time, opposition parties will be able to call on civil servants to analyse policies that may be part of a deal. (Telegraph page 1, Guardian page 1)

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