REFORM SCOTLAND NEWS: 18 October 2010

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 18 October 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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In addition to the newspaper stories outlined below, further news coverage can be found online at BBC News Scotland, STV News and Sky News.

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Politics

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SNP Conference: In his speech to the SNP conference in Perth, First Minister Alex Salmond encouraged Scots to overcome scepticism over independence and to look to financial advantages rather than “flags and anthems”. Mr Salmond also vowed to protect the people from "the most ferocious series of cuts witnessed in a lifetime". The SNP leader said his Scottish Government would cut back on bureaucracy and management in the police and the NHS to help safeguard frontline services. But he warned cuts coming in this week\’s comprehensive spending review would bring about "new and trying times.” Mr Salmond hit out at the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition over the scale of those spending reductions by saying "the Cameron-Clegg pact will see the greatest attack on public services ever." (Sunday Herald page 1, Press and Journal page 1, Sun page 1, Telegraph page 1, Sunday Herald page 6, page 7, Iain Macwhirter page 7, Times page 1, Daily Record page 2, Guardian page 13)

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NHS managers: Nicola Sturgeon pledged at the SNP conference to cut the number of senior NHS managers in Scotland by one-quarter over the next four years. More than 300 of the 1,240 highest-earning NHS white collar posts in Scotland will go if the SNP return to power next year. The Health Secretary said the reduction in the number of bureaucrats earning between £50,000 and £160,000 would save £25 million in 2011/12 resulting in a total saving of around £70 million over the next parliamentary term. (Scotland on Sunday page 1, Press and Journal page 13)

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Terror Threat: Saudi intelligence officials have warned there is an increased threat of terrorist attack in Europe, specifically against France. The speculation follows a warning issued by the US State department to Americans travelling to Europe of the possibility of Mumbai-style shootings occurring in a European capital. Travel infrastructure and tourism spots are seen as most at risk. (Herald page 2)

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Peers Expenses: Three House of Lords peers have been found guilty of abusing expenses rules and will have to repay £200,000, as well as to face the possibility of up to 18 months suspension. In a judgement by the house’s standards and privileges committee, Lord Paul, Lady Uddin and Lord Bhatia are set to pay back money they were found to have claimed against expenses rules. (Scotsman page 12) 

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Trump: Donald Trump and Alex Salmond yesterday attempted to dismiss newspaper claims that the tycoon was telephoned by government officials offering encouragement after his proposed £750 million golf course development was rejected by local authorities. Nicola Sturgeon responded to claims that Mr Trump would have abandoned the plan had it not been for promises of success from the Scottish Government, describing the article as “inaccurate and misleading”. (Telegraph page 11, Times page 11, Press and Journal page 10)

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RAF Bases: Two of Scotland’s three RAF bases could be closed in line with reductions in defence spending. Fears that the bases at Kinloss and Lossiemouth could be closed have grown after speculation that the proposed fleet of Tornados and Nimrods will be scrapped in order to save £10 billion over 5 years. Whilst Labour criticised the idea based on defence concerns, Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s Rural Affairs Secretary, pointed to the economic cost of any such decision, saying “if they were to close, a large part of Moray’s economic backbone would be absolutely shattered.” 6,000 people are employed at the bases, which bring £158 million to the local economy. Alex Salmond has vowed to “stand up for the bases”. (Herald page 1Press and Journal page 13, Telegraph page 14)

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Aircraft Carriers: Liam Fox, Defence Secretary, has announced that the two new aircraft carriers will not have fast jets for “a period of time” after they are launched. Mr Fox did not specify how long the “gap” would be between phasing out the Harriers and the introduction of the American F35s, leading to speculation that the RAF in Scotland will face the brunt of defence cuts. The move has follows criticism from two former heads of the Royal Navy who claimed the decision would leave the UK unable to fight another Falkland’s War. (Scotsman page 6)

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Drug User Sterilisation: A US charity has been offering drug users £200 in exchange for undertaking sterilisation. Barbara Harris, the charity’s founder, said “we’ve seen the stats on the amount of drug addicted babies born [in Scotland]and it seems it’s definitely a place that could benefit from what we do”. The Scottish Government issued a statement clarifying it does not support the organisation. (Scotsman page 9, Telegraph page 1) 

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Laws Ambition: David Laws, who quit as Chief Secretary to the Treasury after 17 days into the job over expenses allegations, has said he would like to return to the front bench, saying “everybody wants to have their hands on the levers. Any possible return would have to wait until his case has been reviewed by the Parliamentary Standards Commission. (Scotsman page 2, Telegraph page 13, Guardian page 5)

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Economy

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Cuts: George Osborne has refused to rule out the possibility of further reductions of child benefit after meeting with Cabinet colleagues over the weekend. The announcement follows a similar one in which Mr Osborne also raised the possibility of ending universal benefits for the elderly, despite this being a Conservative election pledge. The decisions will be clarified in the Comprehensive Spending Review, which is due to be released on Wednesday and will see £83 billion cut over the next four years.  He also reaffirmed his commitment to cutting the budget, regardless of whether it would cause a double-dip recession, arguing it was “what the IMF, OECD, international observers say is necessary.”

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The Scottish Government\’s budget will be progressively shrunk back to the levels of five years ago in a move that will cut at least £4 billion from its spending pot by 2015, UK ministers have revealed. Scottish Secretary Michael Moore says that this week\’s historic UK-wide spending review will lead to Scotland\’s budget returning to totals not seen since 2005. The cash available to departments this year, amounting to nearly £29bn, will drop to around £25bn by 2015. Economists are now warning that Scotland faces a "major shock", saying such a cut would wipe 0.5% off the country\’s growth prospects, and throw as many as 126,000 people in the public and private sector out of work. (Scotland on Sunday page 1, Sunday Times page 1, 22-23, Scotsman page 8, Herald page 7, Telegraph page 11)

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Digital Scotland: A new report by the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), Scotland’s national academy of science and letters, will call Scottish ministers “mistaken” for leaving the improvement of the country’s internet infrastructure to the UK Government. The think-tank’s Digital Scotland report, due for publication at the end of the month, follows an earlier preliminary report by the body, and endorses the findings in the influential recent Digital Power report by fellow think-tank Reform Scotland. The RSE will also back Reform Scotland’s call for a dedicated broadband minister, on the grounds that insuring the optimum digital infrastructure is of equivalent economic importance to the road and rail infrastructure overseen by the transport minister. (Sunday Herald page B12)

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Justice

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Police Mergers: In response to budget cuts, Alex Salmond has announced that he will reduce the number of police forces in Scotland, in an attempt to maintain the number of police on the streets, whilst lowering administration costs. Speaking at the SNP conference, Mr Salmond stated that he would put “bobbies before boundaries”, and is expected to reduce the number of police forces from eight to three or four. David O’Connor, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, said “we believe the eight-force model is not sustainable” and called for a review of Scottish policing which would lead to a solution which protects operational policing. (Scotsman page 1, Herald page 6)

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Lloyds Compensation: Shareholders demanding compensation from Lloyds TSB over their takeover of HBOS have appointed lawyers in the US to launch a class action, in a court case expected to begin early 2011. The shareholders claim they lost money due to the bank’s failure to properly disclose its financial position and that they were not allowed the opportunity to sell their shares before the vote which merged the banks went ahead. (Scotsman page 2)

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Local Government

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Union Warning: Efforts to introduce a “living wage” to Scotland have been undermined by the decision of councils to use private firms who pay less, according to unions and politicians. The plan, which is supported by both Labour and the SNP, has been undermined because councils are forced to source out the cheapest services available due to budget cuts, and so turn to the private sector. (Herald page 4)

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Health

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Hospital Use: Emergency trips to hospital have risen by 25% in Scotland’s elderly population, despite the government spending millions on its free personal care program. The policy was designed to keep elderly people out of hospital, but with costs more than doubling in 5 years, combined with statistics showing an increase in hospitalisation, questions have been raised over it effectiveness. However, Lindsay Scott, spokesperson for Age Scotland, defended the scheme, saying its effectiveness lay in avoiding long-term stays in hospital. (Herald page 8)

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Education

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Edinburgh College of Art: Years of financial mismanagement have driven Edinburgh College of Art, one of Scotland’s oldest and most prestigious artistic institutions, to the edge of extinction. Documents relating to a proposed merger between the ECA and the University of Edinburgh reveal the full extent of the “weak financial management” that has created a fiscal black hole for the college. The University of Edinburgh and ECA are asking the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the body that funds higher education in Scotland, for £13.8m to enable the merger. The majority of this, £9m, is to bail out ECA’s bad debts. The documents also reveal that a history of neglect in maintaining ECA’s buildings has left it facing a bill of £44.1m over 10 years. The entire estate was last year estimated to be worth only £37.3m. (Sunday Herald page 14)