REFORM SCOTLAND NEWS: 15 November 2010

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 15 November 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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Public Sector pay freeze: Labour has accused the SNP of implementing Tory cuts after plans to freeze public sector pay were revealed. Hundreds of thousands of nurses, teachers and other workers earning over £21,000 a year will be affected from April. It is expected the move will be announced by Finance Secretary John Swinney on Wednesday in his final budget before May’s Holyrood elections. The SNP estimates the move will help safeguard around 10,000 public sector jobs.  The pay freeze for all public-sector employees earning more than £21,000 a year from next April is expected to be one of the key measures in Mr Swinney\’s 2011-12 budget, which will be announced in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday.

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Local authority leaders have warned that the proposed budget cuts to be announced this week could have a knock-on effect lasting up to ten years. Mr Swinney said "hard choices will need to be made", but said that "in return for an understanding that pay restraint is required" he would offer help to households through a "social contract" with policies such as the council tax freeze. But Pat Watters, president of local government body Cosla, warned that "we\’re not talking about just next year, as this could go on for the next ten years". (Scotsman page 6, Herald page 2, Telegraph page 1, Daily Express page 2, Daily Record page 2, Daily Mail page 2, Times page 1, Sunday Herald page 1)

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Immigration: The Scottish Government last night criticised plans for tighter UK immigration controls, claiming they will damage the economy and the ability of universities to attract overseas students. Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop said in a speech at Edinburgh University that allowing greater freedom to Scotland over immigration is vital to support business and higher education. She claimed the Westminster Government’s proposed cap on the number of people coming to the UK for a skilled job could have a damaging impact on Scotland’s ability to attract and retain world-class talent. The Scottish Government wants a distinct annual immigration allowance to apply in Scotland. (Herald page 1)

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Fiscal powers: The Tory-Lib Dem Coalition is pressing ahead with proposals to give the Scottish Parliament more control over raising the money that it spends. Michael Moore, the Lib Dem Scottish Secretary, said the plan would see the largest transfer of fiscal power from London since the creation of the United Kingdom. But Scottish Ministers condemned the move as “dangerous”, and the SNP warned it could lead to Scotland receiving less money than it does currently. They have called for Scotland’s Government to be given other powers, including the ability to borrow money. The plans will be set out in the Scotland Bill, which is currently being drawn up by the Scotland Office and is expected to be published in the next few weeks. Building on the recommendations of the Calman Commission, which reported last year, the bill is expected to detail the potential doubling of revenue-raising power for Holyrood. The Scotland Office estimates that Holyrood currently raises about 15% of its revenue. That could increase to more than a third – 35% – under the scheme, which could also see Holyrood receive a 10% share of income tax raised in Scotland. At the same time, the block grant received from Westminster would be cut proportionately. (Herald page 6, Sunday Times page 2)

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John Swinney and cuts: Eddie Barnes argues in Scotland on Sunday that Finance Minister John Swinney must balance the need to make drastic budgetary cuts without destroying the SNP’s chances in next year’s elections. The SNP must offer hope to voters to reinforce their claims that independence is the best route through “the age of austerity.” Mr Barnes says that whilst some in-fighting is normal in times of budget cuts, how Mr Swinney negotiates his way through the minefield of having to make large scale cuts could determine the SNP’s chances in the elections. (Scotland on Sunday page 11)

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Private consultants: The SNP has faced criticism after it emerged that Scottish Government Ministers have spent £250 million hiring private consultants and agency workers whilst instigating a pay freeze on hundreds of thousands of public sector workers. The contracts will supply staff to the Government, the NHS, quangos and the police over the next year, but have led to controversy since they coincide with pay freezes and public sector redundancies. (Sunday Herald page 1)

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Wind farm delay: Europe’s largest wind farm, based in the south of Scotland, has faced delays after it was banned from fitting propellers to its turbines due to fears they would affect the radar system used by Prestwick Airport. The £600 million project currently has around a dozen turbine towers inactive because they may disrupt the airport’s ability to track aircraft and render them “invisible”. (Sunday Times page 11)

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Clyde Contaminated: Radioactive waste from the nuclear power station in Hunterston, North Ayrshire, has contaminated the Clyde after heavy rain caused contaminated silt to overflow onto the foreshore on 22 September. The incident, which is currently being investigated by the Government’s environmental watch-dog, has prompted criticism by both politicians and local residents and could lead to legal action. Kenneth Gibson, SNP MSP for the site, said- “Time and again we have had leaks of low-level radioactive material into the Clyde in recent years.”

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Hunterston could become a dumping ground for discarded nuclear material if plans proposed by a US company, Energy Solutions, go ahead. The company is decommissioning Scotland’s old nuclear reactors and wants to bury waste from the defunct station in a hole 50 metres deep in order to make space in a nearby storage facility for waste from other sites such as Chapelcross in Dumfries, and Galloway and Torness in East Lothian. Environmental groups as well as local residents have voiced dismay at the idea, due to the fact that some of the waste will stay radioactive for around 3 million years. 

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(Sunday Herald page 5)  

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George Galloway: The road has been cleared for George Galloway to stand as an MSP in next year’s election, after members of the Respect Party voted through changes at their annual conference. Respect overturned rules which blocked them from campaigning in Scotland to avoid competing with the Scottish Socialist Party. (Scotland on Sunday page 7)

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Donald Trump: Donald Trump has urged that stubborn home-owners who have so far refused to sell their houses should make the sacrifice so as to allow his £750 million golf resort project to go ahead. Some of the home-owners are taking whatever action they can to block the project. Unless compulsory purchase orders are made there is little Mr Trump can do to force the sale. (Scotland on Sunday page 9)  

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Energy: Scotland needs a mixed-energy plan in the short term, but also faith that renewables can work, Lesley Riddoch writes in the Scotsman. (Scotsman page 27)

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BBC spending: BBC Scotland managers have been forced to defend their use of licence fee payers’ money after it emerged the corporation has spent more than £1 million on taxis over the past two years. The £1.2 million total, which is the equivalent of more than £1,600 per day, is spent on ferrying guests and staff to and from the corporation’s studios and transporting “sensitive” materials. (Telegraph page 6, Daily Mail page 12)

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Digital TV: A potential new £75 million Scottish digital TV channel is being discussed by more than 200 industry experts who will meet this week. The Scottish Broadcasting Commission proposed the idea of creating a Scottish Digital Network in 2008, which would transform broadcasting in Scotland. The idea has support across Scottish political parties, however the funding for such a scheme is not assured, since although the plan was originally for a public service broadcaster akin to the BBC, budgetary constraints have forced Culture Minister Fiona Hislop to concede that this may not be possible and that “commercial aspects” may be necessary. (Sunday Herald page 1)

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Economy

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Rural property prices: Rural property prices across the UK have nearly doubled during the past decade, rising by an average of about £200 a week, according to new research.

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Experts warned of countryside living becoming increasingly unaffordable as it emerged that the average price of a rural home has risen by more than £100,000. Aberdeenshire has seen one of the biggest rises anywhere in Britain, claiming sixth equal place. The average house price in the area is now £203,675, a rise of 157 per cent. However, East Ayrshire has been rated the most affordable rural area in Britain, with an average price of just over £100,000, 3.9 times the average wage. (Scotsman page 7, Herald page 5)

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Retirement savings: One in five people over 50 expect to work after they are 71 because they can’t afford to retire. Researchers say there are 2.7 million over-50s in the UK who will have to continue working because they will not have enough savings to quit work. Around a fifth of those surveyed for the first Working Late Index by insurance, investment and retirement group LV had retired but have since been forced to go back to work as they did not have enough money. Around 55% expected to work no more than five years past retirement age, 26% believed they will work five to 10 years, and one in five saw themselves working well into their 70s or even 80s. Many pensioners are already under pressure due to the rising cost of living and record low interest rates drastically cutting income from savings.(Herald page 1, Daily Mail page 20)

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Energy Profits: First Minister Alex Salmond will demand that Scotland receives part of the millions of pounds worth of green energy profits which have been generated on land which belongs to the Queen. The money, which is earmarked for the Treasury, was generated by renting parts of Scotland’s coast to energy companies, and could be as much as £250 million. The SNP, which has already claimed Scotland does not receive its fair share of profits from North Sea oil, is attempting to claim a stake in the fast growing renewable energy market. (Sunday Times page 1)      

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Missoni Hotel: A major hotel development in Edinburgh\’s Old Town has scooped a prestigious international tourism prize. Hotel Missoni on George IV Bridge has been named the best new hotel in Europe at the World Travel Awards. The hotel, the first in a global chain to be opened by the Italian fashion house Missoni, was competing with rivals in Italy, Turkey, France, Germany and the Czech Republic. The awards are decided by a poll of thousands of international travel agents and other industry professionals. (Scotsman page 22)

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Justice

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Police complaints: Seven out of 11 police watchdog investigations have uncovered a failure by Scottish forces to deal properly with public grievances about the handling of complaints, a report has revealed. The Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland has said that in all seven complaint-handling reviews, forces will be asked “for further work” regarding procedural failings. Last month it emerged that the number of people claiming Scottish police have mishandled their complaints had increased by nearly 20%. Applications from the public asking for their complaints to be reviewed rose by almost one-fifth to 133 for the year ending March 31, 2010. However, only one in three was upheld. (Herald page 10)

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Criminal Rehabilitation: In a scheme designed to stop criminals reoffending , the charity Circle is attempting to place the focus in rehabilitation on criminals’ children. The scheme has demonstrated success, with those engaged with it showing a recidivism rate of 30%, well below the national average of 45%. (Sunday Herald page 11)

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Abuse Victims: Refuges for victims of domestic abuse will see their funding cut by 40% as control of the service is passed to local authorities, according to the head of Glasgow Women’s Aid. The news that the responsibility for funding will move from the Scottish Government to local authorities, which already have budgetary constraints, has been met with criticism from aid workers, who contend that those working towards helping victims of abuse will have to compete for funding with other services. (Sunday Herald page 12)

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Police Housing: 850 police jobs could be saved if the housing perks enjoyed by senior officers are removed, according to a Sunday Herald investigation. Scotland’s 8 police forces are facing unprecedented cuts of up to 24% by 2015 but are still paying £100 million in assistance to officers to pay their rent or mortgage. Most officers were made ineligible for payments 16 years ago, however the news that a minority of police officers continue to benefit from the payments has prompted MSPs to demand a total overhaul of the system. (Sunday Herald page 6)

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Health

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Cardiac research: Scottish scientists have helped identify genes that are linked to the human heartbeat in a study that is likely to lead to major developments in the treatment of cardiac problems. An international team of scientists have pinpointed 22 genes that are associated with the electrical impulses that make the heart beat. The discovery is the first step on the road to improved treatments for people with heart problems and better identification of people who have undiagnosed and potentially dangerous irregularities in their heartbeat. (Scotsman page 20)

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Cigarette Branding: Plans to remove branding from cigarettes and instead sell them in plain packages have led to calls for Westminster to hand over control to Holyrood over the issue. Mimicking a move made in Australia, the SNP wants to use plain packaging, but has to contend with both tobacco companies as well as the fact that the scheme would come under Westminster control. Whilst critics of the plan said that it would see counterfeiting and actually lead to higher smoking rates through cheaper cigarettes, an SNP spokesperson said, “The SNP is favourably disposed to this idea, and if Westminster will not do it then the powers should be transferred to the Scottish Parliament.” (Sunday Herald page 10)

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Research Centre: A new research centre aiming to investigate a genetic mutation linked to autism will open this week, following a successful campaign to raise funding. The work will be focused on fragile X syndrome (FXS), which can cause learning difficulties, language impairment and behavioural difficulties. (Scotland on Sunday page 9)

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Education

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University funding: The leaders of Scotland\’s main parties are under pressure to reveal how they would fund the country\’s universities as a major summit on the issue opens today.

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Education Secretary Michael Russell is taking part in talks with Holyrood opposition parties amid claims that Scottish universities were "desperate" to find out how they would be funded in the future. The talks, which also involve university and student representatives, as well as unions, are being held ahead of the publication next month of a Scottish Government paper setting out the options for higher education funding. (Scotsman page 14, Herald page 10)

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ECA Redundancies: Struggling institution Edinburgh College of Art will be forced to make redundancies in order to save £1 million by January and stay afloat. Whilst teaching unions vowed to fight the cuts and student groups voiced concern, an ECA spokesperson said they could not rule out such decisions. The news comes after discussions of a possible merger with Edinburgh University, due to the ECA’s uncertain financial position. (Sunday Herald page 14)