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REFORM SCOTLAND NEWS: 13 December 2010

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 13 December 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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Ministerial appointment: Alex Salmond has appointed former Royal Marine Keith Brown as new Transport Minister following Stewart Stevenson’s resignation. The First Minister said he was “confident that Keith will play a key role in ensuring that our infrastructure and transport can stand the extremities whatever the weather might throw at us in Scotland.”

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Stewart Stevenson quit as transport minister over his handling of the winter weather that gridlocked Scotland and left hundreds of motorists stranded across the Central Belt. His resignation reportedly came when it emerged that he might not survive a motion of no confidence that was to be tabled in the Scottish Parliament by his political opponents this week. Mr Stevenson met First Minister Alex Salmond to discuss his position as it became clear that Labour\’s motion would have commanded a comfortable majority at Holyrood with Lib Dem and Conservative support. Mr Stevenson\’s departure is reported as a blow to Mr Salmond, who throughout last week insisted that he had "full confidence" in the politician. (Herald page 8, Scotland on Sunday page 1, Eddie Barnes comments page 13, Sunday Times page 1, Sunday Herald page 1, Times page 7, Daily Record page 7, Daily Mail page 4, Sun page 9, Scotsman page 8, Telegraph page 1, Press and Journal page 9)

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Unions: Unions have expressed anger at the expected UK Government decision to scrap rules preventing the creation of a two-tier public sector workforce. The code forces companies given public sector contracts to pay workers levels comparable to the former public sector colleagues. Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, said that the employment codes stopped employers from competing for public sector contracts by lowering workers conditions, to make themselves more competitive. Whilst the government is bringing in new rules, it has been criticised by unions for not making them enforced. (Scotsman page 2, FT page 3)

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Retirement: UK Government ministers have been urged by employers to postpone plans which would allow workers to stay in their positions into their 70s. Whilst activists have long been opposed to the “ageist” Default Retirement Age (DRA) which allows employers to ask workers to leave after they reach 65, the Confederation of British Industry is concerned that its abolition would hamper the UK’s economic recovery. (Herald page 2)

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Water Cannons: Theresa May, the Home Secretary, yesterday indicated that police will be allowed to use water cannons on protesters in order to encourage them to disperse in future demonstrations. Whilst Ms May said that she would “not give the game away” about how police would treat civil unrest, she hinted at their introduction, saying “whether or not they choose to use water cannons is an operational issue.” (Telegraph page 1)

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RAF Leuchars: Gordon Brown has warned that the closure of RAF Leuchers could endanger Britain’s national security. Joining the campaign led by Sir Menzies Campbell to save the base, the former Prime Minister signed a joint statement which described the base as “of profound strategic importance”. The base may be closed in exchange for keeping RAF Lossiemouth open. (Scotsman page 6, Herald page 6, Press and Journal page 1, Courier page 1)

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Independence: Support for home rule in Scotland is at its highest for 3 years, with 40% of people keen to see the Scottish Parliament granted extra powers to pave the way for full independence. (Herald page 6, Scotsman page 10, Courier page 3)

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Nuclear Sub: HMS Astute, the submarine which was grounded off the coast of Skye two months ago, broke down during its first day after returning to sea, according to the Ministry of Defence. The submarine, which is supposed to be able to spend 3 months at sea at a time, was forced to return to the base at Faslane due to what was described as a “minor defect”. (Scotsman page 15, Herald page 8, Press and Journal page 7)

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Pensioner-Trump battle: Molly Forbes, a pensioner who has resisted billionaire Donald Trump’s attempts to build a new golf course in the north east, has lodged an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights after being refused legal aid, which she claims prevents her from accessing justice. (Press and Journal page 6) 

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Economy

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Bank lending: Banks are putting the UK’s economic recovery at risk by restricting lending, according to a study carried out by the Bank of England. In a report published today, the Bank of England rejects the argument that there is less demand for loans and instead says lending by banks has been reduced, which could “dampen the recovery”. (FT page 2, Telegraph page 1)

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Bank break-up: Lord Myners, former City minister, has called on the Commission on Banking to break up either one or both of Lloyds Banking Group or the Royal Bank of Scotland, in order to encourage competition. The move comes as a blow to Lloyds chief executive Eric Daniels, who claims the company had been promised by the Labour government that its rescue of HBOS would not fall foul of competitiveness rules. (FT page 1)

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Growth: The chairman of CBI Scotland has warned that the Scottish economy is still “relatively constrained“ and that firms which aim to grow must begin to look increasingly southwards in order to make progress, due to a shift in power towards London. (Scotsman page 2)

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Energy takeover: Energy services company Wood Group will take over rival firm PSN in a deal worth over £600 million, which will see Wood Group’s production facilities merged with PSN’s. The move should not result in job losses, and will be announced later today. (Press and Journal page 1)

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Amazon: Online retailer Amazon has been accused of cutting the shifts of casual workers short in the middle of the night and of forcing them to wait at the factory near Inverclyde without pay until morning when they could get public transport home. Jim McCourt, manager of the Inverclyde Advice and Employment Centre, said the workers, hired in the run up to Christmas, faced intolerable – though legal – treatment, describing the practices as “immoral and obscene”. (Herald page 3)

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Justice

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Organised crime: Gang bosses will be targeted with new Scottish Government legislation introduced today which will create new offence categories, in an attempt to tackle serious criminal activity in Scotland. The legislation will make it an offence to be involved in, to direct, as well as to fail to report, organised crime, and comes as the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce meets in Edinburgh today. (Scotsman page 18)  

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Sex Offenders: Sex offenders who have been released into the community should be tracked by GPS, according to Mike Nellis, Professor of Criminal and Community Justice at Strathclyde University. Mr Nellis said GPS tracking provides- “a level of constraint on offenders that police and social work cannot otherwise achieve… it can be experienced by those subjected to it as relatively unintrusive in their daily lives.” (Herald page 4) 

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Local Government

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Argyll and Bute: Argyll and Bute Council has been accused of misleading people in a recent proposal, by misquoting 2 academic sources and attempting to downplay the impact of school closures on local communities. Campaigners against the school closures have been backed by the research director of Hall Aitken, which compiled one of the studies, and who described the council’s use of their findings as “wholly unjustified”. (Herald page 5) 

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Cash in the attic: Argyll and Bute council have been urged to sell off “cash in the attic” in order to make up for £7.5 million in cuts to its budget. The council has a number of valuable historic assets, with paintings valued at over £1 million as well as nine gold chains, whilst 25 primary schools are due to close. (Scotsman page 10)   

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Education

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Higher education: SNP ministers are preparing to go into next year\’s election with a pledge of "free" university education for all Scots, in contrast to plans to make English students pay thousands of pounds for their degree. Sources close to Education Secretary Mike Russell have described any student payment by Scots as "increasingly irrelevant" to their own planned reforms of Scotland\’s university sector and are instead suggesting that higher education north of the border should be funded entirely from general taxation. Meanwhile, English students studying in Scotland are likely to face a massive increase in their current £1,800 annual payments as Scottish Ministers move to prevent a cross-Border rush of undergraduates trying to escape the new charges in England.

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Scottish universities have reportedly been encouraged to lower the number of Scottish students they accept, and instead increase the number of those paying fees in order to solve the funding problems faced by the higher education system. In a leaked letter to the Higher Education Funding Council, Education Secretary Michael Russell argues that universities must accept more “fees only” students from outside Scotland, however with shrinking budgets these places will come at the expense of Scottish students. A Green Paper is being published on Thursday, which will outline the future of Scotland’s higher education system. (Scotsman page 1, Herald page 1 Scotland on Sunday page 1, Times page 3,)