REFORM SCOTLAND NEWS: 20 December 2010

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 20 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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NHS cuts: An NHS executive has accused the Scottish Government of having protected front-line services “at the expense of everything else”, as National Services Scotland, which provides administrative assistance to the NHS, faces budgetary cuts. The number of NHS managers will be cut by 25% over the next 4 years, with managers targeted for spending cuts in order to maintain spending on front-line services. Ian Crichton, head of NSS Scotland, says he was forced to speak out because he has a “duty of care” towards staff. (Herald page 1) 

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Bank bonus cap: RBS are considering placing a £50,000 cap on cash bonuses paid to its staff in the run up to meetings with ministers over “excessive” bank bonuses. RBS, which is 84% state owned, last year decided against paying out bonuses, and is one of several major banks due to meet Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne today in order to discuss bonuses, a potential new banking tax, as well as to explore ways to increase bank lending. Mr Cable said “We’ve got to have strong disclosure rules: start shining light on what’s actually going on at the top of the leading banking institutions.” (Scotsman page 2, Herald page 2, Times page 3, Telegraph page 6, FT page 2, Courier page 11, Press and Journal page 5, Sunday Times business page 1, Daily Mail page 2, Sun page 2, Daily Express page 1, Sunday Times page 12)

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AV vote: Campaigners trying to block the introduction of the ‘alternative vote’ (AV) electoral system have accused their opponents in the ‘yes to a fairer vote’ group of having strong links to the Liberal Democrats. After claims that the Liberal Democrats had used materials from the ‘yes’ campaign to collect party donations, opponents have urged them to “come clean” over party affiliations. The ‘no’ campaigners claim that those campaigning for AV are only doing so to increase Liberal Democrat influence in the Commons. (Scotsman page 2, Herald page 8)  

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Unite: Len McCluskey, the newly elected leader of Unite, has warned of widespread industrial action aimed against the UK Government in the New Year, saying the union is “preparing for battle” due to the “unprecedented attack” on the welfare state. Pledging to coordinate protests with those based in the student movement, Mr McCluskey said “the magnificent students’ movement needs urgently to find a wider echo if the government is to be stopped.” (Guardian page 1) 

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Property Tax: Scottish Labour have reportedly abandoned plans to replace Council Tax with a Property Tax due to concerns they will lose middle-class support which could subsequently threaten their poll lead over the SNP. Labour members have expressed fears that the SNP would use the policy as a means of portraying them as the party of taxation. (Sunday Times page 1, 9)  

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Ed Miliband: Lord Kinnock has spoken out in support of new Labour leader Ed Miliband, claiming it is too early to expect the leader to have a clear strategy for his policies, despite the criticism that Labour lack direction. Lord Kinnock said “it would be unnatural, it would be strange, it would be precipitate, it would be superficial if he had all his vision intact and his answers set up after three months- that would be absurd.” (Daily Mail page 4, Sunday Times page 20)

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Economy

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Corporation tax: The SNP yesterday backed the call from former Bank of Scotland chief executive Sir Peter Burt for Scotland to be given a different rate of corporate tax to the rest of the UK, in order to encourage investment. Sir Peter said that reducing the rate to something like 12.5% would be a “step in the right direction” but may have fuelled debate over Scotland’s fiscal autonomy. His comments follow those of Ben Thomson, Chairman of Reform Scotland, who last week raised the idea of a zero percent rate of corporate tax, as well as an article by Alex Wilson of the Scottish Democratic Alliance in The Scotsman, which argues that full fiscal autonomy is the best solution to bring in business and quell tension between Holyrood and Westminster. (Herald page 6, Scotland on Sunday business page 1) 

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Business rates: The SNP are facing increased opposition to the introduction of a 35% tax increase for high street retailers and supermarkets, with the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Labour all likely to oppose such a move. The move was intended to make up for public sector budget cuts, but has been criticised for disadvantaging Scottish businesses. (Scotland on Sunday business page 1, Daily Mail page 2)

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Interest rates: Business leaders have warned that interest rates will need to rise by 6 times current levels over the next 2 years in order to cope with inflation. This means those with floating interest rates on mortgages, equalling around 7 million people, will need to pay on average £200 more per month, according to The Confederation of British Industry. Meanwhile charities have warned that increased mortgage payments, combined with increases in the general cost of living, will likely see repossessions multiply. (Telegraph page 1, Telegraph business page 1, Daily Mail page 4)

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Justice

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Legal Aid: Scotland’s law firms have faced criticism over the news that companies have been earning over £300,000 a day in tax-payer money for providing legal aid. The SNP has intended to cut the legal aid budget by a third, but have encountered obstacles due to the changes in law which allow a suspect an immediate right to a solicitor, instead of having to wait six hours. (Daily Mail page 8, Scotland on Sunday page 10)

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Transport

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Snow Chaos: Tens of thousands of Scottish families face the possibility of being stranded away from home at Christmas after it was announced that disruption to air and road networks would continue until the weekend. Lothian and Borders police issued a warning advising against all but “essential” travel, 300 flights were cancelled on Saturday and Sunday and snow fall is expected to continue until Christmas Day, threatening the holiday plans of thousands. Many retailers will stay open longer to allow people to reach shops, and the Royal Mail are planning 14,000 extra delivery rounds across the UK to cope with disruption. (Scotsman page 1, Herald page 7, Times page 1, Telegraph page 1, Guardian page 1,FT page 1, Courier page 1, Daily Express page 4, Daily Record page 4)  

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Local Government

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Council funding: All of Scotland’s 32 local authorities are expected to accept a freeze in council tax as well as a guarantee of maintaining police numbers before the deadline on funding arrangements passes tomorrow. Though the deal, which exchanges key SNP policies for council-funding guarantees, is expected to be accepted, Finance Secretary John Swinney has met criticism for his handling of the process, with Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council, writing to Mr Swinney, saying “it is with a gun to my head that I agree to your short term targets.” The controversy was further stoked by claims that SNP councils had been sheltered from the brunt of cuts. (Scotsman page 8, Herald page 2, Courier page 9, Press and Journal page 6, Sun page 2, Scotland on Sunday page 9, Sunday Times page 9)

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East Renfrewshire education: East Renfrewshire Council has announced that it will cut its £115 million schools budget by £10 million over the next 3 years, meaning fewer teachers, bigger classes and less subjects on offer. The plans, which could see qualified nursery teachers replaced with ‘nursery nurses’, as well as fewer staff employed to deal with behavioural problems, have faced criticism from parents. (Herald page 4)   

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Health

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Brain disease: Scottish scientists have made a breakthrough in tackling around 130 brain diseases by identifying a group of proteins which form a molecular machine linked to conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The discovery has led to the hope that multifunctional drugs designed to tackle multiple neurological disorders may be invented. (Scotsman page 10, Herald page 5, Times page 18, Press and Journal page 7) 

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Prostate cancer: A new scan has been developed which can monitor the development of prostate cancer so as to accurately determine when treatment is needed without the use of intrusive biopsies. The scan, which uses diffusion weighted MRI, will be tested on a larger scale and could one day become the standard for examining the growth of prostate cancer. (Scotsman page 18, Herald page 10, Telegraph page 8, Press and Journal page 10) 

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GP Calls: The number of doctors’ practices in Scotland which charge above normal rates for phoning the surgery has doubled in the last year, sparking anger from patients. By using premium rate ‘0844’ or ‘0845’ numbers GPs can supplement their salaries, however they have faced criticism from patients, who must pay up to 40 pence per minute to call. (Daily Mail page 1)  

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Education

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Education fees: SNP plans to charge EU students up to £6,000 a year in tuition fees could be jeopardised by European Union law, according to a former European Court of Justice judge. The move would be contrary to EU legislation, which demands that EU nations must treat all EU citizens as they do their own, and would therefore rule out any attempt to subsidise the education of Scots by charging those from mainland Europe more. (Times page 13, Daily Mail page 12, Scotland on Sunday insight page 19, Scotland on Sunday page 1, Sunday Times page 22) 

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Merchiston drugs tests: Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh is considering subjecting its pupils to random drugs testing after several pupils were found to be in possession of cannabis. The plans, which will involve a consultation with parents, could see pupils tested randomly or if they show signs of lethargy or of erratic behaviour. Meanwhile, children’s rights campaigners have warned it will damage trust between children and the school and point out that such a move would infringe the boys privacy. (Herald page 10, Scotsman page 11, Times page 15, Telegraph page 13, Daily Mail page 12, Daily Express page 10)