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REFORM SCOTLAND NEWS: 19 JANUARY 2011

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 19 January 2011

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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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Scotland Bill Committee: In a submission to MSPs, Professor Lars Feld of Freiburg University said devolving tax and spending decisions to Holyrood would make public servants more efficient and improve economic performance. But he warned it "would not lead to economic growth" as outside factors – such as the quality of the working population – would be far more important. In his submission to the Scotland Bill committee, which is examining proposals to devolve more taxes to Holyrood, Professor Feld said that passing tax powers to Scotland would improve political accountability and "enhance economic performance".

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The dispute continues over the committee meeting with Professors Andrew Hughes-Hallett and Drew Scott, two highly respected academics who complained of being ‘ambushed’ during the Scotland Bill committee meeting last week. Two official Scottish Government publications cited the work of professors Andrew Hughes Hallett and Drew Scott but reportedly changed a passage defining the term “fiscal autonomy” to add in revenue raising powers to the definition. The development came as Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson rebuffed a complaint from the same two academics about what they have called their “ambush” by the Scotland Bill Committee last week when they faced robust questioning from convener Wendy Alexander and other members. Mr Fergusson said the conduct of committees was a matter solely for the conveners involved. A spokesman for Mr Hughes Hallett and Mr Scott said they were “utterly shocked” by the Presiding Officer’s response, adding: “Any expert or academic who believes they have been treated unfairly by a parliamentary committee has no right to appeal, it appears.” They added: “In the light of Mr Feld’s comments we now hope the committee, and others, will offer us an apology for the harsh and unwarranted criticism they made of our earlier work.”

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(Scotsman page 7, Joan McAlpine page 31, Letters page 34, Margo MacDonald  comments on Calman page 30, Herald page 7, Leader comment page 14, Telegraph page 2, Alan Cochrane page 4, Times page 3, Angus Macleod page 4) 

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Minimum alcohol pricing: Alex Salmond has said opposition parties at Holyrood should hang their heads in shame for voting down a minimum price for alcohol after the UK Government announced similar plans for England and Wales. The First Minister reportedly said the Coalition’s proposals proved that opposition by Conservatives, LibDems and Labour in Scotland was “opportunistic”. He said the Coalition’s plans for a minimum price of 38p for a can of weak lager and £10.71 for a litre bottle of vodka were a watered-down version of Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon’s minimum pricing proposals that were defeated at Holyrood last year. Her plans for a 45p per unit minimum would have seen a two-litre bottle of Tesco brand cider go from £1.32 to £3.80, while Asda whisky would rise from £9.20 to £12.60. (Herald page 6, Telegraph page 1, Press and Journal page 9)

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Economy

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Inflation rate:  Figures released yesterday revealed inflation had leapt to 3.7 per cent, the highest rate for eight months. Analysts said the New Year increase in VAT coupled with surging global commodity prices would almost certainly result in inflation breaching 4 per cent – double the official target – over the coming months, putting pressure on the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee to increase interest rates for the first time since the financial crisis erupted in the summer of 2007. (Scotsman page 1, Herald page 1, Telegraph page B1, Times page 1, Press and Journal page 1, Courier page 10, FT page 1, Guardian page 6, Daily Mirror page 12,  Daily Record page 2) 

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Unemployment rate: Unemployment in Scotland has fallen with a 5,000 drop between September to November to 225,000, the Office for National Statistics said. However, the total is 23,000 higher than for the same period in 2009. Scotland\’s overall unemployment rate – which includes those who are jobless but not eligible for benefits – is 8.4 per cent, higher than the UK rate of 7.9 per cent. (BBC) 

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Transport

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Fuel discount: The UK Government could pilot plans to discount fuel in remote areas in its March budget, it has emerged. The plans would mean that people in some parts of Scotland would pay less to fill up their cars. The planned pilot would provide a discount of up to 5p per litre of petrol and diesel in the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the Northern Isles, and the Isles of Scilly. The Treasury has already had discussions with the European Commission about running the pilots, to ensure that they do not fall foul of strict rules on state aid. (Herald page 6, Courier page 1) 

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Local Government

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Council terms and conditions: More councils across Scotland are pushing ahead with money-saving plans to change workers’ terms and conditions as whole sections of the country’s largest city face losing their weekly household bin collections. North Lanarkshire, which faces reductions of £70 million over the next two years, has been in talks with unions over the past week on amending staff contracts and is awaiting a response from trade unions. Renfrewshire is examining savings over a raft of overtime payments and allowances and East Dunbartonshire has put almost 200 staff on a 90-day notice period over changes to their contractual terms.  Union leaders have also voiced concerns about the possibility of mandatory four-day weeks, insisting these are being discussed by several authorities to bridge their funding gaps. (Herald page 2)

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Health

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Vitamin D: Expectant mothers are being encouraged to take vitamin D supplements during pregnancy as part of efforts to improve the health of the population. The Scottish Government\’s maternal and infant nutrition strategy includes recommendations on diet, aiming to highlight how nutritional choices start before conception and do not end after breastfeeding. (Scotsman page 12, Times page 17, Daily Express page 15) 

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Education

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Plagiarism: The number of Scottish students who are trying to cheat their way to a university degree has increased in the past five years, according to new figures. A survey has shown that thousands of undergraduates have been caught plagiarising other people\’s work to pass their degree exams. However, last night the leader of Scotland\’s students insisted the record plagiarism numbers reported by many of Scotland\’s top universities was down to improved detection systems, rather than an increase in cheating by undergraduates. (Scotsman page 17, Herald page 7, Daily Express page 7)

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