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REFORM SCOTLAND NEWS: 20 January 2011

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 20 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: The dispute over the treatment of Professors Hughes-Hallett and Drew Scott during their appearance at the Scotland Bill Committee continues in the letters pages of the Herald. Professor Neil Kay writes that the Committee is “utterly discredited and no-one who has a passing knowledge of the issues and what has happened will take its conclusions seriously”. (Herald page 14) 

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Supermarket tax: The SNP’s proposed ‘supermarket tax’, designed to raise £30 million, may be saved by Labour. The tax is to be rejected in a report by MSPs today. However, the plans could be resurrected after Labour spokesmen said last night that they had not yet ruled out backing a revised rate. Senior Labour MSPs said that, although they opposed the plans as they stood, they were not “in principle” opposed to a tax hike for big business. The tax, a levy on firms with a value of over £750,000, was intended to hit out-of-town stores and has been criticised for potentially charging city centre stores and hotels an extra 15p in the pound. (Scotsman page 2, Herald page 10, Times page 8)  

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Scottish budget: Alex Salmond has threatened to resign and try for an early election if his £30 billion spending plans are rejected twice. Speaking to The Telegraph, one senior minister said, “we are serious about our budget. We are determined to get it through come what may.  But if they vote against it, the opposition parties have got to be serious about the consequences of their actions”. It is thought the 16 Tory MSPs will vote with the SNP, but the 46 Labour, 16 Lib Dems and 2 Greens are thought to be set to reject it as it stands. (Telegraph page 1 

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Economy

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Scottish economy: Scotland’s economic recovery is in danger of sliding into reverse as public sector cuts and tax rises kick in, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce warned today. Figures published yesterday indicate that unemployment in Scotland fell by 5,000 in the period from July to September last year, bucking the trend over the rest of the UK, and that GDP grew by 0.5% over the same period, following growth of 1.3% over the previous three months. This growth has been driven by the construction and manufacturing sectors, which, the Chambers of Commerce predicts, will continue to grow. However, their survey of 200 companies across Scotland shows that growth in the rest of the business community has been slowing even before the big freeze in December. The overall unemployment rate in Scotland remains higher than that of England, at 8.4% compared to 7.9%. (Scotsman page1, Telegraph page 4, Times page 6, Herald page 29) 

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North Sea oil: Oil and gas company investment in the North Sea is set to almost double this year, the energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie forecasts. The firm predicts spending on additional equipment and facilities will increase from £4.4 billion in 2010 to £7.7 billion this year. Lead analyst Lindsay Wexelstein said, improved economic confidence and the expectation of a stable, high oil price will lead to a rise in exploration and appraisal drilling activity in the UK.” The expected rise in offshore activity will lead to a significant increase in business for oil service firms that provide services ranging from drilling to delivering food to rigs. (Press and Journal page 1, Herald page 30) 

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Transport

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Potholes: Scotland’s roads are the worst in the UK for potholes, a new survey reveals. While the Scottish Government has committed extra funds to combat potholes, further damage from the recent winter weather has caused more work to be done. Liberal Democrat transport spokeswoman Alison McInnes criticised the additional funding announced by the Scottish Government last week as a “sticking-plaster remedy”, saying, “hard-pressed councils have been forced to squeeze road maintenance budgets to pay for services such as social work and education”. (Scotsman page 8, Courier page 4) 

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Railway freedoms: Train companies are to be given more freedom to set timetables and to cut unprofitable routes, but are to face harsher targets on tackling overcrowding. Government plans to take a less ‘micromanaged’ approach to the railways is intended to give private companies an incentive to improve services and offer better value for money. The length of franchises has already been increased from an average of 7-10 years to up to 22.5 years. (Herald page 4) 

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Health

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Down’s syndrome test: NHS Lothian is to introduce a new scan that can identify babies at risk of Down’s syndrome, it was announced yesterday. The scan, which has an accuracy of 80%, is to replace the currently available blood test, which is only 60% accurate. Once operational in Lothian, it will be rolled out in six other areas but will not be available in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde because not enough staff are trained to perform the test. Since 2008, the Scottish Government has spent £9.5 million introducing a range of maternity services. (Scotsman page 13, Herald page 7)