REFORM SCOTLAND NEWS: 5 JANUARY 2011

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 5 January 2011

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Happy New Year and Best Wishes for 2011 to all our subscribers. We hope you have enjoyed the festive period.  

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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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Leaked school emails: Education Secretary Michael Russell was accused of meddling in matters outside his remit last night after leaked e-mails revealed he had intervened personally with SNP councillors in the area where he hopes to win a seat later this year over a controversial plan to close schools. In the e-mail, sent to an SNP councillor in Argyll and Bute Council, Mr Russell calls for the Nationalist group there urgently to re-think its position on a series of school closures, warning that the plans "could be very destructive to our reputation and prospects".  The MSPs\’ code of conduct stipulates that they should not intervene in matters outside their own constituency or region unless by prior agreement. The Liberal Democrats have called for Mr Russell’s resignation over the matter, which the SNP have reacted to by saying, “the LibDems are playing petty politics to cover their own local embarrassment.” (Scotsman page 2, Herald page 6, Times page 14, Courier page 8, Daily Mail page 4)
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Economy

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VAT rise: Chancellor George Osborne has indicated that the rise in VAT to 20 per cent brought in yesterday is likely to be permanent. As the political row over the increase in VAT by 2.5 percentage points continued yesterday, Mr Osborne made it clear he would prefer to lower income tax or National Insurance contributions before he brings VAT back down again. However, the Chancellor was given a boost with a survey of 78 leading economists suggesting they are confident his strategy, including the VAT rise and accelerated public-sector cuts of £81 billion in four years, will get the British economy back on track and avoid a double-dip recession. The debate comes as the coalition government is today set to announce that business growth will become its new priority, with a target of creating 40,000 new businesses in the UK by 2013. (Scotsman page 1, Herald page 2, Telegraph page 1, Times page 3, Guardian page 1, Press and Journal page 9, FT page 2, Daily Express page 3) 

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Justice

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Visible offenders: Offenders carrying out community service should be made to wear high visibility clothing so that the public can see justice being done, according to the Scottish Conservatives. The use of high-visibility uniforms for offenders doing work in the community is the norm in the United States. Tory Justice spokesman John Lamont said: “Law-abiding Scots and the victims of crime have the right to know who has been placed on these schemes, not from a perspective of making anyone a pariah, but because it is their right to know. It will also serve as a valuable visible deterrent to others reminding them that if you commit a crime you will be punished.” (Herald page 12) 

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Transport

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Scottish winter costs: Transport operators have spent an extra £22 million this winter to keep infrastructure open with this additional cost predicted to soar as icy conditions return to Scotland. Figures show the bill for coping with last month, which was one of the coldest on record, has soared to cover the cost of maintenance staff, rail engineers and gritting crews.Transport Scotland, the Government agency responsible for motorways and trunk roads, said it has spent between £10m and £16m more on road gritting and replenishing salt levels. Network Rail is understood to have spent around £5m more in Scotland both this winter and last while ScotRail is thought to have spent an additional £1m. As forecasters predict sub-zero temperatures will return tomorrow, transport experts claim the cost of clearing Scotland’s trunk roads and motorways of snow and ice could soar as maintenance companies seek higher payments for their winter work. Transport Scotland said the three companies contracted to maintain the routes had shouldered some of the additional costs incurred this winter. The agency had paid between £5m and £10m more as part of a discretionary adjustment to its normal £8.5m winter maintenance payments to account for the extremely cold weather. The agency also spent between £5m and £6m for gritting salt earlier this year after criticism that stocks had fallen to dangerously low levels in 2009. (Herald page 2, Courier page 11) 

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Local Government

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Rubbish collection: Rubbish has been in some bins for over five weeks as local authorities across Scotland struggle to cope with a backlog of uncollected refuse. Some councils have been forced to draft in private contractors to help clear heaps of litter and overflowing bins, many of which have not been emptied in well over a month. The severe winter weather over the past month, in particular icy roads, have prevented normal collections from being carried out, and councils say the problem has been compounded by the festive break, which sees households produce increased amounts of waste. In some parts of the country, local authorities have even urged residents to dispose of their own rubbish at household waste and recycling centres. (Scotsman page 10, Telegraph page 1) 

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Education

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Schools management: Joan McAlpine comments in the Scotsman on the Educational Institute of Scotland’s (EIS) suggestion in late December that local authorities might not be the best institutions to manage schools and that they might be better governed by a smaller number of directly-elected boards or trusts. (Scotsman page 29)