REFORM SCOTLAND NEWS: 16 FEBRUARY 2011

Reform Scotland

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Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 16 February 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 highlighted 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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Holyrood election campaign: Alex Salmond and the SNP have staged a comeback in the race for Holyrood, moving into the lead over Labour with only ten weeks to go until Election Day, according to an Ipsos-MORI survey. If the results of the poll were repeated on Election Day, the SNP would again be the largest party.  The poll suggests the al-Megrahi revelations played a role in the resurgence. (Times page 1)

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The same poll also seemingly dispels the notion that Scots would prefer not to give MSPs full income tax responsibilities. Offered a choice between sticking with the present arrangement or opting for Edinburgh to be given full control over income tax, 37% of those polled opted for the latter – the SNPs favoured option. In contrast, the Coalition Government’s plans to transfer some limited new income tax power to Holyrood is supported by only about one in four Scots. (Times page 10-11)

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In a related story, Alex Salmond pledged to maintain free education and free personal care yesterday as he attempted to woo Mumsnet members in a wide-ranging web-chat. He also defended a £500,000 donation from Stagecoach founder Brian Souter, rejecting a claim that the donation would affect SNP policy on equality; Mr Souter had controversially campaigned in 2000 to retain a law banning schools from discussing homosexuality in the classroom. (Herald page 6)

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VAT vote: In response to questions concerning why Scottish Secretary Michael Moore missed a crucial commons vote on increasing VAT last year, the UK Government has said that revealing where he was may “endanger the physical or mental health of an individual”. Mr Moore missed the vote on increasing VAT to 20% on 13 July last year at a time when the Liberal Democrats were under heavy pressure to keep their election promise not to raise the levy. Initially it was claimed that Mr Moore was in Scotland on ministerial business, but when this proved not to be true the government had, until now, refused to comment. This new revelation comes as a result of a freedom of information request which exempted Mr Moore’s case under Section 38(1) of the FOI Act. (Scotsman page 6)

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Injury payouts: Councils and health boards have paid staff almost £10million in claims in the last 5 years, with hundreds of individuals making claims every year. These figures come a week after funding cuts forced councils to announce widespread job losses and service reductions. Political leaders have hit out at compensation cheats who are amongst the claimants. (Scotsman page 10)

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Coast Guard cuts: The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has admitted it did not carry out a specific risk assessment of its controversial plans to cut the country’s life-saving service. Ministers and the MCA propose reducing the UK’s 18 coast guard stations to eight, with only three operational around the clock. The plans will save £75million a year and will see up to 250 job losses nationwide by 2014. (Scotsman page 13, Press and Journal page 4, Daily Telegraph page 10)

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Fringe profit: Organisers of the Festival Fringe in Edinburgh have earned a profit of £300,000 two years after being on the brink of bankruptcy. Record ticket sales, the scrapping of the costly Fringe Sunday event, new grants and sponsorship delays have all helped turn the festival around. (Scotsman page 15)

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Planning power: There is further discussion of Reform Scotland’s report “Planning Power” in the letters page of today’s Scotsman (page 30).

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Justice

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Legal Aid and mental health: Legal aid cuts could lead to people being wrongly sectioned at mental health tribunals because they will be unwilling to pay a lawyer. The Scottish Government will halve the travelling allowance paid to lawyers from 28 February in a move which will eventually save £2.8million a year. The move will hit lawyers dealing with mental health cases disproportionately hard as they already have the lowest earnings. Additionally, because only three firms deal with 70% of the cases in Scotland, they have the furthest to travel. (Scotsman page 14)

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Scottish police force: Northern Constabulary staff have voted overwhelmingly against proposals to create a single national police force. Of the 778 officers who took part in a survey, 86% said they were opposed to the plans, while 70% said they were in favour of the force being retained in its current form or as a larger regional organisation. (Press and Journal page 7)

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Transport

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Scottish roads: Audit Scotland, a public spending watchdog, has said today that one-third of Scottish roads are below “acceptable” standards, estimating the repair backlog had reached at least £2.25 billion. Its report included a new survey by local authorities that showed almost one-tenth of non-trunk roads were now in the most urgent repair category, requiring work within a year. (Scotsman page 1&4-5, Press and Journal page 1, Herald page 1). The report suggests that more than 12,000 miles of Scottish roads are in this poor category. (Scottish Daily Mail page 8, Daily Record page 1, Daily Telegraph page 1, The Sun page 2)

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Local Government

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Edinburgh City Council: John Stevenson, President of the Unison branch in Edinburgh, said the city council should look into charging tourists as a way of generating income. The union call comes after the City of Edinburgh Council said last week that it needed to make £90million in savings over the next three years. (Press and Journal page 4)

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Health

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NHS savings: The Scottish Government plans to cut the amount of time patients spend in hospitals as part of a plan to save £300million in Scotland’s NHS budget over the next year, saying the savings will be reinvested in front-line services. The plans involve trying to cut the 31,000 patients who were taken to hospital after falls last year; NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has also cut repeat admissions for emergency hip surgery and the government wants this introduced nationally, as country-wide rates have increased by 5.1%. (Scotsman page 7, Press and Journal page 12, Herald page 8)

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In a similar story, the Scottish Government has launched a campaign today aimed at cutting an estimated £44million wasted on medicines across Scotland every year. The Scottish Government spent more than £1billion on prescribing in 2010, but it is estimated that 40-50% of patients do not take or use their medicines as prescribed. To put these potential savings in context, they could potentially pay for 1,727 more community nurses, 2,904 drug treatment programs, or 11,866 hip replacements. (Scotsman page 7)