Daily Political Newspaper Summary: 10 March 2011
Council Tax Increases: A recent paper published by the Fraser of Allander Institute at Strathclyde University says Scotland’s 32 councils are facing “severe” pressure to make “steep” council tax rises as they pay back the cost of PFI deals. It goes on to say that many councils cut corners in assessing the cost of the project, which paid for 275 schools across the country to be built or refurbished. The freeze on council tax rises has so far stalled councils’ plans to use the tax to cover the PFI costs. However, with the cost of repaying the debt rising, the report says this cannot continue for long as a sum of £430 million is due in 2011-12 alone. (Scotsman page 2)
Tax Powers: Margaret Mitchell, a Conservative MSP, will today call for a referendum on plans to hand more tax powers to the Scottish Parliament. She will argue that on “a point of principle” it is voters and not politicians who should decide whether to introduce a new Scottish income tax (Scotsman page 2)
Freedom of Information Fiasco: Labour launched an attack on Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, accusing him of “failing to fight Scotland’s corner” after a Freedom of Information Request returned no results. However, it later emerged that the FOI request had been sent to the wrong department; a Scotland Office spokesman said the attack was “both unfounded and unhelpful”. (Scotsman page 4)
Campaign controversy: Alex Neil has been found guilty of breaching Holyrood’s code of conduct after misleading voters in an SNP target seat. The Housing Minister is facing calls to repay any public funds used to produce the posters which falsely represented him as the MSP for Airdrie & Shotts. Airdree & Shotts is held by Labour’s Karen Whitefield, but Mr Neil, list MSP for Central Scotland, and has been trying to raise his profile as the SNP candidate there in May’s Holyrood poll. (Herald page 6, Daily Record page 6)
Labour’s Gray problem: Iain Gray’s impact as Scottish Labour leader will be further called into question today as Ed Milliband admitted his colleague still faces the challenge of “people getting to know him”. Privately Labour colleagues reportedly recognise Mr Gray is not the polished media performer Mr Salmond is, but believe his integrity will shine through during the Holyrood campaign. (Herald page 6)
The Gathering: Pressure is mounting on Edinburgh council leaders at the centre of a botched rescue package for The Gathering event after it emerged their evidence to a Holyrood inquiry was contradicted by Edinburgh City Council’s former chief executive. Opposition councillors claim there is growing evidence Jenny Dawe and her deputy Steve Cardownie misled parliament when they claimed they were unaware of the details of a bailout for the troubled festival. The pair faces a no-confidence motion in the council later today. (Scotsman page 5)
Aberdeen city park: Oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood yesterday announced £400,000 in funding to kick-start a controversial redevelopment of Aberdeen’s Union Terrace Gardens. Aberdeen City Council has already agreed in principle to accept an offer of £50million from Sir Ian, Scotland’s second richest man, for the proposed £140million transformation of the Victorian gardens. However, the garden’s proposals have bitterly divided public opinion: Annie Lennox, the Aberdeen-born rock star, branded the garden as an act of civic vandalism. (Scotsman page 14, Press and Journal page 6)
Prison Violence: Scotland’s newest prison, privately run Addiewell Prison in West Lothian, has come under criticism over “unacceptable” levels of violence against its staff in a critical inspection report. According to prisons inspector Brigadier Hugh Monro the prison, which only opened in December 2008, is more violent than any other jail of similar size in the UK. Just two months after the prison opened, 100 inmates reportedly rioted leaving a 29-year old prison officer in hospital with injuries. Prisoners also rioted in February 2009. However, Brigadier Monro says “of particular concern is the number of minor staff assaults. (Scotsman page 12)
Scottish legal appeal debate: Scotland’s Advocate General has hit back at claims that the independence of the country’s judicial system is at risk because of the proposed change in the way in which criminal appeals are heard. Lord Wallace of Tankerness has rejected suggestions that the legislation could lead to many Scottish criminal case appeals being heard in the UK Supreme Court rather than the High Court in Edinburgh. His comments come after Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the former Labour Lord Chancellor, joined forces with the SNP to attack the proposals. (Times page 13)
Glasgow Subway: Ministers have agreed to back a crucial £290 million overhaul to keep the Glasgow Subway operating with an undisclosed “substantial capital contribution”. The announcement paves the way for the first major upgrade of the underground railway for more than 30 years. There will be more frequent, driverless trains, while signalling and tunnels will be upgraded on the network. Smartcard tickets will also be introduced, with the intention of eventually phasing in their use for trains, buses and ferries. (Scotsman page 13, Herald page 11, Daily Express page 4)
Teacher Training: Changes to the selection process and training of teachers are to be piloted next year to ensure those entering the profession are suitable for the job and have the necessary basic levels of numeracy and literacy. Skills Minister Angela Constance revealed the Scottish Government will be working with teaching organisations to improve selection procedures. The statements came in response to a review of teacher education published in December, entitled “Teaching Scotland’s Future” compiled by former HM Inspectorate of Education boss Graham Donaldson. The report featured over 50 recommendations aimed at driving up standards in Scotland’s schools. (Herald page 10, Daily Express page 4, Daily Mail page 8).
The proposals would also see Scottish universities loosing the final say over which students are admitted for teacher training. (Daily Telegraph page 5)
University Fees: The full extent of the split in Scottish Labour’s front bench about Scottish university funding was revealed today as Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, Des McNulty, admitted the no-fees policy is based on a “false premise”. He went on to say that Scottish universities face being “short changed” unless politicians agree to close a £202million cross-Border funding gap that will open up once higher fees are introduced in England. However, three days later Scottish Labour Leader Iain Gray ruled out a graduate contribution by claiming the shortfall was only £93million which was to be met out of the public purse. (Daily Telegraph page 5).