Reform Scotland News: 13 June 2011

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.

 

In addition to the newspaper stories outlined below, further news coverage can be found online at BBC News Scotland, STV News and Sky News.

 

Politics

Devolution: The Scottish Parliament is to receive new powers that will enable it to raise money for major building and infrastructure projects by issuing bonds. Earlier this month, the SNP Government was informed that it would be allowed to borrow about £200 million this year in order to pay for large infrastructure projects such as the Forth Road Bridge. In addition to these powers, the Scottish Government is also looking to take control of corporation tax, excise duty and crown estate revenues. However, the UK Government has said that it will not give in to demands for devolution of these powers, prompting claims from some MSPs that Westminster is ‘not listening’. (Scotsman, BBC News)

 

Scottish Referendum: David Steel has claimed that to hold two votes on Scottish independence would be ‘unnecessary’.  His comments come after Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said the electorate would need to vote in two referendums before Scotland could become independent. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has already warned Alex Salmond that any referendum could face legal challenge unless the wording is agreed by the UK Government. (Scotsman page 6, Herald page 2)

 

Wind farms: Wind-farm operators in Scotland were paid £2.6 million to keep turbines idle in the stealth charge on household bills. National Grid, which operates Britain’s main power and gas transmission networks, admitted making the payments which are ultimately paid for by the consumer. (Sunday Times page 4)

 

Energy crisis: Scottish Power executives have been summoned to meet ministers amid fears that plans to increase energy prices will plunge thousands of people into fuel poverty. Scottish Power will be asked to justify average increases of 19% on gas bills and 10% on electricity bills announced last week. (Sunday Times page 4, Sunday Herald page 1, 13-15, Telegraph page 1, Courier page 1, Press and Journal page 11)

 

The Centrica Chairman, Sir Roger Carr, has warned gas and electricity consumers to prepare for steep price escalations in the near future. His comments follow Scottish Power’s announcement last week that it was raising gas prices by 19% and electricity prices by 10% from August. The cause of price inflation is said by Centrica to be escalating wholesale prices, the result of growing demand from emerging economies. UK Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, has told consumers to ‘vote with their feet’ by seeking out cheaper alternatives. (Scotsman, BBC News)

 

Longer hours: MSPs are to be forced to work longer hours in Holyrood and to respond more quickly to the public under a far-reaching review of the way the Scottish Parliament operates. The SNP launched a major reform of the way parliament conducts its business, to encourage greater scrutiny of the laws produced. (Scotland on Sunday page 1, Telegraph page 1

 

Holyrood fax and printer ban: Holyrood bosses aim to ban MSPs from having individual fax machines and printers in their offices under controversial moves to save money. Instead, Scottish Parliament officials want MSPs to use communal machines on the floors of the building where their parties are based. Officials hope to save £50,000 a year from the initiative but a senior MSP said the plan was not “remotely useful” and would lead to chaotic scenes of MSPs’ staff queuing up at communal machines while phone calls from constituents went unanswered. (Scotland on Sunday page 7)

 

Church of Scotland: An Aberdeen minister has appealed to the Church of Scotland to stop infighting over the ordination of openly gay ministers before it “destroys” the Kirk. The Rev Markus Auffermann, of Woodside Parish Church, said the row was tearing the Kirk apart from within, after it emerged that the city’s Gilcomston South Church is to quit the denomination. (Press and Journal page 6)

 

Economy

National debt: An independent Scotland could reportedly be burdened with a £110 billion national debt, the Institute of Economic Affairs has warned. The figure represents their assessment of Scotland’s notional share of the UK’s national debt. Dr Richard Wellings of the IEA has argued that such a debt would be particularly burdensome given the inevitable fall in tax revenues from diminishing North Sea oil reserves. Scotland Office minister David Mundell said the figures showed the “enormous cost” to Scotland of breaking away from the UK.  (Scotsman, page 1)

 

Economic growth: The Scottish private economy continued to grow in May, though growth remains weaker than in most of England and the rate of expansion has moderated. Scottish firms are also taking on more staff according to the latest Bank of Scotland Purchasing Managers’ Index report. Last month’s increase in hiring was the fastest rate increase for more than 3 years. (Herald, page 25)

 

Local Government

Local Elections: The SNP’s leader on Glasgow city council, Allison Hunter, is optimistic about her party’s chances of toppling the city’s Labour administration at the 2012 local government elections. SNP activists were buoyed by last month’s landslide SNP election victory and by a recent poll which showed stronger support in Glasgow for independence than anywhere else in Scotland. (Herald, page 6)

 

Justice

Lockerbie: Scottish prosecutors are taking steps to reopen the case against the man who stood trial alongside the Lockerbie bomber but was acquitted. The Crown Office in Edinburgh is re-examining possible evidence against Al-Amin Khalifa Fhimah in the wake of the change to the double jeopardy laws, which paves the way for an accused person to face a second trial if compelling new evidence comes to light. (Times page 1, BBC News)

 

Anti-sectarian laws: The Lord Advocate has rejected criticism that plans to introduce tough new anti-sectarian laws in Scotland are being rushed through Holyrood without proper consultation. The Scottish Government’s Bill will be published this week and is expected to be on the statute book before the summer recess. Frank Mulholland QC called on MSPS to back the fast-tracking of the Bill through Holyrood, pointing out that unless the law was changed this month the new measures would not be in place in time for the start of the new football season. (Times page 9)

 

Education

Higher education funding: The Scottish Labour Party’s former education spokesman has argued for a new tax on incomes over £35,000 to assist in the funding of higher education in Scotland. Des McNulty claims that a 1p increase in the tax rate on high earners would raise an additional £68 million. While discretion to adopt such taxes does not presently exist, Mr McNulty suggests that the powers might be introduced as part of the Scotland Bill currently being considered at Westminster. (Herald page 3)

 

Health

NHS cuts: Scotland’s largest health board, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, is set to scale back on ‘low health-gain’ treatments and tests in an attempt to bring its £55 million deficit under control. Operations to remove tonsils, varicose veins and ‘minor’ lumps are among the procedures under threat. If the GGC board agrees to the proposals, procedures will be cut from the start of 2012, saving an anticipated £123,000 a year. Earlier this year, GGC’s chief executive, Robert Calderwood, warned that, as bills for prescription drugs, energy and pay were rising sharply, there would not be enough money for the NHS to maintain current spending levels. (Herald page 1)

 

Southern Cross: The Care Home provider Southern Cross has revealed a liability of £5.8 billion in rental payments in its company accounts. The figure is the result of a sale-and-lease-back deal struck by the company’s management in order to fund further growth. The disclosure is made in the wake of the revelation that the business is in a ‘critical financial condition’ and plans to axe 3,000 jobs across the UK as well as a fifth of its nursing homes. The Scottish Health Secretary, Nichola Sturgeon, is to meet with Chief Executive Jamie Buchan to ask for an assurance that the Company’s provision for its 4,000 care home residents in Scotland will continue. (Herald page 11)