This week in Holyrood MSPs have been discussing …
Labour market and GDP stats
Various statistics were published on Wednesday giving an indication of the outlook of the economy. Scottish GDP grew by 0.5 per cent – the strongest since the second quarter of 2010 – and manufactured exports grew by 0.2 per cent in the third quarter of 2011 (July-September). Unemployment in Scotland increased by 19,000 in the three month period September-November 2011 to 8.6 per cent. UK-wide, unemployment increased by 118,000 to 8.4 per cent. For the fourteenth consecutive month, the labour market statistics also show that the employment rate in Scotland remains higher than the UK-wide position, at 70.9 per cent compared to the UK rate of 70.3 per cent for the period September-November 2011. Unemployment in Scotland remains below the rate in most other regions and nations of the UK, and is lower than in Wales, London, the West Midlands, Yorkshire & the Humber, the North East, and North West of England. The claimant count in Scotland fell in December for the fourth consecutive month, by 1,400, with the rate down 0.1 percentage points to 5.3 per cent, while the UK-wide claimant count figure increased for the tenth consecutive month, by 1,200, with the rate unchanged at 5.0 per cent. Scotland‘s economic inactivity rate at 22.3 per cent remains lower than the UK-wide figure of 23.1 per cent. Over the year to the three-month period September-November 2011, the unemployment level for 16-24 year olds in Scotland increased to 105,000. It is important to note that in the most recently disaggregate quarterly figures, which cover the period July-September 2011, 35 per cent of young unemployed people in Scotland were also in full-time education, compared to a figure of 28 per cent UK-wide. The employment rate in Scotland for 16-24 year-olds is 52.9 per cent – higher than the UK rate of 50.3 per cent. The Scottish economy expanded by 0.5 per cent in the third quarter of 2011, and grew by 0.9 per cent on annual basis. UK-wide, GDP also grew 0.5 per cent in Q3 2011, and by 1.3 per cent annually. The GDP growth figure for Scotland in the second quarter of 2011 has been revised up, from 0.1 per cent to 0.2 per cent. UK-wide, the figure for Q2 2011 has been revised down from 0.1 to 0.0 per cent. The construction sector grew by 5.9 per cent in Scotland annually, compared to a 5.4 per cent increase UK-wide; the production sector grew by 1.7 per cent in Scotland, compared to a 0.4 per cent increase UK-wide. The Index of Manufactured Exports showed 0.2 per cent growth in the third quarter of 2011 and growth of 2.7 per cent on an annual basis.
Ambulance crew rest break deal
The long-running dispute over ambulance crew rest breaks was resolved this week, after unions accepted a revised deal. The previous offer – of a £1500 annual payment plus £100 per callout – was accepted by the unions but then rejected by members in a ballot. Since then, interim arrangements have been in place. In new plans, which have been agreed by unions, staff will move to a 37.5 hour paid week inclusive of rest periods. Currently, staff are rostered for 40 hours per week, paid for 37.5 hours and entitled to 2.5 hours of unpaid rest periods. As they will now be paid for all the hours they are on duty, staff will be required to attend emergency calls throughout their shift period. To support the redesign of the service, an additional 150 front line staff will be hired. Interim arrangements, which will be in place while the new working hours are implemented, have also been agreed.
The Scottish Government this week announced the location of the new Enterprise Areas. These sites were rigorously assessed against the following criteria: Evidence of market failure or barriers to growth; Evidence of the opportunity for additionality; Evidence of the need for improved local economic performance; Development challenges. The Scottish Government intends to establish Enterprise Areas in the following locations: Life Sciences; Irvine (N Ayrshire), Forres (Moray), Inverness Campus (Highland), BioQuarter (Edinburgh) and Biocampus (Midlothian). Low Carbon / Renewables North; Hatston (Orkney), Arnish (Western Isles), Nigg (Highland), Scrabster (Highland) and Lyness (Orkney). Low Carbon / Renewables East; Dundee Port (Dundee) and Leith (Edinburgh) Growth Sectors; Creative Clyde (Glasgow) and Prestwick International focused on aerospace engineering (S Ayrshire). It is anticipated Enterprise Areas will be operational by April 2012. By focusing on growth sectors which can leverage Scotland‘s natural resources and knowledge the sites will aim to generate new economic activity by increasing or bringing forward private investment and stimulating new job creation. Information on the specific incentives offered to encourage private investment at each Enterprise Area will be made available following detailed engagement and agreement with the relevant Local Authorities Key incentives may include a streamlined planning process and reduced business rates. Officials are also exploring with HM Treasury the scope to offer enhanced capital allowances at a limited number of sites as an alternative to business rate discounts. In addition, we will consider opportunities presented by the emerging National Broadband Strategy to help make Enterprise Areas as attractive as possible to investors while SDI will provide inward investment assistance.
A debate was held this week in Parliament on the Scottish Government‘s strategy for encouraging co-operation and growth across our six cities. The SNP’s 2011 manifesto committed to introducing a new Cities Agenda, and appointing a Cabinet Member as Cities Minister with specific responsibility for driving this forward. This forms part of the Health & Wellbeing portfolio. The Cities Agenda was published by the Scottish Government last month and was backed by a £5m Cities Investment Fund, which has three objectives: Developing programmes which lever in other funding – either private finance or European funding; Supporting collaborative programmes between cities which will develop large-scale projects; Developing programmes which allow for wider city region investment. The Agenda for Cities will help create the momentum required to make sure that our cities and their regions are able to make the fullest possible contribution to sustained economic recovery – stimulating economic activity and job creation. The Scottish Government want to see cities working together, building on their combined strengths to develop strong investment propositions at a scale which will be attractive to potential investors. The recently-published Infrastructure Investment Plan and Regeneration Strategy will help improve connections within and between our cities and enable them to ensure opportunities are available to all. But the Scottish Government want to do more to help cities realise their visions by removing barriers and strengthening partnerships. As a key element of the Agenda for Cities, the leaders of city local authorities will be in the driving seat, collaborating through a new alliance, supported by the SCDI. The Alliance will help cities determine their shared priorities, backed by resources from our new £5 million Cities Investment Fund.
FM in Middle East
This week the First Minister attended the annual World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi. Alex Salmond: “Scotland‘s energy challenges and champions make us a leader in the international sustainability debate. We are also world leaders in the transition to a low carbon economy and in particular the renewables revolution. It is only fitting that we should be part of the foremost annual meeting committed to finding solutions to the energy needs of the future.” The First Minister raised the issue of climate justice being at the heart of our energy policy decisions. While in Abu Dhabi, he extended an invitation to the Scottish Low Carbon Investment Conference during an address to the World’s Young Future Energy Leaders. An agreement was signed with alternative energy company Masdar, focussing ?on development opportunities, investment in low carbon projects, technological cooperation, policy making and best practice initiatives.? Alex Salmond: ?The signing of this agreement with Masdar is a rapid and valuable outcome from the high-level discussions I held with Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed al Nahyan and Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber just over two months ago in Abu Dhabi. This outcome is testament to the fact that Scotland is a world renewable energy champion and is continuing to play a major role in driving the global adoption of renewable sources of power, innovations in grid technology and R&D in wind turbine development.
Common Agricultural Policy
On Wednesday 18th January the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment (RACCE) Committee debated the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The objectives of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) were first set out in the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The CAP provides a programme of agricultural support and subsidies throughout the EU. CAP makes up 41% of the EU Budget and is split into 2 Pillars. Pillar 1: relates to direct support for farmers, such as the Single Farm Payment which is worth approximately £0.5 billion annually to Scotland‘s farmers. Pillar 2: the provision of the Rural Development Programme. The CAP is due for reform and the European Commission on the 12th October 2011 put forward its legislative proposals. Following debate in the European Parliament and Council, the European Commission say ?the approval of the different regulations and implementing acts is expected by the end of 2013, with a view to having the CAP reform in place as from 1st January 2014. Dacian Ciolo?, the Commissioner responsible for agriculture and rural development, in a speech on 12th October in Brussels described the key aims of the reform as: to ensure that the competitiveness of all European farming safeguards our food security; to lay down the foundations for long-term competitiveness that is both environmentally and economically sustainable; to ensure that agriculture flourishes throughout Europe; and finally, a spearhead objective: to simplify the CAP. Rob Gibson as Convenor opened the debate, emphasising ensuring success for our food and drink industry and consideration of Scotland‘s distinct needs with 85% LFAs. The cuts to direct subsidies, as proposed by the UK Government do ?not meet the needs of Scottish agricultural conditions. He went on the highlight the need for a bridging mechanism, the need for Scotland to get an appropriate share, the position for new entrants, a national reserve, greening schemes within Pillar 1, capping of direct payments and the fact that Scotland ?doesn‘t have a seat at the top level when farming issues are discussed in Brussels?. Richard Lochhead spoke in the debate on the behalf of the Scottish Government, also highlighting our world-class food and drink and export sector. He emphasised that ?No one in Scotland will be immune from the effects of CAP reform, whether they live in our rural communities or in the heart of our cities. The important of the Pack Inquiry was mentioned, as well as coupled payments, the need to simplify the CAP, proportionate regulatory burdens and the fact that ?Scotland currently has the lowest rate of rural development funding and the fourth-lowest rate for single farm payments in Europe. Richard Lochhead concluded by referring to the necessity of continuing ?to urge UK ministers to base their negotiations on the need for food security, not cost-cutting demands from the UK Treasury. The Parliament unanimously passed the motion ‘That the Parliament notes the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee‘s ongoing scrutiny of the European Commission‘s proposed reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.‘
Police and Fire Reform
The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill was introduced to Parliament 16th January 2012 by Kenny MacAskill. Key aspects of the Bill: Regular, formal opportunities for the Scottish Parliament to scrutinise policing and fire and rescue services; Establishing the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) and Scottish Fire and Rescue Service board to hold the Chief Constable and Chief Officer to account; Establishing ‘the Police Service of Scotland’, comprising a Chief Constable, other officers and police staff. The Chief Constable and other senior officers will be appointed by the SPA. All constables and police staff will transfer to the new service; Transferring the current functions of fire and rescue authorities to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. All staff employed by the current eight fire and rescue authorities will transfer to the new service; A statutory duty for the Police Service of Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to provide adequate local services; A designated local policing commander and local senior fire officer for each local authority area, responsible for involving the local authority in determining priorities and objectives for policing and fire and rescue services in the local area; A local plan for policing and a local plan for fire and rescue services for each local authority area, agreed between the relevant local commander or local senior officer and the local authority, setting out priorities, objectives and arrangements for local service delivery; Complaint reviews and investigation of serious incidents and criminal offences involving the police to be handled by one independent body, the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner; The creation of an Inspectorate of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Kenny MacAskill: “The stark reality is that budget cuts from Westminster will devastate our excellent frontline services if we don‘t act now. This Government will not be complacent, we will not compromise on public safety and we will make sure that every community is served and served well. The reasons for reform are clear. We need to make a virtue of necessity. Make no mistake – this is the only way to make sure that we don‘t lose the major improvements made to police and fire and rescue services in recent years.” The Justice Committee issued a call for evidence on 17th January 2012 and expects to consider written submissions and to take evidence from late February until late March, before reporting on the Bill‘s general principles towards the end of April 2012. Evidence is to be provided by Tuesday 6th March and if wishing to give oral evidence, then by 28th February. The question of policing reform arose during FMQs, with Willie Rennie questioning the level of savings. In response to criticism of senior officers‘ involvement in the structuring of the new police service, Alex Salmond noted that “Willie Rennie seems to think that local policing is about having eight chief constables in Scotland, we think it is about local officers in the streets and communities of Scotland.”
£3m funding announced for play opportunities
On Tuesday, Children‘s Minister Aileen Campbell announced that £3m would be invested to make sure more children across Scotland can access free play facilities.
£1.5m of the money will see expansion to a selected number of ‘Play Ranger‘ community play models, while £1.05m will be allocated to improving school playgrounds. £450,000 will be used to support play staff and provide money for their training and development. The funding package runs until 2015 and will be managed by Inspiring Scotland and Grounds for Learning. It is drawn from the £270m Early Years Change Fund.
The funding position for Scotland‘s colleges has been outlined to them ahead of more detailed information from the Scottish Funding Council. Colleges were told that student numbers for 2012/13 would be maintained and no college would see its teaching grant fall by more than 8.5%. At the end of last year, the Scottish Government also announced that £15 would be allocated to colleges as part of a Transformation Fund to help implements changes as a result of planned reforms to post-16 education and Angela Constance was appointed Minister for Youth Employment with a budget of £30m.
Local Government elections
On Thursday, MSPs debated the upcoming local government elections which will take place in May. Local Government Minister Derek Mackay said that following the difficulties of the 2007 elections, lessons had been learned and the recommendations of the Gould Report had been pursued. He said that throughout these preparations, the voter had been kept ?at the forefront of our minds. Since the Gould Report: Local Government elections had been ‘decoupled‘ from Parliamentary elections; The decision had been made to use e-counting again, due to the use of the Single Transferable Vote. The Minister reassured MSPs that improvements had been made to the system: The Electoral Management Board for Scotland had been created to help local authorities and others to carry out their functions and promote best practice; The Electoral Commission‘s statutory functions had been extended in Scotland to include local government elections, reflecting the need to address fragmentation of legislation; In accordance with the Gould recommendation to have relevant legislation in place six months before an election, the legislation governing the 2012 elections was agreed in November last year; The ballot paper for local government elections had been tested with a cross-section of voters; Legislation was passed meaning that anyone who had not cast their vote at 10pm on the evening of a poll but had been in the queue at closing time would be allowed to vote; For the first time, the Commission will have a statutory responsibility to promote public awareness at local government elections. It will run its campaign in two phases—voter registration, which will be given a clear focus, and voter information. It was also announced that legislation will be introduced next week to increase the spending limits at local government elections by 17.5%. The increase is in line with the rate of inflation since the previous review in 2005. The Minister highlighted the amount of legislation governing elections and how they should be run. He called for the Scottish Parliament to have full responsibility for all elections. Before the debate, he said that the UK Government had been repeatedly asked to transfer these powers and, but nothing had been done. He also stated: “It is absurd that this parliament is not responsible for the election of its members and that we are unable to give 16 and 17-year-olds their democratic right to vote.”