Holyrood News

This week MSPs have been discussing …

Delayed Discharge
On Wednesday, the Scottish Government published figures showing that delayed discharge is at a record low. Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “We are clear in our ambitions to deal with the problem of delayed discharges, and these latest figures are the lowest ever recorded for January. “To put our achievements in to perspective, ten years ago over 2,000 patients were delayed in leaving hospital by more than six weeks, now that figure is down to 54. We have 197 patients delayed for more than four weeks and I want to see this down to zero by April next year. Five years ago, under the previous administration, that number sat at 793.”

Living wage
On Thursday, the Local Government Committee’s report on their inquiry into the Living Wage was debated in Parliament. The report:  Recognised there are a complex range of factors such as local and economic circumstances that could make it more difficult for councils to introduce the minimum wage; Welcomed the innovative approaches used in some areas to deliver the living wage but agreed the decisions on whether it should be introduced in local government are for local authorities to take. During the debate, Local Government Minister Derek Mackay said that the Committee’s report broadly supported the Scottish Government’s approach. He said that while the Scottish Government’s powers were limited, progress was being made. Since the introduction of the living wage in 2011/12 it has assisted around 6,000 staff. While pay of Scottish Government staff is frozen for higher earners, those earning under £21,000 receive an annual minimum increase of £250, benefitting 76,000 public sector workers. We have frozen Ministerial pay and restrained increases for high-earning public sector workers. The setting of the National Minimum Wage is determined by the UK Government, however, the Scottish Government is doing what it can within its powers to address the issue of low pay.

Post 16 reform
On Wednesday, Education Secretary Michael Russell outlined the reforms planned for post 16 education that will see the sector strengthened and streamlined in future years, focusing learning around the individual rather than the institution they are part of for the first time. The statement followed on from the recent Putting Learners at the Centre consultation, which first set out these proposals in September last year. During the consultation period, much of the attention focused on plans to move to a system of regionalisation for Scotland’s colleges. On these plans, the Cabinet Secretary said: “My proposals for the sector are unashamedly far reaching. During the consultation process we listened to the sector, and we have responded with the college transformation fund and the resources that are necessary to support students.” He added: “I have made clear my plans for regionalisation and I am fully committed, with the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council, to working closely with colleges to implement those essential reforms, which will bring benefits for learners and employers.”
College regionalisation: Will move to a redistribution of resource based on needs; Will develop outcome agreements with our new regions; Many colleges will continue with plans to merge, because they think it is the right thing to do.
Putting Learners at the Centre: Refocus existing systems so they are driven by the needs of learners; Build on existing strengths.
Learner Journey: Need to recognise and clarify the full range of possible pathways from school and strengthen the connectedness of the system. Work being done by Scottish Government, Skills Development Scotland, learners and others to achieve this; All parts of the post-16 system need to be linked more effectively; New guidance to be issued for Community Learning and Development; Cab Sec to consider how forthcoming legislation can be used to develop stronger links between provision offered in colleges and that offered elsewhere in communities;System to be made more sustainable by making better use of the Scottish Qualifications Framework and developing clearer pathways.
Widening Access: Scottish Baccalaureate and Advanced Higher will be promoted and use extended; Work will be carried out with SFC, NUS and others to take forward transitions work carried out last year; On the back of consultation support for legislation on access, the case for this will be considered and developed.
Employability: Develop a more flexible approach to pre-employment training to ensure this is better aligned with the needs of learners, the labour market and economic priorities. Advanced apprenticeship frameworks to help employers develop staff to degree level will be introduced from April 1, 2012.
Student Support: Working with NUS on the commitment for a £7,000 minimum student income; Need to ensure that the right balance is struck between a national policy on support for college learners and local discretion of colleges to deliver tailored support.
Research: Proposal to set up a single knowledge exchange to better use the research from our world-class universities and help businesses access this resource; SFC will work with Universities Scotland and business representatives to consider how this can be best achieved.

Youth employment
On Wednesday, Minister for Youth Employment Angela Constance appeared before the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee to talk about the youth employment strategy.
The Minister was asked about the UK Government’s controversial Workfare scheme, which is aimed at 16 to 24 year olds who have been unemployed for more than three months. The scheme requires the young people to sign up to eight week placements for which they can receive cuts to their benefits if they do not attend. She dismissed suggestions that the Scottish Government could set up its own version of Workfare, saying that the “key issue” was to get the DWP scheme working effectively and suggested that the DWP should engage with trade unions over the detail of the scheme to “ensure neither young people or other workers are exploited”. The Minister also said that the Scottish Government and others needed to get on with addressing the issues of youth employment “as best we can”.

Human trafficking
On Wednesday 29th February the Scottish Government debated human trafficking.
Key points ahead of the debate: Human trafficking is an abhorrent crime and the Scottish Government is committed to making further progress in tackling the criminals who engage in it and the victims who are subjected to it. The Scottish Government welcome the reports into human trafficking and the contribution this makes to our knowledge of this crime. We support the principles of almost all the recommendations in the EHRC report. Action on this form of serious organised crime involves working in partnership with the UK Government and other agencies. Additional funding of £4 million over a two-year period from 2009 to 2011 has been allocated to the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA) to boost capacity to tackle organised crime, within that providing Scotland’s first dedicated expert resource to build the intelligence necessary to support and improve human trafficking investigation.  More than £44 million has been allocated over 2008-11 to tackle violence against women  The Scottish Government intends to hold a summit to look at the direction for policy and delivery in this important area. Kenny MacAskill said the Government would be exploring a suggestion from the Lord Advocate to put in place a statutory human trafficking criminal aggravation, which could be applied to traffickers brought before the court on charges for other criminal offences.

Lockerbie statement
On Wednesday 29th Kenny MacAskill gave a statement on Lockerbie. Kenny MacAskill affirmed the Scottish Government position on the release of Al Megrahi, noting:  Minute of meeting with Libyan representatives is in the public domain; Scottish Government officials were present throughout Kenny MacAskill’s meeting with Mr al-Obeidi, at no time did he or “any other member of the Scottish Government suggest to Mr al-Obeidi, to anyone connected with the Libyan Government, or indeed to Mr al-Megrahi himself that abandoning his appeal against conviction would in any way aid or affect his application for compassionate release.”; We vigorously opposed the prisoner transfer agreement that was negotiated by the then United Kingdom Government with the Gaddafi regime; Kenny MacAskill granted a request for compassionate release that Megrahi submitted, as he “believed that it adhered to the laws and values that we hold in Scotland.”; The Scottish Government had no interest whatsoever in Mr al-Megrahi’s appeal being abandoned; The Government has shown consistently that we want to be as open and transparent as we can be on all aspects surrounding the al-Megrahi case – we have introduced the Criminal Cases (Punishment and Review) (Scotland) Bill to aid publication of the statement of reasons; We are limited within the powers of the Parliament as to how far our legislation can go in freeing up the commission to disclose information. Data protection, which is a reserved matter, is a key obstacle to disclosure; There is a mechanism for an appeal still to be heard, even posthumously. As the Scottish Government “sought neither the abandonment nor the continuation of Mr al-Megrahi’s appeal” it is not for the Scottish Government to seek or oppose a potential appeal, posthumous or otherwise. Kenny MacAskill concluded the statement saying “We want the commission’s report to be in the public domain to help to ensure that public confidence in our justice system is retained. The Government is doing all that it can to bring about disclosure of the statement of reasons and I urge all members to support those efforts by supporting our bill and our efforts to get the UK Government to make an exception to data protection rules.”

Drug statistics
On Tuesday 28th February 2012 ISD published statistics on Drug Misuse and Drug Related Deaths.  Figures show that 10,813 assessments for specialist drug treatment were made in 2010/11, bringing the total number of entries into treatment to more than 45,000 since 2007/08. The Scottish Government underlined its commitment to recovery as its long term strategy to tackle Scotland’s legacy of drugs misuse. Roseanna Cunningham: “Both these reports offer good news and bad news. Significantly fewer young people are using illegal drugs and placing their health and lives at risk. However we are seeing a cohort of hard-to-reach individuals who have been using drugs for more than a decade. They are getting older and their risk of drug-related death is greater. “But they are not lost to us. We have reformed Scotland’s approach to tackling drug misuse – we now focus on the individual, not solely their addiction. We are investing £28.6m for front-line drug treatment and recovery services in 2012/13, enabling faster access to recovery-focused services that place the individual at the centre of care and treatment. Our world leading naloxone programme is there to offer another chance and to provide a route back in to recovery and back in to life.”

Climate justice
On Thursday 1st March the Parliament debate climate justice, the world’s first parliamentary debate on this important issue. During the debate, Stewart Stevenson announced the Climate Justice Fund. This is the new name for our manifesto commitment to work with partners in in business, charitable foundations and non-governmental organisations to establish a Scottish International Climate Adaptation Fund. The Climate Justice Fund will be launched in the coming months.
Key points for the debate: It is important that climate justice is placed at the heart of our decisions on energy policy and economic and social development – climate justice is at the heart of sustainable development.  Economic development should link to human rights and those areas least able to deal with extreme climate change should not be further disadvantaged.  We are aware of the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable citizens and are committed to Scotland championing climate justice. Alex Salmond has called for world leaders to make 2012 a ‘year of climate justice’ ahead of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development.  We are taking forward initiatives to share Scottish knowledge, skills and expertise and support work in Malawi and The Maldives, among others.  The Parliament unanimously approved the most ambitious climate change targets in the world, which are providing long term certainty for business and investors. Scotland is almost two-thirds to achieving the target of reducing emissions by 42% by 2020 – we are making progress on this important issue.

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