this week MSPs have been discussing …
Minister for Housing and Transport Keith Brown led a debate on Scotland’s war veterans in Parliament on Thursday ahead of this year’s Remembrance Day commemorations reaffirming the Scottish Government’s commitment to veterans including the creation of a Scottish veterans fund with resources since 2008 of more than £300,000, providing grants to more than 30 projects in support of veterans.
This week was National Adoption Week, so the issue of speeding up the time taken to find permanent homes for looked after children was debated in Parliament. Minister for Children and Young People Angela Constance said that the Scottish Government was aiming toward a radical shift in care planning which would see children going through fewer placements in a system that puts them at the centre. She went on to explain that the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children, which formally opened its doors in September this year, would bring together expertise on the issue with the establishment of its dedicated Permanence Team. The first National Adoption Register and support for kinship carers were also steps forward on the issue. Ms Constance said: “If I need to ruffle a few feathers to make progress for looked-after children then I will.”
On Thursday 3rd November there was a Justice Committee debate on the Offensive Behaviour and Threatening Communications at Football (Scotland) Bill. This followed the Justice Committee Report on the Bill at Stage 2. The Justice Committee gave majority support to the Bill. This legislation is necessary and right to introduce. Tough action must be taken and there was commendable condemnation of the unacceptable behaviour on and off the pitch last season. Repeatedly, it has been pointed out that existing breach of the peace legislation is not sufficient. This law brings something new and is being called for by police and prosecution authorities. Legislation alone is not the answer and we have provided significant investment for groups working to tackle sectarianism. But we also recognise that it is vital to bring in legislation to deal with unacceptable sectarian behaviour. The Scottish Government has already demonstrated it is open to listening and has already confirmed it will include a freedom of speech and a formal review provision.
This week there have been reports attacking our energy targets. Scotland is already seeing heavy investment in renewables. A Scottish Renewables Report published on Tuesday 1 November showed £750m of new renewable electricity projects started generating in Scotland over past year. The report stated that there is a pipeline of 17 Gigawatts of renewable electricity worth £46bn and thousands of jobs. It is important to recognise that Scotland has significant natural energy resources and is building up to a considerable surplus of supply in 2020 that in the context of a market for low carbon power, is a sellable asset not a liability.
Scottish Crime and Justice Survey
On Tuesday the 1st November the 2010/11 Scottish Crime and Justice Survey was published. This surveyed 13,000 people and demonstrated that people feel safer in their communities and are less likely to experience crimes than those in England and Wales. Key findings include a fall in the risk of crime – 17.8% in 2010-11 compared with 19.3% in 2009-10 and 20.4 % in 2008-09. The number of crimes has fallen by 16% between 2008-09 and 2010-11. There has also been a fall in the number of violent crimes and ore victims of violent crime (63%) believe that offenders were under the influence of alcohol – this links to the need for a minimum price for alcohol. This follows previous reports recently highlighting the 35 year low in recorded crime, including an 11% reduction in crimes involving offensive weapons.
First Minister in Middle East
The First Minister has been in the Middle East all week, in order to both promote Scottish industry and also attract inward investment – particularly in the area of low carbon technology. FM met TAQA (Abu Dhabi National Energy Company) who committed to continued investment in the North Sea – TAQA have invested over $1 BN over the last 3 years. During his visit to Qatar, FM opened the offices of Scottish international law firm McGrigors and hosted a round table discussion amongst business leaders on the shift from a hydrocarbon to a low carbon economy. FM has also announced further £10M investment by the Weir Group (a Scottish engineering firm) in the region, plus the creation of 15 jobs. FM also opened Heriot-Watt?s new £35 M campus outside Dubai. Discussions have also taken place on offshore wind, smart grid and technological tie-ups with the Masdar Institute; and expanding air links with Emirates Airline Group.
Minimum Pricing Bill
We have this week reintroduced the minimum pricing legislation which was voted down by the three main opposition parties last year. The Bill will set a licensing condition requiring that alcohol cannot be sold below a certain price per unit. The total cost of alcohol misuse to Scotland is estimated to average £3.56 billion every year – that equates to £900 for every adult living in Scotland. We have already introduced a ban on quantity discounts and promotions in off-sales have been restricted, but already we have seen that without minimum pricing these attempts to take action on Scotland’s alcohol problem are being undermined. By setting a minimum price for a unit of alcohol, we can raise the price of the cheap supermarket white ciders, lager and value spirits sought out by problem drinkers. The Bill is supported by the police, the BMA, the RCN, the Ambulance Service, children?s charities, all 4 of the UK?s Chief Medical Officers, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, Tennents, and many more.
New support for people with autism and their families was announced this week by Michael Matheson. £13.4 million will be invested in the Scottish Government and COSLA’s new autism strategy over the next four years – £3.4 million more than originally pledged – to build on improvements to autism services and access to these services. The funding package will be used to: fund the recruitment of local autism co-ordinators to provide information, advice and support; support the Scottish Autism Services Network, which builds competence in the workforce to assist post diagnostic support; help people access social care services; create a development fund of £1 million per annum, for which both local and national organisations can apply and develop new one stop shop drop-in services for people with autism around Scotland.