This week in Holyrood MSPs have been discussing …
The Government led a debate this week on the response to the UK Government’s Autumn Budget Statement. They feel the Chancellor has put too much emphasis on austerity and not enough on growth – and the fact he had to revise downward his growth figures is testament to the fact that the plan is not working. Public sectors jobs expected to be lost across the UK by 2017 has been revised from 400,000 to 710,000. The Finance Secretary also outlined the Scottish government’s actions on infrastructure investment where Scotland is taking forward a £2.5 billion programme of Non-Profit Distribution investment, switching funds from revenue to capital budgets in addition to other financial mechanism to maximize investment.
Infrastructure investment plan
On Tuesday a £60 billion was announced that will be invested in capital spending, boosting Scotland’s infrastructure such as the rail network and dualling of roads between all of Scotland’s cities. These plans take us right up until 2030, demonstrating a strategic long-term vision for infrastructure investment. Key points include: Transport – the Scottish Government will dual the A9 between Perth and Inverness by 2025, with a view to completing dualling of the A96 and the dualled road network between all our cities by 2030; complete construction of replacement crossing over the Firth of Forth by 2016, and invest in substantial rail improvements, reducing journey times between Edinburgh and Glasgow, from Aberdeen to the central belt, Aberdeen to Inverness and on the Highland Main line. The plan includes high speed rail, and estimates a cost of £15 billion for completion of the route, from North West England to Scotland, with a Scottish contribution of £8 – 9 billion. Minister’s will continue to press for this to come to Scotland at the earliest opportunity, although final decisions on timing and route rest with the Westminster Government. Digital – by 2020 we will deliver next generation broadband to all. Health – through to 2030 the Scottish Government will continue to invest in property, medical equipment, IT and vehicles to support patient-centred, safe and effective healthcare; including delivering specific projects such as the Southern General Hospital Glasgow and the Sick Kids in Edinburgh. Education – by 2018 the vast majority of Scotland’s children will benefit from good learning environments, and by 2016 students in Glasgow, Inverness and Kilmarnock will benefit from new colleges. On housing – through to 2030 the Scottish Government will deliver a step change in the provision of energy efficient homes through new-build programmes and the retrofitting of existing homes, including the commitment to deliver 30,000 homes over the life of this Parliament.
First Minister In China
The First Minister has this week been on a visit to China to improve Sino-Scottish relations. The visit coincides with the arrival of two giant pandas on loan from China to Edinburgh Zoo this week. Whilst in China, the FM has announced the twinning of Scotland with Shenzhen (the original Special Economic Zone), and also that a Chinese delegation will visit Scotland early next year to investigate the possibility of a direct airlink between the two countries. The First Minister also paid homage to the Scot Adam Smith when giving a speech at the party school of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Beijing. In addition to presenting the school with a bronze of the Scottish philosopher the First Minister cited the Theory of Moral Sentiment and connected it to Climate Justice.
Violence against Women
On Thursday the Scottish Government debated violence against women. The motion from Michael Matheson emphasises the commitment to eradicate this, with a focus on prevention and early intervention. It also makes reference to the recent legislative framework, in terms of Forced Marriage etc. (Protection and Jurisdiction) (Scotland) Act 2011 and the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2011. During the debate, Michael Matheson confirmed that Group on Men’s Violence Against Women and Children has been re-convened and also that the document Safer Lives: Changed Lives produced in partnership with COSLA in 2009 will be refreshed, available Spring 2012. For 2011-12 £11.5 million was provided to combat violence against women and more than £44 million has been allocated over 2008-11 to tackle violence against women, including domestic abuse. The debate emphasised the importance of the issue and gained cross party support, with contributions on the importance of involving men.
On Thursday 8th December 2011 Audit Scotland published a report ‘Reducing Scottish greenhouse gas emissions’, saying the cost of meeting Scotland’s climate change targets could be approximately £10-11 billion. It also emphasises the good progress that has been in Scotland towards cutting greenhouse gas emission. The Audit Scotland report is available through their website and here. This report was brought up by Ruth Davidson during FMQs. Nicola Sturgeon pointed out that renewables “are one of the big success stories in Scotland right now. Everyone in Scotland should be getting behind that drive. It is good for our environment and it has huge benefits and potential for the economy of our country.” On the report, she pointed to the acknowledgment of the progress being made, with Scotland two thirds of the way to our 2020 targets. Also on the 8th December 2011 it was announced that Alex Salmond and Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, are sending a joint message to the UNFCCC meeting in Durban, South Africa, calling for climate justice to be reflected in the outcome of the talks. Scottish Government news release here. COP17 in Durban has been running from 28th November to 9th December. On Wednesday 7th December Fergus Ewing gave a statement in Parliament on the Beauly Denny upgrade. Approval has been granted for ScottishPower Transmission’s (SPT) plans to mitigate the visual impact of the line around Stirling. Fergus Ewing described the upgrade as “the most significant grid infrastructure project in a generation. It is crucial to allow the vast onshore and offshore renewables potential in the north of Scotland to be harnessed, transmitted and exported. That is helping unlock our competitive advantage in renewable energy that is already delivering thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of pounds of investment to communities across Scotland.” Also on the 7th December, as part of the FM visit to China, it was announced that experts from Scotland’s world-leading wave and tidal testing hub the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) are to collaborate with their marine energy counterparts from the Ocean University of China (OUC).
On the 6th December the quarterly police officer figures were released. As of 30th September there were 17,265 FTE officers. Numbers have increased by 1,031 (6.4%) from the position as at 31 March 2007, fulfilling the Scottish Government commitment to maintain 1,000 extra police officers. Kenny MacAskill welcomed the statistics: “I am delighted that we have continued to maintain our commitment to put 1,000 extra police on the streets in Scotland. The major increase in police numbers since March 2007 is delivering a more visible police presence, deterring crime and reassuring citizens in our communities – and that level of police strength will be maintained going forward as part of our agreement with local government. Our extra officers have helped Scotland become a safer place to live. Official statistics show that recorded crime is now at a 35 year low, fear of crime is down and the number of people carrying out crime is down. This Government is committed to protecting frontline policing and our plans for a new Scottish Police Service will ensure police continue to serve our communities in the face of Westminster budget cuts.”
5th December figures from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) show 1,030 cases have now been affected by the UK Supreme Court ruling which became known as the Cadder case. Officials pointed out that the number of cases is 0.5% of all criminal cases reported to COPFS and the number has not risen since February 2011. The Scottish Government responded by pointing out that we took action following the ruling on Cadder and that the justice system “is coping well with these changes, due to the committed engagement of police, prosecutors and defence agents in implementing them.” Furthermore, Lord Carloway has recently concluded his report, produced in the wake of the Cadder judgement. The proposals in Carloway?s report are being considered and a debate was held 1st December. 1st December the Criminal Cases (Punishment and Review) (Scotland) Bill was introduced, looking at the Petch and Foye judgement and progress transparency following the Al-Megrahi case. Last week double jeopardy reforms came into place, providing certain exceptions as part of the Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Act: Restating and clarifying the ancient law on double jeopardy, removing the anomalies and uncertainties identified by the Scottish Law Commission in its 2009 Report on double jeopardy; Allowing a second trial in very serious cases where, after an acquittal, compelling new evidence emerges to substantially strengthen the case against the accused; Allowing a second trial where the original trial was ‘tainted’, e.g. by intimidation; Allowing a second trial where, after an acquittal, evidence becomes available that the acquitted person has admitted committing the offence; To permit the prosecution of a person on a more serious charge where the victim has died after the original trial; Any changes to the double jeopardy law will be retrospective and apply to old cases
Local Government Settlement
On Thursday, Finance Secretary John Swinney announced the Local Government Financial Settlement, allocating over £34bn to councils over three years, with a £11.5bn allocation for 2011/13 alone. The Government today also confirmed: Funding is available to continue the council tax freeze and maintain police and teacher numbers; An additional 25 million pounds will ensure no council receives less than 85 per cent of the Scottish average in terms of the revenue support they receive; The poundage rate of 45 pence for 2012-13 business rates; A new business rates incentivisation scheme that encourages councils to attract new economic growth and lets them keep a portion of revenue above an agreed level; A scheme to allow any business the opportunity to spread the inflationary increase in business rates in 2012-13 over three years. Mr Swinney said that, despite budget cuts, in every year between 2012 and 2015, local government will receive a larger share of Scottish Government funds than in 2007/08. He added: “As part of our agreement with the COSLA leadership on an approach to delivering Joint Priorities between national and local government, the settlement will help local authorities deliver the council tax freeze, maintain the number of police officers on our streets, maintain teacher numbers and meeting the needs of our most vulnerable and elderly people through improvements to adult social care.” The package outlined by the Cabinet Secretary is conditional and individual authorities must now decide whether they will accept it. If they do not, their allocation will be reduced by an average decrease of 5.2%.
Also on Thursday, MSPs debated the regulatory framework ahead of the introduction of the Better Regulation Bill next year. Although the majority of business regulation impacting Scotland is reserved to Westminster or transposed from EU law, we can improve the way they are applied. The Scottish Government aims to eliminate obsolete and inefficient regulation, tackle inconsistencies in the regulatory systems and enhance Scotland’s competitiveness. This is being achieved by: championing the five principles of Better Regulation, assessing the impact of new regulations and working closely with local authorities, regulators and the business-led Regulatory Review Group. During the debate, Enterprise Minister Fergus Ewing was asked why the Scottish Government does not plan to carry out an impact assessment on plans for a Public Health Levy. He said that the levy on large retailers selling cigarettes and alcohol would only affect 0.1% of premises. A business and regulatory impact assessment (BRIA) is carried out when a regulation is created, to consult on the costs and benefits to those affected. But Mr Ewing said that the move would be disproportionate in this case. He said: “Generally speaking there should be BRIA but we have to regard whether in fact it would be disproportionate to do so, for example, in the case where only 0.1% of premises might be affected, as was the case with the public health levy. It did not seem to us that it would be proportionate to do so. However, in the vast majority of the cases we are already doing so. “If it is genuinely disproportionate, if it’s going to cost more to do the BRIA than it is going to save in terms of the regulation, then I don’t think it ought to be done.” He added that the Public Health Levy was predicted to cost business £110m over the course of the Spending Review period.
On Wednesday, Education Secretary Michael Russell announced that a Transformational Change Fund of £15m has been allocated to help drive reform in the FE sector. Developed following discussions with college chairs and principals, the fund will support and assist college as they merge and implement the post-16 reform agenda. It has been welcomed by NUS Scotland President Robin Parker and John Spencer, convener of Scotland’s Colleges’ Principals’ Convention. On Friday, the Scottish Funding Council confirmed that an additional £2.7m has been allocated to the Scottish Funding Council?s FE student support budget. This will no doubt be welcomed by those who have been campaigning on the issue of college bursaries and support. Last week, the First Minister announced that Angela Constance was to become Scotland’s first dedicated Youth Employment Minster and a £30m fund had been committed to tackling youth unemployment. This is further evidence of the seriousness with which the SNP is treating these issues. These four new announcements are on top of action we are already taking to help ensure all Scotland’s young people have access to employment, education or training. Other actions include: Reform of all post-16 education, including universities, colleges and training. The plans are currently out for consultation as is a paper on college regionalisation; The Opportunities for All programme will also guarantee that all 16 to 19 year olds not in learning or employment are offered a place in training or education; The Spending Review made provision for a record 125,000 new Modern Apprenticeships (MAs) over the next five years and we are committed to delivering 25,000 MAs a year, with each of these linked to a real job; Retention of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) while it has been scrapped south of the border; FE spending in 2014/15 Scotland will be around £91 per head of population, as compared to around £62 per head being spent in England.
The education statistics published on 8 December 2011 show that: Teacher numbers are being maintained in line with targets. Our agreement with teaching unions and local authorities is being delivered. The statistics show there are currently 51,286 teachers – ahead of the target of 51,131; The average class size for Primary One is down to a record low. In 2010 the average was 21.1, while the 2011 average is 20.5; The number of Primary One pupils in classes of more than 25 is down from 6,896 to 638 in 2011. This is a total reduction of 90 per cent since the introduction of the legislation; Attainment has improved, with more six year students achieving awards at SCQF levels 6 and 7 year on year since 2008; A record number of school leavers are going into positive destinations after school – the figure is up two per cent on last year to 89 per cent; More children are learning in better quality school buildings with 358 schools rebuilt or substantially refurbished since 2007. Commenting on the statistics, Education Secretary Michael Russell said: “From today’s information the outlook for Scotland’s schools is good. But I must stress that we are not complacent. In the face of Westminster cuts we will continue to work hard to deliver further improvement.” Some key statistics: The total FTE number of teachers based in pre-school, primary, secondary and special schools, or visiting specialists, was 51,441, which was 656 fewer than the revised 2010 figure of 52,098. There were 13.4 pupils per teacher in 2011, compared to 13.3 last year; About 66 per cent of new teachers were in employment following their probation year, up from 58 per cent last year; The average class-size in primary rose from 22.4 to 22.5. About 99 per cent of P1 pupils were in classes of 25 or fewer, compared to 87 per cent in 2010; There was an increase in the proportion of school leavers in positive initial destinations, from 87 per cent to 89 per cent; Absence (authorised and unauthorised) across all sectors was 6.8 per cent in 2010/11, a slight increase from 6.7 per cent recorded in 2009/10; During 2010/11 there were 26,844 cases of exclusion from local authority schools in Scotland, a decrease of 11 per cent from 2009/10 (30,211 exclusions); At September 2010, 75 per cent of pre-school children had access to a GTCS registered teacher during census week, up from 74 per cent last year; Over the last five years, 358 schools had been substantially rebuilt or refurbished. Eighty per cent of schools were in a good or satisfactory condition, up from 79 per cent in 2010.