This week MSPs have been discussing …
Scotland Bill Committee
The Scotland Bill Committee published its report on Thursday this week, concluding that the Bill as it currently stands is a “missed opportunity” and “not yet fit for purpose”. Linda Fabiani, the Committee Convener, said that although the introduction of the Bill was welcome, the powers proposed for the Scottish Parliament did not go far enough. The 200 page report sets out the committee’s 45 recommendations for a range of increased financial and non-financial powers for Holyrood. Some of the measures have the full backing of the committee, but most recommendations reflect the majority view. Notable areas where there was consent was on capital borrowing, the Crown Estate and the case for devolving Air Passenger Duty and aggregates levy. Linda said “There are elements of the Bill which the whole committee can welcome. However, overall, we believe that the Bill does not go far enough and its provisions, if enacted, represent a significant risk to public finances in Scotland. Our report concludes that whilst the Bill delivers a very limited amount of financial accountability, it does not deliver what Scotland needs, which is full fiscal autonomy.” In relation to the Scottish Parliament’s legislative consent, the Committee concludes at paragraph 6 of its report: ‘On the basis of all of the evidence that we have heard, the responses from the UK Government to the amendments suggested by our predecessor and by others in this new Parliamentary session, the Committee, therefore is unable to recommend that the Parliament approve a Legislative Consent Motion (LCM) on the Scotland Bill unless it is amended in line with the Committee’s conclusions and recommendations.’
Parliament is likely to debate the report in the New Year.
Police and fire reform
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said “I would like to thank everyone who took the time to take part in the consultation and I welcome the broad support for our detailed proposals for single services. These responses will help shape the new Scottish Police Service and Scottish Fire & Rescue Service. The priority of this Government remains delivering frontline police and fire and rescue services to keep every community safe and we know that, in the face of Westminster cuts, reform is the only way to do this.”
The main findings: Support for setting out the purpose of policing in national guidance and for modernising the purpose of the Fire and Rescue Service; Agreement for the integration of Scottish Police Services Authority (SPSA) and the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Authority (SCDEA) into the single service; Support for transferring Scottish Government fire & rescue assets to the new service; General support for a number of appointments to the new Scottish Police Authority (SPA) and to the Board of the new Fire and Rescue Service to be reserved for serving councillors nominated by COSLA; Agreement that each of the above bodies should comprise more than 11 members; A welcome among many respondents for the proposals to enhance local accountability and a call for local authorities to have a meaningful role in contributing to local policing and fire and rescue plans; Broad support for new funding and financial accountability arrangements. A need for further information on the establishment of local budgets; Agreement that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland (HMICS) continue to be responsible for inspections of the Scottish Police Service; Support for the proposed external scrutiny and audit role for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Advisory Unit (SFRAU); Broad support for the proposals to retain Regulation 21 of the Police (Scotland) Regulations 2004 and for current employees to maintain their terms and conditions post reform.
Criminal Proceedings in Scotland 2010-11
On Tuesday 13th December the Criminal Proceedings in Scotland 2010-11 statistics were published. Kenny MacAskill: “These figures underline that those guilty of serious offences are being rightly punished with lengthy prison sentences. Crimes involving offensive weapons bring misery upon our communities and it now clearer than ever that the courts are taking this issue very seriously. The average sentence length for handling offensive weapons is now more than double what it was five years ago and at its highest in a decade, while the conviction rate of those handling offensive weapons has also improved in the last 12 months.” Key figures: A reduction of 5% in the number of people proceeded against and convicted in 2010-11. The figures decreased to 130,268 from 137,014 in 2009-10. Last year’s statistics were themselves a fall of 3% from 140,600 in 2008-09 and the lowest since 2002-03; 89% of people proceeded against in court had a guilty plea accepted or at least one charge proved; Average sentences for handling offensive weapons have increased for the 6th year – 288 days (over 9 months) in 2010-11 compared with an average of 161 in 2006-07. It is also higher than the average length for all crimes and offences of 277 days. This represents a 22-year high and comes as the conviction rate for those handling an offensive weapon improved in the last year; The average sentence length for all crimes and offences was 277 days in 2010, 282 in 2009-10 but this remains an increase from the level of 232 days in 2006-07; The average custodial sentence length increased for homicide (excluding life sentences) rose 5%, an increase in the average for 2006-07. Key point: crime is down along with fear of crime and sentence lengths remain high.
Homicide statistics 14th December Homicide in Scotland, 2010-11 was published and shows in 2010-11, there were 95 homicide cases recorded by the police in Scotland, an increase of 19 per cent compared to 2009-10. The alcohol and drug status was known for 97 (70 per cent) of the 138 persons accused of homicide in 2010-11. Of these 97 accused, 79 per cent were reported to have been drunk and/or on drugs at the time the homicide was committed (53 per cent were drunk, 7 per cent were on drugs and 20 per cent were both drunk and on drugs). Kenny MacAskill said “Every single life lost is one too many and every murder is a horrific tragedy for families, loved ones and for communities. I take today’s figures very seriously and can assure every man woman and child that this Government will continue to work tirelessly to make Scotland a safer place. Although the murder rate is down by 30 percent since 2004/05, last year saw a rise from 2009/10. The statistics speak for themselves – most murders are carried out indoors, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, by someone known to the victim. These senseless acts are usually carried out by men, under the influence of cheap booze and drugs. But these figures confirm what we already know – bargain basement booze can have a fatal price. We will not shirk from taking tough action on alcohol abuse and we cannot allow this mindless violence, which has devastating consequences for families and communities across Scotland, to continue.”
Fingerprint Inquiry 14th December the Fingerprint Inquiry was published by Sir Anthony Campbell.
Kenny MacAskill said ”For well over a decade, the Shirley McKie case has cast a shadow of uncertainty and suspicion over the individuals involved and the wider Scottish criminal justice system. Though previous reviews had helped address some key issues, they had not resolved them all. We should all recognise that there have been significant advances in the delivery of Scotland’s forensic services since the McKie case, and I am confident that the recommendations from this Inquiry will further enhance these services.
Alex Salmond discussed plans from Energy giant SSE, Port of Dundee owner Forth Ports, Scottish Enterprise and Dundee City Council with representatives, who have joined under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to secure Dundee.s position as a centre for developing the offshore renewables sector. Scottish Government news release is available here. This was mentioned during FMQs, with Alex Salmond mentioning Scottish Enterprise analysis showing “that Dundee port has the potential to support around 700 jobs in offshore wind-turbine manufacturing, with further job opportunities in supply-chain development in the Dundee area.” Fergus Ewing urged industry experts to take advantage of renewable energy at a conference on the economics of renewables. Fergus Ewing said ”Scotland has huge potential for renewable energy. It has enormous wealth in its people, geography and natural resources and it would be a criminal waste not to take advantage of it. As well as skills and expertise, we have a quarter of Europe’s tidal and offshore wind potential and a tenth of its wave power.” The report ‘Powering Scotland’ from Reform Scotland, says Scotland could earn £2bn a year exporting green energy. It also called for all of Scotland’s nuclear power stations to be phased out and for energy powers to be devolved formally to Scottish Parliament. The report was also mentioned at FMQs, with Alex Salmond commenting that it “is the latest of a number of reports to confirm that Scotland has fantastic energy resources in its people, its geography and its natural resources.”
Sectarianism Bill – Stage 3 debate
14th December MSPs debated the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill. Ten amendments were debated, from the Scottish Government, Conservatives and Greens. The Bill passed by 64 votes to 57. The new laws create two new distinct offences: The first offence targets any offensive and threatening behaviour expressed at and around football matches which is likely to cause public disorder; The second offence relates to the communication of threats of serious harm or which are intended to stir up religious hatred on the internet or other communications. Roseanna Cunningham said “I am pleased that this important piece of legislation has been endorsed by Scotland’s Parliament today and will soon become law. This Bill sends out an important message about the kind of Scotland we want to live in, because the vast majority of people in this country have no time whatsoever for the kind of mindless bigotry that has attached itself to the small minority who only damage and undermine our beautiful game – or those who peddle hatred by sitting behind a computer screen posting threats of harm on the internet. This is the 21st century, and this kind of behaviour is simply not acceptable, so action had to be taken. The passing of these important new laws sends out a powerful message to the bigots that this behaviour will not be tolerated in a modern Scotland. The police and the Lord Advocate, the most senior law officer in Scotland, now have the additional tools they have asked for to do their difficult job.”
Year of Creative Scotland
Fiona Hyslop set out Scotland-wide celebrations for the Year of Creative Scotland 2012. This will begin with Hogmanay and will continue until December 31, 2012. Scotland creativity is put in the spotlights, focussing on cultural tourism and developing our creative sector and events industry. Creative Scotland will invest £6.5 million of National Lottery funds in the Year of Creative Scotland 2012 programme. Fiona Hyslop said “Scotland is a dynamic and creative nation, rich in heritage with a wealth of world-class cultural events. The Year of Creative Scotland 2012 will be a spectacular celebration of our nation’s culture and creativity on both the international stage and across our communities. It will continue to build on the success of Homecoming 2009 as we journey towards a second year of Homecoming in 2014 – when Scotland hosts the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup. The programme for 2012 features fantastic events and outstanding new work, covering everything from music, drama and dance, to art, textiles and literature. Activity will take place in communities the length and breadth of Scotland, with lots of new opportunities to get involved, to be creative and experience and participate in our world-class culture.”
Coverage on Europe has continued this week as Alex Salmond returned from China with six crucial questions for David Cameron. Alex Salmond said “It is extraordinary state of affairs that while the Scottish Government and our agencies were working hard to promote Scotland’s interests and industries in China, David Cameron was blundering into apparently changing the UK’s entire relationship with the European Union – without even discussing it with his own Lib Dem coalition colleagues, never mind the devolved administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.” On Monday Stewart Hosie MP commented that “Events last week totally underline the case for Scotland securing our own direct representation in Europe so that, when our vital national interests are being discussed, Scotland is not shut out of the room.” On Tuesday the Welsh First Minister, Labour.s Carwyn Jones, followed the Scottish Government in raising concerns over the impact David Cameron’s EU walkout will have on trade and industry in the devolved nations. Europe came up at FMQs, with Alex Salmond asking Ruth Davidson if she realises “that more and more people in Scotland would prefer independence in Europe to isolation with Britain?” Furthermore, the First Minister pointed out that this “is the first time in history that a Prime Minister has vetoed something that was not even on the table”.
Integration of health and social care debate
On 15th December the Scottish Government debated the integration of health and social care. The motion from Nicola Sturgeon made reference to the achievements that have been made and the need for improved integration. Furthermore, it concludes with the statement that the Scottish Government “will continue to work with partners in the NHS, local government, the third and independent sectors and professional bodies to take these reforms forward.”
On Thursday, MSPs debated the Scottish Government’s billion pound Infrastructure Investment Plan, which was unveiled last week detailing plans for more than 50 major projects and 30 programmes across Scotland. The plan identifies key capital investments that will deliver growth, support jobs and keep the economy moving despite the fact the Scottish budget faces unprecedented cuts from Westminster for the foreseeable future. Launching the plan, Infrastructure Secretary Alex Neil said that as well as demonstrating Scottish Government action, the plan also underlined the need for more borrowing powers, which would allow more investment. He said that the plan would support employment, explaining: “With every additional £100m of capital we invest per year estimated to generate £160 million worth of economic activity and support 1400 jobs in the wider economy for that year. All of these projects will signal a clear intent and provide the kind of solid foundations and certainty our construction industry demands.” The plan was welcomed by the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, who stated it “admired” the Scottish Government, while the Scottish Building Federation described the plan as “very positive”. Included in the projects contained in the plans are the completion of upgrades to the M8, A96 and A9, new colleges in Glasgow, Inverness and Kilmarnock, while a commitment was given to deliver projects such as Southern General Hospital in Glasgow and the Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh.
Scottish businesses agree that high speed rail would be good for Scotland
A survey published on Wednesday found that almost three quarters (72.5%) of Scottish businesses believe high speed rail would attract new investment to Scotland. The research was carried out by the Scottish Partnership Group for High Speed Rail, formed by Housing Minister Keith Brown with a membership of businesses, transport groups and civic leaders. The Group’s Fast Track Scotland report makes the case for high speed rail in Scotland, finding it would benefit the economy by around £24.8bn over the 60 year appraisal period. The Group has asked for the UK Department of Transport’s HS2 company, set up to deliver high speed rail, to consider detailed planning for Scotland, with the report concluding: “It is imperative that high-speed rail is developed in the UK. It is also imperative that Scotland is included if the UK is to see the full benefits of its contribution to the economy.” The Infrastructure Investment Plan has stated that the Scottish Government will consider a high speed rail link network in Scotland on the condition that the UK Government agrees to build its proposed line to the Border. Alex Neil said “Now, we are willing to look at [building our own network] if we get a guarantee, in particular that the gap in England between Birmingham and the north of England, is going to be closed.”
Public sector employment statistics
On Wednesday, Scotland’s Chief Statistician published statistics on Public Sector Employment in Scotland. Some of the main findings from Quarter 3 2011 are: In Q3 2011, there were 588,900 people employed in the public sector in Scotland, a decrease of 23,500 (3.8 per cent) since Q3 2010; Total public sector employment currently accounts for 23.7 per cent per cent of total employment in Scotland. This has decreased from 24.7 per cent in Q3 2010 and from 23.8 per cent in Q3 1999 (In 1999 financial institutions were not included in the public sector); Public sector employment excluding public sector financial institutions accounts for 22.3 per cent of total employment; Of the total 588,900 people employed in the public sector, 492,100 (83.6 per cent) work in public bodies devolved to Scotland. The remaining 96,900 (16.4 per cent) work in public bodies which are the responsibility of the UK Government; Over the year to Q3 2011, employment in public bodies devolved to Scotland has decreased by 21,200 (4.1 per cent); During the same time employment in public bodies which are the responsibility of the UK Government has decreased by 2,300 (2.3 per cent). Finance Secretary John Swinney said “In tough and challenging times, the number of new jobs created in the private sector was once again much higher than the number lost in the public sector over the year to the third quarter of 2011. Including all financial institutions, private sector employment is now at its highest share in Scotland since devolution, with overall employment up by nearly 200,000. In the Spending Review we announced an ambitious programme of public service reform, which challenged the public sector to reshape, integrate and deliver better services, consistent with the recommendations of the Christie Commission. In the face of severe spending cuts from Westminster, the Scottish Government has prioritised investment in frontline public services, including over 1,000 additional police officers since we came to office, and significantly more staff in the health service compared to the position we inherited. Our policy of no compulsory redundancies for staff under the Scottish Government’s responsibility is helping maintain frontline staffing levels and supporting economic security as a driver of recovery.”