Scottish news bulletin: 24th March 2009

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All newspaper references refer to the Scottish editions.

Economy

Dunfermline Building Society: Treasury ministers are preparing to bail out the Dunfermline Building Society, which is in trouble, having reportedly run up losses in excess of £26 million. The Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy indicated that the UK Government would intervene with taxpayer’s money if necessary. It has emerged that the FSA reportedly knew of the DBS troubles six months ago but failed to act. (Scotsman page 2, Sunday Herald page 1, Times page 3, Herald page 4, Telegraph page 1, Courier page 1, Daily Mail page 12, Press and Journal page 10, Daily Record page 12)

RBS ‘bullying’ directors: RBS reportedly threatened their directors with the sack if they asked too many questions about RBS’s rapid expansion, the “aggressive” culture is said to date back for a decade. Lord Foulkes has asked the FSA to investigate allegations of intimidation. (Scotsman page 6, Guardian page 23, Herald page 1, Telegraph page 8, Financial Times page 18, Courier page 9, Press and Journal page 10, Daily Express page 7)

Tax Havens: Gordon Brown is still intending to discuss a plan for a multilateral exchange of information on “offshore” accounts at the G20 summit despite a rearguard action by tax havens. This has increased pressure on the City Minister Lord Myners to resign as it emerged that he helped to set up a business in a tax haven (Aspen Insurance Holdings) which avoids more than £100 million a year in UK taxes. (Guardian page 1, Times page 3)

Fiscal Stimulus: The CBI warned that the dire state of British public finances ruled out another significant financial stimulus in next month’s budget. This call for caution predates the G20 summit where Gordon Brown and Barack Obama are expected to call for increased fiscal stimulus. (Guardian page 26, Times page 40, Herald page 28, Telegraph page B2, Financial Times page 1, Press and Journal page 10)

Crime

Scottish prisons: Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie MSP claimed that Scottish prisons are “awash” with drugs, after it emerged that there were almost 5 drug finds per day. (Scotsman page 11, Press and Journal page 6)

Antisocial behaviour: Fergus Ewing MSP has produced a blueprint for the replacement of ASBOs with support packages and critics have claimed this move away from punishment is too soft on crime. (Jenny Hjul in Sunday Times)

Transport

Tram works: There is tension over a proposed break in the tram works on Princes Street over the Edinburgh Festival. Edinburgh Council support a break unless it adds millions in costs or will risk Hogmanay being cancelled. However, local business leaders would want the six week embargo shelved to ensure that the project is completed in time for the festive shopping season. (Scotsman page 16)

High-speed train: The UK could have the world’s fastest train in the next 12 years. The service which would run from London to the North has been announced by the government-owned company High Speed Two. (Times page 16)

Local Government

Top Scottish councillors: The cost to the public of the top 12 Scottish councillors has increased 400% despite the economic downturn, due to a pay increase from £29,662 to £123, 487. (Sunday Herald page 16

Non-jobs:

Local authorities have been accused of wasting millions of pounds on politically correct non-jobs such as a bouncy castle assistant and a cheerleading development officer. Despite the recession it has emerged that councils are continuing to recruit people to these highly paid positions, critics have used this as proof that local authorities need to cut back. (Sunday Times page 1, Daily Mail page 2, Allan Massie in Daily Mail, Daily Express page 10)

Pensions: Local government pension schemes are running a deficit in excess of £100 billion, more than twice the latest recorded figure, according to the findings of a research note by John Ralfe a pension’s consultant. (Times page 41, Telegraph page B3)

Education

Loan sharks: Students on Scottish campuses are increasingly turning to disreputable lenders for credit, as university hardship funds dry up and parents become unable to help. The National Union of Students has called for the government to do all they can to help hard-up students, as debts can become unmanageable and the interest payments on lines of credit can become a problem for those with no income. (Scotsman page 11)

Politics

Scottish China trip: Opposition politicians have spoken out after it emerged that two separate Scottish delegations are going to China to discuss trade within weeks of each other – one Labour delegation including Jim Murphy and the other led by Alex Salmond. Annabel Goldie MSP, the conservative leader, denounced the fragmented approach commenting that it could lead to conflicting messages. (Scotsman page 5)

Nigel Griffiths: Labour leaders promised to stand by the MP from Edinburgh South Nigel Griffiths despite scandalous revelations about his personal life. In 2002 Mr. Griffiths was found to have broken Commons rules on expenses however no action was taken against him. (Scotsman page 13)

Homeless Children: 60 children in Scotland become homeless everyday according to Shelter. 22,000 youngsters a year are affected by homelessness and low quality housing. (Scotsman page 6, Sunday Herald page 1, Courier page 8)

Transport contract: The chief of Transport Scotland, Guy Houston, has resigned after it emerged that MSPs were misled about his involvement in the process which allocated a £2.5bn franchise deal to First Group, a company in which Mr. Houston owns shares. MSPs are angry having previously been assured that Mr. Houston participated only after a deal had been struck. (Scotsman page 17, Courier page 8, Press and Journal page 7)

Databases in Britain: A report by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust has declared that not only are 11 out of the government’s 46 biggest schemes, including the ID cards register and the national DNA database, a breach of European data protection and human rights law, but they are exceedingly wasteful. (Guardian page 4, Herald page 1, Telegraph page 6, Daily Mail page 1)

Iraq inquiry:
Gordon Brown will consider holding an inquiry into the Iraq war once British troops have returned home. (Guardian page 8)

Tory inheritance tax plans: Kenneth Clarke MP caused controversy by announcing that the Tory plan to raise the bar for inheritance tax to £1 million would have to be downgraded due a serious deterioration in the public finances. Though a spokesman for George Osborne MP stated that it would be in the party manifesto, they could only commit to introducing it within the next parliament, should they be elected. (Guardian page 8, Times page 15, Herald page 9, Telegraph page 1, Financial Times page 2, Courier page 11, Daily Mail page 26, Press and Journal page 10)

Unemployed poster boy: The Leader of the Scottish Labour party has reportedly been embarrassed after it emerged that a young man being held up as an example of Scotland’s youth being left behind by the SNP, has commenced an apprenticeship trial. (Sunday Herald page 7)

Calman Commission: Alex Salmond MSP was reportedly outraged after it was claimed that the Calman Commission wants to remove some of Holyrood’s powers and give them back to Westminster – so called re-reservation. It has been suggested that the reorganisation of powers may result in a new nuclear power station being built north or the border against the will of the SNP. Calman Commissioners have denied these claims. (Scotland on Sunday page 2, Times page 12)

Holyrood: A YouGov survey has revealed that most voters believe the Scottish Parliament has failed to improve either public services or the quality of their lives. (Sunday Times page 5, Press and Journal page 7)

Cheap alcohol: Iain Gray has announced support for the SNP’s plan to ban cheap booze in Scotland’s supermarkets thereby ending two-for-one offers and other loss leading deals, putting pressure on Gordon Brown to follow suit in England. (Sunday Times page 7)

Shetland wind farm: Though the development will increase employment, provide up to £30 million a year for the community and supply 20% of Scotland’s energy, inhabitants of the Shetland mainland are concerned that if this wind farm is allowed to go ahead it will attract other developers to blight their landscape. (Herald page 12)

Reform Scotland is an independent, non-party think tank that aims to set out a better way to deliver increased economic prosperity and more effective public services based on the traditional Scottish principles of limited government, diversity and personal responsibility.

www.reformscotland.com

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