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January 6th – January 12th, 2024

06/01/2024 – 12/01/2024

Business Woes, Poverty and Land Tax, but first ……..

ScotGov Consultations

1)Learning Disabilities

         A ScotGov consultation is open on the Learning Disabilities, Autism and Neurodivergence Bill covering proposals to protect the rights of those with learning disabilities like Down’s Syndrome, autism and neurodivergence, including proposals for more inclusive means of communication. It covers all aspects of life, from school through transition to adulthood, including housing, transport and employment.  Would the appointment of a Commissioner for People with Learning Disabilities help? This consultation runs until 10pm on Sunday 21st April 2024.

https://consult.gov.scot/mental-health-unit/learning-disabilities-autism-neurodivergence-bill/consultation

 If you cannot complete this, please request a Respondent Information Form at LDAN.Bill@gov.scot or via post at FREEPOST – LDAN BILL.

(2)   A second consultation is underway on Ending conversion practices in Scotland.  The government is seeking to criminalise attempts to change or suppress the gender identity or sexual orientation of another person.  But particularly in ‘trans’ conversion therapy, this would also ban listening and talking therapies.  Nothing but full affirmation of what people say will do.  There is a genuine fear that parents/doctors/ therapists giving advice to ‘trans’ youngsters may be criminalised.  How do you define ‘suppressing gender identity’ if gender identity itself is fluid?  The consultation runs until midnight on 2nd April 2024.

          Responses may be online via the Scottish Government’s Consultation Hub, Citizen Space, or by post, although the government prefers that you use the former. 

Female Prison Staff

            will have to carry out intimate searches on male-bodied prisoners, with chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service Teresa Medhurst insisting there is no need for an ‘opt out’ for staff.  She could only say that a repeat of the Isla Bryson case was ‘highly, highly unlikely’.  The new policy comes into effect on February 24th.  When quizzed by Tory MSP Russell Findlay on whether staff would be disciplined if they refused, she said they could discuss matters with line managers and that no-one had been disciplined in 20 years for refusing a search.

            But it would be impossible if male-bodied prisoners were just kept out of women’s jails.

Violent Males may be imprisoned with Women

           The new policy is the old one rehashed, that violent trans prisoners will be housed in female prisons if they wish as long as they do ‘not pose a risk to other inmates’ based on a risk assessment.

            So even males convicted of murder, rape or sexual harassment may be imprisoned with females.  Preferred pronouns must also be used by staff and other prisoners, says Angela Constance, Justice Secretary, who says they ‘endeavour to respect people’s identities’, apparently respecting male-bodied prisoners over the welfare of vulnerable women who have often suffered violence at the hands of men.

Poverty

            may be forcing children into care, with parents unable to afford even basic furniture like beds, clothing and food.  The Lancet medical journal says it is one of the principal reasons for children to be taken into care. This is sheer lack of resources, not parental neglect or cruelty.  Kirkcaldy’s Cottage Family Centre has helped some families avoid this fate, but the tales it tells are horrific – children taking turns sleeping on sofas, or turning up to school unwashed as there is no money for clothes washing after rent, food and heating, and claim some schools are installing launderette facilities to ensure children have clean clothing.  The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says one million children and three million adults are deemed to be destitute due to lack of a home, heating, adequate food or toiletries.

            The £120 estimate for essentials for a single person is £34 more than the £86 per week for adult singles over 25 on Universal Credit (UC), and £52 more than the £68 available to those aged 24 and below on UC.  Families with two children and two adults get £308 per week UC, of which £300 goes on food, energy, clothing and bus fares, leaving £8 for everything else, and the two-child limit has brought further hardship.

Citizens’ Advice Need is Soaring

            Scotland is in the grip of a ‘tsunami of despair’ encompassing loneliness, cost of living issues and debt problems.  Loneliness is exacerbated by the high cost of running cars, and even train and bus fares may be beyond their means, increasing social isolation and possibly setting them up as at greater risk of dementia, heart attack and stroke.  People’s inability to look after themselves due to lack of funds affects their mental health.  Citizens’ Advice Bureaux can signpost users to other services like foodbanks and local partner organisations which try to fill the increasing gaps in the welfare ‘safety net’. CAS estimate that more than 230,000 people used community ‘warm banks’ over the last year.

What about a Land Tax?

            Should Scotland’s billionaire landlords be made subject to a one-off emergency land levy scheme to plug its budget deficit?  Yes, says Alex Neil who says a levy of £100 per acre would plug the £1.5 billion budget  shortfall.  No, says ScotGov’s Minister for Community Wealth and Public Finance Tom Arthur!  

            Scotland’s richest man is Dane Anders Hoch Povlsen, worth £8.5 billion, but others affected may be Richard Scott, Duke of Buccleuch; Sir Henry Angest through his Jersey-registered Rora Investments vehicle; and billionaire rulers from the United Arab Emirates and Dubai.

            It is ironic that the government minister for community wealth is not keen on taxing the wealthiest, even when it is pointed out that even billionaires can take in large amounts of farm subsidies, and pay more tax in their home countries on their worldwide holdings than they pay here.

Business:

Housebuilders

            are having a torrid time lately, with two firms going bust over the Christmas period, as well as Logie Builders, Dundee at the end of last year.  Aberdeen-based Stewart Milne Group and six subsidiaries entered administration with the loss of 217 jobs.  Merchant Homes in Glasgow also went bust with the loss of 22 jobs with immediate effect. They follow Logie Glazing and Building Services of Dundee, who failed in September 2023.

Business Closures:

            Locavore, an Edinburgh zero-waste organic foodshop, has also shut abruptly after 2 years, although they will continue their veg-box delivery service.  Glasgow’s European-style Beer Café also closed abruptly, and Pure Spa and Beauty in Glasgow’s Silverburn Shopping Centre will close permanently at the end of February, although other branches remain open.

Help for Tourism?

            The Scottish Tourism Alliance says tourism and hospitality are showing signs of recovery regarding key overseas markets, but rising costs and significant drop in domestic visitor numbers.  They lament the refusal of the Scottish government to grant the same business rates relief as in England and Wales (although the Scottish government does have its own measures in place).  Changes to the Skilled Worker visa requirements will not help.

Business Rates

            Small businesses may save up to £37 million while over 22,000 firms medium and large firms are facing a 7% rise in rates bills from April, increasing their rates bill by £204 million, a quarter of which are shops.  Buried in the small print of the budget is a proposal to reintroduce a public health supplement on large shops selling alcohol and tobacco which was scrapped in 2015.  Business leaders say this is a breach of the government’s New Deal for Business which promised engagement with business and no surprise announcements.  The Scottish Retail Consortium says some businesses will face a 25-year high in business rates this spring.

            Humza Yousaf wants a new Industrial Strategy and envisages a future for oil and gas for at least a decade after independence.  The closure of Grangemouth oil refinery runs counter to this, but conversely, continuing oil and gas extraction goes against Scotland’s climate targets.

Grangemouth

            Scotland will become a ‘third world’ nation for fuel if the planned closure of Grangemouth refinery goes ahead, making Scotland the only one of the top 25 major oil-producing countries not to have a refinery producing car fuel.  It is able to refine 150,000 barrels a day and is of major strategic importance in energy supply and regional economic development.  Oil will be shipped to Scotland and then south to one of five English refineries or abroad for refining and then sent back to Scotland, probably returning more expensive than it need be.

Do we want a ‘buoyant’ housing market? Or one that works for everyone?

            Property agents are hoping for this year to be a positive and buoyant market and are hoping for the euphemistically-named ‘premium’ on property prices (that is, paying well over the asking price, usually after an unseemly competition with other buyers to outbid each other).  It is predicted to continue at least until about May.  Great if you have a property to sell, not so great if you must then buy.  But do we want a ‘buoyant’ market or one that provides a home for everyone, either for rent or purchase?

Legal: Joanna Cherry

            is bidding for the role of Lord Advocate to be split into two, one post heading Scotland’s prosecution service and the other as minister of the Scottish government and its chief legal adviser, due to concerns that the present arrangement involves a conflict of interest. But the bill must be raised at Westminster due to reservations under the Scotland Act 1998.

Scots Postmaster ‘fraud’ cases

            Former sub-postmistress Louise Dar has called on Police Scotland to investigate after she was forced to repay £44,000 which the Post Office’s Horizon computer system wrongly said she stole from her Post Office branch in Lenzie.  The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has referred six cases to the Appeal Court, and cases continue to be heard in Scotland, despite Humza Yousaf saying all Scottish victims will be exonerated as others will be in England and Wales.   

Finally

XL bully dogs to be banned in Scotland

            After initially urging people living near dangerous dogs to contact the local authority for a dog control notice, the Scottish government humiliatingly caved in after a public outcry.  Humza Yousaf claimed the UK government legislated without consulting the Scottish government, but it is understood three official letters were sent to Scotland urging a ‘coordinated approach’. Now Scotland is lumbered with a large number of these dogs after people have been openly rounding them up and bringing them to Scotland.  What happens to them now?  If they are in an official rescue centre, presumably they will be put down.

            But what about those owned by individuals?  Will they just be abandoned and let loose?

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