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June 8th – June 14th, 2024

June 8th – June 14th, 2024

ScotGov and Private Health firms; Ferry Costs Probe; and are Rural Areas Neglected?

Rural and Islands Finance

            For 2024-25 Rural and Island Finance has suffered a budget cut of 9.3%, the second largest cut of all portfolios.  Most departments within Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands have reduced budgets, with the Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition portfolio including a cut of nearly

           £6 million in Ferry Service funding, although a slight increase is recorded this year in Forestry, Food Support and Crofting; and in Rural Services Education and Skills.

 Rural Transport Let-down

            A report by the Institute for Public Policy research (IPPR) found that people in rural areas feel let down over the unreliability or even non-existence of transport, to the extent that some are considering moving to urban areas.  They cite long waits for buses, as well as long, slow journeys, plus the non-involvement of rural dwellers in transport decisions affecting them. The Wheels of Change report recommends a clear plan to cut emissions and car usage by 2030, saying towns and communities should be funded as hubs for rural services, with multiple modes of transport available.

And Rural Policing is Vanishing

            Former Scottish Police Federation General Secretary Calum Steele has attacked the relentless closure of rural police stations, along with the disappearing service to the public.  He says rural crime is disregarded, even high-value thefts of agricultural equipment, and rural areas are generally neglected, with rural roads badly potholed and dangerous.  The latest initiative (partly reversed) of not investigating crimes with no obvious leads is just accelerating the process.

            He is particular scathing on the speed of closures, with, for example, 11 Hebrides stations reduced to 3, and says commanders are deployed in ways to ‘expand their cvs’, not for the betterment of the service, which he accuses of ‘face-ism’, that your face fits or it doesn’t.  He says those running the service and administering cuts have no concept of maintaining a relationship with the community, and questions why the Assistant Chief Constable in charge of policing the northern half of Scotland works out of Tulliallan Castle in Kincardine, Fife.

SNP include Cass-deniers on NHS Gender Review

          ForWomen Scotland have expressed outrage that certain activists who have rejected the findings of the Cass Report and still promote puberty blockers have been appointed to help the SNP set up a new NHS child gender clinic. According to the Telegraph, they include members of an influential group on gender identity healthcare established by the Scottish government in 2022, one of whom is Dr Ruth Pearce, a Glasgow University lecturer who has called the ban on puberty blockers ‘disgusting’.

         Other members of the gender identity healthcare group include LGBT Youth Scotland and representatives from World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) which has been critical of the Cass Review.

            Given that gender identity itself is nothing more than a highly contested theory, it is not clear whether any gender-critical representatives were invited to join the group in the name of fairness and balance, given the Scottish government’s avowed intention to engage with a wide range of stakeholders, including those impacted by service or policy changes.

‘Hiding’ Trans prisoners’ names

           Meanwhile the SNP wants to keep secret the names of trans prisoners to ‘protect their safety’, putting the needs of often-violent males ahead of women’s need for safety.  The government feels that such a small number of trans prisoners exist that they need extra protection.  The SPS says its statutory obligation is to ensure ‘…. their personal information is protected’, but seem less concerned about the danger to females posed by males in female prisons.

Prestwick Sale Stitch-Up?

            Businessman Forsyth Black is a secret bidder to buy now-profitable Prestwick Airport, following a stint as chairman to run it on behalf of the public while bids were considered. He admitted to a Holyrood committee in December 2023 that he knew of other bids which were not passed on to ministers, and said a ‘pre-filter’ was being applied to block spurious bids or those without adequate financial backing.   During his time as chair, no bids were passed on to the government, but said one is currently being ‘filtered’ to see if he will pass it on.

            After quitting as chair in March this year, he joined up with aviation investment company Onex Corporation in his own bid for the airport, although the Scottish government seems to have been aware of his link to an expression of interest even before he quit.  If he worked in his own interests while still Prestwick chair, it is a clear conflict of interest, as is failing to pass on a number of other bids to ministers.

ScotGov’s use of the Private Health Sector

            Since January 2023 the Scottish government has spent or pledged to spend £850 million in contracts awarded to companies in England, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands, involving health functions such as diagnostics, testing, X-ray assessments and treatments, plus private agency staff and collection and delivery of products.  But only patients being sent to private companies for clinical procedures are recorded as ‘private healthcare spend’.  Amongst other recipients of Scottish cash, German firm Fresenius Medical Care has been given £7 million to provide at-home dialysis for patients, a £30 million contract to assess X-rays and scans went partly to a company in Denmark, and a Cambridge firm got £3.5 million to provide online therapy to Scots patients.

           The biggest amount is £750 million reserved to spend on agency staff from firms, many of which are based in England.

Levelling Up in (mainly) Tory Constituencies

            A total of 30 towns will be receiving £20 million each for local projects IF the Tories win the General Election.  Seventy percent of the English and Welsh areas listed are held by the Tories, and Scottish locations include Perth, Alloa (Clackmannanshire), Mayfield (Midlothian) and Helensburgh (Dunbartonshire).  The latest awards have just been granted without recipients first having to apply for the cash.

            The Conservatives say that the £600 million cost of this round ‘may’ be funded from a crackdown on tax avoidance.

Have B&Bs Closed due to Short Term Lets Law?

            The Association of Scotland’s Self Caterers (ASSC) and the Scottish Bed and Breakfast Association say 1000 self-catering establishments have closed as a direct result of the STL policy, with both bodies claiming that their membership is down by 5% since its inception last October.  The Scottish government confirmed that nearly 24,000 of 32,000 short term lets have applied for a licence, but it is unclear what has happened to the remaining 8,000+.

            The average cost of licensing each B&B has been £2147, much more than the government estimated, and some businesses have had to pay up to £9,000 to meet compliance requirements. As local authorities deal with the licensing, there are 32 separate schemes, leading to inconsistency, arbitrary costs, and are unnecessary in the case of B&Bs as they were already inspected and subject to regulations, and B&Bs had no impact on local housing availability, which was one of the reasons for STL legislation in the first place.

The End of Corroboration?

            Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC last week asked nine judges of the High Court of Justiciary to amend the Scottish legal requirement for corroboration before conviction.  At the moment there must be two independent pieces of evidence to prove the facts of a case, the first being that the crime was committed, and the second that it was the accused who committed it.  If both were not proved, the case would fail.

            This separated Scotland from the rest of the UK.  Corroboration often takes the form of circumstantial evidence rather than a witness, particularly in domestic violence or sexual crimes, but a change would allow the victim’s own repetition of (usually) her attack to someone else, or her distressed demeanour, to act as corroboration that a crime had occurred.

Legal Aid Boycott

            Defence Solicitors have begun industrial action over legal aid reforms, with around 800 boycotting cases, as well as refusing to act if an accused has no solicitor and refusing to take part in a virtual custody pilot process.  They say an earlier uplift of 10% in fees has been overtaken by inflation as a further scheduled review did not take place in time.

            At present there is only one criminal lawyer for every 4,500 adults in Scotland, meaning many delayed cases.  The Scottish Solicitors Bar Association (SSBA) says criminal legal aid rates are only half what they should be, but the Scottish government claims that additional legal aid funding has provided £31 million more since April 2021.

Soaring Ferry Costs

            will be the subject of an official investigation into Ferguson Marine’s affairs before it was nationalised in 2019, after Audit Scotland had previously said its own investigation was hampered by the lack of such information.  The firm had been rescued from administration in 2014, but by 2019’s administration it had received £83.25m milestone payments from the government-owned procurement agency Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) plus £45m in loans from the government itself.

            Now an external auditor will examine FM’s finances pre-nationalisation. The £97m ferry cost was supposed to be fixed, but has quadrupled in cost since then, and part of the investigation will be into why a fixed price at the beginning turned out to be nothing of the sort.

Football:  ICT No More?

            Now consigned to Scottish League One football, and threatened with a move to Fife for the first team, the club is in deep trouble.  Although the move to Kelty was shelved after a public outcry and threats of season-ticket boycotts and non-attendance at matches, chairman Ross Morrison has resigned (after, it must be remembered, putting £1.4 million into the club), followed by chief executive Scot Gardiner. 

            ICT need investment following the failure of a couple of fundraising schemes including the collapse of the ‘Loch Ness Park and Ride’ deal with Norwegian renewables company Statkraft, which would have been worth between £1.4m and £1.7m over 5 years; and the refusal of permission to build a £40 million battery farm which would have stored excess wind farm energy in a business park and released it onto the grid at times of high demand.  The club has brought in an insolvency practitioner in case they ultimately fail to find new investment.  If administration follows, it will bring a points deduction for the new season and make an immediate return to the Championship much less likely.

 

Finally,

Well, is there a Loch Ness Monster?

            The latest expedition in search of the elusive creature detected an ‘unexplainable noise’ as well as a potential sighting.  Alan McKenna of Loch Ness Exploration captured a ‘rhythmic pulsing noise’ lasting about 10 seconds, and Evelyn Murphy got an intriguing photo showing a clear break in the water made by an unidentified ‘something’.  Wouldn’t we all be secretly disappointed if Nessie turned out to be a hoax?  Maybe he’ll put in an appearance if Scotland do well at the Euros….

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