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September 24th – September 30th, 2022 Week 39

Trickle Down Economics

            Much is being made of the diverging tax regime between Scotland and England, particularly after the Tory Chancellor’s emergency budget which will put more money in the hands of the richest south of the border.  At present in Scotland the initial 19% tax rate applies to earnings between the tax-free personal allowance of £12,570 and £14,732, then 20% up to £25,688, 21% up to £43,662, 41% up to £150,000 and 46% above £150,000. 

            Under the new regime, someone on £40,000 a year would pay an extra £395 a year tax in Scotland compared to England and those lucky enough to earn £250,000 would pay an extra £9,046 tax a year.  Most Scots think this is fair and are aware that many things like prescriptions and higher education are free in Scotland, but not in England. 

            Scotland will get an extra £630 million in Barnett consequential funding as a result of the tax cuts and changes to stamp duty in the emergency budget, but the Scottish government is not obliged to make the same tax cuts in Scotland or even spend the money at all.  Perhaps they could target this money specifically to those who need it most, signalling that Scotland does not intend to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor.

          The idea that tax cuts will make investment trickle down, stimulate the economy and ‘float all the boats’ is fantasy.

Re-Railing the North-East

            SNP MSP Karen Adam recently attended a Campaign for North-East Rail (CNER) meeting working to reverse decades-old rail cuts as part of the Just Transition for the North-East.  The CNER now has funding for a feasibility study.  Major centres like Peterhead and Fraserburgh were deemed not cost-effective in the 1960s, with 5000 miles of track closed by British Railways Board chairman Richard Beeching. 

            New north-east rail links would de-congest the roads, reduce road accidents and provide fast links for the fishing industry and residents, creating jobs in depressed areas.  Karen Adam argues rightly that the north-east has generated billions of pounds for the UK economy and it is right to re-invest in the area, many parts of which saw no benefit from the North Sea Oil boom.

SNP Submission to the Supreme Court

            The SNP intervention in the Supreme Court case states the people of Scotland are a ‘people’ with the inalienable right to self-determination, under the Human Rights Act 1998, with the right to determine ‘their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development’. The 1998 Scotland Act must be interpreted with a strong presumption that exercising that right should not be made onerous or subject to the approval of another people.

            We await the outcome of the case being heard on 11th and 12th October.  Or on to a General Election plebiscite.

Prognosis Critical

            According to the two doctors leading the campaign to save the NHS, our health service is in critical condition and may not survive. Dr Julia Patterson, founder of EveryDoctor, a 1500-strong doctor-led campaign in England, and Dr Maria Corretge of Scotland, say patient care is suffering, doctors cannot give the care they want, and political mismanagement is killing people.

            Dr Corretge berates early hospital discharge to free up A&E, and claims public debate has been ‘kidnapped by independence’, with party members reluctant to criticise the ruling party.  While admitting there are problems, the SNP offers no solutions.

            Dr Corretge, a geriatrician, claims treatment was much better 20 years ago, and is surprised at the lack of protest that St Michael’s Hospital in West Lothian faces permanent closure.  After the 2018 review, GP practices should have become super-practices with access to physiotherapists and other professionals.  

             Practice closures were not mentioned.  If a practice is relinquished and there is more than one note of interest in a takeover, it goes to tender, but if no-one tenders, the practice closes.  It does not default to locum GPs but can end up being run by the health board.

            Closure decisions are announced as a ‘fait accompli’, and protest is futile.  The problem may be it is far more lucrative for doctors to work as locums. That appears to be a weakness of the Scottish contract.  England already has GP practices bought up by American health insurance companies.  Is that happening here, or will it soon?

NHS Dentistry

            may soon be a thing of the past, due to falling fees from the Scottish government.  Today dentists are paid £1.30 for every £1-worth of treatment (1.3 multiplier), falling from October to £1.20 (0.2 multiplier), £1.10 from January and from next April they will get no multiplier.  

           Dentists cannot afford this, particularly since charges for lab work have increased by 50% in recent months.  All that will continue is emergency treatment, pain relief, dressings and repairs, but not for dentures, crowns or even multiple fillings.  Patients may have to pay a flat-rate fee per month to stay on the list.

            Tooth extractions have gone up by 26% on pre-pandemic levels, and desperate people have resorted to DIY dentistry as they cannot get NHS treatment.

CMAL and Calmac

            Plans are being considered to merge ferry owner CalMac and operator CMAL in one publicly owned company following the Project Neptune probe into west coast ferry failings, which criticised a lack of long-term planning and adequate maintenance and replacement schedules.  Consultants Ernst and Young received £156,000 for the Neptune report and will get another £404,000 to analyse the finances of the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service contract. It is claimed the new body would give clearer accountability to customers and stakeholders, better value for money and cut out duplication.  

            The suggested name for the new company is rumoured to be CHFS Ferries Co. Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth will only admit that there will be sweeping changes to the service.

Arran

            has an affordable housing crisis so bad that it constrains economic development (‘How we are acting to fix our island’s housing crisis’, Tom Tracey and Sheena Borthwick-Toomey, National, 26/09/22). This affects health and social care, education, hospitality and tourism, hitting staff recruitment.  Fully 25% of the housing stock is second or empty homes, peaking at as much as 47% in some villages.  Rents are therefore higher.  Only 11% of housing is for affordable rent, compared to 24% in the rest of Scotland, and social providers charge up to 28% more for it.

            This goes against the Scottish Island Plan, which states that islanders should have the same opportunities as those on the mainland.  The average house price is £273,000, twice the mainland North Ayrshire average.   To add insult to injury the problem lessens between October and March, when more property becomes available, but renters can find themselves homeless in the summer, when landlords can charge more.  Housing affordability is on a par with London, requiring nine times the average salary to buy an average home.   Construction and supplies cost more, needing transported by ferry. Tender costs are higher and fewer builders will take on projects.

            The Arran Development Trust (ADT) plans have led to North Ayrshire Council (NAC) building and completing 34 affordable homes in Brodick as part of the Strategic Housing Investment Plan.  The NAC Allocations and Local Lettings Initiative awards additional points and priority for key workers and those already resident on Arran. ADT has also secured funding and permissions for building 18 one-, two- and three-bedroom homes in Lamlash, and will offer 25 heavily discounted serviced plots for sale under the Rural Housing Burden, meaning the homes must be principal residences in perpetuity, with a pre-emptive right of purchase should they be sold in the future.

            The group also wants to simplify and speed up accessibility for island community groups to access affordable housing funding and establish transit housing in prefabricated off-grid housing stock pending permanent housing being built, as well as considering making Arran a Short-term Let Control Area.

            It wants income from second homes to create an Arran Affordable Housing Fund to support its aims, using the almost £900,000 council tax gained from second homes, and funding from homes paying business rates to top-up to local and central government funding to offset higher building costs on Arran.

University Fees

            Overseas students will soon become the chief source of Scottish university funding (27% as opposed to 25% Scottish-resident).  The number of Scottish-resident students (who get free tuition) is capped, and overseas students can pay up to £30,000 a year.  The Scottish government said it invests almost £1.9 billion a year in the tertiary sector.

Housing the Homeless

            The Scottish government’s homeless rehousing strategy has been thrown into chaos due to the haste in which Scotland took in 10,000 Ukrainian refugees without adequate support on the ground.  Local authorities claim their understandable and urgent need for housing will have a knock-on effect on the government’s Rapid Rehousing Transition Plans (RRTP) for other homeless people, with a lack of local staff and funding to cope with the influx.   The RRTP aims to prevent homelessness, failing which to rehouse people into settled households as soon as possible.

            The homeless and refugee/displaced person projects are meant to be separate but are blurring and confusion is evident.  The Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group plan to meet to try and rectify the situation.

Finally,

Better Together ..?

            Could Liz Truss be one of the shortest-lived PMs in history?  After Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng gave tax cuts to the rich involving £45bn of new borrowing, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is concerned.  Could the UK be going cap in hand for a bailout (again)? 

            That and the unedifying spectacle of the Labour Party standing at conference belting out ‘God Save the King’.  Didn’t the original Labour party try to right the wrongs suffered by the working class at the hands of … erm … royalty and the like…?

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