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This Week In Scotland – Week 51

Dalzell Steel

It has been revealed by Ivan McKee, Scottish Business Minister, that the deal to save the last remaining steel plant in Scotland may have breached state aid rules. The Dalzell and Clydebridge steelworks was bought for £1 from Tata Steel by the Scottish government in 2016 and immediately sold on to Liberty Steel. Audit Scotland, which oversees Scottish public spending, and the European Commission are now involved. The deal went through when Holyrood was in recess before the Scottish Parliament elections. Was it bad timing or was it rushed through?

Rail fares

The UK Department of Transport is going to significantly raise prices in the New Year, the largest rise in nearly a decade. On January 24th, Scotland will see rises up to 3.8%. With the new rise, a yearly season ticket from Edinburgh to Glasgow may go up to almost £4,500.

Graeme Day, Transport Minister, claims it is needed to get rail travel on a sustainable footing, and includes “efficiency savings” (cuts) by ScotRail. Optimistically, he is encouraging ScotRail to “identify ways to encourage increased demand at the right time, in the right place”.We’re not quite sure what he has in mind. You need to travel to arrive at your work when your employer says you should be there, so hard-pressed commuters will be hit. Unless he thinks ScotRail can influence employers to let people work at off-peak times?

Housing Consultation

The Scottish government is looking for people’s views on its Housing to 2040 strategy. Proposals include nationwide rent controls for private rentals, minimum energy efficiency standards, increased penalties and stronger enforcement for illegal evictions, and banning winter evictions. It proposes a private rented sector regulator to be fair to tenants and landlords. Responses will shape the final version to be published next year, and added to a 2023 Housing Bill to go before the Scottish parliament.

Have your say at https://consult.gov.scot/housing-services-policy-unit/housing-to-2040

Food banks

say this will be their toughest Christmas yet. Many stores donate food to foodbanks, and ordinary people donate a huge amount to help their fellow citizens. Worryingly, 71% of food banks have seen a decline in donations recently, probably due to squeezed incomes as a result of covid. Foodbanks expect an increase in demand of 36% over the next three months.

If you can help, please donate something to your local foodbank. Most stores have a donation point and a list of the most urgently needed items.

Energy costs

already mean people are choosing between heating and eating. Citizens’ Advice Scotland claim 500,000 people in Scotland have cut back on food to meet energy bills. Thirty-six per cent of adults already find their energy bills unaffordable, that is almost half a million people.

Scottish Power

enforcers gained access to a woman’s flat while she was on holiday to enforce a debt. The trouble was, she did not owe them any money and was not even a customer. Scottish Power has apologised and compensated the (non)-customer. But her case prompted dozens of others to come forward alleging aggressive tactics by the energy giant. While it seems an increase in staff might be called for to help avoid such mistakes in future, Scottish Power has just decided to cut 160 staff in its retail operation, while simultaneously adding 60 staff to its digital arm.

Left hand, right hand….


Integrated Fire Alarms

The Scottish government’s flagship safety scheme is not progressing seamlessly. The fund to assist those in financial need appears woefully inadequate, and people may have real difficulty in complying before February 1st, 2022. The Scottish government is therefore allowing leeway for the installation of linked alarms to be done within a ‘reasonable period’ after that date, but the insurance industry is not so sure. It is believed some insurers may not payout on a claim if the smoke alarm work is not done by the specified date, although confusingly this may vary between insurers. If in doubt or unable to meet the deadline, contact your insurers well before the date. It is also worth contacting your MSP to put pressure on the government.

Complaints Procedures

Auditors have said there are serious failings in the way complaints about the behaviour of MSPs, councillors and members of public bodies are investigated. The Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland (CESPLS) receives hundreds of complaints every year, and although it can impose sanctions including disqualifying persons from public office, Audit Scotland identified a “disturbing number of failings”, with too many submissions just dismissed.

New management is planned, and it is recommended that all investigations since August 2020 should be reviewed.

However, the Scottish government has admitted it will now miss the deadline to publish new procedures on dealing with civil servants’ complaints about ministers’ behaviour, which was prompted by the harassment complaints about Alex Salmond. The plan is for independent investigators and adjudicators to be appointed, but citing the ongoing fight against the Omicron covid variant, John Swinney admitted he will fail to put this to parliament before the December parliamentary recess.

Trans Health:

NHS Scotland will get £9m from the Scottish government to dedicate to gender identity healthcare. The money is to bring down waiting times for gender identity services. Some trans people have waited 35 months between referral and first appointment. There is even a possibility of gender reassignment surgery being made available in Scotland. Four gender identity clinics already exist in Scotland.

The question is, of course, referral to what type of appointment? Is it to counselling services (which are currently denounced by some as a form of conversion therapy) or a fast track to hormone therapy, puberty blockers and surgery?

Government Covid support

Under pressure, UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak has agreed to reinstate the Statutory Sick Pay rebate to assist employers in the current crisis. He has also announced support for hospitality and leisure of £1bn, including £30m for a Culture Recovery Fund to assist theatres and museums.

Meanwhile, Ben Wallace thinks that the UK’s armed forces are better deployed abroad than helping Scottish citizens, who will apparently only receive military help to tackle covid as a last resort. Aren’t some of those military personnel from Scottish regiments and should we not get the use of them? Don’t we already pay taxes for a far bigger military than we would need as an independent nation?

Abroad:

Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine have signed a joint protocol calling for stronger sanctions against Russia, which has amassed 30,000 troops near Ukraine. It is feared that an invasion of Ukraine is imminent.

In something of a first, and in a bid to ease overcrowding in Danish jails, Kosovo is leasing prison space to house prisoners being sent from Denmark. This has in part been caused by a 20% increase in prisoner numbers recently in Denmark. Those transferred will all be foreign prisoners who are subject to deportation after having served prison sentences, presumably as a first step to that deportation.

Barbados and a Universal Basic Income

After cutting ties to the British monarchy a few weeks ago, Barbados is now trying to extend their ‘reverse tax credit’ (RTC) to establish a full Universal Basic Income (UBI). If a person’s income is not above a basic level, the RTC tops up their salary with a payment. They are now looking at also paying a ‘citizen’s dividend’. Barbados’ GDP is expected to be almost $5bn US Dollars in 2021. The citizen’s dividend would be raised by the state leasing or taxing land and other natural resources, on the principle that the natural world is common property for all. UBI lowers poverty rates, increases mental wellbeing, and is less costly to administer than means-tested programmes.

Barbados would have a Sovereign Wealth Fund owning all government assets, which they want to make work for all Barbadians. Assets not required for government work would not be sold, but used to generate income for the country, or swapped for assets which are income- generating. Some of its income would be given to all citizens over 18. Barbados also introduced free higher education in 2018, and are holding to the principle of universality in the face of pressure from international agencies to means-test help.

Their Business Interruption Benefit also extends a form of basic income guarantee to the self-employed.+5

Finally,

Spare a thought for Wales. After repeated requests for the UK Government to delegate powers to the Senedd to make St David’s Day (Dydd Gwyl Dewi) on 1st March a bank holiday, the latest request by Gwynedd Council has again been rebuffed. Not on principle, you understand, but for business reasons. Paul Scully, Small Business Minister, said it was because there are more English people working cross-border between England and Wales than between England and Scotland, so it would be more disruptive for businesses!

Scotland and Northern Ireland can designate their own national holidays. It isn’t universal, but some Scottish councils such as Angus do make St Andrew’s Day a holiday. But despite going cap in hand time and time again Wales is not allowed to.

Better Together…

 

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