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Week 21 May 21st – May 27th, 2022

21/05/2022 –27/05/2022                                                          

Deaths of Special Needs people in care

          Public Health Scotland (PHS) released statistics showing that 14 patients with autism or learning disabilities have died since 2015 while detained in psychiatric facilities in Scotland, often far from home due to a lack of community-based support in their home areas.  Seven of the deaths were of those who were inpatients for 91-365 days, with 6 (43%) detained for over a year.

          The Scottish government’s Coming Home strategy has pledged to greatly reduce long hospital stays and out-of-area placements for people with learning disabilities or complex needs by March 2024.  Some autistic patients have been in in-patient psychiatric care over 5 years despite being fit for discharge.

          Patients with severe autism and learning disabilities can be detained in secure psychiatric units for their own safety as compulsory patients, and parents sometimes face legal threats from local authorities for breaching patient confidentiality by trying to publicise their child’s case.

          The Promise Scotland Oversight Board has published figures showing 60 children have died in Scotland’s care system in 3 years, including 17 deaths of children in care, 7 in continuing care (those over 16 who remain in care) and 35 in through- and after-care.  The Promise is a 10-year transformational change programme from 2020. Among other things record-keeping and data collection were found not to be designed to deliver service improvements.

SNP being shut out of Local Government.

          The recent local elections saw a number of councils unite against the SNP.  Fife council, previously SNP/Labour, saw Labour and Conservative unite to oust the SNP, despite Labour taking only 20 seats compared to the SNP’s 34.  South Lanarkshire saw Labour (24) Conservative (7) and LibDems (3) combine to keep out the largest group, the SNP on 27 seats, and Argyll and Bute lost its SNP administration, with a LibDem (5)/ Conservative (10)/ Independent (7) deal to keep out the SNP’s 12 councillors.  

          Edinburgh has also lost its SNP administration, despite the SNP returning the largest number of councillors at 19.  An SNP/Green coalition would have been short of a majority by 3.  Instead there is a Labour (13) Lib Dem (12) and Conservative (9) coalition, despite a late intervention by Edinburgh’s MSPs and MPs who wrote to Cammy Day, the Labour group leader, claiming a deal with the Conservatives was ‘unthinkable’ (they do remember indyref 1, don’t they?).

          Conversely, Dumfries and Galloway’s 9 Labour councillors have ignored Anas Sarwar’s ban on working with the SNP. They will serve with the 11 SNP councillors, combining to oust the Conservatives, who got 16 seats.  The decision was carried with the support of the Independents.

Ferries

          Serious concerns remain whether the two ferries under construction will ever be launched, with a lack of progress on outstanding issues, according to Martin Williams in the Herald on Sunday, 22/05/2022.  Short cabling has cost £1 million.  Staff are working a core four-day week with extra work done by subcontractors or overtime.  A Progress memo from the Scottish government’s Strategic Commercial Interventions Division to government ministers on April 28th, said information from Ferguson Marine did not contain enough detail to accurately assess progress.  The extra detail is expected by the end of May 2022.

          By March 2022 the number of outstanding Owner Observation Reports (faults) rose to 237, 65% of which relate to safety, maintainability or specifications.  Inefficient supervision makes it difficult to assess if the project remains on track, with Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) wanting faster progress on remedying faults, greater management of subcontractors and more coordination with engineering functions.  Kate Forbes refused to guarantee the ferries being ready by next year.

ScotRail

          The Scottish government’s desire to get us off the road is in tatters even for urbanites. Just weeks after nationalising the rail service and slashing fares, they are slashing services with disastrous effects. When Scotland play Ukraine in their crunch World Cup qualifier on 1st June, the last train from Glasgow to Aberdeen leaves at 6.41pm, to Dundee at 7.10 pm and to Perth at 7.37 pm, before the match even starts, with the last train to Edinburgh leaving at 10.15 pm, before the end of the match.   

          Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth first suggested fans should use the bus, It was pointed out that the draconian service cuts pose a safety risk to the public and to hospitality workers relying on the train to get home.

          Following mounting pressure, an emergency timetable is being considered to accommodate fans for the Ukraine match and July’s Open golf event.  Details will be published shortly.

          An eleventh hour deal has seen the union agree an overall pay rise of 4.2% with an increased Sunday working allowance, and ScotRail have committed to bring Sundays into the working week by the December 2027 timetable.

Scottish government secrecy/FOI

          Following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Scotsman newspaper in January 2021, the SNP have still refused to release the legal advice it obtained on the legality of a second independence referendum, citing a longstanding convention preventing publication of information as hampering discussions between government and lawyers.

          Daren Fitzhenry, the Information Commissioner, later ruled in favour of publication, as the ‘exceptional’ public interest outweighed any legal privilege.  The government is ‘considering’ it.  He also demanded the Scottish government improve record-keeping and fix ‘significant and systemic’ failures urgently.

          Ironically, SNP MP Tommy Sheppard is taking the UK Government to court over its refusal to release secret independence support polling.  Results were ordered to be publicised, but the Cabinet Office refused.  Two previous appeals by the UK government have failed.  The UK government maintains it relates it is protected as relating to the formulation or development of policy.

A&E Waiting Times

          More than 2000 patients had to wait in A&E more than eight hours in the week ending May 15th.  Just 70.2% were seen within the government’s target of 95% being seen or admitted within four hours.  626 patients waited over 12 hours.  Worst performing was NHS Forth Valley (54.5% seen within 4 hours) and best were NHS Shetland and NHS Western Isles (96.8% and 96.9% respectively). Staff absence and backlogs were blamed.

Scotland’s Green Clearances

          The unintended consequence of COP26 commitments and the Scottish government’s aim to plant 46,500 hectares of new woodland by April 2025 is turning rural Scotland into a new Wild West (‘The Great Scottish land grab’, Patricia Kane, Mail on Sunday, 22/05/22), encouraging the planting of carbon-sequestering trees, often by multinational firms offsetting their carbon emissions elsewhere.  Only 15% of Scottish farmland is productive for crop-growing to start with.

          It may be risking jobs and food security.  Land previously used for crops or animals has been taken over for planting trees. Government grants and tax incentives worsen the situation, with farmland being sold at an alarming rate.  Farmers are being cold-called and offered up to six times what their farm is worth.  Peatland restoration and woodland creation are also business.  Last year, 80% of Britain’s new tree planting took place in Scotland.

          The National Farmers’ Union Scotland (NFUS) calls it the ‘modern-day Highland Clearances’ and fears it may affect Scotland’s ability to feed itself, particularly with the impact on worldwide grain supplies of the war in Ukraine.

          The Scottish Land Commission reported last month that farmland values rose by over 31% in Scotland, compared to 6.2% across the UK. Almost half the estates sold in Scotland in that time went to non-farming investors, and two-thirds of sales were secret ‘off-market’ deals, with locals effectively shut out of bidding.  The Scottish government is accused of paying lip-service to eco-conservation, just looking at numbers of trees and not seeing the knock-on effect on food production and local ownership.

          South Scotland has ideal land for dairy farming, but is under severe pressure.  Galloway Forest Park has 250 miles of waterways devoid of life as the tree canopy prevents rainfall reaching the ground, and 5000 breeding pairs of curlews have been lost in Galloway and the Border hills.

          Community Land Scotland has urged the government to remove tax exemptions, and to require management plans and public interest tests for large estate sales.

Cycling subsidies

          The Scottish government has given £234 million in 5 years to cycling charity Sustrans which organises cycle routes throughout Scotland, including the controversial Spaces for People in cities. Working with local authorities, it aims to make it ‘easier for people to walk, wheel and cycle’ but doesn’t seem concerned about those who have no choice but to drive, particularly in rural areas.

SNP abandon closing the Attainment Gap

          SNP ministers admitted they have abandoned their flagship education policy on closing the attainment gap between the poorest and richest pupils in Scotland by 2026.  Originally billed as the ‘defining mission’ of Sturgeon’s government,  Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville now says she will not set an arbitrary date for action.

          If that was the yardstick to measure Sturgeon’s government, they have failed.  The attainment gap at Higher level has widened.  Grades A-C were 7.9% higher in schools in the least deprived areas (up from 6.5% last year), but at Grade A attainment was 22.1% higher in least deprived areas compared to most deprived.  The Advanced Higher gap last year was 3%, this year 5.5%, and National 5 results saw the gap widen from 7.9% to 9% for Grades A-C.

Finally,

          Scotland’s Urban AGE 2022 report is urging greater devolved powers to Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh (AGE) city regions as they are the ‘main drivers of economic growth’.  Proposals include tax-raising powers and control of immigration policy, reform of business rates to meet local needs, connectivity and rail investment. But will that help rural areas struggling to recruit hospitality staff?

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