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Scottish Political Insider – Friday 22 February 2019

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 22 February 2019

This time last week, they didn’t exist, now you can’t escape the newest (non) party in UK Politics.

The new The Independent Group (“The” is part of their name, lest we confuse with any others) currently made up of three pro-remain Conservative MPs and eight Labour MPs who have all resigned from their respected parties over the handling of Brexit and anti-Semitism within Labour – saying it represented “the centre ground of British politics”. So far, no Scottish MPs have joined them but we hear whispers about one or two MSPs who are unhappy with Comrade Corbyn…

Closer to home and SNP MSPs with Green support have voted to pass the final stage of the Scottish Government’s budget for the coming financial year – securing additional funds for the NHS while offering what the SNP term ‘economic stability in the face of Tory Brexit chaos.’ The budget has committed £729 million extra for health and care services, with spending on NHS frontline boards rising by £430 million.
 
Finance Secretary Derek Mackay MSP also announced an £8 billion investment in Scotland’s education system and, as part of the Scottish Government’s plan to almost double the paid-for provision of childcare to 1,140 hours from August 2020 for all 3 and 4 year olds and eligible 2 year olds, the budget also commits £500 million to support the expansion of early learning services and facilities across Scotland.

Still at Holyrood and SNP MSP Linda Fabiani has been chosen to chair the Holyrood committee inquiry into the government’s handling of complaints against Alex Salmond. Several inquiries were set up after the government admitted its investigation of internal complaints had been flawed. A special committee of nine MSPs set up to examine the government probe met for the first time on Wednesday. However, they will not begin their full inquiry until the criminal case brought against Mr Salmond has been concluded.

The Economy, Energy & Fair Work Committee continues its inquiry into the construction industry but, meantime, has published its report on business support for SMEs and the Business Gateway programme. Members argued the programme suffered from a “lack of accountability” on delivering objectives and “limited transparency” on budgeting. The Committee felt Business Gateway should be set externally monitored targets. Members also said Business Gateway sites needed to improve their engagement with stakeholders. Convener, Tory MSP and advocate Gordon Lindhurst, said: “There is a lack of alignment, transparency and accountability in Business Gateway, and we found it unacceptable that local authorities do not consistently record and publish targets or financial information.”

On Monday, our client, Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, welcomed several MSP members of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee to their state of the art innovation factory in Hamilton. Midlothian MSP Colin Beattie tried a virtual reality headset and wondered if a VR Holyrood was coming anytime soon!

And on Wednesday, our client, Henry Boot Developments (HBD), hosted a media tour at the multi-million-pound TECA in Aberdeen. The venue is being delivered by Aberdeen City Council, HBD and Robertson and will open this summer, providing a new world-class facility close to Aberdeen International Airport and the new city bypass.  We were fortunate enough to join the tour and have a sneak peek inside the 12,500-capacity main arena, which will host conferences, exhibitions and music concerts, and is expected to attract major artists and events to the city, resulting in a hugely positive economic impact. 

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie McLauchlan on 07734 932578 or julie.mclauchlan@perceptivecommunicators.co.uk    

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 15 February 2019

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 15 February 2019

Despite Holyrood being on recess for a week, it has been another fascinating seven days in Scottish and UK politics as we move ever closer to the 29March. In one of the more bizarre Brexit sub plots, ITV News reported this week that one of its correspondents overheard the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, Olly Robbins, saying in a Brussels bar that the EU was likely to allow an extension to the Brexit process.

On the back of this, the Prime Minister played down reports that she could force MPs to choose between backing her deal or accepting a delay to EU withdrawal. Providing a soundbite that perhaps sums up Brexit perfectly, Mrs May told the Commons that people should not rely on “what someone said to someone else, as overheard by someone else, in a bar”.

The Scottish Government has stepped up its preparations for a no-deal Brexit as it again called on Theresa May to rule out the possibility. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she still believes no deal can be avoided. However, she said her government had a duty to plan for the possibility as best it could. Speaking after a meeting of the Scottish cabinet in Glasgow, Ms Sturgeon told BBC Scotland that Mrs May was attempting to “run down the clock” to try and “blackmail” MPs into backing her deal “at the very, very last minute”. The Scottish Government statement can be read here: Brexit

The Scottish Government’s Chief Economic Adviser has published a report on the state of the economy. The update focuses on the risks of a no deal Brexit, as well as Scotland’s strengths in terms of international trade. The report suggests that a no deal Brexit would lead to a “major dislocation” in the Scottish economy and “significant structural change” in the longer term.

It was announced this week that a Holyrood committee is to examine hospital safety following the deaths of two patients from an infection linked to pigeon droppings. The health committee inquiry comes in the wake of the deaths at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. The patients died after contracting a fungal infection linked to the droppings.

The new TV channel, BBC Scotland, has revealed the first full line-up of the on-air team behind its flagship news programme. “The Nine” has a 15-strong core team of journalists, including four dedicated to Holyrood and Westminster, who will bring the national and international news to Scotland in the nightly hour-long broadcast. Broadcasting starts in April. Heading the team are presenters Rebecca Curran and Martin Geissler and Chief News Correspondent James Cook joins the Nine from his post as BBC News North America Correspondent.

Another sensitive policy area for the coming spring session at Holyrood will be the SNP’s so called parking tax whereby businesses will pay a levy for ‘free’ workplace parking places. Environmental campaigners have written to Scotland’s five political party leaders expressing support for the levy. The letter sets out the key reasons the plans are backed by environmental and transport groups and aims to dispel myths around the Levy. The Conservatives have continued to oppose the measure. They claimed that teaching unions would demand car park tax refunds for their members. 

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie McLauchlan on 07734 932578 or julie.mclauchlan@perceptivecommunicators.co.uk

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 8 February 2019

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 8 February 2019

Nicola Sturgeon had her say on Brexit this week, saying that contingency plans for Britain’s departure from the EU with no deal were “genuinely astonishing”. The First Minister was addressing an audience at Georgetown’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security in the US as part of a trade mission. Ms Sturgeon said the UK government was trying to renegotiate the EU Withdrawal agreement “with the clock ticking” despite the EU saying it would not accept such a renegotiation.

Unsurprisingly she called for a second referendum on EU membership and stated her case for a further vote on Scottish independence.

Theresa May was back on the Brussels express on Thursday to press (sic) unimpressed EU leaders for legally binding changes to the Brexit deal. The PM insisted the UK will not be “trapped” in the backstop – saying the plan must change if it is to win the support of MPs who urged her to seek “alternative arrangements” when rejecting the deal last month.

Quite worryingly, as Scotland’s Brexit Secretary Michael Russell confirmed on Wednesday, there are only 19 sitting days of the Scottish Parliament left before the UK is due to leave the EU on March 29. The Brexit Secretary pointed out that leaving the EU will hit agriculture, health and social care sectors in Scotland, and that the Scottish Government will not replicate the UK’s myriad of notices by saying “we will do all we can to make sure the public get clear information”.

All this information is available at www.mygov.scot/eu-exit (should make interesting reading!)

During a debate at Holyrood on Wednesday, Mental Health Minister Clare Haughey MSP announced that the Scottish Government has set a target of reducing the country’s suicide rate by 20% by 2022. Suicide prevention charity Samaritans had claimed the Scottish Government was not taking the issue seriously enough. Ms Haughey insisted Scotland has “made real progress in reducing deaths by suicide”, but said there was “far more to do” to tackle the issue.

Also at Holyrood this week, MSPs agreed the remit for an inquiry into the Scottish government’s handling of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond. Several inquiries were set up after the government admitted its investigation of internal complaints had been flawed. A special nine-member committee will consider the actions of officials as well as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

And finally…. Client Shawfair LLP was delighted to arrange a site tour of what will become a new town of 4000 houses just a few minutes south of Edinburgh for local MSP Colin Beattie.  Mr Beattie arrived in jeans and climbing boots. This turned out to be a wiser call than his minder, Perceptive’s political guru Devin Scobie, whose rather smarter business attire wasn’t quite up to a hike in a bracing wind to ‘take in the scale of the site’!

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie McLauchlan on 07734 932578 or julie.mclauchlan@perceptivecommunicators.co.uk

Scottish Political Insider & Scottish Budget special – Friday 1 February 2019

Scottish Political Insider & Scottish Budget special – Friday 1 February 2019

As we enter a new month, the Brexit narrative continues to stall. In Westminster on Tuesday, a majority voted in favour of a non-binding amendment that rejected a no-deal Brexit. They also voted in favour of an amendment that called for the backstop to be replaced with “alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border” in Ireland, but otherwise supported Theresa May’s deal.

However, this good news for the PM was swiftly followed by bad news from Brussels as senior EU politicians said they will not reopen the legal text of the withdrawal agreement that they negotiated with the UK. The saga continues with the outcome still unpredictable.

Scotland’s Brexit Minister Michael Russell also stated this week that 36 “critical” legislative measures will be pushed through the Scottish Parliament ahead of 29 March in a bid to protect the economy from a no-deal Brexit. The Scottish Parliament may need to schedule late sittings to deal with the extra work and Committee and Chamber business may also take place concurrently. 

The Scottish Budget was debated in Holyrood on Thursday. An overview of this is shared below.

Glasgow Airport bosses have called for urgent action to improve transport links with the city centre. Managing director Mark Johnston, is due to meet Scotland’s transport secretary and local council leaders to discuss this.  Mr Johnston told the BBC Scotland: “We’re the only airport in Europe that has road as its only means of access. The recent studies have shown that the congestion is only increasing on the M8. We have the funding available through the City Deal, so I think there’s a genuine acceptance that something needs to happen.”

It might be that you’ve not heard of industrial biotechnology (IB) before but the chances are it has benefitted your life. Whether it is turning food waste into green energy or improving the way we manufacture food, drink, vaccines and antibiotics, IB offers advantages for us all.

In client news, Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) held its annual conference in Glasgow this week and on Thursday welcomed Trade and Innovation Minister Ivan McKee MSP to deliver a plenary session. The Minister highlighted the role of IBioIC to help stimulate the growth and success of IB technology in Scotland to £900 million by 2025. He also encouraged everyone working in the sector to ‘maintain a dialogue’ with all Scottish government departments.

And finally… The Scottish Parliament’s Business Bureau has unanimously agreed to establish a committee to consider the Scottish Government’s procedures and handling of the Alex Salmond case. It will be a nine-member committee with – controversially – an SNP Convener and a Scottish Conservative Deputy Convener. 

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie McLauchlan on 07734 932578 or julie.mclauchlan@perceptivecommunicators.co.uk    

Scottish Budget January 2019

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay MSP has announced a deal to ensure support for the Budget at all parliamentary stages has been reached with the Greens. The deal was reached after the Cabinet Secretary agreed to a series of reforms to local government spending and finance, including an agreement to consult and implement legislation to allow local authorities to introduce a transient visitor levy; devolving Non-Domestic Rates empty property relief to local authorities in time for the next revaluation; and plans to bring forward a three year funding settlement for local government from the 2020-21 Budget onwards. 

It was also announced that the Government will convene cross-party talks on a replacement for council tax with a view to publishing legislation by the end of the current parliament. A letter confirming the Green’s support has also been published.

New measures for local authorities

In his speech to the Parliament, the Cabinet Secretary gave a commitment to increasing the power and funding of local authorities. He said the new measures would be “the most significant empowerment of local authorities since devolution”.

·       Council Funding: The Cabinet Secretary announced £90m of increased funding for local government. This would be delivered through flexibilities in the Budget and additional funding from “unexpected” Barnett consequentials due to UK NHS spending. However, he said this would not reduce NHS funding and the health budget would be £4m higher. Councils would also be given more flexibility on setting council tax rates, which could rise by up to 4.79%. Additionally, he said the costs of the teacher pay offer would be transferred to ease local government finances.

·       Local Tax Reform: Derek Mackay said “the present council tax system must end”. He committed to cross-party talks on abolishing the council tax. However, he indicated this would be for the next Parliament to implement

·       Tourist Tax: Members were told there would be a consultation and legislation which would allow local authorities to implement a tourist tax.

·       Workplace Parking & Empty Properties: The Cabinet Secretary said councils would be given powers to apply a workplace car parking levy, following Green amendments to the Transport (Scotland) Bill. The NHS estate would be exempt from these measures.

·       Empty Properties: The Scottish Government will commit to devolving the Non-Domestic Rates Empty Property Relief to local authorities in time for the next revaluation.

·       Financial Flexibility: The Cabinet Secretary said the Scottish Government would work with COSLA to move towards three-year budgeting.

·       Environmental Measures: Derek Mackay said there would be a move towards a 10p minimum levy for single use carrier bags. He also said there would be a consultation on tackling the use of disposable drinks cups. Members were told that Scottish Ministers would consider whether revenue from these sources should be transferred to local authorities.

·       Other Announcements: The Cabinet Secretary also reiterated the Scottish Government’s previous commitments on the Budget, including in relation to income tax rates, education funding, social security, business rates, affordable housing, childcare, the Scottish National Investment Bank, support for town centres, police and fire service funding, and mental health support.

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