FMQs; Snap Election And NHS The Main Talking Points

First Minister’s Questions took place today on the back of the Westminster government on Tuesday voting in support of a December 12th general election.

 

With MSPs off parliamentary duty last week, there was much to catch up on. Interim Scottish Conservatives leader Jackson Carlaw opened the questioning, citing Jeremy Corbyn’s announcement that Labour would allow a second Scottish Independence referendum if he became Prime Minister to suggest an alliance between Labour and SNP.

 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon replied that whether it was Labour or the Conservatives ended up in power in a December election, the Westminster system is “broken” and that only the SNP would allow Scotland the power to decide its future.

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Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard asked the First Minister about the NHS, looking back to 2013 when the SNP said they wanted to make NHS workplaces “a great place to work.” He quoted a recent audit that said the NHS in Scotland is “running too hot, with too much pressure on staff” and said that around a quarter of staff sick hours are being taken up by stress-related absences.

 

The First Minister replied by stating that her government had increased NHS staffing by 13,000, more than a 10% increase. She also pointed out a 6% health budget increase in the last five years and said that if at the last Scottish election Labour had come into power, the NHS budget would be £758 million less than it is now.

 

Co-Leader of the Green party Alison Johnstone used her question to bring up short let controls for properties in Scotland. This has been a hot topic in Edinburgh recently, with an increase in landlords choosing short term lets being linked to a housing shortage. Johnstone asked the First Minister to put a timeline on when controls on short term letting would be put in place, with the First minister replying that she aimed to have proposals in place at the beginning of next year. Johnstone cited a 2017 short term letting control proposal that the SNP blocked, but Sturgeon insisted that it was important for constituencies to be able to decide if controls were necessary on their own rather than enforcing a “one size fits all” blanket ban.

 

As we head towards a snap election and Brexit continues to rumble on, the tense atmosphere visible at Holyrood today will only continue.

ORDER! A look back at John Bercow’s career as he chairs his last parliamentary session.

After an impressive ten years on the job, it’s finally come time for House of Commons Speaker John Bercow to stand down, and it’s without doubt that his extreme volume and wit-filled turn of phrase will be a noticeable absence from the chamber.  Bercow will also resign from his position as MP for Buckingham, a seat that he has held for nearly 22 years.

Bercow in his throne. Photo: UK Parliament

Over his decade-long career, bold speaker Bercow has brought around substantial change within the chamber, despite a lasting ominous grey cloud of bullying and misconduct allegations against him hanging over the latter half of his term, as well as a number of expenses abuse claims.

Over his career, Bercow has been a force to be reckoned with in the chamber, often dishing out wonderfully phrased put-downs to unruly MPs in an effort to maintain his signature “ORDEERRR” in the house.  A New York Times reporter quoted him as saying “When the decibel level exceeds anything that Deep Purple would have even dreamed of in their heyday in the 1970s as the loudest band in the world, that is a negative” in reference to his constant efforts to keep often petulant parliamentary representatives under control.  After an analysis by the BBC, it was identified that he used his exclamatory catchphrase ‘Order’ over 14,000 times over his career as Speaker.

While Bercow’s career will be remembered for bringing parliamentary traditions into the 21st century (by slackening dress codes and doing away with wigs for Commons Clerks, as well as turning a popular bar in the Westminster house into a crèche for MP’s children), he has been subject to much debate regarding his conduct outside of the chamber, and to his overall impartiality that is required as Speaker.  Bercow has undergone several investigations into bullying and misconduct accusations, and has been described as “overly aggressive” and prone to “over-the-top anger” on occasions.  While he was criticised and has been spoken against, he has never formally been reprimanded for the claims.

Before his time as House Speaker, Bercow served the Conservative party as MP for Buckingham, as well as assuming several high profile positions in their Opposition from 2001 – 2004.  During his academic life and career in the Conservative party, he was known to hold fairly hard-right views, in-line with the views of the party at the time.  During his time as Speaker, however, his views have often been called into debate, and has been accused of impartiality over his actions in the chamber in regard to Brexit motions tabled by Boris Johnson, with some of his rulings allowing those opposed to Brexit to implement pieces of legislation and checks to block Johnson’s plans.  He’s also been accused of abandoning his neutrality in regard to comments on President Trump, saying he would be “strongly opposed” to his addressing of the Houses of Parliament during his state visit.

Bercow did however meet Obama in the Commons. Photo: UK Parliament

While his decade-long career has been marred with certain clouds and stains over its time, Bercow will be most remembered for his moves to modernise parliament, and his often spectacular rhetoric and crushing putdowns in the chamber.  After his last day on the job this afternoon, he is expected to get home, put the kettle on, and have a cuppa with his wife, Sally, as well as the family cat, named Order.  Yes, really.

Increase in number of Modern Apprenticeships

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(Credit: paisleyscotland)

The Scottish Government has increased the number of Modern Apprenticeships available to young people, in a continued effort to support youth employment.

Modern and Graduate Apprenticeships are jobs which allow people to work and learn, mostly targeted at those who have just left school, or will be leaving soon. They are a way to gain skills and qualifications, and be given the opportunity to start a career, without having to study full-time.

Fair Work Minister Jamie Hepburn announced that more than 29,000 people will benefit from Modern Apprenticeships next year. The target includes Modern and Graduate Apprenticeships and means Scotland is on course to reach its longstanding commitment of 30,000 new apprenticeships each year by 2020. The 2018/19 target of 28,000 new Modern Apprentices is on course to be achieved, with 27,145 people starting Modern Apprenticeships in 2017/18, surpassing the initial target of 27,000.

Mr Hepburn said: “It is vital we continue to develop Scotland’s young workforce to meet the emerging needs and opportunities of our employers and economy. That is why we are expanding the number of Modern Apprenticeship places available to 29,000 next year, meaning even more people can access a wide variety of work-based learning.

“Apprenticeships are a fantastic way for all employers to invest in their workforce and provide the skills the economy needs now and in the future. The Scottish Government are funding more apprentices than ever before and we remain firmly on track to achieve our ambitious target of 30,000 new apprenticeship starts by 2020.”

Around 1,300 Graduate Apprenticeships will be available across 13 different subject, with 5,000 Foundation Apprenticeships available for secondary school pupils to choose alongside their other school subjects. Scottish Apprenticeship Week (which ends today) is a nationwide campaign aimed at encouraging employers to take on apprentices. The year’s theme is ‘Skills for the Future’, recognising the importance of investing in the workforce.

If you have an interest in becoming an apprentice, click here for information on applying.

This week in Brexit news

David Paul gives us a quick look at some of the big Brexit news this week:

Environmental activists storm Parliament

Extinction Rebellion staged a sit-in protest against climate change at Holyrood on January 25.

Earlier today 45 people from the organisation entered the Scottish Parliament, occupied the Debating Chamber and held a symbolic Citizens Assembly on Burns Day. The group was almost immediately asked to leave.

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Photo credit: Extinction Rebellion Scotland

Robert Alcock, of Extinction Rebellion, commented,

“We are not breaking the law. We are lawfully gathered in OUR Parliament, to draw attention to the climate emergency and to call for a Citizens’ Assembly in the name of the land and people of Scotland.”

A large crowd of both protesters and police gathered outside the Scottish Parliament this afternoon in a symbolic citizens’ assembly against climate change.

Extinction Rebellion is a non-violent activist group aiming to put pressure on the Scottish Government to make the necessary changes to policy regarding climate change.

The group is actively promoting the recent warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) that global warming has only twelve years to be kept at a maximum of 1.5 degrees.


It is hoped that the symbolic citizens’ assembly, which took place unexpectedly in the Debating Chamber at Holyrood, will start a nationwide conversation on the issue.

Parliament is set to debate the first stage of the new climate bill within the next six weeks, but the group says that the commitments made by the government with regards to cutting emissions are nowhere near what it should be.

The Scottish government, according to the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, must actively reduce CO2 emissions by 10% each year.

Extinction Rebellion is in favour of the idea of a Special citizens’ assembly made up of select individuals from every local Scottish authority.

They would be able to hold Parliament accountable over the issue of climate change and have the power to revise and review any legislation that the Scottish Government intend to pass.

The organisation hopes that Scottish people are made to feel more included in decisions that are both important to others and the environment.

 

 

 

Cabinet Reshuffle promotes women and ethnic minorities

Theresa May has created her own generation of Tory ‘rising stars’ as her cabinet shuffle reached its conclusion yesterday.

The Prime Minister has brought in fresh talent across her cabinet, including an increase in the number of female and ethnic minority cabinet ministers.

She stated that her new government now looks ‘more like the country it serves’, after axing a number of white male MP’s over 50, and bringing in younger, female members from minority backgrounds. She insisted that this move will help her focus more on important issues such as health, housing and social care in the UK.

After these decisions yesterday, female representation in Parliament has risen from 25% to 30% and the number of female MP’s has now risen from 30 to 37, and minority MP’s from 4 to 9.

Free Lunch Cancelled for Councillors

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They say there is no such thing as a free lunch. Well, not anymore. Local councillors have been informed that they will no longer be getting free lunch at noon, as they are finishing their work too early.

The decision has led to complaints that councillors are not doing enough work, as the coalition winds down in the run up to the local elections in May.

Conservative councillor Dominic Heslop explained: “Some of the longer-serving councillors will tell you the lunch was necessary when the meetings when on until 7pm or 8pm. But when they can be over by 11.30am can it really be justified?”

Instead councillors will be offered a buffet on full council days, otherwise they will have to pay for their own lunch.

Terms set for Police Scotland undercover review

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Justice Minister Michael Matheson ordered the undercover review of Police in Scotland

Conditions have been set for an independent review into undercover police work in Scotland.

The inquiry will examine the contribution undercover policing has made to tackling crime, how it was and is supervised and regulated, and its effect on individuals involved – both police officers and others who came into contact with them.

The review was called for following numerous allegations throughout Britain that undercover police have abused their positions while carrying out operations.

The review was ordered by the Scottish government last year. It came after the UK government refused to extend a similar review in England and Wales.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson directed Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland to investigate the actions of undercover officers.

This strategic review will be led by HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland Derek Penman.

Scottish Electoral Board inquiry begins

A Holyrood inquiry has been launched following concerns regarding bonuses for Chief Executives during election periods.

For a number of years Election Chiefs have received extra payment for running elections, a task which many believe should be included in their annual salary. Public concern has caused local government to assess if a reform is needed.

The Scottish Parliament’s local government committee convener, Bob Doris stated:

“The committee’s heard that in the last couple of years alone, £1m of additional payments has been made.

“So we’ll need to get additional information why those payments have been made, whether they’re justified, what work’s entailed to justify those payments and to dig beneath it and find out if they’re appropriate for future elections or not.”

Concern has been growing since May after it was released that chief executives could earn a bonus of up to half a million pounds, with £165,000 for the Edinburgh top official role and £160,000 for Glasgow.The UK Cabinet reassured the public that fees were kept under review and “statutorily independent from their normal employment”.

The Chief Executive for Glasgow, received a bonus of £33,238 for the Scottish 2016 election and £21,111 for the EU Referendum.

Chairwoman of the Electoral Management Board for Scotland, Mary Pitcaithly, stated:

“It would be wholly inconsistent with practice elsewhere if duties of the scale and the degree of responsibility and the civic importance of the returning officer role were to be not remunerated at all.”

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A spokesperson for the Electoral Reform Society will give evidence to the committee.

The society’s Scottish director Willie Sullivan said:

“I think there’s a root and branch look needed at why this system is throwing up these morbid symptoms of inequality in rewarding some people huge amounts more than what ordinary people get paid.”

The committee will consider all evidence before deciding if a reform is the next step forward for the Scottish government.

 

MPs argue to postpone Tax Credit Cuts

 

 

 

MPs tell Osborne to postpone Tax Credits. Image courtesy of: Flikr/altogetherfool

MPs tell Osborne to postpone Tax Credits. Image courtesy of: Flikr/altogetherfool

 

MPs have said that George Osbourne should postpone the proposed tax credit cuts for a year to enable a balanced debate over the issue.

The planned cuts were rejected by the House of Lords, leading the chancellor to outline a reformed plan in his upcoming Autumn Statement in an attempt to lessen the impact of the cuts.

The Work and Pension’s Committee have said that there is no “magic bullet” to protect low paid workers from the proposed cuts.

MPs have also accused the Treasury of being “Unacceptably evasive” as they have yet to outline how the different income groups will be effected.

Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the “architect” of tax credits, has warned that these changes will “plunge almost another million families into poverty.”

There are also arguments that the cuts will undermine the benefits system, which is ironic as Mr Osborne announced his plans to cut £4.4bn from the tax credits system as part of plans to save £12bn from the welfare bill.

The changes are due to take effect in April 2016, though opponents are still arguing against these plans, saying that more than one million existing recipients – many of whom work but are on low incomes – will be some £1,300 a year worse off as a result.

The government argues that the majority will benefit from other policies due to the increase in the personal income tax allowance and the introduction of the National Living Wage.

The committee overlooking the credit plans argue, “The benefits to those who are helped are generally dwarfed by the cuts, especially in 2016-17.” By 2020-21, 78% of families will be on average £1,500 worse off in real terms, according to their report.

MPs have also cautioned Mr Osborne to “resist the temptation to raid Universal Credit” to pay for various tax credit adjustments. There are concerns that it would “either shift the burden to different low-income families or undermine the objective of making work pay”.

The committee of MPs have stated that they believe, “One of three things has to give: the impact on poverty, work incentives or the cost.

“We recommend that if, indeed, the effects cannot be satisfactorily mitigated, the government pause any reforms to tax credits until 2017-18.

“This would allow a broader discussion of the options in their proper context.”

A Treasury spokesman commented on the report, saying it was “out of date” as Mr Osborne had previously said he would listen to concerns and announce a new transitional measure in his Autumn Statement.

The spokesperson said the examples cited in the report failed to consider other measures the government had introduced or was introducing to support working families.

The House of Lords’ decision to vote down the government’s plans to cut tax credits induced warnings of a “constitutional crisis”, and paved the way for a review of the Lords’ powers.

The review of the Lord’s powers is due to be published before Christmas.

 

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