Nicola Sturgeon: Scotland must stay in EU single market if Northern Ireland does

Written by Kate Shannon and Agnes Chambre on 5 December 2017 in News

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said there is "no good practical reason" why Scotland cannot stay in the EU single market

Theresa May said "differences" remained between the two sides but was "confident" a deal could be struck.

Sturgeon said: “Despite the fact that no deal on the Irish border issue has been reached and while full details of any such deal are still to become clear, I welcome the fact that there now appears to be the outline of an agreement which would ensure that there is no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.

“The potential for a hard border has been one of the most concerning aspects of Brexit, and the UK Government’s position to date on protecting the terms of the Good Friday Agreement has left much to be desired.

“While I welcome the proposed commitment for Ireland and Northern Ireland – and while the particular circumstances in Scotland are distinct and separate from those in Ireland – [these] developments show very clearly that if one part of UK can retain regulatory alignment with the EU and effectively stay in the single market, there is no good practical reason why others cannot do the same.

“Indeed, any special status for Northern Ireland would make a similar solution for Scotland even more vital. For Scotland to find itself outside the single market, while Northern Ireland effectively stays in would place us at a double disadvantage when it comes to jobs and investment.

“While the simplest answer to the Brexit problem is for the whole UK to stay in the single market, the Scottish Government has already put forward very detailed compromise proposals for how Scotland’s place in the single market could be maintained if the rest of the UK insists on leaving – proposals which were previously rejected by the UK Government as unworkable.  Indeed, if Northern Ireland is effectively kept in the single market it makes it all the more vital for Scotland’s national and economic interests that we are too.”

London mayor Sadiq Khan also seized on the reports, saying the move would have "huge ramifications" for London.

The Prime Minister met with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier yesterday in a bid to thrash out the small print of an agreement.

A draft text of an agreement seen by RTE says: "In the absence of agreed solutions the UK will ensure that there continues to be no divergence from those rules of the internal market and the customs union which, now or in the future, support North South cooperation and the protection of the Good Friday Agreement."

JRF: hundreds of thousands of children plunged into poverty over the last four years

Written by Liz Bates on 4 December 2017 in News

Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that since 2012-13 an extra 300,000 children and 400,000 pensioners are now living in poverty

Based on the findings the JRF is urging the government to unfreeze benefits, increase training for adult workers and build more affordable homes.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady blamed low wages for the figures and called for the minimum wage to rise to £10 an hour and for the government to remove the public sector pay cap.

She said: “Working people are not getting a fair deal from the economy, with real wages still worth less than a decade ago.”

JRF chief executive Campbell Robb said: “These worrying figures suggest that we are at a turning point in our fight against poverty. Political choices, wage stagnation and economic uncertainty mean that hundreds of thousands more people are now struggling to make ends meet.”

Oxfam’s Rachael Orr said: “It’s not just working adults who are affected, but their children too, and it’s a real worry to see progress on child poverty going into reverse.”

Chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group Alison Garnham added: “As today’s report shows, we know how to reduce child poverty in the UK – we’ve done it before. Yet at the start of a sustained rise in the rate of child poverty – bewilderingly – there is inaction. The question the report begs is why are we not investing in our children?

“Families with children have had a decade of cuts to their incomes and the damage is showing. Unless there is action now to protect the living standards of low-income families, we will pile up problems for future generations and for the UK economy.”

Shelter Scotland welcomes changed tenancy agreement as “new dawn for all private renters”

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 1 December 2017 in News

Ministers today introduced new tenancy agreements with no end date, which can only be terminated by a tenant giving written notice to their landlord or by the landlord using certain pre-approved grounds for eviction

Ministers said the change will also make the repossession process more accessible.

But existing tenancies will not automatically transfer over, with the tenant or landlord required to bring it to an end by serving notice.

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: “The private rental sector has grown substantially in recent years and now provides a place to call home for 760,000 people.

“This is the biggest change to the sector for a generation and will bring about significant improvements in private renting, benefiting both tenants and landlords.

“We want to ensure everyone has a safe and warm place to call home. The new tenancy sits alongside our wider ambitions for housing in Scotland- not least our ambitious commitment to deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes during this Parliament, including that for rent.”

Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland, said: “We have campaigned passionately for 10 years now for reform of private renting, ending with our Make Renting Right campaign, which had extensive support from the public and local and national politicians. We are delighted that all those voices were listened to and we support today’s changes in the law.

“Shelter Scotland is pleased to be working with the Scottish Government on a major awareness raising campaign to ensure everyone involved in private renting- from tenants and landlords to letting agents and housing professionals- understand their new rights and responsibilities.”

Public boards equality law passes first hurdle

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 30 November 2017 in News

The Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill passes through stage one debate in the Scottish Parliament after receiving support from a majority of MSPs

The bill was part of the Programme for Government, announced at the start of this parliamentary term. Only the Conservatives voted against the bill passing through stage one.

Equalities Secretary Angela Constance said: “At its heart this bill is equality for women. It is about this Parliament using the powers that it has to deliver a fairer, more equal Scotland.

“Women’s voices need to be heard, and they need to shape the decisions that are made in Scotland’s boardrooms and impact on our services. Scotland’s public bodies, colleges and universities are responsible for significant sums of public money and oversee and deliver public services which touch on all aspects of people’s lives.

“It’s also really important that we continue our focus on encouraging women to apply for these positions in the first place. We have made much progress increasing the numbers of women on public boards from 35 per cent in 2007 to 45 per cent today. But we cannot be complacent and this legislation will ensure we cannot stall or regress that progress.

“Positive action and appointing on merit are not mutually exclusive. The primary objective here is still to make sure we are attracting the most diverse, talented people to Scotland’s public boards

“If passed, this bill will make Scotland the only country in the United Kingdom with a statutory gender representation objective for public boards – but we are one of many international examples. This is an important step on our journey towards gender equality in Scotland.”

Nicola Sturgeon announces £328,000 of funding to tackle rough sleeping this winter

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 28 November 2017 in News

Funding will be used to increase emergency accommodation in areas with the greatest numbers of rough sleepers, create personal budgets for front line workers to spend on immediate housing needs, and support the emergency Nightstop service

It also suggested increasing outreach capacity in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen and further exploring any need for additional capacity in Dundee.

It recommended maximising use of the Nightstop – which provides young people with emergency accommodation for up to 2 weeks in the homes of approved volunteers – in Edinburgh and supporting its implementation in Glasgow by January 2018.

Sturgeon said: “I want to thank the action group for the serious and urgent work they have done. These actions, which the government accepts in full and will roll out immediately, will provide more support for those who find themselves homeless and more safe and warm places to stay this winter.

“We have a shared commitment to eradicate rough sleeping and end homelessness which is why we established the action group, backed by £50 million to drive change.

“While we take these immediate steps to help those who find themselves at risk of rough sleeping this winter, the Group’s work now continues as we strive to end rough sleeping for good.”

Council debt rose by more than £800m in 2016/17

Written by Kate Shannon on 27 November 2017 in News

Local government spending watchdog the Accounts Commission published its annual financial overview today

It stated that while this is not posing an immediate problem, some councils are concerned about longer term affordability.

Excluding Orkney and Shetland, councils’ net debt was £14.5bn, an increase of £835m.

Commission chairman, Graham Sharp said: “We live in a rapidly changing public sector landscape, where external issues such as the transfer of further powers to Scotland and the decision to withdraw from the European Union add to an already complex domestic environment.

“Against this general backdrop the commission is very aware of the importance of understanding the individual context faced by each council in terms of demand for services and resources available to sustain or develop them.

“A major element of this operating environment for councils is the continuing pressure on finances. There was a real terms reduction in councils’ main source of funding from the Scottish Government for 2016/17.

“This year has seen a further real terms funding reduction, with that trend forecast to continue into future years.

“Councils tell us that they are finding the situation more serious than ever, with savings becoming increasingly difficult to identify and achieve.

“The commission recognises this, but also recognises that some councils are in a better position to respond than others. Effective leadership and financial management is becoming increasingly critical and medium-term financial strategies and well thought out savings plans are key to financial resilience and sustainability.”

The Scottish Government provides around two thirds of council budgets, this fell by 5.2 per cent in 2016/17 to £9.7bn.

2016/17 was also the last year of the council tax freeze, with council tax providing 14 per cent of councils' income.

The report noted that if all councils chose to raise council tax by three per cent, it would yield an estimated £68m - broadly comparable to a one per cent pay rise for staff.

Ronnie Hinds, deputy chair of the Accounts Commission, said: "Our evidence tells us that councils are finding the financial pressures increasingly difficult to manage.

“The elections in May this year brought in major changes in council administrations across Scotland.

“Councils that have demonstrated effective leadership and robust planning will be in a better position to deal with the challenges that lie ahead."

The report also highlighted a number of financial pressures, including a rising proportion of council funding directed towards national priorities such as educational initiatives means councils have to look at deeper cuts in other services.

The commission also looked at the current financial year (2017/18) where councils have approved £317m of savings and use of £105m in reserves.

It stated that some councils could risk running out of general fund reserves within two or three years if they continue to draw on them at current levels.

Philip Hammond reduces waiting time for Universal Credit by seven days

Written by Agnes Chambre on 23 November 2017 in News

With campaigners claiming the six weeks wait has seen claimants driven into debt, senior Tory MPs had been expected to rebel in the Commons

Hammond told MPs that the seven day waiting period applied at the beginning of a benefit claim would be removed.

He also said changes would be implemented to make it easier for households to an emergency full month payment within five days of applying.

And the Treasury will extend the repayment period for those advances from six months to 12.

"Universal Credit delivers a modern welfare system, where work always pays and people are supported to earn," Hammond declared in the Commons.

"But I recognise the genuine concerns on both sides of the House about the operational delivery of this benefit. Today we will act on those concerns."

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Universal Credit was "one of the multitude of injustices presided over this government".

"Wouldn’t it have been better to pause the whole thing and look at the problems it has caused?" he asked.

The Citizens Advice Bureau, one of the key organisations campaigning for changes to the Universal Credit system, welcomed the announcements in the Budget.

“These changes should make a significant difference to the millions of people who will be claiming Universal Credit by the time it’s fully implemented," chief executive Gillian Guy said.

"We’ll continue to keep a close eye on the roll-out of Universal Credit and make sure they do."

Exclusive: Bringing ScotRail into public hands by 2020 would be “hugely ambitious”, says Humza Yousaf

Written by Mark McLaughlin on 20 November 2017 in News

Humza Yousaf confirms ten year contract with Abellio has a break clause which could be activated in 2020 if ScotRail falls below performance targets

Mark McDonald suspended by SNP after party receives 'new information' on his behaviour

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 16 November 2017 in News

Party confirms Mark McDonald, who stood down as children’s minister last week, has been suspended from both the SNP parliamentary group and the party while an investigation takes place

Chancellor must urgently rethink UK approach to welfare, UK’s four children’s commissioners warn

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 15 November 2017 in News

With the Institute for Fiscal Studies projecting a rise in child poverty, the children’s commissioners for Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland came together to issue a joint warning to Philip Hammond on welfare policy