Friday, 15 January 2010

Guest Post By Alex Johnstone MSP

I'm delighted that Alex Johnstone MSP has agreed to do guest post on the blog. Alex has chosen to discuss the NHS.

David Cameron this week launched the Conservative Party's draft health manifesto. This is the culmination of three years of work in which he has consistently made the NHS his priority and during which, as political parties compete with each other to threaten draconian cuts in public expenditure, he alone has held firm that the NHS budget will be protected. He has consistently fought to protect the values the NHS stands for and has campaigned to defend the NHS from cuts and reorganisations.


I remember the irony some years ago when the Labour Party were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the creation of the NHS, while conveniently turning a blind eye to the fact that, of these 50 years, all but 15 had passed under a Conservative government and that, during the limited tenure of Labour, in the late 1970's, the service was brought to its knees by, of all things, a fight between a Labour Prime Minister and the trade union movement. As the facts bear out, the Conservatives are the party of the NHS and committed to the idea at its heart – that healthcare in this country is free at the point of use and available to everyone based on need, not ability to pay. Labour promised to save the NHS but today, despite the massive increase in spending, the gap in health outcomes between the UK and the rest of Europe has actually widened.


Here in Scotland, control and responsibility for the NHS is devolved and lies with the government in Edinburgh. Nevertheless, as it has in England and Wales, the service has suffered a decade in which top-down bureaucratic mismanagement has consistently undermined the professionalism and motivation of NHS staff and skewed NHS priorities away from patient care, creating a culture where ticking boxes is more important than giving patients the treatment they need. We can’t go on with an NHS that puts targets before patients.


Conservatives understand the pressures the NHS faces. In recognition of its special place in our society, we are committed to protecting health spending in real terms – we will not make the sick pay for Labour’s Debt Crisis. That does not mean however, that the NHS should not change. When you’re more likely to die of cancer in Britain than most other countries in Europe – and when the number of managers in the NHS is rising almost three times as fast as the number of nurses – the question isn’t whether the NHS should change, it’s how the NHS should change.


Health expenditure per person in Scotland has traditionally been higher than it is in the rest of Britain. This is partly because we have some greater health problems and a disproportionate number of areas of deprivation, so the costs could be expected to be greater. This historical anomaly has resulted in a safety margin in the Scottish budget which has allowed for a limited squeeze without too much funding pain. Alas, this luxury may no longer available.


While NHS spending in Scotland is decided by the Scottish government, the money to pay for it comes from the Scottish block grant which comes from Westminster and is calculated using the Barnett formula. This means that if the NHS budget for England and Wales is protected, the same level of protection will be applied to the element of the block grant which covers health expenditure in Scotland. The decision as to how that money is spent however, lies with Alex Salmond's government in Edinburgh. While the Conservatives have made their commitment to protect the funding for the NHS, no such commitment has yet emerged from Scottish National Party.


The NHS in Scotland is something which we should all be proud of. As the pressures of funding begin to bite, things will not be easy for the men and women who provide health care in our hospitals and our communities. A new Conservative government will do every thing in its power to protect the health service, but in Scotland, an equal level of commitment will be required from the Scottish Government. The Conservatives will not turn health care into a political football – we must hear that same commitment from the Government in Edinburgh.


This commitment will also need to extend beyond the allocation of funds. In order to get the best for everyone in these difficult times, some reform of the structures to provide better efficiency, ensuring that much more of the resources reach the front line and much less goes into bureaucracy, will be necessary. David Cameron's reform plan, detailed in his Draft Manifesto, is based on the methods of the post-bureaucratic age – decentralisation, accountability and transparency. These lessons must also be learned in Scotland.

Detention For Blair II

Further to my earlier post on Bill Wilson's parliamentary motion calling for the detention and indictment of Tony Blair, the ever dependable Lord Foulkes has chipped in with this amendment (the original motion is below that):

S3W-5525.1: As an amendment to motion S3M-5525 in the name of Bill Wilson (The Illegality of the Invasion of Iraq and the Detention of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair), leave out from "welcomes" to end and insert "recalls delegations of Kurds and Marsh Arabs who visited the United Kingdom in the 1980s and 1990s describing the torture, murder and genocide of their people by Saddam Hussein and their calls on British politicians to take action to help them; further recalls the feeling of impotence at Britain's inability to help, and therefore believes that the action taken by the UK Government led by Tony Blair and supported by a vote in the House of Commons was not only justified by the UN resolution and convention on genocide but was morally right in ridding the world of one of its bloodiest dictators and giving the Iraqi people the opportunity to elect their own government and move towards peace and prosperity.

S3M-05525 Bill Wilson (West of Scotland) (SNP): The Illegality of the Invasion of Iraq and the Detention of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair: That the Parliament welcomes the finding of an independent Dutch commission that UN Security Council Resolution 1441 "cannot reasonably be interpreted as authorising individual member states to use military force to compel Iraq to comply with the Security Council’s resolutions, without authorization from the Security Council"; notes that data gathered by Opinion Research Business indicated that, in September 2007, approximately one million Iraqi citizens had died as a result of the invasion of that country; further notes that, according to media reports, Hans Blix considers that the invasion was illegal and believes that the former UK Prime Minister and former US President misled the public; acknowledges that, according to the High Court of Justiciary in Lord Advocate’s Reference No.1 of 2000, "a rule of customary international law is a rule of Scots law" and considers that, this being the case, the appropriate Scottish law enforcement agencies have the power to investigate the conclusions of the Dutch commission and the role of the former UK Prime Minister, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, in waging a war of aggression, and looks forward to his detention and indictment.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Parliament Running Costs

It has been revealed that the running costs of the Scottish Parliament in the past year amounted to £72 million.

For the financial year ending on 31 March 2009, the total revenue expenditure of the Scottish Parliament was £72 million. This figure is made up of:
• administration and property running costs for the Parliament of £19.3 million
• parliamentary staff salaries of £24.7 million
• MSP salaries of £10.4 million
• Members' costs (which enable the MSPs to obtain staff and accommodation to help them carry out their parliamentary duties) of £10.5 million.
• funding for the salaries and running costs of the Commissioners and Ombudsman of £7.1 million.

Good Put Down

I did one of the 'personality tests' on Facebook.

Seeing the supposed description of me, I got some 'you're having a laugh' e-mails from a colleague. I protested that it was in fact completely accurate.

She of course was having none of it, and it went back and forth in this vein for some time until she ended the banter with the killer line "I laughed so much at that I thought I'd have to borrow a Tena Lady from Doris (*)"

Not much you can say to that really.

(*)The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Coming Soon - Guest Posts

Three guest posts will feature on the blog soon. Tory MSP Derek Brownlee will post his thoughts on the budget, Alex Johnstone MSP will be doing a post on a subject yet to be decided and Labour activist Yousuf over at 'Yapping Yousuf' will also do a guest post, possibly next week.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Detention for Blair?

Bill Wilson MSP lodged the motion below in the Scottish Parliament today.

You may wish to pay particular attention this bit: " “a rule of customary international law is a rule of Scots law” and considers that, this being the case, the appropriate Scottish law enforcement agencies have the power to investigate the conclusions of the Dutch commission and the role of the former UK Prime Minister, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, in waging a war of aggression, and looks forward to his detention and indictment."


So, I presume then, that he is advocating that Scots police nip over the border, or to whichever country Tony Blair is gracing with presence, arrests him and brings him back to Scotland for a fair trial?

If the SNP are reluctant to jail anyone in the first place, and then releases an already convicted mass murderer, then what would be the point of trying to put Blair on trial?


S3M-05525 Bill Wilson (West of Scotland) (SNP): That the Parliament
welcomes the finding of an independent Dutch commission that UN Security Council Resolution 1441 “cannot reasonably be interpreted as authorising individual member states to use military force to compel Iraq to comply with the Security Council’s resolutions, without authorization from the Security Council”; notes that data gathered by Opinion Research Business indicated that, in September 2007, approximately one million Iraqi citizens had died as a result of the invasion of that country; further notes that, according to media reports, Hans Blix considers that the invasion was illegal and believes that the former UK Prime Minister and former US President misled the public; acknowledges that, according to the High Court of Justiciary in Lord Advocate’s Reference No.1 of 2000, “a rule of customary international law is a rule of Scots law” and considers that, this being the case, the appropriate Scottish law enforcement agencies have the power to investigate the conclusions of the Dutch commission and the role of the former UK Prime Minister, Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, in waging a war of aggression, and looks forward to his detention and indictment.

Another report on the perils of drink

Interesting article from the Press and Journal:


Another report on the perils of drink

NOT a day seems to go by without the minority Scottish administration berating the public with another damning report on the perils of drink.

We are bombarded with statistic after statistic, report after report; some cynics might suspect a desperate propaganda war was being waged to avoid another embarrassing SNP humiliation on a key party policy.

Alcohol abuse is a drain on NHS resources, but we can only guess at how much this orchestrated political spin-doctoring is costing the taxpayer. The latest alcohol figures seized on by ministers Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney were so relentlessly mind-boggling that there is a danger their audience will simply switch off.

Where are these figures plucked from and how are they worked out? We never seem to find out. It would be interesting to see how much cash for the NHS and to generate profit and jobs in retail and the drinks industry comes from the vast majority of responsible drinkers.

A huge proportion of patients are admitted to hospital with a range of self-inflicted conditions every day, from drink, obesity, drugs and recklessness on the roads to self-inflicted industrial and DIY accidents. Shall we tax them all?

Penalising the majority with a catch-all pricing policy is not the magic bullet. People will switch brands for a cheaper alternative. Ingrained cultural behaviour has to change. A sustained zero-tolerance crackdown by police, courts and the drinks industry on drunken public behaviour would be a starting point, but it’s quick and easy to raise prices and the minority administration cannot afford a bruising defeat so close to its biggest challenge of all – delivering a referendum on independence.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

E-mail from a constituent

I sometimes get e-mails from people commenting on current affairs either locally or nationally.

With the senders permission, I have published one I received last night:

Jim

Had to laugh. Just saw something on the news saying that the government is going to hand out something like 170,000 FREE laptop computers & broadband packages to 'low income families'.

I don't mean to sound cynical, but couldn't possibly be a desperate attempt to win the 'chav vote' at the up-coming general election could it, hehehe?

I don't think they've really thought this through:

1/ I spoke to one of the BT Broadband engineers today, he said the local exchange can barely cope with the demand for broadband in Arbroath, & it grinds to a halt during really busy times. Shouldn't someone suggest to the powers that be that they should sort out the internet infrastructure first? In the UK about the fastest internet we have is about 20 meg, in Seoul South Korea the government invested in broadband internet early on, & everyone has FREE broadband delivering something like 40,000 meg download speeds. For the equivolent of around £10 a month you get 100,000 meg download speeds! At Brechin Road we get 4 meg on a good day.

2/ Most of the 'low income families' already have cheap laptops, x-boxes, playstations, psp's, etc etc etc!

3/ I don't want the fekin money I paid in taxes to buy Charlie McChav a bloody laptop & free broadband!!!!!

So the next time you're in parliament, please walk up to someone from Labour, punch them REALLY hard in the face & tell them that it was from me, hehe:o)

Take care

Mark

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Not a fan of Thomas Cook then?

This somewhat hard hitting Parliamentary motion was lodged by Cunninghame North MSP Kenneth Gibson, who is clearly not a fan of travel company Thomas Cook.........

Book it, Just Don't Thomas Cook it!

That the Parliament notes the recently published report in Which? Holiday that pointed out that Thomas Cook had one of the lowest customer approval ratings of any holiday company, with complaints including poor-quality hotel rooms and unhelpful staff as well as accusations that the tour operator’s brochures exaggerated standards on offer; believes that, if the views of the 139 passengers who had the misfortune to be booked on flight TCX841L on 26 December 2009 had been included, the report would have been even more critical of Thomas Cook; understands that this flight from Las Palmas to Glasgow was cancelled without notice, that passengers were given no information for hours on end and that the flight eventually left more than 13 hours late, that passengers were told that booking conditions meant that Thomas Cook was obliged to take them only to the United Kingdom not to Glasgow and that if they did not board the flight provided to take them to East Midlands Airport they could find their own way home; recognises that the exhausted passengers included people who were ill, very young, very elderly and heavily pregnant who were apparently told untruths throughout their journey and arrived in Glasgow 20 hours late after having been bussed from East Midlands Airport to Glasgow Airport, and considers that treating customers in such a cavalier take-it-or-leave-it fashion without so much as an apology will do as much to damage the reputation of Thomas Cook as any report and that Thomas Cook needs to spend less on advertising and more on looking after its customers if it is to retain its reputation as a trustworthy company.

Hewitt, Hoon and Clarke should all face secret ballots

John Prescot's view of the new Tory poster, and the Hewitt/Hoon debacle.................

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Re-arranging the Titanic Deckchairs..........

In a somewhat dramatic knee jerk reaction to the letter from Hoon and Hewitt (Hoon of course will always be remembered for sending troops to war without adequate, or even appropriate equipment), Labourlist has called for a show of unity.

I can't help but think that when it gets to that stage in politics, then you really are in the brown stuff (did you see what I did there).

There's some classic stuff in the text:

"We must not resort to negative attacks on the basis of class war" (bit late for that is it not)

"It means that Labour must be willing to accept not everything it has done in government has been perfect" (Ya think???)

"we don’t doubt that the next four months will be difficult"
(No shit Sherlock)

"We are dismayed" (Just like the rest of us then.....)

"focus on bringing about a better future for the people of Britain." (just how many terms will it take to undo the damage you have visited on the UK)

Some commentators feel that this will blow over soon enough, though even if it does, I suspect it will cause residual damage to Labour's prospects at the next election.

The next few days will be interesting I think.

Letter From Geoff Hoon & Patricia Hewitt

The following is a letter from Geoff Hoon & Patrician Hewitt calling for a secret ballot.........

Dear Colleague,
As we move towards a General Election it remains the case that the Parliamentary Labour Party is deeply divided over the question of the leadership. Many colleagues have expressed their frustration at the way in which this question is affecting our political performance. We have therefore come to the conclusion that the only way to resolve this issue would be to allow every member to express their view in a secret ballot.

This could be done quickly and with minimum disruption to the work of MPs and the Government. Whatever the outcome the whole of the party could then go forward, knowing that this matter had been sorted out once and for all.

Strong supporters of the Prime Minister should have no difficulty in backing this approach. There is a risk otherwise that the persistent background briefing and grumbling could continue up to and possibly through the election campaign, affecting our ability to concentrate all of our energies on getting our real message across.
Equally those who want change, should they lose such a vote, would be expected by the majority of the PLP to devote all of their efforts to winning the election. The implications of such a vote would be clear – everyone would be bound to support the result.

This is a clear opportunity to finally lay this matter to rest. The continued speculation and uncertainty is allowing our opponents to portray us as dispirited and disunited. It is damaging our ability to set out our strong case to the electorate. It is giving our political opponents an easy target.

In what will inevitably be a difficult and demanding election campaign, we must have a determined and united parliamentary party. It is our job to lead the fight against our political opponents. We can only do that if we resolve these distractions. We hope that you will support this proposal.

Yours fraternally,
Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt

Time to Reform Local Govt?

Further to yesterday's post where I made reference to calls for reforming local government, this letter is in today's Courier:

Sir,—I refer to John D. Thomson’s letter in which he advocates re-forming the old regional author-ities. I spent my entire working life in local authority employment, from office junior to departmental head, and I completely agree with him.

Prior to the constitution of the regions in 1975, Scottish local government was in an unsustainable mess. With the institution of the regions, sanity was restored, despite the lingering parochialism which tacked on the district authorities, when it would have been much better for the regions to have been all-purpose.

When the regions were abandoned for political reasons and replaced with yet another plethora of under-sized authorities, all with their administrative superstructures, we were once again back to something resembling the pre-1975 situation.

Now we find authorities are having to look at sharing services, lending proof to the argument there are too many local authorities for each to be self-sustaining in the provision of at least some services.

This may not be the time for a complete reform of local government but, at the next opportunity, the regions should be restored as your correspondent suggests, with a suitable division of what was Strathclyde Regional Council, as it was too big and required so many empowered sub-regions as to make them almost separate authorities.

Yet, having said that, and without giving examples, Strathclyde provided services for some parts of the region which surpassed by miles what had passed for local government before that huge region took over.

Such local government reorganisation would require yet another upheaval and might well be accompanied by other reforms in numbers, function and qualification of councillors, the need for chief executives, and other areas which could stand investigation, but local government is still very important, despite the powers and reach of the Scottish Government.

It is, therefore, time that some body or other was set up to have a thorough look at the whole system.


The correspondent makes some interesting and valid points. There does seem to be an appetite for change in order to achieve economies of scale. There is merit in this argument, although I'm not convinced that the savings will be as much as some would predict.

Questioning the need for council Chief Executives is also something that has been raised before, as well as the the qualification of councillors. The latter particularly interests me.

As Convener of a department that includes housing, I decided to go back to university to learn more about it. I was surprised to find that I'm the first Councillor ever to do the housing course, and yet what I've learned so far has been extremely useful.

As Councillors are now salaried, there may well be a case for more qualifications/training or 'continuing personal development' for elected members. Though if that would be the case at local level, is there a need for this in members of national government?

Perhaps it is time to examine the role of local government. It would be a difficult and ambitious task no doubt, but the historically high levels of local authority funding are unlikely to return, so focussing solely on delivering core services and shedding a lot of the things that have gradually been 'bolted on' to councils by central government over the years might make sense.


Time will tell.

Monday, 4 January 2010

'Cooncillor' Pay Freeze

A two year pay freeze for Councillors has been mooted, with some even going so far as to suggest that responsibility allowances are cut by 20%.

Personally, I'm pretty relaxed at the possibility of a pay freeze, and I suspect that it is going to happen whether anyone complains or not.

There is no question that money is extremely tight and hard choices will have to be made.

That said, any savings made by freezing the pay of local councillors may well count for nothing if senior (and I stress senior, as opposed to those on the more modest end of the coluncil pay ladder) are awarded a pay rise.

Iain Macwhirter states that over 800 public sector employees now earn more than the Prime Minister and comments on his blog: "Pen pushing bureaucrats in dowdy council offices, many of them virtually unemployable, are now strutting around like Fred Goodwin shooting their cuffs and demanding bonuses to give them an ‘incentive’."

Having been threatened with a visit from the Standards Commissioner for publicly criticising two council officers previously, I'll make no comment on Mr Macwhirter's thoughts.

The honorary secretary of the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives (ALACE) has hit back stating that the poor dears were becoming the 'whipping boys' of some sections of the media and politics.

She further added that the message sent by a pay freeze was that bosses were 'less valued' than their staff. "It's not about the money, it's the principle" she added.

Elsewhere, a threat to cap council pensions follows claims that some long serving staff have accumulated £150,000 per year pension entitlements through the final salary-linked Local Govt pension scheme.

It will be interesting to see what happens next. A look through the job section of the 'MJ' magazine 'the management journal for local authority business' shows some fairly high salaries, up to almost £200k in one example. It is debatable whether the public sector can sustain high salary levels in the face of such economic hardship, although previously, it has been argued that generous salaries were required to attract talented individuals from the private sector. I don't know how succesful this strategy has been however.

It may be that those who feel that now would be a good time re-organise local government in Scotland are right. It has been suggested that merging local authorities would bring economies of scale and substantial savings to the public purse. It's a debate that I think we are edging towards, and we may need to have it sooner rather than later.