It has been a relatively quiet week in Scottish politics with the SNP coming under heavy criticism over two vital election issues – health and education.
The BBC was provided with data which suggested that a significant number of hospital beds were blocked by patients who could have been treated at home. Bed blocking has been a long term issue for the NHS in Scotland where there are delays to return patients for treatment at home. The data suggests that over a single month, over 1,200 beds each day could not be accessed by patients entering hospital.
The Scottish Government have claimed that this was a situation that they had inherited from the previous Labour administration, and had committed to spending £100m to combat the situation.
The Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) has claimed that there is a “crisis of confidence” over the introduction of the new Highers courses. The Union, polling 900 teachers, found that most did not feel they were prepared to introduce the refreshed courses which are set to link in with other education reforms. The Union has announced that Education Secretary Angela Constance will be meeting to discuss the concerns.
There was better news for the Scottish Government with the news that they had secured agreement with the 32 councils in Scotland to maintain teacher numbers. The Government was offering councils £51m to retain current numbers (this money would have fallen had they chosen to reduce the number of teachers).
Health and education are likely to be two of the big issues not only for the general election in May, but will be the issues by which the SNP are measured for the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections. It is vital for their continuing success that both these areas work smoothly and demonstrate the competence which has won the SNP the support of voters for two terms.
Council Tax Freeze
One of the SNPs flagship policies, the Council Tax freeze, has been renewed for an eighth year running, with the agreement of all the 32 local authorities. The Deputy First Minister, John Swinney will announce how the 70million that is given to local authorities will be distributed.
While this has been a long running (and electorally successful) policy for the SNP, the Scottish Government has begun to look at alternative methods to fund local government services.
Conservatives Tax Reform
The Scottish Conservatives have this week announced that the former CBI Scotland director Iain McMillan CBE will lead an independent Commission that will look at the best way the Scottish Parliament can use its new tax powers to deliver economic growth.
The independent Commission for Competitive and Fair Taxation in Scotland will comprise of business journalist Bill Jamieson, former Scottish Enterprise chief executive Jack Perry CBE, ex-chairman of Barr Construction Tony Rush, leading economist Dr Andrew Lilico and tax expert Rhona Irving.
The Commission will also be looking at other issues, such as local government funding and business rates. They will produce a report ahead of the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.