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"Politics is all about people. As a Central Scotland MSP it is both a pleasure and a privilege to meet and become involved with a hugely diverse number of people and organisations"

Margaret Mitchell
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Archive for June 2011

MSP Quizzes Finance Secretary about FOI Costs

Jun. 27th 2011

During Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth Question Time, Margaret asked the Cabinet Secretary John Swinney about the use of taxpayers’ money by the Scottish Government to challenge an FOI request made into details of its plans for local income tax.

 

Commenting, Margaret said:

 

‘The SNP shelved its local income tax plans in 2009 following a report by one of their chief economic advisors Dr. Andrew Gouldie, which detailed how much Scottish families would have to pay. The Telegraph newspaper submitted an FOI request about what projections for local income tax has been made to ministers.

 

The Scottish Information Commissioner Kevin Duncan rule that it was in the public interest to release the officials’ advice to ministers including their calculations. However, the SNP Government has challenged this ruling arguing that the advice is exempt as it pertains to the formulation and development of government policy.

 

‘To this end the Scottish Government has spent an estimated between £53,000 and £103,000 of taxpayers’ money in this legal battle. Yesterday I wanted to ask Mr. Swinney just how much has been spent and if he thought that this was a good use of taxpayers’ funds.

 

‘In his response to my question Mr. Swinney failed to address the precise costs of the government’s legal challenges and stated that the government was: ‘entitled to spend the public money that it spent in defending the law this [The Scottish] parliament had passed, but did not say if he thought that this was a good way of spending the public purse and thought the decision justified.

 

‘In the current economic climate the financial dealing of the government must be subject to high levels of accountability and transparency but using taxpayers funds to prevent the release of information under an FOI request to protect government plans does not help public confidence especially as the introduction of a local income tax was one of the promises in the SNP’s election manifesto.

 

‘Mr. Swinney also stated in his answer that: ‘if we do not have exemptions … ministers may not be on the receiving end of the most comprehensive, open and transparent advice from civil servants that we could get on particular issues. I appreciate the need for FOI exemptions but this reasoning, that ministers might not get the most ‘open’ advice if this information were to be made public under an FOI suggests more that the Government doesn’t want the public to hear bad news.’

The Official Report of the Question Time, including John Swinney’s responses can be found at:

http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/Apps2/Business/ORSearch/ReportView.aspx?r=6313&i=57541&c=1205718&s=

Posted by Kate | in Issues and events, Parliament

Margaret holds Cabinet Secretary to Account on Knife Crime during Justice Debate

Jun. 27th 2011

Speaking in the Justice debate on Wednesday (15th June) Margaret raised the issue of the number of deaths from knife crime in Lanarkshire and Scotland wide over recent months as one which requires to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

 

Commenting on the debate Margaret said:

‘The Justice debate was open-ended and rather than covering a range of issues I considered that the time was long overdue to focus on the number of tragic deaths in Lanarkshire due to knife crime over the last six months. During the debate the Cabinet Secretary proffered his sympathies to the families of the two latest victims of knife-crime and as ever with his customary bravado reminded us that knife crime is down by a third.

‘This is no comfort, however, to the family and friends of the victims of knife crime left devastated by their deaths. I used the debate to set out the full extent of the problem for Mr McAskill.

‘In Lanarkshire alone in the last 6 months the death tally makes grim reading:

‘In February Glasgow University student Reamonn Gormley knifed to death minutes from his home in Blantyre

‘In April 20-year-old P J Douglas – a trainee chef – was found with serious knife injuries in a block of flats in Greenhills East Kilbride. He died in Hairmyres Hospital shortly afterwards. This is the third knife murder in East Kilbride in a year.

‘Last Saturday afternoon (11th June), 30-year-old Christopher Devlin from Airdrie was fatally wounded in a knife attack after being found bleeding to death in the street—in broad daylight—on the estate where he lived.

Furthermore, Scotland wide – since the start of the year there have been 15 knife deaths. This is an appalling average of 3 a month.

 

‘The Scottish Government insists that tough enforcement and education are key to tackling such crime and to date; it has spent £500,000 on initiatives such as the No Knives, Better Lives campaign.

 

‘So, much has been done to try to educate and to help to get the message across to young people about the dangers and consequences of carrying a knife. However, it would appear that these warnings on knife crime are no longer being heeded and there is little evidence of this tough enforcement.

 

‘I agree with the sentiments expressed recently by Chief Superintendent David O’Connor (president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents) that this country is at a tipping point and the only way to tackle knife crime is through
urgent political solutions. Those who carry knives need to be eradicated from our communities.

 

‘So, instead of constitutional posturing the Scottish Government must listen to the people of Scotland exemplified by the support for the “Hammer the Knife Thugs Campaigns” of the Hamilton Advertiser and the East Kilbride News and replace the rhetoric of tough enforcement of knife crime with a policy to introduce a presumption of a custodial sentence for carrying a knife.

 

The full text of Margaret’s speech can be found in the Scottish Parliament Offical Report which can be accessed online at:

 

http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/Apps2/Business/ORSearch/ReportView.aspx?r=6291&mode=pdf

 

Posted by Kate | in Chamber speeches, Parliament

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