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26 March 2005

Minister defends the £8bn bill for PPP programme - The Scotsman

by PETER MACMAHON, Scottish Government Editor, The Scotsman

SCOTLAND’S controversial Public Private Partnership projects will have cost taxpayers £8 billion by 2018-19, according to the Scottish Executive’s own figures.

Tom McCabe, the finance minister, has released information showing that the burden on the taxpayers of the PPP schemes has risen from just £13.8 million in 1997/98 and will eventually reach a projected £555 million annually by 2018-19.

Last night the Scottish National Party claimed that the real figure will be more than £13 billion and condemned the Executive for allowing the banks to make "excessive" profits out of the projects.

But a spokesman for the Executive said that PPP had delivered a massive programme of modernisation of schools, colleges, hospitals, and water infrastructure for Scotland over a short period of time.

The figures Mr McCabe gave to MSPs show that, from a slow start in the first years of Labour when PPP emerged from the Private Finance Initiative, the amount spent on these programmes - which usually run for 20 or 25 years - increased rapidly.

By 2000-1 it was £108.9 million a year. This financial year, from April, it is projected to be £413.5 million, and it rises steadily over the next 13 years to the projected £555 million.

Stewart Stevenson, the SNP MSP who uncovered the figures in a parliamentary answer from Mr McCabe, last night said there would be a huge burden placed on future generations.

Mr Stevenson claimed last night that the actual sum would be higher. He said: "These figures relate only to projects up to 2004. Since then there have been a number of new schemes begun and, by my calculations, it could end up with a total bill of £13.8 billion, which is a huge burden on the taxpayers of today and tomorrow."

The SNP MSP for Banff and Buchan said that his figures would put the annual burden at £1,257 million by 2018-19.

Mr Stevenson added: "This is a substantial commitment which this Executive has made but which binds the hands of future generations of politicians of whatever political colour.

"This is not about denying private companies profit. The logic that you can get everything built by the state does not wash. But the structure of PFI deals delivers unreasonable profits to people like the banks.

"And whatever the Executive may say, the ultimate risk is still with the state - what happens if a firm running a school or a hospital goes bust? The Executive will not let them close, that is for sure."

Mr Stevenson continued: "Instead of paying silly interest rates, way above what the rate the government itself could get, we could be getting much more for our money.

"We should be making this money work harder for us, helping to build up our infrastructure rather than helping to build up excessive profits."

The MSP said that the SNP’s plan for a Scottish Trust for Public Investment, where the finances would be pooled and so lower interest rates could be negotiated, was a better scheme for the taxpayers.

But last night the Executive hit back emphatically, citing the rebuilding of most schools in Glasgow since 1998 as an example of the scale of work which would not have happened without PPP.

Mr McCabe’s spokesman said that, across Scotland, PPP already had delivered three major new hospitals - including the new £184 million Edinburgh Royal Infirmary - 80 or so new or refurbished schools, three further education colleges, nine water and sewerage schemes and a road.

The spokesman said that one of the main sectors in which PPP is active is in schools where some 300 new or refurbished schools will be provided by 2009.

This represented the largest single investment ever made in school buildings, with long-term maintenance locked in to the contracts and project funding.

He added: "The benefits of PPP are well recognised. They deliver large capital projects of quality and they deliver them quickly with the risk being borne by the private sector, not the public sector.

"The way PPP works is similar to a mortgage - but with the maintenance costs built in.

"Of course, you will pay more than you would with cash but the public also gets a well-maintained building at the end of the period.

"It is a moot point whether it would be maintained as well if it were not under a PPP scheme."
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16 March 2005

SCOTTISH PRISON SERVICE TO BLAME FOR TAXPAYERS MONEY COMPENSATING PRISONERS SAYS STEVENSON

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has launched a scathing attack on Scottish Prison Service (SPS) Chief Executive Tony Cameron, blaming him for what he sees as the scandalous waste of taxpayers money being used to deal with the ‘slopping-out’ cases being brought against the Government.

Prisoners are currently engaged in legal battles with the Scottish Executive over “human rights” issues which they claim was caused by being forced to ‘slop-out’ from their prison cells due to lack of sanitation.

Now, Mr Stevenson has called for SPS chief Tony Cameron to resign over the matter. Commenting, Mr Stevenson – who is also the SNP’s Prisons spokesperson - said:

“It is a damning indictment of the SPS management led by Tony Cameron that he passed the opportunity to deal with the slopping-out issue. Had he used a common sense approach, we may not now be in a situation where taxpayers money which should be used to bring more dentists to the North-east or reduce NHS waiting times is being used to compensate convicted criminals.

“Before prison estates review at the start of the decade, the SPS actually handed back around £14 million which it said it didn’t need. This money should have been used to upgrade our Victorian jails but was instead used to make Tony Cameron look good in front of his Executive bosses.

“Now, we can clearly see the results of these actions as criminals queue up for compensation. It was all so avoidable if only there had been some real leadership at the top of the SPS. Tony Cameron should do the decent thing and resign.”

Mr Stevenson then went on to repeat his call for a new-build prison at Peterhead. He said:

“As to where we are now, it is clear that investment is needed in the prison service to replace and upgrade our outmoded Victorian jails in the North of Scotland, all of which – Peterhead, Craiginches and Inverness – have issues.

“The logical place for a new jail is at Peterhead where there is a record of excellence on the part of the staff and plenty of space for a new build.”

STEVENSON MEETS WITH SUPERMARKET CHAIN

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has met with senior officials from the ASDA supermarket chain for discussions at the Scottish Parliament.

The SNP MSP had a full agenda for his meeting which included the Supermarket Code of Conduct for dealing with farmers and producers, reducing the amount of ‘food miles’ through environmentally-friendly transport methods and community relations.

Mr Stevenson also took the opportunity to promote the goods of several local companies in his constituency to ASDA and received an undertaking that contact would be established with the companies concerned to discuss getting their products into ASDA stores.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“This was a very valuable meeting indeed and I am grateful to ASDA for their involvement in what should hopefully prove to be a very useful meeting for several local companies who wish to get the opportunity to bid for business now that the chain has an outlet in Banff & Buchan.

“We covered a range of issues and I was very impressed with the company’s attitude towards the environment, with much of their supplies for the North-east arriving in Aberdeen by rail. ASDA has also appointed an ‘events co-ordinator’ at their Peterhead store to link-up with local groups and organisations to offer help wherever possible as the company is keen to establish links with the local community.

“Of particular concern to me was the Supermarket Code of Conduct which has been raised with me by many of my farming constituents. I impressed upon the company that, while I was not singling them out for criticism, that the big supermarket chains must treat their suppliers and producers fairly and pay a fair price. The dairy industry is a good example of where this is not happening and this remains a matter of concern to me.

“This was a very positive meeting and I aim to meet with officials from the other supermarkets in the near future to continue the good progress that has been made with ASDA.”

15 March 2005

STEVENSON HIGHLIGHTS NATIONAL SCIENCE WEEK

Banff and Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson is urging constituents to participate in National Science Week, which takes place until 20th March and is co-ordinated by the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA).

Commenting on the event, Mr Stevenson said:

“Many people believe that science is not for them and that they hold no interest for it. However, they should simply think again. In 2004, 47% of adults surveyed were aware of National Science Week. Over 300,000 people of all ages took part in National Science Week, with more than 1,500 events.

“Each year National Science Week plays an important part in connecting science with people of all ages. Over the past few years, a variety of television programmes aimed at different age groups have featured National Science Week, showing that science can be accessible to everyone.

“Throughout the week, many events will be organised across the country by a wide range of organisations and individuals including hospitals, schools, industry and museums. Venues range from shopping centres to pubs and churches. National Science Week is aimed at everyone from children and adults to decision-makers and I am sure that it will succeed in its aim to engage and inspire people of all ages with science and technology and their implications. Furthermore, it will help to promote discussion and understanding of what science, engineering and technology can and cannot achieve and hopefully it will take science to the public rather than waiting for the public to find science.”

10 March 2005

EXEC FAILS TO PROTECT CHILDREN FROM NET THREAT

Responding to the publication of the Scottish Parliament's Justice 1 Committee's report on the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill, SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson backed the findings, and called on the Executive to act now on its proposals.

Mr Stevenson said:

"The Executive have failed to understand the nature of the threats posed by the Internet for children.

"Not only that but the Executive's consultation on the issue even failed to ensure that the National High Tech Crime Unit was involved in the consultation on the Bill. This is despite the fact that they are the acknowledged experts in Scotland in this area

"In failing to criminalise the 'grooming' behaviour of paedophiles, the Executive have missed their best opportunity of tackling an odious crime in Scotland. By comparison the English offence of "Arranging or facilitating commission of a child sex offence" is regarded by the police as a valuable addition to their armoury. We should have a similar offence here if we are to be seriously committed to tackling this horrific problem.

"This is a missed opportunity for the Executive. As the Committee says, "the Bill will only make a marginal difference in tackling the threat posed to children by paedophiles". In particular, by excluding 16 and 17 year olds from the new offences created the Executive's Bill leaves a potentially dangerous gaping loophole in the law. But this is just one example of the Executive's failure to tighten these laws.

"For example, people who protect children through the provision of sex education and sexual health information may be caught by this Bill's provisions due to the poor drafting of the proposals.

"Scotland's children deserve the most comprehensive protection possible from abuse. Without further work this Bill will be a missed opportunity for the Executive."

9 March 2005

LOCAL MSP CONGRATULATES PETERHEAD FC

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has added his congratulations to Peterhead Football Club on the occasion of their historic securing of promotion to the Scottish Football League Second Division.

Mr Stevenson has tabled a Motion in the Scottish Parliament congratulating the players, staff and management at the club on their achievement.

Speaking from the Scottish Parliament, Mr Stevenson said:

“This is a tremendous achievement for the club and a terrific boost for the town.

“The match against Elgin City was hard fought but the Blue Toon got the point that they needed in the end. I am absolutely delighted for the team and their promotion is thoroughly deserved.”

STEVENSON URGES LOCAL PEOPLE TO RESPOND TO POSTAL SERVICES SURVEY

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has welcomed the survey being carried out by watchdog group Postwatch Scotland into the postal service.

The MSP, who is campaigning with SNP colleague Alex Salmond MP to secure the future of the Post Office and Royal Mail, is encouraging constituents to respond to the survey.

Commenting, Mr Stevenson said:

“Our local postmen and postwomen do a tremendous job. I have visited all the Royal Mail Sorting Offices in Banff & Buchan in my time as MSP and I never fail to be impressed with the commitment shown by postal workers, and the sheer volumes that they deal with day on day.

“Recent policy decisions by the Labour Government have put the future of the Post Office and Royal Mail – two of our most cherished and valuable services – under threat.

“Post Offices are having to face up to a loss of footfall as the Government persuades people to get their pensions and benefits paid direct to their bank accounts, in spite of the fact that most villages in Banff & Buchan still have a Post Office but the banks have in the main retreated to the towns.

“Now, the postal regulator has decided to end Royal mail’s monopoly of the letters and small packets market the Postwatch survey and sending out a strong message.”

The Postwatch Survey can be accessed: www.ruralgateway.org.uk

4 March 2005

LOCAL MSP WISHES BROCH ‘YOUNG CONSUMERS’ WELL FOR COMPETITION FINAL

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson will be at Fraserburgh Academy, Dennyduff Road, Fraserburgh, on Monday 7 March at 10.00am to wish the Fraserburgh competitors in the annual Young Consumer of the Year competition every success.

The Young Consumer of the Year Competition is now in its 18th year and involves thousands of pupils, aged between 14 and 17, representing their schools in knockout quiz events throughout the UK. Teams are tested on topics such as Safety & Environment, Money & Finance, Food & Health, and Legal & Consumer Matters.

Mr Stevenson will be joined by representatives from Total Oil who are sponsoring the team, teacher Debbie Donaldson, and Allison Bruce of Aberdeenshire Council Consumer Protection Service.

Wishing the team well, Mr Stevenson said:

“I will be attending the final in Edinburgh a week on Wednesday and I wish Fraserburgh Academy every success.

“Fraserburgh Academy is doing extremely well in national competitions at the moment, having also won through to the finals of the Global Rock Challenge in Grimsby later this year.

“These successes are reflect extremely well on the team members and on the school generally and my congratulations to all involved in these success stories.”

3 March 2005

MSP’S CONCERNS FOR FIRST-TIME BUYERS AT LACK OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson has signed his colleague, Richard Lochhead’s Parliamentary Motion on the subject of first time buyers and the fact that affordable housing should be available to all.

Commenting in the issue, Mr Stevenson said:

“I have to say that I found it disappointing to learn from the Bank of Scotland’s Annual First Time Buyer Review that four out of five towns in Scotland are now unaffordable for first-time buyers. In 2004 we have seen the number of first time buyers entering the market being the lowest number in nine years, falling from 50,000 in 2002 to just 32,000 in 2004.

“It is sad to see that first time buyers accounted for less than three in 10 new mortgages in Scotland in 2004, well below the longer-term average of one in two. Furthermore, it is worrying that key service workers and young couples are often among those first-time buyers frozen out of communities, particularly in rural areas, due to unaffordable property prices.

“I believe that it is vital that young people are afforded the opportunity to gain a footing on the property ladder should this be their chosen route given that this will help them remain in communities where they are currently unable to live. The Scottish Executive should take all steps available to ensure that young people are not frozen out of their communities due to a lack of affordable housing, whether they choose to rent or purchase.”

1 March 2005

MCCONNELL’S BOOZE BUDGET DOUBLES

New figures released today show that since Jack McConnell became First Minister hospitality expenditure, the Booze Budget, has doubled in the First Minister’s Office.

Stewart Stevenson MSP said:

“Jack McConnell really should start trying to set a better example. Since he took over from Henry McLeish the booze bill in his office has more than doubled. Jack is now spending nearly £1000 more each working week than Mr McLeish did on hospitality – and that’s completely over the top.

“Earlier this year Jack McConnell got it completely wrong when he told a group of school children that it was okay to get drunk once in a while. Now he has let his own hospitality bill get out of control. Jack should stop ordering the doubles and get down to work cutting council tax bills.”

SCOTTISH WATER TELLS STEVENSON: ‘LESSONS HAVE BEEN LEARNED’

The Chairman of Scottish Water, Professor Alan Alexander, has told Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson that lessons have been learned from mistakes made in their handling of the recent contamination scare at Aberchirder.

The SNP MSP had written to Scottish Water after being contacted by local people who highlighted what they saw as failings on the part of the agency after the break-in at a treated water storage tank.

Among the concerns raised were the fact that Scottish Water distributed two different types of leaflet to householders in different parts of Aberchirder, each giving different advice; the loudhailers used to alert householders were ineffective; and there was confusion over the distribution of bottled water to householders.

Now, in a written response to Mr Stevenson, Scottish Water Chairman Professor Alan Alexander has apologised to affected residents and says that lessons have been learned from the mistakes made.

In the letter, Professor Alexander states:

“We have now thoroughly reviewed the situation and are ensuring that we have learned from the mistakes we made at Aberchirder. Our main priority is to protect public health and we are committed to continually improving how we handle situations like this and recognise that there are areas that need to be improved.”

Mr Stevenson commented:

“When a situation such as this occurs, the authorities need to have a clear plan of action and follow this through. This did not happen in Aberchirder.

“I am grateful to residents in Aberchirder for bringing these concerns to my attention and I hope that Scottish Water have taken stock from their experience here.”
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