The week outside Westminster

A convicted fraudster has apologised for any problems caused when the SNP's Sturgeon called for the Sheriff in his case to consider sentences other than prison.

Scotland

• Amid mounting pressure on deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon, convicted fraudster Abdul Rauf apologised for any problems caused when Ms Sturgeon called for the Sheriff in his case to consider sentences other than prison.

• News emerged that BskyB were minded to allow Alex Salmond to debate alongside Brown, Cameron and Clegg when they host their election debate. SNP bloggers declared it “Tremendous news”. Other wondered, “Could this be the deal breaker that sees the election debates cancelled entirely?”

• Both the chief executive and chairman of the transport quango, Strathclyde Partnership for Transport resigned amid allegations of the misuse of its expenses system by senior staff. Both a lawyer and KPMG have been asked to look at how to clean up the system of expenses.

• The Scottish Funding Council warned that the recession is having a serious impact on the finances of Scotland’s universities. Meanwhile, a leading academic, John Haldane criticised large amounts of university research that he suggested was “often of dubious worth”.

Labour’s Higher Education Spokeswoman, Claire Baker concluded, “Under this SNP Government we are seeing a crisis develop in higher education”. Education Secretary, Mike Russell said, “The SNP government believes that access to education should be based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay, and that universities are a crucial engine of economic growth.”

• John Deighan, Parliamentary Officer for the Archdiocese of Glasgow used a radio interview to attack Margo MacDonald’s assisted suicide bill as being about providing a “cheaper alternative” to medical care. Responding, MacDonald said that she was “shocked and disappointed” at the remarks, continuing, “Cost has nothing to do with it. It’s very wicked of him to say so.”

Wales

• Welsh Secretary, Peter Hain became the first Cabinet Minister to come out in support of a so called “Robin Hood Tax”, concluding, “It would be a tiny tax that, frankly, would hardly be noticed by the financial system, but bring in huge rewards to tackle the problems of the world.”

• As Plaid Cymru prepared for its Spring Conference in Cardiff, the party announced plans that would, it says, raise £9.4 billion by raising capital gains tax to come into line with income tax; limit income relief on pension contributions for higher earners; and increase to 50% the income tax rate on taxable earnings of more than £100,000.Welsh Labour described it as “economic jambalaya.”

• Health Minister, Edwina Hart called on the NHS in Wales to stop the practice of paying for some staff in need of treatment to go private. In a letter to Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood, Ms Hart said, “I would not normally expect a local health board or [NHS] trust to pay for a member of staff to receive private treatment.”

• Alcohol Concern warned that drinks promotions in some Welsh cities, with drinks as low as a £1 were causing serious health problems. Its Policy Manager, Andrew Misell continued, “We’d like to see pubs and clubs competing on the basis of facilities, entertainment and atmosphere, rather than who can offer the cheapest booze.”

• Following news last month that motor parts maker, Bosch would close its operations in South Wales with the loss of 900 jobs, Finance Minister Jane Hutt and former First Minister, Rhodri Morgan led a delegation to meet the company at their German headquarters.

After the meeting, Hutt and Morgan said that Bosch had promised “the best possible legacy for its plant in Wales and would work with the Assembly Government on the future use of the site. David Lewis of Unite the Union who attended the meeting was optimistic that workers would accept the redundancy package on offer.

Northern Ireland

• The Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Sir Christopher Kelly concluded that, “there must remain a doubt” over First Minister Peter Robinson’s position until he published the legal advice clearing him of wrong doing over his wife’s finances. Robinson hit back by describing Kelly’s words as “unwise”.

• Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness launched a campaign on Monday to better educate the public on the details of the Hillsborough agreement. Peter Robinson concluded, “It is important that each and every citizen takes the time to read this agreement to fully understand what it means for them.” Former SDLP Leader, Mark Durkan dubbed it a “vanity campaign”.

• Jim Allistair, Leader of the hard-line Unionist Party, the TUV was selected to stand in North Antrim at the General Election, leading to the prospect of him taking on the DUP’s Ian Paisley.

• Stormont’s Public Accounts Committee described Northern Ireland’s planning system as “not fit for purpose” as it emerged that senior Civil Servants at the service were receiving bonuses of up to £60,000 despite not meeting long-term targets. Responding, Environment Minister, Edwin Poots said, “I have recognised for some time the problems identified by the report and have been seeking to address these since I came into office.”

 

Quote of the week

“As a former IRA man, I accept all the responsibilities that are due to me”

Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness in an interview with the New Statesman

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