Programme for Government fails to address major challenges

The Scottish Parliament met for the first time since the summer recess today and the First Minister set out her government’s agenda for the coming year.

The First Minister’s Programme for Government published today reads: “The successful transition to the new single police service on 1st April 2013 has placed Scotland at the forefront of UK policing.”

Since the Scottish Parliament last met the chairman of the Scottish Police Authority has resigned, the Chief Constable of Police Scotland has resigned and we witnessed the unfolding terrible aftermath of that tragic incident on the M9 motorway.

The truth is – as a police officer told the BBC last week - Police Scotland is on its knees.

I know this to be true from almost daily contact from police officers and civilian staff.

They complain about low morale and serious problems such as:

  • Backfilling of civilian jobs by experienced but inappropriately trained police officers
  • Excessive waiting times in call centres and control rooms
  • Industrial scale stop and search
  • Top down targets and controls
  • More near misses because of errors at Bilston Glen

The list goes on.

I warned Ministers before about the dangers of their plans and I am warning them now that what they have announced today is simply not enough.

This government is denying reality.

We need an inquiry into the operations of Police Scotland. It needs to change before it gets any worse.

Liberal Democrats have put forward proposals to reform the democratic architecture of the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland. As part of her review of accountability and scrutiny, if the First Minister is prepared to listen, I will take her through our plans. They are reasonable and pragmatic and will inject local accountability back into the police.

The code of conduct on stop and search is a step in the right direction but all stop and search must be put on a statutory footing to bring an end to the industrial use of stop and search.

But the review of police as a whole is essential to restore morale of staff and officers and confidence of the public.

Our proposals for positive change do not stop at policing.

A pupil premium to help children who need a helping hand at school. It targets financial support to individual children across Scotland, not just in limited councils, to provide support for extra tuition and resources. It’s that personalised support that makes the difference.

An expansion of nursery education and childcare – the best educational investment we could make. Last month 15,000 two year olds skipped through the doors of their nursery for the first time. That figure should be doubled. In England the support is outstripping that available in Scotland.

A recruitment plan for GPs. Our survey of GPs in the summer found that one in three would not choose that career if they could revisit the decision now. So many are retiring early, going part time or potential new recruits are going elsewhere. Of the GPs who knew about the government’s plan 99% thought it was inadequate. The Royal College of GPs have a blueprint – the government should take it seriously.

Parity for mental health treatment. One in four will have a mental health condition in our lifetime but the treatment options are inadequate and involve long waits. Yesterday I visited Urban Therapy in Crosshill. They are overwhelmed by people seeking counselling from as far afield as Glasgow.

On pupil testing and league tables the Plan for Government says:

“The clear purpose of this reporting and use of assessment data is to drive accountability throughout Scottish education.”

That includes school level data - that will lead to teaching to the test and every child put under unacceptable pressure to make the numbers look good.

Despite what the First Minister says it is clear we are returning to the kind of testing and tables the previous Liberal Democrat Labour administration abolished.

The First Minister has been in government for over eight years.

The problems with the police, NHS and schools are not just problems for which she is a passive observer. She is responsible.

She mentions the future repeatedly in her speech. Perhaps the First Minister prefers to talk about the future because she can’t face up to her government’s past.

Liberal Democrats have put forward fresh ideas on the governance arrangements for police Scotland.

We have argued for an expansion of nursery education for two year olds.

We have proposals for a pupil premium for children struggling at school.

Not only have the government ignored these plans but have failed to come up with any plans themselves – they have ignored the problems altogether.

The First Ministers programme fails to address the big challenges that was face as a country.

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