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Summary

  1. Nicola Sturgeon joins Labour in condemning reports that a million more people are struggling to pay their fuel bills

Live Reporting

By Ailsa Brown and Craig Hutchison

All times stated are UK

That's all folks

That ends our coverage of the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 11 December 2014.

Holyrood
BBC

Remember you can watch all the chamber business and the Welfare Reform Committee on demand at

BBC Scotland's Democracy Live website.

Statement conclusion

The finance secretary concludes his statement: "Presiding Officer, my statement today marks the start of the consultation process with local government on the provisional 2015-16 revenue allocations and, once confirmed, I will bring the final figures to Parliament early next year."

MSPs in chamber
BBC

MSPs question Mr Swinney about the details of his statement on the local government settlement.

2014-15 additional sums

The finance secretary says the 2014-15 the main additional sums are:

  • a further £18.5 million for Early learning and Childcare resulting from the Children and Young People Act
  • almost £16.5 million for the delivery of Free School Meals to children in primary 1 to 3
  • £15 million to allow us to fully mitigate the impact of the Bedroom Tax
Bedroom tax protest
BBC
Bedroom tax protest
  • £12 million to cover the cost of the Enterprise Areas business rates relief scheme
  • £5 million to provide additional Teachers' Support resulting from the new National Qualifications; and
  • £2 million to help local authorities fund the teachers' Pay Award

Revenue allocations

Mr Swinney says: "The local government settlement maintains funding on a like-for-like basis in both 2014-15 and 2015-16 with the allocation of additional money for new responsibilities.

Children eating school dinners
PA

The 2015-16 revenue allocations have been increased by £241 million since the Draft Budget 2014-15:

  • £54 million to give all children in p1 to p3 access to a free school meal
  • £44 million to fund extended pre‑school entitlement
  • £38 million for the Scottish Welfare Fund
  • £35 million to fully mitigate the impact of the Bedroom Tax
  • £6.5 million to support administration costs of the Council Tax Reduction scheme.

'Rates relief'

The Deputy First Minister says: "Our overall package of rates reliefs provides increasing support to businesses, estimated at £618 million for 2015-16.

shops
BBC

"Scotland remains the most competitive business tax environment in the UK."

Block Grant Adjustment

Mr Swinney says: "Parliament has been advised of the delay in reaching agreement on the block grant adjustment that comes with the devolution of tax powers.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander.
BBC
Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander.

"I have spoken to the Chief Secretary about this issue and I am anxious to resolve this before Christmas. That factor is of course material to my consideration of the changes made by the Chancellor."

Council tax freeze

Mr Swinney says eligible businesses will be £3140 better off thanks to the Small Business Bonus Scheme.

He announces Cosla has reached agreement on the Business Rates Incentivisation Scheme.

Small business
Thinkstock

The deputy first minister says the government will continue to match English poundage rates 2015-16.

He says Scotland will continue to be the most competitive business tax environment in the UK.

Mr Swinney announces the total Local Government Finance Settlement of nearly £10.85bn, set against the challenging fiscal environment.

He says this is a very fair settlement, overall good governance of Scotland.

Money
BBC

Councils will have to secure a council tax freeze for the 8th year in a row, he announces.

Cuts

Mr Swinney says the Scottish economy has performed well, out performing the rest of the UK in unemployment rates, employment and economic activity.

Deputy First Minister and Finance Secretary John Swinney
BBC
Deputy First Minister and Finance Secretary John Swinney

The deputy first minister says looking forward the OBR forecasts that 60% of the UK government cuts are still to come.

He says the Scottish government has tried to mitigate the impact of these cuts, but Scotland is not immune to them facing around£15bn in cuts over the next five years.

Coming up: Local Government Finance Settlement 2015-16

Finance Secretary John Swinney will shortly deliver the Local Government Finance Settlement 2015-16 statement.

Gritters
BBC
Councils run many services including gritters

'Grass roots communities'

Independent MSP and Local Government Committee deputy convener John Wilson thanks all the witnesses and community representatives for their evidence which informed the report.

Closing for the committee, Mr Wilson says: "We are not just talking about greater powers for local government we are talking about greater powers for local communities."

Deputy Convener of the Local Government and Regeneration Committee, John Wilson MSP
BBC
Deputy Convener of the Local Government and Regeneration Committee, John Wilson MSP

He says we have to look at new and challenging ways to devolve powers to the grass roots communities.

Government closing

Local Government and Community Empowerment Minister Marco Biagi says the council tax commission will retain a narrow focus on replacing the tax.

Local Government and Community Empowerment Minister Marco Biagi
BBC
Local Government and Community Empowerment Minister Marco Biagi

The minister says he disagrees with Ms Boyack on the pressures on local government financing, because as a share of the Scottish government spend local authority financing is currently 36.4% and when Labour were last sharing power in 2006-7 it was lower at 34.7%.

Mr Biagi says this shows councils are "proportionately doing rather well".

'Fourth tier of government'

Labour MSP Alex Rowley says it is important to acknowledge the role and importance of local government and the army of councillors and workers delivering services the length and breadth of Scotland.

This report is the start of a debate, says Mr Rowley, this is an opportunity that should not be used.

The Labour MSP says he welcomes the government's engagement with Cosla and the opposition parties on its council tax commission.

Labour MSP Alex Rowley
BBC
Labour MSP Alex Rowley

Mr Rowley says in countries with stronger local government, voting turnout is actually higher.

He calls for the empowerment of the "fourth tier of government", community councils.

'Worrying example of centralisation"

Conservative MSP Cameron Buchannan says the creation of Police Scotland is a worrying example of centralisation.

Mr Buchannan says he agrees with the report when it says local authorities have the power to devolve power to communities.

Conservative MSP Cameron Buchanan
BBC
Conservative MSP Cameron Buchanan

He says it is also welcome the report calls on local authorities devolve powers to the lowest appropriate level.

It is right to highlight there is a perception of centralised power within local authorities, constraining legal flexibility.

Green Party

Green MSP Alison Johnstone says we urgently need to create a fairer tax than the council tax.

Green MSP Alison Johnstone
BBC
Green MSP Alison Johnstone

Ms Johnstone says there is a need for fundamental reform of Scotland's democratic structures to encourage double devolution.

The Flexibility and Autonomy in Local Government report findings continued:

Strand 4 - How remote, peripheral or island communities are accommodated within the local government structures

"We support the principle of the island authorities receiving more powers, with less controls to enable them to implement bespoke, local policies for their areas."

Shetland
BBC

Strand 5 - The level of legal flexibility, and autonomy from central government, which local government enjoys

"Control or the perception of control by the centre, whether at local or central government needs to be addressed."

Lib Dems

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie says the balance between making sure we have national standards as well as giving real local democracy, is the challenge we face.

Mr Rennie says when the desire for politicians centrally to do away with clutter and confusion is misguided, what we need to have is lines of responsibilities and effective government with real local power.

Willie Rennie
BBC
Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie

"Now is the turn of local government to get that big debate."

He speaks against the single police force and single fire and rescue service.

The Flexibility and Autonomy in Local Government report findings continued:

Strand 3 - The Legal and Constitutional Funding Mechanisms Available to Local Government

Council tax demand
BBC

" While political parties agree there is need for financial reform no one party has yet brought forward ideas as to how this should be undertaken or what a replacement for council tax should be.

"We make a clear recommendation this issue must be addressed at the earliest opportunity involving all political parties."

The Flexibility and Autonomy in Local Government report findings continued:

Strand 2 - The level of public engagement and interaction with local government, including turnout at local elections

"We believe, like the Carnegie UK Trust, the low level of public engagement in local politics is at least partly related to the nature of the relationship citizens and communities have with government.

bin man generic
Getty Images
Cosla helps local councils makes collective decisions on public service policies

"We consider adequate powers to devolve responsibilities currently exist which local authorities must begin to exercise.

"In the event it transpires there are a few limited areas in which local authorities may be lacking powers to devolve responsibility and control to communities such restrictions require to be identified and appropriate action, at whatever level, taken to resolve."

Conservatives

Conservative MSP Cameron Buchanan says the centralisation of powers from local to central government should be reversed - this, members "is the crux of the issue at hand"

He says the

Scottish Community Alliance have said attempts to empower communities had failed dismally.

Conservative MSP Cameron Buchanan
BBC
Conservative MSP Cameron Buchanan

Mr Buchanan says opportunities for members of the public to engage with local government can be far from obvious.

He says some local government consultations can be "tokenistic".

"Proper detailed debate needs to happen at all levels of public life."

Labour

Labour MSP Sarah Boyack says 2014 will go down as an important year in the development of devolution.

She highlights the debate about "double devolution" and

Powers for a Purpose Labour's Devolution Commission.

Labour MSP Sarah Boyack
BBC
Labour MSP Sarah Boyack

It is important that there is a focus on devolving power from Holyrood, says Ms Boyack.

She says councils are facing the toughest time since the middle of the last Conservative UK government.

Council tax

Mr Biagi says the government will engage with Cosla and all political parties for a fairer tax than the current council tax.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

announced a commission to look at alternatives to the council tax. during her programme for government.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
BBC
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Replacing the council tax has long been an SNP ambition but it has proved easier said than done.

In 2007, the party advocated replacing it with a "local income tax". In practice, this would have used Holyrood's power to raise income tax by 3p to help replace the money raised by council tax.

The parliament backed the idea of a local income tax but it proved impossible for the minority SNP administration to win enough support for its actual proposal.

Lord Smith

Mr Biagi highlights Lord Smith's foreword which states:

"There is a strong desire to see the principle of devolution extended further, with the transfer of powers from Holyrood to local communities.

Lord Smith of Kelvin
BBC
Lord Smith of Kelvin

"This is an issue that will require significant further thought and discussion and I welcome the enthusiasm of all parties for greater empowerment of our communities."

Lord Smith also highlighted the desire for an extension of Holyrood's electoral franchise to 16 and 17 year olds.

Young voter
BBC
More than 100,000 teenagers registered to vote in the Scottish referendum

'Appetite for participation'

Local Government and Community Empowerment Minister Marco Biagi says the referendum saw levels of voter participation that were unparalleled in our history, the 85% of voter turnout shows an appetite for participation.

Empowering and engaging of communities at the heart of everything we do, reflected in the programme for government, says the minister.

Local Government and Community Empowerment Minister Marco Biagi
BBC
Local Government and Community Empowerment Minister Marco Biagi

The electorate is keenly interested in how the country is run, as evinced by the referendum, he insists.

Community empowerment

Mr Stewart says there is ample opportunity for local authorities to be more flexible, to devolve down the sharing of services and functions to communities.

Recycling box
Thinkstock

He says the committee was told frequently that communities felt their opinions do not count.

Communities must demand empowerment, take it and use it when offered says Mr Stewart.

Inquiry findings:

Contrasting the position of local government with the constitutional and legal framework in neighbouring EU jurisdictions

Council services
BBC
Cosla helps local councils make collective decisions on public service policies

"Our preliminary conclusion here is that beyond the narrow confines of academia and COSLA, people are less concerned about the ratios and numbers of councillors to wards and more interested in how functions are being exercised and the extent to which they are able to influence them.

"Equally we see no identifiable case for increasing the number of authorities, we are not convinced of the need for structural reform of this type. Later in this report we look at whether changes should be be more concerned with appropriate powers in different areas matching local needs"

'Effective, accountable and accessible to communities'

Mr Stewart says the inquiry was extremely timely as the "focus has turned more and more towards local democracy" as the year has gone on.

The SNP MSP says we were extremely keen to hear from local people and hear their views from the length and breadth of the country.

Council tax
BBC

"We are the first committee to own an Instagram account, although I have to be honest and say I don't know how that works."

The message heard across the country was that democracy must not start and finish at the national level or even at the doors of the council, says Mr Stewart.

It must be "effective, accountable and accessible to communities".

Kevin Stewart

In his foreword to the report on flexibility and autonomy in local government debate, SNP MSP Kevin Stewart says:

"Over the last three years, we have undertaken a co-ordinated programme of work aimed at adding value to the debate on how we can make local government in Scotland more effective, more accountable and more accessible to people and communities.

Local Government and Regeneration Committee Convener Kevin Stewart
BBC
Local Government and Regeneration Committee Convener Kevin Stewart

"This inquiry was the next logical step in this programme as well as having linkages to our forthcoming scrutiny of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill."

Flexibility and autonomy in local government debate

Local Government and Regeneration Committee convener Kevin Stewart is leading a debate on the flexibility and autonomy in local government.

Snowman on top of bin
BBC
Refuse collection is one of the many services provide by councils

The remit of the

committee's inquiry into local government flexibility and autonomy was:

  • To examine the levels of flexibility and autonomy available to local government.
  • The aim of the inquiry is:
  • To learn lessons, and inform the ongoing debate on whether there is a need to strengthen and enhance local democratic structures in Scotland.

The inquiry will:

  • Contrast the position of local government with the constitutional and legal framework in neighbouring EU jurisdictions;
  • Examine the level of public engagement and interaction with local government, including turnout at local elections;
  • Consider the legal and constitutional funding mechanisms available to local government;
  • Consider how remote, peripheral or island communities are accommodated within the local government structures; and
  • Consider the level of legal flexibility, and autonomy from central government, which local government enjoys.

Welcome back and coming up

Welcome back to

BBC Scotland's Democracy Live coverage of the Scottish Parliament on 11 December 2014.

Local government is the focus of the chamber this afternoon.

Scottish Parliament debating chamber
PA

First up is a debate on flexibility and autonomy in local government.

Finance Secretary John Swinney will then give a ministerial statement on the Local Government Finance Settlement 2015-16 and Autumn Statement.

Minister concludes

Mr Allan says he supports the principles of the British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill and shares Mark Griffin's view that widespread support and use of BSL in Scotland will create a more inclusive and fairer Scotland.

BBC
BBC

That concludes the debate on closing the gap in the educational attainment of deaf people.

BBC Scotland's Democracy Live coverage of the parliament will continue from 2.30pm with the flexibility and autonomy in local government debate.

Scottish government

Learning and Languages Minister Alasdair Allan agrees there is more work that needs to be done to close the educational gap deaf children face.

Mr Allan says the average tariff score for deaf learners has increased by 5.4%, deaf pupils going to employment has risen by 2% and deaf school leavers who are unemployed has fallen by 6.3%, but concedes there is no room for complacency.

In most cases mainstream schools are going to be the setting for educating deaf children and it is there that work must be done to close the educational gap they face, says the minister.

Learning and Languages Minister Alasdair Allan
BBC
Learning and Languages Minister Alasdair Allan

Mr Allan says there are 2,534 pupils in Scotland with a hearing impairment. 42 of whom are deaf blind.

Close the Gap

Labour MSP Jenny Marra praises the NDCS campaign on closing the educational gap facing deaf children.

Ms Marra highlights the

Close the Gap report.

Labour MSP Jenny Marra
BBC
Labour MSP Jenny Marra

She says this educational attainment gap does not come from a lack of ability rather from a paucity of educational provision.

There is a lack of trained teachers, which will only get worse as half of all teachers correctly trained are due to retire in the next 15 years says Ms Marra.

Educational outcomes

Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur says it is absolutely right to be clear at the outset that there is no reason why outcomes for deaf children should be any different and their aspirations should be any less, than any other children.

Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur
BBC
Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur

Mr McArthur also praises the work of

National Deaf Children's Society .

Dennis Robertson

SNP MSP Dennis Robertson says "we must get away from this perception that deaf children are different - they are not".

Mr Robertson says children who are deaf don't need to be disadvantaged, "if we get it right from the start".

SNP MSP Dennis Robertson
BBC
SNP MSP Dennis Robertson

He says he believes that the Scottish government is committed to getting it right for every child, however "all too often we are still seeing that deaf children are being left behind and that deaf adults are not getting jobs"

"This needs to change" he says.

National Plan

The British Sign Language Bill will mean Scottish ministers will, collectively, have a number of duties.

They will be responsible for promoting the use of

BSL, principally through the preparation and publication of a National Plan, which is to be published near the beginning of each session of the parliament.

They must consult on that plan prior to its finalisation.

See Hear filming in the Isle of Wight. Can see the cameraman and soundman and the presenter Memnos
BBC
See Hear filming in the Isle of Wight. Presenter Memnos using BSL

Consultation will encompass those bodies and persons who use BSL or represent those who do and any other person or group directly affected by the National Plan - whether they are Deaf, deafblind or hearing.

The Scottish ministers will also be responsible for preparing and publishing a British Sign Language Performance Review (―Performance Review‖) and laying it before the Parliament near the end of each session.

They will also be required to designate a Minister with lead responsibility for BSL. (It is envisaged that this duty will be added to the portfolio of an existing minister rather than necessitate the creation of an additional post.)

British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill

Labour MSP Mark Griffin introduced the

British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill on 29 October 2014.

The member's bill aims to promote the use and understanding of British Sign Language (BSL), principally by means of BSL plans, which are to be published by the Scottish Ministers and specified public authorities.

A still from an episode of Doctor Who including an in-vision signer in the bottom right-hand corner
BBC
About 5% of the BBC's coverage is signed either with an in-vision signer or a signing presenter, including Doctor Who

These plans are to be reviewed and updated at regular intervals and reported on via a Performance Review report.

'Ready to succeed'

Mr Gibson calls for investigation into the causes for this significant gap in attainment, particularly around the provision of support to children and families, the provision of additional support for learning to deaf learners, and the emotional health and wellbeing of deaf children and young people.

Sign language
Thinkstock

He says that this is an urgent problem and that action is required to address and close this gap for deaf children and young people.

The SNP MSP wants to ensure that all deaf children are ready to succeed when leaving school and have an equal opportunity to contribute to their own and Scotland's economic future prosperity.

'Urgent problem'

Mr Gibson says that about 80% of school-age deaf children are taught in mainstream schools and that 31% of teachers of deaf children are not fully qualified to do so, suggesting that the statutory duty to provide minimum levels of teachers qualified to work with deaf children is not being fully implemented.

He also says that there is a significant gap in educational attainment for Scotland's deaf learners, which develops early and is evident through to school leaving age and beyond.

A man using sign language in the chamber gallery
BBC
A man using sign language to relay Mr Gibson's speech to visitors in the chamber gallery

The SNP MSP highlights calls for investigation into the causes for this significant gap in attainment and says that this is an urgent problem and that action is required to address and close this gap for deaf children and young people.

Educational attainment gap

Mr Gibson praises the National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) for its "tireless work".

The NDCS is the leading UK charity for deaf people addressing barriers they face and increasing opportunities, he says.

The SNP MSP says deaf people are as capable of achieving as much as anybody else, if given the correct support.

SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson
BBC
SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson

He highlights the educational attainment gap young deaf children face and details some of the other issues they face.

Educational disadvantage and deaf children debate

SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson is leading a debate on educational disadvantage and deaf children in Scotland.

Child with hearing aid
BBC

The

National Deaf Children's Society (NDCS) is an organisation of families, parents and carers, providing emotional and practical support for families with deaf children and is the leading provider of impartial information and individual advocacy on every aspect of childhood deafness.

In his motion Mr Gibson says he is aware that NDCS estimates that there are up to 3,850 deaf children in Scotland.