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Tavish Scott (Liberal Democrat)

To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet. (S3F-2820)

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Rt Hon Alex Salmond (Scottish National Party)

The next meeting of the Cabinet will discuss issues of importance to the people of Scotland.

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Tavish Scott (Liberal Democrat)

The Scottish Government has withdrawn all figures to support its assertion in favour of a national police force. Will the First Minister therefore guarantee to publish robust and validated new figures, which show the full cost of setting up a single police force, including costs of a new headquarters, enhanced redundancies and information technology?

Photo of Rt Hon Alex Salmond

Rt Hon Alex Salmond (Scottish National Party)

That is what we are bringing forward as part of the consultation process that Kenny MacAskill outlined yesterday.

Tavish Scott must face a certain fact: the opportunities for cost savings in the back office in a single police force are very substantial. If he is going to argue against having a single police force, as I assume he is going to do, he must base his arguments on whether the advocates of a single force can ensure the democratic line of accountability and local contribution to policing in Scotland. That is where the answers must be found on the proposal for a single police force, and not—I say with respect—in trying to pretend that a single police force would not offer substantial back-office savings, which could be deployed on the front line.

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Tavish Scott (Liberal Democrat)

I agree with the First Minister that it is an important debate, but he surely needs to accept that Labour's police reorganisation in England was cancelled because it was going to cost 500 million. Has he not read the papers on his own Scottish policing board? The Government's own Improvement Service said that

"supporting evidence is caveated almost to the point of parody"

and that

"the analysis ... is an abuse of evidence".

David Strang, the chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police, said that the figures in the draft proposal were

"irresponsibly misleading and not supported by the evidence".

As Mr Salmond knows, the chief constable in his area, Colin McKerracher, said there was not a "shred of evidence" to support a single police force.

Is it normal for the First Minister's Government to make an assertion first and to look for the evidence afterwards? What evidence can he produce to show that his Government has the slightest clue about how much the centralisation will cost?

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Rt Hon Alex Salmond (Scottish National Party)

Clearly, there is a substantial body of opinion in the police force and elsewhere in favour of a single force. Senior police officers such as the chief constable of Strathclyde Police and the deputy chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police would not argue the case unless they believed that a substantial opportunity was to be found in creating a single police force.

On the initial part of Tavish Scott's second question, I assure him that, in making the greatest change in the police service of Scotland for more than a generation, we shall not follow any prescription from what the Labour Party tried to do and abandoned south of the border. If he is saying that the confusion and disarray that happened when the Labour Party was in charge of police reform in England is another argument for ensuring that it is never in a position to reintroduce confusion and disarray in Scotland, then, in this new year, I agree with him.

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Duncan McNeil (Labour)

Earlier this week, I was contacted by Blairs Ltd of Greenock—a manufacturing company with a great reputation that has operated successfully in my constituency for more than a century—with the bad news that, despite the sacrifices of the workforce and the commitment of management, the economic downturn has forced it to call in the receivers and make 100 employees redundant. There remains a very small window—possibly as little as 48 hours—in which the company can be preserved as a going concern. Alternatively, it faces being broken up, which would be an act of economic vandalism.

Will the First Minister add his support for the management and workforce, who are fighting to salvage something from that grave situation? What will he do to impress upon the insolvency practitioners and the banks—in this case, the Bank of Scotland—that they need to look beyond the narrow and short-term financial considerations and face up to their wider responsibility to jobs and the local economy in these difficult times?

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Rt Hon Alex Salmond (Scottish National Party)

Of course, I will arrange for the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth to contact the constituency member immediately and establish whether a helpful intervention would be possible, as we do—as I am sure Duncan McNeil is aware—in such cases throughout the country. If we can help, we certainly shall intervene to do so.

I know that Duncan McNeil would be the first person to welcome the jobs boost from Amazon that affects his constituency as well as Fife. I also know that he will reflect that one of the most positive signs from the current economic statistics for Scotland is that manufacturing is doing extremely well over the piece. However, that does not mean that individual companies are not still encountering difficulties Of course, access to finance and the attitude of the financial organisations often contribute to the causes of those difficulties.

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Alison McInnes (Liberal Democrat)

The First Minister will be aware of the significant job losses that have been announced at the Les Taylor Group companies, which is based at Mintlaw and Ellon in my region. Last Friday, 164 people lost their jobs, and another 19 were made redundant on Monday this week. That is a significant loss of jobs within the rural economy of Aberdeenshire. What actions will the First Minister and his ministers take to support those who have lost their jobs and minimise the impact on the local economy? Will he ensure that a partnership action for continuing employment team is mobilised to assist?

Photo of Rt Hon Alex Salmond

Rt Hon Alex Salmond (Scottish National Party)

Yes—a PACE team is being deployed to assist. I am well aware of the company, its background and its history. The company is in my former Westminster constituency. As Alison McInnes knows, Les Taylor himself died tragically last year. Losing somebody of his ability, skill and leadership was a serious blow to the company.

I will ensure that the PACE team is mobilised, as I know is happening. I am perfectly happy to arrange for the economic ministers to meet Alison McInnes to talk about the issue.