Feature: HIE future and Teaching Shortage are major issues

David Stewart MSP provides this months update from the regional Labour parliamentary office….

ON THURSDAY THIS WEEK a petition will come before the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petition Committee on the future of Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Also on Thursday, the Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, Keith Brown, is expected to give a statement on the development agency’s future. As you are aware, my Labour colleague Rhoda Grant and I have been campaigning to keep HIE firmly rooted in the region and to stop the Scottish Government’s plan for its down-grading.

It follows Government proposals to centralise decision making into one over-arching enterprise and skills body, combining HIE, Scottish Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council.

So what will the Government decide? They’re not giving much away and your guess would be as good as mine although the Secretary has so far been deaf to the opposition in Parliament, with real unease from some of his own MSPs. In January MSPs voted 64 to 63 to reverse any move to centralise the organisation and to ensure HIE’s board continues to have all its strategic, operational and budgetary powers.

Despite that, it is not looking good for retaining HIE as we know it and I fear for the future of an organisation which has built up expertise and reputation in growing the local economy and helping remote, rural communities.

Thursday’s petition, calling for the Government to reverse its decision to create a joint board for enterprise and skills agencies, has been lodged with Parliament by former Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands Maureen Macmillan.

Mrs Macmillan has said that to amalgamate this board into an over-arching governing body for more than one agency and move it south to the central belt, is a retrograde step and contrary to the whole concept of the HIDB/HIE in the first place.

We’ve had the control rooms of the Fire Service and Police Service centralised. Let’s hope Keith Brown sees sense and says ‘enough is enough’.

Drug Driving

As a veteran road safety campaigner I am seeing light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, for bringing in powers to help police test for drug drivers.
Two years ago in England and Wales legislation was introduced to make it an offence to drive with certain drugs in your system. Police were also equipped with ‘drugalysers’ to test for cannabis and cocaine at the road side.

Based on toxicology reports from drivers and motorcyclists killed in road accidents across Scotland over three years, one in five cases tested positive for alcohol consumption. The same number tested positive for cannabis with one in five fatalities linked to the drug.

The Scottish Government has been tardy on taking action to tackle drivers who take to the road with a worrying amount of illegal drugs in their systems.

However, I am receiving positive soundings from senior Government members that they are seriously considering a change to equip police in Scotland to deal with the menace. I seriously hope that this will come in as soon as possible to help save lives on the road.

Head teacher shortages

Who would be a head teacher these days? I pose the question as several teachers I know are extremely reluctant to step up to the plate.

According to recent reports, Moray particularly is suffering from a shortage of head teachers with some adverts attracting no applications. And, as has been flagged in this column previously, there is a general shortage of teachers here.

Teachers are struggling with their workloads – two thirds of secondary school teachers in Scotland believe SNP changes to pupil assessments will mean an increased workload for staff already under pressure, a new survey of over 800 secondary teachers in Scotland by the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association has revealed.

Mandatory assessments at National 5 are to be scrapped, but teachers believe it will increase their workload as existing course materials will have to be binned and new ones written.

Nicola Sturgeon said education would be her top priority and put her top minister, John Swinney, in charge of the brief. But it is becoming clearer by the day that rather than being a safe pair of hands, John Swinney has dropped the ball on education.

The way to reverse this trend is to properly invest in our schools. Labour wants to use the new tax powers so everyone pays their fair share. Instead the SNP refuses to tax the richest few while our schools, teachers and children miss out.