Scots could get Covid-19 vaccinations ’round the clock’

The First Minister did not rule out younger people being offered vaccination appointments on a 24/7 basis.

Covid-19: The FM did not rule out younger people being offered vaccination appointments on a 24/7 basis. Paul Biris via Getty Images
Covid-19: The FM did not rule out younger people being offered vaccination appointments on a 24/7 basis.

Scots could be vaccinated against Covid-19 round the clock in a bid to see people given protection against the virus as quickly as possible, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister did not rule out younger people being offered vaccination appointments on a 24/7 basis.

Sturgeon said: “We will look at anything and everything that allows us to get this vaccination programme done as quickly as possible.”

Her comments came as she confirmed that by Monday a total of 175,942 people had received their first dose of vaccine.

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Sturgeon said supplies of the vaccine were still “relatively limited”, and that with the focus currently on getting jabs to care home residents and those aged over 80, these groups did “not lend themselves to out-of-hours vaccination”.

But when asked if Scotland could run vaccination clinics around the clock, the First Minister said: “Once we get into the general population, yes, if that is going to help us get through them faster then we will look at that.”

Speaking at her daily coronavirus briefing, the First Minister stressed the government would need to be satisfied a large enough workforce was available to do this, saying that “you can’t have the same people working right round the clock”.

She stated, however, that “this is the kind of work and thinking and modelling that is ongoing all the time”.

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The First Minister said: “At the moment, because of the relatively limited nature of supplies, although that is growing all the time, and the population groups, we have been focusing on care homes.

“But once we get into the younger age groups I think the ways in which, the times at which, the settings in which we vaccinate people will become potentially much more flexible.

“I don’t rule anything out. We want to get through this programme as quickly as possible, we want everybody in the adult population to have this vaccine as quickly as possible.”

She stressed: “We want to get this vaccination programme completed as quickly as possible, it is not in the government’s interests to slow this down, it is in our interests to get it speeded up as far as practical.

“The sooner we get the whole population vaccinated the sooner we get back to a greater degree of normality and can start to put this virus behind us.”

The Scottish Conservatives claimed the vaccine programme was missing the government’s own targets.

Health spokesman Donald Cameron said: “At the current speed, they risk falling short of expectations.

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“The vaccine is our key weapon against this virus, so we will continue to push the government to accelerate their plans and focus on increasing the pace.”

However, national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch said the vaccination programme was “going better than I expected it to go”.

He said work on this was progressing “really quite smoothly”, saying the UK had so far vaccinated more people than the “whole of Europe put together”.

Prof Leitch said: “The fact that we have been able to vaccinate 80% of our care home residents in four weeks is astonishing.”

And he added that vaccination numbers would “speed up” now it has been rolled out to GP practices, with the focus now on getting the injection to over-80s living at home.


New £1500 grant for taxi and private hire drivers affected by Covid

Scotland’s local authorities will directly approach an estimated 38,000 drivers inviting them to claim the funding.

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Funding: A new grant will be launched this week for taxi and private hire drivers.

A new grant will be launched this week for taxi and private hire drivers affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Scotland’s local authorities will directly approach an estimated 38,000 drivers inviting them to claim the £1500 funding to help with their fixed costs.

Drivers must be licensed for the period October 9, 2020 to at least January 31 this year to be eligible.

The grant comes on top of support from other funding for loss of income available from the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 Public Transport Mitigation Fund and the UK Government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

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Finance secretary Kate Forbes said: “We know how difficult this pandemic has been for taxi drivers and their families.

“They’ve truly gone the extra mile, continuing to provide a vital service for key workers and vulnerable individuals throughout the lockdown and beyond.

“Following the introduction of tighter regulations at Christmas, I have trebled the budget originally announced for this fund to £57m, enough to provide grants of £1500 to all of Scotland’s 38,000 taxi and private hire drivers.

“It will help to support the taxi trade by augmenting existing support and assisting drivers in meeting fixed costs including licence plate fees, rental fees and insurance payments for taxis not on the road.”


Army to set up 80 coronavirus vaccine sites in Scotland

Defence secretary Ben Wallace confirmed the deployment of 98 soldiers over the next 28 days.

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Covid-19: Soldiers will help to identify and prepare vaccination centres.

The British Army will help set up 80 coronavirus vaccination centres throughout Scotland as part of the largest peacetime resilience operation carried out by the armed forces.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace confirmed the deployment of 98 soldiers over the next 28 days to identify and prepare suitable locations for NHS Scotland to administer the Covid-19 vaccine.

Soldiers will organise vaccine delivery to the sites, prepare storage for medicines and equipment, how to register and record patients as well as sorting car parking and traffic flow around the sites.

The troops, most of whom will be from the Leuchars-based Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, will then hand over the running of the sites to the health service.

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Wallace said: “The armed forces are operating across the length and breadth of the country, using their unique skill set to ensure the vaccine reaches the very fingertips of the United Kingdom.

“Our work supporting the new vaccine sites in Scotland complements the extensive preparation and planning the military are already conducting to support the vaccine rollout programme.

“Using the logistical expertise of military personnel, honed in war zones around the world, frees up NHS Scotland and local authorities to continue to focus on administering the initial 900,000 doses provided to Scotland by the UK Government in January.”

The 98 soldiers will be directed by 20 military personnel based in Stirling while a further 32 will offer support alongside the Scottish Government and Scotland’s health boards from St Andrews House in Edinburgh.

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Scottish secretary Alister Jack said: “For us all, vaccines are the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I’m very pleased that the expertise of the British armed forces is helping the Scottish Government get vaccines into arms as quickly as possible.

“The UK Government is supplying and paying for vaccines for the whole of the UK – it is now vital that these doses are administered as soon as possible.

“The UK Government is supporting all parts of the UK during the pandemic. That includes our unprecedented furlough scheme, delivering the bulk of daily testing in Scotland and providing the Scottish Government with an extra £8.6bn to support Scotland’s Covid response.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “Our vaccination programme covers all parts of the UK and I’m proud the armed forces are supporting the largest rollout in our country’s history.

“We have already vaccinated more than 3.5 million people across the UK and this is rapidly increasing every day as more vaccine sites open, providing easier access for people.

“We are making strong progress on our commitment to offer vaccines to all of the most vulnerable people in the top four priority groups by the middle on February.”

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Scotland’s health secretary Jeane Freeman added: “This is the largest mass vaccination programme Scotland has ever undertaken and I am very grateful to the armed forces for their support to help us meet the significant logistical challenges involved, and ensure that by the time sufficient vaccination supplies are in place we have the facility to deliver around 400,000 doses per week by the end of February.

“Vaccination is a vital tool in our work to suppress the virus to the lowest possible level in Scotland but other measures including testing remain absolutely vital, which is why it is so essential people continue to follow the restrictions currently in place while vaccine delivery is rolled out across the country.”

Monica Lennon joins Anas Sarwar in Scottish Labour leadership race

The central Scotland MSP and party health spokeswoman hopes to succeed Richard Leonard.

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Scottish Labour: Monica Lennon hopes to succeed Richard Leonard as the party's leader.

Monica Lennon has confirmed her bid to succeed Richard Leonard as the next Scottish Labour leader, joining Anas Sarwar in the race.

The central Scotland MSP and party health spokeswoman is vying to replace Leonard, who announced on Thursday he would step down from the role he has held since 2017.

It triggers a contest after Sarwar, Scottish Labour’s constitution spokesman, announced his intention to run again having lost out to Leonard for leadership last time around.

Lennon said: “Following extensive discussions with party members, I have decided to put my name forward to lead the Scottish Labour Party.

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“This is an important time for our country and it is vital that Scottish Labour continues to play a positive and constructive role during the pandemic response.

“The Scottish Parliament election will be a key moment in our democracy, when we decide what a Covid-19 recovery should look like.

“Scottish Labour Party members deserve to have their say about the best way to take forward our vision for a fairer and more equal Scotland.”

Sarwar set out his stall to replace Leonard on Saturday, saying the country “needs political leadership that will bring people together” and that he wants “to rebuild Scottish Labour, and then rebuild Scotland”.

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In a column for the Observer online, the Glasgow MSP wrote: “Over the past few years, I have gained a new perspective on our politics and realised that the things we argue about mean little to people’s lives.

“We spend too much time highlighting our differences, rather than focusing on what unites us.

“I firmly believe we cannot go back to society as it was before the pandemic – insecure work, hollowed-out public services, an underfunded health service, and the constant focus on another independence referendum when there’s far more important things we need to be dealing with.

“Scottish Labour can compete again if we offer a positive alternative – a plan to heal our wounds, to reunite our people and to rebuild our country.”

On Saturday, the party’s executive agreed to a condensed timescale for any contest with the Holyrood elections less than four months away.

The last Scottish Labour leadership contest in 2017 – when Leonard defeated Sarwar – took two-and-a-half months.

A deadline of midnight on Sunday was set for candidates to declare their intention to run and they require support from at least four of the party’s MSPs or its sole Scottish MP by midday on the following Tuesday to be formally nominated.

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Party members and affiliated supporters will be able to cast their votes from February 9 until ballots close on February 26 with the new leader to be announced the following day.


Raab: Brexit delays for fishing sector are teething problems

The UK foreign secretary argued the trading agreement will 'create huge, sustainable opportunities' for the fishing sector.

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Fishing sector row: Foreign secretary Dominic Raab.

Delays to fishing exports are just “teething problems” following Brexit, foreign secretary Dominic Raab has claimed.

Challenged about the warning from the seafood sector that fishing businesses could collapse within days, Raab said he was “not convinced” it was because of the Government’s trade deal with the European Union.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, Raab argued the trading agreement will “create huge, sustainable opportunities” for the fishing sector.

Exports of fresh fish and seafood have been severely disrupted by delays since the UK’s transition period ended on December 31.

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Some Scottish fishermen have been landing their catch in Denmark to avoid the “bureaucratic system” that exports to Europe now involve, according to Scotland’s rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described lorry situation as ‘shameful and disgraceful’.

On land, lorries transporting freshly-caught produce have been held up at distribution hubs and many have struggled to enter into France – a situation which First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described as “shameful and disgraceful”.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a committee of MPs that fishing businesses would be compensated for what he described as “temporary frustrations”.

Asked about the potential collapse of parts of the fishing industry because of problems caused by the Brexit deal, Raab said: “I’m not convinced that that is the result of the agreement.

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“The agreement we have struck – short term, medium term and long term – will create huge, sustainable opportunities.

“Of course we have always said as we leave the transition period with a deal, but even more if we hadn’t found a deal, there will be some teething problems.

“We are very focused on working with all the different sectors, including the fishing industry, to resolve any of these teething problems.”

Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland Alistair Carmichael said: “It’s hard to find a minister who will admit to having even sat down and read the trade deal.

“Brexit might be a game to the likes of Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson but for thousands of people in Scotland this is their business and their livelihood on the line.

“The Government needs to get a grip now.

“Fishermen are telling the PM that his deal did not do any of the things he claimed for it, let alone what he had promised.

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“The harder the Tories spin, the angrier fishing communities get. The Government needs to start listening to the people who know what they are talking about and start to clean up the mess that the Prime Minister has created.”


Coronavirus: 1341 new cases as hospital patients rise overnight

According to NHS boards across Scotland, 1918 people are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19.

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Covid-19: The fight to stop the spread of the deadly virus goes on.

More people are now in hospital with coronavirus than at any time during the pandemic despite new infections falling to the lowest level in almost three weeks.

A further 1341 cases of coronavirus have been recorded in Scotland over the past 24 hours, the Scottish Government confirmed.

The number of new infections is 412 below the 1753 announced on Saturday and is the lowest since December 28 – although there tend to be fewer cases recorded at the weekend.

There have been no further deaths reported.

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Total confirmed cases of the virus has risen to 162,333 since the start of the pandemic.

The daily test positivity rate is 9.5%, up from the 8.4% reported on Saturday.

Of the new cases reported on Sunday, 412 are in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde region, 226 are in Lanarkshire, 131 are in Grampian, 125 are in Ayrshire and Arran, and 123 are in Lothian.

The rest of the cases are spread out across seven other health board areas.

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The number of patients with recently confirmed coronavirus continues to reach record levels – increasing daily since Christmas Day, when there were 973 people in hospital.

According to NHS boards across Scotland, 1918 people are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 – an increase of 55 overnight. Out of those, 147 patients are in intensive care.

The death toll of those who had tested positive stands at 5305, however weekly figures on suspected Covid-19 deaths recorded by National Records of Scotland suggest the most up-to-date total is at least 7074.


SNP ‘ramping up’ indyref2 campaign with creation of taskforce

The SNP has faced criticism from opposition parties for not focusing on the coronavirus pandemic.

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The SNP has announced the creation of a taskforce to support its campaign for Scottish independence.

The SNP has announced the creation of a taskforce to support its campaign for Scottish independence but faced criticism from opposition parties for not focusing on the coronavirus pandemic.

The taskforce could be the “final piece in the jigsaw” for achieving independence, according to the SNP’s depute leader Keith Brown.

He said it demonstrates the independence campaign is “ramping things up”, with the SNP looking to develop a strategy for another independence campaign ahead of May’s Holyrood elections.

“The independence taskforce will bring strategic direction and expertise which I believe is the final piece in the jigsaw that will help deliver independence,” Mr Brown said.

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He added: “Our independence taskforce at SNP headquarters will be welcomed by party members and grassroots Yes activists across the country.”

Mr Brown also indicated a “high-profile” Yes campaigner will soon be announced to lead the project and added: “I really believe that when I make the appointment it will also fire up the wider Yes movement.”

The SNP’s opponents have seized on the announcement to argue the party is more focused on breaking up the United Kingdom than tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

Scottish Labour constitution spokesman and leadership candidate Anas Sarwar said: “The SNP’s priorities are wrong. Right now, political leaders should be focused on the coronavirus crisis, the vaccination programme and creating stability for the people of Scotland.

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“As we emerge from the pandemic, what is needed is a taskforce on jobs, health and education – not on independence.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “The SNP are ramping up their push for indyref2 this year while the rest of Scotland is worried about their jobs and when they’ll get the Covid vaccine.

“They are stuck in the Holyrood bubble with no clue about the priorities of people across Scotland.

“Their shameless push for another referendum this year would wreck our recovery from the pandemic. We need to focus on building up Scotland, not breaking up our country.”

Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: “The First Minister promised that the SNP wouldn’t start a referendum in the middle of a pandemic, but off they go. They can’t help themselves.

“Thousands of people are ill with Covid. Business and workers are desperately worried about their immediate future.

“Despite the promises of the First Minister in the Scottish Parliament, nationalists will always put their own interests first. Liberal Democrats will put recovery first.”

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Pamela Nash, chief executive of the Scotland in Union campaign group, added: “Amid a public health pandemic when people are losing their lives and livelihoods, the idea that we need a taskforce on separation shows just how out of touch the SNP is.

“Imagine thinking that what we need right now is a taskforce focused on dividing communities and building borders, rather than bringing people together and rebuilding our country.

“The SNP is obsessed with how to tear families and friends apart, but we are stronger together as part of the UK and we can ensure a successful recovery by working together.”


Anas Sarwar confirms bid to be next Scottish Labour leader

The Glasgow MSP set out his stall in the leadership race, which was triggered by Leonard’s resignation on Thursday.

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Scottish Labour leader race: Anas Sarwar has confirmed his bid.

Anas Sarwar has confirmed his bid to succeed Richard Leonard as the next Scottish Labour leader.

The Glasgow MSP used an article for the Observer online to set out his stall in the leadership race, which was triggered by Leonard’s resignation on Thursday.

Late on Saturday night, he tweeted to say the country “needs political leadership that will bring people together” and that he wants “to rebuild Scottish Labour, and then rebuild Scotland”.

In his column, Sarwar wrote: “Over the past few years, I have gained a new perspective on our politics and realised that the things we argue about mean little to people’s lives.

Jane Barlow via Getty Images
Richard Leonard resigned on Thursday.
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“We spend too much time highlighting our differences, rather than focusing on what unites us.

“I firmly believe we cannot go back to society as it was before the pandemic – insecure work, hollowed- out public services, an underfunded health service, and the constant focus on another independence referendum when there’s far more important things we need to be dealing with.

“Scottish Labour can compete again if we offer a positive alternative – a plan to heal our wounds, to reunite our people and to rebuild our country.”

The 37-year-old also discussed facing racism and fighting prejudice in the article, adding: “Speaking out against the racism I’ve faced was the hardest thing I’ve done in politics. My family faced death threats as a result.

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“But I’ve used that experience to spend my time in our communities working on what unites us and bringing people together – I have listened and I have learnt.

“I want to bring that same approach to our Labour movement so that we can rebuild our party and rebuild our country.”

After news broke of Leonard’s resignation, Sarwar paid tribute to his former boss, saying: “Richard has led our party through one of the most difficult times in our history.

“He is Labour to his core, and we are all grateful for his service.

“I know he will continue to fight for a fairer, more just and more equal society today, tomorrow and long into the future.”

Earlier on Saturday the party’s executive agreed to a condensed timescale for any contest with the Holyrood elections less than four months away.

The last Scottish Labour leadership contest in 2017 – when Leonard defeated Sarwar – took two-and-a-half months.

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Other candidates have until midnight on Sunday to declare their intention to run and will require support from at least four of the party’s MSPs or its sole Scottish MP by midday on the following Tuesday to be formally nominated.

Party members and affiliated supporters will be able to cast their votes from Tuesday February 9 until ballots close on Friday February 26 with the new leader to be announced the following day.

Scottish Labour’s chairwoman Cara Hilton said: “The Scottish Executive Committee today agreed that a new leader of the Scottish Labour Party will be elected by a ballot of party members and affiliated trades union members in February.

“The new leader will be announced on February 27 and will lead Scottish Labour into the Scottish Parliament election with a fresh energy to carry Labour’s message and take the fight to the Tories and the SNP.”


Arts venues to share £3m coronavirus support fund

The Scottish Government has announced three organisations will benefit from support via Creative Scotland.

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Arts: The Scottish Government has announced three organisations will benefit from support via Creative Scotland.

Several performing arts venues around Scotland will share a £3m fund to support them during the pandemic.

The Scottish Government has announced three organisations will benefit from support via Creative Scotland.

Aberdeen Performing Arts – which runs His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen Music Hall and The Lemon Tree – will receive £1.4m.

The Eden Court venue in Inverness will receive £800,000.

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Edinburgh’s Capital Theatres – which operates the Festival Theatre, the King’s Theatre and The Studio – will receive £800,000.

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “This funding will help to secure the future of three of Scotland’s important independent performing arts charities, protecting jobs and addressing some of the financial pressures they are facing.

“These venues all receive UK and international touring work of major scale, make a significant contribution to the economy and support a network of arts organisations, artists and creatives at the heart of our cities and regions.

“The Scottish Government has allocated more than £120m of additional funding to support culture and heritage since the start of the pandemic, and we will continue to listen to the needs of the sectors.”

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Jane Spiers, chief executive of Aberdeen Performing Arts, said: “This funding will go a long way towards helping us survive, thrive and play our part in the cultural and economic recovery of the north-east.

“As an arts charity with a high reliance on earned income and over 500 show cancellations to date through 2021 and into 2022, it provides us with a vital lifeline.”


Allow councils to impose rent controls in Scotland, say Greens

Patrick Harvie said 'rents have rapidly outstripped inflation' and called for urgent measures to support renters.

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Scottish Greens: Patrick Harvie said 'rents have rapidly outstripped inflation' and called for urgent measures to support renters.

Rent controls should be introduced in Scotland because “timid actions” to protect tenants are not working, the Scottish Greens have said.

The party has echoed a call from the Scottish Citizens’ Assembly that recommended the introduction of a cap on rent increases.

Co-leader Patrick Harvie argued “rents have rapidly outstripped inflation” and called for urgent measures to support renters.

He criticised the Scottish Government’s “useless” and unused rent pressure zone policy and demanded more be done both during and beyond the coronavirus pandemic.

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The government’s housing minister appeared to acknowledge problems with the policy that was introduced in 2016, allowing councils to ask for limited powers to restrict rent rises.

No local authority has introduced a rent pressure zone to date.

Harvie said: “The Scottish Government has failed to adequately protect tenants as rents have rapidly outstripped inflation over the last decade.

“Throughout the pandemic, Greens have pushed ministers to protect renters and we have made substantial progress; securing the introduction and then extension of a winter eviction ban as well as a tenant hardship fund.

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“While it’s essential that emergency measures are in place, we must also look at how tenants can be supported longer term too.

“Scotland is decades behind many of our European neighbours when it comes to tenants’ rights.

“Protections like winter evictions bans and rent controls are commonplace across the continent.”

Referencing the Citizens’ Assembly’s support for a rent cap, Harvie urged the government to give councils the power to implement such a policy.

In the assembly’s Vision for Scotland published earlier this week, 98 of the 102 members who voted backed the rent caps recommendation which also proposed giving young people entitlements to affordable social housing, while making buying property “more accessible” for all Scots.

Harvie added: “It’s great that the Citizens’ Assembly has included a call for rent controls in its report.

“There is clear recognition from the group of the urgent need for government to address the challenges faced by tenants, including the lack of affordable social housing available to young people.

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“The timid action previously introduced by the Scottish Government, in the shape of rent pressure zones, has proven to be useless.

“Not one council has been able to implement a rent pressure zone due to the burdensome bureaucracy involved.

“It’s time that the Scottish Government took the positive action that is so obviously necessary and empowered local government to introduce rent controls.”

Housing minister Kevin Stewart said: “I share concerns around rent affordability, particularly as the long-term impacts of the pandemic are felt, which is why we are providing financial support and have strengthened safeguards for private tenants through this crisis.

“I have written to all private rental tenants in Scotland informing them of the support available to them and their rights, including the right to challenge unfair rent increases.

“We have already introduced a range of significant reforms through our 2016 Private Housing Act to improve the sector.

“This includes providing private renters with a range of new rights and greater security, stability and predictability in their rents – as well as introducing measures to help tackle increasing rents, such as rent pressure zones.

“We realise the evidencing need for a rent pressure zone is a considered process and that is why we are currently considering what changes we need to make to better support an application being brought forward by a local authority.”


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