Drug deaths hit record high in Scotland during pandemic

More than 1300 people died due to drug misuse in Scotland last year, the largest number since records began in 1996.

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More than 1300 people died in Scotland last year as a result of drug misuse – the highest annual figure on record.

Figures published by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) reveal 1339 drug-related deaths in 2020 – a 5% increase on the previous year’s statistics and the largest number since records began in 1996.

It is also the seventh year in a row that drug-related deaths have hit record levels.

The country continues to have the worst drug death rate in Europe, with 21.2 deaths per 1000 of the population, more than three-and-a-half times higher than the rest of the UK.

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Greater Glasgow and Clyde had the highest drug-related death rate of all health board areas in 2020, followed by Ayrshire and Arran and Tayside.

Deprivation also continued to be a major factor in drug deaths, with those in the poorest areas of the country 18 times more likely to die than their more affluent counterparts, the data showed.

After adjusting for age, people in the most deprived parts of the country were 18 times as likely to die from a drug-related death as those in the least deprived.

Almost two-thirds of all drug-related deaths were of people aged between 35 and 54. Men were 2.7 times as likely to have a drug-related death than women, after adjusting for age.

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And opioids remained the number one cause of drug related death in Scotland last year. The NRS figures show that, of the 1339 people who died from drugs in 2020, 1192 were related in some way to opioids.

However, in a sign that more drug users are mixing substances, benzodiazepines – use of which has soared in recent years due to easy availability – were implicated in 974 deaths in 2020.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the number of lives lost to drugs is “unacceptable”.

She tweeted “Each one is a human tragedy. @scotgov does not shirk the responsibility & we are determined to make changes that will save lives .”

She added: “These 2020 figures (though no less shameful because of it) predate actions set out at start of year.

“We now have a dedicated drugs minister in @AConstanceSNP, a substantial funding commitment and action underway to eg ensure faster access to community support, treatment and rehab.

“We will also continue to argue for reform of drugs law, which is not currently within our power.

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“Today, my thoughts are with every family who has lost a loved one – I am sorry for the loss you have suffered. However, I know that from @scotgov what is required isn’t words, but action to prevent people dying, and that is what we are determined to deliver.”

The figures were published just over seven months after figures showed more than 1200 drug-related deaths were recorded in 2019, while 1187 drugs-related deaths recorded in 2018.

Scotland has suffered from the worst drug death rate in Europe, with the number of users dying rising in recent years.

The number of drug-related deaths has increased substantially over the last 20 years – there were four-and-a-half times as many deaths in 2020 compared with 2000.

The Scottish Government last year recognised there was a crisis, appointing Angela Constance to a dedicated drug policy ministerial role following the resignation of Joe FitzPatrick as public health minister.

During the STV leaders’ debate ahead of the Holyrood election in May, Sturgeon said the SNP “took its eye off the ball” over drug deaths, adding that she had set a £250m investment programme to build up rehabilitation services.

Constance said: “Once again, the statistics on drug-related deaths are heart-breaking. I want to offer my sincere condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one through drug use.

“We need to gather as much information as we can about drug use in Scotland and to that end, data on suspected drug deaths will be published quarterly from this September. This will ensure we can react more quickly and effectively to this crisis and identify any emerging trends.

Even before the statistics were published, seven leading drugs charities announced their support for a Bill aimed at enshrining in law the right to the addiction treatment requested by the individual.

The draft legislation, put forward by the Scottish Conservatives would mean residential rehab requested by someone dealing with addiction and cleared by their doctor would have to be accepted, or a reason given with 24 hours of the refusal.

Services would also be put in place for the families of those struggling with addiction, under the Tory Bill.

“The drugs crisis is our national shame. It is a stain on Scotland that so many of our most vulnerable people have been left without hope, crushed by a system that is thoroughly broken.”

Douglas Ross, Scottish Conservative leader

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross described the latest statistics as “horrifying and heartbreaking”.

He said: “The drugs crisis is our national shame. It is a stain on Scotland that so many of our most vulnerable people have been left without hope, crushed by a system that is thoroughly broken. 

“This is not a day for political posturing but it is a simple fact that the government’s small steps are not cutting it. The crisis is getting worse and spiralling out of control. We need a united national effort to make the drastic changes necessary to overhaul the broken system. 

“The Scottish Conservatives are bringing forward a Right to Recovery Bill to guarantee in law that everyone who needs treatment can get it.”

Labour MSP Paul Sweeney said: “The latest drug related deaths figures are devastating but not surprising. We have known for a long time that these were going to be shocking, and I send my sincere condolences, thoughts and prayers to every single person impacted and failed by the doomed war on drugs.

“Behind the numbers are real people; families devastated by the untimely, unnecessary and frankly preventable loss of a loved one. We owe it to them to change the system for good, and that will mean working together regardless of political affiliation.

“The reality is that these figures show one person dying every six and a half hours in Scotland in circumstances that were entirely preventable”

Paul Sweeney, Labour MSP

“I’ve seen first-hand, working with the overdose prevention pilot in Glasgow, the trauma experienced by those with drug dependencies and their families. It’s abundantly clear that we cannot continue with the same failed policies of decades gone by – we need radical action and we need it now. That means decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use and the legalisation of safe consumption facilities as a matter of priority.

“I’m sorry that the system has failed so many people and so many families. The reality is that these figures show one person dying every six and a half hours in Scotland in circumstances that were entirely preventable. Now is the time to fix the system that is so clearly broken, not to score political points. 1339 of our fellow citizens have lost their lives unnecessarily – today is about remembering them and committing to the action required to make sure it never happens again.”

“Issuing apologies now is too late for thousands of people. The victims of drugs and their families were failed. It is a scar on the conscience of this Scottish Government.”

Alex Cole-Hamilton, Scottish Liberal Democrat healthspokesperson

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton said the deaths are a “scar on the consicence” of the Scottish Government.

He said: “Every drug death is preventable. However, that task became ten times harder when SNP ministers avoided the subject ahead of the independence referendum, as that justice secretary admitted, and then cut the budget for critical prevention services by 22%.

“Help and expertise that people relied upon was needlessly surrendered when it should have been expanded. “It was Nicola Sturgeon’s choice to ignore this unfolding epidemic.

“Issuing apologies now is too late for thousands of people. The victims of drugs and their families were failed. It is a scar on the conscience of this Scottish Government.”

Businesses given ‘grace period’ to implement Covid passport scheme

Nicola Sturgeon said firms will have time to operationalise and test the arrangements they put in place.

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A ‘grace period’ will be given to businesses in Scotland to allow them to prepare for the implementation of Covid passports, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.

The First Minister explained that although the legal obligation for the scheme will come into effect from 5am on Friday, it will not be until October 18 that any business could face enforcement action for non-compliance.

Speaking at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, Sturgeon said that the two-week period will allow firms to “test, adapt and build confidence” in the practical arrangements they will need to put in place for the scheme.

It comes after nightclub bosses last week launched a legal challenge over the vaccine passport scheme.

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The First Minister also confirmed that capacity limits, in place for stadia and live events, will be lifted.

“We have continued to engage with businesses as we have developed the detail of the certification scheme,” Sturgeon told MSPs.

“I understand that many businesses have concerns about certification – however, I am grateful to all those that have nevertheless engaged in these discussions so constructively.

“The Government remains of the view that a targeted certification scheme does have a part to play in
driving vaccination rates up as high as possible, and providing an additional layer of protection over the
winter months as we seek to achieve the potentially difficult task of keeping Covid under control while
keeping our economy fully open.”

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“Indeed, many other countries are already demonstrating the value of Covid certification.

“It is for these reasons that Cabinet decided this morning to proceed with the laying of the regulations
that will bring such a scheme into operation.

“However, we are also determined to listen and, as far as possible, respond to the reasonable concerns
of business, so that the introduction and practical implementation of the scheme is as smooth as
possible.”

Sturgeon said businesses will be able to operationalise and test the arrangements they put in place.

“I can confirm therefore that Cabinet this morning agreed a change to our original plans for the scheme’s
commencement,” she told Holyrood.

“The new, staged approach we are proposing now is designed to help businesses adapt to the requirement
that the scheme will place upon them, and give them a period in which they can operationalise and test
their arrangements in practice.”

She continued: “I can therefore confirm that after the legal obligation comes into force at 5am on Friday this week, we intend to allow a further period of slightly more than two weeks – until October 18 – before any business could
face enforcement action for non-compliance.

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“This period – effectively a grace period – will allow businesses to test, adapt and build confidence in the practical arrangements they will need to put in place to be compliant with the scheme.”

The First Minister added: “The pragmatic compromise that I have just outlined in relation to a staged introduction of the scheme demonstrates, I hope, that we are listening to business about the practical challenges they face and that we are determined to work with them to overcome these.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross hit out at the SNP over the scheme. (Scottish Parliament TV)

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross urged Sturgeon to admit it is a “botched scheme”.

He told the First Minister: “Warning after warning from businesses for weeks were ignored by this government and only now does Nicola Sturgeon finally admit that this is a botched scheme.

“In a little over 48-hours time, it will come into force, yet the Government is still publishing vital new information and guidance about how to administer the scheme.”

He continued: “It’s more of the same last-minute, rushed, chaotic planning we’ve seen time and time again from this SNP government.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “Can I plead with (Sturgeon) again to please consider the role of testing, as making sure someone is negative going into a venue is still more important than if they are vaccinated.”

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, urged the First Minister to abandon the scheme.

He told MSPs: “The 18-day delay in enforcement is an admission that the Government and businesses are nowhere near ready and we have evidence that shows that the passports don’t even work.”

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COP26: Glasgow set for ‘extreme’ disruption as road closures revealed

The Clydeside Expressway will be closed for 23 days forcing traffic on to other already busy routes.

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The city's motorway network, already the busiest in the country, is expected to be "significantly busier than usual".

Glasgow is set to see “extreme” traffic disruption as a large area of the city centre is to be locked down during the United Nations climate summit.

COP26 is being hosted on the banks of the Clyde at the Scottish Exhibition Centre and routes around the area will be closed on the lead-up to the conference as well as during, between October 31 and November 12, and afterwards.

As well as pressure from road users, up to 100,000 people are expected to take part in an activist march on November 6, with other “unofficial fringe activity” possible throughout the twelve days.

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Red shows areas at risk of congestion with roads expected to be significantly busier than usual on the first day of the conference.

Pedestrian and cycle routes around the SEC will also be affected with campaigners saying the closures go against the ethos of the conference.

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Trains and buses will be busier than normal and they will also be at risk of disruption.

The city’s motorway network, already the busiest in the country, is expected to be “significantly busier than usual” with the M8, M77 and M74 all at risk of major congestion.

The Clydeside Expressway, which normally sees around 100,000 vehicles each day, will be closed between Partick and Anderston for 23 days, between October 23 and November 15.

Get Ready Glasgow via Glasgow City Council
Alternate routes for the COP26 road closures from October 23 until November 15.

The council’s official alternate routes involve drivers using some of the busiest roads in the city with them being told to go through the Clyde Tunnel, travel parallel to the Expressway on Dumbarton Road and Argyle Street, or use Great Western Road, through Charing Cross.

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The scale of the event in Glasgow is unprecedented in the UK.

Around 10,000 police officers per day will be deployed, mostly from Police Scotland with support from other forces across the UK, as high-profile guests such as the Queen, the Pope and US President Joe Biden are expected to visit.

An outer security fence around the SEC will provide a suitable “stand off” in “the event of a terrorist attack”, a council report said.

As part of its advice for those affected by the disruption, the council said roads that remain open “will be extremely busy”.

The Clydeside Expressway is the busiest road in Glasgow, with only the urban M8 motorway carrying more traffic through the city.

Get Ready Glasgow via GCC
National Cycle Route Closures and Diversions during COP26

Stobcross Road, which runs between the Expressway and the SEC, has already been closed due to works, and will not be open again until November 21.

Pressure from those unable to use their usual routes is expected to be diverted on to the A739, which runs north to south under the river as the Clyde Tunnel, as well as Paisley Road West, Great Western Road and Dumbarton Road.

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The disruption from COP26 comes on top of traffic chaos already being caused by the ongoing repairs to the M8 Woodside Viaduct north of the city centre.

Congestion on the motorway through Glasgow will be even more severe during the climate summit and Charing Cross could be particularly bad.

A Glasgow City Council said: “COP26 will be unlike other major events Glasgow has hosted, bringing its own unique challenges for our travel network.

“Due to the scale and complexity of the event, which involves the likes of world leaders and climate activists, we will experience changes to the movement of traffic around the city.

“Businesses and residents directly affected by planned disruption will receive specific, direct communications forewarning them of the likely impact during specified periods and business engagement sessions will be publicised and held closer to the event.”

COP26 Road Closures

  • Congress Road, closed from 6am, October 10, until 6am, November 17.
  • Congress Way, Finnieston Quay, Tunnel Street, Stobcross Road (section parallel to A814) and Castlebank Street, subject to lane restrictions and closures between October 17 and 23, with full closure from 9pm on October 24 until 6am on November 21.
  • Clyde Arc (Squinty Bridge) and Lancefield Quay, closed from 9pm on October 23 until 6am on November 15. The roads will be open to service buses only.
  • Finnieston Street, from Houldsworth Street to Lancefield Quay, closed from 9pm on October 24 until 6am on November 15. Local Access southbound will be maintained until October 28.
  • Clydeside Expressway, from Partick Interchange to Anderston (Junction 19), closed from 9pm on October 23, until 6am on November 15.
  • Minerva Street and West Greenhill Place, closed from 6am on October 28, until 6am on November 13, with local access to private carparks maintained.
Get Ready Glasgow via GCC
COP26 Road Closures: SEC and Finnieston
Get Ready Glasgow via GCC
COP26 Road Closures: Partick and Transport Museum
Get Ready Glasgow via GCC
COP26 Road Closures: Anderston and M8

Man accused of murdering woman and toddler as well as raping girl

Andrew Innes allegedly killed Bennylyn Burke, 25, and her child, Jellica Burke, at a house in Troon Avenue, Dundee.

Police Scotland
Court: Andrew Innes, 51, has been accused of murdering Bennylyn and Jellica Burke.

A man has been accused of murdering a mother and her two-year-old daughter.

Andrew Innes allegedly killed Bennylyn Burke, 25, and her child, Jellica Burke, at a house in Troon Avenue, Dundee.

Prosecutors claim the 51-year-old then hid the bodies under the kitchen floor of the property with a further accusation that he also raped a seven-year-old girl.

Innes faced the charges as he appeared via video-link at the High Court in Glasgow on Tuesday.

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The alleged murders are said to have occurred between February 20 and March 5 this year.

It is claimed Innes stabbed Ms Burke on the body with a knife as well as repeatedly striking her on the head with a hammer and the handle of the blade.

The indictment alleges Innes murdered her two-year-old daughter Jellica and that he did “asphyxiate her by means unknown”.

Innes then faces a charge of attempting to defeat the ends of justice.

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This includes a claim that he did wrap the body of Ms Burke in a rubble bag, blanket and tarpaulin and then concealed the corpse in concrete under the kitchen floor at the Troon Avenue property.

Jellica’s naked body is also said to have been hidden there.

The charge also features a claim that Innes told police investigating Ms Burke’s whereabouts that he had driven her, Jellica and another child to the Old Inns Cafe in Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire, on February 28.

He is said to have told the officers he left them with an “unknown male” and that he had no contact with them afterwards.

Innes also allegedly pretended to a young girl that Ms Burke was in hospital and Jellica was in Bristol.

Innes is separately accused of assaulting, raping and attempting to rape that same child as well detaining her against her will at the house in Dundee.

This is also said to have happened between the same dates of the alleged murders.

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No plea was entered at the hearing on Tuesday.

Innes had no lawyer acting for him in court. The nature of the charges means he must get legal representation for any possible trial.

Prosecutor Alex Prentice QC told the court: “I understand that he has made an application for legal aid and that was refused.

“He has instructed an Edinburgh solicitor (Stephen Knowles) on a very limited mandate.

“I have been in touch with the solicitor in person today and he has knowledge of the case.

“My understanding is [Innes] does not intend to instruct legal representation for further hearings.

“The Crown then moves that Mr Knowles is appointed by the court.”

Lord Armstrong confirmed with Innes what was stated by Mr Prentice was right.

The judge went on: “Given the nature of the case, I am going to formally appoint a solicitor. You have no difficulty with that?”

Innes replied: “That is correct.”

The case was adjourned until a further hearing in December.

Homes evacuated after bomb squad cordon off tenement block

Police were called to Edinburgh's Comely Bank Street at around 2.35pm on Tuesday.

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Officers put up a cordon and those living in neighbouring properties were evacuated.

A tenement block has been evacuated after reports of an explosive being found in an Edinburgh property.

Police were called to Comely Bank Street at around 2.35pm on Tuesday.

Officers put up a cordon and those living in neighbouring properties were evacuated.

Police Scotland said the evacuations were a precaution and that there was no risk to the wider public.

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A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Around 2.35pm on Tuesday, September 28, we received a report of possible ordinance found with in a property on Comely Bank Street in Edinburgh.

“A cordon has been put in place by officers and several neighbour properties evacuated as a precaution. Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) are currently on scene.

“There is no risk to the wider public.”


Glasgow bin lorry disaster case opens as council sues First Bus

Glasgow City Council is suing First Bus, the former employers of the bin lorry driver Harry Clarke.

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Bin lorry disaster: Glasgow's George Square in 2014.

A hearing has begun into the Glasgow bin lorry disaster which claimed the lives of six people.

Glasgow City Council is suing First Bus, the former employers of the bin lorry driver Harry Clarke, over the job reference the firm provided.

Mr Clarke collapsed while at the wheel of a bin lorry in the city centre in December 2014.

The vehicle hit pedestrians, killing six people and injuring more than a dozen others.

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At a Court of Session hearing in Edinburgh on Tuesday, Roddy Dunlop QC, representing First Bus, and Andrew Smith QC, representing the local authority, took witness statements from medical professionals linked to Mr Clarke and his former employers.

The hearing heard Mr Clarke’s GP, Dr Gerard McKaig, confirm that he had been misled on Mr Clarke’s medical history prior to the crash.

Mr Clarke told his GP that he fainted in a warm canteen building in April 2010, but it later transpired that he had lost consciousness behind the wheel of a stationary bus, the case heard.

In a witness statement, Dr McKaig said had he known about Mr Clarke fainting behind the wheel of a bus, he would have “warranted a much fuller investigation” into his health at the time.

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Witness statements were also given by the former clinical lead for Bupa’s occupational health services in Scotland, Dr Peter Warnock.

Dr Warnock told the hearing had he been made aware of Mr Clarke’s loss of consciousness behind the wheel in 2010, he would have deemed him “unfit for work” until a health investigation was carried out to the DVLA’s satisfaction.

The hearing continues into Monday afternoon.

A 2015 inquiry into the incident heard the tragedy took just 19 seconds to unfold.

Erin McQuade, 18, and her grandparents Jack Sweeney, 68, and Lorraine Sweeney, 69, from Dumbarton; Stephenie Tait, 29, and Jacqueline Morton, 51, both from Glasgow; and Gillian Ewing, 52, from Edinburgh, died in the crash.

A further 15 people were injured when the Glasgow City Council truck veered out of control.

It travelled along the pavement in Queen Street before crashing into the side of the Millennium Hotel in George Square.


Tributes to climber who died after fall on Isle of Skye

Mike Campbell, 63, died after he plunged 80 metres while climbing down Blaven.

SWNS
Conditions on the hillside deteriorated significantly on Sunday.

A dad-of-two who tragically fell to his death on a climbing expedition has been described as a caring man and passionate lover of the great outdoors by one of his best friends.

Mike Campbell, 63, died after he plunged 80 metres while climbing down Blaven on the Isle of Skye on Sunday, September 26.

Three of his party were saved by a helicopter dispatched from Inverness at around 1.30pm after conditions on the hillside deteriorated significantly, according to a Facebook post by Ben Wear of the Skye Mountain Rescue Team.

Adverse weather meant that further air rescues were impossible and a search party set out on foot.

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Mike’s body was found at around 5pm and his companion, Kirsty McLelland, was helped to safety.

In total, 32 rescuers were involved in the search for the missing climbers.

Mark Dootson, chair of the Kilmarnock Mountaineering Club of which Mike was a member, remembered his friend as a “very caring” man.

Mike worked for Thales, an aerospace and defence firm based in Glasgow, and stayed locally for many years before moving to Dunoon, Argyll and Bute, only a few months ago, where he was in the process of renovating a bungalow.

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Mark said: “When we had novices with us he was always very caring towards them. I don’t really know any other way to explain him.

“He took me under his wing after he completed the Munros and we were concentrating on getting mine.”

The two joined the Ayrshire outdoors club around 10 years ago and became fast friends.

“We got to know each other through the club and our hillwalking and climbing,” Mark continued.

“Both of us would go to gigs regularly, any Scottish indie or folky stuff that was playing in Glasgow.

“Only last week we were at a gig in St Luke’s and we would always go to Celtic Connections.”

A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “Around 1.20 pm on Sunday, September 26, 2021, a concern for a person call was made to police after a 63-year-old man had fallen on Blaven, Isle of Skye, and could not be traced by his companion.

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“Skye Mountain Rescue attended and the man was found to be deceased and his body recovered from the mountain.

“There would appear to be no suspicious circumstances surrounding his death and a report has been submitted to the Procurator Fiscal.”

By Hamish Morrison and Caitlyn Dewar, SWNS


Scottish Parliament calls for Universal Credit cut to be scrapped

MSPs backed a motion calling for the UK Government to abandon plans to end the £20 benefit uplift.

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Only the Scottish Conservatives opposed the call.

A plan to cut £20 per week from Universal Credit should be scrapped, Holyrood has declared.

MSPs have voted to call for the UK Government to maintain the benefit uplift introduced towards the start of the coronavirus pandemic rather than end it as planned on October 6.

Social justice secretary Shona Robison said the end of the £20 uplift would be “senseless and harmful” and said thousands of families will face the “terrible decision” of choosing to heat their homes or feeding themselves.

Only the Scottish Conservatives opposed the call and instead wanted the Parliament to pass a motion stating that it was the “right time for the uplift to be reviewed” given that the majority of coronavirus restrictions had been eased.

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Opening the debate, Robison said: “This cut is not inevitable, nor is it something that is happening because it is expected to improve the lives of those affected – we know it isn’t going to.

“This is a conscious decision to remove support from people who rely upon this uplift as a lifeline to allow basic needs to be met and to live with a modicum of dignity.”

Scottish Conservative MSP Alexander Stewart claimed that Universal Credit had “helped employment rise to record levels in the months leading up to the pandemic”.

He added: “I was pleased to see the six-month extension to the uplift confirmed in the March budget following calls from members in these benches, but it would be remiss of me not to mention the continuing uplift and the cost.

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“Those on the opposite benches tell us that they believe the problem of funding is a non-issue. Well, I’m sorry, it’s not a non-issue.

“But less than a week ago, in this chamber, we saw the SNP social security minister stand in the chamber and refuse to say whether he would permanently double the carers allowance supplement. And the reason for that was budget considerations.”

Ahead of the debate, Scottish Labour’s social security spokeswoman Pam Duncan-Glancy said: “The uplift was a response to a failing social security system, gutted by the Conservative Government.

“This money went on basics like food, bills and travelling to work or school. For millions of people struggling to make ends meet, slashing that money now will be an assault on their basic human rights.

“This cut will do untold damage to communities and all those opposed must stand together to fight it – but we need deeds as well as words from the Scottish Government.

“Poverty has been climbing under the Tories and the SNP. If they don’t act to reverse this, they will fail future generations and undo all the progress made under the previous Labour Governments.

“The SNP and the Conservative Governments must use all the powers at their disposal to take bold transformative action to tackle poverty and inequality right now.”

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Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie said: “The Conservatives seem to be concerned about the cost of this £20 cut to the overall exchequer, but they’ve also said that work is the best route out of poverty.”

A UK Government spokeswoman said: “We’ve always been clear that the uplift to Universal Credit was temporary.

“It was designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so.

“Universal Credit will continue to provide vital support for those both in and out of work and it’s right that the Government should focus on our Plan for Jobs, supporting people back into work and supporting those already employed to progress and earn more.

“The Scottish Parliament has significant welfare powers and can top up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and create entirely new benefits in areas of devolved responsibility.”


Hundreds of new claimants join legal action against Clydesdale bank

Another 266 small firms have signed up to the long-running legal claim against the Clydesdale and Yorkshire bank.

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Clydesdale: Hundreds of new claimants join legal action.

More than 800 small businesses have now joined forces in a long-running legal fight against Clydesdale and Yorkshire bank after hundreds of new claimants have joined the claim.

Claims firm RGL Management, which is managing the legal action, said it has added another 436 claims on behalf of 266 small firms against Clydesdale, which is now part of Virgin Money, and its former owner, National Australia Bank (NAB).

The latest tranche – the biggest yet in the action so far – takes the total number of claims to 1345, representing 823 small businesses, according to RGL.

The case, which has been running since 2017, relates to fixed-rate tailored business loans that Clydesdale and Yorkshire offered to small businesses between 2001 and 2012.

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RGL alleges small firms were unfairly charged high break fees when they sought to end the loans early, while it also alleges the lender “deliberately and systematically” overpriced the interest rates on the loans without first informing customers.

It said the claims are expected to amount to hundreds of millions of pounds.

RGL said it believes about 6500 small firms were sold the loans, which could still see thousands more join the action.

James Hayward, chief executive of RGL Management, said: “With this significant new wave of claims, the largest to date, we remain supremely confident in the strength of our case.

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“There is irrefutable evidence which proves the bank’s unlawful treatment of its fixed rate loan customers and we are well on the way to securing them the compensation they deserve, which is in the hundreds of millions of pounds.”

Clydesdale and Yorkshire bank group CYBG was formed in 2016 after NAB divested its UK operations and was then renamed Virgin Money after a £1.6bn takeover of Sir Richard Branson’s banking group.

A spokesman for Virgin Money said: “There is absolutely no merit in the allegations made in RGL’s claims, which involve four live claimants.

“Their case is weak and we remain confident of defending our position.”


Boris Johnson says crisis on petrol forecourts is ‘stabilising’

The Prime Minister said he sympathises with those who have been worried about their journeys.

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He said the indications from the industry are that the situation is beginning to improve with supplies returning to normal levels.

Boris Johnson has said the situation on the filling station forecourts is “stabilising” as he urged motorists to go about their business in the normal way.

Following days of chaos, with long queues for petrol and stations running dry, the Prime Minister said he understood the frustration felt by drivers as they struggled to fill up.

However he said that the indications from the industry were that the situation was beginning to improve with supplies returning to normal levels.

“On the forecourts the situation is stabilising and people should be confident and just go about their business in the normal way,” he said in a pooled interview with broadcasters.

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His appeal came as Sir Keir Starmer accused the UK Government of reducing the country to “chaos” through its failure to deal with the fuel crisis.

The Labour leader said the haulage industry was “beyond frustrated” at the lack of a clear plan by ministers to alleviate the problems caused by the shortage of tanker drivers.

“The Government has reduced the country to chaos as we track from crisis to crisis. The Government is not gripping this,” he told BBC News.

“This problem was predictable and predicted and the Government has absolutely failed to plan.”

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But with the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) reporting “early signs” that the crisis was coming to an end, the Prime Minister expressed confidence the worst was over.

Johnson said the Government was putting in place measures to ensure the entire supply chain could cope in the run-up to Christmas.

“I want to say first of all how much I sympathise with people who have been worried about their journeys, worried about whether they will be able to use their cars in the normal way,” he said.

“I know how frustrating and worrying it must have been to worry about a shortage of petrol and fuel.

“We are now starting to see the situation improve. We are hearing from industry that supplies are coming back on to the forecourts in the normal way.

“What we want to do is to make sure we have the preparations necessary to get through to Christmas and beyond, not just in the supply of our petrol stations but all parts of our supply chain.”

Johnson rejected calls for healthcare staff and other workers to be given priority access to fuel, suggesting it was unnecessary given the easing of the situation.

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After the Government announced it would be issuing 5000 temporary visas to foreign lorry drivers to alleviate the shortages which led to the crisis, he also dismissed demands for more overseas workers to be admitted.

“What we want to see is a an emphasis on a high wage, high skill, high productivity approach to our economy,” he said.

“What I don’t think people in this country want to do is fix all our problems with uncontrolled immigration.

“We tried that for a long time and in the end, people could see that it was leading to a low wage, low skill approach without enough investment in people or in equipment.

“That’s not the way we want the UK to develop and grow.”

His comments came after UK transport secretary Grant Shapps acknowledged that Brexit, which cut off the supply of drivers from the EU, had been a “factor” in the crisis.

“No doubt it will have been a factor. On the other hand it has actually helped us to change rules to be able to test more drivers more quickly,” he told broadcasters.

“So, it has actually worked in both ways.”

Meanwhile PRA executive director Gordon Balmer said the numbers of filling stations reporting they had run dry was falling as fuel deliveries recovered.

“There are early signs that the crisis at pumps is ending, with more of our members reporting that they are now taking further deliveries of fuel,” he said.

“We have conducted a survey of our members this morning and only 37% of forecourts have reported being out of fuel today.

“With regular restocks taking place, this percentage is likely to improve further over the next 24 hours.”

Ministers have insisted throughout the crisis that fuel stocks remain high and that panic buying was unnecessary.

They argued the sudden surge in demand was driven by reports of of a shortage of a small number of tanker drivers leading to some hold-up in deliveries.

Nevertheless the Government announced on Monday that it was putting troops on standby to drive tankers as a “precautionary step” if problems persisted.

But with long queues for petrol continuing some senior Tories urged ministers to go further and begin actively deploying the military to restore public confidence.


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