Willie Rennie MSP

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Meeting of the Parliament 18 December 2014 Business until 12:33 : Thursday, December 18, 2014
Willie Rennie

When the head of Revenue Scotland was asked questions by Tavish Scott yesterday at the Public Audit Committee, she soundly failed to answer any question at all. Yesterday, Caroline Gardner stood by her report. She said that there was absolutely clear evidence. I am surprised that the First Minister continues to stand by this position.

Ministers boasted that Revenue Scotland would be the most efficient tax agency in the world, but it is already 25 per cent over budget. We have the prospect of an old-fashioned paper-based system in the 21st century and now we discover that the head of the tax agency has no tax qualification. It is hard to believe that, just three weeks ago, the head of Revenue Scotland said that there was “nothing negative” to report. What confidence can we have that the First Minister will tell us if anything negative happens again?



Meeting of the Parliament 18 December 2014 Business until 12:33 : Thursday, December 18, 2014
Willie Rennie

Yesterday we learned from the Public Audit Committee that the person appointed by ministers to head up Revenue Scotland has no accounting or taxation qualifications. Was that really a wise appointment?



Meeting of the Parliament 18 December 2014 Business until 12:33 : Thursday, December 18, 2014
3. Willie Rennie (Mid Scotland and Fife) (LD)

I associate myself with the remarks about the suffering in Pakistan and Australia, and I welcome Kezia Dugdale to her position.

To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet. (S4F-02478)



Meeting of the Parliament 16 December 2014 : Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Willie Rennie

I will not take another intervention, as I have another few points to get through. I am sure that we can discuss the issue on a future occasion.

This is a precursor of what is to come. It is a steep learning curve, as Alex Johnstone rightly said. We are grappling with issues that Westminster and the DWP have been grappling with for some time, including stigma—Inclusion Scotland quite rightly raised that issue—and the balance of trust and respect. I think that everyone would want a system that has trust and respect, but in reality and practice that is extremely difficult to ensure. The fine words that are uttered in the chamber need to be reflected in local authorities. It is important that we send out that message, but we also need to work out what trigger mechanisms and training are required to ensure that it is enacted.

Another aspect is gatekeeping, which has some connection to what Bob Doris referred to. Do people fear that they should not apply or do local authorities deter people from applying for particular funds? Is the DWP perhaps seen as being at fault and the reason why a person is without funds? Obviously we should discourage gatekeeping, but members can understand that a local authority would not want its funds to be affected by another authority’s mistake. We need to ensure that the principles are well entrenched, so that local authorities understand that they should help if someone is in need, no matter who is to blame for the problem.

Inclusion Scotland raised the use of the phrase “normal residence” and how Gypsy Travellers would be affected. I would like some assurance from the minister that Gypsy Travellers’ human rights would not be affected by the use of that phrase. A review of that phrase might be appropriate over time.

We should strive to have a standard and a practice that are as good as, if not better than, those of the DWP. That is why I urge the Government to look again at the issue of having a 24-hour waiting time target for crisis grants, rather than a 48-hour waiting time target. If someone applies for a crisis grant on a Friday and there is a 48-hour target, and the clock does not start ticking until the weekend is over, they could wait for quite a considerable period before they could access the fund. I am sure that local authorities will try to process applications as quickly as possible, but we should set a standard in law that means that they must act as quickly as possible.

CPAG quite rightly raised the issue of families under exceptional pressure. I urge the minister to look at whether the term “families under exceptional pressure” ought to be included in the bill, so that people can be given confidence. The figures here in comparison with those at Westminster are quite striking: 20 per cent of applications in Scotland are for families under exceptional pressure, compared with more than 50 per cent of Westminster applications. That is quite a stark comparison. I would like to understand why that is the case. Perhaps putting the term in the bill will encourage more families under exceptional pressure to apply for the funds.

On the SPSO appeal process, it makes eminent sense to have a body that is removed from the local authority make the judgment and deal not just with the process but, as Jackie Baillie said, with the substance of the application as well. Sometimes the process may be perfect but the judgment might be wrong, so it is appropriate to have that wider power, although that is not the normal way that the SPSO considers matters.

The Liberal Democrats support the bill. An awful lot more difficult issues are to come, and today’s debate is an indication of the fact that the Parliament will have to come to terms with them and make judgments that are difficult but necessary, if we are to create a Scottish welfare system that we can all be proud of.

15:33  

Meeting of the Parliament 16 December 2014 : Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Willie Rennie

It is clear that the Smith commission’s intention was that there should be no clawback. I am sure that issues on the edge that we do not expect will come up over time, but the principle is clear. The UK Government and the UK parties have given a commitment that that is their intention, so every effort—

Bob Doris rose—



Meeting of the Parliament 16 December 2014 : Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Willie Rennie (Mid Scotland and Fife) (LD)

I enjoyed listening to Alex Rowley, because he reminded us that when we think about why many people find themselves in such circumstances and what we can do in a holistic sense to tackle the five evils that Beveridge highlighted, we need to do so in the wider context. I am not sure whether Alex Rowley wanted to echo Tony Blair’s famous quote, but his reference was apposite for today’s debate, because we need to consider poverty itself as well as the causes of it.

We welcome the bill, which entrenches the fund that already exists and gives it a statutory underpinning so that clients and local authorities have the confidence of knowing that it will be a permanent feature. We support the bill’s general principles.

I thank the Welfare Reform Committee for the work that it has done, in the course of which it received harrowing evidence from people who have been affected by welfare reform. The committee also took evidence from local authorities and front-line organisations in the third sector.

This is a precursor of what is to come. Jackie Baillie—if she wants to make an intervention, I will be happy to let her in, unlike some other members, because I am a bit of a sook on such occasions—is right that we are creating a new Scottish welfare system, with disability living allowance, personal independence payments, attendance allowance, discretionary housing payments, the universal credit flexibilities and the ability to create new benefits. I can give Bob Doris the assurance that there will be no clawback—it is clear that it was the Smith commission’s intention that there should be no clawback. If a benefit, a top-up or a supplement is implemented here, there should be no effect down south.



Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
Willie Rennie (Mid Scotland and Fife) (LD)

I thank the Deputy First Minister for the advance copy of his statement and for his recognition of the UK economic recovery, which is based on the UK Government’s economic plan. That is welcome.

John Swinney indicated that the extra funds from the Barnett consequentials will go directly to the NHS. Would he be willing to consider further investment in nursery education, for which I have argued for some time, so that we can at last catch up with England on two-year-olds?

Will the funding that Aberdeen City Council receives this year reach the 85 per cent threshold, or will this year be like every other year, when there has been a failure to meet it?



Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
Willie Rennie

I commend the committee’s report. A lot more work requires to be done in this area, but I hope that the report starts a big debate about the reform of local democracy.

15:30  

Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
Willie Rennie

Not just now.

It worked when local police officers could turn up to community councils and have proper engagement with them. That was there in practice. There will be good examples; I will give that to Kevin Stewart. However, there is a feeling in local government that power has been stripped away; that local authorities do not have the authority that they once had.

I commend the committee’s report, because it drew on a range of evidence from different bodies, including the Conservative Party’s commission, the Labour Party’s commission and the white paper. I was only sorry that it was unable to read the Campbell commission’s report. I am going to give the committee a flavour of what was in the Campbell commission’s report, because it was good work about trying to change local authorities for the better.

We recommended that the same principle that should apply to the Scottish Parliament—that it should raise the majority of the money that it spends—should also apply to local government, so that it has the same flexibility, accountability and responsibility at the local level. That means freeing up the council tax, allowing business rates to be set locally and providing for the majority of the money that is spent by local authorities to be raised by local authorities.

We also recommended the creation of new burgh councils. We are not proposing the creation of additional authorities or massive reorganisation. We are proposing that, when communities such as Auchtermuchty want to create a burgh council to run services in their community, they should be allowed to do so by local government. That chimes with some of the things that the committee said. For example, it said that local authorities should not just be one homogeneous mass and that there should be a much greater flowering of local democracy.



Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
Willie Rennie

I am sure that there are good examples of where it works. It worked in the past—

Mike MacKenzie rose—

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-11901.3 Neil Findlay: Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce—As an amendment to motion S4M-11901
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YesDefeated

S4M-11901.1 Mary Scanlon: Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce—As an amendment to motion S4M-11901
>> Show more
YesDefeated

S4M-11830.2 John Swinney: The Smith Commission—As an amendment to motion S4M-11830 in the name of Ru
>> Show more
Not VotedCarried

S4M-11830 Ruth Davidson: The Smith Commission—That the Parliament welcomes the publication of the Sm
>> Show more
Not VotedCarried

Amendment 6 moved by Dr Richard Simpson on motion S4M-11826 Maureen Watt: Food (Scotland) Bill—That
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Not VotedDefeated

S4M-11825.3 Claire Baker: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the n
>> Show more
Not VotedDefeated

S4M-11825.2 Jamie McGrigor: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the
>> Show more
Not VotedDefeated

S4M-11825.1 Tavish Scott: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the n
>> Show more
Not VotedDefeated

S4M-11825 Richard Lochhead: End of Year Fish Negotiations—That the Parliament welcomes the successfu
>> Show more
Not VotedCarried

S4M-11763.3 Margaret Burgess: Private Sector Rent Reform—As an amendment to motion S4M-11763 in the
>> Show more
NoCarried

Search for other Motions lodged by Willie Rennie
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-11925: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 16/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10843.1.1: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 20/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10724.1: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 05/08/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10430.1: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 23/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10353.1: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 17/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10214.2: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 04/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10224: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 04/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10131.1: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 27/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09926.2: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 06/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09844.1: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 29/04/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Willie Rennie
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4F-02478: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 11/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4F-02462: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 08/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4F-02419: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 21/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4F-02395: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 17/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22974: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 03/11/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4F-02301: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 26/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4F-02286: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 22/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4F-02245: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 07/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22211: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 29/07/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22213: Willie Rennie, Mid Scotland and Fife, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 29/07/2014 Show Full Question >>

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