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and realistic manner”. He said: “Any government wants to highlight the very best of what it is doing and to point to all the good news to which it can, but I fear that previously and, again, in some of what Mr Swinney said today, the SNP Government’s intention has been to comment only on the positive and almost to brush aside some of the negative aspects of the statistics that have come out.” Suggesting ways that the Scottish


economy could be improved, Brown said that his party welcomed initiatives such as Smart Exporter, but warned that SDI should develop a stronger focus on exports. He also said that the country’s rate of business start-ups had to improve, explaining: “There are only 34 VAT registrations per 10,000 people in Scotland, whereas the equivalent fi gure for the UK as a whole is 47.” Brown said entrepreneurship training


was the key to improving the rate of successful start-ups.


Bringing the debate to a close, Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, paid tribute to his predecessor, Jim Mather, saying that Mather was “an unusual character in politics” who was “entirely without side and without the desire


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to make personal remarks and was an inspirational character”.


Ministerial Statement: Rural Schools


9 June 2011 By Lynne Whitelaw Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Michael Russell, made a statement on the Scottish Government’s proposals to establish a Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education and his request for local authorities to place a moratorium on the closure of rural schools. He said: “At the outset, Presiding


Offi cer, let me make it clear that sometimes schools have to close. Communities change, populations move, sometimes buildings become unsuitable. But common decency as well as good practice demands that a closure must command public confi dence. The process of decision making must be inclusive and transparent.”


Russell also highlighted the fact that rural schools can often be “fundamental”


to their communities and this was why there should be a presumption against closure.


Outlining changes that had been


introduced by the Schools (Consultation) Bill in 2009, he said that the special provisions had been put in place for schools in rural areas before local authorities decided to consult on their closure. These were: to consider viable alternatives, consider the likely effects of closure on the whole community, and consideration of changes to children’s’ travel arrangements. It had been hoped that consideration of all these factors would ensure that closure of a rural school would be the last resort. The involvement of ministers in closure


decisions had also been formalised using a safeguard which allowed them to call in cases where they felt there had been fl aws in the consultation or decision- making process. The call-in could be triggered by a community or parental request.


Russell went on to say that it was


now clear there had been varying interpretations of the Schools (Consultation) Bill amongst local authorities, communities and central government and action was now required.


Out of 35 proposed closures, Russell


said he had been required to call in 17, of which four had been refused permission. He explained that in an effort to


fi nd solutions to the problems, the Commission on the Delivery of Rural Education would be tasked with looking at current legislation, making recommendations on how to refl ect best practice and fulfi l commitments, examining links between rural schools and communities, looking at funding issues and the delivery of rural education and thinking in new ways about the delivery of rural education. The commission would be expected


to make recommendations at the start of next year and Russell said that its membership and remit would be announced “shortly” and input from COSLA and ADES would be “essential”. Explaining the thinking behind


the proposed moratorium on rural school closures, Russell said: “This will create the space necessary to allow a comprehensive and fair assessment of the present school closures process and allow clear thinking on how it can be improved. This moratorium will run for a year. I believe it is in everyone’s interests to pause and take time to consider the best way forward.”


For up to date information on all Scottish Government consultations, please visit the Scottish Government’s website at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Consultations/Current http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Consultations/Forthcoming


13 June 2011 Holyrood 69


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