The First Minister's Official Spokeswoman (FMOS) opened the briefing by informing the journalists that the Cabinet meeting today was fairly short and concentrated on upcoming parliamentary business. The FMOS said that the First Minister told his cabinet colleagues that he had written to the Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson offering the condolences of the Scottish Executive and the people of Scotland over the tragic death of the Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh.
Other Executive Events
Scotland In Catalonia
The FMOS said that Deputy First Minister, Jim Wallace and Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Frank McAveety are today travelling to Barcelona as part of a three-day trade and tourism drive - 'Scotland in Catalonia.' The FMOS said that the Ministers will be undertaking a number of engagements in the city that showcase the best of Scottish tourism, culture, fashion and architecture.
The FMOS said that the aim of the event is to raise the profile of Scotland in the region and to further develop the agreement of understanding that was signed with Catalonia last year. The engagements include a meeting with Prime Minister Pujol, the unveiling of Landforms - a major touring show that featuring recent work by some of Scotland's most vibrant architectural talent, various trade fairs and the spectacular Tunes of Glory event. This is a pipe and drum parade down the famous 'La Ramblas' culminating at the Scottish Square - a new showground established by VisitScotland in central Barcelona which will attract 20,000 people a day.
Manufacturing Research Institute
The FMOS said that before leaving for Barcelona, the Deputy First Minister would be launching Scotland's first manufacturing research institute. She said that the Deputy First Minister's view was that this new centre would help bridge the gap between the world class excellence of our research base and companies that need to do more to capitalise on technology.
The FMOS said that the £4.2 million Scottish Manufacturing Institute (SMI), based at Heriot-Watt University will bring together a range of expertise focusing on the research needs of the manufacturing sector. She said that Mr Wallace would be saying that we want to do all we can to stimulate sustainable economic growth. This is a bold, imaginative approach to modern manufacturing in Scotland. She said that the Deputy First Minister had told the Scottish Parliament a couple of weeks ago that there was a need for greater confidence and ambition. What we see here today is an example of vision, energy and commitment. Effective collaboration between industry and universities is crucial in the innovation process which allows for the development of new products.
Launch of 'Transport Scotland' Consultation
The FMOS said that the Transport Minister, Nicol Stephen, would today be launching consultation proposals for a new executive agency, Transport Scotland, which will take responsibility for delivering significant improvements across road, rail, air and water.
The FMOS said that the Minister was today making clear that the focus of the agency will be to make certain that we deliver. His view is that after decades of under investment, we now have the resources in place to make a real difference to the quality of transport in Scotland.
Measures To Tackle Fuel Poverty
The FMOS said that Deputy Communities Minister, Mary Mulligan, would today be announcing £3m pounds worth of funding to 29 local authorities to help them tackle fuel poverty. This will see 5000 council properties having their homes insulated and 500 houses with partial central heating systems be upgraded to full systems by the end of March 2004.
The FMOS said that the Minister's view was that the Executive's policies are working to tackle poverty and disadvantage and that the 'Warm Deal' has successfully helped to provide warm dry homes and reduced fuel bills for thousands of people across the country.
Respect For Shop Workers Day Charter
The FMOS said that the First Minister was currently visiting a retail outlet in Leith to launch the Respect for Shopworkers Day Charter. She said that the First Minister will be saying that violence against shopworkers is simply unacceptable and risks harming the prosperity of Scotland's communities. The Charter sets out the minimum standards of respect, courtesy and dignity which the UK's shopworkers expect and deserve.
Parliamentary Debate On The Nicholson Report
The FMOS said that Justice Minister, Cathy Jamieson, would be today be clarifying an interpretation of the Nicholson report during a parliamentary debate on licensing proposals. She said that 24-hour drinking is not what the Executive is looking at - that there is no desire, nor is there any evidence to suggest that 24-hour licensing would be good for Scotland.
When it was put to the FMOS that it has never been reported that there was going to be 24 hour drinking, she said that there has been an interpretation in certain quarters that it was in the pipeline. The Minister will today be merely clarifying the position that it is not.
Asked if the Minister was likely to reject any of the recommendations of the report, the FMOS said that she thought it unlikely at this stage. Asked if this meant that there will be, in effect, 24 hour licenses, the FMOS said that the recommendations of the report were currently out to consultation, one of which is the notion of licenses being looked at on a premise by premise basis. She said that this will not mean that there will be a carte blanch granting of 24 hour licenses.
The FMOS said that it was the Minister's view and Executive policy that there was neither a desire or a need for 24 hour drinking in Scotland.