The Scottish Government is considering measures to assist specialist employers of disabled people amid “a steady erosion of supported employment by the UK Government”.

Enterprise minister Fergus Ewing expressed ministers’ “deep disappointment” at the UK Government’s closure of factories run by supported business Remploy, costing 111 Scottish jobs and putting a further 251 at risk.

He said: “What we are seeing is a steady erosion of supported employment by the UK Government. In today’s labour market finding a job under any circumstances can be challenging. For disabled people that is doubly so.

“It is certainly true that most disabled people in Scotland do not work in a supported business, but it is also true that, for some, working in a supported environment may be the only chance of employment they can access.”

Mr Ewing added: “During the course of this parliament we will introduce a Sustainable Procurement Bill. In consultation, we want to consider what further measures might be appropriate to assist supported businesses in Scotland as part of that Bill.”

Labour MSP Helen Eadie said she welcomed a lot of Mr Ewing’s comments, however she urged him to act quickly.

She said: “This requires urgency. This axe will fall on July 4 for the people (from Remploy) who are sitting in the public gallery this afternoon. I think that no matter who is to blame here, my government in the past or the Tory Government, the reality is these are people who will not have jobs after that date.”

Two staff members at NHS Lothian have been suspended while an investigation is carried out into allegations that figures for waiting times had been altered to meet targets.

NHS Lothian said the disciplinary procedure was launched as part of a “critical incident review” into the allegations, revealed by Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon.   Ms Sturgeon has ordered further investigations into the management culture in the health board, saying some staff felt they were under undue pressure from management to find “tactical solutions” to waiting times rather than tackle the problem.

NHS Lothian director Alan Boyter said: “Based on its emergent themes, steps have been taken today to suspend two members of staff pending further investigation.  We are actively reviewing our management arrangements and have already reduced these by 80, streamlining our management to improve communications.

“We do not tolerate any form of bullying and harassment and this is monitored by annual surveys.”

Ms Sturgeon revealed the findings of the independent report on Wednesday and spoke of her “disappointment and considerable anger” at its findings.  She promised that she would not tolerate the manipulation of waiting times figures by health board management and staff.  

It came to light last October that some patients were being referred to Northumberland for treatment.  When they declined, they were not included on a list of patients waiting more than the target of 18 weeks for treatment.  A total of 1,234 people were referred for care in Northumberland, however the NHS said all had now received treatment.

Ms Sturgeon said the “unacceptable practices” had now ended in Lothian.

By a Newsnet reporter

Bertie Ahern, Taoiseach of the Irish Republic between 1994 and 2008, is to be expelled by his Fianna Fáil party for “conduct unbecoming to a party member”.   The decision comes as the long running Mahon Tribunal, an inquiry into allegations of corruption amongst Irish politicians, reaches its conclusion.  

The inquiry into political and planning corruption in Dublin refused to accept the explanations offered by Mr Ahern for a quarter of a million pounds of payments made into his bank accounts in the early 1990s.

The Tribunal concluded: “Much of the explanation provided by Mr Ahern as to the source of the substantial funds identified and inquired into in the course of the Tribunal’s public hearings was deemed by the Tribunal to have been untrue.”

The chairperson of the Tribunal, Judge Alan Mahon, said that he could neither rule out nor confirm allegations that Mr Ahern had been paid off by a developer.

Speaking in response, Mr Ahern denied that he had accepted any illegal payments or bribes and said:  “I am incredulous that the tribunal has made findings rejecting the evidence of a number of individuals – including a number of friends who loaned me money – whose evidence supported mine.”

But the present Taoiseach Enda Kenny said there was no question that the office of leader of the Irish Government had been stained by Mr Ahern’s actions.

“The tribunal speaks for itself – a litany of unacceptable statements from the former taoiseach,” Mr Kenny said.

The Tribunal did find that members of Mr Ahern’s government had acted inappropriately, including former minister and European Commissioner Padraig Flynn.

Mr Flynn took IR£50,000 from a developer who claimed that he felt coerced into paying the money.  The cash was supposedly for the Fianna Fáil party but went towards buying a farm in Mayo.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin said the party’s national executive would meet on 30 March to discuss the report and decide upon “swift and decisive action”.

Mr Martin said:  “Although the central allegation against Bertie Ahern was not sustained, the evidence confirmed by the tribunal and its comments relating to him are extremely serious.

“The report records that Bertie Ahern gave a significant amount of evidence to the tribunal which, in the opinion of the tribunal, was untrue.

“It is a matter of profound personal and professional regret to see confirmed in this report the extent to which Bertie Ahern fell short of the standard of personal behaviour which is expected of the holders of high office.”

A motion to expel Mr Ahern and Mr Flynn from Fianna Fáil will be raised at the meeting.

In July 2011, the Irish Daily Mail reported that the Mahon Tribunal report was “virtually complete” with “one volume dedicated solely to Mr Ahern”.  The article further stated that the findings of the report would leave Ahern’s reputation in “tatters”.

The First Minister and the Health Secretary have apologised to two pensioners who said they had been left without blankets during recent hospital treatment.

Mrs Helen Macbeth said she was “frozen” after staff at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley left her in a room with just a sheet and mat on the bed.  Mr Jack Barr said that he had to use a beach towel to keep warm during a recent stay in the same hospital.  

Mrs Macbeth said that she had been admitted to the hospital for three days in February.  She called a nurse during the night to request a blanket, but the nurse apologised saying that she had no blankets to give her.

Mr Barr was admitted to the hospital for treatment following a stroke.  He requested a blanket on admission but was never given one.  Mr Barr said he “could not wait” to get out of the hospital, adding: “It was a very, very bad experience. I have been in a few hospitals since 2000 with heart operations and a stroke, and that’s the worst experience I’ve ever had.”

The treatment received by the two pensioners was raised by Labour’s Johann Lamont at First Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.  Mrs Macbeth and Mr Barr were present in Holyrood to hear Ms Lamont question the First Minister about their hospital stays.  Ms Lamont claimed that she had uncovered “at least seven recent cases of patients going without blankets at the Royal Alexandra Hospital”.

After FMQs Mrs Macbeth and Mr Barr met with First Minister Alex Salmond and Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon.  The First Minister and the Health Secretary apologised to the pensioners in person.

A spokesman for Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS said: “Following the issue of linen availability at the RAH being raised at the Scottish Parliament, we want to apologise to any of our patients who feel that the linen, towelling or blanket provision was not adequate for them.”

North East SNP MSP Mark McDonald has lodged a final proposal with Parliament outlining the proposed High Hedges Bill.

Mr McDonald first announced his intention to bring forward the bill back in September, winning the full support of the Scottish Government in taking forward the SNP’s manifesto pledge to deal with the problem of nuisance high hedges.

After lodging a draft proposal in December, Mr McDonald appeared before the Local Government and Regeneration committee in February to outline his proposals and outline the decision not to conduct a further consultation, following three similar consultations in recent years.

Since then, Mr McDonald has continued to liaise with groups and individuals with an interest in the issue, including groups representing Scottish Tree Officers and the interest group Scothedge.

For the proposal to be taken forward, eighteen MSPs from at least two of the parties represented on the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body have to support the bill.  Once the bill has gathered enough support, and the drafting process has been completed, the draft bill will be introduced before parliament.

Commenting after lodging the proposal, Mr McDonald said:

“I am pleased that the final proposal is now lodged and we have taken another step forward to solve the problem of nuisance high hedges.

“Over the last few months, it has become even clearer that this is a problem that affects households from all parts of Scotland, so I would urge MSPs of all parties to back this proposal and ensure a Bill can proceed.

“The drafting process is now underway and I will continue to meet with organisations and individuals with an interest in this issue to ensure that the final bill provides a workable, effective and practical solution to the issue of problem high hedges.”’