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First Minister Henry McLeish
"It will not happen again, as far as this administration is concerned"
 real 56k

BBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor
"The pledge leaves the first minister open to attack if it goes wrong"
 real 56k

Sunday, 10 December, 2000, 17:20 GMT
McLeish makes exams pledge
Henry McLeish
Henry McLeish has been confirmed as Labour leader
First Minister Henry McLeish has pledged there will be no repeat of this year's exams crisis in Scotland.

Speaking on BBC Scotland's Holyrood programme, the Labour leader promised that the problems within the Scottish Qualifications Authority would be sorted.

He also signalled the Scottish Executive's intention to wage war on waiting times within the National Health Service.

It will never happen again because of the actions that we are taking

First Minister Henry McLeish
And he gave his backing to Scotland's most senior civil servant, Muir Russell, who was criticised in a report on the Holyrood building project.

Mr McLeish gave the wide-ranging interview the day after he was formally confirmed as his party's leader.

He said the problems within the SQA - which was the subject of a damning report from the parliament's education committee this week - were being fixed.

The report on the Scottish exams fiasco, when thousands of results were either delayed or inaccurate, found there were serious failures at board and management level within the SQA.

No repeat

The report also concluded that a millennium bug may still be lying dormant within its computer system and suggested it could pose problems next year.

However, Mr McLeish promised the crisis would not be repeated.

He said the education committee and the enterprise and lifelong learning committee had both produced excellent reports.

"They are right to be apprehensive," he said.

"This is a unique situation, but I want to say that it will never happen again because of the actions that we are taking. Jack McConnell is committed to that.

SQA staff
Thousands of students were affected
"We must never put young people, their families and their wider families through the pressures they went through last year and I want to make sure that happens."

The SQA will announce its detailed response to the latest inquiry on Tuesday.

Turning to other issues, Mr McLeish told the programme that a report on the executive's proposed "bonfire of the quangos" would be going to cabinet in a week's time.

"It will be radical, it will be focussed and it will be about the question of accountability," he said.

He added that the bureaucracy within the health service had to be cut as it was "stifling" the activities of professionals.

Waging war on waiting times is a key issue for my administration

Henry McLeish
Health Minister Susan Deacon will announce a major shake-up of NHS boardrooms on Thursday, with up to 100 posts expected to be scrapped.

Mr McLeish said patient care would be a key part of that health plan.

"All in all it will be a formidable package. Waging war on waiting times is a key issue for my administration," he said.

He also said there would be developments early next year in taking forward the Sutherland report, which recommended that the elderly should not have to pay for personal care.

Ms Deacon has announced a 100m package of measures which included free nursing care for all - but stopped short of agreeing to fund personal care.

Spiralling costs

Mr McLeish also promised to step up action on law and order, and said the executive would be pressing forward on electronic tagging.

Meanwhile, he insisted that he had full confidence in Mr Russell, who was criticised by the parliament's audit committee for failing to keep control of the spiralling costs of the controversial new parliament building.

The first minister also admitted he was finding his job harder than he had expected and said there was "room for improvement" during his weekly First Minister's Questions.

"I think I have been caught at times between sound bites and debating. Recent performances have been getting better," he said.

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See also:

10 Dec 00 | Scotland
Shake-up for NHS quangos
09 Dec 00 | Scotland
Labour confirms Scottish leader
08 Dec 00 | Scotland
Exams system 'faced meltdown'
05 Dec 00 | Scotland
Adviser under fire over Holyrood
21 Nov 00 | Scotland
Inquiry into report leak
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