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Last Updated:  Friday, 4 April, 2003, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Lib Dems review school age
A primary school
The Lib Dems want to replace primary one
The Scottish Liberal Democrat Party has unveiled its plans to raise the school starting age to six.

UK leader Charles Kennedy visited Oban High School to talk to modern studies pupils as his party made its announcement.

The plan would see the present first year of primary school replaced with a period of more formalised nursery-style education.

Deputy education minister Nicol Stephen said the transitional year would allow early intervention and development for children, including those with special needs.

"In turn, this will allow primary schools the opportunity to make more progress more quickly in subsequent years," he said.

Freedom for local authorities was on the agenda for the Conservatives, who outlined their local government policy.

Tax break

The party called for councillors to be allowed to decide how all money allocated by Holyrood is spent, cutting back on the "ringfencing" of funds - government cash that goes to councils with strings attached.

The Tories also detailed how they would seek a three-year after-inflation freeze on council tax levels.

"Over the last six years of Labour government, and four years of Labour and Liberal Democrat government in Scotland, council tax bills have been going through the roof," said party leader David McLetchie.

Mr McLetchie said council tax payers in Scotland needed "a well-deserved break".

The Scottish National Party (SNP) outlined plans to tackle child poverty.

To remove the barriers to employment and give families a route out of poverty we must invest in childcare
John Swinney,
SNP leader
Party leader John Swinney said he would fund free childcare for Scotland's most deprived families - a move which he claimed would lift 16,000 youngsters out of poverty.

The SNP leader vowed that his party would plough 96m into a three-year pilot scheme which would see children's centres set up in the most deprived wards of local councils with employment levels under 70%.

They are Glasgow, Clackmannan, Inverclyde, North Lanarkshire, North Ayrshire, Dundee, Falkirk and East Ayrshire.

"To remove the barriers to employment and give families a route out of poverty we must invest in childcare," said Mr Swinney.

Scottish Labour focused on its policies for the elderly - pledging to deliver free off-peak national bus travel for pensioners.

Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell pledged free bus travel for pensioners
Party leader Jack McConnell also pledged legislation to outlaw attacks on emergency workers.

"Ordinary decent people across Scotland are absolutely sickened by stories of ambulance workers, doctors and nurses and firemen and women being attacked by yobs or drunks on a Friday or Saturday night," he said.

"It's time for that to stop and we will create a new offence to penalise those who carry out that offence."

Under the Labour plan a new criminal offence would be aimed specifically at those who assault, obstruct or hinder emergency workers in the line of duty.

Mr McConnell also brushed aside criticism of Labour's candidate for Orkney, Richard Meade, who has never been north of Inverness.

"I think we need to get this into perspective.

"We have a great set of candidates right across Scotland," said Mr McConnell.

Political Editor Brian Taylor reports
"Lib Dems said formal schooling should begin at age six"

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