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Monday, 14 August, 2000, 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK
Dewar sets out his course
Donald Dewar back at work
First Minister Donald Dewar has returned to work less than four months after major heart surgery - only to find himself embroiled in the row over the Scottish exam results fiasco.

He has defended Sam Galbraith, his education minister, but also outlined what policies and initiatives he will be pursuing in the coming weeks as he got back down to business as usual.

This is Mr Dewar's statement in full:

Can I start by thanking Jim Wallace for his tremendous service over the last three months. He has performed with distinction, style and energy. His success at question time is only the most visible aspect of a job well done.

I am also grateful to my colleges in Cabinet and Parliament who have given him such positive backing and support.

I would like to thank and express my gratitude to the staff in the NHS whose care and commitment did so much for me over this period. I am happy too to welcome you the Press back into my life. I take this as real evidence of my enthusiasm for the campaign ahead.

I am delighted to be back at work and to put behind me the excitements and sometimes the difficulties that inevitably mark a period of ill-health. I feel in fine form and I am looking forward to working with colleagues to drive forward the Executive's agenda.

Jim Wallace in the Scottish Parliament
Donald Dewar praised and thanked Jim Wallace
I come back at a time when one very current issue is the real difficulties that have beset the Scottish Qualifications Agency. I greatly regret what has happened but recognise that many people are working hard to put matters right.

Can I emphasise my determination to ensure that lessons will be learnt and that there is no recurrence of these troubles. That is why Sam Galbraith has decided to call in independent consultants to report on the causes of the present pressing concerns, which we will publish when it is available.

Coshep have given a categorical assurance that no candidate seeking a place through them in a Scottish university will be prejudiced. There is no question of candidates with A levels leap-frogging colleagues with Highers. Similar undertakings have been given by UCAS.

Finally, a validation exercise involving the schools is now in hand. I expect it to be carried through with an appropriate sense of urgency. It should be completed by Thursday evening. An interim Chief Executive for SQA will be in place very shortly.

Dealing with the longer term I would stress that this administration is committed to social justice. By that I mean tackling poverty, deprivation and disadvantage at their roots in order to make sure that all our children have the best start in life and that everyone has the chance to fulfil their potential through education and employment.

Sam Galbraith
Mr Dewar defended Sam Galbraith
Tackling these problems is the real business of progressive politics.

We have a good story to tell of promises kept, of work in progress, and of future intent. I look forward to being very much involved in delivering the progress that Scotland needs and Scotland wants.

The attack on poverty is our top priority. It will be wide ranging, coordinated with the policies followed by the Government at Westminster.

The exchange of ideas with Westminster is vital. We must work with colleagues there, and not against them. But we must never be afraid to take a different path when that is in Scotland's interest.

We are fortunate in having over the next three years a remarkable increase in public spending, taking the total in real terms well beyond the highest level ever recorded in Scotland. The Scottish block will steadily increase over the next three years - by over 1bn, 2bn and 3bn.

It allows us to look at our priorities, to work across the range of the community, to improve social conditions for all our people. It gives us the opportunity to move on the big challenges that lie ahead.

Donald Dewar
Mr Dewar has made a swift recovery from his surgery
Central to our prospects is the current Spending Review. At the core of that review will be the commitment to social justice. The task for Ministers will be to deliver social justice.

We have ambitions for our children, for working families, for pensioners. With employment running at record levels, policies are undoubtedly having an impact. Quality child-care, the national minimum income guarantee for pensioners, the New Deal - these are some of policies that have laid the foundations.

I want pensioners to live in decent warmth, to be able to keep in touch with family and friends. I want our children to enjoy educational chances throughout life, to benefit from the information technology revolution. Already one in two of 18-year-olds are in full time education. I want to see that figure continue to improve. I want to skill the workforce, not only to make the Scottish economy truly competitive but to provide opportunities for the individual.

The financial room created by the public expenditure allocation for the next three years allows us to build for the future. It would make a difference - a difference that will be particularly significant for those that live in Social Inclusion Partnership areas, those that struggle through difficult circumstances.

I am determined the spending decisions taken over the next few weeks will fuel the drive against poverty and deprivation. I look forward to these challenges with confidence.

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See also:

14 Aug 00 | Scotland
Dewar backs education minister
14 Aug 00 | Scotland
First Minister returns to the fray
10 Aug 00 | Scotland
Dewar gets out and about
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