Coalition Policies Agreed
The Labour and Social Democrat parties reached a 47-page partnership agreement on the legislative programme for the next Parliament, with both sides claiming that their cherished aims have been included in the compromises which had to be made. Certainly, the LibDems have at long last got their holy grail of a proportional representation voting system for local council elections using the "single transferable vote" (though Labour councils may fight a rearguard action) and the Labour Party will be able to progress their proposals on tougher laws on anti-social behaviour by under-16-year olds. Many of the plans have been cast with a decidedly "green" environmentally friendly hue, such as local authorities being targeted to achieve 25% recycling of waste by 2006, rail links to Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, improved access for rural communities and a review of the tolls on the Skye bridge and indeed all bridge tolls. Many programmes are continuations of existing plans, such as the largest-ever school building programme, continued investment in health, education, fire and criminal justice systems. There will be an increase in the number of nurses in hospitals and the creation of community health partnerships.
First Minister Elected
The Scottish Parliament duly re-elected Jack McConnell to the post of First Minister, backed by his own Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. He will have a formal audience with the Queen next Monday and after being sworn in by judges from the Court of Session in Edinburgh, he will announce his ministerial team on Wednesday for approval by parliament. The LibDems are expected to have 25% of the ministerial posts.
First Asian Provost Takes Office
Mushtaq Ahmad became the first member of an ethnic minority in Scotland to be appointed a civic head in Scotland this week when he was elected provost of South Lanarkshire Council. He had previously served as deputy provost. He was born in India in 1942 and after completing his first university degree in Pakistan, took an MA degree at Glasgow University in the 1960s.
Lowest Level of Unemployed Scots
The number of Scots registered as unemployed in Scotland fell by 7,000 in the three months between January and March this year. There are now 150,000 unemployed, with the rate standing at 5.9%, one of the lowest levels since records began. But the UK unemployment rate is even lower at 5.1%. The number of people employed in the UK is at its highest level since records began in 1984. However, many of the new jobs replacing those lost in manufacturing are part-time service sector employment. The number of unemployed able to claim benefit in Scotland stood at 98,800 or 3.8%.
New Image for Glasgow Rejected
Plans for a new slogan and logo for Glasgow's tourist industry have been shelved because the city's tourist board cannot agree on the new brand. It was supposed to replace the 20-year-old "Glasgow's Miles Better" slogan which, along with the "Mr Smiley" logo was initially highly successful. An interim slogan "GlasGOw For It" a few years back is best forgotten. The launch of the new brand was scheduled for June. But now the board is having to go back to the drawing board - and will miss the peak tourist trade of the summer months. The board later insisted that the new image would be launched in October, claiming that it had been delayed because of international tensions. There was some scepticism about this as UK visitors to Glasgow outnumber those from abroad by a factor of six to one.
White Fish Become Black
Not for the first time, Scottish fishermen are reported to have been flouting the European Commission's restrictions and are landing catches of endangered white fish such as cod and haddock at east coast ports. They say that they are landing illegal "black fish" in order to protect their livelihoods. It is being estimated that the trade in non-quota fish is worth the equivalent of £20 million a year. But the quotas and restrictions were introduced to allow the decimated fish stocks time to recover and the UK government has been criticised for not ensuring that the fleets respect the quota rules.
Transport Secretary Gets His Sums Wrong
A report published in July last year by the UK Department of Transport on the cost of developing Edinburgh or Glasgow airports as Scotland's main international hub, suggested that Edinburgh would cost £400 million less than the £1.3 billion to upgrade Glasgow. But in their response to the government consultation paper this week, the British Airports Authority (BAA), who own both terminals, claims that the Transport Secretary wildly underestimated the cost of developing Edinburgh. BAA says that they estimate Glasgow's upgrade would cost only £1.1 billion but Edinburgh would be £200 million more. BAA say that the cost of additional land for the expansion of Edinburgh would be considerably higher than that estimated by the government and that road access costs would be significantly less at Glasgow than the civil servants' estimates. The Department of Transport is scheduled to make a decision in the autumn.
Visitor Numbers Rise
A survey of the number of visitor numbers at Scotland's leading tourist attractions in 2002 has shown that numbers have bounced back to record levels. The total in 2002 was 37.2 million, an increase of 4.7% on 2001. Edinburgh Castle was once again the top paid for attraction with 1.15 million paying customers, followed by Edinburgh Zoo and the Glasgow Science Centre. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum was again the top free attraction, with 955,671 visitors. This figure was less than 2001 as talk of closure for refurbishment (only now getting under way) depressed numbers. Other top free admission attractions were the Museum of Scotland and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. Perhaps surprisingly, the Old Blacksmiths Shop at Gretna was the fourth top free attraction in Scotland. The growth in overall numbers is said to be due to a focus on domestic markets, targeting those living in the south-east of England.
MTV Europe Music Video Awards in Edinburgh
MTV has chosen Edinburgh to host this year's European Video Music Awards in November, an event with an estimated global audience of 1 billion people. The awards ceremony will be held in a temporary stadium to be built at Western Harbour, Leith and is being supported by EventScotland, the Executive's new major events organisation, as well as by Scottish Enterprise, Forth Ports and Edinburgh City. £750,000 of public money is being provided to contribute to the cost of the event which will be a major boost for the local economy and will showcase Edinburgh to a worldwide audience. The awards always attracts the top show business stars such as Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Robin Williams and Eminem.
Paying for Parking with Mobile Phones
We all know the situation - after cruising round looking for an empty parking bay, you eventually find one only to realise you don't have any change for the meter. And by the time you find a shop which can give you the right coins, you've got a parking ticket from a zealous attendant. Surprisingly, the city with the reputation for the most aggressive parking "enforcers" is about to introduce some high-tech assistance. Edinburgh already has parking meters running on solar power and by August the machines will be adapted to allow motorists to use their mobile phones to pay for parking. Drivers will phone a special number where a voice response system will ask for the parking machine number and a PIN number. Payments can be made automatically to debit or credit card accounts and a message then goes to the machine by fibre optic cable telling it to dispense the ticket. More than 400 machines will be adapted. Of course, in addition to making life easier for the motorist (not something that Edinburgh City Council are particularly noted for) it will mean eventually that less coins will have to be collected and counted, with a saving to the council.
Best Home Helps in Europe
A study which examined the likelihood of male partners helping out with household chores has shown that UK men are second top amongst the 13 European countries surveyed. Only Danish men were more likely than those in Britain to share in household tasks - Greek men came last in the survey. The questionnaire was answered by 10,000 couples around Europe but no separate statistics were published about the different countries within the UK.
Trendy Store Moves Out
Habitat, a store which sells trendy furniture and other items for the home, is to move out of its flagship premises in the Buchanan Galleries in the centre of Glasgow. Instead, it will move back to its former premises in Bothwell Street, which is decidedly not a prime location. The company admits its Buchanan Gallery store was "too big". Since opening, it has also had to face fierce competition from Swedish furniture store IKEA which opened at Braehead on the boundary between Glasgow and Renfrew. But Habitat will not move until the Buchanan Galleries have found a new occupant for the space - they do not want a "to let" sign on the prestigious frontage and Habitat are contractually tied.
Aerospace Boost for Ayrshire
The US aerospace giant Goodrich Corporation has announced a £9 million investment at Prestwick International Aerospace Park in Ayrshire which will eventually create 250 skilled jobs in a 120,000 sq ft maintenance repair and overhaul facility. The Goodrich company already employs 130 at Prestwick International Airport close by.
Profits Slide at Top Edinburgh Store
Jenners, the quintessential top Edinburgh department store on Princes Street, has announced a 19% drop in profits as it faces fierce competition from the new Harvey Nichols outlet and a refurbished John Lewis store in the capital. But the management of Jenners, which is still family owned, say that the dip in profits had more to do with the set-up costs of the new store at Loch Lomond Shores. Certainly, after an initial flurry when it opened last autumn, the Loch Lomond store has had to trade through the very quiet winter season there. Even the Jenners' tearoom, overlooking the vista of the loch and Ben Lomond in the distance, has been quiet for most of that time. As the number of tourists starts to increase, it is bound to become far busier.
Taxpayers Pay for Accommodation Booking Service
The visitScotland.com accommodation booking service will not break even until 2010 according to its chief executive. The operation was set up with £7.5 million of public private partnership finance and has been processing 52,000 bookings a year - and makes a £3 booking charge and 10% of the booking cost is paid by the hotels and guest houses. Rival booking services are springing up in competition.
Church Flocks Decline
A survey by the Christian Research Association into the number of Scots attending church regularly has shown a dramatic drop of 120,000 since 1994. Only 570,000 people went to church regularly in 2002, a fall of 17%. The Church of Scotland in particular suffered a decline of 22% since 1994. It is estimated that if the present rate of decline continues (and it has been in decline for most of the 20th century) the number of Scots attending Sunday services will fall to under 7% by 2020. On a regional basis, the lowest percentage church attendance was recorded in Angus, followed by Aberdeen. Only 6.8% of those living in the county of Angus went to church on Sunday, May 12, the day the census was taken. A church representative suggested that the falls were due to Sunday retailing which affected both staff and customers.
Bland Wins Top Culinary Award
Jeff Bland, the executive head of the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, was named as Drambuie Scottish Chef of the Year at a gala dinner last weekend. Jeff, who comes from Glasgow, follows in the footsteps of last year's winner of the Scottish culinary Oscars, Gordon Fairlie at the Gleneagles Hotel. 240 leading chefs from all over Scotland attended the dinner.
Supermarket Chain to Create 600 Jobs
Giant supermarket chain Asda has announced that it is to invest in new depots and distribution centres using technology brought in by parent firm Wal-Mart which will create 600 new jobs in Scotland and revolutionise delivery to its stores across the country. The new network will also allow all cardboard and plastic waste from its stores to be recycled at its own dedicated sites.
Hotel Builds on Madonna Effect
The increased number of visitors to the north-east town of Dornoch ever since pop mega-star Madonna got married in nearby Skibo Castle in December 2000, has also meant that the local Dornoch Castle Hotel has had to turn away bookings from couples who want to get married there. The hotel can currently only cater for a maximum of 45 guests unless they use a temporary marquee. The hotel is directly opposite Dornoch Cathedral where Madonna and her partner Guy Ritchie arranged to have their baby christened. Now the hotel owners have started a major expansion which will allow them to cater for up to 100 wedding guests at a time. The number of bedrooms will also be increased and there will be a new conservatory-style restaurant.
Flowers of the Forest Disappearing
A campaign was launched this week to save the flowers of Scotland's forests which are being removed by criminal gangs for sale to the horticultural trade. In some cases, digger tractors are being used to remove the topsoil and the bulbs and plants contained in it. Bluebells, snowdrops, the rare Scottish primrose and even sphagnum moss (used in hanging baskets) are being targeted. Strathclyde Police, Scottish Natural Heritage and Plantlife Scotland have launched a "Stolen from the Wild" campaign to make landowners and the horticultural trade aware of the illegal trade. They hope to introduce a logo indicating that target plants are nursery bred rather than taken from the wild. Many of the stolen plants find their way into open-air markets and car boot sales.
Quest for Perfect Bagpipe Reed
Bagpipe makers have long been puzzled by the fact that two reeds made from the same crop often sound very different. Synthetic substitutes are said to be more consistent, but do not give the right sound according to aficionados. Now, experts at Edinburgh University have begun research to find out why some reeds give a sweeter sound than others. The work will assist bagpipe makers to identify the best natural reeds and possibly lead to better man-made versions. Arundo donax reeds are grown in the coastal area of southeastern France and are in short supply. Murray Campbell, professor of musical acoustics at Edinburgh University is leading the research.
Six New Bridges for River Clyde?
A working group, which has been looking at the regeneration of the waterfront of the river Clyde through Glasgow, has suggested that there should a total of six new bridges across the river - including the controversial "Squinty Bridge" which will cross at an angle between Finnieston and Pacific Quay and which has already been approved. Another proposed bridge would be a "living bridge" featuring bars and restaurants which would span the river near Central Station. Modelled on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, it would link the Broomielaw and Tradeston in the heart of the city.
Fastest Scot on the Roads
A motorist, who had already been banned from driving after an earlier offence, was found guilty this week of driving at 156.7 mph on a journey from Aberdeen to Dundee on a road with a 70 mph speed limit. This was the fastest speed ever recorded on a public road in Britain. He was also clocked on the same journey in his high-powered BMW M3 doing 120.6 mph on a stretch of highway with a temporary speed limit of 40 mph due to roadworks. Jason McAllister was jailed for five months, disqualified from driving for another four years. When he was stopped by police he told police officers "This is all I need. I've just fallen out with my girlfriend."
Weather in Scotland This Week
Another week of sunshine and showers though with temperatures below average at 12/14C (54/57F). Once again, the eastern side of the country got the best of the sunshine - Aberdeen had over 52 hours of sunshine from Saturday to Friday. Last Saturday, Lerwick in Shetland in the far north had nearly 14 hours of sunshine. Towards the end of the week, the weather became more unsettled with heavy showers and by Friday the thermometer had fallen even further to 9/11C (48/52F). The outlook is for the weather to continue unsettled, with frequent showers.
This week's illustrations of current flowers in Scotland are both from The National Trust for Scotland's Geilston Gardens in West Dunbartonshire. The gardens have a fantastic display of azaleas at this time of year and the picture above is a close-up of one of them. The other illustration is certainly the first rose I have seen this year - it was growing against a wall of Geilston House.