Probe Into Parliament Building Project
The European Commission, which is often accused of massive fraud and incompetence in administering its finances, is considering undertaking an inquiry into the way in which contracts for the new Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood were awarded. European competition law requires competitive tendering and transparent handling of government contracts. Perhaps in a move to head off any inquiry from Brussels and to assure the electorate, Jack McConnell the First Minister is said to be looking at setting up an inquiry into the project to establish how the costs ran so far over budget and the timescales for completion were missed by such a large margin. Even if the original "£40 million" which was quoted before the referendum on the creation of a Scottish Parliament is discounted as an optimistic finger in the air estimate, costs have escalated over the life of the project to £340 million and entry will be nearly two years behind the original timetable.
An Edinburgh-based architect has complained to the European Commission that the parliament building should not be named Holyrood as that only applies to the ruined abbey and palace across the road. He claims that the correct historical name is Watergate...
Salary Delay for Members of Scottish Parliament
A computer failure has meant that the salaries of the newly elected Members of Scottish Parliament plus over 8,000 civil servants were not credited to their bank accounts on Friday. The MSPs and the staff may be responsible for billions of pounds of government expenditure but this weekend they may not have two pennies to rub together. The major Scottish banks have been asked to deal sympathetically with anyone forced to overdraw their account and the Scottish Executive say that any bank charges incurred will be reimbursed. The salaries are processed by an English-based company in Surrey.
Prince William Says Thanks to St Andrews
The next but one heir to the throne, Prince William, is currently studying Art History and Geography at St Andrews University. The Fife location was chosen partly because it was hoped that the young prince would escape from the attentions of the media while he was there and that has largely been achieved - and he says that the residents of the coastal town as well as his fellow students deserve the credit for that. He commented: "I hope I am not a tourist attraction - I'm sure visitors come here really because St Andrews is just amazing, a beautiful place." With the approach of his 21st birthday in June, the media were given access for carefully staged photographs on the beach at St Andrews (where the film Chariots of Fire was filmed) and he gave a wide-ranging interview in which he said he was now comfortable with life at St Andrews, though at first he was unsettled. He was asked about wearing a kilt and revealed that he had worn one in private but, so far, had not followed the example of his father, Prince Charles, who frequently wears a kilt in the Lord of the Isles tartan when in Scotland. He also recalled that his great-grandmother, the Queen Mother, had been passionate about Scotland.
50-Storey "Skyhouse" For Leith?
A leading London architect visited Leith this week to see if his new affordable "Skyhouse" would help to alleviate the shortage of cheaper housing. The high density tower houses were originally conceived by David Marks to meet the severe housing shortage in London but he is exploring whether the innovative designs would fit into the Leith waterfront. The high towers are designed so that wind passes through a central atrium and wind turbines would be set between the towers to generate electricity. The glass facades of the 500 homes would also generate more electricity. But whether a high rise building of this nature would be appropriate for the Edinburgh waterfront is being questioned by local architects.
New £50 Million Arena for Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre
The Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) on the banks of the Clyde in Glasgow is already a major complex. However, the hangar-like halls and vast car parks are not the most aesthetic features in what was once a docklands area. The Clyde Auditorium (nicknamed the "Armadillo" due to its shape) does add an element of architectural interest but that could change radically if plans for a new £50 million arena capable of seating up to 14,000 people goes ahead. There would also be a 2,000 seater banqueting facility and a multi-storey car park. Part of the cost would be paid for by a housing and offices development on the 64-acre site. The new arena would be built on the existing car park which is near the road and rail connections.
We Want to Leave Glasgow
Home owners in the Robroyston area of Glasgow are mounting a campaign to persuade the Boundary Commission to let them leave Glasgow and become part of East Dunbartonshire. They say that they pay far higher local council taxes in Glasgow but are ignored by Glasgow City Council. Local taxes are based on property values and Glasgow has the highest council tax in Scotland. Band D property pays £1,163 in Glasgow while those in the same band in East Dunbartonshire pay £966. Robroyston has expanded rapidly in recent years with new housing. But there is a total lack of amenities, with no post office, leisure centre, doctors or dentists. Residents claim that in winter, the council forgets to grit the roads in the area and in the summer the grass verges are not cut.
Plan to Demolish Historic Waverley Station
The latest plans by Network Rail for the modernisation and expansion of Waverley Station, Edinburgh's main rail terminus, show that the grade A-listed booking hall would be demolished to make way for a glass-roofed concourse which would give travellers views of Edinburgh Castle and the Scott Monument. There would be a large shopping mall and an escalator link to Princes Street would replace the present Waverley Steps, well known for the wind which whips through there. The new station could be partially grass-covered to create a garden or public space. Heritage groups have expressed alarm at the possible demolition of historic buildings within the station, which dates back to 1846. The scheme would take seven years to complete and cause considerable disruption to services but it is seen as essential as the number of trains using the station has now reached capacity. The illustration shows the limited number of tracks leading to Waverley Station - and the Balmoral Hotel on its left.
Scots Least Likely to Phone in Sick
A third of British workers think that it is justifiable to call in "sick" to their office or factory when they are just feeling under par, perhaps as a result of too much alcohol the night before. 73% of workers in Yorkshire, Humberside and south-west England were the most likely to be tempted to "pull a sickie" after a boozy night. But Scots are amongst the most conscientious and are the least likely to make excuses according to a survey. It is estimated by the Confederation of British Industries that bogus absences cost British businesses as much as £11.6 billion a year. Workers in the public sector took more sick days a year (an average of 6.8 days a year) compared with workers in the private sector (4.6 days). The study showed that short-term absence accounted for 95% of total absenteeism.
Royal Bank Investing £150 Million in NatWest Brand
After a major takeover, the brand name of the company which has been swallowed up often disappears. But when The Royal Bank of Scotland took over the major English-based National Westminster Bank, assurances were given that the NatWest brand would not be swept aside. Three years later, as if to underline that commitment, the Royal Bank has announced a £150 million refurbishment of the 1,650 NatWest branches which will maintain the NatWest brand. Royal Bank purchased National Westminster in 2000 for £22 billion, making the Edinburgh-based bank the second largest in the UK. Since then, it has claimed £1.44 billion of cost savings and £590 million of annual revenue benefits. Last year, the Royal Bank Group made profits of £3 billion.
Anger at Massive Rises in Water Bills
When water utilities were privatised in England and Wales there was a vociferous and successful campaign to keep the water supply industry in Scotland in public hands. But over ten years later, business leaders are expressing anger at the huge increases in charges being levied in Scotland. Recent increases have ranged from 123% to as high as 650%. An extreme example is BPs petrochemical refinery at Grangemouth which pays £12.7 million a year. In England, the cost would be around £7 million. In the last ten years, the total charges levied by Scottish Water have risen by 94% overall, compared to a 22% rise in England and Wales in the same period. And it's not as if water quality in Scotland was superior - it is significantly worse. Scottish Water recently revealed that it would have to spend £2 billion to replace 17,000 miles of aging supply pipes.
Edinburgh Castle Flagging
For the last month, the flagpole at the top of Edinburgh Castle, which usually flies the Union Jack, has been looking decidedly bare. Due to repair work to the battlements, the soldiers on duty in the castle have been unable to raise and lower the flag each day. Historic Scotland, who are responsible for the castle, say that the work will not be finished until at least 15 June. This has raised concerns that the work might not be finished in time for a royal tourism day later in June when a member of the royal family will be paying a visit to Edinburgh. The castle has 1.3 million visitors each year and the flag is a prominent feature in the centre of the capital.
Most Northerly Distillery
Highland Park distillery on Orkney has long been regarded as most northerly whisky distillery in the world but now there are plans to create one even further north - in the Shetland Isles. Blackwood Distillers have announced plans to build a distillery ten miles north of Lerwick, at the site of a former WW2 RAF base. They hope to be up and running by next spring, with the first production of a premium single malt reaching market in 2007. The company say that the island's unique mixture of water, air and peat will produce a lightly smoked single malt, similar to a "light Islay". Shetland has not had a distillery in the past, due mainly to the lack of locally grown barley. Blackwood will source their grain from the mainland, but are looking at strains of barley which would survive the extreme conditions on Scotland's northernmost islands.
No More Black Cabs Needed in Glasgow
Experts from the Fraser of Allander Institute have reported to Glasgow City Council that the city does not need any more licenced taxi cabs. The researchers say that Glasgow has more taxis per head of the population than the Scottish average and the second lowest fares in the country. There are 1,428 licenced cabs in the city - but tell that to people looking for a taxi on a rainy day. There are also "private hire" cars available in the city but these have to be ordered by telephone, rather than from the street or from ranks. But with the prevalence of mobile phones these days that is not usually a problem.
Hollywood Stars Invited to Highland Games
The guest lists sounds like a Hollywood "Who's Who" as 16 Highland Games held this summer across the north-east of Scotland band together to create a unified event - and invite stars of the entertainment business to accept the freedom of the games if their birthday falls during the season. So Nicole Kidman, Kevin Spacey, Liam Neeson, Tom Jones and a host of other stars will be receiving their invitations shortly. Of course, whether they accept, is a different matter. But you have to give the organisers an "A" for effort in dreaming up the project. In the old days, it was so different - it was Queen Victoria who helped to popularise the events in the north-east by attending the games in the 19th century. In more recent times, Billy Connolly with a number of guests such as Robin Williams, have given spectators an extra bit of star gazing at the Lonach Gathering.
Atholl Highlanders at Highland Games
Europe's only private army was on display at Blair Atholl Castle in Perthshire last weekend. The Atholl Highlanders were inspected by the 11th Duke of Atholl (who lives in South Africa these days) before parading through the grounds of the castle and on to the Atholl Highland Games. World-class athletes competed in the traditional games of throwing the hammer, tossing the caber and putting the stone plus track and field athletics. The Atholl Gathering has been held since the 1820s. It was halted by World War I but was revived in 1984.
Wind Taken Out of Pipe Band Competition
Lack of money has already forced the directors of the Aboyne Pipe Band Competition in Aberdeenshire to call off this year's event and now they have announced that it will not resume next year. Despite attracting tens of thousands of visitors, the event is not generating enough income to cover all the costs. And the directors of the not-for-profit company are personally liable for any shortfall.
All Aboard the Whisky Gravy Train
Rail company GNER has struck a deal with the Argyll-based Loch Fyne restaurant group - and meals on their Scotland to London route will never be the same again. Mouth watering delicacies such as smoked salmon, paté of Loch Fyne mackerel, oven-roasted chicken stuffed with haggis and served with a malt whisky gravy, will be on offer to while away the hours on the journey. And for those who want just a snack, there is Aberdeen Angus beefburger and mature Scottish cheddar cheese ploughman's lunch.
Tiree School Kids Beat Microsoft
Campaigners who are trying to keep Gaelic alive had been planning to ask Microsoft to include a custom spell-checker in the Office suite for the ancient language. The giant software company recently released a spell-checker for Irish Gaelic but the Foundation for Endangered Languages says that Gaelic is 1,135th in the table of about 2,000 known languages with fully developed written systems. So the chances of Bill Gates investing in the development was probably remote. But seven sixth-year pupils at Tiree High School have already beaten them to it anyway. They devised the software as part of a Young Enterprise competition - and are already selling it on CD for £18.50. The spell-checker examines word processing documents and underlines in red any which are incorrect and offers a list of alternatives. But it is not as sophisticated as standard Microsoft products and does not have a full Gaelic lexicon. It was the first time for many years that the school on the island of Tiree had enough sixth-year pupils to enter the competition. There are now less than 60,000 people left in Scotland still speaking Gaelic, though there are also a number of Gaelic speakers in other parts of the world, especially on the eastern seaboard of Canada. Bord na Gàidhlig, or the Gaelic Board, argues that a spell-checker would help students to combat the dominance of Scotland's English-speaking majority.
48,000 Pints Before Leaving for Seville
Glasgow Airport has been counting the number of pints of beer sold to 20,000 Celtic fans who passed through the airport on the way to the UEFA Cup Final in Seville last week and have come up with the staggering total of 48,000. The airport also sold the new Celtic shirts, duty free, and the fans snapped those up too. There were an extra 140 take-offs and landings at the airport on the day after the match and the airport was dealing with 3,000 passengers an hour. It is estimated that 50,000 Celtic fans made the journey to Seville to see their team lose by one goal in extra time. There is, as yet, no estimate of the number of pints, or indeed litres, of beer consumed by the fans in Spain during the week.
Germany Scoring Jokes at Scotland's Expense
In the approach to Scotland's Euro 2004 qualifying match against Germany at Hampden Park on 7 June, Germany's best-selling newspaper Bild Zeitung has launched a competition. Readers have been invited to send in their "funniest Scottish gags" to win seats at the game. Scottish jokes about penny-pinching Scots are very popular in Germany where they are described as "geizig" meaning miserly. Scotland's German-born coach Berti Vogts is also the target of the newspaper which says that the present German coach "wants to blow away McBerti and his bagpipes." Since most of the best jokes about the Scots originated in Scotland anyway, perhaps Scottish fans should enter the competition and win tickets for the match?
Weather in Scotland This Week
Initial estimates show that May this year was the wettest for five years and that Glasgow had a third more rain than usual for the month of May after only three weeks. The current week added to that total as a series of Atlantic weather fronts crossed the country. Temperatures were a nippy 13/15C (55/59F) last Saturday but by the end of the week it was humid and muggy and temperatures had risen to 17/21C (63/70F) with Aberdeen seeing the best of the sunshine and higher temperatures.
On Friday, parts of central Scotland, particularly in Lanarkshire, were subjected to freak storms which caused flash floods affecting many roads and rail services. Flood water has closed Wishaw's Clyde Valley High School and a number of primary schools have also been affected. hailstones the size of golf balls were also reported in the Lanarkshire area. 50,000 homes in the north of Glasgow were left without electricity after what ScottishPower described as the "worst single lightning strike we've seen in years." Engineers sent to fix the breakdown had to wait until the storm subsided but most homes were reconnected after two hours.
This week's illustration of current illustrations of Scotland shows above some tulips growing in Greenbank Gardens, a National Trust for Scotland Garden to the south of Glasgow. The parent swans and their cygnets in the photograph below were spotted in the grounds of Finlaystone House in Inverclyde a few days ago.