Scotrail Loses Millions of Passengers
In the year to 31 March, Scotland's main railway company experienced a drop of 5.5% in the number of passenger journeys - the lowest total since 1997-98. Scotrail claimed that the main reason was a series of strikes and work-to rule which disrupted services and meant that the number of trains scheduled to run was reduced for over six months. In 2000-2001, Scotrail had 63.7 million passenger journeys but in 2002-2003, that number had fallen to 57.4 million. The franchise to operate the Scottish rail services comes up for renewal next summer and a number of other companies are likely to bid to take over, including Netherlands Railways. Scottish government ministers will be watching the situation carefully as substantial amounts of public money is paid to the rail companies to subsidise fares - £1.5 billion over the next seven years.
Delay in Upgrading West Coast Rail Link
The introduction of 125mph trains between Glasgow and Manchester could be postponed yet again as a result of a report by the Strategic Rail Authority. The rail regulator wants Network Rail to delay the upgrade of the track to save money. But that would mean the higher speeds would not be possible until the end of 2006. The cost of replacing the track and signalling on the Scottish section of the line is much higher than elsewhere, due to contractual and technical problems and poor management by Railtrack, Network Rail's predecessor. Virgin Rail who operate the London to Glasgow service is furious at the delay and Scottish politicians have also expressed dismay. Since the report is only a consultation document at this stage, there may still be the opportunity to have it amended.
A Nation of Commuters
Britons spend more time commuting to work than any other country in Europe and many workers would rather double their journey time than change job or move house, according to a research report published by the Royal Automobile Club. Those working in Central London spend the most time travelling to and from work - an average of 56 minutes each way. In Strathclyde, where many workers are commuting to Glasgow, the average time was 24 minutes each way. The shortest journey times were in Wales, where it took less than 20 minutes. 72% of commuters outside of London travelled by car - only 5% used trains. In Glasgow, however, 50% of workers use public transport to get to work. The research report also estimates that working from home could reduce commuter traffic by 15% by 2015.
Retail Sales Sizzle
The Scottish Retail Consortium has reported that retail spending in Scotland in June grew at an annual rate of 5.8%, which was marginally above the UK figure. Sunny weather, coinciding with the start of the holiday season, had a positive impact on sales north of the border, with sales of beer, food for barbecues and gardening goods topping the list. It is also thought that increased numbers of day trippers and holidaymakers from England are helping to boost sales. Stores and supermarkets in tourist destinations were reported a better than average month in June. The illustration here is of Edinburgh's main shopping area along Princes Street.
Edinburgh Property Boom Bucks UK Trend
According to the Edinburgh Solicitors Property Centre, the largest estate agency in Scotland's capital, house prices in Edinburgh and the surrounding area are continuing to rise rapidly, bucking the slow-down in the rest of the UK. House prices in Edinburgh in the three months to June rose by 18.6% over the second quarter in 2002.
Easter Target for Parliament Building
If construction and fitting out is completed for the latest revised target date of next Easter, the new Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood in Edinburgh will still be 30 months late. But even this latest date is uncertain as two important contracts do not have firm finishing dates. It had been hoped that the move from the temporary home in the Church of Scotland building on The Mound could have been carried out during the parliamentary recess at Christmas. But that date seems unlikely now, so Easter is the next available slot.
China Deal Boosts Online University
Scotland's Interactive University (IU) is now one of the largest e-learning facilities in the world and it is on the verge of expanding still further with a deal to supply business courses to universities in Beijing, Nanjing and Shanghai. The IU also expects to sign a contract soon to supply degree courses to one of China's largest universities in Weifang.The IU has expanded into more than 40 countries and has 60,000 students. Tutoring is provided by overseas universities but 4.5 million learning hours are being provided online.
Hospital Staff Threaten Bank Boycott
Nurses and other medical staff at the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow are threatening to switch their accounts to another bank after the local Clydesdale Bank announced that it was to restrict the use of its St Rollox branch to business customers. The Clydesdale branch is the nearest bank to the Royal Infirmary, but personal customers are being told they must move from September to a new branch in Queen Street, a mile away in the centre of the city. The bank claims that there has been drop in personal customers at the branch on Cathedral Street. But Clydesdale customers amongst the 4,200 staff at the hospital say that is too far away to provide access during lunch breaks. Staff at the Clydesdale Bank have also protested at the move, saying that it is a busy branch and that they also get a lot of business from students at the nearby Strathclyde University. When the branch closes to personal customers in September, five members of staff will move to other branches. The Clydesdale Bank recently axed its branch at St Enoch Square in Glasgow which once a flagship of the network.
£40 Million Regeneration Plan for Dundee
An ambitious plan to regenerate 90 acres of derelict industrial land in Dundee is being considered by the city planning authorities. It includes two new superstores, a hotel, six car showrooms, a community hall, indoor skatepark, nursing home and 19 units for industrial and business use. Swedish interior furnishing supplier Ikea, which has massive outlets on the edge of Edinburgh and Glasgow, is said to be keen to come to Dundee. The local council has been anxious to retain the Dunsinane Estate for industrial use but it is being argued that retail use is the only way in which the site can be redeveloped.
New Gallery Named After Director
Sir Timothy Clifford, the flamboyant director of the Royal Scottish Academy, is no stranger to controversy. So he is well able to handle the criticism aroused by a decision to name a major exhibition room as the Clifford Gallery as part of the massive revamp of the RSA and the neighbouring National Gallery of Scotland. The arts community in Edinburgh is divided on the honour, with some saying it should have been named after a famous Scottish painter rather than the current director. But it appears that the charitable trust which is paying for the room had insisted on the name. The £27 million Playfair project was driven forward by Clifford and most of the galleries in the extension are named after companies which have provided sponsorship to the project.
National Park to Allow Development in Conservation Village
Villagers in the Stirlingshire village of Drymen are wondering whether the creation of Scotland's first National Park was a good idea after all. It is looking increasingly likely that the trustees of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park will allow Manor Kingdom, a Fife-based developer, to build in the centre of the village on a site which is frequented by roe deer and has been conserved for the last 50 years. Since 1985, nine applications have been made by developers and eight have been refused by Stirling County Council. The National Park trustees say that they are "minded to approve the scheme."
Lomond Shores in Top Ten
A year after it opened, the Loch Lomond Shores visitor attraction has made it to the Scottish Top Ten with more than 850,000 people stopping off at the new complex. The visitor centre incorporates an IMAX large screen cinema, two restaurants, a tourist information centre and adjacent retail shops, including an outpost of the Edinburgh department store Jenners. The visitor centre (named Drumkinnon Tower) is modelled after a Scottish round tower or castle. It has an enclosed walkway on its outer wall, which spirals down from the top to the ground floor, allowing visitors views in all directions. The view up Loch Lomond, with the old paddle steamer Maid of the Loch in the foreground, is particularly spectacular. While many of the visitors are from abroad, Lomond Shores has proved to be a great attraction to locals and trippers from Scotland's largest city - it is only ten miles along good roads from affluent suburbs of Glasgow. Initially, Jenners was the only retail unit operating but now the shops are beginning to fill though it is the tearoom in Jenners, with excellent food and a fabulous view, which is doing the best business. In its first full season (from April this year to March 2004) Loch Lomond Shores is confident that it will attract over a million visitors.
Starving Shetland Seabirds
Millions of silver sandeels form an important part of the food chain for nesting Arctic terns, puffins and guillemots on the northern islands of Shetland. But the numbers of sandeels has declined sharply in recent years. It is being claimed that for once the fishing industry is not to blame. Ten years ago, the shortage of sandeels prompted the government to impose restrictions on the numbers caught. But this year the fishermen have given up, after only landing a third of the quota of one million tons. Of course, whether the European Union quotas have been correctly set is questionable. Marine scientists believe that the problem is due to changes in the sea temperature, ocean currents and the availability of plankton. As a result of the lack of food, many seabirds are not laying eggs which is having an impact on their numbers too.
House Buyers Camp Out
The prospect of being able to buy one of the first of the luxury houses in the new Glasgow Harbour development, induced a number of eager home buyers to camp out for over 48 hours to ensure that they got their pick of the apartments. Prices start at £147,000 but some of the more expensive properties will cost over £500,000. 2,500 new houses are to be built on a stretch of the river Clyde waterfront between Castlebank Street and South Street. The scheme will regenerate 120 acres of derelict land.
Glasgow.com Belongs To Me
An internet consultancy firm which has registered a large number of Scottish domain names in the hope of being able to sell them on at a profit, has just paid £60,000 to obtain Glasgow.com, which was previously used by an American to promote Glasgow, Missouri. Tommy Butler says that he has been trying to obtain the domain name for around four years. Mr Butler has been engaged in a protracted dispute with the Law Society of Scotland over the Web address lawscot.co.uk - the Law Society's own Web address is lawscot.org.uk. The case was eventually settled out of court with the name changing hands for £10,000.
Scots Fishermen Head for Iceland
In the 1970s, during the so-called "cod wars" when Iceland imposed a 200-mile fishing exclusion zone on foreign trawlers, the Royal Navy attempted to protect UK fishing boats from Icelandic fishery protection vessels. Perhaps as a result of better management of their fisheries than has been achieved by the European Union over its fish stocks, the Icelandic fishing industry is still thriving. So some of the Scottish fishermen who are being forced to give up and accept government money to decommission their boats are heading for Iceland once again - but this time to work on local trawlers. Some skippers are having to work as deck-hands in order to be able to continue with the life they know and love. One slight compensation is that salary levels are roughly double that in the UK.
Cannibal of the Trout Family
It sounds like the classic angling story but scientists are now studying the giant ferox trout which grows quickly by eating its smaller relatives as well as arctic char which inhabit the depths of Scottish inland lochs such as Rannoch, Garry, Quoich and Awe. It grows to the size of salmon and the largest rod-caught specimen weighed over 31 pounds. Scientists are unclear on what triggers the switch by some fish from the normal trout diet of underwater beatles and snails to cannibalism. Research has shown that the ferox trout dives to huge depths, probably in pursuit of char. They can live for over 20 years.
Beano's Virtual Neighbours
Although still being published, the "Beano" comic is probably better known to the older generation of Scots who grew up reading about Dennis the Menace and the Bash Street Kids. So it may be that it's the silver surfers who are calling in at a Web site set up by D C Thomson, the Dundee publishers of the popular comic. The Web site currently offers visitors a tour of the houses of the cartoon characters and a secret room where plans are afoot to bring down the rival publication, the "Dandy" (also published by D C Thomson). There are plans for next year to add to offer fans the chance to "inhabit" a house next door to Dennis the Menace and watch the goings on over the garden fence. See www.beanotown.com
Free Sun Tan for Aberdonians
In recent weeks, Aberdeen has been experiencing some of the best weather in Scotland, with lots of sunshine and escaping some of the worst of the rain which has fallen on other parts of the country, especially in the west. That may have prompted an Aberdeen tanning studio to offer a free spray-on tan to anyone turning up wearing only a bikini. Not many Aberdonian ladies took up the offer but one Aberdonian man, keen to get a tan, especially a free one, duly turned up - wearing just a bikini, as stated in the advert.
Scotland's Largest Shopping Complex Bans Smoking
Health chiefs in Glasgow made a shock decision this week to reverse a ban on smoking which was imposed four years ago to improve the health of staff and patients. But now the North Glasgow Health Trust is to build smoking "shelters" to allow people to smoke if they can't or won't quit. The Trust says that the ban has been impossible to enforce, with smokers puffing away in hospital grounds and at entrances to buildings. But the Braehead Shopping Centre, Scotland's largest out-of-town shopping complex, with 17 million shoppers last year, has told customers to stub out their cigarettes from September1. The ban follows an extensive consultation exercise. Smoking will still be permitted in a small section of the food court. Buchanan Galleries shopping centre, in the centre of Glasgow has had a ban on smoking since it opened and the shopping centre at East Kilbride outlawed smoking after a survey showed that 84% of customers preferred a non-smoking environment.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Temperatures fell back a bit this week after the previous week's exceptionally warm spell. Even so, Aberdeen managed to reach 24C (75F) on Thursday and the thermometer hovered between 20/22C (68/72F) in most places, though the west, including Glasgow was a bit cooler at 18/19C (64/66F). There was a marked disparity in the amount of sunshine in different parts of Scotland, however. Aberdeen had over 51 hours of sun from last Saturday to Friday, Edinburgh had over 22 hours in the same period while Glasgow had less than 11 hours.
The summer sunshine in the north-east has meant that the grain harvest has seen an early start for many farmers. Some are already cutting spring barley crops, three weeks earlier than usual. Lack of moisture is now proving to be the biggest problem for farmers in the north-east.
As noted already, the west of Scotland did not fare so well this week with sunshine and this week's illustrations of current flowers in Scotland were taken after a shower of rain in my own garden in suburban Glasgow. The picture above is of an Oenothera, better known as the Evening Primrose - except this variety is pink. The picture below is of a Tradescantia - also known as the Spider Lily.