Royal Bank of Scotland's $10.5 Billion Purchase
The ever expanding Royal Bank of Scotland has now become the 7th largest bank in the US through its subsidiary Citizens Financial. It paid $10.5 billion (£5.8bn) this week for Cleveland-based bank Charter One which has 616 branches in six Mid-Western states including the cities of Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland. Royal Bank has made 26 acquisitions in the US via Citizens Financial, most in the last 5/7 years, and now has assets there of almost $130bn with 24,000 employees in 13 states. The Royal Bank is the UK's second largest bank.
Call for Moratorium on Wind Farms
The Scottish Executive may see wind farms as a great way of generating renewable energy and so helping the UK to meet its environmental targets to reduce CO2 emissions. But there is opposition - from environmental groups - who think that wind turbines on Scottish hills would be a blight on the landscape. They are not only huge constructions, they are placed on the top of hills where they are highly visible. And the turbines and their large blades are noise polluters too. At a public meting in Perthshire, which heard about plans for five new wind farms in the Ochil Hills, there was a call on the Scottish Executive to bring all such developments to a halt "until a proper strategy has been worked out." But the Executive insist that there is already a good system in place controlling development. A spokesman commented: "Such energy schemes go through a rigorous planning process to ensure that they take account of their impact on local communities and environment. The Forum for Renewable Energy Development in Scotland - which is chaired by ministers and includes representatives from the industry and other stakeholders - helps provide national guidance and expertise on the development of the sector." Meantime, the companies trying to establish wind farms are expressing concern at the slow rate at which projects are being reviewed by local authorities. They warn that the reduction in the use of fossil fuels will not be met unless projects are approved more quickly.
Sun Shines on Tourist Spending
According to figures published this week by the tourism agency VisitScotland, the glorious sunshine experienced in 2003 resulted in a rise in spending by tourists last year. The number of tourists did not change much - but they spent more, encouraged by the good weather. There was an increase in the number of tourists from abroad, but visits by people living in other parts of the UK declined as they stayed at home to enjoy the sunshine in their own back yard. Edinburgh Castle retains its position as the most popular attraction with an entrance fee but with the closure of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow, the Blacksmith's Shop in the wedding capital of Gretna has become the most visited free attraction. Of course, with all that sunshine, some indoor attractions fared badly. But never mind - they'll make up for it (so far) this year!
Threat to Historic Edinburgh Department Store
Jenners on Princes Street in Edinburgh is the world's oldest independently owned department store and its attractive building overlooking Princes Street Gardens and the castle is a landmark for locals and tourists alike. But the owners claimed this week that plans to charge motorists £2 to drive into Edinburgh could close the business down. Congestion charging in London resulted in some shops losing 17% of their customers and if Jenners lost that - or more - it would be "terrifying". The comments came during an inquiry into the road charging plans by Edinburgh City Council. The inquiry also heard from the owners of the John Lewis department store that they would not have gone ahead with a £25 million development if they had known that the charging plan would be implemented. In a survey of 700 customers in the store, 70% of John Lewis customers said they opposed charges and 37% said they would shop elsewhere.
Edinburgh Loses Eight International Air Routes
When the small budget airline Duo called in the receivers and suspended its services last weekend, it meant the loss of eight direct international destinations from Edinburgh - to Bordeaux, Geneva, Milan, Munich, Nice, Oslo, Shannon and Zurich. The routes were to receive financial support from the Scottish Executive via its Air Route Development Fund which was set up to assist airlines in the early years of air new routes from Scotland to international destinations. The sudden closure of the airline meant that some passengers were stranded and had to make alternative travel arrangements. The airline has struggled to fill the seats on its small Canadair R.Jet aircraft from Edinburgh. But apparently there were even fewer passengers on the airline's services out of Birmingham.
Zoom Reaches for the Skies
New budget airline Zoom claims that it is grabbing a major share of the Scotland to Canada air travel market in its first year of introducing its service. With its low prices (Glasgow to Toronto for £326 compared to Air Canada's standard fare of £930) it is not hard to see why. Zoom flies direct from Glasgow to three Canadian cities - Calgary, Ottawa and Halifax and later this month there will be a through service to Vancouver via Calgary.
Will Doors Ever Open on New Store?
A question mark now hangs over the grandiose plans to create a 200,000 sq ft Selfridges department store in the Trongate and Saltmarket area of Glasgow. The development was the centre-piece of the regeneration of this run-down area of the city. But since the takeover of the retail chain by Canadian billionaire Galen Weston last year, there has been no firm commitment on going ahead with the plans. A store building plan by the company has been scrapped in Bristol, Leeds and Newcastle and no progress had ben made with local traders who were reluctant to sell up to make way for the giant store in Glasgow. Planning applications were supposed to have been lodged earlier this year but have not appeared and company representatives remain tight-lipped saying "If Glasgow remains financially viable, then the new owners will go ahead."
Thread of Scottish History Breaks
The textile giant J&P Coats, which once employed 14,000 people in Paisley, is to close its last Scottish factory, ending 178 years of industrial history. The multinational company has moved all its manufacturing to England and abroad, including a thread-making factory opened last year in Romania. The company is following in the steps of many other textile manufacturers that have closed down in Scotland in recent years, including Daks, Simpson, Levi-Strauss and William Baird.
Floating Hotel Planned for Loch Lomond
A businessman who uses a 15ft Dutch barge on Loch Ness as accommodation for tourists has launched a project to move the boat to Loch Lomond where it would become the first floating hotel on the famous tourist attraction. The boat would have to sail up the river Leven to a weir and then be lifted over the barrier by giant cranes. Discussions are continuing with the national park authorities.
Blooming Marvellous Flowers of Scotland
A two-year survey of Scotland's favourite wild flowers, to find which ones should associated with each county, has produced some surprising results, ranging from the extremely rare plants which only botanists would find and recognise to the more common varieties seen on country walks. Edinburgh/Midlothian selected the sticky catchfly (Lychnis viscaria) and East Lothian opted for viper's bugloss (which has a reputation as an aphrodisiac). Glasgow's choice of broom (cytisus scoparius) seems almost boring by comparison. Dumfriesshire has opted for a typical Scottish plant, the harebell, while West Lothian has voted for the common spotted orchid (dactylorhiza fuchsii) which is pictured here. The survey was run by Plantlife International and the organisation hopes that the selected wild flowers will be used by local councils as emblems to help to make people aware of local wild flowers - many of which are endangered.
Future of Abbotsford in Doubt
The death this week of the great-great-grand-daughter of Sir Walter Scott has put into question the future of Abbotsford House, which the writer created after buying a farmhouse on land beside the river Tweed in 1812. Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott was the closest direct descendant of the novelist and it is understood that around 40 relatives around the world now have a stake in the future of the house. It contains many of Scott's possessions and is now a tourist attraction in the Scottish Borders. But visitor numbers have declined in recent years, despite the historic interest and the attractive gardens and riverside walks.
International "Debut" For Arbroath Smokie
The smokie (smoked haddock made in or near the Angus town of Arbroath), which recently joined a select band of European speciality products by achieving Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status, was just one of the seafood products from more than 40 Scottish companies on view to international buyers at the European Seafood Exposition (ESE) in Brussels this week. The Scottish Pavilion there is one of the largest at ESE, which claims to be the world's largest seafood exhibition. Processed fish accounts for around half of Scottish processed food exports, currently standing at £500 million. Almost 50% of UK fish processing employment is based in Scotland.
The Flight of the Bumblebee
The Scottish Executive's environmental agency Scottish National Heritage is to issue guidelines to gardeners urging them to plant more early and late flowering plants which are attractive to bees in order to halt the significant decline in their numbers. Local authorities, small farmers and crofters will be asked to allow hedgerows to become overgrown and grass uncut to leave more bee-friendly plants. It is claimed that modern gardens are "too tidy" for the wild insects which like to nest in leaf litter and unmown grass. In addition to being an attractive part of any garden, bees are important pollinators for agriculture and fruit growers as well as suburban gardens.
Love Birds Set Up Home in Dunbar
Although environmentalists voice concern about the loss of indigenous species in Scotland, there are times when a foreign variety establishes itself in this country. That may be the case with the peach-faced lovebirds with their exotic green plumage which have been seen for the last few years in Dunbar in East Lothian. The birds, a variety of parrot, appear to have successfully reared a family. They are vegetarians, eating berries, seeds and tree buds. They are popular in aviaries with their bright colours and the affectionate way the pairs snuggle up to one another.
Homage to King Magnus
A group of former drug addicts and alcoholics, who have been supported by the GalGael Trust charity, are this week sailing their self-built "birlinn" from Glasgow to a Viking festival in Northern Ireland which is commemorating the 900th anniversary of a Viking warrior king known as Magnus Barelegs. Although the birlinn is often mistaken for a small Viking longship, the design is actually Scottish and was used as the main form of transport in the west of Scotland over 500 years ago. The GalGael Trust teaches boat building, metal work and wood carving to long-term unemployed in Govan. The participants put their new skills to good use constructing the 35-feet long replica sailing boat which was also powered by a crew of oarsmen.
Clan Currie at Dunkeld Cathedral
On Saturday, May 14, Clan Currie will hold a UK preview screening of a new film, "The Crafter's Song" as a benefit for the majestic Dunkeld Cathedral in Perthshire. One of Scotland's most picturesque houses of worship, Dunkeld Cathedral has strong Currie ties. It was Sir Donald Currie who financed the restoration of Dunkeld Cathedral in the early 1900's. The screening event will also include commentary from several of the crafters appearing in the film and musical performances. All proceeds benefit The Friends of Dunkeld Cathedral. The event will take place at the Birnam House Hotel in Birnam, at 8pm. Clan Currie will also be hosting clan tents at two gatherings in Scotland this summer. If your travels bring you to Scotland on holiday, plan on paying a visit at the Bathgate Highland Games on May 29 or the Bute Highland Games on August 21. For further information about these and other upcoming events, visit the Clan Currie website at www.clancurrie.com.
Hole in One for 93-Year-Old
Bob Fishwick of Granton, in the Scottish Highlands, has just entered the UK record books by becoming the oldest golfer to score a hole-on-one. Of course, the 93-year-old is getting used to such achievements, as this was the third time he had scored an ace at his local course of Craggan. He scored the first one at age 89, but this latest one beats the previous record made in 1984 by a 92-year-old in East Sussex. Bob's next target is to beat the world record for the oldest golfer to achieve a hole-in-one. But he has a few more years to hone his skills, as the title is held by a 101-year-old from Florida who aced the 108-yard 16th at Deerfield Country Club in May 2001.
Weather in Scotland This Week
The thermometer "soared" to 19C (66F) in Glasgow last Saturday but for most of the week temperatures across Scotland hovered around 12/13C (54/55F) which is average for Scotland in May. But Glasgow reached 15C (59F) on Friday with favoured spots in the west reaching even higher when the sun shone. But the west of Scotland was also hit by thunderstorms on Friday and a lightning strike set fire to a house in Milton of Campsie in East Dunbartonshire.
This week's illustrations from Scotland showing the current weather are first of all a deep pink cherry tree in Macrosty Park in Crieff, Perthshire - the blue sky is just visible behind the blossom. Below is an unusually coloured rhododendron growing as a specimen at a garden centre in Crieff. Finally, there is an illustration of the hills behind Crieff in Perthshire which had a light covering of snow on the top when that picture was taken on Wednesday, 5 May.