Edinburgh Votes on Road Tolls
Voting is taking place over a this week and next to see whether there is support for the introduction of a toll on vehicles coming into the city of Edinburgh. Opposition groups claimed that the vote was a shambles, with large areas of Edinburgh not included in the vote. None of those living outside of Edinburgh but who work and shop there are allowed to vote. People in the areas eligible to vote had to apply for a ballot paper and there were reports of many of these not arriving. The ballot paper itself was said to be confusing. Of course, Edinburgh City Council has spent a lot of money trying to convince people that the charge will reduce congestion and pollution and will provide lots of finance which will be poured into improving public transport. (The illustration shows a line of empty buses in Princes Street, the main shopping thourougfare). Neighbouring councils in Lothian and Fife have mounted a legal challenge to the charges. If approved, anyone driving into the centre of Edinburgh between 7am and 6.30pm will have to pay £2. There is also an outer corridor which will operate from 7am to 10am and the £2 charge will be levied there during those hours. The system will be automated, with technology reading car number plates as they pass by. Road signs will indicate to drivers that they have incurred the charge and need to pay up at machines or online. More than one third of the income will be penalty charges levied on motorists do not pay by midnight on the day of travel. So tourists driving into the city will easily fall foul of the penalty charge. If experience in London is replicated in Edinburgh, many motorists will pay the charge in advance - and then not pass over the boundaries. But there will be no refunds. While the initial charge is set at £2, that is likely to increase in the future - London's road toll charge is rising from £5 to £8 shortly. Meanwhile, over in Glasgow, they are hoping for a major boost to the number of shoppers and tourists, driven out of Edinburgh by the tolls.
Corner Shops Boost Healthy Foods
Despite the huge growth in supermarket shopping, there are still an estimated 5,000 local convenience stores selling food. Recognising that there is a growing demand for healthier items, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables, the Scottish Executive and a group of corner shops joined in a pilot project which introduced a variety of promotional initiatives encouraging customers to buy healthy food options. They had special price promotions on fruit and vegetables, free fruit with non-sugar drinks, displays of fruit at check-outs instead of confectionery and snacks and advertising flyers sent to local schools advising of a healthier lunch meal deal including a free piece of fruit. The result was a considerable increase in sales of healthy option meals, yoghurt, fruit and fruit juice. As well as doing the customers a lot of good with the better eating habits, the stores also found that they had increased sales and profits - so everyone was pleased. Consideration is now being given to extending the scheme.
Government Flagship Property Scheme Shunned
Last year, the Scottish Executive introduced a new scheme whereby sellers of domestic property commissioned and paid for a full-scale survey which was then made available to all buyers. This meant that prospective purchasers did not have to pay for a survey themselves. In a seller's market, this often meant purchasers wasting money on a number of surveys on homes they did not eventually buy because someone else had offered a higher price. However, despite the government spending over £300,000 introducing the scheme and having a target of 2,000 sales, only 73 seller's surveys have been commissioned in the first six months of the scheme in the pilot areas of Glasgow, Dundee, Inverness and Edinburgh. Only one homeowner in Edinburgh participated - and he thought it was a disaster. Such surveys list all the defects and this puts off purchasers at the outset; once they have decided to buy a house, the minor problems often highlighted by the surveyor are not sufficient to put off the purchaser. Since buyers now make offers "subject to survey" they are not totally committed and can pull out if the survey uncovers real problems.
Rise in Scotland's Birth Rate
The Registrar General's preliminary figures for the number of births in Scotland in 2004 show that there was a 2.9% increase over 2003. At 53,954, this was the highest number of births since 1999, when 55,147 babies were born. Of these 27,768 were male and 26,186 female babies. The Registrar General's Annual Review of Demographic Trends will not be published until July, but overall population trends still indicate that Scotland will face an ageing and declining population in the long term.
Honorary Degree for Federal Reserve Chairman
Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, was in Scotland last weekend to deliver the Adam Smith Memorial Lecture in Kirkcaldy, Fife. Adam Smith (illustrated here) was born in Kirkcaldy in 1723 and was an early advocate of free-market capitalism. His great work "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" was published in 1776. This advocated free trade as the way to increase wealth and as such, it was extremely influential. Greenspan was accompanied by Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The following day, Greenspan received an honorary degree at Edinburgh University. In his acceptance speech, he said that as an economic detective, he had long found inspiration in the wisdom of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. It was Doyle's forensic medicine teacher at Edinburgh University who was the inspiration for the stories about the great detective. Greenspan said that Conan Doyle's famous character spoke of "balancing probabilities" and the "scientific use of the imagination." and "he sounds like a stock portfolio manager of one of Edinburgh's premium investment houses."
Dell Boosts Call Centre Jobs
The world's largest personal computer maker, Dell, is to set up a new customer support call centre in Glasgow. The number employed will be at least 500 over the next two years. They will be housed in the refurbished City Park on Alexandra Parade. This used to be the home the Imperial Tobacco Company which, at its peak, employed 2,500 people processing the tobacco crop from North America. Now the building will be used once again for a product made in America. Glasgow won out over other cities because of the strength of its skills base to handle the high-tech work, providing high-level, round-the-clock-support for all UK customers, both business and private. First Minister Jack McConnell met Dell officials in the crucial final negotiations which clinched the deal. Scotland’s call centre industry remains buoyant, employing about 56,000 people - or 2.5% of the working population - despite ever-increasing competition from low-wage economies such as India. Between 2000 and 2003 the number of employees increased by more than 20%. During that period, 36 call centres closed, mainly because of falling profits, rationalisation or weak demand, but around 70 new centres opened.
New Banking Jobs in Edinburgh
Lloyds TSB Bank is to enlarge its Edinburgh stock-broking operations by moving the staff from one of its London offices to Orchard Brae House (seen here) in the Scottish capital. The bank's Scottish subsidiary, Lloyds TSB Scotland, has a network of 187 branches in the main towns and cities across the country. 2,000 call-centre staff are based in Glasgow, covering the UK and the banking group also owns Scottish Widows, which employs a workforce of 3,500 north of the Border.
Disagreement Over Night Flights at Aberdeen Airport
Proposals to have a maximum of four flights during the night from Aberdeen Airport, instead of the present shut-down at 11pm, have resulted in two departments in the City Council fighting on opposite corners. Environmental health officials, who want residents under the flight path to get a peaceful night's sleep, are opposed to the change; those responsible for economic development in the granite city are in support. Evidence suggests that 3,750 residents could be affected by the noise from aircraft at night and of these, 50 would be woken each night if planes were taking off. The city council has received 108 letters in favour of the relaxation in operating hours and 94 against.
Lower Fares Just the Ticket
Lower ticket prices and stiff competition among airlines have helped to drive up passenger numbers at Scotland's three largest airports in January. Aberdeen was the best Scottish performer, rising 8.3% to 186,400 due to new services. Flights in January last year had also been adversely affected by severe storms. Edinburgh recorded a 4.9% increase to 533,500 passengers, while Glasgow (illustrated above) saw a 6.8% rise to 504,100. International traffic in January 2005 at Glasgow was 13% higher than the same month in 2004. In 2004 as a whole, the three airports handled 19.3 million people - up 6.4%. Glasgow had 8.6 million passengers (up 6%), while there were 8.0 million at Edinburgh (up 7.2%) and 2.7 million at Aberdeen (up 5.7%).
First New College for Ten Years
The merger of two existing colleges in Glasgow this week aims to improve the educational and training opportunities available to current and future students - and there will also be longer-term financial savings. Glasgow Metropolitan College (GMC) is the first new college to be created in the city for ten years. It is being formed by the merger of the Glasgow College of Building and Printing and the Glasgow College of Food Technology. Students and staff will transfer to GMC during 2005, with full merger and academic integration expected to be complete by August. The Glasgow College of Building and Printing was established in 1972. It provides courses for the construction, design and communications industries. The Glasgow College of Food Technology was established in 1973 as a specialist college focusing on food, hospitality and tourism.
Extra Fishing Days for Scottish Boats
A blunder by Brussels bureaucrats has resulted in Scotland's fishing boats being allocated 18 days each month at sea fishing for cod, instead of the expected 15 days. Many skippers have spent thousands of pounds buying up extra days from other owners who don't want to use them. The officials in the European Commission have admitted that they have made a mistake - and now want to take back the extra days. Originally, only the Danish and Swedish fishermen were allocated these three extra days because their quota had been cut from 22 days to 12 days. The Scottish fishermen say that they have decommissioned boats and spent money buying square-meshed fishing nets as well as buying up quotas and are refusing to "give back" the extra days.
Ferry Service Sunk
SeaCat, the company which operates a high-speed catamaran ferry service between Troon in Ayrshire and Belfast in Northern Ireland, has announced that it will not resume the service this summer. In an effort to cut costs on the loss-making service, sailings from November to February had been withdrawn but now they will not resume. The company moved from Stranraer to Troon in 1999 which at the time seemed sensible as it was then nearer to the larger centres of population in Scotland. SeaCat blame the rise of low-cost airline services but P&O Ferries, which launched its Troon to Northern Ireland service (landing at Larne) in 2003, claims that it increased its traffic substantially last year.
Ownership of River Contested
West Dunbartonshire Council may have thrown a spanner into the plans by the local Scottish Enterprise Dunbartonshire (SED) to further develop its Loch Lomond Shores project. The council wants to establish ownership of the river Leven, which flows from Loch Lomond to the river Clyde, so that it can undertake flood prevention measures. The council claims that under a charter granted by King James VI to the Burgh of Dumbarton, it has full rights to the river. But the Keepers of the Registers for Scotland, a Scottish Executive agency has erroneously accepted registration of title for parts of the riverbank to commercial organisations, including the SED, boating clubs and even members of the public. The SED development would create a hotel and time-share units on a 17-acre site on the riverbank at Balloch.
A Damper on Fire Brigade Fireworks Call-outs
Last year there was a clamp-down on the sale of fireworks with a ban on purchases by those under 18 and on fireworks creating a bang louder than 120 decibels. There is also a "curfew" on letting off any fireworks between 11pm and 7am. The effect of the legislation was a 22% fall in incidents involving the police and fire brigade. Unlike previous years, there were no firework-related injuries over the Bonfire Night weekend last November.
Biggest Wind Farm in the World?
An Irish company is said to be drawing up plans for the world's largest wind farm in the North Sea, off the east coast of Scotland. It would create 5,000 massive turbines producing over 10,000 megawatts of electricity. Airtricity have calculated that the development cost of £1.2 billion would be paid back in six years. Such a scheme would certainly help the Scottish Executive meet its target of 18% of Scotland's power from renewable resources by 2010 and 40% by 2020. And it would not give rise to the same level of local objections which are generated by wind farms on the mainland.
"Divine Visitation on Sabbath Pleasure Seekers"
A Free Presbyterian minister, writing in the church's magazine, has caused outrage by claiming that the Asian tsunami was a "divine visitation" on "pleasure seekers" breaking the Sabbath. He compared the disaster, which resulted in the loss of at least 160,000 lives, to the biblical flood "on the world of the ungodly" at the time of Noah. He went on to say that the event "ought to make men tremble the world over." He noted that the wave arrived "on the Lord's Day". A spokesman from the Catholic church commented that the views of the Free Presbyterian Church were alien to their belief in a God of love, not an avenging deity. Others pointed out that the Sabbath was originally on a Saturday (as it still is in the Jewish faith).
Clearing Hogweed from River Tweed
Invasive hogweed had colonised 300 miles of the river Tweed after being allowed to spread almost unchecked for 40 years. Some areas of the Borders had entire sections of native riverbank vegetation killed off by the "invaders". Two years ago, the biggest environmental exercise of its kind in the UK was mounted across hundreds of square miles of the Tweed catchment area. £380,000 was spent on intensive spraying with herbicides and other control measures and now the flowering hogweed plants have all but disappeared. Efforts will have to continue to prevent hogweed from getting re-established - the seeds beneath the surface will continue to germinate and produce new plants. Large country estates, landowners, farmers, salmon fisheries and angling clubs have provided the manpower for the project which was co-ordinated by Tweed Forum with financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
"Don't Ban Smoking - People Would Live Too Long"
The Scottish Licensed Trade Association, the organisation which represents bars and hotels selling alcohol, is still fighting desperately to avoid legislation which will ban smoking in their premises. Their latest submission to the Members of the Scottish Parliament claims that ministers have failed to take into account the high cost of geriatric care and increased pensions which would result from people stopping smoking - and so living longer. The comments were described as "outrageous" by Scotland's Chief Medical Officer. He points out that the "bottom line isn't financial at all. It's human lives and the real benefit is priceless."
Plans by the Scottish Executive to remove the roses which bring a riot of colour and replace them with granite slabs on Anderson Drive in Aberdeen have been withdrawn after the city council expressed outrage. The ring road is a main trunk road so is the responsibility of central government. There had been complaints that the roses were not being properly looked after - putting the city's reputation at risk. Last year there was a public outcry when the central reservation was left in a jungle of weeds without the necessary maintenance taking place. Aberdeen has won the trophy in the Best City section in the Scotland in Bloom awards a record 36 times; the national UK Britain in Bloom title 10 times and has also been successful in international competitions. Now the Scottish Executive has proposed a £150,000 scheme over three years which will see major landscaping improvements and keep the central reservation's roses in tip-top condition, with an enhanced maintenance regime. Any roses that have perished on Anderson Drive, which is also the main route to airport, will be replaced.
The picture here is of a rose called "Aberdeen Celebration".
Pipe Bands "Too Staid"
Organisers of a traditional parade in Dunfermline have given pipe bands their marching orders and have dropped them in favour of samba dancers and Dixieland jazz bands. They say that the aim is too spice up the allegedly drab festival and that pipe bands move along too slowly. Pipe band members have reacted furiously and have accused Fife Council of throwing away centuries of tradition.
The British Trust for Ornithology has reported that the number of swifts in Scotland has declined by 65% over the last ten years. The bird usually nests in the eaves of dilapidated houses but modern buildings don't create the sort of spaces the bird requires to raise a family. Other species such as sparrows, starlings and house martins are also suffering because of changes in construction methods. And let's face it, most urban householders these days finding a bird nesting in a crack in the walls of their house would patch it up so that it's not available the following year. There has also been a decline in the number of flying insects on which the birds depend for food. In Glasgow, the city council has agreed to instal nesting boxes for swifts in Easterhouse to allow the birds to continue to nest in council-owned houses there.
Scotland's Earliest Spring Yet?
"Spring has sprung, the grass has ris,
I wonder where the winter is?"
The old couplet used to bemoan the fact that summer had not appeared but it is now being modified to mark the fact that with hardly any winter weather worth speaking about, signs of spring are well advanced - and it's not even the middle of February. There are reports of butterflies being seen in hedgerows near both Edinburgh and Glasgow, bees buzzing around and daffodils opening their trumpets (the picture of a daffodil was taken on 6th February), while some snowdrops are beginning to look past their best. Frogspawn was found in streams near Inverness on 16 January, the earliest date ever recorded there. A new report published last week says that Scotland is now experiencing the sort of climate that used to be the norm on the south-coast of England ten years ago. The seven-year study by the Woodland Trust claims that spring began four weeks earlier in 2004 than it did in 1920. It is not just nature that is being affected by the warmer climate - the number of skiers on Scotland's slopes have plummeted from 650,000 in 1980 to 200,000 last year, and this year is going to be even worse.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Despite all those reports of the early signs of spring, temperatures this week fell back slightly this week, ranging mainly around 7/8C (45/46F), edging down to 5C (41F) in Glasgow by Friday and forecasts suggesting even lower temperatures with snow and sleet on the hills. High winds on several days this week also made it feel a lot colder than the thermometer suggested. Sunshine was in short supply in most areas with Thursday being the only day with appreciable amounts and the east of the county came out best on that score. Despite the cloudy skies, only the west had a fair amount of rain - Glasgow recorded 1.25 inches over Tuesday to Friday. Although temperatures are predicted to fall a bit over the next few days, the forecasters suggest that there could be a bit more sunshine.
This week's illustrations of current flowers in Scotland were all taken earlier this month at Colzium Lennox Country Park. Normally snowdrops hang their heads but if they are lifted up, some of them - like this one - have lovely markings. Below are Iris Histroides Major, purple crocus and leucojum - a relative of the snowdrop.