Demolition for Tallest Tower Blocks in Scotland
Built in the mid 1960s as the tallest residential tower blocks in Scotland, the Red Road flats have dominated parts of the skyline of Glasgow ever since. But their days are now numbered as the eight towers housing 5,000 people will all be pulled down as part of a £60 million regeneration project for the Barmulloch area of the city. For many families with children, the Red Road apartments have been a disaster, not just because of their height (some of them rise to 31 storeys), but due to the inadequate heating which has not been upgraded over the years. Many Glaswegians refuse to move to the Red Road tower blocks and some of the apartments have been given over to temporary housing for asylum seekers. Even so, there are some who have lived there for over 30 years and are quite happy to stay there. A "Campaign to Save the Flats" has been started. But it will take ten years before all the tower blocks are demolished and low-rise apartments take their place. Currently, Glasgow has 250 high-rise buildings - almost half of all the UK tower blocks with more than 20 floors.
800% Rise in Numbers Waiting Over a Year for Hospital Appointments
In a recent debate on the National Health Service (NHS) in Scotland, First Minister Jack McConnell and the opposition parties traded figures to prove either that the NHS was getting better or worse. With billions more taxpayers money being poured into the health service - and with a UK-wide election on the near horizon - convincing voters about the answer is assuming greater significance. It now appears that the statistics being thrown around at the Scottish Parliament related to in-patient appointments and procedures. This week, Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish National Party deputy leader, had Jack McConnell floundering when she produced statistics on the numbers of out-patient referrals to hospitals by doctors. The First Minister did not have the official data produced by Ms Sturgeon - which showed that the number of people waiting for more than a year to see a consultant as an out-patient had soared from 885 six years ago to 7,679 at the end of last year. After initially trying to defend the Scottish Executive record, he was eventually forced to concede that delays for thousands of out-patients had been "very poor indeed" - and required attention. The First Minister argued that one of the reasons for waiting times for out-patients in England and Wales going down more than in Scotland was the Scottish Executive decision to concentrate on in-patients in Scotland. However, he claimed that as a result of recent action, there had been a recent reduction in the number of out-patients waiting up to 26 weeks - which had been highlighted recently. But numbers waiting longer than that had been increasing at the same time.
According to statistics published a few days before "No Smoking Day" (9 March) by Cancer Research UK, 682,000 people died earlier than they should have over the last 50 years as a result of tobacco smoking. Between 1950 and 2000, 44% of deaths in middle age (35-69) in Scottish men were caused by smoking, peaking in the 1960s when tobacco caused half of all deaths in middle-aged men. In the 1960s, Scottish men had the highest tobacco-related death rates of anywhere in the world. Although the number of people who smoke is now decreasing in Scotland, as well as south of the border, smoking still caused 42% of deaths among Scottish men from cancer in the year 2000, compared with 35% in England and Wales. On average, those who continue to smoke lose 10 years of life. On "No Smoking Day" itself, the Scottish Executive announced that it was making additional funding available to help thousands of Scots stub out smoking by 2008 with special "cessation clinics" set up in health centres, community facilities, bingo halls, and bars. In 2004 the Scottish government set a target of a 2% reduction in the number of smokers in Scotland by 2010. Around 65,000 of the 1.1 million people who currently smoke will have to quit by this time to achieve this - a yearly rate of 10,800.
1,000 Workers Losing Jobs in Armed Forces
Last year, major cuts in the numbers employed in the armed services were forecast as part of a restructuring aimed at increasing technology and reducing manpower. This week, details of the cuts at RAF bases were announced and it was revealed that around 1,000 workers will lose their jobs in Scotland. There will be cuts of 700 maintenance staff at the air base at Lossiemouth on the Moray Firth, 180 a few miles away at Kinloss and a further 160 at Leuchars in Fife. Of course, there are reductions in bases in England as well - under the Ministry of Defence's "Future Capabilities" white paper, the RAF's total strength is to be cut from 48,900 to 41,000 by 2008. But the impact on the economy of the north of Scotland will be considerable as alternative employment, particularly for highly skilled workers, will be very limited.
Scottish Stores Out-Perform UK
Department store John Lewis Partnership announced this week that its Scottish stores in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen had put in a better like-for-like sales performance last year than the national increase. The three outlets in Scotland, which employ 2,000 people, recorded a 3.9% jump in sales, compared to a 3% growth UK-wide. In Edinburgh, total sales were up 4.6% and in Glasgow they rose 6.4%.
Author Loses Plot
Ian Rankin, author of the Inspector Rebus crime novels, is Edinburgh's most celebrated crime writer and has sold more books in the genre than any of his contemporaries. But he admitted this week that he had never read any of his books once they have been written. However, he is now researching for a new book called "Rebus' Scotland" which will be partly his autobiography, partly a Rebus biography. So he is currently wading through all 15 of the novels - and sometimes can't remember how they finish. The new book will explain why he has written about certain places in the novels and will explain some of the in-jokes in the novels that very few people know about. Rankin has also revealed that he has signed up to produce two more Inspector Rebus books over the next three or four years. At this stage he doesn't know whether the famous detective will retire, buy a bar - or get killed off.
Budget Price Flights to Florida
As the exchange rate between the pound and the dollar edges ever closer to two dollars to the pound, low-cost airline and holiday group FlyGlobespan has announced that it will start a year-round service between Glasgow and Florida, starting in the summer of 2006. Flyglobespan has seen its passenger numbers soar since moving from Prestwick in Ayrshire to Glasgow in 2003. Flights now go to a range of destinations, including Palma, Barcelona, the Canaries and Prague. The airline will be operating ten aircraft out of Glasgow airport by this summer.
Supermarket and Starbucks for Bank HQ
The new £350 million Royal Bank of Scotland head office at Gogarburn on the western edge of Edinburgh will boast an in-house supermarket operated by Tesco and a Starbucks coffee shop. There will also be a chemist, dry-cleaners and florist and a 480-seat staff restaurant. With 3,250 staff working there and no nearby shops, there will be plenty of customers. The building will also house a swimming pool and gym, dance and aerobics studios and a crêche for pre-school children. And yes, there will be offices in which people will do some work...
No Buses for Half-an-Hour - Then Three Turn Up
It's an age-old problem. People waiting ages at a bus stop waiting for their transport to turn up - and then three turn up at once. Now the bus operator First and Glasgow City Council are investing £30 million in a high-tech solution based on satellite navigation. Buses will be tracked and monitored and buses running late will be given priority at traffic lights and a Real Time Passenger Information System will display predicted arrival times at bus shelters for waiting passengers. The network will cover 484 buses and will be one of the largest in the UK.
Foreign Drivers Evade Speeding Fines
Although the A1 road between the English border and Edinburgh may not be typical, 30% of the motorists caught exceeding the speed limit by fixed radar cameras on that road are foreign nationals, many from Europe. However, despite all the rules and regulations imposed by the European Union, the majority of those caught get away with the offence as the police are unable to trace them. The figures were compiled during December 2004 and January this year, which are hardly the peak months for foreign tourists in Scotland. The problem is not unique to the UK and European Union states are are looking at the possibility of sharing information between car registration authorities.
10th Glasgow Art Fair
The first event to be staged in Glasgow's newly refurbished George Square will be the 10th Glasgow Art Fair, set up in a revamped tented pavilion. Over the five days from April 28 there will be 53 galleries exhibiting work by 1,500 artists. Last year, 18,000 visitors bought art worth more than a million pounds. The red surface of George Square is currently being removed - and replaced with a darker shade of red tarmac. The 12 historic statues in the square are being cleaned and new street lamps installed. The work is planned to be completed by the end of March.
Housing Problems in Balamory
The children's TV series "Balamory" has resulted in publicity for the island of Mull and the town of Tobermory, on which the fictional town is based. However, the idyllic location and the increasing popularity of the area has been driving up property prices, putting even basic housing out of the reach of many local residents. A pharmacist, who has taken over the chemist's shop on the brightly-coloured seafront in Tobermory, is still looking for an affordable house, six months after settling there. House prices on Mull rose by over 50% between 2003 and 2004 according to one survey. A wooden chalet was advertised recently at offers over £200,000 - a price which could buy you a decent three-bedroom house in affluent parts of Glasgow. Mull is not the only area in Scotland with such problems - many other rural areas have a critical shortage of affordable housing. The Scottish Executive has introduced a subsidy scheme for first-time buyers which will mean a reduction in the deposit they have to find - with the local housing associations providing the balance for a share in the equity.
Shortage of Harris Tweed Weavers
There have been times when sales of Harris Tweed have slumped, creating major problems for the industry. The cloth is made exclusively in the Western Isles of Scotland, often as a "home industry" and it is currently going through a boom period, thanks to the fabric being back in fashion. But that has created another difficulty - a shortage of weavers is hampering expansion. Many experienced weavers have retired or left the islands and the uncertainty of demand in the past has discouraged younger people from learning the skills. Now a recruitment drive has been launched with offers of looms for rent and a crash course in weaving.
G8 Tartan Unveiled
A Scottish-based cashmere company initiated a design competition for an official tartan for the G8 Summit which is being held at Gleneagles on 6/8 July. The results were unveiled this week and it shows a design which incorporates green and purple from the G8 Summit logo and red, which is the one colour present in all the G8 nation flags. Each G8 nation is represented by a single white line on the blue background, forming the white cross of St Andrew. The new tartan was created by a local Crieff resident Brian Wilton and has been registered with the Scottish Tartans Authority.
Tartan Day 2005 Events
Each year, the Rampant Scotland site lists the Tartan Day events which are being held around the world. Most of these relate to celebrations around 6 April in the USA, following the designation of that day by the US Senate to coincide with the date in 1320 when the Declaration of Arbroath was signed. If you know of any Tartan Day celebrations in your part of the world (either in April or at any other time) and have not already contacted me, please send an e-mail to Scottie with the details. See also Tartan Day Events Web page.
US National Holiday in Honour of Scotland?
The US House of Representatives has approved unanimously a resolution calling on President George W Bush to declare a national holiday in honour of Scotland. 6 April was designated Tartan Day by the US Senate in 1998 "in recognition of the monumental achievements and invaluable contributions made by Scottish Americans." This latest resolution also acknowledges the great Scottish Americans and the similarities between the US Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of Arbroath. Such connections are hardly surprising, given the number of Scots involved in drafting the US document.
Car Sales Fall by 16%
New car sales in Scotland fell by 16.1% last month, according to figures published by the Scottish Motor Trade Association. Only 5,424 new cars were purchased in February this year - down from 6,467 in the same month a year ago. Sales in the Highlands were worst hit, with a decline of 28.7%. Last year was a bumper one for car dealerships with total sales of 215,171 cars.
Busiest Tourist Information Centre
With so many tourists coming to Edinburgh, it is hardly surprising that the information centre in the capital has always responded to more visitors than anywhere else in the country. But last year Oban tourist information centre lifted the title of the busiest location, with 600,000 visitors - 200,000 more than Edinburgh. Oban is part of the current Argyll, The Isles, Loch Lomond, Stirling and the Trossachs Tourist Board (which easily takes the title of the longest name of all the area tourist boards). Oban is renowned as the Gateway to the Isles and a surge in short break and island holidays has contributed to it lifting the tourism crown. It also helps that the information centre is well sign-posted and is in a central location. The success of the Oban centre will no doubt be noted when all the area tourist boards and local information centres are taken over by VisitScotland next month.
Fewer Burglaries in Edinburgh
Hopefully the statistics which show that Edinburgh residents are 56% less likely than the average UK home-owner to be burgled will be reflected in their insurance premiums. The figures on the most and least likely places to be visited by a burglar were published this week by a UK-wide insurer. Edinburgh came out best of all the cities, followed by Cardiff in Wales and Swindon in England. Surprisingly, Glasgow came out 4th best, with 46% fewer claims than the average - overturning some preconceived views. The Yorkshire town of Leeds proved to be the city with the highest number of break-ins, 99% higher than the national average.
A Bolly Good Idea
A new bar, on the ground floor of the Balmoral Hotel, will be one of the first outside of London to be dedicated to the sale of champagne. The Bollinger Bar is tapping into the rise in popularity of the fizzy drink, with UK sales up 25% in the last two years and 100% up on six years ago. Around 34.5 million bottles of champagne were imported into the UK last year and around 10% of these will find their way to Scotland, some to be sold in supermarkets and others in restaurants and bars. Apparently, there was a surge in champagne drinking as people celebrated the Millennium and many acquired a taste for bubbly at that time.
It used to be that Bonnybridge near Falkirk was the "flying saucer capital of Scotland." But files released by the Ministry of Defence under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed that North Ayrshire is the new holiday resort favoured by aliens. Admittedly, there were only 12 such "sightings" but that was the highest for any part of the UK in 2004. In 1951 the Ministry of Defence apparently abandoned investigating whether or not such observations were alien spaceships or were due to other causes such as high-flying aircraft or weather balloons. But they still log the reports in case "the airspace of the UK might have been compromised by hostile or unauthorised air activity". All the North Ayrshire observations were of "bright spheres". North Ayrshire used to be better known for colourful red sunsets over the Firth of Clyde and Arran but a local bar owner, with his tongue firmly in his cheek, was convinced that some of his regulars were aliens (or down from Glasgow - it's hard to tell them apart) and he reckoned he would be out of business if it wasn't for their delight in the local beer. However, anyone spotting "little green men" in West Kilbride are advised that they are more likely to be the Celtic football squad training at nearby Seamill.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Just as the temperatures began to edge up a trifle to 9/10C (48/50F), after recent weeks of chilly weather, the thermometers plunged back down again by the end of the week with northerly winds bringing sleet and snow to the northern hills and the north-east. However, this week brought a number of bright sunny spells and once again rainfall was light with only a few showers. The forecasters say that temperatures will rise again next week, possibly reaching 13/14C (55/57F) by mid-week.
This week's illustrations of the current season in Scotland were largely photographed at the RSPB Reserve at Vane Farm near Kinross earlier this week. The illustration above shows the nearby Lomond Hills with a slight covering of snow and Loch Leven in the foreground. Below are first of all some striped crocus, which have come into flower in my own garden. Then there is a Robin, again at Vane Farm. Finally, a surprising resident at the RSPB Reserve is a Little Egret. More often found in the warmer climate of Africa and Asia or at best in southern England, this one has over-wintered at Loch Leven and is now displaying its spring/summer head plumage.