Bank Sheds 1,700 Staff
The National Australian Banking Group has announced that as a result of a major restructuring in their Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank subsidiaries in the UK, staff in the two organisations are to be reduced by 1,700. The Glasgow based bank is expected to lose around 750 employees. Some unprofitable branches are to close (out of a current network of 217 offices) but most of the cut-back will be in administrative positions. The bank says it will strive to reduce staff numbers by voluntary redundancies. For historical reasons, the Clydesdale Bank has much of its presence in Glasgow and the west of Scotland and in the north-east (having merged with the North of Scotland Bank in 1950). Like all the other banking companies, Clydesdale has already had its share of "restructuring" and redundancies over the last 25 years.
European Union Fools With Scottish Placenames
The Scotsman newspaper reported this week that the European Commission were bringing forward legislation which would do away with placenames which offended or discriminated on grounds of race or gender. So Motherwell will be renamed Parentwell and Fort William will become Fort Nevis. The Black Isle and the Black Cuillins will have to go too. The EU have promised funds to help with the cost of the changeover - with the Scottish Chambers of Commerce arguing that the expense of changing road signs, maps and stationery would be far higher than envisaged. The Scottish Executive are said to be considering adopting Gaelic versions such as Dubh Isle in the hope that this would be acceptable. Our views of the European Commission are so jaded that it took some time before many readers realised that the article was being published on April 1. But by the time the article dealt with the Isle of Man threatening to leave the European Union most people may have twigged. Another newspaper ran a story about Arthur's seat in Edinburgh having Mount Rushmore-style faces carved onto its face - with the late First Minister Donald Dewar, actor Sir Sean Connery and football legend Jock Stein at the top of the list.
Billion Pound Nest Egg
The Accounts Commission, a watchdog set up to check on the financial management of local government, has identified that they have built up reserves in recent years which amount to nearly a billion pounds. This at a time when the councils have been increasing local taxation at twice the rate of inflation and responsibility for housing in some of the larger councils has been transferred to Housing Associations. The accounts commission also identifies growing concerns over areas such as financial planning, insufficient evidence of control and accountability of some councils' funding of external organisations and failure to monitor reserves.
Parliament Busy - With Visitors
The new Scottish Parliament building is proving to be a hit with tourists and it has now become one of Scotland's most popular attractions. Six months after opening and during the quietest time of the year for tourism, the building has had 250,000 visitors. Even if only the same numbers arrive in the next six months, it will become the fourth most popular free attraction in the country.
Irn-Bru Fizz Moves Out of Glasgow
Scottish soft drinks manufacturer AG Barr has announced that it is relocating its Glasgow head office to an existing factory at Cumbernauld. It will mark the end of an association with Glasgow lasting nearly 120 years. The company's leading product is Irn-Bru, an orange-coloured, sweet, fizzy drink which at one time had a reputation as a hang-over cure - an attribute which was well appreciated in the west of Scotland. The company hopes that many staff will move to jobs in the expanded plant at Cumbernauld, though with a large number of married women on the payroll, travelling another 15 miles to work may not be an option for many. The factory in Glasgow is "landlocked" and cannot expand, while the Cumbernauld location has half of its 22 acre site under used. The move will take place over the next eighteen months.
Don't Park in George Street!
George Street in Edinburgh has earned the dubious honour of being the worst in Scotland for parking tickets. Motorists parking at a meter beyond the time they have paid for, or who just stop at the kerbside to buy a paper, have coughed up £575,000 from almost 20,000 tickets issued. The up-market shopping street has more than three times the number of tickets than Glasgow's worst location for fines - Bath Street in the centre of the city. In Edinburgh last year over 250,000 fixed penalty notices were applied to vehicles, slightly more than the 231,000 in Glasgow (which is a larger city).
Clyde Tunnel Refurbishment Begins - at Last
The tunnel under the river Clyde carries around 25 million vehicles a year and many drivers who use it do so reluctantly. Not just because of the traffic jams at peak times causing vehicles on the two lanes in each direction to slow to a crawl as more cars join the flow from filter lanes. It's the fact that drops of water fall disconcertingly on our windscreens from the river Clyde above as we drive through. We have to assume (pray?) that the engineers think that it's quite safe and that the steady drip will not turn to a flood. But as the inner skin of the tunnel was removed many years ago - and never replaced - the rusting ribs of the structure are in full view. Now, at last, Glasgow City Council is embarking on a £9 million refurbishment. It will involve the tunnel being reduced at night to one lane each way for the next twelve months. The old cast iron supports will be replaced with a new stainless steel ones with a mesh onto which is sprayed fire-resistant concrete. A new interior drip shield will then will prevent water falling onto the passing vehicles - apparently water seeping in is normal. The City Council had considered painting the tunnel walls pink - that was thought to be clean and bright and easy to clean. But instead it will be the same colour as before - light green.
US Charity Donates to Kelvingrove Gallery
The JPMorgan Foundation has contributed $100,000 to the refurbishment of the Art Gallery and Museum at Kelvingrove which is currently under way. The global financial services company has an office in Glasgow and the donation will go towards a new study centre at the gallery which will allow school groups and members of the public to learn about the collections at Kelvingrove.
Fashion Shoes Instead of Wellies
Particularly if it rains a lot, the Royal Highland Show (RHS) at Ingleston near Edinburgh is better known for green wellington boots than high fashion. But in an attempt to widen still further the appeal of the biggest event in the Scottish farming calendar, the organisers are adding a ladies' day with a fashion show - and dance performances from a Masai warrior troupe. Describing it as "The Royal Highland Show - For All Walks of Life", Gucci shoes may get mud on them if the show organisers are successful. It is denied that they are "dumbing down" the RHS, merely "dipping their toes in new water." 150,000 visitors attend the RHS every June, so it has certainly been attracting "townies" and city dwellers as well as those with an agricultural background. The show hosts the largest craft fair in Scotland - and the annual Flower Show is always a winner.
Far Away Places Are Mini-break Favourites
There was a time - not too long ago - when Scots packed their bucket and spade (and waterproof coats) and went off for short breaks to the Clyde coastal resorts such as Dunoon or Largs or the east coast beaches at North Berwick or Carnoustie. Not any more. New research reported by an online travel agency suggests that the top mini-break destination is now New York with Bangkok and Dubai high on the list. Paris, which was popular for a time, has dropped down the league table to 8th place as travellers have hopped over to Europe so often now it is becoming less of a draw. Current exchange rates also make trips to the US great value for money while Europe is less attractive from that point of view. Over Christmas, short breaks to Dubai and Egypt's Red Sea resort at Sharm-el-Sheikh were sold out.
Fines for Feeding Gulls?
Gulls are described as the "rats in the sky" in a report from the British Trust for Ornithology and Stirling University which has been submitted to the Scottish Executive. The problem of urban gulls has become severe in some areas and being dive-bombed by a bird with a five foot wingspan travelling at 40mph can be terrifying. One option being proposed for reducing the problem is to introduce anti-social behaviour orders to stop people from feeding gulls and if they persist, imposing a fine or even a jail sentence. It is argued that it is humans who have caused an explosion in the gull population.
£63 Million Makeover for North Lanark Sport and Leisure
Heritage parks, sports facilities including the "Time Capsule" at Coatbridge and community education centres in North Lanarkshire are to get a £63 million facelift. Street lighting in town centres will also be improved while areas of derelict land will be cleaned up. The Summerlee Heritage Park (see illustration) with its working tramcars and miners' cottages will benefit as well as run-down Craigneuk Park, opposite Airdrie United's stadium, which will get new football pitches - five years behind schedule.
Last Straw for Reed Production
After centuries of growing and harvesting reeds for thatched roofs, the largest reed bed in the UK, on the north bank of the river Tay between Perth and Dundee, is to cease production. Prices are being undercut by Baltic and Eastern European competitors who have cheaper labour and fuel costs which allow them to sell their product at half the price of the Scottish growers. The loss of the reed beds will also have an impact on the wetland habitats for rare and protected species of birds. The area has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds which leases about 100 acres of reed bed, is currently trying to hatch a plan to conserve the region. Tayreed, the company closing down, supplied 15% of the UK market and also exported reeds to the US. During the reed harvest, they cut and cleaned 130,000 bunches of reeds. The reeds were first laid in the 18th century to prevent the river from eroding its banks.
Tartan Day Events
Thanks to the feedback from many readers of this Newsletter, the list of Tartan Day events around the world has been updated at Tartan Day Events page. While many relate to Tartan Week in the US, there are also events (sometimes at other times of the year) in other locations around the globe. The Scottish media this week highlighted the departure of William Wallace's sword from Scotland for the first time ever as it flies out to join the celebrations in New York.
Organic Cod Nets Sales in US
A cod farming company in Shetland has netted orders from the US after attending the Boston International Seafood Fair. Johnson Seafarms claims to be the only firm in the world to produce organically reared cod. It also farms mussels and sea trout at Vidlin Voe on Shetland. The company already supplies the up-market Loch Fyne restaurant chain which has outlets across the UK.
Ten Medals at San Francisco World Spirits Competition
Scotch whisky distiller Edrington Group won ten medals, three of them "double gold" at the 2005 San Francisco World Spirits Competition last weekend. Top awards went to The Macallan Fine Oak 21-year-old, Highland Park 12-year-old and The famous Grouse Malt 18-year-old. The competition is judged by influential spirits industry professionals in the US who tasted almost 600 spirits from 43 countries. Among other malts that earned the top award of double gold were Cragganmore 12 year-old Single Malt, Johnnie Walker Black Label and Ardbeg Single Malt from Islay.
3,000 Clubs But Golfer Not Up To Par
A retired merchant banker who lived in Dunblane in Perthshire amassed a collection of expensive golf clubs over the last 15 years in an attempt to improve his game. When they didn't do the trick, he went off and bought another set of Titleist irons or Ping woods, along with Big Bertha drivers and Ben Sayers putters. The clubs he spurned were then stored in a stack of TaylorMade golf bags and stored in two large sheds. His collection of 3,000 clubs came to light earlier this year when he passed away at the age of 69. It took auctioneers two days to catalogue the hoard. He bought many of his clubs from the golf professional at Dunblane Golf Course who commented that after buying all the top-of-the-range equipment, it unfortunately didn't improve his game much.
Campbeltown to Northern Ireland Ferry?
A summer only ferry service operated between Campbeltown and Ballycastle in Northern Ireland for three years from 1997-99. However, the service was terminated just before the 2000 season on the grounds that it was making unsustainable losses. It was concluded that the service would only restart if a subsidy was paid to support operating costs. The Scottish Executive tried to obtain tenders for a service in 2002, but there were no suitable bidders. So now the Scottish Transport Minister and his opposite number in Northern Ireland have announced a fresh tendering initiative which offers a maximum £1m annual subsidy over a 5 year contract period. It is argued that there is strong local support for this service, especially from businesses in Kintyre, to ensure the future economic growth of the local community. A new ferry service would also create new opportunities in trade and tourism between Kintyre and Antrim.
Pedal Pumpers Test Chain Reaction
A three-wheeled pedal-powered rickshaw took to the streets of Aberdeen last weekend as the man behind a scheme to introduce these "eco-friendly" taxis went for a trial run to the seafront. Mr Apedaile (how appropriate a name can you get for a pedal-powered entrepreneur?) from Stonehaven has yet to convince Aberdeen City Council that he should be granted approval for such a service. Some officials have voiced safety concerns while others have praised the environmental and tourist benefits. There are also concerns about the impact of North Sea winds whipping in and knocking the rickshaw over. Last weekend, it was an east coast haar or sea fog he had to contend with.
Glenturret Prowling for Another Mouser
The Glenturret Distillery near Crieff is looking for a replacement cat to follow in the paw prints of Towser, their record-breaking mouser. During his admittedly long career of 24 years at the distillery, Towser presented the staff with 28,899 mice - an average of three a day. There are suggestions that a nip of Famous Grouse whisky in his milk may have contributed to his prowess, but the staff don't want to talk about that! His efforts got him an entry in the Guinness Book of Records and a bronze statue at his favourite spot in front of the main building. Towser went to the great cat litter in the sky in 1988 and a new cat, named Amber, took his place. However, Amber was not made of the same qualities as Towser (or wasn't being fed in the same manner) and during her 16 year career at Glenturret she never produced a single mouse. Now the staff have drawn up a "job description" for a new cat - and as distilleries with their large usage of grain are attractive to mice - catching rodents is at the top of the list.
Weather in Scotland This Week
The Scots surely invented the word "dreich" to describe dull, grey, leaden skies, with the threat of rain because they saw such weather so often and needed a word to sum it up. I record the weather statistics reported in the newspapers each day as an aid to writing this weather paragraph in the Snippets and in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow from Sunday to Friday there was just one hour of sunshine (in Edinburgh on Thursday). Most other places around the country have been the same, though far to the west the islands of Tiree and the Western Isles did record a number of hours of sun and just to confound the statistics, Aviemore experienced 8.8 hours of sun on Thursday. Newspapers are already commenting on the impact of all these grey skies on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) afflicting many of us. For much of the week temperatures were not much to write home about either, mainly around 6/8C (43/46F), with cold winds making it feel even colder. By Friday, however, the thermometer had edged up to 10/12C (50/54F) and on Saturday the sun made an appearance for a few hours.
This week's illustrations of the current season in Scotland shows first of all magnolia blossoms at Glenarn, Rhu, Argyll. Below is a rhododendron in full bloom at Hermitage Park, Helensburgh, followed by a Camellia after shower of rain at Glenarn. Finally, this may not be my best photograph of a Peacock butterfly - but it is the earliest time of year I've had the opportunity to take such a picture. It was taken in my own garden on Saturday morning while feeding on some cherry blossom. And yes, the sun was actually shining!