Clydesdale Bank Closing 60 Branches
National Australia Bank, the parent company of Clydesdale Bank in Scotland and Yorkshire Bank in England, has announced that it is to close over 20% of its branch network as a cost-cutting measure. The Glasgow-based Clydesdale Bank has 217 branches, mainly in Scotland but 60 are to be closed over the next 12 to 18 months. The resulting slimmed-down network will make Clydesdale the smallest of the big four banks in Scotland - a position currently occupied by Lloyds TSB Scotland. Clydesdale is the last bank in many rural and suburban communities in Scotland and concerns are always voiced when banking facilities depart from such locations. David Thorburn, the bank's chief executive acknowledges that the bank has a social responsibility - but claims that the customers have voted with their feet. They no longer use the outlets and they make a loss as a result. Clydesdale has reached an agreement with the Post Office which means that their customers can use over 1,000 post offices across Scotland. While this may ease the problems in some areas, there has been a slimming down of these outlets also over the last few years.
The illustration shows one of the Clydesdale Bank branches in an area where Gaelic is still spoken.
Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Stands Down
Jim Wallace, who has been leader of the Liberal Democrat Party in Scotland for 13 years stunned political commentators this week by announcing that he is standing down as leader and will retire as Member of the Scottish Parliament for Orkney at the Scottish Parliament elections in 2007. Wallace has been Deputy First Minister in the coalition government with Labour since 1999 - during which time there have been four leaders of the Labour Party. The Lib Dems became the second largest Scottish party in the UK parliament in the recent election, with 22.6% of the vote, their best performance since the early 20th century.
Ringing Endorsement for Scottish Call Centres
With increased competition from low-cost call centres in India and other overseas locations, there have been concerns that customer service centres, which have provided so much employment in the west of Scotland in recent years, might be go into decline. But this week O2, a major UK mobile phone company, announced that it was to set up a new facility at Sky Park in Finnieston, beside the river Clyde in Glasgow. The company says that there will be 600 jobs created by next year with up to 1,500 on site by September 2007. A number of other UK and Irish sites were considered, but the pool of experienced staff in the area - and £7 million in Regional Selective Assistance from the Scottish Executive - swung the decision in favour of the Glasgow location. The decision by O2 to come to Glasgow comes in the same week that Lloyds TSB announced that it was moving some 50 back-room processing jobs from the bank's atlantic Quay operation in Glasgow to Bangalore - prompting fears that the jobs of another 1,000 workers here could be at risk. Lloyds TSB's offshore move comes in the wake of announcement by the Royal Bank of Scotland that they were not going to move any jobs abroad.
Scottish Raj Alive and Well After Election
In the weeks before the General Election, TV front-man Jeremy Paxman (pictured here) commented "down here we live under a sort of Scottish Raj..." The British Raj (from the Hindi term ‘Raj’ meaning rule) was the nickname given to the colonial administration which ran India for over 100 years - and the number of political leaders who hailed from Scotland had led Paxman (who is known for his outspoken comments about England and Scotland) to make the outburst. Paxman may be distressed to see that, after the election, the Scottish Raj is alive and well. Prime Minister Tony Blair (from Edinburgh) may be going to hand over to Gordon Brown (from Fife) his present Chancellor of the Exchequer at some point over the next few years, but no doubt government ministers with Scottish accents will continue in some role. They include the new Defence Secretary John Reid, Secretary of Transport Alistair Darling, and Secretary of Constitutional Affairs Lord Falconer . The Chief Treasury Secretary Des Browne and the Douglas Alexander, the Minister Responsible for Europe are other ministers with Scottish roots while the current Labour party chairman is Ian McCartney. And if the Conservative party should upset the current political balance, Paxman may also have Malcolm Rifkind (from Edinburgh) to contend with as its leader- possibly even in a coalition with Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy (MP for Ross, Skye & Lochaber).
Improving Complaints Procedures Against Lawyers
For many years the Law Society of Scotland has resisted the concept of an independent body to investigate and adjudicate on complaints against the legal profession. The 10,000 practising lawyers in Scotland police themselves - amid an increasing lack of public confidence in the system. This week, the Scottish Executive Justice Minister announced a consultation paper which suggests increasing the investigatory and enforcement powers of the Scottish Legal Services Ombudsman (SLSO). Currently that organisation can only get involved after the Law Society has completed its often lengthy and time consuming deliberations. Even if the Ombudsman then finds in favour of the client, the legal profession frequently ignores its recommendations on compensation. Under the Scottish Executive's proposed system, the office of the SLSO would become a 'single gateway' to receive and sift all complaints where local resolution has not been possible. The SLSO would itself investigate most complaints. The aim is to build greater public confidence in how complaints about legal services are handled. Officially, the Law Society for Scotland says the consultation paper is an "opportunity to show how much progress has been made by the society in complaints handling".
Cover for Windy Waverley Steps
The design of the steps which lead directly from Waverley Station in Edinburgh to Princes Street have always meant that passengers were subjected to strong winds. The long stretch of steps were a formidable hike for passengers, especially if they were laden with luggage, but it was that notorious wind which gave the entrance its reputation. Soon, however, there will be a canopy to cover over the steps and instead of the stiff climb, passengers will have the option of an escalator rising 40 feet to the street, as shown in the artist's impression. There will also be glass lifts while part of the existing width will be retained as steps but with sandstone to echo the adjacent Balmoral Hotel. Instead of being a dark canyon, it will have lighting effects which will glow at night. 40,000 people use the steps each day - 40% of the passengers using the station, Edinburgh's main rail terminus. The improvements to the Waverley Steps are part of a £150 million upgrade to the station which will increase the number of trains it can handle and accommodate new, longer rolling-stock.
Profits Express for Rail and Bus Company
Aberdeen transport company FirstGroup, which is the UK's largest bus operator and took over the Scotrail franchise last October, has announced bumper profits of £128.9 million for the year to 31 March 2005. Rail profits rose by 36% to £67.7 million, despite a fall of £12 million in subsidies from the taxpayer. The company says it is on the short-list for another four rail franchises - including Great Western where it is currently the operator. While the rail operations contributed to profit growth, the bus divisions in the UK and North America produced a lower contribution.
Railway Station Opens Again After 43 Years
Gartcosh station in North Lanark, ten miles from Glasgow, opened again this week, bringing train services back to the area after a lapse of 43 years. New stations are also planned at Larkhall, Merryton, Chatelherâult and Kelvinbridge by the end of the year as part of a £35 million improvement project by Strathclyde Passenger Transport on the Larkhall to Milngavie line.
Subway Workers Reject 10% Pay Deal
Hopes of an end to the dispute involving staff working on Glasgow's underground rail system, which has involved industrial action over the last four months, were dashed this week when the latest pay offer of 10% over two years (twice the current rate of inflation) was rejected by staff. Strathclyde Passenger Transport insist it was their "final offer" but the trade union and employers say they will continue to negotiate.
Night Flights at Aberdeen Take Off
This weekend will see the first arrival at Aberdeen airport under the new rules allowing aircraft departures after 11pm and 11.30pm for arrivals. The first flight will be a holiday flight coming from Alicante in Spain and the flight is now scheduled to arrive at 12.40am every Sunday until the end of the holiday season in October. Aberdeen airport is getting enquiries from other airline operators about night-time flights.
Airports Authority Boosts Prospect of Second Runway at Glasgow
According to media reports, a British Airports Authority (BAA) plan which is to be published shortly, will suggest that the improved access arising from the extension of the M74 motorway on the south side of Glasgow (if it ever overcomes all the protests and objections raised by environmentalists) will boost the case for a second runway at the airport. Last year, the UK Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, announced that Edinburgh should have a second runway first. But BAA, which owns both airports, says that many changes are happening in the transport world and it may be that when the time comes for a decision to proceed arrives, Glasgow will need the extra runway before Edinburgh. Both airports could be handling 50 million passengers a year by 2030 compared to today's combined total of 16.6 million.
Hong Kong Tycoon Invests in Pringle Expansion
Kenneth Fang, the Hong King-based tycoon, is to pump another £7 million into expansion plans for the luxury clothing brand of Pringle of Scotland, based in Hawick in the Scottish Borders. Fang acquired the company five years ago and has seen the struggling company revitalised under its chief executive Kim Winslett. The latest cash will see his investment rise to an estimated £21.5 million. The company will be celebrating its 190th anniversary later this year and is planning "something unique" to capitalise on it being the longest-established brand at fashion shows in Milan and Paris.
Scotland is Blank on UK Tourist Map
The British Resorts Association (BRA) distributes 10,000 copies of its travel brochure to tour operators, politicians and the media and makes the content available on its web site. But their map and list of resorts (mainly around the coast) shows a blank as far as Scotland is concerned. There was initial outrage at the omission - until the BRA pointed out that it was a membership organisation to which local authorities paid a fee to be included in its guides. It used to have Scottish members but the old Scottish Office banned councils from spending money directly on promoting tourism in the 1990s. Since then, the BRA has tried to recruit tourist boards and local authorities in Scotland, but without success. So the BRA claim that far from ignoring Scotland, it is Scotland ignoring the opportunities on offer.
Scottish Chef of the Year
Tony Borthwick of the Plumed Horse at Crossmichael in Dumfries and Galloway was named Scottish Chef of the Year last weekend - the culinary equivalent of the Oscars. He beat such well known names as Martin Wishart in Edinburgh, Tony Singh at the Oloroso (also in Edinburgh) and James Murphy at the Glasgow Hilton. 46-year-old Borthwick only began cooking seriously 15 years ago - before that, he worked for the Yorkshire Water Authority. He claims that his success is based on simplicity. Three previous winners were the chefs at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, Ballachullish House in Argyll and Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire. The food critic of the Scotsman described eating at the Plumed Horse as "like having your mouth relined in silk and your taste buds dipped in sin." The winner is chosen by a secret panel of judges comprising chefs and food writers.
Red Deer a "Serious Threat to Wildlife"
For generations brought up on the image of deer portrayed in Walt Disney's "Bambi", it comes as a surprise that the latest edition of the BBC Wildlife magazine states that red deer are a serious threat to wildlife in Scotland. The problem, however, is one of numbers. With milder winters allowing more to survive and with a lack of natural predators, the red deer population has soared to around 400,000. While increasing sightings of deer on the hills and in the forests of Scotland can be a delight to onlookers, their grazing is removing plants that other wildlife need to survive. The managers of the estates where many deer are reared for shooting parties resist any proposals to reduce the numbers, but the conservation agency Scottish Natural Heritage has been forced to withdraw from projects to improve nature reserves in Wester Ross and Angus because they say that damage caused by deer is out of control.
Scottish Flowers Withering Away
A study by botanists across the country has shown that out of 1,756 native species of plants, 345 are regarded as "threatened" and in decline. Among them are the corn buttercup which came here with the Romans. The purple milk-vetch, a small perennial herb which grows in sandstone sea cliffs in Scotland, is one of a number regarded as "endangered". The decline is the result of a number of factors including loss of habitats, herbicides and climate change.
Malt Whisky to Beat Cancer?
It sounds like a malt whisky connoisseur's dream - research that suggests that as a single malt whisky contains more ellagic acid than red wine, it is an effective "free radical scavenger" that "absorbs" or "eats up" rogue cells that occur in the body during eating. As such, it can help to reduce the chances of developing cancer. Of course, the research was produced by an independent consultant to the global drinks industry, so Cancer Research UK has cast doubt on the findings. They point to data documenting the link between excessive alcohol and the increased risk of some cancers - and that ellagic acid can also be found in soft fruits. Oh well, nice try...
Meet a Mum Cocktail Party
An Edinburgh mother who didn't like the idea of the traditional mother-and-toddler groups, often held in church halls or community centres, decided to start an alternative way for mothers to meet - a Meet a Mum Cocktail Party. The marketing and public-relations executive is giving busy mothers the opportunity to talk about the problems and joys of motherhood - but over a glass of champagne instead of the traditional cup of tea. The weekly function is being held in a hotel in central Edinburgh and allows the participants to share experiences of raising children - and the champagne helps to create a relaxed atmosphere and loosen tongues. The media report suggests that the Mums often end up complaining about their partners too!
Dirty Dozen Needed Help to Escape from Perth Prison
Inmates in Perth Prison cheered as 12 tiny ducklings were helped by staff and the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) to make a break for freedom. The mother duck had flown in and made her nest near the prison laundry - perhaps the added security and lack of predators made it seem a good location. But the young chicks were unable to escape over the 18 feet high walls of the prison and three of them even got stuck in a drain thinking they could swim to freedom that way. Staff and the SSPCA chased after the ducklings on hands and knees - cheered on by prisoners watching from nearby buildings - and managed to detain the escapees in temporary custody. They were later released on an island in the river Tay.
The Scottish Executive, trying to encourage women not to get involved in binge drinking, is distributing pink tops in Aberdeen with the logo "Mine's a Double" across the chest - much to the annoyance of many campaigners. The double entendre is explained a little by words on the sleeve which say "I'm giving my body two days off alcohol." But the mixed messages are understandably regarded as inappropriate - at best, it suggested that it was reasonable to drink five days a week. There were cynical suggestions that a redesigned T-shirt might carry the slogan "I do it five times a week".
Weather in Scotland This Week
There was no lack of sunshine this week in most parts of Scotland as an area of high pressure dominated the weather. Aberdeen and Glasgow both recorded nearly 60 hours of sunshine over the six days from Sunday to Friday and Edinburgh was not far behind. Not that the sun produced high temperatures - Glasgow did reach 17C (63F) on Wednesday and 19C (66F) on Saturday, but 13/15C (55/59F) were the more usual maximum daytime temperatures. And the clear skies produced near-freezing conditions with some ground frost on some of the nights this week. With little if any rain, gardens are beginning to look parched already and watering cans and hoses are beginning to appear to give newly planted bedding plants a drink.
This week's illustrations of the current season in Scotland shows first of all one of the many rhodendrons in the magnificent woodland garden at Glendoick House in Perthshire. Below, is an Orange Tip butterfly. This variety was a rarity in Scotland a few years ago but is appearing in increasing numbers - at the present time it is the butterfly most frequently seen in central Scotland. The top of the wing on the male is white with the bright orange which gives it its name; underneath is this amazing camouflage pattern. The female Orange Tip is basically a plain white.
The next flower below is a Mecanopsis Grandis, again growing at Glendoick, followed by another rhododendron at the same location. Finally, there is an illustration of a Canada Goose. Some of these birds are UK residents while others migrate south from Scandinavia. This Canada Goose had a mate accompanying him at Kilmardinny Loch, north of Glasgow.