Hospital Waiting Times Improving?
Scottish Executive and opposition parties came to different conclusions following the publication of the latest figures on how long patients have to wait before they receive in-patient treatment. The government claimed that "great strides" had been made as the number of patients waiting over six months for an operation (1,121) is the lowest figure recorded. It was 6,000 last year. The median waiting time for acute in-patients and day cases fell from 47 days to 45 days (but through most of the 1990s that figure was in the low 30s). Of course, some patients were treated immediately - 55% in the latest quarter. But the figures also show that 10% (numbering 134,000) accident and emergency patients had to wait more than four hours before they were seen by a qualified medical practitioner. The new Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (illustrated here) had one of the worst records, with only 67% of patients seen within the target time of four hours. The average waiting time in A&E was 97 minutes, compared with 99 minutes last year - but 74 minutes in 2000. Urgent cases were of course dealt with immediately.
Presiding Officer to Step Down
George Reid, elected as Presiding Officer (equivalent to Speaker) in the Scottish Parliament in May 2003, has ended speculation that he might seek re-election to that office after the 2007 election. He made the announcement during the annual Donald Dewar lecture at the Edinburgh Book Festival this week. He asserted that he had "five jobs" - chairing parliament, chairing the bureau which determines parliamentary business, chairing the corporate body, representing parliament at home and abroad - and looking after the 66,000 voters in his Ochil constituency. He says he will do all the jobs to the best of his ability to May 2007. The veteran Scottish Nationalist was a Deputy Presiding Officer in the previous Parliament.
Edinburgh Faces "Disruption for Years"
The Scottish Parliament legislation which will bring back tram cars to the streets of Edinburgh after a gap of 50 years, is expected to receive Royal assent by the end of this year. That will trigger the construction phase of the estimated £473 million project early in 2006. The Scottish Executive has agreed to cover £375 million of the cost from general taxes. That will signal the start of four years of disruption to road traffic, with road closures, noise and mess. (Some drivers may ask "what's new?" after years of roadworks in the centre of the city). Edinburgh City Council, who have pushed hard for the scheme, claim that it will all be worth it. The first phase will be a circular route serving Princes Street, Leith Walk, Newhaven and Granton. The second phase will link Haymarket Station to Edinburgh Airport and Newbridge. It is claimed that the main benefit of the scheme will be a massive reduction in the number of people using their cars in the capital. It is also projected to revitalise the retail heart of Edinburgh.
Scotland on the Move
Transport statistics published by the Scottish Executive show that traffic on Scotland's roads is now at its highest-ever level. In 2004 there were 2.4 million licensed vehicles on the roads, an increase of 3% on 2003 and 29% up on 1994. Traffic volume is estimated at 42.7 billion vehicle kilometres, with the biggest rise in motorway traffic, which has increased by 47% since 1994. Almost 22.6 million passengers used Scotland's airports, a rise of 7% on 2003 and up 91% on 1994. Although there was a 1% increase in usage of local bus services in 2004, it was still 14% lower than in 1994. However, the rise in ScotRail passengers to 68.7 million represented a 40% increase over the last decade. Glasgow Central was Scotland's busiest train station, handling nearly twice as many passengers as Edinburgh Waverley. A Green Party spokesman said "These figures reveal the true story of Scottish ministers' failure to tackle traffic and pollution in the last six years." Despite the huge increase in road traffic, the number of deaths and injuries on the roads fell to its lowest level in more than 50 years.
Call to Ban Cars From Byres Road
High levels of exhaust fumes recorded in Byres Road, one of Glasgow West End's most popular thoroughfares, has led a local government councillor to call for a total ban on cars on the road. The high levels of nitrogen dioxide recorded are often due to cars sitting stationary at the traffic lights at cross roads. Because of the number of vehicles turning right at these junctions, the traffic signals are phased to allow vehicles to cross in only one direction at a time, creating long tail-backs. Selfish drivers who park near the junctions also cut the traffic flow to one lane instead of two. The idea of banning cars was immediately attacked by local traders who fear a dramatic loss of business. People living in residential streets close by, would also see a considerable increase in the volume of traffic passing through on alternative routes.
Last-Ditch Petition Launched
A final attempt by campaigners to stop the merger of Scotland's six infantry regiments into one "super regiment" - named the Royal Regiment of Scotland - is being made by launching a petition which aims to obtain one million signatures. The aim is to present the petition to the Westminster Parliament at the end of November. The petition was launched at a press conference attended by the nation's media, top politicians and ex-serving soldiers of various Scottish regiments. Campaigners have been working strenuously to change the UK government's plans and this is probably the last opportunity to make any progress. See www.savethescottishregiments.co.uk.
European Workers Lured to Scotland
The Scottish Executive's "Fresh Talent" policy of attracting eastern European workers to Scotland, to help to stem the country's declining population, seems to be producing some results - at last. The number of citizens from the ten new European Union members registering to work in Scotland almost doubled in the second quarter of this year. Over 4,400 of them registered for work in Scotland. Initially, statistics showed that Scotland was attracting less than its proportionate share of such skilled immigrants. In the second quarter, Scotland attracted 10.3% of the 52,750 workers who came to Britain from the new European Union member states, which is above the Scottish proportion of the UK population. However, since enlargement, that percentage is only 6.5% of the total. Most of those coming here obtain employment in catering or hospitality industries.
More Millionaires in Scotland Than London
It may be that many millionaires choose to have their main residence away from the City of London, but a survey of those with wealth of over a million pounds based on postcodes, shows that four of the top ten millionaire's neighborhoods in the UK are in Scotland. Districts in Edinburgh and Aberdeen have more millionaires than any area in London, with Edinburgh's EH4 (which includes Blackhall and Barnton) leading the list with 277 of them. Aberdeen's AB 15 came next with 240, while Bearsden near Glasgow was 7th in the table with 176 millionaires.
Lottery Benefits Are a Lottery
Regular readers of this Newsletter will be aware of the large number of projects which have been funded by grants from the profits of the National Lottery. Around £150 million are awarded in Scotland every year to "good causes". Many of the allocations are based on an assessment of the quality of the application, as evaluated by the administrators. This has led to major disparities in amounts allocated across the country, with some areas receiving more than £1,000 per inhabitant, while others receive less than £90. The top ranking area is the Western Isles, where grants per head of the population exceed £1,000 - including an all-weather tennis court at Bunabhainneadar on Harris. The area has received 400 awards worth £27 million since the start of the lottery. East Dunbartonshire, located to the west and north of Glasgow, comes out worst on this measure with under £90 per head. On the other hand, Glasgow itself, and Edinburgh, do very well out of lottery funding. Part of the discrepancy is being attributed to the complex and detailed application forms for grants. Some local governments in Scotland provide assistance for local groups and organisations to complete this onerous task; others provide little support. Another factor is that one of the largest lottery funds prioritises allocation on the basis of areas of social deprivation.
Takeover of Scotland's Largest Independent Brewer
Yet another Scottish company has sold out and will now become part of a larger unit with its head office in another country. Belhaven brewery in East Lothian has been bought by English company Greene King in a £187 million deal. Belhaven was founded in the Scottish village of Dunbar in 1719, making it the oldest independent brewery in Scotland. Belhaven Best, its flagship beer, is among the 10 most popular alcoholic drinks in Scottish pubs. The Belhaven brands and name will be retained (at least for the foreseeable future) but the 300 bars owned by the company will now become part of the Greene King's network of 2,064 pubs in England and wales.
Kicking the Pylons Into Touch
International rugby star Kenny Logan joined a march at the National Wallace Monument near Stirling this week which was part of the campaign protesting about the planned 137-mile giant electricity pylons from Beauly in Inverness-shire to Denny in Stirlingshire. It will carry power from wind farms in the north of Scotland to the national grid and the major users of electricity in the central lowlands. The route is through some of Scotland's most scenic countryside, including the Cairngorms National Park. Although there are electricity pylons already criss-crossing much of Scotland, some of these new ones will be over 200 feet high. In addition to ploughing through scenic areas, the pylons would come within a few hundred yards of the Wallace Monument - and would match its height. Protest groups are calling for a public enquiry into the £320 million scheme.
Attracting Yachts to Oban Harbour
The west coast of Scotland is a popular area for sailing and Oban, roughly half-way along the long coast, should be a popular stopping-off point. But the lack of mooring pontoons at Oban means that the lucrative trade goes elsewhere - Dunstaffnage Bay has space for 140 vessels and the island of Kerrera (population 30), a few miles out from Oban, can moor 56 yachts, including 50-ton vessels. Local businesses are critical of the lack of support from local Argyll and Bute councillors, despite thousands of yachts sailing past each year. Of course, Oban is a major ferry terminal, linking to many of the islands off the west coast. Despite poor parking facilities in the centre of the town, Oban attracts lots of land-based tourists. Earlier this month the local tourist information centre responded to 6,200 people - not bad for a town with a population of under 10,000.
Feeding Wild Birds
An increasing number of people with suburban gardens are in no doubt that putting out seed for wild birds helps them through the winter. But many birds are too shy to come near housing and modern farming methods have meant that many seed eaters struggle to survive. These days, farmers ensure that there are no weeds, many of which would produce seeds for birds. And spilt grain is not a by-product of efficient harvesting. Some bird populations have fallen by 50% or more, with Tree Sparrows and Yellowhammers (seen here) particularly badly affected. Government funded schemes have encouraged farmers to introduce management options to reverse the trend, but it has been difficult to assess the cost-effectiveness of these programmes. Now, the Game Conservancy Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Scotland have launched a joint project in 32 farms from Aberdeenshire to West Lothian. Some farms will provide extra food supplies for wintering birds, while others will not implement any change. By monitoring the populations over four years, researchers will be able to see the impact of the extra food and also when it is most effective.
International Rose Trials at Tollcross Park
Rose breeders from around the world will be visiting Tollcross Park in Glasgow next week to check out the quality of the roses being grown in the east end park. This has been the location of International Rose Trials for 15 years. New roses are submitted by breeders and growers from all over the world for assessment. An entire hillside in the park is given over to nothing but beds of roses - with hundreds of plants in galaxy of colours, many with perfumes to match.
Edinburgh Zoo's Latest Attractions
The newest residents at Edinburgh Zoo are two koalas named Chumbee (an Australian aboriginal name meaning torpedo bug) and Jannali. They are believed to be the only koalas in Britain, so should be a big attraction. They are on loan from San Diego Zoo in California. Although koalas are thought of as cute and cuddly, the marsupials have to be kept in separate pens because they are fiercely territorial.
Reviving an Ancient Forest - with Wild Boar
It is hoped that the re-introduction of wild boar into the ancient Caledonian pine forest in Glen Affric, 35 miles south-west of Inverness, will help to revitalise the forest. The animals forage on the invasive bracken shoots which emerge in the spring and so help young tree seedlings to survive and regenerate the forest. A test plot covering an acre is to be expanded to around ten acres as it has proved to be so successful. However, as Glen Affric covers 36,000 acres it would require a huge expansion in the number of the animals to cover the whole area. The National Nature Reserve there is a haven for golden eagles and ospreys and attracts around 70,000 visitors a year. The wild boars are compulsive rooters and dig up the ground and eat the fresh stalks as well as mature bracken. Wild boar became extinct in Britain in the 17th century, as a result of hunting and absorption into domestic herds. Although called "wild" all the animals are initially raised in captivity.
16% of UK Population Confuse Edinburgh and Glasgow
Citizens of the rival Scottish cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow will not be amused to find that according to research by Insight Guides, 16% of the UK population confuse the location of the two cities on an outline UK map. Interviewees were shown the map with a series of cities marked on it and asked to name them. The level of ignorance by the geographically challenged respondents about Scotland's two largest cities was not unique - some major cities in England could not be named by over 50% of those involved in the survey. And just over 5% mistook London for another city.
Scottish Underdogs Nip Trophy
A shepherd and his collie "Nip" helped to win a UK-wide sheepdog competition last weekend. Contestants from England, Scotland and Ireland competed in the popular BBC "One Man and His Dog" contest in the grounds of Chatsworth House, in Derbyshire. The team of three Scottish shepherds and their dogs only progressed to the second day because they had finished second on Saturday. As the "underdogs" however, they were defending the title won by the Scottish team last year. They eventually won through, but by no more than a whisker. One of the shepherds is the brother of Jack McConnell, the Scottish First Minister.
Weather in Scotland This Week
The weather started well this week, with Aberdeen and Edinburgh reaching 23C (73F) on Sunday, with lots of sunshine, especially in the east - Edinburgh recorded 11.7 hours of sun that day. But later in the week the forecasters were commenting on the autumnal feel to the weather patterns. A low-pressure weather system moving from the Atlantic meant that the west of Scotland was battered by 50mph gales on Wednesday, causing disruption to road and rail travellers. Heavy rain caused a points failure near Falkirk, causing a reduction in services on the busy Edinburgh to Glasgow line and forced trains to take a detour, adding to journey times. A lorry broke down on the Kingston Bridge on the M8 over the river Clyde in Glasgow, causing long tail-backs. Showers continued for many areas but over on the protected east coast, Aberdeen averaged over ten hours of sunshine each day from Wednesday to Friday. On that same day Edinburgh and Glasgow was shivering a bit with temperatures down to 14/15C (57/59F).
The picture shown here to illustrate the current season in Scotland is of one of this year's cygnets which is now almost as big as its parents, though it will be next year before it gets its white plumage. For further illustrations, see the "Colour Supplement" below.
Newsletter "Colour Supplement"
Regular readers of this Newsletter will be used to seeing more photographs illustrating the current flora and fauna in Scotland. This week, there were again so many photos to choose from a Colour Supplement has been created so as not to overload the main Newsletter. Click on the link and you will open up a new page with a half-dozen more illustrations.