Busy Legislative Programme for Scottish Parliament
Businesses in Scotland were pleased (and also surprised) when First Minister Jack McConnell announced in the Scottish Parliament this week that local taxes on business premises were to be reduced to the same level as those in England and Wales. It has been a long-running battle, pre-dating even the new devolved government, to convince the politicians that the extra taxation (estimated to be between £200 and £300 million) was an extra and unfair burden on Scottish companies. No precise date was given for implementation, however, other than a vague "around 2007". The announcement was made during the presentation of the Scottish Executive's legislation programme for the next couple of years. That includes further laws on criminal justice, modernising the legal framework for adoption, removal of the right of appeal of third parties to planning applications, simplification of parliamentary procedures for transport projects - and promotion of better nutrition in school meals by restricting the sale of "junk" food and fizzy drinks.
Brain Gain from Immigration
A new study by the BBC and the Institute for Public Policy Research, shows that 3.3% of people in Scotland were born abroad - about half of the UK average. The largest numbers of foreign residents were in areas closest to the North Sea, due mainly to the oil industry, which employs many US and Dutch workers. The largest group from abroad, however, were people born in Germany, followed by Pakistan and then the US. Within the UK, Scotland has the lowest number of people born abroad - but has seen the fastest growth in immigrants in recent years. And Scotland is attracting the highest proportion of new immigrants with a university or college degree. The Scottish Executive has been pursuing its "Fresh Talent" initiative to attract bright, talented and hard working people to live, work and study in Scotland, but that began after these statistics were gathered (as part of the 2001 census).
Takeover Threat to Scottish Power
Having failed to make a success of its takeover of the PacificCorp power company in north-west USA and having to sell out, Scottish Power is now seen as a takeover target itself. German company E.On has announced it is "considering its options" about making an offer. E.ON, which owns UK electricity and gas provider Powergen. Scottish Power is valued at £10 billion and is one of Scotland's largest companies, so there is concern in many quarters at the prospect of yet another indigenous company losing its autonomy.
Call for Design Progress for New Forth Road Bridge
The existing road crossing over the river Forth between Fife and Edinburgh (pictured here) was built 41 years ago and carries 24 million vehicles a year - 24% more than ten years previously. At peak times, there are long traffic queues, especially on the northbound route as the £1 toll is only levied in that direction. With only two lanes in each carriageway, any maintenance work or breakdowns can reduce the traffic flow even further. Efforts have been made to discourage vehicles from crossing the bridge but despite improvements to public transport and increasing toll charges, the number of vehicles keeps increasing. Over the years, there have been calls for a second crossing to be built, but that is always greeted with horror by environmental groups. However, in April this year, the Forth Estuary Transport Authority, who are responsible for the river crossing, called for a feasibility study into a second bridge as a matter of urgency. Nearly six months later, the study report says that a new bridge is essential and that all other options will have been exhausted by 2011, at least five years before any new crossing is operational. Edinburgh City Councillors want better public transport in place first, but those in Fife (where many of those who commute to work in Edinburgh live) are keen to see progress - bearing in mind that it is estimated to take eleven years to build a new bridge.
Tide Turns on New Sources of Power
Enterprise Minister Nicol Stephen told delegates at the Offshore Europe conference in Aberdeen this week that renewable wave and tidal energy could provide up to 10% of Scotland's electricity production - and create 7,000 new jobs in the process. The Scottish Executive has a target of 18% for electricity generated in Scotland from renewable sources by 2010, rising to 40% by 2020. Much of the attention in achieving this has been on wind farms (and the opposition from the public to them in scenic areas). To date, there have been no significant commercial projects for wave or tidal power in Scotland. The minister says that has to change as there are major opportunities in Scotland, with its long, exposed coasts, to develop and then market these technologies.
North Sea Oil Industry Needs Fresh Blood
At the Offshore Europe conference in Aberdeen this week, leaders of the UK oil and gas exploration and production companies called for the recruitment and training of more young people to work in the industry. A new report by Aberdeen's Chamber of Commerce has highlighted a skills shortage. But the UK Offshore Operators' Association says that training programmes were already helping to boost numbers. As the North Sea oil industry enters its fourth decade, many experienced staff are retiring and "fresh blood" is needed. The call came as the UK Energy Minister announced the sale of a record-breaking number of licences to explore new areas of the North Sea for oil and gas. 152 licences were awarded, the highest number since the system began in 1964.
250,000 Jobs Created in Scotland
Over the past 20 years, 250,000 jobs have been created in Scotland, according to a report (based on official data) produced by the Bank of Scotland's economic department. But there have been major shifts in the nature of employment over that period, with the number working in business services (such as information technology and accountancy) rising by over 100,000, but with a decline in those working in manufacturing. Over 80% of Scottish employees are in the service industries, with major falls in manufacturing (down by 43%), mining (falling 34%) and agriculture (decreasing by 9%). Financial services have seen the number of staff rising by 65%, over the last 20 years.
Non-Stop Summer Sales
This year, unlike their counterparts in England, Scottish retailers have managed to keep growing the value of their sales, although at a lower rate of increase than last year. But fierce competition has forced many UK traders, including those in Scotland, to discount their prices to keep the cash registers ringing. That has meant that the "Summer Sales", designed to boost spending before the new autumn stock arrives on the shelves, have been continued into September. That is good news for shoppers as there are many bargains to be had, but it will impact on the profit margins of the retailers when they report their financial results.
The illustration here is of Buchanan Street in Glasgow, one of the major shopping areas in the city.
Travel Survey Puts Glasgow Ahead of Edinburgh
A survey of the most popular UK destinations, by the internationally recognised, up-market Condé Nast Traveller magazine, has created quite a stir since its readers have pushed Edinburgh down from top spot to third - and placing Glasgow up from 8th last year into 2nd place (with London at the head of the league table). Glasgow's marketing organisation put the sudden increase in popularity of the city down to its "Scotland with Style" city branding campaign, which was launched in March 2004. The Condé Nast Traveller editor suggested, however, that Glasgow did well "for basically giving people a good time".
Baxters Put Jam on Tullibardine
The family-owned company of Baxters, still based Fochabers in Morayshire, is a major supplier of soup (70 million tins a year) and preserve to supermarkets and grocers across the UK and is growing in overseas markets too. Founded in 1868, the company also has a small number of retail outlets where the complete range of its products (which include such items as beetroot and sauces) are made available, along with a range of quality Scottish products. Their latest venture is next door to the Tullibardine whisky distillery at Blackford in Perthshire, beside the busy A9 road between Stirling and Perth. Baxters were to be the anchor tenant in the development and it was expected to open last year. The distillery tours (and excellent cafeteria) opened last autumn and one or two other shops too, but the opening of the Baxters outlet has been delayed and delayed. Their Web site proclaimed "Summer 2005" but it was early September before it has eventually opened its doors (with scarcely any publicity fanfare). There is no doubt that it is an excellent - and accessible - tourist attraction, particularly combined with the other shops and the distillery. There are eating facilities as well as a large and well-stocked retail area.
Yummy Mummy Moments
The Waterfront Wine Bar & Grill and Skippers Seafood Bistro are encouraging mums to treat themselves to a "Yummy Mummy Moment" as part of a nationwide Yummy Mummy Week. From 16 - 25 September 2005 mums (or anyone!) will be able to choose either a glass of Pommery or a dessert for free - though participants will be asked to donate £5 to charity which helps children with cancer. In order to qualify, diners must purchase a main course and only one free item is offered per diner. It is argued that due to today's modern lifestyle and pressures, many Mums forget to take time out for themselves. "Yummy Mummy Week" offers a great opportunity for mums to indulge themselves in the knowledge they are doing so for a thoroughly worthwhile cause.
Cairn Gorm Estate for Sale
The 3,500 acre Cairn Gorm estate, which is currently owned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, is being put up for sale. The land includes the spectacular mountain range of Cairn Gorm and the ski centre and funicular railway (illustrated here). It is thought unlikely to be sold to a private owner, but may be owned or managed by the community. A takeover by the Cairngorms National Park Authority is thought to be another possibility. Concern was expressed, however, about the estate becoming owned by a conservation body such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds - which fought a long battle against the funicular railway and the economic benefits it has brought. About one third of the area is leased to the company that operates the ski area and railway.
Royal Navy Get Into Spirit of Yellow Submarine
Three months ago, when a fisherman based on the island of Islay netted a yellow submarine, which had the words "Ministry of Defence" stenciled on the side, he got in touch with the Royal Navy and the MoD at the Faslane naval base on the mainland. Initially, they denied that they had lost the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) but then asked for its return. But John Baker, who had been pulling in lobster pots when he captured the ROV, wanted to know first what salvage compensation he would receive. The MoD were reluctant to offer any compensation, so the submarine was kept in Mr Baker's garden - attracting lots of attention from tourists and the media. Finally, the MoD agreed a salvage fee of several thousand pounds and a Royal Navy minesweeper turned up at Islay this week to collect their property. They were surprised to find that a local distillery had seen the marketing potential and had produced 12,000 bottles of "Yellow Submarine" 12-year-old single malt whisky. Bruichladdich was the same distillery that was being mistakenly monitored a few years ago by the CIA as a potential site for producing weapons of mass destruction - and marked that revelation with a special bottling of Whisky of Mass Destruction (WMD). A case of the "Yellow Submarine" whisky was presented to the captain of the minesweeper who entered into the spirit of the day and accepted the limited edition case. Hopefully he will take greater care of it than his colleagues had done with the ROV...
Clyde Waterbus Suspended
The "Pride of the Clyde" waterbus which sails from the centre of Glasgow downriver to the Braehead Shopping Centre near Renfrew, has closed down, while the new bridge across the river is built at Finnieston. The family-run business will survive, however, due to compensation for loss of trade. It will be able to resume its popular service in April next year, although it is still available for private charters by setting off further downstream. The ferry has been operating since 2001, using a launch which was previously employed on the canals of Amsterdam.
Bird-watchers in the Paisley area thought that they were seeing the equivalent of pink elephants when a number of pink pigeons were spotted. But it was not a new breed of bird - just local pigeons who are thought to have flown into a factory which produces pigments to colour paint and plastics and got covered in dust. Local twitchers (the term used for keen birdwatchers) have been flocking to see the colourful addition to Scotland's ornithology.
Home Swede Home!
The giant Swedish furniture manufacturer IKEA, which has stores across the UK (and Europe, the Middle East and North America) is now to supply "flat-pack" kit homes for a major new development in Drumchapel in Glasgow. The "BoKlok" (the word means "live smart) pre-fabricated houses will be targeted at young families and those on low incomes and - unlike the DIY flat-pack furniture - will be erected by specialist contractors. That will be reassuring to the many people have experienced the anguish of IKEA self-assembly (fraught with missing parts and incomprehensible instructions). The new housing estate in Drumchapel (on city-owned land, which has been cleared of its previous buildings) covers 124 acres and over 1,200 family homes are being built - of which 40 will be by IKEA. New owners of these houses will be given IKEA vouchers to help to furnish them. It is the first of this type of housing in Scotland though they have been assembled in other parts of the UK (selling at prices of around £70,000).
Disastrous Barley Crop
Many Scottish farmers have reported that the spring barley crop - an important ingredient in making whisky - has been poor this year due to bad weather conditions earlier this year. Harvesting has been slow in many areas, with only 10/20% cut so far in Aberdeenshire and Kincardine. The picture for wheat is a bit better, with good crops and the harvest well ahead in Fife and Angus and further south in East Lothian and the Scottish Borders where a large amount has already been cut. In Berwickshire, some farmers are reporting finishing harvesting in record time, thanks to the recent good spell of weather. The problems with malting barley have not been confined to Scotland, however - Europe's crop is likely to decline by 8/10% this year, also due to climate problems.
Hottest September Since Records Began
On Sunday, temperatures in parts of Scotland rose to the highest September level since records began. Glasgow reached 27C (80.6F) and September records were broken also at Prestwick which reached 27.2C (80.9F) and Inverness where 26C (79F) was recorded. Edinburgh, however, was put in the shade on Sunday, reaching a maximum of only 21C (70F). Normally on September, maximum daytime temperatures in central Scotland in September would be in the region of 17C (63F).
Weather in Scotland This Week
Although the thermometer slipped back a bit from the record-breaking temperatures on Sunday (see previous item), it was still around 21/24C (70/75F) for the next few days. And there was plenty of sunshine, too, with most of the country recording over ten hours on Sunday and the sunshine returning on Tuesday (though it had never left Aberdeen where they had over 24 hours of sun from Sunday to Wednesday). The weather deteriorated later in the week, with cloud and rain on Thursday and maximum temperatures in Aberdeen dropping to 14C (57F). Friday was again cloudy and damp but by Saturday the sunshine was returning to the north-west.
The picture shown here to illustrate the current season in Scotland is of Colchicum, the Autumn Crocus. It was growing in the Cambo Estate, near the north Fife coast. 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 taken this week.