Scotland's Population Rising - Slightly
Scotland's population is projected to rise over the next 15 years before falling slowly, according to a report issued this week by the Registrar General for Scotland. The population is not projected to fall below the psychological figure of five million until 2036, rather than 2017, as the previous projection had suggested. The revised trends are due to slightly more births, slightly fewer deaths and more people coming to Scotland than leaving. But we will still be an ageing nation, because our birth rate has declined since the 1980s. And our population is likely to fall from 2020, while the rest of the UK is on a rising trend. The report also predicts that the number of people of working age is projected to fall by 7% from 2004 to 2031 while the number of people of pensionable age is projected to rise by 35% from 0.97 million in 2004 to 1.31 million in 2031. The number of people aged 75 and over is projected to rise by 75% over the same period. In the rest of Europe, Italy, Germany and seven of the new accession states to the EU all have projected population declines worse than Scotland. Of course, Scotland's attempts to attract qualified people from eastern Europe may not be helping them to cope with their population drift.
Scottish Jobs Market Still Vibrant
The Bank of Scotland's labour market report for September says that growth is significantly above the UK average - a situation which has applied for the last five months, while there has been a slow-down in the rest of the UK. Scotland's four largest cities reported increases in permanent and temporary staff appointments - with Glasgow showing the largest growth. Salaries and wages were also on the rise, with Aberdeen growing fastest. As a result of a shortage of qualified applicants, temporary staff wages rose at their fastest rate for nine months; engineering and construction workers were most in demand.
Mild Recovery for Scottish Retailers
Figures published by the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) show that September's like-for-like sales in Scotland's major stores grew by 1.6%, up from 0.4% in August, while total sales grew by 3.8%, a slight increase in growth from 3.6% in August. The Scottish figures contrasted with the UK data as a whole, which showed a continuing decline, largely being attributed to the uncertainty in the housing market and earlier increases in interest rates. Scotland's housing market - which did not experience the excesses seen down south over the last few years - continues to show solid growth. But even in Scotland, clothing and footwear sales are sluggish, with September's improvement due to growth in non-food and non-clothing sales. Clothing retailers are stocking up with new winter clothing lines, but the lack of any really cold weather is causing consumers to hold off on such purchases at this stage. And the Retail Consortium figures relate only to the larger, High Street chains - smaller retailers across Scotland are reported to be struggling, mainly because of the cut-throat competition from the larger organisations.
The illustration above is of Princes Street, Edinburgh's most important shopping area.
Polish Dentists Fill the Gap
It was announced this week that thirty-two Polish dentists are being recruited to work within the National Health Service in Scotland to plug the gap due to the lack of local dentists, many of whom have moved to more lucrative private dentistry. The first twelve dentists to bring a smile back to thousands of patients in areas where there is a severe shortage, will arrive in Scotland by the end of January. It is claimed that eventually 20,000 patients will benefit. There are reports that many UK residents are taking advantage of cheap flights to travel to Poland for major dental work, because costs there are much lower than the charges imposed by private dentists in this country. Earlier this month, the British Dental association rejected a £295 million package requiring dentists to treat a specified number of adults on the NHS.
Standard Life Launches Flotation Bandwagon
Five years ago, the board of Edinburgh-based Standard Life, Europe's largest mutual assurance company, successfully fought off an attempt by what they called "carpetbaggers" to float the company on the Stock Exchange. That was before the downturn in share prices and it was suggested at the time that policy-holders would get a substantial windfall. After a number of changes at the top of the company, Standard Life is now heading for floatation, despite those windfalls being substantially smaller. The market capitalisation is expected to be between £4 billion and £6 billion, which would place Standard Life in the top half of the London FTSE100. The process to reach this stage has been a lengthy one and policyholders whose insurance policies matured before midnight on Monday will miss out on the payouts, which analysts estimate will be worth between £500 and £1000.
Crackdown on Drivers Using Mobile Phones
A fine of £30, imposed on motorists who are caught using their mobile phone while driving along the road, is regarded by some as one of the costs of motoring. Surveys show that the number of drivers with a phone clamped to their ear, with one hand on the wheel, while they concentrate on the call rather than on the road, is back to the same level it was at when the penalties were introduced. Of course, unlike radar speed traps which can operate automatically, it requires a policeman to stop anyone spotted breaking the law - and most motorists assume, with some justification, that this is unlikely to happen. Tests show that drivers using a mobile phone are as dangerous as those under the influence of alcohol. This week, police said that there would be a "crackdown" on those who flout the law and warn that new legislation, which could be on the statute book next year, may well increase the current fine and - even more seriously - add three penalty points to their driving licence, with the potential of losing their licence if they attract too many points.
£100 Million Bill to Upgrade Glasgow's Bridges
Local taxpayers in Glasgow face a hefty bill estimated at £100 million to upgrade dozens of bridges in the city to meet new European Union standards. Until now, the bridges have been required to cope with 24-tonne vehicles; now the standard is 44-tonnes. Most of the bridges involved are over railway lines and are owned by Network Rail. But the company is only legally responsible for ensuring the bridges can carry 24 tonnes. After lengthy arguments, it has been established that the local authority is responsible for meeting the new requirements. Of course, it is not just the cost involved, but the disruption to traffic caused when repair work is underway. Glasgow will not be the only part of Scotland affected by the new requirements, but the large number of bridges over railway lines makes a particularly major issue.
The illustration shows Cathedral Street Bridge at Queen Street Station.
Edinburgh's Largest Car Park
There are moves to extend the existing car park at Castle Terrace, in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, once city council staff have relocated from offices on an adjacent office block to the local authority's new HQ in Market Street, next autumn. The present car park has 750 spaces and expansion would create another 400 parking bays, making it the largest in Edinburgh. Being so close to the city centre and Princes Street, Castle Terrace car park is very popular - especially during the summer tourist season or in December as Christmas shoppers flood into the capital. The council is also working on creating a large new car park under George Street. Such plans seem to run counter the Edinburgh's policy of encouraging the use of public transport and discouraging cars from coming into the city. It seems too much to hope that reality is reaching the city planners.
New Air Service to Atlanta
Delta, the world's second largest airline, has received official approval to start direct flights between Edinburgh and Atlanta, Georgia, from May next year. Atlanta is an important hub in the US and offers the opportunity for easier travel in both directions between Scotland's capital and the US.
Direct Flights to Pakistan
Pakistan International Airlines announced this week that it is to start a service from Glasgow to Lahore and Islamabad in Pakistan next month. Aircraft will stop at Dubai, offering the opportunity for passengers to stop-over at the Gulf state, with its booming tourist resorts. Initially, flights will be twice a week. They will offer competition to Emirates Airways flights to Dubai, which fly daily, with connections to destinations further east.
Air Scotland Apologises for Delays
Just as the number of air travellers surged last weekend, with the school mid-term holiday encouraging a flight to sunnier climates, Air Scotland passengers faced lengthy delays because their only aircraft had been impounded due to unpaid fuel bills. Hundreds of passengers were delayed last week on flights to Athens, Paris, Malaga and Alicante for up to 17 hours at Edinburgh and Glasgow Airports. There were ripple effects for several days this week, as the airline tried to clear the backlog. Efforts were made to lease another aircraft, but that plan folded, though it was unclear whether this was due to a dispute over payment or whether the pilot refused to fly to Spain. The problems arose just as the airline (founded by an Iraqi-born Glasgow businessman) was sold to H Top Hotels Group in Spain. The new owners (who previously had a 50% stake) say that they then became aware of a £2 million debt - which doesn't say much for any accountants advising them. The low-cost airline "apologised unreservedly to passengers."
Superfast Sailings Slow Down
Greek-based Superfast, which runs the only direct ferry service between Rosyth in Scotland and Zeebrugge in Belgium, has announced that it is reducing the number of ferries on the route from two to one from early November. The crossing takes 18 hours, but saves passengers and truck drivers a journey to Hull in England or to the ports on the English Channel. The cut will mean that there will be only three sailings a week in each direction. The service began three years ago and each ferry can carry more than 1,000 passengers, 120 cars and 100 commercial vehicles. But reports in the company's annual report say that while freight traffic rose in 2004, passenger numbers slipped back from 196,000 to 192,400. The company claimed, however, that the fall was due to taking a ship out of service for overhaul. A spokesman for Superfast claimed that the move was not prompted by disappointing traffic levels and that the new schedule would "be able to serve the needs of the market."
The illustration shows the Superfast ferry with Edinburg in the background.
Solar-Powered Bus Shelters
Other bus stops will be put in the shade when Edinburgh's bus shelters get the latest technology, with solar panels on the roof. Over 100 will be fitted with sensors which will cause lights in the shelters to come on at night, as soon as a passenger enters. Despite cloudy skies, there is enough sunlight during the day for the rechargeable batteries to provide low-level lighting throughout the night, as well as welcoming passengers with a bright light as they arrive and until soon after they leave.
Authors to Write on Site
Celebrated authors such as Alexander McCall Smith, John Byrne and Liz Lochhead have been invited to become "writers in residence" at shops, prisons and care homes as part of Edinburgh's designation as Unesco’s first World City of Literature. Possible venues include Saughton prison, department stores such as Jenners (illustrated here) or Debenhams, hospitals and the National Museum of Scotland. Whether McCall Smith, author of the successful No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and an expert in international medical law, will be inspired by writing with murderers looking over his shoulder at Saughton, remains to be seen. Other authors such as Ian Rankin and Iain Banks said that they backed the project - but could not afford the time to take part. Other projects supporting the World City of Literature accolade include poems and short stories being featured on buses in the capital over the next year.
£250 Million Development for Ardeer
The Ardeer peninsula, on the coast of the Firth of Clyde, between Stevenston and Irvine in North Ayrshire, used to be the site for Nobel's British Dynamite Company. The facilities for dynamite and nitro-glycerine production were set up in 1873 and subsequently became part of the Nobel Division of the giant ICI chemical company, making plastics as well as explosives. At its peak, the area employed 16,000 people. In the 1990s, however, production at the plant was scaled down and the site has been deserted for many years - apart from a short-lived "Big Idea" tourist attraction, which lasted only three years. Now plans have been announced for a £250 million transformation, which would see the creation of a championship golf resort, a five-star hotel, marina, waterside apartments and 2,500 homes. The Big Idea building, which has lain empty since it closed in August 2003, may become a conference facility, if the plans go ahead.
Scottish Restaurants Praised
The Which? Good Food Guide has praised a number of Scottish restaurants in its latest edition. Martin Wishart in Edinburgh was voted Scotland's restaurant of the year, with Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles and The Creel in Orkney in close pursuit. The Buttery in Glasgow (illustrated here) was highlighted for its fish dishes and Fort William's Inverlochy Castle was also praised. Scots chef Gordon Ramsay's flagship restaurant in London has again been rated among the best three places to eat out in Britain by the guide.
Americans Queue Up for Fair Isle Life
When the National Trust for Scotland announced that they were looking for new residents to live in two vacant properties on remote Fair Isle, 25 miles south of the Shetland mainland, they received hundreds of applications from around the world. Americans accounted for 600 of the 800 hopefuls from places as far afield as Bucharest and Australia who wanted to start a new life. Many said that they had knitting skills - the Fair Isle is famous for its patterned sweaters. Of the 80 firm applications, 70 are from the US. The next stage will involve applicants providing a "business plan" showing how they would support themselves and what skills they would bring to the island. Short-listed candidates will then be invited to visit the Fair Isle.
Cumbernauld Voted Scotland's Carbuncle - Again
For the second year running, Cumbernauld has been voted as the most dismal town in Scotland in the annual "Carbuncle Awards". The North Lanarkshire commuter town is 15 miles north of Glasgow and was created as one of the post-war "New Towns". Initially, it's approach to keeping road traffic and pedestrians separate and the new housing estates gained architectural awards. But the main town-centre shopping complex, which is visible from miles around, and looks like a decrepit aircraft carrier, has done the town no favours. Runners up in the "Plook on the Plinth" prize were Ardrossan in Ayrshire and Coatbridge, also in North Lanarkshire. Judges who visited the towns were greeted with the comment "Welcome to Iraq" when they arrived in Cumbernauld. Local council officials regarded the competition and award as "unhelpful" and thought that judging the town on one building, rather than on the rest of the thriving community, was unfair.
Edinburgh Lacking in Politeness
It used to be said that people in Glasgow didn't say "thank-you" if someone held open a door for them, because they were not used to dealing with such a situation. And people in Edinburgh didn't say "thank-you" in the same scenario, because they expected people to touch their forelocks. So residents of Morningside in Edinburgh will have sniffed disapprovingly this week, when they read that research by the Reader's Digest magazine has suggested that Edinburgh is an impolite city - coming seventh out of eight locations in the UK. The researchers visited each city and measured the reaction of people to having doors opened for them, shop assistants saying "thank-you" and passers-by helping if someone dropped a shopping bag. Overall, Britons scored 59% on these courtesy tests, but Edinburgh scored only 48%, with only Birmingham coming below them. The research suggested that the over-60s were the most courteous and that women were more polite than men. There are suggestions that Edinburghers have "seasonal manners" and are on their best behaviour during the International Festival. To be fair, the survey contrasts with others which have voted Edinburgh as warm and welcoming and the international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveller has voted Edinburgh as "UK's Best City" three times in recent years (though this year, Glasgow surged to 2nd place, pushing Edinburgh into 3rd).
Beer Wars Push Lager Prices to 10-Year Low
Attempts by government health experts to persuade people to drink less alcohol and abandon the "booze culture" are being thwarted to some extent by a price war between breweries which is pushing the price of lager to a 10-year low. The price of lager has fallen to six pence less than in 1995. Premium lager prices have dropped even more, as supermarkets compete with one another on price. A litre of Stella Artoďs or Krönenburg is down 24 pence to £1.77. If beer prices had risen in line with inflation, prices for premium lager should have been around £2.19 a litre. While lager drinkers are enjoying the low prices, the breweries are not so happy as they are being forced by supermarkets to narrow their profit margins.
Weather in Scotland This Week
The week started off with some sunshine in central Scotland and temperatures there were around 16C (61F) which is above the average for this time of year. Although Aberdeen had no sunshine on Sunday, just "round the corner" on the Moray coast, Kinloss was recording nearly 9 hours of sunshine - and had the best of the sun on Monday too. By that time, much of the rest of Scotland was under a blanket of cloud and by mid-week, temperatures had fallen to around 12/13C (54/55F). Cloud and showers continued to affect the country and by Friday temperatures had fallen further, with Edinburgh and Glasgow recording 10/11C (50/52F). The outlook next week is for more changeable weather.
The picture shown here to illustrate the current season in Scotland is of Himalaya Balsam, flowering at the RSPB Reserve at Lochwinnoch. For further illustrations, see the "Colour Supplement" below.
Newsletter "Colour Supplement"
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland this week to show the current weather and the flora and fauna, illustrate waves at Kirkcaldy's seafront, dianthus azalea leaves in autumn colours, delphinium, hydrangea and tradescantia flowers. See
this week's Colour Supplement