Hebridean Tour for Queen's 80th Birthday
These days, the Queen no longer has a royal yacht, but she clearly enjoyed the freedom of cruising. So, as part of her 80th birthday celebrations next year, she has chartered the luxury ship "Hebridean Princess" for a cruise round the Western Isles. In its earlier life, the ship was a Caledonian MacBrayne ferry and could cram 600 passengers on board. In recent years it has been adapted as a cruise ship to carry just 49 passengers in 30 staterooms, some with picture windows. As the ship has a relatively shallow draught, she can anchor off isolated and inaccessible islands and coastlines. The trip is regarded as a private cruise and is being paid for by the Queen herself. No details are being given at this stage, but it will probably be at the end of August and will end at Aberdeen, to allow the royals to head for Balmoral for the traditional Highland holiday on Royal Deeside.
Photo courtesy of Hebridean Cruises.
Fresh Talent Signing Up
Since the "Fresh Talent: Working In Scotland" scheme was launched in June, nearly 600 overseas students have successfully applied for a two-year visa extension following completion of their degree courses. This means that over 10% of those overseas students who are eligible to stay and work in Scotland under the scheme have done so. The Scottish Executive claims that this is far higher than anticipated for the first year of the scheme. The Executive is also funding 22 scholarships for students from China, India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore who want to study for a Masters qualification in Scotland.
Fall of 100,000 in Pupils at Scottish Schools
A report, published this week by the Scottish Executive, has highlighted that demographic changes and a declining birth rate will result in the school rolls in Scotland declining by over 107,000 over the next ten years, to 631,000 in 2016. While overall population is not declining so quickly, that is due to net immigrants - who will have been educated in their country of origin. Primary school numbers will decline by 10% but secondary schools will see a sharper drop of 16%. While the reduction may help the education system to achieve targets for smaller class sizes, local authorities will have to continue to look at the location of schools, with further amalgamation and closure needing to be considered.
60 Languages in Highlands
It's not just Gaelic that is being spoken in the Highlands, as well as English. The arrival of migrant workers has resulted in the surprising total of 60 languages in the area, according to a survey published this week. Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has analysed National Insurance statistics and found that the number of overseas nationals working there rose from 1,235 in 2003/4 to 2,550 in 2004/5. That's out of a workforce of around 200,000. Half of those from overseas are living in the east of the HIE area - Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey and Moray. Around 80% of them were under the age of 35. Employers praise the commitment and flexibility of migrant workers, but are disappointed about the vetting by recruitment agencies, particularly with regard to language skills.
Future of Royal Air Force Bases Secured
The UK Armed Forces Minister announced this week that RAF Lossiemouth in Moray is to be the home for the new Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA) and RAF Kinloss, also in Moray, will be the base for the new Nimrod maritime reconnaissance aircraft (MRA4). The decision will secure 4,500 jobs on the bases. Lossiemouth was chosen ahead of seven other UK bases for the JCA and was selected because it provided excellent access to training areas, modern facilities and was "most cost effective". The JCA will gradually replace the Harrier strike aircraft from around the middle of the next decade. It was announced earlier this year, that the other major air base in Scotland, RAF Leuchars in Fife, will continue as a fighter base, with three squadrons there replacing the Tornado F3 over the next few years with the new Eurofighter Typhoon.
Photo from Joint Combat Aircraft project.
Retail Sales "Treading Water"
Research published by the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) shows that October's like-for-like sales grew by 1.7%, up from 1.6% in September. Total sales (which includes new outlets) grew by 4%, a marginal increase in from 3.8% in September. But the three-month averaged figure is below 4% for the first time since 2003 and the like-for-like growth is at its lowest since November 2000. Food and drink sales were strong while clothing and footwear sales continued to slow. Retailers are reported to be lowering prices to keep sales volume up, but that will impact on their bottom line.
Dell Set to Exceed Employee Target
Last week, Hewlett Packard announced that they were cutting their workforce at their Erskine plant by 200. But although manufacturing employment has been in decline in Scotland for decades, the service industries have been expanding at an even faster rate, so that total employment in the country has never been higher. That was reinforced this week at the official opening of Dell's sales and technical support centre at City Park in Glasgow - which is accommodated in a building once used to manufacture cigarettes for the Imperial Tobacco Company - see illustration. Dell already employ 300 staff there, and are about to recruit another 75. So their target of employing 400 people at the new centre within a year of announcing in February that they were coming to the city, is set be exceeded. Dell's Glasgow operations serve the company's corporate clients, with technical assistance focused on desktop and notebook computers. Future employment is aimed at attracting university graduates who are either unemployed or are overqualified in their current jobs. So far, the company says that it is very satisfied with the calibre of recruits - and it was the reputation for this which was one of the reasons for coming to Glasgow.
Ordeal for Ferry Passengers
The ferry crossing between Ullapool and Stornoway on the Western Isles is usually an enjoyable 3.5 hour journey, with views of mountains such as Stac Pollaidh and Suilven and the views of the Isle of Lewis at journey's end. But the passengers on the Calmac ferry MV Muirneag had a journey of a different kind on Monday, when 80mph winds blew the ship off course, vehicles slammed about the deck, wrecking a 1961 classic Rover car, cargo was spilled over the deck and the journey took a total of 15 hours. Some passengers were fearful that the ship was going to sink as it was tossed around in the high seas. Although strong winds had been forecast, the skipper had decided that the 10.15am crossing could be completed before gale-force winds arrived, but conditions deteriorated more rapidly than expected. Even though the journey across The Minch gets some protection from the full force of the Atlantic by the Western Isles, it was soon encountering waves of 15 metres (50 feet). Blown off course, the captain also tried to take evasive action to seek some shelter from the high seas. One passenger suffered concussion after hitting his head against a bulkhead. Despite the severe weather conditions, he was airlifted off the vessel by a coastguard helicopter. The ferry eventually reached Stornoway at 3.35am the following morning.
Ten Ferry Companies Bid for Calmac Routes
The tendering process for the ferry routes operated by Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) on the Firth of Clyde and to the Hebridean islands, which was forced on the Scottish Executive by European Union rules, had attracted ten companies by the closing date this week. There is apparently considerable interest in the Gourock to Dunoon car ferry service, with bids from a number of companies - their names have not been revealed at this stage. Of course, the state-owned CalMac company will have tendered its bids as well. The routes are mainly loss-making and subsidies of £25.9 million a year are paid to keep the network going.
Points Failure Delays Thousands
Glasgow Central station ground to a halt for a spell on Thursday night as a points failure at one of Scotland's busiest railway stations brought chaos to commuters at 6.30pm. All inbound and outbound services were cancelled for 90 minutes until engineers fixed the fault. Later services also suffered as the station tried to catch up on the backlog. Many long-distance passengers travelled by bus to Paisley and Motherwell to catch alternative services to the south.
Last Post for Tam the Gun
The tradition of firing a gun at 1pm from the battlements of Edinburgh Castle goes back to the days when it gave sailing ships in Leith an accurate time check before accurate chronometers and satellite navigation came along. For the last twenty-six years the fame of the ceremony has been considerably enhanced by the legendary theatrical performances of District Gunner, Staff Sergeant Tom Mackay, MBE (better known as "Tam the Gun"). Sadly, Tam passed away this week, after becoming ill with cancer earlier this year. Tam toured the country talking enthusiastically about his job - raising money for charity in the process. He wrote a humorous (and informative) book entitled " What Time Does the One O'Clock Gun Fire?". Although these days the gun fired at 1pm is a modern field gun, he was seen on national TV last New Year's Eve "firing" the cannon Mons Meg at midnight on the castle ramparts. He is reckoned to be one of the most photographed individual in Scotland, as thousands of photos of him firing the gun are taken by tourists every year. Tam's spirit will live on in the castle - not just in the memories of thousands who were impressed by his performances, but in the form of a "Tam's Dram" whisky.
Skye's the Limit for Affordable Homes
Portree, the largest town on the island of Skye, is to expand over the next ten years as a result of a £20 million housing project, at the Home Farm site. The vast majority of the properties will be affordable homes - available either for rent through a housing association or for sale to people who could not otherwise buy their own home. Due to the soaring prices of housing, driven not just by general house price inflation, but by the purchase of holiday homes by people who do not normally live on the island, many local residents are being priced out of the market. Currently, 230 of Portree's 1,068 homes are holiday homes or not permanently occupied. The 169 affordable homes in the new project are being built by Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association, with financial assistance from Communities Scotland, the Scottish Executive's housing and regeneration agency.
Traffic Management Complaints Clog E-mail System
Edinburgh's controversial traffic management system - and the reversal of a number of elements when they admitted that they had got it wrong - has generated 4,500 e-mails to the council, causing the system to clog up - rather like the roads. Around 500 messages a day were arriving at the city council's computers as irate motorists vented their anger. That included those who found themselves in parts of George Street - with no legal way of driving back out again. The city's transport leader survived a bid this week by opposition councillors to have him sacked for the debacle and waste of money. He was backed by the ruling Labour councillors.
Although Scotland is likely to reach the government target of recycling or composting 25% of its waste by next year, performance in different parts of the country varies widely. The overall figure over April, May and June was around 24%, compared to around 17% for the same quarter in 2004. However, nine Scottish local authority councils were less than half way to achieving the 25%. Lothian, south of Edinburgh, achieved only 3.9%. That contrasted with Clackmannanshire where householders managed to recycle 45% of their waste. Other nations such as Austria, Sweden and Denmark do far better than Scotland, achieving far higher recycling rates of 58%, 39% and 32% respectively.
Scotland's Woods Are Growing
Although we often think that our woodlands are disappearing, Rhona Brankin, the minister responsible for forestry, pointed out this week that there are more wooded areas now than 700 years ago in the days of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace. In the last 20 years there has been an increase of 40% in the amount of recorded woodland in Scotland and over the last 100 years woodland cover has actually trebled in Scotland. Yet in a recent survey, only 7% of those questioned thought the amount of woodland area was on the up. The survey also found, however, that nearly half of all Scots wanted more forests and woodlands to be created - preferably near their home. The survey showed an appreciation of woodland as a home for wildlife, helping to prevent global warming, supporting rural economies and providing areas to go walking in.
A Berry Good Year For Raspberries
Sales of Scottish raspberries soared by more 36% this year as 4,600 tonnes of the fruit, worth more than £328 million, were sold. The statistics appeared just as new claims emerged that the humble raspberry makes people more attractive - the high level of zinc in the fruit makes cheeks flush, giving them a healthy, rosy glow. This year, milder weather in September and October extended the season and the high quality of the fruit being produced induced the supermarkets to give raspberries additional shelf space. Like strawberries, much of the fruit is grown these days under polythene tunnels. That not only creates higher temperatures, but protects the berries from any wet weather. The industry is one of the success stories of UK agriculture - it is profitable, but receives no subsidies from the European Union or the UK government (and, ultimately, the tax-payer).
Three Christmas Cheers for Norway
The decision of Hordaland council in Norway to cut down an 18-metre spruce tree, despite protests from local residents who had watched the tree grow for the last 32 years, was heading to be a PR disaster. A tree has been given by the people of Norway to Edinburgh in gratitude for Scottish help and friendship during the Second World War. But this year's tree was creating resentment instead. When the locals suggested using another tree, the council said it was too late to find another (in a country that grows and chops down millions of spruce trees every year). However, all is well. At the eleventh hour, another tree was found and shipped to Edinburgh. Workmen this week were erecting the tree in its usual spot on The Mound, along from Edinburgh Castle. The lights on the tree will be switched on next Thursday.
Will Sonneywolferine Meet Tobermory Some Day?
The Registrar General's reports on the first names often focuses on the most popular ones and the rise and fall in popularity of different forenames. This year, it contains information on those which were used by parents hoping that their child would stand out from the crowd. The parents of the child named Sonneywolferine will certainly achieve that - though sticking out like a sore thumb seems a more apt description. The parents (plain Joe and more exotic Chauntelle) from Leven in Fife apparently derived the name from Wolverine in the X-Men film, initially suggested by an older brother. Other unique and unusual names bestowed on their children in the last year were M, Tobermory, Atticus, Olympia, Dakota, Vienna, Zinedine, Rooney, Braxton, JJ, Lenin and Indiana. Although there are no Beckams, there is one Romeo. Then again, during the year there was only one girl called Diana and one called Susan and only five girls were given the name Anne, with or without an 'e'; how fashions change.
Bouquets for Celtic and Rangers
Glasgow Celtic and Rangers are the two biggest football (soccer) clubs in Scotland and have a huge fan base who express themselves vocally every week. But now they will have a more sentimental way of showing their softer side - with bouquets of flowers, specially selected to honour the traditions of their clubs and players. Rangers, for example, can have a collection called "True Blue" which contains blue thistles, white roses, bear grasses and scented eucalyptus foliage, all wrapped up in club-branded packaging. Meantime, Celtic fans can select from arrangements with the appropriate-sounding titles of "Paradise" and "The Huddle" as well as one named "No 7" which is not a reference to Chanel but their former Swedish legend Henrik Larsson. Of course, fans of the other Glasgow football club, Partick Thistle (in the Second Division, these days), have been waving jaggy thistles for years... If you have a mind to sending a Rangers or Celtic fan some flowers, see the websites, www.celticfcflowersdirect.net and www.rangersflowers.co.uk.
Graphic from Rangers Flowers.
Weather in Scotland This Week
After a mild start to the week (15C/59F in Aberdeen on Monday, for example), an area of high pressure settled over much of Scotland. While that led to lots of sunshine (Glasgow enjoyed 25 hours of sunshine over Tuesday to Friday), temperatures also fell, especially with the clear skies at night. The first major fall of snow affected the Highlands and the north-east, a light covering extending for a short while to Lothian. By Thursday and Friday, daytime maximum temperatures were no higher than 4/6C (39/43F) and Aviemore dropped to -9C(16F) on Thursday night. The outlook is for the temperature to rise to nearer the average for November (around 8C/46F) but the dry spell and sunshine will continue.
The picture shown here to illustrate the current season in Scotland is of the frost covered leaves of a plant growing in Finlaystone Country Estate, on the border between Inverclyde and Renfrewshire. 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, show Hogganfield Loch by moonlight, Dumbarton Castle, Greylag Geese, Goldeneye - and a pink rose.
See this week's Colour Supplement.