£17 Billion Funding for Local Government "Not Enough"
According to Scottish Executive figures, the amount of central government funding to subsidise local government services has risen by almost £2.6bn over the past six years. By 2008 the funding will have risen by about 55% since 1999. Over the next two years, almost £17 billion of funding is being provided - an increase of 6% over the current year. In addition, during the last few years local taxation (based on a banded property tax) has risen at a much faster rate than inflation, despite that increased finance from the Scottish Executive (and, ultimately, all tax payers). This year, the Finance Minister has pronounced the usual platitudes about local councils keeping this year's local rate increases around the level of inflation (2.5%). However, the organisation representing the local councils immediately pointed out that no support had been provided to meet the costs of new burdens placed on them and that when these are stripped out, they would be left with an increase of only 1%. So local tax payers can expect another well-above inflation increase in the amount they pay, once the councils have done their sums. Those on fixed incomes, such as pensioners, have been hit particularly hard by local council tax rises.
Scottish Employment Outperforming UK
Figures in the latest Bank of Scotland Labour Market Report show that the job market in Scotland is once again stronger than in the UK as a whole - for the sixth consecutive month. This October was also the 27th successive improvement in Scottish labour market conditions. While the data shows that growth has slowed, the employment market is still expanding. Pay increases are also growing, with the biggest monthly rise for seven months.
Scottish Power Rejects Takeover Bid
After months of speculation, the board of Scottish Power has rejected a takeover bid by German utility E.ON. This valued the firm at about £11.3bn ($19.3bn). E.ON already owns Midlands Electricity and East Midlands Electricity, and supplies power to 4.8 million users in Britain. A takeover of Scottish Power would have created the largest energy supplier in the UK. E.ON announced it was considering a bid back in early September, but the board of Scottish Power concluded the final offer price "did not reflect fair value" of the company. Although the German company could return with another bid in six months time, it has decided to pull out of the current talks. Analysts believe that Scottish Power is still a takeover target and that other utility companies are waiting in the wings.
First Heavy Snow of Winter Cause Usual Chaos
The first heavy snowfalls of this winter arrived on Thursday - accompanied by gale-force winds from the Arctic and daytime temperatures which struggled to rise much above freezing. The north-east and the Highlands had the worst of the snow, but few areas escaped totally. The blizzards brought the usual disruption to roads, with the M74 road from the south to Glasgow and the M8 between Edinburgh and Glasgow brought to a virtual standstill at times. A number of roads in the north-east were also closed and the high winds caused the closure of the Skye bridge to high-sided vehicles. 160 schools were closed and thousands of homes were without power due to broken overhead power lines. Four hill walkers had a lucky escape when they were stranded on the Ben Macdui plateau in the Cairngorms and were lucky to be found by rescue teams. It wasn't as if the snowfalls were unexpected - forecasters had been giving dire warnings all week.
Scotland's Police Don't Need Guns
The most senior police officer in Scotland issued a statement this week aimed at heading off any discussion of providing firearms to the police as a matter of course. In the wake of terrorist attacks in recent years, the public has certainly become more aware of armed police in special circumstances, such as at airports. And there are specially trained armed police officers who attend incidents when they are needed. But generally police have only a (large) wooden truncheon and a knife-proof vest with which to defend themselves - plus training in unarmed combat. Over the years, although there has been an increase in England and Wales in the number of crimes recorded by the police in which guns were reported to have been used (up from below 14,000 in 1995 to over 24,000 in recent years), the number of such incidents fell in Scotland from under 1,800 to around 1,000 over the same period. And the number of deaths caused by firearms in Scotland is 0.1 per 100,000 of the population. That compares with 0.3 in Australia, 0.5 in Canada, 0.8 in Italy - and 4.4 in the US.
Survey of Student Income and Expenditure
The Scottish Executive published this week the first comprehensive overview of the income and expenditure of full-time students in further and higher education across Scotland. It showed that, despite longer degree courses in Scotland (four years instead of three in England for an Honours degree), Scottish students graduating in 2005 had £2,740 less debt than English and Welsh students. This was mostly because of the different student funding systems (English universities charge "up-front" rather than after graduation) and students' different patterns of living arrangements - on average, more Scots students remain at home during their studies than in England.
400% Increase in Toll for Forth Road Bridge
The Forth Estuary Transport Authority (Feta), which manages the Forth Road Bridge, has approved the introduction of variable tolls on the bridge which will see them soar from £1 to £4 for cars using the bridge at rush hours. There would be a 50% discount for cars with at least two passengers. The aim is partly to reduce the volume of traffic at peak times and also to raise revenue to pay for repairs to the rusting cables which have recently come to light. The increased tolls were approved on the casting vote of the chairman, with five members opposing the new charges and five voting in favour. Board members representing Fife and West Lothian (the areas closest to the two ends of the bridge) were particularly opposed to the changes. They argue that for many people there is no real alternative to the bridge and if they are on fixed working hours they are forced to travel at peak times. Currently, 80% of the cars crossing at the rush hour only carry the driver.
Last Post for Veteran of World War I
Scotland's oldest man and the UK's longest surviving veteran of World War I, has died at the age of 109. Alfred Anderson served with the 5th Battalion the Black Watch and was with one of the first British contingents to serve on the Western Front. He witnessed the "Christmas truce" of 1914 when British and German troops shook hands in no-man's-land. He was also a batman to Captain Fergus Bowes-Lyon, who was the brother of the late Queen Mother and who died at Loos in 1915. Mr Anderson suffered a shrapnel wound to the back of the neck in 1916. The injury ended his active service and he spent the rest of the war as an instructor, finishing the war as a staff sergeant. He died at a nursing home in Angus this week and was buried on Friday after a service in a packed church at Alyth in Perthshire. The Colonel in Chief of The Black Watch, Sir David Bowes-Lyon, joined the family at the service.
Ban on Incomers to National Park
Managers of the Cairngorms National Park have drawn up proposals which would restrict the sales of new housing to those who can prove a residential, family or work-related link to the area, which covers large parts of the Highlands, Moray, Aberdeenshire and Angus. It is claimed that the action is needed to protect communities from being dominated by second-home owners and local people being priced out of the housing market. The viability of local schools and communities is being threatened by the lack of full-time residents and families. Critics say the move will keep outsiders away and the park will stagnate.
Smokers in Poorest Areas Spend Most on Tobacco
A survey by a market analysis company has shown that the people who live in the poorer areas of Glasgow spend more on tobacco than anywhere else in the UK. In a league table covering the UK, Glasgow districts appear six times in the top ten and residents of Easterhouse in the city spend more per head on smoking than any other place in Britain, with Dennistoun in second place. Bridgeton/Dalmarnock, Keppochhill and Firhill also feature in the table. Areas in the UK with the highest incomes, on the other hand, had the lowest per capita spend on tobacco. The Scottish Executive has been trying to tackle the problem by investing in publicity programmes and in support for people who want to quit. The ban on smoking in all public enclosed spaces begins next March. In Ireland, where a similar ban was introduced some time ago, the overall amount of smoking has been reduced and a similar trend is hoped for in Scotland.
Pringle Saviour Departing
Kim Winser took over as chief executive of the Pringle International knitwear brand based in the Scottish Borders five years ago. The iconic company, famous for its expensive golf sweaters with the diamond motif, had been struggling to survive and had been taken over by a Hong Kong entrepreneur, Kenneth Fang. She is credited with turning round the company and transforming it into a chic international fashion line. Celebrities such as Madonna, Ewan McGregor and Sophie Dahl have taken to the new designs - and overall sales have increased. The 190-year-old company now has a turnover of around £100 million. After heavy annual losses, the company is moving into the black. But Kim Winser says she is moving on to another unnamed company.
New Auchenkilns Junction Opens
One of the worst traffic bottlenecks in Scotland (and there are many of them) has been considerably improved by the completion of a flyover and four new slip roads on the A80 dual-carriageway between Glasgow and Stirling, near Cumbernauld. Around 70,000 vehicles a day had to negotiate a roundabout where it met two busy minor roads. Traffic on the main north/south route will now pass over the interchange. Traffic joining it will use the slip roads instead of trying to dart out onto the roundabout in front of thundering trucks and other vehicles. Work started on the improvements in January 5 this year and, apart from a short spell when unexpected subsidence reduced the carriageway to a single lane, the engineers have managed to keep two lanes open throughout the construction work, though with a 30mph speed limit - which was often largely ignored!
Go-ahead for 5-star Hotel
The elegant building formerly occupied by the Royal Scottish Automobile Club (RSAC) in Glasgow's Blythswood Square is to be transformed into a new 5-star hotel with 140 bedrooms. The RSAC closed down in 2002 and has remained empty ever since. The plans for the hotel, which were publicised this week, will retain key features of the Georgian building, including its facade, an opulent entrance hall with a grand staircase and salon rooms with decor in the French beaux arts style. The developers are the same group which created the up-market Princes Square shopping centre in Buchanan Street. Blythswood Square was originally created between 1823 and 1829 and has late-classical terraced town houses on its four sides. The RSAC building was redeveloped in keeping with that in 1923-9.
Delegates Fly to Scottish Seabird Centre
50 delegates from European Union, African Caribbean and Pacific countries visited Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick this week. They selected the award-winning attraction as a world-leading example of sustainable wildlife tourism. The popular centre has video-cam links to the Bass Rock, three miles offshore from North Berwick. The rock is home to over 120,000 seabirds during the breeding season and the cameras can be controlled by the tourists in the centre without disturbing the nesting birds. The delegates were participating in a week-long assembly of parliamentarians from more than 100 countries in Edinburgh. They had are gathered to promote human rights, democracy and the common values of humanity.
Geese Flocking Back to Scotland
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has reported that geese are returning to Scotland in the largest numbers seen for many years. Greylag, barnacle, pink-footed and Greenland white-fronted geese numbers have recovered significantly in recent decades. SNH claim that the increase is linked to stronger legal protection for birds as well as schemes which encourage farmers to manage their land to help in conservation. In the past, geese were regarded as pests which damaged crops and there were large numbers of birds shot.
Statue of "Big Yin" at Tunnel Mouth?
After many years of repairs, a new "skin" inside the tunnel which runs under the Clyde in Glasgow between Partick and Govan is gradually being installed. There are plans to brighten up the grim look of the structure with coloured lighting at the exit to Partick at night, and a range of colours have been tested out to gauge the reaction. The ideas are being promoted by "Hold Your Breath", a not-for-profit organisation which is also seeking views on such ideas as having a statue of comedian Billy Connolly (known locally as the "Big Yin") at the mouth of the tunnel. Connolly, of course, used to live in Partick and was a Clyde shipyard worker. An online site is seeking the views of at least some of the 65,000 drivers who use the tunnel each day. See www.holdyourbreath.org.
Having a Flutter on a White Christmas
Bookmakers William Hill reported that the constant warnings from weather forecasters about the snow at the end of the week and that this was going to be a colder than normal winter, combined to produce a spate of betting on there being a White Christmas this year. The firm had its biggest 24 hours of White Christmas betting ever, with one wager on snow in Aberdeen that day amounting to £1,600. Odds have now shortened to 4/1 for Aberdeen with Glasgow slightly further behind at 9/2. All it needs is one flake of snow on the Meteorological office monitoring station over the 24 hours of 25th December.
Weather in Scotland This Week
The previous week had been characterized by cold but dry and bright conditions. This week was again cold, with strong winds, but for much of the country there was a cloud cover producing overcast skies. The north-east and east of the country fared best in the sunshine stakes, however - Aberdeen recorded six hours of sunshine on Tuesday. Temperatures were generally in the range 6/9C (43/48F) earlier in the week but as the wind shifted to the north later, the thermometer dropped further to a maximum daytime level of 3/5C (37/41F). As noted earlier in this Newsletter, there was a heavy fall of snow in the north and east on Thursday night with lighter falls over much of the rest of the country too. The icy roads and snow caused a number of roads to grind to a halt. Although remaining cold, the outlook over the next few days is for more winter sunshine.
The picture shown here to illustrate the current season in Scotland is of Mahonia - a shrub which comes into flower at this time of year. For further illustrations, see the "Colour Supplement" below.
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland this week to show the current scene in Scotland show Hogganfield Loch at dusk, Christmas lights in Glasgow's George Square, Mahonia flowers, and Bullfinch, Shovelar and Goosander birds.
See this week's Colour Supplement.