Aircraft Carrier Deal Creates Thousands of Jobs
The rivers Clyde and Forth both benefitted this week after it was confirmed that a large part of the £2.9 billion order for two aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy would be built at the BAe shipyard at Govan on the Clyde and then assembled at Rosyth in Fife, on the shores of the Firth of Forth. Construction is expected to start in 2008 and will involve 20 million man hours - equivalent to around 20,000 jobs. The order secures the future of the yards for a number of years. In due course, Rosyth is expected to be involved in the future maintenance of the two warships. The two carriers will displace 65,000 tonnes and will be over 900 feet long. The individual sections to be built on the Clyde will be bigger than the type 45 destroyers which the yard has been producing in recent years.
Scotland's Children Overweight
Figures published this week in "Scottish Health Statistics" got UK-wide coverage as they revealed that children in Scotland are amongst the most overweight in the world. 20% of children were classed as obese - and that puts Scotland on a par with the USA. The published figures show that among Scottish children born in 2001, 20.7% were overweight by the time they were 3½ years old. 33% of Scots children are classed as overweight by the time they are teenagers, with 20% obese and 10% severely obese. Poor diet and lack of exercise are the main problems and there is a correlation between low income and poor food choices according to the experts.
Costs - and Benefits - of Hosting G8 Summit
There were claims and counter-claims this week about the costs and the benefits of Scotland hosting the G8 conference in July. The dispute got off the ground when it was revealed that the cost of policing the high-profile conference, which was a target for activists, amounted to £72 million - and that the government in London was only going to pay for £20 million of that total. The government calculated that spending by visiting world leaders and their staff, media representatives - and even protestors - amounted to almost £64 million. They further calculated that Scotland benefitted from the worldwide publicity surrounding the event to the tune of £66 million. Critics of these financial estimates asked whether coverage featuring police in riot gear clashing with anti-globalisation protesters really produced a positive effect. And not many of the protestors were likely to return to Scotland, having experienced the local "hospitality". Many retailers also had a dim view of the financial benefits. Those in Edinburgh and Auchterarder closed their doors on days when trouble was expected and many others saw their takings plummet, as resident Scots avoided city centres and cut down on visiting tourist spots during the week of the conference.
War and Peace on Expenses
In previous years, the annual report on the expenses incurred by Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) ran to a total of 12 pages. But following the controversy over the claims by the former Conservative Party leader in the Scottish Parliament, this year's publication runs to 700 pages and provides an unprecedented level of detail. In all, MSP's allowances (which include staff costs), expenses, furniture and equipment for the 129 members increased to £9.5m over the last year. Deputy Finance Minister George Lyon claimed the highest overall sum - more than £67,000.
Quickie Divorces Just Got Quicker
This week, the Scottish Parliament passed the bill which makes divorces in Scotland easier and quicker. The Family Law Bill will cut the time needed for an uncontested divorce from two years to one year and for a contested divorce from five years to two. The bill also gives new parental rights to unmarried fathers who jointly register the child's birth and introduces legal safeguards for cohabiting couples. Advocates for the reduced time required for a divorce argued that where reconciliation is out of the question, the transition should be as painless as possible, particularly where children are involved. But many others, including the Roman Catholic Church, warned that the new law was attacking the family.
Scotland's Households Rising
Despite a slow decline in the total population, the number of individual dwellings in the country continues to rise. The number of households in Scotland has increased steadily since 1991, by between 0.5 and 1% each year. The government's "Household Estimates for 2005" published this week shows that the number of households increased by 1% last year, to 2.27 million. Of course, the size of the average household is shrinking, with fewer large households and more people living alone. Until 2003, the number of vacant dwellings and second homes in Scotland was increasing each year. That trend has reversed and there are now 2,300 fewer than one year ago. At this stage it is too early to be certain of the causes of this decrease. Aberdeenshire and Highland showed the largest percentage increase in the number of households over the past year (1.9%), due to a combination of more dwellings, and more of the existing dwellings being occupied.
Loch Lomond Speed Limit Plan Dropped
Officials at the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority have confirmed that they have dropped plans to impose a 7mph speed limit across the main body of the famous loch. The maximum speed will remain at 56mph, following a lengthy campaign by local businesses who argued that it would damage the local economy. So water skiers, jet skiers and high powered craft will be able to travel at high speed over most of the tranquil loch. The existing shoreline limit of 7mph (applied to 150 metres from the edge of the loch) is to be extended to the islands off Luss and a few other environmentally important areas. The original curb would have mirrored one imposed on Lake Windermere in the English Lake District - where a 10mph limit has been introduced and watersport enthusiasts were told to travel north to Loch Lomond instead. Fishermen complain that the noise of jet skis disturb fish and wildlife experts have warned that the number of birds on the loch has declined since high speed boats arrived a number of years ago.
North Sea Exploration Slashed After Tax Hike
When Gordon Brown, the Fife-born Chancellor of the Exchequer, recently announced a major increase in the tax paid by companies operating in the North Sea, concerns were expressed that this would impact on investment and jobs in the area - much of it involving Scotland. Two weeks later, the predictions appeared to be coming true faster than many had expected. Oil giant Shell has cut its exploration programme by a third following the tax hike. Instead of hiring three drilling rigs at a cost of $250,000 a day, there will now only be two rigs. The United Kingdom Offshore Operators' Association says that this is just the first tangible illustration of the impact of what they call an "ill-judged" move. The North Sea oil and gas industry supports over 260,000 jobs, the majority in Scotland. The last time the tax take jumped up, the number of exploration wells dropped by 25% in the following year. Half of the revenue earned by oil companies in the North Sea are now swallowed up in taxation. Ironically, the last time the tax levy was imposed, it resulted in lower tax revenues.
Aberdeen's FirstGroup Wins Franchises
The Aberdeen-based FirstGroup is the UK’s largest surface transportation company with a turnover of nearly £2.7 billion a year and some 67,000 employees across the UK and North America. This week it became Britain's biggest train operator by winning a £2 billion battle to secure the running of Greater Western and Thameslink/Greater Northern rail franchises. It will add another £1 billion to the company's revenues and is predicted to double its pre-tax rail profits next year. The news resulted in their shares jumping 3.8%. FirstGroup began in Aberdeen as a bus company and has expanded by leaps and bounds. It operates First Scotrail which runs the train services across much of Scotland.
Biggest Highland Fling for 20 Years
In global terms, the earthquake that shook the area around Fort William on the west coast of Scotland last Saturday night hardly registered in seismographs. But at 3.0 on the Richter scale, it was enough to alarm residents and rattle a few doors and windows. Police got a spate of phone calls from worried householders and the British Geological Survey seismologists confirmed that it was the biggest earthquake to hit the Highlands for 20 years. Apparently the north-west of Scotland is an active region for earthquakes as it sits on the Great Glen fault, which runs for 300 miles from the island of Colonsay in the south to Shetland in the far north.
Airport Authority Gives Windfarm Take-off Clearance
Plans for a massive windfarm took a step forward this week after the British Airports Authority (BAA) withdrew its objections. BAA had been concerned that the 140 tall turbines in the £150 million development, covering 21 square miles at Whitelee on Eaglesham Moor, would show up on radar screens at Glasgow Airport, six miles to the north, in the same way as aircraft. The project has been delayed for two years as a result. But now BAA is to install an additional radar system at Kincardine in Fife which will track aircraft flying above Whitelee. This will be merged with the existing radar displays to give controllers an acceptable picture. ScottishPower, who are masterminding the windfarm, claims that it will save about 650,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum (equivalent to the emissions from about 240,000 car). Because of the size of the project, final approval is required from the Scottish Executive, probably early next year.
Aberdeen's Prestigious New Hotel
A planning application is to be submitted to build a four-star 200-bedroom hotel next to the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC). Demand for accommodation in Aberdeen has soared in recent years, because of the large number of business travellers who descend on the city. The Hilton Group announced recently that it was to invest in its Aberdeen Treetops Hotel and might acquire a second site in the city. The AECC development should be open for business in time for the Offshore Europe oil and gas show in September 2007.
Rolls Royce Hillington Factory Closes
The factory making Rolls Royce aircraft engines at Hillington Industrial Estate in Glasgow opened in 1940, making the Merlin engines which powered the famous Spitfire, Hurricane and RAF Mustang fighters and Lancaster bomber. It continued to produce aircraft engines after the war, making Rolls Royce turbojets and engine components, including some for the most advanced engines made by Rolls Royce. But like many old factories, it was not well suited to modern production methods and in 2002 the company announced that it was to move to a new site at Inchinnan. The £85 million plant opened in October 2004 and the 1,000 staff have been moving to the new facility since then. Now, at a ceremony this week attended by many former employees, the Hillington factory was finally closed.
Leaning Towards Pisa
Scottish travellers who want to experience the delights of Tuscany in Italy (famous for the leaning tower of Pisa and a holiday haunt of Prime Minister Tony Blair) will soon be able to jet off to the sunshine there next year more easily. Budget airline Jet2.com has announced that it will fly passengers there for just £31 each way. The direct flights from Edinburgh will be launched on May 27 next year. The route is being started up in response to online requests which showed that the Tuscan city was by far the most popular new destination. Ryanair already has a service to Pisa, departing from Prestwick Airport in Ayrshire.
Picture via Jet2.com.
Aberdeen's Lord Provost Boldly Goes....
John Reynolds, the Lord Provost of Aberdeen, has a number of other honorary titles, including lord lieutenant of Aberdeen, lord high admiral of the Northern Seas and vice-admiral of the Coast of Great Britain and Ireland. But now he has boldly gone where no civic leader has gone before - he has been appointed honorary admiral of the local Star Trek Club. The provost revealed that he was a closet "trekkie" earlier this year, when he started a campaign to have a memorial erected in Aberdeen to the Star Trek engineer "Scotty". When actor James Doohan who played the part died in July this year, there was an unseemly scramble by a number of Scottish locations to be named as the birthplace of the fictional character. Elgin and Linlithgow vied with Aberdeen, each quoting verbal and written "evidence". In an episode called "Wolf in the Fold", Scotty recalled that he had been an "old Aberdeen pub crawler." Aberdeen is still steadily working towards recognising this - though maybe the contenders will just have to wait until "Scotty" is born (in 2222).
Tasty Apartments Above Former Burger Bar
Five two-bedroom apartments above a retail unit, which was until recently a Burger King outlet, are coming on the market with a sale price of over £1.5 million. These are not just any old apartments - they overlook Princes Street in the heart of Edinburgh and have an uninterrupted view of Edinburgh Castle from the corner of Castle Street - the illustration shows the property from the castle ramparts. Whoever buys the property will just get a shell for that price and will still have to divide it up and decorate the flats before they can sell them on - probably with a price tag of nearly £500,000 each.
Love It or Hate It
A poll published this week showed that the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh was amongst the top ten most hated structures in the UK and should be pulled down. 10,000 people surveyed by TV's Channel 4 ranked it the 8th worst on the list. Then, a few days later, the same building was voted into the top ten best-loved buildings in Britain by 2,000 people, again coming 8th and the only one in Scotland. These opposing views probably reflect the population at large, where some dislike the architecture intensely, while others admire it.
Santa Too Scary for Kids?
According to advice on a government website, children need to be protected from the "terrifying" appearance of Santa at school Christmas parties. And pantomimes should be regarded as psychological "scene of crime" sites, where nervous pupils should be seated next to the exits. Website www.teachernet.gov.uk is run by the communications unit of the Department for Education and Skills. Other education specialists went "Ho ho ho" at the advice, arguing that learning to cope with fear (if there was any) was a vital part of growing up. The howls of protest obviously got through and the advice to teachers on the web site was hurriedly removed, with a spokesperson for the department announcing "We fully support the traditional British Christmas." So come back Santa, all is forgiven...
Weather in Scotland This Week
The temperature in Scotland this week went on a roller-coaster, with clear skies causing thermometers to plunge while cloud and rain drove the mercury back up again on other days. The week started mild, for this time of year, reaching 13C (55F) on Sunday in Aberdeen but dropping the following day to 6C (43F) in Glasgow and Edinburgh and Aviemore struggling to reach 3C (37F). But that was immediately followed by another rise on Tuesday to 9/11C (48/52F). While that was associated with a lot of cloud, the sun did appear for a few pleasant hours on Wednesday. Friday, too, was bright in many parts but by that time the temperatures had dropped to 7C (45F) in central Scotland and only 3C (37F) once again in Aberdeen. On Saturday, those low temperatures and a northerly wind produced some snow in the north but most of the country was just cold but bright.
The picture here to illustrate the current week's seasonal weather is of the moon rising in a pinkish sky - created by the setting sun behind the camera.
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland this week to show the current season and its flora and fauna includes Venus at sunset, a nearly full moon, rhododendron flower, greenfinches, festive lights at the Gallery of Modern Art and George Square in Glasgow. See this week's Colour Supplement.