Daring Launch on Clyde
A crowd of over 10,000 people turned up to see HMS Daring, the first of the Royal Navy's latest Type 45 Anti-Air Warfare destroyers, slide down the slipway on Wednesday. The Navy claims it will be the most advanced warship in the world, with each vessel having more firepower than the combined fleet of the previous Type 42 destroyers. With a price tag of £605 million, you would hope so. All launches on the Clyde are nerve-wracking, as the river is very narrow - this 500 foot long warship is only slightly shorter than the width of the water at Scotstoun. Admittedly, the ship is launched into the water at an angle, but even so, 680 tons of drag chains attached to the hull were needed to stop it coming too close to the Braehead shopping centre on the other bank. Crowds of onlookers there cheered and clapped as the ship stopped with only a few yards to spare.
The Type 45 destroyer is the first of six to be built by BAe Systems in Glasgow and construction will keep the yards at Scotstoun and Govan busy for the next seven years. The combat system is the cutting edge of technology and there is a full electric propulsion system which would allow the ship to sail 7,000 nautical miles without any additional fuel. The Principal Anti-Air Missile System (PAAMS), will monitor the airspace for hundreds of miles around the fleet she is protecting and has the missile fire-power to deal with multiple attacks. The 190 crew will have vastly improved living quarters and can communicate with home from lap-top computers. All ranks were asked what they would like on board Daring and 95% of their ideas have been incorporated. The ship will now be fitted out in a dry dock on the Clyde and will enter service in 2009. There are some illustrations of the launch and the ship in this week's Colour Supplement.
First-time House Buyers at Record Low
Soaring house prices may be good news for those already on the property ladder, but it is making it more difficult for first-time buyers to take that first step. A recent survey by the Bank of Scotland estimates that the number of people entering the property market in 2005 was 9% lower than in 2004 - and 58% lower than in 2002. Even saving up for the increasingly large amount required as a deposit by most lenders, is taking longer - typically four years. The average deposit in 2000 was £5,000, equivalent to 23% of average annual earnings that year. In 2005 the typical deposit was £15,000, equivalent to 57% of average annual earnings. The report says that in 1995, first-time buyers accounted for 37% of property transactions in Scotland. That figure has now fallen to 24%. Of course, the soaring prices in Edinburgh makes the capital the least affordable area for first-time buyers in Scotland, despite salaries being on average amongst the highest in the country.
Big Political Guns Fire on Dunfermline
The UK parliament by-election for the Dunfermline and West Fife constituency takes place on Thursday, February 9th. At the last General Election, the seat was held by Labour with a comfortable majority. But all the political parties are fighting hard to win the seat, which fell vacant after the death of Rachel Squire in January. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, who sits for the nearby constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, has been a frequent visitor, along with other members of the Cabinet with Scottish connections. This week, the Chancellor highlighted 40 new jobs at a North Sea sub-sea equipment firm located at the former Rosyth naval base in the constituency. And he reiterated his opposition to increased tolls on the Forth Bridge - always a local crowd pleaser. This week also saw David Cameron, the new head of the Conservative Party in the UK, make his third visit to Scotland since becoming leader. Dunfermline High Street was reported to be more like a rugby pitch as the politicians got caught up in a media scrum. Cameron was followed by the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy. Having been forced to resign due to a drink problem - and lying about it - there were more questions about that, than LibDem policies. Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party this week made his sixth visit to Dunfermline since the start of the campaign. He predicted that there would be a Saltire flag hoisted in the historic town next week.
The illustration here shows Dunfermline Abbey's tower which has "King Robert the Bruce" carved round it.
Road Deaths Fall
The number of people killed in Scotland's roads in 2004 fell to 306, 8% less than in 2003, according to a government report published this week. Transport minister Tavish Scott welcomed the reduction but added that "we must not be complacent." The figures also showed that there were 18,405 casualties on Scotland's roads last year, 2% fewer than in 2003 and the lowest figure since 1953. The full publication can be found at the Scottish Executive's Road Accident Statistics report.
Farmers' Income Falls
The Scottish Executive published the estimated farm income for 2005 this week and it makes gloomy reading for the industry. The Total Income From Farming (TIFF) indicator, shows a fall of 8.4% from 2004 to 2005. And once inflation is allowed for, the figure becomes a decline of 10.9%. Even more dramatic figures are shown by the data on Net Farm Income, (NFI) which compares actual farm businesses year on year. Specialist cereal growers have shown a drop of 92% from 2003/2004 to 2004/2005.The only sector which shows an increase in NFI is dairying, with a modest 8% increase. Average net farm income for all types of farms shows a fall of 34% from 2003/2004 to 2004/2005, giving an average income to the farmer and spouse down from £19,800 to £13,100. In other words, for every £100 a farm earned in 1973 it would now, adjusted for inflation, earn only £38.85. These figures do not take into account of diversified income - for example, if horses are liveried in the farm, any income is not included and earnings by spouses away from farming are not covered. Although increased fuel and fertiliser costs are a factor, the main problem is reduced commodity prices. There is a £39 million decrease in the value of the potato crop, largely due to a 24.1% decrease in price. And cereals have fallen by 10.7% in value, partly due to a 5% decrease in acreage but also a 6.3% fall in prices. Of course, the figures do not take into account subsidies from the European Common Agricultural Policy. Without those, farmers would be leaving the land in droves.
Dozens of Schools to Close
Despite noisy protests from many parents, Glasgow City Council has approved the closure and amalgamation of 28 primary schools and the creation of 16 new buildings at locations across the city. The council is responding to the decline in the number of pupils at a number of schools and the need to do something about the poor state of some of them. But primary schools are for those aged 5 to 11 and tend to be small and have a limited catchment area. The new plans will remove a number of well-loved establishments and will result in longer distances for some kids to travel. One new school planned for Otago Street will have 650 pupils and lead to the closure of four other primary schools. However, the council claim that many parents see the value of the reinvestment and regeneration plans. 30 years ago, Glasgow had a primary school population of 110,000 children in 220 primaries, compared to four years ago when the primary population was 40,000 in 203 primaries. Many schools are operating at less than 20% capacity.
Scotland's Celebration of Tartan Day - Express Your Views
The Scottish Executive has engaged RGA management consultancy to examine the feasibility for a Scotland-wide programme of Scottish cultural celebration of Tartan Day. The aim would be to preserve and celebrate Scottish culture and heritage and showcase modern Scotland. To gauge the reaction of those living in Scotland and the many Scots abroad to the idea of holding such a celebration, a short on-line questionnaire has been set up. You can access the questionnaire by clicking on the electronic link below or by pasting the code into the address bar of your internet browser. This will take you through to the software package being used to collect responses - all input will be completely confidential and your details will not be shared with any third party. See Tartan Day Survey.
Responses are being sought from as many people as possible, so please forward the details to any friends or family members that you believe would have an opinion (positive or negative!) about the project. And as an additional encouragement, all completed questionnaires will be entered into a prize draw to win a parcel of traditional Scottish goods worth £50. If you experience any problems with the survey or have further questions about the study, please contact Helen Duncan at RGA via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Site for Royal Highland Showground?
Last year, the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS) protested vehemently about expansion plans for Edinburgh Airport. These meant that they would be forced to leave their land at Ingliston, which has been home for the Royal Highland Show for the past 50 years. The site also hosts 150 other events every year, attracting around 1.2 million visitors - the same number as Edinburgh Castle - and is worth £100 million to the local economy. While still arguing that they should be allowed to stay on, it appears that exploratory discussions have taken place about an alternative site - across the A8 road from the present location. While that may be attractive to the RHASS, it would still cause traffic disruption for passengers at the airport every year when the crowds descend on the premier event in the Scottish agricultural calendar. But Edinburgh City Council is keen for the showground to stay within its boundary because of the economic benefits.
Superbuses for Clyde Fastlink Service
A £35 million transport plan is to be put before Glasgow City Council in the next few months. This would introduce a fleet of hi-tech buses to run every six minutes from Central Station in Glasgow, along the river to the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) and on to the far end of the massive Glasgow Harbour development. Unlike the expensive new tramway system which has been in the pipeline for Edinburgh for many years, the initial implementation of the new bus fleet will not require any track and so the new superbuses could be running to the SECC by the end of next year. Thereafter, about 85% of the route will be on a new private roadway, passing by the new transport museum, with a walkway to the new Partick rail and underground interchange. This scheme probably has a better chance of going ahead than the earlier grandiose plans of building a monorail, using maglev technology to Glasgow Harbour from the city centre.
Prestwick Aerospace Plant Sold
BAe Systems, which has been divesting itself of its aerospace division, announced this week that it was selling its plant at Prestwick Airport to Canadian venture capital company Onex. It will be operated by one of their companies, Spirit AeroSystems, based in Wichita, Kansas. Employees at the Ayrshire plant have been assured that their jobs and pensions are safe and, indeed, there is even talk of "expansion". Trade union representatives were impressed by the positive talk and were relieved that the cloud of uncertainty which had been hanging over the Prestwick employees had been lifted.
Scotsman Hotel Sold to Saudi Group
The Scotsman Hotel, which was created from the former offices of the Scotsman newspaper on North Bridge in the centre of Edinburgh, has been sold to Mohamed Bin Issa al-Jaber, whose multinational MBI International group is valued at £2 billion. He is said to have been impressed by the hotel's "upmarket quirky" style, which includes touches such as Monopoly boards in every room and Tunnock's Tea Cakes in the mini-bar. The group says it plans to use the Scotsman's model as the basis of a new trans-European hotel brand. The hotel has high occupancy rates and has won a string of awards. But cost over-run in the conversion from newspaper office to hotel and mismanagement in the early years had led to persistent rumours of impending financial disaster. The Scotsman Hotel Group's last financial accounts showed an interest bill on borrowings which exceeded the group's profit.
New Records for Aberdeen Harbour
Despite the restrictions on the amount of fish which can be caught in the North Sea, landings of white fish, industrial fish and shellfish totalled 23,561 tonnes at Aberdeen Harbour last year, up from 22,214 tonnes, due to higher landings of industrial fish. The port also saw a record volume of imports and exports through the port in 2005, totalling 4.85 million tonnes, compared with the previous record of 4.56 million tonnes in 2004. Increased activity in the oil and gas industry was a major factor, but grain exports also reached a new high. The port has trading links with more than 30 countries around the world.
Marking the Start of Scotland's Nuclear Age
On August 13, 1957, scientists gave birth to the atomic age in Scotland, when the first nuclear reaction occurred on Scottish soil. The experimental rig where uranium "criticality" occurred has since been decommissioned and the building demolished, leaving behind only an area of hard standing as a reminder of its place in history. Now the UK Atomic Energy Authority director is seeking ideas from the public on how to mark the birthplace of nuclear energy in Scotland.
Planning Award for Gorbals
The Gorbals area of Glasgow used to be synonymous with deprivation, poor housing, crime and violence. True, there was a tremendous community spirit, but after the Second World War, an effort was made to create better housing conditions. The high-rise apartment blocks of that era were a disaster, however, destroying the social fabric and not doing much to improve the other aspects. But in the last 15 years the area has been regenerated again and damp apartments have been replaced by maisonettes and a mixture of private and social housing. New shops, a supermarket, a hotel, leisure centre, library and a new park have all been created and art works and trees have transformed the area - at a cost of over £200 million. The people living there already recognise the vast improvement and this week at the Royal Town Planning Institute awards, the New Gorbals scheme won the New Neighbourhoods Award, a major recognition of 15 years of work to make the neighbourhood a more attractive place to live, work and invest.
Title Glasgow Doesn't Want
A survey by Fitness Magazine has named Glasgow as one of the UK's fattest cities. The report claims that a diet of fast food and alcohol, little exercise and spending their spare time slumped in front of the TV, has made the average Glaswegian overweight. Admittedly Bradford in England took top place on the UK obesity league, but Glasgow came 5th, with Edinburgh placed 11th. Southampton in the far south of England took the accolade of the fittest city in the UK, a title held by London for the past four years.The table was based on data including the incidence of heart disease, the amount of junk food and alcohol consumed, and the level of gym membership.
Smoking Ban for White Van Man
Owners of commercial vehicles have been told that the cabs are designated as "places of work" and therefore the ban on smoking which comes into force at the end of March will apply there as well as in offices and factories. Enforcing the legislation may be another matter, of course, as the large numbers of drivers with mobile phones clamped to their ears will testify. The smoking ban in England and Wales will not be so stringent, so drivers of commercial vehicles there are not included. But if they cross the Border into Scotland, they will have to stub out their cigarettes. If (and it's a big if) they are prosecuted, their employers could be fined £200 and individual smokers would have to cough up £50.
Scotland's First "Pegasus" Crossing
Scotland's roads have had zebra crossings (pedestrian crossings with black and white stripes on the road, highlighted by flashing orange lights on the pavement) and pelican crossings (pedestrian controlled traffic lights) but now the recently upgraded A92 Dundee to Arbroath road has what is believed to be Scotlandís first Pegasus crossing on a dual carriageway. Pegasus? It's similar to pedestrian controlled lights - but has some important differences. First of all, the buttons to control the traffic lights are eight feet above the ground. And the area in which the pedestrians wait until the traffic lights signal that it is safe to cross, is not marked by white lines but by wooden corral fencing. And instead of an illuminated green walking man signalling that it is safe to proceed, those crossing see an illuminated green symbol of a horse and rider. For this Pegasus crossing is for the benefit of those traversing the busy road on horseback. There are a number of horses from nearby stables that go down to the beach at Monifeith to exercise. The special crossing allows the riders to operate the buttons without dismounting. There's even an anti-slip surface on the road where the horses trot across, once the traffic has stopped.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Although Sunday was bright and sunny over much of Scotland, low temperatures brought freezing fog at the start of the week. Passengers at Glasgow airport faced long delays and as a number of flights were grounded due to poor visibility. Although temperatures slowly rose during the week, solid cloud cover and lingering mist was a feature of the weather in the west until the end of the week. But the north and east fared better - Aberdeen had over 13 hours of sunshine over Monday and Tuesday and had over 6 hours of sun on Thursday while Stornoway recorded 9 hours of sunshine on Thursday.. On Friday, the positions were reversed as the west enjoyed some bright sunshine, while the north of Scotland saw clouds and some rain instead.
The illustration here is of frost covering the remains of a wild flower plant in Drumpellier Country Park.
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include frost and mist, a pochard, white camellia, pink hyacinth and the launch of HMS Daring.
See this week's Colour Supplement.