University Student Exams in Jeopardy
Industrial action by university lecturers has put in doubt the exams of tens of thousands of students and the graduation of many who are coming to the end of their degree courses. The lecturers are refusing to set or mark exam papers and some exams have already been disrupted. This week, the unions representing the lecturers across the UK rejected a pay offer of 12.6%, spread over three years, saying that it was well below the level needed to end the boycott of exam marking. No more talks are planned, but if final exams cannot be marked, many will be unable to pursue careers or future study. Some universities are putting in place "emergency measures", such as using exam papers from other sources - though it is unclear who will mark them. St Andrews and Aberdeen universities departed from national negotiations and have offered academics a pay rise of 5% in August, followed by 3.5% in each of the following two years. The unions rejected this but indicated that it could be a starting point towards a UK-wide settlements. St Andrews University has said that it will nevertheless go ahead and implement their proposals anyway, believing that enough of its staff are in favour of the offer and will go back to normal working.
Progress, But Scotland Still Leads Heart Death Table
Premature deaths from coronary heart disease in Scotland have been cut by nearly 50% in the last ten years, mainly as a result of lower smoking rates and better treatments, including drugs to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Even so, more people die young from heart disease in Scotland than in any other part of the UK and Scottish women are still twice as likely to die from heart disease under the age of 75, compared with those who live in south-west England. Scottish men are also more likely to die early from heart disease than men in other parts of the UK. The British Heart Foundation has published a raft of figures on related issues such as smoking, diet and exercise. The data show that as a result of higher rates of heart failure, more than 4,000 Scots are dying from heart disease before they reach 75 than in other parts of the UK. It is estimated that more than one in seven Scottish adults are living with some form of heart or circulatory disease.
Was £2 Billion Spent on Teachers' Pay Value for Money?
Audit Scotland, the country's public sector finance watchdog, has questioned whether the landmark pay deal in 2000, which gave teachers a 23% pay rise and more flexible working arrangements and a decrease in hours of classroom work, actually improved standards and was value for money. The £2.15 billion investment in Scottish schools included the recruitment of 3,000 additional administrative and support staff. Audit Scotland did find that the deal had produced benefits, including stable industrial relations (which had been very poor before 2000), better recruitment and retention, a better induction scheme for teachers and more commitment by newly-qualified teachers. But the watchdog reported that it could find no clear evidence of improvements in education or value for money, mainly because of the failure of the government to set targets. Audit Scotland called on the executive to agree a "comprehensive" set of measures to assess the ongoing cost and impact of the agreement in future years.
Call Centre Jobs Safe - For Now
Communications company NTL has said that the jobs of its 1,700 Scottish call centre staff are secure, despite announcing a total of 6,000 job cuts in the UK by the end of 2007. The reductions are as a result of a £3.4 billion merger with Telewest. Some of the jobs will not be totally lost, however, as the work is being outsourced and staff will move to a new employer. The combined British workforce of Telewest and NTL is about 17,000 and about a third of the workforce is now facing redundancy to provide savings of £250 million a year. An NTL spokesman said "There will be no immediate changes to the Scottish workforce. But that does not mean there won't be changes in the future. A decision on that will be made over the next year and a half." While there was relief in Scotland at the news, it will mean uncertainty for 18 months for all the staff.
Air Sea Rescue Services to be Privatised
Air sea rescue services are currently operated by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. But the Ministry of Defence has announced that they are to be partly privatised and operated instead by a private company. They claim that the operation will be just as effective and deliver "better value for the taxpayer." Decisions regarding helicopters, basing and contract duration have yet to be taken. Currently, helicopter cover in Scotland is co-ordinated from RAF Kinloss in Moray. Helicopters are based at the RAF airfield at Lossiemouth in Moray, and by the Royal Navy at Prestwick, Ayrshire. There are another nine bases around the UK, with an RAF station in Northumberland, south of the border, covering much of south and east Scotland. It is claimed by the government that the new arrangements will still involve a "high proportion" of military air crew, alongside civilian fliers. A Canadian-based company was recently awarded the contract to run the maritime and coastguard service at Sumburgh in the Shetland Islands and Stornoway in the Western Isles, from 2007 to 2012.
More Work for Clyde Shipyards?
The news that the troubled Swan Hunter shipyard at Wallsend near Newcastle in the north of England had been put up for sale, may mean that BAE Systems shipyard at Govan on the river cLyde will inherit more work. The Glasgow yard recently launched the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel "Mounts Bay" on time and on budget, as they did with her earlier sister ship "Cardigan Bay". The warships are a group of four troop and vehicle carriers ordered for the Royal Navy, with work divided equally between Govan and Tyneside. But unlike the performance of BAE Systems on Clydeside, the English yard has been dogged by a series of delays and financial problems. They say they need more cash to finish the ship, but the Ministry of Defence is reported to have lost patience and will soon announce that the partially built ship will be towed to Clydeside to be fitted out - creating more than 200 new jobs for Glasgow.
Clinton's Advice to Young Scots
Bill Clinton was in Glasgow this week, lecturing to 550 guests in the Thistle Hotel - and being paid sweetly for his 90 minute presentation. Speaking without notes, he covered world events, world leaders he had met as President, global warming (with a swipe at President Bush's position on this) and globalisation. He kept the full attention of his audience (who had paid £500 a head to be there) as he made an impassioned plea to encourage kids to dream and make the most of their intelligence, talent and ability. But he acknowledged that opportunities were not evenly distributed. He also had time to praise his friend Prime Minister Tony Blair in what he called "a little plug for the home team here".
Our Dynamic Earth Spins More Visitors
After opening in 1999, the Edinburgh visitor attraction "Our Dynamic Earth," which is located a short distance from the new Scottish Parliament building on Holyrood Road, has faced a number of setbacks. After the first year when attendances reached 500,000, visitor numbers slumped and were around 180,000 a year for the last three years. Construction work and associated road closures discouraged many visitors for a long spell. Then complaints by nearby householders about noise, curtailed the hosting of lucrative evening functions. But the science centre underwent a £2 million improvement programme recently and is now reporting that visitor numbers in April this year were up by 25% on the same month last year. Easter weekend saw the biggest jump - with double the numbers on Good Friday, compared to a year ago. New features such as FutureDome (with films projected onto the dome) and Earthscape Scotland (an external space) opened at the end of March, providing a specific focus on Scotland rather than general science. A "sonic igloo" has also been built to soundproof the venue and late-night music events have restarted, which will considerably assist the financial position.
No Singing from the Same Anthem Sheet
A couple of months ago, First Minister Jack McConnell suggested that there should be a public debate on which song should be used at international sporting occasions as Scotland's national anthem. The question arose after "Flower of Scotland" had been played (many times, I'm glad to say) at the Commonwealth Games, instead of "Scotland the Brave" or other rousing songs such as "Scots Wha Hae" or even "Highland Cathedral". But this week the idea of the Scottish legislature laying down the law on the subject was dismissed by the parliament's Enterprise and Culture Committee. They suggested that far from the politicians "leading" a debate as Jack McConnell had suggested, there were other more important issues for a national debate. None of the contenders had much support from the committee - who optimistically suggested that a new song would eventually emerge, supported by the general public.
Even the Trains are More Punctual
There have been lots of odd things happening this week in Scotland. The sun was shining a lot (!) and temperatures soared above 70F (see the weather section below). Then the Scotland football team scored five goals in an international and followed that with a 0-0 draw against Japan in the Kirin Cup, so winning the annual trophy (see the Sports section). And then there were newspaper reports that even the trains were becoming more punctual... More than 91% of trains to the Capital arrived within five minutes of schedule last month - a big improvement on the same month last year when the figure was 66%. The flagship Edinburgh to Glasgow service produced its best performance for three years, with 97% of the trains within ten minutes of schedule. The improvement is being attributed to better track maintenance and renewed power cables making signalling more reliable.
£12 Million Refurbishment for Popular Edinburgh Hotel
Last year, the George Hotel in the heart of Edinburgh was sold to Principal Hotels, after a major bidding war with some of the world’s leading hoteliers. The four-star George is popular with visiting American tourists and its Chambertin Restaurant is a favourite lunchtime venue with local businessmen. Originally built as five town houses in 1775 by world-renowned architect Robert Adam, the property opened as a hotel in 1881, making it one of the oldest in the capital. Now it is to get a £12 million contemporary make-over, with new bar and restaurant and a revamping of its 195 bedrooms. The 114-seat Chambertin restaurant and bar will be called EH2 Tempus (a reference to the EH2 post code) and offer a full menu of contemporary dishes, along with wines and cocktails from around the world. Sounds as though the popular "help yourself" buffet table in the Chambertin is a gonner...
Top of the Menu
Restaurateur Martin Wishart was named "Scottish Chef of the Year" in front of 320 of his peers at the Scottish Chef Awards last weekend. He founded Restaurant Martin Wishart in Leith in 2001 and it rapidly established a formidable reputation. It was the first restaurant in Edinburgh to win a Michelin star and a few months ago he became the first person to win the Good Food Guide Scottish Restaurant of the Year title twice. Other awards presented at the gala dinner were "Restaurant Chef of the Year" which was won by Alan Craigie, of the Creel in St Margaret's Hope in Orkney. Paul Hart, of Cringletie House in Peebles, won the Hotel Chef of the Year award and Didier Dejean, of the Silver Darling in Aberdeen, collected the City Chef of the Year award. This is the tenth year of these coveted awards.
Art Deco Restaurant for Sale
One of Glasgow's landmark restaurants is up for sale at an asking price of £7 million. The Rogano opened in 1935 and became a Glasgow institution with its Art Deco design (the interior bar is modelled on that of a luxury cruise liner). It became well known for its seafood and became a haunt of local businessmen. These days, it has been accused of resting on its laurels, with slow service and high prices - main courses cost around £20.
Fuel Crisis in Rural Scotland
It's not just the high price of fuel that's creating problems in the remoter parts of Scotland. It's over £1 a litre in many places, though as "low" as 95p a litre in the central belt. (One UK gallon equals 4.5 litres; a US gallon equals 3.78 litres). There can also be a difficulty in finding somewhere to buy fuel to put in the tank. In 1990, there were 1,723 outlets across Scotland, but that has fallen dramatically to 970 - and closures are often in the rural areas, where there is often not enough demand to sustain garages selling petrol. Of course, in the more populated areas, there has been a trend towards larger forecourts, with the supermarkets leading the way in selling their "own brand" petrol/gas. The larger units can also generate profits by having mini markets selling newspapers, snacks and even wine and food. But that option is not so viable for small country locations. There have been calls for a differential fuel tax in the Highlands to help retain the network that is left - often there are gaps of 20 miles or more between garages.
Biggest Highland Games for Inverness
Inverness is to host the biggest Highland Games in Scotland this summer, incorporating the Masters World Championships, the official international event for heavyweight athletes aged over 40. This is the first time that these Championships have been staged outside of the USA and the Inverness Highland Games is being extended to two days instead of one to accommodate the 72 extra MWC events. The games should prove to be a major tourist attraction and give the local economy a major financial boost. A record number of 100 heavy athletes will be descending on Bught Park in the Highland Capital on Saturday, July 22, and Sunday, July 23. Nine world championships will be contested, with competitors coming from eleven countries. In addition to the field events, there will be two concerts by Blazin' Fiddles, one of Scotland's top traditional music bands and Scotland's biggest clan gathering with up to 40 clans expected in the Tulloch Clan Village. There will also be the City of Inverness pipe band competition, solo piping competition and Highland dancing events. Next summer, as part of the Year of Highland Culture 2007, the Inverness Highland Games is to host the World Highland Games Championships, contested by the top 12 heavyweight athletes in the world.
Glasgow Really is Hot Stuff
The Glaswegian love affair with Indian food has produced an explosion of good restaurants specialising in food from the sub-continent. The city's top Indian restaurants compete each year against rivals in 15 other UK cities for the title of "Curry Capital of Britain" - and they have won the competition three times in the last six years. Last year they lost out to Birmingham, but four Glasgow restaurants - The Dhabba, Ashoka Flame, Shish Mahal and Panjea - regained the title this year. The organisers of the competition, which is based on a public vote, described the Glasgow submission as "just exceptional".
The World's Most Powerful Spirit
Scotch whisky remains the biggest part of the world spirit and wine sector, according to a respected independent brand valuation consultancy report. Intangible Business researched nearly 10,000 brands of spirit and wine and produced a list of the 100 most powerful brands, based on share of market, growth, price positioning and the number of markets in which it is sold. Diageo, which has its production HQ in Edinburgh Park, came out at the top of the league table for the most powerful brand owner. Diageo's Smirnoff vodka was named the world's most valuable brand, followed by Bacardi, with Diageo's Johnnie Walker whisky in third place, with an estimated 8.2 per cent of the world whisky market. Pernod Ricard's Ballantine's whisky was the other Scottish name in the top ten. Scotch whisky accounted for 13 of the top 100 brands - Ballantine's was closely followed by Chivas Regal (11), Dewars (13), and J&B (16). Whisky was deemed the world's strongest overall spirits brand, ahead of vodka, rum, flavoured spirits and still light wine. Scotland led Russia, the US, France and Cuba as the five most powerful countries of origin.
Culross Palace Closing Two Days a Week
Businesses in many small towns and villages depend on local tourist attractions for their survival, so there were loud protests in the Fife village of Culross when the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) announced that their Culross Palace (pictured here) and the adjacent Bessie Bar tearoom were to close every Tuesday and Wednesday over the tourist season. None of the NTS buildings are open from 1 October to the end of March, so they have to attract as many visitors as they can in the summer. But NTS say that falling numbers means that they can no longer justify opening there for seven days a week. Culross Palace is a major attraction in the Royal Burgh, with its splendid interiors, featuring painted woodwork, and 17th- and 18th-century furniture. There is also a fine collection of Staffordshire and Scottish pottery. There are other aspects of Culross which are worth seeing, however, including an abbey which was founded in 1217. The abbey itself is now a ruin but there is a church which was restored in 1633 which is worth a visit, and many of the other houses in the village were built in the17th and 18th centuries. And particularly now that there is a smoking ban in all bars and restaurants, the local Dundonald Arms provides an acceptable alternative to NTS' Bessie's Bar tearoom. Even so, the local development trust has sent the NTS a petition with 260 signatures calling for closures to be reversed.
Doric Voices Going Up in the World
A new Aberdeen hotel has decided to get rid of the traditional English-sounding pre-recorded lift voice informing residents in dulcet tones "Lift Closing" and "Second Floor". Instead, the managers of the Carmelite Hotel in Stirling Street want announcements in a local Doric (north-east Scotland) accent. So they have announced a competition to find the most appealing local voice. They have set up a dedicated phone line and contestants will leave messages so that they can be judged. The competition is giving the winning voice, male or female, and their partner, a night in the hotel, with dinner and champagne. Of course, in deference to residents from other parts of the world (or even Scotland) they will have to avoid the very broad Aberdonian accents which are hard to understand.
Prompted by the Aberdeen hotel, a Scottish Nationalist Member of the Scottish Parliament has suggested that Glasgow hotels should teach visitors "Parliamo Glesca". Whether "How's it gaun" as they get into the lift and "haud the bus, pal" to keep the doors open will go down with American tourists from Des Moines is debatable. Certainly, the phrases immortalised by clippies (the ticket collectors on Glasgow's transport system), such as "c'moan get aff" may be misunderstood. Some hoteliers were cautious about the idea - recalling that Rab C Nesbitt's Govan twang needed sub-titles when the TV series was shown in England.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Although the week's weather did not start off particularly well, with drizzle, rain and temperatures ranging from 11-15C (52-59F), that soon changed and much of the rest of the week was warm and sunny, particularly in Glasgow and the west. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday the weather was summer-like, with temperatures reaching 23C (73F) in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The local press boasted that Glasgow was hotter than Barcelona, Ibiza, Sicily and Rhodes that day. By Thursday, however, a northerly weather system brought rain and cloud to the north. While the central lowlands continued to enjoy daytime maxima of 16/17C (61/63F) and some sunshine on Friday, Aberdeen was cloudy with a maximum of only 9C (48F) and Lossiemouth on the Moray Firth and Stornoway in the Western Isles only reached 8C (46F) that day. Overnight, the thermometer fell to 2C (34F) in Lossiemouth. By Saturday, although central Scotland enjoyed some sun and light cloud, temperatures in Edinburgh and Glasgow only reached 12/13C (54/55F) as a cool east wind blew across the country.
The illustration here shows the flower spike of a Belgian Laurel in Colzium Estate, North lanarkshire.
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include Culzean Castle, Orange Tip Butterfly, Apple Blossom, a Fox, Trollius and a Grey Wagtail
See This Week's Colour Supplement.