Scottish Lawyers Threaten "Strike Action"
In the UK, the Legal Aid system allows people who would not otherwise be able to afford it, to get help for their legal problems. Lawyers are paid by the state and the Scottish Legal Aid Board was set up in 1987 to manage the system in Scotland. Last year, the cost to the taxpayer was £152.4 million, the highest ever, mainly because of an increase in the number of grants and increased costs of criminal legal aid. While many lawyers make a good living from such cases, the scale under which they are paid has not been reviewed for 14 years. They have rejected a recent offer from the Scottish Executive and are demanding an increase of at least 50%. Now the Legal Aid Solicitors Committee has called on all lawyers to stop taking Legal Aid cases - a strike in all but name. At the same time, they think that they may have a case under the ubiquitous "human rights" legislation, arguing that defendants' rights to a fair trial were prejudiced by the inadequate remuneration available to their lawyers. The full Law Society is expected to rubber-stamp the recommendation next week. The Scottish Executive says that it is still prepared to discuss the situation with the legal profession. Maybe they need legal advice?
Sportscotland Heads for Glasgow's East End
In recent weeks there had been speculation that the Liberal Democrat members of the Scottish Executive coalition were putting the brakes on an expected relocation of the national sports agency Sportscotland from Edinburgh. The Executive are pursuing a controversial policy of pushing agencies out of Edinburgh to other parts of the country, in order to spread around the economic benefits. While that has been encouraged by the receiving locations, staff (and their families) who are being asked to relocate are not at all happy. An example has been Scottish Natural Heritage, which is moving into a new building in Inverness, but losing a large percentage of its experienced staff who have taken a redundancy package instead. Many staff at Sportscotland are also reported to be unhappy and threatening to leave the organisation. At last the uncertainty was removed this week, with the confirmation that the agency was to relocate to new offices within the new National Indoor Sports Arena which is being built in the east end of Glasgow, not far from the home of Celtic Football Club at Parkhead. The creation of 133 jobs at that location is not terribly significant, but it is seen as important for the west of Scotland to have another lever in the bid by Glasgow to host the Commonwealth Games in 2014. It will also act as a hub for the future development of sport at all levels across Scotland. To-date, over 2,000 posts have been located or relocated outwith Edinburgh and around a further 900 posts have had their future location decided. There are around 1,500 posts currently under review.
£300 Million Hospital for Larbert
Plans were announced this week for the biggest Private Finance Initiative (PFI) project in the country. A new hospital (see architect's drawing), to replace Falkirk and Stirling Royal Infirmaries, is to be created at Larbert, mid-way between the two existing facilities. In the past, such projects would have been funded from government capital spending. But the PFI approach means that private companies provide the finance and run the support services. A similar approach was taken with the new Edinburgh Royal Infirmary - with claims that there had been a series of failures in its planning and development. Private company Equion will build the Larbert hospital, while another operator, Serco, will provide facilities management, The new unit for Forth Valley Health Board will have 800 in-patient and day spaces and a series of other community services including accident and emergency, trauma and orthopaedics, general medicine and general surgery. Because of its central location, it may mean that patients from Edinburgh and Glasgow could travel there for treatment, helping to cut waiting times.
Drop in Number of Scottish Police Forces?
Although some of the Chief Constables in Scotland's eight police forces would resist any reduction in their number, there are signs that the Scottish Executive is likely to follow the same developments as in England and Wales, and move to a smaller number of administrative regions. The present smaller units often do not have the resources to properly deal with the complex issues now facing police forces, but they argue that they have a benefit of being closer to the population they serve. Strathclyde Police, which has 2.2 million people (44% of Scotland's population) living within its area of authority, would argue, however, that they are just as responsive as the others. Now Tom McCabe, the Scottish Executive minister responsible for public service reform, has suggested that there is clearly a contradiction in one force covering almost half of Scotland and the other seven dividing up the rest. McCabe suggested that many senior police officers were now interested in having a debate on the subject and examining what is the best way forward for effective policing. Of course, the government will also anticipate that a reduced number of police authorities should also reduce costs.
Changes in Scotland's High Courts Yield Benefits
Scottish Executive Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson has claimed that the major changes to procedures in the country's High Court in April last year have produced significant benefits. The previous system in the courts where the most serious trials were held, was certainly inefficient in that there were no fixed trial dates but a series of "sittings" for a number of trials. This meant that witnesses and others involved had to turn up on a number of days, whether or not the trial was being held on that particular day. Once the day's cases had been decided, they could then depart - only to return the next day. And even if an accused pleaded guilty before the trial, witnesses were still required to turn up. As a result of the new procedures, nearly 70% fewer witnesses had to appear at the High Court, compared to the previous year. And new preliminary hearings have meant that there has been a 150% increase in the number of guilty pleas made early, which also cut the number of people being called to court unnecessarily.
Immigrants Halt Decline in Highland Population
Only two years ago, a conference on Highland depopulation was told of a demographic crisis as the population fell by an average of 800 a year and the number of young people aged 14 or under was projected to fall by almost 50% by 2018. At the same time, there would be a 44% increase in the number of over-75s in the area. But now, figures released last month by the General Registers Office for Scotland show that the Highland region has had the largest population increase of all Scottish local authorities. The reason has been the influx of Eastern Europeans and incomers from England. The net gain from England and Wales has been around 2,400 in each of the past two years. There are no accurate figures on European Union workers in the Highlands, but it is estimated that the Polish population in the Highlands is now 5000, most aged 18 to 34. One consequence of young families arriving in Scotland from abroad is that 627 pupils in Highland schools do not have English as their first language.
Turf Wars on Golf Courses
When legislation was passed in 2003 by the Scottish Parliament which enshrined public access to private estates, walkers and ramblers were delighted. Landowners were sometimes not so sure, but their objections were dismissed as vested interests. But now the Scottish golf union is pushing for changes in the legislation as clubs are complaining that a minority of walkers are abusing the "right to roam" by walking across fairways, allowing dogs to run loose and fouling greens and grass. Some walkers are also being abusive if asked to be more considerate. The chairman of the parliamentary committee which is responsible for the legislation, says that there is "a great misconception in Scotland that people have an unfettered right to roam. That is not the case - they have a right to responsible access." There are exemptions for sports grounds like football pitches and cricket ovals and many golfers would like to see their courses included in that.
Mayor of New Glasgow Pays Flying Visit
New Glasgow in Nova Scotia (population 10,000) has recently been revitalising its waterfront area and its Mayor, Ann McLean, flew into Glasgow, Scotland (population 600,000) to see the multi-million pound regeneration of the Clydeside waterfront. Mayor MacLean will meet council officials and Glasgow's Lord Provost Liz Cameron. In addition to viewing Glasgow tourist attractions, she will see the Ayrshire coast on the way to Kirkcudbright.
Islanders Buy Crofting Estate for £4.5 Million
The biggest community buy-out so far was agreed this week, when Storas Uibhist agreed a £4.5 million purchase of a sprawling 93,000 acre crofting estate on South Uist, Eriskay and part of Benbecula. It covers almost 25% of the Western Isles and includes 850 crofts and fish farming operations. The project will only proceed if they can raise the finance from organisations such as Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Big Lottery Fund plus at least £600,000 from the community itself by fundraising appeals around the world. Last year, there was overwhelming support from the majority of the islanders for the buyout. There are plans for redeveloping Lochboisdale as a "port of entry" with public and private housing, new pier facilities, industrial units and yacht moorings. It is argued that these developments could not have gone ahead if the estate had remained in private hands.
Picture via Photonet.
Scottish House Prices Continue to Climb
The latest edition of the Lloyds TSB Scotland Bank house price monitor reports that house prices in Scotland rose overall by 4% in the three months to April. On an annualised basis, the average Scottish home has increased in value by 13.9%. But that figure covers a wide range - with Dundee house prices rocketing by over 30% in the last year, while in Aberdeen prices rose at an annualised rate of 9.4% and Edinburgh increased by 13% on the year. The report says that Scottish house prices have risen steadily for the last 63 months and that Scotland's growth is currently outperforming the rest of the UK.
Hotels Fill Up
Greater Glasgow Hotels' Association has published figures which show that room occupancy rates reached an average 72% in April - 4% up on the same month last year. There were a number of major events in the city that month which attracted people to stay overnight, including the Glasgow Art Fair and pop concerts. And the British Cardiac Society conference, which was attended by 2000 delegates, was held at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre. It is now estimated that 20% of hotel rooms in Glasgow are being booked by conference delegates.
Scottish Employment Figures Still Excellent
Although there was a slight rise of 1,900 in the number of people unemployed in Scotland in April compared with April 2005, unemployment at 5.3% is still near to its lowest levels on record. And the number of people in work in April was 3,000 higher than a year ago, which gives an employment rate of 75.3% - higher than the UK and most other European countries.
Six New Train Stations
Increasing numbers of rail travellers and new housing and commercial building have prompted Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) to approve plans to create six new stations in their area. A station at Parkhead is seen as essential if Glasgow is to win the 2014 Commonwealth Games and it will also serve the new National Indoor Arena being built near the ground of Celtic Football Club. A new station for Jordanhill will be beside the campus of Strathclyde University, which is being sold for a large housing development. A new halt at Millerston is near the sites of several proposed residential schemes. Three further stations are to be built at Lanarkshire's former Ravenscraig steelworks site which (one day?) may be redeveloped, Barrhead in East Renfrewshire and Heathfield between Prestwick and Ayr.
Superbus Fastlink Expansion
Earlier this year, Glasgow City Council announced a futuristic transport project which would see a fleet of superbuses on largely dedicated roads running every six minutes from Central Station, along the north bank of the river Clyde to the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre and then on to the new Maritime Museum being built next door, before travelling on through Partick rail and underground interchange to the huge new Glasgow Harbour development. Unlike the special tracks required by the long-awaited Edinburgh tramway system, the new Clyde Fastlink is being rapidly implemented. The first section of the £30 million project is due to be completed by the end of the year and the full system by the end of 2008. Now the transport managers are proposing an extension, which would use the new Finnieston Bridge (known colloquially as the Squinty Bridge) to pass through the media village at Pacific Quay, the Glasgow Science Centre and on to Braehead shopping centre and the adjacent XScape entertainment centre and housing development near Renfrew. It might also continue to Glasgow Airport, though that would mean crossing the river Cart. Since 80% of the route will be on roads dedicated to the buses, they would not be held up by other traffic.
Taymouth Castle Restoration Ahead of Schedule
Developers working on the transformation of Taymouth Castle at Kenmore in Perthshire into a luxury hotel have reported that they are already two months ahead of schedule. The castle was purchased a year ago and is now wind and watertight, with the painstaking restoration of 300 windows and major roof repairs. The new resort, with its 450-acre estate, is planned to be open in the spring of 2008.
Freedom Ceremony for Argylls
The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland, have been granted the freedom of Clackmannanshire in a ceremony in the centre of Alloa. The honour recognised the long association between the Argylls and Clackmannanshire, Scotland's smallest county. The march in the town was the first time that the new battalion had paraded in the area since they amalgamated with the other Scottish regiments under the single cap badge of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
Maid for Weddings?
Anyone looking for a romantic but unusual location for a wedding could do worse than the paddle-steamer "Maid of the Loch" moored at the southern end of Loch Lomond. The owners - a charitable trust - have been granted a licence to conduct civil marriages on the 53-year-old vessel, which is currently being restored with the eventual aim of sailing once again on the famous loch. The Maid was the last paddle steamer to be built in Britain - in 1953.
Striking a Chord on Ben Nevis
When volunteers from the John Muir Trust began to clear up the rubbish and proliferating cairns on the top of Ben Nevis, Scotland's highest mountain, they were astonished to find the remains of a piano (minus only the keyboard) under a pile of rocks. The Trust owns the 4,400 feet high peak which is climbed by 120,000 people a year. The Trust had become concerned about the trash left behind and the 100 or so cairns that had been built around the summit - many as memorials to loved ones. When the mystery of the piano reached the newspapers, there were a number of claims from people who said they had carried it up the slopes to the top - including someone who had carried an organ there in 1971. The Trust suggested, lightheartedly, that they would invoice the owner for 20 years of storage on Ben Nevis. A biscuit wrapper with a sell-by date of December 1986, which was found with the instrument, was initially the only clue. Eventually the "litter louts" were identified as a group of 24 removal men who had carried it to the summit to raise money for charity. The climb had proved to be more exhausting than anticipated and they had broken it up and buried it under a pile of stones, rather than attempt to carry it back down again. The absence of the keyboard was because they had taken that back down the mountain and then given a key to everyone who had taken part, as a souvenir.
Dr Connolly, I Presume?
When he was a shipyard worker on Clydeside, Billy Connolly might have dreamt of being a comedian or a folk singer - but a doctor? But now the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama is to award the "Big Yin" an honorary doctorate. The graduation ceremony is on July 4 and Aberdeen-born singer Annie Lennox will also be receiving an honorary doctorate that day. The honour by the academy is not just to acknowledge their achievements over the years but as a message to the current students telling them "You can do it too." Connolly is currently in the middle of a 20-show run in New York.
Car Park Plan for Victoria Park Scrapped
It's not often that public pressure forces local or national government to change its announced plans. But campaigners who had objected to plans by Glasgow City Council to build a car park in part of Victoria Park were celebrating this week when the plan was scrapped. The council had wanted the space to provide parking as part of the expansion of the nearby Scotstoun Stadium. While none of the grassland and flower beds would have been directly affected, two football pitches and over 20 trees would have been lost.
Bill for Winter Roads Snowballs
Aberdeen City Council has reported that the cost of clearing and gritting the roads last winter soared by 17.5% as a result of work being needed from 14 November through to 10 April and what was described as the worst weather for 50 years in March, with 17 days of snow. A report to Aberdeen's environment and infrastructure committee says that nearly 30,000 hours of staff time were needed to cope with the roads within the city boundary and over 18,000 tonnes of salt were scattered on roads.
Weather in Scotland This Week
The variability of Scotland's weather was reinforced this week as the sunshine and summer temperatures of the preceding week changed back to showers, rain and, by the end of the week, temperatures below the seasonal norm. On Monday, there was rain across most of the country, with maximum temperatures ranging from 8C (46F) in Aberdeen to 11/12C (52/54F) in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The showery weather continued, though there were some bright intervals, particularly on Thursday. Although the thermometer had risen a bit by then to 16/18C (61/64F) in the east of the country, strong winds gusting in places to nearly 40mph made it feel cooler. By Saturday, temperatures had fallen back again to a maximum of 10/11C (50/52F), with showers, heavy at times.
The illustration is of a brightly coloured azalea, just bursting into bloom.
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include Dicentra ("Bleeding Heart"), Blackthorn (Sloe), Mecanopsis (Himalayan Poppy), Cassiope Mertensia Gracilis (a bell heather look-alike), Trillium, and an apricot-coloured Rhododendron. See This Week's Colour Supplement.