Scotland to Beat Green Targets
It's not often that government targets are not only met but exceeded. But that is the prediction of Scottish Renewables, the body that represents the green power sector. The organisation published figures this week which say that Scotland will meet its target of generating 18% of electricity from renewables in 2007 - instead of the target date of 2010. The target will be met from existing hydro-electric schemes (10%) and wind farms (7.5%) and harnessing wave power (0.5%). It is also predicted that with more ambitious development of tide and wave power schemes, over 50% of Scotland's electricity could be satisfied from renewable sources by 2020 - compared to an Executive target of 40%. The figures were met with predictable reactions - environmentalists welcomed the study as evidence that Scotland does not need to build more nuclear power stations. Those campaigning against wind farm, however, argued that the large number of wind turbines being built were damaging the Scottish landscape and that wind power was an unreliable source. Scottish Renewables commented that the targets were being met despite what they described as "half-hearted" support from the Scottish Executive
Faster Economic Growth - But Still Lagging Behind
The latest snapshot of economic growth produced by the Bank of Scotland's latest PMI (Purchasing Managers' Index), suggests that Scotland's economic growth expanded in May at its fastest rate last June 2005. Manufacturing, in particular, performed well, with the strongest expansion for 28 months. Even so, Scotland's performance was in the bottom half of the table of English regions, Wales and Northern Ireland. Only Yorkshire and the English Midlands had a worse performance out of the 12 areas covered by the survey. Private sector employment north of the border grew for the 15th consecutive month in May, with service companies the main drivers as usual.
Strong Growth in Scottish Retail Sales
Economic growth was helped in May by a sharp increase in retail spending, but it was sales of food and drink that sparkled, as seasonal goods such as gardening gear were held back by weeks of wet weather that month. The latest sales monitor from the Scottish Retail Consortium and Royal Bank of Scotland shows that total retail sales grew by 6.6% in May, compared with the same month in 2005. That was the highest level of monthly growth this year and was slightly above the UK figure of 6.2%. When new store openings are removed from the data, growth was 4.1% in Scotland on a like-for-like basis, comfortably above growth of 3.6% in the UK as a whole.
The illustrations shows Princes Street, the premier retail shopping area in Edinburgh.
Further Reduction in Road Casualties
The number of people killed or injured on Scotland's roads last year was the lowest for over 50 years. The Key 2005 Road Accident Statistics published this week showed that 286 people were killed on Scotland's roads last year, 20 fewer than the previous year, a 7% reduction. Serious injuries were down 6%, producing the lowest figure since 1950. Those injured slightly on Scotland's roads were also down - by 3%, the lowest figure since 1953. The Scottish Executive claimed the credit for the improvement, citing the promotion of safe driving through effective education, safety improvements on roads and tougher speed enforcement. Car manufacturers might also point to vastly improved braking systems, crumple zones, seat belts and better suspensions for safer cornering. And despite all the advertising campaigns, it is estimated that of the 286 people killed last year, at least 50 were due to drinking and driving.
Strongest Warning Yet on Need for Second Forth Road Bridge
This week, the Forth Estuary Transport Authority (Feta), the body with responsibility for the Forth Road Bridge, issued its strongest warning yet on the need to build a second crossing - either a bridge or a tunnel. Work to tackle the corrosion on the suspension cables is already planned, but it will be another seven years before the success or otherwise of the work can be assessed. Feta describe the situation akin to burning the candle at both ends - corrosion on the main cable and double the design capacity of the bridge crossing each day. If corrosion cannot be stopped by 2013, heavy goods vehicles would be banned from the bridge. And it would take ten years to construct a second crossing - and no doubt there would be lengthy enquiries and delays as the environmental lobby would try to stop the project. Even if the exercise was successful, it would not address issues of ongoing maintenance and current delays to traffic. Feta are convinced that all the information needed is available and that a decision to proceed should be made now.
Call for Blood Donors
To meet hospital demand, Scotland needs 1,000 pints of blood every day - but the number of active donors has fallen from 208,000 to 180,000 in the last six years. Part of the reduction was due to the removal of 10,000 donors arising from concerns that they might spread vCJD because they had received blood transfusions since the beginning of 1980. Fortunately, many donors give blood more than once a year. But there are concerns that the number of donors will fall this month, not just because of increasing numbers going on holiday, but due to potential donors getting caught up in watching the World Cup soccer tournament in Germany. Busy life styles and working longer hours have also had an impact on the number of those giving blood.
Free Health Care for Elderly - Success or Not?
This week the Scottish Executive trumpeted a report by the Parliament's Health Committee which examined the implementation of free personal and nursing care for the elderly. The Executive focused on the older people in Scotland who were benefitting from their flagship policy and the substantial funding provided to local authority councils to provide community care services. That amounted to £153 million last year and will rise to £162 million for 2006-07. But the report also highlights that 4,000 elderly people were awaiting "assessment" for free care and there is a suspicion that some authorities are using this as a way of ensuring that they keep down costs. The Scottish Executive claims that they have met all the demands from local authorities for funding for health care for the elderly - while the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) says that they are underfunded and have to contribute £70 million a year from local taxation.
School Gets Top Marks from Inspectors
The media focus this week on the outstandingly good report by government inspectors on the performance of St Andrew's Secondary in the Carntyne district of Glasgow was due to a combination of factors. Firstly, Glasgow schools don't often get such glowing assessments. With a high percentage of children from poorer, disadvantaged backgrounds, aspirations and motivation are often lacking amongst pupils. Despite St Andrew's being in one of Glasgow's most disadvantaged areas, the school was rated as "excellent" or "very good" against almost all the inspectors' measures - and was rated more highly than a recent assessment of Hutchesons' Grammar, a fee-paying private school with a good reputation. The headmaster at St Andrew's has been in the post for 15 years and he has created a partnership between staff, pupils and parents to deliver the highest quality of teaching and learning. Discipline is firm and all the pupils are expected to wear school uniform. In 2005, of 259 pupils who left St Andrew's, 24% went on to higher education and 27% to further education.
New £200 Million College Campus for City Centre
An ambitious plan was announced this week to combine four of Glasgow's vocational education colleges, with 46,000 students and 2,000 staff, into one new £200 million campus. The Central College of Commerce, Glasgow College of Nautical Studies, Glasgow Metropolitan College and Stow College will move to the new city centre facility at Cathedral and Thistle streets in 2012. It will include an international centre of excellence for maritime studies and new residences for international students.
Scottish House Price Increases Lead UK
Although Scotland is still the cheapest place to buy a house, with an average selling price of £132,201, house prices in Scotland are currently growing at a faster rate than elsewhere in the UK. In April, house prices in the UK rose by 5.1%, while Scots house price inflation was 7.6%, compared to the same month a year ago. While the soaring prices - well above retail price inflation and wage increase - are good news for those already on the property ladder, it is making it increasingly difficult for young people to buy their first house. Those in rural areas are particularly badly affected.
£2 Coin to Celebrate 300th Anniversary of Act of Union
The Scottish Executive has studiously ignored suggestions that there should be any commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union, which saw the merger of the English and Scottish Parliaments. But now Fife-born Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has announced that a new £2 coin will be issued next year to mark the event. There has been the predictable mixed reaction to the news, but historian Prof Tom Devine gave a non-partisan comment, saying "It is not necessarily something that everyone would agree should be celebrated, but because of its intrinsic historical importance to the lives of the people of Britain, it is essential that it is marked or commemorated." He added that the historical and contemporary effect of the Act of Union should be debated publicly and academically. But whoever designs the new coin will have to have the judgement of Solomon to guide him/her -and the hide of a rhinoceros to withstand the inevitable slings and arrows, whatever is produced.
From Clockwork Orange to Carmine and Cream
When Glasgow's Subway was modernised in the 1970s, the trains were painted a vivid orange colour. It was considered trendy at the time and Glaswegians, with their penchant for applying names to city buildings or sights, immediately dubbed it the Clockwork Orange. Times change, however, and Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) has given a green signal to spending £2.4 million on modernising the system - and changing the colour scheme back to the original "carmine and cream" which was used when the underground first began operating in 1896. That colour combination (with carmine looking more chocolate than red) has already been applied to trains and buses operated by SPT.
The illustration shows the two colours on display in the Glasgow Museum of Transport.
Spectacular Fire Blacks Out Dundee's TV Screens
Thousands of TV screens across Dundee went blank late on Thursday evening this week after the transmitter in Fife, near the south end of the Tay Bridge, was engulfed in flames following a cable fault. Fire engines were soon on the scene, but were unable to tackle the blaze right away because of high voltage cables. Many of those affected in Dundee saw the flames leaping into the air. Football fans who were watching the World Cup action on TV were at least spared the loss of transmission as the fire occurred after the games had ended.
Laughing All the Way to the Bank
After 25 years, the Perrier bottled water company has pulled out of sponsoring the comedy awards at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The awards have been known as The Perriers and a panel of ten judges attend all the comedy shows before selecting the winner. They have successfully spotted a number of rising comedy talents - or perhaps winning The Perrier has been a major stepping stone to bigger things. Now the comedy award has the somewhat cumbersome title of the if.commeddies - the Scottish banking company Intelligent Finance (marketed as if.com) has produced the new prefix. Helpfully, however, the sponsors suggest that the if.comeddies should be given the nickname of "The Eddies". The organisers hope that this will be regarded as a friendly name and easy for audiences to remember - like the "Oscars". There is to be an increased prize fund and a new programme to help to develop comedy talent.
Scotland's Tourism Agency Supports England
The issue rumbles on of which team to support in the World Cup, currently being played in Germany. First Minister Jack McConnell is being both praised and criticised for not supporting England, choosing instead any country which has soccer players in Scottish league teams (neatly ignoring that there are quite a few English players in the Scottish football scene). But the staff at the VisitScotland office in London has a large poster in their window with the message "Good Luck England". The office manager, with the good Scottish name of Casia Zajac, points out that most of the staff there are English - and that English tourists account for 46% of the overall tourist expenditure in Scotland. They make 7.8 million trips to Scotland each year and spend over £2 billion pounds while they are here. Understandably, VisitScotland wants Scotland to be perceived as warm hospitable - which it is, to all tourists. It's just the TV football pundits who irritate us by continually reminding everyone that England won the World Cup - 40 years ago.
School Makes Mandarin Mandatory
Merchiston Castle, an independent fee-paying school for boys in Edinburgh, is to start mandatory Mandarin Chinese lessons for all 8-10 year-olds. The school's governors say that Mandarin is spoken by over a billion people, double the number who speak English, and China is moving to become the leading economy in the world. Business leaders in Scotland welcomed the move and argue that the language should become mainstream so that advantage can be taken of the emerging opportunities in the Far East. Merchiston Castle has a total of 430 pupils, with 14% from abroad and 5% estimated to be from China.
Skye Terriers on Endangered List
The Skye terrier breed was immortalised by the story of Greyfriars Bobby, the loyal dog that refused to leave his master's grave in Greyfriars churchyard in Edinburgh. But in recent years the popularity of the breed has waned and there are concerns that it could be lost forever. Last year, only 30 Skye terriers were registered with the Kennel Club of Great Britain - compared with 45,000 labradors. Other Scottish breeds on a new "red list" of endangered species, include the Dandie Dinmont terrier, named after a character in a novel by Sir Walter Scott, of which only 89 were registered with the Kennel Club last year, and the deerhound, 160 of which were registered. But it's the Skye terrier that is causing the greatest concern. They are difficult to train and even when used as hunting dogs, they had a tendency to ignore their owners if they picked up what they regarded as an interesting scent. The Kennel Club's vulnerable breeds committee describes popular dogs such as the labrador and King Charles spaniel as "the Ford Escort and the Vauxhall Astra" of the dog world. By comparison, the Skye terrier was more "like a Maserati".
Cut in School Bus Service "To Fight Childhood Obesity"
Stirling Council has announced that it is to cut the provision of free school transport services from August, saying that it is aimed at "fighting childhood obesity." Now children over eight will need to live more than three miles from school to qualify - previously it was two miles. Parents of children who may now have a 45 minute walk to get to school and another 45 minutes to get home are angry. Some may get driven to school or be able to use public transport, if available, which would defeat the exercise aim. But many parents are convinced that the move is more about cutting costs. The Council will save £74,000 as a result of their changes.
Revival of Hebridean Seaweed Industry
Harvesting seaweed from the shore used to be a traditional industry and source of income for impoverished crofters in the Highlands. Now a new factory in Stornoway in the Western Isles is about to open to process seaweed, collected mainly from the coastline of Lewis and Harris, and turn it into a form suitable for animal feed and the pharmaceutical industry. These days, seaweed is used in products ranging from making food healthier to filtering out pollution in water. For example, alginate, an extract from seaweed, can be used to increase the fibre content of pies, beef burgers and cakes.
New Aid for Rare and Threatened Habitats
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has announced funding of more than £2.4 million to protect 42 Scottish lowland peat bogs, half of which are in the central Scotland belt. The areas are under threat from commercial peat extraction and agricultural improvements which result in them drying out.. SNH say that they are the Scottish equivalent of the rainforests of Brazil or the Serengeti in Tanzania and are all designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSI). In addition to being a haven for wildlife, they also help slow down global warming by trapping carbon from the atmosphere. SNH's Natural Care Programme aims to reverse the gradual drying out of bogs caused by human activities, by restoring and maintaining water levels in the peat. Some of the bogs are 9,000 years old; they consist mainly of Somsphagnum moss and there are specialist bog plants such as the insect-eating sundews, cotton grasses and bog rosemary. In turn, these support a variety of insects, birds and animals, such as frogs, hares, skylarks and dragonflies.
Weather in Scotland This Week
The sunshine and warm weather in the previous week continued for a time this week, at least for a time. But by mid-week, although temperatures remained warm, a number of weather fronts from the Atlantic produced more cloud and some light rain, mainly in the north-west and west of the country. Temperatures were mainly in the range 17-20C (63-68F) although Lossiemouth reached 23C (73F) on Monday while Stornoway only managed 12C (54F) on Thursday and Saturday as the Western Isles took the brunt of the Atlantic weather systems. The light rain had little impact on the dry soil in gardens and the crops growing in farmers' fields.
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include Wild Rose, a Bar-headed Goose (which normally breeds in Central Asia and migrates over the Himalayas to winter in the wetlands of India), Pink Purslane, Great Crested Grebe feeding their Chicks with fish, Water Avens, Moorhen and Chicks. See This Week's Colour Supplement