Vying for Vegas
The UK government is moving towards granting a licence for a Las Vegas style "super casino" somewhere in the Britain and in the Casino Advisory Panel has whittled the 27 entrants down to eight. In the latest review, published this week, Glasgow's bid was placed second, only one point behind the Millennium Dome at Greenwich - but only narrowly ahead of another leading contender, Blackpool on the Lancashire coast. Aspects such as social impact, need for regeneration, probability of implementation, regional context, community benefits, unique characteristics were all "measured" by the panel. The advocates for a super-casino in Glasgow are heartened by the result. Greenwich, in the east end of London, will be hugely regenerated by the 2012 Olympics and so "doesn't need" a super casino. And the Millennium Dome has recently been mired in controversy. The UK Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, has been rebuked by the parliamentary standards committee for not immediately declaring a visit to the ranch of US tycoon Philip Anschutz - the man bidding for a licence to turn the Dome into a super-casino. The super-casino would have an unlimited jackpot, but licences will also be granted to another 16 locations for smaller casinos with jackpot limits of £4,000. A final recommendation on the location is expected to be handed to ministers by the end of this year.
Scotland's Annual Economic Growth Matches UK
In the year to the end of March 2006, Scotland's economic growth was 1.9%, a figure which matched that for the UK as a whole. The construction sector has been leading the growth as the boom in major building developments continues. Surprisingly, the output of the service sector, which is usually the main growth area, did not perform well in the last quarter. In recent years, Scottish economic growth has often lagged that of the UK as a whole. Growth in the first quarter of this year was 0.5% - annualised at 2.%, that exceeds Scottish average growth of about 1.8% per annum over the last 25 years. But UK growth in the first quarter was 0.7% so Scotland was not keeping up with that rate. A recent survey by the Confederation of British Industry suggests that Scottish manufacturing enjoyed the strongest growth in output for a year-and-a-half in the most recent three months. And the Royal Bank of Scotland's monthly purchasing managers' index has pointed to a solid performance north of the border in the second quarter - even though Scotland has been consistently in the bottom half of the league of 12 UK nations and regions. On the other hand, employment in Scotland is at a higher level than in the UK and, indeed, the percentage of the population employed exceeds that of Germany, France and the United States.
New Skyscraper Scrapped
Plans for an "iconic" 17-storey residential development, which would have dominated the new-look for the canal area of Port Dundas in Glasgow, have been withdrawn by the developer. The proposal had been met by a storm of protest, despite being a key part of the £100 million 20-year plan to create Glasgow's own "Little Venice" - though how a skyscraper (see artist's impression) fitted the image of the Italian city has always been a bit of a mystery. The skyscraper would have towered over the area and, being on a slope behind central Glasgow, would have been highly visible. While the city has its share of high-rise buildings, these are mainly in peripheral housing schemes, rather than the city centre. The Little Venice project is being driven by a partnership between British Waterways Scotland, a development company ISIS and the city council. It covers 1000 acres of land between Port Dundas and Maryhill and aims to transform derelict land around the canal into a trendy residential district.
Scottish Gas Increase Prices - Again
The soaring cost of oil is driving up the price of other fuels and Scottish Gas announced this week that their prices were to rise in September for its one million customers by 12.4% for gas and 9.4% for electricity. On average, the bills for gas have risen by 75% over the last two years. Electricity bills have gone up by 67% during the same period. Consumer watch-dogs say that Scottish Gas is the most expensive in the country - but anyone who moves to another supplier, usually finds that it is only a matter of a few months before charges rise there too. Scottish Gas claim that there is a "light at the end of the tunnel" (powered by gas, presumably) because extra investment it was making in its infrastructure would begin to have a positive effect on prices by winter 2007. And 15% of the company's customers have signed up for fixed price deals and will not be affected - at least for a while. The parent company, Centrica, recently announced a half-year profit of nearly £600 million.
Twenty's Plenty for Aberdeen
Aberdeen City Council has approved a plan to introduce a blanket 20mph speed limit on 100 roads in the centre of the Granite City. While road safety campaigners were delighted at the news, business leaders were not so sure, concerned that it would impact on trade. And some motorists said it wouldn't make much difference, as it was often impossible to drive above 20mph on many busy roads in the city centre. A spokeswoman for the Royal Automobile Club commented that 20mph limits near schools and in residential areas were well complied with because drivers recognised the justification. But a blanket limit, 24 hours a day, in the city centre, was more questionable. Police resources used to enforce the limits might be more effective if they targeted drink driving and tailgating, she added. Aberdeen will be the first city in Scotland to introduce a 20mp speed limit in such a wide central area.
Half of Scotland's Mothers Over 30 When They Give Birth
Figures released this week show that, for the first time, the number of babies born to women over 30 nearly matches the number in their teens and twenties. This is a huge demographic change - 30 years ago, 80% of mothers were under 30. While the average age for women having children in Scotland is getting lower, due to the very high teenage pregnancy rate (compared with the rest of Europe) more and more women are waiting for longer before having their first child, so that they can concentrate on establishing a career first.
More Parking Tickets from Fewer Staff
Last year, Central Parking System (CPS), the company employed by Edinburgh City Council to enforce parking restrictions, dished out 241,000 fines in the city centre, netting £7 million for the city. But the contract went out to tender this year and National Car Parks (NCP) out-bid CPS and won the business. They have undertaken to increase the number of parking tickets - but employ only 71 attendants on city streets, compared to the 85 currently patrolling the roads every day. So not only will the city earn more in parking penalties, the cost of running the service will be lower. The new operator is also promising that their staff will perform a "civic ambassador" role as well.
New Offices for Shell in Aberdeen
Shell UK Limited has announced plans to create a new £25 million state-of-the-art triangular office complex in Aberdeen to house around 950 staff. The seven-storey building will be next to the company's existing base in the Tullos area of Aberdeen. Work will start next year and be completed in 2009. The development will help Aberdeen to realise its aim of establishing the city as a "World Energy Capital". The announcement follows on the heels of oil giant BP plans to build a major new headquarters at Dyce, on the outskirts of Aberdeen.
New Name for University?
A proposed merger between Paisley University and Bell College in Hamilton is currently under discussion and the negotiations are far enough advanced for the two institutions to consider a name for the combined organisation. "University of West of Scotland" seems to be the leading contender. But there are strong objections to that from Paisley "Buddies" who consider that removing Paisley from the name of the university will dilute any sense of belonging to the town. They say that the university will sink into oblivion as the University of the West of Scotland means absolutely nothing. The two educational establishments say that they will "consult" on the new name before reaching a final decision.
Bank Pledges Free Cash Machines for Poorer Areas
When the UK banks began expanding their auto-teller networks over 20 years ago, there was never any question of them charging customers for using them. After all, cash dispensed by a machine, even if it was available 24/7, was cheaper than service at the counter. As reciprocal arrangements were extended to other bank customers, there was an outcry when some banks tried to charge for the service. But in recent years, there has been a growth in the number of cash dispensers operated by third party companies (or sometimes bank subsidiaries) who instal machines in locations where the banks feel they cannot justify the expense. These machines make a charge (usually under £2) but are often in deprived areas where there are few bank branches. Even so, many customers of UK bank "Debit Cards" which allow cash to be obtained at supermarkets and other outlets with online terminals. It has been argued, however, that ATM "deserts" mean that the poorest people in the community may have to pay to draw cash from a fee-charging ATM- or pay the bus fare to reach one of the free machines. Although these machines do not have the same transaction volume as those on bank premises, there are now 22,000 of the UK's cash machines charging a fee out of a total of 54,000. But this week the Royal Bank of Scotland has reversed the trend by announcing that it is to install 300 free-to-use cash machines, specifically in some of the UK's poorest locations; around 10% of these will be in Scotland. It is widely expected that other banks will soon announce similar plans.
Edinburgh Crystal in Administration
The Edinburgh Crystal Glass Company Limited (Edinburgh Crystal) has appointed recovery experts as joint administrators. The famous company has 14 factory outlets and 77 department store concessions throughout the UK and employs 420 staff. Its head office and warehouse is in Penicuik, south of Edinburgh. The company has suffered from declining sales over a number of years as cheap imports from eastern Europe have undermined the quality range handled by the company. The company's two subsidiaries, The Caithness Glass Company Limited and Selkirk Glass Limited, are continuing to trade outside of the insolvency process.
Transport Museum Picks Up Extra Visitors
Some of the crowds going along to see the newly refurbished Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow also seem to be popping across the road to the Kelvin Hall and having a look round the Transport Museum there. Instead of being footsore going round all that extra space and exhibits at Kelvingrove, many of the visitors are also seeing the cars, buses, motor bikes, model ships and tram cars in the building on the other side of the road. As a result, visitor numbers at the Transport Museum have doubled in the last two weeks. Which augurs well for the new £60 million Riverside Museum which will house all the transport exhibits - and more - when it opens at the end of 2008.
"School for Houses" Deal Approved
A controversial plan by Scottish Borders Council and Cala Homes to build 27 luxury houses on farmland outside of Lauder, has been finally approved by the Scottish Executive. The site is not zoned for housing and part of the deal is for Cala to gift a plot of land for a new Lauder primary School. The officials in Scottish Borders Council planning department had rejected the plan, arguing that the luxury houses were not needed in the area and it was not zoned for such a purpose. But the elected councillors had over-ruled the paid officials. Now the ministers in Edinburgh have agreed with the Council, which is progressing a £20 million project to build four new primary schools. Any further delay would have meant that Lauder would not have participated in that.
Helicopter Landings at Hospital Face Restrictions
Last year, there were 164 helicopter landings at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary with emergency patients from remote parts of Scotland. But after concerns being expressed about safety and staff resources, NHS Grampian wants to restrict the landings to life threatening and serious cases. It is argued that Aberdeen Airport could be used instead. But the Scottish Ambulance Service says that patient care could be compromised if it has to land at the airport during rush hours by adding significantly to total journey times. Recently, however, two helicopters landed side by side at the hospital's heli-pad, without notice of their imminent arrival being received at the facility.
Closing the Cumberland Gap
Motorists who drive south on the M74 motorway from Glasgow are often surprised (though maybe they shouldn't be) when the motorway standard (with a hard shoulder for emergencies and slip roads at access points) gives way to a plain dual carriageway once the artery reaches England. The M6 motorway south does not begin again until nearer Carlisle. The road is used by 44,000 vehicles a day, including 10,000 heavy goods vehicles. Not being a motorway, any road user can access the road, including learners and cyclists (if they dare). Slow-moving farm tractors and all other vehicles can use this main link between Scotland's capital and England. Now, at last, the "Cumberland Gap" is to be upgraded to motorway standard at a cost of £175 million, to reduce congestion and improve safety. Before blaming the English authorities for their tardiness, we have to remember that long stretches of the A1 in Scotland, from Edinburgh to the English border, are not even up to dual carriageway standard. There is no central reservation on these sections, which also carry all other road users.
I'm Gonna Be (£500k Richer)
The song "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" by twins Craig and Charlie Reid - also known as The Proclaimers - which made them famous in 1988, is currently sweeping the United States. It is being used as the background music for an advertising campaign by the credit card company Visa. It is being said that the two lads have netted £500,000 for the use of the song by the company. It is not the first time that the memorable song has been used in adverts - it has been adopted over the years by Ariel washing powder in the UK, a Spanish telecom network, a mobile phone firm in South Korea and to promote Molson beer in Canada.
Heatwave Helps and Hinders Grain Harvest
The recent spell of hot weather and earlier spells of above average temperature have combined to produce one of the earliest harvests of winter barley on record in some parts of Scotland. In the Borders, it is only the second time in the last 20 years that combine harvesters have been out so early. Moisture content is also well below average, which will reduce the costs of drying - and with fuel costs at such a high level, that can be quite a saving. But life is never straightforward for farmers. While crops planted in the winter have benefitted, there is increasing concern about grain planted in the spring. Barley, and wheat, on heavier land which retains moisture should still do fairly well, but crops on lighter sandy or gravelly land are drying out and ripening prematurely, with thin grains The usual starting date for harvesting Scotland's spring barley crop is mid-August.
Scottish Soft Fruit Growers Cope with the Heat
Many soft fruit growers in Angus have benefited from some of the cooling breezes from the North Sea and the east coast "haar" (inland sea mist) which has sometimes kept temperatures down, much to the annoyance of residents and tourists. Most of the fruit these days is grown in well-ventilated plastic poly-tunnels, which has allowed the workers to carry on picking the fruit. These days, supermarkets often print on packaging the area from which fruit has been sourced - so we know to look out for fresh strawberries and other fruit from specific fruit farms in Angus and Fife.
Pipers Can't Believe Their Ears
The sound of bagpipes has led Scottish soldiers into battle, their rousing sound above the noise of battle inspiring those who followed - and striking fear into the enemy. But now the skirl of the pipes is under threat - from Ministry of Defence health and safety inspectors. They have issued strict guidelines to servicemen which require them not only to wear ear protectors, they must only play for a maximum of 24 minutes a day outside or 15 minutes inside. The health and safety instructions are intended to protect the hearing of pipers and drummers (and, no doubt, avoid any claims for compensation should the pipers have hearing problems in the future). The guidelines have been dismissed by piping experts and army veterans, as "ridiculous". However, when the pipes are played indoors they peak at a 116 dB, about as loud as a chainsaw (not a good analogy!). But very loud rock music can reach 150 dB, while a jet airliner taking off peaks at 140 dB. The guidelines are not expected to affect live performances, as a typical pipe tune lasts for around two minutes. Individual events at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo (which starts this week at Edinburgh Castle) last for about eight minutes. But the rules are bound to impact on daily piping practice.
Biggest Ever Tattoo Pipe Parade
One of the most impressive sights at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo which takes place on the castle esplanade each year, is the mass piped bands with all the pipers and drummers performing during the performance marching up and down together. This year, the organisers say that the it will be the biggest parade ever to appear at the event, with more than 360 pipers and drummers representing 13 individual bands. The show, which was a sell-out in February, will also pay tribute to Scottish soldiers in active service - a number of the performers were in active service earlier this year. Acts which will feature for the first time include a traditional martial arts display by Chinese students from Jiangxi Xishan International School.
Is Oor Wullie Becoming Our William?
The cartoon character "Oor Wullie" which has been running in the "Sunday Post" since March 8, 1936, has been the subject of recent research by a German academic, who has examined the language used over the years. She has concluded that Scotland's favourite cartoon character has been slowly losing his Scottish patter and adopting a more refined English dialogue. Computer analysis has shown that the use of "tae" (which can mean "to" or "too" as well as "toe") is still used a lot, but words such as "bonnie" and "awfy" (awful) have declined. But the current Oor Wullie script-writer strongly refuted the research results. David Donaldson has been involved since 1962 and claims he has been trying to put more Scots word into the weekly story lines. He added "Jings, crivvens and help ma Boab will continue to be used for as long as I draw breath."
Sniffer Dog On the Trail - Of Bumblebees
Conservationists have launched an appeal for £100,000 to create a bumblebee reserve in the Western Isles, one of the few places where some of the rarer species of the insect survive. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust says it hopes to collect funds to set up a reserve on the west coast of North or South Uist. The Western Isles' machair, sandy grasslands which bloom with wild flowers, is ideal bumblebee habitat. In order to home in on rare bees, a sniffer dog has been trained by the Trust to find rare bumblebees on Tiree and it has had some early success in tracing nests. The dog wisely points his nose at a hive rather than getting too close. The research is allowing the experts to identify soil types that bees prefer for their hives and in what direction in banking that their nests face.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Firemen had to hose down a metal swing bridge in Inverness this week after the heat expanded the metal, causing it to jam in the open position, causing traffic chaos. But as the hot, dry spell came slowly to a halt towards the end of the week, central Aberdeenshire suffered torrential rain, thunder and lighting. An inch of rain fell on Aboyne in an hour - a dramatic difference from the previous week when Aberdeenshire was one of the hottest places in the country. For the rest of us, there was still a lot of sunshine with Glasgow reaching 27C (81F) on Tuesday and Edinburgh 28C (83F) on Wednesday. But the rain clouds began to spread south to the Central Lowlands, with a number of showers on Friday and even heavier and more prolonged rain on Saturday. Temperatures were still above average, however - Edinburgh recorded a maximum of 23C (73F) on Saturday and Aberdeen was not far behind. The outlook for the next few days is for a continuation of the unsettled spell.
The bright sunny picture here is of Lythrum and Goldenrod in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, earlier this week
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include a Queen Elizabeth Rose in the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, blue and white Lobelia forming the flag of St Andrew, Fettes College (Tony Blair's Alma Mater) seen in the small illustration here, a Ringlet Butterfly, Lavatera flower, Hermitage Castle in the Scottish Borders and a Red Sunset See This Week's Colour Supplement.