Edinburgh Quality of Life "Best in UK"
A survey of 200 major UK companies has shown that Edinburgh is regarded as having the best quality of life for employees, coming well above its closest rival, Bristol in the south-west of England. The Capital also came out on top for being seen as free of pollution (despite recent reports that Edinburgh has failed to meet air quality targets at traffic pollution hotshots). But the senior managers in the survey rated Edinburgh to be the worst for finding city centre car parking and also the high cost of parking a car once you get there. A number of companies have said that they are put off relocating to Edinburgh because of high property and staff costs. Edinburgh City Council leaders say that it is difficult to solve the parking problem because they can't knock down buildings to create multi-storey car parks, as it is a World Heritage Site. Not that this stopped their predecessors creating such a building a number of years ago in the shadow of the castle at Castle Terrace...
Government Failing to Meet Traffic Congestion Targets
The spending watch-dog, Audit Scotland, published a report this week which highlights that the aim of the Scottish Executive to "stabilise" road congestion at 2001 levels by 2021, is going to fail. Government ministers have already admitted that this is the case, with the latest forecasts suggesting instead that the total volume of road traffic on Scotland's roads in 2021 will have grown by 21%. The report also focused on the backlog in the repair of local roads, suggesting that another £1.5 billion was needed to tackle this. And a further £325 million is required to bring trunk roads in Scotland up to standard. On the positive side, the number of rail journeys on ScotRail services have grown by nearly 50% in the last ten years and bus services had increased by 23 million passengers a year since 1999/2000. The government's dilemma, of course, is whether to allocate more spending on public transport or on road repairs and improvements.
Government Policy Too Successful
The Scottish Executive scheme to provide free bus travel to all pensioners and disabled people in Scotland was launched in April this year. There has been a higher than expected take-up, with 923,000 travel passes being issued so far - that's over 95% of those eligible. And the free travel has encouraged many of the pensioners to do more than just make local journeys to do shopping and visit friends and relatives. Many are taking the bus to travel to tourist attractions, coastal resorts and to do shopping and sightseeing in other cities. As a result, bus companies have had to increase the frequency of services on some routes and the greater than expected utilisation could even result in the amount allocated to the scheme running out. The Scottish Executive denies this, saying that they had allowed for a 40% growth in passengers.
Royal Regiment of Scotland Recruitment Rises
The new Royal Regiment of Scotland was formed six months ago, amid a lot of controversy, by merging such historic regiments as the Black Watch, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Kings Own Scottish Borderers, Royal Highland Fusiliers and the Royal Scots. Those who were opposed to the move predicted that it would have an adverse impact on recruitment. But figures published this week claim that the total number enlisting until September this year was 212, compared to 188 for the same period in 2005. The new regiment is made up of seven infantry battalions, who are in the forefront of action in Iraq and Afghanistan, so the increase in numbers is even more surprising. Critics are unconvinced by the figures, arguing that there has been a massive increase in recruitment advertising.
Size Doesn't Matter
European Commission rules dictate the sizes of many products from bread and ice-cream to bottles of shampoo and tins of paint. For example, bread can only be sold in 400g or 800g packs. But now the European Parliament is heading towards giving manufacturers more freedom on the size of their products to meet the changing demands of consumers. Most supermarkets give comparative prices per 100 grammes, so a move to different sizes would still allow consumers to compare the prices of differently sized packages. The new rules are expected to be approved early next year.
Petrol Prices Lowest in 14 Months
With world oil prices dropping below $60 dollars a barrel and experts predicting that it could fall further, the major supermarkets have sparked a price war on prices at the pumps. That has driven prices down to their lowest level for 4 months. Prices for a UK gallon of petrol (gas) had been heading for £1 a litre (equivalent to US $1.87 for 0.26 US gallons) and had gone over £1 a litre in a number of smaller outlets, particularly in the Highlands. But now, it is possible to find petrol at 84.9 pence a litre. Even so, a pricewatch survey found that the most expensive in Scotland was a filling station in Durness, Sutherland, still charging £1.03 for a litre of unleaded and £1.06 for diesel.
Blooming Aberdeen's Hat-trick
Having already won the Britain in Bloom and the Scotland in Bloom titles as the best city earlier this month, Aberdeen gained an international honour this week for its floral displays. It was voted as the "best large city" in the International Communities in Bloom awards, held in Canada. Winning the Scotland in Bloom title has become routine for the Granite City - this was the 39th consecutive time it had won the accolade. The international prize was regarded as "icing on the cake" as the city had been runners up in the contest for the last two years.
Ambulances Speed Up
The average time taken by an ambulance in Scotland to reach a life threatening emergency has gone down slightly in the last year, from 8.6 minutes to 8.4 minutes. That was achieved despite having to respond to an increased number of calls (over 500,000) - and the greater volume of traffic on the roads. There were regional variations, of course, with Grampian region recording the lowest average time of 7.4 minutes, even though distances involved were often longer. The use of helicopters based in Aberdeen would help, however. Lothian (which includes Edinburgh) had a response time of 7.8 minutes, despite the slow-moving traffic in the Capital. The longest average wait for an ambulance was in Shetland - 12.4 minutes.
Sailing Between Edinburgh and Glasgow
It won't beat the train for speed, but it is now possible to sail along the Forth and Clyde Canal between the centre of Edinburgh (within 300 yards of Edinburgh Castle) to Glasgow (the canal basin at Port Dundas, 10 minutes walk from the city centre). To make the point this week, a member of the Edinburgh Canal Society sailed the first boat for 50 years to travel the complete length of the canal.
Scots Flying East
It appears that ever increasing numbers of Scots are using the Glasgow to Dubai air service, which has been operated by Emirates Airways since April 2004. The airline has reported a 49% growth in the profitable business class travel during this summer, compared to the same period last year and overall passenger numbers have grown by 18% over the five months from April to August this year, against the same period last year. In December 2005, Emirates increased seat capacity by 50% by introducing the new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, the largest plane to land in Scotland on a regular basis. Since 2004, over 400,000 passengers have used the service, many travelling on further than Dubai, to Australia, for example.
Recycling Reaches for the Sky
Persuading people who live in high rise apartment blocks to recycle newspapers, glass and tin cans has always been difficult, often because recycling centres and kerbside collection points are some distance away. But this week the Scottish Executive announced funding of up to £47 million to make it more convenient for over half a million people in tower blocks to recycle their household waste. The biggest allocation is to Glasgow, where their allocation of £27 million will be used to provide more collection points adjacent to multi-occupancy buildings. West Dunbartonshire Council is to spend £2.9 million to provide a doorstep collection service to another 12,000 households, providing a box and bag for storage of paper, cans and plastic bottles. The sums involved seem quite high - until you read the small print and it becomes clear that the money is being spread over the years from 2006 until 2020.
Lifeboat Rescues Increase
The Royal National Lifeboat Institute in Scotland, the charity that runs the rescue vessels around the coasts, had their second busiest summer on record this year, with 445 launches. That was an overall 10% increase over the summer of 2005, though some lifeboat stations saw a 100% increase in the number of calls on their services. Broughty Ferry in Angus was the busiest station, with 41 launches this summer, double that of last year. The increase is apparently due in part to more people using the sea, though many of those rescued are landlubbers, who get cut off by rising tides. The RNLI has an active fleet of 52 lifeboats at 44 lifeboat stations around Scotland - all supported by donations from the public and fund-raising activities by the organisation and its supporters.
Bag Tax Binned
The Scottish Parliament has rejected proposals to impose a 10 pence levy on all plastic bags issued by supermarkets. The Members of the Scottish Parliament's environment committee concluded that the charge "would not achieve its aim" of reducing waste. Environmentalists who had proposed the "bag tax" expressed disappointment, pointing out that plastic bags can take 100 years to biodegrade. A similar charge in Ireland has cut their use by 90%. In recent years, fearful of the introduction of such a levy, many supermarkets have been encouraging customers to buy re-usable bags, often with the promise that when the bags eventually wear out, they will be replaced, free of charge. Other supermarkets are introducing plastic bags which biodegrade in landfill sites in a few years.
Official Tartan Database?
You might have thought that by this time there would be an official, central register of Scottish tartans. After all, tartan has become something which is closely identified with Scotland - and has become an important part of the marketing of the country, which should be given some protection. However, there are instead a number of competing, private organisations. The Scottish Tartans Society was established in 1963 by the Lord Lyon King of Arms, but it was not the most dynamic of organisations and in 1996 Scotland's leading weavers and tartan retailers set up the Scottish Tartans Authority. Many of the newer tartans have been registered there. Then, as the Web expanded, the Scotland Online company teamed up with the "Scottish Tartans World Register" to create yet another complete "Register of all Publicly Known Tartans". Now, with the support of several politicians as well as manufacturers and experts, the Scottish Parliament is planning to fund the creation an authoritative index in which would be recorded every tartan's name, a sample and a detailed description of its specific colours. A keeper would be appointed to compile, categorise and amend the list and would have the authority to accept or reject applications. It is estimated that it would cost between £100,000 and £150,000 to set up.
Friends of Scotland
The latest issue of the quarterly on-line magazine produced by "Friends of Scotland" includes articles on the 75th anniversary of the evacuation of St Kilda, the purchase of the island of Gigha with the support of the Scottish Land Fund, and the launch of a record label called Postcard in 1980 that helped to establish Scotland as a thriving hotbed of regional musical talent. The magazine also has a feature on "Global Scots", a network of 900 Scottish achievers and cutting-edge innovators from around the world, who have undertaken to create links with entrepreneurs in Scotland. Over 170 of these tycoons with Scottish roots, representing or controlling companies with a combined turnover of more than £500 billion, are attending a conference in Edinburgh this week, where they will meet 300 high-flying Scots over a two-day event. For more on Friends of Scotland's magazine, see Scotland Now.
Gleneagles Chef Wins UK "Oscar"
Andrew Fairlie, the talented chef at Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, received the AA "Chef’s Chef" award this week. This is voted for by the top chefs in the UK catering industry, and so is their equivalent of the Oscars. This is the latest in a long line of prestigious awards won by the Scot - he has won the AA Restaurant of the Year 2002, Scottish Chef of the Year 2002, five medallion status from VisitScotland and four AA rosettes. And under his guidance, Gleneagles Hotel has won a second Michelin star this year - the only Scottish restaurant to achieve such recognition.
Rescue Plan to Repair Caithness Glass
The Caithness Glass manufacturing operation in Perth may be saved if a plan by Perth and Kinross Council gets going. The company was under threat after the holding company, Edinburgh Crystal, called in the administrators at the end of July. Now the Perth Council has come up with a plan in conjunction with Dartington Crystal to transform the factory and the adjacent visitor centre into a major tourist attraction, with a mult-million pound tourist attraction and shopping complex. It appears that the plan had been in the pipeline before the latest financial crisis. The present building is a major tourist attraction on the northern outskirts of Perth. But the replacement of the 1970s building with an up-market "retail parade" of seven units attached to a smaller glassmaking plant had been regarded as essential. The aim is to market it as a gateway to Perth and the Highlands. Council leaders are keen that the developers should come up with detailed plans for an "iconic" building. Oh dear...
£40 Million Transport Distribution Hub for Grangemouth
The Forth Ports company has announced that it is to create a new distribution hub at Grangemouth docks which will serve the whole of Scotland and the north of England. This further £40 million development comes just as an earlier £25 million revamp of the port facilities comes to a conclusion. The port will provide fast, efficient access to and from Europe as well as the south-esat of England. Grangemouth's own economy is largely based on the huge petro-chemical works which cover a vast area around the town. Much of the oil extracted from the North Sea is processed here.
Boost for Oban Airport Plan
This week, the plan to upgrade Oban airport so that it could support a commercial air service to the islands of Coll, Colonsay and Tiree, got a major boost when the UK's Department of Transport agreed to subsidise the service. The department has recognised the flights as "lifeline air services" and so the chosen operator will be entitled to a financial subsidy which will guarantee that any operating deficit will be met and also that the routes will not be subject to competition. As a result of the decision, Argyll and Bute Council are predicting that the new air service could take off by next summer. Terminal buildings, new runways and aprons are being built at Colonsay and Coll and will be ready for use early next year.
Climbing in the Himalayas - In a Kilt
They say that the kilt is ideal for both hot and cold weather, so maybe Chris Dunlop will climb a Himalaya peak in his kilt without any problems. He aims to earn a place in the Guinness Book of Records for his efforts to climb 21,246ft Mera Peak in Nepal. He'll be wearing his kilt for the 12 days of climbing on that mountain and others in the region. But he is not taking any chances - he'll be wearing salopettes (ski trousers) under his kilt. But he promises that he'll remove the salopettes when he gets to the top. Hopefully, he won't stay there for long? He is no stranger to unusual climbs - last year he staged a Burns Supper on Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America. Of course, his exploits are not just for fun - he raises money for charity with his stunts.
NASA picture of Himalayas from space via Wikipedia.
Weather in Scotland This Week
A lot of cloud and showers this week - again. Most places had some rain just about every day, although Saturday turned out to be bright with sunny intervals across the country. But temperatures remained well above average for late September. Lossiemouth reached 19C (66F) on Wednesday but most places hovered around 17/18C (63/64F), although it was turning cooler by the end of the week.
The illustration here is of Tritoma - more commonly known as "Red Hot Pokers".
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include the ruined archway framing Culzean Castle in Ayrshire (see thumbnail), Colchicum - the "Autumn Crocus", a young fawn at Culzean Country Park, Kellie Castle in Fife, BAE shipyard on the river Clyde and a Red Admiral butterfly. See This Week's Colour Supplement.