Daring Launch on Clyde
A crowd of over 10,000 people turned up to see HMS Daring, the first of the Royal Navy's latest Type 45 Anti-Air Warfare destroyers, slide down the slipway on Wednesday. The Navy claims it will be the most advanced warship in the world, with each vessel having more firepower than the combined fleet of the previous Type 42 destroyers. With a price tag of £605 million, you would hope so. All launches on the Clyde are nerve-wracking, as the river is very narrow - this 500 foot long warship is only slightly shorter than the width of the water at Scotstoun. Admittedly, the ship is launched into the water at an angle, but even so, 680 tons of drag chains attached to the hull were needed to stop it coming too close to the Braehead shopping centre on the other bank. Crowds of onlookers there cheered and clapped as the ship stopped with only a few yards to spare.
The Type 45 destroyer is the first of six to be built by BAe Systems in Glasgow and construction will keep the yards at Scotstoun and Govan busy for the next seven years. The combat system is the cutting edge of technology and there is a full electric propulsion system which would allow the ship to sail 7,000 nautical miles without any additional fuel. The ship will now be fitted out in a dry dock on the Clyde and will enter service in 2009.
Road Deaths Fall
The number of people killed in Scotland's roads in 2004 fell to 306, 8% less than in 2003, according to a government report published this week. Transport minister Tavish Scott welcomed the reduction but added that "we must not be complacent." The figures also showed that there were 18,405 casualties on Scotland's roads last year, 2% fewer than in 2003 and the lowest figure since 1953. The full publication can be found at the Scottish Executive's Road Accident Statistics report.
Airport Rail Link Unveiled
Computerised graphics of the planned rail link between central Glasgow and the airport at Renfrew were published this week. They show a dedicated platform at Glasgow Central Station, a new bridge over the M8 (see artist's impression), a controversial viaduct over St James' playing fields in Paisley and a state-of-the-art elevated station at the airport connected to the terminal by a moving walkway. A bill seeking approval for the £160 million project is currently working its way through the Scottish Parliament. Assuming that this is expedited, the new route, which is utilising a large section of existing railway line, with an extension from Paisley Gilmour Street station, could be operational by the end of next year.
Dozens of Schools to Close
Despite noisy protests from many parents, Glasgow City Council has approved the closure and amalgamation of 28 primary schools and the creation of 16 new buildings at locations across the city. The council is responding to the decline in the number of pupils at a number of schools and the need to do something about the poor state of some of them. But primary schools are for those aged 5 to 11 and tend to be small and have a limited catchment area. The new plans will remove a number of well-loved establishments and will result in longer distances for some kids to travel. One new school planned for Otago Street will have 650 pupils and lead to the closure of four other primary schools. However, the council claim that many parents see the value of the reinvestment and regeneration plans. 30 years ago, Glasgow had a primary school population of 110,000 children in 220 primaries, compared to four years ago when the primary population was 40,000 in 203 primaries. Many schools are operating at less than 20% capacity.
Be A Ski Instructor - On the Banks of the River Clyde
The Xscape snow complex in Braehead on the banks of the river Clyde, which is due to open in April, is advertising for staff with experience of skiing and snowboarding to act as instructors at Scotland's first indoor ski slope. In addition to the ski slope covered in 1,500 tonnes of real snow, the complex will house climbing walls, an aerial assault course, a multiplex cinema, a 24-lane 10-pin bowling alley, shops and bars. The massive building is on a site overlooking the river Clyde, beside the Braehead Shopping centre at Renfrew. The complex is aimed at attracting over three million visitors a year.
Lowest Unemployment Figures for 30 Years
Government figures published this week show that unemployment in Scotland has fallen to its lowest level since the summer of 1975. The numbers claiming the Jobseeker's Allowance fell by 1,200 in January to 83,900. This was the third consecutive monthly fall and was 2,400 down on last January. Under the alternative International Labour Office method of calculating unemployment, there was a fall of 5,000 to 135,000 (12,000 fewer than a year ago). The number of people in work reached 2.468 million - 10,000 higher than in the previous three months and 14,000 higher than the same period in 2004. By contrast, the UK unemployment figures are heading upwards. The number of unemployed people in the UK rose by 108,000 to 1.54 million between October and December using the ILO method, a jobless rate of 5.1%, which was the highest figure for three years.
Dundee Just Avoids Highest Council Tax in Scotland
Householders who pay local council tax may have naively thought that the elected officials in the city and county councils worked hard to establish the lowest possible rate of tax, commensurate with providing a good level of service. So they may have been surprised when Dundee City Council, on the point of announcing an increase in the local council tax of over 4%, suddenly avoided making a decision when they heard that Glasgow had announced a zero increase this year. If Dundee had gone ahead with their original plans, the city would have become the highest-rated in Scotland. So the councillors did their sums again and a few days later came up with an increase of 2.63% - which produced a figure just £2 less than Glasgow. They had achieved a saving of £1.1 million, which included the simple expedient of transferring the sheltered housing warden service from social work to housing management - which does not impact on council tax. Other savings involved transferring five leisure centres to a leisure trust. If it was that easy, maybe there is more that the councillors in Dundee (and elsewhere) can do with smoke and mirrors?
Visitor Numbers to Scottish Attractions
The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions in the UK has reported a slump in the numbers going to the UK's top attractions in London following the terrorist bombings there on 7 July, although that led to some sites outside of that city benefiting from displaced visitors. Numbers to the London Eye, for example, were down by 30% after the bombings, but Kew Gardens on the outskirts had an increase of 25% in their numbers. In Scotland, numbers were down at both Edinburgh and Stirling Castle in 2005, said to be because of the G8 protest marches, although weather last year may also have been a factor. However, the Museum of Scotland in the capital saw numbers rising by 9% while the Falkirk Wheel, which was not affected by the G8 protests, slumped by 30%. The Museum of Flight had a 116% increase in visitor numbers - but that was due to the arrival of the Concorde supersonic aircraft.
George Street Beats Own Record for Parking Tickets
More parking tickets were issued in George Street in Edinburgh in 2004 than any other road in Scotland. But in 2005 the "Enforcers" slapped 21,027 parking tickets on vehicles in the street, which was 1,000 more than the previous year. That meant the city council raked in £630,000 in fines on that one street alone. Four other Edinburgh parking ticket hotspots (St Andrew Square, Chambers Street, Melville Street and the Grassmarket) between them could only muster 20,000 tickets. George Street is popular not only with shoppers but is also used by those making business calls to nearby offices.
Government Rejects Support for Perth City Status
There was disappointment amongst civic leaders in Perth when the Scottish Executive announced that it would not support moves by the "Fair City" to be given official "city" status. It was pointed out that the UK government had not brought forward any plans to have a competition for city status (as they had in recent years when Stirling and Inverness in Scotland had won this award). In the past, being a city was largely a status issue, but since the introduction of the government's "Cities Growth Fund" other towns have become more interested. See Scotland's Cities on the background to Scotland's current cities - and those aspiring to the title.
Experts Research 900-year-old Aberdeen Church
A team of archaeologists are taking part in a six-month project at Aberdeen's historic Kirk of St Nicholas. The experts have a large amount of excavation experience as well as human bone and burial archaeology knowledge. Although the church's present structure on Union Street dates mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries, it incorporates portions of the 12th-century church - and there may have been an even earlier structure. Surviving remains of upstanding parts of the transepts date from the 12th-century and are of major significance to the study of Scottish medieval parish and burgh churches. The excavation will uncover burials from the 12th-century up to at least the end of the 18th-century, and the coffins and clothing will give an insight into burial practices of post-medieval Aberdonians. The dig has arisen because of the need to reinforce the foundations of the church - known locally as the Mither Kirk - for a new development. For more information, log on to the Kirk of St Nicholas website at www.kirk-of-st-nicholas.org.uk.
Memorial Arch to Princess
The Earl of Strathmore has unveiled a plan to create a 16ft-high memorial arch to the late Princess Margaret in the grounds of Glamis Castle in Perthshire. The princess was born at the castle in 1930 - her father later became King George VI and her mother, born as Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, later became Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Princess Margaret was the first royal baby in direct line to the throne to have been born in Scotland for 300 years. Protocol in those days demanded that the Home Secretary had to be present at such a birth, so he had to travel from London for the event! The memorial arch will stand over an ornamental urn, beside a yew hedge close to the Italian Gardens, in a scenic part of the grounds which is open to the public. A proposal for new entrance gates and a piazza at Glamis in memory of the Queen Mother is also being progressed.
The photo here, taken many years ago and on display at Glamis, shows the Queen Mother flanked by Queen Elizabeth II on the left and Princess Margaret on the right.
Success for Celtic Connections
The opening concert of the 13th Celtic Connections festival had to be cancelled, but even so, the organisers hailed the event as one of the most successful yet, with ticket sales over 100,000. The newly refurbished Fruitmarket venue had helped to make it one of the biggest music festivals in the world. Scott Taylor, chief executive of Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, commented after the last concert: "Celtic Connections has once again delivered a fantastic programme of music and song that has lifted the spirits of locals and visitors alike."
Launch of National Theatre of Scotland
The new National Theatre of Scotland has commissioned ten pieces of theatre around the theme of "Home" and theatre directors across Scotland have produced their own unique vision of that word. The works are being launched next week at ten very different venues, not just in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen but also in Stornoway, Inverness, Dumfries and Dundee. The National Theatre itself does not have a stage of its own, but works instead with the best of Scottish theatre to inspire and delight audiences everywhere. The Glasgow performance is taking place in a tower block near the M8 motorway - with cameramen abseiling down the walls to film through the windows with the audience viewing the performance at the base of the building, with the images projected onto a giant screen strapped to a truck. The play in Shetland, on the other hand, is being performed on a ferry boat.
Top Acts Return to Edinburgh Castle Esplanade
Now that the esplanade in front of Edinburgh Castle can again be used for live concerts - after health and safety issues were resolved last December - promoters have quickly lined up three shows for the venue. Former Bee Gees star Robin Gibb, Irish boy band Westlife and operatic chart-toppers Il Divo will all be performing there during the summer. There will be an estimated audience of 8,000 for each of the July performances, using the giant stands which are erected each year for the Military Tattoo. When Westlife performed on the esplanade two years ago, tickets sales set a new record as the fastest sell-out of tickets to date. Il Divo, a pop-classical quartet, saw their latest album enter the US album charts at number one. Their debut album knocked Robbie Williams off the top of the UK album charts and went on to enjoy chart-topping success in another 25 countries around the world.
Inverness Music Festival
Running from 20 February to 11 March, this festival takes in competitive events in the major disciplines of instrumental music, vocal and choral classes, speech, Gaelic, piping and Scottish Country Dancing. It was established in 1922 and almost four thousand people of all ages will be taking part in the event - numbers have trebled in the last ten years. For more details, see Inverness Music Festival Web site.