03/06/23 – 09/06/23
More Levelling up? Is Police Scotland misogynistic? And villages take on SSEN:
The latest solution for the A83 at Rest and Be Thankful in Argyll is a £470 million ‘road shelter’ to mitigate the dangers of landslips and lengthy diversions. The mile-long tunnel-like shelter will have a catch pit and protection wall to shield the road and drivers from debris from above. Transport Scotland are holding in-person engagement events for 4 days from June 12th in Arrochar and later Lochgilphead to seek people’s views, and are looking to increase the resilience of the temporary diversion route along the Old Military Road.
Dalmally village is to challenge plans for 48 pylons to be added to the 29 running through the village. They will be the size of tower blocks, between 50 and 60 metres high. Argyll and Bute Council upheld local objections, and there will now be a public enquiry from June 19th, with the final decision made by a Scottish Government-appointed reporter.
The community says SSEN has refused to engage since 2016, including on suggested alternative routes, and a community GoFundMe page hopes to raise up to £20,000 for professional advisers. Local farms and businesses say the super-pylons could finish their businesses, impacting local historical, recreational and cultural sites and destroying ancient woodland, and blight views of Kilchurn Castle and the Munros already spoiled by the existing pylons.
SSEN is also facing opposition to a proposed line of pylons to run 160 kilometres between Spittal in Caithness to Beauly.
Teachers and school staff in Scotland suffered over 22,000 incidents of violence in 2021/22. The Scottish Tories want rules on exclusion to be updated, and measures to ‘ensure pupil support assistants are available’, without saying how they will ensure the safety of pupil school assistants. Jenny Gilruth will chair a summit to tackle 14,000 incidents of violence in schools this year.
No More Homework
The Scottish Greens want to outlaw homework for primary school pupils so as not to ‘intrude on family and leisure time’, disadvantaging children whose home environment makes homework difficult. Ross Greer does not cite any research, saying children should have fun and play in after-school activities and clubs, but fails to see that if pupils cannot complete homework due to their home environment, their families may not afford after-school activities or transport.
The recent National Discussion consultation (?) reached 38,000 people, including 26,000 pupils. So two-thirds of respondents were pupils, and the consultation votes for no homework??
CalMac recently banned motorhomes from travelling to North Uist due to ferry problems just after implementing a month-long cancellation of services to South Uist, effectively cutting off the island. No word on how campervans already on North Uist are to get home.
The Scottish government, which flatly refused to compensate island businesses impacted by the ongoing ferry difficulties, has now said it may consider compensation. The Lochboisdale Ferry Business Impact Group says Calmac are deciding which island economies live and which die; and that Transport Minister Kevin Stewart cannot control CalMac. Bonuses must continue to be paid due to contractual obligations which do not demand success for bonus payments.
On Tuesday Kevin Stewart resigned as Transport Minister, citing mental health problems.
Fire Service Cuts
Scottish Fire and Rescue (SFARS) must cut staff and even fire appliance numbers, despite already cutting more than 1100 firefighter jobs over the last decade, closing 5 control rooms and increasing response times per incident by 14%. They will get a flat cash budget settlement for the next four years, and must make £36 million cuts including £11 million in 2023 and 2024.
SFARS will be withdrawing appliances on a temporary basis from September in Govan, Maryhill and Cowcaddens, Greenock, Hamilton, Kingsway East in Dundee; Perth, Dunfermline, Glenrothes and Methil.
Who benefits from Sentence Reductions?
Writer Emma Cowing recently pointed out that the main beneficiaries of Sentencing Council guidelines reducing sentences for the under-25s are men, and their victims are mostly women. One male who escaped jail was 17 when he raped a 13-year-old over a number of months; another was 19 and got four years for rape and sexual assault of young women; one male got 2 years for running over a pregnant woman whom he left brain damaged, with both legs amputated, blinded in one eye and who lost her unborn child. And the vicious killer of Jill Barclay got 24 years instead of 29. Emma Cowing suggests it is ‘penalising female victims, while pandering to their male aggressors’.
Stalking Postie avoids jail
A postman who harassed women on his rounds over 7 years and was reported to the Royal Mail twice was allowed to work on until the police were finally involved. But even now he has not been jailed, instead sentenced to 180 hours of community service and 3 years’ supervision, plus 5 months’ tagging. He will be on the sex offenders register and has a non-harassment order regarding the victims for three years.
Misogyny and the Police
A recent anonymous online survey of police officers and staff found that 81% of respondents said they have experienced or witnessed misogyny at work. Officers report being overlooked for promotions due to their sex, with some saying the ‘real team meetings’ happen on the golf course among the ‘boys’ club’. There are problems getting flexible work plans, and you may have a ‘target on your back’ if you raise a grievance or be labelled a ‘troublemaker’.
Respondents included men who along with women felt unable to challenge male behaviour which is often dismissed as ‘banter’, despite its demeaning misogynistic tone.
The £75 million cleaning contract outsourced by Police Scotland to Atalian Servest in April is not off to a good start. Staff unions have been ‘inundated’ with complaints about incorrect wages, the HR portal for checking pay and holidays being unreliable, agreed holidays being refused, staff being asked to work on bank holidays, and supervisors not allowed to give up the role despite not being paid any extra for supervising.
Staff recently demonstrated outside Police Scotland’s Clyde Gateway, Glasgow demanding an end to outsourcing of public service contracts. Despite new staff having to undergo rigorous security checks, they are paid minimum living wage (£10.90 an hour). Police Scotland has arranged to meet with staff.
Food Price Caps
Should basic food prices to be regulated? Some say the large supermarkets have a price stranglehold, paying some suppliers less than their production costs. Even supermarkets with ‘value’ ranges do not usually stock them in their smaller local convenience stores. Stuart McCallum, head of food and drink at accountancy group RSM, thinks it would be difficult, but not impossible, for government to cap basic commodity prices like milk and bread.
The Youth Opportunities Tracker report from Barnardo’s and the Coop showed that 92% of 10- to 25-year-old Scots had as their top ambition ‘to have enough money to cover the basic needs’ ahead even of getting a dream job or buying a house.
Fans Football Initiative
A Scottish government initiative is lending money to football fans to buy shares in their clubs. The Falkirk Supporters’ Society is the first beneficiary of the ‘fan bank’ which awarded them a £350,000 interest free loan to buy 875,000 shares in Falkirk FC, around 25% of the club.
Fifth Tier Abandoned
The SFA have shelved their plans to vote on a new Scottish Conference League with a fifth tier of 10 teams, which would have included 3 Premiership colts teams, after it became apparent that a growing number of clubs would vote against the proposal. The SFA will now reconsider how best to develop young talent.
How about spreading football money throughout the leagues instead of allowing a stranglehold on money and talent at the top of the game? It cannot be healthy for Scotland that at most two clubs compete for the league every year.
Levelling Up Secretary
Michael Gove recently met the leaders of 3 SNP-run councils to discuss low-regulation economic areas. Firms would pay less tax, with fewer restrictions on commercial and residential building. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt called these new zones ‘12 potential Canary Wharfs’, at least one of which will be in Scotland.
So we have the unedifying spectacle of 3 SNP authorities competing against each other for low-investment, low-regulation, low-return areas which Gove claims will prove Scotland and the UK are ‘better together’, and which will join the two ‘greenports’ of Cromarty and Forth already ‘awarded’ to Scotland. Gove’s conversations with Glasgow and Dundee were reported to be fairly informal, but John Alexander, leader of Dundee City Council, remains hopeful, saying ‘you’ve got to be in it to win it’.
The Deposit Return Scheme
has finally been abandoned, at least until October 2025, in a humiliating climbdown by Lorna Slater. But that is not the end of it. The Federation of Independent Retailers, the British Soft Drinks Association and others are seeking compensation for the £300 million spent by the industry to become DRS-compliant.
Business Rates Relief
is essential for Scottish retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, pointing out that shops, bars, cafes and cinemas in England and Wales are entitled to 75% business rates relief this financial year up to £110,000 per firm. But the Scottish government says its freezing of the business rates poundage rate makes its rates relief package of £744m this year the ‘most generous small business relief in the UK’.
Only 29% of hospitality enterprises feel optimistic about the next year, with 86% concerned or very concerned about energy costs, with average bills up 81% on last year and three times higher than 2021. Some want government to force energy suppliers to renegotiate sky-high deals.
Hospitality is caught between suppliers increasing costs by up to 48%, or changing costs 2 or 3 times a year; rising energy and staff costs; and customers who cannot afford to eat out, with venues sometimes limiting their opening days just to survive.
Edinburgh-based Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) is aiming to help increase food productivity with its vertical farming systems for crops like lettuce, carrots and seed potatoes, as well as flowers and trees. Controlled lighting mimics the different seasons, allowing the towers to operate year-round, and some crops like sequoias achieve accelerated growth, but the towers are not cheap, costing £500,000 each.
Scotland is now also exploring cultivating synthetic beef and pork in a lab from cells taken from living animals by Roslin Technologies, reducing the amount of land, water and other resources needed.
Dr Flora Murray, a First World War medical pioneer and suffragette, features on the Bank of Scotland’s first £100 polymer banknote, which has been named the third favourite of 2022’s most beautiful banknotes in the world. Dr Murray founded the Women’s Hospital for Children in London to provide healthcare for the children of factory and shop workers, and helped found the Women’s Hospital Corps in 1914, opening two military hospitals in France staffed entirely by female suffragettes.