23/12/23 – 29/12/23
Who do Wind Turbines benefit? Scotland’s Export Worries, but first….
Why the Brechin floods were always going to happen
Although over £16 million was spend in 2016 on flood defences in River Street, is it possible that was not what was most needed? It may be arrogant to think we can (or should) try and alter nature too much. River Street has repeatedly flooded for as long as 200 years.
A bigger problem is that the hillsides are bare, barren sloping hills, with just a few scattered spruce plantation trees. But trees and forests keep ground water levels down, as strong healthy roots burrow into the soil and drink the water. If there are no trees, the water just runs down the hill. Canopies of tree cover divert and deflect water from becoming a huge hit of water overwhelming rivers all at once. The existing forest cover is barren, tamed and lacking in eco diversity.
We need old native trees and a mix of them. Sitka spruce such as those planted around Brechin and much of Scotland are grown for timber, cut down after 30 years and then replaced, but spruce and pine plantations do not encourage wildlife, and the soil is poor, with roots unable to dig deep and take hold. When Storms Arwen, Corrie and Malik roared in, it only took a few nights to wipe out large swathes of Angus forests. Trees fell into each other as the soil was thin and the roots very weak.
The Water Industry Commission for Scotland (WICS)
is under fire from Audit Scotland for allegedly settling staff personal tax issues using public funds, due to a misunderstanding of taxation liabilities. The situation arose due to gift vouchers paid to staff and a training course paid for an employee which should have been taxed as a benefit, but were not, resulting in unpaid tax and national insurance payments from 2018-19 totalling £8818. Of this £5500 was in the form of Christmas gift vouchers for every member of staff over two years between 2021 and 2023 without payment of tax.
The regulator’s delegated limit was £75 but each voucher was £100. Retrospective Scottish government approval was needed, and it has since come to light that a further £5435 must be paid relating to other periods. The auditors highlighted a culture of submitting expense claims without receipts, including amounts over set rates, as well as the need to tighten up procedures from now on.
Trans ‘Conversion’ Therapy
A Scottish government consultation will open on January 9th with the aim of banning so-called ‘conversion therapy’ for both gay and trans people. Unlike gay conversion therapy, which sought to stop people becoming gay, trans conversion therapy pushes affirmation of a trans identity by forbidding discussions, therapy or even questioning why someone feels like that, whether this is by therapists, parents, doctors or anyone else.
This has just happened in ‘progressive’ Norway. In Scotland the Catholic Church is warning against ‘criminalis[ing] Scottish parents’. It is also not clear as yet what exactly would qualify as ‘conversion practices’. The church wants to preserve the right to fully teach its religious beliefs, and other churches including the Church of Scotland, Scottish Episcopal Church, Elim Pentecostal Church, Free Church, United Free Church and Associated Presbyterian Churches, all wrote to the government minister responsible, Emma Roddick, voicing their concerns. This plan is another offshoot of the SNP’s Bute House Agreement with the Scottish Greens.
The consultation period will last 12 weeks from January 9th so make your views heard.
Does Scotland have untapped revenue sources?
Two measures could help fill the £1.9bn funding gap facing Scotland in the next couple of years. Air Departure Tax (ADT) was devolved to Scotland after the Smith Commission reported, but has still not been enacted, despite legislation being passed in 2017. The measure has not been implemented, largely due to concerns remaining over state aid regulations. And 50% of VAT revenues raised in Scotland was meant to be assigned directly to the Scottish government but along with ADT it was put on hold in 2019, with no firm timetable for implementation, and concerns over the methodology currently used to calculate Scotland’s share of VAT receipts, highlighted by both Holyrood’s Finance and Public Administration Committee and the government.
And that’s without any serious attempt at a Land Value Tax which many think would be fairer than the hodge-podge of taxes we currently have.
Wind turbines and Cold Weather
People are angry that Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) will apparently be allowed to follow their preferred options for the march of the pylons, according to Lyndsey Ward of campaign group Communities B4 Power Companies, with the north of Scotland being sacrificed for England and to ‘swell the coffers’ of large energy companies.
She says there is little compensation or consideration for those forced to live in the shadow of these giant turbines, which are not about transportation of energy southwards but about increasing energy capacity. She questions whether SSEN’s projected 400 jobs will ever appear locally, fearing that they will instead benefit other countries across the globe. She also sees the provision of 200 housing units as sinister and an indication that it will not be locals who will benefit, but workers coming into the area possibly from overseas.
She also questions the performance of wind turbines in meeting demand, saying the existing turbine network struggled to meet 2% demand in the recent cold weather. She is therefore very concerned that plans for further massive turbine developments will be similarly ineffective and blight the lives of those forced to live near them.
Part of the cost problem is that gas is taken as the benchmark for costing provision of energy due to the UK being tied in to the international market, meaning that irrespective of how much renewable energy contributes to the mix, it is still charged at the cost of the highest-cost energy in the mix. Decoupling Scotland from that distorted energy ‘market’ (the ‘invisible hand’ at work, I don’t think) must be a priority for an independent Scotland.
Islanders are demanding £33,000 a day in compensation for the cutback to winter ferry services. Despite being usually served by three sailings a week from Oban and one from Kennacraig via Islay on Saturday, they have been told they will lose 5 Monday services over winter for the second year running (a 25% reduction of service over 21 weeks).
As it stands residents are not entitled to compensation as the services were not actually timetabled, but they say operators are legally obliged to deploy services to maintain lifeline services to island communities.
Colonsay has one flight a week now funded to Oban by Argyll and Bute Council, and residents say some of the compensation would allow providers to supplement these flights, which are the only want to get out and back on the same day; and also use it for essential food supplies, which are particularly affected by the cut in Monday services. The £33,000 figure would equate to the daily hire fee for the catamaran MV Albert, owned by Pentland Ferries. That figure would allow the flight schedule to be restored for the whole year.
The National Care Service
Trade union GMB Scotland is warning that social care in Scotland is in danger of collapse due to staff frustration over low levels of pay and poor conditions, plus gaps in sick pay and maternity leave. Eighty percent of staff surveyed this year said they had considered quitting, and most care workers employed by private homes and home care providers only get statutory sick pay at £109 a week for 28 weeks, and statutory maternity pay at 90% for six weeks and 33 weeks at £172.
This was to be one of the flagship policies of the new National Care Service (NCS), but the union says talks have led to nothing. The CEO of Scottish Care claims shortages of district nurses mean that social carers are responsible for administering medication, feeding, dressing and toileting clients in a 15-minute visit.
The potential cost of the NCS has doubled to £2.2 billion, with some proposals dropped in order to bring the cost back to the planned £1.26bn over the first decade, with a proposed ‘go live’ date of 2028/29. The transfer of council-run care services and assets to the NCS and establishment of local care boards have now been dropped, with councils retaining responsibility for their current functions plus social care and social work services, with no transfer of staff or assets. An NCS board will oversee the service. So it looks much like what it is replacing, but with added social work services to be covered as well.
A specialist housing team supporting Ukrainian arrivals is due to be run down by Glasgow Council, with the 20-strong team being dispersed to bolster other parts of the homelessness service. Over 300 Ukrainian families will have applied for homeless support by the end of March, according to the British Red Cross. Only around 200 Ukrainians are still living in hotels, with 600 living with hosts or in housing association flats, with the specialist team having been instrumental in sourcing housing. GMB Scotland says running down the specialist team is ‘misguided’ and will lead to more problems.
Green Technology is not up to Green Targets
The Scottish government has had to admit they will not meet their emissions targets by 2030 as the available technology has not yet been scaled up, including carbon capture, which prevents carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere, instead injecting it deep into the seabed. The estimate now is that the maximum negative emissions technology potential by 2030 is 22MtCO2, instead of the forecast 3.8Mt CO2.
And in another green twist, it is estimated that 100,000 homes may escape having to instal Heat Pumps, being able to take advantage of a proposed rollout of district heating networks, although work remains to actually provide these at scale.
Green Investment Projects
A James Hutton Institute study entitled ‘The Social and Economic Impacts of Green Land Investment in Rural Scotland’ has found green projects may be leaving behind the very communities they are meant to be serving. Although touted as a ‘green jobs bonanza, farmers and gamekeepers may in fact lose employment and tenancies. The motivation for such investments is often new financial investment opportunities like garnering carbon and biodiversity credits for offsetting, with community wealth building and idealistic just transition often lagging behind.
The Institute warns that incentivising such investment may concentrate land ownership and outpace any ‘just transition’ measures. Farmland prices went up by 58% over just 2 years to 2022, and Andy Wightman recently showed that forest ownership increased by 11.6% over a decade, with public ownership down by 2.2% over that period.
Highland Council fears a ‘people’ drain, and while investors had a variety of reasons to invest – environmental, financial and reputational factors – the communities felt finance was the key motivator of investors, leading to a power imbalance against them.
The report wants greater regulation of the natural capital market, enhanced support for owners and employees affecting livelihoods, including retraining and land management transparency, with investment profits shared with affected communities, including minimum levels of community benefit payments, and consideration of long-term impacts.
Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon welcomed the report but only mentioned shared benefits and a balanced approach to investment, with no concrete protections being outlined for the benefit of communities.
Scotland and the EU
Worryingly, exports to the EU from Scotland fell by 12% between 2019 and 2021, or £16.95bn down to £14.97bn, with exports to the Netherlands falling by over 25%. Exports of refined petroleum products, coke, chemicals and chemical products including motor fuel fell 20% to £2.48bn. Exports of whisky, brandy and gin also fell, as did exports of plastic and rubber. But exports to the rest of the UK rose by £1.89bn to nearly £49bn.
An independent Scotland will need to upgrade its connections not only to England and Northern Ireland but also its freight connections to the continent. At present road connections from Scotland are just not adequate for the job they are supposed to do, and must be a priority going forward.
When Tom Crump’s Derbyshire home burned down while he was holidaying in Scotland, things went from bad to worse when the truck he was then using as his home broke down. But he is thankful to the locals of Doune in Stirlingshire, who rallied round him and his three dogs.
Having currently no home to go back to due to the fire causing structural damage which made it unsafe, he has been touched by the kindness of local people, who have not left him to suffer, providing food, doing his washing, providing heaters and even giving him work walking people’s dogs. He has been so touched by the generosity of the Scots that he does not really want to go back to England at all. Hopefully that’s the dramas over for a while.
So to Tom here’s hoping for a better New Year, and to all a peaceful and Happy New Year from all of us at ISP.