ToW 31/12/22 – 06/01/23
Greening Off-grid Rural Homes
Residents in areas like the North-East and Highlands and Islands living in off-grid properties are not exempt from upgrading their heating systems within 3 years. But Patrick Harvie’s favoured sustainable option of a heat pump will not be suitable for nearly a quarter of Scotland’s 170,000 off grid properties and upgrading to electric systems could cost up to £32,000, with no indication of whether government grants will cover all or part of the cost. All Scotland’s properties must meet a minimum EPC3 (Energy Performance Certificate) by 2033, with possible trigger points for reaching that standard before then, for example the sale of the house. Although this is only supposed to apply to properties where it is technically feasible and cost-effective to reach level C, the rules and exemptions are far from clear.
Last year only one-sixth of claims for pothole damage to vehicles was compensated Scotland-wide, paying out a total of just over £274,000. West Dunbartonshire did not pay out on any of the 36 claims received while at the other end of the scale Scottish Borders Council paid out in nearly 43% if its 98 claims. Local authority figures last year showed it would take £1.68bn to improve the roads sufficiently for motorist and vehicle safety, but in the latest settlement local authorities will be seeing budget cuts.
After 40+ hours without fluids, blind kidney and pancreas transplant patient Russell MacMillan was so concerned his transplanted organs might fail that he bypassed A&E totally and went straight to the transplant ward at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. He had been unwell with flu, vomiting and diarrhoea and could not keep down his anti-rejection medication and stay hydrated, despite which he did not meet the threshold for an emergency ambulance, even though his wife was ill and could not drive him.
By the time he reached the transplant ward, his veins had started collapsing. He is since back home and well, but the vice-president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr John-Paul Loughrey, estimates 50 Scottish deaths a week may be resulting from the current emergency medicine crisis.
Council Tax Debt
Scotland’s total council tax debt has risen by two-thirds since the pandemic to nearly £116 million. Nearly 4000 Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) clients owed a total of £12.7 million in council tax, with the average debt over £3,400, and the figures will likely rise due to a £450 million funding black hole in council finances, which may increase council tax bills. Coupled with the ongoing cost of living crisis affecting most people the problem will only worsen.
Aberdeen City Council is the worst-performing for collecting council tax, failing to collect 7.2% of the tax billed, with Stirling, Perth and Kinross and East Lothian the best, failing to collect only 2.3% of billed council tax.
Nearly 3000 children were living in temporary accommodation in Glasgow last December, with the average length of stay for families being 423 days. Twenty-three homeless people died at 3 hotels used by Glasgow City Council, 9 in the Alexander Thomson Hotel, and 7 each at Rennie Mackintosh Station Hotel and Queen’s Park Hotel. Altogether 250 homeless people died in Scotland in 2021, up 52% in four years. Some were due to drug overdoses and it is claimed that some people are housed in unsuitable premises without the necessary support systems.
Free School Meals
The rollout of free school meals to P6 and P7 pupils has been further delayed to August 2024. Free meals for P1-P3 pupils were announced in 2014, prior to which entitlement depended on parents receiving a certain amount of Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit. Extending it to all primary school children has been delayed several times so far.
Damp and Mould
Glasgow City Council has issued 1500 warnings for damp or mould over the last five years to private and social landlords in response to a ‘Statutory Nuisance’, defined by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 as being detrimental to health. The council can order repairs, but Glasgow refused to name the landlords who were warned about living conditions, saying the cost of providing this information under the Freedom of Information Act would exceed the £600 limit.
The Wheatley Group, which owns or manages homes in 19 of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas, does not place a marker on its properties to identify damp or mould problems, and were unable to say how many such complaints it had received. Accurate data is essential to identify and remedy damp and mould which can cause respiratory problems and in extreme cases death.
Cosla is renewing its call for increased councillor pay, citing the number of councillors with second or third jobs ranging from hypnotists to vets to posties, plus staffers to MSPs and MPs. One MSP staffer is simultaneously working for the police. Conversely, fewer than 10% of councillors live in rented properties, which suggests a councillor demographic not entirely reflective of society and which may impact their attitude to the rented sector. Will they act effectively against a proliferation of holiday lets and second homes in their areas? At the other extreme, fourteen percent of councillors own more than one property and at least 5% are landlords.
Police Scotland under scrutiny (by themselves)
Hundreds of Police Scotland officers were reported to the police professional standards department over sexual assault and other serious misconduct claims, according to Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Alan Speirs, with over 410 sexual allegations over four years. Inappropriate messaging and comments were included, and regardless of any criminal case, officers may be disciplined by Professional Standards. But officers and staff can resign or retire from the force during a misconduct probe and keep their pensions and benefits.
MSPs in the House of Lords
A loophole exists whereby politicians nominated for peerages from the Scottish and Welsh assemblies can hold both posts, whereas English MPs cannot, due to the House of Lords being the direct second chamber to the Commons. Scottish Labour’s Katy Clark, a former MP, became Baroness Clark of Kilwinning and was later elected as an MSP on the West of Scotland list. Labour’s Eluned Morgan, Welsh health secretary, became Baroness Morgan of Ely in 2011, before being elected to the Senedd in 2016.
A floating Ministry of Defence laboratory off the Outer Hebrides seventy years ago tested various infectious diseases including bubonic plague. Operation Cauldron built and tested plague bombs off the Scottish coast near Lewis in 1952, and is featured in a BBC Alba programme entitled Plaigh air Bord (Plague on Board). Rhesus monkeys and guinea pigs were put on pontoon bridges 20 miles off Lewis and exposed to plague bacteria, and alarmingly a fishing boat with 18 crew sailed through a plague cloud but it was hushed up, with the fishermen never told of their exposure.
Anthrax was tested on Gruinard island between Ullapool and Gairloch in 1942, and the military also tested tularemia (rabbit fever) and brucellosis off Stornoway in 1952. Eighty germ warfare tests were carried out off Stornoway in 1953 under Operation Hesperus. Up to 20% of the agent in a cloud of brucellosis was infective after 24 hours and could have drifted towards the mainland, with some viruses lasting weeks or months in the dust. The five-mile exclusion zone was not always observed.
Scotland is gripped by a fly-tipping epidemic with over 200,000 cases reported to councils, but fines issued in only 1.2% of cases. Only 45 cases went to the fiscal, and only one successful prosecution using a homeowner’s cctv footage submitted to East Dunbartonshire Council. The culprit got a community payback order of 80 hours’ unpaid work, plus £300 compensation.
The Scottish government is considering increasing the fine for fly tipping from £200 to £500. Over 72,000 cases in 2021/22 led to only 776 spot fines being issued. About 2,500 fines were issued over 3 years, only 1.2% of the complaints lodged.
Energy Standing Charges
Standing charges on gas and electricity bills have increased by at least 50% over the last year. They originally covered the cost of connecting to the network and basic maintenance and service, but the 50% increase is actually subsidising companies who took on the customers of 30 suppliers who failed under Ofgem supervision. The standing charge varies, with the lowest in London at £214 a year, and highest in Southwest England at £282. South of Scotland residents pay £275 a year, with the north of Scotland paying £277.
Included in the bailout payments is Bulb, worth about £7bn, so should Bulb’s owners have been allowed to keep £8 million share payments they received as the firm imploded? To their credit Octopus has given 100,000 households a standing charge holiday for up to six months.
Edinburgh has the 10 most expensive streets in Scotland, and 22 of the 25 most expensive. Ann Street in Stockbridge was the most expensive, with the average property costing £1.7 million, followed by Wester Coates Avenue and Regent Terrace.
Living Rent points out this has a knock-on effect on housing across Edinburgh, where rents for two-bedroom homes have risen by 63% over 10 years.