03/12/22 – 09/12/22
Say ‘thank you’ nicely to Westminster; growing poverty or a wealth tax?
Homeless Rent Arrears
The Scottish Tenants Organisation is calling on the Scottish government to act over £33 million of debt incurred by the homeless for temporary accommodation, querying whether councils are acting lawfully in pursuing these amounts through debt collection agencies and the courts. Inflated accommodation charges particularly affect those in work who do not qualify for housing benefit.
The Scottish government is refusing to pay for homeless accommodation or waive the outstanding debt, preferring to ‘find solutions’ and ‘cut the use of temporary accommodation’.
Homeless Action Scotland (HAS) found nearly half the homelessness workers in 16 local authorities knew of such debts being referred to debt enforcement firms, pointing out that working people may be charged much more for temporary accommodation compared with other tenants in the same accommodation.
HAS accuses some local authorities of failing to consider individual circumstances. East Lothian reported nil outstanding debt, Edinburgh £12.7 million. People are forced to live in their cars or sofa-surf as they cannot afford even the homeless accommodation. The Scottish government said homelessness charges are a local authority matter, and they encourage them to consider individual circumstances.
The idea of prohibiting local authorities from charging for temporary homeless accommodation was not considered for inclusion in the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill 2022.
Tory MP Vicky Ford
was aggrieved at Scotland for ‘not saying thank you’ to the UK for the money it sends us every year, plus the ‘£200,000’ sent recently from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which partly replaces lost EU funding (£2.6 bn in total between 2022 and 2025, only reaching the previous EU level of £1.5 bn annually in 2026).
She was corrected by the SNP’s Drew Hendry asking if the UK would say thank you to Scotland for the £54 billion windfall taxes expected from companies operating in Scottish waters.
Not to mention the £75bn sent by Scotland last year to the UK Treasury with only £42 billion finding its way back north.
Eilean da Mheinn
has opened up a planning can of worms in Argyll and Bute. It is an island in Loch Crinan where plans for a garden room for writing, creating and relaxation have split the community down the middle between supporters and opponents. Objectors are angered that Argyll and Bute Council’s planning committee proposes to rubber-stamp approval, with some saying it is the thin end of the wedge to approval of bigger and more intrusive developments.
The island falls within Argyll and Bute’s Local Development Plan definition of ‘very sensitive countryside’, which restricts development to renewable energy; telecoms; agriculture and nature conservation; and small developments for sport and recreation, and is within one of Scotland’s 40 National Scenic Areas.
Subsidies for Muirburn and Peatland Restoration
Tulchan Estate in the Highlands has legally obtained £120,000 from the Scottish government via NatureScot for peatland restoration while simultaneously getting £13,500 for muirburn, although it confirmed that the two activities did not proceed in exactly the same place. The two practices are largely incompatible.
Eighty percent of Scotland’s peatland is degraded, through draining, peat excavation and frequent burning, with degraded areas emitting large quantities of carbon instead of sequestering it.
Muirburn (controlled burning on moorland) removes the top layer of vegetation and promotes new growth, but destroys the heather which supports grouse birds, thus promoting grouse hunting.
Environmental organisations want restrictions on muirburn due to the negative effects on wildlife and increased risk of wildfire, although Scottish Land & Estates says it reduces the risk of wildfire. Currently the Muirburn Code allows burning from October 1st to April 15th, but the Scottish government is considering increasing this to year-round, as well as making the current ban on burning on peatland enforceable.
Rest and Be Thankful
This problematic stretch of the A83 has eaten up £96million in repairs over 15 years, but a long-term solution appears as far away as ever. Local businesses are suffering, with tourism increasingly affected. The popular choice of Glen Croe would have cost £65 million in 2012 rather than the £96 million mitigation so far. A permanent option will be adopted by spring 2023, with proposals for medium-term solutions forthcoming by the end of 2022.
Student ambulance technicians
without full training are being sent to emergencies like serious road accidents or even cardiac arrests as they are sometimes the only ones on call. Even fully trained single crew responses are not enough if someone must be transported to hospital, as one must drive with the other treating the patient.
Those in poorer areas have 10 times fewer defibrillators than richer areas, despite cardiac arrests occurring more often in deprived areas. Bonhill in West Dunbartonshire has only one defibrillator compared to Morningside, Edinburgh, which has nine; Ferguslie Park in Paisley had two, Kingsborough Gardens in Glasgow’s West End had 10.
The government is being urged to reverse funding cuts and a recruitment freeze for thrombectomies from an allocated £12.5m for 2022/23 to £7.9m in Scotland’s recent Emergency Budget Review. The procedure physically removes blood clots in severe stroke. Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland, the Stroke Association and 150 clinicians call it a false economy. It is suitable for 10% of stroke victims and significantly reduces long-term disability. Critics say any savings will be more than swallowed up in extra community rehabilitation, longer hospital stays and social care.
from 7th to 19th December in Montreal is considering the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to protect and restore biodiversity in at least 30% of land and ocean by 2030. Targets include halting extinction and tackling pollution and pesticide use and establishing monitoring systems. Campaigners want a Paris-style deal for nature to stop habitat destruction driving up carbon emissions and raising temperatures. Any targets agreed at Montreal will not be legally binding, and the USA will be an observer only.
The Climate Change Committee (CCC)
which advises the UK and Scottish governments says the Scottish government is lagging in sectors including reduction of car use, energy efficiency in homes, cutting aviation and decarbonising agriculture. The Scottish government has missed 7 key targets out of 11 of their annual climate emissions targets, which aim overall to reduce 1990 emissions levels by 75% by 2030.
Patrick Harvie, Greens’ zero-carbon buildings minister, has ‘not made a dent in the big challenge of decarbonising heating in housing’, according to Chris Stark, chief executive of the CCC, who says the lack of progress risks the targets becoming meaningless. In particular, the aim to reduce agricultural emissions by 30% in the next decade looks like ‘magical thinking’, with no policy to back it up.
Energy Action Scotland (EAS) and the Poverty Alliance are concerned at the numbers of people being moved on to these meters unilaterally by energy suppliers. It is supposed to be a last resort and can end up costing people 10% more for energy than direct debit.
Smart meters can be switched to pre-payment mode remotely, but for other meters a warrant is required to force entry to homes to force the switch. EAS and the Poverty Alliance are looking to the Scottish government to force sheriffs to ensure it really is a last resort.
For its part the Scottish government said it is aware of people being switched before being informed and before a warrant being obtained, but can only point people towards Advice Direct Scotland (or Citizens’ Advice).
The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) commissioned a report ‘Scotland Demands Better: Fairer Taxes For A Fairer Future’ which concluded that the Scottish government could raise additional funds through income tax reform, long-term council tax replacement, wealth tax and land value tax including the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT), saying £1.3 bn of reforms could be in place by April next year under current powers, raising the Scottish government £3.3 bn by 2026.
Increasing the Additional Dwellings Supplement (payable if you buy an additional residential property in Scotland) could raise £112m, with £240m extra from raising LBTT.
The Mental Health Foundation and Colleges Scotland are calling for more Scottish government support after a survey showed that 55% of the college student population had concealed a mental health problem due to stigma and 37% experienced food insecurity in the previous year, including completely running out of food.
Depression was experienced to varying levels in 54% of the 2000 students surveyed. The foundation also wants annual data collections to be undertaken.
Although some colleges run breakfast and lunch clubs, they want it rolled out to all colleges. Discretionary funding from the Scottish Funding Council and Students Awards Agency for Scotland has provided more than 80 additional counsellors in colleges and universities costing £11.5 million, plus hardship funding of £16.8 million. This was even before the latest cost of living increases, so the problem is likely much worse.
Young People’s Mental Health
As many as 32% of children and young people have been waiting over the 18-week target for referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), and the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC) is deeply concerned about a proposed £38 million cut to planned mental health spending in the budget next Thursday, saying the government is unlikely to clear waiting lists by March 2023 unless spending is increased.
Unintended Consequences on the Poor
of Scotland’s Climate Targets mean low-paid self-employed food delivery workers must register as individual waste carriers for the bottle deposit return scheme due in August 2023. Unions are concerned about this disproportionate burden on some of the poorest paid workers. Drivers and riders will have to pay a one-off £231 fee, plus £147 for renewal and hefty fines if they fail to register correctly.
The public will pay 20p deposit when buying a drink in a single-use container, but will get the 20p back when they return it to a collection point.
A very underweight seal pup was rescued in Stonehaven town centre after making its way from the beach, possibly on the hunt for food. It was initially guided back to sea when first spotted on Tuesday night, but when it reappeared on Wednesday morning it was taken in by vets prior to going to the Scottish SPCA rescue centre at Fishcross.