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February 18th – February 24th, 2023

18/02/23 – 24/02/23

The SNP Leadership Race

            is hotting up, with Ash Regan, Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes all confirmed runners. The Scottish Greens may pull out of the Bute House agreement if the new leader does not agree with their views on things like gender law reform and abortion rights. 

            Humza Yousaf says he would continue the s35 court challenge, Kate Forbes said she would not, and Ash Regan would bin the bill entirely.

Green Matters:

Hydrogen Technology Retrofitting

            Two variations of green methanol are being developed to help speed up decarbonisation efforts. Biomethanol is produced from the gasification of sustainable biomass sources, and e-methanol is produced from green hydrogen by splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis.

            An Aberdeen scheme led by the Net Zero Technology Centre and Siemens Energy is attempting to show how gas turbines could be run on green methanol fuel. It is hoped to make it possible to retrofit existing gas turbines and aid decarbonisation of power generation in the oil and gas sector, and allow existing offshore infrastructure to use low carbon fuels without extensive modifications.

            About 70% of North Sea oil and gas production emissions come from powering platforms by natural gas or diesel and flaring causes 22% of emissions.

            In another development, zero-emission vessel provider ACUA Ocean has been given over £3.8m funding from the UK government’s hydrogen innovation fund to develop its hydrogen technologies to support the development of a green shipping corridor from Aberdeen to Orkney and Shetland.

Electric Heat Pumps

            The government is set to miss the 2030 climate garget of one million homes having low-carbon heating systems installed, and they have been urged to scale up electric heat pump installation instead of working on hydrogen-based solutions. 

            Despite the cost-of-living crisis, WWF Scotland wants the Scottish government to accelerate deadlines for action including bringing all homes in Scotland to a minimum energy efficiency standard from 2033 to 2030, as well as requiring all older and less efficient gas boilers being replaced by 2025 instead of 2030.

            The Scottish government programme gives people a standalone grant of £7,500 from Home Energy Scotland, plus another £1500 for rural homeowners.  All homeowners, small landlords, and private landlords can apply for the grant, but must have a valid Energy Performance Certificate issued in the last 10 years with no outstanding recommendations for loft or cavity wall insulation.

            The trouble is, heat pump costs vary and installation is expensive.  The pump costs from £12,000 to £17,000, with installation of an air source heat pump adding between £8,000 and £18,000 to that, and ground source heat pump installation ranges from £14,500 to £45,000.

            WWF claim those with fossil fuel gas boilers would save £180 annually on energy, and those with oil or electric storage heaters could save up to £800 by switching to heat pumps, but it is a long time to recoup costs.  Even with a government grant, and it is unlikely many will be able to do it without further government subsidy.

The Budget (again)

            Higher and top tax rates rise by 1p to 42p and 47p in the £ respectively, with higher rate starting at £43,663 and top rate now starting at £125,140.  People earning £50,000 will pay £1500 more than in England.  All Scottish benefits other than the Scottish Child Payment (which has already risen by £25) will rise by 10.1% in April. 

            A previously planned 10% cut to Creative Scotland’s funding has now been reversed.  Councils get an extra £100 million from the £146 million passed to Scotland by the UK, £125m through the Barnett formula and £21m from a forecasting error.  This will cover a pay offer for non-teaching staff for 2023/24, making a total of £13.5 bn for local councils.

            Although the non-domestic business rate is frozen, Scottish firms will get no enhanced rates relief, unlike English firms who will get 75% business rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure to a maximum of £110,000 per company.  The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) says 12,000 Scottish premises overall will pay a higher business rate than competitors in England.  

Dargavel School

            is even smaller than first thought.  The new £18 million primary school should accommodate 1100 pupils, but is only big enough for 430, and on further examination there may be 1500 children locally by 2033. 

            The original mistake came from council specifications supplied to BAE Systems, who paid for the new school as part of the privately funded Dargavel Village where 4000 homes will be built on the site of a former Royal Ordnance Factory by 2034.

Worker Safety at Ferguson Marine

            The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has given Ferguson Marine until March 31st to correct safety issues at Port Glasgow and on the ferries under construction. They were particularly concerned about scaffolding safety around the ferries, a lack of skilled personnel, inadequate fire safety procedures and work permit issues.  Four ‘improvement notices’ were issued over nine breaches of health and safety regulations, which Ferguson Marine are confident of fulfilling.

Women’s Early Deaths blamed on Austerity

            Austerity may have caused a rise in the number of Scots women dying prematurely.  Research by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) showed the death rate for women under 65 in Glasgow’s poorest areas to be 455 per 100,000, compared with 113 in the richest areas.  Mortality had gone down to just over 342 per 100,000 before 2010, when deep spending cuts were introduced by the UK government, which tend to disproportionately affect women, causing worsening female health outcomes in the 20% most deprived areas of Glasgow and Dundee. 

            Men’s rates of early death in the poorest areas have also risen steadily from 2012 from 724 per 100,000 to 894,000 in 2021.

Rise in Zero hour Contracts

            The number of zero hours contracts has doubled in Scotland in a decade to 94,000. Employers have no obligation to provide a minimum number of working hours, nor employees to take what is offered. The practice creates worker insecurity particularly among young people, females and those from outside the UK.

Tobacco lobbying

            Tobacco firms are intensifying their lobbying at Holyrood ahead of a potential tightening of smoking legislation.  They had at least 34 meetings with MSPs last year, according to the Ferret (Sunday National, 19/02/23).  Philip Morris International had 16 meetings with MSPs about proposed changes to e-cigarette advertising.  British American Tobacco had nine meetings since 2018, and Japan Tobacco International had 21 meetings, 11 of which were in 2022.  This despite the tobacco industry and its vested interests not being allowed to lobby on health policies under the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Article 5.3.

Problems with Freeports

            Peter Henderson, SNP group leader in South Ayrshire and former HMRC Director General of Customs and Revenue for British Overseas Territories, says freeports are notorious for money laundering, smuggling, people trafficking and the dumping of surplus goods.

            Despite assurances that freeports come with conditions attached, Henderson points out that the Scottish Government has no actual power to enforce them.  With no import/export controls or protection for trademark and copyright laws, and no unions allowed, he fears workers’ rights will be eroded by the UK government, businesses will get tax breaks and ‘race to the bottom’ on pay and conditions, which will disadvantage local firms not in the greenport, and no council tax or rates will be paid.

Clyde Greenport Bid

            Businesses in the consortium for the failed Clyde Green Freeport Bid are set to take the UK and Scottish governments to court for a judicial review of the failure of the Forth bid to secure firm written support from Edinburgh City Council by the deadline of 20th June.  The council commitment did not come until a meeting on December 15th.

Tiree Sand Theft

            Owners Argyll Estates suspect islanders of taking away industrial scale amounts of sand and gravel during night-time.  The estate allows farmers and crofters to take a ‘de minimus’’ (negligible) amount, but others may now be joining in.  Argyll Estates owns the shoreline from the high to the low water mark around Tiree, Kintyre, Cowal, Lismore and Mull.

Police Scotland sever Stonewall links

            Police Scotland has declined to submit itself for the 2023 Stonewall Workplace Equality Index but refused to comment on why.

Exam appeals failures

            A review is being called for following wide disparities in appeals success rates across Scotland, with some schools having fewer than 10% of appeals accepted and others having 70% success.  The Scottish government claimed some was due to schools failing to submit correct evidence. The Scottish Children and Young People’s Commissioner Bruce Adamson and Scottish Labour are concerned about the disparity, but the Scottish Qualifications Authority claimed that 81% of students overall obtained their estimate or higher.

Mental Health and University Staff

            The number of lecturers and staff signed off with mental health issues including stress has risen by 40% in four years.  Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh saw a rise in staff absence from 33 in 2017/18 to 131 in 2021/22, with Edinburgh’s figures doubling over the same period, and at the Rural College of Scotland more than doubling. 

            The University and College Union is in an ongoing dispute over pay working conditions and pensions, including insecure employment, and has staged a number of strikes.

And finally

BBC News can’t spell,

            at least not the Scottish place names of Inverbervie, Lossiemouth and Stornoway, which appeared as respectively Iverbervie, Lossimouth and Stornaway in a BBC News at One programme. 

Precious family of nations…. Better together…

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