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February 3rd – 9th, 2024

February 3rd – February 9th, 2024

Green Fuel, Green Freeports and Rural Transport, but first …. 

Scotland snubbed (1) in new Northern Ireland Deal:

The Scottish government is extremely unhappy about the unfair treatment of Scotland following new post-Brexit Northern Ireland border arrangements.

Scotland was not consulted by the UK on the deal which brings significant changes to trading arrangements between Scotland/UK and Northern Ireland, and had no advance sight of the command paper nor meaningful engagement by Westminster.

Routine checks on goods shipped from GB to final destinations in Northern Ireland are to be removed.  The command paper ‘Safeguarding The Union’, which introduced the changes, makes Cairnryan part of a proposed investment zone, and Northern Ireland has also been offered £3.3billion, leading to calls for Scotland and Wales to get similar payments.

‘Barnett consequentials’ is the formula which gives increased funding to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland if there is a funding increase in England.  But the Northern Ireland £3.3 bn is being treated as a ‘one off’ payment, which the UK government can make to any of the devolved nations without similar payments to the others, despite being used to address public spending and pay pressures in Northern Ireland, which also affect Scotland and Wales.

This payment appears similar to the situation where Northern Ireland got £1bn of funding from Theresa May when the DUP propped up the Conservative government in 2017.  At that time Scotland and Wales also got nothing.

Scotland snubbed (2) in Border Poll admission:

Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker has admitted that there would be a border poll on Irish reunification if it became apparent a majority would vote Yes, but would then require a super-majority for Yes in both Northern Ireland and Eire to succeed.  This despite the Good Friday Agreement envisaging 50% + one.

But if opinion poll after opinion poll shows Scotland has a majority for independence, plus majority after majority for the SNP in elections, that does not count.  There is no mechanism for Scotland to have a future referendum, never mind one such as Northern Ireland’s promise of another referendum whenever they want as long as it is no sooner than 7 years after the previous one.  Many recent polls show Yes in the lead in Scotland.  And despite maintaining that Scotland is similarly entitled if the public will is there, the UK government does not set out any criteria for measuring this, or any process, and rules out the most obvious indicator, a referendum, without their permission.

Confusingly for a Brexiteer, Baker cited the EU referendum, saying Brexit should not have been enacted without a super-majority of 60%!

Poverty: Equal Pay Claims

Councils are accused of betraying low paid women by forcing them to take legal action to force them to honour equal pay claims.  John Alexander of Dundee City Council says he cannot intervene in the ‘independent process’, instead forcing women to go through a long tribunal process.  Trade union GMB Scotland says some councils appear to be dragging their heels.

Glasgow City Council had to sell landmark assets like the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Galleries to pay £770 million compensation after years of legal fights against (mostly) women who did not get bonuses paid to male colleagues on the same pay grade.  Men were also more likely to be in jobs which attracted a bonus.

Glasgow’s Refugee Housing Crisis

Glasgow is reeling after a Home Office decision to grant more than 400 refugee households asylum en masse, making the council liable to find accommodation for them when they leave temporary accommodation, which will then house new asylum seekers. The council is housing 650 households in hotels and bed and breakfasts and are considering using vacant nursing and care homes. Shelter Scotland accuse the Scottish government of ignoring the burgeoning housing emergency for over a year, and Glasgow are considering suing the Home Office over fears of breaching its legal obligations, as this influx is caused by a Home Office ruling aimed at expediting clearance of its backlog. 

Successful asylum seekers have 28 days to leave the accommodation provided by Mears and seek local authority housing, with Glasgow expecting 1800 extra to house, costing the council over £53 million, and call it an ‘impossible challenge’.  The UK government is refusing the council financial support despite creating the problem.

Business: Who decides SNIB investment?

A former non-executive director of European Home Retail (parent company of Farepak) has a new company which has just got £20 million from the Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB). Paul Mann’s Par Equity is a venture capital firm investing in the technology sector.  Farepak collapsed in 2006, with customers only getting back 32p in the £1 of their investment after a long fight. 

Despite the legislation setting up the SNIB making provision for an oversight body to monitor investment, this has not yet been established.

Lost ScotGov investment

When Glasgow’s Go-Centric call centre collapsed in December 2022 after getting at least £11.4 million from the Scottish and UK governments, former employees won only eight weeks’ wages after a year-long employment tribunal against the firm.

Its former boss David Harper was more fortunate, managing to get £82,000 back by setting himself up as a debt collector against his own collapsed firm. 

High Non-Domestic Rates

may be threatening viable renewable projects, diverting funds from further investment to pay the rates.  Hugh Raven of Ardtornish Hydro in Morvern says it is disadvantaging smaller renewable energy operators, with the firm paying over £500,000 on its hydro schemes in 2021, one fifth of its turnover, resulting in redundancies, and even with some rates relief since then, they have paid similar amounts in 2 of the last 4 years.

Hydro scheme rate bills appear to be 240% higher than rates for equivalent wind energy businesses, and are challenging the Scottish Assessors, but the Scottish government says its hands are tied by the UK’s Subsidy Control Act 2022, which limits the amount of financial support businesses can get from government.

Mears’ Repair and Maintenance contract

with North Lanarkshire Council is delayed by questions surrounding Key Performance Indicator figures relating to the firm.  The leader of the Progressive Change North Lanarkshire (PCNL) group has been threatened with legal action for even questioning the figures.  One councillor was allowed to vote on the Mears bid (as sole bidder) despite being a member of the Mears board.  But local government minister Joe FitzPatrick has declined to act on their concerns, saying it is ‘not an issue for the government’.

Rural:

Highlands and Islands flights are under threat due to a reduction in funding for the next three years, just as islanders need more and better flights due to the ongoing problems with unreliable ferry services.  HIAL operates 11 airports and last year got £62 million in subsidies, down from £76 million the previous year.  Public funding is coming under pressure over all sectors, but this sector surely needs more support, not less, due to its importance to rural and island communities.

Emerging risks over LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas)

The LNG system on Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa needs specialist cryo-steel piping installed, which should have appeared at the end of 2023.  Although CMAL said the two Ferguson Marine vessels would reduce the ferry fleet’s carbon footprint by 25%, evidence from the European Federation for Transport and Environment says the engines chosen are the worst for methane greenhouse gas leakage, with LNG as a marine fuel contravening the Global Methane Pledge announced by the UN at COP26.

Concerns have been raised over the use of LNG at all.  It must be shipped 500 miles by road from the Isle of Grain in Kent, with further problems possible from methane slippage and leakage from onshore production, transportation and storage infrastructure.  CalMac have been told it is not feasible to use LNG-powered trucks due to the size of fuel tanks required and a lack of refuelling infrastructure.  The Turkish ferries under construction will not use LNG at all, but will be diesel/electric hybrid propulsion vessels.  Any new LNG infrastructure would therefore be for only two vessels.

The Cromarty ‘Green’ Freeport

Calum MacPherson, who is leading the £3 billion project, claims it could revive the local economy and reverse population decline to become the ‘UK’s renewable energy powerhouse’.  He claims over 10,000 jobs could be created in the Highlands over 25 years.

But freeports have down-sides which are often unrecognised.  They can take investment and employment out of the wider local area, with tax and other incentives from the UK and Scottish governments reducing tax paid locally and nationally.  Environmental protection, health and safety regulations and workers’ rights may be compromised.  And exemptions from paying National Insurance which apply to certain employees may mean in the future they have not paid enough contributions to qualify for benefits or the state pension.

Do freeports benefit ordinary people or just business?

Finally

Orangutans need an Ecocide Bill

Mighty Earth, an organisation trying to protect orangutans, one of the most endangered species worldwide, is backing efforts to have Ecocide made an offence in Scotland, in order to curb development wrecking the environment. Big polluters could see 10% of their turnover seized, with climate offenders facing 20 years in jail for ecocide.

 One of the developers in their sights is Red Rock Power, which is involved in work on the Batang Toru dam in the habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan in Indonesia.  Red Rock is headquartered in Edinburgh and a subsidiary of the Chinese State Development and Investment Corporation, and is also developing the Inch Cape Offshore Wind Farm off the Angus coast.

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