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January 20th – 26th, 2024

January 20th – 26th, 2024

What worries voters most? Is Scottish football on a slippery slope?  But first……

Grangemouth No More

Energy Secretary Neil Gray recently confirmed that the refinery IS going to close.  The first meeting of the Industrial Just Transition Leadership Forum (IJTL) involving the UK and Scottish governments, owners Petroineos, Unite the union and energy ministers, agreed to support the workers as operations are wound down. 

The UK said a bail out would not be a ‘sensible use of taxpapers’ money’. But the UK government has a choice and is holding back a just transition which would allow the plant to become a producer of biofuel and sustainable aviation fuel.

This is because the UK government has set an artificial cap on hydrotreated esters and fatty acids (HEFA), a renewable diesel fuel produced from vegetable oils and fats.  The UK refuses to lift this cap unless it applies to all areas of the UK, not just Scotland.

Why is the Scottish government not fighting more?  A cynic might say closure will cut Scotland’s emissions at a stroke.  The SNP efrorts appear at best lukewarm.  The Versalis plant in Bo’ness Road, Grangemouth, will be one of the first casualties of the Grangemouth closure, with the loss of 100 jobs starting in April.  They will be the first of many dominoes to fall in the local economy.

Great look (1) – an oil producing country with no oil refinery, with Grangemouth just becoming an import hub in a freeport.

Dunkirk No More

Despite high hopes for the return of an international passenger and freight ferry service from Rosyth, this time to Dunkirk, it will not be happening due to a lack of financial support from the Scottish and UK governments.

And in a further blow, another £1 million will have to be found for a new battery for the ferry MV Catriona.  Sister ship MV Hallaig is running on diesel only as its batteries have broken down and it needs a £1.5 million refit to stop it suffering the same fate as the Catriona.  The third vessel of the trio, the MV Lochinvar is already having its battery replaced.

Great look (2) – a maritime nation bogged down building ferries and with no direct ferry connection to the continent.       

When did the SNP know about Grangemouth?

Michael Matheson was warned two years ago by Petroineos that the plant was already under threat and faced being turned into an oil terminal.  He warned Nicola Sturgeon, but Neil Gray implied he knew nothing of the closure before the workforce announcement on December 13th

Shamefully, the SNP contingent at Westminster largely failed to turn up for a debate on this issue in Westminster last week, including Falkirk East SNP MP Martyn Day.  This embarrassment followed Humza Yousaf saying that the SNP were the only ones who would stand up for Scotland.   

MOWI staff terms better in Norway

Norwegian salmon farming operation MOWI has seen a massive rise in its union membership at Rosyth, due to Norwegian workers having better pay and conditions than Scotland.  Workers get about £4 an hour more, plus better sick pay, overtime rates, shift allowances and health and safety provision.  The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWFU) say the firm does not even recognise them, much less engage with them.

Recently MOWI was accused of lice infestation in the fish at Loch Torridon, and profits dropped 50% in 2022 due to bad press over its fish farms, which have had to endure outbreaks of salmonid rickettsial septicaemia (SRS) and micro jellyfish blooms, as well as the sea lice infestations. And it is alleged to be using equipment which ‘tortures’ so-called ‘cleaner’ fish (lumpfish and wrasse) which remove sea-lice, who are caught up in the thermolicer machine used to kill sealice on the salmon with warm water.  The smaller cleaner fish get stuck in this equipment, which is not allowed in its Norwegian operations and is advised against by the UK’s RSPCA.

MOWI admitted that last year ‘technical issues’ with the thermolicer at Loch Sunart farm killed well over 10,000 salmon.

Is this the future of Scottish football?

Dundee FC have made a deal with the owners of Burnley FC which will make the Scottish side a ‘feeder’ club for the English club.  Players from England would come up here for first team experience, and Burnley would get first refusal on Dundee’s best players.  Two Burnley players have already made the trip north.

Dundee owner Tim Keyes is elated, Burnley are hoping that their players get a taste of European football, and the SFA are prepared to relax their dual-ownership rules to bring more investment to the Scottish game.  Bournemouth owner Bill Foley will become a £6 million minority shareholder in Hibs, if the SFA agree.  He already has several other dual ownership interests across the globe.

But is it what the fans want?  And is it good for the Scottish game or will it be the death knell?

Business:

GeoAmey gave more than £2 million to shareholders and bosses while simultaneously getting extra money from the Scottish government.  Although its contract with the Scottish government is worth £238 million, GeoAmey are blaming problems with the Scottish contract for a £2 million reduction in profit in 2021.  ScotGov fined them £4million for poor performance, including delays in prisoner transfers, but still GA is beset by recruitment problems, largely around poor pay.

Pubs and Clubs

            are on the brink, according to Stonegate Pub Company, who are seeking to refinance £2.6 bn of debt.  Revolution Bars Group is shutting 12% of its estate to reduce losses and Ellon-based brewer BrewDog caused consternation recently by announcing it will no longer pay new employees the real Living Wage, but instead the lower UK national minimum wage.

The Scottish Hospitality Group and Scottish Licensed Trade Association is again calling for 75% rates relief as in England, a VAT reduction to 12.5% and even cancellation of the LEZ schemes, which appear to have badly affected all trade in Glasgow centre, and will be rolled out to Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen in due course.  Only hospitality businesses on Scottish islands will get 100% non-domestic rates relief up to £110,000.

Property Landlords

            are selling up in greater numbers in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK, but ironically Scotland and London have seen the biggest rent rises.  The reduction in properties for rental is worrying but in a functioning housing market it would mean more properties available for sale, so prices would fall.  But this only happens if banks lend to the less well-off.  If rents rise out of all proportion, people cannot afford to rent either.

Some tenants have complained that they have been evicted as their landlord is selling up, only to find their property being re-let at a higher rate.

Dangerous Cladding

Seven years after the Grenfell Tower disaster, which claimed 72 lives, just one Scottish building has had its dangerous cladding removed, with the government spending only 5% of an initial £97.1 million Cladding Remediation Programme.  There are 105 buildings in the pilot phase of the programme, which launched in 202, but only 27 most-at-risk buildings have even had a building assessment commissioned, with remediation ordered in one property.  ScotGov could only say the pace of the programme is ‘increasing’.

‘3000 hectares’

This limit should be reduced in the Land Reform Bill as the threshold for government intervention, according to 15 organisations who have written to the Scottish government, saying that only 386 of the 1.86 million titles in the Land Register currently comprise over 3000 hectares.  But if you were to add together smaller plots with the same owner, much more land would be included.

Billionaire Lairds and Sporting Estates

            are receiving millions of pounds of public grants from rural subsidy schemes, but inspections have found widespread rule-breaches between 2018 and 2022, according to a Ferret investigation.  Scottish Land and Estates put the discrepancies down to the ‘hugely complex process’ for claiming, while Community Land Scotland called for laws to end the ‘extractive, monopoly land ownership of the corporates, investors and lairds’.

Rural: The University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI)

            has a number of campuses, including Perth, Inverness, Moray and Shetland, but the top-heavy structure of principals and senior management teams at all 11 partner organisations is causing financial pressures which are threatening up to 45 teaching and support staff at UHI Moray, plus possible cuts at Inverness. 

Lecturers claim that the ongoing financial review is looking at each campus in isolation without considering community impact or how axing courses may leave an entire area without provision.  Minister Graeme Dey admits the cost base is different in island and rural settings, but would not commit to ‘no cuts’, saying no campus would survive if it ‘is not financially stable’.

No 16-year-old MSPs

The Scottish government has belatedly abandoned its plans to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to become MSPs due to concerns over their inexperience (!) and over long working hours!  A massive 77% of respondents to the government’s consultation opposed the proposal.

It is worth scanning the Scottish government website or signing up to their newsletter, which announces current consultations, which are not always well publicised, and you can have your say.

Raising Council Tax

Edinburgh Council is considering raising its council tax despite that it will miss out on Scottish government mitigation money, as it is not ‘full funding’ and would still leave the council £1.4 million out of pocket compared to its planned increase.  Other councils are looking to increase council tax, West Dunbartonshire by 8% and Shetland 10%. 

Scottish councils are grappling with £6 billion of housing debt, partly from rent arrears, with 22% more tenants in debt than 10 years ago to a total of 120,000.  But part of the debt is due to increased borrowing by councils to meet capital costs of new build housing and improvements to existing stock.  Edinburgh has the highest rent arrears of £13.6 million, Aberdeen has £10.72 million rent arrears, and Fife £9.4 million.

Finally

Despite all the ongoing calamities, Patrick Harvie says voters’ most important focus in the Westminster election is ….  The Climate, claiming that electing Scottish Greens could really, really influence the UK government.  This despite having only one UK MP, and also ignoring the fact that the huge contingent of SNP MPs have not changed the UK government’s course one iota.

Isn’t it possible voters are more concerned by the cost of living, threat of war, and even… what was it… independence?

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