21/01/23 – 27/01/23
Eviction Ban loophole
There are fears that thousands of private and social tenants could be made homeless when the eviction ban ends shortly, because the rent freeze will be replaced for private landlords from April with a rent rise cap, allowing private landlords to raise rents by a maximum of 3%, but also allowing them to apply to Rent Service Scotland to increase rents by 6% if they have a valid reason. Tenants can be evicted if a private landlord needs to sell or live in the property due to financial hardship. New tenancies obtained by the tenant are not protected by rent caps.
The change to the private rent freeze was made by Tenants’ Rights Minister Patrick Harvie in response to representations from landlords’ organisations. And the eviction ban on social tenants does not apply to those with rent debts over £2,250. With average household arrears in Scotland at more than £4000, the Scottish Tenants’ Organisation and Living Rent are very concerned.
A Legal challenge to the Rent Cap
is being raised by landlords and letting agents for a judicial review of the rent cap and eviction ban. The Scottish Association of Landlords (SAL), Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) and Propertymark believe the law is disproportionate and unfair in that the rent controls do not consider the financial position of landlords, and social landlords have been allowed to raise rents by as much as 11%, recognising their need to maintain properties. The Scottish Property Federation also claims that £700 million-worth of housing developments have been paused or stopped with the loss of 4000 energy-efficient houses.
The Scottish government disputes this, saying new tenancies have no restrictions and the emergency legislation is in any case for a maximum of 18 months.
Energy Arrears hit 10-year high
Energy costs have become the biggest driver of household debt, with total energy debt now £2.5 billion, a lot higher than expected. Analysts Cornwall Insight said most of that debt would be unrecoverable. The amount is up from the £1.3bn debt in August and Debt Justice analysis showed that energy debt grew 43% in the year from October 2021.
The forced installation of prepayment meters is growing, with 100 unpaid bill warrants for the right to enter homes lodged every day by energy companies, with 16 warrants a day approved by the courts.
A report by National Autistic Society Scotland and Scottish Autism showed that 96% of respondents want an Autism Commissioner to help challenge local and central government. The promised Autism, Learning Disability and Neurodiversity Bill is yet to be launched in parliament and consultation will not begin until later in the year.
Autistic children may be excluded from school due to ‘disruptive’ behaviour and often find difficulty making friendships. Even a diagnosis is fraught, can takes years and is sometimes misdiagnosed as a mental health problem. Diagnostic centres can be 100 miles away with families having to fight the system as well as the condition. Children can miss out on long periods of education, and schools can fail to see autistic children’s abilities. Many believe an Autism Commissioner would hold authorities to account and be a welcome focal point for families.
Disabled at risk of losing Jobs
The UK government’s Access to Work scheme which funds office adaptations and travel assistance to disabled workers and their employers has over 25,000 outstanding applications, 1800 of which affect Scottish job applicants. The average length of approval time is now 63 days, and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) says it knows of job offers withdrawn due to these delays.
Prestwick needs more subsidies
over and above the £31 million net it has been loaned to date, despite doubts over the money spent so far. Airport directors have an agreement that Scottish government ministers will not seek repayment of the £31m loan until at least March 31st, 2024, which is the difference between the actual loans made (£43.8m) and the asset value of the airport ((£11.6m). Added to this would be £7.4m which would be payable as interest. A preferred buyer was identified but pulled out in 2021. Prestwick has recorded a modest profit only in 2021/22, amounting to £1.2 million.
is blaming the windfall oil and gas tax on its decision to make redundancies among its 1500 UK employees, many of whom are in Aberdeen. It is moving to overseas markets instead, despite reporting expected pre-tax earnings for 2022 of $4.1bn, saying the UK tax rate of 75% due to recent tax changes is to blame.
was found in 695 NHS buildings in Scotland and all the buildings for which NHS Dumfries and Galloway and Greater Glasgow and Clyde are responsible contained asbestos. The Scottish government says asbestos is only dangerous when disturbed. It causes asbestosis, which can become the incurable mesothelioma, which may not develop for decades after exposure. The Health and Safety Executive say asbestos is still the biggest workplace killer.
Windpower Windfall Tax
Community Windpower (CW) say the UK Electricity Generator Levy (EGL) is discriminatory to Scotland as none of it returns here. CW has eight windfarms in Scotland, with 6 under development. The Treasury charges 45% on receipts above a benchmark price of £75 power MWh to raise £14.2bn by 2028, but renewables providers say oil and gas companies subject to the same EGL can claim back £91.40 for every £100 of investment, whereas renewables cannot, and most offshore wind energy is generated here. They also object that Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal-burning power station in Nottinghamshire remains open after ministerial intervention, and say countries like Ireland and Germany set the threshold higher before tax is payable.
Beloved by many going ‘doon the watter’ on pleasure trips for many decades, the world’s last seagoing paddle steamer is in financial crisis, with a public appeal started for £180,000 dry dock fees and recommissioning costs if she is to sail at all in 2023. Although she had 100,000 passengers last year in Scotland and England, fuel costs increased by over £300,000, with yearly operating costs now over £600,000.
Welsh FA leads the way
Scottish women’s football may look to the Welsh FA who recently announced an equal pay agreement, with the men’s team taking a 25% pay cut to enable the women to get 25% more. Equal pay is in place in Norway, Canada and Ireland and the American women’s team recently won a £17.7 million settlement after a six-year legal fight.
The SFA said neither men nor women are paid to play for Scotland, but get a daily rate for time with the national team, plus media and promotional appearances for the team’s sponsors.
Compensation claims by ferry passengers against CalMac have risen to average £53K every month to compensate for meals, accommodation and transport for cancellations.
This funding round sees £2.1bn of public money goes to 111 communities, 52 of which in England are Conservative-voting, over twice as many as Labour-voting constituencies. Only half the eighty successful English bids go to the most deprived areas, with some going to very wealthy areas like Rutland, North Somerset, Malvern Hills, Worcestershire and Rishi Sunak’s Richmond constituency. Scotland was given just £177 million of funding, bypassing the Scottish government.
Following a storm of negative publicity over convicted double rapist Isla Bryson being sent on remand at Cornton Vale women’s prison, the First Minister finally bowed to pressure and confirmed Isla would not be housed in the women’s prison estate, despite Justice Secretary Keith Brown earlier refusing to intervene as the Scottish Prison Service would carry out a full ‘risk assessment’.
Isla committed the crimes as Adam. Male and female offending differs substantially. Women commit crimes of dishonesty, shoplifting and drug offences, males crimes of violence and sexual crimes, many of them against women. Imprisoned women have often suffered domestic and sexual abuse.
The risk assessments only consider the risk to the trans prisoner, but what is deemed acceptable risk for women? Offending transwomen retain male-pattern offending even after transition, so why are women prisoners ignored in the risk assessment?
Libraries facing decimation
With council budgets under severe stress, libraries are in the front line for cuts. Midlothian Council is to consider replacing library staff with self-service and replacing future book purchases with e-books, saving £750,000 in 3 years to try and plug some of a £14 million budget gap.
Union Jackery and Scottish produce
A big majority of Scots want to see Scottish produce packaged as Scottish, not British, with even 49% of Conservative voters, 61% of LibDem voters and 71% of Labour voters preferring to see a Saltire, according to a poll commissioned for the National. The Scottish Retail Consortium said it was about where produce is marketed, rather than where it was produced. If aimed at a Scottish market, produce is likely to bear a Saltire, if at a UK-wide market, a Union flag.
But that meant that a Burns’ supper meal from M&S was labelled as British, and different produce from the same farm was marketed differently by Tesco, one as Scottish, one as British. Ruth Watson of ‘Keep Scotland the Brand’ says it is about the reputation of Scottish food and drink being upheld, particularly overseas.
Les Miserables producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh is being urged to cull the stag population on his Mallaig estate after locals reported being ‘followed’ and ‘cornered’ by aggressive stags. NatureScot has allowed culling but locals want the cull extended.
Problems include locals being unable to enter their own homes due to the ‘dangerous’ animals making access impossible. There are 300 stags on the estate, with as many as 40 roaming round Mallaig, eating trees, plants and shrubs as well as upsetting local residents.