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January 27th – February 2nd, 2024

January 27th – February 2nd 2024

Housing hardships, Electric Planes and an Escaped Monkey ……

Do the SNP/Greens not understand ‘No’?

Hard on the heels of the gender reform bill being canned, Shirley-Anne Somerville stated that ScotGov is not finished with gender reform, but is hoping for a sympathetic Labour government to allow Scotland to pass the bill, even though 80% of Scots oppose self-identification.

Now it seems Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) may be making a comeback with the draft national adaptation plan for 2024/29 for managing climate change.  Minister Mairi Mcallan has put ‘fisheries closures’ back on the table, and ministers will re-examine the existing 32 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and pledged to close fisheries to protect vulnerable marine eco-systems offshore at depths of 400-800m.

Abrdn No More …..

The product of a 2017 merger between Aberdeen Asset Management (AAM) and Standard Life has finally decided to close its Aberdeen office. Its HQ building will be sold, losing its link to Scotland’s oil capital.  Ironically, Standard Life was instrumental in securing a No vote in 2014 by announcing it would move its HQ to London if Scotland voted ‘Yes’.  It is now moving anyway, and may even have been doomed by the No vote.  Would an independent Scotland have been better able to protect it from predators?   Abrdn will lay off 10% of its workforce.

This was another Project Fear threat which affected the result, and indeed came true, ironically not by voting Yes, but by voting No.

Farm Support

            from 2025 will depend on businesses having a ‘whole farm plan’ including soil testing, animal health and welfare, carbon audits, biodiversity audits and business planning, to promote biodiversity outcomes, restore peatlands and woodlands, with farm subsidies possibly depending on compliance.

Local Councils: Council Tax Cap

Local authority umbrella group Cosla is to ask Humza Yousaf to replace the council tax freeze with a council tax cap.  Councils are facing a £63 million cut to local authorities’ day to day revenue budgets and a £55 million cut in capital spending in 2024/25, plus the government-imposed council tax freeze.

Barra Ferry Relocated

Barra is preparing for food shortages after the MV Isle of Lewis was relocated by government-owned CalMac to a safe berth in Stornoway. Barra and Vatersay saw food shortages last week after a full week with no deliveries. CalMac claimed Castlebay on Barra does not provide a safe berth, although it seemed to be safe during two recent storms.

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil has been inundated with messages from angry constituents and is taking it up with the Scottish government.  Good luck with that.

North Lanarkshire Council and Mears

North Lanarkshire Council is due to give a £1.8bn multi-year repair and maintenance contract to Mears, a firm one-third owned by the very same council.  Although Mears are the sole bidder, any award may be cancelled after a whistleblower claimed Mears’ time and motion data was ‘manipulated’ by manually altering computer records to show completion on time, when they were in fact months late. In July 2022 North Lanarkshire have had concerns, as have Audit Scotland and the Progressive Change North Lanarkshire council group.  Partly owning the sole bidder who then gets the contract is not a great look.

Geo Amey

            are again under fire this week for making staff pay back up to £1000 to the firm if they leave employment in their first year, allegedly to cover ‘training costs’ incurred by the firm.  GeoAmey claim this practice is commonplace, but it will definitely not encourage recruitment, which ironically suffers as a result of the poor pay and conditions on offer!

Temporary Rent Controls and the Housing Bill

The forthcoming Housing Bill will bring full rent controls, but until then stop gap measures are being introduced to apply from March 31st.  From then, tenants can challenge proposed rent increases through the Rent Service Scotland (RSS) or the First-tier Tribunal, with a cap at 12%, but tenants’ campaigners say it is an overly-complicated process tied to the level of market rents, which are too high.  Tenants’ organisations actually advise against challenging rents because in 2022 80% of tenants who challenged were made to pay more.

Legal:

The upcoming Human Rights Bill will seek to incorporate into Scots Law the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) involves the right to work, organise in trade unions, the right to social security, food, clothing, education and taking part in cultural activities; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Previous attempts to incorporate international treaties into Scots Law foundered when the Scottish government tried to incorporate them as applying to all laws in Scotland, both on reserved and devolved matters, which they legally cannot do.

New hikes to Fruit and Veg Imports

            will hit later this year, with food and flowers costing more to cover extra administration fees. The Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has reclassified many EU fruit and veg as ‘medium risk’ rather than ‘low risk’ under the Border Target Operating Model.

Exports from the EU will need phytosanitary certificates signed by a health official lodged by the importer on Defra’s Import of Products, Animals, Food and Feed System (IPAFFS), applying from October 31st and adding £200 million to import costs.

Lorries may also be selected for inspection en route to the UK, and produce will be subject to a ‘Common User Charge’ between £20 and £43.

700,000 in Housing Hardship

Tory MSP Pam Gosal claimed the rent cap has been nothing short of a disaster, failing to declare she has over £1 million in shares in letting agencies.  However, the Tories claim that her shares are immaterial as they are in commercial lettings, not residential.

It is estimated nearly 30% of residents in Scotland are in one or more form of housing hardship, according to a Homes for Scotland (HFS) report, with nearly 700,000 households living in unacceptable properties, including those needing special adaptation and those containing ‘hidden’ households which live within another household due to financially constraints.

Zero-Emissions Flights

            are a step closer with an agreement between Loganair and Cranfield Aerospace Solutions to deliver hydrogen-electric flights in Orkney.  Flight tests will be done later this year, with a go-live operation date of 2027.  But we are a long way from eco-friendly flights at scale, and if international flights must go ‘green’, it will be the end of aviation as we know it.

Energy: Strathpeffer vs. The Pylons

Strathpeffer and other Highland communities are fighting back against the inexorable march of the pylons.  The Better Cable Route group is targeting a 400kV power line planned by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks Transmission (SSEN) over a line of seven-metre-high pylons from Spittal via Loch Buidhe to Beauly.  This is pitting them against the Scottish and UK governments, Ofgem and the National Grid and they have established a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) to raise money for legal challenges.

Despite SSEN Transmission offering a ‘community alternative route’ around Contin and Strathpeffer, residents feel the ‘consultation’ has actually been a ‘notification’ and a hurry-up of plans to get it done by 2030.  The new plan rejects undersea cable alternatives unless for short distances, and other options are deprioritised.  The group is calling for a full public inquiry before anything is agreed. 

Transport Budget slashed

A budget aimed at increasing public transport has been slashed at the same time as fines are introduced for bringing older vehicles into city centres. Strathclyde Partnership for Transport had £15million ScotGov capital funding scrapped, as well as Glasgow’s subway modernisation losing its entire £13million grant.  ScotGov will also not support the Scottish Zero Emission Bus Challenge Fund (ScotZEB), which has been scrapped, and is not going to fund the Bus Partnership Fund in 2024/25.

Nuclear Concerns

Allan Dorans, SNP MP for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock has raised concerns over the level of nuclear waste in Scottish waters despite the levels being within UK ‘safe’ limits.  Manchester University research has shown how the seabed around Sellafield in Cumbria contains radioactive waste which then migrates to Scottish waters.

Dorans is not convinced that radioactivity cannot be passed into the food chain, ‘given the disturbance that storms and flooding must cause in the sediment’.  He points to the ‘precautionary principle’ that things should not be changed until it is proved they do no harm, but doubts it is being applied in the case of nuclear waste.

Finally,

Mission Monkey

            swung into action on Sunday morning after a Japanese macaque (or snow monkey) escaped from Highland Wildlife Park.  Keepers from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) patrolled for five days after the monkey ‘Kingussie Kong’ escaped, and later resorted to drones to try and trace him.  From various sightings he appeared quite unfazed by humans (or maybe just seriously unimpressed).

The animal was seen in the village of Kincraig, with people warned to keep food indoors and not approach him, and the local Alvie Primary School kept children indoors on breaks.  Keepers hoped it would eventually ‘go home when it was hungry’ but in the end it was cornered, stunned with a dart and taken back home after its wee unscheduled holiday.

The macaque’s official name turns out to be ‘Honshu’ and after recovering from the tranquilliser dart appears to be in perfect health. 

Mission Monkey is complete.

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