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July 23rd-July 29th, 2022 Week 30

23/07/2022 -29/07/2022                                                          

Mental Health Help

          The Scottish government has spent over £3 million funding the Welfare Advice and Health Partnerships programme since September 2021, to address mental health problems which are compounded by financial worries.  Nearly 150 GPs have signed

up to the service to be directly referred to in-house welfare rights officers for advice on social security, debt, housing and employment.  More GP practices are being sought out to join, particularly in deprived areas which will be more impacted by the cost-of-living crisis and poor mental health.

          The loss of local GP services, which appears to be accelerating, will not help in this rollout.

Single use plastics

          The UK government has given ‘permission’ for Scotland to be exempted from the Internal Market Act provisions on regulatory divergence within the UK relating to single use plastics.  Scotland would otherwise have had to sell items from elsewhere in the UK which were banned here.  From August 12th, it will be an offence to supply plastic goods like cutlery, straws, cups and food containers.  The only exceptions to these provisions will be for the disabled.

Brexit Woes

          Republic of Ireland customers of Hilltrek Outdoor Clothing in Aboyne, Aberdeenshire have resorted to having their purchases delivered to Northern Ireland,  then collecting them in person, to avoid Brexit red tape.  The firm’s European Union business is now only 8%, compared to 15% pre-Brexit, and it says orders are taking longer, getting lost and costs like shipping are increasing.  Because Northern Ireland remains in the EU Single market goods can travel freely over the border to Eire. The UK government claims its tampering with the Northern Ireland Protocol will sort everything out.

Horizon Europe Programme

          The UK appears to be crashing out of this £80bn programme, forcing cancer research and other projects to move to the EU or an associated country to secure long-term funding.  Although many have opted to stay here with funding from the UK Research and Innovation programme (UKRI), one hundred and fifteen grants were cancelled after Britain failed to finalise its status.  Some researchers are sceptical about the UKRI being able to fulfil 5-year funding requirements.  Scotland and the rest of the UK are already having difficulty in attracting top researchers.

Private Schools richer since the pandemic

          The Ferret claims that independent schools were worth £12.3 million more in 2021 than in 2020, but 2022 also saw the removal of a tax break delayed by the pandemic (‘Private schools emerge from pandemic £12.3m richer’, Sunday National, 17/07/22).  They are now charged commercial tax rates but can still claim other rebates like Gift Aid, which allows a 25% tax rebate from the government.  State schools cannot benefit from this.  Operating surpluses and capital gains are also exempted from income tax, capital gains tax and corporation tax.  At least 5% of their income must be spent on charitable aims, such as bursaries or some shared teaching.

Unite the Union

          has secured free late-night taxis for its members in Newcastle who finish work after 11 pm.   It is encouraging other cities to follow suit and the council will make it a condition of granting new bars a licence.  The union fought for this as many low paid workers cannot afford safe transport home and are subjected to harassment and abuse on public transport.  It is a problem which particularly affects women. 

National Insurance

          Multi-millionaire Chancellor Rishi Sunak has decided those who start receiving their state pension but continue working must continue to pay National Insurance.  Previously, they were exempt.  Didn’t publicise that much, did he?

           It wouldn’t do to have older citizens get a little respite, would it?  This on top of depriving thousands of WASPI women of up to £50K of pension we should rightfully have had from age 60, breaking the contract we had with government since we began working.  

          With the cost-of-living crisis worsening, and women traditionally in lower paid or insecure work, women were somehow expected to salt away that amount to make up in advance what the government was going to take away from them.  I suppose if we had set up firms instead, dealing in PPE, we could have gamed the system.  Silly us.  Nice little earner.

Langholm Initiative

          has only two weeks to raise £400,000 to double the size of the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve, adding 5300 acres of moorland at a cost of £2.2 million.  Regrettable that any money raised will go to an already wealthy man.

The NHS

          was overcharged for epilepsy drugs by Pfizer and Flynn for four years, leading to them being fined almost £70 million thanks to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).  The overcharging included a bill of £50 million in 2013 for phenytoin sodium capsules, up from £2 million in 2012.  They were found to have illegally exploited their dominant market position to charge the NHS excessive prices.

Ofgem

         has been branded negligent by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee over rising prices, claiming UK government support is out of date and a massive insulation drive is needed.  It also wants the price cap to be abandoned in favour of a discounted social tariff for the most vulnerable and criticised the support payments given to second-home owners.  It was told it should have used its existing powers against energy suppliers, and its regulatory systems were not robust enough to prevent weaker players remaining in the market.

North Sea Transition Authority

          Three board members on the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) held shares in oil and gas companies worth £428,000 in 2021/22, prompting accusations by Friends of the Earth and campaign group Uplift of a conflict of interest.  Such financial interests must be declared but did not stop them voting for controversial plans to develop the Jackdaw gas field, and there will soon be another licensing round for oil and gas exploration.  The NSTA claim that if there is a conflict of interest, that person will not vote, and claimed the number of shares held by board members was not significant enough to impair their independent judgment on proposals.

The Scottish Fire Service and Police Scotland

         appear to be in some difficulties due to job cuts.  Over 1000 firefighter jobs have been lost over the last decade, with more expected.   They have been offered a 2% pay increase and work on things like fire safety inspections is declining and they have fewer frontline firefighters.  The Fire Service, Police Scotland, Early Years provision and Local Government funding were frozen for 5 years in the latest spending review. 

         Following the establishment of a single fire service and unified police service to replace the previous eight forces, staffing has been reduced.  The Fire Service is balloting for strike action, and Police Scotland officers have started a work-to-rule, refusing overtime by not answering phones at home, and threatening to escalate matters with ‘blue flu’ sick leave.

Scottish government

         The SNP plans to raise the minimum age for starting school to align with European countries.  It will be debated at conference in Aberdeen.  Children would stay at nursery until 6 and then start primary one and a statutory play-based kindergarten stage for three- to six-year-olds would replace the Primary 1 year.

         The Scottish government’s bottle return scheme is descending into chaos after not one organisation or venue volunteered to have a machine to accept bottles and cans, flying in the face of predictions there would be 500 points around Scotland.

         Some fear the SNP’s new bail plans will mean more offenders being released due to restrictions on the power of sheriffs to refuse bail.  Under the Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill ministers would have the power to release long-term prisoners even with parole board opposition, and to empty prisons if a wing becomes unusable due to infection.   One in eight crimes are committed by people out on bail, about 30,000 offences over three years.  Under the plans sheriffs will have to prove that refusing bail is in the public interest.

Windfarms

          have released 4.9 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere due to digging up ancient peat bogs and felling trees, according to Aberdeen University research published in the Journal of Cleaner Production.  Researchers have calculated the windfarms’ carbon footprint, balancing their emissions against the fossil fuels they are substituting for, saying it will need nearly 11 years to erase the environmental damage some windfarms are causing.

          The Scottish government is aware of the problem but may continue building new farms in places with lengthy payback times.  Sixty windfarms built on peatland produced as much CO2 equivalent emissions as two million tons of coal, including sites at Middle Muir, Lanarkshire; Loch Sminig on Lewis; Bad a Cheo, Caithness; Knockman Hill, Kirkcudbrightshire and Abington, Lanarkshire.

Finally

          The Scottish peers have only managed to attend the House of Lords an average 50% of the time over the last six months.  Some were spectacularly worse than others.  Lord Wallace of Tankerness (Jim Wallace in a previous incarnation) and Baroness Michelle Mone only managed 4 days in that time.  Best attenders were the Lord Speaker, John McFall, at 83 days, the Earl of Kinnoull at 75 days, and Lord Purvis of Tweed at 74 days.  The Lord Speaker fears public confidence may be eroded by these absences, rather than by its undemocratic nature and the fact they get more in one day’s expenses than many people earn in a week.

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