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November 25th – December 1st, 2023

November 25th – December 1st, 2023

School Chaos, Illegal government plans, but first …

Green Heat Penalty Plans

Patrick Harvie’s latest tactic is to ‘encourage’ investment changes, and ‘alternatively penalise those who do not adhere to the encouraged behaviour’.  These fines could subsidise retrofit programmes, in other words finance subsidies for others to fit heat pumps by fining people who don’t fit heat pumps.    He also suggests council tax may be increased to ‘fine’ homes which are not energy efficient or decreased for those which are (or more likely retained at the current level). The same system could apply to non-domestic rates.  He calls it ‘discounts and premiums’ rather than ‘discounts and fines’, but those renting cannot influence heating decisions.  Will landlords be able to increase the rent to cover these ‘fines’?  And many older council properties are very far from energy-efficient.

The report acknowledges resources to householders must be improved, but does not state how. And it appears £133 million of the funds available last year for energy-efficiency payments to homeowners was not actually spent.

The Private Rented sector (PRS) Landlord Loan scheme

has allocated less than half its £2.5 million funding.  Set up in 2020 to assist private landlords towards energy efficiency it has had almost no impact, with only 215 of 340,000 private rented properties getting funding for retrofitting. 

Decarbonisation Stalled

Harvie has gone back on plans to decarbonise one million homes by 2030, saying off-grid homes will instead join all other properties in being required to end fossil fuel emission heating systems by 2045 (in order to meet Scotland’s legal obligation to itself!)

Energy-efficiency standards including heating, insulation and building fabric must be met in private rented homes by 2028, and owner-occupied homes by December 2033.  Buyers of a home or non-domestic property before 2045 must end their use of a polluting heating system within a specific (unspecified) grace period following purchase, and all public buildings must now meet a new target of 2038 for clean heating.

Harvie insists that those not upgrading their heating system on time will not be fined ‘for the foreseeable future’ although landlords could be. Confused?  Don’t worry, it will all change again next week. 

Legal: Secondary Legislation

Even more worrying is the fact that the initial green heating legislation will be an ‘enabling’ bill (primary legislation) before parliament by 2025, with the devil in the detail coming as secondary legislation later on. But secondary legislation has much less parliamentary scrutiny. 

Holyrood’s Finance Committee criticised the increasing use of such framework bills by this government, including Lorna Slater’s Circular Economy Bill currently being considered.  Many lack scrutiny and have little or no explanation of their ultimate costs and may open parliament to significant unforeseen costs.  Her bill’s Financial Memorandum lacks detail and assume for example that 100% of fines for throwing litter from cars would be paid, instead of the 15% of litter fines usually paid.

Scottish government plans ‘illegal’

Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian went before Holyrood’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee to claim that the proposed Regulation of Legal Services (Scotland) Bill is a threat to the independence of the judiciary and legal profession, insisting that regulating the profession must be ‘independent from government’.  She said government lacked understanding of fundamental democratic principles’.  The legislation wants to give ministers the power to review the regulatory performance of current bodies and possibly establish new regulatory bodies. 

Currently regulation through the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates and the Association of Construction Attorneys is supervised by the ultimate regulators, the Lord President and Court of Session.  

Health: Inequality

Glasgow’s Live Well Community Referral (LWCR) is tackling health inequalities in some of its most deprived areas, helping people access workshops, museum visits, walking groups, sports activities and volunteering activities. All participants felt happier, 98% felt listened to and 96% said they would not have taken part without LWCR involvement.

Nearly 250 Adult Care Homes (20% of the total) have closed in Scotland over the last 10 years, totalling 1037 at March 2023.  The closure rate has fallen, but the biggest number of closures were of care homes for adults with learning disabilities and mental health problems, down by 37% and 27% respectively.  Elderly care homes are down by 13% to 792 over the same period.

Self-funding Care Home residents now pay £1328 a week on average, almost double the level 10 years ago.  Self-funding costs are up 80% and for councils 50%, with councils paying about £910 a week.  The private sector runs about 76% of all homes. Those with capital over £32,750 in property or savings must pay their full costs.

Asylum Backlog Worries

Glasgow is bracing for an upsurge in the number of homeless due to the UK government’s decision to speed up asylum processes.  Of 2500 applications due to be heard by the end of the year, 1800 are expected to get leave to remain, pushing housing services beyond their limits. A projected bill of £53m in 2024/25 for homeless accommodation will receive no extra funding from the UK government, and there is already an overspend of £21.4m.  Glasgow’s homelessness budget black hole is predicted to rise to £70.1m in 2024/25.

Taymouth Castle

Perth and Kinross Council angered local people including the Protect Loch Tay Group by granting retrospective planning consent for a foul water treatment plant and drainage.  A petition with 157,000 signatures is calling for oversight of the development to be taken away from Perth and Kinross Council control.

P&K decided the works were well away from the River Tay Special Area of Conservation and would not impact on freshwater pearl mussels or other protected species.  They said DLC stopped work when P&K became aware of it and advised them to stop!  NatureScot confirmed they have no objections.  

Water’s Not as Clean as You think

More than 50 Scottish rivers and groundwaters are failing quality tests due to having been contaminated by toxic metals from abandoned mines.  Cadmium, lead, iron, manganese and zinc are widespread, with one study saying pollution had killed the salmon population of the South Esk river in Midlothian.  Responsibility lies with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the UK Coal Authority (CA), the latter responsible for mines which were finally shut by the Tories.  The CA have established 13 mine water treatment schemes, and another is due for Dalkeith.

More than 170 Autistic Patients

            are still effectively locked up in Scottish hospitals, with 24 held in NHS Scotland hospitals for over a decade and two held at the State Hospital in Carstairs, Lanarkshire for over 20 years. Despite the Scottish government’s commitment to suitable accommodation near or in their home communities, Maree Todd, Mental Wellbeing Minister could not give any firm timescales.

Emergency Services Falling Apart:

Over a dozen Fire Service buildings may have to be demolished at a cost of over £100 million after they were found to contain lethal bubbling concrete in their roofs, as well as general disrepair including missing ceilings and exposed wires.  But Scottish Fire and Rescue say they do not have the capital budget provision to rebuild their estate.

Misleading Police Data

Police Scotland appear to be misleading over how many police officers and staff are under investigation for sexual offences.  The category of ‘sexual misconduct’ is omitted and becomes part of ‘other offences’. Up until October 2023 67 sexual offences were reported, double the 34 of the same period up to October 2022.

‘Illegal’ Data Storage

Police Scotland also have questions to answer over an IT system bought from US firm Axon which allows witness statements, body cam footage, fingerprints and more to be uploaded and shared with other agencies.  The Scottish Police Authority says transfers to overseas cloud providers are likely to be illegal.  The American attorney general and intelligence services can set up surveillance of people outside the US if they are not US citizens, as well as allowing the US government to access any data in the cloud.

Poverty: School staff

A poll by Unison reveals that many of the country’s poorest paid school staff are paying for food, clothes and stationery for pupils.  School staff also report a lack of materials and training for their jobs, particularly in dealing with disruptive behaviour.  But teachers and school staff are also reporting an increase in pupil violence in schools.  Teachers’ union the EIS (Educational Institute of Scotland) reported that of 875 schools surveyed, 82.7% were reporting violent or aggressive incidents each week.

Pupils Leave School ‘Functionally Illiterate’

           even though they may have passed Highers, according to one teacher who reported exam markers are not allowed to mark down National 5 and Higher English pupils despite poor grammar and spelling, as long as the piece ‘makes sense on first reading’!  Some teachers are calling for a new method of teaching reading in schools and Dundee and Glasgow Universities are investigating.

Transport:Ferries:

Finance Secretary Shona Robison has confirmed the Small Vessel Replacement Programme project to replace ferries has been ‘reprofiled’ to recheck the business case, designs and align port infrastructure at Ardrossan and Gourock, to save £41 million in this financial year.  The plan is to replace the 10 existing vessels with electric-powered ferries.  Ferguson Marine is hoping to secure the contract.  Funding is being put back to 2024/25 and procurement of the vessels has not even commenced the initial questionnaire stage, which had been planned for this monthThe first of the new small ferries will not come into service until 2026 and the last in 2028.

Finally,

Adios to the Pandas

Despite a fee of almost £1 million a year, Edinburgh’s two giant pandas Tian Tian and Yang Guang will shortly return to China after 12 years.  Were they just a publicity stunt?  The year before their arrival Edinburgh Zoo made a loss of £1.2 million, but the first year it made a surplus of £2.4 million, and another surplus in 2013. 

But visitor numbers disappeared when Covid hit and have not recovered since.  Although a major attraction for the public, ‘like rock stars’ as one conservationist put it, the zoo drew criticism that it was all about money and not conservation. The now ageing ‘rock stars’ are 20 and heading home.

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