28/10/23 – 04/11/23
Homelessness a Huge Problem, Dangerous Tap Water, but first
Green Red Lines don’t include Independence
When challenged last week Lorna Slater admitted that independence is not a ‘red line’ which would stop the Scottish Greens doing a deal with Scottish Labour, although she says it is hard to know what Labour stands for at the moment! And she says Humza Yousaf’s freezing of the council tax breaches the Bute House Agreement as it did not involve the Scottish Greens in discussing ‘all stages’ of the Budget process.
Speaking of U-turns, Patrick Harvie is reported to be reconsidering his ‘rip out your gas boilers by 2030’ order, having admitted it may be unachievable. He blames Rishi Sunak for delaying several net zero targets. The Scottish government is delaying publication of its Heat in Buildings consultation till the end of the year, but Harvie admitted some people will be forced to give up gas boilers, saying there must be a ‘balance between regulation and financial support’ and it must ‘move faster than market demand alone will achieve’, which still sounds ominous.
How long can we ignore the homeless?
In 2022-23 Scotland had over 15,000 households in temporary accommodation, including nearly 10,000 children. The government is looking to reuse empty homes and in 2022-23, 1257 empty homes were brought back into use by the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership. Between 2018 and 2024 the Scottish government will give over £52 million to councils to support people into settled accommodation, and will make £3.5 billion available this parliamentary term towards delivering 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, two-thirds for social rent. A housing bill will create new tenants’ rights as well as a new duty to prevent homelessness.
But this week Edinburgh City Council declared a housing emergency in both the private and public sectors, a victim of the chronic shortage of housing and the enormous numbers of exclusively short-term lets, and 5000 households in temporary accommodation. They want more government funding and an emergency action plan. Argyll and Bute declared a housing emergency in June.
Edinburgh had already broken the law preventing the homeless being placed in unsuitable temporary accommodation on 2,200 occasions in 2022 and the first 6 months of 2023.
And hundreds of homeless people have been illegally turned away by local authorities since January 2023, most of them (518 out of 600) in Glasgow, which has been facing court action over it. In 2021 and 2022 only 3 were turned away. The legal obligation applies to anyone assessed as unintentionally homeless, including single people. Edinburgh failed to house 40 applicants, Clackmannanshire 4 and Fife 64 in 2022/23.
The new Lost Shore (inland) Surf Resort in Ratho, Newbridge, will open in September 2024 with luxury lodges, premium accommodation pods, restaurants, shopping and a spa. It will be in a 60-acre country park with a surf lake and wave pool, plus a 250-metre beachfront, plus the biggest surf lagoon in Europe. It will offer a reliable source of surf waves all year round less than half an hour from Edinburgh and 45 minutes from Glasgow.
A looming budget deficit
may yet derail Scottish government plans. Recent uncosted pay hikes have led Auditor General for Scotland Stephen Boyle to call for better workforce planning, with a forecast £1bn budget shortfall next year, rising to a £1.9bn shortfall for 2027/28.
The government payroll grew by 28% between 2018/19 and 2021/22, with the public sector workforce rising from 150,000 full time equivalent (FTE) staff in 1999 to over 245,000 this year. Pay deals for the public sector cost £1.7 bn more than planned in deals covering 2022/23 and 2023/24 and government strategy now is to try and control workforce numbers and salary costs, but it may not be enough.
The Scottish budget for 2024/25 will be delivered on December 19th.
Firefighters Fight Dangerous Cuts
Firefighters from all over Scotland protested outside Holyrood last week against their five-year flat cash budget allocation. More than 1200 jobs have been cut since the formation of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) a decade ago, with their union predicting another 780 jobs will go and says lives are in danger from the cuts.
This year 10 fire appliances, 9 high-reach vehicles and the permanently-crewed rescue boat on the River Clyde were withdrawn from service. The Fire Brigades Union report entitled ‘Firestorm’ claims the fire service is now in ‘crisis’.
The Scottish government responded that it had given the service £14.4 million more this year than last, with a higher number of firefighters in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK.
Health: Community Link Workers
are facing redundancy in the poorest parts of Glasgow following the discontinuation of a £1.35m Scottish funding package, with 28 of 70 posts having to go next April. But it appears that the government did offer half the funding needed for coming years, which was rejected by Glasgow City Health And Social Care Partnership (GCHSCP).
Some councillors claim they were not aware of the funding offer, which the GMB union say may have been deliberately withheld from them. For their part the union says Glasgow could dip into its £9 million reserve to secure the posts but the GCHSCP say the funding offer was contingent upon them making cuts to other services.
Taymouth Castle Woes Continue
A promised community gathering to discuss local concerns over the Taymouth development has excluded residents of Killin, Aberfeldy and other local areas from attending, even though Discovery Land Company (DLC) is active in Aberfeldy and has bought the Moness Resort.
Attendees must first submit their full name, address and postcode plus any questions they want to ask. Work has already started on a drainage system, apparently before obtaining planning permission. DLC have not commented.
Hydrogen Pipeline to Germany?
Energy Minister Gillian Martin recently awarded £200,000 to the Net Zero Technology Centre (NZTC) for a feasibility study on exporting green hydrogen to Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain from Scotland.
Green hydrogen uses renewable electricity to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. Although hydrogen does not give off carbon dioxide, there are concerns about how efficient the process is. An underground network of pipelines would connect Scotland with Ireland and the Netherlands and/or Germany using the existing North Sea natural gas infrastructure. It is estimated it would cost £2.8billion to deliver to Germany but could meet up to 10.5% of Europe’s low-carbon hydrogen import needs from 2030 to 2050, and could bring 70,000 to 300,000 jobs worth between £5 bn and £25bn a year to the economy.
Beware – Tap Water may be Dangerous
Scottish Water (SW) has been ordered to do an emergency clean-up of 3000 tap water storage sites after a maintenance backlog led to sites becoming unhealthy and potentially harbouring lethal bacteria and pollutants. SW have failed to meet minimum public health standards for over a year.
On Benbecula and South Uist last month schools closed when fuel leaked into tap water; animal remains were found at the bottom of a tank supplying Ayrshire homes; and recently SW dumped untreated sewage onto Scottish beaches and rivers during dry weather. Discharging not fully treated sewage is only allowed after unusually intense rainfall which dilutes it, but Net Zero Secretary Mairi McAllan says the Scottish government does not have the money for improvements.
Scotland uses treated water storage points in the form of 2800 small service reservoirs and tanks which Scottish Water contracted a firm to maintain and inspect, but this regime failed last year when supplies were contaminated with disinfectant. And last year coliform bacteria were detected in two sites in Ayrshire. Coliform bugs were also found in supplies in Oyne, Aberdeenshire. Scottish Water has until the end of November to come up with a plan to ensure safe supplies.
For Women Scotland lost their appeal to overturn a ruling which allowed males who identified as women to take one of the 50% of women’s seats on public boards. Lady Dorrian ruled that males with a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) are legally ‘women’ under the Equality Act. She said they were protected under the two characteristics of ‘gender reassignment’ and ‘sex’, but logically wouldn’t you be protected either as a trans person or as a woman? Wouldn’t ‘gender reassignment’ give way to ‘sex’ once a GRC was granted?
Importantly, single-sex spaces are still allowed if it is a ‘proportionate means’ of achieving a ‘legitimate aim’. But the ruling surely makes it more likely that the overruling of Scotland’s gender recognition legislation will stand, as it becomes even more important to bin self-identification of gender.
Edinburgh Council raided its council library budget’s promotion and toy fund for £192.76 to pay towards celebrations of the King’s coronation, as well as taking £468.40 from its nursery budget and £666 from the council community grant fund for a coronation street party.
EU divergence is now Okay
SNP Economy Secretary Neil Gray has done an apparent U-turn on the SNP policy of EU convergence (making Scottish laws dovetail with EU counterparts as much as possible). He would be prepared to ‘make use of Brexit and get rid of EU-based rules’ if business demands, as he is pragmatic, not ideological. His New Deal for Business Group has been trying to reset the SNP’s relationship with Scottish business.
He wants business to tell him which regulations it regards as ‘no longer required’ or are ‘providing more of a burden than was appreciated’!
The fate of a sheep stuck at the bottom of cliffs on Cromarty Firth is causing much angst. It is thought to have been there for 2 years and now the SSPCA is considering rescue options, with the sheep’s fleece now badly overgrown. A petition garnered 52,000 signatures, and a hovercraft company thinks it may be able to help, although the SSPCA say it is not yet safe.
Meanwhile, it is not clear where a badger had been staying, after he was seen lumbering down the stairs of a tenement block in Craigentinny, Edinburgh. Badgers are often seen in the area, but be careful. They and their setts are legally protected and cannot be harmed in any way.