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Week 11 12th March – 18th March 2022

12/03/2022 – 18/03/2022

And the winner is ……Turkey

          A row has broken out over the award of the Islay and Jura ferry contract to Turkey.  Unsurprisingly, no Scottish yard was in the final bidding process which involved Romania, Poland and Turkey.  Scottish government-owned Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow is currently building two ferries, hugely late and hugely over-budget, so was in no fit state to compete.  The Islay and Jura ferries will be ready in 2024 and 2025.

          Instead of hanging her head in shame at the ferry fiasco, Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth sees only potential to ‘grow the islands’ economy’ and the Scottish government’s ‘commitment to bringing in new ferries’.  Without a hint of irony, she said she wants to ‘see progress’ on delivering ferries on time and on budget.

Life on Barra

          The unreliable ferry services are threatening businesses, jobs and supplies on Barra and elsewhere.  Islanders feel cut off.  Fresh foods go off before they arrive, and seafood exports to France and Spain go off before leaving Scotland.  It is harder to supply gas canisters to Barra, with the only supplier considering quitting.  It is difficult to book on the ferry, especially with a car.  Some accuse CalMac of not sailing even when it is safe, but CalMac blames the shallow draft of the ports for their difficulty in sourcing an appropriate ferry.

          Now, hundreds of metres of cabling on the new ferries must be torn out and replaced as it is too short.  It involves up to 900+ lengths of cable installed by contractors working for Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd before it went into administration in August 2019 and was later nationalised. The error was not noticed until the coiled-up cables were unwound to be attached to equipment and found to be too short.

Boris has imposed sanctions

          on 386 members of Russia’s lower house of parliament, the Duma, who voted to recognise the independence of the breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

          Just saying…

Throwing away unsold goods

          may become illegal under the planned new Circular Economy Bill, due in May.  They may instead be donated or recycled.  Fresh Start in Edinburgh takes company donations of white goods and household items for those previously homeless, providing much-needed items when moving into a property.

The EU and Ukraine

          France, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands have blocked Ukraine’s application to fast-track EU membership, which was supported by Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, but is willing to bring Ukraine closer to the EU politically during this process.  The EU has committed political, financial and humanitarian support to Ukraine, plus refugee protection, and help to rebuild after the war, although this assumes Russia won’t occupy the land and move in.  Ukraine is rumoured to have accepted the independence of the Russian-backed regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, and even understands why it cannot join NATO.

          Georgia and Moldova have also applied to join the EU. 

Scotland the Super-sponsor

          The First Minister wants Scotland to accommodate up to 3000 Ukrainian refugees immediately, more depending how many the UK takes. The Scottish government will work with local authorities and volunteers providing housing and refugees will be allowed to work, access state benefits and public services. For non-Ukrainian refugees, work is largely prohibited.

          Members of the public can now take in Ukrainian refugees for a minimum six months and will get a goodwill payment from the UK government of £350 a month, regardless of the number they take in.

Ukraine Tartan

          Keith-based online venture Great Scot have designed a special tartan in honour of Ukraine, with proceeds going to the Disasters Emergency Committee Ukraine Fund.  Great Scot plans to send a Ukrainian tartan kilt to President Zelensky.  It has been registered with the Scottish Tartans Authority, and items can be bought for personal use or even donated via Great Scot’s website.

          An Airdrie initiative sending ‘pre-loved’ baby boxes filled with baby items to Ukraine has already sent one lorryload to the Romanian border and their 6000 volunteers are busy filling more boxes with baby supplies.  They have been so overwhelmed that donations will pause from Sunday, but hopefully only for a short while, to find a haulier to take existing supplies to Romania.

Women and Trans:

          The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) apparently pulled its funding for the Leicester University Student Sex Worker Policy and Toolkit at the end of 2021, although it had been expected to last until the end of 2023.  That is, public money funding a project promoting the sex industry, failing to warn students of the dangers, its exploitative nature and links with organised crime, and putting women in extreme danger, both short- and long-term. 

          But it is only a partial victory.  The training for staff and students is still there, it’s just not free.

South Sudan/ Malawi

          The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow are raising funds for South Sudan to have its first ever paediatric surgeon, aiming to fund training for at least 5 years.  It costs £13,000 to fund a trainee surgeon for one year.

          The Scottish government has backed the Scottish Catholic International Aid fund (SCIAF) in its Wee Box appeal for those facing hunger and extreme poverty in Malawi, which was recently hit by storms and floods which washed away crops.

Train Safety

          The Rail Accident Investigation Branch has reported on the causes of the Stonehaven rail crash in 2020, blaming a poorly installed drain which was not fully inspected for seven years.  Debris from the drain washed onto the track, derailing the train, and killing three people.  Aslef, the train drivers’ union, is calling for a corporate homicide charges against Network Rail and ScotRail.  Errors were highlighted during the construction of the drainage system by the now-defunct Carillion, whose design did not match what they built, meaning it was unable to cope with the conditions that day.  It is claimed that rail management knew of several risks, were told to improve, but failed to do so.

          There is no evidence that Network Rail ever carried out an inspection of the completed system, which if it had been installed according to the plans, would likely have coped with the flooding that day.   It is now a criminal investigation. 

Biofuel:

          Ardnamurchan Distillery, Woodlands Renewables and Celtic Renewables, have joined together to accelerate the use of biofuel technology throughout Scotland. Celtic Renewables, based in Grangemouth, has attracted £43 million of investment. Their new biorefinery will produce one million litres of sustainable biochemicals annually.

Scotland Final Play off Qualifier

          for the World Cup will be free to view.  Ali Law, Sky’s head of policy, recognised it as a moment of national importance, although the semi-final against Ukraine will not be aired free.  SNP sports spokesperson Gavin Newlands argues that the Ukraine match should also be free, given that there will likely be many Ukrainians actually in Scotland by then.

          The ISP has previously passed a resolution mandating ALL Scotland matches to be free to view in Scotland, not just those with something at stake.  It is patent nonsense that you can watch Scotland if you can afford to pay Sky for it, but STV show live England matches free.

Death of the NHS?

          It seems like GP visits are intentionally becoming a thing of the past. Increasingly, you must phone from 8 am on the day and hope to get a phone appointment with a doctor later that day.  The sick are pitted against each other to be ‘fastest finger first’, and it’s your fault if you fail.

         Visualise it.  You’re ill, or maybe just a nagging feeling something is wrong.  The unqualified receptionist demands to know what is wrong, then you must wait all day for the phone appointment, with an actual appointment still later.

          What if you are working and can’t phone first thing?  What if you can’t take a medical (or any) phone call at work, or just don’t want to due to privacy?  Just as welfare is being strangled, so is access to the NHS.  Is it softening us up for private healthcare?

          SNP MSP Gillian Martin, Convenor of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee, says it is no longer sustainable to go to the GP for everything.  Increasingly, though, it seems we cannot go to the GP for anything.

Disability Matters:

Adult Disability Payments

          will be taken over next week by the Scottish government.  The Child Disability Payment will transfer later and the plan is to raise both later by 3.1%.  People with lifelong conditions which will not change will get lifelong awards and not need to reapply for benefits.  They will not endure degrading assessments and the private sector will not carry out those assessments. People already on those benefits will automatically transfer to the Scottish system.

for more, go to https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-60750532

However, the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) stands accused of gross discrimination against people with medical conditions and disabilities due to delays in assessing those conditions.  People have had to wait as long as 10 months for assessments, and some have lost jobs due to the delays.  The problem seems to surround those who have to use the paper system, rather than go online.

Legal:

          The Professional Qualifications Bill is aiming to overturn the present EU-based system of recognising professional qualifications gained overseas. The UK can pass this without legislative consent by the devolved nations.

          The UK government is also working to overturn the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, to return to the situation where calling an election was the prerogative of the PM, had to be at least every 5 years, but could be sooner. 

Finally

Evidence from Advice Direct Scotland shows that their introduction of a four-day week has boosted productivity and cut staff absence by 71%.  Staff received the same

pay for working a day less.  They took different days off so the service remained unaffected.   The Scottish government and Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) back the idea, as apparently do 80% of the population, and it is being actively considered by many employers as we emerge from the pandemic.

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