26/03/2022 – 01/04/2022
Incinerator plans binned
Plans for a new waste incinerator in South Lanarkshire have been abandoned following an outcry from the local population and campaign group Dovesdale Action Group (DAG) working with MSPs Christina McKelvie and Mairi McAllan and local MP Angela Crawley. Sir David Attenborough supported opposition to the plant. The Scottish government is currently reviewing incineration as part of its decarbonisation plans.
The Ferry Saga
Due to installing the wrong cables on the ferries under construction at Ferguson Marine, the ‘launch’ date will be next year at least, adding £8.7 million to the cost, £825,000 for the cabling, the rest for overheads, staffing and materials, taking the projected cost to about £250 million, a bit of an increase on the original projected £97 million, and making the ferries over six years late (subject to change).
The deal is now a war of words as to who is to blame. Audit Scotland reported that Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) pleaded with the SNP to block the deal, and others claim the deal was rushed through despite warnings of significant risks to taxpayers.
The wrong type of ferry?
CalMac and its holding company CMAL, who lease them the ferries, are being blamed for insisting on a totally unsuitable ferry design instead of much lighter-weight catamarans better suited than the ‘bath tub’ style giants favoured by CalMac, and pointing to the Pentalina which plies the Pentland Firth and Norway’s Arctic ferry fleet.
The two stuck at Ferguson Marine and the new Turkish commission are the bath-tub design, whose costs dwarf the lighter-weight vessels. Large vessels cannot berth overnight on the islands or use the port at Brodick, which is tricky in easterly winds, or Ardrossan, which is tricky to negotiate.
CalMac seem to steadfastly refuse better solutions. There are no islanders on the CalMac board, and the island way of life must bend to suit the timetable and boats CalMac runs. More flexible solutions would allow crossings to the mainland to start earlier in the day and allow later returns to the islands and enhance island life.
Is the Turkey deal unlawful?
Maybe, as there is no direct community benefit for the areas where the contract is issued. The eProcurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 requires contracts valued at £4 million or above to benefit the local community, and must improve the economic, social or environmental wellbeing of the area. They do. The trouble is, the area is in Turkey.
If no community benefits are sought, contractors must specify why not. Brian Fulton, CMAL head of business support, claimed the request for community benefits was merely advisory. He could only point to general local benefits like port works, and islanders eventually getting the actual ferries, but the law intends communities to benefit during the work, not just by getting the end product.
When ScotRail is taken into public ownership on Friday (April Fools’ Day) Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth warns there will be no immediate improvement in performance, price or punctuality. It will apparently be more accountable, though it is unclear how.
Prices rose by 3.8% this year, with a season ticket between Glasgow and Edinburgh now costing almost £4,500. Ms Gilruth is looking at concessionary travel and incentivising people back to the railways.
Antipodean Trade Deals
It seems the fears of Scottish agriculture are well-founded. Rural Affairs Minister Mairi Gougeon is complaining that New Zealand beef is up to 30% lower than Scottish prices, and Australia has lower animal welfare standards, both of which allow them to offer cheaper produce. Following a short transition period, both will get unfettered access to Scotland. We can opt to buy Scottish produce, but with a cost of living crisis looming for many, will people afford to?
The Scottish government’s Fireworks Bill
seeks to restrict the sale and use of fireworks. Holyrood’s Justice Committee is considering the bill, which imposes safety training and a licensing scheme on those buying fireworks and would limit the times and areas of use. The British Fireworks Association said most fireworks are imported, claims only a small number of people misuse fireworks, the legislation would be disproportionate and risks a black market, possibly involving organised crime. They fear an increase in injuries and deaths.
But the Scottish Police Federation and Scottish Fire Service are in favour, citing increasing attacks on emergency workers by youths while on calls.
Plans to free offenders early:
The already-statutory presumption against short-term sentences may become even shorter due to the Scottish government’s plans to make prisoners eligible for parole after one third of their sentence, despite concerns by the public and police. Currently automatic release even for offences like rape can bring parole two years into a four-year sentence, and if not, automatic release after three.
CalMac accused of ‘tax avoidance’
The government-owned ferry operator stands accused of avoiding £46 million in employee National Insurance contributions as they are employed by shipping firms based in tax havens. This was the same practice used by P&O, who then sacked 800 employees, probably unlawfully. CalMac’s use of offshore firm Caledonian MacBrayne Crewing (Guernsey) to employ its 1000 seafarers initially cut around £1.5 million costs and is now £5 million a year.
Crucially it exempts them from paying (employer) National Insurance (NI) for those employees and may leave employees later unable to claim benefits due to insufficient contributions.
Multi-millionaire Rishi Sunak’s UK Budget
has done very little for those facing a cost of living crisis. Fuel duty fell by 5p per litre, and increased the National Insurance threshold by £3000, taking some people back out of having to pay it. Value Added Tax (VAT) is cut on renewables like solar panels and heat pumps, but this helps those who can afford to instal them, rather than those unable to pay sky-high bills. The Scottish government has pledged to uprate benefits by 6%, and will also help through its Fuel Insecurity Fund.
Gaelic language courses
on the Duolingo app are being taken to the next level by Sabhal Mor Ostaig, the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture. The Centre also offers a distance learning Gaelic beginners course, as well as An Cursa Comais, a full-time immersion course on campus.
Fish Farm loch pollution
has been blamed for reef damage in Loch Creran near Oban through toxic pesticides and waste discharged from a caged salmon farm. Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and NatureScot are accused of failing to assess the cumulative impact of pollution or investigate a potentially harmful bloom of plankton in 2021. One reef has completely disappeared over 10 years.
is being touted as a solution to western energy needs, with Greg Hands, UK Energy Minister, urging the Scottish government to reconsider its opposition to nuclear energy, despite Scotland being self-sufficient in gas, exporting to the rest of the UK, and almost 100% of our electricity coming from renewables.
Douglas Chapman, SNP Westminster spokesman for Defence Procurement, Peace and Nuclear Disarmament, wants investment in hydrogen power, tidal energy and geothermal heat generation rather than nuclear, not least because benefits accrue to local communities.
Weren’t we promised that the last bank in a town would never be closed? Yet this happens all over Scotland, the latest being Forres, forcing customers to travel at least 10 miles to Nairn or Elgin. Many older people will not want this and do not deserve it, and smaller towns also lose out on people no longer shopping there after banking.
Banks parrot the loss of ‘footfall’ due to online banking. But inevitably during covid, banks did not want people there in person, and disdained handling cash. Rural areas are plagued by poor or intermittent broadband, and it is not only older people who fall prey to often very sophisticated scams, with grudged assistance from the banks to reimburse them.
We are now paying for the loss of local banking. We bailed out the banks, and now they are bailing out on us.
may affect up to 157,000 Scots suffering from symptoms including breathlessness, crippling fatigue, memory loss or ‘brain fog’ for 12 or more weeks after the initial infection. Last year Health Secretary Humza Yousaf announced a £10 million Long Covid Support Fund, but no cash has yet appeared. England has managed to open Long Covid clinics. The Scottish government has set up a website.
refusal is overturned in almost half the planning decisions by local authorities and national park authorities. For wind turbines the default position is to support wind farm development, with over half again currently in the planning or development stage to add to the 4000 we already have onshore. One of the most high profile overturns was for Judy Murray’s sports and homes complex, with a museum honouring Andy Murray’s tennis achievements, which Stirling Council rejected due to local objections, but the Scottish government allowed.
This year’s goody bags include a plot of land in Scotland from 1-100sqft, plus the ‘right’ to use the title ‘Lord’, ‘Lady’ or ‘Laird’ of Glencoe, and a two-night stay at Turin Castle near Forfar. The plots, through Highland Titles who have five estates, allow recipients to ‘contribute to the establishment of nature reserves’ in Scotland. They do not seem to have bothered about legal title to land before selling it, nor about the very real problems Scotland has in grossly unequal land ownership.
As long as pampered Hollywood stars can have their own piece of tartan kitsch. Perhaps they could also supply a complimentary shortbread tin to keep the title deed in, decorated in Scottie dogs.