Council Set To Improve The City Centre

Edinburgh City Council has developed a proposal to improve the pedestrian space in the city centre, particularly in the area around Princes Street and George Street. The report focuses, specifically, on improving the pedestrian space and environment in line with the delivery of the tram project, which is due to be completed this Summer.

One of the methods of achieving this is providing an opportunity for dedicated cycle provision in the area, as well as reducing the detrimental impact of vehicles on the City Centre environment. The Council’s ‘Action Travel Action Plan’ sets targets to provide significant improvements in the walking and cycling infrastructure of the city centre by 2020, and the promotion of these means of travel.

The proposal states that by managing the traffic movement of Lothian Buses, it would achieve these objectives. Eastbound buses on Princes Street maybe relocated to George Street effectively halving the number of buses on Princes Street. The proposal also sets to close Princes Street to general traffic in both directions, as well as to allow general traffic on George Street in an eastbound direction only, including taxis. The Council have also announced they are to massively reduce parking availability spots in the City Centre.  Josh Miller,  George Street Association, explained that ”this will just not work.. People will not have to park their cars somewhere else, more inconvenient, and a lot of time will be wasted’. He argued that the ‘Council have not though through a viable alternative’.

Ian Perry, Planning Convener of the Council, said ‘Princes Street has been suffering from the trams, and economic downturn, s we have agreed to increase the pavement space and redress the balance and attract more pedestrians into the town centre and to get more people to shop’.

The results of the consultation will be the subject of a future report and any changes will then be practiced to test how successful they are.

Interview with George Street Association

Interview with Ian Perry, Edinburgh City Council

Unite union set to strike

The UK’s largest union is balloting its members to determine whether strike action will be used in the dispute over working conditions of delivery drivers in the oil sector.

Unite’s national officer Matt Draper said: “The professionalism of tanker drivers is at stake. We should not accept a lowering of standards so that the oil companies can maximise their profits.

“Four of the top global oil companies posted combined profits of a staggering £106 billion in 2011. Yet, drivers are suffering a contract merry-go-round, with their working conditions under constant attack.”

There are growing fears we could see a repeat of the September 2000 strikes which brought fuel shortages across the country. Due to the adverse effect a strike could have, the government has already arranged a contingency measure by enlisting army personnel to drive tankers if the protest goes ahead. It is hoped this will minimalise shortages and stop the country coming to a standstill.

Limited reserve stocks have been highlighted as an additional concern; due to the high price of fuel many petrol stations have stopped storing high quantities in reserve. This means that any reduction in deliveries will have an immediate impact on the availability of fuel.

Last week George Osbourne increased fuel duty as part of the budget, taking the cost of petrol to an average of £1.40 per litre, with a record high of £1.46.72/l recorded by the AA.

The latest price hike comes shortly after the announcement to raise the road tax bandings, with the top band range now costing over £1000 per annum. Drivers groups have long complained about the way motorists are overcharged for every aspect of owning a vehicle.

The result of the ballot will be announced later today.

Average prices per litre of unleaded petrol in the UK from 2007 to June 2011:

The percentage of the fuel cost which is attributed to tax is often criticised by consumer groups. Currently UK tax on fuel amounts to 70% of the pump price.

Cost per litre of crude oil extraction: 8p
Cost per litre of refining: 2p
Cost per litre to transport to UK: 2p
Cost per litre to transport to pumps: 5p

Hard times for housing benefit claimants

£150m will be removed every year from the Scottish economy as a result of the UK Government’s new Housing Benefit law.  More than 95,000 households in the social rented sector will be affected by the reform and this will mean an average monthly loss of up to £65 for claimant tenants.

Great concern has been raised among Scottish citizens and the Scottish Housing Minister Keith Brown expressed his discontent about this measure. Speaking ahead of a debate on the UK government’s Welfare Reform Act on 21 March 2012, Mr. Brown stated:

“It is the responsibility of the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that the welfare reforms are successfully rolled out and – even though we disagree with the changes – the public sector in Scotland must work with them to ensure no one suffers undue hardship’.

He believes  changes to Housing Benefit will have a “huge impact on local communities and individuals, some of the most vulnerable ones in Scotland”. In order to tackle the impacts, the Scottish Government and COSLA have established a Housing Benefit Stakeholder Advisory Group to help those affected ones properly understand what the impact of the UK Government’s changes to housing benefit will exactly involve.

Tesco announces the creation of 20,000 jobs

Tesco

Tesco Metro

After recent criticism over presumed employee exploitation in Tesco, the supermarket giant published some good news, announcing plans to create 20,000 new jobs in the next 2 years.

Prime Minister David Cameron has welcomed the plan, which he hopes will provide a boost for Britain’s struggling economy. In a statement he complimented Tesco on their announcement:

“Their commitment to creating jobs and opportunities for young people at what is a difficult time for the economy is fantastic news for the UK as a whole and for those people they will help into work,” he said.

Tesco plans on using the new staff primarily in customer service, but the programme will also focus on refreshing the appearance of existing stores and opening up new ones.

Richard Brasher, Tesco’s UK CEO said: “With youth unemployment at record levels, we’re determined to target many of our new jobs at young people currently out of work – so that in this difficult jobs market those who need help the most will get it.”

Recently Right to Work activists targeted Tesco as being part of the governments work experience scheme, where people on benefits work full-time for free. This scheme was criticized for taking advantage of free labour and undermining workers rights. However Tesco put this negative press down to a misunderstanding over the technicalities of the initiative.

Salmond “scared of separation”

Iain Gray used today’s First Minister’s Questions to corner Alex Salmond over his refusal to name a date for Scotland’s referendum on independence, accusing the First Minister of being “scared of separation”.

In typical First Ministers’ Questions style, Mr Salmond responded in kind by accusing the Labour leader of being “frightened of the concept of independence.”

The Labour leader urged Mr Salmond to “steady the ship and decide a date for the referendum,” after a week of bickering between Holyrood and Westminster, which saw Finance Secretary John Swinney accuse the UK Government of “becoming ever more hysterical” over the issue of independence.

The First Minister confirmed that the referendum would take place in the second half of the SNP’s current term in parliament, as set out during the party’s election campaign earlier this year, but refused to confirm a specific date.

Mr Gray said: “The longer this goes on, the more it looks as if Alex Salmond is trying to rig the referendum to get the results he wants.

“He always puts party before principal and isn’t that why he can’t name a date?”

Mr Salmond responded by saying: “Some people in the Labour party actually recognise that they lost the election and have to accept the mandate of the Scottish people.”

He added: “Westminster should keep out of the referendum and not meddle.

“It would be insulting and contemptuous for the Scottish people for Westminster to get involved.”

The First Minister went on to say that a number of opinion polls are showing increasing and substantial support for an independent Scotland. He reminded the main chamber that the SNP were re-elected with “a massive majority” six months ago on the basis of their promise to hold a referendum.

He went on to express concerns that the UK Treasury was not keeping the Scottish Government properly informed about the impact the euro will have on the Scottish economy. The Chancellor, George Osborne, is yet to respond to John Swinney’s request that economy-boosting measures are included in the Treasury’s autumn statement, including an increase in capital spending.

Effects of recession on smaller businesses

By Sean Stringer

With the announcement of a nationwide financial crisis, fears were raised about the effect it threatened to have on the future of both local businesses and more established nationwide organizations. With the public spending less money, due to the fact income is said to be 10% lower than it would be if the financial crisis had not come about (source – http://www.thetelegraph.co.uk) the impact has been great with businesses of all sizes losing out on income. Although the larger, more well known organizations would have felt the ‘pinch’ they did not have the same fears that were held by the smaller companies, time would prove they under-estimated the severity of this ‘recession’.

Since 2008, figures have been released that show the larger businesses have been impacted massively by the recession, and larger well known companies now find themselves having to close down branches more and more regularly, even now in 2010. Well known clothing company GAP have had to close around 85 stores nationwide, and Footlocker was perhaps hit the hardest of all well known chain stores and had to stop trading in more than 140 stores nationwide. These are massive numbers and will inevitably result in the loss of profits for the companies and could also threaten their future. (source – http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/business/a/store_closing.htm)

An example of businesses closing down due to the financial climate in 2010.

In an interview Elaine Brown, the owner of a local business in Fife, had this to say about the ‘recession’ and the effects it has had on trading over the past few years:

“When the recession was initially announced and financial figures were released, immediately my husband and I were concerned. However, almost 2 years down the line the impact has not been as great as we thought it would be and over the past few months business has been as good as it has ever been.”

It is clear that there are more examples of larger organizations – banks and shops alike – struggling because of the recession, compared to smaller local businesses. Although this could be down to the fact that these larger companies are under more scrutiny and receive more media attention than smaller businesses, facts and figures that have been released over the past few years prove that the progress of the larger businesses has in fact been less impressive than that of the smaller local businesses.

As the image shows, there are businesses closing down even now in 2010 and it is likely this trend will continue in the coming years.

Chinese whisky drinkers aid Scottish economy

Scotch Whisky as a Geographical Indication

By Brad Jones

Today, Vince Cable signed an agreement with China that will make sure that Scotch Whisky sold in China is sold according to UK rules. It is expected that this will increase sales of Scotch Whisky in China by tens of millions of pounds per year.

The ruling means that Scotch Whisky is registered as a Geographical Indication, meaning Chinese consumers will have more peace of mind, knowing that the whisky they are buying is authentic. China’s population of over 1.3 billion people contribute to a spirits market that brought in revenues of over $8 billion in 2008 and is estimated to reach revenues of over $11 billion by 2013.

This development is hoped to do its part to help Scotland’s economy, which was referred to as ‘broadly static’ in the latest Bank of Scotland PMI report. Donald MacRae, the Bank of Scotland Chief Economist described October as a ‘pause in recovery’ for the Scottish economy. The rapidly expanding market for Scotch Whisky in China is hoped to aid the recovery, growing from £1 million in 2001, to around £80 million in 2009, and this number is projected to increase by 100% over the course of the next five years, in part due to its new status as a registered Geographical Indication.

However, there are worries amongst whisky lovers in Scotland that this shift in focus to China will have a downside for local enthusiasts. Jed Dancer, a member of an Edinburgh Whisky Society raised his concerns that increased Chinese influence over whisky brands will result in higher prices for Scottish consumers. Mr. Dancer said ‘Distribution will vary. Less whisky here, and more whisky shipped over [to China] will result in inflation of whisky costs.’ However, Mr. Dancer did admit that the Chinese market was an ‘amazing business opportunity’ for the whisky industry.

International News Round-up

By Adam Bergin

Caribbean:

The crash killed all of the 68 people on board

A passenger plane in Cuba has crashed in the centre of the country, killing all 68 people on board.

The Aerocaribbean aircraft had been flying from the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba to Havana when it crashed in mountains near the town of Guasimal.

A Civil Aviation Authority statement said that among the casualties were 40 Cuban residents, including the seven cabin crew, with the other 28 passengers coming from many countries, including Argentina, the Netherlands and Germany.

It is not yet clear if bad weather was a reason in the crash, but a tropical storm warning had been issued in Santiago de Cuba province where the plane took off.

A hurricane is growing in strength and heading towards Haiti, it is feared, threatening earthquake survivors living in temporary sites.

Hurricane Tomas is packing winds of 80mph (130 kph) and the US National Hurricane Centre says the eye of the hurricane will pass near western Haiti later today (Friday).

Aid agencies are rushing to get emergency shelters ready before the hurricane arrives, having already killed 14 people in Saint Lucia.

North America:

The Democrats have won the close race for the US Senate seat in Washington state in the mid-term polls.

Senator Patty Murray was twice joined by President Barrack Obama when campaigning in the run-up to the polls.

The result means the Republican surge was not enough to stop the Democrats who still have a slight majority, with 51 seats in the 100-member Senate.

The Tokyo male wore a prosthetic mask to board the flight

Authorities in Canada are investigating “an unbelievable case of concealment” after a Tokyo male boarded an Air Canada flight disguised as an elderly man.

The incident, which occurred on a flight from Tokyo to Vancouver last Friday,  is believed to be an attempt to gain refugee protection.

Air Canada Corporate Security today said: “The passenger in question was observed at the beginning of the flight to be an elderly Caucasian male who appeared to have young looking hands. During the flight the subject attended the washroom and emerged an Asian looking male that appeared to be in his early 20s.”

South-east Asia:


Indonesia‘s Mount Merapi has erupted overnight killing at least 64 people, doubling the death toll since it became active again last week.

Hospital officials said more than 70 others were injured today suffering burns and respiratory problems, with many in a critical condition, after a gas cloud hit villages with even greater force than previously.

The latest eruption began late on Thursday but the location of today’s casualties was declared a safe zone until today.

Europe:

In Ireland, the cost of borrowing has hit record levels again after plans to slash €6bn (£5.2bn) in the upcoming budget, twice what was predicted three months ago, were announced.

Ireland’s cost of borrowing rose for the eighth day in a row hitting an historic high of 7.77%, with concerns rising that the country would seek a bailout in the new year

Finance minister Brian Lenihan conceded the cuts were worse than expected but allayed fears, stating the action was “deemed necessary and will underline the strength of our resolve and show the country is serious about tackling our public finance difficulties”.

Navy privitasation plan sparks union anger

By Jamie Patterson

rfa

courtesy of BT Internet

Expected  plans to privatise a historic navy fleet have outraged union leaders today.

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary, a civilian fleet which has delivered ammunition, food and fuel to ships for over a century, is due to be considered for privatisation under a Ministry of Defence report due today.

Maritime Union RMT have criticised the plans, claiming that they were considered after MOD was put under pressure from the Treasury.

The Union also claims the sale would lead to widespread job losses and risk the security of naval vessels around the world.

Bob Crow, RMT General Secretary, said today:

“It is a national disgrace that top of the list for Government public spending cuts and privatisation is the Royal Fleet Auxiliary – the essential lifeline to Royal Navy vessels on active service all around the globe.

“RMT will mobilise to fight this plan which would amount to an act of short-term suicide that would rob the navy of over a hundred years of experience in the dash for public spending cuts and private profits.

RMT is seeking an urgent meeting with Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth to prevent this act of vandalism from reaching the pre-Budget report.”

Steve Todd, RMT National Maritime Secretary, added:

“Thousands of skilled merchant seafarers, serving the Royal Navy in war zones around the world and here at home, face the prospect of being slung on the scrap heap.

That is a disgraceful kick in the teeth to brave seafarers who have played a vital role in conflict after conflict with many paying the ultimate price with their lives.”

 

Subaru withdraw from World Rally Championship

Photo courtesy of www.freefoto.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.freefoto.com

By Ashleigh Morris

The world of motorsports has been dealt another blow with Subaru’s announcement that it is withdrawing from the 2009 World Rally Championship after 20 years in the sport.

The decision was in response to the economic downturn and follows Suzuki’s decision to withdraw the previous day.

Tom Morris, former winner of the Scottish Tarmac Championship told Dunedin Napier News: “Now Subaru have pulled out there are only two main players: Citroen and Ford. If anyone else pulls out the championship is finished. Ford are in financial difficulty in America. If they are forced to pull out I don’t see a future for the whole sport.”

But Gavin Miller from The Inside Line, a public relations company for the motorsport industry, remains optimistic about the future of the WRC. “It’s disappointing to see. Subaru are an iconic brand associated with rallying. But the championship is in a strong position to move forward. 2009 will be tough but the new super 2000 rules will allow for cost reductions in 2010. This will make World Rally an economically viable platform for manufacturers to promote their products. It will be possible to run a car at one tenth of the cost of a Formula 1 car.”

The FIA offices in France were closed when we tried to contact them and the International Motorsports Association Limited refused to comment.

Bail out tussles in Brussels

At a time of bleak economic news where the Sterling is nearly matching the value of the Euro, the pound reaching an extraordinary low today – European heads of state gather in Brussels. The atmosphere is tense.

At PMQs Gordon Brown had a Freudian slip, saying that the government “saved the world” instead of “saved the banks”. At least he is supposed to be the ‘saviour of Europe’. His suggested bail out plan was officially taken up as an economic recovery plan by the European Commission. It is supposed to be decided on for all the other European member states in the current European Council meeting in Brussels.

“It’s the best way to restore citizens’ confidence and counter fears of a long and deep recession”, Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso told the BBC in November this year.

However, some member states like Germany which alreadyhave implement national measures to save their economies oppose a joint approach.

The United Kingdom  implemented a £ 12.5 bn VAT cut last month which was harshly criticised by Germany’s finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck in a Newsweek interview yesterday. Steinbrueck said that the UK measures were “crass” and “breathtaking” and also said that a great rescue plan “doesn’t exist!” He said the cut would only pull the UK into greater debt instead of helping consumers.

Germany has already spent around £ 370.4 bn on a bail out of its banks, far more than the EU bail out plan is expected to raise. It is therefore now cautious about spending even more.

Other issues expected to be discussed at the summit are the Irish “No-Vote” on the Lisbon Treaty and climate change policies.

Bank Of England Cut Interest Rates

The Bank of England have announced that they have cut interest rates by 1%.

This decision, made at noon, reduces the rate to 2% which is the lowest it has been since 1951.

In a poll by Reuters, 40 out of 62 financial experts asked, stated that they thought this was the step that the Bank of England should take.

This comes just one month after the interest rate was cut from 4.5% to 3% in order to help with the growing financial crisis which has led to unemployment rising, a downturn in mortgage lending and high street stores slashing prices in the hope of encouraging public spending.

Financial expert advisors Moneyfacts, say the latest cut will help out those with mortgages, estimating that most homeowners with a repayment mortgage of around £150,000, will save between £20-£75 a month.

Not all lenders are expected to pass on cuts, but Lloyds TSB have announced that they will be passing on reductions to their customers.

However homeowners with a tracker mortgage may not benefit from this cut as they involve tracking the Bank Rate.

This cut is another measure to help Britain fight the credit crunch, following on from yesterdays announcement that government have plans to help those facing home repossession to stall repayments on their mortgages for two years.

The Pre-Budget Report, A Reaction and Interpretation.

By Lindsay Muir.

Yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, unveiled the most anticipated pre-budget report in twenty years. The report is the basis for some radical changes and tax-cuts designed to buffer the force of the recession which looks certain to hit in 2010, perhaps even before the end of the year; and stimulate both the financial markets, which were up 9.84% at close yesterday, and consumer spending.

The Chancellor’s report is a major cataclysm in the economic policy of the Labour Party. The move to increase the income tax rate on earnings over £150,000 to 45%, should Labour win the next general election, marks the end of New Labour’s pledge not to increase income tax and is perhaps a hint of the return of the Labour Party of old.

As predicted VAT, value added tax that we pay on so called “luxury goods” is to be slashed by 2.5% to the new level of 15%. This is the lowest rate allowed under EU law. Through this the government hopes to stimulate consumer spending, which has understandably dropped in recent months with many facing growing utility bills and general financial uncertainty. In basic economic terms it is hard to overestimate the importance of consumer spending, without it the entire financial system on which the modern world is based would collapse on a scale one hundred times worse than has already happened.

The title of yesterdays report, “Facing global challenges: supporting people through difficult times”, should not be taken at face value but as the ethic which will see the world overcome recession. It is in the global interest that the nation states of the world begin to trust each other and their financial institutions in order to kick start the global economy in a reformed and better regulated manner in order to avoid the same economic problems 30 years from now.

Full details of yesterdays pre-budget report can be found here. Courtesy of HM Treasury.

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