Edinburgh Airport has the best Halloween ever

More than 1.2 million passengers used Edinburgh Airport in October, making it the busiest October on record for the terminal.

Gordon Dewar, Chief Executive of Edinburgh Airport, previously said: “It may have been Halloween in October but passengers weren’t scared to travel, with Edinburgh Airport recording another record month and the seventh consecutive month of more than one million people coming through the terminal.”

Edinburgh Airport is one of the fastest growing airports in UK and the first one in the Scotland.

Despite that, in June this year Edinburgh Airport was named as the fifth worst airport in the world according to a survey from AirHelp.

An Edinburgh resident said: “I am utterly embarrassed by the dismal experience of travelling out of or into Edinburgh. Very busy and congested for departures, security often shambolic with queues down the stairs, often needing to take a bus to departing aircraft.”

Marius Fermi, UK Country Manager at AirHelp said to Edinburgh Evening News: “It’s disappointing, then, that British airports like Edinburgh are landing at the bottom of the global list – providing passengers with lower than average quality and service, more flight delays and cancellations than others, and low-levels of positive social media engagement.”

We asked Greg Maxwell, Corporate Affairs Manager at Edinburgh Airport, about the complaints from passengers about the security check points, the delay of the flights and the very busy lines. He said: “We are building a new extension to Edinburgh Airport’s terminal building is the start of an £80 million investment plan to help the airport handle the potential record number of passengers.”

Gordon Dewar, Chief Executive of Edinburgh Airport said in a press release: “We are Scotland’s busiest airport and the fastest growing airport in the UK – and that demand is only going to grow with the record numbers of passengers we expect to see passing through the terminal.”

Kathryn Blood, a domestic passenger, posted a very positive review on the Edinburgh Airport Facebook page: “Actual experience was fine. Domestic flight, baggage arriving on carousel as we walked into the baggage hall. Return journey went smoothly through security. Had a flight delay but not the fault of the airport. Staff were all friendly. Would fly to Edinburgh again.”

Some statistics that might be helpful to have a full picture of Edinburgh Airport:

Edinburgh Airport is Scotland’s busiest and the UK’s 6th busiest airport

Passengers per year: 12.4 million in 2016 (+11% or +1.24m on 2015)

Average of 33,880 passengers per day

33 airlines flying 188 routes to 130 destinations

121,800 aircraft movements in 2016 (+6% on 2015)

Over 333 flights per day

Aircraft types: Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, Boeing 737, 757, 767, Airbus A319, A320, A321, A330, Dash 8, Embraer 135, 145, Fokker 100, F70, BAE 146, Avro RJ100, ATR72, Saab 340

UK Supreme Court approves alcohol minimum pricing

Photo Credit: Robfoto

Today the UK Supreme Court has approved Scotland’s Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) Act, ruling against The Scotch Whisky Association’s (SWA) final chance of appeal.

Five years after the  bill was backed by MSP’s at Holyrood, the new legislation is set to enforce a 50p minimum price per unit on alcohol.

The flagship policy formed a package of 41 proposals that aim to reduce alcohol harm and consumption in Scotland.

Scotland’s Health Secretary, Shona Robinson said:

”Alcohol is 60 percent more affordable in the UK than it was in 1980 and alcohol misuse costs Scotland £3.6 billion each year- £900 for every adult.

”There is strong evidence that tackling price helps reduce consumption and related harm.”

The Scotch Whisky Association, acting on behalf of global alcohol producers, has fought the legislation’s enactment since 2012.

(SWA) claimed that the measures were illegal under EU law, distort competition and see health take precedent over the right to free trade.

During court proceedings, QC Adam O’Niell said:

”It is a political decision that pricing should be used to decrease alcohol consumption and improve public health.

”We point out that there are a whole number of ways in which pricing can legitimately be used in accordance with EU law to achieve those aims.”

The Scottish Grocer’s Federation (SGF) also expressed their concern, asserting that a minimum pricing will push small convenience stores out of the market.

In recent debate, SGF’S Chief Executive, Pete Cheema, had said:

”A significant sales drop will benefit the large supermarkets as they will be able to cope better.”

Despite the sustained legal challenges seven Supreme Court judges have made the unanimous decision that the legislation is legally sound.

Responding to the defeat, Scotch Whisky Association chief executive, Karen Betts, released this statement:

“We will now look to the Scottish and UK Governments to support the industry against the negative effects of trade barriers being raised in overseas markets that discriminate against Scotch Whisky as a consequence of minimum pricing, and to argue for fair competition on our behalf. ”

Under the new laws, a bottle of wine will cost at least £4.69, a pack of four 500ml lagers will cost £4.00, while the cheapest bottle of whisky will cost at least £14.00.

A survey revealed that currently approximately half of all alcohol sold in Scotland does not meet the new pricing standards.

However, with the new measures set to be in place ‘as quickly as is practicable’ the changes are expected to come in to effect before Christmas.

Queensferry Crossing operational but not fully functional

Photo Credit: Chris Firth

Former Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, has asked the Scottish Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf, to confirm the date he expects the Queensferry Crossing to be fully functional for commuters.

The Queensferry Crossing was officially opened on Wednesday 30 August 2017 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

While teething problems were expected, three months on there are still road and speed restrictions in place.

Thousands of people who commute between Fife and Edinburgh are said to be frustrated because their journey is taking longer than expected.

Yousaf has been unable to provide a definitive answer and has said he will “reply to the members as soon as possible”.

Dugdale responded by saying: “This is a humiliating response for the Transport Minister and the Scottish Government. Despite numerous ceremony’s [sic] and celebrations around the completion of the new Queensferry Crossing, months on from the official opening and the Scottish Government have had to admit it is still incomplete.”

Union vows: ‘Nothing leaves Bi-Fab yards until we get paid’

By Aisling Press and Peter Urpeth

Photo Credit: Ben_Kerckx

Union Unite has pledged to put BI-Fab’s yards into lock-down with no turbine jackets leaving the site until workers get paid.

With a work-force of up to 1400 jobs under threat in the dispute between yard owners, BiFab, and Dutch commissioning company, Seaway Heavy Lifting over disputed payments for completed work, Unite’s leader Bob McGregor said:

“If we don’t get a resolution they shouldn’t think they can take those jackets without paying the workers. No one can take anything on or off site without permission. The guys have to protect themselves and are protecting the site. We want the site secured for the future not closed and left as a graveyard.”

Members of Unite and the GMB commenced a work-in at Bi-Fabs yards on Monday after Bi-Fab bosses announced that the company could be forced into administration, and the yards closed over a contractual dispute with (SHL) left BiFab with a cash flow crisis and unable to pay its workforce.

Sub-contractor companies and suppliers are also facing problems as BiFab remains unable to pay its bills.

Speaking ahead of crunch talks with the Scottish government and a major joint-union demo at the Scottish Parliament tomorrow, Bob MCGregor  emphasised that the unions were looking to find a way to secure not just the jobs of members but that the future of the entire manufacturing base for the renewables industry in Scotland was at risk if BiFab failed.

“We are hoping to find a resolution in the shape of a government rescue package or a government buy out, or even some interim support. We want the site secured for the future. The Scottish government says that renewables are the future, so we need them to step up the plate. We want the U.K to benefit from renewables, both from manufacture and from the electricity generated. We don’t want them to be built offshore.”

In a topical question to the Scottish Parliament yesterday, Fife MSP David Torrence, whose constituency includes BiFab’s Methil site and neighbours the company’s Burntisland facility, asked Cabinet Secretary Keith Brown: “…it is clear that the workforce at BiFab are serious about playing their part in the company’s survival and future success. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the Scottish Government owes it to those workers to leave no stone unturned in finding a solution?”

The cabinet Secretary responded:  “I have also spoken directly to the trade unions and conveyed that we will do everything possible to support the workforce. I appreciate that this is a very concerning time for the workforce, but the Government is committed to doing everything that we can to find a positive solution to the situation.

Photo Credit: arnish yard

“I appreciate that this is a very concerning time for the workforce, but the Government is committed to doing everything that we can to find a positive solution to the situation. We want to see a solution at BiFab and ensure that Scottish engineering and manufacturing are central to the supply chain for the renewable energy sector and for oil and gas going forward.”

“We want to see a solution at BiFab and ensure that Scottish engineering and manufacturing are central to the supply chain for the renewable energy sector and for oil and gas going forward.”

On Monday, BiFab’s MD Martin Adam, Managing Director , said “We are very disappointed that we have found ourselves in the current position which has arisen as a result of a challenging situation in respect of our ongoing contracts which have been providing much needed employment locally in Scotland. We are seeking a rapid solution with our key stakeholders and the Scottish Executive to our current cash flow position and are hopeful that this can be achieved quickly to secure the future of the business and the 1,400 strong workforce.”

Gary Smith, GMB Scotland Secretary, said:

“This is a critical moment for the future of BiFab, its workers and the communities these yards support. Yesterday we were told that despite the evident problems, it would be business as usual and our members should report to work as normal. This morning we were told that there is no money to pay our members wages, stemming from a cash flow problem with the contractor Seaway Heavy Lifting (SHL).

“Everyone with an interest in these workers, their communities and the welfare of the Scottish economy must pull together now and the Scottish Government must lead this effort. This is a viable workforce and these are viable yards – important strategic assets – and they stand ready and able to help deliver the future of Scottish manufacturing. Letting these workers and their communities go under is not an option. We’ve got to battle for BiFab.”

Earlier this year, SHL became 100% owned by global engineering giant Subsea 7, who acquired K&S Baltic Offshore (Cyprus) Limited’s 50% shareholding in the company.

On 9th November 2017, Jean Cahuzac, Chief Executive Officer, said in the press statement of the company’s Q3 report :

“Good progress was achieved on the Beatrice wind farm project with almost all the piles installed by the quarter end. Installation of the wind turbine jackets by the heavy lift vessel Oleg Strashnov commenced in August and 24 jackets had been installed by the end of September. Several SURF projects were substantially completed in the third quarter including the Clair Ridge, Callater and Western Isles projects, offshore UK.”

The report confirmed:

“Third quarter revenue of $1,063 million was 15% higher than the prior year comparative period, largely due to increased activity in renewables partly offset by lower revenue from SURF projects.

“Subsea 7 guidance for the full year 2017 is unchanged. Revenue is expected to be higher in 2017 compared to 2016.”

#battleforbifab

 

 

 

 

 

 

UK jobless rate falls by 59,000

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Photo Credit: Ernestoeslava

BREAKING NEWS – The jobless rate in the UK has fallen by 59,000 in the past two years.

However overall employment throughout the UK has also decreased. The previous quarter saw 14,000 less jobs.

Unemployment has dropped by 0.05% within the past year down to 4.3%, marking a 42-year low.

Earnings by workers are beginning to catch up to inflation, rising 2.2%, yet it are still behind by 3%.

According to Bloomberg Brexit, here is the latest change in the GBP.

 

How Can Both Unemployment and Employment Fall Simultaneously?

While confusing at first, this is the result of more people dropping out of the workforce all together. Those who drop out of the workforce are viewed as being economically inactive, which rose in the last quarter.

They may have become economically inactive for one reason or another, such as those being primary care givers for family members or trading work for the classroom.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 151,000 people have become economically inactive in the last quarter.

Sturgeon says Yes to Brexit-vote could trigger Scottish Independence Referendum

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By Nicholas Mairs, Jasper Farrell & Frederik Gammelby

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that a Yes to June’s Brexit vote could trigger a new Scottish independence referendum. Her statement comes Monday after one of the most politically intense weekends in recent British EU-membership history.

Saturday saw Prime Minister David Cameron announcing that the Brexit referendum will be held on June 23rd this year, coming in the immediate wake of securing a reshaping of the British membership of the EU last week.

Despite Cameron himself being a supporter of staying in the EU he has already had to face multiple unforeseen consequences of finalizing the date for the Brexit vote – one of them being the reactions in Scotland.

The announcement of the Brexit referendum comes as a new cross-party Scottish independence movement, The Radical Independence Conference, was setup Saturday, pushing for a new Scottish independence referendum in 2021.

The SNP now has more then 150.000 members nationwide, but a new YouGov poll shows that only 36 per cent of Scots supports a new independence referendum within the lifetime of the next Scottish government. Meanwhile, 46 per cent of respondents in the YouGov poll also say that a new independence vote will be a bad thing for the Scottish economy.

The Brexit referendum has been announced just in time for Scottish parties beginning preparations for the Scottish General Election in May.

This story will be updated throughout the day.

 

RAC prediction for lower petrol prices confirmed

By Paloma Ferreira

The RAC’s prediction this week that the falling price of oil and supermarket competition for customers would lead to British drivers paying less than £1 a litre by Christmas has been confirmed.

The RAC is a transport organisation and a breakdown assistance service.

UK supermarket brand, Morrisons, has cut the price of unleaded petrol to below £1 a litre which is the lowest UK price level since 2009.

The supermarket chain announced that they would be selling unleaded at more than 99.9p per litre and cutting diesel by 1p a litre.

Morrisons’ petrol retail director Bryan Burger said: ‘Today, for the first time in more than six years, we are moving unleaded prices down to below £1 a litre. This is a moment where motorists will feel some relief after being clobbered by tax and price rises for the last decade.’

Other supermarket companies such as ASDA, have also announced lower prices.

ASDA is currently running a promotion for this weekend only, from Friday until Sunday, of unleaded petrol for 99.7p per litre and 103.7p a litre for diesel.

Speaking with the Edinburgh public, citizens had varying opinions on whether this change would affect them personally.

A university student said: ‘I have just gotten a car, and switching from paying for transport to petrol I haven’t seen much of a difference, however I will be traveling long distances for Christmas time so I might see a change there.’

A taxi driver said: ‘I think this petrol costs will have an impact on the long run.’

The average tank of petrol for a U.K. driver of medium car is £70 for about 55 litres. If the lower prices of petrol are sustained, the average car user could pay about £50 for the same amount of petrol.

The AA has released their fuel price report for November 2015. They state on their site that Scotland has recorded the highest diesel price at 110.7 p per litre. They also report that supermarket prices for unleaded have fallen to 105.5 p per litre and that the gap between supermarket prices and the UK average for unleaded has grown to 2.5 p per litre.

Niel Greig from the Institute of Advanced Motorists commented: ‘We can always welcome lower petrol prices, Scottish drivers have been paying some of the highest prices in Europe in fuel for many years now, so this is an early Christmas present which we hope will be sustained.’

He also commented on the amount one could save from the lower prices of petrol. Mr Greig said: ‘There have been some figures released by the AA, for each individual tankful its quite a low amount, just a few pounds, but for over a year you can save several hundred pounds.’

 

 

 

 

Hope for deal as Paris climate summit ends

By Frederik Gammelby

Negotiators at the COP 21 Paris climate conference are finalising an agreement among the 196 participating countries, the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said.

Last night, Mr Fabius called on the second all-night round of negotiations and has postponed the presentation of the deal to Saturday.

The outcome is expected to meet the key goal set out by the conference 11 days ago, that of limiting global temperature growth to a 2 degree Celsius increase over the next 100 years.

Members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, which consists of representatives from 113 low-lying countries vulnerable to rising sea levels, want to stick to a 1.5 degree Celsius increase.

Today’s negotiations will however concentrate on sorting out how finances to developing countries should be managed. The developed countries have demanded that developing countries cut back on emissions as well as improve their infrastructure. Securing transparency in the flow of climate finances to the developing countries is expected to be on today’s agenda.

Hector Grant, spokesman for the Scottish Energy Association, an energy industry members organisation said: ‘We are very pleased with the optimism coming from Paris. We would certainly welcome a deal at COP21.’

‘If policies are being put into place, the energy industries will take on the challenge of securing lower carbon emissions. There are lots of technologies for lowering carbon emissions, and a multitude of industries that can contribute to that.

‘Wind and solar power industries plays a key role in securing lower emissions, and the technologies becomes better all the time.’

Mr Grant also suggested that much more could be done to tackle carbon emissions: ‘The chemical industries and the transportation sector are for instance important in this regard.

‘However, we need to keep moving the goal posts. The government must focus on areas that needs to be developed, and help out via imposing tax breaks, legislation and so on.’

The talks in Paris have been seen as disappointing by some in terms of addressing the risk of land loss and migration issues.

University of Edinburgh Professor of Sociology and Scientific Knowledge Steven Yearley, while accepting that securing a deal in Paris would be a positive development, said: ‘If we are being serious about decarbonisation, we need to address all areas of this issue. For instance, the commercial aviation industry is constantly expanding globally, and we have no substitute for jet fuel. We need to ask ourselves how we can turn this thing around.

‘However, a deal in Paris will be very important for the global social awareness on the importance of climate issues. If we get a deal at COP 21, the participating countries will gone from having no deal, to have a tangible agreement which will obviously be important.’

Professor Yearley added that Scotland is ‘very well placed’ for decarbonisation. He said: ‘This deal could create the initiative for Scotland to become a clean energy exporter.’

Edinburgh Colleges cuts might cause job losses

Course cuts at Edinburgh College could result in job losses due to courses being cut, merged or shrunk.

 A spokesman from the Educational Institute of Scotland welcomed the college’s ‘belated’ recognition of the recruitment issue but added: ‘There’s inevitably that the fear of axing courses means axing jobs.’
Leaders at the college branch of the Educational Institute of Scotland, the country’s largest teaching union, have warned the institution is in’meltdown.’
They have called for suspension of the application process and course reviews until negotiations are complete.

 

The plan to cut and merge courses has been designed in response to new Scottish Funding Council (SFC) policies which imposes caps on the amount of money provided for each student.

A member of the Edinburgh College, Gordon Coutts said: ‘We do not know yet how many courses are going to be cut or merged.

‘We will re-plan the programme in the following weeks. We will focus on courses that students do not show such a big interest.’

Mr. Coutts continued: ‘We will try not to have job losses.’

Student association vice-president Jenni Behan said: ‘Since the Scottish Government embarked on its college merger programme, colleges have suffered crippling cuts. Edinburgh College has been hit incredibly hard.’

A spokesman for the Scottish Funding Council said:’We support Edinburgh College’s plans to tailor its courses to meet changing patterns of demand.’

The most up-to-date figures show there are 15,256 students currently attending college courses, 316 fewer than at the same point last year.

Preparations are under way to recruit an estimated 3500 additional students before the start of the January semester.

 

 

Unusual Christmas Markets on Sunday

By Ari Brynjolfsson.

Three ‘quirky’ Christmas markets will open this Sunday (13th December) in Edinburgh, according to events magazine Time Out.

In addition to the regular festive market, Edinburgh Printmakers will have a Christmas Market at their shop on Union Street, near Leith Walk.

The half-centennial fine art shop will offer a  variety of jewellery in addition to prints, books and textiles from local artisans.

Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair, Britain’s largest vintage fair, will host their Christmas Market in the Assembly Rooms on George Street.

In addition to vintage fashion, they also offer accessories, menswear, home wares and beauty products.

A spokesperson from the vintage shop said: ‘We’re going all out, bringing even more affordable vintage traders from our troupe to get you stocked-up with vintage. Traders will be showcasing some of their best new season stock.’

The Summerhall Christmas Market, to be set up near The Meadows, has promised more stalls than ever before.

In addition to gifts and treats, there will be food from guest vendors, traditional mulled wine from the venue’s bar and Zoom club activities for children. The Summerhall Singers will provide live entertainment with festive songs.

 

 

Study on Scotland’s most expensive streets is misleading

By Yaz Duncan

A recent study by the Bank of Scotland naming Northumberland Street as the most expensive in Scotland may be misleading according to local estate agents.

The study conducted by the bank named Northumberland Street in Edinburgh’s New Town as the most expensive street to buy property, with average house prices hovering around the £1.3million mark.

However, the study has faced criticism from estate agents who say that the statistic is not accurate because more expensive houses have been sold in the surrounding streets.

Peter Lyle, Director of Edinburgh Residential at Savills said: ‘We have sold a property in Northumberland Street for £1.7m, a little bit more actually. That is the most expensive this year.

‘Properties in the surrounding area have sold for more than £1.7m in streets like Heriot Row and Royal Circus. A whole townhouse there will be more expensive than in Northumberland Street.

‘The study is comparing apples and pears and is simply taking an average of what has been recently sold. If you look at some streets in St Andrews houses are selling for three or four million. It is an odd statistic.’

Despite the alleged inaccuracy of the study, Northumberland Street properties are still selling for higher than average prices and the New Town continues to be a desirable area.

Peter Lyle added: ‘Northumberland Street is in the heart of the New Town, walking distance from Princes Street and close to nice parks. It ticks the boxes for people wanting to live in the city centre.’

In response to suggestions by estate agents that the study is misleading Nitesh Patel, economist at the Bank of Scotland said: ‘We took the period from 2010-2015 and there had to a be a minimum of seven transactions over this period.

‘Northumberland Street meets that criteria with an average house price of over £1.3m. There is always research being done on expensive streets. We make clear that it has to be a minimum of seven transactions in five years.

‘We get data from the Registrar of Scotland. I don’t know what estate agents have  said but there will be one or two streets with more expensive sales but they would not meet our criteria.’

The average UK house price in 2015 was £197,000 but the number of homes in Scotland sold for more than £1m has more than doubled over the last 12 months. The capital boasts 13 of the 20 most expensive streets, Aberdeen have four and Glasgow have two.

 

Edinburgh Council Pledges First City-Wide Renewable Energy Plan

City of Edinburgh Council has unveiled a new sustainable energy action plan for the city, which aims to drastically reduce carbon emissions.

The Council’s Media Officer Noel Miller revealed that several organisations had met with council representatives on 1st December “to pledge their commitment to the City of Edinburgh Council led Sustainable Energy Action Plan (SEAP).”

The scheme marks the city’s first energy action plan, and aims to “transform the capital’s energy use by reducing demand and encouraging local generation.”

The decision comes as world leaders convene in Paris for the ongoing Climate Change Conference.

Several prominent businesses in the city have already pledged their support to the council’s action plan, including Edinburgh Napier University, Heriot-Watt University, NHS Lothian, Standard Life, and BT Scotland.

Environmental Convener at City of Edinburgh Council, Lesley Hinds said: “The SEAP is a city-wide plan, not just a council initiative. Everyone who lives and works in the city can play their part in reducing carbon emissions and the SEAP target is only achievable through city-wide support. The SEAP will seek to develop and therefore be constantly evolving to reflect this involvement with as many stakeholders as possible.

“The eight organisations who have pledged have a large sphere of influence throughout the city, and our combined efforts to find innovative solutions to energy requirements and to reduce our carbon emissions has the potential to make a much larger impact through this partnership.”

Jamie Pearson, Environment and Sustainability Manager for Edinburgh Napier University, commented that the university was “excited” to take part in the council’s scheme. “The plan itself actually ties in with a lot of what we do already at the university, though this is on a somewhat larger scale.

“What this also represents is a bigger partnership between the institutions of Napier, Heriot-Watt, Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College, as well as businesses such as RBS and Standard Life.”

Professor Gillian Hogg, Deputy Head of External Relations at Heriot Watt, said: “This is a practical step towards an ambitious goal. The proposed partnership would allow our staff and students to share that expertise and hopefully offer them practical opportunities to contribute towards the wider aims of the project.”

The Paris Climate Change Conference is expected to conclude on the 11th December. Edinburgh Council hopes that the conference will play a role in spurring the wider community to participate in the new energy scheme.

 

Murphy’s plan to devolve income tax control

By Paul Malik

Scottish Labour leadership candidate Jim Murphy has said he understands how much Scotland desires “change” in a speech proposing devolution of income tax powers made this morning.

Announcing from a campaign office in Glasgow, the MP for Falkirk said his proposal to devolve full powers over income tax if he was elected leader was a “big moment for the Scottish Labour Party and a big moment for Scotland.”

He said the commitment to introduce the powers, a policy previously opposed by the Scottish Labour Party, would show Scotland that Labour have “changed”, that they now “get it”, and, with him as leader, they will “stand up for Scotland”.

Mr Murphy said: “The difference between Scottish Labour and our opponents when it comes to constitutional reform is that we have never seen it as an end in itself but as a means to an end.

“We want the best constitutional settlement for Scotland because we want the best deal for Scotland.

“Our interest is in making devolution work, not simply in taking with one hand and demanding more with the other, regardless of the consequences.

“Even before the Smith Commission reports, we should agree to the full devolution of income tax to Scotland, if that is what emerges.”

A spokesman for Neil Findlay MSP, who is also in the running for leadership, said Mr Murphy’s stance on full devolution of income tax powers was “understandable”, but that if this was achieved, the party needed to ensure that Scotland was not “worse off.”

Mr Findlay’s spokesman said: “It’s all very well devolving [full control over income tax] but we’ve got to make sure that Scotland isn’t worse off.

“We have to ensure that as well as having the constitutional willingness for change, we also have the political willingness to prioritise change.”

The SNP have said that the people of Scotland “rightly expect” these powers and that in the past, Scottish Labour offered “less than the Tories.”

Stewart Maxwell MSP of the SNP said: “Voices across civic Scotland have already backed the devolution of extensive powers over tax and welfare, and people in Scotland rightly expect to see a broad range of taxation powers transferred beyond income tax.

“If Labour have now caught up on this one aspect, having offered even less than the Tories, I hope that they will back the calls by many independent organisations in Scotland for other tax and welfare powers to be devolved, such as the minimum wage.”

At a hustings event on Sunday, Mr Murphy said that Scottish Labour must “match” the “energy” that the SNP have for “constitutional nationalism” and appeal to the “hundreds of thousands of decent people who voted Yes, but are not nationalists.”

Mr Murphy has based his campaign on “bringing Scotland together”.

However, several senior Labour Party members have warned against the devolution of income tax powers.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown MP said that the move was a “Tory trap”.

The leadership campaign was triggered after former Scottish Labour Leader Johann Lamont resigned, claiming that several senior Labour Party MP’s were “dinosaurs” who treated the Scottish Labour Party as a “branch office”.

The Smith commission was set up in an effort to “further strengthen the powers of the Scottish Parliament within the UK” after Scotland voted to remain a part of Britain after September’s referendum.

The report is being compiled by Lord Smith, a cross party independent member of the House of Lords.

 

 

 

Leading economist backs North Sea tax breaks

By Paul Hyland

A leading UK energy economist has backed calls for tax reform for North Sea oil exploration and extraction.

Professor Alexander Kemp, Professor of Petroleum Economics and Director of Aberdeen Centre for Research in Energy Economics and Finance at the University of Aberdeen, has backed a report by Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce (AGCC) calling for tax cuts for the industry.

Professor Kemp said tax cuts were important to combat declining efficiency in the North Sea.

“The North Sea oil and gas industry is a maturing one and the recent performance has been one of declining production, declining production efficiency and declining exploration. We now have on top of all that, a substantial fall in the oil price which makes some future projects not yet sanctioned, non-commercial.

“The tax system needs to adjust to the new operating environment of much lower oil prices and high cost per barrel which is currently the position. So in the North Sea, for very old fields, we have a marginal rate of tax going up to 81 percent and for newer fields at 62 percent and certainly I go along with the idea that tax reform is needed in the present condition of the industry.”

The AGCC reported in their recent survey that 62 percent of oil and gas firms believed fiscal reform should be the government’s top priority.

The AGCC survey showed confidence had hit a six year low in the industry’s prospects among firms. They are calling for changes in fiscal policy for the industry in Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement on December 3rd.

However, environmental groups have argued it would be a mistake to give oil and gas firms a tax break.

WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said: “The science is clear. To reduce the risk of dangerous global climate change, the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves need to be left in the ground and not exploited. Therefore the last thing we need to see is even more tax breaks or subsidies for new North Sea oil drilling.

“We instead need to see an energy transition that enables us to harness the engineering skills currently deployed in the oil and gas industry and apply them to supporting a range of cleaner forms of energy production.”

Mary Church, Head of Campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland said: “If the UK Government is serious about tackling climate change it must refuse this request for yet more subsidies for these big corporations.

“Climate science tells us we need to leave 80 percent of known fossil fuels reserves in the ground so incentivising their further extraction is dangerous and shortsighted.

“We should instead be investing in clean, locally-owned renewables rather than propping up dirty energy companies.”

However, Professor Kemp argued: “Well that’s all fine, to put our effort into renewable energy and reducing the CO2 emissions but we should remember that you can’t just stop using oil and gas overnight, it has to be a gradual process, otherwise there would be tremendous disruption to the economy.

“The tax system in the North Sea is much tougher than it is for other industries. In other industries the tax rate is only 21% and will be 20% next year, so they get much more favourable treatment.

“If we just cut down on our production, then I’m afraid that what would happen would be that we would just import more from countries which are not taking many steps to reduce their emissions. It’s called the CO2 leakage point.

“If the production in the North Sea went down further, then we are not going to use less oil, we are just going to import it from countries from the Middle East and Africa where they are not doing anything to reduce emissions.”

 

Tram disruption to be discussed at council meeting

By Marion Guichaoua

A motion will be discussed by the Council this week about the traffic issues created by the tram’s installation and the new traffic lights in the city center.

The council have said: “The council notes with concern that, six months after the start of tram operations, the combination of traffic lights between Leith Street and Waverley Bridge are still causing considerable delays to traffic.

“Further notes that this effect has greatest impact on buses and cyclists but also affects general traffic and, occasionally, trams.

“Considering that long waits for west bound traffic, even for an east bound tram which will not cross the same path, are frustrating for travelers. “

The tram of Edinburgh is a 14-kilometre line between York Place in New town and Edinburgh Airport, with 15 stops.

The line opened on 31 May 2014.

The final cost of the tram is expected to top £1 billion.

Chris Hill, from the City Cycling Edinburgh Forum said: “There are all sorts of issues related to trams – not least people falling off on the tracks, particularly when wet.

“Most concerns about trams and traffic signals have been to do with the long delays caused by the timings. “

Councilor Whyte calls for a report to the Transport & Environment Committee within the two cycles setting out a full solution to this issue.

The council have refused to comment on the issue at this time.

 

 

 

National Lottery celebrates 20th anniversary

By Carolina Morais

Scottish organisations funded by the National Lottery Council have applauded its “vital” and “valuable” work, as it celebrates it’s 20th anniversary.

The Edinburgh-based charity ‘Dads Rock’, which provides bonding time for dads and their children, is set to expand after the National Lottery awarded it last month with £287,096.

A spokesperson from the organisation said: “We would not be able to function without the National Lottery’s funding. It has been absolutely vital. We have been benefiting since 2012 but this last amount we just got allows us to provide services for three years.

“We are going to run a young dads’ project and invest in parenting counseling . We estimate to help over 200 families in Edinburgh.”

The children’s charity ‘Woodcraft Folk’, focused on developing young people’s social and creative skills, also recognizes the importance of the National Lottery’s support.

A Scottish representative said: “It has been a very valuable help to our organisation. The money we received allowed us to employ more staff and to do more trials to test how to approach children and help them grow.

“Here in Scotland, for example, we were able to do what we called the ‘Summer Sessions 2013’, in Stirling, in which we made some real changes in children’s lives. It has definitely been a very successful partnership for us.

Nicola Bligh, from National Lottery Good Causes, said she is “extremely proud” of what the organisation has accomplished over the last 20 years.

“It has been incredibly important. We raised over 32 billion pounds, we have supported a lot of local projects and we have benefited peoples lives.

“It is amazing how you can benefit people everyday in ordinary sectors. And we created thousands of jobs and volunteering opportunities.

“We recently captured an image that will be released this Wednesday in which we gathered over 800 people from over 50 projects that benefited from our funding over the past 20 years. It is really moving to hear these stories. The numbers of our accomplishments are amazing, but the stories behind them are what really matters.”

Ms Bligh also said: “For the future, we hope more and more projects apply for our funding, which is very easy to do through our website. Our plan, of course, is to repeat what we did over the last 20 years just as successfully and keep changing people’s lives.”

To celebrate two decades of existence, the National Lottery is releasing a new video everyday at 6pm on its website until the 19th of November, allowing people to enter the prize draws which increase in value each day.

The first National Lottery draw was on 14 November 1994. According to the organisation, over 450,000 lottery-funded projects were accomplished and over 3,700 millionaires were made in the United Kingdom.

 

 

 

Historic Church to host Victorian Market

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View of Tron Kirk from the Royal Mile   Photo: Kim Traynor

By Jordan Hooks

Tron Kirk, a historic church located on the Royal Mile, has become the new location for a Victorian-style market.

Proposals to convert the A-listed church into a market say the church would become the new home to a dozen stalls selling pottery, jewelry, tweed and whisky. It will also include tourist information points.

[Read more…]

Universal Credit launched in Inverness

Credit Alumy

Credit Alumy

By Andy Little

One of the Government’s key Welfare Reforms was rolled out in Inverness on Monday 25th of  November.

Universal Credit replaces a number of Benefits for new claimants and is part of a controlled introduction across the United Kingdom. The scheme has already attracted criticism for problems with the Information Technology but a Department of Work and Pensions spokesperson refuted claims that the project was in trouble. The spokesperson said:”Universal Credit rolls six Benefits into one and is a vital reform to the Welfare State that rewards work.It started in Hammersmith last month and is up and running in the Greater Manchester and Cheshire area. It will expand to Harrogate, Bath and Shotton by the spring”

Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud said:”Universal Credit is modern Welfare that rewards people who move into work supports those who’ve fallen on hard times and is fair to the taxpayers. We are introducing Universal Credit in a slow safe and controlled way. This careful approach is working well and we are in a strong position as we bring Universal Credit to Inverness and Rugby for the first time. Most people are claiming it online, the Information Technology is working and comprehensive support is in place. We will build on there successes as Universal Credit rolls out….”

In Inverness, however Alasdair Christie the General Manager of  the Citizens Advice Bureau was not convinced. He remains sceptical of the Governments claims and expressed his concern about the extra numbers  of clients  who will need to use the service to claim on line. Christie said: “We have  instigated Saturday morning opening for claimants to make claims and allow them to manage claims online ….but away from Inverness people will struggle.”

He was also concerned about the impact of Universal Credit  being paid to one member of the household once a month. Christie said:”…..One payment a month is difficult for people to manage and could lead to an increase in payday loans….I am anxious not optimistic”

Highland Council have produced detailed guidance on their website for claimants and expect that initial uptake will be slow. Council staff have been  trained and are in a position to help by extending online access in agreed locations especially assisting vulnerable claimants to claim online.

The Highland Council joint report on Welfare Reform, by the Director of Finance and the Interim Director of Housing also noted some concerns  about the roll out. The report said:”There are a number of serious concerns about the potential impact of Universal Credit on tenants and council house  rental income. These include practical arrangements on data sharing between the council and the Department of Work and Pensions and arrangements  for implementing “switchback”payments, due to rent arrears”

Universal Credit replaces Income based Jobseekers Allowance, Income related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Working Tax credit, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit.

Retailers Braced For PlayStation 4 Launch

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Sony’s PlayStation 4, Credit: Sony

By Fraser Ryan

Retailers across the UK are preparing for the release of the latest round of next generation gaming consoles as Sony launches the PlayStation 4 this Friday.

Sony’s console will hit shelves exactly one week after rivals Microsoft launched their Xbox One unit.

A spokesperson for Edinburgh retail complex Fort Kinnaird has said the park is prepared for an increase in customer activity this weekend and in the run up to Christmas. The spokesperson said: “We have already noticed an increase in shoppers as we get closer to Christmas and with the PS4 launching this weekend, we’re expecting even more people down at Fort Kinnaird to pick up the console and avoid disappointment.”

High street chain GAME have expressed their elation ahead of Friday’s launch. Martyn Gibbs, CEO of GAME said: “The excitement and anticipation for the PS4 launch is absolutely massive. We’re stepping into the next generation of gaming and this really is a fundamental shift for the industry.”

Gibbs went onto say his company feel this console cycle will prove to be the biggest ever, and GAME have made a point to make sure its customers do not miss out. Gibbs said: “The PS4 launch is going to surpass anything Playstation has done before – our pre-order numbers are around four times higher than the PS3 and we’re seeing those numbers grow every day. We’re delighted that we are able to bring additional last-minute stock to the UK market and keep delivering for the UK gaming communities and we can’t wait for the official launch.”

Online retailer Amazon have expressed their belief the PlayStation 4 will prove to be one of the biggest must-have gadgets this Christmas. Xavier Garambois, Vice-President of EU Retail for Amazon said: “[The PlayStation 4 is] a favourite for Christmas lists in 2013, we can expect these consoles to be keeping children and adults alike entertained on Christmas day and into 2014.”

PlayStation 4 is available from Friday 29th of November.

Royal Mail’s Profits Rise

Royal Mail worker. Credit: Kumar Sriskandan/Amlamy

Royal Mail worker. Credit: Kumar Sriskandan/Amlamy

By Stuart Iversen

The Royal Mail announced today an increase in its half-year profits.  It is their first announcement since they went public and were shared on the London stock market last month.

The report shows the company has made a pre-tax profit of £1.58 billion, for the six months leading up to the 29th September.  However, this has been boosted by the companies recent pension reform and its removal drops the profit down to £233 million.  A number that is still up on the £94 million from the previous year.

The Royal Mail’s Chief Executive Officer,Moya Greene, said: “Our first-half financial performance was in line with our expectations of delivering low single digit revenue growth and margin expansion. The combination of increasing earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) and moderating investment spend underpins value creation for our shareholders.”

The increase follows a 60 percent stake of the company being floated on the London Stock Exchange last month, at a price of 330p per a share.  The stock quickly soared in value, leading many to claim it had been undervalued.  An issue that will see Business Secretary Vince Cable facing a select committee hearing, where they will discuss whether he and the bank priced the shares too low, shortchanging the British public.

Despite all this, the revenue that is accounted for by letters has continued to fall.  With it now accounting for 5 percent less than it did this time last year.  However, the revenue coming in for parcels has risen with it now covering 51 percent of all revenue.  A rise of 9 percent from last year.

The Head of Equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, Richard Hunter, said: “The combined UK Parcels and General Logistics Systems (GLS) divisions now account for just over half of group revenue, which provides both opportunities as well as potentially inviting more entrants into a fiercely competitive space.”

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

Independence Risk for Scottish Banknotes

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SNP plans to keep the pound in the event of Scottish independence have been dealt a blow, with a Treasury report set to indicate that a currency union could lead to the end of Scottish banknotes.

The Scottish government has proposed plans to retain the pound as part of a “sterling zone” with the rest of Britain if Scotland votes in favour of independence. But the Treasury will claim that Scottish independence would “fundamentally transform” the Bank of England’s role in Scotland.

Experts have warned that the Scottish government would need to reach an agreement over Scottish banks rights to issue their own notes. If such an agreement wasn’t reached, it could lead to Scottish notes losing their value, or being rejected altogether, elsewhere in the U.K.

However the SNP have maintained that there is no threat to their plans to keep the pound, dismissing dears that it would affect the situation with Scottish banknotes as “scaremongering”.

A spokesperson said ““The existing situation relating to Scottish banknotes will remain in place within a post-independence currency union.”

SNP MP Stewart Hosie this morning hit back at claims that the value of Scottish notes might be affected, telling the BBC “Every single Scottish note in circulation is fully covered by assets held by the Bank of England, which guarantees its value. That wouldn’t change under independence.”

The debate comes after Alistair Darling, head of the Better Together campaign, voiced his concerns about SNP plans to the Scottish Labour conference at the weekend. Adressing the conference in Inverness, Mr Darling said that nationalist arguments for currency “fall apart” when questioned, claiming that the government was being “evasive” over the issue.

He said “In the last 12 months alone, they have gone from being in favour of the euro to using the pound, to now saying they will have a currency union. In order to keep the pound, the nationalists now say we would have to enter in to a currency union. Yesterday Nicola Sturgeon was saying that of course within a currency union you could do what you want, there would be no constraints, you could spend money on what you want. That is utter nonsense.”

Which currency should an independent Scotland use? Have your say in our poll on the issue.

Triumph for Edinburgh’s small businesses

by Shiv Das

A global leader in document generation, and a small business specialising in eco-friendly packaging and catering disposables made from plants, are amongst four Edinburgh companies which have picked up Queen’s Awards, announced yesterday.
HotDocs , which allows customers to convert documents into process applications, can already boast an impressive resume of achievements including the Law Office Computing Reader’s Choice Award for Document Assembly and the TechnoLawyer Reader’s Choice Award for Document Assembly and Automation. They achieved a Queens Award in International Trade.

Vegware, was the only Edinburgh-based company to win an award under the ‘Sustainable Development’ category. Their innovation and success has seen them named best small company in Britain, and win the £10,000 Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Streamline UK company of the year award . They are now in talks to set up an office in Australia, and the company’s new city headquarters, three times the size of it’s current office, is set to open next month. Their award-winning packaging is made from low-carbon, recycled and renewable materials. Joe Frankler, Managing Director and Founder, said ‘The Queen’s Award is royal recognition that Vegware is making a positive contribution to the UK economy and global sustainability, and the competitive FSB Streamline Awards celebrates Vegware as the UK’s best small business’’.

vegware pic
The other Edinburgh businesses to win Queens Awards were Petroleum Experts Limited, an engineering company which creates a set of petroleum engineering software tools, and brewing giant The Innis & Gunn Brewing Company. Both won awards under the ‘International Trade’ section.

Interview with Lucy Frankel, Communication Manager of Vegware.

Pounds, McPounds or Euros?

Alistair Darling described an independent Scotland entering into a Sterling currency union as “a straightjacket”, implying that England would call the shots in such a scenario.

What currency would you like to spend in an Independent Scotland?

Royal Mile Action Plan

Edinburgh City Council has put forward a draft of the Royal Mile Action Plan earlier this year in order to make the capital’s most famous street more appealing for its visitors from home and abroad. The future of the Royal Mile is to be considered in a consultation exercise

The council has organized a number of workshops in the area to discuss the future of the Royal Mile with stakeholders as well as local residents.

Issues suggested for consideration by the Council include traffic flows and the mix of retail outlets. Many of those operating businesses in the street have said they are busier than ever, but some visitors have said they were let down by their overall experience of the area.

The last two workshops will take place on Wednesday 17 April 2013 in Trinity Apse and on Tuesday 23 April 2013 in Riddle’s Court. The closing date for comments on the Royal Mile Action Plan is 17 May 2013.

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