Jul 162015
Christian Allard at Instant Neighbour foodbank

Christian Allard MSP at Instant Neighbour Foodbank, Aberdeen

With thanks to Lee Robb, Caseworker to Christian Allard MSP.

North East MSP, Christian Allard, has welcomed the news that Aberdeenshire is ahead of Scotland’s capital city in terms of average disposable income. However, the SNP MSP warns that a rising number of foodbanks in the region indicates that many families are being left behind.

This comes in response to a recently released study conducted by SPICE (Scottish Parliament Information Centre) that reviewed levels of average disposable income in areas of Scotland, compared to the UK average.

The SPICE study reports on figures from 2013 and showed Scotland’s average disposable income to be at £17,039 – compared to the UK average of £17,599.

Commenting on the findings, Mr. Allard said:

“The good news is that people are prospering here in the North East. However, it cannot be ignored that there has been a rise in foodbanks in Aberdeenshire over the past few years.

“This is a clear indication that there is an imbalance of wealth and opportunity, leaving families behind to rely on charitable food parcels.

“This, in the most affluent area of the country, is frankly unacceptable. This year, we saw an Aberdeen-based foodbank running out of food!”

Aberdeen’s Instant Neighbour foodbank appealed for help in March after running out of supplies and having to turn away families. Mr. Allard has volunteered with local foodbank collections in Aberdeenshire, the latest one being at the beginning of this month.

“People in Aberdeenshire know the problems that some families face. Unrelenting cuts to basic welfare needs have meant that families cannot sustain themselves. It was incredibly touching to see such a great contribution from the local community to Inverurie Tesco’s push for foodbank donations.

“I would like to congratulate the local Tesco store for their efforts, and thank all those who donated to this cause.”

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Feb 122015

MartinFordatUTGWith thanks to Martin Ford.

Two Aberdeenshire councillors are calling for an end to the Council Tax freeze as their council faces up to £50 million in budget cuts over the next four years.

The call comes in the week Aberdeenshire and other councils across Scotland set their revenue budgets for the next financial year.

“This cannot go on,” said Green councillor Martin Ford.

“It’s the elephant in the room on budget day. Most councillors know the Council Tax freeze is unsustainable, but aren’t prepared to say so.”

Allowing for inflation, a freeze in cash terms is actually a real-terms cut in income to the Council. Meanwhile, Aberdeenshire is having to plan for demand-led spending pressures due to rising school rolls and increasing numbers of very elderly people.

“The inevitable consequence of a continuation of the Council Tax freeze is more cuts in public services,” said Democratic Independent councillor Paul Johnston.

“Expecting the Council to do more with less, year after year, is not realistic.”

The Scottish Government has ensured that councils do not increase the Council Tax by threatening a lower grant settlement if the Council Tax is increased – ensuring any reasonable increase in Council Tax would leave the council in an even worse position financially than maintaining the Tax freeze.

“Local Government has effectively been reduced to local administration,” said Cllr Martin Ford.

“The Council’s total budget is essentially decided for it by the Scottish Government. The councillors are just left with deciding which are the least damaging cuts to make – the alternative option of avoiding cuts by raising some additional tax revenue having been blocked.

“The decision on the balance to strike between cutting council services or raising some additional tax income should be taken locally, not by the SNP government in Edinburgh.”

The current Band D Council Tax in Aberdeenshire is £1,141. A one per cent increase would result in a Band D rate of £1,152, or eleven pounds a year more, only 21 pence extra per week. An increase equal to the current Retail Price Index (RPI) of 1.6 per cent would see the Aberdeenshire Band D Council Tax set at £1,159.

“Scottish Government politicians must trust the people of Aberdeenshire with tax raising powers, in the same way as they want tax powers from Westminster,” said Cllr Paul Johnston.

“This is all about trust on tax. Trust Aberdeenshire to take decisions on tax for Aberdeenshire.”

Cllr Ford added:

“Even a one per cent rise in the Council Tax would prevent some cuts in public services,”

Aberdeenshire Council is budgeting for a Council Tax income in the next financial year of £124.658 million. A one per cent increase in the Council Tax would increase revenue to £125.905 million. An RPI-linked 1.6 per cent increase in the Council Tax would bring the Council almost £2 million extra income.

“An extra £2 million annual income would certainly not enable the Council to avoid cutting some services over the next several years,” said Cllr Paul Johnston.

“But it would prevent the most undesirable cuts.”

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Feb 122015

Alex-Salmond-cropWith thanks to Ann-Marie Parry.

Alex Salmond MSP has written to three Inverurie businesses to congratulate them on their success at the Scottish Independent Retail Awards.

The Aberdeenshire East MSP also lodged a motion at the Scottish Parliament in recognition of the awards.

Davidsons Butcher won the Butcher Shop of the Year for the North East area, Mitchells Dairy won Convenience Store of the Year for the North West region and the town’s Vanity won the Fashion/Accessories Retailer of the Year accolade for the North East.

The awards were announced on Sunday night at an awards ceremony in Glasgow.

Aberdeenshire East MSP Alex Salmond said:

“Inverurie has a wealth of independent retailers who offer so much variety and quality to local residents and visitors.

“I am delighted that these businesses have been recognised for all the hard work they do in promoting local produce and supporting the local economy.

“Both owners and staff alike should be very proud of their achievements.”

Salmond also welcomed new figures showing that Scotland is on course to exceed the target of 25,000 new Modern Apprenticeships this year – including a total of 1,034 starts in Aberdeenshire.

The figures released by Skills Development Scotland show that by the end of the third quarter of 2014/15 there were 19,517 modern apprenticeship starts in Scotland – 78 per cent of the total annual target and a two per cent increase on the same point last year.

Alex Salmond MSP said:

“These very welcome figures are testament to the Scottish Government’s commitment to investing in youth employment – creating almost 100,000 new apprenticeship opportunities over the last four years including a total of 1,034 starts in Aberdeenshire in 2014/15 so far.

“Apprenticeships play a key role in the Scottish Government’s efforts to promote youth employment and these figures are further evidence of the real results being achieved for young people across Aberdeenshire– but there is always more which could be done.

“With the full range of economic powers in Scotland’s hands rather than Westminster’s we can do even more to boost youth employment and give local young people the opportunities they deserve.

“It is time for the ‘extensive’ new powers we were promised from Westminster to be delivered to the Scottish Parliament as this would allow us to do even more to support young people in Aberdeenshire in to work.”

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Dec 112014

With thanks to Richard Bunting. 

SCRT piggybank moneyScottish Community Re:Investment Trust, a new independent charity aiming to transform how Scotland’s third sector uses and thinks about its finances, has been launched.
The trust’s first initiative is a specially designed new savings account to be introduced at today’s Glasgow Social Enterprise Trade Fair.

With a lack of Scottish-focused banks offering any longer a transparent way for people or third sector organisations to invest in line with their values – and with the existing financial framework failing to adequately meet the needs of charities and socially focused organisations – the trust is setting out to create radical change.

It plans to help independent charities and socially beneficial organisations to harness their collective assets, strengthen their financial expertise and gain access to financial services tailored to their specific needs.

The new Anchor Savings Account – provided by Airdrie Savings Bank, Britain’s last independent savings bank – offers a fresh and tailored focus for third sector savings. By connecting hundreds of separate accounts beneath one umbrella, the pioneering account will increase the impact of the sector’s shared financial clout.

“Scotland’s third sector, which does huge amounts of public good, desperately needs access to a financial infrastructure that matches its values and ways of working. For charities and socially beneficial organisations, the current financial system is broken beyond repair – leaving them hampered by scattered resources, unsuitable products and unmet needs,” said Deirdre Forsyth, Chair of Scottish Community Re:Investment Trust.

“By acting together and harnessing its collective assets – and by strengthening its understanding and knowledge of socially responsible use and management of money – the third sector can use its substantial financial resources to invest in its own future in alternative and better ways than is currently possible.”

Scotland’s third sector includes an estimated 45,000 different and richly varied organisations. Its investable assets have been calculated to be approximately £3.8 billion, according to the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations – but these substantial resources are currently spread across financial institutions that are mostly uninterested in the third sector’s work or needs.

If just one per cent of these assets were invested more strategically, it could transform the sector’s economic independence and its influence on banking practices.

Malcolm Hayday, Advisor to Scottish Community Re:Investment Trust, said:

“By building a common, collective and shared wealth there is huge scope for organisations to invest in and support the development of the wider third sector – recycling its investment resources and creating significant benefits for its crucial work for society, our environment and people’s well-being. In the sector, we focus on the positive impact of everything we do except when it comes to our financial reserves.”

Scottish Community Re:Investment Trust cites evidence of widespread third sector dissatisfaction with current financial services. This includes recent research for Charity Bank, which revealed that although 65% of respondents believed that loans can benefit charities’ work, only 31% of those approaching a high street bank for a loan took one, 29% were declined and 40% could not take up offered loans because of onerous terms.

With many UK social investment schemes underpinned by a focus on private investor returns rather than social, environmental and wider economic benefits, third sector organisations can also struggle to meet increasing expectations that their business decisions should be ethically based.

Another problem is that while a key third sector role is to act as society’s social antennae – identifying new needs, and inventing and testing new social solutions – such work is traditionally unbankable, often being viewed as too experimental and risky for commercial and even many social funders. Yet the sector needs supplies of relatively small amounts of high-risk investment, as well as micro loans and unsecured loans, to incubate new generations of start-ups.

Although the social finance market within the UK – and especially Scotland – is relatively small, since the financial crisis it is gaining recognition as an important funding source for third sector organisations, including the supply of early stage investments and start-ups, fostering innovation and supporting community-based investments.

But as the third sector’s resource needs increase – and as its requirement to invest in its own future becomes more acute – its members will need to act together more whenever possible.

As it explores the third sector’s appetite to work across Scotland in a new, more cooperative way on finance, Scottish Community Re:Investment Trust’s own long-term future will depend on the response of the sector. The Anchor Savings Account allows organisations to choose to donate a proportion of earned interest to the trust – allowing the charity to become self-sustaining following an initial period of grant funding.

Discussions are underway with several organisations to act as early standard bearers for the new initiative.

The trust has been established with a founding Board and team with extensive experience of social banking institutions and the third sector, founded by several organisations – Senscot, CEIS, Penumbra and Ekopia – and chaired by Deirdre Forsyth, Chair of ScotWest Credit Union. It is registered as a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO) and is to be owned and managed by Scotland’s third sector.

During an initial two-year implementation phase, the trust will build its membership amongst Scotland’s third sector organisations, from which a new board will be elected in late 2015. For more information, visit www.scrt.scot.

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Jun 062014

Banff & Buchan MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford has praised volunteers at South Church Hall, who have helped support local families over the past year.

MP 2014 Joseph Storehouse1Dr Whiteford met with volunteers Linda and John Sorrie, and Evie Watt on Thursday, to discuss the work the food-bank is doing locally.

The South Church Hall facility operates on the basis of referrals from Home Start North East Aberdeenshire, and currently supports six local families. The need, however, is estimated to be much greater.

Volunteer Linda Sorrie said:

“I have no doubt whatsoever that many more people need a bit of help when it comes to buying shopping. However, many will be too proud to accept a food parcel.”

Dr Whiteford said afterwards:

“Linda, John and Evie deserve our admiration for the time and hard work they have put into this project. That a volunteer group can do so much good is testimony to the strength of the community in Fraserburgh, the generosity of the congregation at South Church, and the kindness of those who have donated food and money.

“The fact, however, is that in this day and age, we shouldn’t need food banks. Leaning on the generosity of volunteers should not and cannot be a substitute for a properly funded system of social protection, and we have reached this stage because of swingeing UK Government cuts, which have hit families on low incomes hardest.

“Constituents can be assured that I will continue to pursue the ConDem UK Government on their reckless austerity agenda that is hitting people on low incomes the hardest. However, the only way to banish coalition austerity for good is by bringing full control of tax and benefits to the Scottish Parliament.”

The Scottish Government has recently announced a £500,000 Emergency Food Fund, to compliment the £500,000 already committed to charity FareShare for distribution of surplus food from retailers. The new fund will be used to respond to increasing demand for food banks, as well as responding to the underlying causes of food poverty.

Grants are on offer to food aid organisations in Scotland, and interested bodies should apply by July 11, via the Scottish Government’s website at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/People/welfarereform

The volunteers at Fraserburgh South accept donations of food and money. These can be donated through Home Start North East Aberdeenshire on 01346 518930, or dropped off at Fraserburgh South Church Hall, Seaforth Street, Fraserburgh. Anyone in need of assistance from the food bank should contact Home Start NEA for a referral.

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Dec 132013

unison grampianWith thanks to Hall Hamilton Harper.

Due to the high cost of living in the Grampian Region, health union UNISON are campaigning for pay equality in the area to help alleviate recruitment and retention issues in the oil capital of Europe and provide local NHS workers with a reasonable living wage.

The matter of a High Cost Area Supplement for NHS staff in Grampian was raised during Portfolio Questions in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday 11th December (question number 8).

In response, Health Secretary Alex Neil said:

 “I do not believe that a High Cost Area Supplement would be appropriate.

“I think that when you get into that you have to look at other parts of the country, for example one of the major shortages in the Western Isles is finding a maintenance engineer because of the renewable energy’s success in the Western Isles.

“Do we then introduce a high cost living supplement or a skills shortage supplement for the Western Isles?”

Responding to Mr Neil’s comments Laura McDonald, Branch Secretary for UNISON Grampian Health Branch commented:

“Our claim is for our members in the Grampian region who are struggling to make ends meet due to the very high costs associated with living in the area”

Ruaraidh MacKinnon, Branch Treasurer for UNISON Grampian Health Branch added:

“The Western Isles was a great example for Mr. Neil to use as it already has an allowance that is paid to all Western Isles staff – it’s called a Scottish distant islands allowance.

“The High Cost Area Supplement for Grampian is about much more than an isolated incidence of a difficult to recruit post, it is about the huge difference in the general costs of living within the Grampian area when compared to neighbouring boards.”

The figures produced by UNISON show that low paid NHS employees in Aberdeen only have, on average, £76.64 per month left to live on after deductions for rent, council tax and ‘bus travel compared with their counterparts in Dundee and Inverness who are left with £483.67 and £396.33 respectively.

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Nov 082013

By Duncan Harley

clock changing177

Aberdeen Voice is not currently considering teaming up with Home Energy Scotland to reflect on the situation of the 8000 or so citizens receiving the now abolished Incapacity Benefit in and around Scotland’s Granite City.
ESA, or Employment Support Allowance, seems to be the current title and seemingly:

“Claimants already receiving Incapacity Benefit, Income Support paid because of an illness or disability or Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA) continued to receive those benefits as long as they remained eligible. However, the government announced in 2010 that these claimants would all be migrated to ESA between spring 2011 and 2014.”

Hopefully this migration has taken place since fuel bills are going up yet again by another 8% or so, and with that in mind it is time to consider energy saving measures. You may feel disempowered, you may be on benefits or you may simply feel overwhelmed by the problem of how to keep warm this winter.

With those clocks changing and the outside temperature sliding downwards, it’s time to take control and manage your energy use in the 21st Century.

Top tips include:

  • Home Heating: Did you know that by just turning down your home thermostat by just 1 degree you can cut your home heating bill by 10%?  Great news for your bank balance.
  • Your floor: Did you know that by insulating an under floor space and sealing those pesky gaps around your skirting boards you could save 1% of your annual spend on household heating? Great news for your bank balance.
  • Loft insulation: Did you know that most heat is lost via the roof? By making sure you have the recommended 270mm of insulation recommended by the government you could save around 30% on your annual bills for home heating. Great news for your bank balance.
  • Cremation: Did you know that the average cremation consumes around £200 of carbon rich resources. Many families choose cremation because it’s seen as a more environmentally friendly route than a traditional burial.  Embalming, expensive sealed caskets and burial vaults are not required by law and although traditional memorial parks may require them, a green cemetery or memorial nature preserve does not.  The simplicity of a green burial is in tune with nature and need not be expensive. Great news for your bank balance.

A green burial can relieve your loved ones of the distress that comes in having to make difficult, and often costly, decisions after your passing.  Involve your friends and family now, so difficult decisions do not need to be made in a time of grief. Great news for your bank balance.

frond177A green burial is a cremation alternative, and a viable alternative to traditional burial practices in the UK.  It is an eco-earth friendly option when considering burial vs cremation.

Home Energy Scotland?  Seems it’s at http://www.kennymacaskill.co.uk/news/home-energy-scotland/

It is apparently a one stop shop for people looking to save energy and lower fuel bills during the winter months.

Measures include offering free energy saving gadgets worth £50 in the form of a digital electricity monitor and a stand-by plug which will help households to save, on average, £47 a year on fuel bills and CO2 that would fill 361 wheelie bins.

Great news for your bank balance.

Kenny MacAskill MSP says:

“The range of help available through the Home Energy Hotline includes free or discounted insulation, central heating, help to switch to cheaper tariffs and help to ensure people are claiming their full pension and benefit support.

“By offering this help the Scottish Government are once again ensuring people are able to stay warm and keep their bills down this winter. If we see a winter similar to last year this will be a very welcome measure. The free energy-saving devices and other help will assist households in saving money at a time when everyone is counting the pennies.

“I would encourage anyone in Edinburgh East & Musselburgh who is unsure of what they can do to call the Home Energy Hotline on 0800 512 012.”

Great news for your bank balance.

The government and the energy companies wish you well this winter but advise you to remember to turn down your thermostat.

They also would like to take this opportunity to remind you that a warm home is a privilege not a right.

Great news for your bank balance.

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Aug 092013

Mike Shepherd examines social and economic changes which can been seen to have a wide reaching environmental impact from the rain forest of Borneo to the toads of Bishops Loch.

In May this year I returned from Borneo after working there for nine months.

I was living in a city slightly larger than Aberdeen, and although located in Malaysia, over half the inhabitants there are ethnic Chinese.

My hotel apartment was in the Chinese district and I found myself one of only a handful of westerners living there.

The Malaysian people pride themselves on their scrupulous racial tolerance and never at any time did I feel uncomfortable living among them.

I soon made several Chinese friends and found myself quickly immersed in their way of life. I’ve been told that the Chinese of Borneo have preserved more of their age-old culture than is the case on the Chinese mainland, where modernisation and globalisation are changing things rapidly.

I felt a lot like a modern age Marco Polo as I learnt with great interest about subjects such as Taoism, Feng Shui and numerology. My Malaysian Chinese friends were pragmatic, extremely business focussed, and yet the most superstitious people I’d ever come across.

One morning in Borneo, I woke up smelling wood smoke. I looked out from the 17th floor of the apartment block where I lived, and saw smoke billowing over the low ridges to the east of the city. Billowing smoke is a common sight in this part of the world, and is the result of scrubland being burnt off in preparation for the laying out of palm oil plantations, or land for crops.

The scrubland is what remains after tropical rain forest has been chopped down. The tropical forest is disappearing in Borneo: one estimate puts the rain forest cover at less than 50%. The tropical hard wood is sold to countries such as India, and it’s a highly profitable business.

The sight and smell of the wood smoke upset me greatly. It’s a sign of how the tropical rain forest is dwindling and it’s also a health hazard. The smoke is carcinogenic, yet none of the authorities would do anything to stop it from drifting over the city. A taxi driver told me that on occasions the smoke in the city would become so dense that it would be almost impossible to drive safely.

Singapore was similarly  affected in June this year.

On the day that I first smelled wood smoke, I mentioned this to my Chinese friends over a beer in the evening. I made some comment about how sad it was that we should have to tolerate the toxic smoke, in the full knowledge of the loss to humanity of such a valuable resource as the tropical rain forest.

Not only were our lungs being assaulted but the “lung” that provided oxygen to the world was being destroyed piecemeal.

The biodiversity catastrophe taking place would impoverish the whole of humanity and not just the people in Borneo.

These comments were received in stunned silence.

Then one of my friends spoke in an angry tone:

“YOU PEOPLE. How can you come here and say things like that?” 

I was immediately alarmed, a subject of extreme sensitivity had clearly been broached. Not only that, the vehemence of the reply was totally out of place in a culture where there is a taboo against displaying strong emotions in public.

What followed was an explanation of what had upset them so much and I write here the gist of what they said to me.

The logging industry and palm oil plantations are major sources of employment in the area, together with the oil industry and a little bit of tourism. There is no manufacturing industry in Borneo; it’s too far off the shipping lanes to have got caught up in the tiger economy of Southeast Asia. Jobs in logging and palm oil provide income for the locals.

The alternative is the poverty that is all too visible in parts of the city. Although Malaysia is relatively prosperous, you can still find illegal shanty towns or ‘kampungs’, which are typically where immigrants from Indonesia and the Philippines live. The week after I arrived, an epidemic of cholera had broken out in a kampung in the neighbouring city; a sign of the very poor sanitary conditions in these places.

My friends had told me on other occasions about poverty in Southeast Asia. For example, the poor of Indonesia sustain themselves with what they call “second-hand rice”. This is boiled rice left over from cafes and restaurants which is treated by being left to dry in the sun. The rice is then broken up and bagged, ready to be sold very cheaply to those who can’t even afford fresh rice.

perhaps both sides of the argument are perfectly reasonable

As we sat drinking Tiger Beer in the local Chinese café, they asked me “Would you want us to be that poor by denying us jobs?” The subject was quickly changed and we found something a lot more jolly to talk about. Social harmony is highly valued in that part of the world.

In the final analysis, most people reading this in Aberdeen, I would guess, will probably agree with me; whereas most people in Borneo would take the opposing view. My take on this is that perhaps both sides of the argument are perfectly reasonable. It’s an example of how you can frame two distinct and opposing statements that are both equally valid and show impeccable internal logic.

I would still strongly concur with what I said, and yet I would also agree with my Chinese friends. I wouldn’t want them to suffer the deprivations of Asian poverty. Not them, not anybody.

How do you solve this dilemma? The region of Borneo I was working in, Sarawak, has a population of only 2.4 million. This is less than half the population of Scotland, yet Sarawak covers a large area. Perhaps it might be possible to achieve a sustainable economy that would provide work for the local population and still preserve what is left of the tropical rain forest?

Alas, this was not a topic for serious conversation in the Chinese café, it was just too naïve a suggestion to make in that part of the world. Rich and powerful people are making big money out of logging and they couldn’t care less about the environment. The mentality of exploiting any resources you can, to make money, is at any rate embedded in the local way of life at all levels, and few see any problem with that.

The threat of ever-present poverty is a big driver for this attitude.  Borneo is a simple case history that shows that without international effort to achieve a sustainable solution for the world’s environmental problems, the situation will only carry on until everything is gone.

What’s happening in Borneo is a story that is being repeated all over the tropics and elsewhere in the world. Let’s not be too smug: closer to home, it’s not too difficult to find similar examples of catastrophic loss of biodiversity.

One example I know about comes from the Bishops Loch in Parkhill near Dyce. Bishops Loch is about 9 acres in area and is named after the now ruined Bishop’s Palace located on the north bank of the loch. The Palace, in reality a small house- sized building, was owned by the medieval Bishop of Aberdeen.

The loch used to be well known for its large population of toads which could be heard croaking on a summer’s evening.  However, the introduction of the oil industry inadvertently wiped out the entire toad population.

The toads would overwinter in Parkhill Wood, a behaviour that involved migrating from the loch and crossing the adjacent B997 road.

This was not that hazardous a trip in the 1960s, but when oil company offices and warehouses opened up in Dyce in the 1970s, the B997 became a much busier road. It was being used as a popular rat run to get from the Bridge of Don to Dyce. The toad population started to plummet as more and more were run over by cars during their winter migration across the road.

A local resident contacted the then Grampian Council at the end of the 1970s and asked for a tunnel to be built under the road as a means of preserving the toad population. This was not taken seriously. No doubt the council officials felt they had better things to spend ratepayers’ money on than an escape route for toads. Economics tends to win out over the environment most of the time.

The world is living an unsustainable ‘jam today, bread tomorrow’ way of life. Our current standard of living is at the expense of an indeterminate future.  Here in Scotland, our municipal authorities have a combined debt of £11 billion and it is increasing fast, year-on-year. Loading debt is the only way they can manage their budget obligations.

It will be an unwelcome legacy to our children and grandchildren, who will just have to cope with it if they can. Likewise, we are unsustainably exploiting the environment and for those of us who don’t eat second-hand rice, we are doing reasonably comfortably out of it so far.

The wild things are going fast, be it in Borneo or Bishops Loch. Academic biologists actively discuss the idea that we are currently heading for a man-made mass extinction event.

There are too many people in the world. Our planet has coped with 7 billion people on the planet so far, and the numbers are increasing fast. Four babies are being born every second: 200,000 additional people are being added to the world’s population every day.

Modern technology and transport have allowed humans to cope with these enormous numbers; they would be impossible otherwise.  As a species we are coping after a fashion, albeit with enormous stress on an environment that hasn’t quite collapsed totally, not yet anyway. However, we are on our way to eating everything that can be eaten and stripping everything else bare too.

The biodiversity catastrophe in the world today is very real and it could easily lead to human catastrophe as well. Without awareness of the issue, and concerted action, we could all share the fate of the toads in Bishops Loch.

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Jul 022013

By Duncan Harley.

It’s not often that I am gob smacked. The two recent Iraqi wars and the invasion of Afghanistan by the so called coalition forces are in some eyes mad events, but in a strange sort of way seem understandable if you know anything much about the Great Game or Afghan history.

The resultant Twin Towers revenge attack, despite the awfulness of the event and the aftermath, were also understandable from some world perspectives. Not that I am defending the perpetrators of any these acts of course.

However the invasion of Aberdeen by IKEA is perhaps a step too far.

I have of course, recently moved house and have suffered from the complete collapse of most of my bedroom furniture during the removal.

The moving company did warn me in advance and also helpfully advised that the Nordic manufacturer’s products were unlikely to survive the moving of things. In fact they told me that the best way to re-flat pack the items was to chuck them up in the air to destroy them on landing prior to taking the wrecked items to a re-cycling centre, thus saving any potential litigation issues.

One of my removal men also claimed that IKEA is actually the manufacturer of most of the flat pack pine furniture available in B and Q and Homebase but that the multinational produces the non IKEA products to a lower specification in order to protect their market position. IKEA have unfortunately yet to respond to my questions regarding the validity of this claim.

Today a spokesperson for “Bring IKEA to Aberdeen” has told me that a new Scottish IKEA warehouse might be opening a in the shire or even a bit further north very soon. I have of course some mixed feelings about this given my recent experiences but I do understand that the brand fulfils a need at a price which many can afford. According to the pressure group:

“Plenty of people have told us they would like one further north to increase their choices as consumers, to avoid the lengthy and costly travel to the current sites in Edinburgh and Glasgow.”

Another member of “Bring IKEA to Aberdeen” said:

“We are hoping they just realise the potential of a BIG store up here, and go for it… however if smaller was the only option, we would accept that grudgingly as well… the population of Aberdeen, the shire, the highlands AND the islands is pretty high – so we hope they see that Aberdeen or the shire, is a very viable option…. the north of Scotland has been left out for FAR too long.”

I spoke to the groups local representative Jan who rightly commented that there are plenty of other “Multi’s” all over Aberdeen and the Shire, so why not IKEA? Their furniture may be cheap, she said, but it lasts. It’s quite stylish Jan told me, plus their “knick-knacks” are amazing. It would bring jobs and some furniture competition to the local market.

The groups Facebook site proclaims:

“Let’s get this page up and running – and then let Ikea know JUST how popular a store would be in Aberdeen, Scotland”

A spokesperson by the name of Lou told me that Job wise if you consider day and night shift, catering, cleaning crew, back of store crew, tills, management there could be a significant jobs gain for the region. “After all,” she commented “it’s not a corner shop we are talking about here.”

The “Bring IKEA to Aberdeen” is currently awaiting an announcement from the retail giant regarding the future plans of IKEA in Aberdeenshire and I wish them well. However I seem to recall a man by the name of Donald Trump promising all and delivering very little to the North East recently.

Let’s trust and hope that IKEA‘s forthcoming announcement pleases all those flat pack fans amongst us and also creates a few decently paid jobs in the process.


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May 092013

With thanks to Robin Li Laing, Marketing & Events Manager.

The next Monthly Aberdeen Jack & Jill Market will be at the Hilton Treetops Hotel, Aberdeen on Sunday 12th of May, 10.30am to 1.30pm. This community organisation was set up to help Scottish families with the rising cost of raising children.

Faced with the ever-rising cost of bringing up a child, Aberdeenshire parents are selling and bartering in a bid to reduce the cost of raising children.

The last monthly Aberdeen Jack & Jill Market saw 415 savvy shoppers bagging some spectacular jaw-dropping prices on quality baby & kids gear.

53% of sellers made £100-£200, 21% made £200-£350, with the top selling stall making over £330

It costs £90,000 to raise a child up to age 11, an increase of 15% over the past 5 years, according to new figures released by Halifax, whose economist, Martin Ellis, says the figures have “added to the already considerable strain on household finances during the economic downturn”.

But, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. As the cost of raising children soars, an increasing number of smart money mums have beefed up their selling and bartering skills to make and save money.

A trend is emerging where mums and dads are now much happier to choose selling and shopping at local car-boot sales and market days, as a cost-effective alternative to the high street for what their children need. Over a third of parents are now choosing to buy and sell second-hand, according to recent figures.

One organisation Aberdeenshire parents have turned to is The Jack & Jill Market which runs monthly nearly-new baby & children’s markets in Perth and across Scotland  for families, with the emphasis on quality goods.

The Jack & Jill Market is so swamped with demand from mums wanting to make and save money, that new locations are being set-up all the time in an effort to meet this demand.

Recent research has shown that UK adults can have up to £581 worth of useable but unused items; for a two-parent family this can add up to more than £1000, much of it locked up in buggies, bikes, cots, clothes, toys, all the all the rest that still have plenty of life left in them, so it makes smart money sense to release this money into the family budget.

Several of these community events are now fully-booked up to 3-4 months in advance for sellers, and are now seeing up to 1000 mums and families through the doors in a 3-hour period, looking for high quality items, at a fraction of the retail price.

There has definitely been a cultural shift in attitude. Thrift is the new cool as mums look for ways to reduce the cost of raising children. The change is especially obvious in first-time mums who have traditionally opted for predominantly new items when setting up for their new baby but are now looking for a smarter alternative.

The next monthly Aberdeen Jack & Jill Community Market will be held on Sunday 12th May, at the Hilton Treetops Hotel, Springfield Road, Aberdeen 10.30am – 1.30pm. Then again on Sunday 16th of June.

For further details, visit: www.jackandjillmarket.co.uk