A clutch of Fife schools pupils celebrated being among the fittest in Scotland with an unusual relay race. Schools across Dunfermline and south west Fife have been marking their involvement in the Walk once a Week (WoW) Scotland scheme. Fifty pupils recently took part in a WoW relay of 4.5 miles with each school relaying the inflatable mascot Strider across the town. The relay started with pupils from Milesmark primary school carrying Strider to McLean primary, whose pupils then carried it to St Leonards pupils waiting in Pittencrieff Park. They in turn carried it to Rex Park where Touch primary finished off the relay back to their school. Last year Fife Council successfully applied for funding from the Scottish Government’s Smarter Choices, Smarter Places fund to allow 40 schools across Fife to take part in the Walk once a Week initiative, which encourages pupils to walk or cycle to school. Over the past 12 months, the number of schools across Dunfermline and south west Fife schools participating in the WoW active travel initiative has more than doubled. Many of the schools involved now regularly feature in the top 10 of the most active schools in Scotland. The schools log the trips of pupils to measure how many walk, cycle, scoot or park and stride. In the last year, levels of active travel trips have increased by 6%, from 78% to 84%, which is likely to increase further as Fife heads into the summer months. Councillor Helen Law, the chairwoman of the City of Dunfermline area committee, said: “Walk Once a Week has been a really popular initiative that’s helping young people and their families make permanent lifestyle changes for the better. “This is a great achievement for the pupils taking part and I’d like to congratulate them for their hard work. “They are great ambassadors for us all to think about how we could incorporate more walking into our routines more often.” The Smarter Choices, Smarter Places initiative was developed to encourage more people to reduce their car use in favour of more sustainable alternatives such as walking, cycling and public transport. More information is available from active schools in Scotland. www.transportscotland.gov.uk/environment/smarter-choices-smarter-places.
Penny farthings in the City Square and bunny hops on the Caird Hall steps were the unlikely sights that took place at Dundee’s first Cyclefest. The festivities aimed at promoting cycling attracted crowds throughout the day, many of whom took the chance to try out some of the more weird and wonderful forms of bikes on offer. Dundee Lord Provost Bob Duncan was first in line to open the event and took a turn around the square. He was upstaged, however, by the acrobatic cycling moves of The Clan, Scotland’s Cycle Stunt Team who thrilled the crowds with their daredevil display on the steps of the Caird Hall. The free event, which ran from 11am to 4pm on Saturday, was funded by the Scottish Government’s Smarter Choices, Smarter Places initiative.
Cycling and walking will command at least a 5% share of Dundee’s annual spending on roads and transportation, the city council has pledged. The financial commitment has been made as part of the proposed new cycling strategy developed for Dundee. It has been hailed as “an encouraging step forward” by cyclists who contributed to a wide-ranging consultation. The council hopes the step will make Dundee even more cycle friendly and increase the attractiveness of cycling and walking as regular forms of travel. Another key development will be the hiring of a cycle czar to guide the strategy’s delivery in the years to come. City development depute convener, Bill Campbell, said: “This document comes as the culmination of a considerable amount of consultation, discussion and engagement with cyclists across the city. “The strategy recognises the importance that the council places on cycling as a regular form of travel and exercise for many people and looks to ensure that is developed in future years.” The new draft strategy has been shaped by six weeks of consultation with key decision makers and the city’s cyclists. They were offered a first glimpse of the council’s blueprint in October, with feedback from both individuals and organisations said to have been “largely positive”. A number of small but important tweaks were subsequently made to the draft and are now included in the revised strategy. The new permanent post of cycling development officer will be created to help achieve the targets in the strategy. It will initially be part funded from external sources, including Cycling Scotland and the Scottish Government’s Smarter Choices Smarter Places Fund. While the council progresses its strategy, cyclist across the city are taking their own steps to improve access to the city for those on two wheels or two feet. This weekend, Abertay University’s students association will stage one of a global network of Cycle Hack events in an effort to remove barriers to cycling. They will discuss possible projects and how to meet challenges that may dissuade people from using their bikes. The project seeks to build on the success of Dundee’s re-invigoration of its infrastructure, including the improvement of the green circular route, which provides a 27-mile pathway for cyclists and pedestrians.
Angus Council will find £10 million of savings by shedding 170 jobs and introducing a charge for picking up garden rubbish and a review of food waste collections in rural areas. Council chiefs said the staff reduction will be achieved without compulsory redundancies, but ahead of Thursday’s budget-setting meeting have warned residents they may face increasingly stark choices of whether or not to pay for some council services. The council has scheduled just over £10m of savings for 2016 in the biggest single-year cut to its budget since the authority’s inception two decades ago. But finance spokesman Alex King criticised a “very disappointing” Scottish Government settlement which he said had left the cross-party budget-setting group having to find around £4 million of additional savings beyond what they had expected. Opposition plans to put forward an alternative spending programme were torpedoed by the scale of penalties that would have been imposed by the Scottish Government in the event of Angus breaking the decade-long council tax freeze which will peg the district’s Band D rate at £1,072. Councillor Iain Gaul, leader of the SNP-run authority, admitted: “At present, the council tax system, as is, is not sustainable. “What we need to get across is that in Angus, only 14% of the income comes from council tax. “Two years ago that wouldn’t have paid for the bill to clear the snow that fell over a very short period of time. “We continue to work smarter and get leaner but it will be a choice in the future probably for people to decide which services they pay for and which services they will do without. “We all agree we are in a really difficult place. “We will manage going forward because that is our remit, to make difficult decisions and come up with alternative ways of doing things.” Since the introduction of a three-year budget programme in 2014, Angus has made savings totalling more than £21m. Around £30m of further savings could be required by 2019-20. The package going before Thursday’s full council meeting in Forfar also includes proposals to reduce finance devolved to schools by £360k and cut the music service subsidy by £15,000. An additional £2.3m of investment has been identified for adult care services and high priority capital projects include the Brechin business park extension, Arbroath Academy synthetic pitch, the Mill of Dun to Stracathro route action plan and the replacement of the Gables residential unit in Forfar. £1m has also been set aside to fund capital repairs required as a result of the devastating end of year floods.
Electric car drivers won't have to pay for parking in council-run car parks, under a new scheme to encourage the use of electric vehicles in the city. Drivers of "pure" electric vehicles will have free access to the council's multi-storey car parks, and will be able to register for a free permit which would give them access to parking around the city. The cars will be given free access to all parking bays under the scheme, not just those with electric charge points at them. Will Dawson, convener of Dundee City Council’s city development committee, said: “Free car parking for electric vehicles was part of our commitment to the UK Government’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) under our Go Ultra Low Scheme launched earlier this year. “Free parking in Dundee can now be added to the growing list of environmental and social benefits of owning an electric vehicle in the city and I’m sure the scheme will prove popular. “The funding for this initiative will be covered through the Smarter Choices Smarter Places programme.” To register your electric car, email firstname.lastname@example.org . For more, see Tuesday's Courier
Another week, another new Audi. Two new Audis, in fact. The German car maker has announced a couple more additions to its Q line up of SUVs. The Q4 is a coupe-SUV hybrid that will go up against the BMW X4 and Mercedes GLC Coupe. As its name suggests, it’ll be positioned between the compact Q3 and bigger Q5. At the other end of the scale is the Q8, which will go head to head against the Range Rover. It’s lower and sleeker than the Q7 Audi is also producing. In concept form, it sat only four people, although it seems likely the production version will be a five seater. There’s a 630 litre boot as well. Eagle eyed Audi followers will notice the only SUV slots left to fill are the Q1 and Q6. Watch this space...
Gleneagles' place on the global map of fine hotels has long been assured. Whether you are lucky enough to be staying in one of the grand bedrooms, using the spa or strolling around 18 of the most scenic holes in Scottish golf, it's an establishment which prides itself on offering something special. There are a variety of levels to the luxury though and the newest string to the dining bow, the Birnam Brasserie, is a more casual, all-day dining affair. I went along to find out if it's destined to be a relaxed alternative to fine dining when staying at the hotel - or whether this French Bistro is likely to become a destination in itself. The grandeur and refinement are evident even on the approach to Gleneagles and as we were led past the super luxury designer clothes and jewellery outlets to reach the brasserie, the standards were raised with every step. We stopped in at another recent addition, the American Bar, for a cocktail en-route and enjoyed service and an ambience that would make Jay Gatsby feel right at home. The decor of the Birnam is simply stunning. The mosaic floor seems to stretch endlessly and the impressive photos on the website really don't do it justice. There are stools set up around an elegant seafood bar, as well as tables in the brasserie room and a large conservatory styled area called the Winter Garden, where we chose to be seated among the light and airy greenery. The tables are simple yet elegant and it felt worlds away from the formality of the other restaurants within the hotel. We started with oysters - because this was Gleneagles and why not? - and they were divine. Creamy, cool and delicious. The remainder of the menu was simple, yet refined, with a distinct French accent and deciding wasn't easy. I would have liked to try the starter of fresh crab from the seafood bar menu but regular readers will know of my intense dislike of mayonnaise and when I asked if I could have it without I was told it was already mixed in. For a place which prides itself on service I was a little surprised but my second choicer starter of fish soup was oh so good. The consistency was thin and it didn't have that grainy texture that afflicts some fish soups. The colour could best be described as pink-tinged mud but the flavours were deep and intense and the base ingredients had clearly gone through a long and complex process to produce such perfection. My friend's starter, shrimp linguine, was equally impressive. The swirl of pasta with spicy arrabbiata sauce was studded with very large king prawns - and plenty of them - and although a pasta starter can be heavy in the wrong hands, the freshness of the sauce and the juiciness of the shrimps here made it just right. Hopes were high for the main course then but unfortunately my blackened snapper with cotton onions was pretty much inedible. I realise snapper is a denser, meatier fish than most but even with fierce sawing motions, the rubbery flesh refused to yield to my knife and I was incredibly disappointed. The flavour was good and the onions thin and crispy but the star of the show did not deserve its billing. Happily, my friend fared better with the other main course, a monkfish tail from the "grill" section of the menu. The fish itself was simple but the dish was lifted by the sauce Choron (a tomato-spiked bernaise to you and I). Both of our plates were accompanied by a side of sweet potato fries, which packed just the right crunch. This being Gleneagles it would have been rude not to push the boat out so desserts were definitely called and we decided to unashamedly take ourselves back to the 1970s with a rum baba and a sundae. The baba is a heavy dessert but a lovely one and this version managed to combine a pleasingly sticky, syrupy centre with a light and spongy exterior. I chose the Birnam sundae, hoping for something special, and although it arrived in the traditional glass, it was a fairly standard chocolate and vanilla affair with various textures of chocolate among the ice cream. No cherry on the top, either actual or metaphorical, with this one. If you're staying at the hotel, I can imagine it would be a bit much to dine at the more formal options all the time so the Birnam Brasserie provides a lighter, more simple alternative - and of course it's a tad easier on the wallet. I keep returning to the phrase "relaxed elegance" and that's exactly what it is. The setting was exquisite and the menu and food were uncomplicated yet refined. I did have a couple of issues with the food but for the most part we enjoyed our experience immensely. If I am ever lucky enough to be staying at Gleneagles, I would certainly return here, maybe to sit at the bar and soak up the atmosphere while we graze on the seafood bar dishes. If I'm making a special journey just for dinner though, Andrew Fairlie and The Strathearn would still be well ahead on my wish list. Info Price: Starters £9 - £15; main courses: £14 - £50; desserts: £9 Value: 8/10 Menu: 8/10 Atmosphere: 9/10 Service: 7/10 Food: 7/10 Total: 40/50 Info: The Birnam Brasserie Address: The Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, Perthshire, PH3 1NF Tel: 01764 662231 Web: www.gleneagles.com/dine-drink/birnam-brasserie
The chief executive of NHS England has welcomed Jeremy Hunt’s call for a 10-year funding deal for the health service. Simon Stevens, giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee, said the commitment would enable the NHS to make “smarter, long-term decisions” and improve efficiency. The Health and Social Care Secretary said on Sunday it was premature to speculate that a £4 billion-a-year boost will be announced, amid reports the Government could back a ring-fenced tax rise to generate funds. But he said a long-term deal would allow proper planning to train the staff needed to cope with the challenges of Britain’s ageing population. Responding to the reports, Mr Stevens told the committee: “I welcome the notion of a viable 10-year clear funding commitment that would enable the NHS to plan the workforce, to set out the clear improvements for cancer services, mental health services, new technology and innovation.“Obviously whether that and when that happens is a matter for parliament and for Government but were this to happen I think the NHS would greatly welcome it.”Mr Stevens said the NHS had experienced “feast and famine” for much of the post-war period. He added: “I think the argument for a five or 10-year funding settlement, as advocated by the Health Secretary, is that with more predictability, it would be possible to make smarter, long-term decisions about workforce, about care improvement and probably to be more efficient on the back of that.” Chancellor Philip Hammond has announced a full departmental spending review will take place next year, but Mr Hunt argued that health should be treated differently with a longer-than-usual 10-year settlement.Mr Hunt acknowledged “that isn’t government policy”, but told ITV’s Peston On Sunday “given that it takes seven years to train a doctor and three years to train a nurse, you need to have something that gives you the ability to look ahead”.
Lower earners could see any savings from the Scottish Government's new starter rate wiped out by council tax rises, a local MSP has warned. The most that can be saved from finance secretary Derek Mackay’s proposed changes to income tax rates and bands currently stands at £20 - or 38p a week. The starter rate of tax will apply for the first £2,000 after the personal allowance amount and has been set at 19p in the draft budget. However, Mr Mackay's plans also allow local authorities to increase council tax by as much as 3% from April. This means the rate paid by the owner of a Band A property in Dundee could increase by as much £24.81 next year. Elsewhere, tax payers could see a rise of £22.08 in Angus, £23.03 in Fife, and a hike of as much as £23.62 in Perth & Kinross. Bill Bowman, who serves as the Scottish Conservatives' tax spokesman, claimed the plans amounted to a real-terms cut to council budgets that would put pressure on local authorities to find their own money to fund services. He said: "An admission that councils will be allowed to increase council tax by 3% has foisted the responsibility for this increase on local authorities. "In Dundee, this will cause an SNP administration to cut crucial council services if they don’t pursue this strategy, which will penalise all sections of society. "This means any in the area will end up paying more in income and council taxes, while receiving less when it comes to public services." However, councillor Willie Sawers, finance spokesperson for Dundee City Council, said Scotland continued to offer "the best deal for taxpayers anywhere in the UK". He said: "This is what real progressive government looks like – and opposition parties should sit up and take note. "People in Scotland already benefit from a significant range of policies that the Tories at Westminster do not provide for the rest of the UK – leaving Scottish taxpayers as the only ones to benefit from a strong social contract." A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Overall, the wide range of free to access public services available in Scotland ensures the best deal for Scottish taxpayers. "Our new, fairer, income tax policy will protect the 70% of taxpayers who earn less than £33,000 a year and ensure they pay less tax next year for any given income whilst asking those earning more than £33,000 to pay a proportionate amount more to support our public services."
A Stobswell retailer says he saw his fears come true when a car crash took place just yards from his workplace. Brian Dunbar, manager of outdoor machinery specialists Lawntech on Dundonald Street, has long warned councillors and the local authority of an imminent accident. His grim prediction became fact on Wednesday afternoon when a taxi driver, attempting to turn east along Dundonald Street from the junction at Court Street, hit the rear offside tyre of a passing delivery lorry. Neither driver was seriously injured but the collision smashed the front of the silver Vauxhall Vectra, throwing glass and debris across the busy thoroughfare. Although no one was injured, Mr Dunbar said the accident underlines Dundee City Council's £52,000 programme of road improvements is putting lives at risk. "It doesn't fill me with joy that an accident has happened here," said Mr Dunbar, who only last week submitted a complaint against the authority over the issue to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. "In my complaint I pointed out the dangers at that very junction it has been an accident waiting to happen." It has only been around nine weeks since council contractors completed their controversial road project, paid for through the Scottish Government Smarter Choice Smarter Places Fund and the Dundee Partnership Fund. Included in the finished work are a series of pavement "build-outs" which has significantly narrowed both lanes, and the alteration of the roadside parking where vehicles sit at right angles to the footpath, making it more difficult to spot oncoming traffic. Mr Dunbar said he fears lives will continue to be put at risk if the council chooses to ignore concerns. "No one has ever said that the council should rip up the work which is done now. But there are ways it can be improved." Just moments after the accident took place Mr Dunbar sent an email to Mike Galloway, city development director at Dundee City Council. "He asked me to email him if there was ever an accident here. I have done that now so will have to wait for his response." Meanwhile, a resident arriving at the scene of the accident said the council's improvement works were neither needed nor wanted. "It is a complete waste of money," said the man, who asked not to be named. "The road is a lot narrower now and it makes it more difficult for vehicles to get past one another. "If we get more snow this winter, like the last one, there are going to be a lot more accidents here."