Royal Infirmary patients and staff 'at risk due to fire safety failings'
Plus: new museums' visitor centre plan; fireworks ban in the offing; and ex-Chancellor enters Library of Mistakes
Hospital patients and staff ‘face increased risk from fire safety failings’
Fire safety measures at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh fall below modern standards and are putting staff, patients and visitors at increased risk, the health board has warned.
Safety concerns centre around apparent gaps in ‘firewalls’ designed to prevent the spread of smoke and fire through the Little France building in the event of a blaze.
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Under the private finance deal which built the hospital, the private consortium Consort and its delivery partner Equans are responsible for fire prevention and detection.
The health board says that despite repeated requests Consort has failed to hand over detailed building plans showing the measures that it has put in place.
As a result, it has drafted in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service for advice on what mitigation steps it should introduce, including introducing new fire evacuation protocols.
The background: The health board is in talks with Consort over “buying back” the building after the Scottish Government approved plans to bring it into public ownership by 2027. That could cost the NHS tens of millions of pounds and ongoing negotiations centre on what remedial work needs doing ahead of the handover.
Strained relationship: The breakdown in talks over fire safety measures follows an at times tortuous relationship between the health board and its private partners. Seemingly simple work is said to have sometimes taken months to agree with sign-off required from multiple stakeholders at Consort before any action could be taken.
The health board says: Jim Crombie, deputy chief executive at NHS Lothian, has stressed that extra safety measures have already been put in place to protect those in the building, including introducing new evacuation plans. “We want to reassure you that the safety of all staff, patients and visitors is our upmost priority. It is also important to stress that the risk of a fire starting remains low.”
Consort: The Inquirer has approached Consort for comment.
EDINBURGH AIRPORT UP FOR SALE: Big airports generate big money. So the news that Edinburgh Airport will be up for sale in the New Year with offers of around £2bn anticipated will spark major questions for the Capital and for the rest of Scotland.
Recent reports that Edinburgh and Glasgow airports have both returned to pre-COVID levels of visitor numbers, flight movements and revenue, will have bolstered the ambition of some private equity owners who will expect a lucrative return on their investments. However, the Scottish Government, MSPs, and the trade unions representing thousands of airport workers, will want to know more about the credentials of all international suitors vying for these critical assets. Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen airports were once part of British Airports Authority (BAA), which was in public ownership until 1987. Since then, the private ownership of British airports in the hands of international private equity companies has resulted in mixed fortunes, which may well raise questions from a future Labour government.
It appears to be open season as infrastructure investors around Europe are working on the sale of their stakes in European airports, thanks to the recovery of air travel as people want to enjoy travelling and holidays again.
Edinburgh will be the largest asset up for grabs in 2024. Its owner Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) is working on the sale of its majority stake, anonymous sources have told Reuters. AGS Airports, which oversees operations at Aberdeen, Glasgow, and Southampton airports, and is owned by Macquarie and Ferrovial, may also follow, said Reuters.
WORLD AWARD FOR JOHNNIE: Johnnie Walker Princes Street has been crowned the World’s Leading Spirit Experience by the World Travel Awards (WTA) in the ‘Tourism Oscars’. The global flagship visitor experience for the world’s best-selling Scotch whisky, which opened in September 2021, has become one of Scotland’s leading attractions for international and local visitors. It was created as part of Diageo’s £185m investment in Scotch whisky experiences, and has welcomed over 700,000 visitors, captivating guests from 131 countries across the world.
Rob Maxwell, Head of Johnnie Walker Princes Street, said: “Everyone associated with Johnnie Walker Princes Street is enormously proud of this award. When we set out to create Johnnie Walker Princes Street, we had the ambition of putting Scotland at the forefront of global food and drink tourism, and this award is recognition that we have made great strides towards that ambition.”
YOUR EDINBURGH BRIEFING
‘INCREDIBLE’ GAS BLAST FUNDRAISER: Wellwishers have donated more than £20,000 to help a couple whose home was destroyed by a gas explosion in Baberton. Neighbour Ross Aitchison who went to help at the scene on Friday night said the response to his crowdfund appeal had been “incredible”. An 84-year-old died following the explosion which completely destroyed the property.
POLICE PRESSURES WARNING: The new Chief Constable of Police Scotland Jo Farrell has warned that she will have to cut the number of officers nationwide by around 1,500 unless the force receives as extra £129 million in funding. Her warning comes after Scottish Government Finance Secretary Shona Robison said the country’s public sector workforce would have to shrink in the face of funding pressures.
TOP DOG STYLE: Fashionable fidos can win big at a special event being organised by Musselburgh Racecourse for the New Year’s Day Race meeting. Owners of stylishly-attired pooches are being asked to take part in a “canine catwalk” (a strange juxtaposition of words if ever we saw one) with the winner taking home a branded Musselburgh Racecourse dog jacket, as well as dog toys, treats, and grooming accessories. Details of how to enter can be found on the Racecourse’s social media.
ARTISTIC HAMMERING: Two rare portraits featuring King George III and his consort Queen Charlotte, whose story has been popularised by hit Netflix series, Bridgerton and its spin-off Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, are to go under the hammer in Edinburgh on Thursday. The paintings by celebrated Scots-born artist Allan Ramsay will be offered live and online by fine art auctioneers, Lyon & Turnbull. The companion pieces, estimated to fetch between £25,000 – £30,000, form part of the company’s showpiece Scottish Paintings & Sculpture sale.
FIREWORKS BAN DEMAND: A move to ask the Scottish and UK Governments to ban the public sale of fireworks is set to be agreed by Edinburgh councillors. A worrying and escalating trend of public unrest on Bonfire Night has seen emergency services come under direct attack by gangs of teenagers and youngsters – often egged on by adults – with fireworks used as weapons.
Councillor Val Walker, the convener of City of Edinburgh Council’s Culture and Communities Committee, will put forward a motion at Thursday’s meeting calling for the ban. The motion condemns the events that took place in Niddrie and in other pockets across the city on Bonfire Night and the unnecessary danger this placed our emergency services and residents in.
It agrees the need for stricter regulations on the general sale of fireworks to members of the public, notes that fireworks would only be permitted at organised events, and asks for a report on cost and logistics of council hosted displays and implementing a firework control zone.
Finally, it asks the Council Leader to “write to the Scottish and UK Government asking for the general sale of fireworks to be banned.”
At the same meeting, the committee will hear a regular update from Chief Superintendent Sean Scott, Police Scotland Divisional Commander for the city, who describes “unprecedented levels of violence” on Bonfire Night, with officers “deliberately attacked and injured by youths using fireworks and petrol bombs, weapons supplied in some instances by adults.”
He reports a dedicated investigation team has already identified, arrested and charged many of the offenders, with more to come.
NEW TATTOO BOSS: The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has appointed a new chief executive to replace the outgoing Major General Buster Howes. Former US marine Jason Barrett, who hails from Colorado, steps up from his role as Chief Operating Officer. He also saw active service with the UK Royal Marines. He retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2010. He went on to have a career in the hospitality sector, before he took up post with the Tattoo in 2020.
HOUSING GAP GROWS TO £650M: The scale of the challenge facing efforts to tackle the capital’s housing emergency are being laid bare to City of Edinburgh councillors tomorrow when the Housing, Homelessness and Fair Work committee will look at a draft action plan.
A funding gap described as £400m earlier this year is now identified as more than £650m over the next five years, due in large part to soaring inflation in the construction industry.
The 25-point plan follows the official housing emergency declared by the council earlier this month with almost 5000 households living in temporary accommodation. Glasgow City Council has since also declared a housing emergency, although the Scottish Government has so far declined to follow suit at national level.
RESIDENTS GO FREE? Entry charges would be introduced at three council-owned attractions - the Museum of Edinburgh, Museum of Childhood and Writer’s Museum - under plans being considered by the local authority. Free entry could be retained for city residents only. A £6 entry fee for adults could raise more than £500,000 a year to reinvest in modernising the museums and galleries owned by the council.
NEW MUSEUMS CENTRE: A new visitor centre to house the huge number of items not currently on public display belonging to the city’s council-run museums, galleries, archives and libraries is being considered by the local authority. The proposed centre, which would be built at Peffer Place, Craigmillar, would act as a storage facility and allow public access to view and study the collections.
SIGN OF THE TIMES: Six months to go until Edinburgh’s Low Emission Zone (LEZ) goes live on 1 June 2024 and official warning signs are being installed on the boundary of the zone. Perhaps the authorities felt the countdown to D-Day deserves a heroic photograph - it may be just our team at the Inquirer, but are there shades of the iconic image of US marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima in the issued image above?
A TALE OF TWO CHANCELLORS: The diverging responses of two past Chancellors of the Exchequer, both facing into the maelstrom of crisis, was recalled in Edinburgh last week. One, the softly-spoken and determined Labour Party figure who did much to save the UK economy – and indeed the global economy - in its most dire postwar position in 2009, and the other of his Conservative Party successor who never learned the lessons of that collapse and nearly blew up the British economy again in 2022.
Former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, speaking in an interview with the Library of Mistakes, the Edinburgh library dedicated to exploring errors in financial history, claimed that bond markets don’t act rationally. It has been argued that it was the political leadership in Downing Street which did not act rationally.
The Tory politician, whose Budget was widely criticised for cutting taxes while not doing enough to stem a budget deficit, said he was a victim of the bond markets last autumn, which precipitated his short stint as Chancellor and led to the collapse of the Liz Truss administration. Those who "step out of line" can be punished by markets, he claimed. He also suggested that his budget in 2022 could have been more “balanced”.
"I was, in a way a victim of the bond markets last autumn. And I totally understand their power. And I did before but it's just that I think that the bond market is not a rational player. Some things it can absorb, like all the extra COVID spending it absorbed without much of a murmur. But then if you step out of line in a small way, it can react very, very strongly against you. And I've been personal witness of that.”
By contrast, Alistair Darling, who died aged 70, last Wednesday, predicted that the economic condition in 2008 were “arguably the worst they’ve been in 60 years” and that they would last for longer and be more profound than most people thought. He was right to be so gloomy, but his actions prevented much more severe consequences. In his book, Back from the Brink, Lord Darling of Roulanish, who had been a radical Lothian Regional Councillor in the 1980s, before being elected MP for Edinburgh Central in 1987, recalled it was a “fairly accurate prediction of what was to come economically”. The collapse of Lehman Brothers on 15 September 2008, had a disastrous domino effect in Edinburgh, with the £50 billion bailing out of the banks, including Royal Bank of Scotland, then the UK’s biggest bank, and the collapse of Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS), two of the city’s most important financial institutions in 2009. “People forget just how close we came to a complete collapse and the thing about a collapse of the banks is that it wouldn’t just have been the banks in ruins, it would have been complete economic and therefore social collapse.”
Speaking with Keeper of the Library of Mistakes, Prof. Russell Napier, Kwasi Kwarteng, who has a PhD in economic history, spoke about financial history, and his new book War and Gold; a 500-year history of empires, adventures and debt. He said: “One of the issues that I had in government was, I think what went wrong last October, was you've got to have a balanced approach to fiscal policy. You can't just spend money that you don't have, but at the same time if you're going to have tax cuts, you've got to have spending restraint.”
Meanwhile, tributes from all sides of the political divide have come in for Alastair Darling, who was also leader of the Better Together campaign in the Independence Referendum of September 2014, who passed away in Edinburgh after a short illness after cancer treatment.
OATCAKES FOR COP28: Edinburgh-based Nairn’s, who make their famed oatcakes in Peffermill, including their seeded variety, and have another state-of-the-art gluten free bakery in the city, had a prominent place at the table at a St Andrew’s Day Reception following the first day of COP28, the UN climate change conference in Dubai.
The First Minister, Humza Yousaf, joined 21 Scottish businesses and organisations in the food and drink sector at the VIP business event, who showcased their products, with support from Scottish Development International (SDI), and set the stage for the country's participation at COP 28. The event provided the Scottish businesses, who are either already operating in the UAE or looking to break into the market, a platform to engage with senior decision makers and explore partnerships. The St Andrew’s Day Reception also introduced Scotch lamb to the market for the first time. Chef Adam Tracy, Culinary Director of Radisson, presented the initiative during the event, alongside Quality Meat Scotland and Woodhead, showcasing Scotland’s commitment to diverse and sustainable meat.
TELECOMS GROWTH: Commsworld, one of the UK’s leading telecoms service providers, based in Edinburgh, has increased turnover from £22.7m in 2021 to £27.9m, profit before tax was £3.3m, up from £2.3m, and adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) were £4.5m, up from £3.4m.
The firm has recently secured a framework agreement worth more than £20m for digital connectivity services with Northumberland County Council. This follows the North Lanarkshire Council contract which could see £150m spent over 15 years to transform North Lanarkshire’s digital infrastructure and connectivity.
Its private sector work includes providing connectivity to the £1bn St James Quarter in Edinburgh, fish processing company Pelagia, legal firm Burness Paull, dental supply company Wright Cottrell, global IT and business consulting services firm CGI, Arnold Clark, and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
Meanwhile, Commsworld Group completed a refinance with RBS and Virgin Money that will enable its growth and investment strategy to continue to win large complex projects including fibre network builds.
Steve Langmead, Chief Executive of Commsworld, said: “Our strong 2022 is testament to the benefit of our continued investment in our Optical Core Network. Through this network, which provides a ‘spine’ that allows anyone, anywhere in the UK to connect to super-fast full-fibre broadband, Commsworld is steadily growing both its core private enterprise business whilst expanding its public sector customer base and geographical footprint in 2022. This is also thanks to the hard work of Commsworld’s staff,” he said.
WICKED RETURNS: Are you ready to go back to the Emerald City? The hit Broadway and West End show Wicked returns to the Playhouse on Thursday for a run of more than five weeks. Until 14 January.
SHAKE IT OFF: A club night “dedicated to worshiping at the altar of Taylor Swift”, .La Belle Angele, Hastie’s Close, is hosting Swiftogeddon: The Taylor Swift Club Night on 14 December. The play list promises to feature her festive songs. Over-18s only.
PANTO TIME: Panto season gets underway - oh, yes, it does - at the Churchill Theatre, in Morningside, on Wednesday when the Balerno Theatre Company presents Alice in Pantoland which runs until Saturday. That will be followed by the Edinburgh People’s Theatre’s production of Cinderella on 15-23 December.
QUICK BITES & SIPS
OOH LA LA: A stylish new cocktail bar taking its inspiration from 1920s Paris has opened in the West End. Encore sits underneath the West End Brasserie, on Hope Street, and opposite the Johnnie Walker Experience. Offering a range of bespoke cocktails, Encore is the latest venture of Caledonian Heritable and the team behind The Dome, Rose Street Garden and Why Not Nightclub.
WOW FACTOR: You can hardly have failed to notice how much social media has been awash in recent days with pictures of the incredible views from the roof terraces of the new W Hotel at the St James Quarter. Its bars and restaurants promise to be among the most talked about in the Capital over the coming weeks.
GAME FOR NEW PIZZA EXPERIENCE? Independent pizzeria, Pizza Geeks have launched a gaming and movie experience ‘pop up’ which opened in Easter Road at the weekend and features an arcade and gaming room for their pizza fans.
SOME EXTRA DIARY DATES FOR YOU
LET IT SNOWMAN: The National Mining Museum in Newtongrange is hosting special screenings of both The Snowman and the Snowman and the Snowdog at various times throughout the day on Sunday, 17 December. And if that isn’t enough to get you into the festive spirit, then Santa will be there too.
TWIST AND SHOUT: Leading tribute band The Bootleg Beatles return to Edinburgh’s Usher Hall on Wednesday for another nostalgic whirl around the music of the Fab Four. The event begins at 7.30pm. Tickets are selling fast, further information See Tickets - The Bootleg Beatles Tickets | Wednesday, 06 Dec 2023 at 7:30 PM
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