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The Latest news from Dumfries and Galloway Chamber of Commerce -

Keep up to date with the latest news and stories from across Dumfries & Galloway.

 

MSP SLAMS SEASON TICKET REFUND “GIMMICK”

South Scotland MSP and Scottish Labour’s Transport Spokesperson Colin Smyth has called on rail bosses from Transpennine Express to come to Lockerbie to listen to commuters concerns – dismissing proposals by the rail firm to give season ticket holders a small rebate as a “gimmick”.

 

The comments come as recent figures reveal that Lockerbie Station remains the WORST station in Scotland for performance as a result of the failing Transpennine Express service- and one of the worst in the whole of the UK with a ranking of 2,619 out of 2,623, according to www.ontimetrains.co.uk.

Their analysis showed that most services from Lockerbie are still more likely to be cancelled than run on time. Of the 3030 services from the station in the last twelve weeks, only 10% ran to schedule and 14% were cancelled altogether.

Despite the poor performance, hard-pressed rail passengers using Transpennine Express services from Lockerbie railway station were hit by a 37% hike in price from 2 January for a peak day return to Edinburgh- when fares rose from £20 to £27.50. Even the off-peak day return from Lockerbie to the capital, which isn’t available until the 12.25 pm train to Edinburgh following the companies decision to axe the 10.32 am service, will rise by 5% to £21 for a day return.

However, Transpennine Express have said that the only new compensation from the failing franchise will go to the small number of local passengers who buy a season ticket when the company announced on Monday that that customers who held a season ticket between 1 October and 31 December 2019 "will be eligible for a 3% rebate"- just enough to cancel out the fare increase they faced on 2 January when the cost of an annual season ticket between Lockerbie and Edinburgh rose to a massive £4400 per annum. It comes on the back of the recent revelation that the Chief Executive of Transpennine Express, Leo Goodwin, had received a 44% pay rise, taking his salary up to £331,000 per year.

Colin Smyth said, “There is still little sign of hard-pressed passengers using Lockerbie station receiving a service that is fit for purpose from failing Transpennine Express as cancellations and delays continue. It’s also important to remember that poor service is not new from this company when it comes to Lockerbie, added to recently by the shameful decision to axe the 10.32 am service to Edinburgh with passengers now facing a four hour wait for the next train if the 8.35 am train is cancelled”.

“The proposal for a small rebate for season ticket users in response to the shocking level of service is nothing more than a gimmick and small crumbs for the handful of people who have an annual pass who pay thousands of pounds a year to the company. It also gives nothing to the vast majority of passengers who either can’t afford a season ticket or for whom it isn’t cost effective because they may not need to travel everyday but have had to face rail fare rises of 37%. They are not receiving any new compensation for being let down so badly by the rail firm yet the company's Chief Executive is rewarded for failure with a pay rise worth more than the annual salary of most of people using Transpennine Express trains ”.

“In the absence of any action from the UK Government who awarded this franchise but who aren’t doing enough to hold the rail company to account, it is time rail bosses from Transpennine Express came to Lockerbie and listened to the concerns commuters have. I have issued an invitation to them and all the key transport stakeholders to come to Lockerbie for a rail summit to thrash out the issue of poor performance, high fares, insufficient parking and poor bus links and I fully expect the company to take up the offer and be held to account.”

Scottish business confidence rebounds in December

Bank of Scotland’s Business Barometer for December 2019 shows:

 

  • Overall confidence for Scottish firms rose 17 points in the past month to 11%
  • Economic optimism in Scotland stood at 9%, 20 points above last month
  • Firms’ confidence in their own business prospects was 12%, compared with -2% in November

 

Scottish business confidence bounced back in December, jumping 17 points to 11%, according to the latest Business Barometer from Bank of Scotland.

Companies in Scotland report higher confidence in their business prospects at 12% and higher economic optimism at 9%. Together, this gives an overall confidence reading of 11%.

The results for December represent the end of a five-month downwards trend in Scottish business confidence. The last time Bank of Scotland’s Business Barometer results showed positive business confidence was in June, when it registered 17%.

Across the UK, overall confidence edged up one point to 10% as firms’ confidence in their own prospects rose six points to 18%, although their optimism in the economy fell to 2%.

The Business Barometer questions 1,200 businesses monthly and provides early signals about UK economic trends both regionally and nationwide. This month’s survey was carried out before the result of last week’s General Election was known.

Fraser Sime, regional director for Scotland at Bank of Scotland Commercial Banking, said: “It’s encouraging to measure such a healthy rise in Scottish business confidence as we close off 2019.

“Confidence has fluctuated this year as economic and political uncertainty gripped Scotland and the rest of the UK, but we hope December’s positive Barometer results will continue into 2020.

“The year looks likely to be another one that’s characterised by some volatility – be that domestically or globally. Whatever the road ahead, we will continue to be by the side of Scotland’s businesses, helping them capitalise on opportunities and overcome obstacles.”

Across Scotland, a net balance of 27% of businesses said they felt that the UK’s exit from the European Union was having a negative impact on their expectations for business activity, down two points on a month ago.

Elsewhere, businesses’ hiring intentions showed that a net balance of 3% of businesses in the region expect to hire more staff during the next year, down four points on last month.

UK overview

 

Businesses in the West Midlands had the highest confidence for the third month running, at 23%, ahead of the East Midlands at 18%, and London at 16%.

Those in East of England were the least confident, with an overall confidence of -2%, 12 points below the national average.

In December, overall business confidence saw a marked improvement in the manufacturing sector, increasing 17 points to 27%. Confidence in the retail sector increased by one point to 22%, while confidence in the service sector stayed broadly steady at 4%. The construction sector saw a slight decrease of four points to 16%.

Paul Gordon, Managing Director for SME and Mid Corporates, Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “UK SMEs are carrying pent-up demand. The West Midlands has had a particularly strong end to the year in terms of confidence and it is encouraging to see both Scotland and Northern Ireland posting the biggest overall confidence rises as 2019 rounds out.

“As with any monthly measure, there is a degree of fluctuation to be expected but what we know from the conversations we have with businesses up and down the UK is that their ambition remains strong and they crave economic and political conditions that reduce uncertainty.

“As we move into 2020 we will continue support them to grow and trade at home and overseas.”

 

Hann-Ju Ho, Senior Economist, Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “As we come to the end of what has undoubtedly been a turbulent year, it is encouraging to see sustained increases in overall business confidence and the sharp improvement in manufacturing confidence.

“There is now clarity over the UK’s departure from the EU, but the focus will turn to whether a new trade agreement can be negotiated during the transition period which currently runs until the end of next year.”

Kirkcudbright Book Week Programme Announced

The programme has been announced for the first ever Kirkcudbright Book Week, which will run between Monday March 2 and Friday March 6, 2020.

The week is designed to celebrate the developing literary scene in Kirkcudbright and the wider Dumfries and Galloway area and includes a series of mainly free events featuring authors from the area.

 

Ian Patrick

Writers appearing over the week include children’s author Alan McClure, poet Chrys Salt, crime writers Jackie Baldwin, Ian Patrick and John Dean, who is also a children’s author, novelist Jessie M Page and The Gallery Writers, plus art historian Dr Jo Chapman Campbell, who will examine The Glasgow Boys in an event at Broughton House.

 

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The week includes a celebration of World Book Day at Kircudbright Library on Thursday March 5 for younger writers and readers and at Broughton House the day before.

Also, an event held on Tuesday March 3 at 11am at The Galleries in St Mary Street will see extracts read from a new book. Kirkcudbright-based Gallery Writers have been inspired by the creative possibilities offered by the history of Crossmichael. Funded by the Board of the newly-established Crossmichael Heritage Centre, they have come together to create a collection of prose and poetry currently being compiled and will read extracts.

Kirkcudbright Book Week has been organised by a number of organisations and venues, which are featured in the programme.

Chris Walker, from the Selkirk Arms, one of the venues hosting events, said: “This is another string to the bow of Kirkcudbright, a marvellous itinerary which should bring book enthusiasts from all over the region and wider. We’re lucky to have so many talented authors living and working in Dumfries and Galloway.”

Another organisation supporting the book week is Dumfries and Galloway Council and  Councillor Andy Ferguson, Chair of the Council’s Communities Committee, said: “We’re delighted to support the Kirkcudbright Book Week by providing facilities to allow it to take place.  This sort of community event is exactly the type of inclusive event that our council looks to support communities in our region to run and is a fantastic example of community empowerment in action.”

Councillor John Martin, Vice Chair of the Communities committee, said: “The Kirkcudbright Book Week is something else for the community of Kirkcudbright to get their teeth into.  We have seen through the Festival of Light, the Tour of Britain and other community events that the town of Kirkcudbright is a fabulous host of such events.  I wish the organisers all the very best and would encourage all our locals, and visitors to check out the book week for themselves.”

Author John Dean, who lives in the area and is one of the organisers, said: “Kirkcudbright and the surrounding area is home to some talented writers and the book week is designed to celebrate their work. It should be exciting.”

You can find out more about Kirkcudbright Book Week by visiting https://kirkcudbrightbookweek.org/

Facebook – search for Kirkcudbright Book Week

The Hunt is on for Scotland’s Next Hero Hacker

- Scottish Business Resilience Centre seeking new ethical hacking star to join its team -

 

SCOTLAND’S dedicated body for business resilience is on the hunt for its next ethical hacker hero to help fight the ever-growing threat of cybercrime.

 

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The Scottish Business Resilience Centre (SBRC) is currently recruiting its next Chief Ethical Hacker, which will see them supporting Police Scotland, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the Scottish Government to ensure Scottish businesses of all sizes are well-equipped against cyber-attacks.

The new recruit will also lead Curious Frank, a subdivision of SBRC which works with a team of student ethical hackers from Abertay University to ensure organisations are as cyber-resilient as possible by safely exposing risks and advising businesses on how to fill any gaps in their cyber-security.

Eamonn Keane, Head of Cyber Security and Innovation with SBRC, said: “We’re continuing to see a growing focus on the importance of cyber security and the value of ethical hacking in making SMEs more resilient to cyber-attacks.

“Our next Chief Ethical Hacker will lead our dedicated team working with businesses to break into their systems through methods they know criminal hackers are using, to help them learn how to fill any gaps in their security. The team also tests the effectiveness and resilience of the security systems businesses already have in place.

“We think this is a really exciting opportunity to join our expanding organisation and take on a significant role in reducing the threat of cybercrime to Scottish businesses.”

The desirable candidate will be responsible for training business leaders and staff, as well as delivering lectures and attending conferences to help small businesses with their cyber security concerns.

SBRC is ideally looking for an experienced graduate of ethical hacking or cybers security to fill the full-time role. He/she should be a natural team leader and confident in delivering presentations and lectures and explaining the complexities of cyber security to all types of businesses.

Interested candidates can apply via the S1 Jobs website: https://www.s1jobs.com/job/it-telecommunications/testing-it-telecommunications/linlithgow/752101237.html   

UK funding package for Scots farmers welcomed

Farmers in Dumfries and Galloway can plan for the new year with greater confidence and clarity as the UK prepares to leave the EU.

 

That reassurance was given this week by local MP Alister Jack as the UK Government confirmed they will provide nearly £3billion in Direct Payments support UK-wide in 2020.

Next year’s cash injection will replace funding under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) as the UK leaves the EU.  

It will supplement remaining EU funding farmers are scheduled to receive, allowing Direct Payments for 2020 to continue at current levels.

Mr Jack, who is also Secretary of State for Scotland, predicted a more straightforward, fairer system as the UK was released from the constraints of the CAP.

He urged the Scottish Government, which was responsible for distributing agricultural support north of the border, to ensure a smooth delivery.

Mr Jack said: “Agriculture is vital to the Scottish economy and the UK Government is determined to help the industry flourish going forward, producing some of the world's best produce.

“The £473m UK Government support for Scottish farmers for 2020 is in addition to the recently announced injection of more than £211m, £160m of which will resolve the issue of historic convergence allocations.

“Released from the remoter, more bureaucratic EU CAP, we will be able to provide the support that allows Scottish farmers to shape a better future, reflecting our unique and varied agricultural land, climate and environments.”