Farmer’s sunflower field dream turned into a social media storm

The sunflower trail at Gloagburn Farm in Perth became a smash hit with the public.

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A sunflower field in Perth has created a social media storm.

When farmer Crawford Niven, of Gloagburn Farm, came up with the idea, he didn’t realise it would become quite the success it did.

The 24-year-old told STV News: “I’d seen it done abroad but I didn’t think it could be done here in Scotland.

“And then a fellow farmer down south in England, he did one himself, so I was like we could try it, it might work.”

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And it more than worked.

Over the four weeks that it was opened for, thousands of people visited the field, sharing pictures on social media.

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Gloagburn Farm: Farmer Crawford Niven came up with the idea.

“It went crazy, it went absolutely wild,” Mr Niven said.

“It just built up and built up and was kind of a social media storm. The dogs, the children, the elderly – anything and everything has been here.

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“People loved it. I designed it as a 30-40-minute walk and you would see people come out three hours later with the biggest smile on their face, so yeah, it just went really well.”

So well in fact, Mr Niven had to close the attraction early as the farm ran out of parking space and cars were backing up on the road.

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Walk: There are plans to bring the sunflower trail back next year.

However, he plans to bring the sunflower field back next year with a new booking system in place and plenty more opportunities for people to embrace the magical sea of yellow so many enjoyed this year.

He said: “Sunflowers will be back again next year, but it gives you an idea to do pumpkins, tulips, pick you own, anything – people just like being outdoors.

“It’s always good to diversify – I mean farming is changing.

“There’s a lot of changes to sustainability and carbon footprint and all that kind of thing, so it’s always good to add different things to the farm – to not rely just on the one thing – so that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

Review into child’s care following death of ‘smiley’ baby girl

The Glasgow Child Protection Committee has published a Significant Case Review into the child's death.

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Death: Both parents have since been charged in connection with their daughter’s death.

A severely disabled baby girl found dead at her home was not properly cared for by her parents, according to a significant case review which also found opportunities to intervene were missed.

Child D was found “lifeless” by her father in the Glasgow family home at 2am – before she reached the age of one. She was taken to hospital but staff were unable to resuscitate her.

In the weeks leading up to her death, medical staff had raised concerns that she was not “her normal smiley self” and was losing weight.

Her complex needs included having to have her bladder emptied four times every day – but the care review found this was only being done “intermittently” by her parents. It concluded, “the child ultimately dies due to a poor care regime by the parents.”

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Both parents have since been charged in connection with their daughter’s death. They and Child D cannot be identified for legal reasons. 

The Glasgow Child Protection Committee has published a Significant Case Review into the death, which happened in July 2017. 

It said “early intervention opportunities” were missed to help Child D and there was “a lack of coordination of services resulting in insufficient communication and information sharing.”

Problems in the system leading up to her death included three different health visitors being involved with the family. And there was no single health lead professional being made responsible for coordinating her health care. 

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It also found a GP had failed to flag up relevant details about the family history while filling out information for other health professionals and raised concerns about a pre-birth care assessment.

And it highlighted seven priorities that needed to be looked at in the wake of the child’s death.

The family had been known to social workers for a number of years. The baby’s father had drug addiction problems while the mother suffered from “long standing” mental health problems.

But they were judged to have made significant progress before the birth of Child D. 

The review found that even before the birth of Child D there were concerns that she may not survive childbirth, and it was highlighted that if she survived she would have multiple health needs.

Despite this, a pre-birth meeting did not have any representation from acute health specialities involved in Child D’s care.

Child D underwent surgery after being born with spina bifida, which is when the baby’s spine and spinal cord do not develop properly in the womb.

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She spent seven weeks in the neonatal high dependency unit before being taken home. Her health condition meant she needed to attend medical appointments regularly. 

The review said there was “limited discussion around the child’s complex medical needs and what is expected of the parents with regards to the child’s daily health and care needs.”

This included the need for her to be catheterised four times every day to empty her bladder to stay healthy. 

From August to December 2016 the child was seen by 13 health professionals. Parents promised health workers they were catheterising the baby four times daily, but no members of staff saw them do it at home.

At one point her dad told an addictions worker he was not “comfortable” catheterising his daughter.

The case review reported that in the hours beforehand Child D’s father had texted her mum begging her to come home as the baby was being sick and he didn’t know what to do. 

Police were concerned about the state of the family home when they attended after Child D’s death. A stockpile of catheters was found in the home – suggesting it was not happening enough. 

The case review said: “There are indications that the parents are not catheterising Child D four times daily as is necessary to ensure her health and well-being. They would appear to have been intermittently undertaking this procedure and the child ultimately dies due to a poor care regime by the parents.”

The case review identified seven priority findings when looking at the circumstances of her death including lack of communication and information sharing between agencies.

The review called for changes across the city including setting up a “process for identifying early in pregnancy vulnerable women and unborn babies who may require additional support.” 

It also said it is necessary to have a “consistent approach” in the completion of GP SCI gateway information across the city – in light of a GP not filling in a form comprehensively about Child D’s family. Additionally, the review pointed out there is a need to ensure that all relevant agencies are represented at child protection meetings.

Findings included three different health visitors working with the family during Child D’s short life. It resulted in a lack of knowledge of the family and child’s needs. There was a shortage of health visitors at that time nationally but more have now been hired. 

Another outcome showed a GP clicked ‘not known’ when asked were they aware of any vulnerability or child protection in relation to this pregnancy? while filling in information for maternity services. That happened despite the family being registered with the practice since 2013.

A further discovery revealed specialist health services staff didn’t attend a post birth planning meeting for Child D. The review said that had led to “the needs of the child not being fully understood and multi-agency assessment and decision making compromised.“

The review also highlighted no single health lead professional was assigned to the child.

The case review said: “If there is no health lead professional, there is no holistic understanding of a child’s Personal Data needs and there is no coordination across health specialities to ensure robust information sharing and care planning.”

It pointed out there was no consideration around “respite to support the parents to provide long term care to ensure a sustained high level of care for Child D.”

It also found there was “no multi-agency child’s plan in place and therefore no regular reviews of the plan involving key professionals.” 

It showed concerns around Child D’s weight, mum’s mental health and the parents’ separation were not addressed along with other issues. 

The review also raised concerns about NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board having multiple information systems.

Child D’s information was recorded in different records. 

It said: “Where health professionals do not have access to all relevant information this impacts on the quality of assessment, decision making and robust child’s planning.”

A spokeswoman for Glasgow’s Health & Social Care Partnership said: “This is a tragic case and our sympathies are with everyone affected.

“We welcome the findings of the Child Protection Committee’s report and have implemented an action plan to address the points raised – particularly in relation to information sharing between health and social care services.”

Story by local democracy reporter Sarah Hilley


Restart Help to Buy to support first-time homeowners, Tories urge

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government ended two key programmes for first-time buyers.

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Housing: Prices in Scotland have risen on average by 17% between March 2020 and August 2021.

The Scottish Government has been urged to help first-time buyers as house prices soar, with calls for the Help to Buy scheme to be reopened.

House prices in Scotland have risen on average by 17% between March 2020 and August 2021 – from £174,907 to £204,176.

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government ended two key programmes for first-time buyers – the affordable new build Help to Buy scheme and the First Home Fund.

The smaller developer portion of the Help to Buy scheme remains open until the end of this financial year.

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The Scottish Tories have now called for the full scheme to be restored, home building to be ramped up with a greater emphasis on affordable newbuilds, and for the threshold for land and buildings transaction tax (LBTT) – Scotland’s version of stamp duty – to be increased to £250,000.

The party’s housing spokesman Miles Briggs also called for a pilot scheme to be established in Edinburgh which would allow first-time buyers to own a share of a property in the city, where the average home costs more than £300,000.

He said: “More and more potential first-time buyers across Scotland are being edged out of the market as prices sky-rocket. However, the SNP have closed off crucial supply lines of support that were previously available to them.

“The SNP have also resoundingly failed to meet their promises on building enough affordable homes. They are simply not on the side of first-time buyers and that must change now.

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“Over the course of this Parliament, first-time buyers must be at the heart of our housebuilding strategy.

“Ministers should immediately restore the Help to Buy scheme in full and raise the threshold for first-time buyers as to when they have to pay land transaction taxes.”

Briggs went on to say that a generation of first-time buyers are being “left behind” by the Scottish Government.

“Young Scots are missing out on the chance to own their own home as Nicola Sturgeon denies them the same opportunities available south of the border,” he said.

“The SNP have the money available to them from the UK Government to go further and faster in their housebuilding programme.

“The Scottish Conservatives are today setting out a real plan to support first-time buyers.

“It is time the SNP stopped putting a handbrake on so many individuals and families’ dream of home ownership.”

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As we set out in our Housing to 2040 strategy, and in line with our Net Zero targets, we are shifting our focus to helping people renovate, adapt or improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

“We continue to support home ownership and have schemes in place to help first time buyers through our LIFT scheme which helps people on low to moderate incomes to buy their first home.

“Our first-time buyer relief for Land and Buildings Transaction Tax means that an estimated eight out of ten first-time buyers will pay no tax at all.

“Scotland continues to be a great place to buy a first home, with the average first-time buyer spending almost £90,000 less for a property than those in England.

“This has been borne out by figures from the mortgage industry which show a strong increase in mortgage approvals for first-time buyers in Scotland.”

The Scottish Government said it has delivered more than 103,000 affordable homes since 2007 and will commit to provide a further 110,000 by 2032.


Contactless card payment limit increased from £45 to £100

Between January and July, 60% of all debit and credit card transactions across the UK were contactless.

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Contactless: Limit raised to £100.

Shoppers can now make payments of up to £100 with a single tap of their card.

The contactless card payment limit has increased from £45 to £100, although many retailers’ terminals will need to be updated so the option will not be available everywhere immediately.

It may take “days, weeks, or even months” for some retailers to make the necessary changes, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), so customers will need to check with individual stores.

The increase from Friday marks the fifth time that the limit has been raised, after it was initially set at £10 in 2007.

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The limit was increased to £45 in April 2020, early on in the coronavirus pandemic. Some shops restricted people’s ability to pay with cash during the crisis, although Bank of England research suggests the risk of catching Covid-19 from banknotes is low.

Between January and July, 60% of all debit and credit card transactions across the UK were contactless, according to trade association UK Finance.

This accounted for 6.6 billion payments, with a value of £81.4bn.

UK Finance’s figures also show that, in 2016, just 7% of all payments, including cash, were made using contactless cards.

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By 2018 this had increased to nearly one in five (19%) transactions and by 2020 more than a quarter (27%) of all payments were being made using contactless cards.

Some banks will allow people to set their own contactless card limits at less than £100, or turn off contactless altogether.

David Postings, chief executive of UK Finance, said: “The new £100 limit offers customers greater choice about how they pay for things like their weekly shop or a tank of fuel.

“Contactless payments have become increasingly popular, and the payments industry has worked hard to ensure retailers are able to offer customers the new higher limit.”

The decision to raise the contactless limit from £45 to £100 was made by the Treasury and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) following a public consultation and discussions with the retail and banking sectors.

However, the move has raised some concerns about the potential for fraud.

An FCA spokesman said the rules have been changed to help the industry continue “to respond to the changing ways in which people prefer to pay”.

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He said: “Available fraud rate data suggests there to be no significant increase in contactless payment-related fraud since industry increased the limit to £45 in April 2020. What’s more, we have seen no material increase in fraudulent transactions in other countries where the contactless limit increased to the equivalent of £100 or above.

“Firms must ensure they work to reduce the risk of unauthorised transactions and fraud and need to have tools in place to monitor for fraudulent transactions. As the limit increases we will continue to keep a close eye on the data.”

UK Finance has said people should always contact their bank immediately if their card is lost or stolen or they notice any strange transactions on their account.

Under fraud protection rules, people can claim a refund if someone else makes an unauthorised payment from their account; for example, after their card has been stolen.

Cards also have an in-built security check so that, after a certain amount of contactless spending is undertaken or a certain number of transactions have been made, customers will need to enter their Pin.

Sarah Pennells, consumer finance specialist at Royal London, said: “Although fraud on contactless cards is relatively low level, it can be distressing to those who experience it.

“You should treat your contactless card the same way as you’d treat cash in your pocket, so be careful when you use it and don’t give it to anyone else.”

Tony Neate, chief at Get Safe Online said: “Over the past 18 months, as we have lived through the pandemic, contactless payments have been an ideal way to pay for products in a world where we have wanted to minimise cross contamination and touch.

“Whilst increasing the limit to £100 brings significant benefit, some might naturally be concerned about the potential risk it brings.

“If you are worried about the potential exposure to theft this brings then there are some simple steps you can take.”

He said people may be able to request a non-contactless card and added: “Secondly, if you enjoy the benefits contactless brings, but are hesitant about the higher cap, again, contact your bank or provider and ask if the contactless cap can be reduced and set at a level that you are happy with on your specific card. Not all banks offer this service, but many do, so if you’d be happier with this approach then just ask.”

Andrew Cregan, payments policy adviser at the British Retail Consortium, said: “While the UK contactless limit rises to £100 on Friday, it may take days, weeks, or even months for some retailers to make the necessary changes in their systems so that the new limit can take effect.

“Furthermore, some retailers may choose not to adopt the new contactless limit. As a result, customers will need to take care when making payments to check what the maximum contactless limit is for individual stores.”

Martin Kearsley, Post Office banking director, said: “Whilst contactless payments have undoubtedly sped up transactions in some shops and pubs, we know that small businesses in particular recognise the value of cash more than ever and many consumers rely on it to budget effectively.

“Over £1bn is deposited by businesses every month at our branches. Whilst some places go cashless, Post Offices will always offer cash services including the ability to withdraw the amount of cash a customer needs to the penny.”


Rail workers will go on strike during COP26 conference in Glasgow

ScotRail staff will strike from Monday November 1 until Friday November 12.

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Rail workers will go on strike – shutting down train services across Scotland during the COP26 global climate conference, the RMT union has confirmed.

Announcing the plans on Thursday, the union said staff on the frontline of providing green transport alternatives would close rail services over the pay dispute.

Caledonian Sleeper staff will also go on strike.

The move follows members voting overwhelmingly for industrial action, with 84% balloting to strike.

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The union said more than two thousand members, across all grades, were involved.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “Both Scotrail and the Caledonian Sleeper have had adequate time to come up with a fair pay settlement for Scotland’s rail workers in advance of COP26. Instead they have kicked the can down the road and left us with no option but to put this action on today.

“We know that these strikes will close rail services in Scotland but the blame for that lies with Abellio, SERCO and the political leadership at Holyrood.

“It’s time for all parties to take their rail workers seriously, get back round the table and give these staff at the front line of our green transport services the justice, respect and reward they deserve.”

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This week, Scotrail offered staff a pay rise in a bid to stop strikes during COP26 following RMT’s ballot.

It is understood an offer of an initial 2.5% backdated to April this year, with an additional 2.2% promised in April 2022, had been made.

Transport Scotland called the offer “significant” and hoped unions would consider and accept it.

Scotrail has been involved in talks with the four rail trade unions, RMT, Unite, ASLEF (Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen) and TSSA (Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association), for weeks.

Engineers represented by Unite are currently being balloted on a new offer and have suspended industrial action until the vote closes on October 25.

RMT Scotrail staff will strike from Monday, November 1 until Friday, November 12.

Caledonian Sleeper staff will strike from Sunday, October 31, until Tuesday, November 2, and then from Thursday, November 11, until Saturday, November 13.

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Scottish Conservative shadow transport minister Graham Simpson MSP, said: “The eyes of the world are set to be on Glasgow in a matter of weeks. World leaders and delegates arriving in the city to take action to tackle the climate emergency will be greeted by rail services that have ground to a halt.

“SNP Ministers must urgently redouble their efforts and work with all parties to find a solution once and for all. These strikes are now threatening to cast a shadow over COP26.”

A ScotRail spokesperson said: “It’s extremely disappointing that the RMT have opted to continue with this highly damaging strike action, particularly when a pay offer, negotiated over several weeks, has been made to the trade unions.

“We’re seeing customers gradually return to Scotland’s Railway, but the scale of the financial situation ScotRail is facing is stark.

“To build a more sustainable and greener railway for the future and reduce the burden on the taxpayer, we need to change. All of us in the railway – management, staff, trade unions, suppliers, and government – need to work together to modernise the railway so that it is fit for the future.”

From March next year, ScotRail will be nationalised after the current franchise with Abellio ends.

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “We welcome the constructive talks which have taken place between all parties.

“A significant offer has been made by employers since this RMT ballot opened and we understand that the RMT will now ballot its membership again on the substance of this offer.

“We hope that RMT members and the other unions will agree and accept this offer, putting to an end existing and proposed industrial disputes and action.

“Rail workers have played their part in keeping the country moving through the pandemic and we are sure that they will see the importance of the moment and the role they can play in showing the best Scotland’s Railway has to offer as we welcome world leaders from across the globe to COP26.”

Abellio and Scotrail were each contacted for comment.


Jeremy Corbyn to hold ‘alternative COP26’ in Scotland

The former Labour leader said he would look to 'raise up the voices of others' during the tour.

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The Peace and Justice Project will hold four events, three in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is set to come to Scotland to hold an “alternative COP26”.

Corbyn, through his Peace and Justice Project, will hold four events, three in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh , between November 8 and November 11.

Among the events is a “climate justice cabaret”, bringing together musicians and artists, as well as a panel with trade union leaders and two in conversation-style events.

The Islington MP said he would look to “raise up the voices of others” during the tour.

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“The climate emergency is a ‘code red for humanity’, is a critical warning,” he said.

“We need radical and rapid change to our dangerously broken and destructive political and economic system.

“Our future is being stolen from under us by a coalition of big polluters and big banks, propped up by weak politicians too scared to take them on.

“I can’t wait to be in Scotland during COP26 to add my voice – and more importantly raise up the voices of others – to propose radical and rapid change.”

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Corbyn added: “That change must be environmental but also social and economic. Our crises of inequality, climate, Covid-19 and democracy are all linked.

“The climate is a class issue at home and an international justice for the world. Those who have done the least harm suffer the most and the first.

“That’s why the demands of workers and the global south need to be at the centre of our campaign for climate justice.

“Our events will raise their demands through talks and discussions as well as music and art from hugely talented performers.”


Ugo Monye to miss Strictly Come Dancing episode amid back problem

The former rugby player will be absent from the show for a week after being urged to seek treatment.

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Strictly: Rugby star to miss Strictly Come Dancing on Saturday.

Ugo Monye has announced he will not be able to compete on Strictly Come Dancing this week because of back problems.

The former rugby player had been due to take to the dancefloor with partner Oti Mabuse, but will be absent from the show for a week.

The news comes just a day after comedian Robert Webb and partner Dianne Buswell withdrew from the show over the TV star’s ill health.

Monye wrote on Twitter: “Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to dance this weekend on the show.

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“I have a history of back problems which has always been managed under the guidance of medical professionals.

“Unfortunately this has been causing me some unwanted problems this week!

“I have been advised by medical professionals and with huge support from Strictly to get some treatment & rest to ensure that I can get myself back to full capacity & fighting fit for next week.

“Gutted Oti & I won’t be dancing this weekend but wishing all the other contestants the best of luck & will be cheering them on from home!”

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Mabuse said on Instagram the Strictly producers “have been so supportive in helping him get better”.

She added that “we are doing all we can to get Ugo back on his fast feet and dancing again”.

Peep Show star Webb, who had open heart surgery two years ago, announced he was pulling out of the programme on Wednesday evening, saying he was advised by a doctor to quit after he had “begun to feel symptoms” while training.

He said in a statement: “I’m extremely sorry to have to announce that I’m withdrawing from Strictly Come Dancing due to ill health.

“Two years ago I had open heart surgery and although I believed I was fit enough to take on Strictly and its demanding schedule, it became clear that I had bitten off way more than I could chew for this stage in my recovery.

“I had begun to feel symptoms that led me to seek an urgent consultation with my heart specialist, and it was her view that it would be better for the sake of my health to step back from the show.

“I’m proud of the three dances that Dianne Buswell and I managed to perform and deeply regret having to let her down like this.

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“I couldn’t have wished for a more talented partner or more patient teacher, and it’s a measure of Dianne’s professionalism and kindness that I was able to get as far as I did.”

He thanked viewers for voting for him and Buswell, adding he was “especially touched by the support from fellow heart patients”.

“I think perhaps I was too eager to impress them. They will know that recovery doesn’t always go in a straight line, and I hope they’re not too disappointed that I ran into the limits of my resilience much sooner than I’d hoped,” he said.

“I leave knowing that Strictly viewers are in very safe hands and I’ll be cheering for my brother and sister contestants all the way to Christmas.

“Despite this sad ending, it has been a genuine honour to be part of this huge, joyful and barking mad TV show. Long may it continue.”

Last weekend McFly star Tom Fletcher and partner Amy Dowden returned to the dancefloor after testing positive for coronavirus.

The duo missed a week of shows while they were self-isolating.


Child safety groups call on Facebook to be more transparent

The NSPCC has asked Mark Zuckerberg to publish how its apps impact children’s mental health.

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Facebook: More than 50 child safety groups call for the site to be safer for children.

A global group of more than 50 child safety organisations and campaigners has urged Mark Zuckerberg to make Facebook safer for children, sending an open letter to the social network founder calling for more transparency on how the platform plans to tackle the issue.

Led by the NSPCC, the group has asked Facebook to publish, in full, its research on how its apps impact children’s mental health and grant access to its data to independent researchers, as well as publishing risk assessments on its products in relation to children.

It says it is speaking out in the wake of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s claim that the company’s products “harm children” and accusation that it refused to change its products – despite having internal research which showed it can have a negative impact on younger users – because executives elevate profits over safety.

Ms Haugen’s accusations were accompanied by tens of thousands of pages of internal research documents she secretly copied before leaving her job in the company’s civic integrity unit.

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Facebook has dismissed the attacks as a “misrepresentation” of what it does.

Organisations including the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, the Child Rescue Coalition, the International Justice Mission, 5 Rights, Barnardo’s and the Internet Watch Foundation have now joined with the NSPCC in voicing their concerns about the company’s approach to child safety.

The coalition has presented five recommendations to the tech giant in order to help “regain the trust of parents and child protection professionals” and ensure the company “contributes rather than compromises” children’s safety and wellbeing.

The group said it welcomes Facebook’s efforts to undertake research on the mental health impact of its products but now is recommending that its work be published in full and that access to it be granted to independent regulators and experts.

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The letter also calls for the firm to do the same for any research it has done around the company’s products and their impact on the spread of child sexual abuse; the publication of Facebook risk assessments into its products, including those required under the UK Children’s Code; share more details on how it is conducting reputational reviews for different services; and to review the child safety implications of its planned move to end-to-end encryption across its services.

“Mark Zuckerberg must recognise and accept that public trust in his company to do the right thing by children has now reached breaking point,” NSPCC chief executive Sir Peter Wanless said.

“The scale and strength of the global coalition that has come together to urge Facebook to act provides further evidence that ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option.

“Facebook cannot continue to move fast and break things when children’s safety is at stake. Greater transparency on how their platforms are putting young users at risk and the steps they are taking to address these problems and make services safe by design must now be a top priority for them.”

In response, a Facebook company spokesperson said: “We’re committed to keeping young people who use our platform safe. We’ve spent 13 billion dollars on safety in recent years – including developing tools to enhance the safety and wellbeing of young people across Facebook and Instagram.

“We’ve shared more information with researchers and academics than any other platform and we will find ways to allow external researchers more access to our data in a way that respects people’s privacy.”


Call for changes at Crofting Commission after ‘breakdown in trust’

The body responsible for overseeing Scotland's 20,000 crofts must 'rebuild damaged relationships'.

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Crofting Commission: The body is responsible for overseeing Scotland’s 20,000 crofts.

Scotland’s crofters have called for changes after a report found “damaged relationships” and a “breakdown in trust” within the body responsible for securing their future.

The chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation has said that the current set-up of the Board of Commissioners of the Crofting Commission “isn’t ideal” and “really needs to be reviewed”.

The comments come after Audit Scotland in its audit report of Crofting Commission for 2020/21 said that the body responsible for overseeing Scotland’s 20,000 crofts “must improve its governance and rebuild damaged relationships between its board and managers”.

Audit Scotland found that there had been “a breakdown in trust between the Crofting Commission’s Board and its senior management team” with the Board “expressing a lack of confidence in the Commission’s chief executive”. 

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Auditors also found that there had been a “lack of involvement” of the Board in the setting of the Commission’s budget, along with “excessive involvement of the Board and former Convener in operational decision-making”

Concerns “about the leadership of the former convener, who resigned in June 2021” were also highlighted in the report’s findings and Auditors found “that a failure to respect established boundaries between the respective roles of the chief executive, convener and Board were at the heart of the poor relationship”.

Stephen Boyle, suditor general for Scotland, said: “Crofting is an integral part of life in the Highlands and Islands. But the leadership and governance of the Crofting Commission is currently falling below the standards expected of a public body.

“These is a pressing need to rebuild trust between the chief executive and the Board to ensure the boundaries of both roles are respected.

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“It is vitally important that all parties, including the Scottish Government’s sponsor division, work closely together to develop better relationships so that the Commission can provide effective oversight of the services provided to crofting communities.”

Chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation, Donald MacKinnon, said: “It is very sad to read the report from the auditor general on the Crofting Commission. The commission is the key-stone to the much valued regulated system of land tenure that is crofting, and we hoped that this sort of internal wrangling was a thing of the past.

“We appreciate that the setup of a board of commissioners, some of which are elected, some appointed, an executive team and a body of government officials isn’t ideal for smooth functioning and really needs to be reviewed.

“Everyone involved must feel frustrated. The shame is that this translates into a lack of achievement of outcomes, particularly that which we have raised on many occasions about occupation and use of crofts. The lack of regulation is threatening the future of this system.”

Responding to earlier responses to the report by the Crofting Commission, Mr McKinnon added: “We note the comments from the commission convener and CEO, that the issues are being addressed, and we wish them well in this – there is an urgency.”

Responding to AS’s findings, Malcolm Mathieson, convenor of the Crofting Commission, said that the organisation recognised “that the leadership and governance did not meet the standards expected of a public body”.

He added: “…whilst it is important to recognise the unprecedented pressures and exceptional circumstances that we found ourselves in during the initial phases of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are confident that we have improved and transformed the organisation to ensure we meet the challenges of the future.

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“The Board are clear in their support of the previous convenor and whilst disappointed, respect his decision to resign as convenor and commissioner from the East Highlands in July.”

Mr Mathieson concluded: “Substantial progress has been made since the completion of the audit report; in particular, the clarification of roles and remits within the Commission have been defined and accepted by all.

“The Board is enthusiastic about the new development function within the Commission and the upcoming digitalisation of many of our functions which will enable us as a Commission to be more effective and efficient.”

Bill Barron, chief executive of the Crofting Commission, added: “Both the Deloitte report and the Audit Scotland report identified areas in our leadership and governance arrangements as well as our business planning that required us to reassess, reflect and formulate an action plan which would address the matters in hand.

“Since the Commission were made aware of the concerns from the auditors we have worked exceptionally hard to make tangible and positive changes. We have developed an action plan and have, in just a few months, addressed over half of the points raised and have made good progress on others.”

Mr Barron added: “The reports do also highlight areas of our operation where we are exceeding the standards which are expected of us”.

“…it is clear that we are providing a fair and effective service to the crofting system and to crofters within our existing resources. I would like to thank all of our staff and Commissioners for continuing to provide this service despite the pressures that the pandemic burdened us with.”

Story by local democracy reporter Peter Urpeth


Scotland’s supply chain ‘left exposed by impact of Brexit and Covid’

The ripple effects are being felt across a wide range of sectors, from farming and construction to retail. 

RistoArnaudov via IStock

Scotland’s supply chain has been left exposed by the impact of Brexit and Covid-19.

And the ripple effects are being felt across a wide range of sectors, from farming and construction to retail. 

The situation has become so grave that a Holyrood inquiry has been launched to find out what can be done to ease the pressure.  

MSPs say they want to hear from people in different industries, in the hope of building a “more robust and resilient supply chain”.

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We’ve been speaking to some of those feeling the strain.

The full report will be shown on Scotland Tonight at 7.30pm on Thursday.

THE FARMER 

STV News
The farmer: Robin Traquair is a pig farmer on the outskirts of Edinburgh. 

Robin Traquair is a pig farmer on the outskirts of Edinburgh. 

Every week, Mr Traquair usually sends 150 to 200 pigs away from the farm. But recently, there have been some weeks where he’s struggled to get any livestock off to the slaughterhouse due to a shortage of specialist butchers.

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It’s estimated that a combination of rising feed costs, dropping market prices and penalties for selling pigs “out of spec” have combined to cost Scottish pig producers £5m. 

He told STV News: “We’ve relied quite heavily on butchers from Eastern Europe, and it’s an ageing workforce as well.

“With the circumstances of Covid, and people going back home, there are less butchers in the slaughterhouses.

“It’s a very skilled job. You can’t just bring somebody in and train them overnight.

“They were offering to pay more, but there’s no butchers to hire.

“The Government was talking about a three-month visa. We’re actually pushing for a 12-month visa, minimum.”

THE FRUIT AND VEG SUPPLIER 

STV News
The fruit and veg supplier: Sarah Gulland runs Roots, Fruits & Flowers in Glasgow.

Sarah Gulland runs Roots, Fruits & Flowers in Glasgow.

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As well as running the shop, Ms Gulland sells produce to restaurants and offers home deliveries.

A shortage of lorry drivers, and extra paperwork for produce coming into the UK from further afield, is having a knock-on effect on deliveries and quality.

She said: “If the delivery is late by a day or two, then you’ve got a day or two left to sell the produce because it doesn’t have that long a shelf life.

“The waste has dramatically increased – it’s upsetting to see all that fresh produce go to waste. 

“Our suppliers at the market, if they can’t get the produce in to sell, sometimes by the time it gets to market it’s no good to sell, so who takes the hit on that?”

THE RESTAURATEUR 

STV News
The restaurateur: Dean Gassabi runs Maison Bleue in Edinburgh.

Dean Gassabi runs Maison Bleue in Edinburgh.

He had two established restaurants, but after lockdown he had no choice but to close one of the venues due to extreme staffing shortages.

Before Covid hit, 80% of his workforce was made up of EU nationals. He’s now finding it difficult to recruit staff locally.

He said: “The staff that were on furlough didn’t come back.

“We couldn’t sustain paying all the overheads [on the other venue] so we had to dispose of it unfortunately – it broke our heart.

“All our staff [from the other venue] came here and we still don’t have enough for this one.

“The biggest problem we have is finding kitchen porters. We’re hoping it’ll get better but I can’t see it getting better for a few months yet.

“For us to survive all of this, we’re going to need some help through the transition.”

THE HAULAGE FIRM

The haulage firm: Staff hard at work at Bullet Express in Glasgow.

John McKail is the managing director of Bullet Express in Glasgow.

The firm runs a vast logistical operation, delivering goods on behalf of more than 500 companies.

Its full complement of drivers is 75, but it’s been struggling to fill vacancies, backfilling with in-demand agency workers.

Mr McKail believes the UK Government’s temporary visa scheme, to recruit 5000 drivers over the next three months, “barely scratches the surface”.

There’s an estimated shortage of 90,000 HGV drivers in the UK. 

He said: “It’s tough – every day is a challenge. We’ve a lot of demand in our business.

“We have increased drivers’ pay, double-digit percentage, we’ve increased the benefits for drivers to come and join us, we’ve put retention bonuses in, there are many measures we’re taking to try and retain our drivers.”

THE TOY RETAILER

STV News
The toy retailer: Donald Nairn is the owner of Toys Galore in Edinburgh.

Donald Nairn is the owner of Toys Galore in Edinburgh.

He is preparing for a busy period in the lead-up to Christmas. But with delays in the global supply chain, he’s having to think even further ahead to stay prepared.

He said: “Shortages at Christmas time happen all the time anyway, it’s just that this year will be worse.

“Some products we have no problems whatsoever, it’s been as it’s always has been. However, other projects – especially those coming from the Far East – we’ve noticed that there have been delays and often shortages, as things get held up in ports or there’s problems getting containers. 

“In addition to that there have been substantial price increases on products that are quite bulky and therefore more expensive to ship.”


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