Only ‘most serious’ court cases to be heard during lockdown

The majority of summary trials in the Sheriff Court and Justice of Peace Court will be adjourned.

Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service via Website

Only the most serious court cases will be heard during lockdown as the number of coronavirus cases rises.

Up to 75% of criminal trials will be suspended from Tuesday, the court service said.

The most serious cases include those where the accused is being held in custody, or the alleged offence is sexual or includes children.

Scottish Courts and Tribunals said the move would “significantly reduce the number of people required to attend court in person”.

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It added: “The position across the country as a whole has changed over the last week, requiring us to review our position.

“On Friday we discussed the rapid spread of the new Covid-19 variant with senior public health officials in the Scottish Government. 

“With their advice and the recognition that we have taken all the right steps in making our buildings safe, we have determined that we should focus on the most essential business to reduce travel, overall footfall and physical interaction in our courts and therefore support the public health response at this critical time.”

All criminal appeals, the Bail Appeal Court, Office of the Public Guardian and Tribunals will continue to operate virtually and remotely, as they have been doing throughout the pandemic.

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The Scottish Conservatives said trial delays would “come as a body blow” to victims and witnesses.

Shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr said: “No-one disputes that public safety is paramount and these latest delays are due to the new strain of the virus, but that will do little to soften the blow for those affected and left in limbo.

“The SNP government has neglected our criminal justice system for 13 years. We already know there were thousands of delayed court cases before the first pandemic restrictions were introduced last March.

“The SNP have had ten months to deal with this and they must now work with lawyers, prosecutors, court staff and the judiciary to alleviate the impact of these postponements and find practical and safe ways to ease the logjam.

“It is also vital these postponed cases cannot be quietly abandoned. Doing so would be a betrayal of victims and risk undermining public faith in the justice system.”

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “I am acutely aware of the impact that trial delays have upon victims, witnesses and the accused, as well as on professionals working in the justice system.

“Nonetheless, it is clear that all parts of society must step up our efforts to help safeguard health, protect the NHS and save lives.

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“While the very concerning rates of infection, hospitalisation and deaths present us with arguably at least as challenging a position as we faced last March, today the justice system and in particular Scotland’s courts are logistically and operationally in a much better position than in the spring when a full shutdown of criminal trials was needed.”


‘Difficult’ night for police as 28 arrested at Rangers party

Thousands of supporters gathered at George Square in Glasgow on Sunday.

Craig Foy - SNS Group via SNS Group

Police arrested 28 people as Rangers fans gathered in their thousands to celebrate the club winning the Premiership.

Glasgow’s police chief said officers were faced with “a very difficult set of circumstances” as they tried to control the crowds on Sunday.

Football fans flocked to George Square in breach of coronavirus restrictions and could be seen singing, drinking and letting off fireworks.

The scenes were condemned by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who said the fans were putting the planned loosening of lockdown restrictions at risk.

Memorial benches were destroyed on Sunday night (STV News)
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Police officers were assaulted while members of the public were arrested for using pyrotechnics and sectarian-related breaches of the peace.

A number of people were injured throughout the day, some as the result of drunkenness. Seven fixed penalty notices were handed out.

Memorial benches in George Square were destroyed and litter was strewn across the area.

A clean-up crew were on the scene on Monday morning, with smashed glass and discarded alcohol containers gathered up.

A memorial bench is taken away by Glasgow City Council staff (STV News)
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In a statement, the club said it had “proactively engaged” with Police Scotland and the government regarding public safety on the lead-up to Sunday.

Chief Superintendent Mark Sutherland, divisional commander for Greater Glasgow Division, said: “A pre-planned policing operation was instigated after Rangers FC were confirmed as league champions.

“Despite the coronavirus regulations and the prohibition of gatherings, our officers were faced with a very difficult set of circumstances as many thousands of supporters gathered to celebrate across a number of different venues.”

He added: “An appropriate policing response was in place throughout the day and officers continually engaged and encouraged compliance with coronavirus regulations.

Craig Foy via SNS Group
Rangers fans gathered in George Square after being crowned champions.

“Over the course of the day a number of minor injuries were sustained by members of the public, some of which were as a result of intoxication.”

The First Minister branded fans who broke lockdown rules as “disgraceful”.

Sturgeon congratulated Rangers on the win, but warned that supporters gathering in crowds could “delay exit from lockdown for everyone else”.

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She tweeted: “I share folks’ anger at this. Everyone has made so many sacrifices in the past year and seeing a minority risk our progress is infuriating and disgraceful.

“It is deeply unfair to the entire country, and the police have a hard enough job already.”

She added: “Please ask fans to go home Rangers FC.”

In a statement the club said: “During the last number of weeks, Rangers can confirm that we initiated open dialogue with key stakeholders in relation to the possibility of us achieving a historic 55th league title.

“We have proactively engaged with our local MP, the Justice Minister, the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and the SPFL in relation to maintaining a cohesive message regarding public safety during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We understand the jubilance of our support across the world who recognise this has been a historic year for the club.

“Nevertheless, it has been of great frustration for all football fans across the world that they have not been able to watch their team within stadiums, especially for the loyal Rangers season-ticket holders who have stood by this football club through thick and thin in the last decade.

“We reiterate the message from our manager, Steven Gerrard, who highlighted that fans should adhere to government guidelines – stay safe, socially distance and look after each other in this difficult time.

“We are aware there is the possibility of more, significant milestones within this season, and we will continue to proactively engage with key stakeholders to maintain a cohesive message in relation to government guidance at this present time.

“We look forward to further open dialogue with the government, police, SPFL and other key stakeholders.”

Greens and government reach deal to pass Scottish Budget

Concessionary travel scheme extended and pay rise for public sector workers.

handout via Getty Images / Andrew Mckenna / EyeEm via Getty Images
Kate Forbes' Budget will pass into law after Green Party signalled support.

The Scottish Greens will ensure the Scottish Budget is passed after reaching a deal with the Scottish Government.

Finance secretary Kate Forbes announced the deal while giving evidence to the Finance and Constitution Committee on Monday.

Forbes has agreed to extend the forthcoming concessionary travel scheme to all young people under 22 years old, pay rises for public sector workers and pandemic relief payments of £130 to those on low incomes.

All primary school pupils in Scotland will be able to claim free school meals during term time, under the new plans, and £40m will be invested in active travel, energy efficiency and other environmental efforts.

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Forbes said: “I’ll be able to say more at stage three but I wanted to take the opportunity to update the committee transparently on this recent development.”

Talks are also continuing with the Scottish Liberal Democrats ahead of the final vote on the Budget on Tuesday.

The draft budget for 2021-22 was unveiled in January and promised record funding of £16bn for the NHS in Scotland and money for local authorities to freeze council tax.

But with the Scottish Government not having a majority in Holyrood, SNP ministers need to win the support of at least one other party for the Budget to pass.

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The new initiatives included in the Budget include:

  • Pandemic Support Payments of £130 to households receiving council tax reduction and two payments of £100 to families of children qualifying for free school meals
  • Phased introduction of free school meals to all primary school children by August 2022
  • An £800 pay rise for public sector workers earning up to £25,000, and a 2% increase for those earning over £25,000 up to £40,000.
  • Extending free bus travel to under 22s
  • £40m to support the green recovery, including a further £15m for active travel, £10m for energy efficiency, £10m for biodiversity and £5m for agri-environmental measures

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said he was “delighted” the “constructive approach” of his party had yielded concessions from the Scottish Government.

He said: “This year’s budget cements the impact the Scottish Greens have had on Scotland’s priorities over the last five years.

“From fairer taxes to local services, we’ve shown every year that Green MSPs will get things done to build a fairer and greener Scotland.”

He added: “We’ve also been clear that school meals can be a vital tool in tackling child poverty. Marcus Rashford has brought the campaign for meals during the school holidays to the forefront, and I’m proud that Green MSPs have won that in Scotland, and universal free school meals for all primary kids by next summer.

“Concessionary bus travel for young people is a game changer, opening up opportunities for families and young people, and promoting public transport use for a whole generation.

“And after the insult of a public sector pay freeze from the UK Budget, I’m proud that the Greens have secured an uplift for the workers who have been and still are on the front line of our efforts to tackle this public health crisis. We will continue to back further progress, for example in the imminent NHS Scotland pay review.”

Meghan Markle: ‘I just didn’t want to be alive anymore’

Harry and Meghan open up about loneliness, fear and being ignored by family in Oprah interview.

Joe Pugliese via Harpo Productions
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex during their interview with Oprah Winfrey.

The Duchess of Sussex has told of how she felt suicidal during her time living with the Royal Family.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, due to be broadcast on STV on Monday at 9pm, Meghan said there were times that she “just didn’t want to be alive anymore”.

The Duchess also told of how a member of Harry’s family raised concerns about “how dark” their son Archie’s skin might be before his birth.

She also spoke of her battle with loneliness and worries that Archie would be vulnerable if he was denied a title – leaving him without protection.

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Ms Winfrey asked Meghan if she had been thinking of harming herself, the Duchess responded: “Yes. This was very, very clear.

“And that was a very clear and real and frightening constant thought. And I remember, I remember how he just cradled me and I was… I went to the institution, and I said that I needed to go somewhere to get help.

“I said that I’ve never felt this way before and I need to go somewhere. And I was told that I couldn’t, that it wouldn’t be good for the institution.”

The Duke of Sussex joined his wife in the interview, broadcast in the US overnight on Sunday.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex during their interview with Oprah Winfrey which was broadcast in the US on March 7 (Harpo Productions)
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Ms Winfrey asked Harry about a conversation Meghan had described in which Archie’s skin colour was brought up.

He said: “That conversion, I am never going to share. At the time it was awkward, I was a bit shocked.”

Harry also said Prince Charles “stopped taking my calls” during the build-up to the couple’s departure from the family.

Asked if they had “blindsided” the Queen with their announcement they were leaving, Harry said: “No, I would never blindside my grandmother, I have too much respect for her.”

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Meghan and Harry with William, Kate and the Queen (Getty Images)

He told Ms Winfrey he had three conversation with his grandmother and two with Charles before he stopped taking his calls.

The Duke said he is prioritising the relationship with his father who is now taking his calls.

Meghan said that reports she had made the Duchess of Cambridge cry were untrue and that it was, in fact, Kate who reduced her to tears.

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She claimed Kate apologised with flowers and a note, but that it was not a “confrontation” and it would be unfair to go into detail.

Oprah with Meghan and Harry will be aired at 9pm on Monday, March 8 at 9pm.

If you or someone you know needs help, Samaritans operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year, by calling 116 123. Or, if you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org

Four men in hospital after incident near football ground

A teenager and three others are in a "stable" condition after they were found injured in Glasgow.

Police Scotland
Police and the ambulance service responded to the scene on Old Shettleston Road.

Four men were taken to hospital after they were found injured following an incident near a football ground in Glasgow.

Police and the ambulance service responded to the scene on Old Shettleston Road, near Chester Street, in the east of the city on Sunday.

At around 6.45am, three men, aged 21, 17 and 25, were found injured on the street and were taken to hospital.

Police investigated the disturbance near Shettleston Juniors FC grounds and a fourth man, aged 21, was found injured inside a flat on Old Shettleston Road.

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All four are described by medical staff as in a “stable” condition.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Around 6.45am on Sunday, March 7, three men, aged 21, 17 and 35 years were found injured on Old Shettleston Road, near to Chester Street, Shettleston, Glasgow.

“Following enquiries, a fourth man, aged 21, was found injured with in a flat in Old Shettleston Road.

“All injured have been taken to local hospitals where medical staff describe their condition as stable.

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“Enquiries are ongoing to establish the circumstances surrounding the incident.”


Construction of new swing bridge over River Clyde set to begin

A twin-leaf swing bridge that will connect Renfrew and Yoker in West Dunbartonshire forms the centrepiece of the project.

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Artist's impression of the new opening road bridge over the River Clyde.

Construction of the first opening road bridge over the River Clyde is to begin in the coming weeks.

Renfrewshire Council’s finance board agreed to award the £79.5m Clyde Waterfront and Renfrew Riverside contract to civil engineering experts Graham during a meeting on Friday.

A twin-leaf swing bridge that will connect Renfrew and Yoker in West Dunbartonshire forms the centrepiece of the project.

Works on the structure are scheduled to start in spring and will take three years to complete.

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Graham has previously worked on the iconic Samuel Beckett Bridge in Dublin and the Carpenters Land Bridge in Stratford, London.

The firm said it would create more than 100 community benefits including jobs, apprenticeships, and community volunteering activities.

Other parts of the project include riverside walking and cycling routes and a new road through Renfrew connecting the bridge to the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District Scotland being developed by Renfrewshire Council in collaboration with the Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise.

Leo Martin, managing director for Graham’s civil engineering division, said: “The new bridge will provide a gateway to the area’s fast-growing manufacturing innovation district and help better connect communities with significant employment and development opportunities.”

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The project is jointly funded by the UK and Scottish governments through the £1.13bn Glasgow City Region City Deal.

It will support around 700 jobs during its construction and is set to generate hundreds of subcontract and supplier opportunities.

Economic estimates in the final business case found the scheme could also lead to 1400 permanent posts and 950 temporary construction roles from the resultant £230m in private sector investment expected to be attracted to development sites on both sides of the Clyde over the coming years.

Renfrewshire Council leader Iain Nicolson added: “We are delighted to have approved the awarding of this contract and look forward to working with Graham and its project partners on what is a hugely significant project for Renfrewshire, the Glasgow City Region, and Scotland.

“We are excited by its potential in creating a vibrant attractive waterfront and connecting communities to their work, to hospitals, and to education.”

Further City Deal funding is supporting the council as it converts a 52-hectare site next to Glasgow Airport into a research and development centre for advanced manufacturing.

Construction of the underpinning infrastructure is scheduled for completion this year and plans are progressing for a specialist carbon-reducing district heating network, campus square, and riverside green spaces.

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Story by local democracy reporter Stephanie Brawn

Investigation launched after body found near army barracks

The man's body was discovered on the B9011 between Findhorn and Kinloss.

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Investigation: Body found near army barracks.

A man’s body has been discovered near army barracks in Moray. 

The body was found by Kinloss Barracks on the B9011 between Findhorn and Kinloss.

Police said the death of the man is being treated as “unexplained” and enquiries into the discovery are ongoing.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Police Scotland can confirm that the body of a man has been discovered by Kinloss Barracks on the B9011 between Findhorn and Kinloss.

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“The death is currently being treated as unexplained and enquiries into the matter are at an early stage.”


Anti-racist professor wants to educate not ‘tear down statues’

Campaigner rejects report that leaked list of monuments could be torn down.

© Google Maps 2020 / One Scotland via Scottish Government
The Melville Monument should remain in its context, said Sir Geoff Palmer OBE.

A leading anti-racist campaigner has hit back after several commentators accused him of wanting to ‘tear down’ statues and ‘defile’ Adam Smith’s grave.

Sir Geoff Palmer OBE, a professor emeritus in the School of Life Sciences at Heriot-Watt University, has been appointed by Edinburgh City Council to lead the Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group.

The group will investigate the street names, monuments and buildings of the capital, and according to Sir Geoff, will provide educational resources to ‘provide people with information about their city’, rather than removing statues and changing place names.

Despite this, some commentators have heavily criticised Sir Geoff and the review group after a leaked draft list of places and monuments that could be subject to review was leaked to The Telegraph newspaper.

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Contrary to some reports, the list, which is a draft compilation of possible review subjects submitted by individual members of the group, is not an agreed list of placenames and monuments to investigate – that list is set to be agreed when the group meets on March 15.

The leaked document listed Adam Smith’s grave, in Canongate Kirkyard, as a possible contender for investigation, due to Smith’s apparent acceptance of slavery as ‘inevitable’ – although he was a fierce critic of the practice and frequently condemned it.

The inclusion of Adam Smith’s grave on the draft list has led to several conservative commentators heavily criticising Sir Geoff Palmer on social media.

The ‘Save Our Statues’ Twitter account, which regularly tweets about the Black Lives Matter movement, tweeted: “Adam Smith’s grave listed in Edinburgh City Council’s slavery review. Despite saying slavery was contemptuous.

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“With historically illiteracy and targeting of graves, Sir Geoff Palmer’s kangaroo court is showing up the lunacy of these reviews better than I ever could.”

Matt Kilcoyne, the deputy director of neoliberal think tank the Adam Smith Institute, accused Sir Geoff of trying to ‘wipe Adam Smith out of history’, writing: “I condemn in unequivocal terms the moves by some on Edinburgh Council to try and wipe Adam Smith out of history.

“His record on slavery is one of condemnation, he wrote the moral case against it and the economic case against it. Adam Smith’s record is readable and redoubtable.

“We’re proud to champion his legacy and the Adam Smith Institute today speaks out against forced labour — most recently we’ve highlighted the slave camps of Xinjiang. We will continue to do both.”

Mr Kilcoyne has also started collecting names in support of the full retention of Adam Smith’s grave and statue, despite Sir Geoff’s previously stating he does not wish to remove monuments, and has written a comment piece for The Spectator on the same subject.

Commentator Paul Staines, who runs the right wing politics website Guido Fawkes, also tweeted in the belief Smith’s statue was under threat, writing: “Of all the statues not to tear down, Adam Smith, who argued against the consensus of the time, that slavery was immoral, is surely the one.

“That he did not win the argument in his lifetime is no reason to defile his grave.”

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In response, Sir Geof Palmer has reiterated his belief that some commentators are misrepresenting what he’s trying to accomplish, saying: “I was one of the only people saying don’t tear our statues down, which is the irony of Twitter accounts like Save Our Statues attacking me.

“The council has appointed me knowing what my views are. My view is clear – and I’ve said it quite clearly – the next statue down in our country should be racism.

“If you remove the statue you remove the deed, and our statues are in the context of our history.

“So where Dundas is, it is in the context of St Andrew Square, it is in the history of St Andrew Square, it is linked to Dundas Road across the street.

“It is linked to Henry Brougham, the abolitionist, who lived in St Andrew Square.

“So if you start removing things from their context, then in 100 years time we will have forgotten this historical context.

“It’s also important because the reasons why Dundas’ statue was put there are important, and therefore we cannot remove history from its context.”

Sir Geoff also says his work on BAME history will help fight racism in the present: “What I would like to see is the Scottish people, with this remit, will understand their history better.

“They will come to understand the truth of the link between Edinburgh and it’s relationship with slavery. We’re going to do this by giving them the evidence.

“Street names for example – we know that Balcarres Street, named after Earl Balcarres, was Henry Dundas’ governor of Jamaica, and he owned slaves and enslaved them.

“We’re also going to look at the New Town, we’re going to look at the streets and roads in the New Town, and many of these streets are on the compensation list – the people who lived there got compensation for their slaves.

“We’re going to look at statues and monuments of people who are linked to slavery and colonialism. We’re going to provide people with information about their city.

“That information will not be prejudicial, it is not going to be there to denigrate, it is there to give the public information about their city and its links with slavery and colinialism.

“We will then have a document, which is evidence-based, that can be used for educational purposes in order to say to the public that when you look at a BAME person in our society, they have a right to be here.

“They were part of the British Empire, they worked and they died for it and therefore we are all now one Scotland.”

Story by local democracy reporter Joseph Anderson

Businesses ‘optimistic’ about year ahead despite pandemic

A financial report found firms were positive about the future despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Business: Optimism despite pandemic, report finds.

Businesses in Scotland are now more optimistic about the year ahead than they have been for almost a decade, a financial report has found.

The latest Royal Bank of Scotland purchasing managers’ index (PMI) found firms were positive about the future despite still suffering the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The bank’s analysts noted improved confidence among private-sector firms, the highest recorded in its monthly reports since 2012.

Businesses said their optimism was boosted by hopes of a timely end to Covid-19 restrictions and a subsequent financial recovery.

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It came despite the Scottish economy remaining stuck in a downturn during February.

The RBS business activity index found a sixth straight monthly reduction in new business and a drop in private-sector employment for the 13th month in a row.

Businesses said coronavirus restrictions and temporary closures had led them to cut back on staffing, although they also mentioned the government furlough scheme.

Malcolm Buchanan, chairman of the Scotland board at Royal Bank of Scotland, said: “Lockdown measures continued to stifle the Scottish economy in February.

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“Both business activity and inflows of new work fell steeply again, although the rates of decline eased notably since January.

“Despite the challenging conditions, Scottish companies reported the strongest level of business confidence on record in February, with the lockdown road map prompting hopes of easing restrictions and a strong economic recovery in the coming year.”

The Royal Bank of Scotland PMI is compiled from responses to questionnaires sent to a panel of around 500 manufacturers and service providers.


Tractor driving and sheepdog training fund for women announced

The £115,000 package was announced by the rural economy secretary on International Women’s Day.

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Farming: Fund to support women announced.

Women are to be offered support to drive tractors, train sheepdogs and photograph livestock as part of agriculture funds announced by the Scottish Government on International Women’s Day.

Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing revealed the £115,000 package for women in farming and crofting businesses.

It tops up previous money announced for women in the sector in December.

Training courses on offer through the funds include tractor and trailer driving, sheepdog training and education in the use of antibiotics in livestock.

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Applications for the funds have also come from women seeking to diversify their agricultural business into new areas, such as livestock photography.

Ewing said: “It’s fitting the new funding of £115,000 is announced on International Women’s Day as we seek to empower women living and working in Scottish agriculture with increased business skills, knowledge and confidence.

“These training funds have already proved enormously popular and we look forward to investing still further in future female successes.

“In supporting women in this way, we are increasing equality of opportunity and gender balance in Scottish agriculture and creating a more resilient agricultural industry.

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“The benefits to the rural economy and way of life for women living and working in agriculture will be significant in terms of accessing increased training funding.”

The fund is administered by Lantra Scotland and is now accepting applications from woman resident in Scotland who are living, working or studying in agriculture.


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