Science

Budget deal between SNP and Greens could cost higher rate taxpayers another £250 each

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A Budget deal between Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP government and the hard-Left Greens could cost Scotland’s higher rate taxpayers a further £250 each, it has emerged.

The Greens, who are seen as the most likely opposition party to do a deal with the minority SNP administration, said they could not currently support the Scottish Budget as it cuts local council funding.

Andy Wightman, the party’s local government spokesman, said he wanted ministers to provide a further £150 million and suggested there could be discussions around income tax “bands and thresholds” to find the extra money.

Derek Mackay, the SNP Finance Minister, admitted there was an “anomaly” with his tax plans, with people earning between £43,525 and £58,500 getting a tax cut next year.

This is because he used his 2018/19 draft Budget, unveiled on Thursday, to increase the salary threshold for the 40p tax rate by inflation to £44,273. Mr Mackay confirmed he would “engage” with the other parties over the issue.

But freezing the threshold at the current level of £43,000 would mean the vast majority of higher earners paying an extra £254 income tax compared to the minister’s original plans.

This would be on top of increases already announced by Mr Mackay, who used his Budget to put a penny on both the higher and top rates, increasing them to 41p and 46p respectively.

He also unveiled an extra 21 per cent income tax band for earnings between £24,000 and £44,000 that will sit between the basic and higher rates.  Overall, 750,000 Scots earning more than £33,000 will see their taxes rise.

The changes also mean will mean 45 per cent of Scottish workers – around 1.1 million people – will pay more income tax than if they earned the same salary in England. The total includes 800,000 basic rate taxpayers whom the SNP promised to protect in last year’s Holyrood election.

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Offices ban Christmas gift deliveries amid warnings of a ‘perfect storm’ for late parcels

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Companies are banning workers from having Christmas presents delivered to their offices amid a ‘perfect storm’ that will see record numbers of parcels delivered late.

Retail experts are predicting that almost £4.4 billion worth of gifts will not reach homes in time for Christmas Day. 

Shoppers leaving it late will be caught out by earlier than usual delivery dates caused by Christmas falling on a Monday.

Many retailers do not send out goods at weekends with some flagship brands such as Harvey Nicols and Liberty having a last day delivery date of as early as Wednesday December 20th. Amazon and Argos, by contrast, are promising to deliver in time for Christmas for orders placed on December 24th.

Increasing numbers of workers are now banned from receiving parcels sent to their workplaces, where they clog up company post rooms. That will make it harder for employees to arrange timely deliveries.

Major organisations that have put bans in place include John Lewis, HSBC and JP Morgan, according to Doddle, a company that runs an alternative ‘click and collect’ delivery service. 

The business estimates that almost two-thirds of parcels received workplaces are for personal use caused by the boom in internet shopping.

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Digital Minister tells SNP to ‘get real’ after Ofcom says Scotland behind England for superfast broadband 

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The SNP must “get real” about the slow rollout of superfast broadband in Scotland, the Digital Minister has said after the industry regulator confirmed it was lagging behind England and Wales.

Matt Hancock described the Nationalists’ performance as “lamentable” after Ofcom’s new Connected Nations report found 87 per cent of all premises in Scotland could access superfast broadband in May and June this year.

This compared with 92 per cent coverage in England, which also had faster average download speeds, and 89 per cent in Wales. Only Northern Ireland, with 85 per cent, had less coverage.

It said six per cent of Scottish premises could even not get “decent” broadband access – double the proportion in England (three per cent) and more than Wales (five per cent).

Warning of a “stark” urban-rural divide in Scotland and Northern Ireland, it said two per cent of properties in Scottish towns and cities could not get decent broadband compared with 27 per cent in the countryside.

Only 78 per cent of small businesses in Scotland could access a superfast connection, compared to 85 per cent in England and 81 per cent in Wales.

In an astonishing illustration of the lack of connectivity in rural Scotland, Ofcom found just 40 per cent of the landmass had mobile phone coverage compared to 70 per cent across the whole of the UK. Internet data coverage from mobile devices was even lower, at just 31 per cent of the landmass.

The report was published only three weeks after Fergus Ewing, the SNP’s Rural Economy Minister, insisted that “any assertion” that Scotland is behind the rest of the UK on superfast broadband rollout “is completely untrue.”

Derek Mackay, the Finance Minister, announced in Thursday’s Scottish Budget that a target of delivering superfast broadband to 95 per cent of premises would be met by the end of this month.

This would require an eight-point improvement in coverage since June, double the increase achieved in the previous year.

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SpaceX launches recycled rocket on NASA shopping trip

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Neighbours voice disapproval over architect’s plans to turn luxury £5.5m London home into museum

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A row has erupted over an architect’s plans to turn his luxury £5.5m home into a museum which he believes will be a “significant cultural benefit” to the area.

Neighbours are objecting to the proposal brought forward by Harvard graduate Charles Jencks who wants to give tours to visitors of his home in London’s Holland Park, which will house archives of other architects too.

Mr Jencks, 78, said in his submission that it would provide a “significant cultural benefit” to London.

However, residents are concerned about the plans for it to become a mixed use property.

One objection posted on the Kensington and Chelsea council application says: “While no-one would object to the odd group or academic visit, the proposed restriction of 15 people per visit could mean over 500 people passing through the house per week, which would clearly have a materially detrimental effect on local traffic, noise, parking and privacy.”

Another neighbour requested that any windows that look out from Mr Jenck’s home be frosted to respect other’s privacy.

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Fishery puts up fences around lake to stop fish being slaughtered by otters

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Martin Salter, head of campaigns at the Angling Trust, said: “Individual specimen fish, especially big carp, are prized by anglers who pay several hundreds of pounds a year in club membership fees to fish such waters.

“The value of record or near-record breaking fish can be measured in many thousands of pounds.

“We are seeing that fishery owners are prepared to spend substantial sums of money to protect their stock from otter predation, mainly through installing heavy duty fencing.

“Otters are an apex predator, they didn’t need any outside assistance in their recovery. Their numbers returned once we stopped using horrible pesticides.

“The artificial introduction of them was both unnecessary and, in some ways, down right irresponsible as the conservationists did it without any consultation with fisheries.”

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Rex Tillerson offers olive branch as North Korean ambassador makes rare appearance at UN

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The US secretary of state came face-to-face with North Korea’s ambassador to the UN for the first time in a decade on Friday, as Rex Tillerson confronted Ja Song Nam at a Security Council meeting in New York.

Mr Tillerson offered an olive branch to the North Koreans, telling them that “all options remain on the table” and urging them to abandon their nuclear programme and return to negotiation.

“We do not seek, nor do we want, war with North Korea,” he said.

“The United States will use all necessary measures to defend itself against North Korean aggression, but our hope remains that diplomacy will produce a resolution.” 

He said that “a sustained cessation of North Korea’s threatening behaviour must occur before talks can begin,” and added: “North Korea must earn its way back to the table. The pressure campaign must, and will, continue until denuclearisation is achieved. 

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Shrine outside George Michael’s home causes friction a year after his death

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For almost a year, the shrine outside George Michael’s imposing Georgian home has spilled out onto the street, an unmissable sea of increasingly bedraggled flowers, photographs, flags and candles.

But as the anniversary of the musician’s death fast approaches, the array of paraphernalia, as well as the accompanying throngs, are creating friction amongst some of his well-heeled neighbours in the exclusive north London enclave of Highgate Village.

Conservationists have expressed frustration about the “appalling mess” and “visual clutter,” the mountain of drooping flowers and soggy photographs, which has become increasingly muddy and unsightly with the onset of winter.

Fans had mounted a keenly fought campaign for a life-size bronze statue to be erected on Michael’s land outside the property, which had been backed by his record label, Sony, and local councillors keen to replace the soggy shrine with something more sightly.

But the family has quietly decided not to erect a statue in the singer’s memory, because he was a private person and would consider such a gesture “embarrassing.”

John Vasiliou, a 51-year-old driving instructor from North London, who started the petition and delivered it to Downing Street with more than 5,000 signatures, said he had been in sporadic contact with Michael’s close relatives.

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Man dies after attacking Israeli troops with a knife in deadly clashes over Trump’s Jerusalem decision

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Israeli troops shot dead four Palestinians and wounded 150 others with live fire on Friday, medical officials said, as protests over US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital entered a second week.

Most of the casualties were on the Gaza Strip border, where thousands of Palestinians gathered to hurl rocks at Israeli soldiers beyond the fortified fence. Medics said two protesters, one of them wheelchair-bound, were killed and 150 wounded.

In the occupied West Bank, another area where Palestinians are seeking statehood along with adjacent East Jerusalem, medics said two protesters were killed and 10 wounded by Israeli gunfire.

One of the dead was a man who Israeli police troopers said was shot after he stabbed a member of their unit. Reuters witnesses said the Palestinian held a knife and wore what looked like a bomb belt. A Palestinian medic who helped evacuate the man for treatment said the belt was fake.

Palestinians — and the wider Arab and Muslim world — were incensed at Trump’s December 6 announcement, which reversed decades of U.S. policy reticence on Jerusalem, a city where both Israel and the Palestinians want sovereignty.

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