Tag Archives: Scotland

Minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland to start in May

alcohol on sale in EdinburghImage copyright PA
Image caption The policy is largely aimed at cheap, high-strength alcohol in supermarkets and off-licenses

Scotland will introduce minimum pricing for alcohol on 1 May next year, the Scottish government has announced.

The move will raise the cost of the strongest, cheapest alcohol by setting a minimum price per unit.

Health Secretary Shona Robison told MSPs that she expected the price to be set at 50p-per-unit, but this will be subject to a consultation.

She said the measure was needed to tackle the “devastation” caused by cheap, high-strength alcohol.

The 50p-per-unit minimum would raise the price of the cheapest bottle of red wine (9.4 units of alcohol) to £4.69, while a four-pack of 500ml cans of 4% lager (8 units) would cost at least £4 and a 70cl bottle of whisky (28 units of alcohol) could not be sold for less than £14.

Normal strength cider (5% ABV) would cost at least £2.50 a litre but a super-strength version (7.5% ABV) would have to cost a minimum of £3.75 for a litre.

Key weapon

Minimum pricing is largely aimed at cheap lager, cider and spirits sold in supermarkets and off-licenses.

But it would leave more expensive drinks unaffected, and is unlikely to impact on sales in pubs and clubs.

The Scottish government views the measure as a key weapon in the battle against binge drinking, with people in Scotland said to buy 20% more alcohol on average than those in England and Wales.

Alcohol Focus Scotland research from last year suggested that the maximum recommended weekly intake of alcohol – 14 units – could be bought for just £2.52.

  • £13.13 Vodka (70cl bottle at 37.5% ABV)

  • £1 Lager (500ml can at 4% ABV)

  • £2.50 Cider (1 litre bottle at 5% – normal strength)

  • £4.69 Red wine (75cl bottle at 12.5% ABV)

The Scottish Parliament passed the minimum pricing legislation five years ago but it was tied up in a legal challenge by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) until last week, when the Supreme Court ruled that it did not breach EU law.

Judges ruled unanimously that the policy was a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim” – with the SWA agreeing to pay the Scottish government’s legal costs.

Minimum pricing has been broadly welcomed by health bodies and alcohol awareness groups, who say it will target the kind of drinking that leads to the greatest harm.

There were 1,265 alcohol-related deaths in Scotland last year, an increase of 10% on 2015 – figures which Ms Robison described as “completely unacceptable”.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament, she said: “Behind every one of these statistics is a person, a family and a community.

“With alcohol on sale today at just 18p a unit, we have to act to tackle the scourge of cheap, high-strength drink that causes so much damage.”

Ms Robison said research had shown that a minimum unit price of 50p would cut alcohol-related deaths by 392 and hospital admissions by 8,254 over the first five years of the policy.

She added: “I anticipate setting the minimum unit price at 50p per unit. We now want to hear from retailers, representative bodies and Licensing Standards Officers about the practicalities of implementation.”


Scottish Labour leader would support England against Scotland

Richard LeonardImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Richard Leonard is Scottish Labour’s new leader

The new leader of Scottish Labour has said he would support England against Scotland in a football or rugby match.

Richard Leonard was born in Yorkshire, but has spent most of his life living and working north of the border after going to university in Stirling.

He told BBC Five Live that the “honest truth” was that “if it’s England versus Scotland, I do support England”.

Mr Leonard was named Scottish Labour leader at the weekend following the resignation of Kezia Dugdale.

The central Scotland MSP won out in a lengthy contest against fellow Labour parliamentarian Anas Sarwar.

He has set a goal of leading Labour back into government in the next Holyrood elections in 2021.

Asked by Adrian Chiles which team he would support in a football or rugby encounter between the home nations rivals, Mr Leonard replied: “If it’s England versus Scotland, I do support England. Every other game I will support either Scotland or England.

“I’m not going to try and make up something which would be inaccurate. That’s the honest truth and my wife, who is Scottish, she would bear that out. We watch football together.”

Image copyright PA
Image caption Previous Labour heavyweights Jack McConnell and Gordon Brown took very different approaches to national football teams

During the occasionally ill-tempered leadership race, Mr Leonard defended his birthplace and private school upbringing, saying that nobody should be criticised for where they were born or went to school.

He also told the BBC that “my life‘s too short” to have a favourite reality TV programme, following criticism of his predecessor Kezia Dugdale for joining the ITV show I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!

Scottish politicians have generally sought diplomatic answers to questions concerning football rivalries, with Alex Salmond saying he would not actively “root against” England – although he threw his backing behind their 2006 World Cup group-stage rivals Trinidad and Tobago due to the number of Scottish-based players in their squad.

Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown was criticised – by Mr Salmond in particular – for appearing to back England over his native Scotland while helping launch a bid to host the World Cup.

Raith Rovers fan Mr Brown drew scorn for his enthusiastic backing for England, which also included highlighting a Paul Gascoigne goal against Scotland as one of his most memorable footballing moments.

Another Labour politician, former First Minister Jack McConnell, took the opposite approach, saying he would not support England in the World Cup in 2006 and would instead “enjoy the small teams giving the big teams a beating from time to time”.

MPs call for clarity over devolved powers after Brexit

EU flag outside WestminsterImage copyright EPA
Image caption The committee’s recommendations were unanimously agreed by its members

A cross-party committee of MPs has united to call on the UK government to set out which powers will be devolved to Scotland after Brexit.

The Scottish Affairs Committee said the move was needed to end the stalemate between the UK and Scottish governments over the EU Withdrawal Bill.

And it said it needed to be done before MPs vote on the bill in the House of Commons.

The committee has members from the SNP, Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems.

The deadlock over the Brexit bill centres on what happens to powers in devolved areas such as fishing, farming and the environment that will return from Brussels once the UK leaves the EU.

It was the main topic during a Downing Street meeting between Prime Minister Theresa May and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Tuesday.

In its report, the Scottish Affairs Committee called for agreement to be reached on which of the powers will be devolved directly to the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, and which will become part of UK-wide frameworks.

The report, which was unanimously agreed by committee members, said the presumption should be that all of the powers “should be devolved unless there is good reason to reserve them”.

‘Reached by agreement’

It called on the UK government to publish the outcome in time for the final Commons stage of the bill, to give MPs clarity about how it will affect Scotland‘s devolution settlement before they vote on it.

And it said that UK-wide common frameworks in currently devolved policy areas should be “reached by agreement between the UK government and the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where relevant, and not imposed by Westminster”.

The committee has four members from the Conservatives, three from each of the SNP and Labour, and a single Liberal Democrat.

What is the row over the Brexit bill about?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon failed to reach an agreement on the Brexit bill in their talks on Tuesday

The EU Withdrawal Bill states that responsibilities in devolved areas such as agriculture, fishing and the environment that currently reside in Brussels will all return to Westminster rather than Edinburgh or Cardiff immediately after the UK leaves the EU.

The UK government insists this is just a transitional arrangement, and that many of these responsibilities will then be devolved – but has not yet specified which ones.

The Scottish and Welsh governments argue that the powers should automatically go directly to the devolved parliaments under the UK’s devolution settlement.

They have said they will withhold legislative consent for the bill in their respective parliaments until the dispute over the repatriation of powers from Brussels is resolved.

A series of talks between the two sides – including the recent meeting between Mrs May and Ms Sturgeon – have so far failed to reach an agreement.

SNP MP Pete Wishart, the committee’s convener, said members had been “encouraged” by the desire of ministers from both the UK and Scottish governments to resolve the issues, and the level of agreement on many areas.

But he added: “That said, we believe the government needs to take urgent action to improve the bill and provide greater clarity about the implications of this legislation for Scotland’s devolution settlement.

“Central to our recommendations is the importance of agreeing a way forward with the devolved administrations, and securing consent in relation to future UK-wide frameworks.”

Speaking following her meeting with Ms Sturgeon in Downing Street on Tuesday, a spokesman for the prime minister said there would be a “significant increase in the decision-making powers for the Scottish government and other devolved administrations” after Brexit.

The spokesman said: “The prime minister encouraged the Scottish government to continue to work with counterparts to secure the best outcome for the people of Scotland and the whole of the UK.”

Scottish Ambulance Service staff morale ‘at rock bottom’

AmbulanceImage copyright Getty Images

Morale in the Scottish Ambulance Service is at “rock bottom” because of excessive demands placed on staff, according to the union Unite.

The BBC has obtained the results of an internal staff survey suggesting work pressure had affected the health of more than half of the respondents.

Unite also warned of increased “turnaround” times after 999 calls.

The ambulance service said it took the wellbeing of staff very seriously.

A spokesman added that it was working closely with health boards to improve turnaround times across Scotland.

Nearly two in five of ambulance services employees responded to the survey, which was carried out at the start of the year.

The vast majority said they “strongly agreed” morale was low – with more than one in four saying they had considered leaving because of pressure at work.

Unite said the centralisation of hospital services has increased the time it takes ambulance staff to turnaround 999 calls and, with fewer casualty departments, there are bottlenecks in dropping patients off.

Image copyright Getty Images

The union’s national convenor, paramedic Jamie McNamee, told BBC Scotland it used to take an average of 54 minutes in Glasgow in between the ambulance service receiving a 999 call and the patient arriving at hospital.

He said this had now increased to one hour and 30 minutes, meaning many ambulances were unavailable to take on further emergency calls.

“I would suggest if you took a camera up to the casualty department at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary or at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at any day of the week, you’ll see a huge array of ambulance vehicles sitting there at any one time,” he said.

“Inside the hospital it would not be unknown to have a corridor full of ambulance trolleys and patients on these trolleys waiting to get an appropriate clinical handover.”

The findings of the survey included:

  • 85% of staff strongly agreed morale was low in SAS
  • 54% of staff strongly agreed pressure at work had affected their health
  • 28% of staff claimed to be subjected to bullying at work
  • 27% of staff had considered leaving SAS due to pressure at work

A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesman said the figures quoted were from a “historic survey”, with the latest results being published in the new year.

“We recognise that whilst our staff do a tremendous job caring for patients and saving lives each day, working for the ambulance service can be stressful at times given the situations they can face each day.

“We take the health and wellbeing of our staff very seriously and we have a wide range of support available including counselling support, occupational health services and other procedures in place to ensure any wider issues raised are dealt with.”

The service said turnaround times could be affected by a wide range of factors, including high call volumes; people self-presenting at accident and emergency departments; people in care settings requiring hospital treatment; and the time taken to clean vehicles.

“We recognise that there are pressures on hospitals during peak periods and we are continuing to work closely with health boards to improve turnaround times across Scotland,” said the spokesman.

The survey quotes ambulance staff who took part:

“Equipment is often missing or not working.”

“Ambulance control bully and harass crews continually.”

“Vehicles keep breaking down so don’t feel confident while out on the road.”

“Bullying by management is rife and the fear to report it is high due to historical events.”

“Vehicles not fit for purpose.”

Passers-by ‘afraid’ to speak to homeless

Homeless manImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption About 5,000 people are forced to sleep rough on Scotland‘s streets each year

Two thirds of Scots never stop to speak to homeless people, according to a new study.

Charity Street Soccer Scotland, which commissioned the research, also said that 41% of those questioned were “fearful” of approaching the homeless.

The research shows younger people aged 16 to 24 were least likely to stop and talk.

It is estimated that each year about 5,000 people are forced to sleep rough on Scotland’s streets.

Street Soccer Scotland said older age groups were less likely to be anxious about speaking to rough sleepers.

‘Lost all hope’

Founder and chief executive of the charity David Duke, who was homeless for three years, said: “Having experienced homelessness I know what it’s like to to spend your days alone, with no-one to speak to.

“I also know the difference that having someone to talk to can make when you’ve lost all hope.

“I’m really shocked at the number of people who say they don’t stop to speak to people who are homeless, and especially by the number who say they’re afraid to.”

Last year, 9,187 homelessness applications were received from people aged 16 to 24.

Mr Duke, who also sits on the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group set up by the Scottish government, added: “Today in Scotland, great strides are being made to eradicate homelessness with progressive laws and a willing government.

“However, unfortunately some things have stayed exactly the same.

“The lack of dignity afforded to people experiencing homelessness, the prejudice and stigma that comes with what is the worst time of your life, is holding our society back. We need to do more to change that.”

Shot soldier Conor McPherson ‘mistaken by colleague for target’

Private Conor McPhersonImage copyright Ministry of Defence
Image caption Private Conor McPherson died during a night-time “live fire” exercise

A soldier killed in a training exercise was shot by a colleague who mistook him for a target, a report has found.

Private Conor McPherson was critically injured during a night-time “live fire” exercise at Otterburn, Northumberland.

The Defence Safety Authority’s Service Inquiry report identified a number of Army failings in the run-up to the incident.

The Army has said it “deeply regrets” the death the young soldier, which was “a terrible, terrible tragedy”.

Private McPherson, 24, from The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, was pronounced dead at the scene on 22 August last year.

The report stated that soldiers using live rounds had been stumbling about in the dark.

Lieutenant General Richard Felton, director general of the Defence Safety Authority, said he could not understand why the trainees were subjected to an 18-hour plus day.

It also emerged the opening day of Exercise Wessex Storm at the Heely Dod Range featured nine different shooting sequences.

‘Test and challenge’

But Lieutenant General Felton said the safety risk present that night “was neither recognised – nor the potential consequences understood – by the Fire Team, supervising staff or Battalion leadership”.

While it was “highly likely” Private McPherson, from Paisley, Renfrewshire, was shot by one of his colleagues, another soldier did not fire a single round because he found it impossible to identify any targets in the gloom.

Lieutenant General Felton said: “The tragic death of Pte Conor McPherson serves as a reminder of the dangers inherent in Military training.”

But he added:” Military training must continue to test and challenge, with progression through a unit’s training cycle correctly adding complexity and greater levels of Safety Risk.

“To not do so would reduce the value of training and the preparedness of our soldiers to fight and win in future conflicts.”

Rigid targets

Private McPherson had already trained in France and Kenya by the time he joined the fatal exercise with colleagues from 3 Platoon A Company 3 Scots.

Their final mission that day was to negotiate a firing range, using live ammo as the infantrymen moved towards rigid targets, without any fixed illumination.

A reconstruction ordered by the inquiry found that the LUCIE Universal night vision goggles and ear plugs worn by Pte McPherson were not cleared for use in this type of exercise.

The probe into the incident has identified eight “contributory factors” that made the accident more likely to happen that night, including a lack of effective supervision of the soldier who fired the shot.

The investigating panel said it is highly likely a solder named only as “firer 2” – a private who had been in the military for five and a half years – misidentified Private McPherson as a target and fired the fatal round.

Colonel Jim Taylor of HQ Field Army, Training branch welcomed the inquiry’s findings, saying: “It has done outstanding work to identify what went wrong.

“In particular, their reconstruction of the events that night has been invaluable in helping us identify what caused the accident and the factors which contributed to it. We are now carefully considering its recommendations.

“We care about our soldiers above all else and we do everything we can to reduce the risks to them as they conduct the essential training required to prepare them for combat operations.”

A spokeswoman for Northumbria Police said:”The death is still being investigated and Northumbria Police is working with the Health and Safety Executive and the Coroner.”

David Spry’s 20-year sex swap journey

In 1997, David Spry became the first politician in the country to announce his plans to become a woman.

He was elected to Labour-controlled Bristol City Council in May. Six months later he announced he was undergoing a sex change and wished to be known as Rosalind Mitchell.

Now living in Scotland, Rosalind has been comparing how things have changed and how difficult it was 20 years ago.

Annandale Distillery’s whisky wait is over after 99 years

Annandale DistilleryImage copyright Annandale Distillery
Image caption The distillery closed in 1919 but a restoration project has brought it back to life

The first single malt whisky for nearly a century is beginning to flow at a south of Scotland distillery.

The Annandale Distillery shut in 1919 but a restoration project started about six years ago.

The first bottles are now set to be drawn off from a cask in a special ceremony at the site near Annan.

Managing director, Prof David Thomson, said he was delighted that whisky “of the finest quality and character” was being produced once more.

It is the culmination of several years’ work and significant investment at the facility.

Image copyright Annndale Distillery
Image copyright Annandale Distillery
Image caption The look of the team has changed a little since the last time whisky was produced at the site

A peated whisky – called Man o’ Sword in honour of Robert the Bruce – is to be produced along with the unpeated Man o’ Words in tribute to Robert Burns.

Prof Thomson said: “Whisky distillation isn’t new to Dumfriesshire.

“In the latter part of the 19th Century, three distilleries were producing locally; taking advantage perhaps of the abundance of peat for malting barley.

“Alas, all had closed by 1920.”

He said the peated whisky had a “complex balance of smokiness, fruitiness and sweetness” while the unpeated was more “mellow”.

Image copyright Annandale Distillery
Image caption A special ceremony will see the first bottle drawn from the cask

“It’s been an epic journey but 99 years after Johnnie Walker closed Annandale Distillery, seemingly forever, single malt Scotch whisky of the finest quality and character is about to flow once again,” he said.

“At precisely 12 noon, exactly three years after we filled it, the contents of our very first barrel will make the mysterious, ethereal transition from new-make spirit to Annandale single malt Scotch whisky.”

Co-owner Teresa Church said the renovation of the distillery had been an “enormous task”.

“Many minds, hearts and hands have been involved in the transformation from old to new,” she said.

“Present day Annandale Distillery exists in a different world from that of once familiar horse carts and water wheels and therefore has to step into a global technological arena to be successful.

“The proud provenance and brand story of The Man o’ Words and Man o’ Sword will hopefully build strong brand equity in the modern-day global market place.”

Supreme Court decides on Scottish minimum alcohol pricing

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The UK‘s highest court will decide later whether Scotland can finally implement its policy of minimum pricing for alcohol.

Legislation was approved by the Scottish Parliament five years ago but it has been tied up in court challenges amid claims it breaches European law.

Ministers said a 50p-per-unit minimum would help tackle Scotland‘s “unhealthy relationship with drink”.

The Supreme Court appeal was brought by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).

It said the policy was a “restriction on trade” and there were more effective ways of tackling alcohol misuse.

Last year, The Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled against the Scotch whisky industry but allowed it to appeal to the Supreme Court.

That appeal was heard in July and judges retired to consider their verdict.

If the SWA appeal is dismissed, Scotland could become the first country in the world to establish a minimum price for alcohol – with ministers saying it would become law “as quickly as is practicable”, possibly early next year.

How does minimum pricing work?

Image caption The Scottish government believes cracking down on cheap alcohol will help tackle the country’s binge-drinking culture

The Scottish government’s aim is to reduce the amount that problem drinkers consume simply by raising the price of the strongest, cheapest alcohol.

The move is not a tax or duty increase. It is a price hike for the cheapest drink, with any extra cash going to the retailer.

Last year, Alcohol Focus Scotland claimed the maximum recommended weekly intake of alcohol (14 units) could be bought for just £2.52.

It said super-strength cider and own-brand vodka and whisky could be purchased for as little as 18p per unit of alcohol.

The 50p-per-unit minimum outlined by the legislation would raise the price of the cheapest bottle of red wine (9.4 units of alcohol) to £4.70, a four-pack of 500ml cans of 4% lager would cost at least £4 and a 70cl bottle of whisky could not be sold for less than £14.

  • Strength 40% ABV

  • Volume 70cl

  • Units of alcohol 28


  • Strength 37.5% ABV

  • Volume 70cl

  • Units of alcohol 26.25


  • Strength 11.5% ABV

  • Volume 75cl

  • Units of alcohol 8.625


  • Strength 12.5% ABV

  • Volume 75cl

  • Units of alcohol 9.375


  • Strength 5% ABV

  • Volume 1 litre

  • Units of alcohol 5


  • Strength 4% ABV

  • Volume 700ml

  • Units of alcohol 2.8


Off-sales and supermarkets

Minimum pricing will not raise the prices of all alcoholic drinks because many are already above the threshold.

Pubs and bars are unlikely to be affected as they usually charge much more than 50p per unit.

The aim is to hit consumption of strong alcohol which is sold at low prices.

The new laws would be “experimental” and expire after six years unless renewed.

Supporters of minimum pricing believe the move is necessary to tackle the country’s binge drinking culture, with Scots buying 20% more alcohol on average than people in England or Wales.

Scotland’s Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “Alcohol is 60% more affordable in the UK than it was in 1980 and alcohol misuse costs Scotland £3.6bn each year – £900 for every adult.

“There is strong evidence that tackling price helps reduce consumption and related harm.”

During a two-day hearing at the Supreme Court in July, the QC for the Scotch Whisky Association said the case could set a far-reaching precedent and have an impact on international trade.

He said the nub of the SWA argument was “why not tax?”.

The lawyer said that to discriminate against products because they are cheap went against “the absolute fundamentals of the free market”.

Timeline: Minimum pricing for alcohol

Image copyright PA

The latest phase of the five-year legal battle will be decided in London, having already passed through courts in Edinburgh and Luxembourg. After an initial challenge at the Court of Session failed in 2013, the SWA appealed to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The European court said the legislation might break EU law if other tax options would prove as effective, but said it was “ultimately for the national court to determine” whether they did.

The Scottish court subsequently backed the measures for a second time, ruling that tax measures “would be less effective than minimum pricing”.

However, in December 2016 the Court of Session judges then allowed the SWA to go to the Supreme Court to challenge their ruling.

May 2012: MSPs pass Scots booze price plan

May 2013: Minimum drink price challenge fails

December 2015: Minimum drink price ‘may breach EU law’

October 2016: Courts back minimum alcohol price

December 2016: Whisky firms allowed minimum price appeal

July 2017: Supreme Court judges retire to consider minimum pricing appeal

What’s the situation elsewhere in the UK?

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The legislation to bring in a minimum price of 50p per unit was passed by the Scottish Parliament in May 2012

The UK government supported the devolved Scottish administration during the legal process, arguing that minimum pricing was compatible with EU law.

In 2012, then Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to introduce minimum pricing – but the plan was shelved a year later in the face of fierce opposition from the drinks industry.

The Home Office has said the policy remains under review, with calls for its reintroduction in England likely to be reignited if it is eventually implemented in Scotland.

Legislation to establish a minimum price is currently under active consideration by the National Assembly for Wales and by the Irish Seanad (the upper house of the Irish parliament).

In Northern Ireland, former Health Minister Jim Wells had been seeking to introduce minimum pricing before resigning in April 2015.

Unst in Shetland to aim for space programme

UKube-1Image copyright UK Space Agency
Image caption A Glasgow company was commissioned to build Ukube-1 – Scotland‘s first satellite

Shetland is preparing a bid to become a launch base for satellites.

Detailed proposals have been drawn up and are likely to be submitted to the UK Space Agency next year.

The plans involve launching payloads into space from Unst, Scotland‘s most northerly island.

Scotland already has a successful space industry – building satellites and the components for them. It has been estimated to be worth more than £130m and to employ 7,000 people.

Much of the new industry is based in Glasgow.

Image caption An artist’s impression of the Machrihanish spaceport

Legislation on space flight, currently going through Parliament, could allow vertical launches of satellites from the UK for the first time.

Other proposals for Scottish space flight centres include Sutherland, the Western Isles, Prestwick and Machrihanish.

Malcolm Macdonald, director of the Scottish Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications at Strathclyde University, said: “You are looking to launch away from people, so you can’t have any local population in the area, any villages, or towns or that sort of thing.

“And you then can’t overfly people as well and you can’t overfly oil rigs and these types of things as well.

“You are really looking for where there is very little in the air and very little on the sea, and that’s why the north of Scotland is really attractive for this.”

The first satellite designed and built in Scotland was launched in July 2014 via a rocket in Kazakhstan, piggy-backing along with other larger payloads.

Earlier this year, the UK government’s Department for Transport (DfT) told BBC Scotland it had been working hard to develop the Modern Transport Bill but there was currently “no timetable” for its implementation.

A DfT spokeswoman admitted that events over the last year, such as Brexit, had made it difficult to find parliamentary time for the bill.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Kazakhstan has become an established centre for commercial space launces