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The truths they don't want you to read....

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Hi-Trans - a loss of democratic control

Hi-Trans is the Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership, set up to ensure that ferries, planes, trains and buses all linked together and ran smoothly. Not a huge problem in the Western Isles, and one the Comhairle had always been able to resolve through discussions with (primarily) CalMac.

It covers Highland, Orkney, Shetland and Moray as well as the Western Isles, and when the consultants came to "discuss" this fait accompli with us, I strongly made the point that the HQ should be anywhere except Inverness to ensure that those most affected by the issues would have the greatest input. The HQ is in Inverness.

My colleague, Donald Manford, went further and warned that this would lead to the loss of democratic control. Donald has been vigorously warning of this for some time. If only we had listened.

My understanding is that Hi-Trans sees itself as a Quango to sit above the Councils and to take control of the Trunk Roads and ferries, and to be able to tell HIAL and the bus operators how and when to run their services.

We have already seen the proposed downgrading of the Shipping Services Committee, from six members of the Comhairle having direct input to CalMac, to a proposed structure where one Councillor from the Western Isles will have to argue against VisitScotland and half a dozen other quangos about what is best for the Western Isles. And then, the recommendation is only advisory to Hi-Trans who will impose what is best for Inverness.

Worst of all, it appears that the Minister is complicit in all of this, and is encouraging Hi-Trans to effectively bid for the funding to become this over-arching Quango. It is not irrelevant that the Minister, Tavish Scott - he of inappropriate mortgage claims - represents Shetland. Shetland have decided to control their own ferries and (to all intents) effectively opt out of Hi-Trans.

Tavish lives in Bressay, just beside the harbour. To help his constituents know when he is at home (as opposed to 'home' in Edinburgh), Tavish raises the flag in his garden. Nothing like modesty, is there?

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