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

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Farewell to Wendy

Wendy Alexander resignsThe inevitable has happened with the trickle of bad news - and it was a trickle - eventually sweeping her away. After a year of constant, unrelenting, abuse from all quarters she must be asking herself "Why did I ever want the job?"

Labour members must be looking at the recent leadership (non-)contests and shaking their heads in disbelief.

The easiest excuses, were of course, the ones that Wendy herself gave, but they only scratch the surface of the issues.

To the objective outsider, it looks like at both Holyrood and Westminster that Labour have appointed the intellectual to fill the vacancy, without any thought about their leadership abilities.

In both cases, the vacancy was caused by the Labour Party believing it needed change at all costs. They just never thought what that cost was.

Both Alexander and Brown have a deserved reputation for intelligence and understanding their brief; but neither is able to lead a disparate (desperate!) group of individuals and are unable to inspire loyalty in their troops or even give the vaguest impression of being in touch with the public.

Wendy's greatest problem was that a large section of her own party were out to get her to the extent of providing extremely damaging information to the press.

In the meantime the SNP have got her scalp, when they would have been much better off if they had allowed the matter to drag on indefinitely, and now they will have to deal with whoever replaces her. And Cathy Jamieson is unequivocally NOT the answer.

Alexander had the potential to be an extremely effective leader of the opposition, injecting some needed intelligence and analysis into the debates in the chamber.

Surrounded as she was by intellectual pygmies and useless political advisors, she ended up powerless, aimless and bizarrely appearing to be out of her depth on almost every issue.

She will return to her role on the backbenches (at least until the election) where she will no doubt publish highly clever and effective pamphlets, give well received lectures, and be sorely missed by her Party.

The leadership contest is going to be one of these elections no-one will want to win, as they face defeat after defeat before they can ever hope to win (win? get a decent vote, will be a success) in Scotland.

The Parliament is the worse for this childish witch-hunt, as the appallingly low level of intellect in the chamber is now more obvious than ever, with only a few redeeming MSPs raising the average IQ much above that of an amoeba.

Still, we get what we vote for, so it is only us to blame; but with the public opinion of politicians degenerating with every action these politicians take, the public is quickly becoming even less well served by those we elect to 'represent' us.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Local Income Tax - the numbers

Whilst LIT is A Good Thing, I have always pointed out the incompleteness of the argument and how it was essential to understand the full funding picture before committing to supporting LIT.

Whilst many have hurled abuse at my numbers, no-one has questioned the accuracy of the detailed numbers I provided.

Now, almost a year later, others are starting to understand the implications.

But let's start with the nonsense, and get it out of the way.
Glasgow SNP MSP Bob Doris said the Labour council had shown that 72% of Glaswegians would be better off under the local income tax proposals.
Abolishing the Council Tax will result in 100% of the people benefiting, but is he seriously advocating that? The question is not about who pays, but how the shortfall is made up. The purblind lobby-fodder support a policy they do not understand whilst believing that the loss of money to Councils will somehow mysterious appear - without any political pain.

The simple equation - that seems to elude SNP MSPs - is that if Councils get around £2,500m from Council Tax to deliver services and Local Income Tax at 3p is going to yield £1,400m then where is the missing £1,100m going to come from?

Are you really better off if £1,100m less comes out of your left pocket whilst £1,100m extra comes out of your right pocket? Of course not.

The estimate of the LIT rate required for the Western Isles is 6.1p, which I think is probably around the mark, although my gut says it is possibly a little on the low side.

If the Government are really prepared to fully underwrite the shortfall, all I want to know is "Which services are going to be cut to pay for it?"

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lewis & Uist schools

So the decision was made about midnight last night.

Shut Back
Reprieve Lionel
Reprieve Shawbost

Then to reprieve all S1/S2 schools and determine if it was better to turn them into S1/S3 schools.

Effectively, this means the decided to tear up the entire policy and disavow something that has been under discussion for many years.

Some questions:

Given that he said that the Education Minister "hadn't a clue", where does this leave the Director of Education?

How does all this affect the new schools PFI scheme? (Answer, I think/hope it fatally undermines it, due to reductions in pupil numbers)

Where does this leave the Convener, who has responded to the demands of his constituents after lobbying, rather than leading on a major policy issue which affects the fundamental operation of Education policy in the islands?

Where is the money going to come from?
Now is the time to review, fully and with a clean slate, just how we intend to deliver education in the islands, and the impact this will have on all the services.

I've updated the title, because this presumably means that Paible and Daliburgh are also reprieved.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mugabe stripped of knighthood

So El Presidente loses his honorary knighthood.

A Good Thing too.

But, er, just why did he get one in the first place in 1994?
Mr Mugabe's was appointed as an honorary Knight Grand Cross in the Order of Bath during his state visit to the UK in 1994. The Foreign Office said conditions in Zimbabwe were then "very different".
That's right. In those days, opponents were killed or exiled before they had the temerity to stand against Mugabe.

The democratic process is only newly affronted by the way he deals with candidates who survive to get their names on the ballot paper.

All of which offends the sensibilities of The Establishment, who prefer their friends not to be so brutal and murderous in public.

Murderous bastardGuilty of crimes against fashion

Self regulation doesn't work

In the light of the FoI inquiries into their expenses, MPs fought and screamed to prevent publication of their allowances.

Then they announced that they need to be reviewed, to make sure they were reasonable, and that it was still right to get money for new kitchens, home furnishings and other household goods, worth up to £22,110 to cover the costs of living in London.

After due and careful consideration, the MPs have decided that it is no longer appropriate to reimburse themselves for buying household goods.

Instead, they will pay a flat allowance of £19,200 for accommodation in London (which still includes the classic second-homes scam, whereby MPs claim to live elsewhere than their constituency). And it is tax-free, so that makes it worth about £32,000 on the top-line.

Alternatively they suggest £30 per day for subsistence. Without receipts. Whilst the House of Commons is one of the cheapest places to eat and drink in the UK.

Plus £140 per day for accommodation. Up to a maximum of 140 days per year. Or 35 weeks attendance a year.

Some classic quotes from the Committee Report:
The property market is currently looking rocky once again, so the same could happen. An MP who chooses to buy not rent is taking a risk. Even if it pays off, by the time Capital Gains Tax is paid in consequence of an MP owning two properties, the public purse effectively gets a rebate against some of the money it has paid out in allowances. It may not be far fetched to suggest that the public purse even benefits from MPs buying rather than renting flats.
What utter drivel. MPs are designating their London houses as their Principal Private Residence for tax purposes, meaning the proceeds are tax-free. By this reckoning, we should all get an allowance to buy a second house closer to our work, as the public purse benefits.

The entire report is a series of moans about how hard done by they are, and how they should be reimbursed for anything and everything.

At the same time, other public sector workers are being urged to show restraint. At the next election, remember that the winner is being paid close to £100,000 to work for us. WORK FOR US. Not to do what their party tells them.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

School closure vote

Lionel closure
Morag Munro (Chair)
Catriona Stewart (Vice-Chair)
David Blaney
Archie CampbellAnnie MacDonaldMurdo MacLeod
ConvenorDonald NicholsonMary Bell Galbraith
Norman MacLeodCharlie Nicolson
Vice ConvenorKenny MacIver
Angus MacCormackIain Morrison
Roddy MacKayAgnes Rennie
Rev MartinRev Campbell

Shawbost closure

Morag Munro (Chair)
Catriona Stewart (Vice-Chair)
David Blaney
Archie CampbellAnnie MacDonaldMurdo MacLeod
Mary Bell Galbraith
Norman MacLeodCharlie NicolsonRev Martin
Vice ConvenorKenny MacIver
Angus MacCormackIain Morrison
Roddy MacKayAgnes Rennie
Donald NicholsonRev Campbell

*although Rev Coghill had returned just in time to vote he declined to do so as he had not heard the debate

Back closure

Morag Munro (Chair)
Catriona Stewart (Vice-Chair)
David Blaney
Archie CampbellAnnie MacDonaldMurdo MacLeod
ConvenorCharlie NicolsonMary Bell Galbraith
Norman MacLeodKenny MacIverRev Martin
Vice ConvenorIain Morrison
Angus MacCormackAgnes Rennie
Roddy MacKayRev Campbell
Donald NicholsonRev Coghill


Thanks to a very reliable source, and apologies for the lack of formatting.

Airport strikes

With no flights into Stornoway yesterday this meant that there was no incoming mail, and obviously there was a big impact on those intending to travel.

With another strike planned for 4 July, the prospects look poor with a summer of disruption in prospect.

It was good to see our MSP call for Ministers to intervene in the dispute*. After all the strike is coming about because of the cuts in the budget set by the SNP, when I highlighted the £3m savings required from HIAL.

At the time I asked the simple questions, "How will this affect service delivery?" to which we now have the answer.

Omelettes and eggs is an appropriate simile for the process. This whole process is symptomatic of the responsibility of being in Government, and taking tough decisions is something the SNP will have to face up to and take the flak for.

* Actually this was Tavish Scott. As far as I can tell, our MSP has no public opinion on this matter.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Schools PPP

There is obviously a considerable degree of interest in just how the PP is going to operate, and some comments have already been made about the impact on services.

I'm not disputing the figures of £10m of Capital Expenditure on hold until the savings can be found elsewhere. And just what are those savings going to be, other than staffing? I actually expected the impact to be around £7.5m based on the figures I had seen, and then adding a lot for over-runs, but the Council are right to be cautious.

The first port of call for information is the Comhairle webpage, which is moderately informative, but raises so many questions; whilst omitting a significant fact.

There are two companies (yes, like you I thought that there was only one):
Both are registered at McRoberts, Solicitors, Edinburgh.

I'm bemused at how the "Investment" company fits into the diagram of the process, but no doubt the well paid lawyers have good reason for making it all more complex.

No doubt more on the financial implications will come out shortly, or if more information is provided to me by those in the know (hint, hint!), then you will read it here.

Faulty arithmetic

Strangely, and most surprisingly, no-one has corrected my error in the previous posting on the school closure debate.

It was not surprising that the arithmetic didn't seem to add up, when I had missed another absentee.

None other than Donald John MacSween was also missing from the debate and the crucial decisions - apparently also absent on Council business.

As a comment on the blog says, no doubt these people will all 'redeem' themselves by making their positions very clear when the full Council meet this week.

The above information provided to me by a usually reliable source is nonsense. Mr MacSween is not on the Education Committee.

Can anyone provide the lists of those voting for and against the proposals?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Schools decisions

With 16 members of the Committee, plus 3 4 religious interests members, just how did the votes come to 8-7, 8-8 and 8-8?

Well, Rev Coghill mised the vote on Lionel and was late into the debate on Shawbost and consequently didn't vote on the first two decisions.

The other absentee was one of the Religious interests; and Rev Martin had to leave part way through the process to attend a funeral before the vote on Back School

But who were the other missing two, and why were they absent?

According to my sources two of them were David Blaney, as he was off the island on official business, and Murdo "Maroot" MacLeod, who appears to have been in the Council for the rest of the week.

The identity of the third Councillor is not clear at present.

This does appear to add up now!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Closing schools

And you thought the windfarms were contentious and divisive?

With the three schools in Lionel, Shawbost and Back lined up for closure because the Education Minister 'doesn't have a clue' abut the Curriculum for Excellence, and two of the decisions made on the casting vote of the Chair, the scene is set for an explosive Council meeting next week.

Who is right and who is wrong?

I'm not sure anyone knows the right answers any more, as the real issues have been lost in a battle to the death between PFI, budget cuts and a desire to do the best for the communities.

But just what is 'the best'?

Should education provision be judged on the distance pupils have to travel, or on the quality of teaching and the environment in which they learn? Are small schools inherently better than large schools? Should as wide a choice of classes as possible be the aim for every pupil?

The answer is not at one extreme or the other, but falls into the subjective grey areas where opinions differ and interpretations clash.

The Councillors have had to be very brave today in casting their votes: as either way there lie huge problems for the Council and the communities coming in the future.

One thing for certain, is that the matter is not closed, and I foresee education remaining a hot topic in the islands for coming years.

As someone who has faced similar decisions in the past, I still believe that a complete review of how education is to be delivered in the Western Isles was needed to encompass PFI and the role of the 2-year Secondaries, but that time has passed, and I only hope that the strategy that is now being followed actually produces the expected result.

Update 20/6: Council choose the worst possible building option for the new Nicolson Institute. Where are the employees cars to go now - onto the swamp to the East? With the Council building suffering serious settlement problems due to the depth of peat, we can look forward to major building problems and cost overruns.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

David Davis

Thanks to the Telegraph, and a comment on this blog:

Angus MacNeil's support for David Davis

Labour MPs Bob Marshall-Andrews and Ian Gibson have already risked expulsion from their own party by voicing their support for David Davis at the forthcoming by-election in Haltemprice and Howden.

And now I can reveal that another erstwhile political opponent of Davis is coming out to back the former shadow home secretary in his test of public opinion on 42-day detention.

Angus MacNeil — the Scottish Nationalist MP whose complaint prompted the cash-for-honours enquiry — tells me that he would be delighted to offer Davis a helping hand in the contest, which is expected to take place on July 10.

“As a Scottish Nationalist I try to avoid English politics, but I’d go and campaign for David Davis if he wanted me to,” says MacNeil. “I admire his principles and from what I know of him, he is a straightforward and honest man. Gordon Brown’s argument for 42-day detention is all about keeping him in Downing Street for another two years: no wonder he’s bottling the fight with David Davis.”

Broadband in Barra

I received the following in my email, which I have copied in full, removing only the offensive title!

The Connected Communities Initiative is in the Scotsman. Go to this link and let them know what you think of the ConCom experience and tell others to do likewise!

Mutiny on the Broadband

Earth tremors were felt across Barra last week, as Northbay residents jaws dropped in anger and disbelief at discovering HIE’s decision not to pursue the procurement process to upgrade the phone exchange. Many people had to read the letter twice as HIE proposed the best solution for providing broadband to us was to accept the Connected Communities Initiative because we’d get that service sooner than the exchange upgrade we all requested.

The fact that we presented them with a petition signed by over 90% of the households stating our willingness to wait for the procurement process to occur doesn’t seem to have registered with them. I will reiterate that fact again, we would all rather wait a bit longer and get the broadband service we want than have the one we don’t want forced upon us sooner. HIE’s sudden desire to give us an Internet service quickly now is at odds with their previous stance because at the public meeting they admitted that we would have ADSL broadband now if they had listened to our initial requests last year.

There is no valid argument against upgrading the phone exchange, there is though an unwillingness to listen to us and accept that Connected Communities is unsuited and unwanted here. It is unbelievably arrogant of HIE to ask our co-operation to help them provide a service we don’t want when they are totally unwilling to co-operate with us to provide the service we do. I would also like to ask how they could determine that the best solution for providing broadband to us was a wireless service, when they never considered the ADSL option and didn’t survey Barra until three years after the initiative began? The invasion of Iraq had better planning.

I would also like to query HIE’s optimistic timescale to provide this service nobody wants by late summer 2008. In 2003 Connected Communities predicted that “significant swathes” of Lewis and Harris would be connected by December that year but as late as last summer people in Harris were “growing impatient” with the lack of coverage there. An HIE document from 28/11/07 recognised “challenges emerging in securing electricity supplies…likely to delay final commissioning of majority of completed masts into 2008/09”….and apparently there isn’t sufficient power to the mast in Bruernish at the moment to supply Connected Communities…. Also how long would the households in blind spots here have to wait before a service was provided for them? They would get a quicker service by going through the procurement process. I would also like to remind HIE of their review in 2004 that aspired to provide “100% coverage” because they seem to have forgotten this.

I would also like to disagree with HIE’s assertion that there is no significant difference between Connected Communities prices and what is available through ADSL. Maybe someone on an HIE wage may not think this difference is “significant” but the people here do and we are not willing to pay extra for a service we don’t actually want. We already pay more for fuel and food etc. due to our location, and we are not willing to pay more for broadband due to HIE’s intransigence. Also I cannot see how Connected Communities can possibly change its price structure to become more competitive as their wholesale prices to Hebrides.Net are more expensive than the retail prices of many ISP’s. More subsidies anyone?

I’d also like to dispute HIE’s conclusion that there is no discernable difference between the performance of wireless and ADSL broadband because I’ve never heard a complaint from a landline user here because of the wind, the rain, or the tide being in. Hebrides.Net must be the only ISP in the world that gives a tide timetable with its router.

I’d also like to dispel the notion that only “some” Northbay residents would be disappointed by this decision because consistently over 90% of the residents here have been campaigning for the exchange to be upgraded. And we are not “disappointed” Mr Cumming, we are furious. I don’t think you could get a better example of public opinion than on this issue. We have sent upwards of 1,000 letters now and had a unanimous vote at the public meeting with HIE but yet nobody is listening to us. It seems to me that our opinion only counts once every four or five years when someone wants us to put an “X” by their name. Please remember this issue next election time. It does not say much for the democratic process when a whole community is being ignored and dictated to by a quango of unelected suits more concerned with protecting the reputation of their project than giving us the best service available. We are not accepting an inferior service to save anyone’s blushes. Your move HIE, because we aren’t budging.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Chief Executives...

The first little piggy (who was actually a big, bad wolf) went to an non-existent superannuated job invented by his mate who appointed him to get him away from the mess he created.

The second little piggy (who was actually a bigger, badder wolf) was sacked for building a fabricated house.

The third little piggy was the most intelligent and most effective, and moved on to bigger and better things.

The piggies' employer smiled and prepared and advert, hoping that no more wolves would apply.

Confidential documents

Hazel Blears - arseWith the Government protecting confidential documents with all the due care of a deciduous tree in Winter, it was only a matter of time before one of the prime idiots was proven to be incapable of rational thought.

Or perhaps she just doesn't give a stuff about propriety and process.

I refer to none other than the Member for Salford, Ms Hazel Blears, one of the 'usual suspects' for patronising comment and oily self-aggrandisement rolled out by Labour whenever a smooth-talking, answer-avoiding, greasy-pole climbing brown-nosed is needed to defend the indefensible. And one who has little regard for the need for rationalisation in defending any and every position.

Of course, having your laptop nicked from your office is unfortunate. Having restricted and politically sensitive files on it is just plain STUPID.

Or as the horses arse put it herself:

Responsible leadership is about supporting the police and security services in their efforts to tackle terrorism so that all in society can be safe and secure.

And her belief in the importance of good security is clear from her website:

The Prime Minister’s last Queen Speech was on Wednesday and the theme for this year was Security in a Changing World: Security from the growing threat of terrorism; security of our borders against illegal immigration; security for the individual in their homes and in their community against crime and anti-social behaviour.

And she does know what she is talking about:

[She was] Minister of State for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety.

I hope someone takes her into a quiet corner and hands her the metaphorical revolver.

However, I fear that the Civil Servants will be pilloried whilst she oozes off the hook and onto the next position from which she can continue to show her ability to do nothing significant.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Joined up thinking

As the SNP announced their plans to consider bringing forward legislation that might allow people to vote at age 16, according to the Gazette Bruce Crawford, the Parliamentary Business Manager said:

We cannot on the one hand say we are interested in the views of young people while on the other refusing them access to the ballot box until they are 18.

According to the YSI spokesman (visit their Bebo page and see how many members are under 25 and living on the islands!):

"How can the older generation expect a young citizen to fully embrace a society which treats them as second rate? Without the right to vote those of the ages 16 and 17 are being denied their democratic rights as an adult," he expressed.

That was last week.

This week, yet another consultation about a possible plan to maybe do something (this used to be called 'flying a kite'):

The Scottish Government is considering imposing a minimum price for alcohol based on its strength[....]

Increasing the age for buying drink from off-licences in Scotland from 18 to 21 is another suggestion.

Which given that taxation is a reserved power is a non-starter. Which might be the intention (as I think I might have said about other policies on a number of occasions.)

So you are a 20 year-old married student, studying (let's say) Theology at the Free Church College and you want to by a bottle of Cava to celebrate the birth of your first child. Going to the Co-op, Oddbins or even the finest vitners will be a criminal offense, so your only options are going into a pub or ordering it on the internet; which of-course is unrestricted.

Are we going to see neds going on a booze cruise to Carlisle or Berwick? Or just ordering the Buckast straight from the supermarket - after all Tesco and the Co-op will deliver in the locality. However, they do ask for your date of birth, as a security check.

"The Nanny State" I heard someone cry when this came on the radio. That however implies ability, care and genuine belief in what you are trying to do, rather than just going for easy headline.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act

Anyone in two minds about how the 42 days detention time will be (mis)used by the Government need only look at RIPA, which was brought in to give better possibilities for surveillance against organised crime and international terrorism.

I have already listed some of the bodies who are entitled to use these powers in defence of the realm, and how it is important that The Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce are able to tap your phone with impunity.

A timely report in the Sunday Herald today expands on exactly how Councils have used their powers under RIPA.

The Western Isles only employed the Ripa powers three times, twice for what is described as "anti-smoking" purposes and once because of the alleged misconduct of an employee.

So, the most wide-ranging powers available to the state to track you, spy on you, and track your movements have been used to catch someone having a fag.

This is actually quite serious, and has wide-ranging implications for what has been done. As the offense was being committed (I would guess) in a pub or a hotel, just what powers have actually been used by the Council? Video cameras filming the building? Recording telephone calls? Intercepting emails?Snooping

Are you on file somewhere walking out of your local?

I was involved in disputing the application of the legislation on behalf of a client* so were my phone calls to the client about the matter recorded? Was the privileged legal advice received by the client intercepted by the Council?

All of this smacks of overkill, and I hope some Councillor will let us know just who authorised these applications, and what the outcome was.

Staff in the Comhairle should also be wary: is it alleged misconduct, or an attempt to railroad an employee out of the building?

Read the article to see the (mis)uses of RIPA and please support No2id, who are trying to stop the extension of the database state and us all being automatically tagged and recorded as we move around the country.No2ID

* It was a funny issue. A derelict vehicle owned by a third party but located on the hotel grounds was being used as a smoking shelter by customers. The Council tried to claim that it was either part of the hotel or controlled by the hotelier despite the factual evidence. It ended in a score draw, when another solution was identified.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Am Pàipear Spearheads Rural Fuel Campaign

Am Pàipear, the community newspaper of the Uists in the Outer Hebrides have launched a campaign on behalf of its readers and the wider community to demand the UK Government take action to reduce the cost of fuel in the islands and rural Scotland.

Speaking about the paper’s campaign Editor, Helena Coxshall said;

‘We have been inundated with concerns from the local community who have asked us what we are able to do to highlight the distress that high fuel prices are causing.

‘Fuel prices have rocketed and our islands are suffering more than anyone. We have decided to take the issue to the government and have launched a petition to the Scottish Parliament requesting that they represent the views of not only our, but Scotland’s wider rural community.

‘Not only does the cost of fuel impact on us all here, with crofters, fishermen, business and motorists suffering, but the additional effect of a decline in tourism hits us even harder.

‘We are asking that everyone who is affected by the high cost of fuel sign our petition on the Scottish Parliament website at whether resident in the islands or not. If you live in the Highlands, or any other rural community, you will be among the hardest hit. Not only is the price of petrol and diesel rocketing, the price of heating oil has doubled in 18 months, putting enormous strain on the elderly in particular. If you live in our cities you will probably not be able to enjoy your own beautiful countryside and islands as holiday destinations because of the high cost of fuel. It is as beneficial to our urban communities as it is to our rural communities to ensure that the cost of fuel in rural Scotland is not prohibitive.

‘We are not asking for any special treatment over our city neighbours: all we are asking for is that fuel in our rural communities doesn’t cost any more than it does in our cities.’

The higher price of fuel in the Western Isles - where a litre of diesel has passed £1.45 at some petrol stations – means that islanders are paying more tax than anywhere in the country when VAT is added to the basic cost. Islanders have expressed outrage that VAT is added after fuel duty has been taken into account, effectively creating a third, hidden tax. It is believed that fuel in the Outer Hebrides is the most expensive anywhere in the world.

Whilst I think we should get special treatment, I think this is a positive step forward. And, yes, I have just lifted their press release.

Irish reject the Lisbon Treaty

I am not surprised that the Irish rejected the Treaty, given that the opponents could cherry-pick the reasons for rejection whilst the supporters had to justify support for every line on an impenetrable document.

The surprise is that the defeat was by such a small margin.

The big question is: Is the Treaty dead?

Well, yes, technically, as every country required to ratify it before it could proceed. But, I don't expect the centralists to take this lying down, and I expect some way will be found for the Treaty to proceed, irrespective of the Irish result. Unless some of the other countries dig their heels in, and demand renegotiation.

But is this outcome A Good Thing?

I confess to being in two minds about this.

On one hand I support the idea of a more united Europe, as being a step in the right direction for unity, harmony and greater understanding between former enemies.

On the other, I oppose the centralisation of economic power and the Rise of the Empire of the Unelected.

I love the simplicity of using the Euro wherever I go; yet, I appreciate and understand the decision of Denmark and Sweden to retain their own currency (posts passim).

The political reaction has been just as schizophrenic.

Labour are set to ignore or work around the vote, in the interests of the 'greater good' (sic) whilst still deploying their xenophobic tactics of blaming 'Europe' (for which read 'Foreigners') for everything that goes wrong.

The SNP nationally have been silent, probably because they realise the complexities in the potential outcomes. But will have to take a stance at some point.

Locally, our MP showed his anti-European stance by supporting an Irish 'No' vote in the company of some seriously serial anti-Europeans. This, of course, conflicted with the SNP position of Independence in Europe. And, fond as he is of citing Ireland as an economic comparator, even he must surely realise that Ireland became the Celtic Tiger it was through magnificent use of massive funds transfers from the EU, which demonstrates the inherent conflicts in his stance.

One thing for certain, the Unelected will try to push through a void Treaty, whilst trying to keep the public from having a say.

Personally, I think the time has come for a comprehensive root-and-branch review of the purpose of the EU, starting with a plan to dismantle many of the superfluous structures, and ending with a opportunity for the public to decide if they like what is on offer.

Will this be offered to the public? You must be joking! That would mean that some members of the Empire of the Unelected might have to justify their existence, and we can't have that.

Decisive action

It is good to see the Health Board taking decisive action and reducing the complement of Chief Executives from three to two.

The shame is that it has taken so long for the disciplinary process to be concluded over what is understood to be a simple matter.

Now, the disciplinary process must turn it's attention to the other Chief Executive, Dick Manson, and take early and clear decisions before he retires from his non-job with a nice fat state pension.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Eishken planning approval

So the Government have approved the 13 turbine development in Eishken.

Given that the Public Local Inquiry concerned a 53 turbine application, of which these 13 turbines were a part, I am doubtful about whether or not the Government have any coherent grasp on wind farm policy.

If the PLI throws out the current application, where does that leave today's approval?

Does this action not prejudice the PLI as it is being considered by the Reporter?

Although I support the application approved plan, I am concerned that whatever the outcome this is going to end up in Court with the PLI 'losers' claiming that the approval has prejudiced the PLI decision.

Indeed, has the approval not made a large part of the debate at the PLI meaningless?

Whatever the eventual outcome, this decision is bound to enrage the opponents, who will doubtless vent their spleens here.....

Update 13/6/08: Having thought about this overnight, I am even more confused about how the various decisions will interact. I foresee lots of very expensive lawyers giving expensive and weighty opinions to both sides, which will no doubt be contradictory.

If BMP now proceed with building the 13 approved towers and the application for 53 is refused, do they just continue with their plans? Even if the decision was that no turbines should ever be built anywhere on that area? The more I think about it, the less satisfactory the decision to do nothing is.

The application should have been called in, pending the decision of the PLI.

Renewable energy opportunities

Floating wind turbineThere appears to be good news on the immediate horizon with the news that a hydrogen generating floating marine wind tower may be sited in the Minch.

Hebrides News has much more detail on the proposal, and this photo which is indicative of the planned structure.

Before we all rush out and claim that This Is The Future, we should bear in mind that it is combining a number of unproven technologies in a test setting. However, we should welcome the opportunities that it offers for employment and to become a Centre of Excellence (what a cliché!) for renewables.

The possibilities for off-shore wind are limited in the islands, partly due to the depth of the water making tradition wind tower building methods impractical. In the shallow North Sea it is totally workable, such as at Horns Rev, which I have been lucky enough to see.

Having been Chair of the Tanker-Traffic in the Minch Working Group with Highland Council, I have a slight concern about the potential problems with the location of this proposal, but I hope that all parties can pull together to grasp this opportunity with both hands, and I look forward to getting more information about this exciting plan.

(BTW, if offshore power replaces onshore power then everyone should be happier)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Guestimate at fuel duty

According to the Comhairle, in 1994-95 (the only years for which they have data) the following were the fuel imports to Stornoway:
  • Diesel - 3,114 tonnes
  • Unleaded - 3,116 tonnes
  • Leaded - 4,043 tonnes
I'd stab a guess at that being around 15,000 tonnes today, allowing for Uist & Barra and increases in the numbers of vehicles.

As far as I can tell, 1 tonne of fuel = 7.2 barrels and 1 barrel = 159 litres, therefore 1 tonne = 1,145 litres, and consequently the islands use about 17m litres per annum.

Fuel duty is 50.35 p per litre, so the Treasury takes about £9m in fuel duty from the islands each year, plus VAT making £11m in round terms - or £430 for every man, woman and child.

Fuel duty yields about £8.5bn pa so our share of the tax is lost in the rounding.

Anyone feel a campaign coming on...

Any politician is free to use these figures, but if they fail to credit the source they will get a verbal kicking.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Caption contest - I couldn't resist.....

Donald Trump


Word reaches me from a current employee of Somerfield about the glorious employment future they face.

Since Somerfield pulled out of Stornoway the staff have been laid-off, getting a retained payment until their employment transfers to Tesco.

The contracts are out. Staff are being offered 20 hours per week on a fixed rota, with no changes in their rota allowed. If Mary wants this Friday off, she can't swap with Joan on the Saturday shift. She loses her hours (and her job?).

Existing staff are debating whether to stay or go and the huge pile of mail with applications for other vacancies will be sifted when the real number of vacancies is established. No doubt at lower wages than the retained staff - for that is how Tesco makes it's money.

When Tesco promised 50 new jobs (or was it 100 or 150?) everyone else assumed full-time posts. The reality is a bigger pool of part-timers who become dependent upon the whim of the employer.

Fuel prices (again)

I read the following comment by Angus MacNeil MP in the House of Commons last week:
    The Prime Minister might want to watch "Truth, Lies, Oil and Scotland" on the BBC tonight—a programme about Scotland's oil, which is not even at its peak. But may I give the Prime Minister another truth? My constituents in Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra are paying the greatest fuel tax in the UK, with fuel priced at £1.40 a litre—about £6.50 a gallon. Will he give some of the £4.4 billion fuel windfall to offset the cost of fuel by 3 per cent. in the Scottish islands—something that he has already agreed to do for areas of rural France?
Whilst making all the right noises it strikes me as utterly pointless and futile.

I believe that the EU derogation allows the duty of 50.35p per litre to be varied by up to 3%, and no more.

The maximum gain is therefore 1.51ppl or 1.08% of the pump price; and after taking VAT into account this will jump to 1.77ppl or 1.27% of the pump price. Given that prices have risen by 40% this year, it hardly scratches the surface, and with hauliers in the islands now applying a 5% fuel surcharge on all goods, the impact is clear.

However, the issue of differential pricing for fuel shifted by sea or road is interesting in an academic sense only, as it is only another minor layer of costs that is being added to an already excessive price. (Mr MacNeil's new found knowledge on international oil pricing and the Rotterdam spot market is amusingly intriguing; he clearly has no idea how the market and commodity 'hedging' works.)

Can anyone estimate the volume of petrol delivered to the islands in a year, so we can try to estimate the cost to the Treasury of being 'duty free'?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

School closures and PFI

Gordon Diesel's signI've lifted the photo to the right from Hebrides News.

The question asked by Gordon MacLennan and Iain Don MacIver, as the joint spokespersons for the campaign - is highly pertinent, incisive but aimed at the wrong target.

During the 2007 election, Labour suggested that voting SNP would result in the £52m (or so) schools redevelopment being abandoned. The SNP refuted this argument, promising that the policy would be delivered.

At the time I warned that promising to match a ill-thought out and unworkable proposal was not the best position to adopt as a long-term policy, but that was the approach taken.

The current policy is determined by the Scottish Government who insist that five schools for part of the PPP/PFI project as this is 'the only way to attract developers'. The Scottish Futures Trust was supposed to reform this entire process, but the SNP have now locked the Council into a (death) spiral of over-priced and under-functional building. Or nothing, as the alternative.

The new school in Portree is currently thinking about extending the range of facilities to the public. This requires Highland Council to negotiate with the private sector Facilities Manager who negotiates with the builder to see if they can agree a price to be paid to the Developer and Manager for allowing the Brownies to use a hall for an extra 30 minutes on Wednesdays.

That is where this is going.

Gordon MacLennan used to employ our MSP and Iain Don MacIver was/is an SNP member. They should be asking our MSP why the Council is being forced to adopt a discredited Tory policy of rebuilding for the benefit of the developers instead of being give the ability to deliver an education system for the benefit of the pupils.

Shoot your bullets, lads, but aim at the target not the Aunt Sally.

(Added 9/6) None of which excuses the Council from pursuing ill-thought through policies.

Galson Trust

A comment on the blog suggests that the Galson Trust have abandoned their plans for a community windfarm, due to the costs and difficulty of transporting the turbines to the particular site.

I have no particular knowledge about the Galson Trust and their current intentions regarding renewable energy, but what I can comment on is the conditions that were applied to both the LWP and BMP planning applications.

In both cases, one of the pre-conditions was that a full roads survey be undertaken to give us the 'before' position, and that after building was completed and 'after' survey was undertaken, and the applicants would reinstate the roads to at least the 'before' standard.

That, of course, hid a multitude of other issues, but simply expressed the absolute basic condition that had to be met.

The vehicles that would have transported the planned turbine sections would have been 60m long, and need very solid edges to the roads to ensure that they do not tip over. They would have blocked the roads as they moved, and a traffic management plan had to be agreed with all and sundry before they could be moved.
Seaforth Head Cottage
In simple and practical terms major road reconstruction would have been necessary at places like the Manor roundabout and Laxdale Bridge, and entire sections of the roads would need to be replaced, for instance, between Leurbost and Balallan. All of these would be gifted to the Council by the developers, and would have to be delivered to the public in pristine condition at the end of the construction phase. This was part of the community benefit that could not be quantified.

I believe that Galson would have faced exactly the same demands, and clearly that would have been prohibitively expensive for a small community scheme, unless alternative landing sites can be found. But the vehicles to carry the tower still need to get to the unloading site.

This is one of the obvious knock-on disbenefits of the rejection of the LWP scheme.

(Update 9/6) Hebrides News have more information on the community plans.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Want to buy a slightly used Harris Tweed Mill?

Today's post brings an invitation to consider the purchase of the Harris Tweed Mills currently/formerly occupied by Haggas at Sandwick Road.

Approx 1 acre is being offered by the agents comprising the main office block
the works
and the open space behind the works, leaving only the area accessed from Cabarfeidh Road as part of the operation. Or what used to pass as a business.

According to the blurb I received, prospective buyers should be aware that redevelopment of the site will not be approved by the Council [it is too close to the Gas tanks] and that there is no central heating in any of the 30,000 sq ft of accommodation.

Hurry, hurry, before these buildings get snapped up.

Small Business Rates

They don't (all) have it in for me in the Council.

The revised notice came through yesterday with the 80% rates relief, but we have already paid 50% to account with the first monthly direct debit.

Thanks Comhairle.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Former Depute Director of Finance...

and my one-time neighbour features in the Oxford Mail in his new role.

Under the headline "Wind farm goes live"

The chairman of the co-operative which owns the wind farm is Mark Luntley, formerly Oxford City Council's director of corporate services.

And it turns out he knows a thing or two about wind - having previously lived in the Outer Hebrides while working for the Western Isles Council.

Bethesda and VAT

As I asked before (to a complete and utter silence) doesn anyone know what happened about the supposed meeting, or was it all a stunt and a series of false press releases?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Donald

Whilst others are salivating at the prospect of The Donald arriving in Stornoway for the long overdue and totally manipulative visit to Stornoway (I wonder just how many times it will be mentioned at the Inquiry into the Golf Course planning application?) to show just how much he respects his late mother, I have got the real news.

I'm not waiting for the press conference, no siree, as I have got an exclusive interview with those who are closest to the magnificent genius that is the most bankrupt Lewis dispora.

Over the past two weeks I have been privileged to have had unrestricted access to the quarantine kennels in which the wigs have been kept to allow acclimatisation, prior to The Visit (capital TV) by his Holiness.

Wig 1 & 2 were quite talkative, but wig 3 demanded anonymity from the cage in which it was kept. I have identified the wigs by colour coding them according to their particular shade.

AN: Tell me about how you met The Donald.
W1: He picked me up one night when he was at his lowest, and I showed him how to look young and day-glo again.
W2: We met in Vegas where I was with Cher, but I toned my lifestyle down after meeting him.
W3: He ripped me from a mohair jersey!

AN: Where are you from originally?
W1: Put together will loving care from the off-cuts of celebrities, I was born at the finest wigmaker in Vienna, and stitched with loving care to fit The Donald.
W2: I was born in the deep south of America, where plastic hair meets unreality, and everyone suspends disbelief.
W3: I was born from melted chip fat and cat fur balls, after being hit by lightning.

AN: What will The Donald bring to Lewis?
W1: Love, peace, global understanding, a unique financial ability and the desire to bring world class facilities to Lewis in memory of his mother (details to be worked out over the next 10 years)
W3 (interjecting): F'all
W2: The population will be enhanced just by the presence of The Donald, who will buy the Stornoway Golf Club and turn it into the new location for the Open by next week. Subject ot planning permission.

AN: What do you plan to say to Alex Salmond?
W1: Your Highness. Jobs for your mates; what else do you want?
W2: I bring you greetings from the Emperor. What would you like him to do for you?
W3: Bastard. I'm building up static in this box!

AN: Why should the Government override planning restrictions for your planned Golf Course?
W1: This is The Donald you are asking such a stupid question of.
W2: He is the Donald, and he brings munificence, magnanimity, and an ex super model wife, so why question his motives or his ability to deliver the impossible under impossible circumstances, despite a lack of a track record or financial ability. Do NOT mention the fact that it is a a housing scheme with a golf course attached, rather than the other way around.
W3: Look, we already spent millions buying everyone in the Government, how much more do you want?

AN: What is your message to the people of the Western Isles?
W1: It is lovely to be here in the wonderful island of Lewis and Harris where the late Mrs Trump was born, and somewhere where The Donald and I come regularly every 50 years or so.
W2: I just love your Harres Tweed made from the skin of living sheeps and urinated upon by walking ladies as they go to the proposed Trump mall and casino in Tong where The Donald will personally ensure that they are paid slightly above minimum wage frequently.
W3: F'off, this is a publicity stunt.

As I left, Wig 3 was taken out by Trump Customs Officers and shot and then burnt due to being 'rabid'. After this and last seen he was being offered his own programme on Isles FM.


According to today's (Wednesday) Herald, the "Fraser of Allander commentary returns under new sponsor". This gives Mr Wendy Alexander something to do in an evening between feeding children and ironing ... or perhaps instructing the nanny to do the same.

However, the article was somewhat baffling when it got to the nitty gritty....

The commentary is moving from being published quarterly to being published every three months.

I'm only a simple accountant, but last time I checked there were twelve months in each year.

Methinks Douglas Fraser needs a better sub-editor.

Update Thursday:

    The Fraser of Allander economic commentary will in future appear every four months, and not every three months as stated in our business pages yesterday.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

CalMac spokesman

I am somewhat bemused and puzzled as to the bland and terse statement from CalMac announcing the departure of Hugh Dan MacLennan from the company.

As a regular reader of this blog, I hold Mr MacLennan no ill-will, and irrespective of the circumstances I think that a decent statement would have been more appropriate.

The exact details remain a bit of a mystery, but if it is true that it was a simple drink-driving offence then the reaction seems competely over the top.

Being slightly out of contact, until I get the wireless network operating, can anyone shed more light on the matter?

(I'm posting this with Firefox on a Mac, so it will be updated when I can use my laptop later this evening)

Update 6/6/08: More on the story here.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Uist House - again

Donald Manford phoned me over the weekend in connection with the above.

He had followed up my earlier blog about the shortfall in the funding, and has tried to get to the bottom of what is going on.

He has had confirmation from the Hebridean Housing Partnership that the £350,000 for supported accommodation in the building has been lost, although he cannot confirm exactly how this happened, but that there are some extreme political sensitivities about this coming into the public domain.

He is running with the story in Am Paipear this week, and hence I am allowed to go public with this too.

It appears that HHP may be able to get the money at the end of the year; but only if there is an underspend in their other budgets! Which is better than nothing, but not by very much at all.

Hopefully questions will be asked by Councillors, and answers provided in the public domain.

On another issue; driving past the building last week it looks beautiful from the outside. I am told that it is 5* standard inside, with en-suite shower rooms for the elderly residents.

The shower rooms have slate tiles.

Which, unfortunately, become treacherously slippy when wet,and have already resulted in one broken limb.

As there is underfloor heating in the en-suites, the tiles cannot be removed, and instead are to be covered with a lino or vinyl non-slip surface. Did no-one think about this when the floors were being specified???