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

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Greed and pomposity

Sometimes a political career comes naturally and gently to an end.

Sometimes a political career ends due to matters the politician cannot control.

Sometimes a political career ends because the politician makes a huge mistake and has neither the intelligence nor wit to change their course.
Fifteen members of Scottish Parliament claimed Remembrance Day wreaths on expenses
A shocking headline betraying the shear unadulterated greed of the 15 concerned, and complete lack of respect to their constituents, the veterans and families of the armed forces, and to those who gave their lives in the services.

Everyone of them should have the to repay the claim and apologise to the electorate.

But will they? Not if this quote is anything to go by:-
Alasdair Allan, SNP Western Isles MSP, said it was 'not fair' to criticise his decision to claim the money on expenses, adding: 'No, I won't be returning the money.'
He is in the highest 5% of earners in the UK and he doesn't think it is right to pay for a wreath. Such stupidity, arrogance and greed seems all too prevalent amongst those politicians who are caught making stupid claims - witness Anthony Steen's defence that the public were just jealous of his wealth. They forget the public service element of public service, but never forget the opportunity for personal enrichment.

But then, this is what an SNP Spokesman said:-

'Members lay wreaths in their official capacity on behalf of the Scottish Parliament,' she said.'As the Parliament supports Poppy Scotland the cost can be met from Parliament resources and it is for each elected member to determine if they wish to reclaim the cost.'

Unbelievable. Utterly unbelievable.

We are told, repeatedly, that Westminster should follow the example of Holyrood over expenses. Now you know why.

They are all taking the piss - and then putting it on expenses.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Council junkets

Okay, that's an unfair headline, but in the current climate every bit of public expenditure is going to be under the spotlight.

That's why the Channel 4 report into Council spending on foreign travel is very relevant.

I recommend you look at the spreadsheet, and go down to No 40.

That's the 40th highest spend out of 336 councils.

Justification, please.

BTW, although I had foreign trips when I was a Councillor, each and every one was paid for by third parties in my role as KIMO Vice-president and then President.

(Thanks to Freddy for the pointer)

Showing solidarity

In this country we can't even be seen to think about reducing the seal population who are destroying the fishing industry throughout the islands.

It is fantastic to see a politician who really believes in and supports their communityMichaelle Jean eats seal:

Canada's governor general, Michaelle Jean, has helped to butcher and eat a seal in an apparent act of solidarity with hunters.

Ms Jean used a traditional Inuit knife to help gut the animal then ate a slice of raw heart.

If only our local councillors, MP and MSP had any substance to their beliefs then they would be out there actually doing something for the communities, rather than making vacuous noises for the benefit of the press and their own egos.

MPs' expenses and tax

Every self-employed taxpayer will be smiling at the thought of the Inland Revenue doing unto MPs what MPs have done unto taxpayers for many years.....
HM Revenue and Customs has begun a fresh investigation into whether MPs could be liable for millions of pounds of unpaid tax for items they claimed on expenses, The Telegraph can disclose.

The Telegraph has disclosed how the parliamentary fees office allowed nine members of the Cabinet, including Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, to use publicly funded expenses to pay their accountants. Photo: PA

A senior tax inspector is understood to be overseeing an “open-ended” inquiry following disclosures in The Telegraph about the expenses claims of hundreds of MPs.

Details of claims for furnishings, household equipment and pot plants will be scrutinised to determine whether they should have been taxed as a benefit in kind.

Tourist business support Sunday ferries

The Outer Hebrides Tourism Industry Association have undertaken a survey of their members about attitudes towards Sunday sailings, and the results, and their reply to CalMac is unequivocal.

The organisation may be self-selecting and has an obvious self-interest in the outcome - whether that is for or against the proposals.

The really important part comes towards the end
In addition, many of our members are also reporting issues with the current high
booking levels on the existing services, with some members experiencing
accommodation cancellations already from guests who are unable to secure a
suitable ferry crossing. We are extremely concerned that the increased level of traffic
originating from the islands (due to RET) will fill the limited summer capacity, leaving
tourism operators on the islands with empty beds, and willing visitors unable to travel
due to a lack of ferry capacity.

This is not just a Sunday service issue, but does contribute to the case for the
enhancement of weekday services as soon as practicable. If there is no improvement
to services, we face the real prospect of RET damaging the tourism industry of the
Outer Hebrides, as the limited current capacity fills with islanders making more
mainland trips.
As tourism appears to be one of our best prospects for economic growth in the immediate future, we are looking at the situation where the visitors cannot get here as the ferries are too small, and consequently too full.

It didn't take a genius to work out that introducing RET onto the Stornoway-Ullapool route would lead to even more crowded ferries and that a new, bigger, ferry would be required. Indeed, I remember arguing in the Council Chamber in 2005 that with no statistics about how many people were being turned away at Ullapool, CalMac didn't have the information to properly assess their needs on this route. And so it has turned out.

Any promises from Government to replace the ferries? Any financial planning to make the necessary provision?

No. But we did get a few press releases saying just how much money will be needed to deliver a proper service, but no sign of the actual hard cash being made available.

My prediction (for what it is worth) RET will be promised to be continued by all parties after the election, if you elect them, and they will all promise to undertake a review of the need to replace ferries after that election. The results of which will lead to a couple of bigger ferries being ordered (or promised to be ordered) in 2014-15, as that will be all that can be afforded.

In the meantime, CalMac will have to consider leasing bigger vessels, which will result in fare increases, but a not hugely better service.

In other words, the same substandard service for the next 10 years.

Isn't it ironic that an incompetent implementation of RET might actually cause more problems than it will solve, and set back the policy for many years?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

One-way system

One-way systemThe new one-way system in Stornoway is causing trouble and chaos.

Today I just managed to avoid going down Lewis Street the wrong way (it is one-way only between Francis Street and James Street) and went down Keith Street instead.

It was a bit of a shock to get used to the ability to drive on either side of the road, but it was definitely more of a shock to see a car heading up the road toward me. No amount of waving or flashing of lights was able to dissuade the woman from continuing in blissful ignorance.

At the foot, I placed myself in the right hand lane to turn towards South Beach and I found myself waving frantically at the cars signalling to turn into Keith Street. A mere 10 yards down the road, I was flagged down by a marshal for the half-marathon and asked to turn around in the Health Board and head back the other way.

Having made a three-point turn I came back to the foot of Keith Street to see the marshal directing all the traffic the wrong way up Keith Street.

At this point I must apologise to the marshal as neither of us often use that kind of language in public, but as he was utterly unaware that the road was one-way, despite the enormous no-entry signs, it was the quickest and easiest way to draw his attention to the situation.

Later, coming up the new Lewis Street one-way section, the absence of simple signage meant that cars were leaving the right-hand lane of the one-way system and crossing Francis Street to drive up the two-way section of Lewis Street on the wrong side of the road.

It's a mess and dangerous until the foot of Keith Street is clearly segregated into a left and right filter lane (and an island to emphasise the point?), and the small section of Lewis Street has a right only filter lane at the top.

Until then drive very carefully, and expect the unexpected.

Update 25/5 at 5pm: UBC van exits Lewis Street onto Francis Street, having come from Bain & Morrison, and crosses straight over and down the one-way section the wrong way.

(Don't get me started on the parking changes....)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Logic, but not as we know it...

I am eternally indebted to the Scotsman for carrying a letter from Rev Fraser (Free Church Continuing) which clearly sets out the position of the FCC on Sunday sailings.

Sadly, they are utterly illogical.
There is still time for a ferry leaving at 00h15 hours on a Monday to return and resume its normal schedule for the day.
So presumably the crew and passengers start to board at 00h01.

In the real world, the previous three hours will have been spent preparing the vessel, stocking the bar and cafeteria, getting taxis to take people to the ferry, hoteliers making sandwiches and so on. Or perhaps the Rev is only interested in the illusion of no Sunday working. After he has finished his work for the day and sent his customers home.

Understandably, the Rev deliberately omits to address a key issue about
seeking to defend their distinctive way of life.
There were Sunday sailings until at least the 1930's, and I have yet to find anyone who refutes that, or who can tell me when or why the prohibition on Sunday sailings arose.

Was it really that the island was heathen until 1939, and was only 'saved' by the cessation of the Sunday ferry to Mallaig?

Actually, I think it was religious opportunism that made a spurious connection between piety and the cessation of the ferry service, and has tried to ingrain it into local 'tradition' as a false memory.

If anyone doubts the veracity of what I write, then visit the Transport Museum in Glasgow and find the timetable for London-Stornoway services (outside the railway ticket booth) and see the facts for themselves.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sunday sailings - the latest

I understand that on Wednesday CalMac will announce that Sunday sailings are to start in just a few weeks, and then they will then go to consultation on that position.

With consultation only lasting a few weeks, it is going to be a fait a compli for the LDOS.

At this point they might realise that their supporters in the Comhairle are actually making the situation worse by their inept approach to Sunday issues.

A free bit of advice to the LDOS: drawing a line and refusing to negotiate is not a sustainable position when the other side hold all the cards.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Caption contest


Toblerone

Mr M says, "When I feel my expenses running low I like nothing better than to recharge my lifestyle to you, the taxpayer."

Say one thing, and do another...

In the Gazette this week....
"It is certainly very clear that reform of MPs' expenses is required," [Angus MacNeil] said.

"Westminster need to follow the lead of the Scottish Parliament who has managed to show transparency with regards expenses. Once again, Scotland leads the way!"
According to the voting record
DateSubjectAgreement with policy
20 Apr 2007Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill — Keep disclosure for MPs' expenses — rejected absent
20 Apr 2007Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill — Exempt only correspondence — rejected absent
18 May 2007Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill — That the Question now be proposed absent
18 May 2007Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill — Continue to disclose MPs' correspondence — rejected absent
18 May 2007Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill — Exempt constituents' letters only — rejected absent
18 May 2007Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill — Third Reading — Closure absent
18 May 2007Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill — Third Reading absent
3 Jul 2008MPs' allowances — External audits and no more furniture — rejected absent
30 Apr 2009MPs' financial interests — Full and complete registration absent
30 Apr 2009MPs' expenses — No lower limit for declaration absent

Perhaps expenses reform was also a "Low priority" for him.

MPs expenses - closer to home

Oh dear - caught !

One £220,000 property in London; one in Fort William; one in Glasgow; one in Barra; and one modest little hide-away under construction beside the Isle of Barra Hotel*.....

He said that expenses were a low priority for him because of his busy schedule

Perhaps he could have asked his part-time Parliamentary Assistant, Jane, to sort his claims.

The Union Jack Club? You could not make it up. Presumably he was going to be too 'tired and emotional' to make it back to the publicly-subsidised flat he had bought.

* I was told that this was the house, but not having seen it myself... If this isn't the house, can someone send me a photo of the correct property?

* I was sent a photo of the wrong house, which has caused some embarrassment to the people who own that house. I'm very sorry for that mistake, so please accept my humble apologies, and I will have to get to Barra to see the correct house which I am told is much bigger.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Who knew what and when?

Cllrs Morag Munro and Charlie Nicolson are doing their dinger following the CalMac announcement about Sunday sailings, and demanding to know who knew what and when.

They have seen through the waffle and know that there is more to this than meets the eye.

And - believe it or not - there is!

CalMac broke the news to the Comhairle in a letter dated 14 May and apologised for the short notice in trying to call a meeting. This gives the clear impression that everything was being arranged at exceptionally short notice.

So why did the Finance Working Group discuss the CalMac plans privately on Monday 11th?

Attending that meeting were Cllrs Angus Campbell, Norman MacDonald, Donald Manford and Roddie MacKay, and I understand that at the end of the meeting all the officers were asked to leave and then, and only then was the Sunday sailings issue discussed.

More and more mysterious... SO just when did the Council know?

(Incidentally, I did Angus Campbell a dis-service by suggesting he went away to COSLA early. He was away on Thursday discussing Sgoiltean Ura funding.)

After the original post above went up, I was contacted by Donald Manford indignant that I had got it all wrong. He said that he was not at any meeting where the Sunday ferries issued was discussed.

However, he phoned back later to say that he had been in the meeting by video conference, and he now understands that it was only after he left the video conference that the matter was discussed. He is, as you can imagine, livid.

An explosive issue

I know that this might be a bit unusual, but I actually still feel responsible for all the decision I ever took as a Councillor, from the trivial to the massive.

I suppose I have a paternalistic concern over whether the expulsion from school we approved helped or destroyed the child concerned; whether our spending priorities actually delivered any benefits; and, as I cringe as I drive past a house we gave planning permission for,just how many others mistakes like that are there?

I Chaired the only Committee meeting ever held in the Western Isles to grant an explosives manufacturing licence (to the Range in South Uist) and having seen the Range site, I retain a keen interest in what goes on there.

I understand that last Saturday, explosives were loaded on the "Loch Nevis" in MallaigMV Loch Nevis and shipped to Lochboisdale where they were transported to the Range.

If this is correct then it raises some eye-opening issues.

Mallaig doesn't have an explosives licence.

Lochboisdale doesn't have an explosives licence.

(But Lochmaddy does.)

And the HSE are very clear about the prohibition on handling explosives at an unlicensed harbour. If this report is correct, then there is clear breach of basic HSE guidance which can only lead to a prosecution of the Directors of CalMac.

Can anyone confirm or refute the events of last Saturday?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Serious Organised Crime

The Agency (SOCA), are there to receive reports about serious money laundering issues and all practicing professionals have to abide by the Money Laundering Regulations.

That's why you need your passport when opening a bank account or dealing with accountants, solicitors or even financial advisors.

We are trained to be aware of specific sensitivities, such as dealings with iffy countries; large sums of cash; or politically exposed persons (Para 4 Sch2 of the Regs).

If you don't make a report to SOCA about a Money Laundering issue then you are in potentially serious trouble with SOCA and your professional body. We get lots of guidance on the issue, with examples:-
4 Completion of tax returns does not involve money laundering, does it?

Money laundering is very widely defined in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (PoCA) and the Money Laundering Regulations 2003 (MLR). Tax evasion inevitably involves money laundering because when a person ‘saves’ tax by evasion he commits a criminal offence by making a false tax return and a money laundering offence by failing to pay the full amount of tax which is properly due.
Looks like Hazel Blears is going to have to beHazel Blears reported by her accountants over her Capital Gains Tax bill, and probably every other MP who has admitted errors and has offered to repay the money is effectively admitting that they are in the same situation, by admitting they deliberatley took tax-free cash, to which they were not entitled, and that should have appeared on their tax returns as a benefit (rather than being omitted as non-taxable)

Is there a dock big enough to hold all the accused MPs? If not, can we build one now?

What the Chairman wrote.....

FROM THE CHAIRMAN

Peter Timms CBE

Our ref: PKT/JAS

14 May 2009

Mr Malcolm Burr
Chief Executive
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
Sandwick Road
STORNOWAY, Isle of Lewis
HS1 2BW

Dear Malcolm

EQUALITIES ACT 2006

I am sorry that you and your colleagues are not able to meet us during our visit to Stornoway, when we hoped to set out the position in which CalMac now finds itself with regard to the possible introduction of Sunday ferry services.

We would have preferred to explain this issue face to face, but I accept that notice of our visit was short, although I think you will appreciate the urgency once I explain our predicament.

Earlier this year we received correspondence from the Equality & Human Rights Commission stating that several residents of Lewis and Harris had approached the Commission, concerned that CalMac does not offer mainland Sunday sailings. The Commission referred specifically to the Equalities Act 2006, and in light of this potential challenge we considered that we had no option but to seek an opinion from Senior Counsel.

His opinion is that our policy of withholding ferry services, out of respect for the beliefs of a section of the population of Lewis and Harris, is indeed unlawful, and we feel we therefore have no option but to seek a way of complying with the terms of the Act, while at the same time acknowledging the sensitivities which exist.

We have therefore begun to consult with the relevant communities, as required by the terms of the CHFS contract, as to how a Sunday service might operate.

No decision will be taken on when any Sunday service might commence until the consultation is completed and the implications for ferry operations have been fully assessed.

In addition, no details of any possible timetables will be published until the consultation process is completed and the Board of CalMac Ferries Ltd has formally approved the introduction of any Sunday sailings between Lewis and Harris and Skye and the mainland. There are then a number of procedural matters which must be gone through before any service can commence.

The views of CNES are clearly important to us, and we would welcome the opportunity to discuss our options with the Comhairle at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely

P K Timms
Chairman

"A big boy did it and ran away...."

It's up there with "We were only obeying orders", as more of the vermin are uncovered.

Conservative MP Andrew MacKay has quit as parliamentary aide to David Cameron over what the party said was an "unacceptable" expenses claim.

He claimed full second home allowance on his London address, while his wife, Tory MP Julie Kirkbride, claimed the full allowance for another home.

"Quit as parliamentary aide" means that he was ordered to fall on his sword. But as yet, no suggestion of paying anything back.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is said to be "very concerned" about former minister Elliott Morley claiming £16,000 for a mortgage he had already paid off.

Mr Morley has said it was a "mistake" and has paid the money back [...]

The newspaper also alleges Mr Morley rented out a London flat designated as his main residence to another Labour MP, Ian Cawsey, a close friend and former special adviser.

Mr Cawsey, it is claimed, named the property as his second home, allowing him to claim back the £1,000 a month in rent he paid to Mr Morley.

In November 2007, the newspaper claims, Mr Morley "flipped" his designated second home from his Scunthorpe property to his London home and for four months the two men claimed expenses on the same property.

It is just a bit ffffffff unbelievable that he made such a complex error 'by mistake', having deliberately flipped his property to maximise his claims. This looks like a clear case for the Police under the Theft Act 1968, and I would expect an earlier visit from Inspector Knacker of the Yard.

Getting even better

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Overfull ferries

With the increase in demand on the Stornoway-Ullapool run there have been constant problems with locals residents turning up and not being able to get on the ferry.

This is the success of RET, but it comes at a price, as the large number of containerised lorries on the roads of the Western Isles demonstrates. As I warned a long time back, there is a definite impact on some local businesses who have not been able (or willing) to face the challenge from the mainland.

But there is a solution to overloaded ferries in sight.

On Thursday CalMac directors are coming to the island to speak to the LDOS and to meet with the Donald Manford, Chair of Transportation, and to announce that Sunday sailings are happening.

Immediately.

All to meet the huge increase in visitors over the Summer sailing periods.

Update 6pm: Spoke to Donald Manford who denies he was invited to a meeting with CalMac and that a request for a meeting had been made at a much higher level than the "mere Chair of Transportation". CalMac have admitted that they are meeting with some groups, but refuse to identify them. LDOS confirm that they are meeting with CalMac on Thursday.

Convener, Vice-Convener (& Chief Executive?) of Comhairle are 'unavailable' on Thursday due to leaving (very early) for a COSLA meeting on Friday!

More to follow.....

Update 8:30pm: The cause of this goes back two years. At that time the (majority of) Councillors decided not to debate Sunday issues and instructed the Chief Executive to formulate a report and possible policy for their consideration.

CalMac have long stated that they would never introduce Sunday sailings without consultation, but the Comhairle policy has never seen the light of day and as such the Directors of CalMac (which includes the Convener) have decided that the refusal to even outline the basis for consultation nullifies their promises.

The Transport Minister is, I am told, fully aware of CalMac's decision and fully supportive of their stance.

Why? RET means full ferries and the alternatives are utilising the assets 7 days a week or finding the cash to buy a new ferry (or ferries!), and that cash isn't there.

So, as I forecast, RET has led to Sunday ferries as sure as night follows day.

Update 21:20: For the sake of clarity, apart from the erroneous detail of his meeting with CalMac, Cllr Manford is not denying the remainder of the report is correct.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bio-security

Salmon farms
Biosecurity literally means ‘safe life’. If you work or come into contact with farm animals, biosecurity means taking steps to make sure that good hygiene practices are in place. This will help prevent the spread of animal disease.

Good biosecurity is a vital part of keeping new disease away from animals.
Source: Defra website.

Area Management Agreements were put in place in many locations across the Western Isles after the council officers sweated blood (as did many others, not least the Fisheries Trust) to broker deals between fish farmers, mussel farmers, fishermen, anglers, conservation bodies and many others. The most complex and most important was the deal in Loch Roag.

A key part of the plan was to ensure bio-security for the various parties by securing, as far as possible, the different uses into different sectors, to reduce cross-contamination issues.

As is common with politicians, I took most of the glory for the hard work of others, and I do not want to see that thrown away.

That is why the proposal to import nets to Scalpay from many different areas is a potentially disastrous plan, and one that should be opposed until such time as the disease prevention controls are clearly documented, tested and approved. One suspicion of ISA in the islands could destroy much of the salmon-farming industry, and shatter the 'quality' marketing strategy of environmentally-friendly, sustainable production.

Those who have welcomed a Norwegian multi-national in to the islands to transport contaminated products in a way that they aren't allowed to do in Norway, and whose party used to complain about the lack of support for the indigenous salmon farmers.

Gay Minister - now it's open season

Not wanting to intrude in an area of personal beliefs, I've avoided making any comment on the saga surrounding Rev Scott Rennie. I had a good look at the petition and noted the large numbers who obviously hold very strong views on the matter, and a quick search found the name of the Minister of the Free Church in Stornoway.

Now, a link to the petition has been posted to the Free Church website.

Personally, I find such a targeted witch-hunt disturbing on many levels, although as a non-believer I may be (blissfully) ignorant of the finer points surrounding this debate.

Let's just remember what the Bible says about this at Leviticus 20:13
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.
So if we are to comply with Biblical strictures here, there are obviously some issues surrounding the physical safety of Rev Rennie, which I am sure someone can justify.

As they can no doubt justify the incest between Lot and his daughters in Genesis 19:30-38.

Or indeed, that between the children of Adam & Eve. Just who did marry their three sons?

Anyway, the rest of us realists can sit back and despair as we watch yet another group of religious fanatics try and knock six lumps out of each other; and ponder all the peace and goodwill emanating from the pious.

Those with a specific view might want to sign a petition to support Rev Rennie.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

New audit plan for MPs' expenses

When is the tender out? Please, please, please, let me at it......

Nothing to hide....

Are there any politicians out there who don't have dodgy expenses claims?

Even Alex Salmond is not immune for the contagion of greed that seems to eminate from Westminster.

In the 2007/08 financial year, which covers the period between the end of March 2007 and the start of April 2008, he voted on only six days in the Commons.

However, he still claimed £1,751.50 for food, or more than a third of the maximum allowed for the entire 12 months.

That's £291 per day. Good value for money.

But the most interesting element seemed to be ignored...
One embarrassing detail from Mr Salmond's expenses was a claim for an overnight stay at a London hotel in July, 2005.
and
These items were bought for the flat Mr Salmond rented in Central London and all were allowable under Commons' rules.
Sorry, but he rented a flat, paid for by the taxpayer, and then stayed in a hotel, paid for by the taxpayer.

(Copious expletives deleted)

Of course, that all pales into insignificance when compared to Hazel Blears telling the Commons authorities that a house was her second home for (generous) expense allowances, and the Inland Revenue that it was her principal home, so that there was no tax to be paid when she sold it.

If that was you or I ......

Friday, May 08, 2009

Out of touch

The expenses scandal is starting to unravel, and I think you will find that very, very few MPs have nothing to hide. Some of the scandals will take just a wee bit of digging and lateral thought (or a simple tip-off), but the absence of anyone claiming the moral high ground speaks for itself.
They include a claim for £6,500 made by Gordon Brown to pay his brother for a cleaner for his Westminster flat.
Three years half-share of a cleaner paid for by the tax payer. And in accordance with the rules. And only now that it is becoming public knowledge do they start to admit that the system might be broken, but that everything was done "within the rules".
Asked about claims MPs have been claiming one property is their "second home" under the allowance, but not for the purposes of council tax or capital gains tax, she [Harriet Harman] refused to give a "gut instinct judgement" on whether it was a breach of the rules.
Well let me make it clear what your "gut instinct judgement" should be: if one of the employees of the Houses of Parliament fiddled their expenses in the way that you crowd were, they would be sacked and reported to the Police for fraud. Why should you and your colleagues be any different?

Perhaps some fine upstanding citizen will report the lies, mendacity and theft of public funds to the Metropolitan Police and we can see squads of Black Marias taking the criminals away. Other bloggers have advocated firing squads or public flogging for MPs, but I advocate a simpler solution...
  • Full public disclosure of all expense claims as a matter of course (it works in the Scottish parliament), and
  • Full publication of their Income Tax Returns
If the MPs don't like it, then they can stand down at the next election, cushioned by the UK's fattest final salary pension scheme, plus all the termination allowances they get, and we might just get a new, more open, breed of politician.

~~

(I was told off by a regular reader for using too many swear words. I have deliberately avoided using bad words in this post. Trust me, it was f'difficult)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Council buildings

The Audit Commission have complained about Scottish councils not keeping their buildings up to standard, which is fair comment, BUT....

As COSLA have rightly pointed out, the Councils don't have the resources to maintain all the buildings to an adequate standard.

And herein lies the dilemma for the Comhairle; with conflicting demands being placed on them without adequate cash to do the needful. This is going to become a major - and I mean truly enormous - problem, with absolutely no easy answers. And we as Council tax payers and recipients of services are going to have to face the consequences.

One simple, current, example:
  • Small rural schools are (generally) substandard, as they were build for bigger pupil numbers and need extensive and expensive repairs
  • The Government are going to stop rural schools from being closed
  • A schools rationalisation programme is necessary, for both educational and financial reasons
  • The rebuilding of the Nicolson Institute (and the whole PPP scheme) can only be justified and proceed if the schools rationalisation goes ahead
  • There is no money
This is going to get worse, as budgets are squeezed over the next three years and the blame game means that pointing fingers at another branch of government will become the norm. All the while the buildings will deteriorate, making the situation worse.

This is a problem that every party is going to have to face and deal with, but as the economic drivers are forcing budget cuts it is difficult to see how it can be resolved.

(Despite much encouragement, I avoided the easy comment about the state of the White House on Sandwick Road; and the 'poor or bad' condition of the contents!)

Ferry services

The biggest surprise in the story about the cost of replacing the CalMac fleet is that the Labour candidate has not put the boot into the Government.

He is right not to do so, as there are a number of simple solutions to the problem that require a constructive approach and will not be solved by being at loggerheads with the Government, again.
Transport consultants Faber Maunsell suggest the cost of bringing the fleet up to the optimum age and size will cost quarter of a billion pounds and that this might not be justifiable in light of the declining populations on west coast islands.
The full replacement cost might be in the right area but look at the the justification...
in light of the declining populations on west coast islands
Hang on a minute: are you assuming that improved ferry services can do nothing to affect the population on the islands?

The ferry services should be there to protect the communities and encourage rural growth, not to facilitate an easy exit.

I remember this point being made a multitude of times in the Council chamber, with everyone demanding that the focus be on the communities that are being served. All of which explains why the ferries are berthed in Stornoway, Berneray and Barra.

None of which goes the slightest way to explaining why CalMac headquarters remain in Gourock, other than for the convenience of the Central Belt Board Members. We are occasionally blessed with a visit, usually delivered in finest patronising tones to inform the natives of what the Board are doing to benefit them.

The approach now has to be to ensure that the ferry services meet the requirements of the communities they serve, and a simple like-for-like replacement is not satisfactory. If we need two new ferries on the Stornoway-Ullapool route shuttling backwards and forwards, then that is what we should campaign for; not a piecemeal replacement of each ferry to give a slightly better service.

RET confuses the issue, of course, but it is inevitable that bigger, faster and better ferries, running more frequently are going to be needed and at the next election the focus has to be on substantial service improvement -- whether that is in new builds or leased vessels is immaterial.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Deleted comments

Goodness only knows what is going on with the deleted comments on a recent post.

Whenever someone works out how, they will be reinstated, assuming they existed in the first place!

Questions about my sanity are justified, but inaccurate.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Fuel duty

It was interesting to read the debate on Fuel Duty and a possible derogation, held in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday.

Particularly read the section in Liam MacArthur's opening speech where he fillets the SNP policy of a Fuel Duty Regulator, and the negative impact such a policy would have had on the Western Isles. (Like me, you might have a good hard laugh at some of the less than polite comments)

Something I have been saying for some time.

Although he does slightly over-egg the pudding at some points, he sets out the fundamental flaws in such a policy with clarity.

As the motion was for a derogation in pricing - effectively price cuts in rural areas - it is not incompatible with the ludicrous policy of a duty regulator.

However, the LibDem motion agreed to finally, finally, forces the Scottish Government to take action, rather than just be a bland restatement of principles without action.
That the Parliament notes the UK Budget and the plans to increase fuel duty; recognises the high premium over the national average paid for fuel at filling stations in remote rural and particularly island areas and the financial and social impact that this has on individuals and businesses; believes that increased fuel duty will have a damaging effect on the economy and competitiveness in these areas, not least due to the limited public transport alternatives; notes that current EU law allows fuel duty to be cut by up to 2.4p per litre and that this power is already used in France, Portugal and Greece, and calls on the Scottish Government to work with the UK Government and the European Commission before the final passage of the Finance Bill to construct a derogation under the EU energy products directive, or otherwise, to permit variable rates of duty for specified remote rural areas to bring down the price of fuel at the pump to that available in other parts of the United Kingdom.
Perhaps now we may have some action. Although I expect Alasdair Darling to refuse to implement such a policy, despite public cries to the contrary. The real coup would be getting the Tories - the next Government - to support such a policy. The chances seem low, given that they abstained when it came to the vote yesterday.

Out of the mouths of babes....

Scene: tradesman fixing a heating socket in our house.

"What does he do?", says son aged 6, watching intently.

"He's an electrician", says mother.

"So he's not a ....... a....... you know what, a.......", says son.

"Give me a clue", says mother.

"You know", says son, "Is he a man who fights aliens and things?"

----

Too much television, I fear.

Health Board funding

Read the press release from the Government very, very, carefully.
The Scottish Government will continue its work to assist the Board, which is now also supported by its partner Board, NHS Highland, in areas including human resources, governance and planning.
The loss of control to NHS Highland is now structuralised, with the Western Isles a branch office, with some autonomy.
Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "Today's brokerage agreement is testimony to the Scottish Government's commitment to patients in the Western Isles."
Brokerage agreement? What the hell is that?
Although the Board will have to repay the brokerage over the six financial years beginning in 2012-13, today's agreement gives the Board a clean slate and allows it to build on its recent improved performance.
Oh! A loan of £3.1m over 6 years, which means repayments of £500,000 each and every year.

And where does that money come from if not from cuts efficiency savings.

Which makes the recent appointment of a one-time vociferous critic of cuts, all the more an obvious act of political neutering. Bloody devious, aren't they?