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

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The future for the islands

I read an article like the one appearing in the Herald today, and I despair; not because it is wrong or casts any aspersions on the islands, but because it is so true. And painfully so.

Of course, we can only read it electronically today, and it might be tea time tomorrow before we might get the paper in our hands, and that perhaps is the key part of the problem.

I was asked to put the Fuel Petition on the blog, but I feel that it is doing nothing but putting a sticking plaster on an amputation. I don't want to not support it, but it is only going to help at the slightest margins. My view is clear: we need a VAT and duty exemption, like the Canaries, if we want to really regenerate the islands, rather than pick at the edges. (Don't get me wrong; a duty reduction would be a welcome gimme, just like a discount voucher from Tesco)

I want my children to have a future here, but I think that the demographics mean that they will have to join the vicious circle of emigration in order to find a decent career. And I am starting to feel that as a family we have to look elsewhere for our future lives, as the critical mass of population to support a variety of businesses is never going to be here, unless something fundamental changes

We are probably very lucky in that our generation is going to be the last to actually be able to make a living here as professions - at least in the private sector - and that the islands are going to increasingly become a branch office for the mainland businesses, until indigenous business is a small niche service, and local shops become a distant memory.

We have deliberately targeted business growth on the mainland, and with something like 75% of our new business coming from off-island, we are better placed by most (by deliberate strategic planning) to survive any downturn, but what happens to our kids?

But enough of decrying the islands, do I have some solutions? Yes I do, and they are painful for some.

The sheer size of the public sector is killing the islands, with the stifling hand of big Government is causing many, many, more problems than it can possibly solve. The current round of cuts needs the public sector to think about off-loading every single possible non-obligatory service into the private sector. The self-employed work harder and longer for less pay than the public sector, and they can create jobs where the public sector creates sinecures. Of course I have a financial interest in what I have just written, but I think that the wider public interest for our and your children makes that interest pale into insignificance.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
(9am at Sandwick Road, according to management)

The private sector needs to double in the next 5/10 years to provide the opportunities for the erstwhile exiles and that needs the public sector to back off and abandon the expensive, but smothering, escapades into the private sector. Yes, that means some services have to go and be replaced by other cheaper private sector alternatives that the Council may need to subsidise in the short-term.

Change has to come, and it is going to have to be rapid. Otherwise it is going to happen slowly, as those who oppose change die off (yes, I am being that blunt and brutal) and the recognition comes too late for those elderly who are left alone.

As a very good Councillor friend of mine said, "Do you want your grandchildren to be photos on the mantelpiece or living in the village with you?"


Anonymous said...

The Outer Hebrides blew it a long time ago when it chose a disastrous broadband system that was several years overdue, utterly unreliable, expensive - to both consumers and the public purse - and as slow as to be impractical for many business and social applications.

Imagine how different the local economy and society would have been with a broadband that kept up with the mainland in the last decade. Lots more businesses, income, and with them families, which in turn keeps schools and other services open.

Didn't happen though.

And now we've got a net-based global knowledge economy. Or rather, the mainland and continental Europe has. Not here. And probably not ever here; there's too much ground to make up now.

So the Outer Hebrides is just attractive to old people who don't want any of that, but like the slow, romantic, low or no technology approach of that kind of life. "Like Britain before the war" and all that romantic, rose-tinted twaddle.

The Herald article points in the right direction. In twenty years time, the Outer Hebrides will probably be one large retirement complex.

The only other fiscally viable option (as previously floated by DEMOS) - and it'll become increasingly attractive to the Westminster and Holyrood governments - depopulate the whole archipelago and use it as the power generating house (wind, wave, and nuclear especially) for Scotland and Britain.

MadEddieH said...

Oh Please,

The broadband up here is comparable to vast swathes of the mainland.

Angus is right - what is throttling the islands is the deathgrip the public sector has on the economy.

Anonymous said...

For the islands to survive, attitudes have to change

That is what the lady said and she is so right.

We live in a handout culture with the begging bowl out and whinging about the grass being greener elsewhere. Stop the moaning first off and work on the positives.

Stop propping up crofting with public cash. It is dead. Move on. Get farming the land and producing a product. That would create jobs.

Move on from the religous ticket. It is the ultimate millstone around the neck of the islands.

Things do need to change as Angus says. Those who have made decisions on the islands for the last 20 years should step down in shame. They have lead us to this position. We need fresh ideas, not nepatistic, blinkered, my cousin Kenny can do that, thinking. That is what has suffocated progress.

Anonymous said...

The UK has to get rid of all the so called development officers,to offer tax breaks to not only start up but established local business.
I despair at the mind set of councilors/MP/MSP but they are advised by a huge inefficient bureaucracy that is set on keeping their positions secure.
I cannot settle at home due to being denied efficient broadband by the above hugely subsidised Connected Communties debacle.

Flirty Gerty said...

There's a conundrum about this whole 'business advisory' mindset. Most of the very well-intentioned folk involved in business development have never run so much as a teashop in their lives (and that's not to demean the very entrepreneurial teashop owners I know).

And most business owners would run a mile from the kind of stultifying work that business development folk have to do.

The solutions appear to be to fund business self-help groups and to put as much work out into the existing local economy as possible.

As much as I like and respect Mr MacPhee, I'd rather see him assisted by some active local entrepreneurs getting a small bit of tax relief for their help than establishing yet another Coouncil department.

Anonymous said...

Another angle to consider in support of a rural fuel duty derogation, and the crippling effect of exorbitantly high petrol and diesel costs in these islands, relates to the lack of public service means of travel CHOICES (excluding now, of course, Sunday Ferry sailings from Stornoway).

Read also from Heb News

Macneil calls for lower fuel prices 2/6/10


Fuel prices 6/6/10

Watching the Politics show today the Minister for Transport let it be known that:
(i) for every mile driven by road the CAR driver contributes 4p to the Exchequer for general purpose expenditure, and
(ii) for every journey taken by TRAIN the Exchequer (ie taxpayer) is required to contribute 21p per mile SUBSIDY

Well, excuse me, the next train leaving from Stornoway at 2.45pm will arrive in Tarbert by 3.30pm and at Leverburgh by 4.10pm, to connect with the Berneray Ferry!! Passengers may then connect by train to Lochmaddy and then proceed to Uig by ferry. Passengers travelling onwards by train can proceed by bus to Kyle of Lochalsh where regular train services proceed to all other UK destinations.

For those wishing to explore these beautiful islands a little farther, it is recommended that a return journey by train via Oban, ferry to Lochboisdale, then train journey through the stunning scenery of the Uists and Benbecula, is a must.


From the Minister's statement one can assume that all W Isles' inhabitants who pay tax are contributing towards the subsidy of travel by TRAIN on mainland routes only, where this choice is readily available.

Our MP and MSP who are doggedly fighting the case for lower fuel prices on these islands, should be seeking some compensatory element from the Exchequer (Chief Secy, Danny Alexander MP), for monies flowing from these islands to subsidise rail services on the mainland, but clearly not being used to the benefit of travel here, by rail, in the W Isles. Why not ... well, er, this is another story.

A quid pro quo annual payment should be sought from the Exchequer, say, to offset cuts in prices of vehicle fuel. Alternatively, let's start creating a big NOISE for employment and business opportunities to build our own passenger and freight rail services! We could even have an Observation car for all the tourists arriving without Camper Vans, and further open up the tourist facilities and B&B/Guest House accommodation. Golfers and children most Welcome.