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

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Caption competition....

Alex Salmond is introduced to the SNP Group on the Council.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Thank you, and good night

Two maxims for Thursday:
  1. You get what you vote for
  2. If you don't vote, don't complain
I've voted, very carefully.

When I stood down 5 years ago it was to attend to a young family and a  small and growing business.

I made the right choice then.

Today we have three intelligent, beautiful self-confident children who are comfortable and capable in almost any situation, and make us very proud.

In October it will be eight years since we set up our own business, and by that time we will be the largest Chartered Accountancy practice in the Western Isles, growing at a phenomenal rate.

But that takes time, and the blog has suffered - indeed, although there is no shortage of ideas, there is no time to type them all up when there are over a thousand fee-paying clients to keep happy.

In addition, certain potential conflicts have to be avoided as our client base expands; and sometimes others rear their heads for reasons I didn't remotely consider.  Some comments have targeted clients (although the commentators perhaps didn't know) which have caused other issues to arise.

The personal abuse has been mostly pathetic and laughable, and I have enjoyed grinding axes on the chips on each shoulder; and the capability to upset more than one political party at a time required a lot of mischievous practice to achieve.

The shining of light into murky crevices has been the most satisfying aspect, and one that will continue in a different form; however uncomfortable that may be for those with much to hide.

The reasons will become clearer in the coming months, but it's been a blast.

Thanks for reading, and I'll be back much, much later.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fading memories

Isn't it all a bit pathetic - and frankly unbelievable - that neither the Westminster nor Holyrood Governments can manage to draw up a list of meetings with self-important tycoons, without managing to omit one or more of these events.

The "Oops, I forgot all about it..." defence has worn so thin as to be nothing more than a veneer that politicians use to cover their own embarrassment.

Perhaps the most information that has come out is in showing how little difference there is between the lying capacity and duplicity of all of the political parties.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

UHI - the future?

The report in The Herald vindicates what I have been saying for a few years.

The sad part is that the centralisation is being driven by Government as a cost saving measure, when skills should be grouped in devolved centres of excellence - finance in island X, student records in island Y and admin in location Z.

It's a lot like the stupidity of having CalMac in Gourock when it should be in Barra (or Colonsay, or Lewis) with the directors not allowed to fly.

Sadly, the aspiration for devolution seems to stop at Edinburgh....

Eats shoots and leaves

The SNP advert on Hebrides News seems to be advocating communal leasing.... 

Hopefully, the education policy is to a higher standard of literacy.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Election prophesies

"Forecasting is difficult, especially about the future", Mao Tse Tung

I'm having real difficulty in working out who might remain after the election, as it is a bit easier to identify those who look like being elected in their communities.

I look at the lists and despair at some of the candidates.  Truly despairs.  Especially, when I think that some of these will actually get their incompetent paws on the reins of power.  It is moderately comforting that they will be so out of their depth that any damage they do will be minimal.

The incoming Council will be worse than the last, despite the presence of some extremely able individuals, and it is clear to me that the gap between the best and worst Councillors is widening at every election.  But then we get who we vote for.

The easy prophesy first.  The only people who will be re-elected at the first round, for varying reasons, will be John MacKay, Charlie Nicolson and and Catherine MacDonald.

Most of the rest will be relying upon 3rd and 4th votes to get in. 

In Ness, Alasdair Dunlop should fill the vacancy, and Iain Morrison should be back.

In Stornoway North, Murdo Murray should get in, as should Iain "Sheep" MacAulay, but which of the sitting Councillors will go?

In Point I think that perhaps only 1 of the existing Councillors will survive, but I'm really torn as to who will replace them.  My head says Iain Don MacIver and Alasdair MacLeod.

In North Lochs and Uig, Norman Angus MacDonald will replace Norman Angus MacDonald - Puss to replace Docus.  I think Annie MacDonald might squeeze back in, but the rest is a lottery.

Poor, poor, residents of South Lochs and Harris.  Three of the four candidates don't even live in the ward, and one didn't seen to have realised the date of the elections when he booked his holidays in the Himalayas, where he will be advised by the voters that they come first.  DJ MacRae looks to be one of the very few bright spots for the Labour Party with his unique take on Council politics.  His presence will certainly be distinctive and he will have an inimitable approach to decision making.

South Uist and Barra is a crazy wide-open race.  I though Donald Manford was out, as the lightening rod for the abolition of RET, but now I'm not so sure.  He will not, however, under any circumstances, be Chair of Transportation after the elections.  Ronnie MacKinnon will be back.  As for the rest, given the history in this ward, I suspect the other sitting Councillors are in serious danger of all losing.

The rest of the wards are too crazy to call, although the fate of certain individual individuals is really clear.

This is not an election for the faint-hearted candidate, and I think that virtually all of them should be preparing two speeches.

I think I get an invitation to the count, but I'm not sure my stomach can take the sight of certain individuals saying vacuous crap they don't believe in.

By their leaflets shall you know them.....

If a politician tells you all about their commitment to creating jobs on the island, and has their election address printed off the island, doesn't that stink of hypocrisy?  

If they break their promises that easily......

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ups and downs

It was a series of conversations with people in the tourism industry that identified two interlined issues.

I was initially astonished to hear that the Lewis & Harris tourism trade is down by about 25% compared to last year, and that this looks like being the trend for the entire year.

It's actually quite obviously - with hindsight - that the success of tourism was grossly oversold last year.  The truth is that the demand for beds was wildly distorted by the demands of the contractors who were absorbing so many bed nights.

They were generally occupying the cheaper accommodation and pushing the tourists into higher priced/better accommodation, giving a huge boost to hotels and the higher-end Guest Houses.  Suddenly, this year there is a dearth of tourists - or more accurately, the number are back to where they were before the major construction worker inflow took place.

In the meantime, the demand has encouraged more people to make houses available for self-catering, and I understand that there are more than 100 extra properties available this year then 2/3 years ago.  This excess supply is pushing down prices, and fewer people are going to have a decent living.

There are a couple of other issues that need to be resolved too.

I am reliably informed that there are more available beds in Harris than the ferry could cope with, if all the guests left on the same day.  There will have to be a lot of work by the industry in encouraging different patterns of visiting.

Allied to this, a recurring and long-flagged up issue arises.  The ferries are not big enough and potential and actual tourists are being turned away due to a lack of capacity.  You reduce fares, passenger numbers increase.  It's not rocket science, and we need a practical demonstration that RET is here to stay by the Government committing to new, much larger ferries on all routes: and not another 'consultation' to defer the issue.

It was during the course of these chats that I was told some important and sensitive information about a local business, which I can't even hint at, due to real or perceived client conflicts.

In just the past few weeks, our firm has won some new major local clients which has effectively blocked me from commenting on some major local issues due to the business or location of the clients, and some topics are now completely off limits for me, which is a bit of an explanation to an anon correspondent.

This has been a growing problem, that is going to have to be addressed by me....

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Taxation neeedn't be taxing. But it is.

I've decided to move the accountancy practice offshore.

Nicolson Accountancy EU Sarl will be based in Luxembourg, and the Stornoway office will become an 'order fulfilment centre'.

I will employ literally a brace of people in Luxembourg, one to answer the phone and one to spend all day taking money to the banks, and as there is no tax to pay in the UK, I can cut prices by over 20%, driving the competition into the wall.

I'll then fill this gap, by getting a Scottish Government grant to expand the premises and bring employment to an unemployment blackspot; that I have helped create.

Alternatively, I'll mortgage everything I have.  Lend it all to a British Virgin Islands company, who lends it back to the UK company at double the interest rate I pay.  I'll get a tax deduction on all this interest on money I borrowed but don't actually need, whilst the BVI company will earn it all tax-free and pay of my mortgages and give me a very nice lifestyle.

Any spare cash will be lent back unnecessarily to the UK company in a tax-deductible/tax-free circle that continues until UK Corporation Tax becomes zero.  At this point, I'll trumpet my multi-million pound investment in Scotland, and be invited for tea at Bute House (which will appear on the official record).

The former, is of course, the Amazon style; and I didn't appreciate the full extent of their tax manipulation until this week, thinking that my spend was recycling in the UK.  It's not.

According to the Guardian, there are 2,265 employed by Amazon in the UK, and 164 in Luxembourg covering the entire EU.  But the UK seems bizarrely unprofitable, generating a mere £3m in taxable profits compared to an expected £100m.

The second is the News International structure, with debt used to move profits around.  It is surprisingly easy to do this, and has recently been enshrined in law as completely permissible - for large companies multi-nationals only.

So the correct and fair question that needs ananswer is: What will be the tax position of these two examples in an Independent Scotland?

Are we to become a "tax haven" as Francis Maude was rightly pilloried for aspiring to, or will we follow the Scandanavian model and insist on profits earned being tax here?

The SNP cannot remain silent on this, or try and deflect to the current taxation policies in the UK, for the very simple reason that we are supposed to be looking forward to a bright new future, not building a future based on past mistakes.

Political parties have to issue manifestos that address the real issues, or they will find themselves flailing about, in the same way that MacNeil did with a Shetland opt-out from Independence.

This is the biggest decision in many generations, and no-one seems prepared to try to come up with answers to some of the key questions and that, I am afraid, is just not good enough.  If 50 years of waiting, and 5 years in power are not long enough to find coherent answers then there is something far wrong.

Are the politicians too emotionally in hock to the multi-nationals to ever consider the impact on the wider economy of a grant-shopping, grant-hopping, local-economy destroying giant?

Are we to become a nation of over-taxed individuals, flipping burgers and packing books to pay the taxes for the social services, whilst the multi-nationals take the profits tax-free to Luxembourg and the Caribbean?

Or is the country going to take it's share of taxable income from the multi-nationals and build schools, Universities, roads and a sense of a viable future?

The absence of any kind of answer is - sadly - very telling, and will result in an eroded Scottish tax base, as the moderately wealthy emigrate in search of a better balance between taxation and standard of life; and the wealthiest emulate the multi-nationals.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Unblogged the Jedi has

My post makes no sense without the full impact of the article, so it has been hidden. Pending developments.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Council candidates

Some very interesting contests are in the offing, if the people who have told me they are standing are actually standing.

The SNP candidates look to be having a hard time against some ex-SNP independents, which is going to raise all sorts of interesting questions in the minds of the voters; and may explain why the SNP letter writers have been fulminating about (Labour) "Independents" and why you shouldn't vote for "Independents".

I understand that the Labour list will be formally announced later today, or tomorrow, as they are still not 100% certain of their numbers.  Better late than never, I suppose, but hardly the way to run a campaign.

Labour candidates are reported to number anything between 1 and 12, depending on who you speak to, put I think it is going to be in the range of 5-8, if my numbers add up.

As the likely "official opposition" in the new Council, it seems Labour's biggest enemy is Labour, and I foresee wonderfully eccentric policies being expounded, revised and disavowed as the two (three?) sides fight for control of the moribund beast. 

Interesting multi-cornered fights look likely in South Uist & Barra, Stornoway N&S, North Lochs, Point and Broadbay, where incumbency may be as much a problem as an advantage; and where Party candidates look likely to face still opposition from those who have left the Party.

To the victors, the spoils.  Which in this case means severe budget cuts, a centralising Government in Edinburgh, and a very limited set of options for enhanced service delivery.

Good luck one and all.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A poet writes .... with apologies to TS Elliot

Dr Allan, Dr Allan
  there's no one like the Doctor
He reads the SNP script out loud
   like a tired actor
His powers of vacuity
   would make a fecker stare
But when the public want answers
   Dr Allan isn't there

You may seek him in the streets
   and look up in the air
But at the hint of protest -
   the Doctor isn't there

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The SNP view on ferry fares

Which SNP Council candidate and MPs assistant gave the following memorable quote about today's rally:

We have a 4,500 majority, so what do we care?

I'm sure the people of Ness will bear that in mind when they come to vote.

Conspicuous by their absence

I attended the Outer Hebrides Transport Group march and rally in the town centre today.

There was an excellent turnout of 1,000 (?) marchers and 50+ lorries and vans.

I had a chat with, and spotted a lot of, candidates for the local Council elections and if I hadn't been shepherding three kids around I would have spoken with many more.  I wasn't being rude, just busy with kids and a flight to catch.

Absent from the entire march were any SNP Council candidates - although one activist was on the fringes, obviously to report back - which, as Angus Campbell says, tells you all you need to know about their position on RET.

Woody made an excellent point that has been missed in much of the debate, which is that there are incremental increases in the fares over the next three years adding £600 to the cost of an lorry across the Minch.

All that will come out of YOUR pocket, as food prices rises; as deliveries cost more; and, as the other businesses on the island have to pass on the costs.

I hope that the press coverage is good, as this is such a major issue for the islands.

Gail Robertson, the organiser of the campaign, deserves to be roundly congratulated for taking the bull by the horns.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Who has your name and personal details?

The Information Commissioner was established to protect individuals from organisations who took personal information and tried to use it for their own personal gain.

I've blogged on this topic many times before, and yet the same culprits reappear, thinking that the law doesn't apply to them.  You will remember the denial of any responsibility, followed by the swift registration.

The Register of Data Controllers is available here, and you can easily check for eligible organisations by searching by postcode.

So when  voter gets the following through his mail box...

With this document
 and a return address of this

Which given that the Western Isles Constituency SNP are not a registered Data Controller, means that this mailshot is illegal.  Again.

But that's not all, the Electoral Commission have issued guidance for Political Parties after it appear that (particularly Asian) families were being forced to hand over real and fraudulent postal votes to political parties.

The guidance is very clear, and reads:
Candidates and canvassers are advised:
  • not to handle or help voters complete their postal ballot papers;
  • to encourage voters to post or deliver ballot papers themselves;
  • if asked to take a completed ballot paper to make sure that the voter has sealed it first, and to post or return it to the Returning Officer immediately;
  • to ensure that voters complete ballot papers in secret and seal them personally; and
  • not to solicit completed postal ballot papers from electors.
Obviously with special exclusions for Lochs and Harris.  Although voters may wish to test this by complaining to the Information Commissioner.

Of course, opposing candidates may wish to point out to the Returning Officer that the cost of building this database of 16,000 (?) voters should be spread over the election expenses of each of the SNP Candidates - along with postage and printing.  Alternatively, the database was provided in breach of the Data Protection Act by a Data Controller.

In addition, as the SNP Council web site claims to have been commercially produced by a web design company, then a share of that cost too, needs to be added.  Unless the web designer is lying about his clients.

Still, as Stornoway resident Philip McLean said, I am the enemy within

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Absent Allan

Poor Mr Allan can't make the rally on Saturday due to an unspecified and possibly mythical diary clash.

One can only suspect fear of conflict has filled the diary, as a senior source confirms that there are no official appointments, and Allan had planned to be canvassing with SNP Council candidates this weekend - until the rally was announced.

Never mind.

The semi-literate content of the letter indicates panic, BS and obfuscation.
I have been in touch with the Transport Minister on behalf of around a dozen of them in recent days to convey their feelings. I am very willing to take up the case of any other company or community affected in the days and moths ahead...
I'm reliable informed that the dozen (or so) hauliers are actually two major hauliers, and a few other small hauliers who have been cold called and whose anger has been expressed, and ignored.

However, the moths seem to be on the same intellectual level...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The triumph of ignorance

What an open goal has been left by our MP when discussing the constitutional future.  No doubt he has been summoned to be given a severe dressing down, for letting 80 years of policy formulation unravel in one inglorious sentence.

With only a few decades to try and iron out these issues, and only a few million lines from the spin-doctors on what to say, one of the sheep has upset the entire flocking debate.

If there had been less emphasis from SNP HQ on obedience, and more on intelligence, when selecting candidates then this sort of problem wouldn't have arisen, but instead there is now a huge an unnecessary debate about a non-topic that has suddenly been given legs.

With 25% of oil revenue taken out of the equation, John Swinney's numbers look ridiculous, and that axle will be ground for the next two years.

But it is the phrase allowing an opt out for communities:
“if there was a big enough drive for self-determination”
that really intrigues.

If 75% of Edinburgh voters opt to reject independence, does that mean they remain part of England (with the Parliament in a foreign country?!)?

As in the 1979 Referendum, is there to a be a 40% of the potential voters hurdle to prove "a big enough drive"?

Would 30% of all voters for independence versus 25% against be enough of mandate, or would 70% not supporting be "enough of a drive AGAINST self-determination"?

Can Point cede from Scotland?

Can of worms.  Both barrels shooting through both the feet in the mouth.  Idiot.

The focus of the debate has now moved to oil and the economy, and not in a good way for the SNP.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


We may have seen RET dismantled, ferry fares spiraling, ferry services getting worse and ADS stopped for business travel, but if anyone needs to know about the potential frequency of non-existent flights from Prestwick to Ekaterinburg, then Angus MacNeil is your man.

Perhaps he could ask the Secretary of State to lobby the Scottish Government to reinstate RET and ADS, if he has nothing better to do.


The tag "A vague attempt at humour" tends to be a give away.

Let me just make it clear that none of the alleged Labour Council candidates have ever:
  • Headbutted comrades in the Strangers Bar of the House of Commons
  • Had an affair with a girl 1/3 of their age
  • Claimed more than £1m in travel expenses
  • Had a father who idolised Hitler
  • Been photographed in compromising positions with ladies of the night by the News of the World
  • Brought half of Glasgow to tears
  • Murdered their nanny
And no-one in their right mind should try to match the list to any people real, dead, imaginary or standing for Council.

One helpful tip to the Labour Party........

If you are going to run some candidates in the election, it does assist the electorate if you make an announcement BEFORE the polls close.


I'm just wondering if I should changed the second paragraph to start "To the best of my knowledge...".

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It's the economy, stupid! (updated thrice)

With the population in the islands expected to crash by nearly 11% in the next 25 years the demographics look ominous for the islands.

It is not so much the absolute change that is the scary factor, and more the relative ageing of the population that poses such a threat the future economic viability of the islands.

The curve is more a death spiral, with - for instance - future school provision requirements looking to be grossly over-estimated at the moment.  There will be fewer pupils attracting smaller grant support to pay for ageing and more expensive buildings.

The lack of economic development in the islands is a very major issue.  Indeed, I would go so far as to say that it may be the potentially terminal issue if it is not addressed.  For without economic growth there won't be the children to fill the schools or build new businesses or inherit their parent's hard work.

When was the last time that the Scottish Government announced something positive for the future economy of the islands?

Just this week we are told to be grateful for the reinstatement of single-journey fares for hay lorries and vivier tanks.  A discount that should never have been abolished, and we are expected to cheer to the rafters when it is reinstated our MSP makes false claims of his successes.

Businesses cannot plan if they cannot be sure about the future.  With commercial RET up and down like the proverbial, how can long term investment be secured, when the Government doesn't know (or won't say) if a policy is staying, going, being amended or "out to consultation".

My good lady wife is away this week meeting with large existing clients to discuss extending the services we provide.  This has huge potential, not least as the clients are keen to see what we can do.

But as it is a business flight, there is no ADS available, increasing fares by 167% which is just enough of an impediment to make us consider if the journey is really necessary.  We are trying to win work for the islands, but Government cost-cutting is affecting our ability to create employment.

I know of one large capital investment that has been cancelled, as the additional costs for transporting building materials have tipped the balance - and that was in the service sector.  How is affecting those who have to use the large hauliers as a matter of course?

Incoming Councillors must be forced to pledge to continue the fight against this policy before it drives the economy, and the future of the islands, over the edge.

Update: I can't use specifics for professional reasons, but Ian MacIver can.

Update 2: I'm told that the poor truaghan Alasdair Allan has resorted to telling hauliers that tale that full RET will be reintroduced in an Independent Scotland.  Presumably with the choice of gold or silver cutlery in the dining room.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Labour Council candidates

I have just been leaked the list of candidates standing for the Labour Party at the Council elections in May

I'm told that they are all held in the highest regard by the selection committee of Pugh, Pugh, Barney MacGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb (Chair).
  • Eric Joyce  (St Kilda North, excluding the Puff Inn until the leg tag comes off)
  • Max Mosley (Point, but planning to get beaten)
  • Craig Whyte (South Uist & Barra)
  • Lord Lucan (Not disclosed)
.....More to follow

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Missing, presumed very lost

A sad appeal for a missing family pet.

Until recently, it was a strong, upright animal, roaming it's wise-ranging territory and ensuring that all was well in the land.

It looked after women and children and civil servants, and all it ever needed was a small amount of feeding and the occasional pat on the head from its owner.

Just a few years ago it suffered a sad accident, when the original owner was sectioned and the new owner released from his secure accommodation to cause serious harm to the unsuspecting beast.

A series of self-inflicted injuries followed as the once proud animal had a funny turn and started running into walls at full pelt.  Repeatedly.

Sightings of the dog ceased in January, although there are wild stories of a possible reappearance before May.

In desperation, the one-time owners would ask that if you see the animal, you take it to the vet to check for any signs of life.
The dog answers to the name: "Western Isles Labour Party".

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Comhairle view on RET and ferries

It is worth reading the Urgent report to Transportation Committee for today (sadly only available on the web 6 days after it was issued), in the name of the SNP Group Leader, which unequivocally states the position of the Comhairle.

It clearly explains why the Western Isles are being (and have been ) ill served by Government transport policies.

I don't know the outcome, but I sincerely hope it was supported without significant dispute and can be supported by everyone in the community.

(Unless I've missed something.)

Monkey see, moonkey do.....

Whilst the would be SNP Councillors berate the Comhairle for not awarding the schools contract locally - conveniently omitting to mention that it was wholly support by thre SNP Group and the one independant Councillor who has now joined the SNP - we see that fault actually lies with the Scottish Futures Trust, who directed exactly how the tenders were to be constructed, issued and then finance awarded.

The Scottish Futures Trust is - surprise, surprise - the brainchild of the SNP, and was triumphed as being able to deliver better, more efficient and cheaper capital projects.

But don't just take my word for it.  An economist who was lionised by the SNP in minority Government has said the same.
SCOTTISH firms could have bid for more work on the new Forth bridge if the contracts had been split into smaller parts, an economist has told MSPs.
So the local builders have been done down by none other than the party who now tries to disavow it's own core policy from the last but one election.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Council Tendering

A report to the Audit and Scrutiny Committee contains the majestically understated phrase at para 1.14:
In the tender process the Comhairle has had a number of high profile events in this area which have led to either litigation or having to go put the contracts through a re-tendering exercise. There is scope in this area for contracts to be identified as high value/high risk and having a higher level of strategic input from the start and that the key officers involved are trained so that they can minimise and manage the risks involved.
As I - and others - are aware, the Chief Executive has a report in his filing cabinet in which a Director admits breaking contract regulations to stop the top bidder winning and confirms he would do so again, I suspect that 'training' may be a tadge ineffective.

Ah, well.  One for the new Councillors to cut through the lies and hold people to account.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

No blockade

It was with great disappointed that I learned of Alex Salmond's decision not to visit the Western Isles tomorrow (Friday), as the hauliers were keen to explain the impact of the RET decision to him.

Apparently pressing constituency business at 2pm at Doncaster and Lingfield meant he couldn't unveil the plaque at the new media centre, where hauliers had intended to confront him.

In an exclusive telephone interview today, I asked him if he was prepared to discuss the issue with those affected.

"I'm not coming to Stornoway to be blockaded by some stupid truckers."
At least that sounded like what he said.

It looks like democratic debate is a good thing, but only if you agree with what Salmond says.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

RET - a different take

This will be contentious, but I would like to put forward a proposal which I think could benefit from discussion, debate and argument.

How should RET be best structured to bring the greatest benefit to the islands?

Let's start with the given that we all want full RET for all the ferries; but the SNP Government are saying "No" to that.

Well, I'm coming around to the idea that as much as possible should be ploughed into the Commercial sector at the expense of the private traveller to lower the costs of basic foodstuffs, fuel, and other essentials, whilst making it more difficult for private individual to go to Inverness and spend their money in M&S or Primark, rather than in the local shops.

Absolutely no special volume deals for any haulier, and remove any practical barriers that are preventing mainland based hauliers competing on the islands.

5m commercials and buses qualify for the reduced fare, but not motor homes.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Ferry fares

Can anyone reconcile the calls by MSP and MP for CalMac to use some of their £6m marketing budget to fund a Lochboisdale-Mallaig ferry


the total unquestioning acceptance of the £2.7m (or £1.3m or whatever) cut in commercial RET fares for the whole of the Western Isles?

Could it be down to the Barra hauliers kicking some backsides?

Marine Biopolymers Ltd

With £10m in public funding potentially going into Lochboisdale, it is vital that there is no perception of conflicts of interest, or possibilities for personal financial gain.

Sunlight is, as they say, the best disinfectant.

Project Fingal, the grandiosely named collaboration between HIE, CnES and Storas has led to the creation of Lochboisdale Development Ltd to take forward the marine and seaweed related plans.

In June, Marine Biopolymers confirmed that Angus MacMillan was an advisor to Marine Biopolymers Ltd.  Mr MacMillan is, as we all know, also the MD of Storas and one of the directors of Lochboisdale Development Ltd.

But, ooops, what is this that seems to have been omitted from the Register of Interest in Storas?

On 10 August 2011 Mr MacMillan became a director of Marine Biopolymers, and the most recent Annual Return shows that he owns 403,333 shares in Marine Biopolymers (or 16.67% of the company).  It is not clear when, or how, these shares were acquired.

With Minutes of Lochboisdale Development Ltd not being in the public domain, it is unclear if the new financial interest has ever been disclosed, as it doesn't seem to have been disclosed to Storas at subsequent meetings.

So we now have the position where £10m in public money is going to a "community project" that is being run by a person with a financial interest in the seaweed test site at Crooked River, and a financial interest in the company developing site, and the Chairman of the community company, and its subsidiaries.

If all the business was conducted openly and with publicly accessible minutes, then it would be a different matter, but with secrecy and obtuse answers to simple questions, it looks like there is something to hide.

Now, let me make it very clear for the benefits of the legal profession, that there is no suggestion of impropriety; and that the other directors were fully aware of the position, as required by the various Companies Acts; and there is no suggestion that the updating of the Register of Interest as anything but an oversight; and that there were no undisclosed conflicts arising at any meetings of Storas or Lochboisdale Development; and that both CnES and HIE were fully aware of the new business relationship.

However, going forward, there is an enormous question over the ability of Mr MacMillan to be in virtual control over almost every aspect of this investment, given that there are numerous potential conflicts which may impede the development going forward.

I think the other directors need to seek independent legal advice - to make sure they do not accidentally fall foul of the law should a Chairman's conflict of interest (accidentally) arise - and the funders need to review issues of probity and transparency, as a matter of urgency.

After all, we wouldn't want cries of "self interest" to delay the rejuvenation of Lochboisdale, or cast unnecessary aspersions on the work of Storas.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

May holiday

Over the past few weeks, a lot of people have tried to find out my plans for the May bank holiday weekend.

Will I be on a walking holiday in Newton and Sandwick?

Is my metaphorical hat metaphorically going into a metaphorical ring?

What could they mean?

Thanks for your concern, but Mrs N and I have some lovely time planned together to discuss our future plans.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Blowing our own trumpet

Nicolson Accountancy have just won an exclusive contract with Nova Subsea AS, a major Norwegian employment agency who operate across the world.

Our specialist foreign tax service, has been appointed as the sole provider of Norwegian tax advice to all the UK contractors employed by Nova.

This innovative approach will result in us making sure that there is full compliance with the requirements of Skatteetaten - the Norwegian Tax Authority - as well as advising on the interaction with UK taxes.  

Sue Nicolson said, "Our mission is to ensure that all taxes are minimised and that accurate and timely reporting takes place, and we are looking forward to working with Nova and its employees and contractors in the coming years."

Friday, February 24, 2012

Mallaig ferry meeting tonight

Thanks to my mole in the MSP's office, I have received a draft of the speech that he will be giving tonight to the public meeting called to campaign for a Mallaig-Lochboisdale ferry.
Hello SNP supporters (add something slightly patronising in Gaelic here).

I am able to bring you good news about ferries to the Western Isles, as instructed by President Salmond.

The First Ministers has an undeniable love for the Western Isles which has seen him visit here regularly just before some elections - in complete contrast to the Labour Party's plan to bulldoze the islands into the sea, and fill the wastelands with giant, carnivorous, hunter-killer geese.

His Mightiness has instructed the Transport Minister (Mr Brown) to review ferry provision to the islands, and to instruct the Board of CalMac to come to a considered decision over the provision of Lochboisdale-Mallaig ferry.

The Board of CalMac have checked with the sole shareholder (A Salmond) about what the outcome of that review should be, so that they can write the report in the appropriate tone, and give the matter the appropriate consideration.  Mr Brown has also been advised of the decision he has to come to when he independently reviews the objective report.

Tonight, I can reveal the final outcome of the decision on the explicit instruction of Chief Alex of the Isles.

CalMac are delighted to announce that, following an in depth review of the service, there will be a 100% increase in the service provision between South Uist and Mallaig, through a combination of a reduced possibility of cancellation of the new Mallaig route, and the provision of alternative routing services. 

To honour our service guarantee, the ferry will not run on any days where there is a possibility of cancellation, and alternative direct ticketing provision via Castlebay, Lochmaddy, Tarbert and Stornoway will open up next exciting single-ticket routes for travellers in ways that considered impossible before Emperor Alex brought his great powers of thought to bear on the problem. 

There will now be five single-ticket direct routes from Lochboisdale to Mallaig, something our Labour opponents have campaigned against since Clement Atlee personally hung the entire first ferry committee on the old pier, and send their families into slavery in the slate mines of Wales.

This new service provision will be subject to an assessment period following a brief alternative bedding-in process, and subject to financial constraints imposed by the evil Tory, LibDem, Labour axis of evil who have cut Scotland's Transport budget by over £11.9 bn this week alone, leading to starving pensioners rampaging on the streets.

All signage, ticketting and advertising for the new ferry will be in Gaelic only, and will be displayed in the Tourist Office (closed Monday - Thursday, Friday, most of Saturday, and Sunday) until the assessment of the existing provision is concluded.  The assessment report is due by June 2025.

The Government have set aside over £10m for the evaluation; the Gaelic language website design; a Gaelic language plan for the ferry; and a promotional video featuring King Alex announcing the new ferry route in Uist, Mallaig, Dubai, China, with the pandas, and on the moon.

Finally, I can announced to your jubilation and undying adulation, that RET will be introduced on route on exactly the same basis as for all other Western Isles routes, which will be paid for (after extensive consultations with the entire industry earlier today) by immediately increasing the discounted discount available to hauliers from 50% to 25%; and by extending the hauliers discount to all vehicles over 36 inches - meaning that there will be a level playing field between the rapacious hauliers and those criminals who are smuggling a kit-house onto the ferry in their Skoda.

Finally, I will be available to discuss this with you later tonight, but only if you agree with what the magnificent SNP Government has delivered.

Notes to editors:

The direct service between Mallaig and Lochboisdale will cost £3.70 for a typical traveller.  (Gaelic speaking Smartcar painted yellow and black with disabled SNP sticker - 100 book return journey, off-peak only, no cancellations, booking all journeys at time of purchase via the website in Scots, Gaelic, Lallans or Welsh).  Other fares will start at £1,000 single

The ferry will not run on any days that there is the possibility of weather, and the Scottish Government is committed to converting MV Para Handy into a worldclass ro-ro vessel when the weather issue is resolved.

Alternative direct ticketing routes will be available (excludes the cost of non-ferry transport).

Labour have opposed this highly successful SNP policy for over 100 years, resulting in the death of many Labour activists.


I think I might have too much time on my hands.

RET - the fallout

A Councillor tells me that the Chair of Transportation has sent a letter, in the name of the Council, to the Transport Minister, welcoming the changes to RET.

This obviously contradicts and undermines the position of the Council, and  I am told that many of the Councillors are livid about this.

A second Councillor is talking about a vote of no confidence, and canvassing for names for a new Chair, after the elections.

It is all going to get very messy and bitter.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


A haulier has been in touch to ask how to add an extra line to his computerised invoicing.

He is thinking about adding an additional surcharge onto every invoice:
SNP tax --- £15
It may not be big or clever, but he wants to get a message across.

Party before the public

I don't know why anyone is surprised that Alasdair Allan will hide behind "collective responsibility" when he votes to undermine the economy of the islands later today.  His campaigning over the restriction on ADS was a master-class in invisibility and duplicity.

This is a man for whom becoming a unthinking party loyalist has been the sole driving ambition. 

At least since he stopped being a Labour supporter. 

It is not as if we can dignify his intentions with his being a member of the 'payroll vote', as it is clear that utter obedience is the principal trait that justifies his entire existence.  Parachuted into the constituency as a reward for years of brown-nosing, he has perfected the techniques which have so brought Parliament and politicians into public contempt.

His record of questioning SNP decisions is there for all to see; a few banalities about "my constituents" followed by voting exactly as instructed by the party.  Against his voters.

You - the public - get exactly what you vote for.

Remember that when the SNP Councillors ask you to vote for them, and their silent support for the abolition of RET.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Government survey

IPSOS Mori phoned me tonight to ask me to participate in a special survey about how the Scottish Government 'could help my business'.*

Ferret meet drainpipe.  I thought...

RET?  ADS?  Less red tape?


"What sort of problems have you had in borrowing money in the past three years?"  Name the banks.  Name the problems.  Identify the borrowing requirements.

Tangential questions about staffing and some other issues, but all about how the banking system had failed us.  Not that I am suggesting there were leading questions.

Even questions about growth aspirations and expectations were underplayed.

All in all, I felt like my comments were being used to justify a stick to complain about matters outwith the Scottish Governments control rather than any real interest in how control could be used to help our business grow.

As I have done in the past, I explained how we grow, how we could be helped to grow, and the obstacles to growth.  Ooops. My answers didn't fit the criteria, or the questions didn't seek these sort of answers.

I had to recall how I told a very senior business development officer how to grow the entire local professional services market.  Thrice.  No reply.  No interest.  And when suggestions were made, a flat refusal to help "on policy grounds" delivered by an underling.  The impression that one needs the right handshake is not helped by previous and subsequent events.

Thankfully, at least one person is interested in building a case, despite their superiors (sic).

Still onwards and upwards waving two fingers in the air.....

(And I have great story about a local politician who proclaims to b pro-business...  But that's for later)

* Forgive me from quoting Ronald Regan, who said the nine scariest words were "I'm from the government and I'm here to help".

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Leaking radiators

Coming back from a weekend away to find the radiator hadn't been fixed and were leaking was slightly disappointing, especially as we tried to explain to the kids that turning on the lights when water was dripping down from the bulb was not a good idea.

I do have to explain that the house has sound proofing between the floors when which consists of the old ash from the Newton gas works.

It is great for killing the sound, but when  it absorbs water it slowly leaches colour and moisture throughout the surfaces.

I can smell a methane like odour from the floors, and the painter will need to hide the slight discolouration.

Between peat, the gas works and the old paraffin works, Stornoway was virtually self-sufficient in fuel until Scottish Fuels and the Scottish Government brought us 'civilisation'.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

RET for hauliers

Fortuitously, I bumped into an old friend who is close to the centre of decision making in the Scottish Government.  The vagueness over their role is deliberate.

Talk turns to RET, and my friend caustically points out that the SNP had 30 years of formulating a policy and supporting RET for commercial and domestic traffic, only to claim after 2 years that the policy which has proved successful in Norway doesn't work (but only in the Western Isles).

The real decision, they confirmed, was all about saving some money.  The decision to blame the hauliers was taken at the last moment, without any evidence, and with the full knowledge and support of Alasdair Allan (MacNeil seems to have absented himself from this view).

Civil Servants have been unable to find any evidence to support the Government's stance, which is now the official position, which the "consultation" is expected to confirm.

The Civil Service took the view that if there were 'profiteering' by local hauliers, then it will only be a matter of time before mainland hauliers (or new local firms) exploit the opportunity, driving prices down.  By reverting back to the old system of volume discounts, the Government are creating barriers to new hauliers entering the market, which will - perversely - keep haulage costs higher for the islands.

Meantime, we see the attempts to justify the decision appearing in the local press, without any evidence to support the arguments.  My friend confirmed that SNP Press Officers are busy churning out template letters and briefings to affected constituencies putting forward the view that a cut in subsidy is A Good Thing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Legal actions

In about 1990 or 1992 I gave evidence in a commercial legal action where I was subject to serious cross-examination by QCs, which was quite entertaining and a fabulous experience.  My element focussed on a valuation certificate that the client denied existed, but that I had seen and read upside-down on his desk.

The legal action dragged on due to changes in lawyers, appeals and associated actions.

After the legal action concluded various professional advisors were sued; counter-sued; and sued again.

The list of legal actions following the original case is immense including a recalled insolvency petition and the removal of assorted liquidators.

The lawyers for the successful litigant have only just had a judgement in their favour for the balance of the legal fees, some 20 years on.  There may still, of course, be an appeal.

Jarndyce v Jarndyce it was not; but I suspect it is going to appear in the legal text books when it finally finishes.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Good news!

The oil companies have conceded a major saving to the Western Isles.

As a spokesman said:
Today we are providing more evidence of our commitment in support of the Western Isles and everyone in those communities. We are investing £2.5m on these transitional arrangements for consumers next year. This will ensure all consumers will face rises of no more than 50% in any year over the transitional period.
Bunting in the streets, and double hemlock all around.

Of course, this isn't the vicious, nasty, rapacious oil companies but a bastardised version of the press release from Keith Brown and the SNP Government as the ferry fare increases are reduced from fatal to utterly crippling.

There is, as always, and alternative view.  

This view is from the derrière of Mr Brown where Mr Allan was obviously desperately searching for promotion, as he described a 50% increase as "major progress".  Please protect me from "minor progress".

CalMac solve ferry crisis

It might as well be.

Roll on the single undersized ferry jammed to the gunnels breaking down regularly and adding ££££ to our shopping bills as RET is abolished (aka reviewed) for lorries.

Great, we'll be cut off for weeks at a time as Scottish Government penny pinching takes effect.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Councillor, Councillor, Councillor

When an SNP Councillor reposted a picture on Facebook that was irredeemably anti-English, if not downright racist, I commented that with all the positive things to say, it was a shame that the SNP had to resort to such negativity.

This brought forth an unprovoked torrent of postings, which ended with me being described as a Traitor and The Enemy Within.

I think this level of insult lies somewhere between "Gauleiter" and "Talking down Scotland" in the big SNP book of cyber blogging.

I don't subscribe to the view that the Councillor may have had a libation or two too many at the time, but he then removed every comment about the posting, and tried to blame an (innocent) third party who had also commented for providing me with the information; when in fact the postings were brought to my attention by an appalled pillar of the community.

However, let's look at the subsequent exchanges on Facebook:

(I've deleted the Councillor's name for the moment, along with that of the person he is trying to blame)

The last comment was intriguing, as I read that as a very clear acknowledgement of tone and tenor of the comments, as well as a clear attempt to threaten me to keep quiet.  An all to prevalent and recently adopted SNP tactic in the islands.

My subsequent email invited the Councillor to make the comments public as I have nothing to hide, but so far there has been no response.

Onwards to the Standards Commission and the regulatory body, who I am sure will look down on racism and threats, and attempts to besmirch the reputation of a professional.

No doubt the constituents will be very interested to know that their Councillor - who has now moved far out of the Ward he represents - will be interested in the anti-English views and threatening behaviour of this gentleman.

Attempts to name the Councillor will be disallowed.  At least for a few days to give him the chance to reconsider his stance.

Romantic Break for Three

I'm told that there is a B&B in Uig that has decided not to get involved in this promotion.
Have we lost our minds? It’s B&B for Three! Yes, you and you and even you at the romantic Windermere Suites in the Lake District.
What we are saying is your fine self and two other companions would be sharing one room. The three of you. At once.

Do I have to draw you a diagram? I think you know where we are coming from. This is possibly the first time in the British Isles that this kind of behaviour has been actively encouraged.
Just imagine the tourism opportunities in the Western Isles - bed-night rates would increase by 50%, and we wouldn't need that pesky RET on luxuries like food.

I think the Lews Castle Hotel could be redesigned around this concept, and the prices raised accordingly.

Council Economic Development Department - it's over to you.

h/t to J

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

RET and Budget choices

If the cuts in RET cost an unaffordable £1.5m, then how come the Government can miraculously find £72,000,000 for roads?

It is all about priorities.

And the Western Isles aren't a priority.

And the Labour Party view on RET


The Western Isles Labour Party claims that SNP representatives have failed the islands following the meeting between Transport Minister Keith Brown and island hauliers.

Matt Bruce, Chairman of the Western Isles CLP said: " On such a crucial economic issue that will affect every household in the islands Alasdair Allan, Angus MacNeil and Donald Manford failed to convince their own Transport Minister of the  consequences of withdrawing the RET scheme for lorries.

As usual the blame is directed elsewhere and no responsibility is taken for what has been a mitigated disaster from start to finish.  If Mr Allan had any influence at all in government this issue would not have seen the light of day.  We now have a situation where SNP representatives are caught between their loyalty to the Scottish Government and the people of the Western Isles, who will suffer directly as a result of their failure."

He continued: " If RET was the jewel in their policy crown they have now gone to great lengths to dismantle it and as a result the haulage, shellfish,crofting industries and ultimately every person in the Western Isles will suffer immeasurably.

If the plan of having SNP Councillors after the next election was to put the Western Isles in a more favourable position with the Scottish Government the idea has failed before it has even begun.  Mr Manford has proved that this week.

At least one of their candidates has had the courage of his convictions and resigned in protest over this issue.  As for the other announced SNP candidates their silence has been deafening an indication of what to expect should they ever be elected.  They would be apologists for the Scottish Government at the expense of the interests of  the people of the Western Isles."


Apologies to Iain Don MacIver for describing him as a 'puppet' over the RET issue.

He obviously puts principles above party, and prefers to fight for the islands, rather than against our best interests.

One only needs to report the various reports of the meeting between the hauliers and the Minister to be able to separate the vigorous spinning from the real facts.

That leaves 15 14 SNP council candidates* actively supporting the anti-island policy.  (Updated for an until now hidden resignation)

Or as others might put, "talking the islands down".

* This number is subject to change. Watch this space.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Standards Commission and the behaviour of a Councillor

A big "Hello!" to the Councillor who made offensive, rude and inaccurate comments about me on Facebook, and has then tried to hide the evidence by deleting the comments.

You have 48 hours to publicly withdraw the comments and apologise or I will be going to the Standards Commission.

As you may know, Facebook comments live forever, even after being deleted.

Thanks to the person who sent me a screenshot.

It seems that the Independence debate is only a debate if you share a certain unquestioning viewpoint.

A link to this posting is being forwarded to their Council email account, and via Facebook, and then "unfriend".

Monday, February 06, 2012

6 metre vehicles

With the announcement via Am Paipear that vehicles up to 6m will now enjoy what passes for RET, another inequity is resolved.  Careful reading indicates that inter-island fares appear to continue to be excluded from the fare reductions.

But look at the manner of this; a Ministerial announcement is released early by the Constituency MSP. 

Unusual?  Extremely.

No sign of the announcement appearing on the Government website, and no doubt the Parliament will be a bit put out.

Of course, there is a major policy consultation on ferries going on, which includes an opportunity for the public to have their say on this very issue.  Which is all now a bit redundant, and doesn't exactly give you faith in the  consultation process when the Minister makes a unilateral decision (albeit the right one) on one aspect of the process shortly after the consultation starts.

How does this impact on the rest of the consultation?  Does it actually matter, given that the whole exercise is nothing more than an arse-covering delaying mechanism?

However, it does indicate the panic in the ranks of the Government at the prospect of a bullish, bolshy, and representative group* sitting the other side of the desk.  This is a sop to try and show the 'listening' Government and distract from the main issue.

However, I am sure that the group will not be dissuaded by minor concessions or by the vacuous blandishments of our MSP desperately trying to defuse a situation he has inflamed.

The silence of every would be SNP Councillor on this issue is very telling.  Puppets on a string.

* The deliberate exclusion of Norman MacAskill, Drimore, at the instigation of the MSP is a shocking disgrace.

Public sector tendering

There are been much discussion about who should or shouldn't be allowed to tender on various Council contracts, but as this report from esteemed economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert makes clear the problem is much deeper than that.

It is not about closing doors.  It is not about preventing people contracting.  It is not about protectionism.

The challenge in hand is how to maximise the benefit for the local community when tenders are awarded.

As an example, if a finance tender is awarded to a local firm of accountants, then the money is spent locally, circulates locally and can result in higher and better skills being available locally. 

It is clear that a Council - for instance - has the power to insist on certain local benefits as part of the tendering process.  That might be the creation of a certain number of apprenticeships or other specific terms and conditions which ensure that the local community benefits.

As long as everyone has the same obligations, that is perfectly permissible, and this can dissuade those companies with little interest in the community, beyond the tender, from bidding for the work.

It doesn't guarantee that local firms will win the work, but it does keep more money in the local community.

Which is A Good Thing.

As I argued 5 years ago, it is possible and legal to do this if the will-power existed in the Council Chamber.

It didn't then, and I suspect it doesn't now.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Fred Goodwin

RBS sponsored Formula 1.

RBS supported Jackie Stewart as an ambassador.

Jackie Stewart decries the 'witch hunt'.

#Money, money, money, it's a rich man's world#

Lews Castle College (again)

Sad to say, it looks like my inside information was spot on.

It looks like major jobs cuts and major cuts rationalisation of courses are looming.

So much for the supposed agenda to take young people off unemployment and through skills and into work.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Standing up for what you believe in

It is good to have a politician with commitment and a belief in what they stand for, as well as being prepared to support their constituents ahead of party alliegence.

Anything else would be spineless and duplicitous, and putting your voters behind your party.

At the recent meeting between local hauliers and the Government Officials, I am told that the MP showed his true colours.

There were various sessions at which the hauliers had private discussions about strategy, and the arguments to be put forward.  They were ably assisted by the MP who told the hauliers the approach to be taken in the negotiations and discussions. He then followed this up with "And don't tell the officials that it was me who said that".

The hauliers are left with the feeling that they were being pushed down a pre-determined path with MacNeil playing both sides; knowing the trivial points which the Government would accept and pushing the hauliers accordingly.

Moreover, I understand from my sources that the MP, MSP and Chair of Transport were all well aware of the proposals, having been privy to the detail of the changes some months back.  Indeed, I understand that they may all have been involved in discussions with the Minister about the haulage proposals last Autumn.

So, far from fighting the islands corner, it increasingly looks like they have bitten their tongues and/or been utterly powerless to change the Ministers mind.  And then faked faux-outrage at the plans they already acquiesced to.

Is this why the Comhairle are not pushing this matter as hard as they should?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Lews Castle College

I hear that the UHI has been order to slash management tiers and cut admin staff, meaning that the autonomy of Lews Castle College and the other colleges is under threat as the UHI considers that the functions should all be moved to - guess where - Inverness.

It is expected that finance and student records posts will be slashed and centralised in a University built upon decentralisation and local service delivery.

Next in line are the lecturers, with courses to be combined and centralised.  The local lecturers are scared to raise matters via the Unions as they feel they are being targeted by the junior Minister (A Allan) for their party political views.

In the meantime, the College will not have a new Principal to replace David Green, and the vacancy will likely be filled either at a much reduced level of seniority or by combining senior management across a number of campuses.

The latest news is that courses are to be cut at the College and delivered from elsewhere, and the now 'redundant' staff will be offered early retirement or a transfer to the Rockall campus.

Contracts; and shifting the blame

If the new and unnecessary Forth Road Bridge authorised by the Scottish Government is being built by Germans from Chinese steel due to "European contract legislation", is it any wonder that the same destructive instuction was passed down the line to the Comhairle.

The fact is that parcelling up the contracts into smaller amounts would have resulted in local contractors being in the running.

But it seems clear that Government policy is to stuff the local businesses in the name of saving a few quid.

Penny wise, pound foolish.

Good things come to those who wait...

My erstwhile good friend J Arthur Guinness had it right.

It's just that sometimes things take that bit longer than they ever should.

So two elderly residents of Stornoway will no doubt be very happy when their unjustifiable 7 year wait for justice comes to a conclusion later this year, and they can stop biting their tongues.

Full details about Mr Liar, Cllr Liar and Mr Liar to follow in due course.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Post Office, post Independence

This should be a very easy question, but I'm stumped for a sensible answer that isn't bad news for the islands.

What happens to the Universal Service Obligation - the obligation to deliver post anywhere in the UK at a single fixed price - post Independence?

I posed this question to a senior SNP member, and got abuse in return; when I hoped for enlightenment.  These questions, and many other similar questions, are going to be asked over the next couple of years and the public will want answers, or the "fear factor" will win.  That is the downside of the delay in the poll.

Shoot me down if I am wrong, but the USO will disappear, meaning that postal services in the islands will need to be subsidised by the new Scottish Royal Mail. The current postage stamp system - of course - won't exist, and it is likely that many rural Post Offices will lose their subsidy and close.  Unless Edinburgh guarantees to underwrite the cost.

Royal Mail will likely continue to deliver to Glasgow and Edinburgh - where the volume is - but the rest of the country will be up for grabs.  Or not as the case may be.

The SNP need to get a grip, admit and address the reality of additional costs in setting up the public services, and provide answers to some very basic questions that those more erudite than I will raise in more public fora.

Let's frame the least scary scare headline, "Islands to lose daily post in Independent Scotland".

Comments very welcome.....

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lorry fares and RET

To establish the Government's real thinking on this matter, it is instructive to read a motion in Scottish Parliament (rather than just reprinting bland self-serving Press Releases from our MSP).

First the Labour motion:
S4M-01750 David Stewart: Road Equivalent Tariff for Commercial Vehicles—That the Parliament notes with concern the Scottish Government’s current proposals to remove road equivalent tariff from commercial vehicles using ferries that serve the communities of the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree; notes that in some cases the fare increase for small haulage companies from Tiree would more than double the fare and in the Western Isles may be up to 175% of the current fare; considers that in the current economic climate these fare increases are both extremely damaging to the local economy and completely unjustifiable; calls on the Scottish Government to urgently withdraw these plans, and believes that, if the Scottish Government chooses not to do so, this would seriously question its commitment to Scotland’s most fragile island communities.
And now the Government amendment, which - in the spirit of representative democracy - SNP MSPs have to have approved by the Whips (my emphasis).
*S4M-01750.1 John Finnie: Road Equivalent Tariff for Commercial Vehicles—As an amendment to motion S4M-01750 in the name of David Stewart (Road Equivalent Tariff for Commercial Vehicles), leave out from "with concern" to end and insert “the ongoing representations by the haulage industry in the Western Isles to the Scottish Government to ensure the fairest possible system of fares for commercial vehicles on ferries in the islands on a basis that recognises the economic fragility of this part of Scotland; believes that, if a system of discounts is to replace the present road equivalent tariff (RET) fares for larger commercial vehicles, it must be on a fair basis that benefits small as well as larger companies and must operate more equitably than previous discount schemes for commercial vehicles; welcomes the indication in the ferries review that the Scottish Government will look at extending the definition of a small commercial vehicle on Hebridean and Clyde ferries from a maximum of five to six metres; understands that RET fares will continue for all passengers, cars and small commercial vehicles on routes between the mainland and the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree and that the Scottish Government will extend the scheme in the course of the current parliamentary session to cover other islands, starting with Colonsay, Gigha and Islay in 2012, as well as inter-island routes such as those on the Sound of Barra and Sound of Harris, and welcomes what it considers the contrast between these policies and the situation during eight years of a Labour-Liberal Democrat administration, when not one of the longstanding demands for RET in the islands was met."
So, despite the vigorous spin to the contrary, and as anyone who has read the policy sham consultation there is no guarantee of any discounts; that the vehicle lengths might be reviewied at some point; and that RET may continue for all passengers.

On the upside, there is a call to give discounts to all commercials - but that's a bit giving the option of having a kicking from the left foot or the right foot, after you've been clubbed to the ground.

Remember that CalMac are ultimately owned and controlled by by the SNP Government, who seem content to let this change be implemented.

Cpt Pugnatious (A Salmond) announces that RET cuts are all the fault of Westminster, 
watched by the adoring Roger the Cabin Boy (A Allan) 
whilst the evil Blackbeard (Cllr MacSween) tries to spoil their fun.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Fair Fares

A news release hits my inbox:
Proposed changes to Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) for commercial vehicles
The Outer Hebrides Transport Group (OHTG) has recently been formed with the aim of working together to fight the Governments decision to remove RET for commercial vehicles from island ferries.
The OHFG would like to hear your views on how it will affect your business, your customers and the economy of the Outer Hebrides.
Please contact Gail Robertson, Co-ordinator of Outer Hebrides Transport Group

Tel: 01870 602916
Mobile: 07919 622377
The horrendous impact of these price increases of up to 175% will make the small savings on the pseudo-RET scheme look like small chage.

The 'extension' and the 'permanance' of RET has been announced in glorious technicolour by the Government, the MSP and the MP on a number of occasions,   Without a concrete promise of implementation, far less an implementation date.

The penalising of everyone who relies on the freight traffic has been introduced immediately.
David Wood, owner of Lewis haulage firm, Woody’s Express said: “This proposal from the SNP Government is economically illiterate and will have a devastating impact on the islands. The Scottish Government sneaked out this massive price hike without the courtesy of consulting any of those who will be affected.  
This will have the impact of making all the incoming food deliveries, all the fish and shellfish exports, tweed exports and every other product coming from the islands much more expensive.  Indeed, the much vaunted designation of Arnish as a centre for renewables will be undermined by this very policy.

Our MP briefly spoke out against the policy (after being severely bollocked in Barra by businessmen), before being gagged by his own party, whilst our MSP seemingly has no view on the matter.  None of the would be SNP Council candidates has had anything to say on the matter - with one notable isolated exception - despite their planned campaign slogan of "Fighting for the Islands".  The slogan is now being changed to "Tutting quietly, as instructed, in the islands."

One major area of concern is the inter-island commercial traffic, which is likely to be decimated by this increase.  One businessman has told me that he will now turn back to the mainland, rather than locally, as it is going to be more efficient overall.  10-20 years of hard work developing the inter-island business destroyed by a Government who say one thing and do another behind your back..

Now the Council and sitting Councillors need to get behind this campaign, which has the potential for inflicting serious economic damage to the islands.

Remind me again how this SNP integrated transport strategy works?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Lews Castle tenders

It appears the winner knew on Wednesday and the losing contractor was told on Friday.

The official announcement is this week, apparently.

The Bushmills, I am told, is flowing.....

As others have mentioned, the parameters that were set are designed to ensure a level playing field for all potential bidders.

In Shetland, for instance, the parameters were designed in such a way to protect (but not insulate) the local contractors from predatory pricing by businesses who had no long-term local connections.

According to senior Comhairle officers, this was impossible.  And given the attitude of certain senior Councillors to the local building trade, such a policy was never going to be driven forward.

One local contractor was asking the Council when he could expected any work to be put out to tender.  The straight and deadly serious answer was, "28 years.  After the schools maintenance tender is completed."

Imitation and flattery

It is very nice to see a competitor trying to copying what you are (successfully) doing.

It is even nicer to see them doing it in a half-hearted, incompetent and unsuccessful way in a desperate attempt to emulate your achievements.

Organic SEO is not something you can achieve overnight, and paying for Google Adwords in a desperate effort to emulate that in a highly competitive marketing environment is a sure fire way to burn £50 notes for no reward.

Keep up the poor work.  :-)

(Good to know they read the blog)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Business Gateway

I have a good working relationship with Business Gateway and their mostly successful support for local business.

Why, I am asked by a local businessman, are Business Gateway (Western Isles) aka Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, providing grant support to an Aberdeenshire business??  Albeit one run by the Lewis diaspora.

I truly hope the new business succeeds, but when I see other businesses who are refused funding you have to ask if the criteria are being equitably and objectively.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lews Castle

There are, I am very reliably told, two contenders for the contract.

One local, one not.

The contract has not been awarded yet, but is imminent.  Please hold any indignation until we know if it is appropriate or not.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Read this and weep

Duncan MacKay and Sons Ltd v CnES.

Read the report in Hebrides News and despair.

This is such a spectacular level of incompetence at so many levels, that you have to ask the question if the Council actually fit for purpose.

And, yes, I do fully understand the implications of what I say.

Source: CnES management Team training course
Where are the Councillors asking questions demanding answers and holding officers to account.  This is the fourth serious, serious, failure at the highest level in recent years, and I include the attempt to screw us as one of those failures.

As far as I am aware, not one officer has been disciplined - beyond a slap on the wrist for the sins of others - for the huge losses incurred.  Yet the buck stops in three offices - Chief Executive, Convener and Leader.

I have seen and heard evidence of other incompetencies, fraud, theft and inherent corruption that is being brushed out of sight by senior officers, rather than being dealt with and all that is doing is making the position worse; due entirely to the inability of those at the top.

But Councillors are being mushroomed ("kept in the dark and fed on bs") and accepting the self-serving view from the top that they cannot question issues because  they are sub judice, confidential or subject to disciplinary issues, when the real reason is to protect those giving that advice - the culprits.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"Climate justice"

A headline without a concept of how it is to be delivered, but necessarily full of lovely warm abstract words from the First Minister..

"I believe we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enshrine this important principle - that economic development should be linked to human rights - in global energy policy, ensuring that countries and communities least able to cope with the extreme weather events climate change brings are not further disadvantaged."
As this statement was delivered from the luxury of a hotel in Abu Dhabi, perhaps the FM should be looking a bit closer to home.
Recent hikes in the price of domestic oil have left the Western Isles facing staggering new levels of fuel poverty, with estimates that 60 per cent of households are now classed as being in its grip — and the figure for pensioners is even higher at 86 per cent.
Before the rest of the world gets a lecture, how about doing something in your own back yard?

Warm words doesn't make for warm houses.