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

Friday, March 31, 2006

Comhairle Sunday policy

Not connected with the previous posting, it ended up being totally inter-twinned, with the end result that it became a dogs dinner of a decision.

I voted for allowing Councillors and staff to have the option to attend conferences and courses on a Sunday if they so wished. This was defeated.

I voted for retaining the Comhairle policy that contractors are not allowed to work on Sundays except in the case of emergency; although the Vice Convener and the Chief Executive did state that "the local and cultural issues" would be allowed to affect this policy. For the uninitiated, this means that in Uist and Barra Sunday working is permitted. This was carried.

I voted for the Comhairle noting that whilst we might express a view about ferry services, we could not force Cal Mac to make any decision. This was defeated.

We now have a policy which is unclear, unenforceable and riddled with escape clauses. It is the worst type of decision, and one with which I neither agree nor disagree for the simple reasons it can mean anything to anyone.

I can attend a Sunday conference in breach of Council policy, as no-one can discipline me, but a Catholic teacher of RE in Castlebay could not attend a Sunday conference to discuss the delivery of RE in Catholic schools. Ludicrous. I posed the question of what would happen if we tried to stop a devout Muslim employee of the Comhairle attending a Sunday conference, and answer came there none.

The one thing missing from the whole debate was any consideration of others religious/cultural views, and I found this very disturbing.

Will any of this affect the Cal Mac Board? No.

Will any of this mean ferries sooner, later or never? In my view it won't have the slightest influence, and the Comhairle has served only to raised expectations in the community, with no power to deliver them.

Basically, it was a waste of time and effort, and didn't take us forward one step.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sunday sailings

The Cal Mac decision has taken (virtually) everyone in the Comhairle by surprise.

Cal Mac is - of course - a publicly owned company, and Jack McConnell is its de facto owner. The ire should be directed at the politicans, and not at the Comhairle, but we seem to be happy to draw the fire away, and posture on matters we cannot influence.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Petition presented

By close of business on Friday we had 40 signed letters from parents opposing the proposed changes. Sue and I wrote a covering letter to Cathy Carnell which we sent to her along with the letters, the NHS Board, all Councillors, the press and Audit Scotland.

So far the Western Isles HNS Board have not acknowledged the letter or the problem and seem determined to drive these changes through regardless of the opinion of its "customers".

The Chief Executive of the Comhairle is apparently able to veto these changes, as the agreement with the Comhairle requires him to approve any changes to terms and conditions. Thanks to Cllr Norman L MacDonald for bringing this to my attention.

I'm meeting with the Chief Executive later this week to discuss this issue, to see what he can do about influencing the Board to see sense.

Update 30/3: A total of 49 letters have been received. This represents virtually all the families with children at Little Teddies.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Tattooing and body piercing

Today was Environmental Services Committee, which I chair, and amongst the many items on the agenda was the regulation of tattooists and body piercers, which also includes those doing electrolysis.

Such is the range of activites that we have to oversee, that the Executive have given us this responsibility at very short notice to bring in the appropriate monitoring regime.

Ignoring the fact that our one local tattooist is in semi-permanent retirement, no-one as far as we can tell) still does electrolysis, we are left imposing rules, regulations and inspections on those putting ear studs into willing victims.

Sometimes you ask yourself "Why?"

On the up side, we managed to ensure a young couple were able to build their house despite SEPA trying to stop them on grounds that the Committee considered to be short-sighted. If SEPA had had their way, the deposit for the house may have been lost and the couple would have had to wait until at least next year to try to build a family home. I count that as a success, and it makes it all worth while.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Public interest

It's really flattering to see the level of interest in the blog, which far exceeds that which I expected.

I've never been shy about participating in public debate, and I have allowed anyone to post to the blog without restriction.

Unfortunately, one sad, lonely and bitter person has been trolling my entire site and is repeatedly posting offensive comments to the blog (two timed at 9:50 and 10:01 this morning alone), and I have removed them. I have not taken anything else off the site. If I was censoring debate would I have left the "**** head" comment in place??

I now have the choice of allowing either Registered Users only to comment, or allowing me to filter and approve/reject each posting. I've gone for the latter for the time being, only to weed out the troll.

Sorry, but there's always one person who spoils it for the rest.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Hedgehog Cull

For an alternative view on the hedgehog cull, read the Rockall Times. This site is not suitable for children or those without a healthy sense of humour and satire.

Little Teddies Nursery

Over 40 parents attended a meeting with the management staff at Little Teddies nursery last night to discuss the proposed (sic) changes to the fee structure and the removal of hot lunches for the kids.

The mood was angry, not least as the two representatives had quite clearly been set-up to take the fall for the Management (sic, ad infinitum) Team decision. The total absence of any financial information just served to rub salt in the wound.

Hospital staff are being penalised for being flexible employees. When the nursery was set-up it was used as a way to attract working mothers back into the labour force, and to ensure that children were properly cared for whilst their mothers (and fathers) provided vital hospital services.

Now, if you work a 7am to 1pm shift you will be charged £30 for child care - £4 for the first hour, and £26 for both the 8am to 1pm and 1pm to 6pm sessions. Unless staff are able to leave work 5 minutes early to avoid falling into the second session, they are going to be hugely out of pocket.

Parents are demanding a meeting with senior managment who are prpeared to make decision and take responsibility for these decisions. This is - sadly - symptomatic of what is going on inside NHS Western Isles.

Update 8/4/06: Little Teddies discussion and news forum created here.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Bergen declaration

I got back to the office to find correspondence from KIMO in connection with the Council of Ministers meeting in Gotenburg in May. I've some pieces of correspondence to send out, and I realise that to fully understand what I am signing I will need to read the Bergen Declaration from 2002.

I've already got the draft declaration that the Ministers will be finalising and signing in May, so I need to see how KIMO's aims fit in with the draft declaration and the previous one.

(This may come as a surprise, but the officials agree the main points of the declaration well in advance, leaving just a few identified issues for the Ministers, KIMO and a few other parties to haggle over. My job will be to persuade a few Ministers that X is a key issue, and that they should argue Y when it comes in front of them.)

Another weekend will be being swallowed up in paperwork - except when the Rugby is on - and I will have to throw away a lot of the paper in my study or it will become a health hazard!

Friday, March 17, 2006


Ever Committee Chair gets a briefing from senior officers before the Committee meeting to make sure that you are awar of the key issues and to air any concerns about recommendations or report content before the meeting. Mine was today. As always, it was a most entertaining and informative session, last over an hour, where the key issues are discussed.

Many people have the view that Councillors attend a few meetings, deal with local issues, and have a lot of "jollies". As a Chair, I know that this is not the case. Like the rest of my fellow Chairs (and Vice-Chairs) we spend substantial amounts of time discussing and setting policy in a wide range of areas, and having to be aware of all the issues (however mundate) for which we are responsible.

Next month, the Comhairle becomes responsible for licencing tatooists, ear piercers and those offering electrolysis. Many thanks to Scottish Exec for giving us six weeks notice to set a policy and put it through Committee and then Council. I have to be fully briefed about this issue before Committee next week, to avoid any unneccessary problems for those who pursue those trades.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Places of Refuge for ships in trouble

As part of their assessment of the Minches, the DoT have to look at places where it may be possible to put ships in danger, whilst minimising the potential economic and environmental damage.

The Comhairle is a consultee to this process, and we will be making comments, but it is useful to place the public document into the public arena for more input from the public. All too often these are dealt with out of sight, and are not really "publicly" available.

Suspension of the blog

Apologies for having to pull the Blog for a couple of days. Rest assured that I am well and in full working order. I had a slight technical hitch with inappropriate (and libellous) comments being made on some postings. You know who you are, and your ISP has been notified!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Health Board crisis

Last night in the Town Hall, over 400 people came to protest about the mismanagement of the Western Isles Health Board by the current top tier of management. It is great credit to Angus Graham and Angus MacCormick that they have managed to motivate so many people to attend on a wintery evening to show their support for the fine work done by the staff, despite management.

The following key points came out of the meeting:
  • The staff are wonderful, but morale is suffering
  • Staff are being bullied mercilessly
  • Everyone wants the Western Isles to keep the local accountability of the Health Board
  • No-one believes that the Chief Executive and Chief Executive are working in the best interests of the Western Isles
  • The patients are suffering, as care is being trimmed
  • The freebie travel arrangements for senior management are a disgrace
  • The Executive need to act, and not avert their eyes.
It is clear that the staff believe that there is a hidden agenda to merge with Highland Health Board, and I am in agreement with them. The question is, "Who set that agenda?"

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Whales too...

Amongst my responsibilities is the removal of whale carcasses. About twice a year we have dead whales washed up on our shores, and then they need to be removed and disposed of.

I'd love to find the link to the story about a previous whale episode which involved CCTV, a saw and a dog. Google won't find it for me, and I'd dearly love to post it here. I'm sure it was in the WHFP, and if anyone can find it, please let me know.

Update: 10/3/06
We didn't blow the whale up for a very good reason.

Update: 12/3/06
This is part of the story I tried to fine - until I can find the real story, this will have to do. Suffice to say, the dog was the only one not in a balaclava! Has anyone got the WHFP cartoon??

Tanker Traffic in the Minch

I chaired an excellent meeting of the joint Working Party with Highland Council. We had the chair of the Minch working group (a very senior civil servant in the DoT) along with the MCA, the Coastguard and Comhairle officers.

In light of the MEHRA announcement, there was concern about the protection of the Minches and the west coast of the Hebrides from oil tankers.

Thanks to intensive lobbying, and very hard work by the two Councils, the DoT are to recommend to the International Maritime Organisation that new traffic separation rules will apply in the Minch. Along with the AIS monitoring system in the Coastguard offices this will allow much better control over the tanker (and other) traffic.

The best news was that Deep Water Route off the west coast is being proposed to be narrowed, by moving the eastern limit one mile westward. Subject to the deep water survey that will be undertaken over the coming years, there may be further movement westward. This will allow more time in case of accident, and is an excellent interim step forward.