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

Monday, July 30, 2007

Goodbye NHS...

It is very reassuring to know that you can walk into a GP surgery in the islands and get seen, even though they may want you to make an appointment - and only if you can get one in the next 24 hours.

Now, NHS24 in a spectacular piece of empire building, have suggested that they take over daytime calls to free up GPs for evening work, so that the Executive can meet their promise of extending access hours for the public.

Having had experience of NHS24, I can advise that it involves phoning a nurse who takes the details and promises to get someone to phone you back. Eventually - if you are lucky - you get a call telling you to go to A&E at the Lewis Hospital. Of last three times we had to call, twice we never got a call back, and had to chase the phone line after a couple of hours, and the third time we gave up and went to A&E. When we got home, we were called to ask for further information to allow them to give us advice. We played along, and the advice was to "Go to A&E".

With the GPs having negotiated a very nice package, thank you very much, are they likely to give up their £1,000 (yes! £1,000) per day payment for sitting at the hospital in A&E waiting for NHS24 rejects to work in evenings and at weekends without another 'enhancement'?

So, having shown their hand, look forward to the Executive being completely and utterly on the back-foot as they open negotiations with the medical profession in a desperate attempt to meet a specific election promise.

And a poorer service for the rest of us, as the money - our money - is found from core budgets. This ties in exactly with the currently proposals for the NHS in the Western Isles.


Neverhappendum, more likely.

Excellent sources tell me that the SNP nationally have ruled out any possibility of a referendum on the proposed wind farm developments in Lewis.

I understand that the Ministers have told our MSP that holding a referendum on a planing issue would set a precedent*, and they are not prepared to allow it to go ahead on that basis.

Nor, I am told, will any of the Public Inquiries be time-limited, as it is not legal to do so*.

Interestingly, the Ministers (or their representatives) seem to be trying to backtrack on the decision in Harris, telling different stories to different people about whether the letter confirming a PLI on North Harris actually means that a PLI will go ahead. Perhaps this is what Angus MacNeil meant when he said he would have a word with the Minister to get him to change a legally binding decision?

I also understand that those involved with the community schemes in Barra and Uist are (quietly, at present) furious about having to find funding for a PLI, and for jumping through the hoops imposed by SNH, who are going to object anyway, and will demand a PLI.

* I unsuccessfully tried to give this advice to the local SNP almost two years ago.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


With the Health system in the Western Isles facing a major reorganisation; with Harris Tweed in turmoil; with the population plummeting; with decisions on major economic developments being delayed; with the air traffic service undermanned and the airport staff striking; we get this.....

The Western Isles MSP, Alasdair Allan, has written to JK Rowling's publishers asking for an edition of Harry Potter in Gaelic. The series has been translated into 50 languages, but Scots Gaelic is not among them.

"This has left many fans in Scotland who wish to read Harry Potter in their native language disappointed," he said. The fact the books had been translated into two other Celtic languages, Irish Gaelic and Welsh, made it "even more surprising".

Good to see that he has the right priorities.

Update 29/7/07: Given the interest this has generated, I've added a poll.
Just for the sake of completeness, my firm has clients who are heavily involved in the promotion and support of the Gaelic language and culture, so I'm hardly anti-Gaelic.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Rural General Hospital

Thanks very much to the Health Board for the information which they have provided about the future thinking of Highland and Western Isles Health Board.

I've posted the "Remote and Rural Workstream Interim Report" onto the web, where it can be downloaded (2MB file with loads of graphics).

The meat of the proposals start at page 35, where the centralisation of service provision is clearly described, and the core services that must be provided in Lewis are also outlined.

Again, I haven't read this in detail yet, but ... the trend and intention towards centralisation seems clear.

The only people who have the power (and money) to stop this at the Executive, and if we do nothing it will happen.

Which Councillor ...

* who has told his colleagues on three separate occasions over the past five years that he has definitely left the SNP
* voted against the SNP Group Leader becoming Convener in 2007 (voting for a Labour candidate)
* consistently and continually briefs against other councillors behind their backs
* and refuses to stand under a party ticket so as not to compromise himself (sic, ad infinitum)

presented a report to the last SNP Branch Meeting on behalf of the SNP Group, but without the knowledge or permission of the SNP Group Leader?

Benn Mhor Power

I have been very reliably advised that the Eishken wind farm application is to be sent to a Public Local Inquiry next week.

Disappointing? Yes, hugely. Another waste of the Council's money in holding all the meetings and now finding another £100,000 to attend the hearings. Still, making other people spend money doesn't seem to figure on the agenda of the Executive.

Anyone thought of the consequences?

* PLI for the Lewis Wind Power applications
* PLI for the turbine in Barra (which is already having to fund a full environmental impact assessment)
* PLI for the planned turbines in South Uist for Storas Uibhist
* PLI for the turbines on the Pentland Road
* PLI for the Pairc proposal
* PLIs for all the other small community applications in the pipeline

Turning to the Pairc proposal, as you know it is currently the subject of a highly disputed attempted community buy-out, which the owner and developer are trying to stymie by negotiating on the community benefit.

Why should they now bother? There is absolutely no incentive on developers to negotiate with communities, or even with the Comhairle, or even keep them informed beyond the absolute legal minimum, on the assumption that they might as well save all the negotiating until the PLI.

The democratic input has now been removed from the residents, the communities and the Council and handed to the unelected for consideration, so that the Ministers can avoid the blame.


I would have preferred the honesty of a refusal, rather than another 5 years of legal proceedings and another Lingerbay.

RET (again!)

I read that Alasdair Allan is lobbying the Transport Minister on the issue of RET to the islands. Good for him.

BUT, why should he have to lobby on an election promise? Is there some suggestion that RET isn't going to happen, or is being watered down? Or is it just that the 'study' actually kicking the issue into the long grass?

The Paranoid Tendancy

Assiduous readers will have noticed that when I have attacked anti-Arab generalisations then I have been painted as anti-Semitic, probably on the basis that 'my enemies enemy is my friend'. What has been absent has been any substantive comment on the actual content.

This trick is as old as the book, and demonstrates that the complainer is desperate to deflect the readers thoughts from the real issues.

Most of the paranoid seem unable to understand the concept of political comment, or the phrase 'a plague on all their houses'.

I have noticed that any comments which I have made that can be construed as being adverse to the Labour Party, the Westminster Government or indeed the former MP or MSP have been met with silence, argument or supportive comment in fairly equal measure.

As soon as there is a suggestion (however wrong!) that what I write might be interpreted as adverse to our MP, MSP, the SNP or the Holyrood Government I am told either:
* I shouldn't attack the SNP, as I used to be a member
* I shouldn't attack the SNP, as they are the Government
* It's not their fault
* They are going to be better than the last lot
* You're wrong and bitter, and that's why you're so good at finding faults

When I praise the SNP, then - of course - I am right.

I am going to continue to criticise and praise everyone in authority on any matter that affects the Western Isles and those who are most prominent will get the most coverage - it is their highly paid job, after all - and laugh hysterically behind my hands when the paranoia kicks in.

Let's see who is most irritated by the picture of Our Glorious Leader....
when Gordon Brown met Alex Salmond

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Palace coup?

Word reaches me of a meeting of senior people to discuss the problems at the top; arising from dissatisfaction with the incumbent's/incumbents' ability to discharge their functions.

Would any of the attendees like to provide me with more information?

Clinical Strategy - a review

I got a copy of this document issued by the Health Board, and read it last night. It is available on the web, and I recommend that the public read it carefully. I'm not hugely knowledgeable about this area, so I hope other with more knowledge will also contribute to the consultation.

My impression of the document was actually very positive, as it is very clear that the intention of the Board is a serious attempt to resolve the financial issues that are the root cause of the whole problem. Finance is driving all of this, make no mistake. We are repeatedly told that the current position is untenable and structural changes must be made to recover the deficit.

I question that view. The Board must adopt that approach, as they are being told the financial parameters in which they must work by the Executive. But to try to claw back the accumulated deficit means that today's and tomorrow's services are being affected by decisions of the past (discredited) regime. We should expect our elected politicians to reject this notion, and fight for a decent level of funding.

Given that restriction and presumption by the Board, the document clearly sets out how they intend to achieve their aims, and I must applaud the Board for the clarity of their vision and the obvious sincerity in their aims. I don't agree with everything they say, but then that is why it is a consultation document.

Much is made of the relative cost of service delivery in the Western Isles compared to the rest of Scotland. Yes, but. Of course our costs are higher as population is sparser and unit costs will be higher. If we start down that route for all our public services then we are in trouble.

The attempt to build the "Hubs" i.e. the hospitals in Uist and Barra into community facilities is commendable, and it makes sense to house community services in as few locations as possible. However, it also means the loss of some key services, and I suspect that Uist and Barra will be up in arms.

It is also clear that Western Isles Hospital will lose some of the specialities, with these being dealt with in Raigmore, as we move to the "Rural General Hospital" model.

Will this balance the budget?: probably, eventually
Will this improve treatment for the patients?: probably not
Will it mean more travel for patients?: undoubtedly
Is it A Good Thing?: on balance I think not

Despite the inevitable jargon, the repetition of charts and some clauses, and the clear desire of the Board to do the right thing, they key element is that they are constrained by the historic budget deficit and the need to recover from that. If we are prepared to accept this constraint, we will get the Health Service that the budget and Civil Servants dictates. If that constraint is removed, we will get the Heath Service we deserve.

Higher rate taxation

If anyone doubted the appropriateness of a new higher rate of tax and the need to curb the excesses of the City of London and those with more money than sense, then here is the proof that you need...

An unnamed businessman and around 18 friends last Saturday set an "all-time record" in alcoholic extravagance by working their way through £105,805 worth of booze in London's Crystal nightclub, the Telegraph reports.

During the marathon spendfest, which kicked off with a bottle of Pinot Grigio (£25), they quaffed £80,000 worth of champagne, including a six-litre methuselah of Cristal (£30,000), two three-litre jeroboams of the same (£9,600*), four bottles of Cristal Rose (£2,400), six magnums of Dom Perignon (£4,200), 36 bottles of Cristal (£12,960), 12 bottles of Dom Perignon Rose (£4,200), 15 bottles of Dom Perignon 1999 (£3,600), and three magnums of Dom Perignon 1995 (£2,700).

The revelers also appear to have indulged in a bit bit of vodka and Red Bull action, blowing £1,400 on a single bottle of the former and a modest £76.50 on 17 hits of the latter (that's £4.50 a can, in case you're wondering). Mercifully, they evidently gave their livers a brief respite during the booze marathon by ordering eight bottles of upmarket H20 Voss Still - an absolute bargain at £6.50 each.

The final tally was £81,471.50, plus £13,951 in tax and a cool £10,382.74 for service. Nightclub spokesman Fraser Donaldson admitted: "I have been in the nightclub business for 20 years and this is an all-time record."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

War on Drugs...

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith says she wants ideas on how to steer vulnerable young people away from drug use and get more dealers off the streets.

Why, was she too stoned to remember the briefings she got from Civil Servants?

Does it matter, assuming she doesn't get the munchies in Cabinet meetings?

Spliff cannabis Jacqui Smith Home SecretaryThe Home Secretary relaxes between Cabinet meetings

Health Board Clinical Strategy

I haven't seen the full document yet, as it is not available on the web, but I can already see two contentious issues...

• Developing Ospadal Uibhist agus Bharraigh to become one of these hubs, including the Benbecula GP practice
• Clearer definition between services available at Western Isles hospital and those requiring a trip to the mainland

My interpretation is that the former is code for "A reduction is services to the core requirement" and the later is "Send patients away, rather than bringing consultants here".

The whole strategy must be being driven by the financial situation, so I see our services being stripped down to the bare minimum and everything else done on the mainland. The Uisteach already complain that their hospital is a "waiting room for Stornoway". How long before Stornoway becomes a waiting room for Inverness or Glasgow for the most routine operations.

As long as we are facing population decline and an aging population then the mainstream services will be under threat.

More on this as I get it.

Gorgeous George

The full transcript of his speech yesterday is now available, and I whole heartedly recommend that everyone read it fully to understand the power of oratory and the ability of the man.

I have no idea whether or not Mr Galloway is a rogue, knave or just an enormous pain in the backside to Executive who are out to get him, but the holes and errors that he highlights deserve further investigation.

His Congress appearance is also worth another view.

I think that British Politics is much, much the better for his existence compared to the bland clones infesting both benches. Unlike (faux) faux buffons like Boris Johnston, he is able to project a theatrical approach to serious debate, make his points with a killer instinct and with exquisite delivery. I wouldn't like to get on the wrong side of him.

But his Big Brother appearance was definitely a mistake.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Zonal Pricing

Good news from the deep dark recesses of a quango..

Postcomm, the independent regulator for postal services, has announced that it is proposing to reject Royal Mail’s application to charge large mailers – using products which are not part of the universal service – different prices depending on where in the UK their mail is delivered (Royal Mail calls this zonal pricing).

Postcomm will issue a consultation document in August that will set out in detail why it is proposing to reject Royal Mail’s application. However, in the interests of reducing market uncertainty, the regulator is making this announcement today.

Nigel Stapleton, Postcomm chairman, said:

“We are proposing to reject Royal Mail’s application mainly because it has put forward a pricing structure that appears to have a number of discriminatory features and would have been introduced in a way that would lead to unreasonable changes for customers.

It looks like the Universal Service Obligation is safe - for the time being.

Promises, promises, promises

An article in today's Scotsman with more comment on RET makes for very careful reading.

No-one can disagree with Mr Manford: -
Donald Manford, chairman of transportation with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) said that reducing transport costs was essential if the islands are to be properly integrated into the rest of Scotland. "This could be part of the promised nation building."

But the words of the Transport Minister are key: -
"The Scottish government is committed to commissioning a study into RET as a mechanism for reducing ferry fares. We will announce our plans for that study in due course."

I think that my previous hopeful comment was a bit too early, as we are not even past the stage of planning for the plans for the study. Perhaps at some point someone will actually do something rather than just talk about talking about it.

Note to self: increase scepticism

Monday, July 23, 2007

More Gaelic TV = less Scottish TV??

According to Iain MacWhirter in today's Herald, STV plan to abandon all TV production in Scotland when the Gaelic TV channel comes on stream, as their (forced) contribution to the service will be deemed to be their entire 'regional' input.

'All' needs to be qualified, as is excludes News and Current Affairs, such as political programmes, but it could mean an end to all Scottish produced drama.

As far as I can find out, no-one else is running this story, and can anyone shed any light on the veracity of his claims? Iain tends to be well connected, so I tend to trust what he says, but I'm mightily annoyed if we now have the choice of Gaelic forced on us at the expense of virtually all other TV programmes produced in Scotland.

Local Public Inquiry

I tripped over this issue by mistake, as I had forgotten all about the Inquiry into the Comhairle's local plan.

For those of you who missed the extensive coverage in the local press, you will be unaware that the local plan requires to be advertised and any amendments considered and either agreed between the objectors and the Comhairle, or be taken up in front of the Reporter.

The final documents in pdf format are very large, but if you have broadband, they are worth downloading just for the list of 'usual suspects' in objecting (page 50 of 92) to anything and everything.

The objections were heard at a meeting in mid-June (2007 and not 2008, as the Comhairle website has it), with the final outcome to be reported to the Committee in August.

As you always find, some of the objections are quite sensible, but many are multiple objections obviously framed in exactly the same way, and a look at the Final Schedule of Representations is amusing just to see the serial complainers causing work and expense for the Comhairle i.e. you and me, in the mistaken belief that 20 copies of the same letter have more impact than 1.

For anyone who thinks these complaints are immaterial, you may recall that the social housing at MacKay Court aka Balamory, beside the Health Board Offices, was delayed for over a year due to a nuisance complaint from the worst serial complainant of all (see blogs passim), which was eventually thrown out as ludicrous. I will carry news of the
outcome in due course.

Late sailings from Ullapool

I'm pleased to see Angus MacNeil asking the CalMac Board to provide late sailings from Ullapool on a Saturday so that our sports teams can get home, after a full days competition on the mainland.

I hope he is successful, but the track record is not good. IIRC, Alasdair Morrison asked CalMac to consider this at least twice, and the Comhairle the same number of times. We were all ignored.

Of course, on the issue of Sunday ferries, CalMac are waiting for the Comhairle to invite them to provide the service (translation: we don't want the blame) whilst on late evening ferries from Ullapool "service issues are a matter for CalMac" (translation: go away).

Perhaps Angus MacNeil should raise this with the Convener, who is a non-exec director of CalMac next time they meet, and formulate a joint approach with the Chair of Transport, Mr Manford.

Or perhaps this should be Mr Allans campaign, as it is a devolved issue. Does he mind Mr MacNeil stealing his thunder (does he have any choice in the matter?)

Best of luck, but don't forget the CalMac mission statement: "The passengers will not impede the smooth operation of the vessels"

Road Equivalent Tarriff

Isle of Lewis ferryGood news and bad news is being reported today.

The good news is that the Executive appear to be adhering to their promise to examine bringing in a new tarriff regime. Mind you, they really had no choice. As I have previously pointed out, the phrasing is very vague and allows lots of wriggle room, should they want that. However, lets give them the benefit of the doubt and believe that everything is going full steam ahead, at least for the moment.

The study by Napier University proposes the end of the "state-owned" model, and a virtual free for all in the provision of ferry services. Apparently "state provision" is no longer the norm in the EU. This may work in the North Sea and the Greek islands where you can swap vessels and providers at the drop of an anchor, but to propose the dismantling of CalMac will cause a riot. No-one other than Western Ferries are making such a proposal with any fervour, but I cannot see any merit in this proposal, whatsoever.

However, the worst bit of bad news is now history:
When the Scottish Executive last examined ferry fares, under the then Labour transport minister Sarah Boyack, civil servants were expressly forbidden to consider RET because it would boost travel to such an extent that larger ferries and quays would have to be built.

Yes, you read that correctly: RET was a bad idea as it would encourage too many people to travel. It doesn't matter how often I repeat this true story, I'm still in disbelief at the stupidity, narrow-mindedness and sheer mean-spiritedness that generated this decision.

If we are looking to reform (rather than dismantle) CalMac, then bring in some commercial awareness. I remember the Chief Executive telling the Comhairle that they had no idea how many people were turned away because ferries were full or too expensive, but despite the absence of this enormous piece of information, they were happy that the service was appropriate.

Are we losing out on 1,000 visitors a year (or 100,000) because ferries are full or pricey? It would certainly affect many views were it the later and we ended up with bigger, faster and cheaper services.

Let's keep a close eye on this, and ensure we end up with the best outcome possible. And soon.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Schools PFI

Or is it a PPP, or a SPV, or a SNP PPT or just a SNAFU waiting to happen?

Whichever random mix of letters best describes the expected £52 million 'investment' in the schools of the Western Isles, there is one key question that remains unanswered: -

Who will own the schools when they are finished?

I ask this as the parent of children who will probably go to the Nicolson Institute in a few years, and I want to ensure that my tax pennies are being used to deliver a flexible, functioning school. My understanding, at the moment, is that the ownership of the schools will be transferred out of Council control and into the hands of the private sector.

As I have said before, that means that the new owner (who won't necessarily be the builder) will have the Comhairle tied into a 30 year rental agreement, which will see us paying for buildings that may no longer be needed, or may be unsuitable, for the children attending these schools.

The lack of flexibility for the Comhairle to respond to pupils needs is the key flaw in the entire plan, and you have to ask the simple question - why can't the Comhairle just be given £52m to repair and replace the schools?

I am reliably informed that professional fees for setting up the Special Purpose Vehicle i.e. the new company to manage the project, will exceed £2m - that is going to lawyers, accountants and miscellaneous other consultants.

When we were evaluating (sic) the project in the Comhairle, I asked to see the supporting financial calculations to determine the true cost of the project. These were not available to elected members, as the consultants had a proprietory business model which we were not allowed to see, question (or understand). Any changes to the inputs was passed to them, they ran it through the model for a modest £2,000 per change, and passed us the answer. No workings, no supporting documentation, just a blind faith in the model.

I can guarantee that the SPV will be smothered in Commerical Confidentiality clauses, meaning that the public will never be truly clear about what is being proposed. If the Councillors couldn't be given the full information to make the decision, then what chance does the public have?

Schools PFI PPP £52 millionAngry teachers outside Muirneag Secondary school

The coming General Election

There can only have been one happy party after the bye-elections on Thursday.

The LibDems did well to increase their vote and keep the Tories in third, but this was a characteristic bye-election surge and you know it will not be repeated. Poor Ming did well but not well enough.

The Tories must be in despair. Despite neither seat being particularly fertile territory, they must have assumed that they were in a strong position to come second, and maybe have a significant swing from Labour. Instead, they got whipped.

Labour must be mighty relieved that the swings against them weren't bigger and that they kept the opposition at arm's length. The results can in no way be characterised as a 'success' but they were much less bad than many had predicted.
Gordon Brown is scaryGordon Brown was ecstatic with the result

I am now convinced that planning is underway for an early election in February or March of 2008, which Gordon Brown will see as his way to obtain a personal mandate from the country. I think he will probably win if that happens, and then Brown will drive ahead his own personal agenda - whatever that may be.

With a major spending review imminent, it would make sense to get the election victory under his belt before the cuts bite. The inevitable cuts will (I prophesy) affect the Scottish budget significantly and cause the SNP problems in delivering it's promises, but this will be an unexpected outcome of Brown's plans. That's 'unexpected' as in 'that'll teach them'.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

No charges in 'Cash for honours'

At least, according to the BBC. I had this feeling when the DPP asked for more information and further interviews with key witnesses.

Update 20/7/07: With both Sky and the BBC having exactly the same story at the same time, it looks like one of the 'innocent' parties has successfully leaked the tale to the media to maximise coverage. I say that, because were it from the CPS or the Police sources, it is highly unlikely that the journalist would have shared the story.

Presumably, those who were arrested and interviewed under caution have been told that nothing further will happen and they are off the hook, leaving the rest of us bemused and apalled at the behaviour of politicians.

Ming the Hopeless has perhaps the best take on the matter, although it is grounded more in hope than expectation: there were still "many questions of political responsibility" to be answered. He added: "This whole affair has diminished politics and politicians in the eyes of the public. "Never again must there be any question of any link between preferment and financial support."

Let's look very carefully at the next LibDem list of Peers and see if there is any correlation with assistance to the LibDem Party.

Shetland Islands Council

I had a very pleasant hour this morning discussing windfarms and planning with a Councillor from Shetland (who shall remain anonymous).

Sheltand are clearly going full speed ahead for the maximum sized windfarm that they can.

Despite some local opposition, the absence of landlord problems and the ability to recycle the profits back into the Council coffers obviously makes the whole project much more attractive to the community as a whole.

The interconnector appears to be considered by them to be an easily surmountable issue, and their confidence in delivering onshore wind, and consequently wave, tidal and off-shore wind for the whole of Scotland is frightening.

Looks like they are going to scoop the jackpot.....unless we get the finger out.

Stornoway Airport

The airport is to be closed as a result of a strike this Monday and every Monday until the pay dispute is resolved. This has been brewing for some time, and needs to be addressed by national politicians -- unless they are deliberately trying to avoid the whole problem, and allow it to fester.

The shortage of Air Traffic Controllers has been a problem since April, when the first problem came to public notice.

Would ANYONE like to tell me what has actually happened - as opposed to press releases being written - since the issue was first raised? Or would I be right in thinking that nothing has been done by anyone?

A burst of activity

Far be it for this blog to claim the credit for the sudden burst of press releases by Mr MacNeil and Mr Allan which have appeared in this weeks Gazette, on Isles FM, and nowhere else, but ....

One interesting fact is that the three articles in the Gazette were all the work of Donnie MacInnes, husband of the Chairwoman of the Western Isles SNP and organiser of the election campaigns for both Mr MacNeil and Mr Allan.

However, I am sure that the Gazette management have no problem with such relationships, and are happy to allow this incestuous reporting to continue.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Guth Airson Iarrtasan Nis

Can I direct readers to a very good news story in the islands, who need your help.

, have achieved a huge amount in developing a playpark in Ness where the children in the north of the island can play safely and entertain themselves, giving their parents a secure environment in which they can release their kids.

The parents have worked very hard (and I saw their hard work in the Comhairle) to achieve the current facilities, but are now seeking recognition of their achievements from the National Lottery Good Causes Awards. Either click through the link above or use the voting button on the right hand side to vote, and we can wish them the very best in getting recognition for their project, hard work and tangible achievements.

(If other community projects want similar recognition, then email me!)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Gini coefficient

The Gini coefficient is a measure of the inequality of distribution of income and gives a very simple and clear indication of how various economic policies are actually impacting on the 'real' electorate and not the theoretical impacts.

It is a way of defining the shape of the bell-curve for income distribution - whether the tails are long; how skewed the peak is; and how high the peak actually is.

Today's report from the Joseph Rowantree foundation indicates that income distribution is at the most inequal for the past 40 years puts the lie to the tinkering that Gordon Brown has been redistributionist. It is true that much of what he has done has benefited the very worst off, but through means testing, minor increases in benefits and vicious increases in indirect taxes the poorest have fallen back, rather than climbed.

According to the Scottish Executive website, the Scottish Gini coefficient has been relatively steady, at least until 2005 (usual caveats apply).

Whilst UK wide up to 2006 it was increasing.
The message is simple: Labour have failed in their simple socialist promises, due to Blair and Brown's fixation with the nouveau riche and the aspirant champagne socialists who sit as MPs or act as advisers or special advisers to Labour, and who were formerly known as the Conservative Party.

Thatchers legacy was to shift the centre of politics so far to the Right. She must be smiling with delight at the blind way in which Labour have allowed her policies to continue. Somehting I see everyday, when I prepare Tax Returns.

The challenge for the Scottish Government is to reduce the disparity (in so far as it is under its control) without affecting business growth and income generation. Or is that too much to hope for?

And we thought we had a problem....

Romanian traffic cops in the seaside town of Constanta were rather surprised to discover that the driver of a BMW they pulled for zigzagging across the road had no licence, no hands, no clothes, and was figuratively legless, reports.

Aurel Olteanu, 23, tested positive for twice the drink-drive limit, and put his lack of clothes down to a trip to a local nudist beach, which he'd left in a bit of a hurry.

The reason for Olteanu's amputated hands is not noted, but the Beemer was an automatic, which must have made things a bit easier for him.

According to Ananova, police sub-inspector Marius Ghita said: "He had no licence, but told us his he had developed his own special way of driving."

Olteanu has been charged with drunk driving and driving without a licence, having apparently avoided a public decency rap.

The future?

wave powerAccording to HIE is clear - no windfarms, but lots of off-shore wind and wave.

No-one can oppose this aspiration, and the sooner offshore technology is developed the better.

There are three areas competing to get the massive benefit. Orkney are the preferred location for the Scottish Executive - according to the SNP manifesto - Shetland is going flat out to get an interconnector (paid for by the Faeroes and Iceland!) and to develop huge windfarms on community land.

Apart from the Comhairle, our elected politicians are trying to stop developments which would guarantee an interconnector, hence taking us out of the game. The experimental wave farm at Shader is likely to be for nothing, hence affecting the viability of that community buyout.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Our MP's successes

I like to give out plaudits where plaudits are due, and not just criticise for the sake of criticism, so I was rather stung by a recent posting that I need to make "another anti-MP or MSP comment".

Let's turn that about completely and encourage supporters to list Angus MacNeil's success in bringing tangible benefits to the islands over the past two years. The Labour Party have been very vocal in demanding that he name five things that he has achieved, and I don't think that the wider public have got a balanced view on all he has done for us.

I'll start ......

He stopped the Harris Community Windfarm, in the teeth of 90% support from the community, the Council and various departments of the Scottish Executive.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Spiders do have blue blood

said our eldest child. "No, don't be silly", said I, and checked Google......

Hi! Yes...The spiders blood is different from the men's blood. In humans the oxigen is bound to hemoglobin, a molecule that contains iron and beeing red gives that colour to the blood. In spiders, and in many other arthropods (as crustaceans) and also in most mollusks the oxigen (sic) is bound to a different molecule called hemocyanin that contains copper instead of iron.

The hemocyanins are proteins colourless in the reduced or deoxygenated state but the oxydized
copper beeing blue/green, gives that colour to the oxygenated blood.

Therefore...spiders have "blue" blood...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A unique solution in unique circumstances

recycling western isles waste anaerobic digestorStill being a (free) subscriber to Recycling and Waste World, I was pleasantly surprised to see a full page article about the new recycling plant at the Creed Business Park.

The full article can be read here, and full credit for the achievement must go to Mun Gold, Director, and Uisdean Fraser, formerly in charge of the entire procurement process.

I only lead some of the decisions, but I'm very proud of what we have achieved, in delivering the largest ever single capital investment programme undertaken by the Comhairle. The plant was opened by Jack McConnell just prior to the election (surprise, surprise!) but left the legacy of a well visited caption contest.

Public Local Inquiry

Clisham, HarrisThe three turbines proposed by the North Harris Trust for Ardhasaig have been referred to a Public Local Inquiry by the Scottish Executive.

The grounds appear to be (and the letter is very vague about the reality of the situation): -
* There may be an impact on the National Scenic Area, and
* The development may conflict with the Comhairle Structure Plan.

What bloody nonsense. This is merely an excuse to avoid taking any decisions on a contentious issue.

* The NSA will be affected. Of course it will. But as salmon farm applications in the area have an impact on the NSA, does this mean they will be called in?
* The Comhairle considered this carefully before we came to a decision

The logical outcome is quite clear, BMP and LWP will also go to a public inquiry. I look forward to being called to attend and have my say!

But let's consider the following outcomes from this decision:
* A cost to the Comhairle of over £100,000 to attend EACH inquiry
* The first Inquiry won't happen until the Beauly-Denny inquiry finishes, probably 2008
* What is the impact on every other potential development in Harris?
* Who pays for the legal bills for North Harris Trust to attend the Inquiry and submit evidence?
* As the windfarm is a key part of the viability of the charitable Trust, how will the Trust continue it's good work?
* What is the impact of this on EVERY other community renewable development? Let's start with the planned community windfarm in South Uist, which is also in the NSA.

I am utterly appalled by this, which I have long warned is the worst possible option or all, being a recipe for prevarication, delay and indecision. Remember Lingerbay, anyone?

Moreover, the proposed PLI is NOT time limited - as we were repeatedly promised it would be by our MP and MSP - and as a result, the lawyers will undoubtedly draw it out even further. I'm angry and disappointed, but not surprised.

Harris Tweed revisited

The £1 million order is back on, according to the BBC. My sources on the shop floor advise me that the Germans were ready to enforce their contract, and that an offer from Haggas to make a smaller batch was rejected.

For once common sense prevails, but it is a hell of a way to run a business.

LibDem tax policy

Overall the new policy as unveiled by Ming the Hopeless is sensible and balanced, and addresses some of the anomalies created/fostered/encouraged by Gordon Brown.

Good ideas:
A local, local, income tax
Return business rates to local control
Simplify the tax legislation
Tax capital gains made by non-UK residents on UK property (including foreign companies?)

Bad ideas:
Dropping the plan to have a 50% tax rate for highest earners
Replace Airport Passenger Duty with taxes based on plane emissions. As we have the oldest, most polluting planes, it is simply relocating the problem from London to the 'fringes'

Need more thought:
Reduce basic rate of tax to 16% (this will actually be from 22% to 18%) but doesn't help these in most need
Raising the Inheritance Tax threshold

Overall, could do better. And does all this also apply in Scotland?

Calmac Directors

Cal Mac ferryHow often are they vilified for not being in touch with the local community, whether it is in support of Sunday sailings or opposed?

Calmac will (hopefully!) face some fundamental changes to it's operation over the next few years, with (almost) RET, the end of the commercial tendering process (?) and new pressures from island communities.

The current board of directors can be seen here, but the Executive plan to appoint two new directors. If you want to be considered, get your applications in by 20 August. I don't know who is standing down, or whose term has come to an end, but it is surely an opportunity to bring some fresh blood on board. Perhaps the Chair or Vice-Chair of the Transport Committee on the Comhairle could be persuaded to put their names forward?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

From today's Scotsman

1 THAI CAFÉ, 27 Church Street, Stornoway, Lewis, 01851 701811

Finding tasty Thai cuisine in the capital of the Hebrides may come as a surprise, but this fusion of East meets Western Isles (garlic meets Gaelic?) uses the finest local produce, especially seafood. Try the pad ped thalay, wonderfully tasty prawns and mussels with red curry paste and peppers. And for those who like it hot, order the Thai Café hot pan - marinated chicken stir-fried with peppers, mushrooms, ginger and lots of garlic - which comes sizzling to the table. Booking is highly recommended, and take your own wine (there is a corkage charge).


... I'm getting hungry already. I think we already knew it was the finest Thai in Scotland.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Transport costs

Marine Harvest have renamed their operations as "Outer Hebrides Seafood" and hived them off as a separate company, because of the vertical integration of the salmon farming group from eggs to smoked produce. They are also having talks with the Executive to see what can be done to reduce haulage costs.

Obviously, we al hope that something significant will come from their efforts, but the underlying threat to the business remains, due to the handicap of transport costs.

As the Chief Executive says "...there is no rush to sell it, if it will be sold at all. It will become clear in the autumn or winter what action we will take." And later, "We want to build on what was done by Fjord Seafood and make it work. Then we might go looking for shareholders."

I am sure that we all hope that Alan Anderson can make the business work and that the Executive come up with funding to make it all possible, as it once again emphasises the financial handicap we face by living and working on this side of the Minch.

BTW, it looks like the debate over Western Isles/Outer Hebrides as a marketing brand has been resolved.


I had a phone call from a wine supplier in Italy who we sometimes use, and who supplies an excellent variety of wines without UK drink taxes and duty.

At the end of the call, the woman asked where I lived, and when I explained, she told me that she had a friend who lived there and spoke Gaelic. "Did I know any Gaelic?", she inquired.

When I explained that I spoke a little, she then proceeded to try out her Gaelic on me, which she spoke very well, and was probably better than mine.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sporting activity

Despite not being the most sporting person in the Western Isles, I thought it may be interesting to judge public opinion on the opening of the Sports Centre on a Sunday.

This was suggested by Reiver, and it was THE issue on which I received most correspondence whilst I was a Councillor. Yes, even more than windfarms! Votes and views welcome.

For the record, I will vote "Yes, only if the staff want to work".

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Island Games

Having been (rightly) accused of ignoring the Island Games, taking place in Rhodes, I can only say in my defence that "I don't do sports" - other than rugby internationals. And Scotland in the World Cup (just for the sense of desperation and anti-climactic despair).

So congratulations to our six medalists: the Men's football team, Eve Carrington (high jump and triple jump), Eilidh MacKenzie (1500m and Gold in the 800m) and Doleen Galbraith & Shona Morrison (Team Marathon).

I cribbed this from the Gazette website as the Rhodes site doesn't seem to have any results, but it does have a very strange stag-night style inflatable deer type mascot.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Harris Tweed

I've had my doubts for some time about the future of the industry, but refusing a million pound order, really shows what is going on.

My understanding, from workers on the shop floor is that an order was placed for some of the existing patterns but was rejected by Haggas because it was not in one of the five designs that he has decreed will be used in future.

Unbelievable as this may seem, the logic is clear (as I have previously warned): churn out huge volumes, maximise the profit before the market is saturated, sell up and move on.

This will destroy the industry, as who now will have confidence in placing any orders for Harris Tweed? The empty shell that will be left will have a mountain to climb when Haggas is finished profit stripping.

It is now probably too late to do anything. Let's just wave farewell to our heritage, as it - and the profits - head to Yorkshire.
Tweed MacLeod of Lewis TartanMacLeod of Lewis is no longer an 'approved' tweed

Western Isles Health Board

What a depressing report in in this week's Stornoway Gazette about the overspend at the Western Isles Health Board - or is it underfunding?

Now the BBC reports that there will be no compulsory redundancies as a result of the plans. This crisis has been brewing for years and the latest event are only the latest manifestation of the problems.

Let's translate some of the management phrases used:
They sayThey mean
No compulsory redundanciesVacancies will go unfilled
Cash shortages is now the Board's 'highest priority'How do we page the wages?
'Potentially serious consequences'We might lose our jobs
'Potentially serious consequences'Merger with Highland Health Board is on the cards
'Potentially serious consequences'Does not mean - care might be affected
Change the shape of servicesRestructuring
We have three different models of serviceWe are trying anything, and it's not working
This is not about cutsThis IS all about cuts
Give reassurance to both the Board and our stakeholdersWhat do we tell the staff and patients?

It's clear that - just as in Uist - the Western Isles Hospital will become a waiting room for Raigmore and other mainland hospitals.

I know that I speak for many others when I say that any suggestion to remove the autonomy of the Health Board will be bitterly fought by the public.

Education in Lewis schools

It appears that some enterprising pupils at Stornoway's première educational establishment, the Nicolson Institute (relation) have brought the Western Isles into the digital age, a la "Crap Towns: the 50 worst places to live in the UK".

The teachers should be pleased that the students have a good grasp of spelling, grammar, punctuation, sarcasm and the time honoured tradition of abusing the school staff. Those without a sense of humour should not follow this link.

100 days

For some reason 100 days is seen as a key milestone. Politicians have only themselves to blame for creating such an arbitrary checkpoint which bears no relation to anything.

Salmond to quit as MP having not spoken in the House of Commons for 100 days? Did no-one see this coming? It's a PR shambles which could - and should - have been easily avoided.

Having been caught claiming an MPs salary (£60,000) as well as an MSPs (£53,000) as well as the First Ministers salary, Alex is munificently going to give up the MSPs salary (£77,000), which is lower than an MPs.

Nice work if you can get it.

The quote that, "Mr Salmond's office insist both sets of constituents knew his intention was to become first minister, which it said is his priority", is insulting to his constituents and a cack-handed indication that he doesn't intend to return to Westminster, despite drawing a salary.

No wonder the public despise politicians.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A lifestyle

Langass Lodge, North UistThis morning found me sitting in the beautiful surroundings of Langass Lodge, in North Uist.

I had an early start, and then a quick drive to Leverburgh, before catching the ferry to North Uist. After a 6am alarm call, I was in the much more relaxing surroundings of the hotel by 10am.

As I sat there reviewing the paperwork, I looked up and out of the window and only 10 meters away watched a wild pheasant feed in the lawns.

Last time we were there, the same was happening, with half-a-dozen grouse watching the guests having a pre-dinner drink. And the guests watching the pheasant, thinking about having one for dinner.

A mad rush round the islands, and discussions on two alternative energy schemes later and I'm back home for tea.
Pheasant lunchDinner/Guest

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Loss of the constituency

The Boundary Commission for Scotland is to review all the constituency boundaries to make sure that the MSPs represent similar size constituencies.

"The review of constituencies will cover the 70 mainland constituencies and the Western Isles constituency. The Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands are excluded from the constituency review by the terms of the 2004 Act."

Constituency sizes are expected to be 54,500, it looks like we will be amalgamated into a bigger mainland ward.

Update 17:45 - Population of the Western Isles: 26,350. Population of Orkney: 20,000. Population of Shetland: 22,000. Electorate Western Isles: 21,873. Electorate Orkney & Shetland: 33,397.

Orkney and Shetland split up as constituencies to become small enough not to be 'reorganised'. Perhaps we need Uist & Barra to demand a separate constituency from Lewis & Harris.

Given the 'fabulous' job that was done on the Council wards, anyone who believes they can do better, can apply here for the job. It might prove to be a more secure employment than that of MSP.

Private Equity

As I have previously mentioned, the real 'crime' here is the ability to turn income into capital and hence pay 10% tax rather than 40%.

A very clear and lucid explanation by the BBC on the state of affairs at the AA shows the scale of the problem; one created by a Mr G Brown, formerly of the Treasury.

The AA makes a profit of £252m last year and pays £223m in interest which is tax deductible. This interest goes offshore - to the investors? - where it is not taxed, and meantime the shares in the AA and Saga have generated a gain of £2,500,000,000 for the investors. Tax Free.

That's a tax loss of between £800,000,000 and £1,000,000,000 on those deals alone, all because Gordon Brown didn't think through the changes.

With Benefit Fraud running at £1.5bn it kind of puts it in persepective, and you have to wonder why all the resources are being pumped into fiding the little guys...
I look forward to similar campaigns to target the fat-cats.

Pairc windfarm

The RSPB and MWT have both severely criticised the proposed windfarm development at Pairc on a number of grounds.

Nothing new there, you might think, and right you are too.

Despite both organisations claiming to support windfarms in principle, neither have provided a single constructive contribution to the debate over the location of any developments
in the Western Isles, preferring to object to virtually every development, and failing to get involved in community schemes.

However, in this application I think that they might be correct in one aspect of their concerns. I have serious reservations over the cumulative impact of the three large scale proposals on the islands.

Now, this doesn't mean that I object to the proposals, per se, just that I think that the three together may be too much. If either of the others is refused or seriously amended then I might change my view, but at present I am swithering.

It is incumbent upon the new Government to quickly come to decisions upon each of the applications in front of them. It is only right that cumulative impact be considered in coming to each of the decisions (and I would be astonished were it not), along with all the other factors.

There are three applications for the islands sitting on the Ministers desk: Beinn Mhor Power, Lewis Wind Power and the community scheme for three turbines at Ardhasaig for the North Harris Trust.

These three have significant community benefit implications for the islands, but the Pairc scheme does not, and is the subject of a hostile community buy-out which the landowner has tried to prevent through the clever use of interposed leases. He hopes this will keep the profits in his pocket, even if the buy-out goes ahead. It may not be a planning consideration, but it is a factor which I hope the Comhairle will consider.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Wormery update

The wormery went double-decker this weekend. As the food waste is turned into soil improver, and lower tray fills up. After a while the tray reaches full and a new one is inserted, into which the waste is dropped.

Each tray has holes in the bottom to allow the worms to migrate up and down - did you expect stairs or a lift? - and hopefully they will finish level one and move up gradually to level two. In another six weeks or so, level three goes on.

Six weeks after that, the bottom tray is compost for use directly in the garden, and there should be a some liquid fertilizer in the very bottom where a tap allows me to harvest the highly concentrated worm output (for want of a better word).

Dinner for worms
The roof garden is in place, and no planning permission required. The little crawlers are busy breeding furiously, I hope, and will need expansion space for the new thousand additions to their family.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Welcome to Stornoway

Museum nan Eilean - just beside my house - is a place I visit too infrequently. Like most residents of Stornoway, the 'tourist attractions' are passed by every day without am second thought.

The museum has a huge range of artefacts from the islands, showing the heritage and archaeology that we take for granted. It as recently held exhibitions on paintings of Lewis with some pictures released from the National Museum of Scotland; and another exhibition tries to explain to visitors what local life was really like.

All of this is perfectly timed with Time Team working in Barra in a programme to be shown later in the year. The recent discovery of a souterrain in North Uist helps to open an new marketing opportunity for the islands, by attracting another segment of the tourism market.

Next week is the Hebridean Celtic Festival and with schools breaking up and the tourist season really starting, which genius thought of this ........Museum nan Eilean closed

FoT becomes FoG

I hadn't posted about the new Cabinet Team, mainly as I was finding it difficult to find any rationale in the big picture.

Then it struck me, Gordon Brown is trying to hard by attempting to bring in outsiders to show his 'inclusiveness' and 'how different he is' from he ol'whatshisname, Toby Blur, who used to occupy the job.

The 'outsiders' are - by and large - the ultimate insiders in every context except active party politics, and what we have is Friends of Gordon replacing Friends of Tony, and boy, the two circles barely overlap.

It's not even first team and second team (or vice versa) but more like Peoples Front for the Liberation of Judea vs the Popular Front for the Liberation of Judea, or even two ferrets having a quick barney in a sack.

If here is an up-side, then we now have a Chancellor who is Lewis through and through*. Is that a good thing, and will it have any benefit for the islands? Only time will tell, but watch out for the security men in the Timsgarry shop.

Timsgarry Shop
* This detail seem to have disappeared from the web, probably for security reasons. I have met him on the Harris ferry, which he preferred to going via Ullapool.