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

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The weather

Mustn't grumble, compared to the BBC forecast for Aviemore this week.

Thanks to The Register.

Declaration of interest

Having reread the disgustingly fawning press release newspaper report on the front page of the Stornoway Greysheet from last week about how MacNeil and Allan had single-handedly saved the fishing industry, I had to throw the paper away in disgust.

The debate about just how much the local fishermen have been sold out to benefit the east-coast boats is for another day, the issue that angered me is that I believe that the author of the report has a financial interest in the story......

The SNP bought their offices apparently with three guarantors for the mortgage of up to £50,000. The mortgage is presumably paid by the rent charged to MacNeil and Allan, and this will become clear when their expenses are finally published. Of course, that is our public money that is being used.

One of the guarantors is the Chair of the local SNP, who happens to be married to the self-same journalist who writes nice things about the SNP. Of course, should MacNeil and Allan lose their seat, then the guarantors (and their spouses) would be potentially liable for the shortfall on the mortgage.

Can anyone see the conflict of interest here? Calling Johnston Press.... calling Johnston Press.

If this isn't a matter for the Press Complaints Commission or the NUJ, then at least the publishers should stop letting Donnie MacInnes place himself in such a compromising position. Not that I'm holding my breath.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


In light of events in Uist, I have suspended the previous post on Storas.

Ministry of Censorship

Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham (who???), has floated the idea of some kind of ratings scheme for the web to avoid children being exposed to 'harmful and offensive content'.

Andy Burnham MPAn MP has a thought........

Obviously, you have to have your brain removed to become Culture Secretary, and be prepared to pander to the lowest common denominator in the hope of engendering some good headlines, whilst proposing something that is unworkable.

The way try to stop children being exposed to 'harmful and offensive content' is for parents to be involved with their children and to put access controls onto the computer.

Anything else is bollocks.

Oops, there is some 'harmful and offensive content', but as this blog is hosted in the USA, I don't see why (or how) any UK rating control could be applied, and the support of the Americans - who hold dear this 'free speech' idea - seems unlikely in the extreme.

Next: just who is going to review and rate the web sites? It would take a lifetime to review and rate a fraction of the existing UK web pages, and assuming that every change will need to be reviewed - in case I link this web address to Al-Queda and my PG rating should change to 18.

Even my work website will have to be checked, just in case I surreptitiously create a dodgy sub domain involving dwarves, lycra-clad elephants and mud-wrestling: even if I am actually just correcting a typo.

So it is unworkable. Unless, the plan is to block access to all websites that haven't been approved. So even if I move to a web host in Ukraine, they Government can ensure that you cannot see it.

And perhaps that is the ultimate plan. Unless I submit to vetting, you won't be able to read "Andy Burham MP is a tosser".

It works in China. Which is a hell of a worrying example to aim to replicate.

Personally, I find the BNP website full of 'harmful and offensive content' that I would not want my children to see until they are intellectually developed enough to understand the politics of these views* but, like Voltaire, I will defend their right to say what they want.

It is hugely depressing to see an imbecile in charge of the internet in the UK, and I predict that the US will tell him where to stick his ratings idea.

* insert own joke here about the IQ of 12 year-olds and the IQ of the entire BNP membership

Monday, December 22, 2008

The project rolls on and on, and remains a source of some contention.

It is therefore quite amusing to obtain a copy of some recent "In confidence" minutes, which includes the classic line (page 2) to justify £1m plus of further expenditure.....
Maintaining the roll-out of Infill infrastructure and services to meet customer
demand and reduce reputational risks for HIE
Perhaps someone somewhere has the information to allow us to do the sums as to just how much it has cost so far. I fear that the number is so large as to be unbelievable......

What HIE should be worried about it not 'reputational risk' i.e looking like an arse, but quality and cost-effectiveness of the service delivered. That their priority is elsewhere speaks volumes.


Rousing from my sickbed at the weekend, I was delighted to see job adverts for the Greenspace research project at Lews Castle College.

Those of us who were involved in the Renewable Energy Zone concept always hoped that we would be able to create enough of a momentum through developing a number of options, that some (or even better, many) of the alternatives would come to fruition.

With wind seeming to have hit the buffers and wave starting to take shape, it is also very gratifying to see hydrogen growing in significance, and providing new jobs.

And that is the most important part, as far as I am concerned.

For too often we have exported highly intelligent school-leavers who go away and get a degree in a high-skill area, and who know that they will never in their wildest dreams find a suitable position back in the islands.
You will have a PhD in physics, engineering or a related discipline and have a strong and growing reputation in energy and built environment research. Extensive experience of advanced simulation tools such as Trnsys and Fluent is highly desirable.
You will be responsible for development and visualisation of computational fluid dynamic solutions of thermodynamic equations with emphasis on wind, fluid and solar modelling. You will have a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics, Physics or related engineering or science discipline, a deep knowledge of numerical analysis, scientific computing, and nonlinear systems and knowledge of numerical methods.
The ability to create an infrastructure that can support jobs of this calibre creates a fantastic opportunity to build a permanent skills base in the islands. Inevitably, some of the people will in turn spin out other businesses, and that can only be a huge positive for the islands.

Congratulations and kudos to the College and everyone involved in this project, and I am sure that we are all looking forward to the next stages and the results of your labours.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

24 hour shopping

Late night shopping StornowayYes, 24 hour shopping is hitting Stornoway.

The new Tesco has announced that it will be open non-stop from 8am on Monday until 6pm on Wednesday coming, and it looks like the same again the following week.

Booze, of course, cannot be sold before 8:30am or after 10:55pm, so if - like local beautician Mary MacLeod (right) - you have been thrown out of the Clachan or Lewis, and your taxi to the party at whoever's house is delayed, don't bother trying to pick up a newspaper and a half-dozen Irn-Bru Wkd.

I might wander down just to take some photos of the 3am rush on wholemeal pitta bread, just for posterity.

Of course, I might end up there if there is a nappy emergency one night.

How can the local shops compete.....

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Woolie's Summit

I understand that our esteemed MP has spoken to Jim Mather, and persuaded him by force of argument and dialectic skill, to think about attending a Woolies Summit to discuss the inability of the people of Lewis, Harris and the Uists to purchase Pick'n'mix and tartan Loch Ness Monsters bearing the message "Ceud Mile Failt from Stornaway".
Speaking about the Woolworth closures, Western Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil said: "I have what is believed to be the most profitable Woolworths in the country, in Stornoway in Lewis. The store I understand made over a million-pound profit last year. This news comes as a devastating blow to the island as well as the wider community.
Ignoring the appalling syntax, there is now a fantastic opportunity for a local businessman (or woman) to come in and generate £1m profit to be kept on the island rather than shipped away. Or does MacNeil prefer us to rely on others, rather than actually support local people achieving something?
"This is Labour's mishandling of the UK economy literally coming home to roost. I hope the government does not sit idly by but takes an active roll in trying to find a solution to keep Woolworth on our streets," he added.
Is the "active roll" available in brown or white?

What utter shite!

If the company is failing, why should taxpayers support it? Why does MacNeil not see this as an opportunity to replace a shop full of tat and shoplifting teenagers, with a shop that ploughs the profits back into the local community? What is this culture of dependency that politicians seem to like to create?

It must be a sickener for the staff to know that they are to be made redundant soon, but does anyone have any job security these days (apart from civil servants)?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lighthouse Caledonia (the end?)

According to Reuters....

The board of Norwegian salmon farming company Lighthouse Caledonia ASA froze payments to creditors due to constrained liquidity and asked for its shares to be suspended on the Oslo bourse on Tuesday.

The company, whose main operations are in Scotland, went through a restructuring phase in 2008.

"A recent reduction in credit terms from one key supplier -- with credit time being reduced from 90 to 30 days -- caused by the unresolved long-term financing of the company, has resulted in a constrained liquidity situation," it said in a statement.

Lighthouse Caledonia said it would maintain a close dialogue with lenders, owners, potential investors and its main suppliers to seek to resolve the situation.

At the company's request, the Oslo stock exchange suspended its shares until further notice.

Monday, December 15, 2008

'Salmon summit'

A press release comes from the Men of Inaction (c) announcing that they had done something about salmon. But only after the Lighthouse Caledonia factory has closed and the jobs have gone, and the ability to have some leverage over the company has disappeared.

Never mind, it keeps the quota of pointless press releases up....
Angus MacNeil said: “At the meeting I suggested to Mr Mather that a “Salmon Summit” involving all those with an interest or influence over Salmon production and processing in the islands should be brought together to brainstorm on the way forward for the industry.
Does the chocolate teapot not think that a better time to discuss this would have been BEFORE production at Marybank ceased? Has he discussed this with the Comhairle? (Answer: No. Not even with the Vice-Chair of Development, SNP Cllr Annie, which says a lot).
Alasdair Allan said: “The situation with Lighthouse Caledonia indicates the urgency of reviewing the Salmon sector in the islands. We have to keep processing jobs here and not have them exported from the Western Isles. The salmon sector in the islands is too important and now is time for government and industry to come together to achieve a more secure future.”
Having returned from a freebie in Canada when he should have been meeting the workers, Tintin senses the urgency of the situation ie. that he is going to lose his seat, and decides to make vague and frighteningly modest calls for action.

Why no meeting with the Minister BEFORE we lost the jobs? Just where did this meeting take place, when and how long did it last? Fifteen minutes on Monday morning is my guess.

Now of course, they could have offered to do something, anything, or tried to arrange the summit and go to the meeting to persuade the Minister to bring the Government to the table, but instead of which the only hint of action occurs after the event, and they both seek to get others to do the hard work for them.

And their responsibility is to represent the islands! Actually, there are a lot of people here who are prepared to work hard to create and secure jobs; who know who to speak to and how to negotiate with the industries; and who are prepared to do all this promptly, not after it is too late. These two have alienated and ignored almost everyone in those categories, with the consequence that the economy is in a tailspin and unemployment is going through the roof.

300,000 page views


That's about 200,000 in the past year.

Many thanks to all my readers, and I promise to continue to harass, praise and insult for the foreseeable future.

(thanks to anon for pointing out the typo)

Islands Energy strategy

According to Hebrides News, the islands energy strategy appears to be in tatters, after the omission of two major projects from the National Planning Priority list.

With the long awaited, long delayed, and probably pointless Renewable Energy for the Islands policy document due to be released by the Government at some time soonish, just how will this fit in to the NPP?

Answer: it won't. There is no co-ordination between the different arms of policy, with a desperate attempt to be all things to all men.

The Stornoway "Energy Portal" is a much needed relocation of some of the infrastructure from the centre of town to Arnish, and would see the gas and oil tanks, cement and coal deliveries, and other heavy/dirty supplies coming in at a much more appropriate location. Subject, of course, to road and infrastructure proposals; and whilst that is happening, it would make sense to upgrade the entire harbour environment to provide a base for supply vessels off the west coast.

It would have been good to be able to piggy-back one on the other, but the omission strongly suggests that either Sullom Voe will remain pre-eminent, or supply vessels will be based at a mainland port (Oban, in the constituency of the Enterprise Minister, perhaps?), and either way we will get the crumbs, if oil or gas are found.

The export of electricity from the islands is not a priority from the Government, suggesting that we can forget about the proposals for onshore wind. Which in consequence makes the development of wave and tidal power more difficult and more expensive; and hence more unlikely.

The upgrading of the national sub-sea cable holds a bit of a hope for the future, but otherwise it seems that local regeneration - as far as the Government is concerned - involves telling us what we can't do, and removing opportunities.

If this is the case, then we desperately need some more ideas to augment or replace a policy that Government seem fundamentally opposed to, and we need it soon. And as a community, we need to be behind it; or see the further decline and depopulation of the islands.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Scalpay Factory

Scalpay factory StoltIn the general joy and glad surrounding the proposed reopening of the Scalpay factory as a net washing station, I was reminiscing about my involvement in the planning process.

I recollect a long, lovely, warm day spent sitting working hard as Chairman for half an hour across the water from the factory, with the Council Officers measuring the noise, after a complaint.

It was just possible to hear the factory over the noise of running water from a nearby stream beside the objectors house, but rarely have I had such a peaceful, lazy piece of official business.

Which got me thinking about the Planning Permission for the factory, which occurred during a meeting which I Chaired.

Unless I missed a change of use application, the factory hasn't got permission to be used as a net washing station. A major part of such an application would be the discharges from the factory, and from past experience, I know that SEPA will not be quick to come to a decision and will want to see some tight conditions on this site, before issuing a Discharge Consent, which is a pre-requisite for operating.

But a bigger concern, and one that the Council was focussed upon, was the possibility for transmission of diseases into the Western Isles salmon stock. There are obvious cross-contamination issues if nets are being moved between the mainland and Scalpay, and I hope that these will be fully addressed whenever permission is discussed.

Finally, Scalpay residents might want to consider the potential for noise and smell pollution highlighted when the same company were refused permission for a similar facility in Stromeferry.

Don't hold your breath for this plan to go ahead.

Caption contest

Cllr Angus Campbell, Jackie Bird & someone else
Councillor Angus Campbell, Leader of the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), Angus Campbell has worked tirelessly to promote the Outer Hebrides as a location for renewable energy production from wind, wave and tidal sources. Angus has been at the forefront of efforts to bring green jobs and investment to the islands which face higher than average unemployment and projections of a steep population decline over the next two decades. He has demonstrated leadership and vision and has been an effective advocate for the industry at all levels.

Fishing licences

In September I wrote about a fisherman finding he was not able to sell his licence to an English buyer due to new restrictions that were sneaked out.

I know - through a client - that this matter was raised with the MP and MSP, but that the fisherman concerned have not received an answer some three months later.

Indeed, one person who sought clarification over what were the 'special circumstances' to permit a sale, was told by officials in the Executive to lie about the date that the deal was done, so that it was before the restrictions came into force!

Now the debate reaches Parliament today, and our MP has spoken:
Western Isles SNP MP Angus MacNeil said: “Labour MPs may believe in the discredited free market for quota trading. The SNP, however, is more worried about people and communities and is looking for ways to ensure a future, not just for this generation but future generations of Scottish fishermen.”
I know of a fisherman who wants to sell his boat and quota to a buyer in England and buy a bigger boat and more quota from another seller outside Scotland, but finds that the opportunity to grow his business is being prevented by a regulation imposed by those who have never worked for a living.

This fisherman's future is not being protected; in fact it is being undermined by the restrictions. But let's not let the facts get in the way of a party political barney.

SNP Windfarm policy

Anyone know just what the SNP policy on wind farms is???

The MP and MSP opposed all wind farms and then grudgingly supported community schemes.

The SNP Government are highly supportive of wind power, and trumpet every new windfarm.

The (past and present) SNP Councillors on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar support wind farms, as the statement from Cllr Annie makes clear....
“We in the SNP Group are convinced that there is a massive future for the Outer Hebrides in the development of the renewables industry and also optimistic that the Scottish Government shares that positive vision for the Islands.”
Either the MP and MSP are out of step with everyone else, or Annie is sticking up two fingers at them.

The SNP seem to be completely lost when it comes to forming a coherent policy on renewables.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Crocodile tears

As the Council meets this week to discuss the cuts the various committee will have to implement, and funny and scurrilous, tale is reported to me by one observer of the last series of Council Meetings.

One Councillor made an emotional appeal to protect a certain service area, that was again overspent. His read his 'spontaneous' speech from a page that he had laminated ahead of the meeting.

His colleagues opined that it was laminated so that his staged crocodile tears wouldn't smudge the text.

One Councillor who listened to the speech was appalled at the content, which he said was vacuous, over the top, and offered problems not solutions, and probably caused the majority of the other Councillors to support cuts in that service.

The laminated page, he said, was necessary, as the contents of the speech made the others want to puke.

Future power generation

The game is a bogey, and has been for some time.Electricity

The future of energy generation was deliberately and strategically screwed by Tony Blair when he delayed and decision over power generation sources until such time as there were no options.

It is a classic politicians trick to close off the options that you don't like, to favour the one you do like, by ensuring that circumstances are changed to meet your preferences.

The report by SCDI makes it clear that nuclear power must be considered if security of power generation is to be ensured. Much as I oppose nuclear power, I am pragmatic enough to know that the failure to address the security of energy supply early enough has resulted in this option coming very close to being essential.

Close to essential. We still have time to avoid having to resort to nuclear, but that window is closing rapidly, and action and decisions need to be taken quickly.

To bridge the gap, an 'unprecedented' investment in renewables - onshore wind - is required with 450mw of new wind power need every year.

The attempt to find viable alternative renewable sources - wave and tidal - seems half-hearted at best, leaving the Government with the choice of onshore wind or nuclear. And I am with them in saying that nuclear must not be an option, if at all possible.

The Government is faced with two difficult choices, being both anti-onshore-wind (exceVan de Graff Generatorpt in some else's constituency) and anti-nuclear, so I see prevarication, warm words, and sweeping generalisations, followed by kicking the decisions into the long grass until after the next election.

We could, of course, all use less electricity but the chances of that happening are slim to negligible, meaning that without decisive action the power crunch is going to come in the next 20 years or so, leaving us with few options.

How long will a stockpile of peat last?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Fr Angus

A Councillor recently saw me in his rear view mirror, parked behind him awaiting the ferry, and though I was the new parish priest.

I've been called many things, but this was new one on me.......

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Bloggers block

aka digital constipation.

I made a rod for my own back by writing the words "in my next post", as I suddenly suffered from an inability to actually write the next post.

Blogging regularly and attracting the attention of the world is not easy, especially when I also work, have a family, and try to have a life beyond work and the blog.

I drafted the post, and was unsatisfied with it; rewrote it and was unsatisfied. Put it aside, rewrote it and as still unsatisfied. Wrote a completely new post, and didn't like it.

By this point, I knew I as missing other matters I wanted to comment upon, but or the first time ever I couldn't get a post I need to make to make sense.

So I took a break of a couple of days, got the new office website officially up and running, and partially rewritten, and although it is not perfect, it is nearly there. Concentrated on getting it registered with the search engines - I have got a fairly good record in getting all our websites very high up Google, and this week saw the new sites jump up the listings, which has had a beneficial knock-on effect on business.

For various (commercially confidential) reasons we have developed a (confidential) professional specialism that is attracting a lot of new clients from all across the UK, and which clearly demonstrates that a good website and a good Google ranking is a way of generating a lot of business. And that our location is an advantage, not a hindrance.

Back to the blog today, and I looked at my various drafts, and realised that version 3, written on Wednesday, needed one small tweak and it was ready. Made the adjustment, posted the blog, and away we go. Back to normal.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Congratulations to the Vice-Convener

It was with great pleasure that I heard that Angus Campbell, the Comhairle Vice-Convener was awarded the title of "Best Politician" at the Scottish Renewable Energy Awards last night.

There is no doubt that Angus works incredibly hard for the Western Isles - anyone who doubts that should look and see just how often his vehicle is parked at the Council Offices - and his commitment to renewable energy is not in doubt.

Having worked with Angus, I know that this honour is absolutely and totally deserved, and it is just a pity that some other politicians still treat the Comhairle as a nuisance to be avoided and ignored, rather than to be worked with.

Angus Campbell
The winner

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The declining island economy

On reading the press release from Alasdair Allan MSP I was very angry; then I laughed at the imbecility of it ; then I just got depressed at the lack of vision and understanding.

The closure of LHC is such a major issue, that Mr Allan announces, that
"Along with my colleague Angus MacNeil MP we will now be seeking an urgent meeting with the Enterprise Minister, Jim Mather MSP, to seek ways forward for the islands economy."
We also need to look at the fact that the motion in the Scottish Parliament in September 2008 was supposed to raise the profile of the issue, but that one of key parties has totally ignored their responsibilities.
S3M-2604 Alasdair Allan: Lighthouse Caledonia—That the Parliament expresses its serious concern at the news that Lighthouse Caledonia, one of the biggest private employers in the Western Isles, is to consider the future of its fish processing and related business within the Isles, potentially with an impact on over 100 jobs, and believes it is now imperative for the Parliament, the Scottish Government and its agencies, the local authority, the workforce and the company itself to work tirelessly together to ensure that this essential business stays in the Western Isles.
I refer, of course, to the Government, who have been conspicuous by their absence. Perhaps someone can do an FoI request to find out if the Government were even asked to be involved, and what questions were asked of Mr Mather, and what responses he gave?
"I am also going to raise a question at First ministers (sic) questions as to what can now be done to boost the island economy. This is a big blow to the economy of the Western Isles."
Wow! That will have them shaking in their shoes. Asking a soft question to get bland answers is not a substitute for action.

With the Harris Tweed industry scrabbling around for £350k to fund a scheme to keep weavers active (another issue in which the Government have been asked to take action by our MP and MSP, and where they have been invisible) the Depression and unemploymentlikely answers are all to clear. And depressing

Having chased away the biggest single private sector investment ever proposed for the islands - I refer of course to large scale windfarms - it is difficult to envisage the civil servants or the Minister now listening to pleas about disinvestment and economic hardship.

Now, I know that there are some people out there who oppose windfarms, but I already gave a simple solution. If the moor is that important, then our MP and MSP should have been arguing that refusal of planning permission for LWP should have been matched by a Government fund to allow us to protect the environment in the islands - moor, birds and humans - which would have given us the pot from which to provide an economic buffer.

But, unable to see beyond the knee-jerk opposition, instead of trying to get the best deal for the islands, the MP and MSP campaigned so that the intrinsic value of the moor was given away, development precluded, and the islanders are left with fewer ways to generate income. And they call that success.

Now HIE and the Comhairle have called for large scale windfarms to be approved on the island without delay, as being the only way to regenerate the economy.

I disagree. Yes, disagree. (Sharp intake of breath all around!)

At the moment, the economy is too fragile to become overly dependent on only one source of employment, and for us to be at the mercy of one oligopoly or developers. What we need is solutions that will develop the economy in a number of areas, across various sectors, professions and trade, so that we have diversification not consolidation.

Large wind farms are PART of the answer, and can aid the diversification, but the lead time is too long, and we need working solutions in the next few months.

If the local economy is to survive this downturn, and come out of it stronger, we need to find way to develop and encourage the local economy (and that means the private sector) to diversify an ultimately it will require massive targeted capital expenditure programmes to retain the skills.

Sadly, all the Comhairle capital expenditure is going on the new schools project.

Equally sadly, I cannot see either our MP or MSP actively engaging the Government and lobbying for their constituents.

I predict - for the umpteenth time - that the economic and community benefit strategy that is due to come from the Government is going to be vague, filled with generalisations and niceties, and deliver nothing for the islands. Except possibly the Eishken windfarm, which would be a major embarassment for our MP and MSP.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Lighthouse Caledonia - the post-mortem

Lighthouse CaledoniaThe sad closure of the Lighthouse Caledonia salmon processing factory comes as no surprise to anyone who has been looking at the problem objectively. With two exceptions.

The real story has eventually come out, as I knew it would, and I have been sitting on some papers that put the lie to the public story. I didn't want to release them until now, in case I was blamed for the company pulling out by those who sought to throw accuse others.

The original story – remember that? – was that the factory needed a major upgrade to meet health & hygiene requirements to the customers satisfaction, and that major investment was (unexpectedly) required to fund this, but that Marybank was not (now) a suitable site for this to happen on.

That had the stink of unmitigated bollocks; but it hooked the naive who didn't question management or the rational of the supposed 'problem', and went off on a wild goose chase, raising expectations of public money, new factories and a 'rescue'

The internal papers I found all showed that hygiene was not an issue at the Lewis factory, indeed the talk was all about the success of the factory. Some of the other recent finance papers are here and here, and tell the same tale.

Now, the reason for closure is supposedly that the company needed to make cuts to generate cash, save money and meet its banking covenants. The need to urgently generate £12m in cash is supposedly the driver for the closure, but how closing a profitable factory will generate that amount of cash in a few months is unclear, especially since the factory does not appear to be for sale.

They are still peddling misinformation.

The whole philosophy has been to cut costs by centralising the value added packing of the salmon in Argyll. We are left with the low value jobs and Jim Mather MSP gets the high-value jobs in his constituency.

Does this explain why Enterprise Minister Jim Mather has been conspicuous by his absence? And why our MP and MSP have had no substantive response to the letters they claim to have written?

It has been said before on this blog by others, and I will say it again, it looks like MacNeil and Allan were told by Jim Mather that they factory wouldn't be saved, so not to bother rocking the boat too much.

The prospect of new tenants for Marybank or a new factory in Arnish (to compete with Scalpay??) is as implausible as it is impractical, and what we have seen is another key industry sector pulled from under us.

All of which takes me to my next post.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

VAT cuts

Are retailers actually going to implement the cuts in VAT?

If my highly subjective survey of businesses is anything to go by, then probably not completely.

Have you got your works Christmas menu yet? Do you think the menu prices will drop by 2.13% (from £117.50 to £115.00)?

If you work in a shop, are you going to reprice your entire stock before Monday?

If your costs (petrol etc. etc.) have all gone up and been absorbed by you, are you going to take the extra profit and cut some of your losses, or give a discount that no-one notices?

Some items are going to be cut, but don't expect everything to change.

The Budget - a considered response

I've read the report of the Budget in a quality newspaper ("The Telegraph" - more of which anon) and finally managed to download some of the supporting detail required to understand just what is going on.

OK make that, some of the supporting detail required to make you think you understand just what is going on.

It is all utterly Political - yes a capital "P" - and superficial and the tax impacts are minimal for the average family. Just how the 'average' family will be encouraged to spend by a tiny, little, increase in weekly income when they are drowning in debt is beyond me.

The impact of the fiscal framework decisions - the macro-economic decisions behind the micro-economic farting about - meets with the approval of the financial markets, only because the policy is to release as much money into the economy as quickly as possible, meaning that some firms will be kept afloat by the inevitable flow of money (however irresponsible) into failing enterprises. Of course, the long-term prognosis is bad, as the decrease in the rating of the UK debt shows - it has become more expensive for the UK Government to borrow in the markets.

As a Labour Party tool it has been very effective, and heightens the probability of there being a May election from 'possible' to 'highly likely, all other things being equal'.

So how does this play with the winners and losers?

Earning £150,000 plus per annum will cost the taxpayer about £1,200 per annum in additional taxes from 2010. According to The Telegraph, this will be enough to persuade a high-earning young couple to give up their jobs and move to New Zealand. Bollocks.

The top 1% of earners will not walk away because of tax changes - they might if the underlying economy is knackered - because they cannot find jobs that are quite as well paid anywhere else.

The direct tax changes are largely symbolic, and not enough for the largest earners to create new tax avoidance schemes, so they should give a yield around the figures forecast, and A Good Thing too.

However, petrol duty has gone up to compensate for the temporary decrease in VAT, meaning that apart from the impact on motorists, the fishermen and bus operators will have new rates of duty applied, meaning that they will be out of pocket for more, for longer.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bus contracts

The Comhairle bus contacts and the operation of the bus DSO has always been a major source of controversy over the losses incurred (p48), and the management of the service.

This week the DSO has been handed the contracts that it currently holds, without competitive tendering, whilst all the other routes have gone out for competitive tendering on the 'normal' basis.

At least 'normal' as I use the word. It appears to have a different meaning for other people.

The authority to avoid the tendering process was apparently approved directly by the Chief Executive, who believes that these particular tenders do not need to go out for competitive bids.

One bus operator* has told me that he was informed by an officer in the Comhairle that this course of action had been approved by Audit Scotland. As any fule kno, Audit Scotland review decisions after the event, and not in advance, so this would appear to be a strange (one might suggest 'dissembling') response.

But more than that, the Councillors were advised of the matter only after the event, and without any possibility of discussing the matter. Let me make that clear - as far as I know the vast majority of Councillors knew nothing until after the event. Can any Councillor confirm just exactly who took the decisions and approved this course of action?

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the decision, and if someone can send me the papers to allow me to understand the rights and wrongs - the Comhairle have nothing to hide, do they? - the perception is that the routes have been cherry-picked using the information from previous operators and public subsidy from HiTrans to stifle private enterprise.

One look at the 2007 Key Tasks of the Comhairle can only cause bus operators to choke "Re-tender all bus contracts within appropriate timescale".

"Appropriate" adj. not when inappropriate
"Timescale" n. never

* Clients of the firm run bus services, but (afaik) none are affected by this decision.

Bus na ComhairleThe 2305 to Point departs from the Crit.

The Budget

Alasdair Darling - leakier than a sieveI am hearing bits and pieces of the Budget as I drive between meetings with clients, although the substance of the announcements seem to have been comprehensively leaked to all and sundry over the weekend.

All week I have been telling people to ignore the headlines and seek the hidden elements before coming to a conclusion bout the Budget being good, bad or indifferent.

I am not taking my own advice, and I am making my (initial) judgements based on the headlines.

Reaction 1: As a country, just how deep in the shit are we that we need an emergency Budget rather than a pre-Budget Report?

Reaction 2: Given how bad it is, why are so many of the decisions having delayed implementation until 2010, 2011 or later? (Answer: party politics)

Reaction 3: The entire Budget is a series of political sops, with the 45% band for the highest paid being a supposed socialist, redistributionist policy as a flag to the Old Labour supporters and as a way of trying to trap the Tories.

Reaction 4: The option of cutting and running in May 2009 is being left wide, wide open, before the shit hits the fan and then the tax increases can be approved by the electorate.

Reaction 5: The headline policies are all waffle and insubstantial - the real substance is hidden in the detail. I need to read tomorrows papers and the full detail before coming to any conclusion.

Summary: Typical Brown micro-managing of the economy by proxy (starring A Darling as the fall-guy) with lots of tiny, complex and contradictory changes that will do wonders for the accountancy profession and almost nothing for the taxpayers.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

BNP Membership list

I finally found the document that the blogsphere is laughing at, and did a search of what is claimed to be the membership list, to find our local Nazis supporters of an extreme right-wing party with a tendency to physically assault opponents; and whose main obsession is with race and religion, seemingly regardless of any rational or logical thought processes, which they seem to lack:

13 Melbost
Isle of Lewis
IT specialist. Keen to help with leaflet design/websites etc.

30 Cnoc-Na-Faire
Port Ellen
Isle of Islay
PA42 7BU
01496 302xxx

30 Borve
Isle of Skye
IV51 9PE
07766 795xxx
Change of address 07/03/06

28 Liveras Park
Isle of Skye
IV49 9AW
04718 226xx

8 Liveras Park
Isle of Skye
IV49 9AW
01471 820xxx
Activist. Change of address 5/2/07

and an ex-pat Rudhach

Kenneth A.
2 Wilson's Building
260 Main Street
01324 555xxx
07077 820xxx
Activist. Change of address 17/1/07 & 23/5/07

(Updated 20/11: Textual changes to clarify the status of the list and some of the protestations of those who claim to be named in it.)

Epic fail

Thanks to The Register for this classic tale of how technology can catch you out....

From: Niresh Regmi
Sent: Wednesday, 27 August 2008 9:35 a.m.
To: Kyle Doyle
Subject: Absence on Thursday 21st 2008

Hi Kyle,
Please provide a medical certificate stating a valid reason for your sick leave on Thursday 21st 2008.
Thank You

Real Time Manager, Workforce Operations

From: Kyle Doyle
Sent: Wednesday, 27 August 2008 9:38 a.m.
To: Niresh Regmi
Subject: RE: Absence on Thursday 21st 2008

1 day leave absences do not require a medical certificate as stated in my contract, provided I have stated that I am on leave for medical reasons.

Kyle Doyle
Resolutions Expert - Technical

From: Niresh Regmi
Sent: Wednesday, 27 August 2008 9:39 a.m.
To: Kyle Doyle
Subject: RE: Absence on Thursday 21st 2008

Hi Kyle,
Usually that is the case, as per your contract. However please note that leave during these occasions is only granted for genuine medical reasons. You line manager has determined that your leave was not due to medical reasons and as such we cannot grant leave on this occasion.


From: Kyle Doyle
Sent: Wednesday, 27 August 2008 9:43 a.m.
To: Niresh Regmi
Subject: RE: Absence on Thursday 21st 2008

Hi Niresh,
My leave was due to medical reasons, so you cannot deny leave based on a line manager's discretion, with no proof, please process leave as requested.

Kyle Doyle

From: Niresh Regmi
Sent: Wednesday, 27 August 2008 9:50 a.m.
To: Kyle Doyle
Subject: RE: Absence on Thursday 21st 2008

Hi Kyle,
I believe the proof that you are after is below

Kyle Doyle' Facebook page declaring: Kyle Doyle is not going to work, f... it -- I'm still trashed. SICKIE WOO!

From: Kyle Doyle
Sent: Wednesday, 27 August 2008 9:55 a.m.
To: Niresh Regmi
Subject: RE: Absence on Thursday 21st 2008

HAHAHA LMAO epic fail
No worries man

Kyle Doyle

It's the economy, stupid

Interest ratesSo the decision to cut interest rates from 4.5% t0 3% was a unanimous one by the Bank of England.

The startling piece of information was that the Committee considered larger cuts, but discounted that option as it might shock the markets too much.

Frankly, I don't think the market can be shocked by anything at the moment, as the FTSE is here there and everywhere on a daily basis.

All this suggests that further - significant - cuts are imminent and that the full extent of the economic problem has not been made public (although I think we can all guess). But the Bank are only going to (try to) solve the problem slowly.

Not only is that unsatisfactory, but the driver seems to be keeping inflation within the proscribed parameters, rather than jobs, economic growth or a million and one other factors.

Indeed, interest rates will not come down as quickly and as far as they should because the Bank is concerned that inflation might fall below the lower level set by Government. We know that there is a recession coming and that it is going to be deep, but with the Government sticking to its policy to keep inflation inside a narrow range we risk have recession and rising prices; a combination which will only deepen and lengthen the impact.

The lower inflation limit needs to be removed, and removed soon (next week's pre-Budget statement?) to reduce the damage to the economy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Children in Need

With Cllr Donald John MacSween having his beard shaved off on behalf of Children in Need, we have to ask "What have these poor children done to deserve that?"

I have obtained exclusive photos of the event -- !! Warning, the following is not suitable for small children or if you are eating.

Before: or is this Donald Manford?

The wolfman
During: the scary Halloween costume for frightening constituents

Councillor Donald John MacSween
After: now on to Westminster,
and Tony Blair's image consultant.

Uncle Fester MacSween

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Post OfficeA glimmer of sanity from the Labour Government as they decide to keep the Card Account contract with the Post Office.

What were they thinking about in even considering the removal of this contract as a serious proposal? It just shows how out of touch they have become.

The removal of the Card Account would have created a network of closed ex-Post Offices across the land, with card accounts being operated through faceless cash machines, in petrol stations, corner shops and pubs.

The prospect of a nation of pensioners rising up in anger seems not to have crossed the minds of Ministers until too late, and whilst it is being portrayed as a positive move to save rural communities and services it is a retreat of the most satisfying and substantial size.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Request for information

Can the person who anonymously sent information to Angus about matters in Uist please get in touch with him again, and provide the offered information. Angus absolutely guarantees confidentiality.


Spurdog - spotted dogfishNo, I had no idea what a spurdog was until I saw this article in and found out that it is the Spotted Dogfish, which shoals in the Minch and is caught as a by-catch.

And then tossed overboard, as it cannot exceed 5% of the landing.

Derogations in Wales, but not in Scotland?

No common sense approach to fisheries management allowing a annual TAC computation for a fish that is present only part of the year?

Duncan MacInnes is absolutely correct:
He said that the proposals emerging from the EC were extremely worrying, but they did nothing for stock conservation. "They introduce rules to stop by-catch, and prevent landings, yet spurdog goes around in large shoals at certain times of the year for around three or four months and they don't obey strict rules. The fishermen know that they're there and so do the scientists and they will get caught and they will have to be discarded dead. That doesn't help the stock and it does nothing to help the income of fishermen who are already hard-pressed by rising fuel prices. It should be lawful to land everything for which there is a quota"
Will sanity prevail? Will the Scottish Government see sense?

(Declaration of interest: the firm acts for fishermen)

Local Income Tax - some numbers

I'm very grateful to Lewis MacAskill for asking some questions and to for publishing the answers, so that we can make some informed comments.

Council tax currently yields £9.5m per annum (CnES annual report 2006/07 p9) and the detail is available on p35 of the report.

The Inland Revenue have apportioned tax yield by constituency (Table 3.15) for 2005/06, and estimate the income tax yield in the Western Isles is £28m per annum.

In my view, the use of different years and the errors in the estimates are negligible for the purposes I intend.

If Council Tax is abolished, and replaced by a 3% rate in the Western Isles there will be a shortfall of £8.6m per annum: £9.467m - (£28m x 3%) ≈ £8.6m.

Therefore for a Local Income Tax to be acceptable, Central Government will have to pledge to increase basic grant support by £8.6m which will have to come from cuts in other services or from other sources of income (i.e. taxation).

That doesn't necessarily make LIT A Bad Thing, but what it does emphasise is that there is a large sum to come from somewhere to bridge the gap and that abolishing Council Tax is not a painless matter.
Looking through the other data, there are some fascinating insights....
Mean (the 'average') self-employed income is £13,000 but the median (the number exactly halfway through a list sorted by value) is only £7,200. This clearly shows that the vast majority of self-employed people have very low taxable incomes, and a lot have very high taxable incomes*

This disparities in other income sources are nowhere near as large, implying that income distribution from other sources and total income is broadly the traditional 'bell-curve'.
* This can be distorted by reducing taxable income from self-employment with allowances for replacing equipment

I could point out that to replace Council Tax with LIT would require a tax rate of 33%, but that is so ridiculous that no-one would suggest that would happen. Would they?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Storas Uibhist

Let me start by saying that my informants may have particular axes to grind, and are hardly independently objective in the matter, but that being said, the stories correlate with other information that has come to my attention.

Two businesses in Uist have recently tried to expand, but found that they needed to contact Storas to discuss their plans, and get approval for the minor land issues arising. (I am being deliberately vague to avoid identifying the people concerned).

Before the matter was decided, Storas asked for business plans for the proposals and eventually announced that they would only allow the land to be used as requested if Storas could become partners in the businesses. Take it or leave it.

I am told that both businessmen have refused a 'partnership', and as a consequence two largish businesses will be ceasing activities.

I don't remember South Uist Estates or any other estate on the islands ever behaving in such a manner, and it poses the question of "Why?".

If Galson/Barvas/Pairc Estate in Lewis had ever demanded a profit share rather than a rent, the Free Press would have nailed the landlords to the wall. So why the difference here?

Job losses (continued)

With 300+ extra unemployed for Christmas, it is even more distressing to note that there are only 14 vacancies locally advertised through the job centre.

Even assuming that there are a large number NOT being advertised, the sad conclusion is plainly obvious.....

Friday, November 07, 2008

Job losses

As the economic recession starts to bite, the jobs go.

Apart from the imminent 100 at Lighthouse Caledonia, a further 19 have gone at Bardon, 6 at OneTel and (it is estimated) another 25-30 at various building contractors, and with other redundancies - including at the Bank of Scotland - I estimate that an extra 300-350 people will be unemployed come Christmas.

And I don't expect it to stop there, with one major business on the islands now unilaterally changing its payments terms from "30 days" to "60 days after the end of the month in which the invoice is received", leaving local suppliers struggling to fund wages and materials until that debt is paid.

Sorry to be gloomy, but it is only going to get worse.....


Forget the pyrrhic victory I wrote about yesterday, the reality has been a bloody nose for the SNP and a seriously good result for Labour.

It looks like everyone was shocked by the result, which suggests that the public might have been lying to the political parties and the pollsters. The naughty so-and-so's.

In many ways it is easier being the underdog, as Labour were.

As the incumbents at Holyrood and Fife Council the SNP seem to have found that being the target of discontent - rather than being able to grumble about Labour - is a very, very different place to be. And this will be something that Labour will target again and again.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Interest rates

3% a cut of 1.5%!?!

Just how bad are things, and why are they not letting us know just what is going on?

Some anecdotal evidence reaches me about the state of the economy with mainland businesses undertaking suicidal pricing which is having a detrimental impact on local traders. If that is heading our way, then it is much, much worse than I feared. The Bank of England minutes from today will make interesting reading.

The markets have reacted by not reacting, indicating it might not be enough of a cut. Unbelievable as that might sound.

The advice from today - cash is going to be king over the coming year, and those without cash, no matter how profitable the business is, will be in trouble.

HBOS takeover

With almost all the top jobs going to Lloyds directors; with the main HBOS directors retiring; with the name being changes to Lloyds Banking Group; any pretext of it being a 'merger' has been shed.

I'm getting more intrigued about the mysterious third party bid mainly "Does it actually exist?".

It was with some wry amusement that I noted that the AGM for Lloyds is being held in Glasgow on the 19th November and the HBOS AGM is being held in Birmingham on 12th December.

Which company is therefore the most Scottish? [As if that mattered to anyone except politicians]

With 'savings' i.e. cuts of £1.5bn now forecast for the combined group the truth of the takeover is that there will be large scale job cuts, and the Bank of Scotland locally expects the Lloyds TSB Branch in Stornoway to close and the staff to be moved into Cromwell Street, except that er... they won't need all the combined counter staff, or managers, or admin staff.

This is the legacy of the reckless lending by the wonderful bank that we are supposed to hold up as a trophy prize to be retained at all costs.


Yes, that by-election is happening today.

Latest word I have puts the SNP slightly ahead, but the Labour Party not conceding defeat and determined to get the vote out. That last part might be the bit that is difficult, and may cost them the seat.

I'm not staying up tonight to wait for the result, as it is going to be an anti-climax whoever wins.

Indeed, whoever wins will have a somewhat pyrrhic victory: if it is the SNP, then the swing is much less than Glasgow East; if it is Labour, then they have seen their majority slashed.

But whoever loses is going to be fighting hard to justify their 'disastrous' performance to the media scrum looking for a story.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A new beginning

Barack ObamaAs expected, Barack Obama has been elected, by what appears to be a landslide for the Democrats.

I, for one, am delighted and I think that there is now an opportunity and desire for the US to rethink its role in the world and to consider the impact of its decisions on other countries.

True, that the election was largely policy lite, with largely irrelevant and trivial issues dominating campaigning (at least at this distance), but the desire to re-balance the economy and international relationships is very encouraging. The team around Obama appears strong and able and with cross-party backing for his Presidency there should be huge beneficial changes for the US and for the world.

(Let's not forget that many people had similar hopes for Tony Blair!)

The markets seem to like his election too, which indicates that his economic policies are expected to mitigate the worst of the credit crisis. This I am less sure about, but I'm not sure how it can get worse.

The oddest element of the transition is that he is not inaugurated until January, leaving two months where Dubya is nominally in charge but will have to consult/defer to the President Elect on all major issues. This will inevitably cause stasis, indecision and delay in moving matters forward. IIRC, this occurs as a legacy from the 19th Century, when the President Elect might need a week to get to Washington and then weeks to identify the post that need filling and then the post holders. In today's world, the Obama team is already vetted by the Secret Service and (virtually) all the posts will be filled by now, so the delay seems nonsensical.

I see that Alex Salmond has already claimed Obama as having Scots ancestry. Apparently, he is a descendant of William the Lion - but, why is no-one ever descended from third spear carrier?

A bright future and a bright hope seems to gleam in the West, but I think that the Secret Service are going to have to be ultra alert over the coming months and years to avoid it being snuffed out.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Bad hair day

Donald TrumpSo Trump gets the go ahead for the development in Aberdeen that has been rushed through the planning process.

Just how many gated housing communities for the excessively wealthy world-class golf resorts can Scotland sustain? The answer seems to be an unlimited number, with plans for another similarly grand scheme to the East of Inverness.

Of course, the hotel and holiday homes will go up first to generate cash flow, and then I suspect that the impact of the global recession will delay construction of the remainder. The golf course will happen, of course, but golfers tell me that the prospects of it ever hosting a major tournament in my lifetime are minuscule with many more long-established courses likely to be well ahead in the running for the Open.

Still, if only every planning application got the level of involvement that this one got. And if only every planning application was dealt with as promptly. And if only we stopped trying to be a low-pay service-based economy, and started making things again.

Dreams, dreams, dreams.

It seems to the public that success in dealing promptly with planning applications correlates with access to the First Minister, and proximity to his constituency, and although I am sure that this is just a coincidence, there is a need to remove this suspicion by ensuring that everyone believes that they are being treated equally.


I'm posting a link to a fascinating resource about longevity throughout the UK.

It makes for informative - if scary - reading, and you may want to add your comments to the BBC website.

My immediate reaction is that comparative wealth is a major factor, and with the Western Isles having a per capita GDP of about 65% of the rest of the UK, that is bound to have a major impact.

But I suspect it is not that simple, and I think I will have to try and source the raw data to try and make more sense of this - unless, of course, the analysis is somewhere on the Health Board or Council computers.

Personally, I hope that the benefits of longevity continue to increase, keeping far enough ahead of my real age.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

HBOS and an idiot

Jim Murphy MP - tosserIt is almost unbelievable that a Minister would leak details of a highly sensitive financial transaction.

That the Secretary of State for Scotland would leak details of a potential bid for HBOS which is at the very earliest stages is just beyond the pale.

The bidders were apparently sounding out the UK regulatory authorities (Gordon Brown rather than the Bank of England!) before discussing the matter with their own regulators.

If they haven't been almost scared off by this ineptitude and blatant party political manoeuvring, I will be astonished.

Either way, Jim Murphy has proved himself to be a Grade 1 tosser, and deserves every kicking that comes his way. Sacking is not going to happen, but it is exactly what he deserves.

Harris Tweed

If you read the Gazette you will have seen that our MSP interrogated Jim Mather on the plight of the weavers (at last in the view of reporter Donnie MacInnes). If you read the Official Report, you will see that it as just a very bland question tabled in response to a more incisive question by Jamie McGrigor, who showed his real understanding of the situation by asking a follow-up question to the Minister.

The sheer pathetic and mechanical nature of the question asked by Allan is the worst sort of soft-ball questioning started by the Tories fawning to Maggie, and perfected by arse-licking Labour MPs during the Blair Reich. The nature of the planted question (for that is obviously what it was) signals the end of any hope of an investment fund for Harris Tweed (as I forecast), which never even merited a question in Parliament.

But, but, but, this is a reserved matter, so where the hell is the Barra Bhoy in all of this? He should be raising questions in Parliament, discussing the matter with officials of the Dept for Work and Pensions, and generally being active on this issue. Unbelievably, Mr Allan has done us all a favour in pointing out that MacNeil is doing nothing on the matter. But then MacNeil and Allan seem to inhabit different realities for a lot of the time.

As someone pointed out to me, the £350k for an Weavers investment fund that MacNeil sees as the salvation of the industry would give 200 weavers weeks work maximum, and what happens then? No-one knows, because no-one has bothered to think it through. Weavers need about £5k income extra each or perhaps 30 tweeds for 400 weavers = £1.8m annually which shows the real size of the problem.

The Government are not even being addressed on this issue with our politicians preferring to make soothing and meaningless noises.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Comhairle power struggle

I think that the Council have done the best in adverse circumstances (that they created!) by giving the Vice-Convener the political authority over the Council and relegating the Convener to a ceremonial role; rather than creating an additional post of Civic Head.

BUT, and it is a big but, as part of the problem was the perceived lack of leadership from the Chair during debates - for instance, over school closures - is the Vice-Convener going to chair the Council meetings and provide that leadership, or is this just a case of a cosmetic change?

Or is the Convener going to have to act as instructed by the Vice-Convener in these matters? Which is a recipe for confusion and disagreement.

And, whilst have have a huge amount of respect for Angus Campbell working almost full-time as Vice-Convener trying to manage the Comhairle's finances (and speaking as a former insider, he is doing a fine job in exceptionally difficult circumstances), he now has the added responsibility of herding cats into the appropriate decisions. This breadth of control could easily be misused by a less scrupulous individual to make the Comhairle their personal fiefdom, and the extent of control must be reduced before the next elections.

(And I need only remind people of the appalling situation that prevailed not that many years ago, when power was too centralised; which was one of the key impetuses in persuading me to stand for the Council)

As an aside, I would expect the schools debate to be re-opened, and I will confidently predict another U-turn. Which will make - how many? - 6 or is it 7?

The solution works, temporarily, and depending upon the current Vice-Convener remaining in post, but a long term solution needs to be brought forward soon.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Spivs and speculators"

Despite the opprobrium dumped on them by Alex Salmond, I've previous described the short-sellers as gamblers, and pointed out that they can only be gambling on the price of a share falling if others are gambling on the price of a share not falling.

It is with a smug, self-satisfied look upon my face that I read the headline: "Hedge funds make £18bn loss on VW", and the suggestion that some hedge funds might go bust as a result.

The higher the return, the higher the risk; and sometimes it goes wrong.

The BBC explains the convoluted dealings that caused the hedge funds to get burned, and Porsche to make a huge profit....
What is upsetting the hedge funds is that if between 10% and 15% of VW shares were on loan to be shorted and only just over 5% were available in the market, it is likely that many of the funds that shorted VW had borrowed the shares from Porsche.

It meant that because Porsche had not declared the proportion of VW shares it controlled, traders may have been indirectly and inadvertently borrowing shares from Porsche, selling them to Porsche, buying them back from Porsche and then returning them to Porsche.

Greed meant they overlooked the basic principle of caveat emptor, and I don't think anyone will be shedding tears for them.

The American way....

A blog posting from the roving Berneray librarian - who is currently in the US of A covering the Presidential elections for Am Paipear - throws up an interesting suggestion....

Why not have referenda aka propositions, to determine spending priorities? Will you vote for Gaelic education or street lights?

Apart from the obvious "Do you want to remove X as a Councillor?", do readers have any suggestions about what other voting choices should we have?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Power struggle at Council...

...according to a report on Hebrides News.

Apologies to my former colleagues, but at the moment I think most of the public would like to see them struggling with 240 volts through their seat, rather than some self-absorbed battle over whether power is vested in the Convener or a new post of Council Leader.

If you think that the current Convener has done a poor job, then get rid of him by standing up to be counted, and expressing in simple phrases that you cannot continue to give him his support.

Don't think that you can solve the problems by creating a new expense account to match the title and hence giving the Councillors the opportunity to avoid difficult decisions.

Avoiding difficult decisions is the root cause of this problem, and too many Councillors will always avoid saying or doing anything 'difficult', preferring to make vague and empty statements for the benefit of their constituents.

Find your backbones and make it clear - back the Convener or sack him. These are your options; anything else just makes it worse.

I swore I'd never say it, but it wasn't like this in my day

Subsea Cable

I am becoming more concerned about the impact of the proposed sub-sea cable from Gravir to Dundonnell, and the impact it is going to have on the community.

I always knew that the infrastructure was going to be potentially much more difficult to sell to the public, compared to the turbines themselves. And we all know just how difficult that has proven to be.

Like many of my colleagues in the Council, I expected the cabling landing point to be at Arnish, where an existing power station could have been upgraded to manage the electricity flows on and off island.

The original proposals for the Eishken windfarm had pylons running from Pairc to Arnish, and the indicative schematics provoked a fair degree of shock at the time. The pylons were not part of the actual planning application, and consequently could not be brought into the equation when the decision to grant/refuse planning permission was being considered. I did warn at the time that the power connections were likely to prove unacceptable, and that was looking at what we thought would be the plan.

Having had a long hard look at what is being proposed, I cannot see how it can be accepted as it stands by the planners, the community or the Council, and I hope that some very serious modifications to the proposals are enforced and agreed before it comes up for a decision, but the track record is not good.

My most serious concern is the proximity of the cables to houses, and I would hope that a distance of at least 500m would be enforced. (I stand to be corrected on this figure, but it is the distance that I think I remember being recommended for the LWP scheme).

Of course, if all the proposals are called in by the Government and then refused then it is all academic. Speaking recently to two people with differing views on the Eishken proposal, the supporter was worried about it being refused and the opponent was worried about it being approved. Whichever camp you are in, I am sure that you will agree that the community need decisions, and need them soon, to let us know just what is going to happen in Gravir.

Update 28/10: Last night I received a letter from SSE (addressed to Cllr Angus Nicolson!) inviting me to get more information about their proposals. I shall be taking them up on their offer, and will report back in due course.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Lighthouse Caledonia

The more I look into the situation at Lighthouse Caledonia, the more confused I have become.

I have come across some company documents that seem to confirm the following:
  • The losses were not just forecast, but were as expected by analysts
  • There were no issues about hygiene or the work environment in Stornoway highlighted to the board (the one hygiene issue relating to Russia was flagged as nonsense)
  • The long-term profitability of Stornoway was not in doubt
  • There are no suggestions of any threat to the Stornoway operation, until very recently
I confess to being confused to what is going on, and I want to read the documents more carefully before making them publicly available.

My immediate gut feeling is that either there is another major issue looming behind the scenes that we are not aware about, or this is some kind of 'shroud waving' in a desperate effort to get some kind of grant support for the business.

More to follow over the weekend.....and if anyone has any further internal documents that can shed light on the matter, I'd be most grateful.

(Update 29/10: The dreaded lurgie has been rampaging through the house, and I haven't been well enough to finish reading all the material I intend to post)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

School closures - will this ever end?

Few pupils. Soaring costs. Rationalisation.

It was all supposed to start with the secondary schools, which would lead the way for the primary schools to be rationalised.

This was working quite well, until Councillors got involved and decided to forget strategic vision for the islands and concentrated on getting re-elected.

The holes in the budgets are getting bigger - much, much bigger - and the indecision is only delaying and exacerbating the size of the problems that need to be resolved.

I am told that at least 19 of the 38 primaries will be recommended for closure, and that it is expected that the vast majority will close in this round, with any that are 'saved' being reconsidered in not more that five years.

The full extent of the problems in providing education will become apparent when the school rolls for 2008/09 are published by the Comhairle.

Will the Scottish Government set in to delay closure of small primaries?Trimisgary school

Does that matter in the long run? No.

With insufficient pupils to support the education system, how can the schools stay open? How long before they all go they way of multitude of old derelict schools spread across the islands?

How many pupils were in your class when you started school? And how many were in the same school with your children - if you have any?

This is why Cllr Angus McCormack is right to raise the fundamental questions about the provision of education in the islands, and particularly the trade off between education and other alternatives in the capital (and revenue) programs of the Council for the coming years.

I don't entirely agree with Cllr McCormack (but I think he is less wrong than most of the others!) but he is prepared to raise the issues that the rest want to see ignored or brushed under the carpet and he deserves credit for that.

Education above all else? Or are thee other equally/more meritorious options for the islands?


As a student I remember receiving regular cylindrical food parcels from my mother.

Unfortunately, my bed was nearest the front door and the postman used to arrive before 8am and ring the bell repeatedly until someone - i.e. me! - used to crawl to the door and receive the lovingly wrapped black pudding, which kept me and my flatmates in food for days.

I was delighted to see that there is a campaign to protect the brand of 'Stornoway Black Pudding' to put us on a par with Parma Ham, Champagne or Melton Mowbray pies.

Are there any other local products that could benefit from such protection?