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

Friday, February 29, 2008

Data Protection Act

Regular readers will know that I am keen on ensuring that all organisations keep OUR data in a proper fashion - accurate and confidential isn't too much to ask, is it?

Er, yes.

My hire car came with a special added accessory that slipped out from under the passenger seat - a medical record with details of the individual and their treatment.

And, no, it was not the authorisation for the sectioning of Mr Manson.

Liar! Liar!

Dick Manson and David Currie
I'm out of web contact for a couple of hours and the inevitable happens.

Just what are the penalties or sanctions for lying to the Audit Committee?

Which 'secret' meeting were they at? Was this the one to which only some of the Board were invited?

This can only get better, as the rest of the fabrications are exposed.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Read & watch this and weep

The Audit Committee evidence put forward by Messrs Manson & Currie is now available on the web or for watching here (warning: not for those with a weak stomach).

Having had to scan read the statements on a computer with a poor internet connection, I haven't got the full horror of it yet.

Your attention should turn to Para 389 onwards, where it appears that the preparation and presentation of accurate annual accounts is not the repsonsibility or concern of either the Chief Executive or the Director of Finance.

Apparently, that responsibility fell to junior members of staff, whose work was unchecked, uncontrolled and should never have been trusted by the Board.

Back in the real world, some of the former staff have full details of the advice given, warnings raised and inadequate responses from the top of the tree which they are ready to produce if the cover-up continues.

I understand that the employee who left on the grounds of "ill-health" has been working constantly in an equivalent post since the day they were paid-off/removed/silenced/gagged all the while whilst these farcical 'retirals' were approved or recommended by the Chief Executive who really didn't know what was going on, as management of the organisation was not his responsibility.

Sounds like a bloody good job - fat salary, free flexible travel on the plane, employ your mates, make a balls-up of the situation and get another job somehwhe elese with your track record and pension unaffected - indeed enhanced.

Applicants for this job should start forming a line now. Unless the Audit Committee bear their teeth...

Anyone else remember Alasdair Morrison refusing to condemn the Health Board at the meeting in the Town Hall?

(Can someone please pull TV file and post it to YouTube so we can have a permanent link? The community will be eternally grateful.)


It is with a certain synchronicity that I note that the potential outbreak of TB at the Nicolson Institute may also affect workers at the One-Tel call centre.

Older readers will remember that One-Tel is situated in a brand new high-tech building on the site of the old County Hospital in Stornoway. The County Hospital was originally built as a Sanitorium to cure the effects of TB.

Graduate Endowments

I look forward to seeing the end of the Graduate Endowment as an element of education policy.

As a tool to encourage the young into Higher and Further Education by increasing available funding, it was pointless. As a way of reducing Government spending, it worked wonderfully.

The investment in graduates by the country, indeed the entire investment in education, is an apparently alturistic decision of the people. Of course, it is nothing of the sort; it is the means of investing in our future by allowing those with skills to develop and expand their abilities, and to then create jobs and wealth for the community as a whole.

Graduates (and here I declare an interest) on average earn more and pay more tax than non-graudates, and consequently the entire economy benefits. Allied to a progressive and redistributive tax system, this is THE example of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need", and this is why Student Loans need to be removed also.

Plaudits are due to the Government for taking this forward, even if they have backtracked on the immediate removal of Student Loans.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My secret mole

I spoke this morning to 'my secret mole in the Council', as I called him in front of some of his colleagues.

The Chair of Transportation, Cllr Manford, had a good laugh about that as he didn't get the detail of the announcement until Tuesday. He was concerned to know if people really thought he was my mole, or if people wanted to believe he was the mole. "The latter", I told him.

However, another colleague from Tech Services was happy to point out to me that some of the distances used by the Government (or their consultants) in calculating the costs were inconsistent, and that the official Press Release was therefore not correct.

They were off to Inverness for a Hi-Trans meeting about RET, from which they hoped to leave with more answers than questions.

Cllr Manford was not looking forward to his return to Barra this weekend, where he was going to have to explain why RET meant higher - rather than lower - fares.

Obviously, this saga will run and run, and at some point I will have accurate and complete details of costs - except for Commercials, where I think the facts will remain obscure(d).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

RET - the aftermath

Aren't the LibDem comments pathetic from those who could but didn't.....

RET - the announcement

With the ferry not sailing from Ullapool, the Minister will be standing at an empty building to make his announcement, which will be that:
  • The trial period will be for 30 months (Oct 08-April 11) or until just before the next election(!)
  • Inter-island ferries (Leverburgh-Berneray and Eriskay-Barra) will be excluded from the scheme
More to follow.
  • Passengers 10p per mile + £2 per ticket
  • Commercials 18p per lane per mile + £20
  • All ferries from the Western Isles to the mainland qualify
Full press release here.

Stornoway to Ullapool - 48 miles
Castlebay to Oban - 88 miles

* Based on 6 book ticket

Commercial rates are confidential, being negotiated between each haulier and CalMac.

It is implied that no cost will rise, implying that the Castlebay-Oban cost for a car will be unchanged.

From reports of the Press Conference, it appears that inter-island fares will be unchanged.

Whilst welcoming the scheme, it is only a (modest) start towards what is actually needed. I am particularly aggrieved at the misinformation about the 60p per mile being in some way related to the the AA rates or the Inland Revenue. The former has a matrix from which I would suggest that very few local people have a vehicle in the 60p or above rate. The later is 40p per mile for the first 10,000 and 25p thereafter. So Nul Points there for silly lies.

The challenge to Labour: beat that, and give us the detail of your proposals!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Eishken 13 turbine application

Some of the other postings are being distracted by those who want to know exactly what I think about the recent approval of the application by the Comhairle of a revised and smaller application for Eishken.

As many people will know, the full application is subject to a Public Local Inquiry ordered by the Government, but the new smaller application is below the 50Mw limit to allow a decision to be taken by the Comhairle.

I'm obviously being prodded with some sharp sticks to make my view known, as some people have lots to say, and hence I have opened this up for comment.

My view is broken into a few segments, some contradictory, which I think probably is typical of the (silent) majority of people in the islands.

I am writing this as someone with a great interest in the subject, but without sight of the detail of the application.

Is it proper for the Comhairle to consider this application?
Yes, of course it is. In fact, the planning authority would probably be guilty of maladministration if it failed to consider a valid application within a reasonable timescale.

Should BMP be able to lodge what are effectively multiple applications for the same scheme?
They can, under the current legislative framework. But is it right? I don't think so, but the responsibility for the legislative framework lies with the Government.
This needs to be addressed by the local plan, and by national planning guidelines, and it may be that approval of a subset application (for want of a better phrase) should preclude some further applications to prevent 'Approval Creep'.

Is there a conflict between the PLI and the new application?
Probably, but that can be resolved by the PLI which might overrule the Comhairle decision.

What is the course of action for objectors?
Ignore the Comhairle decision and focus on the PLI and Government.

Will this end in Court?
Possibly, but only if the objectors want to burn their fivers in full public view.

You might consider that the law may be right or may be wrong, but the Comhairle are following it. If they have acted rationally (as they appear to have done) then they are safe from challenge. To suggest otherwise is plain stupid, and in my view is aiming at completely the wrong target.

Having it both ways

Not having an in-depth knowledge of crofting law and practice, I tend to look at crofting matters in a simplistic way.

So when my attention was drawn to the Crofters Commission website, and specifically at the apportionment of 27 Knock to form a new house site, I was intrigued.

This Hearing only happened because the applicant and the Grazings Committee (who represent the wider crofting community) disagreed over whether or not the site was appropriate for house building.

What caught my eye was the paragraph at the foot of page 2.

A letter was received from Angus MacNeil MP on behalf of Mr MacLeod. Angus MacNeil MP has also written to the Commission on behalf of the shareholders.

Perhaps someone can explain how and why you can support both for and against? Or even better, can provide me with copies of the original letters so we can all fully understand the complex arguments put forward, to hedge one's bets.


My previous posting about the SNP AGM on Friday has provoked some correspondence from current SNP Branch Members.

Without exception, the Members who have contacted me have confirmed that they were totally unaware of the AGM; that it was not advertised for two weeks in a row in the Gazette, as required by the constitution; and that there has been absolutely no communication from the Branch.

Except, of course, to the inner circle.

One correspondent asked ME to provide them with contact details for the Branch, and they were very disappointed that there had been no direct contact since they became a new member, and absolutely no attempt to involve them in any Branch activities.

Another person commented that they were regularly and pointedly snubbed by senior members of the Branch.

I'm not sure that I'll be able to give a full report of the AGM, as I'm, not sure anyone was actually there....

A Ministerial Invite

Another invitation to come to the Ministerial Press Conference at 1pm on Tuesday makes its way into my inbox.

Given that it is taking place in the Ferry Terminal and the ferry passengers will be milling around at that time, it is either going to be a masterpiece of organisation or utter chaos.

The question is, should I attend? Hmmm, let's keep the Minister guessing.....

Sunday ferries, a correction

I think it is fair to say that my suggestion that Sunday ferries into Lewis will commence on the 23rd of March was unmitigated nonsense.

My sources now advise that they had been completely misled, mixing two different events and coming to a third conclusion.

So when is it happening?

My guess is the start of the Winter timetable in 2008.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Health Board funding

A new, new, funding formula for Health Boards has been announced by Nicola Sturgeon.

It is to be phased in over a number of years to ensure that no Health Board suffers cuts in any year. That statement is, of course, fallacious as what is being proposed is that inflation based increases will not be awarded until such time as the new reduced level of expenditure is reached. That is to say, the Health Boards will face an annual cut in budget equal to inflation.

Consequently, those Boards who should benefit will receive only slow increases.

Such a classic stabilising mechanism is necessary to avoid large shocks, but by its nature adversely affects the 'winners'. But let us be grateful for it's existence.

The WIHB Acute and Community Health Budget is due to fall by 18% - which equates to about 5 or 6 years of no growth for inflation/cuts of 2.5-3% each year.

The culprit - and no I don't mean the NHS Scotland Resource Allocation Committee - is the new formula which "takes account of changing population, life expectancy, deprivation and remoteness of rural communities."

We know which ones we gain on, and on which we lose - so it would appear that the dropping population is resulting in more cuts in services (such as the secondary schools), leading to less viable communities and a vicious circle of decline.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Stornoway Gazette

We are laughing with the paper, not at it this time.

The paper due yesterday was delivered to the islands today, due to the weather. Most people read the paper very carefully over the weekend to be able to absorb all the detailed political and social analysis; in depth evaluations of the latest press releases; the investigative recipes column; births, deaths and marriages; and the pernicious gossip masquerading as Court reports.

But the best bit it always the adverts, as this week's paper demonstrates on page 20. Firstly under public notices (this is an exact transcript):
    The Lewis and Harris Branch of the SNP
    Will be holding their AGM on Friday February 22, 2008 in the Willows (sic) suite of the Cabarfeidh hotel (sic). All members welcome.
I think it might have started by now, but if you hurry you will be able report back to me the detail of what happened*. New members (with or without psychic abilities to foretell the time of meetings, are obviously not welcome.)

Just below this is:-
    Election Notices
    AGM Taigh D
Presumably, this happens after the SNP AGM and before the Clairvoyants AGM, which obviously doesn't need to be advertised.

* Full report on proceedings to follow.

MSP struck by lightning

This mornings flight from Edinburgh was struck by lightning.

There is no truth in the rumour that it was aimed at our MSP who was on the flight.

Jokes about "lightning rods" and "lighting balls" are invited.....

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The religious divide

The difference between different world religions is often not as wide as some people make out.

Sometimes they are all ploughing the same insane furrow.

In Iran, the Iranian former chief nuclear negotiator is complaining the the President is encouraging an expectation amongst Shia Muslims that the "Missing Imman" will reappear any moment after 1000 years hiding.

According to Ultra-Othrodox Jews in Israel, tolerance of gays causes earthquakes.

ADS approved

Air Discount SchemeWith only a few days to go, ADS has received approval by the European Parliament and can continue until 2011.

Excellent news with continuing 40% discounts on flights (before taxes), but why did it have to be left to the last moment?

The countdown banner is being removed, but kept to make a return in three years.

Double whammy

More information about the RET proposals have been passed to me, and they make for interesting and disappointing reading. But with one piece of realism intruding into our grief.

The £5 charge is supposed to cover the fixed shore-side infrastructure that CalMac have on the islands, so the RET cost is to be inflated by these overheads. In other words, it is RETFU - RET For Users to cover the overheads.

The best is yet to come. Sit down and take a deep breath.

The reason that the mileage charge is 60p and not 40p is due to the higher costs of living - particularly fuel - in the islands, and consequently a higher rate is appropriate.
    Or as our MP said, “The price of fuel has escalated out of control over the past 12 months, this hits the rural areas like the Western Isles hardest and forces the price of food, drink and many other things to go up as well. Only this week the Office of National Statistics has said that” the largest upward pressure on inflation came from the price of fuel”.

    Or when commenting on the high cost of fuel,
    "This answer just sums up the totally arrogant and metropolitan viewpoint of the [...] Government. They have absolutely no idea how their high fuel taxes, which have spiralled at an alarming rate over the past 12 months, are doing to rural areas like the Western Isles."

    Or as the EDM he put down says, "That this House notes the high fuel price rises in rural areas, especially the Western Isles where prices have risen above £1 per litre which will have a detrimental effect on communities and tourism; asks the Office of Fair Trading to re-examine the issue; calls on major oil companies to halt the surcharges for rural petrol stations, and calls on the Treasury to report on actions the government can take to identify and alleviate problems caused by high fuel prices across the Highlands and Islands."

Presumably this will now be changed to include an examination of the polices of the Scottish Government?

I have had it confirmed that the proposal will not come into force until the Winter 2008 timetable, which will really benefit the tourists this summer.

Finally, the one bit of sanity is that the pilot will last three years (or until the next election) which is a wholly necessary period of time to evaluate the impact on the local community and to establish the capacity problems that RET should cause.

The message is clear, start the campaign NOW for real RET after the next election. Last time we managed to get Labour and the SNP fighting it out to offer the best deal - let's now up the ante and demand more, if they want our votes.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

RET - what is to be announced

Word reaches me of the announcement that the Transport Minister is to make next Tuesday on his visit to Stornoway.

I was first tipped-off by the Press Release from our MP and MSP. (Although I have to ask if the 'lowering of the water-table' that our MP promises is a good thing. It usually causes drought, or reflects the unsustainable use of assets. I think he meant 'level the playing field'.)

However, the announcement is going to be:-
  • Vehicles at 60p per mile + a £5 fee per ticket
  • The removal of the multi-ticket discounts
  • This to apply to all routes affecting the islands
  • Passenger cost details to follow
Before you start jumping up and down, do the sums, and remember that the Comhairle wanted 40p per mile (which matches with the Inland Revenue rates).

Stornoway to Ullapool 52 miles @ 60p + £5 = £36.20.
Current 6 journey ticket is £266/6 = £44.33

Leverburgh to Berneray 10 miles @ 60p + £5 = £11.00£16.00
Current 6 journey ticket is £93/6 = £15.50

Castlebay to Oban 157 miles @ 60p +£5 = £99.20
Current 6 journey ticket is £283/6 = £47.17

Assuming my arithmetic and mileages are correct, it looks very much like smoke and mirrors.

The consultants have obviously decided that the deplacement issues make assessing the cost/benefit of RET on one route would be so difficult to ascertain that it is pointless trying. As I said a long time ago.

Instead, the bullet has been bitten and we are to get everything our MP and MSP wish for. Unfortunately they have either not worked out what the implications are, or hope that delivery of RET will be welcomed regardless.

No let's be fair and point out that a single journey will - of course - be much cheaper, down from £44.33 to £36.20, but that is hardly likely to have the tourists flooding across the Minch. Another missed opportunity.

(The Council proposal at Inland Revenue rates would have resulted in Stornoway-Ullapool costing £20.80, a reduction of 53% from current rates, or 42% below the new proposals)

Update 21/2/08: I've corrected stupid one arithmetic error, and I'm trying to find definitive answers on some of the distances. I will provide a fuller analysis when I receive details of the likely passenger costs.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A missed opportunity....

This link to the BBC news site opens a new window. Picture 9 shows just what we could be adding to solving the problem of renewable energy. Or even be world leaders.

How to avoid arrest...

Remember the arrest of General Pinochet in 1998 for human rights abuses, murder and torture?

That set a nice precedent didn't it? No longer can you flit from country to country free of any pangs of guilt and enjoy the high life, despite arrest warrants out for you.

Er, except in London it seems. Even where there is a current arrest warrant out for you. And when the Police know where you are. And have you cornered.

The BBC are reporting
that an Israeli General escaped capture in those very circumstances in 2005 by the simple expedient of refusing to come of the El-Al plane on the runway at Heathrow.

Due to the concern that the Police might not be able to legally board the plane (!) and due to the possibility that there may be some (illegal!) guns on the plane with his security men, the Police let the plane take-off with the General inside.

No thought of blocking the plane's taxiway until the toilets backed up and the drinks cabinet was empty and the General obeyed the law like everyone else.

Instead, as a wanted criminal, there was a subsequent apology from the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, for the disruption that the whole unpleasant business caused the General.

So know you know the drill, when the Constabulary are in hot pursuit. Just refuse to come out and claim you have illegal guns and you're home and dry.

General AlmogA known criminal not wanted by the Police

SNP support windfarms?


A recent SNP recruit revealed yesterday that he had been expelled and his three-month
membership fees refunded after he "dared to criticise party policy".

Bob Graham, of Orton, Fochabers, chairman of the Highlands Against Windfarms pressure group, joined the SNP believing it was the "only party not intent on decimating the Highland countryside".

And he condemned what he considered the lack of courtesy in the handling of his expulsion, claiming he was offered no right to appeal.

He returned home from holiday at the weekend to a letter from SNP national secretary Duncan Ross explaining that his local Fochabers branch had contacted party chiefs to raise Mr Graham's "continued criticisms of the SNP Government through letters to the local press".

The letter contained three £1 coins, his three-month membership fee.

The party letter stated that the committee "reserves the right, in exceptional circumstances, to declare any membership invalid" and that it had decided his "behaviour did not uphold the basic principles of membership".

Mr Graham said: "I'm horrified by the sheer lack of democracy within the SNP. "Two of their candidates were elected last year on the back of anti-windfarm campaigners, one in Lewis and the other in Ayrshire.

"You could argue that the SNP secured power on the back of anti-windfarm campaigners, but there's been no moratorium and they seem to be relentlessly pressing ahead with windfarm developments."

He added: "They have approved the Griffin scheme in Perthshire and are umming an aahing about Lewis, so clearly the pre-election promises were purely to get the anti-windfarm lobby on board. Having got them on board they are stabbing them in the back."

Mr Graham said he would write to party leader Alex Salmond to point out that he had been "hung, drawn and quartered" without a hearing.

A SNP party spokeswoman told the Press and Journal yesterday: "There is a three-month period in which the party is able to invalidate an application, as has happened in this case. It is only after the three-month period that the individual can be considered a member."

Fly me to the moon ....

Greedy bastard... on airmiles.

A complaint has been lodged against the Speaker for using airmiles earned on Parliamentary Business to take his family to New York for Christmas.

The rules are that you are supposed to use the airmiles to reduce the cost of future flights, rather than for your own personal benefit.

This being Parliament and filled with Honourable (sic) Members, the rules are unwritten, flexible and virtually unenforceable. Hence the continual flow of scandal.

Parliament has two choices - open everything up to scrutiny, or batten down the hatches.

They will consider the latter, but they will have to go for the former, dragged kicking and screaming in openness.

Just out of interest, according to reports, there were the Speaker and his wife, his son (an MSP) his wife and their two kids, his daughter her husband and their son, and they got Business Class flights for all for £3,090.50. The son paid £309 for the flights and the daughter paid £230, none of which makes any sense, and begs more questions about who, what and all sort of (flying) Class issues.

Added to the generous use of taxis and libel lawyers, Mr Martin shows that he hasn't lost the common touch.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Northern Rock

"Temporary public ownership".

That'll be like being slightly pregnant.

Gordon Brown caused this; have no doubt. The economic mishandling was his fault, and his alone.

But the ball has been passed to Alasdair Darling, who has the unenviable task of trying to make a cake out of a turd. And will carry the can when it all goes horribly wrong.

We - that's you and me as Joe Taxpayer - are much worse off thanks to the delay and prevarication by Gordon Darling , the Siamese Twits, who tried to do anything other than nationalise the bank, and hence cost us buckets of money in the meantime. Indecision has its price, and we are paying for it.

The only sane bidders for the bank pulled out leaving the discredited management team (did they honestly think that they would have the faintest chance?) and Richard "Photo op" Branson who offered to buy the bank using our money in exchange for valuing his worthless Virgin Money brand at £250m.

The sad thing is that the Government were considering letting him win just to take it off their hands, until older and wiser heads pointed out that it was barely short of a scam.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Substance abuse

drinking rugby Stornoway BlairgowrieSubstance abuse in the Western Isles is not as prevalent as in the rest of the UK, and certainly does not have the same level of sophistication, and je ne sais quoi of the mainland.

So it proved last night.

We walked into a newly refurbished bar in the town centre and saw the rolled-up fivers. An immediate give away.

And then the white powder* on the bar counter, in full view of the bar staff. Shock, horror!

And the crushed limes. Limes?

As we entered, some members of the visiting rugby club were drinking tequila (or it could have been vodka or gin, or possible even water, but I very much doubt the latter), snorting the salt [for it was nothing more than salt that was the white powder on the counter and not any other substance, licit or illicit**] and squeezing the lime into their eyes. Or possibly snorting the limes and putting the salt into their eyes. Or any permutations based on the above, as long as the alcohol went into the mouth.

We watched in awe as their capacity for drinks was tested to the limit. Glancing at the multiple TV screens showing a Laurel & Hardy film only exacerbated the sense of surrealness which was only broken by the Captain organising the teams into a pub crawl for later - "Right, in case you get lost, it is the Crown, the Clachan, MacNeils and then the (deleted) Whalers" - which is of course absolutely no use to a the visitors who hadn't the faintest idea where they were. Or what day it was. We mentally ticked off the list, finished our drinks and moved to an establishment not on the list.

With no Sunday ferries, they are probably starting the Sunday pub crawl as I write, and I would recommend that those of a sensitive disposition avoid the ferry tomorrow morning.

* 18/2 See clarification in case anyone misses the supposed humour
** They may be big nutters, but they don't let any other substances impede with the serious business of drinking. Had it been anything else, then the bar staff would certainly have ejected the individuals.

I have not been threatened by the boys from the Stornoway RFC. They are lovely lads, and drink nothing more than black tea in china cups, especially when their wives aren't looking. And I may need access to 6 Nations tickets at some point.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A denial

In the spirit of openness and to counter those nasty rumours flying about, I can unequivocally confirm that:
  • I have never met Tommy Sheridan
  • I have not used a sunbed in the past 15 years
  • I am not the editor of the News of the World
  • I haven't been swinging since they took down the rope and tyre in the Castle Grounds
  • I can't provide an alibi for Tommy, Gail, Ms Whiplash, Juicy Lucy or the guy in the PVC catsuit and gimp mask
  • I have not yet been called as a defence witness or a prosecution witness. Yet.
  • I am not now, and never have been, a member of Solidarity or the SSP, far less attended an 'executive' committee meeting in a fancy hotel where cocaine and champagne were served
I do however share a secret addiction to Scrabble, and I look forward to seeing quite how this fits into the almost inevitable and impending prosecution.

Having faced the hostile press on many occasions, I learned how to deal with them. I was often misquoted or misrepresented, and you deal with it and carry on.

In this case, the wasps nest has been well and truly hit with a big stick. And then hit again. And then knocked to the ground and the wasps jumped up and down upon. And then the nest kicked around a bit more, just for the sheer hell of it.

You have to be either squeaky clean or unfeasibly lucky to avoid the aftermath.

I don't think Tommy is either.

Which will make for the most fabulous, enthralling, humiliating, vicious court theatre for many, many, many a long year.

The only question is going to be ... who will play Tommy & Gail in the movie? Peter Hain and Paris Hilton?

Friday, February 15, 2008


The Comhairle run a scheme whereby Council employees may be able to take up to a year off to start their own business, with their post guaranteed should they decide to return.

It is a well worthwhile attempt to encourage private businesses to make a contribution to the islands economy.

Or at least it could be.

I understand an architect applied to the scheme, and was refused by the Human Resources panel in December, as his position was irreplacable. He has now left the Council. An electrical technician was refused by Human Resources in December and again this week, again on the same grounds.

Yesterday the Council decided to second the Director of Technical Services to the Schools PPP Special Purpose Vehicle for three years, with his Depute covering for him during that period.

Does anyone understand the logic?

Schools PPP

The Schools PPP originally came into being to provide five new schools in the Western Isles and the grief surrounding the potential closure of Bayble and Daliburgh (and the others) all originates in this scheme.

The Government have inherited this from the last crowd, who in turn were told to bastardise the Tory PFI schemes of old, so that the profit made by the developers was better hidden, and less gratuitous and blatant.

This was disguised as a 'risk premium' and a team of Thatcherite-Blairites recruited to staff a new quango, Partnerships UK, to persuade Councils to use PPP.

Well actually, the Government told Councils that if they wanted anything done, they had to use PPP; and they had to use Partnerships UK to suck the money from Councils like vampire leeches and pass it to rich multi-national companies advise Councils on how best to line the pockets use the skills of construction companies, lawyers, accountants and any other greedy party who could get their snout in the trough.

Now admittedly the Government pass the money to Councils to pay many of the bills so the net cost to the Council is low, but the waste of public money is compensatingly enormous.

One example: the PPP model for the new schools was developed by a firm of accountants, and you had to use them if you wanted to get funding. As a Councillor and decision maker, I asked to see the model, but I was only allowed to see the data that was being input and the results being output. I was not allowed to have any information about the model that was being used, and I had to trust that the model was appropriate and actually worked.

And the accountants took no responsibility if it was wrong, as it was 'our model'.

And it cost £2,000 for every change of input data, so serious options modelling was not a viable

It was at this point that I made it clear that I wanted no part in taking a decision based on the project, as I was denied the information I needed to make a sensible choice.

The continuation of such foolishness has been encouraged by the Government, rather than allow all the cheaper funding and construction options they had promised.

But it is the impact on the Comhairle as a whole that is the most serious.

The project costs are escalating at a rate of £30,000 per week, due to the rate of inflation in the building sector, and due to nature of the Government funding the Comhairle are not in a position to delay the works, instead having to find the extra funds for this themselves.

This year 2% is being sliced from revenue budgets of £100m and a further £10m (out of a £20m budget!) from capital to try and balance the books to let the PPP go ahead. And schools are being closed as part of these savings.

Yet the Council are still having to find another £2.4m per annum for the next thirty years to bridge the funding gap - itself up from the £800,000 in the original plan.

Let me make this plain -

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ferry timetables

With the new ferry timetable coming into effect on Friday 21 March, strong rumour reaches me that Sunday 23rd will see the first Sunday ferry into Lewis, and that the brand new updated timetable will be announced after the next CalMac Board meeting.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Education Committee

Free Church Minister - my arseConsidering again the decision of the Education & Children's Services Committee, I started to ponder the position of the four appointees as Representatives of Religious Interests to the Committee.

We have the Church of Scotland, The Free Church of Scotland, The Free Presbyterian Church and the Catholic Church join 16 Councillors to form Education policy in the Western Isles.

For those unfamiliar with religious schisms, the history of the various protestant denominations is one of argument and divisiveness, with the result that the Church of Scotland begat various offspring which begat the United (sic) Presbyterian Church, which begat the Free Church of Scotland in 1843 which begat the Free Presbyterian Church in 1893 and in 2000 the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing).

None of these are to be confused with the United Free Church of Scotland, or the Associated Presbyterian Churches (born 1990 to the Free Presbyterian Church).

The Church of Scotland as the established Presbyterian Church was, of course, a schism from the Catholic Church and has in course begat many other Churches too numerous to mention (and that is just in Lewis).

So, given this history of demonstrating how to live and let live with those who disagree with their view point, what right do they have to be the sole unelected representatives allowed to participate in Council decisions?

Where is the representation for parents? For teachers? For Muslims, Jews, agnostics et al? Special needs? Single parents? Gaelic speakers? Urdu speakers? Parents in a civil partnership?

Surely now is the time to remove the imbalance of religion from the Education Committee by either widening the scope of the input to include other views, or by removing an inherent bias in the process and restricting the decisions to elected Councillors only?

Let us grasp the nettle and ensure that education is no longer seen as 'needing' an input that cannot be provided by Councillors, and stop loading the Committee in favour of some denominations.

Taxation and politics

Two very interesting taxation stories appeared just above the radar, sending complementary but confusing messages about Labour's stance on equality on taxation.
    The "super rich" should pay 10% more tax on earnings over £150,000 or give the same amount to charity, senior Labour MP Frank Field has proposed.
Oblivious to the fact that as it stands donations to charity can reduce your tax bill in any event, this appears to be a way of proposing a 50% tax rate on the 'super-rich', which will not get shot down in flames by the Treasury.

To get the support of the Socialists, Frank Field quotes their heroine:
    Mr Field said the idea came from a conversation he once had with Baroness Thatcher
But the idea was knocked down by the senior partner at Grant Thornton, Chartered Accountants:
    Mr Warburton said many of his company's wealthy clients would welcome the chance to put something back into society - provided it was not through the tax system, which they saw as wasteful.
So presumably their less wealthy clients don't see the tax system as 'wasteful'?

Of course this is a non-runner, as the attitude of Labour towards equalising the tax burden and that old discredited concept of "From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs" has moved from listening to the words of Karl Marx to those of his brother Harpo.
    The Treasury has been accused of climbing down over its plans to tax wealthy foreigners living in the UK, after it moved to clarify its position.
No accusation, this IS a climb-down as a result of extensive pressure from the super-rich, who saw this as the first step towards them having to pay some tax, somewhere. The crawling continued,
    Under the government's plans, wealthy non-doms will be eligible to pay a flat £30,000 in tax a year - once they have lived in the UK for seven years - or else sign up to the existing British tax structure. "We don't need to know the detail of people's worldwide income if they are going to be paying the £30,000," said Ms Cooper.

In other words, if you can persuade the Inland Revenue that you actually reside in Fiji, or Russia or the moon and are only temporarily in the UK for a decade or three, then you can pay £30k and no questions are asked. Questions like do you pay any tax anywhere in the world?

Meanwhile, the poorest face punitive 67% tax rates ....

The fog descends

As I took the children in to school and nursery today, the fog made driving treacherous with visibility of only 100m. The kids in the playground loved the excitement of not being able to see and being chased by the fog.

The traffic sounds were almost non-existent, despite being only yards from the busy road. However, the fog was punctuated by the sounds of a local farmer shooting geese and the shotgun blasts bounced and echoed through the fog.

But the fog in the Council chamber had obviously descended much earlier and had reduced visibility even further, when Councillors decided against closing two secondary schools.

Hopefully, the full Council will take a decision, rather than prevaricating about taking a decision, next week, against the alternative of considering all the schools together, which will lead to confusion, probable legal challenges, and undoubtedly some bizarre results.

The Herald reports that Daliburgh costs £24,745 per pupil (compared to a Scottish average of £4,675).

However, the religious appointees to the Committee seem to have held the balance between closure and delay, arguing in bizarre terms:
    Rev Andrew Coghill shared concern with Daliburgh parents that the schools would shut in the face of an impending new law presuming against rural school closures.
    He argued for a situation where the “axes falls on everyone at the same time so justice is seen to be done.”

Which seems to be a case of having your cake and eating it, and I hope his sermons are much more intelligible.

With pupil numbers in the Western Isles having fallen from 6,315 to 3,850 in 30 years, something needs to be done to rationalise schooling, but it looks like closure of Daliburgh may be rejected by the Government - although no extra money will be available - leaving another millstone around the neck of the Comhairle.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

School closures

With the "Save Bayble School" minibus parked outside the Comhairle offices, and forecasts of a big demonstration against the proposals, the Education Committee will this afternoon consider the possible closure of some secondary departments, and the eventual transfer of these pupils to other schools.

I'd love to be able to bring you the agenda item, so that those who cannot be present could at least understand the background to the decision, and take a view on the reasonableness (or otherwise) of the recommendation. Unfortunately, the Comhairle does not publish the agendas electronically, and previous attempts by me to scan the agendas resulted in enormous files, so we will have to take on trust the reports in the various media sources.

Some facts are unchallengeable: pupil numbers are collapsing, costs are going through the roof and buildings need huge cash sums spent on them.

Some are more contentious: the new curriculum needs new teaching arrangements, the Government want rural schools to be kept open and the pupils may be better joining with their peers at the start of Secondary rather than in the Third year.

Of course no-one wants to lose their local school, but the financial implications for the community are enormous if we keep the schools open. The PFI PPP quasi-almost-Scottish Public Trust scheme is going to suck large sums out of the education budget over the next 30 years as the 'funding gap' has to be bridged. (What that means is that the costs of the building been done by anyone other than the Council are much higher, but for the purposes of this scam the Government pretends that the private sector having be enormously rewarded for taking a risk, where no risk exists, and consequently education provision must suffer to line the pockets of big construction companies, accountants and lawyers to deliver er... education provision.)

I understand that the Bayble parents may have some unspecified non-financial guarantee from the Government representatives, and it will be interesting to see how that fits into the big picture. However, I guess that the Uist and Barra schools will be selected for closure/rationalisation, and that the decision about schools in Lewis will - inevitably - be given more detailed consideration by Councillors. The majority of whom come from Lewis.

That's what happened last time, and I will be surprised if it doesn't happen again.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Birthday presents

As my enjoyment of cooking is well known through the family, our eldest son recently ensured I got another cookery book: this time it was Nigella Express, and her tasty but speedy recipes.

To accompany this, I acquired a skillet with the intention of using it for some nice steak and venison recipes that I had seen, almost as a substitute for a barbecue.

Incidentally, February has frequently been a good month for an early barbecue in the garden, with the mild weather allowing us to fire it up very, very, early in the evening and letting the kids run around and burn off some steam before bed time.

However, the skillet has been used extensively over the past two weeks as I experiment with various combinations of meat - with varying degrees of success i.e. cries from my wife that "there are flames coming off it!!!"- accompanied by more traditionally cooked side dishes.

Tonight was - if I say so myself - a masterpiece.

Nigella - for it was her - fell open at the seared salmon with Singapore noodles, but in the absence of the metropolitan ingredients (just where can you get Chinese green leaves in Stornoway?) I improvised. A stir fry of sliced baby corn, orange pepper and grated carrot were added to the noodles and stock and cooked with curry powder whilst the salmon seared in a mere couple of minutes, with one side also coated in the same medium Madras powder.

Baby was hurriedly transferred from lap to front row baby seat in front of the fish tank, whilst we descended on the feast like two locusts leaving a health farm.

Yum! I'll be doing this again soon.

Audit committee

Where can we get tickets for the Scottish Parliament Audit Committee meeting which is summoning Messrs Manson and Currie, the former Chief Executive and Chairman respectively?

Will it be live on the site?

Can someone work out how to catch the footage and post it on YouTube?

What about some pertinent questions for the Committee to ask?

And surely the role of the rest of the Board needs to be looked at......?

Western Isles Health BoardThe Board carefully scrutinise the budget

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Labour in the Highlands and Islands

I find myself on the mailing list for the Highlands and Islands Labour MSPs.

Or more accurately a mysterious unknown correspondent sends me a second-hand copy of the newsletter, probably when out walking his dog, in the hope that I might think I am important enough to get a direct mailing.

Whilst the newsletters are vaguely entertaining, most of the document is taking up with the old-style unconstructive SNP bashing which is obviously designed to alienate the floating voter, whilst giving the unreconstructed Labour members something to should about in the pub at the weekend.

Can I solicit membership of all the political mailing lists? Good bits will be reported; nonsense will be ridiculed; and all will be recycled in due course.

Speaking to the Labour candidate, Cllr DJ MacSween, this week, I told him that the biggest problem he faces in getting elected is his own party, as they seem to be determined to cause maximum problems for all their candidates. He did not demur beyond saying the bare minimum he had to. Although, this being the Western Isles, local factors will come heavily into play.

Stornoway Trust, our MP and our MSP

When I posted a comment about a private meeting on Monday between the above, I was lambasted for repeating third or fourth hand stories. That was until the Stornoway Gazette was published this week, and the details were confirmed.

Having now spoken to someone who was present at the meeting, it is clear that the level of frustration felt by Trust members is immense at the incompetence of their guests and the blatant attempted opportunism of the meeting.
  • Neither Parliamentarian has had any regular contact with the Trust, mainly because they didn't want to discuss the application for the windfarm on Stornoway Trust land. This despite the Trust being the biggest landowner in the islands, with about 1/3 of the population having them as landlords.

  • Neither Parliamentarian had any real grasp of the role and remit of the Trust

  • Neither Parliamentarian had any understanding of the current financial position of the Trust

  • It was obvious that neither had tried to engage informally with any Trustee, and that those who should have been counted as friends and supporters were alienated by this

  • Neither seemed to have any real understanding of the impact of the windfarm on the finances of the Trust, and consequently the plans that the Trust had for improvements to the estate they manage
With MP and MSP having called the meeting on the back of the 'Minded to Refuse' letter, the Trustees were stunned to find that the Parliamentarians were utterly bereft of any constructive ideas for the future, instead expecting the (impoverished) Trust to have some rabbit to pull out of the hat. Virtually everyone who has ever had any dealing with the Trust knows of the situation, so none of this should have been a surprise to anyone with a finger on the pulse. Except two people, obviously.

However, what really, really got the Trustees angry was the blatant attempt to find the mysterious Plan B (which never existed) so that the MP and MSP could claim it as their own.

As my confidant said: Alasdair Morrison chaired the Arnish working group and used to claim the credit for everything good that happened there. He didn't do a lot, but at least he kept in touch. These two were pathetically desperate to claim the credit for anything, without getting involved or taking any responsibility for anything.

Apart from that, the meeting seems to have gone well.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Wendy's donations

Cleared by the Electoral Commission?


It was a verdict of "guilty, but so small it was not worth bothering about".

Can it get any worse?

Wendy Alexander
"Lightning bolt for the Campaign Team, please"

Cat welfare

It is good to know that the Scottish Government have launched an all important "Consultation on the Draft Cat Welfare Code of Practice".

No, seriously, this is important stuff.

I do look forward to this appearing on the Comhairle Agendas, as it will have to do, so that the Councillors can consider this in detail and ensure that they are aware of such important matters, such as....
    Your cat should have plenty of things to stimulate it mentally
Which I don't think means a good library or an Xbox. (Explanation for Councillors - an Xbox is a on-line gaming system using Blu-ray disks)
    You may wish to consider whether it would be safer to keep cats indoors at night, when outdoor risks to their health and welfare could be greater. However, cats can be active at night and restricting them in this way may cause them stress.
Which means that whatever you do it is wrong, and they can prosecute you.
    Your cat should not be too fat or too thin
The ability to state the bloody obvious hasn't been lost by the Civil Servants. Presumably, there will be slimming classes available for fat cats and guidance on diet?
    You should make sure that your cat eats regularly and has fresh water available at all times
Look, I was just joking. Is there anyone out there who is going to read that and say "Oh! So that's what I am doing wrong!"
    Your cat should have somewhere suitable to toilet
How the hell do they flush the toilet? Do they need a bidet and shower? Should I provide a sauna or a steam room?

There are 37 (yes, count them!) pages of this magnificent waste of time and paper. Complemented only by the 42 pages of Consultation on the draft dog welfare code of practice, which has a different but overlapping set of consultees and will be the next item on the Committee agenda. As for the Consultation on draft goldfish welfare code of practice....

You really cannot make it up.

Year of the Rat

Happy New Year ChineseToday is the first day of the Chinese New Year, which is the Year of the Rat, so to celebrate the Chinese exchange teacher at the Nicolson Institute was the host and guest of honour at a Banquet in the Golden Ocean last night.

About 50 of us squeezed into the restaurant where a few speeches preceded the serious business of eating.

Mr Lu then entertained the assembled masses with a rendition of Auld Lang Syne in English and then in Mandarin, which brought the staff in the restaurant out form the kitchens to listen and enjoy.

The New Year was brought in with an excellent mix of foods, a wider ranging and diverse range of guests from School, the Education Dept and the Bridge Centre as well as friends and acquaintances.

The staff finally threw us out about 11pm, probably so they could bring in the New Year properly.

The ideogram reads "Happy New Year"

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Sheer genius!

Which idiot in the Lib-Lab camp came up with the strategy for the Scottish Budget which involved abstention?

For 64
Against 1
Abstain 60

The Budget goes through (and a good thing too), and in the process the Labour Party have shot themselves in the foot with a certain degree of aplomb. Having listened to the speeches, the decrying of the Budget by Andy Kerr and others made it clear exactly where their sympathies lay, and how much better they could do were they in power today (but not over the last eight years, obviously).

Hence to the vote - SNP, Tories, Green and Margo, presumably - sided for the budget, and instead of doing the arithmetic and staging a protest vote they knew they were going to lose, the idiots - the absolute braindead idiots - sat on their hands, in a show of decisiveness.

Given the option of shaking a fist and worrying the Government about their inherent power in opposition, they have managed to bolster the SNP benches, and become a laughing stock in the process.

I suspect the decline may be terminal ......

Parliamentary Written answers 5/2/08

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Scottish National Party) | Hansard source

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland in which years since 1997 the Prime Minister sent greetings to the annual Royal National Mod festival.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns (Minister of State, Scotland Office) | Hansard source

(holding answer 17 December 2007)

Art and culture are matters devolved to the Scottish Executive and Scottish Ministers. However, the Prime Minister sent a hand-written note, in Gaelic, to the Royal National Mod last year and the Secretary of State for Scotland wrote in 2006.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Minority retort

Scottish Parliament. Lock the doors and keep them in.One of the great benefits of proportional representation is that the public are more likely to get what they want, whilst politicians are less likely to be able to manipulate the system to their benefit.

It also produces some deliciously cringe-making compromises as the desperation to hold onto power outweighs every other factor.

So it will be this week as the first SNP Budget attempts to make its way through Parliament.

The balance of power - for this matter - lies not with the SNP, but with the tantalising combination of Margo MacDonald, the Greens and the Tories who hold the votes that will make all the difference.

With the Lib-NuLab pact desperate for the budget to be lost amended in such a way as to meet the prioirities of the people the Lib-NuLab pact for purely altruistic reasons (i.e. so that they don't get embarrassed by what they should have done over the past 8 years), the problem is clear.

As someone who marched along Princes Street on many occasions decrying Thatcher, supporting the miners, opposing the cuts in whatever, and who has probably graced the photo-files of MI5 the Tories are beyond the pale. Indeed, the SNP used to have a policy of 'no deals' with the Tories, until .... well when exactly.

To win seats in Edinburgh and Fife a new Forth crossing was promised, which has alienated the Greens. Who were kind of pissed-off about the airport expansions, new road building and (soto voce) the weak committment to renewables before they realised the power they were wielding.

Margo, being less beholden to anyone except Margo (and that's a complement) has already extracted promises, commitments and money for her chosen projects. And in fine style she has then sat back and demanded more. And she will probably get it all.

If the budget goes through, the SNP will be branded as Tartan Tories again, and they will have to rely on the Tories each and every year to pass the budgets, which will not be very comfortable come the next elections.

However, carefully considering the voting position I suspect that the Budget will be lost and the process will start again, resulting in more changes in the promises, and a blame game between the SNP and Labour. That will be entertaining if not enlightening, and it will be a bitter, bitter, vicious scrap. But only the first of four.

Update 20:20
The toys are out of the pram, as Salmond threatens to resign if the Budget is not passed. Although claiming to be confident of success, this behaviour suggests that the parliamentary arithmetic is on a knife-edge and the pressure is telling.

It is not very edifying, and possibly pointless. I thought that the elections were every four years, and couldn't be any sooner, meaning that a hung Parliament had to struggle on and find a majority issue by issue. That would be a hellish situation for Scotland for the next three years but should produce a better Parliament and better Parliamentarians in the long-run. If they don't kill each other first. Which might in itself be entertaining.

Update 6/2/08
The BBC refreshes my memory about the possible sequence of events. In the event of the Resignation of the First Minister, there are 28 days in which a new First Minister can be elected. Failing which, with the support of 2/3 of the MSPs, a new election can be called.

With 129 MSPs, Labour has a blocking minority for the calling of a new election. Can you imagine Labour candidates standing in a snap election? Turkeys and Xmas.

1+1=3 or is it 4?

Incredible, but true, the budgets for 2005 and 2006 at Western Isles Health Board were fundamentally flawed as they counted savings twice in coming to the final figures.

Is it any wonder that the projected savings couldn't be achieved. And is it any wonder that overspends occurred when the basics were so wrong.

The Chief Executive of NHS Scotland is due to present this information to the Audit Committee of the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, so look forward to more embarrassing revelations.

I tust that we will be told just who made this mistake, and who was responsible for failing to set up a Finance Committee to scrutinise the budgets.

Update 6/2/08
The full text of the letter to the Audit Committee is here, thanks to Hebrides News.

Engaging with the public

The Stornoway Trust is the landowner for the Parish of Stornoway, with Trustees elected every few years to represent the different interests in the area. It is apolitical, but has Trustees from various political parties.

It has also been a leading figure in the attempt to develop windfarms in Lewis, and as such last nights meeting with the MP and MSP to discuss the future plans was timely.

When our MSP was discussing the windfarms and asked the question "So what is your Plan B?" to the Trustees, I understand that the floor was wiped with him and Mr MacNeil, with all the Trustees (including the SNP activists) laying into them with a vengeance.

The kicking was so bad, that the MP and MSP have now refused to attend the informal meeting with Councillors next Monday to get and give a regular briefing on the changes since they last met.

Or more accurately,our MP decided that he just had to attend a meeting with parents at Paible school and our MSP was stopped from attending on the advice of his Assistant, Kenny "Flip" MacLeod, who decided that he had better travel to Paible too.

Perhaps the prospect of meeting people with a differing view is a major problem for them both - which might explain the refusal to debate with the Labour candidate on Isles FM.

Why? With all the opportunities for poking fun, and ripping the usual out of the Labour Party it should have been an excellent opportunity. Instead the smell of fear is starting to become all pervasive.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Prospects for Labour

With the trickle of bad and damaging news becoming a flood - even if the substance is fairly insubstantial - the Labour Party must be screaming at the mishandling of the news about donations to the Wendy Alexander campaign.

Even the 'snouts in the trough' attitude of Derek Conway wasn't enough to distract from the bad news, mainly as press knew all about this, and the public weren't surprised at the duplicity shown by MPs.

If Labour have any serious expectation of winning the next election it would seem that their only hope is a simultaneous catastrophe to remove the entire top echelon of the party, otherwise they face the prospect of humiliation, defeat and disaster in 2010.

I still think that the new openness (hah!) that we can now expect from MPs about their expenses is going to bring more dirty laundry into the open, which will be entertaining for all and sundry, and might actually bring a higher measure of honesty from, and respect for, MPs if they volunteer the information, rather than have the details dragged out of them.

I remain of the opinion that MPs and MSPs should have to publish their tax returns, so we can see just what they are up to, as after the initial furore the public will be better served by the disclosure.

Emergency meeting about windfarms

The Comhairle meet today at 2pm in emergency session to discuss the 'minded to refuse' view of the Scottish Government.

I trust that the Comhairle will take a very robust view on this attitude from Government, and will highlight the inconsistencies and bias in the statement.

However, the way forward was surely illustrated by the vox pops in the Stornoway Gazette this week where four out of five people supported the application and the fifth supported windfarms but not this scheme.

The Comhairle should immediately launch a campaign to encourage supporters of the application to submit letters of support to the Government to show that the supporters have been silent, not non-existent.

I have long said that I believed that 1/3 of the population oppose the plans; 1/3 support; and, 1/3 don't know. The opponents are obviously well organised, and the Comhairle has been remiss on not building on the underlying public support for the plan.

Whatever the outcome in a few weeks time, both sides must be prepared to work together constructively in the aftermath, and if either side sits on the sidelines and sulks, then I they will face nothing but opprobrium from the public.

Update 16:10
From the Gazette: Officials at the European Union expressed 'surprise and dismay' when informed that the Scottish Government were minded not to approve the Lewis Windpower development, councillors heard today (Monday).
"It was made clear that EU legislation does not prohibit development on designations."

Update 20:45
Checking back through my notes, before the Comhairle came to a recommendation, I was told that the Designations did not give a blanket prohibition on development but could in some circumstances prevent it. The interpretation by the Scottish Government seems to be completely in line with the Westminster attitude of 'implement EU regulations to the maximum.'

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Minded to refuse

An exclusive copy of the letter from the Government to LWP is NO LONGER* attached here. The funny pictures are due to the Government not embedding some fancy graphics properly.

I've read it quickly, and I'm appalled at some of the attitudes prevalent in the letter, and the implications of some of the attitudes set out in the document.

The key theme is "Economic criteria cannot be seen as overruling ecological criteria", which is the principal reason for refusal. Fair enough, but it appears that ecological criteria are treated as the primary assessment tool and economic criteria are dismissed.

The economic impact on Lewis is dismissed as there are other alternatives - namely the Eishken and Pairc windfarms, which implies that they will be approved - which can't be right as that prejudges so much that is yet to happen.

But most irritating of all is that the conditions placed on the application by the Comhairle appear to have been ignored. For instance, the objection raised by the Western Isles Fisheries Trust was virtually fully taken on board and became a planning condition to the satisfaction of the WIFT, yet it seems to have been rehashed and used to justify refusal.

I sense political meddling in the decision, forcing trivial points to become improbably important.

There were plenty of valid reasons to choose from if one wanted to find grounds for refusal, but damn few of them make there way into this document.

I'm bloody angry at the poor quality of the decision making process.

8/2/08: * I have removed the link until the response period has expired.
20/2/08: Link reinstated.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Eishken wind farm inquiry delayed

Thanks to Hebrides News for drawing my attention to the calling and now postponing of the Beinn Mhor Power Public Inquiry into the proposed windfarm in Eishken.

Apparently, the Government failed to notify objectors of the Inquiry, and consequently the whole process of holding the Inquiry has to start again.

The phrase 'piss-up in a brewery' springs to mind.

Is this to be a 'time limited public inquiry' that our MP promised was the best way forward for the applications? I doubt it, as the results are not expected before 2010, which is the worst of all worlds. I always said a PLI would satisfy no-one, and I think I am sure that I will be proved right.


Stornoway lifeboatWith a Spanish Trawler aground in Village Bay, St Kilda, in horrendous weather conditions, the Stornoway rescue helicopter has been called out to try to remove the crew.

At 6am this morning the Lifeboat was called out and is expected to reach St Kilda at noon today, after travelling through Force 10 seas. They then face Force 11 on the way back, after spending at least a few hours on site.

As someone with no sea legs whatsoever, I have nothing but total admiration, respect and bewilderment that they are prepared to face such challenges, dangers and appalling conditions at a moments notice, and for a minuscule financial reward.