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

Thursday, July 31, 2008

FlyBE luggage charges

In today's Gazette advert the phrase "15kg complimentary luggage allowance" caught our eyes and deserved further investigation.

A look at the terms and conditions on the FlyBE website makes it slightly clearer (we think!).

A Bag weighing up to 20kgs being placed in the aircraft hold will be charged at a rate of GBP12.00 per bag per one way flight. A discounted rate of GBP7.99 per bag per one way flight will be charged if bags are booked up to two hours prior to departure through
So it appears that luggage weighing between 15-20kg will cost you £12 each way, unless you log on and confirm the number of cases, when it will still cost you £7.99 each way. But weigh them carefully....
Excess baggage charges of £9.00 per kilo will be applied at the airport to any passenger carrying over their baggage allowance.
And don't try to take anything too big onto the plane....
All cabin baggage must fit into the gauge at the airport and will be weighed. Any bags exceeding either size or weight must be checked in and hold charges will apply.
The big question must be,"When will the complimentary allowance be withdrawn?" as this will add £24 to every return flight, which will not be subject to an ADS discount.

I hope I am wrong, but always read the small print and weep.

Handbags at dawn

The saga of the Comhairle's (non?)position on Local Income Tax rumbles on. And gets more bitter, and hence much more entertaining for us mere mortals, as today's Gazette illustrates.

Next week it is angels on the head of a pin.

As with all email correspondence, you really have to start at the bottom with the oldest message. (Thanks to Deep Throat for forwarding this exchange.)

From: Cllr. Donald Manford []
Sent: 31 July 2008 16:03
To: Cllr. Angus McCormack; Cllr. Angus Campbell
Cc: CNES - Members
Subject: RE: Article in last week's Stornoway Gazette


You appear not to have read my attachment nor does it appear you have read the decision report.

I am happy that you at least accept my right to a view and I accept your right to disagree with it. You will note from the article I have written that it was for the Ward section of my local paper and to my own electorate. I trust you now accept my right to do that.

I am required to respond because not to do so would allow you to contend that I accept your view, which I do not. However a number of members have advised me that they are very unhappy with continued correspondence in this manner. So while I am happy to receive and respond to your communications I do not propose to circulate further correspondence unless I feel it merits it.

Kind regards, Donald.

From: Cllr. Angus McCormack
Sent: 31 July 2008 10:37
To: Cllr. Donald Manford; Cllr. Angus Campbell
Cc: CNES - Members
Subject: RE: Article in last week's Stornoway Gazette

Good morning Donald

I fear that you misinterpret my position. I have absolutely no problem with you having a view of your own and voicing that view. Where you misrepresent the CNES position, as in the Stornoway Gazette article, then that is quite inappropriate.

In regard to CNES decisions, I am quite clear on where my responsibility lies. As Vice Chair of Audit and Scrutiny I act corporately in the interests of the Comhairle and the public. Generally speaking these are compatible. On such an important issue as the future funding of the CNES it is quite irresponsible to argue that reservations should not be voiced to the government regarding their proposals. In doing that the CNES is representing the interests of its people. Should the government come back with proposals as to where future funding is to come from and if the government addresses the other concerns raised, then an entirely different view might be taken.

However I feel that I am bound by the corporate decision and that I should seek to explain it to the public not undermine it as you have done for, it would appear, entirely political reasons. In electing members to COSLA at all levels, I had understood that they should represent the CNES at all times. Otherwise you become political cannon fodder. In your position as a Senior Councillor and Chair of transportation do you put forward the council’s views or your own? I have always had the impression to date that you represented the counci’s views. So wherein lies the difference?

I made it clear in my letter on Sunday Observance that if it were decided that the CNES position should change that I would accept that decision. On LIT you do not accept that. I do not oppose dissent but if you are in a position where you are to represent the CNES then you have a duty to do that or resign. You appear to want to have your cake and eat it. I accept that it is a big dilemma and we are all of us faced with these matters all the time. I would argue that without corporate responsibility governance fails.

Finally on the subject of courtesy I should have to say that I do not believe that I have in any way been discourteous. If you do not want criticism, do not write to the press. This exchange could just have easily taken place in the chamber; indeed it may yet do so.

Kindest Regards


From: Cllr. Donald Manford
Sent: 31 July 2008 10:31
To: Cllr. Angus McCormack; Cllr. Angus Campbell
Cc: CNES - Members
Subject: RE: Article in last week's Stornoway Gazette


Before you concur so heartily with sentiments you might consider taking a little time to consider them rather more carefully.

Let us examine the implications of what you consider, corporate responsibility.

A Cllr takes forward an issue of behalf of their community, it is debated at council and lose the vote. By your interpretation the member must not only accept the decision (which is an obvious fact) the member must also agree with it. Meaning presumably by your understanding that, you go back to that community and say not only that you cannot any longer support them but you support the council against them. Do you have any idea how ridiculous that is? To take your position a bit further, should your community feel the issue be taken to the Ombudsman, you could not help them indeed you would promote the council position, which you had previously opposed.

Let us examine another issue. This council has a Sabbath observance policy which you have recently given very public support to. As with every policy it has to come before council for reconsideration. Should that be changed by a majority vote, would you then become an advocate of Sunday Sailing? Surely not but by your own interpretation of corporate governance, you would have to.

Cllr Munro perfectly honorably in my view, still opposes Sound of Harris crossing on the Sabbath; the Comhairle does not want it withdrawn. Should you be calling on Morag to follow the course you advocate for me? I would not support you in that. There are many more examples.

The right to dissent is in the constitution for a very good reason, fortunately those who have gone before us thought deeply about how they wished our people should be represented. Particularly in your role as vice chair of Audit and Scrutiny you should develop a deeper insight in to your own responsibility.

In order to properly be allowed to represent our electorate councilors must be able to continue to register dissent without fear or threat, the alternative is not a democratic option.

Again I feel it would have been courteous for you to have raised these issues directly with me in the first instance. As you have circulated your communication I feel obligated to do likewise, though I think most members will be saddened by the necessity.

Kind regards, Donald.

From: Cllr. Angus McCormack
Sent: 29 July 2008 16:40
To: Cllr. Angus Campbell; Cllr. Donald Manford
Cc: CNES - Members
Subject: RE: Article in last week's Stornoway Gazette


I heartily concur with your sentiments. I hope your letter has gone to the Gazette to redress the balance. However I doubt that it will get a half page spread.

I think, Donald, that you must decide on whether you are going to represent the views of the Comhairle or otherwise. If you are not to be bound by corporate responsibility then you should resign from posts to which you have been appointed by the Comhairle.

Just for the record, the views of the Comhairle do not necessarily represent my personal views but I accepted them as a reasonable corporate response.



From: Cllr. Angus Campbell
Sent: 29 July 2008 17:28
To: Cllr. Donald Manford
Cc: CNES - Members
Subject: Article in last week's Stornoway Gazette

Dear Donald

I was very disappointed to read in the Stornoway Gazette your comments on our consultation response for Local Income Tax. Although I was not altogether surprised, your comments certainly are not a true reflection of the position of this Comhairle.

The starting position of the Comhairle is that we want a fairer form of taxation for our people. To try and present a picture of anything different, is, to my mind, at best insincere.

One of the concerns of the Comhairle is that the replacement system of local income tax would reduce the overall resources available to the Outer Hebrides.

We have made it very clear that we are not happy with the present system. We want to see those that are unfairly penalised recompensed but we cannot as a Comhairle argue for less resources coming to these islands. If you pursue this line of thought then I challenge you to identify where you are going to make the cuts that would be necessary to balance our budgets. You say the Comhairle response has been done in a way to prevent Councillors standing up and saying they are in favour of the present system. That is totally inaccurate but you have also failed to identify where cuts would be made eg Social Work Home Help services? Education? Or perhaps you feel there is enough to spare from the roads budget? From my own point of view I embrace my responsibility as a Councillor to pursue the best deal for these islands. I would ask you to do the same.

Everybody accepts that people don’t like paying taxes but if you follow your populist view through then there would be no services in the Western Isles. As in all Comhairle decisions I think you have to accept the democratic process. However, this seems to be part of a trend where you do not recognise the Comhairle’s will. It is, of course, your right to be part of an opposition group but I think if that is the route you are taking you should state it clearly and withdraw from office within the Comhairle.

A couple of points in the article give me particular concern. It is totally incorrect to state that the Comhairle wants to discontinue consultation on local taxation – on the contrary we specifically stated that we wish to contribute to an early discussion on securing a fairer local tax for Scotland. I am also disappointed that you seem to be indifferent to the retention of valued jobs within the Western Isles but would be happy to see the jobs transferred off island.

You have done your fellow Councillors a disservice with your comments in the Gazette article. The process that we went through of consultation on a response was as open as I believe you would see in any local authority in Scotland. The matter went to P&R, a separate seminar and then to the Finance and Strategy Working Group of which you are a member. It then went backk for final comments before being presented to Edinburgh. There were very few comments returned and absolutely none from yourself. I would have thought that if you had real issues you would have used the offices of this Comhairle to argue them through and make your case. If you don’t win your case, like the rest of us, you should accept the democratic decision of the Comhairle. to all Members to as

The Comhairle is committed to continuing to work on finding a fairer tax for all residents in the Outer Hebrides.



Tuesday, July 29, 2008

£100,000 per day

That's what Tesco in Stornoway is taking.

And it is not all substitution from the Co-op, but will also be impacting on every grocery business operating in the islands, from the Clachan in Leverburgh to Cross Stores in Ness, and everywhere in between.

Before we all rush out and get our Tesco Clubcard numbers tattooed on our foreheads, remember that it is going to have an effect on your local businessmen and the local economy.

According to the notices in the staff room (I am moonlighting as the shelf-stacker on the biscuits aisle) the takings have ranged from £89,000 to £130,000 per day and exceed EXCEED the takings in Kirkwall and Lerwick who are the direct competition in the battle of the managers.

...and how much/little of your spending comes back into the local economy?

Labour Scottish leadership

Hark! Hear the bells ring with the joyous news reverberating throughout the land that Cathy Jamieson is to grace us with her presence as a leadership candidate, I thought it appropriate to exclusively reveal the full line up of candidates.

Labour MSP candidates
Alex Salmond must be quaking in his boots.....

Lochboisdale ferry

The more I see of the proposal by Storas Uibhist to commission the MV Claymore to make the run to Mallaig, the more impressed I am by the robustness of this approach.

As a long time supporter of a separate Mallaig-Lochboisdale run (rather than having Lochboisdale and Castlebay fighting over the same ferry), the proposal has all the necessary merits and few demerits.

I appreciate that there might be a few issues with the vessel itself , although I don't know enough to make anything more than a superficial comment, and that issues relating to the replacement of the vessel in the event of breakdown require to be looked at, but none of these are insurmountable if there is the political will to deliver the service.

The Government has now been very cleverly boxed in, after they claimed that there were no available vessels, and I suspect that they have nowhere to go, other than being unable to find the deficit funding; which will be an unacceptable excuse to islanders.

(I suspect the political nous of Brian Wilson in the ways these proposals are formulated, which will serve to infuraiate certain local politicians.)

With the full support of the (so far silent) MP and MSP, these plans should be able to be pushed through quickly, and I hope that the whole community will get behind the plan and force the Government to deliver this long overdue service.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ex-Cllr Angus Graham

When I returned home today, it was with great sadness that I heard of the death of my former colleague.

Angus was one of the best councillors ever to grace the chamber, although - as with many of his colleagues - we did not always see eye to eye.

Angus had huge experience, guile, ability, intelligence, drive, determination and foresight in his many roles inside the Council; and beyond in the many responsibilities he took on.

I could write a eulogy about his abilities but that would not be honest or fair; nor would Angus have wanted to be painted as a saint. He was never afraid to challenge or cross anyone, nor to use his abilities to achieve an end that he considered worthy.

Angus was a master at the black political arts which go on behind the scenes and which (when expertly worked) are never seen. He believed passionately in many causes - low pay, crofting, the Labour Party (but not New Labour) and his ward amongst others - and was never slow in coming forward to state his views.

I decided to stand for the Council in 1999 largely as a result of seeing his role as Vice-Convener and was immediately thrust into the role of king-maker by Angus who wanted the votes he believed I could deliver. It was a baptism of fire and a rapid, and unforgiving, learning curve as I saw him corner Councillors as he sought their votes. His relationship with Council employees was unique, and ranged completely across the spectrum.

Angus and I fell out over his role as Chair of Transportation, and I suffered the repeated lambasting that he felt was due to all upstarts who challenged his views, and the prolonged battle affected the new Council for some six months, before the matter was concluded. We didn't speak directly for many long months, publicly exchanging long and interminable correspondence on obtuse points of protocol before the Council settled down again.

He may have moved to the backbenches but his presence was always felt in the Council and noted by the journalists who he assiduously courted which resulted in his regular exclusive appearance in all the media, much to the despair of us less-quotable Councillors.

After the icy chill thawed, we spent many hours arguing respectfully about the finer points of whatever topic was up for debate, even though our views were not hugely different.

Amongst my recollections of Angus were his ability to come into the Chamber and to only then open the envelope with his papers with great show (and noise) and ask what item we were at. At which point he would then produce an excellent, on the hoof argument for or against the point, lambasting the previous speakers, grabbing the headlines without any effort, and trying to place the Chair in an invidious position. You lost concentration at your peril; or 'mis-spoke' at the risk of a serious verbal humiliation.

Above all, he made immense contributions to debates, frequently using his rhetoric and well-judged motions to guide the Comhairle to vastly improved decisions.

He was the master of the Standing Order, pulling sub-clauses from the depths of his experience at a moment's notice and bending the Chamber to his will. That he sometimes used his wiles to manipulate the rules was in hindsight wonderful to see, and an enormous education to us all.

Angus and I were never reconciled beyond a nodding acquaintance, but we respected each others' views, whilst trying to knock lumps out of each other. However, I never stopped having an utter admiration for his uncompromising abilities and political abilities.

He is a huge loss to the causes he espoused, the community that he served, and to the family that he so obviously loved and protected.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


With the news that a member of "Plane Stupid" tried to superglue himself to Gordon Brown, the question has got to be....

Who or what would you like to see attached to a politician?

I'll try and oblige the winner with a suitable mocked-up photo....

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fishing policies

A House of Lords report apparently rules out aid for the fishing industry to help it with fuel costs and also dismisses the prospect of withdrawal from the Common Fisheries Policy.

Although the report was quite obviously political and designed to try to undermine the SNP policy warm noises towards the fishing industry, the underlying issues require more detailed consideration.

First a disclosure: I act for some fishermen operating in the Western Isles.

Let's start by considering the desire to provide financial support to the industry at the time of high fuel prices. I know just how this is affecting fishermen, making boats barely viable and affecting the crew earnings very substantially. The proposal from Richard Lochhead, Fisheries Minister, to set up a commission (to think about maybe considering some solutions that they might give to the Minister for him to think about and maybe do something about, after due consideration, legal advice and a suitably long delay until just before the next election), was obviously nothing but an intended sop to his electorate dressed up in grandiose terms as a 'policy'. Politically very astute for his electorate, but unworkable and undeliverable in the long term.

Again the SNP have fallen into the trap of making undeliverable promises which can only let people down – which the voters remember much longer than the actual achievements.

The problem with the waffle policy was not the desire to help a particular industry, but the lack of thought given to the practicalities of such a policy. Why only fishermen? Why not farmers, hauliers or even accountants?

Well, to one extent it doesn't really matter as State Aid rules would have prevented any meaningful subsidy.

Withdrawal from the Common Fisheries Problem Policy is – the House of Lords tells us – not a viable option, and it identifies the key problem as being overcapacity in the industry.

Right and wrong, in my view.

Overcapacity is the issue and one that is being avoided by all parts of the industry. I remember Stornoway Harbour being filed with fishing boats, all of whom earned a living. Today, there is perhaps 10% of that number, almost all of whom are struggling.

The problem for us in the islands lies with the enormous vessels coming into the area and hoovering the sea empty.

As long as the CFP exists this waste and destruction will continue in it's unmitigated, unsustainable, form. There are no options as long as other nations can prevent restrictions being placed on industrial fishing.

That is why there is a need to have a debate on the CFP and on the other aspects of closure European integration. If you support closer integration, then you have to accept the consequences; if you oppose closer integration, then you must question why we allow destructive policies to be pursued when better alternatives exist.

It is time to review our relationship with the rest of Europe and to place that relationship in the context of our national requirements and aspirations, and the costs and benefits of the different ways forward.

Monday, July 21, 2008


As I wander the streets and observe the stylish and classy Southern Europeans in their dress, attitude and behaviour, it is incredibly easy to pick out the less classy tourist, and you can soon identify just in what aspects they are in deficit.

I don't possess the style, self-confidence or utter contempt for fashion reality that characterises those who would claim to be 'style gurus', but I can give some guidance to the masses who may be heading on their holidays shortly. Good sunglasses; pedal pushers, for both men and women; smart sandals; and an air of insouciance are all positives. I can't give a complete positive list, so let's try the reverse.

Here is Angus' guide to “What not to do if you want to try to look classy on holiday':

    6. Football gear. A subtle badge or baseball cap proclaiming your allegiance to Barcelona or Juventus can look smart. The complete Celtic/Rangers/Liverpool/ ManU strip for a night-time stroll along the promenade carries a certain cachet that only the wearer can fully appreciate; but it helps the discerning viewer to easily avoid the bars and restaurants favoured by such style victims.

    5. Day-glo bright pink sunburn. A no-no in almost every situation, but when accompanied by the above it marks one out as being not local by a long shot and unable to carry an air of Mediterranean mystery. It is not in any way classy to be able to read the bar menu and the label on the can of beer or bottle of alcopops you are carrying by the phosphorescent glow from your skin. On this note, the production of the local brew in cans is for the benefit of tourists only – just look around you at the locals, for goodness sake – and the reason that the locals do not buy it is because of the taste (or lack thereof).

    4. Multiple piercings – allegedly called 'body art' – may carry a certain air of mystery, edginess and suggest the wearer is in some way alternative. Having ten rings in your ears, nose and/or nipples may look trendy in your local night club, but subtlety is the mark of the southern European. Navel piercings can look smart, but where a large dangly earring has been inserted into a large dangly stomach, this is less attractive.

    3. Coffee or a beer at the seafront restaurant at 3pm with a group of friends can be the epitome of class, style and cool. All-day fried breakfast at 3pm in the English Cafe washed down with 20 fags and a mug of tea and six pints of British lager is not.

    2. Arse antlers. If you are trying to express your individuality by having exactly the same type of tattoo as all your friends, then you have perhaps missed the point. A sub-set of this group is whole-back tattoos for men depicting Celtic goddesses, writhing snakes or a football player. Tattoos of pictures of your children as babies is another popular mistake, especially for the children as they enter the teenage years.

    Arse antlers

    Arse antlers - big , but not clever

    1. If you have an uncle Calum who only ever visits Stornoway twice a year - once for the lamb sales and once to give his insurance details to the Police – then you will know just how embarrassing it can be for him to appear in his finest brand-new Stornoway Fisherman's Co-op black wellies and the barely-worn pinstripe suit he bought from Hepworths, before they closed in the early 1980's. Crocs perform the same function in Europe. Sold everywhere to tourists, and tourists alone, they mark the wearer as having less style and more gullibility than uncle Calum. In Stornoway, Crocs have two functions: on good days (40 per annum) they let the air into your feet to remove the smell and reduce the chance of foot-rot. On wet days (350 pa) they allow immediate drainage as you splash through puddles. Wear them in temperate climes and you are your uncle Calum, just in from the country to the big town.Crocs

Friday, July 18, 2008


It wouldn't be a Nicolson family holiday without blue-flashing lights and a dash to emergency ward 10.

Yes, we are all alright, thanks; prevention being better than the cure.

How we still manage to get travel insurance cover is a continuing mystery; having notched up 4 nights in hospital and 3 emergency ambulance call-outs in 5 years. And having paid less in premiums than the cheapest hospital bill has been.

Whilst the rest of the world is probably not quite so accident prone, I will take this opportunity to strongly recommend travel insurance and free E111 Health Insurance Cards before you travel.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Flights to the islands

It has just occurred to me that the Loganair planes flying to and from the islands have been repainted.

Instead of the BA dark blue on their underside, they are now FlyBE light blue; and whilst the majority of the plane is a blank white canvass, I suspect that we are going to see them fully painted as FlyBE very shortly.

The new timetable seem interesting, with up to 5 flights a day; but it unclear which planes are going to be used. Presumably, the Loganair ones will be operating somewhere....

Costs seem lower, but it also appears impossible to through ticket on FlyBe, but if you are going onward on a BA flight then do so via the BA website.

ADS was not operational, but this (one assumes) is imminent.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Take a step to the left.....

Last night our middle child (aged 3) learned to dance “The Timewarp” which made my extremely, strangely, proud. Albeit that he learned in a very subdued non-crossdressing, child-friendly, atmosphere, it was hugely entertaining and very, very, funny especially when he then repeated the dance on a wall in the local bar in front of a large crowd.

Oh! The innocence of children.

Schools policies (assorted)

Schools in the Western Isles have been thrown into chaos by the Comhairle taking the right decision (for all the wrong reasons) about the future of education in the islands.

I am delighted that there is to be a whole-scale review of education – how many pupils, in which schools, in which locations, feeding into which schools – before any decisions are reached.

It is long overdue, and is a decision that the previous Government Executive tried to prevent taking place; and that the current Government tried to drive through. Or more correctly – and please forgive my total cynicism – a policy that the civil servants tried to continue, and in which the Government was complicit.

The PFI PPP whatever TLA* scheme it is now being touted as, was a way to deliver schools in the wrong place with the wrong facilities for the wrong number of pupils, for the benefit of the developers and advisors, and not the pupils.

I confess to lacking a full understanding of the Curriculum for Excellence (another TLA*) other than to brand it yet another “innovation” that consultants have dreamt up and teachers are under-equipped and under-trained to deliver. Anyone with knowledge of the education sector knows that constant change is the problem, and that new ideas cannot – will not – work overnight.

Does the public want local schools retained? Yes.

Is this best outcome for education in the Western Isles? Maybe. Yes in some places, almost certainly not in others.

Will the Government pay for the additional costs of delivering this? You must be joking; despite the promises of a SNP Councillor that they would.

Will the Council Tax payers pay for the additional costs? Possibly, grudgingly, and then complain about Council Tax rises.

And the solution? Well I wouldn't start from here. The original plans need to be torn up and completely new negotiations with the Government need to take place to cost the proposals; to evaluate the educational merits; and then to take the hard decisions.

And explain to the communities why this is the case. Am I ever glad to have stood down :-))

* Three letter acronym

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Health Board funding

The news reaches me that the Western Isles Health Board are to receive a loan from the Government to help clear the deficit that it has incurred over a number of years.

Despite searching (and I admit I might not have had the time to look in as much depth as I would normally have), I cannot find details of the facility it replaces or the terms on which it is granted, beyond being repayable over three years.

Do the WIHB have a overdraft from the bank? Is it an unsecured loan from the bank? Or is it to replace borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board?

The answer is that it is most likely to a revolving unsecured credit facility from the bank (if Maggie Fraser from the Health Board is reading this, then I would appreciate a copy of the last set of accounts, please!) In other words, basically an agreed continuing overdraft facility, similar to those used by businesses.

Let's just imagine that the new loan saves 5% interest (and I would guess that is on the high side), then the annual saving in the first year is £150,000.

Enough to employ some additional staff. Probably in Inverness, as the Minister has awarded £250,000 extra for the additional costs of providing central support by Highland Health Board. This is described, in a wonderful piece of doublespeak as “Safeguarding the independence of WIHB” by maximising skills in admin, finance and HR. In other words, Highland will provide these skills and WIHB will pay for them.

But the real trouble arises when you remember that WIHB have to repay the £3m loan over 3 years.

Just where are they going to find £1m next year to fund this?

Why more than likely the reduction in the cost of the centralised admin services (for which read jobs) that are now being delivered by Highland.

But before you blame WIHB, remember that the negotiations over the loan will have been of the type that involves a direct instruction from the Government; which explains the fawning and financially illiterate press release from our MSP claiming that everything is wonderful.

As he had previously suggested/implied/hoped that the debt would be waived by the new Government, his sudden abandonment of his position signals that he has (again) be told what to think, and has duly fallen straight into line, and tells us all we need to know about the deal.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Amec - farewell?

When British energy pulled out from the London Array (the massive windfarm in the Thames Estuary) it was clear that the writing was on the wall for massive wind power schemes.

The news that Amec is pulling out of wind power is not surprising but it is disappointing. However, every disappointment is an opportunity in disguise: if handled correctly.

I believe that it is likely that it is likely that British Energy has tried to force Amec to buy it's share in the consortium but that the global economic circumstances have meant that Amec can neither find the cash, nor wants to make further investments in a higher-risk scheme. Consequently, instead of buying out BE, it has probably decided to try to sell the portfolio of wind power schemes to realise cash in a very tight financial market.

Before either side (pro- or anti-wind) celebrates bear the following in mind:
Whoever buys the portfolio will have a cheap asset and will be prepared to spend more on developing parts of the portfolio
It is likely that the LWP scheme will be cherry-picked (turbines on Stornoway Trust land only)
Whilst the current community benefit is the new base position for any new applicants, they are likely to be less committed/interested in the community and more in the bottom line
Any new developers will do less to help community schemes, unless there is more in it for them.

Overall, I am disappointed that Amec are probably going as it will be difficult to build a new relationship with more commercially driven and more ruthless developers, but it also means that the huge schemes are probably dead; which undoubtedly will please many people.

It strikes me that windpower in the UK is moving into the second stage of investment: the first stage being the highly speculative gamble on a new technology; stage two is the followers, and those who snap up the fallen; finally, the third stage involves a mature industry, stable returns and mass investment.

We are on the cusp of the end of the first stage, and it might be that the future for large-scale wind is all downhill from here. The opportunity is to find how to exploit the remaining wind opportunities; and the new opportunities that arise from the newer renewable industries.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Global economy

The global credit crisis has almost claimed another two scalps, but the implications for the world economy are huge.

With reported 40% losses at both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae – the two Government mortgage guarantors – as a result of repossessions and the drama in the housing market, the outlook for the UK is serious.

Not just because of direct impacts of credit tightening and debt default, but because it signals that the US is undoubtedly going to turn inward and trade-protectionist over the coming months to try to maintain it's economy. That such a policy is economically inept, and causes short term small gain, for long-term large pain, is neither here nor there with an election looming.

The recent repudiation of the Airbus $18bn tanker contract and its likely award to Boeing (despite fraud, insider dealing and other nefarious activities) signals the depth of the recession facing the US. With the support of both Presidential candidates for this course of action, it bodes ill for international trade and the for the world economy.

The last time the US engaged in large scale protectionism was in the late 1920's, and this caused (or at very least significantly exacerbated) the crash of 1929.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Health Board Inquiry

So there is to be no public inquiry into the allegations of bullying in Western Isles NHS Board.

This was signalled a few weeks back when our MSP erroneously stated that these matters had been covered in the Parliamentary Inquiry. No doubt the NHS staff feel badly let down by both Mr Allan and his predecessor Mr Morrison over their (mis)handling of the situation, and their decisions to accept the instructions from their parties to sweep all this under the carpet.

It is not that a Public Inquiry would have done a huge amount except further embarrass the senior management who allowed the situation to develop; and possibly shed some light on the appointment process that created the situation in the first place.

But, it would have given the staff some sense of relief - and seriously boosted their morale - to have their position vindicated; those who were bullied would be relieved; and the threat of public humiliation would hang over any management who allowed such a situation to ever develop again.

Of course, it might also have caused light to be shone on the packages paid to staff who were unfairly or constructively dismissed; those who were moved elsewhere to non-jobs in the NHS; and (perhaps most importantly) over the advice given by Civil Servants to Ministers and the Board.

Cover-up anyone?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

MG Alba

MG Alba - what the hell is that?So Alasdair Morrison has got the job of Chairman of the new Gaelic TV service.

The first thing he needs to do is find a half-decent name for the new service as MG Alba really doesn't give any sense of what is going on.

The Gaelic TV industry offers good prospects for the islands – if we can build upon the subsidy and create a long-term industry. If it becomes another case of nominal service delivery for the islands, whilst flying in the talent and flying out the profits, then it is never going to deliver either financially or culturally.

My views on the survival of the Gaelic language have been expressed before, but I look forward to the launch in mid-September to see what the service can bring to the community.

I was very disappointed with the nasty and bitter comments of the Culture (sic) Minister, Linda Fabiani, about Alasdair's appointment. It appears that in her mind it is not the quality or appropriateness of the appointee that is important. More important is who gets the chance to appoint their mates to posts.

If she really believes that “My placemen are better than your placemen”, then she shows an appalling level of misunderstanding of the responsibilities of public office.

In her desperation to be partial and partisan, she demeans both the postholder and the Gaelic TV service, and misses the key arguments she should be making.

If Alasdair attempts to set-up a Labour front organisation, it will take barely hours for that to become public, and he will become a target for every politician and blogger in the Western Isles. That will fatally weaken not just him but the organisation he Chairs, and I have no doubt that the undermining of the Gaelic TV service is the last thing Alasdair wants to see.

That he was appointed by Des Browne, Scottish Secretary, and by Ofcom is one of the many anachronisms of the devolution process. But if Ms Fabiani were genuinely concerned about the matter, then she should have raised this issue when the service was being set-up; or when the post was advertised; or she should have got a Westminster MP to raise the issue in the House of Commons.

Did she do any of these? (Answer: No. Indeed, Angus MacNeil MP welcomed the setting up of the service and the legal structures and the responsibility for appointment remaining with the Westminster Government)

That the Scottish Government has no accountability or scrutiny over MG Alba when they have provided some of the funding is a genuine issue. Presumably with the Comhairle providing some funding too, then they should also be entitled to some level of accountability or scrutiny?

Did the SNP MPs raise this matter when the legislation passed through the House of Commons? (Answer: as before)

This is a false, party political, row of the lowest order which brings nothing but opprobrium and contempt on the Minister, and brings politics further into disrepute.

I wish Alasdair well; but, like many others, I shall be keeping a close eye on what happens and will not be slow to make criticisms if I believe that they are well founded.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

1,000 posts

When I first started this blog away back in 2005 it was to amuse myself and to make acerbic comments on those who I felt deserved it.

It seems to have grown its own legs over that time, and I am very grateful to everyone for their supportive comments, "Keep writing that blog!", I got told by a Health Board employee; "We read it every Sunday, and can't believe some of the things you say!", said someone I met at Nursery.

I am current getting over 15,000 views a month, which fills me with pride and trepidation in equal measure.

I'm most grateful to the anonymous moles who provide me with gossip, nuggets of stories and copies of documents to fill the screen.

Some of what I write is deadly serious.

Some is immensely trivial.

Some might be wounding; but only if the recipient deserves it.

Some is entirely tongue in cheek.

The best part is provoking debate and argument, and seeing the response that fly in.

Onwards for the next 1,000 posts - which I will try to keep to the same standard(!) - and I will continue to allow through all comments, except the downright offensive and libellous.

Schools policy

The Councillors gather together today for a special meeting - and what vast cost? - to discuss education policy and specifically the aftermath of the vote to close, then NOT to close, the S1-S2 schools.

With the policy in disarray, it appears that some of the guns are turning inward.

Half of the Councillors are suggesting that the meeting is to persuade the Council to reverse it's decision by pointing out that the decision is unworkable, due to financial constraints.

The other half seem to believe that they are now going to be told that a policy that was undeliverable can actually be delivered, making them look like fools.

Hopefully, I'll be able to relay details of the discussion and outcomes in due course.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Health Board autonomy - the fall out

From: Cllr. Angus McCormack
Sent: 04 July 2008 12:29
To: Cllr. Angus Campbell; Cllr. Norman A. MacDonald
Cc: CNES - Members
Subject: WIHB

Dear Angus and Norman

I understand that you have both been on the radio this morning in regard to the story carried by The Herald yesterday. Indeed you have given it legs in today’s Herald too I believe. I regret the haste with which you issued your statement. It would have been courteous had you spoken to John Angus Mackay or myself before going in to overdrive on what is a non story. WIHB has relied heavily on other Health Boards over the past year in attempting to redress the mess left by the Currie/Manson regime. Without the help of other health boards the WIHB would not be in the much improved state that it is. This information was given to cllrs in briefings by John Turner, Acting Chief Executive and the discussions between the Convener/Chief Exec and Chair /Chief Exec have discussed these matters on an on going basis. Earlier this week Nicola Sturgeon made it clear that there was no intention to tamper with the autonomy of WIHB.

WIHB has a long way to go but the progress is positive. Why does the Comhairle have to have a go? I think an early discussion will help.



Sunday, July 06, 2008

Fuel Duty regulator

The Tories have now come up with their proposals for a fuel duty regulator, a policy repeatedly trumpeted by the SNP as a solution to all our woes.

The absence of detail - from either the Tories or the SNP - makes it hard to judge the effect of the policy, but the claim by George Osbourne, Shadow Chancellor (and a former oil trader) about their policy...
If the system had been introduced in the 2008 Budget, fuel would currently be 5p cheaper.
Gives you some idea of the utter modesty of the proposal.

Perhaps Mr Allan or Mr MacNeil would let us know how much their proposals would save? Although I suspect they are mouthing a policy they do not understand and which is desperately in search of an intellectual and economic foundation. Otherwise Alex Salmond (former economist) would surely be explaining exactly how it would work.

As previosuly mentioned, the impact on duty claims by fishermen and bus operators would be horrendous. But leave that aside for the moment.

But there is another side to this policy.

If fuel duty falls when the oil price is above a certain point (so as to give the same yield to the Treasury), then perhaps Mr Allan or Mr MacNeil - or even Mr Osbourne - could enlighten us as to what that base yield is to be. Just what is the starting point?

Let us just say it is £1 per litre and whatever yield that gives.

So what happens if petrol prices fall below that point?

Why pump prices don't go down very quickly, as the deadening effect of the regulator preserves the yield to the Treasury by keeping prices artificially higher. Ooops. This might explain why the specifics are slow in being forthcoming.

The real issue is - of course- dependency on oil. As in the 1970's a price shock should be causing us to fundamentally review how and why we are dependent on fossil fuels which have a limited lifespan.

Pandering to the every whim of the electorate in the short-term leads to long-term problems. Whether that is in dealing with education in the Western Isles or ignoring energy issues, the blame lies fully with the politicians who are more interested in protecting their job and benefits than in doing what is best for the communities they represent.

MPs expenses

"Just how did Angus MacNeil vote?" a correspondent writes.

With the 7th highest expenses claim of all members you would think that he might have something useful to add, which makes his absence from the debate and his failure to vote all the more baffling.

Glasgow East by-election

This is almost beyond parody. Almost, but not quite.

The Labour Party had managed to line up a solid candidate but failed to make sure he actually wanted the job, and as a consequence he went awol on the night of the selection. Where were his minders? Who was taking him to the selection? Had anyone discussed the process with him?

Who now is going to lift the poison chalice?

In steps the delicate, self-effacing, and unduly modest Margaret Curran MSP to single-handedly rescue the Scottish Labour Party from the impending electoral catastrophe by standing for MP whilst getting the undying love and adoration of the Scottish Parliamentary Labour Party in her likely plan to be leader of Labour in Scotland.
Margaret Curran MSP
Is this woman totally bonkers?

In the words of the old joke, "You don't have to be mad to want to get elected to these positions, but it helps."

Having discharged both barrels into their feet, Labour are now playing catch-up in the race.

My initial reaction was a big swing to the SNP and a modest victory for Labour, after a hard-fought and poisonous campaign.

Now the stakes are bigger than ever. There is no doubt in my mind that a loss will force the departure of Gordon Brown, possibly amidst blood-letting, score-settling, and a lemming-like instinct for self-destruction.

Mrs Curran looks like one of these dolled-up mutton-dressed-as-lamb biddies that you see sitting in groups in the lounge bar of Glasgow pubs, whilst the husbands get the drinks in and pretend to enjoy themselves whilst actually watching the sport on TV and wishing they were in the public bar. But the women probably carry a switchblade or a hatchet, and you DO NOT mess with them.

Mrs Curran can now reasonably demand that all resources are thrown behind her by Labour in both Scotland and at Westminster, as the threat is now to Labour in both locations. Because, if a putative leader of the Labour Party in Scotland does very, very badly, or even looks like losing then what hope is there for the rest of the MPs and MSPs? Indeed what future is there for the Labour Party in those circumstances?

The vote must hold up (after allowing for the 'mid term swing against' that the pundits will roll out) well enough to see off the SNP and show that Labour have won. For which read "kept the swing to below 15%."

Margaret Curran as MP, MSP and leader of Labour in Scotland suddenly becomes an intriguing combination, especially when compared and contrasted to Alex Salmond holding the same posts in the SNP. In those circumstances I would prophesy that Ms Curran will be 'interim' leader and she will announce her resignation as MSP and stand-down as Leader and challenge Salmond to do the same. That will cause more problems for the SNP than it will for Labour.

All in all, it is going to be nasty, hypocritical and unedifying. Just what us bloggers want.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Special Purpose Vehicle

The knives are out for some senior Councillors and for some senior officers of the Council.

There are a number of issues that are causing discontent, some of which seem to have some foundation and others which do not.

Backbenchers are getting upset with some 'senior' Councillors throwing their weight around or failing to deliver on their promises.

'Senior' Councillors believe that the new Councillors lack vision (which comes with experience), decisiveness, and that some are there for the salary rather than the greater community good; and that they are being manipulated by the more experienced School Stornowaybackbenchers.

The latest cause of the trouble is a series of emails* building a campaign demanding that the Convener and Cllr Manford stand down from Sgoiltean Ura LLP (the new schools PFI company) because they voted against the closure of the S1-S2 schools last week.

To do so would - of course - acknowledge that their views on the schools PFI are determined by the Council and are not on the basis of calm, rational, independent thought and consideration of the plans.

I actually hope that the pressure works, as it might cause the PFI project to collapse and allow a proper consideration of education needs, rather than one driven by the financial needs of the consultants and contractors.

*Copies, please, to the usual email address!

Council v Health Board v Minister

The outraged press release from the Vice-Convener about the proposed linkage between the Highland and Western Isles Health Board betrays either false anger or the fact that Angus Campbell is being kept in the dark.

I understand that this matter has been discussed by the Chair of the Health Board and the Chief Executive of the Comhairle, and that the Council's representative on the Health Board was fully aware of the discussions (did he attend the meetings?) without the knowledge of the Board or the elected Councillors.

The picture becomes less and less clear.....

But let's start with some simple questions -- How long has this been being discussed by the parties? And how long has it been on the agenda?

(Updated for more information about what has been going on)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Working together in the NHS

The news has spread far and wide and very quickly, and defensive positions have already started to be built.
Mr Coutts (Highland HB Chairman) said the move was nothing more than building a closer relationship between the two authorities and denied it would lead to a merger.
Which certainly isn't the take on it in the Western Isles.
He said: "Not even is it not on the agenda, it's specifically off the agenda. The minister has made that clear."
Which is why it is even more puzzling that the Health Minister didn't mention it in Barra - not even to very senior members of the local SNP.
NHS Highland chairman Gary Coutts said closer working with the Western Isles would allow them to share expertise in finance and human resources.
But this is the rub. At the moment the NHS is appointing "recruiting without advertising" key management staff who are flying in on Monday and back out on Friday. All of which adds to the deficit and appears to make the position much worse than it actually is.

The belief that there is no-one locally who can do the job is patronising in the extreme, and the Minister would do well to remember that the problems started when the (previous) Government starting parachuting people in.

As a senior individual in the Council succinctly put it, "These people have no interest in how the local NHS operates, as long as they do their job and get paid." There is no buy-in to the community that they are supposedly working for, and a series of temps produces a hugely unsatisfactory set-up on which to build for success.

And whilst the Minister may have taken merger of the agenda, I suspect the hands of civil servants guiding the strategy towards a major cost-saving exercise, as we share expertise in finance and HR by moving the jobs to Inverness.

It is nothing short of an attempt to remove the Board by stealth, over time, and is a slap in the face to those who worked long and hard to get independent control over health, all those years ago.


Press Release from WINHS (to give the other 'official') view

A preliminary discussion took place at a recent meeting with the Chairs involved regarding the concept of strengthening partnership working between island and mainland Boards.

The Board Chairman responded on the basis that NHS Western Isles already has formal and informal partnership arrangements with a number of Boards. NHS Western Isles is currently also drawing on the support of a number of mainland Boards to bolster our capacity.

A commitment was made at Chair level to explore further how best these partnerships might be established and developed in practical ways in order to ensure that Western Isles Health Board remains an independent and sustainable entity, working in partnership with others.

The Cabinet Secretary reaffirmed on Tuesday (1st July), on her visit to Benbecula, that the Board would continue to exist in the Western Isles, and also acknowledged that the smaller island Boards needed to work in partnership with other Boards in order to develop and deliver safe and sustainable services to the populations they serve.

Contrary to the impression given by a so-called ‘health service insider’ in The Herald report today, the purpose of establishing stronger formal partnerships would be to strengthen the capacity in the Western Isles – not to dilute it.

As soon as any further details are available, these will be communicated widely.

Threat to Health Board

Not that long ago I was saying that I thought that the future of the Western Isles Health Board as an independent entity was looking much more secure, following the strong performance of the new management team.

During the fiasco that was the Manson regime I repeatedly warned that the political undermining of the standing of the Health Board would only result in the control being transferred to Highland Health Board. And the repeated failure of our then MSP, Alasdair Morrison, to acknowledge that there was a problem would have been funny were it not that serious. (I think it also cost him the election).

Now we have a new plan whereby the WIHB is to be 'twinned' with Highland Health Board (and Orkney and Shetland with Grampian) to provide 'support' and senior managment level.

A Western Isles health service insider said: "This twinning is the thin edge of the wedge which will ultimately see the migration of good-quality jobs from the islands to Inverness.

"It will commence with partnering and then move to efficiency arrangements which will lead to the senior partner directing where posts will be located and it is inevitable that these senior posts will remain in Inverness.

Or according to the Government:

"The proposed partnership arrangements have been warmly welcomed by all those involved. They will help strengthen the island boards' management and governance regimes and will enhance their independent status."

I know which view I subscribe to, and I fully support the WIHB in their view that this must be opposed if the future independence of the Board is to be guaranteed.

Or as the Health Board source says,

"It is now more incumbent upon local MSP Alasdair Allan to ensure that his party colleague Nicola Sturgeon delivers on his pre-election promise to his constituents and the NHS unions and staff that there would be an inquiry under an SNP administration."

We're waiting......

The simple test of intent is - if it is THAT good, then why didn't Health Secretary, Nicola Sturgeon, announce this during her visit to the hospital in Barra this week?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Sun and Gaelic

It did strike me that The Sun's sudden conversion to the cause of the Gaelic language was unexpected at best, and their self-proclaimed interest in the heritage and culture of the islands was - to say the very least - an almost Damscene conversion from the usual couthy tales of drunk tractor driving, alcoholic teuchters and patronising commentary.

The answer drove past me just a few minutes ago when a half-open double-decker bus emblazoned with the logo of a certain London newspaper, blaring bagpipe music, and with two 'lovelys' (sic) braving hypothermia in t-shirts (it is raining, cold and windy) waving at the bemused occasional passer-by.

Twas all a marketing ploy to support an advertising drive; and as genuine as the Page 3 lovelys.