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

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The man who wasn't there....

£250,000 per year and MacNeil can't be arsed to attend the office?

Look mate; you might want to sit at home rather than have to travel, but you took the job of MP knowing the terms and conditions. If you can't or won't hack it, then step down and let someone else do it.

You might think it would be great watch daytime TV and issuing press releases whilst casting your vote electronically, but in the real world you have to do your job to get the fat pension and the fat expenses.

Are you really that disillusioned already? If so, resign and fight an election on the slogan of "Virtually Representing You".

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Harris Tweed

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar £300,000
European Regional Development Fund £98,000
Scottish Government £Nil

The speed and volume of the (false) claims of involvement by the MP and MSP in the ERDF application (the full costs of which is presumably being by the Comhairle or by HIE Innse Gall) indicates just how much money the industry can expect to get from the intense lobbying (sic!) by our elected representatives.

New school - more thoughts

I've looked at the plans, and although I don't have the full architectural language to describe the plans, the following is my view.

The overall design obvious attempts to mimic/replicate/echo the Comhairle buildings.

The Comhairle buildings are subsiding due to the ground conditions, and could do with sympathetic redevelopment with a wrecking ball and half a ton of TNT.

I have a few problems with the entrance area onto the corner of Sandwick Road/Matheson Road. This will push the children into two of the busiest roads at crucial times and the crossing, access and pupil management issues will need very serous work. That corner has been opened up over the past few years, and now it will need to be closed, or at least access restricted.

The plaza between the north side of the building and the old Tech building is very interesting and exciting, andore than compensates for the trivial loss of direct access along Springfield Road. The drop down is a function of the site, BUT I feel that the space is too constrained by the nature of the site resulting in the two buildings being almost on top of each other.

The same problem arises with Matheson Hall, and although there is clearly an attempt to meld the buildings, I feel that the new build totally overshadows and overpowers the old buildings.

This is a problem with the site, with too much needing to be crammed into a small site.

Clearance from Historic Scotland is obviously going to be a key element of the application, and I would be surprised if this version got approval.

I would think that the design could be improved by making the long leg of the building four stories high, and with the two small legs being moved south (into more of an "F" shape) this would allow the plaza area to be expanded, making it the major entrance into the building, with the bus park off Sandwick Road being more closely controlled and with restricted access to prevent pedestrians coming through this area.

The smaller footprint would mean that that the old buildings are less overwhelmed by the new build, but this still has problems with the increased height of the new building.

Assuming this site has to be used (declaration of interest!) then there are going to be some compromises and I think that children's safety and the impact on the historic buildings are two I am greatly concerned about.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Dipping into the public purse

Another MP is caught abusing the rules.

Surprise? No bloody surprise!

The rules are written to be ambiguous and to be exploited, but it does no credit on those who abuse the trust put in them by the public.

Are there any MP's who aren't abusing their position?

I am of the view that if they do so, then they deserve to be voted out as soon as possible.

(Note: MSP's expenses are open, so abuses are more difficult to hide, but the abuses still continue, as they do with some Councillors who really should know better.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New Nicolson Institute

The plans for the new school are available here as a Powerpoint.

The file is 66Mb, so it will take about a long time to download.

Any views on the proposals? I'll add mine when I get the file downloaded and I have time to look at the plans carefully.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A poor pensioner.....

I suppose that having faced all the opprobium that anyone and everyone can (rightly) throw at him, there is no point in being shy and retiring....

Former RBS chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin has already taken a £3m advance on his £703,000 annual pension, Treasury Minister Lord Myners has said.

You can, of course, take up to 25% of the pension pot tax-free.

He added that Sir Fred had indicated that he may return the £3m advance - but only in exchange for a larger overall pension pot. This already stands at £16.9m.

FFS, look at the negotiating tactics here and realise who has been totally screwed over in the deal - that's right, us the taxpayer - as a way of beating the living crap out of the Government for their pillorying of 'Sir' Fred (2004 Birthday Honours list, for his services to banking).

He has the money, which he is waving in the faces of the Government with two fingers and offering a one-way deal - stop blaming him or he is going to start pointing fingers and demanding a better deal.

Watch the Government change their tune mighty quickly, in fear of their incompetence being (further) exposed.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Stornoway Trust elections

I got my voting papers today, as I suspect most people did.

Apropos nothing in particular, we noted that 10 of the 11 candidates (for 5 posts) work in the public sector. I think that this also reflects the status of the current Trustees.

Why are the self-employed and those in the private sector so reluctant to stand?

Unemployment rate

A simple table portrays the seriousness of the situation.....
    Isle of Wight - 60
    Western Isles - 44
    Blaenau Gwent - 42
    Rhondda, Cynon, Taff - 36
    Hackney - 36
    Lewisham - 34
    Argyll & Bute - 31
    Greenwich - 30
    Lambeth - 29
    South Tyneside - 28
    Source: TUC

The Scottish Economy

If any politican has come out of the Finanical Crisis with their reputation enhanced, then it is Vince Cable of the LibDems.

He has certainly got it less wrong than the rest put together, and whilst he has the ability to make incisive comment without the danger of ever having to put these views into practice, his opinion is to my mind the most accurate on how to redeem the situation.

He also makes some uncomfortable points.
The collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland would have wiped out the budget of an independent Scotland, the deputy Liberal Democrat leader said.

Vince Cable said the RBS balance sheet was 15 times the size of Scotland's gross national product.

Yes; he is right.

Just like Iceland, we found ourselves with a economy that was founded on one sector and one sector alone, and when the crunch came it was hugely magnified because of that over-dependence. If we had been an Independent country when this happened, then we would have been cap in hand to the IMF, implementing huge spending cuts and seeing the currency collapse.

Had we been members of the Euro, then the impact would have been much larger, as the most basic economic tools would not have been available to any Finance Minister.

The lesson is clear, the economy needs to have a wide spread of trades, professions and manufacturing if it is to be robust and able to withstand economic shocks.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The quality press.....

Johnston Press (owners of the Gazette) share price:-

The generous may blame global advertising conditions, but as the share price collapse pre-dated the global 'causes' that is nothing but an excuse.

Perhaps the truth is closer to home.

Shite reporting; shite editing; and an inability to distinguish between a story and a bullshit press release.

According to Hebrides News, Johnston Press have just finished a 'consultation' with the editor which is management speak for an imminent sacking relocation to other duties outwith the group on a suitable package.


Top left of today's yesterday's (but only delivered from the mainland printers today's) front page sums up beautifully the quality that we have come to expect:-
Inside your Gazette this week
A Happy New Year to all our readers

You couldn't make it up.....

Sanity prevails

trees, lots of themWith rampant Thatcherism having briefly consumed the former Environment Minister, Mike Russell, the prospect of the sale of the nation's forests looked to be a runner.

Bizarrely, the plan was to allow the sale of the assets to investors who would be expected to manage the forests for the greater public benefit.

As opposed to cutting them all down and getting the proceeds tax-free as part of a scheme to line the pockets of the very wealthy wider tax-mitigation exercise.

Didn't they see that coming???? Apparently not.

Until now, when the long overdue death of the plan has been announced.

RIP - and I am glad we missed out on this.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dinner with SSE

I was aware the SSE were about, but I hadn't been aware of the dinner for Councillors (and others?) last night.

I'm sure that there is nothing to hide, so a list of attendees and the topics of discussion would certainly help with the spirit of openness.....

Come on, don't be shy, or the public will think that there is something to hide!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


It's official, I have now got my own stalker.

Even better, he seems to stalk me around Tesco. Such are the delights of the new supermarket.

A recent Saturday morning, two gentlemen from the parish of Point were in Tesco when they espied a strange looking man walking suspiciously up and down the aisles, whilst not actually going anywhere.

He looked vaguely familiar to them, and they were pretty sure it wasn't from the Star or the Crit, or not even from the Rangers Club. But he looked so anonymous and unprepossessing that he seemed to blend in with the floor tiles and the bags of cat litter.

A look in his basket in an attempt to divine his identity revealed a bottle of red wine; 1/4lb of sliced ham with the teddy bear face; a bag of frozen peas; and, a tin of Postman Pat spaghetti. No clues there.

By now most of the shoppers were watching this strange performance, as the young man wandered lonely as a cloud, talking to no-one, recognised by no-one, avoiding the tills. Was he a shoplifter trying to steal a sherbet dib-dab? Was this 'care in the community' gone wrong?

The two Ruadhachs took their bottle of Malibu, and two straws, to the check-out and watched my family and I push our trolley out the door. At which point the strange man ran to the 10 items or less till.

They gave me a photofit description of my stalker but no-one recognises him....

Tintin or Alasdair Allan

Rating public services

Gordon Brown is on to a winner here with his suggestion that the public be able to rate public services to keep us better informed about the quality of the options available to us.

It seems a crying shame to restrict the rating options to Councils, GPs and nurseries when there are so many other services that are crying our for rating.

Gordon, your wish is my command....... hence the new poll.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

I so hope this is true......

I was told this third hand a few weeks back, and I wanted to speak to the apparent first hand source before putting it in the public domain.

My recent posting about the Scalpay factory has attracted much comment from people with an obvious inside track on the matter, and some with a considerable degree of animosity towards the proposal.

This blog has attracted the wrath of Marine Harvest a a consequence, so much so that I am told that it was the subject of discussion at the recent Scottish Board/Management meeting.

A number of the attendees were so irate about the matter that they suggested hacking into the blog to find the identities of those who are making the comments. No seriously!

Look guys, the names or email addresses aren't stored in my blog. If you were trying to find the mole/a mole by feeding misinformation, then forget it as my lips are sealed about the person in Marine Harvest who told my source first hand, as well as everything else.

Coincidentally, someone tried to reset my three different passwords at 2:32 am this morning. The IP log shows unusual activity around that time which seems characteristic of an attempt to hide a trail. Still, I'll keep it as evidence should I ever need it.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Alcohol pricing

Whisky bottlesSo the Government plan to increase the prices of all alcohol to reduce consumption. Or at least a version of the plans that they had previously announced.

Great plan; let's all don the sackcloth and ashes and take the blame for a few troublemakers.

I really think that the humility of the public has been vastly underestimated by politicians up to now, and sticking 50% on the price of booze is going to be a real vote winner.

Explain to me why a pensioner in Uist will have to pay a lot more for the occasional bottle of whisky or for a pint in the (far distant) local, to reduce the consumption of Buckfast in Lanarkshire.

The solution is clear: the internet will ensure cut price deliveries from a variety of retailers, driving the local shops out of business, and ripping the heart out of local communities.

The press release about schools I referred to in the last post was called "Protecting rural ecomomies (sic)". It looks like the plans for protecting local ecomomies are for communities to have semi-derelict schools with tiny pupil numbers, but no shops.

Joined-up thinking at it's best.

Perhaps there might be grants available like the Rural Petrol Stations scheme to keep the local shops open?

Anyway, the fun is really going to start when an SNP politician is caught with a few drinks on board, making an arse of themselves.... The clock is ticking.

and the Government view....

Barely had the metaphorical ink dried on the previous post than the Government issued a press release about the new policy and the proposed bill. Emphasis on the word 'proposed'.
The Bill will update and strengthen the consultation procedures that local authorities apply to all school closures and other major changes to schools - by ensuring that the best practices already adopted by some, become universal practice for all. It will establish a process that is coherent, easy to understand, fair, workable, open and transparent. As a result of the Bill a local authority would have, among other things, to publish and advertise a detailed proposal paper, produce an educational benefits statement - to ensure that educational benefits and needs are at the heart of the consultation, consult for a minimum of six weeks of term time, seek HMIE's view on the educational aspects of the proposal, and extend the list of mandatory consultees to include, among others, pupils and teachers.

The Bill will though leave the consultation and decision making processes squarely and rightly in the hands of the local authorities who are responsible for seeking always to improve the quality and standards of the education which they deliver to communities right across their areas.
Yes, you read that last paragraph correctly. And the screams you can hear are emanating from Sandwick Road where Morag Munro and Angus Campbell and dismembering a voodoo doll of Ms Hyslop.

And then the guidance gets better...
The Bill will also replace the current system for referring certain local authority decisions to Ministers for consent with a Ministerial power to call in decisions, but only in relation to school closure decisions and where there have apparently been failures in the consultation or decision making processes. The call-in process will provide a reassurance to those affected by any school closure proposal that a safeguard exists in the rare circumstances where it appears that the new statutory duties contained in the Bill have not been properly fulfilled.
Got that? There will be no call-in procedure unless there has been a failure in the process, which Ministers can only ascertain by, er, calling the decision in.

So no change to the status quo, except more and wider consultation with more people and a nebulous "educational benefits statement".

So where does this leave the Comhairle and the schools decisions?

If new schools give an educational benefit compared to old, collapsing, schools will that be more persuasive than continuing highly costly tiny schools in local communities?

Answer: no-one knows, which means that the ability to plan the schools estate is out the window. We continue to foot the bill for the uncertainty, so can it get much worse?

School (non) closures - the fallout continues

From: Malcolm Burr
Sent: 16 February 2009 10:55
To: Cllr. Donald Manford; Cllr. Annie Macdonald; Cllr. Gerry Macleod; Cllr. Philip R. Mclean

Dear Councillors,

I understand from the Communications Officer that you have issued a Press Release which states that, in your view as Members and as a Party Group, the Comhairle failed to adhere to legislative guidance, and to proper legal process in the various consultations on the proposed discontinuation of S1/S2 education.

I am, to say the least, surprised by your views; the correctness of the legal process followed by the Comhairle has never, to my knowledge been challenged by any person, including Scottish Ministers, and, if your view is as stated, I would have expected you to make that view known either to me, or Lesley McDonald. In fact, I recall Councillor Annie Macdonald asking a question in Committee on that very subject and, on receiving a reply from the Head of Executive Office that the Comhairle believed that our processes had been correctly carried out, making no further comment on the matter. I would suggest that it is in the interests of good corporate working if such views are aired at the appropriate time, and in the appropriate manner.

You will appreciate that I am now obliged, as Depute Monitoring Officer, to investigate this matter fully, and should be obliged if you would provide me with details of your allegations, in order that I may, if necessary, report to the Comhairle.

I am, of course, happy to discuss the matter further.

Yours sincerely


Malcolm Burr

Chief Executive


From: Cllr. Donald Manford
Sent: 01 March 2009 19:56
To: Malcolm Burr
Cc: Cllr. Annie Macdonald; Cllr. Gerry Macleod; Cllr. Philip R. Mclean

Dear Malcolm

Your communication is marked “STRICTLY PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL” however as the matter is in the public domain we consider it appropriate that this communication should be available to the public at the outset.

You take issue with the public statement made by the SNP council group pointing out that the Comhairle failed to adhere adequately to the statutory guidance.

Our view is as stated in the “STATEMENT ON MINISTERIAL DECISIONS IN RELATION TO THE FIVE WESTERN ISLES REFERRAL CASES”. It makes clear “the applications for consent were examined carefully, against the statutory requirements and also against the guidance issued by ministers in October 2007.” Paragraph 4 in the statement explains re Daliburgh and Paible “The reason in both cases are because the Comhairle has so changed the details of implementation from what was set out in the respective consultation documents, that the two referrals are no longer considered competent.” Paragraph 5. referring to Lionel and Shawbost, “inadequate consultation was carried out in both cases with insufficient grounds for the Comhairle to have reached the decision that it did.”

We are astonished by your claim that the consultation process was never challenged. We refer you to council meeting 21st February 2008 where Cllr Manford seconded by Cllr Annie MacDonald moved an amendment to suspend consultation in order to get it right. Letter Stornoway Gazette 26th February 2009 from Cllr Angus McCormick “The SNP group on the Comhairle made their opposition clear, also, both in the chamber and at public meetings.”

Responding to your comments on good corporate working regarding airing views at the appropriate time and manner. We feel it appropriate to draw your attention to the debate on Item 15 of Education and Children’s Services of 10th February 2009. Commenting at committee all members of the SNP group raised the point that no regard was taken of the proposals for a legislative presumption against the closure of rural schools. During the debate which ensued, it was insisted upon that as the said proposals were not legislation they must be disregarded (suggest you secure official recording of the meeting). If this is indeed the view carried at the meeting and given that there is specific reference in the guidance of October 2007 to the proposed legislation. Is there not a danger that the Comhairle is once again ignoring advice and embarking on another debacle?

In conclusion we accept your assurance that you seek only information; which we trust has been adequately provided. There is never-the-less a perception that your intervention, in the manner you have, is an attempt at applying pressure to silence dissent. We will comment and inform the public on any subject we consider appropriate and will not accept any direction that we should desist from this practice.

Kind regards, Donald, Annie, Philip, Gerry.