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

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The System

Every so often, along comes something that restores your faith in The System.

Yesterday was A very Good Day.

I can't say any more for probably the next six months, but it is going to be soooooo much fun when I can.

And, No, I won't be standing in the subsequent by-election. :-)) *


The death of satire

Sometimes reality just comes along and kicks an old cynic like me in the head until such time as I am unconscious and unable to separate fact from fiction....

The government's wine cellar includes stocks of alcohol worth nearly £800,000, a minister has disclosed.

In a parliamentary answer, Foreign Office minister Gillian Merron said it holds 39,500 bottles of wine, spirits and liqueurs valued at around £792,000
That's £20 per bottle, which isn't that much really if you are entertaining heads of state, but assuming that 50 bottles per week are consumed by the ambassador and the charge d'affairs, you ar still carrying 15 years of stock.

Discount this number for the ancient bottles of really good quality claret that you bought in the 3-for-2 offer at Tesco and come out one in a blue moon and you still have a picture of startlingly large quantities.

Perhaps Alasdair Darling took one look at the Budget background and is on 50 bottles a day, but even then the next Government is going to find a huge carry-out stashed behind the sofa in No 11.

The next question is: how much of the wine is drunk by civil servants and how much by politicians.....

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Health Board finances

A little light has been shone into a dark corner by the recent statement from the Health Board regarding the finances.

But to understand just what it really means, you have to cut through the jargon.
Crucial to the strategy is a promised £ 3 million loan from the Scottish Government to "clear" the accumulated deficit.
Translation: we are turning our overdraft into a loan. Doing so does not get rid of losses, it just simplifies the repayments.
But Scottish health minister Nicola Sturgeon has imposed a condition against the loan requiring satisfactory progress from the health authority board and its commitment to pay it back in the future.
The lender has told us to make cuts to be able to afford the repayments.
Though the body believes it will break-even within the last accounting period it faces more financial woes by having to make £2.9 million of savings and cutbacks in the new financial year to cover an immediate funding gap in its £68 million allocation from Government.
On top of the cuts that we are going to have to make in the current year, due to a reduction in budgets.
£100,000 savings are to come from better use of locums while freezing 27 vacancies is expected to win £610,000.
27 staff are not to be replaced. If they are not important, then why are the posts not deleted? If they are important, why are the posts remaining unfilled?

The last information I had was that at any point there were unfilled vacancies with total salaries of £1m, and that a strategy of delaying filling the posts to save a few months here and a few months there was being deliberately pursued.


Congratulations to Angus MacCormick on his rapid rise through the ranks of the Board. Thinking about the background to his appointment, I recall the wise words of Lyndon B Johnson:
It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

What the papers say....

To understand the real impact of the Budget, where better to look than the front page of the Financial Times:
Thousands of highly paid lawyers, accountants and other professionals will be hit by the new 50 per cent rate of income tax as soon as next week [...]

This is because many professional firms start their financial years at the beginning of May or June. The forthcoming year for these firms will run into the 2010-2011 tax year.
Looks like a very successful mission accomplished for Alasdair Darling.

And on the letters page another piece of self-serving, and utterly inaccurate moaning:
We are seriously considering relocating our business abroad because [...] our marginal tax rate will increase to 64.5%....
Actually, it will not exceed 51% at the top levels, and this compares favourably to the 67%+ for those at the bottom of the heap. Or as the front page of the FT factually points out:
Under the new tax rules, someone with an income of £200,000 will have to pay and additional £5,000 per year in tax.
So a welcome and long overdue re-balancing of the redistribution of income which has provoked squeals from the greedy (the author of the letter run a firm of 'Management Consultants' which apparently employs only 8 people, consulting on energy).

But before Alasdair Darling congratulates himself on hitting the public mood square and true, just consider this assessment on the back page of the FT:
As you haul yourself out of the quagmire, beware the outstretched hand: it might be the taxman's. His job is to rescue not you but your debt-mired Government.
You and I are going to be paying for the destruction of the economy by the grossly overpaid City sharks for the next decade; and that is going to be the legacy that Gordon Brown bequeaths the country, as he retires on his fat public-sector, index-linked plus, secure pension.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Microbe farts

Farting cowIt is a well known fact that 90% of the methane produced in New Zealand comes from farting sheep. (Yes, I know the picture is a cow)

All that wasted power and energy blowing in the wind.

Which is why, when the Creed recycling centre was being set-up, the use of every by-product was a major area of concern.

Thanks to the genius and lateral thinking of the Officers (and particularly the Director Mun Gold) we have ended up with our waste powering Post Office delivery vans with no fossil fuels used in the production of the fuel:
Organic and food waste collected from round the islands is put through a digester and produces methane.

In turn, this powers a gas engine creating electricity which is used to electrolyse water to produce hydrogen.

Brilliantly simple in theory, but highly complex to deliver, and congratulations are due to everyone involved in this utterly, utterly fantastic success story.

First the plant itself led the way; now the by-products do the same.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Religious education

Which religion is teaching children this very week that it is correct to kill people who don't believe in their God?

Symbolic gestures

The problem with (in)sincere symbolic gestures is that when the gestures stop, people can read all sorts into the action.

Witness this press release from 2006:
SNP MP Angus MacNeil will be flying the St George's Cross tomorrow (Friday) from his office in Stornoway on what is the last working day before St. George's Day. Mr MacNeil said:

"I'm doing this as a mark of respect for our nearest neighbours, England, and the many English people now living in our constituency who voted SNP."

The flag flew again in 2007 and in 2008 but not this year.

Which prompts the question of whether....

  • He has lost respect for the English
  • He no longer respects the achievements of the English
  • He couldn't be bothered
  • It was just a cheap publicity stunt

Answers written in warm beer on a cricket bat, please....

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Budget

Some good news; some bad news; and some very wild hopes on which to pin a future strategy.

Not that Labour seem to have a future as the party of Government.

The good news was the more sensible approach to progressive taxation with a 50% tax rate for the highest earners, as argued for here on many occasions. This involved scrapping a manifesto promise not to raise tax rates, justified by these 'exceptional' circumstances.

The bad news was the effect of the economic mismanagement on the public finances, which means huge effects on future spending, future taxes and the prolonged impact of the recession. The numbers are somewhat difficult to comprehend, but the impacts are going to be clear. Painfully clear.

Inflation will fall to -3% in September. That is to say, prices will fall by 3% in the year to September 2009.

Pensions and benefits are uprated based on the inflation rate to October. Oops. But Alasdair gave you warning about the bad news today. Wages settlements in the public sector will reflect the general economic circumstances, which means no pay rises this year and barely anything next year.

Unless, of course, an election is on the horizon when the survival instinct might kick in.

The wild hope is the expected rapid return to economic growth, with the 3,5% fall expected to miraculously reverse to a 1.25% growth in 2011 and become 3.5% growth in 2012. If that doesn't happen then the public finances are going to be under immense strain and the forecast income and expenditure plans are totally up shit creek.

But as the Tories are going to win the next election, why not give them a poison chalice whilst claiming that NuLab had such wonderful plans that would have saved the world if only you hadn't voted them out.


Turning to Scotland, and the Scottish reaction to the Budget, I see a mixture of economic illiteracy and political opportunism mixing in a message that is potentially very attractive to the electorate.

As the economy grew over the past few years, then money should have been put aside. Just as you or I would pay off our mortgage or save some cash, rather than spending all our pay rises.

When the economy went bad, these reserves could have seen us through the bad times. Make the mortgage interest only. Draw down some of the savings, and survive the bad period.

That is called, counter-cyclical economic policies.

You almost feel sorry for Alasdair Darling having to make it clear that during the good times Gordon Brown spent all the spare money on boozy weekends in Benidorm, fancy designer clothes, a series of high-spec cars that he wrote-off in a ditch on the way home from the pub, and he's getting evicted because he didn't leave enough cash to pay the mortgage. Almost sorry, but not quite as he was a cheerleader for the economic miracle illusion.

Bastards. Stupid bastards. Let them rot in obscurity after the election.

BUT, proposing we spend our way out of this when we have no money to spend is utterly irresponsible. But, politically attractive when you are never going to have to implement such a policy. If you are going broke, you don't try to max out your credit cards and take out new loans in an effort to remedy your financial position. You might tell others you are going to in an act of bravado, but given the mess we are currently in it is a position from which there a few right exits, and lots of wrong ones. That that is the probably the wrongest.

Two big planing issues

So, the Pairc windfarm and the new Nicolson Institute got through planning yesterday.

Both now have to go to the Minister for consideration; the former due to the size of the application and the later due to the advice of the HSE to advise against approval.

Watch both disappear into a black hole of bureaucracy. The school building project is, of course, integral to the entire PPP/PFI scheme and without clarity over the possibility of proceeding with the new school the plans to close others and move the children would seem to be premature.

One can only hope for speedy decisions, but based on past experience, I wouldn't be holding my breath.


Thanks to whoever sent on the brown envelope.

It is not often that a story literally drops through the letter box, with almost all the names, dates and supporting documentation provided, but sometimes these things happen.

I've spent a few days reading the paperwork and feeling my jaw drop in utter disbelief.

Just a bit of cross-checking required with someone who had a similar situation and all will be revealed. This might take a bit of time, as they have a lot of documentation.

And I promise that your jaws will drop.

(No labels so as not to blow the surprise!)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Regeneration action plan

The (re-)launch of the plan by Jim Mather would be bathetic if only it wasn't so sadly pathetic.

'Plan' is perhaps too grand phrase, as it seems to be more of a series of ideas thrown together in the hope that one or more of them might actually deliver something.

A key part of the strategy seems to have been to rule out the non-existent plans for a nuclear power station in Lewis. Presumably he is also ruling out elephant ranching; inter-planetary space-ports; and, a bid for the olympics.
On Thursday, he was locked in all-day crunch talks with Western Isles Council and development bodies all day over how renewable energy can be the lynchpin in transforming the ailing Hebridean economy.
And on Friday....
The Western Isles has lost out on developing a large offshore wind farm it has emerged.
But back to the report commissioned by Halcrow, which
puts forward new ideas for tourism, food and drink and the financial services industry for the Hebrides.
So nothing for the salmon processing sector or the tweed industry (other than the passing on of European Grants).

As someone involved in the financial services sector, I know that it is specifically excluded from the HIE schemes for assistance. With a dramatically increased minimum investment of £100,000 required before HIE will even get involved, then either HIE will have to back-track on their recent strategy, or they are going to be targeting large (grandiose?) investments in preference to developing local businesses.

I expect the results of the urgent study into the immediate and serious economic problems to be announced in due course with a scheme to (coincidentally) come into effect just in time for the next election in 2011.

Call me a cynic, but we are not high up the agenda and our parliamentary representatives seem to have no ability to move things forward - as opposed to arranging endless meetings, seminars and summits.

Am I right in understanding that they were not present at the meetings with the Council on Thursday?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thai massage

Publicity posters in town tell me that the old, old, pet shop on Church Street is just about to become a Thai Massage parlour.

Opening soon; and also offering manicures, pedicures, waxing and similar services.

With thoughts like that YOU (yes, you) are not definitely allowed near the premises.

It will certainly be a fantastic addition to the cosmopolitan metropolis that is Stornoway.

Wind farms

It looks like Eishken is getting the approval on Thursday as Cllr Annie MacDonald is apparently laying out the red carpet for Jim Mather and is in charge of organising his flying visit. (Not that the Council supremos know very much about the visit, as the Civil Servants are being uncivil playing their cards close to their chest).

A planned visit to Arnish in the afternoon will allow our MSP to continue his self-proclaimed 'regular contacts' with the facility which amount to one actual visit and two refusals, but that should prove interesting as many of the new employees of Bi-Fab lost their jobs in Arnish thanks to our MP and MSP opposing the very windfarm that they are now there to celebrate. This is actually a better record than our MP, Macavity MacNeil, who has visited less and refused more.

Angus MacNeil and Alasdair Allan - AB and AAMacNeil & Allan or perhaps Allan & MacNeil

, meanwhile, are quietly fuming (correctly) that they have been hung out to dry at the last elections and are planning their revenge.

Looks like both sides are gunning for the elected representatives......

Of course, I got expelled from the SNP for saying the policy that they are about to espouse (once again, although it never actually stopped being party policy except in the Western Isles for a few months) is correct, and the policy that they were trying to be elected upon was bollocks, and lo and behold it looks like I was right and they were talking out of their ballot boxes. Tis their loss.....

How consultation works

A recent consultation from the Scottish Government about the closure of rural schools was circulated to the Councillors for their comment, along with a draft response.

As is usual, comments were due to be in by close of business on a Thursday to allow the letter to be in the post on Friday.
George Bush as the Emperor
An important topic given the ongoing debate on schools in the islands, and one into which elected member input is vital, given the sensitivities and political/Political nuances surrounding the debate

I am very reliably informed that when one Councillor submitted his comments before the deadline he was told by the Chief Executive that the submission had already gone and his comments were too late.

Surely not true? If so, then perhaps the Audit Committee of the Council should look at this as a matter of urgency before the Audit Commission sink their teeth in.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Jpeg files

Help! Does anyone know enough about jpeg files to be able to repair some corrupted photos?

I've tried using a number of commercially available programmes to view the file structures or auto repair the files, but without success.

The photos are still on the SD card and I'm willing to pay :-)

Update 14/4/09: I'm getting nowhere. Thanks for all the advice and suggestions. The photos were not deleted, but I think the card was formatted in the computer rather than the camera and this has caused the problem. The thumbnails are largely clear but some are 50%+ greyed out and others have wonky colours. I've recovered old, old, photos on the card, which are ok but some recent ones still need fixing and nothing is fixing them.

Anon 3:20, I'd be eternally grateful if you can make them any less worse than they are at present. Email me, please.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

New school

With the plans for the new Nicolson Institute lodged for Planning Permission, a new problem has appeared over the horizon - the Health and Safety Executive are objecting to permission being granted, as the school is located too closely to the gas tanks on Sandwick Road.

Only this isn't a new problem.

And this shouldn't come as any surprise to any sitting Councillor or any of the senior staff in any of the departments and certainly not to the planners.

Why not?

Because in 2004 when the proposed new flats on the Auction Mart site at Inaclete Road were in front of the planning Committee they were the subject of an objection by the HSE as they were deemed to be too close to the gas tanks.

The Committee disagreed with this refusal, and the matter went to the Scottish Executive who sided with the HSE.

At that time, I pointed out to all the other Councillors that this meant that a huge area of Stornoway was sterilised from almost any building work for the foreseeable future. The HSE guidance was very clear and I asked the clerk to the Committee to write to every Director advising them of the this decision and that they must take account of this in any plans that they had for the future. I was especially concerned for the plans for Housing and for Education, as all new buildings within 250m of the tanks would be adversely affected by this decision.

On the map, draw a circle with 250m diameter centered on the gas works, and see the area impacted.

At later Council meetings I specifically asked about the impact of this decision on the proposed redevelopment of the Nicolson and I was explicitly told that there had been discussions with the HSE, and that the HSE had said they would not object to the new school.

Having read the guidance clearly, I was very dubious about this, and I made my reservations clear to the then Chair of Education, but I accepted the assurance from the officers that their consultations with the HSE had been productive.

Only it looks like we were misled to by the Council officers.

The most vociferous supporter of the plans for the Inaclete Road site was the Vice-Convener, so I have no doubt he will remember all of this accurately, and will also know that due to the HSE objection, the planning application will be decided by the Government.

So how the hell did the Council allow itself to end up in this mess, when the problem was known about 5 years ago and who misled the Council and the Councillors?

My wife says that I start too many sentences relating to the Council with the phrase "I don't believe that they have....." but really, this would be a fuck-up of epic proportions.

Victor Meldrew or Angus Nicolson?
For those who are interested, here is the relevant HSE Guidance. The new school falls into the OZ (Para 2.2), is a Level 3 or 4 building (Para 4.1) and is Development Type DT3. Look at the decision matrix (Para 5) and you will see that the building has been considered to be Level 4, or the most sensitive, and that none of the potentially mitigating rules thereafter affect the Advise Against position.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Tax law is not known for humour, but sometimes it has it's moments...
Sweden's tax authorities are seeking the bare facts about webcam strippers' income, estimating that hundreds of Swedish women are dodging the law.
Fair enough. All trading income is taxable, even if it from illegal or immoral sources. But the Swedish Inland Revenue believe in educating the taxpayer....
"They are young girls, we can see from the photos. We think that perhaps they are not well informed about the rules."
So how do they find the girls?
He said the Swedish tax authorities had been tipped off about Swedish internet strippers by the Dutch authorities, who had started a similar investigation earlier.
And what happened then?
Web search tools like spiders had failed to detect the Swedish strippers.
So the solution was....?
"When we investigated the sites manually it worked better," he added.
A dirty job, but someone has to do it.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Iain Crichton

The reason that this issue has not featured on the blog for some time is that I have been constrained in what I could say for professional reasons - which means I can't even clarify what that means.

There was never an attempt to gag me by the Council, although I was certainly discouraged from pursuing the matter with various spurious excuses.

I believe the current Councillors have been advised not to comment at present, but they certainly shouldn't be gagged permanently.

Hopefully the truth will all come out, and it will be clear to everyone just what happened.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

You can't get drunk on whisky

You may recall my rather cynical view on the stupidity of the proposed minimum pricing for alcohol being flagged up by this increasingly puritanical Government.

Now we have an even better, and stupider pronouncement from the Justice Minister:
"Scotch whiskies are one of the best known Scottish products and a star in our glass of whiskyHomecoming campaign. This Government is firm in its support for our distillers.

"As a Government, we are very clear that our plans for minimum pricing will not affect this important industry. Minimum pricing is about ending the pocket money prices and irresponsible promotions that encourage people to buy and drink large amounts of alcohol.
Any see the problem with restriction of trade and protectionism, that Europe will jump up and down on?

With a bottle of Whisky costing as little as £8 in some supermarkets, any minimum pricing is going to increase that price so it is inevitably going to have affect the industry.

No-one envisages the neds getting wasted on a 18 year-old malt (which is what I think the Minister was trying to say, rather than what we wanted to imply), but if you up the price of beer and Buckfast then the spirits are going to be consumed (even) more and more.

However, the big dichotomy for ther Government is their love of the Scottish alcohol industry and their heavy-handed parentalistic (and patronising) attitude towards the consumption of alcohol in Scotland.

Some good news

It is good to see some economic development on the island, even if it is on the back of bad news.

The removal of 30 people from the unemployment register - on their way to Arnish - is a great step forward, albeit after a backward one.

Woolies StornowayWith Hebrides News reporting that MacKay's (aka M&Co) are taking over the empty shell that was Woolies there is a chance to reinvigorate the centre of town - and does it need reinvigoration.

Of course, MacKay's are only moving a bit along the road, presumably leaving their current premises empty, but it will be of a more suitable size for a smaller business to expand into.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Fuel Poverty

On Friday 20 March a debate was held in Parliament on a Bill to force energy companies to make homes more energy efficient; to introduce lower prices for the poorest consumers; and to force Government to end fuel poverty.

The following exchange says everything:
Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): May I take the hon. Gentleman back a couple of minutes to when he mentioned the impact of his Bill on Scotland? I am sure that he will be aware that it appears that no Member from the Scottish National party is here. Does he agree that far from standing up for Scotland, as is the party’s slogan, more often than not its Members do not turn up for Scotland?

Mr. Heath: It is very noticeable that the SNP Members are not here today. I would have thought this matter ought to have interested them, and it is noticeable that Members from all the other parties, who have interests in all parts of the United Kingdom, are here—I shall leave it at that.

Back in 2005 it was all so different.....
Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I notice that the Minister has accepted the importance of finding ways and means of alleviating fuel poverty, to which clauses 1 and 6 relate. What specific extra measures do the Government propose, particularly for constituencies such as my own of Na h-Eileanan an Iar, which has some of the highest fuel poverty in the whole of the United Kingdom?
And in 2007...
Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Fuel poverty is the big issue for pensioners.
Ah well, he was probably trying to vote from home on this important issue.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


I'm told that negotiations with Bi-Fab might be reaching a conclusion, but why the delay?

The incompetence of WIE/HIE is a given, as it includes handing out confidential papers to a journalist who walked into the WIE office and asked for them.

A major stumbling block has been the attitude of the MP and the MSP (and the SNP) to the operations in the yard, with very public leaking of confidential discussions through their press releases and their ambiguous views on the yard. Do they support manufacturing in Arnish or will they oppose any attempts to build towers for use on the islands?

The final carrot has been the planned approval for the Eishken wind farm with the Enterprise Minister telling MacNeil and Tintin that it is happening, and that they can fight for their own political survival at the next election.

That guarantee of work, and the implicit support of the Enterprise Minister, has made the difference, and a good thing too.

Roll on the yard reopening.

Good job prospects....

Stornoway Gazette this week, page 17.

85 years ago
April 5, 1929
Lewis and the Mainland
[Ernest discussion in House of Lords about Lewis becoming a separate Council]
"Whilst the object of the amendment is to separate the Island for financial and all other purposes from the Mainland, its effect will be to leave Lewis to provide its own pubic health and other services .....

Eishken wind farm

According to a very badly written, poorly researched, and vacuous piece of journalism in the Scotland on Sunday, the Eishken wind farm is due to be approved by the Minister during his visit later this month.

I must confess to mixed views on this outcome, which I believe is being approved for all the wrong reasons. I gave evidence to the Public Local Inquiry, so my position on the application has been clear for a long time.
The source said the farm would get the green light when energy minister Jim Mather visits Lewis later this month to discuss economic issues. The scheme will be given planning permission, the source suggested, even if the public inquiry found against it. He told Scotland on Sunday: "The decision is going to be made shortly and find in favour. Because of the financial downturn everyone is keen to boost the economy. The minister is going across on April 16 to talk about energy and the economy, and it's a fair bet that's when it will be announced."
There you have all the signs of poor - indeed, very bad - Government decision making, where political priorities take the lead over proper consideration of the facts.

Planning Permission will be granted, regardless of the PLI decision.
Wasn't it a waste of time and money (£1m?) to hold the PLI when the decision is going to be disregarded anyway. The avoidance of due process is setting a dangerous precedent, but also opens the decision for legal challenge by opponents.

And this is what will happen.

Impact on Arnish
Give the 'importance' of this approval for the economy of the islands, wouldn't it have made sense to have taken this decision a long time ago to ensure continuity of work for Arnish? Or did it only become 'important' when they ran out of other ideas?

Unless Bi-Fab can be granted the tenancy of Arnish promptly then the planning requirement to build the turbine towers at Arnish may lapse, meaning that any benefit for the islands will be reduced. [There is another story here, but one I cannot currently comment on].

Expect to see a mad rush to get the paperwork signed before the visit so that the Minister can 'open' the facility that his actions previously closed.

Political impact....
Oh, this will be so much fun to watch.

Both the MP and MSP opposed the windfarms, and promised they would never be built.

Now they will have to support their Minister in giving approval; which will have a serious impact on their credibility and prospects for re-election.

With every other (very limited) attempt to rejuvenate the local economy having failed, suddenly the Government believe that renewables are the way forward - exactly what the Comhairle and HIE have been telling them for years, and exactly what they have opposed over the years. But having no other ideas, they are having to backtrack and reverse their position with the minimum political damage.

This is an appalling decision, based on a failure of other ideas, a serious misunderstanding of the issues surrounding the islands' economy and renewable energy, and the Government is being forced into an embarassing corner by their own elected representatives.

Bad Government - bad processes - incompetence and ineptness - but the right decision at the end of the day.

Gone missing

Sorry for the slow rate of posting over the past fortnight, but family matters were of a much higher priority.