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

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Councillor overheard....

...bemoaning why he had not officially been told by the Chief Executive about the legal action brought by Angus, nor that there was a problem with the tendering process, nor that a very senior member of staff had been suspended, nor that an investigation which started in May was still continuing.

Has any Councillor directly asked the Chief Executive or Convener about this? Perhaps the top brass are working on the basis that some of the Councillors may form an appeals panel at some point and hence their ignorance is bliss.

However, this doesn't explain why no-one is being told why Audit Scotland are all over the Council and why Cllr Norman A MacDonald was dressed in his best suit for an allegedly very serious meeting with the Auditors investigating his role in the matter.

I'm hoping that we will see some of the internal emails on this blog, as I am told they are damning, but Angus is keeping them well hidden (so far). No doubt they will be used in Court in due course, to the great amusement of the public.

Full ferries

With the Stornoway-Ullapool ferry seemingly full every weekend and close to full most weekdays, an urgent solution needs to be found.

The solution is to demand a new ferry - or ferries - and not banning camper vans.

I know that they are disparagingly referred to a "bin fillers" because of the perception that they take all their supplies with them, and buy little locally.

As one the purposes of RET was to attract more tourists, then to be surprised that we have, er, more tourists merely demonstrates the success of the pseudo-RET scheme.

CalMac - and that really means SNP and Labour - need to start budgeting for bigger ferries in their manifesto programmes, as this is going to be a major issue at the coming election.

The problem is....just how much capacity is out there? So how big do the new vessels need to be?

Allowing for all the tourists who turn up at Ullapool on spec and then don't travel when they realise that the ferry is full, I would be guessing that a 30% increase in capacity is required.

The immediate short-term solution?

Seven-days sailings will take a slight amount of the pressure off, but the real answer is the urgent need to replace the Muirneag and augment the service provided by Isle of Lewis.

Over to the Scottish Government to find the cash and show their intentions towards the islands......

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mini tornado hits Lewis (Updated)

As the tornado raced up Matheson Road causing devastation across the route from Shell Street to Goathill, I turned to my better half and said "It sounds a bit blowy out there!"

Apart from the power flicking off twice in quick succession I thought nothing more of it until I saw the news this morning.

Daughter, however, must have been more aware of what was going on as she rumbled and called for us. But minutes later she was sound asleep again.

Update 30/7/09: Front page of the Scottish Sun today (groan).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hope for Uist

Range head, UistSurprise, surprise, but according to the Gazette the Defence Minister is to visit Uist and to discuss the proposed cuts.

And who is bearer of these good tidings, but the prospective Labour MP, Cllr Donald John MacSween, who also has the very welcome news that socio-economic factors will be taken into account in coming to a final decision on the closure of the Rocket Range.

Good work by the Council-led Range Task Force, presumably on the back of the recent meeting with Ministers in London. And if I read between the lines correctly, an easy exit route for the Government to reverse the decision 'having considered all the facts'.

Obviously Labour consider this a winnable seat, or Mr MacSween wouldn't have got the nod ahead of everyone else - and what looks like the ear of the Minister - on this matter.

What this demonstrates that speaking to the Minister is the key, and then using that to its maximum advantage. That applies whether your are in the governing party or in opposition, and all the more underlines the failure by Angus MacNeil to lobby the junior Minister when he met with her after his advance confidential briefing on the closure plans.

Regardless of political allegiance, everyone should now pull together to persuade the Minister that the socio-economic impacts would be so adverse that there should be no suggestion that the closure go ahead.

Meantime, sign the petition against closure.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Persoonlijke gegevens

That's "personal details" in Dutch.

And you thought that completing UK Tax Returns was difficult?

My Dutch has improved slightly since my visits to Santpoort-Nord, Velsen and Ijmuiden and I can now understand a bit more than the bare essential "een bier tevreden".

('A beer, please')

It certainly makes for a different Monday night!

What a week!

Just got back last week, but what a week it has been...

7 days of illness,
6 loads of washing (every day)
5 prescriptions,
4 weeks of mail to deal with,
3 sick children,
2 sick parents,


1 legal action commenced against Sgoiltean Ùra LLP.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The economic miracle

Household borrowingIf you want to understand the 'economic miracle' that NuLabour were able to deliver, then a look at this graph explains how and why they achieved such high levels of voter satisfaction.

Yes, you got it, collectively the country borrowed it's way to success (sic) by almost doubling the amount of household debt and not giving a thought to having to repay it.

Much of this was mortgages, as bigger and better houses were guaranteed to give you a bigger and better windfall until someone saw that the emperor had no clothes, and the whole circus crashed to a halt.

And who presided over this cycle of 'growth' - both personal and corporate - and is now reaping the whirlwind he created...?

According to Alasdair Darling

"Labour can win the next election"

I suspect that he had too much of Marko's moonshine last time he was in Uig.

Investing in an Oil Fund

The call for investment in an Oil Fund is in itself A Good Idea, spreading the benefits from oil and gas exploitation over a number of years - effectively creating a Trust Fund for future generations, in the way pioneered by Shetland.

But - and isn't there always a but - it doesn't come without pain, and trying to paint it as pain-free is just silly and dishonest.

An oil fund would work by ring-fencing some of the tax yield into a savings fund.

Think of it this way - you put some of your pay into a deposit account for your children and grand-children.

Of course, this means that you have less money to spend today, which is fine if your income exceeds your expenditure. Of sustainable if you put money away when times were good.

To continue the analogy, at present your income is less than your expenditure and there are also sudden unexpected call on your savings - house repairs, the car needing replacing, a daughter's wedding - and you have been funding your lifestyle on the credit cards.

So would the SNP accept a cut in the money from Westminster if an Oil Fund was set-up; no, it actually wants an increase in public spending - effectively trying to get an increased overdraft to pay for day-to-day expenses because the credit card are maxed out.

Show us how good an idea it is, and set up a Scottish Oil Fund out of the current budgets - or be seen to be doing nothing more than posturing.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The great CalMac stramash

The Big Issue has an entertaining and pretty accurate review of the major issue of the month.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ferries, RET and Governement planning

There is no doubting the success of the (penny-pinching) RET scheme that has run on the Western Isles routes.

There is a certain logic in the policy that needs to be considered and adopted, if any politician is truly in favour of RET as an instrument of economic policy.

It is at that point that the current policies fall down, and there needs to be a wider understanding of the implications of current (almost) RET policy and the implications of a proper RET policy (like the one the SNP used to advocate in opposition).

The Stornoway-Ullapool ferry was always running near or about capacity during the summer months and one strand of the complaints from the Comhairle was about the lack of information about 'lost' business. How many tourists turned up in Ullapool and couldn't get on the ferry? 100, 1000 or 10,000? No-one knew, and CalMac made no secret of the fact that they couldn't/didn't record this information.

The Council believed - probably correctly - that a combination of cost and capacity issues meant that we lost out on a huge amount of potential tourism on the islands. No-one could quantify this, so estimates ranged from the low to the ridiculous, but either way it was probably significant.

RET has dramatically increased traffic: but is this extra journeys for local people and businesses, or new visitors to the islands? My - totally unscientific - assessment is that there is a lot more local people and businesses making more use of the ferries, often replacing an equally full plane.

The extra tourist volumes are relatively minimal, with more advance bookings due to the lower costs, but the same or fewer impulse travellers due to the ferry being full.

The problems have been flagged up for decades, but need to be restated.
  • Cheaper travel
  • More travellers
  • Bigger ferries
  • More frequent journeys
We have got the more frequent journeys as a way of spreading the load across seven days instead of six (actually adding only one journey to an existing 14) but this is only a temporary solution.

The Isle of Lewis needs to be replaced to make sure that the capacity is availaIsle of Lewisble, and possibly that vessel can move to another route to give capacity and the trickle-down of vessel size can commence. Except that the vessels need to be designed for the particular routes and particular harbour configurations and there are restrictions on what can be done.

I have spoken to a number of people about this, and the best estimate for the capital cost of renewing the fleet to meet the impact of RET is around £75m, all of which is going to arise in a three-year period. That could be stretched, but only at the expense of services, and excludes the cost of replacing the Muirneag, which is already being factored into budgets for a few years hence.

The trouble is: the Scottish Government doesn't have that level of funding available at present and whoever wins the next Scottish elections won't be able to deliver the necessary ferry improvements without major cuts elsewhere. (Yes, this is largely due to the mismanagement of the economy by Gordon Brown, but the budget is still a budget.)

Unless we as a community put pressure on those who wish to be elected we coulCatamarand find the pseudo-RET pathfinder being abandoned due to financial constraints and that the service revert back to the previous situation. If we can apply the right pressure then perhaps we can get promises of full RET and a better ferry service from the political parties and see a huge improvement in the services too and from the islands.

I intend to vote for the candidate who can promise and deliver the best for the islands, of which ferry fares is a key component.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday working

Good to see that the Sunday (non-)working policy of the Council has been abandoned again.

Martins Memorial Church are meeting in Stornoway Primary this week (and last?) and presumably the building will open itself and there will be no need for a caretaker to work on Sunday moving chairs and then moving them back before the kids arrive on Sunday Monday morning*.

No doubt this fits perfectly with the definition of "essential" or as "an act of mercy".

However, as a debate on the opening of the Sports Centre on a Sunday is banned by those who want consultation on everything but that which they want to prevent, it seems more an "act of hypocrisy".

Perhaps someone can tell me where and when the Council sanctioned the employment of staff at the Primary on a Sunday?

Update 19/7: * Yes, I know that the kids are on holiday, but the use of the Primary by the Church is going to continue well into the new school year.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

# Sail on, sail on #

9:30pm on Saturday night and the MV Isle of Lewis is loading some of the vast numbers of cars and passengers trying to escape a Lewis Sunday and get back to civilisation before the end of the world as we know it.

Conversely, I am told that an equal number of devil worshippers, communists and recidivist ex-members of the Free Church are waiting on the OTHER SIDE to bring death, plague and war to the sober citizens of Lewis, as prophesied by many in the know.

Having seen a vast number of youngsters stagger past tonight, planning goodness knows what adventures for the evening (although the Court reports will have some of the juicier headlines) I fail to understand how a ferry can create a veritable Sodom and Gomorrah between Stornoway and Back.

BTW the live music in the Narrows provided by some religious group was an example of how NOT to engage the young; an absence of melody, harmony and personality does not compensate for a soup kitchen and a sincere message.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sexy Beast

I'm back from holiday and feeling great.

Looking great too, as this wide-angle holiday snap shows.

Sexy beast

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Glasgow NE by-election

So the SNP have lost their candidate at the election, just as Labour lost their candidate in Ballieston.

My old friend Grant Thoms, aka Tartan Hero, would have been the ideal candidate and would have walked the seat, but as he has discovered, in the new SNP there is no place for those who are prepared to express their views in public, without official sanction.

The SNP approved candidates list now seems to consist of the bland, the featureless or the invisible. And sometimes all three in one person.

Now it is back to the drawing board, and a parachuted-in candidate to lose magnificently.

Labour must be laughing themselves stupid.

The former candidate said, "I am taking legal advice on the suggestion that there may have been a technical breach of charities legislation by virtue of me being appointed a partner director of Culture and Sport Glasgow by Glasgow City Council, a position for which I received no financial gain whatsoever."

Anyone involved with Charities will know exactly where he stands: in front of the Standards Commission as a result of the imminent complaint about allowing himself to become a charity trustee when disqualified from so doing. A spectacular own goal.

Jim Murphy is partially right

And partially wrong, in his criticism of the Western Isles campaign for a fuel duty reduction.

Any derogation lasts only until 2011 and is a mere 3% cut in duty, so to flag up a fuel duty reduction scheme as being a lasting solution is nonsense.

But he is right to say that the Argyll & Bute MPs have been making a consistent case (albeit quite poorly) as even our two representatives acknowledge that they have been running a fuel duty reduction campaign series of press releases and a ludicrous campaign for a "fuel duty regulator" simultaneously. These are conflicting and non-compatible campaigns and it is not really clear what their position actually is, other than grabbing headlines.

Conversely, as Donald Manford rightly points out, there has been some resistance from some members to campaigning against Westminster (Labour) policies and this has not helped to force our MP and MSP to be made to make the case.

All in all, we are our own worst enemies in this, and instead of bitching about the detail of who said what, let us build a campaign for the abolition of fuel duty in the islands. Stuff the expiration of the derogation in 2011 and let us force the Government to seek a new derogation for the UK to allow all islands to be exempt from duty and VAT - Spain has this for the Canaries, so why not for equally economically challenged parts of the UK?

Let us aim high and challenge others to deny us.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Back to the future

It looks like the future lies in the history of the 1930's as CalMac announce permanent Sunday sailings between Stornoway and Ullapool, starting this Sunday.

Inevitable, utterly inevitable, from when the first plane landed on a Sunday, and the papers arrived and (more) pubs and hotels opened.

It is going to radically change life on the islands, and in my view and on balance, for the better. There will be downsides, and some businesses will have to adapt - primarily the hotels seeing guests checking-in on a Sunday.

Now, just what is there for the Tourists to do????

Will the Council act like silly King Cnuts and try to stop the tide??? Or will they accept reality and deal with issues under their control?

(more to follow later)

This is so important it has made the headlines here in the sunny part of the world*

*A fib - thanks to you-know-who for the call.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Thought for the day....

Apropos nothing in particular:
War is diplomacy by another means.
Karl Von Clausewitz

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Too much information

.....two mosquito bites on a pale white bum and sunburn in places that the sun shouldn't see, far less burn. Ouch!!!!

Using leverage

Political interest in the islands hasn’t been so high for some time. For all the wrong reasons, sadly.

It was a smart political move by Labour to get the Scottish Secretary to come here for a Q&A ahead of the SNP Government doing the same in a few weeks.

Both visits are – of course – stunts, but let’s not knock them too much.

But it tells me that Labour are (at least a bit) more confident about their chances than they are letting on publicly.

What we need to do is to lever the best for the islands from the competing politicians. Last election (and Labour admit this privately) their fares reduction policy was topped by the SNP which caught the public mood and delivered victory. Although the actual promises weren’t actually delivered.

Let us put the parties into a battle to offer and deliver the best for the islands, and let’s see who can give the best SPECIFIC promises- if they want our votes, then they need to offer us an incentive. I may well be all to play for, and they know it…….

Monday, July 06, 2009

Customer Relationship (Mis)management

What a fabulous story from Hebrides News about the unique CRM provided to customers.

I am sure that there are two sides to every story, but this is just spectacular.

The boss - the person in charge of customer relationships wrote:
“put the crack pipe down for a minute... I will try and use small words so that you can understand.”

“A drug problem seems like the only explanation for your bizarre unwillingness to follow the instructions given to you.”

“I see you were hitting the smack again last night... ”
Read the entire story for the full utterly wonderful and gory details.

Remember: the success of customer relations is not how you deal with the easy customers, but how you deal with the dissatisfied.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

School holidays

After a week of quality time with the children, what have I learned?

Our eldest can eat three breakfasts and still be hungry again by mid-morning - all without adding an ounce to his skinny frame

Our middle has no fear of water - dangerously so - but has almost learned to swim

Our baby doesn't like couscous and is scared of a donkey braying.

Only another five weeks to go.....

(all of which explain the reduction in postings)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

An underlying nastiness

John MacLeod got an opportunity to make his point about Sunday ferries on this blog and it provoked a furious backlash, which I am sure that John was more than prepared for.

He has then taken his correspondence to Hebrides News where - if anything - the vitriolic and personally offensive campaign has become much more vicious.

I'm offended that this blog is no longer the sole location for anonymous mindless personal attacks, but let's not let personal pride get in the way of a vaguely serious point.

The advice that anyone 'go back home' is offensive, whether they were born in Glasgow, Krakow, Lagos or Tennessee.

Once the debate reaches that level, I start to despair, and like many others, I am sure that I get turned off by the very nature of the comments.

It hasn't made me change my views, but it certainly makes me less likely to espouse them as publicly in ase I am tarred with the same brush....

Compulsory ID scheme scrapped

No2IDThe unthinkable, proposed by the unthinking, supported by the idiotic, espoused by the moronic and scrapped by the unelectable.

Strike one for common sense and people power.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

An uneasy, but necessary, truce

It seems like everyone is now pulling together to fight the decision intention to close the rocket range in Uist.

With cross-party delegations to Westminster and a united front to attack the decision, the only people out of step are the MOD and their puppet, Qinetiq.

You know, of course, that the unusual agreement is just a truce until situation resolves itself, and you can see the daggers being slipped in and the lies of attack are being drawn up just in case the campaign doesn't succeed, but let's hope that a united front is successful in this instance.

Through this blog the community have highlighted certain apparently improper waste practices, and these need urgent attention. If there is contaminated land, or worse still, contaminated seas, then these must be remedied and those costs recognised before any decision is taken.

Wouldn't it be right for the Council to immediately undertake contaminated land surveys on the range and consider investigating any marine dumps? We all remember the problems with chemical weapons appearing on the beaches in Barra; which is probably not the welcome we want to give to tourists.

Older hands in the Council will remember the views and knowledge of Cllrs Roddy MacKinnon (Barra) and Jimmy MacArthur who each brought their different experiences to the Environmental Services Committee of the Comhairle. That information needs to be drawn back out again, as after Qinetiq leave it is going to be too late - they may have to pay to clean it up, but the work and the future will have gone.