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

Sunday, August 30, 2009

al-Megrahi - the aftermath

So who is telling the fewest lies? Westminster or Holyrood?

This is turning into murky tale of claim and counter-claim and the 'angels on the head of a pin' argument between release under the Prisoner Transfer Agreement and compassionate release.

The whole situation is filthy, and no-one is emerging with any credit.

Let's start by destroying the straw man: if Kenny MacAskill thought that al-Megrahi was innocent, then he should have released him on those grounds, not some other spurious excuse. It seems that if not entirely and solely responsible, al-Megrahi was 'involved' to some extent, and may have been scape-goated for that reason.

We now have a very nasty oil-for-prisoner deal that has been approved by Westminster and pushed through by Holyrood.

Cui bono?* Big oil. Join the dots and draw the picture.

Did you know that al-Megrahi is actually on parole, and his parole officer is an employee of North Lanarkshire Council? His parole officer phones him (I think) weekly to check he is abiding by the terms of his release. Can you imagine the calls:

PO: Did you stay at home between the hours of 7pm and 7am?
al-M: Yes
PO: I heard you were drinking Buckie and hanging out with the young Tripoli Tong?
al-M: Not true.
PO: Have you been associating with any known criminals?
al-M: Well, Muammar al Gathafi is a cousin....
PO: Report back to the office next week, as you have broken your parole!
al-M: No.

What next?

This is turning into a mess that is only going to get worse, andI can already visualise the Scottish Labour Election Broadcast showing saltires fluttering in the Libyan wind.....

Such a parcel of rogues in two nations!

* Italian Gaelic - "Who benefits?"


Saturday's post at the office containted a letter from the Dutch Inland Revenue allocating a belastingconsulentennummer to us, which is the full authority to undertake the preparation of all Dutch Tax returns and to correspond with the Dutch Inland Revenue.

This all came about though some work we do for a major Scottish oil support company, who asked us to get involved in some pretty complex international tax matters, and the service has expanded from there.

HIE are fully aware of the importance of financial and business services to the Highland and Islands, but seem to limit their attention to (big) call centres of one description or another. That is losing sight of how smaller businesses can provide tremendous growth in skills and services in rural areas. Witness our recent employment of a graduate to add to our staff, and the looming need for yet another.....

Over the past six months we have been acquiring an average of 2 new clients a week from our specialist services, and I have somehow got us to number one in the Google rankings for these niche areas. Virtually all these clients are from outside Scotland, with a large percentage from outside the UK.

Sample recent question: I am a UK ex-pat living in Spain but working in Norway for a UK based company. In which country do I have a National Insurance liability?

That - believe it or not - is what passes for fun for us accountants.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Intra-island ferries

It was a brilliantly simple, but moderately expensive, scheme by the Comhairle to subsidise inter-island ferries and encourage the economic development within the islands. The philosophy was to have businesses looking north or south, rather than across the Minch, and this was achieved by the simple creation of a 40% discount for commercial vehicles.

It was working too, with a huge increase in trading between the islands.

But with the next round of budget cuts required, something had to give and this subsidy has been removed.

Now RET makes it cheaper to go to and from the mainland, and you know what is going to happen.

Best of luck in trying to persuade the Government to extend the RET scheme to these ferries, but I suspect that there will be nothing more than vague promises ahead of the election. Along with a proper RET scheme, this must be made a major campaigning issue for the candidates - let's see which party promises what, and vote accordingly.

Whilst giving plaudits to the Council, HIE deserve a very special mention for their interest in inter-island economic development. I really, really, hope HIE Area Manager Archie MacDonald was reading from a press statement when he made the following comment:
"Our role today is focused on supporting businesses and social enterprises with growth potential, strengthening communities, especially in fragile areas, and investing in transformational projects which are aimed at adding to the economic output of the Outer Hebrides."
Seriously, WTF does that mean? Other than, "thanks to budget cuts, we don't have the money".

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Which Gaelic language skills do you have?

So, a lady from Grimsay has been turned down for a job in the EU because she speaks Scots Gaelic rather than Irish Gaelic.

Cue outrage from Angus MacNeil MP.

But it is perhaps worthwhile examining why Irish Gaelic is getting such special treatment.

In 1 January 2007 Irish Gaelic became an official working language of the EU a move warmly welcomed by the SNP.
SNP President Ian Hudghton MEP has welcomed a new initiative that allows the Irish language to be used in the European Parliament. Irish became an official working language of the European Union on 1 January 2007 and this week in Strasbourg has been the first time that Irish speaking MEPs have been able to use their language in Parliamentary debates.
The reason Irish got this special treatment is that it is an official language of Eire, an aspiration that the SNP had for Scots Gaelic from the 1970's until at least 2005, until it was mysteriously dropped just prior to the 2007 election.
Column 14095: [Alex Neil MSP, SNP Shadow Minister] ... we would like the official status of Gaelic to be built in to the bill.
So, unpleasant as it might be to realise, the solution lies with the SNP Government to reverse their stance and have Gaelic as an official language of Scotland, and then - and only then - can Scots Gaelic seek equal status with Irish. So long as the SNP treat Gaelic as second class, then so will the rest of the world; who are just following their example.

That's not to say that the solution will appear overnight, nor to let Labour off the hook, but to blame the EU for the outcome of a policy you have abandoned is a bit rich.

Not that there were many Irish-Estonian speakers in 2007, but there is a whole industry there that we are missing out on, and especially the influence it brings by being part of the system and ingrained into the politics of Europe. That is one of the many reasons why the Irish did so well from structural funds, and why the UK did so badly.

Our legal action against Sgoiltean Ùra

A calling date has now been requested from the Court of Session, 21 days after the Summons was served on Sgoiltean Ùra.

The other side have to be given 21 days notice, and the date for actually hearing the action will now be set by the Court of Session.

When the action goes ahead, I will be placing into the public domain the full file of emails, letters and other documents I hold, which I promise will make for very entertaining reading for all my readers.

Or if you authored the best of these documents, they will make for sphincter-tightening reading.

Just for the record, our invitations to try to resolve this without recourse to legal action have been met either with silence or with bland non-committal letters from Sgoiltean Ùra or their solicitors. But, you can be the judge of that very shortly.

Home insulation - the spin and the facts

You have to laugh at the sheer brown-nosing, lack of understanding and failure to ask questions that were the principal features of the MSP's welcoming of the home insulation scheme.

Witness this adulatory comment from 4 August:
Alasdair Allan commented: “This new scheme will involve 8,506 households in the Islands being contacted in the first phase and offered free advice on energy efficiency measures.
For individuals, the scheme will bring a much-needed boost to insulation installers and other contractors, and will leave a legacy of reduced heating bills for many islanders.
And this, today:
I have therefore asked the minister if he would be able to confirm how much money is to be allocated to the Western Isles, how the scheme is to be set up locally and how contractors are to be appointed locally.
Well, let's start with the fact that the scheme applies only to Lewis & Harris, which neither Mr Allan nor the Government made clear in the big print headlines, nor have we any details of how much cash the Council will get to set-up and deliver a scheme before the end of March.

Or what restrictions will be placed on delivery.

Or how contractors are to be selected.

Or even if the capacity is there to deliver everything before the end of March, when the public sector is prone to have a spend-it-or-lose-it binge.

Never mind that in 2007 home heating was a 'priority' issue for him and that in 2008 it was (supposedly) the biggest single item in his postbag, he seems to have lost sight of what was happening, or what was actually being proposed by the Government.

Too busy writing the (self-)congratulatory press releases, until the Council highlighted the problems this week.

Cllr Peter Carlin said: “This is the biggest farce I’ve come across.”

Cllr Angus McCormack said it was “absurd and crazy” to exclude Uist and Barra.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Justice Minister's job at risk

Quite properly, Parliament has been recalled for this afternoon where Kenny MacAskill will have to justify his decision to release al-Megrahi.

With all the opposition parties opposed to the decision, there are going to be fireworks, and I suspect that there will be some vitriolic attacks on Mr MacAskill.

There are going to be calls for his resignation, and as a minority Government the SNP are going to find these difficult to resist.

I expect a motion of no confidence in Mr MacAskill to be turned into a threatened motion of no confidence Alex Salmond; as the only practical way he can defend Mr MacAskill's position is to up the stakes and to see who blinks first.

That would be a high risk - for everyone - but having seen this tactic used previously, it is likely that Labour will be ready for this. However, I suspect that the weak link in the united front is the LibDems, who will be less likely to be keen on an immediate election.

I'd love to try and call what is going to happen, but I can't at the moment. It is certainly going to be a high stakes game this afternoon, but I strongly suspect that by the end of the day Mr MacAskill will no longer be in post.

Update 5pm: I think Kenny MacAskill acquitted himself quite well in the Chamber, taking the stance that he had sole responsibility for the decision and that he would live by his decision. Although he was accused of trying to blame everyone else (by Tavish Scott?) for the decision he took, it was clear that he was not trying to absolve himself of what was obviously a massive decision.

Unfortunately, he had very little he could add to his previous statement which made the whole performance seem like a rehash of the original announcement, and a complete non-event. The tone of the speech sounded like a sermon by as trainee minister, and rarely came to life despite the immensity of the subject matter.

Disappointingly, the chamber was half-empty: where were the rest of them?

The opposition parties will now be dragging the absentees back from the beaches and deciding how to proceed - I suspect a full debate will be staged sooner rather than later, and Kenny MacAskill's position is now more likely to be decided by the tone of the press coverage, rather than the 'skills' of the opposition.

Does anyone think the soft questions, distributed by the whips, and read badly by SNP backbenchers is either big or clever?

Friday, August 21, 2009

QinetiQ rocket ranges - the submissions

I have been very impressed with the quality of the submissions submitted in support of the Uist range from the Council, the local political parties, and by Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

There are many excellent observations, suggestions for improvements and ideas for taking the range forward, all of which are worthy of deeper consideration.

The HIE submission, however, highlights the restrictions placed on their assessment by the failure of the MOD/QinetiQ to provide the necessary economic information for a proper assessment to be made. That is worrying; and is perhaps an indication of a deliberate attempt to ensure that the full picture is not available to those making the case for retention.

HIE also make the clear point that a proper Green Book economic assessment of the situation needs to be undertaken before any decision is made.

If I understand the process correctly:
  • The MOD as the budget holder take a decision on what is to happen
  • Then the Cabinet Secretary or Chancellor produces an overall economic assessment/impact study to look at the wider implications
  • The final decision is then taken in this context
The economic arguments - unemployment, social upheaval etc clearly fall into the later element and that is the backstop.

The real arguments over loss of testing capacity, reduced accuracy, and control issues with reliance on a single bandwidth are aimed directly at the initial decision.

Whilst it might be entertaining to see Labour and the SNP trying to knock lumps out of each other, they both managed to do so without losing sight of or overshadowing the key issues, which is something to be grateful for.

Sadly, this campaign started a year too late as Angus MacNeil MP sat on the information he received about the proposals until even after the last minute. That has undoubtedly dramatically weakened the Task Force submission and the HIE assessment, and we just hope it does not prove to be a fatal blow.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Compassion -v- Justice
Right -v- Wrong
Scottish justice system -v- the rest of the world

Whatever decision Kenny MacAskill finally makes, he is going to be wrong. And he has no-one to blame beyond the Scottish Government who have been instrumental in raising the profile of the prisoner swap over the past few years, and creating the atmosphere that we find today.

The hare has started running, and it can't be stopped.

I must admit to having an underlying bias when I think about Lockerbie, as I used to drive through and past the town regularly when I worked on the mainland, and because I know that if the plane had stayed in the air for another 30 minutes, it would have come down in Stornoway.

We are not going to get the truth from yet another investigation; as what we have got to date is only part of the truth. But will that matter?

It is clear that the whole affair is political - for which read being driven by big oil companies - but the handling of the matter by Kenny MacAskill is utterly inept.

A murderer is a murderer is a murderer. You don't go and visit one and not the rest when you are considering their case; possibly compromising your position.

The US bitterly oppose the prisoner transfer; Mandelson has an 'unexpected' meeting with Gadaffi's son whilst on holiday in Corfu; the promises to look at the case were made long ago and cannot be unmade.

For once the SNP are utterly wrong-footed and utterly exposed on this issue with them having sole responsibility for whatever happens.

But is there a right way forward?

Not from where we are today. This matter should have been dealt with in a low profile way until such time as a decision as very close to being made, and then that decision should have been explained and debated in Parliament.

With a decision supposedly being made within 2 weeks, with the Parliament in recess, you have all the makings of a decision being implemented and present to Parliament on its return. That course of action will cause a spectacular row, and quite right too, and do serious damage to the reputation of Ministers, the Scottish Government and the reputation of the Scottish justice system.

And that - sadly - is where we are going.

Have a kid - avoid jail

The call from the Children's Commissioner (I bet you didn't know we had one!) not to jail parents without considering the impact it will have on the children must rate as one of the most ridiculous proposals I have heard for a long time.
The commissioner added that his suggested course of action could also tackle the high prison population.
Yes, by putting criminals on the street when they should be in jail.

This is an opportunity for social workers to plead yet another set of mitigating circumstances to keep those who should be locked up in the community; where they can continue their criminal ways.

If anything, the Children' Commissioner should be advocating both sides of this argument equally.

There are many circumstances that I have seen and know about, where the best thing would have been to send one or both of the parents to prison and get the children out of a destructive and dangerous household. That would be the best for the children in many cases, and may prevent the creation of criminal dynasties as the kids take after the parents.

Monday, August 17, 2009

It seems that there is nothing that can stop Jock Murray, retired publican of this parish, from his desire to bring the glory of semi-naked peat-cutting island men to every corner of the known world.

Jock Murray calendar

What first caught my eye was a story in the Sutton Guardian about his forthcoming exploits across some of the areas where peat-cutting may not be quite so extensively practised.

Then on the excellent site of John MacLean Photography (who did the original calendar) I found this page about the forthcoming tour of the Jock Murray roadshow, apparently accompanied by MacTv.

Heaven help the poor citizens of London when Jock appears to separate them from their money.

That will be a programme well worth watching, and a cause well worth supporting.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Builders - a key indicator of the local economy

It has always been the case that the building sector is a key indicator of the health of the local economy, as new builds, repairs and general works all feed through into the other sectors.

Those builders who have been reliant upon the Council for work seem to be suffering, with little or no work coming out to them at the moment; despite Council promises to try to advance spending.

The problem seems to lie between making the political decision or noises, and actually having work being put out for tender.

As a consequence, I am told that one of the largest firms has placed all its staff on a three day week and another significant player has given notice to all employees that they will be made redundant in a couple of months, when the current order book is completed.

If my reading of the Council budgets is correct, then it is actually going to get much, much worse. It looks to me as if virtually the entire capital budget for 2011/12 has been committed to the new schools project leaving almost nothing for roads, building maintenance and all the usual projects.

The moral of this tale is: don't rely on the Council for your work.

Update 13/8: I am told that the contractors recently had a meeting with the Vice-Convener at which they were told about all the work that was shortly to come out for tender. The list was circulated, showing that all the work had already been allocated to the COU; and the contractors were therefore expected to tender to sub-contract to the COU. Be grateful for the crumbs you might receive.

Oh yes, and could they also take on more apprentices please.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The population falls, again,again

An almost 5% drop in the population of the Western Isles in 2008 is a serious blow to the islands.

It is difficult to overstate the impact of the demographic changes that we are seeing and forecasting for these islands, with the young being replaced by the elderly.

Fewer schools needed; more old folks homes. Fewer births; more pensioners. Fewer incentives to stay here and bring up a family; more incentives to retire here.

Why is this happening?

I believe that it is very simple - those who leave to get a good education cannot find work back here when they graduate. We lose the majority of our most intelligent and able: my schoolmates are spread across the world with doctorates in this or that but with skills that cannot be used here.

That process is not new, but is increasing over time as the communications improve and as the ability to find jobs in Aberdeen, Glasgow or the Nigerian delta becomes easier and easier.

And then the incentive to return diminishes as the comparison between life here and life there comes into focus - better facilities, more options for the kids and easier access to more life choices.

And so the cycle perpetuates itself, heading into a death-spiral.

But how to break the cycle? Over-dependence on the public sector in all its forms is an immediate cause of the lack of opportunity, but there is a bigger underlying issue about bringing opportunities - skilled, unskilled and semi-skilled - here and the need for deliberate and sustained Political action to find remedies.

All the summits, meetings, and letters to Ministers may have done nothing more than possibly slow the decline, but the threat remains and needs urgent action. As a community, Harris is in an almost terminal state; Uist may come closer to terminal decline if the Rocket Range closes; Barra seems able to sustain and replace it's population; Lewis is fast becoming a retirement home where tourists come to see the quaint traditions of the locals.

Becoming the next St Kilda is still some time off, but moving into the grip of the black hole of depopulation from which there is no escape is coming closer and closer.

How to win friends and influence people...

Good to see that blind prejudice, rather than the tinniest smidgen of common sense still prevails in the UK Border Gestapo Agency.

Having recently experienced [at an airport I don't want to name as I may have to use it again, but it is not in Scotland] their ability to project a vast aura of self-importance whilst slowly and painfully delaying you, under the pretence of studying your photo - without actually looking at you - these supercilious social inadequates have shown just how much power they can wield with their mighty computer mouse.

Here them cry, "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
The UK Border Agency has been accused of embarrassing Scotland by refusing entry visas for a Pakistani business delegation and pipe band[...]

The majority of the members of the Lahore Pipe Band, who have taken part in the World Pipe Band Championships for the past four years, were refused entry.

A delegation of business people and officials from Lahore was also turned down.

Visas applications were also rejected from members of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Lahore District Government, who had been due to arrive in Glasgow for trade meetings.

Haven't they done well, keeping another bunch of Al-Quaida supporters out of the UK.

I mean, what do we want with international trade and economic engagement with a country trying to fight off the threat of extremist Wahhabi Islam, when we can insult them and get them thinking that we can only apply the concept of Western democracy to those with white skins?

Power, politics and policies

I lay in the bath on Sunday night re-reading the Report of the Public Local Inquiry into the proposed windfarm in Eishken.

With a glass of wine in one hand and the jacuzzi bath bubbling around me, I was perfectly relaxed.

Until, that was, I read the Report and this week's Economist magazine.

The Report is all things to all men - maybe aye and maybe no - and is aimless in its attempts for balance and an objective review of the evidence and the submissions.

Everyone was given a fair hearing, and (virtually) all the evidence was accepted. Meaning anything and nothing to everyone. Time and planning applications have moved on, and we are still no nearer or clearer about the acceptability or otherwise of large-scale wind farm developments on the islands.

Lingerbay II anyone? Which is something we all wanted to avoid.

But the bigger policy issue was in an excellent Economist article called "ThWhen the power goes oute looming electricity crunch" which clearly sets out the impending problems we will be facing.

Renewables will never bridge the gap - that's a given -until the technology moves on dramatically, but the underlying imbalance between demand and supply highlights the over-dependence on a free-market solution.

The Economist was advocating a rush to nuclear as a potential solution, as was Tony Blair after he prevaricated so long that every other option was ruled out, but now it certainly appears that there is no solution that is going to bridge the gap; other than reliance on supplies from Russia.

We are all going to have to face the fact that there are going to be major energy shortages in the next decade as a direct result of the failure of the Labour Government to take any decisions, instead (mis)placing their faith in the free market to meet demand.

There is an urgent need for long-term strategic decision making, both conventional and renewable, and for new structures to encourage security of supply. That can probably only come about with major changes in the way in which the energy companies operate, and with more state intervention in the infrastructure.

This country is burdened with regulation for the sake of regulation, which abrogates responsibility to quangos and believes that the free-market must solve everything. Our politicians then deny any correlation between that and the inability to get things done. We are not as bad as Ethiopia, but we get close.

One only needs to look at the farce over the Beauly-Denny power line and the need for Ofgem to encourage bidding for the electricity infrastructure to understand that politicians seem unable to take and implement necessary long-term strategic decisions. The trivial and stupid stuff is easy for them; but deciding yea or nay to what sort of power supplies we will have in ten years time is too difficult for them.

When the lights threaten to go out, I'll be throwing the nearest politician onto the fire.

Friday, August 07, 2009

WTF was the delay?

From page 1 of the document:

Report by Miss Janet M McNair, a Reporter appointed by the Scottish Ministers

· Case reference: IEC/3/134
· Application by Beinn Mhor Power Ltd for consent under section 36 of the
· Electricity Act 1989 for a wind farm and associated infrastructure
· Site Address: Muaitheabhal, Eisgein Estate, Isle of Lewis
· Date of pre-inquiry meeting 7 March 2008
· Dates of inquiry: 13-21 May 2008
· Date of this report: September 2008

Look at the document properties:

Last printed: 25 August 2008 20:24:00

Does this mean that the Government have been sitting on this for nearly a year???

During which time the scheme has been dramatically modified, amended, cut into pieces and put back together in a different order, whilst all the time someone has been sitting on this.


Restores ones faith in the ability of the public sector to move with all the speed and athleticism of an arthritic hippo in concrete wellies.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Approval for the Eishken wind scheme

According to Hebrides News, the much delayed Public Inquiry has recommended approval for a scheme that has now been superceded by events.

As someone who gave evidence to the PLI, I want to study the report carefully before making any further comment, but as the applicant dryly notes:
“The report is very interesting and very fair but it is now of only academic interest.”

Update 7/8:
I've read the Report, carefully, and I need to read it again, even more carefully.

My initial reaction is that the Report can be read either way you wish, giving the Minister complete leeway to make whatever decision he wants. So neither approved nor rejected.

Has the rocket range been saved?

I'm not sure how to interpret the words from the minister, who seems to be playing his cards very close to his chest.

It is clear that he is now fully aware of the impact that his decision will have on the Western Isles as a whole, and Uist in particular, and full credit must go to the Task Force for the hard work they have done in getting him here.

The lobbying of the Minister - the person responsible for taking the decision - is vitally important, indeed crucial; and should not have been derided by our MP, who seemed to prefer megaphone diplomacy insults and lobbying of those NOT taking the decision. I would go so far as to say that the successes to date are despite our MP's actions.

We may have been roundly patronised by the Minister
...a charming and lovely community in a lovely part of the world which would easily be very badly impacted by a decision of this kind.
but we can forgive him that if he makes the right decision. The balance is - as he says -
When I get back I shall have all kinds of people asking for money and if I said I've just given up a saving of £3.9 million a year because I want to do a favour for these charming people who live on the Western side of the Hebrides there'd be a lot of people who would think I'd betrayed the general national interest. It's not an easy decision to take.
Sorry to remind you of this, but it is your job to take the decisions and the responsibility for them, and your decision will have a major impact on the votes in the coming election.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A connected community

Hebrides.netI know that I have allowed adverse comments about the set-up (right) on a number of occasions, but despite all the flak, we have to remember that being connected to the web is actually the way forward for this community.

It may be frustrating, it may be slow (or slower than you would really like), it may be expensive, and service levels may be low, but anyone doing business via the web knows just how important it can be to island life.

Lots of our clients try to sell via the web and some do it very successfully, despite still being on dial-up or broadband at almost dial-up speeds, and a few do it very badly, mistaking an email address for a 24/7 web 2.0 e-commerce site.

The vision for these islands must be to attract back the educated masses we send away, so that they can work, live, bring up families and run a business from here. Some do it extremely well.

Much as I try to help friends and clients, nothing beats actual experience.

On Saturday I was asked if our firm still provided a certain service (I don't want to give too much away to the competition!) by a local gent I know very well. He had been recommended to us by a couple of his work colleagues who live in England but work with him on an oil installation outside the UK! These clients had found us through a website we have set-up for a niche area, and which is attracting 2/3 new clients a week, every week.

I might have thought that a fluke, except another site we own today brought in another new potential client from the middle East who found us because of certain key words in that site. He is looking to open a UK office to handle his expanding international business, and our physical location is totally irrelevant.

Tourism is great; manufacturing is rarely cost effective; retail is a big employer; the future growth in population and skills lies in selling ourselves as a onshore, lower-cost, alternative to off-shoring.

I was recently accused on this blog of claiming that the only real jobs were those where you got dirty or worn fluorescent jackets. Actually, what I said was that tourism had less of an impact on the community than people claimed. Services will be an important part of the future economy of the islands, but only if we diversify and draw back the diaspora with excellent telecoms, travel and the way of life.

That is the challenge to which I don't have all the answers, but which I really hope we as a community do.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Google street view

Hebrides News has a great exclusive photo of the Google street view car doing the rounds of the Cearns today.

Dear God! I thought we had a few more years before they caught up with us.

Thankfully, they weren't in the Narrows on Saturday night or they might have had more photos similar to this poor, desperate, woman in Madrid. (NSFW?>

Or coming our of the [Lewis pub name deleted for legal reasons] with a female 'acquaintance'.

Or 'suffering from food poisoning'. Warning: truly not suitable for lunch time

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Council tenders

Thanks to you-know-who-you-are for a pointer to another Council tendering issue that needs investigating.

Disconnected communities

Good to see the service is under review, as it has obviously cause much dissatisfaction with potential customers.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but that doesn't mean we should never look back at how and why decisions were taken in order to learn from the process.

Circus comes to town

Just weeks after the Berlin Circus came to town, I can reveal that this week sees the arrival of the Holyrood In-a-state Circus for a suitably patronising tour of the islands.

Ringmaster - owner, manager, Press Officer, selector of the acts, organiser, publicity officer and unquestioned head honco - Alex "Gourmand" Salmond will host, present, introduce and generally take all credit or the For One Night Only show.

He will introduce "Honest" John Swinney on the financial high wire, balancing no money and expensive promises.

Full supporting cast of dumb animals, who can perform tricks - opening this, getting photographed at that - with only the gentlest prod from Mr Salmond.

The clowns - MacNeil and Allan - will entertain the massed crowds of SNP supporters instructed to turn up for the day with vacuous statements, a blizzard of empty press releases and the ability to say nothing for sixty seconds on tv and radio. These two are guaranteed to produce laughs as MacNeil attempts to smooth talk any/all young women in the audience and Allan stands around using his Blackberry in the hope of finding a friend.

The mess left behind by the circus will be tidied up by the local tax payer.

Public sector cuts

At last the immutable truth has been spoken - Scotland (and the rest of the UK) faces huge cuts in public expenditure to pay for the excess of the past few years and the current economic crisis.

Make no mistake, this is going to happen. No let me correct this, this needs to happen, and any Government that fails to face this is only going to exacerbate this problem.

Some 4 years ago, I predicted that the growth in public spending was going to cause a huge problem for the public finances, and that the public sector was going to have to face the prospect of huge cuts in its budget.

I had no idea that the credit crunch was coming too, but the underlying problem remains - we are spending too much on the public sector, and there needs to be cuts to balance the books.

The exact same problem would face whoever was in Holyrood, simply because the size of the settlement is dictated by Westminster and the money just won't be there to fund the expenditure.

Talk of 6,000 jobs being lost across the entire public sector is dramatically understating the cuts that will need to be made, and I would suggest that double that number is more realistic, allied with a complete review of public sector pensions and benefits. That equates to around 60 jobs in the Western Isles.

Some of this might be mitigated by other methods, but the bottom line is that those savings will be necessary - and will be imposed despite the Concordat - for the Council, Health Board and the others to make the books balance.

Make no mistake, tough times are ahead, and the Tories are going to inherit an unholy mess that they will use as the justification for deep cuts in public expenditure, and Holyrood will be forced to dance to the same tune.

A rebalancing of public finances is utterly necessary, but that's not going to ease the pain we will all feel.