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

Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year predictions

After some off-line prodding/provoking by a regular correspondent, I have decided to don my psychic hat and put down some hostages to fortune. They range across all matters of interest to me, from national to parochial, but have one thing in common....if I am wrong, you won't stop reminding me.

Here goes.
  1. The General Election will be on 25 March
  2. The Tories will win (this is an easy one!) with between 300-350 seats
  3. If they don't have an overall majority (323 seats) they will not form a formal coalition with the LibDems, but will work as a minority Government
  4. Labour will do better than the polls predict
  5. The SNP will win 8-14 seats at the General Election (if pressed, I'd estimate 11)
  6. The Western Isles will not be held by the SNP
  7. Alex Salmond will announce that he will stand down as SNP leader after the Holyrood elections in 2011 (arise, Lord Salmond???)
  8. Tesco will announce their plan for a much larger new, additional, superstore in Stornoway
  9. The Lewis Sports Centre won't open on Sundays - but will in 2011
  10. The Council will be seriously reprimanded for their mishandling of certain commercial matters, and the public will be shocked when the facts are in the public domain :-)
Best wishes to you all for 2010, and I hope to entertain as much as I infuriate during the coming 12 months.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Flights to Barra under threat?

Loganair landing in Barra
The Times are reporting that Loganair may not bid for the next round of route franchises as the cost of keeping the Twin Otters maintained and in the air is proving to be too high.

With replacements for the Twin Otter being built by Viking Air but unlikely to be available before 2015, the prospects look bleak unless a different approach is taken.

The ball is firmly back in the court of the Scottish Government to develop a new tendering structure if they want to see the service continue, and with the Chair of the Transportation Committee being a Barra resident, I expect the Council to make their position clear and forthright next month.

Without doubt this issue will also be an important factor at the coming election, and something I will return to over the next year.

Council gritting policy

As the snow falls once again, bathing the town in a deadly sheet of snow-covered ice, I look from our house window gazing across the beautiful scene.

It surely can't be long now until the gritters make their way out and about and spread the precious load of rock-salt across the roads, car parks, pavements and collapsed pedestrians that give the town a post-apocalyptic, rather than post-Christmas, look.

The Road in Stornoway, Isle of LewisStornoway town centre this morning

Last week they made their appearance in town in the late afternoon, with the grit being carried from the back of a lorry with shovels to be cast onto pavements.

However, one service was running absolutely as normal.

At 7:45am on Sunday the road sweeper made its way through town to make sure the roads were clean beneath the snow before Church started.

Good priority choices.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A rotten burgh?

With an electorate of about 21,500 at the coming election the two main parties will each spend close to the maximum they are allowed by law. Or possibly just a tiny fraction more, if they think they can get away with it.

The maximum allowed, per constituency, is current just over £7,000, meaning that the SNP and Labour will spend about £14,000 and share 80% of the vote, with the other parties spending perhaps another £6,000 between them. So a total spend of £20,000.

Except that there is an exception to this general rule. Any political party can spend a total of £30,000 per constituency contested, on the wider -national - PR campaign.

It is with a huge degree of discomfort, nay disgust, that I see that the Scottish Christian Party are entering into the battle for the Western Isles constituency, and are using their full allowance of £30,000 in the one seat.

It may be within the law, but it is certainly not what was intended; to effectively allow one campaign to try to buy the seat by outspending the total of all the other parties by 50%.

That the SCP appear to be planning not on victory, but simply to unseat the SNP for being responsible for the introduction of Sunday ferries to Lewis, may to a very small extent change the perception from vainglorious self-aggrandisement by the Rev Hargreaves, to a deliberate "Anyone but the incumbent" campaign; and may give it some veneer of respectability, but it still leaves me with a distinctly unpleasant taste in my mouth.

Even allowing for paying for the open primary - election advertising in all but name - the lucky candidate will be spending more on general advertising in each of the months after their nomination than the main parties will spend in the whole campaign.

With the wider Christian community lining up behind the good Rev's plan, the successful outcome for the SCP is almost certain and I forecast that the SNP majority of 1,441 will be overturned and, subject only to a half-decent candidate for the SCP, a SNP loss is a virtual certainty, as the SCP will get 10-15% of the vote, just by virtue of their spending power.

One final thought for those who plan to participate in the open primary, or be active for the SCP, which comes from Proverbs 22:7, and seems entirely appropriate to the role of Rev Hargreaves:

"The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fuel cards

So whatever happened to the great launch of fuel cards in the islands, due last Friday?

It was cancelled, as none of the petrol stations would accept the cards.

Which is where the headline on a Comhairle press release
Council complains over fuel monopoly
would be funny if it weren't quite so sad, with the Council Leader owning one of the big three petrol stations in Stornoway.

The last investigation by the OFT cost the local petrol stations a huge sum of money and delivered nothing, except enormous reports showing that they were making a 'reasonable' return. But if they start throwing around 'monopoly' accusations, whilst simultaneously being perceived to be acting in concert over the fuel cards, then they risk reopening the (wrong) debate again.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Loose screws

The following email exchange made its way into my hands (some details obscured)....

From: Architect
 Sent: Thu 17/12/2009 12:15 PM
To: CNES - Staff Sandwick Road
Cc: CNES - Members

Subject: Essential Work CnES HQ, Sandwick Road, Ground Floor East Wing
To all staff,

Due to essential works and Health & Safety issues the ground floor East Wing inner door to the stairwell door (old payroll dept.) will be out of bounds for 6 weeks. The Fire Escape route through this wing from the main foyer will no longer be in use during the works, this work does not affect the East Wing emergency escape stairwell which will remain in operation. Please see below for plan of affected areas.

I will send another email around informing everyone when the works have been complete.

Should anybody have any issues they would like to raise or needs to gain access to this area please get in touch with me.


From: Cllr. 
Sent: 17 December 2009 15:43
Architect; CNES - Staff Sandwick Road
Cc: CNES - Members;  

Subject: RE: Essential Work CnES HQ, Sandwick Road, Ground Floor East Wing

Any chance of having someone look at the door to the members lounge/dining room. This door is unstable and has been for ages.


From: Architect
Sent: Thu 17/12/2009 16:52
To: Cllr. 

Cc: Management Team;  CNES - Members
Subject: RE: Essential Work CnES HQ, Sandwick Road, Ground Floor East Wing

I have spoken with the repairs and maintenance team and they inform me that new door hinges are on order. Hopefully this will solve the problem but if not we will look at this when the Members Lounge is renovated next 


From: Management Team
Sent: Mon 21/12/2009 07:52
CNES - Members
Cc: Subject: RE: Essential Work CnES HQ, Sandwick Road, Ground Floor East Wing


After detailed investigation we have discovered that it is not the doors that are unhinged or that the loose screws are in the door frame.

To protect the public, will all members please meet in the Members Lounge on Monday when they will be re-hinged and their loose screws will be fixed; in as many cases as this is possible.

Dignitas will be on hand for those who cannot be sorted in this fashion.

Thereafter the doors will be sealed to prevent contagion to the general public, and members will be released in early January.



OK the last one was made up, mostly, ....

Lockerbie bomber wins the lottery

The Times report that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrah had £1.8m in a Swiss bank account when he was arrested.

The defence positions were either:
  • He was holding the money to pay bribes to third parties
  • He was holding the money to buy goods with cash to breach the embargo
  • He was part of the inner circle, all of whom were very wealthy by virtue of being part of the inner circle
Any of which make his claim that he was a minor employee of the Libyan Airways much less plausible.

All of which places the decision to release him more into the 'naive' camp and further from the 'humanitarian' camp.

Only time might tell....

Universality of Cheese

As the Brie hits the ventilation system I must confess my own very minor involvement in the whole debacle.

Back in the day when the SNP were more concerned with believing in the cause rather than absolute unquestioning devotion to the latest Blackberry instruction of the day, I was contacted by Mike Russell to get involved in a pro-SNP blogging ring.

I was to be part of the 'group' as an 'influential' (sic) blogger and I was to be contacted again as part of the blogging network he was setting up.

Perhaps I was not pliant enough, but I never heard from Mike again.

All of which explains why I blog in my own name and not under a nom de guerre plume.

Council Sunday policy dismantled

It is good to see that the Council's Sunday policy is applied consistently. And I am not referring to the Sports Centres in Uist and Barra being open today, whilst that in Lewis is closed with the Free Church manning the barricades.

Remember what the position was on Sunday ferries?
This was an open and wide ranging meeting in which both Cal-Mac and the Comhairle outlined their respective positions. We clearly stated that the Comhairle remains opposed to the introduction of Sunday sailings for Lewis and Harris because of the traditions and customs of those areas. CalMac gave a commitment that further discussions will take place with other interested parties and with the Comhairle.
Traditions and customs?

Today, Sunday, surveyors employed by the Comhairle are surveying the Bayhead basin for the proposed infill to build a new car park (?) office accommodation (?) or - wild rumour has it - a seven day pole-dancing brothel night club facility.

Work of necessity or mercy? As the Lewis and Harris policy would have it; except for Sunday street cleaning for the Church attendees; except for opening schools and the Town Hall for Church services; and except for certain employees working some Sundays in the Sandwick Road offices when no-one is watching.

Explain this policy to me again. Only with logical arguments, this time.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Marketing the Uist rocket range

The Council have apparently received a letter from Quentin Davies, Defence Minister, former Tory MP, and owner of the bell tower that expenses really weren't claimed for, promising that next year will see the launching of a campaign to market the Rocket Range to potential customers.

More significantly, he has asked his officials to assist with planning for diversifying the economy of the islands to reduce the dependence upon the range facility.

The over-dependence - reliance - was of course, something that the late Donnie Stewart MP often warned about.

This move is to be warmly welcomed, and should be supported, but fully in the knowledge that it is a double-edged sword.

If the range - in the words of Mr Davies - is too economically intertwined with the local economy to be closed, then by diversifying and growing the economy then the option for closure returns.

But let's not look a gift horse in the mouth, as long as we can avoid its bite.

Abolition of cheques

So the long forecast demise of cheques will now happen in 2018. Probably.

It is clear that private consumers are expected to move to the use of cards and other similar methods over the next number of years. Whilst that may be fine for the vast majority, there are still many, many people who do not want or cannot get a debit card.

They will either have to stick to cash; the banks will have to devise new payment methods; or third party providers are going to have to find solutions.

For smaller businesses the situation is potentially much more serious, as we receive the vast majority of payments (by number) by cheque.

How are smaller businesses going to cope with making and receiving payments?

In the expectation of the change, we have been working hard over the past 18 months to develop alternatives for small and medium-sized business, and this concluded the very expensive process with us becoming a BACS Approved Bureau just recently.

There are only 20 or so Scottish based bureau, and we are now able to help our clients by making payments direct out of their bank accounts to suppliers and employees. We will shortly be able to provide debit facilities too, allowing suppliers to collect money due to them from customers.

There is no doubt that this is going to be a growth area over the next few years, and we already process over £20m annually in payments for clients across the UK.

Here endeth the advert.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The secret fibre optic cabling

Wouldn't it be great to have fibre optic cabling running through the islands so we could all get really high speed broadband and all other associated services.

We already have it.

That is 'we' in the sense of 'not us'.

According to the Gazette, Transportation Committee last week were told that:
BT have a fibre optic cable located in the verge of the existing causeway and wish the Comhairle to duct this cable through the area of new works.
There are (were?) similar cables running to Stornoway Airport and hence on to Faslane which were put in place perhaps 10-15 years ago.

Of course, they are all military based, but instead of running civilian and public services along side, they don't officially exist.

Instead of thinking that broadband in the Western Isles could be revolutionised by piggybacking on the moving of the existing, once top secret, cables and delivering lightening speeds across Uist, we have the unedifying spectacle of a bitching session about the cost of moving a public asset so that the public can't get near it.

I am sure there are many people out there with more knowledge, but I am told that the network runs to Rangehead in the South and Clettraval in the North, and between Stornoway Airport and to at least one other 'civilian' location near Stornoway.

Further information is very welcome....

Fuel Duty rates

No-one can argue that fuel prices are very high at present - although some may argue that for environmental reasons they need to be higher - and the issue of fuel duty rates rears its ugly head again.

The argument from our MP runs like this...
The soaring prices we are seeing at the pumps now are just a glimpse of what is to come next year. In addition to rising inflation, 2010 will see increased VAT and the UK Government's absurd fuel duty escalator which will push prices through the roof [...]

We need the full fiscal powers of a normal, independent nation so we can set fair taxes that do not penalise rural motorists.
Fuel duty is about 70% of the price of every litre, and yields an additional £260m for every 1% higher. Scotland's share is therefore, in round terms, £25m for every 1% change in in fuel price.

Now the maths get more complex. And here I use round numbers for ease of arithmetic.

Price of fuel: £1.20/litre
Duty and VAT: 84p (70%)
The petrol: 36p (30%)

A reasonable price for fuel is exactly what Mr MacNeil? You have never answered this question or even given the slightest indication of the proximity of the balance position or the fuel duty regualtor, but you started issuing press vague but vituperative releases when petrol was over £1/litre, implying that 90p/litre might be somewhere in the right region.

Ok, lets redo the maths:

Price of fuel: 90p/litre
The petrol (unchanged): 36p (40%)
Duty and VAT: 54p (60%)

That 10% change in duty implies a fiscal cost of £250m each and every year.

Which could be funded by cutting student grants in half, or by removing all the support for ferry, rail, air and other transport directorate services.

I am sure that Mr MacNeil has thought this through and can tell us exactly where this money can be found, in a way that won't be painful for any sections of the community. Or not.

(I do know where it could be found, but I'd love to hear his explanation)

Monday, December 14, 2009

As one door closes....

One good thing about free enterprise is that where one company may see nothing but a cost, another is always ready to see an opportunity.

Keyfuels are ready to step in and fill the gap left by the withdrawal of BP Fuel Cards, and they plan to launch on Friday.

Even taking their press release with a pinch of salt, it appears that there are simple business reasons behind the withdrawal of the BP card and the decision by Keyfuels to step in.

I'm applying for a card tonight, and will let you know how I got on.

Update 5 minutes later: There are no service stations on the islands that take the cards at the moment, which might be what the launch is all about!

Housing stock transfer

Now remind me again, just what benefits Housing Stock Transfer has brought to the islands....

At least £1m in consultants fees, 7 years of political wrangling and the off-loading of the housing debt from the Council to the Government, and where are we exactly?

Houses not being built....
The Council filling the funding gap....
Financial crisis....

Oh yes, and very limited political say by the Councillors over the whole process. What a wonderful success it has been.

The ideological decision by Labour to drive Stock Transfer through has been the root cause of the problem and with budgets tightening there are only going to be temporary solutions to the underlying problem.

And all the time, the construction sector struggles more and more.

Fat Cat salaries

So the top public sector earners are facing a 5% cut in their salaries.

As pay cuts cannot be imposed by the employer, this is nothing more than ignorant grandstanding.

It may be possible to insist that new incoming post-holders will start on the 5% lower salary, but the time that this will take for any meaningful savings to be generated is immense; but the LibDems have already planned to spend the non-existent windfall on the lowest paid.

Of course, the SNP might just be leading the LibDems into a political trap to get the Budget through, but if they are, then we are simply going to see public sector wages increase overall, rather than being rebalanced, and will actually make the economic situation worse.

What is required is a complete review of the very fat packages awarded to some of the top public sector employees - big salary, guaranteed and generous pensions, and being virtually unsackable - whilst consultants are hired left, right and centre to advise the appointee how to do their job, and what decisions to take.

"Bonfire of the quangos" anyone?

Berneray - a jewel of the Gulf of Thailand

It's amazing what pops up on Google Alerts, but my attention has been drawn to a blog about the Koh Chang peninsula in Thailand.

It looks like the Thai Tourist Board are using a picture of the west beach in Berneray to advertise the attractions of the Thai islands.

Clear blue seas, empty beaches and welcoming locals; I can definitely see the similarities.

I took this photo of another local beach over the weekend, and the tourist board are free to use it to advertise the wonders of these islands.

Coll Beach

Friday, December 11, 2009

Grrr, I'm a Tiger baby

A copy of the English injunction is here, the last page being the most important and interesting, especially given that he hasn't sought an injunction anywhere else in the world.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The fable of Noah

It looks like the fable of Noah has been explained and debunked by science as this schema of the Mediterannean basin being broached at the Gates of Hercules (Gibraltar) explains.

Ah, the majestic power of science over magical belief....

Jim "Two bathrooms" Devine

So the Livingston MP has claimed for a new bathroom twice in one year.

Firstly when the flat was redecorated and secondly when the room was flooded and needed redecoration.

Seems reasonable you might think.

Pardon me, but where's the contents insurance cover for the flat?

With no possibility of loss - as Parliament will reimburse all the costs - are MPs failing to take out insurance cover or, Heaven forbid, are they claiming on the insurance too?

Expenses scandal gets worse

It appears that Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson is the focus of a renewed Parliamentary expenses scandal, when it was revealed today that he used his bus pass for free travel to Ministerial visits.

The other MSPs are scandalised that an opportunity to claim expenses was avoided and that their constituents might look at the lead being given by Mr Stevenson and expect them to follow suit by not wasting public money.

One MSP said, "I have already reduced my expenditure on Gaelic hair gel to under £1,000 per month by using Gordon Diesel's special offers."

One Scottish MP said, "I would never think of using public transport between my flat and the Union Jack Club, if there was some way to claim the taxi on expenses. Anyway, the Fees Office are there to complete my forms and sort it all out, and take responsibility if I they get it wrong."

How to deal with 'staff'

With the latest expenses claims for MPs now being available on the web, I took a look at those claimed by our esteemed MP.

There is barely a claim that has been properly completed or for which all the supporting documentation is in place, and the vast majority have had some amount (often quite large) disallowed.  The sheer shoddiness of the claims is appalling, and they clearly have been cast into the Claims Office for the minions to sort out.

Let's not mention the threats of legal action for non-payment of bills.

The best bit, however, is the very final document, which is an email exchange between MacNeil and the Fees Office.  It perhaps epitomises everything that is wrong with the current system, and just how the whole system went so badly wrong.

A rude and bullying email by our MP justifying why he doesn't bother to put his claims in by the deadlines (and why should he, he implies) is met with an obsequious crawling response from the officials, who duly interpret the rules in a more flexible manner.

It really is a shame that MacNeil has to bother himself to actually produce receipts to justify buying £158.50 of nice new bed linen from John Lewis, to replace the nice new bed linen previously claimed.  A king-size duvet cover at £58.50;  mmmm, nice.

I wish I had a job that paid those sorts of expenses......

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Dysfunctional organisations

When the bosses lay down the rules for all their employees, but don't bother to adhere to those rules themselves, then you know that the public-sector organisation is highly dysfunctional.

That these rules were supposed to be enforced to make sure the organisation operated properly and had functioning internal controls, and were flagrantly ignored is a disgrace.

More to follow in the next few weeks, when I can go public with the detail.

"Expert" team

You just can't make it up, can you....
Bosses from some of Scotland's main energy companies are to advise the Scottish government on achieving its climate change targets.
The experts include:
  • Ian Marchant (Chair), Scottish and Southern Energy
  • Nick Horler, ScottishPower
  • Gordon Grant, Ineos (Grangemouth oil refinery)
  • Nicola Shaw, FirstGroup
  • Brian Souter, Stagecoach
This new group brings together a wide range of expertise to examine in detail the actions needed across Scotland to meet our ambitious climate change targets.
Yes, but, with the Chair having such heavy vested interests in certain courses of action, is the credibility of the Group (Committee? Panel?) not already compromised.

As Alex Salmond says:
There should be no doubt climate change is the greatest environmental threat we face.
Can't argue too much with that, but that surely calls for decisive and urgent action, by the Government, and not the creation of another talking shop to confirm the vested interests of various industry representatives.

There's no timescale for action; no detail of when and how reports will be made; and no details of their remit. These may come out in time, but the lack of time is the key issue.

Next week, the Corleone family are advising the Government on crime policy.

Crisis - what crisis?

Good news emanates from Sandwick Road, as the budget process grinds its way slowly through the system.

As figures have started to firm up, it appears that the correctly held pessimistic views of the Director of Finance may have overstated the depth of the problem.

I am now told that the forecast deficit is significantly under £500,000 which is well within the levels that are manageable as it represents less than 0.5% of the revenue budget.

If this proves to be accurate, then it is good news indeed, and it will be very interesting to find just from where the extra income (or lower expenditure) originates.

My source suggests that additional support from central Government has appeared for this year, and if this is true then it is a welcome - if temporary - buffer before reality bites. I have previously expressed the view that next years settlement will be highly political, with the Holyrood elections just around the corner, but with the prospects of severe public sector cuts planned by Westminster after the coming General Election, then the planning for the savings has got to start now, so that the Council has a chance to deal with what will be a likely serious cut-back announced in 2010/11 for implementation in 2011/12, or before.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

With friends like this.....

The supposed saviour of the Uist Rocket Range made an announcement today...

Robert Key, Member of Parliament for Salisbury since 1983,
will not seek re-election at the next General Election

So little chance of him influencing the next Defence Select Committee.....

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

An Lanntair

Anon wrote:
Any idea why 6 directors of An Lanntair resigned during November 2009??? Just how bad are the Management Accounts that they are running. And guess who has now been appointed as a director, the illustrious Brian Wilson :-)
Companies House shows:











I think that the appointment of Cllr Roddy Mackay on 11/11/09 is actually the backdated appointment from 2007 and I think Angus MacKay (WIHB) was appointed in 2008, but the forms just weren't submitted at that time.

The accounts are due to be lodged by 31 January, but hopefully the Council will seek public (!?!) explanations before pledging yet more finance.

Anyone know who the new directors might be?

The Independence Devolution referendum

The new Culture Minister, Fiona Hyslop, threw the following document out of her pram this morning, before being relieved of the Constitutional remit:


After due consultation and debate over the next year, the following are the questions that will appear on the referendum ballot paper.

Complete this ballot paper by ticking only one box, preferably the first. We know where you live.

In order to make Scotland a land of Milk and Honey and not sponged off by the English, where the sun shines constantly and we all live happily and don't need to work, I want the Government in Scotland to be based on:
  • Independence tick here ->
  • Devolution max
  • Devolution medium
  • Devolution mini
  • Devolution micro
  • Devolution maestro
  • Calman
  • Calmac
  • Calmax
  • Calculus
  • Cactus
  • Status Quo
  • Rolling Stones
  • That Robbie Shephard always plays nice tunes
  • Chan eil fhios agam
This ballot paper is available in Urdu, Hindi, Chinese, Polish, Zulu, Lallans, Braille, punch tape, machine code, Martian, Walloon, Pictish, talking dog for the deaf, Venezuelan, as an audio book for the illiterate, Pictish braille, hieroglyphs, ancient Incan, Elvish and Aberdonian.

If you would like a pre-completed form in this or any other language, please contact the independent organisers at SNP HQ.