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

Friday, February 26, 2010

Uncivil servants

With a Council strike looming, the Unions seem to be living in some kind of fantasy world.
A spokesman for the unions said its demands for a 3% rise for their 150,000 members had been "simply dismissed without any negotiations."

I like to think the dialogue probably consisted of two words, the second of which was OFF.

Fat pensions and fat arses, and they still want 3% when services are being cut and pensioners paying £15 for a home carer to give them a cold meal.

Thankfully our Councillors have decided that keeping that bunch of desk jockeys in jobs is more important that filling potholes.

Dogged determination

granny bongWe were all shocked at the press release from our MP that the Police sniffer dog was to be removed, leaving our islands as the new main drugs route into, well everywhere else.

But before the Colombians sent the drugs mules onto the direct flights from Cartagena to Callanish International Airport; before Sandwick opens its first Headshop, and; before the pensioners start mainlining smack whilst cutting the peats; then someone should have spoken to the Police who could have given the real answers. Had they been asked.

The facts are: the dog handler is being redeployed to Inverness. The dog may go with him. If it does, then another dog will fill the gap. The service is guaranteed for at least another two years.

There will be tears and red faces in the opium dens of Barra tonight.

Caption contest.....

Go on, it's Friday....
three losers

Reservoir Dogs II : when poodles go bad

(Photo (c) Stornoway Gazette)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

To infinity and beyond....

So the removal of Leodhas the sniffer dog is going to be the subject of public riots and stiff letters to the Gazette, at least according to the spoof press release from our MP.

It is a spoof isn't it????

As Buzz Lightyear MP says,
I have stressed the importance of the sniffer dog as a deterrent to drug smuggling to the islands given that we in the main have finite points of entry.
This presumably dictated, proofed and edited public statement implies that we infrequently have infinite points of entry, which will surely provide opportunities for encouraging mass tourism from parallel dimensions as well as from continental Europe.

Perhaps the Callanish Stone circle is our very own Stargate ,which we haven't worked out how to open yet.

I understand that the Council are already planning to buy all the infinite entry points to be funded from an infinite increase in home help charges on all the infinite number of new pensioners who will retire here from anywhere/anytime else....

(Roxy, the previous incumbent non-sniffing dog was somewhat less successful)

Sturgeon apologises

Nicola Sturgeon has quite rightly given a mea culpa for her letter about supporting a benefit fraudster facing sentencing.

It quite rightly represents a very serious error of judgement by her, which she duly acknowledged.

She also, quite rightly, acknowledged that she didn't have an obligation to write in the terms she did (as was first suggested on her behalf), and that in fact her responsibility as much less and should have been more considered.

She will survive, for the simple reason of being open and honest in her statement, even if it was not perhaps as complete as it should have been.

Her boss, Alex Salmond, comes out of this smelly less sweetly as a result of his bluster and bullying response to the initial inquiries.

One child plus....

one balloon from his party, plus

one big jump, plus

one door, equals

one trip to A&E, plus one broken arm and one plaster cast

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Can you do better?

More utterly partial political examples available at ConservativeHome.

For all a fair future

Or something like that.

The new Labour slogan:
A future fair for all

is semi-literate, meaningless (which is probably perceived to be an advantage) and flows from ones lips like the best tongue-twister.

The follow-up: think once, think twice, think bike (or something similar) is quite good, but when uttered by Brown comes with all the sincerity of a tiger inviting you for lunch.

Actually, I think it might work - for all the wrong reasons - and I am now thinking about a minority Tory Government as the most likely outcome.

March 25th as an election dates has moved from my prediction to highly unlikely and now back to quite possible as a surprise, based purely upon the slogan launch this weekend. It call it at a 40% probability now, and that needs the election to be called in the next 10 days which will be utterly dependent upon the private party polling over the next week.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Comhairle to become Harbour Authority for Western Isles?

According to the Gazette report:
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar are investigating the possibility of becoming the harbour authority for the whole Western Isles.

At a meeting of the full Comhairle tonight (Thursday) Cllr [Angus] Campbell posed a written question to Convener Alex Macdonald on the suggestion.

Cllr Campbell has now asked the Chief Executive Malcolm Burr to prepare a report on the feasibility of this suggestion.

This move comes just weeks after the Stornoway Port Authority stood in the way of the Comhairle's plans to partially infill Bayhead Estuary.
Told you that noise I hear, the slow agonising death of the private sector?

The Council budget

So the Councillors were seemingly being faced with a very simple choice: cuts services or cut senior management. And they opted for the latter.

Of course, it is never quite as simple as that, but the overall proposal being put forward by the SNP Group on the Council deserved serious consideration as it was a sensible alternative approach to balancing the books over the coming years.

The public do not understand why pensioners have to pay £15 per hour for care when there are perceived to be too many staff on too high wages - a development officer costs £40,000.

It may have been a tactical error in bringing the the amendments forward at the very last moment (although I understand that there might have been some difficulty in getting the information to formulate the proposal) but part of the process is to see the final form of the corporate proposal, and to suggest alternatives. This necessitates last minute action, although how 'last minute' is an area of hot contention.

However, we can thank the 27 Councillors who didn't support the need to review senior management, as...
Convenor (sic) Alex Macdonald said: “The chief executive is very assiduous in ensuring there is no extra fat in the top layers here.”

Innocent until proven guilty

A number of comments about a current criminal matter have been allowed through.

There is a danger that identifying the individual may prejudice any trial, so I am going to arrange for some of these posts to be deleted, and stop any new ones.

Discussion of the general principles is acceptable, but don't get too close to the nub of the matter, please.

For the record, I have met the individual once and to the best of my knowledge they have never sent me any stories or information.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Postman doesn't knock at all

Most people get one post delivery a day.

Some get a parcel delivery too.

Me? I have at least one other postman, who works the weekend night shift, posting plain brown envelopes through my letter box.

An enclosure of such importance (and delivered with impeccable timing for other events you couldn't know about) necessitates a shredding of the original document and the envelope as a further layer of protection.

Thank you my friend(s) for a document showing such a spectacular own goal, as to be almost unbelievable.

The public will just have to wait a few weeks longer to find out the size, scope and extent of the lies being told in their name.....and the associated huge waste of public money.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lochmaddy Hospital

Lochmaddy hospital
Despite the well publicised 'sale' nearly 2 years ago, it still appears on the Scottish Government 'for sale' pages, and the Scottish Assessors website shows the state still liable for the rates.

Does anyone have the faintest idea what is happening with this historic building?

There are cuts and there are cuts

The headline in Hebrides News accurately sums up the tenor of the budget report.
Savage cuts in Western Isles frontline council services
The key word is "frontline".

Let us consider just one small aspect of one of the major cuts planned: education.

With up to 18 schools considered for closure, you might be expecting major savings in staffing costs. Er, no. Teachers are virtually unsackable, and all the staff in any schools that are closed will be kept in full time employment, on at least the same salary, until they retire or resign.

That means that the headteacher, for instance, will stay on a headteacher's salary and pension irrespective of what post they are moved to, or even if they are sent home on gardening leave. The salary bills will only go down as staff retire and the surplus staff are moved into the vacancies.

That will mean very few opportunities for newly qualified teachers.

But one other startling statistic was drawn to my attention this week.

There are more people involved in curriculum development in the Western Isles than there are primary teachers in Uist and Barra. And that is before the cuts in teaching staff are implemented.

So how much can be cut from the bureaucracy now there are fewer schools and teachers to manage?

The Council policy is to protect jobs, so there will be no cuts in administration or central services.

The same policies apply to all other departments too.

The budget strategy is simple: deliver fewer services with the same number of people having less and less productive work to do.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

How Community Planning works in the Western Isles

Following on from my last posting about the Council's growth plans, I was contacted by a very good source and updated on the Council -v- Stornoway Port Authority battle.

You didn't know they were are war?

Nor did the SPA, until they receive a planned missive in the next few weeks.

Given the rejection of the Bayhead Infill by the SPA, the Councillors were told on Monday - in private session - that the Council is looking again at the lease of the old oil depot for car parking, and particularly the contaminated land issue.

You may recall that I highlighted this issue last month, and until the blog was read, no-one in the Council had given it any consideration. This despite having had a Contaminated Land Officer who surveyed the entire islands and reported back to the Environmental Services Committee (prop: A Nicolson) in or around 2004, flagging up that site as being a particular problem.

So the proposal is being looked at again, and the done deal is now considered undone, in light of the 'new' information that the Council knew about 6 years ago.

The SPA are to be told to acquiesce to the Bayhead Infill or the Comhairle will raise the contaminated land issue with the SPA and threaten them with having to undertake immediate and complete restitution work on any piece of contaminated land that they might control.

The carrot being that the Council will overlook what it now claims is its legal obligations over the control of contaminated land. I am sure that there is another, much less polite, name for such an approach.

Is anyone seeing a pattern developing in the Council's dealings with third parties and those who have differing views?

Conglomerate nan Eilean Siar

The Councillors had plenty to talk about last week, but sadly it seems like common sense was conspicuous by its absence.

The decision by the Stornoway Port Authority to refuse to allow the Bayhead Infill to go ahead was one of the hot topics.

A solution to the problem was mooted by senior Councillors: that the Comhairle acquire the powers of the Stornoway Port Authority and that the SPA be disbanded. This, it was said, would avoid any future problems over planning matters, and ensure that the Comhairle could bring it's skills and abilities to dealing with all harbour matters.

This idea seems to have met with approval, as there was a call to extend the remit of the Council by taking over absorbing the functions of the Health Board. Oh yes, and the major players in the Voluntary Sector. And a few other organisations too.....

How much easier - the Councillors concluded - if these organisations were able to better understand the views of the Council by being part of the Council. Strategic planning will be so much better and coherent if these independent organisations didn't take independent decisions, but instead were told what to do.

Unbelievably, this strategy is to be pursued (quietly and off the record, of course), so look forward for the Council planning to broaden its remit.

Meantime, Dear Leader Comrade Angus Camp Il Jong is authoring the new 10-year Collective Plan, "The People's Great March Forward", for the proposed Democratic People's Democratic Republic of the Outer Korean Hebrides.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Nicolson Institute

Before the new schools project planned for 2011/12....

Nicolson Institute
and after the project.....

the new Nicolson InstituteYet I am told that £250,000 of new windows are being installed in the school this year. With one window (surely set of windows) costing £60,000.

Can anyone shed any light on this element of the Council capital programme?

Parliamentary responsibilities

An intriguing comment from Nicola Sturgeon....
"I'm duty-bound to make reasonable representations, that's what I did as a constituency MSP, and ultimately it is for the court to make a decision about the disposal of the case."
What a load of rubbish.

During my time as a Councillor, I gave everyone a fair hearing, I wrote many letters and attend many meetings to represent constituents, but at no time was I 'duty bound' to represent their views.

Indeed, there was one obsessive individual to whom I gave prolonged and very fair hearings, and helped him to get information he requested. But when that turned from forceful requests into an inability to accept the answers, and into offensive and obscene behaviour, then I refused to represent the person under any circumstances.

One of the most ludicrous circumstances was where a constituent wanted me to request the Council to move a dog$hit bin from a lamppost beside his 6ft back garden wall. The proposed location would only have exacerbated an existing problem.

The grounds for this request were that the local yobs were scooping out the bagged dog poo with their hands, opening the bags and then lobbing the turds over the wall and onto his barbecue.

When I stopped laughing, I politely explained the improbability of the claims, and declined to do anything, as I thought the Council were in the right. And I am glad I did what I did.

Presumably Ms Sturgeon will now be being asked to give character references for all the murders, rapists and jaywalkers who approach her, and anyone appearing in Stornoway Sheriff Court in the next few weeks might want to email all our MSPs for character references, citing their duty-bound responsibility to give fullsome supporting statements.

Meantime, back in reality where pathetic excuses from Parliamentarians don't wash.....

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Our cuts are better than your cuts

The pantomime of false indignation continues as the Election grows nearer, with both Labour and the SNP trying to knock lumps out of each other over who is making cuts, and who is to blame.

So to try to cut through the verbiage and find some facts; if we can.

The SNP Government are making cuts. The Labour Government are making cuts. Both are going to have to make cuts as a result of the mishandling of the economy.

Anyone who claims that there aren't cuts is lying to you. It really is as simple as that.

The differences between the parties are potentially important, but only in theory, as they are not really saying anything much that is different.

Conjugate the verb "cut":
  • I find efficiency savings
  • You make cuts
  • He cannot be trusted
  • We will protect jobs and services
  • They are reckless with the public services
The SNP have actually bitten the bullet (as they have to, given that their ability to spend is controlled by Westminster) whilst Westminster will dress up cuts as increased spending in the Budget and then make a mad dash for an election.

And the likely winners of that election?

No-one seems to be casting a critical eye over the Tory plans, and cleverly they are not giving too much away about these plans, but I suspect it is the most stringent - and will probably be th most overt - about the cuts that will happen.

Expect more of this nonsense over the next few months.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Cancelled lunches

I have had to cancel the lunches that I auctioned at the recent fund raiser for the "Angus Nicolson for Councillor/MP/MSP/President/King".

The 14 lunches planned for Tuesday have had to be cancelled, as the Council have unreasonably decided that I am not allowed to use the members dining room, and then charge the cost to all Councillors equally as "Education and Entertainment".

I will be distributing the funds raised from the winning bids to "The Angus Nicolson Charitable Trust" after deduction of unreasonable expenses and after the money has rested in my account for a few years.

Future bids for lunches should be in cash, in brown envelopes, and include a menu and wine list for the restaurant that you plan to take me to.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


Thanks :-)

32 people have followed my twitter, but I've not done a single twit yet.

(h/t to anon)

Parking charges

Highland and Islands Airports Ltd are due to introduce parking charges at Stornoway airport very shortly.

I don't have the details of the actual charges, but I am told that the Comhairle's objections/observations have been brushed aside by HIAL, on the grounds that the Comhairle have already introduced parking charges in Percival Square.

More details to follow soon.

Brogan Fuels acquistion by GB Oils

The OFT have now framed their questions and issued an email or letter to many customers of Brogan, which make interesting reading.

The covering message read as follows:
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is currently considering the above acquisition under the merger control provisions of the Enterprise Act 2002. This will enable the OFT to form a view as to whether this merger should be referred to the Competition Commission.

As part of any investigation, the OFT seeks comments from competitors and customers of the merging parties. This is also your opportunity to raise with the OFT any concerns that you may have regarding the merger. I have attached the questions and would very much appreciate a response to my colleagues Dimitrios Sinaniotis and Alistair Love by 17:00 on 10 February 2010.

If you have any questions, please call Dimitrios on 020 7211 8911 or Alistair on 020 7211 8853.

The OFT recognises that respecting the confidentiality of commercially sensitive information provided to the OFT is vital to the effective performance of its merger review functions. The OFT will not therefore publicly disclose any information that you supply to us unless we are required by law to do so.
So if you are interested in commenting on this matter, then you have until Wednesday next week to make your feelings known. Not much time, but I am sure that many people have already worked out what they want to say.

Responses can be emailed to

MacNeil's expenses

With over half the MPs expected to have to repay some expenses, I look forward to the full list of those who were on the fiddle have looted the public purse for private expenditure proved unable to accurately complete an expenses form by themselves.

But what has happened about our MP's travel expenses that were in dispute, and on which he sought guidance after the event (or possibly clarification of an alleged earlier piece of advice)?

I an told (not highly reliably it must be admitted) that they have been refused, as the journey could have been done in a single day, and hence the overnight expenses were unapproved.

I am also told that this decision is being appealed, again, but hopefully we will have clarity in the coming weeks.

Update 9pm: I didn't know that the announcement as coming today, and I was very pleasantly surprised that such a small amount was disallowed. It looks like my information about Mr MacNeil was totally wrong, which I am happy to admit. However, the sheer rottenness of the expenses system has been laid bare and is being (slightly) improved thanks to the enforced openness of the FoI system.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Health Board employees will no longer be... sacked, given early retirement, not replaced, promoted to another Health Board, junked, pink slipped, made redundant, downsized, deselected, shot at dawn (largely obsolete), disemployed, given an early visit to Al Crae (slang), promoted to the Board, de-swipe-carded or unfriended by the HR section.

The new phrase is: jobs may be “discontinued.”

Beautiful isn't it.

I will return to the underlying financial issues at the Health Board in later posts, but there should be no illusion that to meet the Government's financial targets, there are going to be a lot of discontinues.

Bayhead infill

It is really not a huge surprise that the project is not going ahead, for as the Stornoway Port Authority point out, they have long had serious reservations about the whole concept.

Despite the Port Authority objecting to the planning permission applications, the Council made an funding application to the Government to develop a piece of ground that it doesn't own or control and where the landlord had expressed extreme reservations.

Whilst not professing to understand the precise technicalities, I understand that the reservations where three-fold, and they remain unchanged since they very first made known to me, perhaps 10 years ago.
  • There could be an increased risk of flooding without the basin and the Glen River being available to absorb higher tides. Allied to this, if the Glen was in spate, then the restrictions in mouth of the river could cause the water to back-up and flood.
  • The impact of wave reflection on the ability to use the harbour needed to be professionally assessed, and the design amended to minimise any such impact.
  • The overall impact on the harbour required to be assessed for issues such as changes in sedimentary deposits, and the impact on existing structures.
Now, I don't know about you, but I can see the cost of the assessment of all of these issues being fairly immense; and no public body is going to give approval for a potentially massive development until all of these matters were addressed.

That the Council though otherwise and tried to ram this through as an urgent development almost beggars belief, and demonstrates a complete lack of consultation and involvement with a key partner (sic).

It should not have come as a surprise, as the Council Leader was a Commissioner on the Port Authority for (I think) 6 years, when these potentially insurmountable problems were highlighted.

Rocket range - continued

This is not going to go away, and the unequivocal statements from Mr MacSween need verification, simply because of the implications of what he says.

I have spoken to a number of Lewis/Harris Councillors about their recollection of events. These Councillors are not part of the 'inner circle' but they all confirm that they were unaware of the nature of the review until June 2009. One Councillor said that they were vaguely aware of the Uist Councillors mentioning this and that it might have been raised at one informal meeting, but that at no time was the seriousness of the possible outcome of the review mentioned.

All the Councillors were told by the Chief Executive, after the event, that Mr MacSween had been asked to use his Labour Party contacts to get some feedback, as the Council was getting no feedback from the MP or the MOD. It was due to his ability to connect with the political system that Mr MacSween was asked to be on the Task Force.

All the other matters are either undisputed or a personal take on events.

In summary, it appears that Mr MacSween is accurate in his statements and that Mr MacNeil has sought to mislead the public over the timing and nature of his involvement.

It also appears that the failure of Southern Isles Councillors and the leadership of the Comhairle to bring the seriousness of the matter to the attention of the other Councillors, and the delays in chasing information from the various parties also contributed significantly to the overall mad panic as the announcements rolled out.

The failure of our MP or MSP to address any of the substantive issues or even deny them points directly to the accuracy of what he alleges.

Technical difficulties

We had a systems upgrade in the office, involving a new and improved phone system and minor changes to our wiring configurations. The later for all sorts of reasons that I don't understand.

We were told that this would mean that we had two broadband lines overlapping for some time, before the old one was ceased. Our previous experience when we moved offices and transferred lines, had BT ceasing broadband at our new offices, and installing a new service over the still active old line at the old location; and we were very keen not to have the resulting two-week loss of broadband repeated.

Pledges written in blood were sought from the 'Account Manager', and in due course, we duly had no broadband for most of yesterday, and then discovered that we were being given another new line to replace the existing two lines; with different login credentials that we hadn't received.

It was very late when I got home, but thanks to the Technical Helpdesk we got the email back up and running very late last night.

Today, we are promised that the swap-over of the phone systems will leave us with a line for only a few minutes. I'm not holding my breath.

Thankfully the local staff are excellent, with one of them deciding to move forward the programming of the new phone system from the scheduled next Friday to today, on the reasonable grounds that the new system won't work when they switch it over today without being programmed.

(Updated 3/2/10 to improve the grammar slightly)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

I'm flattered.....

Scotblogs awardsI only discovered I was nominated in these awards when I was told that I was a lucky winner!

It is very flattering to be the second best hyperlocal blog in Scotland, and I hope that I give everyone the opportunity to discuss the big issues affecting the islands (and allow them to insult and offend public figures).

Very many thanks to everyone who voted.