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

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Inclement weather

We have now disappeared off on a family holiday, so blogging will be even slower over the next fortnight, due to time zone differences, sheer laziness on my part and a lack of anything really interesting to comment upon.

We are wandering about on a mouse hunt; eating some wonderful food; and lazing by the pool when there is nothing much else to do.

Our little daughter - aged 30 months - walked for about 6 hours and about 10 miles around the Magic Kingdom yesterday with her jaw dropping as she saw all the superstars.

Her bigger brother has tried to go on every ride possible, from the scary to the utterly terrifying, and despite his lack of height has tried to blag his way onto everything. Mostly without success.

Her eldest brother has helped us find fine eateries, and has consumed adult portions of anything and everything with frightening regularity.

Sign of the day in Taco Bell: "We are open until 1am - make us your 4th meal of the day"

The inclement weather? It was thunderstorms, monsoons and tornados on Monday. But it was still wonderfully hot.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Highland Airways - the end

How much would the Fuel Duty Regulator save us?

The sad collapse of Highland Airways would cost £30 per adult in the islands for the tax bill alone.

Before people start criticising the Inland Revenue for withdrawing an agreement, you have to understand just how these agreements work.

In my experience there are three simple rules you have to meet to have the Inland Revenue stick to the agreement:
  • Make the payments when you promise
  • Over a reasonable period, and
  • Keep current liabilities up to date

If you can't manage these, then your liabilities seem to be running out of control, and you will find that the Revenue take serious action.

Even then you have lots of opportunities to solve the situation (as I have done on more than a few occasions) before it gets terminal.

As far as I can find out, Highland failed these tests, passed these deadlines and then – only then – tried to find a saviour. That is way too late, and places all the power in the hands of the Revenue.

The directors now find themselves in a potentially very difficult position, having traded whilst insolvent and run up large debts that were unlikely to be repaid. It is very sad for them, as they had all the right intentions and all the hopes and best wishes from the community, but that is the way that business works.

Blaming the Inland Revenue is simple, a non-brainer and totally imbecile, and reflects badly on the business knowledge of those mouthing these banalities.

Censorship - the solution

We have decided that the best way to ensure that all matters relating to the Council are allowed to be fully discussed is for me to seek election again.

Castlebay school

This site is still banned in the school as the Comhairle avoid discussion in favour of ostrich-like behaviour.

I am told that the depute-head at Liniclate has been sent to Castlebay on a mission-critical trouble-shooting exercise.

I wish him well, although some of the parents seem less sure of his abilities.

The biggest problem seems to be the failure of the Comhairle to understand and appreciate the extent of the feeling of the pupils and parents, and by downplaying those feelings they have aggravated the situation. The walkout by pupils is wholly symptomatic of this. As is the "unfit for purpose" description of the Comhairle by Cllr Manford.

I don't know the rights and wrongs about the education in the school (other than blocking the options for debate is wrong!) but the sheer volume of comments, even allowing for multiple posting by some people, indicates the depth of the problem.

What I do know is that the current approach is not working, and the Comhairle need to properly engage with the community to sort this out.

The recent press statement from the Parent Council with a call for intervention by the Education Minister is completely justified, and its savage - but measured - condemnation of the Comhairle is unanswerable.

Whether it produces any results is debatable. This doubt is emphasised, by the silence of every elected representative listed by the Parent Council, other than Cllr Manford - 3 other Councillors, 1 MP and 1 MSP are posted missing.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

BBC Alba and Freeview

Is it any surprise that the decision has been delayed, with an election looming and different pledges likely for the two main parties.

I'm told that the major driver for the decision to delay was a need to ensure that the Trustees maximised their possibility of reappointment objectively understood the decision that the incoming Government expected them to come to.

With big public sector cuts on the horizon, the BBC is not immune and there remains a huge question over whether BBC Alba can be justified, when so many other areas are being cut.

That is what the debate over “universality” really means, and where it is going to go.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Recipe of the day

Honey roast turkey leg.

Take one entire leg. Roast it in honey. Wrap a tissue around the lower leg and eat as a take-away snack.

Serves one, very, very greedy person.

Alternative uses: sledgehammer, instant obesity device or roadblock.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Far Distant

Client business takes us away to a place where the only news is the BBC for about 1 hour a day, 20 US channels of mixed dross, and assorted foreign language sub-titled rubbish.

Broadband is a long walk away, so if posting is intermittent, this explains why.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Six social workers sacked

Well, that's a big step in the right direction.
Its director Colin Tucker said they were not doing their jobs properly and showed "no sign whatsoever" of adhering to expected standards.
This could herald a major cull of public sector jobs if the 'ability' test is brought in across the board.

We have created a social care network where it is always someone else's fault for whatever happens, and where the reaction is that criminality has to be excused because of 'domestic circumstances' or a 'bad upbringing', but where the social workers refuse to do anything to alter these circumstances until it is too late.  Indeed, in many cases they exacerbate the problems by pandering to those who need to be told how to behave, allowing them to behave as they wish and leaving the public purse to pick up the tab.

How many children have ended up in sad situations despite extensive  support from the social work department?

How many families are moved around the country from wrecked council house to wrecked council house until they find somewhere that they can run riot with impunity, terrorising their neighbours (again) but with social workers who pat them on the back rather than challenge their behaviour?

Undoubtedly there are many social workers doing a good job, but the self-important structures they build around themselves don't do many of their 'clients' any favours.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wave power

The plans for wave power announced today are exciting, innovative, and long overdue, and hold the prospect of potentially great direct and indirect benefits for Scotland.

It is fantastic to see the Government taking such a proactive approach towards wave power, and the machines will literally be tested to destruction in one of the most difficult areas of sea.

If even one of these devices can live up to its promise, then the possibilities for marine energy start to become real, and have the possibility of coming to fruition much earlier than expected.

Having had a very minor involvement with the Pelamis 'snake' project which was built in Arnish, I think it holds great promise as a possible winner.Pelamis snake wave power

However, the downside is that the plans to test the snake off the coast of Lewis must surely be being moved back (if not cancelled) while the company concentrate on the Pentland Firth.

The renewable energy debate moves on apace, with the options changing fairly rapidly. However, the technologies have yet to prove themselves, and the drop-off of conventional energy production is still looming, leaving a potential energy shortage on the horizon and looming closer.

Today's announcement is a huge and very welcome step in the right direction.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Censorship - updated

CensorshipAccording to one comment placed on an earlier post about Castlebay School, this blog is now apparently blocked at that school.

If this is true, then there are two follow-up questions:
  1. Is it blocked by the Comhairle or the school? and
  2. Now the Comhairle know that the internet is being censored, what are they going to do about it?
Kim Jong-il
I know that the truth can sometimes be unpalatable, but acting like Big Brother is just a bit excessive and paranoid, isn't it.

What other sites are you going to block now?

So here is the agenda for the next Council Meeting - unless the Councillors have enough bottle to stand up and allow an open discussion about what is actually going on in Castlebay School.

I don't know the rights and wrongs of the matter, but it is obvious that there is a HUGE problem that is not being addressed to the satisfaction of many parents and pupils, and at the very least the Council needs to recognise that, rather than try to bury it.

I grant full permission for anyone/everyone to copy the blog post and the comments found here onto any other websites, social networking or any other medium you wish. Please, just link back to the original post.

Update: Is this site blocked from any other schools; from other Councils sites in Barra; or from any other Council sites.  It will be interesting to find out just who need 'protecting' from a free and open debate.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Boys weekend away

It was a boys weekend away at the rugby, and I'm just back having watched a very satisfying (and somewhat surprising) draw.

It was great to be back in Edinburgh for leisure, rather than a rushed visit for work, although the city had a slightly less chaotic feel, perhaps due to the peripheral chaos caused by the tram works keeping the hordes from descending on Princes Street. Or maybe I was just in there too early on Sunday morning to see the drunken masses roused from their pits.

Anyway, us boys had a fantastic time in our excellent seats, and we celebrated in a fine licensed establishment in Corstorphine. My travelling companions with a diet Pepsi and me with a diet Belhaven (or two) to wash down our large and sumptuous meal.

Why the lack of drunken debauchery and tales of the Grassmarket, and go-gos in the Blue Blazer, and pints in the Diggers, and everything else I wouldn't get up to?

My companions were our two boys on their first ever visit to Murrayfield, and were they (briefly) stunned into silence by the size if the crowd and sheer spectacle. Youngest took lots of photos of the animals at the zoo and the animals on the pitch despite his broken arm. No David Bailey, but he certainly had fun.

It looks like a diary date for next year, for all five of us.....

Very many thanks to my good lady wife for organising a wonderful birthday surprise.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Google Street View

The islands are now scanned and digitised.

Find your home, your business or just spy on your neighbours, all from the comfort of your PC.

The diaspora can now see all the changes to town, without the need to come here!

There is a prize for the first person to find an embarrassing picture on the islands, such as this one from Finland (just about SFW). Follow the links at the bottom of the story for other examples (NSFW)

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Castlebay school

It looks like the Comhairle has a lot of work to do to persuade the Barra parents that the quality of education in Castlebay school is up to the correct standard....


HMIe Follow-Through Report

The Parent Council of Castlebay Community School is extremely disappointed to note that the HMIe has for the third time identified issues with the quality of learning at the school, stating in its latest report that pupils "still experience too much variability". An identified strength of the school is the "achievements beyond the classroom" but within the classroom "standards of reading, writing and mathematics" have fallen.

There have been staffing issues in the English department that have remained unresolved for the last year, and the HMIe states that "the needs of those studying English ... are not being effectively met". Since the inspection, the Art department also has a staffing issue. The support for learning base, which had been a strength is now "not appropriate for all supported learning activities". Due to the continuing issues, the HMIe will conduct a third follow-through visit within a year.

The Parent Council has had a number of issues with the school and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in the past, mostly relating to the lack of consultation and the lack of improvement. Comhairle nan Eilean Siar must resolve the re-occurring issues of the HMIe reports with urgency to restore the confidence of parents

The Parent Council continues to look to the school and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to act upon the three HMIe reports to plan and implement rapid improvements so that the children of Barra can achieve their full potential.

Th HMIe report states that "in the majority of lessons the range of tasks and activities are still too limited", and that "too many young people drop subjects or are entered at lower levels in examinations". Two years have passed since the initial HMIe inspection, and whilst there have been improvements, the pace of change is too slow for many parents. For the pupils, any delay is simply too late.

Joint Chairs
Parent Council
Notes to editors:

1. The three HMIe reports are:
1. Inspection report of January 2008 which identified a number of weaknesses.
2. Initial follow-through report of February 2009 which reported some improvement.
3. Second follow-through report of March 2010.
2. The Parent Council had a mass resignation over the appointment process of senior staff in 2008. Details are available at:
3. HMIe reports for Castlebay Community School can be found at:
4. The contact details for Castlebay Community School can be found at:
5. The details of the Education and Children's Services Department of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar can be found at:

Ferry fares (the inevitable)

So ferry fares are to increase by 4.2%, to offset the other cuts in the Scottish Government budget.


The budgets couldn't balance, and with unrealistic promises having been made and trying to be met, something has to give.

The good news is that multi-tickets aren't affected.

The bad news is that they were abolished for us when RET was introduced on the Western Isles routes.

That is the RET pilot scheme, that may or may not be renewed.

But in the meantime, the cost of travelling by car a mile by car is deemed to have increased by 4.2% for the Western Isles; proving that the RET costs bear no relationship to the real costs of driving.

MacRae Hostel

It was good to see the diggers on site at the old MacRae Hostel site, as the planned development of social housing takes place in one of the few large sites still available in the centre of Stornoway.

The site has been an eye-sore for many years, not least after the hostel closed and before it burned down.

But with the new houses being built, the cleared site can now be brought back into constructive use.

The initial planning decisions on this scheme were taken some 5 years ago, and it was unsurprising that it attracted some negative comment. Not on the design, or the number of properties being proposed for the site - which were reduced after discussion - but on the issue of 'social housing' as a planning ideal.

Repeatedly, I found 'social housing' to be a major explosive issue for near neighbours and everyone they could drag into objecting, with petitions against the very concept on every site and at every planning permission application. Despite strategic plans making it clear that the land was zoned for that purpose.

Whilst the post-war generation revelled in the development of Council Housing and the undisputed good that it brought to communities and individuals, usually including themselves as snotty-nosed kids, Social Housing was a different matter.

You would think that the plans involved compulsory drive-by shootings, drug taking classes for the under fives, and the removal of intelligence and prospects from any residents by way of lobotomy and white cider.

Yet - almost without exception - these smaller schemes have avoided the pitfalls of the Cearns, and resulted in high-quality accomodation for young families and couples, as well as singletons, of almost every strata of society.

Yes, having 50 new residents on your doorstep, blocking part of your view and affecting traffic flows will be disconcerting to start with, but the prospect of young families having a good start in life can only be of benefit to the islands as a whole.

I look foreward to seeing the completed houses and flats opened, occupied and thriving.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Enjoying 'hospitality'

brown envelopesI am sure that the senior manager at the Comhairle has made sure that his line managers are well aware of the magnificent entertainment he recently enjoyed from a contractor who is hoping to get some work from the Council.

I am sure that nothing untoward can be inferred from the whole event, but as other contractors are keeping a very close eye on who wins future tenders, it would be sensible for the individual concerned to protect his back by making a full disclosure; before it is disclosed by others.

Of course, he is only following the example of a very senior officer who is using insider information to promote a family members' business interests, and make a profit for themselves - and yes, I do have times, dates and names.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Lean, mean and efficient

Thanks to Western Isles CCTV project for this picture of the new ultra-efficient Council workforce in action earlier today.

Council COU
Not in picture (bacon-roll manager x 3 and supervisors x4)


I know it seems like I am constantly having a go at the COU, but it is actually the numerous layers of control and reporting throughout the Council that need pruning, not the front-line workers.

MPs pay rises

If there was ever an example of being on a hiding to nothing, and running straight into a good kicking by the public, then the decision by MPs to award themselves a 1.5% pay rise is it.

Ooops, of course, it was an independent review body who took the decisions, so nothing to do with the MPs themselves.

The 'independent' body bases it's independent decision of the average of the pay rises for comparable workers in the public sector: such as judges, NHS managers and senior civil servants.

All of whom have been awarded pay rises by the self-same MPs who really, really, really, didn't realise that giving an increase to these groups would result in an increase for themselves.

What an unfortunate coincidence.

With COSLA likely to recommend pay freezes (or even pay cuts) for the coming years, and with significant job losses on the horizon, especially for the lower paid, the degree to which they are out-of-touch with their voters in election year is just spectacular.

Turkeys and Christmas anyone?

Light posting

It has been one of these weeks where there hasn't been enough time to turn around, far less make comments.

We've just won a significant contract through a mainland public authority; the Norwegian Tax Returns are flooding it with about 10 new clients a week; and I've been helping the US-based managers of the UK Branch of a Japanese multi-national to establish and operate their payroll systems in the Netherlands.


And all of this through the power of the internet serving clients we will probably never meet!

Now to clear my desk of all the post that has appeared this week.