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

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Barra and Mingulay SAC proposals

The Scottish Government sneaked out the Economic Impact Report into the above without any announcement or linkage to any other documents.

Any guesses why that might be?

The value of catches in the proposed dSAC in the Sound of Barra is £787,000 and in East Mingulay is £86,000.

Para 3.5.8 summarises the restrictions likely to be placed on new developments:
In summary, any aquaculture development proposed in the Sound of Barra and East Mingulay is likely to be affected by SAC designation due to the potential impact on the integrity of the sites. However, harvesting of seaweed is unlikely to be affected.
Para 3.8.5 and 3.8.6 summarise the position for offshore renewables:
The precise nature of short and long term impacts of noise and vibration on some of these receptors (dolphins, whales, seals, otters) is poorly understood at present and would need to be factored in all applications using a precautionary approach as well ensuring adequate research into the topic.
In summary, while there are currently no proposed offshore renewable developments planned or proposed in the vicinity of the two dSAC, any proposals for future marine renewable development in or adjacent to the Sound of Barra and East Mingulay could require HRA but this is already likely to be required to satisfy protection requirements of existing Natura sites.
Which in plain English means that any offshore developments that might affect seals will need to operate on the precautionary principle, and subject to veto by SNH.  As I guessed.

And sub-sea cables will be forbidden, so say goodbye to broadband cables.

Overall the expected impact of the proposals are a loss of £2,180,000 to the fishing sector and a direct cost of £836,00 to the Government if both areas are closed.  That will result in the loss of 58 jobs.  And you can guess where these jobs will be lost.

Perhaps others can read this report and take something better out of it, but it is a bigger kick in the teeth than we thought.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wave power in the islands

With a seal conservation area announced today and covering the entire Western Isles, I think we can probably kiss goodbye to any significant wave power developments off the coast.

Yet another expensive hoop for developers to jump through.  Or go elsewhere, where the hoops (and the seals?) don't exist.

Any chance of an assessment of the conservation zones on the human population?

Listening to the public (not!)

So after careful consideration and advice from the quango that will benefit from the decision, the Scottish Government have undermined the local fishing industry, once again,.

The Scottish Government has approved the case for a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) at East Mingulay, south of Barra, while vulnerable Western Isles seal populations are to be better protected.
As Guth Bharraigh reported it in early 2009:

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has written to Scottish GovernmentEnvironment Minister, Michael Russell MSP, asking that no consultation be held with any view to making the Sound of Barra or east of Mingulay an special area of conservation. Mr MacNeil said: “I met with a local representative group at the weekend, who just feel that they are being strangled by conservation and designation orders. “
They simply do not feel that any consultation should happen or SAC designation made which would take in most of the Sound of Barra and complete encircle the Island of Eriskay. People are frankly sick tired of the perennial conservation industry that comes their way.” He also stated that he was trying to find the person or group responsible in Brussels for this latest conservation bureaucracy to come to the affected islands and state why and explain just what threats they wield if the designation does not take place.

It is with some relief that I note that the second designation has not been approved.  Yet.

Further investigation in seal populations are - apparently - required.

Any sign of a study into the decline in the human population in the islands?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Working hard....

After a break of 20 days, MSPs were back hard at it again yesterday, writing, scurtinising and approving some very important emergency legislation in record time.

Or as the BBC put it...
MSPs sat late into Wednesday evening to see it through
That doesn't quite tell the whole tale, of course.

Starting the day sharp at 2pm, the poor souls worked until close of business at 8pm. At which point they all patted themselves on the back for all their hard work.

Food parcels can be sent to the usual address.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The cuts agenda

The removal of the intra-islands ferry fare subsidy was an inevitable consequence of the cuts that the Council is facing, but there is more to this that needs to be considered than the simple financial aspects.

It is going to be extremely serious for some businesses that are trying to thrive, and is a set-back for inter-island trading.

The Council are absolutely right to be pushing for RET to be extended to all the ferries and not just island to mainland services, but one has to ask just what they have done to try and move this agenda forward over the past 4 years?  Have there been any meetings with the Minister, the MSP or MP* about this?  Has the Chair of Transport tried to use his political connections to try to make the case?

With the RET scheme up for renewal, did no-one think about lobbying the Minister to extend the scheme to its logical conclusion?

Anyone know what the MSP and MP (have been told to) think about the Comhairle's ambitions?

Obviously, this was an issue that the Council took forward at the community consultations.  Wasn't it?

Well, no it wasn't.

The Councillors discussed the interim results from the consultation last week.  The consultations haven't finished, so they are going to have to go through an update again before coming to any conclusions.

More that that, the Council launched an online survey (please, take part) in which you can outline your preferences, for many issues that didn't form part of the consultations that have already taken place, and omits some of the issues that have arisen.

I haven't found anything about inter-island ferries on the consultation, which poses all sorts of questions about the extent, relevance and purpose of the consultations.

Whilst it seems to be a great opportunity to let the public sound off, I am told that the remit and extent of options are very tightly controlled by the Council, and certain items are off the agenda.  With the actual options available to be discussed by the public not fully known at this time, it seems more like a cosmetic exercise than a real consultation.  Perhaps when the real menu of choices is provisionally selected by Councillors, then the public can be asked to have their say, before a final list is decided upon.

The public do not have the right of veto or compulsion over the decisions, but the absence of any suggestion of job losses is irking.  Not that we want to see people sacked, but if the impression is that staff will be retained even if they have nothing constructive to do, it's only going to get the public's back up.

Returning to the initial subject.  I am told that the current arrangements for hauling the waste from Balivanich to Stornoway are costs about 4 times what some hauliers say they could do the job for.  This is partially due to vehicle choice, and partially the general overheads the Council has to carry.  Perhaps this should be put out to tender to allow some of the hauliers who are going to suffer from the abolition of the subsidy a chance to recover some of the losses, whilst offering easy savings to the Council.

After all, operating and then moving into the private sector exactly is what was intended at the time the recycling service was set-up, and was a fundamental part of the strategy that was agreed by the Councillors.  I should know, I helped design, approve, recommend and establish the service.

*I know that it's a reserved matter that doesn't affect the MP, but his press releases ignore this when he has something to say.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Petrol prices

So just what does the possible 5p per litre cut announced last month mean for the Western Isles?

Call me a cynic but, the following has been pointed out to me.....

Fort William 116.9p117.9p
Stornoway 127.9p132.9p

h/t to my source

Closed school, not actually closed

The revelation by Hebrides News that Bayble School was never properly 'closed' is as unbelievably shocking as it is predictable.

There has been some 5 years of detailed discussion on the process for the new school, involving consultations, which have had to be re-run.  Reports by HMIE to the Scottish Government about the processes, and a protracted exercise to see how the new staffing structure could work.

Only that somewhere along the way, someone failed to ensure the legal procedures were properly adhered to.

Who, how and when are the three simple questions that need to be answered, and the culprits properly disciplined.  This failure is going to cost the Council huge amounts in time, effort and additional work that shouldn't need to be done, and which is only going to cause extra stress to parents, teachers and pupils before it is sorted.

To give the public any confidence that there is the most basic levels of competency in the Council in expediting decisions, then we need to have a detailed public statement about what went wrong and why.

To many failures are being brushed under the carpet, and too many are avoiding any scrutiny. 

Whilst we might want a zero error level, reality is that we will never achieve that.  But when mistakes of this scale happen, Councillors need to find out why; and take the appropriate steps to stop them happening again.

Are any Councillors prepared to take those steps?

The future for the tugs

Even before Cpt Magoo drove the RNS Titanic into the Isle of Skye, the future for the tugs wasn't quite as black as it was being painted by some.

How do I know this?

Well, I still have my old contact books, and I was able to get in touch with a very senior civil servant in the right department who was able to tell me all about the financial machinations that are going on behind the scene.

This civil servant has a soft spot for the islands and has pushed some policies and decisions that have been highly beneficial to us.  During drinks after one meeting, his Minister candidly admitted not to understanding the marine aspects of his brief, and deferring to my friend (amongst others) when it came to making decisions.

I am told that the MCA want to keep some or all of the tugs, and they have been offered up in the hope that the offer will be refused, and extra funding made available to keep the service going.  Sometimes known as "shroud waiving", it is a familiar and well known negotiating stance.

Having given my views on the matter, influence really lies with the current political leadership in the islands to make a coherent case for retention of the tugs, as there does appear to be an open door reading for pushing.

The events of last week only strengthen the case, and whilst no-one wants a disaster, the security and reassurance provided by the Minch tug is an essential element of the argument that needs to be made to the Minister.

Petty point scoring won't do it; the clever approach might yield benefits.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Labour selection process postponed

I have the first photograph of one of the candidates going into the meetings that led to the delay.

Jeez.  Defeat from the jaws of victory...

(Apologies for upload problems)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Seumas Galbraith

Eileen sent me this wonderful obituary to a wonderful Barra gentleman. I spent many fantastic days and evenings in their company, enjoying excellent hospitality and endless stories. I think the obituary reflects all his many attributes, and leaves me thinking of him very fondly, and the void he has left; especially for the lovely Mairi Bheag.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

LibDem policy reversal (episode 47)

Remember those promises on energy sources?  Well they've gone the way of student fees, trust and the realisation that good ol' Uncle Vince is actually Keith Joseph reborn.
Plans for a controversial £30bn Severn barrage tidal energy project stretching from Weston-super-Mare in Somerset to Cardiff are expected to be scrapped.
Secretary of State for Energy Chris Huhne is expected to make the announcement in Parliament on Monday.
Reports suggest the scheme is to be axed as it is not "financially viable" and that instead he will give the go-ahead to new nuclear power stations. 
The LibDems may not realise this, quite yet, but the price of influencing the Government is to shed their principles and be the bearers of all the bad news.  This was exactly what happened in Scotland, and it looks like it is being repeated nationwide.

Just what Clegg thinks he is getting from the pact is a mystery, but Cameron clearly has his Aunt Sally for the duration of the Parliament.  Just how the LibDems expect to ever have electoral success again remains an enduring and unanswered mystery.  And one that won't be answered with 5p of petrol prices at some point in the future, Europe permitting.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Nothing costs anything

There is a strange and inconsistent approach to the public finances by the SNP Government, and I don't think that the inconsistency does a lot to advance the quality of political discussion ahead of the election.

That being said, they are also politically astute, which is probably the reason for them being made.

Freezing Council Tax is highly astute as almost no-one ever likes paying more taxes, but all it does is to reduce the flexibility and options available to local councils, making them dependent upon central Government.  The Comhairle raises under 8% of it's income from Council Tax and this percentage is falling.  The end result is that the Council is being more and more 'guided' on how to spend, through the Concordat and through 'special funding' being made available for pet projects.  A prime example of this was the funding for Perceval Square which appeared at the last moment and had to be designed, tendered, accepted and commenced within weeks, because some spare funding was identified for a pet concept.  That money could, for instance, have been used to provide an improved home care service had it not been earmarked.

Labour are going into the election on the back foot (apparently) by planning to increase Council Tax.

However, this week I saw our revised office rates bill.  Nominally it is c£2,000, but with the small business discount it comes to zero.  Where is my incentive as a businessman to ensure that the Council spends the money wisely?  Where is the fairness and equality in it all?  Much as I might grudge it, I think that a realistic level of local taxation improves the responsiveness of the public to Council services and helps keep the public aware of what there money is being used for.

Then the other side of the reality gap:
The number of senior NHS bosses in Scotland will be cut by a quarter in the next four years, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon has announced.
She said the move would help fund policies such as SNP plans to abolish prescription charges by next April.
Abolishing prescription charges might sound egalitarian, but it actually removes any constraint on frivolous medical demands and increases the likelihood of the issue of spurious prescriptions being issued and the wasting of medication.  I forecast pressure on the Health Board drugs bill as a consequence.

But the other half of the vote-winning formula is the slashing of NHS management - with the absolute and utter meaningless and unenforceable assurance that it won't affect direct health care - by 25% over 4 years.  Great idea, but utterly unachievable whilst targets have to be reported, health initiatives delivered and enhanced fiscal control being demanded by the Government.  It's not even like natural wastage will come close to helping that target being hit. 

Firstly, the natural wastage won't happen in the right places.  Secondly, just who is going to leave to take another job, when public sector job insecurity is so low?  The answers to both of these mitigate against any policy success, but a very good political slogan.

I'm not suggesting that the public sector doesn't need change, but with the Government demanding huge and unachievable change, I forecast a huge bounty for the consultants helping the NHS design change programmes, and serious impacts on service delivery, if - and post-election who is going to say that promises will be kept by a minority Government - the proposals are implemented.

Still it all makes for nice election leaflets and catchy slogans.  Unless you work in the NHS.

Congratulations are due

Congratulations are due to my good lady wife for two recent successes about which she has been unduly modest.

Firstly, she has been asked to act an assessor for her Institute - the Charted Institute of Management Accountants - in appraising and vetting those who wish to apply for a Practising Certificate.  That means that she will be evaluating and approving (or rejecting!) a large number of the new applicants from CIMA who wish to run their own accountancy practice.

This is obviously highly onerous and responsible, but it demonstrates both her high standing in the profession and the breadth and depth of her real life experience as a qualified accountant.

Secondly, she has recently been appointed as a director of a significant US company in the leisure industry with which we are involved.  As the company has successfully ridden the recession and is coming out strong and ahead of the competition, it is obviously an exciting time to be involved.  However, the 'welcomes' were quickly followed by a huge budget pack and a long list of difficult decisions!

I'm very proud of her, in case you hadn't realised this, but is all down to her incredible drive and abilities that she has achieved as much as she has in her life.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A break

Giving everything else that is happening in the community at the present time, I don't intend to blog for a couple of days.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

ADS extended?

It looks like you can now book ADS flights for next summer via the FlyBe website, implying that that the ADS scheme has been extended.

Good news, but yet again delayed until almost the last minute.

No doubt there will be a Ministerial announcement next week which makes lots of promises what will happen after the Election.

Anyone from Labour want to tells us what they are promising?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Caption contest

Russell Brand meets whoever

Go on, you know you want to speak your mind.....

Discussing Uganda

In this time of cutbacks, restraint in the public sector and general gloom and doom in the Comhairle offices, it is good to see that at the highest level Councillors are working closely together to ensure that the budgetting process is smooth and reflective of the wishes of majoirty.

Members have been busy during this process, ensuring that the a serious two-way discussion between town and country takes place, covering all the angles, and resulting in intense after-hours enagement between the parties.

It is unfortunate that this important process may have been misunderstood by the wife, resulting in an accidental transfer of kinetic force from her fist to his eye; which - no doubt - will form an important part of the budget setting process.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Hebrides Range in action

Guga curry takes its revenge
This just in, via The Register:
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced yesterday that HMS Dauntless, second of the class, has made the first firing from a Type 45 of the French-made Aster missiles with which the ships are armed. All previous trial shoots were carried out using a test barge at French facilities in the Mediterranean.
According to the MoD:
The system successfully fired an Aster 30 missile from HMS Dauntless at the MOD range in the Hebrides and hit a moving target drone.
"Both my ship's company and the equipment manufacturers have done a sterling job," commented Dauntless' captain, Richard Powell.
 "Better than the Mediterranean" has a certain ring to it, and this is something the Task Force should be shouting about to demonstrate the necessity of the range.

The first person/newspaper to lift this story without attribution, and present it as their own will be named and shamed.  IP addresses are being logged!

My free bottle of Aberlour turned up yesterday.

Before you all rush around to help me drink it, it has gone into the drinks cabinet for a family celebration we expect for early next year.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Superfast Broadband

Would you like superfast Broadband?  From BT?

One of our friends works very close to the top of BT and has told us about "Race to Infinity", which allows you to vote for the areas to be upgraded.

I don't yet know how it will be assessed and rolled out, but I have no doubt the readers will keep us informed about the process.  The top 5 exchanges will win the race....

Vote early.  Vote often.  From every PC you can access.

Update: Voting page reads "Stornoway, Western Isles has a current score of 0.05%" which implies something about percentage involvement rather than absolute votes.

Further update: It looks like only Stornoway is eligible, having more than 1,000 premises. Sorry, but how about some Hebridean solidarity, and then we promise to work to get it rolled out throughout the rest of the islands.

The Licencing Board give in...

A Councillor phones me to let me know that the Licencing Board are about to lodge their defences against appeal by the Golf Club over the refusal of a Sunday Licence.

I'm told that the Chairman has refused to sign up to anything other than a bland statement reiterating the majority decision (which he opposed) and that no attempt at justification will be made.

The Golf Club's legal advisor?
Largely, of course, as the legal advice given to the Board Members was that refusal was illegal and would lead to a successful challenge and costs awarded against the Board.  A matter confirmed by Cllr Murdo MacLeod when he abstained at the first hearing, before voting against after coming under pressure from the Church.

Am I right in understanding that the individual members were cited, as well as the Board?  If so, could the Golf Club be looking for the £15,000 expenses to be paid by the Board Members individually, rather than by the Comhairle?  That would be interesting.