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

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wee W

It is a great shame to hear the news that Wee W is to close in the New Year.

It will leave a vacuum in Cromwell Street that may be very difficult to fill and will further reduce the choice for consumers in the islands.

The local individuals who put their money behind this venture deserve the praise for their investment in the community, and their attempts to restore the sense of how "Woolworths" was and could have been.

As I have said before, this is not going to be the last local casualty in the coming recession and it exemplifies the weakness of the local economy.  A weakness that is not being addressed in any way by Government.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Donald

As in "What the Donald Duck is that on your head"?

An acquaintance sent on a report in the Telegraph from three years ago about the patronising arrival of Trump, in which I am quoted.

But it is the quote from the walking hairpiece of vanity that really stands out:
He also revealed that he was planning to invest in charitable ventures on the island. 
Vanity, thy name is hairweave
Any news from anyone about any investment or indeed any gift?
Local councillors were also rubbing their hands in anticipation after he said he would consider funding the restoration of Lews Castle that overlooks Stornoway and has long been in need of a benefactor. 
Indeed, who can forget the sight of the Councillors almost curtseying in front of the power on Mammon and vast credit lines?  With Councillor Sanctimonious having invited the money lender into the temple, has he ever tried to follow up a single promise made by Trump about improving the islands?  Or was the brief moment of self-aggrandisement by proximity enough to stop him asking difficult questions?

We were the location for a few minutes of good press for him, and he got to destroy ancient sand dunes for a World Class (sic) Country Club, with golf course attached.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Taxing the disabled

With the proposed changes to the Blue Badge scheme, it is now going to cost you £20 to get and renew your new Blue Badge.

This is maximum charge possible, and given the magnificently overblown and complex plan to stop 'fraud', that cost is bound to increase dramatically in future years.

Of course, the real problem is actually cars with Blue Badges being driven and parked by able bodied relatives (just go to Tesco or the Co-op and see what I mean) rather than forged badges.

FFS, due to a missing Traffic Warden in Stornoway we can't even enforce parking violations or use of the car park without either paying or displaying.  In the islands, these badges are not going to be enforced, except in the rarest circumstances, which makes it nothing more than a tax on the disabled.

Based on 1,110 users in the islands and a pass through charge of £4.60 plus VAT, perhaps the Comhairle can find the estimated £6,100 required to keep this scheme free for the islands. 

Following on from an earlier post, will the emasculated 18* SNP hopefuls say anything to John Swinney to try and exempt disabled islanders from this ludicrous tax?

Ta to H for the tip-off.

* Yes, I know that might be unfair, but get used to it; you're going to get worse.

Harris Tweed Hebrides

There has been so much good news and so many press releases acclaiming this company that we are almost expected to accept the total world domination as a matter of course.

That's not to demean in any way what has been achieved in growing from nothing to 95% of the industry in a matter of a couple of years; albeit assisted by the suicidal business polices of Mr Haggas.

So amongst all this good news, why are the accounts to December 2010 now nearly three months overdue at Companies House, and why is the Annual Return overdue?

And why was a new company called Harris Tweed Hebrides Shawbost Ltd formed in November 2011?

The sole director is Malcolm Holmes (no, not the drummer in OMD!) of Tods Murray, solicitors, whose work skills includes expertise in corporate reorganisation.  With the one share held by nominees, I suspect a major restructuring is in prospect.

The question is: why?  With 5 mortgages, the suspicion is clear.

Interested observers will be intrigued by the eclectic list of members, who presumably have provided significant investments in the company.  Uist readers will recognise the Storas unofficial executive board.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Council support settlement

So the numbers are in, and grim reading they make for the Western Isles. 

The Revenue grant drops from just under £112m this financial year to £108m in 2014/15, and it is the effect of both inflation and the centrally agreed pay increases that are going to be the real impacts.

Allow for 4% inflation, and the Revenue grant should have grown to £126m, meaning a cut of around £18 over 4 years.

That's bad.  Very, very bad.

And then it gets worse.

Look at the Capital grant which drops from £8m to £1m over the period to 2015/16, giving a total cut in the cash available to the Council of £25m.
Going down the pan

That is way beyond horrendous.

At this point, if anyone can find the missing local Labour Party, they should be asking if the MSP, MP and the SNP Councillors (current and potential) actually support the cuts.  Or is any of the 18 going to actually break rank and speak for themselves and "fight for the isles" (sic) as they promise?

Expect blood and bile in the Council chamber when the cuts are discussed.

My sources suggest that other public bodies are going to see similar size cuts announced in the coming months.

An open email to Tony Robson, Stornoway Amenity Trust


New Year Celebrations

As a resident of Stornoway who is interested in the amenity of the town, and as someone who is a long term supporter of your very worthwhile projects, I must protest in the strongest terms at the decision to terminate the New Year celebrations early, to avoid running into Sunday.

Firstly, can you advise me exactly who made this decision; and after consulting with whom?

Secondly, can you please ensure that this matter is reconsidered by the entire Amenity Trust at the earliest possible opportunity, as it is giving an utterly wrong impression of life in Lewis.

With Public Houses having late licences until early Sunday morning, I am sure that it is really the aspiration of the Amenity Trust to provide family enjoyment, and to encourage the family to be together at the celebration of the New Year; rather than to see participants believe that the only way to celebrate in Stornoway is in the pub.

The decision gives the impression to potential visitors of not so much an air of quaintness, but more an air of weirdness and a certain detachment from reality.  This will only continue to be played up by the national media.

It is not too late to retrieve the situation, and I truly hope that the celebrations - thanks to the very hard work of the Trust members - are successful.  And held at midnight.

Yours sincerely


Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Eurozone

After the announcement of the plan for the compulsory harmonisation of Corporate Tax and VAT across member states, do the SNP still advocate an Independent Scotland joining the EMU?

To do so would give away most of the economic levers - remember the Laffer curve, which proved that a 10% Corporate Tax rate meant that Ireland was the model for  tax strategy? - and pass the first stage of economic control to Brussels.  After you join, how can you actually leave Greater Europe?

Alternatively, are we be in control of our own destiny by keeping Sterling, and allowing yet another foreign institution to dictate fiscal policy and to effectively set Scotland's interest rate policy and determine Scotland's borrowing capability?

So under the current SNP proposals, which bunch of foreigners do they intend to have controlling an Independent Scotland's currency?

Hard questions: but one's that are going to be asked in the coming years, and to which there is no easy answers.

Another victim of the recession

I'm told that the Receivers arrived at MacAskill Haulage this morning, and whilst deliveries are being made today, ther is no guarantee of what is going to happen tomorrow.

It appears (and this is informed speculation) that the bank wanted borrowings reduced, but that the cash wasn't being generated to do this.

I am told that the business is asset rich and cash poor, and that it seems likely that the cash is there to pay back most if not all creditors.  This would seem to concur with the fact that the accounts are not overdue.

Hopefully something can be rescued from the wreckage.

Moral dilemma

If the consumption of alcohol is such a problem that we have to introduce minimum alcohol pricing to impose the health benefits on the public in Scotland; then why is it acceptable to triumph the growth of sales of our national poison of choice - whisky - to China?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Youth Employment Minister

Isn't the appointment of a 4th Minster in the Education Portfolio to deal with Youth (un)Employment a sign that the past 5 years haven't recognised the importance of the issue, or how it has grown over time.

Obviously, if the rate of unemployment isn't brought down then it will obviously be a failure, until they appoint yet someone else to split and hide the problem.

The noises are good; but the policies are vacuous; and I suspect that we well see 'make work' schemes to take NEETS of the list and then claim these as a success.

Perhaps the Gazette do journalism rather than just printing press releases.....

Monday, December 05, 2011

Europe - our future(?)

Just a few years back, the Celtic Tiger of Ireland was apparently the target that we should seek to attain.

This week, the basically announced their further, deeper, insolvency and their to cut, cut, cut and cut further into social spending and public services.

Then it was the Arc of Prosperity; until Iceland went 'behind over chest'.

Last month it was the Isle of Man.

Next year it is Scandinavia, apparently.

Perhaps at some point we might not need role models to aspire to, and actually become the leaders not the followers.

One could almost suggest that the Scottish Government were talking down Scotland.

There is no doubt that many of these countries have better levels of social services and more intensive public services, and we could properly consider these as valid aspirations.  So how are they paid for?

Well £8/pint is a start.  Higher taxes at lower income levels is another (and lower taxes at higher income levels!).  A fat bureaucracy is another.  No, make that a grossly obese bureaucracy.

I'm sure there are many good points and I look forward to hearing these.

(I remember having a 1/2 litre with a Norwegian in Denmark.  I paid £5.50 a pint some 10 years ago, and the Norwegian thought this was dirt cheap.  Our tax practice has lots of other numbers that will boggle your mind.)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

How others see us......

Two almost unbelievable pieces of news, that are guaranteed to keep us as the community that time forgot and where dinosaurs still run wild.
Hogmanay celebrations on Lewis will be cut short an hour before the bells – to avoid offending strict religious groups by partying on a Sunday.
With almost a quarter of the residents of Lewis expected at the event, which is being paid for by a Council grant, it looks like the whole rationale of the event will be lost by the plug being pulled at 11pm.

Of course, it will actually be midnight GMT, so perhaps the solution is to have a separate time zone for Lewis and Harris (and bits of N Uist).  As your ferry docks - Bing! Bong! - "Turn your watches back to 1970".

Mad fecking protestor

In a further burst of the true spirit of Christmas, the recording of an Ecumenical Christmas service in Martins Memorial Church last night was the subject to picketing by various Christian groups who objected to a Priest, a Minister from the Church of Scotland and a Minister from the Free Church (this sounds like the start of a joke, but it so isn't) holding a joint service.  Hopefully, the media will reveal exactly who was outside, rather than in, and we can all hold them in the respect they are due.

The spirit of Pastor Jack Glass lives on....

Still we are not as bad as the spokesman for the Reformed Unfree Alternative Church (continuing) in Saudi Arabia who have adversely assessed the proposition that women should be allowed to drive.

The report contains graphic warnings that letting women drive would increase prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce.

Friday, December 02, 2011

The next challenge for the Council....

A Devon town council has been acting "unlawfully" by listing prayers on its meeting agendas, the National Secular Society told the High Court.
Given that every meeting of the Full Council at the Comhairle currently starts with prayer, just how long before a mischievous Councillor asks for a review of its lawfulness?

I recall the look of horror, anger and then mock piety on the face of one current sanctimonious Councillor every time a Catholic prayer (sic) started proceedings.

Thursday, December 01, 2011


The announcement of the extension of RET  to inter-island ferries was well signalled by our MP and MSP allegedly writing to the Minister just a few weeks ago.  Never was a planted question ever so obvious.

With our two Parliamentarians (sic) never scared to ask a planted question, the impending good news was transparent.

The Comhairle had lobbied for this for years, with MacNeil and Allan refusing to make the case on many occasions.  This is a Council triumph that we should applaud.

So what was the catch.

Well, I was a bit astonished - given the inside information I had - that MacNeil was kicking up a stink about CalMac (prop A Salmond) about 5m commericals facing higher charges from CalMac.

Now the truth is out and it will no doubt suffer from an absence of analysis from the local rags.

Yes: inter-island ferries will get RET.

NO: the introduction of inter-island RET will be 'over time'.

No: RET is not permanent. It is a 'long term feature'.  Which in a marvellous break with spin and a deep descent into honesty, means that it can be withdrawn as easily as it can be applied.

No: Ferry fares increase by 5%, making them even less than the promised RET than when they were announced.

No: The savings to the local communities will be offset by higher charges to commercial, meaning it is a zero sum game.

The losers will include Barratlantic with exports from Barra causing much more, so our fish and shellfish exports will now become less competitive.  Our imports of food, building materials and household goods will also become more expensive.

Nevertheless, lets all be grateful for the slight of hand than mugs Peter to rob Paul.

Now the real question: there was never a logical argument for not having RET on inter-island ferries.  Why is there any argument about not having ADS on inter-island flights?

And why have out Parliamentarians been so quiet? (Apart from the fact that they have been told to be so quiet about these issues).

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fuel discount

It would be utterly churlish not to welcome the five pence per litre discount on fuel that has been announced  today.


Welcome as it may be, it is very difficult to understand how it is going to be delivered in an effective manner, and five pence per litre will not go a huge way towards resolving the enormous price differential between the islands and the mainland.

What particularly annoys me is the modesty of aspiration of the various political parties seeking to provide a minor plaster instead of trying to solve the gaping wound that is the vicious circle of rural depopulation.

Like many of the residents of the islands, I remain to be convinced that we will actually see a narrowing of the price differential by anywhere near the five pence, and I think the devil in the detail will be the publication of the manual for the scheme which I - and many others -  will no doubt be reading in great detail.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Audit Scotland and the CPP

"The Community Planning Partnership lacks leadership and direction."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Audit Scotland and the Councillors

Just what the Councillors don't want to see in the months leading up to the elections....

"The Councillors need to be more involved in the decision making process"

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Audit Scotland

When undertaking a review of Council services, Audit Scotland use a series of general terms to establish the level at which the service is being delivered. They are something like this:
  • Excellent
  • Good
  • Adequate
  • Fair 
  • Poor
"Poor" is equated to "appalling" in normal speak - although you might have another word -  and "fair" can be equated to "terrible".

So if a department was reported thus, "The outlook for the department is fair", you can understand just how bad it must be.  Immediate action to identify and address the underlying problems would be essential.  Wouldn't it?

Alternatively, you can batten down the hatches and complain about the accuracy and fairness of the assessment.  But then, your bosses would surely take some action.

But what happens when the target of this severe rebuke is the Chief Executives department at the Comhairle?

Why; it is the simple policy of deny and avoid, and demonstrate a complete lack of self-awareness, in the form of the self-justifying letter sent to Councillors.

The report has been circulated to Councillors in advance, and won't be published until a week Tuesday (29th), when it will be buried by the news of the next day's strike.  Coincidentally.

Daily updates of some of the juicier quotes from the Audit Report to follow.....

Lews Castle College

I am sure that the departure of David Green as Principal will be a major change at Lews Castle College, as his leadership has been exemplary and has dramatically enhanced the standing of the College at every level and across the community.

However, any change is unsettling, and it doesn't really help when the wrong noises seem to be coming from the Scottish Government.

I am being told that the role of Principal at Lews Castle College is being considered for downgrading as a cost saving exercise, with Ministerial pressure being brought to bear.  Directly and indirectly.

The budget settlement which is imminent is expected to have a severe cut in the funds available to the UHI and with Mike Russell and his poodle trying to force the merger of Colleges and Universities, there are questions about whether the UHI structure needs to be quite as devolved as it is.

This is a serious issue, not least over the "thin end of the wedge" argument, but also about the perception of what the Government are trying to achieve.

Modesty prevents me....

Sod modesty.

We have been shortlisted for "Independent firm of the year - Scotland", which we are extremely proud and very pleasantly surprised about.

The awards are announced on 30 November, but with most of the public sector, including the schools, being on strike that day, there is no way we can be sure that we can get there and back in a sensible number of days.

As we'll be at least runners-up, we'd have liked the photos for publicity purposes, but perhaps we'll just hold our own ceremony that day.

Back to life....

After numerous complaints from various readers about my absence, I have decided to apologise for my absence by extending your subscriptions to this blog by another year, at no extra cost.

As a family we fled the island to escape from the mod; and what a wise decision that was.

With the ludicrous call from An Comunn that all public servants talk
Gaelic as their first language when speaking to the public, through to the Scottish Government showing their deep commitment by announcing an SVQ in Gaelic Basket Weaving, we were glad to be far, far away.

We barely got back home, when my very clever wife had to head across the Atlantic for a week of meetings in the US which culminated in her reappointment to the Board.  Congratulations and jet lag all around.

As a result I was flying solo, with the kids and the office. And we all survived, albeit deeply traumatised.

Since then we have been at least knee-deep in new business, exciting tenders and more stuff than I can start to detail, so time really has been a major issue.

Thanks to the most recent kick up the derriere, I've made an effort.  So let's get back to dishing out the appropriate plaudits and brickbats, and I'll try and reply to all the outstanding emails too!

(J: 169 out of 180 comments awaiting moderation were spam)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Carbon Capture

I'm not displeased that the plan to pump Carbon Dioxide from Longannet into empty oil wells under the North Sea has been rejected.

I have serious technical questions about the sanity of pumping toxic gasses into a subsea cavity, where various chemical reactions will take place, unobserved, unmonitored and uncontrolled.

Add water to carbon dioxide, and what do you get?  Carbonic Acid and vast underground caverns. 

Add in all the other toxic compounds n the smoke.....

However, let's pose a simple question to all supporters of Carbon Sequestration:

What is the practical difference between pumping gaseous waste from Longannet into holes under the North Sea and putting nuclear waste into holes in the ground?

As far as I am concerned, there is no difference. In both cases you are hiding the problem, not sorting it.

If Longannet is pumping out such a toxic mess, then close the damn place, and end the dependence on dirty coal.  Don't leave it for future generations to resolve.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Employment vacancy

We have a vacancy for an International Tax Accountant to assist us primarily with the preparation and control of foreign tax returns and payroll processing, along with many other activities.

The full details of the vacancy are on our website, and applicants will want to look at and for an appreciation of what we are doing.

This is an exciting and rapidly growing aspect of our business, and we are seeking an appointee who can meet our needs.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Salmon exports to China

Whilst it is undoubtedly Good News that salmon exports to China are growing, the real reasons behind the growth are much less savoury.

These reasons bear some consideration, and the implications for Scotland are much less obvious and savoury than we might like.

It is not that Scotland has succeeded, but more that Norway has been punished.  Norway, you may recall, is held up as a model that Scotland should try to emulate.

So what did Norway do?

Well, the Norwegians had the temerity to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo, a move that the Chinese Government didn't like in the slightest.

The end result was a vast hike in import taxes, increased import controls, and a serious attempt at economic payback against a country that only hosts - not awards - the Nobel Institute.

I for one am concerned that Scotland is so happy to be seen to benefit from a superpower trying to gag opponents, and that we are allowing/encouraging the Chinese Government to repeat this effort should anyone else try to raise issues about human rights, executions or economic jiggery-pokery.

Alex Salmond has effectively allowed himself to be boxed into a corner, whereby condemning the abuses of the population in China or Tibet will be met by threats of economic sanctions.

It was not edifying to see Tony Blair cosy up to Gadaffi.  This is no different, and sells the moral high ground to the Chinese; a position we should try to occupy beside the Norwegians.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Google Adwords - updated

I just got the statistics through for this month, and I think that they are quite impressive.

Apparently 11.17% of people who see one of our online ads are clicking through the advert for more information, and whilst we haven't got exact figures for conversions as we rely upon our recollection of phone class and emails during the month, we estimate that 15-20% of clicks turn into new clients.

That's a very health 1.67% of everyone who sees our advert becoming a client.

It can be done; and location is not an issue

Street lighting

As I drove into wrok very early this morning, the reason for the metal attachements on the trees in Bayhead palypark became obvious.

Beautiful blue lights, to guide the competitors from the Whisky Olympics home; in the absence of street lights.

I went to take a photo, and in the 15 seconds that passed between exiting the car and coming back out from the office, the street lights came on and the fancy lights went out.

Can some other early bird take a photo and sent it on for use on the site, please?

Monday, October 10, 2011


How to try to keep your constituents happy without actually agreeing with them...
Western Isles SNP MSP, Alasdair Allan, has today responded to the consultation on the proposed marine Special Area of Conservation for the Sound of Barra.
Alasdair Allan commented: “My constituents, not only in the fishing industry but in the community more generally, have expressed their clear opposition to this proposed designation and believe that the designation is still unnecessary."
Translation for the general public:
I've been told in uncompromising terms what to say, but I don't believe a word of what I write...

Friday, October 07, 2011

Gritting contracts

The goat has been well and truly scaped.

The Councillors were given an informal and off the record briefing on Monday night which was complete-ish but meant that there could be no discussion during the rest of the week about the utter mess that the tendering produced.

There is an internal audit report in progress that, I believe, tells a different story.  No doubt the embarrassing bits will be edited out before the Councillors get to see it.

Just so that no-one is in any doubt, although the entire tendering process is managed from top to bottom by a small and very powerful group in the Executive Office (the Chief Executive's dept), they are found to be utterly, completely and totally blameless in having anything to do with the tendering process being wrong.  After all, it can't be their responsibility to check the facts....

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

UHI to face cuts

This is something I've been aware of for some time, but the public announcement that Capita are on the prowl to look at the governance of the UHI has sent shivers through the tiers of management, and right down to the lecturing staff.

They know - as we know - that a 'review of governance' means cuts.

And this 'review of governance' is being led through by the junior Minister for Cutting Education, Mr Allan.

I am told that the expectation is that functions will be centralised, leaving only nominal control and responsibility in the discrete locations.

Far be it from me to suggest that the review is a sham, but Inverness are already gearing up to receive some of the posts; which are expected to include much of the finance function and many of the administrative functions.

I'm told that there will be a move to centralise staffing and HR functions, which will also mean that staff may face the prospect of being moved between locations, as courses evolve.

Who will welcome the birth of the University of Inverness, and the loss of local autonomy?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Mobile phone coverage

An online report indicates that (some) of our connectivitiy problems may be solved...
The UK's Chancellor has confirmed that the government will sink £150m into buying up cell sites with the intention of extending rural coverage to 99 per cent of the population.
Ofcom will advise the government on how it should go about spending our cash on sites for base stations to be utilised by multiple operators, with the intention of creating greater coverage for existing networks and encouraging operators to roll out next-generation services to the edges of the UK.
Details are still scant, with more to come from the Department of Fun (properly Culture, Media and Sport) at some future point, but the basic idea is to buy up sites during 2012 and make them commonly available by early 2013. Operators will be able to move in cheaply, to provide service to the six million or so people who currently aren't getting blanket coverage today, hopefully with 3G or 4G services, but at least 2G.
I just hope it is true, and reaches here.

The top-secret final submission from the high-tech high-speed node-sniffers at Bayhead, is shown below, and no doubt influenced the Chancellor greatly.

"You can only get a signal if you stand to the left of the wooden sheep"

Township clerks

I have just become aware of a wrinkle in the legislation, planned or otherwise, which might will cause nothing but grief, tears and neighbourly disputes of the most bitter kind.

I am told - and this comes from the mouths of the Crofters Commission - that Township Clerks will be expected to provide an annual township report which includes identifying each and every crofter who is not properly working the costs, and those which should be taken back by the Commission for redistribution.

This might be an admirable aim, but which Clerk in their right mind is going to put in an adverse report.

It is not the horses heads in your bed that you would need to fear, but the rapacious lawyers suing you for libel and the Commission accusing you of not doing your job.

So much for 'building new communities'.

Monday, October 03, 2011

A Councillor writes.....

"Do any senior council Officers ever get held to account for any incompetency, failures or for wasting Council resources?"

He didn't wait for a reply, as he knew the answer.

But, that may not be the case by this weekend.

Update: According to an email from the Executive Office today, the gritting contract was withdrawn because the mileages on the tender were wildly (my words) wrong.

It may be possible that the mileages have changed since the last tenders, or that there is some kind of timeslip outside the boundaries of Stornoway, which must play havoc with the bus contracts.  Perhaps 36 years of managing the road network has not given enough data for the Department to give accurate measurements.

Nevertheless, that is only part of the story.  Perhaps Councillors might want to look at the first and second tenders and note some of the other fundamental changes.

And ask the simple question: "Why?"

Further thought: Given that the entire process was abandoned, are they Officers saying that they got the mileages wrong in every parcel?  Remember that the last but one mis-tender cost £250,000 in damages to Sovval's, and Councillors should ask if the same fingerprints are all over the same process. (A: Yes)

As there is now an in-house option, does this not amount to skewing the contract in the favour of a new bidder at the expense of the existing bidders, who have been tacitly accepted.  And now the Comhairle has the prices; which of course the DLO won't see.  I predict multiple legal action if any of the winning tenders are now lost.

Supermarket wars

Spotted in Tesco on Friday, a member of the Board accompanied by the usual entourage of groupies, assistants and flibbertigibbets.

A very brief and very rapid tour of every single aisle was followed by a swift exit; without the need to converse with the merest of employee.

About 2 hours later the same party of suits were seen touring the Co-op in the same high speed and aloof manner; quite obviously checking out the opposition.

With rumours of a greenfield site having been identified, it seems that Tesco have big plans to challenge the Co-op.

And as is the way, the small local shops will suffer collateral damage.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Would you like salt with it?

I went past Market Stance a dozen times in the past few days, and was - like most of Uist - awe inspired by the veritable Mt Everest of road salt that had been shipped in, and is now left to be rained upon over the winter, and lose it efficiency with every raindrop.

Today, the following email was issued by the Council....
A notice that you have registered an interest in has been cancelled. The notice details are shown below.

   Notice ID: JUL095586
       Title: Ice Gritting and Snow Clearing 2011 – 2015
   Authority: Comhairle nan Eilean Siar


This contract has now been readvertised. See new advert 29.09.11
Are any Councillors interested in the reasons for this contract being withdrawn?

Perhaps the question is, how could the very senior persons involved in this get it so fundamentally wrong?

BTW, Councillors and contractors may also be interested to know that many of the scores achieved by the original tenderers are in the semi-public domain.

That'll engender confidence in the fairness and confidentiality of the process.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Water, water everywhere......

I am told, first hand, that some households in Benbecula have been without mains water for 6 days, and may only have been reconnected today.

The problem lies either with a burst pipe, which emptied the storage towers, or the fact that someone forgot to ensure that they were being continousoly refilled.

The fact is that after the tank was refilled, airlocks have prevented the water being delviered to households.

At which time Scottish Water found they didn't have proper maps of the pipe network, and have been using a mixture of guesswork, householder information and hole digging to find the pipes.  Whilst Scottish Water have been providing drinking water, toilets, showers, baths and washing machines have been impossible to use.

Roll on the 18th Century and technological advancement.......

Monday, September 26, 2011

Openness and accountability

I'm told that at the last series of Council meetings, a last minute extra item appeared for urgent and pressing discussion.

The item recommended reducing the number of Council Meeting from 6 per annum to 5 for 2102 2012 onwards.  The reason being given was that senior staff were too busy preparing for the next series of meetings to actually do any work.

Stop laughing at the back.

In the spirit of openness and accountability, I though that the public might be interested to see such a document; but I can't find it anywhere on the Council website.  Hmmmm.  Nothing suspicious there then.  Nothing to see, move along.....

Except my informant was in the chamber at that meeting.

Can anyone pass me a copy of the document, please, as it raises all sorts of issues.  How many more decisions will now be taken without democratic scrutiny, and be subject to homologation at later meetings?  How slow will the system move, when urgent financial decisions are around the corner?  And, most importantly, just how much power does this put into a very few hands?

Update: I'm told that the report was in the main agenda, as part of the planned calendar for 2012.  As I am sure you can see, the change was well flagged up, and obviously drawn to the public's attention.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

SNH deceit

The most obvious factor to be extracted from the duplicity of SNH over the designations in Barra is the almost total lack of involvement of Europe in the process.

Sure, Europe asked for nominations to cover a wide range of marine habitats, and yes Europe did give the final approval for the designations to go ahead, but the leaked emails indicate that SNH were deciding upon the areas to be designated before they undertook the appraisal and without evaluating the facts.

Contrast and compare the real situation as established by Cllr Manford, with that portrayed by Yesman1 and Yesman2.
The SNH consultation phase ploughs on regardless
Angus Brendan MacNeil said: ‘The people and fishermen of Barra and Uist did not want this environmental designation and it is an example of the uncontrollable freight train that is EU Commission bureaucracy.  Once they have decided on a course of action governments in either Edinburgh or London or their attendant civil servants are powerless to do much about it.
“I appreciate that the process of designation is driven by the European Commission and backed by the very real threat of fines on countries who do not comply, but I reiterate my opposition to these unwanted designations.”
When the reality as unearthed by Cllr Manford was that SNH were lying left right and centre:
“As I am confident the minister at the time can confirm she was unaware of these actions, it falls to Ian Jardine to explain why he unnecessarily offered-up the Sound of Barra for designation while he was insisting the opposite to the minister and the community.”
Any politician worth their salt would be outraged at being lied to by a senior official, and should be demanding a head on a stick pour encourage les outres.  Unless, of course, they were party to the deceit.

The silence is rather telling, isn't it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Council budget cuts

The prelude to a very major cut in Council budgets is being characterised with plenty of advance warning and unsubtle Government direction as to where the cuts must fall.  Or more accurately, where expenditure is to be redirected to.

I've done some work on the Comhairle budget, and I estimate that to save the forecast 10% over three years, the Council will have to lose 300-500 jobs and the associated services.

The signs are all there.  Colleges are being forcibly merged.  Police forces are being merged.  Councils are being encouraged to share services.  That 'encouragement' will become a financial compulsion when the full impact of the cuts is known.

Due to the effect of the floor mechanism, I think the real cuts being faced by the Comhairle will be nearer 15% than 10%, and this will be the worst financial settlement in Scotland.  Again.  Again.

Then there is the instruction to increase capital expenditure, by redirecting resources.  In blunt terms that means lose admin staff and employ construction workers, so my estimate of staff losses is at best a net outcome. 

Whilst it will be good to bolster the private sector, I have serious reservations about the view that capital expenditure in some way creates more jobs than revenue expenditure.  Taking £1m from revenue will mean job losses; adding it to capital will not add the same number of jobs.  In simple terms, the lorry and the concrete has to be paid for before you can start thinking about jobs.

Whilst some may argue that it will create jobs 'overall', in the Western Isles we are likely to see local Council jobs replaced by steel rod manufacture and lorry sales on the mainland.

But it is the speed of enforced change that is going to be the problem.  You cannot sensibly rebalance a Council from one direction to another in the six months there are to set a budget.  Just think of how long the 'consultations' on redeployment will take; and how many of the 'never again' Early Retirement packages there are going to be.

The sitting Councillors are going to be on a hiding to nothing - they have to make huge cuts in February next year and seek re-election (or head for the hills) two months later. 

And who is going to get the blame - the Council, the Scottish Government or Westminster?  The answer: it's the other guys fault.  Which might be fair comment, but not a comment the public are going to appreciate when combining services means loss of jobs at the College, the Council or the Health Board when "combining services" becomes "centralising services".

As for the Scottish Government's aspiration that Councils use Prudential (sic) Borrowing to fund Capital....  That's nothing more than taking out HP, which simply means smaller cuts, but for much longer.  And wasn't the Scottish Futures Trust going to provide cheaper loans for the public sector, instead of mutating into a behemoth dishing out big contracts to big contractors?

The public sector in all it's guises is in for a very rough ride over the coming years....

Monday, September 19, 2011

The price of fuel

Everyone is complaining, and getting on the band wagon, but no-one seems to have any sensible suggestions about how to ensure that there is no profiteering or price fixing bey either the sole supplier, nor by the individual petrol stations.

Until now.

The problem is that cutting the price by subsidising the petrol stations is going to make many of them unviable, as the impact on their cash flow will be very severe whilst they wait for the refunds from the Government.

I've previously suggested that Transport Scotland can be used to deliver the subsidies partly in advance and partly in arrears, in much the same way that they rebate Fuel Duty to bus operators.

Unfortunately, the Scottish Government seem not to want to get involved, and political point scoring is higher up the agenda of our parliamentarians than actually coming up with a working answer.

This is the cheapest and easiest solution but one which requires the two parliaments to agree, and for those reasons, the politicians won't let it happen.

Option 2 is much more expensive, but gives a long term solution to additional issues.

The Council (or HIE or the Scottish Government) build new fuel tanks at Arnish and announce the closure of the oil depot in the centre of town for Health and Safety reasons.  As well as sheer aesthetics.  The tanks are then put out for a 5-year lease to anyone, with tenderers asked to deliver fuel to Lewis on the basis of ex-Grangemouth +x% or xp per litre.  That's the delivery price on the island, and the winner bidder has to cover their costs inside that margin on an open-books basis.

To control the petrol stations, the Comhairle need to put their supply of petrol out to tender on an annual basis and to return to publicising the price of petrol at the various filling stations, thereby encouraging the passing on the maximum savings.

We have monopolies and oligopolies of supply here.  We can't break that structure (easily) but by changing the relationship between the parties - by giving the public the maximum information and by using economic levers to discourage bad behaviour, there is the opportunity to maximise the return for us all.


I know the situation in Uist will be unaffected by this change, at least immediately.

There is also an issue about the discounts each petrol station has negotiated from their supplier. 

Finally, the last thing we want is any more station closures, especially in rural areas.  This might mean a flat delivery charge for anywhere in the islands to protect rural stations, which means slightly higher prices in Stornoway and lower outside. 

Owning a petrol station is not a licence to print money: there's a tiny margin so you need a huge volume.  We are that volume.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

SHAMED are angry (and quite right too) - press release

Time to name and shame those who have conceded two marine Special Areas of Conservation (SAC's) in the Southern Hebrides

The recent announcement from Environment Minister, Stewart Stevenson, that the Government has approved a marine SAC at East Mingulay and that the site will be forwarded to the EU for approval, has prompted an angry reaction from SHAMED, a local campaign which is opposing plans to designate two marine SAC's in the sea east of Mingulay and in the Sound of Barra.

The Minister has also stated that proposals for the Sound of Barra will be going out to public consultation in the near future. SHAMED has noted the political statements simultaneously issued by the MP and MSP for the Western Isles alongside the Minister's announcement.

Reacting to these statements, Angus MacLeod, chairman of SHAMED and a crofter-fisherman from Barra, said :

"It is with utter disbelief that I read what Angus MacNeil MP has again been saying about EU requirements. He has been quoted as stating that once the EU 'have decided on a course of action, governments in either Edinburgh or London or their attendant civil servants are powerless to do much about it.'

Mr MacLeod explained : "Early in 2009, our MP issued a press release saying he was writing to the EU to demand that Brussels bureaucrats come to Barra to explain to us why the designations were needed. At the same time, our MSP went to Brussels to tell EU officials face-to-face that the designations were not wanted. Both were clearly told by the EU that the selection and designation of SAC's is up to the member states and regions within member states, a fact that was well known within the community. So, whatever spin politicians try to put on this, the decision to consult on East Mingulay and now the Sound of Barra is entirely a Scottish Government matter."

After almost three years of research and campaigning, SHAMED has gained an insight into how the SAC designation process works and, thanks to information received under Freedom of Information, it can be seen that it is SNH that drives the selection process in Scotland.

"Certainly it is true to say that the EEC Habitats Directive of 1992 compels Member States to set aside areas as SAC's but how this is handled within the UK and how UK policy affects Scotland is a local issue but one that has never been raised by our parliamentary representatives or, indeed, the Scottish Government," added Mr MacLeod.

Given that Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, has been prepared to speak out for Scottish fishermen and farmers at UK and EU level, SHAMED can only speculate as to why no-one in power is prepared to do the same over environmental issues.

"It is now apparent," continued Angus Macleod, " that the SNP government has bowed to pressure from environmental lobbies, with the local MP and MSP making empty promises in the run-up to elections. Clearly their policies are no different from any previous government. Thankfully at least our local SNP councillor, Donald Manford, has the backbone to stand up and publically voice his dissatisfaction; for this we applaud him and for giving us the proper representation that this community deserves."

As to what the group's next steps would be, Mr MacLeod reports that SHAMED has twice been refused a meeting with Richard Lochhead but that in the Cabinet Secretary's last response, he confirmed that the Environment Minister would meet with them and that a date was be set. One of the issues for discussion with the Minister and Marine Scotland officials would have been evidence previously submitted to them showing their data on vessel activity within the Mingulay site was inaccurate.

"We were under the impression that the Minister was to be supplied with the corrected data and that we would have had the opportunity to discuss the issues with him before he made his decision. We therefore feel betrayed by the Scottish Government for taking such a misinformed decision," added Mr MacLeod.

He confirmed that SHAMED was stepping up its fight and that no stone would be left unturned in order to expose what the campaign group feels are the irregularities within the designation process for the two SAC's.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Mobile phone reception

A source close to the Parliamentary Office advises that the 'mapping' (sic) of mobile reception along the spinal route by the office staff is worse than useless.

The source suggests that the locations are at best approximate, and do not take into account all the service providers available.

"It is", quoth the source, "Like using a child's drawing of a cow to make the case for increased subsidy."
The chief telecoms advisor
As the map has been made with public money, why haven't the media asked to see the detail of this exercise in pointless futility, especially when excellent (and more accurate) maps already exist.

Perhaps the first questions should be: who was (allegedly) actually in this vehicle when 4 networks were being inaccurately mapped simultaneously?

Monday, September 05, 2011

One million page views

Thanks to all my readers for helping me reach this milestone.

I'll raise my glass to you all tonight, and promise to keep infuriating and entertaining you in equal measure in the future.

Sunday, September 04, 2011


As many people have commented, our MP and MSP can seem to be distracted by spurious issues, rather than focusing on major issues.

It would be slightly unkind to suggest that it is a deliberate campaign to reduce our attention span on the key issues.

A particular example is the decision to run down the spinal route to check phone connectivity.

The BBC launched an app just a month ago which did exactly that, only with proper technology and with independent verification of the results. Indeed, a patchy map of the islands connectivity is already available as a result of this exercise.  Nonetheless, the experts on Bayhead are busy reinventing the wheel.  Which we are paying for.  Rather than getting involved in a national, professional, project which could have given reliable results.

Put aside the fact that good broadband would be much, much, better than good phone calls.

Compare and contrast with the outrage of an SNP MSP about 14% of the Scottish public living in fuel poverty
I'm less important than a good phone signal

Whilst the locally based Energy Advisiory Service estiamte that last year 60% of the residents of the Western Isles are in fuel poverty and there are cuts in the Government fuel poverty budget, we hear not a bleat, not a complain, not a solution, not a proposal from either MP or MSP.

It could be that they are just very busy, or it could be that they don't want to point to the failure of the Scottish Government to stop the annual cull of pensioners in the islands.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It could be worse.....

Much as we might like to have a go at the Council, we could be in Edinburgh, where they can't find their St Andrew's Sq with both hands.

No-one, but no-one, but no-one is coming out of this with any credit.

"It's everyone else's fault" will be the refrain as they all independently change their minds, in light of the change in circumstance and exactly as instructed by the Party hierarchy.

Latest estimates to complete the scheme range from £700m to £13.7/6 and a bag of wine gums.  However, the price will have to include humiliation for the Council group leaders and a few heads of Councillors and Officers.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The future

The economic impact of the current financial crisis on the Council must be very clear to all and sundry.

Bus fares up by 10% is only the thin end of the coming wedge.

The view of Audit Scotland is that public services face the 'worst case scenario' of an 11% cut in budgets.

The Councillors may not like it, but the vast majority of the public do not trust the Council to be fair and effective in their dealings with the problems that are currently being faced, and are going to face the Council.

As an aside, the various 'voluntary' redundancies - many with enhancements (and when was that policy changed?) - that go through an almost unreported sub-committee, or feature in Committees where the goodbyes are bigger, show a determination to cut costs irrespective of strategic direction. (I am not linking to some of these examples, as the individuals are clearly identifiable in many cases, in breach of Council policy. When that breach suits.)

There is a need, a desperate need, for the Council philosophy to change and for there to be a complete change in attitude of Officer and Members as the new rules apply to the public sector.

There are many, many, good people in the Council.  They just need to get past the overpaid twats who are blocking their achievements.  There are many who work very hard in lowly positions, who will happily be sacrificed to save negligible sums.

Scandalously, there is still much that the Council does that could be done much more efficiently and more more effectively by other structures; but where these changes are being blocked for personal or irrational reasons.

The community needs new leadership.

I promised to write a 'manifesto' for some of those who are pressing for change.  Lack of time has meant I can do nothing more than put out bullet points at the moment:
  • Openness in everything the Council does
  • Clear and transparent probity at every level
  • Responsibility for failure to be accepted and imposed at every level
  • Clear direction
  • True public consultation; not a ring-fenced menu of 'options'
  • Effective decision taking and implementation
  • Removal of the apparent bias against local businesses
  • Complete and enhanced openness by Councillors over their interests
Yes, some of that might be considered to be unfair by those currently in the White House, but the public have that perception of what happens there.

For now I want more suggestions about what the public want from the next Council and I will try to build that into a manifesto.  And, if YOU are interested in standing on a platform of 'change', then please contact me in complete confidence and I will try and build a portfolio of independent candidates who might want to work independently together after May 2012.

Stop complaining about the Council and put your head above the parapet.


Every day is a school day!

Since we came back I have been trying to install a software update onto the server as a multiple-user program rather than two (rising to three) stand-alone versions. 

As every attempt to install the software requires a server reboot which takes 20 minutes minimum my efforts have been restricted to weekends. 

The software instructions were good, but only really intelligible if you had done this sort of thing before. Which I haven't. 

I had to create a new user with very specific permissions, and get them to install the programs. It wasn't helped by the instructions referring to old versions of Server, meaning I was looking for options that have now been renamed and are accessed in a different way. 

Now, after numerous attempts I have finally managed to install another SQL instance on the server, beside the other two, which means I can install the program and then work out how to move the databases from the individual computers to the server without losing the data. And making sure everyone can use the software. And making sure it is being backed up properly. 

I need to sort this next week, but reading the instructions makes my brain hurt. 

This is definitely not for the faint hearted. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Fuel Prices

Our MP is giving the UK Government a kicking for not doing anything about fuel prices.

Just what has he done to try to persuade the Scottish Government to do something about fuel prices, given that they have the power, ability and structures to allow this to happen?

My understanding is that he has spoken to John Swinney, and been told that the Scottish Government can't/won't find the money to subsidise fuel in the Western Isles.

As the press release could have read....
The Scottish Government’s one size fits all policy has, once again, failed us horribly.
While we hear reports of falling wholesale petrol prices around the UK, our petrol prices continue to rise to extreme levels.
We need immediate action now. Not dithering from the Scottish Government.
We need a rural fuel derogator that works best for the islands and not for the Scottish Government.
We have control of our own fuel taxation and rebate system but we aren't ensuring that our economy works to its greatest potential.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Our digital future....

Cynics might think that this refers to going back to using our fingers, as the promises from the politicians seem not to have materialised.

A brief recap....

The SNP promised a fund of £50m for the Scottish Futures Trust to give everyone broadband access.  That promise has now gone, as far as I can tell.

The Government recently offered £70m which required match funding from the Scottish Government, but this was derided as "not enough" by the Scottish Government.

Now, according to the Scottish Government it will cost £300m to wire the Highlands and Islands alone, money which they have neither promised nor hinted that they might find.

Is it any wonder that potential residents here are so confused and disillusioned about the Broadband offering (outside Stornoway) that they have to resort to public appeals for the information which the main publicly funded provider won't release.

I'm sure that there are many who can help him out with much more technical knowledge than I will ever have.

Update:  The Scottish Secretary has a go too.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Tax avoidance and tax reduction

Jim McColl, boss of Clyde Blowers, was extensively quoted by the Scottish Government in the
proposal vacuous nonsense that passed for a policy paper on Scottish Corporation Tax.

The STUC rather entertainingly take the paper apart for it's generalities and false citations of the output of right wing American think tanks being described as by "The World Bank".

Mr McColl is on the radio tomorrow am defending his position; which I think needs more examination.
a Scottish business leader
Mr McColl lives in Monaco, making McColl a Monegasque businessman who owns a Scottish business.
Mr McColl - who is one of Scotland's richest men - also hit out at critics who have described him as a tax exile over his decision to base himself in Monaco. 
The Clyde Blowers chief, whose personal worth has been estimated by the Sunday Times Rich List at £570m, said: "For a start I think 'tax exile' is an emotive phrase - I don't think it is a fair phrase to use. 
 Is the phrase "legal tax dodger" less emotive?  His choice of residence means that he pays no personal income tax on the dividends he receives from the company, and were he to sell the company then he would pay no capital gains tax in the UK or in Monaco.  (See also Philip Green and Lord Ashcroft [Belize])

But I would say about most of the people who criticise this - I probably contribute more to the economic benefit of the UK and Scotland in a year than they do in a lifetime
I think he might find that his employees contribute more to the economy, albeit under his guidance, but the difference is that his employees have no option but to pay all their taxes in the UK; whilst he can swan off and avoid contributing his fair share to schools and hospitals.
"So, I am very focused on investing in Scotland and passionate about Scotland."
If that's really the case then he can set an example and confirm that if Scotland ever got control over it's own tax system, then he will tax up tax residence in Scotland and pay taxes on all his worldwide income in Scotland.

The Scottish Government meantime, could promise to crack down on this kind of tax dodge.  Compare the situation to Stagecoach this week, where Souter is UK resident and pays full UK taxes on his obscene income.

You see, McColl's position is based solely on one simple five letter word - G-R-E-E-D.  Reduce my tax bill, and I'll earn more tax-free; far, far away.

Barra fishermen sold out

It is a disgrace that a Marine SAC has been imposed on the area South of Barra, against the wishes of the fishermen.

The site was already being preserved and looked after by the fishermen, but now their livelihoods have been significantly affected, by a decision that was flagged up as having been taken before the Government started the assessment process.

Indeed, the proponents of the designation were the very ones who undertook the "independent" assessment, and reported back to Government.

Nice work if you can get it, as SNH now stand to get extra funding to protect the seabed from ......?

Of course, this was a process started and controlled by the Scottish Government; overseen by the Scottish Government; and only run under EU rules.

This point was previously conceded by our elected representatives only under great pressure for the Barraich,but let's not let that stand in the way of a series of faux-angry press releases which promise no action what so ever.

Roll-on the empty wilderness of the Western Isles where humans won't get in the way of "conservation".

BTW: Cllr Manford's views might be quite interesting.....

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Local petition - please sign

The new Government petitions website has a way for us to increase the population, with the added benefit of improving the demographics very significantly.

Roll-up, roll-up and support this sane and sensible plan:

Send rioters to the Outer Hebrides for 5 years

Responsible department: Ministry of Justice

All rioters and looters from the recent troubles in English cities should be banished to the Outer Hebrides for 5 years. This would be much, much, cheaper than keeping them in expensive prisons, saving the taxpayer money. Five years of being forced to live in the Outer Hebrides with none of the comforts of English city living e.g. running water, electricity, decent food, culture and shopping, will put them on the straight and narrow, and frighten them not to riot or loot again. Many local people there look after sheep part-time, so they can earn a small amount of extra money looking after rioters and looters as well.

Out of sight, out of mind. Someone else's problem. Solution found.

It's all very typical of what has caused the problem in the first place - superficial answers that sound good and don't answer the root causes.  Indeed, the root causes are to be avoided if there is an easier way to hide the issues; even if the author has his tongue firmly in his cheek.

h/t to j.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Corporation tax

The debate moves onto one of my specialist areas!

The Scottish Government's case (sic) is actually a major discussion document which the other political parties ignore at their peril.

The "case" actually makes no case other than 'give us the control', whilst I would actually like to see some type of substance, or even possible some sort of expression of a principle for how, where and why Corporation Tax would be raised in Scotland.

Is it A Good Idea?  Well only if it is being used for a good reason and for beneficial principles.  And that is where the 'case' falls down.

The implication from the document - it's not a promise, or a plan, or an ambition, or even an expectation - is that Corporation Tax in Scotland would fall from 28% to 12.5% to match Ireland.

It will undoubtedly attract businesses, but whether we want to attract the tax-rate tarts of international commerce is another matter.  How quickly the companies left Scottish (and Irish) Enterprise Zones to Slovakia when the Slovaks dropped the tax rate shows how much of a market there is in transient exploitative companies.

The paper makes many good, coherent points, but bypasses the downsides, and throws other things into the mix.

Corporate tax revenues will increase as a result of the tax cut
True, but only because partnerships and sole traders will incorporate to cut their overall tax bill.

Companies won't create 'brass plate' operations
Bollocks.  Check out how ineffective HMRC have been against Vodafone (legally!!) 'profit shifting' and think about the £4bn the Treasury have lost.

At the same time, it could make the country more attractive as a location for multi-national investment. It could also act as an important signal to global companies and investors as to Scotland’s ambition to be a location for competitive business (p32)
NonsenseThey will go to Switzerland if they have Intellectual Property (0% tax).  They'll go to the Cayman Islands if they are offshore financing companies (4/5%).  Ireland for R&D (10%).  Or to Guernsey if they are CalMac, where they can avoid NIC.

If the Scottish Government are serious, really f'ing serious about tax reform, then they need to bring CalMac employees back onshore as a matter of urgency.

Alternatively, a new organisation could be set up to administer the collection of corporation tax receipts in Scotland. (p48)
Oh dear God no!  Dismantle HMRC and set up "Scottish Revenue".  Undertrained numpties in a call centre in Auchterbrechin telling you that they you are doing it wrong.

Seriously; at the moment a major element of tax evasion checking is comparing VAT returns to Tax returns and finding unregistered traders.  Won't happen with a separate system.  Tax loss.

Today a new client came to me after the taxman matched fishing crew share income against tax returns.  Is a new Scottish tax office to be set up for this and the other intelligence issues?  It is going to be hugely expensive to set-up these databases and maintain them; far less investigate them.


Probably the biggest argument against the change is Warren Buffet saying that tax rates never changed his investment decisions. 

Reductions in Corporation Tax will benefit me personally greatly for tax planning reasons that must remain private.  Most of my client will pay much more in Corporation Tax but even less in Income Tax, by changing their income structures and by diverting income.

But all we are doing is driving down corporate tax rates whilst PAYE tax payers continue to pay the same rates, and rates that will have to increase to compensate for the loss.  That shifts the tax burden from the rich to the poor.

I know.  It's my job.  I do it for clients every day.  And I have set up clients for bigger savings if these plans go through.  Like ti or not, my profession will be exploiting this at every opportunity.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Guga hunt II

According to the BBC...
A sports lets agency has reported "particularly strong" demand for grouse shooting in Scotland, as the 2011 season begins.
 Anyone like to guess why the SSPCA and SNH aren't demanding an end to Grouse shooting?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Will the last person....

..leaving the rural areas, please put the lights out.

The lights are going out all over the islands, as part of the Budget cuts.

Other than the various 'hoods in Stornoway (and Parkend) you'll need your torches if you go out late at night.

Drive carefully........

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Facing both ways

The difficulty with facing both ways, or of trying to please all the people all the time, is that sooner or later you end up upsetting all sides by your prevarication and indecision.

So it is with the SNP policy on Gay Marriage, which seems to have got them into a real pickle about what they actually believe in and stand for.

Indeed, they have made a row out of what should have been an easy policy to take forward, creating deep division and disagreement where little or no apparent disagreement existed.

How are they going to get themselves out of this hole?

The idea that they could be handed the Catholic vote and promote a policy of supporting Gay Marriage was all about getting votes and winning an election rather than having a coherent strategy (other than the winning, of course).

The test will be how this vast gap is bridged.  The best course of action will be to take a firm view and drive it forward; but the civil service advice will be to try to kick it into the long grass, by having a consultation and a review and a commission.  That course will satisfy no-one and will only prolongue the debate, which is already getting very bitter.

Bizarrely, this looks like being the issue that will cause the most damage to the SNP - not least when our MP and MSP are pressed to give their views not the matter.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Guga Hunt

It looks like the Great and the Good are about to condemn the annual Guga Hunt as being inhumane, and a practice which must be stopped.
We all know that the well-meaning, but out-of-touch organisations that seek to designate every square inch of the islands as a protected area, SSSI, RAMSAR, Marine Conservation Zone or whatever the flavour of the month is.

The one creature that gets no protection is the human residents, who find traditional practices stopped; freedom of movement constrained; and the wisdom of generations cast aside, by 'cleverer' visitors with a degree or three and a large consultancy budget.

Not everything has to survive, of course, but neither has everything to be cast aside in favour of today's flavour of the month, and today's perceived wisdom.

Presumably, to ensure a 'humane' dispatching - by whose criteria, and by whose infallible measure? - the conservation (sic) bodies will demand that the men of Ness will have to take a fully functioning slaughtering machine, along with a suitably qualified inspector from the Comhairle to check their permits; fridges, freezers and vacuum packing equipment; EU approved labelling, including a best before date*.

I have said it before, and I will say it again, these bodies won't be satisfied until they have an empty island to play with so that the Corncrakes, Geese, Guga and assorted other visitors can swim, walk and fly wild and justify the existence of the Quangos.

They were wrong about the Uist Hedgehogs - badly wrong - but they got a few years funding out of that.

Now is the time to stop this madness.

* "Guga doesn't go off", as a wag said, "It's already off".

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Robertson Road

Gibson Gardens, I am told, rather than Dead Dog Drive.

Monday, August 01, 2011

The Council and fuel prices

The fuel price derogation has had little or no comment from the Council.

Why could that be?  Given it is such a hugely important matter for the community.

Let's make it absolutely clear that there is absolutely no suggestion of impropriety or personal gain.  Absolutely not.  No way, Jose.  Let's put it down to incompetence and low ability thresholds.

If the Council buys a generic product from a number of suppliers, then having a preferred supplier could - must! - drive down prices as the various parties bid against each other.

Let's suggest that there are three suppliers of the same product that differs in price each week and by each supplier, meaning that the best deal may be difficult to locate by the customer.  What would you do to maximise value?

Would you: ask the three suppliers to tender and reduce that to two or even one suppliers based on a discount from the average price.

Would you: consider buying the product in bulk and renting storage and delivery at a fixed price, thereby reducing risk?

Or, would you: run a large and politically sensitive item of expenditure through an innocuously named report via a sub-committee; meaning that there was no proper discussion of the matter, as the majority of Councillors will have missed this.

I refer, M'Lord to Item 9 of the ICT, Procurement and Asset Management Committee; at this Committee the 'framework' agreement whereby the Council employees can buy the fuel wherever has the best bacon rolls.  My sources tell me that there is absolutely no prospect of their being a national contract occurring in the Western Isles, as there is no national supplier. 

Did this mean that the Leader and the Cllr N MacLeod did not have to declare an interest when the matter passed through the Policy and Resources Committee a few days later?

I'd love to tell you one way or another, but the Decision report - which was given to members that day, hasn't reached the web yet.

Does no-one - members or officers - have the sense to see how this must look to the public?  Blindingly obviously not; and that is a real worry.

A critical observer might believe that the backbenchers were being kept in the dark and told how and when to vote, whilst other have free reign to merge personal gain and Council business.  Harsh?  Yes, but that is the perception and this does nothing to remove that doubt.

Worse than that, how can the Council criticise the Governments when it so brazenly mismanages it's own fuel costs?

Fuel prices and a derogation

Is anyone really surprised that the planned 5p reduction in fuel duty comes with a huge admin burden attached?

This modest proposal - and it is very modest - is best with practical problems which will undermine it's effectiveness from day 1.

It should not be delivered by cutting 5p off the delivery cost onto the islands, when it leaves the tanker.  Regardless of all the proprieties, there is going to be a perception that the 5p is going into the Scottish Fuels profits, rather than to the public.  By dropping individual pump prices, there is an assumption that competition will keep prices low.

But how to bridge the cash flow issues?

Simple.  No honestly, it is simple.  Transport Scotland currently manages the Bus Service Operators Grant whereby duty is refunded to bus operators.  Expand that scheme to cover petrol stations, and as at present, make payments to account, before having a square-up at the end of the year when certified claims are submitted.

It's not ideal, because the 5p + VAT cut will be reduced by the costs for making and certifying claims (more work for accountants!) but it is probably the most efficient way to process the claims.

After all, as our MP says:
"...families and businesses continue to struggle with fuel costs."
So hopefully he has approached  the Scottish Government to ask them to match the cut by providing an equal subsidy to help the islands - I'm sure that someone can confirm this - as that would be the least we could expect if he isn't just making political points.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Eishken windfarm

An anonymous wellwisher advises me that the windfarm at Eishken has been sold; lock, stock and wind tower to EDF (Électricité de France).

Update: I'm told the E in EDF is wrong.  I must be being stupid, but ???????

I'm told that the missives are being concluded currently, and that they will be signed off shortly with transfer expected on 1 August.

If true, given the vast sums required to develop windpower, this shouldn't come as any surprise as the risk/reward trade off must be very high for any individual.  Especially with the huge probable costs and legal issues involved in constructing any power cables from wind farm to grid connection.

The EDF website makes it's wind strategy very clear, and with the pattern of consents seemingly being more valuable than the completed windfarms, it is likely that the buyers need renewables to offset their other (nuclear and conventional) emissions.

The nature of this sort of transaction is that there are few if any footprints until the deed is done, but my delving shows that there have been some changes in the structure of Beinn Mhor Power and associated companies recently; which leads me to believe that something is in the offing.

Beinn Mhor Power has very recently appointed Ms Serena Oppenheim as a director, and issued some more shares (I haven't got round to finding out about these changes yet).  In the last month, Eishken Nominees Ltd has replaced the Nominee Shareholders at McLay Murray & Spens with Nick Oppenheim, Serena Oppenheim and Peter Smith - who I believe is the Estate Manager - and moved the Registered Office to Eishken.  All of which is indicative of some active plans being brought forward.

Update: Crionaig Power Ltd had 3 x Miss Oppenheim appointed as directors in February along with Marcus Trenick QC - of windpower fame.  Loch Sealg Power Ltd was incorporated in October 2010 and is dormant.

I'm sure there is still another company, whose name escapes me at the moment.

Of course, there could be another explanation, but my source is utterly convinced and convincing that a sale is to proceed, so only time will tell.  And where does this leave the Community Trust?

All will become clear very shortly, I suspect.


Reproducing this article is forbidden, without my permission and then only if your fully attribute the source.  Newspapers on Francis Street, Stornoway, should remember Johann Hari before plagiarising me.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Eriskay School

These poor parents in Eriskay must be confused about the actual status of the school closure, er... discussion, er... consultation, er... whatever, er...nothing at all

According to the Bleader's Log (as it is affectionately called in the Executive Corridor), the initial discussion about the school, was not a discussion about the School in Eriskay but a discussion with the community about education provision in Eriskay, that may or may not included a discussion - and most definitely not a consultation - about the school in Eriskay.

Further clarification of the clarification makes it perfectly clear that the planned discussions weren't going to happen anyway.  At least not in the terms that were previously de-announced.

That this contradicts the position taken by the Comhairle at it's last meeting, and reiterated in private at the COSLA Meeting, and explained to Members as the outcome of the COSLA decision is neither here nor there.  I saw some of the detail last week from the unusual sources.

As the Bleader puts it:
Parents deserve to have the correct information.
Perhaps an FOI to see the internal emails and discussion might help the parents have the correct information.

Make no mistake, education provision in the islands needs reform - that's code for rationalisation, or closures - unless the birth rate picks up dramatically, but the least the Council can do is be honest about it and point out that the absence of kids is not conducive to the continued existence of a school.

The moratorium might not be right, or fair, or economically advantageous, as far as the Council is concerned, but the Government wield the big big, big stick and sometimes a different approach is required.

(Declaration of interest: I first went to Eriskay about 1975, and I loved the place.  Even just driving through it is blissful.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pairc - the saga continues

With Thursday seeing the next round of the legal actions in Stornoway Sheriff Court it seems fairly clear what the pattern is going to be.

The legal actions are going to be long and drawn out.

The Government have already acknowledged that the legislation is flawed, which I think means that they are on a hiding to nothing in Court; but that they will drag this out until they can decide how to rewrite the legislation.

The landlord has apparently offered the crofters an amicable buy-out, if the existing Committee remove themselves.

This last element is the most intriguing, as it shows the animosity between the existing Committee and the landlord, and represents a very smart move by Mr Lomas.  Will the existing Committee withdraw and challenge Mr Lomas to stand by his word?  Well, with silence from South Lochs, it looks like that offer has been rebutted; and that no-one seems prepared to try and knock heads together and get legal paperwork in place.

The animosity can be explained by the claims of self-interest against the Directors of Pairc Trust, in that it is claimed by Barry Lomas that the suggested siting of some turbines will give disproportionate benefit to those crofters, some of whom may be the Directors of Pairc Trust.  Let me make it very plain, M'Lud, that I do not know whether these claims have any substance, but that the Directors strongly rebut this argument.  I am aware of some matters they need to refute, rather than just rebut, but I am not aware of any substantive attempt to demolish these arguments.

And, yes, I know I have said all this before, but for the reasons that follow, these arguments need to be demolished if the Pairc buyout is to have the widest possible support; and credibility lies at the heart of that.

I was reading back through the Pairc buy-out Business Plan just recently.  It's been apparently removed from the Pairc Trust website, but if you find the old cached pages on Google, the now-deleted links still took you to the pdf; which you could download for posterity.  This probably won't be possible after tomorrow.

Page 49 of the plan - as approved by CnES and the Scottish Government - has a most interesting comment on the type of holidays that Pairc Trust will be offering to the public:
A short break (3 days) with meals would cost in the region of £200 per person per night. Extra
charges would be levied depending on which activities the holidaymakers would be enjoying.
This is averaged to 20% on top of the accommodation costs.
So a couple coming for a 3 day break would spend £1,440 - which one assumes includes ferry costs, but not petrol - instead of perhaps £500 in a 5* hotel in Edinburgh (Scotsman, advance purchase rate) of £900 for a week in Crete (Thomas Cook, Aghios Nikolaos in October).

Now why is this important?

Simply because the business plan assumes that for a one-off outlay of £9,000 (what no recurring marketing costs?), Pairc Trust will be able to sell 150 bed nights the following year, generating income of £6,000.  I did mention the 20% commission the Pairc Trust will take (at page 49), didn't I. 
The Pairc Trust as promoter would take a fee (e.g. 20%) from the holiday price to cover
promotional and organisational costs and the costs of the activities while the partners in the
enterprise would benefit from increased reliable trade and collective marketing of their local
Now, current tariffs for B&B or self catering in South Lochs are £25 per night or £250 per week for an entire cottage; or about £50 pppn in the only hotel in the area.  All of which raises all sorts of questions about the supply of suitable accommodation, given that to upgrade is going to cost £60,000+ for the majority of current providers.  My rough and ready guess is that it will cost perhaps £1.2m to provide enough suitable accommodation in the area or as little £250,000 if there is only one new-build provider.  Where is all this going to come from on the hope of getting bookings through an untested provider selling beds in an unbuilt facility?

Realistically, you can see a new provider or two trying to fill that market; but when they can sell the beds direct or via VisitScotland, why go through the Pairc Trust.

That is just one example I have seen of an element of the business plan that has been allowed to go through, and which is being touted by local and Central Government as a model of sustainability at which large sums of money should be thrown.

If the Pairc buy-out is to succeed it must succeed on a realistic basis, and not on fantasy figures, or Barry Lomas will tear this all to pieces in Court and discredit the entire process.

Unless, of course, that gives the Government their out from the entire process and time to rewrite the laws; which the cynic in me thinks might just be the case.

Whatever happens, Pairc is going to face a long slow decline as the legal process takes it's slow and winding course; something I don't think anyone wants to see.