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

Monday, January 31, 2011


BBC News are reporting that the Egyptian Army will not shoot demonstrators, which signals the end of the regime.

As one of our "strongest allies", it has cut communication such as mobile phones and the internet, and imprisoned journalists to stop the facts being made available to the public.

"By your friends shall you know them".  So the sooner we see the end of "our" "friendly" dictatorships the better.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Another ward to close

Nurses tell me that yet another ward in the hospital is to be closed in the coming weeks.

It is not clear which ward is to go yet, as there is a balancing act between keeping a wing open and efficiencies, but what is clear that the declining use of the hospital is turning it from"state of the art" into "white elephant" in a short period of time.

With the continuing population decline, budget cuts and the centralisation of services the pattern is clear.

But, just how do we reverse it?

The cuts agenda

A few Councillors have spoken to me about their despair at having to decide upon and implement massive cuts in the Council expenditure.

The most common line has been along the lines of "I didn't join the Council to do this!"

Some Councillors have spoken of a possible rebellion on the back benches against the sheer scale of what they are being expected to do.  This is - at least in part - because they feel powerless to alter the changes being presented to them for "discussion", which they feel as actually being a fait accompli, with the real decision having been taken elsewhere by others.

I don't think that there will be a rebellion, except on a couple of smallish issues which affect particular areas - the Barra-Benbecula airlink is one that keeps cropping up.

However, if a Councillor tells me that they feel as if they as if they are being asked to write a new cookbook, but have absolutely no choice over the 4 ingredients they are being presented with, then what does that say about the sincerity and appropriateness of the public meetings to consider the cuts?

But that's not where the problem lies.

The problem for the Western Isles lies in the formula used to establish the grant support.  We faced the worst cut in Scotland of 4.5%, and will face it again in future years, for the simple reason that the formula cut was much, much worse.  It was only as low as 4.5% because we got a huge subsidy from other councils - the so called "floor mechanism" that is supposed to even out the winners and losers.

The entire basis of the grant calculation is weighted against the Western Isles, and unless there is serious and prolonged campaign to amened this formula we are facing a series of cuts, cuts and cuts in public services.

Our MSP needs to be actively campaigning for this and engaging with the Council and the Scottish Government in what is a very complex series of financial computations.  Word from inside the Council is that he has not engaged with their arguments, or provided substantive support to them in any way.

The impact of the formula can best be illustrated by the fact that opening or closing rural schools doesn't affect the grant the Council receives by more than a few £'000, when in reality the actual cost is closer to £1 million.

This may all sound a bit like the Schleswig-Holstein question but it will have much more of an impact on the Western Isles than fuel duty reduction, ADS or even the quasi-RET scheme will ever have.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

How the Faroese do it...

The ridiculous suggestion by our MP of "petrol tourism" to the Faroe Islands by hard-pressed locals, actually serves only to undermine the argument that he is trying to make.

The reason that petrol is so cheap in the Faroe Islands is very simple, and it is not that they control their own taxation affairs as he blurted out in the House of Commons.

The reasons are that the Faroe Islands are not part of the EU, and they receive a huge subsidy from the Danish Crown.

Part of that subsidy is that the islands are classed as a duty-free area (like the Canaries).  In the Western Isles, that would reduce prices to about 60p per litre compared to the errrr 94p in the Faroe Islands that Mr MacNeil praises.

I assume that Mr MacNeil is not meaning to argue that dependency status and a continuing and permanent subsidy from the Crown is the answer, but his logic does seem quite muddled.

He does, perhaps unwittingly, fully endorse my view that we should be arguing for a duty-free area in the islands as the way forward, as he highlights the impact of that status, compared to 5p from a duty regulator. 

Simpler, easier to implement and control, and has a massive impact. So why the reticence?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Licencing Board - the morning after...

From: Iain Maciver News []
Sent: 24 January 2011 16:55
To: Nigel Scott; Stornoway Gazette; Bill Lucas; West Highland Free Press; John Ross The Scotsman; Oban Times; [plus 50 others]
Cc: CNES - Members
Subject: Re: press statement
The news story that I circulated concerning the comments by Councillor Norman Maleod is a matter of record. I did include the phrase which the nasty councillor claimed I had omitted.  Therefore, the statement you have circulated to the media is not just misleading but a dirty, big, black lie. 

For the record, neither you - a supposedly-professional communications officer - nor the supposedly-Christian councillor, even bothered to check with me about my actual wording before you fired off your defamatory slur.
I require a full apology and retraction within 48 hours, circulated to the same recipients, from you, from the councillor and from Chief Executive Malcolm Burr for allowing taxpayer-funded staff and facilities to be used for circulating libellous material that has no basis in fact.

Failing such a simple remedy, I intend to request my union that it begins legal action against the lot of you on my behalf.

Enjoy the rest of your day.
Iain Maciver

----- Original message ----- From: "Nigel Scott" <
Cc: "CNES - Members" Date: Mon, 24 Jan 2011 16:17:23 -0000 
Subject: press statement
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar
24 January 2011
Statement from Cllr Norman M Macleod:
“It is unfortunate that in some reports of my comments about a decision of the Licensing Board and Stornoway Golf Club, an important element has been missed out. Namely, that I qualified what I said with ‘according to the information we had’. In other words, I would not prejudge any decision, it would depend on the information before us. It is the duty of all Members of the Licensing Board to assess each application on its merits. This is an important part of the statement and it really is remiss of the journalist to miss it out. However, it makes it a better, though misleading, story.” 
Issued by :        Nigel Scott, Communications Officer

A fine conscience I turned out to be!

Update: I understand that the Comhairle have now withdrawn their accusation.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Time up - enough is enough

I've carefully read the decision in Ken Galloway v Western Isles Licensing Board, which has resulted in the Golf Club being granted a Sunday Licence, for members only.

Let's pick out a few comments by the Sheriff:
[14] I am satisfied that this appeal should be allowed. It is clear to me that the Board has erred in law, both by applying the incorrect legal test and by the arbitrary application of a general policy. The first thing to be said is that, as a matter of law, in considering the application the Board was required to consider whether there existed any of the grounds of refusal set out in section 30(5) of the 2005 Act. Under s. 30(4), if none of the grounds applied, then the Board must grant the application. Conversely, if any of the grounds applied, the Board must refuse the application. Counsel submitted that these provisions meant that ultimately the Board was not empowered to make a discretionary decision, although of course it might attach different weights to the submissions and other material available to them in applying the legal test. It has of course to be noted that under section 131(3)(a)(iv) of the 2005 Act, one of the grounds of appeal is that the Board has exercised its discretion in an unreasonable manner; indeed that is one of the grounds advanced in the present case.
Then it gets worse:
[15] On what I might describe as the onus point, it is perfectly clear from the statutory language that it is not for an applicant to persuade a licensing Board that what the applicant wants to do will conform to the licensing objectives or any one or more of them. The Board will of course require to consider all relevant material before it, but it is for the Board (and not for the applicant) to sift and assess all that material. Having done so, it must ask itself whether any of the grounds of refusal exist. Here, the Board has not done that; it is clear from the passage from the Statement of Reasons which I have quoted above at para. [4] that having apparently decided that granting the application would result in the increased availability of alcohol, (which the Board says would not be consistent with protecting and improving public health) the Board has qualified that by saying that the applicant had not demonstrated that such increased availability would be consistent with that licensing objective. That qualification leads me to the view that the Board has introduced into its exclusive decision-making process a requirement on the applicant which has no basis in the statutory formula. It discloses a clear error of law.
Before the Sheriff really puts the boot in:
[16] As for the proposition that there has been an arbitrary application of a general policy, it is essential that when applying its licensing policy a Licensing Board must find and demonstrate a causal link between the particular mischief apprehended and the general terms of the policy itself. In Deejays Nightclub v Aberdeenshire Licensing Board (op. cit.) the need for such a link was made clear; and if a general policy is applied without a causal link, an error of law occurs: Aitken v Glasgow City Council (op.cit.)

[17] That is the situation here. Not only were there no objections to the application from the police or from any statutory or other body concerned with public health, those objections which raised that issue were indeed of a generalised nature. The Board did not focus (as it should have done) on the Club itself, its members and guests and its activities; and it failed to explain how granting the application would be detrimental to public health. Now I accept that a part of the Board's Licensing Policy is to protect and improve the health and welfare of patrons of licensed premises; and of course such a policy is laudable. But to apply that general policy to a particular application without examining its specific merits (or demerits) amounts to an arbitrary application.
Could it get any worse?

I sincerely hope not. However, I think the time has come - after repeated failures - for the position of some members of the Licencing Board to be a serious issue for the public to consider.

It is the complete failure to pay any attention - yet again - to the advice of the lawyers employed to give specialised and professional advice to the Board that is unforgivable, and demands change.

Members of the Licencing Board
Those of you who voted to refuse the licence must now consider your position as members of the Board. It is untenable, as you have disregarded the clear established legal advice in favour of a personal view based, it appears to the public, upon your personal beliefs in complete and flagrant disregard of the law.

That is not to say that we in any way decry your personal beliefs, but when you act in a quasi-judicial manner, you must put those aside; as you have been told on many occasions.  You may have acted honourably, but you got it so badly wrong that your fundamental judgement and ability to take objective decisions have been fatally undermined.

To the one member who told the Board that they voted in the way they did because they were lobbied to do so by the LDOS, then the whisky and revolver are in the study.  Go there now.

It can only be a matter of time before complaints are lodged with the Standards Commission, and when upheld that will inevitably further undermine the worth of the views you hold.

Your choice.

Are you aware that other Councillors disregard the highly-paid professional advice, in your name?

Backbench Councillors
You are being kept in the dark about the fact that there is a systemic* approach by certain Councillors to not only ignore legal advice, but to bury legal advice and to try to keep that legal advice from other Councillors, and to actively breach the guidance and guidelines they signed up to as Councillors.

The Council is being tarred by their actions, and you as blameless Councillors are going to be tarred with the same brush if you are not careful.

The public confidence in the Council is at an all-time low, and you are not asking the questions, rattling the cages, or demanding that your colleagues observe the obligations of office.

Are you prepared to take a stand, or will you just let them destroy your reputation?

* Systemic - a pattern.  I have the evidence, which is being actively buried by senior officers and senior councillors in half-complete reports.  Why do none of you want to know about it?  Because, you are going to be assumed to be complicit; if you don't do the necessary.

Friday, January 21, 2011

No National Park in Harris

So Roseanna Cunningham can make up her mind, just this time she is rejecting the aspiration for Harris to become a National Park.

I've always had concerns about the impact that this would have on future developments in the area - not the current plans and hopes, but the things we don't yet know about, but it was more a series of worries than opposition to the idea.

Still, looking at the reasons, I am puzzled by the logic, which I think may come back to haunt the Minister, and her representatives in the Western Isles:
"In the absence of council support and within the context of the tight financial pressures facing Scotland, proceeding with the formal statutory process would be premature, create unwarranted expectations and cause confusion.
Leave the Council's position aside for one moment.

Since when has the budget process been an issue in assessing the appropriateness of awarding an area National Park status?  I thought the decision was based upon environmental and socio-economic factors rather than whether the Civil Servants could find the necessary cash to pump into the area.

Of course there is an issue about sustainability - which means cash - as well as the management and control - which means cash - of the designated area, but it either meets the statutory conditions or it doesn't.

In this case, it looks like Harris meets the conditions, but the Government won't give it the money: so let's make that a "No" then.

The Hearachs will be bemused to think that they might be 'confused' by a statutory process, the poor uneducated peasants that they are; but I am sure that there are a few consultants from Edinburgh that the Government could appoint to make sure that they understood what they were asking for; and that the whole process was explained in simple terms to the poor simple souls.

More than anything, the decision betrays the mindset in Edinburgh towards the periphery; a mindset that appears pervasive through the Civil Servants and their (nominal) masters, the Government.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fuel Duty Rebate

The proposal by Donald Crichton, Labour Candidate, to campaign for a £400 Fuel Duty Rebate for the Western Isles is intriguing, if ill thought through.

It's better than nothing, so let's welcome that; and let's see if he can formulate a sensible, workable, policy out of a press release.
My other car gets a subsidy too.

Because it's the loopholes that cause the problem.

Does my car have to be based full-time in the Western Isles?  If so, how does anyone check?

Is the rebate per car or per household?

Is the rebate limited to one car per person?

Does the car actually have to be driven, or will an MOT-failing ornament on the croft qualify?

And just how is this going to be administered?

Let's make it simple; reduce the duty at the pumps by making all the islands duty free zones.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Golf Club Sunday licence


How much has this fiasco cost us?

Added later: The current Council Sunday policy for Lewis, as per the Council Budget report page 15: ceasing the street cleansing and de-littering service on Friday evening, Saturday evening and Sundays (£20k saving)

Publicly this doesn't happen and isn't a breach of the Council Sunday policy, but I hear the road sweeper every Sunday morning, and the staff do get paid.  Hypocrisy in action.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fuel discount discounted. Or not?

The coalition is all over the place with it's views on a fuel duty discount.  Cameron disapproves and Alexander approves.  Sort of.  For both.

Not surprisingly as what they are trying to achieve is fiscally complex and will be difficult to implemnt and police.

The easy option, which could establish the principle for rolling out elsewhere, is simply to create duty free zones, such as the islands.  Fuel deliveries of under £200 would be duty free.  Go above that and full duty would be payable.  Commercial operators could be approved - like subcontractors are - to receive larger deliveries tax-free, subject to the same inspection rules that currently apply to red diesel.

No smuggling problem, visitors and locals alike can benefit, and then work out how to roll this general philosophy out in a different way for the mainland.  How far from Inverness is remote?  Why (hypothetically) is there a discount in Garve but not Contin?

Why does our MP persist in trying to demand a system that cannot quickly be delivered, when quick and easy benefits for this constituency could be set-up in a fraction of the time; without compromising the general principle of what he seeks?

Friday, January 14, 2011

International post

This week has seen the office receive:
  • Half a dozen letters in Dutch from their tax authorities - easy to deal with
  • A veritable stream of correspondence from the Norwegian Revenue, with which we are very familiar
  • A letter in Inuit (and Danish) from the Nuuk tax office, sent to a client - a demand for taxes that another firm of accountants should have dealt with
  • Some beautiful promotional calendars and diaries from a client, in Azeri, showing views of old Baku and the industrial oilfield landscape in the early 1900's.  
 What will next week bring?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

School (non-)closures

The campaigners in Sheilibost, Carloway, Lionel and Shawbost will rightly be very, very, pleased at the decision to stop the planned closure.

I, however, have much more ambivalent feelings towards the decision, and particularly the context in which it has been taken.

The Council was encouraged, nay instructed, by the current and previous Scottish Governments that the only way forward for new educational provision in the islands was to have the associated closures which justified, and funded, the new build programme.

We now have the situation where we are paying for new empty school buildings that are currently being built, as well as for the maintenance of the existing schools, as sum supposedly of around £1m extra per annum.

I'm not going to play the game of "the schools were saved, but we have had to close an old folks home",  but with the sums involved, I suspect that any reprieve will be temporary.

So why do we have the situation where one arm of Government drives the juggernaut that is the schools programme forward under certain conditions, while another part of the Government Education Department imposes differing and contradictory conditions?

It's a mess, it's a shambles, and we are the ones paying for it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Handbags at dawn....

As the politicians argue over who did what in Barra, and who didn't do what, MacIain closes their quarry and lays off 8 employees.

Whilst the name calling might be entertaining, it is the absence of anything substantive that is the problem.

Our sitting MSP might believe that letters to the Minister is a substitute for action, but unless he places these letters - and their responses - into the public domain, the impression of doing exactly what he is told by his political masters will continue.

Can either Labour or SNP come up with any practical solutions to the economic issues that are facing the islands?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sino-Scottish relations

Am I the only person who has misgivings about the warm welcome we are giving to Chinese companies acquiring our technologies and our businesses?

China is, after all, a dictatorship where people are imprisoned without trial for their religious and political beliefs.
Never forget...

A country where the free dissemination of information is prevented by a network of secret police.

A country where the biggest companies are run by the military; which is the state.

A country where the general population have limited or no rights to land, property or legal protection.

Are we just bolstering the system?

I don't see anything to suggest otherwise, and it looks like the highest bidder is being welcomed with open arms, irrespective...

To salt or not to salt?

If the Council believe that diluting the salt mix on roads is acceptable, when it leads to a bus load of kids going into the ditch, can I 'dilute' my Council Tax payments with beads?

I think the problem here is that no-one expected any cold weather in the winter.

I understand that the Council just renegotiated/imposed new contracts on those doing the gritting, whereby the standing charge was reduced and the mileage allowance increased.  This save money on gritting in every year except those where you need to grit, so expect to see a huge overspend reported.

The impact of the ice is obvious in the huge potholes in the roads that are downright dangerous in some places, and which is going to keep the road squad busy for the Spring.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sunday ferry into Harris

This proposal by CalMac was as predictable as the lack of gritting on the roads.

However, the call by Donald Crichton for a referendum was as misguided, as it was populist.

Of course he was playing politics as the SNP must be slightly uncomfortable over the issue, but the logic in his argument was totally missing.  Why are those who travel from Lewis to Skye not to be given a say in the matter, for instance?

The consultation is a sham as CalMac believe that they have the right - or possibly the obligation - to provide 7-day services, but that doesn't mean that it should not be engaged with.  The way forward is for the wider community to argue for the best possible service from CalMac, and not just a discussion about the bits that they want to see introduced or imposed.

A quick look at the Board of CalMac shows why the islands aren't really being considered.  The Government have left us with an organisation that has no representatives from the islands; is based on the mainland; and, one that sees it's principal remit as being to ensure it wins the next re-tendering exercise.

The ethos of the organisation needs an overhaul, and neither cheap political shots (Labour) nor avoiding the issue (SNP) is going to take it forward one iota, and until that radical change happens we are going to be left with a second-rate service defined by non-users and financial constraints, rather than the needs of the public.

Back to reality

This is probably the longest break that I have had from blogging for a few years, and it has been quite refreshing, probably as we have been away.

It's been a working holiday - with Sue having meetings, meetings and meetings relating to her business interests in the US, whilst I've done the holiday part of it.  Well, not quite, as we were both doing loads of other work whilst away, so it really wasn't a compeltely quiet time.

We also took my parents and sister away, which I think they enjoyed, and it was good to be a bit distant from the islands for a few weeks, just to give oneself a more objective view.

The grass is not always greener....