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

Monday, February 28, 2011

Gorillas in the mist.....

From the livecam on the Golf Course, yesterday....

Saturday, February 26, 2011


It is deeply, deeply, reassuring to know that the Scottish Government is ready to help Scots trapped in the Libyan crisis.

I didn't realise that we still had any Libyan prisoners left to give away trade.

Perhaps Salmond plans to send a CalMac ferry to rescue those trapped.  A minimum RET charge will apply, at a rate of £100 per mile plus £40 per foot of luggage.  Assuming the Muirneag can manage to pass the Arnish lighthouse by July, without turning back.

Rumour has it that retired helicopter winchman, Chris Murray, has been recruited by a crack team of the SSAS (Scottish SAS) under the direction of the First Minister to fly in supplies to trapped Scots.  He will be dropping haggis, Barley's marags, guga casserole and Irn Bru from a black ops helicopter.  The supplies have been chosen to stop the *nglish trying to steal the supplies, although rogue Welsh elements have threatened to eat Chris and the helicopter.

Practice runs are taking place over the Saharan dunes at Luskentyre as we speak...

Friday, February 25, 2011

A single public authority for the Western Isles?

Isn't setting up a single public authority a great idea?

It was good to see that the Council have been in discussions with the College and the Health Board to work up a combined scheme to propose to Government.

Not according to Neil Galbriath, Chair of NHS Western Isles (and former Chief Executive of the Comhairle):

“NHS Western Isles is not currently developing or participating in any work associated with the assessment of the viability/benefit of a Single Public Authority or merger with any mainland Board.

“The Comhairle is free to make its comments on its perception of change and reform of public services but its view is not one that is shared by the Health Board or other public bodies in the Western Isles. Health Board staff should feel assured that no such discussions have been entered into by the Health Board.”

So is this a kite that will never fly?  It certainly feels like a 'land grab' that has gone wrong.  Badly wrong.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Once is unfortunate.....

Ooops, I should read the entertaining and informative maciverblog more regularly, as Mr X has the story that I tried to hush in my previous post (now deleted).

Taxpayers grit teeth as Comhairle offers £250,000

In which we make a special guest appearance, along with the utterly disgraceful treatment of Iain Crichton.

I very strongly suspect that this will not be the last complaint about the gritting tenders, and it certainly appears that the taxpayer is going to suffer for officer incompetence (or worse), whilst those responsible for the decisions slope off scot free.

Is it really unreasonable for the poor local taxpayer to expect Councillors to get a grip on what is going on?

Monday, February 21, 2011


We might have to move to captchas for all those who wish to comment, as spam is exceeding genuine comments by 4:1.

Captchas - those annoying boxes requiring you to type in Cf6Y7 to proceed - should stop the spam comments being generated automatically, after which we should be able to return to normality.

Sorry, but filtering the crap is a job for Scottish Water, not us.

Council budget cuts - the aftermath

I think that the Council are absolutely right to be angry at the lack of support from the SNP and the MSP over the school closure issues, and the impact it has had on the Council budgets.

Irrespective of what you think about the actual policy and actual decisions, the failure of the MSP to lay any argument with the SNP Government over the funding for the schools that are to be kept open does a huge disservice to the Council, the schools and the community.

With less money to go around then every pupil is going to be affected by the reduction in cash available, which in turn is only going to lead to a faster deterioration of the buildings, and a bigger drain on resources.

Having said that, the Council have to live with it, and need to take real action to make real savings; a process I recommended they start over a year ago to ease the pain slightly.

I am told that a significant number of those taking early retirement are returning through the doors as consultants to fill the gaps created by their retirement.  This is, of course, not just improper, but probably an illegal act by the Comhairle.

Either the work needs to be done, or it doesn't.

The impression of saving jobs at any cost to front-line services, does a huge disservice to the community, and can only reduce morale and the trust of the public.

(Any comments naming individual consultants will not be allowed through)

RET - the options

It was a very astute move by Labour to promise that RET would become permanent after the election, if they form the Government, as it throws the ball straight back into the SNP court.

Just what are the SNP offering at the election to trump the Labour pledge?

At the moment, it looks like nothing, having been beaten to the punch.

The synthetic cries from the SNP that Labour have stolen their policies might be fair, but they should have seem it coming.  If they didn't, then they need their heads examined.

The problem is that the SNP Government only announced the temporary extension of RET for another year at the very last moment possible to allow CalMac to print the timetables, and expected the public not to see through the attempted vote winning ruse.

Not that we need to be effusively grateful to Labour for the modest potential boost, as it is the sheer poverty of ambition from both parties that is most noticeable.

Now the challenge for the SNP is to top the Labour offer - as they did when RET trumped enhanced ADS at the last election.

Either way, the public need to pressure their favoured party to enhance their offer, rather than trying to take our expectations to the lowest level.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


The dramatic and continuing increase in inflation is very worrying for the overall economy, and is symptomatic of the problems that the coalition inherited; and the methods that they have used to address these issues.

I forecast interest rates increasing to 2% by the end of the year, if not to 2.5%.

Inflation is going to take some time to level off, and then decrease, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it around 6% by the year end, and only slowly decreasing to the current level by the end of 2012, with interest rates of 3-4%.

Whatever else, the next 2-3 years are going to be very tough for almost everyone and every sector of business, except, probably, banks.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Health Board funding

It was the line "NHS Western Isles got £57.7million (up 3%)" that caught my eye.

It just didn't seem right, so I looked back at the actual announcement for 2009/10, and for 2010/11 just to check the facts.

Revenue £56.6£58.1£57.7

Which by my arithmetic is a decrease of 4.1% in the current year, before inflation.

Perhaps someone could enlighten me on any mistakes I have made in reading the official figures.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

How financing works...

Not in the real world, of course, but in a sort of parallel financial universe....

Road works in North Uist were scheduled as part of the overall budget strategy.

The road works were cancelled (or postponed) resulting in an underspend on the budget of £98,000.

The underspend was taken back into the central budget, as a "saving".

The COU (aka DSO) were given the underspend of £98,000 to fund 4 redundancies, as the COU was performing so badly, and couldn't afford the money to either continue to employ the staff, nor to sack them.

So what was being claimed as a saving was actually nothing more than delaying approved spending, and was used to fund another item of expenditure in a department that was overspending because it was out of financial control.

It's a bit like you skipping having some urgent car maintenance done, using the money to buy a painting, and telling the bank manager you are being prudent.

BTW: Does anyone know - even a Councillor - just how much the overall HR Policy 'savings' are actually costing the Council?  I'm told that much of the expenditure is hidden in 'consultants', but has anyone actually done a value for money calculation on anything other than a fag-packet?

Council Budget documents

One Councillor was complaining that he couldn't open the links in the documents.

Now I know why.

In the interests of public accountability, openness and to demonstrate the use of modern technology, there are no actual hyperlinks in the Budget pdf files.

I discovered this when trying to read something that has been pointed out to me.  I had hoped that I was doing something stupid, but when I converted and opened the pdf to repost the links.....the text is styled like a hyperlink.  Obviously to confuse us.

Can anyone in the Council, please, give us the actual links so that the public can see what the Councillors are being told and are deciding upon?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Council cuts

One area not affect by the looming cuts is the Twinning Budget. 

I understand that despite a failure of the Councillors to agree or approve the use of the funds, the default option prevails and budget for visits to South Carolina and Ireland remain untouched.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Council Agendas

It is a major step forward for the agendas and supporting documents to be available electronically, but can someone please make sure that the links actually work.

As far as I can see, not one of the internal links in the most recent sets of agenda actually worked, meaning we are none of the wiser about what the Budget plans actually are; amongst other major items.

BTW, can anyone confirm that all 31 Councillors now have iPads?   Even the IT illiterate ones?

Update: iPads are issued by the Hebridean Housing Partnership to Councillors (and others?) who sit on the Board.  The electronic agendas for the Council has still not been fully implemented some 6 years or so after being approved for immediate implementation.  Agendas can be found here, and the links still aren't working on my computer with Firefox.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Licencing Board - sobering up

So today (Tuesday) is the first meeting for the Licencing Board since some of them threw the toys and the lawyers out of the pram.  And it is likely to be an entertaining affair for those invited to be inside the room.

An astute adherent to one of the local Churches posed some thoughtful points about the application for the Sunday licence for the Chinese Restaurant that is being heard at the Meeting, for which he had no answers, but lots of philosophical thoughts, in light of the illegal refusal of the Golf Club licence.

Let me summarise them, whilst removing his more florid and identifiable phrases:
  • Even if there is a good reason to refuse the Sunday licence, will anyone believe that the Board has followed legal advice in coming to this decision?
  • Does anyone really believe that the Free Church Five can be objective after their last performance?
  • Just how much fun are the lawyers for the applicants going to have when addressing the Board?
  • How many Board members are going to ask for the legal advice to be in writing from now on?
  • When will the Free Church Five realise that they have effectively neutered any influence or respect by their past actions?
  • Have they actually committed a criminal offence?
Not that long ago, a prominent former Councillor related to me a tale about a call he received from the Lords Days Observance Society in which he was told to instruct a friend who sat on the Licencing Board how to vote at a forthcoming meeting, under threat of being voted out at the next election.  He refused point blank* and told the LDOS never to contact him again; and perhaps a question for the lawyers is to find out just how many sitting Board Members have been contracted on the same basis before previous meetings.  These contacts should all have been logged as attempts to influence a quasi-judicial process, in exactly the same way that a publican slipping a Board Member a bottle of Whisky would have been shouted about from the rooftops.

Still, if your lobbyists are pushing at an open door ..... they aren't lobbyists, but friends.

* Personally, I would have gone to the press and the Police.  But, as the person concerned never told his volatile, nay explosive, colleague for pretty good reasons it was a dilemma he faced alone.  However, I am sure he will testify to the attempts to bring undue influence, if required.

Knackered routers

Has anyone else with (business) broadband from BT had a blown router recently?

Ours started hanging last week and then died this weekend.  I am told that this might be more widespread than we realise, but I have no details.  Email me please -

Saturday, February 05, 2011


I've just watched Sky discussing David Cameron's assertion that state multiculturalism has failed.

The English Defence League (sic) are marching through Luton today in an attempt to stir up racial hatred, so they cut to an interview with the two Labour MPs for Luton.

Cue outrage about Cameron's speech.

The presenter then - quite rightly - asked them as simple question: "Do you believe that all cultures are equal?"

Both MPs (and I paraphrase) then waffled endlessly around the subject, saying how complex it was, and how we had welcome the Hugenots, and why it can't be boiled down to a simple yes or no.  But, probably, perhaps, if you aren't upset by what I say, then maybe they are or they aren't, but I wouldn't like to commit.

What a disgrace they are to their constituents and the wider public by pandering to the racist elements in the EDL and by being unable to recognise or speak a simple truth about humankind.

Friday, February 04, 2011

An exciting election

An exciting election is not in prospect, a gloomy local political observer opined to me over a beer in his local.
"The choice is between a Free Church adherent who is a confirmed bachelor, and a Free Church elder who is a typical Lewis bachelor". 
"How come", he enquired, "That 5% of the population are going to be calling the shots here after the next election?"

"When neither represents change - indeed quite they both advocate stasis - then where can I cast my vote?"
Answers on a beer mat.....

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

How the trickle down effect works. In reality.

The local construction industry met with the Comhairle last week to discuss the projects that were to be put out to tender in the coming 12 months.

The list of £17m of construction works, errrr, not ready for the meeting, so the Council representatives read out parts of the list.  Which, as was vocally pointed out, was largely the same list as last year that never actually emerged.

The very dissatisfied construction representatives were very (to put it mildly) unhappy, and in the absence of the "good news"  they were summoned to hear, they turned their fire on the Council and the new schools project.

"Every Councillor", they were assured, "Wants to see as much work as possible coming to local contractors", said the Leader.

However, practical advice from a Director was rather blunter.  "Concentrate on trying to win work for the 30-year management contract."

As one contractor bluntly put it:
£50 million of capital expenditure yet to be spent on the buildings, and we are being told by the Comhairle not to even bother trying to win this work, as we aren't going to get it.