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

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Stornoway Street names

The Stornoway Trust, in the shape of the inestimable Mr Robson, have provided an excellent listing and explanation for all many of the street names of Stornoway (opens in Google docs).

We have over the years honoured many prominent citizens, some local worthies, and some significant global events; such as the reasoning for Assaye Place.

Rumblings reach me from the centre of Stornoway where Robertson Road (Chief Inspector of Schools) meets Ripley Place (Ripley in Canada, founded as Scottish settlement in mid 19th century by families from the Isle of Lewis) meets Leverhulme Drive (Lord Leverhulme (1851-1925) who bought Lewis in 1917).

The demolition of the Gibson Hostel site (former Rector of the Nicolson Institute) [named after the Nicolson brothers who were the principal benefactors] is to be the site of a major new social housing development.

I can't locate and plans or outline pictures at the moment, but would be grateful if someone can direct me to them.

I understand that there has been a long debate - for which read a huge argument - about what to call the site.  There are two choices available.  Which one would you choose?
Gibson Court
Moldova Court

That's right, you got it in one, we are going to name a street after a drowned dog.

Without going into full Borat mode, it is not probably the most attractive name for a social housing development, and in my view would be no better than Dole Drive or ......

I understand fully where the person pushing for the name is coming from, but the neighbours are up in arms, and I think he is completely wrong.

Complaints to be directed to your Councillor before the meetings next week.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Council savings strategy

Reading through the agendas for next week I see two extremely well written and well argued reports about how the Council can save money next year.

Both will be the subject of (unduly) long argument in Committee.

Both will adversely affect clients.

But the clients respect the ability and understanding of the officers and have said that they will work with them to effect the savings - they are Council Tax payers too - as they feel included in the whole process.

THAT is how you can deliver savings; but the Council (and especially the senior officers) also need to recognise the skills and abilities of many of the officers who can deliver real benefits to the islands.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Minimum booze pricing

It's going to happen; although if it is per unit of alcohol based, it is not going to affect the cheapest and nastiest of the own brand spirits and luminous concoctions on the shelves.

Unless, of course, having set the principal the unit price is then levered up until such time as the booze run to Carlisle becomes an attractive option.

It will be highly symbolic, but utterly ineffective.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Local economic development

A report to the Council on 1 June indicates just what the impac of the cuts agenda is going to be.

According to the report, there has been a cut of £40m in the economic support budget, and the perception that all the new initiatives are simply the recycling of existing cash into new launches of not so new ideas.

As the report acknowledges, future land buy-outs are going to be more difficult, never mind the day-to-day business of supporting and developing businesses in this area.

As the report summarises:
25. The Committee therefore recommends that the Scottish Government considers what more it can do to enable businesses to access investment capital, without further reducing the resources available to the enterprise agencies to meet their existing responsibilities.

I think that this probably understates the likely impact, and is a shape of cuts to come.  Most unavoidable, but most unacknowledged in the 2010 or 2011 elections.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tax Returns

And who says accountancy is dull....  This option popped up by default on a Norwegian Tax Return I'm doing.

There's also a box to tick if you owned a power station during the year -you get extra allowances.

Monday, May 23, 2011


Isles MSP Alasdair Allan has today written to Connected Communities to raise the capacity issues which are now occurring on the BT link from Stornoway to London, which provides the internet connection for customers of Connected Communities.
Didn't our MSP promise that the SNP would solve all the Broadband issues?

Shouldn't he be writing to the Minister?  Surely his mate can have more influence to fix the problem.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Your chance to see the Olympic flame......

Lovely story from Mike Merritt highlighting the non-Olympic standard somersaults that are having to be done to keep everyone happy on Sunday 10th June, when the flame arrives.

Remember, the Council policy (in Lewis & Harris) is that no-one should work on the Sunday.

Quoth a spokesperson just a few days ago:

"The Comhairle has invested heavily in sport across the Islands and we want this event to be a major sports celebration for people to join in and make the most of what will be a wonderful occasion.

There will also be an economic spin-off for the islands with an additional 70 visitors or so associated with the Relay arriving in the Islands. In addition the media coverage is likely to generate interest in the Islands and prompt many people to visit”
So we have 70 people coming off the 37-seater Inverness plane at 4pm on Sunday, piling into 18 taxis and heading to the hotel.

As they pass the Sports Centre they can view it from outside with amazement, as the Olympic slogan "Faster, Higher, Closed" is spelled out by protesters*

Perhaps, of course, they'll get a Council bus, for which the driver obviously won't be working or paid, and which won't cause any wear and tear on the bus, dropping the visitors off at the various hotels like some dour package tour.

With 70 beds taken, or 35 if they are doing a Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the not-working chefs, waitresses and other staff will serve them.  After which they can take a walk around town, and give media coverage that is likely to focus on pretty, quaint, unwelcoming and shut.

Check-in for the Aberdeen flight is 1:30pm, and surely much earlier if you are carrying a naked flame (I must check these rules) as the 70 visitors pile onto the 25-seater, meaning a maximum of 5-6 hours of running time after the 7am start.  Expect to hear about entire schools being decanted to the route to catch the merest glimpse, when they could really have had their Olympic ambitions nurtured at a ceremony in the Sports Centre after the flame arrives.

Shotgun.  Both barrels.  Own feet.

* Protesters of both persuasion.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Renting from the Council

Wouldn't you like to receive a year's rent every month?

What about paying the annual rent every month?

Commercial tenants of the Council this week were given the opportunity to understand the difficulties that an accounting error can cause when when 12 months rent was drawn from their bank accounts this week by mistake.

Thankfully they have all be repaid at 4pm on Friday, but I am aware of at least one business that had to arrange an extension on its overdraft at very short notice to cover the sudden hole in it's bank balance.

My call to the White House for an explanation for my client remains unreturned, but at least it has been remedied. 

Any chance of an official apology to those affected?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Coastguard Station saved?

The announcement today that the scale of the Coastguard closures will be reduced is very welcome, and a long overdue realsiation of the complexity of the work that is done, and particualrly the need for local knowledge.

Hopefully the Select Committee will be able to put some minds at rest today, but the real push - an old acquaintance tells - has come from the Civil Servants, who have finally persuaded the Minister that the potential downside was too great, for what was going to be a limited level of savings.

I'm not certain that Stornoway is saved, yet, but I'm advised that it seems a very high probability according to the current briefing for the Minister.

I'm pleased to see KIMO continuing it's marine campaigning role, and the contacts I made during my period of involvement have proved lasting and very useful!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Olympic Flame

We need thirty-two nominees to carry the Olympic Flame.

I suggest the 31 Councillors and the MSP to run at high speed until they spontaneously combust.

Any other nominations???

Monday, May 16, 2011

President Trump

Not the candidate
Donald Trump has just announced that he is not going to stand in 2012.

It is understood that his wig has had a long term relationship with Dominique Strauss-Khan and is now considered a flight risk.

The hairpiece planned to sponsor a sheep shearing contest in Lewis this summer, but with Trump suffering from Foot in Mouth disease, and the toupee unable to produce a long-form manufacturing certificate from WotWig Mfg of Shanghai, "Outrageous hairpieces for the discerningly vain".

The Trump is now planning a casino and 1,400 room executive hotel next to Tong International Airport.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A new World Record

Those who consider the Council an utterly useless organisation should be aware that such a calumny is unfair and derogatory.

Never in the Comhairle....
Why, only today I received a hand-delivered envelope providing (apparently) a complete and comprehensive answer to my FoI submitted electronically on Monday morning.

Those who accuse the Council of deliberately foot-dragging and disinformation over responses to FoI requests should hang their heads in shame when the Guinness World Record is verified and the certificate is presented at the next series of meetings.

Now that the Council have set this standard, we will all expect them to match it with each and every FoI request, so as to avoid any suggestion of preferential treatment for anyone caught in the searchlight.

The very pleasant, intelligent, young man who delivered the paperwork asked me to promise to correct any errors in the previous posting.  I said I would do so with no sarcasm, cynicism or snide remarks about anything I found when reading the papers over the weekend.  Or about any unfortunate conclusions one might draw from the whole affair.

This comment was not covered by the above undertaking.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I spy with my FoI

After singing all the praises of the recycling rate for the new schools project, I was really disappointed to be told about an apparent failure to recycle.
"Just why", posited my informant, "Have FMP abandoned some of the old school portacabins at the Creed Recycling Park?"
It's not who you are, but who you know...
It took some digging to get to the bottom of what appears to be a murky tale.
These 9 portacabins sitting rotting at the Recycling Park appear not to actually belong to the Council or any of it's subcontractors.  FMP are not just innocent, but sinned against it transpires.
So just who could be able to acquire and site these portacabins on Council owned property?  Is there a possibility for other businesses to store their unwanted goods half under a tarpaulin on Council property at very short notice?
(The tarpaulin seems to have blown off since I took this photo, exposing some of the internals to the weather and making the area look a real mess)

Just how do you achieve all these things, whilst on the back of an enforcement notice from Planning to remove the portacabins from their temporary home?

Obviously, being the nephew of the Chief Executive of the Comhairle has absolutely nothing to do with it, as I am sure you will agree.
In an effort to quash these nasty rumours, I have lodged an FoI to ensure that there is no basis in the following wild and malicious claims:
  • That there is no formal lease agreement in place; in breach of the financial regulations
  • That the lease terms are unprecedented compared to similar leases
  • That the lease terms have been hidden or obscured from Councillors and officials
  • That no payments have been made for the rent of the site
  • That the use of the site was approved by the Chief Executive or his department without any disclosure of his conflict of interest
  • That when the Environmental Services Committee considered the plannign application, the Chief Executive had never declared his interest in the matter, despite having authorised the use of Council property to help the applicant with the Planning Department enforcement action
  • That serious complaints from SEPA and the Fire Brigade about the applicants behaviour were not brought to the attention of the Councillors as germane to the application
All of these are so obviously improbable, the lawyers tell me, that I am happy to give equal publicity to the quick and complete answers to my FoI and any accompanying press statement from the Whitehouse.

On the other hand, however, the nephew did claim to have almost unrestricted access to the Chief Executive and was able to advise third parties of various items of highly confidential business related discussions that had taken place in the Executive Office. Virtually all of which later turned out to be exceptionally accurate.

As a consequence, I became aware of a number of very high profile matters direct from the Chief Executive's office long before they were public - sometimes even on the day they had arisen - but for professional reasons I could not disclose them to others.

And if these are the ones I know about....

Friday, May 06, 2011


I think that's possibly the best word to describe the events of last night and today.

The collapse of the LibDems was to be expected, but not to the extent that we have seen today, which effectively wipes them out as a political force in Scotland.

The electoral system for once, also worked in the SNP's favour.

The self-destruction of the Labour Party continues apace, and I am not sure if they are going to have the parliamentary numbers to be able to manage a real change and bring forward new ideas.

A quick look at some of the results seems to suggest that Labour voters stayed at home in droves, whilst the LibDems and many Labour swapped to SNP.  This will warrant much further analysis by the Labour Party over the coming months, when they finish navel gazing.

The next 4 years are going to be a long period of reflection for the opposition, whilst the SNP are going to have to manage down the expectations of their supporters to fit the money available.

The big question is just how and why the Labour Party imploded.  I would suggest that poor or non-existent leadership allied to a serious absence of organisational skills met an ill-focused campaign in a head-on crash.  The positive publicity and the message disappeared with the momentum, and it was all a death-spiral from there.

Iain Gray will be gone by Monday.  But just who will be there to replace him?  Unless there is a new face and an entirely new approach to reality, then they might as well plan for the next loss and the next leadership contest.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Accomodation for the mainland contractors

From the planning application....
The announcement that the schools contractors are going to be housed in a temporary 'hostel' and the airport, due to the lack of available bedspace, comes as now surprise to local B&Bs, Guest Houses and Hotels.

With bookings in most areas for this summer up significantly and current occupancy rates for some of the providers running at virtually 100%, the need to house all the contractors and sub-contractors on the new schools project was starting to cause serious problems.

Some of the accommodation providers were starting to worry about the conflicting demands on their limited space.  With stories of sub-contractors not paying and others trying to renegotiate after they had taken the bed nights, the potential for conflict was quite high.  Indeed, some providers had already prioritised the short holiday season, rather than the longer, but more uncertain, schools contract.

But it needn't have been so.

About 2/3 years ago the local tourism providers met with the Council to discuss contingency plans for the possibility of a large number of external contractors coming in to fulfil the schools contract.  The concept was to provide long term guaranteed bookings at sharp prices, but which would allow some providers to develop more bed space.

The Council response was to deny that any off-island contractors might be involved.  Ever.  End of story.  Go away.

This takes me back to an earlier post about the Council facilitating private sector growth.  The Council doesn't need to control, manage or approve the developments, but it does need to act in such a way that the private sector is not impeded.

In this instance, by simple advance contingency planning we could have had bigger and better accommodation available over a longer season to more tourists; employing more locals and putting more money in local pockets.

But then the Council knew best about the schools, didn't it?

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Election fever builds

The title is, of course, ironic, as this is probably one of the least exciting elections ever.

The credit for this must got to the two main parties who have done their best to avoid doing anything to engage the public in any meaningful way.

I was speaking to both Labour and SNP activists over the weekend, and both were bemoaning the campaign nationally and localy, and looking forward to it all being over.

Labour remain hopeful that they can claw back the electoral deficit - slightly - whilst the SNP are not so much complacent as organised for polling day.

The choice for voters locally has been dull: one candidate is a self-important grey member of the Free Church.  And so is the other.

If I am ignoring the LibDems and the Tories, it is because they have no chance of making any impact on the result.  Even though the LibDems seem to have the candidate who is actually prepared to speak out, rather than repeat platitudes from the official script.

The implosion of the Labour Campaign nationally has been spectacular, unexpected, and terminally fatal; and betrays a total lack of understanding of the issues of interest.  They missed open goals left, right and centre and the revised strategy was inept, badly delivered and too little too late.  The Party will need to purge itself, and Iain Gray is the unwitting emetic.

Undecided voters are still a mystery, and I suspect that the final outcome might be slightly tighter than polls suggest; but it'll be the difference between the a vast gap and a slightly less vast gap.

The winner will have to deal with the cuts agenda, so it will be very interesting to see just how that is delivered and what priorities are lost along the way. 

It should make for a more interesting next election; if only because it can't get any worse than this.  Can it?

Monday, May 02, 2011


It looks like Obama has secured his re-election.

Whatever the pros and cons of the USA being the global self-appointed Sheriff, the outcome was inevitable; to be welcomed; and will usher in a period of global uncertainty.

Bin-Laden's day had passed, but his followers and those who were motivated by his unforgiving brand of Islam will continue to brew trouble for the West.

That the problem lies in Saudi Arabia, and it's absolute monarchy and sphere of influence, is disregarded and will only perpetuate the root causes of the religious fervour. 

The majority of Muslims will continue to be unfairly tainted by association, and the challenge is to bridge the gap in understanding and marginalise the lunatics.