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

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Last post ever....

My work here is done.

No seriously; I have achieved the unexpected - a spirit of openness and candour inside the Comhairle which many thought was an impossible dream.

I refer, of course, to the Council Leader's blog - or for my German readers - Der Rat Führers Blog.

One must cheer to the rafters the unprecedented engagement with the public, and ignore the deathly prose which has suffered much at the hands of Press Officers, lawyers and assorted advisers, as they try to turn a series of press releases into one blog posting.

In out unbridled joy at the new focus on the public, we can only marvel at the ability for some many disparate subjects to be semi-coherently linked into one largely structured document.

It would be churlish to suggest that the spirit of brevity has been lost and that the opportunity to make half a dozen postings has been foregone in favour of a much delayed megapost.

The relationship with the public can only be enhanced by the ability to comment on the posts, and like many others I have been worried that my comments have not appeared, despite the use of multiple disposable email addresses to obtain passwords.  It is unclear if the author of the blog is actually monitoring comments, or if this has been left to Cllr Campbell.

However, if like me you have not seen your comments appear on the Leaders blog, then you may wish to copy them here, just so that the Comhairle is kept fully informed of the public mood, and in case any comments are lost due to 'technical problems'.

Presumably, the remaining 30 Councillors will also get full officer support to put their election addresses public positions on record.

The title of this post is facetious.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The truth will out.....

Casual readers may wonder why the Council would bother to block a modest little blog such as this.

Council leaders will claim that I am undermining the operation of the Council and the trust and working relationships they are spending years building.

To that claim I can only laugh; as they seem quite competent at undermining their own relationships.

A prime example is the (private) contempt in which Storas Uibhist is held whilst the public front of support lubricated with large sums of money continues.

Talking about development in South Uist; how is it possible for a major Council development in Uist to actually cause local businesses to close?

The answer I am told lies with simple incompetence and a massive failure in the drafting of legal documentation.
Fairly recently I saw a letter in the public domain from Stephen MacAulay of Askernish Quarry, about the rock being used at Ludag (link will follow when I find it again).  I was intrigued and started to dig deeper and what I found was a murky tale of startling decisions and unbelievable oversights.

Amongst the bids for the development was one which involved the transportation of rock from Askernish on the public roads to which a risk or cost factor was applied to reflect the damage to the roads and the general upheaval.  This made it more expensive than transporting the rock from Argyll.

Ooops, but the transportation from Argyll forgot to factor in any costs for using the foreshore, or indeed any permission, and Storas were not aware of that plan.  When their costs were added, that made that bid more expensive.

So a third bid was assessed and found to now be cheaper and this was the one selected.  Only now are there questions about the assessment process, given that the rock is coming from North Uist.

It is at this point that the Council realises that they haven't factored in the risk premium for transporting the rock on the roads; leaving the contractors free of any obligations.  Contracts accepted.  Deal done.

But let's cut to the chase: the outcome is that the local taxpayer is going to carry the extra costs for damage to the roads; the council will try and bury the bad news; no-one was responsible; Councillors in the dark.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.  I'm only trying to be that little ray of sunshine for staff and Councillors.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The fall of dictatorships

As democracy takes a deeper hold across the world, it is satisfying to see the ordinary public having the opportunity to make their voice heard, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

The West - the supposed bastion of democracy - is not actually helping the situation, which might perversely make the outcome better in the long-run; whilst the oppressed peoples find their feet.  And this is something we must encourage.

Syria is probably going to be the next to fall, in my view, whilst Gadaffi is going to struggle on for years yet ('lucky' bombing permitting).  Yemen will implode.  Morocco will drift into near-democracy.  The West will finance the oppression of the Saudi's and Bahraini's for the next 5-10 years as they run a theocratic dictatorship in our name.

But the interesting part of the the Arab uprisings was how the dictatorships reacted to the popular discontent, and how they misjudged the popular mood.

The first reaction was denial; the second was to block the internet in the hope that truth somehow would become devalued or obscured by official purblindness.

Which takes us neatly to the local situation.

I spent some of the weekend showing a Councillor just how and why their Google searches were being 'modified' when they went through the Comhairle server.  It was interesting just what was missing and how the 'best results' were changed.  I could show which sites were blocked by the Council, including this one, and how to bypass the blocks (more detail to follow shortly).

Some Councillors try to reach the truth
The Councillor was duly concerned about how their access to free information was being constrained; who had authorised this; and how it was reported and discussed inside the Council.  (answer: executive decision not subject to democratic reporting or control)

When it can be shown that some Council controlled searches excluded some relevant Council minutes* (probably by accident, rather than design), then said Councillor was interested, very interested.  That makes 1 out of 31.  Any other takers??

Anyway, as oppressive, unresponsive dictatorship crumble under the weight of their own destructive actions, lies, disregard for the public, irrelevance and self-importance, we can only hope that the Arabs can follow our lead.

* Google and cookie effects adjusted for.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Good news from the Breasclete factory, where they have signed a long-term supply agreement with a Nasdaq listed company, the Amarin Corp.

I understand that this is worth $20m and will secure the future of the plant for many years to come.

These are exactly the sort of highly-skilled jobs that these islands can deliver, and the type of product - fresh, pure and healthy - that we should be encouraging to develop in the islands.

How the Council works

I have been sent a copy of the top secret submission by the Council to the Audit Commission demonstrating it's good practices.

This presentation is to be the subject of a three day seminar to members.....

Pulling together

Thanks to the assistant depute to the depute assistant manager in the Sideways-Looking Navel-Gazing Team for the leak.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Supreme Court

I'm very disappointed about the tone of the recent attacks on the Supreme Court, and especially the recent comments by Alex Salmond.

I fully understand the politics behind his comments, but that does not lessen their attempt to undermine justice.

That they have been made primarily because of one individual case that looks to be the subject of a retrial, makes the attack even less responsible.

Were I am accused or a solicitor for the accused, I would want to know that there are routes of appeal where Judges may have got it wrong, and where the best founded cases have a chance of another hearing.

No-one is suggesting that the Judges always get it right, any more than the Police are, or lawyers, or the legislation, or witness.  And sometimes the evidence can be wrong.

Is it better to leave people languishing in jail where there may have been a miscarriage of justice, rather than to reopen a case, just because it is heard in another jurisdiction?

Lockerbie was heard in another jurisdiction under Scots Law.  The Privy Council and the House of Lords (as well as the Supreme Court) are in another jurisdiction but very often heard Scottish cases which then formed accepted Scots Law.  There is an appeal route to Europe for Human Rights issues, which is held under European Law.  None of these are new.

To try to close an appeal route because of one instance where the Scottish Courts are told that they might have got it wrong is a disastrous course, no matter how you dress it up.

I had hoped that this would blow over, but it is looking more and more like being a major bone of contention where none should - or needs to - exist; and the tone of the comment is now doing no service whatsoever to the role of First Minister.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Council redundancies

After the wave of voluntary retirements has seriously depleted the strength in depth of the Council, word reaches me about the second wave of compulsory retirements.

Of course, they are not being described as that, but being presented as part of an overall reorganisation.

I have been told about a number of staff who are being encouraged to leave, even if they don't want to, on terms that they aren't very happy with.

All this poses questions about the strategy that has been followed.  If there are staff who need to be 'reorganised' now, wouldn't have made more sense to 'reorganise' them before you let the skills, knowledge and experience of the senior staff walk out the door with a package.

That way, you could have ensured that no massive gaps appear in the organisation....

Just a thought.

(Samizdat newspapers in the Whitehouse please copy)

Rural school closures

"It isn't about money" says both the Councils and the Minister.


It is precisely about money, whether they like to admit it or not.

The Comhairle has committed the cash they expect to save to other projects.  The Minister hasn't got the cash to bung Councils a further subsidy.

The proposed resolution from the Minister - "find the savings elsewhere".  To which the Councils pose the simple question - "Where?"

With COSLA backing the Councils, or more accurately, the Councils united on the issue, we have a Mexican stand-off, with the added twist that the Minister has already admitted the current legislation is flawed and he may not be able to stop closures.

I suspect that the Council will any legal action, but that the Minister will then string out taking decisions until new legislation is in place; leading to a last minute compromise of 'cash for schools'.

And for added spice, our local MSP has already announced that he is going to have nothing to do with the decisions, leaving schools campaigners out on their own.

The islands are littered with empty schools; perhaps if we found a way to fill them with pupils, we wouldn't need to have this debate.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Google adwords

The only advertising that our business does is via Google Adwords; having abandoned print advertising almost entirely.

I've just spent today reducing our exposure and the range of advertising that we do, as we need a bit of a breather to catch up with all the work that has been generated.

We estimate that every £1 spent on the internet - domains, Adwords etc - is generating about £350 in new turnover, which is a good result by any reckoning, but we actually need to throttle growth for a few months so that we can properly control and assess how we manage that growth.

It's a good complaint, but we need a bit of a life over the summer and to catch up with everything else that is going on.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The law of (un)intended consequences

The restrictions on the use of ADS for 'business' purposes are really starting to bite.

And not where I expected.

A local group of volunteers regularly attend meetings on the mainland, for a charitable body in which they participate.  As it is a large organisation and people are travelling from all over Scotland, a staff member at the HQ makes the bookings.

Not any more.  An attempt to book the plane for the group of local volunteers was refused on the grounds that it was "business travel".

The suggestion from the ADS team - that the individuals book their "business travel" personally, and then it wouldn't be rejected.  Quite apart from having to carry the cost, and the hassle factor of doing so, they are effectively being told by the regulator to lie when buying their tickets.

"You will not dissent without my permission"
Just in what warped definition of "business" does a not for profit charitable organisation become excluded through the regulations that were sneaked in just before the election?

Hark: is that the sound of the MSP or MP standing up for their constituents?

Friday, June 10, 2011


I was tempted to write "If you work in the Comhairle and can't read this, then please let me know", but sanity prevailed.

A Council employee reports that they can't access the blog through their Comhairle issue computer.

It sounds like the whitelist has not been updated for the individual or their overall permissions are incorrectly set, but I just want to check that I'm not inadvertently being blacklisted......

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Pairc valuation

So today's the day that the people of Pairc find out what the valuation of the estate is, and how much of a mountain they have to climb.

They haven't got long, as the legislation is very specific about the period of time in which any acquisition must be concluded.

And the valuation (I am very reliably informed) is......




The Scottish Government appear to have decided that there will be no Part 3 valuation issued until the conclusion of the appeals by the landlord.

Yes, you read that right.  On the long-awaited and long-heralded day of the announcement, the Ministers in their wisdom have decided to suspend the valuation process until the legal actions are concluded.  Legal actions that they have known about for years.

I now, I know, it's not in the legislation that they have the power to do this and it is not within their authority, nor indeed does it follow the processes given in the legislation, but having led the people Pairc up the hill, it looks like the light at the end of the tunnel is actually just someone else who is lost.

Of course, this in itself gives the landlord grounds for yet another appeal.  Which he will no doubt file in due course.

Good work Minister; you've managed to upset all the residents by your clueless fence sitting.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Project Fingal Pt 1.5

Just realised that a lot of the information I had was lost when my last computer crashed and destroyed the HD.  I'm hoping that the sources can resend or I can restore, failing which I'll have to rework Part 3 into Part 2.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Project Fingal pt 1

Project Fingal may have been hidden in the shadows over the past few years, but it is one I have been tracking - thanks to some well placed moles, and some excellently accurate prophesies - for a few years now.

Today, just some background.

The Chairman of Storas, Angus MacMillan, is well placed to understand the algenate industry, as his father was the manager of the plant at North Boisdale seaweed factory many years ago; before the industry crashed in the 70s.

Coincidentally, Storas seem to have been applying pressure to the current occupant of the factory to give up the lease and the seaweed rights.  Some might say "pressure", some could say "threats", others have said "with menace", but that seems utterly unreasonable.  Doesn't it?

Now, ignoring the inconvenient fact that there probably isn't enough seaweed in the west of Scotland to meet the needs of a factory of the proposed size, just where is the power going to come from?

Coincidentally, Storas have had a huge battle over their inter-connector connection and the ability to develop a windfarm in Uist.  There were very strong suggestions - obviously untrue - that Angus MacMillan had financial interests in windfarm developments that might be in some obscure fashion tied into the Storas connection.

Indeed, a libel action was raised - with great publicity - when it was suggested that there might be some personal benefit, whilst the defendant apparently had evidence of financing being lined up via third parties.  (Anyone know what has happened to this legal action?)

Thankfully, with former MP Brian Wilson of AMEC on the Board of Storas, the opportunity to use the Lewis windfarm to power economic development in Uist makes it all look good,  Conversely, Angus MacMillan sits on the Board of Harris Tweed Hebrides - Chairman? Brian Wilson.

Unfortunately, it looks to me that the maximum power output from any (all?) Lewis windfarms won't be enough to meet the power needs in Uist if the factory goes ahead.  The energy requirements are immense - remember your school lessons about electrolysis?

Thankfully, the AMEC cable was suggested to run to Whitehaven, where AMEC have some business interest, including the renewable energy plant at Sellafield.

And where Brian Wilson chairs the "Energy Coast" forum for West Cumbria, in his role as AMEC representative.

Only the insane would suggest that the interconnector to Windscale IN beautiful West Cumbria could be used to import nuclear power to the islands from an AMEC facility.

Meantime, the two existing seaweed businesses in the Western Isles are about to be undercut by subsidies from CnES and HIE to an incoming business, and see their suppliers and markets potentially destroyed.  Despite years of trying to get assistance to grow.

Still, attracting new grant-migrating incoming businesses is so much better than supporting the useless locals.

More to follow

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The cash economy

Just about enough to buy a house in Uist
Is rapidly becoming the "no cash" economy in Stornoway, where the number of counterfeit notes is spiralling out of control.

At least three shops I know have stopped accepting cash, and with even experienced bank staff being fooled, it looks like we are being flooded by dodgy notes of various denominations and supposedly from various banks.

I hope that the Police get to the bottom of this before the economy is further destroyed.

Policies the SNP have promised and CAN implement

I've been doing a bit of brainstorming to determine what we can now to be delivered by the SNP Government based on three criteria:
  • It was as SNP promise or aspiration before the election
  • It can be delivered under the current powers, and
  • It is a sensible policy, rather than just grandstanding
After a bit of discussion, we selected what we think is probably the easiest and most attractive policy, and one that will gain widespread support.

I refer, of course, to petrol prices.

If you were to pile up all the press releases that have been issued on this matter by the SNP, you would undoubtedly need planning permission and a aircraft warning light on the top.

The solution is actually simple and most of the mechanism is already in place since it was devolved to Transport Scotland last year.  The process [and my suggestions].
  1. Designate the areas to benefit from price reductions [all the islands]
  2. Determine the price reduction for the coming year [50p/litre]
  3. All petrol stations in the designated areas claim a rebate from Transport Scotland based on litres delivered  [quarterly, like Bus Service Operators Grant]
Er, that's it.  No consultation fee charged.

Some safeguards are necessary: any mainland red-lined areas would have to be carefully defined - using islands as a test area allows the problems to get ironed out; deliveries into drums would have to be limited to 50 litres; deliveries over 100 litres fully traceable; bus and marine fuel duty claims reduced accordingly.

What's stopping this happening; and I hope our MSP is busy lobbying for this, rather than just waiting to praise whatever list of promises is presented to the Parliament.

It isn't difficult, and isn't hugely expensive, so there can be no excuses for non-delivery by the Government.  Agreed?