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

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.