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

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Would you like salt with it?

I went past Market Stance a dozen times in the past few days, and was - like most of Uist - awe inspired by the veritable Mt Everest of road salt that had been shipped in, and is now left to be rained upon over the winter, and lose it efficiency with every raindrop.

Today, the following email was issued by the Council....
A notice that you have registered an interest in has been cancelled. The notice details are shown below.

   Notice ID: JUL095586
       Title: Ice Gritting and Snow Clearing 2011 – 2015
   Authority: Comhairle nan Eilean Siar


This contract has now been readvertised. See new advert 29.09.11
Are any Councillors interested in the reasons for this contract being withdrawn?

Perhaps the question is, how could the very senior persons involved in this get it so fundamentally wrong?

BTW, Councillors and contractors may also be interested to know that many of the scores achieved by the original tenderers are in the semi-public domain.

That'll engender confidence in the fairness and confidentiality of the process.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Water, water everywhere......

I am told, first hand, that some households in Benbecula have been without mains water for 6 days, and may only have been reconnected today.

The problem lies either with a burst pipe, which emptied the storage towers, or the fact that someone forgot to ensure that they were being continousoly refilled.

The fact is that after the tank was refilled, airlocks have prevented the water being delviered to households.

At which time Scottish Water found they didn't have proper maps of the pipe network, and have been using a mixture of guesswork, householder information and hole digging to find the pipes.  Whilst Scottish Water have been providing drinking water, toilets, showers, baths and washing machines have been impossible to use.

Roll on the 18th Century and technological advancement.......

Monday, September 26, 2011

Openness and accountability

I'm told that at the last series of Council meetings, a last minute extra item appeared for urgent and pressing discussion.

The item recommended reducing the number of Council Meeting from 6 per annum to 5 for 2102 2012 onwards.  The reason being given was that senior staff were too busy preparing for the next series of meetings to actually do any work.

Stop laughing at the back.

In the spirit of openness and accountability, I though that the public might be interested to see such a document; but I can't find it anywhere on the Council website.  Hmmmm.  Nothing suspicious there then.  Nothing to see, move along.....

Except my informant was in the chamber at that meeting.

Can anyone pass me a copy of the document, please, as it raises all sorts of issues.  How many more decisions will now be taken without democratic scrutiny, and be subject to homologation at later meetings?  How slow will the system move, when urgent financial decisions are around the corner?  And, most importantly, just how much power does this put into a very few hands?

Update: I'm told that the report was in the main agenda, as part of the planned calendar for 2012.  As I am sure you can see, the change was well flagged up, and obviously drawn to the public's attention.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

SNH deceit

The most obvious factor to be extracted from the duplicity of SNH over the designations in Barra is the almost total lack of involvement of Europe in the process.

Sure, Europe asked for nominations to cover a wide range of marine habitats, and yes Europe did give the final approval for the designations to go ahead, but the leaked emails indicate that SNH were deciding upon the areas to be designated before they undertook the appraisal and without evaluating the facts.

Contrast and compare the real situation as established by Cllr Manford, with that portrayed by Yesman1 and Yesman2.
The SNH consultation phase ploughs on regardless
Angus Brendan MacNeil said: ‘The people and fishermen of Barra and Uist did not want this environmental designation and it is an example of the uncontrollable freight train that is EU Commission bureaucracy.  Once they have decided on a course of action governments in either Edinburgh or London or their attendant civil servants are powerless to do much about it.
“I appreciate that the process of designation is driven by the European Commission and backed by the very real threat of fines on countries who do not comply, but I reiterate my opposition to these unwanted designations.”
When the reality as unearthed by Cllr Manford was that SNH were lying left right and centre:
“As I am confident the minister at the time can confirm she was unaware of these actions, it falls to Ian Jardine to explain why he unnecessarily offered-up the Sound of Barra for designation while he was insisting the opposite to the minister and the community.”
Any politician worth their salt would be outraged at being lied to by a senior official, and should be demanding a head on a stick pour encourage les outres.  Unless, of course, they were party to the deceit.

The silence is rather telling, isn't it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Council budget cuts

The prelude to a very major cut in Council budgets is being characterised with plenty of advance warning and unsubtle Government direction as to where the cuts must fall.  Or more accurately, where expenditure is to be redirected to.

I've done some work on the Comhairle budget, and I estimate that to save the forecast 10% over three years, the Council will have to lose 300-500 jobs and the associated services.

The signs are all there.  Colleges are being forcibly merged.  Police forces are being merged.  Councils are being encouraged to share services.  That 'encouragement' will become a financial compulsion when the full impact of the cuts is known.

Due to the effect of the floor mechanism, I think the real cuts being faced by the Comhairle will be nearer 15% than 10%, and this will be the worst financial settlement in Scotland.  Again.  Again.

Then there is the instruction to increase capital expenditure, by redirecting resources.  In blunt terms that means lose admin staff and employ construction workers, so my estimate of staff losses is at best a net outcome. 

Whilst it will be good to bolster the private sector, I have serious reservations about the view that capital expenditure in some way creates more jobs than revenue expenditure.  Taking £1m from revenue will mean job losses; adding it to capital will not add the same number of jobs.  In simple terms, the lorry and the concrete has to be paid for before you can start thinking about jobs.

Whilst some may argue that it will create jobs 'overall', in the Western Isles we are likely to see local Council jobs replaced by steel rod manufacture and lorry sales on the mainland.

But it is the speed of enforced change that is going to be the problem.  You cannot sensibly rebalance a Council from one direction to another in the six months there are to set a budget.  Just think of how long the 'consultations' on redeployment will take; and how many of the 'never again' Early Retirement packages there are going to be.

The sitting Councillors are going to be on a hiding to nothing - they have to make huge cuts in February next year and seek re-election (or head for the hills) two months later. 

And who is going to get the blame - the Council, the Scottish Government or Westminster?  The answer: it's the other guys fault.  Which might be fair comment, but not a comment the public are going to appreciate when combining services means loss of jobs at the College, the Council or the Health Board when "combining services" becomes "centralising services".

As for the Scottish Government's aspiration that Councils use Prudential (sic) Borrowing to fund Capital....  That's nothing more than taking out HP, which simply means smaller cuts, but for much longer.  And wasn't the Scottish Futures Trust going to provide cheaper loans for the public sector, instead of mutating into a behemoth dishing out big contracts to big contractors?

The public sector in all it's guises is in for a very rough ride over the coming years....

Monday, September 19, 2011

The price of fuel

Everyone is complaining, and getting on the band wagon, but no-one seems to have any sensible suggestions about how to ensure that there is no profiteering or price fixing bey either the sole supplier, nor by the individual petrol stations.

Until now.

The problem is that cutting the price by subsidising the petrol stations is going to make many of them unviable, as the impact on their cash flow will be very severe whilst they wait for the refunds from the Government.

I've previously suggested that Transport Scotland can be used to deliver the subsidies partly in advance and partly in arrears, in much the same way that they rebate Fuel Duty to bus operators.

Unfortunately, the Scottish Government seem not to want to get involved, and political point scoring is higher up the agenda of our parliamentarians than actually coming up with a working answer.

This is the cheapest and easiest solution but one which requires the two parliaments to agree, and for those reasons, the politicians won't let it happen.

Option 2 is much more expensive, but gives a long term solution to additional issues.

The Council (or HIE or the Scottish Government) build new fuel tanks at Arnish and announce the closure of the oil depot in the centre of town for Health and Safety reasons.  As well as sheer aesthetics.  The tanks are then put out for a 5-year lease to anyone, with tenderers asked to deliver fuel to Lewis on the basis of ex-Grangemouth +x% or xp per litre.  That's the delivery price on the island, and the winner bidder has to cover their costs inside that margin on an open-books basis.

To control the petrol stations, the Comhairle need to put their supply of petrol out to tender on an annual basis and to return to publicising the price of petrol at the various filling stations, thereby encouraging the passing on the maximum savings.

We have monopolies and oligopolies of supply here.  We can't break that structure (easily) but by changing the relationship between the parties - by giving the public the maximum information and by using economic levers to discourage bad behaviour, there is the opportunity to maximise the return for us all.


I know the situation in Uist will be unaffected by this change, at least immediately.

There is also an issue about the discounts each petrol station has negotiated from their supplier. 

Finally, the last thing we want is any more station closures, especially in rural areas.  This might mean a flat delivery charge for anywhere in the islands to protect rural stations, which means slightly higher prices in Stornoway and lower outside. 

Owning a petrol station is not a licence to print money: there's a tiny margin so you need a huge volume.  We are that volume.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

SHAMED are angry (and quite right too) - press release

Time to name and shame those who have conceded two marine Special Areas of Conservation (SAC's) in the Southern Hebrides

The recent announcement from Environment Minister, Stewart Stevenson, that the Government has approved a marine SAC at East Mingulay and that the site will be forwarded to the EU for approval, has prompted an angry reaction from SHAMED, a local campaign which is opposing plans to designate two marine SAC's in the sea east of Mingulay and in the Sound of Barra.

The Minister has also stated that proposals for the Sound of Barra will be going out to public consultation in the near future. SHAMED has noted the political statements simultaneously issued by the MP and MSP for the Western Isles alongside the Minister's announcement.

Reacting to these statements, Angus MacLeod, chairman of SHAMED and a crofter-fisherman from Barra, said :

"It is with utter disbelief that I read what Angus MacNeil MP has again been saying about EU requirements. He has been quoted as stating that once the EU 'have decided on a course of action, governments in either Edinburgh or London or their attendant civil servants are powerless to do much about it.'

Mr MacLeod explained : "Early in 2009, our MP issued a press release saying he was writing to the EU to demand that Brussels bureaucrats come to Barra to explain to us why the designations were needed. At the same time, our MSP went to Brussels to tell EU officials face-to-face that the designations were not wanted. Both were clearly told by the EU that the selection and designation of SAC's is up to the member states and regions within member states, a fact that was well known within the community. So, whatever spin politicians try to put on this, the decision to consult on East Mingulay and now the Sound of Barra is entirely a Scottish Government matter."

After almost three years of research and campaigning, SHAMED has gained an insight into how the SAC designation process works and, thanks to information received under Freedom of Information, it can be seen that it is SNH that drives the selection process in Scotland.

"Certainly it is true to say that the EEC Habitats Directive of 1992 compels Member States to set aside areas as SAC's but how this is handled within the UK and how UK policy affects Scotland is a local issue but one that has never been raised by our parliamentary representatives or, indeed, the Scottish Government," added Mr MacLeod.

Given that Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, has been prepared to speak out for Scottish fishermen and farmers at UK and EU level, SHAMED can only speculate as to why no-one in power is prepared to do the same over environmental issues.

"It is now apparent," continued Angus Macleod, " that the SNP government has bowed to pressure from environmental lobbies, with the local MP and MSP making empty promises in the run-up to elections. Clearly their policies are no different from any previous government. Thankfully at least our local SNP councillor, Donald Manford, has the backbone to stand up and publically voice his dissatisfaction; for this we applaud him and for giving us the proper representation that this community deserves."

As to what the group's next steps would be, Mr MacLeod reports that SHAMED has twice been refused a meeting with Richard Lochhead but that in the Cabinet Secretary's last response, he confirmed that the Environment Minister would meet with them and that a date was be set. One of the issues for discussion with the Minister and Marine Scotland officials would have been evidence previously submitted to them showing their data on vessel activity within the Mingulay site was inaccurate.

"We were under the impression that the Minister was to be supplied with the corrected data and that we would have had the opportunity to discuss the issues with him before he made his decision. We therefore feel betrayed by the Scottish Government for taking such a misinformed decision," added Mr MacLeod.

He confirmed that SHAMED was stepping up its fight and that no stone would be left unturned in order to expose what the campaign group feels are the irregularities within the designation process for the two SAC's.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Mobile phone reception

A source close to the Parliamentary Office advises that the 'mapping' (sic) of mobile reception along the spinal route by the office staff is worse than useless.

The source suggests that the locations are at best approximate, and do not take into account all the service providers available.

"It is", quoth the source, "Like using a child's drawing of a cow to make the case for increased subsidy."
The chief telecoms advisor
As the map has been made with public money, why haven't the media asked to see the detail of this exercise in pointless futility, especially when excellent (and more accurate) maps already exist.

Perhaps the first questions should be: who was (allegedly) actually in this vehicle when 4 networks were being inaccurately mapped simultaneously?

Monday, September 05, 2011

One million page views

Thanks to all my readers for helping me reach this milestone.

I'll raise my glass to you all tonight, and promise to keep infuriating and entertaining you in equal measure in the future.

Sunday, September 04, 2011


As many people have commented, our MP and MSP can seem to be distracted by spurious issues, rather than focusing on major issues.

It would be slightly unkind to suggest that it is a deliberate campaign to reduce our attention span on the key issues.

A particular example is the decision to run down the spinal route to check phone connectivity.

The BBC launched an app just a month ago which did exactly that, only with proper technology and with independent verification of the results. Indeed, a patchy map of the islands connectivity is already available as a result of this exercise.  Nonetheless, the experts on Bayhead are busy reinventing the wheel.  Which we are paying for.  Rather than getting involved in a national, professional, project which could have given reliable results.

Put aside the fact that good broadband would be much, much, better than good phone calls.

Compare and contrast with the outrage of an SNP MSP about 14% of the Scottish public living in fuel poverty
I'm less important than a good phone signal

Whilst the locally based Energy Advisiory Service estiamte that last year 60% of the residents of the Western Isles are in fuel poverty and there are cuts in the Government fuel poverty budget, we hear not a bleat, not a complain, not a solution, not a proposal from either MP or MSP.

It could be that they are just very busy, or it could be that they don't want to point to the failure of the Scottish Government to stop the annual cull of pensioners in the islands.