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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Standing up for what you believe in

It is good to have a politician with commitment and a belief in what they stand for, as well as being prepared to support their constituents ahead of party alliegence.

Anything else would be spineless and duplicitous, and putting your voters behind your party.

At the recent meeting between local hauliers and the Government Officials, I am told that the MP showed his true colours.

There were various sessions at which the hauliers had private discussions about strategy, and the arguments to be put forward.  They were ably assisted by the MP who told the hauliers the approach to be taken in the negotiations and discussions. He then followed this up with "And don't tell the officials that it was me who said that".

The hauliers are left with the feeling that they were being pushed down a pre-determined path with MacNeil playing both sides; knowing the trivial points which the Government would accept and pushing the hauliers accordingly.

Moreover, I understand from my sources that the MP, MSP and Chair of Transport were all well aware of the proposals, having been privy to the detail of the changes some months back.  Indeed, I understand that they may all have been involved in discussions with the Minister about the haulage proposals last Autumn.

So, far from fighting the islands corner, it increasingly looks like they have bitten their tongues and/or been utterly powerless to change the Ministers mind.  And then faked faux-outrage at the plans they already acquiesced to.

Is this why the Comhairle are not pushing this matter as hard as they should?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Lews Castle College

I hear that the UHI has been order to slash management tiers and cut admin staff, meaning that the autonomy of Lews Castle College and the other colleges is under threat as the UHI considers that the functions should all be moved to - guess where - Inverness.

It is expected that finance and student records posts will be slashed and centralised in a University built upon decentralisation and local service delivery.

Next in line are the lecturers, with courses to be combined and centralised.  The local lecturers are scared to raise matters via the Unions as they feel they are being targeted by the junior Minister (A Allan) for their party political views.

In the meantime, the College will not have a new Principal to replace David Green, and the vacancy will likely be filled either at a much reduced level of seniority or by combining senior management across a number of campuses.

The latest news is that courses are to be cut at the College and delivered from elsewhere, and the now 'redundant' staff will be offered early retirement or a transfer to the Rockall campus.

Contracts; and shifting the blame

If the new and unnecessary Forth Road Bridge authorised by the Scottish Government is being built by Germans from Chinese steel due to "European contract legislation", is it any wonder that the same destructive instuction was passed down the line to the Comhairle.

The fact is that parcelling up the contracts into smaller amounts would have resulted in local contractors being in the running.

But it seems clear that Government policy is to stuff the local businesses in the name of saving a few quid.

Penny wise, pound foolish.

Good things come to those who wait...

My erstwhile good friend J Arthur Guinness had it right.

It's just that sometimes things take that bit longer than they ever should.

So two elderly residents of Stornoway will no doubt be very happy when their unjustifiable 7 year wait for justice comes to a conclusion later this year, and they can stop biting their tongues.

Full details about Mr Liar, Cllr Liar and Mr Liar to follow in due course.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Post Office, post Independence

This should be a very easy question, but I'm stumped for a sensible answer that isn't bad news for the islands.

What happens to the Universal Service Obligation - the obligation to deliver post anywhere in the UK at a single fixed price - post Independence?

I posed this question to a senior SNP member, and got abuse in return; when I hoped for enlightenment.  These questions, and many other similar questions, are going to be asked over the next couple of years and the public will want answers, or the "fear factor" will win.  That is the downside of the delay in the poll.

Shoot me down if I am wrong, but the USO will disappear, meaning that postal services in the islands will need to be subsidised by the new Scottish Royal Mail. The current postage stamp system - of course - won't exist, and it is likely that many rural Post Offices will lose their subsidy and close.  Unless Edinburgh guarantees to underwrite the cost.

Royal Mail will likely continue to deliver to Glasgow and Edinburgh - where the volume is - but the rest of the country will be up for grabs.  Or not as the case may be.

The SNP need to get a grip, admit and address the reality of additional costs in setting up the public services, and provide answers to some very basic questions that those more erudite than I will raise in more public fora.

Let's frame the least scary scare headline, "Islands to lose daily post in Independent Scotland".

Comments very welcome.....

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lorry fares and RET

To establish the Government's real thinking on this matter, it is instructive to read a motion in Scottish Parliament (rather than just reprinting bland self-serving Press Releases from our MSP).

First the Labour motion:
S4M-01750 David Stewart: Road Equivalent Tariff for Commercial Vehicles—That the Parliament notes with concern the Scottish Government’s current proposals to remove road equivalent tariff from commercial vehicles using ferries that serve the communities of the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree; notes that in some cases the fare increase for small haulage companies from Tiree would more than double the fare and in the Western Isles may be up to 175% of the current fare; considers that in the current economic climate these fare increases are both extremely damaging to the local economy and completely unjustifiable; calls on the Scottish Government to urgently withdraw these plans, and believes that, if the Scottish Government chooses not to do so, this would seriously question its commitment to Scotland’s most fragile island communities.
And now the Government amendment, which - in the spirit of representative democracy - SNP MSPs have to have approved by the Whips (my emphasis).
*S4M-01750.1 John Finnie: Road Equivalent Tariff for Commercial Vehicles—As an amendment to motion S4M-01750 in the name of David Stewart (Road Equivalent Tariff for Commercial Vehicles), leave out from "with concern" to end and insert “the ongoing representations by the haulage industry in the Western Isles to the Scottish Government to ensure the fairest possible system of fares for commercial vehicles on ferries in the islands on a basis that recognises the economic fragility of this part of Scotland; believes that, if a system of discounts is to replace the present road equivalent tariff (RET) fares for larger commercial vehicles, it must be on a fair basis that benefits small as well as larger companies and must operate more equitably than previous discount schemes for commercial vehicles; welcomes the indication in the ferries review that the Scottish Government will look at extending the definition of a small commercial vehicle on Hebridean and Clyde ferries from a maximum of five to six metres; understands that RET fares will continue for all passengers, cars and small commercial vehicles on routes between the mainland and the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree and that the Scottish Government will extend the scheme in the course of the current parliamentary session to cover other islands, starting with Colonsay, Gigha and Islay in 2012, as well as inter-island routes such as those on the Sound of Barra and Sound of Harris, and welcomes what it considers the contrast between these policies and the situation during eight years of a Labour-Liberal Democrat administration, when not one of the longstanding demands for RET in the islands was met."
So, despite the vigorous spin to the contrary, and as anyone who has read the policy sham consultation there is no guarantee of any discounts; that the vehicle lengths might be reviewied at some point; and that RET may continue for all passengers.

On the upside, there is a call to give discounts to all commercials - but that's a bit giving the option of having a kicking from the left foot or the right foot, after you've been clubbed to the ground.

Remember that CalMac are ultimately owned and controlled by by the SNP Government, who seem content to let this change be implemented.

Cpt Pugnatious (A Salmond) announces that RET cuts are all the fault of Westminster, 
watched by the adoring Roger the Cabin Boy (A Allan) 
whilst the evil Blackbeard (Cllr MacSween) tries to spoil their fun.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Fair Fares

A news release hits my inbox:
Proposed changes to Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) for commercial vehicles
The Outer Hebrides Transport Group (OHTG) has recently been formed with the aim of working together to fight the Governments decision to remove RET for commercial vehicles from island ferries.
The OHFG would like to hear your views on how it will affect your business, your customers and the economy of the Outer Hebrides.
Please contact Gail Robertson, Co-ordinator of Outer Hebrides Transport Group

Tel: 01870 602916
Mobile: 07919 622377
The horrendous impact of these price increases of up to 175% will make the small savings on the pseudo-RET scheme look like small chage.

The 'extension' and the 'permanance' of RET has been announced in glorious technicolour by the Government, the MSP and the MP on a number of occasions,   Without a concrete promise of implementation, far less an implementation date.

The penalising of everyone who relies on the freight traffic has been introduced immediately.
David Wood, owner of Lewis haulage firm, Woody’s Express said: “This proposal from the SNP Government is economically illiterate and will have a devastating impact on the islands. The Scottish Government sneaked out this massive price hike without the courtesy of consulting any of those who will be affected.  
This will have the impact of making all the incoming food deliveries, all the fish and shellfish exports, tweed exports and every other product coming from the islands much more expensive.  Indeed, the much vaunted designation of Arnish as a centre for renewables will be undermined by this very policy.

Our MP briefly spoke out against the policy (after being severely bollocked in Barra by businessmen), before being gagged by his own party, whilst our MSP seemingly has no view on the matter.  None of the would be SNP Council candidates has had anything to say on the matter - with one notable isolated exception - despite their planned campaign slogan of "Fighting for the Islands".  The slogan is now being changed to "Tutting quietly, as instructed, in the islands."

One major area of concern is the inter-island commercial traffic, which is likely to be decimated by this increase.  One businessman has told me that he will now turn back to the mainland, rather than locally, as it is going to be more efficient overall.  10-20 years of hard work developing the inter-island business destroyed by a Government who say one thing and do another behind your back..

Now the Council and sitting Councillors need to get behind this campaign, which has the potential for inflicting serious economic damage to the islands.

Remind me again how this SNP integrated transport strategy works?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Lews Castle tenders

It appears the winner knew on Wednesday and the losing contractor was told on Friday.

The official announcement is this week, apparently.

The Bushmills, I am told, is flowing.....

As others have mentioned, the parameters that were set are designed to ensure a level playing field for all potential bidders.

In Shetland, for instance, the parameters were designed in such a way to protect (but not insulate) the local contractors from predatory pricing by businesses who had no long-term local connections.

According to senior Comhairle officers, this was impossible.  And given the attitude of certain senior Councillors to the local building trade, such a policy was never going to be driven forward.

One local contractor was asking the Council when he could expected any work to be put out to tender.  The straight and deadly serious answer was, "28 years.  After the schools maintenance tender is completed."

Imitation and flattery

It is very nice to see a competitor trying to copying what you are (successfully) doing.

It is even nicer to see them doing it in a half-hearted, incompetent and unsuccessful way in a desperate attempt to emulate your achievements.

Organic SEO is not something you can achieve overnight, and paying for Google Adwords in a desperate effort to emulate that in a highly competitive marketing environment is a sure fire way to burn £50 notes for no reward.

Keep up the poor work.  :-)

(Good to know they read the blog)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Business Gateway

I have a good working relationship with Business Gateway and their mostly successful support for local business.

Why, I am asked by a local businessman, are Business Gateway (Western Isles) aka Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, providing grant support to an Aberdeenshire business??  Albeit one run by the Lewis diaspora.

I truly hope the new business succeeds, but when I see other businesses who are refused funding you have to ask if the criteria are being equitably and objectively.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lews Castle

There are, I am very reliably told, two contenders for the contract.

One local, one not.

The contract has not been awarded yet, but is imminent.  Please hold any indignation until we know if it is appropriate or not.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Read this and weep

Duncan MacKay and Sons Ltd v CnES.

Read the report in Hebrides News and despair.

This is such a spectacular level of incompetence at so many levels, that you have to ask the question if the Council actually fit for purpose.

And, yes, I do fully understand the implications of what I say.

Source: CnES management Team training course
Where are the Councillors asking questions demanding answers and holding officers to account.  This is the fourth serious, serious, failure at the highest level in recent years, and I include the attempt to screw us as one of those failures.

As far as I am aware, not one officer has been disciplined - beyond a slap on the wrist for the sins of others - for the huge losses incurred.  Yet the buck stops in three offices - Chief Executive, Convener and Leader.

I have seen and heard evidence of other incompetencies, fraud, theft and inherent corruption that is being brushed out of sight by senior officers, rather than being dealt with and all that is doing is making the position worse; due entirely to the inability of those at the top.

But Councillors are being mushroomed ("kept in the dark and fed on bs") and accepting the self-serving view from the top that they cannot question issues because  they are sub judice, confidential or subject to disciplinary issues, when the real reason is to protect those giving that advice - the culprits.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"Climate justice"

A headline without a concept of how it is to be delivered, but necessarily full of lovely warm abstract words from the First Minister..

"I believe we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enshrine this important principle - that economic development should be linked to human rights - in global energy policy, ensuring that countries and communities least able to cope with the extreme weather events climate change brings are not further disadvantaged."
As this statement was delivered from the luxury of a hotel in Abu Dhabi, perhaps the FM should be looking a bit closer to home.
Recent hikes in the price of domestic oil have left the Western Isles facing staggering new levels of fuel poverty, with estimates that 60 per cent of households are now classed as being in its grip — and the figure for pensioners is even higher at 86 per cent.
Before the rest of the world gets a lecture, how about doing something in your own back yard?

Warm words doesn't make for warm houses.

Commonwealth Games

We tendered for the payroll for the entire Commonwealth Games in 2014, which would have created another full time job (or two) in the office.

Sadly, we didn't make the final short leet - but not by much - about which we are rather gutted, but onwards and upwards and onto the next tender.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Eishken windfarms

A really irate email from a friend in the anti-(onshore) wind farm camp arrived over the Christmas holidays.

The writer was obviously correct that the announcement of the approval of the Eishken wind farm over the Christmas holidays was shabby, transparent and pathetic.

The decision flies in the face of promises given by both MacNeil and Allan, and the MWT supporters are livid to say the least.

I was able to confirm that both these gentlemen actually opposed the applications from a position of technical ignorance, short-term local political advantage and in complete contradiction of party policy (albeit with a temporarily derogation from Salmond).

But was the decision the right one?

Actually, I think not; mainly due to the excessive delays and the absence of any support for any inter-connector to take the power from the proposed wind farm to the grid.

Never mind, instead of providing power to home, and instead of meeting the national objectives for renewable energy, it has provided a tangible economic benefit for the tax planners and financial wizards of London.

I opposed Lingerbay because it provided no immediate benefit to the local population.  The SNP Government have granted approval to a scheme that will provide no immediate benefit to the community but lots of immediate disbenefit.

That makes it the wrong decision.

The decision was inept; due largely to the fact that MacNeil and Allan do not understand renewables and do not have the slightest understanding of how this will impact the community.  The have not engaged with the Minister since the knew that the decision was for approval; so they will deny involvement and blame others for their failing.

If it is any consultation for MWT, the grid connection will probably still sink the proposal, but not before planning blight affect Pairc for another decade.

Harris Tweed Hebrides

The abuse last time I made any sort of comment about HTH was intense, and very well written.  Indeed, one might even think that the same person had authored all of the abuse.

I remember that when HTH was formed, I described them as the likely saviours of the Harris Tweed industry, a view that itself was the subject of a lot of abuse.  I stand by that original assessment, although I could never have foreseen the self-immolation of the one-time 99% market leader under the misguided leadership of Mr Haggas.

I represent many weavers, and know many employees at HTH, so I have a vested interest in hoping the company grows from strength to strength, but that doesn't equate to blind acceptance of press releases or the failure to comment on planned developments.

I am told by "someone close to the action" that a major funding announcement is due.

Anyone reading the press releases from the pen of the The Minister for Uig couldn't fail to make the connection.

As if more information was needed, on 5 January, Harris Tweed Hebrides LLP changed its name to Harris Tweed Hebrides Mill LLP and Harris Tweed Hebrides Shawbost Ltd changed its name to Harris Tweed Hebrides Ltd.  As I previously mentioned, with the new HTH being set-up and controlled by a reorganisation specialist the plan seems blindingly clear.

The sums my source has mentioned are very significant sums of public money (which I'm not going to report) matched by private finance, which can only be good for the industry and the islands

All the feedback about the future of HTH is hugely positive; but it would help if the public agencies - in the interest of openness and transparency - insisted that companies seeking finance comply with their obligations to file accounts and Annual Returns as a prerequisite. 

I look forward to the abuse for reporting the reality ahead of the positive spinning press releases. The accounts will be due in by January (so that the LLP partners can file their tax returns) so expect the funding announcement very, very, shortly.

I'm told the MP and MSP are far from happy with this investment in Wilson Enterprises, and have made their objections clear to the appropriate people, but that they are to be ignored.  Look forward to (at best) lukewarm press releases.

I look forward to the abuse resulting in me making this announcement head of the spinning press releases.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Scottish banking system

Alex Salmond rejects any Scottish responsibility for the debts run up by the Royal Bank and the Bank of Scotland.

This then assumes that a Scotland with new economic powers would not want to take responsibility for either bank.

Indeed, the proposal is for a new Scottish bank to manage Scottish borrowing and Scottish lending.

Leave aside the costs of establishing the banks - 1,000 branches, 20,000 staff, a new computer system and meeting the lending leverage requirements of Basel 2 - and let's focus on the immediate position.

The two big Scottish banks will be under the control of a foreign Government with a potentially different economic agenda.

Ireland grew, burnt and crashed because it's low-tax economic policies couldn't be reflected in its fiscal controls to revalue the exchange rate or to reduce interest rates.  Greece, at the other end of the spectrum, had exactly the opposite needs, and it too has burnt and crashed.  The economic power house that is Germany has set the economic framework to benefit Germany - and France until this weekend.

Scotland applies Plan MacB whilst the UK carries on as is: so the RBS and BoS follow a different economic policy and Scotland is strangled.  Or if the UK has got it right and Scotland has it wrong, the banks flood the economy with cheap money and cause rampant local inflation and the collapse of business.

Something like 60% of the retail banking sector would be owned by a foreign Government (with a grudge), and 99.9% of all banking capacity will be controlled from outside the country for at least 5 years. 

Good move?  I think not.

Only 1000 days?

And thousands of questions that need answers......

Sadly, it looks like the majority of really difficult questions will have vague or nonsensical answers when they should actually be challenged head-on and responded to accordingly.

But that's not my problem; indeed, I think the role of devils's advocate fits nicely with the questions that cannot be answered by those in the SNP who do not actually understand the questions, and prefer abuse to considering the issues.

One spectacular series of comments on Facebook has shown me just how very little a very senior local SNP member actually understands any of the issues, but who posts fawning tributes to party leaders as an alternative to analysis.
I'm going to try and raise issues in an even-handed and objective way, and provoke discussion which (I hope) will help everyone to make up their mind; or failing which to demand more information before making an informed decision.

Internet security

Your Internet security is only as good as the weakest link.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am that weakest link.

After a unexpected, and I think entirely innocent, attempt to access the blog by a third party the password was reset and sent to a secure email address.  So secure, that I had forgotten the password.  And as I was away, the computer on which the password reminder was stored was inaccessible due to power cuts. 

By the time I could access my pc, the web mail had been pulled down by the other persons pc, and then it had crashed due to the power cuts.

Oh dear.

Finally, I got the link to answer the security questions and reset the password.  Lesson learnt and email addresses changed.

What passes for normal service is resumed and the 300+ comments moderated.