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

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

RET - a different take

This will be contentious, but I would like to put forward a proposal which I think could benefit from discussion, debate and argument.

How should RET be best structured to bring the greatest benefit to the islands?

Let's start with the given that we all want full RET for all the ferries; but the SNP Government are saying "No" to that.

Well, I'm coming around to the idea that as much as possible should be ploughed into the Commercial sector at the expense of the private traveller to lower the costs of basic foodstuffs, fuel, and other essentials, whilst making it more difficult for private individual to go to Inverness and spend their money in M&S or Primark, rather than in the local shops.

Absolutely no special volume deals for any haulier, and remove any practical barriers that are preventing mainland based hauliers competing on the islands.

5m commercials and buses qualify for the reduced fare, but not motor homes.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Ferry fares

Can anyone reconcile the calls by MSP and MP for CalMac to use some of their £6m marketing budget to fund a Lochboisdale-Mallaig ferry


the total unquestioning acceptance of the £2.7m (or £1.3m or whatever) cut in commercial RET fares for the whole of the Western Isles?

Could it be down to the Barra hauliers kicking some backsides?

Marine Biopolymers Ltd

With £10m in public funding potentially going into Lochboisdale, it is vital that there is no perception of conflicts of interest, or possibilities for personal financial gain.

Sunlight is, as they say, the best disinfectant.

Project Fingal, the grandiosely named collaboration between HIE, CnES and Storas has led to the creation of Lochboisdale Development Ltd to take forward the marine and seaweed related plans.

In June, Marine Biopolymers confirmed that Angus MacMillan was an advisor to Marine Biopolymers Ltd.  Mr MacMillan is, as we all know, also the MD of Storas and one of the directors of Lochboisdale Development Ltd.

But, ooops, what is this that seems to have been omitted from the Register of Interest in Storas?

On 10 August 2011 Mr MacMillan became a director of Marine Biopolymers, and the most recent Annual Return shows that he owns 403,333 shares in Marine Biopolymers (or 16.67% of the company).  It is not clear when, or how, these shares were acquired.

With Minutes of Lochboisdale Development Ltd not being in the public domain, it is unclear if the new financial interest has ever been disclosed, as it doesn't seem to have been disclosed to Storas at subsequent meetings.

So we now have the position where £10m in public money is going to a "community project" that is being run by a person with a financial interest in the seaweed test site at Crooked River, and a financial interest in the company developing site, and the Chairman of the community company, and its subsidiaries.

If all the business was conducted openly and with publicly accessible minutes, then it would be a different matter, but with secrecy and obtuse answers to simple questions, it looks like there is something to hide.

Now, let me make it very clear for the benefits of the legal profession, that there is no suggestion of impropriety; and that the other directors were fully aware of the position, as required by the various Companies Acts; and there is no suggestion that the updating of the Register of Interest as anything but an oversight; and that there were no undisclosed conflicts arising at any meetings of Storas or Lochboisdale Development; and that both CnES and HIE were fully aware of the new business relationship.

However, going forward, there is an enormous question over the ability of Mr MacMillan to be in virtual control over almost every aspect of this investment, given that there are numerous potential conflicts which may impede the development going forward.

I think the other directors need to seek independent legal advice - to make sure they do not accidentally fall foul of the law should a Chairman's conflict of interest (accidentally) arise - and the funders need to review issues of probity and transparency, as a matter of urgency.

After all, we wouldn't want cries of "self interest" to delay the rejuvenation of Lochboisdale, or cast unnecessary aspersions on the work of Storas.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

May holiday

Over the past few weeks, a lot of people have tried to find out my plans for the May bank holiday weekend.

Will I be on a walking holiday in Newton and Sandwick?

Is my metaphorical hat metaphorically going into a metaphorical ring?

What could they mean?

Thanks for your concern, but Mrs N and I have some lovely time planned together to discuss our future plans.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Blowing our own trumpet

Nicolson Accountancy have just won an exclusive contract with Nova Subsea AS, a major Norwegian employment agency who operate across the world.

Our specialist foreign tax service, has been appointed as the sole provider of Norwegian tax advice to all the UK contractors employed by Nova.

This innovative approach will result in us making sure that there is full compliance with the requirements of Skatteetaten - the Norwegian Tax Authority - as well as advising on the interaction with UK taxes.  

Sue Nicolson said, "Our mission is to ensure that all taxes are minimised and that accurate and timely reporting takes place, and we are looking forward to working with Nova and its employees and contractors in the coming years."

Friday, February 24, 2012

Mallaig ferry meeting tonight

Thanks to my mole in the MSP's office, I have received a draft of the speech that he will be giving tonight to the public meeting called to campaign for a Mallaig-Lochboisdale ferry.
Hello SNP supporters (add something slightly patronising in Gaelic here).

I am able to bring you good news about ferries to the Western Isles, as instructed by President Salmond.

The First Ministers has an undeniable love for the Western Isles which has seen him visit here regularly just before some elections - in complete contrast to the Labour Party's plan to bulldoze the islands into the sea, and fill the wastelands with giant, carnivorous, hunter-killer geese.

His Mightiness has instructed the Transport Minister (Mr Brown) to review ferry provision to the islands, and to instruct the Board of CalMac to come to a considered decision over the provision of Lochboisdale-Mallaig ferry.

The Board of CalMac have checked with the sole shareholder (A Salmond) about what the outcome of that review should be, so that they can write the report in the appropriate tone, and give the matter the appropriate consideration.  Mr Brown has also been advised of the decision he has to come to when he independently reviews the objective report.

Tonight, I can reveal the final outcome of the decision on the explicit instruction of Chief Alex of the Isles.

CalMac are delighted to announce that, following an in depth review of the service, there will be a 100% increase in the service provision between South Uist and Mallaig, through a combination of a reduced possibility of cancellation of the new Mallaig route, and the provision of alternative routing services. 

To honour our service guarantee, the ferry will not run on any days where there is a possibility of cancellation, and alternative direct ticketing provision via Castlebay, Lochmaddy, Tarbert and Stornoway will open up next exciting single-ticket routes for travellers in ways that considered impossible before Emperor Alex brought his great powers of thought to bear on the problem. 

There will now be five single-ticket direct routes from Lochboisdale to Mallaig, something our Labour opponents have campaigned against since Clement Atlee personally hung the entire first ferry committee on the old pier, and send their families into slavery in the slate mines of Wales.

This new service provision will be subject to an assessment period following a brief alternative bedding-in process, and subject to financial constraints imposed by the evil Tory, LibDem, Labour axis of evil who have cut Scotland's Transport budget by over £11.9 bn this week alone, leading to starving pensioners rampaging on the streets.

All signage, ticketting and advertising for the new ferry will be in Gaelic only, and will be displayed in the Tourist Office (closed Monday - Thursday, Friday, most of Saturday, and Sunday) until the assessment of the existing provision is concluded.  The assessment report is due by June 2025.

The Government have set aside over £10m for the evaluation; the Gaelic language website design; a Gaelic language plan for the ferry; and a promotional video featuring King Alex announcing the new ferry route in Uist, Mallaig, Dubai, China, with the pandas, and on the moon.

Finally, I can announced to your jubilation and undying adulation, that RET will be introduced on route on exactly the same basis as for all other Western Isles routes, which will be paid for (after extensive consultations with the entire industry earlier today) by immediately increasing the discounted discount available to hauliers from 50% to 25%; and by extending the hauliers discount to all vehicles over 36 inches - meaning that there will be a level playing field between the rapacious hauliers and those criminals who are smuggling a kit-house onto the ferry in their Skoda.

Finally, I will be available to discuss this with you later tonight, but only if you agree with what the magnificent SNP Government has delivered.

Notes to editors:

The direct service between Mallaig and Lochboisdale will cost £3.70 for a typical traveller.  (Gaelic speaking Smartcar painted yellow and black with disabled SNP sticker - 100 book return journey, off-peak only, no cancellations, booking all journeys at time of purchase via the website in Scots, Gaelic, Lallans or Welsh).  Other fares will start at £1,000 single

The ferry will not run on any days that there is the possibility of weather, and the Scottish Government is committed to converting MV Para Handy into a worldclass ro-ro vessel when the weather issue is resolved.

Alternative direct ticketing routes will be available (excludes the cost of non-ferry transport).

Labour have opposed this highly successful SNP policy for over 100 years, resulting in the death of many Labour activists.


I think I might have too much time on my hands.

RET - the fallout

A Councillor tells me that the Chair of Transportation has sent a letter, in the name of the Council, to the Transport Minister, welcoming the changes to RET.

This obviously contradicts and undermines the position of the Council, and  I am told that many of the Councillors are livid about this.

A second Councillor is talking about a vote of no confidence, and canvassing for names for a new Chair, after the elections.

It is all going to get very messy and bitter.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


A haulier has been in touch to ask how to add an extra line to his computerised invoicing.

He is thinking about adding an additional surcharge onto every invoice:
SNP tax --- £15
It may not be big or clever, but he wants to get a message across.

Party before the public

I don't know why anyone is surprised that Alasdair Allan will hide behind "collective responsibility" when he votes to undermine the economy of the islands later today.  His campaigning over the restriction on ADS was a master-class in invisibility and duplicity.

This is a man for whom becoming a unthinking party loyalist has been the sole driving ambition. 

At least since he stopped being a Labour supporter. 

It is not as if we can dignify his intentions with his being a member of the 'payroll vote', as it is clear that utter obedience is the principal trait that justifies his entire existence.  Parachuted into the constituency as a reward for years of brown-nosing, he has perfected the techniques which have so brought Parliament and politicians into public contempt.

His record of questioning SNP decisions is there for all to see; a few banalities about "my constituents" followed by voting exactly as instructed by the party.  Against his voters.

You - the public - get exactly what you vote for.

Remember that when the SNP Councillors ask you to vote for them, and their silent support for the abolition of RET.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Government survey

IPSOS Mori phoned me tonight to ask me to participate in a special survey about how the Scottish Government 'could help my business'.*

Ferret meet drainpipe.  I thought...

RET?  ADS?  Less red tape?


"What sort of problems have you had in borrowing money in the past three years?"  Name the banks.  Name the problems.  Identify the borrowing requirements.

Tangential questions about staffing and some other issues, but all about how the banking system had failed us.  Not that I am suggesting there were leading questions.

Even questions about growth aspirations and expectations were underplayed.

All in all, I felt like my comments were being used to justify a stick to complain about matters outwith the Scottish Governments control rather than any real interest in how control could be used to help our business grow.

As I have done in the past, I explained how we grow, how we could be helped to grow, and the obstacles to growth.  Ooops. My answers didn't fit the criteria, or the questions didn't seek these sort of answers.

I had to recall how I told a very senior business development officer how to grow the entire local professional services market.  Thrice.  No reply.  No interest.  And when suggestions were made, a flat refusal to help "on policy grounds" delivered by an underling.  The impression that one needs the right handshake is not helped by previous and subsequent events.

Thankfully, at least one person is interested in building a case, despite their superiors (sic).

Still onwards and upwards waving two fingers in the air.....

(And I have great story about a local politician who proclaims to b pro-business...  But that's for later)

* Forgive me from quoting Ronald Regan, who said the nine scariest words were "I'm from the government and I'm here to help".

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Leaking radiators

Coming back from a weekend away to find the radiator hadn't been fixed and were leaking was slightly disappointing, especially as we tried to explain to the kids that turning on the lights when water was dripping down from the bulb was not a good idea.

I do have to explain that the house has sound proofing between the floors when which consists of the old ash from the Newton gas works.

It is great for killing the sound, but when  it absorbs water it slowly leaches colour and moisture throughout the surfaces.

I can smell a methane like odour from the floors, and the painter will need to hide the slight discolouration.

Between peat, the gas works and the old paraffin works, Stornoway was virtually self-sufficient in fuel until Scottish Fuels and the Scottish Government brought us 'civilisation'.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

RET for hauliers

Fortuitously, I bumped into an old friend who is close to the centre of decision making in the Scottish Government.  The vagueness over their role is deliberate.

Talk turns to RET, and my friend caustically points out that the SNP had 30 years of formulating a policy and supporting RET for commercial and domestic traffic, only to claim after 2 years that the policy which has proved successful in Norway doesn't work (but only in the Western Isles).

The real decision, they confirmed, was all about saving some money.  The decision to blame the hauliers was taken at the last moment, without any evidence, and with the full knowledge and support of Alasdair Allan (MacNeil seems to have absented himself from this view).

Civil Servants have been unable to find any evidence to support the Government's stance, which is now the official position, which the "consultation" is expected to confirm.

The Civil Service took the view that if there were 'profiteering' by local hauliers, then it will only be a matter of time before mainland hauliers (or new local firms) exploit the opportunity, driving prices down.  By reverting back to the old system of volume discounts, the Government are creating barriers to new hauliers entering the market, which will - perversely - keep haulage costs higher for the islands.

Meantime, we see the attempts to justify the decision appearing in the local press, without any evidence to support the arguments.  My friend confirmed that SNP Press Officers are busy churning out template letters and briefings to affected constituencies putting forward the view that a cut in subsidy is A Good Thing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Legal actions

In about 1990 or 1992 I gave evidence in a commercial legal action where I was subject to serious cross-examination by QCs, which was quite entertaining and a fabulous experience.  My element focussed on a valuation certificate that the client denied existed, but that I had seen and read upside-down on his desk.

The legal action dragged on due to changes in lawyers, appeals and associated actions.

After the legal action concluded various professional advisors were sued; counter-sued; and sued again.

The list of legal actions following the original case is immense including a recalled insolvency petition and the removal of assorted liquidators.

The lawyers for the successful litigant have only just had a judgement in their favour for the balance of the legal fees, some 20 years on.  There may still, of course, be an appeal.

Jarndyce v Jarndyce it was not; but I suspect it is going to appear in the legal text books when it finally finishes.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Good news!

The oil companies have conceded a major saving to the Western Isles.

As a spokesman said:
Today we are providing more evidence of our commitment in support of the Western Isles and everyone in those communities. We are investing £2.5m on these transitional arrangements for consumers next year. This will ensure all consumers will face rises of no more than 50% in any year over the transitional period.
Bunting in the streets, and double hemlock all around.

Of course, this isn't the vicious, nasty, rapacious oil companies but a bastardised version of the press release from Keith Brown and the SNP Government as the ferry fare increases are reduced from fatal to utterly crippling.

There is, as always, and alternative view.  

This view is from the derrière of Mr Brown where Mr Allan was obviously desperately searching for promotion, as he described a 50% increase as "major progress".  Please protect me from "minor progress".

CalMac solve ferry crisis

It might as well be.

Roll on the single undersized ferry jammed to the gunnels breaking down regularly and adding ££££ to our shopping bills as RET is abolished (aka reviewed) for lorries.

Great, we'll be cut off for weeks at a time as Scottish Government penny pinching takes effect.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Councillor, Councillor, Councillor

When an SNP Councillor reposted a picture on Facebook that was irredeemably anti-English, if not downright racist, I commented that with all the positive things to say, it was a shame that the SNP had to resort to such negativity.

This brought forth an unprovoked torrent of postings, which ended with me being described as a Traitor and The Enemy Within.

I think this level of insult lies somewhere between "Gauleiter" and "Talking down Scotland" in the big SNP book of cyber blogging.

I don't subscribe to the view that the Councillor may have had a libation or two too many at the time, but he then removed every comment about the posting, and tried to blame an (innocent) third party who had also commented for providing me with the information; when in fact the postings were brought to my attention by an appalled pillar of the community.

However, let's look at the subsequent exchanges on Facebook:

(I've deleted the Councillor's name for the moment, along with that of the person he is trying to blame)

The last comment was intriguing, as I read that as a very clear acknowledgement of tone and tenor of the comments, as well as a clear attempt to threaten me to keep quiet.  An all to prevalent and recently adopted SNP tactic in the islands.

My subsequent email invited the Councillor to make the comments public as I have nothing to hide, but so far there has been no response.

Onwards to the Standards Commission and the regulatory body, who I am sure will look down on racism and threats, and attempts to besmirch the reputation of a professional.

No doubt the constituents will be very interested to know that their Councillor - who has now moved far out of the Ward he represents - will be interested in the anti-English views and threatening behaviour of this gentleman.

Attempts to name the Councillor will be disallowed.  At least for a few days to give him the chance to reconsider his stance.

Romantic Break for Three

I'm told that there is a B&B in Uig that has decided not to get involved in this promotion.
Have we lost our minds? It’s B&B for Three! Yes, you and you and even you at the romantic Windermere Suites in the Lake District.
What we are saying is your fine self and two other companions would be sharing one room. The three of you. At once.

Do I have to draw you a diagram? I think you know where we are coming from. This is possibly the first time in the British Isles that this kind of behaviour has been actively encouraged.
Just imagine the tourism opportunities in the Western Isles - bed-night rates would increase by 50%, and we wouldn't need that pesky RET on luxuries like food.

I think the Lews Castle Hotel could be redesigned around this concept, and the prices raised accordingly.

Council Economic Development Department - it's over to you.

h/t to J

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

RET and Budget choices

If the cuts in RET cost an unaffordable £1.5m, then how come the Government can miraculously find £72,000,000 for roads?

It is all about priorities.

And the Western Isles aren't a priority.

And the Labour Party view on RET


The Western Isles Labour Party claims that SNP representatives have failed the islands following the meeting between Transport Minister Keith Brown and island hauliers.

Matt Bruce, Chairman of the Western Isles CLP said: " On such a crucial economic issue that will affect every household in the islands Alasdair Allan, Angus MacNeil and Donald Manford failed to convince their own Transport Minister of the  consequences of withdrawing the RET scheme for lorries.

As usual the blame is directed elsewhere and no responsibility is taken for what has been a mitigated disaster from start to finish.  If Mr Allan had any influence at all in government this issue would not have seen the light of day.  We now have a situation where SNP representatives are caught between their loyalty to the Scottish Government and the people of the Western Isles, who will suffer directly as a result of their failure."

He continued: " If RET was the jewel in their policy crown they have now gone to great lengths to dismantle it and as a result the haulage, shellfish,crofting industries and ultimately every person in the Western Isles will suffer immeasurably.

If the plan of having SNP Councillors after the next election was to put the Western Isles in a more favourable position with the Scottish Government the idea has failed before it has even begun.  Mr Manford has proved that this week.

At least one of their candidates has had the courage of his convictions and resigned in protest over this issue.  As for the other announced SNP candidates their silence has been deafening an indication of what to expect should they ever be elected.  They would be apologists for the Scottish Government at the expense of the interests of  the people of the Western Isles."


Apologies to Iain Don MacIver for describing him as a 'puppet' over the RET issue.

He obviously puts principles above party, and prefers to fight for the islands, rather than against our best interests.

One only needs to report the various reports of the meeting between the hauliers and the Minister to be able to separate the vigorous spinning from the real facts.

That leaves 15 14 SNP council candidates* actively supporting the anti-island policy.  (Updated for an until now hidden resignation)

Or as others might put, "talking the islands down".

* This number is subject to change. Watch this space.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Standards Commission and the behaviour of a Councillor

A big "Hello!" to the Councillor who made offensive, rude and inaccurate comments about me on Facebook, and has then tried to hide the evidence by deleting the comments.

You have 48 hours to publicly withdraw the comments and apologise or I will be going to the Standards Commission.

As you may know, Facebook comments live forever, even after being deleted.

Thanks to the person who sent me a screenshot.

It seems that the Independence debate is only a debate if you share a certain unquestioning viewpoint.

A link to this posting is being forwarded to their Council email account, and via Facebook, and then "unfriend".

Monday, February 06, 2012

6 metre vehicles

With the announcement via Am Paipear that vehicles up to 6m will now enjoy what passes for RET, another inequity is resolved.  Careful reading indicates that inter-island fares appear to continue to be excluded from the fare reductions.

But look at the manner of this; a Ministerial announcement is released early by the Constituency MSP. 

Unusual?  Extremely.

No sign of the announcement appearing on the Government website, and no doubt the Parliament will be a bit put out.

Of course, there is a major policy consultation on ferries going on, which includes an opportunity for the public to have their say on this very issue.  Which is all now a bit redundant, and doesn't exactly give you faith in the  consultation process when the Minister makes a unilateral decision (albeit the right one) on one aspect of the process shortly after the consultation starts.

How does this impact on the rest of the consultation?  Does it actually matter, given that the whole exercise is nothing more than an arse-covering delaying mechanism?

However, it does indicate the panic in the ranks of the Government at the prospect of a bullish, bolshy, and representative group* sitting the other side of the desk.  This is a sop to try and show the 'listening' Government and distract from the main issue.

However, I am sure that the group will not be dissuaded by minor concessions or by the vacuous blandishments of our MSP desperately trying to defuse a situation he has inflamed.

The silence of every would be SNP Councillor on this issue is very telling.  Puppets on a string.

* The deliberate exclusion of Norman MacAskill, Drimore, at the instigation of the MSP is a shocking disgrace.

Public sector tendering

There are been much discussion about who should or shouldn't be allowed to tender on various Council contracts, but as this report from esteemed economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert makes clear the problem is much deeper than that.

It is not about closing doors.  It is not about preventing people contracting.  It is not about protectionism.

The challenge in hand is how to maximise the benefit for the local community when tenders are awarded.

As an example, if a finance tender is awarded to a local firm of accountants, then the money is spent locally, circulates locally and can result in higher and better skills being available locally. 

It is clear that a Council - for instance - has the power to insist on certain local benefits as part of the tendering process.  That might be the creation of a certain number of apprenticeships or other specific terms and conditions which ensure that the local community benefits.

As long as everyone has the same obligations, that is perfectly permissible, and this can dissuade those companies with little interest in the community, beyond the tender, from bidding for the work.

It doesn't guarantee that local firms will win the work, but it does keep more money in the local community.

Which is A Good Thing.

As I argued 5 years ago, it is possible and legal to do this if the will-power existed in the Council Chamber.

It didn't then, and I suspect it doesn't now.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Fred Goodwin

RBS sponsored Formula 1.

RBS supported Jackie Stewart as an ambassador.

Jackie Stewart decries the 'witch hunt'.

#Money, money, money, it's a rich man's world#

Lews Castle College (again)

Sad to say, it looks like my inside information was spot on.

It looks like major jobs cuts and major cuts rationalisation of courses are looming.

So much for the supposed agenda to take young people off unemployment and through skills and into work.