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

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fading memories

Isn't it all a bit pathetic - and frankly unbelievable - that neither the Westminster nor Holyrood Governments can manage to draw up a list of meetings with self-important tycoons, without managing to omit one or more of these events.

The "Oops, I forgot all about it..." defence has worn so thin as to be nothing more than a veneer that politicians use to cover their own embarrassment.

Perhaps the most information that has come out is in showing how little difference there is between the lying capacity and duplicity of all of the political parties.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

UHI - the future?

The report in The Herald vindicates what I have been saying for a few years.

The sad part is that the centralisation is being driven by Government as a cost saving measure, when skills should be grouped in devolved centres of excellence - finance in island X, student records in island Y and admin in location Z.

It's a lot like the stupidity of having CalMac in Gourock when it should be in Barra (or Colonsay, or Lewis) with the directors not allowed to fly.

Sadly, the aspiration for devolution seems to stop at Edinburgh....

Eats shoots and leaves

The SNP advert on Hebrides News seems to be advocating communal leasing.... 

Hopefully, the education policy is to a higher standard of literacy.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Election prophesies

"Forecasting is difficult, especially about the future", Mao Tse Tung

I'm having real difficulty in working out who might remain after the election, as it is a bit easier to identify those who look like being elected in their communities.

I look at the lists and despair at some of the candidates.  Truly despairs.  Especially, when I think that some of these will actually get their incompetent paws on the reins of power.  It is moderately comforting that they will be so out of their depth that any damage they do will be minimal.

The incoming Council will be worse than the last, despite the presence of some extremely able individuals, and it is clear to me that the gap between the best and worst Councillors is widening at every election.  But then we get who we vote for.

The easy prophesy first.  The only people who will be re-elected at the first round, for varying reasons, will be John MacKay, Charlie Nicolson and and Catherine MacDonald.

Most of the rest will be relying upon 3rd and 4th votes to get in. 

In Ness, Alasdair Dunlop should fill the vacancy, and Iain Morrison should be back.

In Stornoway North, Murdo Murray should get in, as should Iain "Sheep" MacAulay, but which of the sitting Councillors will go?

In Point I think that perhaps only 1 of the existing Councillors will survive, but I'm really torn as to who will replace them.  My head says Iain Don MacIver and Alasdair MacLeod.

In North Lochs and Uig, Norman Angus MacDonald will replace Norman Angus MacDonald - Puss to replace Docus.  I think Annie MacDonald might squeeze back in, but the rest is a lottery.

Poor, poor, residents of South Lochs and Harris.  Three of the four candidates don't even live in the ward, and one didn't seen to have realised the date of the elections when he booked his holidays in the Himalayas, where he will be advised by the voters that they come first.  DJ MacRae looks to be one of the very few bright spots for the Labour Party with his unique take on Council politics.  His presence will certainly be distinctive and he will have an inimitable approach to decision making.

South Uist and Barra is a crazy wide-open race.  I though Donald Manford was out, as the lightening rod for the abolition of RET, but now I'm not so sure.  He will not, however, under any circumstances, be Chair of Transportation after the elections.  Ronnie MacKinnon will be back.  As for the rest, given the history in this ward, I suspect the other sitting Councillors are in serious danger of all losing.

The rest of the wards are too crazy to call, although the fate of certain individual individuals is really clear.

This is not an election for the faint-hearted candidate, and I think that virtually all of them should be preparing two speeches.

I think I get an invitation to the count, but I'm not sure my stomach can take the sight of certain individuals saying vacuous crap they don't believe in.

By their leaflets shall you know them.....

If a politician tells you all about their commitment to creating jobs on the island, and has their election address printed off the island, doesn't that stink of hypocrisy?  

If they break their promises that easily......

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ups and downs

It was a series of conversations with people in the tourism industry that identified two interlined issues.

I was initially astonished to hear that the Lewis & Harris tourism trade is down by about 25% compared to last year, and that this looks like being the trend for the entire year.

It's actually quite obviously - with hindsight - that the success of tourism was grossly oversold last year.  The truth is that the demand for beds was wildly distorted by the demands of the contractors who were absorbing so many bed nights.

They were generally occupying the cheaper accommodation and pushing the tourists into higher priced/better accommodation, giving a huge boost to hotels and the higher-end Guest Houses.  Suddenly, this year there is a dearth of tourists - or more accurately, the number are back to where they were before the major construction worker inflow took place.

In the meantime, the demand has encouraged more people to make houses available for self-catering, and I understand that there are more than 100 extra properties available this year then 2/3 years ago.  This excess supply is pushing down prices, and fewer people are going to have a decent living.

There are a couple of other issues that need to be resolved too.

I am reliably informed that there are more available beds in Harris than the ferry could cope with, if all the guests left on the same day.  There will have to be a lot of work by the industry in encouraging different patterns of visiting.

Allied to this, a recurring and long-flagged up issue arises.  The ferries are not big enough and potential and actual tourists are being turned away due to a lack of capacity.  You reduce fares, passenger numbers increase.  It's not rocket science, and we need a practical demonstration that RET is here to stay by the Government committing to new, much larger ferries on all routes: and not another 'consultation' to defer the issue.

It was during the course of these chats that I was told some important and sensitive information about a local business, which I can't even hint at, due to real or perceived client conflicts.

In just the past few weeks, our firm has won some new major local clients which has effectively blocked me from commenting on some major local issues due to the business or location of the clients, and some topics are now completely off limits for me, which is a bit of an explanation to an anon correspondent.

This has been a growing problem, that is going to have to be addressed by me....

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Taxation neeedn't be taxing. But it is.

I've decided to move the accountancy practice offshore.

Nicolson Accountancy EU Sarl will be based in Luxembourg, and the Stornoway office will become an 'order fulfilment centre'.

I will employ literally a brace of people in Luxembourg, one to answer the phone and one to spend all day taking money to the banks, and as there is no tax to pay in the UK, I can cut prices by over 20%, driving the competition into the wall.

I'll then fill this gap, by getting a Scottish Government grant to expand the premises and bring employment to an unemployment blackspot; that I have helped create.

Alternatively, I'll mortgage everything I have.  Lend it all to a British Virgin Islands company, who lends it back to the UK company at double the interest rate I pay.  I'll get a tax deduction on all this interest on money I borrowed but don't actually need, whilst the BVI company will earn it all tax-free and pay of my mortgages and give me a very nice lifestyle.

Any spare cash will be lent back unnecessarily to the UK company in a tax-deductible/tax-free circle that continues until UK Corporation Tax becomes zero.  At this point, I'll trumpet my multi-million pound investment in Scotland, and be invited for tea at Bute House (which will appear on the official record).

The former, is of course, the Amazon style; and I didn't appreciate the full extent of their tax manipulation until this week, thinking that my spend was recycling in the UK.  It's not.

According to the Guardian, there are 2,265 employed by Amazon in the UK, and 164 in Luxembourg covering the entire EU.  But the UK seems bizarrely unprofitable, generating a mere £3m in taxable profits compared to an expected £100m.

The second is the News International structure, with debt used to move profits around.  It is surprisingly easy to do this, and has recently been enshrined in law as completely permissible - for large companies multi-nationals only.

So the correct and fair question that needs ananswer is: What will be the tax position of these two examples in an Independent Scotland?

Are we to become a "tax haven" as Francis Maude was rightly pilloried for aspiring to, or will we follow the Scandanavian model and insist on profits earned being tax here?

The SNP cannot remain silent on this, or try and deflect to the current taxation policies in the UK, for the very simple reason that we are supposed to be looking forward to a bright new future, not building a future based on past mistakes.

Political parties have to issue manifestos that address the real issues, or they will find themselves flailing about, in the same way that MacNeil did with a Shetland opt-out from Independence.

This is the biggest decision in many generations, and no-one seems prepared to try to come up with answers to some of the key questions and that, I am afraid, is just not good enough.  If 50 years of waiting, and 5 years in power are not long enough to find coherent answers then there is something far wrong.

Are the politicians too emotionally in hock to the multi-nationals to ever consider the impact on the wider economy of a grant-shopping, grant-hopping, local-economy destroying giant?

Are we to become a nation of over-taxed individuals, flipping burgers and packing books to pay the taxes for the social services, whilst the multi-nationals take the profits tax-free to Luxembourg and the Caribbean?

Or is the country going to take it's share of taxable income from the multi-nationals and build schools, Universities, roads and a sense of a viable future?

The absence of any kind of answer is - sadly - very telling, and will result in an eroded Scottish tax base, as the moderately wealthy emigrate in search of a better balance between taxation and standard of life; and the wealthiest emulate the multi-nationals.