Gazette letters 18.2.16

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COUNCIL SAVINGS

Like so many local councils throughout Britain the Comhairle is having to think of creating savings in expenditure.

One of the more positive ways of doing this, is of course, to reduce the number of Councillors and there are suggestions to reduce the current number from 31 to 20.

Using the information freely available on their web site this would reduce the amount of money spent a year on wages from £601,747 (for 31 Councilors whose average wage is £19,411) to £388,220 for 20 Councillors. A substantial saving of £213,527.

Congratulations to them for their fiscal sense and management review - few people would doubt that 20 Councilors would be adequate to manage the Western Isles.

It is worth noting that in addition to the above figures there is an additional expenditure in wages and expenses for two committee chairmen of £24,398 and £22,535 included in the wage bill for 2014/15 thus the total wage bill was £648,680.

Possibly because they felt they had done their duty by suggesting (but as yet not implementing) this reduction in numbers.

Then our Councillors turned to other ways of reducing expenses. It was recently announced that Stornoway will probably be visited by even more cruise ships in 2016.

With this information buzzing in their minds what do the Councillors decide to to?

They wish to close the public toilets in the main square, close the Bus Station waiting room, create another blanked out frontage in the town by closing the library for most of the week and to ensure that the increase in visitors see an untidy town, they will decrease the amount of grass cutting they do!

The vast amount of money they will save from implementing the first two items - £20,000 approximately.

Possibly because they were basking in the sheer effort of (possibly) cutting their numbers they omitted to look inward at any more savings they themselves might make.

As with any business operating expenses make up a large area of cash outflow.

Looking at the breakdown of expenditure - an item for other Travel Expenses (not including those for car and van mileage) caught our eye.

We would imagine that the bulk of this expense is in travel to Glasgow for meetings (not conferences as there is another expense column for this - amounting to £2,635) this travel column amounts to £42,931.

Could savings be made here? Let’s say that one Councillor has to make one trip per week to Glasgow to represent the Western Isles in Glasgow and averages £700 in expenses (air fare, hotel and meals) per trip.

Let us then take 3 of these trips a month = £2,100 x 12 = £25, 200 a year.

This would comfortably cover any cash savings from closing the Bus Station and Public Toilets.

However, I can hear you (or the Councillors) say we need to attend these meetings.

Of course you do - so we suggest the implementation of video conferencing.

Those of you who have used Skype will know how this works.

Utilizing this technology 3 times a month our trusty Councillor can then visit Glasgow once a month to ensure his ideas and presence are noted.

The above example is for one Councillor in one department, if the use of video conference could be extended to: Education, Social Services the resultant savings would be quite substantial.

Utilizing this method would mean that the local jobs associated with the public toilets and bus station would not be lost and these facilities would be available for tourists and visitors to the area.

These, of course are merely suggestions and we are sure there may be hidden reasons which prevent them being implemented but we put them forward to stimulate discussion and hopefully some savings.

Tom Smillie and John Angus Campbell

Ness

LAST COLUMN

Picking up this week’s Gazette, I turned first, as I always do, to the Viewpoint columnby the Rev Dr Iain D Campbell, and I was saddened to read that this was to be his last.

This was not because I share Dr Campbell’s faith, or agree with many of the conclusions he draws from it for modern life - I do not.

Like Dr Campbell, though a generation earlier, I was brought up in Lewis on the Shorter Catechism and “the old book called the Bible”.

Unlike him, though, I do not believe that this or any other book, old or new, “can sort out our messy world in an instant”.

Nor do I view my lost faith with any nostalgia or regret. I would not want to believe again, even if I could, that the great majority of the human race was predestined to eternal torment, even by a loving God.

So why my sadness over the ending of Dr Campbell’s column? It is because he has given us, with astonishing consistency over so many years, a rational, courteous, witty and entertaining presentation of a viewpoint that has been of immense importance in the history of the island and the nation, and is still widely held and influential in many parts of the world today.

All of us, secular humanists included, must surely benefit from engaging with beliefs and values we do not share, and thereby testing and clarifying our own.

Viewpoint has helped me and, I am sure, many others to do just that. The Gazette will be poorer for its absence.

D. Mackinnon

Gwent, Wales

FAIR TAX

I would like to make something very clear, I do not want to see hard working families pay any more tax, who does?

So if any politician is brave enough to suggest that they should, there had better be a very good reason and it better be fair. The Labour Party’s policy to increase the rate of tax for all taxpayers in Scotland by 1% to protect spending on vital services public services satisfies both these requirements.

Cuts to local authority budgets will inevitably affect the most vulnerable in our communities. Many of the services we now take for granted will no longer be provided due to these avoidable cuts.

Here on our Islands we are faced with the stark reality of service cuts which will affect all households, but will be particularly felt by our young people and our elderly.

The money raised by this tax rise will be used to protect services

The proposed tax rise is also fair. Nobody earning under £20 000 will pay any more tax, and over that amount there will be new rates of 21% and 41% meaning that those on higher salaries pay progressively more tax.

The Scottish Government now has the powers to fight austerity and I, for one, would be delighted if they used them.

Billy MacKinnon

Chair Na h-Eileanan an Iar Labour Party

OVER THE TOP

The contributions from your columnists Rev. Iain D. and Rev. Terry Taggart are always interesting, made the more-so by their different writing styles and the content of the pieces they produce.

If I may speak of Rev. Taggart, he wrote recently about the late David Bowie, regarding him as an incredibly talented musician and a trailblazer who provided a legacy we will be able to resource for many years to come (Thought for the Week, 4.2.16).

I’m afraid I didn’t see Bowie in quite the same light, indeed it seemed to me the response to news of his death was way over the top.

Incredibly throughout the day the BBC devoted the greater part of its news bulletins to Bowie. Word of the long awaited relief convoy to the starving children in the besieged town of Madaya took second place, which must surely say something about priorities and where they lie. His songs even had mention during a church service I attended in Inverness.

I just wonder what Bowie achieved, and what precisely is this legacy of his we’ll be able to resource for years to come ?

Were we talking here of someone who had done great good for humanity and left the world a better place for passing through, I could perhaps have understood. But a rock idol ?

Keith Fernie

Inverness, IV2-3RW

A ROYAL RUN

Runners wishing to be part of Meningitis Now’s team at this year’s Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon need to ‘get their skates on’ to secure one of our guaranteed place.

On Sunday 9 October, over 16,000 participants will gather in Hyde Park to set their pace through Central London, taking in breath-taking sights of some of the most famous attractions in the world and the stunning Royal Parks. Our places in the 13.1 mile route are running out fast and those wanting to join in the fun have until the end of April to sign up.

By running for us you’ll be helping to fight meningitis with every stride and move us one step closer to our vision of a future where no one in the UK dies from meningitis and everyone affected gets the support they need to rebuild their lives.

Sadly, meningitis and septicaemia continue to affect thousands of people in the UK and kill more under-fives than any other infectious disease. Help us fight back on all fronts by funding research to eradicate the disease, raising awareness and supporting survivors.

To find out more and sign up email lydiar@meningitisnow.org

Lydia Reed

Events Fundraiser,

Meningitis Now, Fern House, Bath Road,

Stroud,

Gloucestershire GL5 3TJ

EDITORIAL - MUCH NEEDED FACILITIES FOR HARRIS

There is some good news for the Harris area this week as featured on our front page.

First of all with the official opening of a new soft play area for children in Tarbert, which brings a great new amenity to the area for parents as well as their children, because not only is the soft play great fun for little ones it also adds to places where mums can socialise locally, which is not so easy to do in a rural setting.

Another plan, this time for the South Harris area, also has great community potential.

The ‘old block’ at Leverhulme Memorial School in Leverburgh looked set to become ‘surplus to requirements’ and in time may have been demolished.

However the community believe that instead of getting rid of this building it should be transformed into a useful community hub for the region.

A business plan going before the council this week proposes to use the building for a cafe, a gym, a charity shop and launderette, as well as offering a home for a historical society for South Harris.

And with re-development costs estimated at £323,000, whilst demolition and clearance costs to the public purse calculated at £400,000 this seems like a sensible plan which has already found wide backing in the area.

It would be a surprise if councillors did not also give their backing to the project.

If you would like to comment, or write a letter on this, or any other topic please contact me at: news@stornowaygazette.co.uk

Our picture of the week above features a magnificent stag captured by reader Ali Finlayson in Ness.