Gazette Letters 16.7.15

Green solution

There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth by a renewables industry fearful of losing subsidies we pay through our energy bills.

Before accepting their claims about job losses and reduced investment in Scotland, we should consider another aspect of the publicly funded bonanza energy companies enjoy.

Those subsidies are heaped on consumers’ bills rather than paid through progressive taxation. Consequently, the poorest amongst us bear a disproportionately high burden.

Four households in every ten in Scotland are now living in fuel poverty. In the Western Isles, the corresponding figure is an almost unbelievable seven in every ten.

Lobbyists for the renewables industry and the politicians who support them so uncritically ignore the recessionary effect of such widespread poverty; the choke-hold it exerts on demand for goods and services and the local jobs lost as a result.

For every massively subsidised temporary post in the onshore wind farm industry many others could be created in hard-pressed communities.

A genuinely green solution would be for the Scottish Government to increase the current miserly levels of investment in domestic energy efficiency to increase local employment, reduce carbon emissions and relieve people of that stark choice between eating and heating.

Dr Ken Brown

Inverness IV63 7YJ

Threat of Ferry Disruption

I am glad to see that the CalMac strike has been called off; the intervention of the First Minister is welcome.

It is a pity that matters had to develop to such an advanced level but perhaps now the Scottish Government will reconsider its decision to go to tender.

“In 2003 there was a ruling by the European Court of justice in a case about German bus company Altmark in respect of subsidy/state aid. In 2004 Cal Mac received senior legal opinion that the Altmark decision allowed the Scottish Executive to stop tendering without fear of legal consequence.”

I am grateful to David Ross, Highland Correspondent of the Herald, for reminding me of this and the advice offered to the Scottish Executive at the time.

The present government appear to found on the Scottish Executive decision rather than on the legal advice given, that is a pity because in doing so they have precipitated the strike action which has just been averted for the time being at least.

I fully understand why CalMac staff are considering strike action. All they are seeking is that their current pay and conditions be agreed going forward. Surely a simple request? So what is the problem? In a nut-shell, an organisation called Serco.

CalMac staff are very concerned that Serco might end up running the Western Isles ferries.

So too should the people of the Western Isles! Serco do not have a good record: “They operate public and private transport and traffic control, aviation, military weapons, detention centres, prisons and schools.” Indeed I am surprised that the Scottish Government have not informed us that Serco also run HMNB Clyde - the home of the SNP’s bete noire- the Trident missile.

Of Serco it is said: “There has been a history of problems, failures, fatal errors and overcharging.”

A recent article in the Guardian (27 April 2015) describes Serco as a “scandal-hit outsourcer.”

Not too encouraging. An article in the Telegraph (12 March 2015) speaks of a “troubled” Serco having “ to launch a £555million rights issue” in an attempt to drag itself out of the mess that it is in.

Yet the Scottish Government deems this company suitable to bid for the west coast ferry services. How? Why?

Also, is it really believable that only two companies in the whole of Europe are judged capable of running our ferry services?

Surely no one in the Outer Hebrides wishes to see Serco run our vital ferry services? And yes, despite the Transport Minister’s protestations to the contrary, it will be privatisation if Serco win the contract.

In simple terms what this means is that Serco will wish to make a profit.

That will be its number one priority. So from the £1billion pound contract, expect to lose at least 10% ie. £100million gone from the services right from the get-go.

Next will surely come tampering with jobs, pay and conditions.

Then, of course, cuts in service. Why on earth will Serco wish to run services that do not pay? Will they maintain the ships? Will they replace the ships?

What of the Transport Minister’s offer to set up a Procurement Reference Panel? I would not touch it with a barge pole.

This is just the Scottish Government setting up a group of people to blame when the whole fiasco of the tendering process goes horribly wrong.

I am happy to have the contract remain with CalMac. For all that we criticise CalMac, the company has years of experience in running our vital ferry services.

If the Scottish Government give CalMac the resources, and they in turn listen and respond to the people’s wishes, the ferry service in the future will be secure and improved.

Angus McCormack

Isle of Lewis


Postcode lottery

In reading the case about the South Uist man claiming compensation from the Council after falling in the dark, I can appreciate his situation, one night while walking on the main Benbecula road, the lights suddenly went out. I had to stop in my tracks without moving for a good 10 plus minutes until I became acclimatised to seeing in the dark with little moonlight.

This is supposed to ‘save’ the Western isles Council money.

I have a question to ask Mr Campbell, have you ever been in the same unfortunate situation?

I will answer that myself. No you have not, as you have the street lights in Stornoway on all night, not only that Mr Campbell, but you also have the trees in Bayhead street lit up as well, plus all the local monuments, and I thought you were supposed to be saving?

The people in the Uists and Benbecula pay the same rates and council tax as those in Stornoway, though the refuse is collected every fortnight, but every week in Stornoway, and the street lights are turned off early.

A second rate service in the Southern Isles for the same price.

It seem very much like a postcode lottery to me, depending on where you live in the Western Isles.

Can you explain why Mr Campbell?

Donald Morrison


Project help needed

Please may we through your newspaper, appeal for help from your readers. We are WW1 Canadian researchers who, for the past eight years, have been locating and visiting all of the 3894 First World War Canadians commemorated across the UK.

Our ‘Far From Home’ project work to date is detailed on our website .

Over four weeks in June this year, we travelled throughout Scotland for the purpose of visiting and recording the 307 Canadian graves on the CWGC database in 161 locations.

Three of these soldiers were buried in three Lewis cemeteries, one soldier on Colonsay and one other on Benbecula.

Sadly, we have returned home to Canterbury, Kent, England without fully completing our mission, due to the Cal-Mac ferries work-to-rule and strikes which prevented us reaching these islands and causing us to abandon our attempts to reach these graves.

Therefore, might any of your readers be willing and able to help us to complete our task to record a visit to these five remaining graves for which we have full details and precise locations as to where they are?

If so, we would be grateful if they could contact us through our website or using the information below.

We would be happy to pay expenses for such help, or alternatively donate to a chosen charity or church if preferred.

Diana Beaupré & Adrian Watkinson

Telephone: 01227 454157