Letters to the Editor April 5th

Population decline

There are many issues affecting our islands. Among the most serious are fuel poverty, school closures and jobs.

One issue that has long been a thorn in our shoes is social housing. Anyone on the waiting list for a house will know the length of time that one needs to wait before even getting their foot into a house. For many this process takes years!

This causes problems on many fronts. It pushes up private rental prices, making renting a property in the private sector that much more expensive and artificially inflating house prices on the islands.

For many first time buyers it is more difficult to get on the property ladder than ever before in living memory. It was far easier to buy a house in the 70s or 80s than it is now!

As time progresses, shouldn’t our society get better at understanding and meeting the needs of the general public, rather than regressing into a state where many people, including those with young children, are forced into short-term housing like hostels? The recently announced ‘Bedroom Tax’ promises to greatly amplify these problems.

The obvious solution is build more houses. The difficulty in urban areas is the lack of space.

This, however, is not the case here, we have ample space to build houses and get families out of ‘pit stop’ housing and into more stable environments for their children.

I want to see these islands prosper and for that to happen we need jobs, we need houses and we need to make long term plans that benefit future generations.

Not just decisions that last a council term but those that last an entire generation. Cuts in the Scottish Government’s capital budget, coming from Westminster, have made this all the more challenging.

We need to work together, Councillors in particular, to make sure the islands’ interests are looked after first. I will work with anyone that has the islands’ needs at heart.

This is why I am standing under the SNP banner so that, working together as a team, alongside the SNP Government, we can deliver the needs of the islands.

MOHAMMED AHMED, SNP Candidate for Stornoway North

RET figures

With changes to RET for Heavy Goods Vehicles it is perhaps important to lay out what has happened, particularly in the light of the criticism that has now moved beyond the core issue and with people playing party politics. One could be forgiven for thinking that there was an election on.

When the Transport Department of the Scottish Government received the report from independent consultants Halcrow into RET the stark conclusion thrown up from report was that 92% of the respondents said that the RET HGV part was not being passed on to the final customers. The recommendation was to return therefore to the rate suffered under Labour and the Lib Dems who had described RET as the “economics of the madhouse” when they were in government.

For hauliers that would have meant far higher prices than we have today, 134% higher in fact, on the Stornoway route. With discounts on fares varying in 2.5% to 15% reductions depending on frequency of use thus removing a level playing field between operators.

As a first step I was involved with lobbying the Scottish government to move beyond the 15% reduction to a 25% reduction, on the fares that would have been in place had Labour been in power. Then through various contortions and further lobbying of the government we got a further reductions of around 35% on the Ullapool route, 45% reduction on the Uig routes and 30% on the Oban routes.

By any stretch of imaginative argument it has to be agreed that this is a huge improvement on where we were with fares under Labour and the despite the loss of full haulage RET, due to recommendations from the Halcrow Report, I pushed to improve the benefit for the islands together with Cllr Donald Manford and Alasdair Allan MSP.

So yes there have been rises, but to invert the percentages the rises have been capped at 50% or less than £100 for the largest of lorries. So for a 12m lorry carrying 16 pallets the increase per pallet the Ullapool route is £4.41 on a fare of £211.59, Oban routes increases by £3.20 per pallet on a fare of £277.70 and Uig routes £2.75 on a fare of £132.32.

This is still less, some cases a lot less, than 10% of the pallet price from any of the major cities - meaning that 40 bags of sheep feed on a pallet should increase by no more than between 7p and 11p a bag depending where exactly in the islands the purchase is made.

I am aware that I have used a lot of numbers in this letter but facts give a bigger picture and also show the flaws in rhetoric.

Of course we would rather not have these increases. Personally, cutting fares back from Labour levels to closer to RET involved best part of two months involvement.

But those who still complain have to see the backdrop of cuts from Westminster begun by the former Labour chancellor who boasted his cuts would be “deeper and tougher than Thatcher” right through to the Tory/Lib coalition who have kept on cutting the Scottish budget, ultimately this comes down the line to us.

Further, the fact that respondents had told Halcrow savings were not passed on, a fact that is disputed but it did cause this issue to arise and weakened negotiating positions of rectifying it. Despite this we did get the government to move from its first position of haulage as was under the previous government then to 25% discounts and then far further and crucially applying to everybody.

We should therefore, particularly in the current financial climate, be working together to make this interim deal permanent as we do not want to return to haulage rates as was under Labour, which is the logic of the Halcrow Report.

Finally, despite the rhetoric RET is still in place to benefit islanders and tourists. In fact had the SNP Government not introduced RET the single price for a car would now be £105.49 to Ullapool rather than the current £50.90.

Routes to Uig would be paying £67.76 single rather than £31.70 and routes to Oban would be £120.27 single rather than the current £69.60 with RET.

While the world may not be as all would wish it’s a lot better for ordinary families and the community in general, as well as hauliers. For the real party politics in this, is that I am sure people prefer the £6.5 million extra the SNP have put into Hebridean transportation than ever returning to the fare structures under Labour.


Community buy out

With reference to the proposals for the community buyout in North Uist, with money being so desperately short for hospitals schools and other vital services in Scotland at this time, I wonder whether the public fund that this money comes from couldn’t be better used for other projects.


Parking in Inaclete Road

How is a decision made to allow a new business sited in Inaclete Road which obviously will attract a very large number of cars to open without adequate parking facilities?

So far it seems that existing established businesses are being seriously adversely affected by the advent of this venture and their concerns do not seem to have been, nor are being, addressed.

These business people are watching their trade decreasing and their customers having increasing difficulty in patronising them.

What consultation took place with them before this new facility was given the go-ahead? What sort of consideration was given to the siting of this new business given the area in which it has been developed?

What provision is or has been made to accommodate the existing tradespeople and their requirements? What sort of recompense is available to them and their customers?

So far it seems there are new double yellow restricted parking lines on the corners of Inaclete Road and these seem to be being ignored (hardly surprising in the circumstances) and I am not sure why these are supposed to help.

Is this just another bad decision perpetrated by the local council who do not seem at all concerned to support small, struggling entrepreneurs?