Stornoway Gazette letters February 16th

Councillor ‘Sets the record straight’

One can only wonder whether Susan Duncan appreciates the nature of employment (letter published on 9/2/2012 in the Stornoway Gazette).

To suggest that my fulfilling the directions given by my employers is tantamount to the use of the Nuremberg Defence is as ridiculous as it is offensive.

What condition would our local and national economy find itself in if individuals felt free to disregard the instructions given by their employers?

If teachers disregarded their head-teacher, policemen ignored their inspector’s commands, and employees rebelled against employers what kind of chaos would ensue?

Perhaps that is the type of SNP-world that Susan Duncan wishes to inhabit. Thankfully the rest of us do not.

Presumably Ms Duncan would also use this description to refer to the SNP MP and MSP over their refusal to resign their positions over the scandalous and financially devastating commercial RET policy imposed by the SNP government?

Susan Duncan alleges that I was being racist in my comments towards her at the fuel meeting held in the council chamber on Tuesday 31st January.

She helpfully suggests people view the incident on video. Any reasonable person would be able to see for themselves that my comments, rudely interrupted by the usual SNP cohorts, were far from intended as being racist.

The comments were clearly given to show that unlike my colleagues from GB Fuels who were present at the meeting, I am from this community, it is a community I care passionately about and I share the concerns of the community over fuel costs.

It was not any slight against Susan Duncan which I attempted to make perfectly clear.

I see the diversity of backgrounds and opinions within our islands as a good thing and help to make our islands what they are, a wonderful place to live.

With regard to the conflict of interest in my role as a Councillor for Sgire an Rubha and my role as manager of Scottish Fuels in the Western Isles, it was made clear that steps are taken to ensure there is no conflict.

As was explained on the evening of the fuel meeting I, like other councillors, vacate the council chamber if issues from our day job are to be discussed, whether that is fuel, architecture or whatever other working background our councillors come from.

I have stated previously that I would happily contribute to debates on fuel pricing in the Comhairle but the legal advice is that would occasion a conflict of interest, hence why I do not participate. This is the nature of local politics. Most councillors have dual roles. And any effective, representative council body will have diversity with councillors’ possessing different employment experience.

Susan Duncan is correct in one aspect of her letter; the people of Point are good people. It has been my privilege to serve them as an Independent councillor, free from party-interference, for the past near thirteen years.

Along with my fellow colleagues in Sgire an Rubha, whether in helping individuals, families, village projects, or whole community initiatives such as the new community school, and even serving our interests in the wider region of the Highland and Islands, I have counted it an honour to serve them and should they wish me to continue to serve I will do so with dedication and diligence.


Are we not allowed to complain?

After reading the letter from Point Councillor Norman Macleod in response to the letter from Susan Duncan I would have thought he would have shown more humility.

Other incomers like myself took offence to his comment, in fact many of those who viewed the excerpt were also appalled.

To say that it was only the SNP contingent who took exception to this is beyond the mark. Instead he has responded in an arrogant aggressive manner when he should have been offering an apology.

To take exception and attack a member of the public for justifiably complaining about him is a poor reflection on him and his ability to work for the electorate. Have we now reached a point where the public cannot take issue with councillors without being publically attacked?

He has also to understand the point she is making about his conflict of interest within the council.

The price of fuel is the most important problem which is being faced by the people of these islands. Councillor Macleod’s position has become untenable as he is unable to fulfil his duties as a councillor.

It is viewed by some that he has become GB oils representative on our council.

To associate himself so closely with the recklessness with which this council has performed is further justification to support Mrs Duncan’s suggestion that he should stand down allowing more capable and able people to sort out the mess.


‘Put a stop to nonsense’

When I first brought my family to the island, my oldest son attended Carloway School. Even although he is now nineteen and at University, some of the friends he made back then are still his friends today.

They were all delighted when the Scottish Government saved Carloway School from closure.

The Government were fairly even-handed when considering the evidence and their conclusion, that the parents had put forward a robust case for the retention of the school, was a reasonable conclusion for any person to make.

I cannot understand why in these circumstances the Comhairle should want to take the Scottish Government to court, in order to try and force the closure of Carloway School. It is so unsettling for the children, the parents and many other communities in the Western Isles.

The Councils reputation for being ‘one of the most hostile authorities’ in the whole of Scotland towards the Scottish Government is no reason for putting people through this uncertainty.

This is especially true at a time when the Council is considering cuts in services. Wouldn’t it be better to spend the Comhairle’s money on delivering services and preserving jobs, rather than on expensive Edinburgh lawyers?

At this series of Council Meetings I would urge the Comhairle Members to take this last chance before the Comhairle and the Scottish Government face each other in court, to put a stop to this nonsense. Start working with the people of the Western Isles and the Scottish Government, not against them.

BILL HOUSTON, Isle of Lewis

‘Council has done well’ this term

It is likely that when you read this I may well have completed my fourth visit to the New Nicolson Institute. I appreciate that as a councillor and a board member of Sgoiltean Ura, I am privileged to be able to make these visits as the new school develops. This development is very close to my heart. There will be an opportunity for everyone to visit the school once it is handed over later this year ready for opening to pupils in August. During my time as a teacher at The Nicolson, the campus was a constant building-site as the Education Committee wrestled with the problems associated with its many buildings. It is quite wonderful that soon all state of the art education facilities will be under one roof.

This project, and the five other new schools that are being built by the Comhairle, is a significant achievement. They certainly could not have been undertaken had not the funding gap for the project been filled with the help of savings from the schools’ rationalisation programme. The end result of the two projects will be that 46% of our pupils will be housed in new accommodation and the rest in schools refurbished to a very high standard.

Regrettably our school population has dropped by 50% over the past thirty years. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Schools told the Comhairle it had too many schools and indeed the funding from government dropped year on year as the rolls dropped. The Comhairle could not maintain its own school estate. Action was needed.

The process by which the Comhairle awarded the schools contract to FMP (which is not a ‘foreign’ company) was laid down by the Scottish Government. The government is obliged to abide by the rules too, as in its recent awarding of the Forth Bridge contract to a consortium of European and US firms with one UK firm whose Scottish subsidiary is Morrisons. Any organisation dealing with public money is obliged to make best use of the public purse. In that regard arising out of the schools contract, to the end of December, there has been c.£21million spent locally, directly and indirectly, and around 70 local firms have been employed by FMP.

Three schools are already complete on time and on budget and the other three are on track to complete as agreed. Those new schools have been warmly welcomed by their communities.

In addition to the schools project, which is the biggest project ever undertaken by the Comhairle, there has been extensive capital spend in the local community. The capital programme runs from 2008 - 2013. To date, under competitive tender, the Comhairle has awarded contracts, or is about to award contracts, totalling £28 million. Almost all of that work has gone to local contractors. Only very specialised work has gone off island in the main and, where that happens, there is usually an agreement with the main contractor to subcontract locally.

There is one area where the Comhairle has no input and that is in the building of houses. This year the Scottish government awarded HHP £534,000; that is woefully inadequate and compares very unfavourably with previous years. In 2007-08 it was £6.5million and in 2010-11 it was £3.6million. I note that the Scottish Government has agreed to restore its budget for housing. I look forward to a substantial tranche coming to the Outer Hebrides. This might help to complement the contribution from the Comhairle’s significant capital projects to date.

The Comhairle can rightly take great pride in projects like the Castlebay Fitness Suite, the Stornoway Town Hall Redevelopment, the Stornoway Town Centre Development, the new Harris House, Kallin Harbour and the Creative Industries and Media Centre to name just a few significant developments; and that does not include the numerous road and coastal protection projects. Nor does it include support for community projects, the fishing industry, the Harris Tweed industry nor the many local businesses which have received start-up help. Nor does it include the significant financial leverage associated with projects that must amount to many millions more coming from external sources.

Given the difficult times in which we live, I believe that the Comhairle has done well in supporting its own community during this term.

ANGUS MCCORMACK, Councillor Stornoway South