Sunday sailings and Health Board row
Posted: Monday, 03 March 2008
Calmac is discussing implementing Sunday sailings on the Stornoway to Ullapool ferry route on March 26th. They have postponed a decision several times whilst awaiting an announcement on Road Equivalent Tarriff. Now that that is set to be introduced by late October 2008, the vexed question of Sunday sailings can be tackled.
It would seem highly likely that a Sunday crossing will be introduced.
The reduced fares mean an increase in demand, for which a Sunday sailing would be necessary, to ensure sufficient capacity. Keeping the ferries (including Tarbert - Uig (Skye)) tied up on Sunday would introduce a skewed comparison with the Oban to South Uist and Barra service.
Two former chiefs of the beleaguered Western Isles Health Board have been accused of lying to the Audit Committee of the Scottish Parliament last Wednesday, when being quizzed over a report into a massive but unaccounted overspend. The former Chairman denied knowing about it, but said it had 'slipped his mind' or words to that effect. No words from the erstwhile CEO.
The report will now be forwarded to the Audit Committee, who are due to have further hearings into this case on March 12th.
Posted: Thursday, 06 March 2008
Participants are usually shipped in on board MV Muirneag in the case of the guys, and on the Isle of Lewis in the case of the gals. Desperate singles from the Northern Isles usually arrive on log, paddling all the way around Cape Wrath. Overseas participants fly into Callanish International Airport, where the Green Channel puts the one at Stornoway Airport to shame.
On arrival at Stornoway, a dedicated bus will take the hopeful to the fank, which is located some 20 miles north of Stornoway.
I have mooted to use Prince Charlie's Monument as the venue for the dating extravaganza this year.
This hill towers over Glumag Harbour and has a convenient loch, where participants can cool off their ardour. The Glumag has excellent berthing facilities for all sorts of ships, including logs. The location is just outside the Arnish Fabrication Yard, and it is not without self-interest, as Arnish Lighthouse is but a hop and a step.
Western Isles Health Board
Posted: Friday, 07 March 2008
The former Chief Executive of the Health Board, Mr Manson, was accused in BBC reports last Friday of lying to the Committee. He had said he did not recall the "Cook report", which highlighted serious problems in the Board's finances. Upon consulting with former colleagues, Mr Manson does now remember the report.
The current management at the Board have declined, so far, to disclose the Cook Report to Parliament, stating that it contains confidential information, subject to the Data Protection Act. In reply, the Committee has said that it has taken note of these concerns, and offers safeguards for these confidential data. As a last resort, the Committee is in a position to compel the Board to release the report. The covering letter was released to the Committee.
The briefing papers also reveal that no requests were made to NHS Scotland for assistance towards reducing a mounting debt, except for a one-off overspend of £250k. Coverage in terms of personnel was supplied for the post of Finance DIrector in the period leading up to the coming into post of a new Director of Finance in April 2005. This appears to fly in the face of oral evidence given by the former CEO last week.
Posted: Sunday, 09 March 2008
Mr Peacock had queried whether there was an alternative to the Lewis Windfarm in terms of economic prosperity and job creation. Mr Mather replied that such had to be seen in the framework of European environmental legislation. The MSP has interpreted this as a positive hint towards approval, along with Western Isles Council. The Comhairle has said that no other scheme would bring equivalent benefits.
With Easter just a fortnight away, it is never a good idea to place all one's eggs in the one basket, as the Council appear to be doing.
Posted: Wednesday, 12 March 2008
I have yet to read the transcript from this morning's proceedings at the Audit Committee of the Scottish Parliament. However, it has become clear that former Chief Executive Dick Manson is still an employee of NHS Western Isles. He was seconded out to a position with NHS National Services Scotland. They pay his salary as CEO to NHS Western Isles.
Although a senior figure in NHS Scotland has denied that the post was created for Mr Manson, he was parachuted into it to get him out of an extremely difficult situation, it is said.
Leaving that to one side, Mr Manson's successor, Laurence Irvine, has been suspended on full pay for more than 6 months now over irregularities in his CV, pending an investigation. John Turner is now CEO, but NHS Western Isles is paying the salary bills of three Chief Executives, a luxury they cannot afford.
Is anyone surprised their deficits are mushrooming?
Anyone with substantiated information pertinent to the Audit Committee's investigation can visit this webpage.
Western Isles Health Board
Posted: Thursday, 13 March 2008
At the moment, Mr Manson is on secondment elsewhere within NHS Scotland, although he formally remains an employee of NHS Western Isles. He will, however, not return there at any point. The Western Isles NHS can therefore still take action against him, if they perceive that his performance during his time at Stornoway would justify doing so.
It was pointed out that there is a culture within NHS Scotland for people who have problems in post to be moved, rather than the problem addressed. Something that the Committee appeared to be flabbergasted by, as such would not be tolerated in the private sector.
Mr Manson's secondment was implemented in a unique way, with the position not previously advertised. There was no process of applications and interviews. NHS Scotland stated that this was a one-off, designed to permit NHS Western Isles to move on, and it was for the good of the public in the islands.
The current Chief Executive is suspended on full pay, funded by NHS Scotland.
An interim CEO is in post, paid for by the Health Board.
On balance, the Scottish taxpayer is funding three CEO's in the islands. That's good value for money, I don't think.
Meanwhile, the contentious Cook Report was released to the Audit Committee, who discussed it in private session.
This just gets worse and worse.
Reverse Don Quixote
Posted: Tuesday, 18 March 2008
Yesterday, the Scottish Government's Energy Minister, Jim Mather, spoke at a renewables forum in Stornoway, saying that the Western Isles had the greatest potential for renewable energy in the whole of Scotland. Not just windpower, but also tidal, wave and solar. Any such project would have to be viewed against European environmental legislation. His remarks are varyingly seen as a hint towards approval of the North Lewis Windfarm or as a hint towards final rejection. The Scottish Government has told the developers, LWP, on January 25 that they were "minded to reject".
The local council has decided not to wait for Mr Mather's final decision, but has already launched an alternative scheme. Another giant windfarm, stretching from Stornoway to Ness, but this time in community ownership to the tune of 50%.
The Comhairle has said that it intends to open discussions with community- owned estates (Stornoway and Galson), to make this happen. Generating electricity on this sort of scale, according to the council, would (I quote) "fund environmental management work that will enhance the sustainability of a wide range of habitats and support jobs for their interpretation."
I think I need to lie down in a darkened room now.
Nothing has changed, except for the ownership issue. If the current LWP plans are turned down - so will the new plans.
Economy and environment
Posted: Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Basically, they insist on having a commercial sized windfarm in Lewis in order to justify an interconnector - the subsea cable that will carry all the power generated in the island to mainland consumers. The windfarm will also boost investment into the Arnish Fabrication Yard - anyone opposed to these schemes are intent upon turning Lewis into an environmental museum.
Methinks that our Councillors have signally failed to take heed of the words of the Energy Minister at the same Forum, when he said that environmental concerns have to be taken into account. They have also not taken cognisance of the reasons why the North Lewis Windfarm could be on the road to rejection.
The Arnish Fabrication Yard can do much more than just make windturbines. During 2006, they made segments for the Pelamis (wavepower generator), to mention but one thing.
Another point made by the Convener was that he feels that there has been an exemplary level of community consultation. If that is the case, why are up to 90% of Lewis residents opposed to the North Lewis Windfarm and it is yet being forced through? Far from exemplary, this episode has shown a breathtaking level of detachment from the community on the part of Western Isles Council.
Far from being opposed to development, most people would welcome a boost to the local economy. However, economic development and care for the environment are not mutually exclusive. Preserving the centre of the island as a unique habitat could bring economic benefits in terms of tourism, a pillar of the local economy often overlooked.
The Energy Minister mentioned tidal and wave power, for which the Hebrides could equally be a powerhouse, with a far lesser environmental impact. The study, announced by Jim Mather, into Harnessing Renewable Energy, should be a template for the Comhairle to work out its economic development strategy, with a broader view than exclusively windpower.
Stornoway, March 2008
Posted: Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Audit Committee and NHS Western Isles
Posted: Saturday, 22 March 2008
On February 27th, Messrs Currie and Manson were interrogated by the Committee, and their evidence was greeted with dismay by staff. They do not agree with the former managers' version, and want to put their side of the argument across.
I remember attending the two public meetings in the Town Hall, and the public meeting organised by Mr Manson in the Caberfeidh Hotel to present the service redesign he had contrived one day after the first public meeting. Mr Manson had scheduled his meeting to coincide with the switching on of the Christmas lights in the town centre. Not a big deal, but a demonstration that he was at best out of touch with his workers. I will refrain from phrasing the "at worst" part of this expression; this is a public blog.
The next meeting of the Audit Committee will be on March 26th, next Wednesday. Business related to NHS Western Isles is the last item on the agenda. The briefing papers are available on-line, and contain a list of questions to the former Chief Executive of NHS Scotland, Mr Trevor Jones. A reply from him is awaited.
Posted: Tuesday, 25 March 2008
Reader Trevor White, in commenting on my post "Stornoway, March 2008", requested an image of Kildun Cottage. The above image is of Kildonan Cottage, as I was advised by a local man today. The picture was taken in the 1950s, and cannot be reproduced today.
The position of the photographer would be suspended in air, several dozen feet above the ground, as the hill he stood on has been bulldozed to make way for the Arnish Fabrication Yard. The cottage was burned down by way of demolition.
Related to today's topography, Kildonan Cottage stands between the Lighthouse and the Fabrication Yard, close to Downie's Pier.
This is the view, two years ago, from Charlie's Monument, just south of the Fabrication Yard.
Audit Committee and NHS Western Isles
Posted: Wednesday, 26 March 2008
It was decided that no further oral evidence would be taken, and during the next meeting a draft report will be considered - in private.
Although the Health Board staff had requested permission to also be heard by the Committee, they will not be called. I am not unduly worried about that, as I feel that the Audit Committee saw through the evidence presented by Messrs Manson and Currie - the fact that they took their time to remember the Cook Report, and the facts contained in said Cook Report (which I do not know) will probably speak for themselves.
Posted: Monday, 31 March 2008
It is one of those contradictions for which we are less than famous. I deeply respect people's religious convictions, but do not have a lot of time for double standards.
You either forbid ALL play on a Sunday, or allow it to everybody. It is at best unfair on paying Golf Club members that they cannot play whilst non-members are free to take to the course.
Similar contradictions exist when it comes to a Sunday ferry service.
* On Easter Sunday, MV Isle of Lewis sailed across the Minch to transport a total of 20 trailers which were stuck on either side of the water.
* On Sunday, ferries ply between Skye and North Uist, and between Oban and South Uist and Barra. All three islands are part of the Western Isles, as is the Isle of Lewis.
* On Sunday, planes fly in and out of Stornoway Airport.
* People work on a Sunday to make that all happen.
* People work on a Sunday in the filling station on Sandwick Road in Stornoway to serve petrol and other goods.
Let's get ourselves straightened out, because once again we are in danger of becoming the (inter)national laughing stock. .