About Iain

Iain X Maciver is a freelance broadcaster and columnist on the Isle of Lewis. Contact him at mail@maciver-co-uk. Replace dashes with dots.

Warning – those dodgy door-to-door handymen are back on the island

An eagle-eyed informant tells me that a group of guys from across the sea came off the ferry last night and, no doubt, will be going around as before offering to do jobs but demanding huge amounts of money when they do them.

If the work later turns out to be sub-standard, as often happens, they are nowhere to be found. This time they are driving a white Toyota van. If you see it, make a note of the registration number. The big problem is that these guys always deliberately target the elderly – the group of people most likely to give in when more money than is due is demanded.

They may sit in their vehicles near homes for a while so they can work out which addresses have older residents. However, going by their track record in the last year, they may still try and hoodwink younger people who do not want to have a fuss on their doorstep and will pay up just to get rid of them.

Please warn older people to be very careful. If you believe there has been anything improper, either call the police on 101 or the trading standards department on 01851 822694.

Thank you, D, for keeping me informed.

Forget the nonsense about planes carrying newspapers here. It’s just never going to happen again

Just to make it clear, because there is so much misinformation flying about and certain politicians trying to grab headlines and certain people happy to give it to them, there is no chance of Loganair taking newspapers to the islands on passenger flights. It is a ridiculous notion.

Because of other hats I wear, I know how much space is taken up by passenger luggage – I see it most days of the week – so I wish the people who claim it can be done would pipe down.  You need a cargo plane – a freighter. There are other options currently being discussed which we will hear about in due course, but not involving Loganair.

Just for the record, Phil Preston, the big boss at Loganair, told me today: “The aircraft used to deliver the newspapers to Stornoway from Aberdeen was a freighter and unable to carry passengers.”

In other words, you can’t mix the two. And it’s now too expensive. Those days are gone. 

As for Eastern Airways, you can forget those rumours too. Yes, they fly from Aberdeen to Stornoway but it’s not going to happen. Their plane arrives too late and they too just don’t have any room on it.

They told me: “Due to the committed flying programme of the aircraft that is allocated to operate the Stornoway to Aberdeen route, there are no current plans to change the schedule and timings.  We don’t currently have any dedicated freighter aircraft in our fleet, and our passenger aircraft do not have the necessary capacity to carry freight.”

Local Labour party demands MP and MSP help CalMac staff over pay cut threat

The islands’ MP and MSP must intervene in the dispute over a planned massive cut in earnings to CalMac shore staff. That is the view of the isles’ Labour party which today said it deplored the threatened pay cuts.

In its statement, Western Isles Constituency Labour Party said that, if implemented, it would mean both longer working hours and pay-cuts in the region of 25% to the CalMac staff who are often employed in peripheral and economically disadvantaged areas throughout the west coast of Scotland.

“The vast majority of these are women; a number of which are the sole providers for families. This will clearly have a devastating effect on their household income.”

Labour said that as the ferry firm’s annual accounts showed a £4.5 million profit, with another £5.8 million being returned to the Scottish Government, the Western Isles branch saw no need for these “draconian” measures.

The Labour statement also said: “The Western Isles Constituency Labour Party calls on the Western Isles MP, Angus B MacNeil and his Holyrood counterpart, Dr Alasdair Allan, to perform their primary role as representatives of the people of this constituency, intervening in this dispute and urging the company to withdraw proposals that will affect people throughout the islands. Those employed in our ferry service deserve no less.”

Dr Allan has said he was in touch with CalMac to get clarification of their intentions and he expressed the hope that a solution can be found that respects the situation of staff.

He said: “It would not be helpful for me to speculate about this while talks are ongoing.”

Meanwhile, the first round of talks over the controversial pay cut plan between the main union, the Transport and Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), and CalMac are due to kick off on Tuesday.


Shock and fury as SNP government plans “horrendous” pay cut for CalMac shore staff

Do you work ashore for CalMac? How will this planned pay cut affect you? Call the confidential voicemail line (no one will answer personally) anytime on 01851 720821 or write to [email protected]. You may leave a name and contact number, if you wish. However, I shall not publish your name in any reports – unless you specifically say it is okay to do so. Iain.

11:30pm  Update: Now with quote from Alasdair Allan MSP

About 70 Caledonian MacBrayne staff have been told they may suffer a swingeing package of cuts to allowances and bonuses which could slash their take home pay by a quarter as well as making them work longer hours.

Trades unions have vowed to fight the plan which would affect staff working for the ferry company mainly in booking offices and workers at west coast ports.

CalMac meanwhile has described it as “a sensible and affordable resolution” because of the state of the economy but said it understood the impact it could have and claimed it had a plan to cushion the blow.

It has emerged that talks on the controversial changes planned to the staffs’ pay and conditions between CalMac bosses and representatives of the shore staff union, the Transport and Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), are due to begin shortly.

The ferry company, which is effectively owned by Scottish Ministers in the SNP-controlled Scottish Government and operated by government arm Transport Scotland, has already written to all the affected staff. The union said CalMac told them it is proposing to remove weekend working premiums as well as cut shift allowances, night working payments and annual holiday bonuses. It also says it needs to make radical changes to rostering which would mean a two-hour increase in the working week to 40 hours.

Tom Kennedy, the Scottish organiser of the TSSA, said the union had calculated it would mean a 25 per cent cut to members’ salaries.

He said: “This has been ordered by Transport Scotland because they are looking to increase efficiency. Yet the ferry company’s annual accounts show that current operational effectiveness in terms of punctuality is running at 99.7%.
“They are picking on people in very vulnerable communities and taking what are reasonable pay and conditions into a primitive employment package. Nowhere else in Britain have I seen a proposal for a 25% cut in pay and an increase in the working week.”

Mr Kennedy confirmed that talks with CalMac about the pay cut plan were due to open on Tuesday and said the union’s stance now had the support of the STUC and, after an emergency motion at its conference in Inverness on Saturday, the backing of the Scottish Labour party too.

“We want CalMac to withdraw these proposals. Their annual accounts show they have just made £4.5 million profit as well as giving £5.8 million back to the Scottish Government.
“Of the 70 staff affected, about 70 per cent of them are women. We did a survey of members to gauge the impact and one member told us that it will mean her kids will get packed lunches instead of taking school dinners. That is how serious this is.
“There is no need for it as we believe our members in the outports are doing a superb job and giving customers all they are entitled to expect from the CalMac company.”

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant has written to Nicola Sturgeon and warned the deputy first minister that anybody losing that proportion of their salary would face hardship. She said: “The shore staff have to be available for the boats because of bad weather with ferries arriving at any time of the day and night. They give excellent service when required and if this money is not available to them they may not be able to keep those jobs.”

While every employer needed to look at efficiencies, they could do it without taking it out on the staff, she said.

“People who are under-employed are paid less and fall into a poverty trap as they have no access to benefits. It’s as bad as being unemployed for affecting their life chances. I have written to Nicola Sturgeon as it is important that ministers get involved and intervene and show they value their staff and take away this horrendous proposal.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “While this is a matter between the employer and the unions, we would urge both parties to seek an early resolution to avoid any impact on passenger services.”

CalMac insisted that the slashing of the various allowances and the introduction of longer hours was because the economy was going through a challenging time that even a publicly-owned one like itself was not immune to.

The Gourock-based ferry company said: “We are working with colleagues and unions to ensure we comply with the working time directive and best practice to give the small number of staff affected a fair remuneration and work life balance.
“We understand the impact this may have and have made generous proposals to cushion this wherever possible and to deliver a sensible and affordable resolution. We are talking with trades unions and meeting with them next week to discuss some proposals which is normal practice. It would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.”

The emergency motion passed at the Scottish Labour conference in Inverness at the weekend called on CalMac to withdraw the planned pay cuts. The conference also agreed to a campaign – including industrial action – in defence of the shore staff’s current pay and conditions.

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan, who is also a minister in the Scottish Government, said; “My understanding is that CalMac are currently in discussions with unions and some staff about pay and conditions. It would not be helpful for me to speculate about this while talks are ongoing.
“However I have written to CalMac to ask them to clarify the situation and expressed the hope that a solution can be found that respects the situation of staff.”

Salmon company staff were ‘not bullied’ to support planning bids

Many of the representations made in support of an application for an extension of fish farming operations in Argyll were lodged by people who work for the applicant fish farm company, it has emerged.

The company has denied it is bullying or in any way forcing its staff to support them in their bids and has strongly defended their workers’ rights to make representations to local authorities in support of them.

However, campaigners against fish farms say Scottish Salmon Company (SSC) is acting unethically and have vowed to publicly name and shame the staff if it ever happens again.SSC-Logo

Research by local people in Argyll found that at least 12 managers and staff of SSC had written to Argyll and Bute Council to support its two recent planning applications for an extension to an existing fish farm at Loch Striven and the formation of a new one.

They believe many of them are staff based in the Western Isles.

One local objector in Colintraive said: “Most people here in the village are outraged by the fact the Scottish Salmon managers wrote in. Imagine how people on Lewis would feel if the whole of Cowal would support the development of a giant wind farm on Lewis next to Callanish and Carloway, giant fish farms in front of their houses or a nuclear power station on the Butt of Lewis – or that managers of wind farm companies would write in for the giant wind farm application on Lewis.”

Others suggested representations to the council were either a sign that the staff were the happiest and most loyal of any firm in Scotland or that they were being bullied by management to lodge the representations or even that the company had merely used their names.

A spokeswoman for Scottish Salmon flatly denied that, saying: “At no point in this or any other case has it been the Scottish Salmon Company’s policy to submit letters of support for planning applications on behalf of staff.
“Any expressions of support posted on the Argyll and Bute Council website are the business of the individual correspondent and there should be no suggestion of any lack of transparency if that person has been clear about their identity and the reasons that they support the application in question.”

She added: “Frankly, your suggestion that “bullying” or any sort of improper behaviour has been involved is wholly offensive, as it is unwarranted. Any staff member who chooses to respond to a planning application is free to do so on their own terms and we are grateful to any who have taken the time to do so.”

Asked whether the managers and staff who had written to support the Argyll bid had actually ever been to the Loch Striven site to judge the merits of the application, the spokeswoman declined to explain.

SSC was unaware of any arrangements that excluded their own staff members from status as members of the public with a right to respond to planning applications as they see fit, she insisted.

However, campaigners Outer Hebrides Against Fish Farms (OHAFF) said this was far from the first time that SSC applications had been found to have been supported in the main by its own staff and business contacts.

OHAFF organiser Peter Urpeth said: “This is very poor practice and it reflects badly on the Scottish Salmon Company. It is a democratic right to support an application but it should not be a platform for gerrymandering.
“The planning consultation system is not meant for people who will benefit in their own pocket. If I apply to build a house, how would people feel if me and my family and my builder wrote in to support our own application?
“It would not be right, ethically. It needs to stop and we will name and shame those concerned in the future, if necessary.”

Meanwhile, Argyll and Bute Council took the line that anyone can submit comments, either in support or objection, to a planning application. It said all representations are carefully considered by planners when preparing reports.

“The content of a representation is the most important issue, though. While officers will note where a comment has come from, their main priority is the material planning consideration.”

However, the council may scrutinise exactly who is supporting bids, as it added: “It is worth noting that planning applications which attract a significant level of comments are dealt with at public hearings and the weighting attached to comments will be for members of the planning, protective services and licensing committee to decide.”

Where is the RET report?


15 April 2013


Keith Brown
Transport Minister
Transport Scotland


Dear Mr Brown 

Last July at a meeting in Stornoway you met with representatives from the Outer Hebrides Commerce Group and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.  At that meeting we all agreed to co-operate and contribute to a study looking at the impact the withdrawal of “RET” is having on our communities.  The Report undertaken by MVA Consultancy was finalised some months ago, but as yet, we have no date or confirmation for publication.

The membership of the OHCG is deeply concerned with this unnecessary delay.  Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the OHCG all assisted your Department and provided support and data so that a credible and properly informed Report could be published.  

On behalf of the membership of the OHCG and ordinary families of the Outer Hebrides we urge you to publish, without delay, the Report’s findings.   The report is a public document – paid for by British taxpayers – and as such should be in the public domain.

It is worth noting that since we last met our communities, businesses and families have had to contend with another massive 10% hike in ferry fares: this latest increase in your ferry-tax is over and above the 50% increase your Government imposed a year ago.

We trust you understand our growing frustration and would greatly appreciate your immediate intervention.

Yours sincerely


David Wood


Outer Hebrides Commerce Group

RET is dead. Long live RET, say business campaigners

The economy of the Outer Hebrides has been dealt another devastating blow with the implementation of a 10% increase on all commercial traffic to and from the islands, according to the organisation that represents island business interests.

David Wood of Woody’s Express, the vice-chairman of the Outer Hebrides Commerce Group, said this week that the Scottish Government had ignored frequent and consistent pleas not to impose a double digit increase on ferry fares.

“From the beginning of this month every business and family importing and exporting goods is paying an additional 10% – this is over and above the 50% increase imposed last year. Sadly, this is not the end of the ferry tax scandal – they also intend imposing another massive fare increase next year.”

Taking his hat off as a mark of respect, Mr Wood said grimly: “The SNP’s much-vaunted policy of RET is well and truly dead.”

He said the SNP betrayed the original intention of reducing fares for islanders. The OHCG was disgusted with the Scottish Government’s behaviour.

“We have enjoyed support from most island councillors – sadly those with a direct line to the Edinburgh Government have been posted missing. Every family and business is now paying this SNP-imposed ferry tax.”

Pupils risk injury as windows wrongly fitted in new island schools

Update – the comhairle said that  Bayble, Barvas, Balivanich and Daliburgh are the ones affected by the window problems.

MOST of the windows in new primary schools in the Western Isles must be inspected and reinstalled after several incidents which could have seriously injured pupils.

It has emerged that, possibly because they have been installed the wrong way round, rooflight windows have dropped without warning into classrooms and other internal rooms and pupils and staff have escaped injury only by chance. nicky1

Education chiefs were also aghast to learn that many windows at four of the recently-completed island schools, part of a project costing up to £70 million, have been installed inside out with the toughened panes – designed to withstand blows from footballs and other playground missiles – being on the inside.

Fears for pupils’ and staff safety heightened among island education chiefs recently after one of the wrongly-installed toughened panes shattered in an incident which the council has mysteriously described in internal reports as “a spontaneous fracture”.

Western Isles Council last night (WED) stressed it would not be paying anything extra for the detailed inspection and repair programme which must now be undertaken by builder FMP, a collaboration of three Northern Ireland’ construction firms –Farrans (Construction) Ltd, H&J Martin and Patton Group (which is now in administration).

The suspicion is that a series of window defects have resulted in many unsafe installations throughout the schools but the precise cause and extent is still not known. The report of the findings will should be ready next week.

Among other ongoing defects reported by teachers at the largest school, the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway which opened to pupils last August, are failures of the automatic ventilation systems, failure to detect the presence of people by automated lighting systems, classroom smartboards being installed too low to be seen by pupils and heating pipes clanking so noisily that lessons have had to be abandoned.  Many reports have also been filed about leaking roofs at the schools.

One teacher wrote in a report in December: “Our school looks fantastic from the outside. Inside, it is a different story with a cheap plasticky finish on everything and a different system failing with almost daily regularity.
“This is not just a series of minor snagging problems. I’m afraid to say that this is a shoddy mess.”

It also emerged that two rooflights suddenly fell into the Balivanich School on Benbecula in separate incidents in the last few months. According to a source on Benbecula, the window crashed onto the desk of the school secretary. However, it happened on a Saturday so the office was unoccupied.

Three weeks ago, a similar incident happened at Sgoil an Rubha, the new school at Bayble on Lewis.

The islands’ council confirmed that the detailed inspection which it has now ordered, and which may eventually cost scores of thousands of pounds, will include the following:

  • A photo survey of all the rooflights prior to works
  • The removal of pressure plates, trims and weather tapes
  • A photo survey of existing clearance and spacings
  • The removal of the glazing units which will then be checked for defects before being reinstalled properly

A full report on the findings of the inspection will be produced by FMP on all the works. In the meantime, the council insisted, protective measures are in place at all rooflights.

There has been a lot of recent negotiation over whether there was a need to reverse the windows which were found to be toughened on the inside.

The council said: “The current specification in terms of the lower pane being toughened meets the guidance and British Standards. However, in consultation with the designers, it has been agreed to reverse the glazing panels during the inspection works.
“This change to specification will still comply with British Standards but will also give the additional protection of an inner pane of laminate glass in the unlikely event of a further case of spontaneous fracture of the toughened glass.”

The new schools each secured Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) Excellent accreditation, one of the most comprehensive and widely-recognised measures of a building’s environmental performance. That was before the window flaws were spotted.

The four island schools where almost every window will have to be checked and reinstalled are at the 100-pupil West Side Primary School at Barvas, the 150-pupil Balivanich Primary School on Benbecula, the 175-pupil Point Primary School at Bayble, Isle of Lewis and the 90-pupil Daliburgh Primary School on South Uist.

The builders have so far not responded to a request for comment.