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.”

Cancer patient has potential transfusion problems as sources claim SNP could have saved the inter-island service but sat on their hands

A patient with cancer on Barra may not get blood for her transfusions at the right temperature because of the decision to axe the inter-island flights, it has been claimed.

Angus MacNeil MP has now written to council leader Angus Campbell asking him to look urgently into reversing, due to new emerging health issues, the damaging decisions taken to axe inter island flights.

Meanwhile, claims have emerged that the service subsidy was axed because – under the council scoring system – the refusal by SNP councillors to take part in the process meant there were too few points to keep it.

The MP is urging him to restore the service from Stornoway to Benbecula to five days a week, with two services each day and then to ensure that the smaller communities and more distant from the main services are also treated fairly by restoring the Barra to Benbecula link.

The council is the only body in the islands that receives public money from the Government for Air Transport services, says Mr Macneil.

He said that with the council damaging its own reputation, surely in quieter moments they are regretting savagely axing the inter-island flights which, he said, was the biggest blow to island transportation in 40 years.

“The idea that a flight three days a week between Benbecula and Stornoway is adequate would not even be considered by the most aloof civil servant in Edinburgh which make the Comhairle’s position all the more ridiculous. Therefore, I would urge the Comhairle to get the Stornoway Benbecula service up to five days as soon as possible and follow suit with the Benbecula to Barra service. Everybody deserves a right to fairness regardless of where they live in the islands.

“I have been spoken to by a cancer patient in Barra, Margaret Currie, who tells me that blood she might need for transfusions might not arrive on Barra within its ambient temperature, due to the time taken to transport it, which means that in a weakened state, Mrs Currie, due to decisions by the Comhairle, would have to travel for blood.

Now I know that the Comhairle didn’t mean this to happen and probably didn’t consider it would happen, which is exactly the point. This was a hasty and ill-judged decision by the Comhairle based on one voting round with only a few weeks’ notice. At the moment, blood which requires complex screening processes can only come three days a week.

It is now being claimed that the axe fell because the SNP councillors failed to indicate the level of savings they wanted. A source said: “If the SNP group had indicated the savings they wanted, there would have been enough points to secure the air service.
“This needs to be explained to the public. If they want to know who is responsible, I suggest they ask the SNP group of members why they refused to take part and use their power to keep the service.

“The public hand-wringing and the blame shifting by the SNP now shows they are deceiving the public. They must admit it is only their fault.”

Meanwhile, the MP is writing to health secreary Alex Neil to perhaps build a link for blood with Glasgow because he says there are real difficulties for patients and medical staff now that the inter-island transport links have been broken by the Comhairle.

Cllr Donald Manford of Barra added: “In light of this, the Comhairle who received money for transportation and have walked from the responsibility, have to think again. Health and social issues seemed to have been of little concern in the bean counting exercise.”

Pressure on councillors mounts as Outer Hebrides Commerce Group accuses them of failing in their duty

The main transport campaign group in the Western Isles has come out and urged the islands council to do all it can to restore a five-day air link between Benbecula and Stornoway.

The Outer Hebrides Commerce Group CG insists there is not just a demand but a need for a five-day air service and it says some councillors have failed in their duty to ensure that the service was retained.

Speaking after a meeting with council leader Angus Campbell, OHCG co-ordinator Gail Robertson said: “We explained to Cllr Angus Campbell in clear and unambiguous terms the social and economic need for a five-day-a-week air service between Benbecula and Stornoway. We urge that the comhairle work and liaise with other public sector agencies to find a solution for the unacceptable situation that’s emerged.
“At a time of economic challenge the last thing our economy needs is a reduction in air transport links.”

Also attending the meeting was Norman MacAskill of Drimore Farm, South Uist. Mr MacAskill said they needed these services and they expect all councillors to work sensibly and to put posturing to one side and co-operate.

“We were dismayed to learn that if the islands’ six SNP councillors had participated in the budget priority system the comhairle uses, these services would never have been axed. For them not to have taken part in the scoring system was a dereliction of duty and they should now work with all to restore our air links.”

OHCG said communities need clarity and truthfulness, public posturing secures nothing.

“We now urge the comhairle to re-open discussion with Loganair and other agencies to see if these harmful cuts can be reversed.”

Who is to blame as knock-on from inter-island axe begins to bite? “Blaming the public simply will not do.”

Angus MacNeil MP has written to Business Secretary Vince Cable asking to cut Royal Mail costs by also carrying the daily papers to Lewis Harris and Uist and Benbecula. Newspapers in the islands are now being delivered by ferry because of increased freight charges by the carrier Loganair.

The MP said: “It is of course disappointing that daily newspapers will not be arriving in most of the islands until lunchtime, these changes affect islands from Eriskay to Lewis, with Barra unaffected due to a different distribution route.”

He has written to Cable to see if there is a possibility of combining the mail flight with the papers which could cut the cost of both services.

“Further, many people like to get their papers in the morning and for some people, especially pensioners, getting the papers can be almost a morning ritual. This social benefit combined with the obvious advantage to the shops to have papers on the shelves before they become history, further illustrates good sound reasons for at least exploring the possibility of the Royal Mail charter plane also carrying newspapers.
“It seems eminently sensible that a plane coming over with the Royal Mail, daily, should take over the newspapers. This could be a win-win situation; it would be a way of reducing costs for the Royal Mail, something Government is constantly worried about, and ensuring that newspapers are delivered to the islands at a reasonable time.”

Meanwhile, Barra member Donald Manford has pointed the finger at the council leadership. He said: “The calamitous implications of council axing Uist and Barra flights, continues to escalate. Directly and indirectly over 20 flights in total are lost, including connections between Stornoway, Inverness and Edinburgh. How much more will be lost while the council howls “it’s not our fault”?
“Council leader Angus Campbell informed the Cabinet Secretary that, while he was sad at having to withdraw the service, that is what his public consultation told him. Blaming the public simply will not do. It is now undeniable that public money has been provided to the council for air services and that the council transferred the money elsewhere.

“I commend MSP Alasdair Allan for seeking an urgent meeting with the newspaper industry’s distributors, to try and resolve this problem. Credit also to Angus MacNeil MP for contacting Secretary of State, Vince Cable MP, to urge him to look at the Royal Mail system to improve communication and make cost savings.
“I further urge the council to reconsider its decision to axe the services. Failing that, it could apply to transfer to government the transport powers it has abdicated, in order that alternative forms of delivering the transport can be investigated.”

Huge business opportunity for someone as islands’ paper plane is grounded by hefty fees which would add delivery charge of £6 to each copy

Readers in the Western Isles will have to wait until at least the afternoon from now on to get their favourite newspapers in their hands.

Publishing industry chiefs claim a planned hike in air charter charges would have cost them about £6 to send each copy of the thousands of daily newspapers to the Outer Hebrides.

The hunt is now on to find a lower-cost carrier or an alternative to the early morning “paper plane” which could see bundles being sent by seaplane or even by speedboat.

For the last three years, daily papers were flown from Aberdeen to Stornoway and Benbecula using a Loganair charter flight. Now the plan is take to them by road instead to Ullapool to catch the ferry to Stornoway which will arrive just before lunch.paps

Extra distributors have been hired to take the papers directly to outlying areas of Lewis and to the Isle of Harris. A postbus will take them to Uig. But many readers in the islands will not get their daily paper until late afternoon or, if there are any delays, until the following day.

That has angered many people in the islands, where newspaper readership is thought to be higher than the national average, who claim that it is a serious step back.

Retired mill worker Malcolm Mackay, 74, has been heading into Stornoway six mornings a week for a decade for newspapers for himself, his wife Ina, and four neighbours. He said: “I’m disgusted. This is the kind of shoddy service we had in the 1950s. You get the impression the people who make these decisions don’t care about the Western Isles. The service to Shetland of course is continuing with no problems.”

Island councillor Rae Mackenzie stormed: “It is extremely disappointing to find out that another service is being hit in these islands. It is just weeks since the council withdrew air services to the Southern Isles, taking us back 40 years, and now it seems we are going to have a service for the delivery of daily papers which turns the clock back to the 1950s. Scottish newspapers will be available in foreign countries earlier that we can receive them in our own country!
“Whereas the rest of the world is looking for faster, more efficient, services, we seem to be going backwards. This is out of the hands of the local shops and suppliers. Is it not possible for both Loganair,and the mainland wholesaler to come to some agreement? After all, no doubt they have made considerable profits in the past from these islands.”

The Scottish Newspaper Society (SNS), which represents all the main daily newspaper publishers, insists it has been trying to find a cost effective way to take the 7,500 daily newspapers to the islands – so far without success.

It has emerged that Glasgow-based Loganair planned to increase the price twice in the near future, virtually doubling the current cost.

SNS director Jim Raeburn explained: “The industry regards it as very important to provide a service as best it can and to have papers selling in the islands at the same price as the rest of the country. However, the cost of a copy of a newspaper delivered by Loganair would on average have risen to about £6.”

Such a price would be completely non-viable, he said, and had forced the industry to look at what they could do. The papers will now be transferred from wholesaler John Menzies in Inverness to the islands by road and ferries.

Bundles of papers for North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist will be sent on the ferry MV Hebrides from Skye to Lochmaddy. Every second day, it arrives later so the papers will not reach the southernmost islands until after the shops shut.

Mr Raeburn brushed off suggestions that they were not serving the islands well. He said: “We are maintaining a service to all of Scotland – the only difference will be time of delivery. We are doing our most to maintain a service and to avoid quite dramatic losses. The element of subsidy that would be needed would be unsustainable.”

He declined to say how much the airline was to charge – saying only it was “a large amount”.

However, Scott McCulloch of News International, the chairman of the SNS distribution committee, confirmed that 7,500 copies were sent to the Western Isles each day. If each one was to cost SNS about £6, that would suggest the airline’s charges were to rise to more than £40,000 a day.

Loganair chief operating officer Phil Preston would not comment on the specific point-of-sale price increases for individual units transported as freight cargo, with air transit only making up one part of the overall distribution network.

He said: “We came to a mutual agreement with the newspaper distribution committee SNS to end our Stornoway and Benbecula contract. The dedicated freight charter service, which we have been providing for SNS since the previous supplier Highland Airways went out of business, has become unsustainable for both parties.
“The contract with SNS was operating at a heavily discounted rate, following the collapse of Highland Airways, in anticipation of finding customers wanting to move freight off the island by air on the return leg of the freighter’s journey. We are disappointed no such customer has been available in the three years which the service was operational and the cost of the empty return leg to Aberdeen was a major factor in this decision.”

There will be no job losses at Loganair as a result of the decision and together with SNS, they had worked to find an alternative distribution channel by air but SNS had decided to use the CalMac ferry service. The changes will have no impact on any of the airline’s scheduled passenger services or their dedicated Royal Mail freight deliveries to the islands.

Mr Preston added: “Loganair still has a strong relationship with SNS, using their services to supply the Shetland Islands with newspapers and we look forward to working with them well into the future.”

Stornoway councillor Angus McCormack thought people in the islands were very keen to have a daily paper to read but were equally keen to read it at as early a time in the day as possible. He said: “I would welcome some discussion around just exactly what Loganair is looking for in terms of the return trip to see if a solution might be found. I understand that moves are afoot to speak with the distributor.”

Uist councillor David Blaney questioned why the papers could not be put on Flybe’s scheduled passenger flights from Glasgow to Benbecula. He said: “For long enough papers would always share the passenger flight from Glasgow as they carried on doing on Saturdays and Sundays. So I do wonder why papers to the Uists and Benbecula cannot revert to sharing direct flights from Glasgow as they always used to.”

Meanwhile Mr Raeburn conceded that delivery of newspapers to the islands was always loss-making but something the industry had been happy to do until costs began to spiral.

He said: “We don’t blame Loganair. They say the flight was a serious lossmaker so they cannot bear that any more than we can. However, we do appreciate the effect on readers. As far as a solution is concerned, we have an open mind. If there was a transportation solution which was financially viable, the industry would look at it.
“Seaplanes operate to Oban. You never know.”

When is an Obligation to provide a Public Service, no longer an “obligation”?

Kyles Flodda
Isle of Benbecula

Dear Sir/Madam

Letter From America – Barra “No More”
Inter-Island Flights: Barra to Benbecula

Question: When is an Obligation to provide a Public Service, no longer an “obligation”?
Answer: When it’s a “Life-Line” inter-island air service from Isle of Barra to Isle of Benbecula.

Definition of “obligation”: (n.) a moral or legal bond, tie or binding power: that to which one is bound: a debt of gratitude: a favour; (law) a bond containing a penalty in case of failure.

It appears we’re now staring in apoplexic dismay at the latter definition and having to accept an outcome of “…a case of failure”, without it would seem the “penalty”. Try telling this to the Barra and Uist public, and some distant American cousins disguised as tourists, and maybe Lorraine Kelly, if she ventures to return. Future travel arrangements must be rather upsetting too for all Health Board professionals and patients, contemplating all options, one being flying from Stornoway to Glasgow to Barra (return); also, more inevitable use of Air Ambulance Service. Do these outcomes fall into the category of “Best Value”, First Minister, Finance Secretary, CEO’s and councillors?

Blame Game – The Comhairle have voted, in fairness, after an extensive period of consultation: our MP and MSP blame the Comhairle; our SNP Government blames Westminster; the SNP group of councillors who didn’t participate in the democratic process of consultation blame the Comhairle; the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament have deliberated and received a Petition, number PE1472, signed by over 1500 people … and will continue to consult, take evidence, and deliberate for months, if not years, to come. Not much hope then here for a life-line eleventh-hour rescue. One MSP Petitions Committee member commented, most controversially:

“Jackson Carlaw: I will be contrary, convener. … we are being asked to intervene on a matter that has been visited on the community by the council that it chose to elect. Its first remedy is to elect a different council. I am not quite sure what the obligation is that we are asking ministers to take a view on, given that there is a remedy open to the community to deal with the issue.” (15th March)

Presumably this remedy will be available to be actioned by the electorate in May 2017! Thanks for this advice, Tory MSP Jackson Carlaw.

The PSO Contract with the provider Loganair has been terminated and the service which has operated since 1975 will come to an abrupt halt, only five flights now remaining until the fateful day.

On 19 August 1975 the council minutes referred to the proposed interisland air service, and a couple of months later they mentioned the inaugural flight of the Loganair service. (Councillor Rae MacKenzie)

An uninspired briefing paper prepared for the Petitions Committee reads as follows:

“Direct State Aid aimed at covering operating losses is, in general, not compatible with the principles of the single European market. However, state subsidy of air routes designated as public service obligations (PSO) is permitted.
“… The rationale for imposing a PSO should be based on the fact that the maintenance of regular air services is considered vital for the economic development of the region where the airport is located.”

Yes! Indeed! Vital!

Scottish Government Action

“The Scottish Government has indicated that air PSOs specified, let and managed by local authorities are a matter for those authorities” (ie the Comhairle – In other words, no action).

Scottish Parliament Action

“The Scottish Parliament has not considered the issue of air public service obligations currently specified, let and managed by local authorities.“ (In other words – no action).

Question in Scottish Parliament:

Question S4O-01851 – David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab) Date Lodged 20/02/2013: To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to review the number and range of public service obligations for fragile air services in the Highlands and Islands.

The Minister for Transport and Veterans (Keith Brown): The Scottish Government currently supports three PSO air services from Glasgow to Campbeltown, Tiree and Barra. We have agreed to pilot from this summer a weekend service (from Glasgow) to Campbeltown, which will be included in the new contract for the service. We generally monitor these services in the normal course of events, but we have no further plans at this time to review the number and range of air services subject to a PSO in the Highlands and Islands (ie Barra – Benbecula)

Thank you SNP MSP Minister Keith Brown. Your reputation in these islands is reaching new lows, after your fiscal penalties imposed on Commercial Vehicles using our ferries (RET). What inflation-bursting percentage increase is being imposed from this April, on top of last years’ increases?

Sorry to say, with due respect to our SNP MP, MSP and Government, this sorry state of affairs does not augur well for a YES vote in the much-heralded Independence Referendum in 500+ days’ time, if they cannot address and sort out this rather small scale local difficulty (a la recent Isle of Raasay debacle).

The cost of the air subsidy on the Barra to Benbecula route is reported as being £148,000 (five days per week service). Pro rata, presumably about £90,000 for a three days per week service, although bums on seats may be more on a less frequent service, and therefore less subsidy required. The Barra plane service is presently co-ordinated with the connection to the Benbecula to Stornoway service, which is reducing from next month to a three-day weekly service. I have said elsewhere, and in correspondence with the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretaries, that the Barra/Benbecula service should also be maintained on a similar basis, for many obvious reasons. This is the least we can do to maintain a vital air link with Barra and to honour faithfully a long-standing, unimpeachable “obligation” to our friends and neighbours.

It will not have escaped the notice of many island citizens that the cost of present litigation in the Court of Session between the Comhairle and the SNP government on the vexed issue of closure of rural schools is running at a figure in excess of £100,000 and the QC’s meter still ticking. What a waste of scarce public money, for whichever public agency has to pay the final legal bill.

The Proclaimers should be asked to write another verse to their acclaimed “Letter from America”, sung now almost as a national anthem at Scotland’s football and rugby internationals. In addition, the Vatersay Boys and Runrig should be composing their own versions, preferably in Gaelic, with due respect observed towards the sensibilities of our political masters. This may contain the words, suitably translated: “A plague on all your houses”. Other comments on postcards please.

Signed, with much regret

Yours faithfully

Andrew Walker

Letter From America lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

When you go will you send back a letter from America?
Take a look up the railtrack from Miami to Canada.

Broke off from my work the other day

I spent the evening thinking
About all the blood that flowed away.
Across the ocean to the second chance

I wonder how it got on when it reached the promised land.

When you go will send back a letter from America?
Take a look up the railtrack from Miami to Canada.

I’ve looked at the ocean
Tried hard to imagine
The way you felt the day you sailed
From Wester Ross to Nova Scotia.
We should have held you
We should have told you

But you know our sense of timing
We always wait too long.

When you go will you send back a letter from America?
Take a look up the railtrack from Miami to Canada.

Lochaber no more
Sutherland no more

Lewis no more
Skye no more!
Lochaber no more
Sutherland no more And etc.

Comhairle rubbishes “incorrect” claims by MP and MSP about axing of Friday morning flights from Edinburgh

Claims by Angus Macneil MP and Alasdair Allan MSP that Loganair is stopping Edinburgh to Stornoway flights on Friday mornings because of the council’s decision on axing inter-island air services have not gone down well in the Whitehouse. Not well at all.

“People here have been spitting feathers,” said my mole by the water-cooler.flybe

When he read what the SNP were saying, council leader Angus Campbell blew a fuse. He rushed into the office today to tell everyone who would listen that Loganair had confirmed to them that the reason for stopping the service on a Friday morning was down to how few people were using the service and nothing at all to do with planes not being available.

When services are stopped, more planes become available, not less. Where did the SNP slaggers-off get all that stuff from? Campbell really would like to know. I think we all would.

After wiping the feathery down from his mouth, he grabbed a pen and scribbled a note which was then officially released saying: “It is a commercial decision and on this occasion, unfortunately, our MP and MSP are completely incorrect. The loss of the Friday morning service is similar to commercial decisions taken on other routes and is entirely due to the consistently low number of passengers.”

For the record, there is no suggestion from anyone that anyone else was telling porkies – just that they were “incorrect” – or as the Campbell fellow shouted in the corridor, “completely incorrect”. Oh flip. That guy’s boiling up.

As if that was not enough, the executive office kept up the onslaught by then firing out a copy of a statement from Phil Preston, the big chief at the top of Loganair. He was quoted as saying: “It is with regret that due to consistently-low passenger numbers Loganair has been forced to make a commercial decision to withdraw the Friday morning service between Edinburgh and Stornoway.”

So that is another wee confusion sorted out. Put down the guns. Have a strong coffee, or something. You too in Bayhead.

Oh, look. Pinned on the end of his statement, high-flyer Phil had put a bit of good news which says: “We have however introduced a new direct Monday morning service between Stornoway and Edinburgh, departing the Isle of Lewis at 8.50am and arriving in the capital at 10am, 30 minutes earlier than the current schedule.”

When he emerged from the cool, dark room where he had a wee rest to calm down, Angus Campbell described the new Monday morning flights as “a welcome move”.

Right, that’s the excitement over. Now get on with your work.

Stornoway to lose morning air link to Edinburgh on Fridays – comhairle blamed as islands lose out with 21 flights a week axed

Loganair is to stop morning flights between Edinburgh and Stornoway on Fridays.

The blame is being put on the Comhairle whose decision to pull the funding plug on Stornoway to Benbecula flights has been claimed to have left no plane available on Friday mornings for Stornoway to Edinburgh.

The islands’ SNP parliamentarians are pleading with the comhairle to reverse the decision, which Angus Macneil has described as part of the worst blow to transport services in 40 years.

According to Alasdair Allan MSP, the comhairle’s decision to stop funding Barra and Benbecula flights has now had consequences even for flights it didn’t even fund. Loganair says that with the Stornoway to Benbecula flights dropping down to three days a week, they have no plane available to run the seven am flight from Edinburgh to Stornoway on a Friday, or for the return from Stornoway to Edinburgh.

He said: “I declare an interest, inasmuch as I use the flight that Loganair are cancelling every week in life to return from Parliament. I have to say though that I will not be alone in being unimpressed. I am unclear whether the comhairle anticipated all this when they cut funding for Benbecula and Barra, but the consequence of their decision has been to diminish air services throughout the Western Isles as a whole.”

Meanwhile Angus MacNeil MP thought a lack of planning, by councillors who voted needlessly for the budget cut now appears to be impacting Stornoway, with two flights a week on Monday and Friday being cut from Stornoway to Inverness and the Friday morning from Stornoway to Edinburgh also being cut.

He said: “Due to the action taken by councillors, Stornoway links to Inverness are cut by 25% on a Monday and Friday to three flights per day, but on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday the normal service of four flights will remain.

“It had been projected that Stornoway would lose four flights from the cuts but the sum effect is that Stornoway is losing seven flights and the islands altogether are losing 21 flights.  This is as a result of the greatest single transport blow in 40 years that has unbelievable been administered by our own councillors with damage that seems to be increasing by the week.

“I would plead with them to think again, hopefully it is not too late for councillors who are meant to be independent to act for the good of the islands economy and back the plan put forward by SNP Councillors.”

Comhairle orders SNP air link petition to be ripped off the walls

With the SNP in meltdown over finding words that make grammatical sense to pretend to islanders that it is sort of wanting to save the unloved Barra / Benbecula air link – but not really because deep down they actually now know the money would be better spent elsewhere – the comhairle itself has been its usual fair and rational self in the matter.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the SNP group’s secret rewriting of the petition wording (see previous post), you would think the comhairle would play a straight bat. I have been sent this fascinating note and exchange of correspondence with the Chief Executive. Sorry, I do not have the permission of the first writer to name him.

“Yesterday I was contacted by a concerned member of the public with regard to a public petition in support of the Barra – Benbecula and Benbecula – Stornoway flights being removed from the council offices at the request of one of our esteemed councillors. I emailed Malcolm Burr the CNES Chief Executive the following letter.

Dear Mr Burr,

Following the voting fiasco of the local Southern Isles Councillors on the Benbecula to Barra route, we, as local businesses and individuals have raised a petition that the Comhairle maintains its support for the lifeline services between Barra, Benbecula and Stornoway. We have distributed the petition throughout the islands within businesses and public buildings for the general population to either sign or ignore as is their right. This afternoon one of the local councillors who voted against the flights arrived at the council offices in Benbecula and preceded to note each individuals name that had signed the petition and then had the petition removed, via, i am led to believe, yourself.
Can i please get some clarification as to why the petition was removed from a public building and if indeed Councillor ??????? has actually broken the law by removing it?

I look forward to a reply at your earliest convenience.

Kindest regards

This afternoon came the following reply.


Thank you for your email yesterday on the matter of display of this petition.

“The Comhairle generally adopts the practice that it does not display or assist with petitions on matters of political controversy unless, of course, the subject matter of the petition is in support of a Comhairle decision; for example, had there been a community petition on restoration of full road equivalent tariff (RET) for freight services, it would have been appropriate for such a petition to be available for signature in Comhairle offices, since that would be in support of Comhairle policies.

The reason for the general rule, that petitions on matters of political controversy are not made available, is shown by your email: some members of the public are happy that the petition is available, others most definitively are not. The difference in this case is that the Comhairle has conducted a series of public (and internal) Consultations on its Budget Strategy, and the then proposal to discontinue the Barra/Benbecula and/or Benbecula/Stornoway air services was contained within the Consultation documents from the beginning of the process.

Members of the public have had a full opportunity – which many, I am glad to say, have taken – to contribute to that Consultation process, either by attendance at public meetings, email, letter or through their Elected Members, and, last Thursday, the Comhairle, having taken into account all Consultation responses, set its Budget, of which removal/reduction of these services was part. The Budget represents the Comhairle’s financial policy for the next two years, and that explains the decision which was taken not to make the petition available for signature in our offices. A similar decision was taken earlier yesterday in respect of public libraries.
The Comhairle will, of course, be happy to receive the petition if and when that is delivered, and I am sure that other public bodies, as well as local businesses, will be happy to display the petition for signature.

I do not think that any laws have been broken.

I hope that this clarifies the position.

Yours sincerely

Malcolm Burr
Ard-oifigear/Chief Executive
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar

… so there we have it, the Council will accept any petition in their buildings that agree with their point of view but if you disagree with their views it is not welcome.

Democracy in action ladies and gents. It is definately time for Uist to make the break from this sham we have in Stornoway. I wonder who the poor soul will be that has to die before they realise the gravity of this mistake. Not that they really give a damn.”

Why has the wording of the SNP’s Barra air link petition been secretly changed?

Just days ago, some headline-grabbing local SNP figures were vowing to save the Barra air link with a powerful petition which was to be set up at the heart of our nation’s government. Now, this blog can reveal that the furiously-worded plea to the Scottish Parliament slagging off Comhairle nan Eilean Siar for its plan to axe the link which hardly anyone uses except for officials on mammoth expenses has been watered down into a wishy-washy mess.

After no less wise a head than their former party colleague Andrew Walker pointed out first on this blog that the Scottish Government was powerless to tell the comhairle what to do on an issue like this, some heads finally seem to have been banged together and told to take proper advice and stop the grandstanding. Ouch.

Now the previous blood-red prose demanding Holyrood kicks Sandwick Road’s ass has been replaced with a lukewarm call for some kind of an unexplained dull-as-dishwater and unspecified “review” with no mention of the previous “serious implications”, risk to the “future of all internal flights”, or descriptions of the “appalling move”. See for yourself:

Here’s petitioners Councillors Gordon Murray and Rae Mackenzie’s promised wording which they announced last week:

“To petition the Scottish Parliament that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar maintains its support for the lifeline air services between Stornoway, Benbecula and Barra; the petitioners believing that the Comhairle’s current proposals risk the future of all internal flights within the Outer Hebrides and would severely undermine the transport connections which have been built up between the islands over the last forty years, with serious implications for the local economy and community; asks the petitions committee of the Scottish Parliament to ensure the Comhairle fulfils its air transport Public Service obligations in the Hebrides and to examine the implications for people in all Scotland’s island communities of this appalling move”.

Now here’s the actual comparatively-dreary wording they posted on the petitions website:

“Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to review its national policies on the provision of lifeline air services between Scotland’s islands, consider the impact on local communities by the withdrawal of subsidies which enable such air services and to develop air transport public service obligations in the Hebrides and throughout Scotland”.

Good grief. Not one mention now of the evil comhairle or any “appalling” moves. Why? There was no announcement of a change of stance. Were they not going to tell us? If not, we have all been misled. Who was responsible for the change from the text they published last week? Will we ever be told why?

I wonder what poor Andrew Walker – now languishing in Coventry where he has been banished by the entire local SNP for telling uncomfortable truths – thinks of the incredible change to the petition wording in response to the damning strategic errors he so helpfully pointed out to Messrs Mackenzie and Murray?

Mr Walker says: “What a climbdown! As I have also said, this will go nowhere fast, and an urgent decision is required to ensure some continuation of the Barra to Benbecula route from April (six weeks). Urgent funding and intervention is required from the Scottish Government.”