Monday, 26 November 2007

Sunday sailings

I found it quite interesting to hear that the possibility of Sunday sailings will be discussed at a Calmac Board meeting on Wednesday. What makes it even more interesting is the demographics of the opposing camps.

Thousands are rumoured to have signed a petition, spearheaded by the Lord's Day Observance Society, opposing Sunday sailings. A couple of dozen have contacted Calmac to ask the ferry operators for a Sunday sailing.

I am aware of the sensitivities involved, and that those commenting on balance appear to be opposed. However, I do have to point out that legally speaking, the opponents haven't got a leg to stand on. How come?

1) Ferries already ply to and from and within the Southern Isles on Sunday, so why not from Lewis?

2) Planes already fly in an out of Stornoway Airport on Sunday, so why shouldn't ferries sail out of Stornoway harbour?

Am awaiting outcome of said Board meeting with bated breath.

Calmac have postponed this discussion for 2 months, in order that it does not interfere with a debate about Road-Equivalent Tarriff. This would mean that ferry travel would cost the same as travelling the same distance by road. The Stornoway to Ullapool ferry is one of the routes under consideration for this.

Health Board saga rumbles on

Two years after a public meeting in Stornoway Town Hall, decrying the management of NHS Western Isles, another public move is afoot. As the Health Minister is due to conduct the Annual Review of the organisation on December 3rd, a petition is being circulated in the islands against the current management. Staff still appear to have no confidence in the management, in spite of the fact that the top tier was replaced a year ago.

NHS Western Isles continues to be in the red to the tune of £3 million, which is cause for grave concern. It is worth noting that although the Chairman, Chief Executive and Medical Director were all replaced in 2006, the Finance Director was not.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Last visit

This is MV Explorer, reported to be going down off the South Shetland Islands near Antarctica. She hit a chunk of ice, which ripped a hole in her hull, several inches wide. The ship is listing at 25 degrees and expected to sink.

Its 100 passengers and all but two of its 54 crew are in liferafts. Another ship is on its way to pick them up.

The connection to Lewis? Explorer visited Stornoway at least twice in the past two years, latterly on May 12 this year, when above picture was taken. On her last visit.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Fire at Stornoway sorting office

Yesterday morning at 10 am, the fire brigade were called to the Royal Mail sorting office at Sandwick Road in Stornoway. A fire had broken out in the roofspace on the building. Fifteen members of staff were evacuated, but no injuries were reported.

Deliveries of mail were disrupted, as Royal Mail pledged to salvage as much of the remaining mail as possible. Today, no mail will be brought to the island - whether any mail will be taken out has not become clear at time of writing.

Fire engines were recalled to the building at 7pm last night, as the fire had reignited. The building was severely damaged; the above picture shows the two broken windows and two broken skylights which is external evidence of the blaze. It is thought to have been caused by an electrical fault in the roofspace.

Royal Mail is now urgently seeking alternative premises to resume services.

Open and shut (repeat at leisure)

The Arnish Fabrication Yard is yet again to be mothballed. As an acquaintance put it this morning, it's now got more mothballs than a wardrobe. It's getting tedious. This is the third time that the Yard has been put on a care-and-maintenance basis, but listen up, folks: this time it's not a company failure. Hurray.

According a spokesman from the Yard, there is a dearth of orders for renewable energy components (such as turbine towers). Even if an order came through today, it would take three months before the Yard could swing into action. The heavy demand for base materials for renewables means that delivery times are long. Right. So, there is such a demand for renewable energy components, yet no orders. Correct. The planning process is putting a spanner in the wheels. Two projects are being considered at present, which the Yard has bid for.

I think everybody is now fully convinced that if you want secure and long term employment in the engineering sector in Lewis, the Arnish Fabrication Yard does not appear to occupy top spot in the listings for reliability. As I indicated in my first paragraph, this opening-and-closing pendulum is once again in full swing. Previously, the closures were due to company failures, with tens of millions of public money going down the drain.

The irony of this whole situation is that the Fabrication Yard, and the work for the Lewis Windfarms (if and when they are given final approval) was supposed to be the salvation of the island economy. It was one of the reasons for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to approve the North Lewis and Eisgein windfarm projects.

Talking of windfarm projects, it appears that the Eishken estate owner is trying to undo his earlier reduction in windturbine numbers for the Eisgein project by submitting piecemeal applications, each below the 50MW threshold above which Scottish Ministers would have had to give approval. Now the local authority can do it all by themselves. And judging by previous experience, the rubber stamp will take centre-stage in proceedings. I have made my dismay at this tactic clear in an earlier post.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Turbine woes

Above image courtesy Minnesota's Energy Future.

Read in the regional press today (Saturday) that a number of windfarms were taken off-line for the generation of electricity on Thursday. Reason being that a turbine tower had actually collapsed during 50 mph winds on the Mull of Kintyre. Similar incidents were quoted from elsewhere in the UK and the world at large in recent years. An investigation into the Kintyre collapse is in progress; nobody was hurt.

Such a catastrophic structural failure can have various causes, varying from design flaws to faults due to a manufacturing defect. If this is a recurring phenomenon, then wind turbines appear not to be the tried and tested technology that they are made out to be.

Winds of 50 mph, equating to force 10 on the Beaufort scale, are unusual but certainly not unheard of in the Western Isles. Gusts of that magnitude and greater occurred at regular intervals during last Thursday's gales.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Health Board Finances

NHS Western Isles is once again under the spotlight over its financial management, or lack of it as the case may be. Last year, as this blog also reported, the top slice of management was replaced following allegations of bullying and harassment, as well as failures in management generally.

A new management team was installed by the then Scottish Executive. They were set a financial target of break-even by September 2007, which has not been met. The local NHS still has a deficit in excess of £3 million. A report by the Auditor General of Scotland has identified lack of financial management and serious issues in the running of the board generally.

Although I echo the statement by our MSP that it is time all the facts about the local NHS came above board, I think it is also time a firm plan of action is put forward by the management at the Health Board, with a clear and realistic strategy on how this be achieved.

The primary objective is of course to reduce the deficit to zero without affecting patient care. The secondary objective is to do so with full support from staff (which is where the previous administration went wrong).

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Armistice 1918 - 2007

On Sunday 11 November, commemorations will take place across the country for the 89th anniversary of the end of World War I. Bearing in mind the percentagewise large proportion of men from Lewis who laid down their lives for King and Country, I am compiling a tribute page, derived from the Faces of the War Memorial site.

I have selected at random one individual from each of the 100 villages in Lewis and have added a portrait photograph (if available) and a summary of his personal information. A modern photograph of the village in question is provided as well, where available.

The page is still being added to.

The result looks like this:



Last address in Lewis: 2 Carloway,
Regiment or division: Cameron Highlanders
Date of death: 9 May 1915 at the age of 19
Killed in action in La Bassee
Had been at front since October 1914