Following approval of Minutes of the last AGM, Andy Anderson, Treasurer, produced the balance sheets for the year. This showed SKAT to be in adequate funds and Andy added that we should not neglect our fund-raising in maintaining this position.
Dr. Julian Toms, Chairman, then gave a summary of the year's events. These included a question put to the European Commission a our behalf by MEP, Prof. Neil MacCormack which provided the response that EC did not consider tolls on the Skye Bridge to be an infringement of our freedom of movement. In April, SKAT hosted a pre-Westminster election meeting in Aros, Portree, attended by representatives of 5 parties. This revealed that only SNP and the Scottish Socialist Party remained fully committed to removal of the tolls. In May we had launched our "Economic Argument" through our Spring edition of SKAT NEWS and through e-mail contact with all MSPs. This showed how Scottish Executive subsidy for maintaining this PFI would cost the taxpayer £2 million a year which could be saved by buying out the concession and removing the tolls.
It was noted that, in response, this figure was not refuted by the Department of Transport at Holyrood. In the summer, the Association of Scottish Community Councils resolved to press the Scottish Executive for an inquiry into the economics of the Skye Bridge, effectively supporting SKAT's economic argument. Highland Council Convenor, David Green, announced that Highland Council also supported a demand for Scottish Office inquiry into this PFI and stated the only practical hope of removal of the Skye Bridge tolls would be by political decision. This, together with a growing number of articles in the press, critical of PFIs/PPPs showed that our argument was having an effect and we are encouraged by this vindication of our stand and by the pressure this will put on the Scottish Executive as we approach the Holyrood elections next year.
In October, we marked the 6th anniversary of our Campaign by leafleting at the Toll barrier and publishing the Autumn SKAT NEWS circulated to over 400 members. From the response to both these events, we continue to be impressed by the way support for our campaign is holding up among the wider public, in particular from letters and donations that we received following the SKAT NEWS appeal. At present, we are working with a free-lance TV programme maker on a documentary which we anticipate will take our message to an even wider public in the near future.
Jo Scott Moncrieff, then gave her Secretary's report. She noted that the new Labour Government had not brought any new policies, regarding PPP/PFIs, and the increasing use of these policies, in e.g. schools and hospitals, was producing depressingly familiar problems. It was not true, as had been claimed by politicians, that difficulties produced by the Skye Bridge PFI would not be repeated. SKAT had maintained a high level of activity this year although the nature of the campaign had changed now that demonstrations were no longer practical.
We had kept a high public profile through SKAT NEWS and letters to the press and through continued lobbying of elected representatives at every level, demanding information on the true cost of the Skye Bridge, removal of the date stamp and with our "Economic Argument". Jo also informed members that SKAT had presented submissions to two separate inquiries currently being undertaken by the Scottish Executive. The first was to the Finance Committee's Inquiry into the effects of PPP/PFIs in Scotland. The original time limit for submissions was one month, in May 2001. However, SKAT had succeeded in having this deadline extended for our own submission and the Committee had also agreed to hold their report until Highland Council, who had also not been informed of the Inquiry, could present the results of their investigation into the effects of the Skye Bridge PFI tolls on the Skye community. The second submission had been sent to the Procedures Committee who were required to ensure that the Scottish Executive were adhering to the principles of "sharing power, accountability, accessibility and equal opportunities". These reports should be available in the spring.
The following Office Bearers were then elected;-
Chairman - Dr. Julian Toms
Secretary - Andy Anderson
Vice-Chairman - Amelia Simonini
Treasurer - Dorothy Pearce.
The meeting was then opened to general discussion. Various points were raised, mainly relating to how we can ensure public understanding that our Economic Policy for removal of the tolls will save taxpayers' money and confirmed that SKAT's policy would continue with our present policies i.e. the pursuance of removal of the Skye Bridge tolls through pressure for a political solution.
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Copyright © Ray Shields, 2002.
Most recent revision, 19 May 2002