S.K.A.T. Annual General Meeting 2003

SKAT, Skye & Kyle Against Tolls, held its 8th AGM on Sat. 1st February 2003 in Tigh na Sgire, Portree.

SKAT held its Annual General Meeting on 1st Feb.. 2003.  Present were Vice-Chairman and Minute Secretary, Milly Simonini, Secretary Andy Anderson and Treasurer Dorothy Pearce.  Apologies were received from Chairman Dr. Julian Toms who could not be present due to professional commitment.  However, Dr. Toms had  expressed his willingness to continue as Chairman of SKAT for another year if the group so wished.

As Vice-Chairman, Milly Simonini gave a review of SKAT's activities during 2002.  Early in the year, Milly had registered strong complaints on behalf of SKAT about the Scottish Parliament Finance Committee's failure to publicise their inquiry into the cost-effectiveness of PFI/PPPs.  We had achieved an extension to the closing date for submissions and we presented our case to the Committee.   However, the Committee had excluded the Skye Bridge from consideration because it was "unique".  We then complained to the Parliament's Procedures Committee on the lack of publicity for the inquiry. Our "valid point" was accepted  and they promised to take it into their considerations.  In the spring, Napier University's survey, commissioned by Highland Council, into the economic impact of the tolls on Skye vindicated everything that SKAT had been arguing for the last 3 years. 

However, the Scottish Executive claimed the figures used for the survey were out of date and Milly had written to Highland Council Convenor, David Green, asking how Highland Council would now proceed.  Mr. Green would look into this and further correspondence was awaited.  The new Freedom of Information Act proved, ultimately, to serve no useful purpose for SKAT since the Skye Bridge/Bank of America deal was still protected by Commercial Confidentiality.  In November, the Parliamentary Finance Committee Chairman, invited Milly to attend one of its consultation meetings in Portree.  Milly gave the Committee figures relating to the failure of the Skye Bridge as a potential asset to the community, showing negative effects with decreasing vehicle nos. and visitor nos., the 2 million of tax payers' money spent on subsidising the tolls when the toll concession could be bought out for much less, and that toll removal would bring an extra 5 million into the island economy. 

The MSPs present were notably surprised by this information but Peter Peacock, Deputy Finance Minister said later he was unable to comment on any of these figures and simply talked about 2 hour queues at the old ferry and the concessionary tickets for frequent users. SKAT had also applied to become a partner in the Scottish Civic Forum and hoped to use this opportunity to further SKAT's arguments.  Milly had also written to Lewis Macdonald, Deputy Transport Minister, asking several questions about the payment by the Government of VAT on the tolls.   The Vice-Convenor closed by saying that SKAT would be closely watching the various political parties on the issue of removal of the tolls. SKAT had certainly provided plenty of hard information to justify buying out the concession and allowing Skye to get back onto a level playing field in the tourist industry comparable with other Highlands and Islands areas.

TREASURER'S REPORT   Dorothy Pearce presented the balance sheet for the year to 31st Dec. 2002.   This showed a balance of 293.62 in hand. Income came only from donations but this showed that there was still strong support for SKAT and the cause.  She appealed for suggestions for further fund-raising.

SECRETARY'S REPORT   Andy Anderson re-emphasised the Napier Report's findings and its agreement with SKAT's arguments.  He explained that the figure of 2 million p.a. subsidy for the tolls did not include much of the inherent public sector cost i.e. payment of toll charges for public sector staff e.g. Highland Council staff, health service staff, the armed forces and others.  He noted also that if vehicle nos. over the Skye Bridge had risen, the cost of  the public subsidy would have risen in proportion.  Andy also suggested that the Government could be in breach of Competition Law if it paid VAT on behalf of the Bridge operators, a private company. He also noted was that VAT paid by the taxpayer on behalf of Bridge users would be transferred to the British Treasury and could not be reclaimed in the usual way.   Andy felt that we must get the attention of politicians in the present pre-election campaign period since, once elected, they would forget us for another 4 years. Andy stated we should think again about direct action and suggested the issue of the date stamp on concessionary books of tickets.  It could attract some publicity from which more support would follow. No one, including himself, had believed that SKAT would still be going 8 years after the opening of the Bridge but he said it was important that we keep up the pressure as we approach the Scottish Parliamentary elections on May 1st.

The meeting then proceeded to the election of Office Bearers for the coming year and the following were elected:-

OFFICE NOMINATION PROPOSER SECONDER VOTING
Chairman Dr. Julian Toms Andy Anderson Dorothy Pearce Unanimous
Vice-Chair  Milly Simonini Ian Willoughby Maggie Black Unanimous
Secretary Andy Anderson Milly Simonini Adam Gilmour Unanimous
Treasurer Dorothy Pearce Milly Simonini Ian Willoughby Unanimous

As the meeting was not quorate, the election of these Office Bearers would require to be ratified at the next fully quorate meeting.

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Copyright Ray Shields, 2003.

Most recent revision, 04 June 2003