Skye & Kyle Against Tolls Newsletter August 2000

DTZ PIEDA SURVEY REPORT –

STILL REELING FROM THE 'SPIN'

SKAT members who have had the chance to look at the long awaited DTZ PIEDA report are flabbergasted at the way in which the results have been interpreted by the surveyors.

For example, under TRAFFIC ANALYSIS, much is made of a 16% increase in Kyle-Kyleakin traffic from 1995 – 97. However, there was also an increase of 11.6% from 1993 – 95 which was, of course, why we needed a bridge in the first place (remember the 2 hour traffic queues in the height of the season?). It is also admitted elsewhere in the report that ferry traffic on other routes had increased, due partly to improved ferry services (bigger and more often). DTZ P also admit to a bigger increase in traffic at K-K just before the opening of the Bridge which they attribute partly to the 2 new ferries (fewer breakdowns) and 24 hour service. Another factor in this equation is that Skye & Lochalsh has one of the fastest growing populations in Scotland at 2.7% p.a., and the residents were the group showing the biggest increase in usage of the bridge. So the hype about the 16% increase in K-K traffic after the Bridge opened now looks a bit suspect. With the 2 new ferries, it would probably have happened anyway.

For some reason the downturn in coaches crossing to Skye is attributed to the "lack of credit facilities". Why only coaches? Hasn't the lack of credit facilities affected other groups of bridge users? Also, what happened to the famous argument that the "tolls would be the same price as the ferry so it wouldn't make any difference"?

DTZ P state in introduction "The issue of tolls appears to be inextricably linked to the Bridge, therefore we have had to interpret some of the survey results with care". They seem to say that the reaction against the level of tolls to drive across a mile of road is not a valid or true "effect" and visitors doing U-turns at the toll barrier don't really count as "users". It was claimed that 73% of drivers who had U-turned at the barrier told surveyors "WE'RE LOST!". Councillor Gavin Scott Moncrieff thinks DTZ P need a hearing test. He claims drivers, when told of the 11.40 return charge, actually said "GET LOST!!"

It seems reasonable to assume that if the Scottish Executive found it necessary to withhold the report for a whole year, someone somewhere was hard at work on the interpretation of the results, trying to make bad news look like good news.

In any case, SKAT will try to obtain a copy of the actual data, i.e. questions and answers, in order to assess just how much 'spin' has been put on the results. So for a more accurate picture of the socio-economic effects of the highest tolls in Europe on Skye –

WATCH THIS SPACE !

 

SKAT GOES TO HOLYROOD

 

Three SKAT Office Bearers attended a meeting in May with several MSPs at Holyrood. The team, consisting of Convenor Ron Shapland, General Secretary Myrna Scott Moncrieff and Treasurer Andy Anderson, had a productive meeting with SNP MSPs when they put their case for the removal of the date stamp on the books of tickets.

Ron Shapland, who continues to push his economic argument for removing the tolls, pointed out the common sense in removing the date stamp. "Every book of tickets purchased carries a Government subsidy" says Ron, "and every time a book is discarded with unused tickets because of the date/time limit, taxpayers' money is literally thrown away". MSPs saw the point and are ready to support a motion before the Scottish Parliament to this end.

N.B. BRIDGE 5TH ANNIVERSARY

* * * DEMO * * *

CHANGE OF DATE TO OCTOBER 7th
CHAS. KENNEDY WILL BE THERE ! !
WATCH LOCAL PRESS FOR DETAILS

 

PETITION 27 – STILL UNDER CONSIDERATION

As reported in the last SKAT News our petition, PE27, was heard and discussed by the Transport and Environment Committee in Holyrood on 31st May. Readers may remember this was the petition asking for the reinstatement of concessions by Cal-Mac (a) where crofters were allowed a free crossing when returning with empty livestock floats, (b) where hay haulage was charged half fare and (c) that a similar concession be negotiated for vehicles carrying livestock feeds.

The Committee decided "to write to Highlands & Islands Enterprise and to the Scottish Executive to seek additional information on the issues raised by Skye and Kyle Against Tolls regarding haulage concessions".

This means they haven't said "yes" but they haven't said "no" either and we are still optimistic for a successful outcome on this one. The issue is to be raised again when Holyrood resumes after the recess.

 

RON APPEALS TO EUROPE ON VAT

In the last SKAT News, we pointed out that the British Government had given inaccurate information in relation to the Skye Road Bridge in presenting to the European Court of Justice the case against VAT on tolled roads in Britain. Our Chairman, Ron Shapland, has taken up this issue and his letter to Advocate General Alber of the European Court of Justice (14.04.00) is reproduced below.

Dear Advocate General,

VALUE ADDED TAX –

ROAD AND BRIDGE TOLL CHARGES IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

You have delivered an opinion about the United Kingdom's failure to levy Value Added Tax on Bridge and Tunnel Tolls, in which you argue that the developments have not been undertaken as part of the Public Authority responsibilities of the Government, Regional or Local Authorities. You say that toll payers have a choice to use either a toll free route or a tolled route which saves fuel and time.

The United Kingdom Government has not informed you that the Skye Bridge is the only tolled bridge in the country without an alternative free route, that toll payers have had increased fuel costs as opposed to the previous ferry service, and that very little time is saved in using the bridge. I assume therefore you would class this bridge as one which should not attract Value Added Tax.

I trust you will be able to amend your opinion accordingly.

The Isle of Skye Community has always believed that the bridge to the island should have been built by the Government and operated without tolls as it is the only permanent link to the mainland throughout the year. A monopoly situation was created to allow private developers and bankers to make large profits by charging high tolls which users were forced to pay or be restricted to the island.

The charge for a return car journey is now 11.40 for a kilometre length of bridge and this would increase to 13.40 with VAT added.

I would welcome your opinion as to whether the United Kingdom Government has contravened any European Union legislation in tolling such a structure which is essential for the passage of goods, services and the general public in their enjoyment of the freedom of the European Union.

Yours sincerely,

Ron Shapland.

The text of this letter was translated into German by SKAT member and professional interpreter Gerlinde Krug just to make sure that Herr Alber understands the real situation this time round.

Ron is still awaiting a reply to his letter which presumably has sent Herr Alber and his staff on an investigation into exactly what evidence was given to his Court by the United Kingdom Government and just who is telling the truth. As SKAT well knows, tolled roads are an optional extra and it is against Scots and European law to toll a road where there is no alternative route.

 

TORIES ARE SYMPATHETIC TO SKAT'S CASE

General Secretary, Myrna Scott Moncrieff, reports from the Scottish Conservative Party Conference in Caird Hall, Dundee, last month.

SKAT continued its policy of attending party conferences attending the Scottish Conservative Conference in Dundee held June 23 and 24. Brian Forehand, former SKAT Treasurer, and I were well placed in the Caird Hall to waylay MSP's including David McLetchie, party leader, party representatives, workers and officials. The campaign received an interested and listening reception. As has been experienced at other party conferences, the toll charges displayed on the SKAT stand elicited a range of comment from sympathy to indignation. The Hon. Bernard Jenkin, MP (what a dishy man!) Shadow Transport Minister took a particular interest in the VAT issue wanting SKAT to send him all the related correspondence.

A copy of EU General Advocate, Robert Alber's opinion on this issue was photocopied for him on the day as well as correspondence entered into by SKAT Chair Ron Shapland with HM Customs and Excise. Phil Gallie, MSP and Struan Stevenson, MEP also expressed an interest in this issue taking on board SKAT's claim that the Skye Bridge in terms of Mr. Alber's argument should not be liable for VAT.

On the Saturday, SKAT held a Fringe Meeting chaired by Murray Tosh, Scottish Conservative Spokesperson on Transport, & Environment. John Campbell, SKAT Vice-Chair gave an address and the meeting was opened for discussion. There were opportunities for SKAT to provide details and set the record straight on misconceptions held about the entire bridge project and to canvass for support for initiatives in the Scottish Parliament such as the ending of date-stamping on books of discount tickets.

SKAT hopes that the appeal to the historic pragmatism of the Conservative party will lead to achieving the consensus in the Scottish Parliament required to get the toll issue resolved and will result, in the interim, in securing other concessions that will benefit our communities.

 

MAC HANGS ON FOR JUSTICE!

Mac still hasn't been to Europe yet as was we had hoped in our last issue. However, we understand that Mac's case is likely to be considered by the European Court of Human Rights in September so we should have more on that in our October SKAT NEWS.

 

THANKS & BEST WISHES TO FREIDA

For the past 3 years, Freida Murray has been responsible for getting your SKAT NEWS put together, published and posted out to you. She has done a marvellous job and her efforts have been greatly appreciated by all in SKAT. However, although Freida is still with us as a SKAT member, we are sorry that she will no longer be editing the SKAT NEWS. This is because she is now working to gain qualifications which will enable her to teach computer skills.

So, while we shall miss Freida's excellent work as Editor of SKAT NEWS, we wish her good luck and every success in her new career .

 

JUST SO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR MONEY GOES, FOLKS!

As we are all well aware, every time 5.70 is handed over at the toll barrier, the money goes not to Skye nor to Scotland but straight out of the country to the Bank of America.

This organisation, having not invested a penny in the Skye Road Bridge project now stands to make upwards of 80 million from Skye's traffic as the 5.70s from cars and the 42. 00 from coaches come tinkling into its cash registers at the toll booth.

So what happens to all that lovely lolly which might otherwise be circulating in the Skye economy and helping to keep another 200 people in jobs? Well, you'll be pleased to know that some of it goes to hard working Chief Executive Officer of Bank of America, Hugh McColl who, last March, was awarded a pay package for the year of $76 million. Admittedly this included stocks and options worth $72 million, but even so $3.75 million (about 2.3 million) for one year in take home cash is not bad at all. This represents only a modest increase of 7.1% on the year before. And it's nice to know that we here on Skye are making our contribution to this man's happiness.

Not that Mr. McColl gets his money easy. This is the man who, since his bank's stock fell 17% in that year, had to make some tough decisions in order to balance the books. For instance, in order to cut costs, it was necessary for Mr. McColl to cut 19,000 jobs, that is 10% of his workforce. But no doubt he felt it was a sacrifice worth making.

Of course, life has not been easy for Mr. McColl as CEO of Bank of America. Other drains on his Bank's income recently included $187.5 million which had to be paid out to 300 local governments in the region, including San Francisco. This figure represents payments made by B of A to settle law suits brought against it for mishandling millions of dollars of public funds.

Naturally one can't lay the blame for all of a company's problems at the door of the man at the top. However, local press sources reveal that Mr. McColl came in on the ground floor of a small North Carolina bank in 1959 and over the course of four decades built it into the USA's largest bank, now Bank of America, so it would seem reasonable to assume he knows what's going on.

Press sources are predicting strong criticism at the next AGM from some ungrateful shareholders who don't quite understand why the CEO is being awarded such a handsome payout when business is not doing so well and financial journalists describe him as "grossly overpaid".

No doubt Mr. McColl will manage to live with these hurtful comments, secure in the knowledge that the money will keep rolling in over the sea from Skye.

 

COUNCILLOR SANDY MACKENZIE VISITS SKAT

SKAT was delighted to welcome Highland Councillor Sandy MacKenzie to Skye on Tues. 6th June. Sandy thinks that Highland Council has put the Skye Bridge Tolls issue on the back burner for far too long and intends to give a fresh impetus to the move to rid Skye of the iniquitous toll burden.

Councillor MacKenzie, who is Chairman of the Highland Council Transport Select Planning Committee, had asked for a meeting with our members to get their views and he listened with great interest to what SKAT had to say. In particular, we stressed that, while every effort has to be made to remove the tolls from the Bridge altogether, we realise this could take some time. Meantime, it is vital that we work towards any means of relieving the immediate burden on the people of Skye. At the moment, this includes getting rid of the ridiculous date stamp on the books of tickets for "regular users" and reinstating concession for hauliers and crofters.

"There is a very good chance of success on the issue of the date stamp", says Sandy, "since the implementation of this would not cost the Scottish Executive any extra money and this is a major consideration in any step the Government takes".

Toll charges have been frozen since January 2000 and it makes no sense to put a time limit on their use from the date of purchase. We wonder, however, whether Bank of America feel their profits might suffer if we are able to use every ticket we pay for and which the Scottish Executive subsidises. Sandy was also in agreement with our efforts, which have only now been successful, to get the Scottish Executive to publish the results of the DTZ Pieda survey.

SKAT understands that Mungo Bovey, QC, will offer free legal advice to Highland Council on the advisablity of asking for a judicial review into the legality of the Skye Bridge tolls. If he recommends this, Highland Council will probably proceed on this course. While always taking the view that no stone should be left unturned in seeking a way to remove the tolls, SKAT feels that the legal aspects have been put under the judicial microscope so often that there can be little left to examine. We can only wish them luck.

THANKS, CHRIS!

SKAT says a big "THANKYOU" to Chris, the Barber, of Portree who, from the beginning, has been a strong supporter of the campaign. Many will remember his shop window displaying posters and selling SKAT 'goodies'. With this, together with Chris' own very generous donations, he has raised an enormous amount of money for our funds. Now after 23 years in Portree, Chris is moving to Telford, Shropshire, where the climate is a bit kinder. We wish him good luck, good health and all the best for the future.

 

A LESSON IN BUILDING BRIDGES

A fascinating insight into how it could be done was reported in the Sunday Herald (2nd July 00). Sweden now has a fixed road/rail/bridge/tunnel link with Denmark. The main crossing is 21.8 km. long = about 36 Skye Bridges. It has a specially built island in the middle, was completed ahead of schedule and cost 20 billion. The toll charge is 20 per crossing. If Skye Bridge Toll prices applied here, the charge would be 207 a crossing. Conversely the Skye toll would be 55p at their prices. So why isn't it? www.oresundskonsortiet.com

 

CONFUSED SKATTIE

SKAT members may have received, some months ago, a circular regarding the 999 Club. In it, members were asked if they wished to transfer their subscription to the "SKAT Legal Group" draw. We have recently discovered that some members misunderstood exactly what this meant. So just to clarify, if you did NOT ask for your money to be refunded or if you agreed to have it transferred then your monthly subscription now goes to the group run by Robbie the Pict & Drew Millar. This is a completely separate, new group and has no connection with SKAT nor does SKAT receive any money from the income from that draw. If you did NOT reply then your money is held by SKAT in a separate account. The original 999 Club no longer exists. If you are still in doubt, please contact one of our Office Bearers  and we'll try to help you.

CONVENOR

TREASURER

GENERAL SECRETARY

Ron Shapland

01471 833 308

Andy Anderson

01470 542 365

Myrna Scott Moncrieff

01470 552 212

E-mail: simonini@simoniniskye.freeserve.co.uk

E-mail: andy_a_2000@yahoo.co.uk

E-mail: myrnaskye@yahoo.com

 

SKAT NEWS BOARD

Members will have noticed the absence of the SKAT News board at the Kyleakin roundabout. We very much regret the necessity for its removal which was due to persistent vandalism. SKAT has written to Clodagh MacKenzie, who allowed us to place the board in her ground, to thank her for her support over the years.

As you may have noticed, the style of our campaign has, of necessity, changed recently; we no longer have so many demonstrations as members can't refuse to pay the tolls, be charged by the police and get all the resultant publicity and media coverage. Now we would simply be charged with 'obstruction' at the toll barrier and be charged under the Road Traffic Act! All of which means that many of our members who used to meet up with us on the Bridge on those great days no longer get that opportunity. However, we hope that through our SKAT News and our SKAT website run by Ray Shields, we are able to keep you up to date with our progress.

That, of course, is one-way communication and we therefore thought we'd take this opportunity to ask if, like us, you are committed to continuing the "DRIVE FOR JUSTICE" and removal of the tolls from the Skye Bridge. We would like to know if you wish to continue receiving the SKAT News and, if so, if you would mark the appropriate box on the tear-off slip at the bottom of this page and return it to us.

 

FUTURE SKAT MEETINGS –

All at 6.00 p.m.

Date Venue Chair/Secretary
August 5th Portree Myrna/Jo
August 19th Portree Andy/Gerlinde
Monthly Aim: Prepare mail-shot
September 2nd Breakish Milly/Gwyneth
September 16th Portree Dr. Thoms/Tommy
September 30th Portree Adam/Dorothy
Monthly Aim: Organise 5th Anniversary Demo

October 7th SKYE BRIDGE DEMO

October 21st Portree Ron/Judith

Monthly Aim: Organise SKAT News

November 4th Portree Ian/Colina

November 18th Broadford Milly Gwyneth

Monthly Aim: Review past year's progress

December 2nd Portree Jo/Myrna

December 17th Portree Andy/ Gerlinde

Monthly Aim: Have a Happy Christmas and a Good New Year.

NB. From 21st Oct. Portree meetings are in Tigh na Drochaid & Broadford meetings are in An Acarsaid

We hope you will continue to support us and if you feel like giving some of your own comments on the campaign we'd be interested to hear from you.

Obviously, although we still have some legal bills to pay, there are other costs to be met as well. As you will see from other items in this News, our representatives travel to various locations to meet with politicians, local and national, and attend as many Political Party Conferences as possible as well as meeting with other interested groups of Skye Bridge users to gain their support. On top of this there are phone bills, advertising, printing, stationery, postage, etc. If you feel, therefore, that you could make a contribution, however small, to our funds this would be greatly appreciated. If you don't wish to make a donation but still wish to receive SKAT News then you'll continue to do so.

This is definitely a non-profit making organisation but we would prefer to stay "in the black".

SKAT Campaign
Eadar Da Allt
22 Earlish
by Uig Isle of Skye
Scotland, UK

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Copyright Ray Shields, 2000.

Most recent revision, 21 June 2003