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Skye & Kyle Against Tolls Established 1995
In approaching the issue of the cost of building the Skye Bridge and of maintaining the tolls, SKAT has used only information and figures from official sources on which to base their calculations.
The Skye Bridge was initially put forward as a £12 million project (at 1992 prices). This was changed later when the infrastructure or "road scheme" was added to make it an £18 million project. However, the road scheme was always an aspect of the development which was intended to be paid for from the public purse, as indeed it has been.
The lumping together, therefore, of two separately financed parts of the project have helped to create confusion. For our purposes we will examine only the private finance part, i.e. the Bridge itself. We note that the Skye Bridge Company received advance financial support from the Government before any work on the Bridge began and that Highland Council paid for the Engineering plans.
We know also that, with Government assistance, the Company got a low-interest long-term loan of £12.5 million from the European Investment Bank.
The Bridge has now been functioning with the collection of tolls for over 5 years. The annual Governement subsidy to the Private company in 1999 was £1,600,000 (for regular ticket users). With the decision under the Partnership agreement to freeze tolls, the Government made a further commitment to the company on inflation, which means that on an income of £4 million, if inflation runs at 2.5%, the annual cost will rise by a further £100,000 each year.
The subsidy for 2001 will amount to £1,800,000 and will continue to rise each year thereafter. We now know that the toll will be subject ot VAT (which we said from the start was likely). This is entirely because this is a private service, and would not apply if the toll was abolished. VAT at 17.5% will add £700,000 to the bill in 2001 and bring it up to a total of £2,500,000 and once again increasing each year thereafter.
Indeed, if this scheme continues in its present form by 2011, the Government will have paid £35 million in subsidy, enough to build Portree High School and a leisure centre in Portree and Broadford as well. This huge annual outlay would be sufficient, assuming an interest rate of 6%, to service a loan of £35 million. So what will it cost to buy out the tolls? Sarah Boyack, Transport Minister, can't tell us. However, on the 3rd July 1997, in answer to a written question from Charles Kennedy, the late Donald Dewar said "simply buying out the contract is estimated to cost around £30 million" (Hansard). That was 4 years ago.
Since then the company has had £16 million income from the tolls plus subsidy scheme. If they were demanding £30 milion then, it must be much less now - certainly under £20 million. What is clear is that however hard a bargain the company dirves, the cost of buying out the toll and abolishing it, will save taxpayers' money.
If we are wrong in our claim that the Scottish Government could abolish the tolls on the Skye Bridge and save the taxpayer a tidy sum in the process then we would like to know where we are wrong? Which official figures are incorrect? What are the correct figures and what are the implications of those figures? Also we should be asking:
|SKYE BRIDGE||ORESUND BRIDGE (Denmark-Sweden)|
|Cars (single crossing)||£6.40 per km.||£1.20 per km|
|Skye and Kyle Against Tolls (SKAT) is a single objective, non-profit making organisation. Its sole aim will be to use all non-violent means of protest in order to bring about the abolition of tolls on the Skye Bridge.|
The Lochalsh Monster
For those of you not yet suffering from a surfeit of political fairy stories, herewith our very own:-
Once upon a time, long ago in a land far away to the south, lived a wicked witch. The wicked witch had powerful magic in Scotland because this story begins in the dark days before the time when the Scottish people won their own parliament magic The wicked witch had a clan of dwarfs (archaeologists who have been studying their political remains believe they were a tribe of political pygmies) who carried out her every wish in Scotland. The wicked witch's clan worshipped a god called Monetarism which had a hard-faced disregard for small communities and required regular human sacrifice. The wicked witch therefore sought a regular source of human sacrifice.
One day her chief dwarf told her that if she created a monster which needed daily human sacrifice then this would please the god. She could then use the same PFI magic to create a lot more hungry monsters. The wicked witch was delighted with this plan and told her Scottish dwarfs to look for some remote place where she could release her first monster. After a difficult birth, a somewhat disfigured monster was born in Lochalsh. Its hurried and twisted conception meant that it had hardly a legal leg to stand on but it did have the essentials; a huge appetite for human sacrifice and effective teeth to savage any resistance. Within days of its birth the monster had gobbled up huge amounts of human sacrifice, and had terrorised the whole district. The peasants in the area tried to fight this monster and some of them even refused to feed it, but this just made the monster very, very angry. It attacked those who refused to feed it, and any others who were near them, and inflicted such injuries that some of them are still affected by the injuries to this day.
The Chief Scottish dwarf said that it was foolish not to feed the monster. He called those who tried to avoid feeding it, "lunatics" and said that they should welcome the PFI magic which had brought forth the monster. One Spring day a handsome knight came riding out of the west singing a beautiful Gaelic song. He told the peasants not to fear the monster, his clan chief was a white wizard called Tony the Smile and his clan would slay the wicked witch's clan. Bold Donnie the Song told the peasants that if his clan managed to defeat the wicked witch's clan they would kill the Lochalsh monster "as soon as practical". Another bold knight, Charlie of the Thousand Programmes, also spoke to the peasants. He promised, without qualification, to kill the monster if his clan could get the power of the wicked witch. Other bold knights, from a few other clans, also promised that the monster would be killed if only they could get power. After a great battle, Tony the Smile defeated the wicked witch's clan, and got his hands on her magic wand.
The local peasants in Skye were dancing in the streets for now the Lochalsh monster would be killed, and there would be no more human sacrifices. The peasants sent a humble delegation to Tony the Smile's clan to ask when they were going to kill the monster. Some of the clan said that they had never promised to kill the monster, all they had promised was to reduce the level of human sacrifice. Others, including Donnie the Song, faced with the written proof of the promise, and taking advice from their clan's chief magician, Peter Merlinsome, acknowledged their promise to kill the monster, "as soon as is practical" Donnie the Song explained to the peasants that killing the monster was in Merlinsome's opinion "not practical" and was never likely to be practical, so their promise to do it "as soon as is practical" could not be a promise, and meant that they would never have to do it. The ignorant peasants were puzzled by the brilliance of this sophisticated magic, which could make a promise disappear before their very eyes.
They began to become more suspicious of promises. Meanwhile, they continued to feed the monster, which had an apparently insatiable appetite. No-one could tell them how long it was likely to live and it seemed that they would have to continue feeding it until a brave knight kept their promise of killing the monster. A new leader of the wicked witch's clan emerged like a phoenix out of the ashes of that clan after the battle. William the Vague was a young energetic chief who took a consistent and principled stand. He consistently opposed every decision of Tony the smile when such a decision was announced, even if he later agreed with it. William the Vague's local champion was a knight called Angus the academic. Angus proudly told the peasants that he would champion freedom above all else. But when he went on to praise the monster and claim the honour of its creation by his clan, the peasants began to realise that it was the monster's freedom he was talking about. He told the peasants that he had studied the DTZ Pieda report on the impact of the monster on the local community, and considered it to be "a robust academic study", so Angus was into fairy stories in a serious way.
Over time "Charlie of the thousand programmes" had risen to become high chief of his clan, and his clan had joined a coalition with Tony the Smile's clan in Scotland. Farquhar the brave, a very bold knight from Charlie's clan, took up the fight against the Lochalsh monster. He admitted that his clan had had a good opportunity to fight the monster, but most of them had been scared and had run away (although not Farquhar the brave). Farquhar felt sure that they would not run away again if they could get another chance to fight the monster. Meantime, another clan seemed to have its star in the ascendancy in Scotland. The chief of this clan was known as John 008 ( he was very close to 007).
John's clan chose a female warrior, Jean of the Cèilidh, as their champion. Jean of the Cèilidh, had a more gentle approach than some of the other bold knights, but would she ever have enough power to fight the monster? Clan warfare has broken out again and the date has been set for the next battle. Whichever clan wins this battle has control of the powerful magic; will any of them promise to use it wisely and kill the Lochalsh Monster?
Following many requests for advice on how to challenge the Skye Bridge Tolls, I thought a brief summary of the situation would be appropriate.
Prior to the opening of the Skye Bridge, the then Tory Government passed a law (New Roads & Streetworks Act, 1991) making it criminal offence to refuse to pay the tolls. On 16th October 1995, SKAT members were first across the Bridge and began a now famous campaign by refusing to pay the toll. They were kept waiting for some hours but eventually, after being charged by police, were allowed to pass. Just for good measure, they did a U-turn and committed the same offence, incurring further charges, on the way home!
Ultimately, around 500 "criminals", some with dozens of charges, appeared in Dingwall Sheriff Court. The legal system is, in fact, not equipped to cope with this scale of non-violent protest and it really jammed up the works. The prosecution, therefore, resorted to all kind of delaying tactics which involved multiple trips to court for our "criminals" to give the prosecution time to sort it out. I had almost 50 criminal charges against me, was found guilty on 14 of these, lost my appeal, was fined, refused to pay the fine and at this stage refused to co-operate further with the court.
For this they put me in prison for 11 days. Subsequently, they admonished me, forgot the fines, released me from prison, ignored the remaining charges and delayed all my current appeals. I have now waited 3 years for my appeal to be heard. Similar tactics were used many Skye Bridge "criminals". Still the system was bursting at the seams so the Fiscal instructed the police to forget the New Roads & Streetwork Act and use the Road Traffic Act instead, i.e. "Never mind the tolls, you're blocking the road!" (obstruction). We had won the first legal round but now if a driver refuses to pay he faces penalty points on his driving licence for "obstruction". This method of dealing with "refuseniks" has yet to be tested in court.
So now if you drive across the Bridge and refuse to pay, the toll collector will refuse to let you through and will ask you to reverse away from the barrier. If you don't, the police will be called and will ask you to move away from the barrier. If you still refuse, you will be charged with a Road Traffic Offence (obstruction) but you will still not be allowed through the barrier. The legality of this procedure under the European Convention on Human Rights which is now incorporated into Scots Law is highly doubtful. It is also possible that it is unlawful for the police to use the Road Traffic Act in this way but the police are merely carrying out instructions.
Another point which can be contested at the barrier is the use of tickets past their 'use-by' date. We have tested this and after first refusing the out-of-date ticket, the toll collector will eventually take the ticket, book and all, and let you through but you need to buy another book to get back on to Skye - unless you go via Kylerhea. In this situation, you should ask for a receipt and you can then follow this up by writing to your MP and/or MSP questioning the application of the law relating to the date stamp on the tickets. The whole process is a civil matter and does not involve the police in any way. In fact, the opportunity for legal protest at the tollbooth is now very limited.
However, the run up to the general election on 7th June is the time to register your views with the political candidates who will be seeking your votes. You can do this by raising the question with the candidates and by writing to your MP. You may be informed that the Skye Bridge Tolls is a devolved issue under the jurisdiction of Holyrood, which is true. However, in this Constituency in this election, no candidate who is looking to gain votes can afford to disregard the issue of the Skye Bridge Tolls or the views of the electorate on the matter.
This is one period in the life of a parliament when aspiring politicians must respond to the electorate. Make the most of it and make your voice heard on this issue which affects us all on Skye.
Le deagh dhùrachd, Andy Anderson
SKAT organised a public meeting in the Auditorium at AROS Portree on Thursday 5th April, and invited all the candidates for the Ross Skye and Inverness West seat to attend. There was a full turnout of candidates with the exception of Charles Kennedy who had John Farquhar Munro MSP standing in for him. On the question of the Skye tolls, responses from the candidates can be summarised as:
FOR MORE INFO AND TO REGISTER SUPPORT, CONTACT -S.K.A.T., 22 Earlish, Uig, Isle of Skye. Tel. 01470 542 365
A s we approach the Westminster election, we should like to take this opportunity to welcome new readers to our columns. We hope you will find the contents of our Pre-Election Special informative and interesting and, just to help you along in case you are not familiar with the way politicans have been responding to our demands, we thought we would include:-
Over the years of the SKAT campaign, we have been involved in political discussions with members of all parties and none over the issue of the tolls on the Skye Bridge. In the course of SKAT demonstrations, at political meetings and in official correspondence with political figures and civil servants, a number of words and phrases have been employed to explain or justify inaction on the issue of Skye Bridge Tolls. We understand that civil servants have created a computer programme for politicians who are troubled with letters on the issue of the Skye Bridge Tolls. It is quite simple to use; the politician concerned simply types in the response he or she would like to give, presses 'enter' and the programme translates it into a more acceptable form. Thus:-
|We'd like to move on to the issues that we think are more important and pictures of placards and interviews with disgruntled toll-protesters makes it look as though we're not doing anything for our constituents.||" .the time for demonstrations has passed, we must move on."|
|I want something which will create a good impression in the election campaign and sound as if I'm promising to do something about the issue. But it needs to be sufficiently vague so that my party can never be held responsible for failing to remove the tolls.||" the tolls will be removed within the shortest practicable timescale."|
|We do have the money to buy out the bridge and remove the tolls but we don't want to waste it on an area with such a low electoral base.||"We are operating under financial constraints as regards the issue of the tolls."|
|We do have the money to take the tolls off but the Skye Bridge isn't a priority so long as there are Millennium Domes to be financed and nuclear weapons to be maintained.||" ..it's a matter of prioritising spending."|
|Stop whinging on about the bridge and the tolls. You keep pointing out the negatives like the vastly inflated cost of building the bridge, the contractual and financial irregularities surrounding its construction and the hugely expensive tolls. Yes, the tolls are extortionate and damaging to a fragile rural economy and yes, they are preventing tourists from coming to the island and supporting local businesses, but look at the many positive aspects.||"The bridge has brought great benefits to Skye and the surrounding area."|
|Tourism is down because of currency fluctuations, fuel prices and a failure to market the industry abroad. This year we're planning to blame any downturn on 'Foot & Mouth' so that should make sure that no-one pays any attention to SKAT's claims that the high tolls prevent tourists from coming to Skye.||"There is no evidence to suggest that the tolls on the Bridge have had any negative effect on tourism in Skye."|
|It (opposition to the tolls on the Skye Bridge) is both Luddite and lunatic.||This was prior to the development of the software (obviously!).|
Jo Scott Moncrieff
Charged with refusing to pay the tolls, Andy Anderson and Ian Murray are quietly confident of having their charges dropped on the basis of Human Rights. Their cases have been in the legal pipeline for over 3 years but the European Convention on Human Rights states that a defendant must have his case heard within a reasonable time. They are now to have their cases heard in the Edinburgh Appeal court. We hope to have more good news on this in the next issue of SKAT NEWS.
PLEASE NOTE: SKAT, SKYE & KYLE AGAINST TOLLS, IS THE ORIGINAL SKAT, CONTINUING TO FUNCTION ACCORDING TO ITS ORIGINAL CONSTITUTION OF JAN. 1997 AND HAS NO CONNECTION WITH ANY OTHER GROUP OF SIMILAR NAME
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Copyright © Ray Shields, 2001.
Most recent revision, 22 May 2001