Skye & Kyle Against Tolls Established 1995
HIGHLAND COUNCIL & NAPIER UNIVERSITY PROVE SKAT RIGHT
If proof were needed - and we know the people of Skye didn't need proof of facts that they already had - Highland Council's survey, carried out by Professor Ronald McQuaid and Malcolm Greig at the Employment Research Institute and Transport Research Institute, both of Napier University, Edinburgh, shows that the island's economy is suffering a deficit of up to £5 million a year because of the high tolls on the Bridge.
Highland Council Director of Planning and Development, John Rennilson, states that "The Napier study provides sturdy evidence that the economy of Skye is being significantly depressed as a direct consequence of the Governments apparent unwillingness to reconsider an unfair toll regime".
The survey also shows that, if tolls were reduced to £1 per crossing, 210 extra jobs would be created on Skye. If tolls were equal to Erskine or Forth Road Bridge, i.e. 60p-80p, an extra 234 jobs would be created - but with the complete abolition of the tolls there would be an increase of 256 new jobs.
The report reveals that "overall Bridge traffic has increased by 8% since opening" i.e. over 6 years, or about 1½% per year, with "a slight reduction" in 2001 from the previous year. Scottish Transport Statistics, published by the Scottish Executive, on the other hand, show that the Erskine Bridge increased by 6% in the same year. However, more relevantly, vehicle traffic on other west coast ferry crossings increased by even more in the same 6-year period, e.g. Ullapool-Stornaway went up from 29,600 cars to 39,200 between 1995-2001. Even Oban-Coll/Tiree rose from 7,300 to 10,000. These are increases of about 50% compared to Skye's meagre 8% over the same period.
So what happened to the wonderful benefits of increased visitor numbers that the Skye Road Bridge was supposed to bring to the Island with its ease of access?
Well, we now have the evidence on why visitor numbers to Skye are so low with this objective, scientific report which proves what we always knew - that the Skye Road Bridge Tolls are a deterrent to visitors and are bad for the Skye economy.
Mr. Rennilson reports that any "positive impacts" to the local economy from faster access by the Bridge have been "considerably reduced" as a result of the high tolls, the removal or reduction of which would bring "increased tourism, increased business efficiency and more business start ups."
This report from Highland Council will be presented to Scottish First Minister, Jack McConnell, and, in the light of such indisputable evidence, it is difficult to see how he can allow this policy of inflicting economic depression on Skye to continue.
Bearing in mind the present Government's enthusiasm for PFI/PPPs to fund public service projects, Mr. Rennilison also noted, "That the present arrangements (on the Skye Bridge tolls) are so widely perceived to represent bad value for money is a matter of real concern which could tarnish the governments commitment to PFI as a key to achieving better public services" - in other words, the Skye Bridge tolls, the very flagship of PFI policy, is giving PFI a bad name !
Also noted in the report on the survey was an assessment of the cost of buying out the tolls. This was put at £23 million, plus any profit margin for Skye Bridge Ltd., and corresponds to SKAT's own estimate of a buy-out cost. Given that, when VAT is imposed, the tax-payers' bill for subsidising this private enterprise venture will rise to approx. £2 million a year - not to mention a 2-year back-payment of VAT - SKAT'S argument in favour of buying out the concession and returning the Skye Road Bridge to public operation becomes irrefutable.
SKAT's own Gothic tale of haunting terror and fear from the windswept mountains and shores of the Misty Isle !!
The Lochalsh Monster
The story so far:-
The peasants of Skye had been continuing their search for a way to get rid of the Monster who had been gobbling up all their local economy but, it seemed, their case was hopeless Farquhar the Brave's 'Freedom of Information' sword had been terminally damaged against the armour of 'Commercial Confidentiality'. The Wee Council of Clansmen, as instructed by Tony the Smile, had refused even to look at the Monster (which was hardly surprising given its extremely ugly economic physique!) and the Wee Free Council's 'Open and Accessible' rules could not be applied to Monsters. The future for the poor peasants of Skye looked grim indeed !
Now read on:-
Things were getting worse for the poor people of Skye as they scrimped and saved to feed the Monster's ever-growing appetite. This left them with little for themselves and many were angry because, at first, some of the Council Clansmen on the Mound did not believe that the peasants were suffering. Wee Wendy Wonderwoman (WWW), who was Clansman-In-Charge of Almost Everything (including the Lochalsh Monster), had exhausted her magical powers by trying to do the work of 6 knights in one day and had retired defeated so several knights were now doing her magic for her. Unfortunately, the one who had been given the magic to control the Monster was a ghostly figure that nobody had seen and his very existence was open to doubt. He was known as Eamonn-Ince Greese.
The rest of the Clansmen were more interested in other little Monsters who were suddenly popping up all over the place and had multiplied 800 times since Tony the Smile had won the magic power from the Wicked Witch. Other groups of peasants very soon realised that these little Monsters they were having to feed had ravenous appetites and could live for 30 years and they, too, started to complain to the Clansmen. However, an edict from Tony the Smile had been issued saying that these little Monsters were providing services for the peasants and were "good value for money" and that was that. Again, the peasants and many of the Clansmen were in a state of puzzlement for they realised that their own tame animals had done the same things and only required a seventh of the food to keep them going.
Then, one day, the elder peasants came up with a bright idea which they hoped would convince everyone about the sufferings of the peasants of Skye. So they packed their flasks of tea and their sandwiches into their saddlebags and galloped off in the direction of a great castle where sat clever men of learning. Here, they explained their problem, that they had a Monster which was gobbling up all their sustenance but nobody believed them because, in politics, nobody believes anything that anybody says very much. "However", they said, "if some Really Brainy People like your good selves, and who are not politicians, were to look at our Monster and how it is up eating every benefit on Skye, the Clansmen would be bound to listen to you".
The Really Brainy People agreed to find out what the Lochalsh Monster was doing to the poor peasants. They set about their calculations and abstractions and complicated sums and were horrified at what they found. They promptly announced that the peasants of Skye would be more prosperous if the Clansmen gave the Monster a golden handshake and got rid of him altogether. Failing that, the peasants would still be better off if the Clansmen removed some of its economic claws and teeth. "Indeed", said the Really Brainy People, "The Lochalsh Monster is so bad and ugly he's giving all the other little Monsters a bad name!". All the peasants on Skye were jubilant, especially since this was what they had been saying all along.
While all this was going on, other peasant groups had been discussing their own local Monsters and had sent word to each other by bush telegraph that they were not happy. In fact, some of them were extremely brave and announced that they would ban Monsters altogether from their villages. Other peasants were amazed at such fearlessness because they knew Tony the Smile would be very, very angry at this impudence and, as everyone knew, Tony the Smile had the key to the box where all the money was kept and the box was hidden deep in the dungeons of the Palace of Wastemisters where peasants were never, ever allowed. It seemed another war for control of the magic power was about to break out.
Then, John 008 and Andrew the Abacus thought up a clever way of doing without these little Monsters by building giant food stores and feeding only the peasants' own tame animals, thus starving Tony the Smile's Monsters out of existence. If most the peasants agreed to this as well as other plans of John 008, then the war would be won and the magic power would pass yet again to different hands. The Lochalsh Monster would have to pack his bags and seek temporary accommodation in the Palace of Wastemisters. But would the peasants have the courage to defy Tony the Smile and set their own animals against the little Monsters ?
THE BRIDGE -
A FEW UNANSWERED QUESTIONS
I recently spent a few hours on Eilean Ban, the island which serves as a launch pad for the bridge on the Kyle side. As I was taken with my family on a guided tour of the island, I had my first opportunity to look at the underside of the bridge. I was surprised to see the amount of pipework suspended there. Some of the pipework is rusting visibly, which surprised me in view of the relative youth of the bridge. This is in contrast to the Stevenson lighthouse on the same island which shows no signs of serious deterioration after more than 100 years. But of course, any metal close to the sea will rust unless it is either stainless or regularly painted. This led me on to ask myself about the yellow gantry being slowly winched along under the bridge carrying a team of inspectors. Firstly, what is the agreement with the owners of the bridge regarding the frequency of inspection ( this is the first since the bridge opened, as far as I know) ? Secondly, if a major defect comes to light, who has to foot the bill for repairs?
Being on Eilean Ban raised in my mind another issue. The books of Gavin Maxwell have a huge readership all over the world and the island is the most accessible place to which his readers can come to follow up their interest in the author and his life. His house there is well preserved and full of family mementos. I would like to know what they think about the siting of the bridge, with its huge footprint dominating the island.
Several people have sent me the article in the Guardian by George Monbiot, dated 16 August 2002, based on research by Robbie the Pict. It details the surprising number of Law Lords who are members of the Speculative Society, which is based in Edinburgh University and which began life as an offshoot of a Masonic guild. Many of the cases which have come to court concerning the tolls have been under the watchful eye of legal members of the Speculative Society, and since the motto of the society urges its Brethren "in unity to dwell" it is hardly surprising that one Brother would be reluctant to overturn the judgement passed by another. It comes as no surprise to learn that Sir Iain Noble, former Chairman of the Skye Bridge Company, and Colin McEachran, a leading figure in the Legal Aid Board from 1991 to 1998,are both members. We all recall the blanket refusal to grant Legal Aid when our cases came to court. This begins to look more and more like a conspiracy ( and I note with interest the piracy contained within that word).
Dr Julian Toms, Chairman
THE SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT INVITES SKAT TO MEETING ON BUDGET PROPOSALS FOR 2003-04
SKAT was interested to receive an invitation from the Finance Committee of the Scottish Parliament to attend a meeting in Portree as part of the Committee's scrutiny of the Scottish Executive's budget proposals for 2003-04. Readers may remember that, in the last SKAT NEWS, we were amazed - and angry - to learn that the Skye Road Bridge would not be included in the Finance Committee's Inquiry into "value for money" of PPP/PFIs. The reason given for this was that the Skye Bridge was "unique". The exclusion applied despite much existing evidence supporting the claim that the Skye Bridge PFI was very bad "value for money".
At an earlier stage, SKAT had complained to the Procedures Committee that inadequate notice of the F.C. inquiry had been given. The Procedures Committee felt our comments were relevant and are currently looking into this. Meantime, SKAT has accepted the invitation from the F.C. and hopes to get the opportunity to put forward our proposals for saving taxpayers' money, i.e. by removing the tolls from the Bridge. We understand the meeting will last only about an hour and eleven other groups in the community will be represented. Not sure how effective we can be in such a limited time but we will certainly try.
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PFI - WHAT'S HAPPENING TO THE PROFITS
SKAT recently obtained a copy of the accounts and returns for year 2001 of Skye Bridge Limited, the Company which operates the Skye Bridge on behalf of Bank of America. We are often told that private enterprise is so much more efficient and cost effective than the public sector and we were, therefore, surprised to see that the profit for that year was £225,016 - less than a £¼ million. The reason for our surprise is that we know, having followed this saga for some time, that Caledonian MacBrayne who ran the Kyle-Kyleakin Ferry (surely a much more expensive operation in terms of annual running costs) actually made a profit of £1 million in 1994 - 8 years ago !. And we should bear in mind that, as part of the concession agreement, SBL are allowed to charge the same as the old Ferry fare with the same annual increases. Indeed, SBL's returns are so poor that the Directors of SBL, in their Report on the accounts, "do not recommend the payment of a dividend and propose that the profit for the year be carried to reserves". Pity the poor shareholders !!
POINT TO PONDER: If, in the interests of reducing traffic congestion and air pollution, car drivers will be deterred from entering the city of Edinburgh by a £1 toll, how come the Government hasn't accepted that the same drivers will be deterred from coming to Skye by a £11.40 toll ? Perhaps Transport Minister, Iain Gray could explain.
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Andy Anderson, Tel. 01470 542 365
Amelia Simonini, Tel. 01471 844 314
Dorothy Pearce, Tel. 01478 613065
FUTURE SKAT MEETINGS Normally the last Saturday of each month
If you would like to attend a SKAT meeting, pleaee contact one of our Office bearers
GREETINGS FROM OUR TREASURER
Well, I'm still the appointed Treasurer so I must be doing SOMETHING right ! Since our last Newsletter, your response has been encouraging and I was also surprised and delighted to learn how far-reaching the support for SKAT is ! There have been donations from local people here on Skye, from Raasay area, the United States and - couldn't be much further away - New Zealand. Thank you all. Some of our precious funds are to be used to have extra copies of the Newsletter printed for distribution through outlets on the Island. And don't forget - we are always interested to hear your views on our campaign or about PFI/PPPs in general, or perhaps your own story about a PFI near you which isn't the wonderful answer to all the problems it was claimed to be. Again, thank you for your continued support.
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As always, running a campaign costs money and, while we no longer have heavy legal costs, we still have to meet bills for advertisements, stationery, postage, phone calls, attendances at meetings. It all adds up. So if you would like to show your support for out attempts to get the Government to remove the tolls from the Skye Road Bridge and give the people of Skye a fair deal, please use the tear-off slip below to send a contribution. It will be gratefully received.
OVERSEAS MEMBERS PLEASE NOTE: If any of our overseas members wish to send a contribution to SKAT, please send this in the form of a Banker's cheque in sterling made out to S.K.A.T. and please be sure to enter the account no. 00859102, Branch code 80-09-47 at Bank of Scotland. Please do not send a personal cheque as the bank charges for this transaction are very high and are often greater than the value of the cheque itself.
Please return the slip to;-
Dorothy Pearce, SKAT TREASURER, 2 Rona Place, Home Farm, Portree, Isle of Skye, IV51 9TB
I enclose a cheque no ../postal order no .
as contribution to SKAT funds.
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, 2002.
Most recent revision, 05 January 2003