Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tales from the labbook

Conscious that the blog has neither sparkled with wit nor gleamed with insight for a while, I dip into my Council lab books for highlights of the last couple of months. As I am currently working out of 5 books for the various things I do, writing things down becomes more and more important.

1) Planning Reform

A seminar on 26th February, entitled 'Small Country, Big Plans' introduced the upcoming new National Planning Framework. It made a lot of good noises- more planning applications are to be in the jurisdiction of the local authority to reduce timescales for decisions and appeals. The planning reform aims to simplify things (reducing policy document from 350 pages to 35) and enable development. The Government aims to be more hands off about Local Development Plans, and will instruct agencies that they are bodies of the government, not pressure groups nor cheerleaders for environmental issues.

2) Charities and bequests

I succeeded in getting the recommendation to roll up a large number of bequests into a single charity referred back to P&R for a rethink. My issues were that while many of the bequests were at the winding-up stage, others were significant and worthy of preservation as entities with the original aims respected, and that not respecting this would put off future bequests as well.

The revised scheme takes account of this for the larger funds, and makes clear the options for designating funds within a charity fund. This revised scheme was passed at P&R and Full Council and is a much better one- however it still needs the nod from OSCR, the charities regulator. Hopefully this will take place and the funds can be promoted and disbursed- currently they are in limbo.

3) The Council and HIE

The Council received an update on 3rd March on what HIE is up to these days from chairman Willy Roe and chief executive Sandy Cumming. Local businessman Craig Spence has recently joined the HIE board, which is good.

The update basically said business as usual, but with measures to address the Credit Crunch/Global Economic Crisis/Recession. Call it what you like, but I find the way it has exposed the greed and naked self-interest at corporate and national government level even more depressing than the outcomes so far. The banks stole our money to pay for their crazy incentive structures, now the Government is stealing our money to bail them out. Grease the ledges on the banks and wedge their windows open I say. Meanwhile our country has no utilities as the Tories asset stripped them to pay for tax cuts and 'widen share ownership' (but I thought we all owned them before), no heavy industry as it wasn't as sexy as gambling with peoples savings, and we are borrowing hundreds of billions of pounds. But from who? I thought this was a Global crisis. Aren't we still basing the future on wealth that doesn't really exist?

Despite my gloomy feeling that our future prosperity will be based on peats, neeps and home brew, the strategic issues for HIE here are Marine Renewables and the Transhipment Hub.

(Food and Drink did get a namecheck, but nothing about peats. )

Key point is that HIE is doing far less, and only for 'businesses of growth potential' and 'not serving only local markets'. That means about 30 businesses in Orkney this year, and 500 in the Highlands and Islands. Small businesses will get any help that is going from the Business Gateway, a Scottish Enterprise way of working and/or the OIC, and all the Global Connections stuff is heading down the Scottish Development International (run by Scottish Enterprise) route. See the way this could go? It's a concern, as HIE are a far better bet for us as a separate body than as SE Area 6.

4) KGS Surgery #2

A sequel to KGS Surgery #1, which was not the slasher pic I had envisaged but instead a very encouraging series of one to one discussions with intelligent and informed young constituents.

Issues raised to me related to the state of the school building and progress towards the new one (tatty but functional, slightly delayed but definitely well under way). There is a feeling that nothing is being done to KGS as it will be supreceded soon.

Credit Crunch and Council response to it came up (new small grant schemes, acceleration of capital projects and spends etc.), and also issues relating to specific teachers and subjects.

That's me up to 10th March now...