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Readers’ letters: Councillor expenses, flowers in Oban and media bias over independence

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Sir, – I have been reading with horror some of the proposed cuts the council is to implement.

I have a suggestion that may go some way to helping the budget: stop paying councillors’ expenses!

They should be able to live on their salaries like the people who elect them and whom they are supposed to represent.

Come on, who else but MPs get big expense accounts just for going to work?

Dave Blair.

B&B licensing plan will only harm our fragile rural economy

Sir, – If ever there was an ill-conceived plan regarding our tourism in the Highlands of Scotland it is the proposed licensing of privately-run B&Bs.

Far from making more properties available for local buyers it is on course to do the opposite. Not that many years ago the government of the day was, through its agencies, giving grants to those building houses in the Highlands to add another bedroom to their new-build homes. The reason was that these were to be used as B&Bs. The objective being to bring in further revenue which would stay in the area. In doing so it also, in many cases, put properties in a higher council tax band which could then be utilised for the good of all.

Now, many of those who received that grant aid are in the retirement bracket but are still living in the homes that they built in their younger days. Many of these people still do B&B but to a lesser degree which still enables them to remain in their homes.

These people are not making a fortune, more often than not much less than the tax-free allowance given by the government. The hassle involved in applying for their licence has already seen many of this generation giving up doing B&B and the implications of this are not looking good.

Image: Shutterstock

Firstly, as I was recently told while attending the opening of the Wester Ross salmon fishing season, some of those giving up B&Bs were considering selling up and looking for smaller properties.

This in turn would release some of their capital, but also enable them to outbid youngsters for any smaller property which came on the market. Without affordable starter housing our younger generation will leave, causing a demographic nightmare in the future.

Secondly, as for their own property, as we have seen only too often here in Ardnamurchan, that will be purchased as a second home by wealthy buyers from down south who contribute little to either the local community or local economy.

In fact, they often do the complete opposite, causing both ill-feeling and divisiveness within small communities.

These second-home owners and their families, when they do visit, arrive with their “Chelsea tractor” loaded to the gunnels with supplies needed for the duration of their stay. The small local shop is lucky to sell the odd pint of milk to them. On the other hand, an elderly local couple are likely to buy necessities from the local shop, including what they serve as breakfast to B&B guests.

We have seen many small local shops close over the years and this folly could exacerbate the problem of rural depopulation. The fragile rural economy and its infrastructure, from available tradespersons to transport, can only be damaged by this licensing proposal, which also smacks somewhat of 1984 Big Brother SNP.

Surely if a B&B has been operating for years without a licence it doesn’t need one now. Is it beyond the mental capacity of our politicians to leave a working mechanism alone?

Have they never heard of the saying: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?

Prof Eric McVicar FRGS, Strontian.

Keep flower lady in town centre’s plan

Sir, – The dedicated lady that looks after the large flower box in Gibraltar Street in Oban should be commended for keeping this little area of the town beautiful with her own tended flowers.

I hope this will be saved and relocated before the new redevelopment layout to the area is completed and that many more such rectangular boxes will line the curved seating area.

This will hopefully brighten it up and bring this lovely seated place into a sea of smiles that befits beautiful Oban.

Stephen Jones, Millpark, Oban.

Sunak deal doesn’t work for Scotland

Sir, – According to Ron Campbell (Letters P&J) it was a shame that a deal struck by Rishi Sunak for Northern Ireland and the EU could not also be agreed for Scotland as, after all, the majority of Scots voted to remain in the EU.

To be fair to him, it certainly appears to be a great deal given that there will now be red and green lanes for goods entering Northern Ireland direct from the UK – thus maintaining the Northern Ireland Protocol which, in turn, was designed to protect the Good Friday Agreement to ensure the border remained open between the north and south.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak holds a Q&A session about the Windsor Framework at Coca-Cola HBC in Lisburn, Co Antrim in Northern Ireland. Image: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.

Indeed, what has been proposed by Sunak is a big step forward for Northern Ireland (having both the UK internal and EU single markets) which should greatly benefit them going forward and result in a substantial increase in investment while cementing Northern Ireland’s wish to remain within the UK – the best of both worlds.

However, an independent Scotland would be faced by an entirely different situation compared to Northern Ireland. For starters, we would be leaving the EU (Northern Ireland will not) which by that act alone will automatically trigger major repercussions for Scotland and its economy – like for example leaving the UK internal market, opting for sterlingisation or have the expense of its own currency and having to remain outside the EU for an unspecified number of years, which is the worst of both worlds.

Furthermore, like the EU, the UK would insist on protecting its market with similar safeguards demanded by the EU which in all probability would require a hard border with Scotland.

Finally, I will leave the last word to the Scottish economist Gavin McCrone (the economist the SNP love to misquote) on the subject of independence contained in his latest publication, After Brexit.

“The upheaval caused by leaving the UK would undoubtedly be major and costly – it might well result in a fall in living standards for several years and significant inflation. It is not clear that this is understood by those who seek independence.”

Enough said!

Ian Lakin, Milltimber.

Shire leads the way in waste disposal

Sir, – Aberdeenshire Council should be congratulated on its resolve to introduce a new waste recycling system, with one bin for containers, one for paper and card, a residual waste bin and a caddy for compost (P&J, Future is orange in triple bin rollout, March 2).

The weekly compost collection ensures smells are minimised, allowing three-week intervals for the other bins with dry recyclables.

Householders who insist on putting food waste in the residual waste bin are rewarded with unpleasant smells and blowflies.

While this approach requires an additional bin compared with Aberdeen city’s co-mingled recycling bin, where paper, card and containers are all put in the same bin, it returns to the concept of the excellent black box and white bag system we had prior to the introduction of the co-mingled collection.

By using wheelie bins, simple one-compartment refuse collection vehicles can be used to collect the two separate recyclables streams.

The new orange-lidded bins will be rolling out to different areas in phases as the year progresses. Image: Aberdeenshire Council

The system also avoids any separation work in the street, the problem with the old Aberdeen city system.

The fire at the Altens recycling centre was a tragedy. However, a change to adopt Aberdeenshire Council’s new recycling system in Aberdeen city would allow a simpler and cheaper separation system at the recycling centre.

While the separation system prior to the fire was a wonder to behold, it did so at great cost to what the good citizens of Aberdeen were doing previously for free – putting paper and card, and containers in a bag and box respectively.

With the Aberdeenshire Council system – two separate separation systems – the recycling centre would be used for two different streams, eliminating the complexity of separating paper and card from containers.

To check the viability of this approach, I would recommend that Aberdeen City Council engages an independent waste consultant to assess the savings that could be made.

The consultant should also be charged with penetrating the smokescreen put up by Suez with their “commercial in confidence” responses to any freedom of information requests, so that council taxpayers can determine whether they are getting good value for money.

Bob Pringle, Abergeldie Road, Aberdeen.

Council priorities wrong for our city

Sir, – I am sure Aberdeen residents will be delighted in knowing that the council’s budget decisions include approving £2 million for electric vehicle charging points.

When so many cuts have been made to sports and culture provision, one has to question the wisdom of councillors being led by city officials to agree to this.

Electric vehicle charging facilities are non-essential and will only be used by a minority; a very poor decision.

Youngsters making music in the Big Noise Torry is an activity which many would prefer and get pleasure from, £2 million spent wisely here would go a long way to benefiting the city.

Colin Pike, Maryculter.

Blatant media bias over independence

Sir, – In accepting there is now a 50/50 divide for independence, it is wrong that there is still an almost 100% print and broadcast media bias against the growing wish of the Scottish people.

Image: Peter MacDiarmid/Shutterstock

The media, in a democracy, should be broadly representative of the people it serves. However, in Scotland a constitutional change, backed by at least half the population, is ignored and bombarded by anti-independence propaganda.

Why is this? It is simply because the media is wholly controlled from London by a narrow elite ruling establishment.

This unfair imbalance is a stain on democracy.

Grant Frazer, Newtonmore.

Regan proposal at least on right track

Sir, – In her interview with the BBC on Sunday, Ash Regan had two good ideas.

The first was a reset of Nicola Sturgeon’s “de facto” referendum whereby she said election vote share is a crucial measure of support for independence, not seats won, and until a 50%+ result is achieved no attempt to secure independence will be made.

The second, connected idea is for an “independence readiness index” which will track progress in areas such as currency and borders.

Ash Regan taking part in the first SNP leadership hustings in Cumbernauld. Image: Andy Buchanan /PA Wire

If she expanded this list of key performance indicators to include, for example government expenditure and revenue deficit reduction, percentage of young people in paid work, obesity (an indicator of long-term healthcare demand) and the number of truly low-cost houses being built and had the data and reporting fact-checked by, for example The Ferret Institute for Fiscal Studies or Audit Scotland we might be getting somewhere.

Allan Sutherland, Willow Row, Stonehaven.

Pools and libraries crucial for kids

Sir, – It’s official – the inmates have taken over the asylum! I cannot believe that they are closing libraries and yet another pool.

What are they spending our council tax on? Wasting £30 million on UTG, it’s just a concrete mess. Why set aside £20 million for regenerating the city centre and the beach while stripping the city of what most people consider important – pools for kids to learn to swim and to enjoy fun days with their families.

Libraries are a vital hub for many people and essential for kids who love to read but whose parents in the current financial climate cannot afford to buy books.

Is there nobody in this council who has the gumption to stand up for the hard-pressed residents they are planning to fleece with 5% increase in council tax, 10% increase in charges and no visible increase in services?