Tag Archives: The Herald

Words are worthless

A Model Constitution for Scotland, Elliot BulmerI have a talent for putting words together effectively and clearly. This talent has been honed by many years of work. I enjoy doing it. And I’m fortunate enough that I have for many years been able to earn my living by doing it, though almost invariably when I’m paid to write my name did not go on my writing – it belongs to my employer: it’s been a rule of thumb for most of my working life that I can either get credited or get money, rarely both.

I regard this as unfortunate, not as a moral value. I like getting paid for doing work, and I like getting the credit for doing good work. I have argued in this blog multiple times for multiple reasons that people have a right to get paid. It doesn’t matter how much you enjoy your work, or how good you are at it: if someone else intends to profit from your work, you have a right to get paid for it.

Article 23.3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

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Filed under Human Rights, In The Media, Poverty, Scottish Politics

Is Scotland triggering a breakaway movement in Catalan?

In the Independent on Sunday on 22nd January, Brian Brady reported:

Spain has indicated it could block an independent Scotland’s accession to the European Union, sources said. It has already refused to recognise Kosovo’s existence as an independent state. Madrid fears such moves will encourage separatist ambitions in Spanish regions, particularly Catalonia and the Basque region. Spain’s refusal to recognise Kosovo has frustrated the former Serbian province’s ambitions to enter the union.

Reading this story with reasonable care and attention, however, it appeared that the source for this piece of journalism wasn’t Spain, but Whitehall. Throughout the story, the only direct claims are sourced to “senior Whitehall sources” and “A senior UK minister said”:

“We understand the Scottish view is they would wish to join the UN but they would not wish to join Nato. They might wish to join the EU, but we fully expect Spain to block it, fearing it might encourage the separatist spirit on their doorstep.”

This made me cynical, but the story was more effectively skewered by Craig Murray, a Foreign Office diplomat of 20 years experience, who debunked the story in three paragraphs. The reality:

Firstly, nobody in the EU has ever left the EU voluntarily, let alone been expelled, and the idea that 5 million EU citizens in a stongly pro-EU country would be thrown out against their will is not in the realm of practical politics. The whole dynamic of the EU is expansive, with countries continually accepted into membership who technically should not be. Everybody knows, for example, that Romania and Bulgaria were not remotely close to compliance with the acquis communitaire when they were admitted. There is no appetite anywhere in the EU to argue that an EU member successor state would have to re-apply.

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Filed under European politics, Scottish Politics

The Edinburgh tenement council tax

In today’s Herald, a rumoured story has finally broken: Lothian and Borders Police and independent accountants are running parallel investigations into Edinburgh Council’s Property Conservation Department and the rumoured costs are confirmed to be as high as £13.5 million. But as recently as October, Edinburgh Council was still pursuing repayment of the 500+ housing repair bills under investigation. [Update: and according to an unnamed senior councillor, £13.5M could be an underestimate.]

In 2002, I was living in a small flat on Albert Street, a stair with about a dozen other households. We and our neighbours in the next stair had been issued a statutory repairs letter, and from what I could judge of the building frontage, it was justified: one of my next-door neighbours on the same landing said that repairs hadn’t been done in 20 years.

The three of us on the same landing were on pretty good terms: we agreed that it would be cheaper if everyone on the stairs could get together and agree on a builder and repair work, but that would mean one person in effect guaranteeing the whole bill, and chasing up the other occupants – and the landlords of rented flats – to pay their share.

Everyone knew – we agreed – that it was more expensive if you let the council do it. We assumed this was because the council would always charge a bit extra on the top to cover their administrative costs and the surveyor costs, and because the council wouldn’t be concerned in picking out a builder who would carry out the best work at the lowest cost: why should they, when all the costs would be passed on to us.

But the scale of the scam that has been practiced on us is unbelievable:

It will take more than two years to investigate the first 500 complaints received by the council, and for the level of overcharging to be confirmed, but provisional totals are now being considered behind closed doors, according to a senior council source.

The first “working estimate” is of an overcharge of £13.5m, based on a figure of 10% of the value of building repairs contracts since 2005.

The investigation is currently going back five years. I paid the bill for my flat in 2003, and sold it in 2004. 18 staff have been suspended from the department and five were sacked: apparently more disciplinary measures are expected, as well as criminal charges. (That’s one more sacking and 3 more suspensions since 1st December, according to the BBC’s story then.)

I now live in a colony flat, where generally, repair bills are shared between at most four households, all of us close neighbours. But thousands of people in Edinburgh live in stairs where they must rely on the council to carry out this repair work fairly, because it’s unreasonable to expect a single household to guarantee the whole cost and pursue neighbours to pay their share.

I wonder how far back the rot goes?

Update: Like the City of Edinburgh Council Statutory Notice Scam campaign group on Facebook.

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Filed under Housing, Scottish Politics