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Friday, November 10, 2006


From the Scotsman today

A FIVE-YEAR plan to save the red squirrel has ruled out the complete eradication of the invading hordes of greys, Scottish Natural Heritage revealed yesterday.

However, the £3.7 million proposal, which is being considered by the Scottish Executive, would see a campaign to drive back the North American greys with a targeted culling programme.

It is estimated that Scotland's population of 121,000 red squirrels, which represents about 75 per cent of all those in the UK, will be gone in 50 to 100 years if action is not taken to deal with their larger rivals, which carry a disease fatal only to the reds and generally out-compete them for food.

SNH has drawn up four options to save the red species and is recommending a limited programme of control of the greys, along with measures to help the reds survive. It is hoped this will help preserve red numbers while a vaccine for the deadly squirrelpox is developed.

There are about 250,000 greys in Scotland.
Recently Murdo Fraser [Conservative MSP & thus, despite all claims about Holyrood being less confrontational, beyond the Executive's pale] introduced a Bill to produce a bounty of about £5 per grey squirrel payable at police stations. This would have worked. It would have given the reds their ecological niche back. It would have been simple & cheap to operate.

Other MSPs & the "squirrel caring professions" held up their hands in horror & denouinced it for involving the public.

This, on the other hand is only designed as a holding operation until a "vaccine for the deadly squirrelpox is developed", something which may not happen & anyway involves visions of public employees then having to hunt down & inject all the red squirrels.

Still it has a good side - lots more jobs & more chance for SNH to empire build.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Further Herald letter today on airport costs. This time about the proposal put forward by ULTra which seems to be suffering from Not Invented Here Syndrome in the Scottish Office.
Regarding the cost of airport rail links: the Strathclyde Public Transport Executive has been given a proposal for a monorail connecting Glasgow Airport to Paisley Gilmour Street. For onward travel to Central, this has the disadvantage over a direct rail link that travellers obviously have to change at Paisley, but because there are so many trains from there it should, including average waiting times, take no longer. It would also have the great advantage of making travel to Prestwick Airport, on the same line, quick and convenient. This would give both airports many of the benefits of a hub airport. Unlike the rail link currently costed at £210m, this would cost £20m.
A yet more inexpensive link to Paisley, St James, helpfully situated at the end of the runway, has also been suggested.
Neil Craig, 200 Woodlands Road, Glasgow.
I have tried to get letters mentioning this published a few times but this is the first to be used. It is so frustrating to see the Executive insisting on spending £210 million when they know they could get something in some ways better for £20 M.

In the unlikely event that this happens I will take some pride in my role is pushing it.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


This is a direct refutation of a previous letter by Tavish Scott saying what wonderful value £609 million spent on a rail link to Edinburgh Airport with tunnel under the main runway would be.

The other letter published is pretty devastating saying that his benefit estimates are not confirmed by his reports from independent consultants.

A previous letter on Saturday also disproved his claim that all other nation's major airports had rail links.

I think I eviscerated the case though this is shooting fish in a barrel in that the tunnel proposal is obviously economically insane but it will be interesting to see if Scott chooses to reply. 2nd Herald letter in a week which feels good after a dry spell in that publication. It was unedited.
TAVISH Scott makes an interesting case for spending £609m on a tunnel under Edinburgh Airport (Letters, November 3) for a return of £1.35bn, but all is not so easy.

First, there is a certain slipperiness in the phrase "transport benefits" to cover the £1.35bn. This does not seem to mean the more traditional profits but merely estimated benefits accruing to somebody or other. All businesses have, or can reasonably claim to have, such benefits but traditionally work from profits. All could equally claim government money to allow them to provide third-party "benefits".

Secondly, the cost-benefit ratio depends heavily on the costs being kept to - the Scottish Executive does not have a good record here.

Thirdly, and most importantly, his assessment of "benefits" is amortised over 60 years. Any accountant will explain that an investment that doesn't start paying off heavily within four years and in full within 10 is, usually, at best a marginal one and not one he could professionally recommend in normal circumstances. This is because of interest rates. To repay 2.13 times your investment (ignoring that that we are talking of "transport benefits", not real money) implies an interest rate of 1.35% over 60 years. If the Scottish Executive offers me £609m on such terms, I could repay in pure profit let alone in job creation "benefits". I might even become a billionaire on margin, but would be willing to bear that burden. This long amortisation is reminiscent of the executive's previous argument that the parliament building was very good value if you amortise the cost over about 500 years.

I would be interested to hear of the results of his assessment of the alternative proposal put forward by a number of people, of instead building stations on the existing Glasgow & Aberdeen lines which pass within hundreds of yards of the airport & provide a moving walkway or other connection. This would be likely to cost in the hundreds of thousands of pounds rather than hundreds of millions. The Transport Ministry might be able to confirm that it would also have a comparably improved cost benefit ratio. It would also leave £600 million which, if used to cut business taxes, in the Irish manner, would result in several times that investment in the productive economy. It is not the grand white elephants of government policy which create a successful economy so much as the unencumbered day to day work of ordinary businesses.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


A power shortage in Germany triggered a cascade of blackouts across Europe, halting trains, trapping people in elevators and plunging millions of homes into darkness. But the situation appeared to be back to normal on most of the continent by Sunday.

The private German company, E.On AG, said the problem began in its network in northwestern Germany, possibly after it disconnected a high-power transmission line to allow a ship to pass safely on the Ems River. But it stressed the cause was still under investigation.

Swathes of Germany and France were badly hit by the cuts late Saturday. Austria, Belgium, Italy and Spain were also affected.

The German power company RWE AG said a shortfall in supplies to the European power grid caused many substations to shut down automatically.
This is a sign that the grid is working at maximum capacity. A whole load of substations all trip out one after the other because each closure sends the next into overload. Any problem of "overdemand" is at least equally one of undersupply & in this case is because Germany isn't building the power supplies it needs because nuclear, the obvious one, isn't politically popular, & windmills don't work. That this is happening so early in the winter, in what is agreed to be a light winter, so far, is very troubling. With the UK about to lose the 20% of our power (35% in Scotland) can we be far behind?

And can we expect politicians to accept that it is purely because of their own gross irresponsibility when it does?

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