Thursday, 23 July 2009

" of Europe's leaders in broadband availability,..."

According to the newly published "National Planning Framework":

"Scotland is now one of Europe’s leaders in broadband availability, placing it in a strong position to take advantage of the economic opportunities offered by modern communications technologies. In addition, the Scottish Government is committed to delivering broadband to those individuals and businesses who have reported that they do not yet have access through the Broadband Reach Project, in a contract worth up to £3.3 million."


"The current focus of Scottish Government support for high capacity broadband is on improvements to digital connectivity in the public sector, including health and education facilities and local authority premises. For example, Pathfinder projects are delivering scalable, high-capacity broadband to all schools (and many other public sites) in the Highlands and Islands and the South of Scotland, with a Government contribution of £93m."

Sadly, relatively few people made comment on the communications technology section of the draft NPF. Only one respondent pointed out that there were still areas of restricted access in the Highlands and felt that increasing Broadband capacity should be a national project.

Population, Population, Population; did you know?

Did you know that Highlands and Islands Enterprise had an aspiration to grow the population across their whole admin area - Argyll and the Islands, Eilean Siar, Highland, Moray. Orkney and Shetland to 500,000 by 2025.

They now think it is possible to achieve this number in 20 years or so (stated in their consultation response to the National Planning Framework in 2008 and in their latest operating plan in 2009)

The whole A96 Corridor strategy seems to be based on 'floating' numbers.

And don't get me started on the Government's Economic Stategy targets for population to match average European (EU-15) population growth over the period 2007 to 2017, supported
by increased healthy life expectancy in Scotland over this period.

Check out page 6 of

Please do not hesitate to contact the if you feel the desperate urge to discuss matters of population

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

"...political slap in the face of the landscape"

This is an extract from an article written by journalist Simon Jenkins, (Guardian / Sunday Times) brought to APTSec's attention by one of APT's professional contacts:

"My own belief is that the quest for reduced carbon emissions must lie in conserving every drop of energy on land – especially that "buried" in existing buildings and open space – and capturing every drop of energy in the sunny sky and surging sea. But there are no magic bullets. Some balance of cost and benefit must be assessed other than by those with a commercial or political interest

"Lobbyists playing the global salvation card are like policemen playing national security as a way to dodge the democratic process. It is the default mode of modern politics and is brainless accountability. Miliband may not care for the British uplands – despite their being the largest carbon sink in the land – but I sense that most Britons do.

To secure a short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain requires people to be persuaded, not just terrorised into submission. This applies to wind power as well as to nuclear, to planning as well as to conservation, to taxation as well as to subsidy. For the moment, amid the clamour and the greed, I hear no still small voice of reason."

To read the full article and all the comments that it generated go to:

A new way of thinking?

APTSec was intrigued by the following item:

"Six Thinking Hats - Looking at a Decision from All Points of View"

"Six Thinking Hats" is a powerful technique that helps you look at important decisions from a number of different perspectives. It helps you make better decisions by pushing you to move outside your habitual ways of thinking. As such, it helps you understand the full complexity of a decision, and spot issues and opportunities which you might otherwise not notice

Many successful people think from a very rational, positive viewpoint, and this is part of the reason that they are successful. Often, though, they may fail to look at problems from emotional, intuitive, creative or negative viewpoints. This can mean that they underestimate resistance to change, don't make creative leaps, and fail to make essential contingency plans.

Similarly, pessimists may be excessively defensive, and people used to a very logical approach to problem solving may fail to engage their creativity or listen to their intuition.

If you look at a problem using the Six Thinking Hats technique, then you'll use all of these approaches to develop your best solution. Your decisions and plans will mix ambition, skill in execution, sensitivity, creativity and good contingency planning.

This tool was created by Edward de Bono in his book "6 Thinking Hats".

We are about to make some pretty big decisions soon about the future of the Highlands; we need to put on all the thinking caps we can find!

A Definition of Governance

Governance in local government is currently defined by CIPFA/SOLACE and the Audit Commission as follows:

'Governance is about how local government bodies ensure that they are doing the right things, in the right way, for the right people in a timely inclusive, open, honest and accountable manner. It comprises the systems and processes for the direction and control of local authorities through which they account to, engage with and lead their communities.'

APTSec has read that:

'Poor governance is at the heart of many public sector failures. It isn’t usually a single failure or shortcoming in governance that is responsible for a service failure, but an accumulation of factors. Governance should therefore matter to everyone in your council.

The quality of governance also affects how much people trust your organisation. Loss of public trust matters because it can mean people will disengage. For example, people might choose other service options such as private schools and leisure centres, or choose not to participate by not voting or failing to respond to consultation.'

Business as usual then?

What is the main problem facing our world today? Swine flu? The credit crunch? MP's expenses? Climate change? Peak oil? Guess again. The main problem seems to be collective amnesia and how quickly we forget.

Indeed it must be years ago now that one prominent paper enlightened us all with tales of outrageous expenses claims by our MP's and decades since the Government had to bail out the banks with billions in tax payers money. Did I really read the headline;

"Total outstanding government debt in the UK has risen to a record £799bn, or 56.6% of UK GDP - the highest since records began in 1974."

Ah well, maybe we have had a little rant, demonstrated a bit, written to the 'nationals' to vent our frustration.

Those who are in power (and if anyone finds out who really wields the power please let me know) never have to wait long for the dust to settle before they get back to business.


Monday, 20 July 2009

Countdown to Development Plan

Only 28 days to go

How HIE will spend our money

HIE's three-year Operating Plan is agreed annually with the Scottish Government. It sets out specific actions that HIE plans to take to deliver the Government Economic Strategy and increase sustainable economic growth across all parts of the Highlands and Islands.

HIE's focus lies in three broad areas of activity:

Supporting significant and high-growth businesses and sectors, so raising regional and local growth rates.

Strengthening communities, especially in the fragile parts of the area.

Creating the infrastructure and conditions to improve regional competitiveness.

For details of the HIE Operating Plan Summary 2009-2012 go to:

Sunday, 19 July 2009

To subscribe or not to subscribe that is the question?

Debate is raging in our household at the moment as to the possible effect of encouraging people to subscribe to the RSS feed on the APT blog.

Hubby is confident that by highlighting the possbility of subscribing to the feed and incorporating a headline animator into the signature lines on our APT e mails we will increase our exposure.

APTSec is worried that if people subscribe or only click on the headline animator in the e mail signature they will only get the recent posts via the feed page and miss out on any new features or widgets placed on the blog.

All you bloggers and blog visitors out there; what do you think?


A slightly nervous APTSec

Charity wants the Scottish Government to build 30,000 affordable rented homes by 2012

On the 10th July the BBC reported the publication of Shelter's Building Pressure Report - the report marks the start of a campaign by the charity to secure a commitment from the Scottish Government to build 30,000 affordable rented homes by 2012. This is the date set by the government for ensuring all homeless people have the right to permanent accommodation. The BBC article reported:

"The number of council and housing association homes for rent is at its lowest for 50 years, according to Shelter Scotland.

The charity has warned of a "growing chasm between the number of homes needed and the number available".

The Building Pressure report said there were 142,000 households on the waiting list for council homes.

The housing and homelessness charity said the right to buy scheme was partly to blame for the shortage.

Its report said the number of social homes for rent last year was at its lowest level since 1959.

In 2001, there were 3.9 people on council waiting lists for every let.

By 2008, this had risen to 6.6 people. The charity said that on current rates it would take almost seven years to find a house for everyone already on housing waiting lists.

The number of people in temporary accommodation had increased by 135% between 2001 and 2008.

In real terms, Shelter Scotland said this meant at least 17,000 people, including 7,000 children, were in temporary housing - enough to fill Tynecastle Stadium in Edinburgh.

The figure had dropped to 599,000 in 2008, which represented an 18% fall since 1998.

The report said that 135,000 homes had been sold through right to buy over the previous decade."

Back in April 2008, in their response to the Government's consultation on Housing Planning Policy (SPP3 Planning for Housing) the charity wrote:

Shelter welcomes the Scottish Government’s ambition to build more homes. However, we question an assumption that increasing building across the board will increase the proportion of affordable housing that is built. It is not clear to what extent simply increasing overall supply will lead to a reduction in house prices.

While there is a good case for ensuring that more houses are built across all tenures, the Scottish Government priority should be to ensure that a minimum of 30,000 affordable homes for rent are built over the next three years. The statutory commitment that all homeless people should be entitled to a home by 2012 adds extra urgency to the case for additional affordable homes.

Changes to the planning system to encourage a renewed focus on development are timely. Shelter welcomes the elevation of quotas for affordable housing in new developments, contained in Planning Advice Note 74, into Scottish Planning Policy.

And in another section of their response they advised:

By following the Scottish Housing Need and Demand Assessment Guidance and planning for need on a cross-regional basis, without a clear sense of locally where the houses need to be built, we are in danger of failing to meet housing need and exacerbating the problems people face in finding homes where they need to live.

Behind the 'housing' headlines

Back in January this year the BBC news web site reported:

'A council said it wants to build houses again, but could not afford to take part in a government scheme aimed at encouraging authorities to do so.

Highland Council said it did not make "financial sense" until it reduced its high loan debt.
It said the Scottish Government subsidy available would, "at best", cover about 20% of supplying new council houses.

However, the equivalent housing association grant subsidy would be nearer 70%.

Margaret Davidson, Highland's housing and social work chairwoman, said the council would assure the Scottish Government it was committed - and has real enthusiasm - to increasing housing supply.

She said: "It's a real disappointment that we are unable to undertake new council house building in the Highlands at this time. The sums do not add up...'

Around 5 months later the BBC then reported,

'A shortage of social rented housing and accommodation for homeless people in the Highlands is to be tackled jointly by the local council and government.

Highland Council said it would be working with the Scottish Government in an effort to ease the problems.

The move followed what the authority said was a "very positive" meeting with Housing Minister Alex Neil.

The projected need for new affordable housing units over the next 12 years in the Highlands averages at 784 per year.

Previously, the authority said it could not meet demands from the public for affordable homes because of a lack of government funding.

It said support for the provision of such properties was predicted to fall from £40m to an anticipated £26m in 2010-11.'

That news report did not elaborate on what specific measures were going to be taken. However a report on the BBC news pages from the 11th of July gives a little more information,

Low levels of government funding for the building of social housing could continue for the next 10 years, a Highland councillor has forecast.

Margaret Davidson's warning followed a report from Shelter Scotland suggesting the number of council properties for let was at its lowest in 50 years.

Highland Council's housing chairwoman said government will need to be "imaginative" in how it funds projects.

The authority has previously sought to have its £146m housing debt cleared.

Ms Davidson, who was elected as an Independent, said: "We cannot just keep asking for more money because it is crystal clear that it isn't going to be there over the next decade even.

"The consequence of bailing out the banks last year means public services are going to be really squeezed."

She said new ways of financing the provision of new social housing - including the setting up of housing co-operative in Scotland - may have to be considered. '

We look forward to seeing how the forthcoming Highland wide Local Development Plan will deal with the issues of social housing provision.