Saturday, 28 November 2009

Business is as buiness does?

Some items on the Gurn about the loss of shops on Nairn's High street makes me think that we should all be willing to achieve a greater understanding of what happens in the business world and how it affects our future.

Bookshop chain 'Borders' has been placed in administration. Sky News reporting tells us:

"Borders first opened in the UK in 1997 and was originally owned by the US book giant of the same name

But the UK and Ireland arm was sold to buyout group Risk Capital Partners - headed by Channel 4 chairman Luke Johnson - in 2007.

Management, led by chief executive Philip Downer and finance director Mark Little, then bought the group back with financing from Valco Capital earlier this year."

The TimesOnline reports:

"...when it was bought for £20 million by Risk Capital, the private equity firm owned by Luke Johnson. The number of stores was dramatically reduced from 79, with Risk Capital appointing RSM Bentley Jennison, the restructuring specialists, to oversee sell-offs.

When the company was bought by Valco, Philip Downer, Borders’ chief executive, spoke of his optimism in securing its long-term future. However, the book market has been struggling. Waterstone’s, the biggest chain in the UK, which is owned by HMV, saw sales fall by 3.4 per cent in the 18 weeks to August 29.

Valco appointed Clearwater Corporate Finance to find a buyer for the business."

An interesting item with related comments on "The" ( dated 190709) provides a range of views and opinions on the subject and contains the following quotesfrom Mr Downer:

"In the short term there will be greater cash flow as we open up a new borrowing line. Beyond that it's ensuring the range, systems and processes in store are in place in order to maximise trade this Christmas."

"It will be extremely challenging but it is for any business that is not selling the basic staples like food. But I wouldn't be talking if I didn't see an opportunity to sell more products to more people and make money. But make no mistake, this is a tough environment"

"Downer refused to answer whether he thought the retailer had received sufficient funding from Risk Capital Partners. He said: "We had an excellent relationship and achieved some extraordinary things. We extracted the business from the US and fundamentally restructured it. It was a very successful period.""

There is also an interesting item in the Independent which catalogues what the author descirbes as the 'Tale of woe' at the end of the article.

Friday, 27 November 2009

New risk on the block

Risk management is a central part of any organisation’s strategic management and an integral part of corporate governance and it should be a continuous and developing process which runs throughout an organisation's strategy. As far as a Local Authority is concerned, risk management is the identification, measurement and control of risks which can threaten the existence, assets, staff, reputation or services of the Council or part of it.

Highland Council's 'Audit and Scrutiny Committee' will get a risk management update
(as agenda item 2) on 031209. What will they be told?

Amongst other things:
  • that the Council will need to manage and resolve 2000 job evaluation appeals in 18 months to minimise the effect on staff morale and productivity - an existing risk, and,
  • that the poor economic forecast for the Country and the Public Sector in the short to medium term may generate additional pressures and difficulties in balancing the Council’s budgets. This then leads to a 'new' risk; that the Council must manage current and future pressures and commitments within reducing available resources.
The full report can be found here

Tornagrain yet again!

I (fairly) recently commented on an article that had originally appeared in the Architecture Scotland magazine, 'Prospect'; here is the comment:

"The reference to communities does not seem to give a balanced view of how the proposals arose and the significant opposition to and concerns voiced by the public and communities regarding these proposals for this large scale development currently contrary to the existing adopted Inverness Local Plan."

and the author's reply:

"Thanks Cathy - I think there is certainly an issue about how and why Tornagrain was selected and I agree that this article doesn’t go there and instead deals with the detail of the proposal. There is a wider discussion about reinforcing existing towns and cities rather than building new settlements and this is particularly apposite in the case of Inverness."

To read the article click here

Getting linked up

Thanks to Barrie at Inverness South CC for these comments on how to find out what is going on in other community council areas:

"Inverness South CC monthly meeting Agenda and Minutes are loaded to the web site so all residents can see what is happening and discussed, particularly in relation to planning issues, meetings attended on other matters and naturally details of any guest speakers.

I discovered that the most realistic, simple and FREE facilities were the community website facilities offered by the Spanglefish operation based in Cromarty.

Suggest a way for APT to move forward on this would be to identify CC's and Residents Associations with web sites and publish a list of links on your APT Blog, and to encourage organisations without web sites to avail themselves of the FREE service and get cracking.

The Community Council web link for the Spanglefish programme is

For other community use - showcase link:

We also link to this handy web site

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Anyone got a spare £200 million?

News just in from APTTreas who spotted this article from Tuesday:

"The Scottish Government is considering setting up an agency with millions of pounds to buy unsold homes for council housing, reports suggest.

The Sunday Herald
has reported the government is looking at setting up a body called the National Housing Trust, which would rent homes to people on low or middle incomes who do not qualify for housing association support.

The trust could buy 2,000 new unsold homes in Scotland using a ‘cautious estimate’ of £200 million borrowed by local government. There would be no direct government funding."

More here

Homelessness; the Inverness perspective

No ICC 76/09

Homelessness Issues in the City

Report by Area Housing & Property Manager

This report updates members on:

• National developments in Homelessness duties toward the 2012 target set by the
Scottish Government

• Local outcomes particularly around Service developments in the city centre.

"Homelessness and solutions to Homelessness are not solely an issue for Housing & Property Services. Those presenting with established homelessness lifestyles are typically the victims of dysfunctional backgrounds and often very damaged, in the sense that their capacity to address the causes of their homelessness are compromised. Often however agencies with responsibilities, around addressing these underlying causes of an individual’s homelessness, are not directly involved. Opportunities are therefore often lost for instance to positively engage while a homeless applicant is temporarily accommodated."

On a personal note APTSec is heartened that there is a recognition that people need support and a recognition that there should be an integrated approach to providing this.

Buildings across Highland; Ardersier

Ardersier Old School Service point and Library

Challenging year for planning consultants

From Planning Daily:

"Planning consultancy staffing levels and fee income have dropped over the past 18 months as managers try to balance the books in the face of declining workloads and frozen fee rates."

Full item here

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

A quote for this week

"The twenty-first century presents us with the challenge to provide cheap and desirable homes in pleasant living spaces for growing populations, without wasting land or resources. As the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act enters its sixtieth year the time has come to look back on successes and failures – and to ask whether land use planning requires a face lift, or deserves retirement."

What do you think?

Original source here

There seem to an awful lot of experts mulling over these weighty matter don't there? Also,

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Universities "worth £59 billion to economy"


"The overall figure of a university sector worth £59bn represented an increase of 25% compared to four years before.

The study found the revenue earned by UK universities - for example by consultancy work, intellectual property income or hosting conferences - stood at £23.4bn, comparable to the printing and publishing industry.

It also suggested that by attracting foreign students the sector generated £2.3bn in 2007-08 in off-campus expenditure."

"In terms of spending and supporting local economies, the university sector bought £19.5bn worth of goods and services produced in the UK."

It would be interesting to see just what the breakdown was; which Universities earned the most revenue and for what? Just how much intellectual property do they have?

More here

One of 10,000 households

Our residence was one of the 10,000 households invited to a second exhibition to view plans for Phase One of the proposed Inverness Campus at Beechwood. HIE submitted an outline planning application for the site at Beechwood in April but because they say that they are keen to make progress on the initial phase HIE are submitting a second outline planning application for Phase One of the Academic Campus.

More information can be found on the HIE web site

By far the more interesting option is to look at the comments that have been posted on the Inverness College Web pages. Why not contribute to these pages.

APTSec will no doubt revisit this subject in the not too distant future.

Buildings across Highland; Inverness

The Landscaping in front of Eden Court Theatre

One man's consultation clarity...

An interesting item from Huw Morris on Consultation, particularly his comment:

"Before everybody joins the cavalry charge towards the Internet, think about the obvious. People spend hours reading books, magazines or newspapers, but the human eyeball does not have anything like the stamina to read screens."

I am with him on that one; not that the Internet isn't a wonderful tool for access and research, but working from several complex documents at a time exhausts the APTSec brain cells.

More information here

A combined Ward Forum meeting?

David, from Smithton and Culloden Community Council, has put forward the suggestion that there should be a Community Council's Forum for all those affected by the proposed changes to the A96 Corridor. He feels this is particularly important given all the proposals in the area and the possible impact of these on the composition of Community Councils.

Added to this, of course, we have the following - which has been previously commented on in the blog:

"Major Consultation Planned Over Community Council Review

The first phase of a major review of Community Council arrangements in Highland, focusing on boundaries, is under way. The Council is revoking the current eight schemes and invites suggestions on the area and composition of Community Councils.

Many Community Council boundaries were set more than 30 years ago.Community Councils (and members of the public who wish to participate in this process) are asked to consider whether these boundaries are still meaningful as they stand, or whether changes in such things as population and settlement patterns should be reflected in altered boundaries. There may also be an opportunity to realign Community Council boundaries with other divisions, such as Polling Districts. Please note in this connection that Ward boundaries themselves are not set by the Council.

The closing date to make submissions is Wednesday, 23rd December, 2009. Emails should be sent to Written submissions should be sent to CC Review, Highland Council, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness IV3 5NX.

The second 12-week period of public consultation will follow in April 2010, after the Council has produced a new Highland-wide draft scheme. This will include discussion at Ward Forums.

A third period of consultation will follow in October, next year, when the public is invited to comment on amendments to the draft scheme."

It is my understanding from David that Ardersier ,Balloch and Smithton & Culloden CCs feel that there should be no change whatsoever to existing CCs on the A96 Corridor until the Highland development plan is in place and developments have been approved.

To see a forum composed of the community councils below all working together on shared issues of planning and community involvement would certainly increase the strength of the public voice.

Croy and Culloden Moor

Inverness West
Inverness South
Nairn River
Nairn Suburban
Nairn West

As APTSec, I am aware of many of the planning issues that many of the CC's are facing and can see that many issues could be seen as common and overlapping. Working together can be difficult but there is also strength in numbers.

Lots of comments here would be lovely.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Scottish Local Government (Elections) Act 2009

As I walked out today I began to wonder when the next local elections would be; this evening I found that somehow all this has passed APTSec by:

"The Bill for this Act of the Scottish Parliament was passed by the Parliament on 17th June 2009 and received Royal Assent on 21st July 2009

Year of local government elections

(1) In section 5 of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994 (c. 39) (elections etc. of councillors), after subsection (1) insert—

(1A) Following the ordinary election of councillors held in 2007 the next ordinary election of councillors shall take place in 2012.

(1B) After the ordinary election of councillors in 2012 the next ordinary election shall take place in 2017, and ordinary elections shall take place every fourth year after that..

The full Act here

Anyone thinking of standing as a local councillor will have to wait a little while.

First-ever Land Use Summit


"Rural land makes up 97 per cent of the country, accounts for one in every six jobs and generates over £17 billion a year for the economy.

Those key findings were among many to be found in new research published today at Scotland's first-ever Land Use Summit."

To read more click here

Affordable homes - offical opening in Orkney

A £5.4 million housing development in Orkney was officially opened by First Minister Alex Salmond on the 20th November .


"Mr Salmond met residents moving into new properties from the second (final) phase of The Meadows development in Kirkwall, as well as representatives of Orkney Housing Association Ltd which delivered the project, the developers Andrew Sinclair and Orkney Islands Council.

The development, backed by £3.9 million Scottish Government funding, provides a total of 36 affordable homes for rent or shared ownership."

Not all doom and gloom in building industry

Planning Daily reports:

"The Scottish Government has unveiled plans for a new 121-home low-carbon community near Eaglesham Village in East Renfrewshire.

Planning permission was originally granted for the Polnoon moorland scheme in 2006.

However, following an approach from developer Mactaggart & Mickel to the Scottish Government, it was agreed that ministers would contribute £10,000 towards revised proposals to make better use of street design, open space and housing design.

Planning permission and road construction consent for the revised plans was granted in October 2009."

Good news for the developers who were said to have 'leant hard' on their overdraft - more here

The Scottish Government news release is here

Villagers surveyed want more affordable homes

From Michael Donnelly in Planning Daily

"The ICM survey, commissioned by the National Housing Federation (NHF), also found that 66% of rural dwellers would support the building of new affordable homes where they live."

More information on the definition and categories of affordable housing in paragraph 8 of the guidance here

So many empty houses?

From Huw Morris at Planning Daily

"With 970,000 homes lying empty in the UK, the Empty Homes Agency called on the government to redirect unspent funding intended for building new houses to renovating vacant property."

"The Empty Homes Agency also called on the government to publish an annual report on the true number of vacant homes it owns, with some estimates putting the figure at around 40,000."