Â Mike MacKenzie, as everyone knows, is the SNP PPC for the next Westminster election. Typically he is the only person who has the guts and knowledge to defend Argyll and Bute’s councillors.
We will be blessed when the election comes and we get rid of the nameless wonder who at present does the soft shoe shuffle for his London masters. We offer aÂ reward to anyone who can name him dead or alive. We presume he is one or the other, most likely the former.
Now read on. The rest is MIKE MACKENZIE
While I must confess to some sympathy with Ianâ€™s outrage I do feel obliged to come to the defence of our Argyll and Bute Councillors.
Ianâ€™s main charge against them seems to be cost over runs on a number of capital projects across Argyll and Bute. It seems that it is the escalating costs which are the problem rather than the principles on which the projects were undertaken. They are all transport related projects and improving transport infra structure in Argyll and Bute would seem to be a laudable objective. I cannot find it in myself to blame Councillors past or present for this.
Ian paints a picture with a very broad brush and on the face of it he is correct in assuming a similarity but reality in such cases is seldom simple. Each of the projects is quite distinctive with its own unique problems and the devil as always will lie in the detail. I am not privy to this detail; however, I can make a few observations.
It would seem a simple matter to design and build a humble house; a home with perhaps two or three bedrooms. An architect charged with the business of designing, administering and supervising such a project needs a training of around ten years of combined education and experience before they are deemed fit to undertake this business. Even after all this training I would challenge any to complete such a simple project from draft design to occupation within a year. Heaven help them if their client wishes or circumstances demand the slightest change as the work progresses.
In the pursuit of such projects all involved find themselves at the centre of a bewildering cross fire of complex regulations administered by a multitude of agencies. Each regulation is subject to â€˜interpretationâ€™ and every bureaucrat is charged with a degree of discretion over how these regulations are applied. Nothing but nothing could ever be done if the strict application of all these regulations was observed and no one can ever anticipate or predict the application of this discretion.
In this minefield delays proliferate, specifications shift and change and costs spiral ever upwards. What chance therefore for more complex projects and pity the poor souls that have to deal with them. We are all, each and every one of us, the victims of this systemic failure of our systems.
When we come to these more complex projects of marine infrastructure or airfields the problems multiply exponentially. Agencies like the MCA and the CAA are especially intransigent, all the more so as they are controlled, if controlled they are, by Westminster, far away and uncaring. Marine projects particularly are beset with the uncertainties of tide and weather and the vagaries of the sea bed. Add to this confusing cocktail some specialist contractors hell bent on practising their specialism for profit and prepared to burn midnight oil to milk the public cash cow and you can kiss goodbye to any projected budget.Â
Our new Council in Argyll and Bute have inherited a multitude of problems, not least of which are a number of half completed projects. When capital projects go wrong it takes a gifted and dedicated individual to identify the problems and sort them out. Such a person needs expert knowledge across a variety of specialisms and disciplines. Is it really realistic to expect our Councillors to ever learn such talents far less acquire them in six months?
There is of course a quicker way to deal with such situations. We could grant our elected representatives the power to cut through the swathes of red tape, brush aside bureaucracy and defy the petty paper shufflers but would we happily invest them with such power? Do we really in this democratic age want to deliver such power into the hands of fallible individuals even if this allowed them to exercise common sense on our behalf? What corrupting influence would such unfettered power have?
We have allowed sick systems to grow in Scotland and surrendered ourselves unto this sickness. Public projects fall prey to this, as much as private ones, perhaps more so. This subtle sickness permeates our services too although less evident in these less tangible public goods. This sickness is evidenced by these symptoms of public project delivery but we should not confuse the symptoms with the disease.
The remedy, if remedy there is, is to redesign our systems of regulation, of planning and project delivery and make them fit for purpose in this brave new world of the twenty first century. We must refocus ourselves as a society on what it is we seek to achieve.
Although there are some few who exploit this illness; some bandits hiding out in the badlands of this bureaucratic wilderness, few will really profit. We know who they are these bandits, they are as obvious as bad guys in a B movie, but is it really worth the effort of running them down and proving this point.
If fault must be found in Argyll and Bute it is that our Council has over reached itself. Aspiration has exceeded operational ability. Lessons should and must be learned for profligacy with the public purse cannot be ignored. The real lesson though is that we are all victims of this choking authoritarian and regulatory regime. If we prolong its persistent proliferation it will kill all ambition for this land we live in.