Tag: Resources

The summary report to the CNPA Partnership Plan provides a breakdown of how many responses there were to each question. It does not however show how the various interests responded to each question, where these were yes/no, or the issues raised – in this case grouse moor management (see below)

I was too caught in commenting in the Loch Lomond National Park Authority Board Meeting in December (see here) to attend on the Cairngorms National Park Board meeting which took place the Friday before.   Unfortunately, the way our National Parks operate – which is in the last century – its impossible to find out what happens at Board meetings, often until months later, unless you were there.  While the CNPA is more open than the LLTNPA there is still a serious democratic deficit.

 

The most important item on the agenda was a report on the Big 9 consultation, the major issues the CNPA had identified for consultation on the new Park Partnership Plan  (see here).   This is supposed to guide the work of all the public authorities and agencies that operate in the Cairngorms National Park for 2017-22.   Neither the summary of the responses  (see here)  or the Report  to Board Members (see here) made any recommendations about how the responses should inform the final plan but instead under “next steps” said that between December and February there would be “Discussions with partners and board on key issues/topics”.   I found this strange, that Park staff did not offer a single recommendation to Board Members on how they should respond to the representations made in the consultation.  Perhaps staff were waiting for a steer from the Board, and perhaps Board Members did this at the meeting?   But, if so, the vast majority of respondents to the consultation simply won’t know what that steer is until a minute appears.   This is because most respondents are not directly involved in the delivery of the Plan and therefore are not classed as partners.

 

Even of those who might be classed as partners, its not clear who will be consulted and who not.   Basically what is going to happen is that those with power in the National Park – who are not the same as those with an interest in the National Park whether visitors or residents – will be deciding behind closed doors how our National Park should be managed in the next five years.

 

How should the responses to the consultation be evaluated and weighed?

 

The consultation summary is 128 pages long and contains much interesting information, including many good ideas of what the CNPA could and should be doing.  I even recognised a couple of my own!   So, I am not doubting that the staff concerned have extracted and listed suggestions from the consultation – that they took the first steps in undertaking a professional job.   The problem I believe is the summary report is a compilation, without any proper  analysis which should inform how those responses might be treated.

 

While the responses to the consultation have been classified – the organisations who responded are listed at the end and I found that worth reading just to appreciate how many NGOs there are now representing hunting interests (over eight) – there is no commentary about what interests responded to which questions or how representative the people and organisations who responded might be.    It appears from reading the response summary, for example, that a large number of responses from individuals were about raptor persecution but there is no way of telling whether those people simply responded to the conservation questions and the extent to which this interest accounts for the lower level response rate to other questions.   An overall analysis of who responded to what questions would have helped show how many respondents were concerned with specific issues and how many with the Park as a whole.

 

As significant an issue is how responses should be weighted, the need for which is shown by how the report treats conflicting views such as over grouse moor management:

The above, from the covering Report to the Board could suggest there is a balance between these competing views and imply that the Park Board’s role is to find a way between the two.   The Summary Report, if you you analyse it, shows something rather different:

 

So,what was the number of people who did suggest changes to grouse moor management, both individuals and those represented by organisations and how does this compare to the numbers who thought current grouse moor management did meet conservation objectives?   The second paragraph says the majority of landowners/managers and “representatives from a range of other stakeholder groups” thought current grouse management basically meets conservation objectives.  You will see from the diagram at the top of this post that 11 (out of 14) landowners responded to the grouse moor management question.  So that’s maybe 7 or 8 landowners being weighed against how many members of the conservation organisations?   Ten of thousands at a rough guess.   Who were the representatives from other stakeholder groups who supported the landowner position and how many of them were organisations set up to represent landowner interests such as Scottish Land and Estates, which is classified under business interests, or the Scottish Countryside Alliance and Scottish Gamekeepers Association which are both listed under NGOs?     The failure of the CNPA to be more open about this suggests something else is going on and this is not an even playing field.

 

The CNPA needs to get off the fence

 

Deciding how to weight responses to consultations, let alone deciding how to respond to them, is a complex question but consultations are reduced to paper exercises if they become, as in this case, just a list of points made.     The CNPA needs to decide what weight its going to give to the thousands of people represented by conservation and recreational organisations compared to the landowner with the £ in their pocket and, just as fundamentally, find ways to include these interests as partners.

 

What the report also fails to do is relate responses to the Park’s statutory objectives – so does the CNPA agree with those landowners who claim current grouse moor management  is in accord with its conservation objectives or with those who are saying its not and why?    CNPA staff should have been presenting the evidence for this to allow the Board to take a view but instead says “further detailed consideration will be required”.  In other words this is going to take place behind closed doors and a final plan will appear at the Board Meeting in April just before it goes to the Minister.  The danger is the current approach of the CNPA, which is marked by a reluctance to do anything which might disturb the status quo in terms of landowning interests, will continue.

 

The CNPA also needs to be brave.   What was most interesting to me about the report – and it was one thing highlighted by the report to the Board – that transport connections to the National Park, and more particularly, public transport impact on many of the objectives in the Plan.  The inference is that there needs to be a radical new transport plan which would enable people without cars or who would prefer not to use them to get to the National Park.  This would mean significant public investment, in fact just the sort of investment that would create for a time better paid jobs in the Park.  Proposing this would also however be a challenge to the Government, which for example has plans to upgrade the A9 but not the train line from Perth or Inverness.    I suspect all we will see in the new plan is some minor proposals.

 

I believe that money, or rather lack of it, will account for much of the shortfall between aspiration for the National Park, which may be shared by some Board Members, and what appears in the plan in April.  The consultation paper gave no indication of what resources the CNPA or its partners would commit to delivering the plan and there was still no indication of this in December.   This is entirely the fault of public authorities because under neoliberalism they simply don’t know what their budget will be from one year to the next.   It makes five year plans almost pointless.    So, I would like to suggest a new type of Partnership Plan, one that sets what the Park would ideally like to achieve over 5 years and and resources that it and its partners needed.   This and the Park’s performance targets would then be adjusted each year to reflect what resources were actually available.

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Photo of Natural Retreats’ dump at former Fiacaill T-Bar loading area taken 4th December 2016 and sent to me after my post yesterday. Cuts in costs by Natural Retreats are making the management of the mountain environment even worse, though standards had been dropping well before they took over. The dump now appears a semi-permanent feature of Coire Cas but is it a sign of investment?

Ewan Kearney, Director and the public face of Natural Retreats/Natural Assets claimed in the Strathy article last week that:

 

“Natural Assets has invested £1.3m into CML [Cairngorm Mountain Ltd] at Cairngorm over the last two years.   In addition to this any profit generated through CML as a result of the operation is invested back into the business”. 

 

My last post, which showed Natural Assets cut what was spent at Cairngorm by over £400k in the first year it owned CML while increasing administrative expenses by over £300k  and thus sucking money out of the company, casts serious doubt on the second part of the statement.  Its common practice these days for companies to hide and move profits through internal administration charges – Amazon is a well known example.  If Ewan Kearney stands by what he has claimed, then it would be easy for him to prove it:  he could simply make public the management accounts (which give details of all transactions) for Cairngorm and agree that all internal transactions between CML and Natural Assets/Natural Retreats could be open for public scrutiny.  Moreover,  he could release data on types and levels of staffing at Cairngorm, such as appeared in the CML accounts to March 2014 before Natural Assets bought the company:

 

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It would be in the public interest to know how many staff are now employed at Cairngorm and what they do to understand the relationship between staffing and the collapse of standards at Cairngorm.

 

What about investment then?

 

The figures from the accounts indicate there has been little or no investment in operational costs, such as staff, so I think we can take it most of Kearney’s claimed £1.3m over two years has been into capital.  The CML accounts tell us how much investment there has been into assets and of what type.  What they do not say directly is whether this is enough.

 

First another proviso.   Investment means different things to different people and Mr Kearney’s claimed investment into CML could include the £231,239 it cost to purchase it.   Unfortunately we won’t know the truth for another year because Natural Assets has changed the accounting year and the new accounts for CML will just be for 9 months until December 2015, 18 months after they bought it.      You can however see some of what happened in the the first 10 months Natural Assets owned CML.

 

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While the net book value of CML was £615,562 or thereabouts prior to purchase Natural Assets were able to buy the company for £231,239 because of “negative goodwill” – see previous post.

Line 2 under the Note on Tangible Fixed assets shows “additions” in the year to March 2015 of £616,544.  Double that and you are not far off Ewan Kearney’s claim of £1.3m of investment over two years.

 

However, all is not as it appears.  Look at the line below, “disposals” and you can see that Natural Retreats sold plant and machinery originally valued at £844, 715 which after “depreciation” (3 lines below) was worth c£140k.   Now if the disposal sold for a sum anything like that, Natural Assets realised a gain which it could use to help buy the £616k of additions.  That would mean a net investment of say c£480k.  Moreover, the note at the bottom of this section on Tangible Assets makes it clear that recorded under the “additions” is the full value of items held under finance leases or hire purchases agreements.  The value of “assets” held in this way increased between March 2014 and March 2015 by over £150k.  Assume a three year hire purchase agreement and that knocks another £100k off what was actually invested, meaning the real investment was c£380k or only just above what was invested in the  previous year’s accounts before Natural Assets bought CML.

 

It appears then that for Mr Kearney’s claim to be true Natural Assets must have invested c£920k in the succeeding financial year.   While we don’t have the accounts from March 2015-December 2015 we do know from a Freedom of Information Request, that was quoted in the Strathy article, that HIE has invested £601,286 into the assets CML operates since Natural Assets takes over.    (Thanks to George Paton for this cairngorm-hie-response-to-foi-on-cm-spend-17-august-2016  its well worth a read)  Now most of this expenditure to my knowledge appears to have taken place since March 2015 which raises the question of whether Ewan Kearney’s claimed investment of £1.3m over 2 years includes this support from HIE or not.   Now, as a result of my concerns about the unlawfully bulldozed track in Coire Cas (see here for example) and the extremely poor standard of work on the new Rope Tow.  I contacted HIE who said that Natural Retreats was responsible for the contractors, i.e had the contract with them.   This shows that HIE funded CML to do these works.  The key question therefore is whether Natural Retreats has included grant funding in their claimed investment of £1.3m at Cairngorm or whether the grant funding is on top of this.  Ewan Kearney and HIE should come clean now and release all the figures relating to capital investment.

 

While the answer will be interesting, whatever the case its clear the investment has not been  enough.  This is shown by the collapse of the Cas Gantry just over a year ago through lack of maintenance.

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The initial works to “save” the Cas Gantry – Photo Credit George Paton

 

The FOI response shows HIE paid £73,377 to “fix” this.  Given the appalling standard of the work you wonder why HIE ever agreed to hand-over the money.  Indeed you could ask the same question about the installation of the Sunkid rope tow and associated works which HIE funded to the tune of £160, 596 or the replacement of the electrical cabling to the tows where they have  paid £315,641.  This expenditure has been the opposite of Best Value.  One wonders what else HIE is going to pay for and what else remains their responsibility (I have not been able to work this out from the lease yet).

 

I guess HIE saw these as trifling matters because the big prize in its view was redevelopment of the Day Lodge into a mountain conference centre which Natural Retreats claimed might cost £15m to complete http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-34651446.   This development was totally inappropriate for Cairngorm and has now collapsed.   Replacement of the Day Lodge was however so central to HIE that it was made a condition of the lease and therefore HIE could now, if they wanted, terminate this.  I think they should do so.

 

I believe the agenda of Natural Retreats is not about investing at Cairngorm but taking what money they can from it.   While the controlling interest of the Natural Assets/Retreats group of companies, is held by David Michael Gorton (http://parkswatchscotland.co.uk/2016/11/21/will-natural-retreats-bring-decently-paid-jobs-cairngorm/), who has sufficient funds to invest whatever was needed at Cairngorm and indeed a swathe of the Highlands, he has not chosen to do so so far.  His investment vehicle in holiday businesses, Natural Assets,  last year incurred losses of £5,734,703 and is £20,715,910 in deficit overall.   It has no money to invest and a bank would be mad to lend money to it.  What happens therefore entirely depends on the goodwill of Mr Gorton and whether he keeps taking money out of Natural Assets.    HIE should never have sold Cairngorm to such an organisation and should get out while it can.

 

These problems have arisen because HIE is still looking for the big fix at Cairngorm – the funicular was the previous attempt to do this.  What is needed is a totally different approach to development which respects the mountain environment while coming up with creative ways to enable people to enjoy it.    This needs to involve people with ideas, like the Save the Ciste Group, like montane shrub zone enthusiasts, the local community, recreational and conservation organisations.  I think this could happen if the lease with Natural Retreats was terminated, the land transferred from HIE to Forestry Commission Scotland and serious discussions started about creating a community consortium to manage Cairngorm.  It also needs a different form of finance but I think if HIE had funded a community organisation to the extent they have funded Natural Retreats there would have been much better outcomes for all who care about Cairngorm.

Last week the Heritage Lottery Fund announced that it had awarded £2.34m to the Tomintoul & Glenlivet Landscape Partnership in the northern part of the Cairngorms National Park  to deliver 20 projects over a four year period (see here).
The plans include:
  • Tomintoul Museum will become a Discovery Centre and tourist hub
  • Blairfindy Castle and Scalan, an 18th-century seminary, will be conserved and made safe for visitors
  • Woodlands will be restored along sections of the River Avon
  • Wetland habitats for wading birds will be created
  • Improvements to paths in the area
  • A regional oral history project will collect stories that bring the landscape to life

 

While I am delighted that this investment is being made, we need to ask why funding for our National Parks appears  dependent on grant applications?   Like other under-funded public authorities, what the CNPA has done is to set up a number of Partnerships, which it uses to make funding applications because it does not have the resources to do things itself.   Another example recently covered on parkswatch is the investment in upland footpaths through the Cairngorms Outdoor Access Project (see here) .


The last CNPA Board meeting reported that the Tomintoul and Glenlivet Landscape Partnership had applied for £3.6m so there is a shortfall between what was awarded and what is needed.   None of the Press Releases mention this as it detracts from the good news and might get people thinking are we really investing what we need to in our National Parks.  In my response to the CNPA Partnership Plan, which completely fails to mention resources, I said this:

 

There is no consideration of the resources needed to deliver the Park’s statutory objectives or the Park Plan.  Instead, there are references through the Plan to various pots of money that could be drawn on to meet the objectives of the Plan.    There is no analysis of whether this is sufficient or what is really needed.  In other words the Park Plan seems to just accept the current Government narratives about austerity.  The result is there is no strategic direction in the Plan, only aspirational directions of travel.   I think the Park needs to consider a fair way of increasing revenue (and not follow the example of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park who are trying to sell everything with lots of unintended consequences).  The simplest, fairest and most effective way of doing this would be through a small bednight tax as is found in many places on the continent.

 

With Theresa May indicating at the Tory Party conference a change in direction in terms of austerity and renewed emphasis on public investment, the Scottish Government should be able to expect increased resources.   There is no better time therefore for the CNPA to clearly set out what resources are needed in the National Park, both by itself and its other public sector partners (none of whom commit to investing any resources in the National Park in the draft Partnership Plan).

 

This though I think will take a major change in mindset from both the CNPA and the Scottish Government as is illustrated by their responses to the funding announcement:

 

“It’s great to see this investment in and support for Scotland’s landscapes.

“Our landscapes are iconic and will provide a magnificent backdrop for these projects that will encourage people to explore Scotland’s spectacular outdoors, protect our biodiversity, benefit rural communities and encourage visitors from home and abroad.”

(Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment)

 
A great statement but why does the Scottish Government not treat this as a core responsibility to be funded out of tax instead of leaving it to the lottery of the lottery?
 

 “This is a massive boost, not just for Tomintoul and Glenlivet but for the wider National Park. Heritage Lottery funding will result in investment in new and improved facilities and infrastructure, new job opportunities and other community driven projects – there are exciting times ahead. I would like to thank and congratulate all those involved in helping to secure this funding.” 

(Eleanor Mackintosh, CNPA Board Member and local resident)

 

I don’t believe investment in infrastructure or jobs should depend on the lottery.   I am not saying the CNPA should stop applying to the lottery, while that remains one of the main ways to secure resources, nor do I want to dent the enthusiasm of those who have worked to achieve this.   But Eleanor Mackintosh and other Board Members should be using the Park’s new Partnership Plan to set out a clear vision of what needs to be done in the National Park and the resources required to deliver this for the environment, for visitors and for the people who live there.

 
The CNPA won’t get everything of course, partly because any additional funds for investment are likely to be far less than the UK Government spin suggests but also because no-one ever does, but times are changing and the CNPA should be making the case that funding in our landscape should cease to be a lottery.

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Dear LLTNPA,

 

I was interested to see in May that meters had been installed at the carpark in Inveruglas.  I appreciate you are short of money but it seems to me particularly mean to advertise the new wooden structure at Inveruglas, as part of Scotland’s scenic routes, and then charge people for the privilege of stepping out of their cars to take a closer look.    I might not mind so much if it was clear what the money was being used for and litter bins were being installed not just at Inveruglas but at all the stopping points along the A82.    I would like our National Parks though to assert the fundamental value of being able to experience our countryside for free, as a common good, and what better way to demonstrate this than by creating a free campsite at Inveruglas (behind the parking area) from which people could experience the glories of the loch overnight?

 

The experience of sleeping out is worth more than any hotel.

 

Parkswatchscotland

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another interesting revelation from the Board Strategy Group minutes see post 2nd March) is about the the failure of the LLTNP Authority to consider properly the cost of enforcing the proposed camping  byelaws.

At the meeting of 7th May:  “FL (Fiona Logan, their then Chief Exec) advised that the patrol of East Loch Lomond has taken considerable Ranger resource to implement”  (more…)