Oct 152016

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over recent events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

DictionaryGreetings belatedly; sorry for the late-running of this service; I’ve been busy. For one thing – Result! TV Smith played Krakatoa on 8 October with Fred Wilkinson opening. Fred, or ‘Wilkinson’ as beloved LibDem Aileen HoMalone refers to him, played a lovely song about fashion called The Ghosts of Cable Street. I’m not really sure what it was about, but I think it had to do cable-knit jumpers and something about black shirts not being very popular at one time.

Fashions do have a way of coming around again, and I think there are more than a few blackshirt-lovers out there right now.

Smith played some old-fashioned, quaint ‘protest music’ – although heaven knows, we really have nothing to protest about, except maybe all those foreigners Amber Herd wanted named and shamed for taking British Jobs.

I wonder why she changed her mind? Could there be any link between the pound plunging to a new 31 year low, Brexit, and Amber’s anti-foreigner stance? I doubt it.

I am guilty of not being born in the UK. I am taking the unpaid job of some poor satirical British columnist who otherwise could be labouring for free. Yes, naming and shaming the companies that hire people from other countries seemed like the way forward. But I digress. Smith sang about modern poverty (no doubt caused by foreigners), state surveillance, and other such lefty concerns. Just as well we’ve nothing to protest about here in the Deen.

I understand Torry residents are planning a parade to celebrate all the jobs creation coming our way. We’re getting an incinerator – sorry – waste to energy plant! Result!

We’re going to get rid of the under-used Bay of Nigg so that cruise ships filled with rich visitors can stop by for a bet at Ladbroke’s and some Spar shopping. Result! Of course we’ll have to make a few sacrifices for creating these jobs.

A few protected wildlife species in the Bay, clean air (which we enjoy so greatly now thanks to the sewerage plant) and the wishes of local people – many of whom are foreign! – should not stand in the way of making the Harbour Board richer or getting a good old-fashioned British firm busy burning rubbish next to the school in Tullos. While the house prices here will plummet, a clear message is sent: Scotland is Open For Business.

We are open to taking American fracked gas; a great tanker sailed to Scotland filled with fracked gas, while some Americans in Pennsylvania begged Scotland not to take it.

If it will make us money, at least the considerable pollution will be happening far away – foreigners do have their uses. (The energy efficiency of creating fuel in the US leaving pollution in its wake and shipping resultant gas to Scotland is a little hard for me to understand, especially with gas here having been at considerably low prices for years. Still, if there’s money to be made, we can’t be seen to be closed can we?)

We’re also open for business at Marischal Square, where in keeping with the look of the city, Granite will be the main cladding material. That The Granite City is importing granite from China, where there are a few equal pay and workers’ rights issues is not an issue. We are Open For Business. The council says it’s not their business where the granite comes from – a huge comfort to the veritable slave labour that will be quarrying it.

John Forbes of Bon Accord Granite said:

“What people don’t understand is we haven’t built a major building out of north-east granite for the last 30 years, at least. It’s down to price. If I don’t supply Chinese granite, others will.” 

Thanks John for helping the project’s carbon footprint, Chinese workers’ rights, the government’s push to use UK labour forces – all while making a tidy profit. Nice one.

I get it – the position seems to be ‘if I don’t exploit unfair labour practices in China to supply material cheaply, someone else will’. Good code of ethics there then. So – foreigners = good source of labour to exploit as cheaply as possible – as long as the blighters don’t actually come to Old Blighty.

When the much-loved Marischal Square building is clad in Chinese granite, the much-loved Press & Journal is set to take a year’s free rent to grace us with its presence.

In order to figure out how this equates to being ‘Open for Business’ as opposed to, shall we say, giving the paper a bone so that it won’t unleash its investigative new hounds (if any left) onto juicy city council stories (not that there are any unless you count the cremation scandal, the Torry carve-up, Marischal Square..), Old Susannah lodged a freedom of information request.

We do know the key players at the Town House in this genius free rent scheme are the Head of Finance, Head of Land and Property Assets, Asset Management Manager. The city refuses to comment on these ‘commercial negotiations’ because:

“Release of the information at this stage would influence the negotiating position of parties wishing to occupy space in the development, to the obvious detriment of the Council’s commercial interests.

“Furthermore, disclosure of the requested information at this stage is likely to weaken ACC’s position in a competitive environment by revealing sensitive information of potential usefulness to competitors. ACC must maintain good working relationships with reputable companies to enable it to obtain value for money and so releasing commercially sensitive information could potentially damage ACC’s reputation with such third parties, dissuading the third parties from engaging with ACC.”

“The discussions in relation to the proposals for the AJL terms have involved the advice of external property agents, the Council’s development partner and a number of Council officers.” 

So if I understand correctly, the competition would get wind of us giving a years’ rent free in a new building to the press (normally expected to investigate just this kind of eventuality in some cities anyway), and they would give a better deal, or other people would want free rent like the P&J too.

Perhaps we should pay the P&J to grace the city centre, and breathing new life into the beating heart of the civic centre in a vibrant and dynamic manner.

The phrase ‘Value for Money’ worked its way into the FOI response. Older readers might remember when the previous administration sold property owned by the taxpayer for millions of pounds less than market value, and was investigated by Audit Scotland (the report was meant to be investigated by the police – but they didn’t do anything. When I asked for an update, it was explained the paperwork could not be found, and as it was only a few million pounds’ worth of potential fraud, it wasn’t really a big deal).

We also gifted Stewart Milne lots of land, at the same time he won a few sweet contracts totalling £10 million – he’d underbid the competition – possibly a feat made a bit easier by having a nice parcel of land as a handy asset. But again – I digress. Just as well though that the taxpayer isn’t propping up a hugely biased, outmoded pseudo-newspaper.

Not that there are any juicy city council stories of course, but in light of how the city’s officers are involved in a few slightly questionable activities, I set out to take a look at the register of officers’ interests. I was to meet someone from Legal and democratic services to take a look at the register. A few hours before the meeting, the legal team from the city decided that a FOI request was required.

Now in theory FOI requests should not have to be made to see information that is held – but they were apparently fearful that there might be ‘personal data’ in the register.

This register should be parallel to the register held on all the councillor’s interests and hospitality – which you can view right now on the website. It’s almost as if the officers had more power and influence than coucillors but surely not. The FOI service complains from time to time that it has too many requests to handle (which might be why it is late with a huge portion of responses).

If the other departments had this ‘transparency’ we’ve heard so much about, the FOI team wouldn’t have to suffer so greatly doing its job.

Democratic services? Transparency? Freedom of Information? Clearly not as important as being open for business. More on this soon.

While waiting for any of this information to ever get to me, liquid refreshment at BrewDog helps sustain me and pass the time. Old Dog (as I now call the Gallowgate bar, the first ever BrewDog bar) has been doing some wildly popular craft courses and a once-monthly fun event, Drink and Draw.

I have learned so very much from BrewDog. Did you know that it’s Robert Plant’s son Logan is behind the remarkable Beavertown Brewery? I hadn’t any idea. One of my favourite non-BD libations is Beavertown’s flavour packed Gamma Ray (American Pale Ale). And yes, I’m one of the 10,000 BrewDog shareholders, and still proud of it.

Finally, Anthony Baxter is making another film about ladies’ man Trump, although I can’t think of any recent news developments these past 12 months that would warrant any such documentary. However, the details are here for those who would like to chip in. Expected Aberdeen release 3 November at the Belmont. (And by way of disclosure, there is every chance I’ll be in it).

At this rate there won’t be time for definitions, so with no further hesitation, here are some career-related definitions for the wonderful people who bring so much to Aberdeen.

Spokeswoman: (Modern English noun) a female who undertakes public relations duties.

Sarah Malone has been enjoying a Trump salary these many years; this and husband Damian’s salary will no doubt be helping the Jimmy Choo purchase fund.

In order to get a paid gig dealing with the media as a spokeswoman for a multinational property developer, aspiring spokespersons would have to have style, flair, the ability to think quickly, analyse information and respond swiftly with tact and intelligence. This no doubt is why I toil for free. As a recent example illustrating the calibre of response such a professional spokeswoman would be expected to come up with, I offer the following recently issued by Sarah Malone-Bates, aka from now as Sarah Baloney:

“We have not seen the so-called film and have no interest in it.

“Anthony Baxter is not a credible journalist or filmmaker. He has no interest in the facts or the people of north east Scotland.

“He has propagated lies and nonsense about the company for years in an attempt to make a name for himself off the back of Trump.

“We operate a highly acclaimed, five-star golf resort and enjoy a great relationship with the local community and all of our neighbours with the exception of a few who have fought the project since its inception.”

Old Susannah can’t – however hard I try – write like this. For instance, if I had to use the compound-adjective ‘so-called’, I might have said ‘so-called journalist’. That would have opened up a debate on whether or not award-winning, acclaimed journalist Baxter is credible or not. Obviously we trust a Trump spokesperson’s word for what is and isn’t credible. However, ‘so-called film’ opens up the debate as to whether or not the film is a … film. I think even I could win that battle of wits with Sarah.

She is calling Baxter a liar – a daring PR move which of course could have legal consequences should Baxter want to sue Trump. I hope she’ll share the specific list of these lies with us; I promise I’ll ask for it.

As to that ‘great relationship with the local community’ – well, obviously that’s as true as anything else this professional, well-paid spokesperson said. Just because protestors raise Mexican flags, 580,000 people sign a petition against her boss coming here, the local university rescinded his honorary degree and he’s no longer a global Scot is no reason to think Mr Drumpf is in any way unpopular. And no doubt the relationship with this community is unshakeable…

Star: (modern English term) someone of celebrity status, admired and well-known.

Donald Trump is a star. How do I know? He said so in a conversation about the perks of stardom.

To attain star status, having superior genes is important; modestly Drumpf admits what we already know – that he has superior genes. Somewhere, in some obscure history lesson, I almost remember some other political figure being interested in genetic superiority. Perhaps it’s fashionable to talk about this again?

Perks of stardom include ‘just start kissing’ beautiful women ‘doing anything (to women)’ and ‘grabbing them by the pussy’. Oh those lucky, beautiful young women. Something in the nature of 1 in 5 American women can expect to be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

And with that, I find the last satirical inclinations leaving me, and so I will sign off. Let’s hope nothing will dent that community appreciation Drumpf enjoys here in our little corner of Scotland.

Next week – more on other FOI requests, a look at the rosy future of Torry – and a DIY Investigating kit

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Oct 042013

Last week, we presented an article by Mel Kelly on the dangers of Unconventional Coal Gasification (UCG), and the possibility of this being practiced in the UK. This week, we are grateful for Mel’s permission to bring you further news of the nature of investment in UCG and of who stands to gain,  or lose. This article was recently published on the open democracy site http://www.opendemocracy.net/author/mel-kelly and has not been amended for publication in Voice.

CoalSquareThe government is giving away the rights to up to a billion tonnes of coal to a company owned by an ex-Conservative party fundraiser. Rather than filling his pockets, couldn’t this revenue source be used for the public good?

The coalition government is providing a former Conservative Party fundraiser’s new company with licences which secure his company the rights and interests to billions of tons of the nation’s coal for UCG processing.

UCG stands for underground coal gasification – a process to drill wells to set fire to coal underground and extract the gas by-products – both onshore and offshore.

Official reports in 2009, 2011 and 2012 on UCG pilot studies in India, America and Australia resulted in major water contamination with highly toxic carcinogenic chemicals, Benzene and Toluene, (contamination which one private company covered up for 2 months) and the EU trial ending in disaster when they could not control the technology resulting in an explosion and the trial being abandoned.

Just a few weeks ago an independent scientific panel in Queensland advised the state government against the development of a UCG industry until the firms involved can demonstrate the ability to put out the underground coal fires the process creates.

Algy Cluff, the founder of one of the companies recently handed multiple UCG licenses for both onshore and offshore by the Department of Energy & Climate Change, actually stated last week the technology is not proven offshore . Yet, he is about to embark on a UCG offshore test in Scotland. And when we say offshore, this does not mean the North Sea – the test is to be carried out in the Firth of Forth.

UCG licenses are also being issued for the Thames Estuary, SwanseaBay, the Dee Estuary and the Humber Estuary – as well as the North and Irish seas – when the technology still poses risks of major contamination with UCG carcinogenic chemicals as well as explosions and subsidence.

Onshore licences have also been made available for Warwickshire, Dumfries&Galloway, Cumbria and Lincolnshire with Algy Cluff claiming the technology was “proven onshore – despite the Queensland decision.

The people of Warwickshire and Fife are up in arms as they have only just found out about Algy Cluff’s plans to burn billions of tonnes of coal underground in their area to extract gas. So who exactly is Algy Cluff and what experience does he have in UCG?

David Cameron has opened the windows of this country once again

Algy Cluff made a fortune in North Sea oil in the 1970s and has been involved in Africa since the 60’s, where he had various mining interests including gold and platinum and “during his time in Zimbabwe he became a friend of the now-despised Robert Mugabe, the country’s president.”

He stood as a Conservative candidate in the 1966 General Election and used to own the Spectator magazine where he had former Tory Party Chairman Norman Tebbit and Francis Maude, the current Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Paymaster General, on his board of Directors

Cluff was the unpaid external director of fundraising for the Conservative Party, securing large donations from prominent Hong Kong businessmen until June 1993 and he also helped fund Kenneth Clarke’s Tory Party leadership campaign in 2005.

Algy Cluff told Country Life magazine “he’s pleased with the Coalition” and of the Labour Party he said ‘I am thrilled that we’ve got rid of those snarling thugs, devoid of humour, manners or judgment. David Cameron has opened the windows of this country once again, and, although there are difficult times ahead, it is possible to hear the sound of laughter.’

After years abroad Algy Cluff returned to set up Cluff Natural Resources in the UK on 21st February 2012, just in time to apply for the new licences to the rights and interests in Britain’s coal for projects which his Board believes could generate significant value for Cluff Natural Resources shareholders – no wonder Algy Cluff predicted the sound of laughter.

The Firth of Forth in Scotland, just one of the coalition government new UCG licensed areas for which Cluff Natural Resources has secured a UCG license, has a target to burn up to 1 billion tonnes of untapped coal.

Despite only being formed in 2012 The Cluff Natural Resources website states: “The Company currently has 100% working interest in five Deep Underground Coal Gasification (‘UCG’) Licences in the UK covering a total of 30,881 hectares of Carmarthenshire and the Dee Estuary, the North Wales/Merseyside border, the Firth of Forth near Kincardine, Scotland, North Cumbria and Largo Bay. Cluff Natural Resources intends to carry out a Scoping Study on the licences and identify an area for test production” using unproven technology which, it has been established, can potentially cause major contamination of groundwater with carcinogenic chemicals, cause explosions and subsidence above and below ground.

fracking is one of the processes used.

Regarding the test site in the Firth of Forth in Scotland, last week Algy Cluff made the claim to a local newspaper, to justify his forthcoming drilling,There would be no introduction of water or chemicals, unlike fracking”.

According to Science and Technology review’s explanation of the UCG process “In the UCG process, injection wells are drilled into an unmined coal seam, and either air or oxygen is injected into the cavity. Water is also needed and may be pumped from the surface or may come from the surrounding rock.”

The UCG Consulting website the UCG process requires “injecting oxidant and possibly steam or water to support combustion and the carbon gasification reactions”. Additionally, section 14 of Shell’s submission to the British Government regarding UCG states that fracking is one of the processes used.

Why is Algy Cluff so desperate to try to distance UCG from its requirement for water and fracking when everyone else in the industry is open and honest about the requirements? How is he able to claim the onshore UCG process is proven when it has run into so many problems around the world?

And why are the Tory MPs in charge of the Department of Energy and Climate Change so desperate to issue licences now, before the technology is determined to be safe? Could it be they are worried that if they wait, they will have lost the next election and the power to issue licences to private companies of their choice before the nation realises what is going on?

Should private companies be handed the rights to nation’s coal reserves without the government consulting the British people? Bearing in mind that, according to a Department of Trade and Industry reportThe UK resource suitable for deep seam UCG is estimated at 17 billion tonnes, or 300 years’ supply at current consumption, according to a Department of Trade & Industry report.”

The government charges telecoms companies billions of pounds just to use the airwaves of Britain for their profit – so how much is the nation’s 300 years worth of coal reserves worth to a country undergoing tough austerity? Rather than privatising our coal reserves to further enrich the wealthy, perhaps this source of revenue might be better used to bolster our empty public purse.

Images courtesy of Freefoto.com.

Click here for video of Mel Kelly being interviewed by Denis Campbell online – re. UCG

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May 172012

John Fraser lifts the lid on the worrying social and environmental impact of our ‘must have’ consumer society.

Pandora’s Box – a metaphor for our time.

Are we mature enough as a society to protect our last remaining wildernesses and ecosystems or, are we to be like Epimetheus and not have the foresight to see the true implications of our actions beyond our primitive desires?

A recently released report by the Gaia Foundation on the extractive industries and all that goes with them brings into clear perspective the scale of destruction and almost frenzied rate of extraction going on with total disregard for populations and the environment.

I would like to give just an outline of this report, a feel for what is happening worldwide, what this means for all of us and how we are all connected in one way or another, whether it happens in the North Sea, the Amazon or Africa and what we could do about it.

It is the sheer scale and rate of extraction which is startling and it is increasing year-on-year. These industries are far bigger than most people realise and are growing. We are now entering a new phase where old deposits are being reworked due to the development of new technologies added to a new scale of demand.

For example, in the last ten years, extraction of iron ore has increased by 180%, Cobalt.165%, Lithium 125% and Coal 44%. Prospecting is also more prevalent which means a massive increase in years to come. Enormous industrial wastelands are created, with the accompanying effects on habitat, water and land pollution. Displacement of population follows.

Human rights, mainly but not exclusively those of indigenous peoples, are being ignored. Environmental laws are broken or circumvented.

To produce one ton of copper, 300 tons of waste is created.

Along with this insatiable hunger for the Earth’s resources comes a great need for water, a resource that in some countries is not plentiful. Even now, SE England is suffering drought.

In Scotland we are in the early stages of fracking which requires 1.8 million gallons of water. To frack nickel requires 377 litres/kg, titanium 100 litres/kg, steel 80 litres/kg, aluminium and copper around 40 litres/kg and to top it all, gold 225,000 litres/kg, giving an indication of how much water is required for this type of industry. The accompanying pollution of each locality is a major problem where waste pollutes the air with particulates and water courses with metal-improving chemicals such as cyanide and mercury.

With all land extraction we find deforestation, destruction of natural water courses, top soil removal and in the USA even mountain top removal, which has been linked to 60,000 cases of cancer according to a Financial Times report. The US Environmental Protection Agency contends that 3.93 billion lbs of toxic chemicals were released into the US environment in 2010, up 16% from 2009, and the mining sector was responsible for 41%.

The volume of minerals which can be recovered from rocks has decreased from the early 1900s, copper from 3% to 0.3%. This leads to more expensive mining and a huge increase in waste materials. To produce one ton of copper, 300 tons of waste is created.

In a 2011 report by Pricewaterhouse Cooper, The Game Has Changed, it is stated that the remaining reserves of most minerals have a lifespan of between twelve years for zinc and 53 years for thermal coal. No doubt new reserves will be found but with more contentious implications such as with offshore mining in Greenland and the Arctic. A huge amount could be recovered by recycling, but this does not solve the problem.

A good start would be for people to know the story behind everything we think we need to have.

Just because most of the extraction happens elsewhere we cannot ignore the fact that indigenous peoples are being displaced from traditional lands by lies and brutality and the earth is being laid bare. These minerals are in the products that we use.

The bridges and roads we build use huge volumes of these resources. All electronic goods are a cocktail of metals and plastic. People in South America, Africa, India and many other parts of the world are asking us for our support to save their lands.

The world is now faced with a huge increase in demand for resources as the populations of China, South America and India all want western lifestyles. This is just not possible. A recent Scottish Government report acknowledges that we would need three planet Earths to achieve it. Yet, here in NE Scotland we want to build 28 miles of dual carriageway and a new ’garden’ is to be created with huge quantities of the world’s resources being used up in the process.

What do we really need? And what do we desire to have? Increasingly we need to ask these questions and find the answers. As a world community it will be forced upon us.

A good start would be for people to know the story behind everything we think we need to have. Where do the minerals in our laptops come from? How much concrete and aluminium is it going to take to build that road, ‘create a new garden’? We might be surprised – and maybe, just maybe, we’ll realise that we don’t need a new iPod, or more roads. We’ve managed up to now and with a positive change of outlook we can manage into the future, beginning to respect the earth and its peoples, and be grateful to do with less.

The full Opening Pandora’s Box report by Phillipe Sibaud is at www.gaiafoundation.org.uk