How to be conned

The BBC this week carried a report about a publication calling it "A study carried out by Edinburgh's Napier University"

Then the Herald journalist Douglas Fraser blogged about this "university study":

"don’t think the Eurocrats have lost interest in Hebridean ferries. They will be paying particular attention to an academic study, part funded by the Commission and published this week by Napier University, which found that CalMac should be removed from public ownership. It concludes the tendering has been “more or less designed to maintain the status quo and hence continuation of extensive state-owned shipping operations in Scotland”

Douglas Fraser is one of the best informed, shrewdest and experienced political commentators in Scotland. If he can be conned, anyone can. But conned he has been well and truly, though no doubt the perpetrators of this report would claim it is self-deception. Because the truth is there if you look carefully enough. The actual report is here

It is true as Douglas says that this was "part funded by the Commission and published this week by Napier University". But academic study? Don't make me laugh.

First, read the the note under EC logo and the title etc which reveals it "Report from Private Industry User Group Workshop".

Next, go to the Annex which details that this workshop lasted over a total of 2 and half hours in a single morning - hardly time to constitute a "study".

Now, look further down the Annex and you will see the participants whose morning deliberations were the basis of this "Report", and without exception they are they are either private sector operators who could hardly be said to be disinterested observers as far as the topic of the potential decline and collapse of CalMac is concerned, or individuals who are consultants to this sector..

A lobbyists morning work, yes. An academic study? If this is an academic study then I have definitely been in the wrong line of business for all these years. As I said in my previous blog, the Report consists of warmed-over lobbyists' complaints and is full of unsupported assertions, confused complaints and misleading statements.

As I also said in my previous blog, there is a lot of money that can be made from the breakup of CalMac and cherrypicking the potentially lucrative bits of the carcass (leaving the state to pick up the rest), which is why expensive lobbying (some of it tarted up as "reports" or "studies") is going on. There is also lots of wooing going on just now of vulnerable communities tellling them how much better off they would be if big bad CalMac was got rid of. Well, be careful what you wish for, your wishes might just come true.

At the end of my ferries pages on my website I noted that I had been offered several (unsolicited) paid consultancies on Scottish ferry services but that;

I wish to remain a free agent to express my views on these matters (there are plenty others who are happy to accept or seek such consultancies, which is why you should always second guess unsolicited public pronouncements in the media by specialists in these matters).

I put that disclaimer in several months ago and the last bit is even more true today. The depressing thing it is very difficult to counter systematic persistent lobbying on such a basis, and even then you are likely to be at best only partly successful as I found out with the relative success of my recent Freedom of Information appeal which took considerable effort and many months to resolve.

At the very least I hope that those who have the public interest in mind here retain their critical faculties ove the next few months and are prepared to second guess the motives of those who claim to be acting in their interests. It's going to be needed

Neil Kay 27th July 2007