Around 80% of FoFNL members (it varies from year to year) don't attend the AGM. That's about the average non-attendance across a range of clubs and societies, and no criticism is intended of those who either live too far away, or prefer to leave the nuts and bolts of running FoFNL to others. But any body like ours needs the active support of as many of its members as possible, not least to reassure the people who do take on the burdens of executive office that they are, by and large, getting it right. In order to make attendance at the AGM more attractive, especially to members from some distance away, the Constitution was changed at the 2006 AGM (reported elsewhere in the Newsletter) to require that future AGMs be held in the summer months. The Committee hopes that as many members as possible will take the opportunity of the long days to take a break in the Far North, combining the AGM with a summer outing that is still at the planning stage.
A great deal of time has been spent in the last couple of years in dealing with matters raised by one member. Much of the 2005 and 2006 AGMs were devoted to attempts by the Committee to settling this, principally so that they might concentrate on external matters - the railway and its improvement - rather than the extremely voluminous correspondence (in excess of 60 sides, including one letter of 20 sides) from the member in question. The AGM voted overwhelmingly to endorse the decision to refuse to accept this member's renewal application last year. Since the AGM there has been much comment in local newspapers that FoFNL acted unconstitutionally in so doing, and I refuted this when it first appeared. It is the Committee's intention to ignore further press comment of this kind and to deny, as someone said, the oxygen of publicity to the disaffected former member.
At the AGM I publicly welcomed the formation of DoRLAG - the new body being set up by some FoFNL members and others - to campaign for the building of a Dornoch Link. I take this opportunity of explaining why I did this to the wider membership. One of the principal causes of the dissent within FoFNL in 2004 and 2005 was the issue of the Dornoch Link. Many were vociferously in favour of it; others no less vociferously against. FoFNL's position is that, however attractive the idea of such a link may be on paper, the best estimates for its cost are so high that Transport Scotland will dismiss it as a bridge too far. DoRLAG, as is its right, takes a different view. Having two separate bodies pushing for two separate ends seems to me to be pretty sensible, allowing enthusiasts to devote their energies to the causes they support without diverting time and resources into those they don't. I have said, both at the AGM and in the press, that FoFNL will work with DoRLAG where we have a common goal and, importantly, we will not seek to scupper any progress they may make with the Dornoch Link. Our position is clear - we don't support it, but we won't do anything to spoil their aims, nor to denigrate them or their objective. I earnestly hope that the DoRLAG Committee and members take the same view, but early indications in the local press are not encouraging. DoRLAG is a body pressing for the building of a new bit of railway; its members should not be pressing for the closure of FoFNL.
The proof of this pudding is unlikely to arrive swiftly - even if Ministers woke up tomorrow convinced that the Dornoch Link was their highest priority no train would run across it until around 2014, such are the time-scales for engineering work of this scale on the railway. So it will be at least seven years before success can be achieved, seven years during which a large number of small incremental improvements can be introduced. That is FoFNL's agenda, and success or failure ought to be discernible year on year.
Thank you all for your support over the last year. I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible in Thurso next July. May 2007 bring peace and prosperity to the world and refurbishment to the Class 158s.