Saturday, 26 November 2011

Long-term unemployment soars

New figures released by the Office for National Statistics show almost 1,000 claimants of Job-Seekers Allowance (JSA) in North Ayrshire have been unemployed for more than six-months.  A further 665 JSA claimants have been without a job for more than a year.  The figures are the highest for the local area since records began in 2006.

The total number of JSA claimants in North Ayrshire now stands at 6.1 per cent of population aged between 16 and 64, compared with a Scotland-wide figure of 4 per cent and 3.8 per cent for the UK.

Speaking to the3towns, North Ayrshire & Arran MP Katy Clark expressed her “deep concern” over the latest figures, adding, “Since August 2011 the number of people claiming JSA has remained persistently over 900 in North Ayrshire and Arran.  I fear that we are slowly beginning to see the true damaging effects of the Government’s austerity measures on employment in the area, as increasing numbers of people are moving into medium and long-term unemployment.”

Ms Clark highlighted evidence that shows the longer people remain unemployed, the more difficult it can be for them to re-engage with the labour market.  “It is imperative the Government takes immediate action to ensure we do not have a repeat performance of the situation we faced in the 1970s and 1980s,” said the Labour MP.  “It is clear there are simply not enough jobs in places like North Ayrshire and Arran.

“It is important the Government looks at further ways to increase employment levels by encouraging growth through business investment at a local level.”

Audit Scotland warns more Council cuts are on the way

An Audit Scotland report into North Ayrshire Council highlights the local authority will face significant cuts to its finances over the next three years as a result of reduced funding from the SNP Scottish Government.  The Nationalist’s claim they have no option but to pass-on cuts imposed by the Tory-Lib Dem Government in London, an argument disputed by the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).

The Audit Scotland analysis shows that spending cuts allocated to local government by the SNP are 4.2 per cent for 2012/13, increasing to 9.0 per cent in 2013/14 and rising still further to 11.3 per cent for 2014/15.  The report also warns that “continuing to realise efficiencies will become more challenging in all councils over the longer term,” and that “it is clear the outlook for public spending for the period 2012/13 to 2014/15 remains very challenging.”

According the national audit body, “The high level figures for local government, announced by the Scottish Government recently, indicate that significant budget reductions will be required in these years.”

However, the North Ayrshire Branch of Scottish Socialist Party argues the local Council and the SNP Scottish Government “should be putting the needs and interests of local people before those of Tory-Lib Dem millionaires in London.”

Campbell Martin of the SSP said, “Alex Salmond recently told David Cameron to keep his nose out of Scottish affairs when the Tory Prime Minister commented on the SNP’s plans for an independence referendum.

“Salmond is right, of course.  Cameron has no mandate from Scotland.  His party finished third in Scotland at the last Westminster Election and his coalition partners, the Lib Dems, were fourth.  But the people of Scotland must wonder why Salmond gets on his high-horse about a referendum, only to cave-in and meekly accept Cameron’s savage cuts to public spending in Scotland.”

Mr Martin, a former SNP MSP and councillor in North Ayrshire, added, “Both the SNP Government in Edinburgh and the Labour administration of North Ayrshire Council should tell Cameron he has no mandate for cuts.  They should set budgets that meet the needs of the people, and they should tell the Tories and Liberal democrats in London to return to us the £1.3billion they have slashed from Scottish funding.”

Campbell Martin concluded, “The reality is there would be no need for any cuts if the super-wealthy actually paid their fair-share in taxation.  Even just here in Scotland, if the richest 100 people paid a modest 10 per cent increase in tax, we could generate an additional £1.6billion.

“It’s time politicians started putting people before profit and stood-up to the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition that is actively destroying lives and communities, including right here in North Ayrshire.”

Scotmid moves into Stevenston

The new Stevenston Business centre, on the site of the former Grange Bingo, has secured a major tenant in the shape of Scotmid, which is to open a supermarket covering 2,500 sq ft of the ground floor.

Scotmid, part of the Co-operative Group, is so keen to get its Stevenston store opened that work to complete the new building was rescheduled and will be finished six weeks ahead of the initial completion date.  The major retailer now hopes to have its doors open on Thursday, November 24.

Announcing the creation of 12 new jobs, Scotmid Co-operative’s Head of Property, Adrian Lorimer said, “We are very excited to be opening this new store on Stevenston's high street this month. It is in a good location and will boast an extensive range of goods, some great money-saving deals and an ATM.”

The Grange site, redeveloped by the Irvine Bay Regeneration Company, will also feature office and workshop space in small-unit sizes.  Patrick Wiggins, Chief Executive of the regeneration company said, “We are delighted the project is already seeing tangible benefits with the store opening and the creation of new jobs and we hope this is just the start of its impact.”

Local MSP Margaret Burgess welcomed the news, saying, “The development will mean an addition to the facilities in Stevenston’s town centre and welcome new jobs.

“The objective at the Grange business centre was always to encourage new business start-ups and to attract businesses to relocate or expand into the area, so the Scotmid announcement marks the first step in doing this.

“The next step must be to continue the push to encourage businesses into the workshop and office areas of the building.”

Demolition work on the Grange Bingo was completed in December 2009. A planning application was submitted in March 2010 and the main contractor for the new-build project, Maxi Construction Ltd, began work in November 2010.

Katy Clark exposes Minister misled Parliament

The UK Armed Forces Minister, Nick Harvey, has apologised for misleading statements he made regarding the legality and dangers of Depleted Uranium weapons.

On October 10, in response to a question from local MP Katy Clark, Mr Harvey said that the conclusion of a review into the use of Depleted Uranium weapons had found they were legal and could be used.  However, when Ms Clark then asked to see the report stemming from the review, Harvey had to admit it didn’t actually exist and that no review had been carried out.

The Minister told Katy Clark that, although his initial response to her was “incorrect”, he had made it “in good faith on the advice of officials”.  Mr Harvey apologised for “the error”.

Commenting on the matter, Katy Clark said, “It is clear that the Ministry of Defence have been misleading the public with their justification for Depleted Uranium use. Compliance with the Geneva Conventions has been used to reassure people on the legality of DU weapons.  However, no review has taken place to ensure that the munitions used by UK armed forces meet the Conventions criteria.”

Ms Clark, Chair of the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group on Depleted Uranium, added, “I am pleased the Government has stated that a review will now take place and believe it should use this opportunity to carry out a detailed study into the long term impact of the use of Depleted Uranium.  There is great concern that it is associated with increased cancer rates in places where it has been used, such as in Iraq.”

Depleted Uranium is a chemically toxic and radioactive heavy metal produced as waste by the nuclear power industry.  It is included in weapons because it is an extremely hard material capable of piercing armour.  However, it can contaminate the environment, and has been linked to health problems in civilian populations.

Locals urged to take part in railway consultation

Cunninghame South MSP Margaret Burgess is urging her constituents to contribute to a consultation on the future of rail provision in Scotland.

The consultation, launched last week by Transport Scotland, will seek to determine the level of rail services required by communities across the country.  It is also hoped people will give their views on fares, station facilities and how to improve the reliability of trains.

Mrs Burgess, whose constituency includes Stevenston, said, “This is an opportunity for local rail users to help shape the development of rail services in Ayrshire and across Scotland.

“Policy-makers and transport professionals have their own views but if the rail network is to meet passengers’ requirements then it is essential they play a part in determining the way in which the network can better meet their needs.”

The SNP MSP explained that the views of those who are not currently regular passengers are also being sought, “since the objective is to increase the number of people using the train.”

Said Mrs Burgess, “I know there are a number of people and communities in Cunninghame South who have strong views on railway issues and for them this is a prime opportunity to get a preferred project moved up the priority list.”

Members of the public can respond to the consultation through the Transport Scotland website: http://www.transportscotland.gov.uk/rail2014 . Staff will also be speaking with passengers at train stations across the country.

New additional role for Council Chief Executive

The Chief Executive of North Ayrshire Council is to take on a very senior position with SOLACE (Scotland), the Scottish Branch of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers.

Elma Murray was unanimously elected as Vice Chair of the organisation at its Annual General Meeting, held last Friday (November 18).  She will hold the post for one year and, in accordance with the Society's governance arrangements, will then automatically assume the role of Chair in November 2012, again serving for a one year period.

A North Ayrshire Council report, compiled for the consideration of the local authority’s ruling Labour Executive, explains that SOLACE “exists to promote excellence in public service,” and “provides a forum for its members to network and share information and ideas; organises a range of high profile events; supports professional development of senior managers and those aspiring to senior management; seeks to influence public policy and responds to issues that are of importance to local government.”  The Society is also understood to have close links with the Scottish Parliament and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), and seeks to “develop new ideas for joint working between the public and private sectors.”

However, while recognising the appointment is “an accolade for the Chief Executive”, the report also warns the Labour Executive “there will require to be a significant time commitment” from Ms Murray in order to fulfil the SOLACE roles.
According to the Council, “The Chief Executive's appointment of Vice Chair and subsequently Chair of SOLACE (Scotland) will place her at the heart of local government transformation and allow her to raise the profile of North Ayrshire and the Council with key influencers across Scotland and beyond.”

MP's support for Palestine

Katy Clark, MP for North Ayrshire & Arran, has criticised the recent announcement by the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, that the United Kingdom will abstain on the vote to determine whether or not the United Nations Security Council should recognize Palestine as an independent state.

Initially the vote was to have been taken at the UN in New York on November 11, but stalling, mainly by America, which staunchly supports Israel and its occupation of much of Palestine, has meant the decision has still to be made.

Commenting on the UK Government’s position, Katy Clark said, “This is a slap in the face for the Palestinian population who continue to live in daily hardship as a result of Israeli actions.

“The ongoing siege of Gaza and continuation of settlement building in the West Bank demonstrate that the current attempts of the international community to achieve a fair and lasting settlement in the region are not working.”

Ms Clark argues that recognising Palestinian statehood would have brought a new impetus to the peace process and would have sent a message to Israel that things cannot continue as they are. “Unfortunately,” said the Labour MP, “the Government seems to be missing this vital opportunity.”

Katy Clark is a signatory to UK Parliament Early Day Motion 2135, which supports recognition of Palestine as an independent state.

New strategy to tackle antisocial behaviour

North Ayrshire Council has outlined measures it aims to use to tackle antisocial behaviour over the next three years.

Unveiling its Antisocial Behaviour Strategy 2011-2014, the local authority says “prevention, diversion and intervention” will be at the heart of its actions to address concerns expressed by members of local communities.

The Strategy has been developed jointly with members of the Safer North Ayrshire Partnership, including Strathclyde Police, the Children’s Reporter and local housing associations, while the completed plan – Working Together for a Safer North Ayrshire – was formulated following “extensive consultation with community groups and members of the public.”

A spokesperson for North Ayrshire Council said the strategy itself describes how the local authority, the Police and partners will “work with local communities to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour over the next three years – focusing on prevention, integration, engagement and communication.”
 
Specific initiatives highlighted in the Strategy include:
  • Creating more opportunities for younger people
  • Encouraging residents to report crime and antisocial behaviour
  • Intervening at appropriate times to prevent antisocial behaviour
  • Building up close working relations with partner agencies such as the Police, NHS etc
  • Involving and empowering communities to address antisocial behaviour
  • Communicating effectively with the public
  • Improve public awareness of work to address antisocial behaviour.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Questions over NAC's £20,000 payment to PPP contractor

Information passed to the3towns shows North Ayrshire Council are paying around £20,000 a year to a private contractor to ‘manage’ utility bills relating to four schools built under the local authority’s controversial Schools PPP contract.

However, an NAC insider who spoke to the3towns on condition of anonymity has claimed utility charges are negotiated and paid directly by the Council, calling into question exactly what the firm of contractors do to merit a £20,000 payment.

The Council employee said, “Mitie manages and maintains the school buildings, and part of the annual payment to them includes £20,000 for managing utility bills, such as gas and electricity.  But the Council negotiates rates directly with utility companies and also pays the bills.  So it appears Mitie is being well rewarded for receiving the bills and passing them to the Council for payment.”

In recent years North Ayrshire Council has implemented a series of financial cuts, resulting in reduced services to the local public.  Recently, one councillor on the local authority’s ruling Labour Executive indicated the Council had made ‘savings’ by making 400 workers redundant.

The Council’s Schools PPP Project became notorious after investigations revealed there had only ever been one credible bid for the contract, despite the local authority claiming it had two.  The second had been submitted by a company with no office, no accounts and no experience of building or maintaining schools.  The two directors of the company that submitted the ‘second bid’ were subsequently arrested in relation to a fraud perpetrated against an NHS Trust in England.

The North Ayrshire Schools PPP Project resulted in the construction of four schools, including St Matthews Academy in Saltcoats and Stanley Primary in Ardrossan.  Together, the value of the four new schools was £80million.  However, North Ayrshire Council’s Labour administration signed a contract with a private consortium for £380million, meaning the local authority is committed to spending £10million every year over a 30 year period to maintain just four schools.

Council rejects coal-plant proposal

As expected, North Ayrshire Council has rejected plans for an experimental clean-coal power station at Hunterston.

At a hearing in Irvine last week (November 9), councillors unanimously rejected the proposals from Ayrshire Power Ltd, a subsidiary of the giant Peel Ports Group, owners of the Hunterston site.  The £3billion plan had attracted 21,000 objections and had also received the thumbs-down from Council planning officials, as reported in last week’s the3towns.

Plans for the new power station included employing untested carbon-capture technology, and the Council hearing heard senior planning official Jim Miller say Ayrshire Power’s submission contained “insufficient evidence” on a wide range of areas.

Amongst reasons for rejection cited by planners were that the plant would not produce 100 per cent emission-free coal from day-one, and would therefore contribute to climate change.  Councillors also heard the proposal contravened the Local Plan for the area, and that there was a lack of benefit to the community when weighed against the impact it would have on the environment.

Commenting on the decision, Council leader David O’Neill said, “North Ayrshire is in urgent need of new jobs but not at any cost. We cannot ignore the adverse impact this development could have on the area. We now ask that the Scottish Government hold a public inquiry if they intend to approve the application.”

Local MP Katy Clark also welcomed the rejection of Ayrshire Power’s plans, saying “I have said from day one that any new-build coal plant should have full workable carbon capture and storage installed from the outset.  If it doesn’t, it will have a grave impact on our local environment and damage our country’s ability to meet our climate change targets.”

Ms Clark, MP for North Ayrshire & Arran, concluded, “Councillors have made the right decision, and I now call on Scottish Ministers to do the right thing and allow an independent public inquiry into the application to commence.”

Hunterston is designated as a site of national strategic importance, which could allow the streamlining of the inquiry process, meaning it could take months rather than years.

Ayrshire Power said it was disappointed but “determined” to progress the application.

Irvine Bay 'core funding' agreed

Speculation regarding the possible withdrawal of public funding for the Irvine Bay Regeneration Company appears to have been silenced following a meeting with SNP Government Minister Alex Neil.

The crunch meeting took place last Wednesday (November 9) and was attended by local interested parties, including representatives of the regeneration company, North Ayrshire Council and MSPs Margaret Burgess and Kenneth Gibson.  Alex Neil is believed to have confirmed the SNP Government will guarantee Irvine Bay’s core funding for a four year period, covering the time-span of the company’s current business plan.

Reacting to the news, Irvine Bay Chief Executive Patrick Wiggins said, “We are grateful to the Scottish Government for their continued support. The fact the Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil has made a number of visits to view the work being done by Irvine Bay has undoubtedly helped him gain a first-hand view of the value of the work that is being carried out.”

North Ayrshire Council’s Labour leader, Cllr David O’Neill, was “delighted” the SNP Government had confirmed continued funding, stating, “We are happy that they recognise our efforts to breathe much-needed new life into the area.  This outcome proves how effective local partnership working can be, with representatives from across the political spectrum and all tiers of government pulling together for the good of North Ayrshire and its people.”

Cunninghame South’s SNP MSP Margaret Burgess added, “The Cabinet Secretary was well aware of the problems of North Ayrshire and, despite Westminster’s  40 per cent cut in capital funding, gave us the clarification we wanted on Irvine Bay’s future and the continuation of its core funding.

“This is good news for Cunninghame South and good news for North Ayrshire.”

Two jailed from French owners of local nuclear site

Two senior bosses of EDF, the French company that owns the Hunterston B nuclear power station, have received jail sentences after a court found the company had hired a firm of security contractors to spy on environmental campaign group Greenpeace.  EDF was also fined 1.5million Euros (£1.3million).

EDF, one of the big six energy companies in the UK, is hoping to receive public funding from the Westminster Government to build four new nuclear reactors in England.

A court in Nanterre, near Paris, found that EDF employed security firm Kargus to spy on Greenpeace as it campaigned against new nuclear reactors in France.

Reacting to the court’s decision and sentences, Adelaide Colin, communications director for Greenpeace, said, “This sends a strong signal to the nuclear industry: no-one is above the law.”

The court heard that in 2006 Kargus Consultants, then run by a former member of the French foreign secret service, compiled a dossier on Greenpeace via means that included hacking into a computer belonging to former campaigns head Yannick Jadot.  EDF maintained it had simply asked Kargus to monitor the activists, and that the consultants had exceeded their remit.

However, Justice Isabelle Prevost-Desprez disagreed, handing three-year sentences to Pascal Durieux and Pierre-Paul Francois, head and deputy head of EDF's nuclear security operation.
Thierry Lorho, then head of Kargus, also received three years, and information specialist Alain Quiros two years.

The court also awarded Greenpeace 500,000 Euros (£428,000) in damages.

The verdict came on the day that thousands of EDF customers in the UK faced price hikes averaging over 15 per cent for gas.

Taxi operators asked to consider new fares

North Ayrshire Council, in its role as the local Licensing Authority, is to carry out the first review of taxi fares in eighteen-months.

Councillors on the local authority’s Licensing Committee will this week be told the deadline for carrying out a review of fares charged by local taxi operators is fast approaching.  To assist the Committee, Council officials are in the process of compiling a comparison of fares charged in adjoining council areas, such as East Ayrshire and Inverclyde.

In a report to be considered at this week’s meeting, North Ayrshire’s Assistant Chief Executive, Mr Ian Mackay, says, “It has been the Committee's view in the past that although Taxi Operators' Associations exist within North Ayrshire, these may not be wholly representative. Accordingly it has always been the practice to notify each individual operator of the review and invite them to attend a meeting with the Committee to discuss any proposals.”

Mr Mackay adds, “It should be noted that the fares approved by the Committee are maximum fares which may be charged and it is open to operators to discount these rates if they so wish. It is therefore suggested that no decisions be made with regard to possible increases until such time as operators have presented their case to the Committee.”
Once the Committee has met with taxi operators and approved a draft tariff, the proposed new fares will be advertised in certain sections of the local press, with the public given a month to submit responses to the Council.

New fares will not be in place until March of next year.

Ian Mackay concludes his report for councillors by stating, “The taxi fare structure has substantial implications for both the trade and the community. In addition, legal costs to the Licensing Authority may arise if the fare review becomes subject to an appeal to the Traffic Commissioner.”

MP's anger over use of tax havens

Katy Clark, MP for North Ayrshire & Arran, is supporting a campaign to end tax haven secrecy.

Ms Clark has hit out at multinational companies who avoid paying billions-of-pounds worth of tax to developing countries, depriving them of money that is rightfully theirs.  Christian Aid estimates that some $160billion is lost each year through unscrupulous multinational companies using tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of tax.  At a meeting of the G20 countries in 2009, world leaders agreed to act on getting greater transparency in tax havens, but the developing world has yet to see the benefits.  

Speaking to the3towns, Katy Clark said, “Action Aid estimates that Zambia receives less money in aid from the UK Government than it loses through tax avoidance by one mining company, Glencore.  In order to tackle global poverty the G20 should commit to greater transparency of multinational companies and clear up the loopholes that allow money desperately needed by the developing world to be diverted into the hands of secretive multinational companies.”

Ms Clark concluded, “I have received many representations from constituents on this matter in support of the Christian Aid campaign and sincerely hope that world leaders will commit to clearing up this practice so developing countries can get the money that is rightfully theirs.”

Weekly NHS-Council health checks

NHS Ayrshire & Arran’s Health Promotion team has joined forces with North Ayrshire Council’s Consumer Advice Shop to promote a new initiative - Health, Employment, Lifestyle and Prevention (HELP).

Members of the public recently received a free health check at a promotional event held in the Council’s Community Advice Shop at the Bridgegate in Irvine.  Fullarton Wheelers, a local cycling club, took along their TACX Virtual Reality Turbo Trainer to encourage people to take up cycling and give them a taste of what it is like to ride a road bike.

The sessions cover different topics each week and range from advice on healthy eating to money matters, to advice on sexual health.  Eye examinations and health checks are also available.

Anyone interested in the HELP health check sessions is encouraged to pop into the North Ayrshire Council Trading Standards office at the Bridgegate – between Irvine Cross and the Rivergate Shopping Mall - on Wednesdays.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Allegations of 'female abuse' by SNP MSP

The behaviour of Cunninghame North MSP Kenneth Gibson was last week cited as leaving the SNP vulnerable as it pursued Labour MP Ian Davidson over accusations he verbally abused and bullied a female SNP MP.

Glasgow South MP Mr Davidson is accused of telling the SNP’s Eilidh Whiteford that she would “get a doing” if confidential Select Committee discussions were subsequently leaked to the press.  Ms Whiteford reported the matter to Westminster authorities and has since resigned from the Scottish Affairs Select Committee.  Ian Davidson issued an apology “for any offence that might have been caused”.

However, it has been revealed that an SNP activist, Ms Gail Lythgoe, wife of Nationalist MSP Humza Yousaf, has been attempting to enlist the support of Women’s Groups in a public protest to force Davidson’s resignation as convener of the Select Committee.  It is this move that has led to criticism of Kenneth Gibson’s behaviour towards women.

Award-winning journalist and broadcaster Dorothy-Grace Elder, herself a former SNP MSP, said “Allegations of bullying of women leave the SNP vulnerable to past history.”

Writing in the Daily Express, Ms Elder continued, “Gail Lythgoe’s attempt to hike up ‘Doing-Gate’is dangerous territory [and] Ms Whiteford is on sticky ground if she knows the dark side of her own party over bullying claims.”

Dorothy-Grace Elder then referred to incidents that happened while she served as an SNP MSP: “I protested behind the scenes over two allegations of female abuse by SNP MSP Kenny Gibson, which had appeared in two newspapers involving two women.   One was a disabled SNP activist who quit the party claiming she was pushed while on crutches. The other story accused the same MSP of verbal abuse, which allegedly left a female Parliament security officer in tears.”

Ms Elder explained that she asked the SNP group to hold an enquiry into the allegations, but this was refused by party bosses.  Shockingly, rather than even investigate the complaints against Kenneth Gibson, the SNP Group threatened to take action against Dorothy-Grace Elder for going outside the party and taking advice from a women’s organisation on male bullying in politics.

The SNP took no action against Kenneth Gibson over the allegation he had pushed a woman on crutches, despite there being witnesses to the alleged incident.  The woman subsequently quit the party. 

Gibson, who at the time represented Glasgow, apologised for verbally abusing the female member of parliament’s security staff.

Dorothy-Grace Elder said the SNP’s Chief Whip at the time, Bruce Crawford, now a Government Minister, told her she could face disciplinary action for asking a women’s group for advice, even privately.

Then SNP leader, John Swinney, now Scotland’s Finance Secretary, later demanded Ms Elder resign from the Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee, despite the fact she was assisting a nationwide group campaigning on the issue of chronic pain.  Dorothy-Grace Elder “refused to be bullied” off the Health Committee and, instead, resigned from the SNP.

Report says Ardrossan Castle is 'unsafe'

An investigation by a firm of architectural consultants has found that Ardrossan Castle is unsafe.

Robert Potter & Sons, accredited by Historic Scotland, were employed by North Ayrshire Council to carry out a survey of the castle ruins at the Cannon Hill, and their findings have led to the area being sealed-off to prevent public access.

A report going before local councillors at this week’s meeting of the Three Towns & Arran Area Committee refers to “high and medium priority works which require to be carried out” at the castle, and states, “measures must be taken to prevent access, in the interests of public safety”.

The Council report, in the name of Corporate Director Carol Kirk, records that surveyors found “significant work is required at Ardrossan Castle to make the historic structure safe.”  Ms Kirk advises councillors that “members of the public have been advised not to access Ardrossan Castle due to the safety issues arising from the survey of the castle, namely: the Health and Safety risk to the public posed by loose and falling masonry and trip hazards; the risk of further damage and deterioration through further vandalism or children climbing or playing on the structure; [and] the risk of partial-collapse and loss of the structure through structural weakness.”

The Corporate Director details measures already taken by the Council following the surveyors’ report, such as the erection of “new bold signage...to warn the public, and the open cellar void areas have been re-secured by steel grills to prevent entry.”

Ms Kirk says the Council’s Infrastructure and Design Service is currently investigating options for the erection of fencing to further prevent access to the area around the castle, but that “site and ground conditions make this extremely difficult to effect”.

The Council has also extended the contract of the architectural consultants to include identifying the exact nature of works required to make-safe the castle ruins, and produce costs for the repairs.

Said Ms Kirk, “Further consideration is being given...to ensure longer term stability of the ruins and these will be taken forward once clarification has been received from the engineers and a budget identified.”

Anger as Out of School Care is cut

Yet another example of how Government and Council cuts are hitting home locally was revealed this week as parents began to receive letters informing them Out of School Care Services will close by March of next year.

The move, being carried out as a cost-cutting measure by Labour-controlled North Ayrshire Council, means the loss of care for children whose parent or parents work and who have no other family member who can look after them between the end of the school day and the conclusion of the normal working day.

A furious parent who spoke to the3towns said, “I am totally disgusted to have received a letter informing me that the remaining Out of School Care Services will be closed on 30th March 2011.

“My two children attend Stanley Out of School care, which has been running for 26 years.  The service is fantastic and the ladies are wonderful with the children.  To me and many other parents this service is a lifeline.  It enables me to go out to work, as I do not have extended family who can do this for me.”

The local woman continued, “What angers me most is that the Council, MPs and MSPs go on about getting people back out to work in the area, encouraging people to come and live in the area and put money back into the local economy.  What a joke.  So, should I be giving up my job now and going onto benefits and getting everything paid for me?”

The young mum concluded by praising the workers who presently provide the Out of School Care Service, saying, “They are skilled and talented people but they are now facing unemployment - more unemployment for North Ayrshire.”

At North Ayrshire Council’s Budget meeting last February, Ardrossan & Arran Independent councillor John Hunter spoke against cutting the Out of School Care Service.  He and fellow Independent Ronnie McNicol (Saltcoats & Stevenston) then voted against the cut and ultimately recorded their dissention to the Labour administration’s cost-cutting budget. 

At the same meeting, Ardrossan & Arran SNP councillor Tony Gurney moved an amendment to throw-out the budget, but this was defeated in a vote.

Speaking to the3towns, John Hunter said, “This is one of the cuts that hits people where it hurts.  Out of School Care is vital for many people who, if it is not there, might have to give up their jobs.  That has a knock-on effect in terms of reduced taxes collected and increased benefits payments.”

Cllr Hunter indicated he would “do whatever I can to help secure alternative provision for the children and parents who rely on the service”.

Future still uncertain for public halls and libraries

A Working Group set up by North Ayrshire Council to look at the future provision of community halls and libraries will make its initial report this week, and seems to be edging towards a position where the local authority withdraws from operating such facilities.

The Group was established after councillors threw-out an expensive report commissioned from a firm of private consultants, which concluded that most community halls should be handed over to a voluntary body established by the North Ayrshire Federation of Community Associations (NAFCA).  However, SNP councillors and local Independents John Hunter and Ronnie McNicol declined to be represented on the Working Group, on the basis that they believe the best option for the future of community halls and libraries is for them to remain owned and operated by the Council.

In its initial report, which will be presented to councillors on the local authority’s ruling Labour Executive this week, the Working Group recommends that formal negotiations are entered into with Fairlie Community Association in relation to transferring to them the operation and management of the local Village Hall and library, and with the Woodwynd Community Association in Kilwinning, with regard to transfer of the operation and management of Woodwynd Hall and associated outdoor facilities.

A further recommendation states additional discussions should be held with NAFCA “on the potential for asset transfer” to the voluntary body.

A report for the Labour Executive, written by Ms Carol Kirk, Corporate Director – Education & Skills, explains that a Development Trust set up by NAFCA had “suggested a number of facilities where they would wish to discuss the future management opportunities with the Council”, and that “the group indicated it would benefit from further discussions and clarification of information, officer support and property details to enable them to confirm its proposals.”

According to Ms Kirk, “The Working Group recognised the position of NAFCA and agreed that more detailed work would be required before a firm proposal can be brought to the Executive.”

The Corporate Director added that the Working Group also recognised “the success of the proposals to transfer the management and operation of local facilities to local community based groups would require a level of financial and professional support.  While the levels of support have not been quantified at this stage, that will come from the next and more detailed negotiations, it is worth noting that there could be financial implications or a need to reallocate current resources. It was also noted that any significant changes proposed for library services would require consultation with the local users and public.”

The Working Group comprises Cllr Peter McNamara (Labour), Cllr Andrew Chamberlain (Liberal Democrat), Cllr Jean Highgate (Independent), and Cllr Pat McPhee (Conservative), assisted by the Council’s Head of Community and Culture, the Information and Culture Manager and the Community Development Manager.