Saturday, 25 February 2012

More concerns over lack of harbour maintenance

New concerns were raised this week over the lack of maintenance at Ardrossan Harbour.

The fresh issues relate to a prominent area of the ‘regenerated’ marina development and to the zone marked for expansion of the yachting enterprise.  Previously, the3towns has highlighted serious concerns over a breach in the seawall and a gaping hole in the breakwater.

The above photos show serious damage to what was formerly the ‘tanker berth’ at Ardrossan Harbour, and a patch-up job to repair damaged paving at a landscaped part of the marina.  The tanker berth is earmarked as the next phase for an expansion of the marina and additional housing.  North Ayrshire Council is currently considering a planning application from the Irvine Bay Regeneration Company in relation to this area of the harbour.  However, the extent of damage to sea defences at this point suggests major works will be required to prevent further erosion prior to any development.

In addition, two areas of block-paving on the pier next to housing in Mariners View, which were damaged during storms that lashed the Ayrshire coast last December, have been filled with loose stones, rather than being properly repaired.  An Ardrossan man who spoke to the3towns at the time the above photos were taken said, “It’s just par for the course.  It’s make do and mend here.  Clydeport [owners of the harbour] is only interested in making money.  If it involves them spending money, they don’t want to know.”

The man continued, “Look at the state of the block-paving.  This is supposed to be the jewel in Ardrossan’s crown – the yachting marina and luxury housing – but they just dump a load of stones into the holes and leave it.  What does that say to visitors?”

Last week the3towns reported the concerns of Ardrossan’s Independent councillor John Hunter in relation to the nearby site of the former Shell refinery.  Cllr Hunter branded the area the Three Towns’ biggest “derelict site”, adding that recent works to decontaminate the soil had left it “looking like a wasteland.”

John Hunter indicated he hoped to organise a meeting of local residents once he had taken-up their concerns with the Irvine Bay Regeneration Company.  “Local people are right to be concerned about the site,” said the councillor.  “I intend to find out from Irvine Bay why the area has been left in its current condition, and what the company intends to do with it now.  We know the long-term plan involves a housing development, but how long do Irvine Bay think it’s appropriate to leave a massive derelict site on Ardrossan’s shorefront?”

Labour councillors refuse to back 'living wage' for school cleaners

Two local councillors will this week present a Motion to North Ayrshire Council backing a trade union’s call for school cleaners to receive the same ‘living wage’ as Council employees. 

The Motion by SNP councillor Tony Gurney, seconded by Independent John Hunter, calls on the Council, “using all means available to it, to encourage all suppliers and local employers to adopt the living wage as a matter of urgency and instructs officers to investigate and implement those means immediately.”

Presently, all staff employed directly by North Ayrshire Council receive a recognised ‘living wage’ of at least £7.20 per hour.  However, when the Labour administration of the local authority signed-up to its controversial Schools PPP Project, staff at four schools, including St Matthews Academy in Saltcoats and Stanley Primary in Ardrossan, were transferred into the employment of private facilities management company MITIE.  As the3towns has previously reported, MITIE refuses to pay the ‘living wage’, which has resulted in cleaners receiving just £6.10 an hour.

The GMB trade union has called for wage parity between Council-employed cleaners and those doing the same job in schools now run by MITIE.  Paul Arkison, a full-time official with the union, said, “It is time for this company to start investing.  I believe MITIE are making significant profit from this contract and it is shameful they are failing to pay their staff the living wage of £7.20 an hour.  They are more interested in profiteering than making an investment in their workforce.”

The GMB has asked politicians to sign a petition backing cleaners at St Matthews, Stanley and the other two schools built under the PPP contract, Arran High School and Greenwood Academy in Dreghorn.  the3towns understands seven of the SNP’s eight councillors have signed the petition – one member, Largs councillor Bobby Rae, is on long-term sick leave – but so far no Labour councillors have supported the call for MITIE to pay the living wage.

Commenting, Cllr Tony Gurney told the3towns, “I was proud to sign the GMB's petition and not a little shocked to find that no one from the Labour Party on the council supported this campaign.  People should be paid a wage that allows them to create a sustainable life for themselves and their families, and it is unfortunate that not all councillors support this basic human right.”

Cllr Gurney indicated his Motion to Wednesday’s (February 22) Council meeting would provide Labour councillors with another opportunity to support cleaners in MITIE-run schools.  However, a source within the Council’s Labour Group told the3towns his party would not sign the GMB petition or support Cllr Gurney’s Motion because doing so could impact on any future contracts or tenders entered into by the Labour administration.

The full text of the Motion by Tony Gurney, seconded by John Hunter, reads:

North Ayrshire Council has rightly implemented the living wage for all its employees. This decision was taken to ensure that all employees have a chance at creating a sustainable life for themselves and their families. Indeed North Ayrshire Council's written evidence to a parliamentary committee states:  "The council's decision to introduce the Living Wage is to both help stimulate the local economy, and to be in a position to lead by example in order to influence the larger employers within the area to follow suit to also implement the Living Wage concept.
It is time to stand by those words.

Many employers used by the council, including those employed to run the four PPP schools, have refused to implement the living wage for their employees. This is an invidious position and one which this Council cannot tolerate without challenge.

This Council therefore resolves, using all means available to it, to encourage all suppliers and local employers to adopt the living wage as a matter of urgency and instructs officers to investigate and implement those means immediately.

John Hunter to seek re-election

One of North Ayrshire’s hardest-working councillors has confirmed he will seek re-election in May.

Independent John Hunter will again contest the Ardrossan & Arran seat.  Cllr Hunter told the3towns, “It has been a great honour to serve the people of Ardrossan and Arran over the past five years.  I believe that I have served with diligence and always with the best interests of both communities at heart.”

Mr Hunter, a retired university lecturer, acknowledged much remained to be done in both Ardrossan and Arran, which was partly why he had decided to seek a second term in elected office.  “There have also been some significant achievements over the past five years,” said Cllr Hunter.  “I helped repatriate money from Ardrossan Windfarm, securing funding for Ardrossan that the Council’s Labour administration wanted to spend elsewhere in the district.  More recently, I proposed and secured a commitment to extend the Community Warden service to the south of the town, and also backed the removal of charges imposed by the Council for special uplifts of household items.”

In addition to representing his constituents, John Hunter has also served as Convener of the Council’s influential Scrutiny Committee, which has initiated a number of investigations into decisions taken by the ruling Labour Executive.  Said Cllr Hunter, “As the record will show, I have been relentless in holding the administration to account, with many questions and motions to the Executive and relevant portfolio holders.  It is also the case that the actions of officers need to be scrutinised and challenged on occasion, and I have done so when that is necessary.”

At John Hunter’s instigation the Scrutiny Committee has recently agreed to launch a far-reaching investigation into ‘rogue landlords’ responsible for poorly-maintained properties in local towns.  The probe is also expected to look at property developers who do nothing to clean up undeveloped sites and derelict properties.

John Hunter said, “The regeneration of Ardrossan is obviously something I care passionately about and I have worked through the North Ayrshire Ventures Trust and North Ayrshire Ventures Limited to ensure that investment and jobs come to the ward.  In addition, I have been vigilant with respect to Irvine Bay’s regeneration plans to ensure that developments in the town are appropriate and help to bring jobs and prosperity. 

“I am particularly pleased that after long, and at times difficult, negotiations the long-awaited new health centre for Ardrossan is at the final stages of approval. I will be exerting pressure for the launch of a new development to incorporate the old Customs House facade.  This will enhance the location around the new health centre, while preserving some vestige of the town’s industrial past.”

Cllr Hunter concluded, “The greatest satisfaction I have had over the past five years is helping the public by working to resolve a broad range of issues.  I would like to thank all those who have given me support and encouragement and if I am re-elected I can assure them and all constituents that I will continue to fight on their behalf.”

Ardrossan meeting for SSP youth employment campaign

The Scottish Socialist Party is to hold a public meeting in Ardrossan as part of its campaign demanding government action to tackle youth unemployment.

The meeting, to be held in the town’s Civic Centre on Tuesday, February 28, will be addressed by former MSP Campbell Martin, a young employee of North Ayrshire Council, and one of the many young people struggling to find work in the local area.

The SSP intends to mount a demonstration, on the subject of tackling youth unemployment in North Ayrshire, when Prime Minister David Cameron arrives in Troon on March 24 for the Scottish Tories’ Spring Conference.  Commenting, Campbell Martin said, “Thatcher wasted the lives of an entire generation of young people by introducing policies that decimated entire industries and led to mass unemployment in the 1980s.  Now, the Tories are back and the savage cuts they and the Lib Dems are imposing on public spending are resulting in young people again facing a bleak future.”

Mr Martin continued, “The SSP is saying there must not be another wasted generation.  We, as a society, owe it to our children and grandchildren to provide hope and opportunity for the future, but right now, for so many young people, all they can see is the dole queue and eking out an existence on inadequate state benefits.

“No-one grows up wanting to waste their lives on the buroo, but with thousands of jobs being lost across the country and the SNP Scottish Government reducing funding for college courses, that’s exactly the life to which politicians are condemning our young people.”

Latest UK Government figures show there are now 105,000 young people (aged 18-24) without work in Scotland.  In North Ayrshire the figure stands at 1,570.  Campbell Martin, who will contest the Ardrossan & Arran seat for the SSP at May’s North Ayrshire Council Election, believes the true figure will be even higher.  “The official figures don’t include young people shunted onto courses with no vocational or educational outcome.  Hundreds, probably thousands of young people are removed from unemployment figures through this method.  They are forced onto ‘work experience’ where, in many cases, no learning is provided and they find themselves used as cheap labour.”

Of the Prime Minister’s forthcoming visit, Mr Martin said, “He has the barefaced cheek to breeze into Ayrshire, where his government of millionaires has helped create the worst levels of poverty and unemployment in Scotland – with over 1,500 North Ayrshire young people currently thrown onto the scrapheap.  Well, the SSP intends to give Mr Cameron a very, very warm welcome.”

The Scottish Socialist Party’s policy is for all young Scots to have access to a well-paid job, productive training or an education grant.  Said Campbell Martin, “A modest 10 per cent wealth tax on just the richest 1,000 fat-cats would fund 1.4million new jobs – paying a salary of £25,000 a year.  Also, if workers weren’t bullied and terrified into working unpaid overtime, at least another million jobs could be created.

“It’s time to fight back for our children’s future.  I would urge everyone to come along to the public meeting on February 28 and to join the fight against the Tories’ plans for another wasted generation.”

The SSP public meeting on February 28 begins at 7:30pm.

North Ayrshire: still Scotland's highest unemployment

North Ayrshire has retained its unwanted title as Scotland’s worst unemployment black spot.

Figures for January, issued by the Office for National Statistics, show the number of local people out of work and claiming Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) now stands at 6.3 per cent, compared with 4.1 per cent for Scotland as a whole.  The North Ayrshire total has reached 5,368 – with 1,110 people having been out of work for over a year.

Worryingly, there are now 1,570 local young people (between the ages of 18 and 24) without work and claiming JSA.

Other areas of the country blighted by soaring unemployment are also located in west-central Scotland: West Dunbartonhire – 6.2 per cent; East Ayrshire – 6 per cent; Glasgow 5.7 per cent; North Lanarkshire 5.5 per cent.  The lowest unemployment is in Aberdeenshire, which has a rate of 1.4 per cent.

Other figures released last week show North Ayrshire is lagging behind in terms of wage levels.  The median hourly pay for full-time male staff in the local area is £12.34, while the figure for Scotland is £12.44 and for the UK it is £13.32.  The median pay for full-time female staff in North Ayrshire comes in at £11.34, compared with £11.88 for Scotland and £11.95 for the UK.

According to the official unemployment figures, there are now 231,000 people without work in Scotland.

Scotland Office Minister David Mundell, the only Tory MP in Scotland, described the figures as “disappointing”.

Murder investigation: police search West Kilbride field

Police investigating the abduction and murder of financial adviser Lynda Spence have carried out a search of a field and a disused well in the area of West Kilbride’s Law Hill.

Ms Spence, 28, has not been seen since April of last year when she left her parents' house in Glasgow Harbour.

Last November the3towns reported a sense of shock gripping local communities after four men were arrested following a police search of a property in Meadowfoot Road, West Kilbride.  The men - Paul Smith, 45, from Largs, Colin Coates, 41, from Glasgow, Philip Wade, 40, from Glengarnock, and David Parker, 36, from West Kilbride - were charged with abduction, assault, murder and attempting to defeat the ends of justice.  All four subsequently appeared at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court, where it was alleged that, over a two-week period, they assaulted Ms Spence by cutting off her fingers and a thumb, striking her with a golf club, scalding her with an iron and failed to seek medical attention before killing her and disposing of the body.  None of the four made any plea or declaration and all were remanded in custody.

A spokesperson for Strathclyde Police this week confirmed the force was searching a field in the Law Hill area of West Kilbride as part of the Lynda Spence murder inquiry, but indicated, “As proceedings are live in this case no further comment will be made.”

Council opposes boundary changes

A report going before this week’s meeting of North Ayrshire Council reveals the local authority is opposed to boundary changes proposed for the Westminster parliamentary constituencies of North Ayrshire & Arran and Central Ayrshire.

Following consideration of the Boundary Commission’s proposals, councillors agreed to “support the retention of the existing Ayrshire constituencies, with such minor revisions to boundaries as are required to bring the existing Central Ayrshire constituency up to the minimum electorate threshold”.  On behalf of elected members, Council Chief Executive Elma Murray also invited East and South Ayrshire Councils to support the terms of North Ayrshire’s response.

As revealed by the3towns last October, the Boundary Commission for Scotland proposed major changes to the North Ayrshire & Arran constituency, currently represented by Labour’s Katy Clark.  In the proposals, Irvine and Kilwinning would be added to the present seat – Ardrossan, Saltcoats, Stevenston and the Isle of Arran would remain – but West Kilbride, Fairlie, Largs, Skelmorlie, Dalry, Beith and Kilbirnie would be transferred into a new constituency to be called Renfrewshire South & Largs.  Local towns moving out of the North Ayrshire & Arran constituency would find themselves sharing an MP with Renfrewshire’s Elderslie, Kilbarchan, Bridge of Weir, Lochwinnoch, Howwood and Linwood.

With the Boundary Commission’s initial consultation period now closed, North Ayrshire’s councillors will this week hear that around 500 comments and representations were submitted to the regulatory body.  The Commission will now embark on a second consultation period, during which it will use its web site to publish all initial representations, as well as transcripts of five Public Hearings held around Scotland during November 2011.  Interested parties will be able to submit remarks, which will also be considered in relation to proposed changes.

The second consultation period will run for four weeks, between March 1 and March 28.  Following this, revised proposals may be published and these would be open to another consultation period of eight weeks.  The Boundary Commission expects to announce its final recommendations by October 2013.  Proposals would then go before the Westminster Parliament for consideration.

Burgess backs Tourism Week

“Local tourism is about much more than golf.”  That was the view of MSP Margaret Burgess as she signed-up to Scottish Tourism week.

The SNP MSP for Cunninghame South said, “Scottish Tourism Week is now in its seventh year.  It provides an opportunity to showcase the importance of the industry to Scotland but also for us to highlight what North Ayrshire has to offer.”

Mrs Burgess reflected on the high number of visitors who come to Ayrshire for golf, saying, “Yes, we have some of the best courses in world with first class facilities offering great value for money, but we also have so much more.

“We have the Scottish Maritime Museum, Eglinton Park, and in terms of heritage and cultural tourism, Irvine, Kilwinning and Stevenston can also boast powerful Robert Burns’ connections.”

Margaret Burgess signed-up to Tourism Week during a reception at the Scottish Parliament.  The MSP noted, “Across Scotland, tourism contributes £11billion to the Scottish economy and employs over 220,000 people – it is a vital industry in my constituency.”

Scottish Tourism Week was initiated by the Scottish Tourism Forum in 2006 to raise the profile of the industry's importance to the Scottish economy, to encourage business networking and to bring together the public, private and elected sector towards a positive single agenda.  This year’s Tourism Week will run from March 6 to 13.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Regeneration area branded 'derelict site'

The former Shell refinery in Ardrossan has been branded “the Three Towns’ biggest derelict site” by a local councillor.

Independent John Hunter spoke out after residents who live close to the shorefront site raised concerns over the way the land has been left after the conclusion of an eleven-month ‘decontamination’ project.  Cllr Hunter said, “Understandably, local people want to know what is going on with the former Shell site.  The land is supposed to have been decontaminated but the boundary fence has new signs fixed to it warning of contaminated land.”

John Hunter met last week with residents of the North Shore area of Ardrossan, and has promised to raise their concerns with the Irvine Bay Regeneration Company, the organisation behind the regeneration project that includes the Shell site.  “Decontamination work seems to have come to a halt,” said Cllr Hunter, “but the site has been left looking like a wasteland.”

The Ardrossan & Arran councillor continued, “Irvine Bay has been tasked with regenerating the area, but in the land at the Shell they are currently sitting on the Three Towns’ biggest derelict site.”  Cllr Hunter indicated to the3towns that he hopes to be able to organise a meeting of local residents once he has taken-up their concerns with Irvine Bay.  “Local people are right to be concerned about the Shell site,” said the councillor, adding, “I intend to find out from Irvine Bay why the area has been left in its current condition, and what the company intends to do with it now.  We know the long-term plan involves a housing development, but how long do Irvine Bay think it’s appropriate to leave a massive derelict site on Ardrossan’s shorefront?”

As previously reported by the3towns, the Irvine Bay Regeneration Company - a private enterprise funded by public money – revealed plans for the shell site to form part of “a major create new commercial space, develop new homes and extend the existing successful marina.”  The company indicated the full project would cost in the region of £70million.

the3towns understands Irvine Bay forked-out more than £6million of public money to acquire the site, and agreed to take on liability for the clean up, which is believed to have cost a further £2.6million.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation show that Irvine Bay received £17.4million of public funding between 2006, when it was created, and 2010. In those four years the company generated just £1.4million of private investment, despite having a target of £80million.

Of the public money spent by Irvine Bay, around £900,000 went on renovating and extending the former Royal Bank of Scotland building in Ardrossan’s Princes Street.  This was on top of the £50,000 spent to buy the property.

Irvine Bay has also spent more than £6million of public money acquiring derelict buildings and land, including £543,000 to buy the former Grange Bingo in Stevenston, which is now a supermarket.

In addition, the documents secured under Freedom of Information legislation show that, in the four years since its creation in 2006, Irvine Bay had created just 46 jobs, barely 2 per cent of its target of 2,640 by 2020.  Around 120 construction jobs have been generated against a target of 2,790.

SSP condemn joint Labour-SNP cuts plan

Just days after councillors from all parties on North Ayrshire Council passed a budget that will slash £23million from services to local communities, the leaders of Labour and the SNP on the Council have united to call for help in implementing a restructuring exercise designed to produce more ‘efficiency savings’ or cuts.

Cllr David O’Neill, Labour Leader of the Council, and his SNP counterpart, Cllr Matthew Brown, were jointly quoted in the national media asking the SNP Scottish Government to take a lead and show them how to amalgamate services across local authority boundaries, a move that, when implemented elsewhere, has led to staff redundancies and cuts to services.

The SNP’s Cllr Brown said, “If we wait for things to happen organically we'll be dead. The Scottish Government needs to publish a set of principles in terms of how and where reform should take place. They will have to be in contact with local government to see progress one way or another.”

Labour’s Cllr O’Neill was even clearer about what was being proposed, saying, “I'll not be surprised if after May's election there will be no more 'softly softly'.  Any change is going to require courage to deliver because people will have things taken away from them.”

Reacting to Labour and the SNP joining forces for more cuts, the Scottish Socialist Party’s Campbell Martin said, “Everyone who attended last week’s Council budget meeting saw there was little difference between Labour and the SNP, they both supported cuts to services and jobs.  Now they are not even pretending to be different.  The united comments from David O’Neill and Matthew Brown show that if local people vote for Labour or the SNP at May’s Council Election, both parties will slash services even more.”

Mr Martin, who will contest the Ardrossan & Arran seat for the SSP at the Council Election, added, “Amalgamating services across Council boundaries and taking them even further away from North Ayrshire communities will not improve the actual service received by local people.  Like the Tory-Lib Dem Government in London, Labour and the SNP on North Ayrshire Council are content to punish local communities by reducing the funding needed to provide quality services, and all to pay for bailing-out the spivs and speculators of the City of London.”

The Scottish Socialist Party lobbied and petitioned last week’s Council budget meeting, demanding councillors put first the interests of local people and refuse to implement more savage cuts to public spending and services.  Commenting on the latest cuts agenda of Labour and SNP councillors, Campbell Martin said, “The ‘United Front For More Cuts’ shown by North Ayrshire Council’s Labour and SNP leaders should be taken as a warning by local people.  Vote for either of these parties in May and they are determined to slash services even further. 

“At last week’s Council budget meeting, the SSP was the only party standing shoulder-to-shoulder with local people and opposing cuts to jobs and services.  At May’s Council Election we will also stand on a platform of ‘No Cuts’, unlike Labour, SNP, the Tories and Liberal Democrats whose only answer is to cut services more and more, and to punish local people in order to pay the debts of multi-millionaire bankers.  It’s the bankers who should be paying the debts, not the people of North Ayrshire.”

McNicol secures review of 'special uplift' charges

Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councillor Ronnie McNicol has secured a review of Council charges for ‘special uplifts’.

In 2010 the Labour-run local authority began charging householders £12.00 for uplifts of up to five items, with additional fees applied for collecting larger quantities.  However, as the3towns subsequently revealed, a Council report on the charges for special uplifts of household items, such as furniture and fridges, confirmed “the reduction in the number of service requests [for special uplifts] was significantly greater than anticipated”.  In the report, North Ayrshire’s Corporate Director (Finance and Infrastructure), Ms Laura Friel, said, “the introduction of charges was anticipated to realise annual income of £215,000,” but the actual amount raised was just £76,185.

At last week’s Council budget meeting, Ronnie McNicol said the introduction of charges had led to a noticeable increase in fly-tipping in the Three Towns, and revealed it was costing the local authority more to remove items illegally dumped than they were taking-in from charges for special uplifts.  Said Cllr McNicol, “Since it is apparent we are spending more cleaning up than we recover from special uplift charges, I propose the charges are removed.”

In response, Cllr David O’Neill, the Labour Leader of the Council, agreed to a review.  While falling short of the requested removal of charges, Ronnie McNicol indicated he would agree to the review, provided it was carried out soon.

Saltcoats & Stevenston SNP councillor Willie Gibson then asked that the review should also look at the local authority’s recently-introduced policy requiring local residents to be in possession of a ‘Waste Permit’ to use amenity sites, in certain circumstances.  Cllr Gibson raised concerns that the introduction of permits had also contributed to the increase in illegal dumping around the Three Towns.

For the Labour administration, Cllr O’Neill agreed the review should include the changes regarding dumping at Council-run amenity sites.

Gurney reveals multi-billion pound cost of PFI-PPP

Ardrossan & Arran SNP councillor Tony Gurney has revealed taxpayers are being forced to pay a total of £131.5billion for schools and hospitals worth barely a quarter of the sum.

The buildings, including four schools in North Ayrshire, were built using the discredited Public Finance Initiative (PFI), latterly known as Public Private Partnerships (PPP).  PFI schemes were introduced by the Conservative Government led by John Major and involved private consortia building and maintaining public facilities.  Once constructed, the buildings were leased to local authorities and health boards, with the public purse ending up paying over the odds for often poorly-built facilities.  Although the Labour Party opposed PFI while it was in opposition, once elected to government in 1997 the party rebranded the scheme as PPP and expanded the building programme, a move that has now led to taxpayers having to pay £131.5billion to a handful of large private companies.  Contracts oblige councils and health boards to pay PFI/PPP bills before committing funding to public services or staff costs.

Tony Gurney said, “For years governments and councils have been attempting to pass off these deals as being good for the public. It is now clear they were good for nothing, except lining the pockets of companies lucky enough to be awarded the contracts.

“In North Ayrshire, Labour councillors were warned the costs were astronomical and that the assets did not justify the prices paid.  It is like taking out a mortgage and not getting your house at the end. These warnings were ignored and the price is now being paid, in-part, by the massive service cuts being imposed by this Labour administration.”

the3towns recently reported the true cost of North Ayrshire Council’s Schools PPP Project could reach more than half-a-billion pounds for just four schools.

Initially, Labour councillors stated the North Ayrshire contract to employ a private developer to build and maintain four new schools would cost £80million.  The schools, including St Matthews Academy in Saltcoats and Stanley Primary in Ardrossan, were duly built, but the contract finally signed by NAC was for £380million.

At last week’s Council budget meeting, Ardrossan & Arran Independent councillor John Hunter revealed the cost of the PPP project is set to rise annually until its projected end in 2036-37, by which time the public purse will have paid around £548million.

De-selection of Labour councillor confirmed

A re-run candidate selection meeting has confirmed the decision to dump a long-serving Labour councillor.

Tom Barr, who currently represents the Irvine East ward and is the ruling Labour Executive’s Environment portfolio-holder, has now been officially de-selected and will not be a Labour candidate at May’s Council Election.

At the party’s original selection meeting, members chose three candidates for the Irvine East seat – former MSP Irene Oldfather, her former election agent John Easdale and David Logan, a former shop steward’s convener at the GlaxoSmithKline chemical plant.  However, sitting councillor Tom Barr appealed the decision on the basis that Mrs Oldfather, having already been selected, then took part in the vote that de-selected Mr Barr, a move that contravened Labour Party rules.

Tom Barr’s appeal was upheld by the party, but the3towns understands that at a second selection meeting, held last week, the same decision was reached, confirming the three Labour candidates for Irvine East as Mrs Oldfather, Mr Easdale and Mr Logan.

A source close to Tom Barr told the3towns the long-serving councillor may now consider standing as an Independent in May.  Mr Barr was first elected in 1992 and was returned by his constituents at every Council Election since.

The decision to ditch Tom Barr comes in the week when a number of sitting but de-selected Labour councillors in Glasgow announced their resignations from the party and their intention to stand as Independents on May 3rd.  One other Glasgow Labour councillor dumped by the party has joined the SNP.

The Irvine East seat will also be contested by Denise Morton of the Scottish Socialist Party.

North Ayrshire road link to be upgraded

Cunninghame South MSP Margaret Burgess has welcomed the Scottish budget passed last week by the SNP Government.

In particular, Mrs Burgess flagged-up an investment of £72million in roads projects that will see commencement of the long-awaited Dalry by-pass on the A737.  The local MSP said, “After many years of Labour Party inaction, followed by doom-laden scaremongering, it’s an SNP Government that has given the go-ahead for the Dalry by-pass.” 

Mrs Burgess continued, “The A737 has been seen as the key infrastructure project to open up job-creating investment and development opportunities in North Ayrshire – and this SNP Government has made a start on it.”

Addressing comments to political opponents in the Labour Party, Margaret Burgess said, “Maybe Labour will praise the announcement – although they’ve never found it hard to sprinkle some misery and moaning into any good news story.”  The previous Labour-led Scottish Government had promised to upgrade the A737 around Dalry to make it easier for North Ayrshire residents to connect with the M8 and the national motorway system, but the party failed to deliver in its eight years in power.

Mrs Burgess highlighted how a North Ayrshire-based Labour MSP, Mrs Margaret McDougall, had called for the upgrading of the A737, but voted against the budget containing funding for the project.  “Labour conjures up a wish-list,” said Margaret Burgess, “but when the SNP Scottish Government delivers, they still contrive to vote against the Budget.  It’s time to commend what this Scottish Government is doing for North Ayrshire and the rest of Scotland.”

MP condemns bankers' bonuses

Katy Clark, MP for North Ayrshire & Arran, has called on the UK Government to curb the bonus payments of executives and senior figures within the banking industry.  The Labour MP has also urged the Clydesdale Bank to protect jobs after the company’s Australian owners announced a strategic review of its UK operations.

Ms Clark’s comments came as Barclays Bank announced it was providing senior staff with a bonus pot of over £2billion this year.  Royal Bank of Scotland Chief Executive Stephen Hester recently came under intense pressure to decline a bonus of £963,000.

Katy Clark said, “Since taking office, the Tory-Lib Dem Government has repeatedly said it intends to take tough action against the banking industry.  Unfortunately, it has failed to act at every opportunity.   At a time when unemployment is rising and many are struggling financially, people are understandably angry that executives of banks are receiving bonuses of this kind.”

Ms Clark said the government should take a more interventionist approach to the banks, adding, “Legislation should be introduced that places significant restrictions on bonuses in the banking industry and ensures any remuneration is based on clear long-term achievements.”

With regard to the announcement by the Australian National Bank in relation to a strategic review of its Clydesdale Bank operations, Katy Clark said, “I am disappointed at the decision.  Staff at Clydesdale branches in my constituency will understandably be concerned for their futures.  I very much hope that when undertaking its review, Australian National Bank will prioritise the jobs of employees.”

Ms Clark concluded, “This is just the latest example of jobs being put at risk by the reckless economic course being pursued by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.  The Government should immediately enter into discussions with Australian National Bank and do everything it can to protect the jobs of workers in the UK.”

Three Towns to benefit from broadband initiative

The Three Towns will benefit from a ‘broadband action plan’ announced by the SNP Scottish Government.

‘Scotland’s Digital Future’ aims to deliver a world-class and future-proof digital infrastructure by 2020, with what is described as ‘a step change’ in 2015.

Local MSP Margaret Burgess welcomed the initiative, saying, “This plan also sets out the SNP Scottish Government’s intention to move forward at a rapid pace and to deliver a transformational change in the quality and coverage of internet and mobile access across Scotland.”

Reflecting on what this will mean for areas like the Three Towns, Mrs Burgess said, “It will enable more people to connect from their homes, at work and while on the move.

“It is important to increase digital participation rates, both for individuals and businesses. Increasing take-up is fundamental to the plan and to Scotland’s future.  If local government and the rest of the public sector take full advantage of the digital age, it will lead to productivity gains through more efficient and lower-cost provision of services.”

The SNP MSP for Cunninghame South concluded, “Overall, the plan is comprehensive, ambitious and realistic.”

Friday, 10 February 2012

Libyan war casualties in Saltcoats care home

the3towns can reveal Libyan nationals injured in the recent war that saw the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi are currently housed in a Saltcoats care home.

Arran View in Burns Avenue, which normally looks after elderly residents of local towns, is providing beds and recuperation facilities to ten Libyans.  Mr Kenny Valentine, a director of Bupa, which owns Arran View, told the3towns, “We are working with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to look after ten people from Libya who were injured during the recent conflict there.  Their treatment and care is being paid for by the Libyan Government and has been arranged by the Scottish Government.”

Mr Valentine said Bupa was proud to have been chosen to help with the rehabilitation and recovery of the Libyans, adding, “We wish them a speedy recovery so they can return to their families.”

The new residents of Arran View were brought to Scotland to receive specialist treatment from the NHS.  They were fitted with prosthetics after losing limbs during the recent armed conflict in Libya, in which Britain provided military support to rebels fighting forces of the Gaddafi regime.

For the SNP Scottish Government, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said, “It is right that we play our part in the UK effort by helping innocent casualties from the war in Libya where we can.

“Scotland offers excellent prosthetics care and we can now offer this quality of care to others who urgently need it.  All of the patients have suffered lower limb amputations and one is a bilateral amputee.”

It is understood the Libyan Embassy in London is funding the care of the ten people currently recuperating at Arran View.

Council passes £23m budget cuts

North Ayrshire Council has agreed a budget that will see £23million of cuts implemented over the next three years, with 167 staff losing their jobs.  The reduced expenditure and redundancies come on top of multi-million pound cuts already made in previous years, which resulted in 400 Council workers being paid off.

The local authority’s 30 councillors thrashed out the financial figures during a two-hour meeting last Wednesday, where genuine concern over the impact cuts would have on local services gave way to party-political point-scoring ahead of May’s Council Election. 

The Council Leader, Labour’s David O’Neill, opened the meeting by reflecting on “global financial challenges” that continue to impact on resources made available to local authorities.  Against that background, Cllr O’Neill said NAC faced “two major challenges – reduced funding and increased demand for services.”  The Labour man then went on to describe how his administration intended to proceed, which included slashing spending by £23million over three years, reducing the number of staff delivering services to local communities, and continuing to impose pay restraint on Council workers, in effect pay cuts over the next few years.

In response, Cllr Matthew Brown, Leader of the principal opposition group, the SNP, said Labour’s budget proposals were “Much ado about nothing...and lacked innovation and imagination”.

On behalf of the Three Towns Independent Group, Cllr John Hunter stated, “The budget may be well presented, but Cllr McNicol and I are not happy with the contents.”

However, Kilbirnie & Beith Independent Jean Highgate said the financial proposals were “the best we could manage in difficult times,” adding that, in the future, “decisions will have to be taken, even if they are unpopular.”  Cllr Highgate, who along with other Independents Margie Currie and Elizabeth McLardy normally supports the Labour administration, concluded by saying, “Times of plenty have well and truly gone.”

Ardrossan & Arran Independent John Hunter, seconded by the SNP’s Tony Gurney (also Ardrossan & Arran) successfully moved a Motion that secured an expanded Community Warden service for Ardrossan (reported separately). 

Ronnie McNicol (Independent) , seconded by Willie Gibson (SNP) managed to rescue Saltcoats Town Hall, with the Labour administration agreeing to commit an indicative sum of £1.9million to a refurbishment of the building, which the same Labour councillors closed in 2009 (also reported separately).

In addition, the SNP’s Willie Gibson led amendments to Labour proposals to slash the Education budget.  According to the SNP, “The Scottish Government gave North Ayrshire £906,000 for teachers, but Labour wanted to use this to repair a roof in Saltcoats, build a slipway in Largs and buy land in Irvine.”  The Nationalists argued this was a completely inappropriate use of funding and demanded the money be reinstated to provide “teachers [and] raise educational attainment.”

For the Labour administration, Cllr David O’Neill accepted the amendments moved by Cllr Gibson and agreed to return £147,000 to the schools budget.  Labour’s plan to cut £20,000 from the budget for special needs purchases was also dropped.

Cllr O’Neill concluded proceedings by thanking all councillors for their co-operation in setting and passing the budget.  However, Independent John Hunter later commented, “I don’t want his thanks.  Ronnie McNicol and I know this budget will cause real difficulty for some of the most vulnerable people in North Ayrshire.  I don’t see any grounds for councillors to be patting themselves on the back.”

Ahead of the budget meeting, activists from the North Ayrshire Branch of the Scottish Socialist Party lobbied the Council headquarters in Irvine, demanding councillors refuse to implement multi-million pound cuts that will inevitably have a further negative impact on services and jobs in local communities.

The SSP also presented a petition to the budget meeting, containing the signatures of 1,178 residents of North Ayrshire and demanding councillors set a ‘No Cuts’ defiance budget to fully meet the needs of local people.  However, the party was refused permission to address the meeting in support of the people and the petition’s aims.

Speaking after the meeting, Campbell Martin, SSP candidate for Ardrossan & Arran said, “The decisions taken by councillors will have devastating consequences for people and communities in North Ayrshire.  We already have the highest level of unemployment in Scotland, and the second-highest level of children growing up in severe poverty, yet councillors from all parties have decided to implement further cuts to jobs and services.”

Mr Martin added, “The SSP is the only political party on the side of the people.  We were at the budget meeting to argue the case for demanding central government in London and Edinburgh returns to North Ayrshire the millions of pounds they have stolen from budgets over recent years.  We asked councillors to put local people first and to set a budget that meets the needs of North Ayrshire communities, but they weren’t even prepared to listen.  They couldn’t care less about how people are suffering.”

Concluding, the former MSP said, “The councillors who voted to implement another £23million of cuts have turned their backs on the people that elected them.  They’ve put implementing Tory-Lib Dem and SNP cuts before the needs and interests of local communities.”