Saturday, 28 April 2012

Local man jailed in Israel

A 60 year-old Irvine man is on hunger strike in an Israeli jail.

Jim Henry, originally from Saltcoats, was arrested last Sunday at Tel Aviv airport after flying in from Manchester as part of an international initiative aimed at raising awareness of the plight of Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza.

As the3towns revealed last week, the ‘Welcome to Palestine 2012’ initiative saw people from around the world attempt to visit Bethlehem in order to meet with Palestinians currently living under Israeli rule.  Israel enforces a blockade of Gaza and the West Bank, which restricts the movement of Palestinians and blocks vital supplies, including medicines, from reaching the areas.  In addition, the State of Israel continues to sanction the establishment of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land.

Ahead of last Sunday’s flights, Israel controversially issued airlines with a ‘black list’ of names, requiring that those on the list be refused permission to board aircraft bound for Tel Aviv.  A number of Scots, including Mick Napier of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, were turned away from a flight scheduled to leave Manchester.  However, Jim Henry and four others were not on the Israeli list and were allowed to board.

the3towns understands the five Scots were arrested at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion  airport after telling immigration officials they wished to visit Palestine.  No offence had been committed, but Israel's public security minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch described the arrival of Scots and other pro-Palestinian travellers as “a provocation [that] will not be tolerated”.  Mr Aharonovitch added, “As any other country would do, Israel will stop hostile elements from entering its territory.”

Jim Henry’s son, David, confirmed this week that his dad wanted to visit Palestine to help establish a school for blind children.

It is understood Mr Henry was led from Ben Gurion airport with his hands and feet manacled.  He was taken to Givon prison in Ramle, where he remains in custody.  Male members of the group arrested last Sunday began a hunger strike in protest at the refusal by Israeli authorities to release female colleagues who were also manacled and imprisoned.

A spokesperson for the UK Foreign Office confirmed they are aware of Jim Henry’s arrest and imprisonment in Israel.  The official also indicated consular services were being provided to Mr Henry and his family.  

McNicol and Hunter secure review of fly-tipping report

One of the first tasks for the new North Ayrshire Council elected on May 3rd could be to investigate a controversial report on fly-tipping.

Independent councillors Ronnie McNicol and John Hunter successfully moved a ‘call-in’ motion at last Wednesday’s meeting of the Council, which means the report by Corporate Director (Finance) Laura Friel will be considered by the Scrutiny Committee in the new administration.

As previously reported by the3towns, Ms Friel’s report, presented to councillors on the current Labour Executive, claimed there had been no increase in fly-tipping since charges for ‘special uplifts’ of household items were introduced in 2010.  However, elsewhere in the same report, figures showed instances of fly-tipping collected by the Council had more than doubled in the year after charges were levied.

At the Council’s budget meeting in February, Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councillor 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.  “Since it is apparent we are spending more cleaning up than we recover from special uplift charges,” said Cllr McNicol, “I propose the charges are removed.”

Saltcoats & Stevenston SNP councillor Willie Gibson 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 David O’Neill agreed to the review and that it should include the changes regarding dumping at Council-run amenity sites.

However, the subsequent report by Laura Friel failed to actually review the charges for special uplifts and did not even mention waste permits.

At last week’s Council meeting, Ronnie McNicol and John Hunter moved that the Scrutiny Committee in the new administration should look at Ms Friel’s report to decide if its contents merited further investigation.  This was agreed without dissent.

'Only the SSP oppose savage cuts' - Martin

Campbell Martin of the Scottish Socialist Party says rival parties don’t deserve the support of local people.

Mr Martin, the SSP’s candidate in the Ardrossan & Arran seat at the May 3rd North Ayrshire Council Election, said, “Councillors from the Labour Party, the SNP, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats all voted to impose another £23million of cuts in North Ayrshire.  Despite us already having the highest unemployment in Scotland and the second-highest level of children growing up in severe poverty, Labour, SNP, Tory and the Lib Dems all supported another tranche of cuts that will devastate local communities.

“Desperately-needed Council services have already been cut to the bone, and another £23million slashed from budgets will mean vulnerable people going without the level of support and care they need.  Anyone who argues otherwise is fooling themselves and is trying to fool the public.”

Mr Martin, whose party has consistently campaigned locally against Government and Council cuts, also condemned his political opponents for “taking voters for granted”.  The former MSP explained, “They have been nowhere to be seen since the last election, but two weeks before we go to the polls again they appear and expect people to support them. 

“For five years Labour, SNP, Tory and Liberal Democrat councillors have hammered local people with cut after cut, and hundreds of job losses.  Now they think the same local people will just forget and will vote for them again.  Local people know who is responsible for the terrible state of local towns, and they know who cares so little for local communities that they voted to impose more multi-million pound cuts.”

Campbell Martin concluded, “Only the Scottish Socialist Party offers an economic alternative that opposes all cuts.  There would be no need for cuts if the millionaires and billionaires paid their fair share in taxes.  Even a modest 10 per cent tax on just the 100 wealthiest Scots would generate £1.6billion, more than the total cut to this year’s Scottish Government funding.  It’s only the SSP that is prepared to stand up to the rich and tell them they have to start paying their way.  All the other parties would rather punish local people and local towns.”

Police action after Councillor's intervention

An area of Saltcoats plagued by gangs of youths and anti-social behaviour is to be targeted by Strathclyde Police.

A large area north of the High Road, running between Dykesmains Road and Dalry Road, will receive increased foot and vehicle patrols after an intervention by Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councillor Ronnie McNicol.  Nearby Lindsay Avenue is also to be included in the initiative.

Cllr McNicol received complaints from constituents alleging that youths had smashed windows in houses, and had pelted elderly residents with eggs.  Following the councillor’s recent meeting with senior officers of Strathclyde Police, the force’s anti-social response team is to link-up with local officers to provide a ongoing presence in the area.

Youngsters show bigotry the red card

Local youngsters are to take part in an initiative aimed at showing bigotry the red card.
This Sunday (April 22) will see a ‘Festival of Football’ at Inverclyde National Sports Training Centre in Largs, which follows-on from a series of coaching sessions at the Kilwinning Sports Club earlier in the year.  The event is linked to the ongoing work under the banner of ‘Show Bigotry the Red Card’.
Commenting, Chief Inspector Roddy Newbigging, North Ayrshire Council's Director of Community Safety, said, “The initiative has highlighted that our communities will not tolerate sectarianism in any form.  The innovative method of combining training and education has been highly successful, and the commitment of the students has been nothing short of inspirational.
"Through time, these young ambassadors will help to promote the excellent work of Show Bigotry the Red Card and provide a change in culture, thereby making our communities safer.”
Supporting his colleague, Chief Inspector Gary Ritchie added, “This has been a great programme for the young people of North Ayrshire, which has had a wide impact in the community.
"There has been a reduction in the number of sectarian-type incidents across the area and community police officers have reported an increase in awareness as a result of the publicity surrounding the programme and tournament.”

CI Ritchie concluded, “I have been greatly impressed by the enthusiasm, knowledge and honesty of the young people who clearly appreciate how pointless it is to engage in sectarian behaviour.”
The coaching sessions at Kilwinning involved an hour of football followed by a workshop run by a team from Show Bigotry the Red Card.  Ten clubs from across North Ayrshire took part in the sessions with former Rangers and Hearts star Derek Ferguson and Morton Captain Stuart McCaffery.
All the teams who took part now have the opportunity to enjoy the Festival of Football at Inverclyde National Sports Training Centre, where youngsters will be able to work on their football skills before taking part in a panel discussion on sectarianism.
Elio Ajmone, Project Manager for Show Bigotry the Red Card, said, “This event is the culmination of the anti-sectarian educational initiative in North Ayrshire, which has involved young people taking part in thought-provoking, interactive workshops, as well as fun football coaching sessions.”
Derek Ferguson added, “This event marks the end of a tremendous initiative involving young people in North Ayrshire and it has been really encouraging to see how they all engaged with and supported the anti-sectarian message.”

MP's fears over tax changes

Katy Clark, MP for North Ayrshire & Arran, has voiced fears over the potential impact of tax and benefit changes being introduced by the UK Government.

In the recent budget the income limit for child tax credits was reduced, while the number of hours couples with children have to work to be eligible for working tax credit was increased from 16 to 24 a week. The Tory-Lib Dem Government also froze the age-related personal allowance for pensioners.

Speaking to the3towns, Katy Clark said, “The changes made in the budget for this financial year will have a detrimental impact on people living in North Ayrshire and Arran. Families with children will be particularly badly hit by changes to Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit.  Around 1,400 people in the area on modest and middle incomes will now be worse off as a result of the Child Tax Credit changes, and in the region of 220 households will be hit by the Working Tax Credit changes unless those individuals affected can persuade employers to increase their working hours.

“I have already had constituents coming to me telling me how they are going to be affected by the changes. In addition, the freeze in the age-related personal allowance is effectively a tax rise for pensioners and also completely unjustified.”

Ms Clark concluded, “At the same time that it’s abolishing the 50p tax rate for the wealthiest, the Government is hitting families and pensioners with cuts to their incomes. I believe this says everything about the UK Government’s priorities.

Parliament will be debating the legislation to implement many of these changes this week and I will do all I can at this time to support families on low incomes and pensioners who have contributed to the nation all their lives.”

Support to combat attack on Council Tax benefit

Local MSP Margaret Burgess has welcomed a joint initiative between the SNP Scottish Government and the Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA), which will see 18,740 local people protected from UK Government cuts to Council Tax Benefit, scheduled to come into force in April 2013.

 Mrs Burgess said, “The UK Government will abolish the existing Council Tax Benefit and plans to cut the successor budget by 10 per cent.
“I am delighted the Scottish Government and CoSLA have now agreed to cover the £40million cost of the cuts in 2013-14.”  The SNP administration will provide £23million, with CoSLA making up the balance of £17million.
Margaret Burgess pointed out that many North Ayrshire residents on the lowest incomes currently receive Council Tax benefit, including the unemployed, pensioners, those who cannot work because of disability, carers and people who receive tax credits.  The MSP for Cunninghame South commented, “It is right that we take action to protect the thousands of North Ayrshire pensioners and families who would have been affected. Only through this decisive action by the Scottish Government and CoSLA can vulnerable people in Scottish society be protected.”

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Labour councillors accused of hoarding roads cash

The SNP will use the last meeting of North Ayrshire Council before the May 3rd Election to accuse the Labour administration of holding on to over £1million that should have been used to upgrade three local roads, including the Ardeer access road in Stevenston.

The Special Council Meeting on Wednesday (April 18) will include a question tabled by SNP councillor Anthea Dickson (Kilbirnie & Beith), which challenges current Labour Group Leader David O’Neill to explain why “3 dangerous sections of road” have not been upgraded, despite the Scottish Government providing NAC with funding in 2003.

Ms Dickson claims the Council’s Labour administration lobbied the then Labour-Lib Dem Scottish Government in 2001 and 2002, seeking extra funds to re-align the A737 at the Den outside Dalry, improve access to the Ardeer site at Stevenston and alter the dangerous Head Street junction at Beith.  The SNP councillor then states that, despite the Government allocating £1.193million to the Council nine years ago, the works have not been carried out.

Anthea Dickson says, “the money has lain in a bank account since then and now totals £1.4million because of accrued interest”.  The question Ms Dickson has tabled to Cllr O’Neill asks, “Why were the works to improve these dangerous road sections not carried out and did no-one notice over the past 9 years, during which time road construction costs have risen fourfold?”

Developers seek approval for seafront flats

A controversial application for permission to demolish a sandstone villa on Saltcoats seafront and construct flats on the site will be heard next week by North Ayrshire Council’s Planning Committee.

A similar application in February 2010 was refused by the Committee, but this time planning officials recommend permission is granted, on the basis that developers, McLaughlin Construction, have reduced the number of flats the wish to build, from 12 to 10.

The house in Montgomerie Crescent has lain empty for a number of years and had been targeted by vandals.  McLaughlin Construction was previously ordered to secure the building to prevent gangs of youths allegedly entering the property and using it as a haunt for drinking alcohol.

Although Council officials back the application to demolish the villa and build flats, Saltcoats Community Council (SCC) has submitted an objection on the grounds that the development “would be out of character with the traditional adjoining properties”.  In addition, the Community Council submission states flatted properties would “spoil the symmetry of the crescent and would create an undesirable precedent”.

In conclusion, the SCC objection argues that the grounds under which the previous planning application were refused are still applicable and, as such, the current application should also be refused.

Should councillors agree to grant the application from McLaughlin Construction, planners say the proposed block of 10 flats would be positioned on the building-line set by neighbouring properties, with parking for 16 vehicles provided at the rear of the site.

SSP say Council should have Petitions Committee

North Ayrshire Council should form a Petitions Committee that would allow members of the public to raise concerns directly with elected councillors.  That’s the opinion of Campbell Martin, the Scottish Socialist Party candidate for Ardrossan & Arran at May’s Council Election.

While serving as an MSP Mr Martin was a member of the Scottish Parliament’s hugely-successful Petitions Committee and believes the same type of thing could benefit local people and North Ayrshire Council.  Campbell Martin said, “The Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee has been acknowledged as an innovative initiative that gives the public direct access to their elected representatives.

“Other legislatures from around the world – including the House of Commons in London – have sent delegations to study how the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee works and how successful it has become.  A similar Committee of councillors at NAC could give the public a forum to raise issues of concern in local communities.”

Mr Martin explained that the Parliament’s Petitions Committee attempted to resolve issues raised with it, even if that entailed simply getting answers for members of the public.  The SSP candidate added, “Currently, local people can submit a petition to a Council meeting, but there is no requirement for councillors to actually do anything about the issue raised.”

Of the SSP’s recent experience in petitioning North Ayrshire Council, Mr Martin said, “It highlighted how ineffectual and unacceptable the present situation actually is.  We presented a petition demanding councillors set a ‘No Cuts’ budget.  We argued the Council should instead set a budget to meet the needs of local communities.  That petition and the demands were supported by almost 1,500 local people, yet councillors of all parties simply ignored them.

“Labour, SNP, Tory and Lib Dem councillors went on to pass a budget containing a further £23million of cuts and another 150 job losses.  Then, to compound councillors’ arrogance, the official minute of the Budget meeting did not even record the content of the petition, nor who presented it or the number of people that had signed it.”

Mr Martin argues a Council Committee dedicated to receiving public petitions, and attempting to resolve issues raised, would greatly enhance local democracy.

Hunter stands on strong record

Speaking to the3towns, Ardrossan & Arran Independent councillor John Hunter reflected on the past five years and looked forward to continuing his work after the May 3rd Election, if returned by the people of the Ward.

Mr Hunter said, “I’ve been asked recently what form my election campaign will take, but I’ll simply ask people to judge me on my record.

“I’ve held regular Surgeries, attended meetings of community groups, tenants and residents associations and committees organising local events.  I’ve listened to concerns and have tried to resolve problems.  I believe that is what a councillor should do.”

John Hunter, a retired university lecturer, has also served as the Convener of the Council’s powerful Scrutiny Committee, which has investigated a number of serious issues affecting the governance of the local authority and decisions taken by the ruling Labour Executive.

Although Cllr Hunter is quick to point out he is “not a politician”, it was his action in blocking a political move by Labour councillors that retained the ability of opposition members to question and challenge the actions of the Executive.  Mr Hunter said, “It was certainly something I knew had to be opposed.  Had the Labour Executive and senior officials got their way, it would have been impossible for any councillor to challenge or debate a decision affecting the budget.  That would have been ridiculous.  Just about every decision taken by a Council affects the budget in some way, so what they were effectively trying to do was stifle debate and accountability.”

At the time, Cllr Hunter spoke against the Labour proposals and persuaded sufficient numbers of his colleagues to block the move.   

Public to have say on anti-smoking plan

NHS Ayrshire & Arran is asking for the public’s help in developing a ten-year plan to tackle the number one cause of preventable death in Scotland - tobacco.

The new draft Tobacco Strategy, backed-up by what the Health Board describes as a comprehensive action plan, sets out local ambitions to help prevent people from starting to smoke, will assist those who want to quit and seeks to protect others from the risks associated with tobacco.

Already NHS Ayrshire & Arran has introduced a range of initiatives, including the establishment of a Fresh Air-shire service for one-to-one, group and telephone support; a smoke-free cars and homes project to protect people at risk of second-hand smoke; working with local companies to develop their own workplace tobacco policies; and a school-based smoking prevention programme.

However, the new strategy seeks to go further by influencing legislation to restrict the promotion of tobacco to young people and young adults; ensure shops observe age restrictions and legislation; identify non-smoking 'Champions'; and provide more help to stop smoking for pregnant women, children, young people and those living in areas of deprivation.

Dr Carol Davidson, Executive Director of Public Health, wants to ensure the final strategy and action plan reflect the views of the public. Dr Davidson commented, “During an earlier period of engagement in 2011, almost 90 per cent of those who responded agreed with our vision of 'moving towards a smoke-free Ayrshire and Arran'.  We hope this strategy reflects those views, so I would encourage people to read our short consultation booklet and answer the questions in it.”

A copy of the consultation booklet, along with the full draft strategy and action plan, is available from:, by e-mailing or by writing free to Freepost RSCZ-HSKB-BELA, Ayr, KA6 6AB.  Responses should be sent by Thursday, May 31st.

Cllr Gurney seeks re-election

The Scottish National Party has confirmed current Ardrossan & Arran councillor Tony Gurney will seek re-election on May 3rd. 

Ardrossan man Mr Gurney, who was first elected at the last Council poll in 2007, will be joined on the ballot paper by party colleague John Bruce, a resident of Corrie on the Isle of Arran.

Speaking to the3towns, Tony Gurney said, “I am delighted that my SNP colleagues have shown faith in my achievements over the last five years, where I have worked hard as a Councillor.  I have ensured community centres and libraries remained open, adding more Community Wardens to our streets, defeating the proposed school closures in Arran, and I fought to bring wind farm money to Ardrossan and Arran to pay for many of the improvements we see on our streets, including the annual Ardrossan Christmas Lights and the forthcoming floodlighting of Ardrossan castle.”

Mr Gurney added, “I would hope that the people of Ardrossan and Arran will recognise these achievements and will support the SNP in the election.  By trusting us with your votes we can work together to make Ardrossan and Arran a better place for everyone.”

Reflecting on the SNP’s hopes to replace Labour as the ruling party on North Ayrshire Council, Tony Gurney said, “If the people of North Ayrshire put their trust in the SNP, we will continue our policies of freezing the Council Tax, providing opportunities for our young people and protecting free bus travel for pensioners.”
The SNP candidate concluded, “Working hand-in-hand with the Scottish Government we can make North Ayrshire better.”

St Matthew's pupils sparkle in 'Gleam'

Pupils from St Matthews Academy in Saltcoats were amongst those who took part in the launch of ‘Gleam’, an NHS-backed initiative to promote oral health.

The local youngsters featured in what was described as “an innovative educational show, made by teenagers for teenagers”.  Staged at the Park Hotel in Kilmarnock, the event included three main elements targeted at improving oral hygiene and dental health.  Parodying the hit American teen TV series Glee, the local version had ‘Gleam – The Musical’, ‘Gleam – Train Tracks’ and ‘Gleam – Dance Central’.

‘Gleam - The Musical’ features an educational DVD highlighting key oral health messages, ‘Gleam - Train Tracks’ is an eight track audio CD of current songs with alternative lyrics, and ‘Gleam - Dance Central’, developed in partnership with K:A Leisure, uses the songs from 'Train Tracks' in a three level dance DVD.

The resource will be available in every secondary school in Ayrshire and will be evaluated over the coming year to measure how successful it has been.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Council official claims fly-tipping has not increased

Despite councillors agreeing there should be a review of charges applied for ‘special uplifts’ of household items, a subsequent report by North Ayrshire Council’s Corporate Director (Finance), Ms Laura Friel, appears simply to make a case for retaining the fees.

Controversially, and in contradiction to anecdotal evidence, Ms Friel’s report also claims “there has not been an increase in the level of fly-tipping within the area” since charges were introduced in 2010.

Presently the Labour-run local authority charges householders £12.00 for uplifts of up to five items, with additional fees applied for collecting larger quantities.  At the time charges were initially applied, Council officials indicated they expected to realise an annual income of £215,000.  However, the3towns subsequently revealed the actual revenue generated from charging for special uplifts was just £76,185.

At the recent Council budget meeting, Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councillor 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.  “Since it is apparent we are spending more cleaning up than we recover from special uplift charges,” said Cllr McNicol, “I propose the charges are removed.”

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 David O’Neill agreed to the review and that it should include the changes regarding dumping at Council-run amenity sites.

However, in a report published this week, the Council’s Finance Director denies there has been an increase in fly-tipping and claims charges for special uplifts and other ‘controls’ have led to “financial efficiencies of £388,185”.  Laura Friel adds, “The Council provides a number of services to deter fly-tipping within the area, works with a number of partners to minimise fly-tipping within the area and utilises enforcement powers where sufficient evidence is available.”  Despite the official’s claims, figures contained in another part of her report confirm fly-tipping has increased since charges were first applied, but Ms Friel argues “the weight of fly-tipping collected has not increased”.  The actual rise in instances of fly-tipping Ms Friel puts down to “more effective recording systems introduced to enable effective interventions to address this environmental crime.”

Of Ms Friel’s claimed ‘efficiency savings’ of £388,185 since the introduction of charges for special uplifts, £318,015 is accounted for by the reduction in items collected by the Council, processed and subsequently disposed to landfill.

Councillors on the ruling Labour Executive will this week be asked simply to note Ms Friel’s report.

Labour councillors withdraw Motion attacking voluntary body

Two Labour councillors were left red-faced at last Wednesday’s meeting of North Ayrshire Council when they were forced to withdraw a motion criticising the North Ayrshire Citizens Advice Service (NACAS).

Peter McNamara (Ardrossan & Arran) and Alex Gallagher (North Coast) tabled the motion, which read, “This Council deplores the precipitate decision by NACAS to act outwith the terms of its contract and SLA in announcing the closure of 60% of its offices in sensitive parts of the council area. 
The Council asks NACAS to reconsider this decision and not to proceed with the proposed office closures.  If NACAS does not comply with this request the Council instructs officers to enter negotiations with NACAS with a view to reducing the Council's grant to NACAS in line with the proposed reduction of service implied by NACAS's intended office closures.”

However, after NACAS Chairperson Louise Dickson wrote to every councillor explaining the situation with the voluntary body, it became clear not even Labour colleagues of the two councillors were prepared to support the motion.  Facing humiliation, and with many NACAS volunteers sitting in the public gallery, Cllr Gallagher indicated he and Cllr McNamara would withdraw their motion.

In her letter to councillors, Louise Dickson said, “it is depressing to think that a choice we had to make because of funding cuts results in some councillors attacking us, rather than helping us to source alternative funding and working with us to ensure there is a citizens’ advice service in North Ayrshire.”

Ms Dickson continued, “We are in a time when public services and resources are being cut, yet the need for advice services is increasing all the time. These cuts have now impacted on NACAS, with funding from the Council and grants/project funding being cut and resulting in a reduced budget that cannot cover our previous basic running costs and level of service provision.”

The NACAS Chairperson explained the voluntary body has had to cope with a series of funding cuts over the past few years, which had led to them running at a deficit. “This is unsustainable,” said Ms Dickson, “and without making cuts, the whole service will be jeopardised.”

Referring to the McNamara-Gallagher motion, Louise Dickson said NACAS “would love to” stop proposed office closures, but that “until we find alternative sources of viable secure funding we cannot do so.”

Since 2009, NACAS funding from North Ayrshire Council has suffered a real terms cut of 18 per cent, a 9 per cent cut in cash terms.

the3towns understands North Ayrshire councillors, other than Peter McNamara and Alex Gallagher, favoured the local authority entering into negotiations with NACAS, and that arrangements will now be made for both organisations to meet in the near future.

Hunter secures investigation into unregistered landlords

Ardrossan & Arran Independent councillor John Hunter has secured a far-reaching investigation that will look at the social, economic and environmental impact of privately-rented properties where owners or landlords are unregistered.  However, the probe won’t begin until after a new Council is elected on May 3rd.

Cllr Hunter asked for the investigation after becoming concerned at the number of local people suffering from anti-social behaviour carried out by ‘tenants’ of properties the Council was unaware were being rented-out.  The next Council’s Scrutiny Committee will consider the extent to which such properties contribute to antisocial behaviour as well as any measure of economic detriment through uncollected taxes.

A data-matching exercise already carried out by NAC, which looked at licensing and benefits claims, revealed around 3,000 unregistered rented properties in the local area.

In March of last year, the Council’s Licensing Committee considered the issue of Rent Penalty Notices to unregistered landlords. With some exceptions, it is necessary for someone who rents a house to a person who is not a member of his family to be registered as a landlord.  As the Licensing Authority, North Ayrshire Council is required to be satisfied that anyone wishing registration as a landlord or an agent should be a 'fit and proper' person.
It is understood the proposed investigation will take evidence from relevant council services, Strathclyde Police, Housing Associations, registered landlords, tenants and residents.

NAC Chief Executive Elma Murray said remitting Cllr Hunter’s proposal to the new administration would “ensure adequate time could be given to the investigation of this important issue”.

Tackling North Ayrshire's 'high levels of domestic abuse'

An investigation by North Ayrshire Council’s Scrutiny Committee has revealed that the financial cost, in just one year, of dealing with domestic abuse in the local area was in the region of £2.9million.

A report by Council Chief Executive Elma Murray acknowledges North Ayrshire’s “high levels of domestic abuse” and sets out a range of initiatives designed to tackle the problem.

Recommendations arising from the Scrutiny Committee’s investigation, and already being implemented by NAC, include: more preventative work to influence attitudes about violence against women; more public awareness-raising campaigns; additional work with the perpetrators of violence to address their behaviour; counselling support services being made available to adult survivors of sexual abuse; quicker access to assistance from Addiction Services; and better indicators of progress in tackling domestic abuse.

The initiatives have been incorporated into the North Ayrshire Violence Against Women Partnership's Strategy and Action Plan, and there has been further progress in relation to the preventative work recommended by the Committee through a project in two secondary schools to challenge young people's attitudes about domestic abuse.
The recommendation to increase public awareness has been developed with the national White Ribbon campaign, which has been supported by Strathclyde Police school campus officers.  Independent councillors Ronnie McNicol and John Hunter also highlighted the initiative by unveiling a banner before a Junior football match involving Ardrossan Winton Rovers.    

In Elma Murray’s report, which will go before this week’s meeting of the Scrutiny Committee, the Chief Executive confirms further work with perpetrators is now being developed, and that in February 2012, the Council’s Executive approved an extension to the contract for rape counselling services delivered by Break the Silence. In addition, Ms Murray notes there have been improvements with regard to increasing the assistance from Addiction Services for women leaving an abusive relationship and a Performance Monitoring Framework has been approved by the Violence Against Women Partnership.
Funding and resources have now been identified by the Council, Strathclyde Police and NHS Ayrshire & Arran to establish a Multi-Agency Domestic Abuse Team, which will provide a faster response to incidents by allowing information to be shared by key agencies at source.

The Multi-Agency Team is due to be established by June 2012 and will be located within the Strathclyde Police Domestic Abuse Response unit in Kilmarnock.

Concluding her report for councillors, Elma Murray says, “
There has been significant progress made in taking forward the recommendations made by the Committee following its investigation. Since then, there have been new initiatives developed to improve and integrate the response by services to the women and children experiencing domestic abuse and to assist them in recovering from abuse.”

SSP Conference backs independence motion

The Annual Conference of the Scottish Socialist Party, held last Saturday (March 31) in Glasgow, backed a Motion that commits the party to an all-out campaign for Scottish independence.

The Motion, tabled by Ardrossan man Campbell Martin, not only re-affirmed the SSP’s long-standing support for an independent Scotland but ruled-out campaigning or settling for anything less, such as ‘devo-max’.  Mr Martin, a former SNP MSP, addressed the Conference and told delegates from across Scotland, “The SSP is a pro-independence party and we should not be distracted from that goal by options, such as devo-max, which would retain Westminster’s control over our country.”

The SSP candidate for the Ardrossan & Arran seat at May’s North Ayrshire Council Election added, “The SNP might be prepared to muddy the waters with devo-max, even though they haven’t yet explained exactly what it is, but we should be absolute in our commitment to securing independence for Scotland.  Only with independence will we have the powers to radically transform Scottish society, putting the needs of the people before the interests of multi-national corporations.

“It is for devolutionists to argue for Scotland remaining shackled within the British Union and unable to govern ourselves,” said Mr Martin.  “Our vision is absolutely clear: we need independence as the catalyst that will allow us to tackle the bread and butter issues that affect ever one of us, every day of our lives.”

Campbell Martin’s Motion was passed by Conference and is now the policy of the Scottish Socialist Party.

Katy opposes government plans to spy on the public

Local MP Katy Clark has expressed ‘deep concern’ over proposals being considered by the UK Government that would grant additional powers to the police and security services, allowing them to access to personal e-mail and social media accounts.

The Home Office recently announced it would be look at introducing a system where security officials could ‘scrutinise’ who is talking to whom, and exactly when conversations take place.  It is believed the Tory-Lib Dem administration initially planned to include such proposals in the Queen’s Speech, scheduled for May 9.

Katy Clark told the3towns, “These proposals represent a very serious threat to privacy and civil liberties in the United Kingdom. There now appears to be a very real possibility that the police and security services would be able to monitor the internet activities of anyone in the country without any suggestion that they have done anything wrong.”

The Labour MP for North Ayrshire and Arran added, “While the police should be given every assistance possible to catch criminals and those posing a threat to security, the rights of the majority need to be protected.  These proposals go way beyond the acceptable limits of state involvement in people’s private lives and I hope the Government think again before the Queen’s Speech.”

New job title for Nursery Nurses

Local Nursery Nurses are to be known by a new name – Early Years Practitioners – following a consultation carried out by North Ayrshire Council.

The role of a Nursery Nurse has changed over recent years, moving away from a predominantly ‘child care’ role to one more focussed on child development and learning.  In North Ayrshire, Nursery Nurses hold either a BA Early Childhood, HNC Early Education and Childcare or SVQ level 3 in Children’s Care Learning and Development. In other parts of Scotland, staff qualified to such levels have a number of job titles, including Nursery Nurse, Early Years Practitioner, Early Education Officer and Early Educators.

Officials of North Ayrshire Council decided that, as part of a review of early years, the job title of Nursery Nurse should be changed to reflect the current remit and responsibilities.

All Nursery Nurses working in North Ayrshire were consulted on the proposed change and were encouraged to choose their preferred title.  Consultation papers were sent to a total of 87 establishments where Nursery Nurses are currently employed, including 53 primary schools, 4 special schools, 5 nursery centres and 25 partner providers.  The response produced Early Years Practitioner as the overwhelming winner, with the support of 72 per cent of those polled.  The next closest title was Early Childhood educator on 14 per cent.

The Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) defines Early Years Practitioners as “workers who identify and meet the care, support and learning needs of children and contribute to the development of quality assurance of informal learning activities and/or curriculum”.

The new job title will take effect in North Ayrshire from June 2012.