Saturday, 30 June 2012

Councillor's concerns over schools merger plan

An Ardrossan councillor has spoken of his concerns regarding plans to merge Ardrossan Academy with Auchenharvie Academy, and special needs schools James McFarlane and Haysholm to create a super-campus somewhere in the Three Towns.

In a letter to the3towns, Independent John Hunter set-out his position as North Ayrshire Council’s SNP administration confirmed it would seek funding from the Scottish Government to allow the proposed mergers to go ahead.  Following a meeting of the Council’s ruling Cabinet last Tuesday (June 19), Education portfolio-holder Tony Gurney said, “This is a very positive step for North Ayrshire with the ultimate aim of providing the best educational facilities for all pupils.”

Cllr Gurney, who represents Ardrossan & Arran, added, “If the bid for funding is successful there will be lots of opportunities for pupils, parents, staff and the wider school community to be involved in the development of the campus – including identifying a suitable site.”

However, as the3towns revealed last week, the front-runner for the location of the new ‘super-school’ is Council-owned land adjacent to the current Auchenharvie Academy in Stevenston.

Reacting to the news, John Hunter said, “My feeling...based on my experience from six years ago, [is] this seemed to be something of a fait accompli.  In that instance, funding was not going to be an issue since the then Labour Scottish Government had more or less forced local authorities to take on iniquitous PPP contracts.  That proposal was the merger of St Michael’s and St Andrew’s Academies and to build a ‘super school’ on Laighdykes playing fields.”

Cllr Hunter continued, “I am not aware in this case of extensive consultations with relevant stakeholders on the principle of merger, let alone an overwhelming support for a merger.  If such exists, then why aren’t all elected members party to it, and surely they would have been at least informed of the outcome of any consultations?”

Reflecting on the new SNP administration’s decision to proceed with a schools merger plan within weeks of the Council Election, John Hunter noted, “I find it difficult to believe that this proposal sprung fully-formed from the Education Department since the last election just seven weeks ago.  That means either the SNP knew of this plan and said nothing in their manifesto, or they didn’t know, which leads me to conclude that the previous Labour administration must have known and they failed to mention it in their manifesto.  One wonders why: surely it couldn’t be an awareness in either case that it might not go down too well in Ardrossan in particular?”

In 2008 Cllr Hunter tabled a question to the then Labour Education portfolio-holder, Cllr John Bell, which asked if there were any plans to merge Ardrossan Academy and Auchenharvie Academy.  Cllr Bell’s response was, “No, not at this time.”

Regarding the current proposal, John Hunter said, “I will keep an open mind.  I owe that much to the people of Ardrossan, but until or unless I get a clear, unambiguous and overwhelming message of support for this proposal from the people of Ardrossan, I will not blindly support the administration in this matter.”

As the3towns revealed last week, the SNP administration of North Ayrshire Council is hoping to attract maximum Scottish Government financial support for their schools merger project – two-thirds of revenue costs for the full campus – which would see the local authority receive £28.475m towards a total cost of £42.4m: North Ayrshire’s contribution would be the balance - £14.025m.

The timetable for the development of the new campus would be dependent on the implementation of Government support, but the Council anticipates a probable building programme spanning two years, which would mean the new facility could be ready for occupation in time for the start of the school session in August 2016.

Ardrossan Academy pupil Rebecca Wallace and Auchenharvie Academy’s Luisa Kolodziej, both fifth-year students, attended last Tuesday’s SNP Cabinet meeting, which approved the funding bid that could see their schools merged.  Education spokesman Tony Gurney said, “We want to ensure that the views of students are represented throughout this process.”

Man arrested over Ardrossan death

Strathclyde Police have confirmed a 21 year-old male has been arrested in connection with the death of a man at a house in Craigspark, Ardrossan.

 William Graham, 46, died following an incident at around 3:15pm on Thursday (June 21).  Officers were called to what was described as “a disturbance”.

Police have also confirmed that the dead man’s relatives have been informed of the arrest.

A report has been submitted to the Procurator Fiscal and the 21 year-old is expected to appear at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court on Monday (June 25).

Council will 'learn lessons' from Polling Day chaos

Following a review of polling arrangements at the recent North Ayrshire Council Election, Returning Officer Elma Murray has vowed that “Lessons learned will be taken forward to future electoral events.”

Ms Murray, also North Ayrshire Council’s Chief Executive, was tasked with carrying out an investigation after councillors and members of the public complained regarding changes to Polling Places. 

As previously reported by the3towns, some Ardrossan residents found themselves being told to vote at a new Polling Place - St Peter’s Primary School in South Isle Road - despite their homes being closer to the existing Polling Place at the Whitlees Community Centre.  Others who had voted at the Whitlees for many years were re-allocated to the Civic Centre in Glasgow Street.  Meanwhile, residents of Greenacres and the Knockrivoch estate had to cross into Saltcoats to vote at St Anthony’s Primary School.

In a report for this week’s meeting of North Ayrshire Council, Ms Murray will tell councillors, “It is the statutory duty of the Returning Officer to allot electors to polling stations. New electoral registers based on the revised polling districts considered by the Council in September 2011 were published on 1 December 2011. Thereafter a polling scheme for the election was drawn up. The aim of the polling scheme is to put in place adequate arrangements for polling - 51 Polling Places and 109 Polling Stations were in use.”

The Returning Officer goes on to explain, “Whilst the vast majority of voters in North Ayrshire were allocated to what they might consider their 'usual' polling place, some voters were redirected to vote at different polling places.”
The report then details actions taken by the Council to highlight changes in the run up to the poll, including articles in the local press and on the Council's website urging voters to check their polling cards to establish where they should be voting at the election.  Ms Murray adds, “Polling cards themselves carried a notice that polling places may have changed.  An online search facility was also provided allowing voters to enter their Post Code to be directed to the correct Polling Place.”  But the Chief Executive concluded, “Despite these efforts, it is clear that some voters did not realise that their polling places had changed.”

With regard to problems in the Saltcoats & Stevenston Ward, Elma Murray’s report says, “The main issue arising...was that 472 voters in the newly created polling district N409, who would previously have voted at Hayocks Hall in Stevenston, were directed to vote instead at the Focus Centre, Saltcoats.  Whilst the Focus Centre was closer to the majority of voters in the polling district, feedback was received from a few candidates that some Stevenston voters objected to being directed to Saltcoats to vote, and others were not aware of the change.  As a result of this feedback, all 472 voters in the polling district received a letter in the run up to polling day highlighting where they would be voting for the election.”

Figures for Saltcoats & Stevenston revealed that, of the 13,354 people entitled to vote in person, 3,861 (28.9%) did so.  There were also 2,316 postal ballot papers issued, of which 1,653 (71.37%) were returned.

In the Ardrossan & Arran Ward, Ms Murray’s investigation found, “The changes within mainland Ardrossan and Arran were in the main to accommodate the request that another Polling Place be provided in the Ward.  St Peter's Primary School was included and voters who would otherwise have been directed to Whitlees Community Centre were redirected to St Peter's Primary School – 2,842 voters were allotted to St Peter's.  The Election Office was made aware of some confusion among voters during Polling Day and mitigating steps were taken to provide maps to Presiding Officers to re-direct voters to their designated polling place.”

The Returning Officer also noted, “There is some anecdotal evidence that voters within Ardrossan were not happy about being directed to St Anthony's Primary School in Saltcoats.  The location of St Anthony's right on the border of wards 4 and 5 [Saltcoats & Stevenston and Ardrossan & Arran] also led to a few calls from voters in ward 4 who did not understand why they could not vote at the school for the local election.”

In Ardrossan & Arran, of the 11,897 voters entitled to vote in person, 4,294 (36%) did so.  There were 2,306 postal ballot papers issued, of which 1,421 (69.97%) were returned.

Ms Murray’s report for councillors concludes, “It is clear that some voters were not aware that their designated polling places had changed despite efforts by the Returning Officer to alert voters to the changes.  It is therefore proposed that all voters affected by changes to their Polling Place will receive a letter in the future.”

Parents ask: 'Is Stanley School too small?'

Parents of pupils at Stanley Primary School in Ardrossan have questioned why an area of the playground, including the Dalry Road access gate, was recently cordoned-off by workmen.

One parent told the3towns, “Children using the school-crossing patrol to get across the busy Dalry Road then had to be directed round to the main entrance, off Stanley Road, as contractors appeared to be measuring part of the outdoor area of the school campus.”

Although no official announcement has been made by North Ayrshire Council, speculation is mounting that the school has been found to be too small for projected requirements, just a few years since it was built as part of the local authority’s notorious £380m Schools PPP Project.

A source, who spoke to the3towns on condition of anonymity, said, “The workers were measuring for new cables and pipework, and had to cordon-off an area of the current playground to allow them access.”

The source, a contractor in the building trade, added, “Someone should be answering questions over why Stanley School appears to have been built too small to meet requirements.  It’s a relatively new school, so they should have been able to predict fairly accurately how many children would be growing up in its catchment area.  If there is now going to have to be an extension, the people responsible for building it too small should be held to account.”  

The multi-million pound Public Private Contract to build four schools, including Stanley Primary, was signed by the previous Labour administration of North Ayrshire Council. 

Anger as case against Farepak directors collapses

Many local people who lost substantial amounts of money when the Farepak savings company collapsed in October 2006 were this week furious after a legal case against the company’s directors collapsed.

The Insolvency Service, a UK Government agency, discontinued its High Court action, which sought to have the Farepak bosses fined and banned, after it was revealed the company’s directors had twice asked HBOS (Halifax Bank of Scotland) to safeguard £4m of customers’ money.  The bank declined the requests, which meant that when Farepak collapsed the money went to HBOS in part repayment of a loan, rather than being returned to savers.

West Kilbride woman Louise McDade has helped lead the fight for compensation for Farepak savers.  On the collapse of the Insolvency Service’s legal action, Mrs McDade said, “We still believe there should be criminal proceedings over this fiasco.  Our committee will fight on and our campaign will continue.”

It is understood around 25,000 Scots, mainly women, lost their savings when Farepak went under.  The company ran a savings club into which people could deposit small amounts over a year, which went towards meeting the expense of Christmas.  When Farepak collapsed, just two months before Christmas 2006, many low-paid families were left with no money and no presents for children.

Local MP Katy Clark is a long-standing supporter of Farepak savers.  Reacting to the news that the Insolvency Service had ended its legal action, Ms Clark told the3towns, “This decision is yet another kick in the teeth for those who lost out as a result of the Farepak collapse.  Over five years later, savers have yet to receive-back a penny of their money or see those responsible held accountable for the irresponsible practices of Farepak . The majority of directors involved have simply been able to move on to new companies as if nothing has happened”

The Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran believes it is “high time the Farepak victims were given answers and some kind of justice”.

Ms Clark confirmed she has written to the Secretary of State for Business, Vince Cable MP, requesting “a full explanation about how this has been allowed to occur and to strengthen the law on the prepayment market to ensure that such a situation can never happen again.”

Rising Star Awards

The achievements of young people from across North Ayrshire have been recognised at the first annual Rising Stars Awards.

Students and young people have been awarded for their achievements and contributions to the community, with categories including Outstanding Academic Achievement, Sporting Achievement and Contribution to the Community.

Cllr Tony Gurney, NAC’s Cabinet member for Education, Attainment and Achievement, said, “North Ayrshire produces talented and inspirational young people thanks to their hard work and the commitment of our teachers.

“We wanted to recognise and celebrate the contribution young people have made to their communities, schools and the lives of others.”

Cllr Gurney said the Rising Stars Awards provided “an opportunity for us to congratulate our excellent young people and to ensure that others can take encouragement from their example.”

The Group/Club Award was won by the Hayocks Senior Girls’ Group from Auchenharvie Academy.  Members had focused on raising awareness of the dangers of binge drinking and produced a DVD that is now used to help inform other young people across North Ayrshire.

Winner in the Personal Achievement category was 15 year-old Erin Geddes of St Matthews Academy.  In 2006 Erin was diagnosed with carcinoma in her leg, which resulted in lengthy periods of hospitalisation.  Erin missed the majority of P7 and large parts of S1 to S3 due to frequent stays in Yorkhill Hospital, but she remained very positive throughout, making strenuous efforts to catch up with missed work.   Recently, Erin organised a fashion show that raised £2,000 for Yorkhill.

Another local youngster, 15 year-old Jordan Hughes of Ardrossan Academy, took the Outstanding Sporting Achievement award.   Jordan is currently a member of North Ayrshire Amateur Swimming Club, and has shown the dedication and commitment required to reach the highest levels of his sport.   In addition, Jordan participates in running and karate - achieving a brown belt - whilst committing to intensive swimming training of fourteen-and-a-half hours a week in the pool, which involves getting up at 5am two mornings a week and swimming before and after school.

Carol Kirk, North Ayrshire Council’s Corporate Director of Education and Skills, said, “Young people make a huge contribution to life in North Ayrshire.

“This is a place where everyone can achieve.  We have very high aspirations for everyone in our community and believe that participation, encouragement and hard work are the keys to success

“Everyone who was nominated had significant personal achievements to celebrate and it was with some difficulty that the judges settled on the outstanding achievers who are our Rising Stars.”

North Ayrshire Council Director of Community Safety, Chief Inspector Roddy Newbigging, added, “Every young person who was nominated deserves special credit.”

Katy condemns workers' benefit cut

Local MP Katy Clark has criticised UK Government plans to cut benefit payments to low-paid workers if they take strike action.

Tory Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Ian Duncan Smith MP, last week announced that, as part of benefit changes to create a Universal Credit, he planned to remove compensation payments made to workers who lose earnings as a result of taking industrial action.

Katy Clark said, “This Government has yet again targeted some of the UK’s most vulnerable workers. It is completely wrong that low-paid workers should be targeted when trying to defend their pay and conditions.”

Ms Clark, MP for North Ayrshire & Arran, added, “Following the Beecroft Report and changes to employment tribunal rules, this is just the latest measure from the UK Government which will harm those in employment during these difficult times.

“It used to be that people could claim Unemployment Benefit if they went on strike but that went a long time ago. This proposal will only affect lower-paid workers in receipt of benefits, such as Housing Benefit and Tax Credits, so it will be people such as cleaners striking for a living wage that will be worst affected.”

Government Minister visits North Ayrshire

The SNP Minister for Local Government, Derek Mackay MSP, has paid his first official visit to North Ayrshire.
 
Mr Mackay met with Council Leader Willie Gibson and Chief Executive Elma Murray to discuss efforts to stimulate and improve North Ayrshire’s economy.  The Minister also outlined Scottish Government proposals for Community Planning contained in a new Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill.
 
In a packed programme of events while in North Ayrshire, Derek Mackay also met pupils from Ardrossan Academy who have been supporting a pilot project involving young people in planning services for the future.
 
Council Leader Willie Gibson welcomed his party colleague, saying, “I am delighted the Minister took time out of his busy schedule to come to North Ayrshire.”

The councillor for Saltcoats & Stevenston stressed the Council’s determination to “provide the best possible future for the people of North Ayrshire,” and highlighted how working with the Scottish Government they could plan for the future to “meet the needs of local communities.”

Derek Mackay added, “A strong and effective partnership between the Scottish Government and local government is central to improving quality of life for people across Scotland, and to delivering sustainable economic growth in a tight public sector spending environment.”

Of his time at NAC headquarters, the Local Government Minister said, “I had a very productive meeting with the new leader of North Ayrshire Council, Councillor Willie Gibson, and Chief Executive, Elma Murray.
 
“I welcome their reaffirmed enthusiasm for and commitment to improving outcomes for people in North Ayrshire.”

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Council Cabinet to discuss schools merger plan

North Ayrshire Council’s ruling SNP Cabinet will meet this week (June 19) to discuss a highly-controversial plan to merge Ardrossan Academy with Auchenharvie Academy.

Revealed last Monday (June 11) by the3towns, the proposal would see the Council submit a bid for funding from the Scottish Government, which, if successful, would give the green light to the creation of a new campus to house the two secondary schools: two current facilities for children with special needs – James McFarlane School in Ardrossan and Haysholm School in Irvine – would also be accommodated on the same site, the location of which has not yet been decided..

Applications for funding must be with the Scottish Government by July 21.

Referring to ‘under capacity’ within Ardrossan Academy and Auchenharvie Academy, a Council spokesperson said, “Education and Skills recognise that having a significant proportion of education spend allocated to funding surplus capacity within school buildings does not represent the most efficient use of resources. The Education team developed a range of proposals in order to address this issue seeking to deliver a sustainable school estate which rationalises and consolidates assets in a neighbourhood locality setting [and] increases total occupancy level from [the current] 72 per cent towards [the target] 85 per cent”.

In addition, the Council official said the North Ayrshire proposal would, “place the school estate in the context of the wider community and learning infrastructure, [and] further develop the concept of schools as a community hub.”

The Council is hoping to attract maximum Scottish Government financial support for the project – two-thirds of revenue costs for the full campus – which would see the local authority receive £28.475m towards a total cost of £42.4m: North Ayrshire’s contribution would be the balance - £14.025m.

The timetable for the development of the new campus would be dependent on the implementation of Government support, but the Council anticipates a probable building programme spanning two years, which would mean the new facility could be ready for occupation in time for the start of the school session in August 2016.

Speaking to the3towns, Cllr Tony Gurney, portfolio holder for Education, Attainment and Achievement, said, “The Cabinet will consider proposals to bid for Scottish Government funding for a new modern school campus in the Three Towns this week, and while we are still to make a final decision on the proposal, there is no doubt that the plans outlined are very positive.”

Acknowledging there may be resistance to a school merger, Cllr Gurney sought to reassure pupils and parents, saying, “It would have been remiss of us not to look at improving the educational facilities for our young people now and into the future, given the funding that is available from the Scottish Government.  I would like to assure parents, of whom I am one, that, should this proposal be given the go ahead, we will work very closely with them and our young people to develop the type of school they want.”

Tony Gurney, SNP councillor for Ardrossan & Arran concluded, “This is a long term proposal and there will be lots of opportunities to discuss the development of the campus, should the plan proceed.”

Cllr Gurney indicated he is happy to respond to individual enquiries on the issue of the proposed mergers involving Ardrossan Academy, Auchenharvie Academy, James McFarlane School and Haysholm School.  He can be contacted at: agurney@north-ayrshire.gov.uk

Councillors demand more details on fly-tipping problem

Council officials have been told to produce a more detailed report on the issue of fly-tipping in North Ayrshire.

Last week’s meeting of the local authority’s Scrutiny & Petitions Committee saw councillors question the conclusions of a report compiled by Ms Laura Friel, the Council’s Corporate Director (Finance), particularly its assertion that there had been no increase in fly-tipping since charges were introduced for ‘special uplifts’ of unwanted household items.

Councillors were discussing a request to ‘call-in’ a decision by the Council’s Labour Executive in the previous administration, which had simply noted Ms Friel’s report and its conclusions.  The request had been submitted by three Independent councillors Ronnie McNicol (Saltcoats & Stevenston), John Hunter (Ardrossan & Arran) and Robert Barr (Dalry & West Kilbride).

Cllr McNicol had previously argued that the introduction of charges for special uplifts had led to a noticeable increase in fly-tipping in the Three Towns, and he revealed it was costing the local authority more to remove items illegally dumped than they were taking-in from charges for special uplifts.  As a result, Ronnie McNicol proposed that the charges be removed.

Following discussion of Cllr McNicol’s proposal, councillors agreed that officers should produce a review of the charges.  However, when the Finance Director submitted her report on the issue, it failed to address the concerns raised regarding charges for special uplifts, and stated there had been no increase in fly-tipping.  This was despite official Council figures showing instances of fly-tipping collected by the local authority had more than doubled in the year after charges were levied.

At last Monday’s meeting of the Scrutiny & Petitions Committee, the first since the Council Election, members discussed the request to ‘call-in’ the previous Labour Executive’s decision to accept Ms Friel’s report.  A number of councillors expressed concerns over what they perceived to be a significant increase in fly-tipping, while others criticised the officer’s report, particularly regarding a lack of relevant data.

In conclusion, the committee requested a more detailed report from Ms Friel, in order that they could decide what recommendations, if any, regarding fly-tipping and charges for special uplifts should be made to the Council’s ruling SNP Cabinet.  A further report will now be submitted to a future meeting of the Scrutiny & Petitions Committee.

Government cuts - Council forced to pick up the tab

Tuesday’s (June 19) meeting of North Ayrshire Council’s ruling SNP Cabinet will hear that changes contained in the UK Government’s Welfare Reform Act will “have significant consequences for the local wider community, all benefit claimants and Council Services and strategies.”

The changes will see cuts in payments to some of the most vulnerable people in local communities, which will inevitably see an increase in those seeking help from the Council’s social services department.  The UK Tory-Lib Dem Government is on record saying the changes will save billions-of-pounds, but their calculations don’t appear to take into account the increased costs local authorities will have to pick up.

Last December, SNP and Labour members of the Scottish Parliament took the unprecedented step of voting against a ‘consent’ motion in relation to the Welfare Reform Act.  As the Scottish Parliament cannot block Westminster proposals, ‘consent’ motions – relating to Scottish aspects of UK legislation – are normally passed without a formal vote at Holyrood.  However, given the serious implications for Scots in receipt of benefits, SNP and Labour MSPs decided to withhold consent on the Welfare Reform Act.  Westminster, though, simply ignored the decision of the Scottish Parliament and imposed its welfare reforms in Scotland.

Now, local authorities are planning for increased demand on social services and for locally provided benefits, such as free school meals.

The report that will go before Tuesday’s meeting of North Ayrshire’s Cabinet will detail specific local consequences of the UK Government’s welfare reforms, such as “indicative financial pressures of £1.4m” having been identified as resulting from “the cessation of Council Tax benefit”, and a further funding pressure of £1.8m in relation to wider welfare reform in both 2013/14 and 2014/15.

The Council has established a Welfare Reform Group, which is tasked with identifying "further spending pressures as the refroms are introduced," and implementing an agreed action plan to deal with the consequences. However, SNP councillors will be warned, "The extent of these costs is unknown at present [and] additional resource may be required to implement the actions. The level of resource cannot be quantified at this stage."

Revealed: shocking state of former Shell site

Seven months after specialist decontamination contractors left the former Shell refinery site in Ardrossan, the area now resembles a lunar landscape.

the3towns’ exclusive photo (above) shows just one part of the site: other areas contain layers of asphalt, concrete, 30ft-high piles of earth and protruding pipework.

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 project...to 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.

No work has taken place at the site off North Crescent Road since the decontamination experts left last November, prompting Ardrossan’s Independent councillor John Hunter to describe the area as “the Three Towns’ biggest derelict site”.

Cllr Hunter spoke to the3towns after residents who live close to the shorefront site raised concerns over the way the land had been left.  John 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 signs fixed to it warning of contaminated land.”

Referring to the role of Irvine Bay, the Ardrossan & Arran councillor said, “We know the long-term plan involves a housing development, but how long do they think it’s appropriate to leave a massive derelict site on Ardrossan’s shorefront?”

Irvine Bay Regeneration Company says the first phase of development for its ‘Ardrossan North Shore’ project will see the creation of a new marina with more than 200 berths, growing to around 500 by its completion.

According to the regeneration company, it expects to receive planning consent for the marina extension – which does not involve the Shell site - during the current year.

Katy's concern over Coastguard closure

Local MP Katy Clark has criticised the confirmation that the Clyde Coastguard facility at Greenock will close on December 31st.

Although the closure is not a surprise - it had previously been announced that the Greenock station was to be a victim of the UK Government’s plans to modernise the Maritime and Coastguard Agency – but the confirmation of a December closure means the Clyde base will disappear before its replacement, a new Maritime Operations Centre at Fareham, is operational.

Katy Clark said, “I am deeply concerned at the decision to close MRCC Clyde prior to the Maritime Operations Centre becoming operational. This is a decision which has been made out of convenience, due to the current lease at MRCC Clyde coming to an end, rather than based on what is safest for Scotland’s west coast.”

Ms Clark, MP for North Ayrshire & Arran, added, “The UK Government claims that Belfast and Stornoway can cover the workload, but I am far from convinced that either station has the capacity to deal with the high volume of incidents currently dealt with at Greenock.

“Statistics show that MRCC Clyde dealt with more cases than Belfast and Stornoway put together in the first five months of this year.  Staff at Belfast and Stornoway will also not have the local knowledge that coastguards at Greenock have built up over many years of service.”

The Labour MP believes there is now “a very real threat that in the immediate period following MRCC Clyde’s closure, lives could be put at risk.” 

Plans in place for Doctors' strike

NHS Ayrshire & Arran has said it is working with the doctors' union, the British Medical Association (BMA), to ensure that the strike planned for Thursday (June 21) does not affect patient safety.

Doctors felt compelled to take strike action for the first time in 40 years after the UK Government reneged on a relatively recent agreement.  Under the government’s new proposals, doctors will be expected to work longer, pay more for their pensions, but receive less when they actually retire.

More than 60 per cent of BMA members voted for a one-day stoppage on June 21, with around 10,000 Scottish doctors likely to take part.  However, the BMA says “doctors will be at work, dealing with urgent and emergency care, but non-urgent operations and out-patients appointments are due to be cancelled or postponed.”

Patricia Leiser, Director of Organisation and Human Resources Development with NHS Ayrshire & Arran, explained the local situation, saying, “We already have good formal and informal working relations with the doctors' union representatives.  We are committed to working together in a spirit of trust and shared responsibility, to ensure that industrial action does not affect patient safety.”

Ms Leiser added, “We are still identifying the full implications of this industrial action on services on the day.  Where any outpatient appointments or planned non-urgent surgery scheduled for Thursday need to be changed, patients are being contacted to let them know.”

GP practices will be open for their normal working hours, but they may choose to only provide emergency or urgent appointments.  Non-urgent or routine appointments may be rearranged, which could include services such as routine telephone appointments, home visits, repeat prescriptions or minor surgery.

Jim Crichton, NHS Ayrshire & Arran’s Director of Primary Care and Mental Health Services, said, “If you need to see your doctor, you should contact your GP practice as normal. Your care needs will be assessed in the normal manner and if your needs are considered urgent and you need to see a doctor or another member of the practice team, they will make arrangements for this.

"If you have an appointment already booked for Thursday with your GP practice and this is affected by the industrial action, they will be in touch with you to rearrange your appointment.”

The advice of the local Health Board is that, in relation to both hospital and primary care, if you already have an appointment planned for June 21, and this is going to be affected by the industrial action, the hospital or GP practice will contact you. You do not need to contact them.

MP supports arms-trade treaty

A campaign to establish the first-ever global arms treaty is being backed by local MP Katy Clark.

Ms Clark has joined thousands of people from across the world in calling for an end to the unregulated trade of guns, bombs and bullets, and has added her name to a campaign run by the chairy Oxfam, which demands the creation of a ‘bulletproof’ Arms Trade Treaty.

Also signed-up to the Oxfam campaign is Scotsman David Grimason, whose son Alistair was two-years-old when he was killed by a gunman during a holiday to Turkey in 2003.

Speaking to the3towns, Katy Clark said, “The damage done by the current trade in weapons is clear for all to see.  The recent Arab uprisings have seen repressive governments turn their arms, some of which have been manufactured in the United Kingdom, on their own people.  This cannot be allowed to continue, and I would welcome a strong global arms treaty placing strict conditions on the sale of weapons worldwide.”

Across the world 2,000 people die each day from armed violence, with 26 million people currently displaced within their own countries by armed conflict.

The poorly regulated global trade in arms and ammunition fuels conflict, poverty and human rights abuses. Since 2006, the governments of 153 countries have been working on a global arms trade treaty and in July the United Nations will decide the terms.

Oxfam is part of the Control Arms campaign, an alliance aiming for a treaty to protect lives and livelihoods and to prevent arms being used for atrocities on civilians.

Two out of every three people killed by armed violence die in countries at peace; one in 10 people around the world possess small arms; two bullets are produced each year for every person on the planet.

Judith Robertson, Head of Oxfam Scotland, said, “The next few weeks and months are crucial in gathering support for a strong Arms Trade Treaty.

“Controlling the movement of weapons will save many lives and I welcome the support of Katy Clark.

“I urge other Scots to sign our online campaign to make sure the UK Government recognises the strength of feeling on this issue in Scotland – and acts upon it.”

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Labour planned coalition with SNP

Claims have emerged that Labour councillors made a sensational move to cling onto power in North Ayrshire despite losing the May 3rd election...by offering to form a coalition with the SNP.

According to Cunninghame North SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson, Cllr David O’Neill, leader of the Council in the previous Labour administration, approached the SNP with an offer to share power following the recent election that saw the Nationalists emerge as the largest group by just one seat.  The move, had it been accepted by the SNP, would have seen an all-powerful coalition with a whopping majority of 16 over other councillors - six Independents and one Tory.

the3towns understands Labour were prepared for the SNP to have the position of Council Leader, but with Cllr O’Neill as deputy.  Labour would also have expected members in the ruling Cabinet and convenerships of certain committees.

The information regarding the Labour approach to their normally sworn-enemies in the SNP only came to light after Cllr O’Neill and his colleague Cllr Alex Gallagher publicly criticised Tory Tom Marshall for supporting the SNP during votes at the recent Council meeting where the Nationalists took control of the local authority.  In a statement to the Largs & Millport Weekly News, SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson spilled the beans by saying, “Is the Labour Group Leader Cllr David O'Neill, who declares himself 'astonished' at this state of affairs, in any way related to the Cllr David O'Neill who offered the SNP a formal five year coalition with Labour to run North Ayrshire Council only two weeks ago?”

Having rejected Labour’s approach, the SNP now forms a minority administration on North Ayrshire Council, requiring the support of at least four opposition councillors to win votes when all 30 elected members are in attendance at meetings.

Dementia patients were taken to vote

Further shocking details have emerged in relation to claims that elderly residents of some care homes were taken to vote at last month’s North Ayrshire Council Election, without the knowledge of relatives.

Last week the3towns reported concerns expressed by two individuals, one of whom stated, “I couldn’t believe it when my elderly mother said she had voted at the election.  She is too frail to be going out and I laughed when she said she had voted, thinking she was joking.  But she then told me she had been picked up in a car and taken to the Polling Station.”

The concerned man added, “As if that wasn’t bad enough, she said the person who took her to vote had also ‘helped’ her to mark her ballot paper.”

the3towns can now reveal that a staff member from a North Ayrshire care home has confirmed elderly residents – some of whom suffer from dementia – were taken to vote on May 3rd, after a leading local member of the Labour Party argued with the home manager that ‘memory loss was only short-term’ and therefore the residents ‘would remember they voted Labour’.

the3towns’ source said staff from the home were told to take residents to vote on Polling Day, and in a number of cases had to assist in marking ballot papers as “the old folk didn’t have a clue what they were supposed to do”.

It has been further alleged that, following a decision by care home managers to remove the names of dementia patients from the Electoral Register, the same Labour Party member argued this was ‘an infringement of their human rights’ and insisted the people’s names were put back onto the register. 

On another issue relating to the Council Election, the3towns understands the Electoral Commission has been made aware of concerns regarding the high number of postal ballots in the Hayocks area of Stevenston.  As previously revealed by the3towns, there were 56 postal ballots from the Hayocks area that requested a ‘signature waiver’, meaning there was no way to verify each individual ballot paper had been completed by the person named on the request form.