Saturday, 28 July 2012

Council sheds 500 jobs in 2 years

North Ayrshire Council has shed 500 workers over the past two years.

The figure was contained in official data supplied by local authorities to the Scottish Government, which showed the number of people employed by Scotland’s 32 local councils had fallen by 20,000 from the first quarter of 2010 – 304,300 to 284,300 in the first quarter of this year.  The drop equates to 6.6 per cent of all local authority employees in Scotland.

Alex McLuckie, Senior Organiser with the GMB trade union in Scotland, believes councils are cutting jobs because of the local government settlement they received from the SNP Scottish Government.  Mr McLuckie said, “When [Finance Secretary] John Swinney set his budget for this period, GMB Scotland warned that it would lead to 20,000 job losses.  We said he was wrong to put that budget of cuts in place and he should have used his powers to deliver growth. These latest figures confirm our worst fears.”

The trade union official added, “What is behind these figures is the harsh reality of increased unemployment, cuts in services and a lost opportunity for Scotland’s young people.

“The statistics also blow apart the argument that the private sector would provide alternative employment.  As public sector employment reduced by 27,600, in the same period private sector employment went up by only 8,600.”

Of the three Ayrshire local authorities, North Ayrshire Council has seen the biggest drop in staff numbers, down from 7,200 in the first quarter of 2010 to 6,700 in the same period of this year.  Both South Ayrshire and East Ayrshire councils recorded drops of 200.

Scotland’s largest local authority, Glasgow City Council, has seen staff numbers reduced by 2,000 in just two years.

The GMB’s Alex McLuckie said “the ordinary citizens of Scotland are continuing to pay the real price for the austerity measures that are being forced on us by both UK and Scottish Governments.”

Fewer local buses because of the Olympics

the3towns understands the frequency of the bus service between Ardrossan and Kilmarnock has been scaled-back by operator Stagecoach, so that the company can fulfill a contract to supply buses and drivers at the Olympic games in London.

Stagecoach was awarded the contract to ferry athletes and media around London by LOCOG (London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games), and the company confirmed it currently has 2,630 bus drivers and support staff in the English capital.  However, things have not gone according to plan so far.  Last Monday night (July 16), members of the Australian Olympic team complained their bus from Heathrow Airport to the Olympic Village got lost, resulting in them being driven around London for three-and-a-half hours.  A similar fate befell the American team, which claimed the journey from Heathrow, which should take around an hour-and-a-half, saw them cooped-up on their bus for four hours.  Both incidents were put down to drivers not knowing the route and being unable to work onboard GPS systems.

Stagecoach confirmed a total of 89 drivers from its West Scotland operation have been seconded to work at the Olympics.  Thirty of the drivers are normally based at Kilmarnock, with a further nine from the company’s Ardrossan depot currently in London.

A Stagecoach insider told the3towns the ‘11’ service (Ardrossan-Kilmarnock) was running less frequently during the period of the Olympics, but that “local bus users probably won’t notice because it will only mean waiting an extra five minutes or so at stops during peak-times.”

Stagecoach Group Chief Executive, Sir Brian Souter, said, “The London 2012 Games are a once in a lifetime opportunity for our people to be involved in a global event on this scale.  We are proud to be involved in the Games and look forward to helping make the event a success for spectators and athletes alike.”

Saltcoats father and son admit Irvine assault

A father and son from Saltcoats have admitted assaulting an Irvine man, leaving him with life-threatening injuries.

The High Court in Glasgow last week heard that Alan Payne, 39, and Darren Payne, 18, attacked 28 year-old George Rutherford at the Bridgegate in Irvine on August 25 last year.  The incident was captured on town-centre CCTV.

Procurator Fiscal Jane Farquharson described how events happened quickly after Alan Payne struck a phone box with a rolled-up newspaper while Mr Rutherford was inside making a call.  Words were then exchanged between the two men, and it was reported that CCTV appeared to show Darren Payne attempt to pull away his father.  However, Alan Payne was then seen to aim punches at George Rutherford, before the Irvine man retaliated, knocking Payne to the ground.

The prosecution then described how Darren Payne ‘reacted immediately’ by attacking Mr Rutherford.  CCTV showed both Saltcoats men punching and kicking their victim, and stamping on him as he lay unconscious on the ground.

The Paynes fled before emergency services were called, but were arrested nearby a short time later.  Mr Rutherford subsequently required surgery for injuries that were described as life-threatening.

Alan Payne and Darren Payne admitted the attack and will be sentenced next month at the High Court in Edinburgh.

Long-term unemployment soars

Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show a shocking 142% increase in the numbers of long-term unemployed in North Ayrshire compared with this time last year.

Worse still, the local figure for unemployed aged between 18 and 24 has rocketed by 529% over the past twelve months.

The ONS figures also reveal the North Ayrshire & Arran constituency now has one of the highest levels of Jobseekers compared with available vacancies, coming in at 25th on a list of every constituency in the UK.

The new stats came in the same week it was confirmed both the UK and Scottish economies had tumbled back into recession, with the Bank of Scotland recording average Scottish salaries are falling.

Calling for the UK Government to “re-think its approach to the economy”, local MP Katy Clark said, “I am very concerned by the increase in the number of people who are long-term unemployed in the area. The dramatic increase over the past twelve months is cause for real alarm. This, coupled with the data showing a fall in average salaries, points to a real deterioration in living standards.”

The Labour MP said the latest set of unemployment figures showed the Tory-Lib Dem Government’s approach to the economy was not working, adding, “There must be a focus on job creation and the prevention of long term exclusion of unemployed people from the job market.”

Ms Clark indicated she would “continue to call on the Coalition Government to re-think their approach.”

Volunteers deliver North Ayrshire 'spring clean'

More than 2,600 volunteers from across North Ayrshire have taken part in an initiative to ‘spring clean’ the local area.

The event, run nationally by Keep Scotland Beautiful, saw discarded rubbish – including a car-seat, old bikes and carpets - picked-up and removed from public spaces. 

Amongst the volunteers doing the clean-up were staff from North Ayrshire Council, members of community councils, schools, youth groups, businesses, guides and scouts, as well as representatives from local churches.  Areas targeted for the spring clean included public gardens, school grounds, woodlands, nature reserves, rivers, road verges and town centres.

During the initiative thousands of discarded items of rubbish, including empty bottles, cans, crisp packets, cigarette ends and fast-food wrappers were picked-up.  In one particular spring clean, a total of 14 bags of rubbish were collected by 55 pupils from Stevenston’s Ardeer Primary School.

Helen Darvill from Keep Scotland Beautiful said, “It is a real achievement that 2,617 people from North Ayrshire came out in force to take part in National Spring Clean 2012.

“I am sincerely grateful to everyone who has been involved – from the local authorities, businesses, schools and nurseries, community councils, and enthusiastic individuals – you all deserve a massive pat on the back. “

Cllr John Ferguson, North Ayrshire Council’s Cabinet member with responsibility for the environment, said the aim of the initiative was “to make the district cleaner, greener, safer and more sustainable for residents and visitors.”

The SNP councillor added, “It’s particularly pleasing to note that almost 2,300 children took part in tidy-up events showing their concern for the environment.  I would like to thank everyone who took the time to participate in the National Spring Clean events.”

Call for 'plain' cigarette packs

North Ayrshire woman Suzanne Fernando, an ambassador for Cancer Research UK, has enlisted the support of local MP Katy Clark in a campaign to have all branding removed from tobacco packaging.

A recent survey conducted by polling agency YouGov revealed children were attracted to cigarette and tobacco packs that carried striking logos and designs.  In response, Cancer Research UK has developed a campaign under the slogan ‘The answer is plain’, which seeks to protect children from tobacco marketing by calling for legislation that would require cigarettes and other tobacco products to be sold in packs of uniform size, shape and design, otherwise known as ‘plain packs.’

Ms Fernando met Katy Clark last week at the House of Commons in London.  Ms Clark said, “It was a pleasure to meet Suzanne again and listen to what she had to say about the marketing of tobacco.

“Suzanne has been a very powerful advocate for cervical cancer jabs and is now taking on the smoking issue.   Health has to be the priority and we need to do whatever we can to cut down on tobacco use. There is a very strong case for plain packaging to help make smoking less glamorous to young people.”

Suzanne Fernando, a Public Relations Consultant and Childminder, said youngsters must be protected, adding, “I don’t want children being subjected to clever marketing techniques from an industry that has to recruit 100,000 new smokers each year to replace those who die from smoking.

“As a cervical cancer survivor, my cancer wasn't smoking related, but I want to do everything I can to protect young people from the frightening experience I have been through. The answer is plain campaign is arguing that we need plain packaging and I urge my fellow constituents in North Ayrshire and Arran to show their support by signing the campaign petition.”

Ms Fernando asked that everyone does their bit “to help stop children from taking up this deadly addiction.”

Smoking is the most significant preventable cause of cancer and is responsible for one-in-four deaths from the disease in the UK.

Sarah Woolnough, Director of Policy at Cancer Research UK said, “Between the ages of 11 and 15, there are around 157,000 young people who start smoking every year, so we must do more to make cigarettes less appealing to children.

“Girls are attracted to brands which have long, slim cigarettes with sophisticated names and glamorous packaging, while boys tend to respond to designs with a rugged, macho image. In an age when any parent tries to teach their children about the dangers of this deadly addiction, cigarette packs are sending a very different message.”

Ms Woolnough concluded, “Over 80 per cent of adults in the UK believe that children shouldn’t be exposed to tobacco marketing, so we’re urging MPs and their constituents to help us end the packet racket and give millions of children one less reason to start smoking.”

More information can be found at the campaign website

Youngsters set summer reading challenge

Libraries across North Ayrshire are supporting a special summer reading challenge for children.

Sponsored by Tesco Bank, the initiative challenges local youngsters to read six books during the summer break from school.  Those successfully taking part have the chance to win a range of prizes and will receive a medal and certificate to mark their achievement.

North Ayrshire Council’s Cabinet member for Communities and Culture, Cllr Alan Hill, welcomed the challenge, saying, “Encouraging young people to read introduces them to a whole world of enjoyment and lifelong learning.  Taking up the Summer Reading Challenge at one of North Ayrshire’s 17 libraries is free and great fun.”

Cllr Hill flagged-up other services and facilities available at local libraries, including ebooks, CDs, DVDs, online books, free internet access, IT classes, workshops, author visits and book groups.  The SNP councillor noted, “People can also follow the Council’s Twitter feed to find out what’s going on at local libraries.”

The 2012 Tesco Bank Summer Reading Challenge Scotland is run by the Reading Agency, an independent charity.   Award ceremonies will take place at every North Ayrshire Libraries branch when the challenge is completed.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Pay for six Council bosses tops half-a-million pounds

North Ayrshire Council’s Draft Annual Accounts for 2011/12 reveal the combined salaries of just six senior officials topped half-a-million pounds.

Top earner was Chief Executive Elma Murray who was paid £126,597.  Ms Murray received a further payment of £11,150 in relation to her duties as North Ayrshire’s Electoral Returning Officer.

Two Corporate Directors – Carol Kirk (Education & Skills) and Iona Colvin (Social Services & Health) – were each paid £99,390, while Solicitor to the Council Ian Mackay took home £89,277.  Alasdair Herbert, Corporate Director (Finance & Infrastructure), retired in October 2011 and his salary for the part of the year he was employed came to £57,882.  His replacement, Laura Friel, who took up her job in November 2011, received £55,217 in the financial year 2011/12.

In total, the six senior staff members were paid £538,903.

The Draft Accounts record the combined salaries of North Ayrshire’s 30 councillors in 2011/12 also came to more than half-a-million pounds – £552,207.  With councillors also claiming expenses of £38,692, the total paid to elected members in the last financial year was £590,899.

In addition, North Ayrshire Council agreed 289 ‘exit packages’ for staff during 2011/12, which totalled £10,292,160.  Data in the Draft Accounts show one staff member received £239,684, while another’s package came to £274,397.

In a foreword to the Report, SNP Council Leader Willie Gibson says, “The Council continues to respond to the financial challenge faced by the wider public sector though its robust financial planning and management.

“It had been anticipated that the country would have come out of recession in 2011/12, however economic performance shows the country entered a double dip recession at the end of 2011/12.  Future prospects for economic growth, which have been revised downwards on a number of occasions, and the current crisis in the Euro Zone, create significant uncertainty for the future.  We anticipate this will impact adversely on the availability of resources to meet the needs of our community.  Reduced resources together with some of the wider changes taking place across the country, specifically the introduction of Welfare Reform, means that we have challenges ahead.”

Laura Friel, Corporate Director (Finance & Infrastructure), added, “The [local government] settlement resulted in a drop in funding for North Ayrshire of £1.863m by 2014/15.  Reduced funding together with anticipated cost pressures associated with the changing demographic profile, service demand to meet the needs of our community and Welfare Reform will create significant challenges and financial risk for the Council over the medium term.”

Historic Saltcoats graveyard neglected

Staff from North Ayrshire Council’s Environment & Related Services department are to tackle overgrown vegetation in the graveyard of the former Ardrossan Parish Church in Saltcoats.

Weeds over 2ft tall had been allowed to grow between and over historic graves on land that surrounds the former church, now the Council’s Heritage Centre.  However, Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councillor Ronnie McNicol raised the matter last week with Council officials who agreed work to tackle the problem would be carried out on Saturday (July 14).

Formerly the North Ayrshire Museum, the building, off Manse Street, was recently transformed into a Heritage Centre that includes documents and articles of local historic value, and facilities to trace family histories. 

The graveyard surrounding the building is also of great historic significance, containing the last resting place of many important figures from Saltcoats’ past.  Also buried in the graveyard is Sarah Vincent, the last ‘witch’ to be burned in Saltcoats.  Although severely worn by age – Sarah was killed in the 17th Century – her gravestone reads ‘The burning place of Sarah Vincent of Saltcoats’.

The Ardrossan Parish Church on the site was opened in 1744 and extended in 1774.  It closed as a church in 1908 and was transformed into the North Ayrshire Museum in 1958.

The lack of maintenance at the graveyard is believed to be the result of Council cut-backs aimed at ‘saving’ money.

the3towns understands the weekend project to tackle the neglected graveyard will also see Council workers deal with overgrown flower beds at Saltcoats railway station.

Repairs to 'high flats' begin

Work to replace cladding and windows in Lambie Court and O’Connor Court in Saltcoats began last week.

However, the project, which had been mired in controversy over costs to be met by owner-occupiers, immediately hit a snag when Network Rail raised concerns over the potential for train services to be disrupted should debris from the ‘high flats’ fall or be blown onto the adjacent line.

Contractors have now been instructed to take appropriate action to prevent any interference with the railway.

In November 2010 the3towns revealed a North Ayrshire Council inspection of the high flats had highlighted the need for essential works to the fabric of the buildings. At the time, NAC officials estimated the cost to each property-owner could be in the region of £16,000. However, following the intervention of Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councillor Ronnie McNicol, and a further ‘competitive market test’, the bill to owner-occupiers fell dramatically to £8,830, excluding VAT.

North Ayrshire Council still owns 60 of the flats at O’Connor Court and Lambie Court, while 34 have been sold and are now in the hands of individual private owners. Following the Council’s consultations with those who had bought their properties, it emerged that just two would have been in a position to meet the originally-estimated cost of repairs.

The Council's share of the works at O’Connor Court and Lambie Court - £530,000 – will be met from the local authority’s Housing Capital Programme.

Local woman leads Farepak victims parliament delegation

Representatives from the Farepak Victims Committee last week met with Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Led by West Kilbride woman Louise McDaid, the delegation of Farepak savers raised the decision of the Insolvency Service to drop legal proceedings against former Farepak directors.   Last month it was revealed that efforts to disqualify seven former directors of Farepak and parent company European Home Retail (EHR) had been dropped.

Around 120,000 people, mainly women, lost money when the Farepak Christmas savings firm went into liquidation in October 2006, with the average loss being around £400.

The meeting with Mr Cable covered a range of topics, including the urgent need for better regulation to protect consumers in the pre-payment industry.

North Ayrshire & Arran MP Katy Clark has been a long-standing supporter of the Farepak victims and met the Committee members ahead of their meeting with the Business Secretary.  Ms Clark said, “Over five years from the collapse of Farepak it is disappointing to see that lessons have not been learned.

“Pre-payment customers buying anything from gift vouchers to fridges or cookers still have next to no protection if a company they have paid into is forced into administration or liquidation.  Many are simply unaware of the potential risk involved in making payments in advance.”

The Labour MP criticised Vince Cable for being “unable to provide answers about why he was unwilling to support efforts in Parliament to amend the law”.   Ms Clark added, “I am however encouraged that he has agreed civil servants should enter into consultation with representatives from the Farepak Victims Committee on this issue.   I hope they are willing to listen to the experiences of Farepak victims and then take the necessary measures.”

Louise McDaid, Chair of the Farepak Victims Committee, said members welcomed the chance to meet with the Secretary of State and discuss their campaign with him, adding, “It is completely unacceptable that the vast majority of those responsible for the Farepak collapse have simply been allowed to move on as if nothing had happened, while those who lost out have yet to receive a penny of their money back.”

Mrs McDaid concluded, “While the meeting was not as productive as we would have liked, we welcome the opportunity to enter into discussions with his Department on pre-payment regulation.

“We must now grasp this opportunity to ensure that another Farepak can never be allowed to happen again. The fight for justice goes on.”

Council announces support for young athletes

The local area’s brightest young athletes are to be given financial support to help them realise their ambitions.

North Ayrshire Council has announced it is to make available £72,000 to support the sports stars of the future through its new ‘Nurturing Excellence’ initiative.

The fund is part of the local authority’s commitment to creating a legacy of excellence in sport - inspired by the 2012 Olympics and the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.  As part of the initiative, the Council is also inviting local businesses to be partners in the programme and provide athletes with sponsorship.

To qualify for financial support, young people must be resident in North Ayrshire or have lived here while studying in the area. Successful applicants will join the Council and its partners in promoting events and activities across the district.

The full package of support for young athletes will include free access to leisure facilities, development support programmes and funding to attend competitions and training courses, with those eligible to apply ranging from district level competitors up to elite national representatives.

Cllr Alan Hill, the SNP administration’s spokesperson for Community and Culture, said, “The Nurturing Excellence programme will form a lasting legacy for both the Olympics this year and the forthcoming Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014.

“It is important that we grasp this once in a lifetime opportunity. These events will bring a focus and inspiration to our young athletes – we must help to support them as best we can.”

Cllr Hill concluded, “In supporting our talented young people now we can help to build pride and inspiration in the generations that follow.”

Religious representative required

North Ayrshire Council is seeking a representative from local churches and religious denominations to join its Cabinet.

By law, the Council is required to appoint three church representatives to any committee that advises on matters relating to its responsibilities as education authority for North Ayrshire.  The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 stipulates that representatives from the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church are appointed to the Cabinet, which leaves one place to be filled from within other church and denominational groups.

In appointing a third representative, the Council must take into account the comparative strength of various churches and denominational bodies.  Council Leader, the SNP’s Willie Gibson said, “It is important that the Cabinet remains as inclusive as possible.  I would welcome applications from religious and denominational groups throughout North Ayrshire for consideration.”

Any church or denominational group interested in filling the vacant position is asked to submit a letter of application to the Chief Executive, North Ayrshire Council, Cunninghame House, Irvine, KA12 8EE no later than Friday 31 August 2012.  Applications will be considered by the SNP Cabinet at its meeting on September 18.

Letters of application are expected to include relevant information, such as the length of time a church has served local communities, which areas of North Ayrshire it covers and the size of congregation. 

Katy condemns DVLA closures

Katy Clark MP has strongly criticised the UK Government’s decision to close Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) offices across the United Kingdom.

The Tory-Lib Dem Government has announced that all 39 ‘local’ DVLA offices, including Glasgow, which covers the Strathclyde region, will close by the end of 2013. The announcement means the whole range of DVLA services will only be accessible online or via the one remaining ‘national’ office based in Swansea. Around 1,200 people stand to lose their jobs as a result of the Government’s decision.

An angry Katy Clark said, “The Government’s announcement of DVLA closures will result in a reduced quality of service provided to the public and motor industry. The public are clearly opposed to this change as in a recent consultation run by the Government, 79 per cent of respondents disagreed with the closure proposals.”

The Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran said the proposals had not been properly thought through, adding, “Already the Government have been forced to concede that they will save well under half of what they had previously planned by 2015, and this is before the loss of tax and national insurance revenues to the exchequer or losses from the potential increase in road tax evasion are taken into account.

“The Government needs to stop and urgently reconsider this potentially harmful change.”

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Documents raise new questions over £380m PPP Project

Official documents secured under Freedom of Information show North Ayrshire Council’s £380m contract to build four schools using a Public Private Partnership (PPP) was signed by an unelected official, with most councillors denied access to the crucial Final Business Case.

Minutes of a meeting of the Council’s PPP Project Board, held on October 17 2005, record that “For logistical reasons...the contract [is] to be signed by the PPP Project Team Leader”.  At the time, the Project Leader was a Council official called Jim Tulips.

However, the minute goes on to say, “Ian Snodgrass recommended that the draft report be amended to authorise himself, as Chief Executive, or his nominee (e.g. the Corporate Director (Educational Services) or the PPP Project Team Leader)” to sign the contract.  It is then recorded that “The Board agreed to this revisal.”

The only councillors present at the PPP Board meeting were then senior members of the Labour Executive, David O’Neill and Peter McNamara.

Minutes of a later meeting of the Board record that PPP Project Leader Jim Tulips “highlighted the fact that the full business case is still confidential and would not form part of the report to Committee.  It would, however, be made available to the public after financial close.”

At that point, Cllr David O’Neill, then the Leader of the Council, is recorded asking “if elected members could see the final business case.”  Cllr O’Neill added, “If not...they should be given as much information as possible in order that an informed decision could be made.”

However, in response, the minute states Mr Tulips, an unelected official, “confirmed that the final business case was for the information of the Project Board only,” adding “the document is currently confidential, as negotiations between the parties are still ongoing.  It would only be publicly available after financial close.” 

Only three Labour councillors were members of the PPP Project Board and were therefore privy to the content of the £380m Schools contract before it was signed – David O’Neill, Peter McNamara and Sam Taylor.  Mr Taylor lost his seat at the Council Election in 2007.

In other previously confidential documents, an e-mail conversation between two Scottish Executive civil servants appears to reveal a strategy to keep North Ayrshire Council in the dark about certain aspects of its own PPP Project.

In the e-mail, dated July 25 2005, Jane Broderick, at the time a Senior Research Officer within the Scottish Executive’s Public Service Performance & Improvement Division, contacts Mr Sandy Rosie, who back then was a senior official in the Government’s Financial Partnerships Unit (FPU), which oversaw PPP Projects in Scotland.

Ms Broderick refers to an article that had appeared in the previous day’s Sunday Herald newspaper, in which then West of Scotland MSP Campbell Martin had raised concerns over North Ayrshire Council’s PPP Project and bids submitted for the contract, particularly one from a company called Comprehensive Estate Services (CES).  The e-mail concludes, “Leslie Evans [another civil servant] is meeting councils in Ayrshire tomorrow, including Ian Snodgrass, Chief Executive of North Ayrshire.  Can you please advise whether there is anything else she needs to know, any significant sensitivities or lines to take.”

In response, the FPU’s Sandy Rosie says, “The Council has recently announced its preferred bidder, which is not CES. CES is therefore no longer in the running to deliver this project, so SE [Scottish Executive] is content that the council continues to have a project which (subject to all the conditions of funding) should be supported by us in due course.

“FPU and Schools Division are handling a number of PQ [Parliamentary Questions] business on this case so the less said to the council the better!”

North Ayrshire Council proceeded with its £380m Schools PPP Project despite only ever receiving one credible and viable bid for the contract.  In other documents secured under freedom of Information legislation, the Council’s own external advisors on the project note at the very first Key Stage Review that the bid from Comprehensive Estate Services was “materially non compliant”.

Although the contract subsequently went to the other bidder, First Class Consortium, it is unlikely a project with only one substantive bid would meet European Union procurement regulations, a requirement of which is that projects must be able to show “genuine competition” for a contract.

McNamara is Three Towns' most expensive councillor

Labour’s Peter McNamara is again the Three Towns’ most expensive councillor.

Official North Ayrshire Council figures for the last financial year (2011/2012) show Cllr McNamara took home a total of £23,862.19.  Broken down, the total included a salary of £20,294.04 with the Ardrossan & Arran councillor claiming a further £3,568.15 in expenses.

NAC paid Cllr McNamara £663.40 in relation to phone and IT expenses.  The Labour member claimed a further £1,396.24 for travel.

Over the past four years (2008/09 - 2011/12), Peter McNamara has pocketed £94,858 from the public purse - £80,681 in salary as the Council’s Communities spokesperson, and £14,177 in expenses.

Cllr McNamara’s Labour colleague Allan Munro was paid a staggering £930.43 by the Council to cover his phone and IT costs.  Mr Munro, who represents Saltcoats & Stevenston, also claimed £494.09 for travel.  Last year Cllr Munro submitted mileage claims for five separate meetings he did not attend.  Controversially, an internal Council enquiry accepted the councillor’s explanation that the claims had resulted from a diary mix up.

The Three Towns’ least expensive councillor last year was Ardrossan & Arran SNP member Tony Gurney.  As a backbencher at the time, Cllr Gurney was paid a salary of £16,233.96 and claimed a further £292.12 in expenses, giving a total of £16,526.08.  Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent Ronnie McNicol was the next least-expensive councillor, claiming expenses of £502.94 on top of his salary of £16,233.96, giving a total of £16,736.90.

The Three Towns councillor who claimed the least amount of expenses last year was Ardrossan & Arran Independent John Hunter on £143.02.  Cllr Hunter’s salary of £20,294.04 as chair of the local authority’s Scrutiny Committee took him above councillors Gurney and McNicol in the total figures.

The highest expenses claim of any councillor - £8,252.31 - was submitted by then Provost Pat McPhee who lost her seat at the election in May.  Two SNP councillors, Matthew Brown (Irvine West) and Robert Rae (North Coast) claimed no expenses. 

Jobcentre vacancies - with no pay

While North Ayrshire currently has the highest unemployment in Scotland and some of the worst levels of poverty and deprivation, Saltcoats Jobcentre is advertising vacancies that pay no wages.

The jobs, mainly for sales positions, are listed as being “self employed” vacancies and get round the requirement to pay the nationally-recognised minimum wage by stating, “The company has given an assurance that this vacancy enables workers to achieve a wage equivalent to the National Minimum Wage rate”.

In addition to working on a commission-only basis, people are expected to generate their own sales and pay their own tax and National Insurance.  In addition, some of the job ads require workers to use their own transport and mobile phone.

Two of the self employed ‘vacancies’ advertised at the local Jobcentre and on the government agency’s website are for a position listed as ‘Sales/Collector’.  Employees are expected to go door-to-door in Ardrossan and Saltcoats selling loans and collecting payments.  The same vacancy exists for a position in Irvine.

Another job ad, for a Sales Representative, describes the position as “Working for a major cosmetics brand, duties involve issuing catalogues to existing and prospective customers in their own homes, taking orders and cash handling, plus all related tasks.”

A separate Jobcentre advert states Jobseekers would be “Working for a Blue Chip Company who are rapidly expanding their workforce,” which would involve “selling memberships to the general public in Service Stations and Shopping Centres on behalf of a well known and trusted brand name”.  For this commission-only vacancy applicants are told “a driving licence is a must”.

An ad for a Direct Sales Agent reads, “UK's no.1 breakdown assistance provider requires Direct Sales Agents. You are required to sell our products at places like shopping centres and supermarkets.”

Two other ‘vacancies’ require ‘Distributers’ “for delivery and collection of company brochures and customer ordered merchandise” and ‘Experienced Fundraisers’ to approach the public “to raise awareness and fund-raise on behalf of our animal charity”.  For the latter role, the charity adds, “Own transport would be an advantage however not absolutely necessary as venues are normally located at public transport links.”

Three Towns dementia centre opens

North Ayrshire Council has officially launched its new Dementia Support Service for people affected by the condition.

Based at the Thistle Day Service in Stevenston’s Moorpark Road West, a team of eight Dementia Support workers offer advice, information and specialist support to people with dementia, their families and carers.

The local authority’s spokesperson on Health and Social Care, SNP Councillor Anthea Dickson, welcomed the new facility, saying, “I am delighted to see the new Dementia Support Service being launched.

“The memory cafes, for example, provide an excellent service and I know how valued they are by users and their families.  They provide opportunities to meet with professional staff and others with shared experiences of dementia.”

Cllr Dickson added, “It’s vital for people to know they are not alone and that there are services to support them.”

The new facility was officially opened by Ardrossan man Robert Stevenson, whose wife was diagnosed with vascular dementia two years ago.  Mr Stevenson said, “It can be difficult to ask for help but there is a lot of support out there.”

Dementia Support Worker Avril Donnelly visited Mr Stevenson at home to tell him about the services that are available.  Mr Stevenson said even just an hour of respite allowed him to pop out to the shops or go for a walk, adding “Through the Service I have also been able to meet other carers who have a wealth of information and shared experiences.

“I would recommend that anyone who is a carer to someone with dementia, or who knows someone in that position, contact the Dementia Support Service.”

Memory cafes across North Ayrshire operate on a drop-in basis and offer a friendly, relaxed and welcoming setting where people with dementia and their carers have the opportunity to access practical information and emotional support.

The Service also produces a North Ayrshire Dementia Newsletter every three months, containing information about local services, national dementia issues and practical advice.

Anyone who feels they or someone they know would benefit from the service should contact the Council’s Dementia Support team on 01505 684362.

Locals earn Duke of Edinburgh Gold Awards

Three Towns residents were amongst North Ayrshire recipients of the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award at a ceremony last week.

Stevenston woman Jordan Campbell and Darren Wright from Saltcoats joined Kilbirnie’s Marc Donati and Irvine’s Sarah Reid as they received the top award from the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip at the palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh.

North Ayrshire Provost Joan Sturgeon also attended the ceremony, where she met the participants and presented them with the Council’s Citizenship Award.

Provost Sturgeon said, “To receive the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award is a fantastic achievement.

“These young people have shown incredible commitment and put in a great deal of time and effort.  They should be tremendously proud of themselves.”

The Duke of Edinburgh awards scheme is a programme of three levels, each requiring young people to take part in activities over four sections, culminating in the Gold Award.

North Ayrshire Council’s Duke of Edinburgh Awards development officer, Gavin Ferguson, noted, “Only a few young people who start the Duke of Edinburgh programme gain the Gold Award and it is a tremendous achievement for them and their group leaders.”

Mr Ferguson added, “The Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme is about developing young people’s ability to cope with challenges and to plan for the future.

“The two local Open Duke of Edinburgh Award groups – based in the Three Towns and Irvine - are run by volunteers on behalf of North Ayrshire Council Community Development.

“A huge amount of effort is put in by the volunteers, as well as the participants.”

Jordan Campbell, 23, started her Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award in 2005 and completed all three levels, which included taking part in a ten-day expedition to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.

Darren Wright, 23, started his Bronze Award a year earlier and also took part in the expedition to the Atlas Mountains.  Funding for both trips was raised by the whole Three Towns team.

Marc Donati started his Duke of Edinburgh programme in 2005 and won the North Ayrshire outstanding participant award in 2010.

Sarah Reid began her three-level progress to the Gold Award in 2005 and has also volunteered with Girlguiding UK and the WRVS at Crosshouse Hospital.