Saturday, 25 August 2012

Labour councillor's £2,000 taxi bill

An investigation by the3towns has revealed that a former Labour councillor who lost his seat at the election last May pocketed travel expenses of £2,608 in the last financial year, most of which was claimed in relation to taxi journeys.

Documents secured by the3towns under Freedom of Information legislation show John Reid also claimed £251.42 under the heading of ‘Car and Van Mileage Paid by the Council’.  Mr Reid, who until May represented Dalry & West Kilbride, was additionally paid £740.70 to cover his phone and IT costs, £47.09 for ‘Subsistence’ and £395 under a heading of ‘Training and Conferences paid by the Council’.  In total, the former Deputy Leader of the Council was paid expenses of £4,042.43 in the 2011/2012 financial year, which was in addition to his salary of £24,353.04.

Following earlier revelations by the3towns regarding North Ayrshire councillors claiming and being paid travelling expenses without providing details of why they had made journeys, the local authority’s senior officers issued ‘guidance’ to all elected members, reminding them of the requirement to provide such information.  However, in the claims submitted by John Reid, a total of 47 journeys were recorded simply as ‘Portfolio Duties’.  No details of the actual journeys were provided, but the Council paid Mr Reid £840.50 for these trips.

In a further 47 claims, Mr Reid’s forms again stated ‘Portfolio Duties’ but included a destination, such as a local town or Council office.  For these trips the former councillor received £1,068.70.

On six separate occasions Mr Reid claimed and was paid £5.00 to cover taxi journeys between the office of North Ayrshire Leisure Limited and the Council’s headquarters, which are both in Irvine.  Another taxi journey, costing taxpayers £30.00, was claimed by John Reid to transport him to the Waterside Inn at Seamill.

Strangely, the then councillor for Dalry & West Kilbride also claimed and was paid a total of £160.00 for five separate taxi journeys from Irvine to Cumnock.

The investigation by the3towns revealed that, in the four financial years spanning April 2008 to March 2012, North Ayrshire taxpayers paid John Reid a total of £113,261 in salary and expenses.

Council took 5 days to lock gate in security fence

The gate in a security fence erected at Ardrossan Castle to ‘protect the public’ was left unlocked for five days after the error was reported to North Ayrshire Council.

As revealed in last week’s the3towns, the local authority spent £12,500 to erect the substantial fence after a detailed survey of the castle ruins concluded the structure was unsafe.  The March 2012 meeting of the Council’s Three Towns & Arran Area Committee recorded the fence was required “to prevent access to the castle both to safeguard the public and avoid further deterioration through vandalism.”  However, four days after the3towns discovered the gate had been left unlocked - and after Adrossan Independent councillor John Hunter reported the matter to the Council – teenagers were photographed climbing on the castle.

It was the following day (Wednesday, August 15) before a Council employee turned up to lock the gate.

 The survey of the castle, carried out by specialist consultancy firm Armour Construction, indicated the cost of stabilising the structure and carrying out necessary repairs would be in the region of £100,000.  The March meeting of the Area Committee agreed senior Council officials should “pursue funding options to carry out remedial work” and consider the installation of an integrated lighting system, costing around £12,000, to “provide a strong long distance presence...and provide more local interest and detail” in the area of the town’s most prominent feature.

A report considered at the same meeting stated, “funding should be sought to address the identified priorities in order to mitigate the health and safety risks associated with the current condition of the castle, and to preserve the existing structure for future generations.” 

Officers also recommended “that fencing be erected to protect the public and break the anti-social behaviour patterns currently associated with the castle.”

High cost to taxpayers of road-sign vandalism

Stickers plastered over road signs in the Three Towns could end up costing North Ayrshire Council – and local taxpayers - hundreds of pounds.

Two weeks ago the3towns revealed parents of young children attending a Saltcoats school had branded those behind the stickers as ‘idiots’ after a speed warning-sign was covered.  The sign, in Caledonia Road on the approach to Caledonia Primary School, indicates cars should slow down to 20 miles-per-hour when lights flash, but vandals covered the speed limit with stickers.

Now, Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councillor Ronnie McNicol has told the3towns that affected road signs may have to be completely replaced.  Cllr McNicol explained, “The Council’s anti-graffiti team have attempted to remove the stickers, but it seems they are so well stuck that paint on the signs is coming away, too.  This means that the Council may have to completely replace affected signs, which will be costly.”

The stickers mainly carry slogans in support of Glasgow Rangers football club and an associated organisation called ‘the Blue Order’.  However, one sign in Saltcoats’ Burns Avenue also has a sticker proclaiming ‘Smash Antifa’ – Antifa is a group working to eradicate the fascism and racism espoused by right-wing organisations such as the British National Party, the English Defence League and its offshoot, the Scottish Defence League.

The Blue Order, a group of Rangers supporters, has a web site offering for sale stickers very similar to some of those plastered over local road signs by vandals.

Work begins at Saltcoats Town Hall

Works to address problems at Saltcoats Town Hall have finally begun.

Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councillor Ronnie McNicol welcomed the first steps to make the historic building wind and watertight, following years of neglect by the previous Labour administration of North Ayrshire Council.

the3towns understands initial plans involve a project to re-roof the Countess Street building, with the condition of internal ceilings also being investigated.

At last February’s meeting of NAC, while the local authority was still being run by a Labour administration, Cllr McNicol, seconded by the SNP’s Willie Gibson, was able to secure a commitment – and an indicative sum of £1.9million – to refurbish Saltcoats Town Hall.

During the meeting, at which the Council set its budget for 2012/2013, Ronnie McNicol said, “At the budget seminar on 2nd February, it was stated that there is an unallocated funding of £3.9 million of resources in the capital plan for 2012/2016. 

“In the Capital Investment Programme in 2006/07 to 2011/12 £3.1million was allocated by the Labour Administration for the refurbishment of Saltcoats Town Hall, then in September 2006 a report to the Three Towns Area Committee indicated a need to consider how best to utilise the capital funding of £3 million. The report notes that a scheme had been developed to improve the facilities for community use.  Why was the identified scheme never progressed, and what happened to the £3million allocated for it?”

The Independent councillor continued, “At a meeting of the Three Towns area committee in April 2008, it was reported that a review of community halls and centres was carried out in 2001/02 and 2004. This included Saltcoats Town Hall. The report indicated that Education Services was successful in obtaining capital funding, in particular in respect of the Town Hall. The report also notes that a more modest restoration project could be carried out at a cost of £1.95 million. Where are the reviews and how much capital funding was received?”

Explaining the matter further, Ronnie McNicol added, “In December 2011 a report was prepared by external consultants on the essential repairs required to keep the Town Hall wind and watertight, the cost being £300,000. Provision has been made from the 2011/12 Education and Skills revenue budget underspend to fund this essential work on a part-Listed Building, but why has the administration allowed a situation to develop where they are now forced to spend hundreds-of-thousands of pounds 'fire-fighting', carrying out 'essential repairs', when if they had not reneged on their pre-election promise of 2007 Saltcoats Town Hall would by now be fully refurbished and an asset for the community?”

Mr McNicol continued, “Previously, the Leader of the Council [at the time Labour’s David O’Neill] stated that the Town Hall was structurally sound and the only issues related to toilet facilities and disabled access to the upper floor, therefore £1.9 million...should be sufficient to deliver a refurbished Town Hall.”

Prior to the Council Election in 2007, Labour councillors promised a £3.1million refurbishment of Saltcoats Town Hall.  That sum was reduced in 2008 to £1.9million, and then to zero.  Labour closed the facility in 2009.  However, responding to Ronnie McNicol’s speech, Cllr David O’Neill gave a commitment that a refurbishment would carried out, and agreed to set-aside the £1.9million requested by Cllr McNicol.

Concerns for walkers' safety at neglected path

A neglected Ardrossan path is again causing concern for local women walking alone.

The path, which runs from the bridge over the railway at the foot of the cannon Hill to the outdoor Bowling Club off Kilmeny Terrace, is once again bordered by very overgrown vegetation – the3towns has highlighted the same problem in the past. 

An Ardrossan woman who contacted the3towns about the situation said, “I couldn’t believe how badly overgrown the area is.  I hadn’t been that way for a while, but as it was a nice day I walked over the hill and took the path.  I almost turned back when I saw it.  I would have turned back if it had been at night.  There is no way I would go that way at night.  In fact, I won’t be going that way again at any time of day or night.”

Old photographs of the area in Ardrossan show well maintained grass and trees bordering the path, but bushes, grass, brambles and weeds now grow freely, encroaching onto the path, almost blocking it in places.  A former outdoor curling rink adjacent to the bowling club is completely submerged under wild vegetation.

Previously the3towns highlighted concerns over the state of the path and adjacent land after two local women had been frightened when a youth jumped out of the undergrowth.  On that occasion two Ardrossan councillors, Independent John Hunter and the SNP’s Tony Gurney, asked the local authority’s gardeners to cut-back the overgrown bushes and clear the path.

the3towns understands the ground is now be privately owned.

More fly-tipping in the Three Towns

A disused construction yard in Ardrossan’s Park Road has been targeted by fly-tippers, just weeks after a senior North Ayrshire Council official claimed there had been no increase in such activities since the local authority introduced charges for uplifting unwanted household items.

The yard, formerly operated by McLaughlin Construction, has seen furniture, a television and children’s games dumped over the last few days, turning the area into an eyesore.

At a recent meeting of NAC’s Scrutiny & Petitions Committee, councillors questioned the conclusions of a report compiled by Ms Laura Friel, the Council’s Corporate Director (Finance), which contained the claim that there had been no increase in fly-tipping since charges were introduced for ‘special uplifts’.

Members of the Committee discussed 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.

The Scrutiny & Petitions Committee concluded that a more detailed report from Ms Friel was required, 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. 

The further report from the Corporate Director will be submitted to a future meeting of the Scrutiny & Petitions Committee, which is chaired by Cllr Hunter.

Burgess backs action to tackle drugs

Using a drug-related metaphor, local MSP Margaret Burgess told the3towns there is no “quick-fix” solution to Scotland’s increasing levels of drug misuse.  However, the SNP MSP for Cunninghame South firmly believes the Scottish Government is taking the right action to tackle the problem.

Mrs Burgess was speaking after new figures showed 584 people across the country lost their lives as a result of drug misuse last year.  The MSP said, “Every single one of those lives lost is a tragedy.

“I want to live in a Scotland free from the scourge of drugs but we have some way to go before this can be achieved.  We are now in a position where Scotland has a legacy of drug misuse that stretches back decades, creating an upward ten-year trend in drug-related deaths.”

Reflecting on ‘The Road to Recovery’, the Scottish Government's national drugs strategy, Margaret Burgess noted, “This was unanimously endorsed by the Scottish Parliament and it aims to address the distressing legacy of decades of drugs misuse, which the latest drug-related death figures bring sharply into focus.”

Mrs Burgess’ SNP colleague, Justice Minister Roseanna Cunningham, said £28.6m was being invested in drug treatment over 2012-13, with naloxone kits, which help counteract the effects of opiate drug overdoses, being distributed across Scotland.  Ms Cunningham added, “No government has done more to address the legacy of drug misuse and while it will take time to tackle this tragedy, we will do that through continuing to invest and support the recovery of those affected by drugs in Scotland.”

Thirty-six per cent of last year’s drug deaths were among 35 to 44-year-olds, with people aged 24 to 34 involved in 32 per cent of cases.  Men accounted for 73 per cent of the total, but the actual increase in the number of drug-related deaths was greater for women - at 117 per cent.

Joint initiative on antisocial quad-bike use

The dangerous and illegal use of off-road vehicles is being targeted by a Council-led group tackling antisocial behaviour.

The Multi Agency Problem Solving Group (MAPSG) and Strathclyde Police are taking action in response to concerns expressed by local residents.

During the past month, seven quad bikes have been seized by police using powers aimed at tackling the illegal and antisocial use of vehicles.  The majority of vehicles seized are crushed or sold to recover costs.

Police officers are working with local residents, businesses and organisations, such as North Ayrshire CCTV to identify those responsible before seizing the vehicles and reporting offenders to the Procurator Fiscal.  North Ayrshire Council Director of Community Safety, Chief Inspector Roddy Newbigging, said, “This initiative and the seizure of these vehicles is a clear message to those who behave in an antisocial way by riding off-road bikes illegally that they will be targeted. 

“Action will be taken against anyone who breaks the law or who endangers their own life or the lives of others by using vehicles illegally or irresponsibly.”

The Leader of North Ayrshire Council, Saltcoats & Stevenston councillor Willie Gibson, added, “Tackling antisocial behaviour and addressing issues raised by local communities are priorities of the Multi Agency Problem Solving Group.”

As part of the current crackdown, last Sunday (August 12) saw two Kilwinning men charged with motoring offences.  A 19-year-old was arrested to appear at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court from custody and a 23-year-old man was reported to the Procurator Fiscal.  Quad bikes were seized from both individuals.

Off-road motorcycles and quads can be used on private land with the permission of the landowner.

To report the illegal use of vehicles, or any other crime, the local community policing team can be contacted on 01294 404400.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Gate left open in castle 'security' fence

Bungling Council officials failed to lock the gate in a controversial fence erected to prevent the public from walking near the ‘dangerous’ ruins of Ardrossan Castle.

The fence, which some locals have described as ‘an eyesore’ and looking like the ‘perimeter of a high security prison’, was recently built on three sides of the castle at the town’s Cannon Hill, the fourth side abuts the Ardrossan-Glasgow railway line, which has its own fencing. 

According to minutes from the March 2012 meeting of the Council’s Three Towns & Arran Area Committee, the fence was required “to prevent access to the castle both to safeguard the public and avoid further deterioration through vandalism.”  Councillors were told the cost was estimated at £12,500.  However, the3towns can reveal the only gate in the fence has been left unlocked, meaning anyone could simply stroll into the area of the castle ruins.

Following a detailed survey of Ardrossan Castle by Specialist consultancy firm Armour Construction, councillors were advised the cost of stabilising the structure and carrying out necessary repairs would be in the region of £100,000.  The March meeting of the Area Committee agreed senior Council officials should “pursue funding options to carry out remedial work” at the castle, and consider the installation of an integrated lighting system, costing around £12,000, to “provide a strong long distance presence...and provide more local interest and detail” in the area of the town’s most prominent feature.

A report considered at the same meeting stated, “funding should be sought to address the identified priorities in order to mitigate the health and safety risks associated with the current condition of the castle, and to preserve the existing structure for future generations.”  Officers also recommended “that fencing be erected to protect the public and break the anti-social behaviour patterns currently associated with the castle.”

the3towns brought the unlocked gate on the costly fence to the attention of Ardrossan’s Independent councillor John Hunter who immediately contacted the relevant Council department to have the matter rectified.

Jobcentre 'vacancy' where workers could end up paying the company

JobcentrePlus, the national body that lists available employment opportunities, is currently advertising a Saltcoats-based vacancy that comes with no salary and could actually result in a successful applicant having to pay the employer.

the3towns has previously revealed Jobcentre-advertised vacancies in the local area, mainly for sales positions, which record the positions as being “self employed” 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 previous self employed ‘vacancies’ advertised at the local Jobcentre and on the government agency’s website were for a position listed as ‘Sales/Collector’.  Prospective employees were told they would be required to go door-to-door in Ardrossan and Saltcoats selling loans and collecting payments.

In the past week, however, a new job advert has been posted locally and on the JobcentrePlus website.  On this occasion Jobseekers are told to contact an agency called One Recruitment, which is advertising for Direct Sales Agents to sell break-down insurance on behalf of the RAC (Royal Automobile Club).  The advert initially states the job comes with a salary of £25,000 and a 37.5-hour working week over five days, but closer inspection reveals employees are paid commission only.  Again, the minimum-wage ‘get-out’ clause is inserted by JobcentrePlus, reading “The company has given assurance this vacancy enables workers to achieve wage equivalent to the Minimum Wage rate. Self-employed people are responsible for paying own National Insurance contributions and Tax.”

In addition, prospective ‘employees’ are told they will require to use their own car and that, following an initial eight-week period,  a £125 ‘administration fee’ must be paid each month to the RAC.

The ads state, “RAC has 113 years of motoring experience – more than any other breakdown organisation – and we are currently recruiting sales agents”.  Of the job, RAC say, “Our direct sales agents simply sell RAC breakdown cover in supermarkets, shopping centres, markets and car boot sales.  Ultimately the role involves engaging with the general public, canvassing them and telling about our amazing range of products, building a rapport and selling to needs...on a face to face basis.”

Under the heading of ‘Your commitment’, the ad informs prospective workers they will be required to pay “£125 per month – agency fee”, must “hold a full UK driving licence” and that “all successful applicants are subjected to CRB, CIFAS and Credit checks”.

RAC’s Annual Report shows that, up till December 2011, the company’s annual revenue totalled £433m, with EBITDA (recorded earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) listed at £95m.

MP calls for action on student loans

Local MP Katy Clark is calling for a reduction in the rate of interest on student loans.

With loans required by many students to help fund four years of university study, a generation of young adults are now emerging into the workplace already saddled with thousands-of-pounds of debt.  In an attempt to reduce the burden falling on students, Katy Clark has written to the Glasgow-based Student Loan Company calling on them to reduce the interest rates applied to loans, currently charged at 5.3 per cent.   Ms Clark has also sought the support of Scotland’s Education Secretary, SNP MSP Mike Russell.

Katy Clark told the3towns, “Student debt is something that stays with many graduates for the whole of their working lives.  With the job market so difficult, with many workers on pay freezes and with the standard of living plummeting, this rate of interest is not appropriate and does not relate well to others, such as the Bank of England base rate.”

The Labour MP added, “For those thousands of graduates who can’t find work the situation is even worse as their loan increases while nothing is being repaid.  We are currently in the midst of a youth unemployment crisis and it is wrong to increase the debt burden on students at this time.”

The Student Loan Company is due to review its interest rate next month, and Katy Clark has called for them to take the opportunity to cut it by at least the mount of the recent drop in inflation. 

It was recently revealed that Ed Lester, Chief Executive of the Student Loans Company, was paid through a private firm he had established rather than being paid directly – a tax avoidance mechanism that could reduce his liability for Income Tax by around £40,000 a year.

New funding for boiler replacement scheme

Margaret Burgess, MSP for Cunninghame South, has welcomed a £7.5m investment by the SNP Scottish Government in its ongoing ‘Boiler Scrappage scheme’.  Mrs Burgess says the funding is “further evidence that the Scottish Government is committed to fighting fuel poverty”.

Pointing out that around 18,000 householders will each receive up to £400 towards the cost of a new boiler, Margaret Burgess said, “It is unacceptable in 21st Century, energy-rich Scotland that we have people unable to pay their bills and living effectively on the breadline whilst energy companies reap ever-increasing profits year after year.  This investment, announced by the Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Alex Neil, will go some way to help remedy that situation.”

The Scottish Government has already initiated an Energy Assistance Package and Boiler Scrappage Scheme, which Mrs Burgess says continue to “help move Scotland forward, despite harsh funding cuts imposed by Westminster.”  The SNP MSP added, “The Boiler Scrappage Scheme has been a resounding success, helping to deliver new boilers to 12,000 households over the past year.  This new commitment will bring warmer homes and lower heating bills to many more people in Irvine, Kilwinning and Stevenston.”

The new funding is part of a £65m budget to tackle fuel poverty, which could see the SNP Government meet its commitment to provide support for 30,000 new boilers three-years ahead of schedule.  Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil said, “We have boosted investment by a record £7.5million this year to extend support to thousands of households ahead of the cold weather.”

The Home Energy Scotland hotline on 0800 512 012 offers help and advice on how to save energy and money in the home.

Suzanne takes cancer campaign to Crosshouse

North Ayrshire-based Suzanne Fernando spent the past week at Crosshouse Hospital highlighting important information about various types of cancer, including how the disease affects skin and lungs.

Suzanne is a survivor of cervical cancer and now helps Cancer Research UK (CRUK) as a Campaigns Ambassador.  Assisted by her two daughters, Jordan and Aaron, the local woman operated a Health Display Unit in the foyer of the hospital and spoke with patients, visitors and staff. 

Commenting on the work of CRUK, Suzanne said, “One-in-three of us will get cancer at some point in our lives.  The groundbreaking work of Cancer Research UK, which is funded almost entirely by the general public, will ensure that millions more people survive.” 

During her week at Crosshouse, Suzanne was a guest on a Hospital Radio show hosted by volunteer DJ Margaret Brown from Saltcoats.  The two women discussed CRUK, Suzanne’s role as an Ambassador and the current ‘The Answer is Plain’ campaign, which seeks to have tobacco products sold in plain wrappers to minimise the risk of children being attracted to them. 

Margaret Brown - or Maggie as she's known in the DJ world - is currently studying for an HNC in Creative Industries (Radio) at Paisley’s Reid Kerr college.

For more information on cancer and what it means, Suzanne has a Facebook page:

Move to end energey companies 'back-billing' small businesses

Katy Clark, MP for North Ayrshire and Arran, has called on the energy regulator, Ofgem, to take urgent action to protect small businesses from unfair practices being adopted by energy suppliers.

Current regulations allow suppliers to ‘backbill’ retailers and other small businesses for six years’ worth of incorrect bills, even when the supplier is at fault.   Ms Clark is supporting a campaign by ACS (the Association of Convenience Stores) to reduce the time period to 12 months, in line with protections for domestic customers.

A recent survey of independent retailers showed that 36 per cent have been overcharged in the past year, while more than 1-in-4 had received ‘back bills’ from suppliers.

Katy Clark said, “Energy companies continue to take advantage of small businesses.  Energy costs are spiraling and competition in the market is failing to work effectively.  This is harming the ability of small businesses in North Ayrshire and Arran to grow, invest and create jobs.  Energy companies have failed to put their house in order and it’s time for regulators to take action.”

Ms Clark is supporting the ACS campaign ‘Switch to Fair Energy Contract’ and has written to Ofgem calling on them to take immediate action.

ACS Chief Executive James Lowman commented, “We are delighted that Katy Clark has supported the campaign. We need a strong push to put an end to market practices that harm small retail businesses.  If we can get the energy market working better then it will have an immediate impact on the cost-base of thousands of small businesses, allowing them to make investments and create more jobs.”

Stevenston's healthy mums

A group of mums in Stevenston have established their own fitness group after being supported by the local Healthy Futures Project.

The two-year initiative was established in January 2010 and more than 3,200 members of the Stevenston community have already been involved.  The main aim of the project, which was supported by North Ayrshire Council’s Community Development Service, was to encourage families, children and young people to enjoy and lead a healthier lifestyle.

Participants recently met-up to enjoy a celebration lunch, with the Stevenston Healthy Mums’ Group among those who took part.  The women got together last year, initially to take part in the ‘Race for Life’ event but subsequently deciding to maintain their keep fit activity, resolving to train together every week.  Five members of the group have now completed their ‘Level 2 - Exercise to Music’ training at James Watt College, which means they are qualified to lead the weekly sessions after the current summer break.

Healthy Futures Project co-ordinator, Heather McCann, said, “The lunch was a way of thanking local partners and community members for supporting the project.  It was also an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the Healthy Futures Mums’ Group.”

The children of some group members attended the lunch and surprised their mums with flowers (see above photo).

Healthy Mums fitness sessions take place on Fridays from 10:00am to 11:00am at the Ardeer Neighbourhood Centre.  For further information, including when the sessions resume, call 07874 232242.

'Westminster is unreformable' - Margaret Burgess MSP

Margaret Burgess MSP says the announcement that plans for reform of the House of Lords are to be abandoned shows Westminster is “unreformable”, adding, “With the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition making such a mess of constitutional reform, they should stop interfering in the process of Scotland's constitutional future.”

Mrs Burgess argues the situation demonstrates a ‘yes’ vote in the Independence Referendum “is the best way to ensure a modern democracy for Scotland”.

The former leader of the SNP Council Group in North Ayrshire continued, “The announcement raises questions over how people in Scotland can trust vague promises of more powers for the Scottish Parliament when the Westminster parties cannot even agree to reform the undemocratic House of Lords.

“This u-turn leaves Scotland with a legislature where we only have 4 per cent of the elected representatives and where a majority are not even elected at all.  The issue of reform of the House of Lords has been with us for well over 100 years and keeps coming back to the Commons, only to be kicked again and again into the long grass.” 

Mrs Burgess added, “For parliament to carry out its purpose, it must act with democratic authority and integrity.  The present House of Lords lacks legitimacy because of its anachronistic and unrepresentative composition – yet 800 unelected peers still preside over policy impacting on Scotland,” a situation the SNP MSP says is must be stopped. 

Concluding, the  member for Cunninghame South, which includes Stevenston, said, “The constitutional change that is best for Scotland is to end this discredited, undemocratic chamber having any say in decisions over Scotland – and that can best be done by voting ‘yes’ in the independence referendum in 2014.”

Ferry rescues jet-skiers

A dramatic sea rescue was carried out last Friday afternoon (August 10) when crew from the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry sailing from Brodick to Ardrossan went to the aid of two jet-skiers who had run out of fuel in the Firth of Clyde.

The incident happened around 4:30pm while the ferry was around 10 minutes from Ardrossan.  Having spotted the jet-skiers waving and the craft drifting, the CalMac vessel contacted Clyde Coastguard and were given the go-ahead to effect a rescue. 

After announcing to passengers what was happening, the ferry launched its recovery vessel and towed the jet-skis to Ardrossan.

Superfast broadband in the Three Towns by September

Confirmation of an upgrade to the internet exchange covering the Three Towns has been welcomed by Katy Clark, MP for the area.  The work will mean the introduction of superfast broadband speeds in local towns from September.

The announcement comes following Ms Clark’s representations to industry regulator Ofgem regarding long-standing problems accessing broadband in parts of Ayrshire. 

The Saltcoats and Ardrossan internet exchange has now been included on a list of 34 Scottish locations that are to benefit from the next phase of BT’s fibre broadband upgrade programme.  The development will provide superfast broadband to more than 14,500 homes and businesses in the local area.  Speeds are expected to increase significantly through BT’s Openreach network, which uses a mix of fibre to the cabinet (FTTC), and fibre to the premises (FTTP) technologies, currently offering download speeds of up to 40Mbps with FTTC and up to 100Mbps with FTTP, rising to 300Mbps in Spring. 

Katy Clark said:, “I’m delighted that the Three Towns will benefit from the upgrading of the Ardrossan-Saltcoats exchange and should have super-fast broadband available from 30 September 2012.

“In the past, my constituents in the Three Towns were paying for a service which their internet provider was not delivering.   I welcome this investment in technology that will provide greater opportunities for businesses in the Three Towns area.  This will improve growth, competitiveness and draw more businesses into the area.” 

Ms Clark confirmed her intention to press for other areas of North Ayrshire to receive similar investment and improvement to their broadband services.

Olympics in Ardrossan

Primary pupils from across North Ayrshire have prepared for life in secondary school by displaying their Olympic spirit.

Over 40 youngsters took part in the Scottish Olympics Event, held at the all-weather sports facility in Ardrossan’s Central Park, as part of a Primary 7 ‘Transition Programme’ organised by North Ayrshire Council.

In addition to traditional Olympic sports, the pupils also took part in ‘Hurling the Haggis’ and a ‘Wacky Welly’ event.  A Council spokesperson said the young people “put in a great amount of effort and made new friends from other schools.”

The overall individual Gold Medal winner was Tia Lorimer from Dreghorn, with the Garnock Valley’s Robyn Kerr taking Silver, and the Bronze going to Ryan Byrne of Ardrossan.  The team tug-o-war was won by a group of pupils from Dreghorn.

Ardrossan & Arran councillor Tony Gurney, the Council’s Cabinet member for Education, praised the young ‘Olympians’ saying, “These are very valuable events for the young people who take part. The transition to secondary school can be daunting for young pupils, but being able to make new friends before they start can make the transition much easier.”

Youngsters' successful Summer Programme

Over 60 local young people were joined by parents, volunteers and staff from North Ayrshire Council to celebrate achievements stemming from a programme of summer activities.  The event, organised by the Council’s Youth Services and young volunteers, was held at the Ardrossan Youth Centre.

Activities began with a screening of a DVD featuring the 3 Towns Motor Project’s Custom Bike Group, followed by presentations from the Y-Dance Group and Fun Arts Group, the Caley Youth Centre’s Animation and Photography Workshops, and the ‘No Knives Better Lives’ campaign.

Everyone who took part in the summer programme was presented with a certificate and a ‘goodie bag’ for winning various competitions, volunteering and participating in activities.

Councillor Alan Hill, North Ayrshire Council’s Cabinet member for Community and Culture, said the showcase had been a fitting finale to the local authority’s summer programme, adding, “It is good to see the young people’s efforts and I am sure their families are very proud of them.

“This is a very popular programme and it is pleasing the young people have so much fun while learning really important skills.”

Cllr Hill also thanked organisations that had partnered the Council on the summer programme, such as the Ardrossan Youth Association, Caley Youth Centre in Stevenston, Asda Ardrossan and Young Scot.  The SNP councillor singled-out for praise youth worker Alison Montgomery, who, he said, “has given so much to making the Youth Groups and the Summer Programme so successful for over 60 young people.”