Saturday, 27 October 2012

Repairs finally carried out to harbour wall

Thirteen-months after the3towns revealed a massive hole on the sea-ward side of the harbour wall at Ardrossan, contractors have begun work to tackle the problem.

Over the past week, lorries have deposited a large quantity of stones onto the quay, which a mechanical digger then lifted over the seawall to allow the hole to be filled. 

The length of time it has taken harbour owners Clydeport to carry out repairs led to concerns that the major breach in the sea-defence could have resulted in the structure of the quay being undermined.  The internal area opposite the hole in the seawall is adjacent to the busy car park serving the Arran ferry.

In October 2011 – a month after the3towns first revealed the gaping hole in the harbour wall – divers were called in by Clydeport to carry out an underwater inspection of the damaged area, on both the seaward side and within the dock area.  However, it has taken a full year since that inspection before remedial works began.

Other issues of concern previously highlighted by the3towns – a breach in the harbour’s breakwater and major damage to the foundations of the lighthouse – so far remain untouched by Clydeport.

In the last full-year accounts posted by the harbour owners, pre-tax profits of £10.4m were recorded.  Clydeport also paid a £12m dividend to its parent company, the Manchester-based Peel Ports Group.

North Ayrshire - still highest unemployment in Scotland

Latest figures released by the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) show North Ayrshire has once again retained the unwanted title of Scotland’s worst unemployment blackspot.

The stats also reveal youth unemployment in North Ayrshire has almost doubled in the past five years – from 6.5% to 12.6%, the second-fastest rise in jobless young people for the whole of the UK, beaten only by Corby in Northamptonshire. 

The figures for everyone unemployed and claiming Jobseekers Allowance in September show the North Ayrshire total was 6.5% - compared with 4% for Scotland and 3.8% across the UK.  The second-worst area for unemployment in Scotland is West Dunbartonshire (6.1%), followed by East Ayrshire and Dundee on 5.8%, with Glasgow recording 5.7%.

In total, there are 3,740 North Ayrshire men without work and claiming Jobseekers Allowance, with a further 1,871 women in the same position.

Broken down into the two Scottish Parliament constituencies that fall within the local authority area of North Ayrshire, Cunninghame South (which includes Stevenston) fares slightly worse than Cunninghame North (including Saltcoats and Ardrossan) on 7% and 6% respectively in terms of total adult unemployment.

The unemployment figures were released in the same week that the latest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) statistics showed Scotland had failed to emerge from recession.

Reacting to the double-dose of bad news, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP said, “We could not have a clearer example of why Scotland needs the full powers of independence.  The figures show once again that Scotland is suffering under the UK Government's do-nothing economic policy.”  The Scottish Government has repeatedly urged the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition at Westminster to provide funding for major capital investment projects to help boost the economy.

For the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), General Secretary Grahame Smith attacked the UK Government’s “damaging austerity programme,” adding, “Once again, the statistics provide no cause for optimism that an end to this unprecedented and prolonged slump is in sight.  Indeed, the Coalition's damaging, unnecessary and ultimately self-defeating austerity project practically guarantees that the economic misery currently being visited on the Scottish people will persist for some considerable time.”

Police blitz on under-age drinkers

Strathclyde Police is to carry out a campaign designed to crack down on under-age drinking and antisocial behaviour in the local area.
 
Part of the initiative will attempt to raise awareness about the consequences for adults who buy alcohol for those under 18 years-old.  During the blitz against booze, police officers will visit licensed premises to deter under-age purchases and to offer advice, support and reassurance to staff.
 
Off-licence workers will be reminded not to sell alcohol to anyone who is already drunk and to be aware that some purchases are being made for under-age drinkers.  The main aim is to reduce the amount of alcohol getting into the hands those not legally old enough to drink.
 
Chief Inspector Roddy Newbigging, North Ayrshire Council’s Director of Community Safety, said, “Alcohol-related antisocial behaviour and crime are blights on all our communities.
 
“The police work with the Council and licensed premises to stop sales of alcohol to anyone who is under-age.  My officers have already reported a number of adults to the Procurator Fiscal for purchasing alcohol for under-age youths in the past few weeks and we will continue to work with communities and licensed premises in an attempt to reduce this problem.”
 
Chief Superintendent Bob Hamilton supported his colleague, saying, “There's no doubt that alcohol is a common factor in antisocial behaviour and many crimes.  What we want to do is raise the awareness about the impact it can have. 
 
“These crimes are happening where you live and I would ask that everyone helps us to reduce the amount of alcohol getting into the hands of young people – remember, it's your street, your choice.”
 
Urging adults not to buy alcohol for youngsters hanging about outside shops, Chief Superintendent Hamilton said, “Don’t do it.  It’s illegal, you're not helping them and you're not helping your community.”
 
The four-week campaign will feature radio ads, posters in schools and street stencils, as well as advertising within licensed trade publications and mirror stickers inside bars and clubs.

Empty art gallery

An art gallery in a renovated Ardrossan building was this week closed and empty.

All paintings and fittings have been removed from the Phoenix Art Gallery in what was formerly Jack Miller’s pub in the town’s Princes Street, which was redeveloped by the Irvine Bay Regeneration Company using public money supplied by the SNP Scottish Government under its Town Centre Regeneration Fund. 

On completion of the work in October 2010, Irvine Bay described the revamped building as “an important step forward in the regeneration of Ardrossan town centre”.  The Art Gallery moved into the premises a month later, November 2010.

Last month the3towns revealed Irvine Bay Regeneration Company – a private enterprise company funded by public money - has an annual wage bill of £560,707 – despite listing just nine members of staff in its annual accounts.

The company, which has been tasked with regenerating Ardrossan, Saltcoats, Stevenston, Kilwinning and Irvine, records a total income for the financial year 2010/2011 of £7,261,997.  However, the company’s accounts show this sum came mainly from three public bodies.  The biggest contributor was cash-strapped North Ayrshire Council, which provided £3,313,131.  Irvine Bay received a further £2,102,745 from the Scottish Government, while Scottish Enterprise contributed £1,815,321.  The balance was made up of £30,800, which was listed in the accounts as ‘grants from other agencies’.

As part of its regeneration work, Irvine Bay has been set a number of targets to be achieved by the year 2020, but current performance indicates the organisation could struggle to reach them.  By 2020 the company should have created 2,467 new jobs, but as of March 2011 (the end-point of the company’s most recent Annual Report), the figure for new jobs created stood at 191.  No further detail is provided of exactly where the jobs were created or in which sector.

By 2020, the target for new construction jobs is 2,761 – but as of March 2011 only 145 had been created.  The company’s target for training weeks achieved is 10,944, but so far it stands at 580.

In addition, Irvine Bay has a goal of creating 1,273 new homes (both private and social) by 2020: the company’s Annual Report shows that by March 2011 only 8 had been built.

MP's anger over gas and electricity price-hikes

Katy Clark MP has voiced her anger at the recent decision of energy suppliers to yet again hike gas and electricity prices.

Last week Scottish Power announced it will increase its prices by around 7%, which followed similar decisions by British Gas (6% increase) and NPower (9% increase).  Scottish and Southern energy had already planned a significant price rise for this month.

Katy Clark told the3towns, “These price increases are completely unacceptable.  At a time when families are already facing a squeeze in their household incomes, these announcements are the last thing they need.”

British Gas recently announced its profits in the first six-months of this year had soared by 23% to £345m – an increase of £64m on the same period in 2011.  Centrica, the private corporation that owns British Gas, revealed profits of £1.4bn.  Last year, Centrica Chief Executive Sam Laidlaw was paid a salary of £1.29m plus benefits that included a discount on the energy bills for his own home.  The other major energy suppliers have followed a similar path.

Labour MP Ms Clark said, “This profiteering while ordinary people struggle cannot be allowed to continue.

“I am supportive of proposals being advocated by some for a tough new regulator with the power to force energy companies to pass-on savings to consumers.”

The MP for North Ayrshire & Arran stated she would continue to call for “measures to protect vulnerable households at this time.”

Burgess blasts 'shattered consensus' on personal care

A local SNP MSP has blasted the Labour Party for shattering “the social consensus” on policies such as free personal care for the elderly, bus passes, student fees and free prescriptions”.

The attack by Margaret Burgess came after Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont MSP said such policies represented a “something for nothing culture” and promised she would end them if her party was returned to power in Scotland.

Mrs Burgess, MSP for Cunninghame South, said, “Until recently we all thought there was a broad political agreement in Scotland that elderly people shouldn’t be charged for personal care or bus passes.

“Like everybody else, I believed there was also consensus that prescriptions must be free at the point of need, that university tuition fees were not wanted in Scotland and that freezing the Council Tax to ease the pressure on family budgets was supported by all except the Tories.  Certainly, the SNP and Labour both backed these policies - but now Labour leader Johann Lamont says her party has changed its mind.”

Margaret Burgess, also the SNP Minister for Housing and Welfare, stated Labour’s new position is “an attack on the great gains of the Scottish Parliament,” adding, “I think Labour is wrong – wrong to conclude that the people who should bear the brunt of Tory cuts are pensioners, the sick, hard-pressed families and working-class young people who aspire to a university education.  It was insulting to all those who work hard and pay taxes to claim that Scotland is a ‘something for nothing’ culture.”

Pointing out that all of the initiatives Labour claims represent a ‘something for nothing’ culture are actually fully-funded policies, Margaret Burgess said, “The SNP Government has balanced its budget every year since 2007.  We have also taken action to reform our public services and make them more efficient.

“The Scottish Government budget is being cut, year after year, by the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition at Westminster, and my answer to that is for Scotland to have control of all of our own resources – not simply what London decides to give us back.  That will not magic-away the financial challenges – but it will open up different and better choices.”

An angry Mrs Burgess concluded, “To follow the Johann Lamont line would leave my constituents stuck in a Tory straitjacket, and that is simply unacceptable.”

Praise for Council staff's 'purple' fundraiser

Following last Friday’s ‘Go Purple Day’, staff at North Ayrshire Council have so far raised almost £2,000 for the Ayrshire Hospice.

Workers across Council departments took part in a range of activities with a purple theme, including wearing purple clothes, baking purple cakes, taking part in purple quizzes and, in the case of at least one member of staff, dying their hair purple.

North Ayrshire Provost Joan Sturgeon praised the efforts of the local authority’s workers, saying, “Lots of our staff donate to charities throughout the year, so it is heartening that they are still full of enthusiasm for fundraising.

“The Ayrshire Hospice is a fantastic cause, which relies on these types of events to continue providing a service for patients and their families.  The hospice delivers a superb service, outstanding care, guidance and information for people and their families who are facing difficult times.”

Provost Sturgeon reflected on how few people in North Ayrshire won't have had a family member, colleague, friend or neighbour who has not benefitted from the Hospice's work.  The Irvine West councillor added, “This service is not cheap, however, and the Hospice relies on the fundraising efforts of people across the area to allow it to continue to provide palliative care and other services.”

 Aileen Anderson, Chief Executive of the Ayrshire Hospice said, “The response to our first ever ‘Go Purple Day’ has been absolutely amazing.  I’m delighted with the support shown by the staff of North Ayrshire Council along with others in local businesses and public sector organisations, and thank them very much for their efforts.”

The Ayrshire Hospice provides care, services and helps those with any life-limiting illness.  Care is provided where there is no cure for the condition, but which improves the quality of each day for people who have a limited time to live.  The charity helps adults throughout Ayrshire and Arran with a life-limiting illness such as cancer, neurological conditions, end-stage heart failure and lung disease.  The hospice helps people to live as actively as they can to the end of their lives - however long that may be, where-ever that may be.  Care is provided in a number of places including people's own homes, hospitals and care homes, as well as in the purpose-built day-care and in-patient units.

The care is provided at no cost to the patient, but it does require extensive, on-going fundraising support.  It costs £6.3m per year to run the Ayrshire Hospice services - £16,000 per day.  Of the total, the Hospice needs to raise £4m through voluntary donations.

Winter warning from Margaret and Sean

Local MSP Margaret Burgess is backing a Scottish Water campaign urging us to be prepared for winter weather.

Mrs Burgess, SNP MSP for Cunninghame South, says we should not be lulled into a false sense of security by last year’s relatively mild winter, adding, “In Ayrshire, we can have very severe weather thrown at us and it is only sensible to be prepared.”

The Scottish Water campaign, fronted by STV weatherman Sean Batty, urges everyone to take a number of key steps in preparation for cold weather, including protecting pipes, ensuring our homes are insulated and, as best as possible, adequately heating rooms.

Margaret Burgess said, “An attitude of ‘hope for the best - but prepare for the worst’ will see homes and communities best placed to weather any severe temperatures.
  
“I would encourage everyone responsible for a property, whether a home-owner, tenant or landlord, to follow the basic and inexpensive advice contained in Scottish Water leaflets and on their website.”

Sean Batty said, “Last year many Scots were preparing for another cold winter after the extreme conditions of the previous two, however, in the end it turned out to be a much milder but stormy one.

“This highlights just how volatile our weather can be and how we need to be prepared in advance for whatever it throws in our direction, and to ensure that we heat, insulate and protect our homes and businesses against the ever-changing elements.”

Love food - hate waste

A group of local volunteers dedicated to encouraging others to reduce waste and recycle more are this weekend at the BBC Good Food Show Scotland, taking place at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) in Glasgow(October 20/21).

Working in partnership with North Ayrshire Council and Zero Waste Scotland, the volunteers will provide hints and tips on how to make the most of food, cut down on waste and save money with live cooking demonstrations from star guests including Mary Berry and Tom Kitchin. 

The BBC Good Food Show Scotland is also taking steps to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability.  Visitors are set to enter on a fully-recyclable carpet, while recycling bins will be provided throughout the SECC and leftover promotional materials will also be recycled.

Claire Owens, Zero Waste Scotland’s Co-ordinator for North Ayrshire Council said, “The BBC Good Food Show offers a great opportunity to start making better use of your food which will save you money and reduce the amount of good food going to waste. 

“In Scotland, we throw away around 566,000 tonnes of food every year – two-thirds of which could have been easily avoided through better planning, storing and portioning.”

Of the event at the SECC, Ms Owens said, “Volunteers will be on hand to show how small, simple changes, such as making a shopping list or thinking about portion sizes can really make a difference.  The range of chefs will also be suggesting great new ways to use up leftovers.”

Supporting the initiative, Emma Marsh, Head of Love Food Hate Waste, commented, “We’re delighted BBC Good Food Show Scotland is working with us to help everyone waste less food, save money and help the environment. 

“The timing for this year’s event couldn’t be better as it coincides with the Scottish Government’s new food waste reduction campaign.  Building on our work to uncover the scale and nature of food waste in Scotland, this is a welcome step in raising further awareness of this expensive and often unnecessary waste and motivating people to take simple steps to avoid it.”

Garden waste collection ends November 30

With winter fast approaching, North Ayrshire residents are being reminded to make the most of the garden waste refuse-collection service, which will end on November 30.

Brown bins can be used to recycle garden waste, including grass cuttings, leaves, hedge cuttings and weeds.  North Ayrshire Council’s SNP Cabinet Member for Environment and Infrastructure, Cllr John Ferguson, said, “Unfortunately, it hasn’t been the best of summers for gardeners.  However, there is still a lot of grass-cuttings and garden refuse that can be recycled in the brown bins.  Householders across North Ayrshire can make the most of the collections until the end of November when they stop for the winter.”

Cllr Ferguson also took the opportunity to remind everyone of recent changes to what can be placed in the Council-provided blue recycling bins.  “The blue bins will still be collected every two-weeks throughout the winter,” said the Kilwinning councillor.  “Earlier this year we made it easier to recycle more glass and plastics in blue bins.  Residents can now recycle glass and a wider range of plastic materials in their blue bins, including plastic bags, plastic trays such as those in which supermarkets sell food and fruit, yoghurt pots and hard plastics, such as small toys.”

In addition, there are four household waste recycling centres and a number of local recycling points across North Ayrshire.  Further information is available on North Ayrshire Council’s website.

Katy brings Secretary of State to North Ayrshire

Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore MP will be in North Ayrshire this Thursday (October 25) at the invitation of local MP Katy Clark.

Ms Clark has consistently made representations to the UK Government in relation to the local area’s soaring unemployment levels and has invited Mr Moore to visit North Ayrshire for discussions on the subject.  The Secretary of State will accompany Katy Clark to the Ministry of Defence facility at Beith before taking part in a roundtable event with representatives from local businesses, community groups and local young people

Katy Clark told the3towns, “I’m pleased to be welcoming the Secretary of State for Scotland to my constituency to hear first hand the problems North Ayrshire and Arran faces in the current economic situation.

“I have long been campaigning for a strategy for jobs and growth in North Ayrshire and I hope that the Secretary of State will leave my constituency in no doubt that his government need to take action now to offer hope to the ever increasing pool of long term unemployed, particularly young people, and  that support must be made available to help them back into the labour market.”

Figures released last week by the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) show North Ayrshire still has the highest unemployment in Scotland, with youth unemployment almost doubling in the past five years – from 6.5% to 12.6%.

In total, there are 3,740 North Ayrshire men without work and claiming Jobseekers Allowance, with a further 1,871 women in the same position.

Margaret praises SNP investment in local housing

Local MSP Margaret Burgess highlighted the Scottish Government’s “proud record on housing in North Ayrshire” while addressing a fringe meeting last week at the SNP Conference in Perth.

However, Mrs Burgess, the SNP’s Minister for Housing and Welfare, also said the good work was being done by the Scottish Government “with one hand tied behind our back.”

The fringe meeting, organised by housing campaign group Shelter, heard Margaret Burgess say, “Despite the Tories slashing our capital budget by one third, this Scottish Government has put 40 per cent more investment into housing than the previous administration.

“We’ve built more houses for social rent, and re-started council house building in Scotland, with 1,000 council houses in the last year alone.”

Noting some of the new houses had been built in her Cunninghame South constituency, Mrs Burgess added, “We will also put in place funding of £45million to support the delivery of 1,200 new houses across councils, housing associations and the private sector.  This will protect up to 800 jobs.

“But we doing this with one hand tied behind our back.  Scotland has to invest in the modern infrastructure our country needs, but the Tories are slashing our capital budget.  We should be supporting the construction industry, not attacking it.”

Concluding her speech in Perth, Margaret Burgess said, “What we really need is control of our own resources and the power to take our own decisions.  What we need is independence.”

Friday, 19 October 2012

'Overspend' on PPP schools

North Ayrshire Council has forked-out an additional £391,000 in the past year on payments for rates and utilities at four schools built under the local authority’s notorious Public Private Partnership (PPP) Project.

The ‘overspend’ figure was contained in a report that went before the local authority’s Scrutiny Committee last Wednesday (October 11).  Officers stated that PPP costs “owing mainly to rates and utilities charges” had resulted in the Council having to pay £341,000 more than that it had allocated in its budget.  A further separate listing of £50,000 was recorded as relating specifically to “rates and utilities at Stanley Primary”, which took the total overspend to almost £400,000.

The previous Labour administration of the Council was responsible for embarking on a PPP contract to build and maintain four schools – St Matthew’s Aacdemy in Saltcoats, Stanley Primary in Ardrossan, Arran High School and Greenwood Academy in Dreghorn.  However, the project became mired in controversy after it emerged the local authority had only one credible and viable bid for the contract.  A second bid, which the Council described as providing ‘genuine competition’, came from a company with no office, no accounts, no experience in building or maintaining schools, and issued shares valued at just £2.00. 

The four new facilities built under the North Ayrshire Schools PPP Project had a capital value of £80m, but the contract signed by Labour councillors was for a total of £380m.  The extra £300m represents an annual payment of £10m for 30 years, which is received by a private company to maintain the four schools.  The additional figure of £391,000 revealed in the report to last week’s Scrutiny Committee is over-and-above the £10m maintenance payment.

In November 2011 the3towns revealed North Ayrshire Council pays around £20,000 a year to a private contractor to ‘manage’ utility bills relating to the four PPP schools.  At the time, a Council source said, “Mitie manages and maintains the school buildings, and part of the annual payment to them includes £20,000 for managing utility bills, such as gas and electricity.  But the Council negotiates rates directly with utility companies and also pays the bills.  So it appears Mitie is being well rewarded for receiving the bills and passing them to the Council for payment.”

the3towns also recently revealed that, just four years after completion, one of the PPP schools – Stanley Primary in Ardrossan – is already too small to accommodate all the children within its catchment area.

Investigation into unregistered landlords

North Ayrshire Council’s powerful Scrutiny & Petitions Committee has begun a far-reaching investigation into the impact on the local area of unregistered landlords and owners of private residential properties.

The issue was initially raised by the Committee’s convener, Cllr John Hunter, who voiced concerns over anti-social behaviour which, he said, was in some cases exacerbated by tenants of privately-rented houses.

Last week’s meeting of the Scrutiny Committee (October 11) heard evidence from Council officers regarding the social, economic and environmental impact of unregistered landlords and owners in North Ayrshire.  Further meetings will hear from Strathclyde Police, local Housing Associations, registered landlords, tenants and residents.  

Following the matter initially being raised by Cllr Hunter, a data-matching exercise carried out by Council, which looked at licensing and benefits claims, revealed around 3,000 unregistered rented properties in the local area.

With some exceptions, it is necessary to register as a landlord if someone rents a house to a person who is not a family member.  North Ayrshire Council, as the local licensing authority, is required to be satisfied that anyone wishing registration as a landlord or an agent should be a 'fit and proper' person.

Council wins roads award

A partnership between the three Ayrshire local authorities has been recognised for saving money on roads maintenance projects.

North, East and South Ayrshire Councils collaborated on the development of a web-based contracts system, which resulted in savings of around £970,000 from the £11.4m of work that has been carried out across the county.  The efforts of the three Councils have been recognised by the Association of Public Service Excellence (APSE).

On receiving the APSE award, North Ayrshire Council’s Cabinet member for Environment and Infrastructure, Cllr John Ferguson, said, “We have taken an innovative approach that has benefited all three Councils in Ayrshire.  Working together we have managed to provide a more effective and efficient roads maintenance service to improve local roads.”

Cllr Ferguson noted that each local authority had saved money on roads maintenance projects, adding, “In North Ayrshire we have been able to re-invest the savings back into additional roads projects.  This means better value for money for local tax payers and, crucially, an improved roads system that is vital in supporting the local economy.”

The system operated by the three Ayrshire local authorities is designed to secure contractors to carry out work including carriageway and footpath resurfacing, installing street lights, bridge repairs, drainage and groundworks at schools and parks.

Justice Secretary launches basketball school

Scottish Government Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill was in Ardrossan last Wednesday (October 11) to launch North Ayrshire’s first-ever ‘School of Sport’.

Mr MacAskill was at Ardrossan Academy where a ‘School of Basketball’ became the first local sports project to be funded using money seized from convicted criminals as part of the SNP Scottish Government’s ‘Cashback for Communities’ scheme.

Earlier this year the Council announced a partnership with Scottish Rugby, basketballscotland and the Scottish Football Association, which will ultimately see the creation of four Schools of Sport at three local Academies – Ardrossan, Auchenharvie and Irvine Royal.

Welcoming the basketball school, Cllr Alan Hill, NAC’s Cabinet Member for Community and Culture, said, “North Ayrshire Council has a strong track record of innovating in sports and physical activity, through the development of community clubs and the establishment of the Nurturing Excellence programme for talented athletes.

“The Schools of Sport programme is an exciting opportunity for our young people, encouraging them to participate in sport, developing community sports clubs, and raising the profile of sport at a local and national level.

“I am confident this will be a very successful programme with the potential to be rolled out across our schools and ensure the legacy of the Olympic and Commonwealth Games.”

Also present at Ardrossan Academy last week was British Olympic basketball player Kieron Achara, who indicated he was very pleased to see the sport “moving forward in Scotland”.

Twenty S1 pupils from Ardrossan Academy will now get between six and eight hours of basketball training per week, with the programme focusing on game-sense skills, physical competencies, lifestyle management and mental skills.

Kenny MacAskill, who has been a long-term supporter of the initiative, said, “CashBack programmes improve opportunities, self-confidence and self-esteem for our young people, and that will always be money well spent.”

New engineering apprenticeships

A Stevenston engineering firm has taken on two apprentices thanks to business support from North Ayrshire Council.
 
The local authority’s Economic Development team worked closely with McEvoy Engineering after the company, which specialises in metal fabrication, identified a shortage in skilled workers and indicated it wanted to provide apprenticeships.
 
Chris McEvoy, Managing Director at McEvoy Engineering, said, “There is a shortage of skilled labour in our industry.  But we felt we couldn't just complain about it – we had to help to try and address the issue.
 
“We felt it was essential to make our contribution to improving the skills available through employing and training apprentices.  Support from North Ayrshire Council's Economic Development team has allowed us to do that.”
 
NAC initially provided support to help McEvoy Engineering train their employees before introducing the firm to the Apprenticeship Scheme, which provides financial incentives, funding for training and wage subsidies for businesses taking on a young person aged 16 to 24-years-old.
 
Apprentices Darren Gowrie of Stevenston and Brendan O'Reilly from Irvine started work with the company last month.  Apprenticeships will last for three years and will provide the young workers with on-the-job training and college qualifications.
 
Chris McEvoy said, “The Apprenticeship Scheme and wage-subsidy support from North Ayrshire Council came at the right time for us.  Without it, we would not have been in a position to take on two apprentices, giving them the opportunity to train and learn a trade.”
 
McEvoy Engineering was established in 1989 and employs 12 people at its workshop and offices in Ardeer.
 
North Ayrshire Council's SNP Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Regeneration, Cllr Marie Burns, said she hopes more local firms will make the most of the support available, adding, “McEvoy Engineering has shown that businesses can develop and grow if given the right support.  Help is available to businesses, whether they have had assistance from the Council in the past or are new to our support services.”

Don't let flu turn on you

NHS Ayrshire & Arran is urging local people to have the seasonal flu vaccination to protect them against the virus, particularly those who are especially vulnerable.

The SNP Scottish Government has launched this year's seasonal flu campaign - 'Don't let flu turn on you' - to raise awareness of the seriousness of the illness, and remind at-risk groups across the country to get their free jab now, before flu starts circulating more widely.

GP practices in the Three Towns are offering the vaccination to their eligible patients, but last year almost half the people under 65 years of age who were entitled to get the flu jab didn't take up the offer.

Flu can be extremely serious - even for younger people - if they have a long-term illness and are in an at-risk group, which includes people with conditions such as heart disease, chest complaints or breathing difficulties (including asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and cystic fibrosis), chronic kidney failure, lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as steroid medication or cancer treatment - chemotherapy or radiotherapy), liver problems such as cirrhosis or hepatitis, a neurological condition such as stroke or cerebral palsy, and diabetes.

Pregnant women are also being urged to protect themselves and their baby by getting the flu vaccination.  Evidence shows that pregnant women are at greater risk of complications if they catch flu.  The vaccination is safe to use at any stage of pregnancy and helps protect the unborn baby.  Studies have shown that vaccination during pregnancy can continue to provide protection against flu to babies after they are born and in the first few months of life.

Those eligible for flu vaccination are people aged 65 years and over, those of any age with a medical condition that puts them in an at-risk group, pregnant women, NHS health care staff and unpaid carers.

Dr Gill Hawkins, NHS Ayrshire & Arran’s Consultant in Public Health Medicine and local flu immunisation co-ordinator, said, “I strongly advise everyone who is entitled to the free flu vaccination to take up the offer.  If you are in one of the groups eligible for immunisation then you are being offered the flu vaccine for very good reasons - such as your age, condition or the role you play making you vulnerable to catching flu and passing it on.   Very often the effects of flu can be much worse for you than for someone not in an at-risk group.”
  
Dr Hawkins added, “Anyone in an at-risk group should make an appointment with their GP as soon as possible to get the free vaccination.  It only takes a few minutes but will give you protection against the flu for around a year.”

The flu virus changes every year so it is necessary for people to have a vaccination to provide protection against that season's viruses.

If you would like to check whether you are eligible for the vaccine, or simply to find out more information, NHS Inform can be contacted on 0800 22 44 88.