Friday, 28 December 2012

Senior councillors clash over letters in pupils' schoolbags

One of North Ayrshire’s most senior councillors, Deputy Provost Robert Barr, last week challenged the local authority’s SNP administration to explain why primary school pupils had been “used as a free postal service for lobbying letters to be delivered to their parents on behalf of a planning application”.

Addressing last Wednesday’s (December 19) Council meeting, Cllr Barr explained that constituents had raised concerns with him after they found letters in their children’s schoolbags relating to a planning application for a windfarm. The Independent councillor for Dalry & West Kilbride said, “Some of the parents thought this had overstepped the bounds, and I agree with them.”

Cllr Barr acknowledged that pupils would be asked to take home letters relating to school or Council issues, but questioned why it had been felt appropriate for them to be given literature on a subject not directly related to the school or education. “If this is allowed to continue,” said Cllr Barr, “at the next election will we all get them to deliver our leaflets for us?”

Responding for the SNP administration, Cllr Tony Gurney, Cabinet Member for Education, agreed that “there is clearly an issue with this.” The SNP councillor indicated he did not have a problem with windfarms, but that both sides of a contentious issue should have “equal access”.

Cllr Gurney explained, “Education and Skills have no specific policy in this regard. Head teachers are advised to use their discretion, and as senior managers they decide if letters are appropriate. It is particularly relevant if there is a third-party involved. Deciding if something was relevant includes a head teacher considering if the issue was something they dealt with in school.”

The Education spokesperson added that the SNP administration wanted school pupils to be actively involved in issues that affected their communities, and that a windfarm application would be such an issue. Cllr Gurney added that he would lead a review of policy regarding the matter raised by the Deputy Provost, and encouraged Cllr Barr to take part in the process.

However, Robert Barr replied, “I can’t agree with what you said. Schoolchildren should not be involved in planning applications.”

The Deputy Provost then asked, “Can this Council give an assurance that this will never happen again?”

In reply, Tony Gurney again stated, “Schools should be involved in their communities,” adding that the administration intended to “come to a clear policy” on the matter. Concluding, Cllr Gurney said, “The Deputy Provost should be involved in what that policy should be.”

Labour accused of hypocrisy over apprentices' wage

Labour councillors have been accused of hypocrisy over the low wage paid to Modern Apprentices.

The charge came after Kilwinning Labour councillor Joe Cullinane challenged North Ayrshire Council’s SNP administration over a claim the local authority had advised private-sector employers that they did not have to top-up the £2.65 hourly rate for Modern Apprentices.

North Ayrshire Council currently subsidises 81 Modern Apprenticeships with external private-sector employers. Cllr Cullinane said, “I’m told that some of the external providers have offered to pay the apprentices some additional money above and beyond the £2.65, but they’ve been advised by the Council that they’re not required to do so. That obviously concerns me.”

However, the Labour Party’s position was called into question by Ardrossan Independent councillor John Hunter, who told the3towns, “Their apparent concern for Modern Apprentices is hypocrisy. Last month when Ronnie McNicol and I put forward a Motion to allow a debate on paying more to the young workers, every Labour councillor abstained. Rather than support a decent wage for Modern Apprentices, every Labour councillor did nothing and allowed the Motion to fall.”

In addition to the issue of wage levels, Cllr Cullinane also highlighted concerns over training provided to Modern Apprentices employed by companies in the private sector. The Labour councillor said, “I’ve been approached by young people in Admin apprenticeships, and they’re working in call centres, doing cold calling. The training is inputting the data into their computers after making the calls. I have concerns about this idea that you can do an apprenticeship in a call centre. That’s not a valid apprenticeship.”

Directing a question to Marie Burns, the SNP Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Cllr Cullinane asked, “Is there any way we can ensure that proper training is being provided and ensure a positive outcome?”

Replying, Cllr Burns said, “All training is delivered to nationally-agreed standards. Training is delivered by employers on the job and can be supplemented by off the job training. It does very much depend on the type of apprenticeship being followed.

“Progress is assessed against the national standard and payment is made to the training provider as milestones are achieved.”

Cllr Burns indicated it was difficult for her to comment on individual cases, but said, “Every apprenticeship is clearly defined and there is a training plan and national standards must be achieved.”

With regard to wage levels, the SNP councillor stated, “It is up to an employer and they can pay more if they want.”

New ferry route will dock at Ardrossan

The results of the SNP Scottish Government’s Ferries Review, announced during the week, produced good news for Ardrossan.

Transport Minister Keith Brown confirmed that a three-way ferry linking Kintyre with Arran and Ayrshire would dock at Ardrossan Harbour. Fears had been expressed that the port’s last remaining commercial sailing could be lost following strong lobbying from Argyll & Bute Council and South Ayrshire Council, both of whom favoured Troon for the Ayrshire leg of the route.

the3towns recently revealed how Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), an offshoot of ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne, had described the port of Ardrossan as “a problem” during a briefing outlining plans for a new ferry terminal and berths in Brodick.

CMAL intend to create an extra berth at Brodick, and have also revealed they are in discussion with CalMac in relation to the introduction of two new vessels to service Arran. The latest state-of-the-art ferries have greater manoeuvrability than those currently in service, which should help address problems in relation to entering Ardrossan in windy conditions.

However, fears remain over the Scottish Government’s commitment to retaining ferry services in the public sector. The Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) has expressed concerns that routes currently operated by the publicly-owned Caledonian MacBrayne could be privatised, resulting in a poorer service for travellers and job losses on the ferries.

'Sticker' vandals now using spray-paint

Vandals who plastered stickers over road signs in the Three Towns, including those warning motorists to slow down on the approach to local primary schools, have taken to spray-painting slogans on walls.

North Ayrshire Council has already had to fork-out hundreds-of-pounds to remove ‘Blue Order’ stickers from road signs, and now the local authority’s anti-graffiti team will have to target painted slogans sprayed in public areas, including on the iron-bridge over the railway, linking Stanley Place and Ardrossan Road in Saltcoats (see above photo).

Earlier this year, the3towns revealed parents of young children attending a Saltcoats school had branded as “idiots” those behind the ‘Blue Order’ stickers 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 the vandals had covered the speed limit with stickers.

At the time, Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councillor Ronnie McNicol told the3towns, “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, and now the painted graffiti, mainly carry slogans backing an organisation called ‘the Blue Order’, which appears to be associated with support for Glasgow Rangers football club. However, on some signs in Saltcoats, ‘Blue Order’ stickers appeared alongside others 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.

Council performing well on school sport

A question to last week’s meeting of North Ayrshire Council, by a Labour councillor citing an SNP Manifesto pledge to provide pupils with two-hours of physical education per week, appeared to backfire on the questioner when it was confirmed the SNP-run local authority has an impressive record on the subject.

Saltcoats & Stevenston Labour councillor Jim Montgomerie referred to the SNP Manifesto commitment, made at the 2011 Scottish Parliament Election, before asking if the Council is “on schedule to meet the target by 2014?”

Replying for the SNP administration, Cllr Tony Gurney, Cabinet Member for Education, said, “The latest figures I have are from February 2012 and I’m delighted to say that 100 per cent of secondary school pupils are receiving two-hours of physical education per week, and 91 per cent of primary schools are currently delivering two-hours of PE per week.”

Cllr Gurney indicated that just five primary schools were “not yet delivering the commitment”, but that they were “receiving support to ensure that the commitment will be met by 2014, just before the Commonwealth Games.”

Cllr Montgomerie spoke of it being “essential that young people understand the benefits of a healthy lifestyle,” adding that “sport challenges people’s physical and mental capabilities.” Mr Montgomerie said sport taught young people “to be good winners and gracious losers,” and that he had “the privilege to see this first-hand, all the way from school level to Olympic level.”

The Labour councillor then asked, “How can we inspire the next Andy Murray, Ricky Burns or Chris Hoy? How can we get a future Scotland football team that can string two passes together? How can we do that when we have schools where the dinner hall doubles-up as a gym hall?”

Tony Gurney replied, “The Scotland football team is not within my purview. Although I wish it was, I couldn’t do any worse.

“I actually endorse a lot of what Cllr Montgomerie has said, and I’m glad he agrees with SNP Government guidance to have more time in schools for sport.”

However, the SNP councillor then pointed out that one of the five primary schools currently falling short of the commitment to deliver two-hours of physical education per week is Stanley Primary in Ardrossan, which, Cllr Gurney said, “Was built by the Labour administration only five years ago, and it physically doesn’t have enough space for sport.”

Stanley was one of four schools built under the previous Labour administration using the Public Private Partnership (PPP) method of funding. The North Ayrshire Schools PPP Project became notorious after it was revealed Labour councillors signed-up to a £380m contract despite the capital value of the four schools being just £80m. The additional £300m represents the cost of a private company maintaining the schools for 30 years, working out at £10m a year for just four schools.

It was also revealed that North Ayrshire Council had only one credible and viable bid for its Schools PPP Project. A second bid, claimed by the Council to provide “genuine competition”, came from a company that had no office, no accounts, no experience in building or maintaining schools, and which had issued share capital of just £2.00.

Lennon bombers refused bail

Two North Ayrshire men jailed for sending suspect packages to Celtic manager Neil Lennon and two prominent supporters of the club will spend Christmas behind bars.
Saltcoats man Neil McKenzie and Trevor Muirhead from Kilwinning are appealing against their convictions for conspiracy to assault Mr Lennon, former Labour MSP Trish Godman and the late Paul McBride QC. Both had hoped to be released on bail while their appeal was considered. However, judges Lord Menzies, Lady Clark and Lord Philip, sitting last week at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh, decided the men should remain in prison until a written ruling on the convictions is delivered at a later date.
Defence QCs Gordon Jackson and Donald Findlay contend that the convictions of McKenzie and Muirhead represent a miscarriage of justice on the basis that the devices they sent through the post to Neil Lennon, Trish Godman and Paul McBride were “obvious hoaxes, incapable of exploding”. The Crown maintains the convictions should stand.
McKenzie and Muirhead are currently serving five-year sentences.

Council supports nuclear new-build

North Ayrshire Council last week voted to support a new nuclear power station at Hunterston, despite there being no plans for such a facility.

The pro-nuclear Motion was lodged by the district’s only Tory councillor, Tom Marshall, with support from the Labour Group. Addressing the Council meeting last Wednesday (December 19), Cllr Marshall welcomed the news that the current Hunterston ‘B’ nuclear plant has been given an operating extension that will take it through to 2023. However, the Conservative member said “But it is 35 years old, it will not run for ever. There might be a major boiler fault or a major problem with the graphite rods that might force closure,” adding, “so we would want to encourage EDF to build another nuclear station.”

For the SNP administration, Council Deputy Leader Alan Hill said his party’s position on nuclear new-build is “quite clear” – the Scottish Government has stated it would use planning regulations to stop the building of new nuclear stations, if any such plans were ever brought forward. Cllr Hill added, “As there are no plans or planning applications pending, I move an amendment to delete part-two of the Motion [the part calling for a new nuclear station at Hunterston].”

Supporting the Tory Motion, Labour Group leader Cllr Peter McNamara said, “The Leader of the Council and myself have already committed ourselves to economic development being the number-one priority. So here is an opportunity to say quite clearly that while there is not a planning application in, we are not averse to it. We want to encourage those that would seek to build a power station to create opportunities for employment, especially high quality jobs. That is something I certainly want to endorse.”

However, given the potential for human and environmental catastrophe if a nuclear reactor was to seriously malfunction, SNP councillor Marie Burns replied, “Yes, we do want jobs, but not jobs at any cost.”

Summing up in support of his Motion, Cllr Marshall said he had “a lot of material” backing the case for nuclear, before revealing it had been supplied by the press office of EDF, the French-owned company that currently operates Hunterston ‘B’.

Following debate, the 12 SNP councillors voted to reject nuclear new-build at Hunterston, but the Tory-Labour Motion praising nuclear and supporting a new facility was passed with the backing of the other 18 members.

No energy company has any plans to build a new nuclear power station at Hunterston.

Toys for vulnerable kids at Christmas

Some of the local area’s most vulnerable children will be given a special Christmas gift after North Ayrshire Council identified around 1,400 youngsters, from babies to teenagers, who could do with a treat this year.

Council staff, including from the Criminal Justice Service, and Provost Joan Sturgeon are supporting a number of projects, such as a Council Christmas Toy Appeal, Clyde Action’s Cash for Kids, gifts purchased through the sale of goods made by offenders on Community Payback schemes, and a Christmas Toy Collection organised by local company Access Plus.

Provost Sturgeon said, “I am absolutely delighted to support all of these fantastic Christmas programmes. Unfortunately, we have many young children who too often miss out on Christmas presents and fun, so I would like to express my thanks to everyone who will make these children’s Christmas a special one this year.”

A Council spokesperson explained the different initiatives, “The North Ayrshire Council Toy Appeal was launched to ensure we can help even more children have the best possible Christmas. All toys and gifts donated will supplement any financial award received from the Cash for Kids Appeal.

“Criminal Justice Gifts involves members of the Council’s Temporary Accommodation team and Women’s Aid visiting hostels and dozens of temporary homeless flats and houses across North Ayrshire to give presents to the children. The Council purchased the gifts thanks to the sale of goods – such as garden furniture and plants - produced by offenders sentenced to community service. The money raised from the sale of these goods has been used to both improve the service and buy presents for young children who are in this unfortunate situation.”

Every year Clyde Action's Cash for Kids Appeal invites North Ayrshire Council to nominate deserving children who would benefit from a Christmas treat. This year, Social Services identified over 1,400 North Ayrshire children they feel deserve to enjoy a special Christmas. Provost Sturgeon picked up a cheque for £36,000 last week – which will be used to purchase gifts.

For the last five years, Access Plus - a local plant hire and training company with its head office in North Ayrshire - has collected new and ‘as new’ gifts and toys from friends, colleagues and local schools to put together Christmas bags for under-privileged children in North Ayrshire.

Although the company has never previously advertised their work, donations have been growing and this year over 100 large Santa bags were filled with gifts, books and toys.

Led by Allison McLuckie, the team at Access Plus have spent every lunch hour over the last four weeks sorting and wrapping gifts and selection boxes, which are placed into Santa bags to make sure the children have a Christmas to remember.

The company’s Managing Director, George Marriott, said, “I would like to thank every single person that has donated their ‘as new’ toys to this wonderful cause and to all the staff who have given up their lunch hours. Children have also been extremely generous helping out others less fortunate than they are. Anybody that is interested in helping us make next year even more special for these children, please do not hesitate to contact Allison on 01294 485052.”

Hospital loses tearoom through lack of volunteers

A hospital in North Ayrshire has lost its tearoom and trolley service for patients after volunteers decided they could no longer provide people to operate the facilities.

NHS Ayrshire & Arran has confirmed the services at Irvine’s Ayrshire Central Hospital ceased to operate from last Friday (December 21).

Hospital Volunteers said the decision was not taken lightly, and that the current reduction in services on the Ayrshire Central site, along with future planned changes, had made it very difficult to attract new volunteer recruits.

John Wright, NHS Ayrshire & Arran’s Director of Information and Clinical Support Services, said, “It had come to the point where there were simply not enough able volunteers to carry on with the services.

“I would like to sincerely thank all of the volunteers for their hard work and dedication over the years under the enthusiastic and untiring guidance of June Deans. This has been greatly appreciated by the staff and patients on this site.”

The Health Board indicated it will now consider what alternative services can be provided to improve the comfort and wellbeing of patients and visitors to Ayrshire Central.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Mixed bag in Council funding

Against a background of savage cuts imposed by the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government, the SNP Scottish Government’s funding for local authorities will see North Ayrshire Council receive a “marginal increase” in 2013/14 over 2012/13, taking the total allocation to £252,881,000.

However, the proposed settlement is conditional on the local authority agreeing to continue a freeze on Council Tax levels, maintain teacher numbers in line with pupil rolls, and securing places for all teacher-probationers.  Were North Ayrshire to decide against the government-imposed commitments, its budget would be cut by £2,577,000 – which, if lost, would require the local authority to raise Council Tax levels by 4.5 per cent to make up the difference.

For 2014/15, figures show the Council set to receive a reduction in grant funding of 0.44 per cent.

Additional resources of £227,000 in 2013/14 and £262,000 in 2014/15 have been made available to allow the Council to deliver the Blue Badge scheme for disabled drivers, Free Personal and Nursing care, Family Support, Looked After Children and local support for the new national Police and Fire Services.  A further £1,093,000 of funding was provided by the Scottish Government in relation to Scottish strategy for autism, curriculum for excellence, local government elections and youth employment.

In a report for NAC’s ruling SNP Cabinet, Council officials set-out planned changes to grant funding allocated to “mitigate the impact of the cessation of Council Tax Benefit from 1 April 2013”.  The current Council Tax Benefit Scheme is to be replaced by a local Council Tax Support Scheme as part of wider welfare reforms being introduced by the UK Government .
The officials’ report states, “The initial assessment of the loss of resources associated with this change is 10%, or £40m across Scotland.  Agreement has been reached between the Scottish Government and COSLA that interim arrangements will be put in place in 2013/14 pending development of the new Council Tax Support Scheme.  The interim arrangements will mean that recipients of Council Tax benefit will be no worse off.  Agreement was also reached that the Scottish Government would fund £23m of the gap with councils requiring to meet the balance of £17m.”

However, the report goes on to warn, “There is some concern that the gap in funding will exceed 10%. The current assumption within North Ayrshire’s financial plan is that the gap rises from 13% in 2013/14 to 17% in 2015/16.”

Elsewhere amongst the figures produced for the Cabinet, uncertainty over continuing funding for the controversial Irvine Bay Regeneration Company was highlighted.  Council officials wrote, “In December 2011, the Scottish Government advised the Chief Executive that funding of around £1.5m would be available for 2013/14. Whilst this is welcome, it falls short of historic funding levels and leaves uncertainty for future years. Officers will continue to work with Scottish Government to resolve the position.  The Council is also asked to note the current funding situation for the URC [Irvine Bay] and the ongoing negotiations in respect of this.”

the3towns recently revealed Irvine Bay Regeneration Company has an annual wage bill of £560,707 – despite official documents listing just nine members of staff.  North Ayrshire Council has also agreed to act as a guarantor for £2m of loans to be taken out by the regeneration company. 

The local Council is already the biggest funder of Irvine Bay, contributing £3,313,131 in the last financial year.  In addition, NAC has agreed to transfer to the regeneration company publicly-owned ‘capital assets’ valued at £23m.  Irvine Bay’s other funding last year also came from the public purse in the shape of £2,102,745 from the Scottish Government and £1,815,321 from Scottish Enterprise, with the balance made up of £30,800, which was listed in the company’s accounts as being ‘grants from other agencies’.

Three Towns unemployment soars

Long term unemployment in the Three Towns has risen by a staggering 73 per cent in the past twelve-months.

The shocking figures were contained in the latest report on the UK labour market, published last week by the Office for National Statistics.  In total, there were 1,893 residents of Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston seeking work last month, with the number unemployed for more than a year jumping from 400 to 695.

Broken down further, the largest increases took place in Saltcoats and the South Beach area where the figure rose by almost 79 per cent.  In Ardrossan and Stevenston the figures increased by 73 per cent and 67 per cent respectively.

Although overall youth unemployment in the Three Towns has remained unchanged in the past twelve months, there has been a small rise in the number of Ardrossan people aged 18 to 24 who are currently seeking work. 

Reacting to the news, North Ayrshire & Arran MP Katy Clark told the3towns, “These statistics confirm the extent to which the UK Government’s failed austerity programme is hurting the people of the Three Towns.”

The Labour MP added that, “Unless the Tory-Lib Dem Government changes course, there is little prospect of improvement.  Unfortunately, the recent Autumn Statement only offered more of the same.  However, I will continue to do all I can in Parliament to persuade the Government to put a plan for growth at the centre of its economic strategy.”

Senior councillors' salaries

A report compiled by North Ayrshire Council officials confirms Saltcoats & Stevenston councillor Willie Gibson receives the highest salary of the local authority’s 30 elected members.

As Leader of the Council, the most senior elected position, Cllr Gibson takes home £32,470.  Other ‘senior councillors’ on enhanced salaries include the Deputy Leader, Cllr Alan Hill; Leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Peter McNamara; and Provost Joan Sturgeon, each of whom is paid £24,353.

A further nine councillors – the Depute Provost, five members of the SNP Cabinet and three committee conveners – each receive £19,075.

In total, the Leader of the Council and twelve senior councillors are paid £277,204 a year.  The remaining seventeen councillors receive the basic salary of £16,235.

Remuneration levels for councillors are set out in the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004 (Remuneration) Regulations 2007, with which North Ayrshire’s payments fully comply.

The full list of senior councillors receiving enhanced salaries due to what Council officials describe as “their significant additional responsibilities” is:

Council Leader – Willie Gibson: £32,470
Council Deputy Leader – Alan Hill: £24,353
Provost – Joan Sturgeon: £24,353
Leader of the Principle Opposition Group – Peter McNamara: £24,353
Depute Provost – Robert Barr: £19,075
Cabinet Member (Economic Development) – Marie Burns: £19,075
Cabinet Member (Health & Social Care) – Anthea Dickson: £19,075
Cabinet Member (Environment & Infrastructure) – John Ferguson: £19,075
Cabinet Member (Education) – Tony Gurney: £19,075
Cabinet Member (Finance & Corporate Support) – Alex McLean: £19,075
Coimmittee Convener (Scrutiny & Petitions) – John Hunter: £19,075
Committee Convener (Planning) – Matthew Brown: £19,075
Committee Convener (Licensing) – Ronnie McNicol: £19,075

Tory and Labour unite on nuclear

Tory and Labour councillors will unite in support of nuclear power when North Ayrshire Council meets this Wednesday (December 19).

Labour councillor Alex Gallagher has seconded a Motion proposed by the district’s sole Tory, Tom Marshall, which calls for a new nuclear power station to be built at Hunterston.  The Motion also welcomes last week’s news that the current Hunterston ‘B’ station has received a second extension to its operating life, which will take it through to 2023: the facility was originally scheduled to shut-down in 2011.

According to the two councillors, the extension will “secure the jobs of 700 skilled workers and 25 apprentices,” while they claim a new nuclear station is “in the interests of reducing carbon emissions, maintaining security of supply, a balanced energy policy and safeguarding employment.”

However, no energy company proposes to build a new nuclear station at Hunterston, and the SNP Scottish Government has already made clear it would use planning legislation to block any such plans if they were ever brought forward.

When the full-life cost of nuclear is considered – from construction, through generation and dealing with the toxic waste created by the industry – it is one of the most expensive sources of energy. 

Labour’s apparent support for the Tory Motion to the meeting of the North Ayrshire Council appears to fly in the face of the party’s stated position in the Scottish Parliament, where it has repeatedly said it would not support the construction of new nuclear facilities until the issue of dealing with existing toxic waste is resolved.  Presently, there is no way to treat high-level nuclear waste, which remains radioactive for thousands of years.  At the moment, the waste is simply buried underground and monitored.  Environmental organisation Greenpeace calculates that the amount of highly-toxic nuclear waste from British nuclear facilities currently being stored underground would fill the Albert Hall in London five-times over.

Although nuclear power stations, such as Hunterston, are operated by private companies for profit, the bill for cleaning-up decommissioned sites and dealing with the toxic waste is paid by the taxpayers of Britain.  The cost to the public purse already exceeds £100bn.

The Scottish National Party, Scottish Socialist Party and Green Party argue that the way forward for energy generation, security of supply and creation of well-paid, skilled jobs is through the development of renewables, such as tidal and wind power.

Men sign-up to end violence against women

Hundreds of local people have signed a pledge supporting the White Ribbon Campaign, which seeks to end violence against women.

The local strand to the campaign, which ran for sixteen-days, was organised by the North Ayrshire Violence Against Women Partnership with the support of North Ayrshire Council, North Ayrshire Women’s Aid, Strathclyde Police, Strathclyde Fire Rescue and NHS Ayrshire & Arran.

Men were encouraged to sign the White Ribbon Pledge with the promise never to “commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women”.  Supporters included Ardrossan Academicals Rugby Club and local Junior football teams.

In North Ayrshire, over 1,800 incidents of domestic violence were reported to police in 2010/11 – one of the highest rates in the west of Scotland.

Chair of the North Ayrshire Violence Against Women Partnership, Cllr Ruth Maguire, said, “I would like to thank everyone involved in the campaign – particularly those men who signed the pledge and encouraged others to do so over our sixteen-days of action.”

The SNP councillor continued, “Campaigns like White Ribbon, along with the ongoing work done by members of the Violence Against Women Partnership, have shown encouraging signs of changing attitudes.  By continuing to work together and speaking out we can build on this and make a difference.”

Chief Inspector Roddy Newbigging, Director of Community Safety at North Ayrshire Council, added, “Sadly, domestic abuse continues to affect many families and individuals in our communities.  Within North Ayrshire we are working together as partners to provide support for our victims, target offenders and deliver an education programme that will leave a positive legacy for future generations.”

Describing the White Ribbon Campaign as “an integral part of our strategy to generate a positive reaction from all the many men who have signed the pledge,” Chief Inspector Newbigging said, “I would encourage everyone to support us as we work together to keep our communities safe by reducing incidents of domestic violence.”
To support the White Ribbon Campaign and for further information, log on to www.whiteribbonscotland.org.uk

Youth groups benefit from proceeds of crime fund

Youth organisations active in North Ayrshire could benefit from £1.5m seized from an Aberdeen-based oil company under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Local SNP MSP Margaret Burgess has revealed the money is to be made available to a group of national youth bodies, including the Scout Association, Girlguiding Scotland, the Boys’ Brigade, the Girls’ Brigade and other clubs for young people.

Mrs Burgess said, “These funds will bring the total invested in Scotland’s young people through CashBack for Communities to a massive £50million on the fifth anniversary of the programme launch by the Scottish Government.

“Youth groups in North Ayrshire and in every local authority area in Scotland have already benefited from cash taken through the Proceeds of Crime Act.  Voluntary youth clubs, youth groups and organisations with a total membership of over 171,000 young people across Scotland stand to benefit.”

The MSP for Cunninghame South, which includes Stevenston, said the £1.5million funding is a “direct investment to provide a positive future for our young people.”

The money was seized from the Abbot Group Limited after the Aberdeen company admitted it had benefited from corrupt payments made in connection with a contract entered into by one of its overseas subsidiaries and an overseas oil and gas company.   The contract was entered into in 2006 and the payments were made in 2007, with the £1.5m taken from Abbot representing the profit made by the company.  Since then, the ownership and structure of Abbot has changed significantly.

The corrupt payments were brought to light in May 2011 following enquiries by an overseas tax authority, which resulted in an investigation by a firm of solicitors and a firm of accountants instructed by Abbot itself.  The company reported the results of the investigation to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in July 2012 under the self-reporting initiative.

Ruaraidh Macniven, Head of the Government’s Civil Recovery Unit, said, “Abbot is the first company to have met the strict criteria of the self-reporting initiative since it was introduced in 2011.  That initiative enables responsible businesses to draw a line under previous conduct and, providing the criteria are met, affords the possibility of a civil settlement.  Self-reporting is an important way to ensure that corruption is exposed and that companies put in place effective systems to prevent it.”

CashBack for Communities is a Scottish Government programme that takes funds recovered from the proceeds of crime and invests them into free activities for children and young people aged between 10 and 25 years.

Warning over winter vomiting virus

NHS Ayrshire & Arran, in conjunction with North Ayrshire Council’s Environmental Health department, has launched an information programme that hopes to avoid the spread of the winter vomiting virus (Norovirus) over the festive season.

The winter vomiting virus is the most common cause of non-bacterial gastroenteritis (diarrhoea and vomiting), and is easily spread because it can survive for several days on surfaces or objects touched by an infected person.

With cases of Norovirus on the increase, and the Christmas party season about to get into full swing, people with symptoms have the potential to infect others around them.  The symptoms normally between 15 and 50 hours after becoming infected with the virus, and usually start - without warning - with nausea followed by projectile vomiting and/or diarrhoea.  In addition, some people may have a fever, headache or aching limbs.  The illness normally lasts from 12 to 60 hours, with most people making a full recovery in 24 to 48 hours.

Dr Gill Hawkins, Public Health Consultant with NHS Ayrshire & Arran, said, “If affected, it's particularly important to stay at home until free of symptoms for 48 hours.

“More people tend to go out celebrating during the festive season and Norovirus can be more easily spread in crowded hotels and bars.  Although person-to-person spread is most common, the virus can easily be spread in the environment if contaminated.  For example, it can survive for seven days on furnishings and hard surfaces and for up to ten days on food in a refrigerator.”

Dr Hawkins continued, “While Norovirus can be unpleasant to experience, it's not generally dangerous and most people make a full recovery within a couple of days.  However, people should contact their family doctor (GP) to seek advice if symptoms last longer than a few days or if you already have a serious illness or long-term condition.  But if you feel at all unwell with Norovirus symptoms we would advise that you give your Christmas party a miss - it's better that than being the cause of your friends becoming unwell too.”

The joint NHS-Council top tips for avoiding and dealing with Norovirus include: If you have the virus, where possible stay away from other people until your diarrhoea and vomiting have stopped; Wash your hands with soap and hot water after using the toilet and before eating or preparing food; Make sure everyone at home has their own towel; Ensure that all surfaces are kept clean, especially after a person has vomited; Wash your hands after dealing with vomit or faeces; Clean toilet seats, flush handles, door handles and taps frequently with multi purpose detergent, followed by disinfectant, then rinse and allow to dry; Launder soiled clothes on as hot a wash as possible for the type of clothing; Do not overfill your washing machine or it will not clean them properly; Do not hand wash soiled clothing as tiny droplets of water containing the virus can be dispersed in the air, contaminating you and the environment; While you are ill, avoid preparing food for other people if you can; Cook raw shellfish before consumption and wash all fruit if it is to be eaten raw.

Council appoints Youth Champion

SNP councillor Ruth Maguire has been appointed as North Ayrshire’s Youth Champion.

Cllr Maguire, one of the youngest elected members on North Ayrshire Council, will now take on responsibility for ensuring young people across the district have a greater say in how the local authority operates.  The Irvine West councillor was appointed to the new position after a meeting last week attended by representatives from the North Ayrshire Youth Council Executive, which is the main decision-making committee of the sixty-strong youth organisation.

On her appointment, Cllr Maguire said, “It's a real privilege to have been appointed Youth Champion. 

“North Ayrshire Council has done a lot of good work involving our young people in the decisions that affect them.  After hearing from the Youth councillors, I very much look forward to working with them and others to build on that good work.”

Council Leader Willie Gibson recently met with the Youth Council to explain the local authority’s budget process and what it will mean for young people.  He welcomed the appointment of a Youth Champion, saying, “I am delighted to announce Councillor Maguire’s new role.  The importance of our young people in ensuring we have a bright future cannot be underestimated.”

The Saltcoats & Stevenston councillor revealed he has been “thoroughly impressed by the enthusiasm of the Youth Council and their willingness to learn about the work of the Council,” and noted his belief that “Councillor Maguire will do everything she can to give our young people a voice.”

The specific responsibilities of Cllr Maguire’s new position include: engaging with young people across North Ayrshire; supporting projects and events aimed at young people; raising awareness of young people’s needs and issues; working with young people to develop policies that affect them; and informing young people about Council decisions.

Also discussed at last week’s meeting were issues of concern to the Youth Council, including public transport, raising the profile of North Ayrshire across the country and the future development of the Council’s website.

Pupils attending North Ayrshire secondary schools can find out more information about the Youth Council through their teachers.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Possible threat to Ardrossan-Brodick ferry

Fresh concerns over the future of the Ardrossan-Brodick ferry have been raised after two local authorities announced they were to lobby the Scottish Government over the possibility of linking Argyll, Ayrshire and possibly Arran.

The revelation came in the same week that Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), an offshoot of Caledonian MacBrayne, listed the port of Ardrossan as “a problem” during a briefing that outlined plans for a new ferry terminal and berths in Brodick.

During the CMAL briefing, held on Arran last Monday (December 3), locals heard far-reaching proposals that would see an extra berth created in Brodick.  In addition, representatives of the company revealed there were ongoing discussions regarding the introduction of two new vessels to service Arran.  The latest state-of-the-art ferries have greater manoeuvrability than those currently in service, which could address problems in relation to entering Ardrossan in windy conditions.

However, a new three-way service linking Campbeltown, Brodick and Troon is a possibility after South Ayrshire Council and Argyll & Bute Council announced they would jointly lobby Scottish Ministers as part of the Government’s Ferries Review.

Cllr John Semple, SNP Deputy Leader of Argyll & Bute Council, said, “I firmly believe an Argyll-Ayrshire Service would bring significant benefits in both directions. We both have much in common and also much which would complement the existing strengths and opportunities which our communities have.

“I believe there would also be significant economic benefit connecting growing sectors in Argyll with an accessible labour pool and supply chain capability via Troon, in particular for off-shore renewable energy, food production, whisky and tourism.”

The move was supported by Cllr Bill McIntosh, Tory Leader of South Ayrshire Council, who said, “This opportunity could open up some terrific benefits for both Argyll and Bute and South Ayrshire, linking two popular visitor destinations and expanding what we can offer to tourists coming to Scotland.

“It could also make a very real difference for local communities, creating increased employment and economic opportunities that are not currently feasible given the restrictions of the existing infrastructure. We fully support the development of this route and will continue to work with our colleagues in Argyll and Bute and at Associated British Ports [owners of Troon Harbour] to move this exciting project forward.”

The possibility of a three-way link, including a stop at Brodick, was floated in the national media following the revelation that South Ayrshire and Argyll & Bute were to submit a detailed case to Transport Scotland in relation to the potential ferry service.

The Ardrossan to Brodick ferry is the last major commercial operation to use the North Ayrshire port following the decision by owners Clydeport to diversify into the pleasure-craft sector by allowing the harbour basin to be transformed into a yachting marina.

Poverty hits home as local foodbank opens

The impact of devastating UK Government cuts to welfare and benefits has been brought home with the opening of North Ayrshire’s first foodbank.

Facilities to provide food for hungry families have sprung-up across Britain since the Tory-Lib Dem Government began its programme of draconian cuts aimed at addressing the country’s growing financial deficit, caused primarily by the decision of successive governments to use public money in bailing-out failed banks in the private sector.

The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has revealed that further cuts contained in last week’s Autumn Statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne will force a further 1-million children into poverty.  Currently, every fourth child in Scotland is part of a family living below the poverty line.

Now, activists from the Church of the Nazarene in Ardrossan, working with the Trussell Trust, have established a foodbank to help struggling families in the local area.  The North Ayrshire Foodbank was officially opened last Saturday (December 1) by Provost Joan Sturgeon.  North Ayrshire Council has provided a grant of £680 to help get the facility up and running.

The new organisation’s lead developer, Craig Crosthwaite, said, “We don’t want to have to do this, but if we have to, we want to do it right.  We had more people signing up to volunteer on Saturday but we still need more distribution points and more importantly, volunteers.”

It is estimated that around 400 people in North Ayrshire are in need of support from the foodbank.

Schools, churches, businesses and individuals can donate non-perishable, in-date food to help those struggling to feed their families.  Volunteers are needed to sort food, check it is in date and pack it into boxes ready to be given to people in need.  Care professionals, such as doctors, health visitors, social workers, Citizens Advice Bureau and police identify people in crisis and issue them with a foodbank voucher.  Clients then take the voucher to the foodbank where it can be redeemed for three-days of emergency food.  Volunteers meet clients over a cup of tea or free hot meal and are able to direct people to agencies able to help with longer-term problems.

Anyone who can help by donating non-perishable foods - cans and tins – can do so by dropping them off at the Church of the Nazarene in Glasgow Street, Ardrossan.  The North Ayrshire Foodbank can be contacted on 07411 113126 or by e-mailing nafoodbank@btinternet.com.