Saturday, 26 January 2013

Hunter calls for accurate public record

A straightforward transfer of funds between two projects has revealed another inaccuracy in the official minutes of North Ayrshire Council.

The minute of a recent meeting of the local authority’s ruling SNP Cabinet states that £300,000 is to be transferred from a programme of electrical rewiring and central heating replacement and will be used instead within a programme of re-roofing and rendering.  The reason given for the change is that “the Council's main contractor for these works, CFM Limited” has served notice of its intention to pull-out of the contract.  However, CFM Limited is the name of an English financial services company that was officially dissolved in March 2010.  The central heating contractor pulling out of its contract with the Council is CFM Building Services Limited of Carluke.

Ardrossan Independent councillor John Hunter believes Council minutes must be accurate. He told the3towns, “In this case it is a relatively small error, but it is an error nonetheless.  Council minutes are supposed to be accurate reflections of what took place at meetings.  They are also the only record to which the public of North Ayrshire has access.  Anyone reading the official minute of the Cabinet meeting would be under the impression the Council had a central heating contract with a financial services company that went out of business almost three years ago.”

Cllr Hunter recently challenged the minute of the November 7 meeting of North Ayrshire Council, in which the abstention of the Labour group in relation to a Motion on the wages of modern apprentices had not been recorded.  John Hunter said, “Cllr Ronnie McNicol and I sought to suspend Standing Orders so that our Motion supporting a wage increase for modern apprentices could be discussed.  The SNP group moved that Standing Orders should not be suspended.  If the Labour councillors had supported us we could have had the debate and the Council’s lowest-paid workers could have had a pay rise.  But they didn’t support us, they abstained, which meant the SNP managed to block the Motion.”

Cllr Hunter explained why he challenged the minute, “This is the only official record of events that the North Ayrshire public has access to, but the minute did not record the actions of the Labour group.  When I challenged the matter at the December Council meeting, I was told only votes for and against a proposal are recorded, not abstentions.  This means the public have no official way of knowing the full implications of councillors’ actions.  the3towns reported what happened, but the Council minutes should also be a true and accurate reflection of what takes place at meetings.”

The Independent councillor argues that Council meetings should be recorded and full transcripts of what takes place should be made available to the public through the local authority’s website.  Cllr Hunter said, “In this day and age it should not be beyond the capability of the Council to provide an accurate official minute, without errors or omissions.  That is the very least the local public should expect.”   

Fall in homelessness

North Ayrshire Council’s SNP administration has announced a significant reduction in homelessness within the district.

Between July and September 2012 there were 10,269 homeless applications to the Council, compared with 11,604 the previous year – a drop of 18 percent.  The fall outstripped the Scotland-wide reduction by 5 percent and came just weeks after Scottish Housing Minister Margaret Burgess MSP praised NAC’s initiatives.

Mrs Burgess, who represents the local constituency of Cunninghame South, described the Council’s action as “innovative” and said it was “delivering real benefits” for local people who found themselves without accommodation.

SNP councillors believe much of the progress being made locally is a result of homelessness-prevention strategies aimed at ensuring social work departments, healthcare professionals and the voluntary sector work together to quickly identify and assist those at risk of homelessness.

At the end of last year the SNP Scottish Government introduced new legislation entitling all unintentionally homeless people in Scotland to ‘settled accommodation’, which is expected to help drive further progress towards reducing levels of homelessness.

Cllr Anthea Dickson, North Ayrshire Council’s Cabinet member for Health and Social Care, explained, “Housing has very strong partnership links with health, education, social work, the police and the third [voluntary] sector.  Through these links the team has been able to identify the support needs of homeless people and can help those in crisis. They work closely with NHS Ayrshire and Arran to address the health needs of homeless people within North Ayrshire and we now ensure that every homeless person is registered with a GP, has access to dental healthcare and public health services.”

The SNP councillor said it is “very pleasing that our levels of homelessness continue to fall, and satisfying to see that a more co-ordinated support is provided in North Ayrshire to those who find themselves in that position.”

Margaret Burgess added, “This preventative approach by North Ayrshire Council is strongly supported by the Scottish Government and is now being mirrored in local authorities across Scotland.”

Shocking revelations in murder trial

The trial of four men accused of murdering financial advisor Lynda Spence at a house in West Kilbride has heard she was married to an Albanian criminal and had been recruited by Strathclyde Police to spy on him.

Paul Smith from Largs, Colin Coates from Glasgow, Philip Wade from Glengarnock and David Parker of West Kilbride deny abducting, torturing and murdering Ms Spence in May of last year.  The woman’s body has not been found.

In evidence at the High Court in Glasgow, Detective Sergeant Aileen Boyle of Strathclyde Police's Major Crimes Investigation Team told Derek Ogg, QC for the defence, that Ms Spence was “married to Albanian Sokol Zefaj and it was for this reason that she was recruited by the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency and the UK-based Serious Organised Crime Agency.”

Jurors also heard from Amanda Robertson, who described herself as Ms Spence’s “best friend at secondary school”.  Ms Robertson said she worked for the financial services company set up in Glasgow by Lynda Spence, but left after clients began complaining about mortgage and letting problems.

Amanda Robertson agreed with Derek Ogg QC when he stated Ms Spence had taken £3,000 deposits from 30 Chinese clients in relation to flats in a Glasgow development, but had spent the money rather than using it to secure the properties.  Ms Robertson said her former friend had lived a lavish lifestyle, drinking champagne and frequenting casinos and restaurants, while staff who worked for her went unpaid.

The court also heard how two deals in which Ms Spence had been involved “went wrong,” and how Amanda Robertson had been instructed to hand-over £15,000 in Glasgow’s Byres Road to a man known as Mr Glen.  Ms Robertson explained that on another occasion she had flown to London with documents for a man called ‘Uncle Ben’, whom she described as being Russian.

In addition, Amanda Robertson indicated that Lynda Spence had taken money from the funeral fund of the parents of Colin Coates, one of the men subsequently charged with her murder.

Cross-examining Detective Sergeant Boyle, Gary Allan, defence QC for Philip Wade, suggested Lynda Spence had been “up to her neck in criminal activity,” to which the police officer replied, “She was involved.”

 Police witnesses also confirmed that, at the time she disappeared, Ms Spence was being investigated in relation to mortgage fraud involving members of the Chinese community.

However, one of the most surprising revelations heard by the High Court was that two international police agencies – Interpol and Europol – had received information alleging that Lynda Spence was still alive and was living with her husband in Albania.  A Strathclyde Police witness told the jury neither agency had any official information relating to Ms Spence. 

All four accused deny the charges against them. The trial, before Lord Pentland, continues.

Katy backs statutory regulation of pubs

Katy Clark MP has voted in favour of statutory regulation to support local pubs.

Ms Clark’s vote came following a recent ‘Opposition Day’ debate in the House of Commons, during which concerns were expressed over the way companies who own pubs – known as Pubcos - rent to individual licensees.  Tenants often become ‘tied’ to a Pubco and can only purchase alcohol from that one company.  MPs heard that such practice resulted in alcohol prices being artificially increased and Pubcos charging higher rents.

In January of last year the UK parliament passed a motion calling for the Tory-Lib Dem Government to hold an independent review of large pub companies.  However, it has taken a full 12 months for the government to act - a six-week consultation was announced on January 9.  A decision on whether or not to introduce a Statutory Code and Adjudicator for pub companies is expected by the spring.

Katy Clark said, “I am pleased that the Government has announced it will hold a consultation on introducing statutory regulation in the pub industry.  With increasing numbers of pubs closing, it is wrong that Pubcos are profiteering from their position of power in setting high rents and inflated prices for alcohol while individual publicans are struggling to run businesses.  What is needed are fair rents for tenants and more free-of-tie options for individual pub landlords.  Pubs are a central part of many communities, providing jobs and social spaces, and the Government need to put in place these measures to protect such businesses.”

However, the Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran indicated her disappointment at the Government’s delay in conducting a review of the pub industry, noting that during the period of inaction pub closures had risen to 18 per week.  Ms Clark added, “I am also disappointed that the Government refused to support Labour’s motion to put in place a statutory code of practice by the end of the year, and I hope to see these measures introduced soon.”

Volunteer for the Commonwealth Games

Three Towns residents are being urged to become volunteers for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

The Games are expected to be the biggest sporting and cultural event ever held in Scotland and locals are being asked to consider becoming one of the 15,000 volunteers who will ensure the occasion runs smoothly. 

Cllr Alan Hill, North Ayrshire Council’s Cabinet Member for Community and Culture, said, “Lots of people will be excited about going to watch some of the best sportsmen and women compete at the highest level.  However, I know that lots of people are also keen to be involved themselves and say they played a part in making the Games an event to remember for years to come.

“Of course, not all roles will be high profile or in the frontline, but they are all crucial to making sure the Games run smoothly.”

North Ayrshire Council will be hosting drop-in events at local libraries, giving residents the chance to find out more about the Games and the part they can play.  Further information will be available over the next few weeks. 

Meanwhile, anyone interested in volunteering for Glasgow 2014 should visit the official Games website -