Friday, 28 June 2013

£639,198 paid to just 6 Council bosses

North Ayrshire Council’s Draft Annual Accounts for 2012/13 reveal the combined salaries of just six senior officials cost local taxpayers £639,198.

Top earner was Chief Executive Elma Murray who was paid £126,597.  Ms Murray received a further payment of £1,689 in relation to her duties as North Ayrshire’s Electoral Returning Officer.

Ian Mackay, the Council’s Assistant Chief Executive and Senior Legal Officer, received £126,068 before retiring on December 31 last year.  The draft accounts also reveal one member of staff, believed to be Mr Mackay, was paid an ‘exit package’ of between £200,001 and £250,000.

Three Corporate Directors – Carol Kirk (Education & Skills), Iona Colvin (Social Services & Health) and Laura Friel (Finance & Infrastructure) - were each paid £99,390.  Craig Hatton was promoted to the post of Corporate Director (Development & Environment) on October 15 2012: his salary for the financial 2012/13 – from his previous job and the promoted post – totalled £86,674.

The Draft Accounts record the combined salaries of North Ayrshire’s 30 councillors in 2012/13 cost taxpayers more than half-a-million pounds – £553,483.  In addition, councillors also claimed expenses totalling £50,663, an increase from £38,692 in the previous year.  Combining salaries and expenses, the total paid to elected members in the last financial year was £604,146.

Including the remuneration believed to have been paid to Council Solicitor Ian Mackay on his retirement, the Council agreed a total of 89 ‘exit packages’ for staff during 2012/13, which totalled £3,634,232.  Data in the Draft Accounts show that in addition to Mr Mackay’s pay-off, four staff members received between £100,001 and £150,000, while another five took home between £150,000 and £200,000.

In a foreword to the Report, SNP Council Leader Willie Gibson thanked all of the local authority’s staff for the skills and commitment they showed in delivering the Council’s core outcomes.  However, Cllr Gibson also sounded a note of caution, saying, “The Council recognises that the financial challenge faced by the public sector is likely to be deeper and last longer than had been originally anticipated.  The Scottish Government’s budget was reduced as a result of the UK Budget in March 2013: and the 2015/16 Spending Review will be published in June 2013: it’s not clear what impact these will have on local authority budgets.  These financial pressures sit alongside the demographic challenge of an ageing population.”

Cllr Gibson said that despite already identifying savings of £21m into 2015/16, further service changes “will require to take to place”.

The SNP councillor added, “A significant challenge for the Council and communities of North Ayrshire during 2012/13 has been the introduction of Welfare reform.  The Council has been proactive in supporting residents and our approach to implementing the legislative changes has been to mitigate, as far as possible, the impact of these.”

Councillor could be in bother for Twitter rant

Saltcoats & Stevenston Labour councillor Jim Montgomerie could find himself in hot water after launching a Twitter attack on fellow councillors.

Cllr Montgomerie used the social networking site to accuse Independent councillors of “utter lies”, after Cllr Ronnie McNicol successfully amended a Labour Party motion on blacklisting within the construction industry.  However, Cllr McNicol’s amendment had simply called for action by the Council to be delayed until after a Westminster Parliamentary committee – chaired by a Labour MP – had concluded an enquiry on the matter.

The Labour motion to last week’s meeting of North Ayrshire Council, lodged in the name of Jim Montgomerie and seconded by Ardrossan & Arran councillor Peter McNamara, read: “To call on Council Officers to make clear to all Construction Companies bidding for Council contracts that any unlawful blacklisting of workers will not be tolerated.  To ask legal services to explore how to enable the Council to not contract with Companies that have engaged in blacklisting and haven't apologised and paid compensation to workers.”

Cllr McNicol’s amendment stated that “all” companies should be made aware that blacklisting was unacceptable, not just construction companies to which the Labour motion referred.  In addition, Ronnie McNicol moved that the second sentence of the motion be deleted and replaced with: “This Council awaits the final report from the Scottish Affairs Committee into ‘Blacklisting in Employment’.  When this report is completed, we instruct a report to be submitted to the Scrutiny Committee for its consideration and, if appropriate, to then ask Legal Services to explore how to enable the Council to not contract with companies that have engaged in Blacklisting and haven’t apologised and paid compensation to workers.”

The Scottish Affairs Committee is currently mid-way through a parliamentary investigation into the actions of an organisation called the Consulting Association, which maintained and operated a list of people identified as being ‘undesirable employees’.  A number of major companies in the construction industry are believed to have funded the Consulting Association and used the list to prevent certain workers from gaining employment.

The activities of the Consulting Association were revealed following a tip-off from an insider and an investigation by the Information Commissioner in England.  Thousands of names appeared on the ‘blacklist’, with some people prevented from working anywhere in the construction industry for a wide variety of reasons, including for simply being an active trade unionist or for having raised issues of concern in relation to Health & Safety on sites.

In the second phase of the parliamentary enquiry, launched in April, the Scottish Affairs Committee has made a public appeal for evidence under the following four headings:

* Is blacklisting still taking place, both within the construction industry and more widely, and especially in Scotland? 
* Should compensation be paid, and to whom? Anyone whose name appeared on a blacklist? Those who can prove they were adversely affected by blacklisting? Who should provide the compensation?
* What penalties are appropriate for those firms and individuals who engaged in blacklisting and who benefited financially from the process, and is it appropriate to introduce a degree of retrospection? In addition, should firms which have been involved in blacklisting be prevented from tendering for public sector contracts in future? Or should they only be allowed to tender if they pay compensation to those who have been blacklisted?
* Is the existing legislation against blacklisting sufficient, if properly enforced, or do we need changes to the law to eradicate the practice?

In a statement, the committee also called on the Information Commissioner’s Office to “do more work with the trade unions to locate and notify people that were on the blacklist, as they cannot begin to seek redress without this information”.

Committee chairperson, Glasgow Labour MP Ian Davidson, said, “Our inquiry so far has posed a series of key questions rather than answering them, particularly in regard to whether compensation should be offered to the people who suffered invasion of their privacy and loss of earnings as a result of this blacklist.  We are now inviting further submissions on the four key question areas, and we will be taking evidence from more of the firms involved.”

The amendment from Cllr Ronnie McNicol, which was supported by a majority of councillors, allows the Council to be fully informed before taking action in relation to blocking from public contracts any company that supports or operates a system of blacklisting for workers.

However, the intemperate comments posted on Twitter by Cllr Jim Montgomerie could result in disciplinary action.  The ‘Key Principles’ of the Councillors Code of Conduct state: “You must respect all other councillors and all Council employees and the role they play, treating them with courtesy at all times.”  The Code then makes clear that: “You should apply the principles of this Code to your informal dealings with the Council's employees, party political groups and others no less scrupulously than at formal meetings of the Council”.

Parents petition against schools merger

Parents last week stepped-up their opposition to plans by North Ayrshire Council to merge Auchenharvie Academy with Ardrossan Academy and two schools for children with additional needs – Ardrossan’s James McFarlane School and Haysholm School in Irvine.

The Council’s public consultation period on its merger plans closed on June 14, but determined members of Parent Councils continued their fight to keep a secondary school in both Stevenston and Ardrossan by lodging petitions with local councillors and with Education Scotland, the independent body tasked with supporting quality and improvement in Scottish education.  Under the Council’s proposal, both Ardrossan Academy and Auchenharvie would close – as would the schools for children with additional needs – with all pupils then brought together in a new Three Towns campus on a site in Ardrossan.

North Ayrshire Council’s SNP administration has identified the current location of Ardrossan Academy as the preferred site for the new school, although officials from the local authority have also entered into talks with Trustees of the Memorial Field in Ardrossan regarding the possibility of building the facility on rugby pitches that sit across from the current school.  the3towns understands Ardrossan Academicals Rugby Club would then wish to build a new clubhouse and pitches on the site currently occupied by Ardrossan Academy.

Last week Veron Maneely of the Auchenharvie Academy Parent Council and Siobhan Marie from Ardeer Primary Parent Council handed in a petition to Saltcoats & Stevenston councillors Ronnie McNicol and Alan Munro.  The women also petitioned Education Scotland and made the body aware of the strength of opposition to the local Council’s plan to close Auchenharvie, a move that would see Stevenston pupils having to travel to Ardrossan every day for their secondary education.  In a letter last week to the3towns, one Stevenston parent pointed out it would be much easier for their daughter to catch a bus to Kilwinning than travel to the site of Ardrossan Academy.

Veron Maneely told the3towns, “Pupils from Ardeer Primary School have measured the distance from their homes to the current Ardrossan Academy.  In one case, they found it was 3.37 miles, which would take an hour or more to walk, depending on whether they got stuck at the train barrier.  If they had to walk in pouring rain, I can imagine a young person arriving at school who's cold, wet, tired-out and not ready to learn.  An adult would not relish this walk first thing in the morning, never mind an 11 or 12 year-old in first-year.  Plus the thought of walking home again at the end of the day.”

The Parent Council representative noted, “Another pupil has a brother with additional needs, presently at James McFarlane School, and feels scared he may lash out at others when confronted with such a huge school, and the noise that comes along with it.

“These are the voices we, and our councillors, should be listening to.”

Responses to the Council’s public consultation on its schools merger plan are currently being collated by officials from the local authority’s Education department.

North Ayrshire businesses do some 'Straight Talking'

Representatives from more than 40 local companies last week attended a North Ayrshire Council ‘Straight Talking’ meeting on how to grow businesses across the district.

The Council’s Economic Development and Regeneration Board, along with partner bodies and business development agencies joined forces to discuss the challenges faced by businesses in the current economic climate and to review existing business development support.  A series of workshops helped identify new areas for support targeted at achieving the greatest impact on businesses in the future.

Included in the feedback from local businesses were the need for more clarity on the individual roles of business support agencies; increased assistance with procurement; more opportunities to meet and link-up with other businesses; and more training support to help sustain talented recruits in jobs.  Also highlighted were a need for improved infrastructure and links, increased marketing of North Ayrshire as a business location, and a desire for businesses to be more involved in the Council’s efforts to attract and create new jobs in the area.

Guest speakers at the event included Dr David Tudor, Vice President (Supply Chain) with GlaxoSmithKline.  Dr Tudor, who grew up in Irvine, shared his experience of business development from both a global and local perspective.  Also addressing the meeting was Alastair Dobson, Economic Development and Regeneration Board Member and Managing Director of Taste of Arran.

Commenting on the event, North Ayrshire Council’s SNP Cabinet Member for Economy and Employment, Cllr Marie Burns, said, “In these challenging economic times, it is important that we host events like this to hear the views of our local businesses and ensure we are providing them with the level of support they need to help them flourish in a competitive marketplace.

“By supporting local businesses to grow and expand, we can help boost the number of jobs available in the area and achieve our vision of building a vibrant local economy, positioning North Ayrshire as a key location for business.”