Friday, 26 July 2013

Fourth arrest over Saltcoats murder

A 21-year-old woman has become the fourth person to be charged in connection with the murder of Scott Blackwood in Saltcoats on July 4.

Police Scotland confirmed on Friday (July 12) that the woman was in custody and would appear at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court.

the3towns reported last Tuesday (July 9) that three Saltcoats men had made no plea or declaration and had been remanded in custody following a court appearance that day.  The three - Allan Nicol (35), Martin McGowan (27) and Thomas Sean Moore (26) – faced charges of murder and attempting to pervert the course of justice.  They were ordered to appear again at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court on Wednesday (July 17).

Scott Blackwood (30), originally from Ardrossan, was found in his home in Wheatley Road, Saltcoats shortly before 5:00am on July 4.  Despite receiving medical attention from paramedics, Mr Blackwood was pronounced dead at the scene.

Shortly afterwards, messages of condolence began to appear on Scott Blackwood’s Facebook page, with many people referring to him as a ‘gentle giant’.  Others posted comments suggesting Mr Blackwood may have had problems with some ‘bullies’ in the Wheatley Road area.

One angry member of Scott Blackwood’s family reacted to the comments, posting, “If I had known about Scott being bullied, believe me, I would have had this sorted and none of this would have happened.  And, believe me, the wee scumbags are going to get their day.”

The family member added that Scott had been “a gentle giant that would have went out of his way to help anyone”.

* See the3towns Facebook page for further update.

Cuts lead to neglect in local towns

The consequences of North Ayrshire Council’s multi-million pound cuts to jobs and services over recent years are becoming clear across local towns.

In addition to more high profile cuts to social services and other council departments, evidence is now emerging of a lack of maintenance in public areas of the Three Towns. The photos (above) show water of some sort seeping onto a pathway at the popular Holm Plantation; a wildy-overgrown area of grass near the busy junction of Jacks Road and Argyle Road in Saltcoats; and potentially dangerous damage to a pavement off Saltcoats High Road.

A Council insider this week confirmed to the3towns that the local authority had cut back on maintenance to such an extent that problems, such as those identified in the photos, are only being addressed when members of the public report them.  The Council worker said, “Almost everything is reactive now.  If something is reported, and it needs attention, it will get done.  But money is so tight now, so nothing gets done until it really has to be done.”

Like local authorities across the country, North Ayrshire Council has seen its finances slashed by central government.  Savage austerity measures imposed by the Tory-Lib Dem UK administration have seen cuts in the region of £1bn to the budget of the SNP Scottish Government.  The SNP says it is mitigating the impact of cuts, as best it can with the limited powers at its disposal in the devolved Scottish Parliament, but has been unable to prevent significant funding reductions being passed to local councils.

Cuts to much-needed council services and the increasing damage to the fabric of local towns through reduced maintenance are clear indications of the impact caused by UK Government policy to bail-out failing private banks and financial institutions by using public funds and borrowing.

At the time North Ayrshire Council agreed its current budget (January 2013), which contained proposals for a further £19m of cuts, Colin Turbett, Chair of the North Ayrshire branch of Unison, the largest public sector trade union, warned “There simply is nothing left to cut that does not affect vital services.”

Mr Turbett added, “The Council’s first three stated priorities of ‘community regeneration and increased employment’, ‘support of vulnerable people’ and ‘improvement of educational attainment’ are all to suffer for the fourth [priority] ‘operating more efficiently and effectively’. 

“They tell us they have a legal obligation to set a balanced budget.  We say they also have an obligation to defend our people from a government determined to serve the interests of the rich and the bankers.  Austerity policies are simply not working.”

Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councillor Ronnie McNicol has taken-up the problems highlighted in the above photos and will ask the Council to take appropriate action to tackle each issue.

Katy speaks-up in fight for Royal Mail

Local MP Katy Clark was one of the speakers at a packed meeting in the House of Commons in support of keeping Royal Mail in public ownership.

The ‘lobby’ of parliament was organised by the Communications Workers Union (CWU) after the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government announced plans to privatise Royal Mail.  In a recent ballot, 96% of CWU members voted to keep Royal Mail in public ownership, despite the UK Government offering each worker £1,500 of shares in a privatised company should the sell-off be carried through.

Currently, Royal Mail is a very successful public operation, but fears have been expressed that if services were privatised, companies would attempt to maximise profits by increasing the cost of postage and cherry-picking lucrative routes at the expense of others to more remote parts of the country.

Speaking after addressing last week’s meeting in the House of Commons, Katy Clark said, “I am delighted that so many postal workers have chosen to stand up against the Government’s harmful privatisation proposals.  If the privatisation of Royal Mail goes ahead there is a very real threat to both the universal service and the Post Office network.”

The Labour MP added, “The more people learn about the privatisation plans the more they oppose them.  It is essential now that postal workers and service users come together to fight these damaging plans and force the Government to think again.”

Ms Clark, MP for North Ayrshire & Arran, set-out why she opposes privatisation, “The six-day delivery service could be under threat and would be less secure if Royal Mail is transferred into private ownership.  The Government claim that the universal service is enshrined in law, but many aspects of the universal service obligation are set by the regulator and can be easily changed.

“The track record of the regulator, to date, does not inspire confidence.  We already know they are allowing TNT to cherry-pick services in London, employing staff on zero-hour contracts and far worse terms and conditions, and, with lower standards of service, to undercut Royal Mail.”

For the SNP, Mike Weir MP told the CWU lobby, “We remain absolutely opposed to privatisation and will join you in the fight.”

Following the meeting, Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communications Workers Union, said, “It is wonderful to hear so many MPs stand up in defence of Royal Mail and the postal services we value so much.  The arguments put forward are strong, loud and clear - privatisation is not the will of postal workers or customers and it would cause more harm than good.

“There are too many unanswered questions, and history has shown us how failures cost the taxpayer more in the long-run.  This is a profitable, successful company and should be allowed to continue to flourish in public ownership.”

Scottish Government funding for social housing

SNP MSP Margaret Burgess says North Ayrshire Council and registered social landlords, such as Ardrossan-based Cunninghame Housing Association, could be in line to benefit from a £44m increase in Scottish Government housing subsidies.

The MSP said, “Local authorities, like North Ayrshire Council, have been receiving up to £30,000 towards the cost of building every new house, with housing associations getting around £42,000.  This announcement by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will give councils and housing associations an extra £16,000 per home.”

The announcement came in the same week a report on ‘Affordability, Financial Capacity and Subsidy Rates’ recommended higher subsidy levels for new-build social housing.

Margaret Burgess said, “The report was produced by a working group, which included representatives from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, and the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers.

“Aware of the pressures being faced by councils and housing associations, the Scottish Government has given its support in full to the recommendations of the working group.”

Mrs Burgess, the Scottish Government Minister for Housing and Welfare, noted, “Housing is and will remain a priority and this funding announcement brings our total Scottish budget for affordable housing to £900-million over three years.

“Increasing the supply of affordable housing is a vital part of our efforts to build a better and fairer Scotland.  The five year target was to deliver at least 30,000 additional affordable homes across Scotland.  Two years on, good progress is being made towards reaching that goal, with 12,900 additional affordable homes already completed.”

The MSP for Cunninghame South, which includes Stevenston, said the SNP decision to end the ‘Right to Buy’ public sector houses “signals our commitment to retain and make the best use of existing housing stock.” 

Mrs Burgess added, “Housing is central to the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities.  The announcement of additional resources will strengthen our commitment to provide the people of Scotland with high-quality, sustainable and affordable homes that meet their needs.”