Friday, 31 January 2014

Police seek help to find man who robbed pensioner

Police are asking for the public’s help in finding a man who robbed an 85-year-old woman last Wednesday (January 22) in her Ardrossan home.

The incident happened between 5.30pm and 6.00pm in St Andrews Road when the elderly woman answered the door to a man who asked to check water pipes in her house.  The pensioner allowed him into the house and noticed money was missing after he left.

The man Police are looking for is described as white, in his early 20s and around 5ft-5in tall.  He has light brown hair with highlights and was wearing a black jacket.

Detective Constable Billy Campbell of Saltcoats Police said, “St Andrews Road is right next to Stanley Road, which at that time of day would have been busy with motorists and pedestrians.  I would urge anyone who may have seen the suspect, or recognises his description, to come forward.

“It may be that there are other people in the area who have been approached by this man, who haven’t contacted police.  If you have had someone at your door recently that you were unsure of, or if an elderly relative has informed you of an incident, I would like to hear from you.”

DC Campbell can be contacted by calling Police Scotland on 101.  Alternatively, information can be left anonymously through CRIMESTOPPERS on 0800 555 111.

In light of the robbery, the local detective reminded elderly members of the community, “If anyone comes to your door, always, without exception, ask them for identification.  Always close and lock your door while you contact the company or the Police in order to check they are genuine before allowing them access to your home.  Use your door chain to ensure they cannot gain entry until you are satisfied with their identity and I would advise people not to place handbags and purses in open view, especially with large amounts of cash in them.”

Afghans could find safety in North Ayrshire

Afghan nationals who have worked with the British Army in war-torn Helmand Province could find a new home in North Ayrshire.

With UK forces due to leave Afghanistan by the end of the year, the British Government has announced a resettlement scheme for interpreters who assisted soldiers in the war against the Taliban.  North Ayrshire Council’s ruling SNP Cabinet is this week expected to give the green light to talks with the UK Home Office in relation to the possibility that some of the interpreters and their dependent families could be accommodated in the local area.

The interpreters are seen by many in Afghanistan as having ‘worked for the enemy’, which means their lives would be in danger if they remained in the country after British forces pull-out.  However, the resettlement scheme has attracted criticism from Human Rights organisations after the UK Government said only those who had served British forces for more than a year and had seen frontline service would qualify to be relocated.  the3towns understands around 600 Afghanis meet the criteria, but that a similar number will be left in Afghanistan to fend for themselves.   In addition, those who qualify are only to be allowed to bring with them their spouse and children under 18 years of age.  Any sons or daughters considered to be adults will be refused permission to enter the UK, despite the obvious threat to their safety arising from their parent having worked for the British Army.

The Tory-Lib Dem Government estimates the total number of Afghanis allowed to travel and be re-housed in the UK – interpreters and family members – will be between 2,400 and 3,600.

Meeting this week, North Ayrshire’s SNP councillors are expected to agree that the local authority’s Chief Executive should enter into discussions with officials from the UK Home Office regarding the number of Afghanis the Council may be able to accommodate.

A report for the SNP Cabinet suggests the Chief Executive should indicate to the UK Government that North Ayrshire Council’s shortage of one-bedroom properties – exacerbated by the Bedroom Tax – means the local authority would prefer “to accept families with children who would occupy larger properties...where there is less demand in some areas”.

Boost for early-years education

Children across North Ayrshire will have access to an extra 125-hours of free education and care from August. 

The move by the local SNP-run Council means children will be provided with 600-hours of free care a year.

Ardrossan & Arran councillor John Bruce, the local authority’s SNP Cabinet member for Education Attainment and Achievement, said, “Over the last couple of years we have stressed the importance of early years provision, both in terms of the immediate benefits to young people and how it can support their development well into the future. 

“The additional 125-hours of free early learning and childcare will be a real boost for parents and children – providing more dedicated learning at an extremely important time in a child's development.”

The increased provision translates to around six months of free childcare for someone using 25-hours per week.

Cllr Bruce said, “We understand the pressures parents face and we are doing all we can to support them.  This increase will give parents more choice and flexibility in what can be an often hectic schedule.”

The SNP councillor noted, “This increase is also fantastic news for parents, particularly those who are struggling to make ends meet.  By saving money on childcare they will be able to make the best use of their resources for their family.”

New benefit cuts will harm local families

Cunninghame South MSP Margaret Burgess has condemned UK Government plans to make a further £12bn of cuts to the welfare budget.

Highlighting Tory-Lib Dem threats to remove all benefits from people under the age of 25, Mrs Burgess revealed 400 local households would be affected by the move.

“My main concern would be the risk to children, with the social and economic cost far outweighing any savings that may be achieved,” said the SNP MSP, adding, “it would take a further £5million a year out of the North Ayrshire economy.”

Margaret Burgess, also the Scottish Government’s Minister for Housing & Welfare, said she had contacted UK ministers to set-out the implications for Scotland and request a meeting to discuss their proposals.  “This is another example of decisions on Scotland's welfare system being taken in Westminster, with negative impacts on our people and families,” said the MSP whose constituency includes Stevenston.

Mrs Burgess, a former leader of the SNP Council Group in North Ayrshire, said, “Decisions about things that affect Scottish people should be taken in Scotland - by people who live and work here.  Scotland wants a welfare system based on the clear principles of fairness and dignity that fosters a climate of social solidarity, and a ‘YES’ vote in September’s Independence Referendum will help us achieve that.”

Safety concerns over Coastguard shortages

Local MP Katy Clark has met with the UK Transport Minister Stephen Hammond to raise her long-standing concerns over inadequate staffing levels at the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) in Belfast, which now has responsibility for safety in waters off the west of Scotland.  Belfast took on the role last year after the UK Government closed the Clyde base at Greenock.

The meeting was arranged after Parliamentary Questions tabled by Ms Clark revealed the MRCC had been staffed at below safe levels on over 400 shifts in 2013.  During the summer months, typically the busiest for the Maritime Coastguard Agency, the Belfast facility had been understaffed on 77% of shifts.

Katy Clark said, “There is real concern amongst west coast MPs, as well as MPs from the north-west of England, about the way in which the closure of MRCC Clyde was handled.  The number of understaffed shifts at MRCC Belfast in 2013 was completely unacceptable and it is important that the Government now guarantee this is not repeated in 2014.”

Despite UK Government claims that additional staff have been recruited to the Maritime Coastguard Agency, Ms Clark says stations serving the west coast “do not seem to be benefiting”.

The Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran said the Transport Minister must “provide proper reassurance that seafarers along Scotland’s west coast can once again have confidence in the safety arrangements in place to protect them in the event of an emergency.”