Friday, 25 April 2014

Use of foodbanks soars

Katy Clark MP has revealed a shocking ten-fold rise in the number of local people forced to use foodbanks in North Ayrshire to stave-off hunger.

Figures produced by the Trussell Trust, which operates the foodbank at the Church of the Nazerene in Ardrossan, show that 4,063 people received three-days-worth of emergency food in North Ayrshire in the year 2013/14 - up from 364 in 2012/13. In the same two-year period, the number of children receiving food jumped from 119 to 1,320.

According to the Trussell Trust, half of referrals to foodbanks in 2013-14 were a result of changes to people’s benefits or delays in payments.

An angry Katy Clark said, “The jump in the number of people requiring support from foodbanks in North Ayrshire is simply appalling. It cannot be acceptable that in the sixth-largest economy in 2014, people do not have enough food to eat.”

Ms Clark said the shocking figures are a “damning indictment” of the UK Tory-Lib Dem Government’s “austerity measures.”

The Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran noted, “The Trussell Trust has identified that the three biggest reasons for people turning to foodbanks were delays in benefit payments, low pay and benefit changes. There can now be no denying that this huge increase in foodbank use is a direct consequence of the policies this Government has pursued. We are now seeing the human cost that punitive measures, such as the Government’s Bedroom Tax and sanctions regime, are having on our communities.

“It is important to pay tribute to the fantastic work done by all those who have volunteered in foodbanks over the past year, particularly those who have worked so hard at the North Ayrshire foodbank in Ardrossan. I very much hope that their workload will be reduced over the coming year. Sadly, however, unless the Government changes course, this will not happen.”

Across the United Kingdom in the past year, 913,138 people received emergency food packages (three-days of food) from foodbanks, up from 346,992 in 2012/13 and 61,468 in 2010/11.

The North Ayrshire foodbank in Ardrossan currently requires donations of food. Volunteers would be grateful to receive any of the following: milk (UHT or powdered), sugar, fruit juice (cartons), soup, pasta sauces, sponge pudding (tinned), cereals, rice pudding (tinned), tomatoes (tinned), tea bags and instant coffee, instant mashed potato, rice, pasta, tinned meat and fish, tinned vegetables, tinned fruit, jam, biscuits, snack bars.

Items can be dropped-off at the Church of Nazerene, 150 Glasgow Street, Ardrossan.

Concerns over parking at new health centre

Local councillors are to be told that Ardrossan’s new health centre will have just 42 parking spaces.

The limited ‘official’ parking at the location has led to fears that some elderly patients may be forced to park at the nearby Asda store, leaving them to cross one of the town’s busiest roads to reach their doctors’ surgery.

The health centre, currently under construction in Harbour Street, will be the new home of the South Beach doctors’ practice and will also incorporate a dental clinic. According to paperwork submitted at the time a planning application was granted for the development, analysis of the “parking profile and a review of the travel behaviour at the existing GP Practice” was carried out. The report stemming from the analysis concluded that “day to day operations provided a realistic parking capacity of 42 spaces within the site boundary to address the number of car trips generated by the site.”

In a report to be considered on April 24 by North Ayrshire Council’s Three Towns & Arran Area Committee, the local authority’s Corporate Director (Development & Environment), Mr Craig Hatton, makes clear that “There is no space within the site for further parking provision and no additional parking spaces have been identified as part of the planning consent.”

Mr Hatton’s report acknowledges a “high demand” for parking in the area of Glasgow Street (south) and Princes Street, but argues “there is sufficient capacity elsewhere in Ardrossan between on-road spaces and publicly available off-road spaces to meet parking demand”.

The senior Council official states that the local authority will carry out a review “to identify unnecessary parking restrictions with a view to providing additional on-street parking where it is safe to do so”.

More money for Home Renewables Loans

Local MSP Margaret Burgess has welcomed the announcement that the SNP Scottish Government is to invest a further £4m in the Home Renewables Loan Scheme, which helps householders cut their energy bills.

The scheme gives access to interest-free loans of up to £10,000 for a range of renewable heat and electricity technologies. Since April 2011 it has helped reduce dependency on fossil fuels and has allowed householders across Scotland to access cleaner, greener energy.

The new money is in addition to £55m already allocated to deliver the Home Energy Efficiency Programmes for Scotland (HEEPS), which Mrs Burgess previously announced in her capacity as the Scottish Government’s Minister for Housing & Welfare. North Ayrshire Council has already benefitted from a funding award under HEEPS.

Margaret Burgess said, “The Scottish Government is determined to help householders stay warm and reduce their energy bills.

“This further investment will also help to generate work and support jobs – providing a much needed boost to our economy.”

The MSP for Cunninghame South, which includes Stevenston, noted, “To help tackle fuel poverty we are actively working with councils and energy companies to ensure that Scotland continues to get its fair share of funding for efficiency programmes. Unlike the UK Government, we believe it is important to provide this type of funding.”

The extra money for the Home Renewables Loan Scheme was also welcomed by Mike Thornton, Director of Energy Saving Trust Scotland, who said, “Helping with the up-front cost of installing a renewable energy system supports homeowners across Scotland to move to renewable energy sources and save money on their fuel bills. Since April 2011, households that have received a loan will make total savings of over £12-million. Figures like these mean we expect many more to take up this Scottish Government loan and reap the benefits of a home renewables system.”

Nominate a young rising star

An annual awards event aimed at recognising and rewarding inspirational young people in the local area got underway this week.

The North Ayrshire Rising Stars Awards celebrate the talents of young people aged 18 and under who encourage others to follow in their footsteps. The 2014 event will culminate with an awards ceremony in June.

Organisers would like to hear about special young people who deserve to be commended for their achievements or contributions to the community, such as a youth group that has helped to improve their local area, a community champion who has inspired others or a popular classmate who has overcome adversity to get on in life.

North Ayrshire Council’s Youth Services team will shortlist the nominations after the closing date on Friday, May 2nd. A judging panel will then consider the final group of nominations and choose the winners.

There are six categories: Creative Achievement; Sports Achievement; Outstanding Contribution to the Community; Personal Achievements; Outstanding Academic Achievement; and the Group/Club Award. In addition, two special award winners will be decided by the judging panel.

Nominations from those under 18 must be supported by an adult, such as a teacher, social worker, youth worker or play worker who knows the person or group. A signature from the supporting adult is also required.

Young people can’t nominate themselves but can nominate others, provided the nominees are of secondary school age up to 18 years. The application form provides a chance to explain why the person being nominated should receive recognition in the North Ayrshire Rising Stars Awards. Photos, videos, CDs or other examples of work can also be submitted to support nominations.

Mary Docherty, Head of Education at North Ayrshire Council, explained the reason for the awards, “There are many inspirational young people out there who give us good reason to be confident for our future. These enthusiastic and committed individuals help to enrich the lives of those around them and instil a strong sense of community spirit.

“This is an ideal opportunity to recognise and reward the very special young people we have among us.

“I would urge the residents of North Ayrshire to join us in showing appreciation of our young people and their efforts by completing a nomination form.”

Forms are available here.

NHS 'weigh to go' programme

NHS Ayrshire & Arran has adapted its successful ‘weigh to go’ initiative, with new focus on people who have gained additional weight after a diagnosis of cancer.

The weight management programme has received input from the Macmillan Nutrition Team, which has adapted the plan to suit people living with cancer. Debbie Provan, Macmillan Project Lead Dietician, explained, “Many people living with cancer struggle with their weight. They may have gained weight as a result of their illness. The ‘weigh to go’ programme has been successful in helping people manage their weight, and so we decided to adapt it specifically for those living with cancer.”

People taking part in the programme will receive group education sessions every week for three months; four assessments - at the start, at three months, six months and 12 months; and weekly weight monitoring to maintain motivation and promote success.

Debbie Provan said, “These classes are a great chance to get advice and support on all aspects of weight management. You can also meet other people who are in the same boat.”

Classes are held every Wednesday (10.30am to 11.15am) in Saltcoats library.

More information on the programme is available from Lorna Breeze by e-mailing lorna.breeze@aapct.scot.nhs.uk or Louise Whitelaw at louise.whitelaw@aapct.scot.nhs.uk. Alternatively, call 01563 525172 (extension 432).

Council announces Commonwealth Legacy Grants

Groups and individuals working with North Ayrshire Council to promote 2014 as a special year for residents can now apply for Legacy Grant funding.

Sums of £500, £1,000 or £2,000 will be awarded to successful applicants whose events and activities meet certain criteria, such as public events and activities taking place in North Ayrshire on the day of the Queen’s Baton Relay (Tuesday, July 15); public events and activities that promote and encourage participation in sport and physical activity; or events and activities that celebrate and commemorate the various special occasions happening throughout 2014.

The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer is the showpiece event of a special year, which will also feature a wide programme of ‘Homecoming’ celebrations, commemorative events marking the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, and the staging of the Ryder Cup Golf Tournament in Scotland – only the second time it has been held here in 87 years.

Audrey Sutton, North Ayrshire Council’s Head of Community and Culture, said, “There is a lot happening nationally to mark this special year and here in North Ayrshire we have a number of groups keen to participate at a local level.

“Legacy Grants will give these groups a helping hand to stage smaller community events that will extend the reach of the celebrations even further.”

Online grant application forms are available here.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Drop in North Ayrshire knife crime

Crimes of carrying an offensive weapon in North Ayrshire have fallen by 57% since the Scottish Government’s ‘No Knives Better Lives’ campaign was extended to the local area in 2012.

The remarkable drop in recorded offences was revealed last week by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill (pictured) during a visit to North Ayrshire. The SNP MSP also pointed to a 24% fall in violent crime across the district in the last year for which figures are available (2012-2013).

The ‘No Knives Better Lives’ campaign involves a local partnership between North Ayrshire Council, Police Scotland and youth groups, which delivers activities in schools and communities aimed at educating and informing young people about the dangers and consequences of carrying a knife.

Kenny MacAskill said, “Crimes of handling an offensive weapon - including knives - have dropped dramatically in North Ayrshire, falling by a massive 57 percent since 2012 and, helped by campaigns such as ‘No Knives Better Lives’, are now at their lowest level in Scotland for 27 years.”

The Justice Secretary said the SNP Scottish Government has consistently made the case that the best way to tackle violence is through enforcement, education and prevention, adding, “Our campaign has been a great success, with handling offensive weapons crime reducing significantly in all 11 areas where the programme is running and youth crime across Scotland falling by more than 50 percent since 2008/09.”

Mr MacAskill told his North Ayrshire audience, “There is never an excuse for carrying a knife and we will continue to work tirelessly with all of our partners to get the message home and change the culture in which some people think that carrying a weapon is acceptable.”

The Scottish Government’s Criminal Justice Bill, currently going through parliament, will seek to increase the maximum penalties for knife possession from four to five years.

Recorded crimes of handling an offensive weapon in North Ayrshire fell from 157 in 2011/12 to 67 in 2012/13.

Council crackdown on failing landlords

Private landlords who fail to take action against anti-social tenants or who rent out substandard housing could be ‘struck off’ by North Ayrshire Council.

The local authority’s Licensing Committee is responsible for overseeing the registration of landlords and has powers to ensure there are serious consequences for any who are deemed to be not ‘fit and proper’ persons to perform the role. For example, the Committee can refuse an application from a prospective landlord or can remove those already on the register. In addition, a Rent Penalty Notice can be served against a landlord, which means no rent can be charged for a particular property and any tenant will not receive Housing Benefit from the Council.

Cllr Tom Marshall, Depute Chair of the Licensing Committee, explained, “Anti-social behaviour can be extremely stressful for neighbours, whether it involves loud music being played in the middle of the night, people visiting at night or disposing of waste in common grounds, such as closes and shared gardens.”

Leasing substandard housing and failing to carry out essential repairs can also result in action.

In order to legally operate as a landlord, a property owner must be officially registered with the Council. The Register also allows tenants and neighbours to identify the property owner and contact them where necessary.

The Licensing Committee has vowed to crackdown on issues where there is clear evidence to back complaints. Cllr Marshall said, “Tenants are clearly responsible for their own behaviour. However, there is also an onus on landlords to take action where necessary.

“The Council has a number of options when it comes to enforcing legislation and is committed to making use of these where appropriate.”

In 2012 Ardrossan Independent councillor John Hunter initiated an investigation by North Ayrshire Council’s Scrutiny Committee, which looked at the impact on the local area of unregistered landlords and owners of private residential properties.

The investigation involved carrying out a data-matching exercise, which looked at licensing records and benefits claims, revealing around 3,000 unregistered rented properties in the local area.

Ferry fares cut - but harbour concerns remain

A major reduction in fares on the Ardrossan-Brodick ferry is to be implemented from the introduction of the Winter 2014/15 timetable in October.

The savings will result from the SNP Scottish Government applying Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) to the route. RET operates on the basis that it should not cost more to travel by ferry than it would to drive the same distance if a road was available.

The initiative will result in the fare for a car being reduced by over 50%, while passenger tickets will be 30% cheaper.

Transport Minister Keith Brown said, “We made a pledge to extend the RET pilot to Arran by October 2014 and this fares announcement will come as welcome news to islanders and visitors.

“The RET pilot has proved successful on other ferry routes, providing a real boost to local tourist trade and local economies.”

The SNP MSP noted, “The Scottish Government is committed to assessing the affordability of ferry travel to and from our remote island communities, with the aim of bringing in cheaper fares for islanders, tourists and businesses across the country.”

However, the good news of fare reductions was tempered by continued concerns over a lack of investment in the harbour infrastructure at Ardrossan.

The Ardrossan-Brodick ferry has a higher than average rate of cancellations, which operator Caledonian MacBrayne has implied is a result of berthing difficulties at Ardrossan during inclement weather. Clydeport, the private owners of Ardrossan Harbour, have denied such assertions.

The SNP Scottish Government is currently investing around £18m on upgrading the publicly-owned harbour infrastructure at Brodick, and intends to introduce two new ferries to service the Arran route. Clydeport have no plans to provide improved access or facilities at Ardrossan.

the3towns recently revealed the parent company of Clydeport had ‘off-shored’ its multi-million pounds profits, resulting in it paying no tax in the UK.

Young voters prepare for referendum

Young people in North Ayrshire have been given an insight into the world of politics ahead of the Independence Referendum later this year.

A total of 1,800 pupils took part in a series of workshops, which were held at all secondary schools in the area. The hour-long ‘Your Vote, Your Voice’ sessions were organised by the Youth Services team from North Ayrshire Council.

The Independence Referendum on September 18th will be the first time that people aged 16 and 17 will be eligible to vote.

The school workshops, which involved groups of S4, S5 and S6 pupils, required the participants to act out election scenarios. The young people had to create their own political party, decide on the kind of politician to lead them and then agree on the policies they believed would address the needs of their local community. In addition, pupils had to produce a Party Political Broadcast to sell their party’s ideas and ideals before the virtual election itself.

The workshops were organised in conjunction with the Ayrshire Valuation Joint Board, which carries out electoral registration on behalf of the three Ayrshire local authorities. Great emphasis was placed on the need to register to vote so that as many young people and new voters as possible are engaged in the democratic process.

North Ayrshire Council’s Chief Executive, Elma Murray, is also the area’s Electoral Returning Officer and will oversee the Independence Referendum. Ms Murray said, “Today’s young people will have a greater opportunity than ever to shape their country’s future. For the first time, young people under the age of 18 will be able to vote. This will encourage youngsters to feel connected with society and show them that they, and their opinions, are valued.

“It is important we do not simply hand over voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds without equipping them with the information that will allow them to play a meaningful part in the referendum.

“I am pleased this exercise will have introduced young people to a good voting habit at an early age. It will also have encouraged them to learn more about the voting process and to understand how vital their contribution is to the outcome.”

Burgess announces communities funding

Around 50 community-led organisations across Scotland are to receive investment of up to £3m, which will support the regeneration of identified areas.

The announcement of additional funding was made by local MSP Margaret Burgess in her capacity as the Scottish Government’s Minister for Housing and Welfare. The money will be delivered through the government’s Strengthening Communities Programme.

Identified initiatives will respond to local community needs by developing activities, such as advocacy projects, community windfarms, environmental action and transferring assets into community ownership.

Margaret Burgess explained, “Investing in community organisations is absolutely key for creating change at a local level within communities.

“The aim of the Strengthening Communities Programme, which will benefit up to 50 local initiatives, is to help build capacity in local communities and inject new life into some of Scotland’s most disadvantaged areas.”

Mrs Burgess, who represents the local constituency of Cunninghame South, said the SNP Government “puts community-led change at the heart of our regeneration strategy”, adding, “Through the Strengthening Communities Programme we will test the impact of targeted investment. It is only by improving on community-based initiatives and empowering local people that we will see real, sustainable change.”

Fiona Garvin, Director of the Scottish Community Development Centre, said, “We welcome the Scottish Government’s investment in the Strengthening Communities Programme and believe that strong communities and strong community organisations are vital elements of community-led regeneration. Our support to these organisations is designed to help them develop their strengths, increase local activity and work with others to take the next steps in regenerating their communities.”

Anger over UK Government secrecy

An angry Katy Clark MP has condemned the UK Government’s refusal to publish papers relating to a 40 year-old industrial dispute that saw some workers jailed, including Ricky Tomlinson who went on to become and actor, starring as Jim Royale in the television comedy the Royale Family.

Citing “national security”, the Tory-Lib Dem Government continues to keep secret the documents surrounding the treatment of building workers who became known as the Shrewsbury 24. In 1972 the men were involved in what was the first UK-wide strike by construction workers.

Ms Clark, who has long supported the cause of the Shrewsbury 24, had asked for a meeting with the UK Justice Minister Simon Hughes to discuss publication of the documents following a conclusive House of Commons vote that called on the government to release the files it holds. However, the Liberal Democrat MP declined to meet Katy Clark.

There remain serious concerns over the convictions of the Shrewsbury 24 in 1972, with several documents highlighting legal flaws in the prosecution case and claims that the then Tory Government exerted political pressure on the supposedly independent Crown Prosecution Service.

Katy Clark told the3towns, “It is extremely disappointing that Ministers are continuing to withhold the truth from the public about the Shrewsbury 24. On 23rd January the House of Commons voted by 120 votes to 3 in favour of the publication of the remaining classified documents relating to this case. The fact the Government continues to refuse to do so makes a mockery of our democratic system.”

The Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran noted, “We have now reached a stage where the Minister responsible is even refusing to meet with Members of Parliament to discuss this issue and is desperately trying to pass the blame onto Ministerial colleagues. Such behaviour is contemptible given surviving members of the Shrewsbury 24 have waited over forty years for justice.”

Friday, 11 April 2014

Tory and Labour unite to ban referendum posters

In a move that overturns a decades-long tradition, election posters fixed to lampposts are to be banned in North Ayrshire.

The decision was taken at last week’s meeting of North Ayrshire Council where an amendment from the district’s only Tory, Cllr Tom Marshall of Largs, was supported by Labour councillors and Independents. The amendment, calling for a ban on posters, defeated a motion from the SNP administration, which had backed the position of Council officials that posters should continue to be allowed on lampposts at this year’s European Election and the Independence Referendum.

The united Tory-Labour position on banning posters is believed to have been motivated by the fact that the anti-independence group Better Together has so few activists it would have struggled to put up posters during the referendum campaign. It is understood that Labour and Tory members in North Ayrshire feared the pro-independence ‘YES’ campaign would have overwhelmingly won the ‘battle of the posters’ that, until now, has been part of every election campaign for many years.

Seen by many as a ‘spoiling tactic’ on the part of the Tory-Labour grouping of North Ayrshire councillors, the ban on posters comes as opinion polls show support for independence continuing to grow. The British Unionist campaign has also been accused of failing to put up candidates for debates across Scotland, and then demanding public meetings are called-off because only the ‘YES’ side would have been represented.

Reacting to the decision to ban election posters in North Ayrshire, Ardrossan SNP councillor Tony Gurney told the3towns, “When I was young democracy belonged to everyone. At every election posters were everywhere. This allowed people to understand the issues and make decisions. For the ‘No’ campaign, facts are dangerous as they point to one clear conclusion - the only chance we have to make better lives for ourselves and our children is to vote ‘YES’ on September the 18th.”

Cllr Gurney was scathing in his criticism of the Tory-Labour-Lib Dem coalition in the ‘No’ campaign, saying, “They ask the same questions over and over when they have already been answered, not realising that in doing so they insult the intelligence of the electorate.

"This process has reached its sad but inevitable conclusion with Tories and Labour on North Ayrshire Council holding hands and voting through an amendment that will make it an offence for any side to display posters during the referendum.

“The excuse you will hear from the Tory and Labour councillors is that their joint position has nothing to do with politics. They’ll argue it is to keep the area tidy, which is nonsense. In a year’s time you will see a motion from Labour to allow political posters again as we approach the Scottish Parliament elections. My hope is that their tactic backfires and those elections are the first for our own, independent parliament.”

In 2008 when two Liberal Democrat councillors moved a motion to ban election posters in North Ayrshire, the then Labour-run Executive of the Council threw-out the idea, arguing, “The display of posters by political parties has been an accepted part of election campaigns in North Ayrshire for a considerable period of time,” and that the policy allowing them “introduces an element of control and ensures that local political parties, candidates and agents are aware of their responsibilities in terms of when and where they can erect posters and when posters must be removed.”

The then Labour administration’s position concluded, “Overall, the policy has worked satisfactorily over the years and goodwill between the Returning Officer and local political parties has ensured that the policy is adhered to. Any change in policy would have implications for political parties and independent candidates during election periods. Moreover, changing the existing policy...could prove counter-productive by leading to avoidable ‘policing’ problems for the Returning Officer during the busy period in the run up to the date of poll.”

Woman convicted over Scott Blackwood death

A 22 year-old Saltcoats woman has become the third person to be jailed in relation to the death of local man Scott Blackwood (pictured) in July of last year.

Georgina Smith was found guilty of culpable homicide and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Last month two Saltcoats men – Allan Nicol (36) and Thomas Moore (26) – were convicted of Scott’s murder. Each received 20 year jail terms.

Jailing Smith last week, Lord McEwan referred to her having played a part in “a litany of horrific assaults” on 30 year-old Mr Blackwood. The Judge also spoke of the “dire” impact the murder has had on Scott’s family.

Earlier, during a trail at the High Court in Glasgow, the jury heard harrowing evidence detailing horrific injuries suffered by Scott Blackwood during a prolonged attack that began in the house of Allan Nicol and ended at the victim’s home in Wheatley Road, Saltcoats.

The court was told Mr Blackwood suffered 72 separate injuries, including scalds and chemical burns, with one expert witness describing how the victim had been found in a condition resembling someone who had been in a car crash.

Smith showed no emotion as she was led away to begin her sentence.

Benefit changes 'disaster'

In the week that marks one year since the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government imposed far-reaching changes to social security benefits, local MSP Margaret Burgess has described them as “an absolute disaster for Scotland”.

Mrs Burgess said, “Since the introduction of the Bedroom Tax a year ago, an estimated 72,000 households in Scotland have lost around £50 a month as a result of UK policy.

“In April 2013, Child Benefit was frozen for the third year in a row, with rises of only one-percent planned for the following two years. By 2015/16, families with two children will have lost out by over £1,100.

“Households have been forced to pay the price of Westminster’s actions and the rise in reliance on foodbanks has been the shocking consequence.”

The SNP MSP for Cunninghame South, which includes Stevenston, pointed out that where the Scottish Government has power within the current devolved settlement, it has taken action. “We have moved to protect people in Scotland by filling the hole in Council Tax Benefit created by Westminster,” said Mrs Burgess, adding, “and we are doing what we can, with limited powers, to mitigate the damaging effects of the Bedroom Tax.”

Margaret Burgess said, “With the powers of an independent country, we will be able to make our own decisions and ensure that the welfare system in Scotland fully reflects the priorities of people living here. A ‘YES’ vote in September will give us the opportunity to do things differently – and we’ll no longer have to spend millions mopping up bad Westminster policy.”

Compensation cut for victims of crime

Local MP Katy Clark has attacked the UK Tory-Lib Dem Government for cutting the number of victims of crime who qualify for compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS).

In 2012 the government amended the CICS, tightening eligibility rules. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority estimates that this year 42,000 applications will be made to the CICS, which is over 15,000 fewer than under the last year before the changes were made.

Last week Ms Clark challenged the UK Justice Secretary on the matter during Question Time in the House of Commons, asking if the Tory Minister was “proud he had taken away access to justice for so many victims of crime”.

Speaking later to the3towns, Katy Clark said, “It is alarming to see the drop in the number of victims of crime able to receive compensation through the CICS. When the Government forced through its changes I, along with various colleagues, highlighted the negative impact it would have on those who had been crime victims. Unfortunately, this seems to be borne out by the statistics.”

The Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran noted, “The Government claim they are not removing support from the most seriously injured claimants but the new rules exclude, for example, those who receive a broken nose in an assault. Many retail staff injured in armed robberies and assaults are no longer eligible for compensation.

“As well as the drop in the number of people claiming from the CICS, the government has also capped the amount victims can receive.”

Ms Clark argued, “We urgently need a government that will put victims of crime first.”

Commonwealth baton will come to Three Towns

The names have been revealed of local people who will carry the Queen’s Baton as it makes its way through North Ayrshire ahead of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in July.

In total, 125 volunteers will take part in the tour across the district, with the relay passing through Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston on Tuesday, July 15th. Community baton-bearers were chosen by independent panels, which considered a number of factors when reaching decisions. In some cases they looked at people’s achievements against the odds or the contributions they have made to community and youth sport. Other factors included activity in mentoring young people and having made a difference to people’s lives through volunteering or community support.

A spokesperson for North Ayrshire Council explained, “The Queen’s Baton journey has been developed to share the excitement of Scotland’s countdown to the Commonwealth Games with the participation of as many people as possible.

“The relay will reflect the important role of sport by visiting schools, sporting facilities and leisure centres, encouraging communities to get behind Team Scotland and the Games themselves in a bid to attract more people into sport.”

By the time the games open in Glasgow on July 23rd, the baton will have travelled almost 200,000 kilometres through 70 nations and territories of the Commonwealth.

North Ayrshire Provost Joan Sturgeon said, “Until now, the Commonwealth Games has been seen as a giant event happening not too far away in the not too distant future. That all changed this week with the announcement that North Ayrshire’s baton-bearers have been chosen. You can now feel the excitement in the air as we all gear up for the biggest sporting and cultural event that Scotland has ever hosted.”

Cllr Sturgeon noted, “The Queen’s Baton Tour comes through North Ayrshire just eight days ahead of the Games’ opening and we will be well prepared with a full day of community celebrations right along the route.”

A local mother and daughter were delighted to hear they will both carry the Queen’s Baton as it travels through Ardrossan. Suzanne Fernando was nominated for her work with the charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, while her 17 year-old daughter, Jordan, a pupil at St Matthew’s Academy in Saltcoats, is recognised for her role as an ambassador for the National Autistic Society.

Roadshow raises awareness of bowel cancer

As Bowel Cancer Awareness Month gets underway, the ‘Take the Test Roadshow’ - aimed at raising awareness of bowel cancer screening and highlighting benefits of completing the test - will visit the Rivergate Shopping Centre in Irvine on Friday (April 11th).

The roadshow is part of the SNP Scottish Government’s Detect Cancer Early campaign to encourage people between the ages of 50 and 74 to participate in the Scottish Bowel Screening programme.

Although bowel cancer is the third-most common cancer in Scotland, with almost 4,000 people diagnosed with the disease every year, only a little over half of those who are eligible to participate in the screening programme every two years, actually do the test. Currently, take-up of bowel screening in Ayrshire and Arran is 54.7%.

The campaign’s TV advert, featuring the ‘hidden’ voice of Still Game star Ford Kiernan, is back for a further run to highlight the campaign message - ‘Bowel Cancer. Don’t Take A Chance. Take The Test’. It will highlight the fact that although often not visible, the early signs of bowel cancer can be picked up by the test.

The Detect Cancer Early tour will offer help and advice on how to take the test and staff will be available to answer any questions about the disease.

Hazel Henderson, Consultant in Public Health at NHS Ayrshire & Arran, said, “Bowel cancer is the third-most common cancer in Scotland, yet when detected at an early stage, it’s highly treatable – more than nine out of ten people survive if it’s caught early.

“As the signs of bowel cancer can be unnoticeable, the screening programme is the best way to detect blood in the bowel, which can be a sign of bowel cancer.

“We would urge all local people between 50 to 74 years old to find out more about the benefits of taking the bowel screening test. It’s important to break down some of the taboos around the private nature of bowel cancer and we welcome the Detect Cancer Early Roadshow to Ayrshire, which will help to raise awareness of this important public health issue amongst local people.”

Ms Henderson also flagged-up NHS Ayrshire & Arran’s annual Bowel Screening Awareness event, which this year takes place on Friday, April 25th in the Alexander Fleming Education Centre, Crosshouse Hospital - registration from mid-day with the programme starting at 1pm.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Ferry hits pier at Ardrossan

Ferry services between Ardrossan and Arran were disrupted last Friday (March 28) after the Caledonian Isles (pictured above) sustained damage in what Caledonian MacBrayne described as “a connection with a pier at Ardrossan”. The incident occurred the previous evening.

The ferry operator indicated damage was “minimal” but that the vessel had been withdrawn from service for 24-hours to allow a full inspection.

A replacement ferry – the Isle of Arran – was deployed from Islay to cover the Ardrossan-Brodick service, but was not able to begin sailings until Friday afternoon. With services cancelled on Friday morning and the Isle of Arran being a smaller vessel, a significant backlog of traffic had built up, causing disruption at both ports.

A spokesperson for Caledonian MacBrayne said, “We apologise for the inconvenience...and thank our customers for their patience and understanding.”

The Caledonian Isles previously sustained damage after hitting the pier at Ardrossan in February 2012.

Labour's benefit vote shame - but local MP rebels

North Ayrshire & Arran’s Katy Clark was one of just two Labour MPs from Scotland who rebelled during a House of Commons vote last week, refusing to support Tory Government legislation that will introduce a cap to social security benefits.

The move to place a ceiling of £119.5bn on the UK’s total benefits bill, irrespective of actual need, was passed by 520 votes to 22. The Labour Party officially supported the Tory-Lib Dem Government. All six SNP MPs voted against the cap.

The respected charity Save the Children indicated the arbitrary cap being imposed on benefits would result in an additional 345,000 UK children being plunged into poverty. However, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ed Balls MP, claimed the cap had originally been his party’s idea, adding, “We on this side of the House support capping social security spending”.

For the SNP, Eilidh Whiteford MP said, “The SNP voted against the welfare cap because it piles yet more pain onto our poorest pensioners, carers, disabled people and low income families. This cap is just a crude, blunt, instrument. It is shocking that so many Scottish Labour MPs have backed the Tories.”

During the House of Commons vote, Katy Clark acted as a teller for those opposing what is effectively a limit on help for the poorest members of society. The local MP said, “The cap alters the principle of the welfare state away from need and towards what a Tory Chancellor committed to permanent austerity says we can afford. A much better way of bringing down social security spending would be to focus on increasing employment, a living wage and building affordable homes.”

Campaign group helps schools and charities

The Ayrshire Hospice and Saltcoats primary schools have benefitted from the winding-up of a local campaign group.

Members of the Saltcoats-based Laighdykes Residents Group recently decided to disband the organisation, which was formed around 10 years ago to fight North Ayrshire Council’s plan to build a school on Laighdykes playing fields, the main sports pitches used by residents of Saltcoats and Ardrossan. Although the then Labour-run Council pressed ahead with the project that saw St Andrews Academy demolished and replaced by the much larger St Matthews Academy, the campaign run by the Laighdykes Residents Group is recognised as one of the most high-profile and best-run ever seen in the local area.

At the final meeting of the Group, it was proposed that funds remaining in a specially-created bank account should be used to benefit Saltcoats school children and to help the work of the Ayrshire Hospice. In addition, two youth organisations and two locally-operating charities were also nominated to receive financial donations.

The Group purchased shields, which were presented to each of the primary schools in Saltcoats. The individual schools are free to award the shields on an annual basis to acknowledge achievement by a pupil in any field. It was also decided to donate £250 each to the Ardrossan Sea Cadets, the Air Training Corps, North Ayrshire Cancer Patient Transport and the Salvation Army. The remainder of the Group’s finances was forwarded to the Ayrshire Hospice, with the Clydesdale Bank deciding to match the donation pound-for-pound.

As part of the campaign attempting to stop construction on the local playing fields, the Laighdykes Residents Group organised a march attended by hundreds of local people, and petitioned the Scottish Parliament calling on the then Labour-Lib Dem Scottish Executive to “review existing planning procedures and guidance to ensure that they are sufficient to prevent local authorities from using playing field land for development purposes.” The Group was also instrumental in securing a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the subject of ‘Laighdykes Playing Fields’.

Despite overwhelming public support for the aims of the campaign, the Labour administration of North Ayrshire Council ignored all opposition and pressed ahead with its highly-controversial Schools PPP Project. Using the now discredited Public Private Partnership method of funding the construction of four schools, including St Matthews, Labour councillors agreed a contract that will cost local taxpayers at least £380m over 30 years: the actual value of the four schools, when new, was just £80m.

The Laighdykes Residents Group revealed, at the time, that the Council had actually received just one credible and viable bid for its contract to build the schools, meaning that a core element of the bid process – that there must be genuine competition – had not been achieved.

At the first elections to North Ayrshire Council following the local authority’s decision to ignore public opinion and press ahead with building a new school on the local playing fields, Ronnie McNicol and John Hunter, two members of the Laighdykes Residents Group, were elected as Independent councillors. Both Mr McNicol and Mr Hunter were re-elected in 2011.

Council unveils car park strategy

North Ayrshire Council’s SNP Cabinet has agreed that free car parking should remain a priority in local towns.

The Council has produced a new strategy on car parking following an extensive study carried out across the district, including an online questionnaire and street surveys. A report discussed by SNP councillors at last week’s Cabinet meeting highlighted the need for additional parking areas, while also stressing the requirement to promote the use of trains, buses and cycles.

One proposal will see the erection of more effective roadside signs indicating the exact location of car parks, with others listing the number of available spaces. A Council spokesperson said, “The aim is to re-balance car park use so that motorists will be directed to facilities more suited to their needs, either as local residents travelling into town or visitors stopping off on their way through. It is also proposed that the Council will work in partnership with the Police to address serious cases of illegal parking and non-compliance with waiting restrictions.”

Proposals agreed by the SNP Cabinet include a programme of ensuring car parks are well-maintained and fit for purpose, improvements to pedestrian routes between car parks and key destinations, safety and security upgrades around car parks with the possibility of CCTV installation, short-stay controls introduced in busier car parks to increase turnover of spaces, better visitor information made available online so that travellers can pre-plan journeys, car park layouts reviewed to increase spaces, and on-street ‘no waiting’ areas to be evaluated with restrictions removed where they are no longer appropriate.

The Council’s SNP Cabinet member for Environment and Infrastructure, Cllr Tony Gurney, said, “This is a thorough report that addresses the problems faced by all towns in Scotland because of the ever-increasing use of cars.

“It is reassuring to see that the information came from evidence-based studies in which the public in each location were asked to comment. Many people think the answer to car parking problems in towns is to create more car parks. We already have a wealth of car parks in North Ayrshire but this report shows that these areas could be better laid-out with improved signposting.”

Cllr Gurney, who represents Ardrossan & Arran, said the SNP administration will also “work towards the promotion of other kinds of travel” including the development of public transport options.

Council officials are to undertake a further public consultation exercise over the summer to feed into the overall ongoing strategy on car parking in North Ayrshire.

Margaret announces new energy measures

Local MSP Margaret Burgess has launched a new energy efficiency standard that is expected to save tenants money on their household bills.

Social housing tenants whose homes meet the new Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing (EESSH) could save an estimated average of £210 per year. The EESSH aims to improve the energy efficiency of the social housing stock in Scotland, helping to reduce fuel poverty, energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Raising energy efficiency ratings from the existing Scottish Housing Quality Standard to the new EESSH is expected to save around £130m in Scottish fuel costs each year. It is also calculated that annual carbon emissions from housing will be reduced by 760Kt CO2, which is more than the annual emissions from all the households in Aberdeen and Dundee combined.

Mrs Burgess, who made the announcement in her capacity as the SNP Scottish Government’s Minister for Housing and Welfare, said, “Scotland is outperforming the UK in the delivery of home energy efficiency measures that save tenants money, and the introduction of this standard will help enhance our performance for many of the poorest households in Scotland.

“Nonetheless, rising energy prices remain a huge concern for this government, and we will spend almost a quarter of a billion pounds over a three year period on fuel poverty and energy efficiency.”

The MSP for Cunninghame South noted, “While we have managed to help thousands of households in Scotland to have warmer, more energy-efficient homes, with independence we would be able to change the way energy efficiency is funded to help even more people.”

Rules for election posters

North Ayrshire Council’s SNP cabinet last week agreed a legal framework covering the display of campaign posters for this year’s European Election and the Referendum on Scottish Independence.

The poll for the European Parliamentary Election will take place on May 22, with the Independence Referendum being held on September 18. The Council, which is responsible for polling arrangements in the local area, is required to publish a policy setting out exactly where campaign posters can be displayed on publicly-owned fixtures, such as lampposts.

SNP councillors agreed that the local authority should continue to allow posters to be tied to lampposts and “other street furniture”. However, Transport Scotland has ruled that no posters can be fixed to any lampposts along North Ayrshire’s trunk road network. The transport agency’s decision means posters will be prohibited at busy local junctions, such as the Montfode roundabout and the Chapelhill roundabout in Ardrossan, and the Sharphill roundabout in Saltcoats on the A78.

Political parties and campaign groups which fix their posters to lampposts must indemnify North Ayrshire Council against any third-party insurance claim, such as a person being injured or property damaged by a poster falling on them.

The rules that will be in force during this year’s two campaigns also stipulate that no posters should be fixed within the boundaries of any polling place – such as the grounds of schools or other public buildings being used for people to vote – or on any railings at polling places. For the first time, posters will also be banned from any lampposts or other street furniture located within 50 metres of the entrance to a polling place.

There will also be restrictions on parking cars at the entrance to a polling place, if the vehicles carry posters or literature advertising a candidate, political party or referendum choice.

All campaign and political posters fixed to lampposts and other street furniture must be removed within 48-hours following the day of the election or referendum.