Saturday, 31 May 2014

SNP win Euro Election in North Ayrshire

The Scottish National Party won last week’s European Election in North Ayrshire, and across Scotland.

Cunninghame South MSP Margaret Burgess was delighted her party had again topped the poll locally, which follows SNP victories in the two North Ayrshire constituencies at the Scottish Parliament Election of 2011. Mrs Burgess said, “It’s a very good result for the SNP, and nationally we increased our vote by 68,496 since the last European Election in 2009. It’s great that the SNP continues to be the most popular party in Scotland, and that voters continue to support us after we have been in government for seven years.”

The local MSP, who is also the Scottish Government Minister for Housing and Welfare, flagged-up the different electoral outcomes in Scotland and England, saying, “UKIP won the election in England, but here they could only finish fourth despite the wall-to-wall media coverage beamed into Scotland. With these different outcomes – and the Tory-led UK Government dancing to UKIP’s tune by promising an ‘in/out’ referendum on European Union membership - it is clearer than ever that the only one way to protect Scotland's place in Europe, with all that that entails for jobs and investment, is to vote ‘YES’ to independence n September.”

When the North Ayrshire votes had been counted at St Matthew’s Academy in Saltcoats last Sunday, local Labour MP Katy Clark highlighted an increased vote for her party from 2009, but expressed her disappointment that the overall turnout had been just over 30%.

Ms Clark said, “It is also very disappointing that UKIP won a seat in Scotland for the first time and we must take their threat seriously. At a time when many are struggling with the cost of living, UKIP creates easy scapegoats rather than challenging those with a vested interest in keeping wages low and prices high.

“The UKIP myths about immigration need to be challenged: for example, over the past twelve-months we have seen constant scaremongering over the numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians likely to migrate to the United Kingdom following the lifting of employment restrictions in January. We now know that the number working here has actually fallen by 4,000. I also know many local people who have taken advantage of the free movement of labour rules in Europe to work and live in other European countries and that opportunity is something many people value.”

Of the low turnout for the European Election, Katy Clark said, “The real winner last week was apathy. If people don’t ‘do’ politics then they get it done ‘to’ them. If you don’t vote, you amplify the influence of those who do.”

The full North Ayrshire result was:

1, SNP – 10,736
2. Labour – 9,558
3. Tory – 5,627
4. UKIP – 3,720
5. Greens – 1,770
6. Lib Dems – 885
7, Britain First – 391
8. BNP – 299
9. NO2EU - 180

Jim Sillars to speak at public meeting

Ayrshire-born Jim Sillars (pictured) will return to his roots when he appears at the Vineburgh Community Centre in Quarry Road, Irvine on Tuesday (June 3rd) at a public meeting setting-out the ‘Socialist Case for an Independent Scotland’.

Also confirmed to speak at the meeting, which begins at 7:00pm and is guaranteed to draw a large audience, is Colin Fox of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). Mr Fox is a former MSP and is currently a member of the YES Scotland Advisory Board.

Jim Sillars, a former Labour and SNP MP, is one of the most passionate speakers in Scottish politics and is respected across the political divide. Mr Sillars was also married to Margo MacDonald, who died in April. At a service commemorating Margo’s life, Jim revealed she had made him promise not to mourn her when she was gone, but to get back out and persuade people to vote for independence.

This week’s meeting has been arranged by the North Ayrshire branch of the Scottish Socialist Party. Organiser Richie Venton told the3towns, “North Ayrshire is the kind of working class area that has been hammered hardest by the slaughter of jobs, wages, services and benefits under successive Westminster governments. An area with the least to lose and most to gain from escaping the grip of the unelected Tories, permanently.”

Mr Venton highlighted the “growing threat of a Tory government until at least 2020, possibly relying on the viciously racist and corrupt UKIP”, which he described as “a warning of the consequences of not voting ‘YES’ to self-rule for Scotland's working class majority population.”

A veteran socialist campaigner, Richie Venton said, “The SSP shares the view of Jim Sillars that independence is not an end in itself but a means to very desirable ends. Voting ‘YES’ is not about Alex Salmond, nor a recipe for permanent SNP government. Voting ‘YES’ would guarantee the working class majority of Scotland the first-ever chance to elect the government of our democratic choice.

"It would kick open the door to demanding jobs for all; a decent living wage of £9.00 an hour for all at 16, with equal pay for women; decent affordable social housing; and a welfare system that protects the old, young, sick, disabled or unemployed instead of demonising them. Full-blown self-government is an opportunity to tax the rich and big business, to fund a massive improvement in the living standards of the millions rather than continued privilege for the millionaires. It offers us a world apart from the obscene poverty and inequality imposed by successive Westminster governments.”

Mr Venton explained, “The SSP has consistently fought for an independent socialist Scotland since we were founded in 1998. This meeting is open to all, whether convinced YES, No or undecided - a unique chance to hear two powerful, hard-hitting socialist speakers putting arguments that seldom get heard in the mainstream media.”

Views sought on town centre parking

North Ayrshire Council is asking local residents to let them know their views on parking in town centres.

Last April the local authority’s SNP Cabinet agreed that free car parking should remain a priority in local towns, and highlighted a need for additional parking areas, while also stressing the requirement to promote the use of trains, buses and cycles.

Part of the Council’s town centre parking strategy 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, “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 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.

Now, the local authority is looking for the public’s views on its draft town centre parking strategy, with residents, businesses and visitors offered the opportunity to have their say by completing feedback forms at local libraries, Council offices or online here.

The closing date for submissions is June 20th.

Council Tax arrears soar

With new figures revealing that Council Tax arrears are now the most common type of debt problem, Cunninghame South MSP Margaret Burgess has highlighted the importance of the SNP’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme, which supports some of the poorest households.

Citizens Advice last week indicated that 27,000 people had approached them for help with Council Tax arrears in the first three months of 2014, an increase of 17% on the same period last year.

Margaret Burgess said, “The increase in arrears follows the UK Government’s decision to scrap Council Tax Benefit as part of its welfare cuts agenda. In contrast, the SNP Scottish Government has used our limited powers to work with the Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities to fund the Council Tax Reduction Scheme, which helps thousands of people in North Ayrshire.

“The figures are a damning indictment of Westminster’s decision to scrap Council Tax Benefit – which pulled the rug from underneath half a million people in Scotland who relied on it to help pay their bills. That is exactly why the SNP Government and CoSLA stepped in to take action and put in place a support package to help protect people in Scotland.”

Mrs Burgess, also the Scottish Government’s Minister for Housing and Welfare, argued, “This shows the importance of having decision-making powers in Scotland, but it also shows the limits of devolution.

“The Scottish Government and local councils, like North Ayrshire, are having to use funding intended for other services to mitigate the impact of Westminster decisions.

“The SNP’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme is protecting over half a million people in Scotland from the abolition of Council Tax Benefit – that's pensioners, families, single person households and disabled people who need help to pay their bills.

“This shows that where we can, the SNP is mitigating the worst excesses of Westminster’s welfare cuts – but with the full powers of independence we won’t be limited to mitigation. With a ‘YES’ vote we can get on with the job of creating a fairer welfare system that works in Scotland’s interests – rather than punishing the poorest people in our society.”

Please give blood

Local MP Katy Clark is backing a call from the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service for more people to come forward as donors, particularly those with O-Negative blood, which is known as the universal blood type because it can be given to almost anyone. O-Negative is also used during special procedures for unborn babies.

Katy Clark said, “I would encourage every constituent to give blood as often as possible as it will literally help save lives. However, the NHS Blood Transfusion Service would especially like individuals with the O-Negative blood type to come forward.”

The Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran added, “If you are unsure about your blood type then the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service will be able to provide testing so you can find out what group you are in.

“If you know you have the O-Negative blood type, then please do consider contacting the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service on 0131 536 5700 to find out your nearest blood donation service. “

The universal nature of O-Negative blood makes it extremely valuable in an emergency where blood is needed immediately. It also means that additional stocks are vitally important to provide standby cover. The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service aims to have six days supply of each blood stock at any time in order to meet the requirements of patients in Scotland. That means the service needs some 5,000 blood donors every week.

'Walk for Fun' and fight cervical cancer

Local woman Suzanne Fernando is asking for the support of Three Towns residents to take steps against cervical cancer by joining her on June 15th at 11:00am in Eglinton Country Park for the ‘Walk for Fun’.

The annual sponsored 5k walk marks Cervical Screening Awareness Week (June 8th-14th). Suzanne is leading the walk and is passionate about the cause after facing a diagnosis of cervical cancer herself in 2000. She explained, “When I was eight-months pregnant with my second daughter the doctor discovered a tumour in my cervix. Following the birth, I immediately underwent a hysterectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Going through a cancer diagnosis and caring for a newborn was the toughest challenge.”

Of the ‘Walk for Fun’, Suzanne said, “It is a positive, uplifting and enjoyable fundraiser to be involved with, whilst also raising funds for the fantastic work that Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust does in supporting women affected by this disease and campaigning for cervical cancer prevention. This is the second time we have organised a walk at Eglinton Park, raising over £1,000 in 2013. We’re now hoping to make it bigger and better each year.”

‘Walk for Fun’ is described as an opportunity for the whole family to fundraise and raise awareness of cervical cancer and the importance of cervical screening. In 2013 the initiative raised over £30,000 across the UK. Proceeds from the walks go to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, the UK’s only dedicated cervical cancer charity offering support and information for those affected by cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities.

Robert Music, Chief Executive of the Trust, said, “Every day nine women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and three women will lose their battle to the disease. Yet cervical cancer is largely preventable thanks to the cervical screening programme, which saves around 5,000 lives every year.

“Walk for Fun is a great way for the public to not only make a difference to the lives touched by cervical cancer but, crucially, to help prevent many more lives from being touched by the disease. For many who join us on the day it’s also an opportunity to remember those who have sadly lost their battle to the disease.”

More information on the Eglinton Park ‘Walk for Fun’ is available here. Alternatively, Judith Witting of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust can be contacted at Judith@jostrust.org.uk or by calling 0207 250 8311.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Public pays for Labour MSP's meals and drinks

Taxpayers have been forced to fork-out almost £600 to pay for the ‘evening meals’ of Labour MSP Margaret McDougall.

Mrs McDougall, who receives a salary of £58,000, charged her meals to the public purse, meaning hard-pressed taxpayers, including those on the minimum wage, picked up the tab. Astonishingly, the North Ayrshire-based MSP also had the public pay almost £120 for ‘refreshments’ she had with her evening meals.

The shocking figures came to light following an investigation by the3towns.

In addition, questions are now being asked over Mrs McDougall’s use of a ‘second’ office provided to the 3 Labour MSPs elected to represent the West Scotland region at the 2011 Scottish Parliament Election. Normally, regional or ‘List’ MSPs are allowed only one office per region, which means they have to share the facility, irrespective of how many MSPs are elected. This was the rule imposed by the Labour-led administration following the first Scottish Parliament Election in 1999.

However, in certain circumstances regional MSPs can apply to the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB) to be allowed a second office. All of the MSPs from a particular party in a region must agree such a bid before the SPCB will consider the application. It is also the case that any second office is provided for the use of all of the MSPs making the application.

At the 2011 election, Labour had 3 ‘List’ MSPs elected to represent the West Scotland region – Margaret McDougall, Mary Fee and Neil Bibby. The Labour MSPs’ regional office was established in Paisley. However, in December 2011 McDougall, Fee and Bibby submitted an application to the SPCB to have a second office located in North Ayrshire. In the application it was stated, “Irvine is the most highly populated town in the area and is accessible by good transport links to all smaller towns and villages in North Ayrshire including Arran and Cumbrae.”

The Scottish Parliament Corporate Body agreed to fund a second office, based in Irvine, for the 3 Labour MSPs elected to represent the West Scotland region, but the investigation carried out by the3towns shows that only Margaret McDougall lists the North Ayrshire facility as her ‘constituency office’. Her party colleagues - Mary Fee and Neil Bibby - remain listed as having their ‘constituency office’ in Paisley. Likewise, only Margaret McDougall has a telephone number listed for the Irvine office.

the3towns investigation also revealed that, despite the Labour application for a second office citing the issue of accessibility for ‘constituents’ in North Ayrshire, specifically mentioning the islands of Arran and Cumbrae, Margaret McDougall has made just one visit to each of the islands in the past financial year. Mary Fee and Neil Bibby do not appear to have made any such journeys.

Irvine is the largest town in the Cunninghame South Scottish Parliament constituency, which Labour lost to the SNP’s Margaret Burgess at the 2011 Election. On Margaret McDougall’s website, a ‘news’ story records that the Irvine office for the 3 West Scotland Labour ‘List’ MSPs, funded by the Scottish Parliament, was ‘officially’ opened by Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont MSP. The same ‘news’ item records Margaret McDougall saying, “It is important to me to have an office in North Ayrshire to be more accessible to those who live in the area especially those on the islands.” The Labour MSP then states, “I look forward to leading the Scottish Labour fight back across North Ayrshire and welcome the opportunity to meeting (sic) as many constituents as possible to hear their concerns and their priorities for the future.”

Mrs McDougall’s linking of a publicly-funded Scottish Parliament office with her intention to lead “the Scottish Labour fight back across North Ayrshire”, coupled with the fact that, of the 3 West Scotland Labour MSPs, only she is listed as using the facility, has raised concerns that the purpose of Labour wanting an office in Irvine had more to do with party politics and attempting to win back the Cunninghame South constituency from the SNP than the stated intention on the application to the SPCB - making the MSPs more accessible to ‘constituents’, especially those resident on Arran and Cumbrae.

In 1999, while opposing any ‘constituency’ offices for regional ‘List’ MSPs, Irvine-based Labour MP Brian Donohoe said, “It's a question of whether the taxpayer should fund political offices for MSPs who don't have constituencies. It's absolutely absurd if list MSPs can make a purely political decision about where to establish an office and then cherry-pick issues at public expense.”

Mr Donohoe insisted at the time that if taxpayers' money was allowed to be used to set up what he called “political offices”, then the matter should be investigated, arguing it was “astonishing it's even being considered”.

the3towns has previously revealed that Margaret McDougall, while serving as a Labour councillor on North Ayrshire Council, twice made mileage claims relating to her attendance at armistice parades held to commemorate those who died fighting for their country.

In the last financial year (2013/14), in addition to forcing taxpayers to meet the cost of her evening meals and drinks, Margaret McDougall also charged the public purse £84.55 for the purchase of newspapers. In addition, the Labour MSP also claimed £589.40 to advertise herself in Irvine-based publications.

Mrs McDougall also submitted claims, and was paid, for tea bags (£26.31), sugar (£2.51), coffee (£62.90), kitchen roll (£13.71) and toilet roll (£6.78).

In December 2013 the3towns reported that Margaret McDougall and her Labour colleague Hanzala Malik had been criticised by community activists after voting in a Scottish Parliament committee against an SNP proposal to increase financial support for people affected by the Bedroom Tax.

New Health Centre opens

The new Ardrossan Health Centre is set to open on Tuesday (May 27).

Building works, which began last October, have been completed on schedule, meaning the new facility’s first occupants - doctors, nurses and staff from the current South Beach practice in South Crescent – will be in their new home on time and ready to receive patents.

The practice will retain its long-standing phone number – 01294 463011 – but will operate a new system allowing patients to arrange appointments on a daily basis, a change that is sure to be welcomed by the public.

The new Health Centre incorporates the structure of Ardrossan’s former Police Station in Harbour Street and was finally given the go-ahead last year when the SNP Scottish Government agreed to contribute £2.5m to the project.

Alex Neil MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Health, and local MSP Margaret Burgess recently visited the site of the new facility to have a look at progress. Mrs Burgess told the3towns, “Bringing this formerly derelict site back into use as a doctors’ surgery and healthcare centre is a great example of how buildings can be regenerated to provide vital services for the local area. This facility will not only breathe new life into the town centre but will also improve medical services for residents of Ardrossan.”

Council backing for Modern Apprentices

North Ayrshire Council showed its commitment to young workers during National Apprentice Week, which ran between May 19 and 23.

The Council announced an expansion of its Modern Apprenticeship programme, which will mean a total of 280 young men and women will be supported into work over the coming year in a combination of internal and external placements.

Funding of £1.8m has been allocated to the programme, with input from the Council and the SNP Scottish Government’s Youth Employment Scotland Fund. North Ayrshire Council hopes local employers, training providers and the local authority’s other partners already involved in the Modern Apprentices programme will encourage more companies to take on young people.

Karen Yeomans, the Council’s Head of Development Planning, explained, “North Ayrshire Council is delighted to encourage local businesses to provide more apprenticeship places. Many local companies have benefited from recruiting apprentices to help fill the skills gap in their workforce.

“As one of North Ayrshire’s biggest employers, it is right that we lead the way in demonstrating our commitment to helping young people into employment, thereby increasing their life opportunities and boosting the local economy.”

During a visit to Ayrshire last week, Angela Constance MSP, SNP Cabinet Secretary for Youth Employment, said, “I would strongly encourage as many young people as possible to consider applying for Modern Apprenticeships. The strong links between Ayrshire College and local employers also represents the kind of employer-engagement that will contribute to the continuing development of Ayrshire’s young people."

'YES' to tackle inequality

Local MSP Margaret Burgess says a ‘YES’ vote in September’s Independence referendum offers the chance of a more equal society in North Ayrshire and across Scotland.

The Cunninghame South MSP blasted what she described as “Westminster’s shameful record”, saying, “The poverty rate in the UK stands at 10 percent – only the United States, Australia, Italy and Canada have higher poverty rates, while small European nations, such as Norway, Finland and Denmark perform much better.”

The new figures on inequality in Scotland were recently published by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre, which provides impartial analysis and research to MSPs of all parties.

Mrs Burgess noted that the Scottish Government’s White Paper on Independence – Scotland’s Future - sets out a number of options to tackle poverty, including the establishment of a Fair Work Commission to ensure the minimum wage would rise at least in line with inflation.

The SNP MSP said, “New figures show that, since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, action to tackle pensioner poverty in Scotland has been more effective than in the rest of the UK, which highlights the benefit of decisions for Scotland being made here in Scotland.

“This also demonstrates why we need a ‘YES’ vote in the Independence Referendum – Westminster has an absolutely shameful record on poverty, and with more Tory welfare cuts and austerity measures coming down the line, the situation is only going to get worse.”

Independently compiled international data shows the UK is already the fourth most-unequal society in the developed world, while current projections indicate that proposed Westminster cuts to welfare budgets could push up to 100,000 more Scottish children into poverty.

Margaret Burgess said, “With a ‘YES’ vote we can take action to tackle poverty, ensuring a minimum wage that rises at least in line with inflation every year and establishing a welfare state that works for Scotland.

“The opportunity for Scotland to escape from Westminster’s punitive welfare cuts and get on with tackling poverty and creating a more equal society shows exactly why we can, should and must be independent.”

Foodbank Fun Run

With record numbers of people turning to foodbanks to stave-off hunger, the North Ayrshire Foodbank, based at the Church of the Nazerene in Ardrossan’s Glasgow Street, is to raise desperately needed funds by holding a Fun Run on Sunday, June 1st.

The event will be held at St Matthew’s Academy in Saltcoats between 12.00pm and 4.30pm, with what organisers describe as “a day jam-packed with entertainment” in addition to Fun Run.

A Spokesperson for the Foodbank encouraged locals to “Get a team of family and friends together and walk, trot or run your way around the track to raise funds for a wonderful cause – and have a great time doing it.”

To take part in the Fun Run and receive a North Ayrshire Foodbank medal, teams or individuals must register – by e-mailing nafoodbank@btinternet.com using the subject line ‘Marafun sponsorship form’ – and each participant must commit to raising at least £10.00.

The North Ayrshire Foodbank helps fight child hunger and provides food for local people plunged into crisis.

Leading the way in cancer services

Nurses, clinicians and Allied Health Professionals came together recently at a conference to share ideas and best practice on cancer services in NHS Ayrshire & Arran.

The event, chaired by Dr Alison Graham, Medial Director of NHS Ayrshire & Arran, highlighted the national direction for cancer services and how this is being implemented by the local Health Board.

The conference was organised by Sandra White, Cancer Nurse Consultant, who commented, “The theme was 'Evolution in cancer services', and showed where we have been, where we are now and how we plan to deliver services in the future.”

John Burns, Chief Executive of NHS Ayrshire & Arran, said, “The conference highlighted the great work going on throughout Ayrshire. It gave our staff and partners the opportunity to share ideas and best practices.

“We know that the future will be challenging - particularly around health inequalities [but] by working together and changing the way we work with communities, we will embrace the challenges and take forward improvements.”

Delegates took part in a series of presentations and breakout sessions, ranging from cancer rehabilitation and psychological support, to money matters and supporting families.

Sandra White noted, “It was extremely encouraging to see so many of our staff at the conference who were eager to learn more about what other health and social care professionals are doing. We are always striving to improve and this conference was the ideal platform to achieve this aim.”

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Margaret announces more funding for communities

Local MSP Margaret Burgess has announced that enterprising third sector organisations are to benefit from a further £2.1m in grants to help them deliver services to vulnerable people in communities across Scotland.

Mrs Burgess, MSP for Cunninghame South, announced the additional funding in her capacity as the SNP Scottish Government’s Minister for Housing and Welfare. “While we are already doing much to mitigate the effects of UK Government welfare reform in Scotland,” said Mrs Burgess, “with independence, a welfare system aligned to our education system can address child poverty and educational under-achievement.”

The Enterprise Ready Fund is being delivered by a consortium of third sector organisations led by Foundation Scotland in partnership with Community Enterprise in Scotland, Developing Strathclyde Ltd and Social Value Lab.

Margaret Burgess noted, “We want to develop a society that not only provides fair support and decent opportunities for all, but also protects the vulnerable in our society. The only way to guarantee that is to have possession of the powers to deliver it.”

Foundation Scotland’s Chief Executive Giles Ruck said, “We have been impressed with the wide range and quality of applications we have received so far, which showcase the innovative ways organisations plan to use their awards to make a real difference to the people and communities they serve.

“I would like to encourage new or developing third sector organisations who are considering applying to the fund to do so before the final closing date of 16th of June.”

The Enterprise Ready Fund will distribute £6m during 2013 to 2015 to help maintain, develop and grow enterprising voluntary sector organisations. A total of £4.4m has been awarded to 95 organisations since the fund was launched in September 2013. Grants of up to £250,000 are available to support new, developing and established organisations to become more efficient and self-sustaining or diversify into new markets.

Unemployment still a major problem

Latest official figures on youth unemployment indicate UK Government policies are failing Scotland’s young people.

Overall, the Scottish youth unemployment rate shows that 1-in-5 young people are without work (20.6%). Compared with 2008, the year in which UK governments embarked on implementing savage ‘austerity measures’, the rate of unemployment for those aged between 16 and 24 has risen by 7%.

Within the British Union, employment and economic matters in Scotland are the responsibility of the UK Tory-Lib Dem Government in London.

Labour Market statistics, based on the Annual Population Survey, record North Ayrshire as experiencing one of Scotland’s highest increases in youth unemployment – up 0.8% on the previous year.

The local area also has the lowest overall figure for people in employment – just 60.1%. Shetland has Scotland’s highest level of employment at 83.2%. The figure for Scotland is 71%.

Despite having very limited powers under the current devolved settlement, the SNP Scottish Government indicated it would do everything it could to improve the employment prospects of everyone in Scotland. Angela Constance MSP, the Scottish Government’s Secretary for Youth Employment said, “Employment rates remain far too low in some areas. We will continue to work with areas, including North Ayrshire, to identify what more can be done to help drive a stronger economic recovery.”

Cocaine haul leads to arrests

Three Dutch nationals have been arrested at a prestigious local hotel after cocaine valued at tens-of-millions of pounds was recovered from a ship anchored off the North Ayrshire coast.

Officers from the National Crime Agency swooped on the Seamill Hydro where they arrested three guests - Darryl Jay Van Doesburg (21), Roderick Van Doesburg (22) and Arnold Van Milt (48). All three men were taken into custody and later appeared at Leeds Magistrates Court. They were remanded in custody and are due to appear at Leeds Crown Court on May 27th.

It is understood the huge haul of cocaine was secured to the exterior of the bulk carrier Cape Maria, which was anchored off the North Ayrshire coast waiting to berth at Hunterston. The ship had sailed from Columbia with a cargo of coal. The captain and crew are believed to have been unaware of the drugs.

During the police raid on the Seamill Hydro, officers seized property believed to belong to the three men arrested, including diving equipment, an underwater ‘scooter’ and a rigid inflatable boat.

The raid and arrests are understood to have resulted from an operation run jointly by police in the UK and the Netherlands.

Council unveils heritage events

North Ayrshire Council has announced a list of events to be held at the Heritage Centre in Saltcoats (the former North Ayrshire Museum) over the next few weeks.

The programme starts with a kids event on Saturday (May 17). The ‘Big Beat Saturday’ offers an opportunity for those aged between 9 and 16 to get involved in live drumming and digital music-making with the help of experienced tutors. Tickets cost £2.00 for a two-hour music session (10.30am to 12.30pm or 1.30pm to 3.30pm).

On Wednesday evening (May 21), the heritage Centre will host a whisky cocktail demonstration – strictly for over 18s only. Tickets cost £2.00.

The following afternoon (May 22) sees a time for football fans, with quizzes, chat and recalled-memories of games – and a presentation of Ayrshire’s football legends. Running between 2.00pm and 6.00pm on Thursday, the event will also provide an opportunity to have your photo taken with the Emirates Scottish Junior Cup, before it is presented to the captain of either Glenafton Athletic or Hurlford United (two Ayrshire sides) at this season’s final early next month.

The Heritage Centre, off Manse Street, will then present ‘Love on the Frontline’ - a production following the story of a wounded soldier from Glasgow who meets a nurse from his home town while recuperating in hospital. Featuring classic songs, the production is described as “perfect for all ages” and takes place between 11.00am and 2.00pm on Saturday, May 24. Tickets cost £3.00 for adults and £2.00 for children.

The following Saturday, May 31, sees a project titled ‘Discover World War One’. Suitable for those aged over 10 years-old, the event is said to combine history, music and animation. A special promotional session will take place between 2.00pm and 4.00pm – and then again on Friday, June 6 (5.00pm until 7.00pm).

To book a place on any of the events or for more information, contact the Heritage Centre on 01294 464174.

Innovative nursing programme helps young parents

A young Ardrossan couple have shared their experience of becoming parents in their teens.

Katrina Kennedy and Adam Thomson, along with their four-month-old son Tyler, were the guests of honour when the Family Nurse Partnership programme held its annual review during a visit to NHS Ayrshire & Arran.

The programme begins its work during early pregnancy and focuses on helping young women to feel confident about supporting their baby to grow, develop and learn. In addition, the scheme involves a pattern of weekly and fortnightly visits from early pregnancy through to the child's second birthday, and is designed to help young women and their partners develop an understanding of their baby, behaviour changes, emotional development and the building of positive relationships.

Katrina and Adam were 19 when Tyler was born, and say that pregnancy and parenthood would have been much more emotionally difficult without the help and support of their family nurse, Karen McGilvery. Katrina explained, “I've really enjoyed it. I like the fact that it starts in pregnancy and we got the chance to know and trust Karen. It was also helpful going through all the essentials so we knew what to do and what we needed to have before Tyler was born.”

Adam also felt the programme was beneficial, saying, “It felt good to have constant support and to know you could lift the phone and have a person there to help you.”

The Ardrossan couple stressed that the Family Nurse Partnership had given them the confidence and resilience to embrace parenthood - but still follow their dreams. As the programme is built around each individual's needs and circumstances, one of the first questions the couple were asked was where they wanted to be in three years' time. For Adam, his ambition was to go to university to study Psychology, and at first he thought impending fatherhood would put a stop to his plans, but with the support of Family Nurse Karen, who scheduled her visits around Adam's university timetable to keep him involved, he was able to pursue his dream and be there for his new family, too.

Adam said, “The programme gave me the confidence to go to university and make being a dad work.”

The Family Nurse Partnership programme was developed in the United States by Professor David Olds over a period of 30 years. NHS Ayrshire & Arran is the fifth Scottish Health Board to introduce the programme, which will be rolled-out across Scotland by 2015. So far, the team of one supervisor and seven nurses have worked with more than 150 young mums-to-be across Ayrshire.

Donna McKee, NHS Ayrshire & Arran's Family Nurse Partnership Lead, said, “We are very grateful to Gail Trotter, the Clinical Director of the FNP National Unit, and Carolyn Wilson, FNP Policy Lead, for coming to meet us to share our experiences and learning, and to help us identify areas for further development. They were impressed with the way the programme has been implemented in Ayrshire and Arran and, in particular, the close partnership-working and strong relationships between the NHS and local authority services. They also recognised the excellent FNP team, who have faced and successfully overcome many challenges along the way.”

Ms McKee noted, “Katrina and Adam's story is a wonderful example of the Family Nurse Partnership in action, and Tyler was the star of the show.”

Katy speaks up for health and safety

Katy Clark MP has criticised the UK Government’s plans to ‘dilute’ health and safety laws.

The local MP spoke out during debates in the House of Commons on the Deregulation Bill, which contains provisions that would reduce health and safety laws covering self-employed workers. Ms Clark highlighted that fatality rates among self-employed workers are higher than those relating to staff directly employed by companies.

Katy Clark said, “In autumn 2012 the Health and Safety Executive consulted on exempting some of the self-employed from health and safety provisions. The majority of those who responded to that consultation - including a majority of the self-employed - opposed the proposal.

“At the moment, all self-employed people have a legal duty to ensure they protect others from harm resulting from their work. The strength of the health and safety legislation in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 is its simplicity, and the fact that the test and legal obligation involved is simple and applies to everybody. One problem with other areas of employment protection is that it is often an employee who may receive some form of right or entitlement, rather than workers in general, which means that many people try to avoid obligations by using devices such as zero-hours contracts. The fact the Government are proceeding down such a path for health and safety is a negative development that I believe we will all regret in years to come.”

The Labour MP points out the high fatality rates amongst the self-employed - 1.1 person per 100,000 compared with 0.4 for employed workers – adding, “In part, that might be because self-employed people are more likely to be found in more dangerous occupations. However, the statistics on people with the same occupation show that self-employed people seem to have higher fatality rates.

“We know that the problem of deaths and illnesses associated with work is extremely significant. Worldwide, 2.3 million die as a result of incidents at work every year. The health and safety magazine, ‘Hazards’, estimates that in Britain work kills 1,400 people each year, and that 50,000 die in work-related incidents.”

The MP for North Ayrshire & Arran believes health and safety legislation is “far from red tape”, noting, “It has saved probably thousands of lives since it came into effect in 1974. The fact that the Government are trying yet again to take away that protection for the self-employed is bad for Britain.”

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Local Association takes top prize at Housing Awards

Ardrossan-based Cunninghame Housing Association further enhanced its reputation last week when it scooped the top prize at the 2014 UK Housing Awards.

At a glittering event in the Lancaster London Hotel, hosted by comedian and actor Marcus Brigstocke, the local housing association won the prestigious ‘Landlord of Year’ award. However, that was not the only prize to be making its way back to North Ayrshire. Also won by Cunninghame Housing Association was the award for ‘Small Social Landlord of the Year’, while the organisation’s Financial Inclusion Team came close in the ‘Innovation of the Year’ category.

The UK Housing Awards are held annually and mark outstanding contributions made by housing organisations in helping to improve the lives of people in their communities. The top prize of Landlord of the Year is sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Housing.

Cunninghame Housing Association is marking its 30th year as a local housing provider, having been formed in 1984. The organisation currently owns 1,739 socially rented homes and operates as factor for a further 378 properties.

The Association is run by a Board of Management consisting of 16 volunteers from the communities in which it has houses. Day-to-day operations are overseen by Chief Executive Frank Sweeney who relies on 81 members of staff to deliver the high standards that have brought Cunninghame Housing Association such prestigious recognition.

The Association’s achievements have also been recognised in a Scottish Parliament motion lodged by Cunninghame North MSP Kenneth Gibson, which speaks of Cunninghame Housing Association “making its communities better places in which to live”.

More help to ease the pain caused by Bedroom Tax

Margaret Burgess MSP this week highlighted additional funding being made available by the SNP Scottish Government to mitigate the worst effects of the UK Government-imposed Bedroom Tax

Mrs Burgess is urging local tenants to apply for financial help from North Ayrshire Council, which will receive extra funding from the Scottish Government to make available more Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs).

The local MSP says constituents who have lost out on Housing Benefit because of the Bedroom Tax should now be able to seek compensation through a DHP.

The MSP for Cunninghame South explained that the SNP Government had persuaded the London-based Tory-Lib Dem Government to raise the cap on the funding that could be made available to cover the cost of Discretionary Housing Payments. Under the current constitutional settlement, Welfare and Benefits remain controlled by the UK Government.

Mrs Burgess said, “The UK Government will now transfer to the Scottish Government the power to lift the cap, meaning that the Scottish Government can invest a total of £50 million this year to help the 72,000 Scottish households who are suffering from the effects of the Bedroom Tax, including many local people.”

As the Scottish Government’s Minister for Housing, Margaret Burgess has been at the centre of work aimed at easing the pain suffered by tenants affected by the Bedroom Tax, which reduces much-needed Housing Benefit if a home is deemed to have more bedrooms than residents need. However, while welcoming the ability to increase help to those being hammered by the Westminster cuts, Mrs Burgess points out that the current limited powers of the devolved Scottish Parliament mean that it does not have the power to abolish the Bedroom Tax.

Margaret Burgess said, “The clear message to tenants is this: if you are being affected by the Bedroom Tax, help is available - but you need to apply for it. You must engage with your landlord and apply for a DHP as soon as possible to enable you to pay the shortfall in your rent, and you should do so even if you have been refused a DHP in the past.”

The SNP MSP noted, “Nothing better confirms the need for our Scottish Parliament to have the full powers of independence than the scandal of the Bedroom Tax. With full powers over welfare and taxation, the Scottish Government would abolish the Bedroom Tax.”

Notorious PPP Project highlighted in Parliament

The now notorious North Ayrshire Schools PPP Project was flagged-up last week in the Scottish Parliament as an example of how local authorities are being forced to pay way over the odds for schools built using the Public Private Partnership (PPP) method of funding.

Cunninghame North MSP Kenneth Gibson raised the issue during Question Time, contrasting the cost of public buildings constructed under PPP (and its predecessor, the Private Finance Initiative – PFI) with the SNP Government’s current preferred method of funding, which places a cap on the profits that can be made by private contractors.

Responding to Mr Gibson’s question, Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, said the SNP Government’s method “ensures that private sector returns are capped and that there is no dividend-bearing equity, which avoids the excessive returns and poor taxpayer value for money that were associated with past Private Finance Initiative projects.”

In 2006 the then Labour administration of North Ayrshire Council embarked on a PPP project to build and maintain four new schools - St Matthew’s Academy in Saltcoats, Stanley Primary in Ardrossan, Dreghorn’s Greenwood Academy and Arran High School. Despite the actual value of the four new campuses being just £80m, Labour councillors committed the taxpayers of North Ayrshire to a 30 year PPP contract projected to cost around £380m.

Kenneth Gibson told the Scottish Parliament, “In North Ayrshire, annual PFI payments will increase from £11.1 million in 2007 to £16.1 million in 2037, meaning that, ultimately, £400 million will be paid over 30 years for schools with a capital cost of only £81 million.”

The SNP MSP then asked, “Does the Cabinet Secretary agree that the profligacy of Labour...means that local authorities are stuck paying increased charges year-on-year and that rising payments are limiting North Ayrshire’s ability to invest in jobs and services?”

Nicola Sturgeon replied, “Yes, I agree. The fact of the matter is that the PFI approach used in the past has not delivered best value for the taxpayer.”

The previous Labour administration of North Ayrshire Council was voted out of office at the 2012 local government elections. However, the contract signed by Labour councillors in 2006 means the current SNP administration of the Council has been left to manage the multi-million pound debt stemming from the Schools PPP Project.

Companies encouraged to employ apprentices

A North Ayrshire engineering firm has backed a campaign to encourage more employers to consider providing apprenticeships.

McEvoy Engineering wants other companies to see the benefits apprentices can bring to their business.

Backing Scottish Apprenticeship Week, Skills Development Scotland (SDS) is hosting an information event, at which local companies will be able to find out about support available to employ apprentices. SDS key sector manager for engineering, Billy Scott, said, “There are more than 240 engineering firms in Ayrshire – from traditional engineers to aeronautic multi-nationals. Together they employ around 6,600 people across Ayrshire

“Engineering provides good long-term prospects for young people looking to start out on their career. There’s also a definite skills gap in the engineering sector. The average engineer in Scotland is in his 50s. We need the next generation of skilled workers to fill that gap and more Modern Apprenticeships are a way to do that.”

Stevenston-based McEvoy Engineering is backing the drive to encourage other firms to provide more apprenticeships places. Sales Manager Alison McEvoy said, “Through the Modern Apprenticeship programme, we have an opportunity to develop skilled tradesmen for our business. This is particularly important given the chronic shortage of skilled labour in the engineering sector.”

Ms McEvoy believes Modern Apprentices can be a vital part of any team, particularly individuals who are “keen to learn and not scared of hard work”, adding, “Our experienced tradesmen enjoy working with the apprentices to develop their skills and generally they are good for morale in the workplace. At the moment we have two Modern Apprentices in the business and hope to recruit more as our current apprentices develop.”

Skills Development Scotland wants to encourage companies to think about the benefits apprenticeships can bring to their business. Billy Scott said, “We also want them to know about the advice and support that is on offer locally, from Skills Development Scotland, local councils and economic development organisations.

“We want engineering firms to hear first-hand from other companies who have employed apprentices and see how they have improved their business.”
Also supporting the initiative is Karen Yeomans, North Ayrshire Council’s Head of Development Planning, who said, “We are delighted to be part of Scottish Apprenticeship Week, to encourage local businesses to provide more apprenticeship places.

“McEvoy Engineering is an excellent example of a local company who have benefited from recruiting apprentices by helping to fill the skills gap in its workforce.

“Our ‘Team North Ayrshire’ partnership approach will help businesses looking to recruit apprentices by connecting them to the right people at the right time for advice and support.”

Ayrshire College is a major provider of engineering apprentices. As well as backing the engineering event, the college is supporting Scottish Apprenticeship Week by working with employers to promote the benefits of apprentices.

‘Modern Apprentices: Engineering Ayrshire’ takes place at the Park Hotel in Kilmarnock from 8:00am to 10:00am on Wednesday, May 21, during Scottish Apprenticeship Week.

Ayrshire engineering companies can find out more by contacting Neil Cunningham at SDS on 0300 013 2247 or at www.scottishapprenticeshipweek.com

MP praises local cervical cancer campaigner

Local MP Katy Clark last week used a House of Commons debate to praise the work of Ardrossan-based cervical cancer campaigner Suzanne Fernando.

The UK Parliament was debating issues raised by the tragic death of Merseyside teenager Sophie Jones who died of cervical cancer after being misdiagnosed and denied access to a smear test.

During her contribution, Katy Clark highlighted the work Suzanne Fernando has done in promoting cervical cancer screening services, as well as her current work organising a local ‘Walk for Fun’ event for Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. The North Ayrshire & Arran MP said, “Suzanne Fernando was diagnosed with cervical cancer when she was pregnant, and describes herself as a survivor of cancer.

“She has campaigned tirelessly on the issue throughout my time as a Member of Parliament, on many different aspects of the disease: ensuring that people use cervical cancer screening services and get smears; attending local schools and encouraging girls to get the HPV [Human papillomavirus] vaccination; and in fundraising work.”

Ms Clark also referred to Suzanne’s role as Scotland’s first campaigns ambassador for Cancer Research UK, adding, “She has set up a cervical cancer support group in Ayrshire, which provides people with advice on the disease at any stage.

“We should pay tribute to all the women throughout the country who have experience of cervical cancer and who work to ensure that others do not go through what they have been through, that the condition is identified early and prevented and that people get the treatment to which they are entitled.”

The Labour MP called for all women to have access to a smear test at a time of their choosing.

As part of Cervical Cancer Awareness Week, Suzanne Fernando will take part in a 5km ‘Walk for Fun’ at Eglinton Park in Kilwinning on June 15.

When you are ill - know who to turn to

If you were ill, would you know who to turn to? NHS Ayrshire & Arran is encouraging us to choose the right option for our condition.

The 'When you're ill, know who to turn to' campaign outlines the eight options available when we need medical assistance, alongside a list of symptoms that could be appropriately dealt with by each option. These include:

• Self care: for minor illness or injury that we can deal with ourselves, such as hangover, grazed knee, sore throat, coughs and colds
• Pharmacist: for expert advice or information on medicines and healthcare, including the Minor Ailment Service. Examples of minor ailments include coughs and colds, indigestion, constipation, aches and pains
• Dentist: for regular check-ups, routine treatment and emergency care
• Optometrist (optician): for any eye problems including blurred vision, difficulty seeing well or discomfort - red eyes, irritated eyes
• Family doctor: when our illness or injury just won't go away, we should make an appointment to see our GP who can provide advice and information about conditions such as vomiting, ear pain, sore belly, backache
• NHS out-of-hours service: we should turn to the NHS out of hours service when we are too ill to wait until our GP or dental surgery is open. Call NHS 24 on 111.
• Minor injuries service: if we require urgent care for a minor injury such as cuts, minor burns, sprains
• Accident and emergency: Turn to 999 or a hospital's A&E department only for serious illness or accidents, such as suspected stroke, heart attack, head injuries, fracture or wounds requiring stitches.

Liz Moore, NHS Ayrshire & Arran’s Director for Acute Services, explained, “All too often we see people coming into Accident and Emergency when they would have been better using one of their local services, such as their pharmacist, GP or dentist. Knowing which NHS service to use, and when, is extremely important both in terms of patient care and the running of the NHS.

“Choosing the wrong service can lead to delays, patient frustration and inefficiencies. Choosing the right service can lead to better patient satisfaction and a speedier recovery.”

Friday, 9 May 2014

Councillor's concerns over violence in schools

A North Ayrshire councillor has called for “zero tolerance” of pupils who take weapons into schools.

Conservative councillor Tom Marshall spoke out in the week that a teacher was stabbed to death in a classroom at a school in England. Ann Maguire, 61, described as “an amazing, inspirational teacher”, was killed last Monday (April 28) at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds. A 15 year-old boy has been charged with her murder.

Tom Marshall, a retired teacher, believes Mrs Maguire’s tragic death should be “a wakeup call to head teachers and Education Authorities”.

The councillor for the North Coast & Cumbraes used last month’s meeting of North Ayrshire Council to seek information on the number of times incidents of violence and aggression had occurred in North Ayrshire schools over the past year. Cllr Marshall also asked how many incidents were subsequently reported to the Police, and what remedial action is taken by the Council to “reduce the incidence of such aggression and violence to staff and pupils”.

Responding for North Ayrshire’s SNP administration, Council Leader Willie Gibson revealed there had been 342 incidents of violence and aggression in local schools between April 1st 2013 and December 31st 2013, with only one matter reported to the Police. The reported incident took place in a primary school and involved a pupil throwing an object that hit a teacher. Cllr Gibson added, “As a result of the incident, the pupil was excluded for two-days and a behavioural assessment [was] carried out.”

The Council Leader explained that a detailed analysis of violent and aggressive incidents in schools is provided to the local authority’s Corporate Health and Safety Group. Cllr Gibson noted, “A significant number of aggression and violence incidents within Education and Skills are due to Additional Support Needs children, where the aggression and violence is a result of an underlying condition. Such children have appropriate care plans and individual needs-assessments monitored and reviewed to minimise occurrence of episodes, where this is possible.

“Where an incident of aggression and violence is consciously conducted by non ASN pupils, the Council's aggression and violence policy fully supports employees in reporting such incidents to the police, where the matter is transferred for potential criminal charges. Additional management support is given to staff, such as reviewing workplace patterns, occupational health referral and counselling where required.”

Speaking to the3towns, Tom Marshall said, “When I saw the statistics quoted - almost 400 incidents annually of violence and aggression in North Ayrshire schools - I was concerned there was potential for a really serious incident.

“In the last three years, 800 pupils have been caught with weapons and police attended almost 11,000 incidents in Scottish schools - while only one incident was reported to police in the whole of last year in North Ayrshire. Are our children so well behaved?”

Reflecting on his own experience as a teacher, Cllr Marshall said, “I believe there is massive underreporting of these figures. As a former member of the Scottish Teachers Association, I agree with their comment that many councils and head teachers do not want adverse publicity. It is also reported that teachers say they are put off complaining by those who want to protect the reputation of the school rather than the safety of the staff. In my view, safety of staff and pupils should be paramount.”

The district’s only Conservative councillor advocates “a zero tolerance attitude to pupils who bring weapons to school, with pupils being instantly removed” if found to be in possession of a weapon.

Cllr Marshall added, “For pupils who assault staff there must be a similarly swift action to remove the pupil for a suitable time - unlike what happened recently in South Ayrshire where a pupil left a member of staff with broken ribs, only for the pupil to return to the school the next day.”

The Largs-based councillor said senior Education staff, “particularly those who have never been in a classroom , should be aware of increasing low-level disturbance in many classes and the difficulties some staff are experiencing .

“I am of the view that Curriculum for Excellence, by advocating ‘Learning’ rather than traditional ‘Teaching’, will in some ways exacerbate misbehaviour, especially in Secondary Schools. The latest Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy revealed that, across both Primary and Secondary schools, numeracy standards have declined markedly over the last three years.

“For example, Primary 7s slipped from 72 per cent doing ‘well’ or ‘very well’ to only 66 per cent now. The study also revealed huge gaps in attainment between those who lived in deprived areas and those in the wealthiest.”

Cllr Marshall believes poorly-performing pupils will struggle with Secondary Education and, as a consequence, “may be more prone to disaffection and misbehaviour”.

The Conservative councillor stated, “These statistics are further proof that all is not well in Scottish education when it comes to the crucial matter of improving behaviour and numeracy.”

Life-saving equipment to be installed in public buildings

North Ayrshire Council’s ruling SNP Cabinet is this week expected to agree total funding of £156,506 to purchase, install and train staff to use 116 defibrillators in schools and public buildings.

The machines are used in cases of cardiac arrest where the heart has stopped pumping blood. Defibrillators deliver an electric shock to the heart, potentially re-starting blood flow. Survival chances of those affected by cardiac arrest decrease by 10% for every minute without defibrillation.

The initiative to make available the potentially life-saving equipment was first suggested by Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councillor Ronnie McNicol at February’s meeting of the Council. Now, following a detailed analysis by Council Chief Executive Elma Murray and senior officials, SNP councillors are expected to back a roll-out of defibrillators over the next year.

There will be an additional maintenance cost of £18,792 over four years, but Ms Murray has identified that all expenditure relating to defibrillators can be met from an underspend in the Council's General Fund budget for the financial year 2013/14.

A report for the SNP cabinet recommends that defibrillators are installed at Council offices, the district’s 5 Secondary Schools, 4 Special Schools, 50 Primary Schools, 17 libraries (plus 2 mobile units), 30 Community Centres and Eglinton Park in Kilwinning. In addition, North Ayrshire Leisure is to provide the machines at the area’s leisure centres, including Auchenharvie in Stevenston.

The Council also plans to work with the Scottish Ambulance Service to identify any parts of North Ayrshire where existing availability of the potentially vital medical equipment is limited.

The Cabinet report to be considered this week notes that the SNP Scottish Government has provided funding to install defibrillators in NHS dental practices by August of this year, and that supermarket chain ASDA is to provide the machines in all of its stores.

'YES' campaign's new shop and public meetings

The pro-independence ‘YES’ campaign stepped-up a gear in the local area this week with the opening of another ‘shop’ and the announcement of more public meetings.

Adding to an existing ‘YES’ facility in Largs, campaigners in North Ayrshire have now officially opened another in Irvine. Both ‘shops’ offer information on the benefits independence will bring to Scotland, and are stocked with ‘YES’ merchandise.

The Irvine shop is located in the town’s busy High Street and has already been attracting locals with questions to ask about September’s referendum and what the restoration of Scotland’s independence will mean for people in North Ayrshire.

The official opening ceremony, held last Saturday (April 26), was performed by representatives of organisations affiliated to the broad ‘YES’ campaign. For the Scottish Socialist Party, Brian Marsh pointed out that independence means Scotland will always get the government for which we vote, unlike the current UK system where Scotland rejects the Tories but has them imposed on us by the electorate of England. Mr Marsh said, “A ‘YES’ vote will deliver democracy for Scotland and allow us to shape a better future and a much improved standard of living for the people.”

Also represented was Labour for Independence, an ever-growing section of the Labour Party that rejects the Unionist stance adopted by the party’s leadership. The group’s Alex Bell said, “There is no doubt that a ‘YES’ vote and independence offer the best way forward to the kind of society we want in Scotland and to an improved standard of living for the people.”

For the Scottish National Party, local MSP Margaret Burgess reflected on the words of former Labour chair Bob Thomson in a recent address on Scotland's future to the Scottish Trades Union Congress. Mrs Burgess noted, “Bob Thomson said that a ‘YES’ vote will give us the purpose and the potential to create a society based on equality, social justice and prosperity. That's what we'll be asking Scots to vote for on the 18th of September.”

In addition, the Three Towns ‘YES’ group has announced details of more public meetings in Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston.

Aimed at local people who so far are undecided about how to vote in the referendum, the meetings are said by organisers to offer the opportunity to quiz ordinary ‘YES’ supporters, rather than politicians, about Scotland’s future with independence.

The speakers will be Gary O’Rourke who will cover the area of pensions, Jen McClafferty on the female perspective to the independence debate, Aiden Paisley on social welfare, and Gary Parker who will cover jobs.

Details of the public meetings are:

Monday, 26th of May (7:00pm-9:00pm)
Whitlees Community Centre, Ardrossan

Thursday, 29th of May (7:00pm-9:00pm)
Ardeer Community Centre, Stevenston

Sunday, 1st of June (2:00pm-4:00pm)
Argyle Community Centre, Saltcoats

'Graffiti' adverts encourage voting

North Ayrshire Council has come up with a novel way of encouraging people to vote at this month’s European Election and the Independence Referendum in September – they’ve spray-painted the message onto local pavements.

A spokesperson for the Council said, “The idea is to catch voter attention. Plastic stencils were used by the Streetscene department to create the graphics at two dozen locations.”

The representative gave the assurance that “special paint” used to create the pavement messages means the ‘graffiti’ will disappear “in time”.

The Council says advantages of the initiative are that the message is highly visible, inexpensive to apply and easy to roll out across a wide area in a matter of days.

North Ayrshire’s Electoral Returning Officer Elma Murray, also the Council’s Chief Executive, said, “The best advertising campaigns are those with a simple message that grab your attention in the fewest words.”

The slogans can be seen in Ardrossan, near the junction of Glasgow Street and Princes Street, Dockhead Street in Saltcoats and outside Stevenston’s library.

Remembering those who die in the workplace

Local MP Katy Clark last week marked International Workers’ Memorial Day by calling for a government that actually protects workers.

Workers’ Memorial Day is held on the 28th April every year to commemorate those who have died as a result of accidents at work or diseases contracted in the workplace. Ms Clark hosted an event in the House of Commons to discuss the key health and safety issues currently facing workers in the UK and the rest of the world.

The Labour MP said, “Every year more people are killed at work than in wars. While we may tend to imagine this as a problem predominantly affecting the developing world, the sad truth is that in the United Kingdom far too many deaths occur due to workplace activities.

“Each year the Health and Safety Executive publish figures for the number of people killed in accidents at work. In 2012/13 the number was 148, one of the lowest ever, but this figure does not represent reality. Instead, if you include those who die from occupational cancers, other lung disorders and cardiovascular disease caused by work, and people killed on the roads while working, the Trades Union Congress estimates this figure could be more than 20,000.”

Ms Clark says that, despite such evidence, the UK Tory-Lib Dem Government has reduced the Health & Safety Executive’s budget by £80m-£85m every year since coming to power in 2010. “That’s a cut of 35 per cent in the state contribution,” said the MP for North Ayrshire & Arran, adding, “Compensation has been cut and the Prime Minister has publically stated that he will ‘kill off the health and safety culture for good’. We need to remember that every time we hear ‘health and safety’ being mocked, it plays into the hands of those who want to weaken regulations and diminish the hard-fought-for rights of workers.”

Katy Clark said, “We need a government that is committed to protecting workers. This Workers’ Memorial Day we need to remember the dead but also fight for the living and for those workers from around the world who put their lives on the line every day.”

Fit in '14

NHS Ayrshire & Arran is encouraging groups of local workers to get Fit in '14 by taking steps to become more physically active this year – and the Board’s Public Health department is showing how its done by committing to walk the equivalent of the distance from Sydney in Australia to Glasgow. That’s 10,535 miles in case you were wondering.

The NHS staff involved have calculated that the distance represents 21,070,000 individual steps, which equates to 602,000 steps for each person in the team.

Health Coach Claire Rogerson explained the initiative, “A little more physical activity can make a big difference to your health and wellbeing. Being active halves your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, plus it lowers your risk of depression. So, in other words, being active can make you healthier and happier.”

Ms Rogerson said the Public Health team felt the Fit in '14 scheme was a “win-win” situation, so they “decided to embark on this walking challenge”.

Local workplace teams who would like to get Fit in '14 are encouraged to visit the dedicated website here to make their own personal pledge.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Icelandic bank saga concluded

North Ayrshire Council’s 6 year wrangle with two collapsed Icelandic banks is finally at an end.

The local authority’s ruling SNP Cabinet will this week hear that all-but £1.9m of a £10m deposit with the former Glitner Bank has been repaid. The balance is currently held in an Icelandic escrow account (an account administered by a third party, with funds disbursed once certain contractual arrangements have been agreed). However, due to differing interest rates – at the time of the bank’s insolvency compared to dates on which funds were returned – it may be that North Ayrshire Council could receive an overpayment of around 2.2%. Council officials will tell the SNP Cabinet that it is not yet clear whether or not return of any overpayment will be sought by Icelandic authorities.

Officials will also brief councillors on a decision to sell the £2.3m debt still owed by a second Icelandic bank – Landsbanki – to North Ayrshire Council. The local authority had originally deposited £5m with the bank, but £2.7m was returned between 2012 and 2013.

A report for the Cabinet explains that, with the agreement of the Council’s SNP leader, Willie Gibson, officers sold the outstanding debt through a competitive auction process. In total, the Council finally secured almost 96% of the initial £5m deposit. Had the local authority not sold-on the Landsbanki debt to a third-party, it would have been 2019 before funds were returned to North Ayrshire.

The decision by the previous Labour administration of North Ayrshire Council to ‘invest’ £15m in ‘high-interest’ accounts operated by foreign banks has been severely criticised. The Icelandic accounts have since been described as ‘too good to be true’, which, it has been claimed, should have rung alarm bells. The overseas ‘investments’ put North Ayrshire’s money beyond the jurisdiction of UK financial regulations.

Glitner and Landsbanki collapsed in 2008.

Low life-expectancy in North Ayrshire

New figures released by the National Records of Scotland call into question claims that Scots are better remaining within the British Union.

The latest stats reveal that, on average, people in Scotland can expect to die sooner than those living in other parts of the UK. North Ayrshire is particularly badly affected by low life-expectancy.

Local MP Katy Clark said, “While there has been a steady increase in life-expectancy over past decades, the gaps and variation paint a depressing picture. The UK average for female life expectancy is 82.7 years, while men can expect to live for 78.9 years. In Scotland, the average is 80.8 for women and 76.6 for men. North Ayrshire sees female life expectancy drop to 80.72 for women and 76.03 for men.”

The Labour MP said it is not surprising that more affluent areas of the country have significantly higher levels of life expectancy than the most impoverished, adding, “The conclusion we can draw from this is blindingly clear: we need to urgently root out the systemic causes of poverty and inequality.

“While the statistics are revealing, they are only numbers. Behind them are the real experiences of constituents I hear from every week. Workers are earning poverty pay and living under the constant stress and fear of losing their jobs as the only security they have are zero-hour contracts. We’ve seen benefit payments reduced and capped, and people are literally choosing whether to feed their families or heat their homes.”

The MP for North Ayrshire & Arran said, “Cuts to funding in health care, social services, local councils and further education have all removed support and opportunities for those living in poverty. It is no wonder that people’s physical and mental well-being is harmed as a result, and the life expectancy figures just confirm what many of us already knew.”

Ms Clark supports Scotland remaining within the British Union and argues a future UK Labour Government would seek to address the problems that cause low life-expectancy.