Friday, 27 June 2014

Contract ready for Town Hall restoration

Senior SNP councillors will this week sign-off the contract to bring Saltcoats Town Hall back to life.

The iconic building in the town’s Countess Street was closed to the public in 2009 under North Ayrshire Council’s previous Labour administration. However, thanks to a 2012 Budget motion lodged by Independent councillor Ronnie McNicol and the SNP’s Willie Gibson, initial funding of £1.9m was put in place to safeguard the structure.

Following the Local Government Election of May 2012, at which the SNP replaced Labour as the Council administration, plans were put in place to secure additional funding for a restoration programme. Now, following an extensive tender process, the Council’s ruling SNP Cabinet are ready to sign the contract that will allow renovations to begin in August.

The cost of the major refurbishment will be £2,843,121, which represents a saving of £92,256 on the initial sum set-aside by the Council to cover the programme. The contract will be awarded to Taylor & Fraser Ltd, a Paisley-based engineering and construction firm founded in 1906.

As part of the restoration project, Taylor & Fraser will provide training opportunities for a Tiler (13 weeks), a Stoneworker (13 weeks) and 2 Labourers (52 weeks).

Full restoration of the Town Hall is expected to be completed by late 2015. The new facility will include a 200-person main function hall, 100-seat lesser hall/marriage suite, a heritage space and civic exhibition area, visitor information point and modern office accommodation.

Scottish Water call to 'stay safe' this summer

Scottish Water is reminding Three Towns residents to play it safe in or near rivers and reservoirs this summer.

As the school holidays begin, the water company is asking locals not to take risks and is calling on parents to make sure children take care near water during any spells of warm weather we might enjoy.

The timely warning comes as the first anniversary approaches of the tragic deaths of Saltcoats man Sean Marshall (20) and 17-year-old Ross Munn from Ardrossan who drowned after getting into difficulties while swimming at the Mill Dam reservoir (pictured above) north of Ardrossan last August.

Following the untimely deaths of the two friends, locals raised a petition calling on Scottish Water to fence-off the reservoir, which is no longer used as part of the public water-supply system. However, at the time, a representative of Scottish Water told the3towns that legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament actually prevents the company from erecting fencing around the reservoir or from even putting-up ‘No Swimming’ signs.

The legal prohibition is an unintended consequence of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which was introduced to stop private landowners from preventing public access to large swathes of the Scottish countryside and hills. The legislation provides public access rights to all land and inland waterways, with a few stated exceptions, which means that Scottish Water would be breaking the law if it erected fences that prevented the public from accessing the area around the Mill Dam.

Latest figures from the National Water Safety Forum show that in the last full year for which figures are available, 371 people drowned accidentally across the UK, of which 43 were children or young people up to the age of 19. Of the 371 drownings, the majority - 203 - took place in inland waters, including rivers, canals, lochs, streams, ponds and reservoirs.

Jane McKenzie, Scottish Water’s Regional Communities Team Manager for the local area, said, “While it’s important that youngsters enjoy their school holidays and that people across Scotland take pleasure in the country’s beautiful lochs, rivers and reservoirs, it’s also vital that they stay safe.

“We are reminding parents to keep their children safe and asking adults to act responsibly around watercourses.”

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents is backing Scottish Water’s call. Carlene McAvoy, the organisation’s Community Safety Development Officer for Scotland, said, “During periods of hot weather and school holidays, there is often a rise in the number of accidental drownings, which is why it is important to be extra vigilant around inland waters.

“The water can be a lot colder than expected, which can lead to a swimmer going into cold shock: in the worst case, a swimmer will inhale water and the drowning process begins. There may also be strong currents and underwater debris that you cannot see from the bank, so don’t go alone, and consider how you are going to get out of the water before you get in - be honest about your swimming ability.

"The safest option is to go swimming at properly-supervised sites, such as beaches or swimming pools.”

Scottish Water points out that reservoirs are man-made features which, because of their purpose, have unique dangers such as dams, overflows and hidden underwater pipes that take water out of the reservoir. Other dangers include reeds, strong currents, steep banks and deep, cold water.

SNP Council to fully protect victims of Bedroom Tax

All Council and Housing Association tenants who have their Housing Benefit cut as a result of the Bedroom Tax will avoid losing out financially after North Ayrshire Council agreed to cover the reduction through Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP).

The local authority’s SNP Cabinet agreed to fully mitigate financial penalties imposed on public sector tenants who have more bedrooms in their home than the UK Tory-Lib Dem Government says they need. The Council funding will cover the current financial year - from April 1st 2014 to March 31st 2015.

Tenants who are already in receipt of Discretionary Housing Payments or have applied for the support from April 1st of this year do not need to take any further action. Tenants who have never applied or were refused DHP between April 1st 2013 and March 31st 2014 and have not re-applied since April 1st of this year are urged to contact the Council's Welfare Reform Advice Team on 01505 681034 or their own Housing Association.

The Bedroom Tax, which often affects some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in local communities, was imposed on Scotland by the UK Government in London. The current devolved Scottish Parliament does not have the power to repeal or amend the legislation. However, the SNP Scottish Government has made available funding to mitigate the damage caused by the UK Bedroom Tax. One result of Westminster’s cuts to Housing Benefit has been that tenants are unable to meet the full cost of their rent, leading to arrears.

North Ayrshire Council’s announcement regarding full support to protect local people affected by the Bedroom Tax came after Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP assured the local authority it would not be penalised under current rules limiting the amount of money that can be paid under the DHP scheme. The SNP Government will provide the funding to meet the cost of the initiative.

Cllr Willie Gibson, SNP Leader of North Ayrshire Council, said, “We have been given assurances by the Deputy First Minister that we can provide this support immediately, which is extremely important given the difficulties that many people face. The application process will also be made far simpler and those who have applied unsuccessfully since April this year will not have to do so again.”

Cllr Ruth Maguire, SNP Cabinet Member for Finance and Property, added, “I am absolutely delighted we can offer this support to every single person in North Ayrshire who has been hit by the Bedroom Tax.

“The most important thing is to be in a position to support some of the most vulnerable families in our communities and not be constrained by a legal process to lift the DHP cap.”

Saltcoats Community Council needs public support

Saltcoats Community Council, for many years one of the most effective community groups in North Ayrshire, could close down if new members cannot be persuaded to get involved.

Saltcoats man Allan Rice told the3towns of his “great sadness” that the Community Council is facing a shortage of activists. Mr Rice said, “No-one is at fault for the current situation. It’s just that for a number of reasons current members and Community Councillors have had to end their involvement. That means unless we can quickly bring-in new people to replace them, then the important work done for the town by the Community Council could be lost.”

In recent years Saltcoats Community Council has played a leading role in bringing about major repairs and improvements to the town’s East Promenade; has sought action to deal with groups of methadone users who were congregating outside town centre pharmacies; maintained pressure to have Saltcoats Town Hall renovated; scrutinised Health Board plans affecting the town; promoted town centre regeneration; contributed local opinion in relation to planning matters and tackled issues affecting the local community, such as fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour.

The work of Community Councils is voluntary. Allan Rice said, “It’s not just the town of Saltcoats that needs a Community Council, it is also important for North Ayrshire Council to have the input of community members when issues come up affecting the town.”

Mr Rice indicated the next scheduled meeting of Saltcoats Community Council is at 7:00pm on Tuesday, August 19th in the Argyle Community Centre. All Saltcoats residents are invited to attend. In the meantime, anyone wishing further information can contact Mr Rice at allanrice@aol.com

Burgess ends 'Right to Buy'

Local MSP Margaret Burgess, in her capacity as Scotland’s Housing Minister, has brought about the end of ‘Right to Buy’ legislation, which since 1980 had allowed council tenants to purchase their homes at a discounted price.

Although beneficial to sitting tenants with the capital to buy their homes, Right to Buy also resulted in almost 500,000 houses being taken out of the social rented sector, meaning people seeking to be housed by local authorities and housing associations can now wait for years before one becomes available.

Right to Buy was introduced by the UK Tory Government led by the late Margaret Thatcher who made no secret of her hope that working class people who bought their council houses would vote Tory.

The new Housing (Scotland) Bill, introduced by Margaret Burgess and passed overwhelmingly by the Scottish Parliament last week – only the Tories voted against it – ends Right to Buy and will prevent the sale of up to 15,500 social houses over the next ten years, meaning those properties will be available to people currently waiting on council lists.

The Bill will also establish a private rented sector tribunal, which gives tenants and landlords access to specialist justice and allows them to resolve disputes more effectively. In addition, changes to mobile home site licensing will improve the rights of over 3,000 households, many of whom are elderly, living permanently in mobile or park homes across Scotland.

Other measures include introducing a regulatory framework for letting-agents and giving local authorities new discretionary powers to tackle poor housing conditions in the private sector.

Margaret Burgess said, “Passing the Bill was a historic day for housing as it marks the end of the right to by social housing in Scotland. Stakeholders from across the sector have given this legislation widespread support as they recognise we have put together a package of measures that will help improve housing in the social, private-rented and owner-occupied sectors.”

The SNP MSP for Cunninghame South expressed her gratitude to everyone who had contributed to the Bill during its nine-month passage through the parliamentary process, adding, “But legislation is only one of many actions this Government is taking to improve housing in Scotland. We continue to invest in affordable housing. Earlier this week the First Minister confirmed we have invested £1billion in affordable housing since April 2011, putting us well on track to delivering an additional 30,000 homes across Scotland by March 2016. This investment is supporting 8,000 jobs in each year of the five-year parliamentary term.”

Mrs Burgess noted, “This Bill is a landmark step forward for housing. With the full powers of independence we will have greater control to tailor our grants and housing-supply investment, and to integrate housing and welfare policies to meet the needs of our communities and the homebuilding industry in Scotland.”

Rock the Vote

Hundreds of young people in North Ayrshire will vote for the first time in September’s Independence Referendum, and local bands are determined to get as many young voters as possible into polling booths to have their say.

The initiative, called ‘Rock the Vote’, first emerged in the United States with the aim of encouraging the youth vote to turn out at elections by fusing pop culture, politics, and technology. Now rolled-out across the world, the campaign comes to North Ayrshire with a series of gigs featuring local artists in July and culminating in a headline event at Irvine’s Harbour Arts Centre on August 14th.

Some of the most talented local bands will feature in the Rock the Vote gigs, including Crash Club, DJ Neil McHarg, The Outlawed, Tragic O’Hara, Halo Tora, Burnout, Jamie Clarke, Bernard and Kieran MC, and Remedy.

Kilwinning’s The Outlawed are keen to support the campaign and have a simple message for young people who are thinking about voting, “This is one of the most important events we will ever be a part of. The important thing is that young people register to vote and then make sure their vote counts, no matter what way they vote.”

That message will come out loud and clear at the Rock the Vote gigs, which kick-off at West Kilbride Community Centre on Tuesday, July 1st from 7:00pm.

The full listing of gigs is:

West Kilbride Community Centre – Tuesday 1 July

DJ – Neil McHarg
Halo Tora
Bernard and Kieran MC

Irvine Redburn Youth Centre - Wednesday 9 July
DJ – Neil McHarg
Jamie Clarke
Bernard and Kieran MC

Walker Hall, Kilbirnie – Tuesday 15 July
Dj Neil McHarg
Burnout
Bernard and Kieran MC

Brodick Village Hall – Friday 18 July

DJ Neil McHarg
Silent Disco
Bernard and Kieran MC

Kilwinning Bridge Project – Tuesday 22 July

DJ Neil McHarg
Bridge Project – Remedy
Bernard and Kieran MC

Ardrossan Church of Nazerene – Thursday 31 July
DJ Neil McHarg
Crash Club
Bernard and Kieran MC

Harbour Arts Centre, Irvine – Thursday 14 August

Jamie Clarke
Burnout
The Outlawed
Halo Tora
Tragic O’Hara

Friday, 20 June 2014

Council to tackle gap sites

North Ayrshire Council has indicated it will use legal powers, where necessary, to bring back into use vacant sites around local towns.

Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston have a number of ‘gap sites’ where buildings have been demolished but owners have then failed to proceed with development projects, leaving the areas as derelict eyesores. the3towns understands that a number of such sites are in the ownership of one Irvine-based construction firm.

North Ayrshire as a whole has amongst the highest levels of vacant and derelict land in Scotland, including the sites of former major employers such as ICI at Ardeer and Shell in Ardrossan. Now, the local Council’s SNP administration has agreed a new approach to address the issue.

Meeting last week, the Council’s SNP Cabinet set-out plans to focus investment in vacant and derelict sites, support development by the private sector and consider the best use of legal powers to allow enforcement action where discussions with landowners have stalled and other avenues have been exhausted.

In addition, the Cabinet agreed to seek support from the Scottish Government’s Vacant and Derelict Land Fund to have North Ayrshire included in the area for which financial support is available.

Cllr Marie Burns, SNP Cabinet Member for Economy and Employment, said, “Many of the challenges we face are a result of the decline in traditional industries. The loss of companies such as ICI and Shell led to a legacy of vacant land. These empty sites are not simply an unpleasant reminder of lost jobs, they continue to exercise a negative effect to this day – affecting residents, businesses and potential investors and encouraging fly-tipping, overgrown vegetation and vandalism.”

Cllr Burns explained, “In the first instance we will make investment in vacant and derelict land a real priority, while supporting the private sector where we can.” However, the SNP councillor made clear that where every route to bring a site back into use had been tried but had failed, the Council will now “consider the legal powers available to us”.

West Kilbride murderers appeal convictions

Two men convicted of murdering a woman at a flat in West Kilbride have had appeals against conviction and sentence heard at the Appeal Court in Glasgow.

Last Tuesday (June 17), Queens Counsel for Glasgow man Colin Coats and Philip Wade from Glengarnock claimed the original 11-week trial in 2013 had been flawed and called for the convictions to be quashed.

In June 2013 Coats was sentenced to 33 years while Wade was ordered to be detained for 30 years after a jury found them guilty of abducting, torturing and murdering 27 year-old Glasgow woman Lynda Spence.

In evidence to the murder trial, jurors heard that Ms Spence had been forced into a car on Broomhill Path in Glasgow before being driven to a flat in Meadowfoot Road, West Kilbride. In graphic detail, the prosecution then described how the woman had been taped to a chair and subjected to extreme violence, including being struck with a golf club, burned with an iron and having one of her thumbs cut off. Ms Spence was then murdered by Coats and Wade who also disposed of her body, which has never been found.

It was stated at trial that Lynda Spence had last been seen by her parents in April 2011, and that the abduction and murder had taken place because she owed money to certain people in Glasgow.

Scotland’s Solicitor General, Lesley Thomson, who led the case for the prosecution, said the actions of Coats and Wade, both aged 43, were notable for “extraordinary brutality”.

However, QCs Gary Allan and Gordon Jackson last week argued that the original trial had been flawed on two counts, citing ‘inadmissible evidence’ and ‘late disclosure’ of Crown evidence. Mr Allan and Mr Jackson also claimed the sentences handed-down to Coats and Wade had been excessive, pointing to the fact that Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing in which 270 people died, received a more lenient sentence of 27 years.

Defence QC Gary Allan argued that evidence from witness Lee Winyard - that Wade had confessed to murdering an English man - was inadmissible. Mr Allan said the jury in the original trial had been “invited to change the identification of an English male to Lynda Spence - a Scottish female”. The QC indicated he had tried to challenge the evidence but this had been refused by the trial judge, Lord Pentland.

Both QCs also argued that the defence team at the original trial had not been told that Lynda Spence was a police informer until weeks before the case, which, they claimed, represented grounds for appeal. Mr Allan and Mr Jackson stated that the Crown had known of the information for a year before they disclosed it to the defence.

For the Prosecution, Solicitor General Lesley Thomson said, “The Crown position before the jury was that clearly the murder of this [English] man was a crime that had not occurred. If anyone had asked the Crown, they would have been told this was important evidence and was going to be led. This was clearly admissible evidence in the context.”

Referring to the disclosure that Ms Spence was a police informer, Ms Thomson noted, “This was an extremely finely-balanced disclosure point. The Crown position was that there were a number of people who had a grudge against Lynda Spence and who would wish to do harm to her. However, the only evidence of anyone involved in actual harm and the murder of Miss Spence lay at the door of the men in the dock.”
The Solicitor General further pointed to the words of trial judge Lord Pentland, who said the evidence against Coats and Wade was “substantial and overwhelming”.

The three appeal judges - Lord President Lord Gill, Lord Menzies and Lord Turnbull - will give their decision in writing at a later date.

'More needs to be done to create jobs' - Katy Clark

Katy Clark has welcomed the latest fall in official unemployment figures for North Ayrshire and Arran, but the local MP argues “more needs to be done to create jobs in the area”.

Labour Market Figures from the UK Government’s Office for National Statistics, published last week, show there were 2,919 people unemployed and claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance in the North Ayrshire & Arran constituency in May, down by 161 from the previous month.

Ms Clark said, “There is still much that needs to be done to bring jobs to North Ayrshire. While the overall fall in unemployment is to be welcomed, beneath the headline figure there are a number of causes for concern. North Ayrshire and Arran’s unemployment rate remains one of the highest in the United Kingdom. Long-term unemployment remains over 60 per cent-higher than it was in May 2010, and unemployment among women is also higher than it was at that date.”

The Labour MP also noted that the latest figures showed “the increase in wages over the past twelve months is only 0.7 per cent, well below the current rate of inflation,” which, Ms Clark argued, “is just the latest indication of the cost of living crisis facing those in work and caused by the [UK] Government’s austerity measures. We urgently need an alternative based on secure, well paid employment.”

Commonwealth Games athletes head to North Ayrshire

News that Scotland’s ‘track and field’ Commonwealth Games squad are to use a North Ayrshire hotel as their base in the final days before the Glasgow event gets underway next month has been welcomed by local councillors.

However, the fact that the team will travel into neighbouring East Ayrshire to train has raised questions over the lack of top-class athletics facilities in North Ayrshire. The previous Labour administration of North Ayrshire Council, which was voted out of office in 2012, signed a £380m contract in 2006 for the provision of four schools and associated sports facilities, including an athletics track at Laighdykes in Saltcoats. At the time, Labour councillors defended the multi-million-pound cost by arguing that the schools and sports facilities would be “state of the art”.

This week’s news confirms that Scotland’s athletes will stay at the Menzies Hotel in Irvine, but will use the Ayrshire Athletics Arena in Kilmarnock to hone their performance ahead of the games. Last year the3towns revealed North Ayrshire school pupils had been bussed to the Kilmarnock facility for an athletics event: the supposedly “state of the art” athletics track at Laighdykes had not been suitable.

Of the news that our Commonwealth team will be staying in North Ayrshire before relocating to the athletes village in Glasgow, the local Council’s SNP Cabinet Member for Community and Culture, Cllr Alan Hill, said, “We are really looking forward to welcoming the team, and I have no doubt they will receive a great deal of support from our local residents.

“The excitement for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games is really building here in North Ayrshire with the Queen’s Baton Relay arriving just one week ahead of the Games – as anticipation is at fever pitch.”

Cllr Hill said the Council has been working with local community groups and individuals “to make sure the celebrations are to be remembered, and the arrival of the track and field team will certainly add to the excitement.”

SNP-run Council continues to improve

North Ayrshire Council is making significant improvements to its performance in key areas, according to an independent review of Scottish councils.

Each year the Improvement Service's Local Government Benchmarking Report focuses on a number of key indicators across all 32 local authorities, which is then used by North Ayrshire to compare performance with other councils.

Meeting last Tuesday (June 17), NAC’s ruling SNP Cabinet heard that the report showed progress was being made by the Council, despite the local area continuing to experience high levels of unemployment and deprivation.

A Council spokesperson said, “Many of these tie into a separate Audit Scotland report which highlights the changing role of Councils, the importance of Councillors, the need to meet residents’ needs while reducing spending, and the requirement for strong leadership.

“A number of Council services are among the very highest-performing in Scotland, including: the highest percentage of people satisfied with their library service (97%); no rental income lost through empty Council houses – the best in the country; second-highest performance for Council houses already meeting national housing quality standards (96%).”

The report also identified significant improvements made by the Council over the past year, including an increase in the amount of self-directed funding for social care and a greater number of school leavers going on to training, employment or further education.

Two issues flagged-up as requiring more action from the Council were the speed at which it makes invoice payments and the overall condition of Council properties.

SNP councillor Willie Gibson, Leader of North Ayrshire Council, said, “I am delighted by the progress being made, particularly in some really key areas.

"We want to build upon these successes and remain determined to continue to improve the local economy, reduce deprivation and provide the best possible service to local people.

"We certainly won't be resting on our laurels - our ambition is to take every 'good' service in North Ayrshire and make it 'great'.

“It is clearly pleasing to see the positives in the report. However, the value lies in identifying where we must improve in the future.

“We continue to measure our progress so that we can continue to improve and ensure our services provide the very best value for the people of North Ayrshire.”

Health staff bet on tackling bowel cancer

NHS Ayrshire & Arran's Detect Cancer Early team have been targeting local bookmakers to help raise awareness of bowel cancer and the importance of screening.

Health Promotion staff have been dropping-into William Hill bookies in local towns where they spoke to customers about the importance of early detection.

An NHS spokesperson said, “The sessions were well received by customers and generated some great discussions. For those who wanted to find out more, the team were on hand to provide a range of information about signs and symptoms to look out for and explain how to take the home screening test.”

Hazel Henderson, Consultant in Public Health, added, “Bowel cancer is the third most-common cancer in Scotland. When detected at an early stage it can be highly treatable and we know that nine out of ten people beat bowel cancer if it's found early. As bowel cancer is more common in men - and men are less likely to take the test than women - it's vitally important to reach them and discuss the importance of home screening.”

In Scotland, people between the ages of 50 and 74 are invited to take the screening test every two years. Those over 75 are not routinely sent the test kit, but can request one. The risk of bowel cancer increases with age and the signs and symptoms can sometimes be hidden, so taking the screening test could save your life.

The NHS spokesperson explained, “Whether or not you take the test, it's important to look out for the tell-tale signs of bowel cancer. Anyone experiencing any of the following symptoms should contact their GP: repeated bleeding from your bottom; a recent change in your poo that continues for more than six weeks, without going back to normal; watery poo on its own or with constipation - constipation on its own is less likely to be serious; severe pain in your stomach that won't go away especially after eating; you have recently lost weight without trying; you feel tired all the time and people keep saying 'you look a bit pale.”

Hazel Henderson backed her colleague, saying, “These symptoms can be caused by a few conditions and not just bowel cancer but if you have noticed any of them you should speak to your doctor right away. Even if you regularly take the test but notice any changes between screenings it is important to contact your doctor.

“There are some simple lifestyle changes that can be adopted to reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer. Suggestions include maintaining an active lifestyle and healthy weight, limiting the amount of red and processed meat that we eat each week, limiting alcohol intake, stopping smoking and eating lots of fibre, fruit and vegetables.”

Friday, 13 June 2014

Gibson blasts Unionist scaremongering

Local MSP Kenneth Gibson has branded former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown a “fully paid-up member of Project Fear” after the Labour MP claimed an independent Scotland could lose almost one-million jobs.

Mr Brown had earlier criticised his own side, the British Unionist ‘No’ campaign, for being too negative, but in a speech to the London School of Economics he then claimed Scotland could lose 962,000 jobs simply by voting for independence. The figure related to every job with any possible connection to other parts of the current United Kingdom, such as having a head office south of the border or being a Scottish company selling products to the market place in England.

Mr Brown’s nightmare analysis was based on figures provided by Professor Brian Ashcroft of Strathclyde University. Professor Ashcroft is the husband of former ‘Scottish’ Labour leader Wendy Alexander.

Reacting to Gordon Brown’s speech, Cunninghame North’s Kenneth Gibson said, “These are ridiculous claims. After a ‘YES’ vote, Scotland will continue to have a close and positive relationship with our neighbours, on an open border basis, and the rest of the UK will remain our biggest trading partner.”

Mr Gibson stated, “On the basis of Mr Brown's absurd logic, Canada should join with the United States and be governed from Washington.

“Gordon Brown supports Scotland staying part of a Westminster system that risks taking us out of the EU against our will - posing the real danger to investment and jobs in Scotland. Only a ‘YES’ vote in September will ensure that can't happen.”

The SNP MSP reflected on Mr Brown’s previous comments that the ‘No’ campaign was too negative, noting, “But here he is making scaremongering claims that don't stand up to a second's scrutiny. He is clearly a fully paid-up member of the ‘No’ campaign's Project Fear.”

Snake found in Saltcoats house

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) is looking for the owner of a two-foot-long corn snake found in a vent at a house in Lochranza Place in Saltcoats.

Officers from the SSPCA’s Animal Rescue and Re-homing Centre in Cardonald were called to Saltcoats last Wednesday (June 11), after the snake – which has been given the name ‘Slither’ – was spotted in the house vent.

Animal Rescue Officer Tricia Smith explained, “A workman discovered Slither coming out of the house through a vent and contained her until I got there.

“She's a young corn snake and we suspect she may have belonged to the previous tenant who moved out few months ago as the house is currently empty. Unfortunately, we have no means of contacting this person, so we're hoping they might recognise their pet and come forward.”

Tricia said, “It would be wonderful to return Slither to her owner if she has gone missing, but if no-one comes forward for her we'll find her a new home.”

Anyone who recognises Slither (pictured above) is asked to contact the SSPCA animal helpline on 03000 999 999.

'YES' supporters mark 100 days until referendum

Cunninghame South MSP Margaret Burgess last week joined with activists from the pro-independence ‘YES’ campaign to mark 100 days until Scots decide the country’s future in the September 18th Independence Referendum.

The SNP MSP told the3towns, “My constituency and Scotland as a whole will be best served by a ‘YES’ vote in September.

“There is no doubt that Scotland is a wealthy country, yet for so many of our people it doesn’t feel like that. Official figures show that in terms of wealth per head of population, Scotland is the 14th most prosperous in the developed world – which puts us ahead of the UK.

“In every one of the last 33 years, we’ve paid more in taxes per head than the rest of the UK. We have a rich industrial heritage, our engineering is world-renowned, and we have more top universities per head than any other country in the world.”

Mrs Burgess highlighted Scotland’s contribution to 21st Century Life Sciences, noting that 20% of the world’s penicillin is produced in North Ayrshire. “With great advances in technological, engineering and digital fields,, there is great potential for Scotland to become a global hub for the industries of the future,” said Mrs Burgess. “That’s why global credit rating agency Standard & Poors said that, even without North Sea oil and gas, an independent Scotland would qualify for its highest economic rating.”

The local MSP reflected, “In 100 days’ time, a ‘YES’ vote will give us the powers to use our great resources to build a better and fairer society.”

Praise for award-winning 'Jannie'

An Ardrossan man who works as a Janitor at Glencairn Primary School in Stevenston has been recognised as the ‘Education Supporter of the Year’ at the prestigious Scottish Education Awards.

David Hosie has worked in several local schools and has been at Glencairn Primary for the past three years. A North Ayrshire Council spokesperson said, “The support David shows the staff, parents and pupils is unparalleled. He consistently goes the extra mile and the whole school is proud to have him as part of their community.”

Ardrossan councillor Tony Gurney, the Council’s SNP Cabinet Member for Environment and Infrastructure, which oversees the school janitor service, said, “David's achievement goes to show how much we appreciate the efforts and talents of every member of staff in our schools.”

Cllr Gurney noted, “This award is acknowledgement of David's work and the appreciation of everyone at the school. It is also recognition for all our school janitors and the important part they play in our schools.

“It can be something of a cliché, but it is certainly true that David goes the extra mile for the school and is thoroughly deserving of this award.”

The Scottish Education Awards celebrate the achievements of schools, teachers and staff in all publicly-funded schools, including secondary, primary, nursery and special schools.

Backing Cllr Gurney’s comments, John Bruce, SNP Cabinet Member for Education Attainment and Achievement, said, “We have been fortunate enough to have had a lot to celebrate at the Scottish Education Awards in recent years, so I am delighted to see David join this illustrious list.

“Janitors are unsung heroes who have a vital role to play in our schools and I am delighted to see David receive such a prestigious award. He has certainly made an impact at Glencairn Primary. Whether it is support for staff, parents, pupils or indeed the whole community, there is nothing but positivity for his efforts.

“He is known for his friendly attitude, his concern for pupils' safety, taking some of the more vulnerable children under his wing and encouraging pupils to take an active role in looking after their environment. David has been a real inspiration.”

UK Government changes cause benefits hardship

Katy Clark MP has slammed the UK Coalition Government for making changes to the benefits appeals process that have caused crucial decisions to be delayed, leading to a growing backlog of cases.

In October 2013 the Westminster Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) introduced a requirement for ‘mandatory reconsideration’ of decisions to impose sanctions on benefits’ claimants. The result has been that, before a claimant can submit a formal appeal against a decision to stop their sole source of income, the person must first request that ‘reconsideration’ is given to the decision. Previously, a claimant could submit an appeal against a benefit sanction and could expect a decision within a matter of days. However, since the UK Government introduced ‘mandatory reconsideration’ before an appeal can be made, the process has been lengthened, meaning some people are left without any money for months.

Ms Clark said she is currently dealing with a number of cases where constituents have been adversely affected by the DWP’s changes to the system. The North Ayrshire Citizens Advice Service (NACAS) has also contacted the local MP regarding the plight of clients with similar experiences.

Katy Clark said, “I am appalled that the DWP have made changes to the appeals process, which rather than deliver quick decisions has created greater delays.

“Many constituents have approached me, including some who have been left with no money for months on end. This can’t be allowed to continue.”

Nina Smith from NACAS added, “From the numbers of clients we are seeing in our bureaux throughout North Ayrshire, the introduction and implementation of ‘mandatory reconsideration’ is causing widespread frustration and hardship.

“Since the introduction of ‘mandatory reconsideration’, NACAS has helped with over 200 request applications, of which less than 20-percent have received decisions from the Department for Work and Pensions.”

Ms Smith highlighted a number of clients with long-term health conditions had been forced to “engage with the Jobcentre to ensure some payment until a decision on their benefit position has been reached.”

Labour MP Katy Clark has written to the DWP about the problems caused by the introduction of ‘mandatory reconsideration’ of benefits sanctions.

Survey: 'significant improvement' in Council performance

North Ayrshire Council has found that staff are more positive about the future and more confident about the way the local authority is progressing, according to a new employee survey.

The Council asked staff for their views on two specific areas - Leadership and Management of Change and Communication within the Council - which had been highlighted as areas of concern in a comprehensive survey undertaken two years ago.

On Tuesday (June 17), senior SNP councillors in the decision-making Cabinet will hear that engagement among staff has increased by 10% - from 55% to 65% - since 2012, at a time when many public sector organisations have struggled just to maintain levels.

A North Ayrshire spokesperson said, “Employee engagement is an important part of the Council’s work and seeks to ensure staff feel they are valued, are keen to think about how they can improve services, help other members of staff and promote a positive attitude to work.

“The survey demonstrates that Council employees have seen significant improvements in two key areas – leadership and the way change is being managed by the Council and the quality of the communications made in the workplace. These subjects formed part of the original 2012 questionnaire and were considered by staff to be in most need of attention.”

According to the spokesperson, “The most significant improvement flagged-up by the new survey’s findings was in relation to employees' confidence that senior Council directors and managers have a clear vision for the future. The latest survey showed an increase to 40.3 per cent, a rise of 14.3 per cent on the 2012 results.”


There was a similar increase in employees’ confidence in the ability of directors to manage the Council’s budget and spending at a time of real financial challenge caused by cuts to public spending imposed by the UK Government in London.

A total of 2,129 employees returned the survey, which represents 31.8 per cent of the Council workforce.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Death at holiday park

Police Scotland have confirmed that a 28-year-old man has been detained in connection with a death at the Sandylands Holiday Park in Saltcoats last Thursday night (June 5).

Emergency services were called to the caravan park off James Miller Crescent at around 11.30pm. A 41-year-old man had been stabbed and was treated by paramedics but was subsequently pronounced dead at the scene.

Specialist forensic officers were called in to examine the area where it was said a fight had taken place at the caravan park. Police indicated they were "following a positve line of enquiry".

Much of the area around Sandylands remained cordoned-off by police on Friday (June 6) as investigations continued.

A post-mortem was due to be carried out to determine the exact cause of death.

The arrest of the 28-year-old man in connection with the incident at Sandylands was confirmed by Police Scotland on Friday evening.  However, anyone who witnessed what happened during Thursday night's violent incident is asked to still contact the police by calling 101.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Local bands hope to 'Rock the House'

Two local bands have been nominated for awards in the ‘Rock the House’ event, a competition held through the UK Parliament in London and which seeks to raise awareness of the importance of protecting intellectual property rights in music.

To take part, bands and musicians must submit material to their local MP – in this case North Ayrshire & Arran’s Katy Clark – who has the job of nominating one entrant in each category. A panel of industry executives then chooses the finalists and winners.

Katy Clark nominated Less Than Sober in two categories – ‘Band’ and ‘Music Video’ – while Bittersweet Blasphemy received the nod for ‘Under-19 Band’.

Ms Clark told the3towns, “North Ayrshire and Arran has impressive musicians and it is a pleasure to endorse their work to the panel of industry-leading judges who will preside over determining the overall winners.

“I wish Less Than Sober and Bittersweet Blasphemy the best of luck as the competition progresses.”

Judges are due to pick five finalists in each category on June 15th, with the winners announced on July 1st following a ‘battle of the bands’ at London’s Bedford in Balham.

One of the people who will pick the winners, Queen guitarist Brian May, said, “It is a great honour to back Rock the House. The UK is a hotbed of musical talent from all genres, and if the British music industry is going to grow and thrive then musicians need to be able to make a living from selling their product. This competition gives all musicians, from all backgrounds, the chance to get out there and make live music.”

Organisers describe the competition as “an opportunity for MPs to engage with a grass-roots creative demographic, and to provide the creative community with a vehicle through which to communicate their issues to legislators”.

Meeting hears positive case for 'YES' vote

The latest pro-independence public meeting organised by YES Scotland in North Ayrshire attracted a very large crowd to the Volunteer Rooms in Irvine.

Chaired by former SNP MSP Kay Ullrich, the meeting heard from Jeanne Freeman of Women for Independence, Alex Bell of Labour for Independence and Robin McAlpine, director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation.

Ms Freeman explained her career path had taken in nursing, university and working as Chief Political Advisor to Jack McConnell MSP while he served as the Labour First Minister of Scotland. She told the crowd, “I believe that decisions on education, the NHS, transport and justice are better when they’re made closer to the people affected by those decisions, here in Scotland.

“Scotland’s NHS has remained true to its founding principles to deliver the highest-quality health care to all of our people, but Scotland needs full powers over the economy and welfare because people’s lives don’t exist in separate compartments.

“If we had the best education system in the world, other factors could prevent it delivering for our children. If a child goes to school hungry, or if a child goes to school upset because her parents are worrying about the pressure on granny from welfare reforms, then that child cannot take the full benefit of the education on offer. That’s why we need a ‘YES’ vote and the full powers of independence.”

Alex Bell stated that a ‘YES’ vote was the best way to secure fairness and equality in Scotland, adding, “We don’t want a society of welfare caps where people have to decide between heating and eating, or where the UK parties want to spend more of our money on Trident nuclear weapons.

“I seldom quote Tory prime ministers, but when Cameron asks ‘can you imagine waking up in a different country with a different future’, I will join with many Scots in answering ‘Yes, Prime Minister’.”

Robin McAlpine of the Jimmy Reid Foundation explained that the UK was one of the most unfair and unequal countries in Europe, saying, “A working person in the UK is likely to have the third-longest working hours and the second-lowest wages in Europe .

“Our elderly have the lowest pensions in Europe and are the third most likely to be living in poverty. Disabled people in the UK are the most likely in Europe to be living in poverty. Does anyone believe that’s good enough?”

Mr McAlpine concluded by saying, “It doesn’t have to be like that and a ‘YES’ vote gives us the opportunity to change it.”

North Ayrshire youth employment conference

SNP-run North Ayrshire Council will this week continue its campaign to improve the employment prospects of local young people.

The Council is to take part in a youth employment conference on Tuesday (June 10th) at the Menzies Hotel in Irvine. A spokesperson for the local authority explained, “Over the last few years the Council has recognised that improving the outlook for young people is key to many of the issues that affect North Ayrshire.

“This has resulted in the development of a number of positive initiatives, which have sought to reduce deprivation, encourage economic growth and give hundreds of North Ayrshire’s young people a brighter future.

“The Council recognises there are no quick fixes to address youth unemployment and that the success of these initiatives need to be built on in the coming months and years.”

At the conference, around 100 students from all over North Ayrshire will have the chance to find out about the types of employment available locally. Working with staff from Education and Skills, Economic Development, Ayrshire Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Jobcentre Plus, those attending will receive assistance related to interview techniques and the process of submitting job applications.

The event will also see several local businesses deliver workshops aimed at improving the knowledge and job prospects of young people.

Cllr John Bruce, the local Council’s SNP Cabinet Member for Education Attainment and Achievement, said, “North Ayrshire Council is leading the way when it comes to making the journey from education to employment as seamless as possible.

“The announcement of our innovative partnership with Ayrshire College is a perfect example and meets many of the recommendations of Sir Ian Wood's Commission for Developing Scotland's Young Workforce.

“Our schools have a vital role to play in addressing youth employment as they are the first to start preparing young people for the world of work. It is a long road and we recognise that we have to make inroads early on in our children’s schooling.

“We have seen positive outcomes for young people leaving school, but they are not being sustained in the longer term. We also need to support more young people into work directly after they leave school.”

Cllr Marie Burns, SNP Cabinet Member for Economy and Employment, added, “I believe we have a really strong foundation for the future.

“These events are very much focused on identifying the types of skills our young people need to kick-start their career.

“The input from local businesses has been key. After all, they know better than anyone what they want to see from young people seeking employment.

“It is heartening that a number of these businesses have already indicated they are actively seeking to recruit students directly from the event.”

Katy backs public's right to sack MPs

Local MP Katy Clark is to back an initiative that would allow the public to kick-out MPs who misbehave or whose standards fall short of constituents’ expectations.

The Queen’s Speech, delivered last week to the UK Parliament in London, set-out Tory-Lib Dem plans to introduce ‘recall’ legislation allowing for the removal of MPs who break the law. However, the Coalition Government’s plan would only apply to MPs jailed for up to 12 months or who had been deemed by a committee of fellow MPs to have “seriously misbehaved”. Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP who introduced a Members’ Bill that sought to give the public power to recall (sack) MPs, said the restrictions placed on when such action could be taken had made the proposed legislation “meaningless”.

Now, North Ayrshire & Arran MP Katy Clark has called for tougher recall regulations that would allow constituents to sack their MP if a majority indicated they had lost confidence in the politician.

Ms Clark said, “Over recent years we have seen a growing disillusionment amongst the public with politicians and the political system. This can be shown by the disappointingly low turn-out in the recent European elections. We need to look at ways of re-engaging people with the democratic process. Giving the public the power to recall MPs in whom they have lost confidence is hopefully one step that would achieve this in situations where there has been a substantial loss of confidence in an individual due to their conduct.”

Of the limited recall plan unveiled by the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government, Katy Clark said, “The proposal does not go anywhere near far enough. The power to dismiss MPs will remain in the hands of the judiciary and the House of Commons. We need a proper recall law that will deliver a genuine transfer of power away from politicians and give it to voters.”

The Labour MP now intends to work with others, on a cross-party basis, in attempting to amend the government recall Bill as it makes it way through the legislative process in the House of Commons.

New Council policy on Travellers' camps

North Ayrshire Council has outlined its powers and responsibilities when working with Gypsies and Travellers who camp in the area.

The local authority’s ruling SNP Cabinet last week agreed to create a new post, on a temporary basis, which will have the specific remit of working with unauthorised encampments to minimise any issues that might arise.

Cllr Ruth Maguire, SNP Cabinet Member for Housing, said, “The new policy agreed by the Cabinet highlights the Council’s legal obligation to support Travellers, particularly in terms of education and social care, and makes Travellers aware of their responsibilities.

“The policy explains what the Council can and cannot do when an unauthorised camp is formed. Legally, Travellers are a protected minority group and public agencies have a duty to ensure there is no discrimination and that the Traveller culture is respected.

“The Council only has the right to evict travellers from Council land in very rare circumstances – generally where there is a clear risk to public health or evidence of disorder. However, the genuine concerns of residents and businesses regarding the setting up of unauthorised encampments must be recognised and respected.”

Cllr Maguire noted, “Unlike their public equivalents, private landowners do have recourse to the law through the eviction process. The Council provides support for private landowners in this situation and will consider how best to develop and take this forward.”

The newly-agreed policy covers a range of issues, including the Council’s response to unauthorised encampments on both public and private land, response to local residents’ enquiries and complaints, determination of exceptional circumstances that warrant eviction from Council land, and support for landowners to minimise issues relating to unauthorised encampments.