Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Killers' appeals dismissed

Two killers who tortured and murdered a woman at a flat in West Kilbride have lost their appeal against conviction and the length of jail-terms received.

Colin Coats from Glasgow and Philip Wade of Glengarnock (both aged 43) were given life-sentences when convicted in April 2013 at the High Court in Glasgow: a minimum term of 33 years was imposed on Coats, while Wade must serve at least 30 years.

Both were found guilty of abducting, torturing and murdering 27 year-old financial advisor Lynda Spence.  Ms Spence was last seen near her parents’ home in Glasgow on April 14 2011: her body has never been found.

The original trial heard that Coats and Wade held Lynda Spence at a flat in Meadowfoot Road in West Kilbride and had tortured her while she was taped to a chair.  In harrowing evidence, it was described how Ms Spence had been repeatedly hit with golf clubs, was burned with an iron and had one of her thumbs cut off.

It was claimed by the Crown in the original trial that Ms Spence was abducted, brutally beaten and killed because Colin Coats had given the Glasgow woman a number of loans, totalling around £85,000, which had not been repaid.

In appealing the conviction and sentence, legal representatives for Coats and Wade claimed Lord Pentland, the original trial judge, had erred by refusing defence objections to evidence that Wade had previously spoken to others about the alleged killing of a man.  Defence counsel also argued that the Prosecution had failed to give adequate disclosure of the fact that Lynda Spence was a police informer, specifically for the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency.

However, a panel of Scotland’s most senior judges, sitting at the Court of Criminal Appeal, today (July 29) found the evidence against Coats and Wade in the original trial had been “overwhelming” and that there had been no miscarriage of justice.  The appeals of both men were dismissed.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Electoral plan could divide Saltcoats

Saltcoats could be split into two different electoral areas if plans by North Ayrshire Council are accepted by the Boundary Commission for Scotland.

The controversial idea was backed at last Wednesday’s meeting of the Council and will now be submitted to the Commission. Three Towns Independent councillors Ronnie McNicol and John Hunter voted against the move but a majority of the SNP administration and Labour councillors supported the proposed change.

In a paper presented to the Council meeting, Chief Executive Elma Murray argued boundary changes to electoral Wards (the areas represented by councillors) are necessary to align them with Neighbourhood Planning Areas and to comply with Boundary Commission recommendations in terms of the number of electors in each Ward.

Currently North Ayrshire has 30 councillors, but Ms Murray’s paper set-out “exceptional circumstances” that she believes justify the district receiving an additional 5 elected members. The Boundary Commission will not consider submissions on Ward changes until next year.

Under the Council’s proposals, the current two Wards of Ardrossan & Arran and Saltcoats & Stevenston would become Ardrossan & Saltcoats West and Stevenston & Saltcoats East. The division of Saltcoats is recommended despite the Chief Executive’s paper acknowledging Boundary Commission guidance that, as far as possible, “towns should not be split between Wards”.

In other proposed changes, the Isle of Arran would find itself in a Ward with West Kilbride and Fairlie. In addition, new Wards of Dalry & Kilbirnie West, Beith & Kilbirnie East, and Largs, Skelmorlie & Cumbrae would be created. Changes would also apply to Wards in Irvine but Kilwinning would remain as an electoral area on its own.

On recommending North Ayrshire should have an extra 5 councillors, Chief Executive Elma Murray states, “The justification is that this is the best means of aligning Wards with Neighbourhood Planning Areas. Those Neighbourhood Planning Areas best represent communities, both in terms of geography and demographics.”

Ms Murray noted, “If the Commission agree 35 councillors, further work will be undertaken during 2015 to determine the exact boundaries of Wards. This could also involve splitting polling districts to provide a more natural geographical boundary.”

Ex-offenders raise funds for neonatal unit

Ayrshire Maternity Hospital’s Neonatal Unit, which cares for premature babies and new births who develop medical problems, has received a whopping donation of £1,898.33 from a group of ex-offenders.

Based at North Ayrshire Council’s Criminal Justice office in Stevenston, 'The Thistle MAG' is made up of men who have all served prison sentences but have now vowed to repay their communities and help others avoid the mistakes they made in the past.

In April, the group organised a five-a-side football tournament, which also involved teams from a number of different agencies, including the Police and prison officers. As a result, almost £1,900 was raised, which the men decided to donate to the Neonatal Unit based in the Maternity facility at Crosshouse Hospital. One of the Thistle MAG group has a son who was looked after by the dedicated staff at the unit.

Lynne Pollock, Neonatal Unit Co-ordinator, said, “We would like to say a big thank you to the group for this amazing donation and, of course, to everyone who took part in the football tournament. This will go towards the babies we look after, who need that little bit of extra care.”

Concerns over price of milk

Katy Clark MP is supporting Saltcoats-based milkman Stewart Currie over concerns that the dominant position of two major companies could be having a negative impact on the price of milk and door-step deliveries.

Following a meeting with Mr Currie, the local MP has written to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) asking them to investigate possible price-fixing in the dairy industry.

Ms Clark explained, “I have written to the CMA to raise concerns over the behaviour of milk companies and their dominance in the marketplace. Mr Currie is a local milkman and has given me examples of a supermarket chain selling milk for 30p less than he is forced to pay when buying from the same dairy company that supplies the supermarket.

“This undercutting has led to a steep decline in the home-delivery of milk. Mr Currie has informed me that Graham’s Dairies have purchased Quothquan Dairies, which was the third largest dairy in Scotland. As such, Mr Currie is now only able to purchase from either Wiseman Dairies or Graham’s Dairies."

In 2008 the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) dropped an investigation into six Scottish dairies accused of price fixing, including Graham’s, Quothquan and Wiseman. The OFT had alleged collusion on pricing, price rises and arrangements not to compete. The watchdog said there was insufficient evidence against the firms, despite two-years earlier stating it had provisionally found they had engaged in price-fixing or market sharing.

Of the current situation, Katy Clark said, “The price rises continue to place a burden on small and medium businesses, and are threatening the already struggling work of milkmen and women. These workers provide a vital service for the elderly or those who are house-bound, as well as being a visible presence within our communities.”

The Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran has asked the Competition and Markets Authority to “investigate thoroughly” the concerns raised with her by Stewart Currie.

Funding announcement for energy efficiency

Local MSP Margaret Burgess has announced the latest phase of the Green Homes Cashback scheme, which means social landlords can now apply for a share of £4.5m in funding for energy efficiency measures.

Speaking in her capacity as the SNP Scottish Government’s Minister for Housing & Welfare, Mrs Burgess said, “Energy efficiency measures can make a huge difference to families who are struggling to make ends meet, and social landlords will now be able to apply for up to £250,000 in funding to help drive-down the cost of tenants’ fuel bills.

“Scotland is outperforming the UK in the delivery of home energy efficiency measures and the Green Homes Cashback scheme will save money on fuel bills and cut emissions.”

The MSP for Cunninghame South revealed the SNP Government will spend almost a quarter of a billion pounds over a three year period on fuel poverty and energy efficiency, adding, “With the full powers of independence, we plan to permanently transfer responsibility for ECO and Warm Homes Discount from energy companies to the Scottish Government, meeting these costs from central resources and maintaining investment in energy efficiency.

“By passing-on these long-term reductions to their consumers, companies will be able to reduce bills year on year, in contrast to the UK Government’s short term fix.”

The Green Homes Cashback scheme provides funding to individual households and social landlords towards the cost of measures such as boiler upgrades and home insulation.

David Stewart, Policy Manager from the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, said the announcement from Mrs Burgess was “a timely boost for housing associations and cooperatives as they look to improve the energy efficiency of their homes”.

Mr Stewart noted, “While our members have the most energy-efficient homes in Scotland, recent above inflation increases in domestic energy prices means that investment in measures providing affordable warmth for tenants is a priority.

“The announcement of this fund is particularly welcome as it will support investment in the more expensive measures necessary to improve hard to treat homes, such as solid wall insulation.”

Workers needed for Independence Referendum

In an unusual move, North Ayrshire Council is to offer local residents the chance of ‘working’ at polling places on September 18th as Scotland votes in the Independence Referendum.

Positions counting the votes are also up for grabs, but anyone with a link to either the YES or No campaigns can forget about applying.

Normally, positions at polling places and as vote-counters are filled by Council staff, but on this occasion the local authority is inviting applications for the roles. Each position will pay £150, but vote-counters should be aware that it will involve a nightshift. The count across Scotland will take place overnight with the aim that Scots will know the result when they get up on the morning of September 19th.

There are three positions available, which the Council describe as:

Polling Clerk – involves assisting the Returning Officer, Presiding Officer and election office staff to ensure the smooth running of Polling Stations, and to enable voters to cast their votes in secret, free from influence and in a calm atmosphere.

Information Officer – which will include working with Presiding Officers and Polling Clerks within a Polling Place, greeting voters and directing them quickly and efficiently to the correct polling station to allow them to cast their vote.

Enumerator - working within the Verification/Count team. Enumerators are responsible for counting the number of ballot papers in a ballot box then sorting them according to the voters' choice. Duties are undertaken in a pressurised environment where a high degree of accuracy and concentration is required.

The Council also makes clear that successful candidates will be required to attend training sessions and to “undertake appropriate testing”.

Application forms for the referendum positions are available here and should be returned to the Council by Friday (August 1st).

New assessment unit for Crosshouse Hospital

A multi-million pound investment by the SNP Scottish Government will see the creation of a new Combined Assessment Unit (CAU) at Crosshouse Hospital, the main medical facility serving residents of North Ayrshire.

Bam Construction has began preparatory work for the CAU, which is to be built alongside the existing Emergency Department and will include 35 en-suite bedrooms, as well as new patient assessment and ambulatory care areas. An NHS Ayrshire & Arran spokesperson said, “The unit will provide the physical environment needed to allow patients to be rapidly assessed and either discharged safely or admitted to a specialty ward for further care and treatment.”

Construction of the CAU is part of the Building for Better Care programme, a major development to provide new fit-for-purpose facilities at the 'front doors' of Crosshouse and Ayr hospitals. Over the next three years, £27.5m will be invested to help provide what the local NHS describes as “safe, effective and person-centred urgent and emergency care for patients coming to hospital for anything other than a scheduled appointment”.

Liz Moore, NHS Ayrshire & Arran’s Director for Acute Services, said, “This is a fantastic development and it's great to see that work is now underway. The Combined Assessment Unit will mean improvements in the way patients are assessed, treated, admitted or safely discharged when they come to hospital in an emergency.

"There will be some short-term disruption while we get ready for the new unit and this will mean the temporary loss of some car-parking spaces. We appreciate everyone's patience during this period.”

Once preparatory work is complete, construction of the CAU is scheduled to begin in October, with completion expected by February 2016.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Ardrossan Library future secured

North Ayrshire Council’s decision to provide a national charity with unused office accommodation will help secure the future of Ardrossan Library.

That was the news to emerge this week after the Council’s ruling SNP Cabinet agreed to transfer ownership of offices formerly used as the district’s library headquarters. The facility, which has lain empty for three years, is located within the same building as Ardrossan Library in Princes Street. The charity has indicated it will spend in the region of £500,000 upgrading their part of the building to accommodate a day-care centre for people who have communication support needs as a result of deafness, blindness, sensory impairment, learning or physical disability. Sense Scotland has also stated as many as 40 personnel could be employed at the facility, with many of the posts likely to be filled locally.

Ardrossan councillor Tony Gurney, a member of the SNP Cabinet, said the move makes clear the administration’s commitment to retaining Ardrossan Library in its current location. “For too long there has been uncertainty about the future of Ardrossan Library,” said Cllr Gurney, “but the new partnership with Sense Scotland not only delivers the potential to create up to forty jobs in Ardrossan town centre, it secures the future of the building and with it the library.”

Mr Gurney said the prospect of breathing new life into a town centre building that had been vacant for three years, while safeguarding the library in its current location presented an “exciting opportunity” for Ardrossan.

In addition to traditional books, Ardrossan Library will continue to offer e-books and magazines, music downloads and DVDs, films, audio-books, access to computers and free wifi, alongside a range of hard-copy and online research and reference materials.

The Library opening times remain: Monday and Thursday – 1.00pm-5.00pm and 6.00pm-7.30pm; Tuesday and Friday – 10.00am-1.00pm and 2.00pm-5.30pm; Saturday – 10.00am-1.00pm and 2.00pm-5.00pm. The facility is closed on Wednesdays.

North Ayrshire Libraries' Twitter feed can be found here.

Potential management job-losses at Morrison's

Katy Clark MP has expressed concerns for the jobs of managers and supervisors in local branches of the Morrison’s supermarket chain.

The company has embarked on a statutory consultation period with workers, and has indicated it intends to change its management structure to introduce what it describes as “simpler, smarter ways of working”. Morrison’s confirms the move is expected to result in the loss of around 2,600 managers and supervisors in stores across the country.

With supermarkets in Stevenston and Largs, some of the job-losses could affect local Morrison’s workers.

Katy Clark told the3towns, “I have written to Morrison’s, asking them to provide a detailed breakdown of what job-losses are being planned on a store-by-store basis. Although focusing on management and not the wider workforce, the loss of any skilled jobs within the constituency will be detrimental. Both the Largs and Stevenston branches may be affected and I am looking for urgent confirmation about what this impact would be.”

The Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran revealed shop-workers trade union Usdaw has met with Morrison’s senior management to agree principles for the consultation. Ms Clark said, “I would advise any Morrison’s staff concerned about the process to contact their union representative and engage fully in any consultation, and I would urge Morrison’s to look at redeployment and re-training as an alternative to making staff redundant.”

The Bradford-based supermarket chain posted an annual loss of £176m in the year to February and recently announced a 7.1% drop in quarterly sales. Despite the poor corporate performance, company Chief Executive Dalton Philips received a basic salary of £850,000.

Burgess blasts UK benefits sanctions

Margaret Burgess MSP has revealed that figures obtained by the SNP have found a “staggering increase” in the number of people being hit by benefit sanctions imposed by the UK Government’s Department for Work & Pensions.

The MSP for the local constituency of Cunninghame South said, “Those hit by sanctions can have their benefits taken away for a fixed period of anything from a week to three years.

"These figures show that lone parents have been hit the hardest, with a staggering 563 percent increase in sanctions since 2009. There has also been a 65 percent increase in the number of disabled people being sanctioned and a 76 percent increase in women having their benefits removed.”

Mrs Burgess, also the SNP Scottish Government’s Minister for Housing & Welfare, said she is worried lone parents are the hardest hit group, saying, “This sets alarm bells ringing about the impact of the policy on children in North Ayrshire and across Scotland.

"We already have analysis from the Child Poverty Action Group showing that 100,000 more children in Scotland face being pushed into poverty by 2020.

“The 65 percent increase in disabled people being hit is also cause for major concern. A welfare system should be supporting and empowering people with disabilities, not making life more difficult for them.”

Mrs Burgess blasted the Tory-led UK Government, noting, “In the week when David Cameron promotes a few more female Tory MPs, supposedly to show his party’s commitment to equality for women, these figures give the game away: in the real world women are bearing the brunt with 69 percent of welfare cuts falling on them.

“Evidence of Westminster’s failure on welfare grows by the day, with a four-fold increase in the number of people relying on foodbanks as a result of the UK obsession with dismantling the welfare state.

“The Scottish Government continues to do what it can to mitigate the impact of welfare cuts, but with the full powers of independence we could do so much more. In an independent Scotland we can build a welfare state that empowers people, tackling poverty and helping to bring about the fairer Scotland we all want to see.”

MP questions UK military sales to Israel

As Israel increases its attacks on the people of Gaza by launching a ground invasion in addition to air and sea bombardments, local MP Katy Clark has questioned the Tory-Lib Dem Government on military links between the United Kingdom and Israel.

According to a 2013 report by the Westminster Committee on Arms Export Controls, there were over 380 Standard Individual Export Licenses and Open Individual Export Licenses granted to UK companies in relation to supplying military hardware and components to Israel. The value of the contracts was put at £7.8billion.

Included amongst equipment supplied to the Israeli government by UK companies were components for drones and military combat vehicles, and technology for small-arms ammunition.

In 2009 the UK Foreign Secretary confirmed that components manufactured in Britain were almost certainly used by the Israelis during a previous invasion and bombardment of Gaza.

Katy Clark last week asked the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills if he will suspend all standard individual export licences and open individual export licences to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories until at least such time as a ceasefire in the present conflict has been established. The Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran also asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will investigate whether any UK-manufactured weapons or components have been used by Israeli military forces during the current offensive, which the Tel Aviv Government calls Operation Protective Edge.

In addition, Ms Clark has questioned UK Ministers on whether or not they believe Israel has complied with international legal obligations during the recent military action, and has asked what steps the UK Government will take to assist Palestinians who have been made homeless.

Katy Clark said, “Like many, I have been appalled to hear the reports of civilian deaths in Israel and the occupied territories. The footage of four Palestinian children killed by an Israeli missile while playing on a beach was particularly disturbing.

“I believe the [UK] Government now needs to review its military relations with Israel as a matter of urgency. It cannot be right that British-manufactured weapons and components can continue to be exported to Israel at a time when increasing numbers of civilians, including children and disabled people, are dying as a result of Israeli air and naval strikes.

“If we are going to have a lasting peace in the region we need to bring about an end to these outbreaks of violence. The UK, rightly, does not sell weapons to Hamas but it now needs to take an even-handed approach and end its military ties with Israel until a fair and lasting peace is secured.”

Pensioners will be better-off with independence

Local MSP Margaret Burgess has condemned the UK Government for “refusing to come clean” on the level at which the single-tier state pension would be set in 2016, if Scotland was to remain part of the British Union.

The SNP MSP contrasted the UK Government’s stance with the openness of the Scottish Government, saying, “We have been clear that new pensioners in an independent Scotland can expect to receive £160 per week on the single-tier pension from 2016. However, Westminster refuses to reveal what the UK rate would be.

“We’ve asked David Cameron and other UK party leaders to come clean, but it’s clear they’ve no intention of doing this before the referendum.

“All Westminster will say is that the new single-tier pension rate will be slightly above the minimum guarantee. That’s currently set at £148.35 per week, so a fair estimate of the UK single-tier pension rate will be around £155 per week in 2016. With independence, new pensioners in Scotland receiving the Single-Tier Pension will get £160 per week.”

The figures equate to pensioners in an independent Scotland being £260 a year better-off in terms of the state pension alone.

Mrs Burgess, MSP for Cunninghame South, said, “The Scottish Government is also committed to introducing a pensions triple-lock with independence. This means that pensions will increase either by the rate of inflation, the rise in earnings or 2.5 percent, whichever is highest.

“On top of this, we can establish a state pension age that meets Scotland’s needs, and immediately review Westminster’s plans to increase the retirement age to 67.

“Scotland has paid more tax per head than the rest of the UK for each and every one of the last 30 years, so spending on pensions is more affordable for Scotland. The figures show that 38 percent of Scottish tax revenues are spent on social protection, including pensions, compared to 42 percent for the UK as a whole.”

In addition to representing a local constituency, Margaret Burgess is also the SNP Scottish Government Minister for Housing & Welfare. She noted, “The Westminster parties cannot get away with hiding the truth from Scotland’s older people. They must come clean about how much our new pensioners stand to lose as part of the UK.

“Only independence will deliver the powers we need to bring about a fairer deal for our pensioners and ensure we have a pension system that is right for Scotland.”

Chance to recognise high-performing Council staff

North Ayrshire Council has launched a search to find staff members who have gone the extra mile on behalf of the public.

Residents and customers are being invited to nominate individuals or groups of employees who have provided exemplary service. The ‘North Ayrshire Achieves’ awards recognise and reward those who have gone above and beyond what was expected in delivering services to local people and communities.

A Council spokesperson said, “Submissions have started coming in for the ‘Going the Extra Mile’ category of the annual awards scheme – but there is still time to enter. Nominations can be submitted online or by completing forms that are available from libraries, local Council Offices or the Customer Service Centre at Bridgegate House in Irvine.”

The closing date for receipt of nominations is noon on September 12th. Winners will be announced at the North Ayrshire Achieves presentation in November.

Nomination forms can be completed and submitted here.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Local flute band selling Better Together t-shirts.

Attempts by the anti-independence Better Together campaign to distance itself from the pro-British Union and staunchly protestant Orange movement have been undermined by a local flute band selling Better Together t-shirts.

The official position of Better Together, which it was this week revealed is funded primarily by London-based millionaires and supporters of the Conservative Party, states that the Orange Order “isn’t part of our campaign and never will be”. This official opposition to Orange involvement in the British Unionist campaign was reiterated last weekend by senior Labour MP Jim Murphy. Following an Orange parade in Glasgow, at which a 12 year-old girl was gashed on the forehead by a flying bottle after a fight broke out, Mr Murphy said he was “disgusted” and called for the cancellation of a planned Orange Order march in support of the British Union, which is scheduled to take place in Edinburgh on the weekend before the September 18 referendum on independence. Jim Murphy added, “Better Together want nothing to do with the Orange Order.”

However, the3towns can reveal that the Ardrossan Winton Flute Band is selling Better Together t-shirts, alongside another that proclaims “Ardrossan Winton says Naw” (see above photo). Featured on the band’s Facebook page, the t-shirts are on sale for £10.00 each.

Of the plan to hold a pro-British Union parade in Edinburgh, Robert McLean, Executive Officer of the Grand Orange Lodge, was reported saying, “It’s basically an Orange parade. It’s not just a parade for anyone. You would expect the Orange organisations to come out for a No. We are looking for between 10,000 and 15,000 members in the parade. The majority will be from Scotland but we would expect some of our lodges from Northern Ireland and England to show support.”

Reacting to calls from Jim Murphy MP that the Orange parade in support of the British Union should be cancelled, Eddy Hyde, Grand Secretary of the Orange Lodge for Scotland, said, “I don’t foresee any problems in Edinburgh. Jim is just scaremongering.”

Yes Scotland, which is campaigning for independence, said, “We fully respect that others have a different view and support their democratic right to express it in any legitimate and peaceful way they wish.”

Commonwealth baton comes to the Three Towns

Tuesday (July 15) promises to be a day to remember as the Commonwealth Games baton comes to North Ayrshire.

Locals will carry the baton across the district just eight-days before the games officially open in Glasgow. Crowds are expected to line the streets to see the event, while other attractions have been arranged in local towns to mark the occasion.

The baton has travelled through 69 Commonwealth nations on its journey to Scotland, clocking-up around 120,000 miles as it made its way through towns and villages in each location.

A total of 125 North Ayrshire residents have been given the honour of carrying the baton on Tuesday. The journey across North Ayrshire begins at 7:30am in Skelmorlie and is scheduled to reach the Three Towns at 4:35pm. Stevenston will be first to host the baton, which will be carried through the town by Gordon Cowan, Marie McWaters, Shawnie Harper and Danielle Joyce.

If all goes to plan, Saltcoats will receive the baton at 5:05pm, where it will be carried by Scott Hindmarsh, Jordan Hughes, Connie Jaffrey, Erin Cuthbert, Fiona Thomson, Gary Davidson, Christopher Main, Paul Tulloch, John MacDonald, Sophie Gallagher, Jim Young, Kevin Fawcett and Amiee Alexander.

Ardrossan gets its turn at 6:15pm: Robyn Gurney, John Graham, Amy McIntyre, Rebecca Plaistow, Erin McAuley, Stephanie Thomson, Emma Hawthorn, Colin Currie, Ross Shields, Rory Hunter, Rona Fulton, Elizabeth McKinnie, Lorraine Fitzsimons, Sharon Purdy, Daniel Abercrombie, Shirleyann Harris, Fraser Mackie, Jordan Fernando, Suzanne Fernando and Loretta Cusack are the town’s baton-carriers.

Musical entertainment will be provided at Stevenston Cross by local community radio station 3TFM during the baton’s visit to the town, while a stage will be erected at South Beach in Ardrossan where live acts will provide music throughout the afternoon. The stage will also be the location for the headline act, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, who will perform at the closing event as North Ayrshire Provost Joan Sturgeon accepts the baton on the completion of its journey across the district.

The baton’s schedule through the Three Towns is:

Stevenston: Townhead Street – 4:35pm; Main Street – 4:38pm; Boglemart Street – 4:41pm; Saltcoats Road – 4:46pm; Auchenharvie Sports Centre – 4:48pm.

Saltcoats: Canal Street – 5:04pm; Kyleshill – 5:09pm; Hill Street/Harbour Street – 5:11pm; the Braes – 5:12pm; Winton Circus – 5:19pm; Montgomerie Crescent – 5:23pm; Burn Road – 5:27pm; South Crescent Road – 5:31pm; Ardrossan Road – 5:34pm; Campbell Avenue – 5:38pm; Donaldson Avenue – 5:39pm; Jacks Road – 5:40pm; St Matthews Academy – 5:45pm; Jacks Road – 6:03pm; High Road – 6:05pm.

Ardrossan: Parkhouse Road – 6:15pm; Glasgow Street – 6:28pm; Princes Street – 6:34pm; South Crescent Road – 6:38pm.

Road closures and diversions will be in place along the baton’s route.

Expansion of school meals provision creates new jobs

North Ayrshire Council’s ruling SNP Cabinet is this week expected to announce plans for the increased provision of school meals.

The move comes after the SNP Scottish Government introduced free school meals for every pupil in the first three years of primary school (P1-P3). With the local Council also embarking on an initiative to encourage more secondary pupils to have their lunchtime meal in school, it is anticipated overall demand could increase by 2,000 meals per day. To meet the additional demand, the SNP-run Council plans to increase from 25 to 30 the number of kitchens cooking school meals in the district, which would require the recruitment of an additional 36 new members of staff (22 full-time-equivalent positions) by January 2015.

Currently, local schools have a range of groups linking to health and well-being and are being asked to include discussions on measures to increase the uptake of school meals, and to consider existing meal choices on their healthy schools agenda. Each Secondary school has carried out a pupil survey on school meals during May and June for pupils in years 1-3. The outcomes of the survey will be analysed by Council officials and will form the basis of developing the next phase of marketing and planning of initiatives for 2014/15.

Over the past academic year, the uptake of school meals in North Ayrshire was 46.7%, exceeding the local authority target of 44%. School meals staff have also received a number of external awards for their work.

Cooking facilities at Hayocks Primary in Stevenston and Caledonia Primary in Saltcoats are expected to be upgraded to ‘hub kitchen’ status as part of the initiative to be announced this week, meaning they will take on the roll of preparing meals for other schools in addition to serving their own pupils.

The total cost to North Ayrshire Council of providing additional meals, recruiting extra staff and upgrading kitchen facilities is expected to come in at around £290,000, some of which will be met from funding provided by the SNP Scottish Government.

In related news, Council catering staff at the Tournament Cafe in Kilwinning’s Eglinton Park last week picked up a prestigious prize at the UK-wide Local Authority Catering Association Awards. The local workers took the Specialist Catering Team award and were amongst the finalists in the Catering Business of the Year Award.

Ardrossan councillor Tony Gurney, North Ayrshire’s SNP Cabinet Member for Environment and Infrastructure, praised all catering staff employed by the local authority, saying the latest award is “a reminder of just how wide the team's remit is - from our award-winning school catering team's nutritious, healthy menus to ensuring visitors to Eglinton Park can enjoy the highest quality of food”.

Council set to dispose of former library HQ

SNP councillors will this week consider a report that could see the former library headquarters in Ardrossan’s Princes Street gifted to a charity that works with children, young people and adults who have communication support needs as a result of deafness, blindness, sensory impairment, learning or physical disability.

Described as the ‘north wing’ of the building that also houses Ardrossan Library, a Council report lists the premises as having been vacant for around three years “with little evidence to suggest that an alternative use can easily be developed”.

As a result, North Ayrshire’s SNP Cabinet will be asked to agree a plan that would see the former offices handed over to Sense Scotland. The part of the building in question was valued in 2013 at £240,000. However, with little prospect of selling the property, and with annual repair and maintenance costs of around £45,000, it is expected councillors will back the move to allow Sense Scotland to take over the facility.

In a report to be considered at this week’s Cabinet meeting, Laura Friel, the Council’s Corporate Director (Finance and Corporate Support), indicates that Sense Scotland proposes to invest around £500,000 in the Ardrossan building, creating a facility called ‘Touchbase Ayrshire’, which would deliver a base for adult and children support services; provide therapy, art, music and sensory activities; create a base for outreach services within the North Ayrshire area; accommodate personal care suites; provide a sensory garden and after school care; with the potential for also creating a cyber café.

Sense Scotland was formed as a charity in 1985, initially as a small group of families pressing for services for their children who were affected by deaf-blindness, many because of maternal rubella. The charity has since expanded to support thousands of disabled people and their families in projects and services throughout Scotland.

The transfer of a property at less than market value requires the Council to comply with the requirements of the ‘Disposal of Land by Local Authorities (Scotland) Regulations 2010’, part of which states a council must be satisfied that the use to which the building will be put must be reasonable and contribute to economic development or regeneration, health, social well-being or environmental well-being.

A ‘clawback’ provision will be included as part of the proposed transaction with the charity, which states that should Sense Scotland dispose of its interest for a purpose other than a day-care facility, or to an organisation that is not a registered charity, then the Council will be entitled to recover 50% of the market value of the property. This provision will remain in force for a period of 10 years from the date on which Sense Scotland enters the property. In addition, should Sense Scotland fail to commence with refurbishment works within 12 months of concluding missives, or fail to commence with service delivery within 24 months, the Council will have the right to re-acquire the property for £1.00.

Sense Scotland has indicated its proposed new facility will create 40 new jobs, with the intention being that many of the positions will be filled locally.

Margaret supports ENABLE Scotland

Margaret Burgess MSP recently met with North Ayrshire activists from ENABLE Scotland as the Scottish Parliament marked the charity's 60th anniversary.

ENABLE Scotland works with people who have learning disabilities, and members of the charity took the opportunity of their visit to parliament to raise with MSPs the pressing issues facing those requiring ongoing support.

Margaret Burgess told the3towns, “I was delighted to be able to attend ENABLE Scotland’s 60th anniversary celebration at the Parliament. It was a real pleasure to see so many people from communities across Scotland, including North Ayrshire.”

Mrs Burgess welcomed a Scottish Parliament motion recognising the rights of people who have learning disabilities, adding, “I was delighted to wear my ENABLE Scotland tartan to raise awareness throughout Learning Disability Week.”

The SNP MSP for Cunninghame South wished ENABLE Scotland and all its supporters “another successful 60 years”.

Peter Scott, the charity’s Chief Executive Officer, said, “Our anniversary mission to give every person with a learning disability the choice and control to live their lives how they choose was again brought into sharp focus by our recent pilgrimage to the Scottish Parliament.”

Volunteers raise an amazing £260,000 for hospital

Volunteers at Crosshouse Hospital have presented NHS Ayrshire & Arran with an amazing £260,000.

The presentation of the cheque, which took place at the Volunteers’ Annual General Meeting, means that the total amount they have raised since March 2001 now stands at a whopping £3,145,367. The money has been raised by activities throughout Crosshouse Hospital, including running the shop, the café and a ward trolley-service. In 2006 Volunteers also opened a small café and shop in the adjacent Ayrshire Maternity Unit.

NHS Ayrshire & Arran say the generous donation will be used to fund a range of equipment for patients, including the Motomed - a passive, assisted or fully-active exercise system for people with limited mobility.

Kirsty Darwent, Vice-Chair of Ayrshire & Arran NHS Board, thanked the Volunteers for their commitment and hard work in raising such a large sum of money, adding, “Our Volunteers work hard everyday in our hospitals and expect nothing in return. I am humbled by their endless willingness to give their time and energy and their enthusiasm in raising so much money for the hospital year after year.

“The Volunteers provide an invaluable service for patients, visitors and staff alike. Their dedication and commitment to University Hospital Crosshouse is inspiring. We are extremely grateful to them for their efforts and continued generosity.

“I would personally like to thank each and every Volunteer for their contribution to the hospital - it is a pleasure and a privilege to work with them.”

Friday, 4 July 2014

British Unionist vandalism costs local taxpayers

British Unionist vandals are still defacing local road sings, including some that seek to keep children safe near primary schools (see above photos, taken last week).

the3towns first revealed the problem in September 2012, when stickers backing a group called ‘Union Bears’ began to appear on signs in Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston.  Since then the content of stickers posted by vandals has included football and political slogans, including ones targeted at September’s Independence Referendum, stating ‘Maintain the Union’.

Parents of local children have branded the sticker-posters as “idiots” after safety signs instructing motorists to slow down near schools were completely obscured.

North Ayrshire Council staff have been dealing with the pro-British Union vandalism for almost two years, with costs mounting as some signs are so badly damaged by the stickers they have to be replaced.  Repair and replacement charges are met from the limited funds held by the cash-strapped council, which is funded by local taxpayers.

the3towns understands councillors have raised the vandalism in meetings with Police Scotland.