Friday, 28 November 2014

Clare's Law active in North Ayrshire

The Domestic Abuse Disclosure Scheme is now active across Ayrshire. revealed in August that the SNP Scottish Government had decided to pilot the initiative in two areas – Ayrshire and Aberdeen.  If the trial proves successful, the scheme will be rolled-out across Scotland next year.

Also known as Clare’s Law, the Domestic Abuse Disclosure Scheme allows people to find out if their partner has a history of domestic violence.  Calls for such an initiative grew after 36-year-old Manchester woman Clare Wood was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2009.  Clair had met George Appleton on Facebook and had no idea about his history of violence against women, which included threats, repeated harassment and the kidnapping at knifepoint of an ex-girlfriend. 

Between 2003/04 and 2011/12 the rate of domestic abuse incidents responded to by Police in North Ayrshire increased by 90.5% - from 996 to 1,897. However, following a range of initiatives operated by North Ayrshire Council, partner agencies and support groups, the number of incidents has fallen for the first time since 2003/04. The figure dropped by 77 in 2012/13 compared with the previous 12 months, which represents a 4.2% reduction.

Despite the fall, North Ayrshire continues to have Scotland’s highest-level of reported incidents of domestic abuse. Worryingly, the Council records that the high rate of domestic abuse has not translated into increased ‘homeless’ applications for housing, indicating that in many cases victims are remaining in the home where abuse has occurred.

North Ayrshire Women’s Aid reports that in 2012/13, 95 women and 60 children stayed in local refuges operated by the charity. In addition, 588 women were provided with counselling support.

The SNP Scottish Government’s new Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson MSP, said the Domestic Abuse Disclosure Scheme has been developed in co-operation with the Procurator Fiscal Service, Scottish Women's Aid and Assist advocacy services.  Mr Matheson noted, “Clearly, combating domestic abuse requires a range of actions and activity and this scheme is another tool justice agencies can use in their work to tackle this unacceptable behaviour.

"It is important that the practical implementation of the Disclosure Scheme for Domestic Abuse in Scotland, or Clare's Law, is tested to ensure it is suitable for Scotland's unique justice system.  That's why I am keen to see how it works in the pilot areas and will continue to work with Police Scotland to look at new ways of protecting the public.”

Anne Marie Hicks, the National Procurator Fiscal for Domestic Abuse, also welcomed the pilot, saying, “Much has been achieved over the years but we can't be complacent and more must be done if we want to one day eradicate this form of violence against women and indeed against all victims, regardless of gender or sexuality.

“The Disclosure Scheme is a positive development, as were the calls earlier this year by our law officers for consideration of modernisation of the law and possible creation of specific offences in relation to domestic abuse and distribution of intimate images.”

Requests for disclosures can be raised by victims themselves, family members or another member of the public concerned about the victim.  Police and social workers are also able to raise concerns if they feel someone is at risk.

Hungry at Christmas

Local MSP Margaret Burgess has given her support to volunteers from the North Ayrshire Foodbank who have been collecting donations of food at the Tesco store in Irvine.

Mrs Burgess, MSP for Cunninghame South and the SNP Scottish Government’s Minister for Housing and Welfare, recently spoke-out about the rise in the number of Scots having to turn to Foodbanks to stave-off hunger, saying, “ In a modern country as rich as Scotland, we should not have people going hungry, and what is more shocking is that the trend is increasing, with most people citing Westminster’s welfare reforms as the reason.  This is a clear sign that these policies are not working.”

The North Ayrshire Foodbank, based at the Church of the Nazerene in Ardrossan’s Glasgow Street, provides sufficient food for three-days to people identified by frontline care professionals as being in crisis.  The non-perishable, in-date food is normally donated by individuals, local organisations and businesses.  People given a ‘food voucher’ by their doctor, health visitor, social worker, Citizens Advice Bureau representative or the police can then collect desperately-needed food from the Ardrossan facility.

The Trussell Trust, which operates the local Foodbank, has revealed that 71,428 Scots were forced to ask for food last year, with a third of the people seeking help from foodbanks doing so because of delays in benefit payments or benefits being sanctioned (stopped).  Low-pay is a factor in the rising number of people in employment but requiring assistance from foodbanks.

Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has announced the UK Government will implement a further £3bn of cuts to already-slashed Welfare budgets, which will inevitably impact further on the poorest members of society.  Mr Osborne indicated the cuts were necessary to deal with the national deficit, which was largely created by UK governments using public funds to bail-out private banks and financial speculators in the City of London.

Recently, the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party Welfare Reform Committee carried out an investigation into UK Government welfare reforms and foodbank usage.  The committee found there had been a 400% rise in the use of foodbanks in Scotland over the past 12 months.  One of the conclusions in a subsequent report published by the committee stated that “people are struggling to meet their basic need for food” due to the “direct action” of the UK Tory-Lib Dem Government.

The Scottish Parliament also calculated that the UK Chancellor’s further cuts to Welfare budgets will affect around 900,000 Scottish households, including many where at least one adult is in work but low-pay means they have inadequate income to survive. 

The Ardrossan-based foodbank is open between 11.00am and 1.00pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  The foodbank can be on 07411 113126 or by e-mail at

SSP call for 'Yes Alliance' at 2015 UK Election

Richie Venton, North Ayrshire organiser of the Scottish Socialist Party, has revealed the party is to campaign for a ‘Yes Alliance’ to contest the Westminster elections next May.

Mr Venton told, “Savage cuts to benefits, pay, jobs and people's basic democratic rights, announced in the wake of the Referendum, have driven increased numbers of Scots to favour independence.  Even those still unconvinced of full-scale self-government are strongly in favour of vastly increased powers for Scotland over benefits, taxation and measures to protect us from the Tory-led Coalition.”

The SSP activist also pointed to a strong public feeling that next year’s UK Election presents an opportunity to “punish” the Labour Party for its “collaboration with the Tories in blocking independence, leaving us at the mercy of Cameron's dictatorship of the obscenely rich.”

The SSP is continuing to campaign in North Ayrshire for the Scottish Parliament to receive all of the powers needed to transform the lives of everyone living in Scotland.  At street-stalls and public meetings in local towns, the socialist activists have argued that a £10.00-per-hour Scottish minimum wage should be paid to every worker over the age of 16, and for the creation of a benefits system that supports people “instead of demonising them”. 

Other SSP policies include a ban on fracking and that the ‘Big Six’ energy companies and the green energy sector should be taken into democratic public ownership to banish profiteering and fuel poverty.  In addition the party wants to see the repeal of anti-trade union laws introduced by the Tory Government of Margaret Thatcher, and the implementation of a progressive taxation system where the very rich and big business “pay their fair share to fund decent public services”.

Richie Venton said, “We have these distinctive policies, often radically different from those of the SNP.  For that reason alone, we are not prepared to give a blank cheque to the SNP in the 2015 elections.  We will not be calling on people to just vote SNP and forget their differences with them on key matters of policy.

"However, we are stepping up our appeal to the SNP, Greens and people of no political party who made up the very successful YES campaign to sustain that united front in the Westminster elections. That's what our recent SSP national conference agreed unanimously.

"We want a pro-independence, anti-cuts alliance that agrees one candidate in each constituency, to challenge the Tories and Labour, appealing to not only the 45-percent who voted Yes, but to the No voters who want a radically fairer distribution of wealth and power.

"We believe the beauty of such an alliance is that it would appeal to outraged, disenfranchised Labour voters in a way that the SNP on its own never will, with socialists, greens, SNP members and independents standing as candidates in an agreed allocation of seats.”

Mr Venton, a veteran socialist campaigner, noted, “I have spoken at several local YES groups that support such a multiparty alliance, including many people who have recently joined the SNP.

"The Scottish Socialist Party will never drop its commitment to an independent socialist Scotland, but we are eager to reach agreement with others in the interests of resisting Tory attacks on the working class, and of keeping the flames of social justice and independence alight, through a pro-independence, anti-cuts alliance for May 2015.”

Friday, 21 November 2014

College dispute escalates

Industrial action by lecturers at the Kilwinning campus of Ayrshire College looks set to escalate after management suspended a union branch secretary following last Tuesday’s strike action.

Lecturers picketed the college (November 18) as part of official strike action following a decision by bosses to impose new working arrangements without consultation.  The EIS (Educational Institute for Scotland) had earlier balloted lecturers, receiving 86% support for strike action in opposition to the changes.

A further strike was already planned for Thursday (November 27), but management’s suspension of the trade union rep is being seen as an inflammatory act likely to make more difficult any attempt to resolve the dispute.

A lecturer at the Kilwinning campus told that union members have passed a motion of no confidence in Ayrshire college principal Heather Dunk.  The lecturer added, “Management have not consulted on the changes to timetables and working arrangements, they simply imposed them and threatened staff with disciplinary action if they did not comply.  That is no way to conduct business.”

Industrial action is set to escalate to two-day strikes in the first two weeks of December, with three-day strikes possible in January if no agreement is reached.  EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said, “Our members are determined to take the necessary steps to protect their contractual rights.”

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Guilty verdict in Saltcoats murder trial

An 18-year-old from Saltcoats faces a life sentence after being found guilty of murdering Ardrossan man Sam Johnston (pictured).

Stuart McCulloch was convicted of stabbing Mr Johnston through the heart after trouble flared at a party in Parkend Gardens, Saltcoats on October 26 last year.  The High Court in Glasgow heard that party-host Leona Conn asked everyone to leave when a hole was punched in one of her doors.  However, trouble then resulted, during which Sam Johnston was stabbed.

Initially, three men were charged with murdering the father of a young daughter – McCulloch, Alan Carey (19) from Ardrossan and Fergal Morgan (22) of Drumchapel in Glasgow.  The Crown dropped the charge against Morgan during the trial.  However, Carey was convicted ofa lesser charge of culpable homicide in relation to Mr Johnston’s death after prosecutors accepted he had taken part in the attack but had not administered the fatal blow.

McCulloch denied murdering Sam Johnston, blaming Morgan for the stabbing, but the High Court heard that a knife recovered by police had the victim’s blood on the blade and McCulloch’s DNA on the handle.

Following conviction, Stuart McCulloch and Alan Carey were remanded in custody.  They will appear again at a later date for sentencing.

Katy says Labour must change

In a scathing condemnation of the New Labour project that re-branded the Labour Party as a moderate version of the Conservatives, local MP Katy Clark said the political re-positioning has “failed” and has taken Scottish Labour “to the edge of the abyss”.

Ms Clark was speaking during her campaign to become Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland.

Since the Independence Referendum on September 18th, which Labour and its Conservative partners won with a 55% vote for ‘No’, the party’s fortunes have plummeted.  Polls show voters rejecting Labour to such an extent that former ‘safe’ seats – including Katy Clark’s North Ayrshire & Arran - could be lost to the SNP at next May’s UK General Election.  The SNP has also seen its membership soar to an astonishing 86,000.

Katy Clark said, “Our party in Scotland has been taken to the political abyss by New Labour and its architects,” adding that she believes it is now time for Labour members to “choose change, and choose the candidates of change”.

Setting-out her radical policy-platform, Ms Clark noted, “From a Living Wage backed by the full force of the law, to decommissioning Trident to help fund the permanent abolition of tuition fees, or the common sense approach of bringing our railways into public ownership, and my radical pledge for free childcare from the age of 12 months - it's what the people of Scotland are demanding.”

The local MP says “Business as usual will lose Scotland for Labour,” arguing that the only way to win-back those who have rejected the party is to “abandon New Labour for good”.

The MP who has represented North Ayrshire & Arran since 2005 continued, "I've campaigned for these policies for many years, and now, more than ever, they are completely in line with the views of Scottish people.  Abolishing Trident is right and is popular; introducing a Statutory Living Wage will help thousands of people and it'll help win us elections. We have the opportunity to change Labour and our society for the better.”

Ms Clark explained, “Throughout my life I've always spoken-up for Scotland and for real Labour values even when that's meant disagreeing with the UK leadership of Labour. I'm not a political insider, nor do I want to be. The next Leader of Scottish Labour should be an MSP - that's only right - but if we're going to get real change and a fair deal for Scotland we need someone who won't just accept the status quo in Westminster.  I've never done that and I never will.”

Katy Clark MP and Kezia Dugdale MSP are the two candidates for the position of Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland.  The result will be announced on December 13th.

Irish planners learn from North Ayrshire

With local government in Northern Ireland due to take full responsibility for planning matters as of April next year, a delegation of councillors and officials from Mid-Ulster District Council last week visited North Ayrshire to learn from local planners.

The two-day visit involved meetings about planning procedures, including codes of conduct, training and preparation of reports.  The Irish delegation also attended last week’s meeting of North Ayrshire Council’s Planning Committee to see the process in action.

Cllr Marie Burns, North Ayrshire’s SNP Cabinet member for Economy and Employment, said, “It was a really useful exercise, not only for Mid-Ulster District Council but also for ourselves.  It’s always helpful to get input and build relationships with other local authorities.

“Our procedures are well established and ensure the planning process runs smoothly.  We hope Mid-Ulster took a lot from the visit and that it gave them plenty to work on as they move forward.”

C├íthal Mallaghan, Presiding Councillor (Chair) of Mid-Ulster District Council, noted, “As we prepare to take on a new role in planning next year, the opportunity to see an established committee in operation and to meet and talk to the councillors delivering the service, was invaluable.

“North Ayrshire councillors and staff were generous with their time, and their willingness to share their expertise and experience was greatly appreciated by the entire Mid-Ulster delegation.”

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Unions back Katy's bid for Deputy Leader

The campaign by local MP Katy Clark to become Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland received good and bad news when nominations closed last week.

With candidates requiring at least 10 nominations from fellow Labour parliamentarians in order to stand, the closing figures showed Ms Clark just made the cut with 11 nominations, including one from herself.  The only other contender for the deputy leadership, Kezia Dugdale MSP, received 54 nominations.

However, Katy Clark secured the backing of 7 trade unions, including UNISON, Unite and the GMB, while none have declared for Ms Dugdale.

The outcome of the internal Labour Party vote will be decided by an ‘electoral college’ where parliamentarians, trade unions and members each have a third of the votes.  In some cases, for example where a member is also a trade unionist, individuals will have more than one vote.

The MP for North Ayrshire & Arran is clearly seen as the candidate of the left, arguing for a return to traditional Labour values.  Last week Ms Clark told, “We must recognise that  Scottish politics has changed and it can't be business as usual.  The vast majority of people want a secure job, a decent home and access to good quality public services.  This is prevented for too many by wealth being held in the hands of a minority.  It is unacceptable in the 21st century that people have to queue at a foodbank to feed their children.   These are the issues I will be addressing throughout the campaign.”

In the contest for Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, Katy Clark has given her backing to fellow left-winger Neil Findlay MSP.  However, Mr Findlay also emerged well behind his right-wing opponent, Jim Murphy MP, when nominations closed last week.  Murphy received 43 nominations to Findlay’s 12, with centre-ground candidate Sarah Boyack on 10.  Like Katy Clark, Mr Findlay is backed by 7 trade unions.

The outcome of the votes for ‘Scottish’ Labour Leader and Deputy Leader will be announced on December 13th.

National success for North Ayrshire band

North Ayrshire Schools Concert Band hit the right note last week when it won the prestigious Platinum Award at the annual National Concert Band Festival.

Victory at the Scottish competition, held at the City of Edinburgh Music School, means the young North Ayrshire musicians now go forward to the UK final in April 2015 at the Royal College of Music in Manchester.

Commenting on the success of the band, whose members are drawn from schools across North Ayrshire, the local Council’s SNP Cabinet Member for Community and Culture, Cllr Alan Hill, said, “North Ayrshire Schools Concert Band once again received recognition for their hard work and commitment to musical excellence.  I congratulate them for winning the Platinum Award.  Their skill and professionalism shone and the award is well-deserved.”

Adding her congratulations, Mae Murray, Music Service Co-ordinator with North Ayrshire Council, said, “All band members have worked incredibly hard and this is a fantastic result for everyone.”

 Matthew Chinn, the Band’s Musical Director is from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.  Mr Chinn noted, “I was delighted by the performance from all involved in the North Ayrshire Schools Band at the competition in Edinburgh.  I always very much welcome the opportunity to work with the aspiring young musicians from across North Ayrshire.

“The Platinum Award is testament to the great work and commitment shown by all of the young musicians, the North Ayrshire Instrumental Music Service and its professional instructors and teachers.”

[Photo: North Ayrshire’s young musicians celebrate winning the Platinum Award at the National Concert Band Festival]

Cancer support drop-in centre

People living with cancer in North Ayrshire can now get quick and easy access to information and support while out shopping.

A new drop-in service opened last week at the Boots store in Irvine’s Rivergate Mall.  The facility, which is staffed by highly-trained volunteers, is being operated in a partnership between NHS Ayrshire & Arran, Macmillan Cancer Support and Boots UK.  On offer is advice on emotional and practical issues, access to information materials on various types of cancer and treatment, or simply a listening ear.

In addition to specialist cancer information and emotional support, the service can refer people to other services, including benefits advice, complimentary therapies and counselling.

Opening the drop-in centre, John Burns, Chief Executive of NHS Ayrshire & Arran, said, “This is a great example of partnership-working in action.  The service offers anyone affected by cancer access to good quality information and support, and welcomes visitors with a friendly smile and a listening ear.  The fact it is in a shopping centre makes it even easier for people to get the support they need.”

Sandra White, Nurse Consultant in Cancer with NHS Ayrshire & Arran added, “I would like to thank Macmillan Cancer Support and Boots UK for their support in putting this service into practice, but we couldn't run the service without our volunteers who offer firsthand experience of living with cancer - from first diagnosis to after treatment.

“The service isn't just for people who have had a cancer diagnosis. Families and friends can often feel lost and confused, and not know who to turn to. The support service is on hand to help them too.”

Elspeth Atkinson, Director of Macmillan, noted, “A cancer diagnosis brings with it all kinds of questions and uncertainty for patients, their families and friends.  Being able to access information and emotional support at this stressful time is vital and we know from the success of the Macmillan Information and Support services in Saltcoats and Cumnock Libraries that people appreciate local easily accessible services.

“Improving access and connecting people to Macmillan information and support in the Boots store will help us achieve our joint ambition to improve the lives of everyone affected by cancer and help build a legacy in the local community.”

The drop in service is available on Wednesdays from 10.00am until 12-noon and Fridays from 11.00am until 2.30pm.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Katy Clark confirms deputy leader bid

Local MP Katy Clark has confirmed she will run for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party in Scotland.

Yesterday (October 31) reported speculation on a pro-Labour Party website, Labour Hame, suggesting Ms Clark was considering putting her name in the hat to replace the current deputy leader of ‘Scottish’ Labour, Anas Sarwar MP.  At the time, the North Ayrshire & Arran MP had made no public comment on the subject.

However, this morning (November 1), Katy Clark said, “I have submitted a declaration to the Scottish Labour Party that I intend to stand for deputy leader and will be seeking nominations from colleagues over the weekend.”

Ms Clark praised outgoing leader Johann Lamont and Mr Sarwar, but added, “This is not about individuals.  We must recognise that  Scottish  politics has changed and it can't be business as usual.  The vast majority of people want a secure job, a decent home and access to good quality public services.  This is prevented for too many by wealth being held in the hands of a minority.  It is unacceptable in the 21st century that people have to queue at a foodbank to feed their children.   These are the issues I will be addressing throughout the campaign.”

Vacancies for leader and deputy leader of the Scottish party were created when Johann Lamont MSP announced her resignation last week. 

In an interview with the Daily Record newspaper, Johann Lamont was scathing in her criticism of Ed Miliband and the Labour Party leadership in London, saying they are “dinosaurs” who fail to see “Scotland has changed forever”.  Ms Lamont also accused the London-based leadership of treating Scotland like a “branch office”.

To compound a bad week for Labour, new opinion polls showed support for the party collapsing in Scotland, while increasing numbers of people are backing the SNP.  One of the polls, conducted by IPSOS-MORI, had the SNP on 52% with Labour down to 23%.  If those figures were translated into actual votes at next year’s UK General Election, Labour would lose all but four of its seats in Scotland to the SNP – including North Ayrshire & Arran, which is currently represented by Katy Clark.