Friday, 26 December 2014

SNP councillors blast Labour 'hypocrites'


An ongoing row over North Ayrshire Council’s recently-announced budget escalated this week with Labour councillors condemning proposed cuts as “horrendous”.

The claim was made by Labour Group Leader Peter McNamara (pictured above- left) in an article carried by Labour-supporting national newspaper the Daily Record.  However, members of the council’s SNP administration immediately hit back, pointing-out Cllr McNamara and his Labour colleagues had voted for the budget and the measures it contained.

Ardrossan SNP councillor Tony Gurney (pictured above-right) said, “The action of Labour councillors is breathtaking in its insincerity.  The fact they are complaining about actions they completely supported raises serious questions about their ability to properly engage with the governance of the council.”

North Ayrshire councillors met recently to agree a budget for the next 3 years, with senior officers identifying a further £19m of ‘savings’ would be required to balance the books.  The SNP administration’s proposals to achieve the required financial reductions were supported by Labour councillors and the budget was passed.

However, within days of voting for the council budget, Ardrossan Labour councillor Peter McNamara told the Daily Record he believed the cuts he and his colleagues had supported were now, “impossible to bear in an advanced democracy”.

Reacting to Cllr McNamara’s comments in the national newspaper, Cllr Ruth Maguire, North Ayrshire’s SNP Cabinet member for Finance, said, “It is frankly ridiculous to claim to be against something when they went to a meeting and voted for it, yet that is exactly what Labour did.  No alternative budget proposals were forthcoming and no amendments moved – not a single one.  In fact, the budget was passed with the support of all the political parties on the council and the majority of the independent councillors, with just one abstaining.”

Cllr Maguire explained, “The SNP is opposed to the austerity cuts being enforced by the Westminster Government, cuts that Labour have, however, committed to continue.

“We all recognise the extremely challenging financial climate we operate in but we still have choices and mustn’t forget the considerable resources we are investing in North Ayrshire.  The council will spend more than £320m delivering services and will invest more than £233m supporting regeneration in our schools and core infrastructure – roads, lighting and buildings.”

On the fact Labour supported SNP proposals at the recent budget meeting but then used a Labour-supporting national newspaper to launch an attack on the very same plans, Cllr Tony Gurney said, “Labour members seem oblivious to the hypocritical nature of their actions.”

Extra help to tackle empty homes problem


Margaret Burgess (pictured), Scotland’s Housing Minister, has doubled the funding available to the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP), an initiative run by charity Shelter Scotland.

The scheme, which works to bring back into use empty private-sector homes, has also been given a 3 year extension to its Scottish Government contract.

In Scotland over the past year, there were 29,326 ‘homeless’ applications for housing, while there were 31,457 homes recorded as being empty for 6 months or more.  Shelter Scotland has indicated it will use the new money - £616,500 - to recruit additional staff, with the target that around 1,200 empty homes per year could be returned to use. 

Mrs Burgess, MSP for the local constituency of Cunninghame South, said, “Empty homes are a blight on both urban and rural communities across Scotland.  Bringing them back into use is a cost-effective way of increasing the supply of housing available to families, and it also aids community regeneration.  That is why the Scottish Government is not only providing a three-year extension to the Empty Homes Partnership, but is also doubling its funding.”

Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland, noted, “Extending the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership for another three years is great news and we thank the Scottish Government for its strong support and ongoing commitment to this work.

“The progress we have made supporting councils and their partners over the last four years to bring hundreds of empty homes back into use is testament to the hard work and commitment of everyone involved.  Expanding the partnership and putting it on a longer-term footing will allow us to do even more to bring private empty homes back into use.”

A spokesperson for North Ayrshire Council indicated the authority operates an Empty Homes Strategy, saying, “We can help homeowners to bring empty homes back into use, and to prevent currently occupied homes becoming empty.

“The reasons for empty homes are varied.  Some are bought as development projects, where the owners carry out necessary repairs and sell the property.  In other cases the owner may have been taken into hospital or care for an extended period of time, but the property is looked after and maintained by family or friends.  In other instances the owner of an empty home may be struggling to sell their property in the current financial climate.  However, eventually empty homes are liable to fall into disrepair, making their future use less feasible. 

“Empty homes ultimately can have a detrimental impact on communities, as well as being a wasted resource in terms of meeting housing need.”

The spokesperson explained, “Help in the form of interest-free loans is available to bring empty properties back into use in the rented sector.  Eligible properties must require repair or upgrading works.”

SSP plea to socialists in the Labour Party


The Scottish Socialist Party in North Ayrshire is appealing to trade unions and their members to break from the “increasingly discredited and anti-working class Labour Party.”

Local SSP organiser Richie Venton (pictured) said that, following Labour’s election of right-winger Jim Murphy as the party’s new leader in Scotland, left-wing members should join the SSP and “help build a mass working-class socialist party”.

Mr Venton, also the SSP’s national workplace and trade union organiser, said, “The election of the boastfully-Blairite Jim Murphy as Scottish Labour leader is the latest in a series of landmarks in the degeneration of the party into another pro-capitalist, anti-working-class party.

“Labour was founded by trade unionists 120 years ago, but most Labour MPs and MSPs, and around 70-percent of individual party members, voted for Jim Murphy, which surely marks the death of any illusions about reclaiming Labour for the trade union movement or socialism.

"Murphy openly supported Tony Blair's retention of Thatcher's package of vicious anti-trade union laws, and of dragging working class kids to the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan in pursuit of oil and empire.

"He didn't even bother to turn up to vote for abolition of the Bedroom Tax, but made sure he voted for welfare caps on the poorest of the poor.

"He openly and gleefully campaigned against Scottish self-government alongside Tories, and subsequently had Tories helping him campaign to win the Labour leadership contest.

"Those who clung on to the hope of changing Labour from within, including trade union leaders, need to heed this rude awakening: the left candidates that most Scottish trade unions backed – including North Ayrshire’s Katy Clark - were made most unwelcome by the vast majority of Labour members in the leadership vote.

"Labour has long since ceased to be a home for socialists, but a haven for careerists who put the profiteering of big business before people.”

Mr Venton urged socialists in the Labour Party to “break from a party that has hammered the trade unions and working-class people during 13 years of recent Labour governments,” adding, “Come home to the SSP, the one party in Scotland that has consistently built solidarity with workers in struggle; fights for repeal of all anti-union laws; is campaigning for a £10 minimum wage for all at 16; and upholds the genuine socialist principles of pioneers like Keir Hardie, John Maclean and the Red Clydesiders.” 

Free school meals


Every pupil in the first three years of primary school (P1-P3) will be provided with a free, healthy school meal from January.

The SNP Government initiative was welcomed by local MSP Margaret Burgess, who said, “As well as improving health and wellbeing, and supporting educational attainment, this will save families at least £330 a year for each child.

“As part of the Scottish Government’s £114m package for young people over the next two years, 4,356 North Ayrshire children are eligible for the free school meal.  It means that every child in P1-P3 is guaranteed a nutritious, healthy meal, which will help to end any perceived stigma for those already entitled to free meals.”

Mrs Burgess, MSP for Cunninghame South and the SNP Minister for Housing & Welfare, indicated the free school meals initiative is backed by a number children’s charities, including the Child Poverty Action Group, Children 1st and Save the Children, as well as the Scottish Trades Union Congress.  Larry Flanagan of the Educational Institute of Scotland, the teacher’s trade union, described the policy as “an important and significant step” for Scottish children.

New Year chemists


With Ne’erday looming, NHS Ayrshire & Arran is encouraging locals to make sure they have enough prescription medicine to see them through, and to know which pharmacies will be open during the break.
                               
An NHS spokesperson explained, “Pharmacists can answer questions on choosing and using the right medicine and provide easy-to-understand advice on treating everyday ailments such as coughs, colds and flu.  NHS 24 also has a number of community pharmacists who are able to answer medicine and pharmacy-related questions over the telephone on 111.

“The public can also do a number of things to ensure they are prepared to deal with common illnesses.  Have a sufficient supply of medicines like paracetamol, sore throat and cough remedies, as these will help to relieve the symptoms of common winter ailments.  People who take regular medication should check their existing supplies and only order what they need to ensure they have enough to see them through the holidays.”

Over the break, GP practices will be closed for four days from New Year’s Day, re-opening on Monday, January 5th.  

The North Ayrshire chemists open on New Year’s Day and January 2nd are:

Thursday, January 1st 2015
• Townhead Pharmacy, Station Plaza, Kilwinning (12-noon-2:00pm).
• J. Reekie, 1 Cardow Cresecent, Irvine (2:00pm-4:00pm).

Friday, January 2 2015
• Boots, 1 Fullarton Square, Irvine (10:00am-5:30pm).
• Superdrug, 6b Aitken Street, Largs (10:00am-5:00pm).
• Morrisons Pharmacy, 4 Irvine Road, Largs (9:00am-6:00pm).
• Boots, 77 Dockhead Street, Saltcoats (10:00am-4:00pm).

Normal weekend opening hours will apply for all pharmacies on Saturday, January 3rd and Sunday, January 4th.

While GP surgeries are closed, urgent calls can be made to NHS 24 on 111.  The same number should be used for emergency dental treatment.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Tearoom listed as 'consultants'



Ardrossan Independent councillor John Hunter (pictured) has revealed that between April 2011 and March 2014, North Ayrshire Council spent £2.79m hiring consultants.

The local authority, which last week set a budget for the next 3 years that will require further ‘savings’ of almost £20m, defended its spend on consultants, saying council staff had “neither the expertise nor capacity...to undertake the work that the consultants are asked to complete.”

John Hunter disclosed the amount spent on consultants during Question Time at last Wednesday’s meeting of North Ayrshire Council.  The Independent asked if £2.79m was considered to be “justifiable expenditure”, particularly when viewed against “savage cuts in the Education budget”.

Much of the council’s consultancy-spend was made under the previous Labour administration but has continued under the SNP regime elected in May 2012.  Responding to John Hunter’s question, the SNP Cabinet member for Education, Attainment and Achievement, Cllr John Bruce, said, “Expenditure on consultants is scrutinised closely and sanctioned when it can be demonstrated that the work they are asked to undertake supports the Council’s objectives.  It is also expected that neither the expertise nor the capacity exists across the employing service to undertake the work that the consultants are asked to complete.  The contracts are awarded within a best value framework; therefore, are considered to be justifiable spends.”

However, in a supplementary question, Cllr Hunter asked what consultancy service had been provided to the Council by O’Really’s Tearoom. 

Council documents show four separate payments were made to the Ardrossan tearoom between April and June 2013: £72.00, £78.00, £65.00 and £130.00, giving a total ‘consultancy-spend’ of £345.00.  The payments were made by the Council under the heading of “Organisational, IT Strategy, Design and Advice”.

O’Really’s Tearoom, which was situated in Ardrossan’s Princes Street, ceased trading in October 2013.

For the Council administration, John Bruce indicated he would look into the matter and provide a reply to Cllr Hunter when it is available.

Labour backed Women's Aid funding cut


The controversial issue of North Ayrshire Council funding for the area’s Women’s Aid service was raised last week when councillors met for the last time this year.
                       
As previously reported by the3towns.today, a new tendering process will see external providers of services to the Council’s Homelessness Service having to submit new bids to carry out work.  The result could see amended contracts and reduced funding for charities like North Ayrshire Women’s Aid.

In a question pointing the finger of blame for possible cuts at the door of North Ayrshire Council’s SNP administration, Labour councillor Joe Cullinane (pictured left) asked for confirmation that “the current ‘Housing Support to Women Experiencing or at Risk of Violence/Domestic Abuse’ tender is a 22% cut to existing North Ayrshire Women’s Aid contracts for Refuge, Counselling Support and
Outreach services and does not include £134,000 of previous contracts for Children’s Services and Addiction Support?”

However, responding for the Council, Ardrossan SNP councillor Tony Gurney (pictured right), Cabinet member for Environment and Infrastructure, pointed-out that the cut to which Cllr Cullinane referred had actually been initiated in 2012 by the local authority’s previous Labour administration.  Cllr Gurney also reminded Joe Cullinane that the SNP administration’s current budget had been supported by the Labour Group of councillors.

Explaining the Council’s position, Tony Gurney said, “The Homelessness Service has contracts in place with five different external providers, one of which is Women’s Aid, for various refuge accommodation, outreach, addiction, counselling and children’s services.  These contracts expire on the 31st of March.  In line with usual Council practice, as expiry dates approach, the services provided through these contracts have been reviewed to inform the forthcoming procurement exercise.

“In reviewing current service provision and drawing together revised specifications, the views of current providers and service users were sought along with best practice from other Councils, in particular neighbouring authorities.  New contract specifications have been developed that remove duplication in provision, ensure service gaps are filled and focus on the need of service users, rather than service providers.”

Cllr Gurney indicated the proposed new contracts “will realise cost efficiencies, including those referred to in the question.  However, this cannot be fully established until tender prices have been received and submissions evaluated.”

Drink-driving - Don't Risk It


A North Ayrshire Council initiative to cut drink-driving in the local area over the festive season has gone global.
                   
The local authority teamed-up with partner agencies to publicise the new, lower alcohol limit for drivers introduced by the SNP Scottish Government.  Under the slogan “Who’s Taking You Home Tonight”, the Council campaign replied to the question by offering the choice of a taxi, a police car, an ambulance or a hearse.  Accompanying the clear message was the social media hashtag “DontRiskIt”.

Commenting on the initiative, a Council spokesperson said, “After posting on Facebook, 219,364 people have seen the post and we’ve had more than 9,000 Likes, comments or Shares from social media users from as far afield as Canada and the USA.”

Council Leader, SNP councillor Willie Gibson, noted, “The campaign has been a huge success and sends out a really strong message.  If there is any doubt, leave the car at home.  As the campaign says, ‘Don’t Risk It’.”

Cllr Gibson added, “Hopefully, people will continue to listen and we will have an incident-free holiday period, and everyone can enjoy their Christmas and New Year.”

Look out for dodgy Christmas bargains


With last-minute Christmas shopping now in full-swing, Three Towns residents are being warned about the potential dangers of fake and counterfeit goods.

In particular, customers are being urged to be wary of traders offering cheap perfume, make-up, toys, designer clothes, alcohol and electrical goods.

A spokesperson for North Ayrshire Council’s Trading Standards department said, “By purchasing fake goods, consumers are helping the trader break the law and many fraudsters use the proceeds from selling counterfeit goods to fund drug dealing and other organised crime.

“Buying counterfeit products also contributes to job losses as genuine manufacturers are unable to match prices charged by rogue traders.  Many fakes are substandard, possibly dangerous and may even contain hazardous substances.”

The Council’s SNP Cabinet member for Economy and Employment, Cllr Marie Burns, advised extra vigilance in the run-up to Christmas, saying, “The sale of counterfeit goods is illegal and it can be extremely difficult to seek redress in the event of something going wrong.  For this reason, it is important to remember the old adage that if the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

Cllr Burns noted, “It is also important to be aware of the huge consequences for those caught selling counterfeits – heavy fines, imprisonment and a criminal record.  Those caught selling fake goods at their place of work also risk losing their jobs.”

The Trading Standards spokesperson said, “ We can all guard against knock-off goods by carrying out due diligence – buy from a legitimate supplier, such as a reputable High Street retailer to ensure you can return goods if something goes wrong.”

Trading Standards can be contacted on 01294 310100, and consumer advice is available from North Ayrshire Citizens Advice Service on 01294 608142.

Christmas chemists



With the Christmas holidays looming, NHS Ayrshire & Arran is encouraging locals to make sure they have enough prescription medicine to see them through, and to know which pharmacies will be open during the break.
                               
An NHS spokesperson explained, “Pharmacists can answer questions on choosing and using the right medicine and provide easy-to-understand advice on treating everyday ailments such as coughs, colds and flu.  NHS 24 also has a number of community pharmacists who are able to answer medicine and pharmacy-related questions over the telephone on 111.

“The public can also do a number of things to ensure they are prepared to deal with common illnesses.  Have a sufficient supply of medicines like paracetamol, sore throat and cough remedies, as these will help to relieve the symptoms of common winter ailments.  People who take regular medication should check their existing supplies and only order what they need to ensure they have enough to see them through the holidays.”

Over Christmas, GP practices will be closed for four days from Christmas Day until Monday, December 29th.  

The North Ayrshire chemists open on Christmas Day and Boxing Day are:

Thursday, December 25
• Boots, 9 Lower Vennel, Irvine  (12-noon – 2.00pm).
• LJ Wilson, 20 Main Street, Dreghorn (2.00pm – 4.00pm).

Friday, December 26
• Boots, 1 Fullarton Square, Irvine (10.00am – 5.00pm).
• Superdrug, 6b Aitken Street, Largs (10.00am – 5.00pm).
• Boots, 77 Dockhead Street, Saltcoats (10.00am – 4.00pm).

Normal weekend opening hours will apply for all pharmacies on Saturday, December 27th and Sunday, December 28th.

While GP surgeries are closed, urgent calls can be made to NHS 24 on 111.  The same number should be used for emergency dental treatment.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Katy misses-out on Labour deputy leadership

Local MP Katy Clark has failed in her bid to become Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland.

When the results of the contest were released (December 13), Lothians List MSP Kezia Dugdale emerged victorious with 63% to Ms Clark’s 37%.  A breakdown of the votes showed Ms Dugdale triumphed in two of the three sections of the ‘electoral college’ system used by the Labour Party – Politicians and Members - with Katy Clark winning the Affiliates (mainly trade unions): each have 33% of the total vote. 

In the election for Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, Renfrewshire East MP Jim Murphy emerged as a clear winner with 55% of the vote, beating List MSPs Neil Findlay (35%) and Sarah Boyack (9%).

Mr Murphy is seen as very much on the right of the political spectrum, having been a loyal supporter of Tony Blair and New Labour.  The new leader of the Labour Party in Scotland also backed the illegal war in Iraq, has supported austerity measures and is committed to spending billions-of-pounds on creating and maintaining a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons of mass destruction, which would continue to be based just 30 miles from Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city.

Kezia Dugdale, Murphy’s new deputy who will stand-in for him against Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament, is also perceived to favour the current centre-right positioning of the Labour Party.

Katy Clark, MP for North Ayrshire & Arran, ran an unashamedly socialist campaign, urging members to return Labour to its left-wing roots.  Neil Findlay was the socialist contender for Leader.  However, the election results showed the Clark-Findlay vision is very much in a minority within the Labour Party in Scotland.

Speaking after the results were announced, Katy Clark said, “The campaign for a Scottish Labour Party which opposes austerity, privatisation and Trident, and which instead argues for a mass programme of council house building, public ownership and tax justice has received huge support.  This result signals the beginning, not the end of the campaign to reclaim the Labour Party for popular socialist ideas.”

Ms Clark noted, “Thousands of Labour members voted for the most radical left-wing policy platform that has been put before them for decades.  I have also secured tens-of-thousands of votes across Scotland from those who have voted in the trade union section, as people have responded to my call for a Labour Party that opposes austerity, rejects privatisation and Trident.”

The local MP congratulated Kezia Dugdale on her victory, adding, “It was a real contest of ideas as we have travelled Scotland.  We now need to unite behind a clear message to win with a radical policy programme.”