Saturday, 31 January 2015

SNP select Central Ayrshire candidate

The Scottish National Party has selected Consultant Breast Surgeon Philippa Whitford (pictured) to contest the Central Ayrshire constituency at May’s UK Election.

Dr Whitford currently works at Crosshouse Hospital and made a major impact during the recent Independence Referendum with a devastating speech outlining the dangers to the NHS of Westminster’s privatisation agenda.

Polls suggest the SNP could be on course to record a landslide victory on May 7th, with Sky News last week reporting a poll-of-polls showing the party would take 53 of Scotland’s 59 constituencies if current support translates into votes.

Central Ayrshire is presently represented by Labour’s Brian Donohoe.  However, the MP has come in for strong criticism over his large expenses claims and his right-wing positions on austerity, nuclear weapons and fracking.  In the last few weeks Mr Donohoe voted with the Tory Government to impose a further £30bn of austerity cuts on the general public, and to spend £100bn on new nuclear weapons of mass destruction.  The Labour man also abstained on a vote to initiate a UK-wide moratorium on the highly-controversial fracking method of producing gas.

At the last UK Election, in 2010, Brian Donohoe secured a majority of 12,000 in Central Ayrshire, which would normally make the constituency a ‘safe seat’ for Labour.  However, the massive surge in support for the SNP since last September’s Independence Referendum means the party is now considered to have a realistic chance of winning seats like Central Ayrshire and the neighbouring North Ayrshire & Arran.

On her selection as the SNP candidate for the local seat, Philippa Whitford said, “During the referendum I campaigned against the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition’s privatisation of the English NHS, which is built on Labour’s policy of introducing private providers.  This process, along with the creeping introduction of charges, is undermining the very nature of the NHS in England.

“While management of NHS Scotland is devolved, the funding depends on the block grant set by Westminster, so their decisions affect our Scottish NHS.  This is why I decided to put myself forward for Westminster.”

Dr Whitford, who has worked as a medical volunteer in Gaza and Lebanon, says the extra powers promised by Westminster if Scots rejected independence are inadequate, noting they “do not give the Scottish Government the power to stimulate our economy or fight inequality through tackling poverty wages.  The Scottish budget has already been cut by 7-percent and is earmarked to drop further by 2017.  This will threaten all of our public services.”

The SNP candidate says the party’s MPs at Westminster will “fight the unjustifiable replacement of weapons of mass destruction, saving money and enabling exploration of the oil fields in the Clyde basin and west coast.  This would provide work for Clyde shipbuilders, create high-quality engineering and oil-related jobs in Ayrshire, and contribute to the rejuvenation of Prestwick Airport.”

The Central Ayrshire constituency includes Irvine in North Ayrshire and Prestwick in South Ayrshire.

Councillor's comments anger officials

A Labour councillor could be in hot water over comments criticising the actions of Planning officials and fellow councillors.

Jim Montgomerie (pictured), who represents Saltcoats & Stevenston, spoke-out after North Ayrshire Council’s Planning Committee approved an application for ‘permission in principle’ from Clowes Developments (Scotland) Ltd in relation to a residential development on a site adjacent to Stevenston Industrial Estate.

Cllr Montgomerie, a member of the Planning Committee, moved a motion to reject the application when it was heard last week.  However, the motion did not receive any support.  An alternative proposal to grant ‘permission in principle’, proposed by Tory councillor Tom Marshall and seconded by Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councillor Ronnie McNicol, was agreed by the Committee without dissent from any member.

A number of conditions were applied to permission, including that “prior to the commencement of the development...the applicant shall submit for the written approval of North Ayrshire Council as Planning Authority a scheme to deal with contamination on the site”.

The location of the proposed residential development is on land that was formerly part of the Imperial Chemical Industries factory at Ardeer.  As such, Planning officials also inserted further conditions, such as, “The scheme shall contain details of proposals to deal with contamination including: a) the nature, extent and type(s) of contamination on the site, including the testing of groundwater for explosives residue and a review of the Mason Evans site investigation report dated February 2008 submitted in support of the application; b) measures to treat/remove contamination to ensure the site is fit for the use proposed, including details of phasing of the proposed measures; c) measures to deal with contamination during construction works; and d) the condition of the site on completion of decontamination measures.”

All documentation submitted by the developers must meet the relevant British Standards and be verified by a suitably qualified Environmental Consultant.

However, following the Committee decision, Cllr Montgomerie spoke to the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald newspaper, which quoted him as saying, “There are planning decisions being taken by North Ayrshire Council planners and planning committee members along party political lines and they are not reflecting the views and concerns of local people.”

The Labour councillor added, “this is totally undemocratic”.

Cllr Montgomerie backed local objectors to the planning application and told the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald, “Questions have to be asked as to who this planning process really helps, the council or the community?  The consultation process that North Ayrshire Council promotes, in reality, is flawed and needs updated drastically.” was subsequently contacted by a senior North Ayrshire Council insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity.  The official said, “Jim Montgomerie’s comments are completely out of order.

“It’s fair enough that he sides with people who objected to the application, that is for him to decide, but for him to then slag-off the professionalism and impartiality of Planning staff is not acceptable behaviour from an elected councillor.”

The official continued, “He claimed decisions were being taken at the Planning Committee on party political lines, but at the meeting where this decision was taken there were 3 Labour councillors, 1 SNP, 1 Tory and 2 Independents.  Even his own two Labour colleagues did not back him.

“Jim Montgomerie owes an apology to Council staff who do a professional job and apply impartiality to every planning application.  The only issues officials consider are those relevant to planning legislation.  He is completely out of order to attack officers because he didn’t get his way at the committee.  As I say, he couldn’t even get his Labour colleagues to agree with him.”

The decision to re-zone the land at Ardeer from ‘industrial’ to ‘residential’ was taken in North Ayrshire Council’s Local Development Plan of 2008, when the Labour Party formed the administration of the local authority.

Sections 3:3 and 3:4 of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct cover the relationship between councillors and employees of councils, telling councillors, “You must respect all Council employees and the role they play, and treat them with courtesy at all times. It is expected that employees will show the same consideration in return.

“Your role is to determine policy and to participate in decisions on matters placed before you, not to engage in direct operational management of the Council's services; that is the responsibility of the Council's employees. It is also the responsibility of the Chief Executive and senior employees to help ensure that the policies of the Council are implemented.”

College dispute continues

Efforts to resolve the ongoing dispute between lecturers and management at Ayrshire College in Kilwinning have stalled after bosses declined to attend arbitration.

Problems arose when senior management introduced new working arrangements without consulting staff.  Following this move, the EIS (Educational Institute for Scotland) balloted lecturers, receiving 86% support for strike action in opposition to the changes.

Matters were exacerbated when bosses then suspended a lecturer who is also a trade union official and had taken part in a picket of the college.  The suspension was later lifted.

Negotiations between management and trade unions have been ongoing, resulting in a revised proposal being put forward last week.  Union officials recommended that members accept the new offer, but when the deal was put to lecturers, it was rejected by 55% to 45%.

The EIS then proposed that they and college managers attend the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) in an effort to reach agreement on ending the dispute.  However, this move was rejected by bosses.

EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said, “It is clear that lecturers at Ayrshire College remain unconvinced by the latest proposal from college management on their working conditions.  It is also clear that there is little prospect of significant progress through further discussions with the college management.”

Mr Flanagan revealed that union negotiators had offered to suspend all planned industrial action, pending a decision by ACAS, “in the hope of reaching a fair agreement, which will allow all lecturers to return to their normal, agreed working patterns”.

However, the decision by college management to refuse the offer and to decline attending the arbitration service means the dispute is set to continue.

SNP act to block fracking

Local MSP Margaret Burgess has welcomed the Scottish Government’s decision to implement a Scotland-wide moratorium on planning consents for unconventional onshore oil and gas wells, including highly-controversial fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks and release natural gas. 

Mrs Burgess said, “The fracking moratorium will be welcomed by communities across Scotland who have been alarmed by the gung-ho stance taken by the Westminster Government.

“There will also be a full public consultation on unconventional oil and gas extraction to ensure the voices of communities across Scotland are heard on this important issue.”

The SNP MSP for Cunninghame South said the Scottish Government decision “brings welcome clarity and stands in stark contrast to Labour’s chaotic approach to fracking.  The SNP Government has acted where Labour’s MPs failed, and have once again shown that Jim Murphy is more interested in political posturing than real action.”

Margaret Burgess was referring to a debate last week in the House of Commons, at which a majority of Scottish Labour MPs failed to vote for a moratorium on fracking, despite Jim Murphy, the party’s leader in Scotland, having stated he and Labour opposed the practice.  

All SNP MPs voted in favour of a moratorium.

Worried partners seek info from police

Police Scotland has revealed that 14 people have asked for information on their partner’s offending-history since the Domestic Abuse Disclosure Scheme began its trial in Ayrshire two months ago.

The scheme allows police to reveal information to someone who has been identified as potentially at risk.

Chief Superintendent Gillian MacDonald, Divisional Commander of Ayrshire Division, explained, “Tackling Domestic abuse is one of our highest priorities and this scheme allows Police Scotland, in partnership with a number of agencies, to share information about an abuser’s past.  By giving those who fear their partner may become abusive a means of voicing this and an opportunity to access professional support we are helping them make informed choices about whether to continue in the relationship.

”I would urge anyone who feels that their partner could be abusive, whether psychologically or physically, to apply to the disclosure scheme.  Ensuring the safety of people living in Ayrshire is a priority for my officers and that includes anyone who lives in fear of abuse.”

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 Ayrshire trial of the Domestic Abuse Disclosure Scheme will run until May.  If it is deemed to have been a success, it is expected to be rolled-out across Scotland.

Two SNP favourites out of contention

Two front-runners to be SNP candidate in North Ayrshire & Arran at May’s UK Election have withdrawn from consideration.
Saltcoats man Gary O’Rourke, pictured above-left, today (January 29) announced he would no longer be seeking the nomination due to ill health.  The news came just two days after another potential candidate, former BBC and ITV presenter John Nicholson (above-right), was selected by the SNP to fight the East Dunbartonshire constituency, where he will be the favourite to unseat Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson.

In a Facebook post to his hundreds of supporters, Gary O’Rourke explained, “I've been buoyed by the feedback and good wishes that I've received as a nominee in North Ayrshire and Arran.  It was an honour to receive a nomination, and it has been a privilege to meet so many of our members - old and new - and to talk about the great chance we have to take our nation forward in the next few years.

“It's been exciting and invigorating, but, as much as we like to think of ourselves as indestructible, it's also been pretty exhausting.  With less than 100 days to go to the election, my health is not at 100%, and it's unlikely to be at 100% in the coming weeks.  I love my country, and I love our noble cause for independence, and I want to see all of us giving our all to win the election in May and give a boost to Scotland's chances of a fairer deal on more powers for our Scottish Parliament.  If I can't give 100% to that campaign, then frankly, that's not good enough for me.”

Mr O’Rourke expressed his great disappointment at having to withdraw from the contest to be SNP candidate in his home constituency, but gave a commitment to return in the future, saying, “I'll concentrate on getting myself back into peak condition, and hope to be able to offer myself as a potential candidate for another election very soon.”

The withdrawal of Gary O’Rourke and John Nicholson leaves five people contesting the internal party election to be the SNP candidate for North Ayrshire & Arran on May 7th:

Patricia Gibson: wife of Cunninghame North’s SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson. 
Rosemary Hunter: an independent financial advisor who lives in Dunblane and is originally from Troon.

Gareth Kane: an SNP activist in the North Ayrshire & Arran constituency.

Malcolm Kerr: a Doctor who has been based at the Brodick GP practice on the Isle of Arran since 1984. 

Ross Noble: originally from the Three Towns but currently working as a Conference Interpreter with the European Commission in Brussels.

With a massive surge in support for the SNP since last September’s Independence Referendum, polls predict the party is on course to record a landslide victory in Scotland at the UK Election.  A poll of polls published last Monday (January 26) by Sky News indicated the SNP could win as many as 53 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster constituencies, including North Ayrshire & Arran.

The local seat has been held by Labour’s Katy Clark since 2005.  At the last UK Election, in 2010, Ms Clark secured a majority of almost 10,000.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Clark rebels on austerity vote

North Ayrshire & Arran MP Katy Clark was the only Scottish Labour MP to rebel when the party backed the Conservatives in a Westminster vote that will see an additional £30bn of cuts in a new wave of austerity measures.

The Scottish National Party, the Green Party and Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru all voted against further cuts but Labour MPs backed the Tories, including 28 from Scotland.  Central Ayrshire MP Brian Donohoe was one of the Labour MPs to vote for more austerity.

Katy Clark, who was recently unsuccessful in a bid to become Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, has been a consistent critic of UK Government-imposed austerity.  Last week Ms Clark highlighted figures from the GMB trade union showing average earnings in North Ayrshire and Arran have decreased by around 15% over the past five years.  The left-wing MP said, “These figures confirm what most people already knew, that the Government’s claims that the economy is recovering simply do not hold true. 

“Last year, workers were significantly worse-off than when the Conservative-led Coalition Government came to power.  The combination of cuts to services, wage freezes or reductions and a lack of meaningful investment have caused wages to fall in real terms.  Many households across the country are now struggling to make their money stretch to meet household bills and basic necessities, such as feeding their families and heating their homes.”

Ms Clark denounced Conservative claims that increased employment figures are a sign of recovery, pointing-out many newly-created jobs come with poverty pay-rates and exploitative zero-hour contracts.  The local MP said, “This has been an economic recovery for the few, not the many and exposes the complete failure of this Government to help workers.  The drop in income reveals the cost of living crisis that the Government’s austerity politics is now causing, and makes all the more pressing the case for a real alternative of public sector investment, wage increases and secure employment.”

With a UK General Election just four months away, the SNP in North Ayrshire & Arran is targeting the seat currently held by Katy Clark for Labour.  Bookies currently have the two parties neck-and-neck in the race, which represents a significant swing to the SNP since the last Westminster election in 2010, when Ms Clark and Labour secured a majority of almost 10,000.

This week a local SNP activist told, “Katy Clark is increasingly out of step with the Tory-supporting Labour Party she represents.

“The policies she supports were rejected by Labour when she recently stood for the deputy leadership, and while she was attacking the Tory-led UK Government for imposing more cuts and austerity, her Labour colleagues at Westminster were voting with the Tories and were backing more cuts and austerity.”

The SNP member noted, “It’s important local people realise that if they vote for Katy Clark at the UK Election in May, and if Labour was actually to win that election across the UK, the policies we would get would not be those supported by Katy Clark, they would be the policies supported by the increasingly right-wing Labour Party – policies that saw them back the Tories and more austerity.” 

Increased NHS funding

Margaret Burgess MSP has welcomed increased Scottish Government funding for the NHS in Ayrshire & Arran.

SNP Health Secretary Shona Robison MSP last week confirmed the local Health Board will receive an extra £3.2m in 2015/16, meaning the total financial uplift being delivered in the next year to NHS Ayrshire & Arran will be £16.6m.

Margaret Burgess said, “Advances in technology and the development of new medicines make an incredible difference to the treatment of patients, but often there are rising costs that come with such developments.

“The increased funding will help to address those increased pressures and ensure that patients in Ayrshire and Arran receive the best possible healthcare.”

The MSP for Cunninghame South noted, “The SNP is the only party that can be trusted to protect the NHS.  Ed Miliband has just highlighted that, like Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy, he is prepared to continue the public spending cuts we have suffered with the Tories.  We already know Scottish Labour’s new Chief of Staff is in favour of privatising the NHS to deliver £20bn of cuts to public spending.

“In stark contrast, this funding announcement shows the SNP’s determination to ensure that Scotland’s NHS has the resources it needs and underlines that it is only the SNP who will always stand up for Scotland’s health service.”

All smiles at Stevenston dentists

A well-known local dentist has taken-over the practice at which she has worked for the past 10 years.

Alison Livingstone has purchased the Stevenston Cross Dental Practice in the town’s Fullerton Place and this week expressed her thanks for support she received from staff and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

The busy practice will continue to operate with four dentists, five nurses and one manager.

Having been offered the opportunity to buy the practice, Alison turned to RBS for support and worked with Business Development Director Charlie Serafini to secure funding.  Ms Livingstone explained, “I was hoping for this to happen for a little while and was really pleased to get the opportunity.

“I spoke to another couple of dentists who had bought a practice in Ayrshire and they recommended Charlie.  He made things very simple and the acquisition wasn’t difficult to set up at all.”

For RBS, Mr Serafini said, “Alison has taken over the practice and has been a pleasure to work with. Stevenston Cross is in good hands and I wish her and the team success in the future.”

Photo: Alison Livingstone with Charlie Serafini.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

NAC in running for UK award

North Ayrshire Council has been shortlisted in UK-wide local government awards.

Run by politically-independent weekly publication The Local Government Chronicle, the prestigious awards see North Ayrshire as the only Scottish finalist in the category of ‘Most improved Council’.

The SNP-run council was shortlisted by the Local Government Chronicle on the basis of “improvements made despite external pressures including reduced budgets and increased demand on services”.  A Council spokesperson listed North Ayrshire’s recent ‘key improvements’ as including:

* Work with our Community Planning Partners and the private sector
* A renewed focus on support for businesses and growth as well as an ambitious capital investment programme designed to regenerate and stimulate the heart of our communities
* A transformation in the provision of health and social care which places those using the service at its very centre and prioritises resources towards tackling problems before they arise
* Innovative approaches to encourage our young people to broaden their horizons by ensuring they have the confidence, skills and attitude to make the most of their life opportunities
* An efficient and effective modern Council with the confidence to challenge the norm and seize opportunities to improve

Cllr Willie Gibson, Leader of the Council’s SNP administration, said, “This is great news for both the Council and the people of North Ayrshire.  Reaching this stage in the awards process demonstrates not only our ongoing commitment to improving Council Services to meet the needs of our community but also shows that we are striving to go beyond the expectations of those we serve.”

NAC Chief Executive Elma Murray agreed, saying, “Not only does this recognise just how hard staff have worked to improve Council services and delivery but it is also a sound endorsement of the vision of our Elected Members that we provide outstanding public services, excellent employment opportunities and exceptional customer service for the people of North Ayrshire.”

Ms Murray indicated the council’s vision is to “become one of the top performing Councils in Scotland and the UK”, adding, “Being shortlisted for this award acknowledges this and also shows just how dedicated we are to developing new, innovative approaches to the delivery of quality services across North Ayrshire.  I would therefore like to congratulate each and every member of staff and our Elected Members for their great efforts in helping us to attain this success.”

Award winners will be announced at a ceremony on March 11th. 

Monday, 12 January 2015

Revealed: secret plan to deal with Hunterston nuclear leak

The UK Government has released an official document detailing actions that would have been taken if there had been a nuclear emergency at Hunterston.

Covering the period 1976 to 1983, the papers relate to the two nuclear stations on the North Ayrshire coast – Hunterson ‘A’ and ‘B’.  The ‘A’ station ceased production in 1990 and ‘B’ is set to operate until 2023, having been originally scheduled to close in 2011.

In the event of nuclear material leaking into the atmosphere, the dossier reveals plans for a quarantined ward at Glasgow Royal Infirmary to become a treatment centre for people suffering burns and radiation sickness.  West Kilbride Community Centre was to be turned into a reception centre and decontamination zone, while local residents were to be issued with potassium iodate tablets, which are used to help reduce the effect of radioactive iodine lodging in a person’s thyroid.

The emergency plan also required for police officers to tour streets in local towns, using a loudhailer to advise residents of the danger.  Where a major contamination had occurred, the strategy was for a mass public evacuation with police tasked to co-ordinate the event.  The document states, “It is essential that evacuation of persons will commence not later than one hour after the police have been requested to begin operations.  If the evacuation takes place during school hours, the police will contact headmasters.”

The file, which has just been made available through the National Archives, contains a letter that police were to hand to residents in local towns affected by nuclear contamination.  The letter reads:

“Dear Sir/Madam,

“An incident at Hunterston nuclear power station has resulted in the release of substances which could be harmful if breathed or eaten. You are advised to move immediately to a reception centre which is being set up at West Kilbride Community Centre.

“Whilst awaiting transportation please remain indoors and keep all windows and external doors closed as much as possible.

“Keep your radio or television tuned to the BBC for any special instructions.”

Similar plans remain in force while the Hunterston ‘B’ station is operational and the ‘A’ station is being decommissioned.