Saturday, 28 February 2015

Solution sought after Adams Avenue post office closes

Residents in the north of Saltcoats have enlisted the support of Katy Clark MP after the sub post office in Adams Avenue was closed last week.

Post Office Ltd has confirmed to the local MP that the closure is temporary and was caused when the agent who ran the facility withdrew their services.  Post Office has also indicated it is “working hard on a solution that will see the office re-open soon”.

Most post offices are run privately by agents (sub postmasters) who provide services on behalf of Post Office Ltd.  There are also around 350 main post offices, known as Crown Offices, which are directly owned and operated by Post Office Ltd.

Katy Clark said, “I am disappointed that the Adams Avenue post office has been closed.  A lot of local residents, particularly the vulnerable and elderly, rely on the services that their local post office branch provides.”

The Labour MP explained, “The Post Office group has assured me a solution is being sought, although they have warned that these things can take time.

“I will be pressing them to find a solution that will see the Adams Avenue post office re-open as soon as possible.”

Candidate says anything other than Tory rule from London would be "catastrophe for Scotland"

The Conservative & Unionist Party has named its candidate to fight the North Ayrshire & Arran seat at the UK Election on May 7th.

Jamie Greene (pictured) is described by the party as a “senior executive for a large multinational broadcast network”, having previously worked as a producer in the TV industry.

Although unlikely to achieve better than third-place in the local contest – Labour and the SNP are quoted as joint front-runners by bookies – Mr Greene immediately attempted to talk-up the Tories’ chances, saying, “Looking at the choice facing the people of North Ayrshire and Arran it’s hard to tell the difference between the Labour and the SNP candidates, as each scrambles to be more left-wing than the other.  Whilst they fight each other in North Ayrshire and Arran, their party leaders plot coalition together in Westminster.

“Remember, the SNP’s sole aim is the break-up of the UK: a vote for either the SNP or Labour will be an inevitable catastrophe for Scotland.  If you voted ‘No’ in the referendum, then only a vote for the Conservatives will ensure the preservation of the Union.”

The 34-year-old, originally from Greenock, says he is “pro-business, pro-employment and extremely concerned that the SNP or Labour...will financially cripple us,” adding, “The Scottish Conservative Party is the only true and sensible centre-right party on the ballot. The contrast in this election is stark and clear - it’s a choice between a strong future for Scotland under the Conservatives, or chaos with anyone else.”

Speaking at the recent Scottish Tory Conference in Edinburgh, Mr Greene said of the North Ayrshire & Arran contest, “This two-horse race just turned into a three-horse race.  The voice of the centre-right is very much alive.”

The Tory hopeful noted that if he was the MP for North Ayrshire & Arran he would “champion local jobs and support people who work hard and aspire to improve their quality of life”.

Labour MP Katy Clark is defending the local seat against a very strong challenge from the SNP’s Patricia Gibson.

The far-right United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has announced it will field Kilbirnie woman Sharon McGonigal as its candidate on May 7th.

High-performing Ayrshire NHS staff

NHS Ayrshire & Arran staff have been praised for achieving a 99.5% performance-rate in treating inpatient and day-cases within the SNP Scottish Government’s 12-week Treatment Time Guarantee.

Local MSP Margaret Burgess said, “Ayrshire's NHS staff deserve enormous credit for their strong performance.

“Scotland now has some of the lowest waiting times on record and there is no doubt it is thanks to the hard work of NHS staff and their commitment to treating patients as quickly as possible.”

The SNP MSP for Cunninghame South continued, “Of course, Labour has said it would abolish the Treatment Time Guarantee, turning-back the progress that has been made by Ayrshire & Arran.

“It is clear the SNP is the only party that can be trusted with our NHS.”

Mrs Burgess, who is also the Scottish Government Minister for Housing and Welfare, noted, “Everyone can be confident the SNP will maintain the Treatment Time Guarantee and will always put the interests of patients and staff before cheap attempts by other parties to grab headlines.”

The Treatment Time Guarantee was introduced in October 2012, providing a legal standard that requires inpatients and day-case patients are treated within 12 weeks.

The SNP Scottish Government recently allocated an additional £10m to health boards to be used towards delivering waiting-time targets.  The money came from a new £31.5m Performance Fund for frontline services.

End in sight for Stevenston Cross traffic problems

A prominent building near Stevenston Cross is to be made safe after officers from North Ayrshire Council’s Building Standards department ordered owners to carry out an urgent structural survey.

The old Rankin’s pub in Townhead Street was declared unsafe by officials, which prompted the closure of the adjacent pavement in order to protect the public.  The action also required the installation of ‘temporary’ traffic lights to keep vehicles away from the front of the building.  However, the lights have been in place for a number of weeks, with locals reporting substantial traffic delays in the busy town centre area.

It has now been confirmed the owners of Rankin’s have carried out the required survey and that remedial structural work is to be undertaken “without delay”.

Local MP Katy Clark welcomed the news that weeks of traffic congestion for Stevenston motorists will now come to end.  Ms Clark said, “I know that many of my constituents who drive through Stevenston on a regular basis have been frustrated with the temporary traffic signals being up for so long, especially as it was clear there was no work being carried out in the area.”

The Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran added, “Subject to the remedial work satisfying Building Standards, the traffic signals should hopefully be removed very soon.”

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Junior club alleges player was racially abused

In a week when racism returned as an issue to top-flight football, local Junior side Ardeer Thistle has alleged one of its players was racially abused by an opponent.

Fans of Chelsea Football Club are being sought by Police after a video emerged of a black man being pushed off a train at a station on the Paris Metro.  The London club were in France to play Paris St Germain in the Uefa Champions League.  The English fans were also heard to chant, “We’re racist, and that’s the way we like it.”
Now, Ardeer Thistle Secretary Peter McBlain has confirmed that the Stevenston club has reported an incident from last Saturday’s match against Greenock Juniors, in which it is claimed Thistle’s Arnault Bembo (pictured) was abused because he is black.

The versatile defender/midfielder immediately brought the incident to the attention of the referee during the game that Ardeer went on to win 2-1 away from home.  The club also formally raised the matter with the official at the end of the match.  It is understood the very serious issue will be included in the referee’s report to the Scottish Junior Football Association.

In a club statement, Peter McBlain said, “Ardeer Thistle FC totally condemns the behaviour of the Greenock Juniors No 10 who racially abused Ardeer Thistle player Arnault Bembo during the match on Saturday [February 14].

“This disgraceful incident took place out of earshot of the match officials but was heard by another Ardeer Thistle player. 

“Arnault was so upset by the incident that he asked to be substituted by the coach and he stated that never in all his previous appearances with either Ardeer Thistle or previous clubs Threave Rovers and Vale of Clyde had he ever been the subject of any racial abuse.  He only wants to play football.”

Confirming the matter had been reported to Junior Football authorities, Mr McBlain said he “hopes they and the player’s club, Greenock Juniors, take appropriate action to punish this individual and ensure he will not get the opportunity to repeat his actions.”

Management, committee members and players of the Stevenston side have given their full support to Arnault, and have indicated they will back “any further action he may wish to take with regards to this incident”.

Peter McBlain noted, “We hope he will put this behind him and continue enjoying his football at the club.

“There is no place on the football field or in society for this type of behaviour.”

So far this season Arnault Bembo has played 17 games for Ardeer Thistle, scoring one goal and winning 2 ‘Man of the Match’ awards.

Raising awareness of autism

A mother and daughter have arranged a ‘coffee afternoon’ to raise awareness of autism with the political candidates representing the two main political parties challenging for the North Ayrshire & Arran seat at May’s UK Election. 

Members of the local community will be able to question Labour’s Katy Clark and the SNP’s Patricia Gibson at the event on March 7th, which is being held in Ardrossan Library from 2:00pm.

The event, which is free, has been organised by teenager Jordan Fernando who, herself, has autism and is an ambassador for the National Autistic Society.  Helped by her mum, Suzanne, Jordan’s plan is for the ‘coffee afternoon’ to a be a relaxed, informal affair where people have time to chat with Ms Clark and Mrs Gibson, as well as have their questions answered.

Jordan said, “Guests can ask the candidates anything at all related to autism and how the policies of the Labour Party and the SNP could help those affected by the illness and their families.”

Last December, Jordan received praise for the professional way in which she and her mum organised a cabaret night to raise much-needed funding for the National Autistic Society Scotland.

In addition, the young Ardrossan woman’s work in supporting those affected by autism and raising awareness of the illness saw her win a Cream of Ayrshire Award last year.

[Photo: Jordan and Suzanne Fernando]

Local youngsters to benefit from increased education funding

North Ayrshire Council is to be one of the first local authorities to receive funding from a £100m Attainment Scotland Fund.

Welcoming the announcement from the SNP Scottish Government, local MSP Margaret Burgess said, “This will be a significant boost for education in North Ayrshire.

“It is known that school education in Scotland is improving - we have record exam results and a record number of school leavers in work, education or training.  However, there is no room for complacency and the Scottish Government has long recognised attainment as being an important area where improvement is needed.”

Mrs Burgess, MSP for Cunninghame South, believes a new Scottish Attainment Challenge will play an important part in achieving greater attainment, adding, “Funds will be directed specifically towards improvements in literacy, numeracy, health and wellbeing in primary schools.

“If we can close the attainment gap when children are young, the benefits will continue into secondary school and beyond.”

North Ayrshire and other beneficiaries from the fund will work to deliver an improvement plan and will have access to additional resources and expertise.

Mrs Burgess, the SNP Scottish Government Minister for Housing and Welfare, also welcomed annual funding of £500,000 to support a National Mentoring Scheme to improve the lives of looked after children, and an extra £10m to back the implementation of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.

Bosses reduce pay of minimum wage workers

Local MP Katy Clark (pictured) has revealed that around 160,000 social care workers across the UK are receiving less than the minimum wage.

The staff are mainly employed by private contractors delivering care packages on behalf of councils who have outsourced services in an attempt to save money after available funding was slashed by UK Government cuts.

Although being paid the minimum rate of £6.50-an-hour, workers have found that many employers do not count ‘travel time’ as part of the working day.  This means staff are only paid while providing direct care to ‘clients’ and receive nothing for the time it takes to travel between appointments.  Excluding ‘travel time’, despite this forming an essential part of the service for which private companies have been contracted, results in staff receiving hourly pay for the total time spent at work that falls short of the minimum legal rate.

The Resolution Foundation, a think tank involved in attempting to improve the living standards of low-paid workers, estimates social care staff are losing an average of £815 per year because employers are refusing to pay ‘travel time’ between appointments with clients.

Commenting on the practice, Katy Clark said, “The minimum wage is a basic right and it is wrong that many care workers in Scotland are not receiving it.

“Travelling between homes is an important part of a care worker’s duties and it is vital they are paid for this time.  The [UK] Government must ensure that all care workers are paid a fair wage.”

Ms Clark, Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran, says there is a need for urgent action “to deal with the problem of low pay in general,” adding, “Under this Tory-led Government, thousands of people are being paid less than the minimum wage, but there hasn’t been a single prosecution for minimum wage non-compliance in Scotland.”

RIC putting people first

The recently-formed Ayrshire branch of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) is ramping-up its activities in the local area.

RIC seeks to encourage working class engagement in the political process.  During the recent Independence Referendum campaign, RIC was credited with adding thousands of people to the Electoral Register through carrying-out mass canvasses of mainly deprived areas in towns and cities across Scotland.

The organisation campaigns on the slogan ‘Another Scotland is possible’, arguing that an independent Scotland could reject the right-wing, pro-big business, capitalist agenda of UK political parties and, instead, introduce legislation that puts first the interests of the people.

Local campaigner Heather Anderson told, “Our strategy in North Ayrshire is political engagement.  We are aiming to maximise political participation, especially amongst deprived and traditionally apathetic groups.”

The local RIC’s first meeting was held recently in Dalry.  Ms Anderson said, “It was attended by a wide variety of people, including some from the most disadvantaged groups of all. 

“One woman gave a very moving talk about how she fell into drug use and why she believed politics had no relevance to her life. She now realises that if things are to change, people just like her have to participate in the political process.”

Already the Ayrshire RIC has held street stalls in Saltcoats and Largs, and has begun local canvassing to ensure people are registered to vote at May’s UK General Election.

Heather Anderson explained, “We are attempting to persuade those who normally don't engage with politics and politicians that it is important to make their voices heard.”

The group has also begun arranging a series of public meetings to be held across North Ayrshire, at which high-profile pro-independence and anti-austerity speakers will make the case for working-class engagement and explaining how Scots can take control of their lives by “building another type of Scotland where people come first”.

Boost for local NHS funding

The Scottish Health Secretary, Shona Robison MSP (pictured), has confirmed that NHS Ayrshire & Arran will receive an additional £16.6m in the current financial year (2015-16).

The extra money sees the local Health Board’s general allocation for the year increase to £635.5m, up by 2.7% on 2014-15.

The SNP Scottish Government has also allocated a further £2.3m to NHS Ayrshire and Arran to tackle delays in discharging patients from hospital.

Announcing the financial allocation for local hospitals and health services, Shona Robison said, “The Scottish Government’s commitment to increasing NHS Ayrshire and Arran’s budget demonstrates our continuing investment in frontline health spending.

“This comes as Scotland’s total health spending reaches more than £12bn for the first time ever.

“We’re clear that all patients in NHS Ayrshire and Arran should be treated as quickly and as effectively as possible, with the right care, in the right place, at the right time.”

The Health Secretary acknowledged there are still pressures on the NHS but said the Scottish Government is “acting to deliver record funding and the robust policies needed to support the hardworking and dedicated staff of our NHS.”

Teacher accused of inappropriate behaviour

A former technology teacher at Ardrossan Academy faces being removed from the Register of Teachers when he appears next week before the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

Michael Rankin (pictured), who left his teaching position at the local secondary school in October 2013, is accused of swearing at pupils and of making sexual references in the classroom.

Four pupils made complaints to North Ayrshire Council, which included an allegation that Mr Rankin had said to one, “I shagged your mum,” and that, “Every time I shagged her, she made me a sandwich. That’s why I’m fat.”

It is also alleged the teacher said to another pupil, “I need to put my glasses on. I can’t see because of too much wanking. Is that why you wear glasses?”

Further complaints claim Mr Rankin swore at pupils and referred to a football team from Cumnock Academy as “mongos”.

In addition to his teaching role, Michael Rankin was also the Chief Youth Scout for Greenock Morton Football Club.  He resigned from that position after he was suspended by North Ayrshire Council while the local authority investigated the allegations against him.

At a procedural hearing of the General Teaching Council for Scotland in November last year, Michael Rankin was represented by Alistair Milne of solicitors Balfour & Manson.  Minutes of the meeting record the lawyer saying that Mr Rankin did not accept “all” of the allegations against him, adding that the former teacher was “effectively willing to accede to the maximum disposal which would be open to a Fitness to Teach Panel, that is to be removed from the Register of Teachers, in relation to those elements of the complaint which he accepted.  In addition, he was accepting that the terms of his removal would be such that he could not re-apply to the Register for the maximum period of two years.”

A spokesperson for North Ayrshire Council indicated it would be inappropriate for the local authority to comment on Ian Rankin’s position given that he has not been an employee of the council since October 2013.