Friday, 27 March 2015

SNP rejects Tory-Labour austerity

Local SNP MSP Margaret Burgess has launched a scathing attack on British Unionist political parties after the announcement of a UK Budget that will see a further £30bn of cuts imposed on already-struggling people.

Mrs Burgess was speaking after Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne revealed the plans Tories will implement if the party is re-elected on May 7th.  Although criticising the Tory plans during the Budget debate in the House of Commons, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, later told the BBC’s Today programme that a future Labour Government would not reverse any of the measures proposed by the Tories.

Margaret Burgess said, “The Tories tell us the economy is ‘sorted’, yet Scotland’s public services face being hammered by massive spending cuts.

“Last year, Labour and the Tories told us ‘stick with Westminster and all will be well”, but now they say there must be more devastating cuts.  Shamefully, Labour has signed-up to the Tories’ £30bn of cuts.  For Scotland, this means cuts of £12bn over the next 4 years.”

Mrs Burgess, MSP for the local constituency of Cunninghame South, highlighted the SNP’s alternative to Westminster austerity, saying, “First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has outlined our credible and sustainable programme, which would see the deficit and debt fall every year, but still free-up public spending across the UK with £14bn for Scotland’s public services.

“By investing rather than simply cutting, we can boost Scotland’s economy and create jobs.”

Clampdown on abuse of Blue Badge parking

North Ayrshire Council has made clear drivers and passengers who abuse the disabled parking scheme in the local area could have ‘Blue Badges’ confiscated.
 New Scottish Government legislation coming into force next week provides councils with additional powers to deal with those who misuse the Blue Badges that allow people with disabilities to park their vehicles in designated spaces, which are usually closer to workplaces, shops and community services. 

With the new powers, North Ayrshire Council can confiscate badges and cancel any that are reported lost or stolen.

SNP Transport Minister Derek Mackay explained, “Blue Badge misuse is socially unacceptable as it prevents the 228,000 legitimate badge-holders across Scotland from accessing the on-street parking concessions to which they are entitled.

“Granting extra powers for local authorities to tackle Blue Badge misuse and confiscate badges that are not valid or are being used illegally by a third-party for their own benefit, will allow disabled badge-holders to access services in the community and to lead independent lives.”

Abuse of the Blue Badge scheme reduces the number of disabled parking bays and on-street spaces for local residents who genuinely need them. 

Better lighting and financial savings

North Ayrshire Council is to roll-out a major green initiative to light-up local roads.

Following a successful pilot scheme on Arran and Cumbrae, new energy-efficient bulbs in street-lights are to be installed across the district.  It is anticipated the initiative will provide substantial financial savings for the council.

Dubbed LUNAR – Lighting Up North Ayrshire Responsibly – the scheme will see around 13,500 low-energy bulbs fitted to reduce emissions.  The project has been described as an ‘invest to save’ scheme, with savings to the council’s maintenance budget estimated at around £750,000 over eight-years.

Cllr Tony Gurney, North Ayrshire’s SNP Cabinet Member for the Environment, said, “It’s great to see the new LED lighting being put in place.  It’s such a fantastic project that will have positive impacts for years to come.

“This is a fantastic example of investing to save money. The Council deserve credit for pushing ahead with this scheme, which has huge economic and environmental benefits.”

The Ardrossan councillor indicated the local authority had looked at a number of options before deciding on LED technology, adding, “The bulbs are low-energy with a longer life-cycle, meaning fewer complaints from residents about dark lamps.

“They also produce a clear light, which shines where it needs to be and doesn’t spill into other areas.

“This project will improve street-lighting across North Ayrshire while saving money and improving our carbon footprint.”

The council plans to begin installation of the new LED lighting on major routes, with residential areas to follow.

[Photo: Cllr Tony Gurney (in the yellow jacket) helps install one of the new LED light bulbs.]

Brown hits town

Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown will be in Ardrossan this Sunday (March 29) to support North Ayrshire & Arran Labour candidate Katy Clark.

Ms Clark is defending a majority of almost 10,000 but opinion polls and bookies’ odds have the SNP slightly ahead in the constituency with just six-weeks until polling day.

Gordon Brown is credited by many for having ‘saved the Union’ during last year’s Independence Referendum.  His late intervention with a ‘vow’ of significant new powers for the Scottish Parliament if Scots rejected independence, is believed to have persuaded substantial numbers of people to switch from ‘YES’ to ‘No’.  However, since the referendum, when the British Union side won with a 10% majority, the significant powers promised in the Brown ‘vow’ have failed to materialise.  This situation is cited as one of the reasons for the recent phenomenal rise in SNP membership and support for the party.

The former Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer is standing-down as an MP, with polls suggesting the SNP could take the Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath seat (formerly Dunfermline East), which he has represented since 1983.

Of the public meeting Mr Brown will address on Sunday, Katy Clark said, “This will be a chance to hear Labour’s bold plans on the economy and employment, and underline the importance of replacing the current Tory government with a Labour government in May.”

The meeting begins at 4:00pm and is being held in St Peter’s Parish Centre, 1 South Crescent Road, Ardrossan.

Although billed as a public event, North Ayrshire & Arran Labour Party is asking people to pre-register if they are interested in attending.  Registration is through Katy Clark’s website.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Provost's Civic Pride award-winners

The North Ayrshire Provost’s Civic Pride Awards were presented at a glittering Oscar’s-themed ceremony in Seamill Hydro last Friday evening (March 20).

Over the past few weeks, local residents have been voting for their favourites in six categories recognising individuals and groups who have excelled in their contributions to life in North Ayrshire.  There was also a Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Council Leader Willie Gibson.

Provost Joan Sturgeon said she was “overwhelmed by the standard of all 15 award-nominees”, whom she described as “all deserving winners”, adding, “we are lucky to have so many people living in North Ayrshire who are willing to make a positive difference to the community and to the lives of others”.

The winners are:

Provost's Award - Irvine Burns Club & Irvine Lasses Burns Club
The club does more than simply promote an interest in the works of Robert Burns. With the support of the Irvine Lasses Burns Club, its numerous projects embrace and promote an interest in local history and heritage as well as encouraging the performing arts, creative writing and poetry.

Lifetime Achievement Award - Bobby Lennox
Saltcoats man Bobby (pictured) is a legend of Scottish football.  Signed by Celtic from Ardeer Recreation in 1961, Bobby went on to score 273 goals for the club, winning 11 League Championships, 8 Scottish Cups and 5 League Cups.  Bobby, of course, was also a member of Celtic’s greatest-ever side, the Lisbon Lions, who became the first UK side to win the European Cup, beating Inter Milan 2-1 in the 1967 final.  Bobby was capped 10 times for Scotland.

Citizen of the Year Award - Joe Broussard
Mr Broussard has been involved with various groups in Kilwinning for a considerable number of years and is chairman of Keep Kilwinning Tidy and the Promoting Kilwinning group, which is responsible for two events in the town each year. He also helped Kilwinning to obtain ‘Fairtrade Town’ status.

Citizen of the Year Award - Peer Mentors - Becky Maxwell, Scott Menzies and Kori-Lee Dickie
Peer mentors from Ayrshire Communities Education and Sport were nominated in recognition of their continued commitment to supporting young people from the community. Becky, Scott and Kori-Lee regularly give up their evenings, weekends and school holidays to deliver intervention and diversionary activities to give young people positive life-choices.

Arts and Culture Award - Irvine Burns Club & Irvine Lasses Burns Club
(See Provost’s Award information).

Sport Award - Danielle Joyce
Danielle is an inspiration to other young deaf people and is training to be an ambassador for UK Deaf Sport. Despite being profoundly deaf in one ear and severely deaf in the other, Danielle has not let it hold her back.  In 2014 she set eight deaf world-records and nine European deaf records. In November she won the Young Deaf Sports Personality of the Year Award.

Community Group Award - Largs First Responders Unit
The Largs First Responder Unit is a group of volunteers who give up their time to help protect the lives of others. Team Members are trained in the use of Automated External Defibrillators and the treatment of a wide range of potentially life threatening conditions.

The Provost’s Civic Pride Awards event was sponsored by Marley Contract Services, Cunninghame Housing Association, ANCHO, Irvine Housing Association, KA Leisure, and raised a magnificent £18,000 for two nominated charities – Ayrshire Hospice and Cash for Kids (West).

UK Government taxes emergency service

Katy Clark MP has called on the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government to stop pocketing millions-of-pounds in Value Added Tax (VAT) from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.
The Westminster government began charging VAT to the emergency organisation when Scotland’s eight fire brigades were merged into one national body through the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, which was passed by the Scottish Parliament.  It is estimated the Scottish service is currently paying around £10m a year to the UK Treasury.

In 2012, when the Tory-led Government indicated its intention to charge VAT, the SNP Scottish Government branded the move “a naked cash grab”, adding, “Westminster is not content with imposing huge cuts on our public sector, it also wants to make Scotland’s police and fire authorities the only services in the UK unable to recover VAT.”

Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has rejected a request from the SNP Government that sought to place the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the Scottish Police Authority on the same footing as services in other parts of the UK, where VAT payments can be recovered.

Now, local Labour MP Ms Clark has tabled a question to George Osborne, Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, calling for the UK Government to bring forward legislation to create a level playing field and allow the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to secure VAT refunds.

Ms Clark said, “There is no sensible reason why the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service should not be eligible for a VAT refund.  Other blue-light organisations are eligible for a refund and to penalise the Scottish organisation in this way places considerable financial pressure on an essential public service.”

Calling for the Chancellor and UK Government to “think again” on the matter, the North Ayrshire & Arran MP said she hopes “common sense will prevail”.

Autism awareness 'coffee afternoon' a huge success

An event organised to raise awareness of autism in Scotland has been acknowledged as a huge success.

Held recently in Ardrossan Library, the coffee afternoon brought together the two principle candidates contesting the North Ayrshire & Arran constituency at May’s UK Election – Katy Clark (Labour) and Patricia Gibson (SNP).  Also in attendance was Richard Wilkinson of the local Conservative Association who represented Tory candidate Jamie Greene.

Mother and daughter campaign team Suzanne and Jordan Fernando were behind the informal meeting that allowed local people with autism to question politicians on their parties’ policies regarding dealing with the illness.

Jordan, who has autism, explained, “Our politicians care about the issues that matter to us, and by taking the time to sit down with them, face to face, for a conversation, we were able to raise awareness of autism with those who want to represent us in parliament.”

The young Ardrossan woman added, “The coffee afternoon was about what it's like to live with autism in our constituency and how our MPs can help.”

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people.  It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.  It is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways.  Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support.  People with autism may also experience over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.

Jordan Fernando’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 (l to r): Patricia Gibson (SNP), John Snoddy (Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament), Richard Wilkinson (Conservative), Suzanne Fernando, Katy Clark (Labour), Jordan Fernando (and friend), Fiona Bain (North Ayrshire Council).

Left-winger Katy to challenge power of Labour's 'party managers'

North Ayrshire & Arran MP Katy Clark is seeking election to an internal Labour Party committee that oversees the selection of issues to be debated at the party’s annual conference.

Ms Clark is being supported by two groups of Labour members, Left Futures and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy.

The groups have raised concerns that “party managers” have been ruling-out motions submitted by ordinary members in constituencies across the UK, which, they argue, “leaves delegates as little more than spectators at their own conference”.

Katy Clark has now written to Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs), asking for their support in her move to be elected to the Conference Arrangements Committee. 

The North Ayrshire & Arran MP recently challenged for the position of Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, but was unsuccessful.  Ms Clark presented a ‘old Labour’ left-wing agenda, but lost out to Kezia Dugdale MSP who is seen as a supporter of the centre-right, New Labour party created by Tony Blair.

In her letter to CLPs, Katy Clark says, “I am standing [for the Conference Arrangements Committee] because members need a far stronger voice in our Party.  Too many CLPs no longer attend Conference because they don’t see the point.  Yes, Conference should be a showcase for our Party and a chance to sell ourselves, but it has to be more than a PR event.  There must be more opportunity for debate and members must feel that they can influence policy.”

Arguing that members, trade unions and affiliated societies should be more involved in decisions made by the party, Ms Clark states, “One of my aims would be to try and ensure that more ordinary members get to contribute in the main debates.  We need to make sure that all parts of the country are represented in our democratic structures.”

Labour members will decide who is elected to the powerful Conference Arrangements Committee in an internal ballot to be carried out in late July.  

Saturday, 14 March 2015

New MSYPs elected

Four young women have been elected to represent the youth of local constituencies.

In results announced today (March 14), it has been confirmed that Emily Aitken and Megan Reid have been elected as Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYP) for Cunninghame North, with Courtney Gemmell and Erin McAuley the new MSYPs for Cunninghame South.

One-hundred MSYPs are elected to represent people aged between 14 and 25 in each parliamentary constituency in Scotland.  In addition, there are a further 50 members from national voluntary organisations.

The Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) meets in the actual Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and its work is overseen by a group of trustees, all of whom are also under 25 years-old. 

Explaining the SYP’s role, a spokesperson said, “Our vision is of a stronger, more inclusive Scotland that empowers young people by truly involving them in the decision-making process.  Every year we have at least three national meetings where we discuss issues which affect young people and try to propose new and sometimes radical solutions to these problems.

“We are a young people’s parliament, designed by young people, led by young people and for the benefit of young people - the SYP is totally youth-led.  We listen to and recognise the issues that are most important to young people, and ensure that by representing them at a national level their voices are heard by government and formal decision makers.”

Election site predicts SNP victory in North Ayrshire & Arran

A website run by the respected New Statesman magazine has calculated the likely winner of May’s UK Election in the North Ayrshire & Arran constituency.

Astonishingly, in a seat where Labour secured a majority of almost 10,000 at the last election in 2010, the ‘May 2015’ website claims it is 94% likely the local constituency will return an SNP MP this time.

The news will be welcomed by SNP candidate Patricia Gibson (pictured), but will come as a shock to Labour’s Katy Clark who has represented North Ayrshire & Arran since 2005.

The New Statesman election site explained how it reached its conclusion, “All Scotland’s seats are placed in one of five groups, based on bookies’ latest odds and published opinion polls: more than 70 per cent likely to vote SNP (likely); 60-69 per cent (fairly likely); 50-59 per cent (leaning towards SNP); 35-49 per cent (leaning towards Labour); and less than 35 per cent likely (unlikely to vote SNP).”

With North Ayrshire calculated as being 94% likely to vote SNP, the next eight weeks will see Labour desperately try to save the seat the party has held since 1987.

Other candidates contesting the local constituency are: Jamie Greene (Conservative & Unionist Party), Ruby Kirkwood (Liberal Democrat) and Sharon McGonigal (UKIP).