Thursday, 24 December 2015

School meals over Christmas and New Year

One of North Ayrshire Council’s most-appreciated services will again operate over the Christmas holiday period.

Despite educational facilities being closed over Christmas and New Year, the meals service at 10 local schools will continue to provide nutritious dinners for pupils, at a cost of £2.00 per lunch.  No charge is applied for children who qualify for free school meals.

During the holiday break, free leisure facilities are also being provided at the schools.

The SNP-run council first trialled the holiday meals scheme in 2013 and, after it proved successful, rolled-out the service across North Ayrshire the following year.

The efforts of school-meals staff were recently recognised when NAC’s Facilities Management personnel won ‘Team of the Year’ at the 2015 Herald Society Awards.  The prize was given for work to “improve the lives of young people in North Ayrshire”.

The council’s SNP Cabinet Member with responsibility for the school-meals service, Ardrossan councillor Tony Gurney (pictured), said, “This scheme is one I am incredibly proud of and I’m not surprised at the recognition it is getting. It is thoroughly deserved.

“Since introducing it as a pilot project, it has gone from strength to strength.

“We recognise that we have a duty to our children all the year-round – not just when they are at school. We are leading the way with our holiday meals service and other councils are sitting-up and taking notice.

“North Ayrshire school pupils have always enjoyed a high standard of nutritious meals, and looking at the latest menu it is clear to see why we are considered one of the best.”

Lunch will be served from 12:30pm-1:00pm and the free leisure activities take place from 11:30am-12:30pm. The schools are open on December 29 and 30, and January 5 and 6.
Primary pupils can access the meals service at the school closest to where they live.  The schools taking part are:

Castlepark Primary
Dalry Primary
Dreghorn Primary
Elderbank Primary
Hayocks Primary
Loudoun Primary
Pennyburn Primary
St Bridgets Primary
Stanley Primary
Woodlands Primary

School meals will also to be provided free-of-charge at the Church of Nazarene in Glasgow Street, Ardrossan as part of the holiday meals service to accommodate pupils of Winton Primary and Ardeer Primary through the successful ‘Making a Meal of it’ community meals initiative.

Christmas chemists

NHS Ayrshire & Arran has announced the local chemists that will be open over the Christmas holiday period.

Doctors’ surgeries will be closed for four days, from Christmas Day until Tuesday, December 29, but a number of pharmacies will be open and able to provide medicines and answer questions relating to treatment of 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 phone on 111.

In addition to dispensing medication, local chemists can give advice on the best way to take medicines; supply emergency hormonal contraception; advise on diet and exercise; provide a private area to discuss sensitive issues; offer pregnancy testing; supervise methadone supply.

On Christmas Day all chemists will be closed except:

Shergill Pharmacy - 36 Caldon Road, Irvine (10:00am-12noon)
Lloyds Pharmacy - 154/156 High Street, Irvine (12noon-2:00pm)

On Boxing Day (December 26) the Three Towns pharmacies that will be open are:

Boots - 77 Dockhead Street, Saltcoats (10:00am–4:00pm)
Gallagher Pharmacy - 19 Dockhead Street, Saltcoats (9:00am-1:00pm and 1:30pm-5:00pm)
Lloyds Pharmacy - 28/30 New Street, Stevenston (9:00am-5:00pm)

Also open on Boxing Day are:

Well Pharmacy - 18/20 Main Street, Beith (9:00am-1:00pm)
Boots - 1 Fullarton Square, Irvine (9:00am-5:30pm)
Lloyds Pharmacy - 154/156 High Street, Irvine (9:00am-5:00pm)
Lloyds Pharmacy - 151 Main Street, Kilwinning (9:00am-5:00pm)
Superdrug - 6b Aitken Street, Largs (11:00am-5:00pm)
Morrisons Pharmacy - 4 Irvine Road, Largs (10:00am-4:00pm)
Lloyds Pharmacy - 110/112 Main Street, West Kilbride (8:45am-5:00pm)
                                                                                                                      
Two North Ayrshire chemists are open on Sunday, December 27:

Superdrug - 6b Aitken Street, Largs (11:00am-5:00pm)
Boots - 1 Fullarton Square, Irvine (11:00am-5:00pm)

Three Towns pharmacies open on Monday, December 28 are:

Gallagher Pharmacy - 6 Central Avenue, Ardrossan (9:00am-1:00pm and 2:00pm-6:00pm
Gallagher Pharmacy - 41 Glasgow Street, Ardrossan (9:00am-1:00pm and 2:00pm-6:00pm
Boots - 77 Dockhead Street, Saltcoats (9:00am-5.30pm)
Gallagher Pharmacy - 41 Hamilton Street, Saltcoats (9:00am-1:30pm and 2:00pm-5:30pm)
Gallagher Pharmacy - 13 New Street, Stevenston (9:00am-1:00pm and 2:00pm-5:30pm)

Anyone who urgently needs a doctor while GP surgeries are closed should call NHS 24 on 111. The same number applies for emergency dental treatment.

MP criticises benefit underpayments

North Ayrshire & Arran MP Patricia Gibson has expressed concern that errors and delays by the Tory-run Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) are resulting in families going hungry.

Mrs Gibson referred to a report published by the UK Parliament’s cross-party Work and Pensions Select Committee, which warned that, while parts of the benefits system worked well, there is evidence of “too many errors and too many delays” in relation to payments being made to claimants. 

The committee of MPs also highlighted it had not been possible to fully scrutinise some benefit delays due to an “unacceptable” lack of information from the DWP about Employment and Support Allowance, Work Capability Assessments and mandatory reconsideration clearance-times.

Committee members noted that while the DWP has a target to reduce benefit overpayments, no target is in place to ensure claimants receive the full benefits to which they are entitled.  In the past financial year (2014/15), claimants were underpaid by a staggering £1.5bn.

Patricia Gibson, SNP MP for North Ayrshire & Arran said, “This should be remedied immediately as underpayments can have an enormous impact on claimants and their ability to pay for essentials.

“Some people wait up to six weeks to receive their first benefit payment under Universal Credit. This is totally unacceptable and can only ensure undue hardship is inflicted on some of our poorest and vulnerable constituents.”

Monday, 14 December 2015

UK spending-cuts to hit employment services

Local MSP Kenneth Gibson has written to UK Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith to express “serious concerns” over Tory Government plans to slash funding by £40m for employment services in Scotland.

Following the Smith Commission, which was supposed to provide Scotland with enhanced devolution after independence was rejected in the 2014 referendum, the UK Government agreed to cede to the Scottish Parliament control over some employment services, such as the Work Programme and Work Choice.  However, the recent Spending Review announced by Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne revealed funding for such services will be dramatically cut over the next few years.

Kenneth Gibson, Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee, said, “The Department for Work and Pensions intends to cut spending on Scottish programmes by around £40-million annually - around 75-percent.  This undermines the agreed aims of the Smith Commission and shows how sleekit the UK Government has become; devolving powers without the resources to deliver them.”

The SNP MSP for Cunninghame North noted, “This is in breach of the philosophy of ‘no detriment’, which is integral to the entire devolution process, whereby neither the UK nor Scotland should suffer financial loss when a power is devolved.

“Of course, the Tories have form on this: pre-Smith they devolved Council Tax benefit, minus £42-million a year, which councils and the SNP Government had to find from elsewhere, to the detriment of other budgets.

“This latest blow to Scotland shows how hollow the so-called 'Vow' to Scotland was.”

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Checking the cost of Christmas

Trading Standards officers in North Ayrshire are targeting local Post Offices to ensure people are not over-charged when sending letters in the run-up to Christmas.

A similar exercise last year resulted in three Post Offices receiving warning-letters after they failed to quote the correct price for postage on large letters. 

It is understood some letters were quoted at a price of £2.80, when the actual cost should have been £2.05, an overcharge of more than 25-percent.

Previously, officers from North Ayrshire Council’s Trading Standards department acted in a facilitating role, looking to educate and reinforce the legal obligations placed upon Post Offices to correctly assess postage costs.  However, this year, officers will take court action if any Post Office is found to be overcharging consumers.

Cllr Marie Burns, North Ayrshire’s SNP Cabinet Member for Economy and Employment, said, “Post Offices provide essential services to consumers, communities and businesses, and users of these services must have confidence that the items handled by the Post Office are weighed and measured accurately and priced correctly. 

 “While most Post Offices clearly work within the law and charge customers the correct amount, we have found some isolated cases where some counter staff are not measuring letters and parcels correctly prior to charging consumers.

 “We want to ensure that, during a busy time of year when many people will be using the Post Office to send Christmas cards and presents, they do not find themselves out of pocket.”

Permanent link with Campbeltown confirmed

Ardrossan SNP councillor Tony Gurney has welcomed news that the ferry service between the town and Campbeltown is to be made permanent.

Cllr Gurney Tweeted his delight as Transport Secretary Derek Mackay confirmed the initial pilot service between Ayrshire and Argyll will form a regular link in ferry services from next May.

Ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) revealed it had carried around 10,000 passengers and 2,000 cars during the three-year pilot of the Ardrossan-Campbeltown link.

SNP Government Minister Derek Mackay said making the service permanent would be “a real boost for local economies,” and would, “support the tourist trade”. 

CalMac's Director of Operations, Drew Collier, noted, “Passenger-numbers on this route during the trial confirm the demand is there for a regular ferry link, and we look forward to delivering this service next year in support of local communities.”

Monday, 7 December 2015

MP votes against bombing Syria

Local MP Patricia Gibson has branded as “foolhardy” the UK Parliament’s decision to bomb Syria.

Mrs Gibson and her SNP colleagues unanimously voted against UK involvement in the ongoing Syrian civil war, which sees disparate groups, including the barbaric Da’esh (ISIS), fighting for control of the country.

The Tory Government Motion, debated for ten-hours in the House of Commons last Wednesday (December 2), called for RAF bombers to join a two-year-long, American-led assault on areas of Syria controlled by Da’esh.  The Motion was supported by 66 Labour MPs, helping to secure a pro-war majority of 397 to 223.

Despite 97% of Scottish MPs voting against the bombing of Syria, aircraft based in Scotland were involved in an attack within one-hour of the decision in the UK Parliament.  Only the one Tory MP and one Liberal Democrat in Scotland backed the bombing.

Speaking after the debate, Patricia Gibson said, “To say that nothing should be done is not an option. However, acting when the consequences of action are not fully understood is foolhardy.  

“Military analysts made it clear that air strikes will not defeat ISIS. The Prime Minister claims there are 70,000 rebels ready to help.  However, despite repeated questioning, he was unable to spell-out who these fighters are, how many are ‘moderate’ and how many belong to rival jihadist elements as bad as those we want to defeat.”

Mrs Gibson is concerned British bombing will lead to even more civilian casualties, saying, “Despite claims that technology used by the RAF would minimise civilian casualties, we know from past experience that using high explosives in urban areas leads inevitably to innocent lives being lost.”

Within days, UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon confirmed Mrs Gibson’s fears were a possibility, telling an English newspaper, “You can’t completely eliminate mistakes in wartime, but we do our best to ensure that any civilian damage is minimised.”

Rather than dropping bombs from 30,000-feet, Patricia Gibson argues, “The UK should press for Turkey to seal its borders to ISIS volunteers crossing into Syria and Iraq, and cut-off export of the oil and antiquities ISIS relies on to pay its fighters.”

The MP for North Ayrshire & Arran pointed-out that Jihadis who had trained and fought in Syria subsequently returned to Europe, playing major roles in the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.  Mrs Gibson says more work needs to be done “to counter radicalisation of Muslims in communities across Europe”.

Looking forward, the SNP MP stated, “The UK should press forward with diplomatic efforts to end the Syrian civil war and work with the UN and others to develop a peace plan for the next round of talks between Syria’s Assad regime and opposition groups, which are due to take place this month.

“Opting to drop more bombs on an already beleaguered nation without an exit strategy or a credible peace-building plan can only delay a lasting solution.”

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Scottish Water will stay publicly-owned

Local MSP Margaret Burgess has moved to reassure constituents concerned by headlines claiming water services could be privatised by the UK Tory Government.

Stories have appeared in English newspapers sold in Scotland, which report that Tory Chancellor George Osborne is looking to privatise water and sewerage services.  However, SNP MSP Mrs Burgess told the3towns, “Scottish Water delivers for Scotland as a publicly-owned corporation and it will remain in public hands.”

Provision of water and sewerage services is a matter devolved to the Scottish Parliament and is overseen by the SNP Scottish Government.  Margaret Burgess said, “Scottish Water is performing well and there is no reason to change its status.

“Under present arrangements, Scottish Water provides services to households and charges are collected by councils.  This has meant that Scotland has amongst the lowest water and wastewater charges in the UK – ensuring these essential services are affordable for Scottish families.”

The MSP for Cunninghame South noted, “The Scottish Government is proud of keeping Scottish Water in public-ownership and of ensuring that prices are tightly regulated.”

In the current financial year (2015/16), household water-charges in Scotland are, on average, £39 cheaper than in England and Wales.