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Edition 351 April 12 ~ April 18 2014
* Drop in North Ayrshire knife crime
* Council crackdown on failing landlords
* Ferry fares cut – but harbour concerns remain
* Young voters prepare for referendum
* Burgess announces communities funding
* Anger over UK Government secrecy
* Junior Football: Results – League Table – Fixtures
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- News stories throughout the week.
Drop in North Ayrshire knife crime
Crimes of carrying an offensive weapon in North Ayrshire have fallen by 57% since the Scottish Government’s ‘No Knives Better Lives’ campaign was extended to the local area in 2012.
The remarkable drop in recorded offences was revealed last week by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill (pictured) during a visit to North Ayrshire. The SNP MSP also pointed to a 24% fall in violent crime across the district in the last year for which figures are available (2012-2013).
The ‘No Knives Better Lives’ campaign involves a local partnership between North Ayrshire Council, Police Scotland and youth groups, which delivers activities in schools and communities aimed at educating and informing young people about the dangers and consequences of carrying a knife.
Kenny MacAskill said, “Crimes of handling an offensive weapon - including knives - have dropped dramatically in North Ayrshire, falling by a massive 57 percent since 2012 and, helped by campaigns such as ‘No Knives Better Lives’, are now at their lowest level in Scotland for 27 years.”
The Justice Secretary said the SNP Scottish Government has consistently made the case that the best way to tackle violence is through enforcement, education and prevention, adding, “Our campaign has been a great success, with handling offensive weapons crime reducing significantly in all 11 areas where the programme is running and youth crime across Scotland falling by more than 50 percent since 2008/09.”
Mr MacAskill told his North Ayrshire audience, “There is never an excuse for carrying a knife and we will continue to work tirelessly with all of our partners to get the message home and change the culture in which some people think that carrying a weapon is acceptable.”
The Scottish Government’s Criminal Justice Bill, currently going through parliament, will seek to increase the maximum penalties for knife possession from four to five years.
Recorded crimes of handling an offensive weapon in North Ayrshire fell from 157 in 2011/12 to 67 in 2012/13.
Council crackdown on failing landlords
Private landlords who fail to take action against anti-social tenants or who rent out substandard housing could be ‘struck off’ by North Ayrshire Council.
The local authority’s Licensing Committee is responsible for overseeing the registration of landlords and has powers to ensure there are serious consequences for any who are deemed to be not ‘fit and proper’ persons to perform the role. For example, the Committee can refuse an application from a prospective landlord or can remove those already on the register. In addition, a Rent Penalty Notice can be served against a landlord, which means no rent can be charged for a particular property and any tenant will not receive Housing Benefit from the Council.
Cllr Tom Marshall, Depute Chair of the Licensing Committee, explained, “Anti-social behaviour can be extremely stressful for neighbours, whether it involves loud music being played in the middle of the night, people visiting at night or disposing of waste in common grounds, such as closes and shared gardens.”
Leasing substandard housing and failing to carry out essential repairs can also result in action.
In order to legally operate as a landlord, a property owner must be officially registered with the Council. The Register also allows tenants and neighbours to identify the property owner and contact them where necessary.
The Licensing Committee has vowed to crackdown on issues where there is clear evidence to back complaints. Cllr Marshall said, “Tenants are clearly responsible for their own behaviour. However, there is also an onus on landlords to take action where necessary.
“The Council has a number of options when it comes to enforcing legislation and is committed to making use of these where appropriate.”
In 2012 Ardrossan Independent councillor John Hunter initiated an investigation by North Ayrshire Council’s Scrutiny Committee, which looked at the impact on the local area of unregistered landlords and owners of private residential properties.
The investigation involved carrying out a data-matching exercise, which looked at licensing records and benefits claims, revealing around 3,000 unregistered rented properties in the local area.
Ferry fares cut - but harbour concerns remain
A major reduction in fares on the Ardrossan-Brodick ferry is to be implemented from the introduction of the Winter 2014/15 timetable in October.
The savings will result from the SNP Scottish Government applying Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) to the route. RET operates on the basis that it should not cost more to travel by ferry than it would to drive the same distance if a road was available.
The initiative will result in the fare for a car being reduced by over 50%, while passenger tickets will be 30% cheaper.
Transport Minister Keith Brown said, “We made a pledge to extend the RET pilot to Arran by October 2014 and this fares announcement will come as welcome news to islanders and visitors.
“The RET pilot has proved successful on other ferry routes, providing a real boost to local tourist trade and local economies.”
The SNP MSP noted, “The Scottish Government is committed to assessing the affordability of ferry travel to and from our remote island communities, with the aim of bringing in cheaper fares for islanders, tourists and businesses across the country.”
However, the good news of fare reductions was tempered by continued concerns over a lack of investment in the harbour infrastructure at Ardrossan.
The Ardrossan-Brodick ferry has a higher than average rate of cancellations, which operator Caledonian MacBrayne has implied is a result of berthing difficulties at Ardrossan during inclement weather. Clydeport, the private owners of Ardrossan Harbour, have denied such assertions.
The SNP Scottish Government is currently investing around £18m on upgrading the publicly-owned harbour infrastructure at Brodick, and intends to introduce two new ferries to service the Arran route. Clydeport have no plans to provide improved access or facilities at Ardrossan.
the3towns recently revealed the parent company of Clydeport had ‘off-shored’ its multi-million pounds profits, resulting in it paying no tax in the UK.
Young voters prepare for referendum
Young people in North Ayrshire have been given an insight into the world of politics ahead of the Independence Referendum later this year.
A total of 1,800 pupils took part in a series of workshops, which were held at all secondary schools in the area. The hour-long ‘Your Vote, Your Voice’ sessions were organised by the Youth Services team from North Ayrshire Council.
The Independence Referendum on September 18th will be the first time that people aged 16 and 17 will be eligible to vote.
The school workshops, which involved groups of S4, S5 and S6 pupils, required the participants to act out election scenarios. The young people had to create their own political party, decide on the kind of politician to lead them and then agree on the policies they believed would address the needs of their local community. In addition, pupils had to produce a Party Political Broadcast to sell their party’s ideas and ideals before the virtual election itself.
The workshops were organised in conjunction with the Ayrshire Valuation Joint Board, which carries out electoral registration on behalf of the three Ayrshire local authorities. Great emphasis was placed on the need to register to vote so that as many young people and new voters as possible are engaged in the democratic process.
North Ayrshire Council’s Chief Executive, Elma Murray, is also the area’s Electoral Returning Officer and will oversee the Independence Referendum. Ms Murray said, “Today’s young people will have a greater opportunity than ever to shape their country’s future. For the first time, young people under the age of 18 will be able to vote. This will encourage youngsters to feel connected with society and show them that they, and their opinions, are valued.
“It is important we do not simply hand over voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds without equipping them with the information that will allow them to play a meaningful part in the referendum.
“I am pleased this exercise will have introduced young people to a good voting habit at an early age. It will also have encouraged them to learn more about the voting process and to understand how vital their contribution is to the outcome.”
Burgess announces communities funding
Around 50 community-led organisations across Scotland are to receive investment of up to £3m, which will support the regeneration of identified areas.
The announcement of additional funding was made by local MSP Margaret Burgess in her capacity as the Scottish Government’s Minister for Housing and Welfare. The money will be delivered through the government’s Strengthening Communities Programme.
Identified initiatives will respond to local community needs by developing activities, such as advocacy projects, community windfarms, environmental action and transferring assets into community ownership.
Margaret Burgess explained, “Investing in community organisations is absolutely key for creating change at a local level within communities.
“The aim of the Strengthening Communities Programme, which will benefit up to 50 local initiatives, is to help build capacity in local communities and inject new life into some of Scotland’s most disadvantaged areas.”
Mrs Burgess, who represents the local constituency of Cunninghame South, said the SNP Government “puts community-led change at the heart of our regeneration strategy”, adding, “Through the Strengthening Communities Programme we will test the impact of targeted investment. It is only by improving on community-based initiatives and empowering local people that we will see real, sustainable change.”
Fiona Garvin, Director of the Scottish Community Development Centre, said, “We welcome the Scottish Government’s investment in the Strengthening Communities Programme and believe that strong communities and strong community organisations are vital elements of community-led regeneration. Our support to these organisations is designed to help them develop their strengths, increase local activity and work with others to take the next steps in regenerating their communities.”
Anger over UK Government secrecy
An angry Katy Clark MP has condemned the UK Government’s refusal to publish papers relating to a 40 year-old industrial dispute that saw some workers jailed, including Ricky Tomlinson who went on to become and actor, starring as Jim Royale in the television comedy the Royale Family.
Citing “national security”, the Tory-Lib Dem Government continues to keep secret the documents surrounding the treatment of building workers who became known as the Shrewsbury 24. In 1972 the men were involved in what was the first UK-wide strike by construction workers.
Ms Clark, who has long supported the cause of the Shrewsbury 24, had asked for a meeting with the UK Justice Minister Simon Hughes to discuss publication of the documents following a conclusive House of Commons vote that called on the government to release the files it holds. However, the Liberal Democrat MP declined to meet Katy Clark.
There remain serious concerns over the convictions of the Shrewsbury 24 in 1972, with several documents highlighting legal flaws in the prosecution case and claims that the then Tory Government exerted political pressure on the supposedly independent Crown Prosecution Service.
Katy Clark told the3towns, “It is extremely disappointing that Ministers are continuing to withhold the truth from the public about the Shrewsbury 24. On 23rd January the House of Commons voted by 120 votes to 3 in favour of the publication of the remaining classified documents relating to this case. The fact the Government continues to refuse to do so makes a mockery of our democratic system.”
The Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran noted, “We have now reached a stage where the Minister responsible is even refusing to meet with Members of Parliament to discuss this issue and is desperately trying to pass the blame onto Ministerial colleagues. Such behaviour is contemptible given surviving members of the Shrewsbury 24 have waited over forty years for justice.”