Edition 346 March 8 ~ March 14 2014
* Two convicted of Scott Blackwood murder
* Death-knell for Seafield School
* Labour opposed Council Tax help
* Building business skills
* Minister slams UK welfare reforms
* Scottish Water’s work for Climate Week
* Junior Football: Results – League Table – Fixtures
Power to the people
* Then and Now
* Seems like a nice place
* Give it up for Lent
* British Unionist scare-story 1,976,568,432
* 50p or not 50p that is the question
* Shop talk
* Number 1s
* Where am I?
* Where is it?
- News stories throughout the week.
Court appearance after body found in Saltcoats (06/03/14).
Man found dead in Saltcoats home (05/03/14).
Scottish Government heading for North Ayrshire (03/03/14).
Two convicted of Scott Blackwood murder
Two local men have been convicted of murdering Scott Blackwood (pictured) at his home in Wheatley Road, Saltcoats last July.
Last Friday (March 7), the jury at the High Court in Glasgow returned guilty verdicts to the charge of murder against Allan Nicol (36) and Thomas Moore (26). Both were sentenced to life imprisonment and will serve a minimum of 20 years before being eligible for parole.
Georgina Smith (22) was convicted on a lesser charge of culpable homicide and will be sentenced next month.
The five week trial heard graphic evidence of a sustained horrific attack on Mr Blackwood, described by friends as “a gentle giant that would have went out of his way to help anyone”. The prosecution said Nicol, Moore and Smith first attacked Scott at Nicol’s home on the night of July 3rd, before taking the badly-beaten man to his own home in Wheatley Road, where they continued the brutal assault.
Mr Blackwood was found dead on the morning of July 4th.
Pathologist Dr Julie McAdam said head injuries inflicted on Scott were consistent with car crash victims or those who had fallen from a great height, adding, “Mr Blackwood was the victim of a sustained attack using blunt force and sharp instruments, so he would have attempted to defend himself. The injuries to his hands and arms are very much defensive injuries.”
Scott Blackwood was originally from Ardrossan.
Death-knell for Seafield School
Social care charity Quarriers has confirmed the closure of Seafield School in Ardrossan.
A further two North Ayrshire children’s homes – Merton House in Largs and Williamfield in Irvine – will also close their doors for the last time. In total, 69 workers are currently employed at the three sites.
Quarriers say Seafield was no longer “financially viable” and that the facilities in Largs and Irvine largely provide support to children on placements at the Ardrossan school.
Local MP Katy Clark expressed her disappointment at the announcement, saying, “We have known that Quarriers has been considering the drastic step of closing the North Ayrshire facilities since January, and it was hoped that a plan could be put in place to prevent this [but] there has been a lack of political will in the public sector to use these types of service.”
Ms Clark said Quarriers provide “exceptionally high quality care” but that “local authorities no longer seem to want the form of school being offered, particularly in light of some historic scandals”.
The Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran added, “Increasingly, fewer children were being placed at Seafield by local authorities despite the quality of care and the steps taken by staff to try and save the school. I know the unions UNISON and EIS, who represent staff at the facilities, were both pushing hard for Quarriers to provide alternative business plans, and to lobby local authorities and the Scottish Government but this apparently failed to materialise.”
For Quarriers, acting Chief Executive Alice Drife said, “After carefully considering a number of alternative options for Seafield School in Ardrossan and two children's homes - Merton House in Largs and Williamfield in Irvine - we are reluctantly announcing the closure of the three services.
"We do understand this will be a difficult time for everyone associated with the services. However, we have been unable to put Seafield on a sustainable financial footing. As the two children's homes support some children at the school these will sadly also close.”
The charity indicated that, by the end of this month, Seafield will have accumulated a deficit of more than £400,000.
Ms Drife said the charity’s policy is to redeploy staff, where possible, and support those who will need to find alternative work. The acting Chief Executive noted, “Quarriers would not have made this decision if there had been a viable alternative.”
Labour opposed Council Tax help
Local MSP Margaret Burgess has slammed Labour MSPs for voting against the SNP Government’s Council Tax Reduction Scheme.
Mrs Burgess said the actions of the Labour MSPs could have meant thousands of local people lost-out on the benefit that helps some of the poorest people in North Ayrshire.
After the UK Tory-Lib Dem Government announced a welfare change that meant people on basic benefits – as little as £71.00 a week - would have to pay something towards their Council Tax bill, the SNP Scottish Government introduced the Council Tax Reduction Scheme, which replaced the Council Tax benefit scrapped by Westminster. The SNP’s actions meant the poorest members of society were not made even worse-off. As of September 2013, thousands of North Ayrshire residents were receiving Council Tax reductions, including 6,890 people aged 65 years or over, 9,230 single-female households and 2,990 lone parents.
However, at last week’s meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, Labour MSPs did not support the regulations necessary to implement the Council Tax Reduction Scheme for another year. The committee has a majority of SNP members, so Labour MSPs were unsuccessful in their attempt to derail help for some of the poorest people in the country.
Margaret Burgess said, “Thankfully, my SNP colleagues backed the Scottish Government’s efforts to work with North Ayrshire Council and other local authorities to support some of the poorest households with their Council Tax bills.
“This is not the first time Labour MSPs have voted against help for people who would otherwise be hit by UK cuts to funding for Council Tax benefit – they did so at the same committee last December.”
Mrs Burgess, MSP for Cunninghame South, noted, “The funding to support thousands of North Ayrshire people is part of a partnership between the Scottish Government and local authorities across Scotland. Of course, the support is only necessary because of UK cuts that are hitting our most vulnerable people hardest.
“A ‘YES’ vote in September will ensure that the Scottish Parliament no longer has to mop up the mess created by bad UK Government policies.”
Building business skills
Skills Development Scotland (SDS), the national body tasked with supporting the enhancement of skills within Scottish businesses, is to hold a ‘networking session’ in Ayrshire.
The event - Discover How Skills Can Work for Your Business – will be held at the Park Hotel in Kilmarnock on Monday, March 17th from 8:00am until mid-day. An SDS spokesperson explained, “It takes a lot of hard work and determination to build a business but there is a range of support to help you on your way. This free networking session will give you a chance to mix with other local businesses as well as hear about what local and national public sector support is available.
“There is lots of funding on offer to help you recruit the right people, develop your existing workforce and plan for the future. This is the perfect day out to help your business grow – can you afford not to be there?”
The day starts with breakfast, followed by a presentation from the Local Employer Engagement Forum, detailing local support available to employers. There will also be presentations from Business Gateway, City & Guilds, Ayrshire College and the Employer Support Executive.
Further information on the event is available here or by calling Skills Development Scotland on 0800 783 6000.
Minister slams UK welfare reforms
Margaret Burgess MSP says UK Government welfare reforms are “harming the living standards of poor and vulnerable people in North Ayrshire”.
Mrs Burgess spoke to the3towns after addressing the Scottish Parliament in her capacity as the Minister for Welfare in the SNP Scottish Government. The local MSP said, “UK reforms are creating deep concern and anxiety and are leaving already vulnerable people at risk of extreme poverty and exclusion.
“The Trussell Trust, which supports North Ayrshire foodbanks, has confirmed that over 50,000 people in Scotland received assistance from them in the last ten months.”
The MSP for Cunninghame South, which includes Stevenston, said Tory-Lib Dem welfare reforms are “unjust”, adding, “The UK Government talks about the ‘moral case’ for welfare reform but that is a sham. What is evident is that more and more people in my constituency and across Scotland are struggling to cope and are being flung into a downward spiral of misery. Where is the morality in that?”
Mrs Burgess, formerly a manager with Citizens Advice Scotland, said, “It is shameful that in the 21st century we have people who are in desperate straits because of the UK’s relentless and unfair policies. Rather than helping them, the UK Government’s plans are punishing the most vulnerable in our society.
“It is estimated that the reduction in welfare expenditure in Scotland could reach as much as £4.5-billion by 2015.
“In the meantime, the Scottish Government is taking direct action and delivering real support to help people deal with the cuts and changes to welfare provision. That includes investing at least £258-million over the period from 2013-14 to 2015-16 to mitigate the worst impact of these reforms.”
However, Mrs Burgess pointed-out that Westminster is also cutting the Scottish Government’s budget, which meant money used by the SNP to mitigate the effects of UK welfare reforms results in less being available for other priorities. Mrs Burgess explained, “For example, we could have used this money to invest more in health and education – and in growing Scotland’s economy.
“With a ‘YES’ vote and independence, we can take decisions about welfare that will ensure fair and decent support for people in Scotland.”
Scottish Water's work for Climate Week
Scottish Water has been doing its bit in the local area to support Climate Week (March 3rd - 9th), the country’s biggest climate change campaign, which aims to inspire a new wave of action to create a sustainable future.
Over the week – and throughout 2014 – the publicly-owned water company has been highlighting its actions to deliver low-carbon services for customers, achieving a 10 per cent reduction in its carbon emissions over the last seven years through steps such as reducing the amount of water that leaks from pipes, increased renewable energy generation, energy efficiency and the recycling of sludge (the leftover solid material from wastewater treatment).
In addition, Scottish Water has also been promoting sustainable land management, working with landowners to reduce potential pollution of water supply sources, which can make water more difficult to treat before being supplied to customers.
Although Scotland has plentiful resources of raw water, the treatment and distribution of water is very energy-intensive and the heating of water counts for a sizeable share of energy use: research by the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change shows that 18 per cent of domestic energy is used for heating water. By using less water, customers can save money on energy bills.
Mark Williams, Scottish Water’s Head of Environmental Science and Regulation, said, “Climate Week 2014 is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate what we are doing to build a sustainable Scottish Water. That means being able to deliver on our customers’ expectations of high-quality water and waste services whenever and wherever they are required well into the future, while supporting Scotland’s economy and environment.
“Projects like our £250-million investment in improvements to the river water quality and natural environment of the River Clyde is just one of the ways in which we’re looking to do even more, while helping communities and customers by playing our part in tackling flooding and dealing with the impact of heavy rainfall.
“It’s why we’re also increasing the amount of renewable energy we generate, which is helping to provide more of the power needed for our treatment works.
“Our volunteering programme gives our 3,500 employees opportunities to spend two days every year helping with community initiatives around Scotland – a way of giving something back in the spirit of a sustainable Scotland, while helping to build value and trust in the services provided by Scottish Water.”
Kevin Steele, Climate Week’s founder, noted, “Climate Week mobilises leadership at every level to combat climate change, and the hundreds of thousands of people taking part are showing the leadership that exists across the country to help us live and work more sustainably.”
Saturday, March 8 2014.
Saturday, March 15 2014. Kick-offs: 2:00pm.