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Edition 366 July 26 ~ August 1 2014
* Electoral plan could divide Saltcoats
* Ex-offenders raise funds for neonatal unit
* Concerns over price of milk
* Funding announced for energy efficiency
* Workers needed for Independence Referendum
* New assessment unit for Crosshouse Hospital
Online: local news - global reach. Taking Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston to the world.____________________________________________________________________
And now the Commonwealth Games from Scotchland
* Then and Now
* Saying it with a smile
* Defence Secretary’s pants on fire
* Easily-offended lip-readers look away now
* Imagine if it was happening here
* Didn’t there used to be a burn here?
* Number 1s
* Where am I?
* Where is it?
- News stories throughout the week.
Tuesday, July 29: Killers' appeals dismissed
Saltcoats could be split into two different electoral areas if plans by North Ayrshire Council are accepted by the Boundary Commission for Scotland.
The controversial idea was backed at last Wednesday’s meeting of the Council and will now be submitted to the Commission. Three Towns Independent councillors Ronnie McNicol and John Hunter voted against the move but a majority of the SNP administration and Labour councillors supported the proposed change.
In a paper presented to the Council meeting, Chief Executive Elma Murray argued boundary changes to electoral Wards (the areas represented by councillors) are necessary to align them with Neighbourhood Planning Areas and to comply with Boundary Commission recommendations in terms of the number of electors in each Ward.
Currently North Ayrshire has 30 councillors, but Ms Murray’s paper set-out “exceptional circumstances” that she believes justify the district receiving an additional 5 elected members. The Boundary Commission will not consider submissions on Ward changes until next year.
Under the Council’s proposals, the current two Wards of Ardrossan & Arran and Saltcoats & Stevenston would become Ardrossan & Saltcoats West and Stevenston & Saltcoats East. The division of Saltcoats is recommended despite the Chief Executive’s paper acknowledging Boundary Commission guidance that, as far as possible, “towns should not be split between Wards”.
In other proposed changes, the Isle of Arran would find itself in a Ward with West Kilbride and Fairlie. In addition, new Wards of Dalry & Kilbirnie West, Beith & Kilbirnie East, and Largs, Skelmorlie & Cumbrae would be created. Changes would also apply to Wards in Irvine but Kilwinning would remain as an electoral area on its own.
On recommending North Ayrshire should have an extra 5 councillors, Chief Executive Elma Murray states, “The justification is that this is the best means of aligning Wards with Neighbourhood Planning Areas. Those Neighbourhood Planning Areas best represent communities, both in terms of geography and demographics.”
Ms Murray noted, “If the Commission agree 35 councillors, further work will be undertaken during 2015 to determine the exact boundaries of Wards. This could also involve splitting polling districts to provide a more natural geographical boundary.”
Ex-offenders raise funds for neonatal unit
Ayrshire Maternity Hospital’s Neonatal Unit, which cares for premature babies and new births who develop medical problems, has received a whopping donation of £1,898.33 from a group of ex-offenders.
Based at North Ayrshire Council’s Criminal Justice office in Stevenston, 'The Thistle MAG' is made up of men who have all served prison sentences but have now vowed to repay their communities and help others avoid the mistakes they made in the past.
In April, the group organised a five-a-side football tournament, which also involved teams from a number of different agencies, including the Police and prison officers. As a result, almost £1,900 was raised, which the men decided to donate to the Neonatal Unit based in the Maternity facility at Crosshouse Hospital. One of the Thistle MAG group has a son who was looked after by the dedicated staff at the unit.
Lynne Pollock, Neonatal Unit Co-ordinator, said, “We would like to say a big thank you to the group for this amazing donation and, of course, to everyone who took part in the football tournament. This will go towards the babies we look after, who need that little bit of extra care.”
Concerns over price of milk
Katy Clark MP is supporting Saltcoats-based milkman Stewart Currie over concerns that the dominant position of two major companies could be having a negative impact on the price of milk and door-step deliveries.
Following a meeting with Mr Currie, the local MP has written to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) asking them to investigate possible price-fixing in the dairy industry.
Ms Clark explained, “I have written to the CMA to raise concerns over the behaviour of milk companies and their dominance in the marketplace. Mr Currie is a local milkman and has given me examples of a supermarket chain selling milk for 30p less than he is forced to pay when buying from the same dairy company that supplies the supermarket.
“This undercutting has led to a steep decline in the home-delivery of milk. Mr Currie has informed me that Graham’s Dairies have purchased Quothquan Dairies, which was the third largest dairy in Scotland. As such, Mr Currie is now only able to purchase from either Wiseman Dairies or Graham’s Dairies."
In 2008 the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) dropped an investigation into six Scottish dairies accused of price fixing, including Graham’s, Quothquan and Wiseman. The OFT had alleged collusion on pricing, price rises and arrangements not to compete. The watchdog said there was insufficient evidence against the firms, despite two-years earlier stating it had provisionally found they had engaged in price-fixing or market sharing.
Of the current situation, Katy Clark said, “The price rises continue to place a burden on small and medium businesses, and are threatening the already struggling work of milkmen and women. These workers provide a vital service for the elderly or those who are house-bound, as well as being a visible presence within our communities.”
The Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran has asked the Competition and Markets Authority to “investigate thoroughly” the concerns raised with her by Stewart Currie.
Funding announcement for energy efficiency
Local MSP Margaret Burgess has announced the latest phase of the Green Homes Cashback scheme, which means social landlords can now apply for a share of £4.5m in funding for energy efficiency measures.
Speaking in her capacity as the SNP Scottish Government’s Minister for Housing & Welfare, Mrs Burgess said, “Energy efficiency measures can make a huge difference to families who are struggling to make ends meet, and social landlords will now be able to apply for up to £250,000 in funding to help drive-down the cost of tenants’ fuel bills.
“Scotland is outperforming the UK in the delivery of home energy efficiency measures and the Green Homes Cashback scheme will save money on fuel bills and cut emissions.”
The MSP for Cunninghame South revealed the SNP Government will spend almost a quarter of a billion pounds over a three year period on fuel poverty and energy efficiency, adding, “With the full powers of independence, we plan to permanently transfer responsibility for ECO and Warm Homes Discount from energy companies to the Scottish Government, meeting these costs from central resources and maintaining investment in energy efficiency.
“By passing-on these long-term reductions to their consumers, companies will be able to reduce bills year on year, in contrast to the UK Government’s short term fix.”
The Green Homes Cashback scheme provides funding to individual households and social landlords towards the cost of measures such as boiler upgrades and home insulation.
David Stewart, Policy Manager from the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, said the announcement from Mrs Burgess was “a timely boost for housing associations and cooperatives as they look to improve the energy efficiency of their homes”.
Mr Stewart noted, “While our members have the most energy-efficient homes in Scotland, recent above inflation increases in domestic energy prices means that investment in measures providing affordable warmth for tenants is a priority.
“The announcement of this fund is particularly welcome as it will support investment in the more expensive measures necessary to improve hard to treat homes, such as solid wall insulation.”
Workers needed for Independence Referendum
In an unusual move, North Ayrshire Council is to offer local residents the chance of ‘working’ at polling places on September 18th as Scotland votes in the Independence Referendum.
Positions counting the votes are also up for grabs, but anyone with a link to either the YES or No campaigns can forget about applying.
Normally, positions at polling places and as vote-counters are filled by Council staff, but on this occasion the local authority is inviting applications for the roles. Each position will pay £150, but vote-counters should be aware that it will involve a nightshift. The count across Scotland will take place overnight with the aim that Scots will know the result when they get up on the morning of September 19th.
There are three positions available, which the Council describe as:
Polling Clerk – involves assisting the Returning Officer, Presiding Officer and election office staff to ensure the smooth running of Polling Stations, and to enable voters to cast their votes in secret, free from influence and in a calm atmosphere.
Information Officer – which will include working with Presiding Officers and Polling Clerks within a Polling Place, greeting voters and directing them quickly and efficiently to the correct polling station to allow them to cast their vote.
Enumerator - working within the Verification/Count team. Enumerators are responsible for counting the number of ballot papers in a ballot box then sorting them according to the voters' choice. Duties are undertaken in a pressurised environment where a high degree of accuracy and concentration is required.
The Council also makes clear that successful candidates will be required to attend training sessions and to “undertake appropriate testing”.
Application forms for the referendum positions are available here and should be returned to the Council by Friday (August 1st).
New assessment unit for Crosshouse hospital
A multi-million pound investment by the SNP Scottish Government will see the creation of a new Combined Assessment Unit (CAU) at Crosshouse Hospital, the main medical facility serving residents of North Ayrshire.
Bam Construction has began preparatory work for the CAU, which is to be built alongside the existing Emergency Department and will include 35 en-suite bedrooms, as well as new patient assessment and ambulatory care areas. An NHS Ayrshire & Arran spokesperson said, “The unit will provide the physical environment needed to allow patients to be rapidly assessed and either discharged safely or admitted to a specialty ward for further care and treatment.”
Construction of the CAU is part of the Building for Better Care programme, a major development to provide new fit-for-purpose facilities at the 'front doors' of Crosshouse and Ayr hospitals. Over the next three years, £27.5m will be invested to help provide what the local NHS describes as “safe, effective and person-centred urgent and emergency care for patients coming to hospital for anything other than a scheduled appointment”.
Liz Moore, NHS Ayrshire & Arran’s Director for Acute Services, said, “This is a fantastic development and it's great to see that work is now underway. The Combined Assessment Unit will mean improvements in the way patients are assessed, treated, admitted or safely discharged when they come to hospital in an emergency.
"There will be some short-term disruption while we get ready for the new unit and this will mean the temporary loss of some car-parking spaces. We appreciate everyone's patience during this period.”
Once preparatory work is complete, construction of the CAU is scheduled to begin in October, with completion expected by February 2016.