_________________________________________________________________________________________________Edition 334 December 7 ~ December 13 2013
* Six-year-old school is too small
* Structural repairs needed at St Matthew’s Academy
* Free parking for Christmas
* Katy calls for action on child poverty
* Licensing Board: North Ayrshire’s alcohol-related problems
* Margaret’s backing for Independence White Paper
* Good news for Council
* Not so ‘special’ offers
* Junior Football: Results – League Table – Fixtures
Labour Party: a history of working class betrayal
How money changed everything
* Then and Now
* They’re here
* The photo that speaks volumes about the British Union
* Independent women
* Nelson Mandela
* Telling it like it is
* Number 1s
* Where am I?
* Where is it?
- News stories throughout the week.
Six-year-old school is too small
North Ayrshire Council has admitted that a six-year-old school is already too small to accommodate the children within its catchment area.
Stanley Primary in Ardrossan was one of four new schools built using the controversial Public Private Partnership (PPP) method of funding. In total, the project will cost local taxpayers around £380m – the capital value of the schools, when new, was £80m with the additional £300m representing the cost of maintaining the facilities over 30 years (£10m a year). PPP has since been discredited as a funding method given the excessive profits made by private companies involved in projects.
Parents of pupils at Stanley have complained for some time that the school was too small, citing as evidence the fact that non-teaching areas of the facility were being used as makeshift classrooms. Criticisms were also made that the local authority’s previous Labour administration, which embarked on the multi-million-pound PPP project, had failed to factor-in sufficient population growth in the north of Ardrossan, resulting in Stanley becoming too small for purpose within a few years of it opening its doors.
However, in a report for this week’s meeting of North Ayrshire Council’s ruling Cabinet – comprised of councillors from the SNP administration elected in 2012 - Ms Carol Kirk (Corporate Director – Education & Skills) appears to blame the SNP Scottish Government for the fact Stanley has so quickly become too small to house all pupils within its catchment area. Ms Kirk states that the schools capacity “altered following the introduction of class-size reduction legislation which limited P1 classes to 25 pupils,” adding, “Additionally, within North Ayrshire P2 and P3 classes were capped to 25 pupils wherever possible”. The Corporate Director said this reduced the capacity of the school to 414 from the figure of 444 when it opened in August 2007.
Ms Kirk’s report for the SNP Cabinet indicates the original school roll of 394 pupils represented 88% of available capacity, which, the official states, “was adequate to allow for predicted movements in pupil numbers over the coming years, based on two factors: (i) the historical trends in school roll movement at the school, and (ii) the available socio-economic data that informed the school roll projection calculations.”
The SNP Scottish Government, first elected in 2007, introduced legislation to reduce class sizes in order to maximise the time teachers could spend with young pupils, which international analysis shows is in the best interests of children and produces improved academic achievement.
According to Ms Kirk, the headteacher at Stanley Primary first raised concerns over “a need to create additional teaching spaces within the school” in the early part of 2012. The report for this week’s Cabinet also states, “Furthermore, having looked at the local trend in migration from the school nursery to P1, it was likely that even more teaching space would be required from August 2013.”
A Council working group then recommended a two-stage ‘solution’ to create additional teaching space at Stanley: a short-term approach to accommodate the August 2012 P1 intake, and a longer-term initiative to address the school’s overall shortfall in classrooms.
Two ‘general purposes’ rooms were converted to classrooms and ‘discretionary flexibility’ in relation to P2 and P3 class sizes has, according to Ms Kirk’s report, “effectively allowed the accommodation pressures to be managed for the current session”.
However, current roll projections for Stanley show that additional teaching spaces will be required by August 2014 to accommodate the likely intake, and that, once new pupils are in the school, additional classrooms will be required throughout the full seven-year primary education period for the children.
As of September this year, there were 434 pupils attending Stanley Primary, an occupancy rate of 97%. However, this was only made possible by the ‘discretionary flexibility’ applied to P2 and P3 classes, which means the maximum class size is being exceeded.
Current roll projections for Stanley show 502 pupils could be attending the school by 2018, which would require an extension providing three additional classrooms and a general purpose facility.
In order to address the longer-term shortage of classroom space at the Ardrossan school, Ms Kirk recommends the local authority buys ‘modular accommodation’ at an estimated cost of £110,000 in year-one, which includes installation and maintenance. There would then be an annual cost to the Council of around £23,000 for the ‘temporary’ accommodation. As Stanley Primary is part of the Council’s PPP project, the private company that oversees the four schools built and maintained under the £380m contract would have to agree to the proposal. In addition, the ‘modular accommodation’, although paid for by the Council, would have to be procured through the private PPP contractor.
SNP Cabinet members will also be asked to agree that Council officials should “undertake further work around options for a permanent solution” to the under-provision of classrooms at Stanley Primary School.
Structural repairs needed at St Matthew's Academy
Two-weeks after the3towns revealed access to the games hall at St Matthew’s Academy in Saltcoats was to be restricted pending an investigation of cracks in the structure’s walls, it has now emerged that an additional steel framework requires to be installed at the facility.
The games hall has been out of use since November 19 after what a Council official described as “a potential issue with the steelwork that supports a section of the wall”. Following an investigation by a structural engineer, it has been identified that a section of wall requires additional steel supports. North Ayrshire Council hopes work will completed by December 16, allowing pupils to again use their indoor sports facility before the Christmas holiday.
St Matthew’s Academy is just six years-old, having been opened to pupils in August 2007. The facility was one of four schools built using the now discredited Public Private Partnership (PPP) method of funding, at a cost to local taxpayers of £380m.
Under the PPP contract signed by NAC’s previous Labour administration, St Matthews Academy, Stanley Primary School in Ardrossan, Arran High School and Greenwood Academy in Dreghorn were built and are maintained by a private company. As a penalty for the period during which St Matthew’s pupils have been unable to access their games hall, the3towns understands the Council is to seek a reduction of around £3,000 in the money it pays to the private contractor.
Of greater concern, though, is likely to be the fact a substantial structural problem has occurred at a relatively new school, particularly given the high cost to local taxpayers of building and maintaining the structure. At the time Labour councillors embarked on the multi-million-pound PPP schools project, local people were promised “state-of-the-art” buildings and facilities.
However, the North Ayrshire Schools PPP Project became notorious within local government circles after it was revealed the then Labour-run Council had proceeded with awarding a £380m contract despite only ever having one credible and viable bid. A second bid, claimed by the Council to represent ‘genuine competition’, had come from a company with no filed accounts, no office, no experience in building or maintaining schools and issued share capital of just £2.00.
In February 2009 the3towns reported that Ardrossan builder Alistair McKenzie had discovered mortar between concrete blocks in walls at the St Matthew’s games hall was soft. Mr McKenzie’s company had been contracted to carry out repairs to the school, which, at the time, was just two-years old. The builder told the3towns in 2009, “We worked at the four PPP schools doing repairs for months, with much of what we had to do being correcting faults that were left from when the schools were built.”
Free parking for Christmas
Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councillor Ronnie McNicol has welcomed a move that will see additional, free car-parking in Saltcoats town centre in the run-up to Christmas.
The parking facility to the rear of the Saltcot public house, accessed from Chapelwell Street, will be made available to the local public as a goodwill gesture by the site’s owner, Spook Erections. The company operates an outdoor market on the site on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and has said it will allow car parking at other times in an attempt to attract shoppers into Saltcoats town centre.
Some months ago Spook Erections controversially erected bollards at the entrances to the site that had been used as a ‘public’ car park for many years. However, the company has now explained that it took the action because of damage being done to the surface, apparently by heavy goods vehicles servicing a nearby facility. The position of Spook Erections was that it could not afford to continue meeting the cost of repairs to damage caused while the site was not being used for its primary purpose, as a site for the outdoor market.
However, following an approach from Cllr McNicol, Council officials have now reached an agreement with Spook Erections that will see the local public allowed to park on the site over the next couple of weeks, when it is not being used for the market.
Ronnie McNicol told the3towns, “I really appreciate this gesture by Spook Erections and the work Council officials put in to make it happen.
“Anything that attracts more people into the town centre, and into local shops, has got to be good, particularly at this time of year.”
Cllr McNicol has asked Council officials and Spook Erections to look at the possibility of extending the agreement to allow the market site to once again be used as a car park throughout the year.
Katy calls for action on child poverty
Katy Clark MP has written to North Ayrshire Council, seeking an opportunity to discuss how she could help the local authority to improve its child poverty strategy.
Ms Clark’s approach came after a national charity, the Child Poverty Action Group, revealed that almost a quarter (24%) of children in North Ayrshire are now living in relative poverty. Worse still was the figure for Saltcoats and Stevenston, where 35% of young people live in households considered to be in relative poverty.
Professor Peter Townsend, a leading authority on UK poverty, has defined ‘realtive poverty’ as being where a person’s resources “are so seriously below those commanded by the average individual or family that they are, in effect, excluded from ordinary living patterns, customs and activities”.
Katy Clark told the3towns, “These figures from the Child Poverty Action Group are deeply troubling. The last Labour Government made real progress in reducing child poverty, taking 2.3 million out of absolute poverty between 1997 and 2010. Unfortunately, the austerity measures of the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition Government are now reversing this progress and the latest figures show an increase of 300,000 children living in absolute poverty.”
The Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran said the “alarming statistics” from the Child Poverty Action Group were testament to the failure of the UK Government, adding, “It cannot be acceptable that in 2013 nearly one-in-four children in North Ayrshire and Arran live in relative poverty. It simply cannot be allowed to continue and we now need to redouble our efforts to stamp out child poverty once and for all.”
Licensing Board: North Ayrshire's alcohol-related problems
North Ayrshire Licensing Board has explained the role it plays in attempting to address alcohol-related problems in the local area.
A spokesperson for the Board said, “Unfortunately, North Ayrshire sits at the wrong end of the table when it comes to alcohol-related issues, such as poor health, violence, anti-social behaviour, deprivation and domestic abuse. These problems have increased at the same time as alcohol has become cheaper and more widely available - resulting in an estimated cost to each resident of £800 a year.”
The Licensing Board is administered by North Ayrshire Council, with a small group of elected councillors appointed to take decisions in relation to the licensing of premises allowed to sell alcohol. The spokesperson said, “The Board has a vital role to play in reducing the impact of alcohol” on local people and communities. In coming to decisions, Licensing Board members take into account information supplied by NHS Ayrshire & Arran, Police Scotland and Scottish Fire and Rescue.
The Convener of the local Licensing Board, Saltcoats & Stevenston Independent councillor Ronnie McNicol, said, “Ayrshire has the highest rate of under-age teenagers admitted to hospital for alcohol related-issues in the UK. With eight North Ayrshire communities being more than twice the national average for admissions, it is clear that action is vital.”
Cllr McNicol noted, “Evidence suggests that the average Scot drinks 21 units a week and that 1-in-20 deaths are directly related to alcohol. Given more than half of Scotland’s population are female – whose recommended alcohol limit is 14 units – or do not drink at all, it is clear that a significant number of people regularly drink well in excess of the recommended limit.”
The Independent councillor acknowledged the Licensing Board “cannot change drinking habits overnight”, adding, “but we do have the opportunity to make sure we are moving in the right direction. This is why we have agreed to an approach that will recommend the refusal of licences unless the applicant can make a very strong case.
“Any decision we make is based on the application presented to us. Our licensing policy gives us a firm foundation that allows us to make informed decisions, and also lets applicants see what is expected of them.”
The Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 requires the Board to take into account five principles when making any decision. Referred to as the ‘Licensing Objectives’, these are: preventing crime and disorder; securing public safety; preventing public nuisance; protecting and improving public health; and protecting children from harm.
Margaret's backing for Independence White Paper
Local MSP Margaret Burgess is urging everyone to get involved in the debate over Scottish independence by reading the Scottish Government's White Paper – Scotland’s Future - which was published last week.
The document – described by First Minister Alex Salmond as “the most comprehensive blueprint for independence ever produced by any country” - was launched to an audience of hundreds of journalists from across the world, and contains 650 questions and answers on independence.
The online version of the White Paper - www.scotreferendum.com - allows people to use a search facility to find answers to any questions they might have. In addition, the blueprint explains how Scotland will move from a YES vote in the referendum on September 18th next year to independence on March 24th 2016. The first election to Scotland’s independent parliament will take place in May 2016, with voters free to elect whichever MSPs and parties they choose.
Margaret Burgess, MSP for Cunninghame South, which includes Stevenston, said, “This landmark document takes the referendum debate into a new phase.
“No country in history is as well-equipped as Scotland to move forward to independence, and even the staunchest opponents of YES now accept that Scotland has got what it takes to be an independent country.
“The guide and the answers it provides will show clearly and simply the difference we can make in Scotland if decisions on our future are taken by those who care most about Scotland, that is the people who live and work here.
“The referendum on the 18th of September next year is a vote unlike any other - it is the biggest opportunity we have had as a country in 300 years. That's why I'm asking all of my constituents - regardless of their current views on independence - to read the guide, to compare it with any alternative future for Scotland and to make up their own mind.”
Mrs Burgess, also the SNP Scottish Government’s Minister for Housing & Welfare, said the anti-independence ‘No’ campaign “never have a positive word to say,” adding, “It's time they answered the questions about what would happen to Scotland in the event of a No vote.
“Scotland’s future is now well and truly in Scotland’s hands – and it is time for all of us to grasp the historic opportunity offered by a YES vote on September 18th next year.”
Good news for Council
Creating jobs and improving the local economy are the main aspirations of people in North Ayrshire, according to a recent survey.
The clear message to emerge from the Household Survey 2013 is that a stronger focus needs to be placed on attracting and growing business investment in the area.
The survey was commissioned by North Ayrshire Council and found that council services, in general, prompted a customer satisfaction level up by 27% since the last report in 2007. An independent market research company conducted door-to-door interviews with 3,000 households in North Ayrshire, providing greater opportunity for customers to get across their opinions – the previous assessment was based solely on a postal questionnaire.
In welcome news for the Council, the 2013 report showed satisfaction levels of above 80% for 13 out of the 23 local authority services that were analysed. Top of the league was the library service, which scored 97% for customer satisfaction, followed by primary schools at 95% and nurseries at 93%. Other high performers were household refuse collection (93%), recycling centres (92%) and registration of births, deaths and marriages (91%).
The research company behind the survey also provided detailed feedback on the views of residents on the council as a whole, which showed 56% of respondents were ‘satisfied’ with the level of service from North Ayrshire Council: only 5% indicated they were ‘dissatisfied’.
Several areas requiring improvement were noted in the 34-page report, which was presented to a recent meeting of the Council’s ruling SNP Cabinet. The lowest-rating service was ‘roads and footpaths’, with just 28% of respondents indicating they were ‘satisfied’ with the Council’s performance.
Other areas of service-delivery where the local public are looking for improvements included neighbourhood planning, the encouragement of wider online communication between Council and customers, and greater community engagement through regular ‘Straight Talking’ forums.
A Council spokesperson indicated the local authority was also now looking at tackling North Ayrshire’s economic challenges through an initiative bringing together the public and private sectors to encourage business investment, adding, “Through the Team North Ayrshire approach a number of key local employers now have a dedicated Account Manager to work with as well as direct access to the whole range of business information and advice.
“The Household Survey provides information that is used by the Council to gauge its own performance and help with partnership planning.”
North Ayrshire Council leader, SNP councillor Willie Gibson, was delighted at the progress made since the last survey in 2007. “This latest survey shows we are making clear headway in the delivery of services. The improvements are down to nothing else but sheer hard work from everyone who works with the council,” said Cllr Gibson.
The Saltcoats & Stevenston councillor noted, “From the Chief Executive down, the entire team has pulled out the stops to make North Ayrshire Council an organisation of which everyone can be proud.
“I saw this for myself at the recent North Ayrshire Achieves night, an awards ceremony that recognises the efforts of employees. It was obvious to everyone that all our staff were enjoying doing what they do. There was a real, upbeat buzz about the place.”
Not so 'special' offers
North Ayrshire & Arran MP Katy Clark has called on the UK Government to introduce measures that would allow better regulation of so-called ‘special offers’ promoted by supermarkets.
Ms Clark tabled questions on the subject in the House of Commons following publication of a revealing report by consumer charity Which? The document - Make Special Offers Special - identified several examples of ‘special offers’ that had misled customers and which, in some cases, actually ended up costing shoppers more money. Particular focus was given to ‘special offers’ where multi-buy promotions had been used by supermarkets to raise prices.
Katy Clark said, “At a time when many families are struggling with the cost of living, special offers can provide real relief to those working on tight budgets. It is therefore essential that these offers actually save customers money and don’t mislead people into spending more than they had intended.”
The Labour MP flagged-up one particular example, “It can’t be fair that Asda increased its price of Uncle Ben’s Express Basmati Rice from £1.00 to £1.58 as it went on a ‘2 for £3.00’ offer, and then return it to £1.00 when the offer ended. Customers purchasing the rice will have been spending more during the offer period regardless of whether took advantage of the multi-buy offer.
“The UK Government has a Pricing Practices Guide aimed at preventing misleading pricing from taking place, but it is clear from research by Which? that this is failing. Stronger action and tougher sanctions are now required.”
Saturday, November 30 2013.
Saturday, December 7 2013. Kick-offs: 1:45pm.