Joe recently had the pleasure of writing an article for the first issue of new community magazine Irvine Life. The article is below.
Irvine Life is available free and can be collected at various locations across Irvine and Kilwinning - http://irvinelife.co.uk/magazine-outlets/
It is also available online.
On the 4th March I joined the other Kilwinning Councillors at the Kilwinning Academy Parent Council meeting, a group of parents who are dedicating their own time to support the school and its pupils and doing a fabulous job of doing so.
One of the issues that really struck home was the frustration at the lack of investment in the schools infrastructure.
Some of the parents on the Parent Council attended Kilwinning Academy themselves and the school building hasn’t changed much since those days.
Whilst other schools, such as Greenwood Academy, have benefited from new state of the art buildings Kilwinning Academy hasn’t had enough investment.
The school’s main hall doubles up as its canteen and until we provide better dining facilities I am afraid it is going to be difficult to increase the uptake of school meals within the school.
The Parent Council also wholeheartedly support the installation of an AstroTurf pitch at the school, something that many schools in North Ayrshire already benefit from.
The lack of investment in Kilwinning Academy can probably be summed up by the fact the school still doesn’t have Wi-Fi, something that most of us take for granted these days.
There is currently a review of the school estate but the report has been delayed until November. However, no matter what recommendations the report makes it is clear that there is a desire from parents, staff, pupils and indeed the towns Councillors to see some real investment in Kilwinning Academy over the next few years.
I’m a huge supporter of credit unions. They are a great alternative to high street banks and offer a full range of financial services and products. As a Scottish Labour and Co-opertaive MSP candidate I also support their co-operative values.
In Kilwinning, and North Ayrshire as a whole, we are lucky to have 1st Alliance Credit Union on our doorsteps. Not only are 1st Alliance a sector leading credit union in many ways but they so often go above and beyond the call of duty to support their members. That’s why I have been so pleased to support them since my election in 2012.
The latest development in that support has come in the form of a £50,000 investment in 1st Alliance by North Ayrshire Council.
The investment was one of many recommendations made by the Council’s ‘Non-standard lending report’, a piece of work carried out by a working group of Councillors, Council officers and consultants which was established in the aftermath of my motion on payday loans and 1st Alliance.
The £50,000 grant will allow 1st Alliance to grow its membership by 849 adults and 110 juniors by increasing its capital to asset ratio which has worked as a cap on their membership.
I am also pleased that the Council will facilitate work within our Secondary schools with 1st Alliance in a bid to improve financial literacy and teach young people about the value of money and saving.
The non-standard lending report made a host of other recommendations including establishing a wage advance scheme for Council employees and social enterprise alternatives to payday loans and high cost credit stores such as Brighthouse. All of the recommendations from the report would have a positive impact in tackling debt and poverty and I will continue to call for their full implementation.
An issue which has concerned people across North Ayrshire has been the Council’s decision to tender for domestic violence homelessness services.
The contract is currently carried out by North Ayrshire Women’s Aid and based on the projected value of the new contract it would represent a 22% reduction in funding for refuge, counselling and outreach services and also doesn’t include £134,000 worth of existing North Ayrshire Women’s Aid contracts for children and addiction services.
One of the biggest issues with the contract was the inclusion of a clause which would have prevented the winner of the contract from sourcing external funding. The clause stated that should external funding be sought then the Council would reduce its funding contribution by the subsequent amount.
This clause ring-fenced the cut in funding. I asked the SNP Cabinet Member about the clause at the Council meeting on 18th December and they responded that it was a “standard clause”.
That “standard clause” has now been removed after I met with officers. After my lobbying I have been assured that the clause won’t be used in any contracts for services which “support people”.
Concerns remain about the contract but this is just the first step in making it fairer.
And I am delighted that the next Labour Scottish Government has pledged to establish a £2.3million Women’s Aid fund. The fund would provide match funding to Women’s Aid services across Scotland, including in North Ayrshire, and will be funded by using some of the proceeds of our plan to re-introduce a 50p top rate of tax for those earning over £150,000.
The irony is if we hadn’t removed the “standard clause” North Ayrshire Women’s Aid may not have been able to take advantage of this fund under a Labour Scottish Government.