Council Leader pens latest column
Posted on 16 Oct 2020
These have been seven long, hard and challenging months but last week felt like seven normal months condensed into seven days.
Further restrictions have been imposed on us as the Ayrshire and Arran health board has been included in the ‘Central Belt’ restrictions. As you know this means our pubs and restaurants have been told to close for 16 days. I am particularly concerned about the impact on those employed in the hospitality sector and I will be meeting with some local businesses in the sector this week to discuss the situation.
It’s clear from the daily Covid figures that cases are on the rise. None of us want more restrictions to be put in place. But I have said from day one, public health must come first. The restrictions may be difficult, but we all have a common goal to defeat the virus and protect lives and therefore I would urge everyone to keep with it.
There are two of our communities however where the virus is not on the rise and that’s our islands. In fact, it is four months since Arran recorded a positive Covid case. It does seem very harsh on our islands. I’m not saying it should be business as usual for the islands and of course we must remain vigilant to the risk that a visitor brings the virus, but I hope this blanket policy is something the Scottish Government can look at and reconsider. This is an issue that I have already discussed with groups on both Arran and Cumbrae.
Last week was incredibly busy. Not only was it Challenge Poverty Week but my Cabinet also met on Tuesday, with a number of reports linked with our fight against poverty, and I had several meetings to advance our Community Wealth Building ambitions.
Indeed, we started Challenge Poverty Week by launching our Community Wealth Building Anchor Charter. The Charter commits all the big public anchor institutions (the three Ayrshire Councils, NHS Ayrshire and Arran, Ayrshire College and Scottish Enterprise) to using their power as procurement buyers, employers and landowners to improve the Ayrshire economy. This is a big moment in our Community Wealth Building journey, and I look forward to them all helping build and retain local wealth in Ayrshire.
As part of Challenge Poverty Week we also focused on our work to tackle food poverty and I was delighted to see the official launch of the new Pantry service at Whitlees Community Centre. The Pantry is an excellent initiative that will allow local residents to become members and get access to low cost food. A massive well done to Julia and all the team at Whitlees.
This Pantry is part of our new North Ayrshire Food System which is seeking to develop networks of community fridges, larders, community supermarkets and food co-ops in line with a more sustainable approach to food with dignity.
We are continuing our commitment to tackling holiday hunger and confirmed that we would provide £20 food vouchers during the school holidays to all those children eligible for free school meals, like we did during the summer.
My Cabinet approved our second child poverty action plan with one of our key priorities being to reduce the Cost of the School Day. Councillor Foster, the Cabinet’s lead member for tackling poverty, will chair a working group that will make recommendations to reduce school costs across the whole of North Ayrshire.
The Cabinet also approved a new “Better Off Hub” demonstrator project. It will be a Public-Social-Partnership between the Council and third sector partners and will provide a one-stop shop for debt advice, welfare rights, energy advice and employability services as well as signposting to other services. The demonstrator project is likely to be located in the Three Towns.
Last year my administration agreed our Rapid Rehousing Plan. The plan seeks to move away from temporary, hostel type accommodation to permanent, stable tenancies that will help improve outcomes for those who find themselves homeless. The original plan included the closure of the Victoria House hostel in Irvine in 2024 but the hostel closed earlier this year due to the pandemic. Rather than reopen the hostel my Cabinet has agreed to accelerate our Rapid Rehousing Plan and move straight to the improved model of support. The Council will work with Cunninghame Housing Association, who own and operate Victoria House, during this transition.
I want to end this week’s column with two announcements for our islands. Firstly, my Cabinet has approved a pilot scheme with Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Scottish Government which will see the appointment of a Senior Officer for the Islands. This is a new approach which will see the officer work alongside my Cabinet member for the Islands, Councillor Gallagher, on a number of island projects including 10-year economic visions for both of our islands, based around Community Wealth Building.
The second announcement was that my Cabinet approved funding from our Community Investment Fund for a mental health project led by Arran Youth Foundation and the Arran High School Parent Council. We all know that mental health and wellbeing is a big issue, even more so as we live through this pandemic. I am delighted that our Community Investment Fund is enabling community-led projects that seek to address this issue, with a similar project having already been funded at the Largs Campus. We can all learn from these type of projects as we seek to improve mental health support across all our communities.