Leader's New Year Message
Posted on 1 Jan 2019
I hope everyone across North Ayrshire enjoyed a lovely Christmas and are looking forward to 2019 with optimism.
It’s always a time of year when you both reflect on the trials and tribulations of the last 12 months before setting yourself goals and challenges for the following year.
As Council Leader, my priority is always how I can affect change that will make our communities stronger and the lives of our residents better.
As a Council, I think we achieved that in 2018 and some of the polices and initiatives that we introduced gave me immense pride and satisfaction.
Probably the biggest and highest profile was our campaign to end Period Poverty. We became the first in UK to introduce free sanitary products across all our public buildings. The positive reaction to this was pretty overwhelming and speaking to loads of young women, and hearing how this will positively impact on their lives, was incredibly humbling. It was a nice reminder of why I got into politics in the first place.
Our Better Off North Ayrshire Programme continues to go from strength to strength and, working with a range of partners, we have helped save residents over £1 million in the last 18 months. We are also making real inroads into seriously tackling fuel poverty and became the first in Scotland to become a municipal energy supplier. We look forward to rolling this out over the coming months.
Our award-winning holiday schools meals reached out to more young people than ever before in 2018, while we continue to offer unrivalled support to our care-experienced young people. It was really fitting that in our final Full Council of the year, a motion was passed that will see the Council providing financial support to care experienced students who are our tenants and in receipt of the Care Experienced Bursary.
Of course it would be remiss of me to say that 2018 wasn’t without its issues. But it’s the same for every Council across the country. We all have the same financial challenges arising from continued austerity.
Our budget will again be determined by the settlement agreed by the Scottish Government. Make no mistake, I will always fight for what I believe is a fair and acceptable sum and unfortunately the current draft budget is probably the worst for many years.
I’m already speaking to teams across the Council and every effort is ongoing to prepare a budget that is balanced and fair, supports our most vulnerable residents and continues to allow our communities to flourish. However, I am open and honest about the impact of austerity on our budget and you won’t hear me using managerial language like ‘savings’. People make savings to go on holiday, to buy a car, to raise the deposit for a house – we get nothing nice from austerity, it is pure and simply cuts. With that in mind I will explain our decisions when the budget is agreed.
The budget is still a couple of months away. But I’m really hopeful that the Ayrshire Growth Deal will be signed and sealed before then. It has been a massive undertaking by the three Ayrshire authorities, supported by our public and private sector partners, to try and get the deal over the line. At times, it’s felt like we’ve been pushing into a hurricane-strength headwind but now the wind is on our tail and we are close to securing the funding that has the potential to help transform our economy.
Growing our economy is a priority but it has to be growth that benefits everyone. Equity is something that is hugely important to me and its why I have led on the real Living Wage. What is really interesting me is the success of Preston’s ‘Community Wealth’ model which is ensuring money is retained within their local economy creating local jobs and investment. I am working with my counterpart in Preston and we hope to develop a really exciting ‘Community Wealth’ agenda here in North Ayrshire.
I look forward to speaking and meeting more people and groups across North Ayrshire over the coming months and want to thank our communities for everyone that you do to support our area.