Friday, December 19, 2014

River CC's Social Enterprise plan meets criteria but a number of outstanding matters including potential transfer of staff

It wasn’t all Christmas sing-a-longs and cuts at Glenurquhart Road yesterday as the full Highland Council met. One of the other items that went through (at breakneck speed if you watch the webcast) was the approval of the Community Challenge Fund Applications Panel’s minutes. Gurnites will be aware that Nairn River Community Council hope to set up a Social Enterprise company that would take over their patch’s grass cutting responsibilities with funding from the Community challenge Fund. Last week Chair of River CC Tommy Hogg was not upbeat about the continuing process and dismayed with Highland Council. He said: “It’s getting bogged down, the same thing happened the last time when the original application went in about this time last year. It just seems to hit a brick wall and everything stops." More here. 

Well the minutes of the Community Challenge Fund panel that were approved yesterday stated: “Nairn River Community Council – this project met the criteria; an Application should be requested once officers were satisfied that a number of outstanding matters had been resolved, including in relation to the potential transfer of staff from the Council.” 

It looks like, therefore, that River CC would perhaps be taking on Highland Council staff. That would be no small affair. Instantly the inquisitive mind would be wondering how a small enterprise company would cover for sickness, holiday, ongoing pension contributions etc, etc. There would need to be a small bureaucracy put in place too or an external agency employed to manage these responsibilities. Could all that be done cheaper than it is at present through the Highland Council apparatus? Funding would come through the Community Challenge Fund and River CC might be able to find other funding streams but how sustainable would they be? And how sustainable is the Challenge Fund? Could the Council be forced to cut it in the face of the ongoing cuts apocalypse facing the public sector

Last month Simon Noble of River CC told the organisations regular meeting that the social enterprise plan would make no threat to local council jobs “but create opportunities for training and routes to employment for people who may be long-term unemployed at the moment.”

Another River CC member, Mike Henderson wanted to know more about who would be employed by the company. Simon replied:

“It will depend on what we can develop as a larger business plan and what we can get funding for. It’s difficult to predict. It’s likely to be a mixture of potentially somebody to run the enterprise on behalf of a board and then supplement it by jobs, some of which may be self-employed people rather than employing them.” He went on to say that any council workers transferred over would be covered by the rules of TUPE.

Mike Henderson persisted making his point however and claimed that the issue was creating potential uncertainty for existing Council employees.

It does seem to this observer that if the community is to take charge of its own grass-cutting affairs it looks like it has to set up its own bureaucracy and go out and look for funding. Already a consultant has been employed by River Community Council. Would it not be much easier and cheaper all round to simply give real control of the grass cutting budgets etc to the Area Committee and invite the community councils to sit at the top table when decisions are made? Either that or stop messing about and give Nairn its District Council back. Should River CC succeed on proceeding down what seems an increasingly tortuous route, will there be any saving to the public purse by the time consultants and others with the necessary skills are recruited?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Nairn Museum no more?

We speculated recently about the effect of the existing cuts going through the system and the reports that the public sector has only seen 40% of cuts yet with 
the rest (60%) coming down the tracks after this lot. Previous Gurn article "

Nairn Museum Ltd Chairman Iain Bain is quoted in the Nairnshire Telegraph this week: “Our immediate response was to tell the Provost  that if the full extent of the cuts was imposed we would have to begin planning the closure of the museum.” 

Tomorrow Highland Council will vote on the first of the cuts. We are fast moving towards a world where it will be a choice between things like museums, libraries, community centres and schools, bin collections, old folks homes etc. Awful choices will have to be made. Councillors will simply become the agents of austerity cuts from central government. When you elect a councillor you will simply be electing someone to implement pain on your community.  If you haven’t ever been to Nairn museum perhaps you should go within the next year or two because there is a good chance it may close its doors within that time.  

Nairn Golf News via twitter

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Nairn Youth Alliance's plans for the Skateboard Park

This week the newly created Nairn Youth Alliance feature on the front page of the Leopold Street Thunderer - all yours for 45p in on of Nairn's many Co-ops or even a newsagents near you. Following on from the media exposure the NYA have published an article on their webpage complete with video on how they wish to proceed with the Skateboard park. More details here. 

The Youth Alliance are also holding a meeting in the Community and Arts Centre between 1 and 3 p.m. this Saturday 20th December for all those who may be interested in participating in their activities. 

The King Street Geyser

Thanks to Iain for this remarkable picture from earlier this morning. Our Correspondent reports: "Some excitement this morning as workmen went to work on a mains water valve."

Ecohouse under construction in Wilson Street

The crane arrived at first light and by midday the floor was in and now the walls are being installed. The Gurn understands that it should be done and dusted with the roof on on Friday if the weather holds. For more about the ecological principles behind the entire process that involves the construction of this type of house have a browse of the Makar site

Plans for the house can be seen here on the Highland Council site. More pictures here and we hope to add to that Gurn Flickr file with another visit planned later this afternoon. 

UPDATE: Weds 17th - a few more images today. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Highland Council "dragging their feet" over River CC's social enterprise grass cutting proposals says Tommy

Last week at a regular meeting in the URC hall, Simon Noble gave an update to his River CC colleagues on the organisation's plans for Nairn River Enterprise – an initiative that would hopefully one day take over the grass cutting in their patch of Nairn that is presently done by contractors to the Council. The plans for the social enterprise set-up also include recycling and riverside regeneration. Simon said:

“The expression of interest in the Community Challenge Fund was submitted by the third of November. We will not know formally whether or not that is going to be approved until after it has gone through an officers’ group meeting, a members’ panel. We understand we are likely to hear sometime after the 17th of December. If it is approved there it will then go through to formal approval at the Council. The next stage from our point of view is to try and agree a set of terms with the Council and then develop our business plan on the basis of that. However at the moment we are waiting for Highland Council’s officers to come back to us with some detailed responses to our declaration of interest.”

Simon went on to describe the current work of River CC’s consultant, “So we can’t take that part forward. What Alison is doing on our behalf is taking forward research into available grants to seek match funding, to be able to both, hire equipment if we need to and to employ a coordinator for the enterprise. She is also taking forward work to identify the exact vehicle, entity that we need to set up for the social enterprise.”

Chair Tommy Hogg then said: “Can I just say on that, talking about waiting on the Highland Council coming back; myself, personally I’m pretty disappointed with the way they’re dragging their feet with this. We were basically assured there would be a quick response to some of our enquiries but up until today there’s been no communication at all really has there?” 

Simon responded: “Well there’s been some communication but the communication has basically summarised that they haven’t been able to pull the information together.”

Tommy came back: “It’s getting bogged down, the same thing happened the last time when the original application went in about this time last year. It just seemsto hit a brick wall and everything stops."

A pothole for Christmas

The latest (and huge) pothole at the Lochloy junction on the A96
One of our pothole watch squad sends in his latest Gurn, here's what Billy reports: 

"Hi, just to say pot holes on A96 just across from Bridgemill and quite a big one. The roundabout at King Street has still to be done - man hole covers sunk.  The road all the way through the town is bad, including manhole cover near the Regal. I think this is only going to get worse unless something is done to the road surface. It looks just like a farm track in parts."

Thanks for that Billy, the pothole above is indeed in a bad position, drivers have to concentrate going through the lights and then there is the hazard of parked cars on the left of the road - the last thing you need to add to that is a pothole this size. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

River Community Council to make £350 donation to local foodbank

At their regular meeting on Wednesday night in the URC hall the River Community Council members decided to donate 10% of their current bank balance (rounded up to £350) to the Highland Foodbank.  Members expressed a desire that they wished to see their contribution used exclusively in Nairn and Chair Tommy Hogg was mandated to discuss this with the foodbank. 

Christmas Politics - looking crate

Isla O'Reilly of the Scottish Green Party, one of several speakers outside the Courthouse yesterday morning
Yesterday the Nairn Yes Alliance had a range of speakers at a wee rally outside the Courthouse, there were short contributions from the Scottish Socialist Party, the Scottish Green Party, the SNP, Youth Alliance, Women for Independence and the Common Weal, Independent MSP John Finnie also took to the crate for a moment or two. 40 bags of donations to the local foodbank were collected from those attending and a local business also made a large cash donation that brought a simultaneous cash collection for the foodbank up to £120. Video of the speeches here (note sound and camera get sorted one minute into video).

Elsewhere, Labour’s Mike Robb has been round the doors in Nairn  Recently. The Tories Ed Mountain has noticed the fuel prices in Nairn and Danny Alexander apparently had a busy time at his regular surgery up at Sainsbury’s according to one of our regular readers.

The SNP are still selecting a candidate to stand against Danny and that process alone is playing out to packed hustings meetings across the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey constituency and images have been published on line here of one of those meetings in Inverness. Undoubtedly politics will kick off to a flying start in this area early in January and will not slow down until 10.00 p.m. on May 7th. 

The campaign for Gaelic subtitles on Gaelic TV

A campaign to have an option for Gaelic subtitles on the Gaelic television Channel BBC Alba is gathering momentum in the Gàidhlig speaking and learner community. Spearheading the campaign is the website Gàidhlig TV. This observer will testify (as a Gaelic learner) that it doesn't help the learning curve at all to have the English subtitles at the bottom of the screen. There are also claims that many of the programs on the Gaelic Channel have more English than Gaelic in their content. The campaigners state:

"Established in 2008, a great deal of the channel’s programming for adults contains English language content – a deliberate policy decision by broadcasters - with no Gaelic subtitling/captioning, dubbing or voice-overs. English language subtitles are imposed on the majority of programmes for adults, with no opt-out opportunity. Gaelic subtitles - for the very language the channel is supposed to represent - are not provided as an option, therefore limiting access service provision for fluent speakers or learners of the language (learners are a key target audience for the channel also). English language audio is systematically and regularly included in programming. The very high level of English language content has prompted a variety of commentators to question the channel’s purpose. There have been cases of ‘Gaelic’ programmes being conducted almost entirely through the medium of English."

The on line campaign is also active on twitter where regular analysis of English content in so-called Gaelic programmes is analyzed. 
It does seem entirely appropriate to this observer that money intended for Gaelic television should simply be for that - to promote the Gaelic language and that means Gaelic subtitles too. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Santa was at Sainsbury's

A cracking picture and details of the sum raised for Nairn Churches' fight against poverty on this Nairn Rotary Club facebook page. 

Snowy Nairnshire morning captured

Lisa regularly publishes remarkable pictures from the Nairnshire Countryside on twitter. You can follow her if you have a twitter account or simply bookmark her twitter page. The Gurn also has a twitter page.  A lot of local businesses and organisations post regularly on twitter too - here's a list of the ones we know about.  

Friday, December 12, 2014

Highland Council Christmas cuts meeting - options outlined in the Courier - but beyond that much more to come

It isn't cheerful Christmas reading but the Courier has a large spread today on what Highland Council services are about to diminish and what is going to cost you more. They say:

"Councillors will decide next week where the axe will fall for the 2015/16 budget to save 17.9 million. We look at some key areas which could have an impact on you, your household and community and how much money will be saved." 

It isn't happy reading Gurnites, if you take the Courier you'd better sit down before reading today. If you want the full-on experience however, you can go to the Council's website and read the agenda 11 items, including the consultation report, Booklet A and Booklet B parts 1&2 if you prefer to browse such things in official language rather than the helpful translation from Donna MacAllister and Olivia Bell. 

We are entering the first year of a four year programme of cuts and some of the minutiae seem a bit optimistic to this (non-expert) observer. There are impact assessments too and phrases like "deliverability and risk" jump out at the reader. There can be no easy way of cutting into the bone though and it will not be fun for the Councillors, there can be few of them who will relish the task of implementing pain on communities - nobody could have promised to do that when going round the doorsteps. It isn't the whole story though, there is still an additional £13 million cuts to be found over and above those to be implemented on Thursday. The Council budget leader states in a press release: 

Budget Leader, Maxine Smith said: “We have been open and transparent about the difficult choices we have to make and we have done our very best to enable people to have their say and explain the impact the proposed cuts would have on them. We are not alone in these challenges, but we, like other local authorities, have no choice other than to deliver a balanced budget. It is impossible to find £64 million in savings without having any impact on services and on people. However unpleasant, we have no choice but to decide where to make the necessary cuts to balance the budget.

“The biggest share of the Council budget is spent on Care and Learning and where we can mitigate the impact on education, we will do so. Having listened to the concerns of the public regarding proposals to reduce the primary school week, the Administration group decided to remove the proposal from year 1 (2015/16), to allow further work on the detail and to minimise any impact on schools.

“We will also seek to delay any cuts to services such as swimming pools and libraries and community grants, so that more time can be allowed for them to plan and prepare for future leaner years.”

She stressed that where cuts cannot be made, the savings must be found elsewhere. “This means we still have a big gap of nearly £13 million in our 4 year budget and we must identify where that money is going to come from. The future remains challenging, with the need for all services to manage demand within a reducing level of resource.” Read the full press release here. 

Worrying isn't it but there is more - over and above this mammoth 4 year cuts exercise at Highland Council though there are still another predicted 60% of austerity cuts for the public sector to come beyond those going through the system now. An ITV news article was one of many that publicised this recently: 

"Mr Osborne has a ten-year plan of "fiscal consolidation" to eradicate the budget deficit he inherited in 2010. According to the OBR, we will have seen 40% of his intended cuts by 2015, meaning that we are set for another 60% over the five years of the next Parliament."  Full article here. 

Incidently MSP John Finnie stated at the Gurn referendum debate back in May that there were still another 60% of cuts to come - he wasn't far off the mark was he? It is difficult to imagine the kind of devastation that those type of cuts will have on jobs and services in the Highlands, not just in the Highland Council but beyond that in all parts of the public sector. Dr Adrian Baker was recently sounding the alarm bell for Health Care when he spoke to the meeting of Nairnshire Community Councils. 

Inverness is a regional centre and a lot of public sector jobs are based there so to implement the cuts that are already underway and an additional 60% would mean that our society could change beyond recognition when it comes to the services delivered by the public sector that we take for granted. The resulting unemployment would also have a knock on effect into the local economy. The Christmas lights are on again but the future is bleak as the road map of cuts stretching into the austerity years ahead starts to materialise.

Coastguard search overnight for possible missing person at Harbour area

It was a terribly cold night but local coastguard volunteers were out helping the police. A report on the Coastguard facebook page states:

"Nairn Coastguard and Inverness Coastguard were paged at 0240 this morning to reports of a missing person posible in the water at Nairn harbour river area we carried out a comprehensive search of the area,also in attendance police and ambulance. Rescue 137 called to assist as well, the person was located in the Nairn area 
A big thank you to all involved with this incident on a very cold icy morning." 

And a big thank you from the community, I'm sure, to those prepared to go out in risky inclement situations for the benefit of their fellow citizens.  More on the Coast  Guard facebook page, including pictures. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Information Board in Castle Lane Square - has anybody seen the key?

The informationless board in Castle Lane Sq is now into its 4th month without information since its installation earlier this year. The first Gurn report on this topic was published in early October.  In November we reported on how River Community Council had agreed to a Highland Council request to take over the administration of the board. Since then Chairman of River CC, Tommy Hogg, has tried his best to gain access to the board and tells the Gurn that he has a thick pile of notices to go in. Unfortunately there is no key to the board available from Highland Council. 

Tommy told his colleagues at their regular meeting in the URC hall tonight that he had received an e-mail from Highland Council telling him that the key had apparently become detatched at the time of delivery. It isn't just any old key however, it is a special type. In the Courthouse they don't know who made the information board and are to investigate with the TECS department so once the manufacturer is identified they can order a new key. Perhaps anyone out there who knows who made the information board could phone up the Courthouse and save a bit of time here. It'll all be over by Christmas?

Fin speaks on the behalf of the fans this week on his P&J "View from the terraces" column

Read Fin's column here: "Two sad losses".

Monday, December 08, 2014

Christmas Comedy Capers at Community Centre

The Nairn Community and Arts Centre once again proved itself to be the ideal venue for the latest event in the Wildnight series of comedy gigs on Saturday night. A large crowd enjoyed the now familiar tradition of MC plus two other comedians and a chance for an interval drink from the well staffed centre bar. There were a few groups making a Christmas night-out out of it and had either taken advantage  of the special deals with local pubs and restaurants before or were going to do so afterwards (or perhaps both). The comedians were Vladimir McTavish, Junior Simpson and Gordon Southern.

A simultaneous event was taking place in the Mosset Tavern in Forres, and Junior and Simpson were ferried in the opposite directions during the interval – two men appearing in two towns on the same night. Another eclectic mix from the Wildnight Comedy team and the trio did the business – another successful night in the Nairn Community and Arts Centre and another satisfied crowd of Wildnighters. Some images of the Centre and the comedians below.

Individual images here.

Interview - Fraser Stevenson and new guide dog Remy - plus update on search for Tess

Further contact details etc, in this Gurn article posted earlier today.

Wards closed at the RNI, Inverness and Nairn Town and County due to diarrhoea and vomiting

A ward at the Royal Northern Infirmary (RNI), Inverness has closed to new admissions and visitors are being asked to keep visiting to an absolute minimum while staff deal with several cases of diarrhoea and vomiting.

Ward 2 at the hospital, which was closed to new admissions today, has eight patients currently affected with symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting. Although it has not been confirmed this is being treated as norovirus.

The virus, which causes diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, spreads in the air where someone has had diarrhoea or vomited and is extremely infectious. It is important that everyone plays their part in reducing outbreak risks.

A ward at Nairn Town and County Hospital has also been closed to admissions as a precaution, following the development of diarrhoea and vomiting symptoms in two patients. Whilst investigations are undertaken visitors are being asked to keep visiting to an absolute minimum until further notice.

Fraser Stevenson and new guide dog Remy - plus update on search for Tess

Fraser Stevenson, whose guide dog Tess went missing in Nairn on Wednesday 23 July while exercising off lead, is now embarking on a new partnership with guide dog Remy.

Fraser, Remy and Niall Foley from Guide Dogs Scotland earlier today
The months since Tess disappeared have been a very troubling time for Fraser. Matching him with a new guide dog was a key part in helping him to lead an independent and full life again.

Fraser and Remy (a female Labrador retriever cross) are in the early stages of their partnership, but things are going well.

“With Remy by my side I have begun to get out and about and again live a more independent life,” said Fraser. “Of course, I’m still really upset about Tess and concerned for her whereabouts and safety.”

Guide Dogs continue to take Tess’s disappearance very seriously. From the day she went missing we have carried out a significant programme of activity to try and find her. Unfortunately, despite our dedicated efforts to find Tess, she has not been found.

“We ask that anyone who sees a dog that they think could be Tess to take a picture and email it to ,”said Terry Thorpe, Glasgow Mobility Team manager.

“We are continuing to investigate possible sightings with staff, volunteers, and local agencies on the ground.

“We remain grateful for all the support we’re receiving in our efforts to try and find Tess.”

Coming later a short audio file of an interview with Fraser and Niall