Having no previous experience or knowledge of working in local government the last two years has been a huge learning curve but during that time I have learnt so much and have built a good working relationship with many groups in Nairn.
In my manifesto I promised to “set up a group of parents to seek funding to invest in new play areas and play equipment for existing sites.”. After a number of public meetings, a group was established and quickly became a constituted group and registered charity. A competition was held inviting talented students from Nairn Academy to design a logo, the best four went forward to a public vote. The logo created by Paul MacDonald 3rd year won with over 50% of the vote, a prize was presented to Paul in class for the Nairn PLAY bubbles design.
Nairn PLAY created and circulated a survey and received over 900 responses and has held a number of publicity and fundraising events with the most recent being the Christmas Fayre held in the Community Centre. The Magical Christmas Fayre was very well attended with a variety of stalls to visit, the group raised over £800 from this event and was so well received and popular that plans to hold the event again this year are already being made.
Work to create better play facilities at the riverside continues.
One of the biggest issues affecting Nairn right now is the possibility of Ship to ship oil transfers happening in the Moray Firth .
The Port of Cromarty Firth (PoCF) put forward and application to carry out such activity just miles from the Nairn coast in the Moray Firth. I am very strongly opposed to this going ahead for a number of reasons. Not only would a potential oil spill be absolutely devastating for the whole Moray Firth area but minor operational spills, VOC and noise pollution as well as the visual impact on our seascape has negative connotations for our environment and community.
I have supported Cromarty Rising and groups from Nairn in objecting to this proposal going ahead and in January joined them outside the Scottish Parliament seeking support from MSPs against this being passed by a UK government body (MCA) based in Southampton. On the bus journey down everyone was in high spirits, the bus itself was full with among 60-70 people all traveling together with a common purpose. The snow was thick on the ground that day and there was a worry that we wouldn’t make it down the A9 but the group were not deterred. When we arrived at Holyrood we were joined by more activists and also best-selling author Ian Rankin. Ian Rankin had been holidaying in Cromarty for many years and also owned property there so knows the area very well. We all gathered outside parliament with banners and signs while First Minister’s Questions were taking place, Gail Ross MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross who’s constituency includes Cromarty asked the First Minister a question directly related to ship to ship oil transfers taking place in the Moray Firth. in response to this the First Minister stated “On the basis of the evidence so far the Scottish Government is unconvinced that ship-to-ship oil transfers can or should take place, without causing risk to the environment, particularly to bottlenose dolphins”.
More recently PoCF have been told by the MCA that they now have to submit a whole new application rather than any decision being taken on the current amended application. This is a victory for sure but it will be important to remain alert to a new application being submitted in future. Public pressure needs to be maintained and I am committed to continuing the opposition to such activities being carried out in the Moray Firth.
Another high profile issue for Nairn during my time so far has been the bathing water quality. In December 2016, I co-signed a motion to council seeking to look at sustainable water quality management solutions and ecological water management systems. There are biological systems in use that can treat and purify waste water in a natural way and this can be done at a fraction of the cost of industrial methods. These systems can also be used along side current wastewater management methods where no chemicals are used. I would like to continue taking this forward along with many of the other projects that I’ve been involved with.
On the Highland Council I sit on the Education, Children and Adult Services Committee, the Nairnshire Committee and the Gaelic Implementation Group. Although I do not speak Gaelic fluently I am currently learning and seeking to support the language locally through education, normalisation, activities and events.
the local election is just round the corner and the people of Nairnshire will once again get to choose who they want to represent them in local government. These past two years have certainly been an experience and I hope I am amongst those elected so that I can carry on where I started for the benefit of Nairn.
**press release from the Highland Council SNP group**
As time passes and the Highland Council approach the eleventh hour with regard to the setting of the budget the SNP Group are pleased to acknowledge that the proposed cuts will be nowhere near what was originally proposed by the Independent Group.
Talking about this, Cllr. Maxine Smith, who leads the Opposition and the SNP Group in Highland Council said, “The Scottish Government will be raising money from the highest bandings of Council Tax, in order to assist local authorities in balancing their budgets. This rise by Scottish Government will only affect the very large houses in Highland and there will be mitigation measures for those living alone or people with little income.
Originally it was thought that this £5m, which will be raised would go directly to schools suffering in the educational attainment gap. However, subsequently the Scottish Government decided to fund this initiative separately so the whole £5m will assist Highland Council with balancing its own budget without being ring-fenced. At the full council the Independents formed a last minute motion to write to the Finance Minister, and now they are claiming it was their letter that effected a change of mind in Holyrood. This I found amusing, as I had told them time after time that the money raised by the “Council Tax multiplier” was always going to come back to Highland, but they didn’t listen! Now they see this was in fact correct.
Further to this some of the media releases submitted by the Independent Administration have been less than genuine. They were looking at a budget gap of over £29m just a few weeks ago, but since being given their grant settlement figure, are now only looking at a gap of £22m. They pontificated about the cut from Scottish Government being worse than they were expecting, when the truth of the matter is that the Scottish Government under the current economic situation, have given Councils a good settlement, as best they could and Highland Council are now looking at £7m LESS cuts than they were a few weeks ago. Surely, this is a good news story?”
**press release from the Highland Council SNP group**
Councillors today rejected an SNP proposal intended to enable the public to ask questions of Council leaders in their communities.
Today the Lib Dem Group proposed that members of the public should be allowed to ask a 1 minute question at Full Councils, with the whole session taking no longer than 20 minutes. Councillors debated the merits of this, with the Independent Group suggesting the idea be thrown over to the Re-Design of the Council Board for them to consider. Opponents of this said that this was just “kicking it into the long grass”.
The SNP Group Leader, Cllr. Maxine Smith put forward a further amendment that suggested her Group wanted to engage the public to a greater extent and that the Lib Dem motionb didn’t for far enough. She proposed that the public should be able to ask questions on the Council’s website, and receive an answer, which will be published and filed under a topic heading so that people can easily find it with a simple search. The SNP Group further wanted a question and answer forum to become part of the community planning district partnership meetings going forward.
The Lib Dems and the Independents offered that the SNP amendment be attached to their own, as they both felt it held great merit and was a good idea. However, when it came down to the vote the SNP amendment was defeated, with the Independent Administration winning through, meaning the suggestion would be taken to the Re-Design Board.
Speaking about this debate today, Cllr. Maxine Smith said, “I thanked both Groups for saying that they liked the SNP proposals, but unfortunately they didn’t follow through in voting for it, instead simply voting for their original ideas. The SNP Group feel it is imperative to engage better and wider with the general public when looking at service delivery, as they know what they want and what is important to them. As councillors we do regularly speak to our constituents, but the website idea gives the opportunity for anyone, who wouldn’t normally participate to freely and easily ask a question that must be answered promptly. Furthermore, if we take forward our suggestion that our community planning partnerships should include a public question and answer session, this would be taken at district level which interacts with a wider audience, who are just not city-based. It also offers a chance to do it any time, day or night.
After the break in Full Council, both the Leader of the Council, Cllr. Margaret Davidson and the Convener, Cllr. Isobel MacCallum said they liked both of our ideas and would investigate them further with a view to implementation. So even though we may have lost the chamber vote – we won the point.”