Article written for The Cloch, Portlethen’s Community Magazine

As we move from one year to the next, there is a chance to reflect on progress made in 2015 and to plan for what will come in 2016.

Over the last few months, I have been discussing how a Community Sports Hub could bring benefits to Portlethen. These benefits could include training opportunities for local coaches and a detailed assessment of local sports’ needs, which could be used within applications for grant funding, from various sources, to improve facilities. Aberdeenshire Council has been working with Sports Scotland to support communities to develop these hubs, and towns from Fraserburgh to Stonehaven have seen increased sports participation, co-operation between clubs and effective community engagement as a result. It seems that we have another example of where, in the past, Portlethen has been missing out! There has been substantial interest in the potential of a Hub from local clubs, and from the Portlethen Playground Improvement Project, and I hope that in 2016 the Portlethen Hub can become a reality.

Since I became Chair of Education, Learning and Leisure, there has also been progress with the new school. The community consultation clearly showed that Hillside School was the favoured name for this, and so local councillors agreed to that name. Discussions with families about the transition arrangements for children in-zone for Hillside School are underway, as it is really important that the needs of the children are recognised and that the new school becomes part of the Portlethen community. In the meantime, Aberdeenshire has identified £60,000 which is being utilised to improve Portlethen Primary School due to the increase in the school roll there. I know that this extra investment has been greatly welcomed.

Earlier in the autumn, parents from the local schools took part in the consultation on Enhanced Provision in Portlethen and many voiced their support for the proposals being discussed. Comments made by the parents did alert council officers to some change in NHS speech and language provision which officers were able to follow-up. This really underlines the importance of regular dialogue in future between all involved in local education provision.

Throughout 2015 there has been progress in various community initiatives in Portlethen. I have been part of the team working to develop the North Kincardine Public Art project. With an artist now in place, the vision to promote walking routes in the area through the production of an eye-catching Treasure Map, is becoming real. Co-operation with the Council’s Integrated Travel Team means that each household should receive a copy of the map around Easter.

Similarly, the vision of a Men’s Shed in Portlethen is also coming closer to reality. Officers in Property are to undertake some of the preparation work necessary before the former toilet block can be used by the Men’s Shed, and the Area Committee have agreed to pay for work to an internal wall. Hopefully the excellent group behind the project will be successful in the additional fund-raising needed, and 2016 will see the opening of the Men’s Shed.

Another group to gain the support of the Area Committee was the Portlethen Allotment Association, who have impressed many in the way they have managed to get this exciting project moving forward so quickly. Hopefully 2016 will be a good one for this group too!

As 2015 draws to a close though, we are all preparing to say farewell to the Rev Flora Munro. Flora has done tremendous work in the area, both as Minister of Portlethen Church and as a trustee of the Jubilee Hall. The Hall is a lively and interesting place to be every Wednesday in particular, as it transforms into the Fine Piece Café, which provides a real heart to the community. Like many others, I have been very grateful for the friendship offered by Flora and wish her all the very best as she retires from Portlethen.

Wishing everyone all the best for the new year.

New Year Message written for the Mearns Leader

One delightful experience this festive season was sitting behind the local Brownies at Portlethen Academy’s production of Beauty and the Beast. They engaged totally in the pantomime spirit, helping the talented cast to create a brilliant atmosphere full of sparkle and hilarity. The performance itself was notable for the huge cast which show-cased the talents of so many pupils and staff, both those who appeared on stage and those who were involved behind the scenes.

I was struck by the sense of community behind this production – so many people brought together to create something special. There was a similar sense at the Portlethen Gala this summer, when many local organisations set up stalls to let people know of their activities.

As we look ahead to the challenges of 2016, we can see that the contributions made to the local area by community groups will be valued even more by so many people. We know that the budgets of local councils have been cut substantially and that economic changes are putting many north-east jobs at risk. Without the volunteers who give their time and energy to provide activities for our children and young people, maintain community halls, support elderly residents, promote sport and general positivity, so much that is vital to our communities would not be possible.

Now is a great time to say thank you for giving in 2015 and to acknowledge with gratitude what will be given in 2016.

Fracking: Team Scottish Labour stands up for robust environmental controls

In July 2014 it was revealed that parts of Kincardine and Mearns could be opened up for fracking, after they were included in the 14th onshore licensing round by the UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Responding to concerns raised about this by local residents, Scottish Labour councillors Alison Evison and Raymond Christie pushed for a policy statement on fracking to be included in the next Aberdeenshire Local Development Plan.

This resulted in Aberdeenshire councillors agreeing to state in the Development Plan that any future applications for fracking operations would be considered properly through the application of policies on protecting resources, natural heritage and landscape. This would ensure that the interests of local communities would be given due consideration.

It was extra reassuring when the Scottish Labour Leader Jim Murphy went further, stating that:

“If I am elected First Minister in 2016 there will be no onshore fracking in Scotland until it has been shown beyond all doubt that it can be carried out safely… The SNP Government in Edinburgh already has a veto over fracking through planning and permitting. The First Minister should use these powers now to stop any fracking taking place in Scotland.”

After much pressure, the UK Government did a U-turn in late January and agreed to accept Labour’s amendment to the Infrastructure Bill introduce new protections before fracking can go ahead.

And this week, Labour has achieved further progress on this issue, with the news that the Government will not issue new licenses for onshore oil and gas extraction in Scotland.

Tom Greatrex MP, Scottish Labour’s Shadow Energy Minister said:

“After months of pressure, the Government have finally given way to Scottish Labour’s demands that it respect the findings of the Smith Commission and suspend any new fracking licenses in Scotland. Only last month, the Government voted against a Scottish Labour amendment to devolve licensing to Scotland – now they have U-turned and given way to Scottish Labour’s demands.”

“In Scotland, Jim Murphy has also set out the triple-lock system to stop fracking. Under a Scottish Labour Government, there would be no fracking without a local referendum, until the lessons are learned from the rest of the UK and until there has been a comprehensive review of baseline conditions. These are concrete measures that introduce much tighter controls on shale gas activity than the SNP’s temporary moratorium.

“While eight out of 10 homes still rely on gas for heating, shale gas may have a role to play in displacing some of the gas we currently import and improving our energy security. But that potential benefit cannot come at the expense of robust environmental protections or our climate change commitments.”

News for Portlethen’s Cloch 1 March 2015

The challenges facing the Oil Industry are having an immediate effect on many local people as jobs are being cut and as the future is becoming more uncertain. It matters here because in January 2015, there were 12,270 jobs in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine dependent on the oil industry. In February, I attended the Oil Summit in Aberdeen, along with other local government leaders, members of the Scottish and Westminster governments, unions and the industry itself. I hope that the positive discussions at the summit will lead to real  actions being taken to protect local employment, to maintain worker safety, and to encourage investment in our local economy.

Despite this context, developments in Portlethen are continuing. The recent Aberdeenshire consultation into school catchment areas in the Portlethen Area attracted a terrific response as soon as it became live, showing officers that there is a real local interest in primary school matters. The results of the consultation will help guide the decision to be made about the school zones which will operate from August 2016.

The PDCC organised a very productive meeting about Nicol Park in January, which I was happy to assist by securing the participation of key Aberdeenshire officers. It was great to hear from the officers that money will be spent improving the drainage at the park. I will continue to offer support to the community group, which has been formed to take projects in the Park forward.

There was unanimous support at Area Committee in December for a grant from the Area Budget to the Portlethen Men’s Shed. This money should help the group undertake the essential preparatory work to get the Shed underway.

There are continuing local concerns about the bus services through Portlethen and I was able to raise these at a recent meeting of Aberdeenshire’s Policy and Resources Committee. As a result, officers from the Public Transport Unit are arranging a meeting with the top management of Stagecoach to try to reach an acceptable solution.

The North Kincardine Public Art Project is moving forward with ideas which will promote local walking and cycling routes. This is timely, as the North East Scotland transport group, NESTRANS, has recently appointed Kathryn MacKay as a Cycling Development Officer. Kathryn tells me that the National Cycle Network routes celebrate their 20th anniversary this year and so there is wider interest in projects such as the one being developed by the Art Project.

A development which will affect everyone who uses adult health and social care services from Aberdeenshire or the NHS is the new Integrated Service which will be established from April 2015, in the form of a Partnership between the two organisations. The draft Integration Scheme can be viewed on the NHS Grampian website. It is intended that the partnership will “enhance, strengthen and develop” the services currently delivered. I have attended some of the planning meetings for this and have seen how all involved are totally committed to creating a successful partnership.

Finally – some news from across in Maryculter, where the local Maryculter Woodlands Trust are working on a project to buy the local wood from the Forestry Commission for the community. You might like to take a look at their web-site at maryculterwoods.com, as they do think that being able to maintain the woods as a wild area will create a resource from which many people, including from this area, can benefit.

Yours
Alison Evison
Cllr.a.evison@aberdeenshire.gov.uk Telephone 07855682845
Facebook Alison Evison: Scottish Labour in North Kincardine Twitter @Alison2812
Surgeries Portlethen Academy on the 2nd Monday of every month 7pm -8pm (excluding July and August) Web-site: http://www.alisonevisonscottishlabour.com

Equalities Champion

A few months ago, I was appointed as one of four Elected Member’s Equalities Champions in Aberdeenshire.

My role involves highlighting equality as a key issue in the decision-making process and sharing information on equalities with other elected members.

In the spring I attended a workshop led by Stonewall, in which I learned the importance of the vocabulary we use in making people feel at ease.

Recently, I have signed up to Stonewall’s No Bystanders campaign to tackle bullying and abuse. Stonewall write that “Each and every one of us- individuals and organisations – have a responsibility to make Britain a country where every child growing up feels able to be themselves.”

This anti-bullying film is very powerful:

http://NoBystanders.org.uk #NoBystanders

Sent from my iPhone

One month on…. Local community focus

One month on from the Referendum, the focus is again on the  local community I represent and the issues which it faces.

There is so much to be done.

Three areas for starters:

We are in a rapidly developing area, where, as a result of poor planning decisions and short-sightedness by previous administrations, the infrastructure has not kept pace with the needs of the residents. There are justifiable demands from both young families and older residents for better community facilities. We hear much talk of “empowering communities” to have greater control over their own local services, but this can only be done effectively where a community can come together and share ideas and tasks. Rhetoric is fine – practical responses are better. The community needs somewhere where people can meet together and get to know each other, whether in a hall over coffee, on a sports’ pitch or in a workshop. I do believe that we have a real chance to move forward on this through the Community Asset Transfer process and I have been supporting several local groups work towards securing this.

We are in a prosperous area of North-East Scotland with very low levels of unemployment, but still 8.13% of local children live in poverty. Every week, I collect donations handed in to the Jubilee Hall in Portlethen for the local Food-Bank and take them to the Trussell Trust for putting into emergency food boxes. This must not become a long-term solution – we must instead tackle the issue of low pay and work towards a realistic living wage for all. In 2013, I campaigned long but successfully to put in place the living wage for Aberdeenshire employees. Earlier this year, SNP MSPs voted against putting a clause on the living wage into public procurement contracts. This could have been a huge step towards making work pay and thus towards eradicating poverty. Affordable housing is also much needed locally, and the problems caused by huge energy prices need to be reduced through a freeze in energy prices.

The ongoing construction of new (costly) family homes in North Kincardine means that we are also an area with growing numbers of children. The Government’s child-care policies, although welcome, were introduced far too rapidly for considered, and funded, local implementation. They were clearly part of a political time-table, rather than a practical one. The pressure they have created on local facilities has put other existing and valued community activities under threat. Trying to ensure equality and fairness within this situation is a real challenge, and this is taking managerial resources away from considering options for another desperate area of need: out-of-school care. So many parents are finding returning to work difficult because they cannot find affordable, accessible child-care! So many grand-parents told me, while I was gathering feedback for the Every Step Campign led by Labour’s Education Spokesperson, Kezia Dugdale MSP, that they feel forced to support their working children by caring for their grand-children on a regular basis, because there is no other provision locally. This is an area which requires creative yet well-considered solutions and a funding arrangement which makes sense for both parents and local authorities.

Building community infrastructure; tackling poverty; developing accessible, affordable, equitable child-care  – three areas of work towards a stronger, fairer, more equal community.