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MILLIONS CLAWED BACK
DEFICITS have been reported by Argyll and Bute Council as a result of a local Government shake up six years ago.
Such a shortfall has resulted in excessive budget reductions and large council tax increases.
But now the council has joined forces with five other local authorities, including Inverclyde, West Dunbartonshire, Glasgow, Midlothian and Dundee, in a bid to get the Scottish Executive to restore almost £50million a year of Government grant, which was snatched from the six areas during the 1996 re-organisation of local Government.
It has now been reported that Argyll and Butes share of the snatched money will be reimbursed with an extra £3.4 million on its budget per annum, starting next year
The six local authorities have requested an urgent meeting with the Scotttish Executives Minister for Finance and Public Services, Andy Kerr, to ask for an extra grant to address this problem, with new research by Professor Arthur Midwinter of Strathclyde University being used to back the claim.
His latest study states that the six councils lost out because of a mismatch effect, which occured when Government grants allocated to the new councils at the break up of the regions did not match the needs and service spending in their areas.
2000/2001 saw all six mismatched councils with higher band D council tax levels than Edinburgh, which had the highest council tax in 1995.
Argyll and Bute Councils Director of Finance Stewart McGregor said: We have now joined forces with the other councils affected by this mismatch funding and we are urgently seeking recognition from the Executive that this money will be reimbursed in forthcoming years.
SNP spokesman for the Highlands and Islands Duncan Hamilton MSP is seeking assurances from the Scottish Executive that they will re-examine the allocation of funding for Argyll and Bute Council to meet the recently identified shortfall.
He said: I am more than willing to raise this with Andy Kerr, MSP, the Finance Minister. It has been evident for some time that Argyll and Bute Council, since local Government re-organisation in 1996, has been struggling with a mismatched allocation of central funding. This has resulted in householders paying above average levels of council tax, while they have been receiving lower than average levels of council services.
Professor Midwinters report revealed that the initial allocation created a shortfall and, that in spite of a transitional allowance scheme, the gap has widened year upon year since then. He suggests that the transitional scheme was inadequate in terms of the cash levels paid and the time it was paid.
Local council tax bills for the affected councils are at present close to £100 per annum above the Scottish national average, and that is clearly neither equitable nor acceptable.
Mr Hamilton continued: The report suggests that the council should be in receipt of an additional grant of around £3.3million, reducing by 10 per cent each year, to enable the authority to order its finances.
This would enable the local authority to reduce council tax levels in line with those operating in the broadly comparable Highland Council area. The report confirms that a serious injustice through the present funding allocation system has been imposed on the council and the people of Argyll and Bute.
He added: I have written to the Finance Minister to press for an early recognition of this, as well as requesting that prompt action be taken to rectify the matter.
SHANKS LEFT OUT IN THE COLD
OVER £29,000 has been given to Argyll and Bute Council for the disposal of fridges and freezers even though a private company does the vast majority of the work.
Contracted company, Shanks, who operate from a depot in Bogleha Road, Dunoon, are responsible for safely disposing of fridges from the areas businesses and homes. People who ask the council to uplift them from their homes or businesses will have to pay £50 and £80 respectively but by taking them to the depot yourself, it wont cost a penny!
New legislation which came into force on January 1, 2002, requires harmful CFC gases to be destroyed. These gases are called Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS), and they exist as coolant in fridges, as well as insulation in foam doors and side panels.
Argyll and Bute Council received the £29,295 cash windfall for the disposal of fridges and freezers on March 26 of this year. Each fridge costs £30 to dispose.
However, an angry member of the public contacted the Observer over the introduction, from April 1 of this year, over the new uplifting fees, branding the council greedy.
The man, who didnt want to be named, said: I think this is disgusting. Not only are the council squeezing every last resource from the public, but they are also discouraging people from recycling.
I have been told that the Council are also charging schools to recycle materials as part of pupils projects they are supposed to be promoting recycling.
As for charging local businesses to uplift freezers, they are already in need of emergency funding this just hits them even harder.
He added: Shanks take responsibility for disposing of the fridges so, rightly, they should be entitled to the biggest share of the grant announced by the Scottish Executive.
Angus MacLauchlan, spokesman for Shanks, said: The grant given to Argyll and Bute Council for the disposal of fridges was £29,295. We have not been allocated any of this grant.
Our contract covers roughly 80 per cent of Argyll and Bute; but we do not cover the surrounding islands or Helensburgh.
Despite Shanks carrying out the majority of disposals, the council disagreed that any of this grant should be given to the firm because, they say, Shanks is already paid for their services through their contract.
Andrew Law, Head of Amenity Services, said: The Council now has an increased cost for the disposal of fridges as there is now a separate collection system.
Before the new legislation, the fridges would be disposed of in the same way as furniture or other large pieces of waste.
The grant allocated by the Scottish Executive was to cover the disposal of fridges and freezers in the period from January 1, 2002, to 31 March 2002.
When we were finalising the budget for this current year in February, we had to make sure we had enough money to cover the additional costs incurred, because we did not know how much the Executive would be awarding us.
This was the reason for introducing the £50 uplifting charge from domestic premises from April 1. Therefore, the grant and the uplifting costs will cover all these extra costs of warehousing the fridges, transporting them and treating them.
Regarding the terms of contract with Shanks, they dont cover the treatment of fridges from Helensburgh or uplifting them from the islands. Shanks are paid from the point of delivery of the fridges onwards.
In response to reports that school pupils undertaking recycling projects were being charged by the council to use the facilities, Mr Law said: If a school was doing a re-cycling project then, no, they wouldnt be charged to use the facilities, but if the depot was used, for example, by the school office, then they would be charged.
DUNANS RUIN UP FOR SALE
THE opportuntity to preserve a slice of local history could be yours, as Dunans Castle, Glendaruel, is now on the property market commanding offers over £175,000.
Rumours surrounded the future of the former seat of the Clan Fletcher, following the extensive fire that ravaged the property more than a year ago.
But now the only significant example of Franco-Scots baronial architecture in the West of Scotland could be saved, as DMH Baird Lumsden, who are the Estate Agents acting for the current owners, the Lord and Lady of Marr, report that an interest has already been expressed in the B listed Dunans Castle.
Duncan Fergusson of DMH Baird Lumsden explained: Dunans Castle went on the market this month and so far we have had a good response. We have already recorded five notes of interest and various parties are already interested in taking things further.
Dunans Castle is set in approximately 15 acres (six hectares) and its original accommodation boasted four principal reception rooms, eight principal bedrooms (all en-suite), a private chapel, kitchen, staff accommodation and store rooms.
Access to the property is via the A listed Dunans Bridge, which crosses the ravine of the River Ruel and has been dubbed as one of the most impressive approaches to a country house on the West Coast of Scotland.
Interested parties requiring further information on Dunans Castle can contact the Estate Agents direct on 0131 477 6001, or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also check out the companys website at www.dmhbl.co.uk.
Further information regarding the Castles historic background and the Fletcher Clan can be obtained from www.spaceless.com/fletcher
RIGHT ON TARGET!
ROBIN Hood or William Tell dressed in green tights is probably the first image conjured up when we think of famous archers, riding through a Middle England forest.
But the image of these legends wouldnt work so well if we pictured them in the hot and sunny climates of a recent archery tournament in Cuba they would need to ditch the tights for a start!
Local woman Yvonne Murton, of Dunselma Court, Strone, has recently returned from Cuba where she competed in a World Ranking Tournament, missing out on first place by only one point!
The Scottish archery team member is hoping to qualify for a place on the Olympic team at some point this year and she is well on her way to doing so.
On her eleven day visit to the island of Cuba, which lies off the east coast of Mexico, she told the Observer: There is a lot of poverty in Cuba and it is a place of faded splendour, but in spite of the countrys troubles, the people are very friendly and some of the places are beautiful.
My husband, who is also my coach, and I, stayed in the Hemingway Marina, Havana, during our visit. The complex was closed to the locals and it was surrounded by security guards.
The field where they held the tournament was very run down and there were no toilet facilities or running water, but the shoot itself went really well.
In the head to head round, the gold medal match, I was leading until the last arrow, and I lost out by only one point but I still really enjoyed it. I didnt expect to do so well.
I also came third in the main event.
Yvonne was also pleasantly surprised when it came to the prize giving ceremony even though the medals themselves were unidentifiable.
She explained: The medals were given out by local dignitaries at a proper presentation and it was great. It was a real carnival atmosphere and there were dancers providing entertainment.
However, when we flew into Birmingham Airport on the way home, we were stopped at customs. The medals had been detected by the metal detector, but not one of the officers could work out what they were made of!
Yvonne, originally from Dumbarton, is also going to Detroit this year to compete in another world ranking tournament, thanks to Lottery funding and a grant from the Council.
However, Yvonne says its not through choice she is going to these far flung places because she is still waiting to be invited to Europe.
Yvonne explained: I cant go to Europe yet because it is by invitation only, and the reason I havent been invited is because I havent achieved British Team Scores yet!
She added: I already have an Olympic Association passport, which I received when the British Development Squad put my name forward, however, to be considered for the Olympic Team, you need to get a certain score which is consistent.
I have actually achieved this score during practice but I have to maintain that level so heres hoping!
Yvonne took up the sport when she was at school and went back to it later in life.
I took up archery when I was 15 and I gave it up a couple of years later. Nine years ago, I was trying to sell my crossbow and the local paper in Dumbarton, where I lived at the time, asked me to do a demonstration for them.
I remembered how good it was, so I took it up again. From then on, I started to travel to Crieff every weekend to train with my coach, Alex Cargill.
My husband and I eventually started our own club in Dunoon roughly five years ago. However, we only run it in the winter months now because of the time our other commitments take up.
She added: We practice in the field at the Invereck Eventide Home, Sandbank, and we would like to thank them for letting us use it.
According to Yvonne, only three women in Britain have qualifying scores for the British team because the regulations of the governing body are so strict but this hasnt put her off!
She may not be part of the Olympic squad yet, but her determined attitude will get her there soon.
As for the unidentified medals, Yvonne stated: It doesnt matter what they are made of its what they signify that counts.
FUN, GAMES AND A TOP JOB!
DUNOONS highest employer is inviting members of the public to come along to its Open Day on Sunday May 26.
Telecom Service Centre (TSC) at Sandbank is hosting an informal event to not only raise public awareness of the actual work that is carried out at TSC, but also to encourage others to think about a career at the call centre.
Call Centre Manager Alistair McLaren said: We employ more than 400 people in Dunoon alone, between Caledonia and Waverley House, both of which are situated at the Sandbank Business Park.
Caledonia House focuses primarily on our client T-Mobile, while Waverley House covers Natwest Bank, Tesco Personal Finance and Hutchinson Third Generation Mobiles.
While everyone is here to work at TSC, it is also hoped that employees will enjoy themselves while they are here.
Joining Alistair were two of the companys Team Administrators, Cheryl Dawber and Melanie Low, who have both been employed at TSC for the past two years.
Cheryl said: I had heard that TSC was a good company through friends that already worked here and I liked the sound of the job.
I came along for an interview, which was a success and since then I have really enjoyed doing the job.
There are chances of promotion here, which is different to anywhere else in the town. I have already been promoted from a Contact Centre Associate (CCA) to my current position as Team Administrator, and there are opportunities to be promoted further, which I would like to be considered for.
Melanie added: I had been doing bar and waitressing work when I applied to work at TSC. There are fantastic opportunities to work your way up through the company, which is not always possible at other places.
Asked what their first impressions of TSC were, the girls explained that they liked the professional look the workplace portrayed and that they felt good coming to work there. Today they still get a buzz from their work.
Explaining the role of Team Administrator, Melanie said: We do the paperwork for all the teams, as well as preparing the reports for the clients, employees time sheets and sick time and dealing with escalated calls. We are also a port of call for CCAs, which enables us to help them, rather than them going to the Team Leader.
We work in a team of three which comprises of two Team Leaders and a Team Administrator.
The Call Centre also boasts one of the highest wages in the local area.
Offering a message for those considering a position at TSC, Cheryl said: Just be yourself. TSC employ all different personalities and age groups. Be outgoing, as you will be working in a team of 15plus people and these are the people that will be your work colleagues and who you will spend your breaks with.
Basically, start as you mean to go on, learn the job and enjoy yourself. Have a sense of humour, as when it is quieter there are no restrictions on having a laugh.
Melanie added: There are no downsides to working here. I have no problem with the shifts and I get good days off. I still enjoy the job and coming to work each day!
TSC also have staff outings on days off if employees have not socialised together for a while. They are usually arranged within the individual teams and can range from go-karting to paint balling, or simply a good old drinking session!
Intrigued? Then why not pop along to the TSC Open Day on Sunday May 26. The doors are open from 1 to 5pm.