Reminder: Echt road closure starts Monday 16th January

The B9119 Aberdeen to Tarland road will be closed from Echt Primary School to Myriewell Cottages for six weeks to allow work to be carried out at a housing development.

Diversions will be in place during the work, directing motorists along the crossroads at the B9125 Garlogie to Raemoir Road and the B977 Kintore to Echt roads (click on the link below to see map).

http://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/roads/traffic/pdf/b9119echt160112.pdf

New freedoms for Credit Unions welcomed

Over recent weeks the media has highlighted  a morally-bankrupt lending industry with pay-day loan companies being accused of  mis-selling and low-earners being charged 150% more for household goods on the high street.  Recent survey results from Shelter have shown that over 1 million people have taken out a pay-day loan to help pay their mortgage or rent in the last 12 months.

I have long been an advocate of credit unions. Credit unions have been promoted for many years within  NHS, Police and emergency services staff rooms as they offer low cost loans whilst encouraging savings to grow at the same time. Any profit stays within the organisation and the credit unions are regulated by the FSA meaning the first £85,000 of savings are safe should they fail.

The main changes just announced will mean savers and borrowers stand to gain as credit unions can now offer a viable alternative to banks. It will now be easier to become a member as joining rules are being relaxed, i.e. membership will not be restricted to certain occupations as mentioned above. Membership will no longer be limited to individuals but open to community groups, social clubs and local authorities. Credit unions will now be able to pay interest on savings rather than a dividend linked to annual performance and we should see these rates being published on best-buy tables making it easier for members to compare their credit union with banks and building societies.

Credit unions have not taken off in a big way in the UK in contrast to being a huge success in countries such as Australia, Ireland and the United States. I think if local groups and agencies such as Citizens Advice Bureaux, housing associations and local authorities could work in partnership with credit unions to promote their services, we could see more of their branches open in the high street and outreach services provided in the more rural areas. Judging by the local statistics for people currently accessing debt and money advice, they would get a huge welcome.

Time to dispose of your Christmas tree thoughtfully!

Ok, I admit to cheating and my Christmas tree gets pulled apart section by section and stuffed back in to it’s original B&Q box taped together by an annually added multi-layer of parcel tape, sellotape or whatever kind comes to hand at the time in my haste to get on with the year ahead!  For those more traditional souls, although there are no kerbside collections of Christmas trees in Aberdeenshire, you can recycle them free of charge at Household Waste & Recycling Centres.

Inverurie, Souterford Road, AB51 0TP

  • Standard hours From 12th December 2011 :
    Monday to Sunday: 9am to 5pm
    Tuesday: 5.00pm to 8pm (April to September)

Westhill, Westdyke Avenue, AB32 6QX

  • Standard hours From 12th December 2011 :
    Monday to Sunday: 9am to 5pm
    Tuesday: 5.00pm to 8pm (April to September)

 

Long awaited dog bins now here!

 

Leddach Grange residents welcomed two new dog bins recently. Payment passed to Aberdeenshire Council from the developers through planning gain funded the additional bins. I have been campaigning for over three years for the provision of extra dog bins here. Up until now, dog-walkers in the estate had the use of one dog bin which was unsuitable for the expanse of the estate. These new bins should help keep the area clean and safe. One bin is located on Carnie Crescent near the entrance to Burnland Place and the second is nearby the all-weather football pitch.

 
 

 

Gearing up for Winter

Aberdeenshire Council maintains over 3367 miles of roads and over 932 miles of footway. This year four new 4×4 gritters have been added to the fleet, staff rotas have been drawn up and the winter maintenance operations room is ready to go.

 Of course Aberdeenshire Council cannot deliver the service single-handedly. Cllr Gurudeo Saluja told me that they are supported by a highly reliable team of local farmers and contractors who play an important role in the overall maintenance strategy and that they are ready for snow-clearing action across the local area.

 I spoke to Skene farmer, Graeme Phillips who has been on stand-by each winter for over 20 years to ensure that roads are kept clear of snow. He can be out from as early as 5.30 in the morning to ensure roads are cleared to enable residents to get out and about. Graeme says  “The system works very well, I usually get a phone call from the Roads Department the night before if the weather turns bad. I work in a team with other local farmers and we keep in contact with each other throughout the operation to make sure all areas in our patch are covered”.                                

 

Early Start!

I was delighted to be asked to be unofficial photographer for Sir Robert Smith, MP last week during his pre-Christmas visit to Royal Mail’s sorting office in Westhill even though it meant an earlier than usual start for me in the morning! It was great to see behind the scenes and meet the staff who were already two hours into their busy day. Manager Derek Angus explained that Royal Mail customers seemed to have ordered online gifts earlier this year after suffering delays in the midst of adverse weather in the run up to last Christmas, so for staff the parcel rush had come a little earlier on in December than usual. The staff were in good spirits and Sir Robert spent some time finding out more about their work. He said  “The Royal Mail posties play a crucial role in ensuring effective delivery of the mail. No other organisation has the local knowledge and network to reach every door in the country.  The regulator needs to ensure that rival companies do not put that network at risk as they compete for the easier parts of the process.”

Shelter Scotland Empty Homes Conference

I can’t believe a whole week has passed since I travelled to Edinburgh to attend Shelter Scotland’s Empty Homes Conference! “Tempus fugit” as one of my more educated friends reminded me this morning.

Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland welcomed delegates to a somewhat draughty St Paul’s & St George’s Church. The keynote speech was from Keith Brown, Minister for Housing & Transport. It was interesting to note that only a short while back in September at the SFHA Conference in Glasgow, he assured us that of the 30,000 homes promised in the SNP manifesto, at least two-thirds would be for social rent. Now, after their housing policy came under scrutiny in Parliament a few weeks ago, he is backtracking saying they will honour their commitment to provide “affordable” homes, the definition of affordable being very much up for debate.

 The Empty Homes initiative would certainly play a part in providing much-needed homes and is a step in the right direction, but again it is all down to funding and a willingness by local authorities to work in partnership with other agencies.  The idea of reducing VAT on all home repair and improvement work to 5% would certainly drive projects forward and is one which the Liberal Democrats support.

 For full details of the Empty Homes initiative click here:

 http://scotland.shelter.org.uk/housing_issues/more_homes/empty_homes

 Throughout the day, we participated in a wide range of workshops discussing finance strategies used in other areas and how to engage with empty home owners. We heard from South Ayrshire Council on their Empty Homes Loan Fund.

 The conference ended with a debate on proposals to introduce a Council Tax Levy on long-term empty properties. While Keith Brown earlier claimed that £30 million could be made from the levy, his figure disregarded exemptions that would have to be made on council and RSL properties or those properties earmarked for demolition. Although the levy is still at the consultation stage, it is likely that local authorities will decide on the level to be implemented in each case. The consultation ends on 10th January 2012 and can be accessed here:

 http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2011/10/17105007/0

 On leaving the conference, a short walk took me to a very festive, though chilly, Princes Street. I was looking forward to a cosier evening in Hispaniola (what used to be Robert Louis Stevenson’s favourite drinking haunt before it was made into a restaurant, so I am told) and I was not disappointed.

As I looked up towards Governor’s House en route though, I couldn’t help feeling a nip of irony in the air at the disparity in housing options for Scotland.