As Christmas and the New Year approach, I've been looking back at 2014 and reflecting on what a remarkable – and fast – year it has been.
We started the year knowing we had much work to do to improve as your local Council and no-one was more determined to make this happen than me.
Our priorities were focused on the local economy, children and families, adults and older people, communities, and environment and we began knowing it would be a year of tough choices and difficult decisions, set against a difficult economic backdrop.
As the year draws to a close, I'm delighted we've made excellent inroads in that improvement journey, with our Council plan really setting the agenda in moving us forwards.
It's an impetus that's been helped by some excellent new partnerships with other organisations – all aimed at working smarter and more efficiently for you.
A good example is the Ayrshire Roads Alliance – the first partnership of its kind in Scotland – established to deliver shared Council roads and transportation services to our local communities in East and South Ayrshire.
We've also been working with the NHS Ayrshire & Arran to finalise plans for the new South Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership – set up to manage national changes in how health and social care services are delivered from April 2015.
Creating the framework for this saw us undertake a series of consultation events, to make certain that the end results deliver exactly what you – and your local communities – need most.
For me, 2014 was all about progress – getting things done.
In Kirkmichael and Barrhill, two fantastic new schools were opened – and plans for the new Ayr Academy and the comprehensive refurbishment of Marr College well progressed – with exciting plans in the pipeline for Tarbolton and Dailly primary schools.
Making the most of your education is something I truly believe in, but it's essential our young people come out to jobs and bright futures.
That's one reason I was particularly pleased when plans for a new multi-million pound retail, housing and educational developments at south east Ayr were approved – and I also welcomed the approval of plans for a Waitrose retail development just off the Holmston roundabout.
Retail success and town centre development are the very lifeblood of South Ayrshire's economy and, as I write, feedback sessions from five independent town centre surveys which we commissioned, have already been held.
We'll act on those results to further tailor support measures for our towns and the shops and businesses in them.
In addition to this, 2014 saw the expansion of the Council's AMBITION business development programme – to help support retail shops and the great news is that we're well on target to create1,000 new jobs by the end of 2016.
The local economy was also brought into sharp focus with the uncertainty over Prestwick Airport and its subsequent purchase by the Scottish Government.
The airport is an absolutely essential part of our economy and I'm absolutely determined that we will continue to work to ensure its future prosperity – and make sure the jobs in the surrounding aerospace sector are protected.
I further welcome the news that tycoon Donald Trump is keen to develop the airport for high fliers, after his acquisition of the Turnberry Resort – an exciting development in itself.
Add to that the airport's possible role as a future spaceport and we really are reaching for the stars in every sense!
Yet, while all of this (and more) was going on, we welcomed the Commonwealth Games Queen's Baton Relay to South Ayrshire and you pulled out all the stops to make sure it received a fantastic warm welcome as it made its way through a superb, sunny South Ayrshire on its way to Glasgow for, arguably, the best Commonwealth Games ever.
That one day perfectly captured the essence of South Ayrshire – where people from our towns and villages came together and showed the world why we're famed for our warm hospitality.
That community spirit has also been a key driver in the development of a brilliant new leisure facility in Girvan.
The support offered through South Carrick Community Leisure has been extraordinary and I'm delighted the end of this year brings the positive news that contractors have now been appointed to design and construct the new £5million facility, due to open in 2016.
Another milestone in 2014 was the Scottish Referendum and, once again, South Ayrshire residents – on both sides of the fence – turned out in truly unprecedented numbers, to make sure their voices were heard.
For us, the months and weeks leading up to 18 September 2014, were some of the busiest we have ever been – with our staff working tirelessly to make sure you could register to vote – and then cast it quickly, easily and conveniently. Now it is time to move on, and tackle the many challenges at local and national level.
Looking ahead to 2015, there are still difficult decisions to be considered and more improvements to make.
I'm confident our priorities as a Council will continue to be met, as we continue to build partnerships and pull together to find new and even more effective and efficient ways to deliver first class services to you.
It is that spirit of partnership, of working together to make things better for others that defines this year for me and it is apt that as I write this, Olivia Giles, Sompop Jantraka and Dr Sanduk Ruit have been shortlisted as finalists in this year's Robert Burns Humanitarian Awards.
The winner will be declared in January and I look forward to learning who this might be.
I believe 2014 was a pivotal year for South Ayrshire Council and I trust our progress will continue and will build momentum in 2015 and beyond.
I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.