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A Christmas Message from Councillor Peter Henderson, Leader of South Ayrshire Council

Councillor Peter Henderson

2021 has been another year of unexpected challenges.   

I'm sure that you will all be looking forward to relaxing and spending some quality time with family and friends over the festive period. There is however, ongoing concern over the new COVID-19 Omicron variant, so I'd encourage you to think carefully when making plans over the holidays and follow current Scottish Government guidance. I'd also urge you, where possible, to make an appointment for your COVID-19 booster vaccine if you haven't done so already.

Christmas is a special and joyous occasion, however for some it can be a very lonely time. Please remember to check in on your neighbours and those who may not have family around at this time of year, particularly given the current circumstances.

Our staff go above and beyond on a daily basis to make a difference to the residents of South Ayrshire, and this year has been no exception. I'd like to say a heartfelt thank you to all employees for their continuous hard work and dedication, and also extend my gratitude to our NHS staff and other essential workers.  

Like many in the local community, I was shocked by the devastating explosion in Kincaidston in October. I'd like to express my appreciation to the local community, partners and Council employees for their outstanding response to the major incident - this demonstrated partnership working at its best.

Despite the challenges we faced this year, it hasn't stopped us from moving forward and achieving many of our ambitions. As a Council, we're looking to the future, and this year we launched our South Ayrshire Way Strategic Change Programme. The programme will look at how we can deliver services differently as we move forward, putting customers at the heart of what we do and ensuring best value for money. 

Our Information and Advice Hub were recognised against the rigorous standards set by the Scottish Government for information and advice providers. This accreditation against the Scottish National Standards for Information and Advice Providers acknowledges the quality of the welfare rights, money and debt advice the Hub provides to our residents, helping us to reduce poverty and disadvantage in South Ayrshire.

I was delighted when we became the best local authority area in Scotland for school leavers. A massive 98.4% of our young people move on to positive destinations, highlighting our commitment to closing the gap in South Ayrshire. Our pioneering approach to reviewing work in the education authority was also highly praised by Education Scotland and the Association of Directors of Education Scotland. We've made fantastic progress to close the attainment gap and challenge every young person to perform to their best potential.

Providing vibrant, modern and engaging places to learn to ensure our young people have the best start in life is one of our main priorities, and this year ground was broken at three of our fantastic new education facilities. Sacred Heart Primary School in Girvan, Maybole Community Campus and Prestwick North Education Campus are all on track to be completed in 2022, and will provide first-class facilities for pupils and the surrounding communities. 

I was thrilled when four of our schools were shortlisted in the prestigious Learning Places Scotland Awards 2021. The new Ayr Grammar Primary School also recently won the prestigious 'Award for Conservation' from the Glasgow Institute of Architects, following the move to the old Ayr Academy building last year.

We've made excellent progress this year on a range of projects that will help to make South Ayrshire a better place to live. Our brand-new multi-sport campus is currently underway at Craigie in Ayr, which will feature some of the best sporting facilities around. The campus will boast an eight lane, 400m running track; 60m indoor running track; a field events area; 3G all-weather pitches, fully accessible changing areas and a purpose built, all-seated grandstand. We also started renovation works to improve the pavilion at King George V Playing Fields in Ayr, and the all-weather pitch at Maybole Community Campus is another step closer to completion.

Plans for the new leisure centre in Ayr have really moved forward as a number of public consultations for the facility took place this year. Thanks to its prime location, the new leisure centre will not only bring more footfall into the town centre, but its facilities will also see an increase in capacity across a range of popular programmes and activities. The planning application has now been submitted for consideration, and you can view and comment on the proposals here.

We exceeded our affordable homes target this year, highlighting our commitment to provide quality homes across South Ayrshire that meet the needs of tenants. We also launched a new lettings agency to ensure everyone has access to better housing, and won another top award for our travellers' site at Coalpots Road in Girvan. Our Property Maintenance team also won 'Best Performer' in the UK from APSE at their Performance Network Awards, which recognise public sector excellence.

Our stunning beaches in Girvan, Maidens, Prestwick and Troon received prestigious awards for their amenities, maintenance, and cleanliness from Keep Scotland Beautiful. We also introduced a pilot project to develop wildflower meadows across South Ayrshire, reinforcing our commitment to improving biodiversity in the area. 

As part of our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and to help make South Ayrshire an attractive place for inward investment, we launched our new 'Destination South Ayrshire' website. The site showcases everything the region has to offer, from long sandy beaches and market towns, to world-class golf, and award-winning local food and produce. We're also supporting local businesses to develop and grow with the new Scotland Loves Local South Ayrshire gift card, which can be spent in a wide range of shops and venues across the area.

We want everyone in South Ayrshire to grow well, live well, and age well, and this year our Health and Social Partnership (HSCP) introduced their Strategic Plan, an ambitious ten-year vision for integrated health and social care services. Through our schools, we launched 'Let's Blether' bereavement boxes as part of a pilot project to help young people across the area who experience grief or loss. We also partnered with Togetherall to provide all 16-25 year olds in South Ayrshire with free access to mental health services online.

The launch of our second Gaelic Language Plan earlier this year will also greatly enhance the visibility of the language, increase its status and make an important statement about how Gaelic is valued in South Ayrshire.

These are just some of our highlights - I'm really proud of what we've achieved this year and I very much look forward to continuing to make a difference to the people of South Ayrshire in 2022.

I hope you all enjoy a well-deserved break this festive season, but please remember to keep yourself and others safe by following Scottish Government guidance which you can read here.

I'd like to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year when it comes.