Christmas is a time of reflection and, as I look back, it's clear that 2016 has been a year of challenges. However, we have met them head on and worked tirelessly with our partners to make life better for our people and communities.
Improving the way we work has been a key theme and the terrific progress we have made in this area was officially recognised by Audit Scotland and the Accounts Commission in the first half of the year. I'm very proud of this and we will continue to build on this moving forward.
We also made some great progress on a number of projects that will help transform the lives of people across South Ayrshire.
We're continuing to work with partners to progress an exciting programme of work to establish Prestwick Aerospace as a globally competitive aerospace and space hub.
Prestwick is already recognised as a leader in the aviation, aerospace and technology sectors and there have been a number of key developments during the year that have brought our ambitions one step closer. These include various partnership agreements – including one with Houston Spaceport – that make Prestwick the front runner to establish the UK's first spaceport.
In addition, global brands like Spirit Aerosystems and Chevron Aircraft Maintenance Ltd are building their presence at Prestwick.
Aerospace features strongly in the Ayrshire Growth Deal – which is all about bringing investment and jobs into the area. We are in the process of canvassing support for this from the Scottish and UK Governments in the hope of a positive announcement next year.
We are building for the future and want to ensure our young people can take advantage of all the opportunities available to them. 2016 took investment in our schools to £135 million to create the best possible learning environments for our young people. I am happy to say the refurbishment of Marr College in Troon is almost complete and the new Ayr Academy at Craigie is progressing well and on target for completion in the autumn of 2017.
Construction work also moved on in Girvan on the Quay Zone, the new community leisure centre which will open its doors next year; and the legacy of The Open at Royal Troon lived on with significant investment in our golf clubhouses at the municipal course in Troon and at Belleisle in Ayr.
The Open was one of the highlights of the year and well and truly put South Ayrshire on the map as a global visitor destination with 173,000 spectators descending on Troon and creating an amazing atmosphere.
We also welcomed around 120,000 to Ayr for the Scottish International Airshow as well as smaller audiences for events like BurnsFest, TamFest and the reopening of the Gaiety.
Events like these create a real boost for our towns and this year also saw the start of physical works – in conjunction with Ayr Renaissance – to transform Ayr High Street and town centre, which will hopefully encourage more people into the heart of the town. I look forward to seeing a demolition team on site at the Ayr High Street Riverside Block in early 2017 to get the physical works underway.
Our communities are getting more opportunities to influence local decision-making through the likes of Participatory Budgeting, which saw local people determine which groups would get a share of funding of almost £100,000.
With Scottish local government elections taking place on 4 May next year, you have the chance to have your say and elect the people you want to represent you in the Council.
I'm standing down as a Councillor next year, so I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your input and support during my time both as a Councillor and Council Leader – it's been an honour and a privilege.
My warmest wishes to you for a peaceful Christmas and a healthy and contented New Year.