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Aberdeenshire Opposition Councillors Renew Calls for Free Sanitary Products

>> 13 January 2018

Opposition Councillors at Aberdeenshire Council have today expressed concern that the administration are dragging their heels with plans to provide sanitary products at no cost to all school pupils.

The provision was agreed at a meeting of the Education and Children’s Services Committee on the 31st August 2017, however despite there being two further Committee meetings since, no definite plans are yet in place.

Following continued pressure from Opposition Councillors, costings have been provided which, following investigations across Scotland, would appear to be over-inflated.

Commenting, Scottish Labour Cllr Alison Evison said:

“We raised the issue of period poverty in Aberdeenshire because we wanted to remove all barriers to pupil attainment and to maintain the dignity of all girls. The slow rate of progress by the Administration is therefore very disappointing.

“We seem to be having endless delays with this vital project, which is having a real impact on pupils across our schools. What should be a relatively simple scheme to implement is being over complicated leading to unnecessary delays.

“We have asked officers to make contact with other local authorities who are already implementing this scheme to find out how they are doing so at a much lesser cost.”

SNP Cllr Victoria Harper added:

“From August 2018, a Scottish Government scheme will ensure that sanitary products are provided free of charge in all schools, colleges and universities.

“All we are asking is that support is given from now until August. Girls in our schools deserve to have free and easy access to sanitary products, and it’s very disappointing that we are nearly four months on from the original decision, and obstacles are still being put in the way.”

Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin said:

“The North East has led the way in the past year, using Scottish Government funding to create a pilot project led by C-Fine on period poverty.

“Local authorities such as North Lanarkshire have also shown brilliant initiative in providing sanitary products in schools costing around £25,000.

“I am disappointed that Aberdeenshire Council has been dragging their feet on this issue, particularly at a time when people in the North East have been struggling. Many mothers have admitted going without, just to afford tampons and sanitary towels.

“Aberdeenshire Council could be a leading example of support for girls and young women. This delay must not go any further.”

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Banff Councillor Supports RBS Shareholder Group's Call Over Better Governance

>> 31 December 2017

Banff & District SNP councillor Glen Reynolds has welcomed a drive by RBS shareholders last week to question key RBS decision making, not least over planned local branch closures.

Last week, and for the second year running, two individual shareholder associations have called on RBS to submit a resolution at its annual general meeting with a view to establishing a new shareholder committee which will aim to bring transparency to RBS decision making.

Commenting, Cllr Reynolds said:

"I understand their initial proposals were rejected on legal grounds by RBS last year, and the shareholder representatives said they had adjusted their proposals to address the bank’s concerns. I believe that 'ShareSoc' and the 'UK Shareholders’ Association' have or are about to submit a resolution on behalf of 136 investors in the bank, calling on RBS to establish a committee of shareholder representatives 'to improve the corporate governance and shareholder engagement'.

"The Westminster Government had turned its back on the idea of shareholder committees in response to its green paper on corporate governance reform in August, saying they “would be difficult to implement practically and could moreover undermine the UK’s unitary board system”. But they already exist in Sweden and work well, where investor representatives have formal powers to approve of or dispose of board members each year.

“In the UK by way of further example, Marks & Spencer decided in 2016 to set up a shareholder panel that invites a group of private investors to meet senior managers twice a year to discuss key issues. That needs to happen with RBS in order that a moral backbone has a role to play in what can otherwise be a simple accounting exercise that does not take into consideration or rural communities.”

Cllr Reynolds continued:

"There is a context to this welcome move. We need action on this and not just words, action that is sadly lacking from our local Westminster MP who limply talks of lessening pain on customers. However, RBS have replied to a letter from MSP Stewart Stevenson in December, in which they say they will 'not be revisiting the decision to close local branches', despite the opposition of loyal customers. They refer in the letter to an alleged cut in Banff 'transactions' at the branch of 33%, but I believe this decision is more about increasing profits at the expense of local need.

"There is more to this decision in terms of bad governance and a lack of stakeholder accountability than is being made public, which is why measures tackling accountability by the bank to key stakeholders, employees and shareholders, is a positive direction. Put crudely, the bank closures to date are a balance sheet exercise that lacks moral credibility which should protect local communities. It is the second time in nine months that the RBS, which is still majority government-owned, has announced branch closures as it attempts to cut costs and boost profits."

In March, RBS announced it was closing 158 local bank branches, following 191 closures over the previous two years. RBS will have cut more than one-third of its UK branch network since the start of the 2017.

Cllr Reynolds supports the stance taken by the Federation of Small Businesses, who said: "Many such businesses, particularly those in rural areas with poor broadband access — relied on their local bank branches to seek personal advice as well as to deposit their cash takings. It’s not just about transactions - small firms still hugely value the in-person support they receive at branches, particularly when it comes to completing complex transactions and making big financial decisions."

ShareSoc and UKSA said the current mechanisms for companies to consult their shareholders “create a very ‘messy’ backcloth in which to engage”. They added: “For example, in relation to remuneration proposals, there is often no clear trail from the initial proposal though to the final version voted on by shareholders.”

In conclusion, Cllr Reynolds stated:

"I hope such proposals will enhance our focus on strengthening the voice of employees and other non-shareholder interests at board level as an important component of running a sustainable business. An impact assessment and input by the local community should be incorporated into the decision-making process here as the transparency around this debacle is sadly missing."

RBS has been engaged in drastic restructuring for almost a decade since being bailed out by the UK government during the financial crisis.

Ross McEwan, chief executive, has promised the bank will return to profitability next year after a decade of losses. This would help the government achieve its aim of selling part of its stake in the lender by March 2019. RBS recently scraped through the Bank of England’s annual stress tests without needing to raise capital, giving analysts hope that next year it will be able to pay its first dividend since the crisis.

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'Pheasants for Presents' Initiative Brings Cheer in Deeside

>> 24 December 2017

Now in its fourth year, Pheasants for Presents – an initiative set up by Aboyne, Upper Deeside & Donside SNP councillor Geva Blackett in conjunction with local estates, members of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association and the Grampian Moorland group – is set to bring some added cheer to people finding life a bit hard again this year with volunteers meeting to pack up and deliver to a number of families and individuals identified mainly through the local schools throughout the Ward.

Simon Blackett, Scott from Tesco, Cllr Geva Blackett,
Richard West and Trevor Garlick
Last year Tesco joined forces with the group of volunteers mustered to roll out the scheme and have offered again to add ‘goodie’ bags and to help with deliveries. Balmoral Estate are again helping with seasoned logs and fresh vegetables from HM The Queen’s garden, the Grampian Moorland Group have given gamebirds such as pheasants and partridge while Invercauld Estate has donated a hind to be turned into mince.

Geva said:

“The support for this much-needed initiative grows each year – unfortunately so does the need! Poverty is largely hidden in Royal Deeside but sadly it not only exists but is on the increase as jobs are lost and salaries for those on the minimum wage makes life pretty tough when the weather is cold and presents have to be bought.”

Richard Gledson, the Balmoral Factor, said

“The estate is only too glad to help with this initiative each year and are delighted that it is so well received.”

Grampian Moorland spokesman gamekeeper Hans Mackenzie-Wilson said:

“All the birds will meet food safety standards and indeed have been prepared to the highest standards for the oven by game dealer HM Sherridan in Ballater, so people can eat it with enjoyment and be confident that it is perfectly safe”

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Huntly Councillor Continues Campaign to Halt RBS Closure

>> 17 December 2017

Huntly, Strathbogie and Howe of Alford SNP Councillor Gwyneth Petrie this weekend continued with her campaign to halt the closure of the Huntly RBS branch, by launching the paper petition outside of the RBS branch in Huntly Square.

On Saturday, 16th December, Cllr Petrie and fellow campaigners spent the morning in Huntly Square to give people the opportunity to sign the paper petition.

Commenting, Cllr Gwyneth Petrie said:

“The online petition has received great support so far, but I wanted to ensure that everyone who feels strongly about the possible closure has a chance to express this, and so I have now also launched paper copies of the petition.

“Whilst in the Square yesterday, we received continuous support from members of the community, with queues at times to sign the petition. The feeling locally is very strongly against the proposals, with significant concerns that RBS are ignoring the views and needs of their customers.

“There was no public consultation on these closures, and customers were not told until after the press release went out from RBS, so it’s understandable that customers feel very let down. They deserve better.”

“I would hope that RBS will recognise the significant and varied concerns being raised by their customers, and rethink the closure.

“Paper copies of the petition are now available is some town centre businesses – if any other businesses would like to host a copy, then I would ask them to contact me to arrange this by emailing cllr.g.petrie@aberdeenshire.gov.uk or by calling 07891 296064.”

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