THE controversial course run in Ardrossan which ‘fines’ people searching for work has been suspended pending investigation from North Ayrshire Council.

The STRIVE Programme is delivered by the the Lennox Partnership at The Ayrshire Community Trust in the town’s Princes Street and was lambasted last week after it was revealed that those on the course could be fined up to £7.50 and could face sanctions if they did not comply with the strict rules, a claim which was denied by both North Ayrshire Council and the Lennox Partnership.

But as North Ayrshire Council make a u-turn on the issue, the Herald can reveal that those attending the course this week are STILL being fined despite national derision of the way in which the scheme implements the system which has been described as “Victorian”.

A course attendee, who doesn’t wish to be named due to fear he could be sanctioned for talking out, said: “I think its good they have stopped referrals as we are still being made to pay fines even after the story came out. Everyone seemed chuffed it came out but people who ran the course were seen laughing at the article by some of the others on course.”

Some readers were convinced our story last week was an April Fool joke.

The programme, which was lauded as successful by North Ayrshire Council last week, has been met with groups all over the country calling for the archaic system to be halted and protests were held yesterday (Tuesday) by those who are against the way in which it works.

Colin Turbett RISE Candidate West Scotland said: “RISE supporters including members of the local SSP Branch, protested outside Saltcoats and Irvine Job Centres, as well as NAC Cunninghame House.

“This was in support of the right of the jobless of the area to be treated with respect and dignity, and not like children in a Victorian workhouse.

“We are pleased that the Council seem to have changed their opinion about courses like Strive - the Lennox Partnership seem well known for this nonsense.

“Well done to the Ardrossan Herald for highlighting the issue. Hopefully the message will spread to other areas of the country where such courses are run.”

The scheme is described as one which will help people who are trying to find work or get back into work and the fine system is supposed to mirror the way in which behaviour in the workplace should be but this has been shot down by an independent organisation who help people who are unemployed.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network said: “We hope that this scheme is not only being suspended in Ardrossan, but stopped completely here and the other places where it is being used.”

And the story has reached the capital with many calling for other similar courses across the country to be brought to a halt.

Michael Cormack of Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty said: “This programme is treating unemployed people with a total lack of respect, and the only just response is for people to take direct action to shut it down.”

“Workfare not only exploits claimants, it undermines the wages and conditions of all workers - it must be stopped.”

The council confirmed that the were launching an investigation into the STRIVE Programme and have suspended recruitment to the course, this comes a week after the Department of Work and Pensions stopped referrals to STRIVE to look into the fines system.

A North Ayrshire Council spokesperson said: “We are currently in discussion with the Lennox Partnership to address the concern raised about the Strive Programme.

“Meanwhile, we are suspending recruitment to the programme to give us the necessary time to consider the evidence and different views on this element. We will also look to discuss the matter further with the Department for Work and Pensions.

“As a council we are working tirelessly to boost the local economy and we use a wide variety of programmes designed to support local people and prepare them for the jobs market.

“Over the last four years, the Strive Programme has been a successful part of this process - for participants and businesses alike.

“Most significantly, nine out of every 10 people taking part in our most recent programmes have gone on to find work.”