The leader of North Ayrshire Council says fighting child poverty and tackling climate change are among the biggest tasks facing the local authority in the months and years ahead.

Marie Burns was voted in as leader of an SNP minority administration following the local government elections in May 2022, as the party seized control in the council chamber from the Labour group which had previously held power.

Cllr Burns says there’s no getting away from the challenges presented by high child poverty rates and the effect of the cost-of-living crisis on local households – and has warned that they are not problems which will be solved overnight.

“We have the second-highest level of child poverty in Scotland,” she said.

“There is no getting away from that fact, and we are working very hard to drive this down.

“Very early on, we established a child poverty and cost-of-living board, which I chair. The board includes senior officers of the council, the NHS and the third sector, representing non-profit making organisations.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: Irvine Harbourside Housing Official Opening (1)

“We already know that the three key drivers of child poverty are income from employment, income from social security and the impact of the rising cost of living.

"The board has hosted a series of mini enquiries on the cost of living, held in partnership with our communities and residents, examining topics like access to food and how we can raise awareness of employment opportunities.

“These enquiries have helped us get a genuine insight into what help people need to improve their circumstances and quality of life, where we can improve existing services and where there are gaps.

“Ensuring that people know what support and funding is available to them – and breaking down barriers for them to access this – is vital. We are making progress and key to this is the No Wrong Door approach we are working on, alongside our community planning partnership colleagues, including Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, the NHS and voluntary organisations.

“No Wrong Door builds on existing efforts to ensure that residents can access the funding or support they need – whether this be in relation to paying energy bills, accessing education grants for footwear and school meals or finding out more about state benefits.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: Lockhart Opening

“We are also working with partners to further develop employment opportunities for people as access to fair work can provide a way out of poverty for many. This includes working with parents, supported by the introduction of a parental employment coordinator. 

“We are constantly reviewing our support so that, going forward, we can be flexible enough to respond when and where it’s needed.”

Unsurprisingly, Cllr Burns cites the securing of funding worth £6 million, and the instigation of a variety of initiatives across the area, to try and alleviate the effects of those huge increases in the cost of living as the SNP administration’s greatest achievements in its first 14 months.

Alongside those ongoing efforts, though, she says that work to reduce North Ayrshire’s carbon footprint will be among the authority’s biggest priorities in the next 12 months and beyond.

 “Climate change is – and will continue to be – a core priority for us as a local authority,” she said, pointing towards the recent award of tenders to deliver two solar farms, at Nethermains and Shewalton, at a combined cost of £12.8m.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: Tackling Child Poverty   Employability

“The two solar farms are key elements of delivery of the council’s environmental sustainability and climate change strategy and are expected to generate a significant amount of energy, helping North Ayrshire to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030, as well providing an annual net income that can be reinvested in the area.

“The two projects are expected to be generating green energy by next year – with Nethermains currently scheduled to be complete in spring 2024 and Shewalton coming online in autumn 2024.

“We will, of course, continue to support residents and business through the challenging financial times they are facing.

“And we will do this by listening to people, taking on board their views and working closely with our community partners to implement real change that makes a genuine, positive impact on people’s quality of life.”