Anger growing in Carrick over gala day charges

Corri Wilson, SNP candidate for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock.
Corri Wilson, SNP candidate for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock.

There is anger and disbelief in Carrick this week following a council decision to charge communities for gala day stalls and equipment.

Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock MP Corri Wilson has expressed her disbelief at the recent decision by South Ayrshire Council.

Many of these events already run at a loss, with community groups fundraising throughout the year in order to put them on. Others provide groups with a much needed opportunity to raise money and awareness, often supporting council interests such as local schools and community centres.

Ms Wilson has written to council leaders seeking clarity on the decision and asking for details of the impact assessment the council will no doubt have taken before making such a choice.

However replying to a letter sent to the council by Fiona Roper, Secretary of Ballantrae Community Association, depute leader of the council, John McDowall, has said there is no possibility of the decision being reversed.

Community groups are now being asked to come up with thousands of pounds in charges for voluteer-led events which have already been budgeted and funds raised for in communities in good faith.

The future of many events including gala days thoughout Carrick are now in real doubt.

Ms Wilson said: “It is inconceivable to me that the current administration in South Ayrshire Council believes jeopardising rural galas and events like the Carrick Lowland Gathering is a good way of saving money.

“Apart from the opportunity these events give communities to come together, to raise money, to entertain families, there are a large number of small businesses and voluntary organisations that rely on gala days to raise funds, promote local produce and raise awareness of issues important to our communities. They also attract much needed visitors to South Ayrshire at a time when the council is unable to organise a coherent tourism strategy.”

Independent Girvan Councillor Alec Clark said: “This in my opinion has been a very short-sighted efficency or cut that has penalised the very people who are providing a free service on many fronts which in effect saves thousands of pounds for the public purse.

“Without this army of volunteers, many of the services that we enjoy and take for granted would not exist.

“Many of these groups try to source funding from a wide range of bodies to underpin the work that they do and all of this administration, planning, strategy and provision is provided in many cases free of charge, despite the many hours of work required.

“This has led to charges for some villages in excess of £1,000 plus vat. In the scheme of things the amount involved of around £15,000 to £20,000 is not a lot for the anxiety that it has caused and I do not believe that it has been well thought through.

“Galas and events bring joy and celebrations. They bring economic benefit through tourism and the are a social platform where folk meet and talk to each other. In future the council, of whichever persuasion, will have bigger savings considerations to challenge them, however this is one that should for all the right reasons of community support, be put on the back burner.”

Replying to the letter from Mrs Roper, Councillor John McDowall said: “South Ayrshire Council, as has every local authority in Scotland, been subject to budget reductions arising from the Scottish Government’s settlement offer to local government. In South Ayrshire’s case this has meant an additional reduction of £6.3m in revenue funding and £2.1m in capital funding.

“In addition, failure to agree to Scottish Government’s requirement to specific commitments on teacher numbers, the Council Tax freeze and IntegrationFund, would have meant a further reduction £9.3m. Such a decrease in funding is unprecedented in the history of local government and has meant that the council has had to take difficult decisions which will have a direct and major impact on communities in South Ayrshire. One of these was to remove free support to gala days. You ask if this decision could be reversed. Unfortunately, no. This was a budget decision supported by all 30 members of the council including the SNP group and the two independent members. No alternative budget or suggestions to this particular proposal was put forward.”