John O’ Groat Journal review: 11/2/2011

FORECASTING the paper's front page lead story would have been a fairly safe bet, this week. The vigorous campaign mounted, against Highland Council’s threat to do away with classroom assistants, forced a U-turn. The authority has decided to take no action, meantime, and conduct a review of how classroom assistance is provided, with a decision to be made in June and implemented by August. Campaigners described it as “ a step in the right direction”.

Highland Council’s cuts budget, adopted this week, attracted sharp reaction. The local authority confirmed a balanced revenue budget of 598.8. million) for 2011/12. The total savings now made and identified by the council (2010-2013) amount to 55.763m leaving a gap of up to 4m to be agreed by February 2010. Councillors also confirmed a freeze on the council tax for a fourth successive year. Councillor David Flear expressed concern about the severity of the cuts and branded the budget the “worst” he had experienced.

The Violet Leitch School of Dancing takes pictorial pride of place with a group of dancers posing with their pupils-of-the-year trophies.

Pallative care, currently provided at Thurso’s Dunbar Hospital would be farmed out to a local private care home, under plans being pursued by health bosses. They have been discussing a possible future contract with the operators of Pentland View, to provide beds for terminally ill NHS patients. The scheme is part of North Highland Community Health Partnership’s aim to close the 12 bed in patients ward at Dunbar, and reduce hours at the hospital’s minor casualty unit. Critics claim the blueprint risks leaving vulnerable elderly and dying patients in the lurch.

Inside too, on P3, records the loss of four jobs at the Caithness Beef and Lamb plant and the slaughterhouse side of the business has been closed, to allow improvements to go ahead. The staff losing their jobs were all employed on the slaughtering branch of the Keiss-based company. Proprietor John Sutherland said the company had been very busy on the final quarter of last year but since then, there had been a shortage of ewes and the market had dropped off again.

The future of a local community care forum is under threat after it emerged its main funding will end later this year. Caithness Community Care Forum, which has been in existence for 20 years, has been told that financial support, provided by the Highland Council and NHS Highland via the Highland Community Care Forum, is to end in June. However, the group is hoping it will be able to find other money with which to secure the future of development officer Fiona Henderson. Currently, it costs around 12,000 a year to provide the service which is based at Telford House in Wick.

North Lands Creative Glass, in Lybste,r is looking to the future with the appointment of a new innovation and business development direction. Lorna O’ Brien will come north from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where she was head of digital programmes. She will take up her appointment in March with the remit of raising the profile of the glass firm and building a strong financial and creative base from which to take the business forward.

Gordon Calder’s piece in the paper’s second section, tells of concern about the increased cost of heating oil during the recent wintry spell. Caithness Sutherland and Easter Ross MP, John Thurso, has written to the Office of Fair Trading, asking for an investigation to be undertaken after prices rose by as much as 50 per cent since September, last year. The MP wants the investigation to focus on the operations of fuel company DCC Energy, which owns a number of subsidiary fuel companies and price comparison websites.

Finally, my 'old' paper celebrates its proud 175 anniversary with extensive features...and a birthday cake of course. Happy birthday!