John O’ Journal review: March 9, 2012

talks between council and government officials will take place next week after a row broke out about the funding of the new, multi-million pound, Wick High School. Negotiations between Highland Council and the Scottish Government have stalled on the scheme’s construction costs which include a swimming pool and library. The local authority has set aside almost 19 million to replace the town’s secondary school and build community facilities, while the Government’s Scottish Futures Trust has offered 14.6 million. However, the flagship scheme has hit a major snag after the government body baulked at the council’s estimated construction costs and withdrew the inclusion of a 20 per cent “regional uplift” which is funding to take into account higher construction costs in the Highlands, from its offer. The Trust claims the total cost of the project should be 20.5m and talks have hit an impasse.

inquiry is to be held in Thurso next week into controversial plans by Highland Council to make a compulsory purchase of a 19th century building in the town. The local authority wants to take over the B-listed property at the corner of Princes Street and Sir John’s Square amid claims it has been allowed to fall into disrepair. It is not clear who owns the building but a Highland Council document, dating from 2005, states that a legal search indicated Chaudry Raffiq and Kamal Ahmed jointly owned the property. According to Scottish Government records, Mr Rafiq, now deceased, owned the part of the property on Sir John’s Square, while Mr Ahmed owns the Princes Street part. The building has been unused for some time and has been the subject of a lengthy wrangle between the owner and the council. The inquiry is to take place in the Pentland Hotel. It will get underway on Tuesday and is expected to be completed by Wednesday. Katrina Rice has been appointed to hold the inquiry and she will report back to the Scottish Government.

number of hours offenders have spent carrying out unpaid work in the community has gone up in the last three years. Figures show those sentenced to undertake community payback orders, are doing more, to help improve the community. Highland Council’s Criminal Justice unpaid work supervisor, Rodney Brass, said locals taking part in the scheme have carried out work which may not have been completed without them. It follows a call from the Royal Burgh of Wick Community Council for more information to be made public, on what work is being undertaken in Caithness as part of the scheme. In 2008, the Highland average for offenders carrying out community service was two hours and 25 minutes. But Mr Brass said that in the last three years the average time spent a week by offenders, had risen to over five hours.

AFTER taking months to recover when vandals caused thousands of pounds worth of damage, a retailer this week said justice had been done. Staff at A. & D. House Furnishers were shocked when their store at the Wick Airport Industrial Estate was targeted in April last year. This week, Calum Sutherland said he considered the nine months detention imposed on 20-year-old Johnny Gardner at Wick Sheriff Court, on Monday, was “adequate” but hit out at those who commit such crimes and the lack of respect they have for other people’s property.

discovery of a second sheep carcase which had been stripped to the bone, has added to fears that a big cat is roaming the remote areas of the Far North. The gruesome discovery was made by Simon and Jane foster who were walking along the North Sutherland coast on March 2 at the Brawl Burn near Armadale. After spotting wool that was scattered around a field, they discover the fresh remains on the animal.

landlord has been formally warned by Highland licensing chiefs because police found an underage teenager on the premises, who had apparently “sneaked” in after door stewards were distracted. The 15-year-old was caught by officers who visited the Camps Bar, last September, and a report was submitted to the procurator fiscal. Northern Constabulary also called into the High Street bar, on January 22 because of excessive noise coming from a PA system. Both incidents led to the proprietor Callum Reid being reported to the Highland Licensing board which met in Inverness on Tuesday for a review of the premises licence.

THE management of the embattled Highlands and Islands Fire and Rescue Service has been heavily criticised by a national watchdog. The Accounts Commission, which monitors the spending of public money, has published a damning report on the organisation. It has pinpointed serious weaknesses in the service’s leadership and questioned whether it offers best value for public money. The commission recognised the challenging size of the region and low numbers of fires or casualties, but said the service was unable to demonstrate how resources were matched to the risk faced by communities.

magic sponge has been left to dry for most of the season at Harmsworth Park as Wick Academy have enjoyed almost perfect health. One of only two men to suffer from serious injury this season is Martin Gunn after a horror tackle in the Scottish Cup second round against Keith left him on the sidelines for five months. But the 36-year-old midfielder looks set to add to his 400-plus appearance for the club after manager Davie Kirkwood confirmed the veteran has now fully recovered from the leg injury which has kept him out since October.