Feb 11 2011 by Stuart Wilson, Ayrshire Post (main ed)
A HUMAN rights group has challenged South Ayrshire Council to up its game.
Amnesty International wants the local authority to offer more support for gypsy traveller camps.
And they’ve sent a letter to chief executive, David Anderson, outlining issues which need tackled.
The letter complained about the council’s lack of a dedicated gypsy traveller liaison officer.
However, it also recognised South Ayrshire’s positive efforts in planning and providing services for the community.
The letter to Mr Anderson read: “The situation for Scottish gypsy travellers raises fundamental human rights concerns – particularly the rights to health, education, housing and cultural life and the requirement to be free from discrimination in the realisation of these rights.
“There is a significant number of Scottish gypsy travellers living in or regularly visiting the area .
“South Ayrshire Council therefore has great responsibility towards promoting services and awareness to these communities and the settled community.”
The letter goes on to raise concerns about the council’s lack of a dedicated traveller liaison officer, but does praise efforts being made towards promoting equality.
Amnesty has now called on the local authority to include a plan within the next Race Equalities Scheme/ Multi Equalities Scheme to tackle discrimination and prejudice towards travellers.
John Watson, Amnesty International's programme director for Scotland, said: “The situation for Scottish gypsy travellers raises fundamental human rights concerns – particularly the rights to health, education, housing and cultural life and freedom from discrimination.
“Research in England suggests that decent site provision can actually save money, through reduced legal and staff costs, while reducing conflict between communities.”
Kenny Leinster, South Ayrshire Council’s head of community care and housing, insists big strides are being made.
He said: “We are committed to establishing South Ayrshire as the most dynamic, inclusive and sustainable community in Scotland and take our responsibilities regarding the gypsy/traveller community very seriously indeed.
“We have a full-time travelling persons site manager who is responsible for engaging with the gypsy/traveller community both at our Houdston travellers site and at any other encampments throughout South Ayrshire.
“The manager’s role is to provide a vital link between the council and the gypsy/traveller community and ensure they have the necessary access to the services they need whether that’s to do with health, education, social work or welfare.
“The manager works not just with residents at our site but also with those living in any unauthorised encampments, which he visits within 48 hours of being made aware of their existence.
“His role here is also to quickly determine the needs of the individuals concerned as well as to manage relationships with the settled community.
“This input proves very beneficial and is further evidence of our commitment to the gypsy and traveller community.”
Mr Leinster added: “We are considered a model of good practice for our work with unauthorised encampments and an independent assessment of gypsy/traveller needs, which was based on feedback from gypsies and travellers themselves, confirmed our work with this community as among the best in the west of Scotland.
“We are proud of our work with the gypsy and traveller community as we know it makes a real difference and we will continue to build on this to ensure we provide the best service we possibly can.”