CASH-STRAPPED North Ayrshire Council have been forced into an embarrassing U-turn after trying to land an election day 'freebie' for the use of a village hall.

Local authority bosses told Fairlie Community Association they wouldn't be paying a fee for the use of the local hall as a polling station - despite previously coughing up £20 per hour.

The costs are covered by the Scottish Government and the snub sparked a furious reaction for community councillors and villagers, who penned a letter of complaint to the Electoral Registration unit.

The matter came to light at a recent community council meeting during a discussion on the future of local facilities.

Clive Shephard, of Fairlie Community Association, was asked by community councillor David Telford how much the council had agreed to pay for the use of the hall on May 6.

He responded: "Nothing as it stands.

"This year we have been told there will no monies paid. Previously we have been able to levy a letting charge for the day at an hourly rate of £20 an hour. In previous times it has been £160 for the day, but we have been told that they won't entertain that.

"We are challenging it. The costs are met by the Scottish Government so it is curious as to why North Ayrshire Council are not passing it on.

"We are writing to the electoral registration unit about it as well."

After the matter was progressed, the council has now agreed to pay a sum for the use of the hall.

A spokesperson for North Ayrshire Council said: “We can confirm that we will be paying for the hire of community halls and centres for polling purposes in the Scottish Parliamentary Elections in May.

“A communication advising of these arrangements has been issued to North Ayrshire Federation of Community Associations.”

Mr Shephard was invited to speak at the Fairlie Community Council meeting to speak about the future of community centres and libraries.

He revealed the pandemic has interrupted the ongoing public consultation - which has so far revealed most people are in favour of retaining the village hall and library

He added: "The village hall's future is far from secure and we are really appealing to the village and anyone who has an interest in the hall and library to take part in the consultation and make their comments known."

Councillor Alex Gallagher, of the ruling Labour administration, said: "The consultation is ongoing and all options are still on the table. We are trying to keep these centres open by means of asset transfers to community groups or short or long terms leases and we are trying to be as flexible as possible."