Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn has hit back at criticism directed at him for accepting hospitality from a tobacco firm.
The MP attended last year’s Chelsea Flower Show in London at the invitation of Japan Tobacco International, maker of brands including Benson and Hedges, Camel, Winston and Silk Cut.
He was condemned by anti-smoking campaigners for accepting the hospitality package, then voting against plans to introduce plain cigarette packaging.
Mr Hepburn has defended his actions for the first time since coming under fire last week.
The MP said he was fully supportive of Labour’s proposed tax on the tobacco industry to pay for more doctors and nurses, but he says he makes no apologies for backing staff at Essentra, formerly known as Filtrona and, before that, Cigarette Components.
Though he voted in favour of the ban on smoking in public places several years ago, he dismissed calls to make plain packaging for cigarettes compulsory as “barmy” and “counter-productive”.
“In recent months, I have visited Essentra on the Bede Trading Estate. Although not as big as it once was, the firm provides 240 jobs and is regarded as a decent employer.
“I have always been supportive of its growth plans.
“These jobs are invaluable when unemployment is a curse, and I make no apologies for standing up for both a local company and South Tyneside as a great place to do business.
“I supported Labour’s proposed tax on the tobacco industry to hire more NHS doctors and nurses, but I think it’s barmy to force all cigarettes to be sold in the same plain packs.
“I know the harm to health caused by smoking – that’s why I voted for the pub ban – yet as long as people buy cigarettes, I’ll stand up for Essentra’s workers.”
> Even if it means having to do unpleasant things, like accepting hospitality packages at the Chelsea Flower Show. I hope Essentra’s workers are suitably grateful.
Source – Shields Gazette, 27 May 2015
The Post Office today stands accused of cutting down its network “by stealth” as an investigation reveals 17 North East branches have been “temporarily closed” for more than a year.
A Freedom Of Information probe has uncovered huge gaps in the region’s Post Office service, with seven out of a total of 20 branches marked as ‘closed temporarily’, having actually been shut for more than five years.
The Communication Workers’ Union has branded the situation “ridiculous” and claimed Post Office chiefs are letting down communities in the region who rely on their local branch.
Dave Ward, CWU deputy general secretary, said:
“To have 17 post office branches closed for over a year is ridiculous. Every day those post offices are closed, local communities are going without essential services.
“Temporarily closing post offices is surely closure by stealth. The Post Office is being opportunistic and this is impacting detrimentally on customers and communities.
“Communities are extremely vocal about their support for their local post office but they’re being fobbed off.
“People want a professional and reliable service and the sooner the Post Office realises this and stops selling them off or surreptitiously closing them down, the better.”
Post Offices in Stamfordham and Matfen, in rural Northumberland, Orchard in Stockton’s Eaglescliffe, Roseberry Square in Redcar, and Aycliffe, Kelloe and Eldon Lane, in County Durham, have been marked as closed temporarily for the last five years.
Those closed for between three and four years include Stainton, in Middlesbrough, Newfield and East Rainton, both in County Durham, Grange Estate, in Stockton and Victoria Street, in South Bank, near Middlesbrough.
Branches in Cleadon Park, South Shields, Burnopfield, in County Durham, and Newbiggin-by-the-Sea and Stonehaugh, in Northumberland, were added to the ‘temporary closure’ list over a year ago.
On top of the 17 branches closed for more than a year, it can also be revealed that a further three branches have shut down within the last three months.
The Post Office denied claims it was mounting a closure programme by the back door and said its staff were committed to seeing branches reopen.
A spokesman said the Post Office network in the North East is “stable” and it was had no plans to permanently close branches.
Last month, the Forest-in-Teesdale branch reopened after it had been closed for more than five years.
A Post Office spokesperson said:
“There is no closure programme and the size of the Post Office network in the North East remains broadly stable as for example there were 489 branches open and trading in March 2014 compared with 491 in March 2011.
“There is a natural churn in the network and there can be occasions when Post Office branches do temporarily close for reasons beyond our control, and in these cases a branch will only remain vacant for a period where no suitable premises or an applicant for the role of postmaster has been identified, and we always work hard to restore the service.
“If a Post Office is temporarily closed it is not included in the numbers of open and trading branches.
“Post Office Ltd is engaged in the largest investment and modernisation programme in its history, which marks a commitment to no more branch closure programmes.
“Examples of cases where we have successfully restored post office services in the North East after periods of temporary closure include Forest-in-Teesdale, Normanby, Gunnerton, Blackhall Mill, Bede Trading Estate and High Grange.”
Closed for 0-3 months
Crookham, TD12 4SY
High Street, NE8 1EQ
Pittington, DH6 1AT
Closed for over a year
Burnopfield, NE16 6LX
Cleadon Park, NE34 8PL
Stonehaugh, NE48 3DY
West End Newbiggin, NE64 6UY
Closed for over two years
Shotley Bridge, DH8 0HQ
Closed for over 3 Years
East Rainton, DH5 9QT
Grange Estate, TS18 4LT
Victoria Street, TS6 6HT
Closed for over four Years
Stainton, TS8 9AG
Newfield, DH2 2SL
Closed for over five Years
Aycliffe, DL5 6JT
Eldon Lane, DL14 8TD
Kelloe, DH6 4PD
Matfen, NE20 0RP
Orchard, TS16 0EH
Roseberry Square, TS10 4EL
Stamfordham, NE18 0LA
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 Jan 2015
Warehouse staff at clothing firm, J Barbour & Sons, based at Monks Way, on the Bede Trading Estate in Jarrow, are due to walk out tomorrow until next Tuesday in a dispute over new working hours.
As the company is due to close down from Christmas Eve, the striking staff will not return to work until Monday, December 29.
The dispute centres on the firm’s warehouses in Wardley, Gateshead, and involves 134 of its 600 North East workers.
Workers who are members of the Unite trade union will be out in force at the warehouses from tomorrow in support of action against changes to shift patterns, incorporating later working until 10.30pm, which staff claim is not “family friendly”.
A source for the strikers said:
“The company is trying to change contracts to include working until 10.30pm. They promote themselves as family-friendly but this change will mean that working parents will be saying goodbye to their children one morning and not seeing them until the following morning.
“A lot of employees don’t have their own transport and will have no way of getting home that late at night. The employees have also received a letter this week stating that they are damaging the business by their actions.”
The two warehouses will be manned by non-trade union workers over the course of the dispute with the company pledging to “minimise any disruption”.
The proposed new warehouse working hour patterns are 7am to 3pm and 2.30pm to 10.30pm.
Source – Shields Gazette, 17 Dec 2014