Tagged: Bedlington

Two thirds of North East law firms ‘could close’ as Legal Aid contracts are slashed, lawyer claims

Criminal lawyers have today claimed that up to two thirds of law firms in the North East could close as the government slashes Legal Aid.

Lawyers raised fears in the wake of the failure of a national appeal to stop the number of available Legal Aid contracts being reduced.

The cuts, an extension of the government’s austerity program, could lead to miscarriages of justice for vulnerable people, campaigners say.

Lewis Pearson, vice-president of the Newcastle Law Society, said the changes represented a huge blow to the region, and Northumberland especially.

“The effect on the whole Legal Aid system will be profound and ultimately leading to a significant reduction in firms as well as reduction to justice,” he said.

“This is particularly the case in Northumberland where access to justice is already restricted.”

Mr Pearson, a partner at Pearson Caulfield solicitors in Newcastle, added:

“The issue is particularly important in our rural communities where there are many miles and people to cover.

“In the long run, those firms who do not have those contracts will waste away.”

Legal Aid is the help given to people that may not otherwise afford their own lawyers, and is a big source of income for many firms.

Proposals put forward by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling last year will see the number of contracts available cut from 1,600 to 527 across the UK to save money.

In the North East, the number of Legal Aid contracts available will fall from 60 to 12.

North of the Tyne, seven companies will be awarded the contracts for magistrates’ courts in Newcastle, Bedlington and North Shields.

Only five will be awarded for the courts in Gateshead, Sunderland and South Shields.

Last week the Law Society, the body representing solicitors, asked appeal court judges to rule that the cuts were not viable and contained “serious defects”, but the court turned down their bid.

Now, lawyers’ groups have called for the changes to become “an election issue”, saying they will threaten access to justice for many accused of crime, especially the vulnerable.

Elspeth Thomson, Legal Aid chair of the Law Society, said:

“Once you reach a tipping point where lawyers have gone under, there won’t be anyone there in police stations to advise people of their rights.

“The government make it sound like it is about loaded lawyers making the big bucks but it is not. It is about day-to-day lives, where normal people are needing help.”

But the Ministry of Justice says the changes are necessary to make savings, and anyone who needs access to a lawyer will still get it.

A spokesman said:

“Our legal aid reforms are designed to ensure the system is fair for those who need it, the lawyers who provide services as part of it and importantly the taxpayers who ultimately pay for it.

“We have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world and even after reform it will remain very generous – costing around £1.5bn a year.

“Anyone suspected of a crime will still have access to a legal aid lawyer of their choosing after reform, just as they do now.”

Last year, North East solicitors and probation service staff took part in 48 hours of protests at cuts to Legal Aid and the privatisation of court services.

Legal workers picketed outside courts across the region and rallied at Grey’s Monument in Newcastle last April, voicing fears for the future of their professions.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 29 Mar 2015

Northumberland home staff could take industrial action over pay cut

> Another example of what happens when NHS services are privatised…

Staff in homes for people with learning and physical disabilities in Northumberland could take strike action over what they describe as a “savage cut” to their terms and conditions.

The majority of 36 workers in five homes run by Lifeways are being balloted amid claims their pay is to be slashed by £2.30 an hour to £7.65 – below the National Living Wage.

They also say the company is cutting paid sickness leave to five days per year, reducing its contribution to workers’ pensions from 14% to 4% and removing death in service benefits.

The workers are based at three homes in Bedlington and two in Choppington and are represented by the union Unison.

It claims staff who transferred to Lifeways from the NHS are seeing their maternity provision replaced by the statutory minimum and that holiday entitlement has been reduced by seven days.

Unison spokesman Trevor Johnston said:

“They are faced with losing between a third and half of their income and a savage cut to their other terms and conditions of employment.

“The staff are very concerned about their financial security. They are very committed to caring for the residents and appreciate that disruption is unsettling for them. However, they feel that they are faced with no alternative.

“Unison has offered to undertake meaningful negotiations with the employer, especially as Lifeways made a profit last year of £14m.

“Other not-for-profit organisations faced with similar cuts have offered their staff buy out arrangements while continuing to pay the Living Wage.”

The company has blamed a 30% cut in the money it is given to run the homes by Northumberland County Council.

A Lifeways spokesperson said:

“We recognise the impact that any changes to terms and conditions will have on our staff and we are holding talks with Unison in order to avoid industrial action.

“Our service users remain our number one priority and we will maintain a high level of care at all times.

“However, like all other providers of adult social care, we are having to reduce our costs as a result of local authority budget cuts.

“Despite a 30% reduction in fees, we are required to deliver the same level of service as currently.

“The fee decrease is being absorbed in part through a reduction in our operating costs, mostly through the proposed changes in employment terms and conditions, but also in part by Lifeways directly.”

The services now run by Lifeways were operated by the Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust as residential care homes until 2012.

A Northumberland County Council spokesperson:

“The trust made a decision a number of years ago that they no longer felt it appropriate for them to continue providing this kind of social care service, and consulted their staff in relation to this.

“The county council, which was the funder of the services, therefore advertised in 2012 for a new provider to take over the services and work towards supporting the service users in a less institutional way, changing the services from residential homes to a ‘supported living’ scheme, in which service users would become tenants with enhanced rights and greater independence.

“The contract offered in the original tender is the contract that was agreed would operate from April 1.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 09 Mar 2015

Northumberland charity accuse UKIP of ‘sabotaging’ youth event

UKIP has been accused of attempting to “sabotage” a charity event intended to get young people interested in politics.

Northumberland youth charity Leading Link blamed the UK Independence Party for its decision to reschedule a Question Time-style event.

And the charity said police were even drafted in to cover a replacement event on Thursday night, in case of disruption.

The question-and-answer event has been held by the Bedlington-based charity for the last four years, and sees a debate between local schoolchildren, members of the public and guests.

It was due held at County Hall in Morpeth on Thursday, and young people had invited representatives from the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties to attend.

UKIP were not invited, which the party claimed was “undemocratic”.

Leading Link said it was contacted by a string of regional and national UKIP representative demanding to know why the party had not been invited, with one claiming the charity was contravening various acts.

Charity bosses say they explained that attendees had been selected by the young people and made it clear the event was not linked to May’s general election.

But then, the charity says, several tickets were acquired online in the names of local UKIP figures.

And the organisers took the decision to postpone the event until after the general election.

In place of the cancelled event, a replacement just for the young people was organised with just the current Wansbeck MP, Labour’s Ian Lavery.

And the charity said it had arranged for Northumbria Police to attend, in case of any disturbance.

Charity assistant manager Jonny Hall said:

“The reason why we were holding it was to give these young people a real experience of debating and making a positive change.

“Because we now feel that the spirit would be completely lost and it became a politically-motivated campaign, we have since cancelled it and moved to this closed session instead.

“The whole thing has been completely blown out of proportion. The fact a school debate is having to be cancelled speaks volumes.”

Mr Lavery hit out at UKIP for “jeopardising” the chances of young people getting engaged in politics.

He added: “Lyn (Horton, charity manager) said she has never known anything like this. It is sad we have not had the original event.”

The media officer for UKIP’s Wansbeck branch, said it was “blatantly untrue” to claim the event was not political given the attendance of the other parties.

Why invite three politicians? And how do you educate the young people if you do not invite all political views?” he said. “It is totally undemocratic.”

He added:

“I think they have cancelled because they knew we would get it advertised to the public in Wansbeck. We had kicked up a bit of a fuss.”

Asked if anyone from UKIP would be attending the event, he added: “Nobody knows where it is.

Northumbria Police confirmed that officers were attending. A spokesperson said:

“Members of the Neighbourhood Policing Teams regularly attend community events to continue to build on the strong links already in place.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 Mar 2015

Hilton Dawson – North East party leader

It seems that Hilton Dawson has a history of triumphing against the odds.

The native Northumbrian has twice overcome substantial Tory power bases at council and parliamentary level to get into office.

That was in the North West where he lived and worked for around 20 years.

Now back home, he hopes to repeat his David and Goliath act at the next general election in May with the North East party he helped form and is chairman of.

And this time three of the four seats his party are contesting at Easington, Redcar, Stockton North and Newcastle North are held by Labour with who he was a member for 30 years.

But he doesn’t see it as a betrayal of his political roots, just loyalty to his personal roots.

“There isn’t anyone who stands up for the North East directly,” he said.

“My experience of parliament and working with national policy makers is that huge decisions are made in London by people who don’t know about the region.

“We need to get these big decisions – about jobs, housing, health, wellbeing, transport – made here.”

To do this, it aims to secure devolved powers similar to those enjoyed by Scotland and Wales.

“We want real powers to borrow and invest, which will produce high-quality integrated public services,” Hilton said.

“In Scotland in particular, they have far better public services than we do a few miles south over the border.”

The idea for it was born out of a debate in 2013 at the Newcastle Lit & Phil Society about whether it was time for ‘Wor Party’. A lot of people attending thought it was.

The North East Party was officially registered last May. It had its first annual general meeting in June then in December after a three day meeting it thrashed out its manifesto.

Read what you will into the fact these discussions took place in a room above a funeral home in Shotton Colliery.

“Very salubrious surroundings,” laughed Hilton at the memory but he is very pleased with the result and hopes to cause as much of a stir as his first attempt to change things as an eight-year-old schoolboy.

Born in Mona Taylor’s Maternity Home in Stannington, his parents were both teachers. He was raised in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea where he was a pupil at Moorside First, locally known as the Colliery School.

It was there he recalls he became second in command in a pupils protest about the state of the school’s food.

The soup was particularly terrible that day,” said Hilton.

“We marched up and down the playground all over dinner time. We all really enjoyed it.”

The Head, Mr Kirsopp (none of the kids knew his first name, of course), “emerged lugubriously at the end of lunch time” recalled Hilton.

We looked at him with some trepidation then he ceremonially rang the bell and we went inside. Nothing more was said about it.”

This obviously whetted his appetite. After later completing his studies at Ashington Grammar School he gained a place at Warwick University to study philosophy and politics.

“Philosophy to understand the world and politics to change it,” he said.

Hilton recalled Warwick as a bit of a political hotbed in the 1960s with plenty of sit-ins and protests.

It was after his first year there he married Susan, who he met at school.

After graduating they went to stay for a time on a Kibbutz in Israel.

“We wanted to experience a collective way of life. We had idealistic expectations of it. The work was very hard but rewarding.”

Then they returned home as Susan was pregnant with their first child, Catherine.

He found work at the Choppington Social Welfare Centre, moving into a council house in Scotland Gate.

“It was one of the most educational experiences of my life,” said Hilton.

“I worked with the people of the community on many fantastic things. I was part of this rough, tough, incredibly warm hearted community organising anything from play groups for youngsters to events for the older residents, working with the people there to make things happen.

“At different times I would run the bar, put three tons of coal in the central heating, paint the walls, but most important of all I learned how to talk to people.

“The teachers’ son grew up an enormous amount.”

Having worked with social workers on projects there he became interested in the profession, getting a job at Bedlington.

“The attitude of people on the estate changed straight away. While they were still friendly it was a case of you’re a social worker now, there’s a difference.”

Hilton said he worked with a fantastic team determined to make a difference to the community and it was when he became involved in mainstream politics, joining the Labour party in 1978.

The university anarchist saw at Choppington what a group of dedicated local politicians were doing for the community,” he said.

Hilton got onto a well respected course at Lancaster University.

“It was the top place to go,” he said. “It had the Centre for Youth Crime and The Community.”

He and wife Susan packed their bags and with daughter Catherine headed to the North West.

Soon after his second daughter Helen was born.

“She always says you lot speak funny. She is from the North West the rest of us are from the North East,” said Hilton.

He got heavily involved in child care and child protection issues, managing children’s homes as well as fostering and adoption services.

He worked his way up to social work manager, on call 24 hours a day.

“I could be called out at any time of the night dealing with all sorts of matters – a child on the roof, what are we going to do about it. Six kids who need housing now at 2am. It was stressful but I loved the job.”

His job resulted in a lot of community involvement and he decided to stand in the Lancaster City Council elections for the Ryelands ward in 1987.

“It had always been Tory and no-one ever understood why – it had a huge housing estate on it,” said Hilton.

The penny eventually dropped that while Tory supporters would vote come election day, hardly anybody from the estate ever did.

After much canvassing, that changed.

It was one of the most seminal moments of my life,” said Hilton. “A huge phalanx of people came out of the estate to vote, knocking on doors as they went to persuade other people to vote.”

Hilton won the ward for Labour.

Then 10 years later in 1997 he stood for parliament in the Lancaster and Wyre constituency, formed after boundary changes from the old Lancaster constituency.

Since the Second World War Lancaster had been won by the Tories at every election bar the 1966 poll.

No-one expected us to win,” he said.

The media, even an eminent professor of politics. told me I had no chance.

“But I’d learned if you just engage with people, have a clear message and work hard at the grass roots you can win,” he said.

After winning the seat after a re-count he became well known for his championing of child related issues – he was named the 2004 Children’s Champion in the House of Commons – however it led to run ins with party bosses.

He objected to its policies on asylum seekers suggesting they be refused benefits would see their children left destitute.

Hilton described it as “immoral” in a Commons debate.

And then there the Iraq war – “a terrible time,” he recalled.

Hilton was one of the Labour MPs who backed a rebel backbench amendment that the case for war with Iraq was “unproven”.

So while he loved his first four years in Parliament, his enthusiasm waned considerably after he was re-elected, again after a recount, in 2001.

By 2005 he had decided it was time to move on and quit before the general election to return to children’s services.

He became CEO of Shaftesbury Young People which works for children both in care and in need and later chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers.

In the meantime he had returned to his native North East, he and wife Susan buying a house in Warkworth which boasts a spectacular view of Warkworth Castle.

“I found I was able to commute to London from Alnmouth which is on the East Coast mainline.”

He also found time to fight for the Lynemouth and Ellington seat in the 2008 Northumberland County Council elections.

“It was the only safe Labour seat I have ever fought – and I got whupped,” said Hilton ruefully.

“I had the arrogance to think I could do it all in a month thinking I could repeat what I did in Ryelands over a much shorter period of time.

“It proved a very important political lesson.”

Source –  Newcastle Journal, 31 Jan 2015

Row over use of Bedlington working men’s club as a polling station

> Northumberland Conservatives get increasingly weird…

Conservatives have called for a review of the use of a working men’s club as a polling station.

Tories are demanding the club at Bedlington, Northumberland, not be used in future, given they believe it has a “direct affiliation” to the Labour party.

They say supporters and others feel “uncomfortable” voting there given its apparent political leanings and that they “would not dream” of Conservative clubs in the county being used.

> So, Ok, my local polling station was a Church of England church hall… I’m not a Christian, should I complain about feeling uncomfortable using it ?

Of course not, because I don’t feel uncomfortable. I don’t feel anything – its just a space temporarily housing the polling station.

However, Labour accused them of “sour grapes” following their third place finish at the recent European elections in the region, and said parties have the chance to protest against polling station venues before votes are cast.

The club confirmed it is used by one Labour councillor to host surgeries, but insisted it has no affiliation with Labour and that is it politically neutral.

The authority which conducts elections in Northumberland said it hosts polls at a number of social clubs.

The calls for a review relate to the use of Bedlington Netherton Social Club and have been lodged with Northumberland County Council.

They have come from the Morpeth and Wanbseck Conservatives (MWC) acting on a complaint from a local resident.

MWC chairman Richard Wearmouth said he belived the Netherton site might – like other working men’s clubs – pay a subscription to the Labour party.

It might have people less inclined to go in and vote, I do not know. In Bedlington there is more people voting Conservative in increasing numbers. We find that anything can disincentivise people to vote.

> It might have people less inclined to go in and vote, I do not know.  So he doesn’t know, he has no proof, but he’s still sounding off about it ?

In Bedlington there is more people voting Conservative –  shouldn’t that read ‘there are more people…‘ ?

I blame Tory education cuts…

A spokesperson for the Labour group on Northumberland County Council said: “The county council makes a non political decision to designate polling stations and they follow electoral law when making that decision.

“Political parties generally have a right to highlight issues with polling stations before elections.”

A spokesman for the county council added: “The location was swapped from a mobile classroom at St Benet Biscop High School due to it not being accessible by wheelchair.

“Polling stations are chosen due to their location and accessibility. In Northumberland we use a wide variety of locations that include churches, pubs and a football club.

“The elections team is always happy to receive alternative suggestions on location, however this is the first complaint they are aware of after changing the location over three years ago.”

Ian Rosemurgey, secretary of the Netherton club, said Labour county councillor Terry Johnstone holds his surgery there once a month.

But he added: “We are politically neutral and we are affiliated to the CIU (Club and Institue Union), not Labour, Conservative or anything like that.”

Source –  Newcastle Journal,   16 June 2014

Hundreds turn out for the 150th Northumberland Miners’ Picnic

Hundreds of people turned out to enjoy the Northumberland Miners’ Picnic on its 150th anniversary.

It took place at Woodhorn Museum, Ashington, and the crowds enjoyed a packed programme of entertainment to mark the special celebration, including Glenn Tilbrook from chart topping band, Squeeze.

Also in the line up were local folk legend Johnny Handle, as well as traditional music and dance, street theatre and entertainers, the Ashington Colliery and Bedlington Youth brass bands, Werca’s Folk, and the Monkseaton Morrismen.

The day started with a memorial service and wreath laying.

Woodhorn’s own comedian-in-residence Seymour Mace added a touch of humour to the day as he, his fellow comedians John Whale and Andy Fury, and staff from the museum who have been working with the project, put their own entertaining twist on a guided visit to the museum.

Extracts from the Pitmen Painters were read out as Woodhorn is the home of the Ashington Group’s main collection of paintings and has a close bond to the story.

Original cast members, Chris Connel and Phillippa Wilson, recreated scenes from Lee Hall’s award-winning play.

The first Picnic was staged at Blyth Links in 1864 and over the years it has moved around the county – from Blyth to Morpeth, Bedlington to Ashington, Newbiggin, Tynemouth and even Newcastle’s Town Moor.

Keith Merrin, Director of Woodhorn, said: “150 years on and this event is still about bringing the whole North East community together, to strengthen bonds and have fun. It’s not just about Ashington, but about the whole region as so many have a link to coal.

“The Picnic is the perfect opportunity to come together to remember and celebrate an industry and the people that helped shape the North East and create the proud communities that exists today.”

This year’s special Picnic has been made possible thanks to Northumberland County Council, Ashington Town Council and the NUM working with Woodhorn to develop a fitting tribute to the event’s history.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  15 June 2014