Scores of people have taken part in a demonstration against the threatened closure of a Berwick care home.
Staff, residents – including one in a mobility scooter – and families turned out to Saturday’s event, which was organised in protest at the proposed closure of Seton Hall.
Event organisers the Save Seton Care group estimate between 100 and 200 took part in the town-centre march, while motorists beeped their horns in support.
Signatures were also collected for a petition against the closure plan, with the total now said to stand at 1,400.
Protestors then gathered on the steps of Berwick Town Hall where speeches were made.
Letting housing association tenants buy their homes at a discount will be disastrous for rural communities, according to a leading academic.
Government plans to extend the “right to buy” will make an existing housing shortage worse, said Professor Mark Shucksmith, Director of the Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal.
And the problem will be particularly bad in rural areas – where house prices are highest, he said.
But the policy was welcomed by North East MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Conservative MP for Berwick, who said funds raised from the sell-off would be used to allow councils and housing associations to build more homes.
It comes as a senior civil servant criticised the policy, which was one of the Conservative Party’s flagship manifesto promises during the general election campaign.
The Government is to extend the right to buy their home at a discount, which currently applies to council tenants, to 1.3 million housing association tenants.
But Lord Kerslake, the former head of the civil service who was the most senior official at the Department of Communities and Local Government until February, has warned that the plan will do nothing to address the housing shortage.
He said: “I think it’s wrong in principle and wrong in practice, and it won’t help tackle the urgent need to build more housing and more affordable housing in this country.”
Under the Conservative plans, 1.3 million tenants in housing association homes in England will be able to buy their properties at discounts of £77,000, or up to £104,000 in London.
Ministers say housing associations will be compensated with money raised by forcing local authorities to sell off their most expensive housing stock as it becomes vacant, ensuring that the affordable properties which are sold are replaced.
However the proposals have been widely criticised by housing associations, with many threatening to sue the Government if they are forced to sell.
Prof Shucksmith said:
“There is already a shortage of affordable housing, especially in rural areas where there is little social housing.
“Rural house prices are on average 26 per cent higher than in urban areas, and the ratio of house prices to local earnings is even worse.
“Disposing of housing association stock, at great cost to the taxpayer, will make the impact on rural communities much more serious.
“We are already seeing those on low and medium incomes, and especially young people, priced out of small towns and villages across the UK. With housing association properties sold off, and unlikely to be replaced in any substantial quantities, the wealth divide in rural communities will deepen even further.”
And he said the policy would hurt employers, by driving the staff they need out of rural areas.
“With rural areas becoming increasingly socially exclusive, local businesses – from farms and shops to accountants and software developers – will find it even harder to attract the young, skilled, ambitious people they need.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 03 Jun 2015
People tempted to vote Labour or Green in Berwick should switch to the Lib Dems in order to keep out the Conservative candidate, a senior politician has said.
Tim Farron, former Lib Dem president and tipped to be the next leader of the party, made the call with less than a week to go before the General Election.
It comes as the polls show Conservative Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Lib Dem Julie Porksen locked in a dead heat for electoral victory in the Northumberland constituency.
Mr Farron said:
“We need everybody who is not a Conservative to get behind Julie Porksen.
“If you vote Labour or Green next Thursday, you might wake up and feel good about yourself, but in five years’ time if we have a Conservative Government, they may bitterly regret it.”
> Fuck me ! The arrogance of the man.
The voters of of Berwick voted Lib Dem last time… and in five years time they had a Conservative government, aided and abetted by those very same Lib Dems !
So did the rest of us, and yes, we do bitterly regret it.
He said Lib Dems candidates were winning the ground campaign in their heartlands and are poised to clinch victory in Berwick.
“Lib Dems are made of hardy stuff and there is a reason why people in Berwick and Westmorland have been so kind to us,” he said.
“We have a ruggedness and an industrialism that is reflected in those constituencies.
“We live and breathe community politics. We believe that national politics comes from what happens on the ground, not from focus groups or national opinion-testing.
“We find out what is happening by speaking to people all year round and that is why we will win Berwick.”
But Anne-Marie Trevelyan accused the Lib Dems of negative campaigning. She said:
“Voters should be able to vote for the party they support.
“It’s great to have a Green Party candidate here, especially one as capable and committed to Alnwick as Rachel Roberts.
“If the Lib Dems are worried about their vote share, perhaps they should try offering positive messages rather than running aggressive negative campaining against their rivals.”
Mr Farron, who visited Berwick this week, also criticised the Conservatives’ commitment to offering a referendum on leaving the European Union.
“There are two enormous risks to us leaving the EU,” he said.
“The agricultural policy brings in billions of pounds to the livestock and dairy farming industry, which are mostly in the North of the country.
“People don’t realise that direct and single farming payments from the EU are all that stand between the industry and ruin.”
Mr Farron said while this was a tough campaign for the Liberal Democrats after five years of coalition with the Conservatives, the future had a bright future.
“If we didn’t have a Liberal party, you would have to invent one that would stand up for rural communities; for traditional British civil liberties; for environmental issues; for affordable housing,” he said.
“Historically, there has been no other party that stands for that combination of things. I think the future will be strong for us.”
Mr Farron added the SNP and UKIP were a divisive and dangerous force in British politics, but that politicians of all parties had to respect the choices of the electorate.
“If you are a politician that plays on nationalism and on wrapping your politics in a flag, like Farage does, then you are a dangerous person.
“Nationalism is about excluding other people. Patriots love their country and nationalists hate their neighbours.
“I think it should be worrying to everyone in Scotland but we have to be big enough to accept whatever our neighbours choose on May 7.”
> The message that comes through, I think, is really the same as from Con and Lab… things may be starting to change, and it scares us. Therefore we must try to smear the newcomers, because we feel that political control is somehow our right… we don’t feel we should have to earn it.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 May 2015
Not one leader from any of the major political parties has visited Tyne and Wear or County Durham as part of the General Election campaign.
David Cameron is the only leader so far to even venture into ANY part of the North East since the dissolution of parliament.
He visited Northumberland’s Alnwick and Stockton, the two areas where his party has a chance of winning next month, but bypassed large swathes of the region.
Labour leader Ed Miliband – whose party is favourite to win EVERY seat in Durham, Tyneside and Wearside, most seats in Teesside and half of those in Northumberland – has failed to make a public appearance anywhere in the North East.
The Liberal Democrats are defending Redcar and Berwick-upon-Tweed, yet Nick Clegg has been nowhere to be seen.
Nigel Farage claims UKIP is targeting parts of Teesside and has a strong interest in Blyth, and yet the leader of the “people’s army” has not made a public appearance anywhere in the North East.
And despite evidence of a Green surge in pockets of the region, Natalie Bennett has not visited to show support for her party’s candidates, either.
The North East is widely-regarded as safe Labour territory and this may explain the lack of interest from the parties’ top politicians in campaigning in this area.
Nonetheless, voters will be disappointed when they compare the region to, say, the Greater Manchester area, where the parties are fighting a higher number of key marginals.
Nick Clegg has visited seats in Greater Manchester four times, David Cameron twice and Ed Miliband four times.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Apr 2015
The ukulele player who shot to stardom this week with a swear-filled serenade for David Cameron has called for political change.
East Londoner Robin Grey, who grew up in Gosforth, spoke out a day after expressing his dissatisfaction for the Prime Minister with an adhoc song in Alnwick, Northumberland.
The 34-year-old folk singer, maths tutor and charity worker was in Alnwick as part of a cycling holiday.
“I was cycling down the hill into Alnwick, having spent a while in Northumberland National Park, and I was cut up by a big blue Conservative Party coach – I couldn’t believe it.
“Then a lot of people got off with balloons and David Cameron was among them. It was so strange because it was just them, and no ordinary people.
“I was gobsmacked and took my bike over to the other side of the road. I thought, ‘what can I do?’ I didn’t have any eggs and didn’t want to get arrested. I could have shouted but that is boring.
“So I grabbed my ukulele and played the first thing that came to me.”
He proceeded to tell the Tory leader, who was attempting to drum up support for the party’s Berwick election candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan with a 15-minute walkabout, to “fuck off back to Eton”.
“I consider myself to be an activist. The more I travel round the country the more I see what people have in common – they want to see change happen.
“I hadn’t rehearsed the song. I am used to picking up by ukulele in primary school and playing, and I have worked at the Edinburgh Festival too so it comes easily.
“I am amazed at how popular the video of my song has been. Looking back I probably could have come up with some better lyrics, like addressing him on the NHS, but at the time I knew I wouldn’t get another chance so I just kept going.”
“A security guard told me not to swear because there were children around so I did a cleaner second verse.”
“Change is needed and as more people start to get their information from less obvious routes and media sources, the ruling elites are losing control and cannot keep telling us what to do.
“After Alnwick, I headed up to Seahouses to my nanna. She was supportive of me making mischief and she knows it comes from a good place.”
With the help of his ukulele, Robin’s causes include the closure of tax breaks for corporations and the super rich, the re-nationalisation of the railways and utility companies, the provision of singing and music lessons for all schoolchildren, scrapping of bedroom tax, and a ban on fracking in the UK.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 14 Apr 2015
The Green Party is furious after its general election candidate, Rachael Roberts, was not invited by BBC Look North to take part in its TV debate on the streets of Berwick today.
Tim Roake, the Berwick Green Party’s press officer, described the explanation given to him by BBC Look North as “not good enough” after only four of the six candidates vying for the Berwick seat were invited to take part in the question-and-answer session on Marygate. The English Democrat candidate was also missing.
Mr Roake said:
“The Green Party is the third biggest in the Berwick constituency, if not the second biggest. When I asked why Rachael was not invited, I was told they had looked at the previous election results and the European elections. But we did not stand in those elections. They used old information and it is not good enough.”
> That sounds a bit bizarre, even for the media. The BBC must have noticed the surge in membership of the Greens locally.
A spokesperson for BBC North East and Cumbria said:
“Based on BBC guidelines, we only invited the four main candidates to our Look North hot seats in Berwick. We will be filming a separate hot seat with Green Party candidate Rachael Roberts.”
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 14 Apr 2015
The English Democrats have joined the general election race in the Berwick constituency by putting up a candidate for the May 7 vote.
Neil Humphrey has been selected as the party’s representative for the Berwick seat, giving voters six choices on the ballot paper next month.
►Scott Dickinson (Labour)
►Nigel Coghill-Marshall (UKIP)
►Julie Pörksen (Liberal Democrats)
►Rachael Roberts (Green Party)
►Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Conservative)
The English Democrats are campaigning for the creation of an English Parliament and executive within the United Kingdom with the same powers as the Scottish Parliament and executive.
The party’s main policies include restricting immigration to a points system. They would like to make St George’s Day a national holiday. The English Democrats also believe England should leave the EU via a referendum.
Mr Humphrey was a member of the Labour Party for 30 years before moving to UKIP, and then joined the English Democrats.
He says he would campaign for the A1 to be upgraded to a dual carriageway all the way up to the Scottish border. It follows the government’s financial pledge at the end of last year to dual the A1 only as far as Ellingham.
He believes pedestrian access, lorry turning and icy conditions have not been taken into account.
Mr Humphrey says the Berwick electorate should be concerned about concessions made to the SNP if they end up holding the balance of power after the election.
He said: “I think the constituency should be concerned about sleazy, back-room ‘horsetrading’ for a SNP backed coalition.
“I want a commitment that there can be no border move without a referendum on an area by area basis.”
Mr Humphrey says he understand the pressure on the NHS and wants things to change.
He said: “My wife is a retired ambulance woman. For some time I have been against super-hospitals, which move A&E further away and the running down of services.”
Mr Humphrey would also like to reintroduce so-called “Men’s Sheds” and open this up to younger ages.
He said: “Tools experience and career knowledge can be shared. We will fight to keep open libraries and protect budgets nationally from cuts.
“Working in control systems automation, there are very few senior engineers younger than myself. In 10-15 years time, we’ll all be retiring. All that infrastructure we rely on … we will have to import foreign immigrants. I believe we should be transferring those skills to the younger generation.
“I would like to see those who can program their mobile phones, or wire a car stereo, to be shown how in demand their skills could be in automation. That includes younger adolescences tempted by crime.”
Mr Humphrey’s also said he would like to see more professionals encouraged to enter politics and become members of parliament.
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 07 Apr 2015
A team from Four Housing took the lead leg in a mammoth 500 mile, people powered ‘relay’ aiming to end the UK’s housing crisis within a generation.
They joined housing associations from across the region taking part in the Homes for Britain ‘Relay to the Rally’ which set off from Berwick on Sunday.
Four Housing chief executive Paul Tanney said:
“There is insufficient housing in the area and what is available is often unaffordable. We are seeing an increase in the disparity between the needs of communities and the supply of appropriate housing.
“We need the right type of accommodation in the right place in order to lessen the burden on local authorities in the future, all of which will enable us to contribute to vibrant and active communities.”
The relay is due to finish at Westminster in London in time for the national Homes for Britain rally on March 17.
In the north east, Four Housing, Bernicia, Isos, Cestria, Home Group, Gentoo, Livin, North Star, Thirteen and Coast and Country are carrying a symbolic key from Berwick to Whitby, shining a spotlight on housing issues in the region, and visiting some of the key projects bringing homes and related services to people desperately in need of affordable housing.
At the same time as the north east relay is working its way south, a specially commissioned double decker bus is also winding its way from Land’s End to London, visiting some of the south and south west’s most vital housing projects.
Homes for Britain is campaigning for the next government to come up with a long-term plan to tackle the housing crisis within a year of getting into office. It is being backed by thousands of people up and down the country who have joined forces with organisations from every corner of the housing world.
Across the UK, housing association staff, residents and members of the public are making their way to London for the biggest housing rally in a generation. They will unite to call on all political parties to take bold action and end the housing crisis within a generation.
Homes for Britain’s call comes at a time when housing demand vastly outstrip supply at both a national and local level.
The Home Truths report shows that over the next 20 years in the north east region alone, there will be 156,000 new families or households, all of whom will need homes, but at current building rates, 75,000 will have nowhere to live.
Meanwhile, some areas are in desperate need of regeneration and jobs, and having the right types of homes in the right places can play a vital role in sparking new life into these communities.
The Homes for Britain campaign needs people to add their voice – anyone wanting to get involved can write to their local politicians and share the message on social media using #HomesForBritain.
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 04 Mar 2015
More than a third of Hartlepool workers do not earn enough to live on, according to new research.
Figures from the TUC show 34.7 per cent of people in the town are paid less than the living wage – defined as the minimum hourly rate needed for workers to provide for themselves and their family.
And Hartlepool is the worst place in the region for the number of women earning less than the living wage, with 46.7 per cent of female workers taking home less than the minimum £7.85 an hour.
TUC analysis shows nationally one in five jobs nationwide pays under the living wage – leaving more than five million people on less than subsistence pay.
In the North East, the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland constituency tops the list of living wage blackspots, followed by Hartlepool, Berwick, Newcastle North and North West Durham.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright said:
“In-work poverty is getting worse and it is proof the economy might well work for millionaires at the top, but does nothing to help people on low pay.”
Mr Wright raised the issue of pay inequality in a Commons debate last week in his role as Shadow Minister for Industry, and referred to Hartlepool.
“Almost a quarter of North East workers and nearly half of all part-time staff are not being paid a living wage,” he told MPs.
“It is striking that the people most likely to be in poverty in Britain in the 21st Century are those in work. No-one can honestly suggest that the economy is working well or as productively as it could be when that is the case.
“This country will not achieve our vision of a highly-skilled, well-paid and innovative work force, ensuring that the benefits of economic growth are enjoyed by all in work, if we continue down the present path.
“The taxpayer is having to subsidise, through tax credits and other parts of the welfare state, the failure of many firms to pay a decent wage.”
Hartlepool Citizens’ Advice Bureau manager Joe Michna said the centre was dealing with the consequences of low wages.
“These figures come as no surprise,” he said.
“Certainly a large number of our clients, particularly those struggling with their daily needs, would be below what is defined as the living wage.
“We get a lot of people who are on the minimum wage and others who are just above it.”
Northern TUC Regional Secretary Beth Farhat said:
“These figures show that huge numbers of working people in the North East are struggling to bring home a wage they can live off.
“Extending the living wage is a vital step towards tackling the growing problem of in-work poverty in parts of the North East – and Britain as a whole.
“Working families have experienced the biggest squeeze on their living standards since Victorian times, and these living wage figures show that women are disproportionately affected.
“Pay has been squeezed at all levels below the boardroom, and the government’s mantra about ‘making work pay’ is completely out of touch with reality.
“The number of living wage employers is growing rapidly and unions are playing their part in encouraging more employers to sign up and pay it.
“But we need to see a far wider commitment to pay the living wage from government, employers and modern wages councils – to drive up productivity and set higher minimum rates in industries where employers can afford to pay their staff more.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 23 Feb 2015
> Another encouraging example of grassroots action…
A new group is providing a day centre in Berwick for people with mental health problems after a charity previously running the service pulled out.
Newly-formed peer support group Northern Spirit was set up after a day centre service run by Mental Health Matters was abruptly withdrawn from the town, leaving many people who suffer various forms of mental health issues without this much needed retreat.
Run by a handful of volunteers, the group provides a day centre each Wednesday (10am-4pm) at Wallace Green for those suffering from health problems like depression and anxiety issues.
Around 15-20 people attend per week, and any new members are welcome.
“Our aim is to provide a similar service to those individuals that have been left without this vital retreat from daily life,” explained group secretary Andrew Bird.
“We are currently open one day per week but we hope to be able to increase this to at least two days in the future.”
With just one week’s notice that Mental Health Matters was withdrawing from the town, a group of volunteers scrambled to ensure that vital provision would continue.
“My father attends the group on the basis that he has mental health issues, and he has taken the role of chairman and treasurer,” Andrew said.
“I know how he felt about it being disbanded. I know how much it was affecting him and I had met a couple of other members and saw how they were trying to deal with it.
“We set up the group to continue the day centre and to show sufferers that there are still people out there that do care.
“We did not have anybody with any experience other than the fact that we have dealt with mental health issues, but now we have a fully trained councillor on board. She has volunteered and will be available at the centre for people to talk to.”
Northern Spirit is now trying to source vital funding to ensure it can continue to help people from north Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.
“We are a non-profit organisation and rely solely on income from donations and fund raising,” Andrew said.
“As with all organisations like ours we unfortunately have overheads, such as rental of the premises which costs £1500 every six months, and at present we need to raise funds to continue the service past the six month we have already managed to secure the funds for.”
If anyone has any fundraising ideas that could help, or would like to know more about Northern Spirit, go to northernspiritberwick.weebly.com or facebook.com/northernspiritberwick
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 21 Feb 2015