Community leaders have condemned controversial TV programme Benefits Street for openly shows drug dealing and substance abuse in Stockton.
The show, which was filmed in Kingston Road on the Tilery Estate follows on from the first series which made stars of some of the inhabitants of Birmingham‘s James Turner Street but was described by some critics as “poverty porn“.
Among the residents introduced in the first Stockton episode is Neil Maxwell who is shown bagging up cannabis, smoking the drug and taking pills before a court appearance.
The Northern Echo reported in March that Maxwell and his brother Robert were jailed for a double stabbing after one of them was accused of stealing money and tobacco from a neighbour. Both admitted unlawful wounding and Neil Maxwell was locked up for two years and three months.
The 36-year-old, who told the film crew he has taken “early retirement” from a life of crime after a string of convictions, said he claimed benefits because he suffers from memory loss.
In one scene, he is seen spending his benefits money to top up his tan at a local sunbed salon.
Kieran Smith, from Love Productions which makes the show, said they had followed “strict guidelines” about filming illegal activity.
“We filmed with Maxwell for quite a long period of time and he was very clear about the potential repercussions about his behaviour and what might happen to him.”
Mr Smith said the show was “not glorying in his behaviour” and was “quite an honest account of what his life is like.”
But Cllr Bob Cook, the leader of Stockton Borough Council, Labour, condemned the programme makers. He said:
“Why wasn’t this reported to the police? If there’s a crime the police should be told, that would responsible.”
> I suspect the police will know about it all by now ! I dont think they are dealing with a criminal mastermind here.
Cllr Cook accepted that there was poverty in Stockton but argued the programme was unlikely to give a fair portrayal of the town. He said:
“There is deprivation in Stockton but we also have some of the most affluent areas in the country and it is one of the best areas of the country to start a business.”
A shocking gap between the life expectancy of men and women in Stockton is being investigated by health chiefs.
It comes after a stark report last week revealed Stockton Borough now has the greatest inequality in male life expectancy in the country – and the gap has widened in recent years.
Though life expectancy is increasing as a whole, the gap between the most deprived and most affluent wards in the borough is increasing.
A man can now expect to live 16.4 years less in Stockton town centre – the most deprived ward in the borough – compared to a man in Eaglescliffe, among the most affluent areas.
But the gap for women is considerably less at 11 years.
Councillor Steve Nelson Stockton Council’s Cabinet member for housing and community safety, said:
“It’s not happening with women.
“Do we understand why men and women are so different?”
Peter Kelly, director of Public Health for Stockton and the author of the public health annual report for 2013/14, told a cabinet meeting that “it is very unusual there is such a gap”.
“With regard to women, we need to understand why the same hasn’t happened there – is it heart disease? Is it cancer?
“That’s a separate issue we are investigating.”
As reported, Mr Kelly’s health study revealed the life expectancy of men living in the poorest parts of Stockton has barely improved since the 1930s.
In stark contrast, life expectancy in areas like Eaglescliffe is as good as in the most affluent parts of the country.
Councillor Jim Beall, deputy leader of the council, said:
“We can dwell on that and say ‘shock, horror’, but on an average people are living longer in the borough.
“It is quite shocking information, it’s what we’re going to do about it that is the important question.
“We do something everywhere, but we do more where there’s more need.”
Council leader Councillor Bob Cook said:
“We have got a diverse borough – the worst wards are in the top 10% nationally, the affluent wards at the other end.
“It does show we have done quite a lot of work to bridge that gap, but quite a bit of work is needed to make sure deprived wards catch up.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 16 Feb 2015
An impassioned debate over claims that strict sanctions on benefits claimants are causing severe poverty ended with Stockton Borough Council passing a motion criticising Government policy.
The motion called for a review of the Department for Work and Pensions‘ (DWP) sanctions where benefits claimants, including those on Job Seekers Allowance, who miss an appointment or is late can be left without any money at all for five to six weeks.
Several councillors speaking at the authority’s full council meeting said they had examples of where the policy was being used “unfairly” while deputy leader Jim Beall branded it as a “deliberate, cynical measure” to alter the unemployment statistics.
However Conservative councillor Andrew Stephenson argued against the motion saying the sanctions helped people back to work.
The motion concluded:
“The Council resolves to write to our MPs requesting that they raise this deplorable situation with the responsible Minister urging an immediate review of national policy and guidance on sanctioning.”
Council leader Bob Cook told of a case where a young man got a letter informing him of a morning appointment but didn’t receive it until the afternoon and lost his benefit.
Meanwhile Cllr Norma Stephenson said she knew of 19 families on the Hardwick estate who had been sanctioned while Cllr Barry Woodhouse cited the case of a Billingham resident who lost her disability benefit for having zero points, only for a review to say she had 33 points.
Cllr Eileen Johnson said she had a friend working for the DWP who told her staff had been in tears “because they can’t bear what they are doing.”
> But they carry on doing it nevertheless…
Cllr Norma Wilburn said she had heard a national story on the radio about an amputee who had lost his benefit because he couldn’t answer the phone. She said: “This seems like a coordinated attack on the vulnerable. This is evil.”
Cllr Mark Chatburn, Ukip, said the policy was “deliberate” and “the epitome of nasty.“
> This from the representive of a party who’s members have called for the unemployed to be denied the vote and banned from owning cars.
The motion was passed and Stockton’s two MPs, Alex Cunningham, Labour, and James Wharton, Conservative, will be contacted by the council.
Source – Northern Echo, 22 Jan 2015
Plans to put a more positive spin on a North-East town ahead of the airing of the next series of Channel 4’s Benefits Street are underway.
TV company Love Productions chose Kingston Street in Stockton to film its second series of the popular Channel 4 fly-on-the-wall show, dubbed by some as “poverty porn“.
The next series is expected to air in March and Stockton Borough Council says it is expecting a less-than-flattering portrayal of the town.
Now businesses are throwing their weight behind a campaign to shine a positive light on Stockton.
The Positively Stockton-on-Tees campaign has a website – http://www.positivelystocktonontees.co.uk – and social media accounts have been set up for people to share photographs, videos and stories about the area.
Now, thanks to donations from local businesses, the best submissions will be rewarded in a monthly prize giveaway, the first of which is afternoon tea for four at Wynyard Hall.
Council leader Bob Cook said:
“We came up with this campaign to create a space where people can share their views on what they love about Stockton-on-Tees and we’ve been delighted with the response so far.
Mike McGrother, Wildcats of Kilkenny frontman, said:
“What has been lovely about the response so far is the overwhelming reaction from across the borough – and beyond.
“We may not have the revenues and reach of Love Productions – but what we will do in response is a much ‘lovelier’ production all round.”
To find out more about the Positively Stockton-on-Tees campaign, and how to get involved, visit:
or follow the campaign on Twitter @positivelySOT
Source – Northern Echo, 19 Jan 2015
A major new campaign has been launched to hit back against any negative portrayal of Stockton from the controversial show Benefits Street.
The Positively Stockton-on-Tees campaign is a light-hearted response to what is expected to be a less than flattering portrayal of the borough when the Channel 4 series airs next year.
And people across the borough and beyond are being encouraged to show their love for Stockton by sharing photographs, videos and stories.
A new website – http://www.positivelystocktonontees.co.uk – and social media accounts have been set up to kick-start the campaign.
The decision to film the second series of Benefits Street in Stockton caused widespread outrage, with some accusing Channel 4 of using “poverty tourism” to chase ratings.
The first series made stars of some of its cast but was described by critics as “poverty porn”.
After the story broke , Middlesbrough FC fans at the Riverside Stadium unveiled a banner reading “Being poor is not entertainment”.
But despite the fierce local and national criticism of the show, Channel 4 chief executive Ralph Lee said the broadcaster’s output would not be “censored”.
He defended the channel’s right “to tell the stories of some of the distressed parts of our society”.
Leader of Stockton Council, Councillor Bob Cook said:
“We did everything in our power to persuade the producers of Benefits Street to turn their attentions elsewhere. Sadly, you can’t win them all.
“What became clear, though, was that lots of people agreed with us that this is not a good thing for the borough.
“So, we’ve decided to focus our energies on turning a negative into a positive. We’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to respond to a series like Benefits Street is to celebrate, with good humour and quiet confidence, all that is great about our fine borough.”
The campaign will give people the opportunity to share their views on what they love about Stockton.
The council will support the campaign, but now want to “hand it over the public”, said Cllr Cook.
“This is a borough-wide campaign for the whole of Stockton-on-Tees. We’re delighted that our local media – The Gazette, Northern Echo and BBC Tees – are in agreement with us and have agreed to unite in their support of us.
“Whether you’re from Stockton, Billingham, Yarm, Eaglescliffe, Thornaby, Norton or Ingleby Barwick, we’d love you to get involved.”
Benefits Street is expected to be aired in March 2015 and the Positively Stockton campaign – also known as “Psst…” – features a major event that same month.
Billed as The Loudest Whisper, the event on Friday, March 13, will see a whispered message passed around the borough – starting and ending in Kingston Road – where the series is being filmed.
The message will be passed from person to person using human chains as well as all kinds of transport, from horses and rowing boats to buses and bikes.
The event, which will also raise money for Comic Relief, is being organised by Wildcats of Kilkenny frontman and proud Stocktonian Mike McGrother.
“There has been an assumption from the producers of Benefits Street that we’re a community that needs to be given a voice,” he said.
“To present this as ‘factual’ television designed to engineer some kind of social benefit is a bit arrogant I think.
“There’s an abundance of community pride in Stockton – it’s just not our style to go shouting it from the rooftops. But if we’re faced with a series that seeks to paint us in an unfair light on national television, we shouldn’t take that lying down.
“Through the Loudest Whisper event and the Positively Stockton campaign, we can dispel the myths that will inevitably be trotted out using the sense of humour, community spirit and understated manner people in our borough are renowned for.
“And it’s all for Comic Relief. Our voices, though quiet, will be heard!”
The new campaign also has the support of Stockton’s MPs.
Alex Cunningham, Labour, in whose Stockton North constituency Benefits Street is being filmed, said:
“There is much for us to be positive about our borough from the talent and resilience of our people to the powerhouse of the local council and other organisations doing their best in difficult circumstances to create jobs, improve our town centres and make life better for us all.
“It is tremendous that our community is reacting in such a positive way.
“Doubtless Channel 4 will claim our campaign would never have happened but for their unwelcome intrusion into our community, but they will be wrong again – there have been many positive initiatives over the years promoting our success, which is perhaps why the borough is seeing its population grow and why it was voted one of the best places in the country to do business.”
James Wharton, Conservative MP for Stockton South, said:
“If you look around you in Stockton you see things getting better – more jobs, more investment, a town and community proud of its past and looking to its future.
“We need to talk up what makes us great and this campaign is a brilliant addition to that. Benefits Street will show what they want, we will show the truth and talk up Teesside.”
To find out more about the Positively Stockton-on-Tees campaign, and how to get involved, visit: www.positivelystocktonontees.co.uk
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 28 Nov 2014
Plans to save more than £40,000 a year of tax-payers money by changing the way a Tees council operates have been agreed in principle.
Stockton Borough Council announced it would make £40,000 savings by restructuring its cabinet and scrutiny committee arrangements.
The council has a target of saving £130,000 a year in efficiencies, a total of 15 per cent, and has previously frozen councillors’ £9,300 annual allowance for two years, saving more than £10,000.
The decision to reduce the number of cabinet portfolio holders from nine to seven and scrutiny committees from seven to five was taken by the cabinet on Thursday but the plans will not be finalised until next year.
Cutting the cabinet posts will save £24,100 a year and cutting the scrutiny committees will save £20,100 a year.
Council leader Councillor Bob Cook, said:
“Councillors work extremely hard for their communities but, at a time when we are examining all budgets across the council to make savings it is right for us to look at the money which is being spent on special responsibility allowances.”
Under the new arrangements the portfolios of corporate management and finance and housing and community safety could be removed and merged with existing portfolios.
• The leader taking on responsibility for corporate management & finance
• The cabinet member for access & communities also having responsibility for community safety
• The cabinet member for the environment also having responsibility for the housing portfolio
If approved by full council, the changes to the scrutiny committee system would see the housing and community safety, arts, leisure and culture, corporate & social inclusion, environment and regeneration and transport committees deleted and replaced with people and place committees.
Source – Northern Echo, 10 Oct 2014
Campaigners are calling for four councils to “get around a table” and discuss moving Yarm into Yorkshire.
It comes after voters in the market town gave an emphatic “Yes” to the idea of transferring Yarm from Stockton to Hambleton Council.
More than 89% of voters who took part in a poll on Tuesday over the future of Yarm’s local administration said they would prefer the town to be under Hambleton’s control.
Only around 11% favoured staying under Stockton Council.
The Yarm 4 Yorkshire campaign claim Stockton Council has ignored people over issues such as parking and housing.
Stockton Council said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the results of the poll until Yarm Town Council had an opportunity “to fully consider the results” or the Boundary Commission asked it “to look into the matter further”.
But one of the organisers of the poll, Chris Johnson, said it was time for the four councils who would be involved in any transfer – Stockton, Yarm, North Yorkshire and Hambleton – to get together “and work out what, if any process, would be done”.
One of the campaigners admitted today they did not even know if Yarm would be better off in Hambleton.
But Mr Johnson explained: “The way forward now would be for the four councils to sit down around the table. Those details would then come out. This is just the first step on the way.”
He said they had also contacted the Local Government Boundary Commission for England in the hope that the “resounding result” would indicate to them “a failing of democracy”.
The result is not legally binding as Government consent would be needed for the town to be transferred to North Yorkshire
Critics say the proposal is unlikely to be introduced.
The turnout for the poll, which was funded by Yarm Town Council and organised by officials from Stockton Council was 25%.
The chair of Yarm Town Council, Peter Monck, branded the poll “a waste of time”, saying: “You can’t claim a victory when 75% didn’t vote. At £4,000 it’s not a good use of council money at all.
“If Stockton Council say they aren’t going to do anything, that’s it – it won’t go any further.
“Even if Stockton Council were to agree to it, it’s a long drawn out process, Hambleton would have to agree and then it would go to the Boundary Commission.”
Labour Leader of Stockton Council, Councillor Bob Cook, said: “For our part, we would reiterate that Stockton Borough Council delivers a huge range of very high quality services from which all of our residents can benefit, no matter where they live.
“Residents’ surveys consistently reveal these services enjoy very high satisfaction levels which show the majority of residents value and appreciate the council’s contribution.
“Of course, like all councils there are times when we have to make difficult decisions and we absolutely understand that people have strong views on issues such as parking and on planning applications for new houses.
“These issues would have to be addressed by whichever local authority had responsibility for Yarm.”
Yarm borough councillor Andrew Sherris, Conservative, said: “We need an open and honest debate with all the information presented on a level playing field without any of the political interference experienced recently with hundreds of letters being sent out to residents.
“The level and quality of service delivery is paramount, particularly for the elderly and more vulnerable members of our Community.”
UKIP councillor Mark Chatburn added: “Critics of this will point to the fact that four out of five residents in Yarm either voted ‘no’ or didn’t even bother to vote. Put in those terms it sounds less convincing than the polling results would suggest.”
James Wharton, MP for Stockton South, said of the result: “People are clearly fed up with Stockton Council riding roughshod over Yarm. This result should act as a wake up call and our Labour run council needs to listen or they will lose ever more support.”
Louise Baldock Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Stockton South, said the result “came as no surprise”, but added: “I am concerned that people as yet know nothing about what a move into a different council authority would mean for the delivery of vital services.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 28 May 2014
Stockton councillors have been accused of “lining their own pockets” after voting not to cut special allowances that would have saved the authority around £26,000 a year.
But the Labour leader of the authority Councillor Bob Cook defended the decision to keep the £3,350 allowance paid to committee vice-chairs – saying they had an important role within the council.
An independent panel which looks into councillors’ allowances had proposed, among other recommendations, the scrapping of the vice chair’s allowance.
The special responsibility allowance (SRA) of £3,350 is paid to vice chairs on top of the basic councillor’s allowance of £9,300.
But at this week’s full council meeting Cllr Cook put forward a motion with the Labour group to keep the vice chair allowance.
A Conservative move to defer a decision to give time for councillors to discuss the motion properly was defeated by a combined vote of Labour and Ingleby Barwick Independents.
UKIP, Lib Dem and Billingham Independent councillors proposed the scrapping of the vice chair SRA, but that was also defeated.
Maureen Rigg, Lib Dem councillor for Eaglescliffe, said: “The excuse given by one Labour speaker after another was that we needed to get on with the job of saving money.
“Not one of them could explain how paying a group of people over £26k per year saved money.”
James Wharton, the Conservative MP for Stockton South, accused the ruling Labour group of “lining their own pockets” at a time when the council has had to reduce its expenditure significantly, leading to redundancies and cuts in services.
“The ruling Labour group in Stockton Council is running a £7.5m surplus, is increasing residents’ council tax yet again and complains about having to make difficult decisions cutting back services,” he said.
“Most residents will be absolutely disgusted to hear this decision.”
But Cllr Bob Cook defended the motion, saying if you were going to have vice chairs then they should get extra responsibility payment.
“Along with the chair of a committee they work as a team,” he said.
“If the chair can’t be at the meeting you have the vice-chair to cover.”
He said councillors took another step towards achieving the authority’s pledge to reduce members’ allowances by 15% by April 2015 at the meeting, agreeing to freeze the basic allowance and reduce all SRAs from 2015/16.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette 02 May 2014
Two North-East towns have the highest youth unemployment in the country, a report claims.
Middlesbrough and Stockton were ranked top of a youth unemployment table prepared by The Work Foundation.
The Lancaster University-based organisation’s report, The Geography Of Youth Unemployment – A Route Map For Change, claims that unemployment rates for 16 to 24-year-olds in the two towns is more than 25 per cent.
In contrast, York was found to have the second lowest youth unemployment in the country at less than 13 per cent.
The study recommends that town and cities reduce their rates by ensuring that local services work together more effectively.
The paper argues that without effective, targeted action from national and local government, businesses, and educators, a generation of young people in these cities will face a bleak future in the labour market.
Commenting on the paper, Lizzie Crowley, head of youth unemployment programmes at The Work Foundation, said: “Urgent action is needed to ensure young people get the right support to either continue in school, further training or with getting a job.”
Commenting on the report, Stockton Council leader Councillor Bob Cook said it was a “nonsense that the youth unemployment rate in Stockton was the highest in the country”.
“That said, we know that the current economic climate has made it tough for young people to get a foothold on the career ladder.
“We are determined to help which is why our children and young people select committee is in the final stages of an in depth scrutiny review looking at how education and business can work together to make sure that learning provision matches local industry need.”
Source – Northern Echo 08 April 2014