A man who ended up in court after he and his wife took worthless discarded food from a supermarket yard has revealed his desperate plight.
Paul Barker was seen sifting through out-of-date groceries at the back of Tesco in Hetton-le-Hole, County Durham, when the couple were caught on CCTV at midnight on January 5, Sunderland magistrates heard.
But after a judge said he could impose no financial penalty on the 39-year-old for his actions, Barker described his existence as “not really living at all.”
Prosecutor Jeanette Smith said Barker and wife Kerry, 29, were seen in the rear compound of the Hetton Road Tesco Express store, removing a pallet of food.
However, Mrs Smith added that, although the items were to be thrown out, they were in a secure compound, adding that Tesco’s policy is not to give away discarded food.
Barker, of Caroline Street, Hetton admitted theft. He already has £300 in outstanding fines owing to the court.
Angus Westgarth, defending, said:
“At the time, they hadn’t had benefits or any money since December. It just seems that the state has failed them.
“They were told they would not get any benefits for a year from December. He is having to duck and dive to feed himself. Without a crystal ball I can see that this will continue to happen.
“He is trying to survive however he can. I think they call this way of living ‘freeganism’. They take waste food and consume it.
“They are managing to live as, I think, Social Services are paying some money for housing. Their children are living with grandparents because of the situation.”
District Judge Roger Elsey said:
“How are they expected to live?
“It seems to me the appropriate punishment for taking food which is of no value is an absolute discharge. I clearly can’t make any financial order.”
> Well done that judge !
Barker’s wife Kerry is due before magistrates this week, charged with the same offence.
Speaking at home after the case, Barker said:
“I do it because I need food, I’m not nicking for profit like most.
“You have to be careful with fish, but most out-of-date food you can eat, but things like bread might be slightly harder.
“They should give it to people who need it. But they don’t care, it’s just money making.
“It’s wrong, it’s horrible, it’s like not really living at all. It’s like being in jail. I’m banned from all the shops.”
Barker said he broke his back in a fall while working as a scaffolder and is out of work. He also used to work with young offenders after he got out of rehab, where he was treated for his addiction to crack and heroin, which he used for a third of his life.
He added that his wife has a degree in sociology, but was forced to give up her job at Durham County Council five years ago due to depression. The couple’s children, a four-year-old boy and two-year-old daughter are living with grandparents in Cumbria.
Tesco said that they do donate surplus food to people in need, through charity Fareshare and also redistribute food donated by their customers, to the Trussell Trust.
“Working with the charity FareShare, we have already distributed over three million meals worth of surplus food to people in need and we are working on ways to make sure more surplus food is donated in this way,” a spokesman said.
“It is not safe to take food from bins and that is why we work with charities to redistribute surplus food that is safe to eat to people who need it.”
Source – Sunderland Echo, 12 May 2015
Worried parents of premature children fighting for their lives are facing crippling financial costs running into thousands of pounds.
A special North East foodbank has now been set up to help some mums and dads who would otherwise go hungry just so they can afford to visit their poorly children in hospital.
Research has found that parents with a baby in neonatal care in the region spend on average £280 a week.
With the average stay being eight weeks, this results in a total of £2,240. But a significant number of babies will spend considerably longer, up to six months.
Now, a regional charity is funding a paediatric social worker to provide emotional support to parents, advise them on financial issues and helps access funding.
Tiny Lives, the charity which supports the work of the Special Care Baby Unit at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary is supporting Fiona Ewing in her role working with those struggling to cope.
On top of the daily parking, travel and food expenses, some dads have reported losing their jobs as they battle to juggle work with visits and having to rush to hospital at a moment’s notice when their baby’s condition takes a turn for the worse.
Many mums of premature babies also find themselves facing delays to benefit payments as their maternity leave was not due to start for many weeks, or even months. Some families are still paying off the debts months after their babies have returned home.
Carol Meredith, head of Tiny Lives, said:
“It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. Your baby is fighting for their life in hospital. You can’t hold them, you can’t even touch them. As a mum or dad all you’d want to do is be there by their incubator as it’s all that you can do.
“But on top of this many families are having to stop and consider how are they going to afford to pay for it. Babies come to the unit for specialist care from across the North East and Cumbria so many parents have long daily journeys or may have to stay in Newcastle. As well as the travel and parking, the daily cost of buying food can soon add up.”
“Just because your baby is in special care, time doesn’t stand still and there are still bills to pay.
“Families often need benefits advice as income levels can reduce significantly with early labour. Maternity Allowance may need to be applied for. This application requires six months of relevant wage slips – not too easy to get hold of if you live in Whitehaven, Cumbria and your baby is in critical care in Newcastle.
“Fathers may need help in negotiating time off from employment, or emotional support when this is not granted and when employment is threatened. I have experience of several fathers who have lost their jobs as a result of their babies SCBU admission.
“If a baby has longer term complex health needs there may be entitlement to Disability Living Allowance. This is a 42 page applicable pack, a bit daunting, so I help establish eligibility and complete these forms.
“Other practical assistance may be in helping with housing issues, especially if the child has very complex health needs or disability.
“We can help with parking and travel costs and the social workers at the hospital have set up our own food bank. When you are in the middle of a city centre there is no access to cheap supermarkets and the cost of food quickly adds up. We used to refer families to one of the city’s food banks but it is so busy now that we set up our own.
“I am also there to allow parents to let off steam. Special Care can be a scary, place,
“Having a premature baby brings with a range of emotions, from shock and disbelief to guilt and anger as well as having to face the possibility that your baby might not survive or will have long term health problems.”
This year Fiona’s role will be funded in partnership with Newcastle law firm Sintons, who launched their year of fundraising with an abseil from their offices.
• To find out more about Tiny Lives or to support their work visit http://www.tinylives.org.uk/
Kayleigh Emmerson’s son Connor was born at just 25 weeks on November 18 2014.
He weighed just 1lb 10oz and spent 101 days on SCBU, but is now a thriving little boy.
Kayleigh, 24, from Newcastle, said:
“We wanted to be there every day. It was the only way we could feel like parents, as there was nothing else we could do for him. It was awful when you had to leave him crying.
“But the car parks and bus fares added up. Then there was the food. When you’re in the city centre every day buying a sandwich or going to the hospital canteen gets very expensive.
“Our heads were all over the place and the first thing on your mind is just that you want to see your baby and you want them to get better, but then after a while you have to think do I actually have the money to go on the bus or buy food to eat?
“I was working as a sales assistant but wasn’t supposed to start my maternity leave until the end of January. We had a massive gap before my maternity pay could be sorted out because he was born so early. Fiona was always checking on us and making sure we’d had something to eat and that was the time the food bank really helped us.
“She really cares about people and she helped us with everything, from just being there to talk to helping us with forms and giving us advice.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 27 Apr 2015
The billionaire owner of Northumbrian Water is at the centre of a documentary being aired on North East screens on Monday (12 Jan) night.
The water company, owned by Hong Kong-based Li Ka-shing, one of the richest men in the world, has made more than £630m profit in the last two years, according to BBC investigations programme Inside Out.
But the firm pays on average less than 10% tax because of a legal tax loophole, the show will claim.
Northumbrian Water told the BBC that the company always acts transparently and within the letter and spirit of the law, adding that it is not in dispute with HM Revenue and Customs on its tax affairs.
But presenter Chris Jackson will tell viewers:
“Northumbrian Water sounds nice and local but when you pay the bill you may be surprised to learn the profits leach away to the other side of the world.”
Mr Li is the richest man in Asia, and 17th richest in the world, with an estimated wealth of £20bn.
He owns Superdrug and the Three mobile network, invests in Spotify and Facebook and has owned Northumbrian Water, which employs 1,600 staff, since 2011. He also runs a charitable foundation.
In terms of his North East assets he ranks alongside Mike Ashley and the Duke of Northumberland – except nobody here has ever heard of him, says Jackson who asks in the show:
“Of all the things he could have bought in the world, why did he buy a slice of the North East?”
Interviewee Professor David Hall of the University of Greenwich, will tell the documentary:
“The UK government provides a regulatory environment which most people think of as protecting the consumer, but its core objective is to ensure that the companies continue to make enough profits so that they want to carry on investing.”
In the last two years, Northumbrian Water has paid less than 10% tax on £630m profits, compared with the 20% standard corporation tax, because it has borrowed £1bn from Mr Li, Jackson will claim in the documentary.
The government has looked at closing the tax loophole – which is completely legal – but decided against it, prompting Labour MP John McDonnell to attack the situation in the House of Commons last year. He said:
“No wonder he’s the world’s ninth richest person. We’re making him the world’s ninth richest person. I think this is a scandal.”
> Earlier the article named him the 17th richest person. Perhaps he’s lost a bit since last year, poor dear. Down to his last few billion.
Mr McDonnell is calling for an independent public inquiry.
Nobody from the government would be interviewed for the programme, but a statement from the Treasury said recent analysis showed that changing the system used by Northumbrian Water would not save money and would undermine the competitiveness of the British economy.
Most utility companies in the UK now have owners dotted across the world, the programme will say.
> Well of course they are – subsequent governments – of all colours – since Thatcher have been obsessed with selling off the family silver to the highest bidder. A process that continues today with the NHS and DWP.
Barbara Leech, from the Consumer Council for Water which represents customers, will appear in the documentary describing how Northumbrian Water – which provides water supplies to the homes of 2.7m people in the North East – is top of the league in terms of satisfaction with services.
The full story can be seen on Inside Out (North East and Cumbria) on BBC1 at 7.30pm on Monday 12 Jan, in an episode which also features a Tyneside surgeon’s dream of building a hospital in India’s slums and a Teesside woman who helped shape modern Iraq. It will also be available on iplayer for 30 days.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Jan 2015
Crunch talks are taking place today in a bid to save hundreds of North jobs following the collapse of parcel delivery firm City Link.
Union officials from the RMT are meeting the company’s administrators Ernst and Young (EY) in the hope they can hammer out a deal to prevent nearly 3,000 job losses, including those at its branches at Belmont in County Durham, Wardley in Gateshead and Carlisle in Cumbria.
The move comes after City Link announced – on Christmas Day – that it is going into administration after years of “substantial losses.”
The union claims the company employes hundreds of people in the North East, although exactly how many is not yet known.
It has branded the move “truly devastating” for the region’s economy.
Officials are to meet in Leeds this afternoon to discuss the fate of the firm’s 2,727 staff, and union bosses have vowed to stay in talks for as long as it takes to salvage jobs.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said:
“RMT’s objective now is to do everything we can to rescue jobs in the wake of the shock collapse into administration of City Link on Christmas Day.
“Despite the festive season there can be no delays in getting on with the rescue programme and we expect the government through Vince Cable to take an active role right now.
“The thousands of workers caught in the middle of this crisis deserve full support from every quarter.”
The union has demanded “urgent talks” with business secretary Mr Cable and said it is disappointed the minister has only pledged to meet them in the new year.
Coventry-based City Link, which is understood to have counted John Lewis among its largest clients, expects numerous redundancies after no buyer could be found to bail it out.
The RMT said it believed there may have been “more cynical motives” behind the decision to “delay” the announcement until Christmas Day and demanded an investigation.
A spokesman for the union in the North said:
“Hundreds of jobs will be placed at risk in the North East and this will be truly devastating for the economy.”
City Link operations have been suspended at all its depots until Monday, when customers and those expecting deliveries will be able to collect their parcels.
Investment firm Better Capital, led by veteran venture capitalist Jon Moulton, bought the courier group for just £1 in April last year from the previous owner, pest control firm Rentokil.
A number of staff will be retained to help return parcels to customers and help with winding down the company, EY said.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 27 Dec 2014
Police have used controversial anti-terror powers to fight crime across the North.
Thousands of ‘RIPA’ undercover warrants – which grant the power to trawl through telephone records – were used by Durham, Northumbria, North Yorkshire, Cumbria and Cleveland police.
The warrants, issued under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), entitle public bodies to intercept communications in a bid to expose crime and have been used by North East councils and other public bodies as well as the police.
Figures released by the government show 22,154 RIPA warrants were issued to police forces in the North in 2013 – with Durham police leading the way with 6,218 warrants.
Northumbria Police was granted 6,211, North Yorkshire police made 4058 successful applications, Cleveland received 2957 and the Cumbria force was granted 2,710.
RIPA was introduced as a weapon against terrorism and economic crime but its use has been criticised – with some likening it to the encroachment of a police state.
It requires only that the request be approved by a police officer of Superintendent rank or above, giving forces the right to sign off their own warrants without having to go before a judge.
Civil rights group Liberty hit out after the figures were revealed, with legal director James Welch saying RiIPA was “massively overused”.
Councils routinely use RIPA warrants for issues involving rogue traders and underage sale of alcohol and tobacco as well as taxi cab regulation and checking out businesses employing minors.
Police forces use them for more in-depth issues including the investigation of drug and paedophile rings, human trafficking and other forms of serious crimes.
Ripa was used by Cleveland police to snare a drugs gang which was jailed in May for 177 years, collectively.
Detectives were able to seize drugs worth £824,686 and £127,966 cash.
Codenamed Operation Cobweb, it was Cleveland police’s biggest ever drugs bust.
RIPA warrants issued up to March 2013 allowed officers to snare the 22-strong gang, with Middlesbrough’s top judge Simon Bourne-Arton QC praising police for their use of RIPA legislation.
York City Council and Redcar and Cleveland Council led the way for local authorities in the North, using the powers with 80 and 69 warrants granted respectively.
Redcar and Cleveland is host to the anti-fraud organisation Scambusters which the council said contributes to its high numbers.
Newcastle City Council was absent from the list while Northumberland County Council had just three warrants issued.
In August last year in Northumberland, warrants were used to track down through social media accounts an illegal 16-year-old tattoo artist. She was banned and her equipment was seized.
Warrants were also used to bust a phone scam that conned 400 residents across the UK after a Redcar pensioner was tricked into buying unnecessary anti-virus software.
Operation Hognose was launched when the pensioner told council officials he had fallen victim to what is known globally as the ‘Microsoft scam.’
Scammer Mohammed Khalid Jamil, of Luton, Bedfordshire, was handed a suspended jail sentence and £5,000 fine during a March 29 hearing at York Crown Court, after Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council’s trading standards passed the case to the National Trading Standards e-Crime Centre.
The conman was ordered to pay £13,929 costs as well as £5,665 in compensation to 41 victims.
The council said it had not used RIPA warrants to tap phones.
The police forces said they used the powers “only when deemed necessary and in order to detect crime and keep people safe.”
James Welch, Legal Director of Liberty, hit criticised the figures and said the legislation is over used by forces across the UK.
“The police and other public bodies massively overuse their power to get information from our phone and internet service providers – over half a million times last year.
This overuse is hardly surprising when there’s no requirement for prior authorisation from a judge. You can work out a lot about a person from knowing who they phone or which internet sites they visit. People don’t realise how badly their privacy is compromised by this power.”
Home Secretary Theresa May has ordered a review into claims Ripa is being misused.
Police forces on RIPA powers
All of the police forces we contacted said they used RIPA powers only when necessary.
A spokeswoman for Northumbria police said they would be ‘unlikely’ to discuss their use of the measures.
“Our ultimate aim is the safety of the public and this is one of many ways we can gather information to help deal with those people causing most harm in our communities.
“It’s important for the public to have confidence that such methods are appropriate and proportionate.
“The public can be reassured applications for RIPA authority are made only when deemed necessary and in order to detect crime and keep people safe,” she said.
“RIPA authority is not entered into lightly and rigorous processes are in place leading to it being granted.
“They have to be absolutely satisfied that it is necessary to prevent and detect crime and that its level of intrusion is proportionate with the nature of the enquiry being carried out.
“Northumbria Police is inspected each year by the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office to ensure correct procedures and processes are being followed.
“The number of authorisations made is comparable with our neighbouring forces and is part of a package of tools available to officers.”
Temporary Superintendent Rob O’Connor, of Cumbria police, said:
“Cumbria Constabulary where necessary for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime, or preventing disorder, will use the power given to them by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) to obtain and disclose communications data and conduct surveillance. Police use of RIPA is subject to guidance and strict codes of practice.
“RIPA is a very useful investigative tool in order to prevent crime and disorder. The intelligence and evidence obtained enables us to make the correct decisions in terms of public safety and the prosecution of criminals. It has been used on many occasions to great effect to bring offenders to justice.
“Cumbria Constabulary’s use of RIPA is subject of oversight and regular inspections by the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office and the Office of Surveillance Commissioner.”
Chief Superintendent Rob Coulson, of Durham Police, said:
“The powers RIPA provides are massively important to policing in our force area. RIPA is only used when absolutely necessary, how and when we use it is strictly governed.
“RIPA enables us to investigate serious crime and has played a key role in apprehending organised criminals and other serious offenders who have been making life miserable for the residents of County Durham and Darlington. There are many examples of this in the last year alone.
“Whilst Durham is generally a safe place to live we have to accept that these criminals exist and the powers provided through RIPA is a vital tool in the fight against them. We will continue to use the powers RIPA provides to follow, monitor, disrupt and capture offenders such as drug dealers, prolific thieves and sexual predators on a regular basis.
“In doing this can I reassure you that as a force we scrutinise our use of these powers and as with all Forces we are annually inspected by the Office of the Surveillance Commissioners, an independent body.”
A spokeswoman for Cleveland police said the force used RIPA powers to monitor serious organised crime and said the use of RIPA in Operation Cobweb was acknowledged by a judge as an excellent example of usage.
North Yorkshire Police did not comment.
Source – Sunday Sun, 02 Nov 2014
It was refreshing to hear someone born outside of the region have a good word to say about Ashington.
And Matthew Engel had more than a good word in fact. He admires the people who live there and what they represent.
Engel, a writer for the Guardian newspaper for 25 years, some time editor of the ‘cricket bible’ Wisden and now a columnist for the Financial Times, visited the Northumberland town while researching his latest book.
Called Engel’s England, he spent three years re-visiting the old counties which disappeared off the map of Britain as a result of the Local Government Act.
Drawn up by Ted Heath’s Tory Government in 1972, it was implemented by Harold Wilson’s Labour on, appropriately I would guess in Engel’s mind, April 1 – April Fool’s Day – 1974.
“It was a shambles,” he said. “Politicians are interested in political boundaries, people are not. We don’t care about local government and local government gets worse and worse.
“It caused a huge loss of local identity but there are still things left, things to celebrate that really have an identity, places like Ashington.
“What a tremendous place. Of course it has its problems but it has a tremendous richness of associative life.”
Associative life means a clearly identified way of life, from recognisable pass-times like growing leeks and racing whippets, something that hasn’t been lost despite the decimation of the coal mines in the area, he said.
> Is that associative life or is it a cliche ? Most people, even in Ashington, probably never grew leeks or raced whippets.
And in any case, Ashington is still in Northumberland, same as it ever was. It never disappeared or changed name.
“It is a place with its own accent, it’s own traditions, which are very, very strong,” said Engel.
In the book he explained how counties were formed historically and how they developed along locally defined lines which threw up their own idiosyncrasies.
There were the counties palatine, including Durham, which were directly under the control of a local princeling.
Then there were counties corporate and boroughs that were regarded as self governing and fell under the control of the local Lord Lieutenant for military purposes. Yorkshire, readers may well remember, was divided into three ridings.
As a result counties developed their own laws, dialects, customs, farming methods and building styles.
“They formed the tapestry of the nation,” Engel says. “The very distinctions show just how important the county was in the lives of the people.
“Real places with real differences inspiring real loyalties.”
The Local Government Act of 1888 brought democracy to the shires by establishing county councils but, according to Engel, the integrity of the counties were respected.
Not so The Local Government Act of 1972 which binned centuries of local identity to see, for example, Teesside renamed as Cleveland and Tyneside becoming Tyne and Wear.
> Ahem – Tyneside and Wearside ! And in any case, I don’t think it was such a bad idea.
Cumberland – which had been around since the 12th century – became part of Cumbria, a name that Engel shudders with distaste at. “Always say Cumberland,” said Engel.
Yarm had formed part of the Stokesley Rural District in what was then the ‘North Riding’ of Yorkshire and remained so until 1974 – when it became part of the district of Stockton-on-Tees in the new non-metropolitan county of Cleveland.
Cleveland – like Tyne and Wear – was abolished in 1996 under the Banham Review, with Stockton-on-Tees becoming a unitary authority.
In May a poll inspired by the Yarm for Yorkshire group saw locals vote emphatically “Yes” to the idea of transferring Yarm from Stockton to Hambleton Council in North Yorkshire.
Last month Stockton Borough Council rejected calls to refer the matter to the boundary commission into it, but the debate rumbles on.
To add to the horror of Teessiders who pine for a return to Yorkshire was this bit of research from Engel after a talk with a dialect expert from Leeds University.
> Presumably that’s Teessiders on the south bank of the river. Those on the north bank were in County Durham.
“He told me Middlesbrough accents have actually changed in the years since 1974. In those 40 years the Middlesbrough accent has become more North East and less Yorkshire.”
Engel describes his work as a “travel book” – “I think I’m the first travel writer who went straight from Choral Evensong at Durham Cathedral to the dog track.”
He added: “The historic counties need to return to the map, the media and our envelopes, so future generations can understand where they live.
“Only then will the English regain their spirit the way the Scots have done. This is not about local government – it is about our heritage and our future.”
* Engel’s England, is published by Profile Books at £20 on October 23, 2014.
> Sounds like another “intellectual” telling people what they should be doing.
People know where they live, future generations will too. Names and boundaries have always changed and will continue to do so.
Matthew Engel, incidentally, was born in Northampton and lives in Herefordshire. If he actually had some connection with the North East I might take him a bit more seriously.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Chronicle, 19 Oct 2014
Nurses’ leaders say a Government attack on pay will cause “brain drain” from the NHS as 42% of student nurses in the region are consider working abroad.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said the ongoing attack on NHS pay is making most student nurses feel undervalued before they have even qualified, and risks forcing newly qualified nurses to look for fairer pay outside the NHS.
A survey of the RCN’s student members has found that the recent decision to deny NHS staff a pay increase of 1% has left the country’s future nurses feeling anxious about their finances.
Peta Clark, operational manager for the RCN Northern Region said:
“The results of the RCN’s survey – which is part of a wider national survey carried out between July and September this year, shows that nursing students are feeling disheartened and unvalued by the current Government’s outrageous and unfair policy on NHS pay.
“NHS Trusts across the region are struggling to recruit and retain nursing staff. And yet, because of the Government’s refusal to pay a cost of living increase for nurses and health care assistants, we now have the very real possibility of seeing many of our current student nurses leaving the country to work abroad, where pay, terms and conditions are superior.
“Forty two percent of the current crop of nursing students across the North East and Cumbria told us that they are actively considering pursuing a career in nursing abroad, because the current state of nursing pay is so woeful.”
Countries such as Canada and Australia are currently actively recruiting nurses from the UK, because they know that the quality and skills that NHS nurses have are second to none.
Figures obtained by the RCN shows that 82% of student nurses polled across the North East and Cumbria are angry about the Government’s decision on nurses pay and 75% said the Government’s decision on pay has made them feel undervalued and unappreciated.
On Monday frontline health workers in the North East will strike in support of their claim for fair pay. Nurses, health care assistants, paramedics, porters and medical records staff across the country will take part in industrial action to show their anger at the Government’s failure to honour a 1% pay rise.
After three years of pay freezes and pay restraint, Chancellor George Osborne had said a 1% pay rise across the board was “affordable” from April this year. However, the Government then controversially reneged on this promise.
While some nurses and health care assistants still get their incremental pay increase, which rewards experience and skills learnt after a length of service, many are not be entitled to the rise. The Government has insisted it cannot afford a general pay increase without putting frontline jobs at risk.
A Department of Health spokesperson said:
“NHS staff are our greatest asset and we know they are working extremely hard. This is why despite tough financial times, we’ve protected the NHS budget and now have 13,500 more clinical staff than in 2010.
“We want to protect these increases and cannot afford incremental pay increases – which disproportionately reward the highest earners – on top of a general pay rise without risking frontline NHS jobs. We remain keen to meet with the unions to discuss how we can work together to make the NHS pay system fairer and more affordable.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle – 08 Oct 2014
Hundreds of frontline firefighters have been axed across the North as part of “dangerous” cuts – with another round of job losses on the way.
An investigation shows how more than 300 full-time firefighter roles have been cut in the North in the last four years.
And with brigades admitting there are hundreds more jobs still to go thanks to cuts in Government funding, campaigners claim “a tragedy is waiting to happen”.
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service has been the biggest casualty, with the axe taking out 18.4% of staff, some 173 workers – 143 of them frontline firefighters.
Cleveland has lost 17.5% of its workforce – 110 workers including 100 full-time or ‘on-call’ firefighters, and one station has closed.
Some 56 frontline firefighters have been axed in Northumberland, but 12 ‘on-call’ roles have been created. Overall, the brigade is 49 people (11.4%) – and two stations – down.
Meanwhile, Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service has lost 49 whole-time firefighters but has hired more ‘on-call’ and back office staff. It means the authority is 24 bodies lighter (4.1%) than it was in 2010.
The North East as a whole has lost 333 frontline firefighters – with that figure likely to double over the coming years.
Meanwhile Cumbria lost 16.5% of staff, including 30 full-time firefighters, while North Yorkshire is down 5% of staff, and 27 frontline firefighters.
Peter Wilcox, regional secretary at the Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU), said cutbacks put both firefighters and the public “at greater risk” with fewer resources to respond to potentially life-threatening emergencies.
He said: “Firefighters witnessed a decade of 2-3% year-on-year reductions to fire service funding leading up to the coalition Government taking office in 2010.
“Since this time the level of cuts have been unprecedented, with frontline services being hit by losses of 20% on average and further cuts of 7.5% planned by central Government for 2015-16.
“In real terms, we have seen fewer fire engines available to respond to emergency incidents.
“This level of cuts is not sustainable and places the public and firefighters at greater risk from fires and other emergency incidents.
“Despite David Cameron’s pledge not to cut frontline services prior to his party’s election in 2010, this is one pledge too far and has not been honoured.
“Firefighters across the North are saying enough is enough. Members of the public anticipate receiving the right level of protection and expect the appropriate response in their hour of need.”
As well as fighting domestic fires, brigades here in the North cover large industrial areas where blazes can fast accelerate.
Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, said the cuts should be stopped before it’s too late. She said: “The massive cuts this Tory-led Government has inflicted on fire services are not only unacceptable, they are dangerous.
“With more cuts due, I genuinely believe that a tragedy is waiting to happen. This Government needs to think again and fund our fire services fairly.”
The figures are set to make even grimmer reading by 2018, with more drastic cuts planned – but local fire brigades reassured residents they will be protected.
Cleveland Fire Brigade said it needs to save a further £6m in the next four years, meaning 135 frontline firefighters will be replaced by 72 ‘on-call’ staff.
Chief fire officer Ian Hayton said: “Cleveland has been at the wrong end of the Government austerity cuts and tops the league table of authorities with the highest funding reduction at more than 13%. We believe these reductions are disproportionate.”
Six fire engines, 131 more staff and three stations will be lost as part of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service’s three-year plan of cuts.
The authority’s chief fire officer Tom Capeling, announcing the plan in January, said the move is expected to save £5m. He said: “There is no doubt that this continues to be a challenging time for the service.”
In Durham and Darlington, the brigade is looking to save £3.6m by 2018, but bosses said firefighters lost in the last round of cuts weren’t made redundant.
Chief executive Susan Johnson said: “The small reduction in the number of whole-time firefighters has been through natural wastage – planned retirements and leavers.”
Northumberland Fire and Rescue also said further savings may be needed in the next three years.
“However residents can be reassured that in the future we will continue to work with partners to provide high quality prevention and protection activity along with a well-equipped and highly trained workforce,” said assistant chief fire officer Steve Richards said.
Cuts over the last four years mean the North East has lost 13.8% of its workforce, higher than the national average of 11.2% and the third worst region in England.
Nationally, 5,124 firefighters have been lost, forcing an FBU Ring of Fire protest tour of England, including stop-offs at Redcar and Sunderland.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the union, said: “The cuts, in our view, mean the service firefighters are able to provide is not as good as it could be or as good as it was.
“It means, for example, people are waiting longer after they dial 999 for firefighters to arrive. The ability to do the job safely is being undermined and this puts lives at risk.”
Source – Sunday Sun, 28 Sept 2014
Diseases thought to have been confined to the history books are prevalent within the North East.
New figures published for the first time paint a picture of hospital admissions in the region for some diseases widespread in the 19th and early 20th Centuries.
Statistics from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show hospital admissions in the North East for gout were as high as 422 from May 2013 until April this year.
In the past, the illness has been dubbed “the disease of kings” as a number of monarchs are thought to have been affected, including Henry VIII, because of their ability to eat rich, fatty foods.
But those living in the poorest places are more likely to be affected now, with 13.5 out of every 100,000 people living in the most deprived areas of the country affected compared with eight out of every 100,000 in the richest places.
Dr Clive Kelly, consultant physician with an interest in rheumatology at Gateshead’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, said medics are dealing with an increasing number of gout patients in the region.
He said: “It does not surprise me that there is a high number of hospital admissions due to gout as there has generally been an increase in cases in the last decade because people are living longer and, therefore, have a higher chance of developing the condition.
“Although in the old days it used to be seen as a ‘disease for kings’ it is now probably more associated with poorer populations, such as the North East, as they tend to have a higher intake of fatty foods as opposed to wealthy people in the leafy suburbs down south.”
The HSCIC publication also focuses on TB, whooping cough, measles and malnutrition.
Durham, Darlington and Tees area group had the highest rate of measles diagnosis in the country at 2.3 per 100,000 population, more than double the rate of its neighbouring Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear area at just 0.8.
This year, there was a serious outbreak of measles in the North East, with most of the cases in unvaccinated schoolchildren and young adults.
Figures show 88 people were admitted to hospital in the North East for TB, while there were 42 admissions for measles and 41 for malnutrition.
Yet, nationally, the report reveals overall admissions where malnutrition was a primary diagnosis decreased from 683 in 2012-13 to 612 in 2013-14. However, during the same period there was an increase in overall admissions where malnutrition was a primary or secondary diagnosis, from 5,590 to 6,690.
Over five years there was a 71% increase in admissions where malnutrition was a primary or secondary diagnosis, from 3,900 admissions in 2009-10 to 6,690.
Kingsley Manning, chair of the HSCIC, said: “It is fascinating to look at current statistics for some of the diseases and conditions that were prevalent in the 1800s and early 1900s.”
Source – Newcastle evening Chronicle, 24 July 2014
The North East has more than 1,000 fewer police officers than it did five years ago after five consecutive year of job losses.
New figures show that Northumbria, Cleveland and Durham police forces all lost officers last year, and though there were small rises in the force numbers for Cumbria and North Yorkshire, the total number of officers in the region fell below 9,000 for the first time since records began in 2003.
By contrast, there were 10,142 policemen and women in the North in 2010 when the coalition Government came to power.
Among biggest losers in numbers this year was Cleveland Police, which contracted by 5.6% this year, one of the biggest reductions in the country and far more than the 1.3% reduction nationally. 81 officers left the force in the past year – more than three a fortnight.
Northumbria, the region’s largest force, lost 104 officers in the year, a 2.8% drop, while Durham lost 74 officers. Its 5.4% reduction was also one of the biggest in the country.
Police Federation general secretary Andy Fittes said: “The latest police workforce national statistics for England and Wales show that numbers of police workers are now at a 12-year low.
“Cuts to policing have put a strain on all aspects of the service and while officers have been doing an incredible job to bridge the gaps, cracks are beginning to show and they are telling us they are feeling the pressure.
“The nature of offending is starting to change but we have seen many of our specialist teams and units, who work to address these changes, cut or under threat.
“While officers throughout the country continue to work incredibly hard on a daily basis keeping society safe, it would be wrong to assume these cuts aren’t starting to have a noticeable effect.”
Nationally, nine of the 43 police forces in England and Wales increased their numbers between 2013 and 2014. Cumbria added 29 new members of staff while North Yorkshire added 38. The biggest increase was to the British Transport Police, which got 260 new members of staff.
Nobody was available at the local forces for comment.
Source – Sunday Sun, 20 July 2014