Three Darlington councillors are aiming to freshen up the tired ward surgery format by holding it in a music venue.
Cyndi Hughes and Malcolm Wright, Labour councillors for Park East on Darlington Borough Council, will hold a surgery in the Forum Music Centre, in Borough Road, on Wednesday, from 6pm to 7pm.
The pair previously played together in a band.
Long-serving Cllrs Hughes and Wright will be joined by new councillor Michael Nicholson, who was elected in May.
Cllr Hughes – who is offering to take her guitar along on Wednesday and hold an impromptu jamming session – said the aim was to move away from the image of councillors holding dull surgeries in dusty community centres.
“Of course, if someone wants to discuss a private issue, then we will deal with that in a respectful way.
“But I hope the surgery on Wednesday will be the opportunity to have a bit of fun.
“Most people email me with any issues, but there is still a traditional group of people who think councillors are just available at their surgery times.
“It’s not as if we are a different breed of human.”
Source – Northern Echo, 29 May 2015
A parliamentary candidate has been missed off some ballot papers in Darlington – but voters have been urged to keep voting.
The Ukip candidate David Hodgson has been missed off ballot papers delivered to the Whessoe polling district.
The council says 89 people who have voted so far are affected. The correct ballot papers have now been issued.
Ada Burns, Darlington Council chief executive, said:
“We have taken advice from the Electoral Commission and are confident that the election can go ahead as normal.
“The turnout so far has been excellent and the message is to keep voting.”
Ukip candidate David Hodgson, a lecturer, said:
“I learnt it myself ten minutes ago that my name has been missed off the papers – I don’t know if it’s across all of the wards because the info I got is very short at the moment.
“It’s shocking – absolutely terrible and inexcusable. I understand the Ukip office has been informed and will be lodging a protest.
“I don’t know what happenened but surely some law has been breached. I’ve not got a clue what happens now but I’m guessing the only way to resolve it is for it to be re-run.
“I’m working at the moment and it’s knocked me sick but I cant walk out on my class.”
Labour candidate Jenny Chapman said he had been briefed about the problem.
“I’m furious and I understand completely how Mr Hodgson feels,” she added.
Darlington Borough Council leader Bill Dixon said he was unaware of any problems.
He said the postal votes went out several weeks ago without any issues, and these ballot papers were printed at the same time as those for people voting in person.
A spokeswoman for Darlington Borough Council said voting in the general and local elections was continuing as normal but that the name of one candidate, David Hodgson (UKIP) had been missed off ballot papers issued to one polling station in the borough.
“Approximately 89 ballot papers (0.1% of the total number of ballot papers printed) had been issued, but as soon as the issue was identified, corrected ballot papers were issued to the polling station concerned,” she said.
Due to doubts that all 89 would be contactable the council has chosen the second option. If the 89 votes are critical to the result at the end of the polling a petition challenging the outcome could be mounted and considered by a court of law.
Source – Northern Echo, 07 May 2015
Councils have defended their use of bailiffs after a charity said “heavy handed” debt collection practices were leaving families – and more specifically children – in fear.
The Children’s Society said North-East local authorities had engaged bailiffs an estimated 51,800 times last year to recover council tax debts.
Meanwhile, Durham County Council said it had referred 22,306 council tax warrants to bailiffs, although this was over the last three years rather than a 12 month period.
Bailiffs, typically employed by private companies, have the power to enforce non-payment of debts by seizing property from homeowners.
The Children’s Society said in just 14 days families could go from missing a council tax payment to facing court proceedings and action from bailiffs.
It described incidents in which children had answered the phone to a debt collector or been present when they had called in person, leaving them frightened and unable to sleep as a result.
One mother, who was among 4,500 parents surveyed for the charity’s research, said: “My children knew mummy was stressed and there were strange people at the door wanting things.
“Most of the furniture got taken at that point.”
It said three quarters of parents in this position had not been given help to find independent advice and local authorities were “rushing to penalise struggling families by demanding sudden, unrealistic” payments.
Matthew Reed, the charity’s chief executive, said:
“Far too many families are failed by their council when they fall behind with their council tax.”
Ian Fergusson, Durham County Council’s revenue and benefits manager, said:
“The use of bailiffs is always a last resort and the bailiffs that we use are highly trained to be respectful of council tax payers and their families at all times.
“We would encourage anyone who is experiencing financial difficulties to contact us to discuss the issues they are facing.”
“In every case the council will always try to come to an arrangement first.
“Our enforcement agents have a strict code of conduct that does not allow any of their staff to discuss a debt with a child.”
Source – Northern Echo, 26 Mar 2015
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) has announced its candidate to to fight the Darlington parliamentary seat in the General Election will be Alan Docherty.
Mr Docherty, a trade union member and environmental activist, who has lived and worked in Darlington for more than 40 years on the railways and at Darlington Borough Council, said he knows the town and the issues it is facing well.
He is the former branch secretary of the Darlington local government branch of Unison, is the co-ordinator of Darlington Trades Union Council’s Darlington Against Cuts group and secretary of the Teesside Socialist Party.
Mr Docherty regularly campaigns in the town and across Teesside for trade union, anti cuts and environmental groups.
The TUSC’s policies include bringing the railways, buses, utilities and the postal service back into public ownership; no cuts to public services; investment in green energy; nationalising the banks and stopping tax avoidance.
Mr Docherty said:
“We consider that the Labour Party no longer represents the interest of ordinary people.
“It is publicly committed to economic policies, similar to those of the Lib Dems, Conservatives and UKIP, that will continue to reduce people’s living standards and cut public services.
“It is our aim to reverse the false message that austerity and cuts are the only way to rebuild the economy. We can and will change the face of politics in Britain too’.
The TUSC was co-founded in 2010 by the late Bob Crow, former Rail and Maritime Trade Union (RMT) leader, to enable trade unionists, community campaigners and socialists to stand anti-austerity candidates against the pro-austerity establishment parties.
A private landlord who left a mother and her three young children, including a newborn baby, without central heating for almost six months over winter has been fined £1,000.
A court hearing was told that the property on Streatlam Road, in Darlington, was in such a poor state it put the health of the tenant and her children – aged eight, six and two months – at risk.
Darlington Borough Council private sector housing officials who visited the property in March last year following a complaint from the tenant, who had been unable to get the landlord to carry out repairs, found the central heating had been broken since October 2013, faulty light switches throughout the property, draughty windows and broken stair rails.
The landlord, Derbyshire-based Kieron Munnelly, pleaded guilty by post to a charge of failing to comply with a statutory notice issued by the council to make repairs to the property at a hearing at Darlington Magistrates Court this week.
The court heard that the council officers gave Munnelly “every opportunity” to make repairs to his property before issuing a statutory notice against him, but he failed to comply.
Magistrates fined Munnelly £1,000 for the breach and ordered him to pay £500 costs.
David Burrell, private sector housing manager for Darlington Borough Council, said: “Action was taken against a landlord who left his tenants over winter without adequate heating. The private sector housing team works hard to protect tenants and ensure that they are able to live in a safe and warm home.”
Councillor Chris McEwan, the council’s cabinet member for economy and regeneration, said:
“It is shocking to hear that the health and wellbeing of a young family has been put at risk.
“The council has a duty to act where landlords have failed to provide safe living conditions for their tenants. While we always try to work with landlords and help them, action will be taken where they fail to adhere to legal requirements”.
Source – Northern Echo, 28 Jan 2015
The Green Party has announced its candidate for Darlington in the forthcoming General Election will be Michael Cherrington.
Following the increased profile of the Green Party nationally, a Green Party group for Darlington has officially been formed, with the intention of fielding a candidate in each ward for elections to Darlington Borough Council, as well as contesting the Darlington constituency.
The Darlington Green Party group is looking for people to help them campaign in the town or who are willing to stand for council.
Mr Cherrington, who lives in the town and works in social care, said he had seen the negative impact of cuts to health and social care on people living in Darlington.
He added: “I have served vulnerable people in communities for the past twenty years and have and will continue to ensure that inequality levels are challenged so all Darlington residents have good opportunities and benefit from a better quality of life.
“People must be at the centre of all activity – I will ensure I listen to your concerns and needs.”
The Darlington Green Party group launched its campaign with a stall on High Row on Saturday and is campaigning on the grounds of social justice and long-term economic and environmental sustainability.
To contact the Green Part in Darlington email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01325-242498. The group can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.
The General Election will take place on May 7.
The parliamentary candidate for Labour is sitting MP Jenny Chapman, the Conservative Party candidate is Peter Cuthbertson and the candidate for UKIP is David Hodgson.
No other parties have declared their prospective parliamentary candidate for Darlington.
Source – Northern Echo, 27 Jan 2015
A council has defended its position after being criticised for employing almost 400 people on controversial zero-hour contracts.
Figures revealed following a request under the Freedom of Information Act show that Darlington Borough Council has 393 people on zero-hour contracts.
Zero-hour, or casual, contracts allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of work and often without sick pay or pension benefits.
Labour has pledged to crackdown on their use and improve rights for workers.
Elizabeth Davison, assistant director for finance and human resources at Darlington Borough Council, defended the authority’s use of the contracts.
“We use casual workers as an additional resource to our permanent staff to cover sickness or holidays or to cope with particularly busy periods.
“If any casual work becomes regular, an individual is paid the benefits that are associated with the role.”
Source – Northern Echo, 12 Dec 2014
A Conservative peer sparked anger yesterday when she suggested the poor were going hungry because they “don’t know how to cook”.
Baroness Jenkin of Kennington was forced to apologise for the comment, made at the launch of a landmark study into the explosion in food bank use.
The gaffe came as the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) – criticised for benefit delays and harsh sanctions – appeared to snub the launch of the report, by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
And Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith came under fire for denying he had refused to meet the Trussell Trust, which runs most food banks, when it insisted he had.
At the Westminster event, Lady Jenkin, who served on the inquiry team, blamed hunger on, in part, a lack of knowledge about how to create cheap and nourishing meals.
“We have lost our cooking skills – poor people don’t know how to cook. I had a large bowl of porridge today, which cost 4p. A large bowl of sugary cereals will cost you 25p.”
Her comments immediately drew stinging criticism from across the region.
Councillor Peter Brookes, who helps run food banks in the Trimdon area of County Durham, said:
“It shows she hasn’t got a full understanding of the difficulties people who use food banks face. They don’t have the same choices as people like the Baroness to go out and buy fresh fruit and vegetables.”
Scheme coordinator, Margaret Brice said many food bank users are unable to cook due to the issues they face, adding: “These are people in a crisis.”
A spokesman for the Middlesbrough Trussell Trust Foodbank said:
“When people do not have any money it does not matter if they have 25p or 4p. They have no money.
“People at the point of crisis are not there because they do not know how to cook. If you have not got anything in the cupboard you cannot cook it.”
Later, Baroness Jenkin apologised, saying:
“I made a mistake. Obviously I was stupidly speaking unscripted.
“What I meant was, as a society, we have lost our ability to cook, or that no longer seems to be handed down in the way that it was in previously in previous generations.”
The row almost overshadowed a plea by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for £100,000 of Government cash to kick-start a new organisation to eliminate hunger in the UK by 2020.
The DWP had been asked to attend and respond on the report’s recommendations, but – unlike the major supermarkets and utility regulators – failed to do so.
A junior minister from another department went instead, while No.10 ruled out changes to the sudden removal of benefits from “sanctioned” claimants – sending them to food banks, critics say.
In the Commons, Mr Duncan Smith said:
“I do take this report seriously. We have met the Trussell Trust—I have never refused to meet it.”
But Alison Inglis-Jones, a trustee of the Trussell Trust, said the organisation felt “vindicated”, adding: “Iain Duncan Smith has refused to talk to us for 18 months.
“We simply get irate letters back accusing us of scaremongering, saying this situation isn’t happening.”
Source – Northern Echo, 08 Dec 2014
The Darlington Liberation Army (DLA) has launched a petition demanding the immediate resignation of a council leader and his cabinet.
The group is calling for a vote of no confidence in council leader Bill Dixon and his fellow councillors, claiming Darlington Borough Council is turning the town centre into a “ghost town”.
The DLA was established earlier this year in the wake of conflict between town centre traders and Darlington Borough Council over car parking policies.
It aims to act as a channel for frustrated residents and traders to voice their opinions on the council and its policies.
The group counts among its supporters local florist Rob Metcalfe, who has a copy of the petition available to sign at his shop, Claire Metcalfe Florists, on Bondgate.
Accusing Darlington Borough Council of “serious failings” it says:
“We would like to declare a vote of no confidence in William Dixon and all of the other Cabinet members.
“We ask that as a result of their serious failings they all resign from their positions as council leader and cabinet members respectively, with immediate effect.
“By signing this petition we express that we no longer have any confidence in the leader and the cabinet and request that they stand down now.”
“Their decision making appears to be professionally skewed and has ulterior motive/s and as such they are turning the town centre into a ghost town not only for shoppers but retailers…”
According to Darlington Borough Council’s website, any petition containing more than 1,000 signatures will be debated by the cabinet at the next possible meeting.
The petition organiser will be given five minutes to present it at the meeting and the petition will then be discussed by members of the cabinet who will decide how to respond to issues raised.
He added: “I will make sure that happens.”
Asked if he was considering his position in the light of the petition he replied: “Definitely not. That’s a matter for the electorate.“
Source – Northern Echo, 05 Nov 2014
Concerns have been raised for the future of local democracy in Darlington villages, with the borough council no longer paying for parish elections.
Members of Middleton St George and Sadberge parish councils, which both held meetings this week, raised the possibility of people being encouraged not to stand for council to ensure that an election was not held to save money.
Councillors estimate a parish with the size of Middleton St George would generate election costs of £3,500.
The cost of by-elections to parish councils are already established– a by-election in Hurworth last year cost £3,000.
Councillor Brian Jones, ward member for Sadberge, who is chairman of Darlington Association of Parish Councils (DAPC), gave a report to both Sadberge and Middleton St George Parish Councils.
He said: “There are not many other local authorities paying for parish elections so the borough council are saying ‘why should we do it?’
“It’s about cutbacks from the council again.
“The ideal situation would be not to have an election, to just have ten people stand for council, but that’s not democratic.”
Councillor Steve York, ward member for Middleton St George, said:
“You would think it would be in the borough council’s interest to support the parish councils, because it is those volunteers who run the villages.
Speaking at Sadberge Parish Council, chairman Lee Tate said:
“They are just sucking even more out of the system. We’ll have to look at the precept to see if we need to put extra money aside for a potential election.”
The DAPC meeting also discussed potential changes to parish boundaries as a result of changes to Darlington Borough Council wards planned for next year, which means that some parishes could straddle two different wards or become aligned to an urban ward they have little in common with.
A DBC spokeswoman said no new changes were being proposed, the decision was made in 2011 and parish councils were fully consulted at the time.
“It means that the costs of elections are met by the people in the area where the election is being held and not by people living in other parts of the borough.
“Where there is a ward or parliamentary election as well as a parish election, as may be the case next year, costs will be shared.”
Source – Northern Echo, 14 Sept 2014