Apprenticeship numbers have fallen sharply for the second year running in spite of the government making workplace training a cornerstone of its jobs policy.
Provisional numbers released by the Department for Business show 66,000 fewer people started apprenticeships in the last academic than in 2013/14.
Across the North-East 26,730 apprenticeships were started in 2014/15 – down by 3,750 from a year earlier, and a drop of almost 12,000 on the figure for 2011/12.
In Darlington the provisional year-on-year figures showed 220 fewer people started apprenticeships this year, while in Stockton there we 460 fewer.
A Government spokesperson said the provisional figure could be revised upwards when the final numbers are published later this year.
Skills Minister Nick Boles said: “Small, medium and large employers in the North-East are playing a crucial role in creating a modern and competitive workforce that boosts the country’s productivity and prosperity.
“I want to work with as many of these businesses as possible to ensure they continue to shape the future of apprenticeships so that we can reach the target of 3 million by 2020.”
However, the drive to boost skills appears to have stalled amid a steadily downward trend in apprenticeship take-ups over the last three years.
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
Family incomes are on the rise in most of the region, official figures show – but at a slower pace than in most of the country.
Household disposable income per head crept up by just 0.8 per cent in the North-East between 2012 and 2013, below the one per cent rise across the United Kingdom.
And the North-East was left in the slow lane by both Scotland (up two per cent) and the West Midlands (up 2.3 per cent) as the economy bounced back, as well as by Yorkshire (up 1.4 per cent).
But households in London and the South-East (both up 0.6 per cent) saw incomes grow more slowly – even though overall growth was far higher than in the North-East in both areas.
The statistics also reveal striking local variations in the changes in gross disposable household income (GDHI), the amount available for spending or saving after taxes and benefits.
Incomes grew sharply in Darlington (3.5 per cent) and South Teesside (2.6 per cent) and were also up in North Yorkshire (two per cent) and Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees (1.9 per cent).
But growth was more sluggish in County Durham (1.3 per cent) – and fell markedly in both Sunderland (3.1 per cent) and York (3.3 per cent).
In Westminster, the average GDHI was £42,221 in 2013 – almost three times the figure of £14,659 in County Durham and the highest of 173 local areas analysed.
And incomes in Kensington and Chelsea/Hammersmith and Fulham (£42,116), Camden and City of London (£37,324) and Wandsworth (£35,237) were not far behind.
Matt Whittaker, chief economist at the Resolution Foundation think-tank, said:
“Regional inequalities have fallen since the crash, but the gap between the South East and the UK is stark.”
Experts believe disposal income – the amount people have to spend after the bills have been paid – is the best measure of the economic confidence of families and individuals.
The managing director of a much-loved musical hub is begging David Cameron for help, saying his Big Society is letting down community-minded entrepreneurs.
Housed in a rapidly deteriorating building, The Forum in Darlington needs £1.5m of refurbishments if it is to continue and grow.
However, its status as a CIC (Community Interest Company) means the team is finding it near impossible to attract vital funding.
Despite having saved the popular centre from closure and consistently meeting objectives, The Forum is struggling to attract investment and must plunge its own profits back into services for the community – leaving little for refurbishment.
Managing director Allison Mckay believes private investors are put off by the council-owned building and says investment available to other CICs is dependent on being able to prove the enterprise has a “social impact”.
She says proving the social impact of a music-based venture that serves a diverse range of people and offers a variety of activities is next to impossible, despite its undeniable community worth.
Applications for funding are regularly rejected because of difficulty in proving music has a social value.
Ms Mckay said investors should visit CICs to see the work they do instead of relying on “box ticking exercises”.
She said the local authority did what it could to support them but more is needed to save The Forum.
“There are budgets in central government set aside for CICs but social impact is a massive thing and that’s very difficult for us to measure.
“Investment goes to social enterprises with specific criteria and we don’t fit that box.
“We need help with the building – we need new chairs for people to sit on but how do you measure the social impact of chairs?”
In a letter to David Cameron, Ms Mckay said:
“When everything pointed in the direction of sinking we kept the ship afloat but where is our so-called partner, the Big Society?
“This [CIC] is no partnership between private and public, this is a take situation and the Big Society preys on people like us who are entrepreneurial and also want to make a difference.”
Source – Northern Echo, 15 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
An election candidate made a brave revelation that she is a victim of rape during a hustings on female issues organised by the Darlington and Durham Rape and Sexual Abuse Counselling Centre.
Liberal Democrat candidate Anne-Marie Curry told the large gathering at Darlington Dolphin Centre’s Central Hall that it took her 22-years to accept she had been in an abusive relationship during her early 20s.
She described how she had witnessed some awful treatment of women during her upbringing in Uganda and that she had been threatened with knives when she later lived in Holland.
She said: “I seem to have opened myself up to rather destructive relationships from then on.
“At the age of 21 I was in a relationship and he was emotionally bullying me, hitting me and raping me.
“I didn’t realise that at the time, I only realised that in my 40s.”
Ms Curry’s revelation earned a round of applause and she said she wanted to speak out to bring the issue of domestic violence into the open.
“I can understand that women in that situation can find it really, really difficult to cope with what has happened to them.
“I am now coping, I am strong and I really want to shout about it because it (domestic abuse) is wrong.
Labour candidate Jenny Chapman said she was “blown away” and felt humbled by what Ms Curry had shared.
The hustings, chaired by Durham University professor Nicole Westmarland, touched on a range of female issues including funding problems experienced by rape crisis and support centres and whether more should be done to educate youngsters about domestic abuse.
The problems experienced by many victims of domestic abuse throughout the legal process were also highlighted, with all candidates agreeing that more needed to be done to support them.
All candidates also agreed that abuse and crimes against women were a key issue and Ms Chapman said that Labour planned to scrap Police and Crime Commissioners and would appoint a Women’s Commissioner in parliament.
The hustings was attended by Darlington’s candidates for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, Green, Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties who all signed a pledge to support women’s services.
UKIP candidate Dave Hodgson could not attend due to work commitments.
> Could he, given his party’s record, have signed it with a clear conscience anyway ?
Source – Northern Echo, 02 May 2015
Fast food outlets are treating employees like slaves, according to campaigners.
A global day of action saw people across the world take to the streets to highlight the plight of workers in the fast food industry, many of whom are on zero hour contracts.
Campaigners in the UK were largely organised by the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) who are calling for a £10 hourly minimum wage and the scrapping of zero hour contracts for those working at outlets like McDonalds, Burger King and KFC.
In Darlington, protestors from BFAWU and Darlington Against Cuts manned a stall close to McDonalds on Northgate and encouraged passersby to take up the fight against “slave labour”.
BFAWU representative Alan Milne said: “Zero hour contracts are going back to the dark ages.
“Fast food workers can go to work and be sent home with no pay despite paying expenses to get there or arranging child care.
“It’s fundamentally wrong and harks back to the shipyard days when people would stand outside waiting for work – it’s disgusting and needs to change.”
A former zero hours worker said:
“I worked in Darlington on a zero hour contract and had my work cut from 40 hours a week to 18.
“It’s slave labour – what’s next, work camps?”
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) representative Alan Docherty called on workers to fight back.
“People are locked in these contracts as they rely on the money but they’re scared to speak out as if you upset your boss, you won’t get the hours.
“The only way to combat this is to get organised and fight back.”
Source – Northern Echo, 16 Apr 2015
A furious row broke out last weekend when UKIP Darlington falsely claimed their candidate David Hodgson had not received invites to two recent hustings events.
A post on the group’s Facebook page says:
“It may be of considerable interest to our supporters that David Hodgson did not receive any official invitation or notification to attend the two previous hustings despite the fact that his personal contact details are widely publicised.”
Mr Hodgson later admitted receiving an invite to the environmental hustings but maintained he was not invited to the LGBT event – despite organisers insisting he was.
He claimed he did not write the contentious Facebook post and said he would ask for it to be amended to reflect the true circumstances.
Peter Plant, secretary of Darlington’s Friends of the Earth group and organiser of their recent hustings, accused UKIP of openly lying and suggested Mr Hodgson was “swerving” issues he had no political stance on.
Mr Hodgson said a previous engagement prevented him from attending the environmental hustings and claimed he would have welcomed an invite to the LGBT event.
However, Mr Hodgson pledged support for the LGBT community and said he would be interested in organising a gay pride event in Darlington.
He said: “Gay and lesbian people have my support and sympathy as I have gay friends myself and go through to Blackpool for gay pride events there.”
Mr Plant said: “I think he was frightened to turn up as UKIP don’t have the policies – they have one, blame foreigners.
“I’d respect them if they turned up and put their case, even if I don’t agree but by doing this, they’re showing they have no respect whatsoever.”
“The hustings was an opportunity to speak face-to-face with them about these issues and I’m not going to turn that down.”
Mr Hodgson’s agent, David Williams, added:
“Following negative comments an assertions regarding Mr Hodgson regarding his non-attendance at two recent hustings meetings, it must be made clear that no official invitation was received using the accepted official protocols.”
Darlington: currently held by Jenny Chapman (Lab)
Jenny Chapman (Lab),
Mike Cherrington (Green),
Anne-Marie Curry (LD),
Peter Cuthbertson (Con),
Alan Docherty (TUSC),
David Hodgson (Ukip)
Hartlepool: currently held by Iain Wright (Lab)
Hilary Allen (LD),
Sandra Allison (Save Our Hospital),
Phillip Broughton (Ukip),
John Hobbs (Ind),
Michael Holt (Green),
Stephen Picton (Ind),
Richard Royal (Con),
Iain Wright (Lab).
Middlesbrough: currently held by Andy Mcdonald (Lab)
Craig Baker (Ukip),
Simon Clarke (Con),
Hannah Grahm (Green),
Richard Kilpatrick (LD),
Andy McDonald (Lab).
Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland: currently held by Tom Blenkinsop (Lab)
Tom Blenkinsop (Lab),
Martin Brampton (Green),
Ben Gibson (LD),
Will Goodhand (Con),
Steve Turner (Ukip).
Redcar: vacant – Ian Swales (Lib Dem) standing down.
Christopher Gallacher (Ukip),
Philip Lockey (North East Party),
Josh Mason (LD),
Peter Pinkney (Green),
Anna Turley (Lab),
Jacob Young (Con).
Stockton North: currently held by Alex Cunningham (Lab)
Mandy Boylett (Ukip),
Alex Cunningham (Lab),
Christopher Daniels (Con),
Adrian Sycamore (LD),
John Tait (North East Party).
Stockton South: currently held by James Wharton (Con)
Louise Baldock (Lab),
Drew Durning (LD),
Jacqui Lovell (Green),
Ted Strike (Ukip),
Steve Walmlsey (Ind Against Social Injustice),
James Wharton (Con).
Fast food workers will be calling for an end to zero hours contracts at a protest next week.
The Darlington Trade Union Council (TUC) is backing a global day of action on Wednesday, April 15 in support of fast food workers across the country.
Organised by the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, the protest will see fast food workers calling for a £10 per hour minimum wage, and an end to zero hours contracts.
The action is also being supported by the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
Alan Docherty, the party’s parliamentary candidate in Darlington, said:
“The message is clear – join a union and get organised.
“In the USA fast food workers have organised successful strikes and won. Members of my party have been instrumental in winning victories that have brought about a $15(£10) per hour minimum wage.
“This was first enacted into legislation in Seattle and now several more cities and states have followed. We can do the same here.”
The protest will take place outside Queen Street Shopping Centre from noon.
Source – Northern Echo, 08 Apr 2015