Tagged: East Durham

Wearside ; more anti-UKIP action

> UKIP’s intention of becoming the people’s party  in the North East doesn’t seem to be going too well.

First one of their Newcastle candidates managed to upset both Jewish and Muslim voters in less than a week. Then their office in Blyth was targeted.

Now reports of more grassroots action on Wearside…they could be excused for thinking someone doesn’t like them much….

UKIP have hit out at vandals who tore down advertising hoardings and attacked a home, accusing them of an “attack on free speech”.

Party officials say six incidents  have been reported to police in the space of one week in Hetton, Houghton, Newbottle and East Rainton.

It started on Tuesday, April 14, when a 4ft by 4ft board was stolen from a residential garden in South Street, East Rainton.

Then, on Saturday, the acts took a more sinister turn when a Wesleyan Chapel – converted into a home in Front Street, Hetton – was attacked.

 Two children were asleep inside when a window was smashed by vandals who also tore down another 4ft by 4ft Ukip board.

On Sunday, a board on private land at Grasswell was sawn down.

It was replaced on Monday, this time only lasting half an hour before being chopped down again.

On Tuesday, two boards were stolen from a private field at the junction of Murton Lane and Colliery Lane.

The party’s parliamentary candidate for Houghton and Sunderland South, Richard Elvin, said:

“Our parents and grandparents, many of whom gave their lives, fought to preserve our democracy and the right to free speech.

“It appears that many people, especially those who describe themselves as left wing, seek to deny these hard-won freedoms.

“UKIP supporters do not invade private property or steal or vandalise other political parties’ promotional material.

“We appreciate that people have different political views to ours and we show due respect, which is the way everyone in a civilised democracy should behave.

“There is no place for intimidation, theft or damage in a British society, against anyone who does not agree with your personal political beliefs.”

Chief Inspector Sarah Pitt, of Northumbria Police, said:

“Police take any incidents of criminal damage very seriously.

“We have been made aware of a number of incidents in the Sunderland area regarding advertising boards being damaged or removed.

“We are working closely with the victims to carry out a full investigation.

“I would ask anyone who may have any information about these incidents to contact police.”

Also standing in the parliamentary election for Houghton and Sunderland South are Stewart Hay (Conservative), Jim Murray (LibDem), Bridget Phillipson (Labour) and Alan Robinson (Green Party).

Source – Sunderland Echo, 24 Apr 2015

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Easington is safest Labour seat in England

The saying goes that you could stick a red rosette on a passing dog in some parts of the North and it would get elected as an MP.

A new analysis of the last six General Elections shows there is at least some truth in that often-heard phrase.

The region is home to the Labour Party’s safest seat in England – County Durham’s Easington – and is second in the UK only to Wales’ Rhondda.

South Tyneside’s Jarrow, which Stephen Hepburn is campaigning to regain, is the party’s 13th safest seat in the entire UK.

Middlesbrough sits at number 20, followed by North West Durham at 23, South Shields at 24, Blaydon 37, Bishop Auckland at 42.

The constituencies all bear the scars of lost mining and steel industry which many believe has led a generation of voters to reject alternatives to Labour, especially the Conservatives.

Grahame Morris is campaigning to be re-elected in Easington and said he sees strong support for Labour.

The average majority of votes for Labour in the constituency over the six elections since 1979 is a commanding 21,119.

He said:

“I work very hard inside and outside of Parliament to advocate Labour’s traditional values of fairness and social justice and locally we don’t take anything for granted. It is over 20 years since our last coal mine Easington Colliery closed.

“It is the case that historically the Labour Party and Trade Union movement embody the best values of local people. The origins of the Labour Party were forged in our industrial communities from which we developed progressive policies to meet the needs and aspirations of local people and we continue to this day to fight for a more just, fair and equal society.

The Labour Party belongs to the people of Easington, and it is only through their support that we have been able to realise many of our greatest achievements including the creation of the NHS, decent affordable homes for working people, paid holidays the introduction of the minimum wage, new schools, concessionary travel, the winter fuel allowance and an end to pensioner poverty.

These things did not happen by accident. They were not a gift but were won through our collective struggle and common purpose. Easington’s power was coal but the cement that binds our communities together was laid in times of great adversity and has given East Durham a sense of resilience and identity that makes it such a special and possibly unique place.

“Personally I consider it a privilege to represent Easington and wouldn’t wish to represent any other constituency.”

Among the main challengers to Labour in the region is Ukip and the party’s only MEP for the region Jonathan Arnott is standing in Easington.

His decision to stand is symbolic, he said, adding:

“I’m standing here not only because I live locally in Blackhall Colliery, but because I have a message for Labour: unlike with the Tories and Lib Dems, there’s no such thing as a no-go area for Ukip and we will challenge you here.

“Our message of supporting local businesses, removing income tax from the minimum wage and developing apprenticeships is vital in an area that has suffered so badly from the demise of our mining industry. My father-in-law was a miner, and I know how deeply the pit closures under Wilson and Thatcher affects our communities.

“As the North East Manifesto shows, there’s a real appetite here for Ukip policies – from cutting business rates for local small businesses to a points-based system on immigration. And that’s exactly what I’m seeing on the doorstep.

“Of course, I fight to win in any election campaign – but I have just given myself the most difficult task for any party anywhere in the country!

“But even if I don’t win, it will be good for democracy that there’s some genuine competition at last in Easington.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 04 Apr 2015

Community action : Horden residents plan to take over running of dozens of empty homes

Residents of a former colliery community plan to take over the running of dozens of boarded up homes themselves.

A total of 160 homes out of 361 properties managed by Accent housing association stand empty in East Durham – 130 of them in Horden, near Peterlee.

They have become a magnet for antisocial behaviour, fly-tipping and rat infestations.

Horden residents decided to act after Accent announced it was seeking a “programme of disposal”, with a Government minister suggesting last week they could be flogged off for as little as £1 each.

Accent has blamed the controversial bedroom tax for contributing to the low demand for the homes, but residents argue it is the failure to invest in the properties which has made them undesirable.

At a packed meeting convened by the Horden Colliery Residents’ Association (HCRA)  on February 18 backed the formation of a community association with the view to acquiring and renovating the properties.

HCRA spokesman John Barnett said:

“Over the many years Accent have invested little or nothing on the properties.

“Although Accent claims the bedroom tax is to blame, we believe it is the lack of investment and the state they have allowed the streets to degrade into that has put people off. The appearance of all the boarded up houses is devastating.”

“What we want to do as a community is tackle the environmental aspects and make streets more attractive and then renovate those properties.”

Residents have approached community housing expert Jo Gooding to help them examine the options.

Accent is hoping many of the homes will be purchased by would-be homeowners under a homesteading initiative, subject to approval by the Homes and Communities Association.

Claire Stone, Accent’s director of communities and assets, said:

“We have worked really hard to find the best possible solution for these homes and have had a dedicated project team in place with Durham County Council and the Homes and Communities Agency to explore all the options.

“We had hoped that other social landlords with stock in the area would take them on, but unfortunately this has not proved possible.

“We have therefore reluctantly decided to dispose of the properties as they fall empty. We will continue to work closely with residents and local representatives to ensure that they are fully supported throughout this process.”
Source – Northern Echo,  20 Feb 2015

Easington MP warns empty County Durham homes blight former mining communities

Some of the run down and boarded up houses in the Horden area
Some of the run down and boarded up houses in the Horden area

Nearly 200 homes in east Durham communities have been left empty and boarded up – encouraging crime and damaging the quality of life for their neighbours, an MP has warned.

Easington MP Grahame Morris urged ministers to intervene as he warned that large numbers of homes in Horden and Blackhall, in his constituency, had been allowed to fall into disrepair.

Speaking in the House of Commons, he said social housing provider Accent had allowed properties to fall into disrepair through lack of investment and by failing to vet new tenants properly.

 

Mr Morris also warned that changes to housing benefit had meant properties went empty, because they had two bedrooms but were occupied by single people – who had become liable for the bedroom tax.

He won a promise from Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis to look into the problems faced by the villages.

The minister also said he would ask the Homes and Communities Agency, the official body which regulates social housing providers, to meet Mr Morris to discuss his concerns.

Leading the debate, Mr Morris said the villages’ problems followed the closure of Horden colliery in 1987, which among other things led to a decline in the local population over time.

 

Accent managed 361 properties in Horden and Blackhall, Mr Morris said. But 130 of its 220 homes in Horden were currently empty, as well as 30 of the 141 properties in Blackhall.

He warned: “The problem is that, as properties become empty, Accent no longer seeks to let them as homes. Instead, vacant properties are being boarded up, which are an eyesore and a drain on the community.

“It is clear, from walking around the area, that properties have gradually fallen into a state of disrepair and now require substantial work.”

 

Proposals to improve the homes had been scrapped following the introduction of the bedroom tax, he said, because the only way to ensure the homes were occupied had been to rent them to single people, and this was no longer possible.

But Mr Morris said that local residents complained Accent had not taken good care of its housing stock for many years before the bedroom tax was introduced.

He said: “It seems to have total disregard for the community in terms of vetting potential tenants.

“The residents’ groups, who have worked closely with the local authority and the police, have been out litter picking, clearing up fly-tipping and identifying problems to report to the local authority. However, the residents say that their efforts to clean and improve the area have been undermined.”

The result had been crime, antisocial behaviour, fly-tipping and rat infestations in the empty homes.

 

The MP urged the minister to ensure the Government invested in the village to improve the housing stock, to replace high-density colliery housing with more modern housing.

One option could be an approach known as “homesteading”, in which homes are sold at a substantial discount to buyers who then spend money to improve the properties, he said.

However, Mr Morris said some public funding would be needed. He told the minister: “I understand that we are in a time of austerity, but if there is a political will, we can overcome any barriers on finance.”

Mr Lewis said:

“He painted a sobering picture of a town struggling with empty homes and the damaging impact that that can have on the wider community. Horden is in one of the most beautiful corners of the country. I appreciate that, having visited the north-east in the past few weeks.”

He added:

“We need to see beautiful places such as Horden thriving, but we must also ensure that we fix the broken market so that they can deliver on that.”

Claire Stone, Accent’s director of communities and assets, said:

“We have worked really hard to find the best possible solution for these homes and have had a dedicated project team in place with Durham County Council and the Homes and Communities Agency to explore all the options. We had hoped that other social landlords with stock in the area would take them on, but unfortunately this has not proved possible. We have therefore reluctantly decided to dispose of the properties as they fall empty. We will continue to work closely with residents and local representatives to ensure that they are fully supported throughout this process.

“As a responsible social landlord, we need to ensure that our stock is fit for the future. We are under an obligation to secure the best possible value for money for all of our residents into the future and our robust asset management strategy has identified that these properties are not sustainable for us as a social landlord.”

Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Feb 2015

Middlesbrough Council to provide £85,000 to establish ‘community bank’ in town

A community bank in Middlesbrough town centre to challenge pay day lenders has been recommended by council chiefs.

A new community bank to be based in the heart of Middlesbrough is at the core of Labour mayoral candidate Cllr Dave Budd’s campaign to secure the position in May, when current Independent Mayor Ray Mallon will step down.

Deputy Mayor Cllr Budd, Executive member for finance and governance, has recommended in a report to be put before the Executive on Tuesday that Moneywise Community Banking be provided with a two-year grant totalling £85,000 to support its plans to locate to a town centre premises.

It aims to help over three years 4,000 new members, provide 1,200 training courses and issue loans amounting to just over £0.5m.

A loan from Moneywise of £300 with a typical APR of 26.7% over 12 months, the total repayable amount would be £342.79.

In comparison, the council report states the same loan from a doorstep lender (APR 272%) would cost £546 to repay; from an online instant loan (APR 1058%) it would cost £627.54 to repay; and from an illegal lender or loan shark (APR 1000%), it would cost £2,900 to repay.

Moneywise Community Banking – a not-for-profit member owned credit union – will deliver a number of financial support services including safe and easy savings; an optional Visa debit card service; low cost loans; Christmas savings club; white goods and furniture at discounted prices; free employability training; and debt and money management advice.

It was originally based in Hartlepool and now operates across Teesside, East Durham and North Yorkshire with offices in Redcar, Hartlepool and Scarborough. It is regulated by the Financial Services Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority, which is also the case with banks.

All member savings within Moneywise are fully protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme so members can save safely in the knowledge that they cannot lose their savings, the report said.

Cllr Budd has said previously that a “modern, effective” credit union for Middlesbrough has to be “competitive and give an instant answer like companies such as Wonga do”.

“This has worked elsewhere and it can work in Middlesbrough. It will offer credit at fair rates and gives all Middlesbrough residents the opportunity for greater financial security.”

The report states that the two-year £85,000 grant would be funded through existing resources within the Community Support Fund.

Moneywise and Middlesbrough Council would work together to identify suitable premises.

Source –  Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 14 Jan 2015

Nurses hit by pay cuts of up to 28%

Union bosses have “vigorously” opposed a pay cut for nurses working overtime to cover busy periods and staff shortages.

Nurses who work overtime to cover busy periods at two hospitals serving people from Hartlepool and East Durham have had their hourly rates slashed by a cash-strapped health trust in a move that the Royal College of Nursing described as “completely unacceptable”.

Bank staff who are called upon by North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust have always been paid at the top of the pay band.

But as of today, that hourly rate will drop significantly, with nurses on one of the pay scales seeing their hourly rate drop from £20 to around £14.

That amounts to a 28 per cent cut, with nurses being informed of the changes when a letter was sent out on December 16.

The letter also said that the new pay rate will be applicable to any shifts after today which were booked in prior to the changes being implemented.

The NHS spends hundreds of millions of pounds a year on temporary staff, but has often been forced to find cover at the last minute with staffing resources having been cut.

Staff who qualified for extra shifts at the University Hospital of Hartlepool and the University Hospital of North Tees were made up of nurses who signed up to work additional shifts, or ones who are not affiliated to any health trust and can work as and when they are required.

Heather Whitton, the Royal College of Nursing’s union officer responsible for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“The position of the Trust is completely unacceptable, and the RCN is vigorously opposing this move.

“Nurses have already been subject for pay freezes and pay restraint for some years, so this is a slap in the face to many hard-working nurses.

“We are also challenging other trusts in the region who are also proposing to adopt this policy.”

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust insists it has always paid bank staff from the top pay scale, and claims the hourly reduction will bring it into line with other trusts.

A spokesperson for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust said:

“From January 1, 2015, the trust will bring itself into line with neighbouring trusts and pay staff employed through NHS Professionals on point 3 of the pay scale.

“When the trust first introduced NHS Professionals to hire bank staff it paid at the top point of the pay scale.

“However the challenging financial climate, and the recognition that it was out of line with neighbouring trusts, resulted in the decision to now pay at point 3 on the pay scale.

“Staff from other trusts are registered with NHS Professionals and our staff may be registered with other trusts’ NHS Professionals systems so to count the number of people working for the agency could be misleading.

“We looked at possible cost savings by estimating a total year’s impact from one month’s worth of the hours we booked with the agency to cover shifts because of leave, seasonal pressures, providing one to one care for high dependency patients, increases in workload and vacancies.

“We estimated the trust would save around £69,000 a year by paying the adjusted rate.”

Source –  Hartlepool Mail,  14 Jan 2015

Hundreds gather to protest against the removal of NHS services from Hartlepool

Hundreds of people gathered to protest against the removal of NHS services from a Teesside hospital.

Over 800 people joined forces to take part in the Save Hartlepool Hospital Protest Walk.

The event was organised by Sue Little in response to North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust’s decision to move services out of the University Hospital of Hartlepool to the trust’s other base – the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton.

Services lost in the town include the children’s ward, maternity and the A&E department, which closed in August 2011 after being declared unfit for purpose.

Now, people with minor injuries are seen at NHS centre One Life Hartlepool and those with more serious cases are taken to Stockton.

And with fears that the ‘super-hospital’ at Wynyard, which was due to replace both hospitals within the trust, will never get off the ground, residents fear the prospect of having North Tees as their local hospital.

Communities in East Durham, as far as Easington, are also affected as patients must travel to Stockton rather then the nearer Hartlepool.

No decision on any of the services is expected before a General Election.

We’re all annoyed about what has happened to our hospital and the services being moved to Stockton,” said Sue, a mum-of-three from Seaton Carew. “This is why we are here.

“We want to send a message loud and clear to North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust that we are not going to lie down on this matter. We want our services back.”

The turn out has been fantastic,” she added. “I want the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, to see this strength of feeling.”

Saturday’s walk started at Seaton Carew bus station and ended at the hospital.

There were dozens of stewards helping out, as well as a police presence and a support vehicle following the marchers.

Another supporter at the march was Keith Fisher, chair of the Save our Hospital group.

The 72-year-old said: “We are not saying we want services here instead of at Stockton – we want them at both.

“The first march that ever took place was to save our hospital and then we were protesting to keep our A&E. Now we are demanding we get out services back.”

Edna Wright, a former Liberal Democrat representative on Hartlepool Borough Council from 1991 until 2012, has been heavily involved in the hospital fight for many years.

She said: “I have been fighting against this move for 14 years when they first wanted to transfer cancer services to Middlesbrough.

“I said this hospital would go bit by bit, limb by limb and it has.

“North Tees can’t cope by itself and they are not admitting that – this hospital is being used behind closed doors and it needs to be kept open.”

Source –  Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 10 Jan 2014

MP blames Government for North east depression epidemic

Shocking new figures show that the North is the anti-depressant capital of Britain.

The region takes up six of the top 10 places in England for use of the drugs, with poverty and deprivation being blamed for the widespread problems with people’s mental health.

NHS data shows doctors here prescribe more anti-depressants per head than anywhere else in the country, with more than one million prescriptions handed out in the last three months of last year.

In the former industrial heartland of East Durham there are 45 prescriptions for every 100 patients – the second highest rate in the country.

And six of the 10 most-prescribing areas are in the North East, including Sunderland, Gateshead, South Tees, Newcastle West, and North Durham.

Mental health charities said depression and anxiety were strongly tied to deprivation, with some laying the blame at the government’s door. Easington MP Grahame Morris, a member of the Commons Health Select Committee, said: “We’re fighting a rearguard action to protect our community.

“I see in my surgeries every week people displaying symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression as a consequence of the government’s policies.

“I had a gentleman come to see me on Friday who was 60-years-old, had worked from being 15, and he’d had to give it up due to a crumbling spine.

“He’d been put in a fit for work category when he couldn’t walk for 20 paces, and his benefits were suspended for eight months while the appeal is heard.

“There’s a definite link between the Government’s policies of austerity and welfare reform and the impact it’s having on people’s mental health.”

Doctors in Sunderland made 41.2 prescriptions for every 100 people in the area, while Gateshead gave out 40.7.

Other badly affected areas included Salford, St Helens, Barnsley and Blackpool – all former industrial areas. Richard Colwill, from the mental health charity SANE, said the figures should be treated “with caution” because they might be inflated by repeat patients for drugs which are used for a range of other conditions.

But he argued they “should be no surprise” because of the strong links between depression and “unemployment, debt and homelessness”.

He said: “SANE’s own experience suggests that it is not only the high demand for treatment that is concerning, but also the dwindling supply.

“The Government’s relentless agenda to cut expensive community and inpatient services often leaves healthcare professionals with little to offer other than medication.”

Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, said: “We know that reforms to the welfare system are taking their toll on the mental health of many people. Depression can affect anyone, regardless of background, but there are certain factors that can increase the risk of someone developing depression.

“Unemployment, financial difficulties, a problematic housing situation and physical health problems can all put stress on people, which in turn can lead to mental health problems.”

A spokeswoman for clinical commissioning groups in the North East said: “It’s well-known that poverty and mental health are linked, just as poor housing and mental health are linked.

“As the North East has some of the highest areas of deprivation in the country, it’s not surprising that there are higher numbers of people who need support for mental health issues.

“It’s important that people realise that while sometimes medication is required, there are alternatives for those with mild to moderate depression or anxiety.

“Talking therapies work very well and can act more quickly than perhaps antidepressants or other medical treatments.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “Our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities, with the Universal Credit making three million households better off.

“We have also expanded the ESA Support Group so greater numbers of people with a mental health condition now qualify for the benefit.

“We are transforming the lives of the poorest in society and bringing common sense back to the welfare system – so that we can continue to support people when they need it most right across Britain.”

> But then, they always say that… whatever the question was.

Source –  Newcastle Evening chronicle  20 April 2014

Benefit Sanctions – It Gets Worse

Figures from November last year to June show payments were suspended as a result of benefit sanctions 33,460 times across the North East –  17,470 of those were  in Tyne and Wear and Northumberland and the remainder in County Durham and the Tees Valley.

On Wearside, a total of 3,720 sanctions were put in place, with 2,150 in Sunderland Job Centre,  780 in Southwick Job Centre, 400 in Houghton and 390 in Washington.

In South Tyneside benefits were withdrawn on 1,430 occasions for claimants registered at South Shields Jobcentre and 600 times for clients at Jarrow Jobcentre.

Across Durham and East Durham, a total of 2,820 sanctions were put in place, with 1,060 of those in Peterlee, 810 in Durham, 540 in Chester-le-Street and 410 in Seaham.

Couldn’t find the figures for Newcastle, Gateshead or north Tyneside – if you know, add them to the comments section.

It should be remembered that although the final decision on whether to sanction is made by the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP)  many of the cases are actually raised by the private for-profit Work Programme providers, as happened in my case – thank you Ingeus, Sunderland.

Comments from local politicians seem to be a bit thin on the ground (hello Labour MPs ! Anyone awake there ?) although South Tyneside councillor Jim Foreman, a critic of  welfare  “reforms” was quoted as saying :  “If you walk into South Shields Jobcentre, there is generally 700 to 900 vacancies available.
“How many people do we have on the dole in the borough, 6,000 to 7,000? Those are telling statistics.

“The Government makes great play about the work-shy, but people need more support to fill out the complex forms they need to.

“There are many people who are not computer literate, who are not numerically OK. These people are in a lose-lose situation.

“They are at risk of having their benefits cut and falling into the hands of loan sharks. It’s a never-ending cycle.”

You dont have to be too numerate to be able to work out that 6000 – 7000 unemployed into 700 – 900 jobs just wont go. You just cant fit a quart into a pint pot.

Unfortunately this basic fact escapes those responsible for these draconian tactics.   Minister for Employment Esther McVey for example, who stated:  “This Government has always been clear that, in return for claiming unemployment benefits, jobseekers have a responsibility to do everything they can to get back into work.

“We are ending the something-for-nothing culture.”

Uh, pardon me ? I’ve been involved in the often less than wonderful world of work since  before Ms. McVey was even born. I dont know how much I’ve paid out in National Insurance contributions over the years, but I did so on the understanding that by doing so I’d be able to claim help in hard times such as these, and also that others in need would be helped, regardless of whether they’d paid as much NI as me.

So something for nothing ? I don’t think so. And it certainly pales in comparison with MP’s expenses claims. Now that really is the something-for-nothing culture.

McVey, we are told,  has worked in the family business, which specialises in demolition and site clearance.

How appropriate. Now she’s focusing those skills on the poorest in society.