Hundreds of firefighters gathered in Newcastle for a rally against changes to their pension and retirement ages.
The protest at the Monument today formed part of a national 24 hour stoppage in the long running dispute over Government proposals the Fire Brigade Union described as “unworkable”.
Officials say that under the government’s plan, firefighters will have to work until they are 60 instead of 55, pay more into their pensions and get less in retirement.
The latest industrial action in the four year dispute followed claims by the FBU that fire minister Penny Mordaunt had mislead parliament over the matter.
It says in a parliamentary debate last December she gave a guarantee that any firefighter aged 55 or over who failed a fitness test through no fault of their own should get another role or a full, unreduced pension.
The union said fire authorities across the country had failed to back up the minister’s “guarantee”.
However a Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said:
“We have been clear that firefighters get an unreduced pension or a job and have changed the national framework through a statutory instrument to do so.
“If fire authorities do not produce processes which yield this, the Secretary of State has said he will intervene.”
In Newcastle, Pete Wilcox, regional secretary for the FBU in the North East, said:
“We don’t want to be taking action because we’re aware of the consequences as we deal with them day-in and day-out.
“But we have been misled. The government talked of giving guarantees to those who fail a fitness test through no fault of their own to get an unreduced pension. Then it spoke of setting up an appeals process on it. Why do you need an appeals process when there’s supposed to be a guarantee?”
He said improvements to pension arrangements had been made in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland which meant no strike action was taking place there.
Mr Wilcox added: “We hope the Government will be back around the table and start negotiating again.”
As well as the firefighters and their families who attended the Newcastle rally, representatives of other unions including Beth Farhat, Northern regional TUC secretary, turned up to give their support.
The strike began at 7am on Wednesday and saw pickets at fire stations across the North East.
Meanwhile a number of North East FBU members joined thousands of colleagues in London for a lunchtime rally in Westminster addressed by MPs and union officials.
Firefighters later lobbied MPs for support in their campaign against changes to pensions and retirement age.
The Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman added:
“Strike action is unnecessary and appears to be over a point which is a vast improvement on the 2006 scheme which required firefighters to work to 60 with no protection.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Feb 2015
Families staged a ‘messy march’ in Newcastle against cuts that could see a £5m reduction in funding for Sure Start Children’s Centres.
The figure amounts to about a 65% of the total budget for the service.
Protesters say if the proposal went through it could mean the city’s most vulnerable families would be left without childcare and vital support.
A series of themed protests – including a ‘teddy bear’s picnic’ – have been staged in recent weeks, and organiser Vanessa Cutter, 32, explained the thinking around Saturday’s event at Grey’s Monument.
The mum-of-three of Fenham, Newcastle, said:
“A messy march is a child centred protest march where children do what they do best – make a mess and be noisy.
“It serves several purposes – we want to show the council that we are willing to take action, demonstrate and fight against their proposed 65% cuts to Sure Start services.
“We want to show them that if they close two thirds of centres then the city’s children will have nowhere to go.
“The council seems keen to invest lots of money in businesses and the city centre, but if that comes at the cost of children’s services then we will have to play in the areas they do invest in.”
All of Newcastle’s 20 Sure Start centres are now up for review as city councillors iron out their final budget proposals for the year 2014/2015.
Many councils across the North are struggling to make similar savings – or cuts – including Middlesbrough.
Mayor Ray Mallon announced in January £14.9m of cuts – in addition to more than £40m removed from the council’s budget over the last three years – will lead to the loss of around 300 jobs. Amongst departments are children’s services.
Sure Start was a Labour flagship policy from 1998, its aim was “giving children the best possible start in life” through improvement of childcare, early education, health and family support, with an emphasis on outreach and community development.
In Newcastle 50% of the services are delivered by the council and 50% by the Community and Voluntary Sector. The city council has estimated for the work it directly delivers, the cuts will equate to the loss of 63 full time equivalent posts.
The protestors say the proposals, if carried out, will see the budget slashed by £5m by 2016. This would mean the closure of services, buildings, parents groups and activities for children aged under five across the city.
Mum-of-two Anna Snaith, 28, of Heaton said:
“I am very upset that two out of three options for the future of services in my area include completely closing down the Ouseburn Family Centre which I regularly attend.
“The team there are fantastic and offer so much support to parents as well as children in a wide range of areas. The centre, like all Sure Start centres, promote health and well being for all families which is vital for communities. These services are the future for our children therefore I cannot understand how closing down any of them can be an option at all for our council!”
A council spokesman said previously:
“The city council is facing a considerable financial challenge, to find £100m in savings between 2013 and 2016.
“We share people’s concerns about the future of our Sure Start centres – they provide an important and well-loved service to families across the city – but the severity of the cuts leaves us with no choice but to consider further reductions.
“Nothing has been decided yet and we will be asking people to have their say with a big public consultation in September.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 13 Sept 2014
He is one of the most significant figures in British political history, with a monument in his honour in the centre of Newcastle and a number of stately homes linked to his life in Northumberland.
Yet the 250th anniversary of the birth of Earl Charles Grey is set to go almost unmarked in his home region with just a solitary event planned – and that marking the blend of tea which takes his name.
Charles, the 2nd Earl Grey, was born and bred in Northumberland, and a statue of him sits on top of the monument erected in his honour in the heart of Newcastle. Grey Street – once voted the finest street in the UK – is named after him, as is Grey College at Durham University.
During his four-year spell as Prime Minister, he was responsible for fundamental changes in British society, including the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and the Great Reform Act of 1832 which is credited as launching modern democracy in Britain.
And yet today, exactly 250 years on from his birth, the only event planned in the region to celebrate Earl Grey is a two-day event in June organised by EAT! NewcastleGateshead Initiative.
Last night, the current resident of Earl Grey’s birthplace, Fallodon Hall, near Alnwick, said she felt a sense of personal “guilt” that the milestone is being allowed to pass by and large unmarked.
Lucia Bridgeman said: “Who is the person who has got the resources and contributes the imagination to create something out of a historical moment?
“We have got the do-gooders in the villages doing magazines, we have got the county council that has got no money, we have got other people who are too busy doing their jobs.
“In a sense Northumberland owes the Greys a huge amount but there are not many Greys left, it is a family that has died out. That might be the reason his memory has faded locally, his family has faded with him.”
Mrs Bridgeman said Earl Grey was part of a “great political family” and argued his memory lives on regardless of a lack of fanfare.
She said: “I think just the Grey family have had a huge impact on Northumberland and the county which is acknowledged because of the statues and other physical memories of them. It is no disgrace to their name that this is not being acknowledged.”
The solitary event in commemoration of Earl Grey is inspired by the tea which was named after him.
Tea and Cake Planet, A Weekend Adventure in Brewing and Baking, runs at The Boiler Shop, Newcastle, on June 28 and 29.
Northumberland Tourism, the body responsible for attracting visitors to the country, did at least put out a press release flagging up the anniversary and encouraging people to visit the gardens and arboretum at Howick Hall near Alnwick, where Earl Grey lived and where the tea that bears his name was dreamt up.
In the release, the organisation’s Jude Leitch said: “Earl Grey is one of Northumberland’s favourite sons and his classic tea blend is enjoyed around the world.
“Many tea-lovers have already made the pilgrimage to his birthplace at the beautiful Howick Hall Gardens and we’re sure more will follow in 2014, the 250th anniversary of his birth.”
The Northumbrian who ended slavery
Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey, was born at Fallodon Hall, near Alnwick, on March 13, 1764, before moving to nearby Howick Hall.
Grey was elected to parliament for the then Northumberland constituency in 1786, aged just 22.
He became a part of the Whig Party, the origins of which lay in constitutional monarchism and opposition to absolute rule.
In 1806, Grey, by then Lord Howick, became leader of the Whigs. A year later, he entered the Lords, succeeding his father as Earl Grey. In 1830, the Whigs took power, with Grey as PM.
Under his leadership, the government passed the Reform Act 1832, which saw the reform of the House of Commons, and the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833.
In 1834 Grey’s spell as Prime Minister ended. He died in 1845 and was buried at Howick.
Earl Grey Tea is named after Charles. The tea was specially blended by a Chinese mandarin for him, to suit the water from the well at Howick, using bergamot in particular to offset the taste of the lime in it. Twinings came to market the product and it is now sold worldwide.
Grey’s Monument in Newcastle was built in 1838 in recognition of his passing of the Reform Act. .
The Greys were a sprawling political dynasty. One descendant, Sir Edward Grey, was Foreign Secretary at the outbreak of the First World War. His role in attempting to head off the conflict was dramatised by the BBC earlier this month, witn Ian McDiarmid playing Grey.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 13 March 2014