Tagged: Iraq

Bishop of Durham backs calls for nursery staff to report potentially radicalised families

> So  bad news for church sunday schools, C. of E. schools and other Christian organizations who push religious dogma at kids ?  Probably not…

The Bishop of Durham has backed plans to ask nursery staff to look out for radicalised families in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.

Speaking in a House of Lords debate on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, the Right Reverend Paul Butler also welcomed moves to intervene more in the lives of people at risk of being drawn in by extremism.

But he warned more needs to be done at a “grassroots” level to tackle the issue long term, and that breaking up families could help create future terrorists.

“I share with every other reasonable person a horror of the evil actions and effects of terrorism, grief for the suffering caused by terrorist acts and a heartfelt concern for those whose lives are lost or wounded through it.

“Events in Paris last week clearly illustrated this to us all. However, those events also highlight the need to ensure that we keep a global awareness and perspective, as the fresh Boko Haram attacks in Baga and its surrounding villages last Friday show us. Around 2,000 were killed.

“As we consider the latest set of government moves to strengthen the laws which guard our people against terrorist acts, we have to hold our nerve in our convictions about liberty, equality and fraternity, and look steadily at the changes being proposed,” he added.

“These matters are too serious for us to polarise or politicise issues beyond what is justified in legitimate debate.”

Praising the work done by the faith groups in Sunderland, Gateshead, and South Shields, to build strong community relationships – “the most powerful force against radicalisation, especially among young people” – the bishop said however that there is a fine line to be trodden between ensuring security and encouraging community cohesion.

Some have mocked the idea of nursery staff being obliged to report any signs of extremism in a family,” he said. “I do not share the mockery, as terrorist behaviour is abusive behaviour.

“Nevertheless, the placing of such an obligation adds to the risks of creating a culture of suspicion and the sense that every citizen is expected to be on the look-out to report on their neighbour rather than build good relationships with them.

“Great care needs to be taken not to overburden schools or erode their capacity to build diversity and trust among pupils, staff and parents.

“Breaking up a family, as could occur, could also create longer-term harm even, at one extreme, sowing the seeds of the next generation of terrorists in young children.”

The bishop said that continuing community work would be “fundamental to long-term prevention” as it “does not carry the risks of fuelling narratives of persecution and heroic resistance.”

Countering radical terrorism is a long-term grass-roots matter. Long-term support for good community development will reap the best long-term rewards.

“This is not so much a matter of draining the swamp by immediate legislation as tilling the ground.”

The debate heard from the former head of MI5, Lord Evans of Weardale, that the threat of terrorism in the UK is rising at the same time as the ability of the security services to combat it has decreased.

In his maiden speech in the upper house, Lord Evans, who retired as director general of the agency in 2013, said that the Edward Snowden leaks had made it harder to tackle the terrorist threat.

And he said the Government needed to tackle the “unfinished business” of giving the security services greater powers to access communications data.

> Powers that they will, naturally, voluntarily relinquish once the danger has passed…

Lord Evans told peers:

“When I left MI5 in 2013, I felt cautiously optimistic that we were over the worst as far as Al Qaeda and Islamist terrorist attacks were concerned in this country.

“It seemed to me that we were making significant progress. Regrettably, subsequent events have proved that judgment to be wrong.

“The atrocious killing of Fusilier Rigby in May 2013 demonstrated the reality of the threat we face in this country and the brutal murders in Paris last week demonstrate that this is a European and international problem, not one we face alone.”

> One man got killed in the street by two other men. This happens all the time, all over the country. You’ve got a far higher chance of getting done in by a couple of indigenous thugs than you have by an Islamic terrorist.

All the Islamic terror attacks in Britain – as 9/11 in the USA – appear to be isolated one-off events, and although they may spark copycat attacks I don’t really believe that there is a highly organized terror organization.  But the government cynically encourages belief in one  in order to erode our rights.

In any case, who are the real terrorists ? More people have died in Britain as a result of current government welfare policies than at the hands of terrorists.

Anyone who has had to deal with the Jobcentre and other agencies might consider that governmnent/terrorism are merely two sides of the same coin.

Lord Evans, who sits as an independent crossbench peer, said events in Syria and Iraq had given extremist networks in the UK a “jolt of energy”.

> Not half as much a one as our continued poking our armed forces into other countries business (the ones with oil, at least…)

He said at least 600 people had gone as would-be jihadists to fight in Syria and Iraq, and he had no doubt that number would increase “significantly” in coming months.

And he warned the situation put him in mind of the Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan before 9/11 which “drew would-be jihadists from across the globe”.

On their return, many of them were even more radical than they had been when they departed,” he said.

They had experience of combat and had been trained in violence and they had an international network of support on which they could draw.

“Those circumstances led to a series of attacks internationally and over a long period, and I fear we may be facing the same situation as we go forward from today and we are starting to see that.

“At the same time, the revelations made by Edward Snowden, whatever you think of what he did, have clearly led a reduction in the ability of the security agencies both here and overseas to access and read the communications of terrorists internationally with the result that as the threat from terrorism has gone up in the last two years, the ability of the security agencies to counter those threats has gone down.

“The result of this can only be that the overall risk of a successful terrorist attack in this country has risen.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 14 Jan 2015

Northumbrian Water – your water rates and which fat cats pocket them

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

North-East MPs explain why they voted in favour of RAF strikes against IS

> Never any money for welfare, always plenty for warfare..

 

RAF fighter aircraft were poised to launch air strikes against Islamic State (IS) jihadists after Parliament gave the green light for military action.

At the end of a marathon Commons debate, MPs voted by 524 to 43 – a majority of 481 – to endorse attacks on the militants in Iraq in support of the United States-led coalition, with Labour backing the Government motion.

> Of course Labour did… Cameron probably told them there were weapons of mass destruction only 45 minutes away. Well, it worked last time they voted us into a war…

Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs – meeting in emergency session – that Britain had a “duty” to join the military campaign as IS posed a direct threat to the country.

“This is not a threat on the far side of the world,” he said. “Left unchecked, we will face a terrorist caliphate on the shores of the Mediterranean, bordering a Nato member, with a declared and proven determination to attack our country and our people.

“This is not the stuff of fantasy – it is happening in front of us and we need to face up to it.”

The US and its Middle-Eastern allies have already carried out dozens of bombing missions in a bid to stop IS over-running Iraqi positions.

The vote gives British military planners the go-ahead they have been waiting for to launch attacks on IS positions in Iraq – but not in IS-controlled parts of Syria where the group has training camps and command-and-control bunkers.

The first wave of attacks is expected to be carried out by RAF Tornado GR4 ground attack aircraft based in Cyprus.

Flying from Cyprus will give RAF fighters an hour over IS-occupied Iraq – more than enough time to choose their targets. The Royal Navy is also expected to deploy submarine-launched cruise missiles.

The Prime Minister recalled parliament following an official request from the Iraqi government. The Conservatives, Lib Dems and Labour leaderships all supported air strikes although some MPs expressed fears that the UK would get drawn into a wider conflict.

Military action was overwhelmingly backed by MPs of all parties from the North-East.

However, three Labour MPs – Grahame Morris (Easington), Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) and Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) were among the rebels opposing air strikes.

Two others – Jenny Chapman (Darlington) and Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) – did not vote.

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright, said:

“I think there had been a compelling case made. There are two or three elements that really convinced me, because any decision that parliament has to take to commit British military resources is a profound and sombre one.

“The first is this wasn’t Britain unilaterally going into a country almost like an invasion, this was at the request of a democratically elected government of Iraq who is very concerned about the collapse of that state.

“There is a regional coalition, with Arab states involved, it is classed as legal and there are no ground troops.

“That criteria, proportionality, regional cooperation and legality expressed by a democratically elected country, those were the things that clinched it for me.

“Of course, it goes without saying the atrocities that ISIL are carrying out, beheadings of British citizens, threats to others, the recruitment of Jihadists from Britain, we have to stamp this cancer out.”

Mr Wright said he had considered the views of his constituents, some of whom had contacted him ahead of the vote, before committing to the Government’s motion.

This is an issue where people appreciate the complexity, people appreciate that is not the same issue as was Syria last year,” he said.

“It was split half and half. People were saying you have to go in, they have beheaded some of our people, you have got to stop this, there’s a humanitarian crisis and then I had people saying we should not commit to air strikes, violence doesn’t help.

“You have to weigh up the arguments and work out what you think is for the best.”

Mr Wright said he was aware of the dangers of so-called ‘mission creep’ once the bombings began, but felt there would be adequate oversight .

You are always going to have to have close scrutiny from the parliamentary process, that goes without saying,” he said. “This will come back to the House.

“What was really striking in the minutes after (the vote) is that this was not done flippantly by any member of parliament, there was a really sombre mood in the house and in the corridors of Westminster afterwards. People were realising the gravity of what we have done, but thinking that given the situation this is probably the best approach.”

Sedgefield Labour MP Phil Wilson, ( Tony Bliar‘s successor) said he backed the strikes because: “ISIS is a barbaric terrorist organisation which needs to be eradicated. It is only right that we play an appropriate role in its destruction.”

In the House of Lords, the Archbishop of Canterbury backed British air strikes, saying: “The action proposed today is right.”

But he warned: “We must not rely on a short term solution, on a narrow front, to a global, ideological, religious, holistic and trans-generational challenge.

“We must demonstrate that there is a positive vision far greater and more compelling than the evil of [IS].

“Such a vision offers us and the world hope – an assurance of success in this struggle – not the endless threat of darkness.”

All the Tyne & Wear MPs (except Stephen Hepburn in Jarrow) voted for military action. Are we really suprised ?

Source –  Northern Echo, 27 Sept 2014

 

Here is a full list of the 43 MPs who voted against

Labour (24)

Diane Abbott

Graham Allen

Anne Begg

Ronnie Campbell

Martin Caton

Katy Clark

Ian Davidson

Paul Flynn

Stephen Hepburn

Kate Hoey

Kelvin Hopkins

Sian James

Mark Lazraowicz

John McDonnell

Iain McKenzie

Austin Mitchell

Grahame Morris

George Mudie

Linda Riordan

Barry Sheerman

Dennis Skinner

Graham Stringer

Mike Wood

Jeremy Corbyn (Teller)

Plus:

Rushanara Ali (Formal abstention)

Conservatives (6)

Richard Bacon

John Baron

Gordon Henderson

Adam Holloway

Nigel Mills

Mark Reckless

Lib Dems (1)

Julian Huppert

SDLP (3)

Mark Durkan

Alasdair McDonnell

Margaret Ritchie

Plaid Cymru (2)

Jonathan Edwards

Hywel Williams

Respect (1)

George Galloway

SNP (5 and teller)

Stewart Hosie

Angus Roberton

Mike Weir

Eilidh Whiteford

Angus Brendan McNeill

Mike Wishart (Teller)

Green

Caroline Lucas

 

> I’ve posted this vid of the Dead Kennedys Kinky Sex Makes The World Go Round before, but it bears repitition. Dates from the Thatcher/Reagan era,  but just change the names to Cameron and Obama and see if you can tell the difference…

 

Newcastle-based muslim leader condemns David Cameron’s move to seek air strikes

A muslim leader in the North East has condemned David Cameron’s decision to take military action in Iraq and Syria.

But Abu Tayeb was quick to speak out against Isis’ brutal acts of terrorism, demanding that a peaceful solution to the crisis should be sought.

Mr Tayeb, from the Newcastle-based North East’s Islamic Diversity Centre, said: “

As much as I oppose Isis and their terrorism – I equally oppose this new bombing campaign by the ‘Coalition forces’ aka terrorism by governments.

“More innocent people will be killed no doubt and, of course, more terrorism will spread.

“Has the UK and US not got enough blood on their hands?”

Mr Tayeb hopes to promote a better understanding about the teachings of Islam across the region.

He said:

Islam does not stand for the barbaric acts carried out by Isis but it’s important to remember that muslims do not have a monopoly on this type of extremist behaviour.

“We want to send out a clear message that as muslims, it is our duty to speak out against any type of extremism. Isis kills innocent people, including many muslims.”

But Mr Tayeb dismissed the Prime Minister’s decision to seek military action in the form of air strikes.

He said:

“Violence breeds violence. No matter what they say, these raids will lead to innocent people suffering.

“To that innocent person on the ground, these air strikes are terrorist acts and we believe they will only add to the anti western feeling.

“If anything, these type of acts make matters worse, intervention is not the way forward.”

Mr Tayeb, who networks extensively in the region’s Islamic community, said there is a unified feeling against the barbaric acts carried out by Isis against British and American citizens.

He added:

All the Imams I have spoken to all feel the same, all have condemned this type of extremism and terrorism – they stand united in that regard.”

The North East’s Islamic Diversity Centre says it is working hard to remove many misconceptions about Islam in order to create greater harmony in Newcastle and across the North East.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Sept 2014

Former Durham commando pacing the streets with a sandwich board to get a job

A commando hero who twice fought for his country in Iraq is now standing at the roadside with a sandwich board trying to get a job.

Michael Graham, 34, is living in a van, cooking on a camping stove with his interview suit hanging in the back, and pounding the streets to look for work offshore.

The Durham father-of-two has been searching for employment for more than a year and has visited 33 oil and gas companies and job agencies and sent out more than 100 CVs but has not yet had a single offer.

> Join the club, mate, join the club…

The former Royal Marine pledges not to give up however and has had a sandwich board made to place beside the road in Aberdeen, 275 miles from his Durham home.

On his sign he list the courses he has done and effort he has made to get a job on an oil rig.

So far, it’s proving my hardest battle,” said Michael.

“When I joined the Marines I was determined to do it. I got through training that’s among the hardest in the British military.

“It’s the same with getting offshore. I’m putting 100 per cent into it.

Michael spent more than five years in the Royal Marines, serving with 45 Commando at Arbroath, north east of Dundee in Scotland.

Now all the Durham dad wants is for a manager driving to work to see his sign. He said he wants to earn a good wage for wife Claire and sons Archie, three, and seven-month-old Max.

On Sunday, he got in his van and drove 275 miles north from his home in Durham to do the rounds of possible employers in Scotland’s oil capital.

Michael said: “I started off on Monday and spent the day in my suit, going round all the agencies and companies. I’ve been to 33 in total.

“It’s just a case of hoping to hear something back from them.

“I’ve done the same companies two or three times and they’re telling me I have no offshore experience.”

Despite the bosses’ doubts, Michael insists his Commando training has prepared him perfectly for rig work.

It’s one harsh climate to another, from Iraq to the North Sea,” he said.

But that’s what I would find interesting and challenging.

“I’d go as a cleaner and try and work my way up. That’s the idea. I’d rather start at the bottom and work my way up on the drill floor.”

Michael’s wife Claire, 29, said her husband spent hours on his laptop researching his trip to Aberdeen before he set off.

And the mum-of-two said the former Marine would be an asset to any company.

She said: “He is a hard worker and he is used to harsh environments.

“A lot of people go onto rigs and then struggle as they are not used to working away from home.”

Claire urged oil firms to give him a chance.

She said: “He is determined and he is trying his best to get a job.

“He wants to work on the rigs and I would never stop him doing what he wants to do.

“I just hope something comes of it.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  09 July 2014

 

North East England: Britain’s Detroit?

Until seven years ago, there was a secret room at Darlington station. Just off one of the platforms, between the standard-class waiting room and a cleaners’ storeroom, and set back behind three successive doors, it was small and plain: a desk, a grimy extractor fan and two windows made opaque to passing travellers by reflective material.

Tony Blair used this room when he was prime minister. His constituency, Sedgefield in County Durham, was a short drive away. When he needed to get to London, 260 miles south, he and his entourage would often catch the fast Darlington train, which can take less than two and a half hours.

More usefully still, many other key New Labour figures took the same line, among them Peter Mandelson, Alan Milburn and David Miliband. Altogether, the north-east of England, which contains about a 25th of the UK population, was represented by “a third of Blair’s first cabinet“, noted the veteran anatomist of British power networks, Anthony Sampson, in 2004. (Sampson was himself born in County Durham.) Rarely before had our remotest and often poorest region been such a hub of political influence.

> Of course it could be argued that their only real interest in the region was that it provided safe Labour seats – Mandelson got elected in Hartlepool ! Atriumph of blind devotion over common sense if ever there was one.

When Blair arrived early or his train arrived late, it was felt by Whitehall that the increasingly controversial premier could not just stand on a platform, waiting. Hence the secret room. Now, it is just the station manager’s office. The building around it has gone back to being a market town station with flaking paint and a fragile roof, where isolated passenger footsteps echo in the long middle-of-the-day lull and trains for Scotland and the south of England rattle through without stopping. No current cabinet minister has a north-east seat – only two of its MPs are Tories. Labour’s power base is now in London, Yorkshire and the north-west.

Since the Blair era, the area has slipped in other ways. Between 2007 and 2012, unemployment rose faster than in any other UK region, to more than 10%, the highest in the country. Throughout 2013, as joblessness receded in most of the UK, in the north-east it carried on rising. This year, it has begun to fall a little but remains the worst in the nation.

> And how much of that fall can be attributed to sanctions ? Quite a chunk, I’d guess.

Since 2007, the area’s contribution to national economic growth, measured as gross value added, has shrunk from an already weak 3% in the Blair years to barely 2%. The Northern Rock building society, with roots in the region going back a century and a half, has suffered a humiliating meltdown. The north-east has been, and will probably continue to be, especially harshly treated by the coalition’s spending cuts.

According to the Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities, a typical council in the region will lose £665 in government funding per inhabitant between 2010 and 2018, the biggest national fall. Meanwhile, public sector employment in the region – the highest in England at more than one job in five – has been falling since 2009, a year before the coalition took office.

At Newcastle United, one of the north-east’s disproportionate number of fiercely followed, rarely successful football clubs, the recent sponsorship of the team shirt tells a similarly dispiriting story: Northern Rock from 2003-2011; Virgin Money, Northern Rock’s current, Edinburgh-based owners, from 2012- 2013; this season, the payday loan company Wonga.

Between 2011 and 2012, child poverty rates in Middlesbrough and Newcastle Central rose to 40% and 38% respectively.

For as long as anyone alive will remember, this has been a ‘problem region’: a special case, a sick man,” wrote the Newcastle-born novelist Richard T Kelly in a 2011 essay, What’s Left For The North-East?

In recent years, some rightwingers have begun to throw up their hands. “It is at least as hard to buck geography as it is to buck the market,” said the influential Tory thinktank Policy Exchange in 2008. “It is time to stop pretending that there is a bright future for Sunderland.”

And last year the Tory peer Lord Howell suggested the region had “large uninhabited and desolate areas… where there’s plenty of room for fracking“. Weeks later, the Economist described Middlesbrough and Hartlepool as part of “Britain’s rust belt“; “Despite dollops of public money and years of heroic effort… [these] former industrial heartlands are quietly decaying.

The magazine concluded with an unlikely but ominous comparison: “The Cotswolds were the industrial engines of their day. One reason they are now so pretty is that, centuries ago, huge numbers of people fled them.”

From Darlington, an old and scuzzy two-carriage train chugs east along a branch line towards Middlesbrough. Along the way, it stops at Thornaby-on-Tees, an ex-industrial town beside the river Tees. From the 1840s until the 1980s, the Head Wrightson ironworks here made everything from parts for bridges to parts for nuclear power stations; then foreign competition closed it.

In 1987, Margaret Thatcher visited the site and took a much-photographed walk across a yellowing wasteland of weeds and factory remnants, wearing an inappropriate smart suit but looking unusually pensive. Shortly afterwards, her government, seeking to soften its reputation as the hammer of the north, created the Teesside Development Corporation, and the wasteland was turned into the Teesdale Business Park, a US-style landscape of corporate lawns, car parks and low office blocks.

The blocks are still there, neat and anonymous except for the corporate logos: Barclaycard, the NHS, the privatised services firm Serco. The car parks are full of mid-range vehicles. For three decades, the north-east has been a centre for modestly paid clerical work, such as call centres and the “back office” administrative processes of companies based elsewhere. But at the Teesdale Business Park, “To Let” is the most common logo; some are so old, they have rotted and snapped off.

As with Thornaby, Middlesbrough is a flat riverside town that once grew fast because of iron foundries: from only 25 inhabitants in 1801 to 165,000 in the 1960s. The Victorian centre was built to a grid pattern, like a US boom town, with docks just to the north for exporting iron and coal.

But in 1980 the docks closed, the population began to fall, and a void opened between the town and the river. It is still there, starting a few yards from the town centre; a great windswept triangle of rubble and rust, boarded-up houses, Dickensian wall fragments and roads to nowhere. Derelict waterfront warehouses stand in the distance. A middle-aged security man in a peeling wood cabin guards them. “There’s lots of steel cable in those sheds,” he says. “And lots of people try to steal it.” When asked how long it has been so run-down, he shrugs and says without emotion: “As long as I can remember.

The town’s population is around 138,000. To a visitor, the long, straight streets of the town centre seem eerily empty of pedestrians. At the sizable railway station, the weekday rush hour sometimes barely exists: at 8.30 on a Friday morning, I counted fewer than a dozen other people on the platforms. The station cafe had not bothered to open.

If things carry on as they are now,” says Alex Niven, a leftwing writer from Northumberland, “in five years the situation will get somewhere like Detroit.” Several other authorities in the north-east that I interviewed invoked the long-imploding American city, unprompted.

He left the area 10 years ago, aged 18, and now lives in London. “Almost all my friends from school live in London now. When you go back to the north-east, the landscape’s kind of crumbling. There is this sort of sadness. It feels like a people who’ve been weakened, who’ve just been cut loose.”

Geography does not help. “The north-east is at the far corner of the country, but it is separated by more than just miles,” writes Harry Pearson, born near Middlesbrough, in his 1994 book The Far Corner.

There is the wilderness of the Pennines to the west, the emptiness of the North York Moors to the south, and to the north, the Scottish border… Sometimes the north-east [seems] more like an island than a region.”

It is an island that the HS2 rail project is not currently intended to reach. Meanwhile, the prospect of Scottish independence and the near-certainty of more Scottish devolution threatens to marginalise the region further. “Scotland can already do more to attract inward investment than we can,” says Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle Central. “More power for Scotland, in that sense, would not be a benefit for us.”

Pinned to a board in her constituency office is a list of Newcastle food banks. Outside, contrastingly, the grand city centre streets are much busier than in Middlesbrough, full of prosperously dressed people and big branches of the same upmarket chainstores as in richer places.

“Newcastle is the economic capital of the north-east,” she says, “but the centre, especially, is not representative of the region.” A few minutes’ walk farther out, cheap cafes offer soup of the day for a pound, and other scruffy businesses have long ceased to offer anything. “Every time I see a building boarded up,” Onwurah says, “it strikes fear into my heart.”

Onwurah grew up on a Newcastle council estate in the 60s and 70s. It was then a smoky, clattering centre for shipbuilding and other heavy industry, but these were in terminal decline. In 1984, she left to study electrical engineering, then worked away from Newcastle for a quarter of a century, until she was elected as MP in 2010. In the interim, the city reshaped its economy around tourism and nightlife, as an internationally hyped “party city“; around sport, with the 90s resurgence of Newcastle United; and around culture, with the opening in Gateshead of the Baltic art gallery in 2002 and the Sage music centre in 2004.

It was a very heady time,” says Niven, who supports Newcastle United and as a teenager often travelled into the city from rural Northumberland. “The north-east has a brash, confident side. There’s also often a sense of slumbering potential, that one day a messiah or a revival will come.”

In the 90s and noughties, optimism was most concrete along the river Tyne, which separates Gateshead and Newcastle. Decaying canyons of quayside buildings filled with flash new bars, expensive flats, high-end office space and public art. It was easy to visit Newcastle – which I often did then – and think it was becoming a swaggering, economically self-sufficient provincial city, such as those you find in less centralised countries: another Marseille or Hamburg.

The quaysides are slightly less uplifting now. On the Newcastle side, several bars have shut down. Bridge Court, an enormous, empty office block, has a plaque that reads, “The foundation stone was laid by Mr Eddie George, governor of the Bank of England, on 22 September 1994“; another sign says, “Demolition. Keep Out“.

Niven sees the north-east’s revival under the Blair government as “largely superficial. In the long term, it didn’t lead to better jobs and infrastructure. You can’t base the revival of a region on nightlife and football.

Onwurah, whose grandfather worked in the shipyards and whose mother grew up on the quayside, is less scathing: “Labour did a lot in the north-east, to stop the concentration of economic power elsewhere getting much worse, but we didn’t overcome the underlying issue. We haven’t got the previous sources of economic growth. And we haven’t got enough skills and entrepreneurs.” A successful region, she says, has a “critical mass” economically. “If you don’t have critical mass, to attract people and investment, you go into decline. We’re on the edge of that.” She holds up her hands and makes a flat, wobbling gesture: “We’re teetering.

In Middlesbrough, the riverside wasteland has been earmarked for regeneration – as a new area called Middlehaven – for almost 30 years. Recessions, anxious developers and the town’s wider economic struggles have confined most construction to the area’s fringe. Yet there is one exception: an incongruous silvery curve of a building in the centre of the emptiness. Middlesbrough College opened in 2008; it houses engineering workshops, training kitchens, hair and beauty salons, and other vocational course facilities for 16- to 18-year-olds. In 2011, it was rated “good with outstanding features” by Ofsted. Walking down the college’s bright and warm internal street, seconds after being out in the dereliction, and seeing students at work in the glass-walled rooms or rushing back and forth, it seems absurd to think that Middlesbrough does not have a long-term future. But in the window of the in-house Jobs Shop, only half a dozen positions are offered. One is at a local seaside care home for the elderly: the successful applicant will earn £107.20 for a 40-hour week.

Further education is one of the north-east’s few growth industries. “Without it, I dread to think what some of the cities would be doing,” says Andy Pike, director of Newcastle University’s Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies. “A lot of people want to come and study in the north-east” – academic standards are high, living costs low and the nightlife boisterous. But, Pike adds, “We have a problem with graduate retention: not as many stay as could do. It’s a thin labour market. The people who stay typically will not end up in graduate jobs. And then local non-graduates will be bumped out of the labour market altogether.”

> But the influx of students also puts a strain on rented accommodation. Certainly in Sunderland (which seems to be ignored in this article) its noticable that streets near to the university appear to becoming student-only ghettos – private landlords presumably looking to maximise profits by packing them in.

In the north-east, the increasingly de-skilled, low-paid labour market of Britain under the coalition is at its meanest. Full-time wages are the lowest of any UK region.

In 2007, the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, or Mima, cheekily echoing New York’s Moma gallery, opened on a redeveloped square in the town centre. It looks the part: slick, glassy exterior; high-ceilinged interior; dozens of attentive young staff in Mima T-shirts. It offers an ambitious programme of community events and exhibitions – currently, Art And Optimism In 1950s Britain. Yet a gallery cannot make a town centre vibrant by itself. On Thursday evenings, it opens late, but on the Thursday I visited I saw four other visitors in half an hour.

Since the 1930s, governments have tested regeneration projects in the region. Edward Twiddy is one of the latest reformers to be despatched from London. Since 2012, he has been head of the North-East Local Enterprise Partnership (Nelep), a typically optimistic coalition creation, which aims to get business and local councils – almost all Labour – to work together for the area’s economic benefit.

Twiddy previously worked at the Treasury and for the Foreign Office in Iraq. He is slight and cerebral-looking, and speaks mostly in fluent Whitehall jargon. “The region’s still going through some fairly big structural changes,” he tells me. “The north-east was over-specialised – in coal, for example. Nowadays, people need to be able to approach life differently. You’ve got to be able to travel, to be competitive… Economic activity will move [away] if you cannot convince the market that yours is the right place to work.” But even Twiddy is off: he is set to leave Nelep for Atom, a new digital bank to be based “in the north-east“.

I ask how many staff Nelep has. Twiddy pauses: “The core is four. Then there are people doing discrete pieces of work for us, people loaned to us, people I’ve scrabbled around for, got a few pennies for… There are about 11 or 12 of us in all.” Nelep replaced One North-East, a regional development agency created by the Blair government that had 400 staff.

Yet there is a more economically independent side to the region. A few miles east of the centre of Newcastle, a side road leads steeply downhill to a half-hidden stretch of the Tyne. In the early 1980s, the quays here were a rotting ladder of derelict docks and slipways. Then two local property developers, Freddy and Bruce Shepherd, began to buy the land, clean it up, reuse the old cranes and rent out the quaysides: first to companies involved in North Sea oil, then to others involved in undersea cable-laying and offshore wind power.

Shepherd Offshore now stretches along the Tyne for miles. In its riverside boardroom, with giant reels of cable as tall as tugboats looming outside the windows, Twiddy makes the introductions over coffee served in Versace mugs. The Shepherds are heavyset men with fierce handshakes and slightly loose tongues. “We are the raggy end of the couch up here in the north-east,” Bruce says. Freddy interjects: “We get nothing easy. Not off the government. Without us, there would be nothing here but two abandoned shipyards.”Up and down the river, we’re close knit,” Bruce says. “There are more than 2,500 jobs. We’re a manufacturing base. We train people. But we’re forgotten down here.”

How many jobs were there in the days of the shipyards? “Six and a half thousand,” Freddy says. “I was an apprentice in the shipyard here. You’re never going to get back to those numbers.”

Bruce offers a tour of the quay in his spotless Range Rover. As we drive, he points out other cars parked nose to tail at the roadside: “There’s never enough parking. The number of people working here keeps growing.” We leave the road and enter a muddy construction site, scheduled to house a new national research centre for offshore and undersea technology, a collaboration between the Shepherds, Newcastle city council and Newcastle University. Bruce ploughs through puddles, his property developer’s patter in full flow, then stops his spattered Range Rover at a fence that faces the famous old Swan Hunter shipyard. It is still a wasteland, but new developments are encroaching from all directions.

Another sign of entropy reversed would be to attract more southerners; not just to study but to work. Twiddy is one. Tony Trapp is another. Raised in London, he has been one of the area’s handful of legendary entrepreneurs since the 70s. Then, he helped invent an undersea plough for laying seabed pipes and cables by driving a specially adapted tractor up and down a beach in Northumberland. Several companies and clever products later, he now runs Osbit Power, which makes self-stabilising gangways to connect offshore wind turbines to maintenance vessels.

The enterprise is based in a previously derelict hotel in sweeping Northumberland countryside. Behind its unkempt walls, purposeful-looking young employees cluster at desks or in front of whiteboards, while Trapp, a creased man of 68 with a murmuring voice but an intoxicating can-do aura, briefs them and holds court. “I’ve always based my businesses on clever graduates,” he says later. “I’ve taken on hundreds, some from Newcastle University, from Northumbria University. For offshore engineering, the north-east is the best place in Europe.

But in other ways he sees the local economy as still underpowered. “Persuading clever people from the south to come here is quite hard. It’s not just the image they have of the north-east – it does have the worst statistics, in health, in booze… If you look at many CEOs of big companies here, they don’t live up here. They live in Surrey, London. It’s insulting, in a way.” For a second, he looks his age. “I don’t have the solution to the north-east.”

It is not Twiddy’s job to voice such doubts. Instead, he takes me to the coast, not far from where Trapp tested his undersea plough. It is a brilliant blue day, and the often luminous north-east light is at its most seductive. We drive into the small town of Blyth, where there has been a port since the 12th century, which suggests the region has more staying power than the doom-mongers claim. We approach a cluster of shiny, towering blue-grey sheds, where the National Renewable Energy Centre tests blades for offshore wind farms. In December, the government increased its subsidy for this source of electricity, a rare gift from Whitehall to the north-east in the age of austerity. Twiddy sounds like a small boy for a moment: “The crane for lifting the blades is just amazing!

We walk to one of the windowless sheds. Inside, spot-lit, suspended above an expanse of polished concrete floor, a single pale grey blade, with weights and cables attached to it, flexes slowly up and down, vast and stately as the tail of a whale. The only sound is the hum of the air-conditioning. In a space the size of a small cathedral, but clean and tidy as a science lab, only two employees are visible: distant, purposeful figures in dust coats.

Working here looks much better than working in a chilly shipyard, a call centre or a nightclub, or for most of the region’s previous economic saviours. But Mill says the centre has a staff of 69. The north-east will need an awful lot more workplaces like it this if it is going to stop teetering.

Source – The Guardian  10 May 2014

St Annes by-election, Sunderland city council

By-election under way to replace  Labour councillor Lisa Smiles, after her resignation  following a benefits fraud conviction  left the St Anne’s ward a member down.

Four candidates – representing the Green Party, UKIP, Labour and the Conservative Party – will compete for the role  on March 27.

Voters have until Tuesday to register with Sunderland City Council, while applications to vote by post must be received by 5pm on Wednesday

Emily Blyth will contest the seat for the Green Party. The 30-year-old full-time University of Sunderland student and community musician has lived in South Hylton all her life and says she is proud of the area.

She said: “My main priorities would be doing what I can to protect our most vulnerable residents from cuts to vital services, and likewise seeking to support an inclusive community for people of all backgrounds.

“At times of economic difficulty it’s all too easy to scapegoat the poor, the disabled, the migrants, and there are plenty of voices doing that, when in reality such groups are the hardest hit by the destructive cuts agenda.

“I’m also passionate about keeping the NHS in public hands, and for our public transport system to be run in the best interests of passengers, not corporations.”

UKIP candidate Aileen Casey, 58, is a mum-of-two, who lives in Springwell. She is a youth worker who is passionate about supporting young people.

Aileen said: “Labour councillors have held their safe seats for decades. Many people don’t vote because there hasn’t been a real choice or they vote the same way as their parents or grandparents have done.

“Things need to change in Sunderland. Voting for UKIP is the only way to bring about these long overdue changes and to ensure that the wishes of the local people are carried out.

“The current Labour administration just follows the diktats of their London based Party leaders. Elected UKIP councillors always put local residents before Party doctrine.”

Labour’s Jacqui Gallagher lives in Thorney Close. She is a life-long trade unionist who has represented Unison at Sunderland City Council for more than 10 years.“I have worked in children’s services my whole career, dealing with some of the most difficult cases and making a positive difference in some families lives, that has held me in great job satisfaction.

“Over this time I have gained a great insight into how the council works and still have many connections at the city council. I feel that this experience and my training and knowledge of representing people as a union rep gives me a unique advantage over the other candidates in this election to represent the people of St Anne’s ward on the city council.

“I would ask for votes because having brought my family up on a large council estate using the local services myself, I have a clear insight into benefits or problems associated with our way of life. If I am trusted with the community’s vote I promise to work tirelessly for the people within the St Anne’s ward.”

Former opposition leader Tony Morrissey will contest the seat for the Conservatives. The 42-year-old, who lives in Hendon, came to Sunderland from County Cork in the 1990s.

Tony served in the Territorial Army and saw active service in Iraq during the Gulf war. Until 2012 Tony represented the Barnes ward.

“I’m running to give residents a serious alternative to Labour,” Tony said. “The council needs a wake-up call. With the help of the voters of St Anne’s I intend giving them exactly that.”

•Anyone who is not registered or would like further information, should call Electoral Services at Sunderland City Council on 0191 561 1144 or contact elections@sunderland.gov.uk.

> No Lib Dems ?  Still maybe not their strongest area ( in 2008 their candidate finished last, behind the BNP) and they probably don’t want any more humiliations right now.

You’d think it’d be a fairly safe Labour seat, but it’ll be interesting to see how UKIP fare.

I’m not 100% sure of the boundaries of St Anne’s ward, but only the Green Party candidate actually seems to live in it.

Source –  Sunderland Echo,  10 March 2014