Solicitors in the North East will join a nationwide boycott that could see criminal courts grind to a halt.
Lawyers in the region have backed an unprecedented protest over the government’s cut to legal aid, which comes into force today.
They said a planned 8.75% cut to the publicly funded criminal legal aid budget was “uneconomic” and “unsustainable”.
Mass meetings of solicitors and barristers who specialise in criminal work were originally held in Liverpool but later also in Newcastle, London, Manchester, Leeds, and other cities.
All agreed not to take on any legal aid cases as of today, but will continue to do duty work to avoid breaching their contract.
Legal aid is the help given to people that may not otherwise afford their own lawyers and is a big source of income for many firms.
Solicitors in the Northumbria area, which includes, Newcastle, Northumberland, South Tyneside, North Tyneside, Sunderland and Gateshead, have backed the nationwide action after they held a meeting at Northumbria University on Monday night.
Lewis Pearson, deputy vice-president of the Newcastle Law Society and partner at Pearson Caulfield solicitors, in Newcastle, said the boycott was a last-ditch effort to save legal aid.
The gap between the North East and the wealthy South is growing wider as the economy recovers, an MP has warned.
Grahame Morris, Labour MP for Easington, led a 90-minute Commons debate calling for more support for traditional industrial areas such as the former coalmining villages in his Durham constituency.
He told Ministers that boosting the economy of the North East would benefit the entire country and could reduce congestion and overcrowding in London, because fewer people would move to the capital to seek work.
Mr Morris called for support for a planned Centre for Creative Excellence south of Seaham, County Durham, which could create more than 2,000 jobs.
The development, which was set to feature television studios as well as conference and training facilities, had been backed by the regional development agency created under the last Labour Government and abolished by the Conservative-led Coalition Government in 2012.
However Business Minister Anna Soubry accused Labour MPs of failing to celebrate job creation in the North East, and said the Government had awarded £13.4m to businesses to help create jobs in Easington alone.
A number of Labour MPs from across the region have been pushing the Government to create an industrial strategy for the North East to tackle what they say is a lack of good quality private sector jobs. They made similar pleas to former Labour leader Ed Miliband in the run-up to May’s election.
Mr Morris said that there needed to be a senior politician championing the regions in the Cabinet.
He said: “My view is that we need a strong voice in cabinet advocating for our regions.”
> Well that’s not going happen, is it ? Areas like the North East dont vote Tory, so Tories don’t care what happens to them. Dont forget that Thatcher’s government seriously considered cutting cities like Liverpool loose to die. Do you suppose the same mentality doesn’t still exist in the Tory ranks – it’s what Tories do.
Forty-four days after David Cameron gained an unexpected majority on a dramatic general election night, opposition parties are still picking themselves up from the floor. But on the streets of Britain, tens of thousands of people took up their placards and filled the streets of London, Glasgow and elsewhere for the first major protest against the government’s plans for five more years of austerity.
Estimates of the size of the rally in central London on Saturday varied between 70,000 and more than 150,000; in Glasgow’s George Square several thousand gathered and there were smaller demonstrations reported in other cities, including Liverpool and Bristol.
“We’re here to say austerity isn’t working,” said Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP, to great applause from the crowds in Parliament Square at the end of the march. “We’re here to say that it wasn’t people on Jobseekers’ Allowance that brought down the banks.
“It wasn’t nurses and teachers and firefighters who were recklessly gambling on international markets. And so we should stop the policies that are making them pay for a crisis that wasn’t there making.”
Marching under the banner End Austerity Now, protesters denounced public sector cuts, the treatment of the disabled and the vulnerable through welfare cuts, the privatisation of the NHS.
Teachers, nurses, lawyers and union groups marched under their own banners. Chants and songs demanded an end to Tory government, equality and more help for the poor. A sprinkling of celebrity faces – Russell Brand, Charlotte Church and actor Richard Coyle – were among the crowd.
The deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness, told the rally:
“It is David Cameron’s cabinet of millionaires – they are the people who are the real spongers. They are the people who are given free rein to live out their Thatcherite fantasies at the expense of ordinary, decent communities throughout these islands.”
Protesters set off from outside the Bank of England, and by the time the march reached Westminster – its final destination – a sea of banners, placards and flags stretched for more than a mile down Whitehall and past Trafalgar Square.
An 11 year-old “kind hearted” schoolgirl has slammed David Cameron for “making the poor poorer”, it has been reported.
In a letter to the Prime Minister and Tory leader, Halle Carnall, who attends the Accrington Academy, says her school friends are often left hungry and that she is worried about “what state this country will be in when I’m older”.
Her letter has been shared on Facebook over 40,000 times, after proud mum Joanne, 31, uploaded it to the social network to share with family members.
Joanne told the Accrington Observer:
“After school, Halle was sat in her bedroom, I thought she was doing her homework when she came down and asked me to read her letter.
“When I read the first line ‘Dear Mr Prime Minister’, I almost laughed as I thought it was a joke but as I carried on reading I realised it was a very serious letter that she had put a lot of thought into.
“I uploaded a copy of the letter to Facebook, only to show it to my family, as they live in Liverpool.
“I didn’t expect anything further than a couple of likes and maybe a few comments from friends and family.
“We were in total shock to see that the letter had been re-shared almost 40,000 times, as far as China and New Zealand.”
In her letter to David Cameron, Halle congratulates the PM for winning the general election but warns against “selling the NHS and making the poor poorer whilst looking after you and your firiends”.
“I am worried you are making a poor choice that will impact on my future”, she says.
“I am very lucky that both of my parents have good jobs and I will have a warm meal tonight. However lots of my school friends and millions of others in your country are not so lucky and will be hungry today, tomorrow and for the next five years at least.”
In a call to unite the whole of society, Halle writes:
“Whether rich or poor we are all the same. We all have the right to a good standard of education, healthcare if we are poorly and job opportunities.
“It scares me to imagine what state this country will be in when I’m older.”
She ends the letter by urging David Cameron to:
“Please consider me and million of children of just like me who deserve the best chance in life”.
Commenting on the huge response the letter has received on Facebook, Halle’s mum Joanne said:
“The response has been amazing.
“To us, Halle has always been a kind hearted and gifted child, but for total strangers to agree is just crazy.
“People have been commenting on how well written the letter is, and how Halle is so bright, caring and such a brilliant young lady.
“People have said they are looking at a future electorate and that she would make a fantastic MP.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 19 May 2015
A church minister has written a stirring and emotional letter to David Cameron, urging the Prime Minister to meet with victims of austerity and consider the “social and human cost” of Tory policies.
In a letter posted on the social network Facebook, which has been shared over 100,000 times and sent to Downing Street, Reverend Mike Walsh says he agrees with the PM that the best route out of poverty is by moving into work. But says David Cameron doesn’t seem to understand that people are scared about “what your policies will do to our communities and families”.
“Scared of what will happen to our health service and our schools. Scared of losing our family homes for the sake of a few quid saving from the bedroom tax, or not being able to heat our home and have enough left to buy food.”
Reverend Walsh, from The United Reformed Church, says Tory policies are “couched in terms of reducing the deficit and balancing the books”, and pleaded with Mr Cameron “to govern for everyone and unite the country”.
“The country isn’t a business, it’s its people. All its people. And you are everyone’s Prime Minister whether we voted for you or not.”
David Cameron may better understand the human cost of austerity measures if he spent “a week or two living on the minimum wage, or volunteer in a food bank”, says Reverend Walsh.
“Go to Liverpool and meet people with disabled dependents who can’t afford even one nanny, or to Newcastle and talk to people still living in poverty due to the demise of the coal industry.”
He added: “If you do that, then maybe you can heal some of the fractures in our society. Without this I just don’t believe you can see just how crucial these issues are.”
Foodbank charity Trussell Trust gave out more than one million food parcels in 2014/15, with benefit delays cited as the primary cause of rising food poverty in the UK.
The full letter reads:
Dear Prime Minister,
I don’t know if you will ever read this, but I have some things I wish to say to you.
You have won the General Election and command a majority in the House of Commons, and as such will feel you have a legitimate mandate to govern. However, you must also know that you don’t command a majority of the British people.
Although our political views are very much at odds on many issues, I’m willing to believe that you are a good man, as sure of your ideals as I am of mine, and believe your plan is what’s best for us all. You said today that you will govern for the whole country and bring back together that which has clearly fractured. I hope you will.
But Prime Minister, though you can obviously see your party did not win the confidence of Scotland and huge swathes of the north of England, I’m not sure your party quite understands why. It’s not because we’re all ‘loony-left’ or extremists and nationalists, it’s because so many of us are scared. Scared of what your policies will do to our communities and families. Scared of what will happen to our health service and our schools. Scared of losing our family homes for the sake of a few quid saving from the bedroom tax, or not being able to heat our home and have enough left to buy food.
I don’t disagree with you that the best way out of poverty is to work, nor do I think that people should get something for nothing and expect the tax-payer to support people indefinitely if they are able to work. Who would think that that was ok and fair?
But your party’s policies on these issues, couched in terms of reducing the deficit and balancing the books, don’t seem to take into account the social and human cost of such actions. The country isn’t a business, it’s its people. All its people. And you are everyone’s Prime Minister whether we voted for you or not.
You said today you will govern for everyone and unite the country. I hope you do. But to be able to do so you need to make it a priority in your first 100 days, to spend time in Scotland visiting people on zero hours contracts. Come to Manchester and talk with those who have been sanctioned for having a spare room, but have nowhere else to go. Go to Liverpool and meet people with disabled dependents who can’t afford even one nanny, or to Newcastle and talk to people still living in poverty due to the demise of the coal industry. Spend a week or two living on the minimum wage, or volunteer in a food bank for a whole day.
Then Prime Minister you might begin to understand the cost of your policies from the other side, to see people as more than their net contribution to the economy, or as deliberate drains on the system. If you do that, then maybe you can heal some of the fractures in our society. Without this I just don’t believe you can see just how crucial these issues are.
So please Prime Minister, leave Westminster for a few hours a week and truly strive to govern for all of us.
Rev’d Mike Walsh
The United Reformed Church
Source – Welfare Weekly, 13 May 2015
Outdated and uncomfortable “Pacer” trains are to be axed from rail services in the North and replaced by 120 brand new vehicles, the Government has announced.
The decision to scrap the trains, which have been compared to cattle trucks, was made by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin as he launched the contest inviting rail operators to bid to run the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises.
It brings to an end speculation that the vehicles could stay, or could be replaced by second hand trains from another part of the country.
But it also emerged that Mr McLoughlin faced a battle with civil servants – who argued that the £250 million cost of the new vehicles was poor value for money.
The Transport Secretary was forced to issue a “written directive”, a formal note confirming that he had been advised against requiring new trains but wanted his officials to go ahead anyway.
Mr McLoughlin told his staff that scrapping the Pacers was essential, warning: “I do not think that the continued use of these uncomfortable and low quality vehicles is compatible with our vision for economic growth and prosperity in the North.”
He also said that many Northern lines were unlikely to be electrified, so it was important to ensure new diesel trains were built because there is an industry-wide shortage of diesel vehicles.
It means the decision will now be scrutinised by a Commons spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee, but while this could potentially criticise Mr McLoughlin it does not have the power to over-rule him.
Pacers were introduced in the 1980s as a short-term solution to a lack of rolling stock. Their future had been unclear until now, with senior Ministers including the Prime Minister promising they would go, while a series of official Government documents stated they could instead be refurbished and remain in use.
The Northern franchise operates local, commuter and rural services throughout the region, and a number of long distance services linking major cities.
As well as replacing the pacers with new trains, the winner of the franchise will be expected to modernise other vehicles on the route, double the number of services on may routes, provide more off-peak and Sunday services, invest at least £30 million to improve stations and introduce free Wi-Fi on all Northern trains by 2020 at the latest.
Bidders for the franchise are Abellio Northern Ltd, Arriva Rail North Limited and Govia Northern Limited. They have until 26 June to submit their plans.
The TransPeninne Express franchise provides longer distance intercity-type services, connecting the major cities of Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Hull, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as Manchester Airport.
Improvements the government wants the bidders to introduce include introducing extra capacity for passengers through more carriages and more services; providing earlier and later services and more services on Sundays; considering options for new services such as extending Newcastle services to Edinburgh, and introducing free Wi-Fi on all TransPennine Express trains by 2020 at the latest.
The bidders are First Trans Pennine Express Limited, Keolis Go-Ahead Limited and Stagecoach Trans Pennine Express Trains Limited, and they must submit their proposals by 28 May 2015.
Both new franchises are due to start operating in April 2016.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 27 Feb 2015
The Government has been accused of sidestepping questions about delays into a possible inquiry into the actions of police during the infamous ‘Battle of Orgreave’.
For two years the Independent Police Complaints Commission has been investigating whether officers accused of fitting up striking miners on riot charges, including two from the North East, had a case to answer.
Blaydon MP Dave Anderson, a miner at the time who was at the South Yorkshire coking plant that day in June, 1984, submitted two questions to Home Secretary Theresa May about the matter.
He asked if she would find out when the IPCC would make its decision and what her department knew about the reasons for the delay.
In the Government’s reply, the Home Office said the IPCC had completed its assessment of the events at Orgreave and was taking legal advice before publishing its findings.
In the written reply, signed by Minister Mike Penning, he wrote:
“This has been a very complex exercise which has required the in-depth analysis of a vast amount of documentation from over 30 years ago. As the IPCC is an independent organisation the Government has no control or influence over the date of publication of its findings.”
Mr Anderson commented:
“The government should put “the vast amount of paperwork” in the public domain so that people and Parliament can see if they were misled.
“She sidesteps the second question about exactly what information she has and puts the onus onto an Independent body. Has the IPCC seen all of the paperwork that has not been released and if not why not?”
Orgreave was the scene of some of the bitterest clashes during the year long miners strike of 1984 to 1985.
In all 95 miners were arrested and charged with riot following it, an offence which carries a maximum life sentence.
All the charges were eventually dropped and 39 miners were later awarded £425,000 in compensation amid claims police witnesses gave evidence that had been dictated to them by senior officers as well as perjuring themselves.
It was in 2012 after a TV documentary repeated these allegations in light of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report that the head of South Yorkshire Police referred his own force to the IPCC.
It was South Yorkshire Police which was in control of the crowds at the 1989 FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest where 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death.
It was revealed officers had fabricated evidence – including having statements dictated to them by senior officers – in an attempt to blame the tragedy on the Liverpool fans, the same tactics used against miners at Orgreave five years earlier.
Mr Anderson added:
“(David) Cameron said Sunshine is the best policy. Well come on then, shine a light on this disgraceful chapter in our nation’s history.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 24 Jan 2015
This article was written by Amelia Gentleman, for The Guardian on Thursday 1st January 2015
George Osborne says the coverage of looming new spending cuts has been “hyperbolic”, but away from Downing Street there is a strong consensus that the cumulative effect of five years of austerity will make the next wave of cuts, in 2015, very painful.
Four more years of austerity is “a price that works for our country”, Osborne said as he outlined his strategy. The Institute for Fiscal Studies responded by warning that “colossal” cuts to the state would take total government spending to its lowest level as a proportion of national income since before the second world war. By the end of the process, “the role and shape of the state will have changed beyond recognition”, the think tank said. So far, £35bn has been cut; the plan is to cut a further £55bn by 2019.
If the chancellor remains in post after the general election, Britain will find itself halfway through a nine-year stretch of spending cuts, with the Conservatives determined to shrink and redefine the role of the state. The Liberal Democrats say the Conservative policy is aimed at creating “a smaller state, with many more cuts to come”, giving Britain “austerity for ever”; 2015 will be a pivotal year in the race to reshape the nature of the state.
> Would that be the same Liberal Democrats who are part of the coalition that is making these changes to society ? Sorry, Lib Dems, don’t start wringing your hands now – you won’t get rid of the blood on them that way.
Even if they lose, difficult spending cuts look inevitable. Labour is also committed to ending the deficit, in 2017-18, provided the state of the economy allows it.
For many publicly funded services and organisations, 2015 will be the year when their chances of survival become clear. There is an enormous range in the size and the function of services under threat, which makes tracking the scale of the cuts challenging.
Here are just four examples – from the large scale to the tiny, of services that are set to go this year.
In June, the Independent Living Fund, which provides funding for around 18,000 disabled people to work and live in the community, will be wound down. In Liverpool, there will be a decision in early 2015 over whether the council will close a possible 23 out of the city’s 26 Sure Start centres. On a smaller scale, organisations including the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants, in north London, which supports around 150 refugees and asylum seekers, providing English classes, faces closure because of cuts to education budgets.
“These are people who come to us on a daily basis who desperately need some kind of support,” project manager Andy Ruiz Palma says. “I would lose my job, but I am more worried about the clients. There is nowhere else for them to go.”
In Ealing, west London, parents are campaigning to save the lollipop crossing role, done for the past 20 years by Eileen Rowles, and now at risk of being discontinued because of council spending cuts.
The Office for Budget Responsibility said in December that the chancellor’s plans would mean one million further government job losses by 2020 (a total fall from early 2011 of 1.3 million), representing a 20% fall in headcount.
Over the past five years, there has been surprise and relief from politicians that public anger about spending cuts has been relatively muted. Aside from a few annual anti-cuts marches in big cities, Britain has not experienced the waves of protest seen in countries such as Spain. Given that those most affected by the cuts are the most vulnerable and disempowered people in society, it’s perhaps not surprising that the response has been muted.
But that could change in 2015. The next stage of cutbacks is likely to be harder to ignore. The easy decisions have already been made; once the low-hanging fruit has been removed, finding new things to cut gets harder, which means the second half of the austerity era is likely to be much tougher than the first.
By next May, government funding for councils will be 40% lower than it was in 2010; and a further 13% will need to be cut in 2015.
“It is individuals who have paid the price of funding reductions, whether it is through seeing their local library close, roads deteriorate or support for young people or families scaled back. Further reductions without radical reform will have a detrimental impact on people’s quality of life,” the Local Government Association chair, Tony Sparks, says.
The National Audit Office has warned that more than half of councils currently risk falling into serious financial crisis before the end of the decade. Some may struggle to provide services that they are legally obliged to offer, and this may become apparent in 2015 with more legal action by service users.
Nicola Smith, head of economic affairs at the TUC, says:
“The scale of the spending cuts that the chancellor set out in his autumn statement briefing is truly severe. The public sector has already experienced five years of austerity. The consequences for key services that people rely on are severe.”
Osborne has said that if the Conservatives win the election he will want to cut a further £12bn a year from the welfare bill – on top of the £20m-£25m that has already been cut. He proposes freezing working-age benefits for two years, reducing the overall benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000, and limiting access to housing benefit for people under 21.
Professor John Hills, director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, says that the impact of further cuts in this area would be very painful.
“Both the political and public belief is that spending on out-of-work benefits is a large share of overall public spending; it is not. Trying to make large savings from what is really a small share of public spending will require increasingly harsh cuts. We have seen this already through things like the bedroom tax, the imposition of council tax on people with very low incomes, and the greatly increased use of sanctioning. To continue to get more savings from that group will require harsher measures.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 01 Jan 2015
More than one in three businesses who took on North East school leavers rated their recruits as unprepared for work, a new survey has found.
The UK Commission for Employment and Skills, which is part of the Department for Business, asked organisations who took on 17 to 18-year-olds how they felt their new employees shaped up.
More than one in three employers in this region said the teens were “poor” or “very poor” – almost 20% more than the national average, and placing Newcastle and Sunderland behind the likes of Liverpool and Manchester.
When the question was asked of 16-year-old recruits, the proportion of dissatisfied firms rose to 38% in Newcastle.
A lack of experience of working life was the top reason cited by the city’s employers as the quality lacking from their 17 to 18 year old workers.
> Huh ? They’ve just left school ! How much experience do you expect them to have ?
That was followed by a poor attitude or personality, and a lack of the required skills.
> Lack of skillls ? Well, aren’t you supposed to teach them those skills ?
Poor attitude or personality ? Yeah, are you really the best judge of that, Mr Boss ? Not on the available evidence…
In response both the North East Chamber of Commerce and regional representatives of the Federation of Small Businesses renewed calls for greater links between industry and schools.
“There’s been a real debate for a long while about work readiness, and not just about school leavers, but about people leaving colleges as well,” said Ted Salmon, chairman of the FSB in the North East.
“Sometimes basic things are lacking – it’s not just about maths and English, but about the ability to interact with people, to write business letters or emails, and to get to work on time.
“And we can debate over what subjects are right to help people into work – but it needs to be part of a wider debate between business and education over how we can encourage more interaction.”
> What they really want is a conveyor-belt of disposable, low-wage slaves that already have all the skills even though they don’t know what job they might be doing.
Mr Salmon expressed concern at the apparent difficulties of speaking to schools in a non enterprise day context, with teachers nervous that closer ties with business could mean extra work for themselves or their pupils on top of the usual curriculum.
“Half the battle is showing teachers how what they already do can relate to business,” said Mr Salmon, “and just to even start that is so difficult because there are so many league tables and exam pressures.
“But when you go in and see the children on an enterprise day you see how switched on they are by it – so we need to break down that barrier and the frustrating lack of communication between schools and business.”
> Perhaps some teachers can see all too clearly where its all leading…
NECC director of policy, Ross Smith, agreed. “Links between education and business are essential to ensure we are producing young people who are ready to fill roles within the North East labour market and are comfortable in the working environment,” he said.
> 16-hour a week cleaning jobs ? Zero-hour contracts ? That seems to be mainly what’s on offer in my job searches within the North East labour market.
“Likewise, we must take the fear out of employing, training or simply giving experience to young people. According to our own 2014 Workforce Survey, businesses see this as costly, time-consuming and restrictive – this must be addressed.
> Or they could see it as an investment in the future. They always used to. But now, of course, its anything for a quick profit, including the workforce.
“A great deal of progress has been made in recent years, but we must continue to work hard if we are to make significant in-roads into addressing regional youth unemployment and potential skills shortages in key sectors in our region.”
> No, a great deal of progress has not been made – we’ve gone backwards, so that now everyone is expected to be fully trained before they start the job.
NECC’s own 2014 Workforce Survey actually painted a bleaker picture of what the region’s firms think of teenagers, with almost three quarters of employers reporting that sixth formers and college leavers were unprepared for work.
> Probably not as bleak a picture as what teenagers think of employers !
Just over half also complained that graduates were not ready – with the main reason given being a lack of work experience.
> Because they’ve just left school ! Good grief, it makes you wonder about the idiots running these companies… or perhaps not.
However, almost a third of the businesses surveyed admitted they don’t offer work experience placements to school pupils, with many saying that placements were too costly and time consuming, or that the requirements set by schools and colleges were too restrictive.
However 52% said they current offer apprenticeships for 16 to 24 year-olds .
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 27 Dec 2014
Bulky Bobs have a contract with Liverpool City Council to collect large items of household waste. This is the kind of work which was once carried out by local authorities but is now outsourced to the private and voluntary sectors. Bulky Bobs drive round in vans proudly emblazoned with the council’s logo. But according to the Liverpool branch of the IWW Union, many of the people doing this work are not getting paid:
“[…] there is one paid manager in the store (who used to work for the company that is now LearnDirect which is one of the major ‘providers’) and the rest of the staff are on workfare or ‘volunteers’. Likewise, the connected company FRC (Furniture Resource Centre) has a warehouse…
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