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.
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.
The North-East has lost public sector jobs at nearly five times the rate of London, the TUC says.
Austerity measures have resulted in an unequal impact on UK regions with 36,000 public sector jobs having been cut in the region since 2010.
Between 2010 and this year public sector employment in the North-East fell by 13.4 per cent – the biggest drop of any UK region – from 268,000 to 232,000 at the start of this year.
In contrast public sector employment fell by three per cent in London and by 2.5 per cent in the South-East over the same period, analysis of Office for National Statistics data revealed.
The Tyne and Wear Metro has seen the biggest rise in passengers of any light rail transit system in the UK outside of London.
Latest figures from the Department for Transport reveal in 2014/15 there was a massive 38.1m passenger journeys on it – a 6.7% increase on last year.
This has also led to a 4.4% increase in revenue to £47.9m, the highest figure it has ever posted.
Nationally there were 239.8m journeys on Light Rail and Tram systems, up 5.6% on last year.
The only system to have a bigger increase in passenger journeys than the Metro was the Docklands Light Railway in London whose 110.2m journeys represented an 8.5% year-on-year increase.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 10 June 2015
Homeless people face fines of up to £1,000 for sleeping rough in public doorways, under a new asbo-style rule introduced by a London Council.
Homelessness charities have reacted angrily to Hackney Council’s ‘Public Space Protection Order’, which they say “criminalises homelessness”.
The new order bans homeless people from sleeping in public areas and doorways and can be legally enforced through a £100 on the spot fine.
This fine could quickly escalate to as much as £1,000, due to additional court costs. It remains unclear on how the Council will expect destitute homeless people to pay up.
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Family incomes are on the rise in most of the region, official figures show – but at a slower pace than in most of the country.
Household disposable income per head crept up by just 0.8 per cent in the North-East between 2012 and 2013, below the one per cent rise across the United Kingdom.
And the North-East was left in the slow lane by both Scotland (up two per cent) and the West Midlands (up 2.3 per cent) as the economy bounced back, as well as by Yorkshire (up 1.4 per cent).
But households in London and the South-East (both up 0.6 per cent) saw incomes grow more slowly – even though overall growth was far higher than in the North-East in both areas.
The statistics also reveal striking local variations in the changes in gross disposable household income (GDHI), the amount available for spending or saving after taxes and benefits.
Incomes grew sharply in Darlington (3.5 per cent) and South Teesside (2.6 per cent) and were also up in North Yorkshire (two per cent) and Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees (1.9 per cent).
But growth was more sluggish in County Durham (1.3 per cent) – and fell markedly in both Sunderland (3.1 per cent) and York (3.3 per cent).
In Westminster, the average GDHI was £42,221 in 2013 – almost three times the figure of £14,659 in County Durham and the highest of 173 local areas analysed.
And incomes in Kensington and Chelsea/Hammersmith and Fulham (£42,116), Camden and City of London (£37,324) and Wandsworth (£35,237) were not far behind.
Matt Whittaker, chief economist at the Resolution Foundation think-tank, said:
“Regional inequalities have fallen since the crash, but the gap between the South East and the UK is stark.”
Experts believe disposal income – the amount people have to spend after the bills have been paid – is the best measure of the economic confidence of families and individuals.
Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn has hit back at criticism directed at him for accepting hospitality from a tobacco firm.
The MP attended last year’s Chelsea Flower Show in London at the invitation of Japan Tobacco International, maker of brands including Benson and Hedges, Camel, Winston and Silk Cut.
He was condemned by anti-smoking campaigners for accepting the hospitality package, then voting against plans to introduce plain cigarette packaging.
Mr Hepburn has defended his actions for the first time since coming under fire last week.
The MP said he was fully supportive of Labour’s proposed tax on the tobacco industry to pay for more doctors and nurses, but he says he makes no apologies for backing staff at Essentra, formerly known as Filtrona and, before that, Cigarette Components.
Though he voted in favour of the ban on smoking in public places several years ago, he dismissed calls to make plain packaging for cigarettes compulsory as “barmy” and “counter-productive”.
“In recent months, I have visited Essentra on the Bede Trading Estate. Although not as big as it once was, the firm provides 240 jobs and is regarded as a decent employer.
“I have always been supportive of its growth plans.
“These jobs are invaluable when unemployment is a curse, and I make no apologies for standing up for both a local company and South Tyneside as a great place to do business.
“I supported Labour’s proposed tax on the tobacco industry to hire more NHS doctors and nurses, but I think it’s barmy to force all cigarettes to be sold in the same plain packs.
“I know the harm to health caused by smoking – that’s why I voted for the pub ban – yet as long as people buy cigarettes, I’ll stand up for Essentra’s workers.”
> Even if it means having to do unpleasant things, like accepting hospitality packages at the Chelsea Flower Show. I hope Essentra’s workers are suitably grateful.
Source – Shields Gazette, 27 May 2015
A headteacher has praised four pupils who were photographed buying food for a homeless man on their way home from school.
Jack McGill, Cameron Turner-Neill, Charlie Hirst and 11-year-old Sam pooled their money to buy chocolate biscuits, water and cereal bars for the man after noticing he looked upset and unwell.
The boys, who attend Woodham Academy in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, spotted the man, aged about 50, sitting on a bench in the town centre and were concerned about him.
A passer-by photographed their act of kindness and posted it on Facebook, prompting widespread praise for the boys.
Cameron, 12, said:
“Jack went over to see if he was okay and sat down next to him. The man asked if he had had a nice day at school and they started chatting. He said he was from London and had been homeless for nine years.
“He was very nice and you could tell he was well educated.
“He used to be a joiner and a carpenter and lived in a flat but it got rented out. He has been walking around the country and had just walked from Stockton.”
The boys said the man had refused to take money from a pensioner who also tried to help and was reluctant to accept the food they bought.
“It’s important to help other people.”
Charlie, 11, said:
“I was upset when I saw him. It made me think I should be more grateful for the things I’ve got when I saw how grateful he was for those small things.”
“It has made me want to help my mum more and be more grateful because he doesn’t have a mum.”
Christine Forsyth, headteacher at Woodham Academy, said:
“At Woodham Academy we teach pupils to respect other people and this is a wonderful example of our children showing unconditional respect for another human being. We are really proud of them.”
On Facebook, one woman wrote: “Lovely to see. What lovely young lads to do such a good thing .”
Another posted: “And there it is to all you people out there that think all teenagers are all anti-social. Here are some fantastic boys. They are a credit to their parents.
Source – Northern Echo, 16 May 2015
The collective groan that went up when Iain Duncan Smith was reappointed to the Department for Work and Pensions over the weekend could probably be heard from space.
For housing workers, it’s five more years of the same: no change in direction, just straight ahead with the pressing business of welfare reform. However, the return of IDS also provides an opportunity for pragmatism in the delicate relationship between the new Conservative government and social landlords.
From the bedroom tax to the social cleansing of London as families hit by the benefits cap are shunted outside the capital, there was a lot for housing experts to criticise during the term of the coalition government – and criticise they did.
Much of that was tied up in an understandable moral objection to the changes being implemented. After all, if you’ve dedicated your career to alleviating housing need, it can be hard to work within the constraints of policies which you observe to be undermining a life’s work.
The practical objections, however, have been far more quietly stated, in part because some of them are so complex that they do not resonate with the wider public. In short, their comments don’t make great headlines.
Universal credit is one such example. The policy sounds laudable when described as a simple way of helping benefit recipients transition into employment by handing over full financial responsibility for all their outgoings including rent (previously paid directly to the landlord).
But as all housing providers knew, it will be much more complicated than this. Government has never been good at managing large IT projects or handling lots of data. The reality of working life for many low-paid staff can be weeks of employment and unemployment hard up against one another, with no time for state bureaucracy in between. And most frontline jobs are paid weekly or fortnightly, not monthly like universal credit.
For housing associations, the policy introduces a huge financial variable. How can large organisations with loans negotiated on the basis of a reliable income cope with hard-pressed tenants who do not pay up? The housing regulator is now stress-testing accommodation providers to see how they would cope with situations like this. The result is, inevitably, a downgrading in their ratings.
It’s important to remember that universal credit is derided by private and social landlords alike. Both fear for their revenue. The difference between the two is that, while private landlords can refuse to house people on benefits, social landlords will need to make compromises to stay afloat. That’s why, though he is so widely disliked, Duncan Smith’s reappointment should actually be welcomed.
Cameron told MPs at a meeting of the 1922 Conservative parliamentary committee on Monday that their “re-election starts now”. Absolutely. This government can no longer blame the mistakes of the previous incarnation, and nowhere is this more significant than for housing.
After five years of thwarted pilots, up to £663m of IT costs being written off by the Treasury and more stumbling blocks than an army fitness assault course, it’s time for a pragmatic approach to the introduction of universal credit. The Conservative government is unlikely to walk away from the policy, and Duncan Smith cannot claim ignorance of its failings so far. He cannot hide behind excuses or inexperience in the way a new minister to the brief could be tempted.
To survive their new future, social landlords will need to adapt. They will need to have diverse income streams: development will now always be for the private sector alongside the social to make ends meet. So for every social home that is built, a home for sale, shared ownership or private rent must also be built to help social landlords stay afloat.
Yet, also, there’s never been a better time to challenge a minister head on and demand some certainty. The minister will have little choice but to capitulate.
Source – The Guardian, 15 May 2015