Lifting the ban on dog hunts could wipe out the entire British Hare population, a Durham MP is being warned.
Following news that the hunting ban could be repealed within months, an urgent letter has been sent by the Hare Preservation Trust to North Durham MP Kevan Jones.
In it John Rimington warns that the native “inoffensive brown hare”, which has already seen its numbers plummet by 80%, could be effectively killed off if the current ban is overturned.
An early Commons vote is expected on the Hunting With Dogs Act, which also outlaws hare coursing, following pressure on David Cameron from Conservative MPs to honour the election manifesto pledge.
Hunting supporters are confident the free vote will successfully overthrow the act which came into force 10 years ago.
But in the letter to the Labour MP, Mr Rimington urges an enlightened approach to prevail over “destructive human entertainment”.
“The repeal of the legislation would further threaten the survival of our inoffensive brown hare.
“Around one third of the dog hunts in England and Wales are hare hunts, nothing to do with foxes.
“Even if a hunted or coursed hare manages to evade pursuing dogs there is still a very real prospect of the hare subsequently dying from stress myopathy, caused by a build up of lactic acid in the bloodstream which damages internal organs and leads to a painful and often lingering death within hours or days of the initial traumatic pursuit.”
He said the brown hare was highlighted in 2011 as a iconic native species most at risk of extinction by 2050, with its population having declined by more than 80% in the last century.
Brown hares are the fastest mammal in Britain and have been here since the Iron Age, but they have little legal protection.
The Mammal Society has also noted how numbers have declined substantially in certain areas.
Mr Rimington, the Hare Preservation Trust’s technical liaison officer, said:
“Only in East Anglia is the population currently at a level to avoid the possibility of extinction by 2050 becoming a reality.”
Polls show 85% of the public is opposed to hare hunting and coursing and he said without the protection of the ban police will face even greater difficulties in controlling illegal coursing.
The Natural History Society of Northumbria which records numbers of brown hares across Durham and Northumberland says they are still coursed illegally using greyhounds, whippets and lurchers across the region despite the hunting ban.
Mr Jones is understood to have never voted on the hunting ban, having been absent during three crucial votes on hunting in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
Mr Rimington’s letter to him ends:
“Rather than use wildlife as a source of destructive human entertainment, it is a far more intelligent and emotionally mature attitude to realise the detrimental effect which such introvert activity has on the ecology of the countryside.
“Just because an activity was acceptable centuries ago does not mean that it should persist in a more enlightened and less primitive age.”
Former Newcastle councillor Mr Jones, who first joined the House of Commons in June 2001, was unavailable for comment.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 19 May 2015
A Labour candidate in the region has broken ranks by pledging to vote against the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent.
Party leader Ed Miliband has insisted he would retain the submarine-based weapons system, because Britain faces an “uncertain and unstable world”.
And he has rejected demands from the Scottish Nationalists who say it is not the best way “to spend £100bn” – the possible total cost of replacing the deterrent.
But Grahame Morris, in Easington, is among around 50 Labour candidates who have made clear their opposition in statements on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament website.
Mr Morris wrote:
“Replacing Trident will undermine the UK’s moral authority when seeking to restrict nuclear proliferation by other countries.
“We must adapt to meet the new security challenges of the 21st Century, such as climate change, pandemics, organised crime, cyber warfare and terrorism.
“In a time of austerity, when the Government are making damaging cuts to our armed forces, we cannot justify spending in excess of £100bn on a new Trident system that will do nothing to improve the security or defence of the UK.”
The stance puts Mr Morris strongly at odds with Kevan Jones, the North Durham candidate and defence spokesman, who recently said of Trident :
“It is party policy, it has gone through rigorous policy review, it was endorsed at conference last year, and that is the policy.
“We’re in favour of a minimum credible nuclear deterrent based on a continuous-at-sea deterrent.”
The Conservatives have been criticised by senior military figures for making Trident an election issue, after the Defence Secretary suggested Mr Miliband was ready to “stab the UK in the back”, to get into No.10.
Labour figure Hilary Benn has told of fond childhood memories attending Durham Miners’ Gala, but admitted a Labour Government could not offer money for the under-threat event.
The Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, whose much-admired father Tony Benn was a fierce defender of the miners during Margaret Thatcher’s time in power, recalled the magic of the Big Meeting when he watched banners pass the County Hotel balcony.
But he said his party, which was founded by the union movement, could not offer cash to back the Big Meeting.
The event was founded by the Durham Miners’ Association and has a long and rich history as a celebration of the region’s heritage.
Tory Communities Secretary Eric Pickles seized on the chance to criticise Labour and accused them of failing to “respect their roots”.
The Gala’s future is uncertain as the association is struggling to find fresh funds, organiser, general secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association Dave Hopper told the crowd in 2014, though it will go ahead on Saturday July 11.
Hilary Benn, who followed his father into a career in Parliament and is campaigning to be re-elected in Leeds Central, said he shared Mr Hopper’s fears for the event.
“One of my earliest childhood memories was my dad taking me up to the Gala,” he said. “There must have been about 11 of us on the famous balcony of the County Hotel, including Harold Wilson.
“We watched the banners go past the hotel in the procession. I was struck by how it was a great day of trade union solidarity and it is a great Labour tradition.”
But it is a sure signal of just how tough times are that the Labour Party can’t offer any money towards the event.
He said: “The Labour and trade union movement have always been big supporters of the Gala, and we will do all we can to support it, but we can’t make specific spending commitments.”
The Miners’ Gala was first held in the city’s Wharton Park in 1871.
Numbers grew strongly during the miners’ strikes to attract huge crowds of as many as 300,000.
Though the North East mining industry is a shadow of its former self, the Big Meeting continues to pull thousands of visitors.
Lodge banners are marched through the city and hundreds gather at a field near banks of the River Wear in what is a proud celebration of the North East’s heritage.
Tony Benn was one of the great figures of the left that have spoken at the event.
Labour Leader Ed Miliband has told colleagues he will give a speech this year, sharing a stage with long-serving parliamentarian Dennis Skinner.
The association said it was left with a £2.2m legal bill after losing a six-year court battle on behalf of former miners who have osteoarthritis of the knee.
Critics, including Labour’s North Durham candidate Kevan Jones, however, say the association had £6m in its accounts when it was a union in 2007.
Mr Pickles said a Conservative Government would not offer any help but insisted the party’s plan to create jobs would see more people support the event.
Mr Benn said one of the things the unions, many of which will be represented at the Gala, will fight is the rise in zero-hours contracts which grew four-fold under the Coalition government.
Mr Pickles, however, said: “As it is predominantly Labour Party and trade union members involved you would expect them to respect their roots.
“What we can promise is more jobs and more prosperity and more pounds in people’s pockets.”
Source –Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 06 Apr 2015
Thousands of the region’s teenagers risk losing their right to vote in the general election after a Government blunder, MPs are warning.
Local authorities are failing to register “attainers” – 17-year-olds who could be adults by May 7 – after errors in letters drafted by the Cabinet Office, they say
Now figures reveal an extraordinary 80 per cent fall in attainers on the books of just one council, County Durham.
If the slump – of just over 3,000, in just one year – is replicated across the region, it would mean that close to 20,000 first-time voters could lost their vote.
The controversy was raised in a recent Commons debate by Kevan Jones, the North Durham MP, who described the situation as a “scandal”.
In North Durham constituency, there were 647 attainers on the register in February last year, but that number has plummeted to just 126 one year later – after the mistake.
The pattern is repeated in Bishop Auckland (a fall from 662 attainers to 118), Durham City (from 625 to 177), Easington (from 641 to 95), North West Durham (from 689 to 156) and in Sedgefield (from 513 to 97).
Mr Jones said:
“We could put the fall down to a drop in the birth rate in 1997 – clearly there was a lack of passion in North Durham – but that is obviously not the case.”
And he said:
“That must be done, otherwise many 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before May 7 will assume that they will get a vote, but will not get it.”
Under the old system, where the head of the household registered all voters, a section of the form asked for the names of any 17-year-olds to be added.
But the sentence is missing from letters sent out under the new system – of individual electoral registration (IER) – which is being introduced to combat fraud.
In reply, the deputy Commons leader Tom Brake, promised to write to Mr Jones, but stopped short of agreeing to instruct – and fund – town halls, to correct the problem.
Meanwhile, Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman criticised a separate barrier in the way of young people attempting to register – the requirement to provide a national insurance number.
She told ministers:
“A letter with a young person’s national insurance number arrives before they are 16 and we are suggesting that two years later teenagers will know where that letter is and have kept it in a safe place. I cannot think of anything more naïve.”
Source – Northern Echo, 16 Feb 2015
The Conservatives appeared to write off their chances in a swathe of North-East constituencies, in a leak on the party’s own website.
Eight seats in the region are described as “non target” for the May general election, suggesting little effort will be put into trying to win them.
Unsurprisingly, the eight include some ultra-safe Labour seats where the Tories are miles behind, including North Durham (12,076 votes), North West Durham (9,773) and Sedgefield (8,696).
In others, the Conservatives were in third place in 2010, so face an even bigger mountain to climb in May, in City of Durham (14,350 votes behind) and Redcar (13,165).
However, the list also includes Darlington, where Labour’s Jenny Chapman finished just 3,388 votes ahead of her Conservative opponent five years ago.
Furthermore, Darlington was a Tory seat until it was lost by Michael Fallon – now the Defence Secretary – at the 1992 general election.
Ms Chapman said: “I am surprised. They need to change their attitude, because this is the kind of high-handed assumption that drives voters away from politics.”
But Peter Cuthbertson, the Conservative candidate in Darlington, said: “I think there’s every chance of victory – I’m picking up enthusiasm for change in Darlington.
“I have seen this list, but I have not had any communication with my party about it, so I don’t know whether it is true.”
Asked what help he was receiving from Conservatives headquarters, Mr Cuthbertson said: “It’s down to local people to muscle their own resources. I’ve got no expectation that they will campaign for me.”
Stockton North is also on the list, although Labour’s majority is only 6,676, as is York Central (6,451), where sitting Labour MP Hugh Bayley is standing down.
Other constituencies are described as “non target” because they have big Tory majorities, including Richmond (23,336) and Thirsk and Malton (11,281).
The blunder occurred when a staff member at Conservative HQ uploaded the photographs of hundreds of Tory candidates, of which 112 were categorised as “non target”.
The mistake was later corrected, but not before the list was recorded by a freelance journalist, who published the information.
Source – Northern Echo, 12 Feb 2015
Children in care will be the next victims of savage cuts to local council funding, North-East leaders warned yesterday.
They raised the alarm over a planned 17 per cent reduction in grants for children’s services buried in the 2015/16 funding settlement – even bigger than the overall cuts.
And they warned it would punish the North-East hardest, as the region has the joint highest number of children in care, after a sharp rise over the last five years.
For every 10,000 youngsters in the region, 81 are in local authority accommodation or the subject of care orders – up from 61 per 1,000 as recently as 2009.
It puts the North-East on a par with the North-West, while the figures are much lower in Yorkshire (65), London (54), the South-East (48) and elsewhere.
In Durham (91 per 1,000) and Newcastle (101 per 1,000) the figures are even higher, according to the Association of North-East Councils (ANEC).
Speaking at Westminster, Simon Henig, Durham’s Labour leader and ANEC’s chairman, said:
“We have seen a big increase in pressures in this area – and the amount of Government funding has been cut significantly – but local authorities have filled the gap, by raiding money from elsewhere.
The warning came as ANEC – in partnership with major urban authorities – launched a fresh blast at the “unfair” 2015-16 funding settlement.
They ridiculed the Government’s claim of an average 1.8 per cent cut in funding, arguing the true figure was close to ten per cent in the North-East – a total grant reduction of around £240m.
“This level of reduction has dramatic and damaging consequences for councils’ ability to fund statutory services such as children’s and adult social care.”
And Kevan Jones, the North Durham Labour MP, said:
“This Government has directed cash to areas not in the dire need that we are in the North-East.”
However, there were signs of future tensions with Labour, which will not halt next year’s cuts if it wins May’s general election and has made only vague promises of a “fairer formula”.
ANEC warned such a scheme “potentially allocates extra resources to wealthy and business-rich parts of the London and South-East”.
Source – Northern Echo, 14 Jan 2015
The North East Combined Authority has voted for a plan which could give councils power over when and how often bus services run in Tyne and Wear
What is a QCS?
A Quality Contract Scheme is a legal power over bus services by a council. In this case, the North East Combined Authority will set ticket prices, routes and timetables across Tyne and Wear and on some routes in and out of County Durham and Northumberland.
NECA will also decide what types of buses are used. Nexus, the public body which devised this scheme and currently manages the Tyne and Wear Metro, will collect fares and pay bus companies to provide bus services through contracts. This is a big change to the present market, where buses companies decide on prices and routes.
What is wrong with the current system?
NECA believes a QCS will be better than leaving things as they are. It argues people are put off using buses because fares have gone up on average 3% more than inflation for a decade.
Today, councils pay bus operators to provide less-used bus services, and subsidise some fares – as well as funding the free bus pass for older and disabled people.
This adds up to £56m-a-year in Tyne and Wear, money is running short and the cost of the free bus pass – which councils must pay by law – is growing, meaning that the other bus services councils pay for will have to be withdrawn.
So, everyone agrees it is great?
Not exactly. The bus companies – mostly Stagecoach, Arriva and Go-Ahead – strongly disagree with the move and recommended a voluntary system that gives them more freedom. They say a QCS a “huge gamble” that could lead to higher fares, worse services and higher tax bills in the long run.
Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, also has “serious concerns”. He said profitable services in urban Tyne and Wear subsidise the rural bus network in Northumberland and County Durham. He is worried that subsidy would dry up under the new QCS.
Will it mean services cost more or less?
Nexus says fares are likely to go down. Future fare rises will be limited to inflation levels and only changed once a year.
New cheap fares for people aged 16 to 18 will be the same price as today’s fares for children.
There will be discounts for students and a new deal for older and disabled people who want to travel before 9:30am.
Nexus says around four in five adult passengers will see prices stay the same or go down when the new QCS fare zones begin.
Won’t this cost councils lots of money, then?
The idea is it will actually save councils money. Bus companies now make about £20m profit in the region every year, but Nexus estimates 80% of that money leaves the region. NECA says more of this profit from fares will be re-invested locally and this in turn will protect services now funded by councils that might otherwise be lost.
How would an Oyster card-style system work here?
In London, the one Oyster card allows you to travel on any bus, any train, any tube or any ferry. They can use Oyster as a season ticket or they can use Oyster to pay for single journeys.
The Tyne and Wear version will be called the Smartcard. Having one will get you on any bus, any Metro, the ferry or local train.
If you travel paying for single journeys and reach the daily ticket price, what you pay is capped – so you will always get the best deal, without needing to plan your day in advance. The technology for the Smartcard is in place already.
What if I am travelling in or out of Tyne and Wear from County Durham or Northumberland?
Most bus routes in and out of Tyne and Wear from County Durham, and some of those from Northumberland, are included in the plan for the whole route. That means the Smart tickets, the QCS network and lower prices will be available when you travel into Tyne and Wear.
Will there be fewer buses and will buses go the same routes?
Routes will be the same as now on the first day of a QCS, Nexus says. The difference is people can suggest improvements through new Bus Boards in each area.
Council leaders want to protect services and begin to grow them. They hope it will ultimately mean cheaper fares and bus and rail networks that work together better.
If the QCS does not happen, Nexus and NECA say cuts are inevitable, particularly to young people’s fares, school buses and evening services now paid for by local councils.
How will the process work if QCS is passed?
It will be April 2017 before a QCS starts – council leaders will make a final decision next year after an independent panel has reviewed the 900-page scheme agreed by NECA this week. If it goes ahead it will take Nexus two years to let contracts and gear up for change, with lots of information and engagement with customers on fare changes, smart cards and other benefits.
What happens to the bus companies and their staff?
About 3,000 people now work on bus services in Tyne and Wear, which in future will be included in the Nexus contracts.
Staff will work on the same routes and their jobs, wages and pensions will be protected by law – plus Nexus has said it will give further protections to staff – even if they have to change the bus company they work for. The scheme is supported by the Unite union.
What will happen if bus companies take legal action in the meantime?
Bus companies are worried they will lose business to rival bidders. They have threatened legal action against NECA and Nexus. Both public bodies insist they are using the law properly, however.
Nexus says QCS is legal and based on the best available facts and figures. It has also said all possible steps will be taken to make sure legal action doesn’t slow down its plan for a QCS.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 26 Oct 2014
The region’s MP’s reacted angrily to David Cameron’s plans for a constitutional revolution after Scotland rejected independence – accusing him of a political fix.
Labour MPs warned the plan – “English votes for English laws” – would strengthen the influence of the Conservative heartlands over Westminster, while doing nothing for the North-East.
> Well ? Did anyone seriously expect anything different ?
And they demanded the overhaul instead focus on devolving power down from Westminster, in parallel with firm promises already made to Scotland on tax and spending.
The stance – echoed by Labour leader Ed Miliband – puts the region on a collision course with both Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg, who plan to rush through a solution to the so-called ‘West Lothian’ question.
Under the fast-track timetable, firm plans will be unveiled in January – from a committee headed by Richmond MP William Hague – delighting Tories who fear the rising UKIP threat.
In reality, change looks impossible before the May general election, but the “English votes for English laws” proposal is, nevertheless, a political nightmare for Labour.
Mr Cameron suggested Scottish MPs would lose voting rights over tax issues, potentially leaving a Miliband administration – with 41 Scots MPs currently – unable to pass a Budget.
Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) attacked a “crude attempt to cobble this together on the back of an envelope”- calling on the prime minister to put devolution first –
“In our region, we will find that our position gets relatively worse. It might be a good solution for people in Hertfordshire, but I don’t think it’s a good solution for people in Durham.”
Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) –
“Cameron completely missed the point. He should not be using this as an opportunity to increase the Tory stranglehold over England.”
Kevan Jones (North Durham) –
“Cameron is pandering to his right wing and UKIP – this is not going to help the North-East at all.
Jenny Chapman (Darlington) –
“He should be talking to people in the North-East about what they want and what extra powers they want, rather than making a back-of-a-fag-packet declaration.”
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) –
“I’m astounded by the naivety of the prime minister in thinking that all he needs to do is change the way Westminster votes.”
Grahame Morris (Easington) –
“A Tory-dominated English Parliament, which continues to concentrate power and resources in the affluent South, will worsen existing regional inequities and frustrate the legitimate desire for greater autonomy for the North East.”
Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) –
“In any settlement, there has to be something for the regions and I think that has to be more powers over economic development.”
But Liberal Democrat Ian Swales (Redcar) – while agreeing devolution must go “further and faster” – said it would be “absurd” not to restrict Scottish voting rights at Westminster.
He said: “We may end up with some form of English parliament, but should first make it work by MPs only being able to vote on issues that affect the country they represent.”
The MPs agreed any notion of a regional assembly was “off the agenda” – arguing instead for new, combined authorities to be strengthened with economic powers.
Some constitutional experts warned of chaos ahead, arguing Westminster could end up with “two Governments” – one for defence and foreign affairs, the other for the likes of education and health.
And the respected Institute for Government think-tank also argued the “debate on English devolution” must be part of the post-referendum settlement.
A Government source rejected suggestions that Mr Cameron was fast-tracking the ‘English votes’ issue, while devolution was left in the slow lane.
He said: “We believe we have done a lot devolving powers within England, through the likes of City Deals – and they have been welcomed by business and political leaders in the North.”
Source – Northern Echo, 20 Sept 2014
Ed Miliband is facing a damaging revolt by North-East Labour MPs who believe his economic rescue plans for the region are feeble and doomed to fail.
Senior MPs argue a ‘growth review’ – led by Lord Adonis, the former transport secretary – will repeat the Coalition’s blunders and fail to deliver the power and money badly needed.
They are urging Mr Miliband to bring back a slimmed-down development agency and, crucially, install a powerful figure in Government to “drive forward” key North-East revival projects.
But they also fear their pleas are being ignored by the Labour leader’s top team – condemned as a “Corpus Christi Oxbridge crowd” by Nick Brown, the former ‘Minister for the North-East’.
Mr Brown, the Newcastle East MP, said: “It will end up with the councils simply asking for money for specific projects – and that’s the worst possible position to be in.
“What’s needed is a development agency that can identify specific projects and drive them forward, working with a figure in the government with specific responsibility for that.”
Mr Brown said his concerns were shared by the majority of North-East Labour MPs, but added: “I’m not convinced our message is being listened to at the top level of the party.”
The criticism was echoed by Kevan Jones, the North Durham MP, who said: “The Adonis review lacks vision and ambition.
“The problem is that it is all about structures, when we need direct action and a minister at a senior level. We can’t expect councillors to pick it up, when their budgets are being squeezed as well.”
The revolt follows Mr Miliband’s acceptance, in April, of Lord Adonis’ draft growth report, with a final set of proposals due to follow next month.
The blueprint adopts the Coalition’s strategy of devolution to ‘combined’ authorities – such as the one covering Durham, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland – and poorly-funded local enterprise partnerships (LEPs).
The pill was sweetened by a pledge to devolve twice as much cash – £4bn a year – as well as extra responsibilities for welfare, apprentices and housebuilding, but not over inward investment.
Mr Brown said the key weakness was that the structure lacked a focus on economic development, as well as an ability to ensure key projects go ahead.
Recently, the outgoing head of the North-East LEP warned it had just six core staff yet it had responsibility for six, mainly £100m-plus projects.
Similarly, the Tees Valley LEP has warned it may have to abandon economic growth initiatives, because funds are not available.
Mr Brown said: “The means has become the ends. We have got the structures, but it is not delivering for the region – and nor is it likely to.
“If Labour simply picks up from where we are with the existing structures, we will continue to see the poor outcomes for our region that we currently see.”
He said he was not arguing for reviving the One North-East development agency, but a smaller body, chaired by a minister, “so the civil service takes it seriously”.
Mr Miliband has promised to bring back regional ministers – axed by David Cameron in 2010 – after MPs and councils protested they had nowhere to go, to raise crucial issues.
However, Mr Miliband’s office rejected the criticism, insisting there were significant differences with the Coalition’s approach.
A spokesman said: “The key difference is that Andrew Adonis is looking at devolving significant cash and economic powers. This would mean people don’t have to beg ministers for cash – as they have to now.”
Source – Northern Echo, 17 June 2014
Three new CAB offices are being opened in north Durham to help people deal with a range of problems.
A new Citizen’s Advice centre will open at 77 Medomsley Road, Consett, from Tuesday, following £12,000 worth of investment.
Builders are currently working on premises on Church Chare in Chester-le-Street and it is hoped it will be open in June, following a £50,000 makeover.
Citizens Advice County Durham is also looking for suitable premises in Stanley and has a between £30,000-£40,000 to invest.
Neil Bradbury, chief executive of the charity, said: “All of the new offices will provide clients with a modern, easy to access and friendly place to come for free advice.
“It used to be that CABs were tucked away above shops. That is not good enough and we can provide a better offer for clients with these new premises.”
The funding has come from various sources including the Department of Health, Durham County Council, the Community Foundation in County Durham and various councillors’ funds and funding from area action partnerships.
Neil Bradbury added: “In terms of Consett and Stanley the need for these premises is urgent as we don’t have our own offices in these towns.
“In Chester-le-Street, the new office will hopefully make a whole world of difference providing access for those with mobility problems.
“We have great offices in Seaham and other towns and it has been about upgrading so they are the same standard.”
Last year almost half of the 20,000 people turning to Citizens Advice County Durham (CACD) needed help with benefits with 29 per cent of clients struggling with debt.
The charity, which helps thousands of residents get access to millions of pounds of extra income each year, is hoping to recruit over 300 volunteers.
“We are the main advice service in the county and we are free and confidential for all. People can come to us about anything and talk it through.”
For more information about CACD, its opening times or to volunteer email email@example.com or search Citizens Advice County Durham on Facebook.
Source – Durham times 04 May 2014