Peace activists have called for the closure of a spy base on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales after leaked top secret files appeared to show its staff were involved in a US drone strike in a non-war zone.
The documents, leaked by US National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, suggest British staff at RAF Menwith Hill, near Harrogate, worked closely the NSA in a project codenamed Widowmaker.
A memo to Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) staff reveals how US officials ordered a drone strike in Yemen in 2012, to kill a doctor they believed was working with the terror network to surgically implant explosives in suicide bombers.
GCHQ documents handed to The Guardian newspaper reveal workers at the spy base near Harrogate, helped to “discover communications intelligence gaps in support of the global war on terror”.
The papers suggest British GCHQ personnel, who work at all levels within both the operational and administrative areas of the North Yorkshire base, were involved in the locating of surveillance targets in Yemen.
An animal rights group has released footage of 16 fox cubs being kept in an outbuilding which it claims were being illegally reared for hunting.
The League Against Cruel Sports took covert video evidence as part of an investigation in May of the young foxes being held in outbuildings on land near Birdsall Estates, near Malton, North Yorkshire.
The video apparently shows a man visiting the foxes to feed them dead chickens, and the league said there were no vixens or adults foxes in the building, which – they said – suggested the cubs had been removed from their earths.
A solicitor representing Middleton Foxhounds Hunt, which is based close to where the foxes were discovered, claimed that the outbuildings are not owned by the hunt or leased by them.
He stressed that there is no link between the hunt and the cubs.
Dr Toni Shephard, head of policy and research for the League Against Cruel Sports, said it had alerted North Yorkshire Police who removed the foxes and made an arrest.
The cubs, one of which died shortly after the rescue, are being kept at a secret location.
“This blows apart the argument that hunting is ‘wildlife management’.
“Why would people be keeping young foxes? The answer is simple but terrible – they capture foxes so there is always a ready supply of animals to be chased.
“Put bluntly, these foxes were kidnapped for cruelty.
“Raising foxes to be hunted was, and still is, a common practice.”
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.
The Government has been accused of cruelty and running a ‘postcode lottery for benefits‘ after it emerged a rural district had by far the highest proportion nationally of Jobseekers Allowance claimants being sanctioned.
A report by homelessness charity Crisis said 15.4 per cent of jobseekers in Richmondshire, North Yorkshire, had been sanctioned, making claimants there three times more likely to have their benefits stopped than in its southern Yorkshire Dales neighbour Craven.
It found just 6.2 per cent of claimants in Richmondshire’s northern neighbour Durham had been sanctioned, while 10.9 per cent of claimants in Hambleton had had their benefits stopped, giving that area the tenth highest rate of sanctions in the country.
Crisis said evidence was mounting of “a punitive and deeply flawed regime”.
In 2012, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) introduced sanctions of between one week and three years if a claimant fails to comply with jobseeking requirements, such as attending interviews or undertaking work-related activity.
Senior pastor Ben Dowding, of the Store House foodbank, in Richmond, said he was surprised the area had topped the national sanctions table and that staff at the town’s Jobcentre – the only Jobcentre in the district – had often demonstrated compassion rather than being strict on claimants.
> Although presumably not so compassionate that they don’t keep sending his foodbank customers.
“Statistics only tell one side of the story, but having worked with the Jobcentre staff, they have always proved to be very caring individuals.”
Councillor John Blackie, leader of Richmondshire District Council, said he believed the area’s high sanction rate reflected jobseekers’ problems reaching the Jobcentre or work, adding that it took claimants in Hawes five hours of travelling and waiting to sign on in Richmond and return home.
A DWP spokesman said Jobcentre staff took claimants’ personal circumstances into account and said there could be a number of factors that had led to Richmondshire having the highest proportion of sanctions.
He said: “Sanctions are only used as a last resort for the tiny minority who refuse to take up the support which is on offer.”
> As ever, the only people not asked for their opinion appear to be the unemployed, especially those who have been sanctioned. However, the original story received this comment:
When claimants apply for jobs it goes on a jobsite how many . My daughter applied for 17 one day but only 2 registered she took a picture of the jobs she had applied.
The next signing on Richmond said you only applied for 2 jobs – she said no look at this picture proving I applied for 17. So the system was not working correct but guess what sanctioned.
The staff at Richmond must be on good bonuses.
Source – Northern Echo, 11 Mar 2015
A Labour councillor has claimed Russia’s President Putin is being advised by an alien race.
Simon Parkes told an audience of around 30 people in Wallsend, North Tyneside, that recent hostilities in Eastern Europe are down to extraterrestrial intervention.
Coun Parkes, who has previously claimed he has had ‘hundreds’ of alien encounters in his own life, blamed a group of aliens he calls the Nordics for President Putin’s aggression in the Ukraine.
The North Yorkshire councillor said the Nordics were supporting Putin against percieved American influences in the area.
“Putin had been part of a group advised by reptiles. Nordics made a counter offer to Putin.
“The technology the Nordics are giving to Putin is on a par with America.
“The Nordics have told Putin he no longer has to toe the American line, hence his resistance.”
The Whitby councillor also told the audience at The Vault that, in the eyes of universal law, his legal father is a reptile.
Ahead of the session Coun Parkes, who represents Stakesby, had also viewed a video taken on Tyneside which claimed to show a UFO hovering over the North Sea.
“The video strikes me as very genuine. To me, it looks like an alien craft. It appears to be a diamond shape.
“It seems funny the craft stayed there for so long, allowing him to see charge his camera. It meant they wanted to be see. Looking at the video, it is most definitely alien life.”
Tony Richardson, a self-employed artist from Durham, attended the Q&A with his girlfriend Carrie and son Daniel. The 49-year-old says he was brought up in a haunted house and praised Coun Parkes for making himself visible.
“First of all, it’s very brave of Simon. He has opened himself up to a lot of ridicule. People should come out and give a platform to other people to make us realise what we are seeing.
“I think it will bring more people forward.”
Coun Parkes sparked controversy in 2013 when he took to ITV’s popular daytime show This Morning claiming he lost his virginity to an alien at the age of five.
He says his first experience of alien life came when he was still in his mother’s womb, and he has sexual relations with an alien up to four times a year.
Source – Sunday Sun, 22 Feb 2015
A community bank in Middlesbrough town centre to challenge pay day lenders has been recommended by council chiefs.
A new community bank to be based in the heart of Middlesbrough is at the core of Labour mayoral candidate Cllr Dave Budd’s campaign to secure the position in May, when current Independent Mayor Ray Mallon will step down.
Deputy Mayor Cllr Budd, Executive member for finance and governance, has recommended in a report to be put before the Executive on Tuesday that Moneywise Community Banking be provided with a two-year grant totalling £85,000 to support its plans to locate to a town centre premises.
It aims to help over three years 4,000 new members, provide 1,200 training courses and issue loans amounting to just over £0.5m.
A loan from Moneywise of £300 with a typical APR of 26.7% over 12 months, the total repayable amount would be £342.79.
In comparison, the council report states the same loan from a doorstep lender (APR 272%) would cost £546 to repay; from an online instant loan (APR 1058%) it would cost £627.54 to repay; and from an illegal lender or loan shark (APR 1000%), it would cost £2,900 to repay.
Moneywise Community Banking – a not-for-profit member owned credit union – will deliver a number of financial support services including safe and easy savings; an optional Visa debit card service; low cost loans; Christmas savings club; white goods and furniture at discounted prices; free employability training; and debt and money management advice.
It was originally based in Hartlepool and now operates across Teesside, East Durham and North Yorkshire with offices in Redcar, Hartlepool and Scarborough. It is regulated by the Financial Services Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority, which is also the case with banks.
All member savings within Moneywise are fully protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme so members can save safely in the knowledge that they cannot lose their savings, the report said.
Cllr Budd has said previously that a “modern, effective” credit union for Middlesbrough has to be “competitive and give an instant answer like companies such as Wonga do”.
“This has worked elsewhere and it can work in Middlesbrough. It will offer credit at fair rates and gives all Middlesbrough residents the opportunity for greater financial security.”
The report states that the two-year £85,000 grant would be funded through existing resources within the Community Support Fund.
Moneywise and Middlesbrough Council would work together to identify suitable premises.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 14 Jan 2015
Emergency cash for the troubled NHS has been diverted away from the region to areas mainly in the South, a new analysis shows.
Health chiefs in the North-East and North Yorkshire have been handed tiny increases in their budgets from the £2bn fund – most receiving just 0.24 per cent more.
In stark contrast, other areas – mainly in London and the South-East – have been given funding boosts of more than 3.5 per cent, for the 2015-16 financial year.
NHS England argues the extra cash is going to areas which are currently underfunded and which have “the greatest health needs, where the population is growing rapidly”.
But the decision has been fiercely criticised by Nick Brown, Labour MP for Newcastle East, who campaigned against a previous attempt to shift health cash from North to South.
Mr Brown said:
“This is highly political. Extra money is being found for Tory-voting parts of the country at the expense of the rest of us. The allocation formulas have been twisted to bring this outcome about.
“Those who die too young are the losers. The big winners are the geographic areas where people enjoy a long-lived, healthy and comfortable retirement.”
Tom Blenkinsop, the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP, said:
“This is yet another clear sign that this Government is consciously and deliberately redistributing funds from our area to Tory political priorities in the south of the country.”
The issue of CCG funding has also drawn criticism from local Conservative MPs, including Vale of York’s Julian Sturdy who told ministers of a “postcode lottery” in a debate last week, saying: “Why does Vale of York CCG, in particular, receive such a poor allocation?
There are 53 CCGs receiving rises of between three and four per cent – covering areas where no fewer than 85 per cent of MPs are from the two Coalition parties.
Furthermore, some – unnamed – CCGs have been forced to revise their plans from April because they are now receiving less money than expected, the HSJ said.
The allocations – slipped out by NHS England late on the Friday before Christmas – divide up the £1.1bn of the £2bn which has been given to CCGs, which ‘buy’ treatments.
Announcing the £2bn injection in November, amid growing talk of an NHS “crisis”, George Osborne said it would “support the day-to-day work of our incredible nurses and doctors”.
But 11 of the 14 CCGs in this region will receive just 0.24 per cent extra, worth just £400,000 to Darlington, for example – and none will get more than 1.99 per cent.
Ten CCGs are gaining 3.7 per cent or more, including in Windsor, Ascot and Maidenhead, Bedfordshire, Bromley, in Kent, and in Slough.
The list is topped by East Staffordshire, which gets a 4.28 per cent increase – an extra £5.8m, for 2015-16.
The row has echoes of the controversy in both 2012 and 2013, when NHS England first attempted a big shift in spending from poorer areas to those with more pensioners.
It was forced to back down after protests that the “fair shares formula” would slash up to £170m of funding from CCGs in the North-East and North Yorkshire
This time, every area is receiving a rise of at least 1.7 per cent from April, but half the extra £1.1bn will go to just 54 of the 211 CCGs.
Announcing its decision, NHS England said:
“Every CCG will get real terms budget increase.
“More of the extra funding for local health services is being used to more rapidly increase NHS budgets for those parts of the country with the greatest health needs, where the population is growing rapidly, and where services are under greatest pressure.”
NHS England is independent of the Department of Health, which means its spending decisions are no longer announced to parliament, nor scrutinised by MPs.
Source – Northern Echo, 13 Jan 2015
The North-East’s biggest council expects to have to cut its spending by more than quarter of a billion pounds by 2019, it announced today (Tuesday, January 6).
Financial experts at Durham County Council have been frantically crunching the numbers since Chancellor George Osborne delivered his Autumn Statement and the Government announced its local government funding settlement for 2015-16 in December.
While the budget reductions announced by the Chancellor were widely predicted, the extension of austerity means by 2019 central government grants to Durham will have fallen by 60 per cent since 2011 and the cuts total will have topped £250m.
The Labour-led council also had to cut £18m following the Coalition’s emergency budget in late 2010.
Previously, council leader Simon Henig claimed another Tory-led government would mean “the end of local council services as we recognise them”.
Today (Tuesday, January 6), he said the authority was “largely on track” to deliver the required savings, but added: “There is no doubt that facing these continued cuts we will no longer be able to protect frontline services.”
The council is expected to cut £16.2m and spend £10m of its reserves in the year from April and the budget will be top of the agenda when the cabinet meets in Durham Town Hall next Wednesday (January 11).
A council tax hike of two per cent, the biggest allowed without a local referendum, is expected in the 2015-16 budget, which will be finally agreed in February.
The council’s opposition groups are expected to announce alternative proposals shortly.
Northern town halls are furious that poorer areas are being hit hardest by austerity.
While December’s funding settlement saw councils lose an average 1.8 per cent of their spending power across the country, Durham was down 2.7 per cent, Newcastle by 4.9 per cent and Middlesbrough by 5.6 per cent.
In contrast, Surrey’s spending power grew by 3.1 per cent. North Yorkshire will gain 1.1 per cent.
Durham expects to have cut £136.9m from its spending by April, leaving £88.5m-worth of savings still to find by 2018.
Local government minister Kris Hopkins said the Coalition had been vindicated, because councils were still delivering good quality services with a reduced amount of money.
> There’s Tory thinking for you… and if you continue to cope, they’ll cut funding further because obviously you don’t need it.
If you don’t cope, they’ll cut funding anyway, because you’re in the North and don’t vote Tory, unlike Surrey and North Yorkshire.
Source – Durham Times, 06 Jan 2015
Families in crisis will have nowhere to turn when a £10m emergency fund for the region is axed within months, campaigners warn today.
The Children’s Society raises the alarm over Government plans to scrap ‘local welfare assistance schemes’ – seen as a last lifeline to stop vulnerable people falling into debt and destitution.
The cash – administered by local authorities – is helping an estimated 80,000 people across the North-East and North Yorkshire in this financial year, the organisation said.
Some are women fleeing domestic violence, who desperately need money quickly to buy an oven for their new home.
Other grants are given to parents so they can visit their sick child in hospital, or to struggling families when they face an emergency cost such as a broken boiler.
But the funding will be withdrawn from next April, under proposals put forward by the department for work and pensions (DWP) expected to be confirmed in the New Year.
Ministers say local councils can fund the schemes themselves – but those councils must themselves find billions of pounds of savings, amid huge cuts to their Whitehall grants.
Matthew Reed, The Children’s Society chief executive, said:
“This is a cut too far.
“Without these schemes, families will have to choose between going without basic essentials to keep their family safe and healthy – such as food or heating – and turning to high cost credit or payday loans, plunging them into a debt trap.”
Durham County Council – which will lose £407,270, if the plans go ahead – said it had not yet drawn up proposals to plug the gap.
Roger Goodes, head of policy, said:
“We are looking at how we might be able to continue to support people, should funding be withdrawn.
“Once the funding situation is confirmed, we would expect to develop detailed proposals which would be put to members of the council’s Cabinet for consideration.”
> Why didn’t he just say “no idea” ?
But a DWP spokeswoman insisted it was not planning to end support, but giving councils greater freedom how to spend funds from Whitehall.
“This Government is giving councils more control because they understand best their local area’s needs. This is in contrast to the old centralised grant system that was poorly targeted.”
The estimate that almost 80,000 people in the region are currently receiving help is based on the average grant of £124.
Source – Northern Echo, 07 Nov 2014
A widening pay gap between the region and the rest of the country has emerged, alongside a pay fall for the nation as a whole this year.
According to the Northern think tank, IPPR North, real wages have fallen in the past few years in the North-East and North Yorkshire, where workers are generally earning less than the national average.
Between 2009 and 2013 real annual wages have fallen three per cent in the North-East (£740) and five per cent in Yorkshire and the Humber (£1,249.)
Over the same period, the cost of living has risen sharply across the nation.
Social research charity, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) say the cost of goods and services has gone up 28 per cent since 2008.
Luke Raikes, a researcher with IPPR North said:
“Low pay is a severe and growing problem for both the North East and for Yorkshire and the Humber, as it is for the country as a whole.”
“Workers in the area earn less per hour: nationally the average wage is £13.13, but in North East it’s £12.14, and in Yorkshire and the Humber it’s £12.”
The news has come during Living Wage week, where it was revealed one in every four workers is earning less than the living wage in the region, which now stands at £7.85 an hour.
In the North-East, the average hourly pay in Middlesbrough was the lowest, at £11.05 per hour and the highest was in Stockton-on-Tees, where it worked out at £13.29 per hour.
It comes as a report show a national pay fall. Wages have been “dragged down” this year because of changing trends in the workforce, including younger and less experienced employees, according to a new study.
The Resolution Foundation think tank said a downward shift in the mix of occupations towards lower-paying jobs has prevented 2014 from being the year of the pay rise.
But some of this was due to increase employment; changes which led to reduced earnings growth include fewer managerial jobs, rising youth employment and increasing numbers of people starting a job.
> Or, as a comment to the original article pointed out :
It also appears to be due to a cultural change in companies pushing their luck with employees. They know there are less skilled jobs available allowing them to cut wages, implement pay freezes and cut benefits such as pensions. This is definitely the case with my employer. I cant see this changing in a hurry. My employers regularly state if you don’t like it, you know where the door is! Inflation continues, my wage increase doesn’t.
Source – Northern Echo, 08 Nov 2014