Donations for victims of the Nepal earthquakes are gathering dust in a church warehouse after the country’s government introduced taxes of up to 30 per cent on relief material.
Organisers of a Catterick Garrison-based appeal to provide aid to victims of the natural disasters said they were heartbroken that about half of the goods collected – about ten tonnes of items – remained at the Hollybush Christian Fellowship, near Northallerton, a month after they were due to be delivered.
Executive member of the British Ghurkha and Nepalese Community Jagannath Sharma, principal physiotherapist at the garrison’s Infantry Training Centre, said the appeal’s organisers had been heartbroken by the donations not reaching where they were desperately needed.
Dr Sharma said: “Everybody is donating because they want to get the right aid to the right people at the right time.”
Another appeal organiser, who asked not to be named, said tonnes of other donations from Catterick Garrison had been shipped to the Red Cross in India, but had not been moved to Nepal because of the taxes.
Job Centres in the region are among the first in the country to take part in the national roll out of the Government’s new Universal Credit, which began today (Monday, February 16).
Universal Credit, designed to get people into work more quickly and making it easier for them to earn more, has started in 15 areas, including Hambleton, Ryedale, Hartlepool and York.
Initially the credit, which merges six working-age benefits into one, is being rolled out only for new claims from single people who would otherwise have been eligible for jobseekers allowance, including those with existing housing benefit and working tax credit claims.
At Northallerton Job Centre today there was confusion over how it will work. One single parent, who gave her name as Julie, said she had been told nothing about it.
“It could possibly be a good idea, rather than having separate benefits and dealing with different departments,” she said.
“But I have been told nothing about this, and how it will work. I want to get back to work and I am studying at the moment so if it helps me to get back to work that’s good. But information would be a big help too.”
Another 19-year-old man who is currently claiming jobseekers allowance said he was also in the dark.
A pilot scheme has been tried out in the North-West, which the Government said had been a success
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said:
“The evidence shows that under Universal Credit, people move into work more quickly and earn more money, giving them increased financial security.
“It is very impressive that we have seen these results so soon and that this is having a real impact on people’s lives. This is a cultural change which will alter the landscape of work for a generation.”
But Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said no one believed the promises that the new system would work.
“Labour wants universal credit to work and we’ll call in the National Audit Office to do an immediate review of this failing programme to get a grip of the spiralling waste and delays.”
Source – Northern Echo, 16 Feb 2015
An MP says he fears his constituents are being used as “guinea pigs” for the roll out of the Government’s Universal Credit – described as the biggest change to the welfare state in a lifetime.
Universal Credit combines six out-of-work benefits into one single payment paid monthly, instead of fortnightly payments.
It has already been introduced in North-West England and will be “rapidly” rolled out to selected job centres in the region from February next year, including those in Hartlepool, Northallerton, Newcastle and York.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright said:
“I am worried that many of my constituents will be guinea pigs for this fast roll out.
“Ministers have showed shocking incompetence so far with this project which has been subject to significant delays and cost overruns.
“I will monitor the situation to ensure that the taxpayer gets value for money, while ensuring people in Hartlepool claiming benefits and tax credits don’t face delays.”
The Government says the new system will be simpler and is part of a long-term economic plan to cap welfare and “make work pay”.
But there are concerns it won’t be suitable for everybody – particularly the most vulnerable claimants.
A member of staff at one jobcentre plus in the region said:
“The theory is that as it is paid like a wage, it prepares people for work.
“But the reality is that some people are a long way from being capable of working.
“People with serious addictions being given a month’s money in one go is just setting them up to fail.”
> A statement which, though probably with some truth in it, automatically sets up the idea that all benefit recipients are addicts.
Universal Credit is paid direct into bank accounts and is gradually reduced in line with any earnings a claimant receives.
According to the Department of Work and Pensions households on Universal Credit spend double the amount of time on finding work than they do on Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said:
“We’ve already seen remarkable success, with Universal Credit claimants moving into work faster and staying in work longer. As part of our long-term economic plan, people will have the financial security of knowing that if they work more they will earn more.”
The roll out is expected to be completed by spring 2016.
> But we don’t expect it will…
Source – Northern Echo, 13 Dec 2014
A Conservative peer sparked anger yesterday when she suggested the poor were going hungry because they “don’t know how to cook”.
Baroness Jenkin of Kennington was forced to apologise for the comment, made at the launch of a landmark study into the explosion in food bank use.
The gaffe came as the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) – criticised for benefit delays and harsh sanctions – appeared to snub the launch of the report, by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
And Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith came under fire for denying he had refused to meet the Trussell Trust, which runs most food banks, when it insisted he had.
At the Westminster event, Lady Jenkin, who served on the inquiry team, blamed hunger on, in part, a lack of knowledge about how to create cheap and nourishing meals.
“We have lost our cooking skills – poor people don’t know how to cook. I had a large bowl of porridge today, which cost 4p. A large bowl of sugary cereals will cost you 25p.”
Her comments immediately drew stinging criticism from across the region.
Councillor Peter Brookes, who helps run food banks in the Trimdon area of County Durham, said:
“It shows she hasn’t got a full understanding of the difficulties people who use food banks face. They don’t have the same choices as people like the Baroness to go out and buy fresh fruit and vegetables.”
Scheme coordinator, Margaret Brice said many food bank users are unable to cook due to the issues they face, adding: “These are people in a crisis.”
A spokesman for the Middlesbrough Trussell Trust Foodbank said:
“When people do not have any money it does not matter if they have 25p or 4p. They have no money.
“People at the point of crisis are not there because they do not know how to cook. If you have not got anything in the cupboard you cannot cook it.”
Later, Baroness Jenkin apologised, saying:
“I made a mistake. Obviously I was stupidly speaking unscripted.
“What I meant was, as a society, we have lost our ability to cook, or that no longer seems to be handed down in the way that it was in previously in previous generations.”
The row almost overshadowed a plea by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for £100,000 of Government cash to kick-start a new organisation to eliminate hunger in the UK by 2020.
The DWP had been asked to attend and respond on the report’s recommendations, but – unlike the major supermarkets and utility regulators – failed to do so.
A junior minister from another department went instead, while No.10 ruled out changes to the sudden removal of benefits from “sanctioned” claimants – sending them to food banks, critics say.
In the Commons, Mr Duncan Smith said:
“I do take this report seriously. We have met the Trussell Trust—I have never refused to meet it.”
But Alison Inglis-Jones, a trustee of the Trussell Trust, said the organisation felt “vindicated”, adding: “Iain Duncan Smith has refused to talk to us for 18 months.
“We simply get irate letters back accusing us of scaremongering, saying this situation isn’t happening.”
Source – Northern Echo, 08 Dec 2014
Rail services at around 20 of the region’s “little-used” stations are under threat, under new Government plans.
Ministers are proposing cutting the number of trains that serve 67 stops with “particularly low levels of use”, when a new contract is brought in for a private operator.
They include ten in North Yorkshire, four on Teesside, three in Tyne and Wear and a further five in Northumberland.
Some have extraordinarily few passengers, in particular the station at Teesside Airport which – notoriously – had just eight passengers last year, on only two trains each week.
Five other local stations attract fewer than ten passengers a day on average; British Steel Redcar (2.44), Battersby, North Yorkshire (4.31), Kildale, North Yorkshire (4.99), Dunston, Gateshead (5.93), Blaydon (7.59) and Ruswarp, North Yorkshire (8.07).
And the list stretches down as far as stops with nearly 10,000 passengers a year, but still small numbers each day; Marton, Middlesbrough (27.02) and Danby, North Yorkshire (27.13).
The Department for Transport (DfT) has vowed that 30-year-old ‘Pacer’ trains – condemned as “cattle trucks” by critics – will finally be replaced, as part of the new contract.
It asks: “What are your views on giving priority to improving the quality of the Northern rolling stock at the expense of some reduction in lightly used services (e.g. fewer calls at low-use stations)?”
The proposal is included in plans for the new Northern Rail and Trans-Pennine franchises, which are due to be awarded late next year and to start in February 2016.
The operators run services to Darlington, Durham City, Bishop Auckland, Chester-le-Street, Middlesbrough, Stockton, Hartlepool, Redcar, Sunderland, Newton Aycliffe, Redcar, Northallerton, York and Scarborough.
Controversially, the DfT has already warned that rail fares may have to soar to pay for the new trains, regardless of whether some services are culled at less popular stations.
> So business as usual – fewer services costing more… to be followed by big payouts to shareholders .
Commuters in the region pay up to 60 per cent less than in other parts of the country for short journeys, according to officials.
Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, pointed out that James Cook Hospital had just opened a new platform linked to Marton.
And he said: “They’re probably less used because services are few and limited. South Bank hardly has a service that stops there, so it’s a bit cheeky for Northern Rail to highlight stations it hardly services.
> It’s a good point – if there are very few services to start with, the number of users is going to be less. It’d be interesting to see what would happen if services were increased.
Teesside Airport station always attracts headlines for its lack of use… but it only gets two trains per week. What the hell else does anyone expect ?
“Perhaps if it increased services and improved rolling stock, it would improve the frequency of use.”
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin insisted that no decisions have yet been taken on the proposals in the document, arguing it was normal to seek views in a consultation.
Source – Northern Echo, 26 July 2014
> The Tories obviously see no reason to break the mould. Yorkshire prospective MP is millionaire estate agent.
A self-made millionaire estate agent has been selected as the Conservative candidate for one of the safest Tory seats in the country.
Kevin Hollinrake, a married father-of-four who is managing director of North Yorkshire-based Hunters, the UK’s fastest-growing independent estate agency network, emerged late last night as the prospective parliamentary candidate for Thirsk and Malton.
He secured more than 50 per cent of the vote, following a tense series of votes by members of Thirsk and Malton Conservative Association at York Racecourse.
It is understood many members of the association said they admired Mr Hollinrake’s political conviction.
Last October, Mr Hollinrake was reported as having reacted frostily to George Osborne’s autumn budget.
A national newspaper quoted him as saying: “The chancellor must be aware that by introducing capital gains tax on foreign-owned properties in the UK, it may risk deterring important foreign investment into the London and the UK housing markets.”
> So I think we can guess where he’s coming from…
The candidates, who included Stockton Borough councillor for Yarm Ben Houchen, Rutland councillor Christine Emmett and East Riding councillor Victoria Aitken, were all given 30 minutes to stake their claim for the candidacy, which included facing a grilling from the association’s members.
The vote follows the sitting MP Anne McIntosh being deselected earlier this year by the association after a long-running feud with its leading members, who had repeatedly tried to oust her.
Association sources said following the battle, during which claims of elitism and sexism damaged its reputation, they determined to find a candidate who had no link with the row.
Miss McIntosh won the seat with an 11,821 majority at the last election.
Previous incumbents of the seat, which stretches from Filey, across the North York Moors, to villages near Northallerton, have all been Conservative.
TV presenter Selina Scott said she had been urged to stand for the seat, and had decided not to challenge to be the Conservative candidate or run as an independent, but may consider other constituencies.
Ahead of the meeting Miss McIntosh said: “I shall continue to represent the people of Thirsk, Malton and Filey with the utmost energy and enthusiasm, being the only woman Conservative MP for the Yorkshire and Humber region, I am extremely proud to do so.”
Source – Northern Echo, 25 July 2014
Prison overcrowding combined with a cut in officer numbers of up to 30 per cent is stretching the service to breaking point, according to a new report.
The Howard League for Penal Reform shows that in the last three years officer numbers in the North East dropped by 30 per cent from 2,062 in September 2010 to 1,450 by September 2013.
The figures in Yorkshire and Humber show a reduction of 28 per cent in the same period. Northallerton prison has been closed since the figures were compiled.
The charity says the decline in officer numbers across the country has coincided with the loss of 6,500 prison places due to closures and readjustments, which has resulted in a growing number of inmates being forced into a diminishing number of prisons.
However, the charity’s figures have been branded ‘misleading’ by the government minister in charge of prisons.
Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said: “These are flawed and inaccurate figures from a left wing pressure group which can’t see past its dislike of this Government.
These figures present a misleading picture of the prison estate. Our approach to staffing levels has been agreed with the unions to ensure we run safe, efficient and decent prisons with prison officers back in frontline roles where they are most needed.”
“Ministers and various MPs have used different figures to try to minimise the impact of prison closures, but the statistics in this report show the true picture.
“Governors, inspectors and prison officers are joining the Howard League in warning the government that prisons are not just failing, they are dangerous.
“Violence and drug use is out of control and we will all suffer the consequences. This is the most irresponsible government penal policy in a generation.”
The findings, published in charity’s latest research briefing paper, Breaking point: Understaffing and overcrowding in prisons, warns that suicides, assaults and riots will become increasingly common unless urgent action is taken to increase officer numbers and reduce prisoner numbers.
A spokeswoman for the Prisoner Officers’ Association said: “The POA has raised concerns over the link between staff reductions and the increased level of violence, self-inflicted ?injuries, deaths, poor regimes and acts of indiscipline, in our prisons but saving money is the priority of the Ministry of Justice and Treasury.
“The POA welcome the report and findings and call on the Minister to act quickly to ensure prisons are safe secure and fit for purpose and not warehouses ?which is the reality under the current regime.”
Source – Northern Echo, 12 July 2014
Thornaby has become the second town to decide on an official poll to determine if residents want to leave Stockton Borough Council.
Yarm for Yorkshire campaigners will hold their referendum on Tuesday (MAY 27). Meanwhile, a group of about 15 dissatisfied residents asked Thornaby Town Council on Tuesday to consider doing the same.
But in Thornaby the town council took a more long-term approach, with a steering group being set up to consider all the issues and decide on a question for the referendum by post, which would be held within 12 months.
Neither poll would be legally binding but campaigners hope they will ensure Stockton Borough Council and the government see the strength of feeling in the south of the borough.
The Thornaby steering group will look at all options, whether it is becoming part of North Yorkshire, joining Middlesbrough or forming a new authority south of the river.
Terry Chapman, one of the campaigners behind the Thornaby for Yorkshire poll, said after the meeting: “Residents are angry that they are overlooked, that the council agreed more gypsy sites in Thornaby than anywhere else in the borough, and that the town council had to pay £100,000 to the council to buy Thornaby Town Hall when it should have just been given to the town.
Steve Walmsley, a Thornaby Independent councillor on both Thornaby town and Stockton borough councils, said a long-term, more inclusive poll was needed as Stockton Council would be able to ignore a poll with a poor turnout.
He said he was personally against joining Hambleton as its centre, in Northallerton, was too far away and he considered it had a “poor record.”
He added: “This is a consultation, referendum, call it what you want, but we want to take our time and make sure no-one is excluded. If we have it near to next year’s council elections it may have more impact on Stockton council.”
In Yarm, Tuesday’s poll will cost about £4,000 to the town council. No postal votes will be accepted and polling cards will not be issued in the election, which has been organised by Stockton Borough Council and will see polling stations open for just four hours.
Source – Northern Echo, 23 May 2014
High speed rail will slow down services from the North East to Scotland and reduce London journeys by just 11 minutes, the region is today warned.
A series of route documents have shown how the North will be increasingly isolated if the £42bn railway project is completed.
After a trickle of concerns at the plans for a new railway emerged over the last year, the final picture increasingly shows a high speed network in which Newcastle actually loses services.
Consultation documents put out by HS2 and Network Rail show:
- From 2033, Newcastle’s direct trains to and from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow are replaced by a stopping service calling at small towns throughout the line, hugely adding to journey times;
- All London to Scotland services will go up the West Coast;
- High speed rail will replace, not add, to all existing East Coast London to Newcastle routes in order to free up capacity south of York;
- Under High speed plans, Durham would lose out on direct links, while Darlington moves from two trains an hour to London to one train;
- Total journey saving times to London when Durham’s Hitachi trains are built are just 11 minutes.
Under Government plans, the high speed railway will go from London to Birmingham, heading in a Y-shape to Leeds and Manchester by 2033. The fast trains then switch down to regular speeds and travel either to Newcastle or up the west coast to Scotland, with Newcastle now becoming simply the end of a branch line.
Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, who sits on the House of Commons group overseeing the London to Birmingham high speed work, said he had warned his own party’s front bench team that something will have to change if the North East is not to lose out.
He told The Journal: “We have some of the worst rail connections already. As I have said to our front bench, the North East first of all needs to be recompensed for the disruption we will face as work goes on from York to London.
“But also, this new line will build economic powerhouses in West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, while whatever happens in Scotland it is going to be given more economic powers.
“The North East risks being trapped in between these economic honeytraps, with slower connections to Scotland and losing some services to London. How will we sell ourselves to investors after High Speed 2?”
Other Labour MPs hitting out at the high speed plans include Durham’s Kevan Jones and Newcastle’s Nick Brown. They are at odds with Labour councils such as Newcastle and the Association of North East Councils, which have campaigned for new route despite the concerns.
Many of the damaging changes to North East services come as a result of a lack of investment in the East Coast Main Line north of York.
The four-lane line railway network changes to a two-lane line between Northallerton up to Newcastle. And with that system already leading to congestion on a one-in one-out basis, the new high speed route would only be able to replace, rather than add to, existing services.
In its consultation document, Network Rail admits that High Speed duplicates services up the East Coast, and as such, it wants to “reduce the quantum of long distance services,” axing long distance trains and replace them with slower, stopping services.
South of York there is increased extra capacity as all trains from Newcastle and Scotland are sent past Birmingham to Euston, with six trains an hour from the North moved off the existing system.
The system would mean there is an end to services from London to Edinburgh via Newcastle, documents show.
Instead a new stopping services would start at Newcastle and call at Cramlington, Morpeth, Alnmouth, Berwick, Dunbar, Drem, Prestonpans and Edinburgh Waverley.
And the same capacity constraints that force all these changes mean that from 2019, transport officials have decided the only way to increase services on the Transpennine service is to reduce one train an hour on the Birmingham via Leeds Cross Country routes.
Source – Newcastle Journal 06 May 2014