Funding for a service that helps crime victims through their most difficult days is to be axed on Tyneside.
Three of the four Victim Support offices in the area look set to close, following a major shake-up in victims’ services, at the end of next month.
The move comes after the Government, which had provided 80% of the charity’s funding decided to devolve, decisions on victim care spending to a local level, with individual Police and Crime Commissioners determining how help is provided in their own force area.
Northumbria’s Vera Baird is so far one of just two PCCs in the country to decide not to provide funding to the existing Victim Support services, instead choosing to replace them with her own ‘in house’ victim care structure.
Some staff at the offices in Newcastle, North Tyneside, Sunderland and Gateshead have been told they could lose their jobs, although it is understood they are being encouraged to apply for the new roles.
Ms Baird said:
“The Ministry of Justice has decided to fund victims’ services in a different way with the funding now being provided through Police and Crime Commissioners across the country.
“In the Northumbria Police region this new service will be independent from the force working with the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and will link in with existing services and voluntary groups already working in the force area.
“It will put victims at the heart of everything that is done throughout the whole criminal justice process ensuring that they have access to support and advice when they need it.
“This new service will be available in April and discussions are continuing with victims’ service providers in the region as we work to get the best possible service for victims of crime.”
But, both staff and families who have been helped by the charity in the past fear future victims of crime will suffer.
Margaret Smith, whose 16-year-old son Mark was killed almost eight years ago, said:
“I think it’s absolutely horrendous. Who else would people turn to if Victim Support isn’t there? Closing it would be the worst thing they could do, they help a hell of a lot of people.”
Mark was stabbed to death near his Benwell home in Newcastle, in May 2007.
And in the dark days, weeks and months that followed, Victim Support became a lifeline for grieving Margaret.
“They helped me with everything,” the 54-year-old said. “It was the worst time of my life, but they were fantastic. I poured my heart out to them and they listened to me.”
Formed in the 1970s, Victim Support is the world’s most established victim and witness support network.
Staff help victims of all types of crime, including assault and burglary, with things like counselling and claims for compensation.
But they also provide a shoulder to cry on, and someone to talk to away from a victim’s family, and independent of the police.
Susanne Hilton, whose son Glen Corner was stabbed to death in South Shields on his 16th birthday in 2006, said Victim Support provided an essential link between her family and the police :
“I think it’s very important that there should be a service such as Victim Support.
“They were a great help to us. They were constantly there for us, and they continued to support us for a long time.
“They were like a go-between for us and the police. So if we wanted to ask anything about things like Glen’s clothes they were there to do it for us.
“The police are there doing their jobs, but Victim Support provided a personal service for us.”
And a Victim Support employee, who asked not to be named, said the closure would mean many staff members with years of experience would no longer be working with victims.
And she fears the unique skills they have built up over a number of years could be lost forever.
“This will mean dozens and dozens of very well trained people will lose their jobs,” she said. “Victim Support staff have very specific skills. We have people who work with domestic violence victims and those that work with people affected by anti-social behaviour and this requires a variety of skills that have been built up over a long time. It’s not a job you can just walk into. We deal with some of the most vulnerable members of the community, who are not always easy to deal with.”
The staff member also said allowing the PCC’s office to deliver victims’ services could threaten impartiality.
“If the police are doing it, where’s the independence ?” she asked.
“And more to the point, how many victims will want to engage with the police? A lot of victims of crime are criminals themselves.”
Victim Support as a charity will continue and provide other services funded from elsewhere, said Carolyn Hodrien, regional director, who added:
“Our priority, as always, is ensuring victims across Northumbria continue to receive the help they need to cope and recover from crime. We know that crime victims really value our independence from the police. Our staff and volunteers will continue to offer information and support to victims of crime and anti-social behaviour in Northumbria as well as our specialist service for families bereaved by murder or manslaughter.”
The future of services for crime victims in the North East is in doubt.
Staff at the four local Victim Support offices in the area have been given notice of redundancy as funding, for the next financial year has not been confirmed.
The national organisation, which provides vital practical and emotional support for those affected by crime, was until this year funded by central Government.
However, when elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) were introduced two years ago it was decided funding decisions should be devolved to a local level, with individual PCCs taking decisions on how victim services are provided in their own force area.
And Northumbria’s Vera Baird has yet to put plans in place for when the central funding ceases at the end of March.
The PCC’s office says it is currently locked in a ‘tender and grant allocation process’ to determine the future of services..
But Victim Support staff on Tyneside have been left fearing for the future of their jobs, and the vital services they provide, until the decision is made.
An employee, who did not want to be identified, said:
“No one has made a decision about our future and we don’t know if we will still be here in two months.
“The organisation could lose a lot of very good experienced staff. This will be like victimising the victims.”
A spokeswoman at the office of the PCC said:
“Following a public consultation in 2012 on the future of victims and witnesses Services, the Government decided to devolve the design and delivery of victims services to locally elected PCCs.
“It is the first time the specific support needs of local communities have been assessed by PCCs.
“The tender and grant allocation process is continuing and at this stage it would not be appropriate to comment without prejudicing these ongoing processes and the range of charitable and voluntary organisations participating in these processes.”
Vera Baird made listening to victims and meeting their needs in her police and crime plan, after being elected.
Established in the 1970s, Victim Support is the world’s most established victim and witness support network.
It has four offices in the Northumbria Police area at Newcastle, North Tyneside, Sunderland and Gateshead.
Staff help victims of all types of crime, including assault and burglary, with things like counselling and claims for compensation.
“Victim Support is something people don’t think about until they need it,” said the worker.
“If we weren’t here there would be nowhere for victims of things like assault and burglary to go.
“We provide emotional support and help with claims for compensation. But sometimes people just come to us to get things off their chest.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 Jan 2015
Further funding cuts could cripple policing on Tyneside and take bobbies off the beat.
That is the claim of Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) who says the force has been squeezed to the limit.
Vera Baird has today revealed the highs and lows of her first two years in office after being voted in as our area’s first elected police boss.
And in the first of a two part interview the Labour commissioner tells how the cuts in central Government funding have left the force with nothing left to save.
Now as she moves into the second half of her first term in the post Mrs Baird says she’s proud of what she and the force have achieved so far, and she is determined to continues to do all she can to meet the public’s policing priorities.
But the PCC warned that any further budget cuts could threaten the commitment to maintaining the number of cops working on the frontline.
“The concern about money is huge. We have rung out every last penny from everything we can without taking cops off the frontline. In the neighbourhood has got to be where they stay. If there are any further cuts we will do out best not to touch the frontline. But where we go next is a mystery.”
At the start of this year Northumbria Police announced that it was being forced into a major re-structure after learning that a new wave of central government funding cuts mean the force will be required to save an additional £46m by March 2017.
This came on top of a previous rationalisation of the force following the coalition Government’s austerity measures.
In order to balance the books in January Chief Constable Sue Sim announced to closure and sale of 25 police buildings, including 12 police stations. Neighbourhood officers in the areas affected will instead work from cheaper buildings, such as leisure centres, which can be shared with other organisations.
Northumbria will also reduce its number of ‘area commands’ from six to three, and plans to slash 200 senior officer and 230 civilian staff posts from the payroll.
Mrs Baird says she is confident the plans put in place will enable the force to continue policing effectively. But she admits money is tight.
“The Chief Constable is a very good business woman as well as being a very good police officer,” she said. “It’s absolutely essential that cops stay out in the neighbourhood, It’s good for the community and they are a massive source of intelligence
“What they need is a place to clock in, a place to keep their weaponry secure and they need a base where they are available to the public.
“Crime has changed over the years. We now have cyber crime and there is an increase in reporting of things like rape. At the moment we are managing. We are coping but it is obviously a challenge. But we can’t allow crime to go on. Cutting costs has to be about doing stuff smarter.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 10 Nov 2014
Police have used controversial anti-terror powers to fight crime across the North.
Thousands of ‘RIPA’ undercover warrants – which grant the power to trawl through telephone records – were used by Durham, Northumbria, North Yorkshire, Cumbria and Cleveland police.
The warrants, issued under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), entitle public bodies to intercept communications in a bid to expose crime and have been used by North East councils and other public bodies as well as the police.
Figures released by the government show 22,154 RIPA warrants were issued to police forces in the North in 2013 – with Durham police leading the way with 6,218 warrants.
Northumbria Police was granted 6,211, North Yorkshire police made 4058 successful applications, Cleveland received 2957 and the Cumbria force was granted 2,710.
RIPA was introduced as a weapon against terrorism and economic crime but its use has been criticised – with some likening it to the encroachment of a police state.
It requires only that the request be approved by a police officer of Superintendent rank or above, giving forces the right to sign off their own warrants without having to go before a judge.
Civil rights group Liberty hit out after the figures were revealed, with legal director James Welch saying RiIPA was “massively overused”.
Councils routinely use RIPA warrants for issues involving rogue traders and underage sale of alcohol and tobacco as well as taxi cab regulation and checking out businesses employing minors.
Police forces use them for more in-depth issues including the investigation of drug and paedophile rings, human trafficking and other forms of serious crimes.
Ripa was used by Cleveland police to snare a drugs gang which was jailed in May for 177 years, collectively.
Detectives were able to seize drugs worth £824,686 and £127,966 cash.
Codenamed Operation Cobweb, it was Cleveland police’s biggest ever drugs bust.
RIPA warrants issued up to March 2013 allowed officers to snare the 22-strong gang, with Middlesbrough’s top judge Simon Bourne-Arton QC praising police for their use of RIPA legislation.
York City Council and Redcar and Cleveland Council led the way for local authorities in the North, using the powers with 80 and 69 warrants granted respectively.
Redcar and Cleveland is host to the anti-fraud organisation Scambusters which the council said contributes to its high numbers.
Newcastle City Council was absent from the list while Northumberland County Council had just three warrants issued.
In August last year in Northumberland, warrants were used to track down through social media accounts an illegal 16-year-old tattoo artist. She was banned and her equipment was seized.
Warrants were also used to bust a phone scam that conned 400 residents across the UK after a Redcar pensioner was tricked into buying unnecessary anti-virus software.
Operation Hognose was launched when the pensioner told council officials he had fallen victim to what is known globally as the ‘Microsoft scam.’
Scammer Mohammed Khalid Jamil, of Luton, Bedfordshire, was handed a suspended jail sentence and £5,000 fine during a March 29 hearing at York Crown Court, after Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council’s trading standards passed the case to the National Trading Standards e-Crime Centre.
The conman was ordered to pay £13,929 costs as well as £5,665 in compensation to 41 victims.
The council said it had not used RIPA warrants to tap phones.
The police forces said they used the powers “only when deemed necessary and in order to detect crime and keep people safe.”
James Welch, Legal Director of Liberty, hit criticised the figures and said the legislation is over used by forces across the UK.
“The police and other public bodies massively overuse their power to get information from our phone and internet service providers – over half a million times last year.
This overuse is hardly surprising when there’s no requirement for prior authorisation from a judge. You can work out a lot about a person from knowing who they phone or which internet sites they visit. People don’t realise how badly their privacy is compromised by this power.”
Home Secretary Theresa May has ordered a review into claims Ripa is being misused.
Police forces on RIPA powers
All of the police forces we contacted said they used RIPA powers only when necessary.
A spokeswoman for Northumbria police said they would be ‘unlikely’ to discuss their use of the measures.
“Our ultimate aim is the safety of the public and this is one of many ways we can gather information to help deal with those people causing most harm in our communities.
“It’s important for the public to have confidence that such methods are appropriate and proportionate.
“The public can be reassured applications for RIPA authority are made only when deemed necessary and in order to detect crime and keep people safe,” she said.
“RIPA authority is not entered into lightly and rigorous processes are in place leading to it being granted.
“They have to be absolutely satisfied that it is necessary to prevent and detect crime and that its level of intrusion is proportionate with the nature of the enquiry being carried out.
“Northumbria Police is inspected each year by the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office to ensure correct procedures and processes are being followed.
“The number of authorisations made is comparable with our neighbouring forces and is part of a package of tools available to officers.”
Temporary Superintendent Rob O’Connor, of Cumbria police, said:
“Cumbria Constabulary where necessary for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime, or preventing disorder, will use the power given to them by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) to obtain and disclose communications data and conduct surveillance. Police use of RIPA is subject to guidance and strict codes of practice.
“RIPA is a very useful investigative tool in order to prevent crime and disorder. The intelligence and evidence obtained enables us to make the correct decisions in terms of public safety and the prosecution of criminals. It has been used on many occasions to great effect to bring offenders to justice.
“Cumbria Constabulary’s use of RIPA is subject of oversight and regular inspections by the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office and the Office of Surveillance Commissioner.”
Chief Superintendent Rob Coulson, of Durham Police, said:
“The powers RIPA provides are massively important to policing in our force area. RIPA is only used when absolutely necessary, how and when we use it is strictly governed.
“RIPA enables us to investigate serious crime and has played a key role in apprehending organised criminals and other serious offenders who have been making life miserable for the residents of County Durham and Darlington. There are many examples of this in the last year alone.
“Whilst Durham is generally a safe place to live we have to accept that these criminals exist and the powers provided through RIPA is a vital tool in the fight against them. We will continue to use the powers RIPA provides to follow, monitor, disrupt and capture offenders such as drug dealers, prolific thieves and sexual predators on a regular basis.
“In doing this can I reassure you that as a force we scrutinise our use of these powers and as with all Forces we are annually inspected by the Office of the Surveillance Commissioners, an independent body.”
A spokeswoman for Cleveland police said the force used RIPA powers to monitor serious organised crime and said the use of RIPA in Operation Cobweb was acknowledged by a judge as an excellent example of usage.
North Yorkshire Police did not comment.
Source – Sunday Sun, 02 Nov 2014
The North East has more than 1,000 fewer police officers than it did five years ago after five consecutive year of job losses.
New figures show that Northumbria, Cleveland and Durham police forces all lost officers last year, and though there were small rises in the force numbers for Cumbria and North Yorkshire, the total number of officers in the region fell below 9,000 for the first time since records began in 2003.
By contrast, there were 10,142 policemen and women in the North in 2010 when the coalition Government came to power.
Among biggest losers in numbers this year was Cleveland Police, which contracted by 5.6% this year, one of the biggest reductions in the country and far more than the 1.3% reduction nationally. 81 officers left the force in the past year – more than three a fortnight.
Northumbria, the region’s largest force, lost 104 officers in the year, a 2.8% drop, while Durham lost 74 officers. Its 5.4% reduction was also one of the biggest in the country.
Police Federation general secretary Andy Fittes said: “The latest police workforce national statistics for England and Wales show that numbers of police workers are now at a 12-year low.
“Cuts to policing have put a strain on all aspects of the service and while officers have been doing an incredible job to bridge the gaps, cracks are beginning to show and they are telling us they are feeling the pressure.
“The nature of offending is starting to change but we have seen many of our specialist teams and units, who work to address these changes, cut or under threat.
“While officers throughout the country continue to work incredibly hard on a daily basis keeping society safe, it would be wrong to assume these cuts aren’t starting to have a noticeable effect.”
Nationally, nine of the 43 police forces in England and Wales increased their numbers between 2013 and 2014. Cumbria added 29 new members of staff while North Yorkshire added 38. The biggest increase was to the British Transport Police, which got 260 new members of staff.
Nobody was available at the local forces for comment.
Source – Sunday Sun, 20 July 2014
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady explains why North-East workers need a pay rise.
Next Tuesday, April 1 will mark the fifteenth anniversary of the minimum wage – a historic milestone in British labour history.
Before its introduction in 1999 some workers were being paid as little as £1 an hour. The minimum wage has helped to end such abuse. It has proved to be a vital safeguard for employees across the North-East.
The Low Pay Commission recommends the level of the minimum wage. Its first ever chair Sir George Bain said last month “with more than one in five workers in Britain suffering from low pay, it’s time to talk about how we strengthen the minimum wage for the years ahead.”
Sir George is right. The minimum wage has undoubtedly lifted many out of extreme low pay, but research shows that many employees start work on the minimum wage and then stay there – failing to lift their pay above the minimum even after years at work.
In the North-East over 75,000 workers are on the minimum wage. Many are likely to stay on this rate for a large part of their working lives.
Lifting the minimum wage above inflation as politicians of all parties now support will help these. But many employers could do more by adopting the higher voluntary minimum standard known as the living wage – set at £7.65 an hour.
But it is not just those on low pay who have been left behind. New TUC research shows that the gap between the top ten per cent of wage earners and average pay in the North-East has grown by 5.3 per cent since 2000.
This should worry everyone. Those with the biggest pay packets may dismiss this as the politics of envy, but income inequality is bad for the whole economy. It helped drive the financial crash as banks lent the savings of the wealthiest to those in the middle who took out credit to keep up their living standards.
For some the pay squeeze has been even sharper. To take just one example, academic staff at the universities of Durham, Teesside, Newcastle, Northumbria and Sunderland have seen real-terms pay cuts of 13 per cent over the last five years. And this is just one instance of jobs that were once secure and decently paid slowly being turned into insecure work that can no longer deliver the living standards once thought fair.
This real wage squeeze is a key aspect of a wider cost of living crisis. Energy bills have risen three times faster than inflation over the last decade, while rail fares rose above inflation yet again this January.
Childcare and housing costs have also grown as a share of average income.
People are now spending over a third of their disposable income on essentials such as food and fuel. People think of the cost of living crisis in terms of prices but the main cause of the problem is that their wages are not going far enough anymore.
So can we do something about it? Or is it just an inevitable fact of life that living standards are in decline and that for the first time in history future generations will have lower living standards than their parents?
Economic growth alone is not the answer. The economy has grown by £60bn in the last four years but real household disposable income has barely increased. Disposable incomes have fallen by nearly £500 per person.
A first step is bolder increases to the minimum wage. Had it kept pace with prices since 2007 full-time minimum wage workers would be nearly £800 a year better off. We need to make up this lost ground but also ensure that companies who illegally pay staff less than the minimum wage face the full force of the law – including being publicly named and shamed.
Secondly, we need an increased commitment to the living wage from employers in the public and private sector so that their own staff, as well as those in their supply chains, can have a decent standard of living.
Employers in many sectors can afford to pay more without job losses. That’s why we need to find new ways for employers and unions to work together to set higher wages, agreed at a sector level by modern wages councils, so that workers and businesses can both get a fair deal.
More collective bargaining can stop employers skimping on pay and get wages rising back in line with prices. Even the International Monetary Fund (hardly known for its radicalism) concedes that the decline of collective bargaining has increased wage inequality and reduced wages for ordinary people.
This month the TUC is organising Fair Pay Fortnight – a series events and street stalls throughout the North-East – to raise awareness about Britain’s cost of living crisis.
We need to put fair pay at the top of the political agenda and ensure that policymakers and employers create more high-quality jobs to boost productivity and raise people’s living standards. People need more money in their pockets if local economies are to thrive.
The North-East needs a pay rise.
Source – Northern Echo, 26 March 2014
A jobs warning has been sounded as the region is told of the risk of Scottish independence.
As Chancellor George Osborne set out why the UK would not let a breakaway Scotland keep the pound, Hexham MP Guy Opperman has warned of the regional impact of a new international border on the doorsteps of Northumberland.
The Conservative MP said: “If keeping the pound would not be possible as part of a formal sterling currency union; if the SNP no longer wishes to join the euro, which one can see; and if there is no prospect of an independent country with border control—my constituents are somewhat concerned that there might be a rerun of Hadrian’s wall—where are we?”
He said the situation in Scotland was clearly of concern to the North East, adding: “I am speaking as an MP whose area has a border that divides Scotland and England—my local businesses, the North East chamber of commerce and the local authorities have all indicated that there would be a negative impact on jobs, growth and the development of our respective economies in Scotland and England were the referendum to go ahead.”
> Would that be the same jobs, growth and development (or lack of) that makes the North East the area with the highest unemployment ?
He told MPs: “I speak as a Brit, a mongrel Englishman, a lover of Scotland and an MP whose constituency borders Scotland. Were there to be Scottish independence, I have no doubt that tourism and trade would continue, but it would be naive not to accept that trade on a cross-border basis would unquestionably be affected.
“That is not some Conservative Member of Parliamentspeaking; that is the opinion of the chambers of commerce, local authorities and business groups I have spoken to on both sides of the border.”
> All organizations with the welfare of the common man at heart…
In Edinburgh yesterday the Chancellor ruled out a currency union with an independent Scotland after “strong” advice from the Treasury’s leading official, which was published.
Sir Nicholas Macpherson said that unions are “fraught with difficulty” and raised serious concerns about the Scottish Government’s commitment to making it work. Scotland’s banking sector is too big in relation to national income, the UK could end up bailing the country out.
> Perhaps the North East (and Cumbria, for that matter) should apply to become part of an independent Scotland. Until relatively recently the border was pretty fluid, the old kingdom of Northumbria took in chunks of both, and Hadrian’s Wall is nowadays a long way from the current border (although, of course, neither England or Scotland existed when it was built).
But who do we have more in common with – Scotland or the London city state ?
Source – Newcastle Journal 14 Feb 2014
A huge restructure of Northumbria Police will see more than 400 jobs go and police stations closed as part of ongoing measures to save a total of £104m in response to “relentless” Government funding cuts.
The force will lose 230 members of staff – some by voluntary or compulsory redundancy – and reduce its number of senior officers by 200, through ‘natural turnover’.
They will also close “expensive” police stations, and reduce the number of area commands from six to three.
The restructure plans were announced last night as it was revealed that Northumbria Police has to save an additional £46m by March 2017, having already delivered £58m of savings since the start of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review in 2010.
Police and Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird, branded the cuts “unfair” but promised to protect frontline services working in neighbourhoods throughout the region.
> What does that mean ? We still wont see the coppers we already never see, unless speeding past in a car ?
She said: “The Government cuts are relentless and unfair. They impact far more heavily on our police service than on many others. The Chief Constable and I are very committed to maintaining the number of police officers and staff working in our neighbourhoods.
“To achieve this we need to do things differently, use technology more effectively and work from different buildings that are cheaper to run.”
The proposals, which the force stress are in the early stages, will see some “outdated” police stations closed and Neighbourhood Policing Teams relocated to bases within the communities they serve in shared accommodation facilities such as leisure centres.
> A plastic plod in the front of a supermarket, strictly 9-5, and able only to refer you to the police’s website, no doubt
However, a spokeswoman for Northumbria said that no police buildings will close until suitable new locations have been found.
Mrs Baird added: “We will relocate Neighbourhood Policing Teams to bases in the local community, usually shared with other services. We are currently doing this in North Tyneside where we are proposing to have police in the White Swan Centre at Killingworth following public consultation, rather than in an outdated, expensive-to-maintain police station in Forest Hall.
“We are keen to make further savings by relocating other neighbourhood policing teams into the communities that they serve, as this is what local policing is all about. However, we guarantee no police services will be relocated until we have found accessible bases within the community for neighbourhood teams to work from and they are working well.
“I am conscious that local people are feeling the effects of the economic downturn very acutely in our region. We have managed to protect frontline numbers and deliver the savings needed without the public having to pay more.”
> You’d never guess she used to be an MP, would you ?
Another change in the way Northumbria Police operate will be the down-sizing of the current six area commands – Newcastle, Gateshead, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Northumberland and Sunderland – to three.
These will cover existing local authority areas coming under North, Central and South. North will cover North Tyneside and Northumberland, Central will serve Newcastle and Gateshead and South will cover Sunderland and South Tyneside.
> With the possible closure of Sunderland’s city centre Gilbridge police station being mooted – to go with the probable closure of the city centre fire station. How long before someone decides the city doesn’t really need a hospital either ?
The force has said it has made every effort to safeguard the services the public say they value most, which is visible policing in their communities.
> Invisible policing, more like ! Otherwise only seen when there’s a football match on.
The proposed changes, which won’t see any increase in council tax, will not reduce the service to the public nor impact on the force’s ability to reduce crime and disorder, according to Northumbria Police.
> Truth is, the region is never going to be a potential Tory electoral gain (Hexham aside), so why should anyone in government really care what happens here ?
On the other hand, it’s safe Labour seats, so they don’t appear to feel the need to stand up for us either – they take it for granted that they’ll get voted back whatever happens.
Talk about being between a rock and a hard place !
Perhaps, should Scotland go independant, they might consider extending the border down to the Tees…
Source – Newcastle Journal, Sunderland Echo, 09 Jan 2014