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Newcastle and Middlesbrough Councils to make millions at auction as they sell off their assets

> But the bad news is that “the council is not legally permitted to use proceeds from the sale of assets to fund public services.”

Cash-strapped councils could make millions of pounds at auction as they sell off their assets.

Both Newcastle City Council and Middlesbrough Borough Council are selling houses, industrial units and a care home in an attempt to claw back money following a series of cuts.

In an auction next month both councils are expected to make millions of pounds – cash they say will be used to develop Newcastle and Middlesbrough.

In Newcastle, leaders are expected to make nearly £2.5m from the sale – on top of £7m they made at a similar auction last month. The news comes just after council leaders announced their £40m cuts package.

Lib Dem Coun Greg Stone said:

“I think Newcastle City Council have a case for reviewing the property. Given the council’s rationalisation of accommodation and with that there will be surplus property.

“It is reasonable to dispose of these but what we need to know is what the council will be spending the money on.”

Houses on the prestigious Jesmond Road West, in Jesmond, Newcastle, and three properties on Great North Road, in Jesmond, are some of the assets being put up for sale.

Other properties to go under the hammer include Craghall Care Home, also in Jesmond, which could bring in as much as £850,000, and the Co-Operative Store, on Newton Road, in High Heaton, for a guide price of £120,000 to £130,000.

The council said it no longer uses the buildings and cash from the auction will help fund future developments.

A council spokesman said:

“As part of the rationalisation of our estate we are in the process of auctioning off former council offices which we no longer use.

“The proceeds will go into our capital investment fund and be used to fund infrastructure improvements at development sites for the future growth of the city and the creation of employment opportunities.

“The council is not legally permitted to use proceeds from the sale of assets to fund public services.”

Leaders in Middlesbrough are also expected to sell property on Brewsdale Road, in North Ormesby and The Park End, on Penistone Road.

A Middlesbrough Council spokesman said: “There is an ongoing review of the assets and we are making the best use of them.”

He said the cash would be invested in other capital projects.

The properties which have come under the hammer will be sold at the Lambert Smith Hampton auction on February 23 at the Millennium Hotel, Grosvenor Square in London.

Source –  Sunday Sun, 01 Feb 2015

Hate attacks on British Muslims up, say North-East academics

Hate attacks on Muslims in Britain quadrupled in the months after the murder of soldier Lee Rigby last year, a study by North-East academics has found.

Of the 734 anti-Muslim attacks reported to the Tell Mama charity hotline in a ten-month period to February this year, over half were in the two months after the drummer was stabbed to death in Woolwich in May 2013, the University of Teesside report shows.

Over half of the Islamophobic attacks in the period were committed against women, often targeted because they were wearing clothes people associate with Islam.

> Or more likely because they are seen as softer targets…I suspect the average heroic defender of our British way of life (whatever that is) would rather hit a woman or child than take on some hard-looking guy.

The report is published by the university’s centre for Fascist, anti-Fascist and Post-Fascist Studies – the first research unit of its kind in the UK dedicated to the study of the far-right and its violent opposition.

It also comes just days after the far-right English Defence League marched through the streets of Middlesbrough in protest at what it described as “Muslim grooming gangs”.

Report authors Dr Matthew Feldman and research assistant Mark Littler said they found Muslims were facing hate crime, both online and in the streets, on a daily basis.

Dr Feldman said: “Muslims remain amongst the most likely minority group in Britain to be targeted for a hate crime. ‘Trigger’ events like the murder of Drummer Rigby clearly magnify the possibility of far-right groups and others victimising Muslims simply for who they are and what they believe.”

The report was compiled based on data from the Tell MAMA phoneline project set up by Faith Matters, founded in 2005 with the aim of reducing extremism and inter-faith tensions.

While police and government figures show that hate crime incidents are generally falling, those against Muslims appear to have significantly increased since the Tell MAMA project was set up in 2012.

The new report shows that less than one in six people who reported incidents to Tell MAMA actually went to the police.

It also reveals that 60 per cent of perpetrators were aged between ten and 30 – suggesting anti-Muslim prejudice among a younger generation raised in the shadow of 9/11 and 7/7.

Nearly half of all online incidents were linked to far right organisations.

Dr Feldman said he was most concerned about the fact that hate crime was being under-reported.

Fiyaz Mughal OBE, Director of Tell MAMA, said: “We know we are only getting a snapshot of what’s happening, but it is clear that fear and apprehension is evident among Muslim women.”

The report, titled ‘Anti-Muslim Overview, Analysis and Cumulative Extremism,’ will be officially launched at an event on Friday 4 July, from 6.30pm to 8.30pm, at the Old Shire Hall in County Durham.

Source – Northern Echo, 01 July 2014

Britain’s Five Richest Families Worth More Than Poorest 20%

This article  was written by Larry Elliott, economics editor, for The Guardian on Monday 17th March

The scale of Britain’s growing inequality is revealed today by a report from a leading charity showing that the country’s five richest families now own more wealth than the poorest 20% of the population.

Oxfam urged the chancellor George Osborne to use Wednesday’s budget to make a fresh assault on tax avoidance and introduce a living wage in a report highlighting how a handful of the super-rich, headed by the Duke of Westminster, have more money and financial assets than 12.6 million Britons put together.

The development charity, which has opened UK programmes to tackle poverty, said the government should explore the possibility of a wealth tax after revealing how income gains and the benefits of rising asset prices had disproportionately helped those at the top.

Although Labour is seeking to make living standards central to the political debate in the run-up to next year’s general election, Osborne is determined not to abandon the deficit-reduction strategy that has been in place since 2010. But he is likely to announce a fresh crackdown on tax avoidance and measures aimed at overseas owners of high-value London property in order to pay for modest tax cuts for working families.

The early stages of the UK’s most severe post-war recession saw a fall in inequality as the least well-off were shielded by tax credits and benefits. But the trend has been reversed in recent years as a result of falling real wages, the rising cost of food and fuel, and by the exclusion of most poor families from home and share ownership.

In a report, a Tale of Two Britains, Oxfam said the poorest 20% in the UK had wealth totalling £28.1bn – an average of £2,230 each. The latest rich list from Forbes magazine showed that the five top UK entries – the family of the Duke of Westminster, David and Simon Reuben, the Hinduja brothers, the Cadogan family, and Sports Direct retail boss Mike Ashley – between them had property, savings and other assets worth £28.2bn.

The most affluent family in Britain, headed by Major General Gerald Grosvenor, owns 77 hectares (190 acres) of prime real estate in Belgravia, London, and has been a beneficiary of the foreign money flooding in to the capital’s soaring property market in recent years. Oxfam said Grosvenor and his family had more wealth (£7.9bn) than the poorest 10% of the UK population (£7.8bn).

Oxfam’s director of campaigns and policy, Ben Phillips, said: “Britain is becoming a deeply divided nation, with a wealthy elite who are seeing their incomes spiral up, while millions of families are struggling to make ends meet.

“It’s deeply worrying that these extreme levels of wealth inequality exist in Britain today, where just a handful of people have more money than millions struggling to survive on the breadline.”

The UK study follows an Oxfam report earlier this year which found that the wealth of 85 global billionaires is equivalent to that of half the world’s population – or 3.5 billion people. The pope and Barack Obama have made tackling inequality a top priority for 2014, while the International Monetary Fund has warned that the growing divide between the haves and have-nots is leading to slower global growth.

Oxfam said the wealth gap in the UK was becoming more entrenched as a result of the ability of the better off to capture the lion’s share of the proceeds of growth. Since the mid-1990s, the incomes of the top 0.1% have grown by £461 a week or £24,000 a year. By contrast, the bottom 90% have seen a real terms increase of only £2.82 a week or £147 a year.

The charity said the trends in income had been made even more adverse by increases in the cost of living over the past decade. “Since 2003 the majority of the British public (95%) have seen a 12% real terms drop in their disposable income after housing costs, while the richest 5% of the population have seen their disposable income increase.”

Osborne will this week announce details of the government’s new cap on the welfare budget and has indicated that he wants up to £12bn a year cut from the benefits bill in order to limit the impact of future rounds of austerity on Whitehall departments.

Oxfam said that for the first time more working households were in poverty than non-working ones, and predicted that the number of children living below the poverty line could increase by 800,000 by 2020. It said cuts to social security and public services were meshing with falling real incomes and a rising cost of living to create a “deeply damaging situation” in which millions were struggling to get by.

The charity said that starting with this week’s budget, the government should balance its books by raising revenues from those that could afford it – “by clamping down on companies and individuals who avoid paying their fair share of tax and starting to explore greater taxation of extreme wealth”.

The IMF recently released research showing that the ever-greater concentration of wealth and income hindered growth and said redistribution would not just reduce inequality but would be economically beneficial.

“On average, across countries and over time, the things that governments have typically done to redistribute do not seem to have led to bad growth outcomes, unless they were extreme”, the IMF said in a research paper. “And the resulting narrowing of inequality helped support faster and more durable growth, apart from ethical, political or broader social considerations.”

Phillips said: “Increasing inequality is a sign of economic failure rather than success. It’s far from inevitable – a result of political choices that can be reversed. It’s time for our leaders to stand up and be counted on this issue.”

Landed gentry to self-made millionaires

Duke of Westminster (Wealth: £7.9bn)

Gerald Grosvenor and his family owe the bulk of their wealth to owning 77 hectares (190 acres) of Mayfair and Belgravia, adjacent to Buckingham Palace and prime London real estate.

As the value of land rockets in the capital so too does the personal wealth of Grosvenor, formally the sixth Duke of Westminster and one of seven god parents to the new royal baby, Prince George.

The family also own 39,000 hectares in Scotland and 13,000 hectares in Spain, while their privately owned Grosvenor Estate property group has $20bn (£12bn) worth of assets under managemenSpaint including the Liverpool One shopping mall, according to leading US business magazine Forbes.

Reuben brothers (£6.9bn)

Simon and David Reuben made their early money out of metals. Born in India but brought up in London, they started in local scrap metal but branched out into trading tin and aluminium.

Their biggest break was to move into Russia just after the break-up of the Soviet Union, buying up half the country’s aluminium production facilities and befriending Oleg Deripaska, the oligarch associate of Nat Rothschild and Peter Mandelson.

The Reuben brothers are still involved in mining and metals but control a widely diversified business empire that includes property, 850 British pubs, and luxury yacht-maker Kristal Waters. They are also donors to the Conservative party.

Hinduja brothers (£6bn)

Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja co-chair the Hinduja Group, a multinational conglomerate with a presence in 37 countries and businesses ranging from trucks and lubricants to banking and healthcare.

They began their careers working in their father’s textile and trading businesses in Mumbai and Tehran, Iran but soon branched out by buying truck maker, Ashok Leyland from British Leyland and Gulf Oil from Chevron in the 1980s, while establishing banks in Switzerland and India in the 1990s.

The family’s London home is a mansion on Carlton House Terrace, overlooking St James Park and just along fromclose to Buckingham Palace, which is potentially worth £300m. They have links with the Labour party.

Cadogan family (£4bn)

The wealth of the Cadogans family is built on 90 acres36 hectares of property and land in Chelsea and Knightsbridge, west London.

Eton-educated Charles is the eighth Earl of Cadogan and ran the family business, Cadogan Estates, until 2012 when he handed it over to his son Edward, Viscount Chelsea.

Charles, who is a first cousin to the Aga Khan, started in the Coldstream Guards before going into the City.

He was briefly chairman of Chelsea Football Club in the early 1980s and his family motto is: “He who envies is the lesser man.”

Mike Ashley (£3.3bn)

Ashley owns Newcastle United football club and became a billionaire through his Sports Direct discount clothing chain which he started after leaving school.

He was the sole owner of the fast growing business, which snapped up brands such as Dunlop, Slazenger, Karrimor and Lonsdale, until it floated on the stock market in 2007. He now owns 62%.

Ashley is a regular visitor to London’s swankiest casinos but is famously publicity-averse

Source – Welfare News Service,  17 March 2014

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Universal jobmatch – the choice of scammers everywhere

Fraud squad detectives are probing claims jobseekers were conned out of cash in an elaborate ‘Hustle-style’ scam from luxury city centre offices.

Applicants were interviewed by ‘Options 4 Families’ at a rented office in the Manchester One building on Portland Street, but heard nothing from the company after paying £65 for background checks upon offers of employment.

The £18.5k-a-year ‘trainee child counsellor’ jobs were even advertised on the government’s own Universal Jobmatch website – but the Department of Work and Pensions has since removed the adverts and has sent a warning to those who applied.

> Maybe they want to take a look at all those non-jobs that clutter up UJ – leaflet distributors, etc. But I suppose if they did, they’d have virtually nothing left – few respectable advertisers use UJ.

Other candidates are understood to have left their current jobs after being offered positions.

Burnley-based businessman John Sothern, 44, interviewed candidates at the start of January and is understood to have offered at least 12 people roles based in Manchester city centre following two days of interviews.

He is now at the centre of a police investigation – but denies any wrongdoing.

Greater Manchester Police were called to Manchester One by an interviewee on January 8 but Mr Sothern had fled the premises by the time officers arrived.

The M.E.N has spoken to jobseekers who were told they would begin their roles – which would increase to £34k-a-year after a training period – at the start of February but have still not heard from the company six weeks after transferring money.

Lancashire Police confirmed allegations regarding the Manchester-based jobs were passed to them by national agency Action Fraud on January 28.

It is understood a fraud probe into Mr Sothern’s activities is currently examining around 70 alleged offences across the north west.

A Lancashire Police spokeswoman said: “We can confirm officers have received a report in relation to an allegation of fraud. An investigation has been launched and enquiries are on-going in relation to this matter at this time.”

A Department of Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “The vast majority of those employers offer genuine roles for jobseekers to apply for – however we won’t hesitate to ban anyone who tries to break the rules and post fraudulent jobs. When possible, it can – and has – led to criminal prosecutions.”

Options 4 Families was dissolved as a limited company in 2010.

 Matthew Bourton, 24, thought he’d finally ended his two-year search to find work when he was offered a ‘trainee child therapist’ job by Options 4 Families.

He applied through Universal Jobmatch and was interviewed just hours before police were called to the office on January 8.

Matthew, who has been out of work since leaving university, was offered the position the following day. He was then asked to provide a ‘refundable’ payment of £65.60 for a Disclosure and Barring Service background check to be carried out.

Six weeks later, he’s had no contact from the company.

Matthew, of Wigan Road, Leigh, said: “The job itself seemed too good to be true, but I’m so desperate to find work I was ready to believe everything I was being told. John Sothern was very friendly and charming. I gave my details for the bank transfer and that’s the last I’ve heard from them.

“I tried to get in touch with them but the number was a dead line. There was no mention of them on the internet apart from their own website and I came to the realisation that I’d been had. I feel taken advantage of and totally devastated.”

Businessman John Sothern insists job offers with Options 4 Families were genuine and he has done ‘nothing wrong’.

Mr Sothern is aware of a police investigation into the interview process at Manchester One but insists applicants will be given the jobs they were offered with Options 4 Families. He intends to contact candidates ‘within seven to 10 days’.

He said: “We’ve applied for funding with different organisations, including the Big Lottery Fund, and with private investors. As soon as we get that funding through, we’ll be in a position for people to start those jobs. We’ve had to put everything on hold but those people offered jobs will be getting e-mails – the jobs are still open. Background checks are standard industry practice and those people will get their money back.”

Source – Manchester Evening News,  03 Mar 2014