Campaigners hoping to turn Northumberland in a Green Party powerbase defied dreary weather to officially launch their election battle.
Natalie Bennett’s party will fight all four Northumberland constituencies at the General Election next month, placing energy, anti-austerity, public services and transport at the heart of their strategy.
Taking shelter under bright green umbrellas, the candidates chose Druridge Bay Visitor Centre, near Amble, for the event, close to the site of a planned opencast mine, which the Greens are petitioning against amid fears it will damage the environment.
The party’s candidate for Hexham and chairman of the Northumberland Greens Lee Williscroft-Ferris, said:
“Today has been a huge success.
“Despite the poor weather, many Green Party members from across the four Northumberland constituencies have come to Druridge Bay to show their support as their candidates officially launch their general election campaigns.
“Although we are each fighting hard in our own areas, we share similar concerns. These include an urgent need to improve public transport and protect our public services, as well as a mutual objective of fighting against the unsafe exploitation of our natural resources through fracking, open cast mining and underground coal gasification.
“We offer a people and planet-focussed alternative to ‘business as usual’ politics and to the narrative of austerity – the number of people here today proves that there is a genuine appetite for a positive, Green vision of hope here in Northumberland.”
It comes as the Greens celebrate being the third-largest party, in terms of membership, in England as the party enjoys unprecedented exposure in the TV leaders’ debates.
While the Greens are not anticipating victory in Northumberland a surge of support for them could make a decisive difference in the key marginal of Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Following the retirement of long-serving Lib Dem MP Sir Alan Beith, Conservative Anne-Marie Trevelyan is neck-and-neck with Lib Dem Julie Porksen, but the Greens’ candidate Rachael Roberts is holding her own.
Dawn Furness is taking on Labour’s Ronnie Campbell – who polled a 6,668 majority in 2010 – in the Blyth Valley constituency while Chris Hedley also faces a tough opponent in Wansbeck where Ian Lavery will stand for Ed Miliband’s party.
The Save Druridge campaign has a petition, which can be found online: http://www.savedruridge.co.uk
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 13 Apr 2015
Berwick constituency, vacant following the retirement of Sir Alan Beith (Lib Dem).
►Nigel Revell Coghill-Marshall (Ukip)
►Scott Dickinson (Labour)
►Neil Humphrey (English Democrats)
►Julie Pörksen (Liberal Democrats)
►Rachael Roberts (Green Party)
►Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Conservative)
An MP has called for an urgent review after thousands of homeowners were shocked to discover they had a lord of the manor – with the right to hunt on their property.
More than 90,000 properties, most of them ordinary residential homes, may be subject to archaic legal provisions dating back to before the Norman conquest , an inquiry led by North East MP Sir Alan Beith has warned.
It means the lord of the manor has the right to mine minerals beneath the property, hold fairs and markets on the land or use it for hunting, shooting or fishing.
Homeowners were astounded to learn that they were affected and feared property values could be hit, even though such rights are rarely exercised.
Sir Alan, Liberal Democrat MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, is chair of the Commons Justice Committee which has held an inquiry into the problem.
In new report, the Committee called an independent review by the Law Commission into whether the rights should be scrapped.
The concept of a lord of the manor may sound old-fashioned but it still exists. Lordships can be bought and sold, and some are held by charitable and educational institutions.
Properties affected are not necessarily in rural areas, or anywhere near a manor house or similar building. Thousands of homes in built up, urban areas have a lord of the manor.
Most affected homeowners appear to have been unaware of the issue, until an attempt to update the law had unintended consequences.
Changes made through the Land Registration Act 2002 forced lords of the manor to register their claims by October 2013 – or lose them.
But it meant homeowners received letters from the Land Registry informing them that a claim affecting their property had been filed.
Around 90,000 claims were registered in the year preceding the deadline, with many people discovering for the first time that their properties may be subject to rights owned by a third party.
A claim may have no practical impact, as it is thought unlikely that a court would back a lord who tried to exercise their rights against the wishes of the property’s owner.
But it appears on the charges register held by the Land Registry, which can be consulted when a property is being sold to check whether there it is affected by statutory restrictions. This has led to fears it could cause problems for people trying to sell their home.
Sir Alan said:
“House owners were astonished to find manorial rights registered on their properties, and worried that this would affect them when selling the house or getting a mortgage. The lack of understanding of such rights, and the way the registration process was carried out and communicated, has led to understandable concerns and anxieties.”
“The Committee heard evidence about considerable problems with the registration process, and in particular the Land Registry’s notifications to owners, the burden of proof of the validity of claims, which falls disproportionately on the landowner, and the use of unilateral notices to register manorial rights.
“However, there was little evidence of problems actually being caused by the exercise of manorial rights in practice in the present day.”
Simply abolishing the system could be difficult, he said. In some cases, manorial rights could have a genuine value, such as when there was a real prospect of mining or extracting minerals from the land.
But Sir Alan said: “We nevertheless consider that the situation where a claim can be made over areas of dense residential properties – where rights are unlikely or impossible to be exercised – is anomalous.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 22 Jan 2015
> Another success story for privatisation….
The prison service is “a powder keg” and it’s only a matter of time before staff are seriously hurt, an MP has warned.
Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck, urged Ministers to act over a dramatic increase in assaults on prison officer staff.
And speaking in the House of Commons, he highlighted staff cuts at HMP Northumberland, which was transferred to private management 12 months ago.
Sodexo Justice Services now runs the prison after winning a 15-year contract worth an estimated £250 million.
It comes after a number of MPs raised concerns about working conditions in the nation’s prisons.
Work commissioned by the Prison Officers’ Association and conducted by academics warned of high levels of stress among prison staff, and found 65 per cent of prison officers often thought about quitting the job.
A Commons motion warning MPs are “deeply concerned at the findings of the report” was signed by Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell and North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon as well as Mr Lavery.
The MPs urged the Government “to conduct an urgent inquiry into the prison system and the terms and conditions of those trying to professionally carry out an important public service under the most difficult of circumstances”.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Lavery said:
“The Prison Service is not only in crisis, but is a powder keg.
“Somebody must be held accountable because someone, somewhere will be seriously hurt in the Prison Service.
“Nine members of staff are assaulted daily, which means 3,400 a year, up 9.4 per cent.
“More dramatically, serious assaults on staff have increased by 36% since 2010.”
He highlighted the situation at HMP Northumberland, where around 50 inmates took over a wing in riots in March.
He asked Justice Minister Andrew Selous: “Does the Minister share my concerns about the situation at HMP Northumberland, which is in my area?
“When that prison was privatised, Sodexo immediately reduced the work force by a third, yet the prison population has been increasing.
“Have not prison officers who are left to carry out the work every right to be stressed? What will the Minister do about it?”
The Minister told the Commons:
“Those who manage contracted prisons absolutely have a duty to make sure that they keep their staff as well.”
The Government was taking action to protect prison officers, he said.
“We are working towards a new protocol for escalating matters when prison staff are victims of assault to the which rightly recognises the seriousness of these incidents.”
“The evidence that the Prison Service continues to provide a rewarding career in which staff are able to change lives is irrefutable.
“It is demonstrated in the commitment and tenacity that prison officers have shown in recent months in the difficult circumstances that I have described.
“It is also evident in the organisation’s ability to attract 1,700 new prison officer recruits.”
Sodexo Justice Services operates one prison in Scotland and three in England.
It is part of the French multinational Sodexo Group, which provides services including catering, cleaning and security.
The first jail to be transferred from public to private operation was HMP Birmingham, which is run by G4S.
Fourteen other prisons in England and Wales have been privately managed since they were opened.
Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith has also expressed concern about staff cuts introduced by Sodexo at HMP Northumberland.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 11 Dec 2014
SNP politician Christine Grahame insists that she is serious about contesting the Berwick seat at next year’s General Election and says she has had “loads of supportive messages”.
The level of interest can certainly be verified by the Berwick Advertiser – over 4,500 read the story online in one day and a Facebook link to it received over 3,500 likes.
Ms Grahame initially came up with the idea of contesting the Berwick seat as a possible way to get SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon on to the national platform in the run up to the general election and taking part in the televised leader debates.
Last month the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky jointly wrote to David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage inviting them to take part is a series of multi-platform party leader debates. The directors of BBC Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, sent out separate invitations to the main political parties in each nation to discuss setting up general election debates.
The Berwick seat is currently held by Sir Alan Beith who is standing down in May. First elected in 1973, he is the longest serving Lib Dem MP and, in 2010, he had a majority of 2,690 over his Conservative rival.
Ms Grahame told the Advertiser:
“I await consideration by the SNP of my proposal which is a serious suggestion to reflect the similarities between the requirements of Berwick and its near neighbours in the Scottish Borders.
“I would, as always, be campaigning to win the seat but would continue in my role as MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale.
“I know the good that devolution can do and would fight to bring this to Berwick and the north of England. In addition I believe we need to ensure that good cross border relations continue.
“My focus is, as always, on social justice and democracy which, of course, crosses borders.”
The Conservatives have the Berwick seat in their sights with the retirement of Sir Alan, and their candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan said this week:
“I believe that all voters should have the opportunity to vote for the person and party of their choice, and I know from my own doorstep canvassing, that there are some Berwick residents whose views resonate most closely with the SNP.”
Liberal Democrat candidate, Julie Porksen, was a little less welcoming of the idea of Ms Grahame as a rival candidate:
“For the SNP to stand a candidate in the Berwick constituency in order to get into the leader’s debates is a publicity stunt and does nothing to improve the lives of those living in north Northumberland.
“The real choice facing people here in the next election is between Lib Dem action on the A1, local health services, jobs and education, or the Tories whose policies, like regional pay, would do great damage to Northumberland.”
Jeremy Purvis, a Berwick native and former MSP who lost his Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale seat to Ms Grahame in 2011 and now sits in the Lord as Lord Purves of Tweed, said:
“It seems a remarkable move from someone who worked so hard to become a Borders MSP,
“If anyone was looking for evidence that the SNP is an anti-English party, then sending Christine Grahame to Berwick should do the trick.”
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 27 Nov 2014
A Seahouses man due to have an operation to repair a ruptured Achilles has been left stranded by new transport to healthcare rules.
Health bosses have changed the transport criteria, meaning some patients are expected to spend over five hours a day on public transport to attend hospital appointments.
Mr Vickers from Seahouses was informed of the change when he phoned to book transport to an appointment ahead of his operation on the 28th of this month.
“I would usually get an ambulance taxi but they told me I couldn’t anymore. The whole thing is ludicrous. Now I’m stuck, I can’t get to Hexham unless I get a private taxi.
“I was even more upset when they said after I have the operation, am in plaster and on crutches, I’m still not entitled to transport to get home.
“We had no idea anything was going to change. They said a new criteria had been brought in and asked all these ridiculous questions like are you blind, are you in a wheel chair, do you get housing benefit. I don’t know how many others have operations booked and don’t yet know about this.”
Berwick’s Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith described the new rules as “grotesquely unfair”.
“People have been told to get from Berwick to North Shields and back on a series of buses with no certainty their treatment will be finished in time for the last bus back to Berwick. Another constituent was told to take a two-and-a-half hour bus journey from north Northumberland to the Wansbeck Hospital for regular injections.
“Elderly widows are being told if they can use a local bus for a 10 minute journey into Berwick they should have no difficulty travelling on several buses to get to the Freeman.
“This is simply not acceptable and creates a huge barrier to healthcare for people in north Northumberland.”
Sir Alan said the situation was “even more insulting” to local people when they are being told they cannot go to Borders General Hospital which has a direct bus link from the centre of Berwick to the door of the hospital.
“This chaos all results from decisions of the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group and the uninformed way the decisions are being implemented in rural areas,” he said.
“It’s clear that people sitting behind desks in urban parts of south east Northumberland have no idea how difficult it is for people without a car or someone to drive them to get to distant medical appointments.
“I have raised this issue with the Chief Medical Officer of the Clinical Commissioning Group and I will be raising it in Parliament, where I have already been taking up the restrictions on cross-border access to health services.”
A spokesperson for the Northumberland CCG said:
“From 20 October 2014, we implemented the Department of Health’s national policy where all new patient transport bookings are subject to a short assessment. The assessment includes asking a few questions about how you would normally travel for day-to-day activities and if friends or family normally take you to your appointments.
“The purpose of this assessment is to make sure that the people who require ambulance services are prioritised based on their health needs and that the NHS is making the best use of the funding it has available. We understand that this can be a frustrating experience and some people who have previously used this service may find that they are no longer entitled to patient transport.
“If this is the case, then the booking service is offering information and advice on alternative forms of transport.”
They added: “We are in the early stages of implementing this process and we would like to reassure everyone that we are continually reviewing issues and concerns raised to make sure a common sense approach is applied.
“We are committed to ensuring that patients who live in rural areas are not disadvantaged by the implementation of the criteria, however, we still need to ensure that this is applied fairly across the region.”
If patients have any concerns, queries, or you are unhappy with a decision, they can contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) via Freephone 0800 0320202, by text to 01670 511098 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 06 November 2014
One week from polling day across the border, Berwick is braced for problems ahead if there is a Yes vote for Scottish independence.
With opinion polls indicating that next Thursday’s referendum is too close to call, the establishment of a separate sovereign state north of Lamberton has suddenly become a realistic prospect.
Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith believes the result “could have profound consequences for Berwick and the Borders.”
But on a visit to the Berwick Advertiser office this week, Ayton-based Scottish government minister Paul Wheelhouse insisted cross-border ties would be largely unaffected by independence.
As media coverage intensifies and the referendum race enters the home straight, international journalists and TV news crews from around the world have been descending on Berwick in droves to gauge opinion in England’s most northerly town.
Business leaders in north Northumberland are waiting and watching with interest. Many of them fear for the future, but most are unwilling to comment publicly about potential problems independence would cause.
Sir Alan Beith, however, repeats Unionists warnings today about currency, border controls and cross-border public services.
“There might be Scottish pounds after independence, but their value would fluctuate below or above that of the English pound,” he writes. “It really would be like changing holiday money, but on an everyday basis.”
He also warns that border checkpoints could not be ruled out if Scotland opts for independence.
“If one of our two nations was in the EU and the other was not, border control would be necessary,” he writes.
“If the UK government had no confidence in the Scottish government’s immigration or security policy, border controls could become necessary.”
Sir Alan also believes cross-border public services would be put at risk.
He states: “It is quite difficult to overcome cross-border bureaucratic obstacles within a single state, but I believe it would be a lot more difficult across a boundary between two sovereign states.”
Mr Wheelhouse, acknowledges that cross-border concerns have been raised by voters on the Scottish side of the border. But the SNP politician, who says he often shops in Berwick, is confident existing arrangements between the Borders and Northumberland would be largely unaffected by independence.
“We have a good story to tell in terms of those relations, and the continuing nature of an open border,” he said.
“Different tax arrangements are common place across Europe in terms of cross-border working and there have been no problems there.”
He also believes an independent Scotland would “hopefully” be able to continue the current relationship between the two health services on either side of the border.
But many members of the public in the Berwick area are unconvinced.
Andrew Martin, 46, from Tweedmouth, fears for Berwick’s economy.
“If Scotland gets its own tax raising powers and decides to set taxes at a lower rate or reduce its own VAT, goods and service would be cheaper just a few miles to the north,” he said.
“Berwick has always been the communication hub for the north of Northumberland and the south east of the Scottish Borders. If things are different on either side of the border it causes a real issue.
“I don’t think the impact on north Northumberland has been properly explored.
“A Yes vote could benefit us on this side of the border. But a No vote and a new devolution plus arrangement could have a real impact.”
So Berwick would benefit from a Yes vote?
“It would really depend whether or not Scotland could raise the funds required to balance the books. If not, tax and VAT would go up. Alex Salmond looks towards Norway, but the have an income tax rate of 50% and a higher rate of VAT.”
Some small businesses in the Borders are understood to have already registered a new address in Northumberland to guard against the prospect of being entangled in red tape in the event of a Yes vote and the potential for economic problems in immediate aftermath.
But on the Northumberland side of the border, most business leaders are simply waiting and watching with interest.
Terence Pardoe is chief executive at Coastal Grains. Based at Belford, the co-operative stores and markets grain for members on both sides of the border.
“We have no view on it until there is a vote one way or another and then have to see what transpires and how it may affect us,” he said.
“If there is a Yes vote, there will have to be a period of re-organisation, and we do not yet know what will be involved in the transfer of centralisation. If there is a No vote, then the assumption is that nothing will change to affect the business.
“It would therefore be a waste of time planning something which we do not know how it will evolve.”
Very few business leaders are prepared to express their fears publicly. Indeed, one of the biggest employers in Berwick told the Advertiser this week that it was company policy not to comment about a “current political event”.
But the Scots who live in Berwick are happy to have their say.
Marion Black, 56, is a Scot who has lived in East Ord for 27 years. She would be undecided if she did have a vote. She also believes the potential implications for Berwick, if Scotland does opt for independence, have been exaggerated.
“I don’t think much would change,” she said. “We’ve had stories like this before. When free personal care for the elderly and free tuition fees were introduced under devolution, people said there would be an influx of people moving from Berwick to Scotland and that house prices would up over the border. But it never happened. The impact won’t be as big as people say.
“In the short to medium term, I don’t think independence would have a big impact.
“I love Berwick and I love living in Berwick. People don’t always move or change their life solely for economic reasons.”
“It’s nice in a way because I’m interested in the debate, but I don’t have the responsibility of making up my mind. My heart says yes, and my head says no. If I did live in Scotland I’d be torn.”
Stephen Hope was born in Edinburgh but now lives and works in Berwick. He is employed by his dad at the Sporran Gift Shop on Church Street, selling Scottish memorabilia to the tourists.
“Independence could be bad for Berwick,” he said. “But it would depend on the strength of the currency Scotland chooses to use. If it is a weak currency, though, the Scots would come over the border to do their shopping, so that might benefit Berwick. it is hard to say. But if I was up there I’d definitely vote No.”
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 13 Sept 2014
> The Northumberland “I’m more local than you are” cat fight rumbles on…
A would-be MP is urging her political opponents to sign a fair-fight pledge after a row over being local.
Election leaflets put out across the Berwick Constituency from Liberal Democrat candidate Julie Pörksen have sparked comment.
The latest leaflet appears to pick on Conservative candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan because she worked in London, and question her status as a Northumbrian.
Ms Trevelyan said: “I am genuinely surprised that the Lib Dems decided to try to pick a fight on my local credentials as I have been fighting for Northumberland and ‘being local,’, for nearly 20 years.
“Whereas their candidate has been working in London for a firm of spin doctors and as a member of Nick Clegg’s team for the last 20 years. She stood as a council candidate for a London council seat recently claiming that she was local to Pimlico, one of the poshest parts of central London, having been there bringing up her kids for 10 years.
“Perhaps the Lib Dems who now seem to be running things locally would like to sign a pledge for a fair-fight campaign. In the last general election, against Sir Alan Beith, we were able to have a civilised campaign where every candidate presented their plans and credentials honestly, without criticism of others.
“I came into politics because I hated all the spin peddled by Tony Blair and hoped I might be able to bring some blunt honesty to representing our patch. Over my eight years as Conservative candidate voters have always said that is what they want, so perhaps the Lib Dem camp could join me and others in signing a fair-fight pledge.”
Ms Pörksen said: “I grew up here in the Berwick constituency – many farming people know my father. One of the reasons I am so passionate about the right for free post-16 transport to college and school is because I used to get the bus to Ponteland High School in the eighties so know first-hand what it’s like growing up in rural Northumberland with poor public transport, dependent on parents – to be able to get to school should be a basic right.
“However, like many Northumbrians, the lack of local jobs forced me to move away. Moving back to Northumberland was the best thing I could ever do for my children. I want to represent the area where I grew up and which I love in Parliament to make sure future generations aren’t forced to make the same decisions I had to, that there are well paid jobs and decent opportunities here for our young people.”
> The locality question doesn’t appear to have touched Alan Beith, the current MP, who was born in Cheshire.
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 08 Aug 2014
Once again Berwick put up a magnificent display of solidarity in opposing the racist Scottish Defence League and their fascist friends the North East Infidels marching in our streets last Saturday.
After our boisterous but good natured and orderly march up and down the town we held a rally at Marygate. The theme was “whose streets? our streets”, “whose town? our town”, “whose walls?” and so on.
In other words, the town belongs to us, not to shipped in, masked up fascists and racists who came from across Scotland and England to whip up racism in Berwick.
Our final rally at the Guildhall had Jim Herbert introduce a series of speakers: local trades unionists; Berwick Trades Union Council; Unite Against Fascism Scotland; Newcastle “People’s Assembly”; Berwick Migrant Support Group; and local people of no particular affiliation.
The speakers addressed many of the concerns of local people. The trades union council in particular has had some criticism on how best to deal with the fascists. Some have argued that it’s best to ignore them and they’ll eventually go away. And that they are only coming here to seek confrontation.
Many of our speakers, some of whom with a vast experience on this, explained that this is profoundly mistaken. History demonstrates that where they are ignored they grow, they gain confidence and locals inclined to these insidious views, on seeing no opposition, join them.
One of the reasons overtly fascist and racist parties have failed in the UK is precisely because of local opposition initiated by the trades union movement.
Berwick Trades Union Council and the RMT union branch are proud of standing in this fine tradition. To keep Berwick safe, diverse and welcoming “good people”, as Albert Einstein explained, have to do something to oppose evil.
The SDL and NEI have dedicated their hateful existence to attacking Asian people and Muslims. Islamophobia – bigotry against Muslims is as unacceptable as any other form of racism. It tries to divide us by scapegoating one community, just as the Nazis did with Jewish people in the 1930s.
It is vital that we continue to organise, to unite, to make sure they are not allowed to spread their racist and Islamophobic hatred and violence in our community. We have to continue to oppose fascists when they march.
Messages of support were read out, including an anti-fascist message from Sir Alan Beith.
Phil Thompson, Secretary of Berwick & District TUC
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 12 July 2014
Northumberland County Councillors today agreed to end free transport for post-16 students.
The move will save the authority £2.4m a year, whilst protecting students from low-income families and those with special needs.
However that will be little consolation for students from north Northumberland who plan to travel by train and bus to higher education. They now face having to pay the full cost where public transport is available or a standard charge of £600 a year for council contracted school transport.
The new scheme will come into effect from September 1. Current students already in the scheme will not be affected.
Berwick Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith said the council had demonstrated a “callous indifference” to education in rural communities.
He added: “This is an outrageous discrimination against students in the Berwick area and more remote parts of Northumberland.
“Instead of helping Northumberland’s young people to choose the right course for them, either at school or college, our Labour councillors have decreed that these young people will only be supported to stay at their nearest school or college, whatever the courses on offer, and for most some of these students they will also have to pay for transport.”
Council leader, Councillor Grant Davey said: “We do not make any cuts with relish. It is regrettable that we have to make any cuts but we must balance our budget. Where we make cuts we will protect those in greatest need and continue to focus our resources on helping our county to grow. We will always do right by our communities.”
The Policy Board also agreed to work actively in partnership with schools, colleges and other training providers to ensure that students’ access to Post-16 educational opportunities in their own locality are continuously improved and to monitor the impact of the new Post-16 policy on an on-going basis following its implementation.
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 29 May 2014