Tagged: Tees

Sign of the times : Middlesbrough councillors to discuss suicide prevention as report reveals higher than average rate in North East

Almost 600 people have committed suicide in Middlesbrough and Stockton since 1997.

Whilst the number of suicides has fluctuated over a 17-year period there has been a decreasing trend in numbers.

But preventing suicide is on the agenda for Middlesbrough Council, which is meeting on Tuesday to discuss the issue.

Between 1997 and 2013, 289 suicides had taken place in Middlesbrough, which was the second highest number in the Tees area behind Stockton with 293.

Men accounted for 76% of suicides, in line with national trends.

Statistically, the most common month for suicides was January followed by May and October.

The most frequent method used was hanging/strangulation at 45%, followed by self-poisoning at 32%.

However, there is a difference in gender with 52% of males using hanging compared to 24% of females whilst 57% of females used self-poisoning compared to 23% for males.

Jumping from a height was the third most frequent method of suicide in Teesside and it was noted in a report presented to the panel that there are many high points in the area.

The Overview and Scrutiny Board is to discuss the Tees Suicide Prevention Implementation Plan.

These include reducing the risk of suicide in key high risk groups; reducing access to the means of suicide; and providing better information and support to those bereaved or affected by suicide.

One of the recommendations of the panel is asking that the planning authority should receive the details of the action developers will take in terms of suicide prevention e.g. safety fencing.

The panel was informed at a meeting last month that nationally the current rate of deaths by suicide was 8.5 deaths per 100,000 of the population.

This figure was slightly higher in the North-east. The current figure for Middlesbrough was 10.8 per 100,000.

> Hopefully they might ask questions about why people commit sucide – not just how.

It would be interesting to know exactly how many were caused by the actions of the DWP and its staff –  sanctions, etc – and, however indirectly, by politicians – bedroom tax, etc.

Source –  Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 20 Oct 2014

Stockton council cuts back on leading committee posts to save £40,000 cash

Plans to save more than £40,000 a year of tax-payers money by changing the way a Tees council operates have been agreed in principle.

Stockton Borough Council announced it would make £40,000 savings by restructuring its cabinet and scrutiny committee arrangements.

The council has a target of saving £130,000 a year in efficiencies, a total of 15 per cent, and has previously frozen councillors’ £9,300 annual allowance for two years, saving more than £10,000.

The decision to reduce the number of cabinet portfolio holders from nine to seven and scrutiny committees from seven to five was taken by the cabinet on Thursday but the plans will not be finalised until next year.

Cutting the cabinet posts will save £24,100 a year and cutting the scrutiny committees will save £20,100 a year.

Council leader Councillor Bob Cook, said:

“Councillors work extremely hard for their communities but, at a time when we are examining all budgets across the council to make savings it is right for us to look at the money which is being spent on special responsibility allowances.”

Under the new arrangements the portfolios of corporate management and finance and housing and community safety could be removed and merged with existing portfolios.

The new portfolios will not be finalised until after next year’s elections. The report outlined potential options which may be considered. These included:

• The leader taking on responsibility for corporate management & finance

• The cabinet member for access & communities also having responsibility for community safety

• The cabinet member for the environment also having responsibility for the housing portfolio

If approved by full council, the changes to the scrutiny committee system would see the housing and community safety, arts, leisure and culture, corporate & social inclusion, environment and regeneration and transport committees deleted and replaced with people and place committees.

Source –  Northern Echo,  10 Oct 2014

Campaigner calls for Scottish border to reach the south bank of the Tyne

Scots are heading to the polls later this month to decide on the possibility of independence.

But one Newcastle man thinks the borders of any new country should be redrawn – south of the Tyne.

Andrew Gray, a member of the Green Party, has launched a petition that he hopes could lead to a referendum which could see Newcastle vote to leave England.

While the eyes of the nation have been on Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling, Mr Gray, who lives in Heaton, believes the independence debate should extend beyond the Scottish borders.

Distance from London, tuition fees, the rising cost of social care and the privatisation of the NHS are among a hat-trick of reasons Mr Gray believes Newcastle should join Scotland.

He said:

“Many people in the North East feel distant from our government in Westminster, both economically and politically.

“The Scottish Parliament has proved that different ways of running public services are possible, including an NHS without the internal market, higher education without tuition fees, and, if there’s a yes vote in the referendum, defence without the threat of Trident.

“We therefore call on the UK Government to grant a referendum to all who live north of Hadrian’s Wall, or in Newcastle and North Tyneside council areas.

“We would choose whether to remain in England or to join Scotland.

“We call on the Government to arrange and fund this referendum, and to be bound by the result.”

Dr Alistair Clark, a senior politics lecturer at Newcastle University, said the idea was “interesting” but that Scotland is unlikely to expand.

He said feelings of neglect by Westminster have helped lead to the Scottish independence debate as well as devolved power for Northern Ireland and Wales, and those are shared by the region.

He said:

It’s an interesting idea and obviously there’s a lot of sympathy and shared feeling and a lot of links between Scotland and the North of England.

“The issue that it points to is that the north has not been well-governed from Westminster.”

But he added:

“I do not think anyone has interest in moving the border. I don’t really think Scotland wants to add stacks of territory and I don’t really think England would want to give it up.

“There is no political will behind this and you would need considerable political will to make this move.”

The referendum on Scottish independence is due to take place on September 18.

> Why stop at the north bank of the Tyne ? Extend the Scottish border to the north bank of the Tees !

Source – Newcastle Journal,  01 Sept 2014

Hexham MP to set off on referendum “battle bus” to persuade Scottish Border towns to stay in the Union

A North MP has launched a referendum battle bus to persuade voters in the Scottish Borders that “we are better together.”

Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham, in Northumberland, will set off on his campaign to save the Union on Saturday August 30, when the postal vote forms will be landing on the doorsteps of all Scots.

He intends to be in the Borders leading a team as they try to persuade the people of Border towns Jedburgh and Howick to stay before September’s referendum.

> I suspect they may mean Hawick, not Howick…

Mr Opperman is calling on members of every political party to join him on his journey up the A68 trunk road in a bid to keep the two neighbouring countries together.

Every two or three weeks I have been going to Scotland to campaign for Better Together for the last six months,” he told The Journal. “I’ve gone from Aberdeen to Fife to the Borders to Dumfries and up to Argyle and Bute either speaking or debating, rallying or simply knocking on doors with the Better Together campaign.

> Really ?  Hope he hasn’t been neglecting the people who voted him in… although I do tend to think that anyone who votes Tory gets what they derserve.

“I’ve campaigned with Labour MPs, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives all of whom have come together and put party politics aside to ensure that we keep the Union. It is important that people living in the Scottish Borders know that we do not want then to go. Saturday August 30 is an important date because it’s approximately 18 days before the referendum when postal votes will be landing on Scottish voters’ doorsteps.

“A huge proportion of the votes in the referendum will be done by post and we need to make this date a significant one.

“My proposal is to get as many people as possible who wish to come and campaign with the team from Better Together to travel with us from Newcastle, Hexham and wider Northumberland on August 30.

“This is cross party because the Better Together campaign does not take into account an individual’s political view, provided he or she is in favour of the Union.”

The Tory MP has long called for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.

He said: “Scottish independence is not what I want. I am a passionate supporter of the Union, as are the vast majority of our constituents.

> But you’re not Scottish… what you want is neither here nor there ultimately.

If I was an undecided Scot, I think a bus full of English Tory MPs and other Little Englanders telling me what I should do would ensure another “yes” vote.

“The impact of Scottish independence would be a significant effect on cross-border trade, and there are real concerns amongst my businesses that independence will affect the financial state of the North East.”

Mr Opperman proposes to leave from Wentworth car park, in Hexham at around 9.30am on August 30. Those interested in being on board the referendum bus later this month should email the MP direct at guy.opperman.mp@parliament.uk

> Or if you live in Hexham, you could email him and tell him to get his arse back and do some work for the people who elected him.

I’m thinking of starting a campaign to extend the Scottish border south to the Tees. That’d solve all these perceived lost business opportunities along the border.

Source – Newcastle Journal, 09 Aug 2014

David Cameron mixes up his Tyne and his Tees during radio interview on Teesside

> Well, its understandable – these places north of Watford are all the same, aren’t they ?

David Cameron mixed up his Teesside and his Tyneside as he took to the airwaves to talk up economic growth in the region.

The Prime Minister frequently used examples of economic activity in Tyne and Wear – including investment from companies like Hitachi and Nissan – during an interview with BBC Tees.

Oh his third mention of the Tyne, BBC Tees presenter Lisa McCormick intervened.

You keep mentioning the River Tyne, that’s not our region Prime Minister,” she said.

I’m sorry, we are the River Tees, does that mean that you’re forgetting about us?”

For a moment Mr Cameron seemed flustered as he paused.

Oh, I thought I was doing – oh no absolutely not,” he replied.

I mean, if I look specifically in terms of the Tees Valley, we’ve got £90m from our local growth fund to boost economic growth.”

It might have been a swift recovery from the PM – but it was not quick enough for some.

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland‘s Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop seized the chance to attack Mr Cameron.

In isolation this may just seem like a somewhat silly mistake, yet over the last four years we’ve had a Tory peer calling the region ‘desolate’, frequent misspellings of Teesside in official Number 10 letters, and now the Prime Minister himself can’t even take the basic cue of appearing on BBC Tees to get the hint that our river is the Tees and not the Tyne,” he said.

This just highlights how David Cameron is out of touch and completely uninterested in places like Middlesbrough, Stockton, Redcar, Hartlepool and East Cleveland.”

UKIP’s North East MEP Jonathan Arnott also took the opportunity to bash the PM.

This is not just embarrassing for the Prime Minister but also what’s left of the Conservative party in the North East of England,” he said.

Whilst unemployment figures are going down elsewhere around the country, ours are still going up.

“Perhaps if he knew which area he was talking about, people might have more confidence that he actually cares about local people.”

Defending Mr Cameron was Conservative MP for Stockton South,  James Wharton.

No excuses, but I suspect he was doing a round of local interviews one after the other and these things can happen,” said the MP.

I will be reminding him when I next see him not only how great Teesside is but of all the things this government has done for the south of our region, from bringing Hitachi to the return if steel making and the announcement of over £90m in local investment only a few weeks ago.

I am proud of our record of delivering for this area and I am sure the Prime Minister is too.”

The chairman of the Redcar Constituency Liberal Democrats, Councillor Josh Mason, added:“The slip-up by the Prime Minister does not take away from the fact that since 2010 our area has received over five times more government investment per year than it did under the previous Labour government.

“It remains more important than ever for us to keep pushing for more investment and banging the drum for Teesside to ensure it remains on the government’s radar.”

The Prime Minister’s office declined to comment.

Source –  Middlesbrough Evening Gazette,  25 July 2014

Diseases thought to be consigned to the history books are prevalent in the North East

Diseases thought to have been confined to the history books are prevalent within the North East.

New figures published for the first time paint a picture of hospital admissions in the region for some diseases widespread in the 19th and early 20th Centuries.

Statistics from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show hospital admissions in the North East for gout were as high as 422 from May 2013 until April this year.

In the past, the illness has been dubbed “the disease of kings” as a number of monarchs are thought to have been affected, including Henry VIII, because of their ability to eat rich, fatty foods.

But those living in the poorest places are more likely to be affected now, with 13.5 out of every 100,000 people living in the most deprived areas of the country affected compared with eight out of every 100,000 in the richest places.

Dr Clive Kelly, consultant physician with an interest in rheumatology at Gateshead’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, said medics are dealing with an increasing number of gout patients in the region.

He said: “It does not surprise me that there is a high number of hospital admissions due to gout as there has generally been an increase in cases in the last decade because people are living longer and, therefore, have a higher chance of developing the condition.

“Although in the old days it used to be seen as a ‘disease for kings’ it is now probably more associated with poorer populations, such as the North East, as they tend to have a higher intake of fatty foods as opposed to wealthy people in the leafy suburbs down south.”

The HSCIC publication also focuses on TB, whooping cough, measles and malnutrition.

Durham, Darlington and Tees area group had the highest rate of measles diagnosis in the country at 2.3 per 100,000 population, more than double the rate of its neighbouring Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear area at just 0.8.

This year, there was a serious outbreak of measles in the North East, with most of the cases in unvaccinated schoolchildren and young adults.

Figures show 88 people were admitted to hospital in the North East for TB, while there were 42 admissions for measles and 41 for malnutrition.

Yet, nationally, the report reveals overall admissions where malnutrition was a primary diagnosis decreased from 683 in 2012-13 to 612 in 2013-14. However, during the same period there was an increase in overall admissions where malnutrition was a primary or secondary diagnosis, from 5,590 to 6,690.

Over five years there was a 71% increase in admissions where malnutrition was a primary or secondary diagnosis, from 3,900 admissions in 2009-10 to 6,690.

Kingsley Manning, chair of the HSCIC, said: “It is fascinating to look at current statistics for some of the diseases and conditions that were prevalent in the 1800s and early 1900s.”

Source – Newcastle evening Chronicle, 24 July 2014

North East England: Britain’s Detroit?

Until seven years ago, there was a secret room at Darlington station. Just off one of the platforms, between the standard-class waiting room and a cleaners’ storeroom, and set back behind three successive doors, it was small and plain: a desk, a grimy extractor fan and two windows made opaque to passing travellers by reflective material.

Tony Blair used this room when he was prime minister. His constituency, Sedgefield in County Durham, was a short drive away. When he needed to get to London, 260 miles south, he and his entourage would often catch the fast Darlington train, which can take less than two and a half hours.

More usefully still, many other key New Labour figures took the same line, among them Peter Mandelson, Alan Milburn and David Miliband. Altogether, the north-east of England, which contains about a 25th of the UK population, was represented by “a third of Blair’s first cabinet“, noted the veteran anatomist of British power networks, Anthony Sampson, in 2004. (Sampson was himself born in County Durham.) Rarely before had our remotest and often poorest region been such a hub of political influence.

> Of course it could be argued that their only real interest in the region was that it provided safe Labour seats – Mandelson got elected in Hartlepool ! Atriumph of blind devotion over common sense if ever there was one.

When Blair arrived early or his train arrived late, it was felt by Whitehall that the increasingly controversial premier could not just stand on a platform, waiting. Hence the secret room. Now, it is just the station manager’s office. The building around it has gone back to being a market town station with flaking paint and a fragile roof, where isolated passenger footsteps echo in the long middle-of-the-day lull and trains for Scotland and the south of England rattle through without stopping. No current cabinet minister has a north-east seat – only two of its MPs are Tories. Labour’s power base is now in London, Yorkshire and the north-west.

Since the Blair era, the area has slipped in other ways. Between 2007 and 2012, unemployment rose faster than in any other UK region, to more than 10%, the highest in the country. Throughout 2013, as joblessness receded in most of the UK, in the north-east it carried on rising. This year, it has begun to fall a little but remains the worst in the nation.

> And how much of that fall can be attributed to sanctions ? Quite a chunk, I’d guess.

Since 2007, the area’s contribution to national economic growth, measured as gross value added, has shrunk from an already weak 3% in the Blair years to barely 2%. The Northern Rock building society, with roots in the region going back a century and a half, has suffered a humiliating meltdown. The north-east has been, and will probably continue to be, especially harshly treated by the coalition’s spending cuts.

According to the Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities, a typical council in the region will lose £665 in government funding per inhabitant between 2010 and 2018, the biggest national fall. Meanwhile, public sector employment in the region – the highest in England at more than one job in five – has been falling since 2009, a year before the coalition took office.

At Newcastle United, one of the north-east’s disproportionate number of fiercely followed, rarely successful football clubs, the recent sponsorship of the team shirt tells a similarly dispiriting story: Northern Rock from 2003-2011; Virgin Money, Northern Rock’s current, Edinburgh-based owners, from 2012- 2013; this season, the payday loan company Wonga.

Between 2011 and 2012, child poverty rates in Middlesbrough and Newcastle Central rose to 40% and 38% respectively.

For as long as anyone alive will remember, this has been a ‘problem region’: a special case, a sick man,” wrote the Newcastle-born novelist Richard T Kelly in a 2011 essay, What’s Left For The North-East?

In recent years, some rightwingers have begun to throw up their hands. “It is at least as hard to buck geography as it is to buck the market,” said the influential Tory thinktank Policy Exchange in 2008. “It is time to stop pretending that there is a bright future for Sunderland.”

And last year the Tory peer Lord Howell suggested the region had “large uninhabited and desolate areas… where there’s plenty of room for fracking“. Weeks later, the Economist described Middlesbrough and Hartlepool as part of “Britain’s rust belt“; “Despite dollops of public money and years of heroic effort… [these] former industrial heartlands are quietly decaying.

The magazine concluded with an unlikely but ominous comparison: “The Cotswolds were the industrial engines of their day. One reason they are now so pretty is that, centuries ago, huge numbers of people fled them.”

From Darlington, an old and scuzzy two-carriage train chugs east along a branch line towards Middlesbrough. Along the way, it stops at Thornaby-on-Tees, an ex-industrial town beside the river Tees. From the 1840s until the 1980s, the Head Wrightson ironworks here made everything from parts for bridges to parts for nuclear power stations; then foreign competition closed it.

In 1987, Margaret Thatcher visited the site and took a much-photographed walk across a yellowing wasteland of weeds and factory remnants, wearing an inappropriate smart suit but looking unusually pensive. Shortly afterwards, her government, seeking to soften its reputation as the hammer of the north, created the Teesside Development Corporation, and the wasteland was turned into the Teesdale Business Park, a US-style landscape of corporate lawns, car parks and low office blocks.

The blocks are still there, neat and anonymous except for the corporate logos: Barclaycard, the NHS, the privatised services firm Serco. The car parks are full of mid-range vehicles. For three decades, the north-east has been a centre for modestly paid clerical work, such as call centres and the “back office” administrative processes of companies based elsewhere. But at the Teesdale Business Park, “To Let” is the most common logo; some are so old, they have rotted and snapped off.

As with Thornaby, Middlesbrough is a flat riverside town that once grew fast because of iron foundries: from only 25 inhabitants in 1801 to 165,000 in the 1960s. The Victorian centre was built to a grid pattern, like a US boom town, with docks just to the north for exporting iron and coal.

But in 1980 the docks closed, the population began to fall, and a void opened between the town and the river. It is still there, starting a few yards from the town centre; a great windswept triangle of rubble and rust, boarded-up houses, Dickensian wall fragments and roads to nowhere. Derelict waterfront warehouses stand in the distance. A middle-aged security man in a peeling wood cabin guards them. “There’s lots of steel cable in those sheds,” he says. “And lots of people try to steal it.” When asked how long it has been so run-down, he shrugs and says without emotion: “As long as I can remember.

The town’s population is around 138,000. To a visitor, the long, straight streets of the town centre seem eerily empty of pedestrians. At the sizable railway station, the weekday rush hour sometimes barely exists: at 8.30 on a Friday morning, I counted fewer than a dozen other people on the platforms. The station cafe had not bothered to open.

If things carry on as they are now,” says Alex Niven, a leftwing writer from Northumberland, “in five years the situation will get somewhere like Detroit.” Several other authorities in the north-east that I interviewed invoked the long-imploding American city, unprompted.

He left the area 10 years ago, aged 18, and now lives in London. “Almost all my friends from school live in London now. When you go back to the north-east, the landscape’s kind of crumbling. There is this sort of sadness. It feels like a people who’ve been weakened, who’ve just been cut loose.”

Geography does not help. “The north-east is at the far corner of the country, but it is separated by more than just miles,” writes Harry Pearson, born near Middlesbrough, in his 1994 book The Far Corner.

There is the wilderness of the Pennines to the west, the emptiness of the North York Moors to the south, and to the north, the Scottish border… Sometimes the north-east [seems] more like an island than a region.”

It is an island that the HS2 rail project is not currently intended to reach. Meanwhile, the prospect of Scottish independence and the near-certainty of more Scottish devolution threatens to marginalise the region further. “Scotland can already do more to attract inward investment than we can,” says Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle Central. “More power for Scotland, in that sense, would not be a benefit for us.”

Pinned to a board in her constituency office is a list of Newcastle food banks. Outside, contrastingly, the grand city centre streets are much busier than in Middlesbrough, full of prosperously dressed people and big branches of the same upmarket chainstores as in richer places.

“Newcastle is the economic capital of the north-east,” she says, “but the centre, especially, is not representative of the region.” A few minutes’ walk farther out, cheap cafes offer soup of the day for a pound, and other scruffy businesses have long ceased to offer anything. “Every time I see a building boarded up,” Onwurah says, “it strikes fear into my heart.”

Onwurah grew up on a Newcastle council estate in the 60s and 70s. It was then a smoky, clattering centre for shipbuilding and other heavy industry, but these were in terminal decline. In 1984, she left to study electrical engineering, then worked away from Newcastle for a quarter of a century, until she was elected as MP in 2010. In the interim, the city reshaped its economy around tourism and nightlife, as an internationally hyped “party city“; around sport, with the 90s resurgence of Newcastle United; and around culture, with the opening in Gateshead of the Baltic art gallery in 2002 and the Sage music centre in 2004.

It was a very heady time,” says Niven, who supports Newcastle United and as a teenager often travelled into the city from rural Northumberland. “The north-east has a brash, confident side. There’s also often a sense of slumbering potential, that one day a messiah or a revival will come.”

In the 90s and noughties, optimism was most concrete along the river Tyne, which separates Gateshead and Newcastle. Decaying canyons of quayside buildings filled with flash new bars, expensive flats, high-end office space and public art. It was easy to visit Newcastle – which I often did then – and think it was becoming a swaggering, economically self-sufficient provincial city, such as those you find in less centralised countries: another Marseille or Hamburg.

The quaysides are slightly less uplifting now. On the Newcastle side, several bars have shut down. Bridge Court, an enormous, empty office block, has a plaque that reads, “The foundation stone was laid by Mr Eddie George, governor of the Bank of England, on 22 September 1994“; another sign says, “Demolition. Keep Out“.

Niven sees the north-east’s revival under the Blair government as “largely superficial. In the long term, it didn’t lead to better jobs and infrastructure. You can’t base the revival of a region on nightlife and football.

Onwurah, whose grandfather worked in the shipyards and whose mother grew up on the quayside, is less scathing: “Labour did a lot in the north-east, to stop the concentration of economic power elsewhere getting much worse, but we didn’t overcome the underlying issue. We haven’t got the previous sources of economic growth. And we haven’t got enough skills and entrepreneurs.” A successful region, she says, has a “critical mass” economically. “If you don’t have critical mass, to attract people and investment, you go into decline. We’re on the edge of that.” She holds up her hands and makes a flat, wobbling gesture: “We’re teetering.

In Middlesbrough, the riverside wasteland has been earmarked for regeneration – as a new area called Middlehaven – for almost 30 years. Recessions, anxious developers and the town’s wider economic struggles have confined most construction to the area’s fringe. Yet there is one exception: an incongruous silvery curve of a building in the centre of the emptiness. Middlesbrough College opened in 2008; it houses engineering workshops, training kitchens, hair and beauty salons, and other vocational course facilities for 16- to 18-year-olds. In 2011, it was rated “good with outstanding features” by Ofsted. Walking down the college’s bright and warm internal street, seconds after being out in the dereliction, and seeing students at work in the glass-walled rooms or rushing back and forth, it seems absurd to think that Middlesbrough does not have a long-term future. But in the window of the in-house Jobs Shop, only half a dozen positions are offered. One is at a local seaside care home for the elderly: the successful applicant will earn £107.20 for a 40-hour week.

Further education is one of the north-east’s few growth industries. “Without it, I dread to think what some of the cities would be doing,” says Andy Pike, director of Newcastle University’s Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies. “A lot of people want to come and study in the north-east” – academic standards are high, living costs low and the nightlife boisterous. But, Pike adds, “We have a problem with graduate retention: not as many stay as could do. It’s a thin labour market. The people who stay typically will not end up in graduate jobs. And then local non-graduates will be bumped out of the labour market altogether.”

> But the influx of students also puts a strain on rented accommodation. Certainly in Sunderland (which seems to be ignored in this article) its noticable that streets near to the university appear to becoming student-only ghettos – private landlords presumably looking to maximise profits by packing them in.

In the north-east, the increasingly de-skilled, low-paid labour market of Britain under the coalition is at its meanest. Full-time wages are the lowest of any UK region.

In 2007, the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, or Mima, cheekily echoing New York’s Moma gallery, opened on a redeveloped square in the town centre. It looks the part: slick, glassy exterior; high-ceilinged interior; dozens of attentive young staff in Mima T-shirts. It offers an ambitious programme of community events and exhibitions – currently, Art And Optimism In 1950s Britain. Yet a gallery cannot make a town centre vibrant by itself. On Thursday evenings, it opens late, but on the Thursday I visited I saw four other visitors in half an hour.

Since the 1930s, governments have tested regeneration projects in the region. Edward Twiddy is one of the latest reformers to be despatched from London. Since 2012, he has been head of the North-East Local Enterprise Partnership (Nelep), a typically optimistic coalition creation, which aims to get business and local councils – almost all Labour – to work together for the area’s economic benefit.

Twiddy previously worked at the Treasury and for the Foreign Office in Iraq. He is slight and cerebral-looking, and speaks mostly in fluent Whitehall jargon. “The region’s still going through some fairly big structural changes,” he tells me. “The north-east was over-specialised – in coal, for example. Nowadays, people need to be able to approach life differently. You’ve got to be able to travel, to be competitive… Economic activity will move [away] if you cannot convince the market that yours is the right place to work.” But even Twiddy is off: he is set to leave Nelep for Atom, a new digital bank to be based “in the north-east“.

I ask how many staff Nelep has. Twiddy pauses: “The core is four. Then there are people doing discrete pieces of work for us, people loaned to us, people I’ve scrabbled around for, got a few pennies for… There are about 11 or 12 of us in all.” Nelep replaced One North-East, a regional development agency created by the Blair government that had 400 staff.

Yet there is a more economically independent side to the region. A few miles east of the centre of Newcastle, a side road leads steeply downhill to a half-hidden stretch of the Tyne. In the early 1980s, the quays here were a rotting ladder of derelict docks and slipways. Then two local property developers, Freddy and Bruce Shepherd, began to buy the land, clean it up, reuse the old cranes and rent out the quaysides: first to companies involved in North Sea oil, then to others involved in undersea cable-laying and offshore wind power.

Shepherd Offshore now stretches along the Tyne for miles. In its riverside boardroom, with giant reels of cable as tall as tugboats looming outside the windows, Twiddy makes the introductions over coffee served in Versace mugs. The Shepherds are heavyset men with fierce handshakes and slightly loose tongues. “We are the raggy end of the couch up here in the north-east,” Bruce says. Freddy interjects: “We get nothing easy. Not off the government. Without us, there would be nothing here but two abandoned shipyards.”Up and down the river, we’re close knit,” Bruce says. “There are more than 2,500 jobs. We’re a manufacturing base. We train people. But we’re forgotten down here.”

How many jobs were there in the days of the shipyards? “Six and a half thousand,” Freddy says. “I was an apprentice in the shipyard here. You’re never going to get back to those numbers.”

Bruce offers a tour of the quay in his spotless Range Rover. As we drive, he points out other cars parked nose to tail at the roadside: “There’s never enough parking. The number of people working here keeps growing.” We leave the road and enter a muddy construction site, scheduled to house a new national research centre for offshore and undersea technology, a collaboration between the Shepherds, Newcastle city council and Newcastle University. Bruce ploughs through puddles, his property developer’s patter in full flow, then stops his spattered Range Rover at a fence that faces the famous old Swan Hunter shipyard. It is still a wasteland, but new developments are encroaching from all directions.

Another sign of entropy reversed would be to attract more southerners; not just to study but to work. Twiddy is one. Tony Trapp is another. Raised in London, he has been one of the area’s handful of legendary entrepreneurs since the 70s. Then, he helped invent an undersea plough for laying seabed pipes and cables by driving a specially adapted tractor up and down a beach in Northumberland. Several companies and clever products later, he now runs Osbit Power, which makes self-stabilising gangways to connect offshore wind turbines to maintenance vessels.

The enterprise is based in a previously derelict hotel in sweeping Northumberland countryside. Behind its unkempt walls, purposeful-looking young employees cluster at desks or in front of whiteboards, while Trapp, a creased man of 68 with a murmuring voice but an intoxicating can-do aura, briefs them and holds court. “I’ve always based my businesses on clever graduates,” he says later. “I’ve taken on hundreds, some from Newcastle University, from Northumbria University. For offshore engineering, the north-east is the best place in Europe.

But in other ways he sees the local economy as still underpowered. “Persuading clever people from the south to come here is quite hard. It’s not just the image they have of the north-east – it does have the worst statistics, in health, in booze… If you look at many CEOs of big companies here, they don’t live up here. They live in Surrey, London. It’s insulting, in a way.” For a second, he looks his age. “I don’t have the solution to the north-east.”

It is not Twiddy’s job to voice such doubts. Instead, he takes me to the coast, not far from where Trapp tested his undersea plough. It is a brilliant blue day, and the often luminous north-east light is at its most seductive. We drive into the small town of Blyth, where there has been a port since the 12th century, which suggests the region has more staying power than the doom-mongers claim. We approach a cluster of shiny, towering blue-grey sheds, where the National Renewable Energy Centre tests blades for offshore wind farms. In December, the government increased its subsidy for this source of electricity, a rare gift from Whitehall to the north-east in the age of austerity. Twiddy sounds like a small boy for a moment: “The crane for lifting the blades is just amazing!

We walk to one of the windowless sheds. Inside, spot-lit, suspended above an expanse of polished concrete floor, a single pale grey blade, with weights and cables attached to it, flexes slowly up and down, vast and stately as the tail of a whale. The only sound is the hum of the air-conditioning. In a space the size of a small cathedral, but clean and tidy as a science lab, only two employees are visible: distant, purposeful figures in dust coats.

Working here looks much better than working in a chilly shipyard, a call centre or a nightclub, or for most of the region’s previous economic saviours. But Mill says the centre has a staff of 69. The north-east will need an awful lot more workplaces like it this if it is going to stop teetering.

Source – The Guardian  10 May 2014

Northumbria Police announce huge job losses due to funding cuts

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