Workers on Northern Rail have voted to go on strike in a row over jobs and safety.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union backed walkouts by 80% and other forms of industrial action by 90%.
The union said it is in dispute over a series of issues, including the removal of permanent posts and the creation of zero-hour jobs via a contract with a security company, cuts to booking offices and attacks on the role and responsibility of train guards.
The union said Northern Rail, which runs services which links Teesside with stations across the north of England, had also given no commitment that there will be no compulsory redundancies beyond the end of its current franchise in February 2016.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said:
“RMT has made every effort to win assurances from Northern Rail over jobs, services and safety. However, the company continues to ride roughshod over our efforts.
“We therefore had no option but to ballot all staff for action to force the company to take these issues seriously and the members have now voted decisively for action. That mandate will now be considered by the union.”
Sanctions against vulnerable people on employment and support allowance nearly doubled in Teesside in 2014.
A total of 865 sanctions were dished out across the 12,190 people in the ESA work related activity group in the Durham and Tees Valley jobcentre district last year.
This works out as 71 sanctions for every 1,000 claimants and is 81% up on the rate of 39.2 per 1,000 claimants in 2013.
This is a result of the number of people claiming that type of ESA decreasing at the same time as the number of sanctions being awarded dramatically increased.
In 2013, there were 515 sanctions issued and 13,130 claimants, according to the figures from the Department for Work and Pensions.
A housing provider on Teesside claims a landmark bedroom tax appeal ruling will give “hope to tens of thousands of separated couples with children”.
Coast & Country says its Tenants Working Together group has secured a legal victory which could mean parents sharing responsibility for a child or children will not be subject to the controversial bedroom tax on the spare room used by their child.
A first-tier tribunal judge ruled that a child can live in two homes for bedroom tax purposes.
It follows other tribunal successes, many based on room size or usage, which encouraged the group to help fellow tenants in lodging an appeal.
Kim Gallagher, chair of Coast & Country’s tenant panel, said:
“This successful appeal is incredibly exciting and has the potential to affect the lives of many thousands of people across the country for the better.
“It is the so-called absent parent, generally the father, who is hit by the bedroom tax, even if the child has a room that is regularly used at the house. This ruling opens the doors for many other people to appeal on the grounds that a child can have two homes.
“The bedroom tax is grossly unfair and it is only by determination to fight unjust cases that the most vulnerable are not penalised.”
Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, said:
“The bedroom tax was one of the cruelest policies implemented by the coalition Government and under the current Tory Government, it will not be going away.
“A Labour government would have abolished this unfair policy and scrapping the bedroom tax would have been included in the first Queen’s Speech.
“The next best thing is winning these little battles in the courts and I completely welcome this decision and praise the hard work of these local campaigners.
“It is so vital that it is repeatedly pointed out how unfair and, in many cases, unworkable this policy is. I’m sure the Coast & Country tenants’ working group will continue to fight against the bedroom tax and I am happy to support their efforts.”
Coast & Country chief executive Iain Sim said:
“Coast & Country is pleased to be able to support our hardworking and energetic tenants’ group in ensuring that any tenant who may have grounds for appeal is made aware of this and assisted in every way.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said:
“This judgment does not change the wider policy.
“Ending the spare room subsidy is restoring fairness to the system and saving £1m a day.”
It is understood the ruling could still be subject to appeal.
Under the spare room subsidy, social sector tenants with rooms deemed to be “spare” face a reduction in their housing benefit.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 27 May 2105
The Conservatives are attempting to “muffle” the voice of the North East in parliament, it is claimed, as a shake-up of boundaries could leave the region with three fewer MPs.
David Cameron’s Tories want to redraw the dividing lines of the UK’s parliamentary constituencies and cut the number of MPs by 10% from 650 to 600.
The say it will save money and make the system fairer but now stand accused of trying to “gerrymander” votes by the region’s Labour MPs, who fear their party could be locked out of power in 2020 because of the move.
The proposal was first put forward in 2013. It came after a review by the Boundary Commission, which found there should be three fewer constituencies in the region – one each from Tyneside, County Durham and Teesside.
But the Lib Dems blocked the move after being forced to abandon the House of Lords reform they had campaigned on.
Boundary reform was in the 2015 Conservative Manifesto, however, and the Prime Minister is reportedly ready to defy his backbench MPs, whose own constituencies will be placed under the microscope.
The current boundaries are said to favour Labour because the party tends to do better in urban seats tend be smaller – Newcastle, for example is split into three constituencies – than the suburban seats where the Tories pick up more votes, like the relatively large Hexham constituency.
But Labour say the reduction comes after a switch from household to individual voter registration in December 2014, which saw a million people drop off the electoral roll nationally, and any review must be started afresh.
Helen Goodman, Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, said:
“This is a clear attempt by the Tories to gerrymander the constituencies on the basis of an electoral register from which they deliberately excluded seven million people by implementing individual voter registration.
“It is my contention that the Tories made that change in order to reduce the number of people on the register, just like the Republicans did in America.
“The people that have gone from the register are those in insecure housing, those on low incomes and young people.
“I think everybody knows that the voice of the North East was not heard by the Tory-led Government over the last five years, and this is a further attempt to muffle it.”
In the Newcastle City Council area, individual voter registration saw 18,000 people fall off the electoral roll. A local campaign saw 11,000 sign up, but Nick Forbes, the Labour leader of Newcastle City Council, said the North East risks being sidelined.
“Our region already feels bruised and battered from the last five years of the Coalition Government and it looks like the Tories boundary review could further marginalise us.
“In Newcastle, we have a growing population and yet this isn’t matched by electoral registration statistics as the voter registration system seems deliberately designed to deter people from joining the register.
“Reducing the number of MPs in the North East will work to the Tories’ electoral advantage and make it even more less likely we will have a Labour Government in 2020.”
Mr Cameron appointed his Cabinet this week and is expected to push through a number of policies within the first 100 days of Parliament having won a decisive majority at last week’s election.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 11 May 2015
Many homes in the region are displaying election posters in the run up to May 7, but one house in Teesside has put up a sign with a difference.
John Spence, who lives in Valley Drive in Yarm, is encouraging everyone to ‘Vote Muppet’, and is displaying a sign in his front garden to illustrate to the point to passersby.
The sign includes an image of Kermit the frog, along with his message “Vote Muppet – you will get one anyway.”
The candidate profile for Kermit the frog includes “He has led the Muppets through crisis after crisis.”
The sign has prompted a strong reaction on social media, with one Twitter user describing the stunt as “absolutely brilliant” and saying “I love it and would do the same in our garden.”
Another user commented that he believed the Muppets were set for a “landside majority.”
Others have also made reference to other party leaders whilst tweeting about the sign. One wrote “Apparently someone put up an election poster saying Vote Muppet! Looks like David Cameron could be using two identities in Election Campaign.”
Source – Northern Echo, 06 May 2015
A petition against the privatisation of the NHS won the support of hundreds of North people during a day of action.
Campaigners from 38 Degrees took to the streets at Durham Market Place and on Teesside to drum up support for protecting the NHS after the next election.
They are challenging parliamentary candidates to protect the NHS from privatisation.
A petition which has been signed by around 2,000 people in the area will be handed to Durham City candidates in the coming week.
And campaigners delivered a 700-strong ‘Save our NHS’ petition to Middlesbrough parliamentary candidate Andy McDonald on Saturday.
Members of the independent campaign group 38 Degrees have called on parliamentary candidates, if they are elected, to “do everything they can to protect the NHS,” from what the group describes as “funding squeezes, privatisation, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade deal”.
The message behind the campaign is spelled out on the 38 Degrees website which says:
“The NHS has been part of our lives for 67 years, but now it’s make or break.
“The NHS isn’t getting the cash it needs. And the government is letting money-hungry private companies carve out profits from treating the sick.”
Alan Rose, one of the campaigners, said:
“‘Our NHS has always been there for me and my family when we’ve needed it. But some politicians seem determined to break it up and sell parts off to the highest bidder.
“The thought of my family being cared for by profit-making companies really worries me. It’s not just about campaign promises to spend this or that, it’s about the fundamental values of the NHS. Could we be heading for a two-tier service based on ability to pay?
“What about the massive structural changes introduced by the Health and Social Care Act in 2012?”
“I would estimate that we collected around 400 signatures.
“We were so impressed with the number of people who were prepared to stop and talk to us in the cold and rain, because the weather really was awful on the morning.
“This petition is important because there is a great danger to the North East if there is a substantial amount of privatisation of the NHS.
“The 2012 Health and Social Care Act went a long way to dismantling the NHS.”
David Babbs, executive director of 38 Degrees, said:
“We want Durham City’s MP candidates to see that the best way to win votes is to pledge to save the NHS from privatisation and funding freezes.
“Every candidate needs to realise that cutting NHS funding, or handing it over to private companies, is a huge turn off for voters.”
‘Boro’s petition has attracted 792 signitures and was handed to Mr McDonald at the Bottle of Notes by Stella Worton, a 38 Degrees member from Middlesbrough.
David Babbs, executive director of 38 Degrees said:
“We’re sending a clear message to our local MP candidates – you’re being watched by hundreds us. And we all want you to protect the NHS.
“Politicians can’t sit on the fence about the NHS. If they want our votes, they need to promise to keep the NHS safe from private companies and funding freezes.
“We won’t stand for another five years of the NHS being broken up or squeezed to breaking point.
“Saturday’s petition delivery event is all about the people of Middlesbrough telling our next MPs exactly what we want for our NHS.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 26 Apr 2015
A Green Party candidate has waded into a row over a Labour MP’s refusal to debate with a Ukip politician from out of the area – saying the Labour Party itself fielded a candidate from Teesside at an earlier event.
Sunderland Central Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Labour, Julie Elliot declined to debate with Ukip North East MEP Jonathan Arnott in an event at Sunderland University on Monday.
Mr Arnott had attended in place of his party’s parliamentary candidate for the constituency Bryan Foster, whose wife Dorothy’s chronic illness had taken a turn for the worse.
Mrs Elliot’s reasons were that Mr Arnott is a candidate for Easington and not Sunderland Central.
Now Green Party candidate Rachel Featherstone has hit out at her decision because she was substituted with a candidate from Teesside at an event held at St Aidan’s School in Ashbrooke, in March.
Ms Featherstone said Mrs Elliott had no objections in the past, when in the second debate, a local election candidate stood in for LibDem candidate Adrian Page.
“I was happy to debate with the Ukip representative,” Ms Featherstone said. “I believe that in the interests of democracy, all the parties should have been represented.
“I’m concerned that this may affect the willingness of the university to host this kind of event in the future.”
She added: “The organisers are to be commended for the efforts they made to ensure this was a lively and informative debate.”
A Labour Party spokesman said the debate at St Aidan’s was a regional event, with parliamentary candidates from outside Sunderland taking part, while the Age UK debate was a whole of Sunderland city debate not a Sunderland Central hustings.
“It’s odd to see the Green Party cosying up to Ukip,” he said.
“But our position remains the same our candidate debates with other Sunderland Central parliamentary candidates in hustings for Sunderland Central constituency.”
Also standing in the Sunderland Central constituency is Jeffrey Guy Townsend (Conservative) and Jospeh Young (Independent).
Source – Sunderland Echo, 23 Apr 2015
The average homeowner in parts of Teesside has lost £25,000 off the value of their house since the coalition came to power in 2010 – while prices in London have soared.
Exclusive analysis of Land Registry data show the average house price in Redcar and Cleveland has dropped by 21.3% since May 2010, the date of the last election.
The average price is now £92,785 – or £25,134 LESS than it was then.
Only two places in the country – Merthyr Tydfil (down 27.1%) and Blackpool (down 24.9%) – have seen a bigger percentage fall.
In Middlesbrough, prices are down 6.6% since May 2010.
That means the average property is worth £5,904 less now than then.
And Stockton-on-Tees has seen a 2.6% fall, equivalent to £2,944.
Across England and Wales as a whole, house prices have actually gone up by 10.8% since May 2010, with the average property worth £17,595 more than it was then.
Across England and Wales as a whole, house prices have risen by 10.8% since May 2010.
The biggest increases have all been in London – with the 29 top-rising areas all in the capital.
Top of the list is Hackney, where house prices are up 76.3%.
The average house is now worth £634,045 – or £274,491 more than it was five years ago.
In the City of Westminster, meanwhile, the average price is up £464,941 from £610,767 to £1.07m.
When London is taken out of the equation, Tory-run areas seem to have done markedly better than those controlled by other parties.
Ten of the 20 ‘non-London’ areas that have seen the biggest rises are held by the Conservatives, with nine in no overall political control and just one – Slough – held by Labour.
Tory Wokingham (up 25.7%), Hertfordshire (up 24.6%) and Surrey (up 24.6%) have seen the biggest rises outside London.
By contrast 19 of the 20 areas to have seen the biggest falls in house prices are run by Labour.
The only one that isn’t is Lancashire (down 13.6%) – which is in no overall control.
Source – Middlesbrough Gazette, 13 Apr 2015
The Government has been accused of attempting to profit from injured people and putting a “tax on justice” after a hike in the cost of issuing some civil court claims came into force.
Anyone attempting to claim more than £10,000 through the civil courts will now have to pay five per cent of the value of the claim, subject to a maximum fee capped at £10,000.
Lawyers opposing the change say it amounts to a 600 % increase on the current charging structure and will deny justice to injury victims and hit small to medium sized businesses who may not be able to afford to recover debts they are owed.
However the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) says it will not affect 90 per cent of cases and waivers will be available for those who cannot afford to pay.
It is intended that it will raise £120m – cash which will go towards and repairing the crumbling infrastructure of many courts.
The Law Society has already begun legal action in an attempt to force a judicial review over the move which it said would affect debts owed to small businesses as well as personal injury and clinical negligence claims.
Anthony McCarthy, a director of Macks Solicitors, in Middlesbrough, said:
“To issue a £190,000 claim last Friday would have cost £1,315.
“To do it today costs £9,500. That is a massive 622 per cent increase.
“This is an attempt by the Government to profit from injured people and those who are recovering business debts in order to fund the infrastructure of the courts.”
Mr McCarthy said debtors would be far less likely to pay up if they thought their creditor could not afford the court fees.
In a House of Lords debate last week justice minister Lord Foulks said litigation was “very much an optional activity“.
“There is no logic or sense in this. It is a terrible decision that has been criticised by litigators across the board.”
Justice Minister Shailesh Vara said it was only fair that those who could afford to pay should contribute more in fees to ease the burden on hardworking taxpayers.
“Court fees are a small fraction of the overall cost of litigation and Britain’s reputation for having the best justice system in the world remains intact.”
Source – Northern Echo, 10 Mar 2015
Labour leader Ed Miliband denied accusations he supported “bullies” or was a “coward” after an attack by disgruntled party members on a visit to the North-East.
Mr Miliband gave a speech and took questions from the public on a visit to Redcar, a town which the party hopes to take from the Liberal Democrats in May’s General Election.
He offered a vision of better jobs, fairer employment rights and more power and money for the region – but the event was overshadowed by a protest from former party loyalists.
The demonstration outside Redcar and Cleveland College, where the Labour leader was speaking, was led by former long-standing Labour leader of Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, George Dunning, who brandished a banner saying ‘Does Miliband Support Bullies?’.
Cllr Dunning, a trade-unionist and former steelworker, and ten other councillors were deselected by the party earlier this year.
The councillors went on to resign from the Labour Party saying they had been “bullied.”
Cllr Dunning’s former deputy leader, Sheelagh Clarke, went further, branding Mr Miliband “a coward.”
“He called Cameron a coward because the Prime Minister won’t take part in the TV debates. But he can’t find a quick minute to talk to eight, nine or ten of us ordinary people. How can he be leader of our country if he can’t talk to a few ordinary people? It is cowardly.”
Mr Miliband said he was offering “a big plan” for the region which included increasing the minimum wage, more apprenticeships for youngsters, an end to ‘zero hours’ contracts and more high quality jobs. A key area where the economy could be boosted and high paid jobs created was green energy, he said, which with some Government investment and encouragement could be a major asset to the North-East.
Earlier, Mr Miliband welcomed the improved employment figures, with 45,000 new jobs created in the region since Labour lost power in 2010, but said many were “low paid, insecure and not good enough.”
But in much of his question and answer session with about 200 members of the public he focused on what he would do for young people, including guaranteeing apprenticeships for 18-year-olds and lowering university tuition fees.
Asked about the decline in Durham Tees Valley Airport he promised a future Labour Government would “look at the whole issue of regional airports.”
One Teesside woman spoke movingly of having to leave work for eight months to look after her severely ill, 11-year-old daughter with various authorities declining to offer support, while another talked of having to look after four grandchildren and having to give up her home.
Mr Miliband received his biggest round of applause after publicly thanking the women for their “incredibly important work” and said it was an issue the party was already looking at.
Source – Northern Echo, 07 Mar 2015