The billionaire owner of Northumbrian Water is at the centre of a documentary being aired on North East screens on Monday (12 Jan) night.
The water company, owned by Hong Kong-based Li Ka-shing, one of the richest men in the world, has made more than £630m profit in the last two years, according to BBC investigations programme Inside Out.
But the firm pays on average less than 10% tax because of a legal tax loophole, the show will claim.
Northumbrian Water told the BBC that the company always acts transparently and within the letter and spirit of the law, adding that it is not in dispute with HM Revenue and Customs on its tax affairs.
But presenter Chris Jackson will tell viewers:
“Northumbrian Water sounds nice and local but when you pay the bill you may be surprised to learn the profits leach away to the other side of the world.”
Mr Li is the richest man in Asia, and 17th richest in the world, with an estimated wealth of £20bn.
He owns Superdrug and the Three mobile network, invests in Spotify and Facebook and has owned Northumbrian Water, which employs 1,600 staff, since 2011. He also runs a charitable foundation.
In terms of his North East assets he ranks alongside Mike Ashley and the Duke of Northumberland – except nobody here has ever heard of him, says Jackson who asks in the show:
“Of all the things he could have bought in the world, why did he buy a slice of the North East?”
Interviewee Professor David Hall of the University of Greenwich, will tell the documentary:
“The UK government provides a regulatory environment which most people think of as protecting the consumer, but its core objective is to ensure that the companies continue to make enough profits so that they want to carry on investing.”
In the last two years, Northumbrian Water has paid less than 10% tax on £630m profits, compared with the 20% standard corporation tax, because it has borrowed £1bn from Mr Li, Jackson will claim in the documentary.
The government has looked at closing the tax loophole – which is completely legal – but decided against it, prompting Labour MP John McDonnell to attack the situation in the House of Commons last year. He said:
“No wonder he’s the world’s ninth richest person. We’re making him the world’s ninth richest person. I think this is a scandal.”
> Earlier the article named him the 17th richest person. Perhaps he’s lost a bit since last year, poor dear. Down to his last few billion.
Mr McDonnell is calling for an independent public inquiry.
Nobody from the government would be interviewed for the programme, but a statement from the Treasury said recent analysis showed that changing the system used by Northumbrian Water would not save money and would undermine the competitiveness of the British economy.
Most utility companies in the UK now have owners dotted across the world, the programme will say.
> Well of course they are – subsequent governments – of all colours – since Thatcher have been obsessed with selling off the family silver to the highest bidder. A process that continues today with the NHS and DWP.
Barbara Leech, from the Consumer Council for Water which represents customers, will appear in the documentary describing how Northumbrian Water – which provides water supplies to the homes of 2.7m people in the North East – is top of the league in terms of satisfaction with services.
The full story can be seen on Inside Out (North East and Cumbria) on BBC1 at 7.30pm on Monday 12 Jan, in an episode which also features a Tyneside surgeon’s dream of building a hospital in India’s slums and a Teesside woman who helped shape modern Iraq. It will also be available on iplayer for 30 days.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Jan 2015
The leader of Gateshead Council has spoken of the heartbreak of having to make drastic budget cuts to plug an expected £46m shortfall in its finances over the next two years.
Coun Mick Henry said:
“It’s heartbreaking not just for me but people who work here who have joined me on the council. We’re all from Gateshead, most were born here and we believe in Gateshead.”
The council has already reduced spending by £90.6m since 2010 costing 1,700 jobs but, it says, because of further Government cuts it will have to find further savings of £46m by 2017.
It will mean over the seven year period it will have had to make around £140m in savings. In that time, the council workforce will have been slashed almost in half, from 4,000 to just below 2,000.
Coun Henry admitted: “You can’t lose that percentage of staff without it having a major impact on services.”
He was speaking after a Cabinet meeting which gave the go ahead for a raft of proposals which are now going out to public consultation.
Recommendations could see the equivalent of 275 full time equivalent posts being lost with leisure and housing provision being the areas hit hardest by the jobs axe.
There would also be a significant reduction in road maintenance, a review of library and children’s services and the axing of a free support service for elderly people.
In the arts, there will be a 15% reduction in funding to the Sage music centre and Baltic art gallery as well as a cut in backing for high profile events like the Great North Run.
Coun Henry, who is on the board of both the Sage and the Baltic said the cuts haven’t come as a surprise to them as last year the council outlined plans for a 30% reduction over two years.
“They recognise the need to become less dependant on public funding if they can,” he said.
Speaking about the situation overall, he commented: “I’m extremely concerned, however we just have to get on with it.”
There is a possibility it might have to revise its figures at the end of the year when the council will find out how much it will receive from the Government in the Local Government Finance Settlement.
“We’re not holding our breath about that,” said Coun Henry. “Hopefully there won’t be any surprises. Assuming it doesn’t get any better we’ll be making the decision on the budget in the New Year which will be set in mid February.”
He said he was hoping the public and the trade unions representing workers at risk would get involved in the consultations.
“We’re trying to talk through why we’re having to make these savings and what is the best way of doing this. We’ve started to make progress.
“We need to make people realise just how serious it is. It is a double whammy with its effect on the local economy and people’s lives.
“I’ve been in council for 28 years, during the famous days of Thatcher and we’ve never experienced anything like this.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 04 nov 2014
With the Scottish independence referendum only days away, journalist and university lecturer Neil Macfarlane explains why he would vote yes. And why he thinks you would too
I’m a Scot who lives in the North-East. There are loads of us – chuck a paper aeroplane out your front window and you’ll probably hit one. I’ve lived happily here for years, but it won’t surprise those who know me that I would like Scotland to vote yes to independence next week.
I hope this happens because I don’t think the three main Westminster parties represent my politics any more. I like the idea of getting rid of nuclear weapons, of universal education, and I worry about the future of the NHS and the welfare state.
I think it’s sensible to increase immigration to help reverse decades of emigration by Scots like me and my family. I feel uncomfortable about parties of all stripes blaming foreigners and the poor for all problems.
I think the UK government and media is too focused on London. I think many people in the North-East feel the same about these issues.
I don’t know for sure if an independent Scotland would be richer or poorer but I do think it would be governed by people with its interests at heart. I like England and English people very much and I don’t think Braveheart is a good film.
Thatcher remains the longest serving Prime Minister of my lifetime, yet she was repeatedly rejected by the people of Scotland at the polls. When our teachers taught us about democracy, and how generations had fought and died to preserve it, something didn’t fit.
By the way, feel free to swap “Scotland” in the paragraph above for “Middlesbrough“, “Sedgefield“, Sunderland” or “Bishop Auckland“.
Pretty much all of this applies to the North-East, too. Sometimes people dismiss the independence movement by asking if there should also be separation for the North-East, for Manchester, or Liverpool.
Personally, I don’t see why not – if that’s what the people want. But the argument misunderstands what Scotland is. It is not a region of a country. It is its own country and always has been.
The United Kingdom only came into being 300 years ago as an agreement between two nations to form an alliance. Scotland was not conquered. Its remarkable achievements in science, philosophy, engineering, literature and statecraft had been established for centuries before 1707, and that spirit later combined with the same from England, Wales and Northern Ireland to make the union thrive.
This time last year most Scots liked the idea of the UK being a partnership of equals, and a sizable majority were happy enough to keep it that way. That has now changed.
The No campaign has been horrendously misjudged. Scots always believed they could be independent, but most doubted if they should. The Conservative-Labour-Lib Dem Better Together campaign then set about claiming that Scotland would collapse into disarray if left to its own devices. The campaign was dubbed “Project Fear” – by the No camp themselves.
Scots were told: You can’t keep the pound, you can’t stay in the EU, your aspirations are pipe dreams and we’ll rebuild Hadrian’s Wall to keep you out when it all goes wrong.
Their latest effort was billboards claiming: “Vote no if you love your children.” The polls are at 50:50, are they saying half the people in Scotland hate their kids? It’s so long since the Scots heard the positive case for the union, they’re beginning to suspect there isn’t one.
In the face of this onslaught, the Yes campaign has flourished. Grassroots activists have packed out town halls across the country making their case, bloggers have amassed followings to make newspaper editors cry with envy.
People who have never voted are being helped to register, and volunteers are putting on buses to give them a lift on polling day. Discussion on social media is dominated by funny, spiky, imaginative Yes voters.
There are touring arts festivals. Millions have been inspired by the idea that Scotland could become a fairer, more successful country, and by the promise of progressive policies that would never be offered by three Westminster parties all fighting over the same ground.
This isn’t petty nationalism. It is an inclusive movement. Every resident will be given a Scottish passport on day one of independence. One of the most high profile campaign groups is English Scots for Yes, who give away teabags branded: “Have a cuppa, vote yes.” There are groups for African Scots, Italian Scots,Polish Scots. I am proud of the fact I don’t get a vote but those who live in Scotland do, regardless of where they were born.
It’s even spreading beyond the border. A recent poll showed an even higher proportion of people in the North-East back Scottish independence. I’ve lost count of the number of times friends have asked: “Can we come too?“
The response to all of this has been a wishy-washy offer of more powers for the Scottish parliament, without saying exactly what those powers might be. This was George Osborne’s first intervention since he announced Scotland couldn’t keep the pound – a move which actually caused an increase in support for independence. At this point, the Chancellor could knock on every door in Scotland offering a free carwash, foot rub and £1000 cash and the polls would still rise for Yes.
While the SNP published a manifesto for Scotland’s future a year ago, Labour and the Tories are now trying to scramble a response with only days to go. Why not before now? Perhaps because they weren’t listening, because it’s too far away, because there are too few voters… because it was never a priority for them.
It’s a feeling the Scots, and we in the North-East, know all too well.
Source – Northern Echo, 11 Sept 2014
In a big row over a small park, a council leader has criticised the naming of a plot of land after a “right wing Tory”.
A community banded together to transform a tiny patch of private land into Councillor Gerald Lee Park, named after Darlington’s environmentally-friendly town mayor.
The park – which measures around 25 square metres and will be opened tomorrow (Tuesday, July 29) – will soon be pitted against Prince’s Park in Burntwood, Staffordshire in a bid to be named Britain’s Smallest Park.
Darlington Borough Council leader Bill Dixon openly criticised the decision to name the park after Councillor Lee, taking to Darlington Labour Party’s Facebook page to say: “Nice to see we as a Party are so inclusive we celebrate a right wing Tory and name part of our town after him. I think we should rename High Row, Thatcher Way, good idea or what?”
Expanding on his comment, he said: “The council has a policy of not naming things after living people which goes back to the time of the Quakers.
“I’m not detracting from anything Councillor Lee’s done, but we waited a year after John Williams’ death to name somewhere after him.
“There are two issues here, my views of Gerald as a politician – which are my views – and the issue of naming.
“We’ve got it right, you see other authorities naming all sorts after living, politically active people and I think that’s wrong – where does it stop?
“If they tried to name a new building after me, they’d do it over my dead body.”
The park – situated on Victoria Road – has been created by the South Terrace Residents Association in conjunction with the Darlington Guerrilla Gardeners.
One resident said: “We’ve told them to get stuffed – we’ll call it Councillor Gerald Lee Park because he’s our litter-picking Tsar and we admire him for what he’s done in the area.
“Hands off our park is the message from us.”
The mayor echoed the sentiments, saying: “Leave my park alone, Councillor Gerald Lee Park has a nice ring about it – keep my blooming park.
“We’re trying to encourage ideas like this as they make a difference in communities and bureaucracy like this gets in the way and upsets people.”
Source – Northern Echo, 28 July 2014
People are fond of gazing back at the past through rose-tinted spectacles. I remember reading somewhere that no one ‘does’ nostalgia like the British. I love the 70s, I Love The 80s and Dominic Sandbrook’s lightweight, but subtly ideological history series The 70s always present the past as the ideal time in which to live. In Sandbrook’s case, the blemishes, lumps and bumps that define eras and epochs are simply burnished or given a right-wing twist. “Thatcher arrived to save the country from the unions” was the unspoken message at the end of Sandbrook’s series, which ignored the fact that management ineptitude and a chronic lack of investment was mostly culpable for Britain’s economic and industrial decline. In the case of the I Love… series, talking heads from showbusiness were interviewed on camera to talk about how wonderful Kickers and Kappa tracksuits were. “I really loved Kickers and…
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Scenes from the strikes have been compiled by historians as they take a look back at communities as they took to picket lines.
A DVD, titled The Greatest Struggle, centres on when colliery workers took industrial action between 1984 and the following year in a fight for jobs it says was “one of the most bitter industrial disputes Britain has ever seen”.
Striking miners and families from Easington, Eppleton, Wearmouth, Dawdon and Murton among others feature in the film, with scenes outside the pits, streets of their villages and clashes with police included in the footage.
John Dawson, who is among the team to have put together the DVD, said:
“The year-long strike involved hardship and violence as pit communities from around the UK fought to retain their local collieries – for many the only source of employment.
“With scenes from the North East of England, we witness events with miners and their families from Ellington, Bates, Whittle, Ashington, Dawdon, Wearmouth and Easington Collieries and include many more to see how it was in that year- long strike.
“You never know who you may see in this film. It could be yourself, a family member, friend or a work colleague. As Arthur Scargill said to everyone at a huge rally, ‘When you look back, you’ll look back with pride, and you’ll say to your son or your daughter, in 1984 I took part in the greatest struggle in trade union history.’
“I fought to save your pit, I fought to save the job, I fought to save this community, but in doing so, I preserved my dignity as a human being and as a member of the finest trade union in the world.
“I was part of the strike myself so I know what it was like and it was very hard.”
The film includes footage shot by amateurs and has been put together by the Six Townships history group.
Others it has put together include Easington A Journey Through Time, Colliery Villages of Durham, Durham Miners’ Gala, Sunderland A Sentimental Journey and South Hetton Demolished.
The latest addition to the archive is £4.99 and available to all schools free.
It can be bought via http://www.sixtownships.org.uk
Source – Sunderland Echo, 20 June 2014
All the way from 1982 – and the sad proof that somethings never really change – the Newtown Neurotics classic “Kick Out The Tories“.
A song that could very easily be adopted as an anthem now, it would be nice if there was a campaign to get this to number 1 in the week of the next general election – although of course the BBC have form when it comes to “adjusting” the charts to avoid embarrassment to the esthablishment (think “God Save The Queen” in 1977, and “Ding Dong The Wicked Witch Is Dead” when Thatcher kicked the bucket).
Lets kick out the Tories
The rulers of this land
For they are the enemies
Of the British working man
And it shows, while that bastard is in unemployment grows
And it shows, in hospitals, factories and
The schools that they’ve closed.
Evil will triumph,if good men say nothing
Evil will triumph, if good men do nothing
And it shows, while that bastard is in unemployment grows
And it shows, from Toxteth down to the Crumlin Road.
Lets overthrow them soon
Can’t you see what they’re trying to do ?
We’ll all be frying soon
Can’t you see what they’re trying to do ?
Lets overthrow them soon
Can’t you see what they’re trying to do ?
They just abuse their power
Both black and white are being screwed.
Don’t believe every thing that you read in the press
Don’t believe what you read
Last night the Mayor of South Tyneside carried out an official engagement which transported him back 30 years.
It was not a pleasant trip.
Coun Ernest Gibson attended the preview of an exhibition at South Shields Museum to mark the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike.
As a 19-year-old miner at Westoe Colliery in South Shields, Ernest Gibson watched and experienced the bitter dispute at first hand.
South Shields born and bred, Ernest went straight from school at 16 into mining.
Nine months later, after training, he was working underground at Westoe.
His grandfather and father had worked down the pit and Ernest grew up in a mining community in the Whiteleas area of South Shields.
He has boyhood memories of walking home from church on a Sunday with his grandfather and the friendly greetings and banter they received from mining neighbours on the way home.
“Everyone was friendly. It was the sort of community where, if you were out and it started to rain, somebody would bring your washing in and iron it for you,” says Ernest.
“There were collections for injured miners. People in that community helped each other.”
Then came the strike.
Ernest was lucky in that, as a teenager, he was still living at home, although he had to give up his Cortina car, which was his pride and joy.
“Every miner can tell a different story about the strike,” he says.
“It was a devastating time for miners with families. At Christmas they had nothing to give the children. Marriages were on the line because of money problems.
“The hardship was terrible. Kids went without.”
He believes the miners had no other option but to come out in an effort to save their jobs and communities.
“We were fighting for our communities, for the 2,500 underground jobs at Westoe, and the millions of tonnes of coal which would have lasted well into the future and provided the country with its own energy.
“Arthur Scargill may have made mistakes, but he had to stand up for the rights of the people he represented because Mrs Thatcher was out to break the miners.
“It was a case of break the most powerful union and the rest are easy to get. The miners were on her radar, her personal agenda.
“There was no option but to strike, and the miners at Westoe were totally united.”
They did not want to see the big reserves of coal at their pit sterilised by closure. Although the mayor appreciates that times have moved on and cargoes arriving in the Tyne are good for the port, the sight of coal being imported from abroad into a river which once made its name exporting vast tonnages of the commodity is still difficult to come to terms with.
His strike memories include the food banks, which are nothing new, and the street collections.
“The wider community was generous, and women were the backbone of the strike. They were fantastic, organising collections and soup kitchens,” he says.
What particularly rankles is Mrs Thatcher’s remark about “the enemy within.”
Ernest says: “It was an insult. The miners were working people fighting for the right to work and for their industry.
“Mining communities were family-orientated and had good ethics. They were generous people but they were treated worse than criminals.
“We were fighting to save something important and when the strike ended we marched back with heads held high.”
Ernest was elected as a councillor for Whiteleas in 1999, and is a member of the Harton and Westoe Miners Heritage Group.
The group will be taking part in a march, with mining banners, from the museum on Saturday at around 11am with the Westoe Colliery brass band.
The exhibition, which opens today, will run over the weekend.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 07 March 2014
Looking at the immense bureaucratic burdens the unemployed claiming Jobseeker’s allowance face, I wonder how much of this wasn’t just an attempt to shift the blame for unemployment onto the poor themselves, but also simply to take up their time. Under the terms of Jobseeker’s Allowance, the claimant is expected to spend their time pouring over Universal Jobmatch and applying for at least five jobs per fortnight. The DWP has also announced that this system is to be extended to those on part-time work claiming Housing Benefit. This naturally takes up a lot of time.
The rationale for this, is that nobody should get something for nothing, and that the unemployed should be expected to work for their benefit through searching thoroughly for available jobs, or else be placed on Workfare, the Coalition’s version of the Nazi and Soviet forced labour schemes. It’s a hypocritical attitude coming from a front…
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The legacy of Margaret Thatcher includes the premature death of many Britons and a continuing burden of suffering, academics have claimed.
The experts the universities of Durham, Liverpool, West of Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh denounce the policies on the well-being of the British public after they concluded their study into social inequality in the 1980s.
They accuse the governments of Thatcher of wilfully engineering an economic catastrophe across large parts of Britain by distmantaling traditional industries to undermine the power of working class organizations.
> This is not difficult to believe. Nor is it difficult to believe that her current heirs, and their Lib Dem collaborators, are continuing the job of selling off everything and grinding the poor into the dirt.
Dr. Alex Scott-Samuel from Liverpool University said: “Margaret Thatcher’s legacy includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of well-being”.
Dr. Scott-Samuel added that around 5,000 excess deaths — attributable to chronic liver disease and cirrhosis — were witnessed towards the end of 1980s in addition to 2,500 excess deaths per year because of unemployment caused by Thatcher’s policies. The study said that the poverty rate had witnessed a rapid rise to 12% in 1985 from 6.7% in 1975 in the UK.
So many people died because of increase in infections on wards that were a result of policy changes in healthcare like the outsourcing of hospital cleaners.
Co-author Professor Clare Bambra, from the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing at Durham University, said that their paper draws a very clear picture of impacts made by the politics on health inequalities.
The group also took aim at the coalition government . Prof David Hunter, of Durham Univ’s Centre For Public Policy & Health, said: “Taking its inspiration from Thatcher’s legacy, the coalition government has managed to achieve what Thatcher felt unable to, which is to open up the NHS to markets and competition. It’s task was made consideralby easier by the preceding Labour government which laid the foundations for the changes introduced in April 2013.”
> Yes, and it’s important to emphasise New Labour’s , and Tony Blair’s in particular, role in setting things up for the current government’s excesses. As much heirs of Thatcherism as the current mob.
The findings of the study have been published in the International Journal of Health Services.
Source – Durham Times 14 Feb 2014