Tagged: tourism

Scottish referendum saw a boom in border inspired art works

Art works inspired by the border between England and Scotland blossomed around the referendum, a North East based academic has claimed.

Northumberland’s cultural and social relationship with Scotland was enriched by political events, according to Northumbria University Professor of Art History, Ysanne Holt, and she hopes the focus on the ‘borderland’ area continues for a long time to come.

Prof. Holt, who studies the cultural landscape of the Anglo-Scottish border region, said:

 “The referendum clearly drew sharp attention to this region and its cultural identity, and let’s hope the focus remains. The events of last year caused valuable reflection on the longstanding interconnections across the border, fostering for many a sense of wanting to develop further collaborations, not just in terms of shared resources such as tourism, forestry, roads, rail and so on, but in the arts and culture as well.”

Full Story : http://northstar.boards.net/thread/69/scottish-referendum-border-inspired-works

 

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Zero Hours Contracts Force Workers To Rely On Food Banks, Says Charity

Highly controversial Zero hours contracts are forcing Scottish workers to turn to food banks and payday lenders, according to a new report from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS).

The report, ‘Working at the Edge‘, found that the inappropriate use of zero hours contracts by unscrupulous employers is exploiting workers and leaving them with “no hours, no pay and no chance”.

Some employers are now using zero hours for the majority of their staff, the report says, with women representing over half of those workers trapped on the controversial contracts. Young people and pensioners are also greatly affected.

 While Zero hours contracts can be beneficial for some people, such as those seeking casual or seasonal work, but far too often they provide workers with no guarantee of hours and shifts can be cancelled with little or no warning, say CAS.

Workers are frequently denied equal and fair working rights routinely awarded to part-time and full-time staff. The report warns that some employers are using zero-hours as a tool to easily sack staff.

CAS also warns that the misuse of zero hours by some employers is leading to some workers facing bankruptcy and prosecution over unpaid debts.

The report includes a case study of a CAS client on zero hours who only had three days work in a month and was forced to turn to a food bank to feed themselves. The client received a court summons after they found themselves £1,000 into arrears as a direct result of not being given enough hours work to pay debts.

Another case tells the story of a waitress on zero hours who was facing possible bankruptcy, after stacking up a debt of nearly £5,000 to payday lenders, while they waited for their employer to give them more hours work.

CAS policy manager Keith Dryburgh said:

Zero hours contracts (ZHCs) are meant to provide flexibility for employers and workers alike. They are not suitable for everyone, but they can be a useful option for some people — as long as the system is applied fairly.

“However, we see growing evidence that the system is in fact being abused by some employers, who are frankly misusing it to exploit their workers.

“It seems that the flexibility in the system often lies with the employer, not with the worker. And too often workers are left with no hours, no pay, no security and no chance.

“There are 1.4 million people on ZHCs across the UK. They tend to be aged under 25 or over 65. Over half of them are women, and the areas they work in are those like catering, tourism, food and care.

“In highlighting these cases we hope to persuade employers that they should do right by their staff, and also to open a dialogue with government about how to improve the system to make sure this kind of exploitation doesn’t occur.

“We make a number of recommendations in the report, and we want to engage with ministers, unions and others to discuss ways to ensure a fair deal for all workers.

“We also want to get the message to any worker who is on a zero hours contract. You have rights, and we can help you to stand up for them.

“If you are unhappy with your contract or unsure of your rights, contact your local CAB and we will help you with free confidential advice.

“Nobody in 2014 should be in a position where they are working but don’t have the security of an actual income.”

The Scottish Government has previously called on the UK Government to crack down on the use of inappropriate zero hours contracts, by ensuring that workers receive compensation if shifts are cancelled at short notice.

Commenting on the report from Citizens Advice Scotland, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani said:

While the UK government is encouraging the use of zero hours contracts, the Scottish Government has been looking at options available to tackle the issue within its current limited powers.

“As employment policy is reserved to Westminster, this is yet another example of how we can do things differently, and better, with independence.

“Zero hours contracts can be beneficial for some but they are not appropriate for everyone – and are more likely to be offered to women, young people and pensioners. And the growth in the inappropriate use of these contracts is clearly cause for real concern.

“The fact that anyone is forced to rely on food banks in a wealthy country like Scotland is nothing less than a scandal – but that people in employment are now struggling to afford the basics like food is simply unbelievable.

“After a Yes vote we can use the powers of independence to make sure that more people feel the benefits of Scotland’s wealth.

“The establishment of a Fair Work Commission and a commitment to raise the minimum wage at least in line with inflation will help us take action on low pay.”

Source – Welfare News Service,  23 July 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/zero-hours-contracts-force-workers-rely-food-banks-says-charity/

Zero-hour Contracts In New Benefits System Will Be ‘Enabling’, Claims McVey

This article was written by Rowena Mason, political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 8th May 2014

Zero-hours contracts will actually be “enabling” for workers under the coalition’s new benefits system, the Tory employment minister, Esther McVey, has claimed.

The minister said the new universal credit scheme – which rolls all benefits into a single monthly payment – would be beneficial for workers on the controversial zero-hours contracts, even though the use of such contracts has been fiercely criticised for not guaranteeing people minimum hours or pay.

It comes after the Guardian revealed that jobseekers could lose their benefits for three months or more if they refused to take zero-hours contracts for the first time under the new system. Previously, jobseekers have not faced penalties for refusing to apply for or accept the contracts, which have been blamed for creating insecurity in the labour force.

Speaking at an event on women and politics, McVey defended the coalition’s policies, saying: “Universal Credit is going to turn not only employment on its head but benefits on its head because every hour you work, you will get money for. You won’t be penalised. You will be supported, you will constantly be on benefits but you will get more money.

> Eh ?  “you will constantly be on benefits but you will get more money” ?

“That is the single biggest thing. There was zero hours. We know there were zero-hours, they came in under Labour, they’ve been there since 2000. But by changing the benefits system, it’s no longer zero, it’s enabling hours. So that every hour you work you will get some money and we will protect you and give you benefits.”

> Eh ??   “ it’s no longer zero, it’s enabling hours” ?  What is she talking about ? 

At the same event, which was organised by Asda, McVey also acknowledged the need for politicians to talk in a clearer way, saying those who talk in “fancy language” might be trying to hide something or may not actually understand their own policy.

> Ha ha ha !  You said it. McVile – “it’s no longer zero, it’s enabling hours“…

We do have to listen. And I think what Storm [a mother in the audience] said may be at the heart of it too. She said: do us a favour: use language that we understand. Sometimes fancy language in a fancy way could be because you’re trying to disguise something or could it be that you don’t quite understand it yourself?

“I think understanding that basic language really is key and explaining to people … Never has the world been so complex. A woman’s life is complex, whether we are a mum, there may be a single mum and then looking after a teenager, then coming back into the workplace, and then looking after your elderly parents. How do we get all those complexities into law, which have usually been so rigid, so linear and that is difficult.”

Last week, the Office for National Statistics revealed the number of contracts that do not guarantee minimum hours of work or pay but require workers to be on standby had reached 1.4 million.

More than one in 10 employers are using such contracts, which are most likely to be offered to women, young people and people over 65. The figure rises to almost half of all employers in the tourism, catering and food sector.

The change in policy under universal credit was revealed in a letter from McVey to Labour MP Sheila Gilmore, who had raised the issue of sanctions with her.

The senior Tory confirmed that, under the new system, JobCentre “coaches” would be able to “mandate to zero-hours contracts”, although they would have discretion about considering whether a role was suitable.

The Department for Work and Pensions said jobseekers would not be required to take a zero-hours contract that tied them exclusively to a single employer. The government is already consulting on whether to ban this type of contract altogether.

Source – Welfare News Service  08 May 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/zero-hour-contracts-new-benefits-system-will-enabling-claims-mcvey/

Jobseekers Being Forced Into Zero-Hours Roles

This article  was written by Rowena Mason, political correspondent, for The Guardian on Monday 5th May 2014

Jobseekers face losing their benefits for three months or more if they refuse to take zero-hours contract roles, a letter from a Conservative minister has revealed.

For the first time, benefit claimants are at risk of sanctions if they do not apply for and accept certain zero-hours jobs under the new universal credit system, despite fears that such contracts are increasingly tying workers into insecure and low paid employment.

 Last week, the Office for National Statistics revealed the number of contracts that do not guarantee minimum hours of work or pay but require workers to be on standby had reached 1.4 million.

More than one in 10 employers are using such contracts, which are most likely to be offered to women, young people and people over 65. The figure rises to almost half of all employers in the tourism, catering and food sector.

Currently, people claiming jobseekers’ allowance are not required to apply for zero-hours contract vacancies and they do not face penalties for turning them down.

However, the change in policy under universal credit was revealed in a letter from Esther McVey, an employment minister, to Labour MP Sheila Gilmore, who had raised the issue of sanctions with her.

The senior Tory confirmed that, under the new system, JobCentre “coaches” would be able to “mandate to zero-hours contracts”, although they would have discretion about considering whether a role was suitable.

> Oh well, that’s all right then. We can rest assured that the fact that they’re chasing targets and bonuses wont affect their judgement as to whether a role is suitable.

Quite obviously, if a job doesn’t guarantee a  weekly income, its suitable to very few people indeed – mainly people who don’t eat or have bills to pay presumably…

Separately, a response to a freedom of information request to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) published on its website reveals: “We expect claimants to do all they reasonably can to look for and move into paid work. If a claimant turns down a particular vacancy (including zero-hours contract jobs) a sanction may be applied, but we will look into the circumstances of the case and consider whether they had a good reason.”

Higher level sanctions – imposed if a jobseeker refuses to take a position without good reason or leaves a position voluntarily – will lead to a loss of benefits for 13 weeks on the first occasion, 26 weeks on the second occasion and 156 weeks on the third occasion.

Asked about the issue by the Guardian, the DWP said jobseekers would not be required to take a zero-hours contract that tied them in exclusively to work for a single employer. The government is already consulting on whether to ban this type of contract altogether.

The change has been made possible because universal credit will automatically adjust the level of benefits someone receives depending on the number of hours they work. This means claimants should not face periods without the correct benefits when their earnings fluctuate or they change job.

> Universal Credit still does not work. It may never work, judging by its progress so far. Why would anyone trust it to “simplify” the system ?

However, critics raised concerns that the new policy will force people into uncertain employment and restrict the ability of claimants to seek better work while still placing a burden on many to increase their hours.

Sheila Gilmore said she was concerned about the situation because JobCentre decision makers already do not appear to be exercising enough discretion before applying sanctions under the old regime.

While I don’t object to the principle of either universal credit or zero-hours contracts, I am concerned about this policy change,” she said.

“I also fear that if people are required to take jobs with zero-hours contracts, they could be prevented from taking training courses or applying for other jobs that might lead to more stable and sustainable employment in the long term.”

> Oh, I see. She’s not against the principle of either universal credit or zero-hours contracts, just that it might prevent someone taking part (for which read : being made to take part under threat of sanctions) some other pointless “training” course.  Labour – the people’s friend…

Andy Sawford, a shadow minister who has pushed for reforms of the contracts with his zero-hours bill in parliament, also expressed concern about the change, as universal credit will require many people on low hours to try to increase their work. Those below a “conditionality earnings threshold” – normally 35 hours at the minimum wage – may be asked to “carry out relevant actions” to raise their earnings, or again face sanctions.

“How can you commit to training, undertake a proper job search or agree to participate in interviews when you are on a zero-hours contract and may be required to work at any time?” Sawford said.

“Requiring people to take zero-hour jobs is a big change from the past. It will create further insecurity for many of the lowest paid people.”

Labour has promised to crack down on abuses of zero-hours contracts, with leader Ed Miliband saying their use has reached “epidemic” proportions in some industries. He wants to see workers with irregular shifts and pay getting a contract with fixed hours if they have worked regularly for the same employer for a year.

The TUC has also expressed worry that they are “no longer confined to the fringe of the job market”.

A spokesman for the DWP said: “As now, if there’s a good reason someone can’t just take a particular job they won’t be sanctioned. But it is right that people do everything they can to find work and that we support them to build up their working hours and earnings. The average zero-hours contract provides 25 hours of work a week – and can lead to long-term opportunities.

“Universal credit payments will adjust automatically depending on the hours a person works to ensure that people whose hours may change are financially supported and do not face the hassle and bureaucracy of switching their benefit claims.”

> We don’t believe you…

Source – Welfare News Service   06 May 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/jobseekers-forced-zero-hours-roles/

Northumberland blocked from Government tourism cash bid

Tourism projects vital to Northumberland will be denied a chance to bid for Government cash.

Hopes of building on Northumberland’s tourist hotspot status were dashed when planners were told the latest Government advice was that new projects would not bring in enough jobs and so will not get any cash from a £2bn local growth fund.

Officials in Northumberland were told the news when they asked for £2m from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, the business-led group backed by Government tasked with co-ordinating job creation efforts. Cash would have gone towards The Sill project, a visitor centre which would have created more than 100 jobs.

The partnership told Northumberland the blame lay with the Government, saying cities minister Greg Clark made the blunt assessment of the likelihood of funding bids being successful when he met business and council leaders last week.

But last night the Cabinet office said it was “absolutely wrong” to rule out tourism projects, and insisted the North East could try for cash if it could prove that the tourism project would create jobs.

Tourism in Northumberland alone is said to support some 16,000 jobs, but, Northumberland County Councilhas been told, strict funding rules for the new cash pot will rule out supporting visitor centres, galleries or hotels. The snub has raised fears at County Hall that money handed to the region through the Local Growth Fund will almost entirely benefit urban Tyneside and Sunderland.

 Liam Carr, Labour’s Hexham candidate and a Newcastle College lecturer, said: “This shows how out of touch the coalition is in the North East.

“To say that ‘tourism isn’t an economic priority’ downplays the significant role this sector plays in the wider Northumberland economy but especially in Tynedale. Last year it accounted for over £700m in the county economy and underpinned over 13,000 jobs. The Conservative-led coalition doesn’t understand our needs.”

The Sill project, based near Haydon Bridge, is for a discovery centre and office space bringing in an expected 100,000 visitors, with 15,000 expected to stay overnight.

The partnership’s tourism advice also raises question marks over further tourism cash for other Northumberland projects, including a share of the £7m needed to further develop Kielder Forestwith a tree top walkway adventure centre and wildlife support.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “It is absolutely untrue to say that tourism projects are less likely be successful in bids for local growth deals.

“Any bid must be able to show good evidence of benefits for the local economy in terms of jobs and growth, and bids from the tourism industry will be considered on their individual merits alongside every other sector. It is for the North East Local Enterprise Partnership to decide what priority they give to the individual bids in the region, according to the evidence provided.”

A spokesman for the partnership said they were still finalising plans, adding that: “We have been advised that tourism and cultural projects are less likely to achieve these ambitious measures.

“This does not mean the end for the Sill or other projects which could not be prioritised at this time and we will be working with partners to identify alternative funding sources wherever possible.”

Source – Newcastle Journal,  25 March 2014

And on a similar theme…

 

The Trust set up to safeguard Hadrian’s Wall is to be closed down as a result of funding cuts.

Staff at the Hadrian’s Wall Trust face an uncertain future after English Heritage decided it had no option but to pull the plug on support.

The body had being tasked with managing the World heritage Site, but control will now have to be shared among various councils along the route.

English Heritage, Natural England and the eight local authorities who part fund the Hadrian’s Wall Trust are working with NorthumberlandNational Park Authority and the Chairman of the World Heritage Site Management Plan Committee, to put new arrangements in place to safeguard one of the country’s most famous landmarks.

Henry Owen-John, English Heritage planning and conservation director for the North West, said the funders were left with little choice.

He said: “The Trust as a charity is working in a pretty tough financial climate, as are the people who contribute funds to it, such as English Heritage.

“The Trust has been very successful in raising money for specific projects, but the difficulty is finding funding to cover its core costs, the day to day costs, and it is this which has led us to our decision.

“These are difficult times that we all have to operate under. The Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site is unusual in that we do not normally cover the management sites, it is really just this and Stonehenge where this happens, and we have to bring that situation here to an end, and try to get the management self sustaining.

“The people who will take over after the closure of the trust are committed to the future management and coordination of the sites.

“Northumberland County Council will take a lead role in coordinating this now.”

Mr Owen-John said promotional work this year will continue.

“It will take approximately six months to bring the affairs of the trust to a satisfactory conclusion, and the spring and autumn promotional work will continue as planned this year.

“We want to continue marketing Hadrian’s Wall as a whole rather than each council just marketing its bit of the wall.”

English Heritage has had a hard time when it comes to securing Government cash. In 2010 it had some 30% of its budget axed.

In 2013 the Department for Culture, Media and Sport came back for more cuts, asking for 10% from the heritage group’s 2015/16 budget.

Last month The Journal revealed concerns among North East councils that plans to reform English Heritage could see it cherry pick the best sites for its new management arm at the cost of less glamorous sites.

The changes have prompted fears from former Newcastle council leader Lord Beecham and former regional minister Nick Brown that the moves were akin to privatising the service.

In response, Sir Laurie Magnus told The Journal he wanted to “make clear that English Heritage considers its sites in the North East to be among the most important, interesting and beautiful in England. The advantage of the proposed change is that we will be able to invest more in them not less.”

In Northumberland it is hoped the staff currently working for the trust will, where possible, be found work with the councils and other bodies helping look after the wall in future, with decisions being made over the next six months.

Grant Davey, leader of Northumberland County Council: “Hadrian’s Wall is a core part of the county’s tourism industry. We are working alongside our partners with businesses, communities and all other stakeholders along the route to support them and keep them informed of developments. Our priority is safeguarding the Wall into the future.”

Source – Newcastle Journal, 25 March 2014

Concern as Government looks to ‘privatise’ English Heritage

Parts of the North East’s cultural heritage could be put at risk as the Government seeks to end its responsibility for historic sites.

Ministers are part-way through plans to reform English Heritage and create a charitable arm responsible for the National Heritage Collection.

The Government hopes that an £80m cash injection will mean the quango no longer needs taxpayer support.

But concerns have now emerged that the moves will see properties put at risk as the reformed English Heritage struggles to pay for all its assets.

In the North East, English Heritage is responsible for key tourism attractions such as BelsayHall, Lindisfarne Priory, Warkworth Castle and Dunstanburgh Castle.

As well as those flagship sites there are many others which, while contributing to the overall worth of region’s heritage, do not individually draw in large numbers of visitors.

Culture ministers have been warned of the potential downside of their reforms in a joint response by the region’s 12 local authorities.

The Association of North East Councils has said it wants to ensure the changes do not create a situation in which only the sites which generate the most revenue are protected, instead of the entire collection.

And former regional minister Nick Brown has added to the warnings. He said: “The Government’s proposal has two obvious flaws. The loss of expertise will be damaging in the long run because the advice from a well informed independent authority will no longer be there.

“Secondly, our country’s heritage should not be reduced to a historically themed version of Disneyland. It should be preserved, treasured and valued for present and future generations.”

Urging caution of the unknown costs involved, the Association said: “This is an ambitious plan, with yet another organisation competing for the same sources of commercial and philanthropic funding as similar organisations.”

The councils said: “In the North East there is concern over the protection of historic buildings that may not necessarily generate large amounts of income and instead rely on a subsidy, yet are nonetheless key to the collection and bring in wider economic and social benefits to the local community in terms of tourism.”

The Association added: “Similarly, it is of concern that some sites may require such a level of investment to make them more popular and revenue generating, that the charity may seek to divest itself of responsibility for them. We would not wish to see detriment to any part of the collection solely on the grounds of financial viability and fully expect the new charity to demonstrate that it is the sector lead in conserving the Heritage Collection.”

Already across the North East there are nearly 300 properties on English Heritages At Risk register, properties which for decades have struggled to attract sufficient funding.

Grant Davey, leader of Northumberland County Council said: “There’s a worrying lack of detail in this consultation which compounds the feeling that this is just another attempt by the coalition to scale back the state, this time in the area of heritage.

“Northumberland has a rich and varied tapestry which tell the story of this county over the ages and it is a worry that the Government simply wants to open up English Heritage to the market. The Government needs to make the case for their proposed changes and I’m afraid I’m not convinced.”

Former Newcastle Council leader Lord Beecham, a one-time regional member of English Heritage, said there were concerns that the changes were akin to “privatising out heritage.”

A DCMS spokesman: “The Government’s plans to create a new charity, to be called English Heritage, to manage the National Heritage Collection will not involve disposing of or downgrading any buildings or sites. Quite the opposite, in fact.

“The £80m investment will be used to enhance and improve the Collection, helping to secure its future for generations to come.”

> Of course it’s now generally forgotten that in it’s early days our unelected coalition government made a determined attempt to sell off the nation’s woodland into private hands.

Source – Newcastle Journal  18 Feb 2014

Jobs warning for North East over Scottish independence

A jobs warning has been sounded as the region is told of the risk of Scottish independence.

As Chancellor George Osborne set out why the UK would not let a breakaway Scotland keep the pound, Hexham MP Guy Opperman has warned of the regional impact of a new international border on the doorsteps of Northumberland.

The Conservative MP said: “If keeping the pound would not be possible as part of a formal sterling currency union; if the SNP no longer wishes to join the euro, which one can see; and if there is no prospect of an independent country with border control—my constituents are somewhat concerned that there might be a rerun of Hadrian’s wall—where are we?”

He said the situation in Scotland was clearly of concern to the North East, adding: “I am speaking as an MP whose area has a border that divides Scotland and England—my local businesses, the North East chamber of commerce and the local authorities have all indicated that there would be a negative impact on jobs, growth and the development of our respective economies in Scotland and England were the referendum to go ahead.”

> Would that be the same jobs, growth and development (or lack of) that makes the North East the area with the highest unemployment ?

He told MPs: “I speak as a Brit, a mongrel Englishman, a lover of Scotland and an MP whose constituency borders Scotland. Were there to be Scottish independence, I have no doubt that tourism and trade would continue, but it would be naive not to accept that trade on a cross-border basis would unquestionably be affected.

“That is not some Conservative Member of Parliamentspeaking; that is the opinion of the chambers of commerce, local authorities and business groups I have spoken to on both sides of the border.”

> All organizations with the welfare of the common man at heart…

In Edinburgh yesterday the Chancellor ruled out a currency union with an independent Scotland after “strong” advice from the Treasury’s leading official, which was published.

Sir Nicholas Macpherson said that unions are “fraught with difficulty” and raised serious concerns about the Scottish Government’s commitment to making it work. Scotland’s banking sector is too big in relation to national income, the UK could end up bailing the country out.

> Perhaps the North East (and Cumbria, for that matter) should apply to become part of an independent Scotland. Until relatively recently the border was pretty fluid, the old kingdom of Northumbria took in chunks of both, and Hadrian’s Wall is nowadays a long way from the current border (although, of course, neither England or Scotland existed when it was built).

But who do we have more in common with – Scotland or the London city state ?

Source – Newcastle Journal  14 Feb 2014

What you’re not being told about Europe’s verdict on social security

Mike Sivier's blog

140130inadequate

“Manifestly inadequate” are words that should ring in Iain Duncan Smith’s ears for some time to come.

They are the Council of Europe’s verdict on the UK’s social security system of payments for jobseekers, pensioners and recipients of both short- and long-term incapacity benefit.

The Council, an international organisation promoting co-operation between all countries of Europe in legal standards, human rights, democratic development, the rule of law and cultural co-operation, is home to the European Court of Human Rights.

The finding was made in an annual review of the UK’s adherence to the council’s European Social Charter. If the UK’s Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition government takes no action to rectify the situation, then the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers may address a recommendation to the UK, asking it to change the situation in law or in practice. This is clearly a weak way of handling a situation…

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