Tagged: trading standards

Real terms cut in public health budgets announced

Spending on public health in the region will be cut next year, it was announced yesterday (Tuesday, September 9) – despite Government promises to protect the NHS.

The amounts given to local councils – for services such as smoking cessation classes, obesity clinics, school nurses and drug and alcohol treatments – will be frozen.

The Department of Health admitted that meant a cut in real terms, after inflation, but said it was necessary because “the health budget is under a lot of pressure”.

Furthermore, it comes after cash-starved town halls have already been accused of raiding their public health budgets as they wrestle with huge cuts to their overall funds.

The cut was revealed in a statement to MPs, which announced that public health funding in 2015-16 would “remain the same as last year, at £2.79bn”.

It means County Durham will continue to receive £45.8m from next April. Other frozen allocations include Darlington (£7.8m), Middlesbrough (£16.4m) Stockton (£13.1m) and North Yorkshire (£19.7m).

In response to The Northern Echo, a department of health spokeswoman acknowledged:

This is a flat cash settlement – so it’s a real terms decrease.

 “The health budget is under a lot of pressure, so we are not able to increase it, but at least budgets are remaining stable and we are not taking money away.”

Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, linked the decision to the recent closures of medical centres at Skelton and Park End – with Hemlington also under threat.

He said:

“It is quite clear that our local areas NHS is being cut for purely financial reasons, with no attention to clinical need.”

Budgets for public health were transferred from the NHS to local authorities last year, as part of the Coalition’s radical overhaul of the health service.

Ministers argued councils were better equipped to tackle problems such as obesity, smoking and pollution and – ironically – that the funds had often been “raided” by the NHS.

The cut comes amid growing pressure to increase spending on the stubborn causes of ill-health, to cut the long-term cost to the health service.

 Yet both the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Journal have warned that services are being rundown – despite the money being, in theory, ring-fenced.

Cash has been diverted to areas including trading standards, citizens’ advice bureaux, domestic abuse services, housing, parks and leisure centres, they found.

But Jane Ellison, the public health minister, said:

“We want to see local areas continue their excellent work to help people lead healthier lives.

“The money has again been ring-fenced, so the focus will remain firmly on improving the health of local communities. This will be further boosted by an extra £5m to target priority areas.”

Source – Northern Echo, 10 Sept 2014

New campaign urges tenants to avoid using loan sharks

Tenants in privately rented accommodation across Darlington are being urged to avoid using loan sharks as part of a new campaign.

The England Illegal Money Lending Team, which works in partnership with Darlington Borough Council trading standards, has launched a month-long campaign highlighting the alternatives to using a loan shark.

The scheme aims to help tenants who may be in debt after struggling to pay deposits or keep up with rent payments.

During the campaign, the team will also be working with landlords to help them provide support and advice to any tenants who have got into financial difficulty with loan sharks before taking on a tenancy.

Toby Harris, chair of the National Trading Standards Board, said: “The process of moving home can be expensive and loan sharks take advantage of this, striking just when people feel under real financial pressure.

“It is crucial that people know that, even if they’re renting privately, there is help available to them if they get into financial difficulty.

“Loan sharks are illegal, predatory and should never be considered as an option.”

Officials warn that loan sharks can initially appear friendly but their behaviour can quickly change, with some resorting to threats, violence and intimidation to enforce their debts.

 As a result, tenants in financial difficulty are being urged to use a credit union or council for help with bonds or deposits.

Councillor Chris McEwan, Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet member for economy and regeneration said: “Illegal money lenders can cause no end of misery and suffering to unsuspecting people who believe these people are there to help them.

“They loan money to make more money and do not seem to care who gets hurt in the process.

“I welcome this campaign and look forward to working with The England Illegal Money Lending Team to tackle this problem in Darlington.”

During the campaign, which begins later this month, a number of events will be held to raise awareness of loan sharks and flyers will be sent out to people living in privately rented accommodation.

Training sessions will also be held for staff who support tenants living in privately rented accommodation.

Anyone who has been a victim of a loan shark or knows of someone who had can contact the England Illegal Money Lending Team in confidence on 0300-555-2222.

Alternatively, email reportaloanshark@stoploansharks.gov.uk or send a private message on facebook.com/stoploansharksproject

Source –  Northern Echo,  17 July 2014

Crime team rewarded in battle against Durham loan sharks

A crime  team has been championed for its efforts to tackle loan sharks.

Durham Constabulary has been commended for its outstanding work to raise awareness of the dangers of using illegal lenders in the Stop Loan Sharks Award.

The England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) nominated the officers for its commitment to educating people and promoting the organisation’s work.

It added there was also a focus on tackling the issue at a planning level, with added support to carry out warrants, and encourage confidential reporting in whatever way people feel comfortable.

The IMLT works with Durham County Council and other Trading Standards authorities across the country.

The force is now in with a chance of becoming the national winner and receiving £1,000 worth of proceeds of crime money to fund further awareness raising, after an online public vote.

Detective Inspector Lyn Peart, of Durham Constabulary, said: “We are delighted to have been recognised for the work we do.

“Our message is simple – this activity will not be tolerated and, along with our partners, we will be relentless in our campaign to stop those involved in it.

“We look forward to continuing to work alongside our partners to tackle this issue and to keep our communities safe.”

Anyone who wants to speak about loan sharks can call the 24-hour confidential hotline on 0300 555 2222, text “loan shark + your message” to 60003, email reportaloanshark@stoploansharks.gov.uk or send a private message via http://www.facebook.com/stoploansharksproject.

Source –  Sunderland Echo,  14 July 2014

North East police and councils tapping into phone calls and emails

The region’s police forces are snooping on phone calls and emails 53 times every day, it has been revealed – triggering an investigation.

The surveillance watchdog has raised the alarm over forces using powers to tap into communications data far too often, warning privacy may be at risk.

And it announced an inquiry into whether there should be stricter curbs on the police and other law enforcement bodies – to ensure snooping is not an “automatic resort“.

A report to Parliament revealed that forces in the North-East and North Yorkshire tapped into communications data a staggering 19,444 times in 2013.

The highest total was recorded by Durham police (6,218), followed by Northumbria (6,211), North Yorkshire (4,058) and then Cleveland (2,957).

Authorisation is granted to uncover the “who, when and where” of a communication, such as who owns the phone, or email address, or computer IP address.

The police also learn who that person was in contact with electronically – but not what was said in that communication.

The powers are granted under the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which the Coalition altered after protests, to curb excessive spying.

 Sir Anthony May, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, said public bodies had secured a total of 514,608 requests for communications data nationwide, last year.

His report concluded: “It seems to me to be a very large number. It has the feel of being too many.

“I have accordingly asked our inspectors to take a critical look at the constituents of this bulk to see if there might be a significant institutional overuse.

“This may apply in particular to police forces and law enforcement agencies who between them account for approaching 90 per cent of the bulk.”

Nationwide, most communications were tapped into to “prevent or detect crime, or prevent disorder“, followed by “emergency, to prevent death or injury“.

Durham Police mounted a strong defence of its use of covert tactics, arguing almost everybody now used a mobile phone and the internet.

The force insisted it “takes the privacy of individuals seriously” and that every application under Ripa is considered by a senior person independent of the investigation.

Detective Superintendent Lee Johnson said: “Some individuals in society have no consideration of the rights of others and commit crime and make use of phones to enable the commission of the crime.

“When identifying the location of a missing person, a wanted person, or how a phone has been used in the commission of a crime, it is now an important investigative tool to make use of call data in locating someone, or proving their criminality.

“The public expect the police service to make effective use of tools available to them to protect vulnerable individuals in society, or identify offenders and bring them to justice.”

And Home Secretary Theresa May backed forces, saying: “Communications data is vital in helping to keep the public safe: it is used to investigate crimes, bring offenders to justice and to save lives.”

The annual report also listed many local authorities which snooped on phone calls and emails last year, including York (80 times) and Redcar and Cleveland (69).

However, a spokesman for Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council said its high figure was explained by its regional role coordinating ‘Scambusters‘ trading standards crackdowns.

In fact, only one of the 69 authorisations listed in the watchdog’s report was actually carried out by Redcar and Cleveland, he added.

Similarly, a spokesman for York City Council said its high figure was the result of its similar regional role in tackling ‘e-crime‘.

It said it applied through the National Anti-Fraud Network to identify those behind the telephone numbers they were investigating, but not the content of the messages.

Colin Rumford, City of York Council’s Head of Regional Investigations, said: “We make applications through the National Anti-Fraud Network to identify the people and organisations behind telephone numbers that we’re investigating as part of our sizeable remit to work for the national trading standards e-crime team, the regional trading standards Scambuster team and local consumer fraud.

“None of the applications relate in any way to the interception of messages between individuals.”

All fire authorities and ambulance services in the region reported that they did not use the powers.

Source – Northern Echo  10 April 2014