Funding for a service that helps crime victims through their most difficult days is to be axed on Tyneside.
Three of the four Victim Support offices in the area look set to close, following a major shake-up in victims’ services, at the end of next month.
The move comes after the Government, which had provided 80% of the charity’s funding decided to devolve, decisions on victim care spending to a local level, with individual Police and Crime Commissioners determining how help is provided in their own force area.
Northumbria’s Vera Baird is so far one of just two PCCs in the country to decide not to provide funding to the existing Victim Support services, instead choosing to replace them with her own ‘in house’ victim care structure.
Some staff at the offices in Newcastle, North Tyneside, Sunderland and Gateshead have been told they could lose their jobs, although it is understood they are being encouraged to apply for the new roles.
Ms Baird said:
“The Ministry of Justice has decided to fund victims’ services in a different way with the funding now being provided through Police and Crime Commissioners across the country.
“In the Northumbria Police region this new service will be independent from the force working with the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and will link in with existing services and voluntary groups already working in the force area.
“It will put victims at the heart of everything that is done throughout the whole criminal justice process ensuring that they have access to support and advice when they need it.
“This new service will be available in April and discussions are continuing with victims’ service providers in the region as we work to get the best possible service for victims of crime.”
But, both staff and families who have been helped by the charity in the past fear future victims of crime will suffer.
Margaret Smith, whose 16-year-old son Mark was killed almost eight years ago, said:
“I think it’s absolutely horrendous. Who else would people turn to if Victim Support isn’t there? Closing it would be the worst thing they could do, they help a hell of a lot of people.”
Mark was stabbed to death near his Benwell home in Newcastle, in May 2007.
And in the dark days, weeks and months that followed, Victim Support became a lifeline for grieving Margaret.
“They helped me with everything,” the 54-year-old said. “It was the worst time of my life, but they were fantastic. I poured my heart out to them and they listened to me.”
Formed in the 1970s, Victim Support is the world’s most established victim and witness support network.
Staff help victims of all types of crime, including assault and burglary, with things like counselling and claims for compensation.
But they also provide a shoulder to cry on, and someone to talk to away from a victim’s family, and independent of the police.
Susanne Hilton, whose son Glen Corner was stabbed to death in South Shields on his 16th birthday in 2006, said Victim Support provided an essential link between her family and the police :
“I think it’s very important that there should be a service such as Victim Support.
“They were a great help to us. They were constantly there for us, and they continued to support us for a long time.
“They were like a go-between for us and the police. So if we wanted to ask anything about things like Glen’s clothes they were there to do it for us.
“The police are there doing their jobs, but Victim Support provided a personal service for us.”
And a Victim Support employee, who asked not to be named, said the closure would mean many staff members with years of experience would no longer be working with victims.
And she fears the unique skills they have built up over a number of years could be lost forever.
“This will mean dozens and dozens of very well trained people will lose their jobs,” she said. “Victim Support staff have very specific skills. We have people who work with domestic violence victims and those that work with people affected by anti-social behaviour and this requires a variety of skills that have been built up over a long time. It’s not a job you can just walk into. We deal with some of the most vulnerable members of the community, who are not always easy to deal with.”
The staff member also said allowing the PCC’s office to deliver victims’ services could threaten impartiality.
“If the police are doing it, where’s the independence ?” she asked.
“And more to the point, how many victims will want to engage with the police? A lot of victims of crime are criminals themselves.”
Victim Support as a charity will continue and provide other services funded from elsewhere, said Carolyn Hodrien, regional director, who added:
“Our priority, as always, is ensuring victims across Northumbria continue to receive the help they need to cope and recover from crime. We know that crime victims really value our independence from the police. Our staff and volunteers will continue to offer information and support to victims of crime and anti-social behaviour in Northumbria as well as our specialist service for families bereaved by murder or manslaughter.”
The president of a transport union with roots in the Labour Party will contest a North seat for the Greens.
Peter Pinkney, the highest ranking layperson of the RMT Union, will campaign against Ed Miliband’s party in Redcar, claiming: “The party of the left is now the Green Party.”
The union boss also brands Labour “a sort of reddish Conservative Party” and accuses MPs of betraying working people.
The dramatic political move by the ex-TUC General Council member threatens to derail Labour’s campaign in one of its top target seats.
The RMT boss also revealed the union has donated £7,000 to Caroline Lucas, the country’s only Green MP, after the Greens were supportive of plans to renationalise the railways.
Mr Pinkney said:
“Labour is no longer the working class party. They have betrayed us time and time again. They should remember that it was the unions who formed the ‘party of labour’ not deny our links.
“The radical Labour Party of 1945 is long gone. No longer do they champion nationalisation, social housing, the NHS, education etc, they are a sort of reddish Conservative Party.
“In my opinion the party of the left is now the Green Party.”
Labour hit back last night, saying a vote for the Green Party is a vote for the Tories.
> This is the kind of stupid comment that makes me even less likely to vote Labour.
It’d obviously be a vote against Labour, Tories and Lib Dems… because we have no belief in any of them anymore.
The move underlines a deepening fracture in the relationship between Labour and the RMT.
Predecessors to the RMT were among the unions which founded Labour back in 1899. But after 105 years of history the RMT was disaffiliated by Labour in 2004, after the union rejected an ultimatum to stop supporting the Scottish Socialist Party.
Former General Secretary Bob Crow publicly slammed Labour, which was then led by Tony Blair, for a failure to support members.
The deadlock continued until the 2012 Durham Miners’ Gala, when the then Deputy Chairman of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, seemed to offer the RMT an olive branch.
He said: “We need the RMT and the FBU back inside the Labour Party – a house divided cannot stand.”
But Mr Pinkney said three months after Bob Crow died the union voted to sever ties with Labour permanently – and today rules out any future affiliation.
“That is not going to happen,” he said.
“It was a unanimous decision to disaffiliate with Labour and our members would never want to go back.
“If Ed Miliband is [more supportive of unions] then he is doing a strange impression of it. He might say that he is to his paymasters at Unite and GMB, who make hefty donations, but our members will not affiliate to Labour or any other party ever again.
“The press calling him ‘Red Ed’ is a joke. A minimum of 75% of people want to see the railways renationalised. He has never once said he would take the railways back into public hands – not even East Coast.”
Labour has named Redcar in its top 100 seats to win in May and has high hopes for candidate Anna Turley.
Vera Baird lost the seat to Lib Dem Ian Swales in 2010 in what was the highest swing against Labour in the wake of the closure of the Teesside Steelworks.
A poll by Lord Ashcroft in September put Labour on 44%, Lib Dems on 18%, Ukip on 23%, the Tories on 12% and the Greens on just 2%.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The choice in front of Redcar people in May is between a Tory or a Labour government.
“For all those passionate about the green agenda only Labour has the record and plans to deliver a green government.
“A vote for the Green Party is a vote for David Cameron to carry on hitting the people of Teesside.”
> Well, don’t they have a sense of entitlement ? Only us or them can be in power – its our right. Two sides of the same coin.
The Saltburn-born rail union boss, who is calling for capitalism to be replaced, said he was inspired by the election of the left wing Syriza in Greece.
He said: “We need to look after our elderly, build social housing, repeal anti-trade union laws, scrap bedroom tax, renationalise railways and utilities (and any profit reinvested), but most of all we should give the young hope.
“We are definitely handing on worse conditions than we inherited. My generation should hang our heads in shame for letting this happen. Instead of complaining about young being on streets, and using drugs, we should be asking why.
“Redcar and Cleveland has seen a massive decline in my lifetime. We need proper investment, and not just paper over cracks. I believe the Greens are only large party (as surely they can now claim to be) that wants to put things right.
“I am a left wing socialist, but I am pragmatic. I have seen what Syriza have done, and we can learn from that.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 07 Feb 2015
The future of services for crime victims in the North East is in doubt.
Staff at the four local Victim Support offices in the area have been given notice of redundancy as funding, for the next financial year has not been confirmed.
The national organisation, which provides vital practical and emotional support for those affected by crime, was until this year funded by central Government.
However, when elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) were introduced two years ago it was decided funding decisions should be devolved to a local level, with individual PCCs taking decisions on how victim services are provided in their own force area.
And Northumbria’s Vera Baird has yet to put plans in place for when the central funding ceases at the end of March.
The PCC’s office says it is currently locked in a ‘tender and grant allocation process’ to determine the future of services..
But Victim Support staff on Tyneside have been left fearing for the future of their jobs, and the vital services they provide, until the decision is made.
An employee, who did not want to be identified, said:
“No one has made a decision about our future and we don’t know if we will still be here in two months.
“The organisation could lose a lot of very good experienced staff. This will be like victimising the victims.”
A spokeswoman at the office of the PCC said:
“Following a public consultation in 2012 on the future of victims and witnesses Services, the Government decided to devolve the design and delivery of victims services to locally elected PCCs.
“It is the first time the specific support needs of local communities have been assessed by PCCs.
“The tender and grant allocation process is continuing and at this stage it would not be appropriate to comment without prejudicing these ongoing processes and the range of charitable and voluntary organisations participating in these processes.”
Vera Baird made listening to victims and meeting their needs in her police and crime plan, after being elected.
Established in the 1970s, Victim Support is the world’s most established victim and witness support network.
It has four offices in the Northumbria Police area at Newcastle, North Tyneside, Sunderland and Gateshead.
Staff help victims of all types of crime, including assault and burglary, with things like counselling and claims for compensation.
“Victim Support is something people don’t think about until they need it,” said the worker.
“If we weren’t here there would be nowhere for victims of things like assault and burglary to go.
“We provide emotional support and help with claims for compensation. But sometimes people just come to us to get things off their chest.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 Jan 2015
Further funding cuts could cripple policing on Tyneside and take bobbies off the beat.
That is the claim of Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) who says the force has been squeezed to the limit.
Vera Baird has today revealed the highs and lows of her first two years in office after being voted in as our area’s first elected police boss.
And in the first of a two part interview the Labour commissioner tells how the cuts in central Government funding have left the force with nothing left to save.
Now as she moves into the second half of her first term in the post Mrs Baird says she’s proud of what she and the force have achieved so far, and she is determined to continues to do all she can to meet the public’s policing priorities.
But the PCC warned that any further budget cuts could threaten the commitment to maintaining the number of cops working on the frontline.
“The concern about money is huge. We have rung out every last penny from everything we can without taking cops off the frontline. In the neighbourhood has got to be where they stay. If there are any further cuts we will do out best not to touch the frontline. But where we go next is a mystery.”
At the start of this year Northumbria Police announced that it was being forced into a major re-structure after learning that a new wave of central government funding cuts mean the force will be required to save an additional £46m by March 2017.
This came on top of a previous rationalisation of the force following the coalition Government’s austerity measures.
In order to balance the books in January Chief Constable Sue Sim announced to closure and sale of 25 police buildings, including 12 police stations. Neighbourhood officers in the areas affected will instead work from cheaper buildings, such as leisure centres, which can be shared with other organisations.
Northumbria will also reduce its number of ‘area commands’ from six to three, and plans to slash 200 senior officer and 230 civilian staff posts from the payroll.
Mrs Baird says she is confident the plans put in place will enable the force to continue policing effectively. But she admits money is tight.
“The Chief Constable is a very good business woman as well as being a very good police officer,” she said. “It’s absolutely essential that cops stay out in the neighbourhood, It’s good for the community and they are a massive source of intelligence
“What they need is a place to clock in, a place to keep their weaponry secure and they need a base where they are available to the public.
“Crime has changed over the years. We now have cyber crime and there is an increase in reporting of things like rape. At the moment we are managing. We are coping but it is obviously a challenge. But we can’t allow crime to go on. Cutting costs has to be about doing stuff smarter.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 10 Nov 2014
Tory plans to pull out of the European Court of Human Rights have been dismissed as a backward step and “a sop to Ukip and right wingers” by North East politicians.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling believes the extraordinary move would restore “common sense” to the British legal system, allowing judges in this country to effectively ignore Strasbourg.
The extraordinary move would give the ECHR no move than an advisory role and hand politicians and judges final say on issues like prisoner voting and life sentences. Mr Grayling also said it would stop terrorists and foreign criminals relying on human rights laws to stay in the UK.
But Labour peer Jeremy Beecham accused the Justice Secretary of pandering to the right wing.
He said: “This is a sop to Ukip and Tory right wingers.
“It was a Conservative Government which led the way on the EHRC, but the present Tory Party has a shocking record on legal aid, access to justice and judicial review and this just another example of its attitude, ironically in what will be the 800th anniversary year of Magna Carta.”
Vera Baird, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “The Human Rights Act benefits ordinary people on a daily basis and can help victims of crime.
“Recently it allowed two young women, who were victims of the black cab rapist John Worboys, to sue the police for failing to investigate his appalling crimes properly.”
She added human rights law was widely misrepresented in parts of the media and called on Chris Grayling to re-think the plans.
She said: “For instance in 2006 it was reported that police gave fried chicken to a suspected car thief who had fled from police and was besieged on a roof ‘because of his human rights’.
“Surprise, surprise, there is no human right to KFC – it was used as part of the negotiating tactics that encouraged him to come down.
“Nor is there a bar to deporting a criminal because he has a British cat, as Theresa May once claimed.
“Whether a foreign criminal stays or goes is a balancing act, which is far better done in our courts than in Strasbourg.”
But Labour’s Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell believes the country should be given a choice on its relationship with Europe.
He said: “On the whole it’s good to have a Court of Human Rights as they have made some good decisions, but I haven’t agreed with them all.
“Although I haven’t agreed with all the decisions made by the judicial system, I still think we should let the people decide, not the politicians, and have a referendum.”
Chris Grayling made the announcement as the Conservative Party Conference drew to a close this week and as the campaign for next year’s General Election gets underway.
He said: “We will always stand against real human rights abuses, and political persecution. But these plans will make sure that we put Britain first and restore common sense to human rights in this country.”
> Translation – lets make Britain a feudal state where people like me who went to the right schools get to make the law that suits our best interests. Fuck anyone else.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 03 Oct 2014
Evidently a man who can see which way the wind is blowing, Redcar MP Ian Swales is to stand down at the next General Election.
The Liberal Democrat, who was elected in 2010, said the decision was due to “personal reasons”.
He stood for the Lib Dems in Redcar at the 2005 General Election and finished second.
But in 2010, it was a very different story, overturning a 12,000 Labour majority to take the seat from under-fire Vera Baird in one of the shock results of the night.
At the time, he said: “My whole intention in this is to be a strong local MP, based here, going off to London to work when I have to, and using my position to work hard for local people.”
But even a recent internal Lib Dem poll suggested his efforts would prove in vain at the 2015 General Election.
The survey suggested he might end up THIRD behind Labour’s Anna Turley and Ukip – even though 56% of the 500 people surveyed felt he was doing a good job in the role.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 12 July 2014
The English Defence League is to march through Newcastle’s West End, despite objections from police.
Northumbria Police’s Chief Constable Sue Sim fears tomorrow’s demonstration will cause distress to residents.
> Well, yes… that’s their whole intention, isn’t it ? That’s why they’re not marching through Gosforth or Jesmond.
However, the far-right group has refused to compromise with the force and change its route so tomorrow’s march will go ahead.
Chief Cons Sim said: “Northumbria Police has been speaking to organisers from the English Defence League for a number of weeks following their announcement that they want to hold a march in Newcastle on Saturday, May 17.
“The EDL expressed an intention to march in the West End of the city through a highly populated, residential area. We have made our position clear that we do not support this as the impact on the local community is too great. It poses a risk to public safety, will cause people fear in their own homes and create significant disruption as people try to go about their daily lives.
“Northumbria Police has always tried to facilitate peaceful protest and has worked with the EDL in the past to agree suitable routes for them to march and protest. We also regularly work with other groups with a range of opposing views to agree routes for marches and protest locations.
“Regrettably, this time EDL organisers have not been prepared to compromise on an alternative route, although we would remind them we are still prepared to discuss alternatives.
“Those planning to attend should be aware there has been no agreement with police with regards to meeting points or route locations.”
Protest group Newcastle Unites has also spoken to police about marching through the West End tomorrow.
And after discussions the route of this demonstration was altered.
Mrs Sim has vowed that officers will be out on the streets to ensure all protests pass peacefully and that residents’ safety will be a priority.
She added: “We have an excellent history of harmonious relations between all our communities and the public should rest assured that their safety remains our priority. We will not allow anything to disrupt their way of life or any marches to take place in residential areas.
“Our neighbourhood officers, known to local communities, together with other officers will be out and about in the run up to and throughout Saturday to reassure local people and answer any questions they may have.
“We have also been working with representatives of the local community and partners in the run up to the weekend.
“We do expect Saturday to be extremely busy in Newcastle but it will be ‘business as usual’. There are a number of events going on in the city centre and surrounding areas but there is no need for anyone to change their plans or avoid the city.”
Northumbria Police’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird is now appealing to the EDL to get in touch.
She said: “The Chief Constable has made an operational decision that no march or demonstration should be allowed in the west end of Newcastle on March 17, and, although I do not make operational decisions, as the Police and Crime Commissioner I agree and support her wholeheartedly.
“Few people would wish to have their communities disrupted in that way, including probably those who want to protest.
“In previous demonstrations, protests and marches by the English Defence League (EDL), they have accepted the request to discuss the route and the details with Northumbria Police, who have a good history of protecting the right to protest whilst ensuring that people who are not involved are not seriously inconvenienced.
“It is disappointing that the EDL have refused to give details of their plans to the police.
“I would appeal to them to make contact now and agree reasonable arrangements as usual.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 16 May 2014
Police in Newcastle are set to introduce identity scans at city clubs and late-night bars as they target criminal gangs.
Commissioner Vera Baird said she wants to see a “club scan” system introduced, in which anyone stepping in to a nightclub has to provide a copy of their passport or driving licence, with police able to trawl through the list if any crime is reported.
Mrs Baird says the club scan system is vital if the city wants to tackle the groups of professional criminals who travel to Newcastle to target clubbers.
It is thought crime gangs regularly head to city clubs with the aim of stealing bags and mobile phones, often getting them out of the region within hours.
The police commissioner has not picked a start date yet, and admits that as it stands she does not have the cash to launch a big roll-out.
Mrs Baird is instead hoping to launch a smaller trial scheme as part of her ongoing crackdown on the city’s troublesome nightlife.
She told her police and crime panel: “It is the view of Northumbria Police that this type of system provides significant opportunities in crime and disorder reduction and it will act as a deterrent to gangs that currently travel the country, including Newcastle, to steal personal items in licensed premises.”
“Newcastle has a vibrant night-time economy with thousands of people visiting every weekend and our aim is for people to be able to have fun, but do it safely.
“In November 2013 Newcastle City Council became the first local authority in the country to introduce the Late Night Levy.
“Since then I have worked with officers from Northumbria Police and liaised with Newcastle City Council officers to identify ways to use receipts from the levy to further improve safety within the city centre.
“One of the ideas we are considering is a system of electronic door entry and we are working with businesses in the city centre to decide which premises will benefit most from this type of equipment.
“The electronic door entry scanners enable premises to check identification such as driving licences, passports and proof of age cards of people wishing to enter the club. “
“This is a useful tool to prevent under-age drinking and discourage anyone from coming into the club to commit crimes.”
> While at the same time encouraging them to move to places not covered by this idea. It doesn’t solve problems, merely moves them around. Although I’m sure the electronic door entry scanner industry will be very happy.
Damian Conway, of Newcastle Pubwatch, said the news would likely be welcomed by clubbers and pub bosses.
He said: “We did something similar a little while ago with fingerprints in Blu Bambu, and across the country venues still use fingerprint technology.
> Any bar that wanted me to be fingerprinted before I could enter would be a bar I’d refuse to enter anyway.
“It was very successful then. But it is targeted towards a minority of professionals who try to steal from people while they are trying to enjoy a good night out.
“What you have to remember about Newcastle is that it is a very, very safe city centre. There are on average 17 crimes a day here, day and night, from bike thefts to the small number of violent crimes, so it is clearly not an unsafe city.
“We could give it a go and get rid of that tiny minority who cause the problems. In many premises it actually speeded up entry, and I think in that respect it will be an excellent idea.”
The club scan is just the latest move from a commissioner who has made tackling the city’s drink-fuelled crime a priority.
Already Mrs Baird has forced through changes to how bouncers are trained to deal with vulnerable young women, following an horrific double-rape in Newcastle.
Alongside that, she has told cheap hotels they must be more aware of who men are bringing back into their rooms late at night.
> I’m sure they’re already very aware. They just pretend they aren’t.
The new nighttime levy was also pushed through with a promise to use the funds on making the city safer at night.
Source – Newcastle Evening chronicle 28 April 2014
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