Peace activists have called for the closure of a spy base on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales after leaked top secret files appeared to show its staff were involved in a US drone strike in a non-war zone.
The documents, leaked by US National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, suggest British staff at RAF Menwith Hill, near Harrogate, worked closely the NSA in a project codenamed Widowmaker.
A memo to Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) staff reveals how US officials ordered a drone strike in Yemen in 2012, to kill a doctor they believed was working with the terror network to surgically implant explosives in suicide bombers.
GCHQ documents handed to The Guardian newspaper reveal workers at the spy base near Harrogate, helped to “discover communications intelligence gaps in support of the global war on terror”.
The papers suggest British GCHQ personnel, who work at all levels within both the operational and administrative areas of the North Yorkshire base, were involved in the locating of surveillance targets in Yemen.
The Government has been accused of cruelty and running a ‘postcode lottery for benefits‘ after it emerged a rural district had by far the highest proportion nationally of Jobseekers Allowance claimants being sanctioned.
A report by homelessness charity Crisis said 15.4 per cent of jobseekers in Richmondshire, North Yorkshire, had been sanctioned, making claimants there three times more likely to have their benefits stopped than in its southern Yorkshire Dales neighbour Craven.
It found just 6.2 per cent of claimants in Richmondshire’s northern neighbour Durham had been sanctioned, while 10.9 per cent of claimants in Hambleton had had their benefits stopped, giving that area the tenth highest rate of sanctions in the country.
Crisis said evidence was mounting of “a punitive and deeply flawed regime”.
In 2012, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) introduced sanctions of between one week and three years if a claimant fails to comply with jobseeking requirements, such as attending interviews or undertaking work-related activity.
Senior pastor Ben Dowding, of the Store House foodbank, in Richmond, said he was surprised the area had topped the national sanctions table and that staff at the town’s Jobcentre – the only Jobcentre in the district – had often demonstrated compassion rather than being strict on claimants.
> Although presumably not so compassionate that they don’t keep sending his foodbank customers.
“Statistics only tell one side of the story, but having worked with the Jobcentre staff, they have always proved to be very caring individuals.”
Councillor John Blackie, leader of Richmondshire District Council, said he believed the area’s high sanction rate reflected jobseekers’ problems reaching the Jobcentre or work, adding that it took claimants in Hawes five hours of travelling and waiting to sign on in Richmond and return home.
A DWP spokesman said Jobcentre staff took claimants’ personal circumstances into account and said there could be a number of factors that had led to Richmondshire having the highest proportion of sanctions.
He said: “Sanctions are only used as a last resort for the tiny minority who refuse to take up the support which is on offer.”
> As ever, the only people not asked for their opinion appear to be the unemployed, especially those who have been sanctioned. However, the original story received this comment:
When claimants apply for jobs it goes on a jobsite how many . My daughter applied for 17 one day but only 2 registered she took a picture of the jobs she had applied.
The next signing on Richmond said you only applied for 2 jobs – she said no look at this picture proving I applied for 17. So the system was not working correct but guess what sanctioned.
The staff at Richmond must be on good bonuses.
Source – Northern Echo, 11 Mar 2015
Plans to revive rural communities by spending £5m on building new council houses have been criticised as having a high risk factor.
A lack of affordable homes has been identified as a contributing factor to young people moving away from Yorkshire Dales communities – and has prompted a campaign by leader of Richmondshire District Council, John Blackie, to provide cheap new homes and jobs.
Schools across Richmondshire have reported a fall in school roll figures, so house building has been proposed as a means of persuading families to stay in the Dales.
Cllr Blackie has organised a conference for key partners including the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, housing associations, local enterprise partnerships, and health and education representatives, to take place at Tennants, Leyburn, on Wednesday, November 19 from 9am.
But Cllr Fleur Butler, leader of the Conservative opposition group on the council, said the £5m proposal was a huge risk to council tenants, whose rent feeds the fund.
She told the full council meeting that she was concerned the council would be taking on more debt when cuts still had to be made and she felt more work should be done to work with existing landlord partners.
“To spend £5m from the housing revenue account will put enormous risk on to our tenants whose rents must rise should the council’s proposed own social landlord company fail to repay its debts,” she said.
“Why isn’t Cllr Blackie instead working better with our registered social landlords? What evidence does he have for partnership failure, and why on earth should we go down the route of being our own landlord, when we already work with several?”
Cllr Blackie said the greater risk was to lose young families in our rural and deeply rural communities – and that he did intend to continue to work with social landlords.
“We are intending to take the decision to authorise Richmondshire District Council to return to the role it occupied for many years as a provider, by purchasing in the housing market, or builder of council houses.
“The Government has relaxed its stand on councils across the country legally doing this, and we have funds available to finance the programme.”
Cllr Blackie confirmed the funds would flow from a £5m borrowing facility within the housing revenue account.
“This is a really important issue and on November 18 the council’s corporate board will debate the proposal,” he said.
Cllr Butler said she was not completely against the idea of the council building its own stock, but first wanted to examine why so many people were leaving the Dales.
Source – Northern Echo, 23 Oct 2014
Its Wikipedia entry is remarkably short on details, describing Ingleton in Co Durham merely as a village eight miles from Darlington.
But that can offer little succour to local MP Helen Goodman who angered constituents this weekend when she opened their village fair and classic vehicle show mistaking it for its better known namesake 70 miles away across the border in North Yorkshire.
Whilst the shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport eulogised Ingleton’s extraordinary natural beauty of waterfalls and caves as well as its connection to Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, her astonished audience rapidly realised she had made the all-too-common error of confusing the two villages.
Whereas Ingleton in the Yorkshire Dales is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts with its limestone geology and celebrated White Scar caves, Ingleton in Co Durham, home to a Methodist chapel and school, is little known beyond the population of 400.
Ms Goodman, who has represented the seat of Bishop Auckland for Labour since 2005, apologised for the blunder. “I am sorry that I made the mistake. It was an honest accident on my behalf and some people pointed it out to me on the day,” she said.
Organisers of Ingleton Village Fair and Classic Vehicle Show said it was unlikely she would be invited back. Tony Todd, who attended the event, told The Northern Echo: “I looked at my family and I thought what is she babbling on about? She dug a big hole for herself. If it had been 1 April I would have thought it was a set up. I think she is a disgrace and she has made a lasting impression on me. I would not vote for her.”