Thursday, 23 October 2014

Royal wish ought not to be granted, say Republicans

With all three major parties committed to public sector cuts the pressure group that campaigns for the monarchy’s abolition wants greater scrutiny of its cost to the British taxpayer.
Republic accuses the royal household of deliberately underestimating its costs but supporters of the royal family argue it represents good value.
Buckingham Palace’s 2013 accounts reveal that the royal household’s sovereign grant was £35.7 million, a £2 million rise on the previous figure.
“What a bargain! How the Royal Family costs you just 56p a year,” declared the Daily Express.
But Graham Smith, Republic’s chief executive, claimed: “That is a fraction of the real amount, as
once hidden costs are included the real figure is just £600,000 shy of £300 million.”
According to the organisation the massive difference in figures is because security costs, the provision of grace and favour apartments to members of the royal family, royal visit costs
to council taxpayers and lost profits from the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall are not included. Republic estimates these at £102 million,£30 million, £21.5 million and £90 million respectively.
However, Ian Roberts, vice-chairman of the British Monarchist League, accused Republic of “cooking the books in order to gain some publicity for its campaign, one that has consistently failed to garner public support from the British public as a whole”.
‘Reasonable costs’
He said: “The sovereign grant has abolished annuities to all but Prince Philip (pictured), and the Duchy of Cornwall largely funds the Prince of Wales. Spending has been cut heavily with minor royals having to rely on their own employment. The Crown Estate also earned the Treasury £211 million in 2007-08. ”
This is disputed by Republic as the Crown Estate is not the private property of the monarch.

Smith said total costs of £7 million would be more appropriate – “closer to what it costs, for example, Spain for their monarchy” – and allow the recruitment of either 14,000 newly qualified teachers or nurses.

Residents compile own report on wood dust emissions

Taken from the current edition of the Big Issue in the North magazine, please buy a copy when you see a seller. 
In a bid for tougher regulations, residents who fear wood dust emissions are harming their health have released a report condemning waste wood and recycling plants sited near them.
It has been published after residents in a number of communities hosting wood plants complained of respiratory problems.
Wood dust is classed as a carcinogen and regulations permit a lower concentration of it in the air than other damaging particles. But the Environment Agency classifies wood plants as no more than a “nuisance” to residents, not a health risk.
Campaigners fear residents have lower standards of protection from the health threats of wood dust than employees.
The report, No Proof of No Harm: a Citizen Science Investigation (CSI) assesses five affected communities: Avonmouth Docks, Mossley and Horwich in Greater Manchester, Shoreham, Frodsham in Cheshire and Kirkby in Merseyside.
It investigates the impact of the wood dust on the communities, analyses Environment Agency (EA) studies and reveals the results of independent dust exposure tests.
The report criticises an EA study in Mossley in winter 2011-12 for failing to test for a range of hazardous substances including arsenic and lead, being undertaken in cold and wet months, and for locating equipment that cannot effectively monitor smaller particles away from the prevailing wind. There are similar criticisms of studies, including those by local authorities, at other locations.
Inspired by American environmentalist Erin Brockovich’s successful fight against energy corporation PG&E over water contamination, CSI claims there is a “lack of adequate enforcement by industry regulations to mitigate waste wood emissions in communities... where fine dust particles hazardous to health can stay suspended for a considerable time, particularly overnight”.
The report wants health authorities to provide peer-reviewed evidence for their claims that health issues reported by communities are not connected to wood emissions.
It concludes that regulations for waste wood processing are “out of date, arbitrary and without medical rationale”, adding: “Without full chemical analysis and quantification of emissions there is No Proof of No Harm.” The groups involved are seeking a public inquiry,  funding for more research, and for the government to amend legislation classifying wood dust only as a nuisance to residents.
Hilda Palmer from the Manchester Hazards Centre, which supported the report along with scientists, said: “CSI shows the authorities where they are going wrong and should spur them on to carry out a proper scientific investigation, which learns from the research they have done, not the unscientific blind-eye approaches they are currently conducting.
“Sadly, we don’t have safe environmental standards. Legal limits can still make people ill. If people – workers or communities – are reporting ill health, then the authorities should discover why. And if it is related to a local source then sort it out. Why is dust containing carcinogens and allergens escaping from a workplace and contaminating people’s homes and the environment?”
An EA spokesperson said: “There are standards set by the government to ensure the quality of air we breathe is acceptable. We use our regulatory powers to ensure the dust from installations we regulate does not cause these standards to be breached.”

Jill Meara, deputy director of government body Public Health England’s centre for chemicals, said: “The main health problems associated with wood dust are linked to long- term occupational exposure in workplaces resulting in skin disorders, nasal obstruction, asthma and a rare type of nasal cancer.”

Four-hour stand off by bedroom tax protester ends in jail

Supporters say bedroom tax protester should not have been imprisoned.
Taken from current edition of the Big Issue in the North magazine, please buy a copy when youy see a seller. 
An Accrington man’s attempt to avoid being evicted after he fell into arrears following the introduction of the bedroom tax has seen him jailed for ten months.
Michael Hilton, 52, has a history of mental health problems. He is a father of four who had lived in his home in Church, near Accrington, for 33 years. Estranged from his wife, he was the sole tenant, shared the three-bedroom property with his eldest son and regularly had his other children stay over in the unoccupied bedroom.
Michael Hilton's family and supporters in protest. 
Under the bedroom tax introduced in April last year, housing benefit is reduced if the local council decides someone has “spare” bedrooms. Tenants are expected to pay any outstanding rent themselves. Unable to do so, Hilton was £900 in arrears when bailiffs arrived on 4 June this year to evict him and found he had barricaded himself inside using gas cannisters and petrol.
Two fire engines were called to the scene along with police teams that included specialist officers. After a four-hour standoff, during which time Hilton claimed to have doused himself in petrol, fire crews used a detector to determine that noxious gas levels were not explosive and police entered using full flame protective equipment and head gear. There was a strong smell of accelerant and a risk of ignition.
Hilton, who has 17 previous offences, including one spell in prison, was remanded in custody and when he appeared in Burnley Crown Court on 9 October he pleaded guilty to damaging property and criminal damage. Since his arrest four months previously, Hilton’s case had been well publicised by anti-bedroom tax campaigners and a number of them protested outside the court.
Phil Holden, defending, urged Judge Jonathan Gibson to set aside a probation service report arguing
for an adjournment while some form of mental health assessment was undertaken. “My client is keen to know his fate,” said Holden.
“His actions were born out of utter frustration over his dealings with the authorities... he got into arrears because of a change in the law that required him to pay a tax because there were too many bedrooms in his house.
“He was unable to pay it and so the process started. He accepts that it was an utterly inappropriate way of dealing with this problem. He did not intend injuring anyone and did not do so. ”
Holden said Hilton had lost his home, his liberty and all his belongings.
The judge said Hilton’s actions were similar to a “bomb hoax” and had caused substantial public expense in tying up services that could have been deployed elsewhere. Sentencing Hilton to ten months in prison, Gibson told him: “I’m not sentencing you for any form of protest but only for the criminal offences you committed.”
Having already served four months in prison the sentence means Hilton will be free very shortly.
“I am glad,” said his son Johnny. “But it won’t be easy for Dad as, like myself, he has nowhere permanently to live and yet his house of 30 years remains unoccupied. He is in poor shape and being locked up has made him very depressed and his mental health problems have intensified.
He has lost weight. Sending him to prison was inappropriate.”
Len Taylor of Bolton Against The Bedroom Tax said: “Imprisonment was unnecessary, because the expense far exceeds the amount of money that Michael Hilton owed. It is ridiculous that bankers who put the country in huge debt are now getting bonuses whilst Mr Hilton, who does not appear to have been properly advised about discretionary housing payments, has lost everything because of an unjust tax that needs scrapping, with all debts accrued written off.”
The Labour Party is committed to abolishing the bedroom tax if it forms the next government. Labour’s Graham Jones – Hilton’s MP – said: “It may be that Michael needs support from many agencies.

“I am glad Labour is committed to abolishing the bedroom tax. There is clearly a big issue with tenants in arrears and perpetuating that debt seems unreasonable as it continues the problem Labour opposes. There is also the issue of those that have paid the bedroom tax. All these need to be resolved for the best.”

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

A guide to benefit and tax credit rates from April 2014

Taken from Durham County Council booklet.




Review of Manchester United 1907-11: the first halcyon days

Taken from Rollin Reds, the magazine of MUDSA.

United fans of all ages love the tales of yesteryear and many were around to witness moments like Wembley 1968, The Treble and Moscow, and players like Best and Cantona in their prime.

When pressed on many of United’s historic moments, though, many will say ‘it was before my time’. And in the case of this book, unless you’re 115 years old it was before everybody’s time!

Manchester United — The First Hacyon Years is a real trip in the Tardis.

The author, Mark Metcalf, takes you back to the years before the First World War and brings the period alive with incredible detail and accuracy.

The book is full of big surprises and equally fascinating little facts that you’ll never know unless you read it. Who knew that United played in the first ever Charity Shield match? Not me for sure and I thought I was a fully paid-up, in-the-know Red!
Only 6,000 people paid to see the match but it was the beginning of a tradition that continues to this day.

I’d never heard of Ernest Mangnall either. Yet as manger, he led United to two league titles, two charity shields and an FA Cup. The club’s first ever league title in the 1907/8 season. 

One must-win game in that campaign stands out when United beat Sunderland 3-0 at home, in spite of Sunderland having the Peter Schmeichel of his day, Leigh Roose between the sticks. Roose was famous for saving penalties and noted for taking advantage of the rules in 07/08 that allowed a keeper to handle the ball anywhere in his own half! A rule that was changed in 1912.

The book, available on Amazon, is full of this kind of well researched detail and with Christmas around the corner,I recommend it as a very entertaining read and a great gift for any true United fan who has an interest in the club’s history — or even just history in general.


Some will remember the book’s author from the work he did for MUDSA in writing the recent publication to celebrate 10 years for the Ability Suite (above). Mark is a football historian and author of many football books.

NHS workers fightback

There was a lively atmosphere on NHS picket lines on Tyneside yesterday morning as health unions stopped work for four hours in a dispute over pay.
 
NHS workers wages have fallen 15 per cent in real terms since the coalition assumed power in 2010. Yet even with the economy recovering the 1% across the board income rise agreed with the independent NHS pay review board was cancelled by the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, in March. To add insult to injury the government has announced the same no pay increase approach for 2015/16. 
 
It was the latest kick in the teeth for NHS staff that are struggling to keep afloat what was once the nation’s flagship service against a coalition programme of enormous cuts and privatisation in which essential services are handed to private health contractors. In 2012 the Tories health and social care act removed their duty to provide comprehensive healthcare to citizens and a future Tory government will certainly see the NHS lost forever. 
 
The battle lines are thus clear especially as, unlike bankers bonuses and tax cuts to the rich, a pay rise to NHS employees will boost the economy through the additional spending generated.
 
Picket lines quickly formed on Tyneside just after 7am as staff left work and were joined by colleagues yet to begin their shifts. People were in a good mood, proud of standing up for themselves and a service that many have dedicated their lives to. UNITE NHS members have previously taken strike action alongside their colleagues in the GMB and UNISON over different issues but today was the first time in its 133 years history that the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has taken industrial action. A good many RCM members were in fine voice on the picket line at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Newcastle. 
 
“It’s a clear sign of just how bad things have got in the NHS when the RCM are on strike,” said David Rawlings, the equality and diversity officer for Newcastle Hospitals UNITE branch, “I’ve worked for the NHS at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle since 1979 but under the current government morale has plummeted. We can’t just sit back and allow this vital institution to be destroyed, paying a decent wage is not only fair but aids recruitment and retention of dedicated staff whose joint efforts save people’s lives.” 
 
Pickets were particularly out in force at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead. A Royal Mail delivery van refused to cross. Numerous passing vehicles sounded their horns and in return were drowned out by the strikers’ cheers. 
 
Patients praised NHS workers.  “They save people’s lives and deserve to be properly rewarded for doing so,” said Sheila Ross following her breast cancer test. 
 
“I am delighted our efforts in encouraging people to fight back has paid off with good numbers taking action alongside colleagues in other unions, with whom unity is vital. This government is intent on destroying NHS workers pay and the services we provide. As trade unionists we don’t intend allowing that to happen and you can see that the public backs us on this,” said Arlo Lapworth, the branch secretary for UNITE’s Gateshead Hospitals branch. 

"We have 600,000 workers in the NHS who have been denied an urgently needed pay rise. Many of these are low paid. I am convinced that Hunt's decision not to pay what was agreed by the pay review body is part of a general attack, The government wants to demoralise workers so as to prevent any resistance to their plans to privatise the NHS," said Lorraine 
Taylor from UNISON.