Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Should royalty be laid to rest?

This article is taken from the Big Issue in the North magazine dated April 25th. Please try and buy the magazine as it's one of the best around. 

Britain’s only had one brief period of Republicanism in the last thousand years. However as monarchy supporters get ready to celebrate the Royal Wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton on April 29th that doesn’t mean there’s no one prepared to argue its case.

When Britain’s future King emerges newly wed from Westminster Abbey he’ll just be able to see the statue of a man who chopped off the head of one of his predecessors.  That was back in January 1649 when King Charles I was executed during a Civil War fought to decide whether parliament or royalty ruled.

“Off with their heads” has been reported as the chant of students as they abused the future Charles III and his wife during demonstrations in London in December against the raising of tuition fees. Oliver Cromwell’s appearance outside the Houses of Parliament stands as a reminder of a revolutionary time in the nation’s history.

If it hadn’t been for Cromwell’s subsequent suppression of the demands of the Levellers, a loose alliance of radicals and freethinkers, to abolish the House of Lords, introduce annual elections and redistribute land, that revolutionary movement may well have sent the country down a more democratic path.

Formed in 1983 Republic can count amongst its 12,000 supporters the author Sue Townsend, Caroline Lucas MP, comedian Jo Brand and film-maker Ken Loach. The organisation wants to end any constitutional royal family role, replacing them with an elected Head of State similar to the Irish Presidential system. Axing the monarch, accompanied by the introduction of a written constitution, would be done with the consent of the British people through a referendum.

Tower of London 
Republic’s spokesperson Graham Smith accepts most people wouldn’t currently vote to bring to an end an institution that’s evolved over hundreds of years. He claims that as many as twelve million adults in the UK are in favour of a republic but have their “regularly ignored” by the media. He particularly accuses the BBC of being “institutionally biased in favour of the Royal Family.” Armed with a specially commissioned ICM opinion poll showing 80% of the nation appears indifferent to events on April 29th he believes the wedding coverage should be “toned down to reflect reality.”

James Edgecombe, Chairman of the British Monarchist League established last year in defence of Queen and Country, doesn’t agree saying: “Whilst there’s not as many street parties as on previous Royal occasions I feel that’s more to do with bureaucracy and the time of year. But you can bet that thousands will go to London to see the special event. Meanwhile millions, who wouldn’t watch the wedding of a president’s grandson, will witness it on the television.”

Even if true should that be a cause for celebration? Aren’t the outdated values of elitism, that many feel the monarchy embodies, holding Britain back? Not according to Edgecombe, from Doncaster: “In a world of constant change it’s comforting that there is the monarchy to provide a sense of stability and continuation. Also the Royal Family, through many of their charities, seek to help the least well off. They also often serve as important role models for people.”

Considering Prince Charles is known to have spent the night before his 1981 wedding to Lady Diana Spencer with a “blonde woman”, who was almost certainly Camilla Parker Bowles, his current wife, is that really the case? And what of Prince Andrew’s well publicised relationship with businessman Jeffrey Epstein, who recently spent over a year in jail for soliciting prostitution from underage girls?

Edgecombe dismisses these points on grounds the Royal Family are “only human.” He defends Prince Andrew’s choice of a paedophile friend on grounds that this is not "as serious as the fact that the Prime Minister of Italy is facing trial for allegedly paying an underage girl for sex."

Critics of the Duke of York are not so willing to forgive, especially as he’s currently representing the country as a UK special representative for trade and investment. Yet when Chris Bryant MP called on Prime Minister David Cameron to dispense with his services this was rejected on grounds he was “doing a good job.” Which wasn’t the case with Bryant said Speaker John Bercow as he reprimanded the former Foreign Office minister for even raising the subject in the House of Commons on grounds that any references to the royal family must be “rare and very respectful.”

That would certainly mean former Fife Labour MP Willie Hamilton would be thrown out of the debating chamber if he were around to repeat his frequent 70s and 80s attacks on the royal family. These included calling the Queen “a clockwork doll” and Prince Charles “a twerp”, all as part of his support for a republic and the ending of the Civil List under which the monarch has their expenses for performing official duties paid by the taxpayer. This is currently £7.9 million annually, around a fifth of the total estimated £38.2 million costs when transport, security, property maintenance and other sundry expenses are included.

For John Masding of the Royal Society of St George, an organisation claiming to be ‘England’s Premier Patriotic Society’, it’s money well spent. Getting rid of the Royals “would destroy a huge part of our heritage that brings in many tourists from around the world, helping generate a huge income for the country. “ 

It’s a familiar argument and one that Smith disputes. Firstly by estimating an annual cost for the monarchy of £183 million, and then saying there is “no evidence to suggest tourism revenue is reliant on Britain’s undemocratic constitution, which includes not knowing how much tax the Queen pays as it is secret and entirely voluntary.”

What’s also not known is how much she’s worth. In the Sunday Times’ first Rich List in 1989 she was valued at £5.2 billion. It was a figure that rose to £7 billion in 1992 but which over the years has been continuously downgraded to the current figure of £290 million. Even at the lower level it’s a large sum for Prince Charles to inherit on his mother’s death.

Nevertheless Smith is more than happy for him to it and also retain the Balmoral and Sandringham estates with their combined 90,000 acreage. 

He’s also happy to wish Prince William and Kate Middleton “all the best for their big day.” He’s aghast however by the Queen’s invitation to the King of Bahrain, especially only weeks after he ordered his troops to open fire on pro-democracy demonstrators. He wants the invitation withdrawn and doesn’t want taxpayers, especially during these straightened economic times, paying the bill for the wedding.

Neither does he want the pair subsequently playing any role in the nations affairs “by privilege of birth.” He’s asked them to concede their rights to become king and queen in order to pave the way for the formation of a Republic.

But does it matter if, as Republic accepts, the monarch is little more than a figurehead for the nation? Smith believes it does and that abolition would mean “there can be elections for a president who can act as our constitutional protector and arbitrator of our political system.

Prime Minister’s have vast powers of patronage and the power to declare war. None of which is subject to any proper scrutiny. Not so under a republic. Getting rid of the monarchy will start a radical reform of our political system to make it truly democratic.” 

Blackburn Rovers 0 Manchester City 1

Blackburn Rovers 0

Manchester City 1

A late and first Premier League goal for Manchester City’s record signing Edin Dzeko puts the FA Cup Finalists in pole position to grab the final Champions League place next season from fifth placed Tottenham Hotspur.

It was a deserved victory for Roberto Mancini’s side but the result leaves Blackburn Rovers staring at the relegation trapdoor and with no victories in eleven games and with matches at West Ham and Wolves to come then victory at home to Bolton Wanderers on Saturday is absolutely crucial. Lose that and it’s difficult to see Steve Kean’s side surviving.

City might have taken the lead after three minutes but with Paul Robinson beaten David Silva’s 20 yard drive came back into play off the inside of the post. With Adam Johnson looking lively fullback Gael Givet experienced a difficult first half hour as the home side struggled to stay in the match and there was relief when Michel Salgado cleared Gareth Barry’s header off the line.

However with David Dunn playing some neat passes Blackburn were able after the half hour mark to seek some relief and Chris Samba might have done better with a headed opportunity. He certainly should have with his second headed chance on 40 minutes but with Joe Hart beaten the big central defender missed by a whisker. It meant the sides ran off with neither having troubled the scorer.

Yaya Toure saw his header palmed away by Robinson as City surged forward on the restart. Yet with Phil Jones playing marvellously at the centre of the home defence Rovers were by no means overawed, although Silva might have done better with his shot on the hour mark.

On 71 minutes Dzeko replaced Johnson and three minutes later he delivered the killer touch. It came after a desperate attempt by Jones to clear Silva’s cross landed at the £27 million man’s feet and with Givet advancing he curled the ball into the net past the despairing dive of Robinson. Cue ecstatic celebrations amongst the 4,500 travelling fans whose constant chants throughout the game of ‘Who put the ball in the Munichs' net?’ is unlikely to be welcomed warmly by the Football Association at next months Cup Final.

Only once did Rovers seriously look like they might grab a draw, Jones heading over with just four minutes remaining. It’s strongly rumoured that when Indian company Venky took over Blackburn in December they didn’t realise that English Football extended beyond the Premiership and that a club doing badly could be relegated. Certainly it’s almost beyond belief that they would have replaced experienced manager Sam Allardyce with Kean if they knew anything about football, and Championship football beckons.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Out of the frying pan and into the fire - what comes next after government scraps labour's fiasco?

The coalition government’s eminently wise decision to scrap Labour’s wasteful FiReControl project shouldn’t mean it can just wash its hands of what comes next.

FiReControl was formally launched in 2004. The project was designed to replace 46 regional control centre’s across the country with nine state of the art buildings incorporating an IT system to handle emergency calls across England.

From the start the Fire Brigades Union [FBU] said the £1.4 billion project was an unnecessary waste of resources with a union spokesperson saying in 2009 “they can’t make the technology work because what they’ve established are call centres. “Command and Control’ underpins all fire service health and safety procedures but the new centres will only be able to provide very limited support to commanders at an incident - for example they wouldn’t get a service on major emergency procedures, which is vital when fire fighters are trapped.”

By the time Labour had left office in May 2010 it was clear the FBU had been right all along. In the north of the country the two regional centres, at Warrington and Wakefield, which both should have opened 18 months previously remained closed. Hoped for savings of £1.8 million per annum at Wakefield had been revised the previous summer after additional costs of £2.1 million a year were added to the running costs.

In late 2009 over a hundred MPs, of all political colour’s, had signed an Early Day Motion calling for FiReControl to be finally scraped with the then opposition Tories committing themselves to do so if elected.

It was a promise the FBU was keen to see kept although according to Sharon Riley, FBU executive member, the union faced some resistance on grounds that “contracts have already been signed and some Fire Authorities believed the proposed changes have already gone too far. “

Nevertheless just before Christmas Bob Neill, Minister for the Fire Services,
finally brought the expensive fiasco to a halt after announcing he had reached “an acceptable [financial] settlement with Cassidian [the main contractor] after concluding that the requirements of the project requiring the main IT system to be completed in three control centres by mid-2011 cannot be delivered to an acceptable timeframe.”

Great news therefore and one certainly welcomed by the FBU. Problem was what was to come next? And on this the Government appears to have washed its hands.
Suffolk County Council had already agreed a deal to sell off their Ipswich control room site in anticipation of FiReControl coming good. Now with money tight, and no transitional assistance being offered by the government, they’re intending to transfer all 999 emergency fire and rescue calls in the county to be handled at the emergency fire control room at Hinchingbrooke in Cambridgeshire. As Ipswich works perfectly adequately it’s clear that the move is motivated by money. 
Meanwhile on the Isle of Wight councillors are being recommended to back plans to transfer the answering of emergency calls to Surrey Fire and Rescue Service’s control room in Reigate that is sited more 70 miles from the island. Councillors have just the Easter period to consider their options before taking a decision, giving no time at all to discuss this with their constituents even though the move will see those answering the calls in the future lacking the local knowledge that can be vital in saving peoples lives and property.

In December when FiReControl was scrapped the FBU said it was: “important we now see a measured response by the Government and Fire and Rescue Services ensuring we see investment in a structure known to work, with solutions delivered that continue to ensure all fire services have suitable and effective mobilising systems.” No one in the Government appears to be listening. 

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Schools budget crisis hits teachers jobs

Thousands of teaching and support staff posts will disappear across the north over the summer as school budgets come under pressure from falling pupil numbers, increased costs and the loss of specialist education projects.

Head teachers are working frantically to cut costs. On their return in September pupils will experience larger class sizes and fewer subject options and out-of- hours school activities. The job losses will undermine the government’s claim that cuts will not affect front line services.

Many of the losses will come at schools where pupil numbers are falling, including Laurence Jackson School in Guisborough, North Yorkshire where head teacher Tony Gavin is budgeting for 60 fewer pupils, meaning a cut of nearly £250,000 in its budget as schools get £4,300 a year for each pupil.

However as National Union of Teachers official Andy Willis said he has dealt with “two major redundancy situations” in Peterborough - where pupil numbers are growing.

 A range of funding streams for schools are being cut, including Harnessing
 Technology that funded some ICT equipment, the Aim Higher programme
 to help people from poorer backgrounds into University and the Extended
 Schools programme which funds homework clubs, arts and crafts activities and
 community access to schools.

Last week it was reported that education secretary Michael Gove had made a £155 million cut in the 2010-11 standards fund, withholding the last of the year’s payments for everything from free school meals to extra tuition for children who need help with literacy or numeracy. 

Laurence Jackson School has also been hit by the 87.5% cut in schools Sports Partnership budgets, as it is a specialist sports school. The result is that it will lose five full-time teaching posts and at least the same number of teaching assistants as Gavin seeks to make savings of £500,000 and secure a future for his 1,300 pupil school.
Those still at LJS in the autumn will be working with more pupils in each class. 
Years 7 and 8 currently operate with ten tutor groups with 25 in each. That will be going down to nine with numbers in each increasing to 28. Any specialist subjects that fail to recruit at least twelve students will be going.

Gavin said this will leave more experienced teachers with less time to counsel students excluded from lessons. He added that the government did not also appreciate the importance of teaching assistants in maintaining high standards of behaviour.

 Gavin’s especially concerned that trainee teachers are going to lose out, and is aware the Times Educational Supplement’s jobs columns are down by around 75% on last year. 

“Everyone will just try to do their best in difficult circumstances,” noted Gavin tersely, aware from talking to the various unions representing staff that no one is happy.

In Rotherham that’s most definitely the case, where attempts by a new head, Stuart Wilson, in November to reduce the school budget deficit of £1.3 million at Rawmarsh Community School for 11-16 year olds has led to a series of strikes by NUT members.

The union was concerned that plans to reduce staff numbers by 34, including up to 25 teachers, will mean a school that has lost 20% of its pupils in recent times will now be forced to function with a staff team reduced by a third.

Rawmarsh NUT rep Ralph Dyson said his members had “little option” to take strike action to oppose compulsory redundancies after the local authority failed to help out financially. This angered staff who feel Rotherham Council was at least partly to blame for not having previously monitored the emerging crisis.

Critics fear Gove’s plans for more free schools and academies may cut local authorities out of such a role anyway. Local education authorities have long supervised a majority of schools but in Lincolnshire, for example, the county council no longer oversees school budgets, with any school getting into trouble advised to contact a list of private consultants for assistance.

Dyson said this trend would involve more schools getting into financial trouble, especially as they face rises in costs at the same time as budget cuts.

A head teacher in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire said: “National insurance, gas and water, supplies and service costs have all risen, and I am having to budget for higher level of inflation than before. The budgetary problems schools face aren’t going to be resolved in a year. In my case, like many others, they are going to be greater in 2012 and 2013.” 

Defend Ralph Dyson - stop press on Rawmarsh developments as of mid-April
From John Dalton of Rotherham Nut 

I am writing to thank everyone for their messages of support to the Striking teachers at Rawmarsh Comprehensive School Rotherham and to keep you up to date with the course of the dispute.

You will recall that the dispute started when the new headteacher announced that due to projected financial difficulties they were intending to make 25 teachers and 9 support workers redundant at the end of the Spring term 2011 out of a staff of just 81 teachers; an unheard of number in a small school and particularly absurd mid-year. Rotherham NUT and the members at Rawmarsh responded with a unanimous ballot for industrial action. 

The head fairly quickly moved from his initial position and deferred many (but not all) of the redundancies to September.  Our members however stuck to their guns and have so far taken 9 days discontinuous strike action.  Other teacher unions did not follow our lead but many of their members of since joined the NUT.  Over the period of the strikes last term, management were pushed made a series of adjustments allowing more and more and more of our members to have guaranteed employment beyond September.  We only suspended our action in return for a guarantee to make no members redundant at Easter and made it clear it would resume again if the remaining redundancies were not resolved.

Last Friday we called a meeting with members to discuss action and let management know we were doing so.  At this point the number of redundancies was down to seven with three of them being our members.  Some last minute activity by management produced an employment offer for two more of our members.  There is now just one Rawmarsh NUT member at risk of redundancy in September.  Unfortunately that is our school rep, Ralph. 

Management expected us to call off action at this point but I am proud to report that our members voted overwhelmingly to continue action until the number of NUT redundancies is zero.  As one of the members put it “We are not going to abandon Ralph to sink when he held the life boats for the rest of us to get in”.  We have not announced action as we are giving the school a short time to finally resolve the situation but if we have to we will.

During this dispute we have received well over a hundred messages of support such as yours from organisations and individuals all over the country plus many visits to the picket line and these have been crucial in maintaining moral. 

The fact that we have been able to forward a constant stream of such Emails to members have shown them they are not alone and reaffirm to them that they are in the right fighting both for their jobs and the education of Rawmarsh children despite the disparagement of management, the local authority and, sadly, in one case another teacher union. I will keep you informed and if it is necessary for us to take further action I am sure you will renew that support. Send messages of support to secretary@rotherham.nut.org.uk

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Bradford City 1 Burton Albion 1

Bradford City 1

Speight 75

Burton Albion 1

McGrath 42

A result that should ensure these sides are again members of the Football League next season. Reduced ticket prices meant there was a healthy 13,814 inside Valley Parade at kick-off and they saw the away side start the brighter. Paul Peschisolido’s side should have taken the lead on 17 minutes but Calvin Zola totally missed the ball when Jacques Maghoma’s pass left the former Crewe man with just keeper Lenny Pidgeley to beat. Jimmy Phillips then fired over from the edge of the area as Burton sought to build on Saturday’s home victory against Cheltenham Town.

The away side though were grateful to Adam Legzdins on 27 minutes, the keeper sticking out a long arm to prevent Steve Williams header opening the scoring although when the ball then ran loose David Syers might have done better than fire narrowly wide.

Phillips then saw his effort blocked by Luke Oliver but on 42 minutes the little winger floated over a cross that cut out the Bradford back four and ended with his captain John McGrath powerfully heading the ball into the net before running off to celebrate with the 164 away fans in the crowd. Gareth Evans was unfortunate not to level the score on the stroke of half time, his shot beating Legzdins but flashing just outside the post.

The second half began with Burton seeking what would surely have proved the decisive second goal. Twice McGrath might have added to his first half effort before the introduction as substitute of Jake Speight changed the direction of the game. Previously impregnable, the former City man Darren Moore was now put on the back foot as the new man began by hitting a shot from the edge of the area narrowly wide. Then on 75 minutes Speight grabbed a precious equaliser, bundling the ball home after James Hanson had headed the ball down.

The scorer might even have won the game when ten minutes later he was again on the end of a Hansen header. That said it was Burton who created the better chances in the final quarter of an hour, and Pidgeley did brilliantly to push a Phillips close range shot onto the bar before the impressive Greg Pearson had his follow up shot blocked by Oliver. As the game moved towards its conclusion Pearson then cut inside to curl a shot just over. Despite the miss Burton ran off four points clear of 23rd placed Barnet, who with just four games left are favourites to join Stockport County in dropping out of the league in two weeks time.

Major study into incinerator impact on infant mortality rate set to get started

Huddersfield incinerator

It has taken more than eight years but it appears the Health Protection Agency [HPA] is set to make good on a 2003 promise by former chief executive Pat Troop to undertake a study into the long-term health effects of chemical exposure from landfill sites and incinerators.
Asked last year about this for a Big Issue in the North article [see Kirklees Incinerator piece at www.markwrite.co.uk/archive.htm] the HPA were unwilling to comment. All of which made it difficult to see how Dr Michael Clark of the HPA could justify his statement that “provided modern incinerators are well designed and maintained, their contribution to air pollution at ground level is likely to be very small.”

It certainly wasn’t sufficient to reassure Paul Holmes, MP for Chesterfield. In 2009 he was left less than satisfied when the Secretary of State for Health told him that no recent assessments had been undertaken on the presence of a functioning incinerator and the incidence of infant mortality across Britain.
“Given the huge public concern about the possible dangers and the relative lack of a track record then the Government should be doing much more to proactively monitor any effect from these plants,” said Holmes.

A view regularly pressed by Shrewsbury’s Michael Ryan since he lost his only daughter at 14 weeks in 1985, and then suffered further tragedies when his 19 year old son David and his mother both died around the turn of the millennium, and couldn’t help noticing that all three had lived downwind of an incinerator.

The result has been one of the most painstaking pieces of research, covering every part of Britain, that your likely to hear of. It took six months alone for Ryan to get the data for all of London’s 625 wards on live births and infant deaths between 2002 and 2008. In twelve there were zero infant deaths. In comparison the South London borough of Southwark, which has two incinerators on its borders, had the highest rate of 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births. [With the Newington Ward there recording the highest rate out of the 625 at 14.0 per 1,000].

Critics have argued that its not the microscopic particles emitted by incinerators that kill youngsters in these areas, but poverty. It’s certainly true that inhabitants of many of the areas in which incinerators are sited are at the lower end of the social scale but Ryan’s ‘trick’ is to show that the death rates in ‘middle class’ areas are higher if there’s an incinerator lurking in the background. Chingford Green Ward is an affluent area of Waltham Forest and yet it has the second highest average number of child deaths at in the whole of London. It just happens to be close to Britain’s largest incinerator.

Also, asks Ryan, if it it’s all about poverty then how come the levels of infant mortality in countryside areas, where wages are below average, aren’t high?

The issue has certainly been of sufficient importance to the Japanese who back in 2004 conducted their own study and reported that there is a “peak-decline in risk with distance from the municipal solid waste incinerators for infant deaths and infant deaths with all congenital malformations combined."

Now, to cries from “at last” by Ryan the HPA Chief Executive Justin McCracken has written to him to say that he is “pleased to say that following discussions” with Professor Elliott, head of the Small Area Health Statistics Unit at Imperial College, it has been “concluded that an epidemiological study of birth outcomes around municipal waste incinerators would have sufficient power to produce reliable results. Work is now progressing in developing a detailed proposal for what will be a complex study.”

Monday, 18 April 2011

PCS call centre strikers step up pressure on management

A decent morning was had on the picket line at Halifax today. See report on PCS site at :- 


Special thanks to Andy Lucas for his help. 

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Rochdale 2 Southampton 0

Rochdale 2

Thompson 29, O’Grady 41

Southampton 0

“Yes, we can dream,” said Rochdale manager Keith Hill when asked about his side’s promotion chances after this game. And why not, as the reality is the minnows are now sixth in League One and with consecutive home games to follow against Brentford and Carlisle they have a great chance to cement their place in the end of season play offs. A chance to play at Old Trafford in the final is clearly on.

Largely outplayed in the second period the home side showed great discipline in maintaining their shape and backed by a noisy crowd hung on for a just about deserved victory.

For Southampton defeat gives third and fourth placed Huddersfield Town and Peterborough United a chance to snatch second place from the Saints in the battle for an automatic promotion place behind Brighton and Hove Albion, who clinched promotion last night in a thrilling 4-3 victory at home to Dagenham and Redbridge. Gus Poyet’s side have proved themselves the best side in the league and with a new ground almost complete then the Seagulls are clearly on the up.

Southampton opened the match in good style and Owain Fon Williams had to be alert to prevent efforts from Rickie Lambert and Guly Do Prado sneaking into the net. The first clear chance however fell on 25 minutes to Rochdale but Chris O’Grady, put clean through, drove his shot too straight and Kelvin Davis saved with his feet. Four minutes later it was 1-0 when Joe Thompson rose above a flat footed Dan Harding to loop his header from eight yards over Davis and into the net.

Gary Jones maintained the pressure with a fine shot before O’Grady doubled his side’s advantage when his powerful shot squeezed under Davis from the corner of the box. Early in the second period the keeper partly atoned for his mistake with a good save from a Thompson effort before Southampton surged forward.

Lee Barnard shot narrowly wide from 20 yards, substitute Jonathan Forte brought a good save from Williams and from the follow up corner Radhi Jaidi became another to be foiled by the keeper. Dale Stephens headed just over before Dean Hammond, playing a lovely 1-2 with the disappointing Lambert, failed to beat the keeper from just eight yards out. Adam Llana should have done better with an eight-yard header as Rochdale hung on for a famous victory.

No wonder Hill was in a buoyant mood after a game that was played in a great spirit saying: “We have got the momentum. It was a great team performance and there is real belief amongst the players.” One final point the referee Mr Haywood was excellent. 

Monday, 11 April 2011

Fifty years on and have things improved for people of Muslim faith?

The view of a man who might know. Fazalur Rehman Tariq came to Britain in 1961. He’s chairman of the Elland Mosque Association that’s situated equal distance between Halifax and Huddersfield in West Yorkshire. It opened in 1972 to help preserve the culture and identity of the different generations. Active on many fields, including acting as the secretary-general at the Huddersfield Council of Islamic Affairs Charitable Trust, he was vice-chairman of Calderdale Race Relations Council between 1979 and 1989.

How would describe the current political situation?

“I am not politically inclined, and appreciate that everybody has their views, but I am aware of a lack of awareness between people’s on other’s cultures and religions and some elements have used this to exploit the more gullible to create hatred.

Currently people are not reporting increasing levels of racial violence, and I feel this indicates that there is less than there may have been in the past, especially in the 60s and 70s. Attacks are not taking place regularly. Of that I am certain, but there are feelings against coloured people – in the past this might have been against all coloured people but now its largely against Muslim people. It’s a recent phenomena largely based around the 9/11 attacks in the USA, which has seen Muslims given the identity of terrorists. The press and politicians are largely responsible for this identity.

At the same time many Muslims are deeply concerned about what is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also Palestine, and they have been willing to attend demonstrations to show this disapproval. It doesn’t mean they agree with the attacks on America or in London, but they don’t want to see troops from the USA and Britain there. In 2009 Sir Norman Bettison, the Yorkshire Police Chief visited the Mosque, and I spoke about my concerns with him, but he said he had no influence over foreign affairs, which I accept.

“A lack of land at home and a labour shortage brought me here.” 

Yes, I came to Britain in 1961. I was seeking work after graduating and with no land to farm I was happy to move, as Britain was very keen to welcome Pakistani’s and Indians to this country, as there was a labour shortage. I believe that without our labour Britain would be a lot worse off than it is now – we worked long hours, in difficult jobs and for low rates of pay. 

People from Jamaica and Africa were also needed, it wasn’t just people from Asia, but we helped build the Britain that people of all colours know now. It can therefore by disturbing when people question why we are here, as if we don’t have a right to be here. That is especially the case when you consider that most Muslim people were born here. It’s true they feel culturally not English, but neither do they feel Pakistani, and that’s something that it should be possible to accommodate.

Are the streets safe?

In Huddersfield and Elland people are safe to go where they want. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some areas of tension, but in many of those areas even someone from the same colour who lives on the next estate might feel unsafe. It’s a territorial thing, not always about colour.

The attack on the taxi-driver Mohammed Parvaiz in Lockwood in July 2005 when he was murdered was terrible. It does show there is racism and it played a part, but it was also in part motivated by a need for revenge – the taxi driver had reported them to the police and they wanted to make him pay for that. If taxi-drivers were finding their jobs really difficult because of racism many would leave or they would organise protests about this.

Where attacks take place I feel from what I know that it’s not organised, but is a spur of the moment thing. But again I am not wanting to belittle the experience for anyone whose been attacked.
After 9/11 and for a year or so afterwards I would regularly, and others would tell you they had the same experience, be taunted with comments saying ‘hello Mr Bin Laden’, I pretended not to hear, it wasn’t worth it.

What’s your view on the BNP and the English Defence League?

I believe both are motivated by racism. The latter have targeted some Mosque’s, which no one could describe as radical, which makes you question whether they are really just about countering ‘radical Islam.’ Both organisations spoil the atmosphere and prevent people from different faiths and backgrounds appreciating each other’s differences.

And on radical Islam?

I have been concerned by possible developments of radical Islam. Whatever is happening in Iraq and elsewhere I say to the younger people that no one in this country is preventing us from worshipping, and that our opposition to the things we don’t agree with must be done peacefully.
As I said earlier I raised this with Sir Norman Bettison when he visited in 2009. Some Muslims have broken the law in their opposition, but that doesn’t mean as some newspapers have suggested, that all Muslims are to blame for the actions of a few.

At the same time I do feel there is a war being waged against Muslims overseas, former USA President George Bush used the word Crusades [*] shortly after the 2001 attacks on America and that indicates a mindset.

Older Muslim people have direct experience of the British Raj. They know it wasn’t pleasant and it was why people wanted Independence. And people know their history, 1757-1949 wasn’t about developing India, it was about exploiting it. And after that ended we know what’s happened in Palestine, how it was occupied and facilitated into the hands of the Jewish people, such that Muslims now live on only 21% of the then available land. These actions impact on people’s consciousness, and people haven’t forgotten them. So to use the word Crusades was a very poor, but deliberate choice

* this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take awhile."
 President George W. Bush, September 16, 2001

Speaking up on disability - interview with Tim McSharry of the Access Committee for Leeds

Tim McSharry is head of Disability and Diversity for the Access Committee for Leeds [ACL].  It’s an unfunded body run by volunteer advocates that campaigns on behalf of disabled adults, carers and older people. By taking up dozens of cases every year the  ACL highlights issues of crucial importance for disabled people, thus supporting them to access their mandatory rights to vital public services.

Tim first became involved with the ACL in the 1990s, not long after a permanent deterioration in his eyesight led to him becoming registered blind. He won’t thank me for saying this, but he’s a cracking bloke who’s prepared to work with all and sundry whilst being nobodies fool. Determined to show his disgust at the public spending cuts he not only caught the Unite train to London but spent a good half dozen hours walking with thousand of others on the TUC march. 

Just as well therefore this interview was conducted on the way down.

Does disability necessarily entail deprivation and limited employment opportunities?

It shouldn’t, but the reality for a significant number of individuals and families is it does, with unavoidable serious consequences impacting on health, wellbeing and independence.   

So the question is can disabled people who are able to work be helped to find jobs that pay a living wage, with reasonable prospects in supportive and accessible environments?  And for those who as a result of illness, injury or disability are unable to work, are benefit levels and back up advice and care support services sufficient? Again for too many disabled people the answers to these questions are quite simply no.

Ten years ago I was delivering some training to the Regional Co-ordination Unit for Government Offices down in London. From our charities prospective we were highlighting the fact that it’s a massive cost to society when people are out of work. That’s the case whether someone’s disabled or non disabled.

The figures show that levels of unemployment amongst disabled people are higher than average, and I have listened to many who can’t find work express the view that it’s because employers don’t truly examine their talents before “giving” a post to a non-disabled person. In large part I feel this is because there remains a lot of ignorance amongst employers about the assistance disabled people may or may not require at work, or a reliance on some outdated myths and stereotypes.  Indeed the evidence suggests that disabled people have just as good or better record in relation to timekeeping and absence when compared to their non-disabled colleagues.

Access to Work, whereby employers get assistance to help with work related adjustments when employing a disabled person, like support with transport, equipment and adaptation costs at workplaces, is clearly a good scheme. It’s one that needs expanding. But its benefits will only be felt if there is an integrated approach. So whilst the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 [now replaced by the Equality Act 2010, except in Northern Ireland where it remains in place - ed] required service providers and employers to take steps to remove barriers, that blocked disabled people’s participation, it often took a lengthy battle, usually legally, to try and ensure this was the case. [For more on this see below]

In terms of benefit levels whilst they are not generous what’s often much more of a problem is ensuring those who are entitled to a particular benefit actually get them. For example when you look at the Independent Living fund - that delivers financial support to disabled people - or the former Incapacity Benefit - that became Employment and Support Allowance three years ago - then there are people who were able to fulfil the criteria to allow them to live independently.

Unfortunately because of the complexity of the system there are also many people who fall at the first hurdle and are not able to access the benefits. The benefits were there but there was an inherent complexity within the system that everybody agreed needed to be addressed.

So is it a good thing that the coalition government through Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has taken up the challenge of making Welfare Reforms?

One of the saddest things is there was a real opportunity to work in partnership with disability organisations, both nationally and locally, to design a holistic system that would truly be built around improving life chances through greater participation and inclusion of disabled people at every conceivable level across society. 

We need to be developing meaningful opportunities for training and employment, and taking positive action to formally recognise the many advantages and values of enabling disabled people to carry out voluntary work without fear of having benefits withdrawn because of an ignorant and abstract idea that voluntary work directly equates to employed work. 

Voluntary work enables a person to develop skills, awareness and confidence that may allow them to move into paid employment. But, blanket polices discriminate. For some individuals living with ill health, injury, disability or chronic 24/7 pain, or care needs that can vary hourly, including many people living with hidden disabilities or mental health related care needs then opening up access to supported levels of long term voluntary work can provide real cost savings to the public purse by helping to maintain family and social networks. All of which often results in the need for less costly interventions through Health and Social Care services, adaptations or housing, or the Criminal Justice System.

Sadly, these opportunities appear to have been missed under the heading of it’s too expensive and we must get rid of it. The clear move towards a universal benefit would be good if it wasn’t being done so quickly and without any meaningful consultation having taken place. I don’t feel there’s been any real mandate on this and at the ACL what’s coming through is that they are creating so much fear when they are talking of dismantling the independent living fund, the incapacity benefit and the disability living allowance by combining it into one. There are so many anomalies for individuals that haven’t been taken into account. For some individuals it’s going to be a truly destructive.

Are the proposed cuts packages having any impact on disabled people?

At the moment its still a case of wait and see - although I would add that we are starting to increasingly hear about funded projects that assist disabled people being cut - but what’s definitely changed is the climate.  The language that has been employed is giving some people the impression that many disabled people are not in fact disabled. That they are ‘kidding’ in order to claim a particular benefit.

I fear that people who are disabled or on benefits are being stigmatised and this is leading to some people who are frustrated by their own lack of life chances taking it out on disabled people.

I can speak from personal experience on this as the other week I was going through Leeds Station when two youngsters targeted me for some abuse by suggesting I didn’t need my long cane that aids me to get around safely in areas I`m familiar with. In their words “he’s only kidding, he can see, he’s doing that to be able to claim some money, go on take the stick of him” It was frightening and I suspect that for some other person in the same situation it might be enough to make them think about not going out. In my case it won’t, and whilst I can`t say for certain that its been recent media coverage that got those youngsters to talk such rubbish I feel it seems to be increasingly the case as I’ve also heard other disabled people suggest they’ve subjected to similar comments. 

As an aside quite a lot of progress appears to have been made on tackling hate crime against disabled people?

Yes I think that’s true and some of the work undertaken, especially by Stephen Brookes, has been almost Herculean. Within the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service there is more awareness of hate crime against disabled people as following the Fiona Pilkington and Jessica Hardwick case’s attention was rightly drawn to the issue. But it still takes the likes of Stephen, Anne Novis, Katharine Quarmby, Paul Iganski and many other very dedicated individuals to keep this on the political agenda.

Locally we’ve worked with West Yorkshire Police [WYP] to increase the numbers of places where people can make reports and obtain support.  Rebecca Collins from WYP has been really outstanding in supporting this new initiative to increase the number of reporting centres that are genuinely accessible and placed at the heart of local communities. It’s that kind of developing partnership between WYP and Leeds City Council that have made these changes possible.

Can you comment on the impact of the DDA 1995?

It was good the act was passed, but it’s still been a matter of fighting for the resources to make it effective. As way of an example, ACL is currently assisting a family with a disabled child with autism and there are multiple challenges trying to get the services that child needs.

The families’ aim is naturally to get the best possible outcomes for their child such as opportunities to develop their skills, independence and to achieve their real potential without systemic ineptitude or discrimination getting in the way, basic principles that are about valuing and protecting the human rights of all children.

The child was not receiving the consistent one-to-one support they needed within the educational system and as a result the child was being excluded and not being able to access other services. The parents therefore had to fight for the right to educate their child at home, resulting in two separate challenges, one involving the education system and the other in relation to adapting their home through a Disabled Facilities Grant [for more on this see February 3rd 2011 article at http://writemark.blogspot.com/2011/02/disabled-facilities-grants.html

There is no doubt that taking on any bureaucratic system means there is usually a real struggle involved and because of the length of time it takes to understand the policy, process and pick up the expertise needed, very often it leads to people giving up, or accepting a compromise that doesn’t work and leads to additional costs to the public purse further down the line.

Happily, there are many examples across the country where people did take on the system, sometimes with the support of skilled advocates, who ended up securing the educational services and care package that their children needed. But, sadly, there are others, lots more, where other families and children with just as strong a case did not get the help they needed.

In terms of access and equality the DDA has put disability on the agenda but, as with the new single Equality Act, it has not resolved many of the fundamental social, environmental and attitudinal barriers that appear as prevalent now as they ever did, based on our casework.

In conclusion therefore I’d say that those who shout the loudest get what everyone should get. It must be acknowledged there are many great examples where public services have provided an outstanding service in meeting the needs of disabled children, adults and older people, but the system if it was working efficiently wouldn’t need people to be shouting, as it would be working openly and efficiently with processes designed to respond to diverse individual needs, not the other way round which leaves too many individuals and families falling through the gaps, unable to mount any real challenge. 

Personal budgets were introduced by the last government - what’s your view on the impact they’ve had?

For some people they’ve been very positive and it has the potential to increase choices for a lot of people. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the focus on giving people more choice but I feel the evidence is that people from more middle class backgrounds have done better especially as their educational skills help in navigating the process and providing the evidence base that is needed that helps to challenge the system to meet all aspects of their needs. 

The downside of this policy is that many community bases centres have been cut and the loss of some of these services may have unintended consequences in relation to safeguarding duties.

We know that in many cases its only because people use centres that alleged incidents of abuse by their families, friends or carers is picked up on. As they close that’s clearly going to be less likely and the big worry is that when that contact is lost, unseen or unrecognised abuse that is going on will be missed.

In truth, with an increased move towards personalisation of social care budgets, many centres that currently provide excellent specialist care, support and social engagement and also provide a safety net around safeguarding will undoubtedly have to face some hard decisions.  This in years to come will have serious implications in relation to safeguarding policy and practice for all Local Authorities, the NHS, Criminal Justice System and Third Sector organisations.

How devastating a blow would it have been for disabled people living in care homes to have lost their mobility payments? And are you confident that the Government’s climbdown on this issue to 2013 can be made permanent?

The proposed loss of disability living allowance for people in care homes goes back to the heart of the problem, that’s it been done piecemeal with no serious consideration of the impact of the changes. Yet that benefit is critical in allowing people to get out and maintain some level of independence, dignity and social engagement. 

But don’t care homes have lots of things going on in them?

Some do, but even if they all did that’s not the point. The DLA enables people with different needs to be able to do things that they enjoy and are socially rewarding. It shouldn’t be the case that people have to give up all forms of independence just because they need residential care - it should still be the case that people can be able to engage with family and friends outside the home. And in the long run that’s also cost effective because isolating people will hit their physical and mental health which again is likely to result in even more hospital admissions and additional NHS or Social Care involvement.

What are your views on the proposed reforms in the education and health support for children with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities?

Again its an opportunity missed, we’d love to see how the impact assessment has been carried out and importantly who was involved. Where’s the evidence that suggests this needs to happen in the timescale they are suggesting?

Another opportunity missed is that the harmonising of the various equality acts combined with recent Government moves has ‘watered down’ the duty on Public Bodies to carry out a meaningful Equality Impact Assessments (EIA`s). Its been changed from a duty to a choice and clearly at this current time of 25% budget cuts that’s going to not be a choice. Yet we know that if EIA`s are carried out in partnership with experts across the diversity field then the ultimate result is about meeting the needs of society that we live in - rather than just the budget.

With a new building it will mean planners and architect are less likely to take a fully social inclusive approach around how their plans will impact on the equality, participation and opportunities of disabled people.  And whilst there may be small additional costs associated with the EIA process and improving facilities and environments, by leaving this key element to choice, its again very likely that additional costs will be picked up by public bodies further down the line when challenged under reasonable adjustments and other elements of the Equality Act.

In Leeds we have examples of how ultimately this will add to the costs on the public purse. We have hundreds of unoccupied expensive flats that could have been used to house disabled people forced who are currently living in unsuitable older accommodation. Trouble is when building them no one even considered making them suitable for everyone, or using local planning conditions to ensure at least a percentage of flats were designed and built to Lifetime Homes Standards.  Quite simply, money was not spent ensuring people with disabilities could use them.

In Leeds I am heartened by the fact that the council does appear to be wholly committed to including disabled people within key decisions and in regards to planning applications we are working with councillors and council officers to ensure only certain standards get through the planning process.  We are lucky to have Councillors such as Keith Wakefield, Peter Gruen, Lucinda Yeadon and many others both at an Executive and Corporate level who are accessible and ready to engage with disabled people and other diverse communities at this time of far reaching Government spending cuts to local authorities across England.

Why are you travelling down to the TUC demo in London?

As a representative and Trustee of ACL and because it’s the only way we can express our fears at what’s happening. We are starting to see how the cuts are going to impact on disability organisations and the lives of disabled people and primary carers. Some very effective highly active voluntary organisations within West Yorkshire and nationally are not only seriously worried about their funding but whether they have a future. They are seeing their core funding being cut in some cases by 75%, thus making them unsustainable. Without these organisations where is the voice for disabled people? 

We believe that the Government doesn’t have a mandate for their actions. Consequently Cameron and the other ministers should revisit the cuts package.

What’s your view on measures to give a bigger role to social enterprise, charities and cooperatives in the running of public services?

In the 80s and 90s under the last Conservative government it was said there was no such thing as society. It has gone from none to Big Society.

Ultimately when we talk about the Big Society it’s already self evident in the many volunteers and local self help groups active across all communities. We have volunteers who work very closely with local authorities and other public bodies. The approach should have been about greater partnerships rather than taking funding away from public bodies under the guise of it going to the third sector or public charities to take up these services,

It’s also an absolute mismatch. Look at the safeguarding issues, local authorities and the NHS are much better placed to oversee, deliver and commission services than organisations that may, or may not be for profit. 

The Big Society slogan disguises the decimation of many public services that older people, amongst others, rely on. And I am not sure it will save money in the long run either. The critical need for a comprehensive EIA is essential if only to identify the false economies within such austere and regressive polices, its very likely the hidden costs to the NHS, Local Authorities, Criminal Justice System and other agencies, will far out weight the upfront savings outlined in the comprehensive spending review.

For example cuts are going to hit social care services and when people don’t receive such services to maintain their health and social well being then where are the safety nets that are going to pick up on this? It’s going to be the NHS and in particular the emergency admissions and long term services that are both very expensive.

There’s also going to be increased levels of anti-social behaviour and crime, which the criminal justice system will pick up leading inevitably I feel to the re-introduction of services such as the Youth Offending Teams, and the re-employing of Police Officers and back up staff currently being redundant.

Within West Yorkshire the Neighbourhood Policing Teams have achieved outstanding results at a community level over recent years and if we consider the impact of losing elements of these teams its more than likely these will have a disproportionate impact on many older and disabled people, disabled children and their families. 

The TUC march was an incredible demonstration of how people from all communities and diverse backgrounds came together to express their real concern and opposition to this policy, and when considering the fact that there are potentially so many hidden costs that belie these cuts, I can only hope that someone senior within Government reconsiders the options - after all it happened with selling off the forests?

And last but not least, I owe my very sincerest thanks to Unite for getting me down to London and to Mark, Wayland and especially John for patiently and expertly guiding me round the march in complete safely. (And for a truly fantastic bag of chips)