Thursday, 28 July 2011

Migrant workers praised

“Lincolnshire’s migrant workers are providing a valuable service by helping to fill Britain’s supermarket shelves.”  So says the Reverend Alan Robson, Lincolnshire’s Agricultural Chaplain for the past 11 years, and a man who helped establish Integration Lincolnshire in order to help to prevent a repeat of the riots that saw Portuguese migrants targeted in Boston following England’s exit from the 2004 European Football Championships.

“It’s been easy for some newspapers to demonise migrant workers but with English students and the unemployed not wanting agricultural jobs their arrival has helped ensure local businesses survive. Those young men and women want work and money to build a future, little different from the majority of local people who are working” said Robson who believes that around a third of migrant workers will chose to make their homes here with similar numbers returning home permanently and the rest moving between locations in search of work.

23-year-old Lithuanian Simona Lasaite has lived and worked in Britain since 2006, when she moved to be re-united with her parents who, seeking employment, had earlier departed from the former eastern bloc country. All now work at the Westmorelands Farm of Keys [E M Key and Son] near Sleaford. Originally established in the 1920s this is a family farm, manufacturing a range of fruit and vegetables that are supplied to leading supermarkets and other retailers. A factory on site also prepares jams and conserves for sale to butchers, delis and farm shops. This summer the company was employing close to 40 workers, of which 30+ were from overseas.  Simona, as a line leader, earns slightly more than the national minimum wage paid to production operatives at the company.

“I am intending staying in Britain as the job’s that are available back home are very poorly paid and I enjoy a higher standard of living here. In general most of the local people I have met have been friendly.  I am living with my partner, a Polish man who I met here, and feel settled” said Simona.

As does 31-year-old Latvian Laura Lage, a production operative who said “I am much better off working in Britain as the job I did as a care worker for elderly people paid only a small sum. Initially I was living in a caravan but I have now found a more permanent place to live. My mistake was to use an agency to come to Britain. This cost a lot of money which took time to pay back.” 

Owner Philip Key has welcomed migrant workers saying “whilst I am not concerned about the nationality of anyone prepared to work here I was finding it difficult to fill vacancies with local people. The wages I can pay are largely dictated by what the supermarkets are prepared to pay for our 
products. ”

With Prime Minister David Cameron suggesting he would be seeking to curb immigration to Britain Philip Key would be concerned if “those who are ringing up from overseas seeking work were prevented from doing so. I think every food processor in Lincolnshire would also have concerns.”

Alan Robson, founder of Lincolnshire’s Farmer Support Group, agrees saying “Lincolnshire provides over a quarter of the UK supermarkets vegetable products. That sector is currently dependent on migrant workers to plant, pick, process and pack its products on farms and factories. So without them the implication is obvious, there would be less food and it would be more expensive.”

Exam body fails to tighten procedures after teacher sacked for completing student's work

A national educational provider has failed to show it has tightened its procedures after a teacher was sacked for completing student’s work.

John Younghusband, who has now been banned indefinitely from the profession by the General Teaching Council (GTC), worked at All Saints College, a comprehensive school in Gateshead, for three years.

As head of expressive arts he taught performing arts to BTEC level 3. This is one of many vocational/work related courses currently on offer to thousands of young people in subjects such as engineering, travel and tourism, business studies and performing arts. Edexcel, the company who organise them are owned by media giant Pearson PLC.

In 2008, Younghusband was on sick-leave when external verifiers for an assessment of his students work visited the College. If he had been present he would have been expected to show the verifiers four pieces of work as an example of the work of the students under his direction. The task of verifier was a familiar one for Younghusband as he also performed the same role at other institutions earning around £8,000 per annum for his work.

When it proved impossible to locate student’s work an inquiry was ordered and at the GTC panel earlier this year it was reported that he had submitted work that was not the students own, failed to keep their work safe and awarded false grades for work he had failed. Younghusband it was reported had been sacked back in 2008. One of his pupils was Ricky Gibson, now aged 20, who said: “Mr Younghusband kept telling me that I didn't need to do any coursework.”

Without it Gibson, and a number of other students, failed their courses and he was forced to restart his two years of study at Gateshead College. The institution is partnered with the Gateshead Academy of Music and Sound, the body who in September 2010 employed Younghusband as course coordinator on its BTEC music courses.

According to the Judith Doyle, Deputy Principal at Gateshead College, “When the Academy received unsatisfactory references from his previous employer, he was immediately dismissed, in October 2010. We employ teaching staff of the highest quality, dedication and professionalism.  Asked however if the college now felt it necessary to tighten their recruitment procedures no one would comment. 

Also staying pretty silent are the local education authority, Newcastle City Council who said they were “satisfied the matter was dealt with appropriately by All Saints College” and refused to comment on the length of time it had taken for the case to come before the GTC and whether they were concerned that Younghusband had been an external verifier himself. Neither would they say if they were worried enough about possible future similar cases to make it necessary to approach Edexcel to ask them to review their procedures.

On its part Edexcel was unable to say that Younghusband’s case was unique. Neither was the organisation promising to review its procedures to prevent similar ones in the future with its spokesperson saying: “Teacher recruitment is a matter for individual schools and not awarding bodies. This case involved a single individual and has no bearing on the quality and value of BTEC qualifications.”

Women who miscarry offered support

Self-help groups for women who have experienced a miscarriage are to be established in the north for the first time ever. The Miscarriage Association, a national charity, hopes that the launch of a group in Wakefield and North Kirklees next month - and in Manchester and Newcastle later in the year - will start up a regional network for the 25% of pregnant women who each year miscarry before the foetus or embryo is capable of surviving independently. 

In November 2006 Ashley Power was 19 years old and living in Wakefield. She and her partner were looking forward to their first child in June the following year. They had just started telling close relatives the good news when internal bleeding saw her rushed to hospital.

Already fearing the worst Ashley was “left shocked when the nurses told me, after conducting an ultra-sound scan that they couldn’t detect any signs I was still pregnant.”

Concerned that the teenager had experienced an ectopic pregnancy, where pregnancy occurs outside the uterus and within the Fallopian [or pregnancy] tubes resulted in Ashley needing surgery, as a damaged tube can be fatal.  She nearly didn’t survive, a defibrillator being needed to restart her heart, and even though she has not been left with any lasting health problems she said “I was left wondering what had made me miscarry especially as the baby had just sort of disappeared and no-one could properly explain to me what had happened. It left me feeling confused and emotionally damaged.”

Searching for someone to talk to about her experiences was difficult. Her mother had been terrified by the near loss of her daughter and her partner found it almost impossible to discuss the traumatic affair, preferring to concentrate on a possible new arrival after Ashley became pregnant a few months later. Her close friends were more interested in partying and looking for work and/or a place at University.

“I suffered in silence and whilst I have coped it wasn’t easy” she says and although she knows that many people believe that before 20 weeks it “wasn’t a baby” she doesn’t, despite no religious beliefs, feel that to be case and every year she lights a candle on November 30th for “the little girl I lost.”

Earlier this year, and now 24 years old with two girls aged two and four, she began volunteering at the Wakefield offices of the Miscarriage Association. She’s one of four telephone support workers, all volunteers, who answer calls, offer advice and empathise
with women who have miscarried. Partners who need help are also welcome to call.

The Miscarriage Association itself largely relies on volunteers; its six full-time staff being dwarfed by the 130 trained volunteers doted across the country. In addition to making a range of leaflets available to, amongst others, GP surgeries and midwives the Association organises an on-line support forum and has a website.

Ashley and Iain 

Although they’ve previously helped with the creation of local groups in four locations, including Chester, the Association has stayed shy of itself developing such groups until now. In January Iain Solanki-Willats, a former teacher with a background in community development that includes work in Northern Ghana, was employed on the Supporting local care project that has received funding from the Department of Health.

His brief is to get people in local areas affected by miscarriage to help others experiencing pregnancy loss, something he and his wife have personal knowledge of.

Swindon and Wakefield, where the Association has good links with GPs and midwives were chosen to kick start the project. In West Yorkshire a date has been fixed for the initial meeting after the first wave of volunteers completed their training. They include Ashley Power who said: “I am more than happy to get involved as I feel my previous experiences can help those going through something similar today including the grief of losing a baby you were already emotionally attached to and looking forward to see.”

Solanki-Willats is looking for volunteers to help with the organising of new groups, which will be open to women and their partners. Contact him on 01924 360769 or at for more details on this and the meeting in Wakefield.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Golden Boot - first ever book on all those who've finished as top scorer in Division One or Premier League since 1888

 Out shortly from Amberley Publishing, written by Tony Matthews and Mark Metcalf

Johnny 'the good' Goodall 1888-89 top scorer 
Dixie Dean - 60 goals in one season
Nat Lofthouse - top scorer in 1955-56
Jeff Astle - 1969-70
George Best 1967-68 [equal with Ron Davies]
Thierry Henry 

Searchlight magazine reveals English Defence League's links with Anders Behring Breivik
Anders Behring Breivik was in contact with the EDL

Support Columbian trade unionists facing repression and assassination

A Columbian agricultural workers’ union activist has finally been released from prison after enduring over two years detention without trial.

Rosalba Gaviria Toro is a human rights worker for FENSUAGRO, the largest peasant and farm workers’ union federation in Columbia.  Formed in 1976 its members have paid a heavy price for standing up for workers’ rights. Thousands have been assassinated. Many more have been detained for long periods without trial or have simply ‘disappeared’ with no knowledge of their whereabouts. The South American country remains the most dangerous in the world for trade unionists.

Rosalba had been accused of ‘rebellion,’ a catch-all charge used to silence government opponents, and imprisoned on March 9th 2009. Five months later the same charge was used to jail her husband, Alirio Garcia, a FENSUAGRO executive committee member. He was released when all charge were dropped in March 2010.

Now, after the charge against Rosalba were also dropped, Alirio’s delighted to have welcomed his wife home after she left prison on June 3rd. Joining him in the local celebrations were more than 80 neighbours, relatives, union and NGO representatives. Meanwhile in Britain Unite, and other trade unions and MP’s who, with the support of the Justice for Columbia campaign, had campaigned for her release were also delighted by the news.

At the same time there was also good news in the cases of Aracely Canaveral Velez, an organiser in the informal workers union ASOTRACOMERCIANT, and Dr Miguel Angel Beltran a human rights critic. Charges of rebellion were dropped and they were both released with Beltran saying; “it was victory for international solidarity.”

Any hopes however that the three’s release might herald in a new era of respect for trade unionists and human rights were quickly shattered when on June 22nd four members of FENSUAGRO were arrested, accused of rebellion. Alexis Antonio Arroyo, Eulogio Tapiero Galindo, Manuel Antonio Angure and Telmo Cuevo Tegue are still detained and you can help play a part in trying to ensure they’re released by sending a protest letter via the website where you’ll also find Unite general secretary Len McCluskey condemning what’s happening to trade unionists in Columbia. 

Joining with him is Labour European spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Richard Hewitt MEP who sets out why, in the absence of evidence that human rights abuses and endemic violence against trade unionists is coming to an end, the European Union should not ratify its proposed Free Trade Agreement with Columbia. This moved a step closer when in April this year the European Commission chose to initial a draft agreement between the EU and Columbia.

The TUC is now ‘calling on members of the European Parliament to exercise their right to block the ratification of the treaty when it comes before them later this year. They must uphold the values of the European Union and demonstrate that they will not allow basic human rights to be sidelined in the pursuit of increased profit.’ Don’t however hold your breath.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic it looks like President Obama will win approval from Congress to establish the USA’s own free trade agreement with Columbia.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The hospital built on a flood plain

Local opposition has failed to prevent a new hospital being built on a flood plain in Beverley. At £19 million, construction costs are double what taxpayers would have been charged to upgrade the East Riding market town’s current hospital, and have also led to campaigners from nearby Bridlington to question why such funds were needed when the hospital there lies virtually empty.

The go-ahead and finance to replace Beverley’s current Westwood Hospital with a new hospital was approved under the last Government. It’s situated in the middle of the town and bringing it up to scratch was going to cost an estimated £9-£10 million. The land on which it’s situated will however, with nearby four bedroom semi-detached properties costing over £420,000, be very valuable once it becomes available for housing after the hospital is demolished.

Westwood hospital in the centre of Beverley

That will happen once developments are completed at Swinemoor Lane on the outskirts of the town. These are now underway after the No Swinemoor Hospital campaign failed in last ditch attempts to get the government to intervene after their campaign to prevent the NHS East Riding Trust spending £19 million proved unsuccessful.

Campaign members had queried why it was that ten months before outline planning permission had been agreed in September 2009 that the owners of the land, Beverley Consolidated Charity - which provides accommodation for over 60s - were making an application to facilitate the ‘Construction of a new community hospital on site’ by removing the internal hedgerows.

They accused the local Planning Authority, East Riding of Yorkshire Council [ERYC] of having ‘directed’ the commissioning body, the NHS East Riding Trust [ERT], towards Swinemoor Lane by threatening to refer their preferred option, of close to the Ambulance Station in Driffield Road, to the Secretary of State. All of which meant argued campaigners that the Trust’s subsequent documentation was written to justify the choice of Swinemoor Lane.

They would appear to have a case. For example, a Flood Risk Assessment was prepared on January 2nd 2009 by East Ridings Consultants Ltd of Walkington who made clear in the preamble that it had been prepared ‘on the presumption that ERYC has applied the sequential test to the development and it has passed such a test.’ This was unlikely, as it wasn’t done until July 19th 2009. It was as campaigners pointed out in a lengthy letter to ERYC a case of ‘putting the cart before the horse.’ The Swinemoor Lane site is designated as a Flood Risk Zone 3 - the highest level.

One month earlier the ERT held a series of consultation meetings designed to canvas local people’s views. The No Swinemoor Hospital campaign group argues these were badly advertised and wrote querying why no meetings were organised in the nearby towns of Hornsea and Driffield where inpatient services will go when the new hospital opens.

As none of this made an impact on either the council or health trust those who objected to the new hospital site were left hoping that the election of a new government seeking to make significant public savings might force a re-think. In September 2010 local resident Mr Gerald D O’Callaghan wrote to Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, who a week earlier had written an article for a national newspaper arguing for new hospitals to be sited on hills, as well as Local Government Minster Eric Pickles asking them to investigate but failed to solicit a response.

Meanwhile May Sexton, a Conservative councillor and life-long Tory active in the nine year-old Save Bridlington Hospital campaign there has just written to the Prime Minister David Cameron. In December health secretary Andrew Lansley, accompanied by local MP Greg Knight, saw for himself 58 beds lying empty following the transfer of acute and cardiac monitoring facilities across to Scarborough twenty-two miles away.

Yet with no signs of them returning Sexton has now asked Cameron to comment on the further proposed changes that will see her local hospital become part of the York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, arguing that “it would be more sensible to merge with the nearby trusts such as NHS East Riding and Hull as there would then be no need to build a new hospital twelve miles away at Beverley as all the facilities could be accommodated here.”

Whilst she awaits a reply work, which started on site in March, is progressing quickly and both the local council and the health trust are prepared to defend their actions. The former disputes the charge that they directed the latter away from their preferred location with an ERYC spokesperson saying: “the site choice is a commercial decision that the developer took at the time when the planning application was lodged with the Authority.”

On its part a ERT spokeswoman said 400 people had attended the consultation meetings and that “28 possible sites, brought to us by a local land agent we commissioned, were considered. Swinemoor Lane scored highest for offering best value for money for the public purse.”

She said the Trust was “confident” the new hospital wouldn’t flood in the next ten years. And with nearby Bridlington hospital lying largely unused, couldn’t its empty wards and beds have been used rather than spending such a large sum?

“Not creating a facility in Beverley would mean a large proportion of the local population being denied access to local and convenient services’ said the trust spokeswoman.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

How Britain's 'firm but fair' immigration policies work in practice

A visit to St Aidan’s community hall in Harehills, Leeds is certain to dispel any belief that Britain’s ‘firm but fair’ [*] immigration policies so loved by all three major parties is anything but.

That’s because every Tuesday and Thursday morning it’s packed out with destitute asylum seekers requiring the most basic essentials, including a bite to eat. Thankfully, and entirely due to the co-ordinating - not to mention Herculean - efforts of a community organisation, Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, they get more than just that in the form of emotional and health support, advice on benefits and housing [for those who the project have helped gain permission to stay], as well as help with finding solicitors to work on their legal cases. Yet in truth much of this work shouldn’t be needed, as it’s clear from speaking to those seeking asylum that they have compelling reasons why they should be allowed to remain in Britain.

Certainly it’s difficult to see how anyone can deny 22 year-old Ali [1] the right to stay. He was aged fifteen when his parent’s house was blown up, revenge from person’s unknown for his father having worked for the government at a junior level during the reign of Saddam Hussein. Although a sister escaped unhurt, her parents, two brothers and a sister were killed, whilst Ali only survived after spending two months in hospital. I’d shaken hands with him before speaking and he’s lost most of his fingers on one hand. He slips up his trouser leg and it’s clear there are problems. His medical record reveals external and internal injuries.

Knowing if he remained in Iraq his life wouldn’t last much longer Ali was fortunate enough to have the money to be able to pay to get out and he travelled by car, train, horse and ferry before arriving in Dover where he was arrested and claimed asylum. That was in 2006 and since when he has been battling with the Home Office ever since.

With his initial application refused he found himself, after being sent to Leeds, without food or accommodation. For two years “I slept rough, sometimes in the park near here and other times at the train station in the City Centre. I did get into trouble when I took food from a supermarket and was stopped by a security guard. But what else could I do, I was starving?’ says Ali.

Homeless and starving, Ali was helped by Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers [PAFRAS] who after looking at his papers were able to find him a solicitor and also “offer me emotional support and a hot meal. People have good hearts.”

Then three and a half years ago he began a relationship with a British woman. It means he’s got a roof over his head and food in his stomach. He’s grateful but he knows the fact that he can’t, and probably never will, work and doesn’t get any benefits puts a big strain on his girlfriend’s finances.

Now he’s just been informed that the Home Office wants to deport him. He’s back to hardly sleeping saying: “I don’t know why they have taken this decision. I show them my body, my leg is damaged and painful and I don’t have fingers. I was in intensive care and I have internal injuries. I can’t go back, I will be killed.” 

Anah [1] is also from Iraq. A resident of Kirkuk he also fled when he realised his life was in danger because his father had worked for the previous regime that was toppled when allied forces invaded in 2003. He’s never seen his father since leaving in 2004, and although he’s heard rumours that he also escaped and is now living in Aden he has no way of confirming this. What he does know is that not long after he left some friends of his were killed when their house was blown up and he has no intention of returning to face the possibility of a similar fate.

He’s the father of two children, with a third on the way, and yet his asylum application has still to be decided. Every week he has to sign on with the Home Office, a round trip of six miles that without money for bus fares he has to walk despite a severe leg injury caused by having been shot in the leg. He wanted to go to College but without the funds to do so his “dream” is as yet unfulfilled. Although PAFRAS have been able to help by providing some food vouchers he’s largely dependent on his wife for financial support, as without legal status he’s not allowed to work.

“I’d like to be given the chance to work and earn money in order to support my wife and children” says Anah.[1] 

Kuresh [1] is an Iranian man who came to Britain five years ago and has, with a few months exception, been homeless during this time. That still won’t be enough to force him to go back because “I know that as a result of my unwillingness when I left the army to adopt an austere religious lifestyle I would be put back in prison if I returned.”

Kuresh [1] spent his life savings - around £11,000 - and left his wife and two children behind in order to travel to Britain where he “hoped to be able to settle down, find a place to live, get a job and then bring them here to live with me.” When he was sent, after applying for asylum in Dover, to West Yorkshire he found himself with nowhere to live for 18 months after the Home Office turned down his application and although he then obtained some support under Section 4 of the 1999 Asylum and Immigration Act that was only for eight months.

Following which he’s done his best keep himself alive through his volunteering efforts at local churches and with PAFRAS. With nowhere to live when he does get a place to stay inside it’s in friend’s houses but he’s often forced into sleeping rough. He’s gushing with praise for PAFRAS saying: “they gave me a food, a place to relax, health support and they got me a solicitor to work on my case.”

The latter was told by the Home Office that his client needed to provide more evidence to prove he would be persecuted if he went back to Iran. He did his best; secretly contacting a relative who at great personal danger posted off the information Koresh [1] hoped might help his case. However when the letter arrived in Britain it was empty and the former soldier says he wasn’t surprised “as the authorities would have opened it, seen the contents and thrown it away.”

Like Kuresh [1], Abbas is also a former soldier, only this time from the Lebanon. Tired of the conflict there between the government and Hezbollah he escaped in 2006 and arrived in Leeds where he was homeless for two years before hearing of and seeking the support of PAFRAS. He’s been overwhelmed by the support he’s received, especially as he’s just been told his application for asylum has been granted.

“I met Christine from PAFRAS and she helped me get food and find through social services a place to live in 2008. Then I was helped legally and now I can stay. The people at PAFRAS have very big hearts. I have some ongoing health problems but if these can be sorted out then maybe in the future I will be able to work, I hope so,” says Abbas.

It was Christine Majid who was the driving force behind the establishment of PAFRAS in 2005. As a Human Rights activist of many years she was able to spot that New Labour’s policies were inevitably going to lead to asylum seekers becoming destitute especially after the Blair government removed their right to work in 2002 and later cut welfare support for those who did not claim asylum on arrival. In 2004 cuts in legal aid funding at Appeal level left many with no legal representation which she reports resulted in “losing a solicitor in Leeds who had over a thousand cases. With asylum applicants being without legal support for their cases then it was obvious that large scale homelessness was on its way” especially as soon after the Home Office put in place a new strategy to speed up asylum claims.

She tells me that the cases of Ali, Anah, Koresh and Abbas are typical of the hundreds, possibly thousands she’s heard in the last six years. She gets depressed when she reads the popular press about how easy it is to claim asylum in Britain. She’s constantly looking to get funds from various charitable organisations and trusts in order to employ people to work for the project, but to sustain the project due to lack of funding, the decision to implement 38% cuts were taken, leaving fewer staff and less capacity to deal with huge unmet needs. Unless funds can be found in the next six months it’s also likely that the health worker on the project will be moving on, and yet PAFRAS has no support from the NHS, Leeds City council or social services.

Every month the project distributes 400 food parcels, all donated by various churches and faith groups plus a number of individuals. There are around 90 people, many of them children, sitting in the large community hall when I visited. There’s hot food, a place to sit and chat, some second hand clothes and a range of advice on offer - not forgetting the emotional support. At the moment a significant number of those seeking help are Roma people who escaped harassment and persecution in the Czech Republic.

Christine admits she gets little pleasure from seeing people in abject poverty left in penury saying she feels “it’s our duty to fight an inhumane system. We are seeking social justice in a world where there are many human rights abuses. Many of the people who come here are torture victims; some are stateless and some are here because we have occupied their countries.”

PAFRAS distributes 400 food parcels a month 

* Foreign Secretary William Hague on January 11th 2011 said, “We have to be firm but fair on immigration.”
“Liberal Democrats want an immigration system that works. A system that is firm but fair.”    Taken from party website
In 2009 Labour’s Border and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said: “My goal is a firm but fair immigration system.” 

1. To protect people’s identities their real names have not been used in this article. 

Monday, 18 July 2011

Poverty in Bradford

Improved media coverage of international affairs means poor people no longer see themselves as living in poverty. So says one of the authors of a new study on the impact of poverty on different ethnic communities in Bradford.

Exploring experiences of poverty in Bradford also found few poor people hold out much hope for the future with many worried that rising food and fuel prices will, with few jobs available, make surviving on benefits almost impossible.

Surprisingly the research, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation [JRF] found no evidence of racial discrimination by employers’. This is despite higher unemployment levels in black and ethnic minority communities, with the Manningham and Bowling/Barkerend mainly Asian neighbourhoods both having a rate of 8.9% claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance whereas the Bradford average as a whole is 5%.

The research concentrated on three communities. The Bangladeshi community in Bradford is often overlooked in a city where the vast majority of people with roots in the Asian sub-continent are from the Mirpur district of Pakistan. Afro-Caribbean and African’s have lived in Bradford for many years but the demolition of housing in the Newby area of West Bowling more than two decades ago now means many feel isolated in different parts of Bradford. Meanwhile the Ravenscliffe estate on the edge of the City has very few black people and is notoriously known for its high levels of anti-social behaviour and crime.

Many interviewees, although aware they were amongst the UK’s poorest disputed they were living in poverty according to one of the report’s authors, Mike Quiggan of the Bradford Resource Centre. This is last of what was back in the 70s a national network of campaigning centres whose local authority funding often-created tensions when they tried to obtain radical social change. 

But there were few shared cross-cultural sympathies, with many in the black and white communities feeling the Asian community monopolised any regeneration funds.

The study found little evidence of people not wanting work. The Bangladeshi community expressed concern about being dependent on the restaurant trade for jobs, where pay rates and job security are low. Ravenscliffe residents felt that disclosing to a potential employer where you lived would ensure you remained unemployed.

For all, previous reasonably well paid secure jobs had meant there was a real pride in having enough money to allow children to go on school trips and enjoy small treats from the local shops. An inability to provide these things now are; “what hurts people the most” says Mike.

It’s a pain the report notes is increasing. People complained that benefit levels are static and yet staple foods and fuel are increasing at 8% per annum. “I don’t think people are starving, but they may well start to shortly. Death rates will jump, life expectancy levels will decline.”

We must start to introduce policies to deal with this and I make no apologies for arguing against any that could further increase the massive inequalities level in this country, especially in a place like Bradford where the government’s figures on deprivation levels show that the gap between rich and poor is bigger than anywhere else” said Mike sadly.

Although the city centre regeneration, which was put on hold four years ago, is to restart, interviewees expected most jobs to be taken by skilled people from outside the Bradford rather than local people.

Major regeneration projects were viewed sceptically. Residents preferred local solutions. The Caribbean community want a local centre to organise from, Bangladeshi’s would like more English classes whilst those from Ravenscliffe want to see their estate done up by local youths learning ‘on the job’ skills that can then be transported elsewhere. Nobody however felt the authorities were listening. 

Mike Quiggan is optimistic the report itself is accurate but with “no Bengali or Caribbean person saying they hadn’t found work because of their skin colour” he’d like to find out if this is really the case. He suspects the comments made to me by the owner of a Bradford firm with 50 plus employees that he “knows plenty like myself who won’t employ Asians” is not untypical and he and the JRF are now planning to investigate further.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Education and training boosted by union learning reps

Unite Union Learning Representatives [ULR’s] right across Britain are playing a valuable role in increasing numbers of members lives by negotiating with employers for learning facilities and supporting those learning a new skill.  It’s now hoped their successes will encourage others to train as ULR’s. This will help further expand the education service Unite, in conjunction with employers, is providing. 

ULR’s came into existence a year after the new Labour Government created the Union Learning Fund in 1998, which acknowledged the important role of trade unions in creating a learning society. They were given statutory recognition and rights to reasonable paid time off under the Employment Act 2002. Duties include undertaking relevant training, providing information and arranging training for members, identifying learning skills needs in the workplace and negotiating learning agreements with employers.

Although each has their own tale to tell, a healthy number of the current ULR’s got involved following a period of self-study. This convinced them of the benefits of continuing education, even for those who long since left the classroom. At first it was about signposting people to relevant courses but now more and more are able to offer specialist careers advice to members after undertaking Information, Advice and Guidance courses to a professional standard.

Stuart Beard works for Northern Rail. Ignoring the jibe that he should be pleased to be based just round the corner from the original Manchester United ground in Newton Heath the fitter’s mate reveals some of the passion he normally reserves for his beloved Manchester City. In a move he regretted for many years afterwards, Stuart walked out of school in the 70’s without any. Finding work with British Aerospace he stayed until 2006, when he changed jobs to reduce his travelling time.

Shortly after his new employer asked if he wanted to become more skilled, agreeing to fund, with help from the government, his Engineering NVQ Level 2 course fees at nearby Oldham Technical College. Helped by some “great tutors” and classmates not even half his age he really enjoyed studying in his spare time. Not that it was an easy.
“It was the most intensive period of education I have ever undertaken. Computing was particularly difficult as I had not done any previously but you get helped all the way. The course took me eight months over three days a week. The course was a personal thing, but the feeling I got from achieving my NVQ2 was amazing,” said Stuart.

Now convinced that his workmates would benefit from, and enjoy, similar opportunities Stuart was only too happy to take up the suggestion of one of the shop stewards to become the ULR on site. Early last year [2009] after Unite wrote to the company he became officially recognised. He’s been busy since, putting in around 5-6 hours of unpaid work each week into his new role.

“I did a questionnaire at the start for every one of the 90 employee’s on site. The response was amazing and once the courses kicked off people from every section got involved, including cleaners and the semi-skilled men. We run the courses that people are interested in. For example we are just setting up one in Spanish for beginners. But I am particularly keen to push the skills 4 life in information technology, literacy and numeracy” said Stuart

Manchester College do the pre course assessments that people get paid time off to attend. This follows an agreement made with management at the steering group, which was established to take the education programmes forward. Completion of the skills 4 life courses are leading people to move forward onto NVQ’s from levels one to three. In September 2010 almost a third of the workforce was involved.

Stuart is extremely pleased, saying, “It’s great. We use a training room and tutors come in for an hour at a time with staff. Those who got involved knew it was to be undertaken in their own time, but management have recognised how the courses improve people’s morale and performance and have just agreed to pay back a cash equivalent of twenty hours on completion of each course. That’s about a quarter of the study time.”

Paul Grimes, the acting district maintenance manager, praised Stuart’s efforts saying, “The courses are fantastic and bolt on and continue what we are trying to achieve, Stuart has done a good job.”

Andy Eastell, an employee of Coca-Cola at Wakefield, West Yorkshire is hoping in time to emulate his fellow ULR’s achievement. His workplace employs around 350 and Andy, who has also been a shop steward for eight of his eleven years working there, is looking to negotiate an agreement with management to open a Learning Centre on site. With many staff already possessing a range of technical skills Andy is keen to help those he represents improve their numeric and literacy skills. In part it’s because he feels many are missing out on reading opportunities in their spare time, but he also recognises “that any new skills will benefit the company in the form of a better motivated and educated workforce. It’s a win-win situation.”

A view with which Tracy Lemmon, a Barclays Bank employee in Sunderland for eleven years, agrees. Four years ago, after returning to work following the birth of her first child, she was asked to become the ULR. She’d never heard of it before, but keen after an earlier period as a workplace rep, to play her part in the union she soon accepted the challenge.  Taster courses quickly established that amongst the 1,600 working at the Doxford Park contact centre site a number were keen to get involved. So much so that in 2009 over 200 achieved their Real Coaching NVQ’s and in September 2010 over 100 names were down for skills 4 life courses with double that number for customer services NVQ’s.

Such successes have justified Unite’s negotiations with Barclays to ensure that Tracy has two days a week facility time in her ULR role. Keen to increase the service she offers she is now following a path established through the efforts of union learn, and now taken by over 250 ULR’s in all unions across the north-east and Cumbria, in studying for her level 3 NVQ in Information, Advice and Guidance [IAG].

“I will be able to offer careers advice if my studies are successful. It makes sense to offer such a service, members and non-members who I have helped persuade to study often come to me for further advice” said Tracy whose efforts have also had the effect of considerably boosting Unite’s membership at Doxford Park, up from 20% four years ago to well over half now.

Tracy’s considerable efforts have just been given official recognition, with a Matrix award for the combined projects at Doxford Park and at Barclaycard on Teesside. This is the national quality standard for information, advice and/or guidance.

“I am very pleased, but the real pleasure of being a ULR is assisting people to take on new educational and training opportunities that can help with their personal and professional development,” said Tracy.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Durham Miners' Gala 2011

The Durham Miners’ Gala is fast becoming a must do annual event for Unite members and thousands of their fellow trade unionists.

Held on the second Saturday in July since 1871, this year’s brought 130,000 people onto the cobbled streets of the ancient City whose Castle and Cathedral provides a fitting background for such an impressive display of banners - around a hundred - brass bands and those who had gathered in solidarity.

All the more appropriate therefore that the brand new Unite regional banner depicting the merging process that created Britain’s biggest union was given its first public showing. And nobody was more delighted than John Chilton, convenor at Boulby Potash mine near Whitby that is the last working mine in the North-East, Yorkshire and Humber: “ This is a very special day combining history and heritage with a vision of a better world that everyone can help build.”

Including - miraculously - Carlos Bugueno Alfara, one of the 33 Chilean Miners who survived being trapped underground last year, and who was given a heroes welcome when he joined Len McCluskey [Unite General Secretary], Bob Crow RMT General Secretary], Labour MPs Cathy Jamieson and Dennis Skinner, Dave Prentis [Unison General Secretary] and Chris Kitchen [NUM General Secretary] on the speakers platform - at the rally [*] which rounds off the earlier march - to be promised support in their fight to be paid for the 69 days they survived.

Chilton and his 20 mates from the mine were almost in tears and so too was former coal-miner and NUM activist Dave Douglass. Dave had helped carry one of seven new Miners banners. Follonsby colliery may have ‘disappeared’ when it merged in 1959 with nearby Wardley, that itself closed in August 1974, but its banner clearly had a big impression on the young Douglass when he started his working life at Wardley.

The new one was doing something similar for the dozens queuing up to photograph it. The banner had first been displayed in Ireland at a Mayday festival in County Meath, an appropriate location, as it’s the only banner to have featured the portrait of James Connolly, the Irish revolutionary socialist and leader of the Citizen’s Army who was executed by the British after the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916.

Close by Sam Scholey, treasurer of the Unite First Direct branch, was keen to tell as many marchers as possible that ordinary finance workers shouldn’t be blamed for the financial mess caused by the City, and investment bankers, Sam was “soaking in the fantastic atmosphere” of her first gala and was delighted to see “so many trade unionists from different workplaces coming together.”

Kevin Donnelly had travelled from Bradford. A youth worker for 14 years he’s the branch secretary for the Leeds Unite branch of community and youth workers and is worried about the future of the youth service under the current government saying: “it could easily be the first public service to disappear, which is why youth workers need to continue to recruit their colleagues and collectively resist to maintain a service on which many working class young people depend on and need.”

Although he’s an ex-military man Donnelly called on the government to switch funding from the military campaigns being waged in Iraq, Afghanistan and now, Libya to public services including the NHS and education. On a weekend when the News of the World was set to disappear Donnelly was also hoping to purchase a copy of Bad News [go to June section for more details] that were being sold by some Printworkers sacked by Murdoch in 1986.

Dave Allan, a Sunderland Labour councillor, has attended dozens of previous Gala’s. He wouldn’t, despite the torrential rain, and the fact that the numbers attending means it takes over four hours to move just a mile, have missed this years for the world saying: “This is an enjoyable day, but one which also carries a serious message. Because by remembering the past you project into the present and future and strive for a government that seeks to protect the most vulnerable in a period when capitalism is in crisis.”

“It’s fantastic to see such a strong turnout and I seem to be saying this every year but the Gala or Big Meeting, as its known amongst many, seems to go from strength to strength and this year the Unite delegation is the biggest so far” said plumber Pat McCourt, who represents the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside on the Unite Executive.

Dedicated to Joseph Charlton, aged 42, and Robert Noble, aged 45, relatives of mine who perished in the Easington Colliery disaster sixty years ago this year.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Danny Alexander's pensions paper paves the way for further attacks in the future

An unpublished discussion paper that was prepared for the Treasury by Chief Secretary Danny Alexander confirms that the Government has accepted Lord Hutton’s recommendations on reforming public sector pensions.

The public services commission under Lord Hutton spent nine months examining pension schemes covering civil servants, teachers, local government and NHS workers, the police, armed forces and firefighters. Their final report was sent in March to the coalition government who promised to give it “careful consideration.”

A task now achieved in almost record time by Alexander. The Liberal Democrat MP for Inverness and Nairn was originally appointed to the post of Secretary of State for Scotland but was drafted in to the post of Chief Secretary to the Treasury when David Laws was forced to resign over his Parliamentary expenses claims.

Alexanders’ paper commits the government to having its final proposals in place by autumn, followed quickly by legislation to ensure that changes are implemented before the end of this Parliament in May 2015. With no signs of dissent on the issue by either Tory or Liberal Democrat MPs then only the organised opposition of trade union members stands in their way.

Although the paper states that public service pension provision - in the world’s sixth largest economy with a Gross Domestic Product of £1.3 trillion - should not be ‘a race to the bottom’ it’s difficult to see how asking workers to contribute more over a longer period and then receive less can be described as anything else. Especially when you throw in the fact that the government is to cut its own contributions, and also intends introducing a fixed Treasury ceiling that would pave the way for future further increases in workers’ contributions.

And there’s also the fact that they intend preventing workers in voluntary sector bodies and housing associations from being able to join any future schemes. Of course whether any of them would want to is another thing as the changes, if forced through, will: -

  • Bring the normal pension age of public sector pensions members in line with the State Pension Age, which by rising steadily over the years will reach 68 by 2044. 

  • Cut by 30% the amount a new civil servant can expect from their pension with smaller decreases for those who’ve already been paying and who will be moved from the final salary scheme when it is replaced by a career average revalued earnings scheme.

  • By seeking to protect those earning less than £15,000 a year from paying more expect those on a £1 more to contribute at least 3.3% extra per annum. A case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

  • Move the uprating of public sector pension entitlements from the Retail Price Index across to the Consumer Price Index. On this, the fact that both parties in the coalition government promised during the election not to do any such thing appears to be one more thing that can be added to a long list of broken promises, especially from the Liberal Democrats. Over the last decade the CPI has on average been 0.8% less and although calculating the exact amount that will be lost, by a public sector pensioner, is difficult it’s thought to be around £20 a week.

If all this is bad enough then don’t forget that the government’s fixed rate ceiling could well pave the way for something even worse! Food for thought for all those unsure of taking action.

Almost the double - Sunderland AFC 1912-13

Out soon and it's a brilliant book 
From Gary Rowell 

It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be asked to write the foreword for this book on one of Sunderland’s truly great sides.

Sadly too many Sunderland supporters know too little about the history of the club, and any book that reminds fans that we’ve won the top flight on six occasions - more than the likes of Newcastle United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Wolverhampton Wanderers or Leeds United - can’t be bad.

Two years ago Paul Days and Mark Metcalf did a great job of bringing alive the Sunderland side of 1935-37 in a book titled TOTAL FOOTBALL, a term the great Liverpool manager Bill Shankly used in honour of Raich Carter’s team who he compared to the fabulous Dutch side of the 1970s. 

Now in this latest book we get to find out how the 1912-13 side almost became the first side in the 20th century to win the League and FA Cup ‘double’ as they and, another great side, Aston Villa made it through to the Cup final whilst both finishing ahead of the rest in the League. In the end we took the League and the Villains the Cup in a final played before a then World Record crowd of 121,919 which remains the largest crowd at any Sunderland match during the club’s 132-year history.

As someone who loves the history of our club I was fascinated to find out more about the players from this fabulous season including the likes of George Holley - the First Divison top scorer in 1911-12 and a man who scored a hat-trick at St James’ Park in December 1908 when Newcastle were trashed 9-1. Jackie Mordue scored 15 times in the 1912-13 season but the undoubted star of the show was one of Sunderland’s greatest players - possibly the greatest - ever in Charlie Buchan, who notched 27 league goals,

Then there’s ‘keeper Joe Butler, who arrived after the season started, to make some fine-match winning saves and strengthen a defence in which centre half Charlie Thomson was outstanding. Throw in Harry Martin on the wing, Frank Cuggy and Harry Low as wing-half’s plus two outstanding fullbacks in Albert Milton and Charlie Gladwin then what you find inside this book is the tale of a very fine side. One all Sunderland supporters like myself can feel proud of.

Haway the Lads
Gary Rowell

Buy it now 

People with learning disabilities work out how to deal with death

A 15-minute film aimed at helping people with learning disabilities, their family and friends deal with the issue of dying has just been released.

‘We are Living Well but Dying Matters’ was written and directed by the Leeds based charity CHANGE. The film’s producers, the Dying Matters Coalition, was established two years ago by the National Council for Palliative Care to promote public awareness of a subject many people prefer not to talk about.    

CHANGE campaigns for equal rights for people with learning disabilities. The film was made by its workers Catherine Carter from Salford, he sister Joanne - who both have a learning disability - and Austin Bradshaw.

Both sisters had felt left in the dark when their father died in 1997 and Catherine is aware of plenty of people with learning disabilities who feel they are not properly informed by family, friends and professionals when someone close to them is dying.

“People don’t think we have feelings like everyone else,” she said. “They’re wrong - we feel sadness, we feel pain and they’re increased when we are not kept informed. And, of course, you can’t stop people dying so by keeping people in the dark it just increases the shock when people die. And in some cases it denies a person with a learning disability the chance to say goodbye.”

Making the film involved bringing together people with disabilities from across the north in small discussion workshops.

“We deliberately kept them small to encourage people to be able to speak up. Also whilst it’s a difficult subject we did not want people to leave feeling depressed and I think some of the enjoyment participants had from meeting up comes across on the DVD” said Catherine who also wrote the lyrics to the film’s final song.

Catherine Carter 

In the film, people with learning disabilities stress the need to be informed when someone is dying, what they’d like to have played at their own funeral, what should happen to any pets they might leave behind and how they’d like to be remembered.
The DVD also includes some practical advice, such as how to employ a solicitor and write a will.

Catherine believes that the DVD also has a practical implication for those ‘Living Well’, in that by considering death people may be encouraged to consider what they’d like to achieve in the here and now. In Catherine’s case she has already started to set up a business to help people with learning disabilities whose children have been removed by social services. CHANGE has supported her after social services removed her two children in a case she is contesting.

“I think everyone involved with making the DVD is pleased with the final result and I hope as many people as possible access it on YouTube. It’s aimed at people with learning disabilities but it’s not exclusive to them,” said Catherine.

CHANGE is hoping that community organisations working with people with learning disabilities will use it to set up similar workshops.