Monday, 27 February 2012

Eureka - why hasn't every town got one?

One of the [major] benefit's of living in West Yorkshire is that with a 4-year old child there's a chance to take him to Eureka, the interactive play and learning centre for youngsters. It's a shame there aren't hundreds of similar places across the country.

Britain's finest pub?

Sadly i have not had the chance to visit all of them, but the Great Western at the back of Wolverhampton train station is definitely one of the best around.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Teams of the decades - 1890 to 2012

Through the decades


Top side – with 4 league titles and 2 FA Cup win’s it was Aston Villa. Although Everton were the best supported side.


With 3 league titles, 1 FA Cup win and the highest average gate it was Newcastle United.


With 2 league titles from just 5 competitive seasons it has to be Blackburn Rovers, although Chelsea was the best supported side.


With 3 consecutive titles and 1 FA Cup trophy it was Huddersfield although Chelsea despite 6 seasons in Division 2 had the highest average gate.


With 5 league titles and 2 FA Cup wins the best supported side Arsenal were the side of the 30s.


With 2 league titles from just 4 seasons it was Portsmouth, although 2nd division Newcastle were the best supported club.


With 3 league titles honours were even – Manchester United and Wolves, with little to choose attendance wise between United, Spurs, Arsenal and Chelsea. Best watched away side was however Blackpool!!


Man Utd with 2 league trophies, 1 FA Cup and the 1968 European Cup Win only just beat Spurs with 1 league trophy, 3 FA Cups and the 1963 Cup Winners Cup victory into 2nd place as the best team of the decade and also taking them to the top of the attendance tree.


Liverpool with 4 league titles, 1 FA Cup, 2 European and 2 EUFA cup wins were the team of the decade but off the pitch Manchester United assumed their virtually permanent place at the top of the attendance tree from 72-73 onwards broken only by Liverpool in 1987-88 and 88-89.


With 6 League titles, 2 FA Cup’s, 4 league cups and two more European Cups then Liverpool were the number one team.


With 5 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups, 1 League Cup, 1 Cup Winners Cup Trophy and the 1999 Champions Clubs’ Cup Manchester United were the team of the decade.

This century so far

With 7 League titles, 3 League Cup, 1 FA Cup, 2 Champions League and success in the FIFA Club World Cup in 2008 the current side of the century so far is Manchester United.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Niall Quinn's playing career at Sunderland

With the big man having left Sunderland this week, a look back at his playing career with the club from 1996 to 2002.

"I learned my trade at Arsenal, became a footballer at Manchester City, but Sunderland got under my skin. I love Sunderland."
—Niall Quinn, The Autobiography

Irishman Quinn was Sunderland’s record signing at £1.3 million when manager and former team mate Peter Reid persuaded him to pass up a lucrative contract in Malaysia to sign for newly promoted Sunderland prior to the start of the 1996-97 season. It looked money well spent when he scored twice and led the front line superbly as Sunderland swept Nottingham Forest away to record a 4-1 victory in the second game of the season at the County Ground. A serious knee ligament injury sustained the following month was however to disrupt both Quinn and his new teams rhythm, forcing the former Arsenal and Manchester City man to miss six months of the season.

On his return he never looked completely fit, with rumours constantly circulating that his career, at aged 30, might in fact be at an end. Without someone to knock home the goals Sunderland fought to the end before going losing at Wimbledon to be relegated on the final day of the season.

Fully fit at the start of the 1997-98 season Quinn was joined up front by late starter to the professional game, Watford’s Kevin Phillips. Totally different in size and shape the two were nevertheless to enjoy at times an almost telepathic understanding, especially after Manchester City’s Nicky Summerbee was signed in November 1997 to produce the sort of crosses Quinn could exploit with his superb aerial ability.

It was Quinn that had the crowd at the newly opened Stadium of Light roaring their delight when he scored the first league goal there, and with a goal from Phillips Sunderland were quickly into their stride by beating Manchester City 3-1.

 In March 1998 Quinn scored his only treble during his time at Sunderland as Stockport County were beaten 4-1.  Yet despite winning at Swindon Town on the final day of the season, Sunderland just finished outside the automatic promotion places taken by Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest.

Beating Sheffield United in the semi-final set up Reid’s side for a place in the Wembley play-off final. Playing poorly in the first half and a goal down it was Quinn who got his side back into the match when he brilliantly headed Summerbee’s corner beyond Sasa Ilic and into the Charlton net. It was to spark wild celebration.

Then after the sides had traded goals, with Phillips breaking Brian Clough’s scoring record for the season by scoring his 35th of 1997-98, it was Quinn who again put Sunderland ahead. It was a fine goal, Geordie scumbag Lee Clark swinging in a deep cross which found Quinn backing away from his marker. The Irishman used his chest to perfectly control the ball before firing past Ilic from an acute angle.

Charlton though weren’t done as after taking the lead three times, Sunderland was pegged back to draw a great game 4-4, with Sunderland born Clive Mendonca scoring three times for the Adicks.

If losing the subsequent penalty shoot-out 7-6 disappointed Sunderland they didn’t show it the following season. From the off they were in charge at the top, and were to go on and record a then record number of points - 105.

Quinn’s scoring touch returned, and he ended up with 21 by the end of the season. One of his most important came at Loftus Road in January, heading home a last minute equaliser and a month later he was repeating the exercise as Sunderland edged past Wolves 2-1 at home.

 It was probably however the game at Valley Parade against promotion rivals Bradford City that moved him into legend status, when after powerfully heading Allan Johnston’s cross into the net on 72 minutes to make it 1-0 he then donned the goalkeeper’s jersey after Thomas Sorensen was forced to leave the pitch with a neck injury. Sunderland won 1-0 and cemented their position at the top of the League.

 In April with more than half the crowd behind them Quinn scored Sunderland’s third at Gigg Lane. Sandwiched between Phillips four the 5-2 victory over Bury ensured promotion. On the final day of the season both men were on the scoresheet, as with skipper Kevin Ball collecting the Championship trophy Sunderland beat Birmingham City 2-1.

With his popularity on and off the pitch at an all-time high A Love Supreme Fanzine released a CD entitled ‘Niall Quinn’s Disco Pants’ and the song can still be heard regularly at home and, in particular, away games.  It got to 39th in the charts. Funds raised went to the MacMillan Nurses, well done lads.

Come the start of the Premiership campaign Sunderland had four points from their first four games when they made the short journey to what was then St James’ Park. On a night of incessant rain Newcastle were leading until the 64th minute.

Then Quinn met Summerbee’s free kick from the left with a glancing header, and the ball dropped neatly inside Tommy Wright's right post.

And when Phillips later rammed home the winner the few hundred Sunderland fans allowed entry went absolutely mental, including the author of this particular piece.

 On October 31st 1999 Quinn played probably his finest game in a Sunderland strip when in addition to scoring two fine goals he led his marker England centre-back Sol Campbell a merry dance as Spurs were beaten 2-1.

His goals were majestic when after pulling away from Campbell he took the ball on his chest and fired a right-foot volley past Ian Walker and into the top corner for his fourth goal of the season. His fifth arrived within 12 minutes in similar fashion as he again used his chest to control a cross before dispatching it into the back of the net with Walker hopelessly exposed.
The Ireland international also played with distinction against Manchester United in December. Without the injured Phillips alongside him, Quinn playing up front his own demonstrated the art of keeping the ball whilst allowing Sunderland’s midfielders to get forward in support. He also scored his sides second before Alex Ferguson’s team profited from some dubious refereeing decisions to snatch a 2-2 draw.

Later, in April 2000, Quinn scored with a delightful lob in a 2-1 win at Southampton that put Sunderland within touching distance of a EUFA Cup place. Failure to beat Bradford City at home ultimately proved it was a step too far but with a seventh placed finish Sunderland had shown they had what it takes to compete with the best.

It was something Sunderland continued to demonstrate during the following season, although there was more than a touch of fortune about the opening day’s victory over Arsenal in which Quinn headed Mickey Gray’s cross home for the only goal of a game totally dominated by the away side.

In November back at St James’ Park Quinn had the travelling hordes again in ecstasy when, following Don Hutchinson’s equaliser on 68 minutes, he buried another Gray cross to give the away side a 2-1 lead. Never the greatest of tacklers though Quinn then blotted his copybook with a poor challenge on Rob Lee that had referee Graham Poll pointing to the penalty spot. Rescued when Sorensen saved Alan Shearer’s subsequent penalty kick Quinn joined his teammates in delirious celebration at the end of the match.

With Sunderland in the last eight of the League cup there was therefore disappointment when Reid chose to rest him in the quarterfinal tie at Selhurst Park and without him Crystal Palace triumphed 2-1.

Sunderland though was in with a chance of qualifying for Europe through a high-place League finish. That was especially the case when returning from injury Quinn had a simple finish as Sunderland raced into a 2-0 lead at Easter against Spurs. The Cockneys though, inspired by Tim Sherwood produced a wonderful second half performance to come off winners 3-2 and in the end Sunderland again finished seventh amidst rumours that Quinn was to lose his strike partner as Phillips sought to boost his international chances.

Both men were to remain at Sunderland for the 2001-2002 season. It was to prove a difficult one, with Reid’s side only just avoiding relegation. With Lilian Laslandes signed, to play alongside Phillips, Quinn was on the bench for the Blackburn game early in the season. Coming on he headed Stefan Schwarz’s cross powerfully home for the only goal of the game. Against Leeds at home he turned provider by chesting the ball perfectly into Phillips path as the Peacocks were denied a return to top spot, Sunderland winning 2-0.

On Boxing Day he gave the 7,500 away fans something to shout about when he headed home twice in the first half as Sunderland won 3-0 at Blackburn Rovers. Seven games without a win in the New Year though had Reid under pressure and there was relief when Quinn scored the only goal at, another relegation threatened side, Derby County. It was the big man’s final goal of his career and as his sixth goal of the season it was probably his most vital as come the end of the season Sunderland finished just one place outside the relegation zone.

It was clear that Sunderland’s fourth season in the top flight was going to be difficult, the promotion spirit engendered in 1998-99, on which Reid’s side had flourished, having long since dissipated as the Scouse manager sought salvation in alcohol.

Niall Quinn though had other things to think about during the summer of 2002. Ireland had qualified for the World Cup in Japan and South Korea. Key to the side’s success was going to be the form of skipper Roy Keane. So there was dismay when angered by the poor facilities provided by the Football Association of Ireland he packed his bags and set off home.

With appeals for him to change his mind failing to move the Manchester United man, Quinn and the rest of the players publicly backed manager Mick McCarthy who Keane had lambasted in the press. Keane had previously left Quinn disappointed when he failed to appear for Ireland at the latter’s testimonial at the Stadium of Light organised at the end of the season. Drawing a crowd of 37,000 all proceeds, around a million pounds, were donated to charity.

Without Keane Ireland did well enough at the World Cup, going out on penalties to Spain in the last sixteen, one round less than in 1990 when as part of the Ireland side Quinn lost 1-0 to hosts Italy in the last eight. Earlier Quinn had scored the vital equalising goal in the final group match with Holland that finished 1-1. With 92 caps and 21 goals Quinn enjoyed a long and distinguished international career.

Quinn was unable to see out the 2002-03 season and it was as a ‘peace maker’ that he ‘enjoyed’ his most memorable moment. Amidst a poisonous atmosphere off the pitch Sunderland had hauled themselves level against Manchester United courtesy of a goal from the player signed to replace Quinn, Tore Andre Flo.

Then late on in the game Roy Keane lost his temper after a tangle with one of his strongest critics, fellow World Cup squad member Jason McAteer. Sent off, Keane was roundly abused as he made his way off the pitch when Quinn, on as a substitute, ran towards him with the intention, agreed beforehand, of offering a conciliatory handshake that would be seen as bringing down the curtain on affairs at the World Cup. Sir Alex Ferguson though was having none of it, and Quinn was left looking slightly foolish. He was though to have the last laugh because four years later, as newly appointed Sunderland chairman, he was able to persuade Keane to take over as manager at the Stadium of Light where in his first season in charge he returned Sunderland to the top flight.

Quinn’s final appearance for Sunderland came against West Ham United in a 1-0 defeat on 19 October 2002. Coming on as a second half substitute he almost grabbed the equaliser on 76 minutes but his delicate half volley came back off the post with David James well beaten. Without his aerial abilities, link up play with Phillips, all round team play and charisma Sunderland slumped to relegation with only 19 points come the end of the season.

Of course if Niall Quinn was finished on the pitch for Sunderland that didn’t prove to be the case off it! 

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Incinerator health study finally gets underway

Britain’s first major study into the impact of emissions from municipal waste incinerators will finally get underway shortly.
First announced nearly a year ago this will see the Small Area Health Statistics Unit, Imperial College London, and the Environmental Research Group, King’s College London, undertake the investigation on behalf of the Health Protection Agency, the body that first promised to carry out the study back in 2003. 
Since when Japan in 2004 and Italy in 2007 have conducted their own studies with the former reporting a “peak-decline in risk with distance from the municipal solid waste incinerators for infant deaths and infant deaths with all congenital malformations combined." Then last year a US study concluded that air pollution from industrial sources damages school children’s health and academic success.

News of the study’s start, which will take two years to complete, has drawn a mixed response from campaigners opposed to incinerators and local authorities that have commissioned them.

Shlomo Dowen, who head’s the UK’s without incinerator network [UKWIN], is concerned that the Health Protection Agency [HPA] has used the recent announcement to re-confirm its belief that ‘any potential damage to the health of those living close to well-regulated municipal waste incinerators is likely to be very small’.

“UKWIN has not been consulted on the study's reference terms to make an informed judgment. I expect even if it identifies correlations it will cite confounding factors and uncertainty to downplay the health impacts. I hope the study surprises me, but unless it does, there is not much to get excited about. Furthermore last year Imperial College signed an industry wide statement that claimed ‘energy from waste is not harmful to the environment or public health’, and so they appear to have already made their mind up even before carrying out this research,” says Shlomo.

Meanwhile a spokesperson for Kirklees Council, whose incinerator is located in a busy residential area, said they “will be studying the findings when they become available in 2014”, but would not be drawn on what should happen if the study concluded that emissions did damage the health of infants and young children.

Back in 2009 the authority threatened legal action against anti-incineration campaigners in the Thirsk area for displaying Shrewsbury’s Michael Ryan claims that their incinerator was linked to above average infant mortality levels in some wards. 

It was after two of his children died that the former local government official determined to find out why. Utilising Office of National Statistics figures to assemble the largest statistical base currently available, Ryan has concluded that infant death rates are much higher in neighbourhoods downwind of incinerators. The stats would suggest he’s right.

Asked if the study would include examining Ryan’s work a spokesperson for the HPA would not comment, but did say “The study will be using original Health data obtained from the Office for National Statistics and congenital anomaly registers.  Exposures will be estimated by dispersion modelling of incinerator emissions.” In other words, no.

Ryan is therefore sceptical saying “the promised study won’t get to the truth as neither the Health Protection Agency, nor the Environment Agency wish to be exposed as having been negligent.”

Hostel closures on the rise

Leeds City Council has defended their plans to close a city centre hostel. With admissions to Ladybeck House having ended, the 42-bed hostel with 24-hour staff support will close its doors on 4 March.

This will be the third hostel in Leeds to have closed in the last six months after Richmond Court, a 20-unit hostel for homeless families, and The Hollies, a 31-bed hostel for single homeless women shut in September last year. According to Councillor Peter Gruen there will also be “a gradual reduction in hostels across Leeds in the future”.

Asked if the closure was aimed at saving money a council spokesperson said it “was the result of a remodelling of services after consultation with homeless people showed they felt dispersed temporary accommodation with visiting support would afford them more privacy and independence, and remove the stigma often associated with hostels. We are endeavouring to modernise our services in line with customer preference”. According to the council fifty people had attended consultation events and they had undertaken telephone surveys with those unable to attend.

However, two former residents of Ladybeck are not convinced by the council’s claims. Phil Boden and John Whittaker are Big Issue sellers in Leeds and are in regular contact with people who have, like themselves, benefited from staying at the hostel. According to John he found it “a warm and welcoming place”, whilst for Phil “it put a roof over my head whilst I waited for somewhere to live after leaving prison.

Like many other homeless people I am against its closure as not everyone can live alone because of mental health problems or being unable to cope with paying bills. Also living with people who share similar problems can help. Furthermore there are not enough hostels as it is and I fear homelessness levels could rise”.

The council disputes the latter point, with its spokesperson saying, “There is a new contract in place for dispersed temporary accommodation which is flexible enough to change depending upon demand. There are no limits to the number of beds available to accommodate homeless people in Leeds and we also have a lettings scheme to facilitate access to tenancies in the private sector”.

The situation at Ladybeck is mirrored by events elsewhere across the north.

Providence House, a short stay accommodation for up to 68 men, is the largest in Rochdale. It will close on 31 March, bringing to an end the Salvation Army’s accommodation role that first started in the Lancashire town in 1967. Rather than continue to fund the work of the church, Rochdale Borough Council has said it is ‘in favour of commissioning smaller units’, but would ‘working with the Salvation Army to ensure the transition is as smooth as it can be’.

Back across in Yorkshire the Salvation Army’s Lawley House hostel in Bradford has also had its contract cancelled with the local council and will be closing in May. This first opened in 1971, and as well as offering shelter it has helped people tackle drug and alcohol problems. A spokesperson for the Salvation Army said, “The closure is the result of local authorities having to make some hard decisions because of spending cuts.”

Monday, 20 February 2012

Leaving school is about to get harder.....16, 17, 18.......

This is a longer version of a piece that is in this weeks Big Issue in the North magazine. 

The government has failed to prepare for the raising of the school leaving age next year by ensuring the right colleges and courses are in place, an education expert has warned.

The current school leaving age is 16. It was introduced in 1972, seventy-three years after it became compulsory for young people to attend school until they were, at least, twelve. This is to be raised next year to 17, and the year afterwards to 18.

But Tom Wylie, former head of the National Youth Agency, said that funding for colleges and community-based organisations is “complex and problematic” and not geared towards the needs of local economies.

In 2007 Wylie - who last year acted as a special advisor to the Education Select Committee examining the challenges facing 16-19 year olds - warned the Labour government that too many people left education without the skills needed to find work. He urged for greater investment in community organisations better able to deal with “disaffected, slightly disgruntled, underachieving youngsters” likely to be forced to remain in education.

Last week he said: “I hope I am not saying the same thing in 2017- that there are not enough of the right kinds of courses and appropriate vocational qualifications for the population. But I wouldn’t bet against it. Little has changed at the supply end with funding for colleges and community-based organisations remaining complex and problematic.

Furthermore since 2008 - when the proposed changes were made law under the education and skills act - “the scrapping of the educational maintenance allowance, a steep rise in youth unemployment and massive cutbacks in youth work services are going to make it very difficult to create a system that can assistance our young people to up-skill in order to compete internationally” says Wylie.

Around 200,000 16-18 year olds – around 10% of the total - are Not in Education, Employment or Training [NEET]. Scunthorpe County Labour MP Nic Dakin, who last year sat on the Education Select Committee, echoed some of Tom Wylie’s concerns and said “without proper resources and strong leadership nationally and locally it will be difficult to engage with youngsters already NEET or those likely to become so.”

Although the vocational courses introduced by Labour, during their 13 years in power, were heavily criticised last year by Professor Alison Wolf on grounds that they were of little value in helping young people find work or gain a university place, Dakin doesn’t believe the coalition government’s new plans are an improvement.

These will end schools having a duty to provide work-related learning, including work experience, to all pupils over 14. The English Baccalaureate [EBacc] introduction last year into secondary schools – requiring pupils to gain good GCSE’s in core subjects, including maths, history or geography, science and a language – may he feels see schools “downgrade their support for other subjects, thus increasing alienation.”

It’s a charge a Department of Education spokesperson refutes saying “EBacc is not compulsory. And because languages were not previously compulsory there was a sharp decline of take-up in French, German and Spanish. We have already seen an increase in student numbers taking History and Geography, and research shows leading employers are wanting tougher and more analytical subjects to be taught.” She denied pupils wouldn’t have time to study other chosen subjects and said it was right that all students aged 16-19 without a grade C or better in English or Maths should continue to study these subjects.

With regards to whether there will be the resources available to achieve full participation of young people in education or training until age 18 the spokesperson said, “ultimately it will be down to Local Authorities to make sure young people in their areas participate and have the support they need to overcome barriers to learning.”

In Leeds a City Council spokesperson said, “We are fully confident that the necessary changes will be in place within the required timescales to meet the challenges. We are working in partnership with schools, colleges and training providers including smaller, often voluntary sector providers. “

She said the expected increased costs of raising the leaving age would not affect other services “as learning for 16 to 18 year olds is funded through the Young People’s Learning Agency and in the case of Apprenticeships through the Skills Funding Agency and not the local authorities.” 

Halifax author gets a kick out of football

Halifax author gets a kick out of football

A HALIFAX man has turned his passion for football into a full-time occupation.
Freelance author Mark Metcalf, who lives with his wife Ruth and four-year-old son Charlie in Pellon, Halifax, has written a host of books covering aspects of his favourite sport. And he has ideas for many more which will keep him busy for the forseeable future.
Metcalf specialises in pre-first world war histories and biographies - a field where he believes he is the most published author of football books in the world.
To call him prolific is an understatement. Metcalf already has nine books to his name with another three due to hit the shelves this year.
His latest work, ‘The Golden Boot - Football’s Top Scorer Year by Year’ is written with well-known football writer and historian Tony Matthews. It profiles those players who have topped the scoring charts in the old First Division and now the Premier League since John Goodall of Preston North End notched 20 in 1888, to the most recent in Manchester rivals Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov, who scored 21 each last season.
The pages are littered with some of the game’s top names and how they created and scored the goals that made their reputations.
“Tony and myself analysed the goals and came up with the different types of goalscorers,” said Metcalf. “You had people like Nat Lofthouse and Dixie Dean who were good in the air and then others like Gary Lineker who were more opportunists - having that ability to move off a defender and create space.
“George Best was quite obviously a superstar, he had everything, and we have seen more recently the overseas players making a big impact.
“But for me the top goalscorer of them all has to be Jimmy Greaves. He was a brilliant goalscorer who topped the charts six times.”
The book follows a long line of titles as diverse as “Stan Anderson - Captain of the North” about the only player to have skippered Sunderland, Newcastle and Middlesbrough, to a detailed account of Bury FC’s most successful years between 1900-03.
“It all started with a book about Charlie Hurley who was voted both Sunderland’s and, more recently Millwall’s Player of the Century,” said Metcalf.
“I am a massive fan of Sunderland and I used to go to matches with my dad and the love of the game grew from there.
“I have a passion for the history of football and I try to concentrate on writing books that reflect that.”
A former industrial, and later community and youth, worker Metcalf also writes for a number of magazines, particularly The Big Issue in the North and the various publications of the trade union, Unite.
However, he is never happier than when researching his next football project. A profile of legendary Manchester City keeper Frank Swift is well underway, again in partnership with Matthews.
“I am not a professional writer so I have had to learn as I have gone along,” he added.
“The subject has to interest me as the research can be extremely time-consuming.
“I am quite lucky now because as you get to work on these books you get to know people in various libraries and football clubs who can assist you.
“The difficulties in research can often be getting access to players. That can be a long process and is often very frustrating.”
Having said that Metcalf is determined to maintain his output and it seems he is never short of subject matter.
“The books are a real labour of love,” he added. “There are always anniverseries connected with the game coming up so I have ideas going on into 2015-16 and 17.”
When he is not writing about the game, Metcalf can be found at all manner of different football locations, although he admitted to not spending too much time at The Shay.
“I will probably get down to Halifax Town three or four times a season,” he said. “I have watched football since 1965 and average over 80 games a season.
“But I always go to the game to enjoy it and not to think about the next book. Like many others I like to have a drink with my mates, sing and shout and watch the match as keenly as possible.”
The Golden Boot: Football’s Top Scorer Year By Year is published by Amberley Publishing and priced at £20.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Worth a read - Banking on Crisis by Corporate Watch

Corporate Watch has just released the first publication in its ‘Banking on Crisis’ series, and like most of the work undertaken by the 16 year-old research group it’s worth a read.
‘Demystifying the Financial Sector’  – is a 24 page, easy to read ‘Nuts and bolts guide’ to the financial sector that now lies ‘at the very core of contemporary capitalism and acts as the primary organising principle of a global economy driven by the single aim of profit maximisation – whatever the social and environmental cost’.
Readers with little – or no – knowledge of the world of finance and banking get an accessible overview of its working and why ‘highly speculative forms of investment authority, which were previously taken on only by a limited section of society [i.e the ultra-wealthy] have become generalised across a much wider public sphere, with banks acting to facilitate and manage this expansion’.
Particularly interesting is how workers pension funds, once largely invested in government bonds, are now indirectly invested in financial derivatives such as shares and property. When the former dips then so too does the pension fund, and to prevent this corporations’ are placed under pressure to up levels of exploitation of their workforce and the environment. Union-busting, tax evasion and waste-dumping are the consequences, a case of workers money being used to drive down their fellow workers wages and conditions at work.
Not of course that this necessarily even guarantees a decent return for the investors. In August 2011 the stock market crash wiped £250 billion from the value of ordinary peoples’ pensions, with average savers estimated to have lost one fifth of their pensions. Save more, work longer, retire later and die earlier. And that will certainly be the case for many households, as it is estimated that currently 15% of household spends in the UK are going just to cover the interest payments arising from debt. 

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Remember the dead and fight for the living – the Tebay tragedy eight years on

RAIL UNION RMT will today (15th February 2012) mark the eighth anniversary of the disaster near Tebay in Cumbria, where four rail workers were killed by a runaway wagon, with a renewed call for action to stop a repeat of the tragic safety failure from ever happening again.

Six years ago I wrote this piece for the Big Issue in the North magazine, which was later re-produced in the Morning Star, on Tebay.  

"IF WE don't get something done, there will be another similar incident that will see other rail workers die like my friends."
That was the first thing that Ronnie- not his real name- said when he was asked about the death of four rail workers at Tebay, Cumbria, in February 2004.
Genuine concern, fear and sadness were etched on his face. "I'd like to give you my name, but I'd probably get the sack," he said- which immediately begs the question whether this government's "whistleblower's charter," which is supposed to protect public servants who speak out, has got round to covering railway workers.
Ronnie is lucky to be alive. He could easily have been killed like the four men on Sunday February 15 2004, when a runaway road/rail trailer ploughed down the hill from Scout Green South in Cumbria during maintenance work on the West Coast Main Line, bringing death and destruction to a gang of 13 workers three miles down the line at Tebay.
Both sites were the responsibility of Carillion, which is contracted by Network Rail to maintain the line. Chris Walters, Colin Buckley, Gary Tindall and Darren Burgess were killed. Others suffered horrific injuries and were off work for months.

'Our injuries may have cleared up, but the memory of that night never goes away.'
"Our injuries may have cleared up, but the memory of that night never goes away," said Ronnie. Those who died were employees of Carillion, which quickly accepted its civil liability for the deaths and injuries under the Employer's Liability (Defective Equipment) Act 1969, which introduced a presumption that, where an employee is injured by defective equipment, his employer is liable.
Mark Connolly, from Anglesey, north Wales, and his employee Roy Kennett, from Kent, were found guilty of the manslaughter of the four men at Newcastle Crown Court in March this year and sentenced to nine and two years in jail respectively.
The court heard that Connolly's firm MAC Machinery Services had been subcontracted by Carillion to work alongside employees from a further seven separate firms at Scout Green.
Such high numbers of different contracting companies working on site has been roundly condemned by rail workers' union the RMT, but it is not particularly unusual.
On the day of the tragedy, the two men were offloading 20-foot rails which had been transported to the Scout Green site by a road/rail vehicle, to which a road/rail trailer was attached.
The use of an off-rail road crane to load old track onto the trailer made it necessary to detach the trailer from the road/rail vehicle so as not to interfere with the overhead power lines.
Connolly was later found to have disconnected the trailer's brakes, due to the fact that the hydraulic systems would not work properly in conjunction with the crane.
The two were relying on placing wooden chocks under the trailer's wheels to prevent it running away. It didn't work. As a second piece of track was being loaded, the trailer slipped away and hurtled down the track towards the Tebay gang.
Records show that MAC had only been given approved supplier status with Carillion Rail less than two months earlier, on December 19 2003, and it was only after the company had received an "unsolicited approach" a month later that MAC became a second-tier supplier to "fill in" when "Carillion's two principal plant-hire suppliers in the Preston area" couldn't "accommodate the requirements for road/rail vehicles and associated equipment."
MAC had first come to Carillion's attention in April 2003 when it discovered that another plant-hiring company was cross-hiring plant from it. Procedures were adopted to ensure that MAC became "link-up qualified" and "Carillion Rail-approved."
In July 2003, MAC management claimed to be link-up qualified, when, in fact, they were not. This should, perhaps, have alerted Carillion to the type of company that it was happy to hire plant from.
Carillion had notified MAC that it intended to negotiate a working framework agreement. This was not in place at the time of Tebay. MAC had also failed to supply a risk assessment for the tasks that it was to undertake. MAC was also expected to undertake inspections of machinery, including "to check all brake systems."
Connolly had employed two fitters to do this. One had no formal qualifications and the other had previously done work on similar vehicles to road/rail vehicles.
No record of safety checks appears to have been requested by either Carillion or Network Rail.
Neither had Carillion itself carried out a "civil method statement" or, as it is better known, a risk assessment for the maintenance work at Tebay. This was in spite of the fact that, following the formal investigation into events at Culgaith near Carlisle in January 2003, the company had announced in its rail safety brief of April 2003 that "it has been recorded that our method statements should be improved in the area of working on gradients with plant and equipment."
At Culgaith, a trailer had run away for nearly two miles, joining a list of incidents that Network Rail admitted may have been underestimated, as it discovered "that more runaway trailer incidents had taken place than had been reported," due to "a perception amongst the workforce that, if incidents and accidents are reported, then blame may be laid against them."
RMT members who asked for copies of the method statement for the job at Tebay were later given one dated April 4 2004, two months after the tragedy.
"I must be honest- when we were given the report, none of us looked at its date. It wasn't until a few weeks later that someone noticed it was dated for April. It angered a few people, I can tell you," said Ronnie.
Some of the workers believe that, if the trailer had been equipped with flashing lights and hooters, then those who were killed might be alive today. "All we wanted was a couple of seconds notice," said Ronnie.
RMT health and safety officer Phil Dee is not convinced, stressing that "what we as a union want is to stop runaways. We need to ensure that every vehicle is braked and there are no problems with them."

'Under British Rail, RMT would not have had to worry about these safety issues.'
RMT general secretary Bob Crow also remains concerned that, "two years after Tebay, we still have a confusion of contractors, subcontractors and one-man-and-a-dog plant-hire operators" on the railways.
He urged Network Rail to bring renewals work back in-house, as it did with rail maintenance for safety and efficiency reasons, in July 2004. Crow is adamant that Tebay was no accident and was the "result of privatisation," repeating the union's demand for the railways to be renationalised.
A few years ago, the RMT would not have needed to have concerned themselves with safety concerns over road/rail vehicles or trailers. Back in the British Rail days, the Scout Green job would have involved rail-based cranes and wagons that were attached to a locomotive being manned by a qualified train driver. This, of course, would cost more money and mean that jobs take longer than with road/rail vehicles.
One method which would certainly have prevented the deaths- and could save the lives of others in the future- would have been to chain a railway sleeper across the track. The runaway trailer would have been derailed before it got anywhere near the 13 workers at Tebay.
But such actions are apparently considered unsafe, since, if the sleeper were to be forgotten, then a passenger train could be derailed the next morning, with even more horrific consequences.
As might be expected, the injured have been forced to take time off work. Carillion's sympathy did not extend to ensuring that they were paid their average earnings rather than their basic wages, a sum of money equivalent to around £120 a week per worker.
The company only backed down after strong representations from Crow to both Carillion and Network Rail. In 2004 and 2005, Carillion made nearly £120 million profit.
The Carillion Rail website states: "Our vision is to be a company renowned for working in a spirit of openness." Yet, when asked a series of questions relating to Tebay, a company spokesperson replied: "The issues raised are subject to a formal investigation by Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate and, therefore, we cannot comment."
Andy Boyack of the RMT Liverpool office said that this "is news to members of the RMT, as we know of no other inquiry taking place," pointing out that the union has "vigorously pushed for a full public inquiry from the start."

'Carillion's sympathy did not extend to paying injured workers their average wage.'
This silence adds to concerns raised by Hilda Palmer from the Manchester Hazards Centre that "the failure of the prosecution to examine the legal responsibility of Carillion in determining that subcontractors at least comply with minimum health and safety standards may be denying rail workers the safety and security the law should ensure."
"No comment" from Carillion Rail was, at least, more than the Transport Department at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister was prepared to say on the Tebay tragedy.
No-one was available to reply to any questions or telephone inquiries, while emails to former transport minister Alistair Darling and the department went unanswered.
But a Network Rail spokesperson claimed that, since Tebay, the company had "worked closely with the rail industry to implement a number of improvements in the control, maintenance and operation of the type of rail equipment involved at Tebay" and that, by bringing 15,000 staff in-house, this meant that there is now "absolute clarity over roles and regulations," allowing "easier control of work practice" on sites.
Ronnie and his fellow rail workers are not so sure. "It's true that there does appear to be a reduced number of reports of runaways," he said, "but let's not forget that, late last year, a locomotive even ran away and hurtled at 60mph down the track at night between Birmingham and Lichfield.
"I don't want what happened at Tebay to ever be repeated."

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Huddersfield Town 0 Sheffield United 1

Huddersfield Town 0

Sheffield United 1

Collins 5

Three precious points for Danny Wilson’s side who with neighbours Wednesday also losing at home to Stevenage leaped into the second of the automatic promotion spots. The winning goal came after just five minutes when Harry Maguire rose to head Ryan Flynn’s corner back across goal where Neill Collins rose in front of Alex Smithies, back after injury to replace Ian Bennett in goal, to head home his first goal for the club. Queue ecstatic celebrations amongst the 4,500 travelling army. There was a chance of a second soon after but Flynn made a poor pass as the home defence struggled to cope with the Blades attacking midfielders.

When the Terriers did respond Danny Ward, who minutes earlier had been switched from right to left, hit a powerful 30-yard shot just wide. Then from a corner the home fans and players made a strong appeal for a penalty, as Anton Robinson appeared to have had his shirt tugged in the box. A flying Steve Simonsen save then denied Oscar Gobern before the Blades Richard Cresswell failed to take the opportunity to double his side’s advantage with a poor header from just six yards.

Huddersfield’s scoring sensation Jordan Rhodes had been well marshalled by Maguire and Collins but might have done better with two half-chances from the edge of the area before he was desperately unlucky with a snap shot that beat Simonsen but cannoned back into play off the post.

On 37 minutes the home side were kept in the match when after fumbling a Ched Evans shot, Smithies blocked Stephen Quinn’s follow up effort and then did brilliantly to foil Richard Cresswell when the ball spun towards the United attacker. With the interval looming Gobern should have headed Sean Morrison’s long throw home for the equaliser.

After an entertaining first half the second proved a dull affair and chances were few, although Rhodes should have done better when he received the ball just seven yards out from Danny Ward. The Huddersfield winger then created a half-chance for himself but after turning inside his shot lacked pace and direction. 

With the home side seeking an equaliser Morrison had his header knocked off the line by Michael Doyle and then minutes later the big centre-back did well to turn inside and hit a right-foot shot that seemed set to enter the net until Collins stuck out his leg and deflected the ball, somewhat fortunately, into Simonsen’s grateful arms. With time running out the keeper confidently held on to another Gobern header to ensure a just about deserved victory on a cold night that must have Sheffield United fans dreaming of a quick return to the Championship.

4,500 Sheffield United fans packed out one end of the ground and made far more noise than the home fans.
The away fans stood throughout the whole 90 minutes of the match. 

Friday, 10 February 2012

Support South Yorkshire Stagecoach bus drivers strike

In a dispute over pay, Unite bus driver members at Stagecoach in Barnsley and Rotherham have been ignoring freezing cold weather to turn out in force to picket their depots and local bus stations.

As Stagecoach is highly profitable, enjoying a 27.5% rise in profits last year to £207.5 million, there were high hopes, when wage negotiations began in April 2011, of achieving pay parity with bus colleagues in nearby Chesterfield, who receive £9.22 an hour. When 48 pence an hour less was offered, the first day of strike action took place on November 18th and as of today there have been twelve dispute days in total.

These have forced management to increase their offer to just over £9 an hour, whilst also however refusing requests for back pay, thus angering those on strike. Meantime; unable to get enough people to cross the picket line to run a service, Stagecoach have been spending money on hotel accommodation for managers - who are also getting additional rates to pay – that they have brought in from other parts of the company and country.

There are around 440 on strike, split evenly across the two South Yorkshire sites. This morning on the picket line at the Barnsley Stagecoach depot on Wakefield Road there were 71 people and it was clear from speaking to a fair number that they see this as an essential focus for their ongoing struggle. Pickets are held from 5.30am to 8.00am, at which point a picket and protest is mounted next to the bus station in Barnsley town centre.  

With the strike made official then each striker gets £30 a day from Unite, but it’s still a big sacrifice to be on strike in a period when the essentials of life are rising fast. Not that Stagecoach boss Sir Brian Souter need worry, as last year, not long after bringing to an end the final salary pension scheme for his workers, he received £58.7 million in shareholder dividends.

On a bitterly cold morning pickets held a protest next to Barnsley bus station.
Earlier 71 strikers held a picket outside the Stagecoach depot on Wakefield Road in the
South Yorkshire town.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The land battle that sparked the Pendle Witch trials

Unite’s Charlie Clutterbuck has concocted his own special brew of political and social history by marking out an unofficial trail round the sites relating to the Pendle Witch trials.

These resulted in the largest number of executions in Britain for witchcraft with eight women and two men being hanged. And with the 400th anniversary occurring smack bang in the middle of this summer’s Olympics Charlie wants those seeking an escape from the most expensive show on earth to consider a trip to his east Lancashire neighbourhood to discover more.

The trials were made famous by the official publication of the proceedings by Thomas Potts, the clerk to the court, in his Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster. Accused of murdering ten people, the ten hung were around 2% of the 500 people executed as witches in Britain from the early 15th to 18th century. Six came from two families headed by a female in her eighties. The Demdike’s and Chattox’s, whose livelihoods of healing, begging and extortion depended on competing against one another, each accused the other of wrongdoing.

One of the key witnesses at the trial was Jennet Device, who was just nine years old. Until James I had succeeded in 1603 to the throne, children under 14 were seen as unreliable witnesses. The Protestant King’s book Demonology however changed the justice system to allow the child to give evidence that helped execute all of her own family. Jennet was herself to later suffer because of this when ten-year-old Edmund Robinson made similar allegations against her in 1633 and although acquitted it’s believed she spent the rest of her life in prison.

Witchcraft, the alleged use of supernatural or magical powers, became illegal in 1542 under Henry VIII, and was punishable by death. This was a period of considerable religious tension, with Catholics and Protestants at each other’s throats.

It’s hardly surprising therefore to find many historians seeing this as being behind the events in Pendle four hundred years ago. Charlie doesn’t entirely rule this out but has noted, “The evidence for organised persecution of Catholics is not that strong”.

He wonders therefore if the terrible events were more to do with the countryside’s most contentious issue. Namely, who owns the land? “The records show that much of the land around Burnley was already enclosed, or being so. Not so Pendle Forest, as it was seen as unobstructed hunting land, and some of those made landless moved there. The landowners didn’t like these troublesome characters.”

It’s a powerful narrative, and the visual evidence is pretty strong. Many of the houses of the rich and powerful from those times are still standing, but long gone are any traces of the simple cottages of those who were executed or their neighbours.

You can see all this for yourself by walking the trail that the agricultural scientist has prepared. It takes a day – those with less time and/or energy can do part of it in half a day – and there’s a chance to stop for a decent pint or two at the Four Alls Inn: standing for The King Rules for all, The Priest prays for all, the Soldier fights for all, the Ordinary Man pays for all. Magnificent.

Landownership in Britain today remains the most unbalanced in the world, with roughly 150,000 individuals – 0.028% of the population – owning 2/3rds of it.