Tuesday, 29 May 2012

'Big Frank' Swift

Big Frank - the story of Manchester City and England keeper Frank Swift who died at Munich.
Out in 2013. 

Frank Swift is one of the greatest English goalkeeper’s of all time. A League, FA Cup and Charity Shield winner with Manchester City, he represented his country on 33 occasions between 1941 and 1949.

At 6’ 2”, and with massive hands, Blackpool born Swift made it his business to dominate the penalty area in a constant battle with some of the games most feared forwards such as Dixie Dean, Tommy Lawton and Billy Liddell.

Although often injured, and on many occasions knocked unconscious, Swift, signed from Fleetwood Town, was fearless and unmoveable in the City goal, playing all but one of over 200 games from the day of his debut, December 25 1933, up to the start of World War Two.

By then he had won the League in 1936-37, three years after fainting at the end of the 1934 FA Cup Final victory against Portsmouth, 2-1. Revived, the emotionally drained youngster then marched up the Wembley steps to be congratulated by the King who told him “well done, you played well.”

Debuting for England during the war he was a member of the X1 that thrashed Scotland 8-0 at Maine Road in 1943, a side, containing Matthews, Carter, Mercer and Cullis that Swift rated as the finest he ever played with. When competitive football resumed, Swift, who was popular with crowds everywhere for his willingness to banter with them, was a regular between the posts for England. In 1948 he was honoured by becoming the first keeper since 1873 to captain his country when he played brilliantly in one of the countries greatest ever performances, a 4-0 success against Italy in Turin.

After helping Manchester City to regain their place in the top flight by winning Division Two in 1946-47, Swift - by now a brilliant distributor of the ball with both feet and hands - retired two seasons later after playing 376 games for the club, a figure which would have been many more if not for the War.

Successful on the pitch, ‘big Frank’, always cheerful away from it, became a big success
off it with a career in journalism at the News of the World. Flying home, with ex team mate Matt Busby, after covering the Red Star Belgrade – Manchester United European cup-tie he was one of eight journalists tragically killed at Munich in February 1958.

Forty years later in 1998, Swift was one of four Manchester City legends named in the Football League 100 legends selected to celebrate 100 seasons of League football. Long gone - but never forgotten - it was a wonderful honour for a great man and a great goalkeeper. Now in the first biography to be written on him, readers will get a chance to discover more about the keeper and his exploits.

Manchester City 1936-37 

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Back petition to make landowners responsible for birdlife persecution

Nobody likes to see birds of prey being persecuted. Now, following Scotland’s introduction of a new offence that makes landowners responsible for the actions of their employees, including gamekeepers, the RSPB is backing a petition designed to force the Coalition Government to legislate.

100,000 signatures will automatically trigger a debate in the House of Commons and demonstrate support for a Criminal Vicarious Liability law. This would help ensure those who direct or ignore persecution of birds of prey can be held to account through criminal proceedings.

The Scottish Parliament took action following a number of high profile cases where golden eagle’s had been poisoned. Between 1989 and 2011, the RSPB has calculated that, at least, 50 of these iconic birds have been shot or poisoned. The majority of deaths have occurred in the Central, Northern and Southern Highlands, where driven grouse shooting is far more commercially viable than in other regions of the country.

Over the border, grouse shooting is also driving the hen harrier, one of England’s best-known birds of prey, towards extinction.

Ornithologists have long enjoyed the sky dancing courtship displays by the male, a beautiful pearly grey with distinctive black wingtips and smaller than the rich brown coloured female with a distinctive white rump.

Yet with less than 10 pairs breeding annually its future remains uncertain, although “we estimate that England’s uplands and moorlands could support 323 pairs” reports Jude Lane, the RSPB’s project officer on the United Utilities’ Forest of Bowland estate near Clitheroe – where the RSPB and United Utilities have collaborated to protect the hen harrier since 1982.

Typical Hen Harrier habitat 

At just 24,000 acres this relatively small area is utilised by United Utilities to control the flow and quality of water into their reservoirs. Upland sheep farmers and those who provide shooting facilities are tenants on the estate. Nevertheless “there were seven nesting attempts in 2011, of which four were successful and 12 birds were reared” explains Jude, who during the nesting season from March to July is assisted by a dedicated team of experienced volunteers keen to ensure the breeding birds remain undisturbed.

Bowland Forest – the word ‘forest’ being used in its historical sense of a royal hunting ground – is an area of deep valleys and barren gritstone fells. Its peat heather moorland is perfect not only for hen harriers but also the Red Grouse. The latter are specially reared for shooting, traditionally starting on the (in) ‘Glorious Twelfth’ of August. Bags of between eighty and two hundred a day are offered for those who can afford, depending upon the location, between £160 and £1,500. 

The Duke of Westminster 19,000 acre Abbeystead estate in the Forest of Bowland still holds the record for a single days shoot, when 2929 grouse were shot on August 12th 1915. Today, the estate organises around 30 shoots annually and visitors are helped get there by the Bowland Forest road signs depicting a hen harrier. Not that they would see any such bird on the Duke’s land, even though the habitat is no different to that found on the nearby United Utilities estate. On Dartmoor and Exmoor in southwest England it’s a similar story, plenty of grouse but only a handful of hen harriers.

Landowners deny killing hen harriers and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation has promised to expel any of its members found guilty of doing so. Proving that has been the case isn’t easy. It was the RSPB’s work that helped establish wildlife crime officers posts and they have long campaigned for more. Yet even those appointed “usually do it part-time, with cases at the edge of their desk” says Bob Elliot, Head of Investigations at the RSPB, which is the largest wildlife conservation charity in Europe with over one million members and 17,600 volunteers.

As such the majority of the reported incidents - totalling 227 in 2010 - of illegal shooting, trapping and nest destruction of birds of prey are the result of initial reports from members of the organisation. Two-thirds originated in England and a quarter in Scotland. The RSPB meanwhile believes the number of unreported incidents is likely to be considerable higher.

Prosecutions are relatively rare. In 2010 there were only 49 individual cases totalling 242
charges, of which 182 were proven. Fourteen people were given prison sentences, of which eleven were suspended ones.

Elliot would like to see prosecutions becoming even rarer but “only if we see people changing their behaviour and practices such that we see rare species re-occupying spaces they should be in.”

Unconvinced that’s going to happen soon he welcomes the new legislation that came into force in Scotland on January 1st this year. He’s aware that it has already forced a review of practices at some shooting locations, with land owners and managers now needing to be able to show they did not know about a wildlife bird crime and took all reasonable steps and due diligence to prevent it. New snaring provisions mean operators must successfully complete a training course and next year all snares will need to be fitted with an ID tag and number.

“The RSPB is neutral on the issue of shooting, but with these beautiful birds continuing to be killed on moors then it is time for the Government in Westminster to follow Scotland and adopt similar legislation. We welcome the petition that has been set up by Chrissie Harper and will be urging our members to support it. I hope Unite agricultural members will do the same” said Elliot, who also reported that a ten year pilot project designed to see if hen harriers can be diverted from feeding on grouse by supplying them with white mice and rats is “going well.”

“Birds of prey such as Peregrine, Red Kite, Goshawk, White-tailed eagle are really stunning species. They are part of our natural heritage, have been around for thousands of years and have just as much right as ourselves to exist” says Jude Lane.

Government sends taxi regulations into reverse

One of West Yorkshire’s most respected disabled organisations and Leeds Hackney Carriage Unite branch are jointly opposed to proposed government legislation that will hit both group’s members. The fight to prevent the repeal of Section 16 of the 1985 Transport Act was begun by the Liverpool Hackney carriage branch of Unite last year. Now it’s quickly being transported nationwide.

It’s a struggle to prevent chaos on Britain’s roads, with the Government having tasked the Law Commission with bundling together all the acts relating to Hackney carriages and thus end Local Authorities ability to control numbers through licensing.

Professional driving standards and roadworthy vehicles with disabled access will be threatened by allowing anyone to establish a business to carry fare-paying passengers. A similar bus scheme, introduced by Thatcher in the 80s, saw buses dangerously competing on overcrowded roads to pick up passengers and created a poorer service that damaged driver’s pay and conditions.

Perhaps unsurprisingly therefore that when the Office of Fair Trading in 2006 proposed the current changes they received a bashing from the Transport Select Committee and were quickly abandoned.

Paul Landau, branch chair, and 23 years in the industry, says “Section 16 provides safeguards for passengers and drivers. Currently the former can be certain of entering a properly maintained vehicle driven by an experienced driver who has not had to work excessive hours in order to make a decent living.”

“Under the proposals that might not be the case by 2014” says branch secretary Paul Howard “as the market will be open to anyone seeking to make a quick buck by working for lower fares in return for spending less on maintaining the vehicles used to transport people.”

Disabled people are one of the biggest users of the door-to-door service provided by Hackney Carriages. It was only seventeen years ago that Leeds City Council licensed the first fully accessible vehicle, which can cost on average £25,000 more than the standard saloon. It’s feared such a sum in the future will be unaffordable for drivers struggling to stay in business.

According to Tim McSharry, who is partially sighted and secretary of the self-help disabled people’s organisation, the Access Committee of Leeds, that would be “a big blow as the Hackney Carriage drivers provide an excellent service. Since 2000 we have developed a partnership with them and the council, resulting in a diverse vehicle range and training that give drivers a greater understanding of disabled people’s needs.

Many users testify to the quality service provided, with many drivers going that extra-mile by assisting people into their homes and ensuring they are settled before leaving. It’s critical the government doesn’t undermine the excellent work done in Leeds and in other localities.”

“We are meeting MPs shortly to raise our concerns,” said Howard. 

MMP workers fight on

A visit to the firmly shut Meyr Melnhof packaging plant on Bootle and after 13 weeks of being Locked Out over 150 workers continue their struggle for justice. No-one had a bad word for the work of their union, Unite, but plenty for local and international management of the Austrian owned multi-national company.

The workers re-iterated their demands for the factory to be re-opened or payment of a redundancy package based on a 2008 negotiated agreement, with all charges dropped against four sacked workers that Merseyside Police have said have committed no offence.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

On course for better health

An old people’s home where residents’ health and wellbeing increased dramatically after it introduced educational classes is backing plans to increase learning opportunities in similar establishments elsewhere.

Tansley House Residential Care Home in Matlock introduced educational courses for its 20 residents run by local charity First Taste in 2006. These included information technology, arts and crafts courses, as well as a chair-based exercise programme.

The result, according to Tansley House manager Beverley Windle, was a range of benefits for its residents -  they became more engaged with each other and needed less medication and fewer incontinence pads.

“We set out to turn round a very institutionalised home where there was a lack of stimulation, with many residents spending too much time sitting in a chair, often watching television” said Windle

“Now residents enjoy life, are not asleep during the day and thus go to bed tired and not needing sleeping
tablets. No resident requires anti-depressants or antipsychotic depressants.”

First Taste has moved from providing class tutors to training Tansley House staff to run them. The home won a group award from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education in 2009

In 2004, the home recorded 604 incontinence packets of incontinence pads used by residents. In 2007 the figure dropped to 334 and fell to 189 in 2009, a 68.7% reduction that has been maintained in the last two years.

“The classes had health and psychological benefits, because residents enjoyed doing the activities,”
 said Windle. “They are so busy during the day that they sleep well on an evening – they don’t nod off during the day.

We encourage people to be as independent as possible – when they want to go to the toilet they go and we work to help them. Most homes do like a toilet rota whereby they take people at intervals of two to three hours. I think some homes rely on putting the pads on residents – we don’t want that to be the case.”

After Tansley House’s success, Windle said plans by the national self-help education network the University of the Third Age (U3A) to extend its courses into care homes should be supported.

U3A’s Francis Beckett said the organisation was aiming to provide online course materials for the many older people in care homes that now have access to computers. It also wants to set up a link between one of our 800 local groups and a nearby home.

“Learning new things is great fun at any age and can help stave off some of the more distressing stages of later life and dependency,” he said. Beckett He urged homes and their residents to ring 02084666139 for more details. 

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Lung cancer win - but legal aid loss

Back in the late 70s i can recall the concern of my fellow workers in the loading bay at Tudor Crisp factory in Peterlee when we discovered that behind a broken wall was absestos. Armed with the knowledge that everyone was agreed we would 'down tools' (or in our case refuse to load trucks with crisp boxes!) i was able to get management to agree to remove the absestos and repair the wall the following weekend. I am grateful they did, asbestos kills and i'd only 'wish' mesothelioma on my worst enemies.

This piece is from the Unite bi-monthly magazine, unite WORKS

It’s terrible enough contracting a killer disease at work. But what happens when some insurance companies want to avoid paying out compensation? Thanks to Unite’s legal intervention their plans to do just that have been wrecked and compensation to victims will again be paid.
Asbestos exposure, mostly at work, is almost entirely to blame for the lung cancer, mesothelioma that has an incubation period of around 35-40 years. Every year around 2,500 people are diagnosed with the disease that kills within 18 months.
Six years ago, four insurance companies – Excess, Independent, Builders Accident and Municipal Mutual – combined resources to argue that employers’ liability insurance cover was ‘triggered’ not by the exposure many decades previously that caused it, but when the symptoms emerged decades later when there is no insurance in place to respond the claim. 

With compensation claims often rightly exceeding £100,000 the four companies were clearly hoping to evade their historic responsibilities and boost their bottom line. People before profit? No chance, and their actions held up the legitimate claims - estimated to total anything up to £1 billion – for thousands of people.
The fact that they haven’t destroyed them for good is because Unite employed Thompsons solicitors and Devereux Chambers, both specialists in health and safety law, to support the appeal by the family of Charles O’Farrell, a member who died of mesothelioma shortly after retiring nine years ago.
The insurers had ‘unpicked’ the words in their own insurance policies to convince the court of appeal of their case. However, following an eight-day hearing at the supreme court in December it was announced that Unite’s appeal had been upheld and the insurance companies had to pay compensation.
Daughter Maureen Edwards “delight” was naturally tempered by her dad not having had the time to enjoy his retirement and by needing to wage “such a long battle.”
One, which if it had been lost could have cost Unite £1.5 million. “It was the right thing to do,” says Howard Beckett, Unite’s director of legal affairs, “as otherwise families of mesothelioma sufferers would be unable to make a claim in the future. Our thousands of hours of work proved worthwhile.
But we also know that bad practices that injure workers or expose them to harmful substances are not ended by employers’ goodwill. It’s through trade union organisation and a fear of litigation that drives up insurance costs. Asbestos is the perfect example and now we have in place much safer ways of dealing with it or not using it all.”
Tough for justice
Despite the success the future is a lot less bright for other victims of workplace illnesses and accidents after the Government refused to support amendments, proposed by the House of Lords, to its April Legal Aid Bill.
 “Unfortunately in the government’s rush to accuse everybody of being part of the ‘compensation culture’ they have forgotten that those injured or exposed to substances at work have nothing to do with this. We wanted them to make sure those affected remained protected, but they have ignored our pleas, including those made by asbestos victims groups” said Beckett.
As a result, says Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, “justice for ordinary people and the ability of trade unions to bring similar cases will be extremely difficult in the future.”
For more info see www.justice-for-all.org.uk

School funds under threat

From this week's Big Issue in the North magazine - buy the magazine if you see a seller.

Schools could lose money as a result of welfare reform that is either ill thought out or a "back door for cuts", a head teacher has warned.

The pupil premium paid to schools to help disadvantaged children is at risk if the children no longer qualify for free school meals under the government’s new Universal Credit benefit scheme

Next year the single Universal Credit system will replace six income-related work-based benefits. The move is designed to ensure people are always better off in work than on benefits.

The Children’s Society has warned that if a household’s income exceeds £7,500 under the new system, its children will no longer be eligible for free school meals. It estimates that 120,000 poorer families will lose free schools meals, worth £367 annually for each of the 350,000 children set to miss out.

What has gone unreported, however, is that schools’ entitlement to the pupil premium is based on eligibility for free schools meals, which the government uses as an indicator of deprivation. If a child is no longer eligible, the school no longer qualifies for the £488 pupil premium – extra funding that deputy prime minister Nick Clegg claimed was a key Lib Dem victory in the coalition government agreement and would help tackle persistent inequality in educational achievement.

“I am caught between whether the government is incompetent and hasn’t realised the impact of their moves or whether they are using back door methods to make cuts,” said Tony Gavin, head of Laurence Jackson Secondary School in Guisborough, North Yorkshire.

“Either way it’s a pretty poor show. Don’t the Lib Dems realise that one of their flagship policies faces emasculation? It’s all very worrying.”

Just 27 per cent of children on free school meals get five good GCSE grades. Among those who don’t qualify, the proportion achieving the same grades is twice as great. At Laurence Jackson, 150 pupils are eligible – 11 per cent of the school roll compared with a national average of 13 per cent.

“We use our pupil-premium funds very creatively by getting children on educational trips, giving equipment grants, employing someone to check up on pupils who haven’t attended school and by keeping class sizes down,” said Gavin. “As a result we get a very good attendance record in all year groups.”

Gavin estimates that the introduction of Universal Credit could mean that between a third and a half of his pupils currently receiving free schools could lose eligibility. That could also bring a cut in the school’s annual budget of up to £36,000.

The Department for Education insisted it was keen to ensure that families on low incomes continue to get free school meals and that it will be going out to consultation on how to achieve its aims this year.

“We remain totally committed to continuing to provide free school meals to children from the poorest families,” said a spokesperson.

“We are reforming welfare to get more people into jobs as that is the surest way of cutting poverty. The reforms mean we will have to think hard about the best way to decide who is eligible for free school meals so they continue to be targeted at those who need them the most. No plans have yet been set.”

But the spokesperson would not comment on whether any loss of eligibility for free school meals would lead to a loss in pupil-premium funding for schools.

Introducing the pupil premium in 2010, Clegg said: “Whilst we’re all having to accept difficult cuts this spending is the right thing to do to improve the life chances of the poorest by investing in a fairness premium.”

A key part of the Lib Dems’ local elections campaign this week, the pupil premium will cost a total of  £1.25 billion in 2012-13.