Thursday, 31 January 2013

Will new forestry structure eventually facilitate forest sales?

Will news that the government intends establishing ‘a new public body that will hold in trust the nation's forests for future generations’  facilitate forest sell offs in the long run? 

Edited version of article for Landworker magazine 

A familiar face will be missing at the Forestry Commission after March. Robert Beaney has combined his skills as a forest craftsman with three decades of trade union activity within the TGWU/Unite. Now, whilst the Scotsman is looking forward to well-earned retirement he wants others to come forward to become union reps and he pleads for “vigilance” in the fight to retain the current Forestry Commission (FC) structure in order to make it more difficult in the future for publicly owned forests to be disposed of.

“I joined the union in my first week at the FC, 31 years ago. I quickly became the local rep at Argyll, Western Scotland. Two decades ago I became senior TGWU rep in Scotland, before assuming the role across Great Britain and then chair of the FC trade unions,” said Robert. 

“I became a rep in order to help members. Sometimes people are not comfortable standing up for themselves. Over the years I have represented them at various levels of the grievance and disciplinary proceedings. There have also been cases of mediation and support for people with serious health problems.

People appreciate your support and as a rep you also receive good training from the union. This enables  you to understand your own role and gives you the confidence to stand up for people’s right. It’s a worthwhile role and I would recommend it to anyone considering taking it on,” explains Robert. 

Beaney has seen the FC grow from being “basically a timber producing outfit when I joined” into one where today’s public forest estate (PFE) is home to well over 100 recreational, educational, welfare and regeneration activities. No wonder therefore that when the government proposed to dispose of the PFE that there was such a public outcry in 2010. In backing down the government set up an independent panel to examine the future of one of the nation’s favourite assets. 

The panel reported in June last year. Although they confirmed the PFE should not be disposed of, the panel refused to rule out a new FC structure. This would see Forest Enterprises become a public body, an organisation that is part of the process of government but which is not a government department, and Forest Services could become, like British Waterways, a trust. Beaney believes this would “weaken the direct link between the FC and government and make it easier in the future for publicly owned forests to be sold.” 

He was therefore waiting with interest today’s announcement by the government that backs the panel’s proposal and says “the Forestry Commission is going to need support if it is to continue the invaluable work that it started in 1919.” 

Waste incinerators: off the (Johnny) Ball incident

From the Big Issue in the North magazine

Waste incinerators: off the Ball incident

Concerns about the effects on health of living near waste incinerators are “scare stories”, according to TV personality Johnny Ball, although he did not substantiate a claim that “incinerators are “so healthy and clean they are wonderful.”

Ball made the claim last year when he supported the construction of a £500 million waste-to-energy plant near Haresfield in Gloucestershire. The maths expert, who recently starred on Strictly Come Dancing, had previously attended the opening of the Colnbrook incinerator in Slough, near his home.

Infant mortality 

But campaigners insist particles released from incinerators are a threat to health.

Retired local government officer Michael Ryan has examined the health record of incinerators after he lost two children more than a decade ago and considered their deaths may have been the result of having lived downwind of an incinerator. Since then he has rigorously collected all publicly available statistics and challenged the accepted wisdom that high infant mortality rates can solely be attributed to deprivation and cultural problems. 

Ryan collected infant mortality data for all 625 wards in London between 2002 and 2011.

Nine of these 44 wards are clustered around the Edmonton municipal waste incinerator and ten are downwind of the cluster of incinerators that includes Colnbrook incinerator. 

Other clusters of above 7.5 deaths per 1,000 births include wards around the Kings College Hospital incinerator and the South East London Combined Heat and Power incinerator in Bermondsey.

At the other end of the scale the 59 wards with rates of less than 2 deaths per 1,000 live births are all in locations with minimal exposure to incinerators. 

‘Scare stories.’ 

“I’d like MPs, councillors and the general public to examine the statistics,” said Ryan.

The Big Issue in the North asked Ball whether Ryan’s statistics gave him cause for concern.

Ball replied: “It does seem to me that all the dangers from the outflows from modern incinerators are scare stories from people who for one reason or another – and often that is no more than nimbyism - oppose them, or from so-called greens who reject all new and improved technology out of hand.”

Monday, 28 January 2013

INCONVENIENT PEOPLE - Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England

Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England

Sarah Wise

The 19th century saw repeated panics about sane individuals being locked away in lunatic asylums. Sarah Wise uncovers twelve shocking stories that highlight the black motives at the heart of the phenomenon of the inconvenient person. 

Why did you write this book?
I was at the Old Vic theatre watching the 1938 Patrick Hamilton play Gaslight - in which a wicked Victorian husband attempts to make his highly-strung wife go mad - when I suddenly wondered did many husbands and fathers attempt this sort of thing? If so, how was it achieved? (Putting a basically sane person into an asylum must involve collusion with others)  And did it happen to men? Just a few days in the archives brought it home to me that the 'malicious incarceration' phenomenon affected males as much as it affected females.

Why was the public captivated by lunacy cases?

On the one hand, it is a universal terror that you might find yourself in an insane asylum if somebody wants to allege that your eccentricities are evidence of lunacy. Secondly, in the 19th century, lunacy cases, which were heard in public, were an unparalleled way of getting access to the sexual, behavioural and financial secrets of your fellow Briton. 

Was Mrs Cumming speaking for many of those classed as insane by saying: “If I had been poor, they would have left alone.”

Although all sectors of society feared wrongful certification, the wealthy were more of a target. When a wealthy person was declared a lunatic, their cash and their estate had to be administered by a committee, and many family members, spouses or business associates grabbed control of the alleged lunatic's money in this way.

Additionally, the rich were placed in private asylums, and the proprietors were often reluctant to admit that such incarceration was unnecessary for fear of losing the fees.

Until the late 1860s (when central government began paying more towards the costs of running local parish pauper asylums), there was little incentive to keep a poor person of questionable sanity in expensive, publicly funded county asylum care.

Did women suffer higher levels of dubious certification?

No. Admissions data for lunatic asylums show a remarkable parity between the genders. The reason there were more women than men in lunatic asylums as the century progressed was down to female longevity and a higher death rate among males.

Were asylums places of care and recuperation?

The best of them were -- it all depended on the superintendent in charge and the quality of the staff. The public (county) system set out optimistically in the 1840s, expecting
that cures for mental health problems would be possible in most cases.

However, as the years went by that there was a huge 'chronic' population building up in the system, such as increasing numbers of dementia sufferers, and the best that could be achieved was to make them as comfortable as possible.

Did campaigners achieve improvements in the asylum system?

Very generally, yes: the Commissioners in Lunacy (the equivalent of the Care Quality Commission today) worked hard to investigate and enforce good physical conditions within the new county asylum buildings. While it is crucial not to gloss over incidents of cruelty and neglect, it is likely that a significant proportion of pauper patients were better fed and healthier than if they had remained at home. 

Why title the epilogue The Savage New Century?

After the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act, any youth deemed to be 'morally imbecile' or 'morally defective' could be sent to a detention colony without a time limit. So petty thieves, pregnant teenage girls, and all sorts of 'delinquents' were assessed as having incurable mental 'deficiency', when in fact they had nothing of the sort. The twentieth century saw the mass incarceration of the non-insane – all sanctioned by parliament. 

Friday, 25 January 2013

What is the Bureau of Investigative Journalism?

Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) 

The Bureau was established in April 2010 with a £2-million donation from the David and Elaine Potter Foundation. As a physicist David was responsible in 1984 for developing the world’s first hand-held computer, ‘The Organiser’, and his wife was for many years an investigative journalist at the Sunday Times.

When the Potters made their grant Elaine said they aimed to “support investigative journalism of the highest ethical standards and to search for sustainable models for its long-term future.” 

The latter aim may prove the most difficult. Media outlets are strapped for cash and the vast majority of on-line journalism sites have yet to find sufficient subscribers to pay their bills. Editor Iain Overton admitted in 2011 that the organisation had struggled to get paid for their investigations.  On occasions, copy had been given away free.

BIJ’s first major report in June 2010 revealed that Roche, the manufacturer of Tamiflu, was paying the three scientists at the World Health Organisation who were recommending the stockpiling of the drug in response to the bird flu pandemic. In 2011 BIJ uncovered that 50% of Tory donations came from the financial services industry and individual bankers close to senior Tory politicians. This sat uneasily at a time when the government was promising to regulate the banking industry.

In January 2012, BIJ – in conjunction with the Independent newspaper - revealed that official statistics on the numbers of people who had died in police custody were an underestimation as they failed to include those not formally arrested.  The case of Roger Sylvester was thus missing from the list, even though this had led to a review of techniques by the Metropolitan Police and to changes in how police arrest and detain mentally ill suspects. BBC Radio 4’s File at Four subsequently highlighted more cases.

Working with the Sunday Times, BIJ then challenged claims by US President Barack Obama that the use of CIA drones in Pakistan was “targeted and focused and had not caused a huge number of civilian casualties.” BIJ, who had spent nine months investigating and had conducted the first interviews with the affected villagers, reported that during Obama’s first three years in charge that at least 282 civilians had been slaughtered. Amongst those killed were civilians who had gone to rescue victims or were attending funerals. Today the Bureau estimates that at least 473 Pakistani civilians – and possibly as many as 889 – have been killed in drone attacks. 176 of those killed have been children. A UN team was appointed late last year to inquire into the whole sordid affair. 

BIJ’s work has won it a number of awards. However, late last year it also hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons when the BBC suspended all co-productions with the organisation. This followed its lead reporter Angus Stickler’s secondment to an
investigation that led to former Conservative Party treasurer Lord McAlpine being falsely named as a child abuser on Newsnight. 

The BBC’s director-general George Entwhistle subsequently quit over the fiasco and he was followed by Overton and Stickler at the BIJ, whose trustees have issued a statement saying “it was a serious mistake to agree to the secondment without retaining the necessary degree of editorial control, and we are taking action to ensure this does not happen again.” 

Action Station - World in Action 50th anniversary

From Big Issue in the North magazine 

It was fifty years ago this month that World in Action was first broadcast on the the Independent Television Network. It was a weekly half hour investigative series that by unveiling corruption and underhand practices attracted large audiences. It brought down government ministers, unsafe criminal convictions, dodgy businesses, civil servants and police officers. Some TV critics believe the end of the programme in 1998 was part of a general dumbing-down of British television. There seems though very little likelihood of anything similar returning to our screens over the next few years. 

World in Action’s first programme, broadcast on a Monday in January 1963, was about Cold War defence spending. It began 75 minutes after its more established rival, Panorama, which on that night was a profile of the prime minister Harold Macmillan.The next day, the Daily Mirror panned the Panorama programme for praising Macmillan excessively, with too little analysis of his character. World in Action would be different - much harder hitting. 

It would not get too close to politicians,  would film on location and undertake rigorous research. It would not talk down to viewers and where possible tell the story through the voices of ordinary people as this was known to carry more authority with the viewing public. It was about making the programmes accessible to all - and popular culture was in its remit in way that it wasn’t for stuffier programmes.

World in Action was produced by Granada, one of the original Independent Television Authority (ITV) franchisees from 1954, which had been founded in 1956 by Sidney Bernstein and his brother Cecil, who had built up a successful southern-based circuit of 60 cinemas and theatres. They had initially opposed the establishment of commercial television but Granada, which served the North West, went on to acquire an inrternational reputation for its programming, of which World in Action was just a part. 

According to Andrew Jennings, who switched in 1986 from the BBC to World in Action to ensure his blocked documentary concerning corruption in Scotland Yard was broadcast: “The Bernstein family were great to work for as despite being bosses - the capitalists - they never interfered.

They were from East London and they were Jewish, and as a result theycouldn’t get decent jobs because of discrimination. They graduated into areas where the only thing that mattered was talent.

Their background meant they combined a hard business edge with a strong public service broadcasting ethos and Sidney said: “We always considered our responsibility to the public was the first charge on the company.” 

“As a result they were more than prepared to also take up issues that others claimed the public would have no interest in - one of which was apartheid in South Africa. The critics were made to eat their words when programmes drew massive audiences and undermined support for that abhorrent system.“ 

Jennings made a number of programmes for World in Action, including an investigation of Britain’s involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, in which senior officials in the US Government facilitated the sales of arms to Iran in order to fund the right-wing Nicaraguan Contras. Today he is best known for his exposure of corruption at football’s governing body, FIFA.

When World in Action was given a new slot after Coronation Street, audiences grew to well above those at Panorama, reaching 23 million at their peak. With the resulting advertising revenue then the high costs associated with all forms of investigative journalism could be covered and healthy profits were made.

Not all the advertisers though were happy, especially if they happened to be the subject of one of the programmes. Long serving producer, Ray Fitzwalter, who worked for Granada from 1970 till 1993, says: “It didn’t happen frequently, but when we revealed that aspirin could in some circumstances damage users’ health then there was phenomenal pressure applied to drop the programme. It took 23 months for it to get on air.” 

The pressure, he says, came from the drug companies and their trade association.

 Another health programme that attracted considerable publicity was the Village that Quit, made in 1971. Villagers from Longnor, Staffordshire were challenged to stop smoking and the reasons for their success or failure were studied. The programme was made after the first authoritative report on the dangers of smoking and it was one of the first reality based TV programmes that are so popular today. 

Fourteen years later, Fitzwalter took a gamble when he decided to employ, and partner with two researchers, a journalist called Chris Mullin. The budding politician had been examining the case of the Birmingham Six, a group of Irishmen convicted for a series of bombs that had killed 21 people in England’s second city on November 21 1974.

Despite their protestations of innocence there were few people who believed there had been a miscarriage of justice.  Fitzwalter wasn’t one of them but he was willing to develop the circumstantial evidence Mullin had assembled to see if something more substantial could be uncovered.

At stake was also the reputation of numerous policemen, lawyers and judges, one of whom Lord Denning, had famously said at the men’s appeal in 1980: “If they won, it would mean the police were guilty of perjury, violence and threats and that the confessions were involuntary and improperly admitted and thus erroneous. That cannot be right.” 

Denning was wrong and “careful examination of the photographic evidence; the alleged confessions, the explosives evidence and the forensic testing produced new evidence,” says Fitzwalter. Also convinced was the home secretary Roy Jenkins who told World in Action there was sufficient doubt to warrant an appeal. When it was shown the programme helped start the process that eventually led to the overturning of the six men’s convictions in 1991.  

“It was a proud moment for World in Action,” says Fitzwalter. “I loved working on the programme as there was always something new and original to get stuck into. Journalism is a great way of enjoying a continuing education and good journalists are by nature curious people. Britain is also a very secretive society in which civil servants and politicians have had years of practice and training in how to conceal things.” 

None of which failed to prevent John Poulson being sent to jail or Conservative Home Secretary Reginald Maudling being forced to resign in the 1970s when World in Action revealed in The Friends and Influence of John L Poulson how the architectural designer had financially courted his political contacts at Parliament and in local Government in order to win building contracts.

Regulatory body the IBA banned the programme without seeing it, citing only “broadcasting policy”, prompting Granada to protest by broadcasting a blank screen. Following widespread complaints of censorship, the IBA relented and the programme finally went out. 

Three months after the programme Poulson was arrested on June 22 1973 and he was convicted and jailed for corruption on February 11 1974. Maudling had obtained a directorship in one of Poulson’s companies and another employed his son.  He quit his Government post in disgrace.  

In 1975 Maudling became shadow foreign secretary under new leader Margaret Thatcher. The grocer’s daughter is known to have hated World in Action and said it was “just a bunch of Troskyists.” In the event, it was Thames TV who angered her the most when it broadcast Death on the Rock. This revealed that the three IRA members who had been shot by the SAS in Gibraltar in March 1988 had been gunned down in cold blood. Official sources had claimed they were armed and set to detonate a bomb. 

Fitzwalter believes Thatcher had her revenge when the Conservative Government passed the 1990 Broadcasting Act, which replaced a ‘public service’ requirement on regional TV licence holders with a ‘quality threshold.’ Companies saw the chance to reduce their commitment to expensive progamming.

According to Fitzwalter: “Some programmes with high ratings continued to be made but public service elements were very vulnerable and arts and religious programmes disappeared on ITV, whereas children’s programmes were largely replaced by imported cartoons. 

“Current affairs became harder to make and began to disappear or be moved to less favourable slots. Investigative documentaries were considered too expensive when you can make a programme by putting three MPs in a studio. As Paul Jackson, the programme controller at the new Carlton Television, said in reference to the Birmingham Six programmes: “We are not in the business of getting people out of jail.”  

A disappointed Fitzwalter eventually left Granada in 1993. 

Five years later, after World in Action incurred costs of £1.3 million and paid out libel damages of £50,000 to Marks and Spencer for falsley claiming it knew one of its suppliers was using child labour in a Moroccan factory, the programme was closed down following the departure of many of its top journalists. The final episode, number 1274, was Britain on the Booze, was shown on December 7 1998.

Award-winning British documentary filmmaker Leslie Woodhead, who left Granada in 1989 after twenty-eight years working there,says: “I regretted the passing of World in Action, and the spirit of enquiry it represented, which helped make some of our most mischievous and inventive programmes including the one I worked on about hiring mercenaries for the war in Biafra, Nigeria which involved trying to sell a submarine to arms dealers.” Woodhead’s films in recent years include The Hunt for Bin Laden and The Day Kennedy Died which will be released on the fiftieth anniversary of the president’s death next year.

Today, Fitzwalter is using his World in Action experiences as chairman of the editorial board at the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism. This is best known for its work on the destructive capacity of US drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where it is now recognised that the vast majority of those killed are civilians and children rather than terrorists. The Bureau has also revealed how the Help the Heroes military charity is subsidising Ministry of Defence building projects rather than spending donations on practical, everyday help for injured service personnel.

Fitzwalter does not believe there is any chance of a World in Action mark 2 appearing on our screens soon. But if it did, then what should they investigate first? 

“The banking industry would draw a good audience,” he says. 

War on Want alleges government lets down overseas small farmers

The government has defended its foreign aid policies after a War on Want report alleged that UK funds are being used to promote the interests of multinational companies in Africa at the expense of small farmers and rural communities.

Hunger Games is the latest ‘alternative report’ from the anti-poverty charity whose slogan is “poverty is political.” An earlier report Food Sovereignty criticised the Department for International Development (DFID) for adopting a food security model based on greater private sector control of production and distribution.

Hunger Games accuses the DFID of promoting GM crops and therefore locking small farmers into depending on corporate providers of seeds and chemical inputs. 

DFID sponsors the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa, that consists of agro-dealers, including Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta that supply products to millions of peasant farmers. It gave the alliance £7 million between 2008 and 2011. 

The report also raises concerns that the personal connections between members of the British government and multinational agro-businesses are “too close” and that there is a ‘revolving door’ of staff between DFID and the businesses.

War on Want also calls for an end to DFID funding for projects through companies based in Mauritius, a southern African tax haven. Over £100 million, with a similar figure committed over the next three years, has gone to the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund based in Mauritius.  War on Want believe the government is failing to abide by the terms of the International Development Act 2002 by not targeting aid at reducing poverty. 

The organisation is warning that hunger levels in Africa, which according to the UN have increased from 175 million to 239 million in the last twenty years, will rise further unless the government changes direction. A charity spokesperson said: “Ultimately it would even be better if the 0.7% target of gross national income that the government is committed to spending on overseas aid spending was abandoned rather than pursue policies that will deepen poverty in the world’s most vulnerable communities.”

Justine Greening, international development secretary said: “This is a poorly researched report. We are helping millions of African smallholder farmers gain title to the land they farm, access new markets to sell goods and grow crops that can withstand drought or flood.

We believe the best approach is to work with a range of partners, from smallholders to multinationals but to suggest countries can develop out of poverty without private sector involvement is wrong. It’s ridiculous to suggest that investing in agricultural research increases hunger and in Uganda we have funded research into growing sweet potatoes that are high in vitamin A, which has helped tackle malnutrition.

Mauritius is the only financial centre that is a member of all major African regional organisations such as COMESA and the African Union. The country is committed to international standards on anti-money laundering.” 

The shadow secretary for international development, Bury MP Ivan Lewis, also believes the private sector can play an important role in international development. But he said: “We should be much more clear in promoting a responsible global capitalism where the choice between profits and ethics is a false one, growth is sustainable and workers’ rights are protected. We also need to be tough on tax havens and ensure that all private sector funding is transparent and good value for money. “

With the International Development Select Committee currently running an inquiry into global food security and the role of the private sector, War on Want has now sent in a submission calling for the committee to examine its concerns.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Lords block plans to scrap Agricultural Wages Board

Three cheers for the House of Lords, who have put a brake on government plans to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB), a move not even Margaret Thatcher was prepared to sanction when she was in government in the 1980s.
In November, the government suddenly announced a four-week consultation period  on the AWB’s future. It was a sure sign the coalition was rattled by Unite’s campaign - backed by the Labour Party - to retain a body that for most of the last century has guaranteed farm workers annual pay rises, recognition for advancing their skills, overtime pay, holidays and protection in their tied homes. 
With farming minister David Heath’s claim that abolition would “create almost 1,000 new jobs” at odds with his department’s advice that ‘there may be increased employment of 0-930 jobs’ then it was apparent this was an attempt to drive down labour costs on behalf of supermarkets and growers. There would be a loss of £24 million annually for farmworkers. This is money they can ill afford to forego as even the highest AWB rate is £9.40 an hour and most of the 154,000 covered by the board are on £6.96 or £7.66 an hour. 
60% of the responses to the government’s consultation were in favour of retaining the AWB. That failed to prevent the government adding an amendment, which  coming just two days before Christmas makes you wonder if Scrooge was in charge, to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. This came before the committee stage of the House of Lords on January 16. The AWB in England and Wales was to be scrapped.
Fresh from his new appointment as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Lord Younger told peers “these amendments will bring employment practices in the agricultural industry into the 21st century........and contribute to the Government’s wider programme of public body reform.” He begged for support.
The proposals were to be dissected by Labour Peers, Lord Whitty, a former trade union official with the GMB, Lord Howarth of Newport and Lord Knight of Weymouth. The latter even had the cheek to point out that in June 2000, David Heath had voted in the Commons to retain the board. Now the Lib Dem MP for Somerton and Frome was forgetting “the principle of a rural living wage is important.” 
When it came to accepting the amendment Lords were ‘not content’ to support it. Now a vote by the House of Lords on the AWB’s future has to be held at the report stage at the end of February or beginning of March. Unite will be looking for further support from Lords in order to block a devisive piece of legislation. 
The peers actions were praised by Huw Irranca-Davies Mp, Labour’s Shadow Farming who said:  “Well done to my Labour colleagues in the House of Lords for keeping up the fight to save the AWB and protect fair pay for farm workers. The Government admits that the abolition of the AWB could take £240 million out of the pockets of farm workers over the next ten years. People in the countryside need a One Nation plan to create jobs and growth, not this Government’s approach that leaves our lowest paid workers out of pocket.”
Unite national officer for agriculture Julia Long said: “We applaud the intervention of those peers that did not want a large swathe of the agricultural workforce reduced to poverty wages.
“The government has behaved in a shambolic way in tacking on an amendment that will have a huge impact on the rural economy onto a business bill – the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey welcomed the fact that the “outrageous plans by the government to abolish the AWB are now on hold with peers objecting in committee. MPs now need to protect rural workers.”

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Uniting with ramblers to oppose plans to change Forestry Commission structure

Uniting with ramblers to oppose plans to change Forestry Commission structure 

Taken from the Landworker magazine of Unite. 

A leading member of the Ramblers has praised the Forestry Commission for providing woodland access and joined with Unite in urging the government not to reduce its effectiveness through structural change.

Ramblers Ian Brodie shares Unite's worries over forest commission re-structuring 

Ian Brodie, who is now retired and living on the edge of the Lake District, has been a keen walker all his life. He is old enough to recall, “forty years ago finding places where the Forestry Commission  (FC) discouraged people not to walk in the woods by planting trees over public rights of way. “ 

Not so now, and despite only 18% of England’s woods being publicly owned they account for 44% of those that are accessible. 

All of which means the vast majority of private woodland remains out of bounds to the public. “That’s certainly the case locally as apart from land owned by United Utilities most privately owned woodlands tend to be inaccessible. High Dale Park, next to the FC’s Grizedale Forest Park, that provides so much enjoyment for walkers, does not have access unless you are on a public right of way.

There’s also privately owned woodlands on the lakeshores of Windermere and Derwentwater where walkers can’t walk off the path.” 

Having played an active role in the Ramblers campaign that was successful in winning the right to roam under the Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000, Ian is “delighted” that the Independent Panel on Forestry’s Final report has recommended “measurably increasing the quantity and quality of access to (public and) privately owned woodlands.” 

According to Ian, “This would give walkers greater opportunities to enjoy nature whilst also keeping fit. Private landowners often argue that giving walkers greater access will restrict their commercial activities. But what’s to stop them adopting FC practices, whereby they put up notices when they are felling and workers even take time to explain the importance of good woodland management in protecting our natural resources? 

Private landowners that get public funds under the English Woodland Grant Scheme need to reach the same standards as the FC on providing public access.” 

The panel was set up in 2011 by a Government that was running scared of massive public opposition to its plans to dispose of all 258,000 hectares of the public forest estate (PFE) managed by the FC. Headed by the Right Reverend Bishop James Jones, the panel confirmed PFE provides ‘tremendous value for money.’ For an annual cost of 38 pence per person there is harvest timber for domestic industry, the regeneration of Brownfield sites, access to some of the countries most spectacular landscapes and the provision of outdoor recreational, educational and welfare facilities. There is also a huge spin-off for rural businesses from tourism. 

After such a glowing tribute Ian Brodie shares the concerns of Robert Beaney, Unite forestry workers’ committee chair, that the panel has proposed that the government consider a new structure for the FC. This would result in Forest Enterprises becoming a public body, an organisation that is part of the process of government but not a government department, and Forest Services could become a Trust. 

“I wouldn’t want anything that weakens the direct democratic link between the FC and the government as I fear this will make it easier in the future to dispose of publicly owned forests. We should use the Panel’s recommendations to ensure the owners of private woodlands come up to the high standards set by the FC, rather than change anything that works so well for the public at such little cost” said Ian Brodie. 

Successful meeting 

With the government still considering how to respond to the panel’s proposals, Robert Beaney and his PCS colleague Alan McKenzie within the Forestry Commission Trade Union committee, held a “successful meeting” with Labour’s shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh at the parties recent annual conference in Manchester.

“She listened to our concerns and promised to not let the Government off the hook on an issue that is very important to the members we represent and the general public as a whole,” said Robert. 

Photographs courtesy of Mark Harvey. Copyright protected. 

Striking is no waste of effort at waste company

Organising talents not going to waste 

From the Unite works national magazine 

A successful strike over pay has strengthened union organisation at SITA in Doncaster. Unite members walked out after being offered a pay rise below the rate of inflation. They forced the company to almost double the offer and now there is a 200 strong union branch, with all three local depots recognised and workplace representatives elected throughout. 

When in October 2009, Doncaster Council switched their waste collection contract from May Gurney to SITA then under TUPE (The Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment) the terms and conditions of transferred drivers and sorters was protected. What workers wanted though was for them to be improved, and throughout 2009 UNITE membership increased to over 50% of the workforce and the union had become recognised by May Gurney at two depots. 

Essential to developments was two former mineworkers - both on strike in 1984-1985 - Terry Chambers and Jim Bailey. The pair had quietly recruited, says Jim: “By asking workmates if they fancied joining Unite to have some backing behind us in order to improve our pay and conditions.” 

In 2010, another former striking miner, Peter Etherington also joined SITA. The three became accredited workplace reps after attending a 12-day Unite education course that according to Terry: “opened our eyes to our rights and how to negotiate to get them.” 

Back at work there was increasing dissatisfaction at what Terry identifies as: “The way management talked to people, with many saying they felt intimidated.” The reps support for members encouraged non-union members to join and early this year Unite approached SITA requesting recognition at the Bootham Lane depot on Doncaster’s outskirts.  In May the Doncaster Unite SITA branch was established. 

When SITA then offered a pay increase of 12p an hour, around 1.7% of people’s wages, there was real anger amongst employees with a take home pay of around £1,100 a month and who, says Peter: “need every penny, especially as the cost of living is rocketing.” 

Disgust increased when SITA offered a bonus scheme in return for increased efficiency that would have meant redundancies. Following a ballot for industrial and strike action, workers at the recognised depots walked out in September for two days. On the third, and with indefinite strike action planned for the following week, SITA almost doubled their offer to 3.2%. The company also agreed to a day’s pay if there was an immediate return to work. Members agreed to accept. 

There was more good news when a recognition agreement was then concluded at Bootham Lane. Two newly elected reps there have increased numbers to seven across all depots. Branch membership has also risen to 200.  

“We have shown that we can collectively stand up for our rights. We now look forward to a more productive relationship with the company in the future,” concludes Terry.

Peter Etherington, Jim Bailey and Terry Chambers

Monday, 14 January 2013

Tory MP backs miners' police inquiry

From Big Issue in the North magazine 

A solitary Conservative MP is backing calls for an inquiry into the policing of the 1984-85 miners’ strike.

In a battle over pit closures over 11,000 miners and their supporters were arrested. Nearly three decades later many remain angry at the treatment they received from the police. 

Following a recent BBC documentary on events at the Orgreave coking works near Rotherham on June 18 1984, South Yorkshire Police (SYP) has referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. 

To prevent around 6,000 pickets from the National Union of Mineworkers blockading the works approximately 5,000 police officers, some on horseback, were deployed. In the battle that followed 95 pickets were arrested and charged with riot and unlawful assembly. All were later acquitted. 


MPs are concerned that officers involved in the prosecutions had colluded when they wrote their statements.  Now 39 of them have signed a parliamentary early day motion (EDM) calling for the Director of Public Prosecutions to participate in the investigation of South Yorkshire Police and ‘also deliver a full comprehensive inquiry’ into policing throughout the UK during the one-year strike.

Sir Peter Bottomley, the long-serving Conservative MP for Worthing West in Sussex. Bottomley was under-secretary of state at the Department of Employment in the Margaret Thatcher government at the time of the miners’ strike.

He has signed the edm: “Because if there has been apparent or possible manipulation of police evidence then an inquiry would be appropriate. I would hope the police would be prepared to join with us by following the evidence.” 

Bottomley won’t be persuading Conservative MPs to sign the edm as “people can make up their own minds.”

One of the four Liberal Democrat MPs to sign is trying to get others in his party to join him. South Manchester MP John Leech originates from a mining family and said: “I think SYP tried to stitch up the miners, just as they did later to the Hillsborough 96. I urge my fellow Lib Dem MP’s to support EDM 775.”

Members of the public have also been urged to support an inquiry. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC) has been established.

As an admin worker at the National Coal Board offices in Sheffield, Barbara Jackson, the OTJC spokeswoman was on strike in 1984-85. She had no bad experiences with the police, but argues that was: “because we were ineffective as only nine out of 900 in my workplace were on strike. The police were nationally organised by the Association of Chief Police Officers at New Scotland Yard, London to prevent strikers from persuading working miners to join them. The police were often brutal and we believe around 60% of those convicted nationally over picket line charges were bogus. The inquiry should also seek to discover whether the police were politically manipulated by the government.”

Easington Colliery, August 24 1984 and I am faced with one of my
relatives on the other side! 

Monday, 7 January 2013

It's certainly hurting and on their terms the coalition is also working

With public sector debt fast approaching 70% of gross domestic product (GDP) - and that's not even including the banks bail-out money - who now doubts that this government's 2010 declaration that its number one aim was reduce public debt as a share of national income was a sham, a lie to cover up their intention to make the working class (es) pay for their shambles of a system that prioritises profit over people?

Debt is now predicted to reach 80% of GDP by the time of the next election. Meanwhile, the Office for Budget Responsibility has predicted that 70% of us will be worse off as a result of Osborne's December statement, with those right at the bottom being hit the hardest. It appears we are not "all in this together"
and to prove it in April the top rate of income tax will be cut from 50p to 45p in the £.

Corporation tax on profits is to be cut in 2014 to 21% -  the lowest rate in the developed world - down by a quarter from 28%. Not that the companies need the money though, as firms in Britain have £700 billion stockpiled and aren't investing. It's not workers on strike in Britain, but the bosses who are sitting  back as the coalition take away basic rights and benefits that our grandparents and parents fought so successfully to secure for us.

Amidst all the gloom, it's almost laughable watching journalists suggesting that the policies of the government are not working. They bloody well are, because they are hurting like hell and that's what they are intended to do!

The face of modern day Britain

Freezing and then capping child benefit is the latest coalition attack on working class people 

Time to bin sick Bramble chants

An appeal to Sunderland fans 

Contents of a letter sent to Sunderland Echo, A Love Supreme fanzine and Roker Report. It follows a number of people raising their concerns to me about the song, which originally was even worse as the words were then 'he rapes when he wants." ALS and Roker Report have already put the letter online. Thanks to them. 

From: Mark Metcalf, 
South Stand season ticket holder, along with 4-year old son Charlie. 

Well done to those Sunderland fans who successfully challenged last weekend at Bolton those singing the disgusting ‘Titus Bramble sex songs’, which have become some sort of badge of honour in an ill-judged campaign to annoy Newcastle fans. Bramble himself should also know better than to acknowledge those doing the signing as no-one singing the songs is doing it because they think he is a good player.

It was particularly clear from the reaction of many female fans at the Reebok that they do not like the song and would like it stopped. The song also tarnishes the growing reputation Sunderland fans are rightly getting for their vocal support away from home, with Sunderland fans at Man Utd, St Mary’s, Anfield and at the Reebok simply superb in the non-stop noise they created. Brilliant, let’s keep it up, but let’s bin the Bramble chants.