Thursday, 24 February 2011

The fight by Durham residents that helped force changes in lap-dancing laws

It’s good news that Hackney Council voted last month to ban any new strip/lap dancing venues. 
The local authority's clampdown derives from the 2010 Policing and Crime Act, under which councils were given greater licensing authority and removed sex establishments' rights of appeal if a licence renewal is refused.
The law was changed only after hundreds of local campaigns brought pressure to bear on politicians to change it. One of the most important - and certainly most successful was that undertaken in Durham City. Three years ago I wrote an article for the Big Issue in Wales - due to a major re-organisation taking place at that time, it was never published. So here, for the first time, is the story of those who fought and won.
Originally written in 2008

Kirsty Thomas, and husband and wife Desmond and Ann Evans, recently became the first residents in the UK since the introduction of the 2003 Licensing Act to successfully challenge plans to open a lap dancing club.

Vimac Leisure had hoped to open the club in the historic city of Durham in north-east England. The company however was forced to concede defeat in June after the High Court in London dismissed their application for a judicial review of North Durham Magistrates earlier decision to refuse its application for a new premises license.

The victory by the 3 residents and the dozens who stood alongside them in a year - long struggle should give heart to others fighting to prevent similar establishments being considered elsewhere. Success came in spite of a lack of support from organisations responsible for ensuring the public’s safety.

It is only thirteen years since the first British lap-dancing club, For Your Eyes Only, opened in 1995 in London. There are now over 300 such ‘Gentlemen’s clubs’, the numbers having doubled since 2003. In Wales there are now close to 30 such clubs. Cardiff itself has its very own ‘For Your Eyes Only’ that is open seven nights a week charging £5 before 11.00pm and £10 after and where clients enjoy continuous stage shows and can choose to additionally pay to ogle a dancer in a private booth. A topless lap dance typically costs £10; rising to £20 for fully nude.
It was Ann Evans in July 2007 who first became aware that Vimac Leisure were hoping to turn ‘The Loft’, a night club close to Durham City’s main bus station, into a table or pole dancing club. Walking through the cobbled streets of the ancient city that is dominated by the magnificent Castle and Cathedral she spotted a blue notice on the door.
“I was shocked, I immediately rang the City Council up and they confirmed my fears, but they would only let me take a look at the application in the company of a council officer. I took down notes and when I got back I wrote off a letter to register my objection. We live locally and I was concerned about the affects such a club would have on the community” said Ann Evans, a retired law lecturer.
Under the law anyone wanting to object only had 21 days to do so and   had to be ‘materially affected’ – so a resident living more than ½ a mile from the premises would have found their objections ignored. Despite this the City Council received 51 letters, all from local organisations and people including parents of children and teenagers.

The Licensing Act of 2003 established a single integrated scheme for licensing premises that are used to regulate alcohol, provide regulated entertainment or late night refreshment. Responsibility rests with local authorities. In Durham there are 11 councillors on the licensing committee, it is a regulatory committee expected to take decisions on the face of evidence and not on a political whip. Council officers who said that there were no legal reasons why the application could be refused advised them.

Although the voting figures have never been formally released it is widely rumoured that it took the casting vote of the committee’s chair to grant VIMAC a license. However perhaps conscious of the strength of local feeling restrictions were placed on the days and times when lap dancing was to be permitted – Thursday’s, Friday’s and Saturday’s between 8.00pm and 2.00pm.

In the event neither side were happy with the verdict, the objectors wanting no dancing and VIMAC wanting a lot more. The appeal was heard before Magistrates at North Durham Court in December last year, by which time the campaigners, now backed by a number of local councillors including their own County Councillor Liberal Democrat Nigel Martin and Labour Mp Roberta Blackman-Woods had formed themselves into a vocal campaigning organisation. They appear to have been backed by most local people – the local free newspaper the Durham Times publishing hundreds of letters supporting them with only two against.

Two well- attended meetings were held, at which the well-known women’s rights campaigner Julie Bindel spoke. “She had a great influence after she gave an excellent speech showing how lap dancing exploited the women” said Kirsty Thomas.

“The licensing committee had, wrongly in our view, said our objections had ‘predominantly emanated from a moral stance” said Nigel Martin “but no-one could say that at the appeal. True many people did have moral objections, but the Liberal Democrat position is that as long as these premises are regulated and properly sited then they should be allowed to get a license. What everyone agreed was that the site chosen was inappropriate”.

Anyone hoping to use moral objections to prevent a lap-dancing club is sure to be disappointed as the licensing authority has only to take into account four factors when deciding on an application. These are crime and disorder, public safety, prevention of public nuisance and the protection of children from harm.

“I objected to the lap dancing club because it would have affected the institutions in the local vicinity such as the churches and also local residents who use that area to catch a bus. Furthermore the Shakespeare Hall community centre has a lot of classes for children and this is directly opposite The Loft. Because the sort of clients who use these clubs are sexually aroused and will be walking along the street where there are children and elderly people then I don’t think that is a good mix to create a good atmosphere where people feel free and safe” said Kirsty.

Initially the campaigners had sought to obtain legal advice from licensing specialists in the north east only to find that all of them are working for VIMAC in one form or another. In the event legal advice was provided by the Christian Legal Centre from London who provided a solicitor and a barrister who presented the case put together by the residents at court. There was an outside chance that if they lost then Desmond, Ann and Kirsty would have been left with a large legal bill. “Some people told us we’d be left penniless” laughs Desmond. 

“Our case stuck to the four points. We had hoped that some of the authorities charged with public safety would have assisted us. We worked hard to get the police behind us, some officers supported us on a personal level but when we argued that a lap dancing club was bound to bring with it additional crime and disorder the police said there was no evidence of lap dancing clubs in other parts of the country doing so. It undermined what we were saying. We also approached those charged with child protection at the County Council, but they wouldn’t get involved” says Kirsty Thomas.

“Vimac were able to make great play of our inability to get support from any responsible authority” says Ann.

Backing them however were local students. “We campaigned from the angle of the welfare and safety of the city rather than we don’t want a lap dancing club. North Road is quite a dangerous place, there are assaults on there every weekend, students tend to avoid it at night because of confrontations with locals” said Emma Carter, the education and welfare officer at Durham University Students Union.

“We decided that the main objection would be on public nuisance – people going to the bus station, that the club would be just 150 metres from the Cathedral, which is a world heritage site and that it would over the road from the community centre. We were also able to get our representatives to speak with authority about the local area, the residents who lived there, their ages and how they would be affected. No-one could say we hadn’t done our work” said Nigel Martin.

In the event the Magistrates agreed with them throwing out VIMAC’s appeal, refusing the application for a new premises licence stating the  objectors had ‘focused on the particular entertainment proposed in this specific location’ such that they have been influenced by ‘the relevance and weight of the arguments’.

Now having seen VIMAC’s application for Judicial Review fail Kirsty says hey are “absolutely delighted to have won this case on behalf of the local community.” 

They are also pleased to see that their local MP Roberta Blackman- Woods campaign to change the law to give councils the power to license lap-dancing clubs as sex encounter establishments appears to have been successful. She had argued that the very people most affected by the clubs, the residents who have to walk past them every day, needed to be considered when authorities decide whether to grant a license. Now Gerry Sutcliffe, Bradford Mp and licensing minister has stated that
"The Government is concerned about the current increase in the number of establishments which are putting on lap dancing and similar forms of adult entertainment, and we are aware that these concerns are shared by many local authorities and other stakeholders. It is clear that the protections and regulations set out in the 2003 Act and elsewhere do not go as far as some people would like to control the proliferation of lap-dancing clubs and similar establishments."

Sutcliffe has written to council leaders asking them to tell the Government what powers they want to limit the number of clubs.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Forgiving father

A 13 year-old boy from Crewe recently imprisoned for two years after sexually abusing a seven year-old girl last year needs help and support. So says the victims’ father, feeling that without which the one time family friend will remain a danger to society and himself.

Describing the teenager’s attempt to rape his daughter as “any parent’s worst nightmare” the father added that what was “especially worrying is the boy has yet to show any real remorse. He needs to be assisted into recognising what he has done. Only then can he get appropriate treatment such that when he returns to society his follow up care can ensure nothing like this happens again in the future.”

Despite this concern the father believes his daughter’s assailant should be looking to live elsewhere. He’s adamant he’s not making any threats, but believes many people are angry at the incident and that in the circumstances a different location should be found for the youngster to live in.

On a wider level he’s concerned that far too many young people’s knowledge of sex comes from what they pick up “on the street or catching glimpses of pornographic, often violent, movies at home, where any idea of a loving relationship is absent.” He’d like to see much more being done in schools to giving young people a more balanced view.

Meanwhile he’s continuing to show support to his daughter saying she now found it difficult to sleep in her own bed or use the toilet and that whilst counselling was helping “it was a slow process. One I suspect we might never know has properly worked such that it would make it appropriate to stop.” 

Restore Iraqi workers rights

Hopes that a law introduced by Saddam Hussein banning Iraqi public sector workers from joining a trade union may finally be overturned have been raised after the countries recently elected deputy Prime Minister Dr Nuri Shaways met a delegation from the General Federation of Iraqi Workers.

Created in 1987, Article 150 is now the only law yet to be rewritten following the dictators’ downfall eight years ago. Its opponents believe its retention intimidates workers in a country where wages are little more than £170 a month. With inflation pushing up prices this leaves most families below the poverty level, and many are looking to trade unions for help.

Last year the country’s President, Jalal Talabani, and a number of newly elected MPs, agreed to back the General Federation of Iraqi Workers [GFW] demand to scrap article 150. The demands of the GFW, made up of twelve national unions, were supported by overseas trade unions including the TUC.

However any action had to be put on hold until an agreement could be found on the make-up of the new Iraqi government, and it was only in December that Nouri al Maliki was sworn in as Prime Minister, bringing to an end eight months of political turmoil.

Keeping up the pressure the GFW met with Shaways on February 13th, reporting afterwards that he had: “agreed on the importance to enact a new labour law immediately acknowledging the demands made by the international labour organizations and by global trade unions. The Deputy Prime Minister added that a proper labour law will be of benefit to the Iraqi government, Iraqi society and the Iraqi working people in general and added by saying that he shall follow the case for the immediate implementation of labour law. He also supported the GFIW demands for fair, independent and proper workers elections.”

If these fine words can now be turned into concrete action it would be a welcome move for those Iraqi workers who have been so badly let down by the coalition forces that have occupied their country since 2003.

Abdullah Muhsin is the GFW international representative and said: “When the USA led coalition forces removed Saddam we, once again, began to openly organise. We welcomed the promises of Blair and Bush to build democracy, and as organisations who represent workers of all different backgrounds we want to be involved in building a new more open Iraq.”

Yet within days of opening a new office in Baghdad in 2003 Muhsin claims they came under attack when “ten armed vehicles arrived and American forces ransacked our premises. They even ripped down posters denouncing terrorism and sectarianism, which we view as deadly enemies of the workers.”

That was certainly the case on May 10th last year when a textile factory, with a history of trade union organisation, in Hilla, around fifty miles south of the capital, was hit by a series of suicide bombings. These left more than 40 people dead and over a hundred seriously injured.

Less deadly were the attacks in April last year on oil workers, employed by South Refineries in Basra, whose attempt to increase wage levels with sit-ins and a large demonstration were met by the authorities transferring four leaders of the Refinery Workers Union to other parts of the country.  The moves followed events in 2009 when transport workers complained of harassment and denounced the Transport Minister for refusing to recognise the right of their union to negotiate on their behalf.

Abdullah Mushin says that despite these attacks the trade union movement has steadily been gaining strength “because we cut across communities and occupations. We are opposed to religious division, which scares the sectarians who use some of their energies to attack us. Like most Iraqi’s we seek a peaceful end to the occupation forces, as then those who live here can decide how our natural resources can be used. These policies, along with organising in the factories, are gaining popularity. Once article 150 is scrapped we hope to play a full part in building democracy in Iraq.”

For more details see: -

It's a lot of wonga

Ian Holloway’s Blackpool may be like a breath of fresh air to the Premier League. However the seaside club’s willingness to advertise on its shirts a company that charges its customers a whopping 2,689% interest certainly isn’t. launched its first website in October 2007 and is backed by major investors, including Accel Partners, and one of the largest venture capital funds in Europe, Balderton Capital. It has advertised heavily on TV, radio, and the web and in newspapers. 

First time customers can borrow up to £400 for any period up to 30 days, with loans of up to £1,000 for those who’ve re-paid previous loans. Applicants are promised an instant decision, and if approved the company claims they can expect the cash to be in their bank within fifteen minutes. At the end of the agreed loan period the company collects a single payment, providing they have the required funds in their associated bank account, from the customers credit card. Any initial failure to pay costs customers £15 whilst interest is charged for up to sixty days. Non-paying customers could see their account passed to an external collections agency.

A customer borrowing £199 over 15 days will repay £234.75, with those borrowing £400 over 30 days repaying £525.48.  The company advertises its services on the basis that they’re quick and convenient for customers in urgent need of fast cash, transparent and flexible and compare favourably against the fees banks charge for customers who go overdrawn without authorisation.   

None of which has impressed Halifax MP Linda Riordan MP, who said: “I find it very disturbing that these unscrupulous companies can get away with these adverts. It is disgraceful the levels of APR that these companies are charging. They are preying on some of the poorest people in society, and I find it quite distasteful that people are cashing in on making poor people even poorer. I think this exploitation should stop.” In her attempt to do so she last year raised the issue in Parliament through an early day motion that attracted the support of 42 MPs.

However Errol Damelin, founder and Chief Executive Officer of denied the company “preyed on anyone.  As required by law, we publish our typical Annual Percentage Rate [APR] on the website and in our advertising - which would be very high for a traditional loan taken over several years, but we are not a traditional lender. APR is an annual measure and assumes compounding, yet our loans are only available for up to a month and we don’t compound interest.

We are passionate about responsible lending and this means we decline four out of every five applicants, because we don’t believe they can comfortably afford repayment, and our accepted customers are all fully banked, employed and extremely happy with the service we provide. We offer a valued alternative to payday loans and bank overdraft charges when consumers are faced with an unexpected and urgent expense.”

The setting of APRs is covered by the Consumer Credit Act 1974 and its regulations. And whilst changes to it took place on February 1st, with the implementation of the Consumer Credit Directive, no restrictions on the level companies can charge was introduced providing they properly inform customers.

Asked whether allowing companies to charge in excess of 2600% was guilty of allowing desperate people to be exploited a OFT spokesperson said the organisation “published last year a review of high-cost credit after considering the case for price controls for pawnbroking, payday loans, home credit and rent-to-buy credit. We concluded they would not address the problems where people who use high-cost credit have limited options. We are concerned that such controls may further reduce supply and considers there to be practical problems with their implementation and effectiveness. Whilst we did make recommendations, which we think would deliver worthwhile improvements, more radical approaches, outside the remit of the OFT, need to be examined by the Government if the fundamental and longstanding issues of lack of consumer power and limited supply are to be tackled.” 

Closing down the NHS - Bridlington Hospital

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley [below] should have saved the ink when three years ago he signed a petition backing the re-opening of the cardiac and acute medical services at Bridlington Hospital.

Because following his visit in December to the North Yorkshire seaside town it seems pretty clear that he never had any serious intention of keeping his promise, and that his actions were simply based on the political expedience of bolstering support for local Tory MP, Greg Knight.

Such a scenario would in normal circumstances be one the Labour Party might hope to benefit from at the polls. Not so, however, in this case as it was the former governing party who started the run-down nearly a decade ago.

It’s a situation that now leaves Bridlington residents fearing for the future of a hospital they campaigned long and hard for, and which sends those with serious medical problems, and maternity needs, on repeated journey’s back and forth to Scarborough more than twenty miles away.

This lengthy piece looks at events in Bridlington over the last decade.

Bridlington Hospital was officially opened by the Duchess of Gloucester on May 16th 1989 and brought together services from three former hospitals under one roof. The 218 beds on site included 120 for the elderly, who constitute a large part of the local population, 24 for patients with mental health, 14 for maternity and 60 acute for surgery and medicine.

Local people were delighted having campaigned for just such a hospital ever since the NHS was first muted back in the 1940s. To demonstrate their support they raised over the years many thousands of pounds to provide additional equipment for patients and even today the hospital continues to be held in extremely high regard locally.

However in October 2002 residents and Unite members at the hospital were shocked to discover a front page headline in the weekly Bridlington Free Press that Scarborough and North East Yorkshire Healthcare [SNEY] NHS Trust planned to close the minor injuries unit, citing a lack of staff.

Within days thousands had signed a petition in protest, and a community campaign was launched - [BHAG] that Unite Bridlington hospital workers fully supported “in defence of members at the hospital and the people of Bridlington and surrounding areas” said regional officer Terry Cunliffe.

All of which was sufficient to force the Trust to change its plans. Great news all round. 

Then on June 19th 2003 the then AMICUS National Health Officer Geoff Whitlow had a high level meeting with Alison Guy, SNEY Chief Executive to “discuss our members concerns about the future of Bridlington and District Hospital and to seek assurances that the Hospital was to develop and improve its services to the public” and at which the Trust promised to consult the union on any changes. In return the union promised to lobby the Government to obtain funds to expand and improve services at Bridlington after it was revealed that the SNEYHT was £11.7 million in debt.

There was therefore great news when in September 2003 the threat of closure first raised in January 2003 to Bridlington Hospital’s maternity unit was lifted following a review of services. Furthermore SNEY agreed to fund improvements that included introducing a birthing pool.

Then in early 2004 it was announced that SNEY had received its biggest ever-funding injection with a 10 million pounds award to allow, amongst other things, for the replacement of coal fired boilers at Bridlington. There would also be the  establishment of a digital link between Bridlington and Scarborough Hospitals to build on investment already made into radiology equipment at Bridlington.

Yet within weeks rumours were circulating that there were plans to remove all doctors to Scarborough and re-direct ambulances there, which even though an under pressure Alison Guy denied had workers at the hospital queuing up to join AMICUS in order to defend their jobs and working conditions. [For more details see 21/12/2004 article on SBH fully backed and supported by Amicus the Union at

On Monday July 18th 2005 the first protest was held with 100 trade unionists and members of the public participating.

At this Terry Cunliffe made clear the union’s position when he said: ‘Bridlington needs a full-time hospital not a part-time one. Our hospital is being run-down and reduced to a community hospital. Serious cases are being directed to Scarborough, more than 18 miles away along a slow coastal road and people are being sent back to Bridlington for a long recuperation before discharge, resulting in bed blocking.

Amicus [later Unite] wants a fully funded, full time hospital in Bridlington that can provide a full-range of patient care and secure jobs and better working conditions for staff and a future for the hospital.”

Amicus highlighted the refusal of the Chief Executive of Bridlington Hospital to set up a fund to raise money to donate a CT scanner to the hospital as yet more evidence of a deliberate policy to downgrade it to community status, and also called for an urgent up-grade of the Maternity Unit at the hospital.

However on September 26th 2006 came devastating news with the announcement by the new SNEY interim Chief Executive Iain McInnes that Price Waterhouse and Cooper had been employed to make savings of close to £9 million. 

At Bridlington it was planned to move the Maternity Services, acute wards and Cardiac Monitoring Unit for heart attack victims to Scarborough, reduce the number of beds, close surgical wards and only keep the minor injuries unit open during day time hours.

Thousands clamoured to sign petitions in protest, over 20,000 signatures being collected in just three weeks. This is equivalent to more than half the residents of Bridlington.

Amicus/Unite members backed the protestors with Terry Cunliffe pointing out that Bridlington Hospital handled 4,000 acute medical conditions each year, more than Scarborough, and that there was a requirement by SNEYHT to consult the public on its plans.

When SNEY did hundreds packed out Bridlington Town Hall in one of the largest meetings ever in the town. Trust members were left in no doubt that they had a fight on their hands. The Hospital Action Group distributed thousands of car stickers. Yet on July 19th 2007 SNEY, who at time were advertising for 2 directors at wages of £75,000 and £70,000 per annum, announced it intended to axe 600 jobs - a third of its workforce across the region - in a bid to save £10 million. 

If the Trust felt that might be the end of the matter they were to be mistaken as on October 20th 2007 a protest march attracted over 2,000 people at which Unite rep and staff nurse at the hospital Steve Holliday said, “showed what people feel about the hospital. People have to listen now. Health Secretary Alan Johnson is well aware of what is going on and I believe he is listening”

And that certainly appeared to be the case after Johnson moved to park up the historic debt and also ask the Independent Reconfiguration Panel [IRP] to re-examine the proposals of SNEYHT for the hospital including acute medical and cardiac admissions.”

So much so that Flamborough Parish Councillor and Unite rep at the hospital, Franco Villani “was quietly confident that the proposed changes would be reversed. Local campaigners and the union had worked hard to convince the Health Secretary of our case for proper services at Bridlington and I felt that a Labour Party which established the NHS would not let us down.”

No one however was taking any chances. Determined to show that the local town was fully behind their campaign they vowed to organise a massive march on July 26th 2008, only five days before the IRP advice was to be submitted to the Health Secretary. Meanwhile 39,000 people took the time to sign another protest petition that was later handed in at Downing Street.

“We worked tirelessly to get people on the march,” said Franco.

In its’ lead up local people’s concerns were further raised by local newspaper coverage of how one weekend a single nurse had been left in charge of the 30-bed Kent ward at the hospital.  

Nevertheless everyone involved was still staggered when over 7,000 people turned out on the march, the largest ever organised in Bridlington. “It was an amazing and emotional experience,” said BHAG Chairman Mick Pilling.

Yet in early September 2008 came news all those involved feared. Alan Johnson had accepted the IRP’s recommendation to transfer cardiac and acute medical services to Scarborough. 

Seriously ill patients were to be faced with a 22-mile journey by ambulance along the A165. This  can either be congested with holiday traffic in summer or closed from snow and high winds in the winter.

Hardly surprising therefore that despite the Trust’s claims that Bridlington Patients would still continue to get quality care few really believe that to the be case including Dr Alistair Robertson from the Manor House Surgery who said “people will die as a result of the additional time it will take to transport patients to Scarborough rather than to Bridlington Hospital.”

Some of the paramedics staffing the new fleet of ambulances continuously ferrying patients over to Scarborough were also sceptical with one who wished, in order to keep his job, to remain anonymous, saying; “because of the restrictions placed on us patients might not receive the treatment they would expect to get if they were at hospital within a shorter period.  As far as paramedics are concerned we know we can’t do as much as doctors. We don’t have the same level of training. In a hospital environment its more clinical and there’s more knowledge in the emergency department. All the paramedics feel under increasing pressure. As an aside running ambulance’s backward and forward to Scarborough can’t be that good for the environment, I thought the aim was to reduce the carbon footprint but that’s not happening with our work. ”

The changes didn’t come cheap as the annual costs to Yorkshire Ambulance Service of maintaining the additional ambulances and 14 extra staff needed to take patients to and from Scarborough was  £600,000.

And then there was the cost of the new shuttle bus. According to the Trust it was costing  £2,451.39 a week in 2009. Not that it runs through the night as the case last June demonstrates.

* Gary Kane aged 58, was taken late one night in June 2010 by ambulance from Bridlington to Scarborough Hospital after losing all coordination in his left arm, experiencing head pains and having trouble speaking clearly.

Classic stroke symptoms for a man with a previous record of heart trouble, but whose wife, having been told there were no beds available, was asked to collect and transport him back home at 4.30am.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Gary’s wife Gloria “as they’ve spent millions nationally on publicity about how to recognise a stroke. Also I told the doctor my husband had come up from Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire just that day after they’d cancelled a heart operation but he wouldn’t listen as he just seemed so rushed.”

Yet eight hours later an unwell Gary Kane was being rushed by ambulance back to Scarborough hospital where it was confirmed he’d experienced a stroke the previous evening.

Hardly surprising therefore that with everything that had gone on at Bridlington, including a ward for mental health needs being moved out, that Unite’s health national officer, Karen Reay said it was “a disaster for the citizens of Bridlington who deserve much better.”

As such no one was celebrating the new services that were moved on to the site because in the cases of the new renal dialysis unit and health centre private companies are running them.

With Labour seemingly oblivious to local people’s needs the Conservatives stepped in with their support. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley attended the march in 2008, and he and local MP Greg Knight [below] both signed the petition to retain the cardiac monitoring unit and acute medical services in Bridlington. It was a position welcomed even by long time Labour supporter Villani and confirmed by Knight in a letter dated June 24th 2009.

This stated that we ‘need a fully functioning general hospital in Bridlington and not just, as this government appears to think, a glorified day centre and rest home. The Shadow Health Secretary Mr Lansley has made it clear to me that if he was in office, he would save the services at Bridlington Hospital. I would therefore expect a future Conservative government to return all services to Bridlington hospital.’

That’s not proved to be the case now the Conservatives have formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. Local life-long Tory and Parish Councillor May Sexton was on the phone almost immediately to find out when Lansley would be returning to the town and getting things moving. Although it took till the last month of 2010 she was still confident.

Especially as there  were strong rumours that in line with the Government’s overhaul of the NHS - whereby consortiums of GPs will  take over the commissioning of up to £80 billion of healthcare - that just such a consortium was being established by Dr Alan Francis of the Manor House practice to examine how to bring back the cardiac and acute monitoring services.

BHAG Chairman Mick Pilling was not so confident saying: “ I am sure they can bring back the equipment. But I am worried that with many staff having either moved to Scarborough or out of the area altogether it will prove impossible to recruit the nurses and specialist staff needed to re-open the wards. I am led to believe around a hundred staff will be needed, a considerable figure.”

In the event Lansley’s visit proved to be ‘little more’ than a fact-finding mission. “At a time of stringent public sector cuts he may as well have saved his travel costs” said one of those who met him.

True there were warm words with Lansley saying: “One of the things I can help to do is give people a sense of trust” but yet when it came to action the struggle of local residents and hospital workers was given short thrift when he said he wasn’t considering returning the lost services as: “Things have moved on since 2008. Money has now been invested in the new midwifery-led unit in Scarborough. Technology has advanced and it is now also recognised that the safest place for cardiac patients is not in a small hospital,” a point disputed by hospital campaigners nationally.

So with the cardiac monitoring unit and acute medical services permanently closed at Bridlington Hospital the result is that ambulances will continue to be pushed to their limits.

Yet the visit by the health secretary came only weeks after it took ambulances up to an hour to arrive at a house fire in Bridlington. The result? Three children all aged less than nine years of age, dead. Mick Pilling said he wouldn’t like to comment on the incident but did say, “For the last eight years the ambulance service has been stretched to its limits. Its not just a matter of delivering patients, when they arrive at Scarborough there’s often a queue and this can result in a delay in their future availability as they wait to book patients.”

A Yorkshire Ambulance Service [YAS] paramedic, who did not want to use his name, agreed with Mick Pilling saying “there is no doubt that the travelling to Scarborough does impact on response times, although in this case I understand the delay was more to do with the seriousness of the situation not being relayed to crews already busy on less serious incidents.”

The assistant director of accident and emergency operations for YAS, Paul Mudd, defended the service telling the local newspaper “We would like to reassure members of the public that in this case, and as with any incident, we dispatched the nearest available ambulance crews to the scene."

Bradford City 0 Chesterfield 1

Bradford City 0

Chesterfield 1

Smalley 16

A lovely through by Kieran Djilali and a fine Deane Smalley finish proved just enough to give Chesterfield all three points last night at Valley Parade.

The victory confirms the Spireites place at the top of League 2, whilst defeat leaves Bradford City facing a nervous to the end to the season in their battle for Football League survival. Defeat on Saturday at home to second bottom Stockport County would really throw Peter Taylor’s side into the mire and may well bring to an end the former England Under 21’s short time in charge.  The result must have been particularly hard for City captain Michael Flynn to take because he was head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch, putting in a battling, never say die performance that deserved better.

There had been little to warm up the 10,782 crowd in the first fifteen minutes but when Djilali picked up the ball out on the left his shimmy inside created the space to thread the ball perfectly beyond City full-back Luke O’Brien, where Smalley rushed in to hammer an unstoppable shot past Lenny Pidgeley.

In a game of few chances Djilali should have made it two on 37 minutes but his shot from eight yards lacked pace and direction to allow a grateful Pidgeley to keep his side in the match.

Pushing on Jake Speight at half time and James Hanson after 19 minutes of the second half finally produced some concerted home pressure on Tommy Lee’s goal. Speight’s bustling helped him create a number of half-chances, but the keeper was rarely troubled.

A fine Lewis Hunt blocking tackle on Djilali prevented a second away goal before the full-back’s cross was headed back by Hanson but Tom Adeyemi couldn’t get enough on his header to equalise. Flynn had a shot blocked, the home side forced three corners but when the whistle sounded John Sheridan’s side had won away from home for the second time in four days. Baring a late season collapse Chesterfield can look forward to promotion at the end of it.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Liberals on liberals

After three decades in the political wilderness the party left behind when the Liberal Democrats were formed is after exploiting Nick Clegg’s parties declining popularity. This has seen support in opinion polls fall to just 7%, well down on the 23% gained at last years May general election, with hundreds of councillors, including four in Runcorn and seven in Rochdale, resigning from the party.

It was on January 25th 1981 that four Labour MPs, including former Cabinet Ministers Shirley Williams and Dr David Owen, and one time deputy party leader Roy Jenkins announced that by forming the Social Democratic Party they hoped to “break the mould of British politics.” 

By the autumn they’d persuaded the vast majority of the Liberal Party to join them in the Liberal-SDP Alliance jointly led by Jenkins and Liberal leader David Steel. Within a year, as a result of defections from Labour, it boasted 30 MPs and later secured 25% of the vote at the 1983 general election. After the 1987 election most of the SDP’s membership, including current cabinet members Vince Cable, Chris Huhne, Greg Clark and Andrew Lansley, agreed to back an official merger.

Liberal Party Councillor Steve Radford had only just been elected for the first time to Liverpool City Council when Jenkins and Steel announced their plans. He was immediately opposed to joining with what he regarded as “the right wing of the Labour Party with its militarist tradition and belief in the corporate society that excludes people from being involved in the decision making process. “ He believed a merger would mean adopting a centralised constitution that would destroy local organisations autonomy and bring to an end the “historical traditions of Liberalism” first formally adopted in a party structure in 1877.

Radford, who represents the 15,000 strong inner-city areas of Tuebrook and Stoneycroft, thus refused to join colleagues in the new party in 1987. He knows he wasn’t the only councillor to do so, but unlike the rest, who either served out their remaining period of office or subsequently stood for re-election as Independents, he refused to stand as anything other than a Liberal Party candidate at election time. 

It meant he faced a rough ride in 1990 when as the first specifically anti-merger candidate his one time political allies worked, ultimately without success, to unseat him. Today he enjoys one of the highest levels of support anywhere in the country, with 72% voting for him when he was last re-elected in 2008 to sit alongside his party colleagues from the same ward, Hazel Williams and Christopher Lenton.
The three are part of a small group of Liberal Party councillors in Britain totalling little more than 25. Radford though is hoping to see the number leap considerably. He’s aware of “at least” 100 former Liberal-Democrat councillors who’ve quit in protest at the party’s coalition with the Conservatives and the cuts that have followed.

Tactfully he’s keen to avoid telling them “I told you what would happen 25-30 years ago.” Instead he hopes his “commitment to the principles of engagement rather than war, free trade, support for small businesses, democracy, a national minimum wage and council housing as well as opposition to the cuts will persuade them to join us rather than stand as independents. Especially as history shows they are unlikely to retain their seats in the future under such a banner.”

Radford joined the Liberal Party as a teenager more than four decades ago. He accuses his former colleagues now participating in governing the country of making promises they never had any intention of keeping. He also rejects as “nonsense” any idea that they didn’t know about the state of the nations finances prior to entering office because “they were allocated considerable sums to fund their role as an effective opposition and had access to detailed information as they shadowed the cabinet. The scale of the cuts is for ideological not economic reasons.”

He’s dismissive of any idea that Chancellor George Osborne is anything but a “right wing conservative who doesn’t believe in a proactive state and is intent on privatising the NHS. Initially the plans are to do this through the back door but when the time is right he wants to see private companies running hospitals for profit.”

As Radford believes that the Lib-Democrat’s support for such policies is demonstrated by the party remaining in Government then he has “little doubt’ that many of its leading lights face being defeated at the next general election. This he feels will “inevitably” lead to a more permanent coalition. He points as evidence to the Conservative Party’s scaling back of its campaigning during the recent Parliamentary by-election in Oldham East and Saddleworth.

All these points were put to the Liberal Democrats in the form of an extensive series of specific questions, with a follow up phone call asking if they could expand on their subsequent reply in which a party spokesperson said "The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are working together in the national interest to deal with the record budget deficit left by Labour. By raising the income tax threshold, putting money into our schools through the pupil premium to help the most disadvantaged children in society and by rebalancing the economy, away from over-reliance on the financial sector in the City, we will make sure Britain comes out of the financial crisis stronger."

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Book review

I read an article entitled Spinning fine tale of Tufnell helping Barnsley lift Cup at

Bartrop scores winner against QPR in 1910

What's your poison? OP's kill.

Clinical tests that can provide objective evidence of organophosphate [OP] pesticide poisoning have been confirmed after the release of a specially commissioned Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [Defra] report. The results should assist potential sufferers visiting their doctors, including thousands of shepherds and also military personnel known to be have been exposed to the neurotoxins during tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dr Sarah Mackenzie-Ross from the University College London first became aware of the dangers of OPs twenty years ago when she was asked to be a medical expert for a solicitors firm representing first Gulf War soldiers and farmers convinced their multiplicity of illnesses were OP related.

In 2004 she applied for a Defra research grant to undertake further studies over a four-year period saying: “that whilst there is still a lot of controversy about OPs there is general acceptance that high level exposure will make you ill.  There is much less agreement about the low-level exposure shepherds and farmers are calculated to experience.”

The study found that farmers with low-level exposure have greater health problems than a controlled group not using OPs.

“We couldn’t prove causation but our analysis allowed us to conclude that there was a possible association between exposure and the farmers ill-health. This has been accepted by Defra, who’ve put our paper on their website. The work has also just been peer reviewed and published in a Scientific Journal, which is pleasing as it means our conclusions have been accepted by some of the top scientists in the land” said Sarah. 

Littleborough sheep farmer Brenda Sutcliffe has welcomed the Doctor’s report, whilst at the same time questioning why it has taken so long for a government backed report to support what its leading scientists said almost sixty years ago. In 1951 a team led by Professor Solly Zuckerman discovered OP exposure could produce a range of symptoms including memory loss, depression and schizophrenia. It recommended OP products be labelled ‘deadly poisons.’ Zuckerman’s report lay hidden in the House of Commons Library until Brenda discovered it two years ago.

Sutcliffe, who along with her family became seriously ill after government regulations compelled them to use OP sheep dip, has fought a tireless campaign since 1992 to highlight what she is certain are the links between OPs and the high level of suicides amongst shepherds - 1,000 killing themselves between 1996 and 2005. A specially produced booklet of her papers, entitled ‘Cause and effect - the search for the truth’, that includes an examination of the possible causes of Gulf War syndrome, has enjoyed a wide readership.

“I am full of praise for Sarah and her team as they have done a brilliant job and the fact that it was funded by the government gives it perhaps greater credibility than other reports. Anyone going to the doctor can now say here is a scientist that has produced a report funded by Defra that shows low level exposure is dangerous - I very much welcome that. Of course the report shouldn’t have been necessary as it’s all been done before” said Sutcliffe whose local councillor is Peter Evans.

He currently sits, as one of three Rochdale Borough Councillors, on the Joint Mental Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee for Pennine Care NHS Trust. Five local councils, to consider issues affecting the health of local people, established the Committee. 

                                                        Brenda Sutcliffe and Peter Evans 

Evans has been concerned for many years about the high levels of mental illness amongst ex-soldiers and talks of his “despair at figures showing that 8,500 are currently serving time in Her Majesty’s Prisons.”

He’s convinced that many have been affected by the OP products used in insecticides sprayed on tents and vehicles to protect soldiers from desert mosquitoes. He welcomes the new report and has moved, with the committee’s support, to have details circulated to all coroners’ courts. He is now working on how best to inform doctors saying “it’s vital that we let people know there is such a test so we can start identifying and helping people suffering from organophosphate poisoning.”

Women during the miners' strike

See below for a piece in which some research i did more than a quarter of a century ago features heavily and which may be of interest to one or two people:-

Not one of the women you'd admire

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Paul Mason interview

Paul Mason’s probing of big business, economists and politicians who appear on Newsnight turns the driest subject into compelling viewing. With an agenda he sums up as “profit, people and planet”, Leigh-born Mason clearly revels in his role as Newsnight’s economics editor.

Equally at home discussing credit default swaps with bankers and dubstep with protesting students, Mason’s scope is wide. And he also comes at his subject from a different perspective than many economics correspondents. “I am no anti-capitalist but I’ve never bought the mainstream economics explanation that markets are always efficient and that complexity brings safety,” he says.

The financial crash surely bears him out. He started writing his gripping account of it, Meltdown, on the night Lehman Brothers went bust in September 2008 and it was published only five months later. Despite the banks’ role in the crash, how come they’ve been able to return to business as usual, including pay and bonuses?

“The bankers have created a system in which the politicians are an extension of an elite based in the banking sector,” he replies. “It’s a world in which there is a shared value system and the biggest shock they had in the last two or three years is that their value system suddenly came tumbling down.”

Nevertheless he does expect to see action. “Even the Bank of England is thinking about how to downsize the major banks. It may be more than just ensuring they have larger deposits when they lend, and it might even involve the legal break-up of banks in which the investment sector is split from the retail side.” 

He believes that Vince Cable, the Lib Dem business secretary in the coalition government, won’t hang around if radical reform doesn’t happen and that if he goes it could easily precipitate the end of the pact between his party and the Conservatives. A few months ago he predicted that it wouldn’t last anyway but since then has rowed back because he feels the two parties are largely “in tune with each other over the cuts packages they are putting through”.

Mason agrees with the government that public spending has to be cut – although he is reluctant to be drawn on how quickly – but disagrees with its assertion that the poorest won’t be hit hardest. He’s not managed to visit his hometown of Leigh since 2009, when he interviewed pubgoers about David Cameron and found that few knew who he was. “They know now!”

Interestingly though, he doesn’t believe the cuts will necessarily worsen the north-south divide, more that poor places right across Britain will suffer.

“Unless they have a way of switching over to the potential new sources of growth they will get poorer. There are opportunities to rebalance the UK economy, which I believe all the parties largely accept. It will involve promoting manufacturing, slimming down finance and creating productive as well as service jobs. The problem is that some areas lack a skilled workforce, making them unattractive to new industries, and these will be the blighted areas of the next 10 years. Not a pleasant thought but probably true.”

Mason has moved a long way from his socialist youth but still has a more intuitive understanding of the barricades of protest than other mainstream journalists, who were content to either patronise or demonise students who took to the streets recently over cuts.
“I observed a serious breakdown of public order, which the police struggled to control in part because you had 16 to 18-year-old working class youths who are not culturally averse to violence, alongside the more predictable university students who have a lot more to lose. I also think the older generation – politicians, police, journalists, even the student leaders – underestimated the sense of betrayal that has gripped, rightly or wrongly, part of that generation, who it must be said are the real losers in all this as they will be paying for the crisis for the next 30 years.”

Mason is close to completing ten years with the BBC and is also the author of Live Working, Die Fighting - How The Working Class Went Global, which links the labour struggles of old with the modern-day struggles of workers and peasants around the world and which was longlisted for the Guardian First Book award.

In it he expresses his admiration for workers at the Zanon ceramics factory in Neuquen, Argentina who resisted management’s attempts to close it by taking over the ovens to continue production. Zanon is still open and has taken on more employees from amongst the thousands of locally unemployed.

By contrast, the income levels of manual workers in the US haven’t risen in real terms since 1973. Mason is convinced that unless the trend is reversed then an economy based on consumption will continue to decline – especially as no one is going to be able to boost it by selling sub-prime mortgages to those who couldn’t afford them or to those who, as Mason shows in Meltdown, were defrauded into obtaining one when they had the finance for a regular mortgage.

After the crash, then, what does a better form of capitalism look like?
In Meltdown, Mason admits trying to revive as a “policy option” the ideas of the late American economist Hyman Minsky. An expert on the great depression of the 1930s Minsky was, says Mason someone who “worried about the potential for capitalism to create an unstoppable Frankenstein monster that would bring the whole system down. What he wanted was a socialised banking system, a highly dynamic private sector and no welfare state, but for the state to be the employer of last resort. It’s about creating boring banks, interesting businesses and giving people incentives to work. A sort of entrepreneurial social capitalism.”
Mason himself took to the picket lines last year as the National Union of Journalists representative on Newsnight, protesting against the BBC’s plans to cut pension rights. “Even if like me you are at the top of the labour aristocrat tree it was necessary to openly participate because some of the people I work with aren’t that well paid. If you are asked to give away your basic pension rights then you fight as hard as you can to keep them.”

Despite his concerns though Mason has thoroughly enjoyed the decade, saying with a big smile: “Newsnight is one of the few places where we still do things essential to proper journalism, where a reporter can set their own agenda – so you are not in a factory-style process. You can get somewhere, rip up the schedule, switch your mobile off and pursue the story – and the bosses generally go with what comes out. Few people, even in print, still get to do that. It’s an immense privilege and I still pinch myself that I have blagged my way into it.”

Paul Mason was born in Leigh in 1960.

After playing the trombone solo in front of 2,000 people at Bolton’s Victoria Hall when he was 12 and being booed he says he can face any sized audience. “I can’t hear my critics.”

A student at Sheffield and London universities he was deputy editor Computer Weekly until joining Newsnight as business and industry correspondent in 2001.

One hero is journalist Jules Valles, who covered and then took part in the 1789-1795 Paris Commune that ruled France’s capital city during the French Revolution. “He invented cyber-punk 150 years too early to realise what it was.”

Another is his dad, a lorry driver who grew up very poor. Mason recalls one day in the 1970s, when on the terraces at Leigh RLFC a bunch of fans started chanting racist abuse against Leigh’s only black player, Des Drummond. Then Drummond scored. “My dad – I can still hear him because his voice seemed to silence about 2,000 people – just shouted at them: ‘What do you think of him now?’

Living in London with his wife Jane, he enjoys a pint and socialising with his friends and family.

On China

It would be wrong to expect China’s growth to revive the world economy, warns Mason.
“So much of the interior is so poorly developed and whilst it’s impossible to regret the rise of an impoverished country the problem is the absence of democracy. Much of the country is like the Wild West – ungoverned. It’s a country full of graft, back-handers, corruption, and the mob – just like America in the 1900s.”

Improving people’s skills may be fine. But isn’t the problem, especially as it’s accepted that mankind needs to cut back on its carbon emissions, that a capitalist system based on endless economic growth can’t be sustained anyway?

He disagrees: “I think there is a tech based solution to sustainability, combined with some pretty massive social changes that we have to go through. But the system is morphing: you’re seeing the decline of America, the eclipse of its economic model, the rise of China and countries like Brazil, South Africa and even Australia. There’s a new model of success and a new centre of gravity – it’s the ebb and flow of power centres, of economic models; I only wish they’d invented a live-forever pill so I could see how it pans out over a century!”