No sell-out deal – stand in solidarity with the 472 teaching assistants, Durham, October 26

Latest update in the still on going Durham Teaching Assistants Dispute story! More from me on other matters soon!

Cautiously pessimistic

Now that Unison’s called off the Durham teaching assistants dispute by accepting a deal that means a pay cut for 472 TAs, (see here for more analysis from the Communist Workers’ Organisation), it’s hard to say what, if anything, comes next. But it does seem clear that some TAs are refusing to lie down and let the other 472 be sold out, and they’re calling for people to assemble in Durham on October 26th. If you’re anywhere in the North-East area, and free on that day, I’d really recommend trying to get down then, since this is a crucial turning point for one of the most inspirational and determined struggles happening in the UK right now, and those TAs who are resisting Unison’s attempt to demobilise them deserve our full support.

In the words of the TA who’s called the event:

“After a highly emotional week…

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The Durham Teaching Assistants deal: a critical perspective

Latest update on the Durham Teaching Assistants negotiations! More from me in a few weeks!

Cautiously pessimistic

A critical voice on the latest deal in the County Durham Teaching Assistants dispute, taken from the TAs’ facebook page:

“From a concerned supporter.

When the Lions voted no last time it was in complete solidarity with those losing out. No one was to be left behind. Then came a vague promise of a toothless “progression board”, a bunch of veiled threats from the union, the same old tiresome, repetitive bluster about the definitely final last offer ever, a scandalously worded ballot paper and suddenly 472 TAs have been lost to the whim of a council and union who have worked together to wear down, alarm and ultimately browbeat people into accepting their half-baked proposals.

And for what? Essentially for nothing more than the previous offer which was roundly rejected in solidarity with all those who were losing out.

I may be wrong and will hold my hands…

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Voting, abstaining, and opposing the tories: a quick reminder

Roberta Blackman-Woods’ name on the list of Labour MP’s who failed to vote against the Tories’ 2015 Welfare Cuts proposals comes as little surprise here, given last week’s revelations regarding Durham County Council.

Cautiously pessimistic

As things stand, I really can’t blame anyone for wanting to take a punt on Corbynism in the upcoming election. It’s not what I believe in; I can’t see how social democracy in one country could be workable, and I still believe that the only thing that’ll get us out of the mess we’re in would be ungovernable mass working-class movements. But the Jehovah’s Witnesses I walk past every day would tell you the same thing about Jesus, and in the UK in 2017 I recognise that my hopes don’t really look all that more plausible than theirs. So, in the absence of anything better, I can totally understand why people might want to vote to oppose the tories.

As a quick aside, I understand the Lib Dems are currently posing as the real alternative who can be trusted to oppose May’s Brexit plans all the way. I find it…

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Welcome to the lion’s den: Labour councils and the Durham teaching assistants

Some interesting revelations about the workings of Durham County Council.

Cautiously pessimistic

A lot of discussion about the Labour Party at the moment seems to focus on fairly abstract terrain: what the leadership are saying, what the rest of the Parliamentary party are saying, whether Corbyn could win a general election in 2020 – this last one feels like a particularly weird question for people to be talking about, as if anyone, having gone through the last few years, is thinking “ah yes, we are in a stable situation where I feel confident about making long-term predictions, because things generally seem to be playing out as I would expect them to”. But here we are.

What seems frustratingly absent, a lot of the time, is any consideration of the fact that, whoever might win a hypothetical general election in the future, huge areas of the country are ruled by Labour councils on the local level right now, which means that, when people…

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The Strange Case of Quarry Heads


Although this blogspot has been outwardly inactive for well over eighteen months now, we’ve been extremely active behind the scenes, as a major scandal looms on the horizon for Labour controlled Durham County Council in the wake of the implementation of a new local government initiative to off load land, buildings, and other assets still temporarily in Council hands, over to community ownership. With the government’s ‘forced austerity’ measures still in full swing and no sign of a change in direction in the event of a Labour victory in May, under the new county wide ‘Assets Transfer’ policy Durham County Council are looking at ways to transfer as many of their presently owned assets over to community ownership as possible; with a whole array of different public bodies including community groups, housing associations and parish councils just some of the organizations getting directly involved.

When last we were visibly active we raised the issue of the former Council land at Quarry Heads, Toft Hill, just outside of Bishop Auckland, with which Etherley Parish Council, Teesdale District Council and Durham County Council have all had direct involvements over a period of some thirty or so years. The scandal itself first erupted in the early nineteen nineties when members of a well known criminal family managed to obtain some sort of rights of possessory title over part of the land by what can best be described as highly irregular means. In spite of a major public hue and cry and repeated written representation being made to the then District Council and other related parties by former Labour District Councillor Joe Smith, nothing was ever done and all further attempts to get the situation rectified were subsequently ignored.

During the intervening period the criminal network involved were to successfully manage to establish a power base on the land in question, which, in spite of their claims in the local press, in which it has been described as a ‘Pets’ Plot’, resembles something more akin to a Taleban Compound than a place to keep one’s furry little friends. And, in more recent times, the situation had been allowed to get so bad, with the Police and their various ‘partner agencies’ both failing and refusing to get directly involved, that an article in the Teesdale Mercury which appeared in the wake of a meeting of Etherley Parish Council, at which the Council’s proposals to hand over responsibility for the land to the Parish were discussed in full, described Quarry Heads as a ‘no go area’. Although the Quarry Heads were now being described as a ‘no go area’ in the press, something which it had been for many residents for a considerable period of time, the Police still seemed incapable of providing a credible explanation as to why such a situation had been allowed to develop in the first place.

In addition to providing a reasonably detailed and up to date report on both the County Council and the Parish Council’s current position on the Quarry Heads, the ‘Teesdale Mercury’ also revealed that members of Council Staff who had become involved in trying to rectify a situation which years of what the article itself was to describe as ‘illegal encroachment’, on what had formerly been publicly owned land, had actually been physically threatened by the criminal family at the centre of the controversy around which the land itself is still effectively surrounded. For residents of the nearby Red House Estate which is situated directly adjacent to the land at Quarry Heads, although things there are considerably quieter there than they were when this entire controversy erupted well over twenty years ago, it is quite astounding that the late Joe Smith’s attempts to get the situation rectified were effectively sidelined for decades. During the intervening period however when Police and Council alike failed to take the appropriate action necessary for bringing the situation under control, hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage appears to have been done to many of the properties on the estate, whilst large numbers of residents appear to have been forced to go elsewhere in spite of the public authority that is presently responsible for the up keep and management of the Estate making widespread claims to the contrary.

In the meantime, and in spite of the outward appearance of normality, little or no sign of any direct change appears to have taken place with regard to the ownership and stewardship of the land itself. According to present reports the area is still frequented by the same undesirable element who were previously responsible for the alleged threats made to Council Staff referred to in the ‘Teesdale Mercury’. And, in spite of a clear Council commitment to getting the situation resolved, there seems little sign of the kind of drastic measures that need to be taken to restore the land to its rightful owners: the people of Toft Hill and High Etherley, actually manifesting on the ground.

 

The Systematic Sidelining of Complaints

On 28th March 2013 local County Durham pensioner John Arthur Gibbon Marley visited the Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, Helen Goodman M.P., at her scheduled Constituency Surgery, at Barnard Castle, in the company of investigative journalist and film maker Rupert Ferguson. Mr. Marley, a repeat victim of crime, harassment, bullying, anti-social behaviour, criminal damage and general all round nuisance at the hands of his neighbours, was there to obtain assistance in relation to a number of matters outstanding, in particular a complete failure to take appropriate action on the part of the Police.

Amongst the subjects under discussion, in addition to the lack of Police action, was the involvement of certain criminal elements and their various contacts within Durham County Council in what amounts to a possessory title scam on land that they had previously squatted at nearby Quarry Heads. During the course of the conversation the subject of a dossier of documents that had formerly been in the possession of the local District Councillor, Joe Smith, was raised in relation to Quarry Heads; to which Goodman appears to have responded that quite a number of others like them appear to have gone missing too; during the course of the change over from the old District Council system of local government to the new Unitary Authority System.

In the embedded sound file at the top of the page Goodman can also be heard assuring her constituents that she will be contacting the new Police and Crime Commissioner, Ron Hogg, with a view to getting the situation with the Police rectified. Needless to say that, in spite of her assurances, Mr. Hogg has neither seen fit to contact Mr. Marley directly, nor has he taken the time to visit him at his home as he had assured him that he would do at a joint surgery that he and Goodman had held in June, the best part of three months later: where he was to repeat these self-same assurances verbally himself.

Readers of this blog who may be unaware of Goodman’s involvement with Red Houses and Teesdale Housing Association, who manage the Estate, may therefore not find it uninteresting to note that she was first approached by residents in relation to the situation on the Estate in November 2006. More than Six-and-a-half years on and the same criminal families are causing trouble for residents, whilst she has done nothing other than make verbal and written claims that she is in some way concerned about the daily plight of residents; who have had to put up with a persistent on going nuisance that has been further compounded by the diet of lies and deceit that they have been force-fed by Police and Housing Association alike.

Of further significance still is the fact that in spite of being directly involved in the official opening of Teesdale Housing Association, in which she was a guest of hounour and participant, Goodman seems incapable of actually getting a straight answer to a straight question out of them in relation to any of the issues that her constituents want raised. Why? One explanation that has been put forward is that the present Labour Front Bench is ‘scared of its own shadow’, to quote from the blog of local Anti-Bedroom Tax activist Ben Sellers; who has been retweeted via social media by Michael Meacher and others.

Conspiracy theorists who are less charitable about Goodman’s lack of action see an interesting parallel in her various career moves to those previously taken by Tessa Jowell, whose estranged husband David Mills has been linked to a number of high-profile corruption scandals involving disgraced Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi. Like former D.F.E.E. Minister Jowell, Goodman was with the Department for Work and Pensions, which succeeded her old department in a similar way to which the old D.E.T.R. has evolved into the C.L.G. Now Goodman has stepped into Jowell’s shoes again as Shadow Minister for Culture Media and Sport.

Whatever the substance, or lack of it, in relation to any on going conspiracy theories,  it is fact that if Goodman had really wanted to get things moving with regard to sorting out the Red House Estate she would have done. Instead she has sat on her hands. Why? Given the fact the criminal element on Red Houses have clear and proven links to a matrix of corruption and criminality at Durham County Council that can be traced back several decades, criminality in which the recently merged Teesdale District Council were themselves provably implicated, does she have involvements of her own that have prevented her from taking any action?

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Situation Still On Going!

Followers of the Bishop Auckland NPT (Neighbourhood Police Team) Twitterfeed in recent months may have noticed the appearance of a tweet that appeared in their browsers on 21st June of this year in which it was announced that the local Toft Hill and High Etherley Beat Sergeant (Sgt Burdess) and her Beat Constable (PC Fenwick) had managed to get themselves up for a local award, along with Chris Clark and Rebecca Sedgwick, as L.M.A.P.s Problem Solving Finalists for 2013. Few if any local residents appear to have been in any way aware of the fact that this ceremony had even taken place, for if they had have been there is every chance that they may have read the news with a not inconsiderable amount of consternation. Especially when it is considered that the Rebecca Sedgewick referred to here is the recently arrived Housing Officer for Red Houses working out of Teesdale Housing Association. The very same organization that was responsible for the creation of the trouble in the first place!

The situation on the local estate at Red Houses for that month, as far as anti-social behaviour was concerned at any rate, was still on going, and had been for several weeks. Indeed, the problem had, in many respects, got even worse than usual; following a visit by local pensioner John Arthur Gibbon Marley to his Member of Parliament, that had taken place at the end of March; and had involved threats, harassment and criminal danage. To make matters even worse still, in spite of the fact that many of the incidents referred to here had not only been rung in to the Police Central Switchboard at Aykley Heads with immediate effect, but sound recordings, photographs and video had also been obtained by residents whilst some of the incidents themselves had actually been taking place, many of them had been deliberately omitted from the NPT’s report to the local Parish Council completely. Why?

The embedded video file at the top of the page shows local teenage nuisance Bradley Fitzgerald, who has been causing trouble in and around Red Houses since at least 2006 when the resident who shot this video first started filming him, causing a nuisance to a local pensioner. The pensioner’s own account of what had been going on is likewise embedded at the bottom of the page in the form of the supplementary sound file. Although the NPT and the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office have been directly challenged over this, through the office of the local Member of Parliament, nobody has thus far been able to come up with a proper explanation as to why this should have been so. In the meantime, a dossier of related evidence is currently being compiled and is due to be forwarded to both the Home Secretary herself, as well as to H.M. Inspectorate of Constabulary in the coming months.