Category: Wearside

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The memories that make me me

Peter Lathan

I’m standing below High Force on the River Tees, looking up at the most impressive waterfall in the North of England. It’s in full spate, crashing down both sides. I’ve followed the river down from Cow Green Reservoir, alongside the water as it races down Cauldron Snout, and I’m on my way to Middleton-in-Teesdale. A great riverside walk.

The Brexit deal is bad news for North East England, but does it also offer a ray of hope?

Will Sadler

“Their biggest concern is that we end up in some kind of position where we’re not aligned to the European Medical Agency, we’re not aligned to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the US, in which case, there are significant barriers to selling their products in (both) those markets. And that that’s a scenario which is absolutely awful for business.”

The fact that countries tend to trade most with those geographically closest to them suggests to me that despite the UK’s new-found freedoms, in reality we will remain closely aligned to EU rules.

“Every breath you take”

Carol Westall

“Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every time you ache
Every sound you make
We watch over you….
Oh don’t you fear, ICU is here
When your poor heart aches
And your life’s at stake…. “

Urgent essential actions to alleviate family poverty on Tyneside and in the North East

Sally Young

Over four million children nationally are now affected by child poverty. This is unacceptable. Moreover, help to give every child the best start in life is diminishing. It is true that funding has been provided for free childcare for children aged three and four and also for some two-year olds although not all can access it as there is insufficient provision for what is needed

A tale of two cousins

Peter Lathan

In 1989 my Uncle Jack (only known as Jack in Sunderland; it was John down south) died and Alan inherited some family papers which inspired what he described as a “dormant interest” and he set about inquiring into the family history. He searched through parish records, census returns, even visited graveyards and gradually drew together, not just a family tree but details of the lives of our Dent ancestors.

“Look after our star” says North East for Europe

Jane Neville

While we are pleased we are not leaving the EU without a deal, the one that has been struck is not a good one. For example, businesses will still be hit hard with costs and delays from customs checks. We were told that leaving the EU would cut red tape, however, this appears not to be the case. We will continue to exist as an organisation to hold the government to account for their promises over Brexit. The EU gave the North East twice as much money per head than the rest of the country – we cannot believe this will be replicated by the government despite Johnson’s claims of levelling up the North East.

Durham Police Force puts us at risk claim local naturists

Jane Neville

“Our events are a usually a liberating and joyful experience, but during one walk last summer, one of the ramblers was assaulted by having water thrown over them, whilst the assailant told the group that they shouldn’t be walking naked In public. It is discriminatory for Durham Police to post misleading reports that suggest that public nudity is illegal, and it puts us at greater risk of assault or harassment in future”.

Spanish grapes and Big Ben bongs

Dr Jayne Hamilton

The North East is a melting pot and no amount of British nationalism can erase that. The Big Ben Bongs at 11 pm on December 31 to herald Britain’s freedom from the EU signify nothing other than blatant English nationalism. This will be a date in which I lose part of me, detached without will; it’s not a new year heralding something new, it’s a death. The death of the future I had planned for myself, right up to retirement. It’s out of my control, a sort of prison without visible bars.

Reading habits: books for the holiday season

Julie Ward

A book to read:
Poems from a Runaway, A True Story by Ben Westwood – An autobiographical anthology that charts Ben’s life as a serial runaway, evading the care system and the law, sleeping rough in London before finding salvation in music and poetry, and eventually reuniting with his family. I had the privilege of meeting Ben when he was a keynote speaker at a conference in the European Parliament organised with Missing Children Europe and the Child Rights Intergroup (which I co-founded). You can find out more about Ben and buy his book here

Parental grief: coping with bereavement at Christmas

Carol Westall

Henry Dancer Days is a charity supporting children with cancer and helping their families with life changing essentials. This includes providing support with physiotherapy equipment to help with winter heating bills, and even buying tablets and mobile phones enabling the young people to have a crucial connection with loved ones during their long spells in hospital getting treatment.

Is Poland already an authoritarian state?

Michal Chantkowski

Poles, especially young ones are now saying enough is enough! That also includes those who have made the UK their home. Still recovering from the fallout of Brexit, we see similar* forces to those that took Britain to the edge destroying the country of our birth. We have had enough of misogyny, patriarchy, hypocrisy, intolerance and hatred our (second) government is cultivating in Poland. Many of us now refer to Poland as an authoritarian state. Is Poland authoritarian?

No deal, no good

Keith Burge

Get Brexit Done. The three-word slogan that won a General Election, turning red seats to blue in parts of the North East that had never seen the like in decades, if ever. And yet, here we are just over 12 months on, and that victory is not so much ringing hollow as sounding a death knell for crucial elements of the region’s economy.
According to ONS there are around 3,500 exporting businesses in the North East. The North East is unusual among the regions of England in having a trade surplus in goods. Exports account for a higher proportion of regional output than in any other English region (26 per cent).
More specifically, the North East relies disproportionately on the European Union as its largest export market. In 2019, around 60 per cent of the value of all North East exports went to the EU, significantly higher than the UK average of just over 48 per cent and indeed the highest of all English regions.
But as from 1 January 2021, everything changes. The Government is imploring business to ‘Check. Change. Go.’ Which is all well and good, apart from the minor details of being unable to tell them what to check, what to change and where to go. Of course, this will hurt businesses across the UK, but given the disproportionate reliance of North East exporters on EU markets, the region looks set to suffer more pain, in relative terms, than any other part of the country.
The North East Chamber of Commerce – which has been lobbying on behalf of and providing practical support to exporters for decades – recently hosted a ‘Brexit Support Week’, a series of 13 sessions on different Brexit-related topics that will impact businesses including new customs responsibilities, data regulation etc. These events attracted around 850 attendees, representing many hundreds of businesses, all of which want to prepare, have not had the information to be able to do so and see the cliff edge looming. It seems likely that many of them will each already have spent thousands of person hours making preparations for different scenarios, at a significant cost to their businesses. For the smallest exporters, lacking capacity and unable to make that sort of investment, it seems to be more a case of shutting their eyes and hoping they survive the impact. Ordinarily, many would rely on the expertise of freight forwarders, logistics providers and customs specialists, but their capacity is limited and a massive increase in demand has seen their prices increase markedly.
And of course, some of those attending these events will have been importers, trying to work out how they can continue to work with suppliers across the EU. It has been reported anecdotally that some are so fearful of disruptions to supply chains and higher costs brought about by a combination of a deteriorating exchange rate, the application of tariffs and an abundance of bureaucracy, that they have been trying to find alternative suppliers within the UK. Import substitution: that has to be a winner, no? Well, maybe, but then if it was such a good idea, why haven’t buyers done this already? The usual answer is quality and/or cost.
As an alternative, some manufacturing businesses whose operations rely on a continual supply of goods entering the UK from Europe, have been stockpiling goods. The cost of this additional warehouse space is another unwelcome burden.
And whilst businesses employing staff from EU countries face no immediate pressures in theory, in practice there are reports of some EU nationals opting to return to their countries of origin amidst the uncertainty (and, in some instances, to escape the toxicity of Brexit). Replacing lost staff or trying to hire additional staff from outside the UK using the new points-based immigration system may well be a daunting prospect for many employers.
Still, it isn’t as if businesses have had anything else with which to contend over the past 9 months.
So how might things look under a No Deal Brexit (or even a last gasp hard as nails deal)? Firstly, there is the bureaucracy. But that’s OK, say the champions of Brexit: businesses already export around the globe and are used to this. Except, many businesses who export to (and import from) the EU have no dealings outside the EU and so have never been exposed to the bureaucracy of non-EU international trade. According to the head of HMRC, the cost of all of this new paperwork will amount to £7.5 billion a year. A year! How much this will cost North East businesses is difficult to estimate, but will certainly run into hundreds of millions of pounds. A very high cost from which they will derive no benefit whatsoever.
Secondly, there are tariffs. Farmers will see the cost of their exports rise to unaffordable levels and demand collapse. Manufacturing and processing businesses face the double whammy of having to pay tariffs on imported components and raw materials and then seeing their final product having a tariff imposed upon it, thereby eroding their competitive position. For example, under WTO rules there are tariffs of 4.5% on car parts and 10% on cars. In its evidence to the House of Commons International Trade Committee, Nissan said that tariffs will add £500m a year to costs. It then has to try to absorb those costs, rather than pass them on in the form of higher prices, given that cars exported to the EU (its key market) become 10 per cent more expensive anyway.
And that’s not all of it. Which brings us to problem number three. The Nissan plant relies wholly on operating on a Just-in-Time basis. At any one time it holds a maximum of half a day’s stock and if it runs out of parts that is very serious. Honda reckons that an hour’s lost production costs it several millions of pounds. So why not stockpile? Build some warehouses? Toyota has said that if it built such a warehouse it would be the third biggest building on the planet.
Many businesses and their representative organisations have raised concerns about the digital infrastructure required post-Brexit. The fact that these are either set to be finished or upgraded in the next few weeks means that businesses will have very little time to get to grips with them. This increases the risk of mistakes being made and the associated problems that would then arise e.g. border delays and additional costs to businesses. Of course, anything that risks border delays presents a serious risk for Just-in-Time supply chains.
Fourthly, EU Rules of Origin require producers of final goods to include a minimum proportion of that item by value to be sourced within the EU. With the UK outside of the EU that means UK manufactured components no longer count. Anecdotal evidence suggests that UK suppliers are already being excluded from supply chains in favour of EU27 suppliers who enable producers to continue to comply with EU Rules of Origin. A trade deal may or may not have been able to address this; a No Deal Brexit certainly will not.
So, all in all, pretty terrible. Oh and I nearly forgot: all of this uncertainty has meant that new investment – especially from international investors deciding whether to invest further in their North East-based plants or place investments elsewhere – has stalled. Of all English regions, the North East has the highest percentage per head of jobs created by Foreign Direct Investment, with overseas-owned firms employing tens of thousands of people across the region. If there are two things international investors hate they are uncertainty and instability.
And if you’re looking for flowers – as a mark of sympathy or to cheer yourself up – that too might be problematic. Of all flowers sold in the UK, 70 per cent come from the Netherlands and are delivered fresh every day. In the first three years after the EU Referendum 1900 florists closed, seemingly due to the 20% devaluation in Sterling caused by Brexit which made importing unaffordable. After 1 January, the deliveries won’t even get through.
Photo – Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums wikimedia

Part 6 Teesside Airport: where the buck never stops

A S Hunter

Unless evidence emerges to the contrary, we shall have to assume that it is in TOP TEAM that strategic decisions are made, but it is not at all clear to whom this group is answerable. It is also not at all clear why this group isn’t the board of TIAL itself. This is the case at Cardiff, why not at Teesside?

MPs fight back for Northern culture

Jane Neville

The North’s cultural industry has been hit hard and faces an historic challenge as the global pandemic continues to affect our everyday lives. The Northern Culture APPG will promote and champion the huge economic contribution made by the North’s cultural sector, build consensus and fight for what the government needs to do to level-up and build back the North’s cultural potential now and in the longer term.

Sunderland residents protest over No Deal Brexit

Louise Brown

Nissan’s Chief Operating Officer, Ashwani Gupta, has repeatedly said that the plant in Sunderland would be unsustainable with a no deal Brexit. He also stated they need a Brexit deal with a sustainable business case for their UK commerce to be viable. Mr Gupta said that the EU was Sunderland factory’s biggest customer and warned that Nissan’s commitment could not be maintained if there was not tariff-free EU access.

Homelessness is blighting the north of England – a radical housing programme could alleviate it

Stephen Lambert

Although the number of rough sleepers in Newcastle is much lower than Manchester and other core cities, with up to 20 individuals sleeping out in the city centre on any given night, many thousands more make up the ‘hidden homeless’. Some sofa-surf in friends’ flats. Others sleep in cars or stay in charity-run hostels, grotty B&B hotels and other costly forms of temporary accommodation. According to the housing campaign group Shelter, a staggering 320,000 people are homeless in modern Britain.

W(h)ither women’s work

Sally Young

Although it’s been illegal in the UK to pay women less than men for fifty years, a 15.5% gender pay gap still exists. This year the Equal Pay Day in the UK was 20 November, the day women effectively start to work for free because, on average, they are paid less than men. Sadly there will be many redundancies after furlough and the perilous state of childcare means a disproportionate number of these are likely to fall on women.

International day for disabled people: the need for an inclusive approach

Julie Ward

In 1984 I found myself running an arts and disability agency for the north of England, and encountered the tail-end of the mass segregation programme that had resulted in millions of people with mild to severe physical and mental disabilities being locked away in large institutions, forced to do menial work for pocket money and with little say about any aspect of their lives. The arts activities that my organisation ran often opened up deep emotional scars from years of abandonment, disregard and abuse. Paintings, poems and performances were littered with powerful symbols of imprisonment and freedom.

Forget fraud: it’s getting people to vote that counts

Stephen Lambert

Universal suffrage has been achieved for the majority of working people aged 18 and over. Yet some people still find it hard to vote in elections. For instance, people with physical disabilities sometimes face barriers, with 67% of polling stations not being accessible. Partially sighted or blind people experience obstacles to even make it onto the electoral registration system. In some councils, the forms aren’t easy to read or makes sense of.

Longview

Harry Gallagher

The North, chipped and scavenged in these standing stone days, does not fall asunder nor domino down in sight of barber surgeons with their slingshots, chippings. Long abraded by high seas, we stack lean as limestone, holding our breath like we have held our noses, impassive in the face of this flitting ephemera. We Danelaw […]

Every ten seconds…

Peter Benson

But who is really looking out for the hungry in the UK? It seems to be down to all of us and businesses around the UK and an army of volunteers who so generously give their time energy and often money to volunteer in a charity food bank.

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