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A year after Grenfell – Wythenshawe tower block residents still waiting for sprinklers

DSC_0131A year after the Grenfell fire, resulting in the deaths of 72 people, sprinkler systems have still not been fitted to Wythenshawe’s high rise tower blocks.

Wythenshawe Community Housing Group, which runs the town’s 10 high rises said in December it would be installing sprinklers in the tallest block early this year.

The fitting of the sprinklers was approved by the Group’s board, but in a statement made this week it said sprinklers won’t be fitted before they have finished installing fire alarms, due to be completed in the autumn this year.

The WCHG statement in full:

Wythenshawe Community Housing Group remain committed to ensuring safety in high rise buildings and continue to work closely with GMFRS, MCC and other Registered Providers to ensure a consistent robust approach to fire safety in tower blocks.  The Group owns and manages 10 high rise buildings in Wythenshawe and none contain ACM panels.  Village 135 did have feature ACM detail to the projecting balconies, these panels were removed immediately and replaced with compliant solid metal cladding.  We have worked closely with our residents in all of our high rise buildings which have had annual Fire Risk Assessments completed by an accredited consultant.

Since June 2017, we have repeated and reviewed in detail our approach to fire safety with our Fire Safety consultants to identify any further improvements that can be made to each block.  Based on these findings further enhancements have been approved by the Group Board for the installation of sprinklers and full fire alarm systems to the traditional high rise buildings. We have prioritised fire alarm installations to meet  FRA recommendations and a number of them have already being installed,  with the remainder being completed by Autumn 2018. The fitting of sprinkler systems will follow the installation of the fire alarms.

Today marks the first anniversary of the fire in Grenfell Tower in North Kensington in which 72 people lost their lives. The inquiry into the disaster has heard how combustible material in external cladding fitted to the building was the primary cause of the fire’s spread.

And a report published by the London Assembly, taking evidence from fire safety experts recommended that all residential buildings should be fitted with sprinklers to save lives.

The report said sprinklers should be required by law in new care homes, sheltered housing and blocks of flats higher than six storeys, and the measures should be the first steps on a “road map” towards making sprinklers mandatory in all homes in England.

Solidarity events are taking place across the country this week to remember the victims of the Grenfell tragedy, including a candle-lit vigil in Salford at 6.30pm tonight, organised by the local Trades Union Council.

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Wythenshawe MP backs Manchester lawyer calling for end to legal aid cuts after being paid £255 for seven months work

2233509492_a51cb4937e_zA Manchester solicitor is calling on the government to reverse cuts to legal aid after it was revealed by Wythenshawe MP Mike Kane this week that she was paid just £255 for seven months work.

Catriona McLauglin, a solicitor advocate, based in Manchester says criminal lawyers are leaving the profession because of the cuts, denying access to justice to some of the most vulnerable people accused of crimes.

And the independent body which represents solicitors, the Law Society, who are mounting a legal challenge to the latest government cuts, say criminal defence lawyers could become extinct unless action is taken.

Catriona’s case, raised by Mike Kane in parliament, involved seven months of work representing a man in his sixties who had suffered a serious stroke. He was charged with handling stolen goods and possession of a bladed article.

He had been remanded in custody and the case involved numerous prison visits. Because of the stroke the defendant couldn’t speak, so all communication had to be written down, making the visits longer than they would have been otherwise. Catriona also spent a lot of time with the man’s family who were distraught when it was suspected he had suffered a further stroke in prison.

The defendant was represented in Manchester Magistrates Court and was due to be tried in the Crown Court, but thanks to the Catriona’s work, the man pleaded, avoiding the need for a trial and saving the state thousands of pounds. But under the legal aid system revamped by the government four years ago, the law firm was paid £255 for the work.

“This was a very complex and difficult case to deal with and at the end of it we got £255 for it,” said Catriona. And she told the Reporter the case is not unusual because of the way legal aid now works in which a fixed fee is set depending on the category of the offence and whether it goes to trial, regardless of the amount of hours put in by lawyers.

“It’s just been progressively getting worse and worse until now we are in the position where that is the fee we are being paid. It has just been cut after cut,” said Catriona.

“It’s difficult to justify putting in the hours for cases like this when you know you’re making a big loss every time. We are torn because of course we have duty to these people  who are very vulnerable.

“Lots of firms have left the profession. Very few are left in predominantly criminal legal aid work, so you are ending up with a kind of legal advice desert. They are leaving the profession because it can’t work because the fees are so low.”wp-1478947269179.jpeg

Mike Kane, challenged justice minister Lucy Frazer this week in parliament. He said: “My constituent Caitriona McLaughlin, who is a solicitor, was recently paid £255 for seven months’ work on a criminal legal aid case. Does the Minister think that this was enough?”

The minister replied: “It is obviously very difficult to comment on a particular rate in a particular case for a particular individual, but I am very happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman about it. It is very important that criminal legal aid barristers and solicitors are paid appropriately for the amazing work that they do every day, up and down this country, in protecting the most vulnerable.”

Mr Kane said the government needs to take immediate action.

 

And the minister’s comments did not reassure Catriona McLauglin. She told the Reporter: “We have seen our fees slashed year after year. They are empty words not backed up with action.”

Catriona says the Law Society’s judicial review due to be heard next month would halt the most recent cuts to legal aid but more work would need to be done. She said most of the damage to the justice system was done by the the current under-fire transport boss  Chris Grayling when he was justice secretary.

Grayling pressed ahead with “far reaching” reforms aimed at slashing £350 million off the legal aid budget despite warnings in 2013 that the plans could be “catastrophic”.

The Law Society says there is a recruitment crisis for criminal defence lawyers which is becoming an increasingly ageing profession. Data published by the Society shows that in some areas of the country, nearly 70 per cent of criminal lawyers are over 50. In Greater Manchester it is 41 per cent with just eight per cent under the age of 35.

Law Society president, Joe Egan, said: “The justice system is facing a cliff edge scenario; criminal duty solicitors are part of an increasingly ageing profession, and government cuts mean there are not enough young lawyers entering the field of criminal defence work.

“If this trend continues, in five to ten years’ time there could be insufficient criminal defence solicitors in many regions, leaving people in need of legal advice unable to access their rights.”

A person who is arrested on suspicion of wrongdoing has the right to ask for the local ‘duty solicitor’, who can provide legal advice free of charge. Duty solicitors are available twenty four hours a day and are independent of the police.

The police station advice scheme was set up in the wake of a series of scandals in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when a significant number of convictions were overturned due to police misconduct against suspects. These solicitors protect suspects against inappropriate treatment, and protect the police against false allegations of mistreatment.

“Criminal justice is at the heart of a democratic society and duty solicitors ensure a fundamental part of the justice system is upheld,” Joe Egan said.

“Twenty years without any increases in fees, and a series of drastic cuts have pushed the criminal justice system to the point where lawyers can no longer see a viable career doing this work.”

Wythenshawe Reporter joins forces with regional press to demand action on rail misery

TODAY we issue a rallying cry to the north: join us to demand what government promised us.

As part of our day of action, news titles across the region are starting a petition calling on ministers to come good on their northern powerhouse pledges – by ending the chaos on our rail services, signing off the upgrades they promised us and redressing decades of underfunding to the region.
Four years ago this month, then-Chancellor George Osborne promised – when unveiling his vision for a northern powerhouse – to ‘join our northern cities together’ with faster, modern transport connections.

Directly addressing the franchise eventually won by Northern Rail a year later, he said: “We’ll want to see not just better services, and more seats at peak times, but also better journeys.”

We agree.

So now that’s what we want.

Instead of launching a lengthy inquiry that will not report back – with information the government should already know – until the end of the year, transport secretary Chris Grayling needs to end the chaos on our rail network NOW.

We need a fair, fit-for-purpose compensation scheme put in place within days.

And we need the rest of the northern powerhouse that government promised us too: the major transport projects – such as extra platforms at Manchester Piccadilly and Oxford Road – we were pledged, but which are now languishing on Mr Grayling’s desk.

Finally, we want fair funding – not more second-class services, while London eyes up its SECOND high-speed CrossRail link.

With one voice, we say to the Prime Minister: You promised us a northern powerhouse.

It’s time you delivered it.

Sign our petition here: https://www.change.org/p/prime-minister-end-the-northern-rail-nightmare-give-us-the-powerhouse-you-promised

By Jennifer Williams

Labour’s John McDonnell launches May Day celebrations and declares: “We are going into government”

Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell launched Manchester’s May Day celebrations declaring Labour is ready for government.

Mr McDonnell spoke at the beginning of a week of events aimed at marking the 150th anniversary of the Trades Union Congress which began in Manchester.

He said he didn’t know when it would come, believing the government will attempt to cling on to power for as long as possible, but is confident Labour will win the general election whenever it happens.

The left-winger promised Labour would bring in a fair taxation system, a crackdown on tax evasion, the introduction of a “real living wage of £10 an hour” and the repeal of anti-trade union union laws.

 

Sunday’s May Day events also included talks on The Original Gig Economy – A Musician’s Perspective on the Challenges of Freelancing hosted by the Musicians Union, and the forthcoming McStrike when workers at McDonalds on Oxford Road will join with stores across the country in a strike against low pay.

On Saturday 5th May at the Mechanics Institute there’s also a performance of  We Are the Lions, Mr Manager, a play about the the 1976 Grunwick  strike (click here for tickets and further details).

On Monday 7th May Manchester TUC will be joining with Salford Trades Council for a May Day march.

Wythenshawe voters urged to register as every council seat is up for grabs in May

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Image:cc/FutUndBeidl 

Voters who are not registered to vote are being urged to do so as the countdown begins to Manchester City Council local elections, on Thursday May 3.

New ward boundaries will come into effect at the elections, following an electoral review by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England.  As a result, electors will have the opportunity to vote for three candidates in each of the five Wythenshawe wards – Woodhouse Park, Sharston, Baguley, Brooklands and Northenden.

To take part, people must be registered to vote.  Anyone not already registered must do it before Tuesday April 17 2018, buy visiting http://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.

Anyone who is registered to vote can also choose to vote by post, or by proxy.  Applications for a postal vote must be received by 5pm on Wednesday 18 April 2018.  The deadline for the receipt of proxy vote applications is 5pm on Wednesday 25 April 2018.

Electors will receive poll cards, which will confirm their voting arrangements, from Friday 23 March 2018 onwards.  An online polling station checker is also available at http://www.manchester.gov.uk/pollingstations.

A full list of candidates will be published at 4pm on Monday 9 April 2018.  The count and declaration for the local election results will take place on Friday 4 May 2018.

Joanne Roney OBE, Returning Officer for Manchester, said: “This election gives Manchester residents the opportunity to elect the councillors who will represent them locally.

“It’s vital that nobody loses out on their right to vote, so please make sure that you are registered to have your say by Tuesday 17 April.”

To find out more about the ward boundary changes and the Local Government Boundary Commission for England’s Electoral Review of Manchester, visit http://www.lgbce.org.uk.

Manchester’s deputy leader meeting with EU’s Brexit chief

Manchester City Council’s deputy leader, Cllr Sue Murphy, is meeting with chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier today in bid to ensure the needs of communities are met after Britain leaves the EU.

The Wythenshawe councillor is among a delegation representing the ten UK cities at the heart of the biggest urban areas outside London, meeting the EU chief negotiator today (Monday, 19 Feb). Read More…

Damning report reveals scandal of more than a third of children living in poverty in Wythenshawe

ECPMore than a third of children in Wythenshawe are living in poverty according to a report published by a leading charity this week.

Figures revealed by the End Child Poverty coalition  shows that in the five local authority wards in Wythenshawe around 34 per  cent of youngsters are in poverty after housing costs are taken into account.

The campaign blames the shockingly high levels of poverty in the most deprived areas of the country on  benefits policy and price rises and is calling on the public to lobby MPs to urge the government to lift the freeze on benefits for children – currently in place until the end of the decade – so that families no longer see living standards squeezed as prices rise.

In Wythenshawe, 6.728 children are in poverty – defined as in families living on less than the median household income – with the highest concentration, 36 per cent in Woodhouse Park where 1,333 youngsters are below the breadline. The largest number of children in poverty in the town is in Sharston, 1,604, representing 35 per cent.

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wp-1478947269179.jpegWythenshawe’s MP, Mike Kane has called on the Government to take immediate action to tackle poverty. He told the Reporter:  “Statistics published by the End Child Poverty Coalition this week on the levels of children living in poverty are a scandal.

“They are the result of this Conservative Government’s flawed policy of cuts and changes to the welfare system. My advice surgery is regularly attended by families who are struggling to make ends meet. It is a disgrace that in 2018 we have a growing need for food bank provision in Wythenshawe.

 “As Wythenshawe’s MP I have called for a pause and rethink from the Government on the roll out of Universal Credit which is causing unnecessary suffering and hardship.  It is becoming increasing clear that progress on tackling poverty has begun to unravel with falling state support and increasing in-work poverty. I believe this is completely unacceptable and the Government needs to act now.”

The research was carried out on behalf of End Child Poverty by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University, led by Professor Donald Hirsch, and paints an even bleaker picture for other parts of Greater Manchester, with 62% of children in Coldhurst ward in Oldham living in poverty.

In Manchester’s Gorton and Central constituencies nearly half of the children there, 48 per cent, are below the poverty, with the figures for Rusholme and Moss Side both at 56 per cent. In Withington there are 34 per cent of children in poverty with the highest concentration in the Old Moat ward.

Since the introduction of the benefit freeze, the coalition of charities, faith groups and unions has warned that as prices rise, low income families would find it increasingly hard to pay for the same basic essentials.

‘It is scandalous that a child born in some parts of the UK now has a greater chance of growing up in poverty, than being in a family above the breadline’, said Sam Royston, Chair of End Child Poverty and Director of Policy and Research at the Children’s Society. ‘There can be little doubt that the Government’s policy of maintaining the benefits freeze despite rising prices is a major contributor to the emerging child poverty crisis.’

The coalition is also concerned that the impact of poverty may be exacerbated by a poverty premium – which means that low income families can face paying as much as £1700 per year more than better off families, to buy the same essential goods and services. A major contributor to this is the high cost of credit for low income families, and the coalition wants to see the Government address this by providing better access to interest free credit.

Sam Royston said ‘No family in modern Britain should be struggling to put food on the table, heat their homes and clothe their children.  End Child Poverty is calling on the Chancellor to end the freeze on children’s benefits, and to invest in interest free credit for low income families, to ensure that poverty doesn’t result in spiralling debt.’

A Government spokesman said: “The best route out of poverty is through employment, and since 2010 an extra three million more people are now in work and 600,000 fewer children are living in workless households.

“But we recognise that budgets are tight, and that’s why we’re helping families keep more of what they earn. We’ve doubled free childcare – worth £5,000 per child each year – while our £2.5 billion pupil premium programme is supporting two million disadvantaged schoolchildren across the country.”

 

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