So it’s that time of year again. The shops are full, with the manic air of people buying foodbanksanything that will do as presents for loved ones. Pubs are also full, of people who perhaps don’t normally drink much, perhaps trying to forget just how much they are spending on Christmas, as their children demand ever more expensive presents.

On Boxing Day, there will be the traditional round of matches, reminding me of Boxing Days past, including one 40 years ago, when 10 000 were reportedly locked out of St James’ Park, while I was one of 54 000 inside, witnessing my first ever defeat , 1-0 to Leeds United. On a brighter note ,I can also remember us beating Sunderland 2-0, three years later on Boxing Day 1976.

But is that all there is to Christmas now? Shopping, drinking and a game of football on Boxing Day?

The government’s continued austerity programme suggests to me that there is something more. That is also a time for remembering. A time to remember just what has happened during the year. A time to remember just how many people have paid the price for not being wealthy or powerful in 2013 Britain.

It is also a time when many remember the first Christmas. The Nativity Story, of a baby Jesus being born in a stable, before having to flee from the wrath of Herod, with his parents, as asylum seekers to the safety of Egypt. As the government’s austerity policies cut ever deeper, there is a certain poignancy to that this story this year.

How many babies in Britain were born into abject poverty this year? 2013 saw Save the Children Fund operating in Britain, despite the fact that we are officially the 6th richest country in the world. How many young children will already be facing diminished life chances as a direct result of the government’s austerity policies as support for families is cut and libraries shut?

How many babies were born this year into families who were finding it hard to feed themselves? 2013 saw the continued growth in the use of foodbanks, across the country, including a number in Newcastle and the wider Northeast, whilst loan shark companies such as Wonga laid in wait to prey on any families desperate enough to use their ‘services’.  How many mothers are going be without a Christmas dinner this year, so that at least their children can eat?

How many people in 2013 found themselves with nowhere to go as the cruel and unnecessary Bedroom Tax forced people from their homes?  How many people this Christmas will find ‘no room at the inn’ ore anywhere else for that matter? How many people find themselves on the cold streets in sub-zero temperatures this winter, because of the government’s policies?

How many refugee children in Syria will be struggling with the cold and lack of food this Christmas, while Britain refuses to take in more than a token few thousand and the government stokes up unecessary and deeply damaging fears about immigration from Romania and Bulgaria in the new year? How many asylum seekers will be destitute on our streets, when the cold northerly winds set in and the snow begins to fall?

How many children will be born on Christmas Day into a free and fair National Health Service? How long will it stay free at the pint of delivery, whilst this government seeks to split it up into different parts to be sold off to their ridiculously wealthy friends, so that they  can make profits out of others sickness and suffering?

Christmas should be a time for people to enjoy and celebrate. But isn’t it also a time to remember?

Best wishes to all readers for Christmas and New Year.

© Peter Sagar December 2013

North East People’s Assembly is urging all supporters to argue against the proposed cuts to Tyne & Wear Fire and Rescue Services. 

The public consultation ends on January 1st. Please follow this link to complete the consultation form and use the arguments laid out below in your response:




1. Sunderland City Centre, Wallsend and Gosforth stations will be closed (one new station between Wallsend & Gosforth will be build to replace them). This will be the first time Sunderland City Centre is without a station for over 100 years. The remaining stations will have their patches extended, which will stretch their capabilities and result in longer response times. Sunderland station is close to Sunderland Docks and other heaving industry which incurs greater fire risks.

2. 131 fire fighters will lose their jobs through natural wastage. These will not transfer to reserves, they will be totally gone. No new fire fighters will be recruited until 2018, it takes 3 years to train a new fire fighter, which means that their will be no new personnel until 2021. The current average age of fire fighters in Tyne & Wear is 46.

3. 6 fire engines will be permanently be removed and 2 more will be stood down every evening. These will be replaced by Response Vehicles (effectively a van manned by two fire fighters) which will respond to minor incidents. The FBU have said that minor incidents can quickly turn into major ones and it is unsafe for less than a crew of 5/6 in a fully equipped appliance to effectively deal with fires.

4. An estimated ‘contingency fund’ of £23,000,000 (partly allocated to build new station, when they are closing 3. Also rumoured to be for future privatisation) has been revealed to be available for ‘a rainy day’. This fund can easily absorb the proposed funding cuts; leaving no need to make these reductions to the service. Why keep this for a rainy day when it’s pouring down now?

5. These cuts don’t just effect fire fighting and rescue capability. Fire prevention and education are going to be cut back a lot, this means less Smoke Alarms and Sprinkler Systems will be installed and homes and businesses, and  less members of the public (especially school children) will be informed of the risks of fire. This will inevitably result in more fires with less fire fighters and equipment to respond.

6. The prospect of future fracking and Carbon Capture activity in the area tremendously increases the risk of fire and other incidents related to these industries which will require response by the Fire Service. This will further stretch the services capability to cover their areas and will require more investment in the Fire Service not funding cuts.

7. The recent incident in Glasgow encapsulates the need for a flexible local Fire Service with the ability to respond to everything that gets thrown at it. If a similar event, heaven forbid, happens in Newcastle or Sunderland for example; this will leave gaping holes in the service if other, smaller incidents happen at the same time while the majority of the personnel and equipment are attending the larger event.

Above all, most of the current public service spending cuts affects peoples pockets, homes and livelihoods. These cuts to Tyne & Wear Fire Service will affect people lives, these cuts will kill. It only takes two minutes for someone to suffocate from smoke inhalation, do you really want that on your hands?