Friday, 10 February 2012

Starting the BBC satvan known as the 'Verve' up at 0600 for three mornings this week as early breakfast reporter, has been a 'joy' especially when there's no anti-freeze and it's -5C and you have scrape the ice off windscreen with the plastic binder we use to record our journeys ! 

Going out, whatever the weather, is always preferable to hanging about in the sterile atmosphere of the BBC news room where the legendary morning news reader Everard Davy always mutters 'there's no stories in this building y'know - are you going out ?' as if in anticipation of being handed a new breaking story.

To him, just driving around in readiness is more justifiable than surfing the net and updating facebook as some are apt to do or waiting for the latest BBC GNS audio to drop in. We also spend a great deal of time reading yesterday's news in the print media. Breakfast ,muesli and tea and then gone...

This week, I  interviewed the family of two men who met a untimely end. One was the family of a 17 year old young man from Chesterfield found hanging in his cell at a young offender's institution HMP Lindley near Wigan. His family say he was bullied and had learning disabilities and killed himself despite having previously been identified as at risk of suicide or self-harm.  His mother was too overcome with grief to speak to us but his father spoke bravely and demanded justice and an enquiry into his death and those of other young men in custody. The MP for Chesterfield Toby Perkins came on with us to discuss the case and it was his referral which led us to the story - a very pro-active local MP !

The other case involved a 53 year old man with a serious heart condition who'd been sent for one of these much loathed 'Work Capability Assessments', currently being carried out Atos Healthcare Ltd for the Department for Work & Pensions. He'd only won an appeal nine months earlier against disallowance of his benefits when he was sent again and 'thrown -off' as they say having been 'found fit for work'. Three weeks later he died from a massive heart attack. His son and brother, overcome with emotion and anger, spoke to me about why they think the stress of it all killed their beloved father and brother and said they dismissed his heart condition and instead concentrated on a bad knee which he also suffered from.  There's a national campaign calling for changes to the WCA, seen as a poitically driven cost-saving measure to drive people off the more costly disability benefits at a time there are no jobs and the labour market shows a paucity of vacancies with up to 30 or 40 people chasing every vacancy in many of our towns and cities.

Yesterday, I was out for the regular after 0900 phone on the breakfast show in Sheffield City Centre on the big topic of cuts to council budgets. Sheffield City Council has to save £55 million this year and plans on shedding 550 jobs. My job is to persuade people with an opinion to come to the satvan , don the headphones and speak 'live' to me and Toby Foster (the presenter) during the debate. The number of times you get a lively, volubale, opinionated person who clams up or ends up talking like a sparrow when they go 'on air' is amazing.

Regardless, we did get some great contributions and Unison the council trade union sent a rep up which resulted in a great 'barney' with Toby, about paid full-time officials still getting their council salaries whilst on union business.

Luckily, he gave as a good as he got and took it in good humour ! Unlike some we get on, where Toby plays devil's advocate with a position he takes (and doesn't really support but takes it just to wind the guest up !) and ends up in a full scale row with them.

Tommorow, I'm on the early Saturday breakfast shift (0600-1400) and planning to visit a tremendous youth project in Hickleton near Thurnscoe which used to be my old stomping ground when I was a welfare rights worker.  Then it's onto Doncaster where I'll drop in on the World's biggest Model Railway Festival and then to the fabulous Doncaster Minster where the new Bishop and Archdeacon are being welcomed to the town by the parishioners. Doncaster really should be a City, given its size  and to call it a town doesn't do it justice.

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