13/11/2011 The Politics Show North East and Cumbria


Jon Sopel and Richard Moss are here with the top political stories of the week.

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Here in the north: The rising cost of heating our homes. A warning


that fuel poverty could kill older people this winter.


And will changes to legal aid mean victims of medical negligence


Apology for the loss of subtitles for 1881 seconds


losing out? We ask North East MPs. Hello and a warm welcome to your


local part of the show. Coming up: This Carlisle family received


compensation after a medical mistake left their son with serious


disabilities. But will cuts to legal aid deprive others of the


chance to get similar help? But first, all of us are facing


higher fuel bills this winter and it's a particular problem in this


part of the world. Levels of fuel poverty are twice as high in the


North East than the South, with increasing numbers facing hardship


as they try to keep their homes warm. The Government has called on


energy companies to do far more to help customers switch suppliers and


insulate their homes, but is that enough? In a moment, I'll be


talking to two North East MPs who have campaigned on the issue. First,


Mark Denten reports. In a community centre, a group of


pensioners playing a game with a difference. Welcome to the


wonderful world of energy efficiency bingo. You have won a


slow cooker. The differences is that we give an energy efficiency


to BAFTA each number is called. We show people how to be more energy


efficient in the home. Which they are so unusual game is a sign of


the Times. The bingo players are finding it hard to pay their bills.


Energy firms are not exactly popular. I am absolutely disgusted


about it. All the profits they are making. They are still put in the


prices up. They're making enormous profits. Surely they can pass


something on to the consumer rather than penalising them, especially


the older people. The energy charity organising the event says


the government is not doing enough to tackle rising fooled -- fuel


bills. It 21 % increase, you're talking about an extra 60,000


households being forced into fuel poverty. The government is


committed to eradicate fuel poverty in the UK by 2016. That is not


going to happen. While many of our bingo playing pensioners' bills


have gone up by 20 %, spare a thought for this family. The only


feel they can use his loyal and their bills have run up by 50 %.


They will spend at least �1,000 on oil this winter. But it could be


more. You don't know how much is going to be when you ring up. You


could get another cold snap and you might be running low on oil and you


have no alternative but to buy some more at a high price. It is


difficult to budget over the winter. It is going to get era as the


months get colder. It might go up 10 % in a month. Here is the firm


that supplied his will. They say energy prices are keeping bills


high but the government is not doing enough to help. The rate on


heating oil is currently 5% and that could be taken off and that


would be a 5% saving two of the domestic user. The are the key cost


that every company has his haulage. That is road -- road fuel duty.


That currently has very high, in excess of 60p a litre, with extra


increases planned for January. If that was reduced, that could be


passed on to the customer as well. But here we have got more oil Phil


Holmes but the energy bills are falling. Energy companies are


paying of the majority of the costs to Linslade these houses and why


are they doing that? Because of the government is telling them to. This


external installation works cast costs and the energy firms must pay


the larger share of the cast. Across Northumberland, we have


carried out a million pounds worth of installation improvements.


Energy companies have funded more than �700,000 of that. In just five


years, the government wants to lend fuel poverty for everyone.


Well, with me now is Guy Opperman, the Conservative MP for Hexham.


Last year he pressed for the Office of Fair Trading to investigate the


rocketing cost of domestic heating oil. Also with me Dave Anderson,


the Labour MP for Blaydon, who's calling for more government action


to tackle fuel poverty. The Office of Fair Trading said in response to


this inquiry about competition in the oil industry that it was


working pretty well. Do you accept that? What they said is what there


was -- is that there was some competition. In Northumberland,


where we have a particular problem, we have 17 different companies


providing heating oil and 12 of which are controlled by one company.


There's some limited competition but I would urge everybody not to


buy from one company. Prices went up by last -- last winter because


demand went up. There is some degree of delivery costs and


commodity pricing but if you go out and try and buy diesel or fail


today, you will find that these particular companies are 5p per


litre more expensive than the local independents. The bottom line is,


the Office of Fair Trading has decided not to do anything about it.


They did a market report and they are reinvestigating the matter and


taking it further. Energy bills have risen significantly but what


can be done about it? You have to go back to how we got here. You


have got a cartel there of six major companies controlling


everything. The very first meeting of the select committee three years


ago, I asked a question of the companies, when are going to put


your prices up at how much by and none of them would answer because


they are all frightened of saying when and how much, our competitors


will know and that will make us uncompetitive. He could people


fighting against each other. -- you have. You never hear the government


talking about other oil-producing nations. We threw away our own


resources in this country, particularly the coal industry.


There is plenty of rhetoric from of the Prime Minister on this but


bills are still going up. The green deal has been introduced and the


Energy Act was passed a month ago. The Green deal will change things.


The government is making the energy companies pay for the insulation.


They're giving some contribution out of their profits but the green


deal is going to work for a system at the present stage. If we want to


insulate our home and bear in mind there are 10 million homes that are


not insulated, so they are an awful lot out there. We have to pay money


for it under the old system. Under the new system, you get it for free.


That is the green deal. If you really wanted to help older people,


you would not have cut the levels of when to fill allows this winter?


They will be paid very good summers and it's exactly the same as the


last government was doing. It is not the case that their records to


the winter fuel allowance. Above 60 years of age, you get �200. �2.1


billion is being invested in winter fuel. There is a lot of work being


done. The Green dealers not free. The plan is that you will pay by


the amount that you will lose. about winter fuel allowance?


government was saying it was not going to replace the temporary


measure we had last year. If we were in power, it would be better.


But let's concentrate on the people who do. The people who do read it.


If you had universal payments, everybody who is entitled will get


it. Some people desperately need this don't get it.


Big changes are being planned for Legal Aid. The system, which gives


people on low incomes free legal advice and representation in court,


costs the taxpayer �2 billion a year. Ministers want to save �350


million of that by targeting Legal Aid on what they believe are the


most deserving cases. They also hope more disputes can be resolved


outside court. But could that approach leave some vulnerable


people without access to justice? Luke Walton has been to meet a


Cumbrian family who were helped by the current system.


Medical mistakes made during this boy's birth left him with serious


disabilities. It left his mother fighting for compensation. Years


later came a large payout from the NHS that allows them to get the


support he needs. That battle for justice relied on legal aid. It ran


into thousands of pounds for a medical report which is something


we could not afford to do. The legal aid was vital. It means Simon


can live independently and have a property and at his support.


Integer, clinical negligence cases are unlikely to qualify for legal


aid. The government says families can use no-win no-fee deals as


alternative but some liars fear of those on low income will be priced


out. No-win no-fee cases won't be the answer because many of them


won't be taken on because they will be considered too great a risk.


Where does that lead -- leave the claimants were the most profound


disabilities? Without the access to justice to obtained the awards of


damages that allow them to at least have some degree of independence.


It is a concern that stretches much wider. Every year, staff here help


thousands of people with their financial and personal problems.


But much of this work is funded through legal aid and is now under


threat. Managers share-save restrictions to relay it would


reduce the bureau's income by a quarter and mean job losses. Among


the areas facing cuts are benefit, immigration and housing cases and


there will be tougher means testing. The people like me who don't know


where to come, there would be nothing for them. We have over 2000


clients who use me -- delayed. The vast majority was love problems but


they would be able to come here to get the specialist advice they need.


Supporters of reform insist that even after the changes, legal-aid


will be protected for criminal law and more serious civil cases


including care proceedings and domestic violence. They say the


current cost is unaffordable. legal-aid system in the country is


going out of control. The government has a responsibility to


ensure that the money spent is spent wisely. It's also unhealthy


for the country as a whole. Far too often, people's first move is not


cost-effective. This is one of the alternatives, at this mediation


service in Newcastle, divorcing couples are steered towards


agreement on issues like child custody and division of assets.


Integer, this approach will get extra money from the government.


One of the major advantages is that mediation is quicker and cheaper


than using the court process. It is designed to work in a more peaceful


way. With a legal aid reform did come into force next autumn,


agreement on the wider question of access to justice still looks some


way off. How happy do you feel about the families like that being


denied legal aid? I don't think there will be denied legal aid.


There is a �6 million fund to cover extreme cases and of the 100 cases


up and down the country, only two were on legal aid. Almost all were


on conditional fee agreements. The funding criteria in relation to her


legal aid in such cases is almost more rigorous because it's


taxpayers' money that is being assessed and it's on a no-win no-


fee. Labour let this legal aid bill get out of control. It is sensible


to push people towards mediation and keep people out of court.


possible, that is what should happen. The Law Society says this


will mean six and and 60,000 people a year will lose access to a legal


avenue that was there in the past. They still will have alternative


means of pursuing a claim. They won't be able to afford to take out


solicitors. Some of these people will not take it up. The trade


union movement will only support cases that have a 50 -- 50-50


chance of winning. The fundamental point is that if you are well off,


access to justice remains as good as ever but if you're poor


vulnerable it becomes lot worse. That is simply not the case.


Disability rights, domestic violence, these are protected. It


is clearly best to go forward with mediation. It is a much better way


forward. What about a father who can't get access to his children,


shouldn't he have legal-aid? He may have the ability to do so. There is


still legal aid for certain cases in such circumstances. That is when


mediation has broken down. Justice Secretary is being


challenged by the Justice select committee and they gave different F


-- different answers. We really don't know. People will not be able


to challenge public bodies who loved and things wrong to them. --


who'll have. You can challenge because there is a thing called the


protective costs order. You suggest that almost nobody will be affected


by this. We are in the biggest shake-up of welfare payments for


decades. People will be affected in the way they find the litigation in


the sense that the taxpayer will no longer be funding certain bits of


it. But there will be alternative ways forward. Was going to take on


the cases of people claiming benefits? -- who is. There are


abilities take these things forward. The Law Society is saying that


660,000 people won't have access to legal aid. You're on Justice


Secretary has said that you would have made similar cast -- cuts. We


have to balance the books. Poor people will suffer. Those who need


the help the most. If we keep going though this Bill will go up and up.


This has gone on and people say it's a compensation culture. But


you have to look after people at home and at work. That would stop


the compensation culture. And that's about it from us. Both


my guests are among a clutch of the north's MPs giving evidence to an


inquiry which starts tomorrow in Newcastle looking at the new


constituency boundaries in the North East. It continues later in


the week with further hearings at Durham Tees Valley Airport. I'll be


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