Category Archives: Oxfordshire

We’ve turned whistleblower!

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Professor Adrian Harris, consultant medical oncologist at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, addressing the meeting. © Peter McIntyre

The Oxford NUJ branch is blowing the whistle on NHS England for its lack of transparency and its attempts to frustrate efforts to hold it to account for its decision relating to the future of Oxfordshire’s diagnostic cancer scanning services.

The question we are asking is this:

Why is NHS England being so secretive about the basis for its decision regarding the future of Oxfordshire’s PET-CT diagnostic imaging services? What is the basis for its decision to take this service away from the world-class radiology team at the Churchill hospital, where it operates as an integrated part of a world-class cancer care service? Why has NHS England awarded preferred bidder status to a private company that operates from mobile units, and has no-one with a licence to administer the radioactive substances used in PET-CT?

This are questions that should normally be posed by reporters, and our local journalists are certainly doing their best to get answers. It is a question also for Oxfordshire’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which is empowered to ‘call-in’ questionable decisions made by our public healthcare services, and they too have been doing their best to get answers.

Our NUJ branch got involved because we are alarmed at the lengths to which NHS England seems to be prepared to go to avoid being scrutinised and held to account for this decision. It has not addressed questions of substance relating to the impact the change to the service will have on the quality and safety of patient care. It seems intent on stifling those who seek to voice their concerns, and withholding information that the public has a right to know.

The Oxford NUJ branch is saying that it is not OK for public bodies to hide behind legal threats, to seek to silence critics or to create a climate of fear in public bodies.

We took the unusual step of calling a public meeting in Oxford Town Hall to try to build up a picture of what is going on. We posted the speakers’ presentation on our YouTube channel. You can view the full playlist here. Video recordings are courtesy of Peter McIntyre.

What they said

We invited Professor Adrian Harris, a consultant medical oncologist at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, to tell us the story so far from the perspective of those currently running the service at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust (OUHT).

Adrian explained that the quality of PET-CT scans matters because they change treatment decision in up 40% of cases. Referring to correspondence from NHS England, he argue they had built their case on “incorrect data to force the issue to allow InHealth to come in and disrupt an outstanding service,” and that they were blocking access to key information by claiming there were “discussions” and a “legal review” that do not exist.

“NHS England have not told the truth, they have put legal pressure on doctors, they don’t reply to emails, when corrected in things they don’t respond and the role of Bruno [Dr Bruno Holthof is Chief Executive Officer of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust] in not taking us through what the doctors say, what the Trust wants to do, passing on messages very worrying to me. We have to have an open access. How can we have an explanation, not only just from NHS England but the local Trust leaders as to why they are behaving like that?”

You can see his full presentation here (11 mins)

We also invited Tamsin Allen, a partner at Bindmans law firm who specialises in defamation law and has long experience representing whistleblowers, to comment on the legal issues.

Tamsin talked about the letter NHS England’s lawyers had sent to the OUHT, warning them that any statement that suggests that the result of awarding the contract to InHealth puts patient safety at risk or compromises the provision of cancer care and research in the health system “would be defamatory if repeated to any third party”.

“That’s an incredibly broad and sweeping claim, and it’s also legally wrong,” said Tamsin. She questioned a later clarification from NHS England that the letter had been intended as helpful advice regarding possible defamation suits from others, rather than a direct threat. “Lawyers are used to using language precisely particularly when talking about the law. That was a deliberate sentence. It’s an intimidating statement.”

You can view her presentation here (14 mins)

We also invited Seamus Dooley, the Assistant General Secretary of the NUJ, to talk about the role of a strong local press in championing the public interest by scrutinising the behaviour of those in charge of our public services.

“This is not about the law. This is about bullying and unacceptable behaviour. From the NUJ’s perspective, we are under no doubt that what this is intended is to have a chilling effect which inhibits debate and inhibits questions. It is about the use of law to close down debate. Does it mean journalists will stop asking questions? I hope not.”

You can view his presentation here (5 mins).

The meeting was chaired by Anna Wagstaff, Secretary of the Oxford and District NUJ branch. In her opening remarks she said, “This is behaviour you could maybe expect from a tobacco company but not from our health service. We’d like this to be a practical meeting focused on how we can bring some accountability and transparency to this process to ensure decision are made in the best interests of the public that the NHS is meant to serve.”

You can view her presentation here (2 mins)

You can see the Banbury Guardian’s report (26 June 2019) on their battle to get access to the relevant correspondence between NHS England and the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust here.

You can see the Oxford Mail report of the meeting here

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Join us Dec 13th to talk media and migrants over mulled wine

mulled-wine-shutter-stockJoin us, Tuesday December 13th, for an evening of friendship, mulled wine and mince pies, where we will turn our attention to groups who feel increasingly excluded, vulnerable and friendless in today’s Britain. Continue reading

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Dreaming Spires branch Inspires

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More than 60 journalist from every sector came to Oxford NUJ branch’s ‘digitally-converged summer social’.

Those attending included a sizeable contingent from BBC Oxford – whose chapel co-organised the event – on-screen reporters from Meridan TV’s newsroom, Chapel representatives from the Oxford Mail and Oxford Guardian and members working in book publishing.

Anna Wagstaff, branch secretary, explained the thinking behind the event:  “Our local media is interlinked. And in this fast-changing media sector, we all have an interest in fostering a local media ecosystem that offers opportunities to earn a decent living, doing whatever we do to the best of our ability. We wanted to bring together the broadest possible range of members to start to explore common areas of interest.”

The energy generated by the event – which was held in an arts centre near BBC Oxford – was palpable.  Alison Campbell, a Banbury-based PR said: “I can’t believe it when I meet PRs who aren’t in the NUJ – this event is another example of how relevant the NUJ is to us”.  Several others at the event were equally committed to building NUJ membership.

Paul Jenner, BBC Oxford FOC, said: “I was delighted at the wide range of people who came to the social, and as a result we have had several new membership enquiries. We truly are stronger when we work together.”

NUJ president, Tim Dawson, who was invited to the event to speak, later described the social as one of the best NUJ branch meetings he had ever attended.  “The plan to bring people together from every sector really worked.  The mix of people made for an enormously stimulating event – if other branches could emulate this success it would be an enormous boost to the entire union,” he said.

Cross-posted from the nuj.org.uk

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Our first digitally converged summer social: will you be there?

If you play a role in Oxfordshire’s interlinked and multi-platformed media ecosystem then  you’re invited to our summer social. Don’t let us down.

When? Thursday July 7th, 7.00-9.00pm

Where? North Wall Arts Centre, South Parade, Summertown, Oxford, OX2 7JN

Who? News reporters, photographers, documentary makers, press officers, comms workers – staff and freelances, print, broadcast and online, working for small outfits or global giants, serving hyperlocal or international audiences…

Why? Because news and information know no boundaries, because we all care about ethics, quality and professionalism, and getting a fair return for what we do, because you never know where you might find an opening to change job… and because all of the above are a good excuse to party

The social is being hosted by the BBC Oxford NUJ chapel, complete with free buffet and first drink and a bar. Continue reading

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Yeah but… no but… weighing up the EU options for Oxon

Anne Hall - Jan 2016

Blogpost by Anne Hall freelance member of the Oxford NUJ branch

 

David Cameron and Nigel Farage weren’t the only ones facing difficult questions about the EU referendum on Tuesday evening. While the prime minister and the UKIP leader were busy practising their soundbites ready to face live questions from the audience, NUJ branch members in Oxford were having their own debate about what the referendum result could mean for them. Continue reading

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BrOxit or Bremain? Join us June 7th for a discussion and a drink

Oxford Town Hall flying the Oxford City Council flag. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown.

To exit or remain: what’s at stake for us in Oxfordshire?

We’ve invited Antony David, managing director of Solid State Logic, a local high-tech business, and Robert Wilkinson, a former teacher and a trade unionist, to tell us what they think, and explain why they will be voting “in” and “out”, respectively. We’re inviting you to come and join the discussion. Continue reading

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Maggie Hartford: 40 years in journalism, in the union and at the Oxford Mail/Times

 

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CONGRATULATIONS to Maggie Hartford, former business reporter and books editor the Oxford Mail/Times, who was made a Life Member of the NUJ two weeks ago. The honour was given in recognition of her 40 years of unbroken union membership – all of it as a member of the Oxford Mail and Times chapel.

Last year, having watched the newsroom dwindle over the past decade to a shadow of its former self through successive rounds of cuts, Maggie took the opportunity of yet more redundancies to hand in her cards – but she kept her union card.

A lunchtime gathering at The Fishes to celebrate her Lifetime Membership brought together colleagues still at the Mail/Times with many former friends and colleagues from the past. Their recollections of Maggie were remarkably consistent, whether they were talking about her role in the hard-fought seven-week strike in the winter of 1979/1980 (which secured a  pay rise of around 12% as part of a more comprehensive settlement), or confronting day to day issues about working conditions or bullying, or the NUJ campaign to stand up for the value of high-quality local journalism: professional, calm, determined, and just a pleasure to work with.

 

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Maggie with former colleagues Clare Parrack and Nicky Moeran (then Kirkwood), at the lunchtime celebration of her NUJ Lifetime Membership award. All photos by Peter McIntyre

Peter McIntyre, who started as a reporter at the Oxford Mail shortly after Maggie arrived, and was Father of Chapel for many years, including during the long pay strike, paid tribute to the consistent contribution Maggie made throughout her career to chapel efforts to address workplace issues and improve pay and conditions:

“Maggie served on the Oxford Mail/Times chapel committee in many posts. She was always a voice of calm authority within the chapel and was very influential in getting important changes, particularly on maternity leave and women’s issues, ” he said.

Kate Griffin joined the Oxford Mail as a trainee and got into the habit of stopping by Maggie’s desk on her way back from the tea machine.

Her first impression of Maggie? “I wanted to be like her – calm, professional. I never saw her getting stressed out. But when management were being bastards, she was usually the first person to tell me about it.  She taught me that there is no conflict between being professional and being in the union, and the two go together. If you’re fighting for decent pay and conditions so you can do the best possible job, what could be more professional than that?”

Anna Wagstaff, secretary of the Oxford branch thanked Maggie for the positive way she always responded to requests to involve the Oxford Mail chapel in local initiatives for the NUJ’s Stand Up for Journalism campaign. “Staying positive in the face of a management business strategy that aims to keep profit levels high by endless pay freezes, cuts and more cuts, regardless of the impact on quality, is difficult. But whenever I rang Maggie for help mobilising colleagues, I could always count on an enthusiastic response, and that was a real fillip for me. Her Life Membership is well deserved recognition for all she has done for fellow journalists over the years.”

“Bet she’s found something to get constructively pissed off with, to tackle in her new free time,” wrote Jayne Gillman and Mike Watson, two of the many former colleagues who sent anecdotes and tributes.

Maggie said: “There have been good and bad times, but one thing has always cheered me. It’s been sad when colleagues move on, but they have always been replaced by fantastic new people who are enthusiastic about the value of local news, and who know that high-quality journalism needs to be fought for.
“I wish I could say that the management has been as keen to fight for the future of provincial journalism as it has been to squeeze the last profits from our local newspapers.”

The lunch for Maggie took place at a time when  15-20 subs are losing their jobs at the Oxford Mail and Times as their roles are taken over by a subbing hub in Newport, Wales, so there were mixed feelings among many at the lunchtime gathering. As one of them put it: “It reminded me that it used to fun working here.”

 

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Book reviewer Merryn Williams, former colleagues Clare Parrack and Martin Mulligan, freelance Gill Oliver and magazines editor Tim Metcalfe

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William Crossley, Father of Chapel at the Oxford Mail/TImes, presents Maggie with her certificate of Lifetime Membership of the NUJ

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Anna Wagstaff, Oxford NUJ branch secretary, thanking Maggie for staying so consistently positive during the the most difficult period local journalists and journalism have ever faced. Also shown are branch committee members Mike Taylor and Kate Griffin

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From left to right: Mike Taylor, Gill Oliver, and Maggie’s husband George Wormald

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Branch chair Bill MacKeith (left) with Martin Mulligan

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Book reviewer Phil Bloomfield (right) chats to a guest

 

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When “local” means 90 miles away

The Oxford Mail’s owners are planning to move production of the paper, and its sister titles, to Newport in South Wales. Plans recently announced would see all of Newsquest’s Oxfordshire and Wiltshire titles, including the Oxford Mail, Oxford Times and Witney Gazette, being sub-edited from this distant “hub”.

Oxford to Newport mapAs a result of the planned move, 20 experienced journalists face a stark choice: move to a completely different part of the UK or lose their jobs. But the impact on their lives is only part of the story: what about the impact on the communities these newspapers are supposed to be serving?

Oxford & District Branch does not believe that a local paper can be truly local when it’s being produced by people who have no connection with the local area whatsoever. The people hired to sub-edit the papers in the new “subbing hub” are unlikely to know, or particularly care, about Oxfordshire, its people, places and issues. And they won’t get a chance to learn, either – the new hub will be a factory-style set-up where workers handle papers from all over the country rather than specialising in one area.

Right now the subbing is done by experienced (although overworked) local journalists, based in Newsquest Oxfordshire’s offices on Osney Mead. If they are replaced by a production line 90 miles away, where the workers are fresh out of college, how can the quality of local newspapers not suffer?

Unfortunately, this seems to be part of a national strategy for Newsquest, which owns local papers all over the UK. It’s already happened in Darlington, York, Blackburn and Glasgow. The impact on quality has been well documented by Hold the Front Page  in a piece headlined Newsquest’s Little Hub of Horrors. Readers of the Oxford Mail and Times and other local titles, who accepted Newsquest’s justification for a major price rise last year on the grounds that they were paying for improved quality, may well feel they have been taken for a ride.

As a union, we’re fighting not just to save the jobs of skilled local sub-editors, but also to save local papers from spiralling into decline as a result of this harmful cost-cutting. Over the next few months we’ll be asking people to send a strong “Say No to Newport” message to Simon O’Neill, editor of the Newsquest Oxfordshire titles. To support us, please sign our petition to keep local production for local papers. Click on the postcard to sign the petition! We’ve also printed off stacks of ( real) postcards with that message and we’re asking people to sign them and post them off to Simon O’Neill. If you’d like us to send you a handful of postcards to share, please get in touch!

Postcard saying "Keep my local paper local"

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We remember the 26 who left Oxford to fight fascism in Spain 75 years ago

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Tom Wintringham (left) and Ralph Fox fought fascism both as journalists and with the International Brigades in Spain

At its March meeting the branch agreed to donate £250 towards a memorial to all the people from Oxford who went to Spain 75 years ago to fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Here branch member Chris Farman tells the story of why they went, and of two journalists who were among the 26 volunteers from Oxford.

 

In July 1936 a military rebellion was launched against the democratically elected government of the Spanish Republic. For the next three years Spain was torn apart by a bloody civil war which claimed almost a million lives and left the country in the grip of a pro-fascist dictatorship under General Franco.  

   Franco’s success owed much to Hitler and Mussolini, who supplied him with a constant stream of guns, tanks and planes. They wanted to try out their new weapons and tactics, and Spain provided an ideal testing ground. The Republic appealed to the Western democracies, but this was the era of appeasement, and Britain and France, anxious not to antagonise the Axis powers, refused to send any help. Eventually, the Republic did receive aid from the Soviet Union, though never on the scale of that sent by Hitler and Mussolini to the so-called Nationalists.

   The war aroused intense political passions and some 35,000 volunteers, including 2,500 from the British Isles, would serve with the International Brigades, the military force recruited to fight for the Republic. From Oxford, 26 volunteers headed for the battlefields of Spain, of whom seven would never return. They included nurses, doctors and ambulance drivers, as well as combatants, and represented a wide range of backgrounds and political views.  One was an engine driver, one was a member of the House of Lords, one was a teacher and one was a musician and composer.

  There were even two journalists – Ralph Fox and Tom Wintringham. They met as undergraduates at Oxford in the 1920s, where they became close friends and ardent communists. They wrote for the party newspaper, The Daily Worker, and founded an avant-garde journal, Left Review, which attracted rising literary stars such as Bertolt Brecht, Pablo Neruda and Stephen Spender.

   By the end of 1936, the two friends were in Spain. On December 28 Fox was killed as his unit led an attack on the town of Lopera, near Cordoba. Also killed was the poet John Cornford, who the day before had celebrated his 21st birthday. According to one account, he was shot while trying to retrieve Fox’s body.

  In February 1937, Wintringham commanded the 500-strong British Battalion in its first action, at the Battle of Jarama. More than half the battalion was killed or wounded and Wintringham himself was hit in the thigh. He returned to the front again in August, but was again wounded and repatriated to England.

   Like Fox and Wintringham, many of the volunteers were communists. But there were also plenty of Labour party supporters and ordinary trades unionists who saw that a victory for fascism in Spain would be the prelude to further aggression. They were proved right, but were never given any official acknowledgment or thanks. Over a hundred towns and cities in Britain have tried to make up for this by erecting their own memorials to the volunteers. Oxford now has the chance to follow their example.  

   The International Brigade Memorial Trust has launched a fundraising appeal for a memorial to the volunteers who lived, worked or studied in and around Oxford. The initiative has the support of the Oxford & District Trades Union Council and Oxford City Council, which has given a site in Bonn Square for the memorial.

   The proposed date for the unveiling is September 6, but this will only go ahead if sufficient money is raised. The appeal fund currently stands at more than £2,000 – including a donation of £250 from the branch – but the target is £5,000, so there’s still a long way to go. Please help to make sure that Oxford’s volunteers for liberty are not forgotten by supporting this appeal. Send donations to 6 Stonells Road, London SW11 6HQ. Make cheques payable to ‘IBMT’ and write ‘Oxford Memorial Appeal’. on the reverse. All donors will be acknowledged in the commemorative booklet that it is hoped to publish when the new memorial is unveiled.

 

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Why is Witney Town Council excluding reporters?

The Oxford Mail‘s Witney reporter has been thrown out of a town council meeting – for the fourth time. On Monday 10th March, the council met to discuss the future of two public buildings, Langdale Hall and the Corn Exchange. But the reporter covering the meeting was asked to leave after town councillors voted nearly-unanimously (with one exception) to exclude the press. This means that discussions of public interest will not be publicly reported. This is the fourth time in less than a year that a reporter has been excluded from a town council meeting.

As a branch, we are concerned that Witney Town Council is not allowing local reporters to do their job. We have written to Cllr Peter Dorward, Mayor of Witney, to ask on what grounds reporters are being asked to leave meetings. We believe there are important issues of principle at stake about transparency in the way decisions are reached on how public money is spent. We have therefore asked the mayor to supply us with information about what  guidelines and criteria are being used to decide when it is acceptable to conduct council business in closed session.

If the council was hoping to avoid public scrutiny by this move, the plan has backfired. In the absence of being able to report the actual meeting, the Oxford Mail reported being thrown out and gave a potted history of previous attempts to exclude the press. This was followed up with an angry editorial describing the councillors as “silly burghers” and arguing that “transparency is clearly a dirty word to the secretive folk who run Witney Town Council. ” The story was picked up by the Guardian and by Hold The Front Page. So much for keeping things under wraps.

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