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Regional unemployment falls by 30,000

Unemployment in Yorkshire fell by 30,000 in the quarter to January, official figures have revealed.

Credit: Press Association

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), a total of 161,000 people were unemployed in the region between November and January.

The region's unemployment rate was 6% and saw a drop of 15.7% during the period.

Nationwide, unemployment has dipped to a near seven-year low after a fall of more than 100,000, while a record number of people are in work.

The jobless total is 1.86 million, the lowest since the summer of 2008 and almost half a million down on a year ago. The jobless rate is now 5.7%, compared to a European Union average of 9.8%.

The number of people claiming jobseeker's allowance fell by 31,000 to 791,200 in February - the 28th consecutive monthly reduction.

The ONS also reported that employment increased by 143,000 in the latest quarter to January to almost 30.1 million, the highest since records began in 1971.

£14 million expected for Sheffield's Olympic Legacy Park

Up to £14 million of funding is expected to be announced for Sheffield's Olympic Legacy Park when George Osborne delivers his new budget later today.

Artist Impression

The money would be used to invest in the park's Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, which is being developed in conjunction with Sheffield Hallam University.

It will feature indoor and outdoor facilities for over 50 researchers to carry out research on physical activity in collaboration with the private sector and based upon the highly successful Advanced Manufacturing Park in Sheffield.

We are delighted that the Government are backing our vision to develop the most advanced research and development centre for physical activity in the world.

– Professor Philip Jones, Sheffield Hallam University Vice-Chancellor

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Small airports suffering due to aviation taxes, say MPs

Smaller UK airports are being held back by the existence of the Air Passenger Duty (APD) departure tax, a report by MPs has said.

Small airports in the UK are suffering as a result of airport passenger duty (APD), according to the Transport Committee. Credit: Press Association

The report focuses on smaller airports like Leeds Bradford, Doncaster's Robin Hood and Humberside Airport and says they are at risk of losing out on growth and business, especially if the tax was scrapped in Scotland.

On domestic flights where APD is charged at both ends of the trip, the tax "incentivises airlines and passengers to fly from airports located in other EU member states", said the report from the House of Commons Transport Committee. The MPs said that Northern Ireland was suffering in terms of jobs, growth and connectivity as aviation taxes were higher than in the Republic of Ireland.

The report warned that if APD is scrapped in Scotland - which is a possibility due to the tax being devolved to Holyrood - "airports in England would be subject to a similar competitive disadvantage to that currently experienced in Northern Ireland".<

Plans to exempt children from APD, announced in the autumn statement of 2014, was "a marginal change which did nothing for business travellers and little for smaller airports", the report added.<

The committee said: "We found that APD is the principal threat to the smaller airports sector.

"APD cannot be amended to support people, businesses and regional economies because of the operation of European competition law, while proposals to devolve it to the regions would serve only to spread a patchwork of market distortions across the UK."

Smaller airports drive economic growth. But the smaller airports sector - which is vital to people and businesses in the regions - is limited by APD. Transport ministers must stand up for smaller airports and make the case to the Treasury that APD squeezes jobs, growth and connectivity. The whole country should share the economic benefits of expanded airport capacity. But that will only happen if new capacity includes new domestic flights to airports outside London. The Department for Transport needs to take a proactive approach and ensure that the regions are connected.

– Committee chairwoman Louise Ellman

The report covered around 40 smaller airports ranging in size from Newcastle, which handled 4.4 million passengers in 2013, to Lydd in Kent which handled 1,000.

The past few years have been tough for many of our smaller members. Reducing APD is the single biggest thing that could enable airports to attract new routes and increase their passenger numbers. APD is the highest aviation tax in the world and is increasingly putting the UK at a disadvantage.

– Airport Operators Association chief executive Darren Caplan

Regional airports make a vital contribution to the UK economy by boosting local jobs and providing important domestic and international connectivity. We want to help these airports thrive as part of our long- term economic plan, which is why we launched the Regional Air Connectivity Fund to support more new air routes. We are now assessing bids from airports and airlines for this funding and will soon announce a short list of routes, with a final announcement over the summer. We welcome the publication of the committee's report on smaller airports and we will study their conclusions carefully before responding in due course

– Department for Transport spokesman

Two more charged over finances at Bradford free school

A former director of finance and a former head of department at a flagship free school in Bradford have been charged with fraud offences.

Daud Khan, former finance director at Kings Science Academy is charged with two offences of fraud by abuse of position and three of false accounting.

Shabana Hussain faces one charge of fraud by abuse of position and one of acquiring criminal property. They will appear at Leeds Magistrates’ Court shortly.

Former princial Sajid Hussain Raza was charged last week with three offences of fraud by abuse of position, three offences of false accounting, two offences of obtaining a money transfer by deception, and one offence of fraud by false representation. He will also appear at Leeds Magistrates’ Court shortly.

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Leeds money launderer is jailed for six years

A money launderer from Leeds who helped “clean up” millions of pounds of dirty cash has been jailed for six years after an HM Revenue and Customs investigation.

Richard Strauss, who is 37, was jailed along with Bhader Singh, of Kettering, after they helped to launder £20 million in an attempt to hide its criminal origins, believed to be from the sale of illicit alcohol.

Richard Strauss

Strauss, the director of Anglotrade Beverages Ireland, was found with £50,060 cash in his possession in November 2012. He was found guilty of converting/transferring criminal property to the value of £7,112,150 after a seven-week trial at Chelmsford Crown Court. Confiscation proceedings to recover the proceeds of the fraud will follow.

Singh, 35, set up a fake wholesale company and produced false invoices to disguise financial transactions as legitimate sales of alcohol in the bonds market between January 2011 and October 2012.

The money from the transactions was paid to Anglotrade Beverages Ireland, and immediately transferred overseas from the business account.

Partner in crime Bhader Singh

This sentencing brings to an end a three-year investigation, centered on a highly organised and complex fraud. Singh’s company was set up to create an illusion of legitimate trading when in fact their sole purpose was to clean up the dirty cash of criminal activity. Those involved knew they were breaking the law by providing a service for criminals to launder their cash in an attempt to hide their criminal profits and avoid detection by law enforcement. HMRC is investing more time and resources than ever into identifying fraud. Our work does not stop at sentencing, but at depriving those involved of the proceeds of their crimes.

– David Margree, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation, HMRC,

Sheffield GP funding petition goes to Downing Street

Over 2,000 local people have signed a petition calling on the Government to keep essential funding for GP practices who serve patients with higher and more complex health needs.

It calls for a halt to cuts which threaten 100 GPs practices with closure across the country - including two in central Sheffield.

The petition was started in January by staff and patients at the Devonshire Green and Hanover Medical Centres who are one of the 100 affected.

Today a group of doctors, staff and patients will join Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield to hand in the petition at No.10 Downing Street.

Mr Blomfield helped launch the petition and has challenged Ministers on the issue in Parliament on several occasions. Whilst in Westminster the group will also meet with a Government Health Minister and Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Health Andy Burnham.

The petition was launched to challenge the Government's decision to axe a special funding stream called the Minimum Practice Income Guarantee (MPIG).

MPIG funding supports GP surgeries, such as Devonshire Green and Hanover Medical Centres and also Sharrow Lane Medical Centre, which serve areas with above-average health needs.

Cutting this funding will mean some GP practices lose as much as £140,000 income. It is estimated that this loss of funding means four or five practices in Sheffield- all in areas of high need - may be forced to close.

"Since we started the petition in January the response from our patients and members of the public has been great. There's a terrific strength of feeling about this issue.

"We've been pleased to work with our local MP Paul Blomfield to ensure that our situation is raised in Parliament. Surgeries like ours face a real crisis due to MPIG funding being withdrawn and we'll continue the fight to protect our GP surgeries and our patients.

"Our message to the Government is simple -halt the cuts and provide fair funding for our GPs practices."

– Dr Graham Pettinger, Devonshire Green Medical Centre

"Local GP surgeries like Hanover and Devonshire Green are a vital front line for the NHS.

"It's outrageous that those serving the most vulnerable patients are seeing their funds cut. Ministers need to urgently listen to the concerns of local GPs and the thousands of people who have signed the petition before it's too late.

"The prospect of GP surgeries in my constituency going bankrupt and closing is deeply concerning.

"I've raised these concerns with Ministers in Parliament and I'll keep pressing the case until they change their policy. "Labour's Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has pledged to stop this funding being withdrawn, if we win May's election, and to review the decision before any practice closes, but we're handing in the petition at Downing St because we need to put pressure on the Government now."

– Paul Blomfield MP

Dolly Parton backed reading scheme faces axe

A reading scheme for children in Rotherham backed by country and western star Dolly Parton is facing the axe after the local council pulled its financial support.

Dolly Parton launched the Imagination Library eight years ago

The Imagination Library was launched eight years ago to encourage under five-year-olds to read by sending them a free book every month. Rotherham Council is blaming government cuts for its decision to withdraw £400,000 funding.

A spokesman for Dolly Parton said she was disappointed with the decision.

Former academy principal charged with fraud

The founder and principal of a flagship free school in Bradford has been charged with fraud and other offences.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said Sajid Hussain Raza has been charged with offences which relate to his involvement with the Kings Science Academy.

Raza was arrested last year following an investigation into the school, which was visited by Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012.

The CPS said it had authorised West Yorkshire Police to charge him with three offences of fraud by abuse of position, three offences of false accounting, two offences of obtaining a money transfer by deception, and one offence of fraud by false representation.

Julian Briggs, reviewing lawyer at CPS Yorkshire and Humberside's complex casework unit, said: "The Crown Prosecution Service has been working closely with West Yorkshire Police in connection with this case.

"Having carefully considered all of the evidence presented to us, we have concluded that there is sufficient evidence to charge Sajid Hussain Raza (principal) with a range of offences relating to his involvement with the Kings Science Academy, Bradford, and that it is in the public interest to do so.

"Accordingly, I have authorised West Yorkshire Police to charge Sajid Hussain Raza with three offences of fraud by abuse of position, three offences of false accounting, two offences of obtaining a money transfer by deception, and one offence of fraud by false representation. He will first appear at Leeds Magistrates' Court shortly.

"This defendant has now been charged with serious criminal offences and has the right to a fair trial. It is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings."

The academy was one of the first free schools to open in September 2011. It was set up by Mr Raza and praised by Mr Cameron on his visit in March 2012.

West Yorkshire Police said Raza, 42, of Spring Gardens Road, Bradford, has been released on bail and will appear at Leeds Magistrates' Court on a date yet to be fixed.

The force said the charges relate to financial matters at the school between April and August 2011.

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