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Darling supports devolved powers for North East

Alistair Darling led the 'Better Together Campaign in Scotland Credit: PA

A former UK Chancellor is to address an audience of senior regional stakeholders, exhorting them to seize the opportunity of further powers from Whitehall.

Alistair Darling, who led the pro-Union Better Together campaign in Scotland, is expected to urge regional leaders to remain focused and united in advance of the May 7th General Election.

Mr Darling's address comes as a range of regional bodies are making a concerted bid for more powers to be devolved from central government to the region.

Following his address at The Sage, Gateshead, Mr Darling will answer questions, with the Chief Executive of Northumbrian Water, Heidi Mottram, chairing proceedings.

The event has been organised by the North East Economic Forum.

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Durham Free School 'to close at Easter'

Durham Free School

Durham Free School is to close at Easter, the Department for Education has announced.

The flagship Free School was told last month that its funding agreement would be terminated if it failed to swiftly come up with an action plan to raise standards.

A fresh letter, published today, says that Education Secretary Nicky Morgan does not believe that the Trust running the school has shown enough evidence that it can bring about improvements.

The school, which has a Christian ethos and opened in September 2013 with just 94 pupils, received a highly critical Ofsted report after an inspection at the end of last year.

Inspectors gave it the lowest ratings for leadership. teaching, behaviour and achievement, placing it in special measures.

In response the school questioned many of Ofsted's findings.

Today's letter, signed by Janet Renou, regional schools commissioner for the North, and addressed to chair of governors John Denning, says:

"Having considered the academy trust's representations, the Secretary of State does not consider that you have provided sufficient evidence to show that the academy trust has the capacity or a suitable strategy to bring about the necessary improvements at Durham Free School. The representations put forward did not full demonstrate that the Trust is seriously addressing weaknesses in areas such as safeguarding pupils, poor attendance, quality of teaching and dealing with a "culture of intolerance of people who have different faiths, values or beliefs."

The letter goes on to say: "In short, your representations have not convinced the Secretary of State that the current governing body and leadership team have the capability to turn the school around swiftly so that it will give its pupils an acceptable standard of education."

It concludes: "We have given careful thought to the effect on pupils of having to move to another school; and we have sought to keep any disruption to a minimum by liaising with Durham County Council regarding provision of alternative school places. With this in mind, the Secretary of State has set the date for termination at the end of the spring term."<

In a statement, the school's chair of governors John Denning said: "It is important that parents are informed by the school of the content of the Regional School's Commissioner letter, and that is our priority at this time. The trust is also consulting its legal advisers."

North East firefighters: 'We were misled'

Firefighters have been back on strike on Wednesday as part of an ongoing row with the government over their pensions.

They gathered for a protest at Grey's Monument in Newcastle this afternoon.

The 24-hour strike will last until 7 o'clock on Thursday morning.

The government says the industrial action is "unnecessary".

All fire and rescue authorities have robust and well tested strike contingency plans in place that include back up support if needed. Public safety is our priority and if anyone needs emergency assistance they should dial 999 and they will get a response from their fire and rescue service. Strike action is unnecessary and appears to be over a point which is a vast improvement on the 2006 scheme which required firefighters to work to 60 with no protection. We have been clear that firefighters get an unreduced pension or a job and have changed the National Framework through a statutory instrument to do so. If fire authorities do not produce processes which yield this the Secretary of State has said he will intervene.”

– DEPARTMENT FOR COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Pete Wilson from the Fire Brigades Union in the North East strongly disagrees with that statement:

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Firefighters stage strike rally in Newcastle

Strikers stage rally at The Monument Credit: ITV News

Firefighters taking part in a 24 hour strike have staged a rally in Newcastle city centre. It is part of an ongoing row with the Government over their pensions. The 24-hour strike will continue until 7am Thursday. The Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service says they will respond to emergency calls during the action but they want the public to take extra care. The government has also responded to today's action, which involves firefighters from across the North East and North Yorkshire.

All fire and rescue authorities have robust and well tested strike contingency plans in place that include back up support if needed. Public safety is our priority and if anyone needs emergency assistance they should dial 999 and they will get a response from their fire and rescue service. Strike action is unnecessary and appears to be over a point which is a vast improvement on the 2006 scheme which required firefighters to work to 60 with no protection. We have been clear that firefighters get an unreduced pension or a job and have changed the National Framework through a statutory instrument to do so. If fire authorities do not produce processes which yield this the Secretary of State has said he will intervene.”

– Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman

Weather: Morning update

Credit: Joan Walker

Dry with light winds and bright or sunny spells during the morning, though becoming cloudy and breezier during the afternoon, with outbreaks of light rain arriving by late afternoon.

A rather chilly day, but becoming milder later as rain arrives. Maximum Temperature 8C.

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