Services grind to a halt as strike bites

SCHOOLS were closed, hospital appointments rescheduled and bins left unemptied as public services came to a virtual standstill across Northumberland yesterday, as part of what has been described as the largest national strike in a generation.

Tens of thousands of public sector workers walked out in a day of action to protest at proposed changes to their pension arrangements, causing huge disruption to everything from education and healthcare to libraries and leisure centres.

All schools in Alnwick, Amble and Rothbury were closed, as were first schools at Acklington, Broomhill, Ellingham, Felton, Harbottle, Longhoughton, Red Row, Seahouses, Swarland and Thropton.

But some remained open, including first schools at Belford, Branton, Embleton, Lowick, Shilbottle and Whittingham, as well as Glendale Middle and Wooler First. St Paul’s RC Middle in Alnwick and Seahouses Middle were partially open, as was Warkworth First. Northumberland County Council said it was maintaining critical services to the public, but there would be an impact on the usual, day-to-day operations.

All customer-service centres and information points around the county were closed, with the authority asking residents only to make urgent inquiries on the day and try to make non-essential requests before or after the strike.

Bin collections were also cancelled, although collections are due to resume today, when the council will be attempting to clear the backlog.

The Fire and Rescue Service, which is part of Northumberland County Council, was operating as normal.

Northumbria Police said a ‘small number’ of staff had chose to exercise their right to take industrial action, but it had been planning contingencies for several months.

Assistant Chief Constable Steve Ashman said: “Plans were put in place to minimise any disruption caused by industrial action and as such we are satisfied that there will be no loss of service to the public. Business is continuing as normal, with officers or police staff providing assistance where necessary.

“There will be no affect on the way we tackle crime or serve our community. All police stations are open in accordance with published opening times.”

At the county’s hospitals – including Wansbeck General, Alnwick Infirmary and Rothbury Community Hospital – non-urgent operations and outpatient appointments planned for the day were rescheduled.

However, emergency operations were still going ahead for those patients needing urgent care and fracture clinics and clinics for urgent cases remained open, as did Wansbeck’s emergency care department.

Deputy director for medicine and emergency care Anne Kennedy said: “Our priority is, as always, the safety and well-being of our patients.”

Ruth Barclay, from Unison’s Newcastle office, said: “We have had excellent support from the public and even recruited new members. Picket lines have been in operation at County Hall and Wansbeck General Hospital and the response has been great.”