1923 milestones: Many visitors are expected to visit Shildon to see the world famous Flying Scotsman locomotive as part of its centenary year tour this month.

Perversely perhaps, it was not considered appropriate for preservation and sent for scrap in January 1963, 40 years on from its launch.

Saved privately, it has had a tumultuous life in preservation, now lasting far longer than its service life.

At the other end of 1923 a small town called Billingham made history when on Christmas Eve, a company there made ammonia for the first time in the UK using German technology. However the data the small team of brilliant engineers, led by Captain Haytor, of the Cheshire Regiment, and Stockton’s Power Gas Corporation engineers had collected, was stolen on the way home.

This very high-pressure dangerous plant was built from memory and sketches!

The engineers were all Mond family employees. Alfred Mond, later Lord Melchett and John Brunner with very little capital, started the company which would go on to be the core of the world famous ICI three years later.

What a great year 1923 was.

Colin Hatton, Marton, Middlesbrough


THE recent report “Ending Stagnation” by the Resolution Foundation and London School of Economics exposes grim truths about how unequal our country has become in the last ten years.

The report details how income inequality in Britain is higher than in any other large European country.

Typical households in Britain are nine per cent poorer than their French counterparts, while our low-income families are 27 per cent poorer.

Benefit levels have not kept pace with prices: cuts since 2010 have reduced the incomes of the poor by almost £3,000 a year.

By contrast, public investment in the average OECD country is nearly 50 per cent higher than in the UK.

All England’s biggest cities outside London have productivity levels below the national average. In 2019, the income per person in the richest local authority – Kensington and Chelsea – was over four times that of the poorest – Nottingham.

Higher productivity comes from investment and training.

However, almost a third of young people in Britain are not undertaking any education by age 18 – compared to just one in five in France and Germany.

Our region has been failed by successive governments since 2010.

Instead of planned investment in infrastructure, re-skilling and developing capability, we have been ignored by a London-centric ruling class.

It distracts from this reality by filling the news with the manufactured crisis of small boats full of desperate people arriving on the south coast.

Here in the North, we are more concerned with the cost of living, the number of families sliding into poverty, and how a cash-starved NHS will cope with yet another winter.

We are long overdue for a change of direction, a new government and fresh thinking.

Dr Peter Williams, Malton.

Urgent problems

I FIND it extraordinary that the Prime Minister and three Home Secretaries are obsessed about sending immigrants to Rwanda at any cost when they themselves are of immigrant stock.

Surely there are more urgent problems to be dealing with?

Meanwhile the good ship UK is floundering in a sea of despair.

Energy companies are ripping customers off, water companies polluting our rivers, a health service in critical care, we have a failing education system, more food banks than commercial banks – the list is endless.

The Government seems oblivious to the predicament we are in.

What I find even more disturbing is the leader of the Opposition extolling the virtues of a former Tory PM who decimated British industry and sold out to foreign investors.

Maybe we should send all our MPs to Rwanda.

Edwin Pickering, Darlington.

Thatcher’s legacy

PRAISE for Margaret Thatcher from both sides of Parliament proves British politics is in real trouble.

At a time when we so desperately need a strong opposition to this Tory government, we’ve none. Instead Rishi Sunak and Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer fall over themselves to whitewash the evil legacy of a politician who effectively destroyed much of Britain’s manufacturing base and the jobs that went with it.

Tory mythology would have us believe she took on and beat the miners.

In fact by the end of her premiership, British manufacturing jobs dropped from 7.1m to 4.5m.

In the North East alone, one million went down the pan.

In 1979, just before her election, one in 20 working adults were unemployed. By 1984 it was one in eight.

Remember recent Conservative criticism of the disabled?

It was Thatcher’s government who dressed up the unemployment stats by moving people to long-term disability benefits, a move denounced by former Tory Chancellor, George Osborne as ‘’quick fix politics of the worst kind’’.

She also pushed an additional two million pensioners into poverty. Child poverty rose too.

When Labour left office in 1979, 12 per cent of UK people lived in poverty; in itself a shocking figure. After 11 years of Thatcherism this figure had risen to 17 per cent.

Of course she put rocket boosters under the wealth of the rich, a trend followed by all governments since Thatcher.

Yet “trickle-down economics”, shown time and again to be utter nonsense, is self-evidently just a convenient theory to justify enrichment of the powerful elite.

Thatcher’s legacy is brutal de-industrialisation, the domination of the economy by City of London financiers and market triumphalism.

We need a change of direction and a turn away from this apparent new Thatcherite consensus but what hope is there when both main parties cling to the same, discredited solutions?

C Walker, Darlington.

Border control

BEFORE discussing “illegal” small boat migrants one should acknowledge that the tough rhetoric over them is a smoke-screen for the very much higher number of legal migrants.

The government could comfortably offer a reduction in number of visas issued of ten for every illegal arrival here.

Instead, the two main parties offer joke solutions for the boat problem, hoping to kick the can down the road.

We see a sharp division of opinion not only within the Conservative Party but in the country as a whole.

If this precludes any effective action to block the migrants, ought it not also to exclude compulsory collective assistance to migrants?

There are many who experience the humanitarian imperative, but they further claim the right to impose this obligation upon the rest of us.

They won’t use the Border Force against migrants, but they will set the Inland Revenue on us.

The laissez-faire ethic allowing migrants to come should make their support once here a matter for individual sentiment and charity.

Let the benevolent take responsibility for migrants and for anyone consequentially displaced from work or suffering depressed wages.

Any increase in poverty in the UK is much to be regretted.

But it is unavoidable if we give way to the nonsensical suggestion that lack of an effective border can be reconciled with having very different levels of social safety net on either side of it.

John Riseley, Harrogate.

Immigration policy

THE nastiness of the Conservative Government knows no limits.

Having learned the hard way that leaving the EU did not reduce immigration – numbers have tripled since Brexit – the Tories now want to create a country where only the rich can fall in love with whoever they choose. Ministers spout endless nonsense about “stopping the boats” when less than seven per cent of immigrants arrive on illegal crossings.

They waste £290m pretending that they can export people to Rwanda. Where next? North Korea perhaps?

And the hypocrites who created this mess? The Prime Minister is of Indian descent. Suella Braverman’s parents come from India and Mauritius.

Boris Johnson has Turkish, French and German ancestors.

James Cleverly’s mum is from Sierra Leone.

Nigel Farage’s ex-wife is German, his children are half-German, and Farage is a Huguenot name. And so it goes on.

If we stop people coming to work in the UK, how will our already struggling NHS (eight million awaiting treatment), care homes, businesses and agriculture function?

Farage admitted that Brexit is a failure. When will someone in government have the courage to do the same and bring an end to these pathetic attempts to hide the truth from themselves?

Christian Vassie, York.

Help for pets

PDSA is appealing for support so that we can continue to help keep people and pets together this Christmas. Our charity provides free and low cost vet care for owners who are struggling to afford the treatment costs for their sick and injured pets.

The cost of living crisis is hitting hard meaning many people are struggling.

Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of the owners we help have used a food bank for them or their family over the last 12 months.

With basic essentials such as food unaffordable for so many, our vital, life-saving services are needed now more than ever.

In December 2022 our dedicated teams treated more than 53,000 pets, and performed over 2,300 operations. In fact, we treat ten pets every minute.

But in the last 12 months there has been an estimated 1.6 per cent increase in people receiving benefits, meaning many more people are now eligible for our charitable veterinary services.

This equates to an additional 83,000 people who may turn to us, desperate for help in their time of need.

Our pets give us so much unconditional love and companionship, but without our help thousands of people could suffer a devastating loss because they can’t afford vital treatment for their pet.

We don’t receive any government funding, relying entirely on generous public support to keep our 48 pet hospitals open.

Please donate today and together we can help save pets’ lives this Christmas. See pdsa.org.uk/together-this-winter.

Nina Downing, PDSA vet nurse.

Here for you

CHRISTMAS can be challenging for many of us, but for families experiencing dying, death or bereavement it can often feel impossible.

Marie Curie is here for anyone with an illness they’re likely to die from, and those close to them.

Our free support line and webchat is open over the festive season, including Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, offering practical and emotional support on everything from symptom management and day-to-day care to financial information and bereavement support.

Please contact Marie Curie for free on 0800 090 2309. Alternatively, visit mariecurie.org.uk/support to chat online.

Matt Williams, Marie Curie associate director, information and support.

Christmas list

THE best present off Santa this year for me would be the potholes being filled in on the road outside our house, a really good present for me and my neighbours would be a complete resurface of the road. Thank you, Santa!

GO Wright, Sadberge.