Wednesday, 30 March 2011

No res(b)ite for Leeds loan sharks

A successful initiative to rid the city of loan sharks is to be extended for an extra four years.

At today’s meeting of Leeds City Council’s executive board members agreed to extend existing arrangements with Birmingham City Council to continue the hugely successful Illegal Money Lending Project, which has been in place since 2008.

A partnership between West Yorkshire Trading Standards and Birmingham Trading Standards has been in operation since 2008, to investigate and tackle illegal money lenders operating across West Yorkshire. This nationally funded ‘Loan Sharks’ enforcement team investigates complaints about illegal money lending and takes enforcement action, at no cost to Leeds City Council.

To enable Leeds to continue in the national scheme using the Birmingham Loan Shark Team, the executive board has agreed to extend the delegation to Birmingham City Council to enable it’s officers to carry out investigations and instigate legal proceedings on Leeds’ behalf. This partnership will now continue for at least another four years, until March 2015.

Councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council and executive member responsible for corporate governance, said:
“This partnership has already proved to be very successful but there are still unscrupulous money lenders out there, who need to be stopped.

“Loan sharks prey on the most vulnerable members of society and place whole communities under their control and influence. By extending this agreement we can ensure these sharks will have no place to hide in our city now and for the coming years.”
The team, operated by Birmingham’s Trading Standards Service, has uncovered loan sharks who have terrorised whole communities, charging extortionate amounts of interest on loans given, adding indiscriminate charges to the loan when they feel like it and using violence to collect the money.

Since the scheme began the seven Illegal Money Lending Teams in operation across the country have:
• Identified over 1,700 illegal money lenders;
• Arrested over 500 illegal money lenders;
• Written off over £37 million worth of illegal debts;
• Secured over 182 prosecutions, resulting in prison sentencing totalling over 107 years plus one indefinite sentence for public protection;
• Helped over 16,000 victims of loan sharks including the most hard to reach individuals;
• Investigated over £20 million worth of assets under proceeds of crime legislation, with the intention of removing these from illegal money lenders;
• and referred over 600 victims to legal sources of financial support.

All money lenders, operating as consumer credit businesses, must obtain a consumer credit licence from the Office of Fair Trading before engaging in the activity of money lending. Any loans made without a consumer credit licence in force and without the correct paperwork issued are unenforceable in law. This means that illegal money lenders use intimidation through peer pressure and violence to collect the debts.

Some examples of the problem include: loan sharks adding indiscriminate charges that the debt was increasing even though payments were being made, victims being forced into crime by the loan shark to pay off the debt, victims being forced to perform sexual acts to reduce the loan and victims of the loan shark having to provide alibis for the loan shark.

ENDS
For media enquiries, please contact:
Emma Whittell, Leeds City Council press office, on (0113) 2474713
Email: emma.whittell@leeds.gov.uk

Secretary of State discusses the future of Leeds’ public transport

The Secretary of State for Transport has been given a guided tour of Leeds as part of the city’s efforts to secure funding for a new public transport network

Philip Hammond MP met with senior city officials and a cross party group of local politicians to discuss the future of public transport in Leeds and to be shown some of the proposed routes for the NGT (New Generation Transport) system.

Earlier today (Wednesday), Mr Hammond was shown the A65 bus priority scheme and then taken to the proposed A660 NGT route section. He was joined by representatives of the three main political parties in the city as well as officers from Leeds City Council and Metro before sitting down to discuss the issue.

NGT is a proposed new public transport initiative designed to provide frequent bus services into the city from park and ride sites on the outskirts of Leeds.

Councillor Richard Lewis, executive board member responsible for public transport in Leeds, said:
“Together with Metro, the council is working hard to make the NGT system an attractive and viable public transport network. The NGT’s ability to tackle congestion and reduce the city’s carbon footprint will help speed Leeds’ recovery from recession and boost its economy. The ability to move quickly and easily across the city is essential and the NGT will enhance the region’s ability to compete on the national and international stage.”

Councillor Bill Hyde, deputising for the leader of the Conservative group, added:
“I am sure that Mr Hammond left Leeds under no illusion of how important NGT is to the city. We made very clear there would be many benefits for Leeds if the scheme goes ahead and I hope the meeting will have a positive influence on the final decision.”

Tom Riordan, chief executive of Leeds City Council, said:
“Our meeting with Philip Hammond was a valuable opportunity to press the urgency of delivering the NGT and to highlight some of the proposed routes and benefits to the city. He was faced with a determined group of people who are working hard to ensure the scheme is as viable as possible and we will build on his visit to ensure the best possible case for government funding is put forward.”

The NGT scheme is currently subject to the government's review process and, in line with Department for Transport guidance, Metro and Leeds City Council will submit a ‘Best and Final Funding Offer’ later this year setting out how cost savings could be made on the scheme.

Proposed links to the city centre include from north Leeds to Holt Park, through Headingley along the A660; from south Leeds through Hunslet; and from east Leeds to St James's Hospital. The proposals include exclusive lanes and roads and special equipment to give NGT vehicles priority at traffic lights and junctions; fully accessible vehicles that are comfortable and better for the environment; high quality stops with real-time information; and large park and ride sites.

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact:
Jon Crampton, Leeds City Council press office, 0113 3951577
Email: jon.crampton@leeds.gov.uk