A local authority is considering raising council tax as it reaches the ‘end of the line’ in cutbacks to office jobs.
The leader of South Tyneside Council, Iain Malcolm, has said he is considering raising council tax for the first time since 2011 after accepting the Government’s freeze deal for four years in a row.
He joins Newcastle City Council in publicly declaring that a council tax rise may be on the horizon if fellow councillors vote for the change in setting their 2015-16 budgets in March.
The Labour leader, said: “I can’t give a guarantee that council tax won’t be increased in the next financial year.
“We are at the end of the line in finding these back office savings. Now we are looking at how we can find these front line services in new innovative ways. We’ve done asset transfers. We will have to have further talks with councils to see who might take the lead in certain areas.”
However he said any potential rise would fall short of 2% – the figure which the Government has said would trigger a referendum with the public.
He said: “We couldn’t afford a referendum and no council has gone for a referendum because you wouldn’t win. No one would vote for that, people would just vote no. I can’t rule out an increase because we are now at that stage.”
> But if they did vote no, surely that’s the will of the people you’re supposed to serve ? Just saying…
So far South Tyneside Council has had to make more than £100m in cutbacks to their budget, and must save a further £22m in the financial year 2015-16.
Councillor Malcolm said it is now time to turn to Holyrood in Scotland for support in gaining a fairer local government finance deal for the North East of England as much as Westminster.
He said: “What opportunities are there by looking northwards for the economy, transport and infrastructure?
“We need to have a conversation with Scotland, not just with Westminster and Whitehall. Whoever wins the election, I would expect them to do a root and branch reform of local government finance. No one really understands the formula and its open to widescale manipulation by ministers to make sure it goes to areas where they want it to go.”
He said previous talks on funding the dualling of the A1 with former Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond had been less than fruitful but that it was important to ensure communications with Scotland are maintained as the country undergoes further devolution.
Source – Shields Gazette, 06 Jan 2015
One week from polling day across the border, Berwick is braced for problems ahead if there is a Yes vote for Scottish independence.
With opinion polls indicating that next Thursday’s referendum is too close to call, the establishment of a separate sovereign state north of Lamberton has suddenly become a realistic prospect.
Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith believes the result “could have profound consequences for Berwick and the Borders.”
But on a visit to the Berwick Advertiser office this week, Ayton-based Scottish government minister Paul Wheelhouse insisted cross-border ties would be largely unaffected by independence.
As media coverage intensifies and the referendum race enters the home straight, international journalists and TV news crews from around the world have been descending on Berwick in droves to gauge opinion in England’s most northerly town.
Business leaders in north Northumberland are waiting and watching with interest. Many of them fear for the future, but most are unwilling to comment publicly about potential problems independence would cause.
Sir Alan Beith, however, repeats Unionists warnings today about currency, border controls and cross-border public services.
“There might be Scottish pounds after independence, but their value would fluctuate below or above that of the English pound,” he writes. “It really would be like changing holiday money, but on an everyday basis.”
He also warns that border checkpoints could not be ruled out if Scotland opts for independence.
“If one of our two nations was in the EU and the other was not, border control would be necessary,” he writes.
“If the UK government had no confidence in the Scottish government’s immigration or security policy, border controls could become necessary.”
Sir Alan also believes cross-border public services would be put at risk.
He states: “It is quite difficult to overcome cross-border bureaucratic obstacles within a single state, but I believe it would be a lot more difficult across a boundary between two sovereign states.”
Mr Wheelhouse, acknowledges that cross-border concerns have been raised by voters on the Scottish side of the border. But the SNP politician, who says he often shops in Berwick, is confident existing arrangements between the Borders and Northumberland would be largely unaffected by independence.
“We have a good story to tell in terms of those relations, and the continuing nature of an open border,” he said.
“Different tax arrangements are common place across Europe in terms of cross-border working and there have been no problems there.”
He also believes an independent Scotland would “hopefully” be able to continue the current relationship between the two health services on either side of the border.
But many members of the public in the Berwick area are unconvinced.
Andrew Martin, 46, from Tweedmouth, fears for Berwick’s economy.
“If Scotland gets its own tax raising powers and decides to set taxes at a lower rate or reduce its own VAT, goods and service would be cheaper just a few miles to the north,” he said.
“Berwick has always been the communication hub for the north of Northumberland and the south east of the Scottish Borders. If things are different on either side of the border it causes a real issue.
“I don’t think the impact on north Northumberland has been properly explored.
“A Yes vote could benefit us on this side of the border. But a No vote and a new devolution plus arrangement could have a real impact.”
So Berwick would benefit from a Yes vote?
“It would really depend whether or not Scotland could raise the funds required to balance the books. If not, tax and VAT would go up. Alex Salmond looks towards Norway, but the have an income tax rate of 50% and a higher rate of VAT.”
Some small businesses in the Borders are understood to have already registered a new address in Northumberland to guard against the prospect of being entangled in red tape in the event of a Yes vote and the potential for economic problems in immediate aftermath.
But on the Northumberland side of the border, most business leaders are simply waiting and watching with interest.
Terence Pardoe is chief executive at Coastal Grains. Based at Belford, the co-operative stores and markets grain for members on both sides of the border.
“We have no view on it until there is a vote one way or another and then have to see what transpires and how it may affect us,” he said.
“If there is a Yes vote, there will have to be a period of re-organisation, and we do not yet know what will be involved in the transfer of centralisation. If there is a No vote, then the assumption is that nothing will change to affect the business.
“It would therefore be a waste of time planning something which we do not know how it will evolve.”
Very few business leaders are prepared to express their fears publicly. Indeed, one of the biggest employers in Berwick told the Advertiser this week that it was company policy not to comment about a “current political event”.
But the Scots who live in Berwick are happy to have their say.
Marion Black, 56, is a Scot who has lived in East Ord for 27 years. She would be undecided if she did have a vote. She also believes the potential implications for Berwick, if Scotland does opt for independence, have been exaggerated.
“I don’t think much would change,” she said. “We’ve had stories like this before. When free personal care for the elderly and free tuition fees were introduced under devolution, people said there would be an influx of people moving from Berwick to Scotland and that house prices would up over the border. But it never happened. The impact won’t be as big as people say.
“In the short to medium term, I don’t think independence would have a big impact.
“I love Berwick and I love living in Berwick. People don’t always move or change their life solely for economic reasons.”
“It’s nice in a way because I’m interested in the debate, but I don’t have the responsibility of making up my mind. My heart says yes, and my head says no. If I did live in Scotland I’d be torn.”
Stephen Hope was born in Edinburgh but now lives and works in Berwick. He is employed by his dad at the Sporran Gift Shop on Church Street, selling Scottish memorabilia to the tourists.
“Independence could be bad for Berwick,” he said. “But it would depend on the strength of the currency Scotland chooses to use. If it is a weak currency, though, the Scots would come over the border to do their shopping, so that might benefit Berwick. it is hard to say. But if I was up there I’d definitely vote No.”
Source – Berwick Advertiser, 13 Sept 2014
Scots are heading to the polls later this month to decide on the possibility of independence.
But one Newcastle man thinks the borders of any new country should be redrawn – south of the Tyne.
Andrew Gray, a member of the Green Party, has launched a petition that he hopes could lead to a referendum which could see Newcastle vote to leave England.
While the eyes of the nation have been on Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling, Mr Gray, who lives in Heaton, believes the independence debate should extend beyond the Scottish borders.
Distance from London, tuition fees, the rising cost of social care and the privatisation of the NHS are among a hat-trick of reasons Mr Gray believes Newcastle should join Scotland.
“Many people in the North East feel distant from our government in Westminster, both economically and politically.
“The Scottish Parliament has proved that different ways of running public services are possible, including an NHS without the internal market, higher education without tuition fees, and, if there’s a yes vote in the referendum, defence without the threat of Trident.
“We therefore call on the UK Government to grant a referendum to all who live north of Hadrian’s Wall, or in Newcastle and North Tyneside council areas.
“We would choose whether to remain in England or to join Scotland.
“We call on the Government to arrange and fund this referendum, and to be bound by the result.”
Dr Alistair Clark, a senior politics lecturer at Newcastle University, said the idea was “interesting” but that Scotland is unlikely to expand.
He said feelings of neglect by Westminster have helped lead to the Scottish independence debate as well as devolved power for Northern Ireland and Wales, and those are shared by the region.
“It’s an interesting idea and obviously there’s a lot of sympathy and shared feeling and a lot of links between Scotland and the North of England.
“The issue that it points to is that the north has not been well-governed from Westminster.”
But he added:
“I do not think anyone has interest in moving the border. I don’t really think Scotland wants to add stacks of territory and I don’t really think England would want to give it up.
“There is no political will behind this and you would need considerable political will to make this move.”
The referendum on Scottish independence is due to take place on September 18.
> Why stop at the north bank of the Tyne ? Extend the Scottish border to the north bank of the Tees !
Source – Newcastle Journal, 01 Sept 2014
Alex Salmond has raised the prospect of Newcastle teaming up with Glasgow and Edinburgh to form an “economic powerhouse” pushing for influence.
The Scottish First Minister told an audience in New York that while he has “no territorial ambitions” on Northumberland or the North East, he does see the sense in teaming up with the region on issues such as High Speed Rail.
Mr Salmond said that plans to build the new railway line from London up to the North showed the bias in the UK, and questioned why the line could not be built from North to South instead, joining up major Northern and Scottish cities along the way.
That transport focus prompted one North East MP to last night call on the First Minister to “put his money where his mouth is” on dualling of the A1 north of Newcastle and through Scotland.
Speaking at an event organised by US paper the Wall Street Journal, Mr Salmond said: “I have no territorial demands but we have encouraged a borderlands initiative, about economic cooperation between the North of England and Scotland.
“The North East and the North West get the hind end of just about everything, the worst deal.
“We have a parliament in Scotland we have our own economic initiatives, that’s not the case for the North of England.
“What sort of initiatives could we have? Well, transport for a start. Fast rail is coming, the greatest misnomer of all time, fast rail in the UK means something that will take 40 years to build.
“But the important point is that it is being built from south to north. It would be a rather interesting concept to see it built from north to south, the advantages there of the combinations of the great city conurbations of Glasgow, Edinburgh and for example Newcastle, which would present an interesting economic powerhouse.
“So cooperation doesn’t depend on territorial ambitions.”
Hexham MP Guy Opperman, a campaigner in the Better Together group, said: “All of us would welcome any action by the Scottish Government to improve transport links from Edinburgh to the North East, whether that is dualling the A1 north of the border or a commitment to High Speed rail from Edinburgh to Newcastle.
“But I would urge Mr Salmond to put his money where his mouth is.”
In Newcastle, council leader Nick Forbes has already met with Alex Salmond in Newcastle to discuss High Speed Rail, alongside visits to Edinburgh and Glasgow councils.
He said: “I strongly believe that the North East needs to be around the table discussing how we get the best deal for the region after the referendum.
“The Borderlands initiative shows we’re working closely with Scotland on a range of issues, and it is interesting to hear how much Scotland values its links with cities like Newcastle. It’s not all just about London.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 12 April 2014
The Scottish National Party has told the North East an independent Scotland would welcome its workers with open arms.
The SNP said the region should see independence as offering an alternative to London’s dominance over the North East, a claim few of the region’s MPs appeared to agree with.
Instead, there were warnings yesterday of border chaos and towns reduced to “currency exchange kiosks” if a yes vote is returned in this year’s referendum.
Phil Wilson (Sedgefield – Blair’s successor) led MPs yesterday in a parliamentary debate on the impact of independence on the region’s economy.
Citing a Journal report from last year in which First Minister Alex Salmond told the North East it had no better friend than Scotland, the Sedgefield MP questioned the reality of that relationship.
He said: “To the SNP’s internal Scottish audience, the English are those from whom the SNP wants independence, but to the North East of England, according to Alex Salmond, we are Scotland’s closest friends.
“Call me old-fashioned, but I would not close the door on my closest friends by asking for independence from the rest of the UK.”
> Scotland is our next door neighbour – a good deal closer than the London city state.
SNP MP Angus MacNeil denied the possibility that a new border would hinder trade.
He told MPs: “The point of the SNP is to put the Scottish people first, rather than power struggles in London, which, unfortunately, is the point of the London parties.
“It is all about who is in government in London, and that is not for the good of the people of Sighthill, Skye or Lewis.
“That is an awful tragedy. It should also be in our interest in Scotland to ensure that the good people of the North East of England are benefiting as much as those in the regions of Scotland.
“I look forward to the day I witness people from the North East of England finding chances of employment in Scotland, rather than having to go far afield to the South East of England.”
> Amen to that !
Berwick Liberal Democrat Sir Alan Beith said the fact was that day-to-day trade would be changed if Scotland broke away from the United Kingdom.
He said: “That activity is not impossible with independence, we should not overstate the case, but it would become more difficult and the likelihood of administrative barriers being erected is that much greater.
“There are a whole series of reasons why anyone living near the border, unless they see their future entirely as a town of currency exchange kiosks and smugglers, would think that we are much better together.”
Also warning against a yes vote was Hexham Conservative Guy Opperman. He told MPs: “The boundary between Scotland and the rest of the UK would, by definition, become an international border between two separate states, with everything that entails.
“The evidence locally in the North East, whether from farming bodies or the North East chamber of commerce, is extensive.
> farming bodies or the North East chamber of commerce… oh yes, very representive of the population at large – and, I suspect, two groups from which Mr Opperman draws his support come election time.
“There is huge concern that this will have an impact on trade, businesses and jobs.
> Bigger than that caused by policies imposed by the London-based ConDem government, unrepresented in the NE except by Mr Opperman ?
The possible problems rising from Scottish independence are conjecture. The problems caused by policies imposed from the London posh boys are REAL.
“I met a number of oil and gas producers, several of whom are building huge sites on the Tyne at the moment. The two biggest construction sites are for construction projects in the North Sea.
“The producers are concerned that, if there were independence, those projects would be affected, and there would be greater difficulties.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 05 Mar 2014