County councillors in Northumberland have been accused of “undesirable” behaviour by their peers and of not putting the best interests of residents first.
Some members of Labour-run Northumberland County Council also admit to having “no interest” in the authority and are “distracted by negativity,” a report by officers and members of other local authorities has found.
The report claims the behaviour of some members is “not providing a sufficiently grown up atmosphere” in which to operate and calls on them to behave in a more “statesman-like” fashion.
> Bloody hell ! Anyone who has ever heard what goes on at Westminster will be now wondering just how bad things must be here !
On the back of the findings, the council’s senior officer said it referred to a number of “misleading claims” which damaged the authority’s reputation such as that its planned new headquarters will cost £40m and that a £20,000 car bought for use by its chairman is a Limousine.
An opposition councillor at the authority accused leaders of issuing outrageous and demonstrably untrue statements and intemperate blog posts.
They hit back saying their critic appeared “hell bent” on proving the report’s findings right.
The conduct of members comes under fire in a Local Government Association ‘peer challenge’ of the authority, in which it is visited and assessed by the council by senior officers and councillors from other local authorities around the country.
“There are concerns that not all elected members from all political groups appear to put the best interests of Northumberland residents first, either in their interactions with other elected members, or how they engage with the council more broadly.
“Put bluntly, there are some undesirable member behaviours which are detrimental to the council operating effectively, having a negative effect on its external reputation and internal functioning.
“Increasing tensions and increased media opportunities are to a degree somewhat inevitable as politicians become focused on the 2015 general election, but councillors need to remember that they are the external face of Northumberland County Council and campaigns in the media can be detrimental to everyone and the council’s reputation.
“There are also some concerns about how members interact with officers and with each other.”
The report adds:
“Political negativity from some elected members is not providing a sufficiently grown up atmosphere conducive to trust and neither is it in the best interests of local residents.
“Some members openly declare that they have no interest in ‘the council’ although they are members of the council…
“The behaviours of some members need to improve, and a disproportionate amount of time seems to be spent in attacking the council, resulting in officers then having to deal with the fall-out, rather than developing or influencing policies for the greater good. “Opportunities to build relationships and build trust need to be explored, so that members and officers can focus on the big issues ahead, rather than being distracted by negativity, which is draining for everyone.”
The peer challenge recommends the authority “work harder to help all elected members to understand their roles in representing the council and being more statesman-like, irrespective of seniority or political persuasion.”
Responding to the findings, council lead executive director Steve Mason said:
“The comments made refer to misleading claims which damage the reputation and standing of the county council.
“For example current claims that the proposed new civic headquarters in Ashington will cost £40million (current estimates around £20million), publicity over a £20,000 car claimed to be a limousine which will save the council money and the level of debate, and on occasion the personal nature of such debate, surrounding the post 16 transport review.
“And while it is only natural there will sometimes be differences of opinion between members, this area of improvement highlighted by the team is already in our proposed action plan and the existing code of conduct and Nolan principles will be an early discussion topic for the next group leaders’ meeting.”
Conservative David Bawn said:
“Sometimes senior members of the administration need to be careful to be seen to act in a statesmanlike manner, this isn’t helped by some of the outrageous and demonstrably untrue statements that have emanated from the leader’s office to the local press on periodic occasions and some of the intemperate posts made on behalf on his blog.”
Leader Grant Davey hit back:
“It seems local Conservatives are hell bent on proving the findings of this independent report led by the leader of Conservative controlled Wiltshire County Council right.
“Their response to a report which highlighted how well the council was progressing and how staff were rising to the challenges of a very challenging cuts agenda was to attack the leader of the council and council staff.
“It’s neither constructive nor is it what residents expect from their elected members and I do hope they sit down and study the report properly and reflect on their ill advised comments especially the comments about ‘damaging political behaviour.’”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 26 Jan 2015
Poloticians with “plumby” accents are squeezing out working class MPs from Parliament, a leading North councillor has warned.
George Dunning, leader of Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, said “career politicians” with “silver tongues” are being parachuted in ahead of real people in the corridors of power.
Coun Dunning, who worked in the Teesside steel industry for more than 30 years, said he was recently interviewed by a Labour panel of councillors who struggled to understand what he was saying.
“I don’t talk with plumbs in my mouth because I was born and raised as part of a working-class Teesside family,” he said.
“The Labour panel said I tended to raise my voice during debate and this made me difficult to understand.
“Obviously these people didn’t know I spent 30 years or more working in steel and 10 of those with no hearing protection.
“What annoys a lot of us, is, although we are a diminishing breed in steel, chemical and manufacturing, we are still around and we should have adequate representation in Parliament.
“I think it’s a kick in the teeth when members of your own political party struggle to understand why you talk the way you do.
“We’re working people with working-class backgrounds.
“Let’s see more real people in Parliament and not just the increasing breed of career politicians.”
The Teesside council leader is not alone in raising the issue of accent.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery, who was born and raised in Ashington, accused Parliament of being hostile to working-class northerners.
He said: “We’ve got an elite in Westminster which, quite frankly, frightens me.
“They haven’t been anywhere or done anything, and when you’ve got an accent like mine, they think ‘Well, that man doesn’t know too much.”
> Mind you, you know what they say about the Ashington accent…
A woman goes into a hairdressers in Ashington and says “give me a perm.”
“Ok“, replies the hairdresser, “I wandered lonely as a cloud…”
His Labour colleague, Pat Glass, who represents North West Durham, last year gave her take on the culture within Westminster.
“If they spot a northern accent they start shouting about it to put you off,” she said.
Coun Dunning backed Mr Lavery’s words and credited the Northumberland MP as one of the few “real” working-class politicians in the Houses of Parliament.
“Ian Lavery’s comments hit where it hurts,” said Coun Dunning. “That being the elite class of MPs at Westminster feeling Ian’s blunt words. Then the truth always does, especially when stressing the lack of real people in Parliament.”
Source – Sunday Sun, 11 Jan 2015
During the heyday of coal-mining, Ashington in Northumberland was considered the “world’s largest coal-mining village.”
The town had a working pit and was part of a corner of the county where the industry thrived with sites also at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Blyth and Ellington.
However, by the end of the 1980s, things had changed.
By 1967 Newbiggin Colliery had closed and – with Margaret Thatcher in power – in 1986 Bates Colliery at Blyth was shut down with Ashington following suit two years later.
Men were left out of work with 64,000 jobs lost across Britain as Thatcher’s government went to war wth the miners.
Today, the former Ashington mine is the home of a business park with a large pond at its centre.
It looks pleasant enough.
But has the restoration of the site seen the revitalisation of the town, and Northumberland’s former coalfields as a whole?
The local MP – who is a former president of the National Union of Mineworkers, a charity set up to regenerate Britain’s former coalfields in which 5.5 million people live, and academics commissioned by that charity, certainly don’t think so.
30 years on from the 1984/85 miners’ strike which followed the announcement that pits were to close, The Coalfields Regeneration Trust commissioned Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research to takes stock of social and economic conditions in former coalfields.
The report for the charity, set up to “champion coalfield communities, generate resources to respond to their needs and deliver programmes that make a positive and lasting difference,” revealed deprivation, ill health and poor employment, with just 50 jobs for every 100 people of working age, 11.7% of people reporting long-term health problems and 14% of adults claiming out-of-work benefits.
Labour MP for Wansbeck, Ian Lavery, whose constituency covers Ashington and Newbiggin, says it is a familiar picture locally.
“The stark thing from the report is that it shows that despite the attention in these former coalfields towns and villages up and down the country, there is still huge problems in terms of the high unemployment, the high youth employment, the low wage economy.
“Sadly the North has got the highest level of unemployment. We have got associated problems.
“Lack of business opportunities, and there is wide scale child poverty in the towns and villages which is something we should not be looking at in this day and age.
“Some of my wards in my constituency child poverty is 40 per cent.”
Mr Lavery, who has lived and worked in a mining community all his life, has called on the powers-that-be to address what he has deemed a lack of investment in the former coalfields over the years.
“There is a whole number of problems arising from that report, that local authorities and the government need to take a look into that report and make sure more investment is made.
“I believe the North East has been left behind. We have not had the resources aimed at other industries.
“I would call on the government to scrutinise what has happened in the North East. Where it has went wrong and make a pledge to put it right.
“We are a cash rich nation, to have children in poverty is a political choice. Money is being spent on different projects.
“My simple project would be to eradicate child poverty.
“We can not have kids can not go to school because they have not got enough food in their bellies.
“It is absolutely unacceptable for that level of poverty in areas in any region.
“What needs to be done is there needs to be more investment in the coalfield communities, there needs to be more job opportunities, more business investments, better skills and knowledge and more job creation.
“If we get that with decent terms and conditions, the rest will follow in line.
“The government need to look at how best to assist the North East region, to eradicate the problems which are clearly identified in this report.”
He felt Northumberland County Council is doing its best to help, given its limited financial clout.
“I think the county council the last couple of years, they are doing their damnedest.
“They have tried to put a lot of things in place.
“They are absolutely cash strapped because of the cuts to local government. They have not got the finance they once had.
“A lot of the service Wansbeck (District Council) provided are not being provided any more.”
Since 2011, the trust has created and safeguarded 911 jobs and secured full or part-time employment for a further 2,921 people living within the coalfields communities throughout England.
Since it was established 15 years ago, programmes delivered by the trust have benefited hundreds of thousands of people in the British coalfields, including helping more than 21,000 people into work and over 187,000 to gain qualifications and new skills.
Chairman of the charity Peter McNestry said:
“We welcome Ian’s support and absolutely agree that additional finances are required if we are to make a difference in these areas.
“We have come a long way in the last 15 years but the recession had a disproportionate effect on the people living and working in the coalfields meaning they continue to need our support, guidance and funding.”
“The coalfields simply want the opportunity to get back on their feet. An entire industry ceased to exist, which employed directly and indirectly most of the people living within these areas. We cannot just turn our backs and walk away. “These towns and villages could thrive and make a positive contribution to the country if we give them the chance.”
The government said its investment in the trust is proof of its support for former coalfields, with over £200m given to the body over the last 15 years, and money ploughed into the areas from other sources.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Long term economic planning has helped to secure a better future and deliver much needed growth.
“We have given over £220 million to support to the Coalfields Regeneration Trust since 1999.
“They have been moving to a self-financing model and the trust now has a strong portfolio of investment and an opportunity to concentrate on the areas where they really add value.
“Regeneration is essential to building a strong and balanced economy, which is why we have given extensive support to many of these areas with the £1.4billion Regional Growth Fund, Local Enterprise Partnerships and City Deals.”
The county council said it is working to improve the former coalfield areas, drawing in investment from elsewhere in addition to spending money of its own.
The authority said its top priority, along with the hoped for dualling of the A1 North of Morpeth, is to secure around £65m to re-open the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne rail line to passenger services.
Furthermore, the council is leading the project for a new £30m South East Northumberland Link Road.
In addition, Arch, the authority’s county development company, is leading creation of a ten year investment plan for Ashington.
This could see a potential £74m ploughed into the town and bring 1,000 high-quality jobs.
Arch is also leading the delivery of a new £20m leisure and community facility at Ashington while the council is proposing to move its headquarters from Morpeth to the town.
The authority furthermore cited its support for the opening of a new £120m Akzo Nobel factory at Ashington.
It also highlighted the new £8m Blyth Workspace building being led by Arch, the first part of the town’s Enterprise Zone.
The council has furthermore secured £600,000 for preparatory work on the former power station site at East Sleekburn which could host 500 new jobs.
The authority also highlighted the £1m being invested at Lynemouth by the Big Lottery Fund and its setting up of a poverty issues task and finish group.
Coun Dave Ledger, deputy leader of the county council, said: “The council is putting former coalfield communities at the heart of our future plans for growth as part of creating a balanced economy across the county.
“I believe there is real cause for optimism in the former coalfields and increasingly we can look to a future that is not defined by but always remembers and celebrates the legacy of our industrial heritage.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 17 Nov 2014
It was refreshing to hear someone born outside of the region have a good word to say about Ashington.
And Matthew Engel had more than a good word in fact. He admires the people who live there and what they represent.
Engel, a writer for the Guardian newspaper for 25 years, some time editor of the ‘cricket bible’ Wisden and now a columnist for the Financial Times, visited the Northumberland town while researching his latest book.
Called Engel’s England, he spent three years re-visiting the old counties which disappeared off the map of Britain as a result of the Local Government Act.
Drawn up by Ted Heath’s Tory Government in 1972, it was implemented by Harold Wilson’s Labour on, appropriately I would guess in Engel’s mind, April 1 – April Fool’s Day – 1974.
“It was a shambles,” he said. “Politicians are interested in political boundaries, people are not. We don’t care about local government and local government gets worse and worse.
“It caused a huge loss of local identity but there are still things left, things to celebrate that really have an identity, places like Ashington.
“What a tremendous place. Of course it has its problems but it has a tremendous richness of associative life.”
Associative life means a clearly identified way of life, from recognisable pass-times like growing leeks and racing whippets, something that hasn’t been lost despite the decimation of the coal mines in the area, he said.
> Is that associative life or is it a cliche ? Most people, even in Ashington, probably never grew leeks or raced whippets.
And in any case, Ashington is still in Northumberland, same as it ever was. It never disappeared or changed name.
“It is a place with its own accent, it’s own traditions, which are very, very strong,” said Engel.
In the book he explained how counties were formed historically and how they developed along locally defined lines which threw up their own idiosyncrasies.
There were the counties palatine, including Durham, which were directly under the control of a local princeling.
Then there were counties corporate and boroughs that were regarded as self governing and fell under the control of the local Lord Lieutenant for military purposes. Yorkshire, readers may well remember, was divided into three ridings.
As a result counties developed their own laws, dialects, customs, farming methods and building styles.
“They formed the tapestry of the nation,” Engel says. “The very distinctions show just how important the county was in the lives of the people.
“Real places with real differences inspiring real loyalties.”
The Local Government Act of 1888 brought democracy to the shires by establishing county councils but, according to Engel, the integrity of the counties were respected.
Not so The Local Government Act of 1972 which binned centuries of local identity to see, for example, Teesside renamed as Cleveland and Tyneside becoming Tyne and Wear.
> Ahem – Tyneside and Wearside ! And in any case, I don’t think it was such a bad idea.
Cumberland – which had been around since the 12th century – became part of Cumbria, a name that Engel shudders with distaste at. “Always say Cumberland,” said Engel.
Yarm had formed part of the Stokesley Rural District in what was then the ‘North Riding’ of Yorkshire and remained so until 1974 – when it became part of the district of Stockton-on-Tees in the new non-metropolitan county of Cleveland.
Cleveland – like Tyne and Wear – was abolished in 1996 under the Banham Review, with Stockton-on-Tees becoming a unitary authority.
In May a poll inspired by the Yarm for Yorkshire group saw locals vote emphatically “Yes” to the idea of transferring Yarm from Stockton to Hambleton Council in North Yorkshire.
Last month Stockton Borough Council rejected calls to refer the matter to the boundary commission into it, but the debate rumbles on.
To add to the horror of Teessiders who pine for a return to Yorkshire was this bit of research from Engel after a talk with a dialect expert from Leeds University.
> Presumably that’s Teessiders on the south bank of the river. Those on the north bank were in County Durham.
“He told me Middlesbrough accents have actually changed in the years since 1974. In those 40 years the Middlesbrough accent has become more North East and less Yorkshire.”
Engel describes his work as a “travel book” – “I think I’m the first travel writer who went straight from Choral Evensong at Durham Cathedral to the dog track.”
He added: “The historic counties need to return to the map, the media and our envelopes, so future generations can understand where they live.
“Only then will the English regain their spirit the way the Scots have done. This is not about local government – it is about our heritage and our future.”
* Engel’s England, is published by Profile Books at £20 on October 23, 2014.
> Sounds like another “intellectual” telling people what they should be doing.
People know where they live, future generations will too. Names and boundaries have always changed and will continue to do so.
Matthew Engel, incidentally, was born in Northampton and lives in Herefordshire. If he actually had some connection with the North East I might take him a bit more seriously.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Chronicle, 19 Oct 2014
A Northumberland MP has issued a renewed call for the county to be governed by separate urban and rural authorities in the ongoing row over the future of its civic base.
Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman has revived a debate which raged prior to the creation of a single unitary authority for Northumberland in 2009 in the continuing dispute over county council plans to move its base and decentralise services.
Yet Labour leaders on the council have accused him of an “attempt to divide the county for purely party political ends” and of being “prepared to turn down hundreds of jobs and decentralised services for his constituency.”
The county was once governed by Northumberland County Council alongside six district councils.
A referendum in 2004 saw residents voting for two unitary authorities for the county, along a rural urban split, rather than one.
Labour leaders at the county council then submitted a proposal for a single unitary authority.
However, the districts favoured the creation of two authorities, one for the urban areas of Wansbeck and Blyth Valley and one for the rural centres of Alnwick, Berwick, Tynedale and Castle Morpeth.
Yet the government in July 2007 chose the single authority option.
Mr Opperman has now proposed a public debate on the creation of two authorities for the rural and urban areas, amid his opposition to the county council’s plans to move its base from County Hall at Morpeth to Ashington and to create nine service hubs around Northumberland.
The MP suggested a new unitary authority covering the Hexham and Berwick parliamentary constituencies could take over services now provided by the county council.
He questioned why Ashington should benefit from a new £40m council base, a £20m sports centre and a £74m overhaul of the town centre, while his constituency is “losing out.”
> Possibly because Hexham is a much richer town than Ashington, which has a lot of catching up to do. Anyone who has visited both towns will know what I mean.
Mr Opperman furthermore claimed the recent abolition of free transport for students in post-16 education demonstrated the council’s current leadership “simply don’t have an interest in the issues in rural communities.”
The MP said: “Perhaps now that Labour are wanting dramatic change it is time to consider whether the current county council should be made into two unitary authorities, one urban and one rural.”
He added: “Hexham certainly has a lot more in common with Alnwick than it does with Ashington or Blyth. A rural Northumberland authority covering West and North Northumberland would give people back a council which worked for them, listened to their concerns and didn’t ignore them in favour of the urban South East.”
Responding, a spokesman for the Labour group on the county council said: “This is Guy Opperman’s latest political wheeze. “Last week he was arguing that Scotland and the UK are better together and this week he wants to split Northumberland up.
“Here are the figures, the county population is 47% in the South East, 27% in the West and 26% in the North.
“His half baked proposal would see more than 55% of the government’s grant disappear to the South East and would see the West having to make do with less than 25% of the current grant.
“His figures just don’t add up.
“This is his latest attempt to divide the county for purely party political ends.
“Residents will rightly note that he’s prepared to turn down hundreds of jobs and decentralised services for his constituency and yet he stays silent as his government slashes the county council budget by a third.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 26 Sept 2014
A union official has spoken out about the planned privatisation of a workplace scheme for the disabled.
Ken Stubbs, a branch secretary for the GMB’s Northern region, in Spennymoor, County Durham, is against any privatisation of Remploy which provides jobs for disabled workers.
Plans to sell off Remploy have been announced by Esther McVey, the Conservative Minister for Employment.
The Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) hopes to find a private buyer by March 2015.
Mr Stubbs, who was based at the former Spennymoor Remploy factory, said: “The GMB needs to discuss this.
“The Government probably has someone lined up to take Remploy on.
“I think the Government wants to free up money by removing Remploy in order to raise the funds to run its own Work Programme to get people into jobs.”
> Or, in reality, to continue giving money to Work Programme providers, despite the fact they continually fail to get people into jobs.
Remploy has closed all of its North-East factories which were based in Spennymoor, County Durham, Newcastle, Gateshead, Ashington and Sunderland with the loss of 170 jobs.
The Government hopes that by privatising Remploy it will allow further funding to be invested into the scheme.
However, a DWP spokesman denied the sale was to raise funds for the Work Programme scheme.
Beth Carruthers, Remploy chief executive, said: “The Government’s announcement provides us with an exciting opportunity to expand and grow and support many more disabled people.
“Moving out of the public sector will give us the freedom to raise funding to operate in a much more commercial and competitive way.”
It is hoped that all current employees of Remploy will transfer to any new company which takes it on.
Source – Northern Echo, 26 July 2014
Rail campaigners have called on the Government to give Northern train services a once in a decade chance of investment.
Transport groups have said it is time services such as Northern Rail benefited from the same approach which has handed cash to rail in London and the south east in recent decades.
The Campaign for Better Transport has warned that a Government consultation on the future of Northern Rail and Trans Pennine Express looks set to do little to improve east-west links to and from the North East.
They say the plans as they stand give “only a vague indications of when the outdated 30-year old train diesel Pacer train will finally be replaced,” raising the possibility rail operators will not be forced to make much needed improvements.
In its consultation document on the new franchise the Government makes clear that it will accept limited rolling stick improvements if the cost would mean money diverted from other services.
The Department for Transport document says: “We firmly believe the rolling stock on Northern services needs to be improved so that passengers recognise a step change. But the more expensive the trains (and brand-new trains are likely to be the most expensive option of all), the harder it will be to justify current service levels where demand is low, and to afford to improve services where demand is increasing.”
The Department for Transport also makes clear that new operators would be allowed to cut back on off peak services, including reducing the number of trains calling at less popular stations.
There is some good news for Northumberland, with the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line looking set for a return thanks to Northumberland County Council cash.
But while Ashington-Blyth and Tyne is mentioned, schemes like the Leamside reopening though the south of the region are not and potential operators wouldn’t need to consider them in their bids.
Also causing concern is a clear expectation that the northern services will not attract significant investment.
Campaigners say that the consultation is missing an sign that a new operator will be forced to invest in trains, track and stations. “This is a counterpoint to the investment-heavy approach to growing the railways used in the South East,” the campaign group said.
Stephen Joseph, chief executive at the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “The North East’s railways are at a junction. The Government is talking about trade-offs with the winners potentially getting newer trains and better stations while the losers could end up with higher fares and reduced services. Getting real investment into rail is essential to the region’s economy and we’ll be working with others to campaign for railways in the north to get the kind of support other parts of the country have seen.”
The Government consultation runs until August 18.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 23 June 2014
Scenes from the strikes have been compiled by historians as they take a look back at communities as they took to picket lines.
A DVD, titled The Greatest Struggle, centres on when colliery workers took industrial action between 1984 and the following year in a fight for jobs it says was “one of the most bitter industrial disputes Britain has ever seen”.
Striking miners and families from Easington, Eppleton, Wearmouth, Dawdon and Murton among others feature in the film, with scenes outside the pits, streets of their villages and clashes with police included in the footage.
John Dawson, who is among the team to have put together the DVD, said:
“The year-long strike involved hardship and violence as pit communities from around the UK fought to retain their local collieries – for many the only source of employment.
“With scenes from the North East of England, we witness events with miners and their families from Ellington, Bates, Whittle, Ashington, Dawdon, Wearmouth and Easington Collieries and include many more to see how it was in that year- long strike.
“You never know who you may see in this film. It could be yourself, a family member, friend or a work colleague. As Arthur Scargill said to everyone at a huge rally, ‘When you look back, you’ll look back with pride, and you’ll say to your son or your daughter, in 1984 I took part in the greatest struggle in trade union history.’
“I fought to save your pit, I fought to save the job, I fought to save this community, but in doing so, I preserved my dignity as a human being and as a member of the finest trade union in the world.
“I was part of the strike myself so I know what it was like and it was very hard.”
The film includes footage shot by amateurs and has been put together by the Six Townships history group.
Others it has put together include Easington A Journey Through Time, Colliery Villages of Durham, Durham Miners’ Gala, Sunderland A Sentimental Journey and South Hetton Demolished.
The latest addition to the archive is £4.99 and available to all schools free.
It can be bought via http://www.sixtownships.org.uk
Source – Sunderland Echo, 20 June 2014
Hundreds of people turned out to enjoy the Northumberland Miners’ Picnic on its 150th anniversary.
It took place at Woodhorn Museum, Ashington, and the crowds enjoyed a packed programme of entertainment to mark the special celebration, including Glenn Tilbrook from chart topping band, Squeeze.
Also in the line up were local folk legend Johnny Handle, as well as traditional music and dance, street theatre and entertainers, the Ashington Colliery and Bedlington Youth brass bands, Werca’s Folk, and the Monkseaton Morrismen.
The day started with a memorial service and wreath laying.
Woodhorn’s own comedian-in-residence Seymour Mace added a touch of humour to the day as he, his fellow comedians John Whale and Andy Fury, and staff from the museum who have been working with the project, put their own entertaining twist on a guided visit to the museum.
Extracts from the Pitmen Painters were read out as Woodhorn is the home of the Ashington Group’s main collection of paintings and has a close bond to the story.
Original cast members, Chris Connel and Phillippa Wilson, recreated scenes from Lee Hall’s award-winning play.
The first Picnic was staged at Blyth Links in 1864 and over the years it has moved around the county – from Blyth to Morpeth, Bedlington to Ashington, Newbiggin, Tynemouth and even Newcastle’s Town Moor.
Keith Merrin, Director of Woodhorn, said: “150 years on and this event is still about bringing the whole North East community together, to strengthen bonds and have fun. It’s not just about Ashington, but about the whole region as so many have a link to coal.
“The Picnic is the perfect opportunity to come together to remember and celebrate an industry and the people that helped shape the North East and create the proud communities that exists today.”
This year’s special Picnic has been made possible thanks to Northumberland County Council, Ashington Town Council and the NUM working with Woodhorn to develop a fitting tribute to the event’s history.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 15 June 2014
Youngsters from Tynedale wishing to stay on at school, or go to college, will have to pay £600 per year just to get there from September.
As expected, Northumberland County Council is scrapping free transport for sixth formers and college students, in order to save £2.4m per year.
That means youngsters starting in sixth form will have to pay £600 to travel on the same school bus they have used for free since the age of 9.
But the move has evoked Tory fury, as the opposition at County Hall has accused the ruling Labour group of imposing a tax on teenagers, which could put them off gaining qualifications.
“I cannot believe that Labour are so willing to threaten the life chances of our young people with this teenage tax of theirs,” said Coun. Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland Conservatives.
“This excessive tax on our students and their families will put many off furthering their education at all.”
Coun. Jackson said the intention appeared to be that the only college courses available to Northumberland students were those offered by Northumberland College at Ashington.
Coun. Jackson said: “This is an insult to the young people of this county.
“As we all know, Ashington is a most difficult place to access by public transport, if not impossible from some parts of Northumberland.
“The future prosperity of our county lies in the successful careers of our young people. Yet here we have a Labour-led council making the wrong choice.
“They are happy to protect the interests of a few at the top at the expense of those who live elsewhere.
“They plan to spend millions on a new county hall and a new leisure centre in Ashington, yet are not prepared to give all our young people an equal chance.”
Hexham’s Coun. Cath Homer said the “teenage tax” was a direct attack on local people and their children who are working hard to make ends meet.
She said: “We need to have young people able to access the best course in the best college to help them get the best chance in life.
“The Labour council has now imposed a take it or leave it plan which means only the richest will be able to have choice.
“This sends the wrong message to young people and could put the long term economic prosperity of the county at risk.
“I am very concerned that in years to come our young people will decide if Northumberland doesn’t value them, they will leave.”
The Tories were critical of the fact that the two Independent members of the council from Tynedale – Ovington’s Coun. Paul Kelly and Stocksfield’s Coun. Mrs Anne Dale – failed to back the Tory opposition to the proposal.
They pointed out that the £600 charge for school transport was the highest in the North-East.
County council leader Coun. Grant Davey said: “We do not make any cuts with relish. It is regrettable that we have to make any cuts, but we must balance our budget.
“Where we make cuts we will protect those in greatest need and continue to focus our resources on helping our county to grow. We will always do right by our communities.”
The new scheme will come into effect from September 1, but sixth formers already in the scheme will not be affected.
Special provision will be made to exempt the most vulnerable groups, such as students with special educational needs, or those from low income backgrounds, who attend their nearest appropriate school or college.
The average annual cost to the council of transport per student is currently in the region of £936 a year.
Northumberland is unusual among local authorities in that it still provides free transport for 16-19 year old students.
Durham County Council has already withdrawn its post-16 travel scheme and Cumbria County Council is also withdrawing the subsidy.
The number of Northumberland students claiming free transport has increased from 800 to 3,500 over the past five years, and 40 per cent of students travel to educational establishments outside the county.
Whilst the numbers of students claiming free travel has increased dramatically, the numbers of students from Northumberland attending post-16 education have remained static at around 7,000.
The council is now hoping that the withdrawal of free transport could lead to school sixth forms and colleges in Northumberland extending the range of courses they can offer.
Source – Hexham Courant, 09 June 2014