Tagged: Brandon Lewis.

Tenant evictions reach six-year high amid rising rents and benefit cuts

The number of tenants evicted from their homes is at a six-year high, according to new figures, as rising rents and cuts to benefits make tenancies increasingly unaffordable.

County court bailiffs in England and Wales evicted more than 11,000 families in the first three months of 2015, an increase of 8% on the same period last year and 51% higher than five years ago.

The increase in the number of tenants losing their homes means 2015 is on course to break last year’s record levels. Nearly 42,000 families were evicted from rental accommodation in 2014, the highest number since records began in 2000.

Rental prices have soared in many UK cities but wages failing to keep pace with rising costs and caps to benefits have left many poorer tenants unable to make payments.

Separate figures also published on Thursday showed almost 59,000 households have had their benefits capped in the past two years. Nearly half of those families were in London, where the the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom home is £2,216.

Housing charities said the figures were a glaring reminder that many tenants were struggling to maintain a roof over their heads, and they called on the new government to do more to tackle a housing crisis in the UK.

The latest repossession statistics, published by the Ministry of Justice, reveal the highest number of evictions in a single quarter since 2009, when comparable records began, with nearly 126 families forced out every day.

Between January and March, 11,307 tenants and their families were evicted by bailiffs, compared with a figure of 10,380 between October and December last year, and 10,482 in the first quarter of 2014.

The record figure comes as the number of landlord repossession claims – the first step of the legal process leading to an eviction – also rose. Claims were up 10% on the last quarter, but at 42,226 they remained below a six-year high of 47,208 in the first quarter of 2014.

Claims by both private and social landlords were up, the figures showed, although most of the rise was explained by claims by the latter. Social landlords were behind nearly five times as many attempts to recover properties than private landlords, the figures showed. These landlords are typically housing associations providing homes at lower rents than the market rate, often to tenants who receive housing benefit.

In the first three months of the year, 64% of possession claims were made by social landlords. These 27,204 court actions came alongside 5,551 made by private landlords and 9,741 accelerated claims, which could have been by either social or private landlords.

In May 2014, when the threat of evictions reached its highest level for a decade, the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations across England, told the Guardian the bedroom tax was causing problems for social landlords. The policy cuts the amount of housing benefit paid to social housing tenants whose homes are deemed too large for their requirements. Benefit sanctions were also thought to be causing problems.

But many housing associations, particularly in London and the south-east, have turned out tenants as they have sought to redevelop generations-old estates to take advantage of the big rise in property values. This has in turn led to an increase in the number of grassroots campaigns to oppose evictions, such as the Focus E15 mothers.

In one case of eviction resistance last week, activists from Housing Action Southwarkand Lambeth in London answered a call from a 14-year-old girl to successfully resist her family’s eviction from a flat in an estate that Southwark council had marked for demolition. Elsewhere in the capital, shorthold tenants in Brixton’s Loughborough Park estate, owned by the Guinness Partnership housing association, have defied eviction orders by occupying their flats.

The MoJ figures came on the same day as the Department for Work and Pensions revealed that 58,690 households across the UK had their benefits capped to a maximum of £26,000 a year since April 2013. Londoners were the worst affected, with 26,636 families facing a cut in benefits over the period to February 2015, followed by 5,953 in the rest of the south-east.

DWP proposals to meet the Conservatives’ pledge to cut £12bn from the welfare budget, in documents leaked to the Guardian last week, included barring under-25s from claiming housing benefit, increasing the bedroom tax on certain categories of tenants, limiting welfare payments by family size and freezing welfare benefits at current levels.

Responding to the eviction statistics, Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said:

“Today’s figures are a glaring reminder that sky-high housing costs and welfare cuts are leaving thousands of people battling to keep a roof over their heads.

“Every day at Shelter we see the devastating impact of a housing market at boiling point, with the cost of renting so high that many families are living in fear that just one thing like losing their job or becoming ill could leave them with the bailiffs knocking at the door.

“The new government must make sure people aren’t left to fall through the cracks and hurtling towards homelessness by preserving, if not strengthening, the frayed housing safety net to protect ordinary families desperately struggling to make ends meet.”

Betsy Dillner, director of the campaign group Generation Rent, said:

“These record eviction figures and signs that they are accelerating are a stark reminder of the housing crisis that the government must urgently start taking seriously now they’re back in power.

“Whether it’s an inability to pay expensive rents or a landlord’s desire to take back their property, the fact that more than 40,000 families were forced out of their homes last year is a symptom of the government’s failure to create a sustainable housing market.”

The housing minister, Brandon Lewis, defended the government’s performance, pointing out that mortgage repossessions had fallen drastically, keeping owner-occupiers in their “hard-earned homes”.

He said:

“Mortgage repossessions continue to fall at 56% lower than this time last year, and the lowest annual figure since the series began in 1987. Meanwhile, numbers of county court mortgage possession claims continue to fall to the lowest quarterly number since records began. This is thanks to our work to tackle the deficit and keep interest rates low, helping more families to stay in their hard earned homes.

“There are strong protections in place to guard families against the threat of homelessness. We increased spending to prevent homelessness, with over £500m made available to help the most vulnerable in society and ensure we don’t return to the bad old days when homelessness in England was nearly double what it is today.”

Source – The Guardian,  14 May 2015

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Easington MP warns empty County Durham homes blight former mining communities

Some of the run down and boarded up houses in the Horden area
Some of the run down and boarded up houses in the Horden area

Nearly 200 homes in east Durham communities have been left empty and boarded up – encouraging crime and damaging the quality of life for their neighbours, an MP has warned.

Easington MP Grahame Morris urged ministers to intervene as he warned that large numbers of homes in Horden and Blackhall, in his constituency, had been allowed to fall into disrepair.

Speaking in the House of Commons, he said social housing provider Accent had allowed properties to fall into disrepair through lack of investment and by failing to vet new tenants properly.

 

Mr Morris also warned that changes to housing benefit had meant properties went empty, because they had two bedrooms but were occupied by single people – who had become liable for the bedroom tax.

He won a promise from Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis to look into the problems faced by the villages.

The minister also said he would ask the Homes and Communities Agency, the official body which regulates social housing providers, to meet Mr Morris to discuss his concerns.

Leading the debate, Mr Morris said the villages’ problems followed the closure of Horden colliery in 1987, which among other things led to a decline in the local population over time.

 

Accent managed 361 properties in Horden and Blackhall, Mr Morris said. But 130 of its 220 homes in Horden were currently empty, as well as 30 of the 141 properties in Blackhall.

He warned: “The problem is that, as properties become empty, Accent no longer seeks to let them as homes. Instead, vacant properties are being boarded up, which are an eyesore and a drain on the community.

“It is clear, from walking around the area, that properties have gradually fallen into a state of disrepair and now require substantial work.”

 

Proposals to improve the homes had been scrapped following the introduction of the bedroom tax, he said, because the only way to ensure the homes were occupied had been to rent them to single people, and this was no longer possible.

But Mr Morris said that local residents complained Accent had not taken good care of its housing stock for many years before the bedroom tax was introduced.

He said: “It seems to have total disregard for the community in terms of vetting potential tenants.

“The residents’ groups, who have worked closely with the local authority and the police, have been out litter picking, clearing up fly-tipping and identifying problems to report to the local authority. However, the residents say that their efforts to clean and improve the area have been undermined.”

The result had been crime, antisocial behaviour, fly-tipping and rat infestations in the empty homes.

 

The MP urged the minister to ensure the Government invested in the village to improve the housing stock, to replace high-density colliery housing with more modern housing.

One option could be an approach known as “homesteading”, in which homes are sold at a substantial discount to buyers who then spend money to improve the properties, he said.

However, Mr Morris said some public funding would be needed. He told the minister: “I understand that we are in a time of austerity, but if there is a political will, we can overcome any barriers on finance.”

Mr Lewis said:

“He painted a sobering picture of a town struggling with empty homes and the damaging impact that that can have on the wider community. Horden is in one of the most beautiful corners of the country. I appreciate that, having visited the north-east in the past few weeks.”

He added:

“We need to see beautiful places such as Horden thriving, but we must also ensure that we fix the broken market so that they can deliver on that.”

Claire Stone, Accent’s director of communities and assets, said:

“We have worked really hard to find the best possible solution for these homes and have had a dedicated project team in place with Durham County Council and the Homes and Communities Agency to explore all the options. We had hoped that other social landlords with stock in the area would take them on, but unfortunately this has not proved possible. We have therefore reluctantly decided to dispose of the properties as they fall empty. We will continue to work closely with residents and local representatives to ensure that they are fully supported throughout this process.

“As a responsible social landlord, we need to ensure that our stock is fit for the future. We are under an obligation to secure the best possible value for money for all of our residents into the future and our robust asset management strategy has identified that these properties are not sustainable for us as a social landlord.”

Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Feb 2015

Almost A MILLION Working Families Skipping Meals To Pay The Rent

Almost a MILLION working parents are being forced to skip meals so that they can afford to pay the rent or mortgage, shocking new figures reveal.

A survey by YouGov, on behalf of the housing charity Shelter, has revealed that more than one in ten working families are going hungry to pay housing costs, while over a third admit they have cut back on buying food.

Shelter surveyed 10,000 parents and found that 10.5% had been forced to skip meals, which is equivalent to 880,000 if they had asked every single working family in the UK.

36.7% said they had cut back on how much they spend on food and 12.9% had put off buying shoes for their children. 9.7% said they had delayed purchasing school uniforms.

Government figures show that households spend, on average, 28% of their total income on housing costs. This rises to 40% in the private rental sector.

Shelter highlights the story of Katherine and her husband who both have full-time jobs but still struggle to pay their mortgage. “My husband and I don’t have breakfast because we can’t afford it, and we miss evening meals two or three times a month to help with the mortgage”, Katherine said.

She added: “We’ve really had to cut back on the basics, and I even had to send our daughter to school in an old uniform that I knew was too small; it made me feel horrible. We are already at breaking point, so I honestly don’t know what we’d do if our financial situation got worse; it really frightens me.”

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said:

“No parent should be forced to choose between putting food on the table and paying for the roof over their children’s heads. These shocking figures show that millions of us are having to make these kind of agonising choices every day.

“Sky-high housing costs and cuts to support are leaving many families trapped on a financial knife-edge.”

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves said: “This report provides shocking new evidence of how the Tories’ cost of living crisis is hitting hard-working families.

“While David Cameron says the economy is fixed, people who put in the hours to provide for their children are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet.”

The number of calls Shelter receives related to rent arrears has more than doubled in the last three years, and the majority of people regarded as living in poverty in the UK are in work.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

Housing costs have left some families standing on a financial cliff edge. Working households that have already cut back on spending to get by could find themselves in the red if interest rates go up.

“Citizens Advice research shows 3 in 5 households are worried about the impact of rising bills this year, with over half forced to cut spending to balance the books.

“The competing pressures of sky-high childcare bills, rising energy costs and wages which are consistently below inflation, mean many people are struggling to pay for the roof over their head.

“Citizens Advice dealt with nearly 87,000 social housing rent arrears problems last year, up 10 per cent from 2012.

“It is welcome news that more people are in work, putting more households in a position to get on top of their bills. However, with record numbers of people becoming self-employed and increased numbers of jobs with uncertain hours, families face increasing instability in their income.

“An interest rate rise would put some in a more precarious position, so any rise needs to be slow and steady in order for families to manage the extra cost.”

According to the latest figures, there has been a 19% rise in cases of malnutrition in the UK over the past twelve months. Food prices have risen by 12% in seven years, while average wages have only increased by 7.6% over the same period.

Tory Housing Minister Brandon Lewis said: “Contrary to Shelter’s claims, repossessions are actually at their lowest since 2007 and down almost a third since last year.

“Our efforts to tackle the record deficit we inherited have helped keep interest rates at a record low, meaning home ownership is at its most affordable since 2007 while private rent levels are falling in real terms.”

Source – Welfare News Service,  28 Aug 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/almost-million-working-families-skipping-meals-pay-rent/

‘Challenging’ times ahead as Hartlepool Council faces more huge budget cuts

Hartlepool Borough Council is facing huge budget cuts of around £14m over the next two financial years due to reduced Government funding.

 The funding gap facing the local authority was laid bare at a meeting of the council’s finance and policy committee.

While exact details on where the axe will fall are still being worked on, finance chiefs at the authority know they will need to bridge a funding deficit of £5.626m in 2015-16 and £8.663m in 2016-17.

A finance report said the council’s senior corporate management team has identified initial options for achieving savings worth £5.536m for the next financial year but details are yet to be announced.

Councillors have been warned they are faced with making even tougher decisions than in previous years given the level of savings they need to achieve.

Chris Little, council’s chief finance officer, said: “The savings options have been identified against a background of delivering significant cuts over the last four years, which makes the achievement of further savings to balance the 2015-16 budget extremely challenging.

“It therefore needs to be recognised that the initial savings options will require members to make even more difficult decision than in previous years.

“It will be essential that members make these decisions as early as possible to ensure detailed savings can be implemented before the start of the new financial year.”

It is proposed 2015-16 budget decisions will be made before Christmas, with decisions around council tax being made early next year before full council agrees the budget.

Mr Little said whatever happens in next years General Election, he believed there would still be cuts to public spending in future years.

The latest budget forecasts follow on from severe budget cuts in recent years and in February this year, councillors unanimously agreed savage budget cuts of more than £4m resulting in the loss of 60 council jobs. It did though include a council tax freeze for hard-up residents for the fourth successive year.

A council report to the meeting added: “The continuation of significant grant cuts means that in 2015/16 the council’s grant will £30.578m lower than it was in 2010-11, which is a cumulative cut of 39 per cent.”

This comes as a new national report revealed local authorities in England will need to make huge savings before next April, equivalent to 12.5 per cent of their total budgets.

Councils face a funding gap of £5.8bn between now and the end of 2015-16, analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) found, adding the deficit will be caused by a combination of reduced government funding and rising demand on services, in particular from growing numbers of elderly people.

LGA chairman Sir Merrick Cockell said: “In recent years, local government has worked tirelessly to save billions while protecting services for those who need them most.

“But the scale of the challenge facing local authorities next year is stark. Council finances are on a knife-edge and the old way of doing things – including the way we care for our elderly population – just won’t work any more.”

Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis said: “The LGA’s doom-laden and alarmist claims lack credibility. Councils are balancing their books each year and, as the LGA’s own research shows, the public now thinks they are delivering better services than before.”

Source – Hartlepool Mail, 01 July 2014

South Shields MP’s queries ‘batted off’ by minister

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck says a Government minister gave her the cold shoulder during a Parliamentary debate she had secured on the future of struggling high streets.

 She put Brandon Lewis, under-secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, on the spot during the debate, which made particular reference to the economic downturn’s impact on the King Street shopping thoroughfare in her own constituency.

The MP had made a fact-finding visit to the street to talk to traders before the Parliamentary debate and raised concerns at the high levels of business rates being charged.

In his response, Mr Lewis praised the “great work” being done to revive high streets nationwide and highlighted the ‘South Shields 365’ masterplan, saying that if high streets were to survive they needed to be “more than simply places to shop”.

Mr Lewis said: “Many local councils are committed to the regeneration of their town centres and to longer-term programmes, such as the £100 million plan, South Shields 365, which aims to regenerate the area. The plan includes a new central library and digital media centre; improvements to the market square and the public realm; new integrated transport, retail, leisure and cinema facilities. If high streets are to remain at the heart of our communities, they need to be more than simply places to shop.”

But during a heated debate, the minister refused on three occasions to allow Mrs Lewell-Buck to interject with questions.

Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “On three or four occasions I asked the minister to give way because he was saying things that were simply not correct, but he refused to do so. The minister batted off criticisms and blamed everyone else for the Government’s failures.

“He made reference to local authorities now being able to discount business rates by 100 per cent. But the Local Government Association clearly states that most councils can’t use those powers because they are costly and bureaucratic.

“He also made reference to lifting planning restrictions to allow flexibility on our high streets, but that has merely allowed an increase in businesses such as pawnbrokers and taken away control from local councils.”

Mrs Lewell-Buck said she would be attempting to raise her concerns again at Department of Communities and Local Governments’ questions in Parliament on Monday.

Source –  Shields Gazette,  28 June 2014

‘Cut rates to help our struggling shops’ says South Shields MP

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck has called on the Government to cut business rates to give South Shields’ struggling shops a chance to survive.

 The plight of her constituency’s beleaguered shopping centre was raised in Parliament last night in an adjournment debate with High Street minister Brandon Lewis.

The move came amid concern for the retail viability of the town centre, following the recent departure of such big-name outlets as Marks & Spencer and Mothercare.

To prepare for the debate, Mrs Lewell-Buck paid a fact-finding visit to King Street to find out what the main concerns of traders are.

She said that the clear message was an alarming decline in both income and customer numbers in the last two years – and the high cost of business rates.

She said: “Shops in King Street have reported that footfall is down in the last two or three years, at the same time as incomes are being squeezed and families have less money to spend.”

Last night, Ms Lewell-Buck called on the minister to take more action to cut business rates.

One in 10 businesses now spends more on business rates than rent. Rates have risen by an average of £1,500 under the coalition.

“The Government also delayed the revaluation of business rates, which many firms have said means business owners in smaller towns are paying unfairly high levels compared to those in London and the South East.

“The Government relaxed planning rules in a way that has made it easier for betting shops and payday lenders to cluster on high streets, giving shoppers less incentive to visit.”

‘Trade is at its worst for 20 years’

Emma Lewell-Buck’s intervention has been welcomed by the traders she visited, including Lesley-Annz ladies’ fashion shop in the Market Place and Premier Furnishings and Carpets in King Street.

 Michael Blake, owner of Premier Furnishings, has revealed he pays a whopping £600 a week in rates – twice as much as he pays in rent.

And in the last four years he has seen profits fall from up to £12,000 a week to between £700 to £2,000 a week.

He said: “I do appreciate the fact that she made the effort to come and see us and I hope this achieves something.

“We’re really suffering at the hands of competition from internet shopping, and parking is also a big issue.

“I have people in here who say after 10 minutes that they have to dash – because their car is on a meter. Shoppers can’t relax.”

Lesley Dawson, owner of Lesley-Annz fashions, said: “Just take a look around. It is shocking. There’s no shops. There’s nothing.

“I have been in the trade 20 years and this is the worst I have known it.

“We have lost so much footfall since Wouldhave House and Franchis cafe were demolished. We know there’s a new library to be built on the site, but that’s two years away. That’s a long time.”

Source – Shields Gazette, 27 June 2014

Hexham MP accuses Northumberland County Council of being “undemocratic” for cancelling meeting

A Northumberland MP has asked a Government minister to investigate the legality of a council’s decision to cancel a meeting where a protest was planned.

Hexham Conservative Guy Opperman has asked Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis to look into Northumberland County Council’s cancellation of the full meeting planned for July 2.

The move angered parents who had planned to campaign outside at the meeting over the council’s recent decision to bring back transport charges for students in post-16 education.

The Labour-run council, however, has defended the decision, and said a Tory request for an extraordinary meeting in place of the cancelled date will have to be granted.

The authority scrapped the meeting, citing a lack of business, and claiming the move would save £18,000.

Tory opponents accused the administration of seeking to avoid public criticism and tabled a request to have an extraordinary meeting, which eleven councillors signed.

Liberal Democrats have also criticised the move with Berwick parliamentary candidate Julie Pörksen vowing to take it up with her party’s ministers.

Mr Opperman has now written to Mr Lewis, saying: “I have been truly shocked by the county council’s attempts to shut down debate and scrutiny of their actions.

“The amount of important decisions the council is taking of late is huge.

“To suggest there is insufficient business to be discussed is at best a head-in-the-sand mentality and at worst it is downright undemocratic.

“It can not be right the council’s administration can hide away in this manner and I would ask you to investigate the legitimacy of what the Labour administration is trying to do.”

Council leader Grant Davey hit back, saying: “There is nothing unusual or illegal about cancelling unnecessary meetings.

“We will not have meetings for the sake of meetings. We have completed the work we need to finish before the summer.

“There has been plenty of time for scrutiny and challenge.

“I am genuinely surprised that cancelling a meeting is being described as illegal. All experienced councillors will know that meetings are routinely cancelled where there is no business to be done.”

On the Tory request for an extraordinary meeting, he said: “Arranging meetings with the sole purpose of creating opportunities for haranguing and maligning the legitimate actions of an elected body does nothing to build the reputation of the council as a responsible body taking difficult decisions.”

Yet he conceded the criteria to hold one had been met: “Where five councillors or more demand that a meeting takes place, we will have to hold one.”

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  20 June 2014

Government blames Tyne & Wear fire service for front-line cuts

A Government minister has blamed the Tyne and Wear fire service for making front-line cuts.

Service chiefs want to close the Sunderland Central station and merge crews at Gosforth and Wallsend to cover an £8.8m drop in government funding.

But fire minister Brandon Lewis implied the fire service should save money by using a government training college almost 240 miles away.

He said: “This body has had a cut of a couple of per cent in spending power for each of the past couple of years and has built up its reserves. It has been able to spend that on extra training facilities when the Government already have a training facility.”

He said it was up to Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority to manage its own funds based on “local risk” and suggested digging into its £30m reserve to cover the cost. But the service hit back, saying his comments “do not fully reflect the picture” and that spending its reserves would create a financial “cliff edge” as faced by the US government last year.

Chief fire officer Tom Capeling said: “The authority is not spending reserves on extra training facilities. Our training centre was opened 18 years ago and we continue to send some officers to the south for specialist training.

“If reserves were used to meet the projected gap then over £16.8m would be required over the next three years. This would create a cliff edge that would need to be addressed in the year after.

“We would either be living in hope that ‘something would turn up’ in the meantime – imprudent and unlikely given the comments made about further cuts in future – or we would need to lose a lot of staff very quickly, as opposed to the measured and managed approach we are proposing to take.”

He said it would cost too much money to send all 866 of its firefighters for regular training in Gloucestershire and would keep them away from duty for too long.

The service expects to lose £12.9m by April 2017 and claims it is “disproportionately” hurt by the cuts because its council tax takings are lower.

Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah, who had asked Mr Lewis about the closure of Gosfirth Fire Station, said: “I don’t see how a fire service can lose almost a quarter of its funding without impacting front line services.

“Mr Lewis’s response was wholly inadequate and took no responsibility for the risks his policies pose, whilst trying to distract us with comments on training.”

But Dave Turner, of the Fire Brigades Union, said fire chiefs’ chosen plan was “nonsensical” and that their £30m reserve “could and should be used.”

He said: “Any comment from the government that put all the onus on local authorities is disingenuous at best, but the fire authority shouldn’t be making these cuts.”

Source – Newcastle Journal,  07 March 2014

Government hands over just £143,000 extra to North East councils after cuts crisis talks

Months of pressuring the Government to think again on council spending cuts worth more than £210m a year have seen ministers hand out just £143,000 extra for the North East.

Across the region councils have being setting out where the axe will fall, with the next three years likely to see the cuts total rising to more than £800m.

But after months of high level delegations taking part in desperate Whitehall lobbying missions, the coalition Government has increased the budget available to the region’s councils and fire brigade by an average of just £20,000 each.

The total amount for the region’s seven councils and Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service increased from £1,081,128 to £1,081,271, a rise of just 0.013%.

The final spending handout for 2014/15 will mean there is no way for councils to drop plans to axe Sure Start centres, make hundreds of redundancies or force up parking charges.

And plans to close down three fire stations will certainly go ahead after the Government announced the final funding settlement for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue will see an increase of just £4,000, despite pleas for extra cash.

The North East has been lobbying against the perceived “unfairness” of the cuts since the coalition began axing budgets in 2010. Those efforts stepped up a gear in the last few months after yet more spending reductions for local government were announced in the autumn.

Included in the lobbying effort was work by the Association of North East Councils, which met with local government minister Brandon Lewis to put the case for a fairer funding settlement.

The extra £143,000 handed over as a result is considerably less than the money handed over each year by the region’s seven local authorities to the Association of North East Councils, with Northumberland alone having handed over more than £98,000 this financial year.

Last night former Newcastle Council leader Lord Beecham said it was clear the coalition was not interested in fairly funding local government in the North.

The peer said: “The Government has completely failed to redress the grossly unfair distribution of grant which hits Newcastle and other less-well off areas and benefits the more affluent.

“The extra we receive in the final settlement amounts to less than 25p per household per year and means that there is no protection from the tidal wave of cuts to services which the Government has launched.”

And Northumberland’s Labour council leader Grant Davey said: “It’s disappointing that, yet again, the coalition have failed to listen to Northumberland and have shaved a minute £18,000 from cuts to services worth £32.5m this year.

“Many would say such a derisory figure is an insult to the residents of the county but it shows how little David Cameron and Nick Clegg think of the North East.

“It’s time our coalition MPs started to stand up for their county rather than sit quiet as Cameron and Clegg ravish the services their constituents rely on.”

Northumberland County Council is the only one in the region to put up council tax next year, rising by 1.99%, the maximum allowed without putting the increase to a local referendum.

The Government has pointed to a grant to freeze council tax in most other areas as one way in which many households will benefit from its funding settlement.

Announcing the final settlement, Mr Lewis said: “This settlement marks the second year of local business rates retention and we have again tried to be fair to all parts of the country whether north, south, rural or urban.

“Given the local flexibilities and freedoms that we have put in place, local councils should now work to support local enterprise, building more homes and backing local jobs, so that they can then invest the rewards of growth in local services and in lower taxes.”

Source – Newcastle Journal  17 Feb 2014

Government Ministers Accused Of Waging War On North East

Ministers have been accused of declaring “war” on the North East as MPs and council leaders gathered at Westminster to plan their fight-back against funding cuts.

> Well it’s taken them long enough ! Have they only just noticed what’s been going on under their noses ?

The region’s Labour politicians warned the debate about funding and grants obscured the real impact of cuts, which was worse public services and the prospect of councils running out of money.

Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland Council, said families in the North East would receive poorer police and fire services than those in wealthier parts of the country.

And the region’s politicians accused the Government of quietly scrapping the long-accepted convention that funding was allocated in part on the basis of need – so areas with higher levels of poverty, a higher proportion of older folk a low skills base or other pressing needs were given the cash they needed.

The change means a council like Newcastle is facing budget cuts while those in much wealthier areas are enjoying increases in funding.

The warnings were issued as council leaders delivered a presentation to MPs in a Commons committee room at Westminster, following a meeting with Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis.

> And they all said: “Bugger me, we had no idea this was going on. When did this start, then ?”

GatesheadMP Ian Mearns told the gathering: “There is a war being fought against our communities and it is being inflicted on us in the most ruthless fashion I can remember in my 30 years in politics.”

North Durham MP Kevan Jones added: “This is a war. They know exactly what they are doing. They are diverting money from our areas to areas in the south.”

A presentation produced by the Association of North East Councils (ANEC) warned that cuts in council budgets in the North East amounted to £467 for every household between 2010 and 2016 – compared to just £105 in the South East.

The discrepancy is partly a result of the Government abandoning the principle of funding based on “need”, which traditionally meant some councils received more than others.

A higher proportion of the North East’s population is elderly than the national average. The region also has more adults who need social care and long-term unemployment, as well as more children in care, all of which would traditionally have meant councils received higher funding.

But ANEC estimates that by 2019-20, Newcastle City Council’s spending power per household will be equal to the money available to a council in a wealthy areas such as Wokingham, in Berkshire.

Meanwhile, Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell, has revealed that a poll of her constituents shows that more than 90% of respondents expect their standard of living to get worse or stay the same over the next three years.

The survey on her website found that 79% of respondents were concerned by energy bills, 56% by food prices and 39% with the cost of transport.

> So now our Labour representives finally seem to have caught on to what’s going down. Question is, what are they going to actually do about it ?

Source – Newcastle Journal, 16 Jan 2014