Tagged: Chancellor George Osborne

£250m: What Durham council must cut by 2019

The North-East’s biggest council expects to have to cut its spending by more than quarter of a billion pounds by 2019, it announced today (Tuesday, January 6).

Financial experts at Durham County Council have been frantically crunching the numbers since Chancellor George Osborne delivered his Autumn Statement and the Government announced its local government funding settlement for 2015-16 in December.

While the budget reductions announced by the Chancellor were widely predicted, the extension of austerity means by 2019 central government grants to Durham will have fallen by 60 per cent since 2011 and the cuts total will have topped £250m.

The Labour-led council also had to cut £18m following the Coalition’s emergency budget in late 2010.

Previously, council leader Simon Henig claimed another Tory-led government would mean “the end of local council services as we recognise them”.

Today (Tuesday, January 6), he said the authority was “largely on track” to deliver the required savings, but added: “There is no doubt that facing these continued cuts we will no longer be able to protect frontline services.”

The council is expected to cut £16.2m and spend £10m of its reserves in the year from April and the budget will be top of the agenda when the cabinet meets in Durham Town Hall next Wednesday (January 11).

A council tax hike of two per cent, the biggest allowed without a local referendum, is expected in the 2015-16 budget, which will be finally agreed in February.

The council’s opposition groups are expected to announce alternative proposals shortly.

Northern town halls are furious that poorer areas are being hit hardest by austerity.

While December’s funding settlement saw councils lose an average 1.8 per cent of their spending power across the country, Durham was down 2.7 per cent, Newcastle by 4.9 per cent and Middlesbrough by 5.6 per cent.

In contrast, Surrey’s spending power grew by 3.1 per cent. North Yorkshire will gain 1.1 per cent.

Durham expects to have cut £136.9m from its spending by April, leaving £88.5m-worth of savings still to find by 2018.

Local government minister Kris Hopkins said the Coalition had been vindicated, because councils were still delivering good quality services with a reduced amount of money.

> There’s Tory thinking for you… and if you continue to cope, they’ll cut funding further because obviously you don’t need it.

If you don’t cope, they’ll cut funding anyway, because you’re in the North and don’t vote Tory, unlike Surrey and North Yorkshire.

Source – Durham Times,  06 Jan 2015

Twice as many jobs lost in North East than forecast and more to come

Almost twice as many public sector jobs have been lost across the North-East under the Government’s cuts than originally forecast, claims the TUC.

And the union organisation is warning of more to come, with councils facing further cuts in the new financial year.

It was revealed last week that Hartlepool Borough Council is to get £8.3million less in the financial year 2015/16 than in the previous 12 months.

The TUC says analysis of the latest figures show there are 59,000 fewer public sector jobs in the North-East than when the coalition came to power in 2010 – almost twice the figure originally predicted when Chancellor George Osborne outlined the planned cuts immediately after the election.

The TUC says Office of National Statistics data reveals the region’s public sector has contracted by an average 1,157 public sector jobs per month since June 2010.

And with more than seven months’ data still to be collected before the end of this parliament, the Northern TUC is predicting the loss of at least 8,000 more public sector jobs in the region.

Northern TUC policy and campaigns officer Neil Foster said:

“The loss of 59,000 jobs from the public sector has been terrible news for services in the region and for the individuals affected. But it has also harmed our region’s recovery and contributed a deterioration of the quality of jobs.

“The cuts have been even deeper here than many expected because the coalition has made bigger reductions to funding for councils in poorer areas in the north than to more affluent parts of southern England. The North-East continues to have the highest unemployment in the UK and double the rate of the South East of England.

“Only a small proportion of private sector jobs created have been full-time, secure or well paid, which is one of the reason why income tax receipts have fallen this last year.

“Women make up two thirds of public sector workers, and so it is not a surprise that the number of women out of work in the North-East has risen by a quarter in the last two years as more and more redundancies have been made. Rather than appreciate the failure of taking such an extreme and damaging path, the Chancellor announced earlier this month that he wants to see even more cuts in the future, which would be devastating for us here.”

Source –  Hartlepool Mail,  29 Dec 2014

MP warns Teesside ‘pacer’ trains could be replaced with ageing London Underground trains

A Teesside MP has warned that the Government’s Transport Ministry may look to replace Northern Rail’s Pacer trains with equally ageing former London Underground trains.

Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Tom Blenkinsop, has joined in calls for improvements on routes served by the trains, which go no faster than 60mph on Northern and Trans-Pennine Express routes.

Easington MP Grahame Morris has called for a firm commitment from the Government on replacing the “outdated, uncomfortable and cramped” trains after Chancellor George Osborne said the re-franchising of the East Coast mainline next year would include “a substantial package of upgrades including new services and modern trains”.

Now Mr Blenkinsop, who uses the trains which operate from Middlesbrough and Darlington to Nunthorpe and Saltburn, said:

“The influential railway industry source, the Rail Business Intelligence Bulletin has become aware of a proposal to convert London Underground District Line D78 units – that were already 30-years-old and being decommissioned by London Underground – into diesel engine carriage sets for use on North of England commuter lines like the ones in my constituency.”

Mr Blenkinsop said the only winner if a deal was brokered would be London Mayor Boris Johnson “who will get a Christmas present of some cash for trains he was going to scrap anyway”.

He continued:

“This worries me as a local rail service user, we don’t want to see veteran trains replaced by equally ageing old London Underground trains which will be nothing more than vintage carriages with a diesel engine bolted on to them.

“I have a simple message to coalition transport ministers – just get rid of the Pacers.

“They are an embarrassment to our rail system and the regular commuters who have to be sardined in them on a daily basis.

“Give people on Teesside the longer trains and comfortable carriages enjoyed in the south. Only then will you see passenger numbers really increase on local routes instead of today’s steady decay.”

Source –  Middlesbrough Evening Gazette,  16 Dec 2014

Autumn Statement: Greens Slam Osborne’s ‘Ideological Commitment To Austerity’

The Young Greens have heavily criticised the government’s “ideological commitment to austerity”, following Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement.

George Osborne renewed the government’s commitment to control welfare spending by “freezing Universal Credit work allowances for a further year, cutting tax credits when overpayments are certain, and ending unemployment benefits for migrants with no prospect of work.”

The Chancellor also reiterated David Cameron’s pledge to freeze working-age benefits for 2 years, if the Tories win a majority in the next general election.

Georgia Elander, of the Young Greens’ National Committee, said:

“It’s clear that austerity isn’t working for anyone. The government borrowing forecast for this year has been raised from almost £87bn to £91.3bn, and Danny Alexander has attributed this to falling tax receipts due to people being in lower-paid jobs.

“Meanwhile, young people across the country are struggling to get by on low wages and zero-hour contracts, seeing their benefits stripped away, and being forced into workfare in order to claim any welfare at all.

“This isn’t good for the economy, young people, or the rest of the country. George Osborne’s dogged insistence on pursuing the spending cuts and deficit reduction policies of the last five years, despite their clear failure, illustrates this government’s dangerous ideological commitment to austerity.

“Osborne’s continued refusal, too, to raise taxes on the wealthiest in society shows once again that this government operates for the benefit not of the many but of the wealthy few.”

She added:

The Green Party would implement a wealth tax on the top 1% and a financial transaction tax, to make sure that it is the richest individuals and corporations and not the poorest who contribute the most to funding vital public services.”

The Young Greens say austerity measures are also having a wider impact on young people’s mental health, with low wages, unemployment and welfare cuts leading to an increase in stress, depression and suicide.

They welcomed the government’s pledge to invest £150 million in tackling mental health problems, particularly for children who suffer from self harm and eating disorders, but added:

“Mental health provision in this country is grossly underfunded, and while this funding pledge is a step in the right direction, much more needs to be done.

“We need to improve access to mental health services, and work to remove the stigma around mental health, so that children and young people with depression and other mental health problems can be diagnosed and treated before they resort to self-injury.”

What about child poverty?

Responding to today’s Autumn Statement, Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said:

It’s striking that the only giveaway for children was for families who can afford to fly them abroad on holiday. For millions more children, today’s Autumn Statement is about staying the course for poverty rather than prosperity.

“The Chancellor once again failed to mention child poverty – it’s now two years since an Autumn Statement or a Budget mentioned child poverty, despite the Government’s binding legal obligation to reduce it and IFS projections warning that the Government is on course to rapidly increase, not reduce, child poverty.

“By cutting Universal Credit once again, the Chancellor is in very real danger of torpedoing Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship policy. Freezing the work allowance will harm work incentives and hit low paid families hard. Two thirds of poor children live in working families; we should be redistributing help towards them, not away from them.”

Britain needs a pay rise

Responding to the Autumn Statement, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“The living standards crisis has wrecked the Chancellor’s strategy.

“He has failed his deficit reduction pledge as low-paid Britain is paying much less tax than expected. And businesses won’t find the customers they need if consumers do not have money in their pockets.

“Nothing in today’s Autumn Statement will give Britain a pay rise, and Conservative plans to effectively outlaw strikes will help make Britain permanently low-paid. Wrapping up last year’s infrastructure presents and giving them to us again will not give the economy the extra boost it now needs.

“Today should have seen policies for growth, but the Chancellor has boxed himself in with a rigid and artificial deficit reduction timetable. If he continues in office that will mean eye-watering spending cuts straight after the election. These would knock the recovery sideways, deter investment and lead to great damage to our social fabric.

“The way to heal the public finances is to build a strong growing economy in which successful companies and well-paid workers pay fair taxes. Pre-election giveaways today under this Chancellor will lead to even bigger spending cuts now that the global economy looks increasingly fragile.

“This is economic self-harm, threatening a vicious circle of further decline. That would be Groundhog Day all over again – the same mistake that the coalition made in its first two years.”

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  03 Dec 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/autumn-statement-greens-slam-osbornes-ideological-commitment-austerity/



‘Not living in the real world’ – Hartlepool MP Iain Wright slams ‘ridiculous’ pay rise proposals for politicians

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright said any pay rise for MPs would be “ridiculous” and he would strongly vote against any proposal to increase their income.

Mr Wright told the Hartlepool Mail those behind the calls for a 10 per cent rise for MPs are “not living in the real world”.

The comments from the town’s MP come after Chancellor George Osborne insisted a 10 per cent pay hike for MPs is “unacceptable” after the Commons watchdog reiterated its determination to push ahead with the rise.

The Chancellor suggested the move will be blocked after the General Election, stressing that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority’s (Ipsa) position was not “final”.

The comments, in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, came after new Ipsa chief executive Marcial Boo reiterated its commitment to the increase from £67,000 to £74,000.

Mr Wright told the Mail: “This is ridiculous and those calling for it are not living in the real world.

“If it came to a vote, I would strongly be voting against.

He added there is already a disconnection between politicians and the general public and this would only make that worse.

Mr Boo said the economy was recovering and politicians should not be paid a “miserly amount”.

He said: “It is not an easy thing to do. We want to have good people doing the job and they need to be paid fairly.”

> But surly those criteria could – and  should – be applied to any job ? Not forgetting that any other job doesn’t get the wide range of perks that MPs come to expect.

Source – Hartlepool Mail, 09 Sept 2014

Northern Rail evening rail commuters facing ticket price increases of up to 100%

North East rail users face fare hikes of up to 100% after some off-peak fares were axed on Monday.

The price rises affects a number of evening services run by Northern Rail – with a return ticket from Hexham to Newcastle jumping from £3.55 to £7.10.

The increases, which were announced in the summer, came into effect a day after Chancellor George Osborne announced he was knocking 1% off the January 2015 national commuter fare rise for England, meaning regulated fares like season tickets will going up by 2.5% rather than the planned 3.5% next year.

Nevertheless, Northern Rail’s changes have been fiercely criticised by rail unions and campaign groups.

The RMT union is marking the rise by launching a new wave of protests against plans for the new Northern franchise and also for the new franchise for TransPennine Express, which links the region with the North West.

The union says the rises are “a kick in the teeth for the travelling public” and a “taste of what’s around the corner under the new franchises”.

And the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) said the Northern Rail rises would hit part-time and shift workers worst.

Martin Abrams, CBT public transport campaigner, said:

This fare increase threatens to make rail travel unaffordable to tens of thousands of part-time workers.

“Despite Government promises, there are no flexible tickets for the increasing numbers who work part time or anything other than traditional nine-to-five hours.

“Their only option is to pay for individual tickets, which will now be double the price on Northern Rail’s most popular routes.”

Mick Cash, RMT acting general secretary, added:

The axing of off-peak fares is a savage kick in the teeth for people already struggling with the burden of low pay and austerity.”

Northern said the fare changes were being made after the Department for Transport (DfT) asked the company to look at several options to help reduce subsidy as part of its current franchise agreement. It added that it had heavily publicised the fare changes.

Richard Allan, Northern Rail commercial director, said:

“The majority of customers who travel at peak times will be unaffected by these changes but we want to make sure that those who are know about what is happening and what options are available to them.”

Labour MP Mary Creagh, shadow transport secretary, said:

“This is a direct result of the Government’s West Coast franchise fiasco and commuters travelling to Leeds, Manchester, Bradford, Sheffield and Newcastle are paying the price.

“People shouldn’t have to choose between paying more or waiting until after dark to travel.”

However, a DfT spokesman said the changes would help build a “rail network that is better for the passenger and better value for the taxpayer”.

He added:

“Such restrictions are relatively common on other parts of the network, including in the Mersey travel area, and we expect only a minority of passengers to be affected.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  08 Sept 2014

Health care staff protest outside Newcastle hospital over low pay for NHS employees

Frontline nurses and health care assistants gathered in the region this morning to protest against pay conditions.

Scores of NHS staff joined prominent MP Nick Brown outside Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital to show their anger at the Government’s failure to honour a 1% pay rise this year.

After three years of pay freezes and pay restraint, Chancellor George Osborne had said a 1% pay rise across the board was “affordable” from April this year. However, the Government then controversially reneged on this promise.

While some nurses and health care assistants will still get their incremental pay increase, which rewards experience and skills learnt after a length of service, many will not be entitled to the rise.

The Government has insisted it cannot afford a general pay increase without putting frontline jobs at risk.

Glenn Turp, Royal College of Nursing Northern Region regional director, said: “Nurses are working very hard and the number of people at our protest shows how angry our members are.

“It is baffling that the Chancellor said the Government could afford a 1% pay rise across the board and then that was reneged on. It makes no sense.

“What the NHS cannot afford to do is continue a policy of treating hard working and loyal staff with contempt, at a time when morale is at an all time low and trusts around the country struggle to retain and recruit enough nurses to maintain safe staffing levels.

“We see this as being a year long campaign leading up to the general election.”

Nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, paramedics, hospital cleaners and other NHS staff took part in demonstrations throughout the country.

Newcastle East MP Nick Brown said: “The Government’s continuing public sector pay restraint is not fair and not sustainable. It is particularly unfair on nurses and other low paid workers in the NHS.

“I completely support the Royal College of Nursing, hospital staff look after us in our time of need and we must stand up for them. It is important that the public understands just how shabby the Government is in treating key health service workers.”

Staff nurse Grace Onuoha, 53, of Walker, Newcastle, had just finished a night shift for Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust when she attended the protest.

The mum-of-three said: “It is very disappointing that there is not an across the board pay rise as we are working hard and doing a lot yet receiving nothing in return. It feels like we have been given a slap in the face by the Government.

“Morale is extremely low among staff as we are doing more and getting less. My pay is exactly the same as it was in 2009 despite the rise in the cost of living.”

The TUC, representing 14 health unions, said its research showed that health staff in England were “donating” £1.5bn worth of unpaid overtime every year.

Unions said that by 2015/16 NHS staff would have had their pay capped for six years. Pay was frozen in 2011 and 2012, and limited to 1% last year.

Susan Johnson, 47, of Killingworth, a senior sister in critical care at North Tyneside General Hospital, said: “It is frustrating because we work so hard and my concern is that we will put off future generations from joining the profession as nursing staff struggle with unsociable hours and are not very financially rewarded.”

The Department of Health said it was saddened by the health unions’ reaction to reject the pay offer. A spokesperson said: “NHS staff are our greatest asset.

“That’s why at a time of severe funding restraint we have been clear that they should receive at least 1% additional pay this year and next.

“We cannot afford a general pay rise on top of incremental pay increases of up to 6% without risking frontline jobs and safe staffing levels.

“We are disappointed that the unions rejected our offer to discuss any alternative proposals on pay, within an available budget of nearly £1bn.

“However, our door remains open if they wish to reconsider their position.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  05 June 2014

Jobs warning for North East over Scottish independence

A jobs warning has been sounded as the region is told of the risk of Scottish independence.

As Chancellor George Osborne set out why the UK would not let a breakaway Scotland keep the pound, Hexham MP Guy Opperman has warned of the regional impact of a new international border on the doorsteps of Northumberland.

The Conservative MP said: “If keeping the pound would not be possible as part of a formal sterling currency union; if the SNP no longer wishes to join the euro, which one can see; and if there is no prospect of an independent country with border control—my constituents are somewhat concerned that there might be a rerun of Hadrian’s wall—where are we?”

He said the situation in Scotland was clearly of concern to the North East, adding: “I am speaking as an MP whose area has a border that divides Scotland and England—my local businesses, the North East chamber of commerce and the local authorities have all indicated that there would be a negative impact on jobs, growth and the development of our respective economies in Scotland and England were the referendum to go ahead.”

> Would that be the same jobs, growth and development (or lack of) that makes the North East the area with the highest unemployment ?

He told MPs: “I speak as a Brit, a mongrel Englishman, a lover of Scotland and an MP whose constituency borders Scotland. Were there to be Scottish independence, I have no doubt that tourism and trade would continue, but it would be naive not to accept that trade on a cross-border basis would unquestionably be affected.

“That is not some Conservative Member of Parliamentspeaking; that is the opinion of the chambers of commerce, local authorities and business groups I have spoken to on both sides of the border.”

> All organizations with the welfare of the common man at heart…

In Edinburgh yesterday the Chancellor ruled out a currency union with an independent Scotland after “strong” advice from the Treasury’s leading official, which was published.

Sir Nicholas Macpherson said that unions are “fraught with difficulty” and raised serious concerns about the Scottish Government’s commitment to making it work. Scotland’s banking sector is too big in relation to national income, the UK could end up bailing the country out.

> Perhaps the North East (and Cumbria, for that matter) should apply to become part of an independent Scotland. Until relatively recently the border was pretty fluid, the old kingdom of Northumbria took in chunks of both, and Hadrian’s Wall is nowadays a long way from the current border (although, of course, neither England or Scotland existed when it was built).

But who do we have more in common with – Scotland or the London city state ?

Source – Newcastle Journal  14 Feb 2014

Increase minimum wage to win in North, Tory candidate tells Osborne

> Sure sign that there’s an election just over the horizon – out they come, offering bribes like the sleazy fixers they are…

A former Tory candidate in the North East is leading calls for the party to increase the minimum wage – to give it a chance of winning seats in Labour heartlands.

The campaign urging Chancellor George Osborne to increase the minimum wage has been launched by Renewal, a campaign group dedicated to broadening the appeal of the Conservative Party and giving it a chance of winning seats in regions such as the North East where the party has very few MPs.

Mr Osborne yesterday hinted that a rise from the current £6.31 an hour to £7 was indeed in the offing.

Renewal director David Skelton finished a distant second when he stood for the Labourstronghold of North Durham in the 2010 general election.

Renewal has launched a review called “Renewing Capitalism”, which will look at new ways to create a competitive economic environment in which the consumer and the low-paid are protected, competition is cherished and anti-competitive, monopolistic behaviour is cracked down on.

It will also explore ideas to create wealth in parts of the country that have been struggling to share in prosperity since the 1980s – notably deindustrialised towns in northern England.

> Yeah… might have been better if the Tories hadn’t wrecked the north in the first place perhaps ? Might be good if they weren’t cutting funding left, right & centre.

Renewal is also considering ways of changing the face of the Conservative Party by bringing in more working class MPs, including by introducing bursaries to help people on lower incomes stand for election.

> This is a wind-up, isn’t it ? Its certainly not the Conservative party.

Mr Skelton, who was born and grew up in Consett, County Durham, said:

“The Conservative Party needs to come to terms with the fact that many people, particularly the low paid, don’t think that capitalism is working for them.

“We need to do more to show that capitalism can work for everybody in every part of the country. Being pro-market isn’t the same as being pro-big business.

“Where there are instances of abuse – in either the public or the private sector – Conservatives should come down hard to protect the consumer.”

> I think we know perfectly well what capitalism is likely to do for – and do to – us.

The review could be seen as a response to Labour leader Ed Miliband’s focus on the cost of living and attack on “predatory” capitalism. Labour is arguing that the benefits of economic recovery are not being shared by most people – and is highlighting the fact workers in the North East on average are paid £1,300 a year less than they were in 2010, once inflation is taken into account.

Some Conservatives argue that putting up the minimum wage, currently £6.31 an hour for over-21s, would help ensure that working people enjoy an increase in their standard of living as the economy improves.

> Yes, but it doesn’t create new jobs, so those in work earn a few more pennies, but the high unemployment continues, and those on benefits will continue to be the scapegoats for a situation they had no hand in.

Speaking recently, Hexham MP Guy Opperman said: “I am a well known exponent of the voluntary living wage and am very keen for an enhancement of the minimum wage now that the economic conditions are beginning to ease.

“There is an ongoing campaign to see if the Chancellor is able to make such a change when we get to the Budget in March.”

Recommendations about minimum wage rate are made by the Low Pay Commission, an independent body set up by the Government.

Mr Osborne has said he will not increase the minimum wage if it will lead to job losses but there is speculation he could announce a simultaneous cut in taxes paid by employers such as National Insurance, allowing them to pay staff more while staying in profit.

> The cut in NI contributions makes sense in the light of current policy, which seems intent on making it impossible for anyone to actually claim benefits anyway.

Source – Newcastle Journal, 17 Jan 2014