Thousands of Tyneside’s most vulnerable families will go hungry when a voucher support scheme is scrapped because of austerity cuts, leaders have warned.
A scheme which sees supermarket vouchers given to 2000 families in Newcastle to help feed their children over the school holidays has been axed as the Government slash £40m from the city council’s annual budget.
Under Newcastle City Council’s Crisis Support Scheme, families with children aged five and six, who have had their housing benefit reduced by the bedroom tax and are paying council tax for the first time, received Asda vouchers to help feed their youngsters during the Easter, Christmas and Summer school holidays.
But the council say they are forced to slash the service as the Government roll out their next round of cuts.
Leaders warned that cutting the benefit would lead to an increase in the number of people turning to foodbanks for emergency food parcels.
The announcement comes shortly after a teacher made claims some of his pupils returned to school after holidays “visibly thinner”.
Simon Kennedy, from teacher’s union NASUWT, said:
“It’s easy to point the finger at Newcastle City Council and say it’s their fault but this is the coalition government’s fault.
“This Government are hitting the most vulnerable and least well off families. I don’t think we can blame the council. The reality is when you get millions cut from your budget you have to cut it from somewhere.
“On May 7 people will be given the chance to vote and these are the sort of things people will take into consideration.
“We know people are going hungry and it’s not just over the holidays, it’s week in week out. We know that parents are missing meals to feed their kids.”
In April 2013 the Government abolished the Social Fund and asked local authorities to set up replacement schemes for Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants and the council set up the Crisis Support Scheme.
The funding falls under three areas and supports people in crisis, disaster or emergency, provides council tax assistance and did provide meals vouchers to schoolchildren in the holidays before it was cut.
In 2013/14 the council spent £214,000 to spend on the crisis support fund, and a further £173,000 in 2014/15. It will spend £116,000 in 2015/16, which includes a £50,000 overspend from the previous year.
In order to manage the reductions the council said they had no choice but to slash the voucher scheme.
This week letters went out to the affected families as they received their final set of vouchers over the Easter holidays.
Deputy leader of the council Joyce McCarty said:
“We are really disappointed this has been left to the local authority to fund.
“The Government have dumped the austerity cuts with local authorities who can’t afford to pick up the pieces and it’s the least well off in the community that are suffering.”
In Easter 2014 families with one child were awarded a £10 voucher, while families with more than one child were given £20.
A further £40 was handed to families with one child in the summer and an extra £60 to families with more than one child.
And at Christmas 2014 the vouchers were increased to £40 with families with one child and £60 for families with more than one child.
Ms McCarty added:
“It will add to the growing problem. It’s the same families who are struggling, it’s those families having to pay the bedroom tax and it’s things like this that tips people over the edge.”
The Department for Communities and Local Government said they would be unable to offer comment in the run up to the general election.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Apr 2015
Battling parents were on song yesterday in their fight against cuts which could see vital services for their kids cut.
A group of around 30 mums, dads and their children braved the chilly weather to take part in a street theatre event at the Centre for Life and later Central Station in Newcastle city centre.
For it, they also re-worked a few well known Christmas tunes to highlight their cause.
These included ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ which detailed what they saw as the effect on services of proposed city council cuts.
Lines included ‘On the first day of Christmas the council took from me, a future for my family’.
Meanwhile Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ and ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ by Shakin’ Stevens also got the treatment.
It was the latest in a series of high profile events by The Parents against Cuts group which have resulted in at times heated clashes with city council leader Nick Forbes. Some wore Nick Forbes face masks for the event yesterday.
Last week the council announced proposals to cut its budget by £40m in response, it says, to Central Government austerity measures.
The PAC group was set up when plans to reduce the number of Sure Start Centres, which provide early educational and play facilities for pre-school children from the poorest backgrounds to save around £4.7m as part of these measures, were first made public.
Shannon Sherman, who helped organise the event, said:
“We’re still waiting to hear which Sure Start centres are to go.
“We were told it was to be this month, now the council is saying it’s in January.
“Christmas is a busy time for parents but we’ve got a good turn out.
“We have another planning meeting next week to decide what to do next.”
Those attending the event laughed off a suggestion made by Mr Forbes last week of a link between PAC and the Revolutionary Communist Group.
In an interview the council leader said:
“The Revolutionary Communist Party website clearly claims responsibility for a number of actions that Parents Against Cuts is taking.”
Vanessa Cutter of PAC denied the link. She said:
“I think it shows the council leader had been rattled by our protests.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 20 Dec 2014
A campaign group fighting against cuts which will see child provision in Newcastle slashed has slammed city council leader Nick Forbes for linking them to the Revolutionary Communist Party.
Parents against Cuts was set up when plans to reduce the number of Sure Start Centres, which provide early educational and play facilities for pre-school children from the poorest backgrounds to save around £4.7m, were first made public.
The group has since arranged a number of high profile protests while Mr Forbes has been heckled at meetings and protests have been staged outside his council surgery.
In an interview the council leader said:
“The Revolutionary Communist Party website clearly claims responsibility for a number of actions that Parents Against Cuts is taking.”
He also said he wasn’t going to engage in playground politics with people who shouted and threw things.
Vanessa Cutter of PAC said: “I was astounded that the leader of the council could come out with such ludicrous comments.”
She described the link with the Revolutionary Communist Party as “completely unfounded”.
Details of the group’s action have appeared on the party’s website.
Ms Cutter added:
“They have also appeared on the Unison website. Does that make us a front for Unison too? The Revolutionary Communists are an anti-cuts party so it is natural that they report on us, an anti-cuts group.
“I think Mr Forbes is feeling the pressure of our campaign.”
> Parents against Cuts have appeared in this blog before too ! Whatever can it mean ?
However the city council leader hit back saying:
“There is strong evidence that the Revolutionary Communist Party is claiming the credit for the disruptive activities of the Parents Against Cuts group.”
He claimed the PAC had called for the setting of an illegal budget which would bring the city into disrepute.
> Which otherwise might be seen as making a stand against central government austerity policies.
Ms Cutter has also attacked the details released in this week’s £40m budget cuts announcement which has still left those parents who will be affected by the reduction of the Sure Start service in the dark as to the extent of them.
“We were told they would tell us which centres would be closed on December 1, then December 5, then December 17 and now it could be next week.
“I think it is very strategic as we believe he wants to delay the announcement to closer to Christmas as it will be harder to build resistance.”
However Mr Forbes denied this saying it was always the intention for the final decision on Sure Start provision to be decided at the council’s Cabinet meeting in January.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 19 Dec 2014
Hundreds of city workers face a black Christmas as the scale of £40m council cuts is announced on December 23.
Newcastle City Council’s will release the finer details of their budget reduction plans and the number of potential job losses just two days before Christmas Day.
The December announcement is expected to include firm figures on where the axe will fall on certain council departments and how future Sure Start services will be run.
Paul Gilroy, Newcastle branch secretary for Unison, said the timing before Christmas was unavoidable due to the budget setting time-table but given the looming holiday period more details should be passed onto workers beforehand as a priority.
“I’m hoping that before December 23 the majority of that detail is shared. The council report will have details of the savings and number of jobs to be cut.
“You won’t be able to see that it’s your job that could be cut, but you will be able to see that your area might need to save ‘X’ amount of money, and that so many jobs are under review.
“The problem at the moment is the size of the cut and I’m not sure there’s any particular area of the council that won’t see cutbacks.
“It’s not going to be positive time of year for anybody. Christmas is usually the time of year when you overspend. It’s a time of year when you should be letting your hair down and instead it’s the time of year when you might be worrying about potentially not having a job in the future.”
Newcastle City Council needs to cut £40m from its budget for 2015/16 following a reduction in its Central Government revenue support grant and rising cost pressures.
In October they released rough plans on the areas they would like to make savings from, including city parks, road sweeping, the number of public bins and reducing the night-time nuisance noise service.
Unions are prepared for an announcement that up to 400 jobs will be at risk, on top of the 1300 posts due to be scrapped by 2016.
Val Scott, regional organiser for the GMB, whose 3500 city council members include catering staff and care workers, said there was never a good time of year to make an announcement on job losses and the pain of entering into a potential consultation period was felt as acutely in summer as in winter.
“With public services this is an ongoing thing and there’s never a good time for this announcement to be made.
“Budgets are really stretched by the Government at this moment in time and people are losing their jobs left, right and centre and unfortunately public services are having to deal with a disproportionate cut to the North East.
“The budget cuts are common knowledge but this is getting down to the nitty gritty and identifying job losses, which makes it extremely difficult.”
She said council proposals to transfer the running of some city parks over to civic trusts, to avoid an annual £1.1m maintenance bill, did not ‘sit well’ with the union.
“These proposals are up for discussion and we will try everything that we can to object to that as it is not something that we advocate.
“There’s volunteer services which are crucial. In terms of doing a volunteer job where it’s been a previous council job then I’m not satisfied with that position,” she said.
On December 23 draft budget plans will be prepared for the city’s cabinet with the formal consultation period starting after a full city council meeting in January.
The final budget will be set in April.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 06 Nov 2014
Parents have staged a protest over a council’s ‘history of horror’ cuts to services.
Children dressed as witches, ghosts and ghouls marched into a councillors’ surgery in Newcastle’s West End as part of a demonstrate over cuts to 20 Sure Start children’s centres.
Vanessa Cutter, from group Parents Against Cuts, said:
“Nick Forbes needs to attack Central Government and say to them, if you’ve got money to spend on redeveloping the city train station, then there should be money for Sure Start.
“The cuts that are being implemented are going to impact on so many families. The Sure Start centres are such an important resource for people. Parents Against Cuts is not prepared for them to close.”
Newcastle City Council’s Labour leader Nick Forbes needs to make a £5m reduction in funding for the service after its Central Government grant was reduced.
He is also contending once again with a significantly reduced revenue support grant from the Government which has previously led the council to cut libraries and arts funding.
Angry parents were hoping to confront Coun Forbes about the cuts but were greeted by his Westgate ward colleague Coun Geoff O’Brien.
Following the disruption at the surgery meeting at St Matthew’s Church, off Westgate Road, on Saturday Coun O’Brien blamed funding cuts from Central Government and said:
“I fully support the parents.
“The last thing we want to do is close down really good public services like Sure Start.
“I’m pleased they are protesting and there should be more people doing it across the country.”
Throughout September, the council consulted with families to try and come up with a new way of trying to maintain Sure Start Services with a reduced budget.
They have decided to pursue a model that would help 1000 vulnerable children, and spend £635,000 on targeted support services for children and families.
This means more children can be helped than was previously planned, however the future of all 20 current Sure Start centres is still under review.
Council projects like Newcastle Central Station come from a different source of funding, and it would not have been possible to transfer money to Sure Start.
Vanessa Cutter, who organised the protest, said many of the items used in the demonstration and fancy dress were used to represent services the city council has cut since 2010.
“We took along a paddling pool to represent money for the swimming pools being cut, we’ve took books to represent the cuts to libraries and bin bags to represent the bins that will be cut.
“We are looking at Nick Forbes’ history of horrors and set up a Halloween party in his surgery.”
Newcastle City Council has announced it must save £90m over the next three years on top of £151 already cut since 2010. It’s reduction in funding from Central Government has been significant with less money coming in to the revenue support grant, while cost pressures, particularly of an ageing population, continue to rise.
Vanessa said she has used the Sure Start centre in North Fenham for her children Freya, seven, Isabelle, five, and Niamh, two.
“Surely Nick Forbes’ job is to fight the Government. He talks of this £38m that has been chopped from the budget but we want to see him fight,” she said.
A city council spokesperson said:
“We know that people would prefer there to be no cuts whatsoever and we feel exactly the same way. However, the removal of government grants and the overall financial position of the city council, has left us with no alternative but to make savings in every area of our work.
“Our consultation presented people with three options but, once we collected and analysed the views of 5,000 people, a fourth option emerged. Earlier this week, our Cabinet approved the creation of new and innovative Community Family Hubs, incorporating Sure Start Children’s Centres, and with intensive support to families. The hubs would focus on those 30% of communities with the highest level of deprivation – the widest level of coverage the council can afford. At the same time the council will also continue to invest in other services targeting families with other particular needs.
“Detailed planning of how these hubs and other services will be configured, and where they will be located, will be discussed in a further phase of consultation before the council agrees its final budget position in March 2015.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Oct 2014
This article was written by Jane Dudman, for theguardian.com on Friday 26th September 2014
Sir Bob Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, has said that the timetable for the government’s controversial universal credit benefits scheme was “too tight” and that a “culture of good news” in the Department for Work and Pensions prevented this being recognised.
In 2013, the plan to introduce universal credit, which has been described as involving “fiendishly complicated calculations” had to be “reset to zero”, after more than £600m had been spent.
Kerslake, the former chief executive of Sheffield city council, said leaders needed to be prepared to hear bad news and that those in local government, closer to people directly using services, were more likely to do so.
Reflecting on an often-turbulent two years as head of the civil service, Kerslake reiterated that his greatest regret was the delay in producing a plan on improving civil service diversity. “The story on diversity is still too variable across departments,” he said. “We need in particular to tackle the macho culture that too many women experience and increase the number of BME staff at senior level, which has flat lined in recent years.”
Kerslake said he was proud of the civil service reform plan, published in June 2012, but he regretted trying to push through changes to civil servants’ terms and conditions at the same time as the plan. He also said that there would be at least five more years of austerity in public spending, whoever wins the next general election, and that the next five years of spending cuts would be tougher because the “easier savings” have already been made.
He also said there should be greater devolution of power from Whitehall to local government, even if that meant accepting that, as in the Rotherham child sexual abuse scandal, sometimes “things go wrong”. Kerslake said devolution could not be evenly spread around the country. Some places such as Birmingham, he said, are less far forward in working as combined authorities, but they would be spurred towards action if they saw other regions getting greater powers.
Kerslake refused to comment on the new arrangements following his resignation, including the appointment of a new chief executive. Whoever takes that job will report in to the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, who has taken on Kerslake’s former role as head of the civil service. He said he and Heywood had a “positive working relationship”, but added that “noises off” – briefings against civil servants – had been the most damaging thing to civil service morale.
Source – Welfare News Service, 26 Sept 2014
Families staged a ‘messy march’ in Newcastle against cuts that could see a £5m reduction in funding for Sure Start Children’s Centres.
The figure amounts to about a 65% of the total budget for the service.
Protesters say if the proposal went through it could mean the city’s most vulnerable families would be left without childcare and vital support.
A series of themed protests – including a ‘teddy bear’s picnic’ – have been staged in recent weeks, and organiser Vanessa Cutter, 32, explained the thinking around Saturday’s event at Grey’s Monument.
The mum-of-three of Fenham, Newcastle, said:
“A messy march is a child centred protest march where children do what they do best – make a mess and be noisy.
“It serves several purposes – we want to show the council that we are willing to take action, demonstrate and fight against their proposed 65% cuts to Sure Start services.
“We want to show them that if they close two thirds of centres then the city’s children will have nowhere to go.
“The council seems keen to invest lots of money in businesses and the city centre, but if that comes at the cost of children’s services then we will have to play in the areas they do invest in.”
All of Newcastle’s 20 Sure Start centres are now up for review as city councillors iron out their final budget proposals for the year 2014/2015.
Many councils across the North are struggling to make similar savings – or cuts – including Middlesbrough.
Mayor Ray Mallon announced in January £14.9m of cuts – in addition to more than £40m removed from the council’s budget over the last three years – will lead to the loss of around 300 jobs. Amongst departments are children’s services.
Sure Start was a Labour flagship policy from 1998, its aim was “giving children the best possible start in life” through improvement of childcare, early education, health and family support, with an emphasis on outreach and community development.
In Newcastle 50% of the services are delivered by the council and 50% by the Community and Voluntary Sector. The city council has estimated for the work it directly delivers, the cuts will equate to the loss of 63 full time equivalent posts.
The protestors say the proposals, if carried out, will see the budget slashed by £5m by 2016. This would mean the closure of services, buildings, parents groups and activities for children aged under five across the city.
Mum-of-two Anna Snaith, 28, of Heaton said:
“I am very upset that two out of three options for the future of services in my area include completely closing down the Ouseburn Family Centre which I regularly attend.
“The team there are fantastic and offer so much support to parents as well as children in a wide range of areas. The centre, like all Sure Start centres, promote health and well being for all families which is vital for communities. These services are the future for our children therefore I cannot understand how closing down any of them can be an option at all for our council!”
A council spokesman said previously:
“The city council is facing a considerable financial challenge, to find £100m in savings between 2013 and 2016.
“We share people’s concerns about the future of our Sure Start centres – they provide an important and well-loved service to families across the city – but the severity of the cuts leaves us with no choice but to consider further reductions.
“Nothing has been decided yet and we will be asking people to have their say with a big public consultation in September.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 13 Sept 2014
Plans to build a new McDonald’s fast food outlet near Newcastle’s biggest school have provoked a storm of protest.
Feelings are so high it has caused a city councillor to stand down from the planning committee which will decide whether to give it the go ahead – to help organise protests against it.
David Pearmain, head teacher of Kenton School, where around 2,000 pupils study, has submitted a lengthy objection to the city council in which he concluded: “For the sake of our children’s health and safety, please do not approve this application.”
Coun David Stockdale, who represents the neighbouring Blakelaw ward, has taken the rare step of “recluse” – voluntary exclusion – because he felt so strongly against the application.
It is for a two-storey drive-through outlet on the old Crofters Lodge pub site at the junction of Kenton Lane and Ponteland Road.
“On the committee you have to be open minded about applications you consider,” he explained. “I’ve already got a pre-determined attitude towards this and it is against it.
“Newcastle has some of the highest incidents of childhood obesity in the country. It’s an epidemic and this would site a McDonald’s on a road leading to the biggest secondary school in the city.”
He added: “Until recently I had public health responsibility on the council. One of the things we did a lot of work on was the provision that we had more power to control unhealthy eating outlets.”
Coun Stockdale said feelings were running high in the area as he leafleted houses located near the proposed site.
Coun Stephen Lambert, who represents the Kenton ward, said: “I’ve had over 58 objections from the Kenton area to this proposal. We feel it’s inappropriate. It is on an extremely busy junction, so there are issues of highway safety.
“All three Kenton councillors are supporting the residents who object to this planning application.”
A local resident who didn’t want to be named, said: “There’s are already two McDonald’s in the area, including one at Kingston Park.
“Obviously it will be a temptation to kids at lunchtime and we worry about it attracting anti-social behaviour. Petitions are being gathered and a lot of people have objected on Newcastle City Council’s website.”
One person who has is Mr Pearmain. He wrote: “Kenton School enjoys the Healthy Schools Award status, but Kenton students will be far more tempted than ever before to buy fast food snacks because of the proximity to the school.
“We know that unhealthy eating and its associated conditions are very high in the relatively deprived districts which are close to the site and which the school serves.
“Although McDonald’s also serves healthy food for those who choose it, as a commercial organisation they allow their paying customers free choice across their products and many young people will choose unhealthy options without the guidance they would receive in school. This will tend strongly to undermine the City Council’s own health policies.”
A McDonald’s spokesperson: “At McDonald’s, we serve good food made from quality ingredients, many of which are sourced from over 17,500 British and Irish farmers. We offer a broad choice and we provide clear nutrition information on our menu boards so our customers can make informed choices that are right for them.
“We would like to reassure local residents that our main priority is to be a good neighbour and we are happy to work with any member of the local community who has concerns about the impact of our business.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 June 2014
North East families have been dealt a further “body blow” according to councillors after the Government announced plans to scrap a £347 million fund used to provide emergency support for households.
Newcastle City Council uses its £1.3m annual share of the local welfare provision to help families faced with being made homeless and paying for food deliveries for those struggling to afford meals.
Council leader Nick Forbes said losing the fund would be a “further devastating blow to the city” and would ultimately mean people going hungry.
He said: “This fund is a much-needed sticking plaster to help families and individuals at times of crisis.
“The city council has recently successfully made a case to Government that we need more of this fund, not less, as the number of people who are seeking help is increasing.
“To abolish it at a time when many other avenues of support are being dismantled would be a body blow for hundreds of families across the city.”
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents authorities in England and Wales, said it was “extremely disappointing” that the latest funding settlement for councils revealed that the fund would not be renewed in 2015.
North East peer, Lord Jeremy Beecham, said the Government’s latest proposal will take them past the next general election and will leave people “stranded” in difficult circumstances.
He said: “This fund has been used by Newcastle City Council to provide crucial support to people facing personal crises in their lives, from help paying the rent to putting food on the table.
“It’s obvious we need to sustain this funding, because we face the impossible task of finding the money from elsewhere.
“A lot of families in our part of the world are suffering badly. There are 4,000 households in the city facing the impact of the bedroom tax and removing this funding will only create further damage.”
A Government spokesman said: “Councils will continue to provide support to those in their community who face financial difficulties or who find themselves in unavoidable circumstances.
“In contrast to a centralised grant system that was poorly targeted, councils can now choose how to best to support local welfare needs within their areas.
“The Government continues to provide support to local authorities through general funds as part of the Government’s commitment to reducing ring-fencing and ending top-down Whitehall control.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 24 Feb 2014
Sunderland councillor Lisa Smiles, who was convicted of conning the local authority out of £2,000 after she failed to declare wages and her councillor’s allowance when claiming housing benefit., has resigned from both the Labour Party and the city council.
She admitted receiving £2,318 in payments she was not entitled to over a period of 12 months and was fined £150 when she appeared at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court.
The departure leaves a vacancy in her former ward of St Anne’s , however the council was unable to give details of if and when a by-election would be held.
A spokesman for the council said: “The city council can confirm a notice of resignation has been received from Lisa Smiles.”
A Labour North spokesman said: “Councillor Lisa Smiles was suspended from the Labour Party in September 2013 following her court appearance.
“She remained on suspension pending an internal investigation into her conduct. She has now resigned from the Labour Party and Sunderland Labour Group.”
The Tories, naturally tried to spin things to their own advantage – Tory councillor Lee Martin submitted a written question to council leader Paul Watson, asking whether he thought the “overwhelming majority” of people on benefits are in genuine need and whether cheats should be punished.
The implication being of course that anyone claiming benefits must be a bit dodgy on the grounds that the occasional person defrauds the system, but on that basis you might counter that the “overwhelming majority” of councillors probably fiddle their expenses, because one or two have been caught red-handed ( wouldn’t it be interesting to know what percentage of benefit claims are fraudulent as opposed to the the percentage of expenses fiddled by vcarious politicians ?).
Coun Watson said: “Benefits are there to support those in need,” adding that “abusing that system is diabolical and should be punished”.
He then quoted a section of CS Lewis’ theories on crime and punishment, then referred to “the self-righted retribution that some Tories would advocate.”
Coun Watson said that punishment should be done to deter and lead by example, not to exact revenge, adding that to do so would be “psychologically sick”.
Referring to Lisa Smiles, Coun Martin said there seemed to be “one rule for people in here, and one rule for others.” His comment was drowned out by protests from Labour councillors.
“One rule for people in here, and one rule for others.” Now that’s a dangerous game for a Tory to play ! Still, when your possee of councillors is so, er, compact, that they meet in a phone box, I guess there’s nothing to lose by living dangerously 😉
Source – Sunderland Echo 04 Feb 2014