Would Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw have been caught out in a sting apparently offering their services to a private company for cash if the salary earned by MPs’ was much higher?
> Probably. There’s no accounting for greed.
The suggestion is an unpopular one with the electorate, many of whom have endured years of pay freezes, particularly in the public sector in which the politicians are classified as working.
After the next election, an MP’s salary is set to rise 10% from £66,396 to £74,000 – the level set by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) which said they did an important job and should not be paid a “miserly amount”.
When this was revealed last year it caused a bit of a meltdown inside and outside of Parliament with the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour party leaders for once united.
They argued it would be wrong when public sector pay rises were capped at 1%.
Rifkind, who said the allegations made against him were “unfounded”, has subsequently said he can’t live on his £67,000 a year MP’s salary.
However Blaydon MP, Labour’s Dave Anderson, was unsympathetic. He said:
“If you can’t live on the salary get another job. You know what you sign up for.
“If you can’t live off £67,000 a year you must be from another planet.”
Mr Anderson was equally dismissive of MPs who took on second jobs to boost their income.
“If you want another job, take another job and leave. You shouldn’t have a second job as an MP regardless.
“Me and my colleagues work so many hours I don’t know how anybody who fit another job in.”
His fellow MP Nick Brown who represents Newcastle East said:
“I agree with that. Your duty is to your constituency and the country.
“I’ve been an MP for 31 years and have never had a second job.”
As for the salary of MPs he said he did not want to be “sanctimonious” and criticise anybody who thinks it should be higher. “I think an MP’s salary level should be set independently,” he said.
As for how much a fair salary would be, Mr Brown wouldn’t be drawn on a figure just that it should “cover the cost of being an MP.”
> Before exopenses claims, I imagine.
The debate about what an MP’s salary should be has been clouded by a number of scandals over the years to the extent that when a rise is suggested most in Parliament come out in public against it firmly.
But in a secret poll of MPs, the responses were different.
Back in 2013, in a survey conducted by Ipsa, MPs suggested they deserved an £86,250 salary.
On average, Tories said their salary should be £96,740, while Lib Dems thought the right amount was £78,361 and Labour £77,322. Other parties put the figure at £75,091.
However later that year, a poll of the public revealed it thought MPs should actually get a pay cut, the average figure being £54,400. In the North East, people thought they should be paid £52,140.
Arguments for the rise included one that being an MP was an important job and salaries should be more in keeping with this, comparing it to money earned by company executives. If pay was better, we would get better MPs.
> Does anyone really believe that ? What we’d really get is richer MPs.
It would also, the argument went, entice more people from less well-off backgrounds to become interested in becoming an MP.
To counter this some have wondered how a salary that is around three times the national average would put off potential less well off candidates.
According to one commentator: “To a working class kid a salary of £65,000 a year is the equivalent of winning the lottery”.
And anyway, MPs are public servants and should be subject to the same rules as anyone else in the public sector. They do an incredibly important job – but so do lots of other people, such as nurses and the police.
Political expert Dr Martin Farr of Newcastle University said:
“The public has unreasonable expectations of politicians because they just don’t like them.
> And I wonder why that should be ?
“There needs to be a competitive salary as in comparison to parliamentarians elsewhere, MPs here aren’t played a lot nor do they get the same level of support.”
“They are frightened to be awarded a competitive salary which was why they tried to make it up in allowances in the first place.
“However in trying to avoid one problem they have created another.”
He said such was the “febrile” nature of the debate, the public generally can’t even accept the need for MPs to travel first class on trains and reclaim it on expenses.
“Yet they often do work of a confidential nature at this time so these arrangements are needed,” he said.
Dr Farr said that while it appears Straw and Rifkind might have broken no rules, they were foolish to do what they did.
However he added what did need to be sorted out was the so-called ‘Whitehall revolving door’ situation where former Ministers get jobs in the private sector
“It’s a toxic issue and in some ways MPs are in a lose-lose situation,” he said.
> For that sort of money, you’d get a lot of volunteers willing to risk that kind of lose-lose situation…
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Feb 2015
Library users, keen swimmers and pensioners will unite to take part in a rally through Gateshead town centre on Saturday.
The demonstration against Gateshead Council’s budget cuts will bring dozens of protestors together, as well as three MPs, who will speak out on Central Government’s current financial deal for local authorities.
Those affected by proposed library and swimming pool closures, and cut backs of hours at Gateshead facilities, will meet with people who use the borough’s older people’s and mental health services.
Gateshead Council’s leader Mick Henry must make up to £46m worth of savings over the next two years and proposals include reviewing how they run the Gateshead Indoor Bowling Centre, Dunston Activity Centre and Whickham Thorns Outdoor Activity Centre.
Other cut backs – including the older people’s service which helps people with their shopping and paying bills on time – could lead to job losses.
Together service users will march from the Gateshead Interchange towards the Civic Centre at 2.15pm on Saturday (07 Feb), in a protest organised by the Gateshead Public Services Alliance which is part of the union Unison.
Speeches will be heard from Labour politicians, Dave Anderson MP for Blaydon, Stephen Hepburn MP for Jarrow and Ian Mearns MP for Gateshead.
Alison Chapel, area organiser for the Public Services Alliance, said: “We have people coming on behalf of the libraries, and older people’s services in Gateshead which are all under threat with closure of the scaling back of hours.
“We know that the council have to make cuts because the Government is reducing their budget.
“The council has to decide how these cuts are going to be implemented and we are trying to show that they are not just dealing with statistics.
“These cuts affect real people because they use the service and they need the service and in some cases, particularly the older people’s service, it’s a false economy anyway because it’s quite a low level service but it means people can stay in their homes and it prevents them taking up beds in hospitals.
“It is Central Government who are cutting the council finances and we do understand the difficulty the council is facing but they need to make the decision in the face of people’s actual experiences and needs.”
Councillor Mick Henry, leader of Gateshead Council said:
“Setting our Budget is a fine balancing act as we have so many competing priorities. It’s getting harder and harder to continue to protect those services that people want and need, but we will do everything we can to protect the most vulnerable adults and children in our communities.
“We know that in future there will be some significant changes to services that people hold dear, but we need to start making those decisions now as the money simply won’t be there to continue to provide them in the same way.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 Feb 2015
Four North-East Labour MPs have urged Ed Miliband to swing to the Left and rip up his “tragic” commitment to further deep spending cuts.
Grahame Morris (Easington), Ian Mearns (Gateshead), Dave Anderson (Blaydon) and Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) are among 16 rebels issuing the challenge to their leader.
Their alternative election manifesto demands:
* A £30bn investment package – an “alternative way out of endless austerity” – funded either by higher borrowing, the state-owned banks, or a levy on the super-rich.
The MPs call on Mr Miliband to exploit 0.5 per cent interest rates, arguing it would cost just £150m a year to finance the package – which they say would create more than a million jobs, within three years.
Instead, they say: “All three main parties, tragically, seem to agree that deep spending cuts must continue to be made until the structural budget deficit is wiped out in 2019-20.”
* Rail nationalisation, by taking train operating franchises back into public ownership when they expire.
The MPs reject Labour’s plan to allow not-for-profit firms to bid for franchises, condemning it as timid and “wholly unnecessary”.
They claim privatisation costs £1.2bn a year, adding: “Over 80 per cent of the public want the railways re-nationalised, which must include a significant proportion of Tories.”
* Stronger trade union and employment rights, with a return to collective bargaining “as a check against excessive corporate power”.
The alternative manifesto blames the disappearance of union-negotiated agreements for a sharp fall in the share of national income going to salaries and wages – from 65 per cent in 1980, to 53 per cent in 2012.
And it says: “We should therefore actively promote sectoral collective bargaining and strengthen the rights of trade unions to recognition, and of their members to representation.”
The move laid bare how Mr Miliband will struggle to carry his party to make the deep spending cuts planned, even if he wins a small majority in May.
The left-wing group of MPs are keen to take advantage of the rise of the anti-austerity Green Party and of the SNP to push Labour in a more radical direction.
Meanwhile, Len McCluskey, the Unite general secretary, has made repeated threats to establish a new workers’ party if Labour loses after offering a “pale shade of austerity”.
Last year, Mr McCluskey urged the likes of Mr Morris, Mr Mearns and Mr Lavery to “put the brakes” on Ed Miliband if he tries to take Labour to the right
> Even further to the right, I think he means…
It followed the trio’s criticism of Labour support for an overall welfare cap and vote against compulsory unpaid work experience.
Source – Northern Echo, 26 Jan 2015
The Government has been accused of sidestepping questions about delays into a possible inquiry into the actions of police during the infamous ‘Battle of Orgreave’.
For two years the Independent Police Complaints Commission has been investigating whether officers accused of fitting up striking miners on riot charges, including two from the North East, had a case to answer.
Blaydon MP Dave Anderson, a miner at the time who was at the South Yorkshire coking plant that day in June, 1984, submitted two questions to Home Secretary Theresa May about the matter.
He asked if she would find out when the IPCC would make its decision and what her department knew about the reasons for the delay.
In the Government’s reply, the Home Office said the IPCC had completed its assessment of the events at Orgreave and was taking legal advice before publishing its findings.
In the written reply, signed by Minister Mike Penning, he wrote:
“This has been a very complex exercise which has required the in-depth analysis of a vast amount of documentation from over 30 years ago. As the IPCC is an independent organisation the Government has no control or influence over the date of publication of its findings.”
Mr Anderson commented:
“The government should put “the vast amount of paperwork” in the public domain so that people and Parliament can see if they were misled.
“She sidesteps the second question about exactly what information she has and puts the onus onto an Independent body. Has the IPCC seen all of the paperwork that has not been released and if not why not?”
Orgreave was the scene of some of the bitterest clashes during the year long miners strike of 1984 to 1985.
In all 95 miners were arrested and charged with riot following it, an offence which carries a maximum life sentence.
All the charges were eventually dropped and 39 miners were later awarded £425,000 in compensation amid claims police witnesses gave evidence that had been dictated to them by senior officers as well as perjuring themselves.
It was in 2012 after a TV documentary repeated these allegations in light of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report that the head of South Yorkshire Police referred his own force to the IPCC.
It was South Yorkshire Police which was in control of the crowds at the 1989 FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest where 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death.
It was revealed officers had fabricated evidence – including having statements dictated to them by senior officers – in an attempt to blame the tragedy on the Liverpool fans, the same tactics used against miners at Orgreave five years earlier.
Mr Anderson added:
“(David) Cameron said Sunshine is the best policy. Well come on then, shine a light on this disgraceful chapter in our nation’s history.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 24 Jan 2015
A union chief claims his reps have more standing than the MPs calling for reform.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of the country’s biggest trade union, Unison, slammed Tory plans to make striking harder . . . and said millions of paid up members give union chiefs more clout that politicians.
He was speaking as of the Northern TUC held a Public Services Alliance Emergency Summit in Newcastle over what unions brand a “constant assault on the public sector”.
David Cameron’s party wants to raise the strike ballot threshold to a 40% turnout, end a ban on using agency workers to cover strikers, impose a three-month time limit after a ballot for strike action to take place and curb picketing.
Today, a strike is valid if it achieves a simple majority.
Defenders of the proposals – which form part of the Tories’ election manifesto – say strikes with low turnout among supporters are not legitimate.
But Dave Prentis said his union has the backing of its 1.3 million members, adding: “As public sector workers, we need to be able to take many forms of action or employers will be able to do whatever they want to us.
“If we do get another five years of this coalition, public services will shrink back to 1930s levels and the trade unions will be hit more than anybody else.
“We represent 1.3 million public sector workers and I really do think that trade unions and their representatives have got more standing than the politicians putting forward these proposals.”
The union chief is lashing out after a long period of discontent which has seen dozens of strikes across the public sector over job losses and pay cuts.
He added the reforms put unions in an impossible position.
He said: : “Turnout is about 25% to 30% throughout the country but we do want to encourage people to vote.
“We spend millions of pounds sending out voting papers to home addresses when life is different now. You can vote electronically and in many different organisations you use email or mobile phone but we can’t do that.
“We are willing to fund a ballot box near workplaces to do a vote just like in a general election, but because of legislation we can’t do these things.
“The only means our members can vote is a postal ballot. This puts us in an impossible position.”
The Emergency Public Services Summit is being held at the Thistle County Hotel in Newcastle city centre on Saturday.
It is chaired by Clare Williams, chair of the Northern Public Services Alliance, and other speakers include Tyneside Labour MPs Dave Anderson and Chi Onwurah.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 17 Jan 2015
Thousands of people across the North were already waiting to downsize before the bedroom tax came into force.
Almost 40,000 households across the North of England were on the waiting list for one-bedroom social homes just as the so-called Bedroom Tax came into force – half the total number of households on the list.
It compares with just 22% of households on the waiting list who were hoping for a social home with more than four bedrooms.
The controversial tax, which has reduced housing benefit available to families deemed to have extra bedrooms, was brought in by the coalition in April 2013.
Opponents warned at the time that people had ‘spare’ bedrooms only because of a lack of available smaller properties following years of councils selling off their social housing stock.
Now, figures reveal a chronic shortage of smaller homes in the North of England leaving thousands of households unable to move out of larger homes.
Meanwhile, they continue to be hit with cuts to their housing benefits despite major opposition to the policy.
Labour MPs across the North have reacted with fury at the figures, which they say highlight their concerns that thousands have been unfairly hit with the “pernicious” and “ideological” bedroom tax thanks to government failure to build enough homes.
Among them, Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery slammed the bedroom tax which he claimed was making the most vulnerable pay for the shortage of housing across the region.
“It’s a complete and utter bottleneck where families can not move because the homes are not available. They are then subject to this pernicious tax while they are struggling to make ends meet at this moment in time anyway.
“The government knew the consequences of this. They did understand and they still pushed ahead with this. The election can not come quick enough for these people.”
And Blaydon MP Dave Anderson said the figures dispel a myth about people who are being hit by the bedroom tax.
He said: “This blows the myth out of the water and Labour will be rid of it. It was a pretence and a myth right down the lines about people having too many bedrooms.
“There simply aren’t enough one-bedroom properties for people to move into. It’s nonsense. These are people, human beings in houses they have been living in 40 years. We’re talking about them as if they’re subhumans. It’s a disgrace.”
And Hartlepool MP Iain Wright, who was housing and planning minister from 2007 to 2009, said that housing supply had failed to keep up with a changing society that was seeing an aging population with more people moving to one-bedroom properties as partners passed away and children left home.
But he denied that Labour had been part of the problem or that they too had failed to ensure enough homes were built.
He said: “I would strongly disagree with that. We knew in full terms about the changing society. That’s why we needed to build more homes because we understand people are living longer and more people are living in one-person households.
“This government will have been aware of that too, and yet they still impose this grossly unfair tax. They know they don’t have the properties, they knew all along the difficulties this would” cause.”
And he added: “Where are the priorities with this government? It is not with people in the North who are suffering with housing problems. It’s about indifference – they don’t care about communities in Hartlepool.”
But a government spokesperson said the government was committed to building new homes across England and claimed ending the spare room subsidy had been a “necessary” move.
She added: “Nearly 217,000 affordable homes have been delivered in England since April 2010. Our affordable homes programme is on track to deliver 170,000 new affordable homes between 2011 and 2015, with £19.5 billion of public and private funding.
“We have also given the North East of England £13.8m since 2013 to support vulnerable people affected by welfare reforms and there has been a 12% fall in the number of people in the North East affected by the policy, as tenants take action.
“Ending the spare room subsidy was absolutely necessary to get the soaring housing benefit bill under control, return fairness to the system and make better use of social housing stock.
“Every day the policy saves taxpayers over £1m.”
The North MPs were joined in their criticism by Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland, and Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland. All five reiterated Labour’s pledge to abolish the bedroom tax if they win this year’s election.
The party became one step closer to delivering the promise in September 2014, when Labour and the Liberal Democrats came together to voted in favour of a bill brought in by Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George.
If passed, it will mean the bedroom tax will not apply unless a tenant has been offered a different property and has refused to move.
> Hmmm…call me a cynic, but might that not just be circumvented by offering absolute shitholes that no-one wants to live in, then penalizing people for not wanting to live in them.
But prime minister David Cameron has shown no sign of revoking the policy, while a government spokesperson said it was saving the taxpayer £1m every day.
Food poverty is no longer being seen as a welfare issue as those who suffer from it have got so used to turning to charities for help.
In a report, North East academic Dr Jane Midgley said the huge increase in foodbanks run by the voluntary sector has blurred the lines as to who should be caring for the vulnerable and the needy.
She said a squeeze on incomes, benefit sanctions and rocketing utility bills are the drivers of foodbank use, but people instead see their local council as ‘uncaring’ and ‘part of the problem’.
Dr Midgley, whose research formed part of the Feeding Britain report by the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the UK, urged councils to show support for those facing the misery of food poverty and called for more clarity over the root causes of the phenomenon.
“We are increasingly finding that charities, rather than the state, are supporting people in need who cannot afford to feed themselves.
“While we need to recognise the effort this takes and the difference it makes to peoples lives, the boundaries of this responsibility are far from clear.
“Food poverty is not seen as a welfare issue and because of the way charities and voluntary sector organisations have stepped in, people no longer see local government and the public sector as a source of support.”
Foodbank use exploded in 2014. The Trussell Trust said between April and September 2014, more than 25,000 people were helped by the charity’s Gateshead , Newcastle East and Newcastle West End food banks.
That works out at 4,289 people a month – more than treble the 1,316 people per month in Newcastle and Gateshead who accessed a foodbank in the nine month period between April 2013 and December 2013.
“We are now not just at a critical juncture for how we respond to the issue of food poverty, but also what this means for local policy makers,” Dr Midgley added.
“They need to be able to show, in a difficult financial climate, that they still care and want people who live within their towns and cities to live well and flourish.”
The Feeding Britain report warned that North families are just one unexpected bill away from food poverty. It said the living wage and speedier benefit payments must form part of the solution.
Councillor Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council, said he had “no indication” people were turning on councils and said staff were supportive of people facing the misery of food poverty.
“We are one of the richest nations in the world and yet we are seeing some of the most terrible cases of poverty in years due to the huge financial pressures being put on hard-working families.
> I do wish politicians would refrain from parrotting hard-working families on issues like this. It implies that those not working for whatever reasion are lazy, and before we know where we are we’re back to the concept of deserving and undeserving poor.
“We are living in a society where rising costs and relentless government cuts across the country are creating much tougher living conditions. Here in South Tyneside we are doing all we can to try and support and protect people who are experiencing the greatest hardship.
“As a council we have committed to the phased introduction of the Living Wage for Council workers from April 2015. This should help people on some of the lowest wages and we hope that other businesses will be able to look to do the same.”
Dave Anderson, MP for Blaydon, said Coalition ministers were to blame for the rise in foodbanks.
“You can’t sack half a million public sector workers or employ people on exploitative zero hours contracts and expect there to be anything other than a calamitous outcome.
“While ministers enjoy Christmas this week far too many of our people will be struggling, literally, on the breadline. It’s time to stop penalising the poor for the failures of the richest in society.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 Jan 2015
NHS nurses on Tyneside are “seriously considering” setting up shoebox collections to help colleagues struggling to cope with pay cuts, MPs have heard.
Labour’s Dave Anderson, MP for Blaydon, said some nurses were worried about getting through Christmas.
And he said he had been informed of the idea under consideration at a trust where the chief executive’s pay had increased alongside a rise in allowances for its governors.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Anderson told Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt :
“Can I advise you that last week I spoke to nurses at the hospital near my constituency who told me because of the ongoing cuts to their pay, which has been going on for many years, they are actually seriously considering setting up shoebox collections to help their members get through Christmas.
“At the same time, the chief executive of the trust has had a 17% pay increase and the governors of the trust have had an 88% increase in their allowances.
“Is this what you mean by all being in this together?”
Mr Hunt replied that the Government would take no lessons from Labour on increases to the salaries of senior managers.
“I’m afraid we won’t take any lessons from the party that increased managers’ pay at double the rate of nurses’ pay when they were in office.
“I’ll tell you what this Government has done when it comes to the lowest paid NHS workers, because of our increases in the tax-free threshold they have seen their take home pay go up by £1,000 a year.”
> Pot calls kettle black, blah, blah, blah… meanwhile the nurses are still collecting.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 Dec 2014
> Bit of a suprise… everyone seemed to expect the French bid to win.
Virgin Trains and Stagecoach have won the franchise to run the East Coast mainline rail route, it emerged this morning.
The controversial takeover has seen the firms promise to invest £140m in the route over eight years, and will pay the government £3.3bn for the contract.
Rail Minister Claire Perry is expected to be at Newcastle Central Station today and the franchise, which covers the route between London and Edinburgh, has been publicly run since 2009.
The anticipated move was lambasted by Labour MPs in the North East, after the publicly-run Directed Operated Railways brought the line back into profit.
Ahead of this morning’s decision, Dave Anderson, Blaydon’s Labour MP, said:
“This shows the real contempt that this coalition feels for the people of the North.
“We have seen continuing failures by private companies in running our line over the period since privatisation until the public sector stepped back in and stopped the rot and we have seen increased punctuality accompanied by increased usage by the travelling public which has delivered the best economic performance of any UK train service.
“This counts for nothing in the world of Conservative dogma. It shows, yet again, that this Government will ignore the wishes of anyone as it steams ahead with its ideological attack on the public sector in our country.”
East Coast paid a record £235m back to the Government in its final full year in public hands – up 12% on the previous year. Proof, unions believe, that a private sector deal is politically-motivated.
Grahame Morris, Easington MP, dismissed the privatisation of the line this week as “right wing Tory dogma”.
He said: “This public-run rail franchise has generated over a billion pounds for the Treasury.
“If this is what a publicly-run train operating franchise can deliver, at a time when every penny counts, we should be looking at ways to bring privately run railways back into public ownership not the other way round.
“This is right wing Tory dogma being put ahead of the best interests of the service, consideration for passengers and the public finances.
“The public-run East Coast Main Line franchise has consistently been the best performing franchise when it comes to passenger and staff satisfaction, fares and profitability.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 27 Nov 2014
Rail union campaigners opposing Government cuts to jobs and services are calling on local authorities in the region to support them.
The RMT is warning fares will rise under Government plans for the refranchising of Northern and Trans-Pennine Express trains.
Now, RMT boss Mick Cash is calling on MPs to back an Early Day Motion (EDM) in the House of Commons, put forward by Stockton North MP Alex Cunninghgam, rejecting the Government’s consultation on the plans and setting out concerns about the line’s future.
So far, North East Labour MPs Pat Glass, Stephen Hepburn, Mary Glindon and Dave Anderson have signed the motion.
Mick Cash is asking councillors and local authorities to back their campaign against rail cuts as it sends out 10,000 postcards throughout the region to raise awareness.
Liverpool City Council has officially registered its opposition to the Government’s plans and the union is hopeful others will follow suit.
It comes after Northern Rail opted to slash some of its off-peak fares in a move the union claims was motivated “purely in the name of profit”.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said demand for rail travel is growing and claimed any plan to cut jobs made no sense.
He said: “The fight to stop the outrageous carve up of jobs and services under the Northern and Trans-Pennine Express franchise plans is gathering pace by the day and is sending out the clearest possible message to the Government and Rail North that they need to scrap this attack on transport services.
“Let’s not forget that the core of the Government’s future plans for Northern and TPE is to axe jobs, restrict services, throw the guards off the trains and jack up fares while capacity to meet surging rail demand in the area is left to stagnate.
“That attack on the fare-paying public has already begun with the abolition of off-peak fares and only an all-out and coordinated fight can stop the savage assault on rail in the North.
“RMT today launches the next phase of the fight to both inform the public and fight the savage cuts being lined up for these Northern rail franchises, and to get MPs signed up to EDM 174 opposing this carve-up.
“It is absolutely essential now that we keep up the pressure.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 06 Oct 2014