A bookmaker has made former South Shields MP David Miliband 12/1 to succeed his brother Ed as leader of the Labour Party.
According to Unibet, the 49-year-old, who narrowly lost to his brother in a leadership contest in 2010, could make a spectacular return.
He rose to prominence as the head of Tony Blair’s policy unit from 1997 to 2001, when he was elected MP for South Shields.
In April 2013 he resigned from Parliament in order to become president and chief executive officer of the International Rescue Committee in New York.
> In other words, he left his constituents to their fate in order to chase the yankee dollar to the tune of £300,000 a year.
Now, with Labour reeling from its heaviest election defeat in years, the bookies are giving odds on a stunning return.
Unibet’s odds are:
BREAKING: Chuka Umunna 9/4
Andy Burnham 2/1
Yvette Cooper 3/1
Dan Jarvis 8/1
Liz Kendall 16/1
David Miliband 12/1
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 09 May 2015
Not a single Liberal Democrat candidate will be standing at next month’s local elections in South Tyneside.
The Lib Dems’ no-show at the ballot box, the first in a generation, comes amid fears by one of its former representatives that its brand is now “toxic on the doorstep”.
Until just a few years ago, the party’s candidates at Parliamentary elections in the borough were the natural opposition to Labour.
In South Shields at the 2005 general election, Lib Dem Stephen Psallidas finished second to then-Labour MP David Miliband with almost 6,000 votes, 19.7 per cent of the total cast.
In local elections around the same time, the party, led by Nick Clegg since 2007, could usually guarantee a handful of seats, particularly in the Hebburn North ward.
At one time, it held all three seats for Hebburn North.
However, since the 2010 general election, the party’s fortunes have declined dramatically in the borough.
At the 2013 Parliamentary by-election in South Shields, its candidate, Hugh Annand, lost his deposit, receiving just 352 votes, just 1.4 per cent of the vote, and only narrowly avoiding the ignominy of being defeated by the Raving Monster Loony Party’s contender.
Now, not a single Lib Dem is to contest the local elections in South Tyneside on Thursday, May 7.
The party’s absence from the political scene in South Tyneside comes as no surprise to Joe Abbott, formerly a Lib Dem councillor for Hebburn North.
He said: “It’s something of a shame, but I’m not surprised no-one is standing from the party.
“The reality is that the Lib Dem brand is toxic on the doorstep.
“It all dates back to the party getting into bed with the Tories.”
Mr Abbott is standing as an independent in Hebburn North next month.
He was the Lib Dems’ last councillor in South Tyneside until he quit the party in disgust over its decision to form a coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives in 2010 and back his austerity measures.
He stood as an independent at 2012’s elections but lost out to Labour’s Mary Butler.
Meanwhile, the far-right British National Party (BNP) is not putting forward any candidates at May’s Local Elections either.
The party has targeted several ward seats in the borough over recent years, but it isn’t throwing its hat into the ring this time round.
At 2012’s local elections, it contested eight of the 18 South Tyneside Council ward seats up for grabs.
Source – Shields Gazette, 15 Apr 2015
A Green surge is predicted in South Tyneside at the general and local elections in May as the party confirmed it was putting up candidates in every borough ward for the very first time.
Shirley Ford, who lives in South Shields, was the Green Party candidate in the town at the 2010 General Election.
On that occasion she attracted 762 votes – 2.1 per cent of the poll, finishing a distant fifth behind the victor, Labour’s David Miliband.
But the political climate has changed dramatically in the five years since.
The administrative assistant at Marine Park Primary School in South Shields is also convinced that the candidates set to represent the party across all 18 wards in the borough are the most diverse.
“We are going to have a full slate of candidates. I can confirm that.
“We’ve been delighted at the interest generated and the number people who have come forward, many for the first time.
“Our candidates range from young people – students and apprentices – to people who are retired, from people working in health, in education and those working in environmental science.
“I’m not claiming we have the youngest candidate because I know Labour has a particularly young representative in Hebburn, but I can’t imagine any party has such a diverse range of candidates.”
Mrs Ford believes the Green input in a series of local issues has helped raise the party’s profile.
As an example she cited its intervention against Harton Technology College applying for academy status.
The Greens’ efforts to stage clean-ups in the town’s “rather unloved” Readhead Park and create a ‘friends of the park’ group there have also improved the public perception, Mrs Ford says.
“Attracting more than ten per cent of the vote is, I believe, a realistic goal.
“It was difficult in the past when we had only a handful of local candidates and a much smaller membership base and we were running a much less ambitious campaign.
“We had a great response at the Westoe by-election last October and that has continued since.
“Tony Bengtsson will once again be our candidate there and the reaction when knocking on doors has been very positive. There is no predicting this election. The opinion polls suggests there are many people undecided on how to cast their vote.
“There can be a Green surge and even if we don’t win a ward, second finishes would leave us in a very good position.
“It’s something we could build on in future campaigns.”
The other candidates standing in South Shields are: Gita Gordon (Liberal Democrat); Emma Lewell-Buck (Labour); Robert Oliver (Conservative); and Norman Dennis (UKIP).
Source – Shields Gazette, 13 Mar 2015
The forthcoming general election has been described as one of the most unpredictable in generations.
And with the polls revealing Labour and the Conservatives to be neck-and-neck, the result could depend on how well the so-called minor parties perform.
For some time now this has largely meant UKIP which has enjoyed a level of success in the North.
Now it also means the Green party which has seen its membership surge of late reportedly to a higher level than that of UKIP.
So will either of them manage to win seats here or perhaps gain sufficient votes to affect the final outcome?
Political expert Dr Martin Farr of Newcastle University said Labour was most at threat from the rise of UKIP while the Greens posed a threat particularly to the Lib Dems.
Dr Farr also said the support in the North East had given UKIP a certain amount of credibility.
“Before it had been portrayed as the party of disgruntled Tories, the anti-immigration party.
“But the North East is Labour’s heartland and immigration isn’t as big an issue here as it is, say, in the North West.
“The issue here is about representation which many former Labour voters don’t think they are getting from the party.
“Meanwhile UKIP can say what it likes at the moment as it is a party untarnished by being in Government.
“What it is offering is what Labour used to offer – clarity and certainty.”
This could explain why UKIP has enjoyed notable electoral successes up here recently.
At present it has a North East MEP, Jonathan Arnott, and four local councillors, two in South Tyneside and two in Hartlepool.
At the 2013 South Shields by-election following David Miliband’s resignation, UKIP’s Richard Elvin came second to Labour’s Emma Lewell Buck winning 24% of the vote, with the Tories and Lib Dems a distant thrid and fourth.
And, if the UK didn’t have a first past the post electoral system, it could have many more representatives.
In the May 2014 local elections at Newcastle City Council, having never contested a ward before, UKIP put up candidates in 19 and nine came second in the vote.
Its overall share of the vote was 9,231 or 13.5%, ahead of the Conservatives although trailing Labour and the Lib Dems.
Meanwhile at Sunderland City Council, UKIP put up five candidates in 2012 and although none won, it got some notable numbers in Hetton in particular with 1,363 where their candidate came a close second.
In 2014 it was unlucky not to win any seats despite gaining 16,951 votes in total, a 24.3% share. Of the 23 wards it contested it came 2nd in 16 of them.
Even as we approach the general election it is still making inroads. Last month the Mayor of Bishop Auckland, Coun Colin Race, quit the Labour Party and joined UKIP.
As for the Greens, Dr Farr said:
“There has been a huge surge in support because the Lib Dem support has collapsed and they are also attracting people from the left of Labour who are fed up with austerity.
“There isn’t a Syriza type party (the left wing anti-austerity party in Greece which formed the last Government there) in the UK.
“The Green party is basically still a pressure group without fully formed policies on all the issues. It’s leader was embarrassed recently in a TV interview because of this.”
However he said in time, using the success it has had at local level in places like Brighton, it could achieve credibility at a national level.
This might mean any electoral success it enjoys in the region by be more limited than UKIP which, in the public’s eye, is a bit more of an established party.
Overall Dr Farr said he wasn’t expecting many surprises at the May general election.
He said: “I think in most of the North East, the majorities are such that the numbers they attract won’t be enough to win seats.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 07 Feb 2015
This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 18th June 2014 21.00 UTC
Ed Miliband will set out Labour’s first plans for cuts to the welfare system, ending out-of-work benefits for roughly 100,000 18-to-21-year-olds and replacing them with a less costly means-tested payment dependent on training.
The move is designed to symbolise Labour’s determination to reform welfare, making it more closely linked to what people pay in, as well as cutting the benefits bill.
> More closely linked to Tory policy more like. What odds on a Con-Lab coalition after the next election ? They might as well – the differences between the parties seem to have now completely vanished.
“Britain’s young people who do not have the skills they need for work should be in training, not on benefits,” the Labour leader will say. It is essential to reform welfare to bring down a “wall of scepticism” among voters who don’t believe that politicians will make the system fairer, he will argue.
> So does “reform” always have to mean “make life more difficult for those worst off” ?
Miliband’s move reflects a recognition of anger among some voters that some people are getting “something for nothing” out of the welfare system. A YouGov poll for the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), the leading centre-left thinktank, published on Thursday, finds that 78% believe that the welfare system is failing to reward people who have worked and contributed to it.
> Really ? Is it supposed to be a reward ? Are these people confusing benefits with investing money in stocks and shares or something ?
The removal of jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) for those with skills below level 3 would affect seven out of 10 of the 18-to-21-year-olds currently claiming JSA, and initially save £65m.
Miliband will reveal further plans to make welfare more conditional by linking benefit payments to national insurance contributions.
Under his plans, people would only be able to claim the higher rate JSA of £71 a week after they have paid National Insurance for five years, instead of the current two. The contributory element of the welfare system has been eroded in Britain and is much smaller than in most European economies.
Labour officials said the switch in spending by abolishing JSA for young people was not designed to be punitive, but to incentivise them to train. The longer qualifying period for higher-rate JSA will mean those who qualify will be able to receive additional help worth as much as £20 to £30 a week, they added.
The Labour leader, struggling with poor personal poll ratings, will be responding to a major report by the IPPR setting out as many as 30 radical measures to rebuild public faith in politics and public institutions in an era of austerity.
Two separate polls sent further dire messages about Miliband’s personal standing, with one poll by Ipsos MORI showing a small majority of voters wanting him replaced as party leader, and another by YouGov claiming voters would be more likely to back Labour if it was led by his brother, the former foreign secretary David Miliband.
Miliband will argue that any reforming politician must deal with doubts about the ability of politics “to address the long-standing pressures on work, family and people’s sense of fair play that has been piling up for decades”.
He will admit one reason for such scepticism is that “people think the problems are huge, but they don’t believe they can be solved because of the financial problems the country faces. Many people think that in hard times, politicians’ promises are all hot air.”
But big reforms need not require big spending, he will argue. “Our country continues to confront a fiscal situation the like of which we have not seen for generations, the result of a financial crash the like of which none of us has ever seen,” he will say.
“We cannot just hope to make do and mend, and we cannot borrow and spend money to paper over the cracks.”
Writing in today’s Guardian, the IPPR’s director, Nick Pearce, goes further, saying: “Gone are the days when economic growth could generate enough resources to redistribute income without making painful choices. Even with a different economic agenda, there is little prospect of any government elected in 2015 spending its way to greater equality.”
Pearce urges Labour to reject a business as usual path in which the government “would tax a little more and cut a little less, leaving the architecture of the state untouched and the current framework of services and social security in place”.
Miliband will also back proposals for local councils to be given more control of the ballooning housing benefit budget. The report suggests the housing benefit bill will reach £25.4bn, with real terms rises expected for the next five years.
Miliband argues the IPPR report shows that even when there is no money to spend radical reform can be started in the fields of health, child care, welfare, social care and housing. But he is going to be cautious about embracing some of its specific plans drawn up over the past 18 months, including a £2bn child care package, funded through scrapping plans for a marriage tax allowance, freezing child benefit and reducing pension tax reliefs.
The report also argues that there needs to be a switch of government resources from tax transfers and credits to delivering services, something that might require abandoning the expensive target to eliminate child poverty.
It will also propose a radical devolution of power to local councils, including over housing benefit and welfare to work for the disabled. In probably the biggest proposal, the IPPR will argue that the left has to restore the contributory principle in the welfare system. Pearce argues social security for the unemployed has become a liability for social democrats. Turning the issue into a source of strategic strength will require rebuilding the reciprocity that underpins it, restoring the contributory principle and giving new life to the idea of national insurance. “Fiscal constraints should lead us away from means-tested residualisation of welfare, not further towards it”.
There is frustration among some Labour policy leaders at Miliband’s reluctance to embrace more of the report, designed to show how the left set out a redistributionist agenda in the post-crash world. It has had the support of Jon Cruddas, head of the Labour policy review.
> Well, that’s it then. Labour continue to piss all over the very people who were originally their electorate. If anyone still had any belief that they were the People’s Friend, this should finally disabuse them.
Source – Welfare News Service, 18 June 2014
Until seven years ago, there was a secret room at Darlington station. Just off one of the platforms, between the standard-class waiting room and a cleaners’ storeroom, and set back behind three successive doors, it was small and plain: a desk, a grimy extractor fan and two windows made opaque to passing travellers by reflective material.
Tony Blair used this room when he was prime minister. His constituency, Sedgefield in County Durham, was a short drive away. When he needed to get to London, 260 miles south, he and his entourage would often catch the fast Darlington train, which can take less than two and a half hours.
More usefully still, many other key New Labour figures took the same line, among them Peter Mandelson, Alan Milburn and David Miliband. Altogether, the north-east of England, which contains about a 25th of the UK population, was represented by “a third of Blair’s first cabinet“, noted the veteran anatomist of British power networks, Anthony Sampson, in 2004. (Sampson was himself born in County Durham.) Rarely before had our remotest and often poorest region been such a hub of political influence.
> Of course it could be argued that their only real interest in the region was that it provided safe Labour seats – Mandelson got elected in Hartlepool ! Atriumph of blind devotion over common sense if ever there was one.
When Blair arrived early or his train arrived late, it was felt by Whitehall that the increasingly controversial premier could not just stand on a platform, waiting. Hence the secret room. Now, it is just the station manager’s office. The building around it has gone back to being a market town station with flaking paint and a fragile roof, where isolated passenger footsteps echo in the long middle-of-the-day lull and trains for Scotland and the south of England rattle through without stopping. No current cabinet minister has a north-east seat – only two of its MPs are Tories. Labour’s power base is now in London, Yorkshire and the north-west.
Since the Blair era, the area has slipped in other ways. Between 2007 and 2012, unemployment rose faster than in any other UK region, to more than 10%, the highest in the country. Throughout 2013, as joblessness receded in most of the UK, in the north-east it carried on rising. This year, it has begun to fall a little but remains the worst in the nation.
> And how much of that fall can be attributed to sanctions ? Quite a chunk, I’d guess.
Since 2007, the area’s contribution to national economic growth, measured as gross value added, has shrunk from an already weak 3% in the Blair years to barely 2%. The Northern Rock building society, with roots in the region going back a century and a half, has suffered a humiliating meltdown. The north-east has been, and will probably continue to be, especially harshly treated by the coalition’s spending cuts.
According to the Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities, a typical council in the region will lose £665 in government funding per inhabitant between 2010 and 2018, the biggest national fall. Meanwhile, public sector employment in the region – the highest in England at more than one job in five – has been falling since 2009, a year before the coalition took office.
At Newcastle United, one of the north-east’s disproportionate number of fiercely followed, rarely successful football clubs, the recent sponsorship of the team shirt tells a similarly dispiriting story: Northern Rock from 2003-2011; Virgin Money, Northern Rock’s current, Edinburgh-based owners, from 2012- 2013; this season, the payday loan company Wonga.
Between 2011 and 2012, child poverty rates in Middlesbrough and Newcastle Central rose to 40% and 38% respectively.
“For as long as anyone alive will remember, this has been a ‘problem region’: a special case, a sick man,” wrote the Newcastle-born novelist Richard T Kelly in a 2011 essay, What’s Left For The North-East?
In recent years, some rightwingers have begun to throw up their hands. “It is at least as hard to buck geography as it is to buck the market,” said the influential Tory thinktank Policy Exchange in 2008. “It is time to stop pretending that there is a bright future for Sunderland.”
And last year the Tory peer Lord Howell suggested the region had “large uninhabited and desolate areas… where there’s plenty of room for fracking“. Weeks later, the Economist described Middlesbrough and Hartlepool as part of “Britain’s rust belt“; “Despite dollops of public money and years of heroic effort… [these] former industrial heartlands are quietly decaying.“
The magazine concluded with an unlikely but ominous comparison: “The Cotswolds were the industrial engines of their day. One reason they are now so pretty is that, centuries ago, huge numbers of people fled them.”
From Darlington, an old and scuzzy two-carriage train chugs east along a branch line towards Middlesbrough. Along the way, it stops at Thornaby-on-Tees, an ex-industrial town beside the river Tees. From the 1840s until the 1980s, the Head Wrightson ironworks here made everything from parts for bridges to parts for nuclear power stations; then foreign competition closed it.
In 1987, Margaret Thatcher visited the site and took a much-photographed walk across a yellowing wasteland of weeds and factory remnants, wearing an inappropriate smart suit but looking unusually pensive. Shortly afterwards, her government, seeking to soften its reputation as the hammer of the north, created the Teesside Development Corporation, and the wasteland was turned into the Teesdale Business Park, a US-style landscape of corporate lawns, car parks and low office blocks.
The blocks are still there, neat and anonymous except for the corporate logos: Barclaycard, the NHS, the privatised services firm Serco. The car parks are full of mid-range vehicles. For three decades, the north-east has been a centre for modestly paid clerical work, such as call centres and the “back office” administrative processes of companies based elsewhere. But at the Teesdale Business Park, “To Let” is the most common logo; some are so old, they have rotted and snapped off.
As with Thornaby, Middlesbrough is a flat riverside town that once grew fast because of iron foundries: from only 25 inhabitants in 1801 to 165,000 in the 1960s. The Victorian centre was built to a grid pattern, like a US boom town, with docks just to the north for exporting iron and coal.
But in 1980 the docks closed, the population began to fall, and a void opened between the town and the river. It is still there, starting a few yards from the town centre; a great windswept triangle of rubble and rust, boarded-up houses, Dickensian wall fragments and roads to nowhere. Derelict waterfront warehouses stand in the distance. A middle-aged security man in a peeling wood cabin guards them. “There’s lots of steel cable in those sheds,” he says. “And lots of people try to steal it.” When asked how long it has been so run-down, he shrugs and says without emotion: “As long as I can remember.“
The town’s population is around 138,000. To a visitor, the long, straight streets of the town centre seem eerily empty of pedestrians. At the sizable railway station, the weekday rush hour sometimes barely exists: at 8.30 on a Friday morning, I counted fewer than a dozen other people on the platforms. The station cafe had not bothered to open.
“If things carry on as they are now,” says Alex Niven, a leftwing writer from Northumberland, “in five years the situation will get somewhere like Detroit.” Several other authorities in the north-east that I interviewed invoked the long-imploding American city, unprompted.
He left the area 10 years ago, aged 18, and now lives in London. “Almost all my friends from school live in London now. When you go back to the north-east, the landscape’s kind of crumbling. There is this sort of sadness. It feels like a people who’ve been weakened, who’ve just been cut loose.”
Geography does not help. “The north-east is at the far corner of the country, but it is separated by more than just miles,” writes Harry Pearson, born near Middlesbrough, in his 1994 book The Far Corner.
“There is the wilderness of the Pennines to the west, the emptiness of the North York Moors to the south, and to the north, the Scottish border… Sometimes the north-east [seems] more like an island than a region.”
It is an island that the HS2 rail project is not currently intended to reach. Meanwhile, the prospect of Scottish independence and the near-certainty of more Scottish devolution threatens to marginalise the region further. “Scotland can already do more to attract inward investment than we can,” says Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle Central. “More power for Scotland, in that sense, would not be a benefit for us.”
Pinned to a board in her constituency office is a list of Newcastle food banks. Outside, contrastingly, the grand city centre streets are much busier than in Middlesbrough, full of prosperously dressed people and big branches of the same upmarket chainstores as in richer places.
“Newcastle is the economic capital of the north-east,” she says, “but the centre, especially, is not representative of the region.” A few minutes’ walk farther out, cheap cafes offer soup of the day for a pound, and other scruffy businesses have long ceased to offer anything. “Every time I see a building boarded up,” Onwurah says, “it strikes fear into my heart.”
Onwurah grew up on a Newcastle council estate in the 60s and 70s. It was then a smoky, clattering centre for shipbuilding and other heavy industry, but these were in terminal decline. In 1984, she left to study electrical engineering, then worked away from Newcastle for a quarter of a century, until she was elected as MP in 2010. In the interim, the city reshaped its economy around tourism and nightlife, as an internationally hyped “party city“; around sport, with the 90s resurgence of Newcastle United; and around culture, with the opening in Gateshead of the Baltic art gallery in 2002 and the Sage music centre in 2004.
“It was a very heady time,” says Niven, who supports Newcastle United and as a teenager often travelled into the city from rural Northumberland. “The north-east has a brash, confident side. There’s also often a sense of slumbering potential, that one day a messiah or a revival will come.”
In the 90s and noughties, optimism was most concrete along the river Tyne, which separates Gateshead and Newcastle. Decaying canyons of quayside buildings filled with flash new bars, expensive flats, high-end office space and public art. It was easy to visit Newcastle – which I often did then – and think it was becoming a swaggering, economically self-sufficient provincial city, such as those you find in less centralised countries: another Marseille or Hamburg.
The quaysides are slightly less uplifting now. On the Newcastle side, several bars have shut down. Bridge Court, an enormous, empty office block, has a plaque that reads, “The foundation stone was laid by Mr Eddie George, governor of the Bank of England, on 22 September 1994“; another sign says, “Demolition. Keep Out“.
Niven sees the north-east’s revival under the Blair government as “largely superficial. In the long term, it didn’t lead to better jobs and infrastructure. You can’t base the revival of a region on nightlife and football.“
Onwurah, whose grandfather worked in the shipyards and whose mother grew up on the quayside, is less scathing: “Labour did a lot in the north-east, to stop the concentration of economic power elsewhere getting much worse, but we didn’t overcome the underlying issue. We haven’t got the previous sources of economic growth. And we haven’t got enough skills and entrepreneurs.” A successful region, she says, has a “critical mass” economically. “If you don’t have critical mass, to attract people and investment, you go into decline. We’re on the edge of that.” She holds up her hands and makes a flat, wobbling gesture: “We’re teetering.“
In Middlesbrough, the riverside wasteland has been earmarked for regeneration – as a new area called Middlehaven – for almost 30 years. Recessions, anxious developers and the town’s wider economic struggles have confined most construction to the area’s fringe. Yet there is one exception: an incongruous silvery curve of a building in the centre of the emptiness. Middlesbrough College opened in 2008; it houses engineering workshops, training kitchens, hair and beauty salons, and other vocational course facilities for 16- to 18-year-olds. In 2011, it was rated “good with outstanding features” by Ofsted. Walking down the college’s bright and warm internal street, seconds after being out in the dereliction, and seeing students at work in the glass-walled rooms or rushing back and forth, it seems absurd to think that Middlesbrough does not have a long-term future. But in the window of the in-house Jobs Shop, only half a dozen positions are offered. One is at a local seaside care home for the elderly: the successful applicant will earn £107.20 for a 40-hour week.
Further education is one of the north-east’s few growth industries. “Without it, I dread to think what some of the cities would be doing,” says Andy Pike, director of Newcastle University’s Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies. “A lot of people want to come and study in the north-east” – academic standards are high, living costs low and the nightlife boisterous. But, Pike adds, “We have a problem with graduate retention: not as many stay as could do. It’s a thin labour market. The people who stay typically will not end up in graduate jobs. And then local non-graduates will be bumped out of the labour market altogether.”
> But the influx of students also puts a strain on rented accommodation. Certainly in Sunderland (which seems to be ignored in this article) its noticable that streets near to the university appear to becoming student-only ghettos – private landlords presumably looking to maximise profits by packing them in.
In the north-east, the increasingly de-skilled, low-paid labour market of Britain under the coalition is at its meanest. Full-time wages are the lowest of any UK region.
In 2007, the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, or Mima, cheekily echoing New York’s Moma gallery, opened on a redeveloped square in the town centre. It looks the part: slick, glassy exterior; high-ceilinged interior; dozens of attentive young staff in Mima T-shirts. It offers an ambitious programme of community events and exhibitions – currently, Art And Optimism In 1950s Britain. Yet a gallery cannot make a town centre vibrant by itself. On Thursday evenings, it opens late, but on the Thursday I visited I saw four other visitors in half an hour.
Since the 1930s, governments have tested regeneration projects in the region. Edward Twiddy is one of the latest reformers to be despatched from London. Since 2012, he has been head of the North-East Local Enterprise Partnership (Nelep), a typically optimistic coalition creation, which aims to get business and local councils – almost all Labour – to work together for the area’s economic benefit.
Twiddy previously worked at the Treasury and for the Foreign Office in Iraq. He is slight and cerebral-looking, and speaks mostly in fluent Whitehall jargon. “The region’s still going through some fairly big structural changes,” he tells me. “The north-east was over-specialised – in coal, for example. Nowadays, people need to be able to approach life differently. You’ve got to be able to travel, to be competitive… Economic activity will move [away] if you cannot convince the market that yours is the right place to work.” But even Twiddy is off: he is set to leave Nelep for Atom, a new digital bank to be based “in the north-east“.
I ask how many staff Nelep has. Twiddy pauses: “The core is four. Then there are people doing discrete pieces of work for us, people loaned to us, people I’ve scrabbled around for, got a few pennies for… There are about 11 or 12 of us in all.” Nelep replaced One North-East, a regional development agency created by the Blair government that had 400 staff.
Yet there is a more economically independent side to the region. A few miles east of the centre of Newcastle, a side road leads steeply downhill to a half-hidden stretch of the Tyne. In the early 1980s, the quays here were a rotting ladder of derelict docks and slipways. Then two local property developers, Freddy and Bruce Shepherd, began to buy the land, clean it up, reuse the old cranes and rent out the quaysides: first to companies involved in North Sea oil, then to others involved in undersea cable-laying and offshore wind power.
Shepherd Offshore now stretches along the Tyne for miles. In its riverside boardroom, with giant reels of cable as tall as tugboats looming outside the windows, Twiddy makes the introductions over coffee served in Versace mugs. The Shepherds are heavyset men with fierce handshakes and slightly loose tongues. “We are the raggy end of the couch up here in the north-east,” Bruce says. Freddy interjects: “We get nothing easy. Not off the government. Without us, there would be nothing here but two abandoned shipyards.” “Up and down the river, we’re close knit,” Bruce says. “There are more than 2,500 jobs. We’re a manufacturing base. We train people. But we’re forgotten down here.”
How many jobs were there in the days of the shipyards? “Six and a half thousand,” Freddy says. “I was an apprentice in the shipyard here. You’re never going to get back to those numbers.”
Bruce offers a tour of the quay in his spotless Range Rover. As we drive, he points out other cars parked nose to tail at the roadside: “There’s never enough parking. The number of people working here keeps growing.” We leave the road and enter a muddy construction site, scheduled to house a new national research centre for offshore and undersea technology, a collaboration between the Shepherds, Newcastle city council and Newcastle University. Bruce ploughs through puddles, his property developer’s patter in full flow, then stops his spattered Range Rover at a fence that faces the famous old Swan Hunter shipyard. It is still a wasteland, but new developments are encroaching from all directions.
Another sign of entropy reversed would be to attract more southerners; not just to study but to work. Twiddy is one. Tony Trapp is another. Raised in London, he has been one of the area’s handful of legendary entrepreneurs since the 70s. Then, he helped invent an undersea plough for laying seabed pipes and cables by driving a specially adapted tractor up and down a beach in Northumberland. Several companies and clever products later, he now runs Osbit Power, which makes self-stabilising gangways to connect offshore wind turbines to maintenance vessels.
The enterprise is based in a previously derelict hotel in sweeping Northumberland countryside. Behind its unkempt walls, purposeful-looking young employees cluster at desks or in front of whiteboards, while Trapp, a creased man of 68 with a murmuring voice but an intoxicating can-do aura, briefs them and holds court. “I’ve always based my businesses on clever graduates,” he says later. “I’ve taken on hundreds, some from Newcastle University, from Northumbria University. For offshore engineering, the north-east is the best place in Europe.“
But in other ways he sees the local economy as still underpowered. “Persuading clever people from the south to come here is quite hard. It’s not just the image they have of the north-east – it does have the worst statistics, in health, in booze… If you look at many CEOs of big companies here, they don’t live up here. They live in Surrey, London. It’s insulting, in a way.” For a second, he looks his age. “I don’t have the solution to the north-east.”
It is not Twiddy’s job to voice such doubts. Instead, he takes me to the coast, not far from where Trapp tested his undersea plough. It is a brilliant blue day, and the often luminous north-east light is at its most seductive. We drive into the small town of Blyth, where there has been a port since the 12th century, which suggests the region has more staying power than the doom-mongers claim. We approach a cluster of shiny, towering blue-grey sheds, where the National Renewable Energy Centre tests blades for offshore wind farms. In December, the government increased its subsidy for this source of electricity, a rare gift from Whitehall to the north-east in the age of austerity. Twiddy sounds like a small boy for a moment: “The crane for lifting the blades is just amazing!“
We walk to one of the windowless sheds. Inside, spot-lit, suspended above an expanse of polished concrete floor, a single pale grey blade, with weights and cables attached to it, flexes slowly up and down, vast and stately as the tail of a whale. The only sound is the hum of the air-conditioning. In a space the size of a small cathedral, but clean and tidy as a science lab, only two employees are visible: distant, purposeful figures in dust coats.
Working here looks much better than working in a chilly shipyard, a call centre or a nightclub, or for most of the region’s previous economic saviours. But Mill says the centre has a staff of 69. The north-east will need an awful lot more workplaces like it this if it is going to stop teetering.
Source – The Guardian 10 May 2014
A man who blew the whistle on poor care for the elderly at a South Shields nursing home is aiming to fly the flag for socialism at next month’s local elections.
Phil Brown is standing for the Independent Socialist Party in the town’s Horsley Hill ward on Thursday, May 22.
Born and raised on “The Hill”, the 59-year-old married father-of-two is the son of Cathy Brown, a former Labour mayor of South Tyneside.
In 2005, the NHS nurse of 37 years raised concerns at failings in care given to residents at the privately-owned Bamburgh Court Care Home in South Shields.
And last year he stood for MP in a Parliamentary by-election after the resignation of Labour’s David Miliband, finishing in fifth place with 776 votes.
Although he retains a warmth towards Labour, he has grown disillusioned with the party and is unconvinced its leader Ed Miliband can lead it to victory at next year’s General Election.
On a local level he will be campaigning on the need for extra traffic calming meaures, parking spaces and police and warden patrols in Horsley Hill.
In South Shields generally his concerns lie with the “collapse of commerce” in the retail centre of King Street and the town centre, but he remains supportive of the ‘South Shields 365’ masterplan to regenerate the area.
Mr Brown, of Leafield Crescent, South Shields, said he was hopeful he could make an impact next month.
“This is me going back to my roots. Ironically, it was my mother who helped make Horsley Hill a Labour stronghold by helping see-off the Progressives.
“Part of me will always be Labour but I honestly don’t think Ed Miliband has what it takes.
“I’m not afraid to use the word ‘socialism’. That’s what the Labour Party was built on.”
The other candidates standing in Horsley Hill are: Eileen Leask (Labour); Marilyn Huartt (Conservative) and Kelly Anne Loftus (UKIP).
Source – Shields Gazette 29 April 2014