Tourism projects vital to Northumberland will be denied a chance to bid for Government cash.
Hopes of building on Northumberland’s tourist hotspot status were dashed when planners were told the latest Government advice was that new projects would not bring in enough jobs and so will not get any cash from a £2bn local growth fund.
Officials in Northumberland were told the news when they asked for £2m from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, the business-led group backed by Government tasked with co-ordinating job creation efforts. Cash would have gone towards The Sill project, a visitor centre which would have created more than 100 jobs.
The partnership told Northumberland the blame lay with the Government, saying cities minister Greg Clark made the blunt assessment of the likelihood of funding bids being successful when he met business and council leaders last week.
But last night the Cabinet office said it was “absolutely wrong” to rule out tourism projects, and insisted the North East could try for cash if it could prove that the tourism project would create jobs.
Tourism in Northumberland alone is said to support some 16,000 jobs, but, Northumberland County Councilhas been told, strict funding rules for the new cash pot will rule out supporting visitor centres, galleries or hotels. The snub has raised fears at County Hall that money handed to the region through the Local Growth Fund will almost entirely benefit urban Tyneside and Sunderland.
“To say that ‘tourism isn’t an economic priority’ downplays the significant role this sector plays in the wider Northumberland economy but especially in Tynedale. Last year it accounted for over £700m in the county economy and underpinned over 13,000 jobs. The Conservative-led coalition doesn’t understand our needs.”
The Sill project, based near Haydon Bridge, is for a discovery centre and office space bringing in an expected 100,000 visitors, with 15,000 expected to stay overnight.
The partnership’s tourism advice also raises question marks over further tourism cash for other Northumberland projects, including a share of the £7m needed to further develop Kielder Forestwith a tree top walkway adventure centre and wildlife support.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “It is absolutely untrue to say that tourism projects are less likely be successful in bids for local growth deals.
“Any bid must be able to show good evidence of benefits for the local economy in terms of jobs and growth, and bids from the tourism industry will be considered on their individual merits alongside every other sector. It is for the North East Local Enterprise Partnership to decide what priority they give to the individual bids in the region, according to the evidence provided.”
A spokesman for the partnership said they were still finalising plans, adding that: “We have been advised that tourism and cultural projects are less likely to achieve these ambitious measures.
“This does not mean the end for the Sill or other projects which could not be prioritised at this time and we will be working with partners to identify alternative funding sources wherever possible.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 25 March 2014
And on a similar theme…
The Trust set up to safeguard Hadrian’s Wall is to be closed down as a result of funding cuts.
Staff at the Hadrian’s Wall Trust face an uncertain future after English Heritage decided it had no option but to pull the plug on support.
The body had being tasked with managing the World heritage Site, but control will now have to be shared among various councils along the route.
English Heritage, Natural England and the eight local authorities who part fund the Hadrian’s Wall Trust are working with NorthumberlandNational Park Authority and the Chairman of the World Heritage Site Management Plan Committee, to put new arrangements in place to safeguard one of the country’s most famous landmarks.
Henry Owen-John, English Heritage planning and conservation director for the North West, said the funders were left with little choice.
He said: “The Trust as a charity is working in a pretty tough financial climate, as are the people who contribute funds to it, such as English Heritage.
“The Trust has been very successful in raising money for specific projects, but the difficulty is finding funding to cover its core costs, the day to day costs, and it is this which has led us to our decision.
“These are difficult times that we all have to operate under. The Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site is unusual in that we do not normally cover the management sites, it is really just this and Stonehenge where this happens, and we have to bring that situation here to an end, and try to get the management self sustaining.
“The people who will take over after the closure of the trust are committed to the future management and coordination of the sites.
“Northumberland County Council will take a lead role in coordinating this now.”
Mr Owen-John said promotional work this year will continue.
“It will take approximately six months to bring the affairs of the trust to a satisfactory conclusion, and the spring and autumn promotional work will continue as planned this year.
“We want to continue marketing Hadrian’s Wall as a whole rather than each council just marketing its bit of the wall.”
English Heritage has had a hard time when it comes to securing Government cash. In 2010 it had some 30% of its budget axed.
In 2013 the Department for Culture, Media and Sport came back for more cuts, asking for 10% from the heritage group’s 2015/16 budget.
Last month The Journal revealed concerns among North East councils that plans to reform English Heritage could see it cherry pick the best sites for its new management arm at the cost of less glamorous sites.
The changes have prompted fears from former Newcastle council leader Lord Beecham and former regional minister Nick Brown that the moves were akin to privatising the service.
In response, Sir Laurie Magnus told The Journal he wanted to “make clear that English Heritage considers its sites in the North East to be among the most important, interesting and beautiful in England. The advantage of the proposed change is that we will be able to invest more in them not less.”
In Northumberland it is hoped the staff currently working for the trust will, where possible, be found work with the councils and other bodies helping look after the wall in future, with decisions being made over the next six months.
Grant Davey, leader of Northumberland County Council: “Hadrian’s Wall is a core part of the county’s tourism industry. We are working alongside our partners with businesses, communities and all other stakeholders along the route to support them and keep them informed of developments. Our priority is safeguarding the Wall into the future.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 25 March 2014
Visitor numbers at museums in the North East have dropped as funding cuts force shorter opening hours and hit exhibitions, new figures have revealed.
Government statistics show that annual visits to the facilities run by Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums were down by more than 26,000 in the first nine months of this financial year compared to the same period a year earlier.
That slump included a 17% fall in visitors at Gateshead’s Shipley Art Gallery, a 14% reduction at the Laing gallery in Newcastle and a 10% fall at Newcastle’s Discovery Museum – all of which suffered cuts in opening hours as a result of budget reductions.
The Great North Museum and the South Shields Museum also saw a drop in visitor numbers, though there were encouraging rises at Segedunum Roman Fort in Wallsend and Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, both of around 18%.
The downward trend has been attributed to a reduction in museum opening hours in the region, introduced last year as a way of cutting costs.
And last night one former council leader said the region would start to realise the true extent of its cuts.
Liberal Democrat council David Faulkner said the cuts to Newcastle’s arts scene would be damaging.
He said: “The cuts by Newcastle City Council to the museums service was camouflaged last year by all the publicity surrounding Lee Hall and the arts venues. The chickens are coming home to roost now. They had to take their share but we still say that cuts to arts and museums should have been more proportionate and spread over a longer period to allow more time to absorb them.
“Our museums are among the best in the country and attract huge numbers, including many thousands of young people who get an appreciation of their heritage, of science and engineering and of arts and crafts. The value of this work is underestimated by the council, it seems to us.”
Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums director, Iain Watson, said: “At many museums and galleries visitor figures will vary year on year and this can be due to a complex range of factors including popularity of individual exhibitions, major programmes in a particular year with significant external funding, particularly successful events, and even the weather.
“In April 2013 opening hours at Discovery Museum, the Laing Art Gallery and the Shipley Art Gallery were all reduced as a result of the very difficult funding positions of the supporting local authorities.
“Not surprisingly this has had an immediate impact on visitor numbers but measures have been put in place to mitigate this. For example, at Discovery Museum, in October we reorganised the weekend opening hours to spread the available hours differently over Saturday and Sunday to make sure that the museum is open at times that best suit our users.”
Tyne and Wear Archieves and Museums said the upward trend of Segedunum was “very pleasing” and that it works hard not just to maximise visitor numbers, but also to ensure that it reaches members of communities who are less likely to use museums.
And commenting on the visitor numbers at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, Coun John Kelly, Sunderland City Council’s Portfolio Holder for Public Health, Wellness and Culture said: “If we look at figures for April to November there was an increase of over 40,000 visitors compared to the same period for the previous year.
“The Museum and Winter Gardens programmes a wide variety of high quality exhibitions to accommodate the needs of all of our visitors, whatever their interests. All exhibitions are engaging and accessible and fulfil our aim to be a cultural centre for everyone in Sunderland and the North East region.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 10 Feb 2014
Unfair funding cuts which hit poorest areas hardest would come to an end under Labour – but councils would still be forced to make savings, shadow ministers have warned.
Shadow local government minister Andy Sawford said Labour would draw up a new funding formula to ensure towns and cities across the North East were no longer targeted for funding cuts.
It follows warnings from the region’s MPs and council leaders that vital services such as social care, policing and fire brigades are suffering because the region is losing money while wealthy areas in the south are actually gaining cash.
But Mr Sawford also warned that a Labour Governmentcould only change the way funding was distributed and could not promise an overall increase in local authority funding.
He also revealed that failing private firms running the Work Programme, a Government scheme to provide unemployed people with training and advice about getting a job, faced the sack when their contracts run out in 2016.
> Well, that’s all of them then. But you’ll notice that they aren’t actually going to abolish Work Programme. It’ll still be a failing programme whoever runs it, simply because it refuses to adress the reality of employment and unemployment in the UK today.
Their role could be handed to voluntary organisations or to the public sector, he said.
> Which probably means it’ll end up being handed to the Jobcentres to run. Oh joy…
The Association of North East Councils has warned that cuts in council budgets in the North East amounted to £467 for every household between 2010 and 2016 – compared to just £105 in the South East.
Mr Sawford, also shadow minister for the cities, said: “The commitment we have made is that we are going to review the formula to ensure that local authority grants are based on a proper needs assessment.
“We’ll then get into how we do that at a time where we are not able to reverse the cuts. It’s not going to be possible.
“So it will be a financially tight time for all local authorities around the country.”
> Mr Sawford, also shadow minister for the cities, said: “We’ll tell you that we’re going to look at things, but nothing will change. Did you really think it would, suckers ?”
One authority has warned it is concerned about the effect of Septembers Scottish independence referendum on its finances.
Sunderland City Council said councils in the North East already faced “an un-level playing field” because Scotland was able to raise its own funds and control much of its own spending.
And Scotland was likely to gain even more autonomy even if voters rejected independence.
> So maybe we – closer to Scotland than London – should seriously consider joining an independent Scotland.
In a submission to the Local Government Select Committee, Sunderland called for local authorities to have more independence.
The council said: “It is Sunderland City Council’s consideration that without greater fiscal devolution to and beyond cities and City Regions areas like Sunderland are at risk of being caught between ‘a rock and a hard place’, between an increasing autonomous and confident Scotland and an increasingly prosperous and powerful London and the South East.”
> See previous comment…
Source – Newcastle Journal, 24 Jan 2014
Ministers have been accused of declaring “war” on the North East as MPs and council leaders gathered at Westminster to plan their fight-back against funding cuts.
> Well it’s taken them long enough ! Have they only just noticed what’s been going on under their noses ?
The region’s Labour politicians warned the debate about funding and grants obscured the real impact of cuts, which was worse public services and the prospect of councils running out of money.
Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland Council, said families in the North East would receive poorer police and fire services than those in wealthier parts of the country.
And the region’s politicians accused the Government of quietly scrapping the long-accepted convention that funding was allocated in part on the basis of need – so areas with higher levels of poverty, a higher proportion of older folk a low skills base or other pressing needs were given the cash they needed.
The change means a council like Newcastle is facing budget cuts while those in much wealthier areas are enjoying increases in funding.
The warnings were issued as council leaders delivered a presentation to MPs in a Commons committee room at Westminster, following a meeting with Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis.
> And they all said: “Bugger me, we had no idea this was going on. When did this start, then ?”
GatesheadMP Ian Mearns told the gathering: “There is a war being fought against our communities and it is being inflicted on us in the most ruthless fashion I can remember in my 30 years in politics.”
North Durham MP Kevan Jones added: “This is a war. They know exactly what they are doing. They are diverting money from our areas to areas in the south.”
A presentation produced by the Association of North East Councils (ANEC) warned that cuts in council budgets in the North East amounted to £467 for every household between 2010 and 2016 – compared to just £105 in the South East.
The discrepancy is partly a result of the Government abandoning the principle of funding based on “need”, which traditionally meant some councils received more than others.
A higher proportion of the North East’s population is elderly than the national average. The region also has more adults who need social care and long-term unemployment, as well as more children in care, all of which would traditionally have meant councils received higher funding.
But ANEC estimates that by 2019-20, Newcastle City Council’s spending power per household will be equal to the money available to a council in a wealthy areas such as Wokingham, in Berkshire.
Meanwhile, Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell, has revealed that a poll of her constituents shows that more than 90% of respondents expect their standard of living to get worse or stay the same over the next three years.
The survey on her website found that 79% of respondents were concerned by energy bills, 56% by food prices and 39% with the cost of transport.
> So now our Labour representives finally seem to have caught on to what’s going down. Question is, what are they going to actually do about it ?
Source – Newcastle Journal, 16 Jan 2014