Tagged: Grant Davey

Hidden impact of welfare reform concerns Northumberland council

> Another example of local politicians finally catching up with what’s going on. It’s good they’re finally getting the picture, but would have been much better had they noticed over the last 5 years how things were going. Still, I suppose there wasn’t a general election coming up before now…

Councillors have expressed concern over the hidden impacts of welfare reform in Northumberland.

They have pledged to do whatever they can, within their powers, to help and support residents who are affected.

The Government’s ongoing reforms to the welfare system are the most fundamental change to the benefit system since World War Two and are intended to deliver multi-billion pound savings.

However evidence shows that in Northumberland, workers on low incomes and people with a disability are likely to be most affected.

While much of the national focus has been on high profile changes such as the introduction of bedroom tax, two of the most significant issues for Northumberland are the introduction of a 1% cap on working age benefit and changes to the Disability Living Allowance.

Recent research from the Local Government Association (LGA) reveals that the introduction of a 1% cap on tax credits will mean a drop in income for anyone claiming benefits with over half of those affected being in low paid employment.

In Northumberland 32,500 residents will lose on average £823 per household, per year, equating to a total of £26.7million in cuts to the county.

Reflecting the county’s ageing population and industrial past Northumberland also has a higher than average number of households that are likely to be affected by the replacement of the Disability Living Allowance.

The prediction from the LGA study is that 10,000 people in the county will be affected, with an estimated average loss of £724 per year. This will put the county into the top 20% of local authorities to be hit hardest by this particular reform.

Council leader Grant Davey said:

“One of central government’s aims in introducing these reforms was to incentivise work, yet 60% of the losses fall on working households, in particular those on low wages.

“In Northumberland we have a high number of people working in low paid, seasonal jobs who are trying to make an honest living, yet it is these people who are going to feel the brunt of the changes.

“While we cannot change these reforms, we have been working hard behind the scenes to put measures in place to support residents who are affected by them.”

The county council is working to ensure everyone has the entitlements they are eligible for and that monetary advice is available through the support it gives to Citizen’s Advice Bureaux.

The council has also set itself a long-term target to help generate 10,000 new jobs in the county by 2031 by working with local employers, improving education standards, skills training, and job market links. The council’s employability and skills service also delivers a range of support to help get people back into work.

Councillor Scott Dickinson, chair of the county’s Health & Wellbeing board said:

“There is growing evidence locally and nationally that increased financial hardship can lead to ill health, family break-down and social problems which can in turn place greater demands on families, communities and a whole range of public services.

> There is growing evidence ? ! You mean it wasn’t fairly obvious that those were the likely result right from the start ? Something top-level Tories, I’m beginning to believe, well understood and that’s why they’ve pushed them. Social engineering through poverty.

“Given that the reforms are being introduced incrementally means their full impact will not be felt for some time. There is however real concern about the effects these changes will have on residents and the additional pressures placed on local services. It is a situation we are very aware of and one we are working closely with other councils in the region to monitor.”

Source – Berwick Advertiser,  28 Jan 2015

Northumberland County Council members accused of ‘undesirable’ behaviour

County councillors in Northumberland have been accused of “undesirable” behaviour by their peers and of not putting the best interests of residents first.

Some members of Labour-run Northumberland County Council also admit to having “no interest” in the authority and are “distracted by negativity,” a report by officers and members of other local authorities has found.

The report claims the behaviour of some members is “not providing a sufficiently grown up atmosphere” in which to operate and calls on them to behave in a more “statesman-like” fashion.

> Bloody hell ! Anyone who has ever heard what goes on at Westminster will be now wondering just how bad things must be here !

On the back of the findings, the council’s senior officer said it referred to a number of “misleading claims” which damaged the authority’s reputation such as that its planned new headquarters will cost £40m and that a £20,000 car bought for use by its chairman is a Limousine.

An opposition councillor at the authority accused leaders of issuing outrageous and demonstrably untrue statements and intemperate blog posts.

They hit back saying their critic appeared “hell bent” on proving the report’s findings right.

 

 The conduct of members comes under fire in a Local Government Associationpeer challenge’ of the authority, in which it is visited and assessed by the council by senior officers and councillors from other local authorities around the country.

They concluded:

“There are concerns that not all elected members from all political groups appear to put the best interests of Northumberland residents first, either in their interactions with other elected members, or how they engage with the council more broadly.

“Put bluntly, there are some undesirable member behaviours which are detrimental to the council operating effectively, having a negative effect on its external reputation and internal functioning.

“Increasing tensions and increased media opportunities are to a degree somewhat inevitable as politicians become focused on the 2015 general election, but councillors need to remember that they are the external face of Northumberland County Council and campaigns in the media can be detrimental to everyone and the council’s reputation.

“There are also some concerns about how members interact with officers and with each other.”

The report adds:

Political negativity from some elected members is not providing a sufficiently grown up atmosphere conducive to trust and neither is it in the best interests of local residents.

“Some members openly declare that they have no interest in ‘the council’ although they are members of the council…

“The behaviours of some members need to improve, and a disproportionate amount of time seems to be spent in attacking the council, resulting in officers then having to deal with the fall-out, rather than developing or influencing policies for the greater good. “Opportunities to build relationships and build trust need to be explored, so that members and officers can focus on the big issues ahead, rather than being distracted by negativity, which is draining for everyone.”

The peer challenge recommends the authority “work harder to help all elected members to understand their roles in representing the council and being more statesman-like, irrespective of seniority or political persuasion.”

Responding to the findings, council lead executive director Steve Mason said:

“The comments made refer to misleading claims which damage the reputation and standing of the county council.

“For example current claims that the proposed new civic headquarters in Ashington will cost £40million (current estimates around £20million), publicity over a £20,000 car claimed to be a limousine which will save the council money and the level of debate, and on occasion the personal nature of such debate, surrounding the post 16 transport review.

“And while it is only natural there will sometimes be differences of opinion between members, this area of improvement highlighted by the team is already in our proposed action plan and the existing code of conduct and Nolan principles will be an early discussion topic for the next group leaders’ meeting.”

Conservative David Bawn said:

“Sometimes senior members of the administration need to be careful to be seen to act in a statesmanlike manner, this isn’t helped by some of the outrageous and demonstrably untrue statements that have emanated from the leader’s office to the local press on periodic occasions and some of the intemperate posts made on behalf on his blog.”

Leader Grant Davey hit back:

“It seems local Conservatives are hell bent on proving the findings of this independent report led by the leader of Conservative controlled Wiltshire County Council right.

“Their response to a report which highlighted how well the council was progressing and how staff were rising to the challenges of a very challenging cuts agenda was to attack the leader of the council and council staff.

“It’s neither constructive nor is it what residents expect from their elected members and I do hope they sit down and study the report properly and reflect on their ill advised comments especially the comments about ‘damaging political behaviour.’”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 26 Jan 2015

Row over school transport charges in Northumberland reaches new heights

Councillors who have forced a debate on a decision to cut school transport have been told it could be “unlawful” to reverse the proposals.

The row over transport for post-16 students in Northumberland reached new heights, with Prime Minister David Cameron wading into the row and all three political parties in the county taking highly-charged potshots at each other.

The council’s Labour administration said a meeting on Friday to discuss the plans would cost £80,000 – a figure rubbished by their rivals – and blamed the coalition Government for forcing £130m of cuts on the authority.

It also emerged that councillors had been sent a letter from council’s lead executive director Steve Mason, in which he warns that a motion from the Conservative group to reverse the decision could leave the council open to a costly challenge in the courts.

Post-16 education transport charges were scrapped by the Liberal Democrats when they ran the council in 2008.

 But Labour recently approved plans for a £600 travel charge for students attending their nearest educational establishments where public transport is not available.

Students who can travel on public transport would have to pay the full cost of their journeys. Exemptions would apply to young people already in post-16 education, those with special educational needs and those from low-income backgrounds who attend their nearest school or college.

Council bosses say they were forced to bring back charges as they have to remove £32m from the authority’s budget in 2014/15 and a further £100m over the next three years.

But parents, pupils and politicians from rural areas of the county have accused the council of discriminating against families in such areas, with over 1,200 joining a Facebook group and a protest staged outside an Alnwick school last month.

They had planned a similar protest at a full council meeting earlier this month, only for the authority to cancel it citing lack of business – a move they said would save £18,000.

The council’s Tory opposition demanded an extraordinary meeting, with more than the five councillors required to force such a course of action signing an official request.

The extraordinary meeting was scheduled for Friday, with Labour bosses claiming it would cost £45,000.

Party leaders have now claimed the council’s accountants have put the cost to the taxpayer of Friday’s meeting at £80,000.

Council leader Grant Davey said: “The cost of the extraordinary meeting has skyrocketed and we’ve had to audit the cost.

“It now stands at nearly £9k each for each of the signatories of the motion put forward by their leader Coun (Peter) Jackson. Northumberland Tories have very serious questions to answer – how can they justify calling a meeting that will cost taxpayers £80k while this council has to find £130m in cuts over the next four years? This is a scandalous waste of taxpayers’ money.”

Coun Jackson hit back, saying: “It is absolute rubbish. The £45,000 was misleading and was a lie and how they can claim that it is even more than that is beyond me.”

His party had tabled a question to Friday’s meeting demanding a breakdown of the costs when they were put at £45,000.

Coun Jackson said he could not see how the meeting could cost more than £1,000 and added: “You have got to question the administration at County Hall, how they think it is going to cost them £80,000 to have a meeting with 67 people.”

The Journal has seen a confidential letter to members from the council’s lead executive director for corporate resources, Steve Mason, in which he warns of the risks of supporting the motion from the Tories, requesting the authority’s policy board reviews its decision to bring in charges.

In it, Mr Mason expresses “concern” about the passing or debating of the motion on the basis that decisions delegated to the policy board can only be taken by policy board and that it would be “unlawful” for full council to undermine that position.

His letter claims it would be “counterproductive” to discuss a matter the policy board has already determined as reopening the matter “increases the risk of challenge against that decision in the courts.”

Mr Mason says: “I would ask then that you bear this advice in mind when considering and voting on the motion.”

Coun Jackson responded: “It is just another example of bullyboy tactics from the county council.

“We are convinced our motion is entirely legal. We are asking the Labour-run policy board to reconsider its decision. There is nothing illegal about that at all.”

Meanwhile, rumours that the headteacher of the Duchess’s Community High School in Alnwick, Maurice Hall, has been put on gardening leave having distributed literature produced by opponents of the transport charges, have been dismissed.

The Journal reported how Mr Hall had apologised to parents for his actions, while rumours abounded that he he had been put on gardening leave as a result. But school governor Ian Walker said Mr Hall is currently off work for personal reasons and said it was an “unfortunate coincidence” that the literature issue had come at the same time.

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  09 July 2014

Meeting called to debate Northumberland ‘teenage transport tax’

With pressure mounting to reverse a decision to axe free transport for students, Northumberland County Council has agreed to hold an extraordinary meeting in Morpeth next week.

 Angry parents and opponents of the Labour administration at county hall have been urging the county council to reverse its decision to reintroduce transport charges for students over the age of 16.

They say it discriminates against parents in the north and rural parts of the county and that the consultation was inadequate.

They have also been highly critical of county council leader Grant Davey for avoiding a meeting to raise the concerns.

But an emergency meeting has now been called. It will take place at County Hall in Morpeth on Friday at 9.30am.

The motion to be debated has been put forward by Conservative group leader Peter Jackson.

He is requesting the suspension of the decision and the introduction of a new consultation process.

Mr Jackson said: “The leader of the council Grant Davey can run but cannot hide from the electorate.

“He has been doing everything in his power to avoid public accountability. Labour have made a huge mistake with this teenage tax and we are asking them to revisit this decision which will be discussed at an extraordinary meeting of the council.”

But Mr Davey, leader of the council and the Labour group, accused the Tories of playing politics:

 “The extraordinary council meeting could end up costing the council tax payers over £40,000, which is a very expensive way to play gesture politics after their own government has raided Northumberland’s budget to the tune of £130m.

“It’s cynical, hypocritical and it goes to show that local Tories would rather spend than save money.”

Protestors met senior county council officers on Wednesday to express concern about the lack of engagement with the public.

Leading protestor Allison Joynson said: “Whilst I appreciate the officers taking the time to meet with us, and the fact that finally a dialogue has begun, it became quickly apparent that the Labour administration is not prepared to seriously consider revisiting this discriminatory policy.

“It was evident from the discussions that the council had no real appreciation of the huge impact on the people of Northumberland especially those from rural areas.”

The county council voted to scrap its free transport scheme for pupils over the age of 16 last month in a move which will save £2.4 million.

From September 1 students will pay the full cost where public transport is available, or £600 a year to travel on council contracted school transport.

Council bosses say they were forced to bring back charges as they have to remove £32m from the authority’s budget in 2014/15 and a further £100m over the next three years.

But furious parents in the rural north of the county say their children are being penalised for staying in education, and are calling on the administration to change its mind.

The pressure group opposing the plans has already staged a demonstration outside the Duchess Community High School in Alnwick and has circulated a petition demanding a rethink.

Source –  Berwick Advertiser,  05 July 2014

Hexham MP accuses Northumberland County Council of being “undemocratic” for cancelling meeting

A Northumberland MP has asked a Government minister to investigate the legality of a council’s decision to cancel a meeting where a protest was planned.

Hexham Conservative Guy Opperman has asked Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis to look into Northumberland County Council’s cancellation of the full meeting planned for July 2.

The move angered parents who had planned to campaign outside at the meeting over the council’s recent decision to bring back transport charges for students in post-16 education.

The Labour-run council, however, has defended the decision, and said a Tory request for an extraordinary meeting in place of the cancelled date will have to be granted.

The authority scrapped the meeting, citing a lack of business, and claiming the move would save £18,000.

Tory opponents accused the administration of seeking to avoid public criticism and tabled a request to have an extraordinary meeting, which eleven councillors signed.

Liberal Democrats have also criticised the move with Berwick parliamentary candidate Julie Pörksen vowing to take it up with her party’s ministers.

Mr Opperman has now written to Mr Lewis, saying: “I have been truly shocked by the county council’s attempts to shut down debate and scrutiny of their actions.

“The amount of important decisions the council is taking of late is huge.

“To suggest there is insufficient business to be discussed is at best a head-in-the-sand mentality and at worst it is downright undemocratic.

“It can not be right the council’s administration can hide away in this manner and I would ask you to investigate the legitimacy of what the Labour administration is trying to do.”

Council leader Grant Davey hit back, saying: “There is nothing unusual or illegal about cancelling unnecessary meetings.

“We will not have meetings for the sake of meetings. We have completed the work we need to finish before the summer.

“There has been plenty of time for scrutiny and challenge.

“I am genuinely surprised that cancelling a meeting is being described as illegal. All experienced councillors will know that meetings are routinely cancelled where there is no business to be done.”

On the Tory request for an extraordinary meeting, he said: “Arranging meetings with the sole purpose of creating opportunities for haranguing and maligning the legitimate actions of an elected body does nothing to build the reputation of the council as a responsible body taking difficult decisions.”

Yet he conceded the criteria to hold one had been met: “Where five councillors or more demand that a meeting takes place, we will have to hold one.”

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  20 June 2014

‘Teenage tax’ will leave parents £600 worse off

Youngsters from Tynedale wishing to stay on at school, or go to college, will have to pay £600 per year just to get there from September.

As expected, Northumberland County Council is scrapping free transport for sixth formers and college students, in order to save £2.4m per year.

That means youngsters starting in sixth form will have to pay £600 to travel on the same school bus they have used for free since the age of 9.

But the move has evoked Tory fury, as the opposition at County Hall has accused the ruling Labour group of imposing a tax on teenagers, which could put them off gaining qualifications.

I cannot believe that Labour are so willing to threaten the life chances of our young people with this teenage tax of theirs,” said Coun. Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland Conservatives.

This excessive tax on our students and their families will put many off furthering their education at all.

Coun. Jackson said the intention appeared to be that the only college courses available to Northumberland students were those offered by Northumberland College at Ashington.

Coun. Jackson said: “This is an insult to the young people of this county.

“As we all know, Ashington is a most difficult place to access by public transport, if not impossible from some parts of Northumberland.

“The future prosperity of our county lies in the successful careers of our young people. Yet here we have a Labour-led council making the wrong choice.

“They are happy to protect the interests of a few at the top at the expense of those who live elsewhere.

“They plan to spend millions on a new county hall and a new leisure centre in Ashington, yet are not prepared to give all our young people an equal chance.”

Hexham’s Coun. Cath Homer said the “teenage tax” was a direct attack on local people and their children who are working hard to make ends meet.

She said: “We need to have young people able to access the best course in the best college to help them get the best chance in life.

“The Labour council has now imposed a take it or leave it plan which means only the richest will be able to have choice.

“This sends the wrong message to young people and could put the long term economic prosperity of the county at risk.

“I am very concerned that in years to come our young people will decide if Northumberland doesn’t value them, they will leave.”

The Tories were critical of the fact that the two Independent members of the council from Tynedale – Ovington’s Coun. Paul Kelly and Stocksfield’s Coun. Mrs Anne Dale – failed to back the Tory opposition to the proposal.

They pointed out that the £600 charge for school transport was the highest in the North-East.

County council leader Coun. Grant Davey said: “We do not make any cuts with relish. It is regrettable that we have to make any cuts, but we must balance our budget.

“Where we make cuts we will protect those in greatest need and continue to focus our resources on helping our county to grow. We will always do right by our communities.”

The new scheme will come into effect from September 1, but sixth formers already in the scheme will not be affected.

Special provision will be made to exempt the most vulnerable groups, such as students with special educational needs, or those from low income backgrounds, who attend their nearest appropriate school or college.

The average annual cost to the council of transport per student is currently in the region of £936 a year.

Northumberland is unusual among local authorities in that it still provides free transport for 16-19 year old students.

Durham County Council has already withdrawn its post-16 travel scheme and Cumbria County Council is also withdrawing the subsidy.

The number of Northumberland students claiming free transport has increased from 800 to 3,500 over the past five years, and 40 per cent of students travel to educational establishments outside the county.

Whilst the numbers of students claiming free travel has increased dramatically, the numbers of students from Northumberland attending post-16 education have remained static at around 7,000.

The council is now hoping that the withdrawal of free transport could lead to school sixth forms and colleges in Northumberland extending the range of courses they can offer.

Source –  Hexham Courant,  09 June 2014

Northumberland County council ends free transport for post-16 students

Northumberland County Councillors today agreed to end free transport for post-16 students.

 The move will save the authority £2.4m a year, whilst protecting students from low-income families and those with special needs.

However that will be little consolation for students from north Northumberland who plan to travel by train and bus to higher education. They now face having to pay the full cost where public transport is available or a standard charge of £600 a year for council contracted school transport.

The new scheme will come into effect from September 1. Current students already in the scheme will not be affected.

Berwick Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith said the council had demonstrated a “callous indifference” to education in rural communities.

He added: “This is an outrageous discrimination against students in the Berwick area and more remote parts of Northumberland.

“Instead of helping Northumberland’s young people to choose the right course for them, either at school or college, our Labour councillors have decreed that these young people will only be supported to stay at their nearest school or college, whatever the courses on offer, and for most some of these students they will also have to pay for transport.”

Council leader, Councillor Grant Davey said: “We do not make any cuts with relish. It is regrettable that we have to make any cuts but we must balance our budget. Where we make cuts we will protect those in greatest need and continue to focus our resources on helping our county to grow. We will always do right by our communities.”

The Policy Board also agreed to work actively in partnership with schools, colleges and other training providers to ensure that students’ access to Post-16 educational opportunities in their own locality are continuously improved and to monitor the impact of the new Post-16 policy on an on-going basis following its implementation.

Source – Berwick Advertiser,  29 May 2014

Northumberland blocked from Government tourism cash bid

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.

 Liam Carr, Labour’s Hexham candidate and a Newcastle College lecturer, said: “This shows how out of touch the coalition is in the North East.

“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

Concern as Government looks to ‘privatise’ English Heritage

Parts of the North East’s cultural heritage could be put at risk as the Government seeks to end its responsibility for historic sites.

Ministers are part-way through plans to reform English Heritage and create a charitable arm responsible for the National Heritage Collection.

The Government hopes that an £80m cash injection will mean the quango no longer needs taxpayer support.

But concerns have now emerged that the moves will see properties put at risk as the reformed English Heritage struggles to pay for all its assets.

In the North East, English Heritage is responsible for key tourism attractions such as BelsayHall, Lindisfarne Priory, Warkworth Castle and Dunstanburgh Castle.

As well as those flagship sites there are many others which, while contributing to the overall worth of region’s heritage, do not individually draw in large numbers of visitors.

Culture ministers have been warned of the potential downside of their reforms in a joint response by the region’s 12 local authorities.

The Association of North East Councils has said it wants to ensure the changes do not create a situation in which only the sites which generate the most revenue are protected, instead of the entire collection.

And former regional minister Nick Brown has added to the warnings. He said: “The Government’s proposal has two obvious flaws. The loss of expertise will be damaging in the long run because the advice from a well informed independent authority will no longer be there.

“Secondly, our country’s heritage should not be reduced to a historically themed version of Disneyland. It should be preserved, treasured and valued for present and future generations.”

Urging caution of the unknown costs involved, the Association said: “This is an ambitious plan, with yet another organisation competing for the same sources of commercial and philanthropic funding as similar organisations.”

The councils said: “In the North East there is concern over the protection of historic buildings that may not necessarily generate large amounts of income and instead rely on a subsidy, yet are nonetheless key to the collection and bring in wider economic and social benefits to the local community in terms of tourism.”

The Association added: “Similarly, it is of concern that some sites may require such a level of investment to make them more popular and revenue generating, that the charity may seek to divest itself of responsibility for them. We would not wish to see detriment to any part of the collection solely on the grounds of financial viability and fully expect the new charity to demonstrate that it is the sector lead in conserving the Heritage Collection.”

Already across the North East there are nearly 300 properties on English Heritages At Risk register, properties which for decades have struggled to attract sufficient funding.

Grant Davey, leader of Northumberland County Council said: “There’s a worrying lack of detail in this consultation which compounds the feeling that this is just another attempt by the coalition to scale back the state, this time in the area of heritage.

“Northumberland has a rich and varied tapestry which tell the story of this county over the ages and it is a worry that the Government simply wants to open up English Heritage to the market. The Government needs to make the case for their proposed changes and I’m afraid I’m not convinced.”

Former Newcastle Council leader Lord Beecham, a one-time regional member of English Heritage, said there were concerns that the changes were akin to “privatising out heritage.”

A DCMS spokesman: “The Government’s plans to create a new charity, to be called English Heritage, to manage the National Heritage Collection will not involve disposing of or downgrading any buildings or sites. Quite the opposite, in fact.

“The £80m investment will be used to enhance and improve the Collection, helping to secure its future for generations to come.”

> Of course it’s now generally forgotten that in it’s early days our unelected coalition government made a determined attempt to sell off the nation’s woodland into private hands.

Source – Newcastle Journal  18 Feb 2014

Government hands over just £143,000 extra to North East councils after cuts crisis talks

Months of pressuring the Government to think again on council spending cuts worth more than £210m a year have seen ministers hand out just £143,000 extra for the North East.

Across the region councils have being setting out where the axe will fall, with the next three years likely to see the cuts total rising to more than £800m.

But after months of high level delegations taking part in desperate Whitehall lobbying missions, the coalition Government has increased the budget available to the region’s councils and fire brigade by an average of just £20,000 each.

The total amount for the region’s seven councils and Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service increased from £1,081,128 to £1,081,271, a rise of just 0.013%.

The final spending handout for 2014/15 will mean there is no way for councils to drop plans to axe Sure Start centres, make hundreds of redundancies or force up parking charges.

And plans to close down three fire stations will certainly go ahead after the Government announced the final funding settlement for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue will see an increase of just £4,000, despite pleas for extra cash.

The North East has been lobbying against the perceived “unfairness” of the cuts since the coalition began axing budgets in 2010. Those efforts stepped up a gear in the last few months after yet more spending reductions for local government were announced in the autumn.

Included in the lobbying effort was work by the Association of North East Councils, which met with local government minister Brandon Lewis to put the case for a fairer funding settlement.

The extra £143,000 handed over as a result is considerably less than the money handed over each year by the region’s seven local authorities to the Association of North East Councils, with Northumberland alone having handed over more than £98,000 this financial year.

Last night former Newcastle Council leader Lord Beecham said it was clear the coalition was not interested in fairly funding local government in the North.

The peer said: “The Government has completely failed to redress the grossly unfair distribution of grant which hits Newcastle and other less-well off areas and benefits the more affluent.

“The extra we receive in the final settlement amounts to less than 25p per household per year and means that there is no protection from the tidal wave of cuts to services which the Government has launched.”

And Northumberland’s Labour council leader Grant Davey said: “It’s disappointing that, yet again, the coalition have failed to listen to Northumberland and have shaved a minute £18,000 from cuts to services worth £32.5m this year.

“Many would say such a derisory figure is an insult to the residents of the county but it shows how little David Cameron and Nick Clegg think of the North East.

“It’s time our coalition MPs started to stand up for their county rather than sit quiet as Cameron and Clegg ravish the services their constituents rely on.”

Northumberland County Council is the only one in the region to put up council tax next year, rising by 1.99%, the maximum allowed without putting the increase to a local referendum.

The Government has pointed to a grant to freeze council tax in most other areas as one way in which many households will benefit from its funding settlement.

Announcing the final settlement, Mr Lewis said: “This settlement marks the second year of local business rates retention and we have again tried to be fair to all parts of the country whether north, south, rural or urban.

“Given the local flexibilities and freedoms that we have put in place, local councils should now work to support local enterprise, building more homes and backing local jobs, so that they can then invest the rewards of growth in local services and in lower taxes.”

Source – Newcastle Journal  17 Feb 2014