Tagged: Greater Manchester

Raise The North group calls for people from the region to seek independence

A campaign has been launched for the north of England to become a breakaway state.

A petition by the Raise The North group calls for people from the region to band together and seek independence.

It is also urging David Cameron to ‘submit to the will of the northern people’.

The separation moves comes after an earlier petition called for the north to join with an independent Scotland.

The #TakeUsWithYouScotland hashtag soon flooded Twitter. More than 40,000 people have now signed the call-to-arms.

The latest petition, posted with the #RaiseTheNorth hashtag, reads:

“There is growing consensus that the north of England should join Scotland.

“Northern England should not ask to leave one governor, only to take on another. For as long as the south has ruled, we have been subjugated and marginalised.

“But the answer is not to allow ourselves to be ruled from Scotland. The Scots may help, but they can’t do it for us.

“It’s time that the people of the north stood as one against Westminster and said ‘no more’.”

Signatory Valerie Quigley wrote:

“It is time for the north of England to get their say. They have suffered from the same democratic deficit as Scotland for many years.

“North England self-government would benefit the area and could make good neighbours and agreements cross-border with Scotland.”

On the back of the Scottish independence referendum there have been growing calls for English devolution.

Places like Greater Manchester will soon have its own directly elected mayor; control of its entire £6bn NHS budget, a national first; and greater control over housing, transport and skills.

 

But the Raise The North group wants more, with the whole of the north of England breaking away and gaining independence.

At the last general election the North East was one of the few areas in England where support for the Labour party, which fought against Mr Cameron’s Tory government, actually went up.

With the highest unemployment rate in the country and many people either working in the under threat public sector or relying on benefits to boost poor salaries, there have been fears the region is missing out on what has been described as the economic upturn in the country.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 19 May 2015

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General Election 2015: Where are all the party leaders? Not in the North East !

Not one leader from any of the major political parties has visited Tyne and Wear or County Durham as part of the General Election campaign.

David Cameron is the only leader so far to even venture into ANY part of the North East since the dissolution of parliament.

He visited Northumberland’s Alnwick and Stockton, the two areas where his party has a chance of winning next month, but bypassed large swathes of the region.

Labour leader Ed Miliband – whose party is favourite to win EVERY seat in Durham, Tyneside and Wearside, most seats in Teesside and half of those in Northumberland – has failed to make a public appearance anywhere in the North East.

The Liberal Democrats are defending Redcar and Berwick-upon-Tweed, yet Nick Clegg has been nowhere to be seen.

Nigel Farage claims UKIP is targeting parts of Teesside and has a strong interest in Blyth, and yet the leader of the “people’s army” has not made a public appearance anywhere in the North East.

And despite evidence of a Green surge in pockets of the region, Natalie Bennett has not visited to show support for her party’s candidates, either.

The North East is widely-regarded as safe Labour territory and this may explain the lack of interest from the parties’ top politicians in campaigning in this area.

Nonetheless, voters will be disappointed when they compare the region to, say, the Greater Manchester area, where the parties are fighting a higher number of key marginals.

Nick Clegg has visited seats in Greater Manchester four times, David Cameron twice and Ed Miliband four times.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Apr 2015

Universal credit ‘a nightmare’, says claimant who advertised welfare reform

A Universal Credit claimant who featured in a government film to promote the reform now says the system is riddled with computer problems and could make people destitute.

In the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) advert, Daniel Pacey explains how the reform helped him to find work.

But he now says a six-week delay before the first payment and subsequent monthly payments are “a nightmare“.

The DWP said monthly sums replicate the world of work and tackle dependency.

A spokesman said:

“Universal credit is simplifying the benefit system and [makes] the transition into employment smoother.

“Our work coaches discuss budgeting support with all claimants and nearly 80% say they are confident in their ability to manage a monthly budget.”

> Is that 80% of work coaches or claimants ?

Mr Pacey, 24, from Wigan, Greater Manchester, said:

”It might be easy for a government minister to make their wages last a month. But I’d like to see them make £250 last four weeks while looking for work.”

The government has announced that a national roll-out of universal credit is starting in earnest across the country. The aim is for it to be offered in all job centres in England, Scotland and Wales by 2016.

> Whether it works or not, presumably.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith told BBC News the new benefit was £600m under budget and had been implemented gradually on advice.

But Mr Pacey, who lives with his father, said his job centre struggled with failing computer systems, adding:

“I hate to think about how I would have coped had I lived on my own. I know I couldn’t have.”

The DWP spokesman added:

“People can apply for advanced benefit payments if they need extra support and we are working with local authorities to make sure people get budgeting and debt advice.

“The IT system adapts smoothly to claims as they become more complex, which we have already seen across the North West.

“Computer problems in offices are separate issues and are resolved quickly but these do not impact the operating system, or have an impact on claims.”

The scheme was initially piloted in Ashton-Under-Lyne nearly two years ago.

Under the old system, payments were bi-weekly, with housing benefit paid directly to landlords.

Under universal credit, claimants are instead paid monthly and are expected to pay their rent themselves.

Housing Associations in Ashton-Under-Lyne say rent arrears and debt are on the rise amongst universal-credit claimants.

The chief executive of the National Housing Federation, David Orr said:

“This scheme isn’t even ready to fully roll out in Ashton-Under-Lyne, where it’s been piloted for two years, let alone the rest of the country.”

The DWP spokesman said:

“In some cases, we can arrange for alternative payment arrangements, including rent being paid direct to landlords.”

The government says it is important for people to learn how to handle their own monthly budgets, as this replicates the world of work.

> Oh for fucks sake – how stupid do they think we are ?  Do they think every unemployed person has never worked ?  Do they think anyone having to survive on benefits doesn’t already know all about handling budgets ?

But Mr Pacey’s new job in a call centre pays bi-weekly.

He said: “In my experience, most low-paid jobs pay weekly or every other week, not monthly. You can’t make small sums of money last a month.

“It’s not about dependency, it’s about living, being able to get a bus to go to the job centre. The government needs to rethink this.”

 

The scheme has also been criticised by the National Audit Office as badly managed and failing to deliver on its targets.

It is concerned that a roll-out from pilot areas in north-west England is taking place with fewer resources to spend on staff training and less time for staff to get accustomed to the changes.

About 50,000 people in selected areas have claimed the benefit since it was introduced in April 2013 – far fewer than the government originally said would be getting it by now.

Computer problems have also caused delays and seen ministers write off tens of millions of pounds.

Source –  BBC News,  16 Feb 2015

North East bus operators to introduce Oyster-style smart ticketing

North East bus passengers will soon be able to use Oyster-style tickets, travel operators have announced.

Britain’s biggest bus operators – including Newcastle-headquartered Go Ahead and Sunderland-based Arriva – have announced plans to launch London-style smart ticketing across England’s largest city regions.

The pledge by Stagecoach, First, Arriva, Go Ahead and National Express aims to deliver multi-operator smart ticketing to millions of bus customers across England next year.

Greater Manchester will be an early adopter of what is described as a “transformational initiative”, helping support the area’s wider growth plans.

The smart tickets will then be rolled out across Tyne and Wear, Merseyside, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire along with the city regions of Nottingham, Leicester and Bristol.

The bus providers have spent several months finalising their plans and this work has included liaising with IT suppliers and the Department for Transport.

The announcement comes two weeks after North East councils took a step towards seizing control of the bus services, in a major shake-up of public transport – a move bitterly opposed by the bus companies.

Members of the North East Combined Authority voted unanimously for the Quality Contract Scheme (QCS) for the Tyne and Wear area.

If passed by an independent review board the proposals will signal a new era of London-style bus services across the region, in which travellers carry a pass similar to the capital’s Oyster card and councils decide on fares and when and how often services run.The bus companies said their own plans represent a multi-million pound investment in what is the biggest smart ticketing project in the UK’s history.

The technology will allow smaller bus operators to be included and provide a platform to extend the system to other modes, such as trams and trains.

In a joint statement, Stagecoach Group chief executive Martin Griffiths, First Group chief executive Tim O’Toole, Go Ahead chief executive David Brown, Arriva chief executive David Martin and National Express chief executive Dean Finch said:

“Millions of people in our biggest city regions will benefit from this transformational initiative in London-style smart ticketing. It will deliver an even bigger programme and wider benefit than the capital’s Oyster system.

“Bus operators share the aspirations of our city regions to become growing economic powerhouses and we know high quality public transport is an important part of making that happen.”

Bus operators also urged central and local Government to work with them to improve bus services across the country.”

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  04 Nov 2014

North East must accept Metro Mayor to get new powers says Osborne

The region must accept a single directly-elected mayor ruling from Durham to Scotland in order to grab dramatic new powers, George Osborne said yesterday.

The Chancellor signed a landmark devolution deal with Greater Manchester – covering transport, health, housing and the police – in return for a ‘metro mayor’, to run its ten authorities.

And he immediately warned that any city-region hoping for similar control over its own destiny must also accept a cross-border ‘Boris Johnson-style’ leader.

That list includes the new the North East Combined Authority, which brings together County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

The area is believed to be third on Mr Osborne’s list for agreeing devolution deals – after Manchester and West Yorkshire – with an announcement as early as next month.

But, last night, Simon Henig, Durham’s leader and the chairman of the combined authority, criticised Mr Osborne’ attempt to tie the region’s hands.

And he pointed out voters in Newcastle and eight other English cities had rejected mayors – for city boundaries only – in referendums just two-and-a-half years ago.

Councillor Henig said:

“I strongly believe it is now the time for powers and control over spending to be devolved out of Whitehall throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, not just to Manchester.

“However, my own view is that devolution should not be made conditional on accepting an elected mayor, which was rejected by the public in referendums in several major cities in 2012.”

The Chancellor’s move is a dramatic U-turn, because the Conservatives had rejected calls for metro mayors which, many argued, could be handed a powerful portfolio.

Yesterday, Mr Osborne said:
I hope that Manchester will be the first of many big cities to take advantage of greater devolution of powers.

“Any other city that wants to receive more powers and move to a new model of governance, with an elected mayor, should bring forward their proposals.”

The Manchester package includes:

* Responsibility for re-regulated bus services and integrated ‘smart ticketing’ across all local modes of transport.

* An enhanced ‘earn back’ deal – keeping £1m a year from economic growth, to fund an extension to the Metrolink tram network.

* Police powers – with the abolition of the elected police and crime commissioner (PCC).

* Control of a £300 million ‘housing investment fund’.

* Power over business support services – including manufacturing advice and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) export advice.

* Power to develop a plan to integrate health and social care.

A Government source said:

Who do the voters sack if something goes wrong? City-region mayors answer that.

“So we can obviously go further for cities that are able to step up to the accountability challenge.”

Source – Northern Echo,  04 Nov 2014

Job Creation 20% Below Pre-Recession Levels, New Report Shows

Trade Union Congress (TUC) Press Release:

Inner London is the only area of the country to have a higher rate of job starts than before the recession, while job creation in some parts of the country is down 31 per cent on pre-recession levels, according to a new TUC report published today (Monday).

The TUC Touchstone pamphlet Equitable Full Employment: A Jobs Recovery For All (pdf) shows that the recent rise in employment is being driven by fewer people leaving their jobs, rather than more people finding new work.

Job starts – the number of people starting a new job within a three month period – are currently around 20 per cent below pre-recession levels across the UK, and are still falling in parts of the country. The fact that fewer people are leaving their jobs helps to explain why the employment rate for older workers is increasing so much faster than for young people, says the TUC.

The report, written for the TUC by Tony Wilson and Paul Bivand of the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (Inclusion), compares job start rates before the recession, at the height of the crash and during the recent recovery. It finds that metropolitan areas such as London, Birmingham and Tyne and Wear are recovering faster than their neighbouring rural areas.

Inner London is the only area of the country where jobs are being created at a faster rate than before the crash. Outer London, the South East and Eastern England have recovered since the crash but job starts are still 11 per cent, 16 per cent and 21 per cent below pre-recession levels.

Job creation across the rest of the country is more mixed, says the TUC. Job creation in Tyne and Wear is recovering (though still 11 per cent below pre-recession levels) but getting worse across the rest of the North East.

> In fact, as a whole, North East unemployment continues to rise…

Job creation in the West Midlands metropolitan area is recovering but the rest of the region continues to decline (down 31 per cent), while South and West Yorkshire are both performing far better than the rest of Yorkshire and Humberside. Job starts in Greater Manchester have fallen slightly since the height of the crash but the city is still doing far better than Merseyside and the rest of the North West, where job starts are 30 per cent down on pre-recession levels.

Strathclyde is the only major metropolitan area that is performing worse than its neighbouring area, with job creation across the rest of Scotland recovering faster.

The report shows while the UK’s employment rate is rising, there are huge swathes of the country – particularly rural areas – where job creation remains depressed and is getting worse, say the TUC.

The report also looks at job starts across different age groups, qualification levels and types of work. It finds that while job creation rates for graduates are back above pre-recession levels, the number of people with lower-level qualifications starting new jobs declined during the boom and has continued to deteriorate since the crash.

The proportion of jobs starts to non-permanent work is now higher than it was before the crash, with three in ten job starts in temporary work. Fixed-term contacts are the most popular form of temporary work.

The continuing shift from permanent employee jobs to self-employment and temporary work, such as fixed-term contacts and agency work, suggests the nature of the UK jobs market is changing permanently, rather than being a short-term response to the recession, says the TUC.

> The final victory of Thatcherism – smash the unions and the rest can be exploited…

The rate of people moving from unemployment to work is still lower than pre-recession levels across all age groups, say the report. ‘Hiring rates’ have recovered fastest for older workers, but they remain far less likely to move from unemployment to work than any other age group.

Hiring rates for 16-24 year olds, who traditionally have moved from unemployment into work at a far quicker rate than all other age groups, have declined considerably over the last 17 years. People in their late 20s and early 30s are now finding work as quickly as younger people, says the report.

The report makes a number of recommendations to boost job creation and raise employment levels further, including:

• Offering targeted employment support programmes, such as a job guarantee for any young person out of work for at least six months.
• Identifying low skills as a reason to provide more intensive employment support.
• Establishing bodies in each industrial sector so that government, unions and employers can work together to identify skills gaps, promote decent workplace standards and fair pay.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Many people assume that rising employment levels are simply down to more people getting new work. In fact, the recent recovery in our jobs market is mainly due to people holding onto their jobs, rather than finding new ones. This is great news if you want to keep earning as you approach retirement, but less positive if you’re trying to take your first step on the career ladder.

“Job creation is as important for people looking for work as it is for those already in work and looking to boost their incomes. It’s worrying that across huge swathes of the country – and particularly in rural areas – job creation levels remain depressed and that where jobs are being created far more are temporary positions than before the crash.

“We need to see far more high-quality jobs being created, not just in our cities but across the UK, if we’re going to achieve full employment and a return to healthy pay rises.”

CESI Associate Director Paul Bivand said:

“What we are concerned about is inclusion, which isn’t just our name. Growth in employment should help to close gaps in our society. We don’t want a rising tide to lift just the most buoyant, while leaving others behind. We want all areas and groups to benefit and we need to close gaps.

“We are already hearing that there is a risk of the Bank taking action because of overheating high-end London house prices. For the economy to benefit all, then rises in jobs have to occur in the rural areas as well as the cities, and Glasgow and Merseyside as well as the South East.”

 

Source: Inner London is only area of UK to have returned to pre-recession levels of job creation

 

Source – Welfare News Service, 23 June 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/job-creation-20-pre-recession-levels-new-report-shows/

High speed rail plans may end up slowing the North East down

High speed rail will slow down services from the North East to Scotland and reduce London journeys by just 11 minutes, the region is today warned.

A series of route documents have shown how the North will be increasingly isolated if the £42bn railway project is completed.

After a trickle of concerns at the plans for a new railway emerged over the last year, the final picture increasingly shows a high speed network in which Newcastle actually loses services.

Consultation documents put out by HS2 and Network Rail show:

  • From 2033, Newcastle’s direct trains to and from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow are replaced by a stopping service calling at small towns throughout the line, hugely adding to journey times;
  • All London to Scotland services will go up the West Coast;
  • High speed rail will replace, not add, to all existing East Coast London to Newcastle routes in order to free up capacity south of York;
  • Under High speed plans, Durham would lose out on direct links, while Darlington moves from two trains an hour to London to one train;
  • Total journey saving times to London when Durham’s Hitachi trains are built are just 11 minutes.

Under Government plans, the high speed railway will go from London to Birmingham, heading in a Y-shape to Leeds and Manchester by 2033. The fast trains then switch down to regular speeds and travel either to Newcastle or up the west coast to Scotland, with Newcastle now becoming simply the end of a branch line.

Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, who sits on the House of Commons group overseeing the London to Birmingham high speed work, said he had warned his own party’s front bench team that something will have to change if the North East is not to lose out.

He told The Journal: “We have some of the worst rail connections already. As I have said to our front bench, the North East first of all needs to be recompensed for the disruption we will face as work goes on from York to London.

“But also, this new line will build economic powerhouses in West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, while whatever happens in Scotland it is going to be given more economic powers.

“The North East risks being trapped in between these economic honeytraps, with slower connections to Scotland and losing some services to London. How will we sell ourselves to investors after High Speed 2?”

Other Labour MPs hitting out at the high speed plans include Durham’s Kevan Jones and Newcastle’s Nick Brown. They are at odds with Labour councils such as Newcastle and the Association of North East Councils, which have campaigned for new route despite the concerns.

Many of the damaging changes to North East services come as a result of a lack of investment in the East Coast Main Line north of York.

The four-lane line railway network changes to a two-lane line between Northallerton up to Newcastle. And with that system already leading to congestion on a one-in one-out basis, the new high speed route would only be able to replace, rather than add to, existing services.

In its consultation document, Network Rail admits that High Speed duplicates services up the East Coast, and as such, it wants to “reduce the quantum of long distance services,” axing long distance trains and replace them with slower, stopping services.

South of York there is increased extra capacity as all trains from Newcastle and Scotland are sent past Birmingham to Euston, with six trains an hour from the North moved off the existing system.

The system would mean there is an end to services from London to Edinburgh via Newcastle, documents show.

Instead a new stopping services would start at Newcastle and call at Cramlington, Morpeth, Alnmouth, Berwick, Dunbar, Drem, Prestonpans and Edinburgh Waverley.

And the same capacity constraints that force all these changes mean that from 2019, transport officials have decided the only way to increase services on the Transpennine service is to reduce one train an hour on the Birmingham via Leeds Cross Country routes.

Source – Newcastle Journal  06 May 2014

Labour say they will create a Minister for the North East

A Labour Government would appoint a Minister for the North East to ensure the region has a strong voice at Westminster, it was revealed today.

Ed Miliband would appoint a Minister for each English region in a bid to ensure the entire country received a fair deal from Government, and to help businesses in their regions attract investment from across the world.

The manifesto commitment came as  Miliband also announced plans to divert £20bn in funding from Whitehall to local councils, to spend on improving transport links, building houses, providing training and creating jobs.

To qualify for the cash, councils would need to work together to create a “combined authority” – giving the North East an advantage, as it is one of the first regions to create such an authority.

They would also need to work closely with the local business community and draw up showing how they would use the money to create jobs in the private sector.

The North East had a regional minister under the last Labour government, with the post being held by Newcastle MP Nick Brown.

A Labour government would appoint nine regional ministers, who would sit on a new Regional Committee chaired by the Minister for the Cabinet Office.

Their duties would include helping local councils, central government and Local Enterprise Partnerships, the economic development bodies led by the business community, to work closely together.

They would also champion their area in Whitehall and ensure that the impact of policy proposals on every part of the country is considered.

Regional ministers will work with other Ministers such as the Business Secretary to implement an industrial strategy to create jobs in every part of the country.

And they will encourage tourism and act as a visible representative of their region at major events.

Speaking in Birmingham, Mr Miliband set out plans to strip national government of billions of pounds and send the cash directly to the regions of England for local politicians to spend.

But warned that funding will go to “city regions” and “county regions” where authorities have come together to create a combined authority.

So far, councils in the Greater Manchester area, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Greater Liverpool regions have created combined authorities – and the North East is about to create its own combined authority bringing together Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

Mr Miliband is announcing that plans to devolve £20bn over the course of the next Parliament to combined authorities will be included in Labour’s General Election manifesto.

He said: “Labour’s message at the next election will be clear:

“Devolving power from Whitehall to our towns and cities is essential to generate the new jobs we need.

“We propose a new bargain: Cities and towns that come together with local businesses will be given historic new powers over transport, housing, skills and economic development.

“We are determined to make our great cities and towns the powerhouses for the creation of good jobs.”

> But he still seems set to continue on the same lines as the Tories regarding unemployment and benefits, so for most of us it’ll probably just be a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Source – Newcastle Journal   08 April 2014

Punishing Poverty – Sanctions & Their Impact

Punishing Poverty ?  A Review Of Benefits Sanctions & Their Impacts On Clients & Claimants  is the title of a report by the Manchester Citzens Advice Bureau  but it, and its conclusions, would, I suspect, apply equally to the North East…

 

Benefits sanctions are financial penalties that are given to claimants who are deemed to have not met the necessary conditions for claiming benefit.

Although the Government has, in the past, denied that there are official targets for the number of sanctions that are made, Greater Manchester CABx had become concerned about

• The number of clients they were seeing who had sanctions against them

• The reasons for the sanctions being made

• The fact that clients did not appear to be receiving the correct notifications about their sanctions, why they had been made, or how to appeal against them

• The proposals from the Government to increase the duration of sanctions up to a maximum of three years.

They decided to conduct some research in to these issues, and look at how claimants who were already on very restricted incomes coped with the further reductions made. This report summarises the survey findings.

 

The full report can – and should – be read here-

https://skydrive.live.com/view.aspx?resid=CB5ED957FE0B849F!350&app=WordPdf&authkey=!AJTbB-gzwsSCayQ