A Hexham man is leading a campaign to prevent Tynedale‘s rich mineral deposits from being exploited by high-tech mining interests.
Rather than digging for coal and lead though, the modern day miners want to use the controversial techniques of fracking and underground coal gasification to win natural gas from shale and coal deposits.
Fracking is the process of hydraulic fracturing of rock by injecting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals so that energy sources such as gas, petroleum and brine can be extracted.
And while there are currently no sites designated for such activities on the books of Northumberland County Council, campaigners want to be prepared should any applications come along.
Dr Jonathan Boniface, from Fellside, has become one of the leading lights in the newly-formed Keep Northumberland Frack Free group, which is to hold its first public meeting to discuss the threat of fracking and UCG in Hexham Community Centre on 27 June at 2pm.
Tynedale has been known over the centuries for its rich deposits of valuable minerals, from the lead, silver and zinc of the Allen Valleys, to the vast coalfields which underlie much of the district, from Haltwhistle and Halton Lea Gate to Prudhoe and Mickley.
Only a decade ago, Australian company Roc Oil found “gas saturated tight sands” in a £1m drilling exercise at Errington Red House, close to the Roman Wall near Bingfield.
Thousands of unemployed young people across the North East could be stripped of benefits under tough plans in the Government’s Queen’s Speech.
David Cameron insisted the crackdown was designed to end youth unemployment, as he set out his plans in the House of Commons.
But Labour MPs said the plans effectively meant young people would be forced to work for as little as less than £2 an hour – payment far below the minimum wage.
The North East has the highest youth unemployment rate in England.
Office figures show 21.4 per cent of young people aged 18 to 24 are unemployed.
The figures cover people who are “economically active”, which means they are in a job or looking for work. Full-time students are not included.
This is a higher proportion than in any other part of England. It’s also higher than Scotland or Wales, and roughly equal to the Northern Ireland figure of 21.8 per cent.
By contrast, the unemployment rate for people aged 18 to 24 in the south east is 11.4 per cent. And in the West Midlands, it is 16.1 per cent.
Official figures also show that 4,000 people in the North East aged 18 to 24 have been claiming Jobseekers Allowance for six months or longer.
But under Government plans, anyone aged 21 or under will lose the right to this benefit – and be put on a new “youth allowance” instead.
They’ll get the same amount of money as before, up to £57.90 a week, but if they are unemployed for six months then they will be given compulsory community work such as making meals for the elderly or working for local charities – and they’ll lose the right to claim benefits if they refuse.
If they will have to work 30 hours a week as expected, that would be a payment of £1.93 for each hour worked, well below the minimum wage of £5.13 for people age 18 to 20 and £6.50 for those older.
The Government says it plans to prepare young people for work and will create 200,000 new apprenticeships in the North East.
And Conservatives point out that the number of people aged 18 to 24 in the North East actually in work has risen by 13,000 over the past year.
David Cameron told the House of Commons: “One of the most important things we can do is give young people the chance of an apprenticeship and the chance of work.
“What we have done is expand apprenticeships and uncapped university places, so that there is no cap on aspiration in our country.
“We now want to go further by saying that every young person should be either earning or learning.
“Leaving school, signing on, getting unemployment benefit, getting housing benefit and opting for a life out of work—that is no choice at all, and that is why we will legislate accordingly.”
And Conservative MP Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham, said:
“This Bill will provide assistance to young people to earn and learn, and give them the skills which they need to have a long term future in employment.
“We need to address the skills gap and using apprenticeships will really make a difference to do that.”
Labour Gateshead MP Ian Mearns said:
“If young people are expected to work in order to get benefits then they should be entitled to the minimum wage.
“To tell them to work for £2 an hour is ridiculous. We have legislation which says there is a minimum wage in this country and that should be the minimum level people can expect.”
Conservatives will face a battle over plans to stop people aged 18 to 21 claiming housing benefit – with Labour MPs and other critics warning it will put young people who are forced to leave home because of abuse in danger.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 May 2015
The Conservatives are attempting to “muffle” the voice of the North East in parliament, it is claimed, as a shake-up of boundaries could leave the region with three fewer MPs.
David Cameron’s Tories want to redraw the dividing lines of the UK’s parliamentary constituencies and cut the number of MPs by 10% from 650 to 600.
The say it will save money and make the system fairer but now stand accused of trying to “gerrymander” votes by the region’s Labour MPs, who fear their party could be locked out of power in 2020 because of the move.
The proposal was first put forward in 2013. It came after a review by the Boundary Commission, which found there should be three fewer constituencies in the region – one each from Tyneside, County Durham and Teesside.
But the Lib Dems blocked the move after being forced to abandon the House of Lords reform they had campaigned on.
Boundary reform was in the 2015 Conservative Manifesto, however, and the Prime Minister is reportedly ready to defy his backbench MPs, whose own constituencies will be placed under the microscope.
The current boundaries are said to favour Labour because the party tends to do better in urban seats tend be smaller – Newcastle, for example is split into three constituencies – than the suburban seats where the Tories pick up more votes, like the relatively large Hexham constituency.
But Labour say the reduction comes after a switch from household to individual voter registration in December 2014, which saw a million people drop off the electoral roll nationally, and any review must be started afresh.
Helen Goodman, Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, said:
“This is a clear attempt by the Tories to gerrymander the constituencies on the basis of an electoral register from which they deliberately excluded seven million people by implementing individual voter registration.
“It is my contention that the Tories made that change in order to reduce the number of people on the register, just like the Republicans did in America.
“The people that have gone from the register are those in insecure housing, those on low incomes and young people.
“I think everybody knows that the voice of the North East was not heard by the Tory-led Government over the last five years, and this is a further attempt to muffle it.”
In the Newcastle City Council area, individual voter registration saw 18,000 people fall off the electoral roll. A local campaign saw 11,000 sign up, but Nick Forbes, the Labour leader of Newcastle City Council, said the North East risks being sidelined.
“Our region already feels bruised and battered from the last five years of the Coalition Government and it looks like the Tories boundary review could further marginalise us.
“In Newcastle, we have a growing population and yet this isn’t matched by electoral registration statistics as the voter registration system seems deliberately designed to deter people from joining the register.
“Reducing the number of MPs in the North East will work to the Tories’ electoral advantage and make it even more less likely we will have a Labour Government in 2020.”
Mr Cameron appointed his Cabinet this week and is expected to push through a number of policies within the first 100 days of Parliament having won a decisive majority at last week’s election.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 11 May 2015
It’s probably coincidence, but on the Hexham Courant newpaper’s website the headline
Conservative Guy Opperman has been returned as Hexham MP
is followed by several other bullet-point local headlines including:
– Man found hanged at Hexham bandstand
– Hexham restaurant to close after cutbacks
– Otterburn bus firm loses council deals
…which could well be a portent for the next five years of austerity – more deaths, closures and cutbacks.
> The story about the restaurant in particular is indicative of the future – it exited to give employment to people with mental health problems –
Tynedale people with mental health problems are being robbed of an employment lifeline after Northumberland County Council pulled the plug on funding.
The Tans vegetarian and seafood restaurant in Hexham’s St Mary’s Chare will close within weeks following the withdrawal of financial support for its operator, the Opus Employment Project.
The service, provided by Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (NTW) but funded by the council, has operated in Hexham for over 20 years,
Its role is to act as rehabilitation service for people with mental health problems, helping them embed into society through work, training and voluntary work as part of their recovery process.
The project employs seven members of staff, and there are currently four volunteers. There are currently a number of clients working at the restaurant.
The news of the impending closure of the project and the restaurant has rocked members of the community, particularly clients who have used it as a way of working their way back into society.
Philippa Long has worked at the restaurant for the past four years and said it has transformed her life, as it allows her to interact closely with members of the public.
She said: “Usually, we start in the kitchen and make things to be sold, and that gives you a sense of pride in your own work.
“Then you get to the point where you serve thanks to all the support you are given, and it makes such a big difference to your confidence and outlook on life.
“It has been life changing and quite a lot of people have gone from the restaurant to get other jobs from there.
“Closing this will be devastating to all the clients, and there’s a lot of people with less ability than us that are going to be struck a lot harder.”
In addition to clients, the news has been hard to swallow for customers and volunteers of the restaurant.
Having visited the Tans as a customer for the past 16 years, Janet Brown was so moved by the service that she started volunteering when she retired.
She was upset that the county was to cut the funding, saying that it was a much needed project for people living with mental health problems across Tynedale.
She said: “What strikes me about the project is that we see the clients come in and stand nervously at the back but, within weeks, they are serving and talking to people because of the great atmosphere here and the training they receive.
“You can see their confidence building week on week, and it is a unique service which is one of a kind in the country.
“It’s a model for how to deal with mental health issues within the community, and Tans is a flagship enterprise and NTW should be aiming to keep it open at all costs.”
A spokesman for the county council said funding was being withdrawn after discussions between NTW and the council, had concluded the Tans restaurant and Opus Employment Project had “poor linkages” to mainstream education and employment opportunities.
It also found that the service offered little in terms of promoting personalised outcomes and independence.
The spokesman said: “ They also serve a diminishing number of people, now supporting only about a quarter of the number of service users they were designed for.
“We are now embarking on individual reviews with the current service users and their families, discussing with them both existing alternative services in West Northumberland which could support them to become more independent and new services currently under development.
“For some people, the option of individually designed support arrangements using personal budgets may be the best option, and we will be offering advice about how this could work.
“No date has been agreed for closing these schemes, and no date will be set until the right alternatives have been found for all current service users and arrangements have been made for the staff working in the schemes.
“We recognise that the Tans restaurant has been a popular part of Hexham life for a long time, and if those involved wish to explore keeping it open on a different basis, the council would be able to talk to them about sources of advice.
“But the most important priority for the council and NTW is opening up new opportunities for people whose lives have been disrupted by mental illness.”
Source – Hexham Courant, 08 May 2015
A stark warning setting out “grave concerns” about extending the right-to-buy to housing association tenants has been issued to Prime Minister David Cameron.
Bill Midgley, chairman of Newcastle-based social housing provider Leazes Homes, accuses the politician of using “the sanctity of a person’s home” as an “election bargaining chip” after the pledge was revealed in the Conservative Party Manifesto last week.
Mr Midgley echoes fears voiced by others in the sector as he outlines how a policy that forces associations to sell off their assets would mean they have less borrowing power.
Because of this, he says, associations could not build more homes for some of the most vulnerable in society, including “older people, those with learning disabilities and those with mental health problems.”
The letter reads:
“If organisations like us are unable to secure loan funding for supported housing properties then the potential damage is unthinkable. It is essential that such accommodation can be provided by the affordable housing sector.”
The Tories say the plan opens the possibility of home ownership up to thousands of people who may otherwise be locked out of the market.
The National Housing Federation estimates there are 19,620 people in the North East who would be eligible for a mortgage under the plans and that it will cost £808m to implement the policy.
But Mr Midgley fears poor people may be forced to pay higher rents in the private sector.
Signing off the letter to Mr Cameron, he said:
“I urge you to reconsider this proposal. We have a duty as a society to provide our citizens with good-quality, affordable housing, but the sanctity of a person’s home is not something to be used as a bargaining chip to secure election votes.”
Guy Opperman, the Conservative candidate for Hexham defended the policy –
“We want more people who work hard and save up to be able to enjoy the security of owning their own home.
“Right now it is too difficult for housing association tenants to buy their own home. Until now the Right to Buy has only been available to tenants in local authority properties. This means there are around 500,000 housing association tenants who have no right to buy their home.
“The Right to Buy scheme has already helped around two million families to realise their dream of owning a home. By now extending the Right to Buy to housing associations tenants, we will help more people who want to move on and up the housing ladder.
“Our proposals will increase house building, increase home ownership and reduce waiting lists. Right to Buy improves social mobility and builds mixed communities.
“It gives something back to families who worked hard, paid their rent and played by the rules and gives people a sense of pride and ownership not just in their home, but in their street and neighbourhood.”
The Conservatives have pledged to improve their help-to-buy scheme and have also committed to 200,000 new starter homes in their manifesto.
Similarly Labour says it will build 200,000 new homes by 2020 and that private sector rent would be capped should Ed Miliband be Prime Minister.
The Lib Dems have pledged 300,000 homes a year, and ten garden cities as well as a rent-to-buy ownership scheme.
UKIP plan to build one million homes on brownfield sites by 2020, and Nigel Farage wants to restrict right-to-buy and help-to-buy schemes to British nationals.
Should the Greens win power they will regulate private sector rent and build 500,000 social homes.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 20 Apr 2015
Campaigners hoping to turn Northumberland in a Green Party powerbase defied dreary weather to officially launch their election battle.
Natalie Bennett’s party will fight all four Northumberland constituencies at the General Election next month, placing energy, anti-austerity, public services and transport at the heart of their strategy.
Taking shelter under bright green umbrellas, the candidates chose Druridge Bay Visitor Centre, near Amble, for the event, close to the site of a planned opencast mine, which the Greens are petitioning against amid fears it will damage the environment.
The party’s candidate for Hexham and chairman of the Northumberland Greens Lee Williscroft-Ferris, said:
“Today has been a huge success.
“Despite the poor weather, many Green Party members from across the four Northumberland constituencies have come to Druridge Bay to show their support as their candidates officially launch their general election campaigns.
“Although we are each fighting hard in our own areas, we share similar concerns. These include an urgent need to improve public transport and protect our public services, as well as a mutual objective of fighting against the unsafe exploitation of our natural resources through fracking, open cast mining and underground coal gasification.
“We offer a people and planet-focussed alternative to ‘business as usual’ politics and to the narrative of austerity – the number of people here today proves that there is a genuine appetite for a positive, Green vision of hope here in Northumberland.”
It comes as the Greens celebrate being the third-largest party, in terms of membership, in England as the party enjoys unprecedented exposure in the TV leaders’ debates.
While the Greens are not anticipating victory in Northumberland a surge of support for them could make a decisive difference in the key marginal of Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Following the retirement of long-serving Lib Dem MP Sir Alan Beith, Conservative Anne-Marie Trevelyan is neck-and-neck with Lib Dem Julie Porksen, but the Greens’ candidate Rachael Roberts is holding her own.
Dawn Furness is taking on Labour’s Ronnie Campbell – who polled a 6,668 majority in 2010 – in the Blyth Valley constituency while Chris Hedley also faces a tough opponent in Wansbeck where Ian Lavery will stand for Ed Miliband’s party.
The Save Druridge campaign has a petition, which can be found online: http://www.savedruridge.co.uk
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 13 Apr 2015
North-East Tories were left red-faced after accusing one of their own MPs of failing to “fight for” his constituents in the Commons.
The leader of North Tyneside Conservatives attacked MPs who “short-change” voters by making only a small number of speeches in the chamber.
Councillor Judith Wallace produced a table claiming that such MPs were costing taxpayers many thousands of pounds for each speech they made.
And she said: “Politicians think that they can just turn up at election time, push a few leaflets through the door and think ‘job done’. Well it just isn’t good enough.”
However, the table – based on the number of speeches made during the 2014 calendar year – listed only two North-East MPs as “well below average”.
And one of those two was fellow Tory James Wharton, who faces a crucial knife-edge battle to cling onto the Stockton South seat, where he has a majority of just 332.
Mr Wharton spoke just 12 times last year, the Tories said – at an alleged cost of £5,589.17 per contribution – two more occasions than Tynemouth Labour MP Alan Campbell (£6,707).
Cllr Wallace added:
“Voters expect their MPs to be working hard for their salary.
“An MP’s job is to stand up in the House of Commons and make the views of your electors known to the executive – to challenge and to fight for your constituents.”
Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland – second in the table (76 speeches) – pointed out that Mr Campbell was Labour’s deputy chief whip, so spoke very little by convention.
And he said:
“I’d like to congratulate the Tory party for highlighting how little James Wharton has done in his five years – and also for highlighting how much I have done.”
Mr Wharton did not return messages left by journalists, while a spokesman for Cllr Wallace insisted: “Judith’s comments are specifically about her sitting MP Alan Campbell, for Tynemouth.”
The list put Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman top (116 speeches), with Labour’s Ian Lavery (Wansbeck – 66) and Grahame Morris (Easington – 64) third and fourth.
We haven’t yet ordered our coffee and already Shirley Ford, a school administrator and lead campaigner for the North East Green Party, is racing through her lines.
“As of this morning, we had 22 candidates selected with another five possibles,” she says, as we find seats at a quiet South Shields seaside cafe.
“But things are changing so rapidly now. If you had asked me before Christmas, I would have told you something entirely different. We are a small party, we don’t have much money so it is all about candidates’ enthusiasm.”
She seems nervous, but it is an extraordinary time for the Greens. The so-called surge is in full swing.
Calls for Natalie Bennett to be included in the TV leaders’ debates intensified until the dam broke and broadcasters changed their stance in what has been celebrated as a watershed moment for the party. Now, after 20 years on the sidelines, the region’s handful of Green councillors find themselves in the spotlight and, sometimes, the firing line.
“Yes, but that is exactly what we wanted – to be taken seriously,” said Shirley.
And, it seems, times are changing. The party in the region has tripled its number of parliamentary candidates since 2010 and, Shirley, who is sporting a fern green jumper and matching coat, does not by any means predict a win, but she is brimming with optimism.
“Five years ago, we ran just seven candidates and that tells you where local parties’ strength was at,” she says, with a wry smile.
“We stood someone in South Shields, Gateshead, the three Newcastle seats, Tynemouth and Wansbeck. This time round we are looking at standing candidates in all but two seats. We might struggle to stand in Sunderland but things are changing every day.
“We didn’t think that Blyth Valley would have a candidate but suddenly we have had some key people joining there that have made it possible for members to select.”
The media glare, she says, is winning the party support but the Greens’ operation on the ground is gathering strength.
“I think that national and local media does make a difference as to what people think something is happening,” she said. “We don’t have very much money. It is up for members of each local party to raise the money for their deposit and for any research or materials.
“We have to be creative. We don’t have the resources to go and knock on everyone’s door or to carry out a poll of the constituency, but we are doing what we can.”
Shirley, who will stand in South Shields, was an organiser for the local Stop The War Coalition and has lobbied government as part of the Women in Black campaign against injustice, war and militarism.
“I joined the Green Party 11 years ago but I grew up in a family interested in politics,” she said. “I campaigned against apartheid when I was a student and I was always interested in human rights.”
She says people are finding the party via the Greens petitioning on specific issues, such their campaign against the Newcastle/Gateshead One Core Strategy, which could allow for homes to be built on greenbelt.
Greens are renowned for their passion for the environment and so have been smart in joining with organisations such as Surfers Against Sewage to organisation clean-ups.
But what does it all add up to? Where does she think the Green Party will do well in the North East?
“Newcastle East is one to watch – we have been focussing campaign work in the Heaton area and we are very active in Jesmond,” she said.
“We campaigned during local elections on local issues, including on transport and housing. We have been in that area for two or three years building that campaign level up.
“We have been championing more affordable housing and we have seen a good response in the Newcastle North area. I think in Northumberland, in Hexham and Berwick, we will do well. The two parties wanted to link up on energy campaigning issues, such as the Druridge Bay opencast coal mining campaign.
“There has been a lot of – what’s the word – a lot of synergy. They have been linking up on local issues that they are passionate about and I think that comes across.
“We want people to get the message across we want renewable energy projects that are small scale that are not going to be having such a huge impact.”
While it isn’t likely the Greens can unseat the former Labour Minister Nick Brown in Newcastle East, it shows which demographic supports the Greens – students.
“In Durham, the party had been quite dormant but in the county council local elections we stood 15 candidates and we came second in the City of Durham division of Neville’s Cross,” she said.
“A good number of student residents live there. We also did well in other wards in the city where there is a high proportion of students.
“We have maintained the momentum that that gave us.”
So, the Green Party is relying on the region’s student vote?
“That is part of the strategy, to engage students and to encourage students to stand. Some of our parliamentary candidates are students. Middlesbrough and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland are students, while others are Young Greens.”
The Greens are also popular among socialists after announcing the party would scrap Trident, renationalise railways and offer everyone a single payment ‘citizens income’, though the party has yet to set out exactly how that will be paid for.
> Well, just scrapping Trident alone would save around £1.5 BILLION a year, not to mention the plans to spend over £100 billion on a replacement for Trident.
But, Peter Pinkney, the President of the RMT Union, is standing for the party in Redcar as a result, proclaiming that “the Greens are now the party of the left.”
Shirley said the move was welcome news:
“Peter has been a member for quite a long time now and he spoke at the Green Party conference 18 months ago on the whole railway issue. The national part is very excited about it.
“It is really exciting.”
It comes as the Greens announce membership nationally has grown by 120% this year. Now, their leader will share a platform with David Cameron and Ed Miliband.
“It gives people a sense of a change and there might well be a place for a smaller party,” said Shirley.
“This lets people hear our policies and gives people a chance to make their own mind up.
“Last time, we imported the American presidential debate but that isn’t how our system works. You vote for your local candidate on policies and the debates last time didn’t reflect that.”
And it is on local issues that the Greens stand to make the most ground in this election.
The Coal Authority has granted licences for companies to explore parts of the North coast to see if underground coal gasification is possible.
The Green Party is mobilising its forces and it is when talking about this that Shirley is most animated.
“We are going to campaign on this off-the-coast, underground coal gasification because this issue has been bubbling along,” she said.
“We are keeping an eye out to see if there are any actual planning applications for anything onshore for both the drilling rigs and the processing plants.
“The argument that is always made is that we have got to have jobs – jobs jobs jobs – but they don’t think about the jobs that will be put at risk, such as tourism jobs and fishing jobs.”
Shirley is keen for the party not to be seen as an extension of eco-charities but as a party with a social agenda.
“We have petitions on particular issues in lots of places,” she said.
“Here in South Tyneside we have a schools campaign to bring back glass bottles and in Jarrow we have a petition to save the walk-in centre.
“We are trying to find solutions to the things that really matter to people.”
Winning in a region where Labour is so strong will be tough. On this issue, Shirley found herself agreeing with the leader of Ukip, Nigel Farage, who branded the North East a “one-party state” ruled by Labour.
Shirley says because of this dominance by the big parties, the Greens’ long game will be to campaign on voting reform.
“It is sad,” she said “It is partly our electoral system. All of the focus is on those marginal seats and if you are in a safe seat then you are very much taken for granted.
“That is one of the things we want to change.”
She added: “In 2010, a lot of people in the North East told us that they support Green but that they were going to vote Labour because of fear that the Tories could get in.
“Well, the Tories did get in anyway.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 11 Feb 2015
A relaunched Northumberland Green Party branch has vowed to build on growing national support when they take on the Tories in next year’s General Election.
Tynedale Green Party, which has reformed in Hexham, will put forward a parliamentary candidate in 2015 for the first time since 1992, challenging Conservative MP Guy Opperman.
And its newly elected officers hope their efforts will be boosted by a 100% rise in England and Wales Green membership since the start of the year, and the possibility of joining further coalition governments in the future.
Graham Howard, who lives in Hexham and has been a supporter of Greenpeace since the 1980s, is press officer for the branch which covers all of Tynedale.
“We have a broken political system supported by vested corporate interests that resist any change.
“I work in the NHS and have seen this coalition turn the service on its head after it had been rebuilt under the previous Government.
“The Tories promised no ‘top-down re-organisation’ and then quite cynically reneged on that manifesto promise by instituting a totally unnecessary and brutal shake-up.
“Privatisation has been the mantra which has ruined so many industries at the expense of our basic infrastructure, for the financial benefit of a minority. The Greens must participate in the 2015 TV debates – they are the fastest growing party membership in the country.”
“Young voters are already much greener than older generations. That there are still climate change deniers able to get away with denying reality in the face of the science, would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous.”
John Hartshorne, a former Prudhoe schoolteacher, was the last Green Party candidate to stand 23 years ago.
“I joined because I believed that fundamental issues were not being discussed by politicians.
“Every one of us should have an interest in protecting and nurturing our world for our children, and teaching them the importance of compassion, tolerance and the inter-connectedness of all life.”
The next meeting of Tynedale Green Party is at 2pm on Saturday at Hexham Community Centre.
Mr Opperman said: “I look forward to a robust and honest debate on my record as Tynedale and Ponteland’s local MP.
“I am proud of my achievements such as protecting our local NHS, securing an extra £12m for our schools, fighting for our greenbelt and under this government seeing local unemployment fall by 51%.
“It has been a real honour to serve as the MP for my part of Northumberland over the last four years and I look forward to the campaign ahead. I hope I have tried to do things a little bit differently from the standard MP.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 10 Dec 2014
But his key statement on the nation’s finances also confirmed that local councils face years of further deep cuts.
And the Chancellor’s big surprise, changes to Stamp Duty leading to lower bills for many buyers, will have limited impact on the North East because low property prices in the region mean many home buyers don’t pay the duty anyway.
The Autumn Statement also confirmed that outdated Pacer trains still in use on some routes in the North East will be replaced.
Mr Osborne told the Commons that his goal was to create “a more balanced national economy” and that meant creating a northern powerhouse “as a complement to the strength of our capital city, where we bring together our great cities of the North.”
He announced £20m for a Ageing Science centre in Newcastle, to “back the brilliant work on ageing being conducted at Newcastle University”.
There was also £28m for a world-class research and development centre, to be called the National Formulation Centre, that will specialise in the development of products such as medicines and chemicals, based in Sedgefield.
And documents published by the Treasury also revealed plans for a Great Exhibition in the north.
But local authorities face at least five more years of further dramatic cuts in spending, the Autumn Statement confirmed. Funding from the Treasury for local services is to be cut by more than a fifth by 2019-20.
The figures are included in forecasts published by the Office for Budget Responsibility, the official Treasury watchdog, as part of the statement. It predicted that the main grant provided to local councils will fall from £60.3bn in 2014-15 to £50.5bn in 2019-20.
Mr Osborne insisted: “I do not hide from the House that in the coming years there are going to have to be very substantial savings in public spending.”
This would mean cuts of £13.6bn in 2015-16, as previously announced, and “two further years where decisions on this scale will be required”.
He added: “We’re going to have to go on controlling spending after those years if we want to have a surplus and keep it.”
Another key announcement was a change to stamp duty, previously charged on homes costing more than £125,000.
Buyers eligible for the tax paid one per cent or more of the purchase price. In future, stamp duty will only be paid on the portion of the price which is above the threshold, leading to significant reductions for some properties.
However, an analysis of house prices shows that average prices in the North East are below the £125,000 threshold anyway, which means many buyers will not be affected as they pay no stamp duty.
Average house prices are £120,545 in Newcastle, £124,338 in North Tyneside, £123,766 in Northumberland, £99,837 in South Tyneside and £85,438 in Sunderland.
Nonetheless, buyers of more expensive homes will make savings as long as the property is worth less than £937,000.
Responding to questions from Conservative MP Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham, and Labour Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson, the Chancellor also said there would be help for airports in the North if they were hit by a potential cut in air passenger duty in Scotland, following the announcement that aviation duty will be devolved to the Scottish government.
Responding to the statement, Newcastle East MP Nick Brown pointed out that the Chancellor had announced Britain was awarded the lead role in the next international effort to explore the planet of Mars, adding:
“The Chancellor spoke more about Mars than he did about the North East of England. His Northern Powerhouse is located over 100 miles to the South of Tyne and Wear.
“His statement contained no commitment to any type of workable regional policy in the context of further Scottish Devolution. This is grotesquely one-sided. Even his stamp duty changes were focussed on London and the South East.”
But Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith, who represents Berwick, said:
“The Autumn Statement sticks to our strategy to deal with the deficit, enabling us to release funds for key Liberal Democrat priorities that bring fairness and a stronger economy.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 03 Dec 2014