Tagged: Hexham

Parties clash over claims North East economy is booming

> Comedy time at the House of Commons…

North East industry is thriving, a Conservative MP has told the House of Commons.

And the Government has created jobs in the region – while Labour was happy to concentrate prosperity in the south of England, according to the Prime Minister.

But the bold claims from the Tories sparked an immediate backlash from Labour, which claimed the Government had failed to tackle the region’s high level of unemployment.

 Guy Opperman, Conservative MP for Hexham, highlighted what he said was the region’s strong economic performance as he questioned David Cameron.

He said:

“Is the Prime Minister aware that the region with the most tech start ups outside of London, and the fastest rate of growth in private sector businesses over the last quarter, and the highest rise in the value of exports, is the North East of England?

“And does he agree with me that we should stick to the long term economic plan so that we all have the benefits?”

The Prime Minister told him:

“It is notable that when we look at things like small business creation, exports, investment, the growth is coming from around the country including the North East – and that is a huge contrast.

“Under 13 years of Labour, for every 10 jobs created in the south they only created one in the North. That is the record of the last Labour government.”

He added:

“What we need to do is to increase entrepreneurship and start ups in every part of the country . . . there is a new spirit of entrepreneurship in Britain and this government is backing it.”

Mr Opperman was referring to a report by the British Chambers of Commerce which found there were more than 300 high tech and digital businesses in the North East, and that only London has a higher rate of tech start ups in the UK.

He also highlighted the Lloyds Bank Regional Purchasing Managers’ Index, which measures business activity in each region and shows that the North East has the highest rate of growth over three months. The latest index, published on October 13, shows activity in the North East growing in line with the national average, although faster than London.

And in September, official figures showed total value of exports in the North East had risen by 2.32% over a year – the highest figure recorded by any English regions.

Second quarter statistics for 2014 showed £3.102bn worth of goods were sold to foreign markets from the region, up by 9.66% compared to the same period last year.

But Labour pointed out that the North East still had the highest unemployment rate in the country. Most recent figures show unemployment in the region is 9.3%, worse than any other region of England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The overall UK rate is 6%.

Newcastle North MP and Shadow Treasury Minister Catherine McKinnell, questioning Chancellor George Osborne in the Commons, said:

“Whilst he’s been shifting funds from Northern cities to wealthier parts of the country, unemployment in the North East is the highest in the country; wages for working people in the North have fallen by even more than the national average; and, across the North, the number of young people unemployed for over a year is up 62% since the election.

“Why won’t he match Labour’s plan to devolve real power and £30billion of funding, not just to the North but to all city and county regions?”

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  06 Nov 2014

Northumberland : ‘Unfair’ transfer changes leaving patients stuck

A Seahouses man due to have an operation to repair a ruptured Achilles has been left stranded by new transport to healthcare rules.

Health bosses have changed the transport criteria, meaning some patients are expected to spend over five hours a day on public transport to attend hospital appointments.

Mr Vickers from Seahouses was informed of the change when he phoned to book transport to an appointment ahead of his operation on the 28th of this month.

He said:

“I would usually get an ambulance taxi but they told me I couldn’t anymore. The whole thing is ludicrous. Now I’m stuck, I can’t get to Hexham unless I get a private taxi.

“I was even more upset when they said after I have the operation, am in plaster and on crutches, I’m still not entitled to transport to get home.

“We had no idea anything was going to change. They said a new criteria had been brought in and asked all these ridiculous questions like are you blind, are you in a wheel chair, do you get housing benefit. I don’t know how many others have operations booked and don’t yet know about this.”

Berwick’s Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith described the new rules as “grotesquely unfair”.

He said:

“People have been told to get from Berwick to North Shields and back on a series of buses with no certainty their treatment will be finished in time for the last bus back to Berwick. Another constituent was told to take a two-and-a-half hour bus journey from north Northumberland to the Wansbeck Hospital for regular injections.

“Elderly widows are being told if they can use a local bus for a 10 minute journey into Berwick they should have no difficulty travelling on several buses to get to the Freeman.

“This is simply not acceptable and creates a huge barrier to healthcare for people in north Northumberland.”

Sir Alan said the situation was “even more insulting” to local people when they are being told they cannot go to Borders General Hospital which has a direct bus link from the centre of Berwick to the door of the hospital.

“This chaos all results from decisions of the Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group and the uninformed way the decisions are being implemented in rural areas,” he said.

It’s clear that people sitting behind desks in urban parts of south east Northumberland have no idea how difficult it is for people without a car or someone to drive them to get to distant medical appointments.

“I have raised this issue with the Chief Medical Officer of the Clinical Commissioning Group and I will be raising it in Parliament, where I have already been taking up the restrictions on cross-border access to health services.”

A spokesperson for the Northumberland CCG said:

From 20 October 2014, we implemented the Department of Health’s national policy where all new patient transport bookings are subject to a short assessment. The assessment includes asking a few questions about how you would normally travel for day-to-day activities and if friends or family normally take you to your appointments.

“The purpose of this assessment is to make sure that the people who require ambulance services are prioritised based on their health needs and that the NHS is making the best use of the funding it has available. We understand that this can be a frustrating experience and some people who have previously used this service may find that they are no longer entitled to patient transport.

“If this is the case, then the booking service is offering information and advice on alternative forms of transport.”

They added: “We are in the early stages of implementing this process and we would like to reassure everyone that we are continually reviewing issues and concerns raised to make sure a common sense approach is applied.

“We are committed to ensuring that patients who live in rural areas are not disadvantaged by the implementation of the criteria, however, we still need to ensure that this is applied fairly across the region.”

If patients have any concerns, queries, or you are unhappy with a decision, they can contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) via Freephone 0800 0320202, by text to 01670 511098 or by emailing northoftynepals@nhct.nhs.uk.

Source –  Berwick Advertiser, 06 November 2014

Conservative Party try to reinvent themselves as the party of the North East

> Is there a General Election on the horizon or something ? The Tories are getting all concerned about the North East…

Growing the economy in the North of England and closing the wealth divide with London and the south east was one of the major themes of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, spoke repeatedly about backing the North in his keynote speech at the  conference.

The focus may seem surprising given that the party has few MPs in the North East.

Guy Opperman in Hexham, Northumberland, and James Wharton in Stockton South are the party’s only North East representatives in the Commons, although Tories believe they have a chance of taking Liberal Democrat-held Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, at the next election.

But William Hague, the former Foreign Secretary regarded as unofficial deputy leader of the party, pointed out to journalists that there were many more Conservative MPs in the North West and in Yorkshire.

Mr Osborne, who represents a constituency in Cheshire, even told the conference: “I am also the first Chancellor for almost forty years to represent a constituency in the north of England – and I can see the risk of our capital city’s dominance.

> Yorkshire and Cheshire are quite different from the North East. That’s exactly why they do elect Tories.

“It is not healthy for our country or our economy.”

He pledged: “Let us choose today to make reducing the gap between north and south, London and the rest, one of the central ambitions of the next Conservative Government.”

And he highlighted the Government’s plan to create a “Northern Powerhouse”, saying: “The answer is to build up the rest of our country. To create a Northern Powerhouse of the cities across the Pennines.”

The Chancellor’s plan is to turn the North into an economic powerhouse rivalling London by investing up to £15 billion on local transport links, picking a scientific speciality for universities to become world-leaders in, possibly building a high speed line across the Pennines, linking the North East and North West, and giving cities more autonomy and cash – if they agree to transform local government by introducing directly-elected mayors.

Mr Hague insisted the party was on course to win in the North.

He said: “At the last general election we made a major breakthrough in the North – if you take the North as being Yorkshire, the North East and North West. We went up at the last election from 19 MPs in the North to 42. That was a huge expansion, including in the North East of course, where we gained Stockton South.

> And… and… oh, just Stockton South, then ? Along with Hexham, that’s a really huge expansion in the North East.

“I hope we can add to that – there will be seats we will be targeting in the North including the North East.”

Major announcements at the conference included plans to freeze working-age benefits – including benefits received by working people on low salaries – for two years.

This means cutting benefits in real terms, because of the effects of inflation.

Conservative leader David Cameron, in his conference speech, announced plans to raise the income tax personal allowance to £12,500. This would take one million more workers out of income tax entirely and give a tax cut to 30 million more, Mr Cameron said.

An estimated 51,000 North East workers would pay no income tax at all because of the change. Many others would pay less tax.

> Isn’t this because wages are so poor to start with ?

Mr Cameron also announced plans to raise the threshold at which people pay the 40p income tax rate from £41,900 today to £50,000.

It means a tax cut for many people earning above-average salaries. Mr Cameron said the 40p tax was supposed to be for the rich, but it’s currently paid by some senior nurses, teachers and police officers.

But critics pointed out that the Conservatives had failed to explain how they would pay the £7 billion cost of cutting tax.

Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said: “Nobody will be fooled by pie in the sky promises of tax cuts in six years’ time when David Cameron cannot tell us where the money is coming from.

“Even the Tories admit this is an unfunded commitment of over £7 billion, so how will they pay for it? Will they raise VAT on families and pensioners again?”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 Oct 2014

Tory MP calls for Northumberland to be split in two

A Northumberland MP has issued a renewed call for the county to be governed by separate urban and rural authorities in the ongoing row over the future of its civic base.

Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman has revived a debate which raged prior to the creation of a single unitary authority for Northumberland in 2009 in the continuing dispute over county council plans to move its base and decentralise services.

Yet Labour leaders on the council have accused him of an “attempt to divide the county for purely party political ends” and of being “prepared to turn down hundreds of jobs and decentralised services for his constituency.

The county was once governed by Northumberland County Council alongside six district councils.

A referendum in 2004 saw residents voting for two unitary authorities for the county, along a rural urban split, rather than one.

Labour leaders at the county council then submitted a proposal for a single unitary authority.

However, the districts favoured the creation of two authorities, one for the urban areas of Wansbeck and Blyth Valley and one for the rural centres of Alnwick, Berwick, Tynedale and Castle Morpeth.

Yet the government in July 2007 chose the single authority option.

Mr Opperman has now proposed a public debate on the creation of two authorities for the rural and urban areas, amid his opposition to the county council’s plans to move its base from County Hall at Morpeth to Ashington and to create nine service hubs around Northumberland.

The MP suggested a new unitary authority covering the Hexham and Berwick parliamentary constituencies could take over services now provided by the county council.

He questioned why Ashington should benefit from a new £40m council base, a £20m sports centre and a £74m overhaul of the town centre, while his constituency is “losing out.”

> Possibly because Hexham is a much richer town than Ashington, which has a lot of catching up to do. Anyone who has visited both towns will know what I mean.

Mr Opperman furthermore claimed the recent abolition of free transport for students in post-16 education demonstrated the council’s current leadership “simply don’t have an interest in the issues in rural communities.”

The MP said: “Perhaps now that Labour are wanting dramatic change it is time to consider whether the current county council should be made into two unitary authorities, one urban and one rural.”

He added: “Hexham certainly has a lot more in common with Alnwick than it does with Ashington or Blyth. A rural Northumberland authority covering West and North Northumberland would give people back a council which worked for them, listened to their concerns and didn’t ignore them in favour of the urban South East.”

Responding, a spokesman for the Labour group on the county council said: “This is Guy Opperman’s latest political wheeze. “Last week he was arguing that Scotland and the UK are better together and this week he wants to split Northumberland up.

“Here are the figures, the county population is 47% in the South East, 27% in the West and 26% in the North.

“His half baked proposal would see more than 55% of the government’s grant disappear to the South East and would see the West having to make do with less than 25% of the current grant.

“His figures just don’t add up.

“This is his latest attempt to divide the county for purely party political ends.

“Residents will rightly note that he’s prepared to turn down hundreds of jobs and decentralised services for his constituency and yet he stays silent as his government slashes the county council budget by a third.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 26 Sept 2014

Northern Rail evening rail commuters facing ticket price increases of up to 100%

North East rail users face fare hikes of up to 100% after some off-peak fares were axed on Monday.

The price rises affects a number of evening services run by Northern Rail – with a return ticket from Hexham to Newcastle jumping from £3.55 to £7.10.

The increases, which were announced in the summer, came into effect a day after Chancellor George Osborne announced he was knocking 1% off the January 2015 national commuter fare rise for England, meaning regulated fares like season tickets will going up by 2.5% rather than the planned 3.5% next year.

Nevertheless, Northern Rail’s changes have been fiercely criticised by rail unions and campaign groups.

The RMT union is marking the rise by launching a new wave of protests against plans for the new Northern franchise and also for the new franchise for TransPennine Express, which links the region with the North West.

The union says the rises are “a kick in the teeth for the travelling public” and a “taste of what’s around the corner under the new franchises”.

And the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) said the Northern Rail rises would hit part-time and shift workers worst.

Martin Abrams, CBT public transport campaigner, said:

This fare increase threatens to make rail travel unaffordable to tens of thousands of part-time workers.

“Despite Government promises, there are no flexible tickets for the increasing numbers who work part time or anything other than traditional nine-to-five hours.

“Their only option is to pay for individual tickets, which will now be double the price on Northern Rail’s most popular routes.”

Mick Cash, RMT acting general secretary, added:

The axing of off-peak fares is a savage kick in the teeth for people already struggling with the burden of low pay and austerity.”

Northern said the fare changes were being made after the Department for Transport (DfT) asked the company to look at several options to help reduce subsidy as part of its current franchise agreement. It added that it had heavily publicised the fare changes.

Richard Allan, Northern Rail commercial director, said:

“The majority of customers who travel at peak times will be unaffected by these changes but we want to make sure that those who are know about what is happening and what options are available to them.”

Labour MP Mary Creagh, shadow transport secretary, said:

“This is a direct result of the Government’s West Coast franchise fiasco and commuters travelling to Leeds, Manchester, Bradford, Sheffield and Newcastle are paying the price.

“People shouldn’t have to choose between paying more or waiting until after dark to travel.”

However, a DfT spokesman said the changes would help build a “rail network that is better for the passenger and better value for the taxpayer”.

He added:

“Such restrictions are relatively common on other parts of the network, including in the Mersey travel area, and we expect only a minority of passengers to be affected.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  08 Sept 2014

Rail union protest starts in Hexham

A CAMPAIGN against possible cuts in jobs and services on the Tyne Valley railway line gets under way in Hexham on Monday.

Hexham railway station

As part of protests against about the Government’s proposals for the future of the Northern franchise, the RMT union is launching a new phase of action on the day that Northern axes a range of off-peak fares.

RMT is pointing out to passengers that the fare increases may be a taste of what’s to come under the new Northern franchises. The union has slammed the Government and Northern Rail for secretly colluding to axe the off-peak fares.

A new postcard, following on from the 10,000 cards collected in opposition to the plans under the franchise consultation, will be distributed from Monday with the public urged to press MPs to sign EDM 174, opposing the new franchise proposals, and calling for councillors and local authorities to register their opposition.

Hexham has been chosen for the first phase in the action on Monday morning, between 7am and 9am, as commuters set off to work in Newcastle.

Source –  Hexham Courant,  03 Sept 2014

Union’s fears for Tyne Valley rail line

Railway workers mounted a protest at Hexham railway station on Tuesday against what they describe as the biggest threat to railway services since the Beeching Axe of the 1960s.

At the same time, there were angry protests at rail company Northern Rail’s decision to axe off-peak fares on the  Tyne Valley line – a decision which will hit hundreds of local commuters.

The protests have been sparked by the Department for Transport’s consultation exercise on the future of the Northern and Trans Pennine rail franchises, drawn up in conjunction with Rail North, a conglomeration of 30 Northern local authorities.

Railway workers’ union RMT say the proposals will result in fare rises, service and timetable cuts and the loss of hundreds of essential rail jobs.

They also feel passenger service and safety will be affected by the proposed introduction of driver-only operation, the sacking of train guards, conductors, station de-staffing and ticket office closures.

Union members are particularly concerned that the proposed cuts will impact on disabled, older and women passengers.

The consultation is due to end on Monday of next week.

Further fuel has been added to the fires of discontent by Northern Rail’s announcement this week that, with effect from Monday September 8, off-peak tickets can no longer be used during weekday evenings on local rail services between Hexham and Newcastle.

Customers who currently use off-peak tickets during the evening peak will either have to travel earlier or later, or buy an anytime ticket.

> Although if they get rid of all the conductors and guards, who will be checking tickets anyway ?

The rail company claims the majority of customers who travel at the evening peak time already buy season tickets or anytime fares and won’t be affected by this change.

They could also find their trains are less crowded.

Commercial director, of Northern Rail, Richard Allan, said: “The majority of customers will be unaffected by these changes, but we want to make sure that those who are know about what is happening.”

Off-peak day/duo tickets will no longer be valid on weekdays on all services between Hexham and Newcastle between 4pm and 6pm.

Regular travellers could benefit from season tickets, which can be purchased for a week, month or year, and offer significant discounts.

The changes are being made after the DfT asked Northern to look at several options to help reduce subsidy as part of its new franchise agreement.

The franchise agreement includes commitments to invest in more customer information systems, better retailing facilities and environmental initiatives, which will lead to over £6m being invested to improve facilities for customers.

However, RMT has described the move as “a savage kick in the teeth for the travelling public”.

Acting general secretary of the RMT, Mick Cash, said: “People are already struggling with the burden of low pay and austerity and the fact that this has been cooked up by the Department for Transport in collusion with the privatisation pirates from Northern Rail is a warning of what’s to come.

“Let’s not forget that the core of the Government’s future plans for Northern and TPE is to axe jobs, throw the guards off the trains and jack up fares, while capacity to meet surging rail demand in the area is left to stagnate.

“The attack on the fare-paying public has already begun.”

Source –  Hexham Courant,  20 Aug 2014

Northumberland hit again in arts funding ‘balancing act’

A theatre company renowned for its work with children is to lose all its funding while a festival for children will gain a three-year funding package.

It was a day of winners and losers as Arts Council England announced its list of arts organisations – its National Portfolio – guaranteed public subsidy from 2015-18.

For some it will have been no comfort to learn that 42 organisations will receive £53.7m over three years from next April.

Three years ago, when the National Portfolio came into existence, Northumberland Theatre Company (NTC) learned it would lose all its annual £300,000 Arts Council funding from April 2012.

Not only did it fail in its bid to be reinstated yesterday but a second Northumberland theatre company, Hexham-based Théâtre Sans Frontières (TSF), was told it would get no more money from next year.

The company was founded in 1991 by John Cobb and Sarah Kemp and currently receives just over £200,000 to tour plays in French and Spanish to largely young audiences.

Yesterday company spokeswoman Alison Maw said: “Obviously we are disappointed. We are having a meeting with the trustees on Thursday.”

Gillian Hambleton, artistic director of NTC, said: “Basically they have cut theatre in Northumberland. It’s disgraceful. We’re still here fighting but there’s only so long you can carry on.”

One Northumberland theatre company, November Club, which specialises in site-specific work in historic locations, retains its National Portfolio status with about £100,000 annually over the coming three years.

Creative director Cinzia Hardy called it “a wonderful endorsement of our track record for excellence”.

She added that it would secure the company’s future for the next few years.

Also deprived of future National Portfolio status were Northern Architecture, Design Event and Tees Music Alliance.

Side Gallery, Newcastle, which lost funding when the first National Portfolio was announced in 2011, failed in its bid to get back on the list and was also unsuccessful with a bid for capital funding towards an ambitious improvement programme.

The only new North East addition to the National Portfolio – one of 48 around the country – will be the autumn Juice festival for children and young people which is run by destination marketing agency NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI).

It is to receive £100,000 a year from April 2015 to March 2018.

Carol Bell, head of culture and major events at NGI, said: “Juice’s vision is to be the leading children and young people’s arts and cultural festival in the UK and Europe.

“NPO status will enable us to continue to pursue this ambition and to really establish Juice as a festival of national and international significance, building on the great work delivered over the past seven years.”

Most major NPO organisations in the North East got pretty much what they applied for.

Sage Gateshead will receive the £3.5m per annum that it asked for, prompting chairman Lord Falconer to say: “We’re very glad to have this vote of confidence in a very tough public funding environment.

Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM), was delighted to retain its status as a major partner museum, meaning it will receive just over £1.5m per year from Arts Council England from next year.

But it is also to take over the role of North East Bridge organisation – which Sage Gateshead decided to relinquish – meaning it will work with cultural organisations, schools and colleges to ensure children and young people in the North East will get the chance to experience arts and culture. For this it will get Arts Council funding of £1.5m over three years.

TWAM will be the only museums organisation in the country charged with the role of Bridge organisation.

Director Iain Watson said: “Being awarded both major partner museum funding and Bridge organisation funding means we can realise our ambitious plans for developing opportunities for audiences to engage with our museums and collections over the next three years.”

Jane Tarr, who is Arts Council England’s director for the North and is based in Newcastle, said all applications for NPO status had been measured against five goals.

These were designed to ensure they would deliver great art for everyone, engage children and young people, prove resilient and be properly managed.

Of the decision to exlude TSF from the National Portfolio, she said: “It was a very, very tough decision.

“I think we recognised that TSF do good work and we are keen to carry on supporting this through other funding streams.”

She added: “We are supporting November Club, who do unique work and work in rural areas, and also Berwick Maltings which got a significant funding uplift last time.

We have also been able to support the Queen’s Hall in Hexham and the Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival.”

Peter Stark, one-time boss of Northern Arts and co-author of a report called Rebalancing our Cultural Capital, issued a statement saying the announced funding settlement had “no demonstrated ambition” to address public investment in arts and culture that favoured London over the rest of England by a ratio of 14:1 in terms of population.

A claim that it represented a shift of 2% in favour of the regions amounted to just £6.4m which was exceeded by other grants announced recently to benefit London-based organisations.

He and his co-authors, Christopher Gordon and David Powell, said further analysis of the funding figures would be undertaken ahead of a “more authoritative” assessment.

In Newcastle Jane Tarr responded by saying: “It’s a small shift in terms of funding this time but it’s part of a much more significant shift since 2007.”

  • A series of capital grants announced yesterday by Arts Council England brought joy for Seven Stories, in Newcastle, which retains its National Portfolio status (worth £1.3m over three years) and will be able to invest £499,000 on refurbishment and improving facilities for visitors. Chief executive Kate Edwards said: “We are delighted that Arts Council England continues to recognise our pre-eminent position as the National Centre for Children’s Books.
  • Also announced yesterday was an award of £1.5m to Theatre Hullabaloo in Darlington towards converting an Edwardian fire station into a flagship children’s theatre, one of only three in the country and the first north of London. Theatre Hullabaloo, which runs the Take Off festival of children’s theatre, saw its National Portfolio funding hiked from £207,000 per year to £250,000 from next April.
  • A capital grant of £179,000 has been awarded to Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead so it can extend its library, establish learning zones and create an environmentally controlled archive space.
  • Durham County Council has won a ringing vote of confidence from Arts Council England with a doubling of its National Portfolio funding from around £200,000 to £415,000 per year from April 2015. The Arts Council has earmarked more money from Lumiere, which attracted 175,000 people in 2013 and is now seen as the country’s foremost festival of light-based art. Support has also been maintained for Durham’s book and brass festivals. The Arts Council stated: “Festivals have an important role to play in building audiences for the arts and presenting arts in unexpected ways as well as raising the area’s international profile and contributing to the local economy.”
  • Gem Arts, the North East development agency specialising in South Asian arts, will see its annual funding increased by 60% from £73,000 to £120,000 from next year. The money will help to support a new Indian Summer Festival to be programmed across major venues in Newcastle and Gateshead. This will connect the region with a project called RE-Imagine India which is being put together by the British Council to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Indian independence in 2017.
  • Arc, the arts centre in Stockton-on-Tees, has been awarded a capital grant of nearly £133,000 for improvements to the building. The Arts Council is also maintaining its support for the annual Stockton International Riverside Festival.
  • Northern Print, based in Newcastle and organiser of the International Print Biennale, which has just opened at venues across the region, has been awarded a capital grant of £147,000 for improvements to its studio in the Ouseburn Valley and to invest in digital print equipment.
  • Source –  Newcastle Journal,  02 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

North East Party – “We will do politics better”

The tremor that ran through the established order of things following the success of UKIP at last month’s European elections in Tynedale could be followed by a major aftershock.

> Would that be the tremor that saw UKIP get one North East Euro MP – in a parliament they don’t believe in but are happy to rack up personal expenses from – but also saw them win no local council seats, and indeed saw their local council holdings (2 seats, both in South Tyneside) reduced by 50% ?

Sounds more like the kind of tremor experienced by someone suffering from a nervous condition…

For a new North-East based political party is set to throw its hat into the ring in time for next year’s General Election.

And in the forefront of the North-East Party is retired Haydon Bridge GP Steven Ford.

Although he lost his deposit when standing as an independent at the 2010 General Election, finishing a distant fourth behind the main parties, Dr Ford is poised to give it another go.

He said: “The party is so new there are no candidates yet, but I am certainly prepared to have my name considered.”

The main plank of the NEP’s strategy will be to campaign for effective devolution of power to the North-East.

Dr Ford is confident that the new party will be a success, despite the fact that the North-East rejected the notion of a “Geordie Parliament” in a referendum organised by Labour’s deputy prime minister John Prescott in 2004.

He said: “The referendum in 2004 was for another layer of local government; a talking shop which was quite rightly rejected.

“What we want is more radical; we want to see a group of MPs in Westminster dedicated to looking after the interests of the North-East.

“The region has been neglected by successive governments, who have done nothing for the North-East.

“If the North-East is not being represented by the major parties, it must represent itself.”

A decade ago, voters in Tynedale turned their backs on the prospect of an elected North-East regional assembly by a majority of four to one.

Even the support of high-profile residents of the district like Brendan Foster and Alan Shearer failed to persuade voters that the so-called Geordie Parliament was a good idea.

> Just calling it a “Geordie Parliament” was a loser in itself  – it gave the impression that it would be centered on, and for the main benefit of, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Kind of like calling a council for the whole of London a “Cockney Parliament” – it appears to exclude all those who don’t fit the narrow parameters .

A spokesman for the North-East Party said: “We want to ensure that, just like the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, we can take real control over the important issues of our lives, such as jobs, excellent public services, caring supportive communities, first-class public transport and world-class science and research.

“We will do politics better – independently, honestly and openly. We will be accountable to local communities.”

NEP’s immediate aim is to field candidates in 12 North-East constituencies, including the Tory stronghold of Hexham.

The aim is to return to Parliament 12 women and men who will stand up independently and accountably for the interests of North-East England, and who will work to bring real devolution to the region.

The spokesman said: “We want to hold an umbrella of support over people who share our values of democracy and equality and who stand for any local election on the basis that they will tackle local issues and make themselves fully accountable to local people.”

The first gathering of the new party will take place at Durham Conference Centre on Monday June 16 from 6-9pm.

Meanwhile, Dr Ford would be happy to hear from people interested in the party on mail@stevenford.co.uk

UKIP has already confirmed it regards Hexham as a marginal seat following its European election successes.

It will choose a local person as its candidate for Hexham in September.

Source –  Hexham Courant,  11 June 2014