Securing a fairer funding settlement was top of the agenda when Labour’s North East troops gathered to launch a manifesto for the region.
MPs and Westminster candidates gathered at the party’s campaign headquarters in Stockton to set out their stall ahead of May’s General Election.
A regional minister, greater devolution, a boost for transport, a North East investment bank and rolling out the living wage were also on the list of priorities for Labour campaigners.
It comes as figures show hundreds of millions of pounds have been moved away from the region’s public sector organisations while other affluent, often Tory heartland areas saw an increase.
The North East is also one of the country’s biggest exporters but the region continues to struggle with the highest unemployment rate.
Helen Goodman MP for Bishop Auckland and chairman of the group said:
“We want to see our region thrive again and believe our plan covering everything from fair funding and a National Investment Bank to improved rail, road and airport infrastructure and many more decisions taken in the North East, will do that.
“We do not however underestimate the size of the challenge and believe only with national and local politicians, business and industry, colleges and universities and others working together, can we succeed in exploiting the talents of our people and provide them and their families with the future they are entitled to.”
The Tories will maintain the country must stick its “long term economic plan” but Labour North East has set out two priorities as its members of Ed Miliband’s party fight for a win at the ballot box in May.
The news the party will campaign for a Minister for the North East could also see the former postholder Newcastle East MP Nick Brown return to the role after the Coalition scrapped the position.
Manifesto for the North East
The main points of the manifesto are:
* Secure fair funding based on the needs of the region
* A living wage
* Development of sector-based industrial strategies to help industry clusters work better together and build local supply chains
* The creation of an investment bank for the region
* Significant investment in the road network and regulation of bus services
* Improvement to the rail system and modern trains
* Development of our regional ports and airports to encourage better international connectivity and boost investment
* A regional tourism strategy to bring back more visitors
* Our employers, colleges and universities working closer together to develop the skills we need
* A careers and guidance service that informs our young people of the vast choices available to them as they plan their future.
> Like the vast choice of which workfare scam you’ll be sent on ?
* Greater devolution of decision making and funding to combined authorities working with Local Enterprise Partnerships and a regional minister
* Staying within the European Union
Source – Newcastle Journal, 27 Feb 2015
Councils are doing more to help unemployed people than the Government as data shows people are falling through the cracks.
The Local Government Association has made the claim as the North East shoulders the country’s highest unemployment rate (9.1%) and as its research shows there has been an alarming 28% increase in the number of unemployed not claiming benefits in the last 18 months.
> Is that because they’ve been sanctioned ?
It means that while Government data does not reveal the full extent of the problem, the LGA says local authorities are being left to pick up the pieces.
The LGA has praised North East councils for working with employers, charities and voluntary groups, schools, colleges and housing associations, and says schemes are offering one-to-one mentoring, training, work placements and apprenticeships at a crucial time.
LGA chairman David Sparks said the capacity for councils to play this role, however, is under threat as all parties eye further cuts.
“Unemployment is falling, but the headlines hide the plight of our most vulnerable residents who are falling through the cracks. Too many are let down by national job schemes which are unable to identify or help them because they have not signed on at their local Jobcentre Plus.
“Councils across the country are desperate to ensure no-one is left behind and have sought to support those being forgotten by these national services by using their local knowledge, expertise and connections with local organisations and services to target their hardest to reach residents.”
Council leaders say national schemes aim to simply shift people from the benefits queue and that approach is damaging for some of the most vulnerable, such as young or disabled people.
Leader of Newcastle City Council, Councillor Nick Forbes, said the news was more evidence that the Government must devolve more powers to the North East.
“The Government are more interested in getting people off benefits than getting them into work. The reality is the jobs that are being created are in most cases, part-time, low wage and zero contract hours.
“Local authorities are having much more success in helping people into jobs and training than Government because they have a better understanding of what is happening in their area.”
Councillor Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council said:
“The national approach is to move people off the benefits register as quickly as possible, but sometimes this can be to the detriment of more vulnerable residents and can exacerbate their situation if they take the first job that comes along and they are not ready to work.
“Our approach has been to offer residents constructive and comprehensive advice and support to help them back into work at the right time for them and the employer. In partnership with employers, we have designed initiatives to support jobs and apprenticeship creation this has created over 400 new jobs apprenticeships over the past three years.
“Although there have been national schemes offering wage subsidies, feedback from our employers showed that the schemes were too difficult to access due to a vast amount of eligibility criteria.
“We have taken the time to understand the barriers that our residents face when looking to go back into employment and then commissioned community learning programmes that will address those issues, such as literacy and numeracy programmes and support to help residents gain IT and money management skills.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 14 Jan 2015
> He’s back… and he’s more insane than ever. You just have to watch his pronouncements with a sort of fascinated horror. What will he do next ?
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has come under fire after claiming the North East has benefitted more than any other region from the Government’s welfare reforms.
The Conservative Minister said benefit cuts such as the bedroom tax had helped encourage people into work.
And he highlighted the North East as the region which had enjoyed the biggest increase in employment, partly as a result of his policies.
But the comments were criticised by Labour MP Grahame Morris, who argued that the problem was a lack of jobs rather than a refusal to work.
Mr Morris called for more action to support former mining communities – after a major study warned they had yet to recover from devastating closures and job cuts following the miners’ strike 30 years ago.
He said: “There simply aren’t enough jobs in the local economy to soak up the workforce, and driving down the living standards of the disabled and those relying on benefits isn’t going to solve that problem.”
In a speech highlighting recent falls in unemployment, Mr Duncan Smith claimed the last Labour government had allowed people to stay on benefits instead of working.
He said: “Businesses needed the labour and, because of the way our benefit system was constructed, too few of the economically inactive took the jobs on offer.”
Mr Duncan Smith said welfare reforms were partly about “encouraging work”, including the policy of cutting housing benefit for people in council or housing association properties who are considered to have spare rooms. This is described by the Government as cutting the spare room subsidy.
He said the result had been “remarkable”, adding: “Employment is up in every region . . . increasing the most in the North East of England over the last year.”
Latest unemployment figures put the number of people in work in the North East at 1.214 million, an increase of 61,000 people over the past year.
It means the number in work increased by 5.3 per cent over 12 months, which is the highest percentage increase of any region.
However, the North East also continues to have the highest unemployment rate, at 9.6 per cent.
And there are 49,000 people aged 16 to 24 who are out of work in the North East – an unemployment rate of 24 per cent, or almost one in four, for that age group.
Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that 37,249 households in the North East have had benefits cut because of the bedroom tax, losing £12.82 a week on average.
A separate study from the Department for Work and Pensions found that nationally, 57 per cent of claimants affected by the bedroom tax reported cutting back on what they deemed household essentials and 35 per cent on non-essentials in order to pay their shortfall. A quarter of claimants said they had borrowed money, mostly from family and friends, to pay their rent.
> As ever, sanctions seem to have been left out of the reckoning. What percentage of that fall in people claiming unemployment is actually due to people having benefits sanction but not in work ?
Mr Morris said: “The basic problem in the North East is that we don’t have enough jobs paying a decent living wage and offering decent terms and conditions of service.
“The government should be directing more of its energies to securing economic growth in the North East rather than squeezing the local economy via cuts to the public sector and to social security.”
He highlighted a report called The State of the Coalfields, commissioned by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, a government-backed charity, which warned former coalfield areas required continued support to help people into work.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 11 Aug 2014