Tagged: Home Counties

Claims that North-East rail fares are cheaper than the South is a “myth”, says a passenger group

Cheap North-East rail fares are a “myth” that should be dispelled, campaigners say as the Government proposes increasing tickets prices to pay for better services.

Train fares in the region are already comparable with other parts of the UK and putting up prices to pay for new rolling stock and more frequent services would be unfair, says rail user group Coastliners.

As part of a consultation exercise ahead of the refranchising of the Northern and TransPennine Express (TPE) services, the Government has asked users for their views on below-average fares being increased to pay for improvements.

But research by Coastliners, which represents rail passengers on the Durham coast, found that many journeys in the Tees Valley were no cheaper than those in the South-East and London.

Peter Walker, who carried out the study, said the South-East had received massive investment in schemes such as Thameslink and Crossrail – and North-East passengers deserved similar levels of funding without seeing substantial price rises.

“We often pay as much for our trains as do those in the Home Counties. It is time to end the double standards of funding so often seen in the years gone by.”

 Coastliners added in its official response to the Government consultation:
“We as a user group would be grateful if this myth of lower fares in the North of England could be abandoned once and for all – it has little basis in fact.”

The findings were supported by Martin Abrams, from the Campaign for Better Transport.

He said:

“There are many myths about rail in the North of England which desperately need dispelling if passengers are to get a fair deal.

“The idea that northern passengers are getting better value for money than passengers in the south is one of these.

“Not only are standard fares very similar across the regions, but investment per head in the south is around twice that per head in the north.”

In response, the Department for Transport said the consultation on the Northern and TPE franchises asked for views on how services could be improved and how this could be balanced with fares.

A spokeswoman added:
“We are currently looking at the responses to that consultation. No decision will be taken without considering local views.

“We are very aware of passengers’ concerns over rail fares, and that is why the Chancellor announced a second year’s freeze in real terms on regulated fares, as well as abolishing train operating companies’ ability to flex prices on unregulated fares.”

The RMT has announced that it will hold an event in the House of Commons to lobby MPs on the Northern and TPE franchises.

The transport union said members and supporters from across the country would attend the event on November 4.

Source –  Northern Echo , 18 Oct 2014

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George Osborne’s plans for the North East are stuck in the slow lane

The full challenge facing George Osborne’s plan to create a “Northern Powerhouse” is today highlighted by a former global banker who points to years of transport failures in the region.

Jim O’Neill, former chairman of asset management at Goldman Sachs, has published a report from his City Growth Commission in which he describes how the UK economy is being held back as officials in Whitehall keep control of local transport and infrastructure decisions.

The call to hand the North a bigger say over its own future comes weeks after the Chancellor said he wants to rebalance the economy away from the South East, with a major new high speed rail network linking up the likes of Manchester and Leeds among the projects proposed.

But without handing city leaders a say over improving outdated infrastructure, the commission says, the Chancellor faces a tough task in matching that ambition with real change.

In his report Mr O’Neill warned that meeting Mr Osborne’s ambition would require “significant change” from Government.

The report, based on hearings in Newcastle and other cities, says Metropolitan areas like Tyne and Wear must be given a bigger say over their own future. The commission found that the UK loses billions of pounds every year as a result of poor, overly-centralised decision-making that fails to encourage greater links between cities.

Plans for a new high speed rail network must be improved so links from the North are prioritised, the commission said.

Talking of the need to strengthen Northern “metro” areas, Mr O’Neil said: “We recommend the Government considers making two bold decisions regarding its infrastructure policy. The first is to provide metros with a strong, powerful voice that can influence and guide decision making at a national level.

“For too long, our cities have not had a seat at the table, and this has been to the detriment of Northern metros in particular, as well as the economic growth of the UK economy as a whole.

“The second is to place connectivity between metros at the heart of any infrastructure investment, in particular via multiple transport links between cities and better broadband technology.

“Whilst the UK is starting to move in the right direction – with the creation of Infrastructure UK and the Chancellor’s recent proposal for a connected ‘Northern Powerhouse’ – there is still some way to go.”

Those transport concerns were last night backed by Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, vice-chair of the All Parliamentary Rail in the North group.

He said: “The difference in spending on transport between London and ourselves is about 520 to one, and even just changing the funding system now will not address the historic deficit we face. Time and time again we have lost out, and will continue to do so while the Government makes spending decisions based on congestion rather than on helping us grow.”

The lack of a Northern advocate in Government has again been highlighted after yesterday’s Government reshuffle.

Former regional minister Nick Brown warned: “The position of the English regions is weaker now than before the reshuffle. The surprise announcement of William Hague and the dilution of Greg Clark’s City Minister responsibilities leaves the English regions even less represented than they were before. This is a Home Counties reshuffle.”

The Government recently went some way to addressing the transport issues facing the region with its local growth fund announcement. With local contributions, the Government decision paved the way for £95m of infrastructure improvements. A “Provisional Allocation” of £78.7m was also announced for a number of further schemes due to start in 2016.

Ministers have also recently signed off on a new North East super council, the Combined Authority, which they say will be used to devolve new powers down to city regions.

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  16 July 2014

Farewell to Michael Gove, the Education Secretary who repeatedly attacked North East schools

Depending on who they were, Ministers in David Cameron’s Government were either celebrating promotions or mourning the end of their political career after being invited in to Downing Street to hear their fate in today’s re-shuffle.

With a ruling Coalition that has only four North East MPs – all on them on the backbenches – any re-shuffle is not likely to have an obvious immediate impact on the region.

Yet Mr Cameron’s various moves on the chessboard, widely seen as part of his strategy to try and win the next election, will have been followed by many in the region.

It is a fair bet that many a champagne cork will have been popping in school staffrooms at the re-shuffle’s largest casualty, the Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Being unpopular with teachers is almost a job requirement for Education Secretary, but Mr Gove seems to gone above and beyond that brief, not least with teachers in part of the North East after he attacked schools in County Durham with the slightly odd comment that “when you go into those schools, you can smell the sense of defeatism.”

The re-shuffle effectively saw Mr Gove sacked from his Education job. Instead he will become Chief Whip, responsible for imposing discipline on Conservative MPs, and will represent the Government on television, according to the Prime Minister’s official spokesman – which led to him being dubbed “Minister for TV” at Westminster.

Although Mr Gove is popular with sections of his party, and hailed as a hero by supporters of his school reforms, his departure from the education brief is likely to please some North East teachers and heads.

The new Education Secretary is Nicky Morgan, who became in MP in 2010 and was previously a Treasury Minister. After making it into the Commons in 2010 at the second attempt, the former corporate lawyer was quickly earmarked by Mr Cameron as a potential star and was made a ministerial aide within months, a whip in 2012 and a junior Treasury minister last October.

Source –  Newcastle Journal, 15 July 2015

Low profile United & Cecil Club funnels cash to Conservative must-win marginals – including Berwick

An organisation registered at a stables in the Home Counties, with a former tobacco lobbyist for an honorary secretary, is a key weapon in the Conservative Party’s battle to win the next election.

The United & Cecil Club is playing an increasingly crucial role in funding election bids in the most tightly contested constituencies. The club has been used to raise funds for the Conservatives for years and these funds are now being deployed strategically as the party targets United & Cecil Club ahead of the 2015 election.

Since the last election, the organisation has given £282,250 to Conservative candidates  – nearly double the amount it has given to Conservative central campaign headquarters. In the first quarter of this year alone, the U&C club has given almost as much to candidates as it did in the whole of last year. Most of the cash is targeted at key swing seats.

Despite its increasingly important role, little is known about the U&C club. Donations to the club tend to be small and so there is no obligation to identify the donors. Only the identities of individuals making donations of more than £7,500 are published by the Election Commission under disclosure rules.

In disclosures made and published by the Electoral Commission the U&C club is registered at an an address in Iver, a village in Buckinghamshire. However, in the parliamentary register, the U&C lists its address as a riding school in Berkshire.

The stables are run by Tim Lord. Lord, a former chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, confirmed to the Bureau that he is honorary secretary of the U&C club.

When asked  to supply further details about the U&C club, Lord declined to elaborate. “We are a club, we have our objective and we comply with the law,” he said.

Christopher Fenwick, a member of the wealthy retail family which has an estimated fortune of £500m, was until recently a former deputy chairman of the organisation, Lord confirmed.

Fenwick hosted a table at last ​week’s Conservative fundraiser at the Hurlingham club, which was focused on the 40 seats to hold and the 40 seats to gain. Last year he sponsored two tables where the table plan showed his guests included U&C chairman, Brooks Newmark MP and Anne-Marie Trev​elyn, a Tory hopeful who is bidding to win the Lib Dem marginal seat of Berwick-​up​on-Tweed.

Related story: Interactive – Who sat with whom at the Conservative Summer Party

The Tories have been criticised in the past for taking money from organisations which lack clarity about the identity of their donors. The Midlands Industrial Council, an organisation based in a small Lincolnshire village, was for years used to channel money to the party from wealthy businessmen who wanted to keep their donations private.

The Tories have learned the language of modern government,” said Tamasin Cave of Spinwatch who leads the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency coalition. “They talk about transparency and fairness but the reality is they are continuing with an antiquated way of doing things, like secret donor clubs.”

A Tory spokesman said: “All donations to the Conservative party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with Electoral Commission rules.”

Analysis by the Bureau reveals that hundreds of thousands of pounds have already been donated to Tory candidates ahead of next year’s election, one that polsters suggest may produce the tightest result in living memory.

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With Labour having to rely largely on the unions for funding, the Bureau’s analysis shows that leading Tory hopefuls are powering ahead in the sums raised.

Political funding and the way this money is raised has been thrown into sharp relief following the Tories’ annual fundraising dinner, held last week at the exclusive Hurlingham Club in south west London.

The event proved a huge money-spinner with oligarchs, Middle Eastern businessmen and City financiers vying to bid huge sums at an auction that raised, according to those there, £500,000 for David Cameron’s party.

At this year’s dinner a Russian banker – the wife of a former Kremlin deputy finance minister – paid £160,000 to play tennis with David Cameron and Boris Johnson. A bottle of champagne signed by Margaret Thatcher went for £45,000 with a pot of honey fetching £20,000.

Source – Bureau Of  Investigative Journalism,  05 July 2014

http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2014/07/05/the-low-profile-lunch-club-funnelling-cash-to-conservative-must-win-marginals/

More Cuts For Durham County Council

More jobs will have to go at Durham County Council as civic centre chiefs look again at one of the region’s biggest series of budget cuts.

Over six years Durham will lose some £224m, and the latest plan to find £100m is seeing the council prepare for further service cut backs.

Council leader Simon Henig said the council has already lost more than £113m, and is well into current plans set to make some 2,000 staff redundant by the next financial year.

But even that total is now likely to be passed as the council look to the next three years of cuts.

After a lengthy consultation process in which the public was asked to use a Monopoly board-style game to identify priorities, the council is now ready to go with further cuts to museums, arts, some library support services and grass cutting.

Mr Henig said: “We are looking at the arts, but no one will see their entire contribution cut. We have a number of facilities across the county, the museum, the theatre and so on, but no one will lose out completely. It could lead to changes such as opening hours, but trying to avoid being too dramatic in these areas.”

Other savings confirmed include a reduction in school crossing staff and the switching off or dimming down of some street lights.

The leader said that, of the new savings identified, many would be met by back office cuts and efficiencies. “But you cannot keep cutting this,” Mr Henig said, “Sooner or later all you are left with is front line services to cut.”

He added: “Next year is when we will have to make some incredibly difficult choices about our services. The Government can’t just keep cutting this. You can’t look for efficiencies each year, they run out and then it is front line that goes. All councils will reach this point. We have been in a better position than some as we are the biggest council in the North East and have been able to find more savings, but we will reach that point next year where it is our front line that has to suffer. It’s inevitable.

“What we have asked for from the Government is fairness, for the North East to face the same reduction as all councils, that doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

“But we have instead seen councils in the South East and Home Counties having increases in spending powers, on the Government’s own figures.

“If we had the same reduction all round there would still have to be cuts but at least it would be fair across the country.”

> Is he really suprised ? As I’ve said before, neither Tories or Lib Dems, seperately or in unholy alliance, are likely to win power in the North East, so why should they care ? Well, yeah, plenty of reasons, but none that would occur to them.

More to the point, what we want to know is what Labour will do to rebalance things, should they win the next election. Very little, I suspect, but I’m up for a nice suprise. Not holding my breath though…

Council treasurer Don McLure set out the jobs risk of the Government not listening to those concerns.

He said: “The forecast we did on the first plan said 1,950 job losses, and that is likely to be the same as imagined over four years. That takes us up to 2015. There is another £100m to come, we need to look at them in more detail, but we are predominantly an employer, 70% of our budget is staffing we will have to look at that again.”

Source – Newcastle Journal, 15 Jan 2014