Austerity will cost the North East £220m this year as vital cuts to services are made for a fifth year in a row.
And within a year council’s could start to struggle to even deliver what they are required to by law.
This stark warning from leader of South Tyneside Council, Iain Malcolm, comes as authorities across the region enter their final week of budget setting, and for the first time in several years many authorities have chosen to grasp at a council tax rise to bring in vital funds.
The Labour leader, whose authority has had to shred 1,500 jobs to cope with reductions in Central Government funding since 2010, said 2016 could be the year some councils start to seriously struggle.
“If the Government is going to cut the way that they are now, councils will not be able to provide statutory services that they are legally required to,” said Coun Malcolm.
“I’m not going to put a timeline on it because I’m not having it as a D-day but some councils across the country will struggle in this financial year, but not necessarily in this region.
“But by 2016-17 if there is no change in Central Government’s attitude then more councils will struggle in 2016 to fulfil their statutory obligations.
“I would say South Tyneside is at the forefront of innovation. I won’t name the councils that will struggle but South Tyneside would struggle to find any more meaningful savings in the 2016-17 financial year.”
Cut backs since the Coalition Government came into power in 2010 are estimated to have cost the North East an enormous £557m in reductions to grants to run services like adult social care, leisure centres and libraries.
It’s also estimated that 14,000 local authority posts have been scrapped around the North East in the last five years.
However the Government maintains that funding settlements since 2010 have been fair.
For the first time in years council tax has been drawn on as a way of bringing in more funds to cash-strapped authorities and bar Redcar and Cleveland, which made a 1% cut to council tax, all councils have either gone for a rise or accepted the Government’s freeze grant.
For Newcastle and Gateshead councils the tax hike was the first in four years.
Coun Malcolm said:
“All councils have tried to do what’s right in their particular areas. We’ve got a strategic partnership with BT to do our back office functions and that’s worked extremely well for us but it’s not been a one size fits all solution.”
He added that despite intense cuts for a fifth year, in which his authority must save £22m in the year 2015-16, satisfaction with local authorities remains extremely high as shown by various survey.
2015/2016 spending power cut
North Tyneside: £14m
South Tyneside: £22m
Redcar and Cleveland: £3m
Darlington: £14m over next two years.
Job losses since 2010:
County Durham: 2000
North Tyneside: Information not available
South Tyneside: 1200
Middlesbrough: 728 with a further 600 by 2020.
Redcar and Cleveland: 750 post reductions.
Stockton: 740 people
Hartlepool: Information not available
Council tax rise
Newcastle: 1.95% (first rise in four years)
Gateshead: 1.95% (first rise in four years)
County Durham: 1.99% (second year of a rise after gap)
North Tyneside: No rise
South Tyneside: 1.95%
Sunderland: No rise.
Redcar and Cleveland: 1% reduction.
Hartlepool: No rise.
Source – Sunday Sun, 08 Mar 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
A local authority is considering raising council tax as it reaches the ‘end of the line’ in cutbacks to office jobs.
The leader of South Tyneside Council, Iain Malcolm, has said he is considering raising council tax for the first time since 2011 after accepting the Government’s freeze deal for four years in a row.
He joins Newcastle City Council in publicly declaring that a council tax rise may be on the horizon if fellow councillors vote for the change in setting their 2015-16 budgets in March.
The Labour leader, said: “I can’t give a guarantee that council tax won’t be increased in the next financial year.
“We are at the end of the line in finding these back office savings. Now we are looking at how we can find these front line services in new innovative ways. We’ve done asset transfers. We will have to have further talks with councils to see who might take the lead in certain areas.”
However he said any potential rise would fall short of 2% – the figure which the Government has said would trigger a referendum with the public.
He said: “We couldn’t afford a referendum and no council has gone for a referendum because you wouldn’t win. No one would vote for that, people would just vote no. I can’t rule out an increase because we are now at that stage.”
> But if they did vote no, surely that’s the will of the people you’re supposed to serve ? Just saying…
So far South Tyneside Council has had to make more than £100m in cutbacks to their budget, and must save a further £22m in the financial year 2015-16.
Councillor Malcolm said it is now time to turn to Holyrood in Scotland for support in gaining a fairer local government finance deal for the North East of England as much as Westminster.
He said: “What opportunities are there by looking northwards for the economy, transport and infrastructure?
“We need to have a conversation with Scotland, not just with Westminster and Whitehall. Whoever wins the election, I would expect them to do a root and branch reform of local government finance. No one really understands the formula and its open to widescale manipulation by ministers to make sure it goes to areas where they want it to go.”
He said previous talks on funding the dualling of the A1 with former Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond had been less than fruitful but that it was important to ensure communications with Scotland are maintained as the country undergoes further devolution.
Source – Shields Gazette, 06 Jan 2015
Food poverty is no longer being seen as a welfare issue as those who suffer from it have got so used to turning to charities for help.
In a report, North East academic Dr Jane Midgley said the huge increase in foodbanks run by the voluntary sector has blurred the lines as to who should be caring for the vulnerable and the needy.
She said a squeeze on incomes, benefit sanctions and rocketing utility bills are the drivers of foodbank use, but people instead see their local council as ‘uncaring’ and ‘part of the problem’.
Dr Midgley, whose research formed part of the Feeding Britain report by the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the UK, urged councils to show support for those facing the misery of food poverty and called for more clarity over the root causes of the phenomenon.
“We are increasingly finding that charities, rather than the state, are supporting people in need who cannot afford to feed themselves.
“While we need to recognise the effort this takes and the difference it makes to peoples lives, the boundaries of this responsibility are far from clear.
“Food poverty is not seen as a welfare issue and because of the way charities and voluntary sector organisations have stepped in, people no longer see local government and the public sector as a source of support.”
Foodbank use exploded in 2014. The Trussell Trust said between April and September 2014, more than 25,000 people were helped by the charity’s Gateshead , Newcastle East and Newcastle West End food banks.
That works out at 4,289 people a month – more than treble the 1,316 people per month in Newcastle and Gateshead who accessed a foodbank in the nine month period between April 2013 and December 2013.
“We are now not just at a critical juncture for how we respond to the issue of food poverty, but also what this means for local policy makers,” Dr Midgley added.
“They need to be able to show, in a difficult financial climate, that they still care and want people who live within their towns and cities to live well and flourish.”
The Feeding Britain report warned that North families are just one unexpected bill away from food poverty. It said the living wage and speedier benefit payments must form part of the solution.
Councillor Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council, said he had “no indication” people were turning on councils and said staff were supportive of people facing the misery of food poverty.
“We are one of the richest nations in the world and yet we are seeing some of the most terrible cases of poverty in years due to the huge financial pressures being put on hard-working families.
> I do wish politicians would refrain from parrotting hard-working families on issues like this. It implies that those not working for whatever reasion are lazy, and before we know where we are we’re back to the concept of deserving and undeserving poor.
“We are living in a society where rising costs and relentless government cuts across the country are creating much tougher living conditions. Here in South Tyneside we are doing all we can to try and support and protect people who are experiencing the greatest hardship.
“As a council we have committed to the phased introduction of the Living Wage for Council workers from April 2015. This should help people on some of the lowest wages and we hope that other businesses will be able to look to do the same.”
Dave Anderson, MP for Blaydon, said Coalition ministers were to blame for the rise in foodbanks.
“You can’t sack half a million public sector workers or employ people on exploitative zero hours contracts and expect there to be anything other than a calamitous outcome.
“While ministers enjoy Christmas this week far too many of our people will be struggling, literally, on the breadline. It’s time to stop penalising the poor for the failures of the richest in society.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 Jan 2015
On Thursday, you can pop along to South Tyneside’s council meeting – without even leaving the house.
Under new guidance from the Local Government Secretary, any member of the press and public can now film and digitally report public local government meetings.
South Tyneside Council is taking things a step further by filming Full Council meetings from September 4, and posting them on the authority website.
Coun Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council, said: “I am proud to say that South Tyneside is embracing the opportunity of communicating our valuable work to the electorate in this new digital age.
“In addition to welcoming people into the Council Chamber, we are taking things a stage further by making local government even more accessible to even more people who will be able to watch the footage on their own devices.”
South Tyneside council has already been showcased as a ‘Beacon Council’ for its approach to involving the local community, and has been commended by the Municipal Journal for Excellence in Democratic Services with particular praise for proactively engaging with the local community.
And the council’s website has been highlighted by Industry Standard, Socitm, as amongst the best Local Government websites in the country for its ease of use and wealth of information.
Chiefs hope that posting the meetings on their website – www.southtyneside/info – will stand as an example of greater transparency of the democratic practice.
The authority is also reviewing how councillors use technology to communicate with residents.
Coun Malcolm added: “New technology is also changing the way our democratic processes operate.
“The growth of social media, instant communication via email and text messaging means that the protocols for elected members which the council currently has in place, will be reviewed.”
The final report will be published on the council’s website later in the year.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 29 Aug 2014
Council chiefs and teaching unions have hit out after new figures revealed that the North East has slashed its local authority budgets more sharply than anywhere in England.
An analysis by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy found the amount spent on services in this region is forecast to decrease by 5% this year – more than double the amount in some other areas.
But the Government says it believes that residents are “happier than ever” with their council services – and if authorities want more money they should concentrate on collecting more council tax and make more of the empty properties they own.
> Hang on – the Government says it believes that residents are “happier than ever” with their council services.
Have I slipped into a parallel universe or something ? Or does the governmenmt spokesperson come from one ?
Much of the North East’s fall is due to a 10% reduction in spending on education, and a 9.3% drop in the budget for “environmental” services such as bin collections.
The figures also show the North East has seen a below average increase in the amount spent on children’s social care.
South Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm said: “The findings from Cipfa simply confirms what local authority leaders have been saying since 2010 – that local government is being asked to bear the brunt of the Government’s fiscal strategy for reducing the national deficit and that the North East is hit disproportionally harder than other areas in England.”
“Even with careful budgetary control, efficiency savings and finding new innovative ways to deliver our services, this inevitably means services do suffer.
“The Government claim they are devolving powers to local government and that their localism agenda is about giving local communities real choices in how services are funded – but its a sham.
“The real government agenda is a deliberate ploy to shift the blame for cuts in public services from themselves to local councils.”
Vince Allen, principal officer for the northern region at the National Union of Teachers said Cipfa’s findings were “extremely unwelcome” and that “its clear from the figures that education is going to take a considerable knock.”
“The amount available for community spending in the North East, particularly on education is slumping, in real terms, towards a level equivalent to that in 2005 – that’s how big a step backwards we are taking.
“But in the short term other than campaigning against the cuts that the Government are making I don’t know there is anything we can do to change this around.
“We just have to hope that a Government coming to power would not have the same agenda in terms of destroying local democracy and communities by continuing to centralise the money available for spending.”
> Dream on… I think most of us don’t expect an incoming Labour government to be anything but more of the same. All the main parties love austerity – not least because it doesn’t touch them personally.
Across the country the lowest average fall in spending is forecast in the North West, with budgets just 1.8% down.
Rob Whiteman, Cipfa’s chief executive said that to avoid councils experience serious financial trouble in the near future “we must recognise that some councils have been hit harder than others and will need more support.”
“We are now starting to see some councils face real and immediate financial pressures,” he said.
Steven Mason, lead executive director at Northumberland County Council said he hoped the analysis might encourage the Government to provide councils with more money in the future.
“Northumberland welcome the Cipfa analysis which supports the views put forward by a number of Councils including Northumberland and the Association of North East Councils.
“We hope the Department of Communities and Local Government considers the analysis by such a credible independent body with a view to more equitable future financial settlements across England.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 09 Aug 2014
Town Hall bosses today faced a renewed call to stop using taxpayers’ money in their pursuit of the notorious ‘Mr Monkey’ internet blogger.
The website first appeared in 2008, making malicious claims about certain political figures in the borough.
South Tyneside Council backed a bid to discover the identity of those behind the Mr Monkey blogs on behalf of four plaintiffs who came under attack – South Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm, Coun Anne Walsh, the late councillor David Potts and council regeneration boss Rick O’Farrell.
It instructed Washington DC lawyers McDermott, Will & Emery to find who was responsible for the website, with the firm producing a dossier which said Mr Monkey was most likely a two-person operation and that a libel action would be “highly successful” if pursued through UK or US courts.
But to this date – and at a cost of about £150,000 – Mr Monkey has yet to be unmasked, some six years after the site first appeared.
That has infuriated George Smith CBE, president of South Shields Conservative Association, who has called for immediate action to prevent “further misuse of council taxpayer’s money.”
Mr Smith believes the four the plaintiffs in the case – not the public – should have funded the legal action.
Town Hall officials say the legal action was taken because the council has a “duty of care” to protect employees.
But Mr Smith has written to PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is to conduct South Tyneside Council’s annual audit, demanding it steps in.
He says: “Although any authority may indemnify individuals in ‘defending himself against legal proceedings brought by a third party’ they are ‘prohibited from indemnifying members or officers for the cost of taking legal action for slander or libel.’
“I will be objecting to these payments at the audit but you may wish to take immediate action to prevent any further waste of council taxpayers money.”
A spokesman for South Tyneside Council said: “This legal action was taken because the council has a duty of care to protect its employees from the kind of intimidation and harassment caused by the wilfully false and defamatory statements published on the blog.
“South Tyneside Council is satisfied that Section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 gives the power to take the action that has been taken.”
June Elsom, who stood as an independent for Cleadon Park in last week’s Local Elections, asked Northumbria Police to investigate the matter, but a force spokesman said there was no cause for a criminal investigation.
The spokesman said: “We have received correspondence raising concerns around legal costs incurred by South Tyneside Council in relation to the ‘Mr Monkey’ blog.
“Advice has been given that as it stands, this is not a matter involving criminality and there is therefore nothing to indicate a criminal investigation should be launched at this stage.
“Should another body looking into the matter decide a referral to the police is appropriate then an investigation would be carried out.”
As part of the council’s courtroom pursuit of ‘Mr Monkey’ a former South Tyneside councillor was hit with a whopping £40,000 legal bill last year.
Mr Khan had launched an American courtroom bid to halt the search for the controversial blogger, which he said was a waste of public money.
But San Mateo County Court dismissed his anti-SLAPP motion (Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation), describing it as “frivolous”.
The council is chasing Mr Khan – who has always denied being behind the ‘Mr Monkey’ blog – for the extra legal costs it incurred as a result of his unsuccessful challenge.
A council spokesman said the authority was continuing to pursue that demand – although it is not known how much, if any, of the amount owed had so far been paid.
> As far as I was aware, Mr Monkey stopped publishing in 2009. Still online, though, at: http://mrmonkeysblog.wordpress.com
Source – Shields Gazette, 27 May 2014
David Cameron claims the North East economy is growing – even as unemployment rises.
The Prime Minister used a visit to the Port of Tyne to champion the region after unemployment figures showed it was the only region to see joblessness increase in the last month.
He said: “The interesting thing is, I know that the unemployment figures for the last month in the North East were disappointing, but if you take the last quarter or the last year the increase in the employment rate of the North East was the fastest anywhere, not just in this country but the United Kingdom.
> The interesting thing is, Dave, that unemployment continues to rise in the North East, whatever crap you spout.
“There were 43,000 jobs created in the last month. We need that to go even faster to decrease unemployment as well.”
> Really ? 43,000 jobs created in the last month ? Where are they, Dave ? I don’t see them when I do my jobsearch. The rise in unemployment suggest no-one else does either.
The unemployment figures out this week, in which the North East was the only area to see an increase, came after the Guardian newspaper caused outrage by comparing the region to Detroit.
“To say that is just to put the North East down,” Mr Cameron said of the controversial article. “You know, Nissan is producing more cars than the whole of Italy,”
> We also know that Nissan has just laid off 350+ workers…
“we have the Hitachi train factory coming that will mean massive investment for the North East, we have oil rigs being fabricated on the Tyne now, something that has not happened here for some years.
“The Chancellor and I have been very clear: we need an economy where we invest more, where we make more, design more things, export more things, and the North East is a very positive part of that.
“We need everyone involved in politics and business in the North East to speak up for it, and I’m glad to play my part.”
He added: “I think we are putting our money where our mouth is here. We have put a third of a billion into the North East through the regional growth fund, with the city deals, we have unprecedented devolution to Sunderland, Newcastle, there are major infrastructure projects going ahead with the Metro and the Tyne crossing.”
The Prime Minister’s brief visit to the Port of Tyne in South Tyneside did not include any discussions with regional leaders, however.
South Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm said he thought the PM was “frit” – meaning “frightened”.
“I have to say we are quite disappointed with this,” Mr Malcolm said. “What we wanted was for the PM to have the courage to come and see the regional leaders and set out what can be done to tackle the issues facing the North East.
“Instead of engaging with any of us he just flew in and flew out as quickly as he could.”
> And nobody knew he was coming… therefore there was no chance of embarrassing demonstrations.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 17 May 2014
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck today claimed George Osborne’s fifth budget would only widen the north-south divide.
She believes Osborne’s statement demonstrated the Coalition Government is “out of touch” with people in the constituency.
She said: “He tried to say that the economy is turning around, but households in South Shields who have seen their wages fall while prices rise month after month will see right through him.
“It’s clear whose side the Chancellor is on. Wages in London’s banking sector are rising nearly five times faster than the national average, and even then he won’t rule out tax cuts for the top earners. Meanwhile, those on low incomes are continuing to see their living standards fall.”
Coun Iain Malcolm, the leader of South Tyneside Council, labelled the budget a “gimmick”.
He said: “The budget was classic ‘smoke and mirrors’, full of pre-election gimmicks. They announced that they would cut inheritance tax for emergency service workers killed in duty – but this only applies to those leaving more than £325,000, so it is difficult to calculate how many would actually benefit.”
Coun Malcolm said new support to build 200,000 new homes was “simply nowhere near enough to resolve the housing crisis facing this country”.
The budget received a more positive response from a senior member of the borough’s business community.
Julie Lightfoot, managing director of South Shields-based Solar Solve Ltd, said: “As a local family-owned business who exports 85 per cent of our turnover, it’s encouraging that the Government is supporting British manufacturers by introducing a £7bn package to cut energy bills
“Although we aren’t an intensive energy user, every little saving helps, although we’ll have to wait and see what the actual savings will be. However, it’s nice to know that half of the firms that will benefit the most by cuts in manufacturing costs are in the north of England.”
Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn said: “This is a government that has pushed down living standards to such an extent it has left working people £1,600 a year worse off.
“Osborne and the Tories only stand up for the privileged few.”
Merv Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, said: “The Chancellor should have had the courage of his convictions and stood by his support of a £7 minimum wage. Moving to the Living Wage is the best way to raise tax revenue and put money into people’s pockets. It would boost consumer confidence and increase spending in local shops and businesses.”
North East Chamber of Commerce policy director Ross Smith said: “This was a sensible budget, and the conditions within which North East businesses can continue their strong contribution to UK growth have been strengthened by these announcements.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 21 March 2014