North-East Tories were left red-faced after accusing one of their own MPs of failing to “fight for” his constituents in the Commons.
The leader of North Tyneside Conservatives attacked MPs who “short-change” voters by making only a small number of speeches in the chamber.
Councillor Judith Wallace produced a table claiming that such MPs were costing taxpayers many thousands of pounds for each speech they made.
And she said: “Politicians think that they can just turn up at election time, push a few leaflets through the door and think ‘job done’. Well it just isn’t good enough.”
However, the table – based on the number of speeches made during the 2014 calendar year – listed only two North-East MPs as “well below average”.
And one of those two was fellow Tory James Wharton, who faces a crucial knife-edge battle to cling onto the Stockton South seat, where he has a majority of just 332.
Mr Wharton spoke just 12 times last year, the Tories said – at an alleged cost of £5,589.17 per contribution – two more occasions than Tynemouth Labour MP Alan Campbell (£6,707).
Cllr Wallace added:
“Voters expect their MPs to be working hard for their salary.
“An MP’s job is to stand up in the House of Commons and make the views of your electors known to the executive – to challenge and to fight for your constituents.”
Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland – second in the table (76 speeches) – pointed out that Mr Campbell was Labour’s deputy chief whip, so spoke very little by convention.
And he said:
“I’d like to congratulate the Tory party for highlighting how little James Wharton has done in his five years – and also for highlighting how much I have done.”
Mr Wharton did not return messages left by journalists, while a spokesman for Cllr Wallace insisted: “Judith’s comments are specifically about her sitting MP Alan Campbell, for Tynemouth.”
The list put Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman top (116 speeches), with Labour’s Ian Lavery (Wansbeck – 66) and Grahame Morris (Easington – 64) third and fourth.
People looking for work have had their benefits stopped to meet government targets, the PCS union claims.
The union, which represents many job centre staff, said they had been under “enormous pressure” to stop claimants’ Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Some claimants said they had benefits withdrawn for “genuine mistakes” such as missing appointments.
The government says sanctions are a “last resort”, and strongly denies the union’s claim.
“Job centre staff are under enormous pressure to implement sanctions on unemployed people,” PCS union north-east regional secretary Simon Elliot said.
> Some of them. Others seem to revel in that little bit of power, and dont require any pressure whatsoever…
“Staff are faced with the threat of sanctions themselves in the form of what they call performance improvement plans if they don’t impose sanctions.
“If you look at the guidance for implementing the performance improvement plans it clearly states that it’s a measure against targets.”
David Taws from North Tyneside had his benefit suspended for forgetting an appointment.
He phoned to apologise but was told the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) would need to be informed.
“The letter turned up on the 20th of December and I was literally sanctioned over Christmas,” he said. “It was horrific – I had to go literally begging for food at a church hall.”
Another man, who did not wish to be named, said his benefit was cut for a month in September.
“I explained that I was caring for my nana,” he said. “I was up and down to the hospital with her. It totally slipped my mind. I phoned up and said I’m half an hour late for my appointment and they said, ‘OK, we’ll just put it as a miss’.
“I got a letter two weeks later saying I was sanctioned – for 28 days.”
Mr Elliot said staff were being forced to carry out “politically motivated” objectives.
> Forced ? You’re a bloody trade union, man ! You should be in there fighting.
The DWP strongly denied there were any targets for the number of sanctions that Job Centre staff must hand out. It also said there was a right of appeal.
North Tyneside Council Conservative group leader Judith Wallace defended the use of sanctions to “stamp out the something-for-nothing culture”.
She said: “If people are unemployed, and looking for work, clearly it is right that they should get benefits but, equally clearly, it’s right that there should be conditions attached to those benefits.”
> Yes ? And haven’t there always been conditions attached ? It’s just that they’ve never been used as a political weapon in such a cynical way before. And for all sanctions have increased massively, lets not forget that unemployment continues to rise in the North East.
And where are our local Labour MPs in all this ? Or any other local political party outside the coalition ?
- The new regime came into force in October 2012
- Sanctions of between four weeks and three years can be imposed
- More than 400,000 in England, Scotland and Wales had Jobseeker’s Allowance stopped in the first nine months of the new system
- In Northumberland and Tyne and Wear the figure was almost 17,500 for the same period
- In Durham and Tees Valley it was nearly 16,000
- It was more than 20,000 in Cumbria and Lancashire
Source – BBC News Tyne & Wear, 24 Jan 2014