The gap between the North East and the wealthy South is growing wider as the economy recovers, an MP has warned.
Grahame Morris, Labour MP for Easington, led a 90-minute Commons debate calling for more support for traditional industrial areas such as the former coalmining villages in his Durham constituency.
He told Ministers that boosting the economy of the North East would benefit the entire country and could reduce congestion and overcrowding in London, because fewer people would move to the capital to seek work.
Mr Morris called for support for a planned Centre for Creative Excellence south of Seaham, County Durham, which could create more than 2,000 jobs.
The development, which was set to feature television studios as well as conference and training facilities, had been backed by the regional development agency created under the last Labour Government and abolished by the Conservative-led Coalition Government in 2012.
However Business Minister Anna Soubry accused Labour MPs of failing to celebrate job creation in the North East, and said the Government had awarded £13.4m to businesses to help create jobs in Easington alone.
A number of Labour MPs from across the region have been pushing the Government to create an industrial strategy for the North East to tackle what they say is a lack of good quality private sector jobs. They made similar pleas to former Labour leader Ed Miliband in the run-up to May’s election.
Mr Morris said that there needed to be a senior politician championing the regions in the Cabinet.
He said: “My view is that we need a strong voice in cabinet advocating for our regions.”
> Well that’s not going happen, is it ? Areas like the North East dont vote Tory, so Tories don’t care what happens to them. Dont forget that Thatcher’s government seriously considered cutting cities like Liverpool loose to die. Do you suppose the same mentality doesn’t still exist in the Tory ranks – it’s what Tories do.
Middlesbrough Labour MP Andy McDonald has entered the debate about the party’s future following its devastating General Election defeat.
The race to replace former leader Ed Miliband is under way, with MPs and commentators having their say on where Labour went wrong.
Mr McDonald, who increased his own majority last week, concedes his party failed to win the trust of the public, but says it would be wrong to revive New Labour policies of the late 1990s and 2000s.
Contributing to the Labour List website, he wrote:
“One of the underlying assumptions of New Labour was that we could focus our attention on Conservative voters outside of our traditional heartlands because our core vote had ‘nowhere else to go’.
“Between 1997 and 2010 this strategy lost Labour 5 million voters, many of who simply stopped voting, and our wipe-out in Scotland and the UKIP surge in the North of England and Wales have demonstrated that much of our core vote now have somewhere else to go and have already gone.”
Mr McDonald rejected suggestions Labour had developed an “anti-business” stance.
“While it is certainly true that Labour must devise a strategy for the whole of the country, the suggestion that we somehow turned our back on business is misguided,” he wrote.
“We want business to succeed for the simple reason that it is the businesses, the entrepreneurs and the people who work in their businesses who create the prosperity needed for a fairer society.”
The Middlesbrough MP wrote that his party “owed it to all” who needed a Labour government to have a “frank discussion” about its future.
“What went wrong and the solutions to the challenges faced by the party warrant frank discussion and bold thinking, not simply a call to return to the politics of the mid-1990s.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 14 May 2015
The Labour candidate for South Shields has spoken of her ambition to become a minister in a future Labour government.
Emma Lewell-Buck says she is not taking her re-election for granted as she heads into the final week of the general election campaign.
She was elected town MP after a by-election in 2013 and says she is fighting the campaign this time round on what she has achieved in the two years since.
Mrs Lewell-Buck also admits that Labour can no longer take South Shields for granted as a “safe seat”.
“People are questioning more, which I think is a good thing because I love having a good debate with people. We have knocked on doors where people say they have always voted Labour but are now saying they’re not sure, they’re having a serious think about it. I have never taken it for granted and I never will, even if I am successful next Thursday. It’s about respecting your constituents.”
In the past two years Mrs Lewell-Buck’s office has dealt with almost 5,000 pieces of casework for constituents, on issues ranging from housing and immigration to international affairs.
The MP has also been a vocal figure in the House of Commons, where she has one of the highest records for speaking.
She is also proud of the jobs fair she has held in the town and the campaigns she has backed in Parliament, including her part in helping change the law around child sexual grooming which will make it compulsory for an individual to be arrested after one offence of contacting a child for sex.
And Mrs Lewell-Buck is also unapologetic about her long-term political ambitions.
She said: “I got into politics to make a difference and, yes, you can make a huge difference as a backbencher but if you become a minister or a secretary of state the ability to make a difference becomes even stronger and I didn’t come into this not to make a difference.
“This campaign has been just as busy as in 2013 but it has had less of a frantic feel about it. In by-elections it’s all hands to the deck and you have people coming from all over the country to help out.
“This time it has been the constituency Labour Party and core supporters coming out and pounding the streets.
“It’s been nicer talking to voters this time round because you’ve got that record. You have been in two years and people recognise you, so instead of having to introduce myself they’ll say, ‘oh, it’s our Emma, lovely to see you’ and have a chat about something I have done in Parliament. This is very much my campaign.”
The other candidates in South Shields are: Lisa Nightingale (Independent), Robert Oliver (Conservative), Gita Gordon (Liberal Democrat), Norman Dennis (UKIP), Shirley Ford (Green Party).
Source – Shields Gazette, 29 Apr 2015
Labour figure Hilary Benn has told of fond childhood memories attending Durham Miners’ Gala, but admitted a Labour Government could not offer money for the under-threat event.
The Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, whose much-admired father Tony Benn was a fierce defender of the miners during Margaret Thatcher’s time in power, recalled the magic of the Big Meeting when he watched banners pass the County Hotel balcony.
But he said his party, which was founded by the union movement, could not offer cash to back the Big Meeting.
The event was founded by the Durham Miners’ Association and has a long and rich history as a celebration of the region’s heritage.
Tory Communities Secretary Eric Pickles seized on the chance to criticise Labour and accused them of failing to “respect their roots”.
The Gala’s future is uncertain as the association is struggling to find fresh funds, organiser, general secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association Dave Hopper told the crowd in 2014, though it will go ahead on Saturday July 11.
Hilary Benn, who followed his father into a career in Parliament and is campaigning to be re-elected in Leeds Central, said he shared Mr Hopper’s fears for the event.
“One of my earliest childhood memories was my dad taking me up to the Gala,” he said. “There must have been about 11 of us on the famous balcony of the County Hotel, including Harold Wilson.
“We watched the banners go past the hotel in the procession. I was struck by how it was a great day of trade union solidarity and it is a great Labour tradition.”
But it is a sure signal of just how tough times are that the Labour Party can’t offer any money towards the event.
He said: “The Labour and trade union movement have always been big supporters of the Gala, and we will do all we can to support it, but we can’t make specific spending commitments.”
The Miners’ Gala was first held in the city’s Wharton Park in 1871.
Numbers grew strongly during the miners’ strikes to attract huge crowds of as many as 300,000.
Though the North East mining industry is a shadow of its former self, the Big Meeting continues to pull thousands of visitors.
Lodge banners are marched through the city and hundreds gather at a field near banks of the River Wear in what is a proud celebration of the North East’s heritage.
Tony Benn was one of the great figures of the left that have spoken at the event.
Labour Leader Ed Miliband has told colleagues he will give a speech this year, sharing a stage with long-serving parliamentarian Dennis Skinner.
The association said it was left with a £2.2m legal bill after losing a six-year court battle on behalf of former miners who have osteoarthritis of the knee.
Critics, including Labour’s North Durham candidate Kevan Jones, however, say the association had £6m in its accounts when it was a union in 2007.
Mr Pickles said a Conservative Government would not offer any help but insisted the party’s plan to create jobs would see more people support the event.
Mr Benn said one of the things the unions, many of which will be represented at the Gala, will fight is the rise in zero-hours contracts which grew four-fold under the Coalition government.
Mr Pickles, however, said: “As it is predominantly Labour Party and trade union members involved you would expect them to respect their roots.
“What we can promise is more jobs and more prosperity and more pounds in people’s pockets.”
Source –Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 06 Apr 2015
Government officials have been reported as saying that up to 30,000 DWP staff could be axed, if the Tories win the next general election.
The startling figure represents a significant reduction in the DWP’s 83,000 full-time staff.
But even under a future Labour government, the number of DWP staff could be slashed by up to 20,000.
If true, the reductions would occur gradually over the course of the next parliament.
A spokesperson for the PCS union, who include DWP staff among their members, said:
“If carried through this would devastate the delivery of essential social security support.”
It’s unclear as to whether these cutbacks would affect front-line Jobcentre staff.
Neither the Conservatives nor Labour have confirmed or denied the allegation.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 13 Mar 2015
Immigrants working on construction sites should be able to speak English, a North MP has said.
Helen Goodman, Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, said it is vital immigrants have a “reasonable understanding” of the language so health and safety isn’t put at risk.
The Shadow Welfare Reform Minister said some of her constituents have “completely fair” concerns about immigration and insists Labour would address them.
“I think people have legitimate concerns,” she said. “They are also concerned about people not being able to speak good English.
“These are totally fair and totally reasonable concerns. On a building site you do need to have a reasonable understanding of English for health and safety purposes.
“You are working in a team and everybody needs to be able to understand what you say. If you go to the A&E department you want to speak to someone who can speak English.
“That is completely reasonable and fair.”
The Bishop Auckland constituency is home to just 800 non-UK nationals (of a total 89,500), which equates to just 1%.
In County Durham overall, there are 13,700 non-UK-nationals in County Durham (2.7%).
The MP’s words come after Bishop Auckland Mayor Colin Race defected from Labour to Ukip.
She said people are worried about the impact on wages and immigrants claiming benefits that will be wired overseas.
“In general, people think that some immigration is good, particularly for things like high-skilled work in the NHS, but they want more controls,” she said.
“They want reassurance that a Labour government would control immigration better and so I tell them that we will re-establish checks on the borders for people coming in and going out.
“The really big thing people are worried about is the impact on jobs and wages. They feel that people from Eastern Europe are prepared to work for less than they are and that some employers are exploiting that and that this pushes down wages.”
> Are they really prepared to work for less ? Or could it be they see the apparant size of UK wages compared to those at home and it looks good, but they fail to take into account that costs – housing, food, everything – are also higher ?
And then they find themselves here working for less, but paying out more.
She added: “Labour plans to raise the minimum wage and to stop employers recruiting overseas while not offering jobs to local people. I think people are right to be concerned and they want us to tighten up. We will tighten up.
> How about UK citizens working abroad ? Shouldn’t their jobs have been offered to local people too ? What’s going to be done about that ?
“I think it is fair that people want us to say that people aren’t allowed to claim benefits for children overseas.”
The Labour MP also took a swipe at Ukip, led by Nigel Farage, for being “all over the place” on policy and being anti-women.
“They are a bit of a one-man band,” she said. “I suppose that the other long-standing parties, by definition, have to make the difficult decisions.
“Farage still benefits from being the new kid on the block. Once you get past the Europe issue, they are all over the place.
“They seem to change their policies regularly.”
She added: “I think they are very conservative with respect to women.
“In their eyes, women should have a very certain place. They want to take us back to the 1950s with respect to women.”
Source – Sunday Sun, 15 Feb 2015
The number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) being subjected to benefit sanctions is creeping up, with nearly one in five being penalised last year.
Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that 3,097,630 JSA claims were made in 2013-14 and 568,430 individuals were subject to a sanction, a total of 18%. In 2012-13, 16% of claims were subjected to sanctions and 15% in 2010-11. They are imposed on people who fail to keep appointments, reject jobs or walk out of jobs without good reason.
Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said:
“The huge rise in sanctions since 2010 shows the government’s system is in chaos. The number has doubled since 2009 to a level where one in five of all JSA claimants receive a sanction. This will lead to further concerns that unofficial targets imposed on jobcentres by the Department for Work and Pensions are forcing up the number of people who have their benefits withdrawn.
“Under a Labour government, there will be no targets for sanctions and the system will focused on helping people into work, not simply finding reasons to kick jobseekers off benefits.”
> So under a Labour government there will be no targets for sanctions. That’s not quite the same as saying there will not be a vicious sanctions regime…there always were people in the system who’d impose sanctions just because they could. They will presumably keep right on doing so.
The figures also show that 372,461 claimants were subject to one adverse decision, 99,621 to two and 35,170 to three between 1 July 2013 and 30 June 2014.
The DWP stressed the figures were derived from unpublished information that had not been quality assured to Official Statistics publication standards, and should therefore be treated with caution.
David Webster, an honorary senior research fellow at Glasgow University, said:
“The DWP is still regularly claiming that it is only a ‘tiny minority’ of claimants who are sanctioned – most recently by Esther McVey last week – but this suggests it is not a tiny minority.”
The employment minister, Esther McVey, said:
“All the international evidence suggests that sanctions do have a positive impact on people getting into work, and there are two parts of that: as a deterrent, it has a positive impact on moving people into work and there is further research that, should somebody have been sanctioned, it helps them into work afterwards.”
> Actually, all it seems to prove is that sanctions reduce the unemployment figures – their real aim. And that’s very much not the same as people vanishing from the figures because they’ve found work.
The DWP pointed to OECD research on northern member states which suggested that having a credible benefit reduction leads to increased work searches and a subsequent increase of flow into employment of up to 50%.
Source – The Guardian, 13 Feb 2015
Rachel Reeves ,the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and Stephen Timms, shadow Employment Minister have said that if labour is elected next year they will end targets for sanctions. But how much difference would this actually make?
According to Reeves and Timms:
“. . . we urgently need to get a grip on the delays and administrative errors that can mean the difference between eating and not eating for people trying to make a few pounds last for days.
As MPs we have had to refer people to food banks because of problems like this. In one case a mother who worked three jobs as a cleaner but ended up living on payday loans because she had been forced to wait months on end to get the tax credits. We should take this kind of system failure as seriously as we do a delay to an important medical appointment or a failure to respond adequately to a crime report.
“We also need to ensure that sanctions are fair and proportionate, and based on transparent procedures and appropriate safeguards. Sanctions have been part of our social security system since its foundation, and the principle of mutual obligation and putting conditions on benefit claims were integral to the progressive labour market policies of the last Labour government, from the first New Deals to the Future Jobs Fund.
“We in the Labour movement have always believed that the right to work goes hand in hand with the responsibility to prepare for, look for, and accept reasonable offers of suitable work.
“That’s why we have pledged that there will be no targets for sanctions under a Labour government so that jobcentre staff are focused on helping people into work, not simply finding reasons to kick them off benefits. We will also ensure that rules and decisions around sanctions are fair and properly communicated, and that the system of hardship payments is working properly.”
But, without a change in the criteria for sanctions and a change in the attitude towards claimants of both politicians and the civil servants at the top of the DWP, how much difference would ending targets that are never explicitly stated in the first place actually make?
Let us know what you think.
You can read the full statement on the Labour List website.
Source – Benefits & Work, 24 Nov 2014
MPs have spoken out to back firefighters, following a four-day strike over pensions.
Labour MPs from the North East urged Ministers to negotiate with firefighters.
And Ronnie Campbell, Labour MP for Blyth Valley, hit out at plans to make firefighters work until they are 60 before they can receive their pension.
Currently, firefighters can retire at 55 but plans to make them work another five years are one of the contentious issues that have led to the strike.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Campbell said:
“I worked down the coal mine for 29 years, and I watched old men of 60 struggling at the coal face. What must it be like for firemen of 60 trying to save lives from fire and flood?”
He was answered by local government minister Penny Mordaunt, who said:
“We need older workers to stay in the fire service because they have great expertise. By offering protections on pensions and jobs for older workers and good practice for fire authorities to follow, we will ensure that in future they have the protections that Labour did not introduce.”
> Sounds like “we need to keep on older workers because we can’t be arsed to train younger ones.” ?
The last Labour government raised the retirement age to 60 for people becoming firefighters after April 2006. The Government’s plans would increase the retirement age for every serving firefighter, including those who expected to retire at 55.
Other changes include changing the way pensions are calculated, which effectively means people will receive less, and increasing contributions.
Fire Brigades Union members began a four-day strike at the start of the end of October .
North West Durham MP Pat Glass asked:
“We have just come through the longest firefighters’ strike in 38 years. When will the Government stop their politically motivated and disingenuous behaviour in this dispute and genuinely sit down with the Fire Brigades Union to settle this, as the Governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are doing?”
Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell asked the Minister:
“Why does not she treat them with the respect that they deserve?”
And Stockton South MP Alex Cunningham highlighted a letter from Mrs Mordaunt to a Labour MP in which she said:
“I am conscious that we will only have the ideas for the service to meet future challenges and aspirations if firefighters are engaged and feel an ownership for the service. Trust and good morale are key to this.”
He asked her:
“How does refusing to change a single word of the regulation improve morale, and how does refusing to negotiate improve trust?”
The Minister insisted that firefighters received “one of the best schemes in the public sector”.
“There has been extensive debate and consultation on these matters. I have dealt with any outstanding issues in the past few months, including those of the transition of armed forces pension schemes into the firefighters’ pension scheme and fitness protections.
“The regulations have now been laid, and it is evident from the questions coming from the Opposition that they do not understand the scheme. It is an excellent scheme, and to say otherwise would be to do firefighters a disservice.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Nov 2014
Labour leader Ed Miliband has announced plans to scrap the House of Lords as it currently exists and replace it with an elected “Senate” – with members representing the regions of England as well as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Every region will be guaranteed a fair share of representation in the new senate, Mr Miliband said.
A paper by researchers in the House of Lords itself warned that the North East was under-represented.
The study, published earlier this year, found there were 21 peers whose main place of residence was the North East, compared with 152 who lived in London, 114 who lived in the South East and 63 who lived in the South West.
House of Lords reform has been a difficult issue for both Labour and the Conservative Party since the majority of hereditary peers were removed in 1999. There has been widespread agreement that further changes are needed, but little agreement on what those changes should be.
Under Mr Miliband’s plan, senators will represent large regions and nations to ensure they to not step on the toes of MPs, who will continue to represent constituencies.
A Labour government would hold a constitutional convention to debate precisely what powers the new senate should have and how senators should be elected.
However, proposals published today suggest some form of proportional representation would be used.
The convention will also consider whether there should be rules to ensure potential senators can only stand for election in a region they have lived or worked in for a number of years.
Labour says the proposals complement plans announced yesterday to devolve power to regions, including a proposed English Regional Cabinet Committee which would be chaired by the Prime Minister, and attended by the relevant Secretaries of State and leaders from the major English cities and county regions.
A Labour government would also introduce new laws to ensure councils can seize control of bus services without fear of a legal challenge, giving them a role setting fares and timetable similar to the one played by the Greater London Authority in the capital.
And Labour would also pass an English Devolution Act, enshrining in law new powers for local councils and combined authorities to manage funding for transport and housing, further education and support for employers, as well as giving them a formal role in commissioning health and social care.
Speaking at Labour’s North-West Regional Conference in Blackpool on Saturday, Mr Miliband said:
“I am announcing plans to give the regions and nations greater power and a stronger voice in Westminster too.
“When people say that they are turned off from politics and that it doesn’t represent them, we have to do something about it.”
“London is our capital and one of the world’s great cities but it cannot be right London has more members of the House of Lords than the East Midlands, West Midlands, Wales, Northern Ireland, the North East and Yorkshire and Humber added together.
“We will make the second chamber of Parliament truly a Senate of the Regions and Nations of our whole country.”
Tories are pushing their own plans to devolve power, with Chancellor George Osborne urging regions to create powerful mayors.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 02 Nov 2014