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.
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
A bus company has been attacked by a Labour MP for “salami slicing” services after it emerges 80 journeys a day have disappeared under a rerouting programme.
Houghton and Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson has criticised Go North East for cuts to bus services across Tyne and Wear, citing a study by Passenger Transport Executive Nexus.
Sunderland is shouldering most of the burden, the MP says, with changes to routes and timetables to the 35, 35A, 35B and 35C services.
The MP says her office has fielded calls from people worried about links to schools and health facilities.
She adds it is difficult to compare the new route map and timetable information with previous versions and people have concerns that the re-routing of the 35 services will significantly disrupt journeys to nearby GP practices in Silksworth, Herrington and Sunderland Royal Hospital.
Children may also have to take longer journeys to schools such as the Venerable Bede Academy because they will have to change buses.
Go North East said the changes will simplify services, but four variations have already been made to routes 35, 35A and 36 since November.
The MP said:
“The volume of service changes implemented by Go North East this week is likely to cause a great deal of confusion and inconvenience to many people.
“I have received many emails and phone calls from worried constituents expressing their concerns over changes to the route 35 service.
“Go North East say this is about simplifying things, but there have been 15 variations in this route since 2011 and I cannot see how this constant chopping and changing is making things simpler. The new route maps and timetables are also presented differently from older versions.
“People are understandably angry about the fact that four services have been reduced to three. Across the region estimates show that as many as 80 routes a day will be cut.
“Go North East should explain why these changes are being implemented and how they are in the best interest of passengers.
“This salami slicing of services shows exactly why we must introduce a London-style bus network with stable routes, oyster style ticketing and fines for operators when they fail to live up to their promises.”
Managing director of Go North East Kevin Carr, said the changes were introduced after a consultation with Nexus and customers.
He said many of the services now travelled closer to shops.
He said: “We are the number one bus operator in Sunderland and it’s really important that we adapt our services to meet customers’ needs.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 Jan 2015
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck today sought to “set the issue straight” over a statement she made in Parliament saying some grieving relatives were being forced to bury loved ones’ in their gardens.
The MP found herself buried beneath a barrage of criticism after making the suggestion when proposing her Funeral Services Bill last month.
Some critics claimed there was no evidence to back the assertion – and even funeral directors in her own constituency dismissed it,
But Mrs Lewell-Buck says the comment was taken out of context from the bill as a whole.
And she said her central aim, to highlight escalating funeral costs, had been lost amid the debate.
The Labour MP, who is to stand at the General Election in May, said there was also no suggestion in her speech that people in South Shields had buried relatives in their gardens.
“I really wanted to just set the issue straight because I feel I was misrepresented as the result of one small sentence.
“That one comment was picked up on and was the only issue focused on in the national and local press and in comments on the Internet.
“That’s why I felt the need to speak out because one sentence has been hijacked.”
In her letter the MP writes:
“My Bill calls for a Government review of funeral affordability in the UK.
“It also proposes changes to improve the Funeral Payments system, and the creation of a ‘simple funeral’ where funeral directors would be required to provide information about the cost of a standard service to help people make a better-informed decision about the service they choose.
“A lot of the reports on the Bill focused on the issue of garden burials, and while that was only a very small part of my speech and such burials are not commonplace, it has created a national conversation about this emotive and taboo subject.
“I would also like to clarify that this Bill is national and at no stage in my speech did I say people in South Shields or even the North East have buried relatives in their gardens.”
Mrs Lewell-Buck said she was particularly eager to dismiss any inference that she had misled Parliament in any way.
“I am very proud to be a member of Parliament and would never do that. I was just eager to ensure that people did not get the wrong end of the stick and to make my position crystal clear.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 09 Jan 2015
A “Westminster elite” of Labour MPs look down on people with Northern accents, a politician from the region has claimed.
Wansbeck’s Ian Lavery, himself a Labour MP, said that when MPs hear his North East accent they think “that man doesn’t know too much” and claimed his party has too many politicians who haven’t worked “on the factory floor”.
But he today claimed the remarks were not a criticism of party leader Ed Miliband – saying they were about getting more working-class MPs into Parliament.
The Northumberland MP was recorded making the remarks at a conference on social mobility in London organised by the think-tank Class.
“I’ve got to say there are some superb Labour Party MPs,” he was reported to have said.
“Sadly, there’s not enough MPs who’ve actually worked on the coalface, on the factory floor.
“We haven’t got enough ethnic minorities, we haven’t got enough disabled people in, who have actually been there.
“We’ve got an elite in Westminster which, quite frankly, frightens me.
“They haven’t been anywhere or done anything, and when you’ve got an accent like mine, they think ‘Well, that man doesn’t know too much’.”
Mr Lavery, a former president of the National Union of Mineworkers, said some national media had “willfully misrepresented what I said” and stressed that he fully supports Mr Miliband as his party’s leader.
“My comments were about the need for more working-class MPs and in no way a criticism of Ed or his office.
“For the record, I believe s absolutely the right man to bring in policies that will be of great benefit to people in the North and across the country.”
It comes after former Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared to criticise Labour leader Mr Miliband.
The ex-Sedgefield MP told The Economist that May’s General Election was shaping up to be one “in which a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result”.
> Sounds good – remind me, which is the left-wing party ?
Asked if he was implying that the Conservatives would win, Mr Blair is reported to have said yes.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 01 Jan 2015
A privately-run jail is using the controversial zero hours contracts to plug gaps in its workforce, a debate in the House of Commons has heard.
HMP Northumberland, which has been described by prison officers as “like a tinderbox”, is using the contracts after cuts stripped away its staff from 441 to 270 from 2010 to 2013.
Labour MP for Wansbeck, Ian Lavery described the measure at the Sodexo-run Category C jail as an “outrage” during a debate on a bill aimed at abolishing the contracts.
“Is my honourable friend aware of the situation at HMP Northumberland, where Sodexo, a French catering company, has privatised the prison and sacked or made redundant more than a third of the work force?
“It does not have enough people to make the prison safe, but it is bringing in people on banked-hours and zero-hours contracts. That is an outrage.”
It comes after a riot at the jail in March and a stash of Class A drugs worth in excess of £100,000 were found last month.
The private members bill, brought by Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, is aimed at abolishing zero hours contracts and the debate will continue next week.
MPs heard use of the contracts is rife in the care and hospitality sectors with the average wage of a zero hours worker is £236, – and that this is a figure £246 less than the average worker.
Mr Mearns said:
“Today, I am fighting for the same thing that people of every generation have fought for: the right to decent and secure conditions and terms of employment.
“It is not a great ask. A well-paid and steady job is the bedrock on which people build their lives. It is the starting point for planning for the future, and the platform of stability needed to pay the bills, meet the rent, pay the mortgage and start a family.
“Those are not extravagances, but the minimum that should be available to any person who is prepared to work to pay their way in a wealthy nation such as ours.
“Yet that stability and security is denied to millions of workers in this country. Increasingly, people are finding themselves plagued by job insecurity, not knowing from one day to the next whether they will be working or earning.”
The bill has strong support from North East Labour MPs.
Catherine McKinnell, MP for Newcastle North, said:
“A constituent who came to see me highlighted just how little economic sense zero-hours contracts make for the taxpayer as well.
“From one week to the next, he may or may not be able to pay his rent and may need housing benefit support.
“That creates a total mess for the support systems that have to provide support to these people on very insecure work contracts. The cost to the taxpayer of sorting out that mess is adding to the problem. Employers need to step up to the mark.”
Conservatives, however, accused Labour MPs of using zero hours contracts themselves.
Grahame Morris, Labour MP for Easington, denied he was among them, but said Labour-led councils need to do more.
“I absolutely do not use zero-hours contracts. I think part of the problem is that many local authorities do not have tight enough procedures with subcontractors; I would encourage them so to do.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 22 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
Stockton residents being filmed for Benefits Street are being urged by their MP to quit the controversial TV show.
Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham has written to every resident of Kingston Road asking them to “think again” about taking part in the Channel 4 documentary.
The Labour MP has already suggested the makers of the programme, Love Productions, should “get out of the town” after accusing them of setting people up for “entertainment purposes only”.
And yesterday he paid a visit to the street in Tilery to make sure residents “understand exactly what they have got themselves into.”
He said: “I spoke with several residents who told me they and their neighbours were opposed to the programme and wanted no part of it.
“They said just a few people wanted it, but the area was already suffering from troublemakers coming in from other areas to play up to the cameras.”
The MP said he left the street after two Love Production camera crews “followed my every step”.
In his letter to the residents he says: “The television executives claim a high moral purpose to give people who they say don’t have a voice a chance to speak out about their problems and how they feel let down.
“But what they haven’t outlined is the immense intrusion there will be into participants’ lives by themselves and large parts of the media who won’t be there to do the people of our area any favours.”
He goes on: “I hope that if you are one of the people thinking of taking part that you will think again, recognise what it will really mean for you, your family and local residents, and tell Love Productions their programme isn’t for you or our community.”
Helen Goodman MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Culture, was in Stockton yesterday visiting Preston Hall Museum and took time out of her schedule to meet Louise Baldock, Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Stockton South, to discuss Benefits Street.
Helen said: “A lot of good things are happening in Stockton at Preston Hall and the Arc, so why does Channel 4 persist in perpetuating these dreary negative stereotypes? Benefits Street is not a serious documentary and serves only to make entertainment out of poverty and hardship.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 30 Aug 2014
An MP has said the North-East has been “totally ignored once again” in a Government consultation on rail travel.
The Government is consulting on future Northern and TransPennine franchises which start in February 2016.
Plans have already been unveiled for major improvements to Manchester train stations and the possibility of electrification of the railway lines to York or Leeds has been raised.
But Andy McDonald, Labour MP for Middlesbrough, said the North-East and especially the Tees Valley is being “totally ignored.”
In a written response he pointed to an Institute of Institute of Public Policy Research report which showed that for nearly £3,000 spent per person on transport in London and the South-East just £5 is spent in the North-East.
He also said current TransPennine trains were “third rate,” any investment in the North-East was confined to the Tyne and Wear Metro and the current franchise plans were likely to lead to ticket office closures and price hikes for customers. Stopping electrification at York or Leeds would also reduce the region to being left with mere “shuttle services to the 21st Century.”
He continued: “I went to one presentation about rail with the secretary of Transport about this and all I could see on the screen was an arrow pointing North-East. That was our only mention. I went beserk. There’s nothing for us, despite the fact that we’re the only region outside London actually with a positive contribution to GDP. It’s like the North doesn’t exist at all outside the M62 corridor.”
Mr McDonald said he had sympathy with The Hannah Mitchell Foundation which campaigns for the North to have a regional Government. The Foundation has appealed directly to the Labour Party to promise to make changes if elected to the franchise to include new trains which it says should be made in the north.
Companies will be chosen to run the new rail franchises in the coming year.
Source – Northern Echo, 18 Aug 2014
The 130th Durham Miners’Gala will be tinged with sadness following the deaths of two leading figures of the Labour movement.
The event, on Saturday, July 12, is set to draw thousands of people to the city centre to watch the parade of banners and brass bands.
Tony Benn and Bob Crow, who died within days of each other in March, were popular speakers who appeared several times at the Big Meeting.
Mr Benn, the former veteran Labour MP who renounced his hereditary peerage, spoke at 20 Galas and also attended when he was not one of the speakers.
Mr Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport union, delivered a call from the platform at last year’s Gala for unions to form a new political party to fight for their interests.
Labour leader Ed Milliband once declined a Gala invitation because he didn’t want to share the platform with a “militant’’union leader.
Dave Hopper, secretary of the Durham Miners Association, which organises the event, said: “We will be saying goodbye to those comrades.
“Gresford (the miners’ hymn that is always played at the Gala) this year will have a special significance because we have had a number of funerals of good comrades.”
The 82-year-old former miner, who is renowned for his wit and entertaining speaking style, last addressed the event in 2011.
The line-up is completed by GMB general secretary Paul Kenny and Gala first timers Mick Whelan, general secretary of the rail union ASLEF, Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association, and Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers.
Mr Hopper added: “We have a delegation of miners coming from the Ukraine and we are hoping one of them will say a few words about the very troubled and dangerous situation in that country.”
For details of the Gala and events in the run-up to it visit http://www.durhamminers.org
Source – Durham Times, 02 July 2014