Investigators have cleared a councillor caught up in accusations of dodgy lobbying.
Liberal Democrat Greg Stone (North Heaton) will face no further action from Newcastle Council after he was secretly recorded by a national newspaper offering “tricks of the trade” on how to get planning permission.
The councillor, who works as a lobbyist, faced calls to resign as two Labour politicians put in complaints over Mr Stone’s role.
Further questions were raised by Newcastle East MP Nick Brown, who discovered emails he says showed Mr Stone had contacted the council’s chief executive to raise the concerns of “business interests” over the council’s refusal to grant an alcohol licence to the proposed Tesco Store on Grainger Street, Newcastle.
Mr Stone offered to put the chief executive in touch “with the parties concerned”, but was told the council would be fighting plans for more city drinking. Since then Newcastle Council has granted the Tesco store a smaller drinks licence.
Labour MP Mr Brown called for a tougher investigation because Mr Stone’s employers at Indigo Public Affairs have worked for Tesco in the past. In a statement put to the council as the investigation continued last year Mr Stone lists 10 possible reasons why he might have been sending the email to the chief executive.
Further questions regarding the Tesco lobbying were put to Mr Stone, who then said he was asking on behalf of the Lib Dem group.
Mr Stone said: “This investigation arose as a result of unethical reporting, which failed to fairly reflect the context of my comments, and complaints from opportunistic political opponents.
“I have maintained throughout that I have acted properly in my professional and council roles.
“I am therefore unsurprised by the finding that I did not breach the code of conduct, and I am glad that this protracted process has been resolved in a very clear way.”
A council spokesman said: “The council received two complaints against Coun Stone that he had allegedly breached the Code of Conduct for members. These complaints were thoroughly investigated. The investigating officer concluded that there had been no breach of the Code of Conduct. The council’s monitoring officer was satisfied with the conclusions in the investigating officer’s report and therefore closed the matter.”
Mr Brown said questions remained unanswered over the council’s licensing policy.
Source – Newcastle Journal 01 April 2014
Ministers have been accused of declaring “war” on the North East as MPs and council leaders gathered at Westminster to plan their fight-back against funding cuts.
> Well it’s taken them long enough ! Have they only just noticed what’s been going on under their noses ?
The region’s Labour politicians warned the debate about funding and grants obscured the real impact of cuts, which was worse public services and the prospect of councils running out of money.
Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland Council, said families in the North East would receive poorer police and fire services than those in wealthier parts of the country.
And the region’s politicians accused the Government of quietly scrapping the long-accepted convention that funding was allocated in part on the basis of need – so areas with higher levels of poverty, a higher proportion of older folk a low skills base or other pressing needs were given the cash they needed.
The change means a council like Newcastle is facing budget cuts while those in much wealthier areas are enjoying increases in funding.
The warnings were issued as council leaders delivered a presentation to MPs in a Commons committee room at Westminster, following a meeting with Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis.
> And they all said: “Bugger me, we had no idea this was going on. When did this start, then ?”
GatesheadMP Ian Mearns told the gathering: “There is a war being fought against our communities and it is being inflicted on us in the most ruthless fashion I can remember in my 30 years in politics.”
North Durham MP Kevan Jones added: “This is a war. They know exactly what they are doing. They are diverting money from our areas to areas in the south.”
A presentation produced by the Association of North East Councils (ANEC) warned that cuts in council budgets in the North East amounted to £467 for every household between 2010 and 2016 – compared to just £105 in the South East.
The discrepancy is partly a result of the Government abandoning the principle of funding based on “need”, which traditionally meant some councils received more than others.
A higher proportion of the North East’s population is elderly than the national average. The region also has more adults who need social care and long-term unemployment, as well as more children in care, all of which would traditionally have meant councils received higher funding.
But ANEC estimates that by 2019-20, Newcastle City Council’s spending power per household will be equal to the money available to a council in a wealthy areas such as Wokingham, in Berkshire.
Meanwhile, Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell, has revealed that a poll of her constituents shows that more than 90% of respondents expect their standard of living to get worse or stay the same over the next three years.
The survey on her website found that 79% of respondents were concerned by energy bills, 56% by food prices and 39% with the cost of transport.
> So now our Labour representives finally seem to have caught on to what’s going down. Question is, what are they going to actually do about it ?
Source – Newcastle Journal, 16 Jan 2014