Thousands of public sector workers went on strike in a bitter disagreement over pay and pensions, as part of the biggest day of industrial action seen in the country for years.
More than 400 schools in the region were fully or partially closed as teachers downed tools during the walk out.
Joining them were home helps, lollipop men and women, refuse collectors, librarians, dinner ladies, parks attendants, council road safety officers, caretakers and cleaners, as well as firefighters, civil servants and transport workers.
Picket lines were mounted outside schools, council offices, Jobcentres, fire stations and Parliament in outpourings of anger over the coalition’s public sector policies.
Nationally, around 1m workers took part in the 24-hour strike, which unions claimed was one of the biggest in the country in years.
The Cabinet Office blamed union leaders for “irresponsible” strikes.
A spokesman claimed most public sector workers had reported for work and “nearly all key public services were being delivered as usual”.
The biggest issue in dispute is pay, after ministers froze public sector salaries in 2010 and introduced a 1% cap on pay rises in 2012 which remains in place.
Thousands joined a march through Newcastle City Centre campaigning against cuts, changes to pensions, pay and work conditions.
Chants of “they say cut back, we say fight back” could be heard as the crowd of teachers, firefighters, health workers, council staff and civil servants led the procession from outside City Pool, near the Civic Centre, as part of the one-day walk-out with teachers also highlighting concerns over children’s education and firefighters raising their fears that cuts risk lives.
Among those lending their support was Blaydon MP Dave Anderson who said: “It’s a really good turn-out. I’m impressed and spirits are really high.
These people do a tremendous job day in day out and we are not looking after them properly. It’s time we did.
“It’s time we said enough is enough. They are at the end of their tether and a cry for help.”
The procession of workers, carrying banners and placards and flanked by mounted police, headed towards Northumberland Street then through the throng of shoppers onto New Bridge Street for speeches on the blue carpet area outside Laing Art Gallery.
Most were delighted at the turnout.
Shirley Ford, 50, an administrative assistant at Marine Park Primary School in South Shields, said: “I was also on the picket line in South Shields this morning and when you’re in a small school it’s hard to sense how everyone else is feeling so this is great to see – and the sun has come out!”
Andy Nobel, executive member for the FBU in North East which is the middle of its own industrial action following the loss of 300 firefighter posts and station closures in the wake of the Government’s austerity measures, said: “Public support during our whole dispute has been fantastic.
“When they’ve heard our arguments there hasn’t been a great deal, if any, adverse public reaction.”
A further eight days of action is expected to be announced.
One firefighter, who did not want to be named, said the chief concern of colleagues was pensions not pay.
Meanwhile, teacher Tony Dowling, 57, the members’ secretary for Gateshead NUT, said: “The main reason is the pension and pay but I’m really on strike because I care about the education of the children.
“Michael Grove is making the jobs of teachers impossible and ruining children’s education.”
Cheers greeted the speakers at the rally who included Nicky Ramanandi, Unison’s deputy regional convenor for public services alliance, who called the national turn-out “the second biggest turn of action since the end of the Second World War”.
Gordon Thompson, a councillor from Newsham ward in Blyth Valley, known for his refusal to pay his Poll Tax, was among the supporters at the rally and stressed the importance of making a stand.
And a familiar face lending his support was local actor Joe Caffrey, accompanying his father, retired Unison member Joe Caffrey senior, who was standing up for service providers whose pensions are taking a hit.
The 69-year-old from Whitley Bay said: “I’ve got a pension but I’m here for the people still working, particularly the young people.”
Picket lines were also formed outside some of the region’s schools and council offices, including Newcastle’s Civic Centre and the Department for Work and Pensions, in Longbenton.
Newcastle’s Grainger Market was closed to the public for the first time in two years because of the industrial action.
Reports suggest there was around 5,000 people at today’s march.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 10 July 2014
Visitor numbers at museums in the North East have dropped as funding cuts force shorter opening hours and hit exhibitions, new figures have revealed.
Government statistics show that annual visits to the facilities run by Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums were down by more than 26,000 in the first nine months of this financial year compared to the same period a year earlier.
That slump included a 17% fall in visitors at Gateshead’s Shipley Art Gallery, a 14% reduction at the Laing gallery in Newcastle and a 10% fall at Newcastle’s Discovery Museum – all of which suffered cuts in opening hours as a result of budget reductions.
The Great North Museum and the South Shields Museum also saw a drop in visitor numbers, though there were encouraging rises at Segedunum Roman Fort in Wallsend and Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, both of around 18%.
The downward trend has been attributed to a reduction in museum opening hours in the region, introduced last year as a way of cutting costs.
And last night one former council leader said the region would start to realise the true extent of its cuts.
Liberal Democrat council David Faulkner said the cuts to Newcastle’s arts scene would be damaging.
He said: “The cuts by Newcastle City Council to the museums service was camouflaged last year by all the publicity surrounding Lee Hall and the arts venues. The chickens are coming home to roost now. They had to take their share but we still say that cuts to arts and museums should have been more proportionate and spread over a longer period to allow more time to absorb them.
“Our museums are among the best in the country and attract huge numbers, including many thousands of young people who get an appreciation of their heritage, of science and engineering and of arts and crafts. The value of this work is underestimated by the council, it seems to us.”
Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums director, Iain Watson, said: “At many museums and galleries visitor figures will vary year on year and this can be due to a complex range of factors including popularity of individual exhibitions, major programmes in a particular year with significant external funding, particularly successful events, and even the weather.
“In April 2013 opening hours at Discovery Museum, the Laing Art Gallery and the Shipley Art Gallery were all reduced as a result of the very difficult funding positions of the supporting local authorities.
“Not surprisingly this has had an immediate impact on visitor numbers but measures have been put in place to mitigate this. For example, at Discovery Museum, in October we reorganised the weekend opening hours to spread the available hours differently over Saturday and Sunday to make sure that the museum is open at times that best suit our users.”
Tyne and Wear Archieves and Museums said the upward trend of Segedunum was “very pleasing” and that it works hard not just to maximise visitor numbers, but also to ensure that it reaches members of communities who are less likely to use museums.
And commenting on the visitor numbers at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, Coun John Kelly, Sunderland City Council’s Portfolio Holder for Public Health, Wellness and Culture said: “If we look at figures for April to November there was an increase of over 40,000 visitors compared to the same period for the previous year.
“The Museum and Winter Gardens programmes a wide variety of high quality exhibitions to accommodate the needs of all of our visitors, whatever their interests. All exhibitions are engaging and accessible and fulfil our aim to be a cultural centre for everyone in Sunderland and the North East region.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 10 Feb 2014