Puplic services ground to a halt across Wearside yesterday as workers walked out in support of the strike. Schools, libraries, leisure centres, museums and other public buildings were shut.
Pickets were in place outside Sunderland Civic Centre.
John Kelly, secretary of Unite’s Sunderland City Council Branch, said: “Unite is proud to be taking part in strike action alongside our fellow trade unions.
“This is a fight for better public services, and for fair pay for those who work hard to deliver those services.
“Council workers have been targeted to bear the brunt of the austerity measures that have been imposed by millionaire cabinet ministers since 2010. Unite fully understand that Labour-run councils like Sunderland City Council are the scapegoats when implementing this Coalition Government’s austerity measures.
“Local government workers and the communities they deliver services to believe that local government workers should have fair pay, not poverty pay.”
Source – Sunderland Echo, 11 July 2014
SOUTH TYNESIDE –
There were pickets outside South Shields Town Hall, the town’s Middlefields refuse depot and at the JobCentre in Chapter Row, and more than half of schools in the borough closed for the day.
All the borough’s libraries were also shut, and all council refuse collections were cancelled, and the crematorium on John Reid Road, South Shields, closed for the day.
Despite the widespread disruption, Merv Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, believes the public remain generally supportive of the action – and the reasons behind it.
Horn-beeping motorists expressed support for the dozen or so trade unionists gathered outside the town’s hall’s Beach Road entrance yesterday and, also on hand to show his support was Labour councillor Ernest Gibson, Mayor of South Tyneside last year.
There were pickets from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) at Harton Technology College in South Shields.
The school was closed to pupils, although members of other teaching unions and non-union staff did go into work.
COUNTY DURHAM –
Striking workers picketed outside council offices, job centres, tax offices and courts across County Durham and North Yorkshire.
Workers from government agencies including the Student Loans Company in Darlington, the Passport Office in Durham City and the HM Revenue & Customs offices in Thornaby took part in the industrial action.
In County Durham, more than 130 schools closed for the day, although only a handful of Darlington’s schools shut.
Twenty North Yorkshire schools closed and a further 50 suffered disruption.
On Teesside about 35 schools in Stockton were closed or partially-closed.
A survey commission by Unite on the eve of the strike found that 50 per cent of people in the North of England agreed that the local government workers’ call for an £1 per-hour pay rise was justified.
“The poll confirms that people across the North support workers who are fighting to end poverty pay in our local councils,” said Mike Routledge, Unite local government officer for the North-East.
Source – Northern Echo, 10 July 2014
Picket lines could be seen around the town with the most prominent outside of the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road, Hartlepool.
Other’s took place outside Hartlepool Borough Council-run buildings in Church Street, and also in Wesley Square, outside the Jobcentre.
Councillor Stephen Thomas, Labour representative for the De Bruce ward, was also on the picket line to offer his support.
Coun Thomas, who works for Health Watch Hartlepool but took the day off to take part in the action, said: “I’m here to basically show my support to the strikers because I think that the way the Government is treating government sector workers is absolutely appalling.
“The one per cent pay rise they’ve had in the last four years equates to a 14 per cent cut in real terms.”
Teachers were also included in the strike with a number of Hartlepool schools closed for the day.
The Fire Brigade Union (FBU) also joined forces in the strike action, with crews from Cleveland Fire Brigade’s Stranton Fire Station forming a protest.
Brian Gibson, the FBU chairman for Cleveland, said: “The action we took part in is particularly important because all the unions have got together to show our strength of feeling at getting one per cent pay rises. The FBU’s argument is also with the Government over pensions.”
He added: “We’ve had great public support, all we’ve had is support.
“We’re so pleased.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 11 July 2014
Outside Middlesbrough Town Hall this morning, many office workers arriving for work crossed the picket lines.
Dawn Nicholson, Unison Area Organiser said: “It’s going well.
“Some people are crossing the picket lines but a lot of them are employed by Mouchel.
“Mouchel workers haven’t been balloted and can’t strike but many have signed our petition.”
However as one woman made her way into work she answered calls for her to strike saying: “People are still need to make a living.”
GMB union, shop steward, Brian Foulger, said: “We’re quite surprised by how many people, even management, have gone out on strike.
“Since 2010, local government have been putting money away for a rainy day. Well, it’s pouring down.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 10 July 2014
A £38m cuts package has been passed as a city leader says to do otherwise would be to hand council control to the Government.
Newcastle’s Nick Forbes said he had no choice but to pass the latest round of budget cuts despite calls from some protesters to pass an “illegal budget” in which services are ran into debt.
The council cuts are the latest in a three-year budget made up of a reduction in Government grants and a rise in spending pressures.
As a result, libraries are being passed on to volunteers, leisure centres face the axe and some 1,300 jobs will go, 350 of them in the next financial year.
The cuts were debated as ‘bedroom tax’ protesters called on the council to stand up to the Government. Insisting he had no choice on the budget, Mr Forbes said: “I’m not prepared to countenance futile political gestures, or handing over direct control of this council to Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.
“I will not apologise for behaving responsibly and taking tough decisions to balance the books.
“Doing anything different would make Newcastle a target for national disgrace, and would deal a devastating blow to the image and confidence of this city.
> The revolution will not start in Newcastle…official.
“Nor, however, am I prepared to give up the fight for our missing £38m – money which has, in the large part, been collected from the businesses in our city through business rates and redistributed to other, more affluent, parts of the country. Any business being shortchanged by the amount that we are would be – rightly so – fighting its corner in every way possible. I will not apologise for standing up for the interests of this city. For seeking to protect the people of Newcastle from this Government, which seems hellbent on attacking those least able to stand up for themselves.”
> But you’re still making all the cuts that affect least able to stand up for themselves anyway ? I could be wrong, but it does tend to look like they’re talking big and disassociating themselves from blame, then going away and initiating ConDem policies anyway.
Liberal Democrats said the figures being debated were misleading, with former council leader David Faulkner saying councils had always had to cope with cost increases.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 06 March 2014
Newcastle City Council has announced that it will not proceed with its plan to completely withdraw free Sunday parking permits from churches in the city centre. Instead, worshippers will now be charged a nominal annual fee of £20, “to cover administration” while parking charges for everyone else will be raised substantially to bring in an estimated extra £500,000.
Churches had originally been told that the free parking scheme would end in March 2014 but since then the council has met with church leaders to negotiate the nominal fee.
Newcastle Council is making swinging cuts in all other areas of its services, including those for children and the elderly. Libraries, museums, art venues and leisure facilities are also being cut as the Council struggles to save £100 million.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “Although this privilege won’t make a huge amount of difference to the savings that Newcastle is being forced to make, it is still discrimination against every other motorist in the City who has to pay the full cost of parking.
“Many people consider their own Sunday morning activities – whether it is visiting relatives, going to the cinema or out for a meal – to be just as valid as going to church, but they have no alternative but to pay the new inflated costs of parking.
“Treating church-goers more favorably than everyone else is discrimination pure and simple”.
Source – National Secular Society 18 Feb 2014
Something to sing in the dole queue…
The wonderful work of
North Tyneside Council has agreed a motion to block payday loan companies websites from its computers – PCs used by all council staff and those available to the public in libraries and Customer First centres – and to prevent such companies setting up business in council-owned commercial property.
The motion also called on the government to legislate and effectively regulate payday lenders (dont hold your breath on that one…).
Mayor Norma Redfearn said: “With the soaring costs of energy and food bills, cuts in benefits and a freeze on wages it’s not suprising that more and more people feel they have no option but to take desperate measures to meet their bills.
“Our research shows that people are now borrowing on average around 326 pounds a month from these credit companies. The interest they charge is absolutely scandalous, so it’s no wonder that many people are caught in a spiral of debt and taking out more loans just to get by.
“This council is taking a significant first step by agreeing this motion, and I can guarantee there will be more action to come.”
No matter how bad things get, there will always be someone waiting to take advantage. It’s to be hoped that other councils might follow this example, as well as promoting Credit Unions as an alternative.
Art venues could have their £1.2m budget slashed as Gateshead Council sets in motion plans to make multi-million pound budget savings.
Giving up the running of leisure centres, making residents pay for garden waste disposal and a review of the council’s remaining 12 libraries are other suggestions put forward in a consultation document released by the authority today.
Councillors need to save £45m from the budget over the next two years and are asking residents to comment on a range of ideas for where savings could be made.
Leader of the council Mick Henry said: “There’s never been such a financial challenge since 1974 when this council formed.
“What we need to do now is share this problem with workers and businesses in Gateshead so we can all work out how to mitigate the unbearable impact of this coalition Government.”
In the document Budget 2014/2016 Your Views Count’ residents are asked whether the £1.2m spent on funding the Sage Gateshead, BALTIC and Shipley Art Gallery should be reduced.
The borough’s 12 leisure centres, which cost £3.1m a year to run, are also identified as an area in which possible savings could be made with people asked if they agree or disagree with facilities being reduced.
Withdrawing support to youth services and reducing funding to teenage parents is also offered as a budget solution.
Coun Henry said at this stage the docunent puts forward a series of choices and not concrete proposals or decisions.
The savings come on top of £75m budget cuts made by the authority since 2010 and last week the council annouced a further 400 job losses.
David Newton from the GMB union, said: “We realise that things get harder every year but we want to look at alternatives because this isn’t the Gateshead way to cut essential services like this. Out-sourcing for children and families could be done in house. We need to look at this again.
“We understand that this Government has given up on the people of this county by these proposals but we don’t want to see Gateshead giving up on its young people.”
Council tax may also rise for the first time in three years as residents are consulted on whether they should take a one per cent grant in exchange for freezing rates.
However Councilor Henry said he wanted to get across to people the impact this would have on civic funds.
He said: “It means that you don’t grow your budget and that your base budget stays the same.
“As more cuts occur there’s a real argument about whether you accept that freeze or increase council tax. We want to ask people what they think.
“We have done it in the past because at that time we thought it was one hit too much for the people of Gateshead.”
He also added that this current round of cuts strengthens yet again the case for a combined local authority to lobby central Government on behalf of the North East.
Between now and 17 December, people can give their views on the choices for saving money by filling in a survey at www.gateshead.gov.uk/budget . Copies are also available at most council buildings or on request by calling 0191 433 3000, The council will agree the budget for 2014/16 in February.
Newcastle Journal, 16 Oct 2013
Despite grassroots protests, including occupation of threatened buildings, by Hands Off Sunderland Libraries, nine libraries across Sunderland have been closed by the city council, in a bid to save 850,000 pounds.
The libraries affected are those at Doxford Park, Easington Lane, East Herrington, Fence Houses, Hendon, Monkwearmouth, Silksworth, Southwick and Washington Green.
Coun. John Kelly, portfolio holder for public health, wellness and culture: “This is a very emotive subject and we recognise the strength of people’s feelings.
“As I’ve said before, we probably wouldn’t have gone down this route if the council didn’t need to make 110 million pounds savings as a result of cuts from central government. The fact is the library service needs to save 850,000 pounds, so we have had to look at changing how we do things as budgets continue to be cut and resources become ever more stretched.
“As councillors, we have to make difficult decisions . Had savings not been made here, they may have had to fall on children’s or adults services.
“But I firmly believe that the new library service will be much more flexible to fit in with people’s needs and will result in better services reaching more people across a wider range of locations.”
Eh ? How does closing public services across a wide range of locations reach more people across those same locations ? I suspect the only flexibility resulting will be the closed service users, who’ll have to be a lot more flexible to find an open library.
How much will be saved really ? Has any account been taken of vacant buildings needing to be maintained, books and equipment to be mothballed, staff who lose their jobs ?
“Had savings not been made here, they may have had to fall on children’s or adults services.” A nice attempt at emotional blackmail, but what exactly are libraries if not children and adult services ?
And should it be either/or anyway ? We know only too well about the nature of the current national government, but Sunderland City Council is Labour controlled. Shouldn’t they – and other Labour controlled councils – be providing, you know, opposition ? Getting together and going head-to-head with the government perhaps ? Making a moral stand ?
We’ve been promised years more austerity, whoever wins the next general election. Now the process has been started, which libraries will be next ?
As noted in no less an organ than Private Eye (#1349) –
Sunderland library chiefs have some handy advice on what can replace local libraries facing closure.
“Because of Facebook, because of gadgets, we dont need libraries the way we used to when I was 15,” Cllr Graeme Miller told a public meeting, which agreed proposals for the closure of nine libraries to save #850,000 a year.
Quite apart from how completely un-useful Facebook is for most homework, research or reading for pleasure, Sunderland is part of the UK region with the highest concentration of people off-line, with a recent survey finding only 42% of less well off people in the city had online access from any type of “gadget”, including computers, smart phones and so on.
Hands Off Sunderland Libraries on Facebook at –