Plans to revive rural communities by spending £5m on building new council houses have been criticised as having a high risk factor.
A lack of affordable homes has been identified as a contributing factor to young people moving away from Yorkshire Dales communities – and has prompted a campaign by leader of Richmondshire District Council, John Blackie, to provide cheap new homes and jobs.
Schools across Richmondshire have reported a fall in school roll figures, so house building has been proposed as a means of persuading families to stay in the Dales.
Cllr Blackie has organised a conference for key partners including the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, housing associations, local enterprise partnerships, and health and education representatives, to take place at Tennants, Leyburn, on Wednesday, November 19 from 9am.
But Cllr Fleur Butler, leader of the Conservative opposition group on the council, said the £5m proposal was a huge risk to council tenants, whose rent feeds the fund.
She told the full council meeting that she was concerned the council would be taking on more debt when cuts still had to be made and she felt more work should be done to work with existing landlord partners.
“To spend £5m from the housing revenue account will put enormous risk on to our tenants whose rents must rise should the council’s proposed own social landlord company fail to repay its debts,” she said.
“Why isn’t Cllr Blackie instead working better with our registered social landlords? What evidence does he have for partnership failure, and why on earth should we go down the route of being our own landlord, when we already work with several?”
Cllr Blackie said the greater risk was to lose young families in our rural and deeply rural communities – and that he did intend to continue to work with social landlords.
“We are intending to take the decision to authorise Richmondshire District Council to return to the role it occupied for many years as a provider, by purchasing in the housing market, or builder of council houses.
“The Government has relaxed its stand on councils across the country legally doing this, and we have funds available to finance the programme.”
Cllr Blackie confirmed the funds would flow from a £5m borrowing facility within the housing revenue account.
“This is a really important issue and on November 18 the council’s corporate board will debate the proposal,” he said.
Cllr Butler said she was not completely against the idea of the council building its own stock, but first wanted to examine why so many people were leaving the Dales.
Source – Northern Echo, 23 Oct 2014
Ed Miliband is facing a damaging revolt by North-East Labour MPs who believe his economic rescue plans for the region are feeble and doomed to fail.
Senior MPs argue a ‘growth review’ – led by Lord Adonis, the former transport secretary – will repeat the Coalition’s blunders and fail to deliver the power and money badly needed.
They are urging Mr Miliband to bring back a slimmed-down development agency and, crucially, install a powerful figure in Government to “drive forward” key North-East revival projects.
But they also fear their pleas are being ignored by the Labour leader’s top team – condemned as a “Corpus Christi Oxbridge crowd” by Nick Brown, the former ‘Minister for the North-East’.
Mr Brown, the Newcastle East MP, said: “It will end up with the councils simply asking for money for specific projects – and that’s the worst possible position to be in.
“What’s needed is a development agency that can identify specific projects and drive them forward, working with a figure in the government with specific responsibility for that.”
Mr Brown said his concerns were shared by the majority of North-East Labour MPs, but added: “I’m not convinced our message is being listened to at the top level of the party.”
The criticism was echoed by Kevan Jones, the North Durham MP, who said: “The Adonis review lacks vision and ambition.
“The problem is that it is all about structures, when we need direct action and a minister at a senior level. We can’t expect councillors to pick it up, when their budgets are being squeezed as well.”
The revolt follows Mr Miliband’s acceptance, in April, of Lord Adonis’ draft growth report, with a final set of proposals due to follow next month.
The blueprint adopts the Coalition’s strategy of devolution to ‘combined’ authorities – such as the one covering Durham, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland – and poorly-funded local enterprise partnerships (LEPs).
The pill was sweetened by a pledge to devolve twice as much cash – £4bn a year – as well as extra responsibilities for welfare, apprentices and housebuilding, but not over inward investment.
Mr Brown said the key weakness was that the structure lacked a focus on economic development, as well as an ability to ensure key projects go ahead.
Recently, the outgoing head of the North-East LEP warned it had just six core staff yet it had responsibility for six, mainly £100m-plus projects.
Similarly, the Tees Valley LEP has warned it may have to abandon economic growth initiatives, because funds are not available.
Mr Brown said: “The means has become the ends. We have got the structures, but it is not delivering for the region – and nor is it likely to.
“If Labour simply picks up from where we are with the existing structures, we will continue to see the poor outcomes for our region that we currently see.”
He said he was not arguing for reviving the One North-East development agency, but a smaller body, chaired by a minister, “so the civil service takes it seriously”.
Mr Miliband has promised to bring back regional ministers – axed by David Cameron in 2010 – after MPs and councils protested they had nowhere to go, to raise crucial issues.
However, Mr Miliband’s office rejected the criticism, insisting there were significant differences with the Coalition’s approach.
A spokesman said: “The key difference is that Andrew Adonis is looking at devolving significant cash and economic powers. This would mean people don’t have to beg ministers for cash – as they have to now.”
Source – Northern Echo, 17 June 2014
Whitehall officials have been accused of trying to delay £760m of North East investment in a bid to find ‘election ready only’ spending projects.
Businesses and council leaders have jointly submitted a plan for growth as the region looks for a share of the Government’s £10bn local growth fund.
But after months spent compiling a wish list of jobs projects, including new railway lines and regeneration sites, ministers have now tried to force local enterprise partnerships to pick just a few priority schemes.
Cities minister Greg Clark has been told he risks setting back long term economic growth, with the leader of Newcastle Council Nick Forbes among those suggesting the move looks like an attempt to find an election boost.
If the Government insists on only funding schemes which are almost ready to go it would hand itself a list of ‘shovel ready’ projects that prioritise ministerial photo opportunities, city leaders have said.
Mr Forbes was among those who challenged the Government over its cash policy at a meeting with Mr Clark.
He said: “I raised the concerns when I met with Greg Clark last week. The Government haven’t just set a virtually impossible timetable for bids to the Local Growth Fund, they’ve changed the goalposts several times.
“Asking us, at the last minute, to prioritise schemes that are ‘shovel ready’ implies they are more concerned with projects that can be announced in the run-up to the election rather than those in the longer term interest of the region.”
The North East local enterprise partnership has refused to go along with the Government request, saying that it is wrong of the Government to ask businesses to spend months putting together a list of projects only to then change the criteria and ask for a new list with no clear indication as to how projects will be judged.
The region’s strategic economic plan will for now remain unchanged. Under the partnership’s preferred option, the Government would put £70m into a North East pot and let the region get on with building roads and clearing space for new firms. It would add to other cash for a North East Development and Investment Fund, handing the region £245m over five years to major developments.
If successful, the partnership says the overall plan could pave the way for an 11% increase in employment by 2024, suggesting some 10,000 jobs a year could be created.
Some £23m of local transport improvements are requested, including addressing traffic issues on the A185 and A19, work on the Lindisfarne Roundabout in South Tyneside and a Central Station Metro refurbishment.
Another £25m is asked for to pay for projects such as improvements to the A1 Scotswood Bridgehead, more work on the A19 near the Silverlink junction in North Tyneside and new funds to clear the way for roadworks behind Newcastle’s Central Station.
From 2016 onwards another £125m of funding is requested to help pay for the likes of a reopened Ashington, Blyth and Tyne railway, a new relief road for Durham City Centre, a link road for Newcastle Airport and Gateshead Town Centre regeneration.
Source – Newcastle Journal 12 May 2014
A Labour Government would appoint a Minister for the North East to ensure the region has a strong voice at Westminster, it was revealed today.
Ed Miliband would appoint a Minister for each English region in a bid to ensure the entire country received a fair deal from Government, and to help businesses in their regions attract investment from across the world.
The manifesto commitment came as Miliband also announced plans to divert £20bn in funding from Whitehall to local councils, to spend on improving transport links, building houses, providing training and creating jobs.
To qualify for the cash, councils would need to work together to create a “combined authority” – giving the North East an advantage, as it is one of the first regions to create such an authority.
They would also need to work closely with the local business community and draw up showing how they would use the money to create jobs in the private sector.
The North East had a regional minister under the last Labour government, with the post being held by Newcastle MP Nick Brown.
A Labour government would appoint nine regional ministers, who would sit on a new Regional Committee chaired by the Minister for the Cabinet Office.
Their duties would include helping local councils, central government and Local Enterprise Partnerships, the economic development bodies led by the business community, to work closely together.
They would also champion their area in Whitehall and ensure that the impact of policy proposals on every part of the country is considered.
Regional ministers will work with other Ministers such as the Business Secretary to implement an industrial strategy to create jobs in every part of the country.
And they will encourage tourism and act as a visible representative of their region at major events.
Speaking in Birmingham, Mr Miliband set out plans to strip national government of billions of pounds and send the cash directly to the regions of England for local politicians to spend.
But warned that funding will go to “city regions” and “county regions” where authorities have come together to create a combined authority.
So far, councils in the Greater Manchester area, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Greater Liverpool regions have created combined authorities – and the North East is about to create its own combined authority bringing together Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.
Mr Miliband is announcing that plans to devolve £20bn over the course of the next Parliament to combined authorities will be included in Labour’s General Election manifesto.
He said: “Labour’s message at the next election will be clear:
“Devolving power from Whitehall to our towns and cities is essential to generate the new jobs we need.
“We propose a new bargain: Cities and towns that come together with local businesses will be given historic new powers over transport, housing, skills and economic development.
“We are determined to make our great cities and towns the powerhouses for the creation of good jobs.”
> But he still seems set to continue on the same lines as the Tories regarding unemployment and benefits, so for most of us it’ll probably just be a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 08 April 2014