Tagged: Local Government

South Tyneside Council faces yet more cuts after losing £7m in funding

The pain is set to continue for South Tyneside Council and the people it serves as a near £7m cut in government funding was announced.

It means the authority will need to find yet more savings from services.

The settlement for 2015/16 – the amount the council can expect from the Government – announced by Local Government and Communities Minister Kris Hopkins yesterday, is £161,662m – compared to £168,482m – in the current financial year.

That is a reduction of four per cent and means the local authority has £6.821m less to spend on everything from waste collection to road maintenance.

That is significantly higher than the national average grant allocation cut of just 1.8 per cent.

Coun Ed Malcolm, the council’s lead member for resources and innovation, said:

“The Government has published its provisional grant figures for local authorities.

“We are currently analysing the proposed settlement for South Tyneside in detail to look at how it impacts on the local authority’s finances.

“We have already had to deal with an unprecedented series of budget cuts and have made savings of more than £100m so far. Over recent years, we have redesigned our services for maximum efficiency, improved quality through new models of service delivery and strategically planned ahead for further funding reductions.”

Borough council leaders do at least have an incentive to freeze council tax – for the fifth consecutive year.

Since 2011, the local authority has not increased the levy to its taxpayers by utilising a financial incentive from central government.

The Government has confirmed that incentive will remain in place in 2015/16 – making another freeze more likely.

Merv Butler, branch secretary of the borough’s Unison trade union, who has seen hundreds of his members lose their council jobs over the last four years, accused the Government of targeting areas in the most need.

He said: “This announcement is desperately difficult news for council staff and services.”

The local authority has already made an estimated £90m of efficiency savings since 2010, shedding 1,200 jobs in the process and the latest settlement will have an impact on every home in the borough.

There are 70,329 households in South Tyneside and average council spending on each amounts to £2,395.63p in the current financial year.

Next year that will drop to £2,298.65p – a four per cent reduction of £96,98p per household.

Mr Butler added:

“I expected a difficult settlement and that’s what we got. The fact that the council’s spending power has been reduced compared to the English average shows again that the Government is not giving sufficient grants to areas of need such as South Tyneside.”

Mr Hopkins has insisted the funding grants settlement for 2015-16 was “fair for all parts of the country”.

He said:

“Councils facing the highest demand for services continue to substantially receive more funding and we continue to ensure that no council will face a loss of more than 6.4 per cent in spending power in 2015-16, the lowest level in this Parliament.”

Source –  Shields Gazette,  19 Dec 2014

Tory Minister Joins Calls For U-Turn On Local Welfare Cuts

This article was written by Patrick Butler, social policy editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 26th November 2014

A Conservative minister has joined growing Tory opposition to the government’s proposals to slash funding for local welfare assistance, which provides emergency help to Britain’s poorest citizens.

Amber Rudd, the minister for climate change, said she had been “fighting” to persuade the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to reinstate the £180m a year funding for local authority welfare schemes.

Local welfare assistance, which replaced the old nationally run social fund 18 months ago, provides “safety net” support for low-income families tipped into sudden crisis as a result of homelessness, domestic violence, flooding, illness or sudden financial setback.

Rudd, the MP for Hastings, and a former Treasury whip, is the most senior Tory politician to demand the government reverse plans to scrap central funding for local welfare schemes from this April.

She told BBC Radio Sussex: “We all locally who care about the most vulnerable in society are fighting very strongly to make sure the government reconsiders.”

Separately, Tory-run Essex county council has written to ministers to warn the proposed cut would leave vulnerable people without help and at the mercy of loan sharks.

The council’s leader, David Finch, said:

I want ministers in London to think again and keep funding in place because the consequences of families going through crisis for longer will be far more expensive.”

Other senior Tories who oppose the scrapping of local welfare funding include: Keith Glazier, the leader of East Sussex county council; David Hodge, the leader of Surrey county council; Sir Merrick Cockell, a former leader of the Local Government Association (LGA); and Louise Goldsmith, the leader of West Sussex county council, who has call the plans as “a cut too far”.

A decision on the future of local welfare funding is expected in December alongside the local government funding settlement.

Rudd accused the DWP and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) of trying to offload accountability for local welfare on to each other, and promised to “hold ministers’ feet to the fire so that somebody takes responsibility for it”.

Although Rudd said she believed that local government needed to make cuts, it was “too hard” on councils to be expected to run local welfare assistance schemes without separate DWP funding. Councils have experienced an average 37% cut in budgets over the course of this parliament, with more financial pain to come.

The government insists councils can continue to fund local welfare from within their central grant. But the LGA has warned that withdrawal of funding will mean one in six councils will be forced to decommission their schemes, leaving tens of thousands of families without state help.

In a joint letter to ministers with the charities Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), the Children’s Society and Crisis, the LGA says that scrapping local welfare “will have an acute impact on vulnerable residents and their children and will mean they have nowhere to turn in their time of greatest need”.

Naomi Ridley of Hastings Furniture Service, a charity which has worked closely with other Sussex charities to win cross-party support to save local welfare funding, praised Rudd’s intervention:

We enthusiastically welcome the support of a government minister for the campaign, and hope she can convince her colleagues that abolishing the fund is a terrible, short-sighted mistake with vicious consequences.”

Charities which work with families in poverty have also stepped up pressure on ministers to protect local welfare funding. The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, was told during an official visit to a charity “furniture bank” in Ipswich last week that his proposals would penalise the most vulnerable members of society.

> Like his decisions so far haven’t ?

The Furniture Re-Use Network whose 250 members have seen requests for help for secondhand goods, such as beds and fridges, rocket during the past 18 months, said councils were failing to keep pace with an explosion in poverty. It accused ministers of ”having no idea of the scale of unrecorded need of in-crisis households.”

The DWP announced in January that it would stop funding local welfare assistance after 2015, despite promising during the passage of the Welfare Reform Act in 2012 that it would conduct a review of the policy before making a decision.

After being threatened with court action over this decision by Islington council and CPAG, however, the government promised in September to reconsider its position and issued a consultation.

The consultation, which closed on Friday, has been criticised because none of the three choices offered to consultees involve continued funding. The housing charity Shelter called it “a cheap pavement shuffle cup trick”.

The Guardian’s investigation of the scheme in April found widespread chaos: in many councils local welfare was underspent, under-advertised and underused. Record numbers of families needing help were turned away and “pushed into the arms of payday lenders and loan sharks”.

A government spokesperson said:

The changes made to funding of local welfare provision were never about abolishing support and it’s a total misrepresentation to suggest they were.

“This government has given councils more control because they understand
best their local area’s needs – this is in contrast to the previous
centralised grant system which was inflexible and poorly targeted.

“We have completed a consultation on how funding should be provided for 2015/16 and will publish the results shortly.”

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  26 Nov 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/tory-minister-joins-calls-u-turn-local-welfare-cuts/

How the ancient North East counties were lost – and with it our identities

It was refreshing to hear someone born outside of the region have a good word to say about Ashington.

And Matthew Engel had more than a good word in fact. He admires the people who live there and what they represent.

Why? Identity.

Engel, a writer for the Guardian newspaper for 25 years, some time editor of the ‘cricket bibleWisden and now a columnist for the Financial Times, visited the Northumberland town while researching his latest book.

Called Engel’s England, he spent three years re-visiting the old counties which disappeared off the map of Britain as a result of the Local Government Act.

Drawn up by Ted Heath’s Tory Government in 1972, it was implemented by Harold Wilson’s Labour on, appropriately I would guess in Engel’s mind, April 1 – April Fool’s Day – 1974.

It was a shambles,” he said. “Politicians are interested in political boundaries, people are not. We don’t care about local government and local government gets worse and worse.

“It caused a huge loss of local identity but there are still things left, things to celebrate that really have an identity, places like Ashington.

“What a tremendous place. Of course it has its problems but it has a tremendous richness of associative life.”

Associative life means a clearly identified way of life, from recognisable pass-times like growing leeks and racing whippets, something that hasn’t been lost despite the decimation of the coal mines in the area, he said.

> Is that associative life or is it a cliche ?  Most people, even in Ashington, probably never grew leeks or raced whippets.

And in any case, Ashington is still in Northumberland, same as it ever was. It never disappeared or changed name.

It is a place with its own accent, it’s own traditions, which are very, very strong,” said Engel.

In the book he explained how counties were formed historically and how they developed along locally defined lines which threw up their own idiosyncrasies.

There were the counties palatine, including Durham, which were directly under the control of a local princeling.

Then there were counties corporate and boroughs that were regarded as self governing and fell under the control of the local Lord Lieutenant for military purposes. Yorkshire, readers may well remember, was divided into three ridings.

As a result counties developed their own laws, dialects, customs, farming methods and building styles.

They formed the tapestry of the nation,” Engel says. “The very distinctions show just how important the county was in the lives of the people.

“Real places with real differences inspiring real loyalties.”

The Local Government Act of 1888 brought democracy to the shires by establishing county councils but, according to Engel, the integrity of the counties were respected.

Not so The Local Government Act of 1972 which binned centuries of local identity to see, for example, Teesside renamed as Cleveland and Tyneside becoming Tyne and Wear.

> Ahem – Tyneside and Wearside ! And in any case, I don’t think it was such a bad idea.

Cumberland – which had been around since the 12th century – became part of Cumbria, a name that Engel shudders with distaste at. “Always say Cumberland,” said Engel.

Yarm had formed part of the Stokesley Rural District in what was then the ‘North Riding’ of Yorkshire and remained so until 1974 – when it became part of the district of Stockton-on-Tees in the new non-metropolitan county of Cleveland.

Cleveland – like Tyne and Wear – was abolished in 1996 under the Banham Review, with Stockton-on-Tees becoming a unitary authority.

In May a poll inspired by the Yarm for Yorkshire group saw locals vote emphatically “Yes” to the idea of transferring Yarm from Stockton to Hambleton Council in North Yorkshire.

Last month Stockton Borough Council rejected calls to refer the matter to the boundary commission into it, but the debate rumbles on.

To add to the horror of Teessiders who pine for a return to Yorkshire was this bit of research from Engel after a talk with a dialect expert from Leeds University.

> Presumably that’s Teessiders on the south bank of the river. Those on the north bank were in County Durham.

He told me Middlesbrough accents have actually changed in the years since 1974. In those 40 years the Middlesbrough accent has become more North East and less Yorkshire.

Engel describes his work as a “travel book” – “I think I’m the first travel writer who went straight from Choral Evensong at Durham Cathedral to the dog track.”

He added: “The historic counties need to return to the map, the media and our envelopes, so future generations can understand where they live.

“Only then will the English regain their spirit the way the Scots have done. This is not about local government – it is about our heritage and our future.

* Engel’s England, is published by Profile Books at £20 on October 23, 2014.

> Sounds like another “intellectual”  telling people what they should be doing.

People know where they live, future generations will too. Names and boundaries have always changed and will continue to do so.

Matthew Engel, incidentally, was born in Northampton and lives in Herefordshire.  If he actually had some connection with the North East I might take him a bit more seriously. 

Source –  Middlesbrough Evening Chronicle, 19 Oct 2014

South Tyneside – Attend a council meeting – from the comfort of your living room

On Thursday, you can pop along to South Tyneside’s council meeting – without even leaving the house.

Under new guidance from the Local Government Secretary, any member of the press and public can now film and digitally report public local government meetings.

South Tyneside Council is taking things a step further by filming Full Council meetings from September 4, and posting them on the authority website.

Coun Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council, said: “I am proud to say that South Tyneside is embracing the opportunity of communicating our valuable work to the electorate in this new digital age.

“In addition to welcoming people into the Council Chamber, we are taking things a stage further by making local government even more accessible to even more people who will be able to watch the footage on their own devices.”

South Tyneside council has already been showcased as a ‘Beacon Council’ for its approach to involving the local community, and has been commended by the Municipal Journal for Excellence in Democratic Services with particular praise for proactively engaging with the local community.

And the council’s website has been highlighted by Industry Standard, Socitm, as amongst the best Local Government websites in the country for its ease of use and wealth of information.

Chiefs hope that posting the meetings on their website – www.southtyneside/info – will stand as an example of greater transparency of the democratic practice.

The authority is also reviewing how councillors use technology to communicate with residents.

Coun Malcolm added: “New technology is also changing the way our democratic processes operate.

“The growth of social media, instant communication via email and text messaging means that the protocols for elected members which the council currently has in place, will be reviewed.”

The final report will be published on the council’s website later in the year.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  29 Aug 2014

North East public sector strike news – 2

SUNDERLAND –

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

HARTLEPOOL –

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

MIDDLESBROUGH –

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

Thousands of North East workers gear up for a massive day of action

Thousands of North East workers are gearing up for one of the biggest days of industrial action in this country in years.

Teachers, firefighters, health workers, council staff and civil servants will  join up with around 1.5 million colleagues nationwide in a 24-hour walk-out in a protest over pay, pensions and work conditions.

Bin collections will be suspended, council buildings including libraries will be closed and most controversially it will result in the sweeping closure of hundreds of schools across the region.

Mike McDonald, Regional Secretary of the NUT which has 20,000 members in the region, said: “Teachers are extremely reluctant to strike because of the impact on children’s education.

“However they feel that this current Government’s attacks on education will cause far more damage.

“Morale in the profession is at rock bottom, teachers are wasting hours on pointless paperwork and scores are quitting in their first years because of unmanageable workload, uncertain pay and worsening pensions.

“Children deserve teachers who are motivated, enthused and valued. Education Secretary Michael Gove would do well to engage properly with the profession and address teachers’ concerns to end this dispute.

“For teachers, performance-related pay, working until 68 for a full pension and heavy workload for 60 hours a week is unsustainable.”

The Fire Brigade Union is protesting at changes to firefighters’ pensions and a later retirement age.

Meanwhile the GMB, Unite, UNISON and the Public and Commercial Services Union are protesting over pay rates.

A pay freeze was imposed in 2010 for three years followed by a 1% increase last year and the same offer this year.

They say that represents an 18% fall in pay in real terms, back to the level of the 1990s.

Nicky Ramanandi, Unison’s Deputy Regional Convenor and a local government employee said: “The pay offer from the local government employer is derisory in the extreme.

“This year’s pay offer would see 90% of school and local government workers receive a further pay cut. The offer of a 1% pay rise if you earn £7.71 per hour or more, or if you earn below that it is slightly more to take us just above the National Minimum Wage.

“This pay offer does not keep pace with price increases and our pensions will suffer. This pay offer is nowhere near enough.”

Karen Loughlin, the union’s Regional Lead Officer on Local Government, said: “Part-time workers – mainly women and more than half the local government workforce – have been particularly hard hit, with their hourly earnings now worth the same as they were 10 years ago.

“Many low paid part-time Local Government workers need benefits and tax credits to keep their families out of poverty.

“It is deeply disturbing to hear the continuing stories of Local Government workers resorting to food banks.

“UNISON is demanding a decent pay rise in recognition of the valuable role that our members perform in delivering public services to children, young people, the elderly and vulnerable in our communities.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The vast majority of dedicated public sector workers have not voted for this week’s strike action, so it is disappointing that the leadership of the unions are pushing for a strike that will achieve nothing and benefit no one. Union leaders are relying on mandates for action that lack authority – the National Union of Teachers is relying on a ballot run nearly two years ago.

“As part of our long-term economic plan, this Government has been taking tough decisions to address the budget deficit we inherited in 2010.

“One was to introduce pay restraint in the public sector, while protecting the lowest paid. Pay restraint protects public sector jobs, supports high-quality public services and helps put the UK’s finances back on track.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  08 July 2014

Workfare’ Scheme ‘Holed Below The Waterline’, Says Unite

 

Unite Union Press Release:

The opposition of nearly 350 charities to the government’s new ‘workfare’ programme has ‘holed the scheme below the waterline’, Unite, the country’s largest union, said today (Thursday 5 June).

Unite has welcomed the news that 345 voluntary sector organisations, including household names such as Shelter, Crisis, Scope and Oxfam, have pledged not to take part in the Community Work Placements (CWP) programme.

 The indications are that the flagship scheme of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has been delayed yet again

This week was meant to be the deadline for organisations to start the new mandatory CWPs which require that jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) claimants do six months work placement – or risk losing their benefits.

Unite, which has 60,000 members in the voluntary sector, has branded the scheme as “nothing more than forced unpaid labour.”

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “The mounting opposition from the not for profit sector has holed one of Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship projects below the waterline. More waves of opposition will sink this scheme once-and-for all.

“This obscene programme is nothing more than forced unpaid labour.

“Unite welcomes the fact that so many charities have given this scheme the thumbs down as they can see that it is grossly unfair and a perversion of the true ethos of volunteering.

“Questions have to be asked about the government’s slavish reliance on the controversial private sector contractors, such as G4S, to implement the CWP programme.

“It was G4S and its security shambles that was the only blot on the London Olympics two years ago.

“We are against this scheme wherever Duncan Smith wants to impose it – in the private sector, local government and in the voluntary sector.

“It is outrageous that ministers are trying to stigmatise job seekers by making them work for nothing, otherwise they will have their benefits clawed back.

“What the long queues of the unemployed need are proper jobs with decent pay and a strong structure of apprenticeships for young people to give them a sustainable employment future.”

Unite is opposing workfare in local government and will be raising it as an industrial issue with local authorities which do not sign the pledge. So far, 13 local councils have signed up not to implement any workfare programmes – and more are actively considering doing so.

With so many council cuts, Unite is determined that workfare placements are not used to replace paid jobs.

Unite’s growing community section will be on hand to support unemployed people forced onto workfare schemes.

> This last paragraph looks interesting….

Source – Welfare News Service,  05 June 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/workfare-scheme-holed-waterline-says-unite/

Workfare Starts Today – Slave Labour Britain Is Here

The coalition government’s ‘Help To Work’ scheme comes into effect from today, Monday 28 April 2014.

Under the new scheme unemployed people who have been out of work for longer than two years, and who have completed the Work Programme, will be expected to undertake tough new requirements in order to continue receiving benefit.

 Claimants may be required to take part in unpaid community work placements, such as clearing up litter and graffiti in their local neighbourhood, enrol in local gardening projects or restoring war memorials.

Community work experience placements will be for 30 hours per week and could last up to six months. If participants have failed to find a job by the time the six months are up they could find themselves being recycled back onto the programme, in what could become a never-ending cycle of work for your benefits.

> How are you expected to find a job while serving a 30 hour sentence each week, when you couldn’t when you had more time to look for work ?

The long-term unemployed will also be expected to visit their local JobCentre every day to ‘sign on’ and will receive up to fours hours intensive job search coaching for each week they are on the ‘Help To Work’ Scheme.

> I don’t think Jobcentres would be able to cope with the numbers just signing on each day – forget 4 hours ‘intensive job search coaching’ ! Which in any case would actually amount to 4 hours trying to sanction you.

Failure to comply with the strict new regime could result in jobseeker’s losing their benefit for four weeks at a time or longer for repeat offenders.

According to the government, jobseeker’s with learning difficulties will also receive educational support to improve their literacy and numeracy skills.

Sick and disabled benefit claimants in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will not be required to take part in the scheme.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“A key part of our long-term economic plan is to move to full employment, making sure that everyone who can work is in work.

“We are seeing record levels of employment in Britain, as more and more people find a job, but we need to look at those who are persistently stuck on benefits.

“This scheme will provide more help than ever before, getting people into work and on the road to a more secure future.”

Secretary of State of Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith said:

“Everyone with the ability to work should be given the support and opportunity to do so.

“The previous system wrote too many people off, which was a huge waste of potential for those individuals as well as for their families and the country as a whole. We are now seeing record numbers of people in jobs and the largest fall in long-term unemployment since 1998.

“But there’s always more to do, which is why we are introducing this new scheme to provide additional support to the very small minority of claimants who have been unemployed for a number of years.

“In this way we will ensure that they too can benefit from the improving jobs market and the growing economy.”

The move has come under heavy criticism from both Labour and the unions. Unite’s assistant general secretary Steve Turner describing the new scheme as a form of “forced unpaid labour”.  He  told the Independent newspaper:

“This scheme is nothing more than forced unpaid labour and there is no evidence that these workfare programmes get people into paid work in the long-term.

“We are against this scheme wherever ministers want to implement it – in the private sector, local government and in the voluntary sector.

“The Government sees cash-starved charities as ‘a soft target’ for such an obscene scheme, so we are asking charity bosses to say ‘no’ to taking part in this programme. This is a warping of the true spirit of volunteering and will force the public to look differently at charities with which they were once proud to be associated.

“It is outrageous that the Government is trying to stigmatise job seekers by making them work for nothing, otherwise they will have their benefits docked.”

Labour’s Stephen Timms added:

“Under David Cameron’s government nearly one in ten people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance lack basic literacy skills and many more are unable to do simple maths or send an email. Yet this Government allows jobseekers to spend up to three years claiming benefits before they get literacy and numeracy training.

> Yes, we’re a pretty ignorant lot, us unemployed – obviously we wouldn’t be on the dole if we weren’t thick.

What proof is there actually for these kind of claims ? 

“A Labour government will introduce a Basic Skills Test to assess all new claimants for Jobseeker’s Allowance within six weeks of claiming benefits.

“Those who don’t have the skills they need for a job will have to take up training alongside their job search or lose their benefits.

> Here we go – Labour so eager to prove that their stick is as least as big as the ConDems.

Labour’s Basic Skills Test and our Compulsory Jobs Guarantee will give the unemployed a better chance of finding a job and will help us to earn our way out of the cost-of-living crisis.”

> Yes, but unless there are actually more proper jobs to apply for, you can have all the mickey mouse qualifications in the world – you’re still limited by the number of vacancies.

Whilst the number of available job vacancies have increased significantly in recent months many area’s of the country are still witnessing a severe shortage of jobs, with the North-East of England and parts of Scotland fairing the worst.

> See, the problem is that it’s all very well saying the number of available job vacancies have increased significantly in recent months , but no-one breaks down the numbers.

How many of these jobs are actually full-time ? how many part-time ? How many are zero hour jobs ? How many are dodgy ‘self-employed’ leaflet distribution jobs ?

As someone who needs a full time wage, I know all too well that the number of these is all too small a percentage locally.

This is in stark contrast to area’s in the South-East of England where the number of available jobs are greater than the numbers of people looking for work.

However, figures due to be released on Tuesday are expected to show that competition for jobs has fallen to a new low of 1.42 jobseeker’s for every advertised job vacancy. This will no doubt come as good news for the coaliton government.

> If anyone actually believed it…

However, those figures are also expected to show that the average advertised salary has dropped by £1,800 over the last twelve months, providing more fuel to Labour’s  ‘cost of living crisis’ argument.

Sourc e – Welfare News Service  28 April 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/long-term-unemployed-expected-to-work-for-their-benefits-in-launch-of-new-government-scheme/

Government hands over just £143,000 extra to North East councils after cuts crisis talks

Months of pressuring the Government to think again on council spending cuts worth more than £210m a year have seen ministers hand out just £143,000 extra for the North East.

Across the region councils have being setting out where the axe will fall, with the next three years likely to see the cuts total rising to more than £800m.

But after months of high level delegations taking part in desperate Whitehall lobbying missions, the coalition Government has increased the budget available to the region’s councils and fire brigade by an average of just £20,000 each.

The total amount for the region’s seven councils and Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service increased from £1,081,128 to £1,081,271, a rise of just 0.013%.

The final spending handout for 2014/15 will mean there is no way for councils to drop plans to axe Sure Start centres, make hundreds of redundancies or force up parking charges.

And plans to close down three fire stations will certainly go ahead after the Government announced the final funding settlement for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue will see an increase of just £4,000, despite pleas for extra cash.

The North East has been lobbying against the perceived “unfairness” of the cuts since the coalition began axing budgets in 2010. Those efforts stepped up a gear in the last few months after yet more spending reductions for local government were announced in the autumn.

Included in the lobbying effort was work by the Association of North East Councils, which met with local government minister Brandon Lewis to put the case for a fairer funding settlement.

The extra £143,000 handed over as a result is considerably less than the money handed over each year by the region’s seven local authorities to the Association of North East Councils, with Northumberland alone having handed over more than £98,000 this financial year.

Last night former Newcastle Council leader Lord Beecham said it was clear the coalition was not interested in fairly funding local government in the North.

The peer said: “The Government has completely failed to redress the grossly unfair distribution of grant which hits Newcastle and other less-well off areas and benefits the more affluent.

“The extra we receive in the final settlement amounts to less than 25p per household per year and means that there is no protection from the tidal wave of cuts to services which the Government has launched.”

And Northumberland’s Labour council leader Grant Davey said: “It’s disappointing that, yet again, the coalition have failed to listen to Northumberland and have shaved a minute £18,000 from cuts to services worth £32.5m this year.

“Many would say such a derisory figure is an insult to the residents of the county but it shows how little David Cameron and Nick Clegg think of the North East.

“It’s time our coalition MPs started to stand up for their county rather than sit quiet as Cameron and Clegg ravish the services their constituents rely on.”

Northumberland County Council is the only one in the region to put up council tax next year, rising by 1.99%, the maximum allowed without putting the increase to a local referendum.

The Government has pointed to a grant to freeze council tax in most other areas as one way in which many households will benefit from its funding settlement.

Announcing the final settlement, Mr Lewis said: “This settlement marks the second year of local business rates retention and we have again tried to be fair to all parts of the country whether north, south, rural or urban.

“Given the local flexibilities and freedoms that we have put in place, local councils should now work to support local enterprise, building more homes and backing local jobs, so that they can then invest the rewards of growth in local services and in lower taxes.”

Source – Newcastle Journal  17 Feb 2014

North East council workers in call for fair pay

Today local government employees in the region will take part in protests, stunts and rallies at lunchtime and outside work hours as part of their campaign for fair pay and fair council funding.

The activities today will highlight the state of Local Government pay and the impact of cuts on local jobs and services.

Clare Williams, UNISON Regional Convenor, said: “Today is an opportunity for local government members across the region to tell their employers that they have had enough of being treated like second-class citizens. In the last four years they have seen a massive fall in real terms in their earnings, and are struggling to make ends meet for themselves and their families.

“Many are having to resort to Food Banks to put food on their tables. They are demanding a decent pay rise in recognition of the valuable role that they perform in delivering quality public services to children, young people, the elderly and vulnerable in our communities. The government cuts are having a devastating impact on service provision and on those who are committed to delivering public services. It’s time to stand up for local government and tell the public how government cuts are hitting us all.”

Since 2010, council workers have had a three year pay freeze and then just a 1% increase last year, representing an 18% fall in pay in real terms, back to the level of the 1990s. Council budgets have been cut by 40% by the Coalition government.

UNISON, GMB and Unite – the unions representing 1.6 million Local Government workers – formally submitted their pay claim to employers last November, and expect a formal pay offer later this month.

Ms Williams added: “Politicians need to do more than just talk about supporting the Living Wage, now is the time for Local Government employers to implement it and end low pay for their staff. More than half a million of whom currently earn less than the Living Wage. More than 75% of the workforce are women, whose contribution has been consistently undervalued. UNISON wants this pay increase to be part of a new gender agenda to give women in Local Government the recognition they deserve in their pay packets.”

She said members in local government now need a commitment from the government and the Local Government Employers to make a decent pay offer.

Source – Newcastle Journal  04 Feb 2014