Tory minister Eric Pickles launched a fierce attack on Tyneside Labour councillors for “lining their pockets” as they pass £40m of cuts –while accepting a 24% hike in allowances.
The Communities Secretary said the move by North Tyneside Council members “beggars belief” and insisted the authority’s Conservatives will not be claiming the allowance boost – worth almost £10,000.
Bob Neill, vice-chairman of the Conservative Party, also waded into the row, branding North Tyneside Labour MP Mary Glindon a hypocrite.
He lashed out at the MP for slamming Government cuts in Parliament while her husband – North Tyneside Labour councillor Ray Glindon – agreed the hefty rise last year, which will come into effect on April 1.
Labour, however, was quick to hit back at the extraordinary outburst by accusing the two Tories of “political game-playing”.
A spokesman for Ed Miliband’s party said Coalition cuts disproportionately hitting North East councils left members with no choice but to slash services.
Eric Pickles said:
“At a time when rank and file council workers have faced pay freezes and pay restraint, it beggars belief that the Labour council is lining the pockets of its Labour councillors with a 24% hike in councillor allowances.
“To add insult to injury, the council is hiking stealth taxes on local residents to pay for it. I commend local Conservatives for their robust opposition, standing up for hard-working people of North Tyneside.”
Last week, the authority, led by Mayor Norma Redfearn, voted to cut £40m of cuts, which could see 350 council jobs disappear in the coming months. The allowance rise – worth up to £9,759 – comes into effect on April 1.
The council defended the allowance hike by saying the move was recommended by an independent body.
Bob Neill said:
“Mary Glindon is behaving completely hypocritically. She’s very quick to attack Government cuts – but stays mute when her husband and his Labour council chums hike their salaries while proposing hundreds of job cuts.
“The truth is, it’s Labour’s record that needs to be held to account. They left Britain’s economy in a mess, with record peacetime deficit and increased unemployment.
“Meanwhile the Conservatives, working through their long-term economic plan, have seen 1,000 jobs created every day since they came to office.
“The choice in May is clear: between a competent Conservative Government and the chaos of Labour and the rest.”
A spokesman for North Tyneside Labour Group said:
“As with all local authorities, allowances for members are recommended by an external independent remuneration panel.
“North Tyneside Council had some of the lowest councillor allowances in the country and the independent panel recommended that these be brought in line with the average of the other Tyne and Wear authorities.
“This is just political game-playing by the Tories. The real damage to local services is being caused by a Tory-led government who have cut the funding to councils like North Tyneside whilst increasing funding for councils in more affluent areas of the country.”
Mary Glindon was unavailable for comment.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 24 Feb 2015
> Another success story for privatisation….
The prison service is “a powder keg” and it’s only a matter of time before staff are seriously hurt, an MP has warned.
Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck, urged Ministers to act over a dramatic increase in assaults on prison officer staff.
And speaking in the House of Commons, he highlighted staff cuts at HMP Northumberland, which was transferred to private management 12 months ago.
Sodexo Justice Services now runs the prison after winning a 15-year contract worth an estimated £250 million.
It comes after a number of MPs raised concerns about working conditions in the nation’s prisons.
Work commissioned by the Prison Officers’ Association and conducted by academics warned of high levels of stress among prison staff, and found 65 per cent of prison officers often thought about quitting the job.
A Commons motion warning MPs are “deeply concerned at the findings of the report” was signed by Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell and North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon as well as Mr Lavery.
The MPs urged the Government “to conduct an urgent inquiry into the prison system and the terms and conditions of those trying to professionally carry out an important public service under the most difficult of circumstances”.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Lavery said:
“The Prison Service is not only in crisis, but is a powder keg.
“Somebody must be held accountable because someone, somewhere will be seriously hurt in the Prison Service.
“Nine members of staff are assaulted daily, which means 3,400 a year, up 9.4 per cent.
“More dramatically, serious assaults on staff have increased by 36% since 2010.”
He highlighted the situation at HMP Northumberland, where around 50 inmates took over a wing in riots in March.
He asked Justice Minister Andrew Selous: “Does the Minister share my concerns about the situation at HMP Northumberland, which is in my area?
“When that prison was privatised, Sodexo immediately reduced the work force by a third, yet the prison population has been increasing.
“Have not prison officers who are left to carry out the work every right to be stressed? What will the Minister do about it?”
The Minister told the Commons:
“Those who manage contracted prisons absolutely have a duty to make sure that they keep their staff as well.”
The Government was taking action to protect prison officers, he said.
“We are working towards a new protocol for escalating matters when prison staff are victims of assault to the which rightly recognises the seriousness of these incidents.”
“The evidence that the Prison Service continues to provide a rewarding career in which staff are able to change lives is irrefutable.
“It is demonstrated in the commitment and tenacity that prison officers have shown in recent months in the difficult circumstances that I have described.
“It is also evident in the organisation’s ability to attract 1,700 new prison officer recruits.”
Sodexo Justice Services operates one prison in Scotland and three in England.
It is part of the French multinational Sodexo Group, which provides services including catering, cleaning and security.
The first jail to be transferred from public to private operation was HMP Birmingham, which is run by G4S.
Fourteen other prisons in England and Wales have been privately managed since they were opened.
Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith has also expressed concern about staff cuts introduced by Sodexo at HMP Northumberland.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 11 Dec 2014
Bus services are better in council hands, MPs have said ahead of a vote that could dramatically change the future of public transport in the North East.
Twelve Tyne and Wear MPs have written to the North East Combined Authority leadership board ahead of their meeting this afternoon to decide whether to establish the first council regulated network of buses outside of London since 1986.
They believe the proposed Quality Contracts Scheme run by Metro operator Nexus will deliver £272m in economic benefit to the North East.
However the plans have been bitterly-opposed by bus companies Go North East, Stagecoach and Arriva, who instead want to run the network under a Voluntary Partnership Agreement called the North East Bus Operators’ Association.
They believe handing back control of buses to councils would create new risks for ‘cash-strapped’ local authorities.
Bridget Phillipson MP, who has been leading the campaign in favour of the Quality Contracts scheme, said:
“The members of the Combined Authority have a clear choice when they meet today. They can either maintain the status quo where bus operators funnel profits out of our region or support real and lasting change with a Quality Contract Scheme.
“If a regulated transport system is good enough for our capital city then it’s good enough for the people of Tyne and Wear.”
She added in her letter that the present deregulated system allowed operators to cut routes and an investigation in 2011 by the Competition Commission was critical of the service in Tyne and Wear.
Tom Dodds, secretary of the North East Bus Operators’ Association, said:
“Ms Phillipson misunderstands the partnership agreement. There are 17 successful partnerships around the country. The partnership for Tyne and Wear would be the most comprehensive of all, offering cheaper fares for 16-18 year olds, new ‘Bus2Bus’ tickets for people who use the buses of more than one company but don’t need to use Metro, and up to 50 extra buses on new services. The contract scheme promises none of that, and allows politicians to increase fares and reduce services at will to balance their books.
“If the bus network is inadequate, then the contract scheme does nothing to improve it – in fact, it freezes the bus network until 2018.”
He added that there was no action taken by the Competition Commission following their report in 2011.
Nexus claims their system would see £8m saved or re-invested into the service, reducing the profits going to bus company shareholders from £20m to £12m a year.
The letter has been signed by the following MPs
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South), Nick Brown (Newcastle East), Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle North), Alan Campbell (Tynemouth), Mary Glindon (North Tyneside), Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow), Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields), Chi Onwurah (Newcastle Central), Ian Mearns (Gateshead), David Anderson (Blaydon), Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) and Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West).
The North East Combined Authority’s leadership board, which is made up of the leaders of seven local authorities, will take a vote today at the Civic Centre in Newcastle whether to proceed with the Quality Contracts Scheme after it was endorsed by its transport committee earlier this month.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 21 Oct 2014
Rail union campaigners opposing Government cuts to jobs and services are calling on local authorities in the region to support them.
The RMT is warning fares will rise under Government plans for the refranchising of Northern and Trans-Pennine Express trains.
Now, RMT boss Mick Cash is calling on MPs to back an Early Day Motion (EDM) in the House of Commons, put forward by Stockton North MP Alex Cunninghgam, rejecting the Government’s consultation on the plans and setting out concerns about the line’s future.
So far, North East Labour MPs Pat Glass, Stephen Hepburn, Mary Glindon and Dave Anderson have signed the motion.
Mick Cash is asking councillors and local authorities to back their campaign against rail cuts as it sends out 10,000 postcards throughout the region to raise awareness.
Liverpool City Council has officially registered its opposition to the Government’s plans and the union is hopeful others will follow suit.
It comes after Northern Rail opted to slash some of its off-peak fares in a move the union claims was motivated “purely in the name of profit”.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said demand for rail travel is growing and claimed any plan to cut jobs made no sense.
He said: “The fight to stop the outrageous carve up of jobs and services under the Northern and Trans-Pennine Express franchise plans is gathering pace by the day and is sending out the clearest possible message to the Government and Rail North that they need to scrap this attack on transport services.
“Let’s not forget that the core of the Government’s future plans for Northern and TPE is to axe jobs, restrict services, throw the guards off the trains and jack up fares while capacity to meet surging rail demand in the area is left to stagnate.
“That attack on the fare-paying public has already begun with the abolition of off-peak fares and only an all-out and coordinated fight can stop the savage assault on rail in the North.
“RMT today launches the next phase of the fight to both inform the public and fight the savage cuts being lined up for these Northern rail franchises, and to get MPs signed up to EDM 174 opposing this carve-up.
“It is absolutely essential now that we keep up the pressure.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 06 Oct 2014