Stockton MP James Wharton received £22,000 in donations between July and September – the fifth largest amount donated to any individual MP during the period.
The donations amount to almost as much as the £29,400 received by the whole of the Plaid Cymru party in the same timeframe.
No other Tees MP received individual donations in that time period, according to the data collated by Trinity Mirror.
But several donations were made to constituency party offices on Teesside.
Mr Wharton, Conservative MP for Stockton South, received two donations of £10,000 each and one of £2,000.
One of the donations worth £10,000 was given by former Conservative party co-treasurer Peter Cruddas.
The other was given by company JCB Research Ltd – owned by Anthony Bramford, a Tory life peer and chairman of construction equipment firm JCB.
The remaining £2,000 was donated by IPGL Ltd – a privately-owned holding company of a trading group, based in London.
Mr Wharton told The Gazette he would “not spend public money on my newsletters or leaflets”.
“I work hard to stay in touch with residents all year round – not just at election time,” he said.
“I am pleased to do this without spending taxpayers money.
“I am sure many taxpayers in our area will appreciate that too.”
> Perhaps they should withold judgement until they’ve seen what he claims on expenses…
The donations will help Mr Wharton, one of only two Conservative MPs in the North-east, as he seeks to defend a majority of just 332 at next year’s General Election.
He has previously received separate donations in 2013 from former Newcastle United chairman Sir John Hall and Alexander Temerko, a Russian businessman.
Mr Temerko was allowed to stay in Britain after a judge ruled an attempt to extradite him to Russia on fraud charges was politically motivated.
As such, he is allowed to make political donations.
Mr Wharton has also received funding from the United and Cecil Club.
The organisation has come under the spotlight after supporting Tory candidates in a number of key marginals.
Under funding rules, wealthy supporters can give up to £7,500 without disclosing their identity if it is funnelled through a club.
Among other political donations on Teesside from July to September were:
:: £2,500 donated in Stockton South to the Conservative party from The Association of Conservative Clubs Ltd;
:: £1,700 worth of administration fees donated in Stockton South to the Labour party from UNISON;
:: £2,500 donated in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland to the Conservatives from a Richard E Jones;
:: £1,200 donated in Redcar to the Lib Dems from the Redcar and Cleveland Lib Dem Council Group;
:: £1,000 donated in Redcar to Labour from David Blunkett (the Gazette was unable to verify if this was the former home secretary);
:: £2,500 donated in Redcar to Labour from the Communication Workers Union.
The largest donation received between July and September this year was to the value of £950,000.
It was given to the Liberal Democrats by a George G Watson.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 19 Nov 2014
Fewer than half of claims for payment under a controversial government benefit for disabled and sick people are being approved in parts of Teesside.
Figures released today show that, nationally, 51% of Britons applying for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) ended up receiving the money.
But the proportion is as low as 26% – or just over one in four claims – in some parts of the country.
On Teesside, Redcar parliamentary constituency had the lowest approval rate at 47%.
In the two Middlesbrough constituencies, 1,090 claims have now been determined.
The approval rate was 49% in Middlesbrough and 48% in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.
In Stockton North the figure was 55% while Stockton South’s was 51%.
PIPs were introduced in April 2013 to replace Disability Living Allowance for 16-64 years olds.
Payments are worth between £21 and £134 a week and go to sick and disabled people with a long-term health condition.
Eligibility is determined by medics employed by private companies, usually at a face-to-face assessment lasting up to two hours.
Department for Work and Pension figures showed the approval rate for new claims was 26% in the parliamentary constituency – the lowest in the country.
That compares with an approval rate of 68% in Scotland’s Western Isles and Stoke-on-Trent South.
Nationally, around 100,000 people have either withdrawn their claim or had it refused.
Reassessments of the existing 1.7m claimants of DLA began in October but was effectively paused after a backlog of 780,000 cases built up.
In June this year the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee said the new system had been ‘rushed’ through, creating a ‘fiasco’ in which ‘many’ people faced six-month delays, and terminally ill people were waiting one month on average for their payment.
Payments had been due to begin in the north of England from April 2013 but only 360 assessments had been done by the time the programme was launched nationally two months later.
The Department for Work and Pensions expects 600,000 fewer people will receive PIP by May 2018, compared with its projections for DLA. It expects this will lead to annual savings to benefit spending of £3bn from 2018/19.
The latest figures, up to the end of July 2014, show 80,100 PIPs were awarded nationally under ‘normal’ rules, out of 177,000 new claims considered closed by the department. Some 22,100 PIPs have been awarded under special fast-track rules for people with a terminal illness, out of 23,100 closed claims.
In all, 490,400 new claims have been lodged under the new system.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 17 Sept 2014
Spending on public health in the region will be cut next year, it was announced yesterday (Tuesday, September 9) – despite Government promises to protect the NHS.
The amounts given to local councils – for services such as smoking cessation classes, obesity clinics, school nurses and drug and alcohol treatments – will be frozen.
The Department of Health admitted that meant a cut in real terms, after inflation, but said it was necessary because “the health budget is under a lot of pressure”.
Furthermore, it comes after cash-starved town halls have already been accused of raiding their public health budgets as they wrestle with huge cuts to their overall funds.
The cut was revealed in a statement to MPs, which announced that public health funding in 2015-16 would “remain the same as last year, at £2.79bn”.
It means County Durham will continue to receive £45.8m from next April. Other frozen allocations include Darlington (£7.8m), Middlesbrough (£16.4m) Stockton (£13.1m) and North Yorkshire (£19.7m).
In response to The Northern Echo, a department of health spokeswoman acknowledged:
“This is a flat cash settlement – so it’s a real terms decrease.
Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, linked the decision to the recent closures of medical centres at Skelton and Park End – with Hemlington also under threat.
“It is quite clear that our local areas NHS is being cut for purely financial reasons, with no attention to clinical need.”
Budgets for public health were transferred from the NHS to local authorities last year, as part of the Coalition’s radical overhaul of the health service.
Ministers argued councils were better equipped to tackle problems such as obesity, smoking and pollution and – ironically – that the funds had often been “raided” by the NHS.
The cut comes amid growing pressure to increase spending on the stubborn causes of ill-health, to cut the long-term cost to the health service.
Cash has been diverted to areas including trading standards, citizens’ advice bureaux, domestic abuse services, housing, parks and leisure centres, they found.
But Jane Ellison, the public health minister, said:
“We want to see local areas continue their excellent work to help people lead healthier lives.
“The money has again been ring-fenced, so the focus will remain firmly on improving the health of local communities. This will be further boosted by an extra £5m to target priority areas.”
Source – Northern Echo, 10 Sept 2014
Rail services at around 20 of the region’s “little-used” stations are under threat, under new Government plans.
Ministers are proposing cutting the number of trains that serve 67 stops with “particularly low levels of use”, when a new contract is brought in for a private operator.
They include ten in North Yorkshire, four on Teesside, three in Tyne and Wear and a further five in Northumberland.
Some have extraordinarily few passengers, in particular the station at Teesside Airport which – notoriously – had just eight passengers last year, on only two trains each week.
Five other local stations attract fewer than ten passengers a day on average; British Steel Redcar (2.44), Battersby, North Yorkshire (4.31), Kildale, North Yorkshire (4.99), Dunston, Gateshead (5.93), Blaydon (7.59) and Ruswarp, North Yorkshire (8.07).
And the list stretches down as far as stops with nearly 10,000 passengers a year, but still small numbers each day; Marton, Middlesbrough (27.02) and Danby, North Yorkshire (27.13).
The Department for Transport (DfT) has vowed that 30-year-old ‘Pacer’ trains – condemned as “cattle trucks” by critics – will finally be replaced, as part of the new contract.
It asks: “What are your views on giving priority to improving the quality of the Northern rolling stock at the expense of some reduction in lightly used services (e.g. fewer calls at low-use stations)?”
The proposal is included in plans for the new Northern Rail and Trans-Pennine franchises, which are due to be awarded late next year and to start in February 2016.
The operators run services to Darlington, Durham City, Bishop Auckland, Chester-le-Street, Middlesbrough, Stockton, Hartlepool, Redcar, Sunderland, Newton Aycliffe, Redcar, Northallerton, York and Scarborough.
Controversially, the DfT has already warned that rail fares may have to soar to pay for the new trains, regardless of whether some services are culled at less popular stations.
> So business as usual – fewer services costing more… to be followed by big payouts to shareholders .
Commuters in the region pay up to 60 per cent less than in other parts of the country for short journeys, according to officials.
Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, pointed out that James Cook Hospital had just opened a new platform linked to Marton.
And he said: “They’re probably less used because services are few and limited. South Bank hardly has a service that stops there, so it’s a bit cheeky for Northern Rail to highlight stations it hardly services.
> It’s a good point – if there are very few services to start with, the number of users is going to be less. It’d be interesting to see what would happen if services were increased.
Teesside Airport station always attracts headlines for its lack of use… but it only gets two trains per week. What the hell else does anyone expect ?
“Perhaps if it increased services and improved rolling stock, it would improve the frequency of use.”
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin insisted that no decisions have yet been taken on the proposals in the document, arguing it was normal to seek views in a consultation.
Source – Northern Echo, 26 July 2014
> Well, its understandable – these places north of Watford are all the same, aren’t they ?
David Cameron mixed up his Teesside and his Tyneside as he took to the airwaves to talk up economic growth in the region.
The Prime Minister frequently used examples of economic activity in Tyne and Wear – including investment from companies like Hitachi and Nissan – during an interview with BBC Tees.
Oh his third mention of the Tyne, BBC Tees presenter Lisa McCormick intervened.
“You keep mentioning the River Tyne, that’s not our region Prime Minister,” she said.
“I’m sorry, we are the River Tees, does that mean that you’re forgetting about us?”
For a moment Mr Cameron seemed flustered as he paused.
“Oh, I thought I was doing – oh no absolutely not,” he replied.
“I mean, if I look specifically in terms of the Tees Valley, we’ve got £90m from our local growth fund to boost economic growth.”
It might have been a swift recovery from the PM – but it was not quick enough for some.
Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland‘s Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop seized the chance to attack Mr Cameron.
“In isolation this may just seem like a somewhat silly mistake, yet over the last four years we’ve had a Tory peer calling the region ‘desolate’, frequent misspellings of Teesside in official Number 10 letters, and now the Prime Minister himself can’t even take the basic cue of appearing on BBC Tees to get the hint that our river is the Tees and not the Tyne,” he said.
“This just highlights how David Cameron is out of touch and completely uninterested in places like Middlesbrough, Stockton, Redcar, Hartlepool and East Cleveland.”
UKIP’s North East MEP Jonathan Arnott also took the opportunity to bash the PM.
“This is not just embarrassing for the Prime Minister but also what’s left of the Conservative party in the North East of England,” he said.
“Whilst unemployment figures are going down elsewhere around the country, ours are still going up.
“Perhaps if he knew which area he was talking about, people might have more confidence that he actually cares about local people.”
Defending Mr Cameron was Conservative MP for Stockton South, James Wharton.
“No excuses, but I suspect he was doing a round of local interviews one after the other and these things can happen,” said the MP.
“I will be reminding him when I next see him not only how great Teesside is but of all the things this government has done for the south of our region, from bringing Hitachi to the return if steel making and the announcement of over £90m in local investment only a few weeks ago.
“I am proud of our record of delivering for this area and I am sure the Prime Minister is too.”
The chairman of the Redcar Constituency Liberal Democrats, Councillor Josh Mason, added:“The slip-up by the Prime Minister does not take away from the fact that since 2010 our area has received over five times more government investment per year than it did under the previous Labour government.
“It remains more important than ever for us to keep pushing for more investment and banging the drum for Teesside to ensure it remains on the government’s radar.”
The Prime Minister’s office declined to comment.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 25 July 2014
The Conservatives have been accused of “a return to the nasty party” after labelling people out of work as scroungers.
> A return to ? Like there was every a time they weren’t ?
North Tories caused outrage when they tweeted that they had been tough on “benefit scroungers.”
Labour said the tweet was an attack on working families who struggle to get by in low-paid jobs.
Across the region it is thought 80% of those claiming benefits do so as a result of low wages.
And the North East also has the highest percentage of people out of work, with 10% struggling to find a job.
The tweet, from the @Torypressnorth Twitter account, read:
“Sick of benefit scroungers? Vote Conservative. For the first time in British history we have capped them. Labour let them get out of control.”
Party polling has previously shown that a tough line on benefits is a vote winner for the Conservatives.
But Benefits Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has repeatedly claimed the party is reforming welfare to help people out of poverty. The MP has spent years telling people the party is on a caring mission for those out of work or on low wages.
> And we don’t believe him…
In Teesside, Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop pulled no punches over the controversial tweet, labelling it an attack on working families.
> But not an attack on non-working (for whatever reason) people ? Who, under current Labour thinking, are scroungers who need to be punished ?
The Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP said: “This is a typical sign of what the Tories are like. 80% of people on benefits are in work. If you look at just housing benefit it is set to rise to £5bn by 2015 because people cannot get by on low wages alone.
“The fact that these people need benefits while in work shows that the Conservatives are failing to help make wages work.
“To say these are benefit scroungers is to ignore the Government’s own role in that, the way they have simply not done enough to create the jobs people need.
“The Tories are forcing people onto benefits then attacking them when they claim them.”
The Conservatives have insisted the tweet was one aimed at people who con the system, and said there would be no apology for defending Government costs.
A Conservative Party spokesman said: “The Conservative Party is unapologetic about making work pay and capping welfare so that our long-term economic plan delivers for those who work hard and play by the rules.
“It’s a shame that as usual Ed Miliband’s Labour Party are too weak to stand up for ordinary hard-working people.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 21 June 2014
Parts of Teesside risk being “overwhelmed by cuts and closures” to NHS services, a Labour MP told the House of Commons.
Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Tom Blenkinsop blasted government cuts to local NHS services in a Queens Speech health debate in the House of Commons on Monday.
He said he used the debate as a way of showing how badly NHS cuts were affecting his constituency and said: “Over the space of a few weeks from this April my constituency has been overwhelmed by a perfect storm of cuts and closures pushed through by NHS England and the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).”
He said Skelton faced losing one of its GP practices, a nurse practitioner clinic and the attached pharmacy, which served socially deprived areas with “grave” health needs.
The fact the CCG was also looking at ending minor injuries provision at East Cleveland and Guisborough Hospitals, and threatening the closure of the GP surgery at Park End, in Middlesbrough, were additional “threats“, he said.
“The cumulative impact of these cuts and closures will increase the likelihood of people going to A&E at James Cook University Hospital, even when this is not appropriate” he added.
“When that A&E has struggled to cope with demand over recent years, these cuts are a false economy.“
He had sought meetings with government ministers to explore alternatives but said these were rebuffed.
A spokesman for NHS South Tees Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: “At the end of April 2014, NHS South Tees CCG launched a public consultation that focuses on proposals to improve community services for vulnerable people, the elderly and those with long-term health conditions.
Minor injury services at Guisborough and East Cleveland treated between two-ten people per day compared to 60 at similar services, according to CCG figures.
“Urgent care, including minor injury services, will be provided from Redcar Primary Care Hospital,” he added.
People are being urged to attend a public drop-in event tomorrow (Wednesday, June 11″) at the Freebrough Enterprise Centre in Brotton from 5.30pm to 7pm.
More events are planned in Guisborough, Middlesbrough and Redcar. More details are on southteesccg.nhs.uk or on 01642-745318.
Source – Northern Echo, 10 June 2014
A Twitter post by Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald on the day of a Parliamentary tribute to former Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is the most retweeted of any Teesside MP.
Mr McDonald’s message, which he posted on the day MPs gathered in Westminster to pay tribute to Mrs Thatcher after her death last April, topped a list of the most popular social media posts by the region’s politicians.
It was retweeted 381 times.
In the post, the Labour MP explained he wasn’t attending the session and was opting instead to serve his community “because there is such a thing as society”.
Mrs Thatcher famously said there was “no such thing as society” in an interview in 1987.
I am not in Parliament today. I am in Middlesbrough serving my community, because there is such a thing as society.
— Andy McDonald MP (@AndyMcDonaldMP) April 10, 2013
Mr McDonald, who was elected in November 2012 following the death of Sir Stuart Bell, has the fewest number of Twitter followers among Teesside’s MPs.
He has just under 3,000 people following him on the social networking site.
Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop has the most followers with more than 8,000.
Elsewhere, Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham came second on the list with a tweet referencing an attack on the government by his party leader Ed Miliband.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 06 June 2014
> Evidently not having lost heart at their candidates piss-poor showing in the Yarm election last week, UKIP now have their sights on Hartlepool (insert monkey joke of your choice here).
General Election planners at UKIP have decided Hartlepool is their best chance in the region, with a relatively strong local branch helping pave the way for an election push.
Labour’s Iain Wright holds the seat with a majority of 5,509, down from the days of Peter Mandelson and a 14,000 strong majority. Back in 2010 UKIP took just 7% of the vote.
But, Nigel Farage said, after recent success in the South Shields by-election, where the party came second despite never standing there before, there would be a General Election rethink after this May’s Euro polls.
It was revealed last month how new academic research suggests Labour’s working class vote is at risk of moving away from an increasingly middle class Labour party, with UKIP making clear they now want to take left-wing voters across the North.
Mr Farage, who was in Gateshead last week, claimed that even an area with as many safe seats as the North was not beyond their reach.
“It’s a Labour heartland, but you know what, we’re having a go,” he said. “Let’s be honest. We are at a later stage in our development in the North East, compared to, say, the East of England.
“That’s because we didn’t quite get over the line in 2009, 15.4% in those elections. Let’s see where we are after these elections.
“We’re fighting more than 100 local election seats, and if, if, we start to win in those we suddenly have a base to build on.
“In South Shields we came second, and it showed how much Labour hate us in the North East. They hate us here, they are scared, they know they represent a different set of interests to the old Labour party.
“We will not win where Labour has a massive majority, but we can find marginals or other seats where we can make a difference.
“Hartlepool is very, very interesting. Watch Hartlepool. It is an interesting seat for us in 2015.
“We have a base there, it is our longest established branch in the North East.
“The North East is our fastest growing membership area, and if I had to pick I’d say Hartlepool was an area where we can make a substantial impact.
“We will have to look hard after the elections at what our targets will be in 2015, but Hartlepool is very interesting to us.”
Last night leading Teesside MP Tom Blenkinsop ( Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) said UKIP would struggle to convince voters in the North to back Mr Farage’s right-wing policies.
> Sadly, I’m not so sure. Many life-long Labour supporters I’ve met espouse personal views that would place them well to the right of UKIP. They only vote Labour because they always have, and their fathers before them, etc – there’s very little innovative thinking or grasp of political theory. It’s a classic case of double-think. And OAPs are often the worst – they’ve got theirs, now they want to pull the ladder up behind them.
The Labour MP said: “Nigel Farage says he’s ‘the only politician keeping the flame of Thatcherism alive’.
“He should tell that to the steel workers of Hartlepool and the rest of Teesside that numbered 25,000 in 1987, and only numbered 5,000 by 1992.
“Or maybe the mining communities of County Durham and Northumberland.
“If you want to know about UKIP, look at how Farage has employed Neil Hamilton in a senior party role, a man who took brown paper envelopes full of cash to ask questions in parliament.
“Farage supports privatising the NHS. He wants to cut maternity rights for women, and he wants to privatise chunks of our education system.
“He sounds like a Thatcherite Tory, he looks like a Thatcherite Tory and of course he tried six times previously to be a Thatcherite Tory MP.
“I’m very sure that firms like TATA, Nissan and Hitachi would be more than a little bit concerned at a follower of Farage’s getting into any position of representation in the North East.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle 27 April 2014
THE region’s Labour MPs have thrown their weight behind Ed Miliband’s plans to shake up trade union influence over the party, ahead of a crunch vote.
The North-East MPs enthusiastically backed the proposals, arguing they would strengthen – rather than weaken – the historic link with rank-and-file union members.
Some also welcomed a greater say for party members, despite the package dramatically diluting the influence of MPs themselves in choosing the party leader.
And others expressed hope that voters would respect Labour for standing up against large donors – at a time when the Conservatives are bankrolled by big companies and the wealthy.
Only Dave Anderson, the Blaydon MP, broke ranks to criticise Mr Miliband for “naval gazing”, instead of focusing on defeating a “lousy” Government.
In contrast, Easington MP Grahame Morris – who had previously criticised the shake-up – said he was prepared to give the Labour leader the benefit of the doubt.
The leftwinger said: “There are dangers involved and I question the whole basis for doing this, but I will support the changes.”
That basis was the damaging row over murky behaviour in Falkirk, where the Unite union was found to have tried to “manipulate” the selection of its candidate.
> Ironic, really, since that’s what the whole electoral system is about – trying to manipulate the selection of one candidate or another.
Now, in the biggest shake-up since Labour was born more than a century ago, Mr Miliband wants to introduce a “one member, one vote” system for electing future party leaders.
The current electoral college – giving the unions, MPs and the party’s 180,000 members equal one-third shares of the vote – will be swept away.
But candidates for the leadership will need to win nominations from about 25 per cent of Labour MPs, double the current 12.5 per cent threshold, to enter the leadership ballot.
In 2010, such a barrier would have allowed only the two Miliband brothers onto the shortlist – excluding Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott, the other candidates.
But the other key reform – to union funding – will now be phased in, over five years, after officials admitted to fears the party would “take a financial hit”.
By 2020, union members who want to contribute to Labour’s funds will have to “opt in”, rather than “opt out”, becoming “associate Labour members” for a reduced fee.
The unions currently provide Labour with £8.5m a year in affiliation fees. If only half of the current 2.7m affiliated union members “opt in”, then Labour could lose £4m annually.
Unison, the key public service union, already has such a system – giving Labour a pool of 400,000 affiliated members from which to recruit immediately.
The package – overwhelmingly approved by Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) earlier this month – will be put to a special party conference on March 1.
But Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps said: “Ed Miliband promised to loosen the trade union barons’ grip on the Labour Party. But he has been too weak to deliver.”
THE VIEWS OF NORTH-EAST LABOUR MPS:
Dave Anderson (Blaydon): “We face an enormous struggle to get rid of the present lousy administration, so the last thing the Labour movement needs is to spend precious time navel gazing.”
Hugh Bayley (York): “This will show the public that the Labour Party continues to modernise and, unlike other parties, reduce the influence of large donors.”
Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland): “This is a step in the right direction and shows Ed Miliband wants to lead his party and the country.”
Jenny Chapman (Darlington): “I am happy with the reforms. It will introduce more voices and make Labour more representative of working people.”
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North): “It will be positive to have individual – rather than block – votes, but it will still be important for the party to be challenged and positively influenced by the unions.”
Kevan Jones (North Durham): “This is well overdue. It will make the party more transparent and democratic and re-connect us with thousands of trade unionists. Ed has got the balance right.”
Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough): “The trade union movement and the Labour Party are of the same root and future. These reforms will help to enshrine this most important bond.”
Grahame Morris (Easington): “If this leads to more trade unionists becoming involved in the Labour party, that will be a good thing – but that will only happen if we make an attractive offer to working people.”
Phil Wilson (Sedgefield): “I don’t want Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and BNP supporters who happen to be a member of a trade union to have a say in the leadership of my party. Only those committed to Labour should.”
Iain Wright (Hartlepool): “Creating a mass membership party of trade unionists and others will make sure Labour never again loses touch with its roots.”
> No comment from any of the Wearside or Tyneside Labour MPs (Dave Anderson excepted) ? And since when was York in the North East ?
Source – Northern Echo, 20 Feb 2014