Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn has hit back at criticism directed at him for accepting hospitality from a tobacco firm.
The MP attended last year’s Chelsea Flower Show in London at the invitation of Japan Tobacco International, maker of brands including Benson and Hedges, Camel, Winston and Silk Cut.
He was condemned by anti-smoking campaigners for accepting the hospitality package, then voting against plans to introduce plain cigarette packaging.
Mr Hepburn has defended his actions for the first time since coming under fire last week.
The MP said he was fully supportive of Labour’s proposed tax on the tobacco industry to pay for more doctors and nurses, but he says he makes no apologies for backing staff at Essentra, formerly known as Filtrona and, before that, Cigarette Components.
Though he voted in favour of the ban on smoking in public places several years ago, he dismissed calls to make plain packaging for cigarettes compulsory as “barmy” and “counter-productive”.
“In recent months, I have visited Essentra on the Bede Trading Estate. Although not as big as it once was, the firm provides 240 jobs and is regarded as a decent employer.
“I have always been supportive of its growth plans.
“These jobs are invaluable when unemployment is a curse, and I make no apologies for standing up for both a local company and South Tyneside as a great place to do business.
“I supported Labour’s proposed tax on the tobacco industry to hire more NHS doctors and nurses, but I think it’s barmy to force all cigarettes to be sold in the same plain packs.
“I know the harm to health caused by smoking – that’s why I voted for the pub ban – yet as long as people buy cigarettes, I’ll stand up for Essentra’s workers.”
> Even if it means having to do unpleasant things, like accepting hospitality packages at the Chelsea Flower Show. I hope Essentra’s workers are suitably grateful.
Source – Shields Gazette, 27 May 2015
A UK Independence Party politician is hoping for a winning double in South Tyneside at May’s local and general elections.
Former borough councillor Steve Harrison has already announced his intention to stand as a Parliamentary candidate for Jarrow.
He is also seeking election as a councillor in the borough’s Monkton ward, including the Lukes Lane Estate, where he used to live.
Mr Harrison formerly represented the Hedworth and Fellgate ward in Jarrow, originally as an independent and later for Ukip.
Mr Harrison said:
“I don’t feel the current MP is responsive enough to the town’s public on local issues.
“His concentration seems to be all about Westminster, and he doesn’t challenge the Labour council enough over decisions it makes.
“If I’m elected, I would spend three days in the town and in the ward dealing with issues on the ground.
“I would also open an office in the town centre which would be manned six days a week, from 9am to 5pm, where people can go and have their problems dealt with.
“There are a lot of issues in Monkton that need to be addressed.
“The bus service in Lukes Lane is non-existent. People have been left high and dry.
“The roads and footpaths are a big issue.
“There’s a view that all the spending goes to South Shields.
“A lack of parking spaces, fly-tipping and rubbish generally are also issues that need to be addressed urgently.
“I have lived on Lukes Lane twice. I grew up there and lived there when I got married. I still have family and friends there, and I know the area well.”
Mr Harrison said he had no concerns over any potential conflict of interest in standing as both prospective MP and councillor.
“I have checked out the rules, and there is not problem with standing for both. It’s not unique. It’s a chance to bring Westminster into local politics.”
> Also a chance to claim two incomes, two sets of expenses, etc.
Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn was unavailable for comment about Mr Harrison’s criticisms.
The other candidates standing in the Jarrow Parliamentary constituency election on Thursday, May 7, are Stan Collins (Lib Dem), Norman Hall (Trade Union Socialist Coalition), Nick Mason (Conservative) and David Herbert (Green).
Source – Shields Gazette, 25 Mar 2015
A Hartlepool cabbie and charity stalwart who is standing for MP has had thousands of hits onstanding for MP he has created as part of his campaign.
Well-known Hartlepool taxi driver Stephen Picton, who has raised more than £50,000 for good causes, will challenge Labour’s Iain Wright as an independent candidate when the town goes to the polls in May.
Back in March 2011, Stephen recorded his own version of Thom Pace’s hit Maybe, which is the theme tune from the Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, to raise awareness of bowel cancer.
It proved a huge success, racking up more than 9,000 YouTube views.
“I’ve been doing videos on Facebook for a few years and I do a lot of charity work, that’s how people got to know me.
“I just turned it around and used it as a format to let people know how I was feeling while I’m running for MP.
“One of them has had 6,000 views.
“I’ve had no negative comments at all, people have actually been saying that they feel the same as me.”
The dad-of-four from the Oxford Road area of Hartlepool, said:
“I use videos and social media to help me along my way in the campaign.
“It’s a big part of everyday life now.”
He also raised £50,000 before his 40th birthday by organising dozens of quirky fundraisers.
Stephen, also known as Taffy the taxi driver, is campaigning on improving services for Hartlepool including the reinstatement of the town’s hospital.
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 13 Mar 2015
Ministers have been accused of launching a pre-election attack on trade unions by making it harder to collect union dues from Government employees.
North East MPs said the change could hit thousands of workers at the Benton Park View complex in Newcastle, known as Longbenton, where Whitehall departments have offices.
MP Nick Brown challenged ministers to justify the decision in the House of Commons, while Blaydon MP David Anderson claimed the Government wanted to create “another Arthur Scargill” to drum up anti-union feeling.
It follows the announcement that Government departments are to stop paying trade union subscriptions directly from the payroll on behalf of staff, a practice known as “checking off”.
Francis Maude, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, told MPs:
“I believe that this change will enable unions to build a much more direct relationship with their members, without the need for the relationship to be intermediated by the employer.”
But the change could affect 5,500 people working at Longbenton the Treasury, Department for Work and Pensions and outsourced service providers, according to Mr Brown, MP for Newcastle East.
He pointed out that departments routinely helped staff pay a range of fees and subscriptions – but the Government was only targeting unions.
Speaking in the Commons, the MP said:
“Government Departments offer a range of check-off services to their employees, including deductions for membership fees, for private sporting clubs, for private clubs more generally and even for private medical schemes.
“What is it that makes the payments of trade union dues exceptional? Why would any employer want to withdraw this from its own employees?”
Mr Anderon said the Government was attacking unions as a political stunt in the run up to the election.
“The truth is that this is nothing more than another attempt to find the bogeyman whom the Conservatives have tried to find for the last five years.
“They want another Arthur Scargill so that they can try to rattle a can in the next few weeks. That is what this is all about.”
And the move was also condemned by Bishop Auckland Labour MP Helen Goodman, who said ministers wanted to weaken unions in advance of spending cuts.
“Why has the Minister chosen this moment to crack down on check-off? Has he done so because the Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast a one million reduction in the number of public servants, and he wants to weaken the unions before that happens?”
Mr Maude told her:
“We have looked at this in a perfectly sensible, straightforward way. We want trade unions in the civil service – and in this context I am talking only about the civil service – to engage in a sensible, modern fashion, and we want public money to be deployed in the delivery of public services rather than the delivery of trade union officials’ salaries.”
“Many unions have sought to withdraw from check-off arrangements themselves, because they take the view that a modern union in a modern workplace should have a direct relationship with their members, not intermediated by the employer.
“Check-off dates from an era when many people did not have bank accounts and direct debit did not exist. It exists now, and many unions take the view, and indeed the Public and Commercial Services Union has said, that the easiest way to collect their dues is through direct debit.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Mar 2015
Would Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw have been caught out in a sting apparently offering their services to a private company for cash if the salary earned by MPs’ was much higher?
> Probably. There’s no accounting for greed.
The suggestion is an unpopular one with the electorate, many of whom have endured years of pay freezes, particularly in the public sector in which the politicians are classified as working.
After the next election, an MP’s salary is set to rise 10% from £66,396 to £74,000 – the level set by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) which said they did an important job and should not be paid a “miserly amount”.
When this was revealed last year it caused a bit of a meltdown inside and outside of Parliament with the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour party leaders for once united.
They argued it would be wrong when public sector pay rises were capped at 1%.
Rifkind, who said the allegations made against him were “unfounded”, has subsequently said he can’t live on his £67,000 a year MP’s salary.
However Blaydon MP, Labour’s Dave Anderson, was unsympathetic. He said:
“If you can’t live on the salary get another job. You know what you sign up for.
“If you can’t live off £67,000 a year you must be from another planet.”
Mr Anderson was equally dismissive of MPs who took on second jobs to boost their income.
“If you want another job, take another job and leave. You shouldn’t have a second job as an MP regardless.
“Me and my colleagues work so many hours I don’t know how anybody who fit another job in.”
His fellow MP Nick Brown who represents Newcastle East said:
“I agree with that. Your duty is to your constituency and the country.
“I’ve been an MP for 31 years and have never had a second job.”
As for the salary of MPs he said he did not want to be “sanctimonious” and criticise anybody who thinks it should be higher. “I think an MP’s salary level should be set independently,” he said.
As for how much a fair salary would be, Mr Brown wouldn’t be drawn on a figure just that it should “cover the cost of being an MP.”
> Before exopenses claims, I imagine.
The debate about what an MP’s salary should be has been clouded by a number of scandals over the years to the extent that when a rise is suggested most in Parliament come out in public against it firmly.
But in a secret poll of MPs, the responses were different.
Back in 2013, in a survey conducted by Ipsa, MPs suggested they deserved an £86,250 salary.
On average, Tories said their salary should be £96,740, while Lib Dems thought the right amount was £78,361 and Labour £77,322. Other parties put the figure at £75,091.
However later that year, a poll of the public revealed it thought MPs should actually get a pay cut, the average figure being £54,400. In the North East, people thought they should be paid £52,140.
Arguments for the rise included one that being an MP was an important job and salaries should be more in keeping with this, comparing it to money earned by company executives. If pay was better, we would get better MPs.
> Does anyone really believe that ? What we’d really get is richer MPs.
It would also, the argument went, entice more people from less well-off backgrounds to become interested in becoming an MP.
To counter this some have wondered how a salary that is around three times the national average would put off potential less well off candidates.
According to one commentator: “To a working class kid a salary of £65,000 a year is the equivalent of winning the lottery”.
And anyway, MPs are public servants and should be subject to the same rules as anyone else in the public sector. They do an incredibly important job – but so do lots of other people, such as nurses and the police.
Political expert Dr Martin Farr of Newcastle University said:
“The public has unreasonable expectations of politicians because they just don’t like them.
> And I wonder why that should be ?
“There needs to be a competitive salary as in comparison to parliamentarians elsewhere, MPs here aren’t played a lot nor do they get the same level of support.”
“They are frightened to be awarded a competitive salary which was why they tried to make it up in allowances in the first place.
“However in trying to avoid one problem they have created another.”
He said such was the “febrile” nature of the debate, the public generally can’t even accept the need for MPs to travel first class on trains and reclaim it on expenses.
“Yet they often do work of a confidential nature at this time so these arrangements are needed,” he said.
Dr Farr said that while it appears Straw and Rifkind might have broken no rules, they were foolish to do what they did.
However he added what did need to be sorted out was the so-called ‘Whitehall revolving door’ situation where former Ministers get jobs in the private sector
“It’s a toxic issue and in some ways MPs are in a lose-lose situation,” he said.
> For that sort of money, you’d get a lot of volunteers willing to risk that kind of lose-lose situation…
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Feb 2015
Families will be forced to pay out a staggering £250bn to modernise Britain’s creaking water, gas, electricity and rail industries, a Teesside MP has warned.
Most of the massive cost of replacing the country’s ageing infrastructure is being added to household bills.
It means energy bills, which have already shot up, are set to increase by a fifth by 2030, on top of the effects of inflation.
Redcar MP Ian Swales was part of a Commons inquiry which looked at the way improvements to the nation’s utilities and transport networks were funded.
He warned that Government red tape was making it difficult for new businesses such as energy companies to get started – making it easier for the existing energy giants to charge sky high prices.
Speaking as MPs quizzed Government officials, he said: “Based on all the investors to whom I have talked – none of whom are the big six, which is an important point – we want to try to break the pseudo-monopolies.
“If we have people who want to invest, surely we should be making it as easy as possible for them.”
The so-called big six energy firms include E.On, EDF, SSE, Scottish Power, British Gas and Npower.
But Government rules made it almost impossible for new firms to enter the market, he said.
He urged civil servants in the Department of Energy and Climate Change to take action, telling one official: “In my constituency there are four potential power station investments right now, three of which are for fossil fuels.
“If you talk to all those investors, they will tell you that they feel like giving up because the system is almost impossible to deal with.”
The MP is one of the authors of a report which warns the UK is set to spend more than £375bn to replace infrastructure.
This includes replace assets such as rail track or waterworks which are simply too old; replace assets which don’t comply with EU regulation; introducing new facilities which cause less pollution, and catering for a growing population.
Around two-thirds of this will be paid for by private companies – but that really means consumers will pay through higher utility bills and rail fares, MPs said.
They warned: “Energy and water bills have risen considerably faster than incomes in recent years, and high levels of new investment in infrastructure mean that bills and charges are likely to continue to rise significantly.”
The Government should act by ensuring there is real competition, which would encourage companies to keep prices down, and in some cases by simply setting the prices consumers can be charged, MPs said.
Source – Sunday Sun, 06 July 2014
Why are the mainstream media so keen to make you think falling inflation means your wages will rise?
There is absolutely no indication that this will happen.
If you are lucky, and the drop in inflation (to 1.7 per cent) affects things that make a difference to the pound in your pocket, like fuel prices, groceries and utility bills, then their prices are now outstripping your ability to pay for them at a slightly slower rate. Big deal.
The reports all say that private sector wages are on the way up – but this includes the salaries of fatcat company bosses along with the lowest-paid office cleaners.
FTSE-100 bosses all received more pay by January 8 than average workers earn in a year. Their…
View original post 718 more words
Alex Salmond has raised the prospect of Newcastle teaming up with Glasgow and Edinburgh to form an “economic powerhouse” pushing for influence.
The Scottish First Minister told an audience in New York that while he has “no territorial ambitions” on Northumberland or the North East, he does see the sense in teaming up with the region on issues such as High Speed Rail.
Mr Salmond said that plans to build the new railway line from London up to the North showed the bias in the UK, and questioned why the line could not be built from North to South instead, joining up major Northern and Scottish cities along the way.
That transport focus prompted one North East MP to last night call on the First Minister to “put his money where his mouth is” on dualling of the A1 north of Newcastle and through Scotland.
Speaking at an event organised by US paper the Wall Street Journal, Mr Salmond said: “I have no territorial demands but we have encouraged a borderlands initiative, about economic cooperation between the North of England and Scotland.
“The North East and the North West get the hind end of just about everything, the worst deal.
“We have a parliament in Scotland we have our own economic initiatives, that’s not the case for the North of England.
“What sort of initiatives could we have? Well, transport for a start. Fast rail is coming, the greatest misnomer of all time, fast rail in the UK means something that will take 40 years to build.
“But the important point is that it is being built from south to north. It would be a rather interesting concept to see it built from north to south, the advantages there of the combinations of the great city conurbations of Glasgow, Edinburgh and for example Newcastle, which would present an interesting economic powerhouse.
“So cooperation doesn’t depend on territorial ambitions.”
Hexham MP Guy Opperman, a campaigner in the Better Together group, said: “All of us would welcome any action by the Scottish Government to improve transport links from Edinburgh to the North East, whether that is dualling the A1 north of the border or a commitment to High Speed rail from Edinburgh to Newcastle.
“But I would urge Mr Salmond to put his money where his mouth is.”
In Newcastle, council leader Nick Forbes has already met with Alex Salmond in Newcastle to discuss High Speed Rail, alongside visits to Edinburgh and Glasgow councils.
He said: “I strongly believe that the North East needs to be around the table discussing how we get the best deal for the region after the referendum.
“The Borderlands initiative shows we’re working closely with Scotland on a range of issues, and it is interesting to hear how much Scotland values its links with cities like Newcastle. It’s not all just about London.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 12 April 2014
Council leaders in South Tyneside are being asked to launch a crusade against high-interest rate lenders.
The move comes as the Citizens Advice Bureau in South Shields says the number of people approaching it with debts resulting from payday loans has doubled in the last two years and the average amount owed is £1,610.
A motion, to go before a full meeting of South Tyneside Council council later this week, calls for a series of measures to clampdown on lenders like Wonga, The Money Shop, Quickquid and Payday UK.
The recommendations are:
* Blocking access to loan company websites from council-owned computers.
* Issuing public warnings about the dangers of payday lenders.
* Work with partners to stop lenders locating in South Tyneside and prevent them promoting their businesses in the borough.
* Try to get licensing powers extended to limit the expansion of lenders in the borough.
* Provide debt advice to people affected by lenders.
* Promote the Bridge Community Bank in South Shields as an alternative lender.
> If it’s any incentive, I’ve got an account with The Bridge !
The Money Shop, which has an outlet in Fowler Street, South Shields, offers an annual interest rate of 390.94 per cent and an annual percentage rate – the rate for a payment period, multiplied by the number of payment periods in a year – of 2,962 per cent.
Anyone taking out a £200 loan would face repaying – in a single payment, within 28 days – £259.98.
Coun Allan West, the council’s lead member for adult social care and support services, is a signatary to the motion, and says he is concerned that the most vulnerable people in the borough are falling foul of the lenders.
He said: “It is easy to understand the financial pressures that lead people to rely on payday lenders, but their excessive interest rates mean there is a real risk of a short-term financial issue turning into a long-term spiral of increasing debt and interest payments. A national cap on the cost of lending would go a long way towards protecting some of our most vulnerable citizens from the dangers of payday lending.”
He added: “In the meantime there is a lot we can do locally, by letting people know about options like The Bridges Community Bank, which offers much lower rates, as well as keeping money in the local economy.
“I would encourage anyone who has financial problems or concerns about the Government’s changes to the welfare system to contact the council’s welfare rights service on 424 6040.”
The full council meets at South Shields Town Hall at 6pm on Thursday.
Payday lending firms have become a major political issue in recent years.
Many councils already block access to lenders’ websites from libraries and other public buildings and South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck, last year, signed a national charter – supported by some of Britain’s biggest debt, consumer and anti-poverty organisations, including Which?, Citizens Advice, StepChange Debt Charity and Church Action on Poverty – calling for tougher regulation of payday lenders.
In October 2012, Newcastle United sparked a storm when the club announced a four-year sponsorship deal with Wonga.com.
The payday loan company now has its name on the club’s shirts.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery labelled the company “morally bankrupt” on social networking site Twitter.
Before the start of this season, the club’s star striker, Papiss Cisse, said he would not wear the club shirt bearing a Wonga logo on religious grounds, but the row was resolved in time for the club’s warm-up match against St Mirren.
Source – Shields Gazette, 11 March 2014
An MP has said she’s determined to stand up to internet trolls after she received a barrage of abuse online.
Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central, became a target for cyber bullies after she spoke out on theissue of children’s toys.
She hit headlines earlier this month when she led a debate in parliament on gender-specific toys.
Chi pointed out that it was “illegal to advertise a job as for men only but apparently fine to advertise a toy as for boys only. Why should girls be brought up in an all-pink environment? It does not reflect the real world.”
She also condemned toy shops that have a pink aisle for what they see as girls’ toys and a blue aisle for boys’ toys.
But, ever since Chi spoke out, she has been on the receiving end of a stream of abuse on social networking site Twitter.
Chi said: “I’ve had quite a bit of intense abuse, the whole range right up to, although thankfully not including, death threats.
“Everything from aggressive sexual swearing to bizarrely being told that I’m both a publicity seeker and that no-one is interested in the issue.
“I’ve been told I’m stupid, lazy and had the strongest swear words directed at me.”
But she vowed: “I’m determined it’s not going to stop me.”
In her speech to parliament, Chi claimed that directing girls towards pink toys featuring princesses and domestic tasks, while boys are encouraged to play with construction toys and characters who have adventures, limits their horizons and is bad for the economy.
She pointed to a page from a 1970s Argos catalogue that featured toys such as a baby buggy or shop till in variety of colours and compared it to the current catalogue, which has the same toys but only in pink.
She said: “I’m not calling for legislation.
“There is a fear that you are accused of wanting a nanny state but we are just fighting for more choice so children can play with what they want.
“It causes a lot of distress among parents to see their girls forced down the route of being pink puppets.
“I’ve had a lot of parents contact me since the debate too.”
Fellow Labour MP Stella Casey received rape and death threats after she called for more women to be featured on bank notes.
And Isabella Sorley from Newcastle and John Nimmo from South Shields were jailed after they sent messages to campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez.
Another alleged troll is due to face court this month.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 24 Feb 2014