The gap between the North East and the wealthy South is growing wider as the economy recovers, an MP has warned.
Grahame Morris, Labour MP for Easington, led a 90-minute Commons debate calling for more support for traditional industrial areas such as the former coalmining villages in his Durham constituency.
He told Ministers that boosting the economy of the North East would benefit the entire country and could reduce congestion and overcrowding in London, because fewer people would move to the capital to seek work.
Mr Morris called for support for a planned Centre for Creative Excellence south of Seaham, County Durham, which could create more than 2,000 jobs.
The development, which was set to feature television studios as well as conference and training facilities, had been backed by the regional development agency created under the last Labour Government and abolished by the Conservative-led Coalition Government in 2012.
However Business Minister Anna Soubry accused Labour MPs of failing to celebrate job creation in the North East, and said the Government had awarded £13.4m to businesses to help create jobs in Easington alone.
A number of Labour MPs from across the region have been pushing the Government to create an industrial strategy for the North East to tackle what they say is a lack of good quality private sector jobs. They made similar pleas to former Labour leader Ed Miliband in the run-up to May’s election.
Mr Morris said that there needed to be a senior politician championing the regions in the Cabinet.
He said: “My view is that we need a strong voice in cabinet advocating for our regions.”
> Well that’s not going happen, is it ? Areas like the North East dont vote Tory, so Tories don’t care what happens to them. Dont forget that Thatcher’s government seriously considered cutting cities like Liverpool loose to die. Do you suppose the same mentality doesn’t still exist in the Tory ranks – it’s what Tories do.
A Labour candidate in the region has broken ranks by pledging to vote against the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent.
Party leader Ed Miliband has insisted he would retain the submarine-based weapons system, because Britain faces an “uncertain and unstable world”.
And he has rejected demands from the Scottish Nationalists who say it is not the best way “to spend £100bn” – the possible total cost of replacing the deterrent.
But Grahame Morris, in Easington, is among around 50 Labour candidates who have made clear their opposition in statements on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament website.
Mr Morris wrote:
“Replacing Trident will undermine the UK’s moral authority when seeking to restrict nuclear proliferation by other countries.
“We must adapt to meet the new security challenges of the 21st Century, such as climate change, pandemics, organised crime, cyber warfare and terrorism.
“In a time of austerity, when the Government are making damaging cuts to our armed forces, we cannot justify spending in excess of £100bn on a new Trident system that will do nothing to improve the security or defence of the UK.”
The stance puts Mr Morris strongly at odds with Kevan Jones, the North Durham candidate and defence spokesman, who recently said of Trident :
“It is party policy, it has gone through rigorous policy review, it was endorsed at conference last year, and that is the policy.
“We’re in favour of a minimum credible nuclear deterrent based on a continuous-at-sea deterrent.”
The Conservatives have been criticised by senior military figures for making Trident an election issue, after the Defence Secretary suggested Mr Miliband was ready to “stab the UK in the back”, to get into No.10.
Nearly 200 homes in east Durham communities have been left empty and boarded up – encouraging crime and damaging the quality of life for their neighbours, an MP has warned.
Easington MP Grahame Morris urged ministers to intervene as he warned that large numbers of homes in Horden and Blackhall, in his constituency, had been allowed to fall into disrepair.
Speaking in the House of Commons, he said social housing provider Accent had allowed properties to fall into disrepair through lack of investment and by failing to vet new tenants properly.
Mr Morris also warned that changes to housing benefit had meant properties went empty, because they had two bedrooms but were occupied by single people – who had become liable for the bedroom tax.
He won a promise from Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis to look into the problems faced by the villages.
The minister also said he would ask the Homes and Communities Agency, the official body which regulates social housing providers, to meet Mr Morris to discuss his concerns.
Leading the debate, Mr Morris said the villages’ problems followed the closure of Horden colliery in 1987, which among other things led to a decline in the local population over time.
Accent managed 361 properties in Horden and Blackhall, Mr Morris said. But 130 of its 220 homes in Horden were currently empty, as well as 30 of the 141 properties in Blackhall.
He warned: “The problem is that, as properties become empty, Accent no longer seeks to let them as homes. Instead, vacant properties are being boarded up, which are an eyesore and a drain on the community.
“It is clear, from walking around the area, that properties have gradually fallen into a state of disrepair and now require substantial work.”
Proposals to improve the homes had been scrapped following the introduction of the bedroom tax, he said, because the only way to ensure the homes were occupied had been to rent them to single people, and this was no longer possible.
But Mr Morris said that local residents complained Accent had not taken good care of its housing stock for many years before the bedroom tax was introduced.
He said: “It seems to have total disregard for the community in terms of vetting potential tenants.
“The residents’ groups, who have worked closely with the local authority and the police, have been out litter picking, clearing up fly-tipping and identifying problems to report to the local authority. However, the residents say that their efforts to clean and improve the area have been undermined.”
The result had been crime, antisocial behaviour, fly-tipping and rat infestations in the empty homes.
The MP urged the minister to ensure the Government invested in the village to improve the housing stock, to replace high-density colliery housing with more modern housing.
One option could be an approach known as “homesteading”, in which homes are sold at a substantial discount to buyers who then spend money to improve the properties, he said.
However, Mr Morris said some public funding would be needed. He told the minister: “I understand that we are in a time of austerity, but if there is a political will, we can overcome any barriers on finance.”
Mr Lewis said:
“He painted a sobering picture of a town struggling with empty homes and the damaging impact that that can have on the wider community. Horden is in one of the most beautiful corners of the country. I appreciate that, having visited the north-east in the past few weeks.”
“We need to see beautiful places such as Horden thriving, but we must also ensure that we fix the broken market so that they can deliver on that.”
Claire Stone, Accent’s director of communities and assets, said:
“We have worked really hard to find the best possible solution for these homes and have had a dedicated project team in place with Durham County Council and the Homes and Communities Agency to explore all the options. We had hoped that other social landlords with stock in the area would take them on, but unfortunately this has not proved possible. We have therefore reluctantly decided to dispose of the properties as they fall empty. We will continue to work closely with residents and local representatives to ensure that they are fully supported throughout this process.
“As a responsible social landlord, we need to ensure that our stock is fit for the future. We are under an obligation to secure the best possible value for money for all of our residents into the future and our robust asset management strategy has identified that these properties are not sustainable for us as a social landlord.”
Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Feb 2015
The Government’s treatment of North rail passengers is “nothing short of scandalous”, it is claimed today, amid fears that outdated Pacer trains won’t be replaced.
Easington’s Grahame Morris is calling for a firm commitment on replacing the “outdated, uncomfortable and cramped” trains, which go no faster than 60mph on Northern and Trans-Pennine Express routes.
The line is set to be re-franchised in 2015 and George Osborne said the new deal would include “a substantial package of upgrades including new services and modern trains”.
But Mr Morris said doubt hangs over the claims and the Chancellor could be backtracking.
He said Government documents show bidders are simply being ‘encouraged’ to replace the Pacers and, when quizzed in Parliament this week, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin offered the North no cast iron guarantees. Now, the County Durham MP is calling for swift action.
“Like thousands of my constituents I travel on these outdated, uncomfortable and cramped trains every week,” Mr Morris said.
“On top of all the other things hitting North East commuters we now have the prospect of continuing to use these totally inappropriate trains for the foreseeable future. I am writing to the government to point out that North East passengers are suffering enough without this new threat. I shall be seeking guarantees from the government about this.”
It had long been assumed Pacers, originally a stop-gap solution, as they are outmoded and expensive to repair.
The MP added:
“The North has a tiny fraction of money spent on it on infrastructure, compared to London and the South and the amount spent in the North-East is even less. All we want is fairness, North-East travellers deserve their fair share.”
He also said rising fares and the Coalition’s move to re-privatise the East Coast Main Line are unacceptable and the region is not getting the deal it deserves.
He said re-franchising services would spell job losses and companies like Stagecoach and Virgin – who as InterCity Railways won the East Coast Main Line franchise would be “laughing all the way to the bank”.
East Coast, under public ownership, had moved into profit and had high approval ratings from customers.
“The way rail passengers in the North-East are treated is nothing short of scandalous,” said Mr Morris.
“In the last 20 years we have seen a fragmented, privatised rail network fail passengers, with high fares and poor service, all in the name of the free market. It is clear we need, as happens in most other countries, a publicly owned and managed rail service aimed at providing a safe, affordable and efficient service for passengers.
“The decision by this government to force the East Coast mainline back into private hands, despite the public company running it consistently achieving top marks on all measures, including passenger satisfaction and value for the taxpayer, only goes to show it’s all about political ideology, not what’s right for the public and taxpayer. Of course the private train companies are laughing all the way to the bank.”
Source – Sunday Sun, 14 Dec 2014
Easington MP Grahame Morris has called on Parliament to launch an inquiry into foreign state-owned companies owning UK rail firms.
Mr Morris said British commuters, who suffer the highest rail prices in Europe, are subsidising foreign passengers.
MPs from Parliament’s rail group have called for an urgent inquiry.
It follows a decision to award the Scotrail franchise to Dutch state-owned firm Abellio, and also research showed 20 of the UK’s 27 private rail services are owned by foreign state-owned or backed railways.
Mr Morris said British commuters have experienced substandard services for decades adding:
“Often the very same operators that are using British commuters as cash cows are foreign state-owned companies that then hold down fares and improve services back in their own countries.
“That British commuters are expected to both suffer the failure of rail privatisation as well as subsidise commuters in Holland, Germany and France adds insult to injury.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 18 Oct 2014