Letting Britain’s big cities develop their economies could save Britain from future economic downturns, the leader of Newcastle City Council has told MPs.
Coun Nick Forbes said the economic crash was partly due to the nation’s dependence on London, and its banking industry.
But a country with a more diverse economy and a number of successful cities would be better able to cope if there was another crisis.
Coun Forbes told the Commons Local Government Committee that major cities such as Newcastle should be able to raise far more funding locally, for example by keeping a portion of the business rates paid by employers rather than handing the entire sum to the Treasury – and use the cash to promote economic growth. But he warned there also needed to a complete rethink of the way national government redistributed cash to local authorities, so that councils with the greatest need – such as those in the North East – received more money to let them provide essential services.
Newcastle recently cut spending by £35m on top of previous cuts.
The council leader was at Westminster representing the eight “core cities” of Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield. He said: “At the moment we have been absolutely ravaged by the recession.”
What Newcastle wanted was the ability to grow its own local economy rather than relying on handouts from London, he said – and argued this would make the entire UK economy more “resilient”.
“We have seen how London-centric the recession was. It was the collapse of the banking system that tipped us over the edge into it. We wouldn’t have that if we had a better settlement around the rest of the country.”
Newcastle was already proving what it could achieve with more independence by using a scheme called Tax Increment Financing, which allows it to invest cash collected from business rates in regeneration projects to attract new businesses, he said.
“We have managed to stimulate development activities on a number of key sites in the city which wouldn’t have happened otherwise but at he moment those powers are exceptions rather than a rule.
“We could do so much more as a country and as cities.”
And he urged the Committee to recommend that councils be given more powers to cut business rates and attract employers that way.
“I can see areas of Newcastle . . where you might want to give us a discount that would allow the introduction of new businesses.”
> No mention of Scottish independence, but I’m sure there will be proponents of it north of the border watching this with interest…
Source – Newcastle Journal, 11 March 2014
A £38m cuts package has been passed as a city leader says to do otherwise would be to hand council control to the Government.
Newcastle’s Nick Forbes said he had no choice but to pass the latest round of budget cuts despite calls from some protesters to pass an “illegal budget” in which services are ran into debt.
The council cuts are the latest in a three-year budget made up of a reduction in Government grants and a rise in spending pressures.
As a result, libraries are being passed on to volunteers, leisure centres face the axe and some 1,300 jobs will go, 350 of them in the next financial year.
The cuts were debated as ‘bedroom tax’ protesters called on the council to stand up to the Government. Insisting he had no choice on the budget, Mr Forbes said: “I’m not prepared to countenance futile political gestures, or handing over direct control of this council to Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.
“I will not apologise for behaving responsibly and taking tough decisions to balance the books.
“Doing anything different would make Newcastle a target for national disgrace, and would deal a devastating blow to the image and confidence of this city.
> The revolution will not start in Newcastle…official.
“Nor, however, am I prepared to give up the fight for our missing £38m – money which has, in the large part, been collected from the businesses in our city through business rates and redistributed to other, more affluent, parts of the country. Any business being shortchanged by the amount that we are would be – rightly so – fighting its corner in every way possible. I will not apologise for standing up for the interests of this city. For seeking to protect the people of Newcastle from this Government, which seems hellbent on attacking those least able to stand up for themselves.”
> But you’re still making all the cuts that affect least able to stand up for themselves anyway ? I could be wrong, but it does tend to look like they’re talking big and disassociating themselves from blame, then going away and initiating ConDem policies anyway.
Liberal Democrats said the figures being debated were misleading, with former council leader David Faulkner saying councils had always had to cope with cost increases.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 06 March 2014
According to the Newcastle Journal (08 October 2013), “the North east is overwhelmingly in favour of a benefits crackdown, an exclusive Journal poll has revealed.”
As is usual with these kind of polls, this was not actually the view of an overwhelming proportion on the North East population, and not a random selection either – the “research” was conducted by a company called Other Lines Of Enquiry North who, we are told, “specialise in delivering quality insights to advertising, creative, design and PR agencies as well as directly to brands across the North of England.”
The people polled appear to have been part of their in-house panel, Panelbase, who get paid for their opinions – “Most surveys will carry rewards between £0.25 and £10 (depending on survey duration and complexity), which we will add directly to your panelbase.net account.” In fact you appear to get 3 quid just for signing up ! (https://www.panelbase.net/ if anyone wants to take advantage).
So, not the views of the average man/woman on the north east street then. And definitely not that sizeable portion reliant on welfare for survival.
“Some 66% of the region said they thought Britain was “soft” when it came to welfare, “ the Journal trumpeted nevertheless, ” lending support to the drive by Work & Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith to make it harder for people to claim.”
Of course, we’re not told what questions the paid poll-responders were actually asked. This could be quite crucial.
For example, if the question was ‘Do you think it would be right for people on benefits to get more than working people ?’ then obviously most people would say ‘no’ – despite the fact that
(a) people on benefits dont get more than those working, and
(b) the question didn’t actually claim they did
– but I suspect a sizeable number of those being polled would read it as “People on benefits get more than those working – is it right they do ?”
This dubious piece of public opinion also claimed “…almost 63% of the region thinks the long term jobless be made to do voluntary work for their benefits…”
Oxymoron alert ! You cant be made to do voluntary work. You either do it voluntarily, or you’re made to do it against your will, probably in this case by the threat of financial sanctions.
There was a rather vanilla token response from Catherine McKinnell (Labour, Newcastle North) – “People in the North East have the same strong work ethic as the rest of the country and it’s therefore unsurprising that this relatively small survey indicates a strong belief that benefits should not be handed out without good reason.
“However, I also know we are a compassionate region and care about the individual circumstances people find themselves in – and I know from my constituency surgeries how many people in genuine need are having support taken away from them by the current system.”
Unfortunately, what seems likely is that the “current system” – including “cracking down” on the worst off, would continue under more or less similar lines should Labour win the next election.
According to the Newcastle Journal (04 Oct 2013), “the Conservatives have said their mission for the North will see them elected in Newcastle – but only within 20 years.”
Well, there’s nothing like optimism, I suppose. It could happen, though probably only after a few changes to the electoral system, such as removing the vote from the unemployed (far-fetched ? Maybe – but its an idea that’s been floated on right-wing blogs, and the Eton mafia do seem partial to anything that helps keep the poor poor).
Certainly Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman seems to think its a vision to believe in. Speaking at an event organized by think tank IPPR North, he claimed that “I had the joy of being what the call the candidate’s friend in the South Shields by-election – not a place you would think of as naturally ours. But on the doorstep, when you explain what we stand for, people say yes, I like those policies, when you tell them you want welfare capped or immigration down they like that and say that’s what they’d vote for.”
One can only wonder which parts of South Shields he did his doorstepping in. Certainly not the bits where the many people reliant on welfare live !
He continued – “But when you say, oh and I’m from the Conservatives, they punch you in the face and say ‘cap that, you bastard !’”
Sorry – wishful thinking there…
He continued – “But when you say, oh and I’m from the Conservatives, they say no, I could never vote for them. That’s the job ahead of us. That shows we need to be saying more about what we are doing, because the voter likes it.”
Sadly, some voters do like it, though inevitably not those actually being poked by the sharp end of the Tory stick. I’ve certainly come across plenty of (mainly) senior citizens who proclaim ‘I’ve voted Labour all my life,’ while espousing views somewhere to the right of the late, unlamented Thatcher.
They did alright in the relatively good times and with the support of the welfare state, but they’re damned sure no-one else is going to. Sadly for Opperman, they’re probably more likely to vote UKIP.
One thing I can’t quite get my head around – Opperman is on the one hand a supporter of the Living Wage, yet on the other hand appears to be supporting the Tory line that unemployment is the fault of the unemployed and they must be made to suffer.
Anyone existing on the basic Jobseekers Allowance of 71.70 a week, might like to consider the fact that Mr Opperman is a barrister who, not counting his MP salary and related perks, undertakes private work at rates of pay between 100.00 and 250.00 pounds per hour.
(source – http://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/24962/guy_opperman/hexham)
Now that’s what I call a living wage !