A Labour Government would appoint a Minister for the North East to ensure the region has a strong voice at Westminster, it was revealed today.
Ed Miliband would appoint a Minister for each English region in a bid to ensure the entire country received a fair deal from Government, and to help businesses in their regions attract investment from across the world.
The manifesto commitment came as Miliband also announced plans to divert £20bn in funding from Whitehall to local councils, to spend on improving transport links, building houses, providing training and creating jobs.
To qualify for the cash, councils would need to work together to create a “combined authority” – giving the North East an advantage, as it is one of the first regions to create such an authority.
They would also need to work closely with the local business community and draw up showing how they would use the money to create jobs in the private sector.
The North East had a regional minister under the last Labour government, with the post being held by Newcastle MP Nick Brown.
A Labour government would appoint nine regional ministers, who would sit on a new Regional Committee chaired by the Minister for the Cabinet Office.
Their duties would include helping local councils, central government and Local Enterprise Partnerships, the economic development bodies led by the business community, to work closely together.
They would also champion their area in Whitehall and ensure that the impact of policy proposals on every part of the country is considered.
Regional ministers will work with other Ministers such as the Business Secretary to implement an industrial strategy to create jobs in every part of the country.
And they will encourage tourism and act as a visible representative of their region at major events.
Speaking in Birmingham, Mr Miliband set out plans to strip national government of billions of pounds and send the cash directly to the regions of England for local politicians to spend.
But warned that funding will go to “city regions” and “county regions” where authorities have come together to create a combined authority.
So far, councils in the Greater Manchester area, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Greater Liverpool regions have created combined authorities – and the North East is about to create its own combined authority bringing together Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.
Mr Miliband is announcing that plans to devolve £20bn over the course of the next Parliament to combined authorities will be included in Labour’s General Election manifesto.
He said: “Labour’s message at the next election will be clear:
“Devolving power from Whitehall to our towns and cities is essential to generate the new jobs we need.
“We propose a new bargain: Cities and towns that come together with local businesses will be given historic new powers over transport, housing, skills and economic development.
“We are determined to make our great cities and towns the powerhouses for the creation of good jobs.”
> But he still seems set to continue on the same lines as the Tories regarding unemployment and benefits, so for most of us it’ll probably just be a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 08 April 2014
Northumberland MP Ronnie Campbell was one of a small number of Labour rebels to vote against Conservative proposals for a welfare cap in the Commons
Other North East MPs expressed opposition to the cap but did not vote against it, in some cases because they were unable to attend the debate.
Only a handful of Labour MPs defied orders from the party leadership and voted against Government proposals set out in the Budget to introduce a cap on overall welfare spending, set to be £119.5bn in 2015/16.
The measure, in the Charter for Budget Responsibility, comfortably passed the Commons 520 to 22, a majority of 498, after the Labour front bench backed the plan.
Conservatives had hoped to embarrass Mr Miliband by giving him a choice between opposing the cap, allowing them to claim he opposed plans to cut the welfare bill, or supporting it and potentially provoking a rebellion among backbench MPs.
But the Labour Party largely united around the leader and only a small number rebelled. They included Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell. Other high-profile rebels included former shadow health minister Diane Abbott and Tom Watson, who was Labour’s campaign chief and deputy chairman before resigning last year.
Labour MPs who expressed opposition to the cap but did not vote against it included Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, who is in the US looking at the American schools system in his role as a member of the Commons Education Committee.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery and Easington MP Grahame Morris also said they opposed the cap. They were attending the funeral of former Durham mineworker Stan Pearce, from Columbia, Washington, an activist known for his work with the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA), who died aged 81.
> I wonder if Stan Pearce, as a DMA activist, might have rather they had got their arses down to Westminster instead, and actually voted instead of just talking about it.
In a message on Twitter, Mr Lavery said: “Just left the funeral of NUM & DMA legend Stan Pearce. For the avoidance of doubt I totally oppose the benefit cap and would vote against it.”
> Yeah, right…
But Newcastle MP Nick Brown said the cap would not affect people who are out of work, and voted for the move.
He said: “The vote is symbolic rather than real. The cap set in the Government’s motion is higher than the previously forecast outturn and it leaves out pensions and Jobseekers Allowance. The principle of controlling this budget as well as other Departmental Budgets is right and therefore I agree with the Labour Party Leadership’s position and will be voting with the Labour frontbench. The proposed cap does nothing to actually reduce the welfare budget. The best way to do so would be to create well-paid private sector jobs here in the North East of England.”
> Yeah, but since no-one actually is… hitting the poor is the next best alternative ?
Source – Newcastle Journal, 27 March 2014
Those Labour rebels …
Diane Abbott, Ronnie Campbell, Katy Clark, Michael Connarty, Jeremy Corbyn, Kelvin Hopkins, Glenda Jackson, John McDonnell, George Mudie, Linda Riordan, Dennis Skinner, Tom Watson, Mike Wood.
All North East Labour MPs, with the exception of Campbell, either did what Red Ed told them or really, really would have voted against, if only they conveniently hadn’t arranged to be elsewhere.
A Government minister has blamed the Tyne and Wear fire service for making front-line cuts.
Service chiefs want to close the Sunderland Central station and merge crews at Gosforth and Wallsend to cover an £8.8m drop in government funding.
But fire minister Brandon Lewis implied the fire service should save money by using a government training college almost 240 miles away.
He said: “This body has had a cut of a couple of per cent in spending power for each of the past couple of years and has built up its reserves. It has been able to spend that on extra training facilities when the Government already have a training facility.”
He said it was up to Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority to manage its own funds based on “local risk” and suggested digging into its £30m reserve to cover the cost. But the service hit back, saying his comments “do not fully reflect the picture” and that spending its reserves would create a financial “cliff edge” as faced by the US government last year.
Chief fire officer Tom Capeling said: “The authority is not spending reserves on extra training facilities. Our training centre was opened 18 years ago and we continue to send some officers to the south for specialist training.
“If reserves were used to meet the projected gap then over £16.8m would be required over the next three years. This would create a cliff edge that would need to be addressed in the year after.
“We would either be living in hope that ‘something would turn up’ in the meantime – imprudent and unlikely given the comments made about further cuts in future – or we would need to lose a lot of staff very quickly, as opposed to the measured and managed approach we are proposing to take.”
He said it would cost too much money to send all 866 of its firefighters for regular training in Gloucestershire and would keep them away from duty for too long.
The service expects to lose £12.9m by April 2017 and claims it is “disproportionately” hurt by the cuts because its council tax takings are lower.
Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah, who had asked Mr Lewis about the closure of Gosfirth Fire Station, said: “I don’t see how a fire service can lose almost a quarter of its funding without impacting front line services.
“Mr Lewis’s response was wholly inadequate and took no responsibility for the risks his policies pose, whilst trying to distract us with comments on training.”
But Dave Turner, of the Fire Brigades Union, said fire chiefs’ chosen plan was “nonsensical” and that their £30m reserve “could and should be used.”
He said: “Any comment from the government that put all the onus on local authorities is disingenuous at best, but the fire authority shouldn’t be making these cuts.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 07 March 2014