A local authority is considering raising council tax as it reaches the ‘end of the line’ in cutbacks to office jobs.
The leader of South Tyneside Council, Iain Malcolm, has said he is considering raising council tax for the first time since 2011 after accepting the Government’s freeze deal for four years in a row.
He joins Newcastle City Council in publicly declaring that a council tax rise may be on the horizon if fellow councillors vote for the change in setting their 2015-16 budgets in March.
The Labour leader, said: “I can’t give a guarantee that council tax won’t be increased in the next financial year.
“We are at the end of the line in finding these back office savings. Now we are looking at how we can find these front line services in new innovative ways. We’ve done asset transfers. We will have to have further talks with councils to see who might take the lead in certain areas.”
However he said any potential rise would fall short of 2% – the figure which the Government has said would trigger a referendum with the public.
He said: “We couldn’t afford a referendum and no council has gone for a referendum because you wouldn’t win. No one would vote for that, people would just vote no. I can’t rule out an increase because we are now at that stage.”
> But if they did vote no, surely that’s the will of the people you’re supposed to serve ? Just saying…
So far South Tyneside Council has had to make more than £100m in cutbacks to their budget, and must save a further £22m in the financial year 2015-16.
Councillor Malcolm said it is now time to turn to Holyrood in Scotland for support in gaining a fairer local government finance deal for the North East of England as much as Westminster.
He said: “What opportunities are there by looking northwards for the economy, transport and infrastructure?
“We need to have a conversation with Scotland, not just with Westminster and Whitehall. Whoever wins the election, I would expect them to do a root and branch reform of local government finance. No one really understands the formula and its open to widescale manipulation by ministers to make sure it goes to areas where they want it to go.”
He said previous talks on funding the dualling of the A1 with former Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond had been less than fruitful but that it was important to ensure communications with Scotland are maintained as the country undergoes further devolution.
Source – Shields Gazette, 06 Jan 2015
> Comedy time at the House of Commons…
North East industry is thriving, a Conservative MP has told the House of Commons.
And the Government has created jobs in the region – while Labour was happy to concentrate prosperity in the south of England, according to the Prime Minister.
But the bold claims from the Tories sparked an immediate backlash from Labour, which claimed the Government had failed to tackle the region’s high level of unemployment.
Guy Opperman, Conservative MP for Hexham, highlighted what he said was the region’s strong economic performance as he questioned David Cameron.
“Is the Prime Minister aware that the region with the most tech start ups outside of London, and the fastest rate of growth in private sector businesses over the last quarter, and the highest rise in the value of exports, is the North East of England?
“And does he agree with me that we should stick to the long term economic plan so that we all have the benefits?”
The Prime Minister told him:
“It is notable that when we look at things like small business creation, exports, investment, the growth is coming from around the country including the North East – and that is a huge contrast.
“Under 13 years of Labour, for every 10 jobs created in the south they only created one in the North. That is the record of the last Labour government.”
“What we need to do is to increase entrepreneurship and start ups in every part of the country . . . there is a new spirit of entrepreneurship in Britain and this government is backing it.”
Mr Opperman was referring to a report by the British Chambers of Commerce which found there were more than 300 high tech and digital businesses in the North East, and that only London has a higher rate of tech start ups in the UK.
He also highlighted the Lloyds Bank Regional Purchasing Managers’ Index, which measures business activity in each region and shows that the North East has the highest rate of growth over three months. The latest index, published on October 13, shows activity in the North East growing in line with the national average, although faster than London.
And in September, official figures showed total value of exports in the North East had risen by 2.32% over a year – the highest figure recorded by any English regions.
Second quarter statistics for 2014 showed £3.102bn worth of goods were sold to foreign markets from the region, up by 9.66% compared to the same period last year.
But Labour pointed out that the North East still had the highest unemployment rate in the country. Most recent figures show unemployment in the region is 9.3%, worse than any other region of England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The overall UK rate is 6%.
Newcastle North MP and Shadow Treasury Minister Catherine McKinnell, questioning Chancellor George Osborne in the Commons, said:
“Whilst he’s been shifting funds from Northern cities to wealthier parts of the country, unemployment in the North East is the highest in the country; wages for working people in the North have fallen by even more than the national average; and, across the North, the number of young people unemployed for over a year is up 62% since the election.
“Why won’t he match Labour’s plan to devolve real power and £30billion of funding, not just to the North but to all city and county regions?”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 06 Nov 2014
Scenes from the strikes have been compiled by historians as they take a look back at communities as they took to picket lines.
A DVD, titled The Greatest Struggle, centres on when colliery workers took industrial action between 1984 and the following year in a fight for jobs it says was “one of the most bitter industrial disputes Britain has ever seen”.
Striking miners and families from Easington, Eppleton, Wearmouth, Dawdon and Murton among others feature in the film, with scenes outside the pits, streets of their villages and clashes with police included in the footage.
John Dawson, who is among the team to have put together the DVD, said:
“The year-long strike involved hardship and violence as pit communities from around the UK fought to retain their local collieries – for many the only source of employment.
“With scenes from the North East of England, we witness events with miners and their families from Ellington, Bates, Whittle, Ashington, Dawdon, Wearmouth and Easington Collieries and include many more to see how it was in that year- long strike.
“You never know who you may see in this film. It could be yourself, a family member, friend or a work colleague. As Arthur Scargill said to everyone at a huge rally, ‘When you look back, you’ll look back with pride, and you’ll say to your son or your daughter, in 1984 I took part in the greatest struggle in trade union history.’
“I fought to save your pit, I fought to save the job, I fought to save this community, but in doing so, I preserved my dignity as a human being and as a member of the finest trade union in the world.
“I was part of the strike myself so I know what it was like and it was very hard.”
The film includes footage shot by amateurs and has been put together by the Six Townships history group.
Others it has put together include Easington A Journey Through Time, Colliery Villages of Durham, Durham Miners’ Gala, Sunderland A Sentimental Journey and South Hetton Demolished.
The latest addition to the archive is £4.99 and available to all schools free.
It can be bought via http://www.sixtownships.org.uk
Source – Sunderland Echo, 20 June 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 damning list of North rail failures has been put to the Government.
MPs have accused the Department for Transport of overseeing years of neglect and of “blundering” its way into years more of service failures on crowded and outdated Northern trains.
Ministers were told it was disgraceful that they were planning to take 170 modern trains from across the entire North of England and send them south, serving constituencies such as the prime minister’s.
Shadow deputy leader of the House Angela Smith said the loss of stock on the North’s First Transpennine Express service came as result of officials pushing back its franchise renewal while they “rushed” into the sale of mainline services.
And the Government was forced to admit it will try and phase out the unloved Pacer trains, used by Northern rail on the Hexham to Newcastle line, as soon as possible in the next franchise. Speaking in parliamentary debate, the MP said: “It is becoming obvious where the Government’s priority lies when it comes to rail lines, and the priority is not with passengers in the north of England.
“As their ill-fated, illogical and shambolic franchising policy goes off the rails, it is the north of England that suffers.
“We are witnessing a situation in which the huge blunder that was west coast franchising has led to a comedy of errors, with the consequences landing squarely in the lap of the north of England and its railway services.”
She added: “We in the North believe we need efficient, well-run railways with modern trains providing the capacity a growing network needs. We need those trains so our economy can compete with the South – we all know how big that challenge is – if we are to close the North-South gap. On the Northern franchise, however, the average age of the fleet is 2, which compares with a national average of 18 years.
> I think they meant an average age of 20+, not 2. If only it was 2.
“Many routes are still served by the Pacer railbuses, which make up about a quarter of the fleet. I will not name my source, but I was approached several years ago by someone who asked whether the Pacer trains might have a future in the new country of Kosovo, but the trains may still be required on those Northern Rail services if the Government do not get their finger out.”
Ms Smith was backed by Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, who said: “We need to highlight the point about the differentiation in investment in different parts of the country.
“At a presentation last week to the all-party group on rail in the North, Network Rail outlined its plans for investment, including in the Northern hub.
“However, the only reference to the North East of England were signs on the map saying, York, and, To Scotland. The North East of England was not an afterthought – it was not even a thought.”
Junior transport minister Stephen Hammond said discussions were ongoing to try and let the North keep the modern trains until May 2015.
The minister added: “Pacer trains that were introduced in the mid-1980s and have rightly received their fair share of attention.
“With the introduction of new rolling stock into the region, higher quality rolling stock will be released for use across the network.
“We expect to ask bidders for the Northern franchise to put forward proposals for the removal of Pacers from the area.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 14 March 2014
The Scottish National Party has told the North East an independent Scotland would welcome its workers with open arms.
The SNP said the region should see independence as offering an alternative to London’s dominance over the North East, a claim few of the region’s MPs appeared to agree with.
Instead, there were warnings yesterday of border chaos and towns reduced to “currency exchange kiosks” if a yes vote is returned in this year’s referendum.
Phil Wilson (Sedgefield – Blair’s successor) led MPs yesterday in a parliamentary debate on the impact of independence on the region’s economy.
Citing a Journal report from last year in which First Minister Alex Salmond told the North East it had no better friend than Scotland, the Sedgefield MP questioned the reality of that relationship.
He said: “To the SNP’s internal Scottish audience, the English are those from whom the SNP wants independence, but to the North East of England, according to Alex Salmond, we are Scotland’s closest friends.
“Call me old-fashioned, but I would not close the door on my closest friends by asking for independence from the rest of the UK.”
> Scotland is our next door neighbour – a good deal closer than the London city state.
SNP MP Angus MacNeil denied the possibility that a new border would hinder trade.
He told MPs: “The point of the SNP is to put the Scottish people first, rather than power struggles in London, which, unfortunately, is the point of the London parties.
“It is all about who is in government in London, and that is not for the good of the people of Sighthill, Skye or Lewis.
“That is an awful tragedy. It should also be in our interest in Scotland to ensure that the good people of the North East of England are benefiting as much as those in the regions of Scotland.
“I look forward to the day I witness people from the North East of England finding chances of employment in Scotland, rather than having to go far afield to the South East of England.”
> Amen to that !
Berwick Liberal Democrat Sir Alan Beith said the fact was that day-to-day trade would be changed if Scotland broke away from the United Kingdom.
He said: “That activity is not impossible with independence, we should not overstate the case, but it would become more difficult and the likelihood of administrative barriers being erected is that much greater.
“There are a whole series of reasons why anyone living near the border, unless they see their future entirely as a town of currency exchange kiosks and smugglers, would think that we are much better together.”
Also warning against a yes vote was Hexham Conservative Guy Opperman. He told MPs: “The boundary between Scotland and the rest of the UK would, by definition, become an international border between two separate states, with everything that entails.
“The evidence locally in the North East, whether from farming bodies or the North East chamber of commerce, is extensive.
> farming bodies or the North East chamber of commerce… oh yes, very representive of the population at large – and, I suspect, two groups from which Mr Opperman draws his support come election time.
“There is huge concern that this will have an impact on trade, businesses and jobs.
> Bigger than that caused by policies imposed by the London-based ConDem government, unrepresented in the NE except by Mr Opperman ?
The possible problems rising from Scottish independence are conjecture. The problems caused by policies imposed from the London posh boys are REAL.
“I met a number of oil and gas producers, several of whom are building huge sites on the Tyne at the moment. The two biggest construction sites are for construction projects in the North Sea.
“The producers are concerned that, if there were independence, those projects would be affected, and there would be greater difficulties.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 05 Mar 2014
Yesterday we posted an item of “research” that stated that –
Two thirds of the region’s Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) intend to recruit new staff in 2014, a study shows.
Research by Yorkshire Bank also found North East businesses which plan to create new jobs expect to grow employee numbers by 11%.
It also found that 64% of North East SMEs intend to recruit new employees.
On average, the North East’s 135,000 SMEs expect to recruit more than 7% more staff. If this figure is applied to the North East’s total SME workforce of 429,000, almost 31,000 new jobs could be created.
Alan Young, regional director for Business and Private Banking with Yorkshire Bank in the North East of England, said: “SMEs are crucial to the UK economy and its emerging recovery and we will continue to support them in 2014.”
What a difference a day makes ! We did warn yesterday that this was at best a guess and not a statement of fact. Today we learn that –
A quarter of small and medium-sized firms are supporting their businesses with personal savings and handouts from family and friends, a report has claimed.
Business funding specialist Bibby Financial Services, which commissioned the research, said the reliance on personal finance prevented firms from being able to take advantage of the first stage of economic recovery.
The survey revealed that almost half of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) used just one source of funding, with 20% of firms saying they relied on a bank overdraft and the same amount again using a bank loan.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 01 Jan 2014
Two days, two different pieces of “research” that appear to contradict each other. Who do you believe ?
Neither, I guess. You can only keep on keeping on as best you can, hope for the best but plan for the worst.