Tagged: Pat Ritchie

Costly mistakes for Newcastle and Middlesbrough Councils

Cash strapped Newcastle City Council has had to fork out £50,000 to put right an error in a letter sent to around 180,000 voters.

The council wrote to all electors in the city on July 18 to inform them of changes in how they register to vote.

However, it contained a blunder in the section of the letter which stated whether or not they were on the open register.

Electors who were not on it were incorrectly informed that they were, and those who were, told they were not.

The error was confined to the wording of the letter, and the register is correct.

It’s understood it was down to human error – not a computer glitch – and that no data protection breach has occurred.

To sort out the mistake, the council has now rewritten to all the electors again which should arrive on Thursday, this time with the correct wording and has apologised for the confusion.

Council chief executive Pat Ritchie, speaking in her role as Electoral Registration Officer, said: “We got it wrong and I would like to apologise for any confusion.

“I’d also like to reassure everyone that although the wording in the letter was wrong the register is correct and no one’s details have been compromised in any way.”

Lib Dem Councillor Greg Stone said: “I was contacted by a number of concerned residents who were worried their data would be disclosed to marketers and used by cold callers.

“I contacted the council and asked for clarification and I was told it was down to incorrect wording.

“It’s caused a lot of anxiety and I don’t think it has been well handled.

“At a time when the council says it is strapped for cash, and with people complaining about the state of the streets, this is money that could have been better spent.”

The open register is an edited version of the electoral register which can be bought by companies to check voters’ names and addresses.

Everyone is on it unless they request to be removed from it which they can do by contacting the council’s Electoral Services by phone on 0191 2787878 and asking for Electoral Services, or emailing elections@newcastle.gov.uk.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 Aug 2014

> Meanwhile, down on Teesside…

Residents who have requested that their electoral roll details are not available for sale to businesses have been assured that this will remain the case.

It comes after Middlesbrough Council sent out letters explaining a new way of registering for the electoral register.

An error by the printers meant that some letters include incorrect information on the open register – previously known as the edited register – which is available for all businesses or organisations to buy.

But the authority has now issued an assurance to anyone who has previously asked for their details to be omitted from the open register that this will still be the case.

The letters were sent out to residents as part of the annual canvass of electors.

For the first time the majority of electors will not need to take any action to be included on the new electoral register.

Any Middlesbrough residents who might have any concerns about the register can contact electoral services on 01642 729771 or email elections@middlesbrough.gov.uk

Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 05 Aug 2014

Newcastle City Council reveals £40m in further budget cuts for next year

Newcastle City Council it to slash its budget by £40m as a new set of cuts is drawn up to meet the Government’s deficit reduction plan.

The multi-million pound cuts will result in another round of staff redundancies, services being further cut and some mothballed.

The council is already in the middle of implementing a £38m cuts package for this year.

But council leader Nick Forbes and chief executive Pat Ritchie took the rare step of outlining the financial plans for 2015/16, which will have to be formally ratified in March next year.

Coun Forbes said: “Normally we wouldn’t get into budget conversation until much later but we’re doing a lot of early thinking because of the scale of the challenge we are facing.

“We want to have an honest conversation with people in the city about the impact of austerity cuts and what they mean for the services they enjoy and have come to rely on.”

Coun Forbes and Ms Ritchie would not specifically identify how many jobs would go and which services were under direct threat, with firm plans not likely to be announced until the autumn, after consultation with staff and council partners on how best to proceed.

But in a grim warning of what was to come, Coun Forbes said that so far the council has only achieved 40% of the budget savings required by the Government.

“The level of cuts are so severe that there are no areas we’re not looking at and trying to find alternative ways of funding,” he said. “The pace and scale is so great the council will have to do less in the future.”

He added: “The challenge is the council has statutory obligations and can’t simply stop, for example, looking after children at risk of sex or violent abuse or caring for old people in their own homes. We have a legal obligation to fund concessionary travel so our strategy is partly to work with other partners to reduce cost pressures.”

While not giving specifics, Coun Forbes hinted at some areas that were in the spotlight, saying: “If we don’t have an indication of a change of heart by later this year, many services aimed at supporting children and families as well as the help that keeps older people out of hospital are likely to be at risk.”

Street cleaning and environmental services are another area under the microscope, and the council leader said: “Unless we can change the behaviour of the minority of people who drop litter, fly tip and allow dogs to foul pavements, the council won’t have the resources to clean this up in the future. There is no doubt our city will get dirtier as a result.”

Coun Forbes added: “We will be straining every sinew to protect job numbers but there will inevitably be some redundancies. We will endeavour for them to be voluntary but we have no figures in mind yet. We will mothball some services with the intention of growing them again in future years. Austerity will pass. There is a growing clamour from local government to the present government for change.

“We hold onto the hope a future Government would take a different approach. But the next two or three years are going to be extremely tough for every council.”

Coun Forbes said there won’t be the repeat of two years ago when the council talked of a 100% cuts in arts funding then made a U-turn to 50% and set up a culture investment fund.

Coun Forbes said: “It was controversial at the time, in the long term it will be seen as the step which protected arts from continued cuts.”

But he said that if the scale of cuts continues, there are projections that by 2018 the council will not be able to fulfil its legal obligations in funding services and that it would become “unviable”.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  17 June 2014

North politicians must form strong voice in wake of Scottish Independence vote

Regional economic policy must be revamped if the North East is to get a fair deal in the wake of the Scottish independence vote, a national research director has said.

Dr Angus Armstrong, director of macroeconomic research at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, said the Treasury does not prioritise the North East and politicians must form a strong and unified voice to correct the imbalance.

At a debate on how September’s vote will impact on the region, regional leaders also heard of a “growing realisation” Scotland may not lower corporation tax, allaying fears the country would suck business from its neighbours.

It comes as all seven North East councils, from Durham to Northumberland, agree a Combined Authority which will allow it to bid for more Government funding.

Dr Armstrong said regional policy is not a priority for the Treasury when it calculates how to spend Government cash and the North should look to reconsider a regional assembly to be heard above its southern counterparts and in Europe.

He said: “I used to work for the Treasury during the crisis and regional policy does not register. I hate that that is the case, but I really don’t think it is part of Treasury policy. I think the whole concept of regional policy needs to be re-thought.”

He added: “People in the South East underestimate the extent to which power is centralised, so, although they have a feeling there is something of an imbalance, that imbalance is greater than that feeling would suggest.

“The reason I say that is because of the financial crisis. The only reason they could support the City of London is because of the taxpayers of the rest of England.

“When it goes wrong we pay, it is quite remarkable and I find it amazing that places outside of the South East don’t have more to say about that. I do think the degree of imbalance is extremely significant.”

Pat Ritchie, chief executive of Newcastle City Council, said the region’s airports and universities could lose out due to a possible relaxation in border controls which might see students flock to Scottish universities.

She added there were fears changes to the Air Passenger Duty tax could see carriers opt to begin routes from Scottish airports.

Ms Ritchie, however, said there was an opportunity for the region to export goods to the country and, with Edinburgh closer to the region than London, collaborate with Scottish national leaders.

She said: “We should and can be confident in our strengths. This is a region which exports more than any other region and it is already used to working with different markets.

“Whilst not wanting to marginalise what is an important debate, we should not get too hung up on what Scotland might or might not do.

“We need to really develop the strongest possible economic offer that we can for the North East and collaborate as local authorities and businesses and be confident.”

Professor David Bell, professor of economics at the University of Stirling, also spoke at the debate, organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), and said Scots are keenly aware of the need to collaborate with the North.

“I don’t think that the North East is particularly disadvantaged because for Scotland to get anywhere with these negotiations there would have to be a cluster of compromises, and it would make no sense to have poor relations with its near neighbours.”

He added the North East faced being drowned out by the South East but there was a “growing realisation” that Scotland could not drive down corporation tax as it risked becoming a tax haven for businesses.

He said: “I go to talk about independence on a regional basis and the elephant in the room is the lack of political impetus, particularly in the North East.

“It is just not there and it isn’t part of the issue.

“If Scotland votes yes or if it votes no and gets more powers, you will have a heavily asymmetrical system in England which cannot continue to be stable.”

Source – Newcastle Journal,  28 March 2014