The president of a transport union with roots in the Labour Party will contest a North seat for the Greens.
Peter Pinkney, the highest ranking layperson of the RMT Union, will campaign against Ed Miliband’s party in Redcar, claiming: “The party of the left is now the Green Party.”
The union boss also brands Labour “a sort of reddish Conservative Party” and accuses MPs of betraying working people.
The dramatic political move by the ex-TUC General Council member threatens to derail Labour’s campaign in one of its top target seats.
The RMT boss also revealed the union has donated £7,000 to Caroline Lucas, the country’s only Green MP, after the Greens were supportive of plans to renationalise the railways.
Mr Pinkney said:
“Labour is no longer the working class party. They have betrayed us time and time again. They should remember that it was the unions who formed the ‘party of labour’ not deny our links.
“The radical Labour Party of 1945 is long gone. No longer do they champion nationalisation, social housing, the NHS, education etc, they are a sort of reddish Conservative Party.
“In my opinion the party of the left is now the Green Party.”
Labour hit back last night, saying a vote for the Green Party is a vote for the Tories.
> This is the kind of stupid comment that makes me even less likely to vote Labour.
It’d obviously be a vote against Labour, Tories and Lib Dems… because we have no belief in any of them anymore.
The move underlines a deepening fracture in the relationship between Labour and the RMT.
Predecessors to the RMT were among the unions which founded Labour back in 1899. But after 105 years of history the RMT was disaffiliated by Labour in 2004, after the union rejected an ultimatum to stop supporting the Scottish Socialist Party.
Former General Secretary Bob Crow publicly slammed Labour, which was then led by Tony Blair, for a failure to support members.
The deadlock continued until the 2012 Durham Miners’ Gala, when the then Deputy Chairman of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, seemed to offer the RMT an olive branch.
He said: “We need the RMT and the FBU back inside the Labour Party – a house divided cannot stand.”
But Mr Pinkney said three months after Bob Crow died the union voted to sever ties with Labour permanently – and today rules out any future affiliation.
“That is not going to happen,” he said.
“It was a unanimous decision to disaffiliate with Labour and our members would never want to go back.
“If Ed Miliband is [more supportive of unions] then he is doing a strange impression of it. He might say that he is to his paymasters at Unite and GMB, who make hefty donations, but our members will not affiliate to Labour or any other party ever again.
“The press calling him ‘Red Ed’ is a joke. A minimum of 75% of people want to see the railways renationalised. He has never once said he would take the railways back into public hands – not even East Coast.”
Labour has named Redcar in its top 100 seats to win in May and has high hopes for candidate Anna Turley.
Vera Baird lost the seat to Lib Dem Ian Swales in 2010 in what was the highest swing against Labour in the wake of the closure of the Teesside Steelworks.
A poll by Lord Ashcroft in September put Labour on 44%, Lib Dems on 18%, Ukip on 23%, the Tories on 12% and the Greens on just 2%.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The choice in front of Redcar people in May is between a Tory or a Labour government.
“For all those passionate about the green agenda only Labour has the record and plans to deliver a green government.
“A vote for the Green Party is a vote for David Cameron to carry on hitting the people of Teesside.”
> Well, don’t they have a sense of entitlement ? Only us or them can be in power – its our right. Two sides of the same coin.
The Saltburn-born rail union boss, who is calling for capitalism to be replaced, said he was inspired by the election of the left wing Syriza in Greece.
He said: “We need to look after our elderly, build social housing, repeal anti-trade union laws, scrap bedroom tax, renationalise railways and utilities (and any profit reinvested), but most of all we should give the young hope.
“We are definitely handing on worse conditions than we inherited. My generation should hang our heads in shame for letting this happen. Instead of complaining about young being on streets, and using drugs, we should be asking why.
“Redcar and Cleveland has seen a massive decline in my lifetime. We need proper investment, and not just paper over cracks. I believe the Greens are only large party (as surely they can now claim to be) that wants to put things right.
“I am a left wing socialist, but I am pragmatic. I have seen what Syriza have done, and we can learn from that.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 07 Feb 2015
The future of a Teesside council has been left in disarray after its Labour leader and other cabinet members resigned from the party.
Redcar and Cleveland Council leader George Dunning, his deputy Sheelagh Clarke, the mayor, cabinet members and other senior councillors resigned this morning.
The move is the latest development in a bitter internal Labour dispute and comes after the councillors were not selected by the party in their seats in May’s council elections.
Ten councillors – including more than half of those on the council’s cabinet – staged a public protest outside the Redcar office of Anna Turley, Labour’s candidate for the Redcar seat in the General Election.
An informal meeting is taking place today in which the group will speak to cabinet members still in the Labour Party, and also approach independents to debate how the council can continue to function.
The most pressing issue is the need to pass a budget before the end of March, which includes a vital decision on whether to raise council tax.
But the Liberal Democrat group on Redcar and Cleveland Council have now confirmed that they will table a motion at next Thursday’s full council meeting calling for Cllr Dunning to stand down as leader.
Speaking at the protest in Redcar, Cllr Dunning said Redcar and Cleveland residents have “nothing to worry about”.
Cllr Norman Pickthall, cabinet member for corporate resources, said: “The direction of travel is that we will agree the budget, with a 0% council tax rise.
“All the work has been done. Other councillors would be foolish to reject it.”
Asked if he thought Labour would again win control of the council in May, Cllr Pickthall said: “I don’t think so. Not if the councillor who wants to become leader succeeds.”
Cllr Dunning said that South Bank councillor Sue Jeffrey wanted to become leader of the council’s Labour group.
The ten councillors who resigned from the party were Steve Goldswain (Eston), Olwyn Peters (Eston), Norman Pickthall (Teesville), Mark Hannon (Kirkleatham), Vic Jeffries (Marske), Brian Briggs (Skelton), Carole Simms (Normanby) and Wendy Wall (Normanby).
Their total membership in the party spans 230 years.
Cllrs Goldswain, Briggs and Pickthall were deselected as Labour councillors in November.
Cllrs Dunning, Clarke, Hannon and Jeffries were deselected at a meeting on Sunday, the culmination of a rift the council leader says exists between the leadership and Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Anna Turley, and councillors Joe Keenan and Dale Quigley, who work in Mr Blenkinsop’s office.
Mr Blenkinsop said earlier this week that “he wasn’t part of the selection process”.
Ms Turley said in a statement today:
“I am sad that the councillors and members who didn’t get selected don’t feel they can continue to be part of the Labour movement without being paid councillors, but the party cannot be held to ransom.
“There were simply other candidates who won their elections and they deserve their opportunity to serve their local communities.”
Ms Turley was out campaigning when the councillors staged their protest at her Milbank Terrace office.
A Labour Party statement said the decision was “disappointing but unsurprising”.
“The selection process in Redcar &; Cleveland has been fair, robust and competitive. The Labour Party expects the highest standards from our councillors and council candidates. These expectations include that a candidate demonstrates a willingness to campaign in their community all year round.
“The selection process is still ongoing but local members have begun to choose a new team of candidates drawn from a wide range of backgrounds, including a postman, a steel worker, a cobbler, a barmaid, and a netball coach.”
Cllr Sheelagh Clarke has now called for an independent inquiry into allegations of bullying, and the selection process which saw senior Labour members rejected by their party.
Cllr Peters said she had suffered a nervous breakdown because of bullying – and that she supported the deselected councillors who she said “represented what Labour is all about”.
Cllr Goldswain has also complained about bullying.
Chair of the Redcar Constituency Labour Party, Neil Bendelow, claimed earlier this week that there had been “no complaints” about bullying.
However, Cllr Vic Jeffries said he had made an official complaint around three weeks ago – which had been acknowledged.
Mr Bendelow said: “We had no complaints from those councillors who have spoken about the issue in the press. But we have had a complaint from Cllr Jeffries – the first I have ever had to deal with – and it will be dealt with by Labour Party process.”
Speaking after ripping up his 30-year Labour Party membership this morning, former mayor Cllr Jeffries said: “It is a very, very sad day.
“I am weighing my options up. I am a socialist and I believe in fairness, transparency and truth.”
Cllr Brian Briggs said: “I used to help my father with party business when I was a boy. I am Labour through and through. It is with a very heavy heart that I resign my membership.”
Independent mayoral candidate for Middlesbrough Len Junier, and fellow Middlesbrough councillors Pervaz Khan, John McPartland and Derek Loughborough supported their Redcar and Cleveland counterparts at the protest.
All but Cllr Loughborough were deselected by Middlesbrough Labour Group last year.
Cllr Junier said: “I think that this shows that party politics on Teesside is in terminal decline.
“It is the rise of the Independents. I hope we see a repeat across Teesside.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 04 Feb 2015
The deselected deputy leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council Sheelagh Clarke has called the process “undemocratic” – and claims “somebody in London wants rid”.
Council Leader George Dunning, along with deputy Cllr Clarke, cabinet member Mark Hannon and former mayor Vic Jefferies were told at a meeting at the Claxton Hotel in Redcar on Sunday that they would not be allowed to stand for Labour in their wards in May’s elections.
It immediately raises questions about how the authority will run on a day-to-day basis – coming as it does after a further four Labour councillors were deselected last year.
But Cllrs Dunning and Clarke say they remain “as committed as ever”.
How the leader and deputy responded
“There is a budget for us to get through, and we’re proposing to keep council tax frozen again and do what’s right for the people of this borough,” said the leader.
“We’ve done a hell of a lot of work since taking the council back in 2007 – which a lot of people in our party didn’t even think we would do.
“As far as we’re concerned, unless there’s a vote of no confidence, Sheelagh and I will continue to run the council.”
Cllr Dunning insists he is the victim of a “power struggle” within the Labour Party and that the office of Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop “wants to run the council, and we won’t let them”.
“A lot of members in Teesville are getting on, or have been ill,” the leader continued.
“I wasn’t going to round people up on a cold day and tell them they had to come and vote for us, but I know we had the support.
“This has been a struggle for years.
“There have been people in this party who wanted to be leader, who wanted to be on the cabinet, and they are paranoid and power-mad.”
‘It’s not democratic’
Cllr Dunning has survived tests of his leadership in the past – both from within his own party and from the Liberal Democrat opposition.
And Cllr Clarke said:
“I do not think it is a democratic process. If the people of my ward had voted me out, I would fully accept that.
“But those people have been denied a chance, because somebody from the Labour Party in London wants rid of us.”
Meanwhile, cabinet member Mark Hannon blamed the fall-out on a rift between senior councillors and Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Mr Blenkinsop, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Redcar Anna Turley, and councillors working in their offices.
Candidates are chosen by local Labour party members in each ward, but if not enough members show up, as was the case on Sunday, the party’s local executive steps in to vote.
And Cllr Hannon, cabinet member for economic development, said: “I went and did a ten minute presentation at my interview, I answered questions for ten minutes, and I know I did the best presentation.
“The other candidates weren’t in there for anywhere near as long as me.
“I am popular with people in Redcar.
“Since I’ve been a councillor, we’ve got a new hospital in my Kirkleatham ward, housing, a new shopping centre.
“That doesn’t matter though. It’s been a cull of senior councillors.”
‘Labour just want to keep people on benefits’
“The Labour Party doesn’t care about the working classes any more.
“They just want to keep people on benefits and feather their own nests.”
“Against a backdrop of austerity, we have totally regenerated Redcar.
“We’ve not only kept leisure centres open, but we’ve built a new one, we’ve kept libraries open – and we’ve tried to keep council tax down.”
Cllr Hannon alluded to bullying within the party – which led cabinet member Olwyn Peters to claim she had suffered a breakdown.
This comes two-and-a-half years after Labour North’s Wallis Report claimed the Redcar and Cleveland Labour Group was “dysfunctional”.
What the MPs said
In a joint statement, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Tom Blenkinsop and Anna Turley, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Redcar, thanked Cllrs Dunning and Clarke for their service but said it was “time for change”.
Mr Blenkinsop said:
“All candidates knew exactly what to expect, and the bar has been set very high in these elections.
“If deselected councillors were not told about the reasons for deselection, they’re not asking the right questions. Selection is a democratic process.
“The Labour Party is not looking for candidates that take support for the party for granted, or for anyone who is complacent. Candidates need to get out and talk to people to find out what they want.
“But I wasn’t part of the selection process for these councillors, so I don’t know what the reasons were.”
‘If Labour group can’t manage their own affairs, how can they manage the council?’
Glyn Nightingale, leader of the council’s Lib Dem group, said the possibility of launching another ‘no confidence’ vote would “be a matter for group members to discuss”.
“If the Labour group cannot manage their own affairs, how can they manage the council?” he added.
“I do not agree with what George Dunning and his administration have done in office, but I acknowledge that they have been working hard.
“It was up to the people at the ballot box to replace them – not an internal party manipulation.”
‘I totally do not accept any form of bullying’
Neil Bendelow, the chair of the Redcar Constituency Labour Party, said that all members had been treated equally.
“The way that candidates were selected follows the Labour Party process and would be the same anywhere,” he added.
“All councillors were asked the same type of questions, and were allowed to give a ten minute presentation and answer questions for ten minutes.
“We have some fanstastic candidates who are going to work tirelessly for their wards.”
Last year, Cllrs Brian Briggs, Steve Goldswain, Norman Pickthall and Brian Hogg were also deselected.
But Mr Bendelow added: “I totally do not accept any form of bullying whatsoever.
“There is a process for anyone to follow if they feel they are being bullied, and I have received no complaints and no shred of evidence has been given to us.”
What the future holds
Cllrs Dunning, Clarke and Hannon were told that they could possibly stand for Labour in other wards – but say they were not given reasons for their deselection.
Cllrs Dunning and Clarke said that at this point, they would not consider standing as independent councillors.
Cllr Dunning said that Bob Norton, Rob Hodgson, and Geraldine Williams will now stand for Labour in the Teesville ward.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 02 Feb 2015
It seems that Hilton Dawson has a history of triumphing against the odds.
The native Northumbrian has twice overcome substantial Tory power bases at council and parliamentary level to get into office.
That was in the North West where he lived and worked for around 20 years.
Now back home, he hopes to repeat his David and Goliath act at the next general election in May with the North East party he helped form and is chairman of.
And this time three of the four seats his party are contesting at Easington, Redcar, Stockton North and Newcastle North are held by Labour with who he was a member for 30 years.
But he doesn’t see it as a betrayal of his political roots, just loyalty to his personal roots.
“There isn’t anyone who stands up for the North East directly,” he said.
“My experience of parliament and working with national policy makers is that huge decisions are made in London by people who don’t know about the region.
“We need to get these big decisions – about jobs, housing, health, wellbeing, transport – made here.”
To do this, it aims to secure devolved powers similar to those enjoyed by Scotland and Wales.
“We want real powers to borrow and invest, which will produce high-quality integrated public services,” Hilton said.
“In Scotland in particular, they have far better public services than we do a few miles south over the border.”
The idea for it was born out of a debate in 2013 at the Newcastle Lit & Phil Society about whether it was time for ‘Wor Party’. A lot of people attending thought it was.
The North East Party was officially registered last May. It had its first annual general meeting in June then in December after a three day meeting it thrashed out its manifesto.
Read what you will into the fact these discussions took place in a room above a funeral home in Shotton Colliery.
“Very salubrious surroundings,” laughed Hilton at the memory but he is very pleased with the result and hopes to cause as much of a stir as his first attempt to change things as an eight-year-old schoolboy.
Born in Mona Taylor’s Maternity Home in Stannington, his parents were both teachers. He was raised in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea where he was a pupil at Moorside First, locally known as the Colliery School.
It was there he recalls he became second in command in a pupils protest about the state of the school’s food.
“The soup was particularly terrible that day,” said Hilton.
“We marched up and down the playground all over dinner time. We all really enjoyed it.”
The Head, Mr Kirsopp (none of the kids knew his first name, of course), “emerged lugubriously at the end of lunch time” recalled Hilton.
“We looked at him with some trepidation then he ceremonially rang the bell and we went inside. Nothing more was said about it.”
This obviously whetted his appetite. After later completing his studies at Ashington Grammar School he gained a place at Warwick University to study philosophy and politics.
“Philosophy to understand the world and politics to change it,” he said.
Hilton recalled Warwick as a bit of a political hotbed in the 1960s with plenty of sit-ins and protests.
It was after his first year there he married Susan, who he met at school.
After graduating they went to stay for a time on a Kibbutz in Israel.
“We wanted to experience a collective way of life. We had idealistic expectations of it. The work was very hard but rewarding.”
Then they returned home as Susan was pregnant with their first child, Catherine.
He found work at the Choppington Social Welfare Centre, moving into a council house in Scotland Gate.
“It was one of the most educational experiences of my life,” said Hilton.
“I worked with the people of the community on many fantastic things. I was part of this rough, tough, incredibly warm hearted community organising anything from play groups for youngsters to events for the older residents, working with the people there to make things happen.
“At different times I would run the bar, put three tons of coal in the central heating, paint the walls, but most important of all I learned how to talk to people.
“The teachers’ son grew up an enormous amount.”
Having worked with social workers on projects there he became interested in the profession, getting a job at Bedlington.
“The attitude of people on the estate changed straight away. While they were still friendly it was a case of you’re a social worker now, there’s a difference.”
Hilton said he worked with a fantastic team determined to make a difference to the community and it was when he became involved in mainstream politics, joining the Labour party in 1978.
“The university anarchist saw at Choppington what a group of dedicated local politicians were doing for the community,” he said.
Hilton got onto a well respected course at Lancaster University.
“It was the top place to go,” he said. “It had the Centre for Youth Crime and The Community.”
He and wife Susan packed their bags and with daughter Catherine headed to the North West.
Soon after his second daughter Helen was born.
“She always says you lot speak funny. She is from the North West the rest of us are from the North East,” said Hilton.
He got heavily involved in child care and child protection issues, managing children’s homes as well as fostering and adoption services.
He worked his way up to social work manager, on call 24 hours a day.
“I could be called out at any time of the night dealing with all sorts of matters – a child on the roof, what are we going to do about it. Six kids who need housing now at 2am. It was stressful but I loved the job.”
His job resulted in a lot of community involvement and he decided to stand in the Lancaster City Council elections for the Ryelands ward in 1987.
“It had always been Tory and no-one ever understood why – it had a huge housing estate on it,” said Hilton.
The penny eventually dropped that while Tory supporters would vote come election day, hardly anybody from the estate ever did.
After much canvassing, that changed.
“It was one of the most seminal moments of my life,” said Hilton. “A huge phalanx of people came out of the estate to vote, knocking on doors as they went to persuade other people to vote.”
Hilton won the ward for Labour.
Then 10 years later in 1997 he stood for parliament in the Lancaster and Wyre constituency, formed after boundary changes from the old Lancaster constituency.
Since the Second World War Lancaster had been won by the Tories at every election bar the 1966 poll.
“No-one expected us to win,” he said.
“The media, even an eminent professor of politics. told me I had no chance.
“But I’d learned if you just engage with people, have a clear message and work hard at the grass roots you can win,” he said.
After winning the seat after a re-count he became well known for his championing of child related issues – he was named the 2004 Children’s Champion in the House of Commons – however it led to run ins with party bosses.
He objected to its policies on asylum seekers suggesting they be refused benefits would see their children left destitute.
Hilton described it as “immoral” in a Commons debate.
And then there the Iraq war – “a terrible time,” he recalled.
Hilton was one of the Labour MPs who backed a rebel backbench amendment that the case for war with Iraq was “unproven”.
So while he loved his first four years in Parliament, his enthusiasm waned considerably after he was re-elected, again after a recount, in 2001.
By 2005 he had decided it was time to move on and quit before the general election to return to children’s services.
He became CEO of Shaftesbury Young People which works for children both in care and in need and later chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers.
In the meantime he had returned to his native North East, he and wife Susan buying a house in Warkworth which boasts a spectacular view of Warkworth Castle.
“I found I was able to commute to London from Alnmouth which is on the East Coast mainline.”
He also found time to fight for the Lynemouth and Ellington seat in the 2008 Northumberland County Council elections.
“It was the only safe Labour seat I have ever fought – and I got whupped,” said Hilton ruefully.
“I had the arrogance to think I could do it all in a month thinking I could repeat what I did in Ryelands over a much shorter period of time.
“It proved a very important political lesson.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 31 Jan 2015
A new political party campaigning for a regional government has launched its first ever manifesto.
The North East Party, led by the former Labour MP Hilton Dawson, is fielding four candidates at the General Election.
Campaigners want a North East Government to replace councils and the combined authority.
They also want to scrap council tax and replace it with a property tax based on current market value.
The North East Party also calls for £1bn investment in enterprise, raised from a new land tax.
Mr Dawson will also campaign for free care for older people and pledges to secure more money for services if the party is elected.
Violet Rook, Newcastle North candidate, will take on sitting Labour MP Catherine McKinnell at the election in May.
She said: “I have lived in Kingston Park for 30 years and served the NHS for decades as a nurse and midwife throughout the area.
“Standing up for the North East’ means caring for the future of all communities in the region and wanting a fair deal for them now.”
Phil Lockey, the Redcar candidate, who will be fighting Ukip and Labour’s candidate Anna Turley, said:
“Like many thousands from our region, I have experience in the Armed Forces and standing for Parliament in the town where I live is another vital way to serve our Country and our community.
“Leadership is essential and in working for devolution the North East Party seeks to create 2.6 million leaders to take our region forward.”
Susan McDonnell, candidate for Easington, where Labour’s Grahame Morris had a large majority in 2010, said:
“I have lived in Easington almost all my life and consider that we’ve been badly let down by successive Labour MPs every one of whom were men.
“Unlike them, I will not stand for the people of Easington paying higher rates of Council Tax than billionaires living in London.
“I want to represent Easington well and help take the whole area forward , placing many more decisions in our own hands.”
John Tait, Stockton North candidate, added:
“I have spent 19 years as an Independent Councillor in Stockton and I have worked for decades in Higher Education and Industry.
“I want to use the opportunity of devolution and new resources from fair taxation to invest in jobs and enterprise developing ever more successful spin-offs from world class science and technology to benefit the people of Stockton and the North East.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 29 Jan 2015
A community bank in Middlesbrough town centre to challenge pay day lenders has been recommended by council chiefs.
A new community bank to be based in the heart of Middlesbrough is at the core of Labour mayoral candidate Cllr Dave Budd’s campaign to secure the position in May, when current Independent Mayor Ray Mallon will step down.
Deputy Mayor Cllr Budd, Executive member for finance and governance, has recommended in a report to be put before the Executive on Tuesday that Moneywise Community Banking be provided with a two-year grant totalling £85,000 to support its plans to locate to a town centre premises.
It aims to help over three years 4,000 new members, provide 1,200 training courses and issue loans amounting to just over £0.5m.
A loan from Moneywise of £300 with a typical APR of 26.7% over 12 months, the total repayable amount would be £342.79.
In comparison, the council report states the same loan from a doorstep lender (APR 272%) would cost £546 to repay; from an online instant loan (APR 1058%) it would cost £627.54 to repay; and from an illegal lender or loan shark (APR 1000%), it would cost £2,900 to repay.
Moneywise Community Banking – a not-for-profit member owned credit union – will deliver a number of financial support services including safe and easy savings; an optional Visa debit card service; low cost loans; Christmas savings club; white goods and furniture at discounted prices; free employability training; and debt and money management advice.
It was originally based in Hartlepool and now operates across Teesside, East Durham and North Yorkshire with offices in Redcar, Hartlepool and Scarborough. It is regulated by the Financial Services Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority, which is also the case with banks.
All member savings within Moneywise are fully protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme so members can save safely in the knowledge that they cannot lose their savings, the report said.
Cllr Budd has said previously that a “modern, effective” credit union for Middlesbrough has to be “competitive and give an instant answer like companies such as Wonga do”.
“This has worked elsewhere and it can work in Middlesbrough. It will offer credit at fair rates and gives all Middlesbrough residents the opportunity for greater financial security.”
The report states that the two-year £85,000 grant would be funded through existing resources within the Community Support Fund.
Moneywise and Middlesbrough Council would work together to identify suitable premises.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 14 Jan 2015
The Post Office today stands accused of cutting down its network “by stealth” as an investigation reveals 17 North East branches have been “temporarily closed” for more than a year.
A Freedom Of Information probe has uncovered huge gaps in the region’s Post Office service, with seven out of a total of 20 branches marked as ‘closed temporarily’, having actually been shut for more than five years.
The Communication Workers’ Union has branded the situation “ridiculous” and claimed Post Office chiefs are letting down communities in the region who rely on their local branch.
Dave Ward, CWU deputy general secretary, said:
“To have 17 post office branches closed for over a year is ridiculous. Every day those post offices are closed, local communities are going without essential services.
“Temporarily closing post offices is surely closure by stealth. The Post Office is being opportunistic and this is impacting detrimentally on customers and communities.
“Communities are extremely vocal about their support for their local post office but they’re being fobbed off.
“People want a professional and reliable service and the sooner the Post Office realises this and stops selling them off or surreptitiously closing them down, the better.”
Post Offices in Stamfordham and Matfen, in rural Northumberland, Orchard in Stockton’s Eaglescliffe, Roseberry Square in Redcar, and Aycliffe, Kelloe and Eldon Lane, in County Durham, have been marked as closed temporarily for the last five years.
Those closed for between three and four years include Stainton, in Middlesbrough, Newfield and East Rainton, both in County Durham, Grange Estate, in Stockton and Victoria Street, in South Bank, near Middlesbrough.
Branches in Cleadon Park, South Shields, Burnopfield, in County Durham, and Newbiggin-by-the-Sea and Stonehaugh, in Northumberland, were added to the ‘temporary closure’ list over a year ago.
On top of the 17 branches closed for more than a year, it can also be revealed that a further three branches have shut down within the last three months.
The Post Office denied claims it was mounting a closure programme by the back door and said its staff were committed to seeing branches reopen.
A spokesman said the Post Office network in the North East is “stable” and it was had no plans to permanently close branches.
Last month, the Forest-in-Teesdale branch reopened after it had been closed for more than five years.
A Post Office spokesperson said:
“There is no closure programme and the size of the Post Office network in the North East remains broadly stable as for example there were 489 branches open and trading in March 2014 compared with 491 in March 2011.
“There is a natural churn in the network and there can be occasions when Post Office branches do temporarily close for reasons beyond our control, and in these cases a branch will only remain vacant for a period where no suitable premises or an applicant for the role of postmaster has been identified, and we always work hard to restore the service.
“If a Post Office is temporarily closed it is not included in the numbers of open and trading branches.
“Post Office Ltd is engaged in the largest investment and modernisation programme in its history, which marks a commitment to no more branch closure programmes.
“Examples of cases where we have successfully restored post office services in the North East after periods of temporary closure include Forest-in-Teesdale, Normanby, Gunnerton, Blackhall Mill, Bede Trading Estate and High Grange.”
Closed for 0-3 months
Crookham, TD12 4SY
High Street, NE8 1EQ
Pittington, DH6 1AT
Closed for over a year
Burnopfield, NE16 6LX
Cleadon Park, NE34 8PL
Stonehaugh, NE48 3DY
West End Newbiggin, NE64 6UY
Closed for over two years
Shotley Bridge, DH8 0HQ
Closed for over 3 Years
East Rainton, DH5 9QT
Grange Estate, TS18 4LT
Victoria Street, TS6 6HT
Closed for over four Years
Stainton, TS8 9AG
Newfield, DH2 2SL
Closed for over five Years
Aycliffe, DL5 6JT
Eldon Lane, DL14 8TD
Kelloe, DH6 4PD
Matfen, NE20 0RP
Orchard, TS16 0EH
Roseberry Square, TS10 4EL
Stamfordham, NE18 0LA
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 Jan 2015
Teesside councils have again suffered worse than average cuts in the latest government funding announcement.
Figures released today show Middlesbrough Council‘s ‘spending power‘ – the total amount it has at its disposal through central grants and council tax – will fall by £8.9m from £158.4mm in 2014-15 to £149.5m in 2015-16.
That is a cut of 5.6% – compared to an average cut for all English councils of 1.8%.
Redcar and Cleveland will lose £5.2m, or 3.7%, while Stockton emerged relatively unscathed – down £3.6m, or 2.1%.
The list of worst-hit areas is dominated by Labour-dominated parts of the Midlands and North.
> Well, what a suprise !
Tamworth in Staffordshire faces the biggest cut, of 6.4%, followed by Barrow in Furness and Chesterfield.
At the other end of the scale, a number of councils in the South of England will actually see their spending power go up.
Tewkesbury will see the biggest increase, of 3.2%, while Surrey will get an extra £27m, or 3.1%.
Other towns and counties getting an increase include East Devon (up 2.7%), Buckinghamshire (up 2.3%), Cambridge (up 2.3%), Dorset (up 1.9%) and Cheshire East (up 1.4%).
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 18 Dec 2014
Middlesbrough Mayor Ray Mallon’s latest attack on the town’s beggars has split opinions across Teesside.
Last week Mr Mallon launched an unprovoked rant about those who beg for money on Middlesbrough’s streets, declaring they “are not homeless, they are criminals,” and later adding that they “diversify from crime to begging because it pays well.”
His views – which were expressed during a meeting of Middlesbrough Council’s Executive – split opinions of Teessiders who took to social media sites to make their feelings known.
Teesside Homeless Action Group (THAG) have backed the comments which were condemned by local anti-capitalist campaign group, Teesside Solidarity Movement (TSM).
Francis Owens, manager of THAG, said:
“I agree with the comments made by Mayor Mallon.
“The people begging in Middlesbrough and elsewhere are no more homeless than the people they are cadging money from.
“It is easy money for people who have no conscience about exploiting people’s compassion for the poor.
“In the past we at THAG have campaigned against the large numbers of beggars in central Middlesbrough who claimed that they were homeless.
“At first we tried to help them but soon realised that they wanted no help from our organisation because they already had homes.
“THAG gave up doing outreach work in Middlesbrough years ago because there were no rough sleepers to be found.
“This problem is almost all year round but at Christmas the streets seem to abound with young men sitting crosslegged asking for spare change, some have dogs usually a sleeping bag is positioned close by as if that is their only shelter from the elements whilst sleeping rough.
“I met a beggar on Redcar High Street recently, sitting with his dog.
“People were giving him money and food for his dog so I approached him and asked if he was homeless to which he replied, ‘No, I’ve got a home but I do this because I can’t hold down a job and it’s easy.’
“Needless to say the people nearby put their money back into their pockets.”
> Two things spring to mind – (a) the beggar was really stupid, if he admitted that in front of people, or (b) he was being sarcastic – some officious twat comes up and demands to know if you’re homeless, you might just reply “no of course not, I live in a mansion and my Rolls Royce is parked around the corner.”
But TSM representative Lawrie Coombs said:
“Even given official figures, we know that begging has increased by 70% in many areas but this is down to Government Policy not criminality.
“Millions are being sanctioned, using foodbanks and homelessness is becoming a common experience for many young people in particular.”
The former Nightshelter project worker, who has direct experience of working with homeless young people, added:
“Ray Mallon goes for easy rhetoric, says nothing and does nothing about the real criminals in society.
“At a time when our rulers are encouraging division, we know that Mr Mallon’s loose talk may well result in vulnerable people facing persecution rather than having their needs met.
“His comments ratchet up the agenda of scapegoating people on benefits.
“He may well think people down on their luck are scum but we think the tens of thousands of people surviving on benefits across Teesside are heroes, performing miracles getting through every day.
“Being hard up is not a crime.”
> Mallon’s previous rant can be found here: https://unemployedtynewear.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/beggars-are-targeting-car-parks-as-people-give-money-there-says-ray-mallon/
along with a brief history of Mallon’s less-than-snow-white career as a cop.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 16 Dec 2014
Stockton MP James Wharton received £22,000 in donations between July and September – the fifth largest amount donated to any individual MP during the period.
The donations amount to almost as much as the £29,400 received by the whole of the Plaid Cymru party in the same timeframe.
No other Tees MP received individual donations in that time period, according to the data collated by Trinity Mirror.
But several donations were made to constituency party offices on Teesside.
Mr Wharton, Conservative MP for Stockton South, received two donations of £10,000 each and one of £2,000.
One of the donations worth £10,000 was given by former Conservative party co-treasurer Peter Cruddas.
The other was given by company JCB Research Ltd – owned by Anthony Bramford, a Tory life peer and chairman of construction equipment firm JCB.
The remaining £2,000 was donated by IPGL Ltd – a privately-owned holding company of a trading group, based in London.
Mr Wharton told The Gazette he would “not spend public money on my newsletters or leaflets”.
“I work hard to stay in touch with residents all year round – not just at election time,” he said.
“I am pleased to do this without spending taxpayers money.
“I am sure many taxpayers in our area will appreciate that too.”
> Perhaps they should withold judgement until they’ve seen what he claims on expenses…
The donations will help Mr Wharton, one of only two Conservative MPs in the North-east, as he seeks to defend a majority of just 332 at next year’s General Election.
He has previously received separate donations in 2013 from former Newcastle United chairman Sir John Hall and Alexander Temerko, a Russian businessman.
Mr Temerko was allowed to stay in Britain after a judge ruled an attempt to extradite him to Russia on fraud charges was politically motivated.
As such, he is allowed to make political donations.
Mr Wharton has also received funding from the United and Cecil Club.
The organisation has come under the spotlight after supporting Tory candidates in a number of key marginals.
Under funding rules, wealthy supporters can give up to £7,500 without disclosing their identity if it is funnelled through a club.
Among other political donations on Teesside from July to September were:
:: £2,500 donated in Stockton South to the Conservative party from The Association of Conservative Clubs Ltd;
:: £1,700 worth of administration fees donated in Stockton South to the Labour party from UNISON;
:: £2,500 donated in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland to the Conservatives from a Richard E Jones;
:: £1,200 donated in Redcar to the Lib Dems from the Redcar and Cleveland Lib Dem Council Group;
:: £1,000 donated in Redcar to Labour from David Blunkett (the Gazette was unable to verify if this was the former home secretary);
:: £2,500 donated in Redcar to Labour from the Communication Workers Union.
The largest donation received between July and September this year was to the value of £950,000.
It was given to the Liberal Democrats by a George G Watson.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 19 Nov 2014