Tagged: referendum

Durham council cabinet backs 1.99 per cent council tax rise

Labour councillors have set themselves on a collision course with Tory ministers after agreeing to raise council tax by the most possible without triggering a referendum.

This week  Communities Secretary Eric Pickles challenged Durham County Council to avoid tax hikes and protect frontline services by selling off its £62m of “surplus assets”.

Hours later, the authority’s cabinet ignored the suggestion and backed a 1.99 per cent council tax rise – just under the two per cent that would have prompted a local referendum.

Assuming a full council meeting rubberstamps the proposal later this month , that will mean Band A householders, 59 per cent of those in County Durham, having to pay 33p a week extra for their council services in 2015-16.

The Government has offered Durham a grant worth £2.18m if it freezes council tax, but that would still leave a £1.2m shortfall from the £3.398m the tax hike is expected to generate – at a time when the cash-strapped council faces unprecedented cuts of £250m, including £16.3m over the next year.

Deputy leader Alan Napier said raising council tax had been a very difficult decision to take at a time of national austerity, pay squeezes and when household budgets are under pressure.

However, accepting the council tax freeze grant was not affordable or in the best interests of taxpayers, he said.

“This is a sensible and prudent budget. We are protecting frontline services as best we can,” he said.

The council only learned how much money it will get from central government last Wednesday (February 4).

The final settlement brought some unexpected good news – an extra £966,000 for welfare help and social care. But Cllr Napier said this was still £1m less than for this year.

The overall revenue budget totals £409.9m. A capital programme of £366m to 2017 is also included, with £93m for building new and improving existing schools, £101m for maintaining and improving roads, £18m for broadband, £14m for industrial estates and £8m for town centres.

About £9m from the council’s reserves would be spent on supporting adult social care, staff pay increases and making other savings.

Councillors would see no increase in their allowance and their mileage rate cut to 45p.

By next March, the council expects to have cut 1,950 jobs from its 2010 workforce.

Council house and garage rents are set to increase by an average of 2.2 per cent.

Labour wants to continue its pioneering Local Council Tax Support Scheme, meaning no working-age council tax benefit claimant has their payment reduced.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat groups want council tax frozen. Final decisions will be made on Wednesday, February 25.

Source – Durham Times,  12 Feb 2015

North East must accept Metro Mayor to get new powers says Osborne

The region must accept a single directly-elected mayor ruling from Durham to Scotland in order to grab dramatic new powers, George Osborne said yesterday.

The Chancellor signed a landmark devolution deal with Greater Manchester – covering transport, health, housing and the police – in return for a ‘metro mayor’, to run its ten authorities.

And he immediately warned that any city-region hoping for similar control over its own destiny must also accept a cross-border ‘Boris Johnson-style’ leader.

That list includes the new the North East Combined Authority, which brings together County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

The area is believed to be third on Mr Osborne’s list for agreeing devolution deals – after Manchester and West Yorkshire – with an announcement as early as next month.

But, last night, Simon Henig, Durham’s leader and the chairman of the combined authority, criticised Mr Osborne’ attempt to tie the region’s hands.

And he pointed out voters in Newcastle and eight other English cities had rejected mayors – for city boundaries only – in referendums just two-and-a-half years ago.

Councillor Henig said:

“I strongly believe it is now the time for powers and control over spending to be devolved out of Whitehall throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, not just to Manchester.

“However, my own view is that devolution should not be made conditional on accepting an elected mayor, which was rejected by the public in referendums in several major cities in 2012.”

The Chancellor’s move is a dramatic U-turn, because the Conservatives had rejected calls for metro mayors which, many argued, could be handed a powerful portfolio.

Yesterday, Mr Osborne said:
I hope that Manchester will be the first of many big cities to take advantage of greater devolution of powers.

“Any other city that wants to receive more powers and move to a new model of governance, with an elected mayor, should bring forward their proposals.”

The Manchester package includes:

* Responsibility for re-regulated bus services and integrated ‘smart ticketing’ across all local modes of transport.

* An enhanced ‘earn back’ deal – keeping £1m a year from economic growth, to fund an extension to the Metrolink tram network.

* Police powers – with the abolition of the elected police and crime commissioner (PCC).

* Control of a £300 million ‘housing investment fund’.

* Power over business support services – including manufacturing advice and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) export advice.

* Power to develop a plan to integrate health and social care.

A Government source said:

Who do the voters sack if something goes wrong? City-region mayors answer that.

“So we can obviously go further for cities that are able to step up to the accountability challenge.”

Source – Northern Echo,  04 Nov 2014

Jokers set up fake Scotland-England border control

The checkpoint at Carter Bar, near Jedburgh. Picture: Jon Parker Lee

Led by photographer Jon Parker Lee, a mixed group of Scottish and English friends have set up a fake border control post at Carter Bar – the point where traffic travelling up the A68 crosses from England into Scotland.

Giving the gag an authentic look, the jokers erected a barrier and donned high visibility jackets, making the  checkpoint look legitimate to anyone approaching in a car. They even included a sign which read ‘Opens 19 Sept 2014’, a reference to the day after the referendum when the results will be announced.

Lee stated the motivation behind the stunt had no affinity to either the ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ campaign. They just wanted to give everyone a little break from the seriousness of the referendum run-in.

“We’re not making a point for either side,” Lee told the Daily Mail.

We’ve staged this together as a group of Scotland and English. We’re simply united in having a laugh.

“Come what may, we all love a wind-up, and maybe this will give everyone a laugh and a break from the ever-increasing heat of the debate.”

Source – Berwick Advertiser,  16 Sept 2014

“You would vote for independence too,” says North-East based Scot

With the Scottish independence referendum only days away, journalist and university lecturer Neil Macfarlane explains why he would vote yes. And why he thinks you would too

I’m a Scot who lives in the North-East. There are loads of us – chuck a paper aeroplane out your front window and you’ll probably hit one. I’ve lived happily here for years, but it won’t surprise those who know me that I would like Scotland to vote yes to independence next week.

I hope this happens because I don’t think the three main Westminster parties represent my politics any more. I like the idea of getting rid of nuclear weapons, of universal education, and I worry about the future of the NHS and the welfare state.

I think it’s sensible to increase immigration to help reverse decades of emigration by Scots like me and my family. I feel uncomfortable about parties of all stripes blaming foreigners and the poor for all problems.

I think the UK government and media is too focused on London. I think many people in the North-East feel the same about these issues.

I don’t know for sure if an independent Scotland would be richer or poorer but I do think it would be governed by people with its interests at heart. I like England and English people very much and I don’t think Braveheart is a good film.

My generation (mid 30s) are among those most likely to vote Yes. The media often explain this away by pointing out we were impressionable teens when Braveheart was released. It’s a funny observation – comfortingly so for some – but not quite right. There’s a more crucial formative figure than William Wallace.
Margaret Thatcher came to power only months before I was born, and was Prime Minister for over a decade as I was growing up in Edinburgh. It didn’t make sense that this could happen when it seemed to me that everybody I knew voted against her.
I remember my dad ranting at the telly and the chants of “milk-snatcher” in the playground. I still remember the day the teacher announced her resignation. The entire class of 11-year-olds erupted in celebration, on their knees with clenched fists, or jumping on their chairs. No one complained about young people being disengaged with politics in those days – we didn’t have the choice.

Thatcher remains the longest serving Prime Minister of my lifetime, yet she was repeatedly rejected by the people of Scotland at the polls. When our teachers taught us about democracy, and how generations had fought and died to preserve it, something didn’t fit.

By the way, feel free to swap “Scotland” in the paragraph above for “Middlesbrough“, “Sedgefield“, Sunderland” or “Bishop Auckland“.

Pretty much all of this applies to the North-East, too. Sometimes people dismiss the independence movement by asking if there should also be separation for the North-East, for Manchester, or Liverpool.

Personally, I don’t see why not – if that’s what the people want. But the argument misunderstands what Scotland is. It is not a region of a country. It is its own country and always has been.

The United Kingdom only came into being 300 years ago as an agreement between two nations to form an alliance. Scotland was not conquered. Its remarkable achievements in science, philosophy, engineering, literature and statecraft had been established for centuries before 1707, and that spirit later combined with the same from England, Wales and Northern Ireland to make the union thrive.

This time last year most Scots liked the idea of the UK being a partnership of equals, and a sizable majority were happy enough to keep it that way. That has now changed.

The No campaign has been horrendously misjudged. Scots always believed they could be independent, but most doubted if they should. The Conservative-Labour-Lib Dem Better Together campaign then set about claiming that Scotland would collapse into disarray if left to its own devices. The campaign was dubbed “Project Fear” – by the No camp themselves.

Scots were told: You can’t keep the pound, you can’t stay in the EU, your aspirations are pipe dreams and we’ll rebuild Hadrian’s Wall to keep you out when it all goes wrong.

Their latest effort was billboards claiming: “Vote no if you love your children.” The polls are at 50:50, are they saying half the people in Scotland hate their kids? It’s so long since the Scots heard the positive case for the union, they’re beginning to suspect there isn’t one.

In the face of this onslaught, the Yes campaign has flourished. Grassroots activists have packed out town halls across the country making their case, bloggers have amassed followings to make newspaper editors cry with envy.

People who have never voted are being helped to register, and volunteers are putting on buses to give them a lift on polling day. Discussion on social media is dominated by funny, spiky, imaginative Yes voters.

There are touring arts festivals. Millions have been inspired by the idea that Scotland could become a fairer, more successful country, and by the promise of progressive policies that would never be offered by three Westminster parties all fighting over the same ground.

This isn’t petty nationalism. It is an inclusive movement. Every resident will be given a Scottish passport on day one of independence. One of the most high profile campaign groups is English Scots for Yes, who give away teabags branded: “Have a cuppa, vote yes.” There are groups for African Scots, Italian Scots,Polish Scots. I am proud of the fact I don’t get a vote but those who live in Scotland do, regardless of where they were born.

It’s even spreading beyond the border. A recent poll showed an even higher proportion of people in the North-East back Scottish independence. I’ve lost count of the number of times friends have asked: “Can we come too?

The response to all of this has been a wishy-washy offer of more powers for the Scottish parliament, without saying exactly what those powers might be. This was George Osborne’s first intervention since he announced Scotland couldn’t keep the pound – a move which actually caused an increase in support for independence. At this point, the Chancellor could knock on every door in Scotland offering a free carwash, foot rub and £1000 cash and the polls would still rise for Yes.

While the SNP published a manifesto for Scotland’s future a year ago, Labour and the Tories are now trying to scramble a response with only days to go. Why not before now? Perhaps because they weren’t listening, because it’s too far away, because there are too few voters… because it was never a priority for them.

It’s a feeling the Scots, and we in the North-East, know all too well.

Source –  Northern Echo, 11 Sept 2014

Newcastle can form an “economic powerhouse” with Glasgow and Edinburgh after Scottish independence

Alex Salmond has raised the prospect of Newcastle teaming up with Glasgow and Edinburgh to form an “economic powerhouse” pushing for influence.

The Scottish First Minister told an audience in New York that while he has “no territorial ambitions” on Northumberland or the North East, he does see the sense in teaming up with the region on issues such as High Speed Rail.

Mr Salmond said that plans to build the new railway line from London up to the North showed the bias in the UK, and questioned why the line could not be built from North to South instead, joining up major Northern and Scottish cities along the way.

That transport focus prompted one North East MP to last night call on the First Minister to “put his money where his mouth is” on dualling of the A1 north of Newcastle and through Scotland.

Speaking at an event organised by US paper the Wall Street Journal, Mr Salmond said: “I have no territorial demands but we have encouraged a borderlands initiative, about economic cooperation between the North of England and Scotland.

“The North East and the North West get the hind end of just about everything, the worst deal.

“We have a parliament in Scotland we have our own economic initiatives, that’s not the case for the North of England.

“What sort of initiatives could we have? Well, transport for a start. Fast rail is coming, the greatest misnomer of all time, fast rail in the UK means something that will take 40 years to build.

“But the important point is that it is being built from south to north. It would be a rather interesting concept to see it built from north to south, the advantages there of the combinations of the great city conurbations of Glasgow, Edinburgh and for example Newcastle, which would present an interesting economic powerhouse.

“So cooperation doesn’t depend on territorial ambitions.”

Hexham MP Guy Opperman, a campaigner in the Better Together group, said: “All of us would welcome any action by the Scottish Government to improve transport links from Edinburgh to the North East, whether that is dualling the A1 north of the border or a commitment to High Speed rail from Edinburgh to Newcastle.

“But I would urge Mr Salmond to put his money where his mouth is.”

In Newcastle, council leader Nick Forbes has already met with Alex Salmond in Newcastle to discuss High Speed Rail, alongside visits to Edinburgh and Glasgow councils.

He said: “I strongly believe that the North East needs to be around the table discussing how we get the best deal for the region after the referendum.

“The Borderlands initiative shows we’re working closely with Scotland on a range of issues, and it is interesting to hear how much Scotland values its links with cities like Newcastle. It’s not all just about London.”

Source – Newcastle Journal   12 April 2014

SNP – independence would be better for the North East than control from London

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

Jobs warning for North East over Scottish independence

A jobs warning has been sounded as the region is told of the risk of Scottish independence.

As Chancellor George Osborne set out why the UK would not let a breakaway Scotland keep the pound, Hexham MP Guy Opperman has warned of the regional impact of a new international border on the doorsteps of Northumberland.

The Conservative MP said: “If keeping the pound would not be possible as part of a formal sterling currency union; if the SNP no longer wishes to join the euro, which one can see; and if there is no prospect of an independent country with border control—my constituents are somewhat concerned that there might be a rerun of Hadrian’s wall—where are we?”

He said the situation in Scotland was clearly of concern to the North East, adding: “I am speaking as an MP whose area has a border that divides Scotland and England—my local businesses, the North East chamber of commerce and the local authorities have all indicated that there would be a negative impact on jobs, growth and the development of our respective economies in Scotland and England were the referendum to go ahead.”

> Would that be the same jobs, growth and development (or lack of) that makes the North East the area with the highest unemployment ?

He told MPs: “I speak as a Brit, a mongrel Englishman, a lover of Scotland and an MP whose constituency borders Scotland. Were there to be Scottish independence, I have no doubt that tourism and trade would continue, but it would be naive not to accept that trade on a cross-border basis would unquestionably be affected.

“That is not some Conservative Member of Parliamentspeaking; that is the opinion of the chambers of commerce, local authorities and business groups I have spoken to on both sides of the border.”

> All organizations with the welfare of the common man at heart…

In Edinburgh yesterday the Chancellor ruled out a currency union with an independent Scotland after “strong” advice from the Treasury’s leading official, which was published.

Sir Nicholas Macpherson said that unions are “fraught with difficulty” and raised serious concerns about the Scottish Government’s commitment to making it work. Scotland’s banking sector is too big in relation to national income, the UK could end up bailing the country out.

> Perhaps the North East (and Cumbria, for that matter) should apply to become part of an independent Scotland. Until relatively recently the border was pretty fluid, the old kingdom of Northumbria took in chunks of both, and Hadrian’s Wall is nowadays a long way from the current border (although, of course, neither England or Scotland existed when it was built).

But who do we have more in common with – Scotland or the London city state ?

Source – Newcastle Journal  14 Feb 2014