The controversial sell-off of the Land Registry was abandoned yesterday (Monday, July 14), after ministers admitted it had run into overwhelming opposition.
The likely £1bn privatisation of the 150-year-old institution – which employs more than 400 civil servants in Durham City – was suspended indefinitely, MPs were told in a statement.
The decision followed strong criticism from solicitors and trades unions about putting a private firm in charge of all land and property data and the threat of higher charges for the public.
Yesterday, the Department for Business (BIS) admitted that 91 per cent of respondents to its consultation did not believe the shake-up would deliver services “more efficiently and effectively”.
In addition, 88 per cent of respondents “did not agree that the overall design provides the right checks and balances to protect the integrity of the register”.
In recent weeks, the Liberal Democrats had made clear they were getting cold feet – over a deal that the Conservatives hoped would raise substantial funds for the Treasury.
Business minister Michael Fallon told MPs: “Given the importance of the Land Registry to the effective operation of the UK property market, we have concluded that further consideration would be valuable.
However, Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods – while welcoming the move – urged ministers to come clean about their long-term intentions for the Land Registry.
Although officials briefed that the sale had been “abandoned”, BIS also said it still favoured privatisation and would continue to “develop the policy”.
Ms Blackman-Woods said: “I want them to scrap the whole idea, not just put it on hold this side of the general election.
“I will be writing to Vince Cable and Michael Fallon, asking them to accept the overwhelming evidence that this privatisation would create a conflict of interest and that people would not trust the data as much.”
Leading City firms had been approached for their advice on setting up a joint venture between the government and a private company, to take charge of the Land Registry.
BIS also considered turning it into a state-owned company that could be sold off, or letting a private company run the body as a so-called ‘GovCo’.
Yesterday, officials denied the U-turn was connected to fierce criticism of Dr Cable over the sell-off of Royal Mail – allegedly at a £1bn loss.
BIS also made clear that the Land Registry would press ahead with creating a single register, instead of separate lists maintained and delivered by 348 local authorities.
It said standardising fees and turnaround times would end the situation where fees vary between £3 and £96 across the country – and turnaround times between one and 42 days.
Source – Durham Times, 15 July 2014
Conservatives in Northumberland are demanding an inquiry into how polling cards for last week’s Euro elections were not sent to voters in a county town.
The Tories are angry that cards were not sent to around 400 people in the Kirkhill ward of Morpeth, and also at High Stanners in the town, ahead of last Thursday’s European elections.
They claim they were contacted by people who wrongly believed they could not vote without the cards.
The Tories have claimed the turnout in the ward was just 19% – although the council dispute this figure.
They also say the party has strong support in the area and claim the failure to send out cards could have been crucial given that Tory MEP Martin Callanan lost his seat by 2,500 votes.
> Although 400 missed votes – even assuming that all the people would (a) have voted at all, and (b) would have voted Conservative if they did vote, still doesn’t add up to 2500 votes. Callanan would have lost anyway.
Dave Herne of Morpeth Conservatives, who was the county council candidate for the ward in 2013, said: “The reports that polling cards were not issued are very concerning.
“People in Kirkhill who always vote in elections will have been waiting for the cards wrongly, but not unreasonably assuming that a card is necessary to vote.
“The Conservative team heard from a number of people who thought they could not vote on the day and from the looks of it about 400 or so people may not have exercised their right as a result, perhaps more. We are very keen to understand how and why this happened.
“The Conservative party lost a seat in the European Elections by just 2,500 votes.
“Kirkhill has a history of voting Conservative and with increasing levels of support and the votes lost there would have made the result closer that much is certain.
“I will be writing to Northumberland County Council and taking advice from the Electoral Commission if necessary to help understand what has happened, and where else it happened in Northumberland.
“I would hate to think that the North East has been deprived of a fantastic MEP like Martin Callanan through errors by Northumberland County Council.”
> I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that the removal Callanan has actually made the North East just a little bit less deprived.
County councillor for Morpeth North David Bawn added: “I am becoming increasingly alarmed regarding this issue, we know that areas of Morpeth did not receive polling cards prior to the European elections last week, and consequently turnout in those areas was much lower than we would expect.
“Normally Morpeth has a relatively high turnout in elections, but this time the turnout across Morpeth was much lower than the North East region average which is unprecedented, therefore it is clear that this error may have affected the result of what was a very close race in Northumberland.
“This is unacceptable, we need an urgent investigation to establish the extent and the cause of this problem to ensure that it does not happen again.”
A county council spokesman said: “We have been made aware that some electors in the Morpeth area, generally streets between Spelvit Bridge and the River Wansbeck, may not have received poll cards ahead of the European Elections on May 22. These cards were issued to all electors and this is a Royal Mail issue.
“However electors do not need a poll card to vote and as long and as they are registered and eligible they could go along to their polling station at Morpeth Storey Park Community Centre and vote as normal.
“Not all electors in this area were affected and no other polling districts had this issue.”
The council said the turnout at Morpeth Storey Park Community Centre was in fact around 22% in person, not including postal votes – “very similar to everywhere else for a European election.”
Royal Mail spokeswoman Jennifer Bird said: ”Royal Mail has delivered all the poll cards for the Morpeth area that it received from another mail operator working for the council. We take the delivery of polling cards very seriously.
“If further evidence can be provided, we would be happy to investigate the matter further.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 28 May 2014
Accusations of dirty politics have been made in Northumberland after UKIP had to deny writing an election letter calling for mothers to lose state benefits.
Across south-east Northumberland, senior Labour figures received a letter claiming to be from a Newcastle UKIP candidate calling for an end to welfare for mothers after nine months and a demand that jobseekers never get more than the minimum wage.
However, UKIP has said the letter is an obvious fake, pointing out that the return address appears to be to a Labour Party freepost address.
Last night the party said it was considering complaining to the Electoral Commission, though it was unclear who had written the letter.
UKIP general secretary Jonathan Arnott said: “This letter is a disgusting hoax. Investigation reveals that the freepost given actually belongs to the Labour Party. If we hadn’t noticed this deception, an innocent woman could have been falsely branded as racist. At first sight it looks like the Labour Party were responsible, and I’m appalled that our opponents could stoop so low.
“The Labour Party should suspend its south-east Northumberland branch and hold a full investigation.
“We are considering all options at present, including reporting the matter to the police or the Electoral Commission.”
The contentious letter says Labour’s main focus has been on “so-called black and ethnic minorities” and adds that under UKIP the “Northern white working class” would be treated “just like the black and ethnic minorities living on welfare”.
The letter adds: “UKIP believe that if you are on welfare any child you give birth to nine months after is not the responsibility of the tax payer.
“If a lady on minimum wage had another child and asked her employer for more money she would be refused. Why should welfare recipients be treated better than workers on the minimum wage?”
The freepost address on the letter has previously been used by the Labour party nationally, though there is no suggestion the letter was produced by the party.
A Labour Party spokesman said the UKIP claim was “absolute rubbish”.
He added: “This old freepost address is freely available on the internet and could be potentially misused by anyone. We have reported this misuse to Royal Mail. To suggest this letter is anything to do with the Labour Party is absurd.”
South-east Northumberland politics have already descended into a bitter row of claims and counter-claims between UKIP and Labour, with the two sides rowing over accusations of election fraud.
The latest row follows a push by UKIP for seats in this May’s local elections. Polls suggest that the party has a good chance of coming second in this May’s European elections, taking one of the three seats in the North East.
If so, it is likely both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats would be forced out as a result, meaning Labour could take two seats.
UKIP is also set to field around 100 candidates in the upcoming local elections in the five Tyne and Wear councils.
Source – Newcastle Journal 26 April 2014
Rail unions have launched a legal battle with the Coalition Government over the sale of the East Coast Main Line.
They claim the planned “re-privatisation” of the service before the next general election in 2015 is being rushed through and that ministers have “cut corners”.
The rail unions Aslef and the TSSA said their members’ jobs and conditions, as well as the interests of passengers and taxpayers, were being threatened by a lack of consultation.
They are seeking a judicial review over the matter and are also challenging extensions to the Thameslink and Great Northern franchises.
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said: “It is imperative that we raise the genuine concerns of all stakeholders but, especially, the employees before this is rushed through. We cannot, in good conscience, allow the mistakes of the past to happen again.”
The East Coast Main Line franchise, which runs from Edinburgh, through the North East to London, has been in Government hands since November 2009 when the then franchise holders National Express gave it up, saying it could not afford to run it any more.
Before that, from 1996 to December 2007, it had been run by Great North Eastern Railway before it had the franchise taken away due to poor financial management.
It has been run for the Government since 2009 by Directly Operated Railways, which last year returned more than £200m to taxpayers as a result of its stewardship of the line.
In January the Government published a shortlist of three bids to run it as part of plans for the rail route’s re-privatisation. The bidders were FirstGroup, a joint bid from Eurostar and French firm Keolis, and another from Virgin and Stagecoach.
RMT acting general secretary Mick Cash said: “After the scandal of this Government robbing the British taxpayer of a billion pounds in the scramble to privatise the Royal Mail it is shocking that they are engaging in the same tactics to try and hand the East Coast Main Line back to their friends in big business.
“The British public have a right to openness and transparency when it comes to the ideologically-driven attempt to sell off Britain’s most successful rail-route to the speculators and chancers after two previous private sector failures on the same line.”
TSSA leader Manuel Cortes said: “The coalition knows only too well that rail franchising is not fit for purpose. Rail workers are at a loss to understand why the Government insists on going forward with a broken system which threatens the interests of passengers and taxpayers.
“We can only conclude that the ideology which saw Royal Mail flogged off on the cheap continues to thrive.”
A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “We will vigorously defend this claim and remain committed to the franchising programme.
“As these legal proceedings are ongoing it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 07 April 2014
The Coalition government has finally put its cards on the table, calling for the completion of a ‘free trade’ agreement with the United States of America that will end democracy as we know it today.
Do you think this statement is needlessly hyperbolic? In fact, it probably does not make the point strongly enough!
You will lose the ability to affect government policy – particularly on the National Health Service; after the Health and Social Care Act, the trade agreement would put every decision relating to its work on a commercial footing. The rights of transnational corporations would become the priority, health would become primarily a trade issue and your personal well-being would be of no consequence whatsoever.
Profit will rule.
Also threatened would be any other public service that has been privatised by this and previous governments, along with any that are privatised in the future; all would fall…
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Something to sing in the dole queue…
The wonderful work of