The rising popularity of the Green Party has given the political group their biggest boost yet in Labour-run Gateshead ahead of the local elections on May 7.
For the first time the Greens are fielding candidates in all 22 electoral wards that make up the borough council and the two parliamentary seats, Gateshead and Blaydon.
Andrew Blanchflower, who is organising the party’s Gateshead campaign said their membership had increased five fold since last year and up to 10% are former members of the Labour party.
He said part of their membership surge is down to the council’s controversial Core Strategy plan that means almost 3000 homes will be built on greenbelt land and which was voted on in March.
Speaking as his party announced their manifesto Mr Blanchflower, who is standing in Dunston and Teams against Labour’s Gary Haley, said:
“Last year we stood in eight wards, but for the May 7 elections we will have candidates in all 22 wards of Gateshead. The ‘green surge’ has meant that local party membership has increased by more than five times in the last six months.
“Around five to 10% have been Labour members but what is significant is that they may not have been politically active before, but now they are. People will find that we are a breath of fresh air. We are offering an anti-austerity solution.”
Total membership now stands at 154, up from just low double figures last year, and Mr Blanchflower said many of the new recruits will all be active in challenging their two target seats Saltwell, where Labour council leader Mick Henry is standing for re-election and Crawcrook and Greenside, where they got 12% of the vote in the 2014 local election.
Crawcrook was a key centre of protest from wildlife campaigners trying to protect its greenbelt – part of which had been ear-marked for housing.
However their stance as the anti-austerity party and the only option for dramatic environmental change has been challenged today by the Gateshead Liberal Democrats who say they can ‘out-Green’ the Greens.
Self-sufficiency advocate Dr Jonathan Wallace, who is also up for election in the Lib Dem stronghold of Whickham South and Sunniside, said:
“The big issue that we have been fighting is Labour’s plans for building on the greenbelt and we’ve fought that for years. Labour got their plans passed and it’s caused a great deal of upset among residents.
“A really big issue has also been open cast mining. There were two big applications, including one at Marley Hill, and we led the campaign to get them defeated but Gateshead Labour councillors voted for it. We also campaigned
“I’m confident that because we have led the environmental in Gateshead that in terms of green policies people will look to us, rather than the Greens. If they are looking to people who lead a green lifestyle they can look to me – I can ‘out-green’ and Green Party candidate.”
He said none of their 11 seats are considered safe but they enjoy safe majorities in his own area of Whickham South and Sunniside (800) and Whickham North where they increased their majority from 100 to 300.
They also hope to make gains in Dunston Hill and Whickham East and in Ryton, Crook and Stella.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 16 Apr 2015
Ministers have accused North East councils of sitting on unused land and property which they could sell to protect services.
But local authorities facing massive spending cuts of more than £240 million ridiculed the claims – and pointed out that there are strict rules preventing them from selling the land to fund services.
And the comments provoked an angry reaction from Labour, who accused the Government of imposing higher cuts on urban councils in the North East than wealthy parts of the country.
Ministers launched the attack on councils which are reducing services and raising council tax, claiming that they had nobody to blame but themselves.
The Association of North East Councils has warned that crucial services such as care for vulnerable children are in danger of collapse as massive cuts in council funding wipe almost quarter of a billion pounds off budgets across the North East this year.
It says the true impact of Government spending cuts has been hidden because authorities have succeeded in “raiding” other services and diverting funds where they are needed most – but they have reached a point where this just won’t be possible any more.
But Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles issued a statement claiming councils have large sources of untapped revenue including money held in reserve, assets such as property or land, and council tax arrears which have gone uncollected.
And his department published a league table highlighting the worst offenders, with County Durham named as one of the authorities with high levels of surplus assets. The authority is sitting on assets worth £62 million, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
The department also named Gateshead as an authority with high levels of surplus assets, worth £49 million.
Government figures also showed that Northumberland council had reserves of £96.4 million while Newcastle-upon-Tyne had reserves of £78.9 million.
Mr Pickles said:
“Reserves have rocketed up in the past few years and councils could be making better use of assets to keep taxes down and protect frontline services, while at the same time doing more to stop the billions they are losing to fraud and collecting more Council Tax arrears.”
But the claims were dismissed by Councillor Alan Napier, Deputy Leader of Durham County Council, who said:
“We do have surplus assets of £62 million which includes both land and buildings, including former school sites.
“Most of these sites are either being sold, up for sale or in the process of being put up for sale. When sold, our hands are tied as to what we can spend the money on as the receipts are ring-fenced and can only be spent on new capital items such as buildings, vehicles or infrastructure.
“I would have expected Mr Pickles to know that receipts from surplus assets cannot be used to reduce council tax or protect front line services ”
Gateshead Council’s strategic director of corporate services and governance, Mike Barker, said
“£41m illion of assets which have been classed as ‘surplus to requirements’ actually relate to land which has already been contractually committed towards building much needed, good quality, affordable housing across the borough.
“The development of this land is already underway on sites at Deckham, Bensham and Saltwell, and Birtley. Over the next 15 years, the joint venture partnership between ourselves, Galliford Try and Home Group will build thousands of new homes on 19 different sites across Gateshead; bringing jobs, investment, and regeneration to many areas.”
The devastating impact of Government cuts on council services was confirmed in a report by the National Audit Office late last year, which warned that authorities were reaching a point where they couldn’t cope.
“While local authorities have maintained financial resilience overall, some – particularly among metropolitan districts – are now showing persistent signs of financial stress, such as unplanned in-year reductions in service spend.
“Looking to the future, there is increased uncertainty about how local authorities can manage further possible falls in income.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 11 Feb 2015
Emergency food parcels are more in demand than ever before, according to the latest statistics.
Since opening nearly two years ago, a total of 52 tonnes of food has been handed out to folk in Gateshead in parcels.
More than 100 volunteers have worked around the clock to provide the front-line service to more than 5,000 people, 1,600 of who were children, since opening in 2012.
Statistics show an increase of 27% year-on-year, as 1904 people turned to the food bank this year as opposed to 1649 the previous year.
“The figures show a steady increase in demand and we are really grateful to the people of Gateshead for their donations and for the people in volunteering.
“We have been able to help 5,000 people in Gateshead who have been helped by the people of Gateshead. It’s very much a community thing. Churches and professionals are working to help people in their time of need.
“The majority of people only receive help from the food bank once and after that professional agencies are able to sort out their problems.”
Figures obtained by organisers show that more people living in Saltwell have used the food bank than anywhere else in the borough, when 408 adults and 153 children from the ward used the service over a two year period.
In Dunston and Teams a total of 541 people were handed food parcels in their time of need.
More than 1770 people used the food bank because of delays of their benefit, while 768 people said they used the service because of changes to their welfare.
Statistics also showed low income and debt were reasons for folk needing help.
Mr Britton added:
“The reality of what we are told by the professionals is that delays and changes to benefits is one of the main reasons for using the food bank.”
The food bank, run by volunteers from churches in Gateshead, works with care professionals, GPs and the Citizens Advice Bureau to distribute food to those families in need in the town. They provide three days of emergency food to people who find themselves in need.
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