Tagged: Simon Henig

Durham County Council cuts amount of time public are given to ask questions

Councillors have voted to reduce the time given to taking questions from the public at their meetings.

Durham County Council agreed to limit the public questions section at full council meetings to ten minutes.

The limit can be extended on a council vote.

However, Liberal Democrat leader Amanda Hopgood said it was excessive.

“This is the one opportunity they have to address the full council. To limit it to ten minutes, I don’t think is acceptable,” she said.

Labour council leader Simon Henig said there had been many changes since the system was introduced, including the creation of Area Action Partnerships, which meant there were many more opportunities for the public to engage with the council.

Labour’s David Boyes said the setup had been very liberal but had been abused.

The changes were approved by 85 votes to 12.

Source –  Northern Echo, 23 Jan 2015

Advertisements

Durham County Councillors’ payments frozen

Councillors have voted to freeze their basic allowances for the year ahead.

An independent panel had recommended a one per cent increase for members of Durham County Council.

However, the council’s Labour leader Simon Henig told a full council meeting at Durham’s County Hall it was not an appropriate time to be considering an allowance increase and proposed it be left unchanged.

Liberal Democrat Nigel Martin proposed a lower mileage allowance, of 45p per mile rather than 48p – a proposal backed by Conservatives and some independent councillors.

However, the Labour motion was passed by 86 votes to three, with nine abstentions.

Source –  Northern Echo, 23 Jan 2015

Pressure on North East foodbanks could be eased by £22m EU fund, politicians tell PM

North East politicians are calling for government to tap into a £22m EU fund to ease pressure on foodbanks.

David Cameron has been criticised for allegedly failing to take the money over fears it reveals the UK’s dependency on the EU and weakens his position going into a potential in/out referendum in 2017.

However the Conservative Party have said they are not missing out on EU cash and have £2.9m to spend, and they – not Europe – will decide where it goes.

Labour MEPs have now written an open letter to the Prime Minister asking him to lift his block on support for the country’s most vulnerable people for what they consider is solely for ‘ideological reasons’.

The European Aid to the Most Deprived Fund is worth £2.5bn, and is available to all EU member countries to dip into to help people who are most in need. Foodbanks would have been able to apply for funding from the pot. However David Cameron decided to opt out of the scheme in 2013, which Labour members believe could have eventually totalled £22m for the UK between 2014 and 2020.

The Government has previously said it believes individual member states are best positioned to deliver social programmes for the poor through regional or local authorities. They’ve said they will take their Most Deprived Fund subsidy (£2.9m) and deduct it from their ‘structural fund’, the cash pot they would prefer to see money delivered through.

The North East’s two Labour MEPs, Jude Kirton Darling and Paul Brannen have said in their joint letter to David Cameron that he should ‘remove opposition’ to support for foodbanks. The letter has also been signed by leader of Newcastle City Council, Nick Forbes,  and leader of Durham County Council, Simon Henig.

Jude Kirton Darling, MEP, said:

“People are under intense financial pressure at the moment and many people will have used food banks this year. 

“As the weather turns colder and people face increased heating bills we feel now is the time for the Government to remove its opposition to support for food banks.”

Paul Brannen MEP added that as well as accepting more money from the EU, in the medium term he would like to see food bank use decline through an increased minimum wage, less use of zero hour contracts and a youth job guarantee for young people.

A Conservative party spokesperson, said:

“We aren’t losing money – any funding the UK receives from the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived will be taken off our structural fund allocation.

“Instead we will use our structural funds to support local initiatives to train and support disadvantaged people into work. We have not yet decided how the €3.5m euro pot (£2.9m) will be spent – food aid is just one of the options for spending the money.”

> So nothing will happen this side of the General Election. Probably not after it, either.

In 2013, British MEPs alongside two other member states formed a blocking minority which meant the initial European-wide fund was spilt into two, with one fund for ‘material assistance’, which would have seen the UK receiving food and items like sleeping bags directly, and another for ‘immaterial assistance’ which could go towards the budgets of social programmes.

Britain chose to draw down only on the second fund ‘immaterial assistance’, and while it accepted a share of £2.9m – the same as the smallest EU member Malta with a population of just 450,000 – neighbouring country France accepted has taken its full €443m allowance.

The letter to Mr Cameron written by the pair, said:

“We feel now is the time to remove your opposition to support for food banks.

“We understand your opposition to the European Union but the fact is that the money is available and should be used as there is clear and desperate need. It is wrong to block support for the most vulnerable people for ideological reasons.

“You have claimed that support for food banks should be a national decision, yet the decision of your government is to not support food banks at all. We do not believe that is right.”

The Government announced in October that it plans to use some of the UK share of the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived to provide additional support for school breakfast clubs in England. Under the plans, which will be led by the Department for Education, this money would be allocated to schools with particularly high rates of disadvantage, as measured by free-school meal eligibility. This still needs to be agreed by the EU Commission.

Figures from by the Trussell Trust, which runs foodbanks, show that between April and September 2014, over 25,000 people were helped by the charity’s Gateshead, Newcastle East and Newcastle West End food banks alone.

That breaks down to 4,289 a month – more than treble the 1,316 people per month in Newcastle and Gateshead who accessed a foodbank in the nine month period between April 2013 and December 2013.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 22 Jan 2015

Children in care are next victims of savage cuts, warn North-East councils

Children in care will be the next victims of savage cuts to local council funding, North-East leaders warned yesterday.

They raised the alarm over a planned 17 per cent reduction in grants for children’s services buried in the 2015/16 funding settlement – even bigger than the overall cuts.

And they warned it would punish the North-East hardest, as the region has the joint highest number of children in care, after a sharp rise over the last five years.

For every 10,000 youngsters in the region, 81 are in local authority accommodation or the subject of care orders – up from 61 per 1,000 as recently as 2009.

It puts the North-East on a par with the North-West, while the figures are much lower in Yorkshire (65), London (54), the South-East (48) and elsewhere.

In Durham (91 per 1,000) and Newcastle (101 per 1,000) the figures are even higher, according to the Association of North-East Councils (ANEC).

Speaking at Westminster, Simon Henig, Durham’s Labour leader and ANEC’s chairman, said:

“We have seen a big increase in pressures in this area – and the amount of Government funding has been cut significantly – but local authorities have filled the gap, by raiding money from elsewhere.

 “The question that has to be asked is ‘how long can that go on’? And I suggest it won’t be able to go on very much longer.”

The warning came as ANEC – in partnership with major urban authorities – launched a fresh blast at the “unfair” 2015-16 funding settlement.

They ridiculed the Government’s claim of an average 1.8 per cent cut in funding, arguing the true figure was close to ten per cent in the North-East – a total grant reduction of around £240m.

ANEC said:

“This level of reduction has dramatic and damaging consequences for councils’ ability to fund statutory services such as children’s and adult social care.”

And Kevan Jones, the North Durham Labour MP, said:

“This Government has directed cash to areas not in the dire need that we are in the North-East.”

However, there were signs of future tensions with Labour, which will not halt next year’s cuts if it wins May’s general election and has made only vague promises of a “fairer formula”.

 Ed Miliband has also pledged that councils will keep 100 per cent of business rate growth – not the Coalition’s 50 per cent – replacing the existing system of redistribution to poorer areas.

ANEC warned such a scheme “potentially allocates extra resources to wealthy and business-rich parts of the London and South-East”.

Source – Northern Echo,  14 Jan 2015

Spending on buses goes up in urban areas but down in rural parts of North East

Spending on buses is going up in urban areas while it dips in rural parts of the North East, figures reveal.

Data released by the Campaign for Better Transport showed spending on subsidised bus services has risen by 14.3% since 2010 in Tyne and Wear.

Meanwhile, in County Durham and Northumberland councils are spending 29.8% and 15.3% less, respectively.

Martin Abrams, from CBT, said elderly and disabled people are those that suffer.

He said:

“Every single local authority is in a difficult financial position.

“This report isn’t about beating up local authorities – we want to highlight the fact that councils are really, really suffering from the funding cuts imposed on them by central government – but some councils are finding ways of funding services.

“We are concerned for elderly people in rural areas as this will have an impact on them, especially.

“A lot of elderly people take the bus to the shops and they meet their mates. If you take that away then people will be left in isolation and it will have an impact on the social fabric of the country.

“It is the big rural counties rather than urban areas that are making big cuts and it is very worrying.”

 

 Councillor Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council and transport lead on the North East Combined Authority, said Nexus, which manages transport in the Tyne and Wear area, is dipping into reserves to avoid the funding cuts seen in other areas.

The combined authority has voted to operate a Quality Contract Scheme (CQS) which would see councils take control of fares and services.

He said:

“About 10% of local bus services in Tyne and Wear are paid for by local authorities through Nexus, and that includes all our school buses and special routes for early-morning shiftworkers, as well as many journeys in the evening and at weekends.

“Tyne and Wear has been able to avoid the severe cuts to local bus routes seen in many parts of the country thanks to good planning by local councils and Nexus up to now, but the fact is Nexus is spending the last of its financial reserves to keep these vital services on the road.

“This cannot go on much longer and that is why the North East Combined Authority is pushing ahead with a planned Quality Contracts Scheme, in which some of the large profits made by bus companies in the region are re-invested to protect and improve all local services.

“This will not only protect routes but mean lower fares for passengers, a universal smart ticket like Oyster in London and savings for the local taxpayer.

“Without a Quality Contracts Scheme local people should be under no illusion that local buses face cuts due to the enormous pressure on council spending.”

Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council, said cutting the bus budget in County Durham had been unavoidable in the backdrop of severe cuts to local authorities.

He said following a consultation in 2011 funding for evening and weekend services had been scaled back to protect those operated during the day.

He added further cuts would make it harder to protect services.

Councils in other parts of the region, such as Darlington and Stockon, have cut funding for subsidised bus routes altogether.

He said:

“There has not been much of a reduction over the last few years, however, as with everything else, given the cuts that are being made by George Osborne that will become more and more difficult.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 13 Jan 2015

£250m: What Durham council must cut by 2019

The North-East’s biggest council expects to have to cut its spending by more than quarter of a billion pounds by 2019, it announced today (Tuesday, January 6).

Financial experts at Durham County Council have been frantically crunching the numbers since Chancellor George Osborne delivered his Autumn Statement and the Government announced its local government funding settlement for 2015-16 in December.

While the budget reductions announced by the Chancellor were widely predicted, the extension of austerity means by 2019 central government grants to Durham will have fallen by 60 per cent since 2011 and the cuts total will have topped £250m.

The Labour-led council also had to cut £18m following the Coalition’s emergency budget in late 2010.

Previously, council leader Simon Henig claimed another Tory-led government would mean “the end of local council services as we recognise them”.

Today (Tuesday, January 6), he said the authority was “largely on track” to deliver the required savings, but added: “There is no doubt that facing these continued cuts we will no longer be able to protect frontline services.”

The council is expected to cut £16.2m and spend £10m of its reserves in the year from April and the budget will be top of the agenda when the cabinet meets in Durham Town Hall next Wednesday (January 11).

A council tax hike of two per cent, the biggest allowed without a local referendum, is expected in the 2015-16 budget, which will be finally agreed in February.

The council’s opposition groups are expected to announce alternative proposals shortly.

Northern town halls are furious that poorer areas are being hit hardest by austerity.

While December’s funding settlement saw councils lose an average 1.8 per cent of their spending power across the country, Durham was down 2.7 per cent, Newcastle by 4.9 per cent and Middlesbrough by 5.6 per cent.

In contrast, Surrey’s spending power grew by 3.1 per cent. North Yorkshire will gain 1.1 per cent.

Durham expects to have cut £136.9m from its spending by April, leaving £88.5m-worth of savings still to find by 2018.

Local government minister Kris Hopkins said the Coalition had been vindicated, because councils were still delivering good quality services with a reduced amount of money.

> There’s Tory thinking for you… and if you continue to cope, they’ll cut funding further because obviously you don’t need it.

If you don’t cope, they’ll cut funding anyway, because you’re in the North and don’t vote Tory, unlike Surrey and North Yorkshire.

Source – Durham Times,  06 Jan 2015

Government slammed over decision to reject EU hand-out while folk go hungry

The North’s poor are going hungry after the Government rejected a £22m food fund from Europe, it is claimed today by the region’s Labour MEPs.

David Cameron has been criticised for allegedly failing to take the money, which could directly go to foodbanks in the region, over fears it reveals the UK’s dependency on the EU and weakens his position.

However the Conservative Party have dismissed Labour’s claims, saying people are not missing out on the EU cash and have £2.9m to spend.

Labour MEPs have now written an open letter to the Prime Minister asking him to lift his block on support for the country’s most vulnerable people for what they consider is solely for ‘ideological reasons’.

The European Aid to the Most Deprived Fund is worth £2.5bn, and is available to all EU member countries to dip into to help people who are most in need.

Foodbanks in the North East would have been able to apply for funding from the pot.

However David Cameron decided to opt out of the scheme in 2013, which Labour members believe could have eventually totalled £22m for the UK between 2014 and 2020.

The Government has previously said it believes individual member states are best positioned to deliver social programmes for the poor through regional or local authorities. They’ve said they will take their Most Deprived Fund subsidy (£2.9m) and deduct it from their ‘structural fund’, the cash pot they would prefer to see money delivered through.

Today North East’s two Labour MEPs, Jude Kirton Darling and Paul Brannen have said in their joint letter to David Cameron that he should ‘remove opposition’ to support for foodbanks.

The letter has also been signed by leader of Newcastle City Council Nick Forbes and leader of Durham County Council Simon Henig.

Jude Kirton Darling, MEP, said:

“People are under intense financial pressure at the moment and many people will have used food banks this year.

“As the weather turns colder and people face increased heating bills and Christmas approaches we feel now is the time for the Government to remove its opposition to support for food banks.”

Paul Brannen MEP added that as well as accepting more money from the EU, he would like to see food bank use decline through an increased minimum wage, less use of zero hour contracts and a youth job guarantee for young people.

A Conservative party spokesperson, said:

“We aren’t losing money – any funding the UK receives from the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived will be taken off our structural fund allocation.

“Instead we will use our structural funds to support local initiatives to train and support disadvantaged people into work. We have not yet decided how the €3.5m euro pot (£2.9m) will be spent – food aid is just one of the options for spending the money.”

In 2013, British MEPs alongside two other member states formed a blocking minority which meant the initial European-wide fund was spilt into two, with one fund for ‘material assistance’, which would have seen the UK receiving food and items like sleeping bags directly, and another for ‘immaterial assistance’ which could go towards the budgets of social programmes.

Britain chose to draw down only on the second fund ‘immaterial assistance’, and while it accepted a share of £2.9m, the same as the smallest EU member Malta with a population of just 450,000, neighbouring country France accepted has taken its full €443m allowance.

The letter to Mr Cameron written by the pair, said:

“We feel now is the time to remove your opposition to support for food banks.

“We understand your opposition to the European Union but the fact is that the money is available and should be used as there is clear and desperate need. It is wrong to block support for the most vulnerable people for ideological reasons.

“You have claimed that support for food banks should be a national decision, yet the decision of your government is to not support food banks at all. We do not believe that is right.”

The Government announced in October that it plans to use the UK share of the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived to provide additional support for school breakfast clubs in England.

Under the plans, which will be led by the Department for Education, this money would be allocated to schools with particularly high rates of disadvantage, as measured by free-school meal eligibility. This still needs to be agreed by the EU Commission.

Source –  Sunday Sun,  21 Dec 2014

Tory election win would ‘end local council services’, Durham council leader claims

Another Tory-led government would spell the end of local services as we know them, a Labour council leader has claimed.

Durham County Council chief Simon Henig issued the stark warning as his cabinet discussed making another £16.2m of cuts next year, taking the total imposed at the North-East’s biggest council between 2010 and 2018 to around £250m.

Around 2,000 jobs have been lost.

Cllr Henig said Chancellor George Osborne’s spending plans for beyond the General Election and towards 2020, announced in last week’s Autumn Statement, would mean ‘the end of local council services as we currently recognise them‘ and told the County Hall meeting: “There’s now a very clear choice ahead of us in 2015, which I believe will shape the country for a generation to come.”

 

Local councils were expecting to hear how much money they would get from central government for the year ahead today (Wednesday), but the announcement was delayed until tomorrow (Thursday).

Durham faces much tougher cuts, of £32m and £39.1m, in 2016 and 2017 and 2015’s total would have been higher had councillors not opted to raid the authority’s reserves, to the tune of £10m.

The council has already cut around £130m and next year’s savings include £8.5m from children and adults services and £933,000 from introducing charges for garden waste collection.

The figures are based on a council tax rise of two per cent, although that may yet require a local referendum if Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has his way.

 Durham’s deputy leader Alan Napier said the Coalition had been an economic disaster and cabinet member Morris Nicholls said dealing with the cuts was “like being in the trenches”.

Opposition groups on the council have welcomed the use of the authority’s reserves and are expected to announce alternative budget proposals in the weeks to come, ahead of final decisions in February.

Source – Durham Times,  17 Dec 2014

Durham County Council using reserves to protect services from deeper cuts

Labour chiefs at the North-East’s biggest council are drawing on cash reserves to stave off deeper spending cuts until after next year’s General Election.

Durham County Council must save another £16.2m in the financial year from April, the lowest annual figure since the last Election, taking the total cuts imposed between 2010 and 2018 to nearly £250m.

However, the figure then rockets to £32m and £39.1m for the following two years and the 2014-15 total would have been much higher had officials were not spending £10m from reserves.

Tory Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has repeatedly lambasted Labour councils for cutting frontline services while sitting on huge reserves.

Labour chiefs at Durham have to date resisted demands to spend their nest egg, but it is thought they have relented now in the hope of avoiding the deeper cuts planned for 2016 to 2018 if Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister next May.

Durham’s Labour leader Simon Henig said: “Overall spending totals will be the same but we’re lobbying hard for a fairer distribution.

“If that happens, our savings targets will be reduced.”

Next year’s cuts include £8.5m from children and adults services, including £4m from a review of management and support services; and £2.6m from neighbourhood services, including £933,000 from introducing charges for garden waste collection.

The sums are based on an assumption council tax will rise every year by two per cent, although specific decisions are taken each February.

The authority expects to have cut £136.9m by April, including £23m this year.

Opposition groups the Derwentside Independents, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives welcomed the use of reserves, with Lib Dem leader Amanda Hopgood saying they currently stood at £160m.

Each opposition group will produce alternative budget proposals in coming weeks following talks with council directors.

The authority’s Labour cabinet will discuss its 2015-16 budget at County Hall on Wednesday, December 17, before the full council takes the final decisions in February.

Durham imposed a 1.99 per cent council tax hike this year, the first rise since 2010. Its highest single year spending cut was £66m, back in 2011-12.
Source –  Durham Times,  10 Dec 2014

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