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 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
Rail services at around 20 of the region’s “little-used” stations are under threat, under new Government plans.
Ministers are proposing cutting the number of trains that serve 67 stops with “particularly low levels of use”, when a new contract is brought in for a private operator.
They include ten in North Yorkshire, four on Teesside, three in Tyne and Wear and a further five in Northumberland.
Some have extraordinarily few passengers, in particular the station at Teesside Airport which – notoriously – had just eight passengers last year, on only two trains each week.
Five other local stations attract fewer than ten passengers a day on average; British Steel Redcar (2.44), Battersby, North Yorkshire (4.31), Kildale, North Yorkshire (4.99), Dunston, Gateshead (5.93), Blaydon (7.59) and Ruswarp, North Yorkshire (8.07).
And the list stretches down as far as stops with nearly 10,000 passengers a year, but still small numbers each day; Marton, Middlesbrough (27.02) and Danby, North Yorkshire (27.13).
The Department for Transport (DfT) has vowed that 30-year-old ‘Pacer’ trains – condemned as “cattle trucks” by critics – will finally be replaced, as part of the new contract.
It asks: “What are your views on giving priority to improving the quality of the Northern rolling stock at the expense of some reduction in lightly used services (e.g. fewer calls at low-use stations)?”
The proposal is included in plans for the new Northern Rail and Trans-Pennine franchises, which are due to be awarded late next year and to start in February 2016.
The operators run services to Darlington, Durham City, Bishop Auckland, Chester-le-Street, Middlesbrough, Stockton, Hartlepool, Redcar, Sunderland, Newton Aycliffe, Redcar, Northallerton, York and Scarborough.
Controversially, the DfT has already warned that rail fares may have to soar to pay for the new trains, regardless of whether some services are culled at less popular stations.
> So business as usual – fewer services costing more… to be followed by big payouts to shareholders .
Commuters in the region pay up to 60 per cent less than in other parts of the country for short journeys, according to officials.
Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, pointed out that James Cook Hospital had just opened a new platform linked to Marton.
And he said: “They’re probably less used because services are few and limited. South Bank hardly has a service that stops there, so it’s a bit cheeky for Northern Rail to highlight stations it hardly services.
> It’s a good point – if there are very few services to start with, the number of users is going to be less. It’d be interesting to see what would happen if services were increased.
Teesside Airport station always attracts headlines for its lack of use… but it only gets two trains per week. What the hell else does anyone expect ?
“Perhaps if it increased services and improved rolling stock, it would improve the frequency of use.”
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin insisted that no decisions have yet been taken on the proposals in the document, arguing it was normal to seek views in a consultation.
Source – Northern Echo, 26 July 2014