Illegal rubbish dumpers cost South Tyneside more than £200,000 in one year, new figures have revealed.
New fly-tipping statistics show that the local authority dealt with 6,934 incidents in the 2013/14 financial year, costing South Tyneside Council – which is facing making £22 million in cuts – a total of £228,822.
The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs figures show this was the cost of investigating fly-tipping, cleaning up and issuing warning letters.
The cost of investigations alone was £120,747.
Coun Tracey Dixon, lead member for area management and community safety at South Tyneside Council, said:
“It is disgraceful that people think they can dump their rubbish in our borough.
“Fly-tipping is irresponsible and can be hazardous to the public and wildlife, particularly if targeted by arsonists. Not to mention it is unsightly and costly to clean up.”
“We take the issue extremely seriously and are working closely with South Tyneside Homes to take a proactive approach to enforcement against environmental issues in our communities.
“This includes training more officers to issued Fixed Penalty Notices. We also encourage people to report incidents they come across and appeal for people to take details of any vehicles and the people involved, if they can.
“We will always take action against anyone who we can identify as being responsible for illegally abandoning waste across the borough and have a 100% success rate for taking action through the courts.
“It doesn’t matter if it is one bin bag of rubbish in a back lane or large quantities of waste dumped at the roadside, fly-tipping is a criminal offence and we will not tolerate it.”
Austerity will cost the North East £220m this year as vital cuts to services are made for a fifth year in a row.
And within a year council’s could start to struggle to even deliver what they are required to by law.
This stark warning from leader of South Tyneside Council, Iain Malcolm, comes as authorities across the region enter their final week of budget setting, and for the first time in several years many authorities have chosen to grasp at a council tax rise to bring in vital funds.
The Labour leader, whose authority has had to shred 1,500 jobs to cope with reductions in Central Government funding since 2010, said 2016 could be the year some councils start to seriously struggle.
“If the Government is going to cut the way that they are now, councils will not be able to provide statutory services that they are legally required to,” said Coun Malcolm.
“I’m not going to put a timeline on it because I’m not having it as a D-day but some councils across the country will struggle in this financial year, but not necessarily in this region.
“But by 2016-17 if there is no change in Central Government’s attitude then more councils will struggle in 2016 to fulfil their statutory obligations.
“I would say South Tyneside is at the forefront of innovation. I won’t name the councils that will struggle but South Tyneside would struggle to find any more meaningful savings in the 2016-17 financial year.”
Cut backs since the Coalition Government came into power in 2010 are estimated to have cost the North East an enormous £557m in reductions to grants to run services like adult social care, leisure centres and libraries.
It’s also estimated that 14,000 local authority posts have been scrapped around the North East in the last five years.
However the Government maintains that funding settlements since 2010 have been fair.
For the first time in years council tax has been drawn on as a way of bringing in more funds to cash-strapped authorities and bar Redcar and Cleveland, which made a 1% cut to council tax, all councils have either gone for a rise or accepted the Government’s freeze grant.
For Newcastle and Gateshead councils the tax hike was the first in four years.
Coun Malcolm said:
“All councils have tried to do what’s right in their particular areas. We’ve got a strategic partnership with BT to do our back office functions and that’s worked extremely well for us but it’s not been a one size fits all solution.”
He added that despite intense cuts for a fifth year, in which his authority must save £22m in the year 2015-16, satisfaction with local authorities remains extremely high as shown by various survey.
2015/2016 spending power cut
North Tyneside: £14m
South Tyneside: £22m
Redcar and Cleveland: £3m
Darlington: £14m over next two years.
Job losses since 2010:
County Durham: 2000
North Tyneside: Information not available
South Tyneside: 1200
Middlesbrough: 728 with a further 600 by 2020.
Redcar and Cleveland: 750 post reductions.
Stockton: 740 people
Hartlepool: Information not available
Council tax rise
Newcastle: 1.95% (first rise in four years)
Gateshead: 1.95% (first rise in four years)
County Durham: 1.99% (second year of a rise after gap)
North Tyneside: No rise
South Tyneside: 1.95%
Sunderland: No rise.
Redcar and Cleveland: 1% reduction.
Hartlepool: No rise.
Source – Sunday Sun, 08 Mar 2015
The Green Party is aiming to field candidates in all 18 South Tyneside Council wards being contested at May’s local elections.
The plan coincides with a recent doubling of party membership in the borough.
The party is also putting up candidates in both borough Parliamentary seats for the first time – Shirley Ford in South Shields and David Herbert in Jarrow.
The news comes at a time when the party’s profile nationally is rising, courtesy of a surprise endorsement from Prime Minister David Cameron.
Mr Cameron has refused to take part in any television debate until broadcasters agree that the Greens be included too.
“As a democratically elected leader, I have no reason to doubt his motives for doing that, but whatever his motives, his intervention does mean that people across the country are taking a look at us,” said Mrs Ford.
“Something like 300,000 people have signed an online petition supporting our involvement in the debates.”
Later this week, the borough’s Green Party branch is to meet to select candidates to fight for council seats in May, and a public meeting is also being lined up.
Mrs Ford said: “There has been a surge in membership.
“It has more than doubled in the last couple of months, from about 20 to 42, the last time I looked.
“There’s probably a mixture of reasons why that has happened, including the publicity in the national media and the fact that we have been very visible since the Westoe by-election in September last year through our beach cleans, park cleans, the stall we had in King Street, South Shields, and our support for the Gazette’s campaign to cut business rates.”
Green activists were also out in force at The Nook in South Shields on Saturday asking the public to sign a petition opposing Harton Technology College’s plans to become an academy.
Mrs Ford said: “There is definitely a different vibe towards the party now.
“At the last general election in 2010, we stood in a handful of borough wards, but I can’t see a reason why we can’t have candidates for all 18 wards in May.
“That’s our aim anyway. All the members who have signed up in recent weeks will be able to stand. We don’t have any rules that forbid that.
“The party has pledged to stand in at least 75 per cent of constituencies, and we are determined to exceed that in the North East.
“We really want to give everyone the chance to vote Green in the general election.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 19 Jan 2015
The number of council officials with the power to enter homes in South Tyneside is too high, say civil rights campaigners.
South Tyneside Council employs 61 officers who have powers of entry which enable them to barge into homes and businesses across the borough.
This covers regulatory roles such environmental health and trading standards officers.
However, campaigners at Big Brother Watch (BBW) – a civil liberties and privacy group which obtained the figures – believe the public has been left ‘at the mercy of pen-pushers who can enter our homes as they please’.
But council bosses say that it’s very rare for an officer to gain entry to a property by force, with the normal procedure being to notify occupiers first.
A South Tyneside Council spokesman said:
“Powers of entry are set out by Parliament when enacting legislation and are essential to enable councils to carry out their statutory functions.
“They are available to staff across our regulatory services, which cover things like seizing illicit goods from business premises and enforcing building regulations, to carrying out environmental health inspections and food safety checks where there is a risk to public health.
“It is rare that officers have to exercise this power as a right, as most property owners and businesses premises permit entry.
“The council has robust policies and procedures in place to ensure that these powers are only used where necessary and that they are used properly and in accordance with the law.
“Without these powers the council would not be able to provide the same level of reassurance and protection local people demand and deserve.”
South Tyneside Council has 11 building control officers with powers, 14 planning officials, 13 trading standards and licensing officers and 23 environmental health workers.
Newcastle City Council employes 107 officers with powers of entry.
North Tyneside Council told the BBW it has zero officers.
Northumberland County has 541.
Sunderland City Council refused to provide their figures due time and cost restraints.
Emma Carr, director of BBW, said:
“Few people would expect that public officials would have the power to enter your home or business, often without a warrant or police escort. The general public have been left high and dry, at the mercy of an army of pen-pushers who can enter our homes as they please.
“There have been a number of missed opportunities to rectify this, including the Protection of Freedoms Act and the Home Office’s review of the powers, yet both have failed to tackle the number of officials with these powers.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 16 Jan 2015
Cash-strapped South Tyneside has the second-highest level of personal debt in England, a shock new report reveals.
Statistics show that 607 clients visited the borough’s Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) between July and September last year, with debt-related concerns.
Concern over debt now accounts for a staggering 42 per cent of that bureau’s workload.
A new national CAB report also reveals that South Tyneside has the fourth-highest level of personal debt in England and Wales.
However, when two Welsh authorities are taken out of the equation, it emerges as the second worst debt-hit area in England – just behind Stoke-on-Trent.
Ian Thompson, chief executive of South Tyneside CAB, based at the Edinburgh Buildings in South Shields, revealed that priority debt, such as rent and Council Tax, had spiralled in recent years.
Meanwhile, advice workers are expecting a further surge in demand for the service this month as borough residents begin to count the cost of Christmas spending.
Mr Thompson revealed that debt-related problems are so great that some clients in the past have committed suicide as an escape from them.
The seriousness of the situation has led him to write a letter to every elected member on South Tyneside Council, outlining the situation and his concerns.
Mr Thompson said:
“We know there is an awful lot of debt in the borough.
“Forty two per cent of our work is working with clients with debt problems.
“That’s a staggering figure when you consider that we deal with a whole range of issues, ranging from employment to housing and much more besides.
“The sort of debt we are encountering has changed during my time with the bureau, from credit card debt and to priority debts, such as Council Tax arrears and rent arrears.
“These are life-changing, priority debts which can lead to people losing the roof over their heads.
“Unmanageable debt causes untold misery and can require the intervention of GPs for the treatment of depression.
“We have also had, as an extreme example, clients committing suicide because of the pressures they are under.
“From mid-January we are expecting a surge in the need for debt-related advice. Prior to Christmas, people tend not to think too much about debt – then the bills and credit card demands start to arrive.”
Top of CAB’s personal debt chart for England and Wales are two Welsh authorities – Denbighshire and Merthyr Tydfil.
In the North East the other worst-hit authorities are Darlington (5th), North Tyneside (8th), Gateshead (12th) and Middlesbrough (13th).
Source – Shields Gazette, 15 Jan 2015
Councils are doing more to help unemployed people than the Government as data shows people are falling through the cracks.
The Local Government Association has made the claim as the North East shoulders the country’s highest unemployment rate (9.1%) and as its research shows there has been an alarming 28% increase in the number of unemployed not claiming benefits in the last 18 months.
> Is that because they’ve been sanctioned ?
It means that while Government data does not reveal the full extent of the problem, the LGA says local authorities are being left to pick up the pieces.
The LGA has praised North East councils for working with employers, charities and voluntary groups, schools, colleges and housing associations, and says schemes are offering one-to-one mentoring, training, work placements and apprenticeships at a crucial time.
LGA chairman David Sparks said the capacity for councils to play this role, however, is under threat as all parties eye further cuts.
“Unemployment is falling, but the headlines hide the plight of our most vulnerable residents who are falling through the cracks. Too many are let down by national job schemes which are unable to identify or help them because they have not signed on at their local Jobcentre Plus.
“Councils across the country are desperate to ensure no-one is left behind and have sought to support those being forgotten by these national services by using their local knowledge, expertise and connections with local organisations and services to target their hardest to reach residents.”
Council leaders say national schemes aim to simply shift people from the benefits queue and that approach is damaging for some of the most vulnerable, such as young or disabled people.
Leader of Newcastle City Council, Councillor Nick Forbes, said the news was more evidence that the Government must devolve more powers to the North East.
“The Government are more interested in getting people off benefits than getting them into work. The reality is the jobs that are being created are in most cases, part-time, low wage and zero contract hours.
“Local authorities are having much more success in helping people into jobs and training than Government because they have a better understanding of what is happening in their area.”
Councillor Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council said:
“The national approach is to move people off the benefits register as quickly as possible, but sometimes this can be to the detriment of more vulnerable residents and can exacerbate their situation if they take the first job that comes along and they are not ready to work.
“Our approach has been to offer residents constructive and comprehensive advice and support to help them back into work at the right time for them and the employer. In partnership with employers, we have designed initiatives to support jobs and apprenticeship creation this has created over 400 new jobs apprenticeships over the past three years.
“Although there have been national schemes offering wage subsidies, feedback from our employers showed that the schemes were too difficult to access due to a vast amount of eligibility criteria.
“We have taken the time to understand the barriers that our residents face when looking to go back into employment and then commissioned community learning programmes that will address those issues, such as literacy and numeracy programmes and support to help residents gain IT and money management skills.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 14 Jan 2015
South Tyneside Council’s social care budget is set to take the biggest financial hit as plans are drawn up to make savings of £22m over the next financial year, it has emerged.
The local authority has already made an estimated £90m in efficiency savings since 2010 – shedding 1,200 jobs in the process.
The pain is set to continue in 2015/16 with further cuts of £21.978m identified from across all council departments.
Yesterday, members of the People Select Committee were given an outline of the proposed savings by Coun Ed Malcolm, the authority’s lead member for resources and innovation, and Stuart Reid, its head of finance.
The biggest target is in the area of Commissioning for Independent Living – covering the money the council spends on helping borough people to live independently.
A review of the services provided and the sharing of costs with health colleagues is earmarked to save £7.5m.
No specifics on where the cuts would come were given – leading to one councillor to call for “more meat on the bone”.
A further £3.9m will be saved from the council’s corporate finance pot, specifically through maximising council tax collection.
Meanwhile, bringing more services in-house, maximising the authority’s relationship with its strategic partner BT and combining the council’s and South Tyneside Homes’ customer services were also highlighted as areas of savings.
Amid the financial gloom, Coun Malcolm did make a commitment that the local authority would retain, at a cost of £150,000, its Local Welfare Provision Scheme – which provides vouchers for people in emergency need to use at Morrisons, Asda and other retail outlets, in addition to fuel top-ups and household goods provision.
Many local authorities nationwide plan to drop the scheme from April due to the withdrawal of government funding.
In reference to the savings to be made from the social care budget, Coun Malcolm said:
“Everything that we have done will ensure that the people we represent get the services that they need.
“No one will go without services, no one will go without care. It’s the highest area of spend and presents a significant challenge for the council.
“It is a demographic strain that has been placed on the system.
“There is a national focus on independence and personalisation because people want to be able to decide the level of care that they want and that’s how we’ve approached this particular subject.
“But let me repeat that we will still be providing a service that will ensure that no one will suffer.”
Committee chairman Coun John McCabe said he believed the cutbacks had reached “saturation point” and called for more work to generate income by attracting new businesses into the borough.
He also urged caution when “selling off the family silver” – referring to the sale of council-owned buildings to generate income.
Coun McCabe added:
“We don’t always have to give away our assets. Yes, we should be maximising our assets but we should always retain the freehold on those assets. It’s an important pointer for the future. We can’t sell away the family silver.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 14 Jan 2015
A local authority is considering raising council tax as it reaches the ‘end of the line’ in cutbacks to office jobs.
The leader of South Tyneside Council, Iain Malcolm, has said he is considering raising council tax for the first time since 2011 after accepting the Government’s freeze deal for four years in a row.
He joins Newcastle City Council in publicly declaring that a council tax rise may be on the horizon if fellow councillors vote for the change in setting their 2015-16 budgets in March.
The Labour leader, said: “I can’t give a guarantee that council tax won’t be increased in the next financial year.
“We are at the end of the line in finding these back office savings. Now we are looking at how we can find these front line services in new innovative ways. We’ve done asset transfers. We will have to have further talks with councils to see who might take the lead in certain areas.”
However he said any potential rise would fall short of 2% – the figure which the Government has said would trigger a referendum with the public.
He said: “We couldn’t afford a referendum and no council has gone for a referendum because you wouldn’t win. No one would vote for that, people would just vote no. I can’t rule out an increase because we are now at that stage.”
> But if they did vote no, surely that’s the will of the people you’re supposed to serve ? Just saying…
So far South Tyneside Council has had to make more than £100m in cutbacks to their budget, and must save a further £22m in the financial year 2015-16.
Councillor Malcolm said it is now time to turn to Holyrood in Scotland for support in gaining a fairer local government finance deal for the North East of England as much as Westminster.
He said: “What opportunities are there by looking northwards for the economy, transport and infrastructure?
“We need to have a conversation with Scotland, not just with Westminster and Whitehall. Whoever wins the election, I would expect them to do a root and branch reform of local government finance. No one really understands the formula and its open to widescale manipulation by ministers to make sure it goes to areas where they want it to go.”
He said previous talks on funding the dualling of the A1 with former Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond had been less than fruitful but that it was important to ensure communications with Scotland are maintained as the country undergoes further devolution.
Source – Shields Gazette, 06 Jan 2015
Food poverty is no longer being seen as a welfare issue as those who suffer from it have got so used to turning to charities for help.
In a report, North East academic Dr Jane Midgley said the huge increase in foodbanks run by the voluntary sector has blurred the lines as to who should be caring for the vulnerable and the needy.
She said a squeeze on incomes, benefit sanctions and rocketing utility bills are the drivers of foodbank use, but people instead see their local council as ‘uncaring’ and ‘part of the problem’.
Dr Midgley, whose research formed part of the Feeding Britain report by the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the UK, urged councils to show support for those facing the misery of food poverty and called for more clarity over the root causes of the phenomenon.
“We are increasingly finding that charities, rather than the state, are supporting people in need who cannot afford to feed themselves.
“While we need to recognise the effort this takes and the difference it makes to peoples lives, the boundaries of this responsibility are far from clear.
“Food poverty is not seen as a welfare issue and because of the way charities and voluntary sector organisations have stepped in, people no longer see local government and the public sector as a source of support.”
Foodbank use exploded in 2014. The Trussell Trust said between April and September 2014, more than 25,000 people were helped by the charity’s Gateshead , Newcastle East and Newcastle West End food banks.
That works out at 4,289 people 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.
“We are now not just at a critical juncture for how we respond to the issue of food poverty, but also what this means for local policy makers,” Dr Midgley added.
“They need to be able to show, in a difficult financial climate, that they still care and want people who live within their towns and cities to live well and flourish.”
The Feeding Britain report warned that North families are just one unexpected bill away from food poverty. It said the living wage and speedier benefit payments must form part of the solution.
Councillor Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council, said he had “no indication” people were turning on councils and said staff were supportive of people facing the misery of food poverty.
“We are one of the richest nations in the world and yet we are seeing some of the most terrible cases of poverty in years due to the huge financial pressures being put on hard-working families.
> I do wish politicians would refrain from parrotting hard-working families on issues like this. It implies that those not working for whatever reasion are lazy, and before we know where we are we’re back to the concept of deserving and undeserving poor.
“We are living in a society where rising costs and relentless government cuts across the country are creating much tougher living conditions. Here in South Tyneside we are doing all we can to try and support and protect people who are experiencing the greatest hardship.
“As a council we have committed to the phased introduction of the Living Wage for Council workers from April 2015. This should help people on some of the lowest wages and we hope that other businesses will be able to look to do the same.”
Dave Anderson, MP for Blaydon, said Coalition ministers were to blame for the rise in foodbanks.
“You can’t sack half a million public sector workers or employ people on exploitative zero hours contracts and expect there to be anything other than a calamitous outcome.
“While ministers enjoy Christmas this week far too many of our people will be struggling, literally, on the breadline. It’s time to stop penalising the poor for the failures of the richest in society.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 Jan 2015
A pensioner has accused Town Hall chiefs of penny-pinching – after being told he owed them 4p!
Les Clark, 67, of Rembrandt Avenue, South Shields, was stunned to receive two letters informing him South Tyneside Council have overpaid him the meagre amount – and said the cost of sending out the letters would have dwarfed the amount Town Hall officials planned to recoup.
And he is baffled after he received no apology for the issue of the letters, which outlined overpayment of housing benefit and council tax support.
But a spokesman for South Tyneside Council responded by saying the authority had a “legal obligation” to inform customers of such changes -– no matter how small the difference.
Mr Clark said:
“I have been a tenant of South Tyneside Council for over 40 years and I thought I had seen all aspects of ‘council mentality’ until I recently received two letters from them.
“One of three pages of A4 informed me I had been overpaid council tax support and that I owed them money because of it, and the second consisted of two pages of A4 telling me I had been overpaid housing benefit and that I owed them money for that.
“A phone query to them found this was due to their miscalculation earlier in the year and that these outstanding amounts had just come to light.
“No hint of apology for their mistake, just typical forceful council letters, which left you in no doubt that failing to repay this amount would lead to nasty things happening.
“The amount total for the two letters was 4p. The cost involved in producing all the paperwork and delivering it to my door, incalculable, but the experience was priceless.”
Mr Clark received both of the letters, which had been sent by second class post, informing him he had been overpaid by 3p on his council tax support and 1p on his housing benefit
However, he hasn’t been billed for the overpayments, and adjustments have automatically been to cover the new costs in the future.
A council spokesman said:
“Mr Clark received a letter advising him of changes to his council tax following a recalculation of his council tax support and housing benefit entitlement.
“The council must by law inform customers in writing of any changes to the support they receive or instalments to the council, no matter how small the difference.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 02 Jan 2015