Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn has hit back at criticism directed at him for accepting hospitality from a tobacco firm.
The MP attended last year’s Chelsea Flower Show in London at the invitation of Japan Tobacco International, maker of brands including Benson and Hedges, Camel, Winston and Silk Cut.
He was condemned by anti-smoking campaigners for accepting the hospitality package, then voting against plans to introduce plain cigarette packaging.
Mr Hepburn has defended his actions for the first time since coming under fire last week.
The MP said he was fully supportive of Labour’s proposed tax on the tobacco industry to pay for more doctors and nurses, but he says he makes no apologies for backing staff at Essentra, formerly known as Filtrona and, before that, Cigarette Components.
Though he voted in favour of the ban on smoking in public places several years ago, he dismissed calls to make plain packaging for cigarettes compulsory as “barmy” and “counter-productive”.
“In recent months, I have visited Essentra on the Bede Trading Estate. Although not as big as it once was, the firm provides 240 jobs and is regarded as a decent employer.
“I have always been supportive of its growth plans.
“These jobs are invaluable when unemployment is a curse, and I make no apologies for standing up for both a local company and South Tyneside as a great place to do business.
“I supported Labour’s proposed tax on the tobacco industry to hire more NHS doctors and nurses, but I think it’s barmy to force all cigarettes to be sold in the same plain packs.
“I know the harm to health caused by smoking – that’s why I voted for the pub ban – yet as long as people buy cigarettes, I’ll stand up for Essentra’s workers.”
> Even if it means having to do unpleasant things, like accepting hospitality packages at the Chelsea Flower Show. I hope Essentra’s workers are suitably grateful.
Source – Shields Gazette, 27 May 2015
Echoes of the Thatcher era… nothing really changes.
Scores of jobs to go at South Tyneside shipyard
Fifty-eight jobs are to be axed at a South Tyneside shipyard.
The workers are set to go at A&P Tyne, on the Wagonway Road Industrial Estate, Hebburn, as the company says it is trying to “respond to peaks and troughs in demand”.
A company spokesman said consultation over the job losses had now been launched with trade union representatives.
The news comes just months after the business, which specialises in the design, fabrication, installation and commissioning of seabed-to-surface projects, successfully completed part of a £60m aircraft carrier contract for the Ministry of Defence.
Management, office and supervisor levels have also been advised their jobs are at risk, according to a source, although the jobs of welders and platers are said to be safe.
A spokesman for the company said:
“A&P Tyne has entered into a period of consultation during which it will review the number of people employed at its site in Hebburn.
“The reduction in workforce is part of a restructure at A&P Tyne that will enable the business to remain competitive in a challenging, global marketplace.
“A&P Tyne needs to respond to peaks and troughs in demand.”
“Ship repair work is subject to fluctuation and the restructuring will ensure that staffing costs adjust to tally with fluctuating ship repair income, to secure the future viability of the yard. Consultations are being undertaken with trade union and elected employee representatives.
“Fifty-eight roles have been put forward for redundancy, but final numbers will not be reached until the end of the 30-ay consultation period.”
Less than a fortnight ago, Jarrow’s Labour Parliamentary candidate Stephen Hepburn, alongside Vernon Coaker, his party’s shadow defence secretary, visited A&P to see at first hand the work being carried out there.
At the time, Andy Shaw, A&P’s group managing director, said was able to highlight to his guests his company’s success in rapidly turning around contracts.
“The future of the defence sector is hugely important to A&P Group, given that we continue to deliver multi-million pound contracts for the Ministry of Defence and see this as a growth area across the group going forward.
“We are contracted across a broad range of defence projects including the MoD Aircraft Carrier build programme, the Astute Class Nuclear Submarine programme and through-life support of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.”
It is believed all the workers to be made redundant will be off-site by the beginning of June.
Source – Shields Gazette, 01 May 2015
SOUTH SHIELDS currently held by Emma Lewell-Buck (Lab)
Emma Lewell-Buck (Labour),
Gita Gordon (Liberal Democrat),
Shirley Ford (Green Party),
Lisa Nightingale (Independent),
Robert Oliver (Conservative)
Norman Dennis (Ukip).
JARROW – currently held by Stephen Hepburn (Lab)
Stephen Hepburn (Labour),
Stan Collins (Liberal Democrat),
Norman Hall (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition),
Nick Mason (Conservative),
Steve Harrison (Ukip),
David Herbert (Green Party).
Not a single Liberal Democrat candidate will be standing at next month’s local elections in South Tyneside.
The Lib Dems’ no-show at the ballot box, the first in a generation, comes amid fears by one of its former representatives that its brand is now “toxic on the doorstep”.
Until just a few years ago, the party’s candidates at Parliamentary elections in the borough were the natural opposition to Labour.
In South Shields at the 2005 general election, Lib Dem Stephen Psallidas finished second to then-Labour MP David Miliband with almost 6,000 votes, 19.7 per cent of the total cast.
In local elections around the same time, the party, led by Nick Clegg since 2007, could usually guarantee a handful of seats, particularly in the Hebburn North ward.
At one time, it held all three seats for Hebburn North.
However, since the 2010 general election, the party’s fortunes have declined dramatically in the borough.
At the 2013 Parliamentary by-election in South Shields, its candidate, Hugh Annand, lost his deposit, receiving just 352 votes, just 1.4 per cent of the vote, and only narrowly avoiding the ignominy of being defeated by the Raving Monster Loony Party’s contender.
Now, not a single Lib Dem is to contest the local elections in South Tyneside on Thursday, May 7.
The party’s absence from the political scene in South Tyneside comes as no surprise to Joe Abbott, formerly a Lib Dem councillor for Hebburn North.
He said: “It’s something of a shame, but I’m not surprised no-one is standing from the party.
“The reality is that the Lib Dem brand is toxic on the doorstep.
“It all dates back to the party getting into bed with the Tories.”
Mr Abbott is standing as an independent in Hebburn North next month.
He was the Lib Dems’ last councillor in South Tyneside until he quit the party in disgust over its decision to form a coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives in 2010 and back his austerity measures.
He stood as an independent at 2012’s elections but lost out to Labour’s Mary Butler.
Meanwhile, the far-right British National Party (BNP) is not putting forward any candidates at May’s Local Elections either.
The party has targeted several ward seats in the borough over recent years, but it isn’t throwing its hat into the ring this time round.
At 2012’s local elections, it contested eight of the 18 South Tyneside Council ward seats up for grabs.
Source – Shields Gazette, 15 Apr 2015
The saying goes that you could stick a red rosette on a passing dog in some parts of the North and it would get elected as an MP.
A new analysis of the last six General Elections shows there is at least some truth in that often-heard phrase.
The region is home to the Labour Party’s safest seat in England – County Durham’s Easington – and is second in the UK only to Wales’ Rhondda.
South Tyneside’s Jarrow, which Stephen Hepburn is campaigning to regain, is the party’s 13th safest seat in the entire UK.
Middlesbrough sits at number 20, followed by North West Durham at 23, South Shields at 24, Blaydon 37, Bishop Auckland at 42.
The constituencies all bear the scars of lost mining and steel industry which many believe has led a generation of voters to reject alternatives to Labour, especially the Conservatives.
Grahame Morris is campaigning to be re-elected in Easington and said he sees strong support for Labour.
The average majority of votes for Labour in the constituency over the six elections since 1979 is a commanding 21,119.
“I work very hard inside and outside of Parliament to advocate Labour’s traditional values of fairness and social justice and locally we don’t take anything for granted. It is over 20 years since our last coal mine Easington Colliery closed.
“It is the case that historically the Labour Party and Trade Union movement embody the best values of local people. The origins of the Labour Party were forged in our industrial communities from which we developed progressive policies to meet the needs and aspirations of local people and we continue to this day to fight for a more just, fair and equal society.
The Labour Party belongs to the people of Easington, and it is only through their support that we have been able to realise many of our greatest achievements including the creation of the NHS, decent affordable homes for working people, paid holidays the introduction of the minimum wage, new schools, concessionary travel, the winter fuel allowance and an end to pensioner poverty.
These things did not happen by accident. They were not a gift but were won through our collective struggle and common purpose. Easington’s power was coal but the cement that binds our communities together was laid in times of great adversity and has given East Durham a sense of resilience and identity that makes it such a special and possibly unique place.
“Personally I consider it a privilege to represent Easington and wouldn’t wish to represent any other constituency.”
Among the main challengers to Labour in the region is Ukip and the party’s only MEP for the region Jonathan Arnott is standing in Easington.
His decision to stand is symbolic, he said, adding:
“I’m standing here not only because I live locally in Blackhall Colliery, but because I have a message for Labour: unlike with the Tories and Lib Dems, there’s no such thing as a no-go area for Ukip and we will challenge you here.
“Our message of supporting local businesses, removing income tax from the minimum wage and developing apprenticeships is vital in an area that has suffered so badly from the demise of our mining industry. My father-in-law was a miner, and I know how deeply the pit closures under Wilson and Thatcher affects our communities.
“As the North East Manifesto shows, there’s a real appetite here for Ukip policies – from cutting business rates for local small businesses to a points-based system on immigration. And that’s exactly what I’m seeing on the doorstep.
“Of course, I fight to win in any election campaign – but I have just given myself the most difficult task for any party anywhere in the country!
“But even if I don’t win, it will be good for democracy that there’s some genuine competition at last in Easington.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 04 Apr 2015
A UK Independence Party politician is hoping for a winning double in South Tyneside at May’s local and general elections.
Former borough councillor Steve Harrison has already announced his intention to stand as a Parliamentary candidate for Jarrow.
He is also seeking election as a councillor in the borough’s Monkton ward, including the Lukes Lane Estate, where he used to live.
Mr Harrison formerly represented the Hedworth and Fellgate ward in Jarrow, originally as an independent and later for Ukip.
Mr Harrison said:
“I don’t feel the current MP is responsive enough to the town’s public on local issues.
“His concentration seems to be all about Westminster, and he doesn’t challenge the Labour council enough over decisions it makes.
“If I’m elected, I would spend three days in the town and in the ward dealing with issues on the ground.
“I would also open an office in the town centre which would be manned six days a week, from 9am to 5pm, where people can go and have their problems dealt with.
“There are a lot of issues in Monkton that need to be addressed.
“The bus service in Lukes Lane is non-existent. People have been left high and dry.
“The roads and footpaths are a big issue.
“There’s a view that all the spending goes to South Shields.
“A lack of parking spaces, fly-tipping and rubbish generally are also issues that need to be addressed urgently.
“I have lived on Lukes Lane twice. I grew up there and lived there when I got married. I still have family and friends there, and I know the area well.”
Mr Harrison said he had no concerns over any potential conflict of interest in standing as both prospective MP and councillor.
“I have checked out the rules, and there is not problem with standing for both. It’s not unique. It’s a chance to bring Westminster into local politics.”
> Also a chance to claim two incomes, two sets of expenses, etc.
Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn was unavailable for comment about Mr Harrison’s criticisms.
The other candidates standing in the Jarrow Parliamentary constituency election on Thursday, May 7, are Stan Collins (Lib Dem), Norman Hall (Trade Union Socialist Coalition), Nick Mason (Conservative) and David Herbert (Green).
Source – Shields Gazette, 25 Mar 2015
A crusade aimed at evoking memories of the famous Jarrow March arrives in the town next weekend.
The People’s March for the NHS is a campaign dedicated to preserving the founding principles of the NHS and ensuring its staff are afforded the treatment they deserve.
The march – which deliberately echoes the Jarrow Crusade for jobs in 1936 – has already called in at Tredgar in Wales and Bristol.
On Saturday, March 28, marchers will gather in Jarrow.
The alliance has organised an event to highlight a last-ditch plan to save the under-threat Jarrow Walk-In Centre from closure.
Merv Butler, chairman of the Alliance, called on the public to turn out at 11am to hear a host of speeches from, among others, Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn.
He said: “It is vitally important that we prevent the closure of the facility. The event will focus on the need to keep it open and we want as many people there as possible to show their support.”
It seems clear that the outcome of the General Election will determine the centre’s fate. Labour has pledged to keep it open if elected.
The Conservatives are putting the decision in the hands of an independent adjudicator.
Mr Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, added: “Labour’s shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has given his party’s assurance that it will be saved.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 21 Mar 2015
MPs should be content with pay packets a third of the size of those they get now, according to a socialist bidding to become Jarrow’s next representative at Westminster.
Norman Hall thinks it’s outrageous that our Parliamentarians are set to receive salaries of £75,000.
The semi-retired software engineer believes that puts them out of touch with ordinary working people.
That’s why the 59-year-old, of Gateshead, has pledged his support for proposals for MPs to receive no more than the salary of the average skilled worker.
“It would help them to directly understand the issues that affect working people.”
Mr Hall, representing the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) at the general election on Thursday, May 7, is also campaigning on an anti-austerity platform.
“All of the six major parties are parties of austerity.
“They are all in favour of cuts. Our stance is simple. We are saying no to austerity.”
This is the first time that Mr Hall has stood for Parliament, but he has made two bids to become a councillor in Gateshead.
Originally a member of the Labour Party, he became disillusioned with what he says was its “lack of support” for the miners during the strike of 1985 and 1985 and joined the Socialist Party, and it allied with trade unions to form TUSC in 2010.
The union coalition plans to stand in more than 120 seats across the country in May, including Washington and Sunderland North, North Tyneside and Newcastle East.
Mr Hall, a married stepfather of two, said:
“The coalition is exactly what it says on the tin.
“I’m well aware of Jarrow’s heritage stretching back to Ellen Wilkinson, and in 2011 I was involved in the Youth Fight for Jobs, which marked the 75th anniversary of the Jarrow March.
“I’m from Wallsend, and it shared with Jarrow many of the problems that stemmed from de-industrialisation.
“In terms of what support I’ll receive, that’s somewhat up in the air, but it’s clear that people are disillusioned with the mainstream parties. We are here to give the working class an alternative voice, one against austerity and against the cuts that took place under Labour and the Tories.
“It started under Alistair Darling, who made ordinary people pay for the banking crisis. The working class needs a new voice.”
TUSC opposes all cuts to council jobs, services, pay and conditions and rejects increases in council tax, rent and service charges to “compensate for government cuts”.
The party also supports nationalisation of the banks and the financial system, is against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and all secret austerity treaties.
The other candidates standing in Jarrow on May 7 are: Stephen Hepburn (Labour), Stan Collins (Liberal Democrat), Steve Harrison (UKIP) and David Herbert (Green).
Source – Shields Gazette, 16 March 2015
Train passengers in the North East expressed their “disappointment and anger” over the reprivatisation of East Coast train services.
The franchise was handed over to Stagecoach and Virgin – an act rail users in Tyne and Wear described as a “fait accompli.”
“Our publicly owned East Coast rail returned money to the taxpayer over the last five years, contributing to £1 billion to the government – far more than when it was run by private companies GNER and National Express,” said Vicki Gilbert, chair of the Tyne and Wear Public Transport Users Group.
“For rail passengers from the North East and elsewhere, it is likely that there will be new larger fare increases along with cuts in costs, by reducing the staffing on trains and at stations.
“This will mean a poorer service for passengers, while profits go into the pockets of the Stagecoach and Virgin’s companies shareholders.
“This cost cutting is very concerning for everyone but particularly for the disabled and vulnerable, who rely on assistance with wheelchairs and pushchairs.
“This will also affect passengers’ personal security, with figures already showing an increase in violence, drinking, anti-social behaviour and attacks across the entire rail network in England.”
Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn also expressed his opposition to the move, which the government hopes is a case of third time lucky after two previous private franchises running the line collapsed, causing it to be placed into the hands of the state owned Directly Operated Railways in 2009.
“Over the past six years since it was re-nationalised the East Coast mainline has gone from strength to strength and it is a disgrace that the Tories are selling it off before the election,” Mr Hepburn said.
“The Tory-led Government’s plans defy all logic and by taking East Coast out of public ownership all the government is doing is passing the income the line raises into the back pockets of the profiteers.”
Under the new name of Virgin Trains East Coast, the franchise’s first service left Newcastle bound for London at 7.55am on Sunday.
The Department for Transport said it was confident that the new franchise was the best way forward, but trade unions have pointed to the huge sums the publicly owned line has been able to return to the Treasury.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“It is disappointing to see East Coast in private hands after five years of public sector success. The Government’s decision to re-privatise the line is a costly mistake.”
But a Department for Transport spokesman said:
“The skills and experience that the private sector provides drives forward innovation and investment, and has helped to transform our rail network into a real success story.
“We are confident that the new East Coast franchise gives the best deal for passengers. It will provide more seats, more services, new trains and over £140 million of investment along the route. In addition, more than £3 billion will be paid to taxpayers.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 Mar 2015
Library users, keen swimmers and pensioners will unite to take part in a rally through Gateshead town centre on Saturday.
The demonstration against Gateshead Council’s budget cuts will bring dozens of protestors together, as well as three MPs, who will speak out on Central Government’s current financial deal for local authorities.
Those affected by proposed library and swimming pool closures, and cut backs of hours at Gateshead facilities, will meet with people who use the borough’s older people’s and mental health services.
Gateshead Council’s leader Mick Henry must make up to £46m worth of savings over the next two years and proposals include reviewing how they run the Gateshead Indoor Bowling Centre, Dunston Activity Centre and Whickham Thorns Outdoor Activity Centre.
Other cut backs – including the older people’s service which helps people with their shopping and paying bills on time – could lead to job losses.
Together service users will march from the Gateshead Interchange towards the Civic Centre at 2.15pm on Saturday (07 Feb), in a protest organised by the Gateshead Public Services Alliance which is part of the union Unison.
Speeches will be heard from Labour politicians, Dave Anderson MP for Blaydon, Stephen Hepburn MP for Jarrow and Ian Mearns MP for Gateshead.
Alison Chapel, area organiser for the Public Services Alliance, said: “We have people coming on behalf of the libraries, and older people’s services in Gateshead which are all under threat with closure of the scaling back of hours.
“We know that the council have to make cuts because the Government is reducing their budget.
“The council has to decide how these cuts are going to be implemented and we are trying to show that they are not just dealing with statistics.
“These cuts affect real people because they use the service and they need the service and in some cases, particularly the older people’s service, it’s a false economy anyway because it’s quite a low level service but it means people can stay in their homes and it prevents them taking up beds in hospitals.
“It is Central Government who are cutting the council finances and we do understand the difficulty the council is facing but they need to make the decision in the face of people’s actual experiences and needs.”
Councillor Mick Henry, leader of Gateshead Council said:
“Setting our Budget is a fine balancing act as we have so many competing priorities. It’s getting harder and harder to continue to protect those services that people want and need, but we will do everything we can to protect the most vulnerable adults and children in our communities.
“We know that in future there will be some significant changes to services that people hold dear, but we need to start making those decisions now as the money simply won’t be there to continue to provide them in the same way.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 Feb 2015