A Green Party candidate has waded into a row over a Labour MP’s refusal to debate with a Ukip politician from out of the area – saying the Labour Party itself fielded a candidate from Teesside at an earlier event.
Sunderland Central Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Labour, Julie Elliot declined to debate with Ukip North East MEP Jonathan Arnott in an event at Sunderland University on Monday.
Mr Arnott had attended in place of his party’s parliamentary candidate for the constituency Bryan Foster, whose wife Dorothy’s chronic illness had taken a turn for the worse.
Mrs Elliot’s reasons were that Mr Arnott is a candidate for Easington and not Sunderland Central.
Now Green Party candidate Rachel Featherstone has hit out at her decision because she was substituted with a candidate from Teesside at an event held at St Aidan’s School in Ashbrooke, in March.
Ms Featherstone said Mrs Elliott had no objections in the past, when in the second debate, a local election candidate stood in for LibDem candidate Adrian Page.
“I was happy to debate with the Ukip representative,” Ms Featherstone said. “I believe that in the interests of democracy, all the parties should have been represented.
“I’m concerned that this may affect the willingness of the university to host this kind of event in the future.”
She added: “The organisers are to be commended for the efforts they made to ensure this was a lively and informative debate.”
A Labour Party spokesman said the debate at St Aidan’s was a regional event, with parliamentary candidates from outside Sunderland taking part, while the Age UK debate was a whole of Sunderland city debate not a Sunderland Central hustings.
“It’s odd to see the Green Party cosying up to Ukip,” he said.
“But our position remains the same our candidate debates with other Sunderland Central parliamentary candidates in hustings for Sunderland Central constituency.”
Also standing in the Sunderland Central constituency is Jeffrey Guy Townsend (Conservative) and Jospeh Young (Independent).
Source – Sunderland Echo, 23 Apr 2015
Houghton and Sunderland South: currently held by Bridget Phillipson (Labour)
Richard Peter Elvin (Ukip),
Stewart Thomas Hay (Con),
Jim Murray (LD),
Bridget Maeve Phillipson (Lab),
Alan Michael David Robinson (Green).
Sunderland Central: currently held by Julie Elliott (Labour)
Julie Elliott (Lab),
Rachel Sara Featherstone (Green),
Bryan George Foster (Ukip),
Adrian Page (LD),
Jeffrey Guy Townsend (Con),
Joseph Young (Ind).
Washington and Sunderland West: currently held by Sharon Hodgson (Labour)
Aileen Casey (Ukip),
Bob Dhillon (Con),
Gary Stephen Duncan (TUSC),
Dominic John Haney (LD),
Sharon Hodgson (Lab),
Anthony Murphy (Green).
> Interesting to see that Gary Duncan has found (yet another) new home. It seems no time since he was a pround member of Respect. And before that, the SWP.
A UKIP candidate who was set to contest the Sunderland Central seat in May’s General Election has resigned from his post and the party over a row about his military background.
Paul Tweddle was selected by the party at the end of last year to contest the seat, which is held by Labour MP Julie Elliott.
But today he said he has stepped down from the candidacy after the way he feels he has been dealt with by party officials.
Ukip bosses say that with all candidates, all claims about past careers must be checked and Mr Tweddle was asked to provide evidence, which he claims he did but then decided to resign instead.
“I served in the RAF regulars and before that I was in the Parachute Regiment.”
“I said that in the hustings when I was asked questions about myself but then I got a phone call from someone in the party asking me to provide discharge papers so I could prove it.
“They were demanding documentation so I had to send off to the MoD for them.”
Mr Tweddle, a qualified criminologist, said the actions of the officials led him to resign from the candidacy and end his Ukip membership.
He says although he is currently not a member of any party, he will be supporting Labour at May’s elections.
“Ukip is not for the Forces or the ordinary common person,” added Mr Tweddle.
“They’re the type of party that do well in times of discontent.
“Most people would never look at these parties most of the time, never mind join them.
> But you did, Mr Tweddle. Join them and go so far as to intend to stand at the General Election…
“I’m proud of Sunderland and the North East and I don’t think these people have any intention of representing the people of this area properly.”
The Sunderland branch of Ukip was formed in 2011.
The party has contested most seats in the city’s council election since then but has failed to win any.
Source – Sunderland Echo, 06 Mar 2015
Three fire stations threatened with closure due to multimillion pound cuts have today been saved.
Wallsend, Gosforth and Sunderland Central fire stations had all been earmarked for closure as Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service faced saving almost £9m form its budget.
But in a surprise move at a meeting of the Tyne and Wear Fire Authority today it was decided all the stations will remain open.
Prior to the meeting Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, handed in a 34,000 signature petition against the closures.
In March last year, the Authority announced Sunderland Central station, alongside those in Wallsend and Gosforth, had been handed a stay of execution and would not close until June 2017, with efforts being made to try to find the funds to keep them open.
At today’s meeting it was agreed the stations would be able to remain open due to a council tax precept rise.
The move was greeted with widespread elation from those who have spent more than a year fighting to keep the stations open.
Russ King, secretary of Tyne and Wear Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU) said: “We’re absolutely delighted this decision has been made.”
While firefighter of 15 years Gary Richardson added: “This is the first bit of good news in a long time.”
Campaigners had argued that lives would be put at risk should the closures go ahead and that response times to some of the most serious incidents would suffer.
Following today’s announcement Ms Elliott tweeted: “We did it. After the submission of our petition, the Fire Authority say that no Tyne and Wear stations will close.”
Tom Capeling, chief fire officer for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, added: “Members have just agreed NOT to close the fire stations in Gosforth, Sunderland and Wallsend.”
However, the 130 posts earmarked to be lost with the closure of the fire stations will still go ahead.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 16 Feb 2015
David Cameron’s pledge to create “full employment” after the next election has been slammed by a North East MP who warned that the region has too many low-wage and low-skilled jobs.
The Conservative leader continued his focus on the economy in a major speech setting out key pledge that will appear in the Conservative General Election manifesto.
“After a tough few years, we have a good record of getting people into work – 1,000 jobs every day this Government has been in office. We’ve created more jobs here in Britain than the rest of the European Union combined.”
But Labour highlighted its plans to guarantee a job for every unemployed person out of work for two years – or for one year if they are aged 18 to 24.
The compulsory scheme will be funded partly by a new tax on bankers’ bonuses, Labour says.
Julie Elliott, Labour MP for Sunderland Central, said:
“People in the North East will find David Cameron’s conversion to achieving “full employment” extremely difficult to believe.
“This government has been complacent in the extreme when it comes to the jobs situation in this region. It’s a strategy based on creating low wage, low skill jobs, often on zero hours contracts with low job security. This isn’t a strategy for the long-term success of our region.
“A future Labour government will introduce a compulsory jobs guarantee to ensure that all young and long-term unemployed people get a real chance of work.”
> Or Workfare, as its otherwise known. No new ideas, as ever…
The most recent figures show that the North East continues to have the highest rate of unemployment of any region, with 9.1 per cent of the workforce currently unemployed.
This is down from 10.1 per cent a year previously, but it remains significantly higher than the national unemployment rate of 6 per cent.
It means the number of unemployed people in the North East has fallen by 11,000 people over a year and stands at 118.000.
The number of people in work in the region has increased by 32,000, an increase of 2.8 per cent, over 12 months.
Official figures also show that 59,000 people in the region work part time because they cannot find a full time job.
And they show that 33,000 people in the region actually work two or more jobs, which may suggest that they would struggle to make ends meet on a single salary.
The difficulties facing the North East’s economy were highlighted in a major new study from think tank the Centre for Cities, which examined the performance of cities across the country.
The region is losing private sector jobs, the think tank’s studies show.
Newcastle and the surrounding area lost 2,400 private sector jobs between 2012 and 2013, while Sunderland lost 1,800 and Middlesbrough lost 1,000.
All three cities are in the bottom ten, out of 64 cities and major urban areas examined, for private job creation. Nationwide, the number of private sector jobs grew by 1.6 per cent.
One measure of the success of cities is the growth in their population according to the think tank, which said: “cities that provide many job opportunities are likely to retain and attract more people than cities that do not.”
However, of the 64 cities examined, Sunderland has the worst record for population growth – because it is the only place where population actually fell, by 5,400 people between 2003 and 2013 to 276,100 people.
But there was also good news for the North East.
Newcastle has been one of the most successful areas for job creation.
The number of jobs in Newcastle and the surrounding area rose by 29,300 between 2004 and 2013 – an increase of eight per cent.
This was the eighth highest increase in the country, based on the think tank’s study of 64 cities and major urban areas.
Andrew Carter, acting chief executive of Centre for Cities, said: “Five months out from the election, this report makes the strongest economic case yet for the next Government to step up to the challenge of investing in the long-term success of our cities, and build a brighter future in which more people and places can contribute to, and share in, prosperity and growth.
“The stark picture the report paints of the enormous gap in the fortunes of UK cities over 10 years underlines why a ‘steady as she goes’ approach must be scrapped.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 20 Jan 2015
Ministers have refused to apologise after MPs from across the North East highlighted the “cruel and inhumane” treatment of benefit claimants in the region.
Officials such as Jobcentre staff had been encouraged to strip claimants of benefits for no good reason, MPs said.
In a Commons debate led by Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah, MPs highlighted a series of wrong decisions and abuse of benefit claimants.
* Veterans injured in Afghanistan or Iraq stripped of benefits after they were told they were fit to work
* A Newcastle man stripped of benefits because he was accused of failing to seek work in the days after his father died
* A man in Bishop Auckland constituency who was a collecting a sick daughter from school and was accused of inventing a “fictional child”
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck said her constituents had been “humiliated” by job centre staff.
“Constituents of mine have been refused a private room to discuss intimate personal or medial issues … the general attitude of staff is confrontational and sometimes just downright rude.”
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said Jobcentre staff provided a valuable service and took their role seriously – but they were under pressure to “sanction” as many people as possible, suspending their benefits on the grounds that they had broken rules or failed to prove they were seeking work.
The debate, attended by Labour MPs from across the North East, followed long-running complaints that benefit claimants are being sanctioned for no good reason.
> Very long-running complaints… its a shame it takes a looming General Election to get Labour’s collective arse into gear, and also leads the cynical to wonder whether the situation will just revert after the election (whoever wins).
But Work Minister Esther McVey infuriated MPs by refusing to discuss whether the criteria for imposing sanctions were fair, despite repeated requests for her to address this topic.
She denied her department deliberately inflames talk of “scroungers”, saying: “I have never put forward a story like that and I never would.”
Ms Onwurah recalled that she was largely bought up by her mother in a single-parent family in Newcastle which depended on benefits.
She said: “I am so glad she did not have to face the sort of vilification and abuse that benefit claimants face now.”
She added: “I want to know what this government is doing to prevent the demonisation of those who are now claiming benefits.”
> That’s easy – nothing. Why would they, it’s their policies that encouraged it in the first place.
What we want to know now is what Labour would do, should they win the next election.
Newcastle East MP Nick Brown said one constituent had been told to go to an office in Felling, Gateshead. He walked to the office – because he had no money to pay for public transport – where he was given a telephone number to call.
People with disabilities, but who were judged to be fit to work, were being trained for jobs it was very unlikely they would be able to do, he said.
> There must be more unemployed forklift drivers in the North East than anywhere. Qualifications that are basically useless because the majority of jobs requiring a forklift licence also specify a period of experience in a real situation, not a poxy do-it-or-get-sanctioned course.
And, in Sunderland at least, they send qualified and experienced forklift drivers on these courses too… Southwick Jobcentre advisers in particular were notorious for that.
Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, said Jobcentre staff were under pressure to sanction claimants.
“They work hard and are put under enormous pressure. Staffing levels have diminished dramatically since 2010.
“We hear anecdotally about the pressures of informal targets on sanctions – we all know they are in place – from people who are too frightened to say something, so they tell us off the record.”
> Ah… definitely an election looming. Julie Elliott is my MP, but failed to respond to a complaint against Jobcentre staff that I made a couple of years ago. That’s not the way to win votes, Jules – electorates are for the full term of the parliament, not just a general election.
Mrs Lewell-Buck accused the Government of encouraging the public “to think of claimants as spongers or skivers, so that working people struggling to get by will blame the unemployed man or woman next door”.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 07 Jan 2015
Millions of people could be robbed of the right to vote because of new rules introduced to try to prevent fraud, an MP has warned.
Younger people are particularly like to be hit by the changes, said Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott.
And in Sunderland, the new system had led to more than 6,000 voters falling off the electoral register, the MP said.
Leading a Commons debate, she urged the Government to rethink the introduction of a new system called individual voter registration.
This was introduced in an attempt to tackle growing concern about voting fraud, following a scandal in Birmingham in 2004 where a five Labour councillors used bogus postal votes to try to counter the adverse impact of the Iraq war on the party’s support.
Judge Richard Mawrey QC found there had been “massive, systematic and organised” postal voting fraud “that would disgrace a banana republic”.
The old system in which one person fills in a registration form for the entire household has now been scrapped.
Instead, each voter now has to register individually and provide identifying information such as a date of birth and national insurance number.
But Mrs Elliott warned that some people did not have National Insurance numbers matched to their home address, and could find themselves unable to register.
She told MPs:
“I agreed in principle with individual voter registration, but that it had to be implemented in a way that works. The new system, however, is simply being rushed through.
“My fear is that because the changes are being done at speed, and because of the lack of funding available to implement them, they will disfranchise millions of people. That does not improve our democracy at all.”
“The groups being disfranchised that I am most concerned about are: students and young people; people who live in the private rented sector; and adults with no dependent children who are not yet claiming pensions or not on benefits.”
Mrs Elliott told MPs that Sunderland was a university city and became home to thousands of young people in term time.
“Their national insurance number is often registered to the address of their parents’ home, so if they tried to go on the electoral register where they are students the data would not match.”
People who moved home frequently, or had never had any contact with the benefits system, might also have National Insurance numbers registered to the wrong address she said.
Some voters could also be disenfranchised because of mistakes in the National Insurance system, she said.
And she highlighted warnings from officials in Sunderland City Council, which oversees elections in the city, that the number of registered voters had fallen by 6,128 people since the new system came in.
Cabinet Office Minister Sam Gyimah said the changes were designed to ensure details on the electoral reister were correct.
“We must be mindful of the pitfalls of introducing a new method of registering to vote, and we should focus on the completeness and accuracy of the register. Much has been said about the need for the register to be complete, and the Government and I agree with everyone on the need for that, but we cannot ignore the importance of accuracy. Without an accurate register, we risk undermining the very elections on which the system is based, so we must not simply sweep away the importance of accuracy.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 23 Oct 2014
Bus services are better in council hands, MPs have said ahead of a vote that could dramatically change the future of public transport in the North East.
Twelve Tyne and Wear MPs have written to the North East Combined Authority leadership board ahead of their meeting this afternoon to decide whether to establish the first council regulated network of buses outside of London since 1986.
They believe the proposed Quality Contracts Scheme run by Metro operator Nexus will deliver £272m in economic benefit to the North East.
However the plans have been bitterly-opposed by bus companies Go North East, Stagecoach and Arriva, who instead want to run the network under a Voluntary Partnership Agreement called the North East Bus Operators’ Association.
They believe handing back control of buses to councils would create new risks for ‘cash-strapped’ local authorities.
Bridget Phillipson MP, who has been leading the campaign in favour of the Quality Contracts scheme, said:
“The members of the Combined Authority have a clear choice when they meet today. They can either maintain the status quo where bus operators funnel profits out of our region or support real and lasting change with a Quality Contract Scheme.
“If a regulated transport system is good enough for our capital city then it’s good enough for the people of Tyne and Wear.”
She added in her letter that the present deregulated system allowed operators to cut routes and an investigation in 2011 by the Competition Commission was critical of the service in Tyne and Wear.
Tom Dodds, secretary of the North East Bus Operators’ Association, said:
“Ms Phillipson misunderstands the partnership agreement. There are 17 successful partnerships around the country. The partnership for Tyne and Wear would be the most comprehensive of all, offering cheaper fares for 16-18 year olds, new ‘Bus2Bus’ tickets for people who use the buses of more than one company but don’t need to use Metro, and up to 50 extra buses on new services. The contract scheme promises none of that, and allows politicians to increase fares and reduce services at will to balance their books.
“If the bus network is inadequate, then the contract scheme does nothing to improve it – in fact, it freezes the bus network until 2018.”
He added that there was no action taken by the Competition Commission following their report in 2011.
Nexus claims their system would see £8m saved or re-invested into the service, reducing the profits going to bus company shareholders from £20m to £12m a year.
The letter has been signed by the following MPs
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South), Nick Brown (Newcastle East), Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle North), Alan Campbell (Tynemouth), Mary Glindon (North Tyneside), Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow), Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields), Chi Onwurah (Newcastle Central), Ian Mearns (Gateshead), David Anderson (Blaydon), Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) and Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West).
The North East Combined Authority’s leadership board, which is made up of the leaders of seven local authorities, will take a vote today at the Civic Centre in Newcastle whether to proceed with the Quality Contracts Scheme after it was endorsed by its transport committee earlier this month.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 21 Oct 2014
Hundreds of frontline firefighters have been axed across the North as part of “dangerous” cuts – with another round of job losses on the way.
An investigation shows how more than 300 full-time firefighter roles have been cut in the North in the last four years.
And with brigades admitting there are hundreds more jobs still to go thanks to cuts in Government funding, campaigners claim “a tragedy is waiting to happen”.
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service has been the biggest casualty, with the axe taking out 18.4% of staff, some 173 workers – 143 of them frontline firefighters.
Cleveland has lost 17.5% of its workforce – 110 workers including 100 full-time or ‘on-call’ firefighters, and one station has closed.
Some 56 frontline firefighters have been axed in Northumberland, but 12 ‘on-call’ roles have been created. Overall, the brigade is 49 people (11.4%) – and two stations – down.
Meanwhile, Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service has lost 49 whole-time firefighters but has hired more ‘on-call’ and back office staff. It means the authority is 24 bodies lighter (4.1%) than it was in 2010.
The North East as a whole has lost 333 frontline firefighters – with that figure likely to double over the coming years.
Meanwhile Cumbria lost 16.5% of staff, including 30 full-time firefighters, while North Yorkshire is down 5% of staff, and 27 frontline firefighters.
Peter Wilcox, regional secretary at the Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU), said cutbacks put both firefighters and the public “at greater risk” with fewer resources to respond to potentially life-threatening emergencies.
He said: “Firefighters witnessed a decade of 2-3% year-on-year reductions to fire service funding leading up to the coalition Government taking office in 2010.
“Since this time the level of cuts have been unprecedented, with frontline services being hit by losses of 20% on average and further cuts of 7.5% planned by central Government for 2015-16.
“In real terms, we have seen fewer fire engines available to respond to emergency incidents.
“This level of cuts is not sustainable and places the public and firefighters at greater risk from fires and other emergency incidents.
“Despite David Cameron’s pledge not to cut frontline services prior to his party’s election in 2010, this is one pledge too far and has not been honoured.
“Firefighters across the North are saying enough is enough. Members of the public anticipate receiving the right level of protection and expect the appropriate response in their hour of need.”
As well as fighting domestic fires, brigades here in the North cover large industrial areas where blazes can fast accelerate.
Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, said the cuts should be stopped before it’s too late. She said: “The massive cuts this Tory-led Government has inflicted on fire services are not only unacceptable, they are dangerous.
“With more cuts due, I genuinely believe that a tragedy is waiting to happen. This Government needs to think again and fund our fire services fairly.”
The figures are set to make even grimmer reading by 2018, with more drastic cuts planned – but local fire brigades reassured residents they will be protected.
Cleveland Fire Brigade said it needs to save a further £6m in the next four years, meaning 135 frontline firefighters will be replaced by 72 ‘on-call’ staff.
Chief fire officer Ian Hayton said: “Cleveland has been at the wrong end of the Government austerity cuts and tops the league table of authorities with the highest funding reduction at more than 13%. We believe these reductions are disproportionate.”
Six fire engines, 131 more staff and three stations will be lost as part of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service’s three-year plan of cuts.
The authority’s chief fire officer Tom Capeling, announcing the plan in January, said the move is expected to save £5m. He said: “There is no doubt that this continues to be a challenging time for the service.”
In Durham and Darlington, the brigade is looking to save £3.6m by 2018, but bosses said firefighters lost in the last round of cuts weren’t made redundant.
Chief executive Susan Johnson said: “The small reduction in the number of whole-time firefighters has been through natural wastage – planned retirements and leavers.”
Northumberland Fire and Rescue also said further savings may be needed in the next three years.
“However residents can be reassured that in the future we will continue to work with partners to provide high quality prevention and protection activity along with a well-equipped and highly trained workforce,” said assistant chief fire officer Steve Richards said.
Cuts over the last four years mean the North East has lost 13.8% of its workforce, higher than the national average of 11.2% and the third worst region in England.
Nationally, 5,124 firefighters have been lost, forcing an FBU Ring of Fire protest tour of England, including stop-offs at Redcar and Sunderland.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the union, said: “The cuts, in our view, mean the service firefighters are able to provide is not as good as it could be or as good as it was.
“It means, for example, people are waiting longer after they dial 999 for firefighters to arrive. The ability to do the job safely is being undermined and this puts lives at risk.”
Source – Sunday Sun, 28 Sept 2014
> Yet another victim. Somewhere there must be an official who will recall the name Trevor Drakard and think: “It was me that stopped his benefits…”
I wonder how they feel about that ?
Devastated that his benefits had been stopped, a man with epilepsy hanged himself.
Trevor Drakard had been deemed fit for employment, after a back-to-work assessment.
The 50-year-old, who never married and had few friends, took his own life at his home in Sunderland.
An inquest into his death heard Mr Drakard had been diagnosed with epilepsy from the age of six and was receiving Incapacity Benefit.
Coroner’s officer Neville Dixon told a hearing in Sunderland:
“In the past few months he had been deemed fit to work and his benefits were stopped.
“He had been in the process of appealing with the Citizens Advice Bureau.
“He had been feeling very down in recent weeks, due to the stress of losing his benefits.”
A “lonely person”, Mr Drakard had also lost two close friends in the last three years.
He would meet his parents for dinner three times a week, the hearing was told.
They last saw him on July 18, after dropping him off at his home in General Graham Street.
When they were unable to get in touch with him about signing papers relating to his benefits, they called round to the house and found Mr Drakard’s body in his bedroom.
Senior coroner Derek Winter said Mr Drakard would have been unconscious “in a small number of seconds” and died shortly after.
Tests showed he had still been taking his epilepsy medication.
Mr Winter said he was satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that Mr Drakard had been responsible for his own death.
Speaking after the hearing, Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliot said:
“This case is tragic and need not have happened. My thoughts are with Mr Drakards’ family and friends.
“Sadly, the removal of benefits to genuinely sick people is becoming all too common, having a devastating impact on people’s lives and in this case a tragic outcome.
“The system is not fit for purpose – the Government needs to act now to stop anymore tragedies occurring and causing unnecessary hardship to people.”
> Aye, aye…must be a General election coming soon ? Ms Elliott, like her fellow Sunderland MPs, have been somewhat less than vocal about benefit cuts over the course of this parliament.
Source – Sunderland Echo, 06 Sept 2014