The forthcoming general election has been described as one of the most unpredictable in generations.
And with the polls revealing Labour and the Conservatives to be neck-and-neck, the result could depend on how well the so-called minor parties perform.
For some time now this has largely meant UKIP which has enjoyed a level of success in the North.
Now it also means the Green party which has seen its membership surge of late reportedly to a higher level than that of UKIP.
So will either of them manage to win seats here or perhaps gain sufficient votes to affect the final outcome?
Political expert Dr Martin Farr of Newcastle University said Labour was most at threat from the rise of UKIP while the Greens posed a threat particularly to the Lib Dems.
Dr Farr also said the support in the North East had given UKIP a certain amount of credibility.
“Before it had been portrayed as the party of disgruntled Tories, the anti-immigration party.
“But the North East is Labour’s heartland and immigration isn’t as big an issue here as it is, say, in the North West.
“The issue here is about representation which many former Labour voters don’t think they are getting from the party.
“Meanwhile UKIP can say what it likes at the moment as it is a party untarnished by being in Government.
“What it is offering is what Labour used to offer – clarity and certainty.”
This could explain why UKIP has enjoyed notable electoral successes up here recently.
At present it has a North East MEP, Jonathan Arnott, and four local councillors, two in South Tyneside and two in Hartlepool.
At the 2013 South Shields by-election following David Miliband’s resignation, UKIP’s Richard Elvin came second to Labour’s Emma Lewell Buck winning 24% of the vote, with the Tories and Lib Dems a distant thrid and fourth.
And, if the UK didn’t have a first past the post electoral system, it could have many more representatives.
In the May 2014 local elections at Newcastle City Council, having never contested a ward before, UKIP put up candidates in 19 and nine came second in the vote.
Its overall share of the vote was 9,231 or 13.5%, ahead of the Conservatives although trailing Labour and the Lib Dems.
Meanwhile at Sunderland City Council, UKIP put up five candidates in 2012 and although none won, it got some notable numbers in Hetton in particular with 1,363 where their candidate came a close second.
In 2014 it was unlucky not to win any seats despite gaining 16,951 votes in total, a 24.3% share. Of the 23 wards it contested it came 2nd in 16 of them.
Even as we approach the general election it is still making inroads. Last month the Mayor of Bishop Auckland, Coun Colin Race, quit the Labour Party and joined UKIP.
As for the Greens, Dr Farr said:
“There has been a huge surge in support because the Lib Dem support has collapsed and they are also attracting people from the left of Labour who are fed up with austerity.
“There isn’t a Syriza type party (the left wing anti-austerity party in Greece which formed the last Government there) in the UK.
“The Green party is basically still a pressure group without fully formed policies on all the issues. It’s leader was embarrassed recently in a TV interview because of this.”
However he said in time, using the success it has had at local level in places like Brighton, it could achieve credibility at a national level.
This might mean any electoral success it enjoys in the region by be more limited than UKIP which, in the public’s eye, is a bit more of an established party.
Overall Dr Farr said he wasn’t expecting many surprises at the May general election.
He said: “I think in most of the North East, the majorities are such that the numbers they attract won’t be enough to win seats.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 07 Feb 2015
CIVIC bosses remain confident Sunderland has a bright economic future, despite a new report which says it has fewer businesses per head of population than any other city in the UK.
The Centre for Cities’ 2015 Cities Outlook report ranks Sunderland as the lowest out of 64 for ‘business stock’, with 186 businesses per 10,000 people.
The city is also second bottom for new business start-ups and patents registered.
It is not all bad news, however, with the city ranked fourth best in the country for manufacturing jobs and 22 out of 60 for the number of people with 5A*-C GCSEs including Maths & English.
Sunderland City Council leader Coun Paul Watson said:
“This Centre for Cities report offers a useful comparison which confirms that we are making good progress on a number of fronts, but that we face some of the same challenges that we have been aware of for a long time.
“What lies behind the figures is perhaps most interesting for Sunderland residents.
“Manufacturing, in particular, has undergone a period of rapid growth within the city – with Nissan having increased output by 50 per cent in the last two years.
“And we’ve seen a spate of private investment in the city centre complemented by our own investment in new public space such as the Keel Square, which is nearing completion.
“With these behind us, Sunderland is on course for further growth in jobs and prosperity in the years to come.”
> Growth of 16 hour/week and zero contract jobs, if the vacancies are anything to go by. Whether that’s something to celebrate is a matter of opinion.
Today’s report highlights the growing gulf between the south of England and the rest of Britain.
It shows that for every 12 net new jobs created between 2004 and 2013 in cities in the south, only one was created in cities throughout the rest of Great Britain.
And with an election just months away, it calls on all parties to ensure their visions for growing cities are based on significant devolution of both fiscal and structural power, providing incentives to support economic growth, and giving greater flexibility to ensure money can be spent where it is most needed.
Cities Outlook is the annual health-check of the economic performance of the United Kingdom’s 64 largest cities.
This year’s report maps the fortunes of cities over a decade of economic boom and bust, during which three major parties have held power.
It shows national growth between 2004 and 2013 was largely driven by only a handful of cities – mainly located in the South – which have seen their populations boom, their number of businesses grow, and thousands of new jobs created while migration of young and skilled workers, a lack of business growth, and falling employment opportunities have other cities’ economies to contract.
The report says successive Governments’ efforts have failed to rebalance the national economy and warns even the best-performing cities in the south are now facing problems, especially from rocketing house prices.
“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,” said Centre for Cities acting chief executive Andrew Carter.
“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.
“We must move from thinking that bundling up new funding streams with bureaucratic delays, or simply tinkering around the edges with well-intentioned announcements, will be enough to reverse trends that are becoming increasingly entrenched.
“Cities need long-term funding and strategic planning, and policies that go to the heart of addressing the key drivers of economic growth – including transport, planning, skills and housing.
“This report throws down the gauntlet for all parties to turn their recent interest and pledges around cities and devolution into a clear plan to grow jobs and businesses, and improve quality of life throughout the United Kingdom.”
Source – Sunderland Echo, 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
The rise in paupers’ funerals and their spiralling cost to councils has been branded a ‘stark’ reminder of austerity on Tyneside.
Local authorities forked out 78% more on funerals for families who don’t have the money to bury their loved ones themselves in the two latest financial years, compared to the two years leading up to the 2010 General Election.
One authority faced a 100% increase in how much they paid out to cover funerals, either in full or as a contribution to costs.
Emma Lewell-Buck, the MP for South Shields who is asking the Government to review the national funeral payments system, said:
“Funeral poverty is often overlooked, but at a time when incomes are falling and cruel welfare reforms are hitting hard the added cost of a funeral can have a devastating effect on families.
“It is little wonder families are turning to their Local Authority or getting into debt, it is crucial that the plight of so many is highlighted and a swift resolution brought to this heart-wrenching poverty.”
A complex web of factors are said to behind the current number of council-funded funerals – officially known as public health funerals – and associated costs.
Meanwhile, charities are striving to maintain dignity for families and help people stay out of debt.
Heather Kennedy, funeral poverty officer with Quaker Social Action, said:
“The figures are stark. There is still a perception that a public health funeral amounts to a ‘paupers’ funeral’ but this can get in the way of real grieving processes.
“It can be really hard but some people are just so relieved that they will be able to have some sort of service after all that they are happy with anything.”
Families can apply for part-funding from the council to cover funeral bills, and the council will also meet the full cost when a person dies with no family able to pay when the deceased’s estate does not cover the fees.
South Tyneside Council has gone from spending £500 on two funerals before the General Election, to 11 funerals costing £7,000 in 2013/14.
County Durham has seen its costs double. While the cost of six funerals and contributions was £3,015 in 2008/09, in 2013/14 it was £7,386.
Newcastle City Council has had to pay out £101,490 on 131 funerals in the past six years – although year on year the number of funerals fluctuates.
The figures reveal costs are rising more than the number of funerals, and in 2008/09 and 2009/10 Newcastle, South Tyneside, County Durham and Sunderland City Council spent £44,965.14 on public health funerals.
In 2012/13 and 2013/14 this figure rose to £80,158.38 while the number of burials has only risen by 32% over the same period.
The average funeral in the UK now costs around £3,466 – an 80% rise in the past ten years.
Ms Kennedy added:
“We see a lot of people who are struggling financially and may be claiming benefits but there are also increasingly more people who are in work.
“So because they are in work they can’t apply for a social fund so when suddenly someone in the family dies they can’t afford it.
“People who weren’t necessarily in debt before can really be floored by this.”
Newcastle City Council buried 17 people in 2008/09, which cost £12,995.00, and in the year 2012/13 this rose to 29 people costing £24,400, while last year there were 21 funerals which cost £20,406.00.
In Sunderland the number of funerals has risen year on year to from six in 2008/09, which cost Sunderland City Council £1,124, to 13 in 2013/14 costing the council £6,423.98.
Emma Lewell-Buck, who has spoken in Parliament on the issue of funeral poverty, has said low-income households have been forced to turn to payday loan companies and sell possessions in order to lay their loved ones to rest.
There is also the fear that an ageing population, funeral cost inflation and rising death rates could mean the problem of unaffordability spirals, with more and more people applying to the council for help.
A South Tyneside Council spokesperson, said:
“It is obviously extremely sad that some people die without any known living relatives to celebrate their lives at their passing.
“Our staff in Bereavement Services work hard to trace relatives of the deceased but sometimes are unable to find anyone.
“When this happens we provide a dignified funeral service giving the due respect everyone deserves at the end of their lives.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 Dec 2014
Sunderland City Council is to lose more than £12million in spending power for next year, it has been announced.
The Department for Communities and Local Government said in a statement that the authority’s funding grants settlement for 2015/16 will fall by 4.2 per cent, from £289.179million to £276.936million.
Councils across the country are facing an average cut of 1.8 per cent.
It means that spending per Sunderland household will be down from £2,297 to just £2,200.
Source – Sunderland Echo, 18 Dec 2014
Candidates in the Washington East by-election have criticised voters who stayed at home instead of heading to the polling stations.
Labour’s Tony Taylor was voted onto to the seat vacated by disgraced party colleague Neville Padgett in the Sunderland City Council by-election.
But just 23.4 per cent turned out to vote – 2,026 people out of a total electorate of 8,672.
Coun Taylor took home 775 votes, ahead of the runner-up, Conservative Hilary Johnson, at 595 votes.
Conservative Hilary Johnson said:
“We did better than we did last time, we increased our share, we had a four per cent swing. But all I really want to say is that I was so disappointed with the turn-out – 23.4 per cent is pathetic. Less than 400 voted on the day in the polling stations.”
UKIP’s Alistair Baxter, said:
“It was disappointing. I was hoping to be in second.
“It was alarming that so few people even bothered, 75 per cent didn’t do anything. That really questions the validity of the whole process.”
> The consensus seems to be that the voters were pathetic, then.
It probably wouldn’t occur to those candidates that the fault may lie with them, that the majority may think that they are just not worth turning out for.
Source – Sunderland Echo, 13 Dec 2014
Labour candidate Tony Taylor has taken the seat vacated by disgraced party colleague Neville Padgett in Sunderland City Council’s Washington East by-election
Coun Taylor took home 775 votes, ahead of the runner-up, Conservative Hilary Johnson, 595 votes, followed by:
UKIP – Alistair Baxter, 506 votes,
Green Party – Tony Murphy, 93 votes,
Liberal Democrat – Stephen O’Brien, 52 votes.
23.4 per cent turn out – 2,026 people put of a total electorate of 8,672.
Former ward councillor Neville Padgett announced he was standing down in October, citing ‘health reasons’
The news came after he had previously taken flak over claiming more than £26,000 in expenses in just two years.
It emerged late last month that Mr Padgett has been ordered to repay some of the money, but it has not yet been revealed how much.
Source – Sunderland Echo, 12 Dec 2014
Former councillor Neville Padgett has been told to pay back some of his expenses after he claimed £26,000 in just over two years.
Mr Padgett resigned from his post last month citing health reasons after being re-elected in May in a landslide victory.
It was previously reported how Mr Padgett claimed £11,000 2012/13 – almost a third of the £34,000 total claimed by all 75 councillors. He claimed another £15,000 the following year on top of his £8,369 basic allowance.
The expenses included food, refreshments, and mileage claims. He justified the latter by claiming to spend one day a week driving around every street in his ward to check on litter problems.
It’s understood that Mr Padgett attended a meeting held behind closed doors, of the council’s standards board, shortly before his resignation.
Council bosses have always insisted councillor’s claims are regularly monitored and reviewed “in line with national guidelines”.
But at a full council meeting last week, leader Paul Watson admitted the authority has been investigating Mr Padgett.
He said: “It is a delicate operation to decide what we think he should pay back. We have been looking at it for some time now.”
Tory opposition leader Lee Martin had tabled a question, asking if and how much Mr Padgett will be asked to repay, what category of claims and what time periods these relate to.
Coun Watson said: “Yes, Mr Padgett has been requested to repay an amount of money in respect of his previous expenses.
“The relevant information regarding the amount that is required to be repaid, the nature of these expenses and the period to which they relate will be provided in a report for publication at a future date.”
Back in March, Coun Watson said there was no question as to the legitimacy of Mr Padgett’s expense claims.
“At the end of the day, there are a lot of other people on the council who don’t claim their full allowances, so rather than concentrating on someone who seemingly claim what he is entitled to, look at the councillors who don’t put expenses in and pay out of their own pockets,” he said at the time.
But Coun Martin tackled Coun Watson about his earlier statement, asking: “Does the leader now regret telling the press that he was only claiming what he was entitled to.
“Does he regret making that claim when this is more than 1,200 employees of this council earned in that year? Does he regret that now ex-councillor Padgett has been told to repay the money, will he apologise to the city for not keeping a closer watch on him?”
Coun Watson hit back saying: “I don’t regret what I said, my comments were made in good faith at the time under the circumstances.
“I don’t apologise if anyone in here is making a less than honest claim. Padgett may have transgressed, we don’t know whether he has crossed the boundaries, that’s what the process is all about. I believed that he was claiming what he was entitled to. If I thought he hadn’t I wouldn’t have said so.”
A by-election to replace Mr Padgett in the Washington East ward will be held on December 11. Those standing are Alistair Baxter (Ukip), Hilary Johnson (Conservative), Tony Murphy (Green Party), Stephen O’Brien (LibDem), Tony Taylor (Labour).
Source – Sunderland Echo, 01 Dec 2014
Labour MPs in the North-East have shrugged off predictions of a UKIP surge at next year’s general election – insisting their seats are not at serious risk.
The party’s MPs spoke of their confidence despite Labour’s disastrous performance in the Rochester and Strood by-election, where UKIP scored a stunning success.
> But wasn’t the turnout only 50.6% ? Not so stunning, when the majority of the electorate (those who didn’t vote and those who voted otherwise) did not vote for UKIP.
Of course, the UKIP winner was actually a rat leaving the Tory ship, defending the seat he won under their flag. He got 16,867 votes (42.1%).
At the last election, standing as a Tory, he got 23,604 vote (49.2%). the turnout then was 64.9%. Not such a ringing endorsement of UKIP after all.
On the other hand, the Green Party overtook the Lib Dems and scored their best result since the 2010 General Election – but the media are so in love with UKIP that they ignored that.
And they denied they were drawing up new strategies to combat the phenomenon of a party once famously ridiculed, by David Cameron, as a bunch of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”.
Nigel Farage’s party is widely acknowledged to have broadened its appeal beyond being an anti-EU pressure group and can claim to have more working class backing than Labour.
Researchers have suggested some North-East constituencies – Hartlepool, Bishop Auckland, South Shields and Middlesbrough – may be vulnerable to a UKIP surge.
And, at last May’s European elections, the fast-rising party topped the vote in Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton and Redcar and Cleveland.
UKIP has refused to release its target seats in the North-East and Yorkshire, but is widely believed to have identified Hartlepool as its most likely success.
However, Iain Wright, the town’s Labour MP, said: “I think UKIP shout about it, but it’s all talk. I speak to voters all the time and they really don’t mention them.”
That was echoed by Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald, who said: “The response I get on the doorstep is overwhelmingly supportive of Labour policies to tackle inequalities head on.”
And Durham North West MP Pat Glass pointed to three county council by-elections in her constituency since last May 2014, all of which Labour had won “convincingly”.
She added: “My view is that, whilst UKIP will take some votes in the North-East, they will not come close to winning any seats.”
Helen Goodman, the Bishop Auckland MP, acknowledged growing concern about the level of immigration, but argued her voters were being won round to Labour’s solutions.
At the 2010 general election, UKIP won only a tiny share of the vote in, for example, Hartlepool (seven per cent) and Bishop Auckland (2.7 per cent) – giving it a mountain to climb.
Indeed, Jonathan Arnott, UKIP’s North-East Euro-MP stopped short of predicting sensational gains for his party in the region next May.
Instead, he said: “At the European elections in May, UKIP won in Redcar and Cleveland, Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton.
“UKIP are the only viable challengers to Labour across the North-East and we are expecting a two horse race come next May.”
Source – Northern Echo, 22 Nov 2014
> Why do the media seem so intent on boosting UKIP ? I’m reminded of this year’s Sunderland City Council elections, in which UKIP’s performance was described in the national media as astounding.
So astounding, in fact, that they won 0 seats.
In fact, across Tyne & Wear as a whole, they suffered a 50% loss (losing one of their two local council seats – they might have lost both, but the other wasn’t up for election this time around). Yet on this evidence we’re told that they’re going to sweep to victory.
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