Tagged: Sure Start

Newcastle City Council jobs axe is a return to out-dated ‘salami-slice’ policy, says union boss

A council leader has been accused of reneging on his promise to not ‘salami-slice’ authority jobs.

Unison have said Newcastle City Council’s draft budget plans which will shred 260 jobs across a range of departments, from highways to adminstration staff to family service workers, fails to come up with a new model for how the authority will be run.

Council leader Nick Forbes has previously said annual ‘salami-slicing’ of budgets, where a handful of jobs are taken from a range of departments, is ‘no longer adequate’ when faced with large cuts from Central Government. The key to future services is instead, he argued, to transform the status quo.

However Paul Gilroy, Newcastle branch member for Unison, said:

The council talked two years ago about how Newcastle would look in 2020 and they talked about transforming the city council. They have done only elements of that. The Family Services Review has transformed what’s delivered to families but in other parts of the authority there isn’t a significant amount of evidence of transforming services.

“There still is an element of ‘salami-slicing’ and people are bothered by it. An example is the decision to shut the Tourist Information Centre. In 2012 the council talked about transformational change but we are struggling with what that means.”

Details of Newcastle City Council’s Family Services Review, which includes changes to the Sure Start service, will be released in January.

Up to 27 jobs will go when the council embarks on creating new ‘community family hubs’ across the city after having its budget cut by £5m.

Leader of the council Nick Forbes, who works at a national level to come up with ideas on how to change public services within the Core Cities organisation, believes significant changes are being made.

He said:

“Our budget demonstrates a transformational approach to public services and we know that we need to go further in years ahead. But it is the Government that is holding back true transformation through its unceasing and savage cuts to public services.”

He said there were many examples of transformational proposals for services in the council’s draft budget for 2015-2016 and the authority has already been financially rewarded for its innovation in its social services department.

Councils are awarded financial grants from Central Government if they demonstrate ways in which they have tackled delivering public services differently and in the past Newcastle has received a grant for its work redesigning family mental health services.

Councillor Forbes, said:

“We have also worked with our partners to save many of our libraries from closures and have set up a fund independent of council that guarantees funding for the arts.

“We are also looking at setting up a trust to manage many of our parks and heritage assets.”

In the future we are looking to save money through digital transformation by making many of our services available digitally, and we are looking to integrate our health and social care services.”

He said ‘true transformation’ of services requires a fundamental change from the current top-down ‘Whitehall knows best’ approach and more upfront funding for local innovation, which is what Newcastle City Council is lobbying for.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  23 Dec 2014

Newcastle parents group rubbish Revolutionary Communist Party link made by Nick Forbes

A campaign group fighting against cuts which will see child provision in Newcastle slashed has slammed city council leader Nick Forbes for linking them to the Revolutionary Communist Party.

Parents against Cuts was set up when plans to reduce the number of Sure Start Centres, which provide early educational and play facilities for pre-school children from the poorest backgrounds to save around £4.7m, were first made public.

The group has since arranged a number of high profile protests while Mr Forbes has been heckled at meetings and protests have been staged outside his council surgery.

In an interview the council leader said:

“The Revolutionary Communist Party website clearly claims responsibility for a number of actions that Parents Against Cuts is taking.”

He also said he wasn’t going to engage in playground politics with people who shouted and threw things.

Vanessa Cutter of PAC said: “I was astounded that the leader of the council could come out with such ludicrous comments.”

She described the link with the Revolutionary Communist Party as “completely unfounded”.

Details of the group’s action have appeared on the party’s website.

Ms Cutter added:

“They have also appeared on the Unison website. Does that make us a front for Unison too? The Revolutionary Communists are an anti-cuts party so it is natural that they report on us, an anti-cuts group.

“I think Mr Forbes is feeling the pressure of our campaign.”

> Parents against Cuts have appeared in this blog before too ! Whatever can it mean ?

However the city council leader hit back saying:

“There is strong evidence that the Revolutionary Communist Party is claiming the credit for the disruptive activities of the Parents Against Cuts group.”

He claimed the PAC had called for the setting of an illegal budget which would bring the city into disrepute.

> Which otherwise might be seen as making a stand against central government austerity policies.

Ms Cutter has also attacked the details released in this week’s £40m budget cuts announcement which has still left those parents who will be affected by the reduction of the Sure Start service in the dark as to the extent of them.

She said:

“We were told they would tell us which centres would be closed on December 1, then December 5, then December 17 and now it could be next week.

“I think it is very strategic as we believe he wants to delay the announcement to closer to Christmas as it will be harder to build resistance.”

However Mr Forbes denied this saying it was always the intention for the final decision on Sure Start provision to be decided at the council’s Cabinet meeting in January.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 19 Dec 2014

Newcastle City Council jobs and services ‘at risk’ to be revealed two days before Christmas

Hundreds of city workers face a black Christmas as the scale of £40m council cuts is announced on December 23.

Newcastle City Council’s will release the finer details of their budget reduction plans and the number of potential job losses just two days before Christmas Day.

The December announcement is expected to include firm figures on where the axe will fall on certain council departments and how future Sure Start services will be run.

Paul Gilroy, Newcastle branch secretary for Unison, said the timing before Christmas was unavoidable due to the budget setting time-table but given the looming holiday period more details should be passed onto workers beforehand as a priority.

I’m hoping that before December 23 the majority of that detail is shared. The council report will have details of the savings and number of jobs to be cut.

“You won’t be able to see that it’s your job that could be cut, but you will be able to see that your area might need to save ‘X’ amount of money, and that so many jobs are under review.

“The problem at the moment is the size of the cut and I’m not sure there’s any particular area of the council that won’t see cutbacks.

“It’s not going to be positive time of year for anybody. Christmas is usually the time of year when you overspend. It’s a time of year when you should be letting your hair down and instead it’s the time of year when you might be worrying about potentially not having a job in the future.”

Newcastle City Council needs to cut £40m from its budget for 2015/16 following a reduction in its Central Government revenue support grant and rising cost pressures.

In October they released rough plans on the areas they would like to make savings from, including city parks, road sweeping, the number of public bins and reducing the night-time nuisance noise service.

Unions are prepared for an announcement that up to 400 jobs will be at risk, on top of the 1300 posts due to be scrapped by 2016.

Val Scott, regional organiser for the GMB, whose 3500 city council members include catering staff and care workers, said there was never a good time of year to make an announcement on job losses and the pain of entering into a potential consultation period was felt as acutely in summer as in winter.

She said:

“With public services this is an ongoing thing and there’s never a good time for this announcement to be made.

“Budgets are really stretched by the Government at this moment in time and people are losing their jobs left, right and centre and unfortunately public services are having to deal with a disproportionate cut to the North East.

“The budget cuts are common knowledge but this is getting down to the nitty gritty and identifying job losses, which makes it extremely difficult.”

She said council proposals to transfer the running of some city parks over to civic trusts, to avoid an annual £1.1m maintenance bill, did not ‘sit well’ with the union.

These proposals are up for discussion and we will try everything that we can to object to that as it is not something that we advocate.

“There’s volunteer services which are crucial. In terms of doing a volunteer job where it’s been a previous council job then I’m not satisfied with that position,” she said.

On December 23 draft budget plans will be prepared for the city’s cabinet with the formal consultation period starting after a full city council meeting in January.

The final budget will be set in April.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  06 Nov 2014

Sign Of The Times : Newcastle City Council asks residents to pick up litter

Picking up litter in the street is now the task of residents as the council says it can no longer afford to sweep up all of the city’s rubbish.

The call for people to pitch in and do their bit for the community came from Labour city councillor Hazel Stephenson as she claimed today’s generation were more likely to drop crisp packets, wrappers and cans.

The council said the people of Newcastle needed to prepare themselves for a much dirtier city as the authority attempts to shave £90m from its budget over the next three years.

Coun Stephenson, city council cabinet member for communities and neighbourhoods, said:

The council does not drop litter. The council does not fly tip. People drop litter. People fly tip.

“People need to take responsibility for their area. The council cannot continue to do it all.”

A reduction in council services, including fewer small street bins, is a fact that people will have to accept, according to Coun Stephenson.

The reality is front line services are being cut and we are losing a lot of services that people take for granted.

“I am not saying that people need to replace core council services. What I am saying is that we all need to work together,”

said Coun Stephenson, who was addressing the council’s cabinet as they discussed draft proposals for the 2015-2016 budget.

She used the area of Benwell as an example of families cooperating to improve their community.

She said:

Residents put up little notes in the streets, reminding people of the simple things that they can do to make a difference.

“Warnings against dropping litter in the road and letting your dog foul in public had a big impact.

“It seems common sense but people sometimes need reminding. Those little letters made a big difference.”

She went on to suggest littering was a generational issue.

She said:

People are changing. Years ago this problem was not there. It is cultural and differs across generation.

“When I was younger dropping litter was unthinkable. For some people today, sadly, it is not.”

The councillor did however praise the work of some schools :

Some schools do a great job of encouraging their students to take a greater responsibility with regards to litter.

“Making the younger generation aware of the problems that are caused by rubbish in our streets is a great way of changing attitudes.”

Newcastle City Council director of communities Mick Murphy said:

“People need to show more commitment and community spirit. It is a common sense thing.

“Think about what happens to your waste once you have thrown it away. Someone has to pick it up after you.”

So far £151m has been cut from the council budget since 2010 which led to some libraries being transferred into community ownership and the City Pool closing.

Coun Forbes said the financial year 2015 to 2016 would see the authority facing a series of ‘fiscal cliffs’ and plans are in motion to transfer city parks to civic trusts, reduce the number of small litter bins and redevelop Sure Start services.

Unison is also warning that up to 400 council jobs could go over the next three years.

Source – Sunday Sun,  02 Nov 2014

Parent campaigners in Newcastle stage ‘Halloween’ protest over Sure Start cuts

Parents have  staged a protest over a council’s ‘history of horror’ cuts to services.

Children dressed as witches, ghosts and ghouls marched into a councillors’ surgery in Newcastle’s West End as part of a demonstrate over cuts to 20 Sure Start children’s centres.

Vanessa Cutter, from group Parents Against Cuts, said:

Nick Forbes needs to attack Central Government and say to them, if you’ve got money to spend on redeveloping the city train station, then there should be money for Sure Start.

“The cuts that are being implemented are going to impact on so many families. The Sure Start centres are such an important resource for people. Parents Against Cuts is not prepared for them to close.”

Parents and children protest against the council's spending cuts at St Matthew's Church
Parents and children protest against the council’s spending cuts at St Matthew’s Church

 

Newcastle City Council’s Labour leader Nick Forbes needs to make a £5m reduction in funding for the service after its Central Government grant was reduced.

He is also contending once again with a significantly reduced revenue support grant from the Government which has previously led the council to cut libraries and arts funding.

Angry parents were hoping to confront Coun Forbes about the cuts but were greeted by his Westgate ward colleague Coun Geoff O’Brien.

Following the disruption at the surgery meeting at St Matthew’s Church, off Westgate Road, on Saturday Coun O’Brien blamed funding cuts from Central Government and said:

I fully support the parents.

“The last thing we want to do is close down really good public services like Sure Start.

“I’m pleased they are protesting and there should be more people doing it across the country.”

Throughout September, the council consulted with families to try and come up with a new way of trying to maintain Sure Start Services with a reduced budget.

They have decided to pursue a model that would help 1000 vulnerable children, and spend £635,000 on targeted support services for children and families.

This means more children can be helped than was previously planned, however the future of all 20 current Sure Start centres is still under review.

Council projects like Newcastle Central Station come from a different source of funding, and it would not have been possible to transfer money to Sure Start.

Vanessa Cutter, who organised the protest, said many of the items used in the demonstration and fancy dress were used to represent services the city council has cut since 2010.

She said:

“We took along a paddling pool to represent money for the swimming pools being cut, we’ve took books to represent the cuts to libraries and bin bags to represent the bins that will be cut.

“We are looking at Nick Forbes’ history of horrors and set up a Halloween party in his surgery.”

Newcastle City Council has announced it must save £90m over the next three years on top of £151 already cut since 2010. It’s reduction in funding from Central Government has been significant with less money coming in to the revenue support grant, while cost pressures, particularly of an ageing population, continue to rise.

Vanessa said she has used the Sure Start centre in North Fenham for her children Freya, seven, Isabelle, five, and Niamh, two.

Surely Nick Forbes’ job is to fight the Government. He talks of this £38m that has been chopped from the budget but we want to see him fight,” she said.

A city council spokesperson said:

We know that people would prefer there to be no cuts whatsoever and we feel exactly the same way. However, the removal of government grants and the overall financial position of the city council, has left us with no alternative but to make savings in every area of our work.

“Our consultation presented people with three options but, once we collected and analysed the views of 5,000 people, a fourth option emerged. Earlier this week, our Cabinet approved the creation of new and innovative Community Family Hubs, incorporating Sure Start Children’s Centres, and with intensive support to families. The hubs would focus on those 30% of communities with the highest level of deprivation – the widest level of coverage the council can afford. At the same time the council will also continue to invest in other services targeting families with other particular needs.

“Detailed planning of how these hubs and other services will be configured, and where they will be located, will be discussed in a further phase of consultation before the council agrees its final budget position in March 2015.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Oct 2014

Council tax could be set to rise in Newcastle after a four year freeze to help pay for £90m worth of cuts

Council tax could rise after a four year freeze for ratepayers as Newcastle City Council announces a further £90m cut to its budget over the next three years.

Leader of the council Nick Forbes said he couldn’t ‘rule out’ an increase as he looks to save £40m from the next financial year alone as less money comes to Newcastle from Central Government.

Councillor Forbes said the financial year 2015 to 2016 would see the authority facing a series of ‘fiscal cliffs’ as the council struggles to maintain anything but basic services.

The end of certain Sure Start child care services will be announced on Thursday, while the public have been told to expect a dirtier city as the council cuts back on street cleaning.

The Labour leader said: “The Government hasn’t as yet made it clear whether there will be an offer about a council tax freeze but given the dire cuts that we are facing and the need to maintain a decent environment means we can’t rule it out.

“We have frozen the tax for the last four years because we wanted to help people with the cost of living crisis.

The council’s latest budget cut announcement will go before Cabinet to be discussed by councillors on October 22. Specific services under threat from being axed will be finalised for formal consultation with the public in December, however £5m is already known to be going from the budget for Sure Start centres.

The £90m cut by 2018 is on top of the £151m that has been cut since 2010 which led to some libraries being transferred into community ownership and the City Pool shut down.

Coun. Forbes, said:

I have warned in the past that government cuts mean that public services in our city are facing a fiscal cliff. Today we are at the very edge of the precipice.

“We have begun a debate with our partners about how we can start to make this happen in many areas – but particularly in health and social care where we need to move resources away from crisis response to those services which help prevent people from coming to harm in the first place.”

He said greater devolution to the North East of England would help combat some of the ‘unpalatable options’ the council is facing, however until that happens there will be cuts to services he knows people cherish.

Further conversations with Sir Len Fenwick, the Chief Executive of Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and other key health agencies will now need to be had as the council aims to devise stronger partnerships on delivering adult social care than ever before.

The Labour representative said: “There’s a willingness from health partners to do things differently.”

The £40m cut in the first year is to cope with the expected expenditure required of the council and a £25m decrease in Central Government’s revenue support grant.

However he said not all councils across the UK have been hit with the same funding reduction and the cut to Newcastle’s budget had been ten times greater than other councils. He said the city being given an ‘unfair’ financial deal is backed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Audit Commission.

Liberal Democrat councillor Anita Lower, leader of the opposition, said:

You can blame Central Government but no one is saying ‘you must not fund Sure Start’. Central Government is saying here is the money, now you decide what to do with it.

“It’s about being creative and being aware of what’s out there and what needs do the public have and doing your best to provide that. We are at the point now where we know what’s coming from Central Government. Yes it’s tough but that’s what being in charge is about but these are Nick Forbes’ decisions.

“In the last two years we should have been talking more with parents, community groups and the private sector. There’s scope to get money from health, and schools could be doing more. Schools could use the Government’s pupil premium money to work with families or put it into Sure Start type services.”

> “It’s about being creative and being aware of what’s out there and what needs do the public have and doing your best to provide that”  = workfare, no doubt.  Why pay when you can conscript someone to do it for nothing.

Residents from across the city are invited to have their say on the council’s preparatory budget planning at www.letstalknewcastle.co.uk

Detailed proposals will be published for formal consultation in December 2014. The council will make final decisions on its budget in March 2015.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 15 Oct 2014

Families stage ‘messy march’ against Sure Start cuts in Newcastle

Families staged a ‘messy march’ in Newcastle against cuts that could see a £5m reduction in funding for Sure Start Children’s Centres.

The figure amounts to about a 65% of the total budget for the service.

Protesters say if the proposal went through it could mean the city’s most vulnerable families would be left without childcare and vital support.

A series of themed protests – including a ‘teddy bear’s picnic’ – have been staged in recent weeks, and organiser Vanessa Cutter, 32, explained the thinking around Saturday’s event at Grey’s Monument.

The mum-of-three of Fenham, Newcastle, said:

A messy march is a child centred protest march where children do what they do best – make a mess and be noisy.

“It serves several purposes – we want to show the council that we are willing to take action, demonstrate and fight against their proposed 65% cuts to Sure Start services.

“We want to show them that if they close two thirds of centres then the city’s children will have nowhere to go.

“The council seems keen to invest lots of money in businesses and the city centre, but if that comes at the cost of children’s services then we will have to play in the areas they do invest in.”

All of Newcastle’s 20 Sure Start centres are now up for review as city councillors iron out their final budget proposals for the year 2014/2015.

Many councils across the North are struggling to make similar savings – or cuts – including Middlesbrough.

Mayor Ray Mallon announced in January £14.9m of cuts – in addition to more than £40m removed from the council’s budget over the last three years – will lead to the loss of around 300 jobs. Amongst departments are children’s services.

Sure Start was a Labour flagship policy from 1998, its aim was “giving children the best possible start in life” through improvement of childcare, early education, health and family support, with an emphasis on outreach and community development.

In Newcastle 50% of the services are delivered by the council and 50% by the Community and Voluntary Sector. The city council has estimated for the work it directly delivers, the cuts will equate to the loss of 63 full time equivalent posts.

The protestors say the proposals, if carried out, will see the budget slashed by £5m by 2016. This would mean the closure of services, buildings, parents groups and activities for children aged under five across the city.

Mum-of-two Anna Snaith, 28, of Heaton said:

“I am very upset that two out of three options for the future of services in my area include completely closing down the Ouseburn Family Centre which I regularly attend.

“The team there are fantastic and offer so much support to parents as well as children in a wide range of areas. The centre, like all Sure Start centres, promote health and well being for all families which is vital for communities. These services are the future for our children therefore I cannot understand how closing down any of them can be an option at all for our council!”

A council spokesman said previously:

“The city council is facing a considerable financial challenge, to find £100m in savings between 2013 and 2016.

“We share people’s concerns about the future of our Sure Start centres – they provide an important and well-loved service to families across the city – but the severity of the cuts leaves us with no choice but to consider further reductions.

“Nothing has been decided yet and we will be asking people to have their say with a big public consultation in September.”

Source –  Newcastle Journal, 13 Sept 2014

Newcastle parents protest against cuts to the Sure Start budget which will affect vulnerable families

Battling parents staged a ‘Teddy Bears Protest’ outside Newcastle City Council against cuts that could see a £5m reduction in funding for Sure Start Children’s Centres.

The figure amounts to about a 65% of the total budget for the service. Protesters say if the proposal went through it could mean the city’s most vulnerable families would be left without childcare and vital support.

Scores of mums and dads with their kids, along with Sure Start workers, converged on Newcastle Civic Centre for the colourful event, one of many that organisers ‘Parents Against Cuts’ have lined up in the run-in to the council’s budget implementation in October.

Spokeswoman Vanessa Cutter of Fenham, Newcastle, said: “We want to let the council know that they’re in for a fight.”

She said at a previous event earlier this month – a picnic in the Civic Centre grounds – Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes spoke to the protestors.

Vanessa said: “While he sympathised with us, he said there was nothing he can do as it was to do with Government cuts.

“But isn’t his role as leader of the council to fight for the people of Newcastle?

“We’re not putting ourselves above other services. We just think the cuts are too deep and the nearer the council can get to zero per cent cuts the better for us.”

All of Newcastle’s 20 Sure Start centres are now up for review as city councillors iron out their final budget proposals for the year 2014/2015.

A Labour flagship policy from 1998, its aim was “giving children the best possible start in life” through improvement of childcare, early education, health and family support, with an emphasis on outreach and community development.

In Newcastle 50% of the services are delivered by the council and 50% by the Community and Voluntary Sector. The city council has estimated for the work it directly delivers, the cuts will equate to the loss of 63 full time equivalent posts.

The protestors say the proposals, if carried out, will see the budget slashed by £5m by 2016. This would mean the closure of services, buildings, parents groups and activities for children aged under five across the city.

They say it will make a deteriorating situation even worse on the back of cuts which have seen the axing of council play and youth services last year.

Yvonne Holliman, 33, of the Montagu Estate, Newcastle, said of Sure Start: “It was an absolute lifeline for me. When my son, Josh, was born I suffered from Post Natal Depression and had nowhere to go at first.

“I was referred to Sure Start by my Health Visitor as are others have been. If it had not been there I don’t know what I would have done, maybe lapsed into a deeper depression.

“I got a chance to go somewhere to meet other parents and my son had kids to play with in a safe environment.

“At the end of the day, if the cuts are carried out, it will be the kids who suffer.”

Dad Rob Forster, 28, from Byker said: “I’m here to show support for the programme which supported my family.

“I don’t care about the financial side of it, it’s the social aspect I’m concerned about and the impact it will have on families.”

Dad Richard Cutter, 40, husband of Vanessa, said: “If the council closes these down now it will create a whole lot of social problems further down the line.

“The North East is one of the most deprived areas in the country and Sure Start helps provide tremendous support for the less well off. People who need help with raising kids, it teaches them about society and the community and means we are less likely to hear about problems of crime with them.

“It’s not just about the impact now, it’s about the impact it will have on Newcastle in the future.”

A council spokesman said: “The city council is facing a considerable financial challenge, to find £100m in savings between 2013 and 2016. We share people’s concerns about the future of our Sure Start centres – they provide an important and well-loved service to families across the city – but the severity of the cuts leaves us with no choice but to consider further reductions. Nothing has been decided yet and we will be asking people to have their say with a big public consultation in September.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 23 July 2014

Government hands over just £143,000 extra to North East councils after cuts crisis talks

Months of pressuring the Government to think again on council spending cuts worth more than £210m a year have seen ministers hand out just £143,000 extra for the North East.

Across the region councils have being setting out where the axe will fall, with the next three years likely to see the cuts total rising to more than £800m.

But after months of high level delegations taking part in desperate Whitehall lobbying missions, the coalition Government has increased the budget available to the region’s councils and fire brigade by an average of just £20,000 each.

The total amount for the region’s seven councils and Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service increased from £1,081,128 to £1,081,271, a rise of just 0.013%.

The final spending handout for 2014/15 will mean there is no way for councils to drop plans to axe Sure Start centres, make hundreds of redundancies or force up parking charges.

And plans to close down three fire stations will certainly go ahead after the Government announced the final funding settlement for Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue will see an increase of just £4,000, despite pleas for extra cash.

The North East has been lobbying against the perceived “unfairness” of the cuts since the coalition began axing budgets in 2010. Those efforts stepped up a gear in the last few months after yet more spending reductions for local government were announced in the autumn.

Included in the lobbying effort was work by the Association of North East Councils, which met with local government minister Brandon Lewis to put the case for a fairer funding settlement.

The extra £143,000 handed over as a result is considerably less than the money handed over each year by the region’s seven local authorities to the Association of North East Councils, with Northumberland alone having handed over more than £98,000 this financial year.

Last night former Newcastle Council leader Lord Beecham said it was clear the coalition was not interested in fairly funding local government in the North.

The peer said: “The Government has completely failed to redress the grossly unfair distribution of grant which hits Newcastle and other less-well off areas and benefits the more affluent.

“The extra we receive in the final settlement amounts to less than 25p per household per year and means that there is no protection from the tidal wave of cuts to services which the Government has launched.”

And Northumberland’s Labour council leader Grant Davey said: “It’s disappointing that, yet again, the coalition have failed to listen to Northumberland and have shaved a minute £18,000 from cuts to services worth £32.5m this year.

“Many would say such a derisory figure is an insult to the residents of the county but it shows how little David Cameron and Nick Clegg think of the North East.

“It’s time our coalition MPs started to stand up for their county rather than sit quiet as Cameron and Clegg ravish the services their constituents rely on.”

Northumberland County Council is the only one in the region to put up council tax next year, rising by 1.99%, the maximum allowed without putting the increase to a local referendum.

The Government has pointed to a grant to freeze council tax in most other areas as one way in which many households will benefit from its funding settlement.

Announcing the final settlement, Mr Lewis said: “This settlement marks the second year of local business rates retention and we have again tried to be fair to all parts of the country whether north, south, rural or urban.

“Given the local flexibilities and freedoms that we have put in place, local councils should now work to support local enterprise, building more homes and backing local jobs, so that they can then invest the rewards of growth in local services and in lower taxes.”

Source – Newcastle Journal  17 Feb 2014

Conservative warns that benefit changes are making more use North foodbanks

> Yes, you did read that headline correctly…

A broken benefits system is causing people to turn to food banks, an aspiring Conservative politician has said.

In comments more normally seen from Labour politicans, Berwick Tory Anne-Marie Trevelyan has said the number of people needing handouts to eat may be as a result of changes to the benefits system.

Mrs Trevelyan is bidding to take the seat from Sir Alan Beith when the Liberal Democrat steps down in 2015.

Much of her campaign has focused on the jobs potential of dualling the A1 north of Newcastle.

But last night she said that after visiting a Northumberland food bank, the evidence put to her was that those dependant upon benefits were suffering the result of changes to the system.

The Conservative-led coalition Government has come in for criticism from a variety of sources over its cuts to benefits.

Reductions in benefits have been criticised as indiscriminate while changes to the way benefits are handed out has seen delays as a result.

Mrs Trevelyan said: “All users of food banks in Northumberland have been referred by social services, Citizens Advice Bureaux or other groups like Sure Start. The reasons given are often delays in benefits being paid or other financial pressures leaving families with no money to buy food.

“I am concerned by the recurring message from the volunteers who run our local food banks, that the majority of those who come to them do so because the benefits payment system is not working.

“It should be there to support those who need a safety net while they find work or arrange long term support.

“There seems to be a serious breakdown in the effective management of the payments system. I am going to be talking in more detail with our job centre teams to try to find out what they need to solve this issue effectively.”

> Oh bugger – don’t ask them ! They’re  a major part of the problem.

The Conservative candidate said that a rapid rise in the number of food banks began under Labour in 2006 when there were 3,000 nationally. This rose to more than 40,000 by 2010.

In addition to this leading food bank provider the Trussell Trust has been expanding, inevitably leading to more hard-pressed families making use of their services.

Mrs Trevelyan’s comments are similar to many of those expressed by Northern Labour MPs, though of a far less critical nature.

Also adding their concerns to the growing number of food banks was former Bishop of Durham Justin Welby. Now Archbishop of Canterbury, he has called for a greater level of awareness from the Government on the causes behind the growing number of food banks in the UK.

Senior Tories have tried to play down the rise of food banks.

Education Secretary Michael Gove came under fire for saying that financial mismanagement was the reason many people were going to food banks.

And Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, the man ultimately responsible for changes to the benefit system, refused to meet the Trussell Trust and accused it of being politically motivated.

Source – Newcastle Journal  15 Feb 2014