Tagged: taxpayer

Monarchy costs taxpayer £334m a year,8 times official figure

A new report out this week has estimated the total annual cost of the monarchy at £333.9m, eight times the official figure.

The report, Royal Expenses: Counting the Cost of the Monarchy, shows that each ‘working royal‘ costs the taxpayer an average of £18.5m, making them the most expensive public officials in the country.

The report also challenges the claim that the monarchy brings in any revenue from tourism or the Crown Estate.

Campaign group Republic, which is publishing the report, has called for a radical overhaul of royal funding.

The report will be published on the morning of Tuesday June 23, ahead of the publication of the official royal accounts.

The report can be previewed at www.republic.org.uk/royalexpensesreport

Key findings

The estimated total annual cost of the monarchy is £334m, around a third of a billion pounds.

This means each ‘working royal’ costs the taxpayer around £18.5m a year on average.

The total annual cost of the monarchy is more than NHS England spent on the Cancer Drugs Fund last year.

For £334m the government could employ 15,000 new nurses14,000 new police officersor 15,000 new teachers.

Current funding arrangements are unsustainable and must be radically reformed.

Full story : http://northstar.boards.net/thread/133/monarchy-costs-taxpayer-official-figure

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Threat of mandatory mental health treatment for ESA claimants

Hundreds of thousands of employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants face being stripped of their benefits if they refuse to undergo treatment for anxiety and depression, under radical plans being proposed by ministers.

Existing welfare rules mean it is not possible to require claimants to have treatment, such as therapy or counselling, as a condition of receiving ESA. However, it has emerged that the roll-out of further mandatory pilot schemes are planned over the next few weeks.

One trial began last month, looking at combining “talking therapies” with employment support. Three further trials being launched this summer are intended to test different ways of linking mental health services with support for benefit claimants seeking work:

  • Using group work “to build self-efficacy and resilience to setbacks” faced by job seekers
  • Providing access to online mental health and work assessment and support
  • Third parties, commissioned by Jobcentre Plus, to provide telephone-based psychological and employment-related support

The aim is to get people with mental health problems off benefits and back into work, so saving the government crucial spending on the welfare bill.

The proposal will, however, raise ethical questions about whether the state should have the power to force patients to undergo treatment. According to the statistics, 46% of ESA claimants have mental health problems.

The Telegraph claims a senior government source told them:

We know that depression and anxiety are treatable conditions. Cognitive behavioural therapies work and they get people stable again but you can’t mandate people to take that treatment.

“But there are loads of people who claim ESA who undergo no treatment whatsoever. It is bizarre. This is a real problem because we want people to get better.

“These are areas we need to explore. The taxpayer has committed a lot of money but the idea was never to sustain them for years and years on benefit. We think it’s time for a rethink.”

Tom Pollard, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, the mental health charity, said:

“If people are not getting access to the support they need, the government should address levels of funding for mental health services rather than putting even more pressure on those supported by benefits and not currently well enough to work.

“Talking therapies can be effective, but it is often a combination of treatments which allow people to best manage their symptoms and engaging in therapy should be voluntary.”

Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem health minister, said mandating mental health treatment for benefit claimants would not work and was “not a sensible idea”.

“The idea that you frogmarch someone into therapy with the threat of a loss of benefits simply won’t work,” he said. “It is not a question of whether tough love is a good concept.

“You actually need someone to go into therapy willingly.”

Read the full story in The Telegraph

Source – Benefits & Work,  14 July 2014

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/2843-threat-of-mandatory-mental-health-treatment-for-esa-claimants

Cost of monarchy report published: £300m lost to taxpayer last year

Campaign group Republic has published its fully revised report on royal finances, “Worth Every Penny?”, detailing the hidden costs that include Duchy income, costs met by local councils and the sovereign support grant.
The total comes to £299.4m for 2013/14, around 9 times higher than the official figure due to be published on Wednesday.
The report can be downloaded at www.republic.org.uk/wortheverypenny.pdf.
Included in the hidden costs are Lord Lieutenants which set the taxpayer back more than £2m a year – despite most people having never heard of them.
The report also includes lost profits from the Duchy of Cornwall, an estate that should be sending its revenue to the taxpayer rather than Prince Charles.
Local authorities are estimated to have spent over £21m last year on royal visits.
Republic’s chief executive officer, Graham Smith, said :
These figures point to a royal household out of control and beyond proper scrutiny.  This is what happens when public figures can’t be challenged and when they are protected by official secrecy.”
Far from being good value the British monarchy is one of the most expensive institutions of its kind in Europe.  Despite dubious claims about tourism the monarchy is all cost and no gain.”
When public services, flood defences and jobs are being cut, this kind of spending on the royals is a scandal.”
 
“A key point here is that the total cost is hidden – it shouldn’t be down to us to work this out, all these costs should be properly accounted for and reported independently of Buckingham palace.  This week we’ll see another official report that ignores tens of millions of pounds and which is couched in spin and fantasy.” 
MPs need to urgently investigate these hidden costs and look at radically changing the way the royals are funded.  These figures shouldn’t be a surprise when we see millions wasted on travel and refurbished palaces.  Drastic action is needed to stop this abuse of public money.”
 
“All we need is an annual salary for the head of state and a modest budget for managing official duties.  The British taxpayer does not owe the Windsor family a living.”
 
The report will say that the annual cost of the monarchy is equivalent to 14,000 new nurses or 13,000 police officers.  The cost is more than the amount cut from flood defence spending over recent years.
Claims about tourism and Crown Estate revenue are also taken to task in the report.  There is no evidence that the monarchy generates any revenue for the country – even the bogus £500m tourism figure often quoted in the press represents 0.03% of GDP, less than the margin of error of 0.7%
Source – Republic. 24 June 2014

IDS loses legal appeal to keep universal credit problems secret

Iain Duncan Smith‘s latest effort to prevent the publication of documents warning of the dangers of universal credit has been dismissed by a judge.

The information commissioner ruled the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) should release documents about the progress of universal credit, an assessment of independent reviews and a record of problems with it. He ruled against the release of a risk register – a department document listing possible problems with the scheme – but a tribunal overruled him and said it too should be published.

The DWP insisted publication would have a “chilling effect” on the working of the department. The information tribunal ruled there was no evidence of that but that there was “strong public interest” in publication.

IDS appealed. The DWP’s first argument was that the tribunal misunderstood the nature of the chilling effect and the evidence needed to support that argument.

Judge Wikeley gave it short shrift.

“[The chilling effect] is a well known concept, and I can see no support for the argument that the tribunal misunderstood its meaning…[it] applied its expertise and reached a decision that the chilling effect argument was unpersuasive.”

The DWP’s second argument is for ‘perversity‘. This states that the tribunal reached a decision which no reasonable tribunal, on a proper appreciation of the evidence and the law, would have reached. It’s obviously a very high threshold which they did little to reach.

Judge Wikeley found:

This challenge, in my assessment, does not get near clearing this high hurdle. The tribunal identified the relevant issues, analysed the material evidence, made its findings and in that context reached its conclusions, explaining why it had done so. It seems to me its approach was entirely sustainable. The perversity ground is not arguable.”

Finally they tried to argue that the tribunal had not given due weight to the expertise of the DWP’s witness. This was irrelevant, Judge Wikeley found. He said:

An appeal to the upper tribunal is confined to a point of law… I conclude it is not arguable.”

No-one knows how much taxpayer money has been dedicated to making these frivolous legal appeals – all in a bid to save the work and pension’s secretary’s blushes.

When there are disability benefits which need cutting, every pound counts. When it’s the secretary of state who needs saving, the government’s wallet bursts at the seams.

It will still be possible for IDS to keep fighting this ruling through the courts, possibly for years, and ultimately to issue a ministerial veto to prevent publication regardless of what the courts say.

Read the full commentary in Politics.co.uk

Source –  Benefits & Work,  27 June 2014

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/2823-ids-loses-legal-appeal-to-keep-universal-credit-problems-secret

T. Dan Smith – : The high rise and fall of a leader who got greedy

> Another episode from not-to-distant history…

He called Newcastlethe Athens of the North East,” and in the end his life formed its own Greek tragedy.

Thomas Dan Smith could have given his name to a brave new era in local government but instead he lived out his days as a byword for council corruption.

Anyone picking up a copy of the Evening Chronicle on April 26, 1974, will have been able to see for themselves that the downfall of T Dan Smith was complete.

The former leader of Newcastle Council was handed a six-year sentence, of which he served three years, for his role in the Poulson affair. The corruption scandal had seen the architect pay out for lucrative council building contracts, with everyone but the taxpayer taking their cut.

In page after page of court copy, the city found out how the man who changed the face of Newcastle had been pocketing cash and passing on bribes.

Smith had led the council in the mid-60s at a time when Newcastle was going through much-needed dramatic changes. Slums were demolished, and plans for a city in the sky grew up alongside tower block housing projects and a concrete jungle along John Dobson Street. He cleared the way for the new Eldon Square and helped ensure Newcastle had at least one university in its centre.

At the same time Smith was an increasingly important part of the Poulson empire, working to advise the firm while at the same time ordering major contracts, before stepping down from the council in 1964 to act as consultant and PR man. Armed with a list of contacts, Smith worked his way around town hall offices across the country, doing what he did best and making sure major civic contracts went Poulson’s way.

As Smith’s trial and readers of the Chronicle heard, Smith “set out to make a fortune by attempted corruption of local government officials.

He recruited what readers were told was a “fifth column of corrupt councillors to work for John Poulson.”

Those payments included cash payouts to Andy Cunningham, the former Durham County Council chairman who was jailed alongside Smith for his part in accepting corrupt payments.

There were further payments to councillors elsewhere across England, but Smith seemed to think he was just part of the system.

The former leader told Leeds Crown Court, where he pleaded guilty, that: “I was corrupt because I condoned things on many occasions. I think I would accept that I was the corrupter, although I was as much corrupted as I corrupted others.”

Poulson received some £800,000 for the firm’s works in the North East, including fees for designing a new police station in Sunderland for Durham Police Authority.

But Smith lined his own pocket as well, with his PR firm typically taking around 1% of the major fees paid to Poulson from the likes of Smith’s own Newcastle.

At the time of his trial it was alleged Smith had taken some £156,000 from Poulson, though his bank accounts showed him to be broke by the time he came to court. Where the money went was never explained, though some point to European trips and the potential for secretive offshore accounts as a starting point.

The corruption would never have come to light if Poulson had not gone bankrupt, meaning his meticulously maintained accounts were open to investigators who had had their suspicions for years.

Smith spent three years behind bars, and eventually ended up living in a Cruddas Park high rise, the type of which would never have come to Newcastle if not for him.

The Smith legacy is everywhere to see in Newcastle, a former council leader says, and the city would be wrong to forget the positives Smith brought to tyneside.

Labour peer Lord Beecham said Smith was “enormously influential,” even if there were allegations around the man from long before his eventual trial.

When he was brought down, you knew it was a huge story, because of who he was. Some people still had admiration for him, based on what he had done, but for a while it tarnished the entire city.

“He was seen as a dynamic visionary leader at one point. But he was a classic Greek tragedy, he put pride before a fall.”

> He was a crook.  He got caught out and paid the price.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  09 June 2014

Iain Duncan Smith – Welfare cheats must sell their homes

Welfare cheats will face higher fines for duping the system and could even be forced to sell their homes to reimburse the taxpayer, under new attempts to tackle benefit fraud.

Ministers are set to announce a package of plans this week which will highlight a crackdown on fraudulent claims and outline action to be taken against benefit cheats.

It will also be announced that pensioners who fail to declare their full earnings from private pension schemes will be targeted as fraud investigators cross-check HM Revenue & Customs records.

Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said the reforms will potentially save taxpayers £50billion over the course of the Coalition’s five years in power.

> Hang on – the amount of benefit fraud is said to be a whopping 0.8 % – how much are these less than 1% alledgedly fraudulent claims worth each ?!

Or is IDS playing fast & loose with the figures. Again.

Meanwhile tax avoidance and evasion is estimated at anywhere from £30bn to £120bn.

He said the reforms ‘strike a fair deal between claimants and the taxpayer, help more people into work and help us build a strong society’.

> Claimants are taxpayers, taxpayers are claimants – I do wish he’d stop these crude  divide & rule tactics.

Writing in The Telegraph, he said: ‘If you’d listened to the scaremongers, you’d be forgiven for thinking we were ripping up the welfare state and telling people to fend for themselves.

‘In fact what we are doing is returning the welfare state to what it was meant to be – a safety net, not a way of life.’

He said the number of people claiming the main out-of-work benefits was already down by more than 630,000.

It is understood ministers will now set about recovering debts owed by benefits cheats and will work with private debt collection firms in an attempt to recover around £414million of the money owed.

> will work with private debt collection firms  – ah, I think we can see where this is going…

There will also be higher fines brought in for cheats caught committing fraud, tougher checks on current claimants and a new benefit fraud division set up in the Department for Work and Pensions to pursue those who make false claims.
> a new benefit fraud division set up in the Department for Work and Pensions to pursue those who make false claims – presumably they will work closely with the private debt collection firms, and on the general premise that anyone claiming benefits is probably out to defraud.

In addition, a publicity campaign will be launched to try and urge claimants to ensure their details are correct and they are not accidentally receiving too much money.

> How about if mistakes are made by the DWP ? Will the house of the person who made the mistake be at risk ?

Mr Duncan Smith said: ‘The incontrovertible truth is that we are building a system that makes work pay, is fairer to taxpayers and claimants, and sets the strong path for a better future for Britain.’

> Eh ?  and sets the strong path for a better future for Britain. What is that supposed to mean ?

He also said the ‘revolutionary’ reforms which are ‘work-focused, responsive and economically literate‘ bring the welfare state into the 21st century.

The Telegraph reported how the Government spent £166billion on benefits and state pensions to more than 20 million people last year but ‘lost’ £3.5billion to fraud and payments made in error.

> Hang on – earlier we were told Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said the reforms will potentially save taxpayers £50billion over the course of the Coalition’s five years in power.

Well, for a start, they’re most of the way through those five years… is he going to instigate retrospective seizing of property or something ?

Even if it was for 5 years, £3.5 billion x 5 = £17.5 billion. Where does IDS get £50 billion from ? Surely he’s not anticipating making a big profit on seized goods and houses ?

Also,  £3.5billion to fraud and payments made in error – payments made in error are not fraud, so the actual amount of fraud is smaller – probably much nearer  the 0.8% normally quoted.

It seems that once again IDS is out with his sledgehammer to crack a nut, but probably the real intention is to spread his vile lies and bolster his reputation (what’s left of it) as a champion of the striving taxpayer against the skiving benefit fraudsters.

Mind you, while we’re on the subject…

Source – Daily Mail, 06 April 2014

 

 

Campaigners gather to protest at the re-privatisation of the East Coast Main Line

Protests have been taking place across the country against the Government’s controversial plan to sell off the East Coast Main Line.

Campaigners gathered at stations up and down the line – including York, Durham and Newcastle – to greet travellers and press home their argument.

The protest by Action for Rail was deliberately timed to co-incide with the beginning of the Liberal-Democrats’ spring conference in York this weekend.

The campaign, backed by the TUC and railway unions, is fighting the Government’s proposals to re-privatise the route – the only remaining publicly-owned railway in the UK.

It has been in public ownership since 2009, after two previous private train operators were forced to bail out of the franchise for financial reasons.

But last October ministers announced plans to re-privatise the line and more than 60 MPs have since signed an early day motion calling on the government to keep the line public.

The campaigners argue that Directly Operated Railways – the public operator of the line – has achieved record levels of customer satisfaction and provided the highest returns to the taxpayer while receiving the lowest public subsidy among all the train companies.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Privatising the East Coast defies all logic. Since it was re-nationalised the line has gone from strength to strength.

“This decision shows the government is clinging on to its outdated faith in privatisation at all costs and is determined to remain blind to the fact that public ownership has been a success for taxpayers and passengers alike.”

Source – Northern Echo,  07 March 2014

More #JSA stories from jobcentres: “It’s impossible. You’re trapped.”

Originally posted on Kate Belgrave

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been attending leafleting sessions outside jobcentres with the Kilburn Unemployed Workers’ Group and talking to people on JSA about their experiences as they sign on. We’ve been talking to people about sanctions, about being spoken down to by staff and having to walk on eggshells or risk being sanctioned, about relying on the jobcentre for JSA payments between short-term, low-paid jobs and about pointless work programme courses. I’ve posted some transcripts from today’s discussions below.

This morning, we were outside the Neasden jobcentre. It was freezing cold and there was a nasty, biting wind and a number of people we spoke to looked cold and shaky because they were not dressed warmly enough for the weather. I know we hear a great deal about life on JSA being a rort and people on benefits enjoying TV and cigarettes and long days lying around in the sun and all the rest of it, but it never looks that great when I see it.

People talk about having to go weeks without money and being forced to grovel and fawn to staff to avoid being sanctioned, and about the terror of putting the card into the cash machine and finding that no money comes out because you’ve been sanctioned after all. And in this rubbish weather, they look cold.

This is the punishment you get these days for the crime of being unemployed and not rich. You are utterly powerless. You’re on the receiving end of everything. You have to put up with everyone’s crap. Of course – things are very different if you’re rich and connected. Life generally is very different if you’re rich and connected. Very different. If you’re Chris Huhne, for example, you get your media-class buddies to give you a column at the Guardian when you leave prison. If you’re Maria Miller, you help yourself to £90k from the taxpayer and claim that little earner was totally above board. If you’re Nadhim Zahawi, you charge the taxpayer to heat your horses’ stables. These people genuinely believe that it’s the rest of us who are out of line. That’s the part that really gets me.

Most of the people we spoke to this morning were forced to collect JSA between low-paid and insecure jobs, or to subsidise low-paid and insecure jobs – something that ought to concern everyone who relies on a wage to pay the bills. One of the women, Noreen, talked about finding work on “lucky days.” She meant that she found work by herself on days when her luck was in and she managed to talk to the right people, not because there was any system in place to help her. Pity she doesn’t have as many lucky days as Chris Huhne.

I’ve been speaking to people for a couple of weeks now and have yet to find anyone who has found work through their jobcentre. Everyone talks about finding work themselves. These jobcentres are an exercise in degradation and futility. People don’t go to their jobcentre because they believe that someone will help them find a job. They go there to present meaningless “evidence” of a fortnight’s jobsearch activity and to sit very still and silently during interviews with jobcentre staff in the hope that they’ll avoid a sanction. “They’re about stressing people out and raising your blood pressure and they are there to give you a heart attack,” Noreen told us this morning. Can’t help thinking that is the point of the exercise as far as Iain Duncan Smith is concerned.

Anyway – here are a couple of people who sign on at Neasden jobcentre. I’m changing the names for these, because I don’t want jobcentres getting fancy ideas about sanctioning people who dare to share their views in public. I won’t respond well if I hear that is happening. People who are on JSA have every right to share their views and I’ll keep posting their views because of that.

Noreen, in her late 40s. Has been out of work for about 18 months, with a spell of short-term work over Christmas.

“I’ve been on the work programme for two weeks – it was writing your CV, learning how to attach your CV to an email. But I can do that. It was to build your confidence. But what I need to do is find a job. I want just a job, any job. Any job that means I don’t have to come here [to the jobcentre].

“I have to come every two weeks to sign on. They are a bit stroppy. You can’t say nothing to them, because if you argue back to them, the security is there and they will sanction you. I’ve seen people there arguing… you have to keep quiet, sometimes you don’t want to keep quiet. The best [thing you can do] is to get a job and then you don’t have to come here, innit. You can get your own money and then you can pay your own bills and you don’t have to come here. You come here like you’re some bloody scrounger. I have been looking for work for 18 months. I used to work at McVitie’s for 22 years – you know, the factory. They gave us redundancy. Since then, I have done carework and I’ve worked in supermarkets. I think I’ll have to go back into carework, but it’s not well paid and you have to walk up and down [all over Neasden] to people’s houses [from one care job to another].

“You don’t get paid for travel [travelling between care work jobs at different houses during the day]. If you drive, you don’t get paid for petrol, so it’s best if you can find something where you can walk it. It’s about £6.20 an hour that you get paid. You can’t pay your bills on that.

“Sometimes,with care work, the hours are zero hours, so you don’t know this week if you would get 16 hours [the number of hours you must work under to claim JSA]. You may get ten or 11 hours and then you have to come here and sign on to make it up to the 16 hours. It’s impossible. You’re trapped and there’s no way out.

“This place [Neasden jobcentre] is harsh. I wish they could close it down. They don’t find you a job in there. There’s the computer in there – you punch something into it and you read it and it says “Here’s this job.” You bring the job information up and you ring the number – but the job is gone. You send your CV, but you never get a reply. You will never find any jobs in there. No.

“It’s just a waste of time. Most of the jobs in there – they don’t bother to check the computer to see if the jobs in there are already filled. Every two weeks I go there, the same old jobs are in there. It’s just rubbish.

“I will find myself a job. Sometimes, [when you take your CV to a major retailer] they say “go online” [to apply] but it can be worth going in, to see if it is your lucky day. You can go into Ikea and they might say “go online” but they might say – “here’s an application form”. If it is your lucky day. That’s how you get a job if it is temporary. That happened to me [with a major retailer] over the Christmas period. [The woman I met at the store], she said “go online” but then she said “since you have come in, you can fill in an application form “and that’s how I got two months’ work over Christmas.”

—–

So. That was Noreen. Like I say – Noreen’s lucky days are a bit different from Chris Huhne’s. Or even Nadhim Zahawi’s horses’.

Next, we spoke to Amy, who is 19 and had just been signed off JSA. She lives in supported accommodation where she shares facilities. She is pregnant. She works part time in a large retail chain. Her wages come in at about £150-£200 a month. Sometimes, she works eight hours a week and sometimes she works overtime. She worked overtime during the Christmas rush. She said she had been claiming about £10 a fortnight in JSA which she spent on food.

She was very confused about the information that she’d been given by the jobcentre and the reasons for her own signing off from JSA, as you’ll see below. People raise this issue a lot when we speak. They sometimes find their entitlements and JSA search requirements difficult to understand when they work and when they work different hours each week. That is often because they’re told very confusing things. I’m posting this discussion as an example. When confronted with this sort of confusing information, people sometimes just find it easier to sign off – and that isn’t fair. Amy left us her contact details, so if anyone can shed any light on the situation outlined below and Amy’s entitlements, please get in contact or leave a comment. We will get back to her.

Amy: They said [at the jobcentre] to do more hours, but my hours vary, because sometimes I do overtime. She [the women at the jobcentre] said to me that I have to do more hours. Then she said to apply for ESA. I’m going to have to call them later on.

“They tell me they are going to pay me £10 a fortnight [in JSA], but I can’t live on £10. I’m working, but all that money goes on my bills. They’re cutting off the tenner now. And now I can’t get that. I’ve signed off. I need that money because it pays for my food.

“I have to give them proof of looking for another job… I didn’t think they were going to hound me [for that ten pounds]. If you’re on JSA, you have to look for work, but I’ve already got work. But it’s not enough hours for tax credits. Then I have to go off on maternity in two months. I get £7.50 an hour [at my job], which is not bad.

“I asked for the hardship fund, but they said I can’t get it… But I have nothing to live off, now so I’m living off him (she points to her friend) until I get paid. They said go off JSA and go onto ESA. I have a GP letter which says I can’t work more hours.

“I’m working eight hours a week and they want me to go up to 16, or to get another job as well. They signed me off, because I couldn’t look for more hours. I was getting £20 a month from them. I’m living in supported accommodation. I pay rent for the house, bills, TV licence. My pay from work goes all to my bills. I get about £150-200 a month. Roughly. They made us work extra hours over Christmas, so I had more then.”

——

So. That was Amy. Wonder if Maria Miller found it that difficult to claim £90k in expenses.

Source – Kate Belgrave,  17 Feb 2014

http://www.katebelgrave.com/

Concern as Government looks to ‘privatise’ English Heritage

Parts of the North East’s cultural heritage could be put at risk as the Government seeks to end its responsibility for historic sites.

Ministers are part-way through plans to reform English Heritage and create a charitable arm responsible for the National Heritage Collection.

The Government hopes that an £80m cash injection will mean the quango no longer needs taxpayer support.

But concerns have now emerged that the moves will see properties put at risk as the reformed English Heritage struggles to pay for all its assets.

In the North East, English Heritage is responsible for key tourism attractions such as BelsayHall, Lindisfarne Priory, Warkworth Castle and Dunstanburgh Castle.

As well as those flagship sites there are many others which, while contributing to the overall worth of region’s heritage, do not individually draw in large numbers of visitors.

Culture ministers have been warned of the potential downside of their reforms in a joint response by the region’s 12 local authorities.

The Association of North East Councils has said it wants to ensure the changes do not create a situation in which only the sites which generate the most revenue are protected, instead of the entire collection.

And former regional minister Nick Brown has added to the warnings. He said: “The Government’s proposal has two obvious flaws. The loss of expertise will be damaging in the long run because the advice from a well informed independent authority will no longer be there.

“Secondly, our country’s heritage should not be reduced to a historically themed version of Disneyland. It should be preserved, treasured and valued for present and future generations.”

Urging caution of the unknown costs involved, the Association said: “This is an ambitious plan, with yet another organisation competing for the same sources of commercial and philanthropic funding as similar organisations.”

The councils said: “In the North East there is concern over the protection of historic buildings that may not necessarily generate large amounts of income and instead rely on a subsidy, yet are nonetheless key to the collection and bring in wider economic and social benefits to the local community in terms of tourism.”

The Association added: “Similarly, it is of concern that some sites may require such a level of investment to make them more popular and revenue generating, that the charity may seek to divest itself of responsibility for them. We would not wish to see detriment to any part of the collection solely on the grounds of financial viability and fully expect the new charity to demonstrate that it is the sector lead in conserving the Heritage Collection.”

Already across the North East there are nearly 300 properties on English Heritages At Risk register, properties which for decades have struggled to attract sufficient funding.

Grant Davey, leader of Northumberland County Council said: “There’s a worrying lack of detail in this consultation which compounds the feeling that this is just another attempt by the coalition to scale back the state, this time in the area of heritage.

“Northumberland has a rich and varied tapestry which tell the story of this county over the ages and it is a worry that the Government simply wants to open up English Heritage to the market. The Government needs to make the case for their proposed changes and I’m afraid I’m not convinced.”

Former Newcastle Council leader Lord Beecham, a one-time regional member of English Heritage, said there were concerns that the changes were akin to “privatising out heritage.”

A DCMS spokesman: “The Government’s plans to create a new charity, to be called English Heritage, to manage the National Heritage Collection will not involve disposing of or downgrading any buildings or sites. Quite the opposite, in fact.

“The £80m investment will be used to enhance and improve the Collection, helping to secure its future for generations to come.”

> Of course it’s now generally forgotten that in it’s early days our unelected coalition government made a determined attempt to sell off the nation’s woodland into private hands.

Source – Newcastle Journal  18 Feb 2014