North East families have been dealt a further “body blow” according to councillors after the Government announced plans to scrap a £347 million fund used to provide emergency support for households.
Newcastle City Council uses its £1.3m annual share of the local welfare provision to help families faced with being made homeless and paying for food deliveries for those struggling to afford meals.
Council leader Nick Forbes said losing the fund would be a “further devastating blow to the city” and would ultimately mean people going hungry.
He said: “This fund is a much-needed sticking plaster to help families and individuals at times of crisis.
“The city council has recently successfully made a case to Government that we need more of this fund, not less, as the number of people who are seeking help is increasing.
“To abolish it at a time when many other avenues of support are being dismantled would be a body blow for hundreds of families across the city.”
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents authorities in England and Wales, said it was “extremely disappointing” that the latest funding settlement for councils revealed that the fund would not be renewed in 2015.
North East peer, Lord Jeremy Beecham, said the Government’s latest proposal will take them past the next general election and will leave people “stranded” in difficult circumstances.
He said: “This fund has been used by Newcastle City Council to provide crucial support to people facing personal crises in their lives, from help paying the rent to putting food on the table.
“It’s obvious we need to sustain this funding, because we face the impossible task of finding the money from elsewhere.
“A lot of families in our part of the world are suffering badly. There are 4,000 households in the city facing the impact of the bedroom tax and removing this funding will only create further damage.”
A Government spokesman said: “Councils will continue to provide support to those in their community who face financial difficulties or who find themselves in unavoidable circumstances.
“In contrast to a centralised grant system that was poorly targeted, councils can now choose how to best to support local welfare needs within their areas.
“The Government continues to provide support to local authorities through general funds as part of the Government’s commitment to reducing ring-fencing and ending top-down Whitehall control.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 24 Feb 2014
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
MP Sharon Hodgson has called on Ministers to apologise for the Government’s treatment of striking miners during 1984/5 dispute.
The Washington & Sunderland West MP has joined a new campaign to seek an apology from senior politicians.
The ‘Justice for the Coalfields’ campaign has been launched after the release of previously-confidential cabinet papers revealing that the Thatcher Government had a secret plan to close 75 pits at the cost of some 65,000 jobs, sought to influence police tactics to escalate the dispute, and actively considered deploying the Army to defeat the miners and unions.
Mrs Hodgson has joined colleagues in writing to Cabinet Secretary Francis Maude demanding a formal apology from Ministers for the actions of the Government during the time of the strike, and for the release of all information on collusion between the Government and the police at the time, particularly around the Battle of Orgreave, the pitched battle between miners and police in South Yorkshire in 1984.
Mrs Hodgson said: “The Miners’ Strikes may be a distant memory for some, but the wounds are still raw for many people around here, with communities and families torn apart.
“It was no surprise when these Cabinet papers showed that the Government had been lying about its plans for widespread closure and the use of force against striking miners, but that doesn’t let them off the hook. The very least that coalfield communities deserve is an official apology and complete transparency from the Government about the secret plans being made at the time. Any less would just be one more insult.”
> All very nice, although I cant help feeling they’ve been all respectful and waited until Thatcher died before raising the point.
But what I’d really like to see is a few Labour MPs – especially North East ones – getting equally worked up about what is happening right now. Or do we have to wait another 30 years until they get around to that ?
Source – Sunderland Echo 29 Jan 2014