Not one leader from any of the major political parties has visited Tyne and Wear or County Durham as part of the General Election campaign.
David Cameron is the only leader so far to even venture into ANY part of the North East since the dissolution of parliament.
He visited Northumberland’s Alnwick and Stockton, the two areas where his party has a chance of winning next month, but bypassed large swathes of the region.
Labour leader Ed Miliband – whose party is favourite to win EVERY seat in Durham, Tyneside and Wearside, most seats in Teesside and half of those in Northumberland – has failed to make a public appearance anywhere in the North East.
The Liberal Democrats are defending Redcar and Berwick-upon-Tweed, yet Nick Clegg has been nowhere to be seen.
Nigel Farage claims UKIP is targeting parts of Teesside and has a strong interest in Blyth, and yet the leader of the “people’s army” has not made a public appearance anywhere in the North East.
And despite evidence of a Green surge in pockets of the region, Natalie Bennett has not visited to show support for her party’s candidates, either.
The North East is widely-regarded as safe Labour territory and this may explain the lack of interest from the parties’ top politicians in campaigning in this area.
Nonetheless, voters will be disappointed when they compare the region to, say, the Greater Manchester area, where the parties are fighting a higher number of key marginals.
Nick Clegg has visited seats in Greater Manchester four times, David Cameron twice and Ed Miliband four times.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Apr 2015
> ….or, at least, they may not want to but they need to in ordef to survive.
The North East has seen the sharpest rise in the country of underemployed people since the recession.
Thousands in the region are trapped in low paid or part-time jobs where they struggle to get by, unions say.
And figures released by the Office for National Statistics showed that 11.5% of those asked in 2013 wanted to work extra hours to gain more money compared to just 7.8% in 2008 – the biggest rise in the UK.
On average, each underemployed worker would like to work an extra 11.3 hours per week.
Business chiefs have today expressed concern at the figures, saying underemployed people can be almost as vulnerable as the unemployed when it comes to getting into financial difficulty.
> Really ? Who’d have guessed ?
Neil Foster, policy and campaigns officer for the Northern TUC, said:
“Six years after the global financial crisis, the lack of hours remains a major issue for one in nine workers in the North East.
“Average pay has not kept up with the cost of living in recent years and so increasingly people are looking to make it up through extra shifts and overtime, which as these figures show is not always available for everyone in our region.
“A prolonged shortage of work can cause hardship, reliance of high cost credit and greater financial difficulties as a result.”
Interestingly, the North East also had the second highest proportion of overemployed people – people who want to work fewer hours for less money.
As many as 9.5% of workers from the region said they were overemployed. However this is down from 2008 when the figure was 10%.
On average, in 2014, each overemployed worker would like to work 11.2 fewer hours than they currently do.
> Who were they ? Newcastle United and Sunderland footballers perhaps ?
Mr Foster added:
“Elsewhere some people want a different work-life balance with more time for things outside of work.
“The average worker in the North East puts in almost seven hours a week of unpaid overtime every week and reducing that would be a start.
> Unpaid overtime ? If you work overtime you should be paid for it or refuse to do it. Unfortunately too many people will meekly knuckle down. Now do you see why allowing the trade unions to be neutured was such a bad thing ?
“It could be that traditionally full-time professions are not pro-actively offering as much flexibility or that workers feel over-stretched.
“Such is the current level of job insecurity that many employees are worried about even raising the issue with their manager.
“Employers should look to create a climate where workers can talk honestly and confidently about what they want from their job.
“People’s lives are increasingly complex and it may well be more flexible working provides welcome opportunities for others and a happier and higher performing workforce overall.”
North East Chamber of Commerce director of policy, Ross Smith, said problems in the labour market remain despite improvements in headline employment figures.
“Both the North East unemployment and employment rates have improved faster or as fast as any other region and we have record numbers in work which is great news,” he said.
> We still have the highest unemployment, so that;s not saying much.
“However, these figures emphasise that we still have problems in our labour market.
“The high numbers reporting both over- and under-employment hints at the mismatch between many of the jobs on offer in the North East and the skills of people looking for work.
> So unemployed person, if you haven’t got the message yet – it’s your fault. You should have the right skills. It’s obviously not up to the company to actually teach you the job, god forbid !
“We badly need to address this to help businesses take advantage of the growth opportunities on offer, and for more local people to benefit fully from the economic recovery.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 01 Jan 2015
More people than ever before are contacting a homelessness helpline fearing they are about to be forced onto the streets.
The charity Shelter has spoken to more than 2,000 people in the North East in the last year on the brink of homelessness – a 28% rise since 2012.
They also found that 28 households in the region are at risk of losing their homes everyday through mortgage and landlord possession claims.
Stephanie, who lives near Chester-le-Street, said she rang Shelter after her husband was injured in a serious accident and she could not keep up with mortgage payments without his wage.
“I found myself facing homelessness when my husband had a serious accident. He ended up in hospital in intensive care for months, and with his wage no longer coming in, we really struggled to keep up with the mortgage payments.
“We weren’t able to get assistance with my husband’s care, and without his wages, we just couldn’t keep up.”
At the same time as Stephanie was trying to secure specialist care for her husband, she said she was inundated with calls about the house from her mortgage company.
Eventually this culminated in a warrant for repossession which was issued a year ago – prompting Stephanie to call Shelter for the first time.
Shelter helpline adviser Nadeem Khan, who helps people in the North East, said:
“It’s so heart-breaking to hear from families struggling to keep a roof over their heads, especially around this time of year.
“Hearing the panic in a parent’s voice when they’ve just been evicted or had their home repossessed never gets any easier. Sadly, every year we get more and more of these calls over the holidays, and this Christmas will be no different.”
The number of people at risk of homelessness who called the Shelter helpline in the North East from October 2013 to September 2014 rose to 2,055 from 1,609 between October 2011 and September 2012, an increase of 28% or 446 people over two years.
As England’s shortage of affordable homes continues to push housing costs sky high, the charity is expecting even more families to be in desperate need of its help this Christmas.
Stephanie said calling Shelter after her husband became ill has changed things around for her family and they will now have a roof over their heads this Christmas.
She said: “There was no talking down to me, no telling me what I had to do.
“They referred me to a great adviser and they were absolutely fantastic, they’ve helped me so much.”
After securing more time from the court to look for somewhere else to live, Durham County Council helped her find a suitable bungalow that will accommodate her husband when he is out of hospital.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 19 Nov 2014
A low pay epidemic is sweeping the North East, it is claimed, as new figures reveal one in four are paid below a living wage.
A report released today by KPMG estimates that well over a quarter of a million workers receive less than the £7.65 per hour experts say is needed for the basic cost of living in 2014.
The TUC claim that some businesses can afford to pay the living wage, calculated by Centre for Research in Social Policy, but are refusing to do so – and the regional economy is suffering as a result.
The North East Chamber of Commerce, however, says there has been progress and last week published a survey which shows 35% of firms increased workers’ pay above inflation last year.
Northern TUC Regional Secretary Beth Farhat called for a bigger commitment. She said:
“People deserve a fair day’s pay for an honest day’s work.
“But low pay is blighting the lives of hundreds of thousands of families in the North East. And it’s adding to the deficit because it means more spent on tax credits and less collected in tax.
“We have the wrong kind of recovery with the wrong kind of jobs – we need to create far more living wage jobs, with decent hours and permanent contracts.
“The fact is there are employers out there in our region who can afford to pay living wages, but aren’t.
“It is now time for all responsible employers to commit to adopting this standard, which enables workers to earn just enough to be able to live a decent life.”
Catherine McKinnell, Labour MP for Newcastle North, will speak at the Living Wage Summit at Newcastle’s Centre for Life on Thursday as part of a week of action on low wages by the TUC.
Newcastle City Council became the first to introduce a living wage and the authority boosted this to £7.55 in April, and South Tyneside has announced it is to follow suit. Councils in Gateshead, Northumberland and North Tyneside all set up working groups to explore the issue earlier this year.
Ms McKinnell, Labour’s Shadow Economic Secretary, said:
“People in the North East are really struggling with the cost of living crisis and with around one in four workers in our region paid less than the living wage, more must be done to tackle the problem of low pay.
“Finding ways to support and encourage employers to pay the Living Wage is a major part of that.
“It is fantastic to see more businesses and Labour-run councils in our region seeing the benefits of adopting the Living Wage, but it is important that we continue to demonstrate the value, both to employers but also to our region as a whole.”
The Living Wage Summit will also hear from local authorities, trade unions, voluntary and community agencies, such as the Child Poverty Commission and employers.
Speakers include James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, Sarah Vero from the Living Wage Foundation, Reverend Simon Mason and Matt Stripe, HR director for Nestle, who are a committed Living Wage employer.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 03 Nov 2014
Bus services are better in council hands, MPs have said ahead of a vote that could dramatically change the future of public transport in the North East.
Twelve Tyne and Wear MPs have written to the North East Combined Authority leadership board ahead of their meeting this afternoon to decide whether to establish the first council regulated network of buses outside of London since 1986.
They believe the proposed Quality Contracts Scheme run by Metro operator Nexus will deliver £272m in economic benefit to the North East.
However the plans have been bitterly-opposed by bus companies Go North East, Stagecoach and Arriva, who instead want to run the network under a Voluntary Partnership Agreement called the North East Bus Operators’ Association.
They believe handing back control of buses to councils would create new risks for ‘cash-strapped’ local authorities.
Bridget Phillipson MP, who has been leading the campaign in favour of the Quality Contracts scheme, said:
“The members of the Combined Authority have a clear choice when they meet today. They can either maintain the status quo where bus operators funnel profits out of our region or support real and lasting change with a Quality Contract Scheme.
“If a regulated transport system is good enough for our capital city then it’s good enough for the people of Tyne and Wear.”
She added in her letter that the present deregulated system allowed operators to cut routes and an investigation in 2011 by the Competition Commission was critical of the service in Tyne and Wear.
Tom Dodds, secretary of the North East Bus Operators’ Association, said:
“Ms Phillipson misunderstands the partnership agreement. There are 17 successful partnerships around the country. The partnership for Tyne and Wear would be the most comprehensive of all, offering cheaper fares for 16-18 year olds, new ‘Bus2Bus’ tickets for people who use the buses of more than one company but don’t need to use Metro, and up to 50 extra buses on new services. The contract scheme promises none of that, and allows politicians to increase fares and reduce services at will to balance their books.
“If the bus network is inadequate, then the contract scheme does nothing to improve it – in fact, it freezes the bus network until 2018.”
He added that there was no action taken by the Competition Commission following their report in 2011.
Nexus claims their system would see £8m saved or re-invested into the service, reducing the profits going to bus company shareholders from £20m to £12m a year.
The letter has been signed by the following MPs
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South), Nick Brown (Newcastle East), Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle North), Alan Campbell (Tynemouth), Mary Glindon (North Tyneside), Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow), Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields), Chi Onwurah (Newcastle Central), Ian Mearns (Gateshead), David Anderson (Blaydon), Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) and Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West).
The North East Combined Authority’s leadership board, which is made up of the leaders of seven local authorities, will take a vote today at the Civic Centre in Newcastle whether to proceed with the Quality Contracts Scheme after it was endorsed by its transport committee earlier this month.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 21 Oct 2014
More than half of families living in Middlesbrough struggle to put food on the table, shocking new figures show.
In the town, 50.7% of children are living in poverty, according to figures from the Campaign to End Child Poverty, making it the most deprived area in the North East.
It compared to just 3.6% of children in the Stocksfield and Broomhaugh ward of Northumberland.
Figures are based on the proportion of children living households their families are in receipt of out of work benefits or in receipt of in-work tax credits and where their reported family income is less than 60% of median income after housing costs.
This week, young people from across the North East marched on Parliament to have their voices heard on child poverty.
A 38-strong-team – including 13 children from the North East – made the long trip to London to present their manifesto to a cross-party panel at Westminster.
Written by children aged 13 to 18, it targeted government-led policies against child poverty which they feel have “failed” to engage young people.
The children’s manifesto calls for every family in Britain to meet a minimum standard of living, not just surviving; for an equal school experience for all; for affordable, decent homes for everyone; for young people to have access to three affordable healthy meals a day; for all to feel and be safe; and for all young people to access affordable transport.
The children presented their manifesto to MPs Chris White (Conservative), David Ward (Liberal Democrat) and Teresa Pearce (Labour).
Liam Binns, 17, from Newcastle, spoke of how the issue affected young people in his community.
“It costs £4 for a meal at Newcastle College and a lot of kids can’t afford that,” he said. “It also costs kids £2.30 to travel into school or college on the bus everyday.
“How can we stop child poverty and under-achievement in our communities when we’re not operating on a level playing field?
“If it’s free education for all, why are we having to pay for food and travel?”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Chronicle, 18 Oct 2014
> Is there a General Election on the horizon or something ? The Tories are getting all concerned about the North East…
Growing the economy in the North of England and closing the wealth divide with London and the south east was one of the major themes of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.
George Osborne, the Chancellor, spoke repeatedly about backing the North in his keynote speech at the conference.
The focus may seem surprising given that the party has few MPs in the North East.
Guy Opperman in Hexham, Northumberland, and James Wharton in Stockton South are the party’s only North East representatives in the Commons, although Tories believe they have a chance of taking Liberal Democrat-held Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, at the next election.
But William Hague, the former Foreign Secretary regarded as unofficial deputy leader of the party, pointed out to journalists that there were many more Conservative MPs in the North West and in Yorkshire.
Mr Osborne, who represents a constituency in Cheshire, even told the conference: “I am also the first Chancellor for almost forty years to represent a constituency in the north of England – and I can see the risk of our capital city’s dominance.
> Yorkshire and Cheshire are quite different from the North East. That’s exactly why they do elect Tories.
“It is not healthy for our country or our economy.”
He pledged: “Let us choose today to make reducing the gap between north and south, London and the rest, one of the central ambitions of the next Conservative Government.”
And he highlighted the Government’s plan to create a “Northern Powerhouse”, saying: “The answer is to build up the rest of our country. To create a Northern Powerhouse of the cities across the Pennines.”
The Chancellor’s plan is to turn the North into an economic powerhouse rivalling London by investing up to £15 billion on local transport links, picking a scientific speciality for universities to become world-leaders in, possibly building a high speed line across the Pennines, linking the North East and North West, and giving cities more autonomy and cash – if they agree to transform local government by introducing directly-elected mayors.
Mr Hague insisted the party was on course to win in the North.
He said: “At the last general election we made a major breakthrough in the North – if you take the North as being Yorkshire, the North East and North West. We went up at the last election from 19 MPs in the North to 42. That was a huge expansion, including in the North East of course, where we gained Stockton South.
> And… and… oh, just Stockton South, then ? Along with Hexham, that’s a really huge expansion in the North East.
“I hope we can add to that – there will be seats we will be targeting in the North including the North East.”
Major announcements at the conference included plans to freeze working-age benefits – including benefits received by working people on low salaries – for two years.
This means cutting benefits in real terms, because of the effects of inflation.
Conservative leader David Cameron, in his conference speech, announced plans to raise the income tax personal allowance to £12,500. This would take one million more workers out of income tax entirely and give a tax cut to 30 million more, Mr Cameron said.
An estimated 51,000 North East workers would pay no income tax at all because of the change. Many others would pay less tax.
> Isn’t this because wages are so poor to start with ?
Mr Cameron also announced plans to raise the threshold at which people pay the 40p income tax rate from £41,900 today to £50,000.
It means a tax cut for many people earning above-average salaries. Mr Cameron said the 40p tax was supposed to be for the rich, but it’s currently paid by some senior nurses, teachers and police officers.
But critics pointed out that the Conservatives had failed to explain how they would pay the £7 billion cost of cutting tax.
Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said: “Nobody will be fooled by pie in the sky promises of tax cuts in six years’ time when David Cameron cannot tell us where the money is coming from.
“Even the Tories admit this is an unfunded commitment of over £7 billion, so how will they pay for it? Will they raise VAT on families and pensioners again?”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 Oct 2014
Diseases thought to have been confined to the history books are prevalent within the North East.
New figures published for the first time paint a picture of hospital admissions in the region for some diseases widespread in the 19th and early 20th Centuries.
Statistics from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show hospital admissions in the North East for gout were as high as 422 from May 2013 until April this year.
In the past, the illness has been dubbed “the disease of kings” as a number of monarchs are thought to have been affected, including Henry VIII, because of their ability to eat rich, fatty foods.
But those living in the poorest places are more likely to be affected now, with 13.5 out of every 100,000 people living in the most deprived areas of the country affected compared with eight out of every 100,000 in the richest places.
Dr Clive Kelly, consultant physician with an interest in rheumatology at Gateshead’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, said medics are dealing with an increasing number of gout patients in the region.
He said: “It does not surprise me that there is a high number of hospital admissions due to gout as there has generally been an increase in cases in the last decade because people are living longer and, therefore, have a higher chance of developing the condition.
“Although in the old days it used to be seen as a ‘disease for kings’ it is now probably more associated with poorer populations, such as the North East, as they tend to have a higher intake of fatty foods as opposed to wealthy people in the leafy suburbs down south.”
The HSCIC publication also focuses on TB, whooping cough, measles and malnutrition.
Durham, Darlington and Tees area group had the highest rate of measles diagnosis in the country at 2.3 per 100,000 population, more than double the rate of its neighbouring Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear area at just 0.8.
This year, there was a serious outbreak of measles in the North East, with most of the cases in unvaccinated schoolchildren and young adults.
Figures show 88 people were admitted to hospital in the North East for TB, while there were 42 admissions for measles and 41 for malnutrition.
Yet, nationally, the report reveals overall admissions where malnutrition was a primary diagnosis decreased from 683 in 2012-13 to 612 in 2013-14. However, during the same period there was an increase in overall admissions where malnutrition was a primary or secondary diagnosis, from 5,590 to 6,690.
Over five years there was a 71% increase in admissions where malnutrition was a primary or secondary diagnosis, from 3,900 admissions in 2009-10 to 6,690.
Kingsley Manning, chair of the HSCIC, said: “It is fascinating to look at current statistics for some of the diseases and conditions that were prevalent in the 1800s and early 1900s.”
Source – Newcastle evening Chronicle, 24 July 2014
The North East has more than 1,000 fewer police officers than it did five years ago after five consecutive year of job losses.
New figures show that Northumbria, Cleveland and Durham police forces all lost officers last year, and though there were small rises in the force numbers for Cumbria and North Yorkshire, the total number of officers in the region fell below 9,000 for the first time since records began in 2003.
By contrast, there were 10,142 policemen and women in the North in 2010 when the coalition Government came to power.
Among biggest losers in numbers this year was Cleveland Police, which contracted by 5.6% this year, one of the biggest reductions in the country and far more than the 1.3% reduction nationally. 81 officers left the force in the past year – more than three a fortnight.
Northumbria, the region’s largest force, lost 104 officers in the year, a 2.8% drop, while Durham lost 74 officers. Its 5.4% reduction was also one of the biggest in the country.
Police Federation general secretary Andy Fittes said: “The latest police workforce national statistics for England and Wales show that numbers of police workers are now at a 12-year low.
“Cuts to policing have put a strain on all aspects of the service and while officers have been doing an incredible job to bridge the gaps, cracks are beginning to show and they are telling us they are feeling the pressure.
“The nature of offending is starting to change but we have seen many of our specialist teams and units, who work to address these changes, cut or under threat.
“While officers throughout the country continue to work incredibly hard on a daily basis keeping society safe, it would be wrong to assume these cuts aren’t starting to have a noticeable effect.”
Nationally, nine of the 43 police forces in England and Wales increased their numbers between 2013 and 2014. Cumbria added 29 new members of staff while North Yorkshire added 38. The biggest increase was to the British Transport Police, which got 260 new members of staff.
Nobody was available at the local forces for comment.
Source – Sunday Sun, 20 July 2014
The North East is one of the most unionised areas of the UK, according to new figures released by the Government.
The statistics, which cover 2013, reveal that Merseyside had the highest proportion of workers in trade unions, followed by Wales, with the wider North East – excluding Tyne and Wear – having the fifth highest rate, at 31.7%.
In Tyne and Wear, 29.7% of the working population was unionised.
The figures revealed a clear North/South divide, with every southern area of the country showing a rate of unionisation below the UK average – while all northern areas, along with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, were above it.