Tagged: Tory Communities Secretary Eric Pickles

Hilary Benn shares memories of Durham Miners’ Gala – but says Labour cannot commit to funding the event

Labour figure Hilary Benn has told of fond childhood memories attending Durham Miners’ Gala, but admitted a Labour Government could not offer money for the under-threat event.

The Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, whose much-admired father Tony Benn was a fierce defender of the miners during Margaret Thatcher’s time in power, recalled the magic of the Big Meeting when he watched banners pass the County Hotel balcony.

But he said his party, which was founded by the union movement, could not offer cash to back the Big Meeting.

The event was founded by the Durham Miners’ Association and has a long and rich history as a celebration of the region’s heritage.

Tory Communities Secretary Eric Pickles seized on the chance to criticise Labour and accused them of failing to “respect their roots”.

The Gala’s future is uncertain as the association is struggling to find fresh funds, organiser, general secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association Dave Hopper told the crowd in 2014, though it will go ahead on Saturday July 11.

Hilary Benn, who followed his father into a career in Parliament and is campaigning to be re-elected in Leeds Central, said he shared Mr Hopper’s fears for the event.

“One of my earliest childhood memories was my dad taking me up to the Gala,” he said. “There must have been about 11 of us on the famous balcony of the County Hotel, including Harold Wilson.

“We watched the banners go past the hotel in the procession. I was struck by how it was a great day of trade union solidarity and it is a great Labour tradition.”

But it is a sure signal of just how tough times are that the Labour Party can’t offer any money towards the event.

He said: “The Labour and trade union movement have always been big supporters of the Gala, and we will do all we can to support it, but we can’t make specific spending commitments.”

The Miners’ Gala was first held in the city’s Wharton Park in 1871.

Numbers grew strongly during the miners’ strikes to attract huge crowds of as many as 300,000.

Though the North East mining industry is a shadow of its former self, the Big Meeting continues to pull thousands of visitors.

Lodge banners are marched through the city and hundreds gather at a field near banks of the River Wear in what is a proud celebration of the North East’s heritage.

Tony Benn was one of the great figures of the left that have spoken at the event.

Labour Leader Ed Miliband has told colleagues he will give a speech this year, sharing a stage with long-serving parliamentarian Dennis Skinner.

The association said it was left with a £2.2m legal bill after losing a six-year court battle on behalf of former miners who have osteoarthritis of the knee.

Critics, including Labour’s North Durham candidate Kevan Jones, however, say the association had £6m in its accounts when it was a union in 2007.

Mr Pickles said a Conservative Government would not offer any help but insisted the party’s plan to create jobs would see more people support the event.

Mr Benn said one of the things the unions, many of which will be represented at the Gala, will fight is the rise in zero-hours contracts which grew four-fold under the Coalition government.

Mr Pickles, however, said: “As it is predominantly Labour Party and trade union members involved you would expect them to respect their roots.

“What we can promise is more jobs and more prosperity and more pounds in people’s pockets.”

Source –Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 06 Apr 2015

Durham County Council using reserves to protect services from deeper cuts

Labour chiefs at the North-East’s biggest council are drawing on cash reserves to stave off deeper spending cuts until after next year’s General Election.

Durham County Council must save another £16.2m in the financial year from April, the lowest annual figure since the last Election, taking the total cuts imposed between 2010 and 2018 to nearly £250m.

However, the figure then rockets to £32m and £39.1m for the following two years and the 2014-15 total would have been much higher had officials were not spending £10m from reserves.

Tory Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has repeatedly lambasted Labour councils for cutting frontline services while sitting on huge reserves.

Labour chiefs at Durham have to date resisted demands to spend their nest egg, but it is thought they have relented now in the hope of avoiding the deeper cuts planned for 2016 to 2018 if Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister next May.

Durham’s Labour leader Simon Henig said: “Overall spending totals will be the same but we’re lobbying hard for a fairer distribution.

“If that happens, our savings targets will be reduced.”

Next year’s cuts include £8.5m from children and adults services, including £4m from a review of management and support services; and £2.6m from neighbourhood services, including £933,000 from introducing charges for garden waste collection.

The sums are based on an assumption council tax will rise every year by two per cent, although specific decisions are taken each February.

The authority expects to have cut £136.9m by April, including £23m this year.

Opposition groups the Derwentside Independents, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives welcomed the use of reserves, with Lib Dem leader Amanda Hopgood saying they currently stood at £160m.

Each opposition group will produce alternative budget proposals in coming weeks following talks with council directors.

The authority’s Labour cabinet will discuss its 2015-16 budget at County Hall on Wednesday, December 17, before the full council takes the final decisions in February.

Durham imposed a 1.99 per cent council tax hike this year, the first rise since 2010. Its highest single year spending cut was £66m, back in 2011-12.
Source –  Durham Times,  10 Dec 2014