Tagged: Tyne and Wear

Spending on buses goes up in urban areas but down in rural parts of North East

Spending on buses is going up in urban areas while it dips in rural parts of the North East, figures reveal.

Data released by the Campaign for Better Transport showed spending on subsidised bus services has risen by 14.3% since 2010 in Tyne and Wear.

Meanwhile, in County Durham and Northumberland councils are spending 29.8% and 15.3% less, respectively.

Martin Abrams, from CBT, said elderly and disabled people are those that suffer.

He said:

“Every single local authority is in a difficult financial position.

“This report isn’t about beating up local authorities – we want to highlight the fact that councils are really, really suffering from the funding cuts imposed on them by central government – but some councils are finding ways of funding services.

“We are concerned for elderly people in rural areas as this will have an impact on them, especially.

“A lot of elderly people take the bus to the shops and they meet their mates. If you take that away then people will be left in isolation and it will have an impact on the social fabric of the country.

“It is the big rural counties rather than urban areas that are making big cuts and it is very worrying.”

 

 Councillor Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council and transport lead on the North East Combined Authority, said Nexus, which manages transport in the Tyne and Wear area, is dipping into reserves to avoid the funding cuts seen in other areas.

The combined authority has voted to operate a Quality Contract Scheme (CQS) which would see councils take control of fares and services.

He said:

“About 10% of local bus services in Tyne and Wear are paid for by local authorities through Nexus, and that includes all our school buses and special routes for early-morning shiftworkers, as well as many journeys in the evening and at weekends.

“Tyne and Wear has been able to avoid the severe cuts to local bus routes seen in many parts of the country thanks to good planning by local councils and Nexus up to now, but the fact is Nexus is spending the last of its financial reserves to keep these vital services on the road.

“This cannot go on much longer and that is why the North East Combined Authority is pushing ahead with a planned Quality Contracts Scheme, in which some of the large profits made by bus companies in the region are re-invested to protect and improve all local services.

“This will not only protect routes but mean lower fares for passengers, a universal smart ticket like Oyster in London and savings for the local taxpayer.

“Without a Quality Contracts Scheme local people should be under no illusion that local buses face cuts due to the enormous pressure on council spending.”

Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council, said cutting the bus budget in County Durham had been unavoidable in the backdrop of severe cuts to local authorities.

He said following a consultation in 2011 funding for evening and weekend services had been scaled back to protect those operated during the day.

He added further cuts would make it harder to protect services.

Councils in other parts of the region, such as Darlington and Stockon, have cut funding for subsidised bus routes altogether.

He said:

“There has not been much of a reduction over the last few years, however, as with everything else, given the cuts that are being made by George Osborne that will become more and more difficult.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 13 Jan 2015

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North East bus operators to introduce Oyster-style smart ticketing

North East bus passengers will soon be able to use Oyster-style tickets, travel operators have announced.

Britain’s biggest bus operators – including Newcastle-headquartered Go Ahead and Sunderland-based Arriva – have announced plans to launch London-style smart ticketing across England’s largest city regions.

The pledge by Stagecoach, First, Arriva, Go Ahead and National Express aims to deliver multi-operator smart ticketing to millions of bus customers across England next year.

Greater Manchester will be an early adopter of what is described as a “transformational initiative”, helping support the area’s wider growth plans.

The smart tickets will then be rolled out across Tyne and Wear, Merseyside, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire along with the city regions of Nottingham, Leicester and Bristol.

The bus providers have spent several months finalising their plans and this work has included liaising with IT suppliers and the Department for Transport.

The announcement comes two weeks after North East councils took a step towards seizing control of the bus services, in a major shake-up of public transport – a move bitterly opposed by the bus companies.

Members of the North East Combined Authority voted unanimously for the Quality Contract Scheme (QCS) for the Tyne and Wear area.

If passed by an independent review board the proposals will signal a new era of London-style bus services across the region, in which travellers carry a pass similar to the capital’s Oyster card and councils decide on fares and when and how often services run.The bus companies said their own plans represent a multi-million pound investment in what is the biggest smart ticketing project in the UK’s history.

The technology will allow smaller bus operators to be included and provide a platform to extend the system to other modes, such as trams and trains.

In a joint statement, Stagecoach Group chief executive Martin Griffiths, First Group chief executive Tim O’Toole, Go Ahead chief executive David Brown, Arriva chief executive David Martin and National Express chief executive Dean Finch said:

“Millions of people in our biggest city regions will benefit from this transformational initiative in London-style smart ticketing. It will deliver an even bigger programme and wider benefit than the capital’s Oyster system.

“Bus operators share the aspirations of our city regions to become growing economic powerhouses and we know high quality public transport is an important part of making that happen.”

Bus operators also urged central and local Government to work with them to improve bus services across the country.”

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  04 Nov 2014

Quality Contract Scheme: What will changes to the bus system in Tyne and Wear mean for you?

The North East Combined Authority has voted for a plan which could give councils power over when and how often bus services run in Tyne and Wear

What is a QCS?

A Quality Contract Scheme is a legal power over bus services by a council. In this case, the North East Combined Authority will set ticket prices, routes and timetables across Tyne and Wear and on some routes in and out of County Durham and Northumberland.

NECA will also decide what types of buses are used. Nexus, the public body which devised this scheme and currently manages the Tyne and Wear Metro, will collect fares and pay bus companies to provide bus services through contracts. This is a big change to the present market, where buses companies decide on prices and routes.

What is wrong with the current system?

NECA believes a QCS will be better than leaving things as they are. It argues people are put off using buses because fares have gone up on average 3% more than inflation for a decade.

Today, councils pay bus operators to provide less-used bus services, and subsidise some fares – as well as funding the free bus pass for older and disabled people.

This adds up to £56m-a-year in Tyne and Wear, money is running short and the cost of the free bus pass – which councils must pay by law – is growing, meaning that the other bus services councils pay for will have to be withdrawn.

So, everyone agrees it is great?

Not exactly. The bus companies – mostly Stagecoach, Arriva and Go-Ahead – strongly disagree with the move and recommended a voluntary system that gives them more freedom. They say a QCS a “huge gamble” that could lead to higher fares, worse services and higher tax bills in the long run.

Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, also has “serious concerns”. He said profitable services in urban Tyne and Wear subsidise the rural bus network in Northumberland and County Durham. He is worried that subsidy would dry up under the new QCS.

Will it mean services cost more or less?

Nexus says fares are likely to go down. Future fare rises will be limited to inflation levels and only changed once a year.

New cheap fares for people aged 16 to 18 will be the same price as today’s fares for children.

There will be discounts for students and a new deal for older and disabled people who want to travel before 9:30am.

Nexus says around four in five adult passengers will see prices stay the same or go down when the new QCS fare zones begin.

Won’t this cost councils lots of money, then?

The idea is it will actually save councils money. Bus companies now make about £20m profit in the region every year, but Nexus estimates 80% of that money leaves the region. NECA says more of this profit from fares will be re-invested locally and this in turn will protect services now funded by councils that might otherwise be lost.

How would an Oyster card-style system work here?

In London, the one Oyster card allows you to travel on any bus, any train, any tube or any ferry. They can use Oyster as a season ticket or they can use Oyster to pay for single journeys.

The Tyne and Wear version will be called the Smartcard. Having one will get you on any bus, any Metro, the ferry or local train.

If you travel paying for single journeys and reach the daily ticket price, what you pay is capped – so you will always get the best deal, without needing to plan your day in advance. The technology for the Smartcard is in place already.

What if I am travelling in or out of Tyne and Wear from County Durham or Northumberland?

Most bus routes in and out of Tyne and Wear from County Durham, and some of those from Northumberland, are included in the plan for the whole route. That means the Smart tickets, the QCS network and lower prices will be available when you travel into Tyne and Wear.

Will there be fewer buses and will buses go the same routes?

Routes will be the same as now on the first day of a QCS, Nexus says. The difference is people can suggest improvements through new Bus Boards in each area.

Council leaders want to protect services and begin to grow them. They hope it will ultimately mean cheaper fares and bus and rail networks that work together better.

If the QCS does not happen, Nexus and NECA say cuts are inevitable, particularly to young people’s fares, school buses and evening services now paid for by local councils.

How will the process work if QCS is passed?

It will be April 2017 before a QCS starts – council leaders will make a final decision next year after an independent panel has reviewed the 900-page scheme agreed by NECA this week. If it goes ahead it will take Nexus two years to let contracts and gear up for change, with lots of information and engagement with customers on fare changes, smart cards and other benefits.

What happens to the bus companies and their staff?

About 3,000 people now work on bus services in Tyne and Wear, which in future will be included in the Nexus contracts.

Staff will work on the same routes and their jobs, wages and pensions will be protected by law – plus Nexus has said it will give further protections to staff – even if they have to change the bus company they work for. The scheme is supported by the Unite union.

What will happen if bus companies take legal action in the meantime?

Bus companies are worried they will lose business to rival bidders. They have threatened legal action against NECA and Nexus. Both public bodies insist they are using the law properly, however.

Nexus says QCS is legal and based on the best available facts and figures. It has also said all possible steps will be taken to make sure legal action doesn’t slow down its plan for a QCS.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 26 Oct 2014

Buses are better in council hands, North East MPs tell combined authority

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

Washington man, 83, cant afford to retire

Is Charles West the oldest worker in the North East at the of age of 83?

The active pensioner more than holds his own at the North East call centre where most of his colleagues are in their 20s and young enough to be his great grandchildren.

But while the widower admits the work helps keep him busy and is an antidote to loneliness, the main reason for holding down the job is money.

I’m working because I need to,” he said. “I need the extra money. My pension isn’t enough. I get £169 a week but £105 of that goes on rent and rates.”

Charles of Washington, Tyne and Wear, is one of a growing number of people working past the default retirement age of 65 which was abolished in 2011.

Now there are almost 30,000 people of this age group still in employment in the North East making up 6% of the region’s work force.

Others are doing so to help out their families who haven’t been lucky enough to get a job and are relying on benefits which are being continually squeezed by the Government.

That isn’t the case with Charles as his two sons financially help him out, but he prefers to stand on his own two feet.

With the help of my walking stick,” he joked.

It was in 1950 he first got a job in a furniture factory and over the years has had many jobs, mostly as a sales rep.

Because I kept changing jobs I never got round to taking out a private pension,” he explained.

Charles now works at Doxford International Business Park, Sunderland, for 2Touch, part of the Parseq group, who he approached for a job about four years ago.

I was delighted to join 2Touch. It is a very friendly place and I currently work alongside a team of 18 people.

“There are a wide range of ages and we get along very well, helping and supporting each other.”

His wife, Lorraine, died in 2006 and he said the job gives him “a reason to get up in the morning”.

Instead of moping around the house I go to work,” he said.

At night he enjoys a can of Grolsch after work, two as a treat, or maybe a can of gin and tonic.

Then I fall asleep,” he said.

He has no plans to retire in the future. “I’ll work until I drop,” said Charles.

How can I live otherwise? They’ll have to carry me out in a box, still talking and still selling things.”

> Which is fine if that’s what you want to do. But what about all the other poor buggers who are being forced to work till they drop too, even though they don’t want  to ?

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  07 Oct 2014

David Cameron mixes up his Tyne and his Tees during radio interview on Teesside

> Well, its understandable – these places north of Watford are all the same, aren’t they ?

David Cameron mixed up his Teesside and his Tyneside as he took to the airwaves to talk up economic growth in the region.

The Prime Minister frequently used examples of economic activity in Tyne and Wear – including investment from companies like Hitachi and Nissan – during an interview with BBC Tees.

Oh his third mention of the Tyne, BBC Tees presenter Lisa McCormick intervened.

You keep mentioning the River Tyne, that’s not our region Prime Minister,” she said.

I’m sorry, we are the River Tees, does that mean that you’re forgetting about us?”

For a moment Mr Cameron seemed flustered as he paused.

Oh, I thought I was doing – oh no absolutely not,” he replied.

I mean, if I look specifically in terms of the Tees Valley, we’ve got £90m from our local growth fund to boost economic growth.”

It might have been a swift recovery from the PM – but it was not quick enough for some.

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland‘s Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop seized the chance to attack Mr Cameron.

In isolation this may just seem like a somewhat silly mistake, yet over the last four years we’ve had a Tory peer calling the region ‘desolate’, frequent misspellings of Teesside in official Number 10 letters, and now the Prime Minister himself can’t even take the basic cue of appearing on BBC Tees to get the hint that our river is the Tees and not the Tyne,” he said.

This just highlights how David Cameron is out of touch and completely uninterested in places like Middlesbrough, Stockton, Redcar, Hartlepool and East Cleveland.”

UKIP’s North East MEP Jonathan Arnott also took the opportunity to bash the PM.

This is not just embarrassing for the Prime Minister but also what’s left of the Conservative party in the North East of England,” he said.

Whilst unemployment figures are going down elsewhere around the country, ours are still going up.

“Perhaps if he knew which area he was talking about, people might have more confidence that he actually cares about local people.”

Defending Mr Cameron was Conservative MP for Stockton South,  James Wharton.

No excuses, but I suspect he was doing a round of local interviews one after the other and these things can happen,” said the MP.

I will be reminding him when I next see him not only how great Teesside is but of all the things this government has done for the south of our region, from bringing Hitachi to the return if steel making and the announcement of over £90m in local investment only a few weeks ago.

I am proud of our record of delivering for this area and I am sure the Prime Minister is too.”

The chairman of the Redcar Constituency Liberal Democrats, Councillor Josh Mason, added:“The slip-up by the Prime Minister does not take away from the fact that since 2010 our area has received over five times more government investment per year than it did under the previous Labour government.

“It remains more important than ever for us to keep pushing for more investment and banging the drum for Teesside to ensure it remains on the government’s radar.”

The Prime Minister’s office declined to comment.

Source –  Middlesbrough Evening Gazette,  25 July 2014

How unionised is the North East?

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.

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Private company is exiting Newcastle GP practice contract early

A private company that runs a Newcastle GP practice will end its contract more than two years early.

Grainger GP Practice at Elswick Health Centre was controversially taken over by Care UK in September 2012 and was committed to run the service until the end of August 2017.

The move sparked fierce opposition from health professionals and campaign groups as they claimed the company did not have a record of delivering high-quality GP care in deprived areas.

Now Care UK has announced it will exit its five-year contract halfway through its tenure and depart at the end of January next year. The company refused to give reasons as to why the contract was ending early.

Doctor Leah McAleer left Grainger GP Practice following the appointment of Care UK, and campaign group Keep Our NHS Public North East has always had concerns about the private company.

Martin Manasse, a member of the campaign group said: “It is shameful that Care UK is exiting their contract early, but I believe it was predictable. We said when the company took over that the money available from their bid was not enough for what they claimed they were going to do with the GP practice.”

Approximately 7,000 patients are registered with Grainger GP Practice and health chiefs have insisted that patients do not need to register elsewhere as they remain confident an alternative provider can be secured without any disruption.

The announcement by Care UK comes just weeks after nearby Scotswood GP practice was told that it is under threat following a recent contract review of its provider.

Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah said: “Patients deserve continuity of care if we are going to overcome health inequalities. Patients need to have trust in GP services and that comes by building up a relationship with those who run services. If care providers come in and exit for unknown reasons then that damages services.”

Patients registered with the doctors’ practice in Elswick have received a letter informing them of the changes.

A Care UK spokesperson said: “Since being chosen to run the Grainger Medical Practice we have worked hard to improve the service for local people.

“However, after reviewing our business strategy and having conversations with the commissioner, it was decided that Care UK will not run the service past January 2015. We are committed to working closely with the commissioner and whoever is chosen to run the service after us to ensure the practice’s 7,000 patients are not affected in any way by a change of provider.”

The Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear area team of NHS England is responsible for commissioning GP services in the local area and will seek the views of patients.

Dr Mike Prentice, medical director for the team, said: “We recognise the need for a GP practice in the area and are confident that an alternative provider can be secured in this time frame, and that there will be no disruption to patients.

“We have written to all patients to let them know about this change. There is no need to re-register with another GP, though patients do have that option if they wish.

“This is a good opportunity for people to let us know if there are things we can do to improve the service, and we will be contacting patients again in the near future to ask for their views.

“Ensuring continuity of access to high quality care and services remains our top priority.”

Source –   Newcastle Evening Chronicle   03 May 2014

Call for buses to be brought back under public control

Campaigners hoping for changes to bus services met in Sunderland City Centre in an effort to gather support to lobby decision makers.

Houghton and Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson joined members of Sunderland Transport Users’ Group (STUG) and Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Users’ Group (TWPTUG), to encourage passers-by to sign postcards to send to members of the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority.

The passengers are lobbying for the introduction of quality contracts, which will bring buses into public control and end the bus companies’ freedom of picking only profitable routes. Instead the firms will have to bid for contracts handed out by Nexus.

The proposal is bitterly opposed by bus companies. But many users of public transport want it introduced, saying it will make services simpler, cheaper and centrally controlled.

STUG spokesman Helmut Izaks said: “Hopefully it will give more power to the people to decide where buses go instead of the companies having all the power, and it will also prevent companies from withdrawing services early.”

Miss Phillipson said: “Transport is a significant cost to families. A high quality, affordable and accessible public transport system is vital to ease the cost of living for local people and encourage businesses to set up base in Sunderland.

“For over three years I’ve been campaigning for a London-style system of bus regulation in Tyne and Wear. Such a system could see great improvement for many in our community and cheaper fares for the majority of bus users. I’m delighted that Tyne and Wear Transport Users Group also see the benefits of this change.”

For more information about the campaign, visit www.twptug.org.uk or email twptug@phonecoop.coop

Government blames Tyne & Wear fire service for front-line cuts

A Government minister has blamed the Tyne and Wear fire service for making front-line cuts.

Service chiefs want to close the Sunderland Central station and merge crews at Gosforth and Wallsend to cover an £8.8m drop in government funding.

But fire minister Brandon Lewis implied the fire service should save money by using a government training college almost 240 miles away.

He said: “This body has had a cut of a couple of per cent in spending power for each of the past couple of years and has built up its reserves. It has been able to spend that on extra training facilities when the Government already have a training facility.”

He said it was up to Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority to manage its own funds based on “local risk” and suggested digging into its £30m reserve to cover the cost. But the service hit back, saying his comments “do not fully reflect the picture” and that spending its reserves would create a financial “cliff edge” as faced by the US government last year.

Chief fire officer Tom Capeling said: “The authority is not spending reserves on extra training facilities. Our training centre was opened 18 years ago and we continue to send some officers to the south for specialist training.

“If reserves were used to meet the projected gap then over £16.8m would be required over the next three years. This would create a cliff edge that would need to be addressed in the year after.

“We would either be living in hope that ‘something would turn up’ in the meantime – imprudent and unlikely given the comments made about further cuts in future – or we would need to lose a lot of staff very quickly, as opposed to the measured and managed approach we are proposing to take.”

He said it would cost too much money to send all 866 of its firefighters for regular training in Gloucestershire and would keep them away from duty for too long.

The service expects to lose £12.9m by April 2017 and claims it is “disproportionately” hurt by the cuts because its council tax takings are lower.

Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah, who had asked Mr Lewis about the closure of Gosfirth Fire Station, said: “I don’t see how a fire service can lose almost a quarter of its funding without impacting front line services.

“Mr Lewis’s response was wholly inadequate and took no responsibility for the risks his policies pose, whilst trying to distract us with comments on training.”

But Dave Turner, of the Fire Brigades Union, said fire chiefs’ chosen plan was “nonsensical” and that their £30m reserve “could and should be used.”

He said: “Any comment from the government that put all the onus on local authorities is disingenuous at best, but the fire authority shouldn’t be making these cuts.”

Source – Newcastle Journal,  07 March 2014