Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Northumberland Tories under pressure as bullying claims and allegations mount up

The current Tory administration are facing 'mounting accusations that the council is in the grip of a bullying epidemic' which will put more pressure on the council finances which already include 'a £10m economic sleight of hand' by Finance Czar, Nick Oliver, a close confidant of Hexham's MP. 

While services are squeezed by Mr Oliver and charges go up, the council faces multi million pound law suits from companies and individuals. There are at least two staff legal complaints which centre on allegations of bullying and intimidation and a huge claim by a local company based on bullying, intimidation and corruption and Labour is seeking answers to the cost associated with the allegations of bullying. 

A Northumberland Labour spokeswoman said

"The council is facing a set of choices brought upon itself. Nearly two years into this administration, we're seeing disgraceful evidence of an alleged culture of bullying and intimidation led by senior Tory councillors. We now have a council under siege financially, taking reckless decisions with residents futures and facing allegations that they're operating more like MI5 than the public facing council. 

The council is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds defending legal actions brought by employees who claim they've been bullied and it's always the same councillors and officers who are accused of bullying. 

We need an independent investigation into the council, its decisions and the actions of its senior councillors and officers and we need it to protect both the council and people who feel they are being bullied, on whatever level".    

Monday, 12 November 2018

Core Strategy, What does that matter?

The negative radicalisation of people across Northumberland against those who dwell in South East Northumberland and Rural Coalfield by the Tories pre-2017, coupled with  the innate belief the radicalised have that ‘people who live in less well off areas somehow don’t contribute to the Council by the same percentage as those who dwell in more prosperous areas’. This has led to the ‘secretisation’ and weakening of democracy at County Hall, Morpeth, in case South-Easters and Rural Coalfielders, who make up the vast majority of Northumberland’s population find out.

Currently the Council, led by its Tory administration are consulting on a new ‘Local Plan’, the need for that consultation is driven by the Tories confident assumption that affordable homes should not be built anywhere near their heartlands in Ponteland. A regular statement from their ranks pre-2017 was ‘Houses are affordable in Ponteland, for some’. Ignoring the fact that the sons and daughters of those were able to afford to buy homes and live in that very nice village or its surrounds would like to return to their home area to bring up their own families.

The Council in the shape of the Tories and their allies the Bedlington Independent Tories, removed the Northumberland Core Strategy and Local Plan from inspection by their own Government but aren’t consulting on a replacement Core Strategy, only a County-wide ‘Local Plan’, What they haven’t yet recognised are the myriad of different strategies that make up a core strategy and that the vastness and remoteness in some case of communities in Northumberland do not align with the new town environment of Cramlington for instance. They particularly haven’t had the problems of ‘differentiation’ pointed out to them by their new planning team and cannot get off the stocks without that recognition being accepted by all of their own team of Councillors and officers.

The other huge problem has only just beset their plans, and that is the change from ARCH to Advance Northumberland who are to be the ‘regeneration body’ for the County. If your one of the ‘radicalised- pre 2017’ believers, you may think it’s the best thing since sliced bread but a simple explanation of the difference is that the strategy for economy in Northumberland is now to be generally formulated and delivered by a small group of Advance Directors and not the democratically elected representatives who are answerable to the people, your local Councillors.

But is it a problem?, Lets take a simple little look at what was on offer for Morpeth under Labour as an example, a new Leisure Centre to increase the health of people within the Town,  a new Hotel to create employment and increase tourism, a new multi-storey car park to alleviate the parking problems for local folk and a phase two link to AB&T rail line. This was massive investment planned for Morpeth that may not be within the bounds of sight of a Board of a regeneration company who would not wish to extend their aims beyond something they can’t deliver on as a company.

The newly formed North of Tyne combined Authority of which Northumberland is a member has an economic strategy and ambition for many more houses right across the piece to line up with the Governments aspirations for all sectors of that market. But here in Northumberland we have already turned away developers who have invested heavily in their sites and have lost a major planning appeal at New Hartley which will double the size of that village without the infrastructure in place to support such an enlargement. So I hope this illustrates why the solid foundation for any County-Wide Local Plan has to be to get an economic plan that lines up with our partners and fulfils developers aspirations for the next thirty years, delivering all types of housing stock to ensure that those who drift away from Northumberland feel they can now stay, work and play in a County that has plans to offer them more than they find elsewhere.

Therefore to sum up, Northumberland urgently needs a true economic plan to link with a true core strategy that will drive its local plan and the differentiation required to encompass everyone’s needs County-wide and not disenfranchise the majority of those who love Northumberland.








Thursday, 8 November 2018

Tories to Tax South East Northumberland Tourists and Motorists


South East Northumberland and Rural Coalfield Drivers to Pay for extra parking in Hexham and Berwick

Following a disastrous year working to their first budget, designed to ensure austerity damages the townships of South East Northumberland and the villages in the Rural Coalfield. This economic disaster is fuelled by the announcement of a false £65M black hole. The ‘Tory Black Hole’ was created by moving the date of their Medium Term Financial Plan, extending it by a year and adding in the extra cuts whilst also stopping the income stream from new housing in wealthier areas flowing into the treasury of the County Council.
The mess Northumberland Tories have established is designed to take the County back to Castle Morpeth days when everyone expected that Council to ensure the poor were kept in their place and those better off dug deeply into their pockets. But they are now extending their war against the less well off into areas where the less well off live. Northumberland’s Tories are going to empty the pockets of working families and the retired who like to spend their time at the beach.

Instead of following Labours plan to keep car parking free in all areas where Parish Councils wanted Tourism and Trade protected and hopefully increased. They have decided to now plough their own furrow and placing hefty charges on Council Car Parks, effectively a tax on the South East of the County whilst maintaining free disc parking in Ponteland.

Blyth Councillor Gordon Webb said “the Tories are taking the easy way to fund additional facilities for their heartlands. This is a disgraceful tax on peoples enjoyment, Blyth Town Councils music festival and their hugely successful fireworks displays will be seriously affected by these charges being placed on ordinary people and businesses who rely on tourism, by a Council that has lost its links with its people. Were assured South East and Rural Coalfield Tories are gung ho about it. All were now waiting for in the chamber at county hall, is for the Tories to begin passing around the snuffbox and then we will know Castle Morpeth’s habits have been well settled into place”





Charging Proposals for South East and Rural Coalfield Car Parks Currently Free to Use
Mermaid Blyth
1 hour free
3hours £1:50
All Day £3:00
Beachway Blyth
1 hour free
3hours £1:50
All Day £3:00
Ranch Car Park Blyth/ Seaton Sluice
1 hour free
3hours £1:50
All Day £3:00
Fountain Head, Seaton Sluice
1 hour free
3hours £1:50
All Day £3:00
Cresswell
1 hour free
3hours £1:50
All Day £3:00




Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Parishes, being denied the right to help the Poor

Northumberland Unitary County Council sits at the top of a group nationally as a prime authority. Unlike its metropolitan borough neighbours it is ‘fully Parished’ making it the head of a two tier local authority system County-wide.

Although one of the ‘new kids on the block’, being only formed as a single unitary county in 2008, a short period of time in the life of Local Government, it can now boast a decade of history of fully supporting the most deprived and most vulnerable in our society through its prime funding arrangement, Council Tax. Northumberland County Council has offered most of its claimants 100% relief from Council tax payments for the last ten years.

Currently 26,984 people claim council tax benefit, many of them living in the most deprived wards in the County, centred on Ashington, Blyth Valley townships and the rural coalfield.The current administration has decided to change that, and attack those in greatest need at the same time as their Government is rolling out Universal Credit on an unsuspecting and ill prepared population. A consultation is underway to make 44.5% of claimants, those of working age, pay towards their Council Tax, the Conservatives at County Hall want to take £1.2M extra from working age claimants and their families.

The County Council has a consultation underway on these cuts but have already built the reduction and further annual reductions into their medium term financial plan, our comments may be cynical but is the consultation skewed to suit financial portfolio holder Councillor Oliver’s plan? That’s the plan for which he created a £65M black hole through stretching the years of Labours plan and thought no one would notice!

Although our story so far is about further conservative attacks on Northumberlands deprived areas, the real story behind this is that the Treasurer of the Council has written out to Parish Councils to tell them that the Council can’t help them with their Council Tax base figures until late January, using the cut in Council tax benefit by 8% as the excuse; what does that matter you may ask yourself?, those figures are essential for Parish Councils to calculate their precept they must return their figures to the County Council by early February.

In Northumberland, Parish Councils have a proud history of helping where they can to alleviate poverty and deprivation, usually gifting help to the third sector in poorer communities to aid those in greatest need, yet here we are in the worst period in modern history since the 1930’s for Governments not wanting to help the less well off and Parishes are being denied the time to adjust their precept to help organisations with the roll out of Universal Credit through the County Council attacking working age families.

Councillor Scott Dickinson Labour’s shadow business chair and a Parish Councillor said “ The Councils current business chair, Conservative Councillor Dodd of Ponteland, has failed small but vital town and parish councils by allowing cuts to the most vulnerable in society to take priority over enabling those small councils who are taking the brunt of Tory cuts to adequately set their budgets”. “As Business Chair he should have demanded that Council business and the business of partner Parish and Town Councils cannot be affected by the Tories plans to attack those who are in the unenviable position of not being able to help themselves in Northumberland” 
“Conservative County Councillors should be ashamed of themselves for causing such grief to those who need the whole sector of local government both big and small to rally round and help them.”




Thursday, 25 October 2018

Is it a Rift or a Division, or has a Local Tory gone into hiding!



The Waynes World two tier plan for education in Northumberland has hit a bit of pothole on its way towards either forcing families to move out of the Countryside or put their kids through the ordeal of hours of travel each day.

The pothole of course is that a Government adjudicator has informed Bellingham Middle School that it isn’t to be closed and that parents have the opportunity to choose where their child is educated either locally in Bellingham or face Northumberland’s bleak mid winters on the bus and still be expected to keep up homework levels with their peers who live close to their educational establishment.

The distasteful debacle that Labour refused to progress, the singular education model for the whole of Northumberland, is being forced on the West of the County through the Single Party State Cabinet in Northumberland, piecemeal. Labour of course recognised ‘one model would not fit all’ and only tackled the issue of compelled academisation against a backdrop of radical Conservative troop rallying to ensure it was forced upon unsuspecting rural communities and the Council.

Schools, families, communities and rural businesses who will be badly affected if their local school and therefore footfall, disappears, are obviously angry at those Councillors they have supported to take over the Council and protect their interests. They probably didn’t expect Cramlington’s urban based Education Portfolio holder Wayne Daley to fall into line but they have been very vocal against the attitude of those members of Council who hail from the Tyne Valley, Councillors Stow, Cessford, Stewart and last but not least, Councillor Horncastle who all sit on the Familes and Childrens Trust scrutiny panel and could speak out against the decision of the single party Cabinet but didn’t.

It appears to be getting very hot for Councillor Horncastle, although the adjudicator has ruled, and Bellingham Middle School has been saved, Northumberland Conservatives are still hell bent on delivering their two tier plan, putting a number of schools at risk in Cllr Horncastle’s patch.

The latest rumour to emerge from County Hall is that Cllr Horncastle has decided to run out of the kitchen and has tendered his resignation from the scrutiny panel. I’m sure he’s hoping a Labour member will take up the vacancy and that they will help him out of his hole: ‘But people in the Countryside have long memories and if he thinks running away will get him back into their good books, he needs to think again’ and Labour know he won’t be grateful even if they were able to turn back time.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Company Law What’s that got to with it?


Tuesday 23rd October 2018 is a very significant date for the council tax and business ratepayers of Northumberland.  Its when the small group of people who sit on the single party Cabinet at Northumberland County Council make a decision that’s contained within their manifesto, to wind up the ‘profit for purpose’ company ARCH.

ARCH has been castigated and vilified by the current power base in Northumberland since the May 2017 local government elections and has had all sorts of allegations made against it, including statements of illegality and corruption, none of which have been investigated by the Police, as Northumbria Police require true evidence that a crime has been committed and cannot investigate conjecture and spin to make up that evidence.

From the inception of pre-ARCH, Wansbeck Life, by Wansbeck District Councils Labour Group and its rollover and expansion County-wide into the Lib Dem years of 2008-2013 when Jeff Reids team thought up the name ARCH, the profit for purpose vehicle has been used for the good of the people.

Labours expansion of ARCH from 2013 into a regional development organisation and funder of community projects who’s work included the regional management of rural growth funding on behalf of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, the replacement of ONE NE, expanded its program of work even further, into areas where the money that follows the Conservatives felt it may one day become a competitor, hence the Conservative Manifesto promise ‘to scrap ARCH’.

That day is about to happen! But how lawful will the decision of a few members of a Council Single Party Cabinet be when they take a decision on behalf of all their shareholders to wind up their prime company, spend over £4.6M buying back shares in other companies they also already own without inviting all of those shareholders to an extraordinary general meeting to make the decision to wind up lawful.

ARCH and the companies that make up the group of companies that sit under the ARCH umbrella only have ONE share. That share is held by the Council on behalf of you the Taxpayer, therefore you the Taxpayer should have a voice in this winding up order where your cash has already been spent massively on tax advice and a further £4.6M is about to be raided from your Council to cover up the mess of the winding up.

You are represented on the Company ARCH by your County Councillor as Council is the single shareholder, Full Council should make the decision whether to wind up ARCH or not, as a decision to start this company was taken at a full council,  and you should be able to lobby your Councillor to act on your behalf!

Ask your Councillor why your cash is not being safeguarded and what the liabilities and the full cost of delivering this manifesto promise is to you the taxpayer.

NOTES TO EDITORS:

EY the Councils external auditor in its annual audit letter up to 31st March 2018 has pointed to 5 areas of concern, one of which is already subject to a claim of unlawfulness.



• Agreeing a termination package for the former Chief Executive.
 

• Restructuring of the senior management team of the Council.

• Reversing the decision to move Council headquarters from the current site in Morpeth to Ashington.

• Withdrawal of the Local Plan.

Announcing the intention to wind up the Arch Group, a group of wholly owned subsidiary companies, and transfer the assets to a new development company.

The above decisions have a significant impact on the operations of the Council.


Link to his report:  http://committeedocsnorthumberland.gov.uk/MeetingDocs/38747_M9229.pdf



Friday, 19 October 2018

Theresa May to end austerity yet Conservative Led Local Government Associations says: ‘Free bus passes becoming unaffordable’

The Conservative led Local Government Association has warned this week that funding free bus passes is becoming “nearly impossible” for local authorities.

Department for Transport figures which have just been released, show that 1.2bn local bus journeys were made between April and June, down from a high of 1.33bn between July and September 2008. They are now down to there lowest ebb since 2006

Transport spokesman Martin Tett of the LGA said it was “nearly impossible for councils to keep subsidising free travel while having to find billions of pounds worth of savings and protect other vital services.

” The Campaign for Better Transport” found recently that funding to support buses had nearly halved in eight years, and chief executive Darren Shirley said the in journey numbers “back up what our research has been showing for years: that buses are in crisis.”

Across the country vital buses are being axed by local authorities as they make financial decisions of where to cut spending.

In Northumberland, Councillors are concerned that even more divisive methods are being used by bus companies themselves to force change and quickly allow their less profitable routes to disappear to pressurise the County Council to increase its subsidies.

Labour Parish Councillors also express concerns that the removal of bus timetables from stops expecting that Parish Councils will pick up the cost of displaying them in last years County Council budget has driven bus use down.

Labour Councillor Terry Clark who lives and works in rural Northumberland is very concerned that the battle between bus companies and the Conservative led County Council is heating up as both powerful organisations are coming up their budget setting periods.

 “As a Labour Councillor in rural Northumberland I meet people every day who have to use public transport to go to school, get to work, or simply do every day things such as shopping or visit the doctors. Its essential that we keep as many buses running as possible, that’s why Northumberland Labour Group is urging everyone who has a Government sponsored bus pass, whether they live in rural or urban parts of the County to use their local bus service as much as possible, leave the car at home and raise our bus use in Northumberland in order that we can not only save buses but ensure we ‘save your bus pass’.”

Notes for editors:

   o       64 per cent of jobseekers either have no access to a vehicle or    cannot drive

  • o       Young people are amongst the biggest users of bus services , whilst 40 per cent of people over 60 use the bus at least once a week

o       Passenger cars produce nearly 60 per cent of all CO2 emissions from road transport in the UK, compared with just 5 per cent from buses

o       If drivers switched just one in twenty five of their car journeys to bus or coach, it would mean one billion fewer car journeys per year

o       Every £1 of public investment in buses provides between £3 and £5 of wider benefits

o       Bus commuters generate £64 billion in economic output every year

https://bettertransport.org.uk/save-our-buses