This is a long post but please read it… the Tories are screwing Newcastle

The Tories and their LibDem lap dogs in Government have played a blinder with local Council budgets in the North East.  Local Council finance is complicated but you need to understand a few basics to appreciate quite how much these Tory-led toffs have screwed Newcastle.

The basics…

1) You pay Council Tax but the money Newcastle City Council collects in from Council Tax only covers about 11% of what we spend

2) The Council also collects in Business Rates (like Council Tax but for businesses) but unlike Council Tax we have to hand over the business rates to the Government – we don’t get to keep it

2) The bulk of the remaining 89% of our budget comes from the Government’s annual funding settlement – in simple terms the funding settlement is the amount of money that the Government gives us every year to cover what we have to spend to keep our Council services running.

3) Newcastle has a significantly higher than average need around children in care and vulnerable adults – as in we have more than other Councils.  To put that into context; out of every pound that Newcastle City Council spends 47 pence of it is spent on vulnerable adults (i.e. elderly care, disabled care, adults with learning disabilities etc) and children’ services (i.e. schools, children in care, foster children etc…).

4) The Government uses something called the ‘funding formula calculation’ to work out how much money we need every year (it’s not, as you might imagine it to be, based on our own budget but rather on the Government telling us how much we’re getting).  For the first time in history this Tory LibDem Government have removed ‘need’ as one of the criteria for deciding how much money we get.  In other words they don’t take into account how much we need to spend on vulnerable adults or children, on the elderly, on kids in care or on anything else that is ‘need’ based.

5) The Tory LibDem Coalition’s meddling with the ‘funding formula calculation’ disproportionately affects Labour-run Councils.  Why?  In simple terms affluent Council’s (mainly down South) vote for the Tories and affluent Council areas don’t suffer from the same levels of health inequalities, deprivation, numbers of adult and children in care etc as we do.  In even simpler terms rich people live longer and they’re healthier longer than poorer people.  So… removing ‘need’ as one of the factors which determines how much money the Government give us to spend on Council services doesn’t affect Tory LibDem Councils near as much as it does Labour Councils in the North East where there are higher levels of deprivation.

Now that you have the basics let me tell you why at the beginning of this post I said that the ‘Tories and their LibDem lap dogs’ have played a blinder.  Over the last three years the Coalition cuts to Newcastle Council’s budget (explained above) and increases in cost pressures (e.g. rising energy bills) have amounted to £110 Million of cuts from our annual spend of around £263M.  That is ONE HUNDRED AND TEN MILLION POUNDS this Government of ToryLibDem millionaires have taken from our City and channelled to already well off and mainly Tory Council’s down South.  Not a single Labour-run Council across Britain has been spared from this but the North East has by far been the hardest hit.  And it’s not over yet…

We are now looking at the next three years and the Coalition haven’t finished screwing Newcastle.  They are still cutting our budget and we now need to find another £90 Million over the next three years.  Make no mistake… Newcastle is hovering at the edge of a fiscal cliff and the Tories and LibDems don’t give a flying duck if we fall off.  Why would they?

Okay, so I still haven’t explained why I said that the ‘Tories and their LibDem lap dogs’ have played a blinder, so here it is.  They are to blame for the staggering amount of money our Council has lost from its annual budget but they know that it’s Labour Councillors (like me) who have to decide on what the slashed budget they have left us with is spent on.  They hope that we will get the blame for their cuts.  It’s devastating.

The Tory bastards have slashed our budget so much that we just don’t have enough money to run everything we used to run.  Thousands of Council workers have lost their jobs, we don’t have enough people to cut our grass as often as any of us would like or pick up litter as often as we need to keep our streets clean.  Swimming pools have closed, services have been reduced and charges for some things have gone up.  That is all bad enough but under this Government it’s going to continue to get worse.

All we can do as Labour Councillors is fight for our City and try and make the fairest decisions we can about how to spend the money that we do have.  I just hope that our residents get behind us and don’t fall into the trap that the Tories have set by turning Labour voters against their Labour Councillors.  Newcastle cuts are Coalition cuts and we have to pull together to see them off in 2015.

UKIP: More Tory that the Tories

Nigel-Farage-ThatcherUKIP have had a lot of press coverage lately and I know from conversations on the doorstep with constituents I represent that some people are thinking about giving UKIP their vote.  I don’t believe in negative campaigning but I do think it’s important that people know what UKIP really stand for.

UKIP politicians know that most of what they believe in will hit the working class and the poorest in our country the hardest.  UKIP avoid as much as possible talking about their policies but here is just a taste of what a vote for Nigel Farage and UKIP would really mean:

  • UKIP want to charge you to see your GP, increase privatisation and even make even deeper cuts to our NHS
  • UKIP was to give millionaires another tax break, paid for by higher taxes on working families
  • UKIP want to scrap your rights as a worker
  • UKIP will give bankers’ even higher bonuses
  • UKIP will scrap maternity leave
  • UKIP don’t believe that global warming is man-made

Sounds a lot like what you would expect from the Tories – you’re not wrong.  UKIP Leader Nigel Farage has said that he is “a Thatcherite”.  Conservative Party politicians know that the Tory brand is toxic and so they are joining UKIP to save their own skins.

Just look at UKIPs recent by-election win – their first MP is a Tory, he jumped ship to avoid losing his seat.  Many others are doing the same.  Tory politicians up-and-down Britain are rebranding themselves as UKIP and trying to con people into voting for them.  UKIPs Vice-Chair is Neil Hamilton – Mr Hamilton was a Tory MP until he was kicked out by the voters for accepting cash bribes to ask questions in Parliament.  As a Tory MP he supported closing the Coal Mines, privatising public services like the railways and opposing trades unions and child benefits.  This is the UKIP vice-chair!!

Nigel Farage likes to pretend that he is a man of the people – rubbish! Not only has claimed over £2 Million in expenses as an MEP (despite rarely attending Parliament) but he’s also a Millionaire Stock Broker –  just like the people who gambled away our savings and pension funds.

Are UKIP on your side? No of course they aren’t! Only Labour stands up for working people and we are asking you to think about what a vote for UKIP will really mean for our county, for the North East region and for Newcastle.

Save Cambo Green

Keepmoat submitted plans today for the development of 26 Bungalows on Cambo Green in Blakelaw. I will be joining local residents in objecting to the scheme as planned.

Cambo Green is a well used green space located within a densely populated residential area.  The site was previously partially developed and whilst I have no objections to the principle of developing on the previous footprint I do object to the scale of the planned development of 26 bungalows which will take up the entire green leaving nothing for local residents.  This will have a negative impact on local residential amenity and a detrimental impact on the quality of life of the residents who live adjacent to the green as well as the wider community who use the green as an open public space.

The planned development would also remove well used off street parking which had been an issue in the area until curtilage was installed around the green to accommodate the need for more parking.  This has not been taken to account in the proposed plan and would leave existing residents with insufficient parking space.

Keepmoat’s plan should be considered in the context of the wider development plan for Blakelaw.  Springfield Road is to be developed as is likely Sherif Leas and Roundhill Avenue in the future.  All  of these sites are adjacent to or very near Cambo Green.  This plan, if approved, would result in the overdevelopment of an already densely populated area.  This issue is significantly amplified when looked at in the context of the wider Blakelaw development plan.

Cambo Green is so called because there is a green – there always has been – and any development of the site should take this into account and consider the impact on the quality of life of the local residents that I am elected to represent.

I am in favour of bringing new housing schemes to Blakelaw.  We need more houses and we desperately need more bungalows.  However, new schemes should not impact on the quality of life of existing Blakelaw residents as this one would which is why I am objecting to this plan.

You can view the plans here and you can local residents objecting to the scheme online.

Cambo Green

One Friday in Bil’in

Dipu and Dipu in Bilin

Dipu and I before the Bil’in demonstration

My friend and colleague Cllr Dipu Ahad and I visited the Palestinian village of Bil’in last Friday.  This came at the end of our 5 day (self-funded) fact-finding visit to Palestine and Israel.

Bil’in has become the centre of the popular non-violent resistance movement against Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine’s West Bank and their blockade of Gaza.  The village is located 2 miles east of the Green Line – the internationally recognised border of Palestine and Israel – but in 1991 the Government of Israel seized 19% of the village to establish Modi’in Illit, an illegally built settlement which has grown to such a size that it is now home to over 60,000 Israeli settlers.

Every Friday there is a peaceful protest at the separation wall in Bil’in where villagers and internationally visitors demonstrate against the Israeli occupation of Palestine.  Dipu and I attended the demonstration as observers with our Member of Parliament Chi Onwurah and a handful of Labour Party members who had accompanied us on the visit.

As is usual, the peaceful demonstration was met with heavy handedness and the Israeli Defence Force took to the top of the wall firing tear gas into the protestors.  Without warning the IDF opened the enormous gate and from behind the wall appeared an Israeli Armoured Patrol Vehicle carrying IDF troops who were firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

The demonstrators fled but we were chased down by the vehicle and troops.  Some of the group

Running from the IDF troops

Running from the IDF troops

went off to the left and some off to the right.  I ran off to the left but was met with a tear gas canister which fell less than a meter in front of my path.  I swerved to avoid it and ran straight into the line of fire of the IDF solider who were firing rubber bullets.   One of the bullets hit me on the upper thigh but the adrenaline kept me going and I got away.  Dipu was not so lucky.  He stumbled on his ankle which was already sore from an injury he had sustained the previous day while visiting a Palestinian house which the Israeli Government had illegally demolished.  Dipu went over and although he got back on his feet he could no longer run.  The IDF seized him and threw him in the back of the armoured vehicle.

The IDF troops blindfolded Dipu with his own scarf and hit him with a rifle.  On the way to the Police Station, where he ultimately ended up, he was teased with water and the soldiers took ‘selfie’ photographs with him.  Appalling treatment.

Israeli settlers watching the protest from behind the wall

Israeli settlers watching the protest from behind the wall

Back in Bil’in we waited for word about Dipu.  After an hour the group headed back to the hotel to wait for news and I stayed in the village to try and find out more about his fate.  Dipu managed to get a text message to me so I knew that he had been seized but nothing about his location.  I contacted the British Ambassador in Tel Aviv and the Consulate team in Palestine.  They were very helpful but couldn’t locate him either.  Finally, after 3 hours I had a call from Dipu asking me to go to the Benyamin Police Station in Jerusalem where he was being held.

I headed to the station and arrived around 6.30pm.  What followed was 5 hours of the most farcical bureaucracy you can possibly imagine.  Dipu hadn’t broken any laws and so I knew he couldn’t be charged with anything.  The Israeli Police just wanted to make things as awkward and inconvenient as possible for us in what I imagine was a plan to put us off travelling back to Bil’in in future.  Dipu was finally released close to midnight, without charge, and he and I were dumped out of the remote Police Station without the offer of any assistance to get back to our hotel.

Dipu and I had a flavour of what life is like for too many Palestinian’s week-in-week-out.  The Israelis are an occupying force and have no respect for the sovereignty of Palestine or the rule of international law.  They behave like bullies safe in the knowledge that most western powers are too afraid to stand up to them.

Our Friday in Bil’in has only served to strengthen our resolve to do all we can to bring an end to

Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation of Palestine.  If you can, go to Bil’in and see this madness for yourself.

Newspaper article of the incident.

165 Estate

165 SmallBefore I was elected, I spent a lot of time meeting with and listening to local residents in Blakelaw Ward about their priorities for our neighbourhoods and communities.

One of the recurring issues that was raised with me was the need to invest in and improve the 165 Estate in Blakelaw.  LibDem Councillors who represented Blakelaw Ward in the years before Labour did little to improve the estate and residents were angry that previous plans that they had been involved in amounted to nothing.

I know the 165 Estate well.  As a kid growing up in Blakelaw I would regularly play on the estate on my way to the Red Hut Community Centre and I still only live a few streets away today.  The Estate has had little spent on it since it was built in the 70s and its layout makes it a haven for anti-social behaviour.  But, at its core are the people who live on the estate and a community spirit that is worth preserving.

The long established tenants and residents association chaired by the amazing Doreen ‘Granny’ Jardine worked closely with me to negociate with the Council and Your Homes Newcastle to secure their agreement to invest £3 million pounds into improving the estate.

165 Estate resident led project team

165 Estate resident led project team

We successfully bid to the Design Council’s ‘Improve Your Neighbourhood’ programme and were awarded a grant to pay Northern Architecture, based in Newcastle, to help us with resident-led consultation and workshops.  The plan that we produced from that work is now the master plan for the estate.

We are now at the most exciting phase in what has become a two year project.  Contractors are on site preparing to go to Newcastle City Council’s Planning Department.  The aim is to secure planning permission and start work on the improvement plans before the end of this year.  This is a great example of a community coming together to work with their Labour Councillors and other partners to improve lives and take control of local decision.

You can look at the proposed plans here (ignore the colour scheme, the houses won’t be brown!): 165 Estate Plans

 

Devolution (Newcastle Labour Style)

People have lost all hope in politics and all trust in politicians.  And can you blame them?  The public, still reeling from the MPs expenses scandal, are now expected to accept an inflation busting 11% payrise for our parliamentarians (a pay rise that a Labour Government in 2015 have pledged to scrap).  The problem with politics is that for most people the decisions that politicians make feel far removed from their every-day lives.

But there is cause for hope.  Locally, in communities across the country, Labour Councillors are making a real difference to the lives of real people.  Liberated by simple idea that we can control our own destiny Labour Councillors across Britain are putting power back in the hands of the people and no where is this more evident than Blakelaw, my own Ward in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Following 7 years of Liberal Democrat wallow the Labour Party led by Cllr Nick Forbes took back control of Newcastle City Council in 2011.  We made a promise to the people of Newcastle that we would give them real power and say over the decisions that impact them.  Three years on we are living and breathing that promise across the city and it’s making a real difference.

In my own ward we developed the Blakelaw Ward Community Partnership a charity which brings together community groups, organisations and business from across the ward to work together to support the delivery of public services during a time of austerity.  From that work we have transformed our community centre into a well used community facility that now operates without public subsidy.  We have saved our two local libraries from closure and we have set up youth provision across the ward with a plan to roll this out every night of the week offering our younger residents some positive focus and activities.  We have a plan to build another community building and we are working to create new community groups covering the entire ward.  There is a buzz in Blakelaw and we are bringing people together and engaging them in the democratic process.

We are not alone in this.  My Labour colleagues across Newcastle are embracing the principles of devolution and achieving some amazing results.  Fenham & Wingrove Wards through their Children and Young People’s Network are delivering comprehensive youth provision where it’s needed most.  South Jesmond Ward and their community clean ups ensure clean streets despite massive Tory LibDem Government forced cuts to our front line staff.

Good government can do good things but good government can only exist if it is truly engaged with the people that it represents.

Free Palestine

Flag Civic CentreOn the evening of 5th August I hoisted the Palestinian flag outside Newcastle Civic Centre.  It marked the end of a peaceful vigil remembering the innocent civilians and children who have been killed in their hundreds in Gaza over recent weeks.

The flag hoist was not official – and neither was it a political stunt.  I raised the flag as a symbol of hope that one that one day Palestine will be free from Israel’s military occupation.

Some have deliberately distorted this act of peace as a religious statement.  This is not about religion, it is about the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza both of which are illegal under international law.

Twenty one years since the Oslo Accords, an entire generation of young Palestinians have grown up to witness a worsening situation on the ground. Massive expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, heightened security threats to both sides, the construction of an illegal separation wall, punitive restrictions on Palestinian movement, economic meltdown, and a humanitarian crisis in Gaza on a scale which is difficult to comprehend.  That is the context in which the latest outbreak of violence must be understood.

We seem to be further away from peace than ever before.  In Gaza civilians are being killed by Israeli airstrikes, homes, schools, hospitals and even UN sanctuaries are being targeted and destroyed.  In the West Bank 1.8 million Palestinians are living under Israeli occupation denied the basic freedoms that we take for granted.  There is simply no justification for the occupation of one people by another – it’s abhorrent.

If there is ever to be real peace between Palestine and Israel – not just an absence of war but real peace – then we need a new approach to diplomacy based on the protection of civilians, equal respect for the human rights, security and sovereignty of both Israelis and Palestinians, and the actual respect of – rather than just rhetoric on – international law.

After decades of ceaseless suffering and occupation the time has come for Palestinians to live free in a sovereign and independent homeland.  That is what I campaign for and that is why I raised the flag.

Next Steps: Public Meeting to Discuss the McDonald’s Planning Application

no-mcdonaldsThere will be a public meeting to discuss the planning application for the proposed McDonald’s Drive Through on Kenton Lane/Ponteland Road on Thursday 3rd July at 6.30pm in the Blakelaw Community Centre & Library (just off Binswood Avenue).

Blakelaw & Kenton Councillors involved in the campaign against the plan will be at the meeting and they have invited a Planning Officer to talk through the plan and answer any technical questions.

We will then talk through the planning process and how best to organise the campaign leading up to the committee decision.

Please use your social media and email networks to invite as many local residents as possible to the meeting.  If you can help distribute leaflets in the local area to invite residents to the event then please email david.stockdale@newcastlelabour.org.uk or call on 0191 271 5163

Say NO! to McDonalds on Ponteland Road/Kenton Lane

Along with my Labour colleagues in Kenton I have lodged strong objections to the application by McDonalds to build a large drive-thru takeaway at the former site of the Crofters Lodge pub.

Backed by scores of residents from both wards the local councillors want the proposed scheme scrapped.

Coun. Stephen Lambert, Chair of the Kenton Ward Committee, said : ‘’Regarding access, this is already an extremely busy junction at all times of the day and night. The increase in cars and trucks will cause problems to the road layout and to local people trying to access their homes. Clear evidence of this of this can be seen at another McDonald’s outlet at West Denton, where on a daily basis, traffic can be seen queuing onto nearby major roads causing backlog and congestion.’’

He added: ‘’Likewise there’s the issue of highway safety. If this proposal goes ahead, not only will this cause safety issues for residents, but also for students at the nearby Kenton Academy. The large take-away will be based on one of the main pedestrian routes to and from the school.’’

Several residents are deeply concerned about the impact that this plan will have on their neighbourhoods, especially Central Grange , Kenton Bar and Cheviot View. Locals have contacted their councillors and told them they don’t want to see garish illuminated sings near their properties.

The proposal to build a McDonald’s on the main walking route to the biggest secondary school in the city is just wrong.  Residents in both Blakelaw and Kenton Ward will suffer from increased traffic congestion on an already busy road as well as noise pollution and litter. I am opposed to the plan and I have recused myself from the planning committee for this application so I can speak against it.

Residents can lodge their objections to the Planning Department at Newcastle City Council via this link.  Your say is important.

Britain is not a fair society

Over the past 30 years the wealth inequality gap in Britain has widened to the point where we are now one of the least equal economies in the world.  The staggering numbers often mask just how unequal wealth distribution in Britain really is but broken down into sensible numbers the reality is beyond belief.

ICM released a poll recently on the subject of wealth inequality in Britain.  The poll asked 2000 people to imagine that the total wealth of the UK was £100.  It then asked how they thought that £100 should be distributed from those with less wealth to those with more wealth?  People thought that the richest 20% should have £25 and the poorest 20% should have £15.  In a fair Britain, that’s what people thought it should be.

The same people were then asked what they thought was the actual distribution of wealth in Britain.  People thought that the richest 20% had £40 and that the bottom 20% had £9.   If only!!  The actual numbers are staggering.  In Britain today the richest 20% have 60% of the total wealth.  £60 of our £100 pot, almost twice as much as everyone else combined.  Look at the richest 1% and the numbers are even more eye watering.  The richest 1% have as much wealth as 60% of the population – where is the fairness in that?

As for the poorest 20%? Well, if £100 were the total wealth of Britain then the poorest 20% would have 60p.  It’s difficult to quite comprehend just how unfair that is.

Some might argue that the top 20% are the wealth creators.  They own the shops and offices and factories providing the other 80% with jobs and an income.  Fair enough, those people should get a good slice of our £100 pie but they should also realise that we all paid for the schools that their employees were educated in, we all paid for the roads that they use to ship their goods and the emergency services protecting their assets.   In a fair Britain the 20% should get a decent chunk of the total wealth but they also have an obligation to recognise that we all contributed to their success and we all deserve our fair share of the pie.

The middle class of Britain is disappearing while the rich are getting richer and the poorer are getting poorer.  That’s not political posturing, it’s fact and as long as the Government keeps ignoring the immorality of wealth inequality in Britain then we cannot with any honesty claim to be a fair society.

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