S(crap) Trident

Scrap TridentTrident is pointless.  It’s supporters protest that it’s value is deterrence but what is it deterring?  Do we really the the biggest risk to our national security is that one of the ten nuclear powers (I’m including Israel in that number) will drop the bomb on Britain?  Please!  What we should be worried about is a lone wolf dropping a vile of smallpox in Trafalgar Square and nuclear ‘deterrent’ isn’t going to deter that!

Trident has no legitimate purpose – it’s use is morally inconceivable and would be illegal under international law.  In what situation would a British Prime Minister push the button and with it millions of lives?  I hope the answer to that is ‘no situation’.  Even the morally bankrupt war criminal Tony Blair admitted that ‘the only purpose of maintaining Trident is to give Britain status’.

To replace Trident would cost £100,000,000,000 (that’s ONE HUNDRED BILLION POUNDS).  Just think of the good we could do for society if we funded instruments of peace instead of instruments of war.

It’s time to scrap Trident.  Join the CND campaign and sign the petition calling for Trident to be scrapped here: http://www.cnduk.org/campaigns/no-to-trident/scrap-trident-petition

McDonald’s Appeal: Public Meeting

 

McDonalds

In September last year the elected Councillors on the Newcastle City Council planning committee rejected a plan submitted by McDonald’s to build a two-storey drive-thru off the Kenton Bar roundabout.

The plan was rejected following a campaign led by local residents and supported by Labour Councillors from Blakelaw Ward and Kenton Ward as well as the local Member of Parliament Chi Onwurah.  Democracy prevailed (or so we thought).

McDonald’s have appealed the decision (days before the deadline) and have requested that a Government appointed Planning Inspector conduct a three day hearing to look again at their planning application in an attempt to have the original decision overturned.  McDonald’s are bypassing local democracy and ignoring the will of local residents who were overwhelmingly against the plan.

Labour Councillors from Blakelaw Ward and Kenton Ward have organised a public meeting to hear from McDonald’s and to plan our campaign with local residents.  Please come along and support this important campaign for our local community.

For more information contact me using any of the details in the left column.

We must defend Trade Union rights

Trade UnionThe anti-trade union rhetoric of the Tory Party in recent weeks is deeply worrying for anyone like me who recognises and supports the essential role of trade unions in protecting the rights of workers.

Our country already has some of the most restrictive trade union laws in Europe forced on us during the despicable reign of Margaret Thatcher.  David Cameron’s plan to further restrict the rights of our public sector workers to strike should offend anyone who values the freedom of workers to fight for fair pay and fair conditions.

This Coalition Government have engaged in a sustained assault on the public sector since taking office in 2010 and they know that too many of the public services we all cherish are at breaking point.  Credit for keeping our public services running at all on unfair austerity budgets rests with our hardworking and dedicated public sector workers who are unwilling to give up on the vital public services that we all too often take for granted.  David Cameron knows that if his Tory Liberal Democrat Coalition continue to force swingeing cuts on local councils, the police, the fire service and the NHS then many of those services will be destroyed forever and privatisation will reign supreme.  That is Tory Utopia and David Cameron will stop at nothing to achieve it.  By restricting the rights of public sector workers to strike Mr Cameron is simply trying to make his mission to destroy the public sector less troublesome.

We cannot allow a government of elite millionaires to further weaken the rights of workers who ask for nothing more than a fair deal.  Please support our Trade Unions and the workers they represent by taking a few minutes to write a letter to David Cameron telling him what you think of his scheming plan.  Unity is strength.

Blakelaw North Fenham Star Path

Star PathSince I was first elected in 2012 local residents living in and around Kingsway and Queensway have told my ward colleagues and I that the footpath running from the bus stop on the Central Motorway on the approach to Cowgate Roundabout to Kingsway is too dark to use at night.

It’s a well used footpath so we explored installing street lights to solve the problem.  That proved to be too expensive (over £40,000 at least).  I set about researching potential solutions and came across Star Path (yes, it’s as cool as it sounds).

Star Path is the worlds first UV powered light
emitting footpath surface (in other words a path that glows in the dark).  The (perfectly safe) chemical surface interacts with UV rays to emit a glow during when its dark.  It’s a hard wearing durable surface

that will last for years and even if you don’t use the path it’s worth taking a trip to Blakelaw Ward to have a look (map below).  It’s amazing!!

Star Path Map

 

Call to Action: Hands Off Firefighter Pensions

On 5th November I took an emergency motion to the full meeting of Newcastle City Council supporting firefighters in England with their struggle to negotiate a fair deal with the Tory/LibDem Government over pension contributions and retirement age.

The motion was passed with unanimous support from Newcastle Labour Councillors, many of whom spoke in passionate defence of firefighters and the incredible work they do to keep us all safe.  Predictably, all of the Liberal Democrat Councillors in Newcastle abstained from the vote and a few of them made some pretty appalling comments during the debate.

You can watch the full debate (and the offending LibDem comments) here:

The Fire Brigades Union have been negotiating in good faith with the Coalition Government’s Fire Minister over pension contributions and retirement age.  The Coalition tabled a unacceptable plan at the start of negotiations proposing a huge increase in firefighter’s pension contributions and a rise in the normal retirement age of a firefighter from 55 to 60 – two months later, and despite indications to the contrary, the Coalition refused to compromise on their original plan.  In the face of such disingenuous negotiations on the part of the Coalition Government our firefighters were left with no choice but to strike.

On 17th November I took the Newcastle Labour motion to Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority (Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead, South Tyneside and North Tyneside) which again passed with the unanimous support of Labour Councillors and absensions from the Liberal Democrat and Tory Members.

The Fire Brigades Union are calling on Councils across England to adopt the Newcastle Labour Motion and I would urge any Councillors who read this blog to consider doing so.  The Newcastle Labour motion essentially calls on the Coalition Government to negotiate a fair deal with firefighters in England and asks Members of Parliament to support Labour’s Early Day Motion 454 to bring down the Coalition Government’s legislation which enshrines their attack on firefighters into law.

I am writing to all of the Councillors who Chair Fire and Rescue Authorities across England to urge them to adopt the Newcastle Labour Motion. If we can build a movement behind this then we can bring about the change that is needed to get a fair deal for our firefighters.

In February I am organising a Chinese Banquet in Newcastle to raise money for the Fire Brigades Union Firefighter Hardship Fund.  On average a firefighter lost £600 in wages over the four day strike and the fund supports firefighters in time of need.  If you would like to come to the dinner, sponsor a table or donate a prize for the raffle then please send me an email david.stockdale@newcastlelabour.org.uk

Unity is Strength.

 

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

 

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