The three Labour Candidates for the Morpeth County Council Seats have fully backed the call by the Chamber of Trade and the wider community for Car Parking to be made free in the Town.
On their behalf, Debra Davies, the Labour Candidate for Morpeth Stobhill said:
“We have already said that if Labour wins at these Elections we will ensure that a Labour County Council delivers on this policy as quickly as possible. This is crucial for the economic future of the Town and we are the only Party that can get rid of these charges.
“The Lib Dems are in control of County Hall and they have already pledged that they will keep the Parking Charges as they are.
The Tories certainly won’t be able to form an administration on their current voting figures and low popularity.
In matter of fact the Tories have never had overall control of the County Council since it was re-organised in 1974, nearly 40 years ago.
Only Labour is able to get the majority that delivers this much needed result”.
Debra also backed the need to return the roundabout at the Telford Bridge:
“The three Lib Dems who currently represent Morpeth at County Hall have failed on this as well. The Lights should not have been put there in the first place and these three have abjectly failed to get the situation put right despite being in control.
The current set up is hazardous and strangling the Town at all times of the day.It is time for change.
Labour will return to common sense solutions and deal with the congestion and safety problems as soon as possible”.
Published on 18/04/2013 09:10
A political row has blown up over the cost of providing free residents’ parking ahead of the county council elections next month.
The Liberal Democrats have called on the Tories to ‘come clean’ over a potential budget shortfall of £4million if they stick to their pledge to not raise council tax.
But Coun Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland Conservatives, has accused council leader Jeff Reid of ‘scare tactics in a desperate attempt to shore up support for his failing Liberal Democrats’.
Coun Reid said: “The Conservatives cannot have it both ways. They cannot say they want to freeze council tax and offer £4 million-worth of ‘free’ parking without telling us how they’re going to pay for it.
“It looks suspiciously like they have not bothered to cost their so-called manifesto, which reads like it was written on the back of an envelope one night in Berwick’s Conservative Club.
“The only way the Conservatives can pay for this is by cutting services or hiking other charges - like the 60 per cent hike in meals on wheels the Conservatives in Cumbria have whacked vulnerable people with.
“Either way, they need to come clean about their plans and end this damaging uncertainty.”
But Coun Jackson has hit back, saying: “It is a shame that Coun Reid has had to resort to scare tactics in a desperate attempt to shore up support for his failing Liberal Democrats.
“If he had consulted his officers then he would have been told that he is grossly exaggerating these figures.
“As he well knows, the Conservative plans for free parking for residents has been appraised by the Council’s officers in a formal report which his own Liberal Democrats rejected.”
Referring to the costs of running empty and underused council buildings, he added: “To pay for all of this residents in Alnwick and the surrounding area are having to suffer the burden of car parking charges and this has to stop. “It is, in effect, double taxation on the rural areas of our county which is being used by the Liberal Democrats to shore up their vote in their electoral heartlands of Blyth and Wansbeck.
“I am appalled that the Liberal Democrats are so disconnected from the needs of local residents, from the needs of towns such as Alnwick and oblivious to the unfairness of this extra tax on rural people who have no choice but to use their local town.”
Coun Reid said the Lib Dems were responsible, adding: “If the Conservatives are serious then they need to be honest about what they’ll cut to pay for their promises.
Ken Stait and Charles Robinson with the parking posters in Morpeth.
Published on 18/04/2013 13:28
TRADERS across Northumberland are hitting the campaign trail to fight for free parking.
A new ‘Vote For Fairness’ election campaign has been launched by the Northumberland Market Towns Chamber of Trade, outlining the stance of the three main political parties on parking charges.
The initiative, which is backed by business groups in Morpeth, Berwick, Hexham and Alnwick, will see 5,000 flyers distributed and 500 posters put up in shops.
They state that the Conservatives have pledged to introduce free parking for county residents within 100 days if elected, Labour have backed free parking, but foresee obstacles with implementation and have no timescale, and the Liberal Democrats are against free parking countywide.
Currently charges are applied in the north and west towns, but parking is free in south-east Northumberland.
Morpeth Chamber Car Parking Sub-Committee Chairman Charles Robinson said: “This is a very important time for us, coming up to county council elections. The chamber of trade for Northumberland thinks it is essential that we put before the public where each party stands on car parking between now and May 2.
“The market towns have suffered the unfair system that has existed for four years now where the towns in the south east get free parking, while the towns in the north and west have to pay.
“What we don’t want is parking charges in south-east Northumberland. What we do want is a level playing field. What is good for south-east Northumberland would be good for the market towns.”
The action was approved by the Morpeth chamber on Monday, with 12 votes in favour, one against and three abstentions.
However, some members were concerned.
Greater Morpeth Development Trust Chief Executive David Lodge warned that the campaign does not take account of other party policies, such as funding for flood works.
He said: “I think you are encouraging people to vote Conservative. The chamber should be clear about what it is doing, because there are a lot more policies than car parking. I think there is a bigger picture here. I can understand why you are doing it to get the issue out there, but it could be seen as biased towards a political party.”
Member John Beynon, who is standing as a Conservative candidate, said the chamber had previously backed Independents when they supported free parking.
Geoff Proudlock added: “This is our one chance to have a big drive and make the point that we have fought for since I was Chairman 28 years ago. All we are doing is showing what the parties’ policies are.
“We have got to be slightly political because we need to be fighting for what we want and if some political group is going to help us then we don’t have a choice. Any political party can change its views and we would then support them.”
And Ken Stait said: “All we want to do is highlight the fact that certain parties have said they are going to provide free parking and we believe that is going to protect the jobs in the town centres.
“We can try to do it in a softer way, but at election time you have to hit people between the eyes and make them sit up and take notice because it is the one opportunity you have got in five years.”
Northumberland Conservative Group Leader Peter Jackson welcomed the campaign.
He said: “It is great to get the support for our long established Conservative plans to bring in free parking for residents. There is a chance during this election to make a decisive change to car parking charging in the market towns in Northumberland.”
Labour Group Leader Grant Davey said: “It’s welcome that the business community is backing free parking for their towns and it’s clear we have a great deal of common ground. If Labour forms an administration in May one of our first tasks will be to work with the respective town councils and chambers to deliver free parking in Berwick, Morpeth, Hexham and Alnwick if that’s what local communities want. We believe the decision should be taken at a local level, not in County Hall.”
Morpeth Liberal Democrat councillor Andrew Tebbutt said: “The position of the Liberal Democrat party is two fold. Firstly, free parking is not possible without seriously affecting the resources for other services, and secondly, charging in Blyth and Ashington would destroy those economies.”
ARGUABLY the most familiar face of Tynedale’s political scene, Bill Garrett, is stepping down as a town and county councillor after a 43 year career in local government.
Coun. Garrett, who has represented Prudhoe at all levels, has never lost an election and has long been seen as one of the district’s most respected and industrious politicians.
However, he said he wanted to enjoy a few months without commitments, before possibly taking on voluntary work and spending more time with his family, including wife, Lorna, who will also be giving up her town council seat after 37 years in politics.
“Now and then, you review your personal position and it’s the right time for me,” Coun. Garrett said.
“I’ve met some very nice people who are totally committed to their communities and some first-class council officers who are dedicated to doing their best.”
Coun. Garrett, whose father Ted was a Labour MP for Wallsend, was first elected as a Labour member for Prudhoe’s urban district council in 1970.
Four years later he became one of the founder members of Tynedale Council, with which he remained until its abolition, having a spell as leader for two years.
Since being elected to the unitary Northumberland County Council as an independent in 2008, Coun. Garrett has sat on numerous groups, including the west area planning committee, and been involved with a variety of significant local projects, such as the creation of the Manors extra care scheme in West Wylam and plans for the development of the old Prudhoe Hospital site.
“I’ve never really been political, as I found out early that if you’re entrenched in politics you’re not likely to achieve much,” Coun. Garrett said.
“When you work for the benefit of the community, you get more done.
“Prudhoe has made good progress and I’m proud and privileged the community has seen fit to elect me for so many years.
“It’s also been nice to have Lorna alongside me for so long, so I have to pay tribute to the support she and my family have given me.”
Coun. Garrett is not the only politician in Prudhoe to be stepping down at the Northumberland County Council elections next month – Coun. Neil Bradbury will likewise be vacating his seat.
For months, Coun. Bradbury’s political career has been the subject of speculation, after rumours – which he denies – that he has moved to Blaydon and cannot be contacted to electors.
The Lib Dem candidate for Prudhoe South will this time round be Darren Levitt, who was thrown off Prudhoe Town Council in 2011 after failing to attend a meeting in a year.
At the time, he cited changes in family life, illness and a job involving night shifts as the causes.
Mr Levitt will be up against Prudhoe’s town mayor and former deputy leader of the county council, Tony Reid (Lab), UKIP candidate Gerry Welton and 19-year-old Jade Scott for the Conservative party.
Elsewhere in Tynedale, both Coun. Ingrid Brook and Coun. Edward Heslop will be giving up their seats in the Hexham East and Humshaugh divisions respectively.
In Haltwhistle, meanwhile, Coun. Ian Hutchinson is hoping for re-election, despite being found guilty by Northumberland County Council’s standards committee of bullying his then-colleague, Anne Dale, who is contesting her Stocksfield and Broomhaugh seat as an independent.
In Ponteland North, Coun. Richard Dodd is in for an easy ride, as he is the only candidate standing for that division.
In Bywell, however, established councillor Paul Kelly’s competition will include environmentalist Andrew Haddon, who has been involved in everything from Wylam Green Street to helping small enterprises get off the ground.
“I’ve done a lot of things on a voluntary basis for a number of years and I think there’s a need for some different thinking in local politics,” he said.
UKIP is also hopeful some “different thinking” will pay off.
The party has candidates in Haltwhistle, Haydon and Hadrian, Hexham, Ponteland and Prudhoe.
Chairman of UKIP Tynedale, Melanie Hurst, said: “I think we’re all feeling confident.
“I’ve yet to meet anyone who isn’t interested in what we’re doing.”
Strike threat over Northumberland Council move to axe car allowances
by David Black, The Journal
Date 16 April 16, 2013
STRIKE action is being threatened at a North council over plans to axe cash allowances paid to employees who use their own cars for work.
Bosses at Northumberland County Council want to save money by doing away with the annual lump sum allowances – ranging from £850 to £1,200 – paid to hundreds of essential car users.
They also plan to reduce the mileage rate paid to the employees, such as social workers, planning officials, animal health inspectors, mobile caretakers, admin assistants and school support officers, who use their own cars to perform their duties.
Now members of the Unison and GMB unions have voted in a ballot to take industrial action in protest at the controversial proposals, which were first revealed more than a year ago.
The ballot revealed 70% support for strike action and 80% backing for action short of a strike – which could include staff withdrawing the use of their cars for work purposes.
The unions are now waiting for a response from council bosses before consulting members on when, and in what form, action should be taken.
It was revealed in January last year that the council wanted to save £700,000 by taking away the allowances and cutting mileage payments for about 750 employees. Unions say the number of staff affected by the proposal has fallen to between 400 and 500 now.
Mark Wilson, regional organiser with the GMB, said: “Our members have voted for industrial action, including strike action, so unless we can get round the table and resolve this, that is the likely outcome.
“We believe this is a cost-effective and sensible scheme to compensate people for using their own car for work purposes in such a large geographical area. Withdrawing the allowances is a major issue for our members.
“The council will save money by taking away the allowances and changing the mileage rate, but it won’t be any cheaper in the long run if they have to bring in lease cars and pay for bus passes.”
Ian Fleming, branch secretary for Unison, said: “Some of these staff, like animal health inspectors, are going up and down farm tracks using their own car. At the moment, council workers are not getting a pay increase, or are being made redundant, and slashing these car allowances is just another cut.”
Labour group leader Grant Davey said: “It seems this Liberal Democrat administration is keen to provoke industrial action, and is intent on preparing the ground for the privatisation of council services.”
A spokeswoman said the county council had reviewed its essential car user allowance scheme and decided, after consultation with trade unions and staff, that it should be withdrawn with effect from September 30, 2012.
“For those employees who had this as a contractual benefit, the council gave three years protection, so those employees will continue to receive the payment until autumn 2015,” she said.
“Trade unions have now balloted their members who were affected by the withdrawal of the scheme for strike action, although the council is not aware at the present time of what actual action is proposed. The council will, of course, make the necessary contingency plans to ensure services continue to be delivered.”
‘Alan Beith is out of touch with his residents as figures show the council actually loses money on its parking charges service’– Grant Davey
Labour today rounded on Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith as he became the latest high profile Liberal to defend the Liberal Democrat controlled County Council policy on parking charges. The charges see Berwick, Morpeth, Alnwick and Hexham singled out for parking charges which rake in an estimated £5m while other towns in the county see free parking.
Speaking on BBC political programme ‘The Sunday Politics’, the long serving MP defended parking charges but Labour are pointing out 35% of the population of Berwick signed a Labour petition calling for scrapping of parking charges to aid hard pressed businesses in the town. Over 3,000 people signed the petition and the local Chamber of Trade supported the campaign to support local traders in tough economic conditions.
Now Labour have accused Beith of ‘being out of touch and ignoring his residents’ and have called on him to clarify his statement where he said it would cost £4m to get rid of parking charges. They say the figure isn’t correct and overall, the council actually loses money by maintaining parking charges. It costs £5.2m to provide parking services in the county but revenue from charges and fines only account for £3m.
Labour group leader Grant Davey said
‘It’s clear Sir Alan is out of step with his constituents and this is just the latest problem to hit a council in crisis. We’ve had the leader of the council forced to apologise for calling his own town a ‘dump’, we’ve had a damning report on the failings of the food standards regime at County Hall which was covered up and now we’ve got a council which wants to continue to charge residents for parking even though they’re losing money on the service. To top it all, the council now refuses to recognise a petition signed by thousands of residents and is refusing to debate the issue’.
Fresh call for action over Northumberland car parks row
by David Black, The Journal 15 April 2013
Labour and market town traders call on Northumberland council to speed up response to parking charges petition.
TOWN hall chiefs have been accused of dragging their feet in response to a new call for car parking charges to be scrapped across Northumberland.
Several thousand people in Berwick, Morpeth and Alnwick are said to have signed petitions demanding a level playing field on parking fees across the county.
Traders in the market towns have joined forces with the county council’s Labour group on the petition – which is said to have been signed by more than 3,000 people in Berwick alone.
It was submitted to the council several weeks ago, and now Labour leaders and local traders are pressing the authority to make urgent progress and hold a special meeting to debate the issue.
For many years there has been anger and frustration that motorists are charged to park in the rural towns, while it remains free in towns such as Blyth, Ashington, Bedlington and Cramlington.
The opposition Conservative and Labour groups on the county council have both pledged to get rid of charges if they are in a position of power following May’s elections.
Labour says it will phase out fees in consultation with local town councils, while the Tories have promised free parking for all Northumberland residents.
Labour claims the council has yet to process the thousands of signatures on its parking petition, which closed at the end of February, or arrange a date for a meeting of the petitions committee.
Berwick chamber of trade chairman John Haswell, also a leading member of the new Northumberland Market Towns Chamber of Trade, said he is disappointed by the county council’s response to the call for free parking.
“More than 3,000 signatures were gathered in Berwick alone, from some very angry people. The residents have spoken clearly and signed up to the petition, which closed on February 27. Because of the council’s failure to fulfil its obligations and convene a meeting, residents of Berwick and the other market town are still being bled dry in parking charges. More than four weeks have passed and we've not heard anything from the council.”
A Labour group spokesman said: “Thousands of people have taken the trouble to sign up, which shows the strength of feeling against this policy.”
In February, business leaders in Morpeth submitted a 660-name petition, and more than 60 letters, to the county council calling for an end to parking charges.
No-one at the county council was available for comment yesterday. Lib Dem council leaders have claimed scrapping parking charges cannot be afforded in the current tough financial climate. Instead they have introduced a special shoppers’ permit, which allows residents to park free at certain times.
Budget cuts put food safety enforcement system at risk
by David Black, The Journal
Photo of Antia Romer
County Hall in Morpeth
UNION officials say they warned managers at a North East council that budget cuts were threatening the authority’s food safety monitoring and enforcement regime.
Unison claims it told bosses at Northumberland County Council about its serious concerns that spending reductions were being given a higher priority than ensuring food safety.
The unions says managers rejected the fears and insisted that the food hygiene inspection and enforcement service was being delivered safely.
Last week, The Journal revealed how an official audit by a national watchdog body uncovered a catalogue of failings in the way the council was handling food safety checks.
The Food Standards Agency found “significant concerns” about how the authority carries out hygiene enforcement in the near-4,000 food premises it is required to watch over.
FSA auditors called on the council to carry out a fundamental review of its service delivery – including taking a number of urgent actions – and to demonstrate how improvements could be made to improve public safety.
The findings of the critical audit, which was carried out in October last year, included concerns about a large backlog of food businesses which were overdue an inspection, inspections being carried out by unauthorised officers and inadequate record keeping.
Now Ian Fleming, Unison’s joint branch secretary at County Hall, says the union told managers that the service was creaking.
He said: “Unison members who work in public protection at Northumberland County Council warned management that the service was overburdened, and that their proposed model was unsustainable.
“Management rejected those arguments and asserted that they were confident the service could be delivered safely. This report comes as a shock to Unison, but is not a surprise.
“As council staff committed to delivering a safe and effective service, we have been deeply concerned about the way in which cuts have been prioritised above food safety, despite the protests and warnings from our members.
“We look forward to a constructive discussion with management.”
Yesterday, in a response to the union’s statement, a council spokeswoman said: “While acknowledging the pressures upon local authority budgets, the public protection service established the commercial team in 2011 to ensure greater focus on this priority area of work.
“A review of service delivery had been initiated prior to the (FSA) audit, arising from which measures were put in place to improve existing levels of performance, and the decision was taken to increase overall resources, both in the short and long term.”
Last week the council said it took immediate action, during the course of the FSA audit visit, to address any urgent areas of concern.
It had also developed, and was implementing, an action plan to ensure long-term, full compliance with the FSA Food Law Enforcement Standard.
The audit revealed there were about 600 lower-risk businesses in Northumberland which required assessment and intervention to make sure they continued to comply with the law. In addition, there were more than 700 registered food businesses that had yet to receive an intervention from the authority – contrary to the Food Law code of practice.
Auditors found that inadequate food establishment and intervention records were being kept throughout all enforcement activities, and those that were available were frequently incomplete.
ONE of the unexpected consequences of the establishment of a unitary authority in Northumberland in 2009 was the row that blew up over car parking. When different councils charged different rates for parking it seemed – if not entirely fair – then at least tolerable. But now the same council charges drivers to park in Berwick, Morpeth and Alnwick while it lets motorists in Blyth, Ashington, Bedlington and Cramlington park for free. This is clearly a tricky issue for the Liberal Democrat-led administration at County Hall. Rival parties have not made it any easier by promising to get rid of charges if they are in aposition of power following May’s elections. Petitions containing thousands of names have been handed in to the council demanding a special meeting to debate the issue. It may be that the current administration feels it really can’t do anything more than it already has. But simply sitting on the petitions is not an adequate or acceptable response by the council.
FSA raises concerns over Northumberland Council's hygiene enforcement regime
12 Apr 2013 10:41 Evening Chronicle Dave Black
Food safety watchdogs have demanded improvements in the way Northumberland County Council makes sure food premises comply with the law
Food safety watchdogs have demanded improvements in the way a council makes sure food premises comply with the law.
The Food Standards Agency uncovered “significant concerns” about how Northumberland County Council carries out hygiene enforcement in almost 4,000 food businesses.
FSA auditors called on the council to carry out a fundamental review of its services – including taking a number of urgent actions – and show how improvements could be made to ensure public safety.
The findings of the critical audit – which was carried out in October last year – included concerns about a large backlog of food businesses which were overdue inspection, inspections being carried out by unauthorised officers and poor record keeping.
They have raised questions about performance at a time when public concerns over food safety have been heightened by the horse meat crisis.
The FSA audit revealed there were about 600 lower-risk businesses in Northumberland which required assessment and intervention to make sure they continued to comply with the law. In addition, there were more than 700 registered food businesses that had yet to receive an intervention from the authority – contrary to the Food Law code of practice. Auditors were told that about 600 premises inspection records and registration details had been “lost” during the formation of the unitary authority for technical reasons, although the council later said these files had been successfully retrieved.
They found that inadequate food establishment and intervention records were being kept throughout all enforcement activities, and those that were available were frequently incomplete.
Urgent actions required following the audit included confirmation that two businesses had stopped using equipment for both raw and ready-to-eat food, and a re-assessment exercise of all overdue and unrated businesses to make sure they were not affected by the FSA’s latest guidance on e.coli.
The FSA report says: “The authority fully co-operated with the agency, taking appropriate follow-up action as required.”
A council spokeswoman said: “In response to the findings, the council took immediate action, during the course of the audit visit, to address any urgent areas of concern. To ensure long-term, full compliance with the FSA Food Law Enforcement Standard we have developed, and are currently implementing, an action plan, details of which have been supplied to the Agency and are set out within the report.”
Councillor Scott Dickinson at the bus stop next to the shops in Hadston.
Northumberland Gazette Published on 14/04/2013 06:00
Community pressure which has been piled onto Arriva following the axing of a vital service may pay off, after the company agreed to look at what could be done to possibly resolve the issue.
Anger was sparked in February when the 20/X20 service was withdrawn from Hadston Square and Amble Links, with objectors saying it left vulnerable residents isolated.
On Monday night, East Chevington Parish Council chairman Scott Dickinson presented a petition signed by more than 180 people in four days to Arriva North East’s Paul De Santis. Coun Dickinson called for the bus to be reinstated in Hadston or, at the very least, to serve the community at peak times.
Mr De Santis said the company would look at the issue.
“We will undertake time trials of the route and see how it is performing with a view of seeing what can be done. I can’t promise more than that,” he said.
Mr De Santis conceded that the time it had taken for the bus to divert to Hadston Square had been a matter of minutes, but was slightly longer at Amble Links.
He added: “We can look at the times and see if there is any possibility of putting a service back into Hadston. There is possibly more scope to put it back in Hadston because it doesn’t take so long.”