Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Northumberland Tories Attacking Conservatives in rural areas

With the release last week, of the House of Lords select committee almost 1000 page report on how this Government, a Government that extols themselves as Conservative are damaging rural communities.

After reading the report, particularly the items submitted as evidence by the Churches, our editorial team discussed the links between this damaging for the Tories in Parliament report and the Tories here in Northumberland.

The problem with discussing maters that include Tories is that through the right-wing press Tories have been able to hide as being ‘another name for Conservatives’ In reality they are not.

A ‘Tory’ holds a specific political ideology who’s creed supports the supremacy of social order, money and the collapse of views contrary to their own by whatever means necessary

A Conservative on the other hand is one who believes in traditionalism and is usually a supporter of the maintenance of the structure of community and community life.

So you must ask yourself how can that relate to Northumberland?

Well unfortunately through the development of Toryism in Parliament very few Conservatives hold positions of power in the regional party political structure. That change of circumstance has manifested itself very successfully through the almost complete destruction of the Rural Liberals.

The policy package of the Tory mantra is being forced onto Conservatives in Northumberland in order that the forthcoming boundary changes, with the County moving from four MP’s to three are contested by Tories and that they must teach the Conservatives in their heartland of the Tyne Valley that they mean business and won’t be stopped by them.

The Tory decision at County Hall to remove the ‘Core Strategy, local plan’ from inspection by Government affects the Rural West and North massively. The urban south east and rural coalfield face a disproportionate new housing sprawl which will place massive strain on already stretched services. The Tories hid advice given by experts and their own Government from the Conservatives within their Group in Council in order to hold the key to where and how very few houses will be built in our towns and villages in the West and North. This will starve rural communities into submission. It ensures the few that will be developed will be large, expensive and possibly filled by Tories, not small ‘c’ conservatives or working families that might have an opposing view.

To ensure they put their ‘Tory’ stamp on anyone who opposes them, staff who were critical of their plans are now disappearing out of the system at County Hall to be replaced in many cases by those who were welded in at Castle Morpeth Borough Council.

The next County Hall Tory decision completely opposed by the Church, the Labour Party and the Conservatives, is to ensure they attack the most settled conservatives by causing mayhem in the schools structure in the West of Northumberland.  The 16 schools under threat are vital to their rural communities. Schools like Whittonstall are definitely key to the future of the village and the community, yet the Tories are desperate to close off the future.

This puts the local MP for the West completely on the back foot, he’s a conservative with a capital ‘C’, he and his mainly conservative constituency is being challenged by the Tory chap, Wayne Daley the little known right-winger from Cramlington, a town that will be the largest in the new West Northumberland Constituency after the boundary changes take effect.

Conservative villages and Labour supporters from working backgrounds feel they are being ignored in the rush for domination by the Tories and that the heart of their villages are being torn out by the threatened closure of rural schools.

These are ‘Tory decisions’ made at County Hall, Morpeth, that will be forced through to develop further their need for control of the populous in case a Conservative creeps through and stands as their new MP.

 For Editors:

The Report


 

 

 

 

Monday, 2 April 2018

Public Information Starvation from Northumberland County Council

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 changed the way public bodies have to deal with requests from members of the public. It allows people to submit a request to locate and be issued with written information that used to be given on the ‘need to know’ basis only. It has revolutionised the truthfulness most public bodies place in their reports and the vetting of that information if its issued at public meetings. It is the public’s way of scrutinising those who are meant to serve us and look after our interests.

Who can submit a request under the act:


everybody has a right to access official information. Disclosure of information should be the default – in other words, information should be kept private only when there is a good reason and it is permitted by the Act;

an applicant (requester) does not need to give you a reason for wanting the information. On the contrary, you must justify refusing them information;

Public Bodies must treat all requests for information equally, except under some circumstances relating to vexatious requests and personal data and one other as stated below:

If applied correctly by Council’s, Health Trusts and other organisations covered by the scheme the only information not allowed to be issued is under the cover of Section 41 of the Act, from March 2018 it covers Information provided in confidence, making some information exempt from public view


(1)if—

(a)it was obtained by the public authority from any other person (including another public authority), and

(b)the disclosure of the information to the public (otherwise than under this Act) by the public authority holding it would constitute a breach of confidence actionable by that or any other person.

(2)The duty to confirm or deny does not arise if, or to the extent that, the confirmation or denial that would have to be given to comply with section 1(1)(a) would (apart from this Act) constitute an actionable breach of confidence.

Although the legislation is in slight Government speak it illustrates that we the general public can obtain most information unless its your personal data and you have given it in confidence to the organisation in question.

The question of course is the Act applied universally or are some organisations making much more of the section 41 rules than necessary?

Many people use the Government public freedom of information site ‘What do they know’ to put questions to their Council about this and that. We have noticed that a good number of requests are simply sitting in the cold bath whilst people await the answers to the questions ‘They Need to Know’ a complete reversal of the former attitude of public bodies. 

Our Local Council, Northumberland County Council seems to be lagging well behind other Councils regionally when it comes to answering some of the most basic questions which have been the interest of people through changes in the way their Council is now run.

Here’s the link to what do they know, Northumberland County Council and you will be able to see for yourself how information that you feel can help you make up your mind about how your Council Tax is spent is being hidden from public view.


 

C Enough, Opinion

 

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Ever More Pain for Parish Councils Home Truths for Neighbourhood Plans

Last week the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government the Rt Hon. Sajid Javid, wrote a letter to Northumberland County Council regarding the need to accelerate production of the Councils Local Plan and Core Strategy, which was removed from inspection by Government Planning Experts in June 2017 by Northumberland Conservatives.

His prime concern wasn’t the delay, which may lead the Council towards picking up ever more planning appeals it was ‘the potential impact on Parish and Town Councils who have spent public money formulating Neighbourhood Plans’.

Planning under the Localism Act 2011 allowed Parish and Town Councils to make a number of assumptions on what they and the public who live within the bounds of any plan think their area should look like well into the future. Those plans are costly to produce and when coupled with a Major Core Strategy and Local Plan can protect areas from overdevelopment and poor housing.

In Northumberland those plans were settled using the emerging core strategy as a guide and as that core strategy was uniting all of the former District Council plans pre-2008 into one giant planning jigsaw both it and Neighbourhood Plans carried massive weight when developers wanted to work outside the locked together plans.

Since July 2017 and the removal of the core strategy by the current administration at County Hall several issues have arisen that show why Sajid Javid is so concerned. He’s obviously worried that the weight of neighbourhood plans championed by his Government Department have now been so badly diminished in Northumberland that developers can run amuck and challenge whenever and wherever they feel fit.

The recent complaints in the press from Cramlington Town Council who are crying ‘foul’ over a 500+ planning application which breaches their Neighbourhood Plan is testament to the weakness the withdrawal decision has placed onto the promises given by Town and Parish Councils to their electorate.

It also appears that FOI’s from Northumberland County Council show that when the Conservative led administration voted to remove the core strategy they did so without being issued the full information on the medium term effects of operating without a plan to work on or how easily the submitted plan could be altered to suit varying needs.

Since the revelations via an FOI have come to light, the whisper from Town and Parish Councils has turned into a crescendo, they are asking about the possible costs of resubmission to align with the new core strategy and local plan in 2020 and those Councils thinking about bringing in very expensive planning consultants to drive forward with a plan are loudly wanting to know how they will be affected if their budgetary targets or reserve spending earmarked for such a process has to put on hold for at least the next two years.

This withheld advice now places the process of withdrawing the key planning document in serious doubt.

If your a councillor who voted in good faith along with the Conservative leadership were you aware of the following details;

·         The cost of developing the plan up to that point

·         The cost of developing a new plan

·         The timescale of developing the plan being in excess of two years

·         That the Minister had offered a visit to discuss prior to withdrawal which never went ahead

·         That the proposals of the conservative group could lead to

a significant loss of jobs and a substantial decline in the working age population 
in
 the County and a marked increase in the numbers of older age people

is likely to result in economic decline and may impact upon the sustainability of settlements and maintenance of services across the County”

And

“would not meet the Government’s agenda to support sustainable economic growth and boost the supply of housing and it is unlikely that such a strategy would be found sound and pass examination”



C Enough is Enough.

Notes to editors:


 
Open all attachments to harvest the information.

It shows that before the Leader of Council spoke on his motion he was aware of this information and did not issue it out to other members. Independent Councillors voted with the administration on this matter.


This illustrates the Conservative wish to reduce housing numbers and plan to shrink the economy of the Council. Their opposition against their own Governments GardenVillage project at Dissington is well starred in this briefing.

Advice issued on 4th June

 


 

This briefing should have been issued to members and was held back along with the information that the Government had asked that the plan was not removed until a Minister had been up to discuss matters with the administration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

ARCH STATEMENT The leader of Northumberland County Council CC Peter Jackson was on the Board of Arch along with CC Jeff Reid Lib Dem during this period

Arch the Northumberland Development Company was set up in 2011 from the remnants of the localised regen. company Wansbeck Life. It has grown steadily, especially under the last Labour administration into a company of regional standing and was tasked to bring jobs and business to he area in order to help the County and sub-regional economy.

This methodology caused unknown angst among Conservatives across the County who believed ARCH was in competition with the private sector. The reality was ARCH handled projects that the private sector would shy away from and developed them until the private sector felt able to expose its venture capital in the North East.

Northumberland Conservatives convinced themselves that conspirators against their donors hid amongst the shadows of the company ready to pounce if the word 'Private Sector' was mentioned. They couldn't be further from the truth.

Since May 2017 we have seen audit after audit take place, a private investigator and various friends of the Tory party being shoehorned in to ensure the smears and innuendo kept pouring out of its Lintonville doors. The value of the work is presumed to be in excess of £300,000 to locate a spend of £73,000 over four years to bring business and jobs to our region.

Spending money on visiting jobs fairs, entertaining clients, promoting and lobbying those who can help is valuable business procedure and well defined by the private sector.

Councillor Grant Davey said: “ 

As a former member of ARCH along with Councillor Peter Jackson and Councillor Jeff Reid who sat on the audit panel for ARCH, it's come as a surprise to see this emergency item spun in such a damaging way. It's surprising that these latest revelations have come after the council's internal audit function in partnership with North Tyneside Council, the Company Secretary, nor either of the two nationally renowned external audit companies brought these matters as a reputational risk to the door of the company's audit committee”.

Residents should also consider this report against the backdrop of the Conservative actions to undermine a company worth over £390m which its prime role was to grow the economy of Northumberland in a highly competitive environment by attracting inward investment and is tasked by its shareholder to do just that which is now being dismantled and degraded as part of a hugely costly publicly funded vendetta which is damaging to the county and regional economy. It's clear that there is an appetite for a transparent investigation into actions since the 4 May 2017 and it could start by releasing the costs which we believe to be over £300,000 to identify issues which were seemingly missed by the auditors earlier".


Notes 

·  Cost of various audit investigations of Arch so far - £368,000 allegedly

·  Chair of Audit Committee is conflicted and has leaked confidential personal documents. 

·  Labour have not seen any aspect of the investigation apart from what has been read in newspapers

·  The police have not taken a decision whether they will investigate the Arch allegations whatever they may be yet the council continue to potentially compromise that investigation by releasing information. The report doesn't name individuals but the Chair of Audit asked for them to be named in the meeting. 


Monday, 26 March 2018

A Return to Pre-Labour Decision Making Has Brought Shame

Following being named and shamed by the Conservative Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, for not having a County-wide Local Plan in place, along with 15 other Councils, most of them also Conservative, a number of threats were hurled at  Councils to improve or have the Government intervene and remove the planning process from their hands. Northumberland County UA, was one of those Councils.

Of course, with Northumberland being a Conservative target win at the May 2017 Local Government elections, and following the immediate removal of the Council's Core strategy planning document from inspection by Government, the Secretary of State has backed off a little and given them Intervention by another name. The Council must now have their core strategy guided by the Conservative led Local Government Associations Planning Advisory Service (PAS) and Sajid Javid’s threat to all 16 named Councils has not been carried out.

The very expensive PAS has been to Northumberland previously; Labour had the external auditor Deloitte look at planning in 2013 and 2014 following five years where targets were never met and the Council was shamed as it fell to the fourth last spot in the Planning League tables.

PAS gave a good deal of advice and Deloitte’s produced a comparison report in 2015, illustrating the huge improvements in both the Service and the attitude of Councillors towards declarations of interest and decision making, particularly those landowners and developers who sat on the Local Development Framework working group.

The comparison report showed the number of planning applications that made it through the process was as low as 40% in some areas and far too many applications were being forced into the committee process. Following Labour's acceptance of the reports, and the changes made to the planning process, that figure grew to over 70% of applications being dealt with at the first attempt.

Through the advice from PAS, the core strategy itself was suddenly growing and moving forward in line with Government changes and increased housing numbers. It led to the LDF Working Group and its officers working ever closer with Government. Northumberland Conservatives Leader, Peter Jackson then decided to back his team out of the working group and the local plan process, leaving the west of the County with a very low input into the production of the Councils main strategic document. From being the largest Group of Councillors delivering the new core strategy they shrank back to having no interest in it at all.

Since May 2017 we have seen the Northumberland planning regime beset by uncertainty. The Conservatives have returned to their former ways, hoodwinking the Council, through the retention of key information at their July meeting, where Councillors voted on the removal of the Core Strategy from inspection without receiving the knowledge that sat in the hands of the administration and its leadership. This, another shameful act and was only discovered and publicised by Ian Lavery MP though the Freedom of Information process.

The Secretary of State’s new decision, to have an outside body resolve and report back on the production of a new Core Strategy, is still shameful and unnecessary whatever spin the Conservative Administration wish to put on it. Questions need to be put before the ruling Conservatives and the whole Council needs to know, will the Administration back out of the North of Tyne deal once they find out that they must improve the release of their Declarations of Interest in line with the Law? And will they actually stop voting on matters that will bring further shame on the Council? Elected Landowners, Developers, Estate Agents, Land Agents and Speculators need to walk away from any interference in the planning process, and Government need to remain strong and ensure Northumberland plays its part in delivering housing growth in line with its wishes.

 

 

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Conservative cuts and austerity actions are beginning to affect everyone’s lives across the County of Northumberland.

Since May 2017 noticeable changes to both the level of the street cleansing workforce and the political acceptance by the Conservative administration of lower standards has brought about changes in areas never seen in Northumberland over the last four years.


Labours mantra of ‘making good places even better’ has been replaced with ‘let’s show-em what they’ve missed without austerity’ cry from Glen Sanderson and his political team.

Many people have noticed the continued removal of lay-by litter bins for example, leading to litter from road users blown on the vortex from lorries and cars being spread far and wide along our trunk road network. Tourist comments are growing from a whisper into a high C crescendo as our second largest industry becomes exposed to the early dawn of unessesary cuts.

The spring tourist season starts in just over a weeks time therefore the opportunity to reverse the damage already done by cheapening the service through the removal of litter containers from our highways won’t be resolved without a complete change of attitude from dogma to ‘making good places even better.


C Enough

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Labour calls on all in Berwick to work together to improve education in the town

With Ofsted due to report this week and having recently seen the head teacher leave her post at Berwick Academy, local Labour activists have called on all parties to come together to put education on the right footing in Berwick

Whilst nationally academies have been heralded as the cure all for schools needing improvement, Berwick Academy has been stuck in the “requires improvement” category since 2013. Council maintained schools in the same situation would face government intervention and themselves be academised.
A Berwick Branch Labour Party spokesperson said;

“Academisation has failed here in Berwick. Children are being let down and local people have no real say in the direction of the school, with no involvement from the council”
Across the county school funding has been slashed and the website www.schoolcuts.org.uk shows Berwick Academy and the other schools in the town are set to lose yet more by 2021. The situation is clearly untenable.

Labour nationally has pledged, if elected, to make sure schools are properly funded, that buildings are invested in, to drive up standards, to make sure schools are democratically accountable and to make education more inclusive.

A Labour Group spokesperson said;
“The situation in Berwick highlights a failure of the academy system pursued so dogmatically by central government and supported by senior Conservative politicians in Northumberland. The local County Councillor has been very vocal about the problems but again shows her propensity to burn bridges when building them is required.

A Labour Council under a Labour government would work to improve the quality of education learning from examples of best practice, such as Labour’s London Challenge, to encourage co-operation and strong leadership across schools.”