Friday, March 27, 2015

Whickham eFocus no. 94

The latest edition of eFocus for the Whickham area (number 94) has just been published and can be viewed on this link.

Freedom of the borough for cultural leaders

I had to be at the Sage yesterday morning to give a speech supporting the granting of the freedom of Gateshead to two people and an orchestra. It meant an earlier than usual feeding time for the livestock but the ceremony went well. Those being made freemen were Anthony Sargent, former director of the Sage through its early years, Lord (David) Puttnam, former film director and now leading figure in the North East's cultural renaissance, and the Royal Northern Sinfonia, represented by Bradley Creswick.

This was my first ceremonial event as Leader of the Opposition in Gateshead and thankfully, I made no gaffes or mistakes. I even had 5 Labour councillor and a Labour peer congratulate me on my speech! Inevitably, I had to get some photos to share with you:

Me and David Puttnam.

Me and Bradley Creswick.

Me and Anthony Sargent.

Our plans for Marley Hill

Marley Hill Community Centre, of which I am a trustee and member of the management committee, has a large amount of unused land on two sides of it. My plan is to turn it into a community garden and allotments. We have used some of the Local Community Fund, a small fund which councillors can use to support community activities, to draw up a feasibility study. There will be public consultation in the months ahead. There are restrictions on what we can do on the land as it is in greenbelt but we are working with the planners on this.

I took these photos on Tuesday after a meeting of the Marley Hill management committee where I explained to members where we are with the plans. There is still a long way to go but the wheels are starting to turn.

Envelope stuffing

Hooray! Over 3000 letters stuffed into envelopes recently and last night they were all bundled together in their delivery patches. They are all for my ward and delivery will take place in the next day or so. We are writing to a variety of people so the different letters had to be integrated together.

Visiting Dunston Staiths

On Tuesday, there was a ceremony to mark the opening of the Dunston Staiths after the completion of restoration work. I missed the speeches as I had to be at another meeting, but when I arrived, I managed to snap a few pictures, some of which I have included here. The Staiths are the biggest wooden structure in Europe though, sadly, it was damaged a few years ago by arsonists. Nevertheless, it's worth a visit.

Councillor Eagle's budget speech

Gateshead Labour Councillor John Eagle is a regular reader of this blog. Hardly a meeting goes by with his making a reference to it. He has supported some rather distasteful views in the past, backing a Facebook site that advocated the violent murder of Margaret Thatcher. I've put the whole of his speech that he made at last month's budget meeting onto YouTube. In it he employed a rather vile description of me. I'll leave it to readers to make their own judgement about this person.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

My council tax speech to Gateshead Council

This is the video of my speech to Gateshead Council budget meeting on 26th February. I was still deputy leader then but was also leader elect. The election to replace Frank Hindle had taken place three days earlier. However, only we knew that! The leadership announcement was made the next day.

Gateshead decided to go for a 1.95% rise in council tax. We argued that there should be a freeze which would allow the council to claim a £900,000 grant from the government. A rise of 1.95% would bring in £1.4 million but lose the £900,000 grant. The net effect was to raise £500,000 and to reduce further the national taxes paid towards the cost of Gateshead's services.

Furthermore, over the past 2 years, Gateshead has spent an accumulated £5 million less than was agreed in the council budgets. £5 million more raised from council taxpayers than was needed. The money has been accumulated in reserves that now stand at £16 million. This rather goes against the grain of Labour's fake anger about the cuts. They set a budget which they claimed had too many cuts and then managed to spend less than the amount they already claimed was too low. And their crocodile tears shed over the loss of government grant shows just what a bunch of hypocrites they are. They were offered money and they turned it down. I bet that won't be appearing in their election leaflets.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Coming up this week

I am hurtling towards yet another busy week. As well as lots of election activities (I won't elaborate on them as I'm not going to give all those Labour gremlins who read my blog an advanced look at our plans, though we do have lots of letters to deliver in my ward), I have group on Monday (my second as leader), cabinet, Dunston Staiths renovation event and Marley Hill Community Centre management committee on Tuesday, scrutiny committee on Wednesday to look at landfill issues, a freeman ceremony, a primary school visit to the Civic Centre and full council on Thursday and a visit to Global News on Friday. Meanwhile, on Saturday, I will be helping to run the community pub at Marley Hill Community Centre.

Those being granted freeman of Gateshead on Thursday are David Putnam (film producer), Anthony Sargent (former director of the Sage Art Gallery) and the Royal Northern Sinfonia. Gone have the days when I could turn up at these events and relax whilst others did the hard work. As Leader of the Opposition, I am giving a speech welcoming the honours. If anyone has any good lines I can include, please get in touch!

Gone with the wind

I headed to Blaydon on Saturday morning to meet up with Cllr Christine McHatton and Mark Groves from the local action group that tackles the on-going issue of the problem of landfill sites in the area. There has been a huge amount of windblown rubbish flying around local communities recently and people are quite rightly fed up with the problem. We had a look at 2 sites - Path Head and Blaydon Quarry.

On Gateshead Council we will shortly be having a scrutiny committee meeting with the Environment Agency to discuss the landfill issues. With more and more rubbish being diverted into recycling streams or converted to electricity, the question has to be asked, isn't it time to phase out landfill completely?

Lib Dems in Blaydon constituency have been fighting landfill for over 20 years. I remember helping Ione Rippeth, who retired 3 years ago as councillor for Ryton, to campaign against landfill back in the early 1990s. We simply cannot keep dumping waste into holes in the ground. We have to look at ways of converting waste into something useful. We can each play a role in reducing waste as well. We have successfully cut our waste to a low level in my house. Our general waste wheelie bin is put out for collection only once every one to two months. Our recycling wheelie bin is put out for collection once a month at most. We have decided not to take part in the garden waste collection scheme because all our garden waste will be composted. If we each do our bit, we can cut down on the damage we each do to the environment.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A delivery without me

A delivery with which I couldn't help. We had a team out in Dunston Hill this afternoon, led by Kevin McClurey. They were delivering a letter about Labour's decision to raise council tax in Gateshead. I was at home, dealing with print deadlines. Kevin helpfully sent me this photo of himself near the bottom of Dunston Bank. No doubt I'll have him more leaflets to delivery shortly.

Stuffed on a Friday night

What would you normally be doing on a Friday night? Sitting at home relaxing? Out with friends? Alas for us, we had 2000 envelopes to stuff.  A group of us invaded the conservatory at Cllr John McClurey's house tonight to get the letters into envelopes. And we have another 1000 to do on Monday, when we have finished printing them.

The letters are from me and are for constituents in my own ward of Whickham South and Sunniside. We are writing to a variety of people about a variety of issues. We then have to deliver them. It's so much easier sending them by email. Alas, in my ward, we only have 900 email addresses. I could do with having a few thousand more.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The eclipse viewed from Sunniside

Here are a few photos I took of the eclipse this morning in Sunniside from my front garden and from Laburnum Grove.

The last photo didn't manage to catch the eclipse but it shows how the crows took to the air when the eclipse was happening.

A few recent photos from the campaign trail

Out and about in the constituency recently on the campaign trail. Above - over the A1 near the Coalhouse Roundabout to see the work on upgrading the A1. The Coalition are investing over £60 million in the improvement.

Outside the new Morrisons store in Blaydon. The council can claim some of the credit for the regeneration but at the end of the day, companies such as Morrisons will only invest in new stores if they are confident the economy is growing. And at the moment, the UK under the coalition has the fastest growing economy in the western world.

On the Team Valley - the Trading Estate is just outside of Blaydon constituency but is one of the great success stories, employing thousands of local people.

Outside my former school, Whickham. It was announced recently by Nick Clegg that the school is in the second wave of the school rebuilding programme.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Visiting Kibblesworth and Lamesley

Following on from my visit to Birtley last Friday, I returned again to the south of the constituency today. This time it was to visit Kibblesworth and Lamesley. The main reason for the trip was to get some photos for our forthcoming Birtley eFocus but also to chat to a few people as well.

While passing Lamesley Church, I called in to check on my grandfather and great grandfather's grave. They are both buried in the same plot, at the top northern corner. Having looked at press cuttings some years ago of my great grandfather Henry's funeral in 1901, I discovered that his was the first grave in what was then a new extension of the graveyard.

My grandfather John died in 1960 but at the time no inscription was made on the gravestone. Since then, the base of the gravestone had broken and the stone itself had fallen over. I had it turned over in 2002 so that the inscription face was showing and had added John's inscription.


Democracy Club has been in touch. I think it is run by the people who operate They have set up a site for candidate CVs so I've posted mine up. You can view it on this link. Sadly I am the only one of the 5 candidates in Blaydon so far to post up my CV. So come on Dave, Ali, Paul and Mark, get your stuff up there and let everyone in the constituency know what makes you tick.

Spot the animals at conference

There were various animals sighted at the Lib Dem Conference over the weekend. Here are some that I snapped on camera. Above - dog for the blind. Very cute.

Not very aerodynamic parrots - still alive and kicking.

Teddies - very cuddly.

Reptile - best avoided.

Goldfish at the Spice Island restaurant in Albert Dock. Not available with chips.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tabloid out in Whickham South

Progress continues with the delivery of our tabloid. As of Saturday, when I had escaped to conference, most of the remaining patches in the Whickham part of my ward, had been delivered. A team came in to finish off those areas where we don't already have a regular deliverer. I understand one patch is left to do. This is a much cheaper way to deliver leaflets than that employed by Labour. They have privatised leaflet delivery by buying in the service.

A few photos from Liverpool Conference

The Liberal Democrats'spring conference was held over the weekend and for the first time in two years I was attending for the whole of it. I did have an editorial meeting of Parliamentary Campaigner to attend and photos to take for candidates to use in their literature but I wasn't running photo ops. That activity has now been passed on to others and instead, I was one of the people having my photo taken  as above with Vince Cable.

So here are a few of the photos I've taken.