Monday, February 06, 2023

My next talk

My next speaking engagement is on Wednesday at 1.30pm when I will be talking to the U3A at Sunniside Social Club. I will be talking about what history has taught me about self-sufficiency. So that means two of my passions in one go! I will be giving the same talk later this year to Sunniside History Society. The Powerpoint presentation is ready. I will give it one further rehearsal tonight.

An impromptu talk

Sunniside History Society met on Wednesday last week. We were expecting a talk on 17th century Newcastle but the speaker at the last moment was unable to get to the meeting.  Plan B was put into operation. It was a video of the Tanfield railway from Pontop Pike to the Dunston Staiths. As people had turned up to hear about the history of Newcastle, I also gave an impromptu talk about the Lort Burn, one of the lost rivers of Newcastle. I will be producing a history video about it later this year so my research on the river was incomplete. Nevertheless, I was able to talk without notes for about 20 minutes and then had quite a wide-ranging discussion about the Lort Burn and how it affected the development of central Newcastle.

Time running out to give your views

Time is running out for residents to have their say on Council plans to slash the budget for street cleaning and a host of other environmental services. The Labour run Council are proposing £970,000 in cuts to environmental services, including: 

  • less winter gritting
  • cuts in street cleaning
  • reductions in grass cutting
  • fewer staff to look after our parks
  • weed control will be cut in half
Meanwhile, some environmental services will end completely. These includes:
  • getting rid of staff who remove graffiti and the Council’s dog warden
  • ending the volunteer support service for parks.

The consultation ends on midnight on 9th February.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Waldorf and Statler of Gateshead Council


Now that I am retired from the role of Leader of the Opposition in Gateshead, I thought I would invite Labour Council Leader Martin Gannon to join me on the backbenches. I am reliably informed that he had quite a torrid time at Labour group last week, which was accompanied by lots of shouting and defeat for the plans to close leisure centres. Martin became Leader in 2016 after a palace coup that saw former Leader Mick Henry sent into the political desert. Martin led the rebellion against the proposed devolution plans back then, plans to which Mick had put his signature. Oddly enough, the 7 councils in the North East, including Gateshead, are backing new devolution plans which look like a clone of what Martin defeated back in 2016.

We are hearing murmurings of dissatisfaction from within Labour and suggestions that rivals are circling. Time to go Martin? Come and join me on the backbenches where we could both become grumpy old men heckling the front benches. We could be the Waldorf and Statler of Gateshead Council!

17th Century Newcastle


Sunniside History Society will be meeting at 7pm on Wednesday 1st February at Sunniside Club. Jo Bath will be talking about 17th Century Newcastle. Members £1, visitors £2. All welcome.

eFocus Whickham edition 179

 Just published tonight - edition 179 of eFocus for the Whickham area. Issues covered include the delayed decision on leisure centre closures, council budget, Metro service suspension and my retirement as Lib Dem group leader. You can read eFocus on this link.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Carbon copy?


Earlier this month, Gateshead Council's all-Labour cabinet debated the recently announced devolution proposals for the North East at a specially convened meeting. Actually, "debated" is probably too strong a word to use. Leader of the Council Martin Gannon said a few words and Cllr John McElroy asked a question about consultation. But all the other Cabinet members remained silent.

Seven years ago the North East looked set to go ahead with a devolution settlement.  The seven council leaders accepted it but before long, Gateshead was walking away. For a while, it looked as though Gateshead was going to be the hole in the North East devolution Polo mint. A palace coup by Labour saw the then Gateshead Leader Mick Henry leaving his post and his old rival Martin Gannon seizing the position for himself. The devolution settlement fell apart completely when the Labour run authorities in Sunderland, South Tyneside and Co Durham joined Gateshead is withdrawing from the agreement. Labour divisions and bitter infighting in the North East meant the region went to the back of the queue for devolution and whatever resources go with it. Meanwhile, North Tyneside, Newcastle and Northumberland went for a Mini-Me version of devolution and had the misfortune of seeing Jamie Driscoll elected as the first mayor.

Back to the recent cabinet meeting and I asked what the difference was between the 2016 and 2023 versions of devolution. In my view the current version is a near carbon copy of what was previously on offer. A rather rambling reply came from Martin Gannon who mentioned something about transport funding in 2019. I called it 7 wasted years, a point reported by the local media.

I caught the whole of the meeting on video. Judge for yourself whether what's on offer is what we were previously offered or is something new.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

London trip cancelled

I had planned to be in London today (Sunday), returning on Tuesday. The intention was to go to the Lib Dem History Group at the National Liberal Club on Monday and visit a few museums as well. Alas, the best laid plans have a tendency to crash and burn. My time is needed on the farm. We are planning to buy some new milking goats in February and we need to build a milking shed. None of our other goats are milking at the moment and in the autumn we converted our milking shed into a henhouse as avian flu restrictions require all poultry to be caged. The new milking goats are a bit unplanned but the need to build a new shed outbids the desire to get to London, sadly.

New at the Whinnies


The Whinnies Community Garden in Sunniside are building a new meeting room and I was given an exclusive view of it recently. It's not finished yet but it will be ready for the reopening of the garden in April. Community groups wanting to use the room can contact the Whinnies via their Facebook page.

Thursday, January 26, 2023


It was my last meeting as Leader of the Lib Dem group and Opposition in Gateshead today. Full council and my last duty was to move a Lib Dem motion on aiming to use surplus fruit from old orchards and people's gardens. The new Leader is Low Fell Councillor Ron Beadle. Taking over from Ron as Deputy Leader is Whickham North Councillor Chris Ord. I am of course remaining as Councillor subject of course to my constituents continuing to vote for me.

I'm not retiring as such. I gave up the leadership so that I can refocus on my farm, spend more time on ward issues and get more involved in local history. So, lots to do. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Don't keep us waiting!

There was an unusual incident at the last Gateshead Council cabinet meeting in December. Lib Dem Deputy Leader Ron Beadle put forward a proposal for council tenants to have more control over housing repairs. My experience of Labour in Gateshead is that they normally reject any ideas or proposals we put forward. This time however, Cabinet member for housing, and former special adviser to the Blair government, John Adams, welcomed Ron's proposal as a good idea worth exploring further. The Lib Dems are ready to return the compliment. All we need to do is wait for Cllr Adams to put forward a good idea himself. So come on John, don't keep us waiting!

Monday, January 09, 2023

That's me, over and out

Today I announced my retirement as Leader of the Liberal Democrat group and Leader of the Opposition on Gateshead Council. It will take effect from the end of the full council meeting on Thursday 26th January. The group will choose our new leader on Monday 23rd January. I have been leader for 8 years but following the deaths of my brother Andrew and my closest friend Richard, I have had to look afresh at where I am with my own life. Andrew was 59 when he died. Richard was only 49. I had been Richard's carer for many years. Both passed away at relatively young ages.

I was first elected to Gateshead Council 36 years ago and many plans I had for my life were shelved. While some of them have since been dusted down and put into operation - especially our self-sufficiency project - many of our projects either still sit on the shelf or are running at half speed. Andrew and Richard have shown me that time is running out for me to clear the shelf and get all the things I wanted done. So, I am retiring as group leader though I intend remaining as councillor for Whickham South and Sunniside until such time as my constituents don't want me any more.

Last year we added another 15 acres to our farm. It requires a great deal of work to make it productive. I also have numerous speaking engagements with local organisations about local history, and a long list of local history videos I am planning to produce. And of course, sometime this year I will be getting married. I may be retiring as Leader, but 2023 will still be a very busy year for me.