Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Back to printing Focuses

It may be June but the task of producing and printing Focuses and surveys goes on. I was in the office last week to print the Focus which is currently going out in Whickham as well as the survey that is being delivered in Lobley Hill. Delivery of both should be finished soon.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Great Exhibition of the North launch - photos

Great North Exhibition Summer 2018

The Great Exhibition of the North was launched on Friday evening. I attended the launch event. A brilliant summer evening with a lovely sunset over Tyneside, what a great backdrop to the concert, fireworks and drone display. My video of the event will be ready shortly but you can view a few of my photos on the above link.

Action Day in Dunston Hill and Whickham East and an incursion in Lobley Hill

Lib Dem action day DHWE June 18

Gateshead Lib Dems had an action day in Dunston Hill and Whickham East ward yesterday. The aim was to deliver our local Focus. As a back up in case we completed that job was to make an incursion into Labour held Lobley Hill and Bensham ward to deliver a survey form. Job done on the Focus delivery though some members took patches for delivery over the next couple of days. So we managed to get a few hundred surveys delivered in Lobley Hill. We have about 700 left to do which will go out over the next few days.

It was good to see new members helping as well as established ones (such as our "delivery machine" of Paul Gibson, Robin Stanaway and Ian Patterson).

Lib Dem Lobley Hill survey June 18

Pictured above: Nick Smeaton from Bensham, Peter Maughan, Lib Dem candidate for Gateshead and Cllr Kevin McClurey who joined me for an incursion into Labour held Lobley Hill. Sadly I wasn't in the photo as I had to operate the camera!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Church Green looking fantastic

Church Green Whickham flower beds June 18 (3)

When I was in Whickham on Wednesday, I took the opportunity to look at the flowerbeds we planted up recently. They are looking great! An excellent job by the volunteers of Planting Up Whickham. I was pleased to play my part.

If you are in Whickham soon, take a look.

Church Green Whickham flower beds June 18 (4)

Church Green Whickham flower beds June 18 (5)

Flying high with Brexit (not)

Airbus is one of our most important high tech businesses and is a great example of how international cooperation leads to prosperity back home. As a medium size nation, we do not have the resources or capacity to have a UK-only Airbus. If we want to be in the industry, we need to be working with others.

And then along comes Brexit and the "will of the people" means cooperation and joint working has to end. So Airbus is considering pulling out of the UK. Given that the brave new world of Brexit Britain will mean a rerun of Victorian Splendid Isolation, we probably won't need many new planes anyway.

And congratulations to the leaders of the Brexit movement. Your campaigning looks set to be a great boost to jobs - but only those outside the UK. We are of course a great trading nation but we need to export more. So no doubt, the Brexiteers must be cheering the export of so many manufacturing jobs to the EU. And they must be pleased about the number of skilled workers who will soon be cured of their addiction to going out and earning a living.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Whickham School planning application

Whickham School June 18 (3)

As a former pupil, and a councillor whose teenage constituents largely attend Whickham School, I was interested to see that the planning application for the replacement buildings are now lodged with Gateshead Planning Department. A decision will come before the planning committee in the near future.

The proposals include a new, three to four storey ‘superblock’ to the north of the current site site on Burnthouse Lane. The new building will include a wide range of facilities zoned around a central main hall and activity studio, as well as a new sports hall and various specialist teaching spaces.

The building and site have been planned to ensure the existing school can remain fully operational throughout construction. There will be a clear separation between the building works and the operational school.  The site’s existing car parking arrangements will remain undisturbed both during and after construction.

The new school building would be situated at the entrance to the current school site alongside the existing main entrance block.

The application number is DC/18/00565/FUL. To view the plans online go to http://public.gateshead.gov.uk/online-applications/ and enter the application number. Comments need to be submitted by 2nd July.

Whickham School June 18 (1)

Tanfield Railway Steam Gala Weekend

The Tanfield Railway is partly in my ward in Gateshead and on Sunday, they hosted a steam gala. Of particular interest to me was the Dunston No. 15, a steam locomotive that was built in Newcastle in 1942 and was used at the Dunston power station until 1972 when it was retired and moved out of the North East. This was its first return visit to the region.

There was also a vintage car rally at the Tanfield Railway which brought back memories of the 1970s!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Two fairs

Sunniside Methodist Hall and St Mary's Church Hall, Whickham, were hosting summer fairs on Saturday so I visited both. At the Methodist Hall I was asked if I would open their next fair in November and also had quite a long chat about the chapels plans for the hall and how the hall can be used in social care projects. One of the issues I am keen on is tackling loneliness in old age and this is something with which the organisers of the hall are keen to be involved.

Down the road at St Mary's I chatted to quite a few people including some who still remembered that I had helped them years ago on local issues. I calculated that one of these was 15 years ago. It's nice still to be remembered!

I came away from both fairs with lots of cakes - and casework!

There is no Brexit dividend

For cynical timing and political manoeuvring, Theresa May must get a gold medal. Her entire premiership has been based on half-baked promises to one group which directly contradict promises made to others, just so that she can live on to fight another day. So far she has been a dab hand at political survival. Today's announcement of zillions of pounds for the NHS at some point in the future, paid for by the alleged "Brexit dividend" is all part of this survival strategy. The reality is that there is no dividend. The sluggish growth in the economy caused by Brexit uncertainty has already cost the UK economy £400 million a week, according to the Bank of England. Then there are all the costs of going it alone - setting up our own drugs, chemicals and nuclear agencies for example or building our own Gallileo project. Then there are the costs of all those extra civil servants the government has taken on to carry out Brexit. Throw in the thousands of new customs officers and the cost of a completely new department - International Trade (which so far has produced nil points in terms of future trade agreements) and once all these new penpushers have been paid, there ain't going to be much left over for more doctors and nurses.

The government could, of course, be much more honest about this and openly admit that any increase in funding to the NHS will come from additional taxation. But don't hold your breath.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Dunston Station damage

Dunston rail station sign June 18

I was in Dunston yesterday with Councillors Kevin McClurey and Peter Maughan to look at the state of the ticket machine in Dunston station at the request of residents living near Ravensworth Road. Sadly the front of the machine has been badly damaged. We have reported the damage to Northern Rail and hope to see repairs done shortly.

Dunston rail station damaged ticket machine June 18

Well done Lucy and team

Well done Lucy Salek, Lib Dem candidate in the Lewisham East by-election yesterday. And well done to the team around her for delivering a very creditable 19% swing from Labour and a comfortable increase in actual and share of the vote. The result is as follows (and I've included all the candidates due to the novel situation in which there are nearly as many of them as there are electors!):

Janet Daby (Lab) 11,033 (50.20%, -17.75%) 
Lucy Salek (LD) 5,404 (24.59%, +20.17%) 
Ross Archer (C) 3,161 (14.38%, -8.62%) 
Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah (Green) 788 (3.59%, +1.88%)
Mandu Reid (Women) 506 (2.30%)
David Kurten (UKIP) 380 (1.73%, +0.04%)
Anne Marie Waters (FBM) 266 (1.21%)
Maureen Martin (CPA) 168 (0.76%, +0.28%)
Howling Laud Hope (Loony) 93 (0.42%)
Massimo DiMambro (DVP) 67 (0.30%)
Sean Finch (Libertarian) 38 (0.17%)
Charles Carey (ND) 37 (0.17%)
Patrick Gray (Radical) 20 (0.09%)
Thomas Hall (YPP) 18 (0.08%)
Lab maj 5,629 (25.61%)
18.96% swing Lab to LD
Electorate 66,140; turnout 21,979 (33.23%, -36.05%)

It is usual for the main opposition to be the beneficiary of any swing in a midterm by-election. While it is hard for a party on 68% to improve on their share of the vote in a particular constituency, an 18% drop is noteworthy. With the Conservatives widely acknowledged as making a mess of Brexit, the economy suffering a withering dose of flu and Tory MPs revolting, Corbyn should be romping ahead. He is not even moving forward. Polls are giving the Tories a slight edge when typically the main opposition should be leading by a significant margin at this stage. Clearly something is going wrong for Labour.

No doubt the Corbynistas will blame a BBC conspiracy against the proletariat or a Murdoch campaign to brainwash the "working class" for Labour's lacklustre performance. At some point however, Labour are going to have to wake up to the fact they have a waste of space as leader.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Isn't that against the will of the people?

So, after Theresa May spent 6 years as Home Secretary politically beating up migrants and making life very difficult for them, now we are told, her government has backed proposals to relax immigration rules as they affect skilled health workers. Having spent years trying to keep them out, and adding to an already severe shortage of key NHS staff, May has performed another u-turn. But we are constantly being told that the "will of the people", expressed through the referendum in 2016, is hostile to immigration. Surely therefore the government, to be consistent, needs to stick to its anti-immigration stance. But consistency and the Theresa May government are two very different conditions so perhaps we should not be surprised that she has abandoned another unworkable policy.

I wonder if she will approve relaxation of the rules on immigrant fruit pickers. The fruit is currently left rotting in the field due to labour shortages and a refusal of the Brits to do fruit picking jobs. EU workers are now coming over here only in small numbers as the UK did not exactly role out the welcome wagon for them. Does Mrs May look to bring in workers from non EU countries instead or do we just accept that under her, there will be no jam today, or indeed tomorrow either.

Labour MPs are revolting

It seems that some Labour MPs don't want to share the bed with the Conservatives over their Brexit plans (I use the word "plans" loosely as it is difficult to work out whether or not the government has any plans at all). 75 Labour MPs rebelled and voted to keep us in the EEA and effectively in the Single Market. The Labour line was for Labour MPs to help the Tories by sitting on the fence. 15 however joined up with the Tories in the division lobby. They clearly know who their friends are.

I've said it before and I say it again now: this country needs to accept the consequences of its own actions and decision. As a nation, the "will of the people" is that we leave the EU. I totally and fundamentally disagree with that decision and will continue to argue that it was the wrong one. After all, we live in a democracy. But a referendum was held and a decision made. We are leaving. That means we are leaving all the benefits as well. It means departing from the drug, science, environmental agencies and all the other bodies that will now have to be expensively replicated back in the UK. It means we do not have the benefits of being in the Single Market and therefore our exports will have barriers in the way. But that is the will of the people. We can't claim all the benefits of membership without paying the costs or operating by the rules. If you are a member of the club, you enjoy the benefits. If you walk away from the club, you are no longer entitled to the advantages that come with membership.

So both the Brexiteers and the Labour party need to stop pushing this claim that we can be outside at the same time as claiming the benefits of being inside.

But at the same time, we need to remember we live in a democracy. That means people have the right to change their mind. The will of the people is not set in stone. Once the actual Brexit package is clear, the people need to have the final say on whether it lives up to what was offered in 2016 or it is better to stick with current EU membership. Such a referendum would be held in the light of the agreed Brexit package rather than the fog of an unknown system of doing business. I would certainly accept the outcome of that vote.

What to do if there are bees in your garden

At this time of year, as both a councillor and beekeeper, I get lots of messages from residents worried about bees in their garden. Last year I put together this video but I'm posting it again. The basic point is that bumble bee colonies have a short lifespan and there is nothing to be gained and a great deal of money to be lost in calling out pest control to destroy any colonies. The bees won't harm you unless you try to harm them. Leave them alone and they will do the same to you. Live and let live. Don't destroy something that is wild, beautiful, beneficial and harmless.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Labour's bid to beat the Tories as the most chaotically divided party

Two years ago, when the UK, by a slender majority, voted to leave the EU, I thought the Tories would end up as the most united of the two larger parties while Labour would end up with the divisions. Instead, both have ended up divided but the shambles that are Labour under Corbyn were on full view today. And about bloody time too. Corbyn the Leaver has had an easy ride over the past year. He comes up with unworkable solutions to the customs union and the single market. Like the Brexiteers during the referendum, he is offering all the advantages of being in the club without having to be a member. I often feel that the differences between the extremists on the left and right are not that much different from each other.

6 front bench resignations, a rebellion by 90 MPs (a third of his Parliamentary party), a chance to defeat the government thrown away - all in a day's work for Corbyn. For his next trick, he will attempt to deflect more attention away from the bitter war in the Conservative Party and onto the chaos of Labour. It makes me wonder just what the Corbyn fan club see in him.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Not a good day for the economy

The expected collapse of Poundworld is now official.. But that's not the end of the bad economic news today. The run of closures and downsizing in the retail sector can in part be blamed on a failure of companies to keep up with the changes in how people shop. But how is the significant drop in UK industrial output of 0.8% in April, compared to March, announced today, to be explained? Even more worrying is that within this figure is a 1.4% drop in manufacturing output. Given that the weather in March caused a modest drop in manufacturing that month, output in April should have bounced back. It didn't. Output continued to fall. The recent drop in the value of the pound has failed to help UK manufacturers to produce more for export. Indeed, trade figures today show that the deficit in goods and services widened to £5.28bn in April from £3.22bn in March. The goods trade deficit widened to £14.04bn in April.

The pound experienced a sharp drop this morning when the figures were released. Let's hope the economy is not going the same way as Poundworld. But with Brexit impacting on investment and the government completely immersed in tearing the UK out of our single biggest market, don't expect any improvements soon.

Bee swarms and meetings

On Wednesday last week I was nearly late for my afternoon meetings at Gateshead Civic Centre as another of our hives had swarmed. Thankfully, after collecting the swarm, I was able to get to the first meeting at 2pm which was about grants for voluntary organisations, though I had to take my lunch with me.

The second meeting was at 3pm and was a presentation about the Great Exhibition of the North. It is due to kick off on 22nd June. My concern is that the 3 month event should leave a lasting positive legacy for the North East economy so I asked questions about how local hotels and visitor centres were preparing for the visitors that are expected, and what was being done to encourage people to return to the North East in the future. It seems good work is being done on this. And the region will be buzzing when the Exhibition is on. Talking of which, David rehoused the swarm while I was at my meetings!

bee swarm June 18 2

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Hell's Kitchen at the Sunniside History Society

Sunniside History Society June 18

Sunniside History Society, of which I am the chairman, held its monthly meeting last Tuesday and our speaker was Freda Thompson who gave a presentation about characters from the past 200 years of Geordie history. One of the characters lived 200 years ago on the Newcastle Quayside. He was a regular at an establishment called Hell's Kitchen, an aptly named public house with a riotous reputation. I pointed out at the end of the presentation that Hell's Kitchen obviously predated Gordon Ramsay by 200 years!

On a slightly different subject, the society is organising a trip to the Bowes Museum on 1st September. The cost is £16 and we will also be calling into Barnard Castle where people will be able to make their own lunch arrangements. Anyone interested in coming on the visit should contact the society's secretary, Alan Guest, on sun1h1st@gmail.com.

Not in the money

Potters Wheel June 18

We paid the Potters Wheel a visit on Friday evening. The pub in Sunniside, my home village, reopened a couple of weeks ago under new and (according to the poster outside) "good" management. While enjoying a pint of George and the Dragon ale, the barman persuaded me to enter the pub's World Cup sweep stake. I am not a follower of football but I made the comment that I would enter but I hoped not to draw England as their record at the World Cup is not a resounding success. No victories in half a century despite all those vast pay packets which are bankrupting the game suggests drawing England would not leave me in the money.

Alas, I drew England.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Planting Up Whickham

On Sunday I was in Whickham to help the volunteers from Planting Up Whickham to plant the flower beds on Church Green. Job done by midday. In a few weeks' time, the flowerbeds will look great.

Gateshead Full Council Meeting

A bit late but this is the video of the last full council meeting in Gateshead on 24th May. As Leader of the Opposition I raised issues about EU funding, housing strategy, electric car charging points and devolution.