Friday, June 30, 2023

The mini Margaret Thatcher of Gateshead Council


The future of leisure centres in Gateshead has been a hot topic for over a year. A consultation was launched in October 2022 which included proposed closures and plans to privatise the management of any remaining facilities. The two most threatened centres also happened to be in the most marginal Labour held wards in Gateshead (Birtley and Saltwell). I think it is fair to say that Labour went into panic mode as the end of the consultation approached in January. The result of this was a last minute change of plan at the all-Labour cabinet which delayed the end of the consultation to 8th May, 3 days after the local elections! The cost of that was £600,000.

If Labour thought they could avoid defeat by delay, they were mistaken. They lost both Birtley and Saltwell to the Lib Dems.

The cabinet member responsible for leisure services is Angela Douglas. The plans for closures and privatisation belong to her. She has presided over a failure to make the facilities self-financing. Cllr Douglas has been rather quiet about the leisure facilities. When the report came to the cabinet in January she had nothing to say, despite the two hour debate that took place. At the budget meeting there was an amendment from the Lib Dems calling for reserves to be used to keep the facilities open while their future was sorted. She made no contribution to the debate despite being the responsible portfolio holder.

The people of Gateshead have every right to ask, "What is the point of Cllr Douglas and what do the people get for the £16K she is paid in addition to her councillor allowance?"

Fortunately her vow of silence came to an end in June at the cabinet meeting that considered again the closure of two facilities and to seek private sector providers to take on the running of what's left. Cllr Douglas in her speech to cabinet decided to blame the Liberal Democrats for the closures and the current state of the centres!

This is somewhat rich coming from Gateshead Labour - they have run the council for nearly 50 years (or should that be "they have run the council into the ground for nearly 50 years?") Given  the privatisation agenda of Cllr Douglas, the mini-Margaret Thatcher of Gateshead Council, she should be the last person making such comments!

There is one hopeful element to this saga. There are possible community asset transfers that could result in the voluntary sector taking on Gateshead Leisure Centre and Birtley Swimming Centre. Nevertheless, the two centres will have to close on the day the school summer holidays begin, stripping Birtley and Gateshead Centres of vital income as well as denying local communities access to important leisure facilities when the kids are out of school. If they were to reopen in the voluntary sector, much of their customer base is likely to have gone elsewhere, helping to fatten up the facilities where Cllr Douglas is looking to privatise the management. But that's market forces for you. Margaret Thatcher would have been proud of her mini.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Second fire


I took this photo on my farm yesterday afternoon. Note the plume of smoke on the horizon. The second big fire in a disused building in Newcastle in a month, both times visible from my farm. From what I understand, there is still some disruption to anyone using the central motorway or wanting to travel into central Newcastle.

Name that constituency!

Here's the good news. The Boundary Commission have announced their final boundaries and names for new Parliamentary constituencies and the new Gateshead Central and Whickham constituency has survived attempts by Gateshead Labour to remove "Whickham" from the name. The new constituency contains 4 strong Lib Dem wards (Whickham North, Whickham South and Sunniside, Dunston Hill and Whickham East and Low Fell). In addition, it contains Saltwell, won by the Lib Dems from Labour in May though the majority is narrow. The inclusion of the name "Whickham" recognises the importance of the biggest town in Gateshead outside the inner core. It also puts into play the notion that the new Gateshead Central and Whickham constituency is one in which Labour are the lead party but the Lib Dems are the challengers. No wonder Labour wanted to expunge "Whickham" from the name! An interesting battle lies ahead.

It wasn't all good news however. Labour won the battle to keep the name of Birtley out of the new constituency covering the town. Instead of Washington and Birtley, which we argued for, Labour won the battle to ban Birtley from the name. Instead, it will be called Washington and Gateshead South. It was a similar story with Jarrow and Gateshead East. We argued that the Gateshead East area was effectively Felling town and this should be recognised in the name of the new constituency. Labour's anti-Felling campaign worked, and the initial name of Jarrow and Gateshead East remains in place.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Almost done


Our current Focus for Whickham South and Sunniside is now delivered to 80% of the households in the ward. Yesterday I headed out to do a mopping up operation - finishing a couple of patches in Sunniside. Good weather for it - sunny but with a refreshing breeze. Not so today. Cooler and a bit of rain. Looks like delivery will be tomorrow instead.

Village surgeries


My two ward colleagues - Councillors Jonathan Mohammed and Marilynn Ord - recently held two village surgeries in Byermoor and Marley Hill. This is an alternative to the usual surgeries normally held in a publicly accessible building. The aim is to had a series of village surgeries throughout the ward. So we set up in the circle in Byermoor (see above photo) and afterwards moved on to the bottom of Cuthberts Street in Marley Hill (see photo below).

The surgeries also gave us the opportunity to check out the state of the play equipment in Byermoor and Marley Hill parks. We are awaiting a final decision on the replacement equipment in Byermoor as all the equipment there is condemned.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Verbs and verbosity


At the last full council meeting in Gateshead, Labour submitted a motion for debate. Labour motions here tend to be wordy affairs but the nearly 600 words in the motion on 25th May is probably a new record even for them. A helpful summary is: ask the government to pay for the pay increase demands of those in local government. At Lib Dem group meeting a few days before full council, we discussed Labour's essay of a motion and I joked that because it was full of debating points, the person moving it simply had to read out the motion rather than write a speech!

So I was rather amused when the motion was moved at council and the mover of the motion, Cllr Dot Burnett, simply read out the motion but otherwise said nothing else!

Our amendment simply called on the council to write to the Shadow Chancellor as well as the actual Chancellor about the motion. The demands in the motion are, after all, not Labour policy nationally. Gateshead Labour rejected the amendment. Apparently, they are happy to ask a Tory Chancellor to support their calls on pay, but they aren't happy to bring their concerns to their own Shadow Chancellor. Perhaps Gateshead Labour have given up on their national leadership.

The wording of the motion was:

“This Council notes:


Local government has endured central government funding cuts of more than 50% since 2010. Between 2010 and 2020, councils lost 60p out of every £1 they have received from central government. Councils across England are now facing a collective funding gap of £2.4bn for the financial year 2023/24 and a cumulative funding gap of £4.08bn for 2024/25 according to UNISON research.


Councils led the way in efforts against the Covid-19 pandemic, providing a huge range of services and support for our communities. Local government has shown more than ever how indispensable it is. But Covid has led to a massive increase in expenditure and loss of income, and as we emerge from the pandemic, local authorities and schools need far more support from Westminster. Recent funding announcements from the Government relating to schools did nothing to help.


Council and school workers kept our communities safe through the pandemic, often putting themselves at considerable risk as they work to protect public health, provide quality housing, ensure our children continue to be educated, and look after older and vulnerable people.


Since 2010, the local government workforce has endured years of pay restraint with the majority of pay points losing at least 25 per cent of their value since 2009/10. Staff are now facing the worst cost of living crisis in a generation, with inflation hitting 10% and many having to make impossible choices between food, heating and other essentials. This is a terrible situation for anyone to find themselves in.


At the same time, workers have experienced ever-increasing workloads and persistent job insecurity. Across the UK, 900,000 jobs have been lost in local government since June 2010 – a reduction of more than 30 per cent. Local government has arguably been hit by more severe job losses than any other part of the public sector.


There has been a disproportionate impact on women, with women making up more than three-quarters of the local government workforce.


Recent research shows that if the Government were to fully fund the unions’ 2023 pay claim, around half of the money would be recouped thanks to increased tax revenue, reduced expenditure on benefits and tax credits, and increased consumer spending in the local economy.


This council believes:


Our workers are public service super-heroes. They keep our communities clean and safe, look after those in need and keep our towns and cities running.


Without the professionalism and dedication of our staff, the council services our residents rely on would not be deliverable.


Local government workers deserve a proper real-terms pay increase. The Government needs to take responsibility and fully fund this increase; it should not put the burden on local authorities whose funding has been cut to the bone and who were not offered adequate support through the Covid-19 pandemic.



This council resolves to:


Support the pay claim submitted by UNISON, GMB and Unite on behalf of council and school workers, for an increase of RPI + two per cent funded by central government


Call on the Local Government Association to make urgent representations to central government to fund the NJC pay claim


Write to the Chancellor and Secretary of State to call for a pay increase for local government workers to be funded with new money from central government


Meet with local NJC union representatives to discuss for the pay claim and consider practical ways in which the council can engage with the campaign


Encourage all local government workers to join a union.”

Hopping off to Newcastle for the Hoppings


David and I were looking forward to a visit to the Hoppings on Newcastle's Town Moor on Friday evening. Given the dry weather we have ensured for the past few weeks, we felt it was tempting fate to take cagoules with us. Almost as soon as we left the house, the rain started. By the time we got to Newcastle, it was clear it was not a passing shower. We abandoned the Hoppings plan in favour of dinner at the nearest restautant to where we parked - Taste of Persia in Marlborough Crescent. More expensive than a trip to the Hoppings, but a dinner much better than the burgher and chips we would otherwise have consumed!

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Shaggy dog story


I joined Councillors Peter Maughan and Vicky Anderson today at the community fair in Dunston Park. Peter brought along his enormous Newfoundland dog Ziva, an animal so big that it is bigger than some of my sheep! (And as much fur on her as my sheep have wool!) Ziva proved quite a hit with children and adults alike!

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Low Fell eFocus no. 125

Yet another edition of eFocus from Gateshead Lib Dems, this time from the Low Tell team, was published yesterday. Issues covered include:

  • Consultation on cycling and walking
  • Joint Police and Councillor Surgery on 24th June
  • No need to close Leisure Centres now
  • Weeds cleared on Beacon Lough Road
  • Carters' Well clean up
  • Sir Ed Davey interview
  • School road safety improvements

Monday, June 19, 2023

As seen on tv

The couple dancing in the Tory "Jingle and Mingle" video are probably not enjoying watching the news. Yesterday, they were on every news broadcast. They are probably dreading showing themselves in public. Still, think of the positives. Perhaps a guest appearance on Come Dancing will be offered. Or how about an appearance in Dancing on Ice? On a more serious note, what is it about some people who think they are above everyone else and therefore feel they don't have to follow the rules under which everyone else lives? Those who lost loved ones during the Pandemic can rightly feel aggrieved. Their hospital visits were curtailed and funerals were limited in the number of people allowed to attend. Even those who did not lose loved ones lost the ability to meet family members and friends while some in the Tory Party just kept on partying. I suspect the Tories are heading for a mauling at the forthcoming by-elections. Quite right too.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Gateshead Lib Dem thank you party


Gateshead Lib Dems held a thank you party at the Gateshead Legion Club in Saltwell on Friday. And we had lots of celebrate following the two gains from Labour in the local elections last month. There was a buffet, quiz and raffle. A great time was had by all.

Lady Ba Ba and Britney Shears guest stars at Cloverhill School Fair


We are often asked to bring some of our livestock from our farm to local fairs. On Thursday, 15th June we headed to Cloverhill School fair with two of our lambs - Lady Ba Ba and Britney Shears. Both were a hit with children and parents alike.

Whickham eFocus no. 183

Gateshead Lib Dems published another eFocus last week, edition no. 183. Issues covered include:

  • Local Lib Dem Team says "Thank You!";
  • Local election results;
  • The picture across Gateshead;
  • Changes to local wards;
  • Time to cut Gateshead Council down to size;
  • Church Green flowerbeds ready for summer;
  • Date for Dunston Pool decision;
  • Planting Up Sunniside launched;
  • Volunteering at The Whinnies;
  • Application for stables in Sunniside;
  • Wildathon at Shibdon Pond
  • And finally - back to those election results.
You can read eFocus on this link.

Booking conference


I recently decided to book my place at Lib Dem conference in September. The booking went in 3 hours before the early bird offer ended. Last year I booked a place at Brighton conference. The hotel was booked. I had even booked my seat on the coach service (the train network was expected to be closed due to strike action) and then the Queen died, causing conference to be cancelled. Fortunately I got my money back on the hotel but I had to write off the coach fare.

This year we are back to Bournemouth. Hopefully, after the pandemic and the passing of the Queen, this year conference will actually go ahead. We live in hope.

Planting Up Sunniside


A new group of volunteers has been set up in Sunniside, called Planting Up Sunniside, which will plant up and maintain flowerbeds on Sunniside Front Street and at Streetgate. It operates in a way similar to Planting Up Whickham. They have already made a start, having tidied and replanted the raised beds on Granby Terrace on the Front Street. I have been advising them as the local councillor and attended their meeting held last week at The Travellers. I'm looking forward to more activity in the months ahead.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Delivering in the sun


Delivering Focus leaflets in my ward of Whickham South and Sunniside over the past week has reminded me how leaflets were delivered in Greek general elections some decades ago. It was my first trip abroad and David and I were in Crete for 2 week. There was a general election on at the same time so we went along to one of the centre/centre left rallies and watched as people sang the campaign songs. It all looked rather fun compared to elections back home. A couple of days later, we watched as a campaign vehicle pulled up at a bus stop in Herakleon, blasted the people waiting for a bus through the loud speakers and then tossed a load of leaflets out through the window! No one picked up a leaflet to read it. I'm pleased to say that this is something that has not caught on back home though given the number of Labour leaflets we've seen scattered on the ground in various places in Gateshead, people could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Welcoming another new business


It is always good to see new businesses setting up on Sunniside Front Street. So welcome Clinic 12 who recently took over the former Sunniside Post Office.

Friday, June 09, 2023

Smoke on the horizon

While I was walking to the farm yesterday I spotted on the horizon at a great distance a huge fire and smoke cloud. I could see that it was somewhere in Eastern Newcastle. It turned out to be Henderson Old Hall. Sadly another historic building had gone up in flames. I attended an event there many years ago. What will happen to it now, no one knows. 

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Focus has arrived

Just arrived at my house - the Whickham South and Sunniside thank you Focus. This afternoon I will buy a new pair of shoes. My last pair disintegrated recently following the pounding they got during the local elections. 

Monday, June 05, 2023

Low Fell eFocus 124

 The Lib Dem Focus Team in Low Fell have published their latest eFocus. Key issues covered include:

  • cutting the Council down to size;
  • Low Fell featured in The Chronicle;
  • volunteering for Low Fell Gardeners;
  • police and councillor surgery;
  • Low Fell Voluntary Library 10th anniversary.

Joining the volunteers in Whickham


I am one of the volunteers for Planting Up Whickham who helps look after the flowerbeds on Whickham Front Street and especially on Church Green. Two weeks ago we stripped out all the winter plants from the beds and yesterday we planted up the beds with the summer flowers. I captured both events on the video above.

Friday, June 02, 2023

Out of the race

I learnt tonight that Jamie Driscol, Labour's North of Tyne Mayor, has failed to make the longlist for the new North East Mayor. He is now staring at redundancy as, once the regional mayor is elected, the North of Tyne position is consigned to history. Driscol prospered in the Corbyn days and is described as the last Corbynista still in power. In office he was, at best, rather underwhelming. At least now we won't have to put up with his visits to Saltwell in Gateshead. Not that his previous visits there helped Labour. They lost the seat to us in last month's local elections. 

When is a carbon copy not a carbon copy?

In 2016, the plans for devolution in the North East collapsed. In what was effectively a palace coup, Labour's Martin Gannon seized the leadership of Gateshead Council from Mick Henry who had been prepared to sign up to the deal. He killed off the deal and North and South of Tyne went their separate ways. 7 wasted years later, Martin is now backing the new devolution plan which is currently on the table. All 7 councils have to sign up to the plan and Gateshead's signature has already been added to the dotted line.

I described the current package as "new". In reality, it is nothing of the sort. It is the old deal dusted down. According to Martin however, it is "completely different" to the collapsed plans of 2016. He points to the forthcoming transport deal as being the big issue that makes this deal a new one. The reality is that the transport deal came along after 2016 and had we had devolution back then, we would have had the transport funding assured (the funding is based on having an elected regional mayor.) So, the deal we have now is a near carbon copy of what we could have had 7 years ago.

The only significant change during Martin's 7 wasted years is the way the mayor is elected. The government have changed elections from the supplementary vote to first past the post for all elected mayors. This applies across the whole of England so this is not a change specifically for the North East. So come on Martin, if the "new" deal" is "completely different" to the old one, tell us what these differences are.

Or shut up.......

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Saying goodbye to Jol

Today we said goodbye to Jol. She was married to my council group colleague Peter Maughan and was a great friend. There was a big turnout for the funeral service at Whickham St Mary's Church and then at the Gibside Arms. She will be missed.