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Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

How to encourage growth

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Better cuts and more Keynesian spending programmes says Iain Malcolm

Following this post I posed the following questions to a number of our South Tyneside politicians of ALL parties, including the new “South Tyneside First” group of councillors, I also asked for opinions from some of our local businessmen and nationally recognised prominent bloggers and commentators:

If you were in a position to be advising the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, what would you be telling them about efforts to achieve deficit reduction and balance the budget?

How would you advise them to promote growth in the British economy to increase Treasury revenues?

What steps would you advise taking to help our local authority in South Tyneside promote the right conditions for job creation and improve consumer demand locally?

Sadly, some haven’t even bothered to engage or contribute to the discussion, one decided he could only contribute if I gave him space to openly criticise officers of South Tyneside Council (which was not within the remit of the discussion because officers do not decide upon policies), another said he would contribute but failed to do so. The ONLY local politician who took the time to send some carefully considered comments was Labour’s leader in South Tyneside Cllr. Iain Malcolm, who told me this:

The deficit, caused by the greed of the bankers not the last Labour Government’s spending on infrastructure,  needs to be reduced. However the Tory-led Government are using the deficit as an excuse for making deeply ideological cuts in public expenditure. The Government should be clawing back the unpaid tax by multi-national corporations and taking a leaf out of local government for ways of streamlining their civil service budgets. The Prime Minister has admitted that Councils are the most efficient part of the public sector, so send in the Local Government Association to review Whitehall expenditure with a aim to making drastic savings in their budgets.

But we also need growth in the economy and that means Government spending on economic infrastructure projects, I would rather pay people to work and receive their taxes than pay them for being unemployed. The Chancellor himself is starting to realise his austerity plans are not working and the deficit will need to be reduced over a longer period of time.

The greed of the banks nearly led to a total collapse of the economic system, if Gordon Brown had not stepped in (where other world leaders failed to lead) and reassured the public that their savings, pensions and homes were safe, we would have been in a far grave state than we are today. There would have been public panic (as witnessed over Northern  Rock) on an unprecedented scale with possible social disorder.  Whatever else one feels about our former Prime Minister remember it was his bold leadership that prevented a complete melt-down.

Finally, there needs to be greater regulation of the banking system – the light touch of the former Government (supported by the Conservatives at the time) clearly didn’t work.

It’s a fairly straight down the middle “follow the party line” sort of statement, but it does not show any real vision or initiatives to help the local economy in South Tyneside return to growth. there is no commitment. for example, to retain zero growth in Council Tax rises which would help maintain the little spending power that consumers have right now, and spending power is what lights the blue touch paper of economic growth.

However I’m very grateful and thank him for his participation.

In the table below are the combined thoughts and initiatives of the independents, Conservatives, UKIP, bloggers, and business people.

South Tyneside Opposition ideas for growth

Not very encouraging is it?

Perhaps this is one part of the explanation as to why we have such a heavily Labour dominated council here.

Update 1

This is from UKIP Cllr. David Potts

It never fails to amaze me that Labour politicians have the sheer nerve to blame the financial sector for the global economic situation. Coun Malcolm states that the crisis has been “caused by the greed of the bankers”. This is a pathetic throw-away comment backed up with zero evidence, and Coun Malcolm is intelligent enough to know this. Gordon Brown sold UK Gold reserves in the $200-300/oz range. Today, it is trading at $1600/oz. The Labour Government spent money like a drunken sailor, and the mantra that they “didn’t fix the roof while the sun was shining” could not be more accurate.

It really annoys me when governments blame the financial sector for operating within the regulatory boundaries that THEY create in the first place.

However, we must move away from national and global issues and focus upon what matters to us as councillors; South Tyneside. The highly respected think tank, IPPR North has warned that the South Tyneside jobless rate is set to skyrocket, particularly among our young people. It is deeply concerning that Coun Malcolm and his £170’000PA Chief Exec, Martin Swales publically comment that it is nothing to do with them and it is ‘all the evil Tory Government’s fault’. That is nonsense. II speak to local business people regularly. I know one energy broker who offered to save the council hundreds of thousands of pounds by switching their suppliers. His exact words were “I tried, but it was pointless, it’s a closed shop”. There is an active movement among the business community in South Tyneside to push ahead an agenda of progress and growth through directly influencing Council policy via peaceful protest and diplomatic pressure.

Now would councillor Malcolm like to tell us how many local firms are involved in the building of our new swimming pool complex? Would he also like to explain why suppliers of materials to South Tyneside Homes were based hundreds of miles away down South?

Look after the people of your Borough first.

Coun Malcolm and Mr Swales take people for fools and playing on this nonsense assertion that they are socialists. If they are socialists, I’m a Dutchman.

Update 2

This from George Smith, President of South Shields Conservative Association.

I asked our Campaign Director (Dorothy) for a brief, but they “don’t do Blogs”.
Sorry about this, according to the Levenson inquiry they do Twitter, a bit too much for me.

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It’s party time!

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What is beneath the gloss?

So now that the Diamond Jubilee parties are over and we bask a little longer in the glow, the next party is upon us from tomorrow in the shape of a footballing feast known as the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine. Another few weeks of supermarket prodding will have us overfilled with lager, beer, and frozen pizzas, our homes and cars will be draped with the flag of St. George, the “red tops” will exhort the England football team to glories well beyond their reach (they have only ONCE reached the semi final of this tournament), the new flatscreen TVs will be overheating, and when it all ends……….well there are the Olympics and Paralympics to look forward to in London, along with commercially sponsored torch bearers. One only hopes that South Tyneside Council is NOT tempted to mount the giant screen in the park again, I fear the demand will not be there to sit and watch in a South Shields park!

Of course our politicians will probably be a little more sanguine than myself, especially having invested so heavily in the London Olympics, and I confess most of the Olympian sports hold little interest for me even though there will be some football in Newcastle, but for others this will indeed be a veritable feast of summer sports with Wimbledon and Test Match cricket thrown into the mix. David Cameron and News International will be hoping to share the glory of English and British sportsmen and women as the medal count increases the “feel good” factor and the national index of good cheer. Parliament will be enjoying its long summer break with only the Leveson inquiry interrupting the good news, yet quietly gurgling away beneath the veneer of good cheer and “gloss” will be ……………………the economy.

Let’s not forget, that this is the main event!

After two years of a Conservative led coalition government the track record is not that impressive, the deficit continues to grow (albeit at a slower pace), the national debt is still woefully out of control, borrowing is still at record levels and getting higher, public expenditure is higher now than in the last years of Brown’s disastrous administration, so much for the cuts eh? The slight saving grace is that unemployment has not yet broken past levels which might lead to the sort of civil unrest witnessed in Greece. The Eurozone crisis refuses to go away, banks still appear to need recapitalisng (again) and none of the major European players seem willing to take the bull by the horns and dismantle the single currency. All the while the pan European policy appears to be one of further austerity, less public spending, and increasing taxation, as near every nation in the EU other than Germany slumbers along on virtually zero growth.

Growth? Did I mention growth?

Ah yes, who has the secret elixir which will put more money into the hands of consumers or savers? It is they alone who can provide the demand and stimulus that economies need, and any person in South Tyneside who tells you that they couldn’t use a few extra quid a month is madly deluded. Banks rely on savers to swell deposits, greater deposits create more capital, more capital creates greater liquidity which normally leads to easier lending and investment, yet the current economic cycle has brought us interest rates which creep closer to zero and discourage any saving at all. Similarly current personal and indirect taxation levels do nothing at all to inspire consumer confidence and help us to prioritise our spending on essentials such as mortgages and rents, fuel, and keeping our older cars on the road for even longer. It is almost a pan European deflationary cycle. Our own government is caught up in the very same frame of mind as Labour’s outgoing Chancellor Alistair Darling who was equally determined to reduce the deficit whilst raising taxes and sending out hopeful signals on government expenditure. Neither Labour nor the current coalition appears to have had a “plan B” that might have included some major initiatives to promote economic growth and rekindle consumer demand.

So, sadly, whilst we are in the summer party of love mood we have to remind the politicians that “it’s the economy stupid”, and with that in mind I’ve asked some of our prominent politicians in South Tyneside, along with some business people and other bloggers for their ideas on what we need to do to get our local and national economy on the move. Of course your own ideas are very welcome too.

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All in it together

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Brown bookOf course they are!

“We are all in this together”  may have been the most prophetic words uttered by Conservative Leader David Cameron following the post crash demise of the last Labour government, leaving an economy in tatters and the whole of Europe drowning in debt after the sage advice of Brown and Obama to governments and central banks to borrow more and print more money to keep the world floating happily along towards oblivion. Cameron’s words were meant to galvanise public opinion as we entered an age of austerity to tackle the worldwide mountains of debt and return the UK to a “balanced budget” after the profligacy of the Brown/Blair years, yet after two budgets from the coalition government the achievment of that aim does not seem to be approaching with any speed.

We had just gone through a Parliament awash with excess, the MPs expenses scandal had left a very nasty taste in the mouth and the reforms put in place have not done an awful lot to assuage public anger and resentment at what politicians are perceived to be doing with their time and our money, the News International phone hacking revelations and the subsequent Leveson inquiry will probably also confirm the public’s suspicions that our politicians are easy to influence and are seen to be far too close to some journalists and newspaper proprietors for the sake of good honest and open public governance.

Having taken what they think is statesmanlike stances during their years in office it may seem unedifying to some that former holders of great office now hawk themselves around on the world’s stage making an absolute fortune and banking their income not in a personal account, but into the account of a privately owned company specifically set up to reduce their liability to pay the full rate of UK tax. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and South Shields MP David Miliband all operate such companies and manage to reduce their tax liabilities by sums that some of us may never manage to earn in a year. Don’t get me wrong, we should all praise success, but if we are all in this together we should all be paying our fair share of taxes.

This “being in it together” though, is now becoming a catch phrase of the left, perhaps Cameron may regret having uttered those words in the first place, there are many who would just love to push them back down his throat, and if they have a reasoned cogent argument then why not? Trouble is, some are none too careful about republishing these words, take for example the septuagenarian Star Trek actor Patrick Stewart, invited by David Miliband to deliver one of his South Shields lectures:

“I have nothing but contempt for the expression ‘we’re all in this together.

That’s bullshit – we’re not all in this together,”

“The members of the cabinet are not in the same position as the people who live near me in Bermondsey. What we have seen is not so much a response to a global crisis but Tory policies as usual, masquerading under the claim of necessity.”

Putting aside the fallibility of memory, Stewart seems to miss the response to the UK crisis as well as missing the point on worldwide debt reduction, it does not look or sound so good bleating about the phrase “we are in this together” when one has resided in such luxurious surroundings as these in California:
Patrick Stewarts Californian residence

Picture via Guido Fawkes

The lofty left certainly do not so sound so chummy and down to earth when their wealth is revealed, the folks of Queensferry, Westoe, Trimdon, or Bermondsey must be choking with contempt at any politician/actor (hard to tell the difference with Tony Blair) talking about “being in it together”.

Beam me up Scotty, I want to be in it together with you 🙂

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Relaunch No.6 “Doing the right thing”

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Keeping Ed Miliband may be the “right thing” for Cameron

Video courtesy of Guido Fawkes.

I don’t know how you feel, but I find it rather difficult to “connect” with this bloke, he may want to do the “right thing” but he never sounds right, nor looks right, and as Leader of the Opposition he just appears to be the “right thing” for providing target practice for David Cameron at the Dispatch Box.

However, talking of doing the right thing, at least Ed Miliband appears willing to join the Prime Minister in forcing the hand of Alex Salmond, the SNP’s First Minister in Scotland. This is an interesting position considering how many seats Labour might lose in Westminster should Scotland be broken away from the Union and attain independence, but fighting a move in a referendum on the matter is surely the right thing to do. Salmond the populist leader of his party has been invited by South Tyneside Council Leader Iain Malcolm to speak in the north-east at a meeting of the North East Economic Forum organised by Malcom’s Sovereign Strategy lobbying company. This is a good move as it will help to define relationships between Scotland and this region irrespective of the outcome of any referendum, whenever it may be held, our economic prosperity may suffer heavily should Scotland be in an independent position in regard to taxes, subsidies, and “sweeteners” to businesses and it is right that Salmond should come down here to clarify what he really wants for Scotland and to take back our views on how our joint prospects may pan out if Scotland is no longer part of the United Kingdom. Iain Malcolm said:

“I’m not in favour of Scotland becoming independent from the rest of the UK, we are stronger together, but that is a matter for the Scottish people.

“Whatever happens it is vital the North East has a stronger relationship with our partners across the border.

“That is why yes we do have to look at what might happen, say after 2014.”

The prospect of a nation on our doorstep offering better incentives to business, or smaller tax rates may well be something to fear, or will it? Perhaps such a scenario may lead to wholesale revision of business taxes in England introducing a necessary level of competition. Other worries may surface about areas such as VAT or sales taxes which could result in cross border shopping expeditions to Edinburgh or Dumfries furthering the decline of our north east shopping centres, a major worry for places such as South and North Shields, Wallsend, or Gateshead.

Like Malcolm, I do not want to see the eventual break up of the United Kingdom , and I do not believe it would lead to increased prosperity for the people of Scotland, I do not believe that they could cope economically without the levels of subsidies provided via Westminster. Like Cameron and Ed Miliband I think the “right thing” politically is to force Salmond’s hand and hold a definitive referendum at a time not of his choosing, with the legal framework clearly outlined so as there can be no doubt about the differences between a yes and a no vote.

Also, whilst we are on the subject of the “right thing” it is comforting to see that stumbling Ed Miliband at last recognises that cuts in public spending are necessary and right, and that deficit reduction needs to be ongoing, just a shame that he has spent the opening period of his leadership campaigning against such measures along with Ed Balls. The “right thing” to do now, surely, is to apologise for the mistakes made during the years that both of them spent in Gordon Brown’s government as the spending spree with other people’s money piled debt upon debt adding to the problems that we all face now.

So, Labour is starting to see the benefits of doing the “right thing” (and here’s another), now Miliband just needs to pull the rest of his party along with him. Unfortunately, and this will remain for  some time, the presentation is abysmal, lacklustre, weak, and dull as dishwater,  with major players in his own ranks bemoaning his performance – long may he remain as Labour’s leader!

 

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2012 predictions

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Welcome back my friends.

First a bit of music to cheer you all up, and may I extend a big welcome to you all as we begin a New Year in South Tyneside’s first and oldest political blog, I wish you all a Happy New Year and hope that it brings some sort of cheer to you. I cannot promise that output from this desk will be any more frequent this year than it was last, a new lifestyle here leaves me a bit less time to write and my passion for photography at South Shields Daily Pictures also competes for my online time. However, with a long drum roll let’s get started with things for 2012.

National and international predictions

Financial and political pressure within the EU continue to build as a realistic solution to the Eurozone crisis fails to materialise, as referendums in Greece and Ireland  initially reject further austerity measures relating to the latest bail out plans. Calls to remove these countries from the Eurozone are thwarted as both nations are forced to hold a second vote which confirms their compliance with the Commission’s wishes. Massive unrest on the streets of Athens leads, for the first time, to a pan European peacekeeping force being deployed in Greece to keep its citizens under control.

David Cameron decides that Britain will not contribute any personnel to the new force, and further reduces Britain’s contribution to the IMF, stating that our financial problems require us to keep more of our finances at home. Nick Clegg threatens to pull the Lib-Dems out of the coalition in protest at the Conservatives outright hostility to the new EU plans designed to bring stability to the markets, however because of Labour’s weak position under Ed Miliband a combination of Tory and rebellious Labour MPs win the day in a Confidence debate in the House of Commons, thus tying the Lib-Dems into the coalition. Rebel Labour MPs claim this was the best way to ensure the total demise of Lib- Dem MPs at the next general election whilst buying more time for Labour to reorganise.

In America President Obama wins a second term, although very narrowly, after providing logistical and intelligence support to Israel when they successfully bombed a number of Iranian nuclear facilities the week before President Ahmedinijad was expected to announce the testing of his country’s first nuclear weapon.

In Russia Vladimir Putin is elected to lead the nation again, but there are strong doubts about the integrity of the elections, massive unrest in Russian cities is dealt with firmly and harshly, and following warmer than normal friendly talks with neighbouring states regarding trade agreements and energy supplies, observers begin fearing for the independence of the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) as nationalist parties there see a massive rise in popularity after the EU’s enforced austerity measures spark riots.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announces a new treaty with Iran, promising to help them rebuild the facilities destroyed by the Israelis. Increased  defence spending in the secretive far eastern state has resulted in a larger American military presence in Australia’s Northern Territory and the permanent patrol of a full battle ready US fleet in international waters close to the Korean peninsular.

China continues to be the world’s leading economy but still shows little appetite for increasing it’s spending on imports, preferring instead to produce good quality copies of foreign article for home consumption, Obama’s pleas for relaxations in China’s trade policies fall on deaf ears.

Local predictions.

The case in San Mateo County Court in California involving three South Tyneside councillors and an officer rumbles on seemingly interminably with no prospect of either a firm result and conclusion, or a commencement of proceedings in a British court. The costs of the matter are used as a political weapon during the local government elections in May.

Fifteen South Shields boys and girls attend the X Factor auditions in Newcastle but not a single one makes any progress, meanwhile late in the year Little Mix release an album to mixed reviews which does well in the charts but does not reach No. 1, fans had a liking for the new material but complained that five covers in the album were probably too many. As the year closes Little Mix prepare for their second UK headlining tour. Meanwhile Joe McElderry had released an album firmly in the dance genre after expressing disappointment over the sales of his Christmas Classics collection of cover songs, he also decided to accept the offer of a part in a West End musical and will be appearing in panto at the end of the year at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal.

South Tyneside’s jobless figures continue to rise although not at the massive rate that some had feared, local employment prospects are boosted by the announcement from Nissan of their decision to build a further two new models at their massive plant in Washington.

In the local elections in May Labour takes an absolute stranglehold on local politics as virtually all opposition in South Tyneside is wiped off the map. Cllr Geraldine White loses her seat to Labour in Fellgate and Hedworth, Lawrence Nolan fails to hold Harton for the Progressives after the retirement of Jimmy Capstick, the Liberal Democrats disappear as Joe Abbot loses to Labour in Hebburn North, Labour regain Horsely Hill in a close contest as Independent Alliance councillor Gordon Finch loses his seat, in Monkton John Hodgson somehow manages to fend off Labour’s challenge with only a handful of votes to spare, Labour make it three in a row in West Park as Enid Hetherington ends the Progressive Association’s long tenure there, Labour pick up Westoe at the expense of Allen Branley, and further legal challenges ensue after Ahmed Khan narrowly loses the decision against Labour’s John Anglin in the Beacon and Bents ward of South Shields.

Labour’s only other failure on a remarkable night was in Cleadon Village and East Boldon, where Conservative Councillor Jeff Milburn retained his seat with a much  reduced majority.

Following further shop closures in King Street, South Shields, South Tyneside Council announced an updated plan for a shoppers car parking scheme which gave two hours of free town centre parking, charges would only be applied after two hours and could be refunded if shoppers were spending more than £5 with local “partner” businesses. In a further sign of Labour’s pragmatic approach to working with the coalition government council Leader Iain Malcolm announced his intention of shaving an additional £45m from South Tyneside’s spending as he intended to announce a first ever reduction in council taxes to help local people rebuild their economy by putting money back into their own pockets to spend.

On the sporting scene, South Shields Mariners are in disarray after the sale of Filtrona Park , a late season slide in form saw them narrowly avoid relegation and their future is now in serious doubt as new houses are about to be built on their former ground. Until they find a new home their existence in the Northern League cannot be guaranteed.

In the Premier League Mike Ashley showed no inclination to spend on Newcastle United during the January window, as once again he discussed the possibility of selling the club at the end of the season. The Magpies strong start to the campaign was cancelled out when striker Demba Ba suffered a serious injury, this coupled with the sales of Tiote and Krul meant that Pardew’s men had a late season loss of form which saw them end the campaign in 15th. place.

Rivals  Sunderland were boosted by the surprise arrival of a top name striker and a full back which pleased the red and white half of South Shields. Meanwhile Ryan Noble’s emergence as a Premier League threat helped Martin O’Neill cement his status as a “legend” as the team went on a strong run towards the end of the season finishing above the Magpies in 9th. place. Owner Ellis Short announced that further funds would be made available to the Irishman for the summer transfer window, once again Sunderland are considering the possibility of extending the capacity at The Stadium of Light.

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South Shields’ girls in X Factor win!

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Little Mix chased the dream.

Exactly two years ago I used this video to illustrate this particular post where I said

“I think that South Shields girl Jade Thirlwall should think seriously about having another go at the X Factor, she could well emulate Joe McElderry next year.”

OK, so it took a little longer, but after initial rejection she was thrown in, along with fellow Shields girl Perrie Edwards,  Leanne Pinnock amd Jesy Nelson to a girl group later to be known as Little Mix.  It has been a hard road for the four girls as they went through the pressures of public votes in ITV’s flagship reality show but yesterday evening they won the coveted X Factor prize and that important contract with Simon Cowell’s music company. Another feather in the cap for South Shields  and a great advert for the young talent that we have in South Tyneside. It takes some “bottle” to be knocked down, get up, dust yourself down, and come back fighting, but as many girls from Laygate or Simonside can attest this determination to succeed is a requisite in the tough streets of Tyneside.

To be fair we knew that Thirwall had it in her as a former winner at the Pride of South Tyneside Awards, but how many of us saw Perrie Edwards coming through? I wonder too, how much of an influence “Mark” was in Jade’s success?

Winning the X Factor is no guarantee of fame and fortune, and the winners see little of Cowell’s £1m contract, it is rumoured that they are advanced as little as £150000, and must spend the rest promoting an album on behalf of Cowell, however some are now reckoning that the four girls could be in for a huge windfall as advertisers, and promoters see the marketing opportunities presented by a bunch of young vibrant girls put together as much for their looks as well as their singing prowess. They have already featured in a Marks and Spencer’s advertisement, and will no doubt be signed up to promote hair and beauty products at home and in the UK as Cowell looks to exploit a gap in the market. Little Mix could be on the verge of reaping rewards running up to £10m. Don’t begrudge them this success, they will see very little of their home towns or families over the next 12 months, they will need bags of strength and enthusiasm to cope with Cowell’s demands, there will be travel and sleep deprivation, their lives will no longer be under their own self control – they now belong to Simon Cowell.

What does it mean for this region though?

We become seen as a nursery for talent, others may become inspired to emulate this level of success, we get a little more national press attention, and sometimes it may not be for the best of reasons as personal lives become laid bare to reporters, our youngsters may become seen in a more positive light too. Most importantly, we may see young entrepreneurs in business and commerce become more emboldened and self confident as they follow their own dreams. They may be inspired by the competitive attitudes of girls like Little Mix, and we may find that other more diverse young talents on Tyneside succeed in building bigger contracts that lead to some growth in our regional economy, the experience of the hard knocks that eventually lead to a winning position might hopefully rub off on many of Tyneside’s teenagers, upon whom our future relies.

Damian Rice’s Cannonball, great song, would not have been my choice for the winner’s single.

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New South Tyneside mayoral car

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Audi A8

Vorsprung durch Technik

In a week which has been full of further austerity packages both in the UK and Europe, yes folks the coalition government is failing to meet its own financial targets and must do more of what their EU masters demand, it is good to see that South Tyneside Council is about to help out the employment situation of the Germanic peoples by investing in a new car for the borough’s mayor. The old Volvo, on a “55 plate” with less than a reported 20000 miles on the clock has been sacked,  rather like “agent Bruce” and replaced in a jiffy by a model already regarded as experienced, with a good track record,  and up for the job. Just a shame that we couldn’t have gone for a luxury Nissan model and support the jobs of hundreds of South Tyneside men and women, it need not have been one of these perhaps one of the models made in Washington might have sufficed – better than exporting jobs abroad again.

Inside sources tell me that the new black Audi A8 is currently being prepared for use at Middlefields in South Shields, receiving the custom livery and coat of arms that a mayoral car must have whilst the poor old Volvo will be sent for auction “somewhere”. By my reckoning someone will be getting a real bargain as the leasing company releases this asset onto the market.

Of course the cars are leased – yes……surely?

Vorsprung durch Technik for Geordies.

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What would Maggie have said?

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Margaret Thatcher and Progressive councillors

High level talks

Click pictures to enlarge

I’m very grateful to former South Shields councillor George Wilkinson who unearthed these pictures from his family album showing George and a very younger yours truly in talks with the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The pictures were taken in March 1982 at the Five Bridges Hotel in Gateshead at a Conservative Party function, Maggie was fond of visiting the regions to find out first hand what the feelings of the party were, and always relished the opportunity to meet others too, as she kept herself well informed about the state of the nation. She visited the north-east many times whilst Leader of the Opposition and also as Prime Minister and this was one of a number of occasions that I was fortunate enough to bend her ear!

I wonder how she might have handled our recent woes? How would she have dealt with the Northern Rock collapse and the banking crisis of 2008? Would she have allowed the UK to participate in such a massive banking bail out, and would she have contributed so much to the IMF and the ECB to bail out other European nations who were unable to deal with their own deficits and debt mountains? Would she have allowed any Chancellor of hers to build up such massive debts as those accrued by Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling?

I was about 25 years old at the time of this meeting, having been a mostly green and wet behind the ears Progressive councillor for the Beacon and Bents ward, to be honest and truthful until George told me about these photographs I’d forgotten all about this visit, even now I haven’t got a clue about what we might have been discussing. I do recall a later meeting in Seaton Delaval Hall when she discussed the beauty of The Leas and the coastline in South Shields and how she hoped that they would always be there for the public to enjoy, that was long before they were entrusted the The National Trust for safekeeping, at a meeting at the late Lord Elliot’s home in Northumberland we discussed how the miner’s strike was affecting their families and the hardships they were enduring, I was a little surprised at her concern. However, this meeting has me beaten, perhaps George can help out.

So readers, what do you think Maggie was telling us? How do you think she would have dealt with the debt crisis?

(Note to George Elsom – we weren’t discussing future charity events such as Movo, or my film star looks!)

Margaret Thatcher, George Wilkinson, Graham Rigg

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Written by curly

November 21, 2011 at 9:19 am

Not the right way

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not the right waySo many things that I said “No” to during the past week.

It didn’t help that “Dave’s” coalition government and the Opposition sort of joined forces to whip their MPs to vote against giving us a new referendum on our relationship with the EU, after all it is a totally different beast to the one which we last had a say about in 1973. The idea that people could register their ePetitions on the No. 10 website and if they had enough support (over 100000 signatures) they would result in a debate in the House of Commons is essentially a good one, especially as there are, from time to time, issues where it seems our MPs might be slightly out of tune with the public. However, a second petition relating to the price of petrol will apparently NOT be debated because of a lack of time in the Parliamentary calendar! Come on Dave, your government is devaluing the importance of these petitions if you cannot find time to debate them.

I profoundly disagreed too with the whole “solution” to the Eurozone crisis, this managed default of the Greek debts is a signal of much worse to come, we have spent the last two years throwing more debt at the Greeks and the Irish with other economies also being drip fed bail out funding, and let’s not forget how much was borrowed by Gordon Brown to increase the liquidity of British Banks either, I fail to see how you can solve anyone’s debts by piling more debt upon them! But we are led by the (European) nose to help create a 1.2 trillion Euro fund to assist member states who cannot manage to spend   around the same amount that they earn in revenue. Surely a result of the Brown/Obama plan to solve the banking crisis, invest spend your way out of trouble! Italy, Spain and Portugal will be next to feel the pressure of the mountain of Eurobond debts, as once again we see economies that are introducing austerity measures rather late in the day to balance their books. If we ran our household budgets in this way we would soon be looking towards a voluntary bankruptcy! Which brings us to the UK, where we too have come to realise, late in the day, that our national debts and budget deficit needed to be urgently addressed, and despite the efforts of the coalition government to bring public spending under control, those debts continue to rise and public spending continues to be a massive burden, George Osborne tells us that we are not contributing much to the European Stabilising mechanism but with deft sleight of hand we are increasing our contributions to the IMF instead, any wonder that we fail to meet spending targets? The hand of Brussels lies heavily upon the decisions made by our politicians and the whole mess has the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel musing over the future peace of Europe, possibly a rather far fetched view in my opinion, but it shapes the ridiculous writing in some of our newspapers this weekend.

Solution, allow the Eurozone to collapse and let member states reintroduce their own floating currencies, allowing a managed default based upon the exchange rate of the remaining Euro at the time of conversion to the new currency. Tell these member states that the European Central Bank will not be bailing them out in future, perhaps then we might see some fresh starts and some  growth slowly emanating from the ashes, this whole sorry affair of the last week has been more about saving the single currency and the European dream of political unity more than it has been about saving the economies of individual member states, and by playing their own small part our coalition government has nailed its flag to the mast as a lukewarm supporter of European integration. I firmly believe that ALL British politicians were wrong, wrong, wrong, not to allow their MPs a free vote during the EU debate, and that sometime in the far future the EU will collapse as a result of its utopian political and economic dreams.

Next disagreement is with Iain Malcolm, the Leader of South Tyneside Council who wrote in the Guardian during the week that councils were taking the flak for the government’s spending cuts. Was this a paid for article Iain? Anyway, pretty good at playing politics, perhaps the first stage in an election strategy for next May blaming the evil wicked Tories and Lib Dems for wreaking misery on us all but good old Labour in South Tyneside has managed to produce a budget which will not increase your council tax for e second year in succession! Can you see it coming? It may have been better and more honest of him to admit that Labour frittered away £ billions when in office, and saddled us with larger debts than we accrued through fighting the Second World War, perhaps he should have done a Liam Byrne and admitted that the cupboard was bear at the end of Gordon Brown’s tenure. He said:

The government’s cuts are brutal and ideological. Our task isn’t just to protect residents from the worst effects – it is to make them fully appreciate whose hand is on the axe.

Brutal? Idealogical? What then would Alistair Darling’s cuts have been described as if Labour had won the last election? There is no doubt that you could hardly have passed a cigarette paper between Labour and the Tories public spending pronouncements at the time, £2 bn difference within a national debt amounting to £1.2 tn is minuscule. That is where I find my disagreement with the Leader of the Council, a fair lack of honesty and a total lack of clarity over who put us all in the financial mess that we are in, he was quite happy to accept the cash that Gordon Brown’s government kept producing, quite happy to keep increasing council taxes year after year when even Brown’s largesse was deemed as insufficient. He knows, I know, and we know, that the party had to come to an end.

Because it doesn’t have to be like this. Local government has been a force for good in Britain. We will work to defend our communities by examining new and innovative models of service delivery – through trusts and co-operatives, asset transfers to the voluntary sector, strategic partnerships with the private sector or more joint working between councils.

Ah, now here are the clever little secret caveats, we WILL do it the way the coalition wants, because we DO want to make sure that there will be no increase in council taxes again! Look, yes, I know and understand that it is tough going, with very difficult spending decisions to make, but I also know that we knew this latest tranche of cuts was coming, it was NOT a complete shock,we knew twelve months ago that the “front loading” was only the first phase, this is probably the press release was made by Martin Swales rather than a Labour politician. Please take time to look again at the Gazette article, because therein lies another disagreement, some fool writing in the comments section reckons we somehow managed in the past without a Chief Executive, beats me how this sort of stuff gets into some minds. No council could be administered without a manager at the top, it matters not what he/she is titled, Chief Officer, Chief Executive, Director, or Town Clerk, we have always had a one!

Finally car parking in South Shields, perhaps one of my hobby horses, I wrote at the time of the introduction of the first “pay and display” areas in Beach Road, South Shields that it would not necessarily kill off the town centre, but also warned that it was the thin end of the wedge and that Town Hall bosses would soon extend the pay and display schemes to other areas, and I was right. I published a picture showing Beach Road populated with parked cars using the new meters, more recent evidence suggests they are not quite so popular now, for instance I can never remember seeing Beach Road so empty opposite the Town Hall, yet places such as Derby Street, Claypath Lane, and back Westoe Road are totally choked! There are even decent amounts of spaces in the town centre car parks since the charging scheme was amended, 1p per minute for just one hour is simply not giving the average shopper sufficient time, the 1p per minute charge should extend to the first two hours as a good compromise. If we can go somewhere toward attracting these motorists back to the areas where they want and need to park, then we won’t be creating as many problems for local residents who see their streets choked by other motorists, then we won’t have the thorny and expensive problems of resident permit areas!

“Big society” parking operators? OK I can go along with that, but more and more “pay and display schemes” at the wrong prices and in the wrong places is now something that seems to be creating additional problems in areas where we don’t need them.

OK, end of rant, I now have a pumpkin to carve, if I can manage to get Iain Malcolm’s face on it I’ll post a picture, I seem to remember that George Elsom looked pretty ghoulish a few years ago 🙂
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Councils maxing out the credit card

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laughing dogA little light relief for South Tyneside tax payers

I’m already getting pretty tired of the lacklustre economic performance of the Conservative led coalition government still labouring under the debt burdens left by its predecessor and weighed down by the yolk of the Eurozone debt crisis, the mantras are now ineffective and sharp clear results are what we are all screaming out to see. In the absence of any real growth policy the UK economy continues to slumber and the message that Labour “maxed out” the nation’s credit card continues to be broadcast ad nauseam. Yet, even after acknowledging the massive difficulties faced in attempting to reduce the structural budget deficit, and the mounting contributions to the IMF and the Central European Bank to shore up Italy, Greece, Ireland, and possibly Spain and Portugal too, it will be hard to argue that they are succeeding in meeting many targets when the next round of public spending figures are produced by the National Statistics Office. I confidently predict that despite the reductions in spending that we will see overall public expenditure continuing to rise seemingly unabated  and the PSBN (Public Sector Borrowing Requirement) will once again be a huge area of concern, after almost eighteen months in office the coalition will not have been able to show any real impact on the important numbers that determine how the international financial institutions regard our economy. Additionally the recently announced plan to print more money inject a further £75 Bn worth of quantitative easing into the banking system will have no guarantee of reaching the parts of the economy that need it (SMEs and consumers) and almost every guarantee to further fuel inflation which is already above the Bank of England’s targets, savings and pensions are about to be eroded further.

So, it comes as little surprise that we learn today that fiscal responsibility is still not something appreciated by some officials in local government, the Daily Telegraph carries an account of how councils in England, Scotland, and Wales continue to allow Chief Executives and other higher managers to spend on corporate credit cards to fund a “work style” that many could only dream of. I know it’s only small beer in the larger scheme of things but it is indicative of an attitude that ignores a responsibility and accountability that they have to local tax payers and the way that they spend other people’s money. Local councils. they say, have racked up credit card debts of around £100 m over the last three years spending on such things as overnight hotel bills, first class travel, and gifts. However when delving deeper into the reported figure for spending which exceeded £500, we see things which perhaps might put some Chief Executives on a par with MPs during the horrendous disclosure of their expenses.

  • Take a look at Essex County Council and ponder on its spending of almost £1m on “legal matters”, it turns out that most of these were the payment of fines! They also ran up huge bills at Tesco and Marks and Spencer.
  • Then ponder over how Pembrokeshire Council can spend over £5m on a credit card and include what looks like the whole of its social housing maintenance bills, £500 for a gingham dress, and over £1000 for an iMac (surely a Windows PC would have done the job?). On closer inspection it feels like the whole of their operations are paid for by credit card rather than the direct paying of invoices from departmental budgets, one has to ask why?
  • Aberdeenshire spent over £2500 on 60″ and 42″ flat screen TVs, almost £1000 on Nintendo DS game consoles, almost £6000 on Apple Macs and software, over £6000 on camcorders and digital cameras, over £1000 on tickets for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, they are another council who spent over £1000 on a top spec iMac Pro where a cheaper laptop would probably have done the same job. They also spent almost £5000 on theatre tickets and sent staff to just about the four corners of the earth!

Council tax payers in South Tyneside might like to know that our neighbours at Gateshead Council spent almost £44000 on their credit card, North Tyneside a whopping £1.28m over three years, Newcastle City Council under £7000, Sunderland along with South Tyneside managed to total an absolute NIL! (There may, of course be smaller amounts that fell below the £500 reporting threshold).

I am pretty much shocked at how councils have managed to use credit cards so widely, I’d like to think  their use may be a way to pay for goods and services quickly and effectively especially if they are engaging in internet shopping, I’d also like to think that they are buying at the cheapest available prices on behalf of their tax payers. However, items like Macs are more a “desirable” than a “must have”.

Any thoughts from those involved in buying on behalf of local councils would be much appreciated.

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Written by curly

October 17, 2011 at 10:22 am