Archive for the ‘England’ Category
Ocean Road suffers again.
The brief but intense thunderstorm which hit the north east of England this afternoon was not in any way an exceptional summer weather event, the storm lasted less than an hour and the volume of rain was far less than the last storm to hit us in South Tyneside. Yet once again a familiar story unfolded as parts of South Shields were dealt a miserable hand due mainly to inadequate drainage solutions. Ocean Road once more bore the brunt of the weather as shopkeepers and guest house owners reached for the sand bags and plastic sheeting in a hurried attempt to prevent damage to their flooring. A similar picture was emerging at Tyne Dock at its junction with Eldon Street.
After scores of promises of action, millions of pounds worth of investment from Northumbrian Water, a similar level of activity from South Tyneside Council, we still see scenes such as these in South Shields and other parts of the borough. People that I spoke to this afternoon were almost distraught and bitterly frustrated that their businesses could be put at risk by a simple summer rainstorm and the apparent inability of local officialdom and utility players to keep a few drains running clear. The residents know exactly which drains will block, how quickly, and can almost accurately count the minutes before the waters will subside, yet they still have to suffer.
We can count ourselves lucky that South Tyneside Council were only having three free concerts in the Bents Park as part of the Summer Festival this year, otherwise the usual final concert would have been an ordeal to say the least.
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.
Local Elections predictions
Along with hundreds of othesr in England and Wales many of our councillors in South Tyneside are facing the voters at the ballot box today. The results expected around midnight will be based largely on Labour’s stewardship of our local economy and its efforts to stay within government spending guidelines in order to keep council taxes frozen, they will also be coloured a little by national political trends which don’t auger well for the two constituent parties of the coalition government.
With only one Conservative councillor, and no Liberal Democratic councillors, after the decision of Joe Abbott to stand as an independent, we shouldn’t expect any miraculous results from the coalition partners around here, but I am predicting that Jeff Milburn will hold his seat in Cleadon Village and East Boldon for the Conservatives, unfortunately for Joe Abbott I’m going to stick my neck out and predict that he may well lose in Hebburn North. The rest of my predictions will not come as any major surprise, I see a victorious night for the Labour Party as the votes are counted in South Shields and Jarrow, the opposition is in for a tough old time! I’m predicting a battering, a hammering, with the Independent Alliance and Progressives almost wiped off the map.
- Beacon and Bents – All eyes will be on this result which could be very close to call, but I’m predicting a Labour win for former Mayor John Anglin .
- Bede – Labour hold
- Biddick and All Saints – Labour hold
- Boldon Colliery – Labour hold
- Cleadon and East Boldon – Conservative hold
- Cleadon Park – Labour hold
- Fellgate and Hedworth – Labour win from Independent Alliance
- Harton – Labour win from Progessive
- Hebburn North – Labour win from Lib/Dem
- Hebburn South – Labour hold.
- Horsley Hill – another one very close to call, Labour win from Independent Alliance
- Monkton – Independent Alliance hold
- Primrose – Labour hold
- Simonside and Rekendyke – Labour to hold two seats following the death of Joan Meeks
- West Park – Labour win from Progressive
- Westoe – Labour win from Independent Alliance (no Branley effect this year)
- Whitburn and Marsden – Labour hold
- Whiteleas – Independent hold, but it could be very tight.
Well, they are my predictions, which would see the Independent Alliance, the Progressives, Lib-Dems, UKIP, and Conservatives fighting to fill the area of an average park bench, if you disagree then please say why.
Populist move from one current and one former councillor
Well it certainly might be an idea that gains the backing of a large section of the community eager to see the perceived wasting of money halted, but as things stand these proposals from the former Progressive councillor Greenwell Jewitt, and the borough’s Old Peoples Parliament Forum 50, along with backing from current Independent councillor George Elsom seem doomed to failure not least because they are poorly thought through and poorly presented.
The idea sounds great, bringing the number of councillors down from 54 to 36 and reducing allowances by 50% would certainly find favour with a lot of people, many could probably find popular alternative ways to spend the c £300000 that might be saved (in other words the cash would not be saved at all) but there is no substance, clarity, or technical detail in the proposals, nor does the proposal take account of what actions South Tyneside Council can legitimately take on its own behalf. Our council cannot decide alone to reduce the number of its elected representatives, nor can it decide alone what level of allowances to compensate elected members with.
These decisions can only be taken alongside the guidance, advice, and support of external organisations set up by statute governing the constitution of local councils in England Wales.
One needs to ask Cllr, Elsom and Mr. Jewitt exactly how they would propose making the reduction in councillor numbers. Would they favour continuing with fewer but larger three member seats and elections held at the same time and frequency as the rest of England and Wales, or would they favour two member wards, which require our council to be completely out of step with the rest of England and Wales? Twelve larger wards across the borough would suit me to be sure, but it would be almost impossible to get all party agreement on the shape, size, and the boundaries of these new wards, it might also lead to a reduction in Labour’s dominance at local level. However this is all academic, in order to facilitate a change in the size of South Tyneside Council, the council would need to pass a resolution requesting that the Local Government Boundaries Commission for England carry out a special and specific electoral review just for this borough, and it is a very rare thing indeed for single borough reviews to take place successfully.
Electoral reviews look at whether the boundaries of wards or divisions within a local authority need to be altered. We might conduct these reviews either to ensure fairer representation at local government elections after any significant changes in the distribution of electors, or at the request of a local authority for other reasons.
Things we look at:
- the number of councillors on the council
- the number of wards or divisions
- whether the wards or divisions should be represented by a single councillor, or jointly by two or three councillors
- the boundaries and names of those wards or divisions
Our responsibilities relate solely to local government in England.
So, as you can see from the above, this will be a major hurdle to overcome, and certainly would not happen overnight!
I think Forum 50’s idea of collecting petition signatures may be the right way to go to promote the council into thinking of considering their proposal, but a realist would recognise that there can be no political will withing the Labour Party to cut their own throats.
Nice try though guys!
John Maughan: an interesting but undersold South Shields success story
It all started for me way back in 1987 when my mate, who was to become my best man, challenged me to a game of snooker over a couple of pints. I was wondering where he was thinking of taking me, back then I could only recall the old snooker hall in Union Alley which ran towards Queen Street and was accessed from South Shields Market Place, or through the rear doors of Woolworths, and as far as I could recall it certainly did not have a license to sell alcohol . Additionally the place had been closed and demolished years earlier.
As far as I knew there were no other snooker halls in South Shields, which I thought was a pity seeing as we were all used, by then, to staying up late watching Steve Davis grind out wins on the television. Little did I know that a relatively new private member’s snooker club had opened in Chichester Road in the former premises of Buck Ryan’s car and helicopter showroom (it had originally been the Chichester Picture House). So one Saturday evening I was taken there, and taken aback by the friendly atmosphere and remarkably modern facilities, I never knew that one could play a few frames of snooker and afterwards enjoy a few pints in a comfortable, but small, bar with such engaging staff and a raconteur who turned out to be mine host!
This chap behind the bar cut a bit of a dash with his slicked back hair, three piece suits, immaculately shined shoes, garish waistcoats, and always sporting a bow tie. He was typically enthusiastic about the game and spun long tales of competitions in Prestatyn, Carlisle, or Skegness, and spilled so called secrets about a young Jimmy White, John Virgo, and one or two tales about Terry Griffiths, a typically chummy sort of bloke chuntering on as he pulled pints of Bass Scotch. Well we didn’t mind listening, but there were times when perhaps his stories were so far fetched that we could be forgiven for thinking that he’d just fabricated them to improve the atmosphere of the place. What was worse was the constant interruptions if a major snooker tournament was being shown on the TV, we got the commentary in advance, the analysis of the shot came long before it was taken, it was a bit of a distraction to be honest. Trouble was……..he was always right, this guy behind the bar genuinely knew his snooker!
Back then, the bar was very small, and the snooker hall housed eighteen full sized tables, many of which were Georgian or Victorian in origin, there were a few Rileys but most of the others were hand carved works of art, especially the robust legs, so this bloke behind the bar was able to hold forth and everyone could hear him whether they wanted to or not. So where are these big star names these days was the question we wanted answering, why are they not up here playing exhibition matches if you know them all so well? I think some of us just “took the Mick”, knowing that any sort of spectator event in the Shields Snooker Centre was never going to happen, the place just wasn’t created or styled with that in mind. That was until Mr. Maughan, the manager, challenged us to go and find the evidence that he had indeed been a pretty major player in his day.
I must have been a hard to convince member as I found myself down at the Central Library borrowing a copy of Clive Everton’s “Guinness Book of Snooker “ which showed that John Maughan had indeed won a UK amateur tournament once, but John Maughan was adamant that he’d won two titles! The 1965 under 16 title was shown in the Everton book, but strangely the 1968 amateur youth title was not, in its place was a blank space suggesting that the tournament did not take place that year. Sadly Clive Everton’s book is no longer in print and the library service disposed of its copy a few years later because of its poor condition. Well at least we then knew back in 1988 that we had a UK champion showing off his tricks on the tables, but it would be nice to put the record straight and confirm his status. A more recent visit to the Central library in Denmark Square came about after myself and John’s daughter Lucille had spent hours scouring the internet for any references to UK amateur or junior championships for the years in question, sadly not a single site was found to be listing them, either in “official” snooker sites or fanzine type places, John’s name was not even mentioned! Luckily the library in South Shields now has a copy of the Hamlyn’s Encyclopedia of Snooker in the reference section and this provided the pages and the proof that we needed to show the world and those few doubters at the Shields Snooker Centre, you can view those pages below.
So this little chat with John grew from this frustration that the official records for the period are so well hidden, and certainly until today were NOT available to look up or reference online. So now whenever people are searching for UK amateur snooker champions at youth or junior level, at least they will find some sort of result from the search engines, albeit this article is slanted towards one man living and working in South Shields!
This is his story.
John Maughan began life in 1949 in Consett with his family where his dad was the caretaker of the local billiards hall, he tells me he was only 11 years old when he acquired his first cue. A typical hard working family in the north-east of England, his dad was his greatest influence in taking up the game. By the time that John was 13 he’d won his first tournament, the Consett and District Senior Billiards, the proud young lad had taken home his first trophy having beaten grown men! From then on he made use of every opportunity to practice hard whilst his dad brushed and cleaned the tables. He tells me times were hard and that everyone in his family would take whatever jobs were available to help support themselves. John, at that stage had no intentions of taking up the game on any sort of full time or regular basis, and after leaving school took a job at Consett steelworks, as one might expect. However, he was at a stage of development in snooker where he needed better competition against better opponents, he was determined that he would try to be as good as his favourite player. “Who was that?”, I enquired, – well it was the “legendary Joe Davis” of course.
Hence John used most of his spare time and money pursuing success in local and regional competitions, often sleeping in the back of an old white transit van with his dad if the venue was too far away from home, or more likely because funding was not sufficient to afford a hotel room – he was prepared to make sacrifices. He was making a name for himself on the amateur snooker circuit, and had reached the stage of playing in national events. In his early teens the family would go with him as John and his father traveled the north of England and southern Scotland chasing down more snooker competitions and trophies, they were by now regular entrants at the Prestatyn Pro-Am competition held each summer in the Welsh resort, playing three or four matches each day. John tells me that in later years he’d enter the competition with the aim of winning it solely because part of the prize was a free week holiday the following year! It was by rubbing shoulders with the new television stars of snooker that helped John improve his game, and in 1965 he beat P. Demaine to become the UK Junior Champion, and in 1968 he won the UK Youth Championship by beating Dave Clinton in the final, his aim now would be to become a full time professional player.
UK under 16 snooker champions 1944 – 1985
UK under 19 snooker champions 1949 – 1985
He met his future wife Angela at the Freemasons Arms in Consett, whilst she was visiting from Carlisle to see members of her extended family, and she soon came to realise that chasing the snooker dream came with the territory. Every summer John, Angela, and their young family would make an annual pilgrimage to Prestatyn in north Wales where John would again take part in the invitational week long tournament that included many of the top professionals of the day. Snooker was probably more elitist back in those earlier days, the EPBSA (English Professional Billiards and Snooker Association) maintained a sort of “closed shop” only allowing 32 players to become full time professionals and take part in its money winning tournaments, John Maughan had tried hard, so it seems, to become one of them, and according to him back in 1987 he’d been in a number of ranking tournaments and had done the annual summer stint at Prestatyn winning competitions which won him his annual holiday back to the same place next year! Aspiring professionals needed to garner not just ranking points but also had to be “accepted” by a committee which included World Champion Terry Griffith’s, John Maughan had done that, got the points, got the wins but failed to impress the Welshman Griffiths, who he had squarely beaten on the table a week earlier, consequently in 1978 he was not able to join snooker’s ranks of the elite professionals. At this point John was one of the highest ranked English players in the world (he was ranked 13th.) outside of those 32 elite professionals and he tells me he was gutted by the committee’s decision not to allow him to join their “club” – he nearly gave it all up.
Despite the setback he continued to play snooker regularly and was installed as the resident “professional” at the Richmond Snooker Club in Carlisle before later moving to Newcastle, then in 1986 came the opportunity to move to South Shields when he was offered the job of managing the Shields Snooker Centre. After more than 25 years he still loves his job there and continues to buck the national trend for licensed premises with club going from strength to strength. South Shields is now firmly his home where he has developed many friendships and strong ties.
When conversing with him about the big name stars he’s played against we hear a stream of talent and only wish that one or two of them might visit South Shields and have an impromptu match against John, people like John Parrot, John Virgo, Steve Davis, Mike Hallet, Dennis Taylor, Cliff Thorburn, Willie Thorne, Joe Johnson, Jimmy White, Ray Reardon, fellow northerner George Wood, and late greats such as Alex Higgins and elder statesmen of the game like Rex Williams.. We’ve lost count of the stories that he tells of Thorne and White and their various exploits and horseplay at tournaments!
John is now content to indulge most of his sporting interests during the course of his day at work, he is a keen football fan, loves horse racing, tennis and darts. He has promoted a strong sporting ethos within the Snooker Centre over the past 25 years and helped form and manage a football team, and once arranged a day out karting for club members. His club now hosts 17 dart teams, a pool team, a couple of fives and threes teams, and is also the regular meeting place for the Westoe Fishing Club!
South Shields Snooker Centre now has 16 full sized snooker tables, a much enlarged bar area complete with pool table and four dart boards, and can offer a multitude of live sporting action from its satellite TV system, it also offers a good variety of hot bar snacks, hearty all day breakfasts, and beers and lagers from only £2 per pint. Membership is available at only £6 per year and table rates are very reasonable, the club on Chichester Road (next to The Cyprus) is open daily from 10:00 am (telephone: 0191 4567097 for table bookings or membership enquiries).
“I’ll be here for quite a few years yet, I’ve no intentions of retiring, my eyes may no longer be good enough to play top level snooker but you can guarantee that my staff and myself will ensure that South Shields has a first class facility here for any youngsters wishing to learn the game, and give other members comfortable surroundings to play and relax in. If any other sporting teams need a venue or a meeting place they just need to get in touch and have a chat. I might not have made it to the top in the world of snooker but I certainly feel as though I’ve a moulded a top job for myself here in South Shields. The family grew up here and we love the place, I guess I’m part of the fixtures and fittings now”
Pickles: councils have a “moral duty” to freeze council taxes.
I guess it is seen as good politics to embarrass those council leaders who are turning down the opportunity of a central grant which will enable them to freeze council tax for a second year, I for one, along with thousands of others in South Tyneside, have welcomed this much needed relief. The big question remains, how will councils behave when the scheme comes to an end, and how will they see their “moral duties” when the central cash handouts are curtailed even more severely? I like his idea of proposing a referendum be held before councils can increase council tax by more than 3.5%, a far better form of consultation than that offered regularly by South Tyneside Council in previous years where we have been offered the option of voting for a range of increases, but never been given the option of a freeze or a reduction.
Local councils in England and Wales have had all sorts of additional moral responsibilities thrust upon them by a multitude of governments over the years, and in many respects are now no more than agencies for central government policing statutes and applying regulatory duties, and in some other respects have had to carry the burden of responsibilities once carried by individuals and families. In areas of social care for the young, the weak, the vulnerable, and the elderly across all walks of life your local council is often doing the job that families used to do, the state has been forced by social change and social mobility to look after people from the cradle to the grave. Be it home care, residential care, leisure services, play schemes, nursery education, youth involvement, day care services, transport for the elderly etc. etc. your local council is doing what your grandparents would see as their own “moral duties” to look after their own family.
As we move further into the time and areas of austerity, which so far in South Tyneside and other areas has NOT been met by howls of protest, demonstrations, or riots in the streets, I wonder just how many of us may cast our minds towards our own areas of “moral duty” and start thinking again about what we can do for our families without having to resort to an arm of the state to undertake the task for us. Whilst the housing market will remain depressed for some time, I wonder if we may see households making huge sacrifices such as forsaking some comforts to bring in an elderly relative to provide care for them in a family environment? I wonder if we may eventually lose the desire to palm off some of our own responsibilities for our own children and youth to the local council as we realise that in tough times our councils may no longer be held responsible for their care or entertainment?
Some may view this as a regressive step, but surely a realignment of moral duties and social responsibility may lead to more rather than less social cohesion as the strength of the nuclear family increases, and allow local councils to concentrate on core demands such as education, housing, planning, waste management, and roads. If central government could manage to reduce the load of “moral duties” attributable to local councils then a reduction in local government spending could become more comfortable for households to accept, so long as we all know that we have our own moral responsibilities and duties to perform. We should all take a leaf out of the book of life of South Tyneside’s leaders, and keep our mothers firmly by our side!
Pickles apparently is a believer in localism and devolving more power and responsibility to householders must surely be one of his aims if local government is to become leaner and fitter for purpose. Alternatively you may believe the man is a fool who talks out of the top of his hat, and that his stance is completely at odds with hundreds of local councils who will revert to huge council tax rises as soon as central government brings the current “freeze” to an end.
Pickles at least is having some success in reducing the expenditure of his own department, the use of tax payer funded credit cards by his civil servants wining and dining at the best restaurants and hotels has been wickedly curtailed as Sir Humphrey and friends are now to be found visiting their local MacDonalds for lunch:
“Quarter pounder with fries to go please – and NO Pickles with that!”
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!