In an economy driven by growth and greed where some organisations seem to be obsessed with squeezing as much profit for as little compensation as possible, it is refreshing to find people who believe in a different way of doing things.
People like John Marshall, former Lord Mayor of Newcastle and his wife Margaret who in 2003 brought about Newcastle’s Fairtrade City status through passionate commitment to a fair deal for people in the developing world. Over a decade later, the Fairtrade Partnership is still working hard to keep Fairtrade principles going strong in the city. Even young people are getting involved, as Sacred Heart Primary School’s Work of Hearts Fairtrade Club showed when they came to the City Council to tell us all about the work they’ve been doing to support education in India and Fairtrade industry in Mexico.
The City Council remain the Flagship employer and we have made a commitment to use our buying power as a large organisation to support Fairtrade. We are supported in Fairtrade work by Newcastle University whose Director of Hospitality and Catering, Margaret Hunter, chairs the Partnership. Everyone can do their bit to help the developing world, though. Why not replace your tea or sugar with Fairtrade products? Or why not Stick with Foncho to support struggling banana farmers?
To learn more about how to get involved, head over to http://www.newcastle.gov.uk/business/fairtrade#partnership
Thanks to you for helping to maintain our library network
Sometimes desperate times call for new approaches. Cuts to our revenue budget from Government meant we were faced with some terrible choices last year, among the worst was our proposal to close libraries across the city.
Quite rightly, people were angry, furious that services they cherished were now under threat thanks to Government funding cuts.
I was angry as well. As I said at the time, I did not enter politics to cut libraries, which are a source of inspiration and learning to local communities.
The cuts came from Westminster, but people took a lot of their anger out on the council. Some even argued that we should break the law and set an illegal budget so we could save libraries and other services that were now at risk.
A packed meeting at Newcastle’s Assembly Rooms one year ago saw a procession of speakers decry the council for what they described as ‘cultural vandalism’.
But a year on, what actually happened? What does our library network look like now?
I’d argue that, thanks to communities and partners across our city, it has survived and is showing signs of growth.
I’m proud we took the radical step of having an open and honest conversation with people through our Let’s Talk budget consultation.
We told people that we needed their help to maintain a decent service.
And in turn local people and organisations showed they had the appetite to run these services and helped us redefine a positive library network fit for the 21st century.
Only one library, Moorside, actually closed. Although this was a massive loss to the local community – it is remarkable that we managed to make the savings we needed to without closing more.
We now have a core of eight city council run libraries with our modern, award-winning City Library at its heart.
On top of that there are two libraries run by the community in Jesmond and Dinnington and we have four partnership funded libraries which we run in conjunction with other organisations.
The future of Fawdon and Newbiggin Hall libraries is still uncertain, although discussions are taking place with a number of interested parties.
Discussions around Blakelaw Library are more advanced and we are hopeful this will be our next partnership funded library.
And despite a year of stress and uncertainty, our team of dedicated staff has continued to do ground-breaking work that is gaining national recognition, working closely with the communities and organisations that are taking on some of our libraries.
We have been recognised by a national pilot for e-books, we still attract award-winning authors for talks and workshops, we had a very successful Summer Reading Challenge for children and young people, our work clubs are fully subscribed, and our City Library is home to all sorts of events including comic festivals, the new Business and Intellectual Property Centre and the recent Books on Tyne festival.
It wasn’t always easy, but one year on, I think Newcastle still has a library service to be proud of.
View the map of our library network.
Newcastle was proud to host a high level debate around the future of the East Coast Main Line last week.
Local authorities from London to the Scottish highlands sent delegates to the civic centre, for the latest in a series of discussions about the future of this vital network and to improve our understanding of its economic impact.
The North East is the cradle of the world’s railways – we all know about Stephenson and The Rocket – and railways are part of our DNA. For more than 150 years, the East Coast Main Line has connected us to the rest of the country and shaped the economy of our region.
It carries 155 trains a day, over 18 million passenger journeys a year, and 30 percent of all rail freight for at least part of the journey. It provides 3,000 direct jobs for staff between Inverness and London, not to mention more than 700 jobs being created at Newton Aycliffe, assembling Hitachi’s new electric trains to run on the line. It contributes £640m to public funds – significantly more than privately run lines – and its revenue exceeds the operating costs of the franchise.
The Government has invited three private operators to bid for the line. Commercial ownership has twice ended in failure, whereas public ownership has set a high standard.
It is important that everyone has the chance to have their say on the future of the East Coast Main Line, including the public, businesses using freight services, and employers who depend on vital rail links with London and the rest of the UK. The East Coast Main Line authorities are preparing a strategic business case that will set out the economic necessity of the line, and we must all contribute.
As things stand, we could well be on the verge of another golden age of rail travel: passenger numbers are up, satisfaction levels are up – yes, fares are also up – but there is a push to invest in rail once again.
I’m an advocate of HS2, like other leaders of the UK’s core cities, but I have always made clear that HS2 needs to be seen alongside investment in East Coast Main Line and not instead of it. HS2 will bring new opportunities to towns and cities; it will drive growth outside of London; cut journey times and carry more passengers the length of the country – a better East Coast Main Line will do all of this. The success of HS2 and the East Coast are integral to each other.
Here in Newcastle we are putting our money where our mouth is by making a multi-million pound investment in transforming Central Station and the surrounding area. Passengers arriving at Newcastle will soon enjoy a magnificent sweeping gateway through the station – one of the best entrances to a city anywhere in the UK. The station portico will be glazed and pedestrianised, providing new retail space, and better passenger facilities including a new travel centre. This is on top of an £8m investment by Nexus in the Metro at Central Station.
This is our statement of confidence in Newcastle as a city and in rail as a mode of transport fit for the future. We all have a duty to champion this line, because we believe in rail, and we believe in the East Coast Main Line.
Thanks to Centre for Cities for this event, and congratulations on the publication of Cities Outlook 2014.
There’s always a risk with this publication that it’s caricatured as a “league table of cities”, and with the emphasis on what we’re doing badly, rather than well. And your analysis of course brings out the dominant impact of Greater London within the UK economy.
But, for me, this sort of evidence of performance has to be a spur for improvement. For Newcastle for example it reinforces the challenges where our own city lags behind – to address the deep-seated inequalities we face as a city, to deliver on our plans for housing growth, and grow our private sector business base. But I also take heart from the positive opportunities we’re providing from growth, investment and jobs – which I’ll say a bit more about in a moment.
For the core cities as a group, it’s a reminder of our potential.
The core cities together with their surrounding urban areas:
- Are home to 16 million people – a third of the population of England
- Generate 27% of England’s wealth (that’s more than London)
- House half the country’s leading universities
- Contain 28% of highly skilled workers (graduates and above)
We are a vital delivery partner for a Government seeking to accelerate economic growth, and we are already making a significant contribution. But with the right freedoms and flexibilities we could do a lot more.
There is a strong relationship between the ability of cities to drive growth and their levels of local financial control and ability to make policies that match the needs of places. Financial independence lets cities join things together on the ground to deliver better results, in a way that cannot be matched by doing things by remote control from Whitehall.
The international evidence is very clear. In England 95 percent of all taxes raised in a city go back to the Government, and most of the funding that comes back to us does so with strings attached. This is stifling local innovation and hampering the ability local decision makers to pursue local priorities.
In Canada, cities control ten times more of the tax they raise, in the USA its 7 times and in Germany it is 6 times more. In these countries it is the norm for cities to outperform the national economy. In England only London does this consistently. English cities lack the level of financial control enjoyed by our international competitors and we are not competing on a level playing field. Whilst we welcome continued devolution to Scotland and Wales, this does create the risk of a constitutional imbalance which needs to be addressed to free English cities to deliver their plans for jobs and growth.
The core cities group have put forward an ambitious prospectus for growth with clear recommendations for greater devolution and fiscal control. We’ve seen leadership from Greg Clark, Michael Heseltine and others from within government – matched by the commitment of Richard Lease, Nick Forbes and the other core city leaders.
The wave 1 city deals represent a big step forward in devolution. We’re looking forward to that same radicalism and commitment to new ideas through the Single Growth Plan process.
I want to mention 3 specific areas:
- Firstly, Tax Increment Finance Scheme (TIF), which the Centre for Cities has championed, and is now being delivered as part of Newcastle’s City Deal. This has allowed us to rapidly speed up delivery plans and construction in our Accelerated Development Zone. For the first time Newcastle Council and our close partners in Gateshead can keep all of the business rates generated in our Accelerated Development Zone, initiating over £90m of investment, and more over the next 25 years – creating 13,000 jobs, transforming our city. Freed up to take the initiative we are not scratching our heads about our economic future, we are on site right now delivering the infrastructure, opportunity and jobs that our city needs. And Manchester have shown how it’s possible to deliver TIF principles across a wider city region, through their innovative “earn back” agreement.
- Secondly, through a new more local approach to employment, skills and welfare to work. The nationally led Work Programme has so far struggled to meet the needs of job seekers in our core cities. Around half a million people in our cities will complete the programme without finding work. In stark contrast, locally delivered programmes are delivering better far results. Whilst the national Youth Contract programme is underperforming, the locally delivered pilots in Leeds, Newcastle and Gateshead are delivering results that are nearly twice as effective.
- And third, by delegating substantial additional investment to local areas, to deliver infrastructure over a much longer-term period, breaking the silos of Whitehall to integrate transport, housing, business support, inward investment, culture and broadband infrastructure. National funding and investment programmes are often cumbersome and inflexible – with a long time lag from bids being invited to benefits being achieved. Local schemes are quicker to deliver and more attuned to the needs of the economy. Through the Local Enterprise Partnerships, we can bring together commercial expertise and democratic engagement – for the long term future of our cities.
This isn’t about a power grab from Whitehall for its own sake. It’s about taking responsibility for delivery. A new approach to city governance, to combined authorities – to both growth and reform of the public sector.
The Core Cities of England, working alongside the Mayor of London, want the freedom and flexibility to be a good partner to the Government – to help it to deliver the growth and the jobs that we all need. Our ‘City Centred’ campaign makes a series of constructive proposals designed to set cities free to boost skills and jobs, grow business and innovation, build more houses, strengthen transport networks, increase investment, speed up broadband, purchase cheaper energy, and to join up services to make people’s lives better.
All of these things will feature heavily in party manifestos of every hue ahead of the next election. Delivering on promises and priorities is always more difficult. The Core Cities are convinced that radical devolution can empower us to deliver economic growth, the best outcomes for our communities, and a brighter future for our country. Trust us and we will deliver.
A card arrived at the council the other day to the department that helps homeless people.
It read: “No words will ever describe how much we are grateful and indebted to you! Thank you so much for your support, effort, patience and understanding. There is always a question that keeps popping in our heads: are all English people as kind and whole hearted as you? Or are you just some beautiful accidents of nature?”
The words of thanks were from a family who had fled war torn Sudan with their disabled child. They had fallen on the mercy of our emergency accommodation team who had found them shelter. It was no accident. It was a result of choices that the council has made which bring out the best in people and represents the values of our community which has a proud tradition of helping people when they are down on their luck. We see these values in a range of our services as more and more of our local residents struggle with welfare reforms.
The threat of homelessness affects more than just the stereotyped street beggar we so often see on TV. It also affects tenants and homeowners.
Last year 5,964 households in Newcastle received housing advice from the council and there were 3,673 cases of homelessness prevention. As a result of the hard work of our staff
- statutory homelessness reduced from 1,038 cases in 2002/3 to 220 cases in 2012/13;
- we have not used B&B accommodation since 2006 when £58,584 was spent;
- 642 cases of homelessness was prevented in 2006/7 compared to 3,673 cases in 2012/13;
- evictions reduced from 176 cases in 2007/8 to 85 2012/13;
- 620 cases of homelessness were prevented through good debt advice
These figures – in the face of huge cuts – are something that the council and the city can be proud of. We were recently commended for our efforts to prevent homelessness in a study by Herriot Watt and Northumbria Universities.
Since the last evaluation in 2011, the report acknowledged: “…increasing difficulties, most notably as a result of cuts to public spending and welfare reform.
It continued: “The consensus that emerged from this evaluation was that, despite these difficulties, the local authority continues to provide and coordinate high quality services and is seeking to develop and improve these services, particularly in areas of perceived weakness.”
Last September the UN reported on UK housing, saying it had “a history of ensuring that low-income households are not obliged to cope with insecure tenure and poor housing conditions, and can be well-housed.”
However, it acknowledged; “…signs of retrogression in the enjoyment of the right to adequate housing. It is not clear that every effort has been made to protect the most vulnerable from the impacts of retrogression, indeed much of the testimony I heard suggests they are bearing the brunt. Housing deprivation is worsening in the UK.”
We know that we will have to do more to meet the challenges of the Government’s welfare reforms and public sector cuts which will mean that over 5,000 households in Newcastle are at risk of homelessness due to the “bedroom tax” alone. This is because they will lose an average of £709 per year. They are already the most disadvantaged, living in areas with the least employment opportunities, highest rates of child poverty and the worst impacts of the welfare reforms which will take an estimated £100m out of Newcastle by 2017.
Welfare reforms and public sector cuts will make it very difficult to maintain our good performance in preventing homelessness. Many people will not be able to afford to keep their homes and some may face eviction – despite our best efforts to avoid this. However, as Raymond Williams said, “To be truly radical we must make hope possible rather than despair convincing.” In hard times, more than ever, we need to give people a helping hand, not put them down. It is the right thing to do.
Our Local Plan will assist in guiding development in Newcastle and Gateshead to 2030 and beyond, helping to deliver our ambitions. It ensures that the role of Newcastle City Centre is strengthened, at the heart of the local and regional economy, and that our development needs are accommodated in the most appropriate locations.
Newcastle has a great economic future and this plan prepares the ground for that success. The plan supports the growth of 14,000 additional jobs in Newcastle by 2030. We envisage that jobs will be created in areas of new technology such as offshore engineering and life sciences, in the flourishing creative and digital economy, in the continued growth of business and financial services, and in a retail heart that continues to innovate and develop in the internet age. This plan will create the room we need for business expansion, on new sites such as Science Central, East Pilgrim Street, the Central Station and Stephenson Quarter, on the banks of the Tyne, and at Newcastle International Airport.
Independent estimates suggest that the combined population of Newcastle and Gateshead will continue to grow beyond half a million people. To meet that need we need to plan for new housing, and in particular new family housing. Currently too many of our residents leave the City as we don’t provide the choice of housing that they aspire to. We can either restrict further house growth which will push up prices further for future generations and force them to move out of the City or we can match our economic ambitions and provide houses that our City needs. Failure to set a plan that meets our housing need will also result in the market taking over, and we will lose the ability to manage housing growth so it is sustainable. This is not a responsible option. Therefore we will plan for 21,000 new homes in Newcastle by 2030. We start from a situation in which young families are already struggling to find a home they can afford in a community they want to live.
We will plan for 15,000 of the 21,000 new homes to be within the current urban area, including 2,000 additional places for our growing student population. We will achieve this through investment in brownfield sites, and extensions of existing communities. We will support investment in the district centres that are so important in sustaining local communities.
This plan has been created through an active conversation with our communities. We have listened to the ideas and concerns, from those worried about the impact on their existing communities, and from those who are seeking new opportunities for places to live and work in Newcastle. We have taken into account the needs of future generations, as well as the people who currently live and work here. We will plan for Newcastle to be a truly age-friendly City. This plan will help us secure a strong future for our city, and communities we are proud of.
For more information, visit http://www.newcastle.gov.uk/planning-and-buildings/planning-policy/planning-a-future-for-newcastle
The implications of the Government’s austerity programme, which is seeing unprecedented cuts to local government, are now starting to be clear. In 2012 we consulted on a plan which identified the need for £90m of cuts from the council’s budget over a three year period. Since then, additional Government cuts have increased that to £108 million.
Cuts have an obvious and painful impact on everyone, and particularly the most vulnerable in our communities. They result in job losses, services being withdrawn and damage economic confidence. It is therefore regrettable that the Government, rather than easing the pain of cuts as the economy starts to recover, seems determined to press ahead with yet more deep cuts for councils. Many of the cuts they have already announced have yet to be implemented, and the consequences of the further cuts they have planned will, no doubt about it, be very grave.
Newcastle’s Cabinet will continue to make the robust case to Government that continued cuts of this scale are having a hugely negative impact on our city, and are damaging and counterproductive. We will stand alongside our regional partners, Core Cities and the Local Government Association in making that case. We have been clear from the start that we will be honest with staff and residents alike and will continue with that approach. We will also continue to apply the principles identified by the Fairness Commission to our decision-making.
With the Government cutting our budgets year on year it would be easy to feel powerless, that Newcastle is a place that has things done to it rather than a place that does things. Instead, our long term approach to the budget is about taking control, thinking about how the council might look in 2016 and how we could continue to provide services with the resources we will have. The council has four clear priorities, for which my colleagues and I are politically accountable, and these will guide us and help focus services on the outcomes we want to achieve.
Alongside setting a balanced budget, which the council must legally do each year, we are straining every sinew to save jobs and keep vital public services in the city. Residents, community groups and partners have come forward over the last year and as a result of their cooperation and commitment we have managed to save libraries, respite centres and other valuable services. I am extremely proud of the civic-minded way in which people in Newcastle are rallying, at such a difficult time, to play their part. And in recognition of the cost of living crisis that many face, we are proposing to freeze council tax for the fourth year running.
Although it may feel like a permanent fixture, austerity will pass. It’s therefore important that we take big decisions now about the longer term future of the city. I signed an ambitious City Deal with Government which will unlock £92 million of investment. It could ultimately be worth up to £1 billion in total and bring up to 13,000 jobs to the city. The council is investing at Central Station, in the historic Stephenson Quarter and the first building is also going up on site at Science Central, the former brewery site next to St James’ Park. We have secured £6 million of Government funding to improve broadband connectivity across the city, and £5.6 million for cycling connectivity. We are investing £25 million in our future homes fund which will help deliver affordable homes. Work has also started on the £265 million redevelopment in Scotswood which will create a new 1,800-home sustainable neighbourhood over the next 15-20 years, and have just been awarded a further £4.5 million to help young unemployed people to find work. These major initiatives are our statement of confidence in the future and, together,
make the biggest programme of investment in the city for decades. They are a counterpoint to the misery of continued cuts to the revenue budget, a visible sign of the council’s commitment to the city and its people.
This budget, at a time of reducing resources and increasing demand, therefore seeks to strike the right balance between revenue cuts and capital investment, between services for people in crisis now and services which prevent people from reaching crisis point, between managing public sector job losses and creating employment opportunities in other sectors. It represents fair choices for tough times, and reminds us that however tough it might be now we have to remember that better times will lie ahead.