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Archives for October 2010

Why police cuts could hit hardest in poorer areas

Richard Moss | 15:13 UK time, Friday, 29 October 2010


Police officers

Some police forces could suffer more from government cuts than others.

On the face of it last week's Spending Review seemed to hit all our police forces equally.

But it may be that some prove more equal than others.

What the Chancellor announced was a 20% cut in the government funding for every force over the next four years.

That sounds like equality until you realise that some forces are more dependent on their government grant than others.

Police funding comes mostly from two sources - government grant and the locally-raised council tax.

And for the most part it's forces from more deprived areas that are most dependent on the government grant.

So while Surrey Police get only 51% of their funding from the government grant, Northumbria Police get 87%.

So while a 20% cut in that government funding removes around 10% of Surrey's budget, it takes approximately 17.5% of Northumbria's out.

And there are significant variations in the region too.

North Yorkshire fares best as it only gets 56% of its funding from the Government, meaning it may only lose around 11%.

Cumbria, which relies on the Government for 67% of its budget, could lose 13.5%.

Durham and Cleveland both get 76% of their funding from the Government, so could lose around 15%, and, as I have already mentioned, Northumbria lose 17.5%.

As yet our forces have not had the details of their settlement, so it's possible that some adjustment may yet be made.

But if not, the worst-affected forces could well end up being those in the most deprived areas, with the highest crime rates.

Of course, the various police authorities could try and plug the funding gap by raising the amount they get from the other major element of their funding - council tax.

The only problem - the Government wants to deliver a council tax freeze next year, so may make it very hard for the police to do that.

What impact will the cuts have then? It's something we're looking at on the Politics Show this weekend in County Durham.

Should we expect a surge in crime? Perhaps not. I've been talking to a criminologist who says there appears to be no link between police numbers and crime levels. Find out more on Sunday at 12pm, BBC1.

A LEP in the dark as Tees and Cumbria go for growth

Richard Moss | 11:35 UK time, Friday, 29 October 2010


Vince Cable

Business Secretary Vince Cable tells the Commons he was disappointed at the "fractured" North East bids for LEPs

Let the bidding begin then. The Government has opened its £1.4bn Regional Growth Fund up for business.

It'll be targeted at regions like the North which are seen as overdependent on the public sector.

But it looks like some parts of our patch will be able to steal a march on others.

The Government gave the go-ahead for two Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) in our region yesterday - one in the Tees Valley and one in Cumbria.

They are groupings of councils and businesses.

They'll effectively replace One North East and the North West Development Agency and will be able to work with businesses to table bids for the fund.

But the bulk of the region missed out. The chaos and conflict that's dogged the North East's bids for LEPs has lost the majority of the region an early opportunity to bid for funds.

And Business Secretary Vince Cable pointed out as much yesterday.

He said he was disappointed at the "fractured" approach of a region that originally bid for five LEPs.

Belatedly, the North East decided to go for two instead (Tees Valley and the rest).

However, it was too late to win approval for the second one, so for now the seven councils in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and County Durham have no partnership in place.

It's not completely hopeless, as the Government says the second partnership could be approved within weeks.

But the whole saga is scarcely an advert for the region's ability to provide clear and impressive leadership. You can only hope that isn't reflected in the work of the partnerships.

They do though face a significant challenge.

The Government isn't promising any funding for them; compared to Regional Development Agencies, their powers are very limited.

Nevertheless, they will now have to help generate the private sector jobs which will be needed to replace those lost in the public sector.

The North East may get another organisation to do that too.

The Government says it's happy to see a "forum" formed to act as a liaison between Tees Valley and the second LEP.

For many of the region's business and political leaders that extra body is seen as crucial in competing with the likes of Greater Manchester and Leeds.

But any hope that this forum would have any significant powers has been dashed for now.

The Government won't transfer One North East's powers to control inward investment and European funding to the forum. Instead they'll go to civil servants in London.

Critics have likened these LEPs to bald men fighting over a comb, given the lack of funding and powers. Labour say the Regional Growth Fund is a fig leaf. The Government would dispute that.

But it will now be up to those that have got the go-ahead to prove they can make a difference at a time of economic uncertainty.

North misses out on roads money as cuts bite

Richard Moss | 13:15 UK time, Wednesday, 27 October 2010


Planned bridge over the Wear

Artists impression of the proposed new bridge in Sunderland. Funding for it is now uncertain.

There was little cheer for the region in yesterday's announcement on road schemes.

Not a single one of those approved was in the North East and Cumbria and some important projects were stuck firmly at the back of a very long queue.

Among the casualties were plans to improve the A19 north and south of the Tyne.

The plan was to improve key junctions on the road to cope with the increased traffic expected when the second Tyne Tunnel opens.

But the Department for Transport says the improvements north and south of the Tunnel will not be looked at until at least 2015.

That has angered Labour MPs on either side of the Tyne, who say the decision has effectively undone much of the benefit the region will get from the second Tunnel.

The North East Chamber of Commerce has also accused the Government of ignoring the region's roads even though they're crying out for investment.

There's also uncertainty about other plans, including the Morpeth Northern bypass, and bus lane improvements across Tyne and Wear.

The Department for Transport says it will need to study those bids further before deciding what to do with them.

And the planned new bridge over the Wear in Sunderland is on a list of 20 other schemes competing for £600m, so is by no means certain to go ahead.

There was no mention of any plan to dual the A1 in Northumberland even though the Government is planning to make it a road of "national significance". Any improvements again appear to be a long way off.

And improvements to the A1 at Leeming Bar in North Yorkshire will also be examined further before any decision is made.

Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts

The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts in Gateshead has had its funding cut by more than £168,000.

There's been some bad news for arts organisations too, who found out how much they'll lose.

Around £1m will be lost in total, but the biggest losers were the two high-profile organisations on the Tyne in Gateshead.

The North Music Trust, effectively The Sage Gateshead, loses almost £280,000. Its neighbour, the Baltic, loses £168,000.

Other big losers include Newcastle's Northern Stage, (£94,000), Live Theatre (£40,000), and Dance City (£29,000).

To add to the air of gloom, Newcastle City Council has also revealed the impact of the Spending Review on its finances.

It will have to save £110m over the next four years, including £50m in the first year. There'll be at least 1,000 job losses, potentially rising to 2,000.

The focus tomorrow moves to the flip side of cuts though, with the announcement of the Government's plan to encourage economic growth in northern regions (although apparently what used to be a region now has to be called a sub-national area).

The Local Growth White Paper will reveal more details about the £1.4bn Regional Growth Fund, and it looks likely the Government will approve up to 20 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

They're the successors to the Regional Development Agencies, and the Government hopes they will help generate private sector growth.

It's likely the North East will get two (one for the Tees Valley, and one for the rest of the region). Cumbria may also get one.

It does seem though they will have no money to get them going. In fact they'll only be as good as the funds they help extract from the Regional Growth Fund for local businesses.

New report says cuts will widen north-south divide

Richard Moss | 12:41 UK time, Tuesday, 26 October 2010


David Cameron

The Prime Minister says he'll push for growth but a new report suggests the North could fall further behind.

David Cameron may be promising to go for growth but a new report suggests his government's spending cuts could widen the north-south divide.

IPPR North, a thinktank based in Newcastle, say the decisions taken last Wednesday will hit our region more than the south.

Their report says that on jobs, welfare, public services and investment in infrastructure, the North could fall further behind the rest of the country.

The problem, the IPPR says, is the Government's lack of a convincing strategy for growth to go alongside the cuts.

This verdict came as the Prime Minister chose to talk about what the Coalition was doing to encourage growth.

He talked about the Government's investment in green jobs, science and innovation. He also highlighted the Chancellor's decision to protect spending on big capital projects.

These are all areas the North East and Cumbria could capitalise upon, but the IPPR is concerned they won't be enough.

On the Government's Regional Growth Fund, it suggests the poorest parts of the North could miss out.

The fund will put £1.4bn into the regions over three years, but the IPPR points out, the existing Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) had that amount to spend just in this financial year.

The IPPR also fears that some of that money will be eaten away by the increased costs of running 50 Local Enterprise Partnerships instead of 9 RDAs.

And it says areas with stronger economies may be in a better position to extract money from the fund, putting the poorest communities in the North at a disadvantage.

On science funding, it's concerned the Government only highlighted projects in the South of England on Wednesday.

The report points out that government spending per head on science and technology is already much higher in the South than the North (£155 per head in London, compared to £86 in the North East).

And on transport spending it points to similar differences.

It warns that the investment in the Tyne and Wear Metro and the East Coast Main Line is dwarfed by the £20bn being put into Crossrail and the Tube in London.

The report also says individuals in the North are more likely to be hit by the cuts because of their greater reliance on benefits and the public sector.

The Government I'm sure would disagree with many of the IPPR's conclusions.

It says it remains determined to rebalance the economy away from dependence on the City of London towards greater growth in the region.

But the thinktank says the North may need to help itself by coming up with its own strategy for growth, rather than relying on central government.

It says: "...if the Spending Review demonstrates anything, it shows just how far the decisions of a small Whitehall elite can determine the economic futures of many millions of people living great distances from the capital city."

The question is can the North's political leaders take charge of their own destiny?

Spending Review: How fair are the cuts in the North?

Richard Moss | 13:09 UK time, Friday, 22 October 2010



Will the cuts in the Spending Review hit communities like Peterlee harder than more affluent areas?

The Chancellor says the Spending Review was fair and progressive; the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests the opposite is true.

The Coalition says it's providing extra help to allow northern communities to get through the cuts; local Labour politicians say they're hitting this region hardest.

I'm not qualified to say who's right, and it would be unwise to try.

But the Politics Show has been assessing the mood this week in two very different communities within the region.

Richmond in North Yorkshire is one of the wealthier towns in the patch. William Hague is its MP, with a whacking Conservative majority.

Peterlee is in Easington - one of the safest Labour seats in the country, and it has a history of unemployment and reliance on state benefits.

They have some similarities. If you ignore military personnel from the Catterick base, around one in four people in both areas are employed in the public sector.

But then there are clear differences - 3% of people in Richmond claim Incapacity Benefit, 4.5% are unemployed.

In Peterlee (or more accurately the Easington constituency), 12.5% claim Incapacity Benefit, 12% are unemployed.

And my colleague Mark Denten didn't have to try too hard to find people who were worried about cuts in Peterlee.

He met one man who at 31 had been on Incapacity Benefit for 10 years. He was clear that he didn't see it as fair to target people on benefits.

In Richmond there was much more support for cuts; a sense the pain is necessary.

Perhaps that's not surprising but, can the Coalition really convince people that relatively affluent areas like Richmond will suffer as much as poorer places like Peterlee in the next few years?

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As you can see Durham University economist Tony Cleaver does see Peterlee as more vulnerable than Richmond.

The town certainly has a higher share of poorest 10% - the group the Institute for Fiscal Studies believe will be hit hardest by Wednesday's decisions.

The Government though says it's welfare reforms will help those on benefits, by making it easier for them to get work.

The test though will be how quickly the private sector can grow and create jobs for them to go into.

And it looks like the Spending Review may already have caused at least some limited collateral damage in the region's private sector.

Business and Enterprise North East - which runs Business Link - is shedding 135 jobs - an organisation which aims to create and support new private sector businesses.

You can join the Spending Review debate on the Politics Show at 12.15pm on BBC1 this Sunday.

Vince Cable and the Spending Review

Richard Moss | 18:03 UK time, Wednesday, 20 October 2010


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One glaring omission from the Spending Review announcement was perhaps the most important single development for jobs in the North East.

Hitachi's plans to build express trains in Newton Aycliffe in County Durham would create 800 direct jobs, but supporters of the plans say that could rise to 8,000 indirectly through the supply chain and boost to local businesses.

It depends though on a £7.5bn government investment.

The Chancellor made no mention of it though in his speech. So was no news, bad news?

That was something I raised with Business Secretary Vince Cable afterwards.

His answer is towards the end of the video you can see.

But he insists the non-appearance of the plans is far from the end.

He calls the bid an excellent one, but also says it is complex.

For that reason the Government is looking at it closely to see if it does offer value for money for the taxpayer, and that investigation is continuing.

He says we should expect a decision in a few weeks' time.

Dr Cable was also bullish in general.

While acknowledging there would be pain for public sector workers, he said the North East had a great future, with the private sector a lot stronger than some would have you believe.

In particular, he talked about the potential for new jobs in green industries.

But it's becoming increasingly clear this afternoon that our councils will suffer considerable pain.

Durham County Council are talking about £100m of cuts, Middlesbrough £45m, and North Yorkshire £50m.

All expect significant job losses, and some say people's expectations of their councils will have to change radically.

The North's Spending Review - public sector pain and green jobs

Richard Moss | 12:08 UK time, Wednesday, 20 October 2010


George Osborne c/o Getty Images

Much detail is yet to emerge but the Spending Review aims to set the North on a different path.

There will be pain in the form of significant numbers of public sector job losses.

Councils will face deep cuts. More than 7% will be shaved off their budgets for each of the next four years.

Our police forces will also be hit, losing 4% a year.

Union estimates of 30,000 public sector job losses in the North East alone then look a reasonable guess, even if some will be lost through natural wastage rather than forced redundancies.

But it will also get investment in new green jobs.

The Prime Minister revealed as much as he answered several questions from North East MPs even before the Chancellor had got on his feet.

He was pressed by Darlington MP, Jenny Chapman, to name three North East companies who would be employing more people in a year's time.

He said the Chancellor would be revealing that capital spending on new green jobs would be protected.

And he delivered, saying there would be £200m invested in helping the manufacture of offshore wind turbines in the country's ports.

So plans to build new turbines at ports on the Tyne and Tees could well get the funding they need.

Pilots on carbon capture and clean coal which could come to the region will also be protected.

But as yet there's no specific news on plans by Hitachi to build a new generation of express trains in County Durham.

That's a plan that could create 800 jobs directly, and many more in the supply chain. Some have called it a "New Nissan".

And some of the announcements we'd heard before.

The hundreds of millions of pounds being invested in the Tyne and Wear Metro were reannounced, as was the investment in the revamp of the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven.

There was though news of a pilot to bring superfast broadband to rural Cumbria, something that will please Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart.

But the question is will it be enough to cushion the blow of losing so many public sector jobs?

And there the North mirrors the problem in the whole country.

The Chancellor is hoping the private sector grows fast enough to replace the jobs being lost in this Spending Review.

Public sector workers at Longbenton in Newcastle

Around 13,000 public sector workers are based at Longbenton in Newcastle but how many will keep their jobs?

But the private sector itself could be hit by the deep cuts in public spending.

It is a gamble. A gamble the Government says it has to take to put the public finances right.

But the Lib Dem side of the Coalition will be watching nervously to see just how high unemployment will rise.

Many, like Cumbrian MP Tim Farron, want the cuts to be scaled back if there's evidence of the economy slipping back into recession.

But can the Coalition really row back from here?

The die is cast, the North's dependence on the public sector must end or it will face growing unemployment.

Chancellor raises job hopes with aircraft carrier hints

Richard Moss | 13:45 UK time, Sunday, 17 October 2010


Tornado bomber

The two new aircraft carriers may be safe but a decision to ground some of the UK's Tornado bombers may hit Northern RAF bases

So it now looks likely the contracts to build two new aircraft carriers are safe.

The Chancellor, George Osborne, hinted as much today when he revealed that it would probably cost more to cancel the orders than to plough ahead.

That will be a huge relief to the companies in the North relying on the work.

A&P in South Tyneside, Darchem in Stillington and Hertel Services in Billingham would all have been hit if the Government had decided to cancel.

But that does not mean the announcements on defence spending we'll see over the next few days will be be pain-free for the North.

BAE Systems in Newcastle will be watching particularly closely.

They're a company that has already taken a hit in jobs and orders in the last year - it's already shedding around 200 jobs.

Ideally they need to get some fresh orders for Challenger Tanks or armoured vehicles.

Both though look unlikely.

And without new business the company has already hinted that the future of the whole site could be in doubt.

And a possible decision to make cuts to the UK's Tornado bomber fleer may also have implications for the North.

David Bowles from Northern Defence Industries - which represents many of the companies dependent on the review - said as much in the Politics Show today.

He thinks the Tornado cuts could affect bases such as RAF bases at Leeming, Linton-on-Ouse and Church Fenton in North Yorkshire.

A decision to withdraw some troops from bases in Europe back to Britain could though benefit the army base at Catterick.

It could yet grow, putting potentially more money into the local economy.

So the last-minute wranglings we've heard about in the Ministry of Defence over the precise level of cuts could well have been crucial in deciding the fate of jobs in the region.

A one per cent difference either way in the defence budget may not be critical in cutting the deficit, but it could make or break some of the companies that work in the sector.

We're expecting some broad brush decisions tomorrow, with the detail released on Tuesday.

Alan Milburn: New Labour is not dead

Richard Moss | 13:22 UK time, Friday, 15 October 2010


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He said he was feeling a bit rusty, but actually the former Darlington MP Alan Milburn was his usual provocative self as he made his first political speech since the election.

He was talking about the issue that has become his cause celebre - social mobility - at a conference of the North East's head teachers.

Of course, he's not actually had that low a profile since stepping down from parliament in May.

His appointment as the Coalition's Social Mobility Tsar hasn't endeared him to his former Labour colleagues. John Prescott called him a "collaborator".

He opened his speech though by pondering whether being a Tsar was a great move, given what happened in Russia in 1917!

But much of his speech would not have gone down well with 'New Generation' Labour.

He backed the Government's policy on free schools and academies. In fact he said the Coalition was being too timid and should offer all schools complete autonomy.

His justification - that actually the policies were just extensions of what New Labour had started.

But when I caught up with him afterwards he told me he wasn't going to answer questions about the Milibands. He wanted to stick to policy not personality.

But did he, I wondered, agree with Tony Blair that the leadership would be making a mistake if they moved even "an inch from New Labour"?

The answer appears to be yes, as you can see from his interview.

He certainly doesn't think New Labour is dead, and he warns the new leadership that Labour only wins if it stays on the side of aspiration.

He also stressed the need for Labour to stay committed to the kind of Blairite public service reforms that many in his party feel are best left in the past.

But what of his new role, assessing the Government's record on social mobility?

What would he be saying about any plans to end the cap on university tuition fees?

It was a very much wait and see answer, but he said he would want to test them to see if they delivered more resources into education, and whether they acted as any barrier to working class students.

He said he would be concerned if they damaged universities like Sunderland and Teesside which are more likely to take working class students from the North East than Oxford or Cambridge.

But he did warn the Government that it would be a mistake to cut education funding, even if the current financial situation was difficult.

Alan Milburn

Alan Milburn outlines his plans to improve social mobility to North East head teachers

And the Darlington MP is also determined to come up with new ideas as well.

In particular, he wants to see parents offered the chance to get their children out of failing schools.

He wants any student at a poor-performing school offered a voucher worth 150% of the cost of their education.

They would then be given the right to take their child to a better school. That school would get the benefit of the extra funding, while the failing school would lose money.

Even he admits that's tough, but is going to try and interest all parties in the idea.

The former Health Secretary certainly didn't seem to be missing parliament then.

In fact he told me, he was amazed at how nice people were to him now he was politically 'dead' (John Prescott apart presumably).

But I get a distinct feeling that the ghost of Alan Milburn will be haunting all political sides for some time to come.

Councils to aircraft carriers - the North jobs at risk from cuts

Richard Moss | 10:30 UK time, Thursday, 14 October 2010


Aircraft carrier

An artist's impression of one of the new aircraft carriers that's under review by the Government

In less than a week we'll finally know the scale of the cuts the North is facing.

We know the public sector will be trimmed back by 25% to 40% in the Comprehensive Spending Review; we can be sure that will lead to job losses.

But how many?

One reliable source that would rather keep quiet at this stage has told me that just in the the North East there could be 60,000 jobs lost as a result of the cuts.

And certainly the trades unions believe that figure could be accurate.

They think 30,000 public sector workers could lose their jobs, with that figure doubling due to the collateral damage to the private sector.

Of course, it's possible that substantial numbers of those jobs may go through natural wastage and early retirement.

But if the 60,000 figure is correct, there will be people joining the dole queue.

That though is only one side of the story.

The Government is hoping it can encourage growth in the private sector to help the northern regions that have become so dependent on state spending.

But several key potential private sector projects could yet be hit by government cuts.

Hitachi express train

Hitachi wants to build a new generation of express trains in County Durham

Take the plans to build a new generation of express trains in the North East.

Hitachi sees Newton Aycliffe as its preferred site for a factory to build the new locomotives.

The factory could create 800 jobs, but local politicians believe the development could generate up to 10,000 jobs in total through the supply chain and associated boost to the local economy.

No wonder they're calling it 'the new Nissan'.

But the plan depends on a £7.5bn government contract. That's been on hold since before the election. A decision is expected in next Wednesday's spending review.

There are mixed signals, but this week a Financial Times report suggested it is very much in the balance.

Then there's the plans to make the North East the main centre for the manufacturing of offshore wind turbines.

Work has already begun to site a factory in the Tyne's former shipyards, and Teesside had also hoped to get a slice of the trade.

But a £60m government fund to help ports develop the turbine industry is also under review, and could be cancelled.

And next week we'll also get news on whether the Ministry of Defence is pressing ahead with plans to build two new aircraft carriers.

Work on the carriers has already been secured by businesses in the North East and Cumbria.

But all that could be lost if the Government decides to cancel the order.

A lot then is riding on next week's review both inside and outside the public sector.

Of course the Government can point to the Regional Growth Fund, and its National Insurance incentives as evidence that it is trying to help the region.

They'll point to the billions of pounds of public money that will still be spent in the North.

But just imagine how much capital Labour will get out of the review if alongside public sector cuts, it also brings an end to projects which could have created new jobs in the North.

Ed Miliband includes North MPs in 'New Generation'

Richard Moss | 14:36 UK time, Wednesday, 13 October 2010


Sharon Hodgson and Iain Wright in the Commons

Wearside MP Sharon Hodgson makes her debut as a Shadow Education Minister alongside Hartlepool MP Iain Wright

The region may not have anyone in the Shadow Cabinet, and only one representative in the Government, but a "new generation" of our MPs will be playing a part in Ed Miliband's Opposition team.

A host of northern MPs were included in the shadow team announced at the weekend.

And perhaps it's not surprising, given that the North East and Cumbrian contingent makes up a sizeable slice of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Some had been ministers in the Brown government.

Durham North's Kevan Jones remains part of the Defence team, and Hartlepool's Iain Wright is a Shadow Education minister.

Their fellow Shadow Cabinet contenders have also gained jobs.

Bishop Auckland's Helen Goodman will be a shadow minister in the Justice department, and Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) will work in the Cabinet Office team.

New appointees though include Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) as a Shadow Education Minister, and Copeland's Jamie Reed who will shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Sharon Hodgson will shadow Children and Families - reward perhaps for campaigning on special educational needs and free school meals.

She didn't have much time to master her brief though, as she was plunged straight into education questions in the Commons on Monday.

Jamie Reed though has had a more unusual entrance into the team. He's tweeted that he's spending the first week in hospital on a diabetic assessment course! (You'll remember he fell ill during the general election campaign).

Alan Campbell

Tynemouth MP Alan Campbell has taken up a crucial role as Labour's Deputy Chief Whip.

One of the most crucial appointments though is that of Tynemouth's Alan Campbell as Deputy Chief Whip.

As a staunch supporter of David Miliband, he'll be crucial in healing any splits in the party.

He's joined in the Whips office by Workington's Tony Cunningham, Sedgefield's Phil Wilson and Blaydon's Dave Anderson.

But it's also striking that two of the 2010 intake have also made it into the shadow team.

Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell becomes Shadow Solicitor General (A position held in government by Redcar's Vera Baird).

As an employment lawyer, she'll now have to comb through government legislation to see if it's above board.

Finally, Chi Onwurah (Newcastle Central) is included in the Business, Enterprise and Skills team. Given she's an engineer with a passion for promoting manufacturing, it will be right up her street.

Of course though, welcome as these appointments are for the people involved, as long as Labour is in opposition, influence is limited.

And it is worth remembering that too of the North East's biggest hitters, David Miliband and Nick Brown, will have to make their contributions from the back benches.

Growth Fund chief Wrigglesworth in warning to North East

Richard Moss | 15:07 UK time, Friday, 8 October 2010


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The original idea was to have one for the North East, then the region wanted five, then some wanted a sixth, then some wanted just one again, now there might be two.

Confused? I'm not surprised.

What I've described are the protracted and unpleasant birth pains of the region's Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs)

These you'll remember are supposed to be the less complicated, less bureaucratic, streamlined replacements for regional development agencies such as One North East.

But somehow the North East has contrived to look rather confused about the whole process.

This week the original bid for five Local Enterprise Partnerships with a regional economic body alongside unravelled spectacularly as the Northern Business Forum withdrew its support.

Cue an almighty outburst by Middlesbrough Mayor Ray Mallon against the Business Forum.

It was all a bit messy and that hasn't gone unnoticed.

I caught up with Sir Ian Wrigglesworth at the Conservative Conference.

The Lib Dem is a former Stockton MP but he's recently been appointed as the Deputy Chair of the Government's new £1bn Regional Growth Fund.

The fund will aim to create new jobs in regions - like the North East - which are heavily dependent on public sector jobs.

Sir Ian is one of those who'll be deciding on the bids made by businesses and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

He says the North East should get a sizeable chunk of the money.

But he had a warning.

He believes the region has already fallen behind other regions because of the confusion over how many Local Enterprise Partnerships to have.

You can see what he had to say in the attached video clip.

He's particularly concerned by the contrast between the North East and rival LEPs in Yorkshire.

While the North East's politicians and business leaders have been falling out about how many partnerships to have, cities like Leeds, and Greater Manchester are pressing ahead.

Leeds have begun drawing up bids, while Sheffield has even advertised for a Chair and board for their LEP.

And as the bidding process begins at the end of this month, early starters are likely to have an advantage.

There may now though be light at the end of the North East LEP tunnel.

The Local Government Chronicle says it's obtained a preliminary list of LEPs likely to be given the green light later this month.

The North East has two on that list. One for the Tees Valley, and one for the rest of the region. (Cumbria's may also get the go-ahead).

It is just a preliminary list, but it might resolve the problem. And it seems to be the Government's potential solution.

It would avoid creating too many LEPs but it would also kill off the Northern Business Forum's desire to see just a regional successor to One North East.

But it won't quell dissatisfaction from the parts of the region that don't necessarily fancy being pushed together - Tyneside and Wearside for example.

And it might also pose a problem for the Tees Valley too.

The Tees LEP looked a decent size when there were going to be five North East partnerships.

But now it's in danger of being dwarfed by its neighbours.

The Tees Valley partnership will cover a population of around 600k.

To the north there could now well be a North East LEP covering 1.75m people.

And to the south, the Leeds City Region LEP - population 3m.

Size might not be everything in the world of LEPs, but some will wonder how Tees Valley will measure up to its two bigger neighbours.


Helen Goodman

Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman's 80 votes were not enough to win her a place in the Shadow Cabinet

So we now have official confirmation, as I thought likely, that the North East will not have any representative in the Shadow Cabinet.

All four of the region's nominees failed to get enough votes to make the top 19 guaranteed places.

Bishop Auckland's Helen Goodman came closest, coming in 27th with 80 votes (21 short of 19th place).

North Durham MP Kevan Jones came 33rd with 68 votes, Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) 35th with 63, and Hartlepool's Iain Wright came 40th with 43 votes.

I'm told though there could be a prominent role on offer to one North East MP.

Tynemouth's Alan Campbell is tipped to become Deputy Chief Whip.

He was a staunch supporter of David Miliband, so will be seen as a key appointment in healing divisions.

David Cameron talks of big deficit and Big Society

Richard Moss | 16:07 UK time, Wednesday, 6 October 2010


David Cameron

Your Country Needs You: David Cameron gives his first Conservative conference speech as Prime Minister

That's your lot from the Conference season then.

David Cameron rounded off with talk of the big deficit but also the Big Society.

The policy that seemingly failed to enthuse during the election was put centre stage in the Prime Minister's speech to the Conservative Conference.

That will please the Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart who's been doing the rounds of fringe meetings to sell the idea to delegates this week.

He even organised his own meeting to talk about how it's working in his Cumbrian constituency.

Both David Cameron and Rory Stewart insist the policy is nothing to do with cuts and everything to do with empowerment.

It won't be a retreat by the state, they say, but a change in role. The state will help people exercise power.

Your Country Needs You was the Conservative leader's rallying call. You can see the newspaper front pages now with David Cameron complete with a Kitchener moustache.

Lord Kitchener's war recruitment poster

A call to arms then, but the Conservatives will be hoping that their volunteers don't end up suffering the fate of many in Kitchener's army - stuck in the trenches with little hope of moving forward.

The speech was well-delivered, the PM was confident and assured, and at his best when he was skewering Labour.

But it was short on new policy, and there was no hint of compensation for those higher-rate taxpayers who will see their Child Benefit disappear in 2013.

In just over two weeks' time, we'll find out the details of the cuts this country's facing.

Judging by the reaction to the Child Benefit changes there are some tough times ahead.

Will the more optimistic vision of an empowered Big Society be enough to lift some of that gloom?

And will the help he talked about for the North - the £1bn Regional Growth Fund, the help with broadband, the Green Investment Bank - turn round a region that will lose significant numbers of public sector jobs in the next few months?

We don't know yet, as to coin (and warp) another wartime phrase, this is merely the end of the beginning, and not the beginning of the end.

The amazing adventures of young Archie Manners

Richard Moss | 10:02 UK time, Wednesday, 6 October 2010


Archie Manners

As befitting his skills as a hypnotist, 17-year-old Archie Manners has bewitched the Conservative Conference. Picture from Richard Greenly Photography

He's an unlikely star, and an even less likely champion for the North, but 17-year-old schoolboy Archie Manners does seem to have made an impact at the Conservative Conference.

Archie made people sit up and take notice on Monday when he managed to ask a question from the floor.

Now although the teenager hails from Hampshire, he has become immersed in the affairs of the North East.

A family connection, and an enthusiasm for politics bagged him a job as an intern with Berwick Conservative Anne-Marie Trevelyan during the election.

Throwing himself in with gusto, he tramped the streets of Northumberland, knocking on dozens of doors, and making the case for the Conservatives.

He also played a part in helping the aspiring MP's ongoing campaign to get the A1 dualled.

Clearly, Archie has gone native, because when his big chance came he chose to take that battle to the conference floor.

In pinstripe suit and tie, Archie unleashed an articulate and precisely-worded question, about the economic problems caused by the poor state of the A1 between Morpeth and the Scottish border.

He asked what the panel of assembled ministers could do to dual it and "throw off the shackles of the public sector and stimulate the private sector in the North East."

Unfortunately, he couldn't extract a promise to dual the A1 from Transport Minister Theresa Villiers, although she confirmed again that the Government were aiming to reclassify the road as one of national importance.

But he had managed to rattle the cage of Transport Secretary Philip Hammond who told Archie that the Coalition's plans for a North-South high speed rail link could make a huge difference to the North East economy in the future (albeit quite a distant future!)

Full marks to Archie then, as actually that's been almost the only time so far the North East's had a mention in the main conference hall.

And he certainly seemed to capture the imaginations of some.

BBC Five Live Drive presenter Peter Allen was so struck by his intervention that he invited him onto his programme.

There we learned of Archie's passion for politics and skill at magic and hypnotism (he runs his own small business selling his skills in his spare time).

And we also found out that he'd like to try his hand at journalism before perhaps becoming an MP in later life.

It became their story of the day and you can hear the interview here.

So perhaps, it might just be worth holding onto this early footage of Archie Manners. He already has his own blog.

In the meantime though, it's back to school for him tomorrow.

But he might not be done with the North East yet.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan is hoping he'll head to Durham University. Then she hopes the region can claim him permanently.


Huw Edwards

Huw Edwards - almost as grumpy as me

Conference season then is almost up. We're all waiting for the PM's speech to bring the curtain down.

Those that have followed me on Twitter this week will know that this one hasn't been the most comfortable for this poor hack.

My hotel is handily positioned next to a main road, which makes you feel like you're sleeping in the central reservation of a motorway.

I know, I know, your heart bleeds.

The one comfort I have is knowing that far more celebrated BBC luminaries such as Huw Edwards have also been holed up there.

Incidentally, I have come into close contact with the 10 O'Clock News' main man this week as I appear to have had an upgrade in the BBC newsroom.

I am the only regional political editor sat amongst the network news team, so have been sharing a table with the aforementioned Huw and on occasion the fragrant Emily Maitlis.

I fear it's only a temporary moment in the sun, but I shall bask in it while I can.

It's quite encouraging though to know that Huw gets as grumpy as I do when the deadline begins to loom.

Mallon on the attack as North East enterprise plans unravel

Richard Moss | 16:54 UK time, Tuesday, 5 October 2010


Ray Mallon

Middlesbrough Mayor Ray Mallon has accused the Northern Business Forum of trying to wreck his plans to create new jobs in Teesside.

Cuts are coming to the North and will hurt.

There appears to be no getting round that.

But what of the flip side of the Government's strategy?

How can the private sector take up the slack and create new jobs?

That was the focus of a fringe meeting at the Conservative conference in Birmingham today.

Inevitably, the discussion turned to the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) that will replace regional development agencies like One North East.

It's hoped they can be part of the solution.

But news has reached here of the spat that's threatening to turn the plans for the North East's LEPs into a farce.

In an astonishingly-worded statement, Middlesbrough's Mayor Ray Mallon has accused the Northern Business Forum of being 'Fifth Columnists' , attempting to wreck the plans for a Tees Valley LEP.

It's all because the Business Forum has seemingly changed its mind.

While initially it backed plans for five LEPs in the North East alongside a regional economic partnership, it now just wants to see one LEP for the whole North East.

It does not believe five individual LEPs will be able to compete with the likes of Greater Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield for investment and jobs.

Now bearing in mind these LEPs are supposed to bring businesses and politicians together in harmony, have a look at what Mr Mallon has had to say about the Northern Business Forum.

He said: "This would effectively see the North East revert back to a system where all funds are allocated to a giant regional quango based in Newcastle instead of directly to LEP areas. A quango that would no doubt employ those behind this U-turn.

"Let there be no misunderstanding, it is not the public sector that has failed to get its act together on this matter, it is certain elements of the private sector who seem happy to play fast and loose with the economic prosperity of this area...

"I am aware this NBF U-turn does not carry the full support of all its members and that it has instead been orchestrated by a bunch of self-serving mavericks more concerned with progressing their individual and organisational agendas than progressing the life chances of the people of the Tees Valley and the wider North East.

"Their actions have been entirely dishonourable and disingenuous from the outset and I will be telling them that to their face when next we meet. In hindsight I do not believe they ever had any intention of standing side by side with this area."

Phew. What chance of the two parties working together in harmony now?

I've heard it suggested that the Northern Business Forum's last minute intervention has prevented the Government giving the early go-ahead to the Tees Valley LEP.

That may explain why Mr Mallon might be feeling raw.

But the Northern Business Forum is no fringe organisation. It brings together the CBI, the North East Chamber of Commerce, the Institute of Directors, and many of the region's manufacturers. It's hard to ignore.

The consequences of the original bid's disintegration could be serious though.

While the likes of Leeds and Sheffield can begin to draw up their bids for the £1bn Regional Growth Fund, and even begin recruiting people to run their LEPs, the North East looks divided and disorganised.

And here in Birmingham, opinion also seems to be split.

At the fringe meeting, Stockton councillor Ken Lupton backed plans to have a Tees Valley LEP, but former Newcastle United owner Sir John Hall, said a regional body was essential.

But some - including former Teesside MP Lord Michael Bates - believed the North East was in danger of becoming fixated with structures, rather than thinking about how you could allow businesses to create more jobs.

And their former Durham North candidate David Skelton suggested regional tax breaks might be the best way to help the North.

The question is though, can anything really be done to create new jobs quickly enough to replace the old ones, or is a surge in unemployment inevitable?

The North's dependence on the public sector has taken shape over decades. It isn't going to disappear overnight whether there's one or 100 LEPs.

The Politics Show will be discussing this very issue this weekend.

Conservatives push northern line on high speed rail

Richard Moss | 16:57 UK time, Monday, 4 October 2010


High speed train

High speed trains like this one could be heading north, according to the Conservatives

Labour would have you believe the Conservatives are hellbent on plunging the North back into the 1980s.

Their savage cuts, they say, will devastate the economy once more.

This time though it'll be public sector workers and not miners or steelmakers that will be put on the scrapheap.

The Tories say that's nonsense.

But unlike Margaret Thatcher, who dismissed her critics as "moaning minnies", there is some real sensitivity to the North's concerns here at the Conservative gathering in Birmingham.

Take just one of the sessions today.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond announced plans for a North-South high speed rail link.

But whereas previous announcements had only initially talked about a line from London to Birmingham, this time they were determined to include the North.

So Philip Hammond also talked about extending the line in a second phase to both Manchester and Leeds.

But he went further (even if the line won't).

Philip Hammond

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond announced plans for High Speed rail

In a question and answer session after the announcement the Transport Secretary also said the line would help the North East too.

That's because the high speed track to Leeds will link up with the existing East Coast Main Line just south of York.

That means travellers from York northwards will still benefit from reduced journey times.

The first stage of the journey from Newcastle to the link near York might take an hour.

But the second stage from Leeds to London might only take 80 minutes raising the possibility of reaching London in considerably less than two-and-a-half hours.

Philip Hammond told the Conference he believed that could deliver an unprecendented boost to the North East economy.

He said it would effectively shrink the country.

That would in turn make it much easier to attract new businesses to the region.

Companies would no longer see the North East's distance from London as such a problem.

The same could well be true in Cumbria as the Manchester high speed branch will also link up to the existing West Coast Main Line.

Mind you, don't expect to travel on it too soon.

A consultation on the plans will only begin next year, no route has been mapped out, and building work on the first London-to-Birmingham phase won't start until at least 2015.

The extensions north might not be completed for decades then.

But I think it's interesting that the Conservatives do at least want to be seen to be offering the North something other than cuts.

Indeed, the party's leadership want the Conservatives to be seen as a national force, and not one confined to the South and Midlands.

In the Conference Guide, David Cameron goes out of his way to talk about winning Carlisle away from Labour at the General Election for the first time since 1964.

And at a gathering of northern Tories last night, William Hague was keen to tell delegates that the party was determined to be a force in the North as well as the South.

David Cameron also came to the event, but unfortunately I can't tell you what he said as oddly I and other journalists were kept out of the meeting till he'd gone! We weren't given any reason.

Of course, Labour will say all this talk of "One Nation" Conservatism is mere window dressing.

They believe the cuts which are about to hit the north reflect the real Tory attitude.

But after Nick Clegg's speech in Liverpoool, it shows the Coalition is at least determined to meet northern fears head-on.

Of course, words though will have to continue to be matched with deeds.

Miliband and Brown exits end North East Labour dominance

Richard Moss | 11:42 UK time, Sunday, 3 October 2010


The 1998 Cabinet

The 1998 Labour Cabinet with Nick Brown (front left) and Peter Mandelson (front right) to the fore

Through the '90s and noughties, the North East of England often dominated Labour politics.

The Cabinet was packed with the region's MPs.

Jack Cunningham, Mo Mowlam, David Clark, Nick Brown, Stephen Byers, Alan Milburn, Peter Mandelson, Hilary Armstrong, David Miliband and of course at the top, Tony Blair.

But there's a real possibility that new leader Ed Miliband's top team will contain no English MPs from north of Leeds.

The departures of South Shields' David Miliband and Newcastle East's Nick Brown may have brought an end to an era.

There are four North East MPs contesting the Shadow Cabinet elections, but it's fair to say none are frontrunners.

Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman, the City of Durham's Roberta Blackman-Woods, Kevan Jones from Durham North and Hartlepool's Iain Wright have all been nominated.

But the odds are they'll be among the 30-or-so MPs who miss out in the ballot.

Does it matter that the region lacks a presence in the top team?

That's something I asked former Chief Whip Nick Brown on the Politics Show today. You can watch what he had to say on the BBC iPlayer including his answer on whether he's now planning to write his memoirs!

He says he was offered the chance to stand for another position in the Shadow Cabinet by Ed Miliband, but chose to step aside.

That's because he wants to concentrate on leading North East Labour opposition to the Coalition's plans to replace the regional development agency, One North East.

And it's not all bad news for Labour in the region as he will no doubt have the support of are a new generation (popular phrase that) of North East Labour MPs from the 2010 intake who are ambitious and able, and may well rise through the ranks.

Ironically, they are also a more significant part of the parliamentary party than when Labour still had more than a handful of seats in the south of England.

But for the moment, the centre of gravity of the party has moved south, even if it's only as far as West and South Yorkshire.

David Cameron

David Cameron arrives in Birmingham for the Conservative party conference

Of course, anyone seeking high profile northern representatives would also struggle to find many at the Conservative conference in Birmingham.

Richmond's William Hague is the only one at the top.

That won't stop Northern Tories having a spring in their step though.

They are back in power and boast two new MPs from the region - John Stevenson in Carlisle, and James Wharton in Stockton South - even if that's fewer than they would have wanted.

But some of the northern delegates will want reassurance that the region will get some help to see it through the cuts that are to come.

Some senior Tories in the region are concerned about the demise of the regional development agency One North East and the rather fractured plans to replace it with up to six new Local Enterprise Partnerships. They'll want to hear more about that.

And they'll also be looking for details of how the new £1bn Regional Growth Fund will work, and any other ways the Conservatives can show it is aware of northern concerns.

And for some it will also be a chance to find out more about the Coalition's Big Society plans.

Penrith and the Border's Rory Stewart - a fan of the idea - is popping up at all sorts of fringe meetings to discuss what it can do for his Cumbrian constituents.

He's even arranged one meeting to discuss what's happening in the Eden district of Cumbria at Birmingham this evening.

I'll be blogging and tweeting from Birmingham to keep you up to date on all the news. (You need to search for Richardpolshow on Twitter).

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