Friday, March 31, 2006

Local elections

Pensioners to face steep tax rise!

In South Tyneside, council tax will be 1288 pounds for the forthcoming year on Band D bills. Yet new research has shown that since 1997, council tax bills have soared by 525 pounds - a hike of 69%, or more than five times inflation. This year alone, pensioners are paying an extra 246 pounds a year, due to the Government axing the 200 pound payment given to them to help with their council tax. For how much longer can this continue? South Tyneside needs to change direction; hard-working families and pensioners who have saved for security in retirement all deserve better. Voting Conservative is the only way to get South Tyneside on the right track.

Lib-Dem tax plans shock!

I was interested to note too that the new Lib Dem leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, thinks that there has been "too much attention" paid to his party's policy of a 50% rate of income tax for high earners (BBC News Online 5 March 2006). Does this mean he intends to ditch it? If so does this also mean the Lib Dems will now bin plans for some of the other taxes they have previously discussed such as a new homes tax, a business land tax, a development tax, an exchange and capital flows tax, a waste tax, a plastic bag tax, a pesticide tax, an overseas territories tax, a double whammy inheritance tax, an energy tax, a pensions tax, an airport tax, a congestion tax, a 4X4 vehicle tax, tax for going to university and a parking tax? I think these are important questions which need that the people of South Tyneside deserve answers to prior to the May elections.

Submitted by
Cllr. David Potts (Conservative - Cleadon Village and East Boldon)

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Thursday, March 30, 2006


Open day at bus depot

Stagecoach Busways in South Shields are holding an open day at the bus depot in Dean Road on Saturday 1st. April to celebrate 100 years of public transport in the town. Stagecoach took over the running of our buses from the Council shortly after deregulation. On show will be a number of old buses including trolley bus 204, recently restored at Sandtoft, as well as stalls and rides for children. The Mayor will visit the depot at 12.00 noon to unveil a commemorative plaque.

This could be an interesting day for those interested in historic transport. Other relics from the past such as Gerry Graham, Steve Foster, Jimmy Foreman, Albert Tate (former bus drivers turned Councillors) are unlikely to be on show.


Trolleybus 204 picture


Niall Quinn

Niall Quinn - White Knight?

Rumours persisted today that former Sunderland and Ireland striker Niall Quinn is preparing a deal to head a consortium planning to buy the controlling interests of Sunderland AFC chairman Bob Murray.

First reported by BBC Sport on Wednesday, speculation continues that Quinn is interested in buying the club along with former Manchester United directors John Magnier and J.P. Mcmanus who are well known to Quinn through horse racing circles, "big Niall" owns a stud farm.

After six years at the club under the management of Peter Reid, Quinn retired from football and raised over a million pounds for childrens' charities at his testimonial match. Some of that money was used to build a brand new childrens' unit at Sunderland's Royal general hospital. He has also qualified for his coaching badges, as well as taking on commentary work for Sky Sports and writing for The Guardian.

"I learned my trade at Arsenal, became a footballer at Man City, but Sunderland got under my skin. It hurt me deeply to leave. I love Sunderland", Quinn was reported as saying after his career at the club.

Naturally the club is distancing itself from these reports and insist that no contact has been arranged at the highest levels between Niall and Bob Murray.


BBC Sport
The Times



Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Liberal calls for more power

Most sensible people would be lost for words after hearing Cllr. Chris Foote-Wood, Liberal Democratic Vice Chair of the unelected North Assembly, calling for more power to be devolved to this "talking shop". Appearing before a Parliamentary Committee he urged more decision making and spending powers be given to the body (including authorising spending plans of up to 2 billion pounds.)

Just where was Mr. Foote-Wood when the people of the North-East massively defeated the pro assembly lobby in the referendum for an elected body? Such behemoths and hegenomies are NOT wanted in the North-East, and the people of South Shields would certainly NOT be happy at the prospect of millions of pounds worth of taxpayers' money being spent by an unelected non-accountable quango sitting atop the hill in Durham.

I sincerely hope that this is the message that will be taken back to him by Cllrs. Waggot and Malcolm our representatives on this Assembly.


The Journal

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Unison strike

Unison strike causes little disruption to South Shields

There were small groups of pickets at the Town Hall and Middlefields depot this morning to support the 24 hour strike action called by Unison in support of their pensions dispute. Schools were closed, the Metro transport system was not running, and the Tyne Tunnel was closed. Unlike some other neighbouing towns the car parks were open as normal and life went on pretty much as normal.

Around 75,000 public servants in the North-East took part in the strike after failed negotiations with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the government intends to end a system that allows Unison members to take early retirement with full pension rights at the age of sixty under the so-called 85 rule. (The rule describes the conditions required, years of service plus current age must equal at least 85 - i.e. someone aged 59 with 26 years service would be able to retire the following year.) Mr. Prescott's department would like to see this rule scrapped for all NEW entrants to the pension scheme from next month, basing the decision on the future inability of local government tax payers to afford the growing pension fund.

After the obligatory photocalls the pickets drifted away, probably enjoying a day off, like many others on Tyneside who did not wish to get bogged down in monster traffic jams near Newcastle.

Traffic moved freely in and around South Shields, indeed there seemed to be less than normal, and as this picture shows, a quiet afternoon for the traders in King Street looked no worse than normal for a Tuesday.

Amongst those spotted walking instead of burning fossil fuels was Cllr. Ken Hickman on his way to the Town Hall.

Click thumbnail to enlarge


The Shields Gazette
Newcastle Evening Chronicle
The Daily Telegraph


Monday, March 27, 2006

Carers victory

Young Carers Project saved!

The Young Carers Project based in Beach Road, South Shields has been teetering on the brink of closure for some weeks, as news of it's application for a Council grant being refused was revealed. A campaign spearheaded by The Shields Gazette, youngsters at the project, parents and relatives, schoolteachers and healthcare professionals, resulted in the production of a 2,500 signature petition to the Council, which has now announced that the project will receive 30,000 pounds next year.

This grant aid will ensure the project's survival for another year and secure the three jobs at the centre. More than 200 youngsters who care for and look after their own parents, or brothers, or sisters who may be sick or disabled, will continue to benefit from the group's support and help. Spare a thought here, many organisations may well be able to continue working without grant aid, and may find charitable help elsewhere, but how often would you or I think of teenage children acting as carers to the disabled? These youngsters deserve some respite, and a little care and attention for themselves!

By the same token, it nust be remembered that a large grant to a single organisation such as this, may result in many other smaller grant applications being refused. It is likely that those applying for smaller grants will survive nonetheless if their application to the Council is not successfull.

The cake is a finite size, a large slice given to one of the diners can only result in smaller slices being given to the others.


The Shields Gazette

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Rise for Mike Parker (Nexus)

Labour supports "Fat Cat's" rise!

In an incredible twist the Labour led Passenger Transport Authority has approved an inflation busting pay rise of ten thousand pounds per annum for Nexus Director General Mike Parker. Despite the PTA lobbying MPs and government to help make up the 5.4 million pound shortfall in it's budget for free OAP transport, and threatening to axe 16 bus routes to save 300,000 pounds, the Labour members of the Authority still voted to spend the extra money on Mr. Parker's salary. The move was opposed by Liberal Democrats on the PTA. My old friend Ian Proud (the multi-party Councillor), also revealed as a bus driver, said "I'm absolutely disgusted."


Newcastle Evening Chronicle


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Budget comments

Comments on Brown's Budget

Here is a selection of Budget commentaries after the Chancellor presented his tenth (and possibly last) Budget yesterday.

He held out the prospect of tax cuts on several occasions only to snatch them back, insisting that it would be much better for him to spend our money than us.

However, the true defining moment was early on in the speech. After galloping through the nations's net debt and borrowing requirements, he then took enormous pride in boasting that he had indeed considered introducing a third fiscal rule, suggested by the Tories.

This would limit public spending growth to a rate below that of national economic growth. But, he declared with some glee, he had rejected it. Such a fetter, he argued, would be a betrayal of his, and Labour's, first principles and undermine his "investment priorities".

What it actually means is that the state sector can continue expanding while the private sector is swamped in high taxes, red tape and lack of investment. - Read more

Mr Cameron said Mr Brown was stuck in the past. He was an "old-fashioned tax and spend chancellor" who had given Britain the "biggest tax burden in history" - up by a further 5.5 billion pounds over the next three years.

"Billions raised, billions spent," he said. "No idea where the money has gone. With a record like that the Chancellor should be running for treasurer of the Labour Party." - Read more

He claimed he was declaring war on gas-guzzling 4x4s.

But Gordon Brown's tinkering with the road taxes yesterday during his annual budget statement pleased no one and left both motoring groups and environmentalists fuming. - Read more

PRIME Minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown tried to seduce millions of Brits with a sexy Budget yesterday, pledging cut-price condoms and cheap champagne.

The frisky Chancellor's promises of passion earned him a new nickname . . . the Love Gord.

He also lavished billions on schools as he bought the keys to No10 with a big-spending Budget.

The Chancellor went on a giant spree as he laid the foundations for the decade-long Premiership he craves. - Read more
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In his response to the Budget, Mr Cameron said that Mr Brown was an old fashioned tax-and-spend Chancellor who represented "the past." He was the "analogue chancellor in a digital age"; he was the "roadblock" to reform.

"What we've got is a chancellor who has taxed too much, borrowed too much and is the roadblock to reform. He is a politician completely stuck in the past," he said.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Lib Dem leader, said that the Budget had been a missed opportunity. "He could have tackled the unfair tax system. He could have made the environment a priority. He could have faced up to the pensions crisis.

"He has declined to do any of these. This is a legacy from which it will be difficult for him to escape." - Read more

Meanwhile, I'm left wondering, just where does a 1.4 ltr Nissan Almera fall into the tax bands?


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

3rd medal for chris

Third medal for Chris

South Shields swimming sensation Chris Cook collected a third medal at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games as part of the England 4 X 100 men's medley relay team, who took second place and silver medal behind the hosts Australia, and Scotland in third.




Free travel, Blair.

Blair to bust bus deadlock?

Following a Downing Street meeting last night there was a small glimmer of hope that the funding gap faced by Nexus for implementing Gordon Brown's plans for free OAP travel may be plugged from central sources. Prime Minister Tony Blair has pledged to get himself personally involved in the embarassing dispute between the Treasury, Tyne and Wear's five local authorities, travel operator Nexus, and South Shields MP David Miliband.

PTA chairman, Coun David Wood, said today: "I am pleased talks are taking place at the highest level. But if there is nothing definite we will have to proceed on the basis that we have not got the money."

Newcastle East & Wallsend MP Nick Brown said: "We are talking about covering the whole shortfall this year and in future creating a new formula so that Tyne & Wear does not have a structural shortfall."


Newcastle Evening Chronicle
Shields Gazette


Monday, March 20, 2006

U.K. Tax levels

Household tax at record levels

Ernst & Young, the accountants, said the tax burden will be 37.6 per cent of GDP this year, rising to 37.8 per cent next year and 38 per cent in 2010-1.

This will be higher than the 37.7 per cent peak reached in the early 1980s when the top rate of income tax was 60 per cent.

It will also be more than the burden of the 1970s when the top rate was 83 per cent.


The Daily Telegraph


Curly's corner shop

Curly's Corner Shop News

There will be no further updates to the current version of my main website; version 2 will remain static whilst a new vehicle is being built. Version 3 of the Corner Shop will be strictly CSS based with far better compatability with more browsers, improved, larger photogalleries will be a big feature, and some less popular pages will be culled in an effort to make more room foir even more local content.

I expect to have version 3 ready by mid-May.

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double gold for chris cook

Cook doubles up in Melbourne

Following his victory in the 100 metres breaststroke, South Shields man Chris Cook went on to also win the gold medal in the men's 50 metre breaststroke at the Commonwealth games in Melbourne.Despite being only sixth fastest in the semi-final he swam the length of his life to win a brace of medals for the England team. He must now be seriously harbouring ambitions of picking up two Olympic golds (like these pictured) in Beijing.

Unfortunately I have learned today that an olympic sized swimming pool is to built next to the Staium of Light in Sunderland, so it will be unlikely that South Shields will have a facility to rival this one within the next fifteen years. However, even if we do get a small "normal" sized swimming pool, I see no reason why it can't be named and dedicated after the man who put the town back on the sporting map!


The Shields Gazette


Miliband and murder case.

Miliband presses for murder case answers

Cabinet Minister, and South Shields MP David Miliband has joined in the campaign pressing for serious answers in the Aaron O'Neil murder case. The 92 day old baby was brutally killed by his father Paul who was sentenced to life imprisonment in February, the child's mother was sentenced to three and a half years for neglect, gruesome details were revealed in court which showed that Paul O'Neil had held his son's face up against the front of a burning gas fire.

Joining David Miliband in the quest for answers was Newcastle Cllr. Ian Proud, (pictured above) a former workmate of mine in South Shields. He is also a former member of Jarrow Conservative Party. He is also a former candidate for the Liberal Party. He is now a Labour Councillor! Not so much a turncoat, but more of a chameleon character. Draw your own conclusions on Mr. Proud's ambitions.


Newcastle Evening Chronicle


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Cook wins gold

Gold for Cook!

26 year old Chris Cook from South Shields took the Gold Medal in the 100 metres men's breastroke event at the Commonwealth Games and dedicated the win to the memory of a pal who died in a deep sea diving accident.
Chris was lying in fourth place at the turn but his second length of the pool produced a time almost equalling the record he set himself in the semi-final.

Speaking at the Melbourne Aquatic Centre

"A year and a half ago I was thinking of jacking it in," the City of Newcastle swimmer confided, after surging from fourth to snatch victory by 0.12sec. "I was in the shadow of the other guys and dropping away. I lost a good friend of mine. That made me realise there's more to life than this. It's just two lengths of a pool. Looking at it that way has changed my whole outlook.

"He was killed at sea in a diving accident, Mick Jackson. He was a fantastic guy. I'd like to dedicate this victory to him."

It may be tempting to award some special memento to Chris on his return after the games, some might even be thinking of offering him the Freedom of the Borough, however, as I suggested in the previous post, our Council must show true ambition and the same level of determination and dedication as Chris has, in order to fulfill it's plans to develop a swimming pool in the town centre area. What better motivation now than to have a pool bearing the name of our Gold medal winner?

"The Chris Cook Swimming Centre" - has a certain appeal to it, don't you think?


Friday, March 17, 2006

Chris Cook in final

Cook in final pool.

Congratulations must be sent to South Shields born swimmer Chris Cook who broke the Commonwealth Games record whilst winning the semi-final of the men's 100 metre breaststroke event in Melbourne this morning.

Chris is a member of the City of Newcastle Swimming Club, where he regularly trains. Setting a new best of 60.94 seconds to power his way into tomorrow's final, Chris must feel that he is the man of the moment, and his momentum may well carry him to a medal position and confirm his place amongst South Shields' sporting giants. It is a testimony to his own dedication and single minded pursuit of his own and team goals that he has been prepared, for many years, to adopt another town and travel so many miles just to find a "proper" swimming pool of the required length to hone his skills.

The 26-year-old from South Shields will be joined in the final by team-mates James Gibson and Darren Mew, as well as Scotland's Kristopher Gilchrist.

As our Councillors consider the Local Development Framework which will guide how the area is transformed over the next ten or fifteen years, it is worth remembering that there is a vague proposal to include a "swimming pool" within the town centre or foreshore area. If we want to continue producing sportsmen or sportswomen who can compete at the highest levels then we ought to consider the development of a real swimming pool as "essential", leisure pools do not produce swimmers!

It would be nice to set our sights high enough to develop a facility that would draw competitive swimmers away from Fenham and create a centre of excellence here in South Tyneside.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

St. George's Day

Time to vote!

First off I must explain my absence, I have dragged myself from my sick bed to make this post. I arrived at the Corner Shop at 05.45 this morning having been awake for the whole of the previous 24 hours, suffering with a sudden heavy cold, or influenza. I managed to put six hours of my labour in before deciding it was time to retire to my bed. A few large infusions of hot lemon and paracetamol were taken to ease the symptoms, but as yet to no avail.

I'm sure St. George would not have allowed a small illness to stand in his way! On my excursion to the local supermarket to buy medical supplies, I noticed, to my chagrin, that once again there is a large promotion for Guiness and special events to mark St. Patrick's Day. It always annoys me that we allow commercial organisations to call the tune over "national" days. Our own national day, St. George's Day on April 23rd. just doesn't seem to get a look in!

For some time our Members of Parliament have been casting around for another day to be designated as a Bank Holiday, and I think St. George's Day would provide the ideal opportunity. I'm not the only one, there is now an orchestrated campaign which has enlisted the support of Ian "Beefy" Botham, and they are gathering votes and organising petitions to influence MPs.

Winston Churchill wrote
"There is a forgotten, nay almost forbidden word,
which means more to me than any other.
That word is ENGLAND.

Why not cast your vote too?


St. George's Day.Com


Monday, March 13, 2006

Gladys Hobson

Hobson's choice for Almo

The new "independent" housing organisation being set up by South Tyneside Council to manage it's housing stock has announced the appointment of a Chairman. Former Labour Councillor, and party stalwart, Gladys Hobson will front the organisation as it sets out to bid for more central government cash to help improve the standards of housing enjoyed by Council tenants. Gladys is the former member of the Council for the Beacon and Bents Ward and in 2004 she came sixth out of seven candidates in the election for the Hebburn North ward. She is married to the well known Labour activist Wal Hobson, better known as "Blair's boot boy" following his man handling of the octagenarian heckler at last year's Labour Party Conference. (See my post in this blog). Gladys, however, has not made quite such an impact, I have been unable to find a picture of her on the usual image search engines, and the only reference of any note on the internet is a report of her unveiling the statue of Dolly Peel in 1987, which over looks the Tyne at River Drive, South Shields.

Of course the real direction that the arms length housing organisation should take will be set by it's, yet to be announced, Chief Executive, and I have already warned of the dangers of following the example set by a similar body in Sunderland! So, will the new "company" be completely independent and impartial, or will it be influenced by the ruling group on the Council?

It gives a completely new definition to ALMO (Another Labour Mismanagement Opportunity!)


Hebburn North results 2004


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Kevin Ball's first game

Ball Deflated

A sorry second half saw Sunderland sadly sink to another home defeat as Paul Jewell's Wigan Athletic took the spoils at The Stadium of Light yesterday. The 1 - 0 defeat leaves the Lads firmly stuck to the bottom of the Premiership table with a paltry 10 points from 29 games, looking almost certain to beat there own record of 19 points for a Premiership season, the lowest ever recorded.

Kevin Ball, caretaker manager, tried to take some positives from the game, particularly our ability to create chances, however, other than a disallowed effort from Kevin Kyle, we failed to hit the back of the net. A costly defensive mistake but Nyron Nosworthy gifted Wigan the only goal of the game.

Afterwards Paul Jewell was generous enough to say that Wigan had lost to the better team, he was interviewed as over a thousand home supporters gathered in protest at The Murray Gates beside the main stadium entrance to vociferously call for the head of the chairman. The protest had been talked about and planned all week on fans' message boards as a way of showing our disgust at the failure to invest in the team to make a worthwhile effort at staying in the Premiership.

In an innovative move the club has introduced a free podcast service where we can download free mp3 files to load into a media player, mp3 player, or iPod, featuring interviews with the manager and players during the week leading up to the game.


Sunday Sun
Sunderland AFC
Simon Crabtree's podcast


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Pocket money

Tax payers now to give "pocket money"

In a move which will be seen as cementing Labour's position as the provider of the "Nanny State", Gordon Brown has given the go ahead for a scheme to give youngsters up to 25 pounds a month "pocket money" from the tax payer. This will be in the form of a voucher to be used for health or leisure pursuits and will only be given to to teenagers who "behave themselves".
It is more than I had planned to give to my own kids who do behave themselves with impeccable manners!
Those in deprived areas such as the north-east can qualify for up to 25 pounds, those in better off areas can qualify for 10 pounds, in this scheme to keep children off street corners! Durham and Sunderland have already decided to partake in this plan, I just hope South Tyneside can resist the temptation.

Why bother having parents when the state aims to provide all!


BBC News
Newcastle Journal


Spirit of the Tyne

New ferry name chosen

The name of the new cross Tyne ferry will be "Spirit of the Tyne" after being chosen in a competition organised by the Shields Gazette. Other front runners were Dolly Peel and Lord Collingwood. Unfortunately this really shows how fickle people around here are, and what short memories we have, one would have hoped that the "Spirit of the Tyne" name would evoke memories of the great shipbuilding and commercial enterprise of the river, however Nexus has decided not to recognise the real spirit of the Tyne and the vessel is to built in Holland.


Newcastle Journal
Shields Gazette


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Council tax Bill

Have you seen your Council Tax Bill?

Council Tax Bills have been landing on doormats with a heavy thump over the past couple of days, and along with the bill is a lovely (and probably expensive) high quality glossy brochure outlining how wonderful our Council is, and an explanation of where our money is going to next year. To the layman it must appear to be very confusing, I wonder how many people have a clear grasp of it at all, I'm sure that I don't.

Some things intrigue me and leave me asking questions;

* It looks as though total net expenditure for the Executive Directorates (the departments which provide the bulk of our services) is 207.2 million pounds, but because we are using up 3.2 million pounds of reserves to help cover last term's overspend, the total expenditure is only 204 million pounds. Surely the reserves should be added rather than subtracted?

* Despite some protests over the small number of redundancies that the Council is looking for, the total number of full time equivalent staff is to grow from 6,369 to 6,454 with a resultant increase in wage costs of 42.9 million pounds. (I guess if there is a moratorium on recruitment this will provide a little "slack" for next year and allow the reserve fund to be replenished.)

* Despite the Council stating that they are unwilling to help out Nexus with additional funding towards free travel for pensioners, the annual grant to Nexus displays the biggest rise in ANY of the areas of our Council's budget, both in terms of money and percentage. Nexus will receive from us 88.1 million pounds next year, a rise of 19.4 million pounds - 28.24% higher than last year! There has been very little in the way of public disclosure over this massive increase and I think it would be worthwhile for one of our politicians or journalists to find out why this money is being expended, and to question why Nexus is playing politics with students and pensioners in their battle to get even more revenue to fund the free travel scheme for pensioners.

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Jarrow toilet

Is someone taking the p155?

I don't normally blog about things that happen in Jarrow, simply because this weblog and it's associated sites have a particular reference to my hometown South Shields and how politics affects us. However, there was an amusing little story in tonight's evening paper which illustrates only too well what happens when politicians and public servants get there heads together in this part of the world.

The story relates to Cllr. Tom Hanson's annoyance that a new public convenience in Jarrow, for which he has campaigned for over a year to be put in place, is still not completed and ready for use. It begs the question "how long does it take to spend a penny?"
Jarrow is rather short of places to go when you are "caught short"; as Cllr. Hanson points out, there is only Morrisons - and they have more reasons than one for why you should spend more than a penny!

The sad fact is, of course, that South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council is not exactly renowned for making things move fast, add their talents to those of another public body (Nexus) and you have a recipe for lethargy.

Some examples

* The land either side of the Western Approach dual carriageway between Tyne Dock and Laygate has stood empty since the mid 1970s.
* Vacant land alongside the river in East Holborn has stood empty for even longer.
* Plots of land behind the north side of Fowler Street have stagnated for over thirty years.
* Despite the efforts of a number of people over the past twelve months, Redhead's Landing remains locked to the public, and looks likely to remain so for ever!
* Public consultations for a new "super school" have now been in progress for at least twelve months without any signs of coming to a conclusion.
* Gypsies Green Stadium has been left under-developed for at least thirty years.
* Prime development land all over the centre of Jarrow has remained fallow for the duration of my lifetime.
* Consideration of the application to give "village green" status to Temple Memorial Park has moved at the pace of an average snail.
* The controversial Draft Report on Trow Quarry lay gathering dust for over a year before seeing the light of day.

Yet, the electorate has been so forgiving to Cllr. Hanson and his colleagues in the Labour controlled Council by blindly offering faith and votes to them year after year!

Will the advent of a new invigorated opposition change things? We will have to wait and see, but like the people of Jarrow we are used to waiting.

I just hope that Cllr. Hanson's bright idea for a public convenience hasn't turned out to be a "flush in the pan!"


The Shields Gazette


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Miliband - Arsenal

Miliband reveals secrets on BBC!

I was listening to our MP, David Miliband on the Simon Mayo show on BBC Radio 5 Live this afternoon. Readers may think that I had been tipped off but this is not true, he acquitted himself rather well in summarising a report praising the progress in regenerating some of our cities. As Minister for Local Government and Communities, the "Potteresque" man from the Cabinet described his journeys to Portsmouth and the south coast, praised the efforts of Liverpool, Newcastle and Gateshead, and found time to mention Ipswich too.

However, because Mayo had the bit between his teeth about the British inability to learn foreign languages, David was led back to his own education at Haverstock Comprehensive School in London and his five years of learning French. He went on to describe a conversation between himself and a French minister where one spoke French and the other English! Both understood each other reasonably well (as usual the Frenchman probably had a very good grasp of the English language - always an embarassment) yet David still feels that he could have done better having studied the language for so long.

I have to say that I studied French, German, Russian, and Latin to O-Level standard but most likely couldn't make any use at all of them today. I did visit Epinay on a twin town event some years ago and managed to talk French to our hosts most of the time, and helped a little with interpretation. It does seem pretty pointless learning a language if it isn't going to get used.

However I digress, the main point of this post is to reveal the dreadful secret that David Miliband revealed to us all on national radio this afternoon. He is probably laughing up his sleeve at the plight of many of his constituents as we wallow in the mire of depression surrounding Sunderland Football Club, but he won't care...................he supports ......The ARSE.

If you missed the programme you can download it and here it all through the link below.


BBC Radio Five Live (Simon Mayo)


Monday, March 06, 2006

Milibands reply

Miliband understands frustration!

This reply just in from the office of David Miliband MP, in reply to my post regarding the financial fiasco over free public transport for pensioners:

"I understand the frustration about the uncertainty regarding the future of the fares schemes for pensioners and students. The Government has allocated £350million nationwide for this scheme - a considerable sum. In Tyne & Wear there are some particular issues relating to the impact of high usage of buses by pensioners that are still under discussion between Nexus and the Government.

I appreciate that this causes uncertainty but both sides are working for a viable outcome."

David Miliband.

As Cabinet Minister for Local Government and Communities, David is bound by Cabinet conventions which restrict his ability to intervene on matters relating to his department and it's spending plans within his constituency. However, because this issue affects a number of constituencies across Tyne and Wear, I am assured that other MPs are pressing the government to come up with a workable solution.


Gaol for ballot cheats

Govt. tightens regulations on postal ballots

I wrote in this blog last year of my concerns and worries about the present system of applying for and using postal ballots, and following the convictions of a group of midlands and north-west Councillors for electoral fraud the government has decided to tighten the rules. Anyone caught fraudulently applying for a postal ballot can now face up to a two year jail sentence.

This story from the Newcastle Journal:

Anyone falsely applying for a postal vote ahead of May's local elections could face up to two years in jail as part of the Government's attempt to increase trust in British democracy.

Election ministers have unveiled tough new measures aimed at clamping down on postal and proxy vote fraud - as well as boosting the security of votes once cast.

In 2004 the electoral commissioner Sir Richard Mawrey said postal voting was "wide open to fraud" following a vote scandal in Birmingham, hitting out at the Government over the level of postal ballot abuse - abuse that would disgrace a "banana republic", he said.


Newcastle Journal


McCarty sacked

McCarthy mugged by Murray!

Once again Fat Berb Murray the Chairman of my beloved Sunderland AFC has shown remarkable timing in the sacking of Mick McCarthy with only ten games of the season left. Former captain Kevin Ball has been put in charge of team affairs as caretaker manager.

Chairman Murray, who bought all of the club's shares, does not feel the accountability of thousands of shareholders as other Premiership chairmen do, neither does he feel the frustration and anger of thousands of loyal supporters who pay around twenty pounds each to suffer at home games - that is, until it's time to renew season tickets for the next campaign. There is speculation that the sacking may have a little to do with the public row, a couple of weeks ago, between the two when McCarthy cryptically suggested that the club had all but planned for relegation at the start of the season, Murray felt that his manager's comments were insulting.

Fat Berb took two years too long to remove Peter Reid, should never have appointed Howard Wilkinson, and with a record of 31 defeats from 37 Premiership starts McCarthy ought to have been removed before the Christmas period. Kevin Ball faces the same prospect as McCarthy did when he took over three years ago, an almost sure drop down to the Championship.

Sunderland AFC released this statement this morning:

Sunderland AFC has announced that after three years in charge, manager Mick McCarthy has departed the club.

Following a meeting this morning, McCarthy was informed of the club's intentions to terminate his contract.

It was agreed that it is in the best interests of both parties for him to leave immediately.

The club intends to appoint a caretaker-manager to take charge of the remaining 10 matches this season, and will make a decision regarding a permanent appointment at a later date.

Chairman Bob Murray said: "As Chairman I take responsibility for what has proven to be an unsuccessful and heartbreaking season; despite the best intentions, efforts and expectations of every one at the club.

"I feel deeply sorry that the excitement, optimism and aspirations of all Sunderland fans looking forward to a return to the Premier League have been rewarded in this way and I apologise for this.

"It is especially tough on supporters who have turned out in numbers week in, week out; despite seeing so little to raise their spirits.

"It is hard to see such loyalty unrewarded and I am sorry that performances and results have not mirrored the tremendous level of support that the club has been given.

"The club did not return to the Premiership just to make up the numbers and whilst we fully expected it to be a tough first season back, none of us expected to be in the position we are today.

"I would like to thank Mick McCarthy for his efforts for the club whilst at Sunderland and wish him and his family the best for the future.

"Looking ahead we will be taking our time to appoint a successor for what will be another very important season for the club in 2006."

A short while later, this statement was issued:
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Sunderland AFC has confirmed that Kevin Ball has been appointed caretaker manager for the remaining 10 matches of this season.

The news comes after an announcement earlier today that Mick McCarthy has departed the club.

Ball was one of Sunderland's most popular captains during a successful 10-year playing career with the Black Cats. Denis Smith signed the defender, who later became a midfielder, from Portsmouth in July 1990.

The tough-tackling midfielder's playing career at Sunderland ended in 1999 when he moved to Fulham. He finished his playing career at Burnley in 2002.

Ball rejoined Sunderland as a coach in January 2003 and was appointed Assistant Academy Manager, with specific responsibility for Sunderland's under-18s side this season.

Sunderland chairman Bob Murray said: "We have appointed Kevin Ball caretaker manager until the end of the season and hope that supporters will give him their full backing.

"Kevin has always felt passionately about Sunderland and is a true professional. His grit, determination and leadership qualities have always been greatly appreciated by Sunderland fans and the club.

"Sunderland supporters have been incredibly tolerant and supportive in the last few months, which have been very difficult. I would also like to thank them for that.

"Now is the time to give Kevin Ball and the team support to try to get back to winning ways."

This could be seen as a shrewd move by Murray, who knows only too well that the long suffering supporters will give the inspirational, tough talking, former captain their full backing, however, this is a poisoned chalice that he has been handed, the club faces another relegation and Ball may well find a replacement manager announced sooner rather than later.

Interviews on Sky Sports News this morning with former fan favourite "Lord" Gary Rowell, and current player Liam Lawrence, reveal a dejected and distraught dressing room at the Academy of Light this morning as news of McCarthy's dismissal was announced.


Born in Barnsley on 7 Feb 1959
Played 272 games for Barnsley, joined Manchester City for £200,000 in 1983
Republic of Ireland debut in 1984, joined Celtic in 1987
Succeeded Bruce Rioch as Millwall player-manager in March 1991
Appointed Ireland manager in 1996, guided them to last 16 of 2002 World Cup
Appointed Sunderland manager 12 March 2003
After losing out in 2004 play-off finals, guides Sunderland to Championship title in May 2005
He leaves with a record of 31 defeats in 37 games in the Premiership.


Sunderland AFC
Ready to Go Message Board (Hear the fans views)
BBC Sport
Guardian report of row


Sunday, March 05, 2006

Ray Spencer

Customs House Director in new role

A little while before Christmas the Customs House in the Mill Dam was showing Tim Burton's "Corpse Bride" for a two or three week period, I had fancied taking the kids along to see it, but Junior Curly balked at the idea. However we've watched it this afternoon, and it appears that there was a very good reason why the film was running longer than the usual one week allotment given at the Customs House.

It seems that the popular Customs House Director and children's entertainer Ray Spencer had secretly accepted a role in Tim Burton's film, hence the reason for it's extended run - nice little move Ray, that's one way of gaining a little publicity.

Fellow actor Johnny Depp who has the lead role in the film told Curly's Corner Shop that it had been a great pleasure to work with Ray, and that they had a lot of fun together.

"I never knew how talented the guy was" said Depp "and after I'd managed to decipher his accent, filming became a gas!"

"You can tell Ray, and your folks back in South Shields, that the next time he's incapacitated through over indulgence, I'll happily fly over, don the red suit, and play Tommy the Trumpeter for the kids!"

Ray has worried for some time that his role as Customs House Drector may some time prevent him from carrying out Civic duties as his alter ego Tommy the Trumpeter; but having made the acquaintance of Depp and others in Hollywood he can rest assured that South Shields could be well served with another personality fronting the Cookson Country Parade.

Ray pictured in "Corpse Bride"

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Tim Burton's Corpse Bride
The Customs House


Saturday, March 04, 2006


South Shields awakes to snow!

The arctic weather conditions that have been affecting much of the country this week eventually arrived in "Sunny Shields" this morning. After three nights of heavy frosts, snow clouds rolled in from the North during the early hours of the morning blanketing the town and making roads tricky to negotiate. This picture of King Street in the town centre was taken at 5.30 a.m. this morning on my way to work at the Corner Shop, the only others around at that time of the morning were market traders setting up their stalls in readiness for what looked like a quiet day. The temperature was a bone chilling -3 C.

Despite all of the predictions of global warming producing more winter storms,we have experienced a quiet winter so far, the only other snow fall was a couple of hours one day in November last year. It seems so much different to years gone by when we were used to seeing snow over many weeks each winter.

I particularly recall a Saturday in February 1976 when I was working for a department store in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne with fellow Councillor Eddie Russell; there had been light falls of snow all week from a cold northerly front, but by mid-morning the winds had turned to the east bringing heavy falls of snow and freezing tempratures all the way from northern Russia. It quickly became apparent, from our viewpoint high above the Tyne, that public transport was experiencing difficulties in moving around Newcastle. The Byker Bridge became blocked by snowdrifts almost two metres high and news arrived that drifts had also formed on the Tyne Bridge, by 2.00 p.m. we made the decision to leave work early and battle against the elements in our journey back to South Shields. A car ride that might normally have taken thirty minutes transformed into a very worrying two hour marathon as we struggled to find a good road leading out of Newcastle. The Coast Road dual carriageway was littered with crashed vehicles and blocked with drifts, the Tyne Bridge was blocked with drifts, Byker Bridge was blocked with drifts, the Fossway was similarly affected, and City Road was almost impassable. However, we eventually struggled along past St. Peters and crawled towards the Tyne Tunnel, we were expecting to find that weather conditions might be a little better down at the coast, but this was not so.

The snow continued to fall as the winds strengthened from the east for the next five days. Massive snow drifts along the Leas built up on the Coast Road, one reaching roof level at the Bamburgh public house (often seen on BBC television as competitors complete the Great North Run), the situation became worse when a Council snow plough became bogged down near Redwell Bank and another plough was sent to rescue it. The weather was winning and there was nothing other to do than take the decision to close the coastal route from South Shields to Sunderland, the road was not reopened until four days later.

Of course, people somehow managed to get to Cleadon Hills with their toboggans, the hills were packed with children enjoying the deep snow, as were Blackberry Hills, facing the Coast Road. There were pictures published in the Shields Gazette showing small ice flows passing under the Swing Bridge at Newcastle, and the Tyne was almost frozen solid at Haydon Bridge!

I understand that the winters of 1962 and 1948 were equally harsh, but these warnings that we were about to enjoy such a winter this year appear to be false. The snow today did not take too long to melt as the sky cleared and the sun came shining through, however the temperature at mid-day was still cold enough to leave snow lying on Littlehaven Beach as the picture below shows.

Needless to say, the most popular telephone requests at the Corner Shop this morning was

"do you sell sledges?"

unfortunately, we could not think of anywhere in town where you could possibly buy one, there are no specialist toys or sports shops left here! Ah...Ripons, or Clarkes!

(Now there's something for our Councillors to think about as they decide how to develop and plan the town centre over the next five years or so - they would like to build office accomodation on the site of the multi-storey car park in Mile End Road, it would be so nice if the ground floor could be kept for specialist, independent retailing - please, no more national "cloning" chains.)

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Ming Campbell

The trials and tribulations of Lib-Dems

Sir Menzies Campbell has been elected leader of the Liberal Democrat Party.

Sir Menzies, 64, who was Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman and acting leader, topped a ballot of party members after a five week campaign.

He beat economic affairs spokesman Chris Huhne in the final run off. Party President Simon Hughes came third.

Sir Menzies, who got 57% of the vote, said he was ready to take risks to "modernise" the party and lead it "back to government".

It must be rather awkward being in the Liberal Democrat camp these days, which way does one swing, to the left, or to the right? If one supports the new leader, or campaigns on his behalf, does one run the risk of being described as MINGING?


BBC News


Alliance Strategy

Absent Friends?

I made a point a few weeks ago in this blog that the newly formed Independent Alliance opposotion group on the Council needed to formulate 13 basic policies or srategies to match the thirteen candidates who will be standing under their banner in the May elections.

I also made the point, and I reiterate it here, that I feared the old South Shields Progressive Association was in grave danger of losing it's identity within the confines of this marriage of convenience. I see no reason to alter my views as we read of more and more former members of the Labour Party gaining prominence within the Alliance.

One of the leading figures within the Alliance has come under fire for having an abysmal attendance record at committee and full Council meetings. Cllr. Allen Branley replied to the criticism by saying

"I have chosen a strategy to attend meetings where I feel I can make a difference and raise issues , such as proposing the Alliance budget amendment last week"

Regular readers will recall, that whilst the Alliance made a headline grabbing bid to freeze Council Tax, it made no difference at all. The Labour group had it's way and voted for an increase!

So, will this "absentee strategy" become a regular feature of future Alliance Councillors? Staying away from meetings is sure to save our money, and may indeed bring us a Council Tax freeze next year!

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OAP free travel

A plea to David Miliband!

I would like to publicly ask David Miliband (our MP and Local Government and Communities Minister - and also a regular visitor to this page) to step in NOW and intervene in this unseemly row between The Treasury and Nexus over the financing of free travel for pensioners.

I feel fairly certain that when the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, announced the scheme last year, he did not envisage such a debacle. His officials ought to have had a reasonably good idea of the costs involved to the respective transport authorities, and therefore should have been able to supply sufficient funding to subsidise the scheme. It should not have befell any transport operator to fund the scheme from it's own revenue, and we should not be witnessing the unsavoury efforts to cut costs by reducing student transport services, cutting routes, or reducing public transport frequencies.

To add insult to injury, we learn today that another member of the government, Phil Woolas, is suggesting that the five local government authorities that make up the Tyne and Wear County find the cash between them to make up the five million pound shortfall. This is simply not on! Both he and the Chancellor need to be told in direct terms that local government in the North-East (and particularly South Tyneside) are very much strapped for cash to start with after the relatively small grant aid allocations announced for this financial year, and this is where David Miliband can use his influence on our behalf.

David has never been known as one to "rock the boat", his voting record suggests that he is probably the most loyal of Tony Blair's supporters, however, there are times when the coxswain needs to be taken to one side and have some home truths bellowed down his left ear!

It also should be mentioned that the Chancellor's scheme to provide free public transport for pensioners was not driven by demand, and many of our senior citizens are rather upset that this concession may cause hardship for a younger generation trying to educate themselves to provide the nation's future prosperity. There are many, many pensioners who would rather pay a flat rate fee for public transport, than use it for free.
Pensioners may not be entirely happy that this free public transport initiative is being forced upon them, but they are more angry that the costs of the venture are being forced upon others!


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Born in 1956
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blueyonder DOT co DOT uk

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