Friday, 29 February 2008

An Air of Mendacity

Yesterdays full council meeting was, by previous standards, quite a sedate affair. Beginning with the Council Tax debate, the report was moved by Councillor Wood in very self congratulating style. Councillor Elsom spoke next, and very eloquent he was to. He also managed to avoid the issue of the 5% increase he had tied the Independents to from last years proposals. Clever George, drop then in the mire than leave to avoid the flak! Unperturbed, Councillor Jane Branley covered the issue of Councillor allowances and how any rise could be negated if these payments were dropped. This view has been argued and covered many times before and it cut no ice with those present, particularly the Labour Council members who were claiming over £10,000 per year in appearance monies. Councillor WAGGGOTTT finished the proceedings, initiating a back slapping exercise as the rise went through on nod. No Liberal Democrat councillor or Conservative councillor spoke in the debate.

Moving on, with 20 public questions submitted and a residual balance of 5 from the EGM in early February, a so far unprecedented degree of “brevity” would have been needed to see them all answered. As it turned out, only 4 received a full airing, with 21 being promised answers in 7 days time. Stand out issues re the one’s that were answered included Council Leaders WAGGGOTTT’s request to instigate a politically balanced cabinet after the next election. Clearly being the only Councillor present to understand the time restraints, he answered “No” without even getting out of his chair. Performance of the week went to Councillor McAtominey, who when asked about the servicing and costs of the Town Hall clock, produced a speech which served only to cultivate boredom, and as I looked at my watch, actually stop time in its tracks! It even annoyed the Conservative Leader Councillor Potts, who was forced from his seat to plead for some form of sanity. We also had a question from Steve Pattison, prospective Independent candidate for Biddick and All saints Ward. Mr Pattison was concerned that people with hearing details were struggling to engage in the debates held within the Chamber. One Councillor claimed to have not heard the details of the supplementary question – could Mr Pattison please put his microphone on and repeat it. Sorry Councillor it is on was the reply, but thanks for proving my point!

Next on the agenda were Councillors questions, also limited to 20 minutes. Independent Councillor Steve Harrison wanted to know whether any fellow colleagues had been in trouble for the misuse of Council PC’s etc. Councillor Wood replied that this information was confidential as it could relate to legal proceedings etc – the public gallery took that as a “yes”. Councillor I Malcolm provided the next answer, the question not being the issue. In true McAtominey style, time not only stopped, but it started to run backwards. This man could actually find dust exciting, such was the sheers dourness of his prose. However, it served Labour’s purpose, as he caused nearly 14 minutes of time to disappear into thin air. If Einstein was still alive, he would have had to re write his Theory of Relativity. Indeed, if Councillor I Malcolm ever answers another question in such a way, we may go back far enough in time for Einstein to attend! With a quickie from Councillor Leask on Housing Regeneration Children and Young Persons, 20 minutes was once again up.

At some point during these questions Councillor Potts had to leave the meeting. He managed to stay for 60 minutes. Perhaps he was going out to arrange a refund on his allowance on a minute by minute basis based on his time in the Chamber. I suspect not. Never mind, at least the concerns of his wards residents and the Conservative Party in general would be represented by his remaining two colleagues, except of course they weren’t in attendance. Opposition? Oh dear, perhaps somebody should explain to the Tories what the word really means.

With question time over, committee minutes were up for approval. The usual banter followed: the Malcolm’s collectively blew gaskets every time Councillor Jane Branley rose from her chair (the must have a lot of spare “gaskets” at home, as Ed also blew one on Tuesday at the Regeneration meeting when Jane Branley attempted to speak).

One highlight which stood out from this section of the meeting was Councillor Michael Clare’s attack on a recent Independent group newsletter. He accused them of undermining South Tyneside Homes as their publicity encouraged members of the public to contact either senior officers of the ALMO, or indeed the Auditor, if they had any issues, good or bad, concerning the group. According to Clare, this was very wrong. The Council couldn’t have members of the public exercising their democratic rights by contacting directors of South Tyneside Homes with their problems, or even, god forbid, actually approaching the auditor who it just so happens, has actually requested tenants views. You see, STH is currently on the final run in to see whether they will get their 2 star rating and a pot of gold. What Councillor Clare was in effect calling for was a moratorium on complaints so that the Auditor in effect gains a false impression on the state of the ALMO. This is nothing short of municipal deception, and the public saw through it straight away. If South Tyneside Homes is doing so well and actually deserves its 2 star rating Clare and Co should have no concerns about the opposition newsletter. Clearly however, the 2 stars is not going to be achieved and the knives are out for a scapegoat.

We also had the issue of members allowance increases. What can I say? The usual arguments were had, the usual sides were taken and the usual outcome emerged – the rise went through, the Bank balances went up and certain Councillors heaved a sigh of relief. Some one somewhere, also mouthed the word “kerching”!

And that as they say, was the end of that. The Councillors retired to their cups of tea with Brenda, the Malcolm’s went home to change their gaskets, and Councillor WAGGGOTTT made the most of his final days in the Chamber.

As the public left, there was definitely the remnants of an air of mendacity – how do these Labour Councillors justify the rise which they just awarded themselves? The answer, they cant.

Public interest motive not enough for South Tyneside Council

Whilst yesterdays full Council meeting went ahead with out to much dissent (I will report on this meeting later today) there was still the slight matter of a motion which was not allowed to be discussed in the Chamber. Independent spokesperson Jane Branley explained that a motion put by her Councillors concerning the site of a new waste incinerator had been ruled out of order.

With Sunderland City Council conducting their meetings on this issue behind closed doors, and with South Tyneside refusing to address public interest concerns in the democratic environment of the Council Chamber, people are starting to feel that something isn’t quite right about this whole scenario.

Readers and followers of this site are well aware that I consider this issue to have the potential to become South Tyneside Councils most controversial venture ever. It is starting to look like this process has already begun.

Stalag Sandhaven

Catching up with last nights Gazette has revealed that problems are already starting to arise from the new ownership regime at Sandhaven Caravan Park. Readers will recall that South Tyneside Council sold the lease for the site to Northumberland Leisure, a company the public were assured had a sound and committed attitude to the region and the site. That may be so, but on the public relations front they have scored 0 out 10!

Whilst the ink isn’t even dry on the sale contract, Northumberland Leisure have announced rent increases of £300, a metered electricity system and have told residents that they are no longer guaranteed their standard plots. Oh and by the way, if you don’t like these new changes, they are going to charge you £700 to remove your caravan.

Clearly under the impression that the current tenants are nothing more akin to new age travellers, Northumberland Leisure have used a sledge hammer approach to try and get rid of them. If any further proof were needed, read what Nigel Thompson , head of the Leisure concern, said to the Gazette when asked for comment:

"The bottom line is, the people on that site have been able to do what they want for too long. It's been a free-for-all….At the moment they've been letting any Joe Bloggs come on to the campsite to remove caravans from their pitches, and damage can be caused.”

The Gazette goes on further to report:

When we asked what would happen if owners attempted to remove their own caravans, rather than paying £700, he replied: "I don't like the tone of this conversation, I'm not going to get a fair hearing, I'm going to end this conversation now."The Gazette contacted his central office by fax asking further questions, but there was no response.A council spokesman confirmed that it used to allow tenants to bring their own private contractors on to the site to move caravans.However, the spokesman added that the council was unaware these changes would come into force when it sold the land, as it was a 'commercial decision' on behalf of Northumbrian Leisure. It therefore couldn't forewarn caravan owners.

So there you have it – Sandhaven Caravan is now run by a company who have an attitude better suited to running prisons and whose head clearly lacks manners, decorum and an affinity for his customers. To cap it all, the Council new nothing about what would happen because basically all they wanted was the money.

In some cases patrons of the site have had pitches for nearly twenty years. Due to the introduction of these ridiculous fees together with new draconian regulations, many will be forced to leave.

So, where are all the supporters of the sale of the Sandhaven and Lizard sites now then – suspiciously quite can be the only way to describe their stance!

Rumour Mill

The chattering classes have been in touch with the News Desk with the claim that the Tavistock “Rattler” business has been sold to Cameron’s Brewery. Could this be true? Surely not. At Tuesdays Regeneration and Resources Scrutiny Committee meeting, two very senior representatives from Tavistock Leisure said in response to a question on their commitment to the area that they were here for the very long term and didn’t set up businesses just to sell them on.

Never mind, perhaps someone’s having a laugh. The problem is, I don’t hear many giggles.

Thursday, 28 February 2008


What a word, hypocrisy would be better. However, that’s the terminology used in today’s Telegraph to portray a third of Cabinet members who are actively campaigning in their constituencies against Post Office closures.

Amongst the local dissenters are some of Mr Brown's most senior colleagues - Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary; Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary; and Geoff Hoon, the Chief Whip. Many more less senior government members are also listed amongst the detractors of national policy. With only a third of closures so far announced, the list of rebels will grow longer.

But are they really rebels? Dissent at cabinet level is almost non excitant on this issue. Concerned about their seats and local reputations, these MP’s are flouting their representational duties by saying one thing at home, but another at work!

Post Offices are essential to any community and any local block of shops. Remove them and you signal the demise of many urban shopping blocks. This government has allowed far too many alternative outlets to erode the staple business base of Post Office’s – do I really need to be able to pay for my TV licence at Sainsbury’s or order my foreign currency from Marks and Spencer’s?

The review for Tyne and Wear goes public this July. I suspect over half our local Post Offices will close. Only when they are closed will there be a public out cry – by then it will be too late.

Support your local Post office and make sure you sign their petitions to protect their livelihoods.

Government for Sale

Not content with loosing confidential computer discs in the post, the government has decided to sell them on eBay as well. Today’s Guardian highlights how a laptop bought on the site second hand contained a data disc marked “Home Office Confidential”. A spokesman has remained very reticent on the whole affair, merely confirming that the laptop and disc were encrypted, a further indication that the PC contained confidential information.

Whilst I understand that many government departments are facing severe financial restraints, selling the office equipment to raise funds is taking things to far. What ever next on eBay – “For Sale – Foreign Secretary – Unused”.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Who’s next for the blame, the porter? Surely his burden is enough?

Whilst South Tyneside Councillors are used to the clatter of their letter boxes every morning (such is the amount of official post they receive) they weren’t expecting the letter they received this morning. South Tyneside Homes have penned a prose to Councillors in the Borough informing them that they are not to happy with their behaviour with regards to said ALMO. Clearly worried about the adverse publicity they have received over the last couple of months, STH have now blamed Councillors for the trouble they find themselves in, accusing our elected representatives of breaching their code of conduct and alluding to legal action as recourse. Not to happy, Bob the South Tyneside Builder expects some form of positive political redress.

Sadly, Bob the Bodger is threatening and barking up the wrong tree. STH is now an “Arms Length Management Organisation” which means you can’t blame Councillors for the financial pit you find you find yourselves in. Especially when the head of the concern is on the higher level of a 5 figure salary!

Let’s have a gamblers tipple – this letter shows that a sure bet is that South Tyneside Homes has no chance of achieving a 2 star rating this time around! First it was staff to blame, then it was residents who wouldn’t open their doors. Now it’s councillors!

As a result of this letter, its official! Two stars is a pipe dream.

The Extended Labour Family in Print

As patrons of this site know, I have always had nothing but good things to say about South Tyneside Councils web site. It is easy to use and for me personally, has always supplied the information I have been after.

However, the online edition of the “On View” magazine has supplied me with a bit to much information.

Some time last summer I recall that the Independent Alliance of Councillors in the Borough objected to the On View magazines content, claiming that it was a Labour electioneering pamphlet. Fair enough, but the threat was also made to refer the matter to the Audit Commission, something which the council took very seriously as the content correspondingly became less “political”.

Without this in mind, I viewed the new edition with relish. What would it contain that I could post on? The answer, quite a lot.

Getting past the usual “blurb” of the first few pages, I was interested in the views section accredited to the public. These are the pages which really matter: the people on the ground, the man or woman on the street who has a true view of how the Council’s polices and approach to accountability affect the electorate. Take for example busy mum Alison Duncan, who decided she had definite views about On View magazine. She therefore wrote in and told the editors what she thought of them!

In her own words:

“Well, I’m very interested in what happens in South Tyneside and I read onview from cover to cover,”

Good for you Alison. But she didn’t stop there:

“My mam usually gets her copy before me so I read it at hers then I read mine when it comes, then my husband reads it, and then I put it in my recycling box. The thing is ... I don’t just want to read about my own street and my own neighbourhood and that’s why I filled in the questionnaire. I want to read about what’s happening in other places so I really like the fact that onview now has two pages for each of the forum areas. I’m nosey really, but I like to know what’s going on all over the borough. I think the magazine has a good balance of news. I know I’ve read letters in the Shields Gazette about it being a waste of money, but I don’t think it is. I don’t buy the Gazette every night and onview gives me a good overview of what’s going on in the borough. It’s a good, colourful magazine and it’s easy to read. I often see people I know in it. I really liked the piece about the couple who went down to the garden party at Buckingham Palace. I think it’s really important that people take an interest in where they live and in what’s going on. I’m a school governor and I take a real interest in education and local schools. I’ve never really felt strongly enough about a particular issue to go along to a community area forum meeting, but I do feel strongly about onview. I really like it!”

Well done Alison Duncan. I am glad your mam likes the magazine, because her two sons, Ian and Ed Malcolm, sit on the Council which produces the magazine. Which of course makes you err…… Ian and Ed’s sister! That could be why your mam gets it first: the inks probably not dry yet (no, McAtominey didn’t print it, he’s not allowed to). I’m also glad you have such a disregard for CAF’s, because your brothers continue to tell the public how important this committee function is. Now who do I believe? Alison Duncan who clearly has access to the inside track, or the claims of the Malcolm Brothers who have access to the err…. inside track! I am also glad you are a school governor. Perhaps your school is not up for closure under the TOPS review. Please put a good word in for Councillor Bell in the Boldon Colliery Ward, she needs it!

Slightly disturbed, I moved on.

I know that face. Yes, it’s Pat Snowdon, a (voluntary) member of the Boldon, Cleadon and Whitburn CAF. Why she should be part of such a political pamphlet is beyond me. However, the prose claims they (the CAF) secured a kerbside parking scheme for East Boldon. On a personal note, I think that copyright belongs to me.

On to another public picture section – oh dear, surely that’s not an acquaintance of Councillor Brady’s family, one Jean Birch. Yes it is, and low and behold, she sings from the same hymn sheet.

Frankly, I had to stop there. What would be next? Councillor WAGGGOTTT’s cat?

If I have been able to spot this sheer abuse of the electioneering process, what will the people in the “know” manage?

I suspect that the Audit Commission is soon going to be sick of the name “South Tyneside Council”.

Free Money!

Don’t forget tomorrows Full Council meeting, when our elected representatives will, amongst other things, vote themselves another inflation busting allowance increase.

Bring all the family. Children like to see pigs feeding from the trough!

Sunderland today, South Tyneside ??????

Well, well, well, the plot thickens. Follow the link below for the latest on the South Tyne and Wear Waste Management Partnership. If Sunderland City Council are holding their “behind closed doors” meeting today, South Tyneside won't be far behind.

Straight from the track……..

Anybody trying to contact a member of the South Tyneside’s Labour Party hierarchy last weekend would have found their mobiles going straight over to answer phone . Why? Because they were all at a get together to discuss the coming May elections and which wards would be lost and gained. Here’s how the Labour bookies viewed the form:

A forgone conclusion – the seat is lost. Councillor Wood spent the whole night in a pool of sweat.

The Labour view is that they will loose the seat. Despite the fact that she remains popular, it is felt a Labour backlash will unseat Councillor Dixon.

The vultures are already gathering over Councillor Bell. Whilst colleagues are putting a brave face on for the sake of her bank balance, behind her back they are already signing her retirement card. The anti school candidate already has a name, with many people already calling him “Victor”.

Labour actually think that they can take this seat from the Progressives, and are prepared to hit the streets to win it.

A bit like the above. With the Progressives now working on their own, Labour feel without the Alliances help to deliver leaflets etc, the standing Councillor won’t even be able to find the Ward.

Again Labour are worried. Gypsies Green will return to haunt them.

If a saint actually still resides in this ward, then Labour would like him to grant them a miracle, such is the level of depression in anticipation of a resounding defeat.

If the current incumbent actually stands, Labour doesn’t see themselves making any headway at all. The seat has already been pencilled in to the Alliance.

With the knives out for WAGGGOTTT, even McAtominey and Malcolm would like to see the Party loose this seat. However, it will be the electorate who perform the night of the long knives for them.

And finally…..

With BNP posters all ready in house windows, Labour is panicking that the far right will take the seat. Many BNP supporters are disgruntled labour voters, and let’s face it, there are enough of them about at the moment. If the seat falls to the BNP, there will be nobody else to blame but Labour themselves.

So there you have it, the results of a Labour get together which would have had even the Samaritans on high alert. The Party’s worst scenario is 9 lost seats, though they will have an all night rave if they can reduce it to just 6. So who will gain: clearly it won’t be the Liberal Democrats, who will struggle to field a candidate in every ward. The Conservatives could theoretically take Whitburn and Marsden, but to do so they would actually have to turn up. No, the real victors will be the Alliance, with the wards they are declared in causing the Labour group major concerns and head aches.

Loose talk costs money

As I posted earlier, yesterday I attended a meeting of the Regeneration and Resources Scrutiny Committee, possibly the Councils most important body when it comes to monitoring what our elected members and full time officials get up to.

The meeting was dominated by a report presented by Councillor McAtominey covering the foreshore area of the Borough and the Councils plans for its development. In attendance were members of the public, local action group’s representatives and members of the business community, all invited to present their views on the council’s plans.

With Councillor Ed Malcolm in the Chair, McAtominey presented his report, the centre of attention being the plans for Gypsies Green. The Councillors sentiment was clear: the foreshore project was a “4* Plus Project” and as such it was a “must do”. Whether “must do” also means “at all costs” remains to be seen.

Deputy Leader Councillor Ian Malcolm also gave a presentation. As de facto head of the Foreshore Project, Councillor I Malcolm was on song, warbling his way through a list of reasons why the project was good for the area. He praised the Little Haven Hotel, calling it an asset to the area even though he had initially objected to its building. When asked by Councillor Anglin as to the effects of a village green application on these plans, Councillor Malcolm was unequivocal in his response: councillors and the public should be under no allusions, if a village green application for this area went ahead, then the development plan would be dead in the water. Contrast this to the legalities of a decision regarding a village green application – when councillors consider any application, they cannot take into account any ramifications of their actions: they must only look at the validity of the request. Should an application reach village green committee stage in the future, Malcolm’s comments will have raised a legal technicality which will preclude many members from voting on the issue. On the issue of sporting facilities, Malcolm assured the meeting that alternative venues would be found, paid for from lease sales re Gypsies Green, Sandhaven and Lizard caravan parks and any other revenue obtained from the foreshore developments. This came as news to many people (including many Councillors who sat with mouths open in shock) but more of that later.

On ending his presentation, the Deputy Leader left the room as quickly as he could, which was a pity because members of the public and action groups were next up for input, something you would assume Mr Malcolm would like to hear. Clear he doesn’t want to know the opinions of the people who elected him. Never mind, nothing new there.

First up was Gordon Finch, Chair of the Save Our Seafront Association and Gypsies Green Action Group. Mr Finch’s case was clear: the groups he represented were against the Gypsies Green development, but not necessarily the remainder of any foreshore plans. Redevelopment was necessary, but the emphasis should be placed on a new athletics stadium or leisure facility, not a hotel. Badgered for an explanation of PFI rules, Chair Ed Malcolm had to be reminded that Mr Finch was a member of the public and as such he should not be asked to teach Councillors how to suck eggs. Perhaps if Councillor Malcolm STILL hasn’t grasped the concepts of PFI, he should stop building any schools under there guidelines until he has done a little bit of revision himself.

Next on the stand was a representative of South Shields Harriers. With a dignified presentation on why the Borough needed a top sports orientated facility, I initially thought we were in for a bland presentation. How wrong, this lean and mean runner was on the ball. When it came to telling the truth, he lapped the officials and Councillors in attendance. How was a modern, state of the art, private sports facility able to be built on an old pit heap (Harton) yet this Council, with all its resources and access to grants, unable to ensure that the toilets in Gypsies Green even worked? It didn’t stop there. Waving a sheet of paper in classic Chamberlain “peace in our time” stance, the Harriers representative nailed Ian Malcolm to the mast: Councillor I Malcolm has promised us a facility as good as or better than Gypsies Green if the stadium closes, and I want that written into the Committees minutes. And as the bible says, so it was and so shall it be! Eye brows were also raised when it was revealed that no sporting groups had been consulted on the closure of Gypsies Green till after that press had released the details. This was contrary to Ian Malcolm and David Slaters (Executive Director Regeneration and Resources) claims, who both assured the meeting at its start that consultation, had involved all interested parties. Between 2004 and the release of the closure plans, they spoke to none of the sporting groups involved with the Stadium. Any consultation was after the fact.

Still contemplating the details of this presentation (and while Councillor Spraggon some how produced some biscuits, but didn’t offer them around) Keith Donkin, Director Tavistock Leisure, and Mr Armstrong, Finance Director (I was unable to see his first name on his name plate) were at the table. Ah, the lions enter the den. Nothing to report really, except that they promised to use local contactors, local labour and would employ local people. All of this could prove a little difficult to honour: hotel employment figures show that nearly 70% of hotel labour comes from the European block, as does over 40% building site labour (in this region, Poland). Councillor Ed Malcolm tried to calm the waters by asking would the hotel have leisure facilities (please, please, please build a running track) Oh yes, came the reply. Oh glory, can the public use it? Well, there will be a membership fee. With not so much glory, will it be affordable? Let’s just stop there: 120 beds in a brand new hotel with a 4 star rating and hopefully, a Michellin chef – will it be affordable! The reply from Tavistock was classic “Well, it depends on what you call affordable!” End of debate.

The seats still warm, the Vice Chair of Nova Sports (they of Great North Run sponsorship and organisational fame) hit the stand. Councillor Ed Malcolm has missed his vocation – he should teach people how to “fawn”, such is his majestic control of the art. The upshot of the exchange was that Nova had no objection to the hotel, they would use it (but only one weekend a year) and they thought it would be full with runners (but only on one weekend of the year). Points of note though – they needed somewhere to finish the race, and so far South Tyneside Council had not offered an alternative. No they hadn’t thought about moving the finishing line to Sunderland, but then again, nobody had the foresight to ask him if Sunderland Council had approached them with a plan to do so. A bit of a more subtle approach may have teased out some more information here, but hey, this is a “Malcolm”, a name which should never be linked to “subtle”.

Which leads us to the conclusion and confirmation of the above last two sentences. David Slater confirmed in public that any revenue earned from the foreshore development would be ring fenced for a new leisure facility Councillor Jane Branley politely asked could that include a promise that this would include an athletics sports facility. Before Mr Slater could cry “we set policy” Ed Malcolm was at the microphone, interrupting Councillor Branley at every opportunity. What is it with the Malcolm’s: as soon as a Branley rises from a chair steam comes out of both brothers ears (Ian first, who then gives his steam to Ed). Nothing to do with the fact that the Branley’s have got the measure of South Tyneside equivalent of the Krays no doubt!

As the meeting ended, Councillor McAtominey moved with unprecedented speed to speak to the Tavistock Directors. They appeared to be old friends – surely they couldn’t have met before? Speaking of old friends, clearly Ed Malcolm and Macca are not, such was the negativity of body language between the two. Council Leadership succession problems I fear!

Sarcasm to one side, yesterday a Council deputy leader and a full time official made two promises I suspect they are not authorised or in a position to see honoured. Deputy Leader Ian Malcolm promised the Borough a facility equal to or better than Gypsies Green, and it has been written into the committee’s minutes. David Slater, though leaving the Councils employment, promised that revenue from the foreshore development would be used to pay for a new sports and leisure facility. With sale of Sandhaven and Lizard Lane caravan sites, and the possibility of the revenue from Gypsies Green, that’s over £18 million in the pot already. I suspect Irene Lucas will be livid with these promises.

Loose talk costs money, possibly even seats.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Down in the sands!

Today I attended a meeting of the Councils Regeneration and Resources Scrutiny Committee which discussed a progress report re developments for the Boroughs foreshore area, including Gypsies Green, Bent’s Parks and the fairground area. With several members of the public offering evidence to the Committee, it was interesting to say the least.

I shall post a full report later tomorrow which includes the details of some strong community commitments made by both councillors and full time officials, some of which I don’t think they had the authority to make.

For some back ground to the meeting, have a quick look at today’s Gazette article.

Lost in Translation

For years I have assumed that our Australian cousins down below spoke the Queens English, but going by a story in today’s Telegraph, clearly they don’t. A showing of the award winning film “The Queen” by Ryde Council, Australia, was subtitled. From then on in the film became a farce!

Buckingham Palace was subtitled as “Burking in Paris”.

Did you vote became “dead in a boat”

Educated at Fettes became “educated the fattest”

Every newspaper proprietor has blood on his hands today became “every newspaper proprietor has blown in his hands today".

I can always remember buying Japanese import 7” singles in the early 1980’s (they had different covers to the UK releases). The lyrics were always hilarious translations. However, the Japanese had an excuse: English was not their first language. As for the Australians, well, they have no excuse – apart from the fact that most of them are republicans.

I wonder if that had anything to do with the translations.

Monday, 25 February 2008

You are “hereby summoned”…..

Don’t forget that you are “hereby summoned” to a full Council meeting at the Town Hall this Thursday at 3 p.m. South Tyneside Council meetings have become lively affairs as of late, so don’t bother with those old repeats of “Ironside” and instead get yourself along for some real entertainment.


Who can we blame this time?

According to today’s Shields Gazette, South Tyneside Homes is claiming it may loose out on £100 million of grants because tenants are not letting them in to complete repairs etc to their properties. This is the same South Tyneside Homes who had to apologise for sending out letters telling tenants they would force entry into their homes if they did not allow gas service checks.

Clearly, in anticipation of another 1 star rating from the auditor and another year of severely reduced funding, STH are blaming the tenants rather than a board of directors which has behaved not unlike a group of cowboy builders.

If this type of behaviour continues, STH may find themselves the centre of attention on the BBC’s “Rogue Traders” programme!

A Dubious Argument

A recent letter in the Shields Gazette has caused me a little bit of a problem.

On the 21st February (Thursday) Councillor Lawrence Nolan (Prog, Harton Ward) outlined the case against any further food outlets on Prince Edward Road. Here’s an extract from the letter:

“Areas within South Shields have become synonymous with being able to purchase Indian/Bengali food. Prince Edward Road in Harton now has an Indian restaurant/takeaway, Chinese takeaway, several fish and chip shops, a selection of delicatessens, all-day cafes, a few pizzeria shops and a plethora of outlets selling hot food to take away.”

Fair enough, so Mr Nolan doesn’t favour food outlets. It’s his next comment which gives rise to my concern:

“The residents of this area are sick and tired of the smells that emanate from these establishments”.

If you ask any Asian, Chinese and non European member of this regions integrated society what the main forms of racism they encounter, they invariably reply that amongst other things they are called “smelly” or that they “smell of curry” etc. Nolan’s comments are therefore ill judged, ill considered and ill thought out. Whilst he may not have intended to cause offence, he has sublimely used language akin to the insults that certain members of this regions society face on a daily basis.

I sincerely hope that this misuse of words is an isolated incident and not the start of a Progressive policy to target certain areas for certain votes. To do so will attract supporters of a particular view point that this Borough could well do with out.

Mr Nolan also comments

“The balance of amenities on Prince Edward Road is steadily being eroded and we need to stem this decline as soon as possible.”

I for one read no letters or reports in the local paper from Mr Nolan or any other Progressive objecting to either Sainsbury’s or Heron Frozen Foodstores opening new stores in the area, their presence only serving to “erode” the balance of similar amenities on Prince Edward Road, probably forcing many of them to close.

Cheap and Nasty: The New Conservative Party

Once again poor old David Cameron has shown himself to be a complete political light weight when it comes to engaging the brain before the spin. In a statement attacking 26 inspired Labour/Gordon Brown gimmicks, Cameron listed at number 4 “trips to Auschwitz”. Naturally, the entire Jewish community is in uproar with Cameron’s crass stupidity.

The telephone bill at Conservative Central Office trebled in the space of 30 minutes as Cameron and his aides made frantic phone calls to every Jewish leader they could think off. However, every one they contacted was shocked that Cameron would use “gimmick” and “Auschwitz” in the same sentence.

Cameron can phone who he likes in an attempt to explain his BNP like statement, but what is needed is a full apology.

Guess what, none has been forthcoming.

Applegarth was asleep

This mornings Radio Five finance report carried a revealing interview with Bob Bennett, ex Finance Director with Northern Rock. Bennett left the bank in January 2007 as he had reached retirement age. Not a man to mince his words, he laid the blame for the fiasco squarely at the door of the Bank’s directors. Admittedly speaking with hindsight, Bennett attacked the decision to go to the Bank of England so quickly. In his view, they should have held out for 72 hours and looked for alternative funding. The decision to move so quickly was like waving the “liquidation” flag to the market, precipitating the run on funds and savings. The blame ultimately rests with Adam Applegarth, ex Chief Executive, a man who with out doubt fell asleep while on watch.

Go to Radio Five’s web site later today when you will be able to down load the interview on the stations “I-Player”.

Whilst 40% of Northern Rock staff will loose their jobs, Applegarth walked away with his finances intact. Shame on the man.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Councillor WAGGGOTTT’s words go up in smoke!

Earlier this week I covered the comments of Councillor Paul WAGGGOTTT, Labour leader of South Tyneside Council, who publicly claimed that a waste incinerator would not be built within the Borough, and certainly not within his ward. Let us remind ourselves what he said. Under the Gazette headline “Rubbish incinerator won’t be coming here, vows Council boss” WAGGGOTTT said:

"I will run another campaign if there is any proposal to build an incinerator as part of our joint solution to find a cost-effective, sustainable solution to waste disposal in our area,"

In my original post I offered the view that any decision would be outside of WAGGGOTTT’s control, referring to an agreement he had signed in 2006 together with 2 other Council leaders and 3 other Chief Executives. However, after going through a series of other relevant documents, the case for WAGGGOTTT’s sidelining on this issue is even more damning.

Before I offer the new evidence, here’s a reminder of what we are up against. The “South Tyne and Wear Waste Management Strategy” (STWWMS) is a tripartite agreement between Gateshead, Sunderland and South Tyneside Councils, the aim being to reduce the amount of waste originating from the three Borough’s which finds its way to landfill sites every year. The senior partner in the agreement is Gateshead. Waste from those involved will be disposed of collectively, with a set up budget for the project coming in at £1.6 billion. Whilst the recycling of waste will be further encouraged, 185,000 tonnes will have to be destroyed in some other way. Of the 2 favoured systems, both involve a degree of incineration. This of course, is where the controversy arises – where will it be built?

Below are three further extracts from various Council reports and minutes, showing that in reality the protective arm of Councillor WAGGGOTTT is anything but.



“Where is the facility likely to be built?
We don’t know yet. But we do know that it will be within the partnership area, because we want to deal with our own waste locally.”

The partnership area is either Gateshead, Sunderland and South Tyneside, and it will be built in one of these Boroughs, as this extract confirms.



“The Agreement may be used by the partnership to support their respective approvals processes, to confirm their joint approach….and to demonstrate the commitment of each local authority to the South Tyne and Wear Waste Management Partnership.”

Each authority is committed to the Programme and its partner’s joint approach.



“Due to a significant number of local authority Waste contracts expiring over the coming years, it is expected that Waste Disposal Contractors will be in a position to cherry pick those contracts. If South Tyneside Council proceed independently it is possible that it may be faced with only a limited number of tenderers or very high cost solutions”.

In other words, South Tyneside Council cannot act independently of the others when it comes to waste programmes because it will be too expensive. So regardless of what system is chosen or where it is to be located, the Council must abide by the decision as it cannot afford to go it alone.

The above is just a small sample from a series of documents. What I have not covered are the issues relating to land purchases, finance, consultation exercises and value for money implications. However what is clear from these documents is that all three Borough Cabinets have been looking at this matter in detail for some time now. Decisions have already been made, but not all are in the public domain.

WAGGGOTTT’s claims then should be taken with a pinch of salt and viewed in the same vain as the delayed TOP’S report or the planning applications for South Tyneside’s sea front areas: after the election’s in May, anything goes because Labour councillors don’t have to return to the electorate for another two years.

Now that’s a long time to do a lot of damage!

The Sunday Roast


No Room at the Inn

Revolving Door


Michael Martin MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, must have very broad shoulders. Not only has The Northern Herald heaped it on him, but today’s Observer, Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Independent all lead with the resignation of Martin’s spokesman Mike Granatt. Claims that Granatt was misled by Martin’s aides have met with universal calls for Martins resignation (he can’t be sacked).

Where Martin in the past has been merely guilty of taking the public for every legal penny he possibly can, recent revelations have shown he has probably broken as many rules as he claims to have observed. His use of air miles to finance family flights was revealed last week, and yesterdays revelations that taxi “food” trips were for informal gatherings has shown clearly that he has no regard for guidelines and procedures.

I suspect over the next week or so Martin will resign, but who will replace him? Knowledge of Commons procedure requires expert background. His deputies may have this on their CV but they were all aware of their bosses behaviour and so remain tainted with the brush of corruption.

Why not brake with hundreds of years of tradition and give the job to Vince Cable MP, that master of whit and repartee on the Liberal front bench. Now that would be entertaining.

No Room at the Inn

Not a new issue, but The Observer is once again reporting that the countries prisons are now reaching breaking point. No doubt we will see a mass prison release scheme next week (almost like a legal mass break out). In the past the government has been reluctant to release figures on the amount of people who re offend as a result of this amnesty. With a second mass release on the cards, their failure to tell the truth will be an argument they will find harder to stick to.

Watch this space then, that’s if it hasn’t been pinched!

Revolving Door

Today’s Sunday Times reports how 28 former Labour ministers have cashed in on their Whitehall connections and taken up some pretty high paid jobs within the private sector. (The list includes John Reid, a man who tried to tackle religious sectarianism whilst at the Home Office. He now sits on the board of err……Celtic Football Club). It was always the Tories who were the brunt of the cabinet “revolving” door policy, but now it looks like Labour have assumed the mantle. Here’s a list of the offenders, together with the companies they now leech off!

Baroness Amos Travant Capital Partners, finance
Hilary Armstrong MP GovNet Communications, publisher
Lord Bach Selex Sensors and Airborne Systems, defence
Tony Blair JP Morgan and Zurich Financial Services
David Blunkett MP
Entrust, internet security
Lord Boyd Dundas and Wilson, law firm
Richard Caborn MP Amec, infrastructure
Ivor Caplin MBDA, defence company
Charles Clarke MP Beachcroft, law firm
Lord Evans EFG bank
Lord Filkin Serco, public sector services
Barry Gardiner MP Reynolds Partners, finance
Lord Goldsmith Debevoise & Plimpton, law
Nigel Griffiths MP Jabbar Group
Patricia Hewitt MP Alliance Boots
Baroness Hollis Higham Group, pensions
Melanie Johnson ABPI, drug trade body
Stephen Ladyman MP ITIS Holdings, traffic data
Ian McCartney MP Fluor Corp, engineering
Denis MacShane MP United Utilities
Alan Milburn MP PepsiCo
Chris Pond Cape Claims Services
Nick Raynsford MP Hometrack, property data
John Reid MP Celtic football club
Baroness Symons Caparo Group, steel
Lord Triesman Football Association
Lord Truscott Gavin Anderson and Company, public affairs
Lord Warner UK HealthGateway

Private Eye's Little Eye

At the Trough of Plenty

Euro News

Number Crunching

At the Trough of Plenty!

Poor old Michael Martin MP and House of Commons Speaker – he’s been knocked about by the press for his own expenses claims, and now this weeks Private Eye has highlighted the expenditure of the House of Commons Commission, a committee Martin chairs. Here’s a few “blank cheques” which have passed through the committee’s accounts:

Since 1990 the Commission has spent £234m on office space.

It is currently spending £5.4m on additional space for MP’s

It spent £422,000 on a glass walkway so MP’s would not get wet when walking from their parked cars

An energy efficient motion sensor for their escalators cost £327,000 to install

The Commission employs more than 80 people on £60,000+ salaries

The Commission has been buying art work, its current budget being £188,124.68. It is currently buying works from the family of the late Lord Stratford i.e. Tony Banks MP.

Since 2003, the Commission has spent £1.25 on legal fees, including advice on MP’s allowances and fees!

Two reviews of expenses problems cost £50,000 in legal bills.

The Commission spent £10m on library services last year alone

The cost to run, manage and administered MP’s carbon offset scheme, controlled by the Commission, is £26,025.50.

Clearly, allowing MP’s to monitor their own remuneration package is like putting Jeffrey Archer in charge of a brothel: every so often their going to dip in for a freebie! Whilst sporting clubs, voluntary groups and charities wither in the financial drought that has been caused by Olympic over spending, MP’s continue to hang round the pool, having great fun at our expense.

How can we expect Councillors and officials to behave with financial decorum, when their bosses at the top are setting such an agenda?

Euro News

Whilst over £61bn Euros remain unaccounted for in the European Union’s 2006 budget, only one country has refused to endorse the figures – Denmark. So well done the Danes for not allowing the fraud to go unchecked. However, what happened to all the other members. Surely there not all on the take!

Number Crunching Lily Allen Style

466,000 – average late night audience for BBC 3 over the last year

255,000 – audience for Lily Allen and Friends on night of BBC 3’s launch

Number Crunching Budget Style

£10bn – annual government spending on IT projects

£10bn – annual tax rises required to deal with Britain’s current budget deficit

Number Crunching Northern Rock Style

40 - % of jobs new management team led by Ron Sandler plans to shed at Northern Rock

40 – number of Northern Rock employees whose salaries could be paid out of the £1,080,000 per annum that is being paid to Ron Sandler.

Number Crunching McCartney Style

Divorce settlement Heather Mills will accept, according to the press:

£10m – Mail on Sunday

£25m – Mirror

£40m – Sunday Times

£55m – telegraph

£60m – Express

£70m – Times

£74m – Mail

£80m – News of the World

£100m – Star

From Russia With Love

Well, that’s the computer wiped clean of a nasty little virus which apparently originates from Russia. Many thanks to those nice people at AVG for their help and assistance.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Agent 58 "Trojan"

Posting will be late Friday and Saturday due to a “strange” bit of software that keeps popping up every time I access the internet. MI5 or MI6 no doubt!

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Duplicitous or “Cracking The Whip!”

Just when you thought Councillor David Potts (Con) couldn’t get any more duplicitous, he goes and surprises us all with a performance worthy of Judas Iscariot.

Today’s Shields Gazette carries an article on Irene Lucas’s infamous dressing down of opposition Councillors, something which I broke earlier last week .

It is pointless regurgitating the articles details as my original post has been confirmed by the Gazettes article.

What is interesting are the comments of said Mr Potts.

Here we go folks, but don’t forget to have the sick bag at hand.

“In my opinion, the actions of some members of the Council and certain members of the public, who are essentially militant political activists, have been utterly disgraceful”

Poor old David must have had either a memory lapse or he actually has the ability to see through walls, because he was not even at the meeting when all the controversy took place. To be honest, I doubt he was even in this country such is his love of all things Scottish. However, here’s the challenge David, NAME the people who are militant activists and NAME the members of the public whose behaviour was so disgraceful. I am sure they would love to take you up on the issue (perhaps even in court) particularly as you were elsewhere!

Never mind, we can forgive a man of his very poor ability remember who he is or where he was (no, not the night club story). Sadly, David’s bilge didn’t stop there:

“Politics is about discussing the issues that matter to the people, not spitting dummies out and acting like spoilt children who can’t get their own way… Conservatives will always provide sound, robust opposition to Labour, and refuse to be dragged into politics of the school playground”

To discuss politics you actually have to be there Councillor Potts, something which you have always struggled to achieve, even when you claimed first class travel from Cambridge. As for providing opposition, you and your stooges are nothing more than manikin dummies, holding on to Labours shirt tails.

Many people have postulated as to the origins of Labour’s controls are over Councillor Potts, Leader of the Conservative Party on South Tyneside Council, to make him support them in the Chamber yet be so hypocritical outside of it. Bouncers, guest lists, or merely some past as of yet un-reported misdemeanour – what ever it is, the man can’t lie straight in bed.

I very much doubt David Cameron actually reads the Shields Gazette, unless Pott’s sends him a scrap book every 3 months or so. I therefore can’t understand why he should feel the need to defend Irene Lucas, unless of course he enjoys being told off by the Headmistress.

Perhaps that’s it, the dream of the dominatrix, dressed in leather, prepared to punish those who transgress. Tow the line David, or you shall be thrashed!

The human mind is a fickle thing, but then again, so are Councillor Potts views of himself!

Out of site, out of mind, out of touch!

Poor old Curly at the Corner Shop, than let old dogs lie, he has been seen once again attempting to gain the favour of the Labour elite. His increasingly neurotic attacks on anybody who opposes the Labour hegemony have clearly got the better of his artistic judgement.

His recent attacks on my condemnation of Irene Lucas (Chief Executive) and Brian T Scott (Head of Corporate Governance) South Tyneside Council, drew a staggering number of public responses in support of his boot licking…. 0!

Today’s criticism of Independent Councillors and their tactics drew (to date)….1 comment!

Out of site, out of mind, out of touch!

Split Personality (but not a lunatic, yet!)

If today’s front page of the Gazette is anything to go by, Labour Leader Councillor Paul WAGGGOTTT seems to have developed some form of spilt personality.

Some time ago I covered the issue of the South Tyne and Wear Waste Management Partnership , outlining the problems associated with the tripartite venture between Gateshead, Sunderland and South Tyneside Council’s.

The topic has now attracted the attention of the press and on the issue on a waste incinerator (which could be built in South Tyneside) WAGGGOTTT has said for the record:

"I am not in favour of an incinerator, even if it ends up being the technology that seems to offer the best value for money on paper…I will run another campaign if there is any proposal to build an incinerator as part of our joint solution to find a cost-effective, sustainable solution to waste disposal in our area”.

(If you are so keen to dispel the concerns of the public, Councillor WAGGGOTTT, why has a specific question to Council members on the subject been blocked by Mr Brian T Scott, Head of Corporate Governance? More of this later no doubt).

However, WAGGGOTTTS confessional may have come as a surprise to South Tyneside’s two other bed fellows re the project. A stakeholders agreement readily highlighted by the internet (and requiring WAGGGOTTTS signature) sets out the following terms:

To set out in simple terms the way that the Partners to this Agreement will work together on the setting up of a formal waste management partnership and to jointly procure new waste management services with private and voluntary sector partners.

To establish guidelines for taking joint working forward to the next stage of establishing a robust and accountable joint decision making process to deliver the agreed joint waste strategy approved by the Partners

Actions and decisions must be made in the best interests of the Partnership.

Consult with Senior Officers of Gateshead, South Tyneside Council and Sunderland City Council on matters of policy, direction, finance and content of the project

So in reality Council Leader WAGGGOTTT, you cannot say that there will not be an incinerator in South Tyneside WITHOUT THE AGREEMENT of Sunderland and Gateshead Councils. Judging by today’s press coverage, you have acted without their permission or knowledge. Oh dear, another transgressor who will be punished by the Headmistress).

No doubt this stance has nothing to do with the fact that a favoured site is a certain plot of green belt land in a certain Council’s Leaders Ward whose residents had the audacity to campaign (successfully) against a certain business development (need I be more unspecific!)

Roll on the election, when said Council Leader will find his majority “incinerated!”

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

5 Years Today

Today is my Wedding Anniversary (and my wife’s, which is a coincidence) We are having an Indian meal out. There will be no reports today.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

The final hurdle for Gypsies Green

The Gazette’s web site is reporting the fact that the proposed hotel development on the site of Gypsies Green Stadium will go before South Tyneside Council’s Planning Committee in May of this year, just after the regional elections. The developers hope to start work in 2009 at the latest. I think it is safe to say that we are now on the final run in to save the Stadium and surrounding area from the clutches of Tavistock Leisure.

The Save Our Seafront Association has been at the forefront of the public campaign to protect the Borough’s heritage from overtly commercial interests. They have amassed over 10,000 signatures from public members who do not wish to see the Stadium disappear. They have fielded questions directly to Councillors and have proved that the Cabinet etc, have not even considered or looked for alternative funding for the redevelopment of the site as a athletics centre.

Their campaign now enters a new stage, with legal action and high profile demonstrations all planned for the next few months.

The Councils report on the matter will go before the Regeneration and Resources Scrutiny Committee on 26 February 2008 at 10.00 a.m. (Town Hall). I would urge all those who are against this project to attend.

Follow the link below to view the report.

Other relevant sites

Castro on his way!

What a week of momentous changes. We began with the nationalisation of a capitalist asset in Britain, and now we have the resignation of President Fidel Castro, 49 years at the helm of Cuban national rule. The darling of students across the world or the residual blight of the cold war and communism, Castro has outlasted 9 USA Presidents and at least 2 CIA inspired plots to oust him.

Cleary a despot and totalitarian, his country has one the best health services in the world with a higher doctor/patient ratio than every country in Europe. Literacy amongst children and adults is also amongst the highest in the Latin world. However, they don’t really have a lot to read such is the level of censorship, and as for a political opposition, their either all in jail or exiled in America.

Indications are Castro’s brother will assume the presidency later this year, and a more “liberal” regime will emerge. No doubt this liberalisation will have something to say about the USA’s concentration camp (Guantanamo Bay) which sits on its doorstep.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Spring Cleaning

February is always a good month to spring clean, and what better a time to get rid of those old paper files, reports and agendas which have been lying around unused over the last 12 months. One of my “binned” reports tonight was the Tax Payers Alliance of April 2007 on Councillors Allowances. Covering the period 2005/2006, of the 386 Councils surveyed, South Tyneside finished in 103rd position, the figures as such:

TOTAL ALLOWANCES 2004/2005 - £601,000
TOTAL ALLOWANCES 2005/2006 - £621,000

% CHANGE - +3.3%


AVERAGE PER COUNCILLOR – 2004/2005 - £11129.63
AVERAGE PER COUNCILLOR – 2005/2006 - £11500.00

The figures for 2006/2007 are due soon. As with their predecessors, they will no doubt make interesting reading.

Voice Risk Analysis

Today’s Times has a wonderful article looking at Harrow Council in London who have been part of a lie detector scheme when it comes to spotting benefit cheats. The use of “voice risk analysis” has so far saved the Borough £336,000 in false payments.

With Durham also testing the scheme, no doubt South Tyneside will also be watching the results very closely. After all, this Borough has a lot of unanswered questions at the moment, like who is BRENDA, where are the contents of a certain 18 ballot boxes and “Do You Know Who I Am?”.

Piles of Air Miles

Poor old House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin MP. Harangued over his dithering stance on Derek Conway MP, lambasted for allowing the public to pay for his wife’s taxi fares to collect their dinner, he has now entered the fray himself with his less than correct use of air miles.

Last year Martin clocked up £10,587 in Parliamentary allowances to cover air travel. This also allowed him to amass over 1 million air miles, 54,000 of which were used to subsidize London bound flights for his children and families over the Christmas and New Year period. MP’s seeking advice from the Commons Estimates Committee, of which Mr Martin is Chair, are told that any accrued air miles should be used for “future business flights”. Ministers themselves are banned from using them from public use.

Clearly Mr Martin himself is operating outside of the rules, regulations and advice that is given to his fellows MP’s. His stock piling of air miles and failure to use them to offset official travel is an indication that he always intended to use them for other purposes.

Sadly, this is the man who has been put in charge of a review which will consider such misdemeanours. No chance of progress there then.

What an opportunity!

Poor old Richard Branson, with The Telegraph, Times, Guardian and Independent all leading with the Northern Rock nationalisation, he must feel like the groom jilted at the alter. However, what could he reasonably expect – his offer was derisory, he made no commitments on job losses and frankly, he would have milked the business dry prior to carving it up for selling. The man is the equivalent of a “business butcher”.

So what are we left with then? Well, how about the concept of a great opportunity. With government support the Rock will be able to borrow money at far better rates that other banks, it will be able to offer better rates on savings and it will be able to set its own mortgage rates without recourse to what other lenders are doing. The less well off, newly weds and those looking to move from rented properties could now find themselves supported by a bank whose ethos isn’t purely profit driven. New business’s and young entrepreneurs could also find themselves borrowing money on sustainable interest rates, leading to increased employment and reinvestment; who knows, we may even see the birth of the “new” Richard Branson.

So it’s therefore not all doom and gloom. The whinges and whiners who constantly refer to the Bank as “Crock” or “Wreck” would now be better served moderating their derogatory attitude, and start supporting the existing management in restoring stability, success and dare we say it, pride, in the business.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

The Northern Nationalised

Well, well,well - The Northern Rock is to be nationalised. More to follow no doubt.

All Change!

No you haven’t arrived at the wrong site. After 5 months or so of the same wallpaper, it was time to redecorate.

That Was The Week That Was

All on the Nod
School Rules
Doing the Splits

All on the Nod!

Irene Lucas, Chief Coach of South Tyneside Councils Synchronised Nodding Team, today described herself as “elated” when the Team slashed the previous 7 minute world record for committee meetings, turning in a massive 3 minute affair for this weeks Cabinet get together.

“The Team have been training hard all month to achieve this world record time” said Lucas. “They have been nodding all week purely with this meeting in mind. Poor old Team Captain Councillor WAGGGOTTT’s head nearly fell off after a particular hard training session, such was his desire to say yes to anything and everything”.

With the Olympics coming up, the Team have returned once again to training. Not because of the tradition, the prestige or the sporting ethos, but because there’s a lot of money to be made.

School Rules

Irene Lucas, Headmistress of the exclusive “Chamber” College, was today forced to introduce severe disciplinary measures for “Class1:Opp”. Even though the pupils in the class were mature and intelligent adults, who had only acted through free will, democratic principals and representational ethos, Ms Lucas found them guilty of behaving like mature and intelligent adults, who had only acted through free will, democratic principals and representational ethos.

“Unfortunately, I can’t have this type of behaviour in the College. Other pupils may try and copy this in the play ground, then where will I be.”

Head boy Paul WAGGGOTTT supported the Headmistress’s stance saying “We all have to do what we are told. These are the school rules and they must be obeyed.”

Doing the Splits

The rock and pop world was well and truly rocked this week with the news that popular combo The Independent Alliance was to “split”. Several members had left on “identity” grounds and would form their own beat combo called the “The Progressives” with Jimmy Capstick on lead vocals. However, sources close the remaining Alliance members felt that The Progressives were unable to handle their new found fame and were finding it increasingly hard to “deliver the goods”. When asked for a comment, Jane Branley, lead guitarist with the group, said “Jimmy who?”

In a separate development, diva Pottsy Panns announced the release of a new Conservative CD, entitled “40 Minute of Complete Silence”. The CD is set for release in May 2008, but then again it might not; Pann’s will first check to see which way the wind is blowing and then decide.

Members Allowances

Just so you know how much Councillors can legally claim, here are the latest figures for South Tyneside. It’s not only MP’s who can make a tidy living on the side.


The Local Authorities (Members’ Allowances)
(England) Regulations 2003 (as amended)

2007/08 Members’ Allowances Scheme

Basic Allowance (amount per Member)
£ 6,886

Special Responsibility Allowances

Leader of the Council
£ 25,250

Deputy Leader of the Council
£ 16,067

Cabinet Member (8)
£ 9,182

Leader of main opposition group
£ 6,886

Leader of second opposition group
£ 4,590


Scrutiny Committee (4)
£ 9,182
£ 6,886

Pensions Committee
£ 6,886
£ 4,590

Planning Committee
£ 6,886
£ 4,590

Appeals Panel
£ 6,886
£ 4,590

£ 6,886
£ 4,590

Community Area Forums (6)
£ 4,590
Human Resources
£ 4,590
£ 2,296

Audit Committee
£ 4,590
£ 2,296

No Member should receive more than one Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA). Any Member holding two or more posts eligible for an SRA should be paid only the highest of the SRA’s payable.

Where a Member is also a Member of another authority, that Member should not receive allowances from more than one authority in respect of the same duties.
Co-Optees Allowances


Standards Committee
£ 4,590
£ 2,296

Additional Co‑Optees

Audit Committee

Standards Committee

Dependent Carers’ Allowances

Based on actual costs, but not exceeding £7.45 per hour and per dependant.

Carers’ allowance should be paid for the care of dependants (whether children, elderly people or people with disabilities) when a Councillor attends a meeting or carries out other Council business which is specified in the regulations. The maximum period of entitlement should be the duration of approved duty together with reasonable travelling time.

The allowance should only be paid for care by a registered child minder or carer (not a Member of the Councillor’s own household) and only if supported by receipted paid invoices.

The allowance will be payable for an approved duty and any other duty or class of duty approved by the Head of Corporate Governance for the purposes of, or in connection with, the discharge of any of the Council’s functions or the functions of any of the Council’s committees or sub-committees.

Pension Entitlements

All Members of the Council should be entitled to join the Local Government Pension Scheme. For pension purposes, basic and special responsibility allowances should be pensionable.

Travel Allowances (for Elected Members and Co-Optees)

These are the 2005/06 Inland Revenue rates. They are to be increased if the Inland Revenue publishes revised rates.

Cars - First 10,000 miles
40p per mile
Cars - Over 10,000 miles
25p per mile
Cars - Each additional passenger
5p per mile
Motor Cycles
24p per mile

20p per mile

Subsistence and Out of Pocket Allowances (for Elected Members and Co-Optees)

Overnight (outside London) – 24 hours
£ 95.19

Overnight (inside London) – 24 hours
£ 108.57

Breakfast (4 hours before 11am)
£ 5.86

Lunch (4 hours including period 12 noon)
£ 8.08

Tea (4 hours including period 3pm to 6pm)
£ 3.18

Evening Meal (4 hours ending after 7pm)
£ 9.98

Out of Pocket

UK (24 hours)
£ 15.05
Abroad (24 hours)
£ 30.12

Suspension of Allowances

When an elected member is suspended or partially suspended (in accordance with Part III of the Local Government Act 2000) all or an appropriate part of the allowances payable to that elected member during the period of suspension should be withheld by the authority, unless suspension is pending the result of an investigation, in which case allowances will continue to be paid.

Elections to forgo Allowances

Any Elected Member or Co-Optee may, by notice in writing given to the Council’s Head of Finance, elect to forgo all or part of any allowance entitlement.

Future increases in Members’ Allowances (up to 2008/09)

Basic, special responsibility, co-optees and dependent carer’s allowances should increase each year on 1st April by the annual percentage increase in the Retail Price Index.
Mileage rates should continue to match the Inland Revenue’s authorised mileage rates. These allowances should be updated each year when the Inland Revenue publishes revised allowances.
Subsistence and out of pocket allowances should increase each year on 1st April by the annual percentage increase in the Retail Price Index (excluding mortgage interest payments).
The Independent Panel should be asked to reconvene by the Head of Corporate Governance where future changes to the Council’s constitution and committee structure potentially impact on its previous recommendations to the Council.

Cabinet Record

For those who are interested, last Wednesday’s full cabinet meeting lasted 3 minutes, slashing the 7 minute full Council meeting in October 2007. If this had been an athletics race, drug tests would have been mandatory such was the speed at which Councillors left the chamber.

Of course the meeting was only convened to approve the Council Tax rise of 2.95%. However, as members of this committee receive an additional allowance of £9182 per year, you would think they would at least try and justify the payment with some form of debate or discussion, perhaps even a little dissent! In reality, what we must remember is that the Cabinet is one of the very few committees which does not have any degree of political balance, so we will never hear any subversive chatter from this quarter. The only requirements for the hand picked membership is that you are a Labour Councillor, and have the ability to raise your hand, nod your head and say “Yes!”.

Parking charges up, leisure centre fees up, school dinner fees up, primary school closures, swathes of land up for sale and now Council Taxes up – and all on the of the head.

Not a bad day’s work for £9182 a year.

The Sunday Roast

MP's at the Trough
Legalised Crime

MP's at the Trough

Once again MP’s have been caught with their noses in the money trough. Today’s Sunday Time’s reveals that 24 MP’s have claimed their £20,000 second home allowance even though they live within an hours commuting distance of Westminster. In total they claimed almost £400,000.

Once again revelations concerning MP’s expenses claims have tarnished the image of the House of Commons. Whilst the Time’s article lists the worst offenders, there is a virtual monopoly for Labour when it comes to the main party offenders (7 for Labour, 1 Conservative). The chances then of seeing any great changes over the next year or so are nil – why bite the hand that feeds you!

Until the matter of remuneration is taken out of their own control, MP’s will continue to line their own pockets. Who said the road to London isn’t paved with gold?

Legalised Crime

Who says crime doesn’t pay, or to be more specific, the pursuit of crime. The Sunday Telegraph today outlines how senior police officers are being rewarded massive bonuses even though their forces aren’t performing that well. Under a scheme introduced in 2004 payouts ranging from £17,000 to £36,000 have been authorised. Three chief officers in Lincolnshire shared £40,000, even though their force is rated in the countries bottom 6.

However, not all police chiefs are legal crooks. Half the forces in the country have boycotted the scheme, the general opinion being that its payouts are immoral.

If only MP’s had such high values!

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Out tonight

Message from "Her Indoors".....

I have dragged Peter out (kicking 'n screaming!) to a family meal. I make no apologies for this, it's going to be a lovely night.......or else!
Normal business will resume tomorrow (hangover permitting!).

Jekyll and Hyde

Having been a little busy on evenings of late, I have had quite a few editions of the Shields Gazette to catch up on. Wednesday’s carried another double page of letters on recent political events in the Borough. The Progressives “split” from the Independent Alliance was of course topical, with a particular letter highlighting that to be a politician you have to fully understand the concept of “opportunism” and frankly, take your chances when you can. However, Councillor David Potts letter not only took the idea to a new level, but it highlighted a degree of political naivety that will have the Chancellor laughing with glee.

In Potts own words:

“…there is only one real, clear and competent alternative to Labour in South Tyneside, and that is the Conservative Party.”

Could this be the same Councillor Potts who praised Labour Leader Councillor Paul Waggott to the hilt, even though he had classed members of the “public” as lunatics?

Could this be the same Councillor Potts who seconded a motion of support for Councillor Waggott?

Could this be the same Councillor Potts who has one of the worst attendance records in the Borough for Full Council and sub committee meetings?

Could this be the same Conservative Party whose councillors never speak, challenge or hold to account their Labour opposite numbers, choosing merely to sit and placidly watch events go by?

The words “real”, “clear” “competent” and “alternative” should be replaced with sycophantic, inept, impotent and subservient.

Now there’s a letter I could agree with!

TOPS of the flops

Anybody looking for an example of political gerrymandering need go no further that the events surrounding South Tyneside Councils “Transforming Our Primary Schools (TOPS)” report. With initial plans to close and merge at least 15 schools, the review was meant to be published at the end of this month. However, it has now been delayed till at least June 2008, after the local elections.

Public descent on these school closures has been considerable, none more so than in the Boldon Colliery Ward where the local Church of England school is one of those which may be closed. I am sure the reports delay has nothing to do with the fact that prominent Cabinet member Joanne Bell is a Councillor for the Ward and is up for re-election this year. Rumours of a “stalking horse” riding on a school closure mandate are constantly being mooted within the community. Other wards faced with similar back lash problems could find sitting Councillors equally vulnerable to being unseated.

The nominations in March will therefore be very interesting.

British Justice

For my political generation, the problem of Northern Ireland was always a contentious issue, with atrocities being committed by both sides of the religious divide. The miscarriages of justice such as the Birmingham 6 and Guildford 4 have also left a stain on the British justice system.

Anybody who though such miscarriages would never happen again had their allusions shattered on Wednesday. Lofti Raissi, an Algerian pilot, was finally cleared of any involvement in the USA September 11th bombings. For over 6 years he has battled to clear his name, his only “crime” being to learn to fly at the same flying school as two of the New York hijackers. Solicitors for Raissi have now lodged a compensation claim for £2 million.

It is however, the comments of the senior judges that is worrying

On Scotland Yard

“There is evidence that the actions of the Metropolitan Police resulted in false statements being made to the courts contributing to the decision to refuse [Mr Raissi] bail. We consider that the serious allegation relating to the destruction of flight records covering the period of training with the hijackers (allegedly resulting from carelessness or incompetence by the police) would be capable of amounting to serious default which had a causative effect on the decision to remand [Mr Raissi] in custody.”

On the CPS

“It does not appear to us that the CPS can be absolved from all responsibility for this state of affairs. . . There is a considerable body of evidence to suggest that the police and the CPS were responsible for serious defaults.It appears that the [extradition] proceedings were brought for an ulterior motive and that the opposition to bail, based on unsubstantiated assertions, was also an abuse.”

On the Government

“The Home Secretary is required] to consider a case of this kind where the substance of the allegation or charge against the appellant which resulted in his loss of liberty was that he was a terrorist, a charge of which he has been completely exonerated. This appeal will be allowed and the appellant’s application for compensation will be referred back to the Home Secretary for reconsideration in the light of this judgment.”

If all these agencies had been successful in their aims, an innocent man would be in jail for a very long time. However, one institution is missing from the list, that of the media. Pressure for convictions, 24 hour news coverage and terrorist related sensationalism have all added to the clamour for the authorities to produce convictions. If this scenario is never to be repeated again, all the agencies involved must be free from public, political and international pressures.

Only then will justice prevail.

Friday, 15 February 2008


Some of you early birds may have noticed a typical “Grauniad” error in the post below. Of course it is Alan Branley who is up for election this year, not Jane. I did know that, but had other things on my mind (err, not Jane).

Wrong sex, but same hefty majority.

Westoe Ward

Anybody who follows local politics may be interested to know that Labour’s candidate for the Westoe Ward at the next election will be Fay Cunningham. Ms Cunningham, as many people know, is the Mayor of South Tyneside’s secretary. As many people also know, you can’t stand for Council if you are an employee. As nomination packs for the election are available from 10th March, it has conveniently been arranged for Fay to retire on the 7th March, giving her just enough time to clear her desk before hitting the campaign trail.

Clearly, there are ramifications of an employee of the Council (and a prominent one at that) standing for election so soon after leaving municipal service. In an ideal world, a 12 month “cooling off” period should prevail to prevent any compromising of interests.

Never mind, Ms Cunningham is standing against Alan Branley (Independent) who has a hefty majority to her name. Fay’s reward however will be a stab at the one of the Beacon and Bents seats in two years time, where it is rumoured John Anglin (Labour) will not be standing again. Viewed as a safe option when the plan was hatched before Christmas, the “B and B” Ward may be a harder egg to crack when (not if) Ahmed Khan takes the seat in May this year. We all know what happened in the Fellgate and Hedworth Ward.

In hind sight, the early retirement option may have been a little too soon!

Thursday, 14 February 2008


Oh dear, somebody has got their knickers in a right royal twist. My post on Irene Lucas’s verbal thrashing of opposition leaders drew a caustic post and reply from Curly at the Corner Slop.

Not content with one bite of the cherry, he has had another mouthful today (careful, you might choke on your own vitriol) even demanding that I withdraw and remove remarks.

If the poor old Headmistress ever needed a Headmaster by her side, she need to look no further than said Mr Curly.

Six months ago I would have risen to the bait and we would have had a good old “turf war” in the regional blog world. I would have replied in triplicate and wallowed in the turmoil of exchanges and insults. Frankly however, things have moved on.

Somebody wants to build a whopping great waste incinerator in the North East region, possibly within this Borough; somebody lost 18 ballot boxes thereby casting a great shadow of conspiracy over the Council’s local elections; somebody needs to oppose the Labour controlling group who are running rough shod over the democratic process in South Tyneside; somebody should actually stand up and speak out against these issues.

Somebody however, should stop defending a Chief Executive and her minions who clearly think they run this Borough, and not the elected representatives who have a public and democratic mandate; somebody should have a look at how the constitution of this Borough is being deliberately manipulated to suit the ends of the ruling elite.

If anybody has a problem with what I have said or even posted under “quotation” marks i.e. Irene Lucas, the Labour Cabinet and even you Curly, as I have said before, sue me. The pleasure will be mine.

However, as to your requests, well let’s just say, err………………….no!

Intrepid Explorer

Posts will be either “late or light” today due to another visit to the corridors of power in ……Gateshead this time. Nothing can replace good old fashioned leg work!

I have left full details with the Police should I not return home on due date!

Rumour Mill

Rumour has it that yesterdays Cabinet approved a rise of 2.9% on Council tax charges. Just thought I’d let you know.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Who really runs South Tyneside Council? Elected Councillors or Irene Lucas?

A rather strange tale has arrived on the News Desk at the Northern Herald.

On Monday all the South Tyneside Council opposition leaders met with Irene Lucas, Chief Executive. Apparently the meeting is a regular event. What wasn’t a regular event however, was the tirade and ticking off that Ms Lucas launched on those present. Apparently she was absolutely appalled at the behaviour of opposition leaders at January’s abandoned Council meeting. A plethora of officials had complained to her about member’s behaviour (though she named no names) and that such conduct was totally unacceptable.

So who was the target for the Headmistress’s wrath?

Fist out his chair to defend himself was Councillor David Potts, Conservative Group Leader. In classic “not me guv” style, Potts assumed the position of a defence lawyer (he probably charged a similar fee!): myself and my colleagues behaved impeccably etc. Of course they do David. You yourself weren’t even at the January meeting (again) and your presence at Monday’s get together was your first this municipal year. Perhaps one of your Labour friends tipped you off over lunch that a good telling off was on the cards? As for your colleagues, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, they never speak or move accept to vote for Labour motions. Even then they have to be prompted from their colleagues across the way. It’s therefore not the Tories who will be receiving lines.

The same scenario applies to Jimmy Capstick, head boy for the Progressives. Mr Capstick was on holiday in January (I hope he had excuse note from Ms Lucas), and also missed the meeting. Also absent without leave for most of the meeting was leader of the “real” Independents, Councillor George Elsom. True to form the Liberal Democrat leader also made no leap from his chair, adopting the same inert position of opposition he had done during the trouble meeting under discussion (and in reality, the year so far). So these three won’t be getting the cane!

That only leaves one other person in the room to blame for the Head’s blanket criticism: Councillor Jane Branley, spokesperson for the Independents. Poor old Jane: “grassed” up by the kids in the school yard, she now faces detention, lines, no seconds at lunch time, 20 laps round the school field etc.

The Headmistress runs this school, and she must have her way!

However, the Headmistress does not run the school, the Board of Governors do!

Let’s now look at this issue with the degree of seriousness it deserves.

Irene Lucas is appointed by a selection committee of Councillors. She is answerable to them and them alone. Councillors are not answerable to her. Her position is to implement polices which they see fit to decide on. Councillors are elected by those eligible to vote in the Borough. As such they carry one of two very basic political mandates from their Wards. Firstly, if their party is the same as the ruling group, they implement policies in conjunction with their party’s outlook. If their political elegance is not the same as the ruling group, they have been elected as an OPPOSITION, and their conduct will be expected to be as such. Neither of these two groups is answerable to any full time official within the Council, regardless of rank: they are answerable to the electorate and them alone. Every four years they therefore stand before the electorate and hold themselves to account. Every time they are re elected, as Jane Branley has been on successive occasions, there approach is endorsed.

No where in this scenario is there any democratically legitimate mechanism, structure or moral acceptability for Irene Lucas to chastise Councillors for the correct, lawful and expected discharge of the representational duties. With an unprecedented degree of arrogance, ineptitude and political bias, the Chief Executive has shown clearly that she considers herself as leader of South Tyneside Council, not those elected by the members of the Borough.

Irene Lucas has committed the greatest transgression possible: she has crossed the line of political impartiality and shown favour to one political group. For this alone she should resign.