Quadruple spending on private ambulances in the North East raises ‘serious questions’

New figures released today (21st October 2014) have revealed that spending on private ambulance services by the North East Ambulance Service, which covers Teesside, has more than quadrupled between the financial years 2011/12 and 2013/14

Freedom of Information requests by Labour to all ambulance trusts reveals an increase of 82% between financial years 2011/12 and 2013/14 – from £37 million to £67.5 million last year. In 2011/12 the amount spent was £639,820, but this rose by 353% to £2,898,275 in 2013/14.

Commenting on the figures, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Tom Blenkinsop said:
“These stark figures clearly show that under David Cameron the private sector has been driven to the core of our NHS. Every part of the NHS is at risk of being put up for sale by the Coalition Government.

“I’ve raised my concerns previously at the sharp rise in the use of private ambulance operators and the warning signs have been apparent for over 2 years, yet this government has continued to ignore this.

“In the North East, we have witnessed a quadrupling of expenditure on private ambulance services. Serious questions around whether their staff have sufficient training and if they are fully equipped have, rightfully, been raised. It was only in August this year that figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed that complaints against ambulance crews had increased by more than 28% in the last year. Instead of denying there is a problem, the government urgently needs to reassure people that when they dial 999, they will be getting a blue-light service they can rely on.”

Tom’s comments on Tata Steel announcement

Commenting on news that Tata Steel is restructuring its long products division Tom Blenkinsop, chair of the APPG on steel and Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland said: 

“After the success of the Trade union led campaign to save the Redcar blast furnace the government has rested on its laurels and has even undermined energy intensive industries since coming to power in 2010.

 “As I said in a debate on the steel industry yesterday it is clear that the industry is suffering from the twin problems of the rising value of sterling against the euro, and continuing uncompetitive energy prices.

 “While there’s little the government can do about the former, this does demonstrate that the UK steel industry remains very fragile, and underlines the importance of the Government acting urgently on items that are within its control – and that is energy prices.

 “The coalition government must now roll up their sleeves and get involved in an active industrial policy to maintain our key industries like steel. They must work to protect and support our hard working loyal communities in Teesside, East Cleveland and across the United Kingdom.

 “I will be speaking to the management of Tata Steel and officers of the Community Trade Union to see what help can be given to the workforce and I will also be putting pressure on the government to find a buyer for the long product sites within the UK.”

We must campaign to try and stop housing sprawl in Saltburn

“We must campaign to try and stop housing sprawl in Saltburn – but those who played politics with Redcar and Cleveland’s Local Plan must take the blame” – Tom Blenkinsop

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, today (14th October 2014) vowed to oppose new housing proposals on open land adjacent to Saltburn.

Taylor Wimpy have formally lodged a planning application for 130 houses to be built on land at the rear of Wilton Bank now used for riding stables.

Tom said :”Those local Councillors who voted down Redcar and Cleveland’s Local Plan will have to recognise their actions helped spur this development.”

“This is an unwanted development which will further erode the green wedge between Saltburn, Marske and New Marske. I live in Saltburn itself, and know it as a balanced community.  More housing of this type will only serve to swamp local identity and community spirit.”

“But crucially, we have to remember that this proposal is for a site which was NOT in that now defeated local plan. As everyone knows this plan although fully prepared, was rejected at a recent council meeting by a coalition of Conservative, Independent and Liberal Democrat Councillors.

“If that plan had been approved that day, planning officers could have opposed this development with added powers and also defended the council case at any subsequent planning appeal hearing.”

“Given it was seen as a protected site in that plan, I would hope the application is formally and vigorously opposed by the council’s planning officers and the full planning committee, but in the absence of a local plan there is a very real danger that the developer, if rejected, will go straight  to Eric Pickles, the conservative Secretary of State, who invariably sides with his friends in the property development industry.

“I would suggest to residents that they lobby Saltburn and Marske Councillors – and especially those who voted down the local plan.  They, above all, gave the green light to such new, unwelcome and speculative planning applications.”

‘Proposals for bed charges in the NHS show real depth of funding crisis’

Reacting to comments from Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS confederation, that hospital patients could be asked to pay for their “bed and board” if funding does not match increasing demand, local Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop said:

“David Cameron chose to put the NHS on this financial knife-edge when he wasted £3 billion on a damaging re-organisation. The comments from Rob Webster clearly show how deep the funding crisis within the NHS is and many residents in my constituency of Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland will be furious at the prospect of having to pay £75 per night to stay in a hospital – a time when they are at their most vulnerable.

“Everywhere you look there are signs of an NHS now heading rapidly in the wrong direction. Patients are already seeing waiting times and cancer care heading downhill – people will fear that much worse will be in store next year.”

Labour has pledged an extra £2.5 billion over and above Tory plans to pay for 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 GPs. David Cameron has failed to match that investment.

Tories choose to hit working people on modest incomes with new Strivers’ Tax

Tom Blenkinsop MP, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, has today (6th October 2014) claimed that if the Tories win the General Election next year, working people on modest incomes will be hit by cuts to tax credits, while carrying on with a £3 billion a year tax cut for those earning over £150,000.

Tom said:
“Working people in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland have already seen their wages fall by an average of £1600 a year under the Tories and, if they win next year, they will be left even more worse off. Nurses, call-centre workers, shop staff, shift workers and teaching assistants will pay the price of George Osborne’s choice. It’s a Strivers’ Tax which will cost a one earner family with two children on £25,000 a year almost £500.

“We all know difficult decisions are needed to get the deficit down, but instead of asking those who have the most to make a bigger contribution, George Osborne is targeting striving working families already facing a cost-of-living crisis.

“This will be happening at the same time as a £3 billion tax giveaway for the top 1 per cent. Once again, the Tories have once shown they are the party of a privileged few at the top and the idea that “we are all in this together” is now just another broken promise.

“The choice is now clear: a Strivers’ Tax on hard working people under the Tories or a costed and funded plan to save our NHS, back working families and build a better Britain with Labour.”

Increase in the numbers of older workers hides “fear of decaying pensions” and hinders the chances for younger job seekers

News that the UK Labour Market has now a higher proportion of workers over the old statutory retirement age masks “two unpleasant truths” according to the Labour M.P. for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Tom Blenkinsop.

Tom said: “I am not knocking older people who want to carry on working. Many do wish to do so, and can be a credit to their workforce. They even act as mentors for newer, younger, co-workers.”

“But the news that 250,000 more over retirement age workers are still working hides a couple of grim truths.

“The first is that over the last 5 years, the ‘employers offensive’ against final salary pension schemes mean that many staff now fear lower pensions once they leave, and are using extra years’ salary  as a cushion to protect themselves against a less wealthy retirement than they once expected. In addition, this effect has been amplified by the erosion of state benefits and pensions credits for the over 60’s.”

“Secondly, using older, established, workers is cheaper for many employers when measured against the costs of recruiting and training younger workers.  This is a short-sighted attitude but, at a time of austerity, one that many employers are willing to countenance.

“The country has a legion of young people looking for work and a combination of proper pension reform at one end of the age scale and a training revolution at the other end is the right and proper answer – but it is not one the present coalition will be willing to consider.”

Latest official figures show the North East has the lowest employment growth in the UK

Figures released by the Office of National Statistics reveal the North East is the region of the UK which has seen the least number of jobs created.

The North East saw the number of employees increase by just 0.6% between 2012 and 2013, less than half that of the neighboring North West and Yorkshire and the Humber regions.

This small change means the three are now 0.5% fewer employees in the North East than there was in 2009.

Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland said:

“When the Tories were elected they promised to ‘rebalance’ the economy and remove the trade deficit. This announcement is another promise broken by this government.

“The North East is one of the few regions of the United Kingdom which exports more than it imports and these latest figures show that the much needed investment in manufacturing jobs in the North East has not been delivered.

“While there has been an increase in the number of self-employed people research shows that they earn around 40% less than their full-time employee equivalents.

“The Labour Party will tackle unemployment, particularly amongst young people, by requiring businesses who have government contracts to employ apprentices. We will also ensure self-employed people have the same right as employed people when it comes to things like mortgages and maternity leave.”

A&E crisis fire-fighting by government “will strip millions from Teesside social care”

Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Tom Blenkinsop, today (22nd September 2014) revealed that new Department of Health plans will demand a 3.5% cut to social care schemes for the elderly and the ill by local councils on Teesside.

Tom said:
“I have learnt that, because of government panic over the rising numbers of admissions to acute hospitals A and E units and an overload at GP surgeries, Ministers have now told Department of Health civil servants to divert nearly £1 billion of cash for the coming year which was earmarked for the “Better Care Fund” – a fund that would underwrite care at home for people needing social care, often after early discharge from hospital – back to acute hospitals to try and stem the demand on their A and E units.

“Put into local context, it transpires that all the Teesside Boroughs have been told that they have to make a real term cut of 3.5% in their plans for the coming year. NHS England has told each council to expect “an associated reduction in funding automatically available.

“This is a deep cut that may mean even greater costs if councils had already made contracts for care services which may now have to be terminated at worst, or re-negotiated at best.

“This is a crazy decision in both care terms and in terms of logical planning. The cash which was to have gone to home care will now go back to hospitals to, in part, speed up discharges to relieve the pressure on people lingering on trollies in A&E units, and which, in turn, will put more pressure on those very home care services dealing with early discharges.

“The thing that grates with me is how this has been done at a time when Parliament is not sitting and that makes it difficult to hold Ministers to account. It just shows, yet again, that you can’t trust the Tories with the NHS.”

‘NHS deficit figures highlight pressure hospitals are facing’

Commenting on figures released by Monitor showing that the NHS in England has a deficit of nearly £500m Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Tom Blenkinsop, said:

“These startling figures clearly show the extreme financial pressure the NHS is under. It is well documented that the NHS is struggling to hit key waiting time targets for cancer, A&E units and routine operations.

“Earlier this year we learned that South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs James Cook hospital is facing a financial black hole of nearly £30m. The fact that so many trusts are in the red show that it is clearly more than a local governance issue.

“Jeremy Hunt, the Tory Health Minister, urgently needs to get a grip of yet another NHS crisis happening under his watch.”

Tom votes against hated Bedroom Tax

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Tom Blenkinsop today (5th September 2014) joined other Labour MPs to vote against the hated Bedroom Tax during a debate in parliament.

The Bedroom Tax has caused hardship for hundreds of thousands of people across the country, costing low-income families an average of £700 a year. Two thirds of those hit by the Bedroom Tax have disabilities and 60,000 are carers. In the North East alone over 36, 986 people have been affected.

The Liberal Democrats have repeatedly joined the Tories to keep the Bedroom Tax in place and have previously resisted any attempt to protect people from it. Yet today the Liberal Democrats joined Labour in voting against their own policy in Parliament.

Thanks to the support of Labour MPs the vote was won. Unfortunately this vote will not abolish the bedroom tax, as Labour will do if elected next year, but it is a step in the right direction and a glimmer of hope for many.

Following the vote Tom said:
“David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s cruel and unfair Bedroom Tax has hit the poorest and most vulnerable on Teesside. I regularly hear from victims of this cruel policy who are finding themselves being forced out of their homes or under mounting pressure from bills they cannot afford.

“Despite all the warnings and the clear evidence that the Bedroom Tax is causing misery, hardship and forcing thousands to rely on food banks, the Lib Dems and Tories have voted again and again in favour of it. If this government won’t ditch the Bedroom Tax, then the next Labour government will.”