Archive for Teesside

‘Double whammy’ for Teesside as reports circulate of npower call centre closure

Commenting on reports that energy giant, npower, is closing its Teesside based call centre with the loss of over 500 jobs has been branded a ‘double whammy’ by Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop today (27th November 2013).

Tom said:
“With recent reports that npower is about to close the call centre on Trenchard Avenue – which employs 549 workers. This followed the company saying official that a “major review of sites, operations and people across the UK was underway.”

“It is quite simply outrageous that these jobs look set to be outsourced abroad whilst simultaneously UK customers will face a hike in their energy bills this coming weekend – on average adding £139 to the annual dual fuel bill. It is a double whammy for Teesside and local communities. For the affected workers and their families this is the worst Christmas present that they could ever have expected and it is a disgrace that this information is coming to light before staff have even been told.

“The ripples from such job losses will also hit other business across Teesside through the loss of 500 pay packets which would otherwise have been traded with local companies and shops.

“The area is already suffering crippling long-term unemployment – most stark is amongst women where, since May 2010, it has increased by 144% in my constituency and over 200% in Stockton South, where the call centre is based.

“To make this worse, the company is an incredibly profitable one. Last year it saw profits rise by £77m to £390m. Whilst much of this increase is down to successive price rises, part of it has to be down to the loyal efforts of the local staff – who have been rewarded with a kick in the teeth for their dedication.”

Tom has submitted Parliamentary Questions asking what steps the Government are taking to support call centres on Teesside and what discussions have taken place with npower.

Tom leads debate over North East NHS funding

Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland MP, Tom Blenkinsop, has today (5th November 2013) secured a Westminster Hall debate over NHS funding in the North East and Teesside.

The issue was raised following research that if a proposed NHS funding formula is given the go ahead then the North East could lose out heavily.

The new formula that would decide how much the local NHS clinical commissioning body has to spend is, for the first time, expected to exclude social deprivation and poor health from the formula and instead distribute money on the general need of the population.

Tom said:
“These figures are frightening for Teesside and for the South Tees area which covers my constituency. To suggest that over the next couple of years that 17 and half million pounds be stripped out of the cash allocation for primary care GP service led services in the South Tees area, will mean that a an areas with some of the worse health inequalities in the UK will lose out, with that cash being diverted to wealthy areas like Sussex, Kent and the Prime Minister’s own area of Oxfordshire.

“If this is allowed to happen, then cash will be drained from GP surgeries across the South Tees area, from cash transfers to local hospitals for critical patients and from joint GP, Council and nursing services for elderly care and home visiting.

“If areas of greater deprivation are given less NHS funding then economic inequality becomes health inequality. If NHS funds are disproportionately going south then it puts the North at a disadvantage.

“Unfortunately this isn’t my only concern I have for the NHS in our area. In the debate I also intend to highlight the complete lack of winter funding for local A&E services and the current investigation over treatment times being carried out by health regulator Monitor.”

Tom attacks findings of London Airports Commission as ‘a kick in the teeth for regional airports like Durham Tees Valley’

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop today (8th October 2013) hit out at the first interim findings of the Commission set up to look at Airport capacity in the South East for what he called “simply dismissing the case for regional airports”.

In their first report, released today, Commission Chairman Howard Davies, said that the South East of England will need more runway capacity in the years to come, and to reply on existing UK runways would lead to “a distinctly sub-optimal solution”.

In a speech, Sir Howard said that “regional airports are already serving their local markets effectively but it is difficult to see how they can absorb all the excess demand.”

Tom said:
“This is a pure and simple kick in the teeth for Britain’s regional airports, like our own one, Durham Tees Valley. Britain is a small country, and there is no reason why all the eggs and the goodies have to be put into the South East basket.

“DTVA has one of the longest runways in the nation with a location literally minutes away from the A1 and the A19 and a main line railway running past, it has serious potential for air freight as a way of taking pressure off of airports like Heathrow and Gatwick should be obvious to anyone.

“Now we see the man who was supposed to be taking a strategic look at UK airport capacity, dismissing the DVTA case at the very same time that its owners, Peel Airports, are looking to a new application to the Government’s Regional Growth Fund for expansion. This is plain crazy, and I would hope Mr Davies thinks again about his interim conclusions.”

Stealthy Cleveland Fire proposals debated in Parliament

Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop this evening (13th May 2013) used an Adjournment Debate to highlight his concerns that proposals to turn Cleveland Fire Brigade into a ‘public service’ mutual were a “mutilation of mutualisation” that could lead to privatisation, whilst also attacking the lack of transparency over the handling of the proposals.

The Tory-led Government has spent over £100,000 funding proposals that would see Cleveland Fire Brigade ‘spun out’ from Cleveland Fire Authority, with Tory Ministers trying to push through legislative changes “that would enable fire and rescue authorities in England to contract out their full range of services to a suitable provider”.

Under European law, if the Fire Brigade were to be ‘spun out’, after the initial contract expires, it is very likely the Fire Authority would have to put fire services out to potential competitive tender. This would allow private companies to bid to replace the Fire Brigade as the provider of frontline, emergency fire services.

These proposals are being opposed by the Labour Party’s Shadow Fire Minister (Chris Williamson MP), Cleveland’s Labour MPs (Alex Cunningham, Andy McDonald and Iain Wright), Redcar’s Labour and Co-operative Parliamentary candidate (Anna Turley), the Chief Fire Officers’ Association, the Fire Officers’ Association, the Fire Brigades Union, and the Co-operative Party.

Tom said:
“I was pleased that I was able to secure this debate, as I am deeply concerned about these proposals.

“There is a certain stealth about how the Government are handling these proposals. Not only are they refusing to disclose information requested through Freedom of Information requests and Parliamentary questions, but Fire Minister Brandon Lewis attempted to sneak legislative changes that would permit privatisation under the radar, through the House of Commons’ Regulatory Reform Committee.

“If the Government and Chief Fire Officer continue to push these proposals, there is a real risk that our Fire Brigade could be privatised, due to European law. Yet, despite the significance of this, there is a total lack of transparency, ensuring that Cleveland’s residents and media are kept in the dark about this threat.

“Whilst I appreciate that the Government is squeezing the Brigade’s finances, these proposals will not mitigate the cuts the Brigade faces, and, ultimately, we should not even consider exposing the fire brigade to the risk of privatisation. In addition to this, the Minister failed to outline any route that would permit competitive tendering to be avoided.

“Fire and rescue services are a life-and-death service; public safety must always come first, not private profit. It is time for Cleveland Fire Authority to let the public know what’s going on.”

Anna Turley, Labour and Co-operative candidate for Redcar, said:
“I do not believe this is the right model for our fire service. A mutual requires the support of its employees, yet fire-fighters do not want these changes. The language of mutuality and co-operation is simply being used as political cover by the Coalition Government to open up public services to potential competitive tender. I believe this poses a major risk to the service delivery of one of our most vital emergency services, particularly in our area of high industrial risk.

“Residents, fire-fighters, their elected representatives and the media have a right to know what is going on. Such important decisions that affect us all should not be discussed behind closed doors.”

Economic growth proposals for Teesside quashed by Vince Cable

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, today (April 30th 2013) slammed comments made by Business Secretary Vince Cable that Teesside – and the rest of the North East will have to, in Tom’s words, “whistle in the wind” for previously promised extra cash to boost regeneration and economic growth.

In a speech made in front of journalists, Mr Cable said that organisations like the Tees Valley  ‘Local Enterprise Partnership’ (LEP) was simply not capable of handling huge sums of public money, arguing that big decisions must be administered from Whitehall.

Mr Cable also said “There is a genuine concern about local enterprise partnerships. Hardly any of them come up to me and say ‘we would like billions more money to spend’…They are quite small groups… [and only had] five, six, or seven business people on the board” adding: “You can’t hand over large chunks of public money, with limited controls, into that kind of structure.

Tom said:
“Vince Cable has unilaterally and brutally torn up a report drawn up by Lord Heseltine and endorsed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that proposed that the LEP’s would get a share of the £70 billion proposed by Lord Heseltine and Chancellor George Osborne.

“It is an utter insult to the businesspeople who sit on the local LEPs, people who, in their day-to-day life make multi-million pound decisions in areas like the chemical, logistics and the engineering industries.

“In effect Mr Cable has told Teesside to ‘drop dead’ over pleas for real cash to invest in local industry and the creation of much needed jobs for Teesside’s unemployed. Put simply this is a mess and it is becoming increasingly difficult to know who is calling the shots here – is it the Chancellor or Vince Cable?

“The LEP’s were touted as the Government’s big idea to replace regional development agencies that existed under the previous Labour Government and helped direct spending in the regions. Now we see them downgraded at the whim of one Liberal Democrat Minister. Worse, in his comments he lashed into what he saw as differences between Teesside and the rest of the North East – fuelling and stoking up inter-regional squabbles, diversions which we all need like a hole in the head.
“What is needed is simple common sense from the Government, an endorsement of the spending plans of both the Tees Valley and North East LEP’s and a steer for both to work together more closely – and not the exact opposite.”

“In the final analysis the voters will know who to blame – but that won’t be until 2015.This issue has to be settled now – and settled properly in the interests of jobs and growth for our area.”

Government should have given greater consideration to “local economy” when awarding CCS funding

Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, today branded as “appalling” the fact that the Government did not appear to take into account Teesside’s local economy when deciding not to award Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) commercialisation funding to Teesside.

Tom said:
“In Parliament, I asked the Government whether they took into account the levels of unemployment here on Teesside and the potential effect on the local process industry cluster when they decided to not award Teesside CCS commercialisation funding.

“It was most disappointing that rather than providing a straightforward answer to this seemingly simple question, that Tory Energy Minister John Hayes felt it necessary to provide a link to a 500 page tendering document. I have, however, taken a look at this document, and it does not appear that significant consideration was given to the local economy when the Government made this important decision.

“If the Government had funded CCS on Teesside, it could have had significant benefits to our struggling local economy. For example, we already have in place the pipelines to the North Sea gas and oil fields – where the C02 would be sequestered – so the Teesside bid could be both more effective and cheaper and would also boost the offshore sector. Yet, the Government failed to consider this. To me, it is very hard to justify not even taking local economic factors into account when awarding funding from a £1 billion pot.”

Over 10,000 hit by David Cameron’s ‘Bedroom Tax’ on Teesside

Figures released yesterday (5th March 2013) by the National Housing Federation (NHF) show 10,252 residents on Teesside will be hit by the government’s ‘Bedroom Tax’ losing on average £728 per year.

Commenting on the figures local Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, said:
“There is no way to describe these figures other than shocking. In my constituency almost 2000 people will be hit by the tax and it has been a recurring issue when I have been talking to constituents.

“It is a policy that I have been campaigning against and a particularly distressing case is of one of my constituents, Alison Huggan, who will be impacted by the Bedroom Tax whilst her twin sons have been serving in the Armed Forces. Similarly distressing is two thirds of the households that are hit are home to someone with a disability, and foster parents will also be hit. Yet strangely prisoners escape the policy.

“The Bedroom Tax will hammer families on Teesside who are already struggling to make ends meet but will now have to find on average £728 extra a year. Meanwhile 13,000 millionaires are getting a tax cut worth £100,000.

“I will continue to put pressure on this out of touch government until Ministers see sense, admit this policy is totally unfair and think again.”

“Tories target Teesside” in plans to cut support for basic living standards

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop today (January 7th 2013) criticised plans revealed in a Sunday newspaper by a group of Conservative MP’s which recommended drastic cuts to benefits, such as tax credits, in poorer parts of the UK – and used Middlesbrough as an example of the areas that would be targeted.

Tom said:
“The so-called 20/20 group, consisting of new Tory MP’s mainly elected at the last election and a few Cabinet ministers, were tasked by Chancellor George Osborne to look at future policies for the next Tory manifesto. In their report their group leader, Hampshire East MP Damian Hinds, specifically calls for the introduction of different levels of welfare payments around the country, arguing that house prices, travel fares and some other living costs are significantly higher in London and the South East than elsewhere.

“The report says, and I quote “Benefits in Croydon might not stretch very far, but in Middlesbrough the same amount could be a favourable alternative to work”

“This utterly divisive policy is there in black and white. A Tory MP representing affluent Hampshire towns like Alton and Liphook is doing George Osborne’s dirty work for him. It is unthinkable that the poor and the North East should suffer even more poverty and indignity in the interests of following Cameron and Osborne failed policies of slash and burn.

“The reality is that Teesside does not need more enforced poverty, it needs a proper economic plan for growth, industry and jobs. No-one in their right mind would prefer already minimal benefits to a proper regular wage – as we see from the queues whenever job openings are advertised. This plan would be a kick in the teeth to many of my constituents, many of whom are in work but on low pay so tax credits are essential to make ends meet. It is also an obvious attempt to drive a wedge between the North and South of the country and goes against the idea of ‘One Nation’, which is an argument for cohesion, not regional confrontation.”

Government failing Teesside by their refusal to grant RGF money to Durham Tees Valley Airport

Labour Member of Parliament for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Tom Blenkinsop, has today “slammed” the decision made by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to not award RGF round 3 funding to Durham Tees Valley Airport to develop its freight capacity.

Tom said:
“It is no secret that Durham Tees Valley Airport have been struggling for some years now, but I have always thought it has potential to develop its freight operations. As such, it is really disappointing that Whitehall mandarins and Tory and Lib Dem Ministers have decided not to award the Airport the £6,000,000 it needed to create up to 1,500 jobs.

“It is such a shame that these decisions are not being made regionally, as they were under Regional Development Agencies, but instead by people in London who fail to understand our sub-regional economy’s unique needs.

“This is just another instance where Teesside is missing out in terms of vital infrastructure spend at the hands of this Government, with them previously having failed to announce any electrification of railway between Northallerton and Middlesbrough, despite their planning to electrify the vast majority of the TransPennine route.

“It appears that the Tories and Lib Dems have little interest in investing in our infrastructure on Teesside, something that I consider vital for our economy to grow. Next week, I will be asking Transport Ministers in Parliament what discussions, if any, they had with the Business Ministers responsible for RGFs about supporting this bid, and will be urging the Government to give Durham Tees Valley Airport the funding and support it needs.”

Possible job losses at ‘hardest hit’ fire brigade risks public safety, warn Tom Blenkinsop MP and Anna Turley

Labour politicians in Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland have today (18 October 2012) expressed their deep concern over reports that 75 fire fighters’ jobs are at risk at Cleveland Fire Brigade.

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop said:
“The news that Cleveland Fire Brigade are considering making 75 firefighters redundant is extremely worrying news, but reflects the dire financial situation the Brigade has been placed in by Eric Pickles and the Tory Government.

“In Parliament last month, I told fellow MPs about how Cleveland, a unique area with significant levels of fire risk, was perversely facing the joint-largest cuts due to the Tories’ decision to hit regions like the North East the hardest.

“I fear that my constituency will be particularly affected by these cuts, both due to the social deprivation in South Middlesbrough and the rural nature of East Cleveland, which could possibly face delayed response times if jobs were lost.”

Labour and Co-operative Parliamentary candidate for Redcar, Anna Turley, added:
“We have already seen how the cuts are impacting our local communities, with arson in Redcar & Cleveland having increased dramatically by 34% over the past year. I worry that this, paired with job losses, could damage our public safety.

“The Tories and Lib Dems in Government should be working to provide a funding settlement for fire brigades that assists those in areas with high levels of risk and social deprivation, rather than making Fire Brigades there lay off front-line emergency workers.”