Friday, 31 August 2007

Unitary Proposals could export jobs

A couple of years ago, Northumberland County Council carried out some groundbreaking work on local procurement with the New Economics Foundation.
This “LM3” study showed that money spent on procurement with local businesses benefited the local economy by three times as much as money spent with businesses outside the area.
And yet, proposals for the new unitary authority suggest outsourcing service delivery to a joint company shared with Cambridgeshire and Hampshire, likely to be based in Hampshire.

Outsourcing may possibly save money for the council but if it exports jobs and drains money from the county then its going to cost the local economy far more than is saved.

In fact, I’m surprised that the NE Chamber of Commerce is supporting proposals which could do so much damage to the local economy quite so strongly.

The County Council have a good reputation for local procurement and supporting social enterprise. The District Councils have some very good teams in place delivering high quality services, which are likely to be broken up in the restructure.
If we’re going ahead with the restructure, and if outsourcing is a must – then surely it should be possible to create local businesses to deliver services saving jobs and supporting the local economy in the process rather exporting jobs to the south.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Roof falls in on Council

Well OK - the Town Hall ceiling collapsed on 16th August.
That is to say, an area of plaster fell from the ceiling on the first floor hall way which gives access to the Mayor’s Parlour, Chamber and Kitchen. As a result of the partial collapse, other areas have been further damaged and are at risk of falling.
Repair work began this week (w/b 27th Aug). Meanwhile the whole of the first floor of the Town Hall is now closed until at least Monday 24th September, though if repair and cleaning work go well - it may be possible to re-open earlier.
Events downstairs in the Town Hall (eg the farmers' market on Sun 2nd Sept) are unaffected and will go ahead as normal.
Any link between this event and the plans for a single unitary for Northumberland is coincidence not augury.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

You can't get from Morpeth Station

... at least not at weekends from September to November.

Engineering works are being carried out on the ECML every weekend from 15/16th September through to 3rd/4th November.
No trains will run north of Morpeth on these dates.

GNER services to Edinburgh will be diverted via Carlisle and there will be coaches connecting Newcastle with Morpeth, Alnmouth Berwick and Dunbar.
On Saturday 27th October and Saturday 3rd November, the Newcastle – Cramlington - Morpeth trains will be replaced by coaches.

Meanwhile, construction work seems to have started already at Morpeth: The northbound platform is currently being moved back 3 inches, to allow greater clearance between the tracks.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

You can't get to Morpeth Station

Transport 2000’s recent “Weakest Link” survey found rail passengers in the North East citing poor bus links, difficult-to-cross roads, insecure cycle parking and a lack of cycle paths as barriers to using their local train station.

Morpeth Station was particularly highlighted.

It has seen an 8% growth in passengers in the last year with Virgin XC and GNER InterCity services stopping and is increasingly popular with commuters.
However, the car park is full by 8:30am and there are no cycle storage facilities at all.
And the northbound platform is notoriously inaccessible for wheelchair users.

Dennis Fancett, the Chairman of SE Northumberland Rail User Group said:

“The southbound platform has a bus turning circle marked ‘bus only’ but no buses call there; buses only serve the main road which is a short walk away. There are no sign posts to the bus stop. To get a bus into town you have to cross the main road with no pedestrian facilities. We’d like to see the bus company working to get the buses actually into the station complex.”

Meanwhile Northumberland CC has reportedly got bus operators to work to the train timetable, and even take account of delayed rail services at the newly refurbished transport interchange at Prudhoe Rail Station.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Transport and Mr Bateman

My friend Norman Bateman has written an interesting letter in the Morpeth Herald (23rd August “Rail: Time to think again”) attacking Government policy on fuel and road tax duty and the prohibitive cost of rail travel. Characteristically he makes a provocative aside claiming that the Green Party policy on CO2 emissions is anti-car to the exclusion of all else.

I have, of course, written a rebuttal letter for the Herald – but I can develop some of the ideas more here.

Transport does generate about a third of CO2 emissions in the UK, but it is the only sector where emissions are growing – and growing fast. And of course, air travel is the most damaging because not only does it generate high levels of CO2, it emits them in the upper reaches of the atmosphere where the ‘greenhouse effect’ occurs. So policy needs to focus of emissions arising from transport.

Mr Bateman is quite correct is saying that the first focus must be on reducing the need to travel. We should be decentralising our provision of health, education, shops, work, leisure etc facilities. And we should be insisting on local produce whenever possible. If we’re serious about planning ‘sustainable communities’ – then we should be providing far more than just houses – even if they are ‘eco-friendly’.

And Mr Bateman is correct in saying that current fare structures militate against using lower emission modes of transport. It is ridiculous that short hop air fares are cheaper than rail fares; that a shared taxi is cheaper than travelling by bus or that road freight is more cost effective than rail freight.

Unfortunately, Mr Bateman then succumbs to the popular usage that spending on rail infrastructure is ‘subsidy’ while spending on roads in ‘investment’. In fact, the train operating companies actually pay the Government for franchises to operate and pay Network Rail for use of the track. It is these payments and the notion that the trains should be run to make profits for shareholders that keeps train fares up, while the road network is almost entirely operated as a state-funded public service with the result that the real cost of operating a car has decreased by around 10% in the last ten years.

He also comes up with some curious ideas about discounting fuel tax on heavy lorries and increasing Vehicle Excise Duty. Since the real problem is vehicle use, not vehicle ownership – it would seem a better idea to minimise Vehicle Excise Duty and maximise fuel tax. But – not before investing in public transport – bus and rail - to make it an adequate alternative to car use, and making it easier and safer to travel by bike or on foot.

Unfortunately at present, Government policy on transport – be it aviation, rail or road – is totally at odds with Government policy on climate change and reducing CO2 emissions.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Consultation on Morpeth Cottage Hospital

The 'preferred options' for the future of Morpeth Cottage Hospital and 'improving health services in Morpeth' have been published for consultation. Cheery green and blue leaflets should be widely available - or else contact Diane Gonsalez tel 0191 219 6030 email

There'll be public meetings - in Morpeth Town Hall - on
Weds 5th Sept at 2pm (with a publicity stall on the market too)
Mon 10th Sept ar 6pm

Deadline for comments is 5th October.

In essence the proposals are:

i) close the Cottage Hospital on its current site
ii) build a new NHS outpatient clinic in Morpeth - with increased capacity and more equipment (MRI scanner, X-rays, ultrasound, echocardiography) than currently at the Cottage Hospital
iii) provide patient beds for end-of-life care and for 'slow stream rehabilitation' in an existing nursing home in Morpeth
iv) transfer the stroke rehabilitation and other in-patient beds at Morpeth Cottage Hospital to a 'dedicated unit' at Wansbeck General Hospital