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MP Catherine McKinnell speaks out in the Commons about cuts

MINISTERS are acting as if detached from reality when handing out unfair councils cuts, an MP has claimed.

MP Catherine McKinnell

MINISTERS are acting as if detached from reality when handing out unfair councils cuts, an MP has claimed.

Newcastle North’s Catherine McKinnell has become the latest to raise concerns that the cuts being experienced by Newcastle are unfair and disproportionate when compared with other parts of the country.

Speaking in the House of Commons last night, the shadow Treasury minister said Newcastle had found itself in the position of having to write to the Secretary of State to inform him that there will be no money for anything but social care and refuse collection later in this decade, unless current funding plans are not changed.

She was backed by Newcastle East MP Nick Brown, who told the House that the Government should review the way the it distributes the cuts burden as a matter of urgency.

The former regional minister said he backed Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes in his call for a fairer system of handing out budget reductions.

He added: “In 2003 Gateshead-Newcastle bid together for the Capital of Culture designation and made a very credible case. Present government policy has forced the council to consult on ending the culture budget, totalling £1.6m.

“This is so far removed from anything that Newcastle citizens would actually want, far removed from any rational economic development view of the role of the arts in creating employment in a regional centre like Newcastle that the issue serves as exemplar as to how far the council has been forced into examining very unpalatable decisions.

“Even essential services like SureStart cannot avoid a reduction. The council has taken steps to try to reduce the cuts burden on this important service in the short term but with the added cuts announced by the Government it looks likely that larger reductions will be needed.”

Mr Brown was speaking after Ms McKinnell said that Newcastle had been forced to make difficult, if not impossible, decisions.

She added: “Perhaps most vocal has been the campaign against the council’s proposal to cut in phases 100% of its funding to certain local arts organisations, many of whom are of national significance. Leading well-known Geordies, including Sting, Jimmy Nail, Mark Knopfler and Lee Hall, have publicly castigated the council for this proposal which would impact heavily on treasured assets such as the Theatre Royal, Northern Stage, Dance City, Live Theatre, the Tyneside Cinema and Seven Stories.”

“Newcastle,” she said, “is being forced to choose between services which make Newcastle the fun, vibrant, economically viable city it is or services such as protecting the most vulnerable children in our community.”

And the shadow minister hit out at Government claims that the cuts do not unfairly victimise the region. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has previously said Newcastle is far better off than the likes of Wokingham.

Ms McKinnell said: “Newcastle has four times more children in care, greater homelessness needs, higher council tax support needs, fewer people able to self-fund their own elderly care.

“Compared to Wokingham, Newcastle receives four times the funding for the statutory concessionary fares scheme, yet faces costs that are nine times higher due to the sheer number of poorer pensioners using the service.”

The Government has said it believes the funding changes are fair, and that spending power changes will see Newcastle lose only in line with UK average.

Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis previously said: “Every bit of the public sector needs to do its bit to help pay off budget deficit inherited from the last administration, including local government which accounts for a quarter of all public spending. This is a fair settlement.”



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