I received "The Tynedale and Ponteland Chronicle" a week ago in my mail. This is the Tories latest leaflet in the area. It is almost exclusively a Lib Dem knocking sheet. Funny that they focus on local Lib Dems so much as according to the 1st page article they have "collapsed".
Most of the articles reveal a very strange outlook on the world. So here's my take, article by article.
"Are the Lib Dems pushing for Two Tier?" (Page 1). The paper alleges that residents are outraged that the Liberal Democrat County Council is pushing for two tier education across the whole county like has happened in Blyth and Bedlington.
OK. Northumberland is not a Lib Dem county council, we are a minority administration and the Conservatives and Labour groups could overturn our decision at any time. They have done so occasionally and as a result, its fair to say that the Lib Dems have not always been able to push our agenda through fully. To my memory no motion has ever been put forward by the Tories in council on education. In fact I can't remember any councillor mentioning two tier education in full council over the past 5 years. Under Labour before, it was discussed all the time because they had an explicit plan to abolish three tier schools. Lib Dem councillors in Northumberland have been clear that there will be no change unless parents demand it or the government force our hand. No clamour for two tier education has come forward in Tyendale. In Bedlington and Allendale we have had an issue. Middle schools in those areas have repeatedly failed their OfSTED inspections. The government has refused us permission to restart those schools with new management. We either close them and transfer the children to first and high schools, essentially creating two tier schooling or the parents create an academy that is a primary school. So the government is forcing us to go two tier or nothing. We've consulted on both options and called on Guy to lobby Tory secretary of state Michael Gove on this. He refused to do so. The Journal gave a reasonably balanced article on the "row" here.
"MP is big kid at heart". This is a rare shred of truth in the Chronicle - his approach to politics is infantile!
"Progress on Rural Broadband .. in the Slow lane" While its true that there are counties ahead of Northumberland in roll out of rural broadband, Northumberland has done very well in terms of the amount of money it has got. Mr Opperman criticised the county for not bidding to be a pilot authority but many of the authorities that did failed and are now behind Northumberland. We have a well thought out plan and it is being rolled out. Guy "reveals that rural broadband will not be rolled out by Mays elections" it was never planned to be done by then.
"what an amazing two years its been" - apparently the "conservatives have raised personal allowances". In fact that is one of the main Liberal Democrat successes in the coalition. Guy and his chums have prioritised cutting the higher rate of tax for millionaires, a policy Guy does not mention.
"local resident leads fight against over development" Apparently the local Conservative candidate for Stocksfield is leading on the plans to develop homes for Riding Mill. Actually the real leader has been the Conservative, now Independent councillor Anne Dale. She has resigned from the Tories after the Conservative councillor Ian Hutchinson (see Guy proudly standing with him on page 3) was found guilty of bullying her by the conservative led council committee on standards at Northumberland. Anne was stripped of all committee posts by Conservative group leader Cllr Peter Jackson (the man photographed in the shadows on page 3!). The Courant reported on the decision here.
"Shock at suggestion Council may "Swap" green belt" - No actual evidence is proferred here. Their supposition seems to be that the councils is fighting to add green belt around Morpeth and developers want to build around Ponteland. The two aren't connected and there has been no support from the council for the Ponteland development. So the Lib Dem administration appears to be under attack for wanting to get more green belt. Not surprising because its the Tories that have massive developers in their ranks.
Brand New NHS Hospital for West Northumberland - Apparently this is due to local councillor Ian Hutchinson. I sit on the Northumberland Care Trust that made the decision. Cllr Hutchinson has never lobbied us, been to our meetings or was ever mentioned in any report on the great new hospital that is being built in Haltwhistle. I can only presume that the quote that "I don't mince my words" is more of a reference to Cllr Hutchinsons bullying antics towards fellow tories (see earlier), which saw him forced to resign as chair of the West area planning committee by other councillors.
"New High School is on it's way" The government only gave enough money to build small schools in Prudhoe, Bedlington and Alnwick. The money for all the support roads etc has to come from the schools and the council. The council has found the money to fund this but its a combination of loans and grants. Apparently the council should put it in all grants. This is piling up debt on the school. The debt of these loans pales into insignificance compared to the main building costs of the school, which is funded by a Pfi loan to the school. So central government should be commended for loan financing but not the council?
The last comment in "chronicle voice" is close to my heart. As portfolio for leisure on the council, I am proud to have pushed through library and leisure centre improvements. The chronicle voice says "how can the Liberal Democrats afford £20m on a new leisure centre for Ashington but say there is no money to cut the grass?". The answer is that Ashington will just be brought up to the standard already enjoyed in Prudhoe and Hexham. Building the new leisure centre and library will mean millions more people will use the Ashington centre, meaning we can save over £1m a year on subsidies to the leisure centres. That will save the council millions. The plans have been supported by all parties, including the Tories. No opposition was ever put forward.
The Tories have one councillor in South East Northumberland, where the local population would never elect a Tory in a month of Sundays and Labour have one councillor outside of the South East, in Amble. Only once party has good representation across the whole county, the Lib Dems. I'm proud of our record in the county over the past five years, in very very testing circumstances. In most neighbouring areas, libraries have closed, leisure centres have closed and there have been reductions in bin collections etc. In Northumberland we have built more facilities and made savings without having too much impact on peoples lives.