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Newcastle Labour leader founds a big society

18 February 2013

Labour’s Nick Forbes is a great pioneer of austerity. As leader of Newcastle City Council he bravely decided to shut half the city’s libraries, close two respite centres for disabled people and cut 100 per cent of funding to arts institutes. He said he had to do it, because the Government had reduced the council’s funding (though the city still gets more per household than most areas) and he needed to protect services for vulnerable people.

Forbes wrote a letter to The Observer predicting ‘the break up of civil society’. Some of us wondered though – did he really need to cut 100 per cent of the arts funding and close the libraries? Were the numbers more flexible than he suggested? Forbes was amazed at our cynicism. Yes, he assured us, such drastic cuts were absolutely necessary.

Last week he made an announcement: such drastic cuts were not absolutely necessary. Over the previous weeks his senior party colleagues, including Harriet Harman, had stepped into the political mess and the council had miraculously found £600,000 for the arts, which meant the cuts would be more like 50 per cent, rather than 100 per cent. Great news. Maybe they can tell us how they did it? I called the council to ask.

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Was it new revenue or spending sacrifices? They said the money would come from business rates, revenue from the local airport, health funding and savings from sharing facilities with a university, but none of that revenue suddenly arrived in the past few weeks. I spent half an hour asking what had changed. There was no answer. When I contacted to the leader of the local Liberal Democrats, David Faulkner, he had the same questions.

Forbes felt there was no need to openly analyse what had gone on. Instead he gave an interview to the loyal (Trinity Mirror) local newspaper and retweeted the subsequent story: ‘Council leader reveals plans to save the arts’. He also had the gall to suggest ‘wealthy artists’ contribute to the fund. This comes after months of dismissing them as ex-pat Geordies – short-sighted foolishness that left many wishing Forbes was an ex-pat Geordie.

When the amended budget was published on Friday it included news that the respite centres have a year’s stay of execution. However, there is definitely, definitely no money to save the libraries. The council has asked for volunteers, though the most likely volunteers are the campaigners, who were called disingenuous by the council and treated like an opposing party, rather than just people who wanted their libraries to stay open.

One of the remaining complaints of the campaigners is the council’s divisive insistence that keeping the libraries open would mean ending services for ‘the most vulnerable’. I looked through recent spending commitments to see what the council means by ‘the most vulnerable’. One example, voted for by the council a few months ago, is a pay rise to 2,200 of its workers, ensuring them a minimum of £7.20 per hour – a ‘living wage’. That costs £980,000.

There is also the Newcastle Fund – millions of pounds in grants currently being paid out. In November the council voted to give a further £1.5m over the next three years. Some of the grants are for old people and disabled people. There is also £26,750 to Show Racism the Red Card – Council money for a football campaign, despite football being one of the richest sports in the world. A skills-swap programme gets £42,640. An LGBT choir called Northern Proud Voices gets £8,700.

Pride Radio, which caters for LGBT listeners, gets £9,320. I’m not L, G, B or T, but I’m pretty sure gay people listen to the same radio stations I do. These are great things to spend money on. I understand why the Council prefers them to libraries, but this is not the break-up of civil society. It is not the spending of a Council reduced to propping up ‘the most vulnerable’.

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Show comments
  • Macky Dee

    The F***ing ARTS? The Arts should be the first lot to lose their funding…

  • Ian Walker

    How does any choir, never mind an LGBT one (I prefer SATB myself…) need £8,700 ?
    My local choir rents the church hall for about £50 per week – total £2500pa. Three times a year they put on concerts that raise about £500 each, leaving £1000 to be covered by members’ subs – for the 30 members that’s just over £30 a year. Not a penny from the council or anyone else.
    The problem is that if you offer groups like this the public teat to suckle on, they’ll keep sucking. At some point you have to wean them off, but the hair-shirted champagne socialists, smothered in their own guilt, can’t bear to do so.

  • Gerry Boy

    what a great piece; Lab chap damned if he does and damned if he doesnt!

  • McRobbie

    Tut tut, you of little faith… its a labour run council… they only ever act for the good of the majority. OK it may only be their majority that benefits but hey, we are talking politics here not truth.

  • David Lindsay

    A Tory city for much of the post-War period, a Lib Dem one for many of the more recent years. What do you expect?

    Meanwhile, in that part of the North East where Labour has been in power continuously since the Dawn of Time –

    • Andy

      One of Labour’s Rotten Boroughs, of which there seems to be a never ending supply.

      • David Lindsay

        Doesn’t seem very rotten if you read the link. Or if you live here.

        And it’s not a borough. It’s a county. The first council that Labour ever won, and which it has never lost since, is a county council, on which that party always, always represents numerous vast rural wards. It is the nearby city that is unreliable from Labour’s point of view.

        There used to be Tory “rotten boroughs”, if that is how you want to phrase it. Now there aren’t. Even Chipping Norton voted Labour last year. Absolutely nowhere can safely be depended upon to vote Tory this year. Somewhere will, I suppose. But there is no guarantee, and that party will continue to hold no seats whatever on major councils that it controlled well within living memory.

        Think on.

        • Bellevue

          And how much is this Chief executive paid? and all the other high ups in the council? I think we should be told…..

          • David Lindsay

            I’m sure it’s easy enough to find out.

            Not so much as to prevent, for example, protection of payments to Council Tax Benefits claimants at current levels for the 12 months that began in January. With the enthusiastic support of the Conservative Group, such as it is.

            Of course, you’re real point is “more than I am”. Not a good look, sweetie. Not a good look.

            • Bellevue

              Actually, David, my point was nothing to do with him being paid more than me (not difficult!) but that these people pay themselves enormous salaries and pension contributions; and then have the nerve to say they cant afford to keep libraries open.

        • Paddy

          “Absolutely nowhere can safely be depended upon to vote Tory this year.

          • Paddy

            But they will come the Election!

    • HooksLaw

      Who gives a monkeys’ about the City’s political past? It is the work of the numpty labour activists of the political present we are talking about.
      There is nothing ‘unprecedented’ about the cuts from the coalition (as suggested by apologists for Durham). Such cuts were prefaced by Darling in his budgets. His cuts were pretty much the same as Osborne’s.

      Durham are cutting their library services. Amongst other things. They are looking to be ‘thinner and leaner’ – why could they not do that under Gordon Brown? But its easy for local authorities to look good in years 1 and 2 of the coalition since the cuts have hardly started to bite.

      • David Lindsay

        There was no recession by the last days of Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown. Cameron and Osborne have taken us back in.

        • HJ777

          That’s nonsense. By hugely increasing public spending in their last year in office, the last labour government produced a rise in measured GDP.

          However, as government spending accounted for half of GDP (52% at the time according to the OECD) and as the ONS has no way of measuring (in the short term) public sector ‘output’ and just has to assume that a rise in input results in an equal rise in output, then such a huge increase in spending was bound to make the GDP figures look better. The point is that it was impossible to keep increasing spending (and borrowing) at that rate.

          In fact, the measured rise in GDP was less than the increase in government spending, meaning that, in reality, it produced a return of less than unity.

          I have plenty of criticisms of this government’s policies, but the idea that Brown and Darling had ended the recession is ridiculous.

          • David Lindsay

            No, you stated it yourself in your second sentence.

            This is how everyone now remembers it. Everyone. The ConDems are going to be wiped off the municipal map this year (Boris Johnson managed to obscure the scale of their defeat last year), wiped off the European map next year even under PR, and wiped off the parliamentary map the year after that.

            • HJ777

              I stated what in my second sentence?

              And what is the way that everyone remembers what?

              • David Lindsay

                In both cases, that Darling had ended the recession.

                As, in fact, he had.

                • HJ777

                  He hadn’t – he had simply managed to manipulate the GDP figures, and he simply made a second dip absolutely inevitable in the process.

                  Fortunately, recent polls still how that most people blame the previous government for our current fiscal position and the depth of the recession we endured. They’re correct.

                  Not everyone shares your lack of insight.

                • David Lindsay

                  Let’s see how the votes stack up.

                • Paddy

                  How old are you Lindsay? Very young I imagine.

                  The Tories and the Lib/dems could very well be wiped off the map at the moment but the electorate aren’t so stupid as to put Miliband and his band of idiots in charge.

                  You might remember Kinnock. He thought he was going to win but in the cold light of day when people were in the ballot box they came to their senses. They saw the light and said we can’t afford another Labour government.

                • Grrr8

                  Always w/ the age insults when you are losing the argument. The column by Aaronvitch in the Times comparing Britain to the dying days of the Hapsburgs comes to mind.

                • 2trueblue

                  Not everyone shares his lack of insight, or ignorance. He is an irrelevance, treat him as such.

                • Jasper McPartland

                  In the same way the murderer can say, “Well, he was alive when I left him stabbed and bleeding on the pavement Guv”


            • Colonel Mustard

              If they are wiped off the parliamentary map then it will not be a good day for democracy in Britain. Labour cannot be trusted in government – still less with a non-existent opposition.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    Obviously, you’re a heartless, knuckle dragging neanderthal, and probably a racist and a bigot.

    Stop asking these troublesome questions.

    • telemachus

      So the Tories screwed the budget to the point that the council could only fund the essentials of education and social care
      If things had to go it has to be laid at the door of Pickles
      Who incidentally should heed the Academy of Royal Colleges and set an example

      • Colonel Mustard

        Perhaps you should read the article more carefully instead of peddling the same deceits as the odious Nick Forbes. This was a deliberate ploy by Forbes to create antagonism towards the government. Typical of the nasty, scheming tactics Labour and its activists engage in. They are not fit to govern.

        • telemachus

          Let us remind ourselves just how reasonable Nick is

          “We have predicted that by 2018 the council won’t even have the resources to provide its legal statutory services. In that context, everything has to be on the table,” says Forbes. “Unless there is a significant change of direction by the government, we will no longer be able to provide grants to arts organisations because we will have to meet our statutory obligations to provide adult and children’s social care. That’s an inevitability of the current direction of government policy.”

          • telemachus

            Indeed Nick had a duty to deal with the needs and the future while grubbing around tirelessly to put the extras together
            Nick is the Big Society

            • Colonel Mustard

              To suggest Forbes is the Big Society is obscene. He represents nothing more than venal, cynical, dissembling Labour at its worst. And we also have you to evidence that here every day and in almost every thread.

          • Colonel Mustard

            That reminds us of nothing more than that council leaders like Forbes put Labour ideology and party politics ahead of serving their communities. Remind yourself why it is that of all council leaders facing the same tough decisions in a situation where Labour spent all the money Forbes comes to prominence and manages to prioritise minority LGBT radio above libraries for all. You are still full of it.

    • Makroon

      They will still re-elect him.

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