Liberal Democrat Councillors in Gateshead are demanding to know why £500,000 of public cash was paid to a public relations company, Drummond Central, to promote pandemic public health messages when the Council already has a PR team costing £239,600.
The decision to hire a private company was taken jointly by the seven North East local councils. The half million pounds used to pay for the publicity campaign was financed by the government.
“Although this was central government money, rather than council cash, I am still scratching my head wondering why this publicity campaign was not run by the team of nearly 7 full time equivalent staff already employed by Gateshead,” said Dunston and Whickham Councillor Peter Maughan.
“Half a million pounds of public cash has been poured into this private company by the seven local councils. I find Gateshead Council Leader Martin Gannon’s support for this rather surprising. He has been a constant critic of privatisation of public services but here his is backing precisely that.
“Cllr Gannon now needs to explain why our own council staff have been overlooked so that this work could go to a private PR company.”
Liberal Democrat Councillors in Gateshead have called on the Council to reverse its
decision not to open leisure centres and swimming pools in the borough.
The ending of the lockdown lifted restrictions that had prevented gyms, pools and indoor
sports facilities from opening. But Gateshead Council has decided to keep the venues
closed, other than Gateshead Stadium.
Liberal Democrats argue that the facilities need to be opened so that people can start to
repair their physical and mental health.
“This decision to keep swimming pools, council gyms and leisure centres closed is at
odds with what is happening in neighbouring authorities,” said Cllr Peter Maughan. “And
it does not make sense that Gateshead Stadium can reopen while other centres remain
“As long as social distancing can continue and equipment is kept clean, facilities should
be able to reopen.
“It is now clear that there will be a significant increase in physical and mental health
problems because of the pandemic. Council run indoor sports and leisure facilities are
crucial for thousands of Gateshead residents to help restore their health.
“If necessary, volunteers should be recruited to help operate leisure centres or be asked
to help run covid community hubs to allow council staff to return to their posts at leisure
“Private gyms are able to reopen but if council services remain closed, those most
affected will be those least able to afford to go private.
“Gateshead needs to get a grip and get gyms, pools and leisure centres reopened.
Otherwise the borough faces a health crisis in the months and years ahead.”
Liberal Democrat campaigners in Birtley are calling for the Metro to be extended to the Team Valley and Birtley. Reduced pollution and less congestion on local roads would be amongst the benefits, claim campaigners in the town.
Paul Elliott, Lib Dem campaigner in Birtley, (photo below) believes that the town already suffers from heavy pollution from the A1 and encouraging people to shift from travelling by car to the Metro instead would lead to cleaner air and quicker journeys into central Gateshead and Newcastle.
“The Team Valley Trading Estate is one of the biggest concentrations of employment in the North East but it is not on the Metro system,” said Paul.
“This needs to end. Extending the Metro to Birtley via the Team Valley must be a transport priority after the pandemic is over and people can return safely to using public transport.
“Once extended to Birtley, it would make sense to continue the Metro to Washington as well. Again, this will help to reduce the number of cars on local roads.”
Councillor Vicky Anderson, who fought Blaydon (which includes Birtley) at the last general election, backed the calls. “The south and west of Gateshead borough are not on the Metro system,” said Vicky. “This needs to change if we are to persuade people to use public transport after the pandemic.
“It does not make sense that the Team Valley, with such a high concentration of businesses and employment, can only be accessed by road.”
Liberal Democrat campaigners in Lobley Hill have launched a petition calling on Gateshead Council to repair a bridge in Watergate Park to ensure residents can visit the site safely during lockdown.
The bridge crosses the Black Burn where it feeds into the lake in the centre of the park. But it has been blocked off to members of the public for over a year because of a partial collapse.
Petition co-ordinator and Lobley Hill resident Jonathan Mohammed (photo below) said, “Watergate Park has grown in importance not just for nearby residents of Lobley Hill and Dunston Hill but for many people across Gateshead since the start of the pandemic.
“It is needed for people to exercise and during the first lockdown, it was a lifeline for many. But the closure of the bridge has effectively blocked off part of the park to public use.
“The bridge has been closed for over a year and residents should not have to wait so long for vital repairs to bring it back into use.”
Lib Dem Councillor for Dunston Hill, Peter Maughan, said, “The 2nd lockdown has closed gyms and swimming pools. That means our local parks are even more important than ever for people to exercise and stay healthy. I am therefore backing Jonathan’s petition.”
The petition is online and can be signed here
Liberal Democrat Councillors have called on Gateshead Council to plan now for Christmas to ensure all children who receive free school meals have free dinners, including a Christmas dinner, during the Christmas school holidays.
Lib Dem Leader of the Opposition, Jonathan Wallace, said in an email to Cllr Martin Gannon, Leader of Gateshead Council, “We must not wait until the last moment to make arrangements about the school holidays at Christmas. The Council must take a decision now to ensure all children who receive free school meals are supported once the autumn term ends, whether or not they are in self-isolation.
“Your announcement that the council is stepping up work to support children on free school meals during half term is welcome but I fear that it is rather late. We need to avoid cranking up the support machinery at the last moment and plan effectively for Christmas.
“We can be sure that the government will not be setting up any machinery to deliver meals in the Christmas holiday so we need to get this vital infrastructure ready ourselves. The sooner we start, the better.
“Many organisations in the voluntary sector and many businesses are stepping up to the plate to help out now but we need to coordinate for Christmas so that we can maximise our reach into the community.
“Many of us are already involved in some way with helping to alleviate the pressure on low income families by increasing the food available to them but we will be able to achieve much more if we are planned and coordinated for Christmas. That is where the Council can achieve so much more, but we need to start planning now.
“It looks as though we are heading towards a bleak Christmas but by planning now, we can make it more bearable for those with the least.”
Liberal Democrats in Gateshead have called on the government to publish scientific advice on enforced closure of pubs and restaurants.
Pubs, cafes and restaurants in the borough are now required to close at 10pm to cut the transmission of coronavirus. And stronger measures including full closure of hospitality outlets are now expected to be imposed next week.
Speaking at an online meeting of Liberal Democrats in the borough, Deputy Leader of the Opposition on Gateshead Council, Cllr Ron Beadle, said, “Forcing all hospitality outlets to close at 10pm means lots of people coming out onto streets at the same time.
“The previous situation in which most establishments closed at 11pm meant customers filtered away from pubs over a longer period of time. This was one of the reasons for the reform of pub and restaurant licensing hours nearly 20 years ago.
“The danger now is that many people in pubs will consume more alcohol in a shorter space of time and then spill out onto the streets at the same time. Social distancing is often forgotten about.
“There is a further problem with people then going to off-licenses to buy alcohol to drink back home, with some taking friends back with them.
“The government have not published any scientific evidence to support the 10pm closures. Yet in Northern Ireland, pubs and restaurants are required to close at 11pm and there are no reports there of significant trouble on the streets.
“People are beginning to lose confidence in the government’s attempts to stop the transmission of coronavirus as they are not being given the scientific evidence for the tougher restrictions.
“If, as expected, the government prevents pubs, cafes and restaurants from opening next week, the science behind the decision must be published before the decision is put into action.
“In the current crisis, the government must engage with and inform the people on the emergency restrictions they are imposing. Failure to do so could lead to many people ignoring rules with the result the virus spreads further.”
Labour Leader of Gateshead Council, Martin Gannon, who has called on residents to leave their cars at home and use public transport instead, has claimed thousands of pounds in motoring expenses.
Cllr Gannon, who recently ordered a humiliating uturn on major changes to roads in central Gateshead, claimed £2690.51 from 2016 to 2019 for driving to meetings. Of this, £1329.41 was spent on driving his car to meetings in Gateshead and £1361.10 on driving to meetings outside the borough.
The figures were revealed in a freedom of information request.
Cllr Gannon, who is chair of the North East Transport Committee, also claimed £243.90 in taxi fares in 2017/18.
“Cllr Gannon asks people to leave their vehicles at home and use public transport so that emissions and pollution can be cut,” said Lib Dem Councillor for Pelaw and Heworth, Paul Diston. “But this is nothing other than sheer hypocrisy, a case of do as I say, not as I do.”
Earlier this month, Labour Council Cabinet member for transport and the environment, Cllr John McElroy, said, “the less cars we have on our roads the healthier it will be for all."
In July Cllr Gannon, in a statement on Gateshead Council website, said, “Car journeys make a significant impact on air quality and we know we need to encourage and support people to use alternative means of travel if we are to improve air quality in Gateshead.”
“He could start with himself,” said Lib Dem Leader of the Opposition on Gateshead Council, Jonathan Wallace. “If Cllr Gannon wants people to follow his advice, he needs to set a good example himself.”
Cllr Gannon’s other expenses claims have not been far from controversy. In 2018 it was revealed he had claimed £5000 for meals over the previous three years which amounted to over half the budget.
Concerned Residents Voice Their Opinions - In Overwhelming Survey Results:
Following Gateshead Council's failure to engage or consult with local residents on the sweeping changes to the roads around their homes, community campaigners in Ochre Yards have joined together to provide people with the voice their Council neglected to.
Residents initially understood the changes to be temporary and as a response to Coronavirus social distancing requirements, however as daily chaos ensued and the works progressed they appeared to be anything but "temporary" and they now feel the changes are a knee jerk response to Gateshead Council's failure to adequately address Gateshead's longstanding clean air issues.
The startling results of the residents survey provide a sobering picture of just how badly people feel Gateshead Council has failed them and they demand that their views and concerns are listened to and acted upon in a meaningful and transparent consultation. One resident wrote:
"I work in a hospital lab which carries out COVID testing. The amount of work we do has greatly increased, requiring the need for emergency night shifts. On top of doing my part to end the pandemic, I now have to take more of my personal time away from work to plan alternative routes and get up earlier to avoid traffic on the estate that the council have caused. This is causing me to feel even more anxious and exhausted than I already was. My route to work should not be an additional burden during these extremely tough times."
Social distancing plans are being formulated:
Your ward councillors have held an online meeting with Council officers who informed us that they are investigating changes to the layout of Whickham centre, in line with a new Government scheme "Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer public places - urban centres and green spaces", further information on which can be found HERE
Any new arrangements implemented would be on a temporary basis, during the current pandemic situation.