|Chi Onwurah MP,
Jeremy Beecham, Hazel Stephenson & Rob Higgins
|Local Member of Parliament and Councillors|
|Geraldine Cunningham||Local Economic Development Officer, Newcastle City Council|
|Shirley Brady Pendower||Pendower Tenants and Residents Association|
|Pauline Pilarska-Poole||JET [Jobs, Employment, Training]|
|Sarah Miller||Millin Centre|
|Hannah Morrow||Reviving the Heart of the West End|
|Michael Bell Patchwork||Patchwork|
|Anne Bonner||Riverside Community Health Practice|
|Ruth Taylor||Pendower Good Neighbour Project|
|Bev Ogle||Youth Parliament supporter|
|Keith Bryant||YHN Area Tenancy and Estates Manager|
|Michael Murray||YNN Senior Advice and Support Worker|
|Kelly Hetherington||Benwell Neighbourhood Ward Sgt|
|Caroline Afolabi||Success 4 All|
|Alma Wheeler||Scotswood Village Residents Association|
|Gwen SmithNewcastle||Fairer Housing Project Newcastle City Council|
The objective was to enable Chi to set her parliamentary priorities for the Benwell and Scotswood ward, with the input of those with direct experience of the challenges and opportunities the ward faces. Prioritisation is essential for Chi as she cannot attend all Parliamentary debates and if she speaks on, for example, policing, then that will take time and resources away from speaking on or raising other issues. Chi uses her constituency casework data to drive her priorities and the top three issues across the constituency over the first Parliament have been Housing, Benefits and visa/passports. This has influenced Chi’s choosing jobs/skills, housing and welfare as her top three priorities.
Whilst supporting the importance especially of jobs/skills and housing, Jeremy raised additional concerns including the impact of the massive local authority cuts which reduce still further the Council’s ability to deliver services and therefore put further pressure on communities and local organisations. Immigration and integration were also important given the changing population in Benwell and Scotswood and the need to support constructive engagement between newcomers and longstanding communities. Hazel emphasised that environmental factors were an important part of the wellbeing of the community including how the area looks/feels/is kept and waste disposal. A bottom-up approach based on partnership between residents groups and local organisations is very important both in reporting and mitigating the situation in the worst areas. Rob recalled the even greater challenges in the 90s emphasising the community spirit & initiative. He highlighted partnerships between voluntary sector and businesses providing help and money for the community but also the limited public transport as a significant barrier to progress.
During the one hour of discussion, to which everyone contributed, many general and detailed points were made. It became clear that whilst the priorities set out by Chi were important, there were other issues in Benwell and Scotswood which they did not reflect. Comments ranged around five key themes set out below:
Housing is critically important in the ward, there is little social housing – mainly private rented – and people suffer from high rents, poor conditions and short term leases. There is likely to be reduction in quality, affordable housing available due to changes in mortgage relief, Government right-to-buy legislation, Government requirements to identify immigration status of tenants and Universal Credit. This will make it harder for those who remain in the market. Many do not have the photo-id, bank account and finance necessary for a tenancy. With limited house building and rising transport and other costs more people will find themselves in difficulty. Financial education is an important part of helping to address this.
Low levels of skills fuel unemployment and are a barrier to proper participation in local and national life. National training and work programmes are often not suited for local people. Devolution should help the North East target skills better but there also needs to be devolution to the communities to make sure the right people are reached. A local women’s self employment project indicated a huge demand for functional skills training, IT basics, ESOL as well as confidence building. Local businesses need to be encouraged to participate in the community and made more visible. Need more locally focused business support, as well as support for self employed.
Currently advice support teams work closely with banks and social housing providers. The introduction of Universal Credit will make a bad situation even worse. Managing budgets with Universal Credit can be terrifying, many have no experience and they will be receiving a full month’s income and rent in one go. The end of Newcastle City Council cashier service will also increase pressures. At the same time cuts to Citizens’ Advice Bureau and others groups will reduce the support available. Some people cannot afford to bury deceased loved ones and the benefit available is inadequate.
Creative partnership working is essential in these times. Council Services and the Police force rely on others such as residents groups – e.g. support with gardening project, healthy living. Community involvement in service design and targeting is essential. Northumbria Police try to attend meetings to speak to community organisations and discuss what service is wanted, and, within constraints, prioritise needs. As well as power devolving from Whitehall to the Newcastle City Council, it should be devolved from the Council to local communities including local involvement in procurement. The Ward budgets are an important step forward but there is further to go.
Protect and strengthening communities must be a priority. People get on generally, there is much community cohesion. Positive reporting of this especially by the press would be very helpful. But there are issues. Environment is high on the agenda at every meeting and different groups are blamed. The police play a positive role, they are generally well educated on issues, and hold successful cultural awareness sessions. However the ongoing public service cuts which may impact service provision. Need an all-round service. Solutions can be complex, for example fly tipping is a crime and should be prosecuted but external involvement can be detrimental as makes people care less and diffuses local responsibility. The Police’s 14 point plan on litter and fly-tipping hopes to address this. Community groups must bring partners together to ease tensions. Businesses like manufacturing need to be more visible and showing their success. There also needs to be more access to finance and financial services for hard to reach community. As little as £250 can mean a community event, pride in the area and people working together is important.
The discussion was ultimately positive, reinforcing the view that we all share the concerns raised and are aware of the needs of the area and the role local communities, organisations and politicians can play in providing support. There are better relations than in the past, the two merged wards recognising pooled talent to bring benefit to the area. However there remains the danger of community split and division e.g. in/out work or different ethnic backgrounds. Need to do it more in future, sharing concerns essential to working together collectively. Solutions can’t be found individually, we need to work together to mitigate worst. There is enormous resilience in community and many of the most actively involved today are women. We must share ideas on the root causes of the problems faced and meet as one community.
It was agreed that Chi’s five priorities for Benwell and Scotswood ward should be:
Jobs & Skills
Benefit advice & support
Devolving power to communities.
Protect & support communities
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