Chi Onwurah MP (Chair)
Cllr David Stockdale
Cllr Ben Riley
Rev Canon Nicholas Darby, Church of St James & St Basil
Eveylyn Ormerod, Church of St James & St Basil
Father Alan, St Peters Church
Pastor Mark Sharman, Community Church
Father Shaun O’Neill, English Martyrs Church
Leanne Chaytor, Blakelaw Ward Community Partnership Youth Team
Glenn Pendleton, Blakelaw Ward Community Partnership Youth Team
Violet Rooke on behalf of the Community Council, Blakelaw Parish Council
Mike Nelis on behalf of the Community Council, Blakelaw Parish Council
Mrs Shirley Davidson, Hilton Primary
Jenny Cavenagh, Kenton bar TARA
Val Schollar, Kenton bar TARA
North Fenham TARA
Julie Rana and John Graham, Neighbourhood Inspector & beat officers
PCSO Andrea Fryer
Sarah Brent, Anchor Highmoor Court
Carol Holland, Manager at Cragston Court
Sarah French, Groundwork
Karen Harrison, Newcastle Tenants Federation
Cllr Sue Pearson
Chi Onwurah MP Presentation
Chi Onwurah MP opened the meeting as Chair, explaining that the meeting would be conducted under Chatham House rules. The Chatham House rule means that the information about the discussion and attendees may be made public, but specific comments will not be attributed to any particular person in the meeting. There were no objections to the meeting being recorded (for the purposes of minute taking only) or photos being taken.
Chi introduced herself, now in second term as MP, having first been elected in 2010. She spoke of the huge challenges facing Newcastle and the north east including council cuts and devolution. The purpose of the summit was to hear local concerns so as to ensure that limited resources are matched to real concerns in Newcastle. Chi explained that she must prioritise her resources in Parliament, as she cannot attend all Parliamentary debates and if she speaks on one issue then that will take time and resources away from speaking on or raising other issues.
Chi said that she has used data casework data to help drive these priorities. Chi outlined constituency casework data for November, December and January as well as for the whole of the last parliament. Benefits, housing and visas were the top individual issues and Health, education and the environment were the top policy issues.
Individual issues are cases where somebody has approached Chi for help with an issue directly affecting them. Policy issues are where somebody has written to Chi about a wider issue that may or may not affect them, often stating their opinion or stance or asking for hers. Policy issues do not necessarily reflect the same concerns as individual issues. For instance, Chi received huge volumes of correspondence on plans to privatise forests in 2011 and on the badger cull, despite there being no forests or badgers in Newcastle Central whereas individual issues tend to be about benefits or housing.
Chi talked through some suggested priorities for Blakelaw: housing, jobs and skills, benefits advice and support.
Cllr David Stockdale outlined some hyperlocal priorities
- Children’s playground that has burned down is an immediate priority.
- Environmental issues. Council keeping on top of cutting the grass and keeping the streets tidy. Dog fouling
- Anti-social behaviour in some tower blocks
Cllr David Stockdale then spoke about priorities across the whole ward
- Housing development and ensuring that happens in a sensible way.
- 1st March opening the community post office
- The upcoming boundary review
Cllr Ben Riley addressed the meeting, speaking of the importance of the Blakelaw Partnership which has been at the heart of everything that is done in the ward.
Chi echoed those comments and asked the meeting how council cuts challenge local people and how those challenges should be reflected in Chi’s work in Parliament, emphasising the importance of community groups and of collaborative working.
Discussion was then opened up to the meeting.
The point was raised that we do not hear about other areas in the city. Good work done locally – in Blakelaw and elsewhere – should be shared and areas should work more closely together.
Cllr Ben Riley responded that we are stretching to work with others and working across the ward and the city.
Councillor David Stockdale commented that the name of the ward makes it difficult – it includes other areas too.
The Chair emphasised that by Blakelaw she meant the whole political area not just the place of ‘Blakelaw’.
It was noted that the neighbourhood police team only cover Blakelaw not North Fenham and that it might be worth aligning them better.
The environment was raised as a fourth issue of local importance. A survey (focus group discussion) that had been completed recently identified housing, jobs and skills, benefits, and environment as priorities.
Chi commented that there are lots of reports to her on littering and similar environmental issues.
Anti-social behaviour was raised, although it has been fairly isolated and recent. There is a good working partnership with the police. Closer working with the city council was discussed.
Cllr David Stockdale said that his Council Cabinet role covers communities. Policy Cabinet recently discussed all the good things that are happening in communities across the city – but the good news isn’t shared often enough. The Chronicle only goes so far in sharing that news. The Council is looking at how we can share good practice.
Chi said that she could champion good examples as well as highlighting the impact of government policies in Parliament. Responding to the earlier point about litter, she said she had seen the problem in regularly whilst in the area, and unkempt gardens too.
Boundaries were raised as an issue. It’s not abstract as money tends to follow boundaries.
It was said that all priorities are interrelated and should not be seen in isolation. The challenge is for different agencies to work together effectively in a thematic way.
The Chair said that working together could be a priority.
There was a discussion about some good examples of collaborative working, for example between the police and the Blakelaw partnership. Budget cuts had proved challenging to differing degrees.
Blakelaw was congratulated for being a leading area in terms of youth provision. Other than the playground arson attack last week, crime and disorder is low and good youth work is a big part of that.
There was some concern amongst residents that anti-social behaviour and crime may return.
Chi asked the meeting about skills.
It was said that there needed to be more work done here and more training. The Partnership has done a few things – kitchen staff in this centre, post office staff, for example.
Cllr David Stockdale said that the focus over the last five years had been on young people. Now it should be jobs and skills – the next big bit of work – and that the ward needs a strategy for that.
Recruitment was raised as a difficulty. It was suggested that raising aspirations is a priority for the ward as is getting people volunteering.
Discussion turned to the lack of available jobs and the lack of job information.
Chi asked the group about adult education in the ward and spoke of its importance.
Cllr David Stockdale said it is a gap. The group agreed on the importance. It was noted that the issue should be linked to welfare support. Needs to be a way of making sure people aren’t dis-incentivised from accessing support and training.
Health was raised as an all-encompassing issue in response to a question from the Chair for other possible priorities. It was agreed that public health and wellbeing cuts across many different issues.
There was a discussion about the growing length of times for getting a GP appointment, especially for over-55s, which has been reported city-wide to Chi. There followed a discussion on the difficulties and different ways of getting an appointment with GPs. Mental health was also discussed.
The Chair then spoke about the city’s longstanding association with art and culture. Some ground-breaking ideas about getting more investment into public art were spoken of as well as the risk to the future of city libraries
The meeting agreed the following priorities and the Chair thanked participants and closed the meeting:
- Jobs and skills
- Benefit advice and support
- Environment and working together
- Health and mental health