13/01/2013 Sunday Politics North East and Cumbria


13/01/2013

Andrew Neil and Richard Moss with the latest political news, interviews and debate. With Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.


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In the North East and Cumbria: And other benefits bombshell. The

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unemployed and low income families have to pay council tax for the

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Apology for the loss of subtitles for 2535 seconds

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Hello and a belated happy New Year. Welcome to your local part of the

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show. Joining me around the table, the Labour MP for Washington and

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Sunderland West, Sharon Hodgson, and the Conservative MP for

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Carlisle. Coming up, did a �9 billion public health scheme really

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help people in Middlesbrough get any fitter? The decision to limit

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the increase in benefits for the next three years. Benefits like

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jobseeker's allowance, Working Tax Credit and maternity play would

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normally go up with inflation but now they will be capped to 1%.

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Sharon Hodgson, like most of the Labour Party he voted against these

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plans, but a lot of people believe it is right to cut the welfare bill.

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It is right to cut the welfare bill and we need to do that by getting

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more people into work and higher- paid jobs so that the tax credits

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Bill comes down, but it is the unfairness of it. It is much easier

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to swallow one % rise which is in effect a cut when you're working

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and getting a salary than it is when you are on benefit because you

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have no capacity within the benefits. You say it is easier to

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swallow but a lot of public sector workers face this pay cap and their

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taxes are going to pay for benefits which you wanted to see operated by

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3%. When you're working, you have that capacity, that bit more money.

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Not everyone would agree with you. If you are talking about you only

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have �70 a week and you have to take a cut on that to see if you

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have only got �300 a week, it is easier on �300 a week to swallow a

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cut down on 70. John, this is hitting the poorest people in the

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pocket for three years to come. have to accept the backdrop of this.

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We have a budget deficit that is huge. But you are picking on the

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poorest people, that is the accusation. We are back -- asking

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people in the public sector to take one % increase in the next three

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years. It is only reasonable to ask people on benefits to do the same.

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Those in benefits in the last few years have received a 20% increase

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whereas those in employment have only received a 12 % increase.

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lot of people who will be affected are not working. Those who are in

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work, what we have done with that is increased their personal

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allowance. For those 2 million people now are not paying income

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tax because of the increase in personal allowance, on top of that,

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those on the minimum benefit have seen their tax half. We will come

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back to the issue of benefits because another bit of a change is

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about to take place, the abolition of council tax benefit. That is the

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help make available to those who cannot pay their full council tax.

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There will be 10% less money from central Government to fund it. It

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is now up to local councils to decide who will qualify for

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exemptions. That could mean some unemployed people on low income

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families have to pay a share of their council tax for the first

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time. The Meadow Well Estate in North

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Tyneside, high unemployment, high dependency on benefit. So many

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people here do not pay council tax. From April that could change. The

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council is protecting that for every one of working age, they pay

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at least 20% of their bill, or �200 a year minimum. Do I am already

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struggling. As you can see, that is already worrying people who get

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council tax benefit. People like part-time worker Denise and

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unemployed single parents colic and Philippa. Everyone has to take

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their fair share but this feels like another thing. When is it

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going to end? What is next? It makes people feel very vulnerable.

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I am a single parent with one child and that is asking not just me to

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live on less than what I am physically able to live on, but

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asking my child to do the same. People will struggle to pay and end

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up going to court and all the areas they will have to pay mean it is

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extra money on top of that. But the council says it needs to find a way

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of bridging the gap between the benefit bill and the money given it

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by the Government. It says unless everyone contributes, including

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those who have never played before, there will have to be cuts to

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services. There is a �1.8 billion gap to be found. If it does not

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come to this -- from this scheme it will have to come from other

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services. We have already done a lot of work to save money and

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responses from residents indicated that the majority feel people

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should make some contribution and a higher percentage felt that there

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should be a scheme which fits within the finances that are

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available. North Tyneside will not make a final decision on their

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council tax benefit regime until the end of January but others are

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looking at other solutions. Hambleton and Richmondshire in

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North Yorkshire are looking for residents to pay a minimum of 8.5 %,

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as are Newcastle, but other councils still believe they can

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prevent the poorest from paying any council tax. That includes Durham.

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It is managing to protect people who qualify for council tax benefit

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by removing discounts for second- home owners and raising the charge

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to 150 % on some empty hands. used to receive �55 million in

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grant funding from the Government. We now have a short for. If we pass

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that on to the working age households, they will have to find

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an average of �250 a year. This is money they have not got. So we

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thought for the first 12 months we would protect them. The council

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says it can only guarantee that support for one year and with many

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expecting even less Government funding in the future, it seems

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likely that more and more of the poorest will be asked to pay more

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and more council tax. Monica Burns is from the National

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Housing Federation which represents housing associations, many of the

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tenants of which will have to pay council tax in the future. If they

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do, what sort of impact will that have? Huge. We are talking about

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people whose incomes are already really stretched. It is actually

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the lowest paid, some are working, on benefits, but they really do not

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have much disposable income and flexibility within that. This is

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yet another thing that is asked of them. It is on top of the bedroom

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tax which we are very concerned about, which is going to be a huge

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thing for a lot of people. People in over occupancy of homes, three

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bedrooms when there is only one of them. Court Two bedrooms when there

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is only two of them. That is deemed to be under occupying. People are

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asked to pay extra per room. reality is the Government needs to

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save money and we need to share the pain, that is what they say.

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Exactly, and we feel that people are being asked to share too much

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of that pain. We have talked to many people. People are talking

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about going without food, heating, a lot of people are already relying

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on food banks and that is before these cuts to come in. So we are

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very concerned about the impact. Does it worry you that this will

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vary from place to place, different schemes and different councils. In

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neighbouring areas you can have one place where you pay council tax and

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another way you do not. Yes, and it will be difficult for housing

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associations to get on top of it as well because they may have stock in

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different areas and people in different areas will be eligible

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for different amounts of money. It will be difficult for us to

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manipulate. John Stevenson, this really is yet another cut to some

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of the poorest people, effectively. The councils have to try to take

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the flak. There are two issues, localism and the financial aspect.

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I welcome the decision because localism is important, allowing

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local authorities to decide what is right for their own communities. It

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is interesting to hear that innovation is coming from Durham

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council compared to the other councils. It is up to individual

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councils to decide what they do. It is up to the councils to decide

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what their priorities are. They can move resources if they wished so

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that there is no change or they can do other things. The road has been

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pulled from under them by a cutting the funded by 10%. For a lot of

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councils there is no choice, that either cut services or they start

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to raise council tax on the very poorest people in society. There is

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a variety of things they can do. Some councils are increasing second

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home council tax. In Carlisle, they have decided to retain the present

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system but they are increasing the council tax for second homes. So it

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is up to individual councils to decide. The reality is actually

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that when North Tyneside asked people, they said they thought it

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was right that people made a contribution, whatever their income.

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I am sure some people would think that but I cannot help but think

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what a mess this is, to be honest. It has Eric Pickles all over of it.

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-- all over it. I am sure he must not speak to Iain Duncan Smith at

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all because my understanding was we would get universal credit which

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would put all benefits under one system. For some reason they have

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left council tax benefit out of it. They have set to councils, we are

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going to give you a grand but only 90% so you have to find 10% from

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council tax. But they can find other ways of doing it. When you

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talk about the layering of the effect of all these changes on

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people, the poorest people, there is also the same effect on the

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council. They have had huge cuts to their budget and this is another

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one on top. It is also ludicrous. For the last two years we had

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something called a council tax freeze. They said, we are not

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putting the council tax Cup, to help people. Now they are putting

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it up 10%. Different councils doing different things. Sunderland, a

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Labour council in your area, will charge a quick 5% minimum. Another

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council says people should pay 30%. It is just going to be confusion.

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Your viewers watching this today probably have not heard that this

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was going to happen. They might have heard about bedroom tax and

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universal credit. For some it will be the first they have heard of it,

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and the panic that will ensue. People will think, shall I move?

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For full Cannes people who do not have that option, what will they

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do? There will be some big problems for councils. They are asking for

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money from people who are likely to default. It is up to local councils

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as to what they want to do. There is an argument to suggest that if

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people are making a contribution to council tax, however small, they

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will take a much greater interest in the day-to-day activities of

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that council and want to see the services of that council improved.

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In this case, why has the Government decided to exempt goal

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that people from this, who seemed to keep their benefits almost all

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the time. -- exempt all the people. We have said that elderly people

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will be protected. Why are they more vulnerable than a single

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parents? They are elderly and have different issues. But for people in

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work, we are helping those and at the lower end it is up to councils

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to decide what is the right policy for their area.

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This week, the Government announced an increased budget for public

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health, badly-needed despite good progress in reducing smoking and

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other long term illnesses. Four years ago the Labour Government

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thought it had part of the answer. It launched an initiative to try to

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change behaviour, but what long- The a core is the cruellest month,

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then January is surely the toughest, forcing gardeners out when it is

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dead cold. This garden sits in the middle of an Easter side housing

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estate, created through the healthy town programme. It helps me keep

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involved. It is a social thing as well. It gives me a lot of self-

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esteem. There are vegetables at the end of the day. We harvest and,

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sell them on. The difference is phenomenal. In terms of physical

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health, they are getting out doors, fresh-air, different activities. In

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terms of mental health, well-being the increases. Without this

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programme we would not have had the resources. Along with the fresh

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fruit and vegetables produced on an urban farm like this, money from

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the scheme is also used to great sporting opportunities in

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Middlesbrough. �3,472 helped create a fencing club. A roller hockey

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club got �5,000 worth of equipment, and �750,000 bills a cycling centre.

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This cycling club was the star prize in the programme. It is a

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place where ordinary cyclists can come and exercise safely and elite

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cyclists can stop their quest to compete at the next Olympic Games.

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But Middlesbrough's most recent Hulk report card show that the town

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still has high rates of obesity, smoking, drug and alcohol abuse and

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death from a stroke. So does the council think that spending

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millions on a health promotion scheme has been value for money?

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The cost of surgery for the City for one person can run into many

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thousands of pounds. Treatments for diabetes, high blood pressure,

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heart disease that you get as a result, and diabetes. All these

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things add up. It is a very good expenditure of money. It is what we

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should be spending money on. Back at the bike track, the councillor

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responsible for the programme says it was �9 million well spent. But

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it may be some time before its true legacy is realised. Without the

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scheme we would be in a much worse place than we are at the moment. It

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was the precursor of helping people to change their eating habits,

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exercise habits. We have a way to go. We have to prepare to be in it

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for the long term and not take our foot off the pedal.

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Sharon Hodgson, the skin has clearly helped some people -- the

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:00:25.:00:25.

scheme. But it may not immediately help the problem of obesity. Yes,

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and one of my new year's resolutions is to lose weight. I am

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aware that I am slightly larger than I should be. One of the areas

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I cover is school food and I really believe that is where we have to

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start. Something called the Food For Life partnership works across

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some of our schools and it is so amazing that I would ask any

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cancels out there when they are spending their money to look at

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this partnership. They do cooking, growing food, exactly what we have

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seen, in school, and healthier school meals. It transforms the

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eating habits of those children. Isn't it time, forgive the pun,

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that this is all carrot activity to lure people in but don't you

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actually need to tax unhealthy food? I know they have entered into

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all of these responsibility deals with the McDonald's of this world

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and Coca-Cola and Pepsi. I do not think they are working. Andy

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Burnham this week launched a campaign saying we should do just

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that and put some targets on how much salt they should be in things,

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and sugar and fat. That would be a start. If people are going to eat

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that food, making less fattening. That is the point, isn't it? If we

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are treated obesity like cigarettes we would wrap up the tax? No one

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seems to have the appetite to take on these food companies. There are

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some new ideas and innovation within local authorities. On the

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issues you are talking about, Government has a role, industry has

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a role. But most importantly, the individual has a role. We have to

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take responsibility for our own lives. Parents have a role, and the

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education system does. Also, people smoke perhaps more when it was

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cheaper. They did. That is one possibility, to go down the

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legislative rich. I would be inclined not to. I think it is

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through education and personal responsibility that you can improve

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the health of a nation. The move to public health going into local

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authorities I think is a good way of encouraging local authorities to

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come up with good ideas that can improve the health of their local

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authority. Are they doing the right thing here? The move to public

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health and local authorities? Yes. I hope they use it wisely. They

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might not have as much many -- money to spend as they would like

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to. I have already broken my new year's resolution to be kinder to

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MPs. I cannot help it. I hope you are faring better. We persuaded our

:03:31.:03:37.

correspondent Mark to go on a cheap seat regime but now he insisted

:03:37.:03:43.

instead this year's new year's resolution would be to squeeze even

:03:43.:03:47.

more political stories in 260 Seconds.

:03:48.:03:52.

The number of Sure Starts centres is falling. Darlington, Gateshead

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and Redcar are among centres where they have been merged or shut down.

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Protests were held in Newcastle against the plans to close

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libraries. A local MP says the level of cuts face by Newcastle is

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unfair and disproportionate. All I am asking is that they treat

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Newcastle City Council and my constituents with the respect they

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deserve and act urgently upon these concerns. It should be made easier

:04:18.:04:22.

to switch to an elected mayor, according to a Cumbrian MP. He says

:04:22.:04:26.

too many voters have to sign a petition before a referendum can be

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helped. At present this is 5% of the electorate, a barrier that is

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too high. And a big hole in the Government -- not in the

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Government's coffers but here, where the road has collapsed. Danny

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Alexander was there to announce superfast broadband for the town.

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He promised to look into it. He hasn't got any new jokes for

:04:55.:05:01.

2013 but Sharon Hodgson, why do you think Sure Starts centres have been

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closed by its some local authorities, whereas Lib Dem and

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Conservative councils in some places have managed to keep theirs?

:05:08.:05:15.

The basic answer is the cuts. Huge budget cuts that start at around

:05:15.:05:18.

40% across nearly all local authorities. And difficult

:05:18.:05:22.

decisions. It is localism but it puts the cuts that central

:05:22.:05:28.

Government has given to local Government and it blows the blame

:05:28.:05:32.

on local Government and it is the biggest broken promise that Cameron

:05:32.:05:38.

has made, when he said that he would protect Sure Start. The issue

:05:38.:05:48.
:05:48.:05:50.

of mayor's. It surprises me that people are still flocking this.

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Heseltine's solution for improving growth in the region is the unitary

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authorities and strong local leadership. I think people should

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get the choice. That is all I am saying. I want to see more

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petitions, the threshold reduced from say 5% to 1%. But then it is

:06:08.:06:13.

up to the local area to decide if they want an elected mayor. Then we

:06:13.:06:18.

will see is people can be offered again. Thank you Berry much. That

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is it from us. There is more about the council tax changes on my block.

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-- blog. Or you can follow me on Twitter. Next Sunday we will be

:06:33.:06:38.

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