I have been trying to get updates from various places on the plans for Newton Hall Post Office.

The first thing to say is that the consultation process is still running behind the scenes. The national CAB / Consumer Futures who analyse the consultation data have confirmed to me that following our representations they are pushing for “Main” Branch status. They will thrash out their views on the 22nd with PO management at a national level.

The pressure from residents and ourselves as your local councillors appears to be having a positive impact. Whilst the existing site does not look like it will be retained, the services which were due to be lost may well be retained if the branch moves into McColls.

Proposals have been aired which would see McColls run the branch as a “Local Plus”. This means that almost all the services which would have been lost would now be retained – so half a success.

However the BIG issue which remains is capacity. We are still campaigning alongside the CAB for a Main branch model as we do not want to see queues for local residents. Given that it looks increasingly likely that Framwellgate Moor Post Office will move up the road to Nisa, losing some services, the pressure on capacity in the area will be exacerbated.

Clearly there are also concerns about what happens to the existing staff and some concerns about training in a newly located branch.

A planning application has been submitted for a disability ramp at McColls. Whist this may appear to be cart before horse, it takes 8-9 weeks to pass a planning application and if the move goes ahead, disability access is a requirement.

All of this reminds me of a silver lining: Under the last government thousands of post offices closed, under the current government branches are being protected either in their current location or an alternative. Whatever happens we will still have two post offices in the area.

We will continue to push to make sure they have the capacity and the services. Things are looking better than they were and when we know more we will of course update on here and in the community.


New Council Website Up and running



Over a number of years as your Lib Dem councillors we have pushed the council for a better website and particularly for more services to be offered online.

The new County Council website is far easier to use and it is hoped that as more people order services, report things and pay for things online, it will free up staff at the council to answer calls more quickly. It should also save the council a lot of money in the longer term as requests go to the right person and will ensure better monitoring of responses.

Please let me know if you find anything not working on the site so that we can feed this back to council officers and get it fixed.

Also, if you do not get a response to something as quickly as it says you will, or as quickly as you would expect let me know that too.




Household Waste Recycling opening hours

NEW winter opening times for County Durham’s household waste recycling centres will come into effect next week.

Revised opening hours for sites operated by Durham County Council will begin on October 1st and stay in force until the end of March.

The Household Waste Recycling Centre (HWRC) at Potterhouse Lane in Pity Me will be open seven days a week from 9am until 3.30pm.

The centre will be closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.


As well as the reserves issue, we again thrashed out concerns about sickness absence levels today.

Sickness absence is running at nearly 12 days a year per employee (that’s on average). Over the last twelve months the council has lost over 93,000 employee work days to sickness.

What is just as striking is that more than thirty percent of staff did not have an appraisal in the last twelve months. How on earth can an organisation run properly when nearly a third of its staff haven’t even had an annual meeting with their boss to discuss their past twelve months performance.

Labour-run Durham County Council is failing its staff. Your Lib Dem councillors have been going on about sickness absence and staff appraisals for years and years. (more…)

Challenging the Council on Reserves

At Corporate Issues committee today I challenged officers on reserves. (The Council have 50 pots of money). Some allocated to nothing, others apparently allocated for future needs). We were told that the Council is/wants to use £75m of reserves between 2011-2017.

So for example if reserves were £100m you would expect to have £25m left wouldn’t you?

That is what officers and the Labour Party want the public to think. The reality is though that they are saying they will use £75m but not telling us how much they are putting into reserves. They add money in and then take it back out but:

If you add £100m to reserves but only take out £75m then you have more left than before. You can’t then say in a public meeting that you have used a lot of reserves because quite clearly you have actually added to reserves. (more…)

County Plan update

Full Council 17th September 2014

Today, a report goes to full council to approve the addition of 86 comments into the County Plan submission which were “overlooked” previously. As most people know, most public comments have been ignored throughout this process, but the report makes for interesting reading as it is clear that if you are a developer, your comments are taken very seriously. So the Developers Charter that is the County Plan marches on.

Interesting reading for those who have been following the County Plan. The report says at one point that any requests for greenbelt land to be erased are being passed to the examiner. We can only hope that those views against destroying the countryside are also equally considered.

Website hits pass 550,000!

I was checking the stats this week and suddenly realised that this site has now had more than half a million hits. I will update the hit counter page today. Thank you to everyone who reads the site and emails me comments off the back of it. We are currently delivering our quarterly leaflet (a bit late this year), to make sure that everyone including those not online get to know about what we are doing in the local area. If by next week you haven’t received a copy please do let us know in case we missed a few houses.

Newton Hall Post office Update

We have discovered there have been significant responses to the consultation on proposals to downgrade the post office.

The consultation ended last week into plans to move Newton Hall Post Office into a neighbouring business. The branch would be downgraded from a Mains to Local which would see reduced staffing and services.
Yesterday I contacted Consumer Futures, which is part of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. They are responsible for independently assessing Post Office branch changes.
I was really concerned as to whether or not they were receiving all the relevant data. I also wanted to raise various concerns about the consultation process. What I was told was that they were looking very carefully at the comments put forward by ourselves and residents. They were aware of the publicity in the Northern Echo and the community and had received far more than the average number of responses to a consultation of this type.”
As local councillors we are committed to making sure that we retain a Mains branch for Newton Hall. I am reassured by the comments from the CAB that they are looking very closely at the proposals and their impact on the local area.”
Online and paper petitions with more than 1000 signatures have been added to the consultation process. Possible options which could come out of the consolation are the protection of the Mains status, the re-running of the consultation or for the proposals to stand.I have been told that because of the number of responses, the findings of the consultation may only be known in November, although it is hoped a response will come earlier.
The petition will remain online for residents to sign until the outcome of the consultation is known.

Clothing allowance – Official: Lib Dem success getting it scrapped

Interesting story about the Labour Clothing allowance in the Northern Echo today. Whilst we told residents that this was being scrapped a while ago. Official confirmation in the press.

Of course the chairman still gets a whopping great £6650 chairmans allowance pls £13300 for being a councillor, and can claim expenses instead of the clothing allowance, so they are not hard up by any means. Good old Labour socialists eh? Labour councillors claimed the £12000 clothing allowances for the chair and vice chair for 30 years without anyone knowing about it until we unearthed it by accident after looking at the cost of councillors.

Perhaps those chairmen still alive who claimed this behind closed doors should consider a donation to a local charity which helps struggling families with cheap or free clothing.


Your labour-run council is going ahead with taking a million pounds out of the local economy and charging households £20 to take away your garden waste.

Our press release of last week which was not published in the papers:

Durham County Council, with £165m in reserves is pressing ahead with a charge for garden waste collections. The Council will start sending out letters to residents this Friday.
The Council, which despite increasing its reserves, says it is cash strapped, wants to charge residents £20 for the service. The garden waste collection service currently provides 16 free fortnightly collections for more than 150,000 households between April and November. Introducing a charge means that the service would be substantially funded by those using the service and according to the council would save it £933,000. Residents in some areas not currently receiving the service will be able to apply, but a small number of households across the County will lose the right to get the service even if they want to pay for it.
Lib Dem Councillor Mark Wilkes (Framwellgate and Newton Hall) branded the charge a Garden Tax which will hit the lowest paid the hardest saying “Labour is simply not considering the repercussions of this proposal. In some poorer areas and on some Council housing estates this is going to cause real problems.”
“People are paying more in this county for council tax than in most parts of the country. Labour doubled council tax when in government. The Coalition has frozen council tax for five years, giving the Council the money to cover for inflation. Labour refused this money from the government this year and now intends to fleece Durham residents. This will hit low and middle income families and many will simply not pay it.
Councillor Wilkes believes the savings are an illusion as many residents will start to use their general rubbish bin for garden waste. This will massively increasdisposal charges. He says that Labour Head of Scrutiny Councillor Joe Armstrong said in a meeting last year that residents could do just this. Councillors are also concerned that there will be a significant increase in fly tipping adding further costs to the council budget.
Last year when the proposal was announced, Lib Dem councillors previously suggested scrapping the position of Chief Exec as a means of helping to fund the service.
Cllr Wilkes said of this “The council is paying out over a quarter of a million pounds to employ one person, why not cut this so people don’t have to stop cutting their hedges. At the very least, with so much money in reserves the Council could delay implementation of this policy for another year to look for alternatives.