Leading clergyman condemns cutbacks

One of the region's leading clergyman has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to speak out against the proposed level of cutbacks due to take place in the North East.

The Dean of Newcastle wrote to George Osborne after the Chancellor warned about the full extent of austerity measures to be carried out over the next few years.

Here is the text from the Dean's letter to the Chancellor:

"I appreciated the clarity with which you outlined the predicament we face as a nation and the necessity for us all to take our share of the painful cuts that are arguably necessary if we are to create the conditions which will secure stability in the economy, let alone for prosperity to return.

I also note that you state that fairness should be a fundamental principle underpinning any policies and proposals in this area.

I am, therefore, puzzled when I hear from our City Council that the huge reductions they are required to make in public services and the very significant job losses that come with these reductions, are due to the disproportionate cut in central funding that the North East is being expected to bear.

These cuts will, if I read this right, be further exacerbated by additional cuts to be made in Council funding announced in your autumn statement.

According to the City Council there would be some £20 million more to deploy in the current year if the settlement for our city was on the same scale as the national average.

As I know you will be aware, they argue that the per capita cut in spending power borne by Newcastle is virtually double that of the national average.

If their argument is correct then my reading is that the effect on the North East is even more disproportionate, inasmuch as the people of the north east and the economy of the region, are more exposed and vulnerable to such reductions than elsewhere.

This is because Newcastle Gateshead is a relatively small conurbation and the wider regional urban heartland much smaller compared, say, to the Midlands and the South East, or even the North West, where alternative sources of employment and investment are more readily secured.

Week by week and day by day, I and my colleagues are encountering people here in the Cathedral or out in the wider community, who are living on benefits and who cannot, despite their best efforts, find employment.

The services that support them are being cut, the benefits that sustain them are being cut, the jobs which they are being urged to take up simply do not exist.

According to figures on the Office of Statistics website employment levels are lowest (66.9%) and unemployment rates highest (10.4%) in the North East and, of course, over 1,000 employees from Newcastle City Council and a similar number from Gateshead are being added to that number in the coming months.

These are not people who shirk work but who are desperate to find it.

I would like to believe that however difficult the cuts we must endure will be, there will at least be, as you have said, an equitable bearing of the burden. However even the recent report of the Audit Commission (Tough Times 2012: Councils Financial Health in Challenging Times) indicates that reduction in funding is in direct proportion to the level of deprivation.

In other words poorer communities are being hardest hit. Can this be true? Can it be fair?

It would be enormously helpful to those of us who find ourselves being deeply in involved in the care and support of families and individuals who are suffering as a result of unemployment and hardship in this part of England, if you could confirm the accuracy of this analysis and if so whether there is any intention to ensure greater fairness in the distribution of albeit scarce resources."