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Yes, dammit! Eric Pickles, Minister for destroying local government, sneaked into South Shields today in utmost secrecy, invited by BT for the “topping out ceremony” – laying the highest stone on the hideous new BT building on our riverside. He was supposed to come back in April when it became public knowledge immediately, for instance being announced at a joint trade union meeting at the town hall about the assault on staff’s redundancy rights etc. But he took fright when it was clear how strong protest would be. And we suspected he would either not come at all or do it pretty much in secret like this.

But BT and the Council’s Chief Exec, Martin Swales, who came across from Tory North Tyneside, would of course want Pickles to come to give his blessing to their deal on privatising a large section of the council. All those promised new jobs….. It was sheer hype at the time back in 2008, and the guarantee rings very hollow now. And yet of course Swales and, it seems, the Labour Council leadership are wedded to the idea of yet more privatisation. As a regional Unison officer said at our local government branch meeting last summer, the shocking thing is that unlike back in Thatcher’s day the unions and the Labour council leadership were united in trying to resist the Tory onslaught, that is not the case now. It seems sometimes the reverse is the case, with a Labour leadership appointing a Chief Exec determined to increase privatisation, and rolling over and letting it happen, or even welcoming it with open arms – doing the Tories work for them….

The BBC Politics Show did get to know about Pickles’ visit and have interviewed him and opponents, including a Unison regional spokesperson, and this should be shown on Sunday’s programme.

The only news item I have found about his visit is about him mildly disagreeing with the council over its legal action against Twitter to reveal info about the blogger Mr Monkey. We Greens have written to the Gazette to complain in the strongest terms about this appalling waste of precious money when they are imposing savage cuts on services for children, young people, elderly people, people with disabilities – the list goes on and on – imposing much higher charges eg on use of library computers, and massive job cuts creating even higher unemployment. One of these letters has been published so far. Pickles should have taken a much stronger position against the council’s waste of what could be way more than the £75k figure admitted so far – money that could be spent on something much more positive – like green jobs.

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