Coun Scott Dickinson (disgusted of Hadston), with his usual enthusiasm for mud-slinging and cavalier disregard for facts, categorically denied in last week’s Gazette that the recent disturbance at HMP Northumberland had anything to do with his decision at April’s Northumberland County Council meeting to force its scrutiny committee to examine the privatisation of the prison, claiming this decision was made before that event took place.
But here, verbatim, is what the council minutes state: ‘The Leader referred to the genuine concerns which members had following the recent events at the prison. This was an important issue for local people, and emergency action was needed to respond to a situation which had arisen because of insufficient funding from central government.’ Could anything be clearer?
Realising that he has been caught with his pants down by grossly exaggerating a minor incident (seven prisoners and trifling damage to one cell all over in an hour, represented as if it were a full-scale riot), Scott is now trying to distance himself from the blunder, but he seems to have forgotten that the council clerk records what is said at meetings.
I have two questions for him: 1. Why has he never once approached Sodexo, the new prison managers, since they took over? They would have willingly discussed these matters with him.
2. Why, if security worried him so much, did neither he nor any member of his administration attend the public meeting in Acklington on March 13 set up by the parish council and Sodexo to answer any concerns about public safety?
He tells us that the council is trying to support the 200 ex-prison personnel who left their jobs, even though not a single, solitary soul was made redundant – all who went did so voluntarily, a fact he could easily have ascertained from Sodexo.
Coun Dickinson seems to view every essential public service as a job-creation scheme, where keeping the maximum number of people in work is the principle aim. The Government is doing its best to re-balance the economy in favour of the private sector, where wealth is actually created, and away from the public sector, where it disappears.
Unfortunately, we have a Labour council with a 1960s mindset, driven by pressure from disempowered unions and still dreaming of state-run enterprises funded by the magic money tree.
I think we might find some common ground in agreeing that successive governments, including his, have neglected the North East, but to achieve greater prosperity we must attract more private-sector employment, for which we need a better educated, skilled and trained workforce.
Coun Dickinson and his Labour-run council’s contribution to this objective has been to remove financial support for students over 16 needing transport to schools and colleges and, with this, he hopes to get the vote of rural families in next year’s General Election.