Northeast and confused

To Newcastle, then, where chaos (to borrow the Standard’s favourite word) reigns over those who have any sort of relationship with Newcastle council. The council has not released detailed proposals for cuts yet, and people are finding the suspense unpleasant. Either the council is dithering, or it is playing one of the all-time long games with the government, as we shall see:

Tucked into a two-desk office in the converted Holy Jesus hospital in central Newcastle is Launchpad, a voluntary sector group for people who use mental health services.

Launchpad runs focus groups, does outreach work, produces a service users’ guide to day services and assists a wide variety of local self-help groups.

Launchpad is an open-access service, which means that anyone can use it. All sorts of people stop by: people with schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, personality disorders, and the drug and alcohol-related problems that sometimes accompany mental illness.

The lives led by Launchpad’s clientele are not especially enviable: I’d like to see George Osborne banging on about “lifestyle choice” in here.

I speak to Jim Davison, a once-homeless, recovering alcoholic who is heavily medicated for psychosis. He says he wandered the streets of Edinburgh pissed for three years before he finally gave up the drink and got help finding proper accommodation. He volunteers at Launchpad several days a week now. He is laudably snarky about the miles and prescriptions he’s clocked up over the years. He says that he takes “loads of medication, including antipsychotics. I take Diazepam, nearly the whole Benzo family…I have auditory hallucinations – except they’re not hallucinations,” he smiles. “They’re real.” It’s an oldie and it’s a goodie. Everyone in the office laughs at it. Continue reading

Balls (however small) in Newcastle?

Liberal Democrat Newcastle city council puts these objections about grant settlements (the council was finalising the list this week) to government on Monday, I think it is.

Interesting. Is this a Liberal Democrat council standing up to its own party in government? “Standing up” might be too generous a phrase (as time goes on, I’d prefer a full-scale Ted Knight-esque resistance myself), but we could be seeing a vaguely compelling tantrum at Newcastle.

Newcastle City Council Lib Dem leader David Faulkner has already accused the Lib-Dem/Conservative government of failing the Northeast with a harsh local government settlement (£50m to be cut this year and the loss of the all-important working neighbourhood fund grant which was paid out for the country’s poorest areas). Faulkner also told students that he would have voted against tuition fees if he had been an MP. It’s true that any Lib Dem with half a brain in Newcastle would have said that, but it’s worth noting. I’ve heard no such fighting talk from Steve Bullock at Lewisham, to give a comparable, if unfortunate, Labour example.

Massive redundancies and service cuts are still likely in Newcastle, and I understand that Newcastle unions are gearing up to ballot. The council has listed some cuts proposals and is under pressure to show its hand on the rest. More on the impact of cuts in Newcastle in the next few days.