Tuesday, 2 September 2014

On BBC Radio Newcastle tomorrow morning 8.20 talking about transport issues

Will be live tomorrow morning discussing the debate we are having in the Commons tomorrow evening and the work we are doing on everything from the Gilsland Station Reopening Project, see here: http://www.gilsland-station.org.uk/ which I fully support.
Plus the campaigns on road safety and A69 improvements, the need for an integrated "Oyster" card style ticket in our region and the work I am doing in many ways on the Tyne Valley Line. All in the usual 5 minutes of radio time! Tune in if you can.

Puppy and kitten farming Petition - mass commercial production / sale of young pets is wrong and needs refrom

I have been contacted by a large number of constituents concerning this Thursday’s Backbench debate in the Commons on the practice of Puppy and Kitten Farming. This debate will discuss the e-petition signed by over 110,000 people, relating to the breeding and sale of young puppies and kittens.

This petition states that puppies and kittens mass produced in horrific “puppy/kitten farms” are separated from their mothers too early, transported long distances, and then sold via pet shops, newspaper adverts, websites and private dealers.
I believe we must do what we can to prevent this. This practice leads to puppies and kittens suffering hardship. I do not support everything that the RSPCA do, but I do note that they assert that as many as 85,000 puppies bought via social media or over the internet die before they reach six months old. I have not studied the evidence in detail but man’s best friend should not be treated this way. Pets become an integral part of any family they belong to: it is terribly unfair to remove them from theirs before they are ready.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to look further at the issue of pet sales over the internet, as well as the guidance that is being provided to people looking to buy a puppy. I urge all my constituents who are interested in purchasing a young dog or cat to research thoroughly the breeders or pet shops beforehand. It is a good idea to choose a dog or cat through the Assured Breeder Scheme, or by adoption from legitimate rescue organisations. You should also be sure to ask ‘where’s the mum’ and check to see how the puppy interacts with the mother to make sure that they have not been separated.

I will try and attend the debate itself on Thursday, but am also juggling other commitments in Westminster; the debate is likely to be between 12 Noon and 2.30pm but Thursdays are always very flexible on timings in the Commons as Urgent Business or Statements have to take precedence. In the meantime I have written to the Minister concerned and will press the government to reform and change this practice.

Details of the statement of the PM combating extremism and measures to prevent terrorism

The full statement is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-statement-on-european-council-and-tackling-extremism

The Prime Minister confirmed key points:
  • Police will gain the power to seize passports at the border temporarily so that they can investigate an individual. This power will include safeguards and oversight arrangements.
  • Ministers will also draft legislation giving the authorities powers to stop British nationals who have travelled abroad to join jihad from returning to the UK. Existing powers do not apply to those who are solely British nationals; he said a ‘targeted discretionary power to allow us to exclude British nationals’ would redeveloped with agencies and on a cross-party basis.
  • Airlines will have to give the government details of passenger list and comply with security screening demands or their flights will not be able to land.
  • The government will start preparing legislation that it can introduce in case an ongoing legal challenge to the royal prerogative powers allowing the Home Office to seize passports succeeds. That primary legislation would be introduced immediately if necessary.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Westminster this week

PM is coming to the house today at 3.30 to update on the International Terrorism situation, and I have a variety of Home Office beforehand. In the evening we will be raising hospital parking charges and taking part in the mitochondrial replacement debate as well, provided the speaker allows us enough time to debate both matters as Mondays diary is a packed day in the Commons chamber, even allowing for the fact that we do not finish until 10pm.

Tuesday I have a Treasury question at 12.15 and will then be trying to take part in the Pensions Bill debate, which is a groundbreaking improvement on how we control our pension and retirement funds.
Wednesday is packed with meetings, PMQs and my Northumberland transport debate at the end of the day in the Commons chamber. There is a lot to raise but we are drafting the speech in the office at the moment.
Thursday I will try and go to the chamber for the puppy farming debate although I do have a series of meetings that day. We are here for Fridays debate as well, which is a recurring theme this coming winter as the Commons is sitting a lot of Fridays, making it difficult to get home for Friday surgeries. As always, if anyone has anyone complaints, problems or issues to raise then please get in touch by email, letter or phone or take them up locally with Pete, who is my roaming caseworker, holding surgeries in 6 different locations across the constituency.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Douglas Carswell's decision will only help the two Eds and lessen the chances of the EU Referendum

http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2014/08/carswells-deflection-inflicts-damage-on-the-party-to-which-he-owes-his-career/
Fraser Nelson of the Spectator examines this decision and the fact that only a few months ago the MP was telling everyone to get behind the PM. Whether you want to get out of Europe or simply want a referendum to resolve the matter once and for all it is worth a read.

Rural crime must be taken seriously

According to insurer NFU Mutual, the cost of rural crime on the UK's rural economy is up 5.2 per cent on 2012's figures, reaching £44.5m last year in 2013. The NFU creates an annual rural crime report based on claims data and this year's report identified a rise in cattle rustling and the theft of high-value agricultural equipment.

My advice of course would be make sure everything is locked away and as secure as is possible. 
Farm insurer NFU Mutual’s rural crime survey says the most common items targeted by thieves in the North East over the last 12 months were quad bikes, metal, and horse transport and equipment. Rural crime is definitely becoming more sophisticated and Northumbria Police must ensure that tackling and preventing rural crime is a priority.

The cost of thefts from farms across Northumberland and County Durham rose by 12% in 2013, costing the regional economy an estimated £840,000, compared with £750,000 a year earlier.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Commons debate 3rd September on Transport infrastructure in Northumberland

On Wednesday September 3rd at 7pm I have the 30 minute Adjournment debate in the Commons; I applied in July to the Speaker and this debate was recently granted. The key issues I propose to raise I have been discussing with key local activists over the summer, including several members of the Tyne Valley Rail Users Group, and other activists concerned about the state of our roads in Northumberland. We also have a number of key bus issues to raise.
On trains I will be focusing on the rail infrastructure in Northumberland, focusing on the Tyne Valley Line between Newcastle and Carlisle, but I will also be addressing many other rail issues like the Gilsland and Bardon Mill stations.

Locals all know that with the Tyne Valley line:
- the rolling stock is old, there are issues on fares and and other issues and there is no Wi-Fi on the trains; we feel that the service is the poor relation of the Northern Train Network, notwithstanding a passenger increase; there are concerns as to the Northern Rail Franchise Consultation - noone wants to see lesser services.
I will be asking about the possible Designated Community Rail Service and what this means, in reality.
-  Gilsland Station rebuild: this is presently in the GRIP system but needs more Northumberland county council and network rail support. The old station was disbanded many years ago. Lots of the infrastructure remains and it would provide a massive boost to jobs, tourism and infrastructure if it were reopened. I am a big supporter.
- Rail crossing improvements – a Network Rail issue but we are looking to explore the future upgrades and improvements programme.
- I will also be raising the bridges controversy, notably the Bardon Mill proposed bridge, which I visited last week and spoke to residents and members of the Parish Council about.

Finally on trains I shall discuss the fact that the North East has no Oyster Card system for an integrated transport network system, as London and elsewhere does have and why this is the case.

On Roads I shall be raising A 69 Improvements west of Hexham leading to the Cumbrian Border. It is an accident black spot and I saw the Secretary of State for Transport on this issue last session; clearly money is tight but we want to know that we are in the queue for upgrades. Similar comments apply regarding the A696 safety improvements north of Ponteland. We will also be raising traffic safety elsewhere in Northumberland, and continuing to push for the A1 upgrades.

As always please get in touch with your comments, requests and suggestions. I have received many comments thus far over the last few weeks on many of these issues.  All thoughts very welcome.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Scotland awaits tomorrow

Greatly looking forward to taking our cross party Better Together team from all across the North East to The Borders tomorrow.

Post 16 Transport plans in chaos

The introduction of charges for Post 16 school travel has already reduced the number of students using the service and leaving others in limbo.

In a letter send to parents by the Council's Passenger Transport Operations Manager a Council officer informs parents "We have not so far received the same volume of applications for transport from Post 16 students that we would normally expect this time of year This is probably due to the recent changes regarding the provision of Post-16 transport." We warned the County Council that parents in rural areas could not afford their new £600 tax and already we have the evidence. The Council received dozens of letters from families in rural Northumberland warning they simply did not have the money for this new tax on school transport. It is very sad to see that already there are less applications. 

Parents have been told by the Council it was "not in a position to award your child a seat from 2nd September." - which is the start of term!

In the Council's rush to impose charges on rural families they have created chaos in their own system. We now have the ridiculous state of affairs where some parents do no even know if their child will be able to get the school bus. That situation is not acceptable.  

You can read the full story in the Journal:
http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/mp-guy-opperman-hits-out-7652785

Bellingham show this Saturday

8.30-5pm and so much to do for all the family. Come along and support the iconic show.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

France gets worse under a failed socialist - this is your Ed Miliband warning

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/27/france-vision-life-under-ed-miliband-warning-labour-leader
It makes sobering reading. But if you want a high tax, union controlled, job destroying, approach to an economy and a country then vote for the Two Eds.

MLK "I have a dream" speech 51 years ago today - 28/8/63 - well worth a read

There was no better orator than Martin Luther king. His speech in Washington calling for the end of discrimination and equal rights is a classic.

"I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: "For Whites Only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

New £200 million fund to protect the Greenbelt

Our campaign to protect Northumberland’s greenbelt has received a major boost as the Government has announced a new fund to promote development on brownfield sites.

Councils across the country can now bid for government funding to build thousands of new homes on brownfield land. The £200 million fund will be shared between up to 10 new housing zones, all which must be outside of London. It is hoped the sites will deliver between 7,500 and 20,000 homes.

Since 2010 the government has taken a number of steps to make sure that brownfield land as possible is prioritised for new housing development. By 2015 100,000 new homes will have been constructed on previously developed state owned land. If we are to protect the greenbelt here in Northumberland we must see the Council
plan to develop more brownfield sites.

The Planning Minister, Brandon Lewis, said “We need to build more homes in this country, but it’s also vital we protect the countryside that people rightly treasure. That’s why the government is offering councils a share of £200 million to prioritise development on brownfield land. The new dedicated housing zones will transform
disused and derelict land, and ensure the new homes are built quickly in a process that is more straightforward for councils and builders."

This is another valuable step to protect our greenbelt. I am delighted by this funding announcement which will
further help protect the greenbelt. I have written to Northumberland County Council to encourage them to prepare a bid for this project. Across the country the level of greenbelt development is at its lowest rate since records began in 1989. As it stands the Council’s draft housing policies are simply unsustainable. 

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Better Together Battlebus this Saturday. Last couple of places still available

Just spoken to the better together team in the Borders and we have been asked to spend the day in Hawick in the borders this Saturday. There will be opportunities to canvass or simply deliver leaflets. This campaign is apolitical, cross party and a with a simple message to the Scots - please stay! There is also a public meeting taking place in Hawick on Saturday of which more layer this week on the blog.
If you have not signed up and want to come at this late stage - we leave Hexham at 9.45 sharp Saturday but please let me know if you are coming - email me on guy.opperman.mp@parliament.uk


Social Mobility Foundation intern in the office in Westminster this week

Over the last 4 years I am proud as an MP that I have supported apprenticeships by hiring, training and then retaining an apprentice, working out of the Hexham office. We have also had over 150 work experience and interns in Hexham and occasionally in Westminster. At all stages we are trying to ensure that people are seeing what I do as an elective representative week in week out, and try and get an understanding of the everyday demands and duties of an MP.
This week I have a young student, Joshua Babajide, helping Dan in the Westminster office, and trying to learn more about politics and the office of an MP, albeit I am based in Hexham this week. 
Joshua comes to us via the Social Mobility Foundation, which is an excellent charity that aims to make a practical improvement to the lives of young people by helping them gain work experience in a range of professional environments. This is a charity that is doing so much to help young people get their first experiences of a number of different professions. Other students from the foundation go and experience what it is like to work in a variety of career sectors such as Accountancy, Media, Engineering and Law. It is nice to know that, out of all the possible fields, Joshua decided to learn more about politics. 

Hexham Bus station - early autumn will see the county council make a decision

I have long campaigned to get the present bus station retained and upgraded.
http://guyopperman.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/what-next-for-hexham-bus-station-find.html
And here
http://www.hexhamcourant.co.uk/news/2.2978/hexham-bus-station-options-remain-on-the-table-1.1147545
The consultation is now being considered by the council. All letters or emails to me these last few months are definitely part of the consultation. Ten days ago there was a march in Hexham - I could not go as I had long booked surgery appointments with 2 local businesses and had agreed to visit several local constituents at their homes in Heddon on the Wall. Sadly the diary has to be planned in detail and a fair way in advance, particularly in August, which makes the ability to change plan spontaneously quite difficult.
My understanding is that we will get a decision on the consultation soon: what "early Autumn" is I am trying to find out but this is the recent comment of the county council spokesman Cllr Ian Swithenbank, policy board member responsible for streetcare and environment at Northumberland County Council, who said: “We are very keen to engage with and gain comments and feedback from as many people as possible on the options for the bus station. No decision will be made until early autumn, and only after further consultation has been completed.”

Monday, 25 August 2014

Salmond v Darling debate tonight at 8.30 on BBC2

The broadcast will be split up into four sections....
SECTION ONE: Opening statements - Alex Salmond will go first, Alistair Darling second. (Salmond won the coin toss and elected to go first).
SECTION TWO: The issues - The two men will debate four topics titled;
  1. Economy
  2. Scotland at Home
  3. Scotland in the World
  4. What Happens after the Vote
SECTION THREE: Cross-examination - Alistair Darling will go first, Alex Salmond second. (Darling won the coin toss and elected to go first).
SECTION FOUR: Closing statements - Alex Salmond will go first, Alistair Darling second
line
Today's 90-minute event will be staged at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, in front of an audience of 200 people selected by polling and research consultancy ComRes.The debate is being presented by Glenn Campbell.
There are still a couple of places to be filled on our battlebus to Scotland this weekend.

Macmillan Coffee Morning soon - what are you going to do?

Biggest Coffee Morning in the World! Friday 26th September!
Are you going to help, get involved, or host an event - or simply go along, meet your friends and neighgbours and raise money for a great cause? Last year I was in Heddon on the Wall Village Hall and a great time was had by the dozens of people who turned up. 
Full details are here: http://coffee.macmillan.org.uk/Home.aspx
I am unclear where I am going to go but I know that events are already organised locally in places as far apart as Ponteland and Humshaugh.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

6 days to our Scotland 2014 Referendum Road trip - Spectator explains how it's going

http://www.spectator.co.uk/arts/arts-feature/9292112/salmond-has-already-lost-if-the-edinburgh-festival-is-anything-to-go-by/

Pleased to support latest Guide Dogs campaign for AV Buses

I was pleased to support the Guide Dogs campaign to make travelling by bus easier for people with sight loss. The Guide Dogs’ campaign is to make sure all new buses have audio visual (AV) next stop announcements, which are vital for blind and partially sighted bus travellers. It is clear that announcements enable blind and partially sighted people to understand their location, and prevent them from missing their stops.
AV systems are only fitted to around one fifth of the bus fleet nationally, with the overwhelming majority of these buses operating in London.
Guide Dogs is calling for the Government to require all new buses be fitted with AV, as currently bus operators are under no obligation to include this technology when upgrading their fleet. I am pictured with puppy walker Vanessa and Ushka the puppy and Community Engagement Officer Sue Rowan and her guide dog, Layla.

Helping John Stevenson MP in Carlisle

On Tuesday I took the Hexham to Carlisle train to help campaign for my friend and colleague John Stevenson MP, and his local councillors.

John is hoping to be re-elected as Carlise's MP in a little over 8 months and it was wonderful to be able to help him out. He has been working in Carlisle, and a councillor in Carlisle, long before he became an MP, and knows the town inside out. He is a genuine hard working MP who cares passionately about the place he represents. In Westminster his work on skills, apprenticeships and supporting manufacturing and local jobs for Carlisle is well known. 

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Haltwhistle Walking Festival Autumn Programme now published - come along!

October 11th - 19th sees a packed programme of hikes for all ages and abilities. There is no festival like it - full details here: http://www.haltwhistlewalkingfestival.org/
Book now to avoid disappointment - I am going to try and go at some stage on the weekend of the 18-19th but diaries are always difficult, not least as the House is sitting.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Tourism in the North East goes from strength to strength as visitor numbers rise

Visitor numbers are up 6% and the good news is that Heathrow will be broadcasting the beauty of the north east and the star attractions from early September. Details of the top 20 sites both paid for and free are set out below.
http://www.itv.com/news/tyne-tees/story/2014-08-18/visitor-numbers-to-the-north-east-increase-by-6/

Ladbrokes visit and why Newcastle must win Saturday for charity

I visited the Hexham branch of Ladbrokes on Tuesday to meet the local staff, hear about their apprenticeship scheme and discuss efforts to promote responsible gambling.
Kindly the store offered me a charity bet. As a a former steeplechase jockey and tipster I would normally bet on horses but I am not a huge fan of the flat so I picked this Saturdays football game and backed:
- Newcastle to beat Aston Villa at odds of 7-4
- Newcastle to win 2-1 at odds of 10-1
2 good charity causes riding on this so no pressure lads! The game is at 12.45.

Hexham Fire Station Consultation - details of how to respond and my views

For over 5 years we have been looking to relocate Hexham Fire Station and I have held many meetings with Fire Officers including the Chief Fire Officer,Alex Bennett,and many other firemen who do such a good job across Northumberland. The station has to move for a variety of reasons, not least the fact that the present site is a flood risk.

The preferred new site is now to co-locate with the Hexham Hospital. I am fully behind this idea for a number of reasons, not least that all 3 emergency services know it is my strong view that we should have co-location of emergency services wherever possible. As they all know I would go further with far greater co-responding and interconnection between differing services in responding to events, led by the relevant expert. This particularly applies in truly rural areas.

The Hexham Hospital site is not perfect - no site ever is - but it is a massive improvement on the present site, it comes at a genuinely reasonable cost given the alternatives, and provides Hexham with a 21st Century Fire Station. It also allows the Northumberland County Council to reassess and use the present Hexham site, and the alternative Golf Course site that has lain idle for many years. Given all that my provisional view is to back this move wholeheartedly, although I want to see the product of the consultation and see what comments are made.
The Consultation is ongoing until 5th September so I urge any locals supportive or opposed to get involved. The email address is fireconsult@northumberland.gov.uk
or write to Headquarters at West Hartford Business Park, Cramlington NE23 3JP

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Help for genuine refugees is vital as we play our role in these difficult times

The Commons debated this issue before the House rose and my position is set out in brief in the speech I gave, the link to which is below.
http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2014-07-22a.379.0&s=speaker%3A24962#g392.0
The key passage for me is this:
"To misquote Charles Dickens in 2014, these are the best of times and the worst of times. It is an age of wisdom and an age of foolishness. There is a season of light, there is a season of darkness. There is a spring of hope and there is a winter of despair.
To look at the worst of times, others have set out graphically the vast scale of the problem. There are 50 million refugees, and huge numbers of Syrians, for example, are fleeing that conflict zone—it is that country I particularly want to focus on. We debate the issue on 22 July with conflict in Gaza and Israel, with no cessation of rockets or hostilities, no durable ceasefire and no progress to a two-state solution. At the same time, Russia and Ukraine are in a separatist dispute that is producing ever more refugees, and there has been the horrifying loss of flight MH17.
One could say that the debate brought by my hon. Friend Pauline Latham MP is particularly timely because there is a risk that while all those atrocities are going on and being shown on the television, conflicts and refugee situations that have been going on for a considerable time have almost been forgotten. It is a fantastic aspect of the House of Commons first, that when we get this job we gain a greater understanding of the huge complexity of the problems faced around the world and secondly that, on a hot and steamy morning, Members from four different parties are here, making the case that we genuinely all care, on a cross-party basis, about the suffering of the individuals involved in these situations."
For more details on the debate and my speech click on the link above. 

Austin Mitchell is a male dinosaur - female MPs make the Commons a better place

All political parties have dinosaurs who do not reflect the modern world and one of Labours worst is Austin Mitchell MP, the outgoing but far from shy MP for Grimsby. He has been spouting his views on female MPs in interviews on Newsnight and Radio 4; he argues that female MPs are "more leadable" and adds that
‘I think the problem is simply this, that parliament with more women is going to be more anxious to discuss issues relevant to the people, that is to say family issues, social issues. And less inclined to discuss big issues like should we invade Iraq.’
He is wrong on many issues and fortunately retiring at the next election. I think it is a very good thing that the commons is becoming more representative of the country, with many more female MPs at every election. I help lead Women to Win and have helped train such future Conservative stars as Nusrat Ghani, Lucy Frazer, Maria Caulfield and Vicky Atkins. All will be amazing MPs, and are presently excellent candidates in Wealden, Cambridgeshire, Lewes and Louth.
I could go on about certain MPs in all parties saying things they should not but this is not ageism. What annoys me about Austin is that we rarely see him in the commons chamber. There are some veterans who are there a lot - whether you agree or disagree with them Dennis Skinner, David Winnick, Richard Shepherd and sir Peter Tapsell all contribute a great deal. All are 70+.
So on this issue I am strongly against Austin and stand on the barricades with the female MPs who are rightly up in arms. Eventually the dinosaurs became extinct. I hope Austin's views will be extinct soon too.

Great Whittington makes the final of Britain in Bloom - decision in October

The 50th annual RHS Britain in Bloom UK Finals Awards Ceremony, will take place in Bristol on 16 October 2014. Only then will we know if Great Whittington has won best small village.
http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/britain-bloom-judges-visit-northumberland-7568872
If you have not visited it is a beautiful village - immaculately looked after. Full credit to all the locals who have put in so much effort.
The full list is here: https://www.rhs.org.uk/communities/pdf/bloom/Britain-in-Bloom-2014/finalists

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

August 25 for Round 2 of Darling v Salmond debate - live for all UK on BBC

Round 2 of the Darling v Salmond debate will take place on Monday August 25 – details still to be decided. The debate will be on BBC and available nationwide – and that means the UK not just Scotland: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-28722263

There is no doubt that Darling won the first debate, and that Salmond seems ever more desperate. His argument on the pound is unravelling. If he wants independence then he can have it – provided the Scottish people agree. But with independence comes a different currency. It is that simple. Last week’s suggestion by the SNP that Scotland is more predisposed towards ‘social justice’ than other parts of Britain is frankly absurd, and embarrassing. I hope to continue our campaign to maintain the Union and that ultimately Scotland will say “No thanks”.

Edinburgh Fringe - 5 jokes genuinely that will make you laugh out loud

Well worth sharing:
1) “I’ve decided to sell my hoover... well, it was just collecting dust.” 
Tim Vine
2) “I've written a joke about a fat badger, but I couldn't fit it into my set.”
Masai Graham
3) “Always leave them wanting more, my uncle used to say to me. Which is why he lost his job in disaster relief." Mark Watson
4) “Scotland had oil, but it's running out thanks to all that deep frying.” Scott Capurro
5) “This show is about perception and perspective. But it depends how you look at it.” 
Felicity Ward

St Mungo's Church, Simonburn this Sunday will say goodbye to Rev Michael Thompson

On Sunday August 24 at 11am at St Mungo's church in the beautiful village of Simonburn many will attend to celebrate the work and effort of Michael Thompson, who has been an outstanding local vicar in Humshaugh and the surrpounding villages. His retirement service is a Holy Communion. If you are free do go along to celebrate his work locally; it is also a lovely church.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Are you a Dementia Friend? If not, this is a must do, please

Last Friday I became a Dementia Friend. Along with dozens of locals we met at the Dyvels local pub in Corbridge for an assisted walk around Corbridge, discussion about the progress Corbridge is making to become the North East leading dementia friendly village and to receive training.

Many of us were trained by Councillor Melvyn Stone to become a Dementia Friend, as part of an Alzheimer’s Society initiative that aims to give people an improved awareness of the condition. 
In my view Dementia Friends is about giving people an understanding of dementia and the small things they can do that can make a difference to people living with dementia. From helping someone find the right bus to spreading the word about dementia, it can help make our local community a better place to live. Full credit and thanks to the Corbridge Town Council, Melvyn, the team from the Alzheimer's Society and Chrysalis and all the local businesses and volunteers who make this awareness, training and change in Corbridge possible. 
Fuller details and pictures here: 
http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/mp-joins-assisted-walk-corbridge-7621737

Is an independent Scotland entitled to keep the Pound as is?

If Salmond wants independence then he can have it – provided the Scottish people agree. But with independence comes a different type of currency. It is that simple. We debated this at length in the House of Commons – see the debate here: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2014-02-12a.292.1&s=%28scottish+currency%29+speaker%3A24962#g302.2

The key section of the debate is as follows:
- "On what basis would Scotland get to keep the pound? Would it be used informally, just as some Latin American countries, Greece and Montenegro use other currencies?
- Why should the Bank of England take notice of Scotland in setting monetary policy?
- Why should the Governor travel to Edinburgh and be interrogated by Scottish MPs in such an event?
- After independence, surely the Governor would owe his appointment entirely to a rest-of-UK appointment system?
- At that stage, would the First Minister come to London seeking an audience to negotiate?
- when one goes through Mark Carney’s speech and looks at the currency options, it would seem that the SNP proposes to keep the pound as part of a formal sterling currency union agreed with the rest of the UK. However, the SNP seems not to have contemplated the fact that that would involve giving up huge amounts, as Mark Carney made very clear, as well as requiring the agreement of all other parties. The SNP seeks independence but would require and accept greater control by a third party."
Many more details on the debate in parliament at the link above.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Referendum Road Trip 2014 on 30th August to help save the Union! Join us on the battlebus!


On Saturday 30th August, myself and Newcastle Conservatives are teaming up to take a mini bus of United Kingdom activists to Scotland to help save the Union.

Referendum Day will be just 19 days away!
You do not have to be a big or small c Conservative to come. We welcome everyone, form all political parties  and all persuasions. Several people have signed up who are definitely not Conservatives. But we are all committed to the Union and believe we are better together.

Spaces are limited so please book your place in advance before 24th August with Catherine MacLeod: CatherineTVP@gmail.com or 0750 0080 596

It will be fascinating and a lot of fun.
It is your country.
If you live in England you do not have a vote but you do have the opportunity to make a difference. Come with us and tell the many Scots we intend to talk to that they are better off saying "No Thanks" to Alex Salmond.

The Roman finds just keep on coming in Northumberland

Another amazing Roman find! If you have not been to Vindolanda you need to go but these kids found more than they bargained for when near Kirkhaugh!
Come to Gods own County soon and see the wonder or our history and Roman finds: more details here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-28645612

Thursday, 14 August 2014

New improved North East employment figures - The Journal. NECC & more praise the good news

New unemployment figures were released this week - with unemployment continuing to fall in my constituency every single month in 2014, and down substantially on last year. But don't just listen to me, this is the independent North East Chamber of Commerce's reaction to the figures:

NECC Policy and Research Manager, Mark Stephenson, said: “Once again the North East has provided a record-breaking set of figures with more people in full time employment than ever before. A welcome addition to this is the decrease in the employment rate – one of the biggest two decreases in the UK – and an across-the-board decrease in unemployment."

“The improvement in the North East employment rate remains one of the more eye-catching statistics from across the UK and has been deemed “statistically significant” by the Office for National Statistics. The decrease in the claimant count figure is again welcome and continues a longer-term trend. This figure is now at its lowest since September 2008 before the financial crisis and the economic downturn."

“However, the North East still has the lowest overall employment rate as well as the highest unemployment rate in the UK which highlights the significant challenges that remain.”

The Facts: 
  • North East Employment now stands at 1,191,000 – a rise of 15,000 over the quarter and 64,000 over the year. 
  • · North East Unemployment is now 126,000 – a fall of 10,000 over the quarter, and 6,000 over the year.

Come along and get involved - campaigning Super Saturdays start this weekend

With the General Election just over 9 months away there has never been a better time to come along and get involved with our campaigning. All of our Super Saturday Action Days take place on a Saturday at 11am. Everyone is welcome and there are a range of activities so you only do what you are comfortable with. All of the information you need is below so just come along! However if you would like to know more please contact the team on teamoppy@gmail.com and we will be right back in touch!

We never cancel our campaign days, but if it’s too wet we may just head to the nearest pub!

Saturday August 16th:
ACTION DAY - Ponteland North - 11am
The Blackbird, North Road, Ponteland, Northumberland, NE20 9UH

Saturday August 23rd:
ACTION DAY - Humshaugh - 11am
Humshaugh House, Humshaugh, Hexham, NE46 4AT

Saturday September 20th:
ACTION DAY - Gosforth, Newcastle - 11am
The County, Gosforth High St, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne & Wear NE3 1HB

Saturday September 27th:
ACTION DAY - Riding Mill / Stocksfield - 11am
The Duke of Wellington, Main Road, Riding Mill NE44 6DQ

Saturday October 18th:
ACTION DAY - Prudhoe - 11am
The Dr Syntax, 1 West Road, Prudhoe, NE42 5JT

Saturday November 1st
ACTION DAY - Ponteland South - 11am
The Blackbird, North Road, Ponteland, Northumberland, NE20 9UH

Saturday December 13th:
ACTION DAY - Hexham West - 11am
Outside QEHS, Whetstone Bridge Rd, Hexham NE46 3JB

We are also out on other days so if you cannot make these days just get in contact and we will tell you the other days
www.hexhamconservatives.co.uk/get-involved

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Prudhoe Walled Garden Consultation Meetings tomorrow / Friday

The Prudhoe Walled Garden at the old hospital site is a genuine gem. I have been helping the group who are trying to ensure that as the Hospital site is developed this lovely walled garden is preserved for the future, possibly with a community use. As always this requires huge effort by a dedicated band of volunteers and the team behind the Walled Garden are doing a great job. We owe them a great deal and I will help in whatever way I can.

There is a online survey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/prudhoewalledgarden
And you can email your thoughts on prudhoewalledgarden@hotmail.com

or visit the website www.prudhoewalledgarden.yolasite.com
or go on facebook “Prudhoe hospital has a future”

The Consultation Meetings are this week:
Thursday 14th August 2014
- 9.30am - 11.30am: St Mary Magdalene Church
- 3.30pm - 5.30pm: Prudhoe Library, Spetchells

Friday 15th August 2014
- 2.30pm – 4.30pm: Prudhoe Library, Spetchells
I am going to try and pop in Thursday morning but do go and lend your support. This is a great project for Prudhoe.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Tynedale Hospice at Home and Cricket this Sunday - come along

Tynedale Cricket Club, Eilansgate, 2pm - late will see the clash of the cricketing titans:
The teams - the Valley Vikings and Guys Gladiators - will be made up of local cricketers from Tynedale [including some very good players from the Tynedale team], and several locals from Allendale, Hexham, Humshaugh, people from Tynedale Hospice and supportive local businesses such as Dipsticks .... and some star players from the Hexham Courant. And me :)

The cricket will last 2-7pm. At the same time there will be activities for the youngsters, a football stand a beer and Pimms tent, and a BBQ from 4pm provided by local businesses Flat Cap Kitchen and the Northumberland Sausage Company.

There will also be music and a raffle - with prizes donated by Slaley Hall, Tim Healy, SCA Prudhoe and Brendan Healey to name but a few.

Please do come along and support the event - there really is something for everyone. £1 entry on the gate, youngsters under 12 go free. All proceeds to a local and hugely worthwhile cause, Tynedale Hospice. My thanks in advance to the sponsors and everyone who has given up their time for this cause - I am defintely going to be praying for a sunny day in church on sunday!

Monday, 11 August 2014

900 SCA Toilet Rolls is a large [+ very soft] prize for this Sunday's charity cricket day for Tynedale Hospice


My thanks to SCA - a brilliant local employer and makers of soft, strong and very Northumbrian Loo Roll.
SCA have donated to the Tynedale Hospice at Home Charity Cricket Day a pallet of toilet roll; this is, I am told, although I have not personally counted, around 900 rolls worth over £500.

This is quite some auction prize....a prize for the best caption / trailer for Sundays cricket match - about which more tomorrow.
Man of the match and the champagne moment will receive many things but I think both will definitely get a few rolls to sit down and celebrate with....so to speak

In Westminster today but do not believe parliament should be recalled

A few colleagues on both sides of the House are calling for parliaments recall.  For my part my present plans are simple - today I am in Westminster and then the next 3 weeks I am working in Northumberland, catching the 8am train north tomorrow morning. If we are recalled then it is a simple process, but I do not seek a recall. What we can, or should, decide to do differently is a separate matter, which is much much harder.

There is no doubt that the ISIS threat to Middle eastern stability, and normal life, is all too real for the embattled minorities such as the Yazidis, the Kurds and Christians. I believe our present approach is the correct one with extensive aid support, diplomatic pressure, some technical specialist support and extensive efforts diplomatically in bringing the western allies to a supportive agreement that threatened minorities should be protected. The question is whether we wish the RAF to get involved in air strikes against ISIS, or our troops to be more active in events in the Middle East generally? This is the desire of some commentators and former military chiefs like Lord Dannatt. 
I respect the former general but there is no appetitive for boots on the ground amongst my constituents. As always, we have to ask simple questions like - what would our objective be, how long are we prepared to be involved, who are we helping, what is the cost in terms of loss of life and what are the unintended consequences? I definitely want to see the rest of the Arab world step up to the plate where there is conflict on their doorstep. Part of the problem is the expectation that it is always the USA and western alliance countries, including France and Britain, who will do the heavy lifting and the hard yards in their backyard. The flip side of that is that having got involved in regime change through Blair more than 10 years ago some would argue that we are duty bound to support the country that is now struggling to defend itself from radicals? But any actions in the past - whether we agree or disagree with the Blair / Bush approach - do not mean we have to act now.
Finally, there is no doubt most constituents of mine were strongly against any action in Syria when Assad was caught using chemical weapons on his people. 
I certainly want the current humanitarian effort to be extended, and want a better coalition of supportive countries led by the UN to be assessing the situation. I am also certain that UK military and diplomatic chiefs are assessing options but the reality is that this is a very challenging and changing situation literally thousands of miles away. But I do not seek parliaments recall for now. 

Dementia Friends Event this Friday in Corbridge

Corbridge is leading the way in the North in showing how a village can both cope with dementia and support local people who are suffering from this terrible disease. I have met with many of the local councillors and supporters and professional organisations in May and previously so I am delighted we are doing this follow up.

So this Friday I will be going to The Dyvels in Corbridge and taking part in a Dementia Friends Supported Walk to begin at 11am, for 1 hour.

Attendees include: Cllr Melvyn Stone, Corbridge Parish Council, who has been leading on the Corbridge project, Lorraine Oliver, North Country Leisure, Representatives from Barclays Bank, Cllr Jean Fearon,Amy Syron-Mallenby – Alzheimer’s Society, and Cllr Maurice Hodgson – Chair Corbridge Parish Council.
There will also be many members of the public and several dementia sufferers coming too. I am told the walks are very popular. The walk will be a gentle walk along the river bank, around the cricket ground, finishing back at the Dyvels.

Thereafter we are having a Dementia Friends session at The Dyvels for an hour or so
Melyvn will deliver the session, which aims to help people understand five key facts about dementia using a range of interactive activities and analogies. Melvyn will aim to keep the session quite short, which should allow time for questions and discussion. If you are interested, are a carer, or simply keen to help or understand better I urge you to come along.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Forestry has a future in the North

Egger in Hexham on Monday saw the brightest and best minds from forestry coming together to meet, listen and discuss the future of forestry; it is clear from the many experts present that there is great scope to expand the forestry and woodland in the north. There are realistic plans to increase the conifer capacity by
- planting in and around housing developments, enterprise and business parks
- mid hill forestry where the moorland meets the arable and low lying land or where land abuts forestry commission land
- possible new larger forests on sites to be identified and agreed by local councils and interested bodies.
No one is contemplating another Kielder Forest but a smaller forest on a scale of Slaley or Wark is not unrealistic or unattainable in my view. This may need a change in viewpoint by several people or public bodies and possible change in direction but that is what discussion and debate is about. The simple point is this - what are we prepared to do to ensure there is a forestry and timber business in the North well beyond 2030?
Fuller details here: http://www.confor.org.uk/NewsAndEvents/News.aspx?pid=23&id=2641
The event is also front page of todays Courant and reported at length in the Journal.

Greenhead Market today - come to a Market that packs a real punch

Greenhead provides a brilliant market that dazzles - for a small village it has so much and the enthusiasm of everyone involved is tangible. Great food, produce and lovely people. Lots to see and do and a great tea room / pub next door. Open from 10-2

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Duke of Cambridge to become an Air Ambulance Helicopter Pilot is great news

Really pleased for the Air Ambulance crews and support staff who will be chuffed by the Prince's decision. The Association of Air Ambulances (AAA) and the All Party Group for Air Ambulances in the House of nCommons has gone from strength to strength these last 2 years but this is the icing on the cake: the news that His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge is to become a helicopter pilot with East Anglian Air ambulance is a massive boost to the Air Ambulances all over the country. His decision to pursue this role following his time as a RAF Search and Rescue pilot is seen as a strong endorsement of the part that air ambulances play in caring for the sick and injured in UK.

East Anglian Air Ambulance is one of nineteen other charities that operate the thirty six air ambulances across the UK, providing advanced pre-hospital care to the most critically ill patients. On average seventy patients per day are treated by the thirty six aircraft.

I work hand in glove with Clive Dickin, the AAA National Director, who on hearing the good news said:
“We are delighted that East Anglian Air Ambulance and the East of England Ambulance Service have such support. The Duke of Cambridge made it clear earlier this year that he was considering this option as part of his public service duties. The announcement will, we hope, help to raise the profile of the work of all air ambulances in the country."

Hexham Market today - support your local farmers, growers and producers!

The Market is from 9-1pm and is jam packed with locally grown food. Also today is Slaley Show from 10.30, and the Wark Jumble sale from 1

Friday, 8 August 2014

Letter from Heathrow! From late August Heathrow will showcase North East until November

The Chief Executive of Heathrow, John Holland Kaye, has just written to me:

Guy Opperman MP
House of Commons
London
SW1A 0AA                                                                                                      6th August 2014

Dear Mr Opperman,
Congratulations in playing your part in our #YourGreatBritain competition and securing the North East a £1 million advertising campaign at Heathrow. Despite losing the lead with just 48 hours to go, thanks to your support, the North East pulled together and showed not only to us here at Heathrow, but to the entire nation, that it is a region built on pride.

Heathrow – the UK’s only hub airport - is one of the busiest airports in the world, with around 73 million passengers travelling through every year. We are delighted that with 7 daily flights from Heathrow to Newcastle, we are able to connect businesses in the North East to their global markets and give easy access for overseas tourists to enjoy the incredible landscape, history and culture that the North East has to offer.
With this competition, we wanted to show our commitment to delivering growth for the whole of the country. In March, Heathrow began a 12-month advertising partnership with VisitBritain where we gave £4 million of advertising space to inspire visitors to explore the UK. The first three months of the partnership promoted the previously flood hit areas of Devon, Cornwall, Llanddwyn Island (Wales Coast Path) and Glastonbury, to show they were back on track and open for business. The second round of adverts that went live in June were chosen to coincide with the Tour de France Grand D├ępart, illustrating Yorkshire’s celebrated countryside, as well as the region’s retail and architectural strengths.
For this third round of adverts, we let the public decide which region would feature. In a two week competition, the North East fought off the North West, Midlands and Northern Ireland to secure £1m worth of free advertising at Heathrow. The North East will now see four advertisements showing its breadth and beauty presented across digital screens in all terminals at Heathrow from the end of August until the end of November.
Thank you for your support, Heathrow is a national asset and, if we get approval for expansion, we will ensure that the whole of the UK feels the benefit, not just London and the South East. For more information, visit http://your.heathrow.com/britainsheathrow/

Yours sincerely, John Holland-Kaye, Chief Executive
Fuller details here: http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/north-east-voters-win-region-7563741
For my part I cannot wait to go to Heathrow and see the Wall on display!!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Slaley Show this Saturday - fun for all the family and kids go free

http://www.thejournal.co.uk/business/business-news/slaley-show-organisers-hopeful-another-7573028

Boris Johnson to return to Westminster - thoughts and assessment

Boris is a low tax, centre right, one nation politician who really understands people and how to beat Labour. I am delighted he is going to be involved in the 2015 election and will be happy to welcome him back to the House of Commons, if successful, in 2015.
To use the football analogy - "He is a top striker and you need your best players on the pitch."

I have met Boris many times and he is a complex character - very bright, very experienced, a very successful two times Mayor with a proven track record. He also has a with a wicked sense of humour and a great speaking style. He is also a full time cyclist, a strong advocate of the living wage, and one of the best MPs I have ever seen at talking to anyone. He genuinely likes people, which is the most important asset inan MP. And he cares. He will be a big asset.
Also he is very good at explaining why it would be lunacy to make Ed Miliband Prime Minister and Ed Balls Chancellor. And that is the prospect this country faces in 2015.

Fuller details here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-28673113

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

One North shows the Northern Cities working together - with a long term economic plan

Chancellor welcomes the work of the big 5 Northern Cities:
I have long said that there is no doubt that when the cities of the North work together real change can happen. We have seen this with the LA7, the proposals of the Adonis Report, and now this report.
The report can be found here:
http://www.manchester.gov.uk/downloads/download/5969/one_north
It is genuinely great news that the five cities in the north of England have come together with one aim, to improve their economic prosperity by working together. Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield and Leeds have responded to a challenge set them by the Chancellor, and Sir David Higgins, the head of HS2, to begin competing more effectively with London.

There is no doubt that the Cities of northern England are powerful individually but better as one force.

This report and the progress made will ensure we are competitive and prosper in the global economy, and this investment in infrastructure will improve the links between all the major northern cities. The government have listened and built on the success of City Deals and devolved funding. The Local Authorities are now working together ever more closely and this can only be a good thing.

Among the many major successes proposed are a new rail line using faster trains between Newcastle and the Darlington area designed to save 10 minutes journey time, plus speeding up and making more reliable services to London from Newcastle on the East Coast mainline before HS2 is completed; this coupled to the measures to enhance and grow our regions roads and airport are good things.
The Journal report is here:  http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/15bn-plan-revolutionise-transport-newcastle-7561727

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

It's the Darling V Salmond debate tonight but only in Scotland / online

It is debate time tonight at 8pm live on STV. For the non Scots based you can still watch online. I shall be watching. No one underestimates Alex Salmond but I simply do not believe he has answer to the many arguments in favour of the union = the best of both worlds.
On the economic, military, European, healthcare, banking and pensions issues I believe that the SNP are unable to prove to the Scottish people that they would be better off alone. More importantly I believe that the message is getting through to the Scots that we who are south of the border are genuine in our desire for them to stay. We are better together, and having beaten everyone from Napoleon to Hitler together, I want this wonderful United Kingdom to remain and thrive individually and collectively.

Do debates matter? Ask Texas governor Rick Perry, who was a much-fancied contender in the 2011 race for the Republican nomination before he bombed spectacularly on air in a live pre White HouseTV debate. He withdrew from the race shortly afterwards. Similarly in the first US presidential TV debate in 1960, Republican nominee Richard Nixon famously lost out on the presidency after many thought he appeared sweaty and shifty next to a polished and confident John F Kennedy.
At the last general election I remember very well the packed debates in Hexham abbey, which definitely made a difference to the many who were there. On any interpretation this is the biggest debate in Scottish history.
Fuller details of the debate and the implications / stakes here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28607002

If anyone wants to come on our bus to help save the union on Saturday August 30 please email me on guy.opperman.mp@parliament.uk
I shall be going north in the morning from Newcastle and Hexham and have privately rented a bus to take everyone, but obviously need to know numbers if at all possible. We shall be going to Jedburgh, Galashiels and across the Borders area persuading Scots who have a postal vote (which land on their doorstep around that day) that we are better together. If you want to come in your own car, and can carry others, then also please let me know. This is a cross party trip, so all are welcome - I have already campaigned with many liberals and labour politicians in Scotland, and in Westminster, on this issue. The state of our country is at stake.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Commemoration of World War 1 in Hexham

Yesterday I spent the afternoon in a packed Hexham Abbey as Northumberland came together to pay their respects and commemorate the bravery of our troops who went to France so full of hope in 1914 and thereafter. As we know the war was not over by Christmas 1914, and the lives of those who survived was one long struggle of death, mud, and a changing perception of the conflict.

I have never been to a more vivid or moving service. This was a seamless blend of theatre, church, military, interested parties, local community and supportive charities all coming together in a sacred place. Due praise must go to the organisers, particularly The Lord Lieutenants team, the many churchmen of differing faiths, and the rural Dean, Dagmar, who along with all the helpers at Hexham Abbey, made this event possible. Everyone I spoke to afterwards agreed that the use of the two outstanding actors to bring the tragic events to life was a resounding success.

The lessons to be learnt were many, not least that peace is precious and often very hard won. Security and freedoms can never be taken for granted. But the service did much to covey the full horror of what those who served endured for all of us. I believe very strongly that it is important that the children of our generation need to have an understanding of what went on 100 years ago; I am delighted that so many of our local schools have plans to take their schoolchildren to the battlefields and monuments so that they have a better understanding.
The events across Europe today to continue our awareness and commemoration and they are set out in more detail by the BBC below:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28632223

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Forestry event tomorrow at Egger

Roots to Prosperity is an action plan for change and growth in the forestry and timber sectors, here in the north of England. It is well supported by all the local county councils and lays out an action plan for how the sector can expand and hopefully create more jobs. I am speaking tomorrow at the event in Hexham and keen to listen and learn from the many experts there as to how we can harness the local areas desire to grow the sector.

Tynedale Hospice open a new store in Ponteland

The BBC's Colin Briggs presided over the opening of the new store in Ponteland on Friday where a packed shop celebrated the expansion of Tynedale Hospice at Home to Ponteland.

The store is so much more than a charity shop - as it has a delightful cafe in the back with delicious cakes, scones and the like to turn the shop into a destination in its own right.

It was a good opportunity for me to spend time with the many volunteers and professional staff at Tynedale Hospice, and to raise a salute to Brian Massey MBE, who leads the organisation with unflagging enthusiasm and who was recently given his well deserved honour by the Queen. It was a great afternoon for all those who braved the thunderstorm. And the short speech by Colin put it very well - that Tynedale Hospice at Home are the ones who look after the ill and the elderly so well, and that they are the helpers there to cope with death and disaster. If you can support this wonderful charity please do so.

Coming soon on Sunday August 17 in Hexham from 2-7 is our own Charity Cricket Match raising money for Tynedale Hospice at Home (of which more to follow!)

Then on Tuesday October 14th Rob Caskie is returning to give his talk at the Queens Hall on Rorkes Drift. Anyone who heard him last year will know that he is the finest of all speakers and with a tale to tell that will stir the blood of any Briton. It is an event not to be missed.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Happy 150th Birthday Hexham Courant

2/8/1864 edition reprinted this week and it makes brilliant reading:
- 2 pages of local news and adverts, wrapped around 6 pages of London / British news

I have read it cover to cover and it is pure entertainment, full of colourful court reports, a parliamentary report that is robust in its criticism, but full of local interest on the governments purchase of Armstrong guns, 
It opens with a very entertaining "Town Talk" that acts as an editorial / main article to the national coverage in a style that is part Victorian Quentin Letts (of the modern day Daily Mail) and part The Spectator. 

- of the local adverts I liked:
- Robsons of Hexham prized Yellow Bullock Turnips
- Ridleys Non poisonous sheep dip - by royal letters patent
And Dr Alexander's Turkish, Galvavic and Medicated baths - all to be found at his premises in Orchard House, Corbridge.
The back page features an old style version of the Village Notes we all like so much to this day, and a brilliant report of the unexpected acquittal and sudden marriage of Mr Bewicke of Threepwood. It also makes the point that the first editor, Mr J Catherall published his paper back then on a Tuesday not as we do today. 

The paper is full of news, reports from parliament, endless court cases described in gory and pretty salacious detail, and special sections on the arts, farming, gardening and the like.
Well done to the courant for reprinting their first edition. It is a collectors item and well worth a read.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Hexham Abbey Church Service commemorating World War 1 4pm this Sunday

I shall be there - and we are welcoming the band of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, members of the Northumberland Theatre Company, and various military charities. The Abbey Choir are singing. I am really pleased that so many key local community organsations are also involved. This event has been really well organised.
It is very important that we remember those who gave their lives and the changes the war brought upon us as a country. It is sobering to think that so many of our local men from 16 upwards went away to the war never to return. We are indeed very fortunate not to face such a conflict today, nothwithstanding all the problems that we see around us.    

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Tynedale Plans this weekend - Allendale all day Saturday

Cricket at Allendale Saturday afternoon, and knocking on doors and surgeries in the morning.
Friday I have surgeries. On Sunday I am going to the Hexham Abbey for the Church Sevice to commemorate the First World War. If I miss you in Allendale itself on Saturday morning come along to the cricket pitch in the afternoon. I suspect I will be batting well down the order so I will have plenty of time to chat!

50 days until the Scottish referendum

Come campaigning to save the Union in August! I will be traveling over the border several times before the referendum in mid September. But Saturday 30th august is a special date when the postal vote forms will be landing on the doorsteps of all Scots ... and I intend to be there in the borders leading a team as we try and persuade the scots that we want then to stay, as we are better together.
Please come along! All are welcome. This is a cross party campaign. I will let locals know a pick up point so please email me if you want to come, but the likelihood is that we will meet at the wentworth car park in Hexham at 9am on the Saturday 30th. This really matters.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

This Saturday sees the Redefest Music Festival

http://www.redefest.org.uk/
The Redefest Music Festival in Rochester is strongly recommended - 2 stages and 8 hours of music, plus lots of supporting events and entertainments.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Tuesday August 5 for the Salmond v Darling TV Debate

Alex Salmond will go head-to-head with Alistair Darling in a televised debate on Scottish independence, STV has confirmed. Broadcaster STV said a debate between Scotland's First Minister and Mr Darling, who leads the pro-Union Better Together campaign would take place on August 5. This I will want to see - we are Better Together.
Update:
Bizarrely it has been announced that Scottish TV will not show this debate in the rest of the UK. So the rest of us can not be involved or informed. This gets stranger by the minute.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Regional Growth Funds, increased devolution + City Deals making a difference in the North East

Genuinely good results for the North East with over £370 Million announced recently.
Some of the cash will fund a direct link from Newcastle Station to the Stephenson Quarter regeneration site and refurbishment of Newcastle Central Metro Station. Durham City will also benefit from £6.3m towards the proposed Western Relief Road.
Leader of Newcastle Council, Coun Nick Forbes, who has responsibility for transport issues on the NELEP board, said: “North East councils have presented a compelling case to Government for greater transport investment which is reflected in today’s announcement. It underlines the benefits of working together in the interests of the wider region. This investment is an encouraging start towards our goal of improving our strategic transport network, and improving connectivity across our region.”
Bear in mind Nick is diehard Labour - looks like the government is doing something right.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

World War One is just a week away, 100 years ago

100 years ago next week we were all at war - in the "war to end all wars".
It is a sobering thought that we shall be reflecting on in various church services next weekend. For now -
The papers are looking back at life 100 years ago
http://s.telegraph.co.uk/graphics/projects/life-on-the-eve-of-war/index.html

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Weekend Read: why does Hexham Hospital charge for parking now we have free parking in Hexham?

I have probably spent more time in hospital than any other MP - by reason of jockey injuries or more recent mishaps in 2011. My grandmother was an NHS Matron and I can genuinely say that I have had my life saved twice by the NHS.

When you are a visitor or a patient in hospital, you are at your most distressed, emotional and concerned. The last thing people need in such times are the worry of how long they’ve got left on the parking meter.
For many years we have fought for free parking in the town of Hexham. This last year we have had success, and parking is free in Hexham now.

Yet the Hospital are continuing to charge for parking. I met with Health bosses and their answer was evasive; they promised to get back to me. They have not done so despite several prompts.

Around a quarter of hospitals in England do not charge for parking at all, and car parking fees have been abolished in Scotland and Wales. The reality is trhat local people are now parking in the town car parking spaces rather than using the hospital car park and paying. So the Trust is running a loss making service. The trust still refuse to change.

I beleive the best approach for the trust is to say that where parking is paid for in a town and free in a Hospital they have to guard against people abusing a situation to park free in Hexham by using the Hexham Hospital car park. Now bizarrely, Hexham Hospital is charging - and the rest of the town is free. This cannot continue.

There are a huge number of emotional and practical benefits that parking brings to patients. For many patients, driving is the only option. As Macmillan point out, “public transport and hospital transport are often neither adequate nor suitable for cancer patients”. Equally, patients who live in rural areas or have to come to hospital at unconventional hours barely have a choice. In the last National Patient Choice Survey, 46 per cent of patients rated car parking as one of the factors in choosing a hospitals.
Patients should have the peace of mind to be able to focus solely on getting the best care available.

Of all those whom our taxes go to help, none are more vulnerable or more guiltless than those whom the NHS serves. Hexham Hospital need to do the right thing - with free hospital parking helping those most in need; we ought to protect these most vulnerable and unfortunate, and provide a service that is equal and fair for all, and to make it as easy as possible for families to be together in their time of need. The Trust are good people but on the wrong side of our argument on this one.