Friday, 30 September 2016

The 3 local authorities north of the Tyne have a great opportunity with devolution.

I am a strong believer in Northern Devolution and am sure that this is too good an opportunity for the 3 northern local authorities of Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside to turn down. Hard to disagree with the front page of the Journal from last Saturday.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Hexham Courant report of our recent #JobsFair

The evidence is overwhelming that both the employers and the visitors who came looking for work, apprenticeships, and future opportunities found the event really positive. We will do it bigger and better next year

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Tannery in Hexham shows what makes a successful local pub

What makes a good pub? How do you attract locals to a former unloved boozer? How do you appeal to a broad cross section of the local community thereby making the enterprise commercially viable? How do you survive in an era where pub usage competes with supermarket bought at home drinking, and justified but financially punitive drink driving and anti smoking laws?
I have no qualifications on this issue but based upon a lot of observations and chats to locals I think I can explain a bit.
I have been engaged on an assessment of local pubs both for work and pleasure since 2010, when I became the MP. I have visited pretty much every pub in my massive 1000+ square mile community from the most northerly pub, the First and Last just inside of the Scottish border in Redesdale, to the Lord Crewe in Blamchland and the Allenheads Inn on the southern Durham border. From the Ridley Arms in Stannington in the east, to the Holly Bush Pub and the Pheasant Inn on the edge of remote Kielder Forest.
It has been an exhaustive study, but great fun!
To be fair I am a big real ale man so any pub that supports this gets my vote. I have recently supported and helped reopen several local pubs - notably the Dyvels in Corbridge which is doing well, with good beer and nice people running it:

But it is clear that today's consumer wants something special from his pub. The old style spit and sawdust pub can survive, but it is difficult. You need an edge, a selling point, a trademark. 
The Dipton Mill Inn is very very good, but probably thebest ale pub of them all, for example, is the Boat House in Wylam which takes beer so seriously is has up to 18 ales at any one time: 

Different places want different things, so it is not for me to prescribe what works in Prudhoe (The Falcon is doing very well with its Carvery) or out in the sticks - but pubs like the Barrasford Arms, the Rat in Anick, and the Feathers in Hedley, are all doing very very well; and the Battlesteads in Wark is probably the most successful pub / small hotel in the county. All have found their model. Others are struggling and there are pubs closing all across the country, and in Northumberland. But there are clearly very successful local town pubs. For an example of this I would urge you to go to The Tannery inHexham, which I helped relaunch last Friday, with the owner and the support group from Punch. I have got to know Punch very well over the last few years, as they have rebuilt and renovated a number of key local pubs, and even hotels like the County Hotel. It is hard to argue against their commitment to our area, their financial investment, and their use of local tradesmen / builders where possible, and their general support. Without their investment many fine institutions would have withered and died - for example the County Hotel which was shut for years, and rebuilt at massive cost. I confess an interest, as they also have for two years helped sponsor the Hexham Jobs Fair which I have run to get more young (and older) people into work and apprenticeships.  
But go back to the Tannery. This pub was really struggling before Dave took it over. It is now packed, and it is easy to see why. 
Start with the beer - a great place to start! 6 proper ales on hand pump is rare, and the quality is excellent. I would go myself just for the ale, and it is better than most other pubs on beer.  Add in plenty of ciders and speciality gins and good wine and you have an offer that clearly appeals. But the renovation has added a great garden area and table tennis table out back, and the food is consistently very good. 
But it is the attention to detail and the quirkiness that impress about the Tannery. It is bright and open, with the best toilets for miles around as one discerning female punter described the newest addition! One male punter on Friday described how "the quirkiness makes the place feel like a much loved room in your home" - and Dave has great plans to add a train that will go all around the bar. This has got to be seen, as it is clearly no normal train! I wish the team behind the Tannery pub well. It is a big addition to Hexham. Their Twitter account is worth a follow on its own. Find it here:

Monday, 26 September 2016

Really positive morning spent last Friday at Haltwhistle First and Middle School

Pictured with Mrs Susie Drake, and Dr Judith Greene, in the grounds of Haltwhistle First School.  There is no doubt that the team at Haltwhistle Community Campus have really begun to turn the school around. With a new team of headteachers, working with a enthusiastic governing body, there is a different atmosphere and a positivity at the school. I stayed for lunch with the children - my favourite pupil was the young lady from Haltwhistle who was keen to study Astro Physics at Harvard. Now that is aspiration, and all credit to her. This is a school that is on the up. I also did a surgery and door knocking in the town on Saturday. Good responses all round.

Friday, 23 September 2016

When Corbyn wins will his Momentum supporters will turn their attention to "the #172" - the 172 labour MPs who defied #Corbyn

"Labour / Leftwing politics will be subsumed into a struggle against “the 172” – the number of MPs who voted no confidence in the leadership "
This is the Guardian speaking not me. They sum up the problem here: 
"A movement that aspires to succeed has to begin by accepting that most people don’t think like it. It must obsess not over why people agree with it but why millions don’t.
It must focus its resources on seeking converts, not traitors. It must avoid becoming a subculture with its own language and rites, all of which are bemusing and alien to most people. It must spend every spare moment debating and discussing a strategy to victory, not confusing the enthusiasm of a minority for a plan to win. It must project an image of positivity, optimism and inclusivity, not of anger, bitterness and vengeance. It must make the average punter feel as though they could easily be part of the movement, without feeling they’ve signed up to a never-ending exam that other activists are always waiting for them to fail.
Most people have spent the last three months slogging away at their job, going to the seaside, having after-work drinks, picking their kids up after school – getting on with their lives. Let’s be blunt. If members of the public are even paying attention to Labour’s car crash – and most have switched channel – “freakshow” is probably one of their kinder words."
The full guardian article is here:
The question is which way does the Labour Party go post a Corbyn win? I know where I think it is going. It is genuinely not good if it does do this either for the party's sake or the 
country. All countries need a functioning opposition. Labour is not it.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Worlds Biggest Coffee Morning - which event will you support for the Macmillan Coffee Morning?

Tomorrow and next Friday September 30th homes, schools and offices up and down the country will be doing their bit for cancer support. What are you going to do? Have your friends round? Organise a village hall or work event? Get your school to do an event? I have been to many of these events down the years and they are always amazing. My thanks to all the local community businesses and pubs who have already got involved. I shall be supporting several such events over the next ten days.

Roman shoe fashions discovered at Vindolanda. More reasons to go visit the roman site on Hadrian wall

Archaeologists were left stunned when they uncovered a near 2,000-year-old shoe which looks just like the Adidas Predator football boot famously worn by David Beckham.
The distinctive ridges on the shoe's outer shell and curved space for laces winding down to the toe give it an uncanny resemblance to the 21st century trainer.
The ancient sneaker was discovered in a ditch at Roman fort Vindolanda close to Hexham, Northumberland.
Staff soon realised it looked more like a modern day football boot than a shoe worn almost two millennia ago. 
Full story here:

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Financial services forum: lessons in behavioural economics, simplicity, the nudge factor and more

The science of behavioural economics has fundamental application to business and the choices we make in our purchases, our brand loyalty and our interpretation of a customer experience. But it also has massive application to government, politics and how the state interacts with its population.
For 2 days I have been studying (and speaking) at the Financial Services Forum. When I spoke I particularly focused on the creation and significance of the Tynedale Community Bank, which I, and others, helped launch last November after a 4 year struggle to get it off the ground.
For those interested in the bank there are reports of our launch and links to our website here:

More recently the team were able to update the Northumberland community with progress as reported here:

Present at the forum were some of the biggest financial service providers with major representatives from big insurers to banks and all aspects of FS. Full credit to the FSF. But the speakers brought in to make us think differently and reassess our lives and businesses were particularly fascinating. I would happily hear them all again, and took copious notes.
4 in particular stood out:

Paul Craven discussed and set out the details of Nudge Theory: his talk "What makes a good Nudge?" was fascinating: examples of Nudge theory are many but always astounding.
- the university of Newcastle did a power of the unconscious when doing an honesty bowl - where there was a picture of a pair of eyes next to the honesty bowl people paid more than when there was no eyes next to them. The theory of this is the power of suggestion on the brain. Nothing is said. There is simply a pair of eyes "watching over you". And yet this makes people more honest. Likewise:
- where you put a picture of someone's car on the form when the person receive a fine for the actions of that car / driver, the individual is more likely to pay than if you send them a straightforward bill. The French authorities saw a massive rise in payments by putting a picture of the offending car on the bill.
- I smiled and loved the sign as you enter a restaurant that says:
"Please remember to turn your phone back on when you leave the restaurant." This worked to persuade people gently to turn off their phones by a positive suggestion, rather than the usual - Turn your phone off!
- opt in or opt out of organ donation: if you ask people to opt in very few do. If you ask people to opt out of organ donation then they rarely do refuse to donate. It is the same question just asked in a different way.
- hospital and doctor appointment texts the day before the appointment greatly increase attendance.
- in hospitals hand sanitisers are rarely used by members of the public. Yet if you put up a sign in such a hospital that says "here we use hand disinfective in order to protect your relatives" - the result is massive increase in such usage.
In some companies they have got people to sign an affirmation of the truth of the contents of a document eg a tax return or expenses claim - at the start of the document then it will be way more accurate and truthful than if someone has to sign such an affirmation of truth at the end of the document.

And Philip Davies, of Siegel + Gale, is clearly a king of brand management. He discussed how businesses and brands attempt to make things simpler for people. His simplicity index of firms and brands and the way they go up and down was fascinating. His most simple and successful brands for 2016 were Aldi and Lidl and 1st direct.
A couple of points jumped out of his talk:
- simple is smart. Work hard to make things simple. Be ruthless in driving simplicity. Overcome complexity by having clarity in everything you do. Have a clear purpose, remove uncertainty and have engaged people.
- "strategy is about understanding future implications of today's decisions".
- In 2000 the attention span of an adult was 12 seconds. In 2015 this had reduced to 8 seconds.
By contrast, a goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds!
- His simplicity index has various rules: is it easy to understand? Is it transparent and honest? Is the customer experience good? Is it innovative and fresh? and finally is it useful?
- His definition of a great CEO ascertained that all such people had empathy, were logical and were authentic.
The advice was to entertain before you sell, to get noticed but don't disrupt, but, above all, keep it simple.

Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy + Mather took us on a 100 minute discussion of the science of knowing what economists are wrong about. His treatise on trustanomics was fascinating.
A couple of phrases jumped out at me:
- "successful innovation is behavioural change"
- "marketing is simply the signalling of faith in your own futurity"
His examples/phrases were numerous = "a flower is simply a weed with an advertising budget"
I liked his cou ter intuitive tales, like the story of the impact of reducing ticket prices on actual sales of theatre tickets (actually you sell less tickets and at a lower price!)
Yet bizarrely everyone does this because there is a bias in corporate decision making (and civil service) against innovation and a push to defensive decision making.
His conclusion that economic theory presupposes perfect understanding and trust, and therefore can often be wrong as such things rarely exist,was hard to argue with.

Finally the futurist Rohit Talwar dazzled with his assessment of what the future holds
His three horizon approach assesses:
A 1-12 month approach as to what are we bringing into land / completing in this period
A 1-3 year search for growth areas and future events
A 4-10 year understanding of future drivers.
His treatise on the
- massive likely increases in life expectancy,
- and the ever growing number of automated jobs (1 Billion more such jobs automated by computers / robots by 2030)
- and the exponential growth in artificial intelligence and its permeation into all forms of our lives at an ever faster speed is so rapid that we, as a Society, are only just beginning to grapple with both this opportunity and its consequential effects.
His advice as to How we embrace the future was clear:
1. Create a team of future scouts - involving people who don't fear change.
2. Scan the future, share the insight and shape the change.
3. Develop key insights and build key muscles
But above all simplify - that word again.

His last Moment I liked: all of us have a To Do List but none of us have a To Stop List. And we definitely need this!

Monday, 19 September 2016

Verdict on Hexham Jobs Fair is that it was a big success!

Both my small team, and all our helpers from Job Centre Plus, are recovering from the massive undertaking that was Thursday's Jobs Fair. Dozens of local businesses, third sector and public authorities provided advice, apprenticeships, opportunities and jobs to over 600 people who crammed into the Hexham Mart. Our visitors included many of the local unemployed and not just from Hexham. There was also a lot of people coming who wanted to change their job or retrain. And finally we over 150 school kids from many of the local schools from 12-18. It was a great day and my massive thanks to all the employers, the JCP staff, the sponsors Egger and Pubch, the Mart and everyone else who made it possible.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Real opportunity for the Councils north of the Tyne to forge ahead with devolution

I am unashamedly committed to devolution of powers from London to the regions. The chance to run transport, skills, and so much more including health and justice is a huge prize. So, It is very disappointing that the 4 local authorities south of the Tyne have backed out of the devolution deal. Even the Guardian are critical of the decision. This is from their article earlier in the week:

"Local government itself needs to accept a large share of the responsibility. A lot of councils across the country have spent huge amounts of time agonising about geography, mayors and rivalries, often in the belief that, if only they wait long enough, a better deal will come along. It won’t... the devolution process ... is the only game in town for local government for the foreseeable future, and Whitehall holds most of the cards."
For my part, I will be doing all I can to support devolution. 

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Jobs fair today! 10-4 at Hexham Mart - list of attending companies / organisations

B & M
Disability Confident (DWP)
Generation North East 
Go North East
Helen McArdle Care
Helping Hands
INTU - Metro Centre
Matthew Charlton - Jewson
McGinley Support Services
Sir Robert Mcapline
National Careers Service CFBT
National Parks
Natural Ability
NEEC Training
Northumberland Adult Learning
Northumberland College 
Northumberland Joinery
Princes Trust
Release Potential 
Reserve Army
Sure Start
Teleperformance Contact Centre Gateshead
Tesco Extra
Tynedale Community Bank
Walwick Hall

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

10 days to go until Labour select Corbyn or Smith - my key questions before the vote

The evidence locally is that labour members prefer Corbyn to Smith. That is their choice. I want to try and drill down as to what is the Labour offer and more specifically what is the offer by each candidate
The questions I am interested in having not been to any of the hustings with the labour candidates are
- why each candidate is preferred?
- are they the person to persuade the voters who did not vote labour to return to the fold?
- what are the 3 key policies to appeal to the middle ground where most of the voters live and have their political approach (in my experience very few people are genuinely far left or far right)
- what are they going to do to ensure we grow the british economy and support british SMEs?
- what are their approaches to NATO, defence, and the terrorist threat?
- what is their definition of brexit?
The link to one of the debates locally is here:

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Cycle to work day tomorrow - get involved and get on a bike!

Tomorrow is your chance to get back on a bike, choose one of the best forms of fitness and the best way to see the world. Don't take the car, tube or bus. Try and cycle to work.
Details of the plan and why it matters are found here:

Monday, 12 September 2016

Westminster this week - a lot happening in the commons, constituents here and a charity quiz

Today in the commons is packed with defence questions, an education statement and then the final stages of the Wales Bill. Tomorrow we have the digital economy bill and multiple other debates in the  other parts of the House. I have constituents like Bob Paton down meeting ministers today and a variety of other constituency related meetings.
I am doing a lot of other stuff in this busy week, notably hosting the charity quiz in the commons tonight in aid of brain tumour research.
Wednesday i will be supporting and taking part in Cycle to work day first thing.
Up in Northumberland very late Wednesday night as we have the jobs and apprenticeships fair on Thursday at the Hexham mart.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

BAAFest approaches! The top Northumberland acoustic festival September 9-11 is a must go atBellingham

There are few festivals like this - well worth going to. Full details here:

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Disappointed at latest setback as 4 NE councils delay devolution but still committed to making devolution happen

The news that the 4 councils south of the Tyne have put the brakes on devolution is not good news. I am certain that we should be following the example of the Labour led areas like Greater Manchester and Liverpool that have embraced devolution, greater powers over transport, skills and so much more, but it is interesting that all 3 Councils North of the Tyne, including, to their credit, my own in Northumberland, are keen to press ahead. I know that this government is absolutely committed to devolution and a massive transfer of power from Westminster to the regions. Sajid Javid could not have been clearer about this. Why the 4 south of the tyne councils do not want to proceed is a matter for them but it is not what I would advise.
The Guardian reports the story in part and in full here:
"Sajid Javid, the secretary of state for communities and local government, said he was disappointed with the decision but indicated devolution was not dead in the north-east. A spokeswoman for his department said: “It is disappointing that some north-east councils have been unwilling to support this deal, which would certainly have benefited local people. If councils in the region wish to discuss devolution proposals further, our door remains open.”

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Newly built Prudhoe High School looks amazing after massive investment

They were still unpacking last week when I went round with headteacher Deborah but there is no doubt - the High School is really going places. With great results, the first newly built school in 30 years in our area, a new uniform and approach and staff who have worked over the summer to get the school ready you cannot fail to be impressed. Very proud to have played a small part in getting the rebuild from DFE and making it happen, and sorting some teething problems along the way. This rebuild has been the plan since I got elected in May 2010 and got the then education secretary to meet our head teachers. Any pupil would be very proud to go to this school now

Monday, 5 September 2016

Westminster this week - busy week in the Commons as the new PM is in China for the G20

The Prime Minister is in China for the G20 Summit – where she is showing that Britain is a bold, confident, outward-looking country.
At this meeting of the G20, we are showing that Britain is open for business as a bold, confident, outward looking country. The Prime Minister will be highlighting that, while we will continue to play a key role on the world stage, we will be talking to other nations about the opportunities for trade around the globe that will open up for Britain following Brexit.

Our ambition is that Britain will be a global leader in free trade. We are going to make the most of the opportunities that our departure from the EU presents – getting out into the world and doing business right across the globe, while at home building a Britain that works for everyone.
In Westminster we have the Funance Bill today and tomorrow and various other debates in the house this week. I am on the bench in the house on Tuesday morning for Justice Questions with the new Lord Chancellor. This week I also have a variety of constituents coming south to London and meetings in Westminster re Northumberland. 

Friday, 2 September 2016

Hexham Abbey Music Festival in 2 weeks - still tickets available for Hexhams amazing celebration of music and art

Framed by classical music, we also explore Balkan folk music, electronics and even a live graffiti event! Our desire to provide interest and engagement for children has again been a major feature of the programming, with a series of workshops in addition to a number of child-friendly concerts and other opportunities.
As ever, we are proud to welcome a fantastic number of local musicians, both professional and amateur, who enrich the Festival. These include the Hexham Abbey Festival Chorus, the Abbey Choirs, young musicians and many others. We are grateful that, once again, Arts Council England has given full endorsement to the plans, making the Festival possible with a generous grant. We look forward to welcoming you to what promises to be a very memorable Festival.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

William Hague reinforces the point that there will be no second referendum on the EU - we move onwards and upwards

I voted Remain in June, as I thought staying in the EU was best for the country. But the second best course, in my view, is to leave the EU with clarity, certainty and purpose. To embark on leaving with doubt, lack of confidence, and with attempts to undermine the decision that has been made would be the worst of all worlds. 
Full article is here:

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Still not booked a late summer break? Come to Northumberland. England's most beautiful County has much to offer

The perfect Northumberland day would feature:
A good walk - you could go to Hadrian's Wall
ending at a good pub like the Twice Brewed Inn, or do a stretch of the Pennine Way, or take in the gentle wildness of the St Oswalds Way.

Where to stay:
If you have to have the creature comforts then Matfen Hall is a top destination but
Hexham's Beaumont Hotel
is family run and was good enough for Pippa Middleton when she came to stay a year back!
We also have all manner of brilliant pubs and Bed and Breakfasts but if you want a good alternative then the Battlesteads Hotel in Wark consistently wins prizes; the best Bed and Breakfast in the country was recently adjudged by Les Routiers guide to be The Black Cock Inn:
Where to eat:
If you want great pub food then I am a big fan of the Barrasford Arms,
Tony is a brilliant chef, and the pub also has great beer and a bar where you will discuss everything from sheep prices to current affairs and who won the big race of the day. Great people and a top dining pub.
The Feathers in Hedley, and La Bouchon in Hexham are both prize winning and the destinations for fine dining along with the Rat which has won recent awards.

You will need a tea shop on your travels:
My friends say I am on a mission to try every tea shop in Tynedale but the county is justifiably famous: on your Pennine Way travels do not forget to stop at the Greenhead Tea Room:
Alison makes great cakes and scones.
Corbridge has more tea shops that any other but my favourite is Tea and Tipple, where you can while away an afternoon - they do great Northumberland Scones, including the normal cheese scone but also Blue Cheese and Caramelised Onion Scones:
Their web site has a special "Sconage" section...
Beer: this is obviously essential. We have lots of brilliant brewers, but I have worked a lot with the Hadrian Border Brewery, who produce the deliciously summer ale which is Tyneside Blonde. But my favourite would be a pint of Golden Plover, made locally by the Allendale Brewery, and found in most of the pubs:

What to see; the wildlife the visit alone:
But if you want 5 places to visit these would all make anyone's top spots:

- The Beach at Bamburgh - a great walk and a top castle
- Roman Vindolanda = our best Roman and historical site
- Kielder Water and Forest Park:
They win awards all the time!!
- Alnwick Castle and its magnificent Gardens
But if you go to one for engineering / spring flowers then I would probably pick Cragside:
-It is a stunning house with amazing engineering everywhere and beautiful gardens filled with 40 miles of walks, rare flowers and so much more. It is a special place.

What to Buy:
Whether you want to browse the independent shops of Hexham or Corbridge or purchase pottery in Bardon Mill or visit some of the amazing markets there is so much to do.

Plenty of shows + events on in Tynedale this weekend - with Bellingham the biggest but lots happening in South Tynedale too

There are opportunities for all this weekend - Bellingham is the biggest show with its usual agricultural base, but there are other events on in the south of the patch: Allendale School hosts the annual Horticultural and Industrial show today whilst on Monday the Blanchland and Hunstanworth Show is always good fun. I should also point out that there is the Snods Edge Arts Festival from Saturday to Monday

Friday, 26 August 2016

Broadband rollout to the villages goes on - slowly but surely we are getting there

Work on the ground in Matfen has started and will hopefully be finished by mid October, barring any problems encountered during build. Planning and survey work has all be completed. Coverage is confined to the village and some of the immediate local area. Mat fen is the largest village that has not yet had its broadband upgraded. 
Of the other areas included in phase 2 we expect the following to be live by the end of 2016: 
- Slaley Hall and Slaley Park
- Blagdon 
- Longbyre, near Greenhead 
- West End Town on the end of Bardon Mill
- Dilston
- Gunnerton 
- Melkridge
- Oakwood 
- Sandhoe
- Tranwell and Tranwell Woods
- Medburn
- Horsley
There are some truly outlying houses and settlements that will not be included in Phase 2 +our campaign to get them better broadband goes on, not least as the County Council are now looking at phase 3.
As always if there are any areas of difficulty, if BT are not getting back to you or if there are innovative solutions like that which has been successfully trialled in Whittonstall then let me know. We are always happy to help.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Labour Party under Corbyn now so "pure" no security company good enough for its conferences - so it might not go ahead.

You genuinely could not make it up: Labour will probably have to cancel their party conference because they cannot get any company to provide the security at the conference.
The journalist Tom Harris, a former Labour MP, has the story:
He describes how under Corbyn the ruling National Executive Council of Labour has
- "brought it's strategic genius to bear on security arrangements for this year’s gathering in Liverpool; it really showed how tuned in and efficient Labour is.
Harris adds:
"G4S has managed security at Labour conferences for 20 years, efficiently, without complaint and within budget. Until earlier this year, however, they also had extensive interests in Israel. Now, as it happens, Israel is the only country in the Middle East where political activists can freely espouse the kind of democratic socialism favoured by Labour. LGBT events can be celebrated in Tel Aviv and the free press there would even accurately report delegates’ objections to Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
In none of the surrounding Arab countries could such activity be pursued freely without the threat of violence, intimidation or arrest.
Nevertheless, the NEC, emboldened by Jeremy Corbyn’s accession to the party’s leadership two months earlier, decided to relieve G4S of their conference duties as punishment for their audacity in seeking business in a liberal parliamentary democracy.
This decision was “strongly supported” by Unite the Union, it should be noted.
It was at this point that Labour’s carefully crafted strategy started to unravel. After a number of other security firms politely declined the chance to bid for the work, only Showsec, remains in the field. But they are embroiled in an ongoing dispute with the GMB – one of Labour’s biggest donors – over its refusal to recognise the union.
Now Len McCluskey, the head of rival union Unite, has made it clear publicly that all the blame for this lies not with the dullards and oafs who sacked G4S, but with Iain McNicol, the party’s general secretary. McNicol is a sensible, clever and efficient apparatchik, and is therefore disliked by the current leadership, which includes McCluskey.
McCluskey’s criticism of McNicol was carefully leaked to the Guardian, and there can be little doubt that this represents a first step in the leadership’s campaign for a clear-out of “core hostile” opponents of Corbyn if, as expected, he is re-elected as party leader in September.
And in the meantime, almost incidental to this amateurish melodrama, no agreement has yet been reached on who should provide security for the conference. If this dispute between Showsec and the GMB can’t be resolved in the very near future, the nuclear option of cancellation may be required."
Like I said. You could not make it up. I leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions as to whether it is better not to hold any conference at all if it means dealing with professional companies who provide security.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Transport For The North Review + The Northern Powerhouse - the report worth a read

The bold plan to create a thriving Northern Powerhouse received some good news recently. An independent report, commissioned by Transport For The North, details a strategy which will allow the North to realise its fantastic potential.

For the past thirty years, there has been a persistent economic gap between the North and the national average. In 2015 the North generated an economic output of around £290bn in terms of Gross Value Added (GVA). Now this was around one fifth of the nation's total as a whole, but we have more to give.

Indeed, we need to bridge the gap between the North's economic potential and its current realities. This will of course be spurred on by private investment, something which will herald a greater number of highly skilled jobs for the people of the North.

'Business as usual' for the North would not mean zero growth or investment, but it would likely mean that the gap between the North and the rest of the country would continue to widen. The report therefore outlines a transformational approach to the Northern economy; one which capitalises on out key capabilities, but also seeks to improve our infrastructure.

The North is certainly more than capable. The report highlights our proficiency in advanced manufacturing, energy, health innovation and digital innovation. These will act as the cornerstone from which the Northern Powerhouse will undoubtedly thrive.

The report suggests that by 2050, a scheme of workable and sustained growth will result in the creation of 1.5 million jobs by 2050, a rise in our GVA and an increase in skilled work. These are all things that are obtainable.

If you would like to read about the report's overview in full, it can be found here -

What is palpably clear is that the North is growing. It's becoming more innovative and productive on a daily basis, and it is of the utmost importance that we continue these trends. We have all the tools at out disposal, so we now need strong leadership to bring these plans to fruition. I will endeavour to do all that I can to ensure that this is the case.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Former Labour MP Tom Harris on Labour Party travails in Scotland has lessons for the North East

If Scottish labour simply tries to imitate and be more left wing than the SNP, and does not want to defend the Union, what does it stand for and why should anyone vote for it? The article by former Scottish labour MP Tom Harris makes compelling reading. But I also see lessons for the Labour Party in the north east as the mayoral debate takes hold and the devolution deal of May 2017 comes ever closer.
Does the north east Labour Party actually want devolution?
How does the north east labour team compare to the labour teams in Greater Manchester who have so enthusiastically embraced devolution, the government deal and the greater powers on offer.
Does it welcome the chance to be the economic driver of the region?
What will it actually do with the powers?
Have a read of the article -all of us are going to have to change our views.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Working behind the bar on September 1st at the Black Bull in Matfen for charity

Make sure you come to the Black Bull in Matfen when are group of minor celebs - myself included as Z list - are working behind the bar pulling pints and pouring drinks, and asking you to make a small charitable donation with your drinks change. The beer is very good and the food excellent. It should be a fun night.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Judging the gardens of Slaggyford + Knarsdale - report of the 2015 garden odyssey way out west in the Northumberland

This is the report I wrote of my efforts to judge these beautiful gardens and my experiences meeting so many great characters in August 2015.

"On a sunny morning late last summer I travelled down to Slaggyford, nervous with anticipation at the responsibility of judging the gardens of the various houses around Knarsdale, Slaggyford and Eals. I would love to say that I am a prize winning gardener myself (I am not) and that I had spent some time preparing the evaluation of the relative merits of foxgloves and fuchsias, but this would be a lie. The garden competition was judged by an enthusiastic amateur gardener /Member of Parliament, aided by his local partner in crime, Miles, the chair of the local parish council. The decisions made were all mine and the mistakes made were all mine as well.

Our tour was random and occasionally interspersed by constituents rightfully upset at flooding, broadband, or generally wanting to raise issues local or national with their MP. We went to Eals first, and after noting both Tom's and Simon's beautiful gardens, we admired with wonder the amazing pear tree that towers above the 1760 holiday cottage of Stonecrop. Never have I seen a pear tree of such size. It is clearly well over a hundred years old, and possibly as old as the house. Go and see it.

Onwards to the Armstrongs we admired pots, the efforts of Holly, and huge prize winning leeks [pictured], and I was given the present of the most delicious lettuce I have tasted in my life. I promise this did not influence any award! At the Grahams we admired the amazing planted wheelbarrows, before seeing the huge effort that Chris Ashworth has put into transforming his garden. His neighbour Carol Grieves also has a beautiful small garden, packed with plants, and she it was who came up with the phrase of the day. Miles and I were admiring the garden and commenting on the forest of plants, when she explained by saying:
"I can't say no to them - I am an alcoholic - I mean a plantaholic!"

We all laughed. Anyone who has seen the profusion of plants and pots at Carols will understand. She is a worthy winner of best small garden, and phrase of the day!
We ventured on around the houses on or near the village green in Slaggyford itself and were able to solve the mystery of the rabbit that broke into Albert Ridleys garden. Without our forensic Sherlock Holmes examination I fear it would remain a mystery how Watership Down invaded. Albert was pipped on best large garden by the Aynsleys, whose back garden [pictured] beside the burn, sandwiched between wild meadowsweet, and delicate plants and fragrant honeysuckle, is a beautiful and wild garden that constantly surprises.
Our journey lasted 3 hours and we constantly failed to identify our plants; but the pleasure was all mine. If you have not been way out west to these delightful hamlets then you are missing something.

Guy Opperman MP  (Definitely not auditioning for the Chelsea flower show)

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Falstone and Allendale Shows this Saturday - please try and go along to these special agricultural based shows if you are free

At opposite ends of the constituency the 2 shows this weekend are very special. Falstone also features a fell race and music from 3.30

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Interesting article by Alan Millburn - my constituent + chair of the Social Mobility Commission on the new zeal at the heart of the May Government

"The commission I chair has been warning for years that without a dramatic change in approach to how we tackle issues of poverty and mobility, Britain would become a divided nation.
Thankfully the new Prime Minister has recognised the risk. It is very welcome that she has made it her mission to heal the social and economic fissures the vote laid bare.
Theresa May’s pursuit of higher social mobility is what our country needs – but it will hard to achieve.
So a broader social reform agenda is needed, one that focuses on people who are not in extreme poverty, are in work and do the right thing but are struggling to progress. They are the majority in Britain. Their interests should be at the heart of a new government-wide drive to open up opportunities.
This is a far bigger and broader approach than previous governments have considered. It cannot all be done from Whitehall. It will need Mrs May to forge a new national coalition with employers, universities, colleges, schools, councils and communities with one core purpose: a more level playing field of opportunity in Britain.
Delivering higher social mobility – reducing the extent to which someone’s class or income is dependent on the class or income of their parents – can prove that modern capitalist economies like ours can create better, fairer and more inclusive societies. It should be the holy grail of public policy, the priority for government and the cause which unites the nation in action."
The full article is here: well worth a read -

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The new high school in Prudhoe is the end of 5 long years of campaigning - Prudhoe is on the up!

This is all part of the turnaround that is happening in Prudhoe, and at the high school. We are pictured on site this last winter with Deborah, the head teacher, and the site manager. Deborah tells me that the key handover is very soon, and the pupils start in September. It has been a long campaign to get the money for the new school and to turn Prudhoe High around but the children, parents and teachers are all really excited! 

Monday, 15 August 2016

Capability Brown 300th anniversary this month - come to Kirkharle in Northumberland to see his origins and inspiration

Born August 30th 1716 Brown was the fifth of six children and son of a yeoman farmer and houseservant. Brown went to school and church locally and then became the greatest landscape designer of his generation. He was baptised at St Wilfred's Church at Kirkharle. There are events a plenty coming up in the this the month of his 300th celebration, notably on the day itself 30/8

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Who will labour choose as their next leader? What does Hexham think of Corbyn?

Curious to see the views of the Hexham locals - notably the Labour + Momentum members. Are you Corbynites? Or are you persuaded by Owen Smith? It is clear from Westminster and locally to re elect Corbyn would be a big mistake but it does appear he is going to win.
This is a report from the Guardian of the recent Gateshead hustings:

Saturday, 13 August 2016

EU Regional Support and Funding for farmers and science guaranteed until 2020

I am delighted the government have made the long term decision to cover the funding for the regions, our farmers and scientists, notwithstanding the Brexit decision. This long term assurance is key.
Full story here:

Hexham Farmers Market - shop local and support your local farmers and producers 9-2pm

Friday, 12 August 2016

Fairs aplenty this weekend in Tynedale - Wark, Slaley, Horsley - lots for everyone to do + Bogstock!

Amongst many things happening this weekend the big event is the Slaley show but there is also a garden show at Horsley and jumble sale in Wark.
For those looking for a top ale or cider then look no further than Bogstcok at the Carts Bog in Langley this evening and tomorrow

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Prudhoe Community Allotments yesterday - great to support this amazing Prudhoe institution and pick up some veg!

I have 2 jobs: Member of Parliament, and president of the Prudhoe Community Allotments! It was a great privilege to go along and support the Allotments yesterday. This special oasis of gardening calm in the heart of south Prudhoe is beautiful, and a real credit to the community - and fully supported by an amazing lunch when you pop in to an open day and buy some veg as I did yesterday. My hope is to take this community spirit and organisation and harness it in the Walled Garden Project that I have been supporting for some time in the old hospital site. That has stalled a bit but I am still very hopeful that it will come to fruition; if it does we will have a truly special site. But for now, let us celebrate the success that has been achieved at the Prudhoe Allotments. If you are interested to know more then I suggest you go their website and consider joining. £3 a year is a small price to pay!

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Meeting EA + Northumbria Water in Haydon Bridge as flood repair work has started

I was on site this last week to meet the team who are going to repair and improve the bank between the Anchor Hotel and the bridge, going along the bank to protect Rocksprings Crescent. The workmen contracted to do the job by the Environment Agency are staying in the Railway Hotel and have their diggers and machinery on site on the north side of the river for the work which will take some time. The plan is to extract the boulders and gravel from the centre of the river, put that gravel into gabions (these are steel cages of boulders and gravel), then encase the gabions in a steel protected wall where the old bank used to be. This will then be topped off with a stone and cement finish. The steel wall will go down into the river bed over 2 metres to ensure there is no wash away. This effect will reinstate the old bank, which had been eroding for years, change the nature and direction of the river flow, provide protection to the bridge and Rocksprings Crescent, and ensure the disaster of last winter does not reoccur. The centre of the river will look very different as well.
Why this is important and vitally urgent work is the potential compromising of the bridge, the properties on the south bank, and the sewer pipes that are beneath the surface in pipes on the river bank. Of all the works to be done on the river this is probably the key one.
In addition, Northumbria Water have cleared all the pipes, and sewers locally and are sorting some of the problems they have discovered.
In other parts of the village works are being done to protect the defences on the North Bank and there will be improvements to the path between Rocksprings and the sports fields and the walls around there. I have chased the County council about the state of the Langley Burn which remains very overgrown and blocked. On two occasions last week on Saturdays and Thursday I met with locals affected by the floods and went door to door addressing the issues but my door is always open / email is on, if anyone has any further questions. I am also shortly replying to the recent parish council letter I have received, although events have slightly taken over as the contractors are taking the boulders and gravel off the central river bed. Put simply we are getting there and my belief is that with a fair wind we shall see completed works sorted before the winter.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Guardian and many local voters praising the decision to get rid of annuities and allow early release of pensions

It’s not a line you’re likely to see often in the Guardian, but thank you George Osborne for the towering achievement of your reign as chancellor: you got rid of annuities and saved millions of pensioners-to-be from a spiral of catastrophically low payouts from their life savings. The full article is here:

Monday, 8 August 2016

Good evidence from fall in Job Seekers' Allowance & Universal credit Claims Down

The UK's economy is going from strength to strength. Full credit to the Job Centre Plus team, and a shout out to last years Jobs Fair.

People have more money in their back pockets, the unemployment rate is now 4.9% and in both Hexham and across the country, the number of JSA (Job Seekers' Allowance) and UC (Universal Credit) claimants has fallen.

In the UK as a whole, there have been 36,326 fewer JSA and UC claims in the year to June. According to a DWP report produced in July, this reflects a 4.7% drop nationally. But what is even more staggering is the 15.5% drop we've seen in our very own area. Times have been hard in the last few years, so it is heartening to see that Hexham, as well as the country as a whole, is bouncing back so exuberantly.

Fewer people are unemployed. Fewer of us are only just able to pull together the money required to pay the bills because the Conservative governments Living Wage has seen millions get a pay rise.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

The reason Labour MPs / Corbyns former economic advisers oppose Jeremy Corbyn is his ineptitude - in their own words

Two former economic advisors to Jeremy Corbyn have dealt a major blow to the Labour leader by backing his rival, Owen Smith, in the party’s leadership contest. David Blanchflower, who used to be a member of the Bank of England’s MPC, said Corbyn was ‘absolutely, completely unelectable’. Whilst Simon Wren-Lewis told the Guardian the current Labour leader wouldn’t ‘even come close’ to winning a 2020 general election. The labour MPs see this - both in the Commons and on the doorsteps. The unavoidable truth is that Twitter + rallies do not translate into persuasion of the vast majority of the electorate that Corbyn needs to persuade.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Positive Economic News for the UK - income tracker stats show positive signs

Just last week, the Asda Income Tracker, a service which charts wages, taxes and household spending, delivered some positive news for us all. Here's a grab from their latest press release:

'The latest figures revealed families across the UK welcomed another rise in spending power in June, with average discretionary income once again reaching £201 a week, enjoying an extra £12 a week (6.2%) on average compared to the same period last year. The increase marks the 20th consecutive month of double-digit growth in spending power, with total average discretionary income remaining at a record level since the Income Tracker began in 2008.
  • The average UK household had a weekly disposable income of £201 a week last month, an average of £12 more than in June 2015
  • Annual growth in spending power has remained above £10 a week for 20 consecutive months
  • Wage growth across the UK remained relatively flat (2.2%) but stayed well above the level of essential item inflation (-0.1%)
  • The rate of unemployment across the UK fell to its lowest level (4.9%) in 11 years
  • Across the nation, families in the North East and Wales saw the largest rise in discretionary income over the last quarter, while the West Midlands saw a fall in the rate of spending power growth'
What all of this is proving is that the economy is on the up. Unemployment is down to 4.9%. There is still a way to go, but this is very good news indeed.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The Northern Powerhouse will go from strength to strength - the new government makes its commitment clear

The appointment of Andrew Percy and the efforts being made in Westminster to accommodate the Local Authorities of the North East is clear. I am certain that this devolution is good news for the North East. I am certain it is going to happen. More details of the progress here:

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Northumberland Tourism On The Up! Still time to book a staycation up north

We can all agree that Northumberland is a fantastic place to live and visit, and thankfully this is something that others are realising too. Visit Northumberland recently shared the area's tourism statistics for 2015, and there is some very positive news.
Last year we welcomed a total of 9.5 million visitors to Northumberland, an increase of 3% on 2014. These visitors spent 14.8m days with us, which is also up a healthy 4% from last year. What's more:
- 1.7m of our visitors stayed overnight, an increase of 2.8%
- Between them visitors spent a total of £816m, up by 5% on the previous year.
- 11,591 direct jobs were supported by tourism, also up by 4%.
What this all proves is that Northumberland is a county on the up, and one which welcomes visitors both old and new. Tourism is a vital part of the local economy, but should also be seen as a point of pride. Having so many people visit the area is heartening, and it merely reinforces what we already know: that Northumberland is the best county in the country!
For inspiration on where to take any friends or family who are up on a visit, then give the Visit Northumberland website a look - or send them this link, which really does showcase the stunning scenery on our doorstep -

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Thank you to so many for all your support during the #Ride100 #RideLondon

I cannot thank the organisers, staff, medics, the supporters, my sponsors and all my fellow cyclists who took part in the Ride 100 from the Olympic Oark in Stratford East London to Surrey and back down the Mall. A great experience. Climbed Box Hill. Got cheered down the Mall. Who could ask for more? There were delays due to accidents but medics did a great job in tricky circumstances. Was held up - but next to a barbecue in deepest Surrey and then next to the delicious deli in Dorking. Thanks to them for the delicious emergency sausage roll! My legs felt good throughout and I made it up all hills without stopping. Onwards and upwards to the next Sportive! You can still donate to the 2 Brain Tumour Research charities I supported by going here:

Monday, 1 August 2016

Working in Westminster this week before heading north

I have the task this week to review all correspondence from the 36,000 + letters and emails we get and ensure that everything has been responded to. I have a variety of other meetings in Westminster before I head north later in the week.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Lynx in Kielder Forest? What are your views? Local consultation meet August 11

There is a proposal to reintroduce lynx to Kielder forest and an engagement / consultation event with locals on the 11th August.
If you want me to make your representations through me then get in contact in the usual way 

Friday, 29 July 2016

Taste Tynedale this weekend - all day Saturday + Sunday - do not miss it!

The ultimate family day out with all the best food and drink, entertainment for all the family, demonstrations and so much more. There will be over 40 traders selling, a beer tent, produce market and great local acts performing.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

It is National Parks week - have you explored Northumberland = the nations best national park?

Still many opportunities to embrace the outdoors, appreciate Hadrians Wall or Vindolanda, or simply bike or hike across the greatest of all landscapes. Get out there this weekend!