Friday, 25 February 2011

Made in the UK

I visited a North East manufacturing firm this week to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities facing the sector at the moment.

As most of you who know the blog will know I'm a keen supporter of our there are strong individual indicators; UK steel production is soaring and we've seen a 9 Percent increase in UK car production in January‎

Some say that we shouldn't have high hopes for UK manufacturing, that we will never been able to compete with the huge economies scale and low wages offered by competitors in China and Asia. Well to some extend that is true. I have doubts as to weather the UK will ever be the home of make-them-cheap-stock-them-high goods.

However there is a real window of opportunity for the UK, and I think we are already seeing it - our strong reputation for goods that high in quality,

The perception round the world that UK-produced products are good quality is a strong base on which the sector can really grow. We're seeing an up tick in demand for UK made goods, particularly from overseas and I think that's one of thing we can all be proud of - and I hope that is only going to grow.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Fancy a job?

Yesterday I blogged about opening up my Westminster office to our work experience program which we run in my local constituency office. Well today I'm pleased to say we are launching our Apprenticeship Scheme in my Hexham Office.

Over the coming weeks we will be advertising a paid position in my constituency office for an apprentice who will work hands on for 6months as well as gaining an NVQ Apprenticeship qualification in Administration and Business Management.

I'm really excited at being able to offer this opportunity - please keep an eye on the blog over the next few weeks for more details.

This follows on from our Big Society Summit in Tynedale were oppurtunities for skills traning for young people was one of the key themes raised on the day.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Want that Westminister work experience?

As part of my Skills for Work I have championed how important is for young people to be given the chance to take up work experience. Often work experience is closed off, aviable only to those with parents in the know or family connections.

Our local constituency volunteer work experience has been very successful with a huge number of young people, some still in school, some gradutes taking the oppurtunity to enhance their CV and get real work experience. It isn't a job description and there aren't set hours - it isn't a job but it is a chance to get some work exerience to help young people get ahead who are often met with 'experience only' job adverts.

We have decided to expand this to my Westminster office on a trial basis in the coming months. MP's have a limited staffing budget so the positions will be unpaid but we will be as flexible as possible to try and make the oppurtunity as open as possible.

Applicants should have:

A strong interest in politics, current affairs and government policy.
Strong verbal, written and interpersonal skills and strong IT skills. Good organisational skills, and the ability to thrive in a fast-paced environment will be useful.

Becuase of nature of speech writing and so forth ideally candidates should be supportive of Conservative party and Coalition Government views.

Upon appointment you will be required to comply with the Baseline Personnel Security Standard, undertaken by the Members’ Staff Verification Office (MSVO).

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Can you help us in Barnsley Central?

James Hockney is the Conservative Party Candidate for the Barnsley Central by-election, having fought the neighbouring seat Barnsley East at the last general election.

James says:"It is a real privilege to be standing for Barnsley Central. Having previously campaigned in the seat just next door, I have got a real understanding of the issues and concerns of Barnsley's residents and local businesses.

"I am a Trustee locally for the children's charity, the Red Balloon Learner Centre in South Yorkshire. If elected as the next MP for Barnsley Central I will passionately fight for jobs, investment and a brighter future for the community."

I am taking my team down to help on Thursday this week and your more than welcome to join us. Please email or call 01434 603777.

If you think you can help another day please email

Monday, 21 February 2011

Making Work Pay...

Since I first stood as a Conservative candidate at the General Election I have wanted us to have a Government that is on the side of people who want to get ahead, the people who get up early, work hard, play fair and do their bit.

One of the key changes this Government is making is to make sure the system is on the side of just those people. The reforms of the welfare system will ensure that work always pays and no one can say they are better off on benefits.

The Welfare Bill Iain Duncan Smith introduced yesterday delivers just that. We will start to reduce these rates and simplify the system by introducing the Universal Credit, ensuring it will always pay to work.

What is so positive is that these reforms are particularly focused on helping those in work on low incomes who are doing the right thing but find they lose far too much of their take home pay. One million of these low earning households will now receive up to £25 extra every week.

The message is simple; if you play fair this government is on your side. However if you're unemployed and refuse to take either a reasonable job or to do some work in your community in return for your unemployment benefit, you will lose your benefits for three months. Do it again, you'll lose it for six months. Refuse a third time and you'll lose your unemployment benefits for three years.

We will ensure fairness for taxpayers by introducing an annual cap ensuring no family can get more in benefits than the average family earns by going out to work.

And we will ensure there will be no more cases of families getting over £100,000 in Housing Benefit by capping it at £400 per week.

After 13 years of Labour, I think most people in my constituency will welcome these changes.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

The Right Call on Forests

I welcome the Governments decision to listen to our concerns which I have expressed myself both in the House and directly to Ministers on the forests consultation.

What a welcome change to have a government that actually listens. This is the right decision for our forests. The government has listened to the feedback on this important issue, and are acting on that feedback by doing three things:

Removing the clauses from the Public Bodies Bill which would permit publicly owned forests to be transferred into different ownership.
Closing the consultation on the Future of the Public Forestry Estate.
Setting up a panel of independent experts to consider how we can better protect our woodlands for the future as part of broader forestry policy.

As I hope most of you will be aware, I have campaigned vigorously for the most rigorous protection measures to be applied to Kielder - so vital to our area. I said on Tyne tees last week I was confident the Government would listen - well I'm pleased to be able to say thats exactly what they have done.

Its not often a Minister gets up and says I'm sorry we got this wrong. Well done to Caroline for doing just that today.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Building the Big Society: The Tynedale Big Society Summit 2011

Building the Big Society: The Tynedale Big Society Summit 2011
Call it the Big Society, call it Community Empowerment, call it whatever you like, but I urge anyone who believes in trusting people before big government to think about what can we do to foster this new direction?

What can the Government do to hand over those reigns of power to local communities? How can we build local capacity for delivery? How can we develop parish and town councils into becoming real driving forces in our communities? How can we change and develop under threat services into community led services and social enterprises to secure their future? How can we encourage our communities to become engaged in social action and maintain the many projects we already have through greater local cooperation and sharing of resources?

This is a truly radical agenda. You have an opportunity, just like those who attended our Summit, to shape the Big Society you want to see.

On Friday at our first ever Tynedale Big Society Summit the aim was to showcase existing Big Society projects in Tynedale, directly influence Government policy, share best practice, and find out what local people thought was right, and indeed what was wrong with the agenda so far.

We had initially hoped to have around 100 attendees, representing enterprise, charities, volunteers, youth groups and a host of other organisations. However on the day we ended up with more than 150 guests keen to hear what the Big Society agenda was going to mean for them locally.

Greg Clark MP, the Minister for Decentralisation kindly opened the day with a video introduction outlining the Government's vision and making it clear that the much of his work on the Big Society was about looking at those projects which work or are budding, and stepping into remove bureaucratic burdens and make sure government wasn't choking off innovation and new community led ideas.

Kicking the day off with a key note speech I described how the Big Society was very much about pushing power away from central government to local government and not stopping there. Going further than ever before and handing that power directly to communities, to towns, villages and individuals. Explaining that the The Big Society was more than just about volunteering but instead an interwoven fabric of social action, community empowerment, volunteering and local service delivery.

A big part of the day was showcasing some local projects already taking place which underpin our own Big Society here in West Northumberland. We heard from Joan and her volunteers who run the Prudhoe Community Allotment, creating a green oasis in the middle of one of the more deprived areas. We heard from Dick and his team demonstrating real community empowerment saving Humshaugh Village Shop from closure by rolling up their sleeves and taking over the shop themselves. Turning it into a beacon of what communities can do when they pull together.

However the day was more than just a showcase, it was a chance for the volunteers, community activists and social entrepreneurs which will take the Big Society forward to come together, to interact, to ask questions and make their voice heard. Many felt hopeful that the new emphasis on trusting communities would result in greater participation in local democracy, particularly town and parish councils, which could see themselves flush with powers formally in the hands of civil servants tens if not hundreds of miles away.

It was hoped that the Big Society Agenda would see a greater celebration of the work of voluntary and community groups which already do so much good in our communities already - treating such groups as the first port of call rather than an after thought when we politicians identify problems we want to fix. That will be a huge step change in the relationship between the state and the voluntary sector. Proposals around trusting charities to deliver more services and payment by results were welcomed.

There were however concerns; namely around funding and infrastructure.

We identified what we termed the 'gap problem' in terms of infrastructure; whilst it was acknowledged new infrastructures would become available, such as the Government's plans for 5,000 new Community Organisers. The concern was that in the short term infrastructures which charities and local groups had relied on over the past decade, would be reduced before new ones were in place. I'll be taking those particular concerns up with the Minister, looking for ways in which we can ensure established projects can retain that expertise and advice as we develop the Big Society.

Secondly there was the issue of funding. It's an obvious one and not something the Government should be shy to discuss. As local Council's make cutbacks many local charities are going to find state funding harder to come by. What was very impressive however was the the ideas coming from floor about how this could be tackled. Bidding for local service delivery from Councils and Government represents a huge opportunity for voluntary groups to develop into Social Enterprises and open up a whole new revenue stream. Sharing of resources, working together, through for example sharing fundraising staff in a cooperative by a number of different local charities was an idea which particularly caught my eye.

However we must also be honest and say that if the government simply rolls back and does less, society won't automatically be able spring up and do more.

The truth is that the Government does have a role in helping to build up the Big Society - after more than decade of being squeezed by beauracry and state intervention our Big Society is going to take some resuscitating.

The Big Society bank, now boosted by an extra £200 million from Britain's High Street banks will be a key asset for charities looking to expand their operations. I hope the proposals for a £100 million access fund for charities badly affected by local government cuts will also help with some of the short term difficulties that some fear.

Towards the end of the day we moved towards looking for solutions and producing an Action Plan to take the Big Society Agenda forward in my constituency with real quantitative steps to take things forward, demonstrating community-led planning at its best.

The over riding message from our Summit was clear. Yes there are difficulties ahead but there are also opportunities. Right now is an opportunity to help shape the mechanisms that will underpin the Big Society.

If you have any thoughts or ideas please email me at

To view more photos from the day click here

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Skills For Work: MP dismisses apprenticeship 'snobbery'

Hexham MP dismisses apprenticeship 'snobbery'
by Paul Tully, The Journal

Feb 10 2011
A NORTH East MP has described apprenticeships as the way ahead for the Northumberland economy - and dismissed the “stigma” attached to them.

Hexham’s Tory MP Guy Opperman says the academic approach of recent times has brought “a kind of snobbery” towards work-based learning that has to stop.

But Mr Opperman, launching his own Skills For Work campaign, declared: “Apprenticeships are good for employees and good for employers. For too long, a purely academic approach has been seen as the best choice for all kids.

“But apprenticeships are key to the Northumberland economy.

“There has been a kind of snobbery towards work-based learning that must end.

“It’s great to have young people go on to university, but just look at the economic figures. It is the manufacturing and engineering sectors showing the growth.”

With National Apprenticeship Week up and running, the coalition government has pledged to fund 75,000 new apprenticeships nationally.

By 2014-15, up to £250m will be added to the £398m funding of adult apprenticeships (19+) from the previous Labour government.

And apprenticeships for 16-to-18-year-olds will continue to be fully funded, leaving employers to pay only the apprentice wages.

With over 24,000 unemployment benefit claimants in the North-East now aged between 18 and 24 – almost one-third of the total – the situation in this region has taken on greater urgency. Mr Opperman has posted a petition on his website calling on the government to re-focus post-16 education on basic skills which he says are “the key to employment”.

Extended eight-week work experience programmes instead of the former two-week period are also on the coalition agenda.

Nationwide, around 260,000 under-16s live in homes where no-one has ever worked, and Mr Opperman says: “Work-based training is the key to helping young people break out of that vicious cycle.

“Apprenticeships are good for society not just by helping lift young people out of unemployment but also by training the next generation who will help build a solid economic future for our country.

“However, there is still a feeling in some people’s minds, and forced upon kids, that somehow it is better to go the academic way even if that individual young person would benefit more from vocational training.”

Read More

Skills for Work: Work Experience

Last year I launched my volunteer work experience scheme for local young people, with a wide variety of ages, backgrounds and interests, I have been pleased to hear just how much they have benefited and enjoyed working in our fast paced office environment.

Already we have 35 young people, aged 16-21, signed up to the scheme and I feel this is a great way for students to experience the realities of working life. Work experience is key to unlocking the potential of our youngsters and getting the economy motoring.

I am currently in the process of convincing other organisations, public and
private, to build on this and increase the number of internships and work experience programs across my constituency.

I know how invaluable an that first bit of work experience can be - weather it be a helping hand for their CV or that confidence boost work and responsibility so often gives.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Raising our Apprenticeship Campaign with the Prime Minister

Guy Opperman MP: During a recent visit to Ponteland high school, pupils told me that apprenticeships were their No. 1 priority. With strong ongoing local schemes already operating in the area at Egger and SCA, will the Prime Minister back our skills for work campaign to encourage more youngsters in the north-east to take up the apprenticeships that are there?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. We have made some difficult decisions in this spending round, but we have increased the funding for apprenticeships so that we will be funding 75,000 more apprenticeships than what was planned under Labour. We think this is absolutely vital not just to help young people into work for the short term but to make sure they can have good and worthwhile careers in our rebalanced economy.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Skills For Work: An apprentices view

Last week I sat in a room with a group of other 16 to 19 year olds taking ‘Key Skills’ tests in English and Maths, all of us there for Apprenticeship pre-selection. A full day of testing and interviews was the first hurdle toward an NVQ Apprenticeship for everyone in the room.

The group were a surprisingly diverse mix of young people, with GCSE qualifications, many had A-levels, some previous vocational experience or even a first year at university. But all of us had decided that formal education is not the way we want to pursue our future careers and would rather further our education through vocational learning.

Despite this abundance of interest in apprenticeships over half of the candidates had applied for just two posts in Child Care with the closing date for applications to the program not for another month; another apprenticeship vacancy, in business administration, had been closed early after receiving over 25 applications for one post.

In a climate where there are near 10 people applying for every job vacancy it is difficult to get any job but I have found the ratio of vacancies to apprentices shockingly low. Should young people, who are eager to continue their education in a vocational setting, have to face so much competition to become well trained members of the work force?

There are only around 30 current apprenticeships in the whole of Northumberland, spread right across the county, with applicants from across the North East. What we need is more apprenticeships, more opportunities for young people to further their education and more chances to succeed.

As a young person I support Guy's Skills for Work Campaign encouraging a greater focus on vocational training. I'm pleased to see the Government investing in more apprenticeships, increasing annual funding for adult Apprenticeships by up to £250m above the £398m a year funding inherited from the last government, by 2014-15.

Launching our Skills For Work Campaign

This week to coincide with Apprenticeship Week I launched my Skills for Work campaign. As a member of Parliament one of the things I'm most passionate about is vocational training and apprenticeships. I genuinely believe that training up the next generation of young people with the skills they need for work is the best gift we can offer, as well as the key to unlocking our country's economic potential.

The campaign has several aims, which I'll keep you posted about through the blog;

Encouraging more businesses to take on apprentices here in the North East;
Pressing the Government to expand work experience opportunities;
Encouraging more young people to consider the vocational route;
Working towards a cultural shift in the way we see apprenticeships;
and highlighting the work of local apprenticeship providers.

You can show your support for the Skills for Work campaign by emailing me at, or send me your ideas on what more can be done to make sure our young people have those crucial skills for work.

Friday, 4 February 2011


Usually the blog is the first place I note my thoughts and opinions on an issue however on the recent Forest and Woodlands consultation I wanted to wait until after Wednesday when the matter was debated in the House.

I regard this issue as of paramount importance as not only am I a keen “user” of these important local amenities but I know from the large volume of correspondence I have received from constituents that we are all worried about our local woodlands such as Kielder, Wark, Redesdale and the various other smaller forests that we are lucky enough to enjoy in Northumberland.

I should make it clear that I live just outside Wark at the epicentre of the Wark, Kielder and Redesdale Forests. There is no question that Kielder and our other forests represent the green lungs of the North East, the heart and soul of the Northumberland countryside.

I have several fundamental concerns with the proposals.

i) Public access - I believe its crucial that all public access is safeguarded permanently. That for me is a deal breaker.

ii) Biodiversity - The long term environmental management of our Forests and Woods are vital. Our forests and woodlands are home to several sites of special scientific interests, Kielder is one of the last bastions of the red squirrel, an excellent habitat for many species of birds of prey as well as truly magnificent roe deer. This biodiversity must be protected.

iii) Jobs and industry - Each year 475,000 cubic metres of timber are felled to supply timber intensive local businesses such as Egger - the largest employer in the town of Hexham and Kielder itself is a key employer to many. This is a working forest with felled areas which are replanted to provide a continuous cycle upon which much of the employment in the North Tyne and beyond is dependent. Indeed it is the biggest employer in the area of the North Tyne. As it stands I;m concerned of the effect of these proposals on those jobs.

iv) Tourism and future investment - During my time as the Member of Parliament for Hexham I have worked closely with Northumbria Water, responsible for Kielder Water, the largest artificial lake in the United Kingdom which sits at the heart of the Forest. The development of these two vast resources, is already subject to a 25 year investment plan which has outdoor activities at its heart. Fundamental to this is access for cyclists, horse riders,and a host of other activities. I have major concerns that these plans, which will hopefully see an additional £31m boost to the local economy and 500 new jobs in the next ten years in an area where employment is far from guaranteed, will be put at risk.

I have already communicated with Caroline Spelman, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and her Minister, Jim Paice, to make them aware of the strength of local feeling on this issue.

In summary, the Government has published its consultation paper only - to set out a range of options for ownership or management of the forests in England which are currently run by the Forestry Commission (approximately a fifth of the total woodland area).
The consultation itself can be found here and is scheduled to run until the end of April, with the final report published this summer. If you have the time, I would strongly encourage you to submit your concerns via the web link to the consultation process, or use normal mail to get your point across using the address; Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London, SW1P 3JR.

The consultation runs from 27 January 2011 to 21 April 2011.

I have been assured that no final decisions will be made until after the consultation period, highlighting again how important it is to make your voice heard.

Tynedale headteachers meet Education Secretary

Great event yesterday where the four headteachers in my patch were able to have a sit down chat with Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove. Some really interesting discussions - the Hexham Courant will have the exclusive inside story in next weeks edition...

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Crime Maps

If you have five minutes I really recommend you log on to which allows members of the public to see crimes in your area and is the first of its kind in the world.

The site was an important part of the "transparency agenda" - making data available in an open format so the public can see whats going on.

Yesterday Thersea May the Home Secretary said: "I think people are going to welcome the fact they can really see what's happening with crime in their area, not just on their street but in their neighbourhood.

"This is giving people a real tool, real power to see that something is being done about crime in their area. This doesn't make them frightened, it actually makes them feel a part of what is happening."

Good stuff.

A Reminder

51 years ago yesterday, four college students began a sit-in protest at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, USA. They had been refused service because they were black. By 1968, all forms of racial segregation had been declared unconstitutional by the American Supreme Court.

The power of peaceful protest.