Wednesday, 31 October 2012

How do you waste £8billion?*

Its not often I get into number crunching on this blog but a figure really caught my eye this week: Government Whitehall departments have saved £3.1 billion so far this year and that is expected to top £8 billion by the end of the year.
Much of this is thanks to the under reported work of Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude who has been busy quietly making efficiency saving in deepest darkest Whitehall.

Here's the inside track on just three areas Francis and team have been able to find those savings so far;
  • £680 million saved through the moratorium on consultancy and contingent labour spend and on extending existing consultancy contracts;
  • £170 million saved from reductions in the in-year cost of the government’s property estate, by exiting unnecessary properties, and questioning each and every lease break before they get extended;
  • £295 million saved by using government’s bulk-buying power and pooling spend on goods and services used by different departments.
This Government is having to make tough decisions on spending, but when you see some of the savings that can be made, simply applying good management and business sense, it does make you realise just how much of your wages Labour was pouring down the drain.

(*Answer: Ask Ed Balls)

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Ash Dieback on the BBC

Today I was on the Daily Politics. You can watch the issue here - the segment starts at 36 minutes and 20 seconds

Railways in the North

Yesterday, I went to the meeting of the All Party Group for Rail in the North in the House of Commons. It also coincided with the publication of the cross party pamphlet entitled "The future of rail in the North", which features contributions from MPs, the Railways Minister, Simon Burns MP, representatives of Northern Rail and other interested commentators.
By chance, this event coincided with the publication of the interim Laidlaw report on the flawed modelling done for the bidding process of west coast mainline. As a result of the report the Transport Secretary did the decent thing and came to the House and gave a ministerial statement, whereby he answers questions on the issue from all sides.
The full report on that issue is here. I asked the last question:

The Brown report on the future of franchising will follow in less than 2 months.

Seaprately yesterday afternoon at the APG Meeting I had the chance to discuss long term upgrades and possible improvements to the railways around Newcastle, and along the Tyne Valley, with Northern's Performance and Planning Director, Rob Warnes. This was helpful in understanding the aims and objectives of Northern and also for letting me make the case for an improved service on the Tyne Valley Line. As always if any readers have specific recommendations that they wish me to put to the team at Northern please write in, care of the House of Commons address.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Church commissioners questions in the house of commons and the fate of Richard III

The confluence of church and state are the regular questions between members of parliament and the MP designated to answer questions in the House of Commons on behalf of the church. This MP is the cerebral Sir Tony Baldry. I frequently raise matters at this debate, which always takes place early on a Thursday morning, once a month. My particular concern for some twelve months has been the theft of metal, war memorials and roofing from the various churches I look after in Northumberland, and the wider north east. On Thursday of last week it was no different and I raised this point - seeking an update on the Scrap Metals Bill - which will make the stealing of scrap metal so much more difficult and thereby protect churches. However, the whole debate is always worth looking at.

During the debate Sir Tony was asked in detail about the proposed last resting place of the bones of Richard III - an issue that is exercising many Yorkists and Leicester folk. To know and understand the nature of these issues I would strongly recommend Quentin Letts hilarious report of the exchange in the Daily Mail, which is found here:

By way of an update I gather the Leicester community has won the day and, if it is indeed the king, he will be formally buried in Leicester Cathedral.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Regional Conference

Today we held our Regional Conference of the Conservative Party down in Durham. It was great to see so many local enthusiastic activists coming together to discuss ideas, policy and plans for the future.

We are really shaping up into election mode with big elections next year in Durham and my patch in Northumberland as well as in North Tyneside for our excellent incumbent Conservative Mayor Linda Arkley.

Being in Government always makes local elections harder (as the Liberals have discovered!) but often such elections come down to three simple things; the best candidate, the best organisation, and the best campaign.

I am pleased to say in my patch we have hardworking local candidates who have already been working hard for months. I hope to see us pick up at least a few extra seats and I am looking forward to continuing to campaign hard with those local candidates right up until polling day next year.

Below is the latest leaflet from our excellent candidate in Hexham West, Colin Cessford, a former Ambulance Driver and Director of the North East Ambulance Service. The incumbent Lib Dem Councillor has a majority of just 250.

Crime is down, even though budget savings have been made

The crime figures show reductions in the vast number of police areas - even as tough spending decisions have been taken. I spent this morning with our three excellent Police and Crime Commissioner candidates for the North East.  All were articulate, passionate about policing for their communities, and clear on their priorities. My local candidate is Phil Butler, from Heddon on the Wall. He is giving the labour lady from redcar the shock of her life, as Labour are realising they cannot take Northumbria for granted.
Phil gave a great speech today to over a hundred locals, before going off campaigning. He is not only a former DI but also a forensic accountant. He spoke well as to how he wanted resources deployed, and where further savings could be made and then directed to front line policing. Meanwhile the latest reductions in crime in the north east show that it is how you deploy your budget, not what the size of the budget is that counts. These principles have long applied in business, and it is good that the modern police force is doing the same.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Ash disease fear for our woodlands

There are fears that our ash trees may become the victims of a Continental virus called chalara fraxinea. The ash is a tree in their millions across the UK, and all parts of the country would be affected. They make wonderful trees, but also make everything from walking sticks to cricket stumps. I urge you to watch for infection in your ash trees and inform the forestry commission if you see decay. I strongly suspect there is going to be a ban on all imports and a tree break to prevent the spread of the isolated outbreaks in the south and parts of county durham.

Equal pay for women

Campaign continues both in Westminster and Northumberland, where I still have many local residents who have claims against Northumberland County Council, who paid local women lesser salaries for years when compared to their male counterparts. I raised this in the House of Commons again yesterday, calling for a debate - as reported in today's Journal. This comes on the back of a groundbreaking decision in the Supreme Court this week which held that the problem may have been much more widespread than just the actions of local authorities.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

BBC Radio Newcastle

Click here to hear me discuss the latest on the economy on BBC Radio Newcastle this morning. From 2.09hrs in.

Growth of 1% this quarter

This is the fastest period of growth for years. Delighted that Ed Balls has to change his hand signal and admit the economy he ruined is coming back to life. However, as I explained on the BBC locally this morning, the key will be a long term sustainable recovery, away from the land of boom and bust. In short we have crested the first big hill but have a long sustained journey to go.

£30 from Regional Growth Fund

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership has been allocated £30 million from the Regional Growth Fund to develop an infrastructure fund. By targeting those projects with the greatest economic returns the fund aims to create at least 2,300 new jobs over 10 years.

The North East LEP will find matched funding from the private sector to unlock strategic infrastructure investments across Northumberland, Durham and Tyne and Wear.

The North East LEP's infrastructure fund (NEIF) will be open to private sector and public sector applicants. Decisions will be made according to criteria which will reflect the economic returns from the investment whilst also taking into account the benefits to the least advantaged communities.

The success of the bid is in no small part down to local authorities and the North East LEP working together, something I has previously criticised them for not doing enough. Credit where credit is due.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Job numbers increasing, inflation down, sme businesses improving, economy on the up

However you analyse it, the economy is beginning to turn around. I see everything from bank lending to house prices, from job figures to apprentice numbers showing an improvement.
There is even a significant improvement on youth unemployment figures.

The final verdict on the economy is announced on Thursday when at 9.30am, the number-crunchers at the Office of National Statistics will announce whether Britain is emerging from the recession.

Regardless of your politics all will cheer if it is good news on Thursday.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Mansfield, Oxford, Bexley, and East Liverpool are the English named towns in Ohio which will decide the US Election in 2 weeks time

Ohio is the ultimate American swing seat. Whoever wins this big state, Americas seventh most populated, wins the election in 14 days time. Obama has been ahead for a long time but Romney is catching up. Ohio has plenty of other small English named towns like Newark, Kettering and Plymouth, where both candidates are spending ever increasing amounts of time.
The approach of states like Ohio to the respective policies of the two American presidential candidates can give us in the uk a lot of assistance.
The guardian recently did an in depth piece on the ohio state voters that is worth reading.

UK car manufacturing

We now export more cars than we import for the first time since 1976. 
All of you who are regular readers will know that one of the elements of this Governments work I am most supportive of is the rebalancing of our economy away from the casino banking we saw under Labour to a sustainable economy, fundamentally based around manufacturing. Our manufacturing of cars is a key indicator that the Government is getting this right.
In the first three months of this year, the UK manufactured 401,412 vehicles – a 12% increase on the previous quarter.
- Jaguar Land Rover is to spend an extra £1 billion with suppliers over the next four years and will create 300 jobs.
- Vauxhall have also recently announced that 2,000 jobs have been secured and 700 new jobs will be created at their plant, while a further 3,000 jobs are expected to be created in the supply chain.
- Nissan continues to be a growing success story for us here in the North East.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Park Homes Bill

This week I have been pleased to welcome progress in park homes legislation aimed at cracking down on sale blocking and unfair site owners.

The second reading of Peter Aldous MP’s Bill on Mobile/Park Homes passed through to committee stage on Friday after winning support from political parties across the House of Commons and I was pleased to able to speak in the debate. I have a few Park Home sites in my consituency including places like Blenkinsopp near Haydon Bridge, where I was canvassing last month.

You can watch my speech HERE at 1.37mins in.

Hillsborough Debate

Today parliament debates the death of 96 people and the sad reality that some could have been saved if people on the ground had reacted in a different way. Hindsight is always 100 percent clear, and lessons have clearly been learnt, but really proud that it is this government that is confronting our problems from the past and bringing justice to the families who lost so much, and who only want to know the facts and see justice.
I have been so impressed by the team at the Home Office. Whether it was last weeks announcements on the European Arrest Warrant or Gary McKinnon,  or the fact that crime is coming down, or today's debate on Hillsborough, there is a real sense of purpose from the Home Secretary downwards.
It is only week 2 I accept, but finding my new role fascinating.

Friday, 19 October 2012

"How I Nailed Sayers"

The race to be Northumbria's Police Commissioner is hotting up. Conservative Candidate Phil Butler has been making a big splash locally talking about his record as an ex policeman will mean he is best placed for the new role. One of the things many people have welcomed about Phil campaign is how local and un-party political it has been.

Phil has put together THIS excellent short video about why he is the right man to take on crime across Northumbria.

Phil's experience is in real contrast to Labour's candidate, a career politician and former MP for Redcar who was kicked out by the electorate in 2010.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Victory on Boundary Changes

This week I was amongst those welcoming revised Boundary changes announced on Tuesday which see Northumberland kept whole. Under the Boundary Commission's initial proposals South Tyndale and Haltwhistle where to be placed in a new constituency of 'Consett and Barnard Castle' focused around County Durham.

I launched a campaign to amend the changes and keep Haltwhistle and South Tynedale within his Northumberland consituency. For the North East there were 1950 representations. Of those 950 related to the Hexham constituency alone, about 50% of the total for the entire region. The other 50% related to the other 28 constituencies in the North East put together.

I am so grateful to the hundreds of local people who got involved in our campaign to keep Northumberland whole. It would have been a terrible shame to lose Haltwhistle and South Tynedale. It just goes to show what we can do when we pull together.

The revised proposals where also supported by by the local County Councillors who represent the areas involved; Steve Bridgett (Rothbury), Eileen Armstrong (Ponteland East) Ian Hutchinson (Haltwhistle) and Colin Horncastle (South Tynedale.)

Of the 21 local Parish Councils who responded 20 of them rejected the Commission's initial proposals. Labour members of Prudhoe Town Council where the only ones to accept the removal of South Tynedale and Haltwhistle.

The new revised proposals,  as well as retaining Hatlwhistle and South Tynedale in the Hexham Constituency  keep Ponteland East in Hexham with the rest of Ponteland and put Rothbury back in Berwick upon Tweed as the Commission had originally suggested attaching it to the Hexham constituency.

 I am now very comfortable the Commission have listened to local people and happy to vote for the revised changes to cut the cost of politics and bring about fair votes.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Hillsborough will, I hope, have a fresh coroners inquest

Yesterday I raised the issue of the Hillsborough report in a question to the Attorney General. His reply is as follows:
"My consideration of the evidence in this matter is far from complete, but as I do not wish to cause the families affected by this disaster any greater anxiety, I have decided to take an exceptional step and announce that, on the basis of what I have already seen, I am persuaded that an application to the Court for fresh inquests must be made. Ninety-six people died as a result of what occurred at Hillsborough that day, and 96 inquests were held. I believe that, as all those deaths arose from a common chain of events, it would be better for me to apply for all 96 cases to be considered again. I want to allow all the families affected the opportunity to make representations to me on that issue, and I will be in contact with them. I wish to make it clear that, having announced my decision, I will still need further time to prepare the application so that the strongest case can be made to the Court. I have given that work priority and I will continue to do so. I have today laid a written ministerial statement in both Houses announcing my decision.

I asked further:
Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
"All in the House and all the families involved will welcome the Attorney-General’s decision today; they have lived with a completely wrong verdict for far too long. Will the Attorney-General assist the House by telling us about the speed of the process, so that urgent justice can prevail?"

Dominic Grieve (Attorney General)
"I need to complete my consideration of the evidence and, as I have said, I need to provide the families with the opportunity to make representations, and to consider any representations that are made. I need to complete my consideration of the legal issues, and I then need to make the application to the Court. When the case is heard will be a matter for the Court’s listings. It is very difficult for me to give a precise timetable for my hon. Friend; I will move as quickly as I can."
  Really pleased that the governmment is sorting this tragic case out

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Gary McKinnon will not be sent to America

I was in the House today to hear Theresa May announce that Mr. McKinnon would not be extradited to America. This is the right decision. As she put it:
"Mr McKinnon is accused of serious crimes. But there is also no doubt that he is seriously ill. He has Asperger's syndrome, and suffers from depressive illness. The legal question before me is now whether the extent of that illness is sufficient to preclude extradition. After careful consideration of all of the relevant material, I have concluded that Mr McKinnon's extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr McKinnon's human rights."

Yesterday, she announced that Britain would opt out of 130 EU law and order measures  This is on top of the departure of Abu Hamza earlier in the month. All 3 decisions taken by this government and ducked by the previous Labour government I might add.

The Scottish Independence Deal

I am really pleased that we have settled on a single question, decided in 2014.
I know many of my constiutuents want a vote on the issue, but I am confident that Scotland will reject independence. Voting may extend to 16 and 17 year-olds. This extension of the franchise has implications for young people's participation in other elections. Mr Salmond had clearly wanted the Scottish people to be able to choose full independence or what he calls "devo max" - full fiscal autonomy.

The most recent poll on independence came last week and found that 53% of Scots would vote "No" in a referendum if held tomorrow.  If the Scottish people wish to have independence then they must also pay all their own bills - including their pension deficit, NHS, the cost of the military bases and RBS's liabilities - all without the Barnett formula of subsidy from westminster. For my part I will be campaigning hard for the union - we are better off together.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Pensions Revoultion

With all the media interest around party conference season, one of the most historic changes to pensions in this country has passed many people by. Automatic enrolment is the biggest change in pensions for at least a hundred years.
Starting with the largest firms in October, employers will now for the first time ever be required by law to pay into a workplace pension for staff who do not opt out.
By the end of this year alone around 600,000 more people in the UK will be saving into a workplace pension. By May 2014 an extra 4.3 million people will be saving for their old age. That is a remarkable step and something I am very proud to see this Government put in place.
Currently, around 11 million people are not saving enough to achieve the pension income they are likely to want in retirement, and less than 1 in 3 adults are contributing to a pension, while people are on average living longer - in the past 25 years, life expectancy at age 65 has increased by 5 years for men and 3 years for women.
Evidence from the Department for Work and Pensions suggests that, once automatically enrolled, less than one-third of people will take the active decision to opt-out. In the United States, case studies show automatic enrolment dramatically increased membership of similar schemes among new employees.
This will be one of this Government's longest lasting legacies.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

500,000 Apprenticeships

Anyone who knows me or has heard me speak will know I am passionate about apprenticeships and vocational education. That is why I am so pleased to hear from the Government today that more than half a million people started apprenticeships in the 2011/12 academic year.
 502,500 people started an apprenticeship in the last year - up from 457,200 in 2010/11.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said breaking the half a million mark was a "momentous achievement" for the Government and it really is. I am very proud of the work this Government has put into apprenticeships.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012


Rowenna Davis of the Newstatesman has written a very nice piece about me and some of my fellow Conservative MP's, so I thought I would share it with you.

"One man I had barely heard of before the conference actually took my breath away. Guy Opperman, Conservative MP for Hexham, stood up and made a passionate call for apprenticeships, action on low wages, protection for the poor and local banking.

He gave up his summer to walk from Sheffield to Scotland, talking to people about why his party was failing in the north, and his speech was clearly rooted in their concerns.  I thought woah, if that’s where the Tories are heading, Ed Miliband is going to be left without any clothes."

You can read her full blog post HERE

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Speaking in Birmingham

Today I am at the Woodland Trust event at the Hyatt speaking on the subject: what next for the nation's forests? We will. Be going through the recent Forestry Report in detail with Rory Stewart, MP, and others.
The rest of my Birmingham Schedule features the following events:
- Green Alliance round table event at the ICC 8-9.45am tomorrow with Oliver Letwin MP and key members of the climate change committee
- Respublica event with Philip Blond & Damian Leeson, head of John Lewis speaking on the economy on the way business and communities can work together. 10.30-12 ICC
- Working together for a better North East, event organised with Northumbrian Water, with Martin Callanan, MEP, and Heidi Mottram. 12.30 -2 Darwin suite in the Novotel Hotel.
- Policy Exchange event at Jury's Inn at 2.15 on policies for blue collar Tories
- then various other events on monday

Tuesday is equally busy with bbcradio Newcastle at breakfast followed by a dignity in dying event
At 12.30 I am speaking at a Respublica event on Local banking
At 6.30 really looking forwards to debating with Polly Toynbee, of the Guardian, and Jesse Norman, MP on How to restore public trust in companies with the High Pay Centre, again at the Jury's Inn

Saturday, 6 October 2012

What are the Conservatives doing for the North?

I have written an article for the Guardian's Northerner blog ahead of Conservative Party Conference on what the Conservatives are doing for the North. You can read it below:

I must confess I didn't catch much of Labour's conference. However, I did welcome Ed Miliband's focus on where he went to school. I hope my party will use our conference to remind the country that it is the Conservatives who are closing the gap between the richest and poorest pupils by providing schools with an extra £600 for each pupil from a poorer family. That's alongside establishing a £110 million Education Endowment Fund for innovative proposals to help struggling schools, the march of academies, and the increase in the number of 'superheads' who can transform schools.

It was also very generous of Miliband to highlight the importance of apprenticeships. I am one of the first MPs to hire an apprentice and then train her up and then give her a job. Again, I hope my party takes the opportunity to remind the public that under Labour we had far fewer apprenticeships in the UK than our competitors – but that since May 2010 apprentice numbers are up by 63 per cent under this Government.

At their conference Labour failed to back our welfare cap, failed to back our immigration cap and called for more spending, more borrowing and more debt - exactly what got us into this mess in the first place. I want to see our conference remind voters in places like Stockton South, Carlisle, Keighley, Blackpool North, Chester, Dewsbury, Pudsey and all across Yorkshire, exactly why they abandoned Labour in 2010 and why, if they work hard, and play by the rules, it's the Conservatives who are cutting the deficit and who will stick by them in these tough times.

In fact, here in the north east, it's down on the council estates and tougher areas where policies like welfare reform are most popular. Welfare reform may not seem that important where Ed lives in Primrose Hill. However, when you're getting up at 6am every morning to clean floors or work in a factory and you see your neighbour's house, curtains still drawn, benefits claimed, kids with the latest trainers – that you are struggling to afford for your own - it starts to grate knowing you're paying for it all. Where people can't find a job, they need every bit of help we can afford. However, on the doorstep, bringing to an end Labour's 'something for nothing culture' with the benefits cap is a popular move, in touch with the aspirations of hard-working northern families.

On immigration I was pleased to see that Yvette Cooper, in her conference speech on Wednesday, admit that Labour had made mistakes, when she stated, "we got things wrong on immigration". Yet where was her acceptance of our steps to control immigration, acknowledgement that immigration needs to come down, and her backing for our policies to reduce abuses of the student visa route? Between 1997 and 2009 net migration totalled more than 2.2 million people – that is more than twice the population of Birmingham. I hope we will remind voters next week that we have put a cap on non-EU migration. I speak as a descendent of immigrants, but there is no desire in the north for uncontrolled immigration, as it was under Labour.

Party conferences can be like Star Trek conventions for politicos. Birmingham for three days next week may be a long way from the North East, where I was knocking on doors last week, listening to what voters had to say. But there is a serious message to be delivered. On the big issues that voters raise with me, it is the Conservatives delivering for hardworking families up here in the north.

Daily Politics

I was on the Daily Politics today talking about the Conservative Party and our challenges in the North. You can watch it HERE at 28 minutes in.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Back in Westminster:

On Radio 5 Live at noon today with my favourite Liberal, Gordon Birtwhistle, the gardening mad MP for Burnley - together we run the All Party Group on Apprentices. I will be plugging the success of MPs getting their own apprentice - Jade, who now works for me having completed her apprenticeship, has learnt about Business Management as we try and look after 60,000 people with a limited budget, 2 offices, and 100 letters / emails a day needing answering. Looking forward to it.