Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Work not benefits will pay as welfare reforms start

The first pilot project started yesterday in Ashton under Lyme, Greater Manchester. It will transform welfare and simplify the system. After months of opposition even Liam Byrne, the shadow welfare minister accepted that Ian Duncan Smith's reforms were correct and indicated his party now backed the introduction of the new universal credit syste.
The new system is designed to ensure it always pays for people on benefits to go back to work or accept extra hours. Labour, as usual, voted against the scheme when it was debated by Parliament last year. But yesterday Mr Byrne said the universal credit system was a ‘fine idea’, albeit one with some details still to be ironed out.
Shadow employment minister Stephen Timms also said the scheme was a ‘sensible’ idea which would ‘potentially simplify’ the benefits system.
The fundamental point is that people should be encouraged back in to work not trapped in a situation where they earn more on benefits than they could do if they tried to work.
For more details on the story see here:

10 times Ed Miliband was asked to accept wants to borrow - no answer

Despite outlining plans that would require more than £28billion of borrowing yesterday he refused to accept he would borrow more - car crash interview on World at One yesterday and rightly reported in todays papers

Campaigning and surgeries today in Ovingham, Haltwhistle and Haydon Bridge this evening

As the County Council campaign enters its last few days I shall be in 3 towns and various villages today but holding a series of surgeries on the way - not least the meeting tonight in Shafto School for concerned local residents in Haydon Bridge 

Monday, 29 April 2013

Syria and red lines

Beware politicians who say something is non negotiable, or a red line which cannot be crossed. I have done this job for nearly 3 years now and politics is rarely black and white: I worry when we get ourselves backed into a corner because of rhetoric.
This week-end the issue is Mr Obama’s use of the red line phrase over Syria. The US and other countries are rightly demanding more proof that chemical weapons were used, that they were used by the Syrian government, and that the user had the full authority of Assad. If this is forthcoming then it is a war crime. War criminals need prosecution once they have been toppled from the protections of state power.

Although some people do not realise this, as yet, but we in Europe have got very good at prosecuting war crimes and the tribunals have brought many dictators and offenders to justice.
There is plenty of evidence of how loathsome this Syrain government is, and how cruel it is towards its own citizens, with or without using chemical weapons. Shelling and bombing civilian populations with conventional munitions can impose horrendous injuries and deaths. The issue should be how could western military intervention help, rather than whether there is sufficient pretext for such intervention.

As one colleague put it:
The problems with any military intervention are manifold.
- How could western bombs rain down without killing some people who are not part of the government and state armed forces?
- If the west uneashes some of its might to tip the balance in favour of a rebel victory, what kind of a government might replace Assad’s?
- How would any such replacement government heal the wounds of the current civil war?
- Is there a danger that more people who do not share the west’s beliefs in democracy, freedom and human rights take over in this blighted state?
- Could a change of government usher in a new instability, as pro Assad forces became the new rebels?

For me the best way is to assist the Syrain opposition as best we can without getting involved with offensive measures or boots on the ground

2 years ago my life was saved after I collapsed in HOC – am 100% now - thank you NHS!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Speaking about my book "Doing Time" Hexham Book Festival 6.30 Monday Queens Hall

Prison reform and criminal justice are the issues addressed in my book which I am discussing in a Q and A session Monday evening at the Queens Hall Hexham - the proceeds from the book go to my favourite NHS charity the National Brain Appeal
Please feel free to come along - its my first Book Festival! I will be signing copies of the book with the bookshop Cogito Books afterwards in the foyer.
The BBC reviewed the Book here:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-20270600

The short summary would be as follows:
A ground-breaking study of national importance of our criminal justice system by an MP and a former criminal barrister of note.
Prison does work. It locks people up so that the prisoner cannot then commit a crime: yet prison for years has failed to change the prisoner's behaviour. It is a disappointing fact of our prison system that under the last government released prisoners had a reoffending rate of approximately 70%. Prisons are a short term fix, not a long term solution. The public does not want us to be soft on prisoners. The Justice system needs to command the respect and confidence of the people. It clearly has not commanded that respect for some considerable time. Repeated polling shows that the public wants prison to be more effective at changing prisoners' behaviour. Put simply, it wants government to knuckle down and make prisons work . This study attempts to analyse what went wrong with the prison regimes in the past, makes suggestions for future changes, and assesses how things are changing under the new government. By ignoring prisoners, locking them up, and then discharging them with no basic skills, and still drug addicted, we have created a recipe for disaster and ever increasing prison numbers. This government should make the tackling of crime and reoffending a number one priority. The key point is that we know what the problems are: all are capable of being addressed.

Epic Weekend

Campaigning, door knocking, rain dodging, beer sampling, orchard planting, speech giving, food festival going, volunteering, and even rode a horse at a pub....a great Northumberland weekend
- Knocked on over 300 doors in Wylam, Ovingham, Ponteland, Hexham and South Shields
- Helped Wylam First School plant its native wild flower meadow / orchard this Sunday afternoon
- Sat on a horse and drank beer in aid of the Haydon Bridge Beer Festival and Fourstones Church at the wonderful Railway Pub in Fourstones [good beer] - well done to everyone who rode, cycled or ran from Haydon Bridge to Warden fora good cause
- Campaigned with Karen Allen in South Shields and for our County Council candidates in Ponteland, Bywell and Hexham
- Did a couple of surgeries
- Supported the Hexham Food Festival - great organisation / delicious food and drink
- Missed Pippa at the wedding but the Allendale wedding did get a lot of people excited in Hexham and it was great for the hotels and B and Bs
- Held a party for 70 just outside Corbridge Friday night and gave a short speech [1 genuinely funny line - was complimented on speech being "punchy and short" ... there is a compliment in there somewhere]

Friday, 26 April 2013

So Yvette Cooper - why are you campaigning against Labour policy?

Yesterday both Yvette Cooper and I were campaigning in South Shields. I was in Whitburn knocking on doors in Myrtle Avenue, Adolphus Street and Shearwater with Karen Allen, our locally born South Shields candidate. Yvette was in town for a flying visit and critical of the spare homes subsidy policy changes. She wants to call a taxpayer subsidy a tax - but seeing as she is married to Ed Balls I am not going to expect wise financial understanding from team Balls.
However, this is exactly the same policy change as was in the Labour party manifesto, [and as set out by James Purnell, the former Labour Work and Pensions Minister before 2010], which promised to reform housing benefit to ensure that people on benefits do not end up getting subsidies for rented accomodation that those who work could never afford to live in. Thus, all political parties accepted at the last election that this was an issue that had to be tackled. Like lots of our countries problems the reality is that this government is the one that has to take the hard decisions.

There are 12,000 people on the social housing waiting list in Northumberland, including several thousand in my constituency. We also have many homes occupied by social housing tenants where the present tenant is living in a home with more bedrooms than the present occupant needs. Housing benefit costs the UK taxpayer £23 Billion. It used to be £11 Billion barely 12 years ago. All of this has to come out of working people's taxes.
Its cost has risen self evidently by over 100% in the last 10 years.
Our welfare bill in this country is also simply unsustainable.

The Coalition are trying to address this problem.
What to do?
Clearly we should tackle the need for social housing by building more 1 bed and 2 bed social housing bungalows and flats. This we are doing both locally and nationally. I can point to a large number of great projects locally - Trinity Court in Corbridge is but one that ISOS is opening soon.

But this will not be enough. We need to move people to homes that the state will continue to provide, but free up housing stock for people who need 2, 3 or 4 bed homes. I have local people who have been on waiting lists for well over 5 years.
There is a very large pot of money available to ensure that those who either cannot move or cannot afford to pay the difference can do so.

Yvette is thus criticising a policy she campaigned upon at the last election to introduce.
Yvette also fails to want to cut welfare in any way which is disappointing.

Crime down in Northumbria latest stats show

Congratulations to all the local officers: violent crime, theft, and burglary were all down between 10 and 15 % compared with 2011, while sexual offences have dropped by nearly a quarter at 24%.
Read more: http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2013/04/26/police-chiefs-praise-fall-in-north-east-crime-61634-33238951/

All men and women may park in Northumberland but in Hexham we pay for the privilege

The Lib Dem parking policy is crazy. If George Orwell were alive today he would look at the parking situation in Northumberland and shake his head in wonder. Whilst some parts of the County enjoy free parking those of us who live and work in places like Hexham are forced to pay for parking. That this is having an impact on the trade in the town is beyond dispute. There are NCC parking enforcement officers who are zealous to say the least - and I receive regular and detailed complaints that the officers actions are driving people out of the town. Five separate constituents have raised this problem these last 7 days from employers of 20 + people in Hexham, to one man bands, to local townspeople. Only this week I received a complaint as to possible penalties being imposed by the parking attendant when a trader was legitimately using a loading bay.
Employers are struggling to employ people in the town because people who work in Hexham more often than not cannot get more than 3 hour parking for the day.
If this were a policy county wide I would be more understanding, but the reality is that Hexham pays and the South East of the County does not. That is simply unfair and merely because our Lib Dem masters in Morpeth say it is what they agreed with South East residents does not make it fair.
The Conservatives have a simple pledge of fairness across the County - we will make parking free for all. This would cost in lack of revenue but would be more than offset by the impact it would have in trade, in support for our shops and retailers who make up the life blood of this great county. People would have the money in their pockets to spend in the towns and shops that is presently being spent on inequitable and unfair parking charges. This is a choice - and a choice to support all of Northumberland - not just the Liberals favoured few.
For my quotes I prefer Jefferson to Orwell - "all men and women are created equal and should be allowed to park equally - and freely - across the County!" Vote Conservative for a free parking policy on May 2.  

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Wishing Nigel Dodds MP a good recovery after his heart attack in the commons today

The Northern Irishman is an excellent MP and suffered an attack today. He is an outstanding parliamentarian. My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. Wishing him a v speedy return to full health

Health Minister Dr. Dan Poulter MP and I at Hexham Hospital tomorrow

Dan is the health minister who helped save my life and together tomorrow we will be going to the wonderful Hexham hospital.
The story of how Dan helped me is well known, as he is not only a Health Minister, but a good doctor.
On April 26, 2011, almost exactly two years ago, I collapsed, and was suddenly violently sick. Dan arrived to help. He conducted a review of my symptoms and summoned an ambulance. That night and the following 2 weeks was scary but the NHS did a great job and I am better than before.
The full story is in today Journal: http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2013/04/24/hexham-mp-guy-opperman-set-to-help-launch-northumberland-hospital-61634-33225486/#ixzz2RMsI5F8k

Update: apologies but the schedule for tomorrow changed and it appears we are going to Hexham hospital and the RVI and not laying the foundation stone at cramlington. That will be for another day I am now told.

Karen Allen on Sky in South Shields


Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The lights go out in the House of Commons

Michael Gove is very quick on his feet. Yesterday he was answering Education questions on academies, when the lights went out in the House of Commons. He was talking to Labour's Kate Hoey MP about:
"the amazing  Durand academy in her constituency. To this day I am grateful, because it is an outstanding school with a wonderful team of teachers. The fact that it is thinking of opening boarding provision for children after the age of 11 is a bright ray of hope. It is a pity that some unfortunate words have been said
—[Interruption - as lights go out before coming back on]
All I can do is quote Cardinal Newman:
“Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom”.
The same spirit of that great pioneer of education is operating in Greg Martin's Durand school. I hope that it will come to Sussex as well."

"Part of the banking system should be local" - The Archbishop backs our local banks campaign

So said Justin Welby yesterday at a Bible Society event: he stated that problems were created when banks became distant from the communities they served.
The Anglican leader said the simplest solution to recreate a local banking system was "recapitalising at least one of our major banks and breaking it up into regional banks".
He cautioned against allowing the banking system to become too concentrated in the mistaken belief that it was safer. "As a bank, you can be big and simple or small and complicated, and do well. If you get big and complicated, you become unmanageable,"
I am delighted that the Archbishop agrees with our proposals for local banks.
Our conference to discuss how we do this is getting bigger and better and is on June 7th

Happy St Georges Day

Shame that if Scotland goes independent it would have to use the Euro, or a new currency.
Alex Salmond as usual wants lots of cake, has eaten it already, and wants to eat it again and again.
Not so the Pound and the Bank of England [Alex - the clue is in the name]
If Scots want to go independent then they have to find another currency - the dreaded Euro being the currency that dare not speak its name.
European Leader Barroso has warned that Scotland would not be automatically eligible to stay in the EU either – let alone join the Euro – it raises an awkward question as to what these independent Scots would use to pay the bills.
The SNP want to stay in the sterling zone. ‘Our preference is to use sterling”, says John Swinney, the SNP finance spokesman, “and no one can stop us.” True; no one can stop the Russians using it either. No one stops us using the rouble. As George Osborne said today, no one stops Panama using the US Dollar. But it’s better, of course, to use a currency over which there is some degree of national control.
This morning, Osborne had this to say to BBC Radio 4:
"Britain has taken a decision not to join currency zones like the Euro. Britain has had a poor experience with things like the ERM where it has tried to lock  its currency to other currencies. So it’s not clear that it would be in the interests of the rest of the United Kingdom to enter into a Euro-style currency zone with the rest of Scotland…. It’s unlikely that we could make it work. There are some very big questions as to whether the rest of the United Kingdom would want to tie itself to what would have become a foreign government, why it would want to tie itself to an economy very dependent on the price of oil and a very large financial sector. These would be questions for England, Wales and Northern Ireland."
Shetland's claim to North Sea is no less logical than Scotland's
Shetland’s claim to North Sea assets is no less logical than Salmond’s.

Note how Osborne refers to the ‘rest of Scotland,’ leaving open the option of Orkney and Shetland seceding and becoming the Dubai of the north. If you do a Salmond, and draw an imaginary line into the sea, their claim (right) would be no less logical than that of Scotland as a whole.
Anyway, today’s Treasury paper will say there is a ”need to agree a negotiated set of constraints on its economic and fiscal policies”. Here’s its case:-
“In practice this would be likely to require rigorous oversight of Scotland’s economic and fiscal plans by both the new Scottish and the continuing UK authorities. Even with constraints in place, the economic rationale for the UK to agree to enter a formal sterling union with a separate state is not clear. The recent experience of the euro area has shown that it is extremely challenging to sustain a successful formal currency union without close fiscal integration and common arrangements for the resolution of banking sector difficulties.”
The Spectator writes this morning that:
"The idea of Scottish separation is, to me, such a nonsense because it creates a thousand problems and solves none. Scotland’s problems are dire economic growth, the worst poverty levels in Western Europe, appalling life expectancy etc. None of which will be resolved by having more Saltires flying over hospitals, or cutting back the military. Osborne is right to highlight the currency issue, as it’s one of many to which the nationalists really do have no convincing answer."

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Guest Post: Will Green, Haydon Bridge and Hadrian

I live in Haydon Bridge and I have been a Tyne Valley resident all my life. I have farmed and worked locally as a solicitor and seen the difficulties faced by local people. We need a strong voice for the future.
I am standing for election because I feel Haydon and Hadrian is becoming marginalised by a County Hall that ignores the concerns of our part of Northumberland.
I attended Haydon Bridge Technical School in the days of Edward Waite. The Haydon Bridge Partnership includes 17 schools and my priority will be to see that, whatever system is adopted, the necessary investment will follow and the views of the parents and the communities who support these schools will be heard at County Hall.

Jobs are the lifeblood of any community – farming, tourism and our local businesses need to be as free of interference as is possible to create income and jobs for all our benefit. I shall do all I can to support and promote local jobs at County Hall.
It is unfair that those of us who live here and shop in Hexham have to pay parking charges when it is free in Blyth and Ashington. The Conservatives have campaigned to end this inequality, and I shall be part of that campaign.
Many of you will have seen me on the campaign trail these last few months - whether it was at the Innerhaugh and Showfield residents meeting, fighting the recently proposed wind farm south of the Tyne, in the Village Hall and cafe in Gilsland or at Greenhead Market. All of you now have my leaflet, 5 key pledges, and details. Please feel free to get in touch. Best wishes, Will

Friday, 19 April 2013

South Shields Action days

In South Shields today + Saturday, meeting at; ‘Next’ Car Park, Unit F & G, Waterloo Square Coronation St, South Shields NE33 1EW at  10.30am. Come and help local woman Karen Allen. I shall be leading a team to North Tyneside tomorrow afternoon as well.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Owen Patterson Visit

Local farmers will be pleased that Owen is coming to meet and listen to farmer's difficulties here in Northumberland in 3 weeks time:http://www.nebusiness.co.uk/farming-news/farming-news/2013/04/18/spring-brings-tough-challenges-for-farmers-51140-33192622/
Owen is the Secretary of State for Farming and we will be able to have a detailed Q+A with him - details of visit on May 10 in the late afternoon to follow.

Action Day in Haydon Bridge this Saturday

Meet 11 am HB Station to support Will Green, who lives in Haydon Bridge, and is the right man for this seat. I have a packed day Saturday including an early morning event in Fourstones, campaigning in Haydon Bridge, several constituency surgeries / visits and also am helping open the Westside Contemporary Gallery in Newton at 3.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Guest Post: Cath Homer, Hexham East

 I am very involved with many activities in the town, from the Abbey to the Scouts, however  I had never previously thought of running  for office. I am not a politician. But I do want to improve our community. I want to get things done.

I believe we have a strong sense of community here in Hexham, and we can achieve great things when we work together.

 The County Council needs to do more for Hexham:
- from small things, like tackling litter and graffiti, and smartening up or town
- to helping our retailers fight back so that we have a town centre we are all proud of
- to big things like backing our campaign for investment in our high school, and upgrading our bus station.

I launched the campaign to fight for investment in Queen Elizabeth High because, as a mum of three myself, I know our kids deserve a high school which is fit for the future. I will be pushing hard for funding to make that a reality.

I also know how important our local NHS is. I am determined to protect the quality of services at Hexham General Hospital.

I won’t be making any big promises I can’t keep. The only promise I will make is that I will work hard to do my best to serve our local community.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Back in Westminster

After nearly 3 weeks up north I am now in HOC but will be here only for a short while before heading home tomorrow.
I have surgeries booked in Hexham on Thursday, and a variety of other visits and events planned this weekend.

Who is right? Miliband or Blair/Blunkett/Reid & co?

"Labour must search for answers and not merely aspire to be a repository for people’s anger," says Tony Blair's in his recent article in the New Statesman. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/04/labour-must-search-answers-and-not-merely-aspire-be-repository-peoples-anger
His advice has been strongly rejected by Ed Miliband. Blair's former cohorts have been queuing up to agree with Tony: David Blunkett and Dr John Reid [last week], and Tessa Jowell [yesterday] backed up the former PM. But Ed still wants to oppose. Answers on a postcard as to whether Ed is correct to be taking his party ever further to the left or should he be heeding the advice of his former boss?
I do not want to get embroiled in other people's dirty laundry but there is a serious point. Opposition's should oppose - but I find it very irritating when they do not do so constructively.
It is worth reading the New Statesman article [I have done - just as I regularly read the Guardian to get both viewpoints], but here are excerpts:
Blair writes: "The ease with which it [Labour] can settle back into its old territory of defending the status quo, allying itself, even anchoring itself, to the interests that will passionately and often justly oppose what the government is doing, is so apparently rewarding, that the exercise of political will lies not in going there, but in resisting the temptation to go there."

Following last week's fractious debate on welfare, Blair says that Labour must be "the seekers after answers, not the repository for people's anger". He writes: "In the first case, we have to be dispassionate even when the issues arouse great passion. In the second case, we are simple fellow-travellers in sympathy; we are not leaders. And in these times, above all people want leadership". Rather than retreating to its ideological "comfort zone", Blair argues that Labour must remain on "a centre ground that is ultimately both more satisfying and more productive for party and country".

Ed Miliband these last few days has politely told Tony Blair what to do with his advice about the direction of the Labour party. Miliband is clearly heading leftwards. The unarguable statistic is the fact that Labour have opposed every single cut to national spending thse last 3 years. I accept that not all the governments decisions are perfect but knee jerk opposition, without an alternative, is neither constructive opposition nor does it win elections. Tony Blair of all people - who won 3 elections easily - understands this.

Blair goes on to pose seven questions that he says are examples of those Labour must answer if it is to address the need for "fundamental reform of the post-war state". In a sign of how he would have approached last week's debate on welfare differently, he says that the party should look at the "right balance between universal and means-tested help for pensioners" and ask what is "driving the rise in housing benefit spending". He adds: "If it is the absence of housing, how do we build more?" Blair also urges the party to explore how it can focus on "the really hard core of socially excluded families, separating them from those who are just temporarily down on their luck". In 2011, the coalition launched a scheme led by Louise Casey, the former head of Blair's Respect Task Force, aimed at helping England's "120,000 most troubled families".

On public services, Blair says that Labour should ask how it can take "the health and education reforms of the last Labour government to a new level, given the huge improvement in results they brought". Blair has recently praised Michael Gove's free schools as "a great idea" and has accused the teaching unions of obstructing "necessary educational change". In addition, he calls for Labour to explore how "developments around DNA" can help reduce crime and how technology can "cut costs and drive change in our education, health, crime and immigration systems".
Hinting at his frustration at the party's perceived lack of policy development, Blair writes: "There is no need to provide every bit of detail. People don't expect it. But they want to know where we're coming from because that is a clue as to where we would go, if elected." The danger for Labour, he adds, is of "tactical victories that lead to strategic defeats".

The former Labour Prime Minister’s allies aren’t quite so keen to let his New Statesman piece disappear into the party recycling bin just yet. On the Sunday Politics Shows both Tessa Jowell and Dr John Reid  urged the Labour party to change. He said:
‘The important thing to recognise is that as you move from the politics of opposition to the politics of a potential government that you have to be offering solutions and not just criticising the status quo.’

Asked what the evidence was for the centre ground moving left, Reid said:
‘I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Ed Miliband that.’

David Blunkett also pitched in on Sky with his own thoughts, arguing that the party needed to get out and out in the press more. He said:
‘If I have a criticism, it’s that many of my frontbench colleagues – not just the cabinet but junior shadow ministers – aren’t writing and speaking enough. I mean, the idea that every time you write… that it’s seen as a criticism, we are literally going nowhere.
‘So we’ve got to have the confidence to be able to say where we’re going, not just a narrative about what the Government is doing.
The reason the Blairites are so agitated – and it’s not clear whether this was a co-ordinated fightback or not – is that Miliband dismissed Tony Blair’s warning on the centre ground. Reid made that very clear in his interview with Andrew Neil. Never mind the list of questions: Blair’s piece was a direct rebuttal of the claim that Miliband has been making for months that he believes the location of the centre ground is changing. They do not agree with him, and fear that failing to heed the advice of a man who knows a thing or two about changing a party’s electoral fortunes could cost Labour a 2015 victory.
Not my words - that's the commentary from the New Statesman once more - which by the way was the only left of centre magazine to back Ed for the leadership. We live in interesting times.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Guest Post: Colin Cessford, Hexham West

I was a frontline paramedic & Director of the Ambulance Service locally.
The truth is we need real change at County Hall. The Lib Dems have neglected our roads, threatened our Middle Schools, and allowed Tynedale to suffer at the expense of Morpeth, Ashington and the south east of the County.
However, the failure of the Lib Dem Council to protect our green belt in Hexham West is their biggest failure: they have had 5 years to sort out a local development plan and they have failed to act. I hope to use my experience in delivering public services if elected to serve you at County Hall, in order to put local people first. I want to be your new County Councillor because I want to fight for our area at County Hall and put forward a positive vision for our community.
I am already a Town Councillor, and am really enjoying helping local people get a better deal.

As a result I want to be
- A County Councillor who sticks up for Hexham, at Morpeth.
- Not a Councillor who sticks up for the County Council, here in Hexham.
I hope you will be able to support me. Your vote will make all the difference.

Ponteland Green Belt campaign update

Over 2500 objections were handed in recently to County Hall objecting to green belt development. Congratulations to Alma Dunigan and her team of locals, who with the support of their four local Conservative Councillors, are fighting to protect the Ponteland Green Belt. Alma and others featured in Saturday's Journal making their case that there is minimal new housing need in the area, given the developments already going ahead at St Mary's, on the old Police Station site, and other local smaller schemes, her expression:

"Any housing develoment should be based on housing need and not developer's greed"
was quoted back to me by a local, almost word for word, over the weekend.

The company behind this are very slick, with a team of very expensive PR merchants fronting them. They spin their campaign to argue that their motives are altruistic, when it is clear that their overriding motive is profit. If this development goes ahead it will set the trend potentially for even more building on their bank of local green belt land.

The reality is that the company chose not to work with local people. They should not be surprised when we object and seek to combat the spin. I have been, and remain, fully supportive of Alma and her team.

Full details of the campaign being run and the help we are giving them visit: http://www.pontelandgreenbelt.co.uk/

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Adonis review is good news for the north east

I helped contribute ideas to the Adonis review and think the authors have done a great job - the full report is here and I am still going through it in detail:
It is intended as a manifesto for business, public service and political leaders across the LEP region.
Lord Adonis writes as follows:
"I sense a real appetite for change to promote more and better jobs and a better quality of life in the North East. Although commissioned by the North East LEP, it is pitched to a far wider audience, just as the LEP itself is a real partnership, indeed a federation of support drawn widely and often from those who are not directly represented on its Board. Big change is already in the making. The decision last month by the seven local authorities in the North East LEP region to establish a Combined Authority to take on responsibility for transport, skills and economic development is a breakthrough in vision, capacity and dynamism to tackle future challenges in partnership. I warmly welcome this bold initiative. This report offers an agenda for the Combined Authority and for the LEP and its partners.

It highlights five priorities in particular:
1. Champion “North East International”, promoting the region at home and abroad as a magnet for trade, talent, tourism and inward investment.

2. A doubling in the number of youth apprenticeships to tackle the evil of low skills and high youth unemployment, alongside higher school standards and an increase in the proportion going on to higher education.

3. The development of strong “innovation and growth clusters”, stimulating universities and their graduates, and existing companies and public institutions, to create and finance new high growth enterprises and jobs.

4. Big improvements in transport infrastructure and services to overcome the relative national and international isolation of the North East and to improve connections within the North East so that people can get to and from work more easily and cheaply.

5. The creation of stronger public institutions, including the location of key national institutions – such as the new British Business Bank – in the North East.
By these means, the North East can create more and better jobs, and a better economy and society.
All this is within our grasp. The task now is to agree on a plan and implement it. There is no time to lose.
On a personal note, although I was often in the North East in previous ministerial roles, and know many of its schools and transport networks from that period, getting to know the area’s companies, institutions and communities more intimately in recent months has been immensely stimulating. It has left me full of optimism for the region and its future. The North East has great strengths – in its people, its enterprises, its public institutions, and its natural, cultural, and so many other assets. There is huge capacity for success in the future, with will and leadership."

Heston in Hexham

The great chef will be here on Wed 24th at Hexham Golf Club at 7pm: a good intiative from the Hexham Golf Club and Waitrose in aid of Josie's Dragonfly Trust, Water Aid and Alzheimers Care in Northumberland. Heston Blumenthal will be demonstrating and then cooking a fish dish then lemon tart... sadly I will be in Westminster that night, but it is a good cause [for £10 entrance and tasting] with a great chef and I strongly recommend it.

Guest Post: Fiona Hunter, Bywell

I worked 35 years in the NHS. I live in Newton and was formerly on Tynedale District Council; I stood down to help my family, but am keen to get involved again to help our community in whatever way I can.
As a wife, mum and grandmother I know how difficult life can be in these tough times, whether in schooling, housing or health issues.
We live in a wonderful area here in the Bywell Divison (Ovingham, Ovington, Wylam, Newton and Horsley) and we want it to remain so. At present we are lucky with our schools, but I intend to ensure this remains so.
I am worried about the invasion of planning applications in the Green Belt, which could adversely affect us in many ways: I will support local people who face these problems, whether it is in Ovingham or elsewhere.

Hexham General Hospital is a great local asset and I shall be happy to help with any issues relating to its continuing services.
We have a few hubs of several businesses starting in our community and I pledge to support local businesses, especially by fighting to improve our broadband. As for the roads round here - do not get me started! This council has let us down badly. I am not and never will be a politician - but this election is about local people with local problems and ensuring that we get local solutions that really work.
I hope, if you elect me as your county councillor, I can help to improve my community to make it an even better and safer place to live.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Farmers Markets in Hexham and Greenhead this weekend

Saturday 9-1.30 in Hexham and 10-2 in Greenhead tomorrow - I will try and be there as I have not been to the Greenhead Market for a while and want to see how it is coming along. If you have not been I urge you to go - given the size of Greenhead this is a market that punches well above its weight!

Halty Junior Football

Haltwhistle United Football Club Juniors team is booming in terms of numbers but is suffering from a lack of facilities. With over 80 youngsters already signed up the club is struggling to provide a suitable place to play. Last week local people, like Susan and Martin, asked to come and see me to see if there was any way I could help; they are amongst the many local people who give up their time to help make football happen on the Tyne pitch by the A69 Roundabout. I took along the local County Councillor Ian Hutchinson. We met to talk through the problems, pitfalls and opportunities and then went down to the Tyne pitch to watch the teams of girls and boys train. One thing is clear - the facilities are spartan!
Currently there is one pitch which is mainly used for the under 16's team. That is leaving at least 5 teams of enthusiastic young footballers either doubling up on the same pitch or with nowhere to play. Clearly the pitch, which is already next to a river, struggles from overuse.
The County Council owns the land by the A 69 roundabout. At the request of HUFC officers I have asked for a meeting next Thursday at 4.30 in Hexham, with a few key representatives of the Club, and the County Council officer, to start a dialogue: we hope to try and sit down and work out exactly how we can help improve the future of one of Tynedale's fastest growing junior football teams. At he same time everyone locally understands, and accepts, that there is also a need to ensure that if at some point in the future there is possible future business development then this site has been earmarked, in part, for such a use.
I firmly believe a compromise can be found, whereby the dedicated team of local volunteers who run the club get better facilities and the County Council get what they want.
I should stress that the development of the Burn pitch would not solve this problem. If the Burn pitch development goes ahead then there will still be a need at the Tyne pitch.
If you have not gone along to a game at the Tyne pitch I urge you to go. You cannot fail to be impressed by the hard work local people have put into making the club a success, and it was just fantastic to see young boys and lots of girls enthusiastically engaged in a game it was clear that they all loved. You will need to wrap up, and I suggest go to the loo before you go!
I see no reason why football and future jobs cannot co-exist for the mutual benefit of the town.

The Ponteland Council race sees non starters and falls at the 1st

The race is on but there will be no town council election and no Labour candidates at all..
The most surprising result is in Ponteland North, where Conservative County Councillor Richard Dodd has been elected without an election even being held. No other parties could find candidates to contest the election. It is a remarkable turnout for Cllr Dodd, who only won the seat from the Liberal Democrats in 2008. That will leave around 4000 people in Ponteland unable to vote at this election. And they aren't the only ones.
Ponteland's Town Council elections will not be going ahead after only the Conservatives were able to field candidates. 13 out of the 13 Councillors on the Town Council will now be Conservative. That is another remarkable turnout for a Town Council which had a Lib Dem majority in the last ten years.

I think the fact only the Conservatives are fighting every seat is testament to fact it is the Conservatives who consistently put Ponteland first. These elections will be about local people and local issues. It is the Conservatives, and our local candidates and Councillors, who have stood up for Ponteland against the neglect from the Lib Dem County Council. From fighting to fix our roads, to trying to get proper protection for our green belt, and a fair deal for Ponteland, we have truly led the way.
Only the Conservatives have been able to field candidates in all 67 Divisions for the coming County Council elections. Here in the Hexham constituency again only the Conservatives have candidates in every division, with the Lib Dem leaving 3 seats uncontested. The only one they are fighting is Ponteland South and that is bizarre: Liberal Ian Southern lives in Hexham and is standing for Hexham Town Council for the Liberals
- but at the same time is seeking election for Ponteland South and Heddon, some 20 miles away: very odd.
In Ponteland East and West our two local women, Councillors Eileen Amrstrong and Veronica Jones, both have just one opponent from a national party of the right. Eileen's opponent is from Bardon Mill. What these opponents policies are on the 3 Tier, the improvement of the roads / potholes, getting a better deal from Morpeth and combatting the big guns at Lugano I am unsure. But we take nothing for granted and you will see the ladies out there every day on the doorstep. We have a very strong group of candidates and councillors, who have a strong record of action in their communities. It will be that record on which local people will quite rightly judge them and their opponents. I urge you to support Eileen and Veronica.
More details on the Lib Dem implosion here: http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2013/04/12/one-horse-election-is-off-61634-33158747/

Friday, 12 April 2013

Karen Allen selected as candidate for South Shields

Local woman Karen Allen is up and running straight away and campaigning tomorrow in South Shields, following David Miliband's decision to seek pastures new in New York.
The Shields Gazette reported her selection as follows:

"Karen Allen was born and raised in South Shields, and said she was “absolutely over the moon” at being selected to represent the party.

Ms Allen finished second to Mr Miliband in the 2010 election – polling 7,886 votes or 21.6 per cent of the total vote.
Now, she says she is once again ready to hit the campaign trail in a bid to convince the people of South Shields she is the right woman for the job.
She said: “A by-election is always an exciting and interesting campaign and it is going to be an intensive few weeks.
“I feel South Shields has been neglected by Labour for a number of years. Last time they catapulted in a rising star with ministerial posts which kept him busy.
“During my last campaign one of my biggest issues was King Street. There are still a lot of boarded-up shops and that needs to be addressed.”
Speaking passionately about the town where she grew up, Ms Allen, who attended Harton Comprehensive School, added: “We have such a beautiful coastline and some of the friendliest people in the country.

“If I am lucky enough to be selected, representing the town would be such an honour.

“There is so much to South Shields. It is such a unique place and for all the right reasons.”
Ms Allen, who runs a weekly reading project at a school helping young people, added: “I really do want to give it my all. It is a different playing field now. There is a woman going up against a woman for a start. I am really excited about the campaign.

“I’m hoping to build on what I achieved at the last election, to show that the Conservatives are in South Shields, we are committed and we want to reach out to the electorate we haven’t reached.
“I think there is everything to play for and there is no reason why South Shields cannot have their first Conservative MP. I would love to be that person to represent my home town.”

I urge everyone to come and give her a hand - particularly on the Saturday Action Days on April 20th and 27th when we will meet at 10.30 in the Asda car park in the centre of town. She is a brilliant candidate - locally born, went to school here, and knows South Shields inside out.

Action day in Stocksfield helping Paul Vickers tomorrow

Meet at the Stocksfield Railway Station at 11am. All welcome. This is the team we had out delivering recently for Fiona Hunter: my thanks to all the team - the picture was taken on Wylam Bridge

Time is standing still at the Abbey

The Hexham Abbey clock is stuck at 3.15 for some time now but will be repaired soon: full story here: http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2013/04/10/hexham-abbey-193-year-old-clock-to-be-repaired-61634-33145870/
Locals have started discussing whether this is a "Back to the Future" moment - but in reality the metal of the crank and strengthening arm has failed, and it should be repaired soon. I spoke to Canon Graham Usher of the Abbey on Wednesday and the work to the rest of the Abbey continues. It is a wonderful place and should be visited soon if you have not already been - whether you wish to come to visit to worship or simply because you wish to visit one of Northern England's finest church buildings.

Guest Post: Cllr Eileen Armstrong, Ponteland East and Stannington

With less that thirty days to go before polling day in the County Council elections I thought it would be a nice idea to hear from some of the local Conservative candidates standing around my patch. First up is Eileen Armstrong, our County Councillor in Ponteland East  and Stannington who is up for election on May 2nd...
I have been a Town Councillor for six years and a County Councillor for the past two years. I was elected as County Councillor at the by-election in November 2010 for Ponteland East . Having lived in Ponteland all my life, I am a widow, mother of three daughters and have two grandchildren – one of which attends Darras Hall First School. I have continued to represent the views of everyone regardless of their political persuasion.

The future protection of Greenbelt is of a high priority for those directly or indirectly affected as the majority wish to preserve Ponteland for the rural community it is; therefore I will continue to be your Greenbelt champion and take forward your views to County Hall.
Increasingly a large number of complaints are about the state of our roads but the Liberal Administration has this year cut a further 10% from the Highways budget. The Council owns £680 million of unused property costing £13 million a year to run...yet our roads are some of the worst in the County.
I am also currently working on behalf of those residents struggling with flooding. I appreciate this will be an on-going concern for many and I will continue to strive to achieve desired results for all.
At County Hall I have been leading the End of Life Care Working Group to raise the profile of End of Life issues. This will have a strong focus on helping people retain control, privacy, dignity and choice when faced with a life limiting illness.

I am passionate about the area I live in and that is why I want to continue to represent my community in the future.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

In Hexham, For Hexham - a first step to smartening up Hexham

On Monday evening I met with many of the local independent shop owners, who asked to come and see me to discuss how Hexham could be returned to its former shopping destination glory. This is the latest in a series of meetings I have had with retailers and local business groups.
All of us agreed on Monday that we need to act now to smarten up Hexham in a number of ways. 
1. Our first big idea is a town centre clean up to be fixed on a date in May when we ask everyone to get the town cleaned, painted and planted for the summer. I envisage a volunteer army of townspeople giving up an hour or so to clean their area and common parts. We are working on the date and will let everyone know once we have discussed feasibility and got certain key permissions.

2. I also asked the shopkeepers, both those who were there [and others not present but who we will write to] to draw up a list of key changes they would like to see in the town - both big and small: - from lights that have not been fixed for years, - to shop fronts that have not been cleaned or maintained, - to landlords or the County Council who have failed to do their bit - and big ticket items like the state of the Shambles. The list will be long and I welcome the input of one and all.

3. We need to make sure all the interested parties are working together: sometimes it seems to me that not every private or public sector organsiation is pulling in the same direction in Hexham -a point made by the shopkeepers who came to see me.
4. I am going to try and engage with the landlords and write / speak to them to ensure that they are doing their bit - particularly those landlords who are not able to let their premises at present.

5. Encourage people not just to show their loyalty but educate them as to the dangers of internet shopping - we are in a "Use It or Lose it" situation. either we support the town or it will struggle.

6. I have called campaign "In Hexham, For Hexham" - as we will be writing to all local businesses, big and small, the Courant and the business groups, asking them to sign up to the "In Hexham, For Hexham" campaign. The idea is for all the small local shops, cafes, businesses big and small to invest and work together to promote Hexham as a retail and general destination for the benefit of everyone.

I want us to come together to work for the benefit of our wonderful town. By joining the forces of our local retailers, big and small, we can really start to make a difference to how people view the Town Centre. This is all about taking action now. We have had a very positive first meeting and over the coming weeks and months we will be developing our plan to get Hexham back on the map as a retail destination.
We can also use the investment of the big stores to the advantage of the town. We need to come up with a strong retail offer across the whole town and ensure we get the mix right to keep our town centre alive.
Yes, we need more investment and support from County Hall, but our overall aim must be to improve the lot for Hexham local residents. We can do that by highlighting the wonderful things already of offer here, but also working hard to bringing businesses and shops into our town and breathe new life into the town.
With teamwork, an open mind and application our best days can lie ahead.

Hexham Abbey yesterday

Up to a thousand people gathered for the Maurice Reed Memorial Service. A short blog post does not do justice to this amazing Allendale man, whose mother was turning hay the day before he was born in 1928. The Tribute and the Address gave great stories of a sporting countryman who could value an animal, and an antique, with equal dexterity. Made an MBE by the Queen, Maurice raised over £250,000 for charity not least for Mencap, and the Coquetdale Shepeherds Disaster Fund. Both Graham Usher and I had, in our time, received the wise advice to "remember that, for the Northumberland Farmer, land means everything to us." Maurice lived a life with the land, and knew instinctively the time for birth, for planting, for death and so much more.
Afterwards we went to the Tynedale suite at the Hexham Mart. Above the Livestock Ring at the Rothbury Mart, and reproduced in yesterdays order of service, was the following caption which summed up also a lot of Maurice's approach to life:
"Good luck to the hoof and the horn.
Good luck to the flock and the fleece
Good luck to the growers of corn
With the blessings of plenty and peace"
It was a privilege to have known such a man

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Good news Ryan Mania out of RVI and ok

All he has is a small fracture of C7... I have done that, and it still really hurts, so he looked remarkably cheery yesterday when he was discharged from the RVI and went home to Galashiels yesterday. Full credit to the teams at Hexham Racecourse, the RVI & GNAA who looked after him. As a former jock we know we are really lucky to have these people to call on when the ground rushes up to meet you a speed.

The deaths of local Maurice Reed and Lady Thatcher cast a shadow over this week

Today I am in Hexham Abbey for the funeral of the former Hexham Mart Chief, Maurice Reed. It will be packed and rightly so. Maurice was one of the most prominent figures in the Tynedale world these last 50 years - a countryman to his boots, an auctioneer, and mastermind of the move of the Hexham Mart from the town centre to Tyne Green. He also was a leading figure in the navigation of the crisis that was BSE.
I did not know him till later in his life but he was immensely kind to me, particularly in 2008-2009 when I was the candidate, giving me advice, support and always willing to help. We will remember him and give him a good send off today.
Then on Monday we learnt that Lady Thatcher had passed away. I met several times in her later years, but was a child when she came to power. When I did meet her you were struck - even in her later years - by both her formidable intellect and her declining health. Even though her health has not been good for at least 5 years, when she was on form she could still fix you with a steely gaze, and urge you to action like no one else I have ever met.  She loved her husband deeply and missed him terribly after his death. My thoughts and prayers are with her family of children and grandchildren who will mourn her. 
I am not going south for the return of parliament today - I have the Abbey service, followed this afternoon at 3pm by a long booked meeting with local GPs, which we have tried to organise for nearly 10 weeks, and then 3 surgery appointments in Hexham this evening.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Foreign policy, international tax evasion, DfID and Bill Gates

On Monday I met with a group of concerned locals in Hexham to discuss the UK Governement's approach to international aid, our foreign policy in places such as Syria and Afghanistan, the progress being made on international tax reform and how best we address issues of global poverty.
We spoke for around 80 minutes and I answered questions on
- how we ensure the support goes to the proper recipients not to corrupt parties, as it clearly has done on occasions in the past
- how we lead the way in the transparency of our support - thereby ensuring that support is known and accounted for
- the pressure being brought to bear on recipient countries to ensure that they play their part in reforming their own countries - an example is the pressure that the UK government is bringing on Pakistan
- the difference that the new developments are making in the countries we support -  particularly for women and children
- the genuine problem of Syria's decline into civil war and our limited ability to help there without committing troops.
I made clear once again that there is no intention whatsoever to divert Dfid budget money for military use but again made the point that there is a need to support project development [like water projects / vacinations and infrastructure] with ongoing financial and security support.
- we discussed the legend that is Bill Gates, whose foundation has transformed African health in particular.
If you have not had a look at the Gates foundations efforts to improve world health I urge you to do so:
I met Bill Gates shortly after I became an MP - he is an incredible man who is putting his great we
alth to good use.
Finally, we also discussed tax reform so that countries, leading businessmen, and corporates pay their fair share. This will be top of the agenda at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland in June, but it was good to see progress being made on two levels recently:
- agreements with Jersey, Guernsey and Isle of Man on tax avoidance
- and this week George Osborne has a signed an information exchange agreement with the finance ministers of France, Germany, Italy and Spain in the latest effort to crack down on tax evasion.
Under the agreement, banks in the G5 will be forced to reveal financial details of foreign clients which will then be handed on to the tax domicile to be checked for evasion. The agreement, which is described as a “pilot” scheme, is based on the America’s Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) which has been used to capture US tax evaders abroad since 2010.
In a letter to Algirdas Semeta, the EU tax commissioner informing him of the deal, the five finance ministers have said the “pilot will not only help in catching and deterring tax evaders but it will also provide a template as to the wider multilateral agreement we hope to see in due course.” They said they “invite other EU Member States to join in this pilot” which they hope will remove “the hiding places for those who seek to evade paying their taxes.”
Fuller details here: http://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/uk-signs-tax-deal-france-171703796.html

Monday, 8 April 2013

An initiative that really is ageing well

The Morpeth Herald this week has the story of how Councillor Veronica Jones's intitiative on behalf of  Northumberland County Council for the elderly - the "Ageing Well programme" was recently given a ‘highly commended’ accolade in the Local Government Association Awards.
The project promotes the health and well-being of pensioners within their local communities by bringing them and local organisations together. Fuller details here:

It is just one of many innovative and successful ideas that the local community is coming up with to address the way in which we, as a community, deal with the fact that we are all living longer and need to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.

Open Studios & Vintage Bazaar at the Hearth, Horsley this Sat / Sunday

On Saturday I went to the Hearth in Horsley for the first time - the cafe sells delicious food with a smile, and the dozen artist's studios upstairs need to be seen to be believed. I chatted briefly to one amazing artist who sells her work all over the world
They are open this coming weekend from 10am - 4pm
The Resident artists welcome you to their open studios at The Hearth, exhibiting textiles, prints, original paintings, jewellery and ceramics.
There will be an exhibition of landscapes by Northumbrian photographer Linda Walton.
The Hearth will be hosting a Vintage Bazaar in the hall with stalls selling retro homeware, fashion accessories and all things vintage.
The café will be open too!
I urge you to go - its a lovely place with something for everyone.
More details here: http://www.thehearth.co.uk/wb/

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Conservative Future to take Wylam by storm on Tuesday

A t 1pm myself, Callum Crozier and the team will be in Wylam on Tuesday. All welcome

Multiple canvassing and delivering teams on the ground this weekend

Hexham, Ovingham, Ponteland, Heddon, Stannington, Haydon Bridge, Prudhoe, Stocksfield and Haltwhistle all saw people out and about delivering leaflets and making the case for change in Northumberland these last 36 hours.
Great effort made all across the patch by lots of volunteers from far and wide - my thanks to each and every one.
I, for one, have very sore feet!
Tomorrow I am in Hexham with surgeries and campaigning

GNAA airlift Grand National jockey Ryan Mania from Hexham races

Ryan was injured today in the 3.10 at Hexham - and airlifted to the RVI by the Great North Air Ambulance. He has neck and back injuries, the extent of which are unknown. This fall took place less than 24 hours after his triumph at Liverpool in the Grand National. Full story here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/horse-racing/22059295

Please give generously to the GNAA - last summer we raised over £2000 online and a further £1000+ when I walked The Pennine Way from Derbyshire to Scotland: you can still donate here: http://www.justgiving.com/GuyGNAA

This charity is entirely funded by donations, and the team in the air and the support team on the ground do a fantastic job. There are many great charities out there, but this one is the one of the best. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ryan and his family.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Action day in Ovington, Ovingham, Newton and Bywell tomorrow

I shall be helping Fiona Hunter, our council candidate for Bywell division, tomorrow at 11am - meeting by the Post Office in Wylam - please feel free to come along and help. We will have a number of teams out campaigning, canvassing and delivering - something for everyone on a Saturday! The pub and the Grand National will beckon afterwards.

Missing - one Nobel Peace Prize and a crucial lock of hair

Sad story of the week is the terrible crime that saw a burglary in Newcastle leading to the loss of
- the Nobel Peace Prize of 1934, which was awarded to Newcastle’s Arthur Henderson for his work on international disarmament.
- a lock of hair of Lord Collingwood, who died 200 years ago: the noble Lord helped Nelson lead the British fleet in victory over the French / Spanish at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
The lock of hair was in a circular oak box with an engraved inscription.

In the unlikely event you are offered these down the pub this weekend please notify the Police.
Full story here:

Personal Allowance helps 24 million people tomorrow


Tomorrow the increase in the personal allowance kicks in - as a result everyone pays less income tax at the bottom end of the scale - this specifically helps low income earners - keeping more money in their pockets. This is a Coalition policy I am very proud of.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Martin Luther King died 45 years ago tonight

King is one of my heroes. The greatest of all black civil rights leader's life was taken by a gunman in Memphis, Tennessee, on Thursday 4 April 1968. King was a consumate orator, and to me is an iconic figure. If you have not read of his struggle, his piety, and his amazing speeches I urge you to do so. Everyone knows the I have a dream speech but feast your eyes on some of this wisdom:
Michael Gove and I share a quote from King on our office walls in the House of Commons:

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

On the subject of change he wrote:
"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent."

And I love his approach to faith. For someone like me who had all faith bred out of him at school this surely is the passport back to a sense of faith:

"Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step."

King died aged only 39. He accomplished more than a hundred lesser motals did in all their lifetimes. His legacy is enduring, but the tragedy is to realise that had he lived he would now only be 84 - a wise old preacher and firebrand who changed the world and who could give us groundlings some sage advice in this difficult world.

3 Public Meetings in the west today

A Football pitch, free transport to school, and the Halton Lea Gate open cast mine were the topics for discussion at 3 meetings today.
First up I met the mums, dads and assorted locals who are doing so much to support football for boys and girls in Haltwhistle. I went to the training afternoon on a blustery cold day and saw the raw love for the game shown by everyone there. Our goal going forward is to improve the very limited facilities presently on site. I hope to to organise a meeting with County Council [who own the land] officers shortly; it is clear that there is a way forward whereby
- the local community get opportunities to have more football teams / better facilities and sport for their community,
- and the Council retain ownership, and the chance to attract business to the site which adjoins the A69.
I have no doubt the 2 ideals can co exist, although the devil is always in the detail.
Then on to Halton Lea Gate where I met locals concerned about both the open cast mine and the council proposal to refuse to pay transport costs to local schools.
The news on the open cast is positive, as was explained in a near 90 minute meeting, and everyone present was incensed at the school transport decision. I am pleased to say the school transport consultation does not end until April 24 and many locals have agreed to write in and lobby the County Council. It is a thoroughly unjust and misguided proposal.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Public Meetings, Campaigns and Site Visits

I shall be in Halton Lea Gate tomorrow night for a public meeting in the church hall to update locals on the developments concerning the Open Cast application; I was asked to organise this meeting by the parish council on the back of the meeting we held in mid August of 2012, shortly after the applicant got permission. For a fuller report of that meeting see here: http://guyopperman.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/halton-lea-gate-opencast-meeting.html
Since then the local community has challenged the inspectors decision and has obtained a Protective Costs Order, which indemnifies the community against the full costs of disputing the decision were they to lose.
It is clear that the applicant is struggling to satisfy the conditions attached to the permission in any event.
Some of the local elected representatives will be there as well.

In addition, I will try and update locals on the ongoing consultation on Herdley Bank School and travel costs.
For the report of the previous meeting last month see here: http://guyopperman.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/school-transport-meeting-with-parents.html
We will be encouraging local people to lobby the Northumberland County Council to stop the discrimination and denial of travel costs. It is an outrage.

Today I met with locals in Blenkinsopp, Hexham and Tranwell to discuss their various concerns. The Tranwell meeting this afternoon saw a site visit to the proposed Tranwell wind farm site and a 45 minute meeting with concerned locals.

On His Own will win Grand National for the North East on Saturday

On His Own to beat Seabass and Cappa Bleu on Saturday are my tips.
Graham Wylie, formerly of Sage and now turning Close House, in Heddon on the Wall, into a world class golf and hotel resort, owns the Willie Mullins trained On His Own and he is my confident pick to take home the prize for Graham.
Last year On His Own was cantering when he tipped up at Bechers second time round and with an extra year's experience under his belt I feel he will triumph on Saturday at 4.15. On His Own also has Willie Mullins as his trainer and the Irish wizard is on demon form this year. My selection has only 11 stone on his back, which is a nice racing weight.
I would dearly like to see Katie Walsh win the National as the first female jockey and she carried this blog's hopes and money last year. But the handicapper has given Seabass 11 stone 6 pounds this year and I just do not see him winning under that weight. He will be sure to be placed as he barely touched a twig last year and Katie is a good jockey.
Cappa Bleu is another seasoned campaigner who likes Liverpool and I see him making the frame as well.

As always with betting remember there are 3 betting windows in the bookmakers and only 1 pay window. For my part I would rather be riding but I will have some money down for sure.

Campaigning Wylam Saturday + going 2 the Boathouse Inn

Fiona Hunter is our local candidate for the Bywell Council seat so this Saturday I will be campaigning in Wylam for her, with our team. We had 9 out on Saturday morning last week in Prudhoe and we are meeting outside the post office in Wylam at 11am if you want to come along this Saturday.
Afterwards I shall be heading to the Boathouse Inn in Wylam [winner of multiple awards as a pub / ale heaven] around 1.30-2 for a much deserved pint. Martin Hammill of the Hadrian Border Brewery has been asking me to drop by the pub for some time and I am never one to turn up the chance of a good pint. http://www.beerintheevening.com/pubs/s/14/14558/Boathouse_Inn/Wylam
I will be campaigning afterwards but definitely stopping for the Grand National at 4.15

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Like Beer? Then come to Northumberland!

Eager to get acquainted with the finest CAMRA approved Ales?
Want to enjoy that reduction in tax on beer?

We are beer festival central this summer...

Come to Northumberland..
The Tynedale Beer Festival is the biggest and best and goes three days from Thursday 13th to Saturday 15th June, with dozens of beers, amazing bands and great food.
The Haydon Bridge Beer Festival is 12-13 July and great fun [I served behind the Bar there last year - it is a blast, with great bands, good food and wine from Bin 21]
and first up is the Bellingham Beer Festival, with 30 beers over 3 days held at the Town Hall between 31st May and 2nd June

Campaigning in Haltwhistle today

I have meetings this morning in Hexham but will be out and about in Halty later today

Farewell David Miliband MP...Hello Paolo

3 weeks ago I had lunch with David Miliband, and several other Labour MPs, in Westminster, as we hosted Lord Andrew Adonis and his team, who are doing a report on the North East for the LEP. David was incisive, engaged in the difficulties of changing the North East, and open to ideas and suggestions.
His departure for the USA is a sad thing on many levels. The Labour party loses their best speaker in the House of Commons, the North East loses a spokesman, and there has to be a totally unnecessary by election in South Shields.
More importantly, by resigning mid term his decision undermines and diminishes the importance of "just being a backbench MP."
I am firm in my belief that there is no greater responsibility or higher calling than being asked to represent 65,000 people in parliament - fighting for their causes, providing proper representation and advocacy without fear or favour, and totally irrespective of what their political allegiance may be.  This is not an easy job to do, whilst retaining your health, your honour, and still being the same bloke down the pub when you started this job. Every MP struggles with the impact of the job on the individual.
Yet I am really disappointed that Miliband chose to resign mid term. He could easily have indicated that he did not intend to stand again in 2 years time, but to to walk away mid term, without good reason, is wrong. Disappointment at not being Leader of the Opposition is not a good reason. To be clear, I was equally disappointed when one of my colleagues Louise Mensch did the same last year.
Not that I agree on everything David stood for - he was part of the Labour Government that bankrupted the country, made the gap between rich and poor grow, saw us rocket down literacy, science and maths leagues, and he is also a committed Europhile, and against David Cameron’s offer of a referendum on our membership of the EU in the next Parliament.
Now this weekend he has resigned from Sunderland FC over their appointment of Paolo Di Canio. As he is moving to the United States in any event you would think he should have resigned anyway - but one thing is clear: there is no place for politics in sport. Why the club would want to get rid of Martin O'Neil, one of the greatest managers in the game, is beyond me.
The Sunderland fans are certainly in for an interesting next 2 months.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Northern Rail lay on the trains!

Great news for the County Show: after months of badgering I am delighted that the team at Northern Rail have listened to myself, the County Show team, and the Tyne Valley Rail Users Group, and have decided to lay on more trains to ferry visitors to the Northumberland County Show on May 27
Regular readers will know that we have had problems with Northern Rail in the past:
But ... to their great credit the management team at Northern
- came en masse to the Valley Restaurant at Corbridge Station last August, when we held a great curry based meeting to discuss how to improve the service. They listened and agreed to go away and improve the service
- and they have really tried to take our criticisms on board, and expand the service, particularly on special events like the Corbridge Show.
So there will be 4 Extra Trains ferrying passengers to Stocksfield Station for the County Show on May 27.
Recently I met with the NCC highways team and there will be no problems with pedestrian access to Bywell from the Stocksfield Station. There is no reason not to book your day out to the County Show, and travel by train.
My genuine thanks to Drew and his team at NR for listening and acting.
Update: good piece in the Journal today: http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2013/04/03/extra-trains-agreed-for-northumberland-county-show-visitors-61634-33106610/

Local Banks take a big step forward today

My dream is a Bank of Hexham or Northumberland working locally, lending locally and ploughing its profits back into the local community.

Sweeping bank reforms begin today with the abolishment of the Financial Services Authority (FSA), which has been replaced with
- the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) which will ensure the stability of financial services firms and be part of the Bank of England.
- The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is now the City's behavioural watchdog.
The Bank of England has also gained direct supervision for the whole of the banking system

I welcome these changes which should help see an end to boom and bust banking, will help stop disasters like Arch Cru and Equitable Life, and stop the bully banks imposing unfair interest rate agreements on businesses. I have spent 3 years trying to help Arch Cru, Equitable Life and IRSA victims ever since I became MP and I would not want this to happen to anyone else in the future. It has been by far the toughest part of this job that I do.
The regulator changes see the Bank of England - which gains a new governor, Mark Carney, in July - gain much more control over the functioning of the financial system and are the biggest changes to the central bank since it was given its independence in 1997.

The PRA is headed by the central bank's deputy governor Andrew Bailey, and will regulate around 1,700 financial firms. The FCA is headed by Martin Wheatley, who worked at the FSA and was responsible for the review into the Libor rate-rigging scandal at banks.

The FSA was set up 1997 by Gordon Brown, the then-chancellor. But it was roundly criticised for failing to spot the lending boom and subsequent bust and for not curbing the risky trading of banks, which ended up seeing banks like Northern Rock, Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds all spectacularly collapse and be bailed out by the taxpayer following the global financial crisis in 2008.

The changes we have brought in over the last 3 years will make it easier
- for small banks to be set up
- with a local slant
- an ability to lend money locally
- and profits going back to that community