Thursday, 31 July 2014

Tynedale Plans this weekend - Allendale all day Saturday

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

50 days until the Scottish referendum

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

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

This Saturday sees the Redefest Music Festival
The Redefest Music Festival in Rochester is strongly recommended - 2 stages and 8 hours of music, plus lots of supporting events and entertainments.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Tuesday August 5 for the Salmond v Darling TV Debate

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

Monday, 28 July 2014

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

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

Sunday, 27 July 2014

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

100 years ago next week we were all at war - in the "war to end all wars".
It is a sobering thought that we shall be reflecting on in various church services next weekend. For now -
The papers are looking back at life 100 years ago

Saturday, 26 July 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 25 July 2014

Our Forestry Needs are significant for our timber and biomass industries

I am an enthusiast for more forestry; this month we held a debate in the House, in which I was able to make a few short contributions. The full debate is here:
The short points are these:
- where are we going to plant more forests?
- is it agreed that such a forest has to be of commercial use - ie containing timber that can used by businesses as in Kielder Forest?
- and to what extent does government need to subsidise this planting, or can the market provide?
- do any constituents object to more forestry?
For my part I would welcome further forests in Northumberland.
There is a Forestry Summit to be hel;d at Egger in Hexham, on August 4th, and I shall be there.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Schools Funding announcement sees even more money for Northumberland

This must be the first Consultation ever where we in Northumberland have done better than before the Consultation: after the representations made by headteachers and governors we will now receive a 7.2% increase in April 2015 - I raised this in the House on Monday:
Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
A school funding revolution is taking place in Northumberland as the fairer funding consultation will lead to an increase in April 2015 of up to 7.2%. That is also a revolution for our governors, who, under the previous Government, were often consulted but always ignored. Will the Minister take this forward and ensure that we have fairer funding for all?

David Laws (The Minister for Schools; Yeovil, Liberal Democrat)
As my hon. Friend ingenuously points out, the funding reforms we are making will certainly help governors and teachers in schools. As a result of his campaigning and that of many other hon. Members we are introducing the fairer funding system next year. When we consulted on this, Northumberland was initially going to benefit to the tune of £10.6 million. I can say that the final settlement is that Northumberland will receive £12 million more to ensure that it is funded fairly in the future.

Vote Hope for Longhoughton in todays crucial Berwick By Election

John Hope will be an outstanding councillor on Northumberland County Council and I really hope he wins today. I am a big supporter, and discovered last Saturday how well known he is locally. Please get out and vote - Northumberland County Council really matters.

Gaza conflict - no real end in sight

There is no easy solution to this conflict that has continued for dozens of years, ebbing and flowing in the scale of violence on both sides, and defeating the best efforts of the UN and all others to find a lasting peace. I have received robust representations from constituents in Northumberland, with constituents arguing for both sides. I will reply to all in writing, and will make their views known to the new Foreign Secretary.
Some are outraged on behalf of the Palestinians, and specifically the residents of Gaza, both for past injustices, blockades, and restrictions. But the recent escalation by Israel into Gaza they feel has made a terrible existence mores early for some and generally much, much worse.
Some are outraged on behalf of Israel, who have faced constant rocket attacks to the southern half of the country, with some rockets even hitting Tel Aviv. Some argue that Israel should defend itself against such constant bombardment.

Regular readers will know that for the last 6 years I have made a real effort to travel to the region once a year and get a better understanding. In that time I have visited Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and spent a specific length of time in Beirut and on the Turkish / Syria border trying to meet and talk with locals on the ground of all persuasions.
My 2011 trip to Beirut taught me a lot, and my 2012 trip to Israel allowed me to see the effects of the rocket attacks from Gaza on the smaller towns of Southern Israel, like Sderot. Sderot is known as the bomb shelter capital of Isreal as it is so close to the. Gaza border and the rockets. I have not been able to go to Gaza itself, for many reasons,but have spoken to many who have - both cross party MPs and experts on the situation on the ground. In truth, the House of Commons allows you to get experts and briefings that exceed almost all others. When time allows I do propose to go to Gaza, and the West Bank and see the situation for myself.

I spoke separately in the commons on Tuesday on the refugee situation in the Middle East - my
speech is available on they work for you or Hansard, but I remain committed to a durable ceasefire, diplomacy not conflict, a withdrawal by Israel, and a cessation of the Hamas rockets. Long term the only solution is a two state solution, as a basis for peace. Enforcing that peace on a long term basis will obviously be difficult, but it is a prize well worth seeking.

For an updated appraisal of the situation on the ground, by the BBC, who remain the most objective of reporting organisations, see below:

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The return of real Apprenticeships - up in every part of the NE

I am pleased there has been a substantial rise in the numbers of apprenticeships being offered to young people in the North East.

I am passionate about apprenticeships and vocational education. They are important to help our young people find the jobs they deserve and for improving the skills of our Nation’s workforce. As such, I like many other small businesses, employ an apprentice, Jade, who has been with us in our Hexham office since 2011 and is an important and valued member of our team.

In Hexham we have seen a huge rise in the numbers of apprenticeships which is great news for young people starting out in the working world and businesses alike. Specifically there has been a 62.8% rise in the number of apprenticeship starts in Hexham from 2009/10 to 2012/13 [the last full year for stats].
This is not a pattern exclusive to Hexham, however:
- throughout the North East this pattern of success is repeated with increases in apprenticeship starts ranging all the way up to 143.1%. Overall the North East is the country's second biggest percentage increase in apprenticeship starts; at the national level we have already delivered 1.8 million new apprenticeships since 2010.
The full chart is here:
Parliamentary Constituency and % increase on apprenticeship starts from 2009/10 (Labour) to 2012/13 (Last full year under Coalition)

Berwick upon Tweed 98.0
Bishop Auckland 143.1
Blaydon 89.8
Blyth Valley 107.6
City of Durham 120.0
Darlington 132.3
Easington 111.1
Gateshead 73.5
Hartlepool 85.1
Hexham 62.8
Houghton and Sunderland South 63.4
Jarrow 73.0
Middlesbrough 95.6
Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland 90.6
Newcastle upon Tyne Central 80.8
Newcastle upon Tyne East 82.4
Newcastle upon Tyne North 67.7
North Durham 104.6
North Tyneside 83.1
North West Durham 121.0
Redcar 121.2
Sedgefield 115.8
South Shields 86.4
Stockton North 109.0
Stockton South 120.0
Sunderland Central 60.0
Tynemouth 86.4
Wansbeck 111.1
Washington and Sunderland West 71.6

I congratulate all who were involved in this increase and encourage those employers who have yet to hire one of our fabulous young people to do so. You won’t regret it!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Further efforts to combat FGM outlined

Speaking at the Girl Summit – a major international conference in London designed to highlight the issues of FGM and child marriage – the home secretary, Theresa May, said the cross-party unit would help protect thousands of girls across the country.
The unit, which could operate in a similar way to the government's forced marriage unit, has been a key demand of campaigners against FGM. "These measures will ensure that we can maintain the momentum on stamping out these harmful practices," May said.
The home secretary said the government would also strengthen laws around FGM, and would hold parents responsible if their child was a victim of the practice. May also announced a consultation into making it mandatory for professionals to report FGM and said victims going through court cases would be given lifelong anonymity.

Support Hadrian's Wall image and get £1 million of free advertising for the North East

Please visit the Heathrow Facebook page in order to vote to ensure that we seize this valuable opportunity to sell our great region - the link is here:

The background to the story is here:

Monday, 21 July 2014

PM to update the House of Commons at 3.30 on MH17

The evidence suggests that pro-Russian separatists were responsible for the crash of flight MH17, but I am sure we will learn more details this afternoon.

The Prime Minister spoke to President Putin this weekend and made it clear that the shooting down of MH17 was totally unacceptable. The evidence suggested that pro-Russian separatists were responsible. If this is the case then we must be clear what it means: this is a direct result of Russia destabilising a sovereign state, violating its territorial integrity, backing thuggish militias and training and arming them.

If President Vladimir Putin stops the support to the fighters in eastern Ukraine and allows the Ukrainian authorities to restore order, this crisis can be brought to an end. Of course there must be proper protections for Russian-speaking minorities and these issues can be addressed. But the overriding need is for Russia to cease its support for violent separatists.

Our priority is to get experts to the crash site so they can recover and repatriate the victims and collect any evidence necessary for the investigation. We must turn this moment of outrage into a moment of action, where we try and find those who committed this crime and bring them to justice.

Westminster this Week

Fairer Funding announcements for Northumberland schools will be raised if I get the chance at Education Questions today at 2.30; thereafter there is the statement on the MH17 plane being brought down in Ukraine, when the PM will update the House and take questions on what we should be doing. The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill follows. I will blog more about both events in time. Tomorrow is packed with meetings, constituents visiting and much more. Wednesday the House rises.    

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Working with Women 2 Win is one of the best things I have done this parliament

Most Monday evenings these last two + years, and many other times besides, has seen myself and a few other MPs coaching future female future stars who are on the candidates list, and trying to be selected to stand for the next general election.
I have been part of a big team led by Anne Jenkin and Brooks Newmark, and helped in particular by MPs like Therese Coffey, Ben Gummer, Harriet Baldwin, and many more. There is a brilliant back room team of Resh, Ellen and others who make all this possible.
It is like being at a jewellers - seeing all manner of stones come into the polishing room. All are diamonds, all are different. Our job is not to change them but to comment and help, answering questions and helping on all aspects of policy and procedure.
Brooks has had to stand down, as he has been promoted, and I am taking a bigger role going forward. Much looking forward to it.  

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Hope and Change in Longhoughton

North Northumberland campaigning for John Hope today. John is standing as the conservative candidate in the crucial Longhoughton by election for Northumberland County Council next Thursday. Really impressed by him as a candidate, and we got a very positive response on the doorstep. I am very hopeful that we will have a new Councillor Hope on Thursday night!
Managed to dodge the showers reasonably well today!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Tynedale this weekend

I have plenty of surgeries in everywhere from Stannington to Hexham over the next 48 hours. Looking forward to it.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Guest Blog: Hermione Crisp, QEHS student, on why the cut to Post 16 transport is wrong

"Cutting post 16 transport will discourage many 17 year olds like me from pursuing further education

I am currently a student at Queen Elizabeth High School Hexham and take school transport to school. The new changes to post 16 transport will affect me very much, due to the fact that I have moved schools in order to take a subject that wasn’t available in my catchment area. Without this valuable service I would be unable to receive this education and would have to choose subjects that I was worse at and didn’t enjoy. This change would affect everyone who is pursuing a love of learning; these cuts will destroy many vocations.

The few other alternatives to school transport are less reliable; firstly, my parents are not capable of ferrying me in to school every day as they have jobs to work at. The public buses are difficult to catch at the right time and are expensive to use every day, as it is not only me but my sister too who would have to consider this option. The last choice is to walk to school, but seeing as this is 18 miles a day and six hours walking, I don’t think that is an option.

The financial pressure on families is a vast one, especially if there are families with more than one or two children in post sixteen educations. This new tax seems to be targeting lower income households and preventing them from receiving the best possible education available to them. This seems to be discouraging many post sixteen year olds from continuing in further education. Six hundred pounds a year and up, or fifty pounds a month, is a large burden to bear. Free school transport for post 16s is a necessity. It should not be used as a means of boosting local government funds. Which, perhaps they should consider when they use their personal chauffer."

Hermione is a student at Queen Elizabeth High School in Hexham and was our 3 day work experience student here in Westminster last week.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Two Legends in Ken Clarke and William Hague stand down

I have got to know both these fascinating characters over the last few years and both will be sorely missed. Ken Clarke has been a Minister or Shadow Minister for 40+ years. Both were brilliant Ministers, great campaigners, and genuinely decent people
With his love of beer, cricket, jazz and hush puppies Ken always had a hinterland - something which is so important in this job. As to William Hague you never met a wiser man, a more hard working Foreign Secretary and also one of the best and funniest speakers I have ever heard. William is standing down in 2015. My understanding is that Ken will fight the next election.

Amazing news that Synod backs Women Bishops - this will help revitalise the CofE

Monday, 14 July 2014

Why we are having to introduce emergency data law to maintain status quo this week

A European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling earlier this year meant the powers to retain data was under threat. 
All 3 party leaders have agreed that if the information were to be deleted, or no longer collected, it would seriously impede the UK's ability to fight crime and protect the country against terrorism. I repeat it is not a development in data communications, but keeping the law as it was 3 months ago, before the ECJ Ruling.  
I cannot overstate this enough. This information keeps us safe. The point I would make to privacy campaigners is that this action merely maintains the status quo: it's not an encroachment on the rights of people not to have their communications monitored. As always I will write to constituents in detail on this matter but I am absolutely convinced it is the right thing to do. We are debating this Tuesday and Wednesday, following last weeks statement and debate in the house on Thursday.
Here is an explanation of the new law, and what it means to people who live in the UK:

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Westminster this Week

Multiple debates in parliament, meetings with many constituents from Bob Hull to Tony Gates, of Northumberland National Park, and lesser Westminster Hall debates on everything from Syrian Refugees to Regional Airports make this a very busy 3 days in Westminster this week. I am also trying to meet with the team from Nissan who are visiting parliament, again having further meetings on railways in our region. Monday night will finish around midnight so it is a 16 hour day for me tomorrow, and Tuesday will end at 10pm I suspect.
A lot of this week will be taken up with the Emergency legislation which will be brought in to continue to require phone and internet companies to log records of customer calls, texts and internet use. This has played havoc with my diary, as this is on top of everything that was previously booked in, so apologies if things are a bit manic this week.
Our work experience in Westminster for this week is Rachel, who hails from the Belsay area.

Women Bishops and Assisted Dying see the Synod, Parliament and 2 Archbishops debating

Justin Welby is the greatest churchman I have ever met, and an outstanding Archbishop of Canterbury. When you meet him you are genuinely moved. If any Churchman has an aura he has it.
He has two very large issues to confront over the next week: I am strongly behind him on one [women bishops] and against him on the second [assisted dying].

- on Monday the Church of England General Synod debates the thorny issue of Women Bishops, with a great prospect of success at last. I am in no doubt that the presence of female vicars has re galvanised the Anglican faith. I see it regularly both in the churches in Tynedale and daily in the House of Commons, where our vicar is female. The Rev Rose Hudson Wilkin has made a huge difference in parliament. My strong hope is that the Synod will change their view on women bishops.

- on Friday the House of Lords begins the debate on the Assisted Dying Bill. I am told there are over 100 speakers in their Lordships debate. This means they will debate through the night. Justin Welby has made his position clear in today's Times. I also have to acknowledge that this Bill is highly unlikely to succeed in parliament, until one of the political parties has the courage to back it. Single member or Private Member Bills rarely ever pass as they are blocked, are subject to lengthy filibuster or talked out.

However, Saturday's announcement by former Archbishop Carey is a true ground breaker: put simply, Carey has changed his mind. His views are in all the papers - he argues that it is not true Christianity to ignore agony and suffering. As he puts it:
"In strictly observing the sanctity of life the church could now actually be sanctioning anguish and pain, the very opposite of the Christian message of hope."
For those who oppose this Bill I would urge you to read it before coming to a judgement.
The BBC report is here:

My speeches and blogs on this issue are easily found: the House of Commons last debated this issue in March 2012: the debate moved me immensely. Read the speech of Paul Blomfield, who is a Sheffield Labour MP, and friend and colleague of mine: his is an amazing speech. Mine is here:

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Why does Miliband employ David Axelrod if he can't get his old boss Obama to meet Ed?

Not a good story for Ed Mili: the Spectator puts it well: they ask why exactly Labour are paying Obama’s former campaign wizard David Axelrod a comfortable six figure sum. His work doesn’t seem to be paying off at home, and it’s clearly not paying off in terms of influence across the pond.
Full story here:

£370 Million to the North East from Government as Local Growth Deal kicks in

Who says government does not lkisten to a strong business case - see the 2 Labour Leaders comments below. The simple point is that the cooperation between government, LEP and local leaders is working.

The cash is expected to create more than 4,000 jobs by supporting business and improving the region’s transport infrastructure. Communities Minister, Brandon Lewis, MP, who visited the Hitachi site in Newton Aycliffe and Sunderland University, as well as Newcastle city centre, said: “This is a really big sum of money and it is going to open up some big opportunities. It has been designed by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) and I think that it is designed locally is something which is really important about the Growth Deals.”

He added: “The Government has been very focused on making sure that growth is spread around the country and the North East has some huge opportunities, with the software, renewable energy and high-tech engineering industries here. When you see the investment that Hitachi is making, you realise how big the opportunities are. There is a good balance of trade here and the North East absolutely is an important part of the British economy.”

As previously reported by the Journal, the money will be used for a string of key projects.

Some of the cash
- will fund a direct link from Newcastle Central station to the Stephenson Quarter regeneration site
- and refurbishment of Newcastle Central Metro Station.
- Durham City will also benefit from £6.3m towards the proposed Western Relief Road.

Leader of Newcastle City Council, Coun Nick Forbes, who has responsibility for transport issues on the NELEP board, said: “North East councils have presented a compelling case to Government for greater transport investment which is reflected in today’s announcement.

“It underlines the benefits of working together in the interests of the wider region. This investment is an encouraging start towards our goal of improving our strategic transport network, and improving connectivity across our region.”

The cash will also see new business parks created, including space for firms in the Hitachi Rail supply chain at Merchant Park in County Durham and money to develop land at the former Swans Hunter shipyard, in Wallsend.

The North East Technology Park (NETPark), in County Durham, is to have an £8m expansion and £7.4m was handed to the Centre for Process Innovation’s proposed £14.4m Centre for Innovation in Formulation.

Coun Neil Foster, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “The funding announcements are fantastic news for the residents and businesses of Country Durham which will make a hugely positive difference to job prospects and the overall economy.”

He added: “In NETPark, County Durham already boasts a leading science, engineering and technology park. The expansion is expected to generate further investment of over £200m in the next ten years, creating 2,400 high value jobs. The proposed relief road around Durham City will reduce traffic resulting in quicker and easier journeys for hundreds of people every day. Less traffic passing through the city will also make it easier for those travelling to it, boosting both business and tourism and enhancing the city further as the economic powerhouse of the county. We are delighted that the strong case we put forward for County Durham as a place to invest in for the future has been backed by the Government and the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.”

Full details here:

Friday, 11 July 2014

Two key meetings in Northumberland today

At 8.30 in Morpeth at County Hall is the Protest against the Teenage Transport Tax, and debate called to replace the meeting cancelled by the County Council.
Then in the afternoon at Prospect House in Hexham there is the Bus Station Consultation meeting between 2-7

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Question Time this evening is politician free - all about Scottish Independence

At 22:35 tonight BBC is bringing ‘Question Time’ from Inverness, featuring a panel with no politicians – instead there will be campaigners from both sides of the Scottish independence debate

Dozens of new banks being set up as challengers force their way in

As the High Street Banks fade from the High Street, with some behaving shamefully as bully banks, I am delighted that new entrants are springing up. I am backing Atom Bank in the North East but we are also working really hard to support the existing Northumberland Credit Union and to expand community banking in Tynedale. In addition true Co-Operatives are still rightly supported in our communities and I do not believe that the disastrious exploits of Paul Flowers is stopping people committing to local community cooperatives and lending by local institutions not multinationals based hundreds of miles away where always the computer says no.

I recorded a piece for the BBC Look North yesterday on this issue and the papers are telling the story of the many new national and local banks springing up all over the country:

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

First Cavendish now Froome - this is a disaster to lose both our stars in the TDF

Heart goes out to both amazing athletes: bet Sky wish Wiggins was in their TDF team now, however.

What next for Hexham Bus Station? Find out this Friday at the Councils consultation Prospect House 2-7

Residents of Hexham have been messed around for too long over plans for the town's bus station. Last week a County Council study identified Loosing Hill in the town as the preferred site to develop a new bus station.

The county council study scored each possible site against 27 criteria under five themes of: accessibility; functionality; sustainability; safety and security; and cost. The County Council's preferred option is to develop a new bus station at Loosing Hill in the town, and detailed plans will now be developed. Other options considered were Wentworth Car Park; Maiden’s Walk; Hexham Railway Station; on-street facilities on Priestpopple; the existing bus station site; the existing bus station site plus land to the south; and land at the south-west corner of Priestpopple and Corbridge Road.

The saga of Hexham's bus station has become a real joke amongst local people. This Labour administration have only been in place for 12 months, yet this is the fourth plan we have for the bus station. First, the current bus station was to be redeveloped, then it was onto the high street, then it was to be up Maiden's Walk and now it's Loosing Hill car park.

The one consistent theme has been a complete lack of organisation, clarity or detail. Many of the concerns of local people are centred around the way that the whole issue has been 

handled from day one. We have had one grand scheme after another, and not a single bit of public consultation so far.The key thing now the is that the Council properly engage and actually listen to local people.

If the County Council insists that the Bus Station will not stay on the current site - whatever their reason - then, yes, Loosing Hill probably is the least worse alternative at this moment in time - I certainly don't want the row of Bus Stations on Priestpopple that was first proposed. However, I have also yet to see the reasons why the current site must be entirely ruled out.

I have long campaigned for improvements to the current bus station. If the plans for a Bus Station are to go ahead, at Loosing Hill or anywhere else, I will do everything I can to ensure we end up with decent facilities, including toilets, seating and shelter, and that these fit with 

the aesthetics of our town.

The key thing now is that local people make their voice heard. The drop-in event in the town is on Friday 11 July. Residents, bus users and anyone who wants to find out more about proposals can attend the Council Chamber in Prospect House, Hexham at any time between 2pm and 7pm. Visitors to the event will be able to see the outcomes from a detailed appraisal of options for the future of the bus station.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Gandhi statue:"the father of the world's largest democracy in front of the mother of parliaments"

Great news that there are plans for a Gandhi statue, to be installed next year, in front of parliament. This was just announced in Delhi by the chancellor and foreign secretary
The Indian leader will join a number of other great leaders celebrated in Parliament Square - quiz question: can you name them? No prizes for guessing that Churchill occupies pride of place but it is a tough Pub Quiz Question to get them all. Answers by way of update tomorrow

How are the potholes in your area?

Just last week Northumberland was given another £2.9million for road repairs, more than any other county in the North East.

Northumberland has already received £2.7million from the £183.5million that the Government made available to help repair local roads damaged by severe weather.

This was an emergency payment to help with road repairs following the wet winter and should pay for the repair of 3.3 million potholes nationwide. The North East as a whole was awarded £6,298,272, with
more than a third – £2,736,241 – allocated to Northumberland. However, concerns have been raised with me about how the money has been spent.

I have had many constituents complaining to be about the poor quality of the Council's pothole repairs. What worries me is we have seen a quick fix rush to save the Council's blushes after they promised they would all be fixed before the end of June. It is all well and good the Council patting themselves on the back but poor
quality patching will mean in a few months things will be back to square one.

I have had reports of pothole repairs coming lose just weeks after being completed. If you have any feedback on the quaility of the repairs do let me know:

I am pleased we have many potholes being repaired but I am afraid the question local people is asking is just how long will they last?

What I have had many reports of is patching being laid on failed areas which suggest the underlying materials are in a poor state. That means the repair is going to be very short term. The simple truth is prevention is better than cure and it is important the job is done right the first time. It is also very important to know if a repair has failed and needs redoing properly so let me know.

Home Sec announces an inquiry into historic child abuse

Theresa May has announced that she will leave no stone unturned in pursuit of the allegations of child abuse and has set up an independent inquiry panel, along the lines of the Hillsborough inquiry, which will examine not just how the Home Office dealt with allegations, but also how the police and prosecutors dealt with information handed to them. As a non-statutory inquiry, it will be able to begin its work sooner and will be at a lower risk of prejudicing criminal investigations because it will begin with a review of documentary evidence. The inquiry will be chaired by NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless.

This is what the Home Secretary had to say today:
‘I want to set three important principles.
- First, we will do everything we can to allow the full investigation of child abuse and the prosecution of its perpetrators, and we will do nothing to jeopardise those aims.
- Second, where possible the government will adopt a presumption of maximum transparency.
- And third, we will make sure that wherever individuals and institutions have failed to protect children from harm, we will expose these failures and learn the lessons."
This is how the BBC has approached the case:

Monday, 7 July 2014

Trying to show the Scots we want them to stay - more action by Better Together on the border

Anne Marie Trevelyan, the Conservative candidate for Berwick on Tweed, and Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Borders, are both passionate Unionists and are both doing what they can to make the Scots stay.
On Saturday July 19th Anne Marie is leading the Border Union Rally along the Scottish Border from Carter Bar to Kirk Yetholm: Full details of what will be an amazing day out and a great hike here:

Similarly my colleague in the House of Commons, Rory Stewart MP is behind the project to create a Cairn on the border at Gretna, starting on Sunday July 20: as he writes:

"Right on the border, in a field at Gretna, we are inviting families from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland to bring stones and build a great cairn. Stone cairns have been built in Northern England and Scotland for millennia, to celebrate a sense of shared space. Together we hope to construct a striking and lasting testimony to the Union.
We will begin the project on Sunday July 20th and continue every day thereafter, for the following eight weeks and hopefully beyond. We would always love to hear from anyone who is coming, but we also want people to feel they can just turn up and make their mark."
For my part I will be campaigning in Scotland repeatedly between now and September 18.
I urge locals to get behind both projects. The simple question is this: what are you doing to save the Union?

Bright Blue Conference today - speaking at 2.30 with Nick Tyrone and others

Speaking about blue collar Conservatism and building on my article in the Renewal Pamphlet published last year:

If the last 2 days has not inspired you to get on your bike - what would?

Why would you not do a sport that is cheap, keeps you fit, you can do into your eighties and let's you dream you are Wiggins or Froome for the day?
I cycle to work in London but have no bike in Northumberland. This weekend may have to see that change. The sight of Yorkshire packed out like Ventoux or Alpe D'Huez was a sight to behold. Sadly going to miss the peloton in London today, even though it goes right past parliament, as working, but will catch up on the highlights.
The serious point is that we have cycling that is the match of anything that France, or Gods second county (of Yorkshire) has to offer - so get on your bike.

Modern Slavery Bill will stop an abhorrent evil that exists in the UK in the present day

In his Oscars acceptance speech Steve McQueen declared he was dedicating the award for his film 12 Years A Slave to ‘all the people who have endured slavery. And to the millions of people who still suffer slavery today’. His words will no doubt cause shock and surprise; to many it will seem scarcely credible that slavery can exist in our modern age. But it does and on Tuesday I am really proud that this Coialition Government is bringing forward legislation to address and stop this.

Modern slavery is an evil which is happening around the world today – including here in Britain. Across this country in restaurants, shops, brothels, nail bars and on illegal drugs farms are women, men and children, being held against their will, and forced into a life of slavery and abuse.

The Government is determined to stamp out this appalling crime. We are introducing a Modern Slavery Bill – the first of its kind in Europe – which will consolidate and strengthen legislation, making it easier to prosecute and ensuring the harshest penalties are available for the slave drivers and traffickers who inflict such pain and harm. And we can do even more than legislation. An effective law enforcement response is vital if we are to identify victims, and so we are raising awareness and training frontline professionals.

We are creating an Anti-Slavery Commissioner – a vital post that will hold to account law enforcement at all levels, the Crown Prosecution Service, local authorities and others to ensure that when victims are identified they are compensated and cared for – and when the slave drivers are found they are put behind bars and stripped of their assets. In Britain and across Europe prosecution rates are far, far too low. We need to change that.
We are also developing a range of policies to tackle this abhorrent crime. Some can take effect now – like the child advocates pilots – and others will take longer – like our work with foreign governments.

Ridding Britain of modern slavery will not happen overnight. But every arrest, and every prosecution, means more victims freed, and more prevented from being enslaved in the first place. And all those who still engage in this appalling trade in human misery should be clear: they will be tracked down, prosecuted and sent behind bars. As with all Bills this will be debated and amended in the Commons, in the Lords and in Report and Committee stage of the 2 Houses of Parliament. No Bill finishes as it started in the House and I look forward to that legislative process.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Sunday working in Westminster but with lots of sport for company

I am trying to catch up on the mountain of emails and ongoing issues, and prepare for the coming week in Westminster, which promises to be very busy. However, although the day will be long, I have a lot of sport - form Le Tour to the Grand Prix and Wimbledon to keep me company.

Tomorrow we have Home Office Business, a debate on Universal Credit and I am going to the Bright Blue Event and speaking briefly there. Tuesday we have the Modern Slavery Bill in the House of Commons and I have everything from Home Office PPS work on a Terrorist debate first thing to a meeting with the Falkland Island Government Representatives, plus an update from Foreign Office Ministers on the situation in Iraq and Syria. Wednesday there are opposition day debates on Housing and Education, and I hope to speak in Westminster Hall first thing on local plans. Wednesday night I am meeting with Women to Win and some of the candidates I have mentored. 
Thursday I have a breakfast meeting with the BBC [hate breakfast meetings - who was it who said - "only dull people are brilliant at breakfast?"] followed by Transport Questions and an all day debate on European Policy and JHA Opt outs.

We have several constituency phone calls, surgeries and Westminster visits this week, notably Hexham's Hermione Crisp who is in the London office for work experience this week.

MIND Manifesto to change attitudes to mental health

Two weeks ago representatives of the mental health charity MIND came to parliament to launch their 2015 manifesto. Their 10 "Voices of Mind" also made the journey to Westminster to raise awareness of mental health issues, which are estimated to affect 1/4 people every year.

The key issues raised were ones of funding, access to support services and crucially increasing awareness of challenges faced by sufferers. Stigma is a serious issue facing those suffering from mental health problems. MIND are aiming to build on their "Time to Change" campaign which used a variety of different routes to "impact public attitudes and behaviour towards people with mental health issues".

I have written to Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, to raise the issue and add my voice to those in support of the MIND manifesto. I have included below a link to the MIND website together with the 6 key asks they have made of the government:

• Reduce mental health stigma and discrimination and continue to support the Time to Change campaign
• Mandate the NHS in England to offer talking therapies to everyone who needs them within 28 days of referral
• Ensure everyone gets safe, speedy and accessible crisis care whenever they need it, no matter where they turn
• Transform the support for people who are not working because of their mental health and create a system that really helps them to overcome the barriers they face
• Increase the overall NHS mental health budget by a minimum of 10 per cent in real terms over five years
• Implement a national strategy that helps everyone to take care of their mental wellbeing
Some of these issues are capable of being addressed easier than others, but all are genuinely important goals. As with all campaigns, the longest journey starts with the shortest step and this is a campaign well worth supporting. I was stuck in the House of Commons Chamber when the MIND team came to Westminster but they met my staff; and I know that the efforts of the local representatives in the North East are outstanding.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

The Weekend Read: How do we teach British Values in schools?

If you want to watch the debate which is very good go here - my speech is at 1 hour 3 minutes and 30 seconds in:

The text is here:
"A democratic state surely has a duty and a vested interest in ensuring that its citizens are aware of their rights and responsibilities, and in that respect schools are the obvious place to start. They should be a place of learning and understanding, where naivety is met with guidance and questions presented with answers.

The subject of this debate, which I congratulate Mr Denham on securing, has long been an issue—it has been an issue for generations. My hon. Friend Alok Sharma spoke eloquently, and it will be no surprise that, with names like Sharma and Opperman, neither of our families were at the battle of Hastings repelling the French. We arrived not a thousand years ago to repel the French but, in his case, approximately 50 years ago and, in my case, approximately 100 years ago. You can imagine, Mr Bone, the difficulties that my ancestors had through two world wars with a name like Opperman, fighting their German cousins—and fighting with distinction—for the British Army.

Integration is something that we are all seeking. This is an issue that has not suddenly popped up in the last year, five years or 10 years; it has been an issue down the generations for different cultural identities. When we ask ourselves this question, I believe that it is right that the Government are promoting the consultation on British values in schools. I am certain that the Minister will outline the details of the consultation, but the strategy that sets it out seeks

- “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs”.

One would hope that those are universal values, but we know that the reality worldwide is that they are not universal values, but are particular values of this country. In that respect, these purportedly universal values are, in fact, very British and their promotion must be a very good thing. One must not forget that promotion is not the same as teaching something or having respect for it. One can respectfully disagree with an idea that is promoted—one may take a differing view—but one is definitely much better informed for it, and that is surely the point we are trying to make, so I welcome the consultation.
Like many hon. Members, I will make my full speech available on my website, While my hon. Friend Dr Lewis may have 98 followers on, my 17,000 followers will, I am sure, greatly enjoy this particular speech.
Julian Lewis (New Forest East, Conservative)
You need them more than I do. [Laughter.]

Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
It is rare that one gets barracked by one’s own side, but one has to get used to it.
What are British values? Sarcasm may be one value that we would particularly wish to identify. We are—are we not?—good at queuing, and we are bad at football. As everyone knows, we are the inventors of football, a game we play for 90 minutes before the Germans win on penalties—unless we are not even making the further rounds. We are the creators of proper breakfasts, the world’s finest sauces—everything from ketchup to HP—and all the best boy bands that could possibly exist.

Many of our constituents—returning to a serious point—are British Muslim, British Indian, British Chinese, Scottish and British, and Welsh and British. Some would argue that the likes of Monty Panesar are way more British than Kevin Pietersen, and I think that they would be right.

Do we take advice from the French? It is a rare thing and I know it is something you would never do, Mr Bone, but you will recall that Jacques Chirac said: “One cannot trust people”—that, by the way, is the British— “whose cuisine is so bad”.
However, we would surely reply that our national dish is not roast beef any more; it is, of course, curry.
On that point, I would like to make my contribution to the debate, which is to ask whether we need to consider introducing, as the Canadians have, a Minister for integration. In Canada, he is the famous Jason Kenney, who has been so successful at formulating and promoting integration of people of many different faiths. His portfolio includes citizenship, multiculturalism, immigration and integration. It is the unification of those strands of Government Departments and the difficulties faced that we genuinely need to address.

I take the view that this process is about creating a stronger society, not splitting it. Surely the purpose of promoting British values is to ensure that by doing so we are not being counter-productive, because any person in this country can uphold their religious, national and cultural identity as well as their British identity. In that respect, surely we should be supporting this debate, this dialogue and this discussion."

Friday, 4 July 2014

Schools like Heddon on the Wall First School will get more money with the Fairer Funding campaign

I have been campaigning on school funding since 2008 - it is the same point that I hear from Headteachers at every school school I visit. But Heddon is the best example: you walk out of Heddon and walk down the hill to Throckley and Newburn and within 3 minutes I am in Newcastle Education area. And the difference in education funding is almost £1000 per pupil. This is changing thanks to the £10 million plus top up funding announced by Schools Minister, David Laws MP, in the spring. I visited Heddon last week and met the Headteacher and the children who are celebrating their recent award and also helped with the campaign for the local park     
Separately I have had to make the point that the Coalition is addressing the Fairer Funding campaign and genuinely changing school funding to rural counties who have lost out for so long under successive governments. More details here:

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Better Together embraces all parties to keep Scotland as part of the UK

This photo was taken as part of the latest campaigning trip to Aberdeenshire, Fife and Perthshire: it was taken by a key Labour activist, and features councillors from several different parties, and myself - as we came together to make the case for the Union. I was in the village of Dunning and we canvassed all the village finding 80% in favour of the Union. What was noticeable was the cross party goodwill on a very important subject. If you want the ultimate embrace of alternative parties then look no further than the impassioned and eloquent plea of George Galloway MP at the recent Spectator dinner: extracts from  the speech I set out below:
‘We are people together on a small piece of rock with three hundred years of common history, and that’s what they want to break up. This is the first time ever that people in a small country, where everyone speaks the same language are being asked to break up, and break up on the basis that they don’t have a currency to use. There will be no pound.’

‘The difference is we have come together temporarily at a moment of national peril. The nationalists on the other hand are permanently together for they have only one purpose, to persuade you that Brian Souter, the gay-baiting billionaire, funder of their campaign, is someone more worthy of looking up to than J.K.Rowling.

“I am tired of being called a quisling, or a traitor…I’ll go wherever I like in these islands or anywhere else and speak my mind. There’ll be havoc if you vote yes in September, havoc in Edinburgh and throughout the land, and you’ll break the hearts of many others too. Who wants to mortgage their, and their children’s future on a finite resource that will soon be finished and the price of which is simply incalculable?’

‘They want you to re-fight a battle seven hundred years ago between two French speaking Kings with Scottish people on both sides. I prefer to remember a rather more recent battle…If we had not stood, but capitulated, like others had done before us, we’d be having this meeting this evening in German, if we were going to have it at all.’

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Prudhoe Community High School - an Update

A number of weeks ago I got the chance to sit down and talk to Deborah Reeman, the headteacher, who is doing a good job. I have also spoken to several of the parents and teachers at the school.

All of us were very surprised at the view of Ofsted last autumn and the school have gone to great lengths to turn the situation around. It would be wrong of me to comment excessively, not least because I am huge supporter of the school, but all I can say is this:

- the school is being well led, and there is a renewed sense of purpose and optimism, with a real belief that the exam results this summer will show improvement, and eventually a positive reassessment by Ofsted
- the building of a new school will definitely go ahead and will begin before Spring 2015 [it will be built next to the existing school site]
- the vast majority parent and pupil I have spoken to over the past 6 months is optimistic about the school's future based on how it is doing now.
- I can only recommend the school wholeheartedly.
 - I know that some people will be concerned about a change in the governing body, but Northumberland County Council has my full support in ensuring the school has the best possible tools and strategies at its disposal to improve the current situation.
As part of the work we are doing to help the school I am  doing all I can to ensure that the sports facilties after the rebuild are genuinely the best in Northumberland.
Further details here:

"Part of the process of being a local councillor is being accountable to the electorate" - Pickles

Mondays Questions and Answer in the Commons:
Guy Opperman [Hexham]
"Not only has Labour-run Northumberland county council not frozen its council tax; it has cancelled its monthly full council meeting on the premise of saving money. We know that it is to avoid protest about the teenage transport tax and the lack of a local plan. Does the Secretary of State agree that democracy, debate and scrutiny are key pillars of a council that should not be scrapped?"
Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 30 June 2014, c596)
Eric Pickles (The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government; Brentwood and Ongar, Conservative)
"I think those Labour councillors will find that they can run but cannot hide from the electorate. Part of the process of being a local councillor is being accountable to the electorate. They should just stop hiding and face the facts."

Labour is unravelling in Westminster

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

City Deals and Regional Growth Fund are helping the North East grow

Interesting article in the Journal on the progress of devolution and money from the centre to the region;

Cruddas contribution and assessment of the welfare debate as job numbers improve year on year

I occupy a unique position in the House of Commons. My office in Room 101 in Norman Shaw North has two neighbours. On my right is the ultra pragmatically Labour chair of Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz, MP for Leicester East.

On my left is Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham: he is the head of Ed Miliband’s policy unit. I have shared debates with him - including the 10th March event with the Equality Trust and the authors of the keystone book - The Sprit Level. It is hard not to be impressed by Cruddas - he is a genuine thinker.

On 21 June Cruddas was speaking to Compass, a left-wing policy group, and was recorded speaking frankly about the Labour policy review: he was very critical. Cruddas said:

‘We managed in the political world to condense it into one story about a punitive hit on 18 to 21-year-olds around their benefits. That takes some doing, you know, a report with depth is collapsed into one instrumentalised policy thing which was fairly cynical and punitive… And instead instrumentalised, cynical nuggets of policy to chime with our focus groups and our press strategies and our desire for a top line in terms of the 24-hour media cycle dominate and crowd out any innovation or creativity.’

The Labour spokeswoman, Rachel Reeves’ plan is to deny the dole to the under-25s unless they go to study for some exams to take them up to Level 3 (the equivalent of an A-Level). Will this be effective or is it a gimmick, even though a massive proportion have no GCSEs?
The Coalition plan is based on apprenticeships and work. Each day, the UK employment count is rising by 2,000. In addition, Youth unemployment is falling at the fastest rate in 15 years:
Cruddas makes it clear that Miliband and Reeves do not have answers to Britain’s serious problems.
Hexham JSA Claimant rate is down 31.1% on last year
Indeed throughout the North East every constituency is seeing an improvement in job numbers and JSA claimants. The plan is working.

Amazing new electric bikes in Allendale - you have to try them out

Last week I went to Allendale to meet Jo Dixon and the many others helping to regenerate Allendale.
We are pictured outside the post office, with the new electric bikes available in the village, which are amazing. I am no Chris Froome, but he would have been hard pressed to keep up as we whizzed up the Allendale hills - the bikes are so good in that they are normal bikes on the flat ... but the moment that you hit a slope they kick in and you pedal effortlessly up the hills like Lance Armstrong on steroids. Whilst doing the tour of Allendale, I came across curlews who rose effortlessly from the side of the road and flew off to the moors with their haunting sounds. The curlew was so beautiful.
If you have not been to Allendale, and the incredible countryside around it, you have to go.