Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Now Greek Finance Minister threatens to sue the EU for daring to stop further bailouts

Bizarre happenings in Greece get even odder, as Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, says: “We are taking advice and will certainly consider an injunction at the European Court of Justice. The EU treaties make no provision for euro exit and we refuse to accept it. Our membership is not negotiable."
His argument has a small bit of logic - the Euro is a burning building with no exits. But the alternative scenario is that the world financial institutions keep bailing out Greece, with no prospect of Greece ever taking any necessary steps to address their overspending. Greece wants the unlimited subsidy and support, and then is upset when this is ended after over 50 Billion of bailouts. Sadly the Greek government are making life worse for their own people.   
Full story here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11707092/Greece-threatens-top-court-action-to-block-Grexit.html

Update on Greece, their referendum, Chancellors statement and advice to tourists / businesses

The situation in Greece is moving very quickly but here are the key facts. Capital controls / withdrawals and bank closures are in effect, certainly until the result of the sudden referendum next Sunday, of which more below.

Greece’s financial assistance programme is due to expire today. It had looked likely that a deal to extend that programme would be agreed last week, but last Friday the Greek Prime Minister suddenly announced that there would be a referendum on 5 July on the terms of the programme extension, and that he would recommend that the Greek people vote no. On Saturday, the Eurozone Finance Ministers confirmed that, as a result of that unexpected move, negotiations were at an end and the programme would expire. This is the emergency life support for the Greek banking system, and Sunday night the Greek Government announced that banks would not open on Monday and that capital controls would be introduced. It is fair to say that Billions had been taken out of the banks over the last few weeks by local Greeks.

What this means for the North East tourist or business visitor is that it is largely cash only if you are travelling to Greece. Put simply take more euros if you are travelling. The Chancellor spells out the details in his statement below but it appears that the present position is as follows:
  • Banks closed till 6 July
  • Cash withdrawals limited to €60 (£42; $66) a day for this period
  • Cash machine withdrawals with foreign bank cards permitted
  • Pension payments not part of capital controls
  • Banking transactions within Greece allowed
Credit cards should be taken most places but best to check in advance, and that position may deteriorate as well.

Yesterday the Chancellor came to give a statement to the Commons: this is the full text, plus the Q and A that followed.

The referendum question posed by the Greek government [who seem determined not to accept any deal] is worryingly opaque and unclear:
The Greek government clearly wants a No to this question. Where it goes for money and lending thereafter if there is a No vote is hard to assess, as the country has imposed bank restrictions and capital controls, and that is always the beginning of the end, as the Greek voters are voting with their own personal wallets and not trusting their own government. Even if they vote Yes it is going to be difficult for the people in Greece; but dealing with your creditors is always better than pretending they don't exist and calling them unfair or worse; if Greece does exit the Euro and its economy goes even further into freefall there will be an impact to us in the North East as instability is inherently a bad thing, and this will be a very big shock to the world financial system. We, in the UK, are in better shape than most but this is going to be a bumpy ride for us too.    

Monday, 29 June 2015

Westminster this week - Scotland, meetings with BT and the Living Wage feature most this week

The Scotland Bill returns to the Commons for further debate all day on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday is PMQs and another Opposition Day debate, whilst Thursday I will be heading north around lunchtime, after questions to the Attorney General.
Also in Westminster this week, I have meetings with constituents and various organisations notably BT to discuss broadband roll out and mobile coverage in Northumberland. We also have Max, as our new work experience in the office in Westminster.  
Finally I will be meeting with Guy Stallard, and Chris White MP, both of whom have done so much to promote the Living Wage.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Conservative candidates for Mayor of London look a lot better than labour as Zac adds his name to the race

The quality of Conservative candidates to run for the biggest job in London are hotting up, as a stellar field is joined by Zac Goldsmith. It is a big job and all the more reason why the North East should be embracing the change and the improvements a Mayoralty and the impact of integrated amalgamated services can have.
As the Spectator reports, when mulling whether to run for Mayor of London, Zac Goldsmith took the unusual step of asking his Richmond Park constituents in a local referendum. Happily for him, 79% of those who responded said yes. Goldsmith said in a statement he was so 'overwhelmed by the mandate' that he'll run, and work 'tirelessly to repay my constituents’ loyalty.'
He has overtaken Labour's Tessa Jowell as the bookies' favourite to succeed Boris Johnson in the upcoming contest. 

Northumberland looking forward to welcoming 3RHA to Albemarle Barracks

The majority of 39RA have moved on to Larkhill base in Wiltshire and we are shortly to welcome 3RHA who are coming home to the UK back from Bergen in Germany. Their arrival will boost the local schools and all the community. The journal reports the story here:

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Since the election we have...in 7 weeks done a lot as a government including

Since the election, we have:
  • Brought forward plans to help families who want to work hard and get on by giving 30 hours' free childcare to working parentsof three- and four-year-olds
  • Announced new plans to turn all failing schools into Academies and to make sure all children study key academic subjects, so they get the skills they need
  • Carried on backing businesses so they can keep creating jobs - with 2 million more people in work since 2010
  • Announced important measures to cut down on waste in the NHS, so that every penny goes on getting patients the best possible treatments
  • Continued to help people secure a home of their own, with over 100,000 families now helped onto the housing ladder through our Help to Buy scheme
  • Introduced the Referendum Bill to Parliament to give everyone in Britain a say before the end of 2017

Friday, 26 June 2015

Even the Guardian approves of Michael Gove as Justice Secretary of State, and quite right too

I believe there is great scope for prison and other reform of the judicial system and Michael Gove has won deserved praise for his fresh approach this week. Don't take my word for it - this is what the Guardian says: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/23/guardian-view-on-justice-secretary-michael-gove-hope-for-penal-reform

For those who want to read the full speech it is here: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/03/whats-good-about-right

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Climate Change Action Day in parliament - details of the debate with constituents and the issues raised

On Wednesday of last week I was delighted to meet with a number of my constituents who had travelled down to the House of Commons as part of the Climate Change lobby day.

It was an impressive turnout and I thank all those who came down from Northumberland to lobby me, as part of the countrywide "Fortheloveof" campaign. It is so important that, in a democracy like ours, people use their right to come to parliament and lobby their MP. I never forget that I work for you and I am always keen to hear from you. 

We discussed a variety of issues and it was good to be quizzed and tested on this crucial topic. One thing was clear: we all agreed that climate change is a fundamental issue and one that poses a great risk to our planet if not combatted. 

All of us accept that climate change is an issue that already affects us today, but one that will have grave consequences for future generations, unless concerted action is taken. We have a collective responsibility to do all we can now to tackle climate change for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

During the 50 minute session in Westminster Hall I took a large number of questions and addressed the Friends of the Earth 10 questions sent down by some of my constituents. On some issues we were in complete agreement, on some issue we differed. But all agreed that the December Paris Climate Change Summit is key to achieving long term gains. The key issue is getting a deal that all countries will sign up. I am confident that Europe will sign; the problem is the emerging economies of China and India and others who are reluctant to restrict their growth, and happy to take the jobs of employers like Alcan. 
This government understands the significance of the threat posed; I believe we are making real progress. We have a commitment to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 and we are on track to do this. I agree, as was put to me on Wednesday that more needs to be done, but we are making progress. 

We are leading the way with the world’s first Green Investment Bank, an initiative which I strongly champion and one that can bring real benefits to both our economy and environment. 

It was put to me that this government needs to act conscientiously in encouraging a comprehensive deal at the Paris Summit this December and I agree. We need to continue to be leaders on this issue and do all we can to encourage countries to use cleaner power sources. 

It was a useful and informative discussion and I want to assure all those who came to meet with me that I take their questions, ideas and comments fully on board.

I received a variety of briefings from Friends of the Earth, Christian Aid, and individual constituents.
I will try and address these key issues, in brief, below:
1. UK commitment to keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees. I am fully supportive of the UK government's approach past and present leading up to the Paris Summit. The last Government grew the economy and cut our carbon emissions and I will campaign to ensure this Government will do the same. We saw a massive increase in investment in renewable energy, including the largest offshore wind market anywhere in the world between 2010-2015. The issue will be the extent of the negotiation and the potential agreed outcomes. I suspect the problem area is not the EU countries who have been leading the way.

2. I am urged to:
- back flood defences both here and abroad - I do wholeheartedly.
- Likewise I support the use of solar panels and have helped a solar innovator from Ponteland get access to wider and better markets, taking them to DECC and supporting their business in whatever way possible.
- On coal there is cross party agreement on the reduction of reliance on coal, and my role in the campaigns on the local Halton Lea Gate and Whittonstall open cast applications is widely known and fully set out on the blog.

3.  FOE want me to oppose roadbuilding like the dualling of the A69 and A1
- I disagree, and will continue to campaign for both the A1 and A69 to be dualled.
- Likewise I disagree on the issue of shale gas extraction. The House of Commons in the spring of 2015 passed a highly detailed position between after extensive debate amongst MP of all the parties, as to the need for extraction under highly regulated rules and with extraction to be carried out in an environmentally safe way. This was after extensive debate for over 6 months in the Commons and the Lords as part of the Infrastructure Bill.
What is clear is that we can no  longer rely upon Russian or Ukrainian gas, and that North Sea Oil and Gas reserves are dwindling. We need a mixed energy supply, but preferably home grown, and I support what President Obama has done to promote shale gas extraction in the USA. Its affect on the cost of living, on  energy security, business costs and the repatriation of jobs has been remarkable in the USA.

4. I am a huge supporter of the various schemes for warmer homes and actively support the oil buying clubs and am helping set up the Tynedale Community Bank to help such schemes locally. On biomass, DRHI and the ECO and Green Deal I am working flat out with local suppliers, and DECC, to ensure their success and the expansive of more fuel efficient homes with a lower carbon footprint.

5. At the meeting we had an extensive discussion as to nuclear power, which I support. We discussed at length the change in views on nuclear, and whether this is deemed a clean or acceptable form of energy supply going forward.

6. We discussed the new tidal barrage in Swansea that the Secretary of State has just authorised and committed massive subsidy to - whilst at the same time phasing out on shore wind subsidies from May 2016:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/energy/11663518/Swansea-Bay-tidal-energy-lagoon-gets-green-light-from-Amber-Rudd.html

I have not answered every question raised but will attempt to do so going forward but hope that this sets out the bare bones of the discussion, the debate and the areas of agreement and disagreement going forward.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

"Voters are no longer sure what Labour is for" - Alan Milburn gives some harsh lessons to Labour

"Today, to be blunt, voters are no longer sure what Labour is for. They do not see a compelling core purpose.” My Stocksfield constituent makes an eloquent and compelling case. I am dubious that the present Labour Party or members are listening.

His comments following todays speech are worth a read:

Ronnie Campbell, PMQs, yoga, the Speaker, jobs, transport and too much curry - an interesting tale

My Northumberland neighbour, Ronnie Campbell, the hard left Labour MP for Blyth Valley, always sits in the commons on the front row next to Dennis Skinner, his hero. To speak to he is perfectly civil. He is a confirmed eurosecptic and wants to leave the EU right away.
But, every time the latest jobs figures, and the positive employment news are mentioned in the commons he always says "but it is terrible in the north east". Aside from his relentless negativity about his home region Ronnie is also factually wrong both on the North East generally, and his own seat of Blyth Valley. To help I have extracted the latest Blyth valley figures:

The Blyth Valley unemployment figures are as follows:
Between May 2014-2015 unemployment fell [according to House of Commons independent figures - Briefing paper 7229, June 17 2015]:
- 18-24 year old claimants dropped by 20.9% = 115 young men and women
- 50 and over claimants dropped by 11.4% = 40 men and women
- long term = more than 12 months unemployed fell by 30.4% = 210 men and women
I could go on a out these stats and the apprenticeship stats which are also good.

Which brings me to last Wednesdays exchange at PMQs:
On this occasion whilst everyone was lauding the technical and engineering masterpiece that is Crossrail, the underground rail tunnel across London, he went purple with rage about how the government was spending money on London. It is true that Crossrail is very expensive, at over £15 billion, and therefore distorts transport spend across the country, but Ronnie always forgets that this Crossrail project was commissioned, authorised and then passed through parliament and started by the last Labour government before 2010!!! And Labour / Ronnie voted repeatedly for this.The full history is here:http://www.crossrail.co.uk/route/crossrail-from-its-early-beginnings

On last Wednesday Ronnies chunterings upset the speaker who intervened as follows:
Mr Speaker: "Mr Campbell, it is all that hot curry! It is getting to you. Calm yourself, man! Calm down. Maybe a bit of yoga would help."
The full extract from this debate is here: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2015-06-17b.309.4&s=crossrail+speaker%3A11308#g313.4
Ronnie is a nice person I stress, but on these two issues Ronnie is most specifically wrong.

Decision expected soon on Birney Hill

We are nearing D-day for the decision on
Birney Hill.

When Lugano were fighting for this development their argument was very clear, that because the County Council had failed to adopt local planning policies, their development should be given the go ahead. As we all know, Northumberland County Council has indeed failed to put together its local development plan, essentially allowing a possible planning free for all. I am deeply concerned the Council have left our Greenbelt exposed.

A decision on the application from the Planning Inspector is due in late June / early July after a planning hearing in January, at which I spoke against the application.

Figures show that Northumberland County Council was one of just 62 out of 318 councils who have yet to submit a local plan - it's key planning document for the next 15 years – putting it in the bottom 20% of all Council.

126 Local Authorities have already submitted their plans for examination.

I remain very hopeful that Lugano’s appeal will be thrown out by the Planning Inspectorate. There are very clear and objective planning grounds on which their application to build on the Ponteland greenbelt should be rejected. However there is no question the County Council has left our greenbelt very exposed with it's failure to complete it's Local Plan. The position they have left us in, effectively the worst 20% in the country, is simply not acceptable. The Council's failure has put out greenbelt at real risk.

It is estimated once a local plan is submitted it can take up to 15 months before it it is approved and able to be adopted.Northumberland County Council is not expected to submit their local plan for inspection until March 2016 at the earliest.

Northumberland County Council is currently hoping to have it's Local Plan adopted in Autumn 2016, more than 5 years after the policy was introduced in the Localism Act of 2011.

Newcastle and Gateshead Council's had their Local Plans adopted in March 2015. Durham County Council submitted it's Local Plan for inspection in April 2014, some two years ahead of Northumberland.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Moving from a low wage, high tax, high welfare society to higher wages, lower taxes & welfareisright

I agree wholeheartedly with the approach of thePM as he set out in detail yesterday how we provide greater opportunities, higher wages and a better society.
The key quote from his speech is here:
"We need to move from a low wage, high tax, high welfare society to a higher wage, lower tax, lower welfare society. Indeed, across the spectrum, as a country we have been too busy picking up the pieces of failure that has gone before. Dealing with anti-social behaviour rather than strengthening families. Managing youth unemployment rather than boldly reforming education."

The full text of yesterday's speech by the PM on opportunity and welfare reform is here:

Monday, 22 June 2015

Anti austerity & Dianne Abbott take a fall with Andrew Neil and hard facts yesterday

There is no better interviewer on TV than Andrew Neil and he utterly destroyed the arguments of the anti austerity campaigners yesterday. Dianne Abbott stepped in to argue a series of positions, which effectively said the Greek way of doing things is the good way of doing things, and that the ultra left wing MP, Jeremy Corbyn, is the person best placed to lead the Labour Party and be PM.

The interview, which is copied below, is worth a watch for 7 minutes.
But more importantly is the sober analysis done by journalist Fraser Nelson of the utter fallacy of the claims she makes using independent statistics and the figures. This is set out in detail on the link and should be essential reading for all anti austerity campaigners.

On tax:
“We should be making sure that the people with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden,” she said. 
The chart shows clearly - That’s precisely what George Osborne did when he cut the top rate of tax (see the chart in link below). The best-paid 1pc, 0.1pc and 0.01pc are all shouldering a greater share of the burden than at any time under Labour (which had 40% tax rates for 99.9% of its time in office).

On jobs she again fails to realise the jobs revolution we are enjoying, and the fact that over 75% of all  jobs are full time, and that this stat is going up.
Don't take my word for it. Watch the interview and have a look at the figures.

Westminster this week - the Education and Adoption Bill debate starts today and dominates

Today sees the Education and Adoption Bill start its jounrey through the Commons from 3.30-10pm tonight. It will see several months of debate about what the state should do about persistently failing schools.
The explanatory notes to the first draft of the Bill, before parliament scrutinises it, are here:

The rest of the week sees further debates including an Opposition Day debate on Wednesday and a Home Office debate thursday. I also have meetings with the local BBC TV team who are down in London on Wednesday, a local lad James is work experience with us all week, meetings with several constituents visiting Westminster and a stack of casework to catch up on.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Government announces an end to new subsidies for onshore wind but backs tidal

Earlier this week the Government announced the end of new subsidies for onshore wind projects and changes to planning laws so that local people have the final say on onshore windfarm applications – delivering on our manifesto commitments.
While onshore wind power is an important part of our energy mix there are now enough projects in the pipeline to help us meet our renewable energy commitments.

Our manifesto made a clear commitment to end new subsidies for onshore wind and to change the law so that local people have the final say on onshore windfarm applications. We will now deliver on this through an Energy Bill, which will be presented to Parliament during the current session. 

This is part of our plan to meet our energy needs and keep bills low for families while making sure local communities have more of a say over what happens in their area. The process will take a bit of parliamentary time but the plan is to cut subsidies by May 2016. The renewable industries will need to stand on their feet, and the subsidy can be better used elsewhere. An example of this is the Swansea Bay tidal energy project which was signed off last week as well:

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Tynedale Beer Festival is a must go today - great fun and great causes to support

Last night I had a great time at our biggest beer festival, that has hundreds of beers, ciders, music, great people and great food at Tynedale Rugby Club. The organising team of the Tynedale Lions and Tynedale Rugby Club are brilliant and tireless, with support from some great local sponsors, big and small. But special mention must go to the underlying purpose of the event, which is to raise tens of thousands of pounds for causes such as the Great North Air Ambulance, Help for Heroes, the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Foundation, Action for Children and a local stall for Stay Strong Stu. If you have the chance to go today / tonight do so - it's open till 11pm

As Greece slides inexhorably into a euro exit and isolation what to do next?

I remain firmly of the view that Greece will leave the Euro in a process beginning before the end of June. On the one hand no one wants a country defaulting, and creating instability in the rest of the region, coupled to a bank run, but on the other hand this bailout process cannot last. Greece's leaders want the European countries to lend them more money to pay off old debts they could not pay before. Why? Sadly because it is patently clear that Greece is living beyond its means and unable to take the action needed. It has now faulted on IMF repayments, and when that happens you really are in trouble. And there is little evidence of any desire for reform in Greece.
The alternatives are twofold. Greece would also like a debt write off, but if the Europeans write off Greek debt then what about Spanish, Italian, Portuguese or even British debt? Why would any country ever bother repaying money in the future? More particularly, why would anyone ever lend any more? And without lending we all suffer as the wider and local banking system dries up.

So that leaves one other option, which readers of this blog know has long been my view: Greece should exit the euro turn its euro debt and currency into drachma and attempt a fresh start with a devalued currency. There could then be a fresh start, and renewed help of the type some European leaders envisage. The alternative is that an impoverished Russia would provide some limited assistance to Greece. I do not see this happening long term, but short term it clearly helps the far left Greek government in negotiations, or so they think, and Putin loves to destabilise the west.

A Euro exit will be messy, both for the Greeks and the rest of Europe. But the short term pain is better than this constant running sore of ever more debt, default, bailout and failure to take action. Anyway, none of our views matter as the Greek people are voting with their feet and have effectively withdrawn all money from the Greek banks. Once this happens an exit is inevitable.
For the view on why this matters the telegraph have an interesting slant:

Friday, 19 June 2015

Yesterdays select committee chairs are important appointments

By a secret ballot the chairs were chosen yesterday, and they have a lot of power, ability to hold government, civil servants and interested parties and stakeholders to account, summon witnesses and examine policy. Congratulations to all my colleagues from all across the house who have been chosen to do this serious job.
The full breakdown of appointments is here: http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/06/new-select-committee-chairs-elected/

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Greater London Mayor has shown the difference a mayor can make to a region like the North East

I hope that the North East is looking at the impact a Mayor has had on Greater London, and other great cities and regions of the world, and thinking: this would help us! Why can't we have something like this?
- A single person promoting the region
- The region working as one, not a collection of warring neighbours
- A critical mass to compete with the larger regions of Germany and beyond.
- A region with integrated transport, joined up healthcare and so much more.
- A region batting above its weight to ensure more jobs, growth and a better future.

The evidence is clear: mayors, with a proper remit and a broad canvass can make a big difference. The Mayor of London has a multitude of places, concerns, interests and people to look after across a huge land mass and a totally diverse landscape. London is many things to many people: from the suburbs to leafy green belt to the City's square mile and Soho, and so much in between.

In Westminster the race to succeed Boris Johnson is hotting up. Key local figures are throwing their hat into the ring for a job with real power to make a difference: the latest report on Zac Goldsmiths announcement is here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/11661880/Zac-Goldsmith-announces-bid-for-London-Mayor.html

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Select Committee Elections are a big deal this Wednesday in Westminster

Select Committee Chairmanship Election day hits Westminster tomorrow: in 2010 the government introduced a much unheralded change. Traditionally select committee chairmen and women were handed out by governments and oppositions as prizes to the MPs in their party. That has now changed, and the individual chairs are elected by an entirely free vote secret ballot of MPs of all of the House of Commons.

And they are becoming very powerful, both at holding government to account and acting as a road test for new ideas. The select committees also allow MPs to develop real specialist expertise in a field, and to help parliament progress, review and alter legislation. The Committees take a lot of evidence and, for example, in the last parliament two constituents, Mike Murray and Lauren Langton, came to Westminster and gave evidence to the energy committee on their experiences and expertise in setting up oil buying clubs.

The chairs of the big committees also work very hard, and it is equivalent to a ministerial position in scope - in terms of responsibility, power to summon witnesses and ministers, write reports on any topic in their field, and become the expert in the field. It can also prove a spring board to promotion as several select committee chairs have then been asked to be the Minister in their specialist field. They are not quite as powerful as the USA select committee chairs but are not far behind.

The committees are divided up according to the number of MPs, with the chairs being spilt primarily between labour and the conservative parties; however, the liberal democrat's two committees chairs from the last parliament have now gone to the SNP, as the new third party and they have asked for Scottish Affairs and Energy as their two committees.

The big committees are Treasury, Home Office and Foreign Affairs. But the biggest prize of all, in terms of its wide ranging scope, is the Public Accounts committee, which Margaret Hodge, the firebrand labour MP, used to great effect in the last parliament. She is not standing again, and there is a real battle amongst labour MPs to succeed her.

Ministers, shadow ministers and government parliamentary private secretaries cannot stand for select committees. Many new MPs cut their teeth on select committees as the Prime Minister, David Cameron, did when he was first elected to parliament in 2001. The PM served on the Home Affairs select committee which then, as is now the case, was run by a labour MP chair; the chairs are elected this week and individual committee members follow in a couple of weeks.
I will post full details of the results later this week.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Update on Haydon Bridge High School

As many of you will be aware Haydon Bridge High School is currently in special measures having been rated as inadequate by Ofsted.

The school was visited by Ofsted inspectors in December last year and was found to be inadequate in leadership and management, behaviour and safety of pupils, quality of teaching, and achievement of pupils. Ofsted found its sixth form provision “requires improvement.”

I met the County Council's top education bosses last week to discuss the situation and see how best we can make progress for the pupils of Haydon Bridge High School.

Essentially if a school does not improve quickly then a Local Authority has two options; either to close the school or convert it into an academy, effectively releasing it from their control to an Academy sponsor.

It is my view that converting Haydon Bridge into Academy would be the best solution.

Academies were originally a Labour policy designed to improve struggling schools, but now there are many academies across the country providing a fantastic level of education.

Academies have more freedom than other state schools, giving the Head teacher more powers over their finances, curriculum, length of terms and school days.

I myself have visited some fantastic Academy schools across the North East and have always been impressed by the improvements a strong and determined Headteacher is able to make.

Fundamentally academies take power away from politicians and bureaucrats and hand it to the heads and teachers who know their pupils best.

There is no question that the Education system in Northumberland is suffering from deep problems which have been a long time coming. In our area there are a number of schools which Ofsted has raised concered about and Northumberland County Council was ranked 132nd out of 151 local authorities for GCSE and A-Level performance in 2013. Reportedly Northumberland County Council has been put 146th of 147 for rate of improvement. That is simply not good enough.

The research very clearly shows that previously failing schools are more in demand since becoming academies and the vast majority of academy heads feel their results have improved overall.

The main reasons schools choose to convert is to raise educational standards and to gain greater freedom to spend their budgets on improving standards. All funding for academies goes directly to Headteachers to spend directly on education.

Education bosses from the County are meeting with Department of Education officals this week to discuss possible Academy sponsors. 

I will continue to keep you updated over the coming weeks. 

It is Mens Health Week - time to get a check up?

I am delighted to support Men's Health Week. The honest truth is that too many men die because they did not get a check up, thought it unmanly to see a GP or complain and this has to change.
Ask yourself:
- when was the last time you went to a GP, to have even a brief check up of blood pressure?
- a PSA test will potentially save your life and warn you of future prostrate cancer before it is too late.
- if you have blood when you go to the loo go to a doctor! That can be very serious. Too many men do not want to discuss it because it is embarrassing. So is bowel cancer so get it looked at.

I have made a start by going on a 50 mile bike ride on Sunday, have my long distance eyes tested [I need glasses for driving etc] and having my PSA taken at the Fortis Clinic first thing this morning.
As I have broken over a dozen bones I am off to the osteopath tomorrow  - lord knows I need it!

I will be blogging more about the fundraising campaigns, sponsored bike rides, triathlons and marathons, and ultimately the races I am hoping to be riding in over the next 12 months.

The Grexit is looking ever more likely - reports from Germany and the papers do not look good

Greece's ongoing inability to function as a normal country is becoming ever more apparent.
It cannot continue to sustain capital withdrawals from its banks, its declining employment, a chaotic government and so much more. This week’s meeting of European Finance Ministers is one of the last chances for a deal to be struck. However, there is no sign of an agreement yet, and it is clear that the German government preparing for Greece leaving the Euro, setting up a drachma and starting anew. Noone wants to see the impact of a Greek exit, but at the same time we have to ask if the continued throwing of good money after bad, and the undermining of so much of what the rest of Europe is trying to do is sustainable.

This is one approach from the Spectator: http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/06/how-far-will-merkel-go-on-greece/
Ultimately it is clear that Mrs Merkel, and the European Finance Minister, and the IMF [who all but have given up trying to do business with the Greek government] will have to decide if they wishes to continue to underwrite the Greek economy, which shows no sign of the improvement that we are seeing in the UK and Irish economies. We in the UK are lucky - due to George Osborne's decision we do not contribute as part of the Eurozone bail out scheme.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Westminster this coming week

Monday sees consideration of the Scotland Bill in committee on the floor of the House of Commons. This means the whole house can debate the individual amendments and parts of the bill in the main chamber, rather than as is usual in a smaller committee. We are doing a similar process with the Europe Bill later in the week, with another opposition day debate after PMQs on Wednesday. I have various constituents coming for meetings or events in parliament this week, notably a climate change rally on Wednesday afternoon in Westminster hall. The parliamentary day always starts with departmental questions and Treasury Questions on Tuesday at 11.30 is always fascinating, although we are all getting used to life without Ed Balls. It is certainly more peaceful.

Hexham Shire Garden trail is a must see in the Shire today

Whitley Chapel, south of Hexham, NorthumberlandSunday 14th June 2015
11.00am to 5.30pm
The Shire isa special place with an amazing pub, great people and wonderful gardens of all shapes and sizes. This is a chance to see at least 14 gardens varying in size and aspect. See how they cope with the vagaries of altitude and natural predators in this unspoilt parish to the south of Hexham.

There will be tea and cakes available in some of the gardens, and soup and a roll will be available to purchase from the school. Prize quiz for visitors. Sorry, no dogs except guide dogs.

All proceeds to Whitley Chapel, St Helens Church
Once you finish there you could also take in the Red Cross Garden at Styford Hall

Saturday, 13 June 2015

49 years since Labour won an election without being in the centre ground

Tony Blair is unpopular in the Labour party but it is a harsh fact that only a centre left Labour party will ever win an election.
Paul Linfords article in the Journal makes very interesting reading: http://www.thejournal.co.uk/opinion/paul-linford-you-can-33-1-9444864
I agree with him - as a fomer jockey and bookmaker I can say that David Miliband's odds of 33-1 to be the next Labour PM are good value. Decision time soon for the Labour party - the centre ground or socialism again? The evidence against the left wingers is overwhelming, and the majority of Labour MPs do not want to accept it. In particular in the North East, where the Labour MPs are queueing up to support the far left candidates.

Queens Birthday Honours - Northumberland

Congratulations to all those in Northumberland who have been honoured by Her Majesty the Queen:

Professor Victoria Geraldine Bruce, OBE, FBA, FRSE. Vice-president for Public Engagement, British Academy and Professor of Psychology, Newcastle University. For services to Higher Education and Psychology. (Stocksfield, Northumberland)

Jonathan Peter Wilkinson, OBE. For services to Rugby Union. (Hexham, Northumberland)

James Graham Simpson Gill. Forest Management director North England Forest District. Forestry Commission England. For services to British Forestry. (Hexham, Northumberland)

Peter John Millican. Chief executive and Founder Kings Place. For services to the Arts. (Northumberland)

Ms Kathryn Derran Tickell. For services to Folk Music. (Northumberland)

Mrs Lesley Moody. Managing director, AES Digital Solutions Ltd. For services to Business, Education and International Trade. (Morpeth, Northumberland)

Mrs Margaret Yvonne Watson. Foster Carer, Northumberland. For services to Children and Families. (Seghill, Northumberland)

Sqn Ldr David Chappell. Higher Executive Officer Ministry of Defence. For services to the RAF and to Conservation. (Alnwick, Northumberland)

Mrs Anne Robson Lloyd. Drama Teacher, Fenham, Newcastle upon Tyne. For services to Education and to the community in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. (Ponteland, Northumberland)

Mrs Joy Sullivan. Export Adviser, North East Chamber of Commerce International Trade Team. For services to International Trade. (Prudhoe, Northumberland)

The Weekend Read: Parliament will debate assisted suicide legislation this year as a Private Members Bill

The Labour MP for Wolverhampton South West, Rob Marris, is to bring forward a Private Members Bill to address the issue of assisted suicide. He came first in the Private Members Bill ballot last week. He will, so the reports say, use the Bill pioneered in the House of Lords last year by Lord Falconer.

The proposals would allow patients thought to have no more than six months to live, and who had demonstrated a “clear and settled intention” to end their lives, to be prescribed a lethal dose of drugs on the authority of two doctors.
The report of the news is here:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11662127/MPs-to-be-given-historic-right-to-die-vote.html
Full details of the Falconer Bill are here: http://www.dignityindying.org.uk/assisted-dying/lord-falconers-assisted-dying-bill/
My stance on this issue is well known and was widely discussed at the constituency hustings at the last election but my views are set out here:
- http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/hexham-mp-guy-opperman-backs-4413760
and in the last parliamentary debate here:
- http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2012-03-27a.1373.0&s=assisted+suicide+speaker%3A24962#g1432.1

A few key points to add and to note: -
- This is a clearly very contentious issue.
- Private Members Bills rarely get through both houses of parliament unless there is universal support, so I believe that prospects of success are very limited.
- The matter was put to the PM on Wednesday at PMQs: he replied as follows: -
"On this issue I very much agree with my hon. Friend, which is that I do not support the assisted dying proposals that have come out of the other place. I do not support euthanasia. I know that there are imperfections and problems with the current law, but I think that these can be dealt with sensitively and sensibly without having a new law that actually brings in euthanasia. As she says, I think the problem is the pressure that is then put on frail, elderly people to take a decision that they might not want to go ahead with."

Friday, 12 June 2015

Visit to Newbrough School and a Q and A session

Last week I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours at Newbrough School. I met the teachers, chair of governors and the pupils, who had prepared a series of questions for me. The School is very good, with happy inquisitive children. The picture is taken outside the school.
I have set out below, as I always try to do, a brief record of the Q and A with the kids as best I can remember:

What does the Queen look like? smaller than you would imagine, but always smiling and with amazing skin.
Is your job good? Yes. You make a difference in three key ways - to the individual constituent, to your area, and once in a while to your country. It is a great honour to do the job. It requires huge time and effort but it is very rewarding. 
And I like representing people. I Always have; and I believe I am a good advocate, which you need to be in this job as you spend a lot of time campaigning, cajoling and lobbying. 
Why did you choose to be an MP? I wanted to make a difference; I was not interested in politics until I got involved in a hospital campaign relating to the hospital I was born in and which saved my mothers life. Everything flowed from there. 
Are you going to close down the Haydon Bridge High School? No! I am doing everything possible to ensure it stays open. Ultimately, schools are in the control of the local authority, but I want the school to stay open and am actively doing all I can. 
What are your views on the NHS? It saved my life on two occasions and I have ben a fundraiser for it, chaired the all party group for air ambulance in the last parliament and the NHS is the reason I came into politics. 
What do you do to protect nature? I was born and brought up in the countryside and have campaigned repeatedly as an MP to protect our green belt. 
What do you think about people from foreign countries coming to into this country? I am a 
descendant of immigrants and welcome those who want to come here to work hard, integrate, pay 
their way and contribute. Our country has always been multi cultural and in a global world we need to be positive and accept that we were all foreigners once. 

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Welcome the Chancellor's decision on RBS and recoup taxpayers stake in the bank

In a speech last night the Chancellor announced that as part of our long-term economic plan the Government will begin to sell the taxpayers’ stake in the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).
The advice from the Governor of the Bank of England and an independent review is clear: it is in the interests of taxpayers to start selling the taxpayers’ stake in RBS now.

So in the coming months we will begin to sell our stake in RBS. This will help to secure the future of this bank and, when taking all the banks in total, will ensure that taxpayers get back the billions of pounds that they were forced to put in to rescue the system.

This is the right thing to do for British businesses and hardworking British taxpayers and will help pay down our debts as we work to build a better and brighter future for Britain.

Tynedale Beer festival 18-20 June - tickets still available to our biggest beer festival

Dozens of Beers, drinks and great food and lots to see and do. Come along to Corbridge - you will not be disappointed:

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

The G7 meeting in Bavaria - Russia, Ukraine, Greece and Climate change dominate

The group is 7 not 8 now as Russia has taken itself out of the game by deciding to enter both the Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Russia was clearly a key part of discussions, primarily in respect of its incursions, but there were also the continued problems of the Greek economy to be hammered out. In addition there were clear commitments on climate change.
The BBC report of events is here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-33064391
The PM will be reporting back to the commons.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Labour still the party of welfare as leadership challengers refuse to back the 23k benefit cap


Matfen Broadband update - pleased the village will get broadband in Phase 2 of rollout after long campaign

Matfen village is to benefit from broadband after a long campaign headed by local County Councillor Veronica Jones, helped by myself.

The decision that Matfen village will now be a key priority in the County Council's latest broadband roll out was made on 29th May. For far too long, Matfen has suffered from a very poor / no Internet. Whilst other towns and villages have begun to see improvements or resolution in their internet services, Matfen was effectively being cut off. That simply wasn't good enough and Cllr Jones and I pledged to work hard to deliver a solution. I am immensely pleased that such a solution has been found and BT will be bringing broadband to the village.

The problem the villagers of Matfen faced in getting online is because the village is at the end of a long connection to the local exchange ‘cabinet’ which is located in neighbouring Fenwick, rather than in Matfen itself. As a result, the County Council's first roll out of broadband upgrades had been unable to find a cost effective solution, given that the estimated cost exceeded £2000 per household. 

Councillor Veronica Jones has led the campaign locally, and said "This really is fantastic news for Matfen village. The hard work now really begins to make sure it is delivered. I will also be working hard to ensure those in more rural areas are able to benefit from the latest innovations to help improve their broadband service."

I should add that I am fully aware that there remain several villages and hamlets and not spots in the patch, which still need addressing. Several like Colwell and the Hexham Shire I am fully aware of and am working on but all information is good information.
As always please keep me and the local councillors informed. The broadband roll out is progressing and we are getting there, but all information helps because I can only act on matters that local people let me know about. 

Monday, 8 June 2015

The Commons is debating the Scotland Bill / Smith Commission today from 3.30-10.30pm

The bill will be heard for the first time in debate from 3.30-10pm, with votes to follow, and follows the recommendations of the Smith Commission, which was set up after the independence referendum. It gives Holyrood control over income tax rates and bands, a half share in VAT revenues and a greater say over welfare powers in Scotland.
The BBC advance report on todays bill is here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-33041979

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Westminster this coming week - Scotland, the EU and constituent meetings dominate

Monday sees the start of the Scotland Bill, which brings into effect the Smith Commission on devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament. This parliament will feature massive devolution to the smaller countries of the UK, and the regions of the UK. Scotland is leading the way as a country, although Wales and Northern Ireland are not far behind. 
The regional devolution is to Greater Manchester at first as they are ready to go and embrace the process. The North East combined Authority has to make its mind up and fast!

Tuesday sees the strata of the Bill that allows for the EU referendum bill. I will blog more on this later in the week. Wednesday is PMQs and an opposition day debate, with finance bills following on Thursday afternoon, before I run for the train North. 

I also have key meetings with constituents in a business capacity this week, notably the chief executive of the LEP Bob Patton, concerning jobs and growth plans for the LEP, on Monday, and Tobyn Hughes, on Wednesday, primarily concerning an integrated transport plan and the future of north East transport. Both meetings will be very interesting. 

Saturday, 6 June 2015

big sporting events locally today: cycling in Haydon Bridge, rowing regatta, eventing in Belsay

The Weekend Read: the labour leadership race from inside the Commons - will it be same old labour?

The leadership race for Labour some argue is effectively over. There are three elements: MPs, unions, and party members - and all 3 presently support Andy Burnham.

It certainly is over for the North East, where the vast majority of the NE Labour MPs are backing Andy Burnham. This includes those who have declared, and the few coy ones who publicly have not declared. The interesting question is why? An analysis of the Labour candidates is therefore required: over the last two - three weeks in the Commons we have seen them on manoeuvres, in hushed meetings in unlikely corners, and making hustings speeches in the Commons, and it is revealing.

- Mary Creagh is unlikely to make the ballot paper, as she has limited support in the Commons. Her recent Newsnight interview was also not good / a car crash depending upon your point of view. Likewise an uber left candidate Jeremy Corbyn will not win this contest.
- Liz Kendall may make the ballot paper, but her opponents in the Labour Party have robustly described her to me as too right wing. They also assert that she is also a little lost when her script is taken away from her. Her instincts of a more central Labour Party may be right, but based on the commons she has a limited chance of winning. That may change.

- Yvette Cooper may make the final 2. But ...she is portrayed as an ice queen by her own side, sometimes even by her own supporters. Opponents also say she is lacking any fundamental beliefs, whether they are left or right, progressive or traditional labour. She may overcome this. But too many see her as the "diet coke" version of Ed Balls. I cannot see her winning. At least with my nemesis Mr Balls you got some passion, albeit it was normally misguided nonsense.
Which leaves the likely winner as Andy Burnham. He clearly has the unions tied up, as the favoured candidate of Len McCluskey, and other union barons. The party membership like him; but what has intrigued me is the support of so many labour MPs, particularly those from the North East.

To hear some of the labour MPs talk it is clear they felt that Ed Miliband was not left wing enough, and that old fashioned socialism needs a real proper go. It is clear Burnham is promising a more left wing approach to some and regretting the comments of yesteryear to others. 
Burnham now suddenly says he has changed form the unreconstructed left winger of the last 5 years. As if! He remains the same deficit denying dinosaur of the left.

The vast majority of labour MPs from the NE support him openly, or support him privately: the latter say they will support Burnham, but are hedging their bets for now for a variety of reasons - normally because they are holding out for a good job under his leadership.  For a race that was supposed to see a deep examination of where Labour went wrong this event is over after 3 weeks, and they are heading back to square one.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Much to do this Saturday in Tynedale in Haltwhistle, Corbridge, Bardon Mill and beyond

I shall be at the Charlotte Straker Fete in Corbridge on Saturday at 2pm to support this wonderful cause. Similarly I shall try and be in Haltwhistle first thing for the Holy Cross summer fair,,although I have home visits surgeries first thins Saturday. There is also a Great Whittington plant sale between 10.30-12.30 and the Bardon Mill Carnival from 1.30.

I also must mention the Prudhoe Community Fair on Sunday on Front Street from 12-4, and the Ponteland Party in the Park on Sunday, starting from 1.30. The British Red Cross garden this weekend is Stagshaw House in Corbridge, from 12-5.30.

Maiden speeches from earlier this week in the Commons - some of the best jokes and highlights

There have been literally dozens of Maiden speeches during the Queens Speech debate this week. This is not a greatest hits blog but an attempt to get my 18,000+ readers to understand what a wonderfully diverse and capable bunch of new recruits we have to the mother of parliaments. All are worth a read on Hansard, but this blog attempts to give a flavour of what a new parliament is like. This does not denote preferment - it is that some of these were the best I heard personally.
The best jokes at the outset of a speech clearly go to Cheltenham MP, Alex Chalk, whose experiences with Boris on the campaign trail were beautifully told: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2015-06-02a.457.2&s=speaker%3A25340#g535.2
Its worth a read.
I have to single out some of the Women2Win stars as well this week:
- Suella Fernandes, the new Fareham MP told her father tale of immigration and passionate love for Britian with great pride here: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2015-06-01b.312.6&s=speaker%3A25272#g356.2
This is the start of her speech:
"On a cold February morning in 1968, a young man, not yet 21, stepped off a plane at Heathrow airport, nervously folding away his one-way ticket from Kenya. He had no family, no friends and was clutching only his most valuable possession, his British passport. His homeland was in political turmoil. Kenya had kicked him out for being British. My father never returned. He made his life here in Britain, starting on the shop floor of a paint factory. My mother, recruited by the NHS in Mauritius as a girl of 18, passed her 45th year of service last year.
My family had nothing but hopes and dedication. They were so proud to be British and so proud to make our country even better. If I succeed in making some small contribution during my time in this place, it will reflect only a fraction of my gratitude to this country for the abundance of education, culture and traditions that have made Britain great, for the tolerance and fellowship of the British people, and for the opportunity and liberty that we all enjoy."

There is no doubt that former soldier, and Plymouth MP, Johnny Mercer's tale of the difficulties of forces veterans has struck a chord with many: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11646320/Cynical-about-politicians-This-speech-by-Johnny-Mercer-MP-should-make-you-think-again.html
All the new intake will do well. I will do a further blog later in the week with later speeches.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Maiden speeches by my neighbour Anne Marie Trevelyan [and Boris] on Monday in the Commons

I am doing a series of blogs on the Maiden speeches given in the Commons this week.
My neighbour in Berwick upon Tweed, Anne Marie Trevelyan, has worked as a candidate for over 8 years to get elected last month, and I was by her side on Monday evening as she gave her maiden speech in The House of Commons.
The full transcript of her speech is here: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2015-06-01b.399.0
Her speech was a very One Nation consensual approach, with a fair and warm hearted tribute to her predecessor. The best passage was this:
"I am only the second woman to be elected as MP for Berwick, the first having been Mabel Philipson, elected in 1923, also as a Conservative. She was only the third woman to enter this House as an elected representative, and no doubt she would be pleased to see that following recent elections we now have some 30% representation by female MPs across the House. Mabel was the mother of a disabled child and a vociferous champion for improved disability rights. She was an actress before she came to Parliament, and I sometimes think that she had better training than I have had, as a chartered accountant, to tackle the theatrical nature of this Chamber and its tough audience—both without and within! But I am encouraged by her success in her areas of interest, and am committed in my time here to work tirelessly to ensure that all children, whatever advantages or challenges their circumstances have thrust upon them, will be able to achieve their full potential. I believe passionately that all children have great futures, but sometimes the adults around them limit their potential. There is always more we can do to inspire, protect and encourage the next generation."
Anne Marie will be a great advocate for North Northumberland.

On the same day Boris gave his second maiden speech. As always it was pure Boris. The full speech is here: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2015-06-01b.312.6&s=section%3Adebates+section%3Awhall+section%3Alords+section%3Ani+speaker%3A10999#g385.0

My favourite passage was this where Boris introduced the word "schmoozathon" to Hansard and the 2015 parliament.

"I congratulate the Prime Minister on the élan and success with which he has begun his pan-European schmoozathon in the chancelleries of Europe. I believe his efforts will be crowned with success." 
Life will certainly not be dull with Boris in the House of Commons.

First PMQs today of the new parliament

The commons will be a sombre place following the tragic news of Charles Kennedy, who died yesterday at the young age of only 55. There will be tributes paid to him after PMQs at 12.30. For my part I have constituency meetings this morning, a bunch of casework to respond to and will then be a whip later in the day as the second last day of the Queens Speech continues until 7pm.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Genuinely shocked and saddened by the death of Charles Kennedy - thoughts are with his family

I worked for 5 years with the former Lib Dem leader in the Commons during the Coalition. I did not know him well but he had great ability to connect with the public, and secured the best ever result for the Liberal Democrats in 2005. My thoughts are with his family.
Update: here is the BBC Tribute http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-32970337

Monday, 1 June 2015

Maiden speeches aplenty in the Commons today - Johnson, and some W2W Stars feature

Maiden speeches in the Commons are a moment of genuine fear. Your whole parliamentary career awaits you and the House prepares to hear, and your constituents read, your Churchillian peroration for the first time. You rise expectantly as the speaker calls your name in the commons for the first time, and 8-15 minutes later you will sink to your seat very relieved it is over, and you can get on with the business of being a normal MP in the Commons.

There have been a few maiden speeches already given this parliament, on all sides, with several very good ones; but the pace goes up a notch today as there are a large many who have put in. No pressure for the new intake but one Boris Johnson, the new MP for Uxbridge has put his name down.  As an MP for a new seat (he previously represented Henley) he may make a second maiden speech. Expect the unexpected. As for myself I remember being followed by Jacob Rees Mogg, which was an experience, as Jacob spent a large part of his speech discussing Somerset fighting heroes of the past, notably Athelstan.
Most maiden speeches are not as exotic, but then few MPs are like Jacob.
The reality is that there is no protocol but most accept that you should describe your constituency to the House, and what it means to represent the constituency, reference your predecessor (even if you defeated them in a bunfight) and set out your hopes and aspirations for both your region and yourself in the Commons. My hamfisted attempt, written the night before, is here, given in the early days of the 2010 parliament: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2010-06-07e.97.0

I remember both the relief when I sat down, and that I spoke the same night as Matt Hancock, Simon Hart and Robert Buckland, all good friends, as well as the mighty Jacob later that evening. It should be remembered that it is also the only time that no one in the House of Commons will interrupt, barrack or criticise you. All new entrants savour this luxury!
Also speaking today are some of the new female intake of Conservative MPs. Two of them I know very well from Women2Win: the new MP for Lewes is Maria Caulfield, a cancer nurse who beat the supposedly unbeatable liberal Norman Baker. She was one of the stars of W2W, impressed us all and has potential to go far in the commons. Likewise the former lawyer Suella Fernandes, and the former Welsh Assembly Member Antoinette Sandbach are going to make an impression. Be gentle to them all when listening or reading their speeches for the first time. Your debut in the commons is a great experience but it is scary!