Friday, 31 July 2015

St Oswald Day pilgrimage walk Hexham Abbey to Heavenfield tomorrow

Heavenfield is the purported site of the critical battle in 634 when Oswald and his band of Christians defeated defeated Cadwallon, the accursed leader of the Britons. As a result there is a church on the site, and the wooden cross is a specific reminder of the battle, and oswalds rallying cry to his men. St Oswalds day is the 5th August and every year there is a pilgrimage from Hexham Abbey to Heavenfield. This 5 mile walk will follow a church service in the abbey tomorrow (when for convenience they are doing the public walk)  at 11.15. Try and come along. If you have not Visited the church at Heavenfield is on a spot that is magical, mysterious, historical and very moving in both a religious and non religious way. 

Heading out west to Slaggyford, Featherstone and Haltwhistle today as part of West Northumberland tour

Starting my day bright and early in Knarsdale and Slaggyford, before slowly working my way down the South Tyne river through the West Northumberland villages of Halton Lea Gate, Herdley Bank and Featherstone. I will be finishing in the town of Haltwhistle where I have a number of meetings and surgeries.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

It is National Parks week and today we are holding a rural economy conference in Hexham with Rory Stewart MP

Over 60 experts, interested parties, businesses and key stakeholders in the rural economy, are coming together today in Hexham to make their case to my good friend and neighbour Rory Stewart, who is the Rural Affairs Minister, the Forestry and National Parks Minister, the Water and Floods Minister, and also responsible for trying to help Defra create and stimulate a rural economy that is both vibrant and respectful of our land. As you can imagine his is a fascinating but difficult job. He is uniquely qualified, as he is a proper countryman, with a practical and realistic understanding of the realities of creating a working and respectful environment in his Cumbria seat and here in Northumberland. Between us Rory and I represent most of what I call the true North of England that runs roughly along Hadrian's Wall from the Newcastle border in the East to the Solway in the West. Rory is speaking and doing a short Q and A. The event is at the Beaumont Hotel in Hexham from 10.45-12.30. After the morning session Rory and I will be heading out west to visit specific sites in the Northumberland National Park near Walltown, and I will be finishing my day speaking to locals in Greenhead and the west.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Definition of Summer madness: Corbyn to lead Labour and Trump for next U.S. President?

"We lost because Ed Miliband was not left wing enough" - so said a labour voter to me yesterday on the doorstep in Northumberland.
I knock on doors all the year round and I found this particular conversation that followed fascinating. There is no doubt that with Jeremy Corbyn over 19% ahead in the Labour Party race we are heading for a labour opposition party led by their most left wing candidate ever. It will make Ed Miliband look middle ground. Clearly a centre left Blairite would have no place in such a shadow cabinet.
I tried to put it to my constituent that:
- surely we should try and balance the books and not pass on our debts to future generations
- that £36 billion pounds a year annual interest paid by government is not sustainable
- and that it is businesses, big and small, that need nurturing so that there is both jobs and taxed cash to spend on the public services we all cherish
- and that eventually socialists run out of other people's money
but he was having none of that.
I fear I am not making progress converting Corbynites to even a Blairite way but that is democracy.
But then again I got home last night to find that Donald Trump is doing well in the USA Presidential race.

Redefest In North Northumberland - 12 bands in a great event at Rochester this Saturday

Rochester is where it is at this Saturday. I was on site yesterday speaking to the organisers and it will be an amazing day, with great local beer and food available. The event is great value for money, and the music is superb. I urge you to get along. 

Tynedale's economy will be top of the agenda on Thursday

The future of Tynedale and Northumberland's economy will be centre stage on Thursday as Rural
Affairs Minister Rory Stewart heads up a conference of the district's major economic players.

I am organising the Conference as part of National Park Week. Joining the Minister will be representatives from Egger, Northumbria Water, Northumberland National Park and the North East Enterprise Partnership.

The aim of the conference is see what we can all do to create more jobs and growth here in Northumberland.

Our rural economy is vital to creating more jobs and greater prosperity, contributing to our countries long-term economic security. We can only unlock growth if we release that potential in our rural economy - as well as our great cities. The connection between the two is key to the economic success of our region. My hope is that our big employers, the National Park and those others in attendance will be able to tell the Minister directly what we need to do unlock growth here in Northumberland.

Local unemployment is down on last month, and down by 150 people compared to this time last year, but there is always more to be done. With the right infrastructure, good broadband and the right support, our area can become a real hub for growth, business and jobs. That is what I want to see, and bringing everyone together at our conference goes some way towards that.

The conference will hear a keynote speech from the Minister as well as from the new Chairman of the Northumberland National Park Coun Glen Sanderson.  I will  then be joining Rory for an afternoon visiting small businesses and projects within Northumberland National Park.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The rural Northumberland tour starts today by Scottish border in Byrness then Kirkwhelpington

ISOS are holding a series of events in East Hexham this morning and I am going along but thereafter I am on the road, travelling to the Scottish Border and working back southwards. I have rural surgeries in byrness and will be knocking on doors there, followed by a series of meetings in the village of Kirkwhelpington. Much looking forward to it.

Entrepreneurship is alive and well in the North East

Good to hear the positive view that the North East private sector is driving forward the region with more and better jobs, growing businesses and an entrepreneurial spirit that we really need. Great to read Nigel Mills positive view of the region business and its outlook for the future.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Why neither Labour leaders[T. Hunt] nor serious Conservatives [Hannan] want Corbyn as Labour leader

I genuinely do not want Jeremy Corbyn to become the far left leader of the Labour Party. Some may disagree, and enthusiastically embrace the Tories for Corbyn campaign but what I want is a credible Labour oppostion. Corbyn is not such a man and he is taking the Labour Party the way of Syriza.
Any dismayed Labour supporter should read Tristram Hunt's article from yesterdays paper:
The best bit of it is at the end: "Labour was felt not to be on the side of aspirational voters. We were regarded as the party of high welfare, lax immigration and big spending," before he adds:
"But Corbyn’s siren calls need to be resisted on grounds of political principle as well as political pragmatism. Of course, parties win from the centre ground when they are trusted with the public finances and have credible leadership. Yet with this Government spending £36 billion a year on debt interest repayments there is a good, progressive case for balancing the books rather than indulging in more reckless spending."

The Conservative argument aginst Corbyn is likewise well expressed by Dan Hannan:
the force of his argument is overwhelming.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Last day in Westminster today before heading home to hexham for several weeks

Casework and whips work awaits today in the Commons before heading north later this evening.
Next week I have multiple meetings with everyone from the new Chief Constable of our police force, to Newcastle University, and the doctors and nurses at the new Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington. There are also literally dozens of other appointments lined up in the next few weeks with constituents, small businesses, the National Park, rural champions like NULAG and isolated communities who I often struggle to see when the Commons is sitting. 
This will involve visits to Walltown, Slaggyford and Halton Lea Gate at the end of the month, time in Otterburn, Matfen, and Kirkwhelpington, and a host of meetings, chats and discussions. I am having a holiday later in August but much looking forward to the next few weeks working in Northumberland. 

Hexham hosts decathlon trials for World Championships this weekend

We have world class quality athletics in Hexham this weekend, as the multi event disciplines are being hosted over a 2 day meet.
Action gets under way at 10.30am on Saturday with an earlier start of 9.45am on Sunday. Spectators are welcome both days with the programme expected to conclude around 5pm each day.
Full details here:

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Watching the Labour leadership election is car crash TV in real Labour time

Let me give you three angles on the leadership election from my Labour MP friends in the Commons, from NE Labour and from normal voters.
Yesterday Tony Blair attempted to point out some home truths to his former Labour Party colleagues in a speech.
He said:
"We lost in 2010 because we stepped somewhat from that modernising platform. We lost in 2015 when we stepped even further away from it and lost even worse. I don’t understand the logic now of stepping entirely away from it.’"

The speech reads well,yet he is now portrayed locally and nationally as a Tory, a renegade etc etc; his description of Corbyn supporters as Star Trekkers did make me smile but even for the febrile world of Twitter and the Internet age this attack on him is laughable. To be honest I want a credible opposition. I want a party that challenges the government in difficult times. In the last parliament the labour leadership and MPs opposed every reduction in budget. This is not sustainable or helpful. Come up with alternative plans?
Amswer there was none.

Governments do not get every decision right. Nor does a family or businessman or woman. Proper oppositions create better law and government. They don't just oppose everything like a naughty child denied sweets in a sweet shop - to use the Chuka Umana phrase. In conversations in the pubs of Northumberland last weekend I was struck by the disappointment in the leftward lurch by local voters. These were genuine Labour supporters in Northumberland who definitely did not vote for me, but asking me - "what is going on with the Labour Party?"

For me three things are notable.
I) Locally in the North East we see Labour members and supporters urging and pushing for an ever more left leaning Labour Party. They are Syriza in all but name. Even hard left wing MPs are pilloried if they don't take an ever more left leaning line.
II) Those Labour MPs who argue that elections are won by parties in the middle ground, offering rational pro business policies that support job creation and speak to the aspirations of normal people who want to get on and progress are ignored. In Westminster they are shunned by the new intake of MPs. I have MP friends in the Labour Party who despair of the Corbyn / leftward lurch, but are powerless.
III). How does the Labour Party treat Tony Blair? There is a fine tradition in Westminster of venerating your elders, of seeking the wisdom of those who have done these struggles before. I, and many other newer MPs deliberately seek out the likes of Ken Clarke, and other veterans,to ask them for their opinions, recollections, advice and wise words. The Labour Party presently seem unable to afford such respect to their former leader. And given he won 3 elections that is particularly odd.
For those who are interested the Tony Blair speech yesterday is here:

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Pleased that we have another good chair of Northumberland National Park in Glen Sanderson

Veteran councillor, farmer and magistrate Glen Sanderson has been elected to chair the body.
He replaces fellow councillor and Bellingham farmer John Riddle, who stood down after 14 years at the helm.
Coun Sanderson said: “I am very honoured to have been elected to this position and to follow John Riddle who has chaired the national park authority fantastically well over a long time.
“Our national park has rightly won numerous accolades over recent times and that is down to staff and board members who really care for the national park and the visitors that we welcome to it.
“I hope to be able to play a part in building on that success, to welcome even more people to enjoy this wonderful place, and to see The Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre become a hugely important and enjoyable attraction for young and old alike.”
I am a big supporter of the Park, and the projects they are engaged in and will be looking forward to working with Glen and the team, and am looking to meet with the Glen and the team this summer when the House rises.  If you have not come to England's most beautiful park come soon.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Is Ed Miliband's legacy the creation of a more left wing Labour Party?

Yesterday's welfare debate, and the last two months of the new parliament have shown conclusively that the legacy of Miliband, and the selection process that was so dominated by the unions, has resulted in a more left wing Labour Party.
This from this mornings Guardian, which makes the case eloquently:

"Labour’s disarray over the government’s welfare policy and the party’s wider divisions over the best response to the general election defeat were underlined when 48 Labour MPs, just under a quarter of the parliamentary party, defied their whips and voted against the welfare bill at second reading. 
Harriet Harman, the interim leader, had urged Labour MPs to send a message to the electorate that they were listening to concerns over welfare payments by abstaining on the welfare bill after voting for an amendment that set out the party’s objections to the bill.
However, Labour whips suggested that as much as 40% of the intake of Labour MPs at the 2010 election had rebelled by voting against the bill, apparently confirming that the parliamentary party had moved to the left during Ed Miliband’s leadership."

Monday, 20 July 2015

Westminster this week - Welfare Reform Bill dominates

We are reaching the end of the summer term of parliament this week, with long debates ahead on welfare reform, the finance Bill which enacts much of the budget, and questions to the Chancellor on Tuesday.
I am sure that today will also see a parliamentary discussion of the past usage of UK troops working with americans and other allies in actions against Isil. The Defence Secretary of State will make a statement I suspect at 3.30. The reality is that there is a huge difference between UK planes and specific forces flying sorties in Syria and a few individual pilots working with US forces as part of an embedded unit. For example, special forces from a host of different countries, have been working together on multiple missions in various places as part of embedded groups for decades.  

The longer term discussion that is going to have to be had at some stage is the issue of widening the air strikes against Isil from Iraq, where we already take part, to flights and missions using UK Aircraft over and in Syria, against Isil.  As the horror in Tunisia proved, both the terror group and its message is a threat to British citizens.  The border between Iraq and Syria is now real only on maps.  The argument is that it makes no sense to stop attacking ISIS’s forces when they flee to the latter side of it. Like many I will listen to the Defence Secretary at 3.30.
I have various constituency meetings in the next few days and then will be staying on in London to finish up a large amount of casework, correspondence and loose ends before heading north on Friday.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Welfare Reform Bill debate tomorrow will define Labour - back to the 1970s again or supporting change?

Tomorrow the Labour party will have to debate the second reading of the Welfare Reform Bill. It contains measures which the interim leader, Harriet Harman, said a week ago that Labour would not oppose.
Except that Corbyn, Burnham and Cooper [3 out of 4 leadership candidates] then said that actually they would oppose it. So Harriet backtracked and tried to come up with some sort of compromise that the warring factions of Labour can more or less agree on.
So, whereas previously the welfare reforms were ones which Labour should not oppose because people “want us to listen to their concerns and we’ve got to recognise why it is that the Tories are in government”, now they are unacceptable and hurt the poor. Todays Labour Party are oblivious to the way that the welfare system has caused millions of people to lead miserable, benefit-dependent lives without satisfaction or dignity. They should embrace universal credit, the Living Wage, the benefit cap and the reforms that will create a benefits system that helps people back to work, giving them hope of a brighter future. This will be a crucial test for Labour. Will it finally stand up for refrom, for people who work hard and do the right thing, and for those who want a way out of welfare? Or will it carry on with an approach that has failed our country.

Michael Gove genuinely trying to change the approach to rehabilitation

I have attached below the full copy of the Secretary of States speech yesterday. There is clearly a real desire to do several things:
- address earned release, a system whereby prisoners can get in custody privileges and potential for earlier release based upon addressing long term literacy and skills deficiency.
- allow third sector and alternative providers to try and run a prison. Why does it have to be just the state or the private sector? Why can't a church or ARK or a charity run a prison?
The speech is worth a read to get the direction of travel. I applaud it wholeheartedly.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Massive supporter of the Iran deal - it brings greatest hope for long term peace in the Middle East

The sanctions lifting deal with Iran and the major western powers is not without risk but it does one key thing that is crucial. It provides a road map for one of the biggest players in the region to head away from state sponsored terrorism and towards an improved if not normal coexistence with its neighbours, who have different faiths and creeds. This is vital for the future.
A fuller explanation of the deal is here:
The commons debated this in detail last year and my speech is here:

I have no doubt that this is the right thing that the western powers, led by Obama, have done. I support it wholeheartedly.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Michael Gove putting education, literacy and earned release at the heart of prison policy

Michael Gove is rightly putting literacy at the heart of his prison policy. He gives a big speech today and mor on this will follow but the principles are clear, and not far off what I proposed in my book, Doing Time. 
Prisoners could be allowed out of jail early if they sign up to English and maths courses behind bars, Michael Gove will say today. In his first speech on prison policy since becoming Justice Secretary, he will throw open the prospect of ‘earned release’ for those inmates who knuckle down to gain educational qualifications.
Fuller details here:

Thursday, 16 July 2015

To be a Blairite is now the ultimate smear in the Labour Party

PMQs sometimes tells you a lot. As one commentator put it after yesterday's PMQs: "The Labour party is now so broken, so foaming and fitting it’s calling Harriet Harman a Tory."

Why? Because she is supporting the Conservative policy to limit child tax credits for new claimants.
The rest of the Labour party disagree with this position.

Nothing is worse right now to the Labour MPs than to be seen to be in any way centre ground, or to propose welfare reductions. To be "A Blairite" is to be the lowest of the low. Watching PMQs was genuinely painful yesterday. The support for Harriet Harman was minimal. The Labour leadership candidates are all briefing against her position. The attacks on Liz Kendall are remarkable as well.

You would think that Labour did not grasp it lost the election. It is reaching a situation where the next leader will make Ed Miliband look right wing!

Green Alliance meeting in the Commons - positive, and fascinating, as always

This week I met with Alastair Harper and Frieda Metternich of the Green Alliance to discuss everything from the Paris 2015 Climate Change summit to Air Pollution, shale gas extraction, community energy projects, and several of their more recent pamphlets, including their ideas for better resource productivity for a more resilient economy.
Going forward, if I had to recommend one pamphlet that assists, and which concerns myself, many members of my Hexham constituency and the wider world is their assessment of the UK Climate plan for 2015 leading up to the crucial Paris summit. I recommend it:

I have worked with the Green Alliance for over 7 years. They are an outstanding organisation. I will be working with them more over the coming 6 months.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

New Statesman - Jeremy Corbyn, far left socialist, "on course to win Labour leadership"

The left wing magazine, the New Statesman makes punchy reading. It is quite clear that Labour polling shows that Corbyn wins and Labour will be led by a leader even further left wing than Ed Miliband!
Backed, of course by many local labour parties who have declared like Gateshead, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central, Sunderland Central, and Washington and Sunderland West Labour parties. The article is worth a read:

Yesterday Tynedale lost a legend in Stu Ridley

True adversity was faced by Stu Ridley. His attitude to a terminal diagnosis moved everyone. He was a legend. It's a word that is often overused. But that is exactly what Stu was.

He was someone who showed such bravery and strength in the face of adversity that his actions touched and inspired everyone. Someone once said that the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but how he conducts himself at moments of challenge.
Stu faced his moment of challenge in a way that defined him, and inspired others.
All our thoughts are with his incredible mum Celia, and all his family, who have shown the such spirit during these last few months.

Stu's story, of a exceptional young man willing to fight with everything he had, inspired thousands, not just in Northumberland, but across the country - and even beyond.

His passion for life brought a community together in the most remarkable way and I have never been more proud of my constituents, than I have been of all those who have supported the Stay Strong Stu campaign. The many Stay Strong Stu events this last 5 months will be remembered by all who went, and all who supported.

Stu will be deeply missed by his family, friends and all those who knew him. He leaves a legacy of love, positivity and strength that has inspired thousands.

Stu really is a Tynedale legend. Those who knew him will count themselves lucky. He will never be forgotten.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Jobs growth will follow the Chancellor decision to cut corporation tax to 18%

Cutting taxes on businesses stimulates that business and makes it easier for it to expand and create new jobs. Corporation tax was nearly 30% under the Labour government of Gordon Brown. It had a predictable effect.
There is no doubt that previous reductions in Corporation tax from 28 per cent to 20 per cent over the last parliament has created jobs and increased investment. The decision the Chancellor announced in his budget that the rate would be reduced to the new level of 18% by 2020, with a 1 per cent interim cut in 2017 is wonderful news, and allows businesses to plan. It also makes it easier for them to pay the Living Wage.
The Chancellor said:
“Now at 20% for large and small businesses alike we have the joint lowest rate of corporation tax in the G20 but it will fall to 19% in 2017 and 18% in 2020.”

The Corporate tax rate in France’s is 33.3 per cent, Japan’s is 33 per cent, and German’s is 29.65 per cent. Self evidently this will make it more likely that big manufacturers will set up plants here, rather than in France or our other competitors. There has also been a reduction in NI contributions and business rates are being reviewed.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Where the Labour Party go with child tax credits argument will define them

Yesterday Harriet Harman told the Sunday Politics Labour would be backing the chancellors plan to limit child tax credits to the first two children. But, not so fast.... first Andy Burnham, then Yvette Cooper joined Jeremy Corbyn in making clear that they were not on board with Harman’s plan.
There’s a row going on about whether and to what extent the Shadow Cabinet had been consulted on this announcement. Harman will address the Parliamentary Labour Party this evening, where the reception should be interesting.
Harman’s argument was that Labour could not indulge in “blanket opposition”, pointing out that the electorate had endorsed £12bn of welfare cuts and arguing that Labour needed to understand the discomfort of families who choose not to have more children for financial reasons. In response, Burnham and co reject this approach.
In other news the Newcastle Central Labour Party have backed ultra left candidate Jeremy Corbyn. You could not make this up. 

Budget update - fuel duty dozen again

A car is a necessity not a luxury in Northumberland and I am delighted that the chancellor listened again in the summer budget last week and froze duty on petrol and diesel. This is the key cost of living tax issue and the freeze really helps motorists in my patch. The reality is that the previous labour government out up fuel duty 12 times and the coalition and now this government have frozen it throughout, saving motorists a fortune.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Westminster this coming week - the budget, Greece and Harper Lee dominate

The budget still dominates with 2 days further debate on the summer budget provisions. Labour seem to be accepting that welfare and child tax credits need to be capped but we will know more when the actual vote on the budget takes place on Tuesday night. Wednesday sees debates on English votes for English issues and hunting - the latter of which is a free vote, and which I will blog more on later on in the week.
Monday I am meeting again with Alistair Harper of the Green Alliance, and trying to attend the briefing on the minutiae of English votes for English issues. Tuesday is foreign office questions and also there is a dementia friendly event I am trying to get along to. I also have the chance to meet representatives of the DFE, and have a series of sessions on the bench as a whip in the commons.
Thursday I am heading north, at a time to be decided for a weekend up north. We are without any constituency interns in the office in Westminster this week, and more importantly short one member of staff so bear with me. I worked most of Saturday to make up for this but we will be stretched this week.
Otherwise ...The most important event of the week is not the ongoing Greek tragedy involving their rejection of a euro deal in a referendum two Sunday's ago and then the acceptance this weekend. You could not make it up. We should not speak ill of other foreign leaders but the Greeks are lions led by donkeys. No the most important event is Harper Lee's sequel to To kill a Mockingbird, one of the reasons I became a lawyer. It is one of the century's greatest books in so many Levels. The follow up is due out Tuesday. All of us hope that Go set a Watchman is good. I will be buying a copy for sure.

"A burning building with no exits" - we have William Hague to thank for not joining the Euro

A great article by William Hague reviewing the creation and the problems of the Euro currency and the wisdom he showed in making sure that that we, as a country, did not join the Euro.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Amidst all the Budget news an analysis of the 2% defence commitment till 2020

I am delighted that the Chancellor has managed to find the money for defence in this budget. It will mean hard choices elsewhere. But the fact that George Osborne will commit defence spending to make sure that it stays at 2 per cent of GDP until 2020 is good news and allows the armed forces to plan for the future.
I know our armed forces will be pleased that the Chancellor has delivered, because making this commitment has not been easy - I think everyone understands that. The decision has also been welcomed across NATO. But other countries need to do some heavy lifting now as well, as the threats we face are not isolated to a single location and a single issue, but varied and cross border, whether they be Isis, terror attacks, peacekeeping or the wider threat of Putin and others.
General Dannatt's piece in Wednesdays Telegraph is one of the best analysis of the situation:

Friday, 10 July 2015

Ponteland Green Belt Planning Inquiry decision - the story of the campaign and background info

The green belt is an important protection against urban sprawl, providing a green lung around towns and cities. The national planning policy framework delivers the coalition government's agreement to safeguard the green belt. Inappropriate development should not be approved in the green belt, and boundaries should be altered only in exceptional circumstances.

The area of greenbelt land between Newcastle, which is encroaching ever closer to Northumberland and Ponteland / Darras Hall in Northumberland, is particularly important because this area stands as a barrier between the two areas; once it starts to go, and we lose the green belt, we would have a genuine urban sprawl with the expanding Newcastle and the built up green belt becoming the classic urban sprawl. 

Lugano wanted to build on the green belt. They say their plan for 280 houses on 82 hectares is an exceptional development. 
The only problem is that no one agrees with this assertion:
-         not the County Council’s Planning Committee,
-         the Neighbourhood Plan group,
-         the County Council’s existing planning policies
-         the County Council’s Local Plan
-         or the 4300 local objectors identifies Birney Hill as such a site

And that is why I maintained my strong objection.

The Blog from the Planning Inquiry this spring is here:

My campaign in parliament is here:

The background to this and the approach of the local and national Labour Party is here:

The land we are talking about:

Lugano's appeal is REFUSED

Conservative Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark has today rejected a controversial appeal by Lugano to build 280 homes on the outskirts of Darras Hall in Northumberland.

As a well known campaigner to protect our greenbelt I am immensely proud that the Conservative Secretary of State has taken the decision to reject this appeal. It demonstrates the Conservatives clear commitment to protect our greenbelt. The fact that as local campaigners we have been able to fight off theses plans by a multi million pound developer is a victory for local people and out community. It really is a victory for local democracy.

I has always remained very hopeful that Lugano’s appeal would be thrown out, and today those of us who have battled so long and so hard, will take a huge sigh of relief. There always have been very clear and objective planning grounds on which this application to build on the Ponteland greenbelt should be rejected. We have all worked tirelessly with local campaigners to make representations and I am so pleased our arguments have been listenedtoo.

Full report is here:

Extract from the report:

"Accordingly, for the reasons given above, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector’s recommendation. He hereby dismisses your client’s appeal and refuses planning permission for the demolition of some existing buildings and the construction of up to 280 dwellings and provision of up to 650 sq. m of B1 floorspace, no greater than 250 sq. m (gross) of A1/A3 retail floorspace, up to 500 sq. m of D1 floorspace, a community farm and associated buildings, landscaping, open space, access and associated engineering works, in accordance with application ref. 13/00132/OUT, dated 18 January 2013."

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Delay in asking for a NE Mayor only explained by a power struggle in North East 7 County Councils

The Journal Report today makes very depressing reading:
The harsh reality is that whilst the North East squabbles the Labour led Local Authorities of Greater Manchester, Yorkshire, Liverpool and elsewhere are pressing ahead and embracing the governments offer of devolution. Let us be clear: all the North East businesses, the LEP, NECC, and a multitude of other organisations see the force in uniting transport, health, and a large number of regional services, in an integrated manner, under the ultimate control of a directly elected Mayor. This model has worked well in London [imposed on London without a referendum, by a former Labour government] and worldwide in Germany and elsewhere. The Manchester example is genuinely amazing.

The only objectors are some or all of the 7 Local Authority county council leaders. Why?
There are only two possible explanations:
-either they wish to preserve their own fiefdoms and fear that someone from Gateshead, Sunderland or Newcastle might be in charge [please delete as applicable according to who your sworn enemy is] with the result that the Mayor will not favour them / feather their nest as only they can.
- or they do not have aspirations for the wider North East? I cannot believe that this is the case, because surely they accept that we are better together as a larger unit, competing as we are on the global scale and other larger regions. Certainly this is the view of the Local Enterprise Partnership and the North East Chamber of Commerce etc etc.
Is this is a power struggle amongst the 7 Local Authority leaders? I do not know. But it smacks of the old story of "if Newcastle gets this then Sunderland must get a bridge". This attitude is genuinely holding us back. I urge everyone to write to their local Chief Executive making the case for unity, for a Mayor, for greater devolution and greater jobs and prosperity.
In the last parliament we started this process with City and County deals, which many of our areas received and prospered with, including Newcastle and Sunderland. But surely we want to be bigger and better. Have we not moved on now? Are we going to go backwards? I see the only justification given from Simon Henig and Catherine McKinnell, MP for Newcastle North, is that Cornwall is being given a County deal and that this is should be used as ammunition to argue that the North East shouldn’t be pressured into having a mayor. So now the North East wants 7 separate County Councils like Cornwall with a City Deal / County Deal - which we already have? Words fail me. The great North East wants to be Cornwall? Is this the highpoint of the 7 Counties collective aspirations?
I believe we are Better Together.
I believe there are genuine opportunities ahead
I am certain that we will be left behind by Scotland, Yorkshire and Greater Manchester without a Mayor

I know some Labour MPs have their head in their hands over the behaviour of the Labour Council leaders, but whilst the train is leaving the station, it is not too late to jump on board. Do the right thing. I appreciate that this will be a big step, as there is a lot of history here but the end more than justifies the personal compromises and the need for trust between the 7 leaders. And I say this as the most rural of all the MPs who would be so affected. I have faith this is good for rural Hexham.

The North East Combined Authority is meeting next week on the 14th July in Morpeth at 2pm in the County Council. I urge anyone to go along and make the case to them. I will be stuck in parliament. Details are here:

Haltwhistle Upper School Ofsted Report

I am very disappointed to see Haltwhistle Upper School facing this difficult Ofsted report. This is sad news for parents and pupils. In truth, we are seeing several schools across Northumberland, both academies and local authority schools, being judged as inadequate by Ofsted.

You can read the report here:

Northumberland County Council's record on education is sadly very poor at the moment. The Council was ranked 132nd out of 151 local authorities for GCSE and A-Level performance and reportedly 146th of 147 for rate of improvement. Schools under Council leadership such as Hayon Bridge have also been put into special measures so I do not think this is an issues around academy status, but one about the wider performance of schools in West Tynedale.

What is now quite clear is that there is are significant issues which must be addressed across West Tynedale. We now need a sensible solution which works for all of our schools in the area. This should not be done in isolation, but with an approach across our schools in the Haltwhistle and Haydon Bridge area that will deliver serious improvements to our schools.

I met with education bosses at the County Council just last month and I have meetings with the Department for Education next week to discuss the issue as a matter of urgency.

A soultion must be found quickly to ensure the best possible education for our kids here in Northumberland. 

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Key points from the Budget

Deficit forecast: 3.7% in 2015/16, 2.2% in 2016/17, 1.2% in 2017/18, 0.3% in 2018/19, SURPLUS 0.4% in 2019/20
  • NHS: £8 billion more a year, on top of previous £2 billion commitment. £10 billion yearly real terms rise.
  • Public sector pay: Pay rises frozen at 1% for four years.
  • Tax avoidance: £750 million for HMRC to go after tax evaders.
  • Non-doms: Abolishing permanent non-dom tax status.
  • Banks: Bank levy reduced, new 8% surcharge on bank profits.
  • Transport: Tax on new cars to go into new roads fund. Fuel duty remains frozen this year.
  • Higher education: Student maintenance grants replaced with loans from 2016-17.
  • Devolution: More devolved powers for Manchester. Devolution for Sheffield, Liverpool and Leeds. Oyster cards for the North.
  • Housing: Mortgage tax relief for buy to let landlords restricted to basic rate.
  • Inheritance tax: Threshold increased to £1 million in 2017.
  • Business: Annual Investment Allowance for small and medium sized firms raised to £200,000.
  • Corporation tax: Corporation tax cut to 19% by 2017 and 18% by 2020.
  • Welfare: New youth obligation to earn or learn, no housing benefit for 18-21 year olds.
  • Childcare: Free childcare for 3/4 year olds of up to 30 hours a week.
  • Disability: ESA for new claimants cut by £30 a week.
  • Welfare: working age benefits frozen for four years.
  • Housing: Rents in social housing to be cut by 1% a year for next four years.
  • Tax credits: Threshold at which tax credits withdrawn down from £6420 to £3850
  • Benefit cap: Cut to £23,000 in London and £20,000 elsewhere.
  • Child tax credits: Limited to two children from 2017.
  • Tax: Personal allowance raised to £11,000. Higher rate threshold raised to £43,000.
  • Defence: spending to increase at least in line with inflation every year, commitment to 2% of GDP.
  • Wages: Introducing new compulsory National Living Wage from next April, £9 an hour for over 25s by 2020.

Pleased that our long campaign on the Living Wage has been listened to today

Congratulations to SCA-Prudhoe business named 1 of most ethical business of the year

SCA are a brilliant local company providing secure employment to many hundreds of locals in and around Prudhoe. I have been there several times. They are also very community focused and always willing to help out great local causes. For example they kindly supported my sponsored walk of Hadrians Wall - see the pic of me in dodgy hiking gear, and then in 2014 sponsored the Tynedale cricket match in aid of Tynedale Hospice at Home. See here:
One lucky person went home with a lot of the famous Double Velvet that day - there is no better toilet paper!!
Local people will be genuinely proud of this bit of good news. The full story is here:

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Greece update for tourists and pensioners

Provided you prepare in advance then there is absolutely no reason not to go on your holidays to Greece this summer. You will need to take plenty of euros and some pharmacy products if you need them.
The chancellor updated the Commons on how we are helping pensioners and others affected by this crisis

Monday, 6 July 2015

Westminster this week - the Budget dominates but lots of other things happening in Westminster

On Wednesday the Chancellor sets out the Budget that implements the Conservative May 2015 Manifesto. We will then debate the Budget contents for a week in the Commons. In the lead up to that time we have to finish the debate on the Scotland Bill today until 10.30pm and an Opposition day debate tomorrow.

I also have a variety of other meetings this week with constituents, journalists, Oxfam representatives and a joint meeting between local MPs with the Chief Exec of the Northumbria NHS Trust, Jim Mackey. I will blog about all of these things later this week.  

Saturday, 4 July 2015

PM gives unequivocal assurance on Fairer Funding for Northumberland Schools

I have long campaigned to get greater funding for our local schools here in Ponteland and Tynedale. The massive imbalance between urban schools and rural schools is unfair, and now addressed in any event by the pupil premium. So I was delighted to hear the following exchange at Wednesday's PMQs.
Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Yesterday the National Audit Office called for the introduction of a fairer schools funding formula so that it is 
“related more closely to their”—
that is, pupils’—
“needs and less affected by where they live.”
Can the Prime Minister confirm from the Dispatch Box that the additional and very welcome £390 million awarded last year as a first step towards a fairer funding system will be incorporated into the baseline for future years?

The Prime Minister: I can say that we will implement the pledges in our manifesto on this issue because we need to make funding fairer across the country. If we look at the figures today, it is clearly unfair that a school in one part of the country can receive over 50% more funding than an identical school in another part of the country. We have already made some progress on this, but I want us to go further.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Tynedale on Saturday features the big Bellingham event for Stay Strong Stu

Much to do this weekend in Tynedale including the Bellingham event for Stu Ridley.
Details and what is happening are set out below from the Facebook site. If you have no idea who Stu, his family and thousands of friends are then have a look here:
Also happening this Saturday is the Matfen Fete between 1-4.
I am unable to go to either event because over 6 months ago I committed to another separate fundraising event, of which details to follow.

"Ok Bellingham! Time for us to show how we can support Stu.
On Saturday 4th July, at Bellingham Town Hall, we are having a massive event. On the ground floor we are having a grand buffet tea with sumptuous sweet and savoury dishes, £5 entry for adults, £3 for children.
In the main hall we are having numerous stalls including DVDs, books, toys, bottle pull, old fashioned sweet stall, homemade Indian food, tombola, raffle, face painting, Guess the teddies birthday, live music etc etc.
Any donations can be left at Bellingham Co-op, and any donations of sweet/savoury foods also needed on the day.
Any other fundraising ideas, please let us know.
Please share this post with all your friends, we want to make this a BIG event!!
Also launching the "Stay Strong Stew" recipe book"

English Votes on English Issues update

I have long argued that it is wrong that Scots and Welsh MPs should vote on English only issues, when the matter is already devolved to the Scottish parliament in Scotland. This is the case, for example, in healthcare - which is devolved to Scotland and Wales. I, as an English MP, can not vote on such matters affecting the Scots, but a Westminster MP from anywhere in Scotland can vote on English healthcare. This is manifestly wrong and utterly indefensible.

Proposals to give English MPs a veto on English-only laws were revealed in outline in the commons yesterday.

The PM, David Cameron, promised voters in his manifesto at the election, that he would implement outline plans for English voters for English laws in his first 100 days in office. The PM used a speech the morning after Scotland voted to stay in the UK last September to say it was time for better protections of English voters.
The proposals closely match William Hague’s “English veto” idea outlined before the election and included in the manifesto.

The BBC explains the background to this here:
The statement in the Commons is here:

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Wark Bridge reopening ceremony on July 14 - a triumph for many locals

The top picture is the culmination of a meeting that took place in September 2009; it happened early on in my candidacy and this photo is one I really treasure, for it was a special meeting. In the top picture are the Monday Club a group of locals who liked to meet in the local pub and then decide how to improve their village. They decided that they were not happy with the state of the bridge, and that they would campaign to stop the bridge being closed. If we had not carried out the improvements the bridge would have become a pedestrian / cyclists bridge - see below - thereby cutting the Upper North Tyne community in half. It would have had a massive effect on trade, farmers, and the vibrancy of the village. The rebuild is down to many people - too numerous to name - but primarily due to the efforts of Councillor Edward Heslop, all the petitioners, and the people pictured on the bridge above. It is defintely a project worth the effort and they are having a formal reopening on July 14.
The cost, logistical issues, environmental impacts, and actual design are complex. However, I am pleased to say that the long journey is now over and the bridge is completed. Full credit to the engineers at NCC.
A final word on the group pictured on the bridge. They are what makes Tynedale, and particularly the Upper North Tyne, special. A collection of individuals whose attitude is positive, and full of why not, rather than the rules do not allow it. I lived in a cottage near Chipchase just over the bridge for several years pre and post election and know Wark and Barrasford well. The people are the best bit - albeit a couple of great pubs definitely help! I look forward to having a pint with the Wark Bridge Warriors soon. Their grandchildren, and the people locally should be very grateful to them, to Edward Heslop, and all the locals who made this happen.

"The radical policies that we had at this election were the best we have had for 20 years" - Ian Lavery MP interview

The Journal interview by Rachel Wearmouth is fascinating.
Ian is a nice bloke to talk to but his approach to
- the election result in May [see his quote above]
- the quality of the Labour offer to the electorate
- and blaming the media [the Journal included] for the result of the election
- his view that the centre left policies of Blair and Milburn are dated and wrong
- his desire for a 1906 Labour party in 2015
- his call for stronger protection for employees and
- opposition to changes to a 50% mandate for wholesale strikes

make this a very interesting interview. It is well worth a read: I will leave blog readers to draw their own conclusions as to where the North East Labour Party is going:

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Big boost in number of North East Apprenticeships

  • 26,700 apprenticeship starts in the North East since August 2014
  • 20,000 higher apprenticeships target smashed
  • Over 2.3 million apprenticeships created in the last Parliament
The Government confirmed today that the North East is playing a significant role in helping create a highly skilled and productive workforce that is supporting the country’s economic growth.
Today’s figures show that since the beginning of the academic year 2014/15 26,700 apprenticeships have been started in the region.

With 374,200 apprenticeships created across the whole country since August 2014, employers throughout the North East are playing their part in providing young people with the skills they need to start a rewarding career.

This really is fantastic news for our region. Apprentices aren’t just learning a trade but are becoming the backbone of our of future workforce here in the region.

The skills they are learning today through their apprenticeship will drive our regions grow for years to come. We are continuing to see exceptional growth in apprenticeships and that really is to be welcomed. There is a real acceptance now that apprenticeships are a excellent route for young people into work.
An apprenticeship can make all the difference in ensuring our young people have the right skills and an opportunity to get themselves into a successful career.