Sunday, 31 January 2016

Homes for the North group shows why we need a North East Mayor

Interesting debate Thursday in the House of Commons when a large group of northern housing associations came together to make the case for devolution and the consequential policy and overall solutions that would result in more and better homes. I attended the debate, spoke v briefly - and afterwards chatted to two of major  housing providers that live and work in the north east and particularly Northumberland: Mark Henderson of Home Group and Keith Lorraine of Isos (see picture below) have many thousands of properties under management. The debate focused on many issues, but I found very interesting the much expressed complaint that in the north east we have multiple different local authorities, differing local housing plans, differing agendas to green belt, urban renewal and definitely different planning teams at the local authorities. The consequence is obvious - less building, fewer homes, greater costs to both local authorities / taxpayer and the developers, and an overall lack of any coordinated regional plan.
I am of the view that one of the benefits of a North East Mayor would be that regional overview.
Similarly, the impression of the housing needs not featuring in infrastructure renewal and expansion also featured. The flip side to that argument is how often does the housing developer reach out to the highways team, the combined local authority, and more particularly the LEP?
That development of an integrated approach and proper focused liaison rather than a wish list to the LEP will be one thing I hope Homes for the North take forward.
Finally, I challenged my two largest housing providers to look at the NCC estate - which is in excess of 100 properties - following the amalgamations of the district councils, and the movement of many things to Morpeth and beyond, and address their suitability for conversion into housing accommodation property. I remember in 2008 touring the two large former hospital sites at Stannington and Prudhoe - both had lain idle for many years at great cost to the taxpayer = well over £1 million dating back over 15 years in Stannington case. They were public land formerly used as public buildings and costing us a lot in security, whilst declining all the time.
I was determined that both would developed and one of my proudest achievements is the backing of both developments thereby releasing an unused state asset, providing much needed new housing and other benefits, without impacting on traditional unused virgin green belt.
I want a similar approach to the former Tynedale and castle Morpeth sites in my constituency, subject to the usual rules on consultation, planning and local views. Everyone in the Hexham constituency knows several buildings that have lain unused for years, quietly deteriorating at significant expense and nothing is done about them. The ball is in my local housing associations court.

In 2017 three things will happen:
- mayoral elections for the north east, with the significant changes this entails.
- a local authority that may failed to do a local plan will have its functions taken over by central government in order for such a plan to be produced under the housing act. Will Northumberland be finished by then?
- and local elections and I hope a fresh start as to the way in which Northumberland is run.
If you are interested in more detail their website is here:

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Hexham Farmers Market today - shop local and support our farmers

Use your local farmers markets or lose them! So much effort goes in to support them, and produce great fresh produce direct to you the consumer you would be mad not to support them. I do and would urge you to do so as well.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Flood meetings tonight in Corbridge and tomorrow in Haydon Bridge next week in Hexham

Corbridge: Friday 29th at 7.30 in the Village Hall
Haydon Bridge: Saturday 30th at 10am in the Community Centre
Hexham Tyne Green - February 4 

Over the last few weeks I have met extensively with the Environment Agency, Northumbria Water, and Newtork Rail to try and get answers, and an explanation of the options for the way ahead in relation to the various flood events that befell everywhere from Ovingham to Corbridge to Tyne Green in Hexham, Haydon Bridge, Warden, Bellingham, Bywell and all places in between, as well as making multiple site visits to meet a variety of constituent householders, businesses, farmers, and sports clubs.

I accept that I have not been able to meet everyone, but Karen in my office is doing a great job trying to get everyone the answers and explanations they seek. We are holding a number of other meetings with local flood action groups and residents over the coming weeks notably a 6 way meeting with network rail, residents, NCC, Environment Agency, and my team and councillors, to try and sort the flooding on Hexham's Tyne Green, where negotiations are ongoing as to how we sort the underpass under the railway into a flood defence that still allows access. Where possible I would urge residents to form a flood group and it is this, along with local residents, that I am meeting in Corbridge tonight.

More detail on flood assistance can be found in my earlier blog post here:

Good to see that unemployment falling locally as Job Centre's hard work and impact of our recent Hexham Jobs Fair take effect

December’s figures for Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants have been published recently and continue to show Tynedale as a leader in getting people into work. The total number of claimants for the Hexham constituency in December 2015 was 432. This represents a rate of just 1.2% of the economically active population - crucially this is half the wider UK rate at 2.4%.
Full credit to the Job Centre teams who are helping long and short term unemployed back into work. I know that our Hexham Jobs Fair has also helped, and I will be holding another one this year. 

Not only are we doing better than the wider country, but also we are building on our work already done. The total number of claimants was 89 lower than at this time last year. The situation continues to improve for our young people also as the number of claimants fell by 40, from last year, to a present total of 90. That is 40 young people who have a wage packet and a fresh start who did not have it before.
In the North East as a whole unemployment is also down. 
These figures demonstrate how our long term plan is working, and reinforce the importance of safeguarding this economic security for our younger generations. Nationally I should also point out that we now have more people in work in this country than ever before. Noone is complacent, but progress is being made. 

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Fascinating article by French journalist on the changes in France over the last year

Clearly the French approach to security, terrorism, checks and balances is different to this country. But just how different is hard to grasp until you read Anne Elizabeth Moutets article. France is in an extended state of emergency. This has serious consequences:

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Proud to support Core Music in Hexham, who provide training, real craftsmanship and great musical instruments

I recently visited Core Music, in Hexham, to see first-hand the great work they are doing as part of their Ucorelele project. The scheme is focussed on the manufacture of ukuleles out of wood that otherwise would have been thrown away. This of course is brilliantly environmentally friendly, and an excellent example of sustainability in action.

However, it does not stop there. The project also employs and trains long-term unemployed in the area, helping to provide those people with new skills, and increase volunteering within the community. The ukuleles themselves are sold in Core Music’s shop in Hexham, which is also an excellent place to try, and buy instruments. All money made goes straight back into community projects.
This social enterprise creates unique musical instruments to play, and supports our community both environmentally, and through tackling unemployment. It was great to look around the facility, and if you are ever passing by - pop in and have a go! More importantly if you want to back the project financially or in any other way then this support is both really needed and very welcome. 
Link to the Core Music website:

Monday, 25 January 2016

Arch Cru Update: progress being made on litigation, mediation and some further recovery for victims

The Arch Cru APPG does not exist anymore, for a variety of legitimate reasons, but Alun Cairns MP and myself have agreed to continue to follow any progress to ensure that MPs and their constituents receive any necessary updates.  

With this in mind, please find below further information on the latest progress:  
Mediation: The mediation process, facilitated by Bill Wood QC, continues, but correctly for a confidential process, there is no public information while that progresses. 
Reporting by the Guernsey Board:

The money invested by UK constituents in mutual funds was in turn invested by the managers of those funds, Arch Financial Products LLP (“Arch”) in the shares of Guernsey companies (“Cells”) listed on the Channel Islands Stock Exchange and also managed by Arch. The assets of those Cells were then invested by Arch in a range of investments, several of which lost, permanently, a great deal of value.  Failures by Arch have since been detailed by the FCA in its Decision Notice of September 2012, and in the judgment of the London High Court on Arch and its CEO delivered in December 2014.  The Guernsey directors were replaced by a new board of directors from 2010 onwards;  there is a recent published statement from Hugh Aldous, Chairman of that new board, which highlights progress made up to July 2015.    

There has been considerable progress. 

In December 2014, in the London High Court, the Guernsey Cells obtained judgment against Arch Financial Products LLP and Mr Robin Farrell personally, with orders for over £24 million in favour of the Cells.   The Court found Arch FP liable for breach of fiduciary duties, breach of contract and negligence and also found Mr Farrell liable for dishonest assistance.  Constituents should not however expect a recovery of that order; Arch has gone into liquidation and Mr Farrell declared bankrupt. 

In January 2015 the Upper Tribunal (Financial Services) upheld the FCA's Decision Notices against Arch FP, Mr Farrell and Mr Addison and thereby confirmed that Mr Farrell and Mr Addison are prohibited from performing any function in relation to any regulated activities on the grounds that they are not fit and proper persons.  It confirmed the fines on them. 

In October 2015 Mr Farrell’s request for leave to appeal against the judgment of the High Court was turned down by the Court of Appeal. 

In December 2015 Mr Farrell was declared bankrupt.   Arch FP is in liquidation. 

Claims against the former directors and administrators proceed and, if there is no successful outcome from current continuing mediation, the case will be heard in Guernsey in 2017. 

It may be recalled that the Cells also secured judgment in the London High Court in 2011 against Mr Koros and his interests, which had received some US$200 million of shareholders’ money, for US$86.8 million.  Judgment against Mr Koros and his interests has been confirmed by the courts in Greece.  Mr Koros says he has no assets. Matters in Greece are complex and may continue until 2018. There are nevertheless recovery prospects ,but if litigation is the way forward, that may take time and be costly.  Therefore, to try to cut through some of that, mediation remains open and active for the remaining Guernsey claims.

The former auditors of the Cells settled out of court almost 18 months ago. 

In August 2015 the Guernsey Financial Services Commission published its decision against the Cells’ former administrator and its directors who were also directors of the Cells, although that latter role was not examined by the GFSC and is the subject of current litigation.  The GFSC’s decision made serious criticisms of the conduct of the administrator, found that the directors “demonstrated a consistent and serious lack of appropriate competence, judgment and diligence”, prohibits them from holding any position of responsibility in financial services in Guernsey for 5 years and imposed financial penalties.  Since it was from those Guernsey Cells that investors’ money was lost, and the notice of the decision is relatively short, we attach a copy of that decision.  It makes interesting reading. 

Achievement so far:
Although immediate financial rewards from these actions may be limited, the success ought to satisfy shareholders that those responsible for their losses are steadily being brought to book and, although it may be of only moral satisfaction, the cases against Arch and Mr Farrell concluded with robust judgments that have been noted by the industry and its lawyers. The next challenge is securing recovery under insurance policies. 

Assets and potential distributions:
Total assets under management hover around £50m after some further write-downs of illiquid hedge funds and some of the remaining real estate.  Taking into account announced settlements, a little over £190m has been returned to shareholders so far.  A reasonable proportion of the remaining assets should be readily realisable, or are seen to be in due course.  Some investments, now heavily discounted, are likely to remain a problem.  

Reports and Accounts will be drawn up at 31st March 2016 with a full Chairman’s Statement.  MPs with constituents with losses will receive a copy of that Statement. 

The costs of the legal proceedings undertaken by the Board to bring those responsible to book along with the greatest return to investors, will mean that some of the finance from assets that can be realised will still need to be used.   
However, even though Hugh Aldous tells us that he fears that current legal battles may continue for two or three years (if mediation fails, the claims in Guernsey may continue through 2017, some may go to arbitration and cases in Greece may still be under way in 2018) he still intends that the Board will make a further distribution within the next three to four months.  He, and the Board, are working on first getting shareholders’ representatives to accept a simplification of the existing, unnecessarily complicated and costly structures that hinder efficient distribution.  If that can be achieved, a further pay-out should be achieved in the Spring of 2016. 

We hope this information is helpful and provides a useful update on the continuing work of the Board.  Please be assured that we will continue to follow progress closely. I do stress that any affected constituents have to access information through their individual MP. 
Further info is found here:

Westminster this week - Childcare Bill providing free childcare dominates parliament this week - another manifesto commitment fulfilled

Today sees the debate on the Childcare Bill
Details can be found here:
The extended free childcare entitlement for working parents of three- and four-year-olds will provide eligible parents with a total of 30 hours of free childcare per week, over 38 weeks or the equivalent number of hours across more weeks per year. This dominates the week which sees full debate of the Charities Bill and an opposition day debate. I have a variety of other meetings and jobs as a whip this week which I will blog more on later.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Flood meetings organised for Corbridge and Haydon Bridge this weekend

The Environment Agency and Northumbria Water have both now agreed to attend the further flood meetings we have organised for this coming weekend.

Corbridge: Friday 29th at 7.30 in the Village Hall

Haydon Bridge: Saturday 30th at 10am in the Community Centre

Over the last few weeks I have met extensively with the Environment Agency to try and get answers, and an explanation of the options for the way ahead in relation to the various flood events that befell everywhere from Ovingham to Corbridge to Tyne Green in Hexham, Haydon Bridge, Warden and all places in between, as well as making multiple site visits to meet a variety of constituent householders, businesses, farmers, and sports clubs.

I accept that I have not been able to meet everyone, but Karen in my office is doing a great job trying to get everyone the answers and explanations they seek. We are holding a number of other meetings with local flood action groups and residents over the coming weeks notably a 6 way meeting with network rail, residents, NCC, Environment Agency, and my team and councillors, to try and sort the flooding on Hexham's Tyne Green, where negotiations are ongoing as to how we sort the underpass under the railway into a flood defence that still allows access.

More detail on flood assistance can be found in my earlier blog post here:

Success! Trains will run to/from Riding Mill + Stocksfield from tomorrow as Northern Rail change their timetable

Northern Rail and Network Rail have listened to the concerns of local people and will now be running commuter trains at peak times. My thanks to the Tyne Valley Rail Users Group and their stalwarts (they know who they are!) for providing me with the key technical material to take to Northern in particular, with who, I have been in regular contact all the last week.
The full revised time table is here:

The key points to note are that the only extended services are
6:11: Riding Mill
6:21: Stocksfield
6:55: Newcastle via all usual stops

With a second commuter train at 7:39 and 7:49 respectively. I know local residents in riding mill and Corbridge will be delighted.

And then commuter service coming back leaving at 4:54 and 5:54 respectively. All other services are the bus connections as has been the case since the landslip, but my advice is to check the timetable regularly, in any event. This service will stick dovetail with the revised bus time table.
A few points to note: this service will be slower until Prudhoe as the nature of the service on such a track requires a slower speed, and assistance from network rail and a change to signalling. However, the key point is that there is now a service for 2 commuter trains into and back from Newcastle. It has required a reallocation of northern and network rail resources in several ways and I am grateful to them.

Northern Irish MP at PMQs speaks for everyone that Labour should not accommodate Argentina over the Falklands

The Labour leader has called for an “accommodation” with Argentina over the Falkland islands - despite 99.8 per cent of the inhabitants wanting to remain British. I disagree with Corbyn.
The matter featured at prime Ministers Questions this week.

Nigel Dodds MP                                           

Will the Prime Minister reiterate, not just on behalf of the Government, but speaking for the whole House I believe, the unconditional and unequivocal support of the British people for the people of the Falkland Islands and their right—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]—their inalienable and British-held right to self-determination? Will he confirm that that will not be undermined in any way by some kind of accommodation or negotiation in which the people of the Falkland Islands may have an enormous say, but have no veto? They should have a right to determine their own future.               

David Cameron The Prime Minister,                                          

The right hon. Gentleman has put it better than I ever could. The people of the Falkland Islands spoke as clearly as they possibly could in the referendum. They want to maintain the status quo. As long as they want that, they will have it guaranteed from me. I find it quite extraordinary that the Labour party wants to look at changing the status and giving away something people absolutely consider to be their right. That will never happen as long as I am in Downing Street.

Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 20 January 2016, c1415)

I held a debate after the last referendum in the House of Commons, the details of which are here:

The full Corbyn story is here; I can find no Labour MP in the Commons this last week who thinks his approach is correct:

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Reporting back: Progress on A69 dualling as locals get to meet the Department for Transport Policy Lead for Future Roads

On Thursday of last week I was delighted to welcome many local residents, local businessmen and women and members of the local council to meet Shona Johnstone, strategic studies policy lead for future roads at the Department for Transport. She is collating the responses to the feasibility study for the dualling of the A69 and part of that is engagement with local residents. We spoke for over 90 minutes and took a multitude of Q and A. Shona certainly got the message that we want the road dualled! I am very confident that we gave a good account of ourselves as the room in Haltwhistle was packed with standing room only at the back and a wide variety of voices and opinions were heard. I will update with more info in the next 7 days as to how residents input further in to the feasibility study. My thanks for Councillor Ian Hutchinson for all his help in getting this sorted and leading the local campaign.

Friday, 22 January 2016

National Libraries Day Feb 6th - make sure you visit, celebrate and support your local library in the lead up to 6/2

National Libraries Day will be taking place on 6 February 2016 to celebrate public libraries and the library workforce.

Libraries form an invaluable asset at the heart of local communities: providing sources of information, entertainment and inspiration; a gateway to literature and learning, and offering a practical support network for those in need. They are free to enter and open to everyone, allowing all to come in and expand their horizons.

To celebrate the great role they play, across Tynedale we will be treated to a great variety of events taking place in our libraries next week.

Monday 1st February
Digital Drop-In: eBooks, eAudio, and eMagazines at Hexham Library, 10:00am-4:00pm

Tuesday 2nd February
Winter Tales Bookmaking Workshop at Wylam Library, 3.30pm-4.30pm

Thursday 4th February
Winter Tales Calligraphy Workshop at Wylam Library, 3.30pm-4.30pm

Saturday 6th February
Chinese New Year Crafts and Stories at Hexham Library, 10.30am-11.30am

For full details of the various events visit the National Libraries Day website:

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Progress on Tyne Valley Line - a revised bus schedule, more carriages, and working on extending the reach of the temporary line

I have been contacted by a number of constituents, and the Tyne Valley Rail Network, about the real difficulties in getting to work with the current problems on the Tyne Valley line. This is not about attributing blame for the floods and landslip, but about trying to get the best deal for local residents, whilst the problem is solved.

Thousands of tonnes of earth need to be removed from the site at Farnley Haugh, near Corbridge, after exceptional rainfall caused drainage to become overwhelmed, leading to a major landslip near the railway line.

I have met with Network Rail, and the many contractors on site, to see the problem for myself. It is one of the biggest engineering problems I have ever seen. Over 35,000 tons of earth, trees, and debris have to be made safe, moved and then reinstated. That work will not be easy but in the mean time we must make it as easy as possible for people to get to work.

Following representations i have made to Northern Rail they have now changed the timings of it's replacement bus service to ensure it connects into the 8am train departure from Prudhoe. The new timings are below:

Arr - Dep
Hexham 07.20
Corbridge 07.27 - 07.27
Riding Mill 07.34 -  07.34
Stocksfield 07.41 - 07.41
Prudhoe 07.52 -  07.52
MetroCentre 08.17 - 08.17
Newcastle 08.32
In addition, there are now more carriages both ways and they are getting back to me on the extension of the service to include Stocksfield and Riding Mill. I will update on progress

Ensuring the replacement service was linked up to the trains leaving Prudhoe station has been the most important issue and that is now resolved. I will be having further discussions about capacity, extra services and hope to make this difficult time for commuters are painless as possible. Discussions with northern rail and network rail are ongoing

Ouch: the Guardian damining on Corbyn's Labour: "Labour isn’t just out of synch with the country. It has landed in a different political time zone."

Fascinating article on the Corbynisation of the Labour Party by the Guardians political editor. Both the Guardian and labour backbenchers:
-"The eggs are broken + Labour will end up having to serve some scrambled version of radical left politics"
This final paragraph is damning:
"Labour is certainly on a long-haul flight to somewhere and MPs are still suffering from jet lag. They are accustomed to politics that meets the deadline of wooing voters in time for an election. That would require dealing with the well-documented reasons why the party lost last May: lack of trust on the economy, immigration, benefits, leadership. But that task hasn’t even begun in earnest. Instead, all sides are consumed by a slow-motion, introspective war of attrition for control of the agenda. It is the kind of combat that Corbyn and his allies know well, while their fidgety opponents are still adjusting to the pace. Those impatient for effective opposition need to reset their watches. Labour isn’t just out of synch with the country. It has landed in a different political time zone."

The full article is here:

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The Sill Project has begun in Northumberland National Park

Great to visit the site of The Sill building project and meet the new director Dr Sarah Glynn. The Sill is providing lots of jobs in the building process and will be an iconic visitor centre, with amazing architectural design, at Twice Brewed. The bed capacity for young people to visit the park, the enhanced visitor numbers to the National Park and west Northumberland generally, and the business units created, are all only good things. I have played a v small part in helping get this project off the ground and was delighted to see the progress being made. I met the building team and they are on track and on schedule. But rest assured this design - whilst only a building site now - will make us all feel very proud. Will update as the building goes up. 

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Labour position on defence now equates to "have guns but no bullets" - another bizarre announcement criticised

Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party staggers from worse to worse on matters military / armed forces.
On Sunday he was interviewed on Marr on BBC1. His approach was then expanded upon in defence questions yesterday.
Calling for a Vanguard submarine without warheads by Labour is as dumb as calling for soldiers to be marched into battle with rifles but no ammunition. It ensures the troops become targets but gives them no ability to defend themselves.
Worse still, by announcing it on national media any enemy will know that, if they can be found, they can be forced to surrender or killed.
Even labour MPs criticised Corbyn's approach: this from Kevan Jones, labour MP yesterday-
‘Would the minister agree that it’s not just about the number of jobs involved in the successor programme, but the high-skilled nature of those jobs? Despite ill-informed comments from my own party at the weekend with regard to those jobs, would he not also agree with me that simply you cannot turn them on and off like a tap when you need them.’
There were then interventions backing the nuclear deterrent from a number of other MPs, including Angela Smith, Madeleine Moon and John Woodcock. 
Corbyn's Labour approach is an extraordinary plan. Both disarmament and expensive, ineffective job creation. Worst of all, it is dangerous. By giving the semblance of credibility to those who have consistently sought to destroy our defences, this job scheme not only robs the taxpayer, it deceives them. It encourages our enemies to think us weak, encouraging them to act and makes war more, not less, likely. In pretending the money spent is the effect sought, it is in keeping with his philosophy elsewhere, but it is a lie.
The money spent on defence has a purpose – to defend our people, not just employ them.
The former Army officer Tom Tugendhat MP has written of why the Labour approach is so wrong.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Westminster this week - meetings with Environment Agency, Northern Rail and the Energy Bill dominate

I have a packed week with the Energy Bill being debated all Monday afternoon and evening till 10. Later in the week we are also debating the Psychoactive substances bill, which particularly addresses the problem with legal highs.  I have meetings with the Environment Agency, a telephone conference with Northern Rail concerning the Tyne Valley line, and a discussion with the Centre for Social Justice about prison reform.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Brilliant article from the Spectator showing how poverty is falling all around the world including the UK - well worth a read

The World Health Organisation, the United Nations, the OECD, the World Bank – all of them now keep annually updated records of human progress, and the story told by these metrics is the greatest story of our age. A few weeks ago, Fraser Nelson wrote this piece on malaria for the Telegraph – once (but no longer) mankind’s biggest killer. Each year you check the statistics, they’re even more jaw-dropping. For example: remember polio? The disease that crippled Roosevelt and afflicted 350,000 children as recently as the 1980s? Last year, fewer than 100 cases were diagnosed. It’s on the verge of going the same way as smallpox: to extinction.
As we become more prosperous, as we deal with poverty, we become less tolerant of it. No one is seriously arguing that there is more hunger today than in the 1950s. But we have food banks now, and didn’t then, because we’re less tolerant of the (far lower) level of hunger in our society.
As Nelson argued in my Daily Telegraph column, the need for food banks is deplorable but their emergence is a welcome sign of progress. And on a global basis, wealth of the rich world is being shared by the poor as never before, as shown by overseas aid figures (below) both private and public. It’s a paradox: a generation ago, there was far more global poverty yet far less anger about it. As the West grows richer, it starts to care – quite rightly – about problems that we can now solve. Chiefly through the promotion of free trade.
The full piece is here:

Saturday, 16 January 2016

2016 Energy Booklet out and online - it will save you money on your energy bills

Following on from the success of the Energy Booklet in the past three years, I am pleased to announce that a new and improved booklet is now out and online. I have organised for its delivery, at no cost to the taxpayer, to thousands of homes in the area, but I also wanted to provide details of it online.
I know many residents are concerned about energy costs and fuel, and hopefully this booklet willgo some way to cut through the complexity, and provide some much needed simple answers.

The main purpose of the guide is to help you make your home more energy efficient, and make you aware of what support is available. There is advice on how to get the best deal from your energy supplier and details about a range of schemes. Included is also information on financial assistance to which you may be entitled, as well as details of various organisations from the Citizens Advice Bureau to local Oil Buying Clubs whom you can contact.

Finally, I am very pleased to say, I have provided information on the new Tynedale Community Bank: a real alternative to the major multinationals. The TCB is a local bank, providing savings and loans for local people.

I hope that you find this booklet useful. Now is the time to start thinking about how you can stay warm and save money, this winter. Link to the online version here:

Friday, 15 January 2016

Busy day in Tynedale - Hexham Priory School, Tynedale Bank and A69 dualling meeting , surgeries and a lot more

Today is a 12 hour shift starting at Core Music in Hexham, then the Hexham Priory School, then a meeting with the Police, before a visit to the Sill Project at Twice Brewed to get an update, and meet with the Northumberland National Park. In the afternoon I have organised a Dual The A69 meeting in Haltwhistle at the library, which I would urge interested parties to come along to. Then in the later afternoon I have a meeting with many of the oil buying clubs, followed by the committee of the Tynedale Community Bank and meetings in Corbridge to finish.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Update on Tyne Valley line landslip and return of local railway following today's visit

Today I met with Network Rail, and the many contractors on site, who are grappling with one of the biggest engineering problems I have ever seen. Over 35,000 + tons of earth, trees, and debris have to be made safe, moved and then reinstated following the landslip that blocked the Tyne Valley railway line last week. I have attached below some photos to give an idea of the huge scale of this landslip. It extends over a hundred yards wide and goes back well beyond the slope itself that goes down steeply to the railway. There are around 50 people on site and a plethora of diggers, and other machinery being used  to make good the site. Everyone understands how important the line is for commuters, business, freight and tourism.

My thanks to Rob McIntosh of Netwrok Rail (pictured) and his team - many of whom I met and talked to - for allowing myself and others onto the site today, and for explaining in detail how this happened, what the engineering and restructuring task is that they are undertaking, and how long it will take to reinstate. The original fear, as reported in the Hexham Courant, was that it would take months to clear the site. That is not the expectation any more. In the last week the team have taken over the farmers field, created an access road, brought over a dozen heavy goods machinery and vehicles onto the site and organised dozens of engineers, clearance contractors, digger drivers, chainsaw crews to attend and sort the problem. I genuinely do not believe that the effort of Network Rail to correct the problem could be faulted. They have brought several teams urgently onto the site where needed, including specialists from out of the area, and they are working 12 hour shifts, with some staying in local pubs and bed and breakfasts in Hexham and Corbridge.

The way ahead is as follows: the site is being made safe and cleared. I do stress that no one uninvited should try and visit the site for their own safety, which was clearly an issue on several levels. There are significant on site complications, including ruptured drains, and a broken pipes that were underground and which has needed temporary and long term repair. In addition, part of the field above and on the edge of the works being done in the field are old Roman settlements and this has required approvals and assistance from the relevant heritage and archeological teams. This is sorted. The site is being made safe. Dozens of trees which have moved, fallen or become unstable are being felled, chopped and then removed. Some of the trees and soil will then be extracted by special train or lorries in the near future. The site can only be cleared and then reinstated from the top down for safety reasons. Bear in mind the men are working on a steep incline. But the soil will then be reinstated in a series of large drop offs. The reality now is that it is expected that the railway will be open again in around 3-4 weeks. Clearly the teams are working in early January in very challenging Northumberland conditions so there is a potential for weather delays, but I was impressed by the competence, commitment and quality of the all team working on this massive site. They are genuinely confident that the railway will be able to be operational in 3-4 weeks. They will be completing the reinstating of the site above the railway for a month or so afterwards. As I say, some of the teams are staying locally and have been made to feel very welcome locally in Tynedale (particular thanks to the people who dropped off a cake to the workmen - it did not last long - and praise to Station Inn in Hexham, where several of the lads are staying and are being very well looked after).

Two final points:
- this job could not go any faster, and be safe, given the dozens of men working with machinery from diggers to cranes to chainsaws in close proximity on unstable, highly sloping ground. Network Rail have really put their backs into this. The teams of men I met assured me that they were getting all the assistance they needed locally from every government agency and connected quangos, but by and large it is their problem and they are getting on with it. In reality, they have a big engineering job to do and are getting on with it, and with a likely outcome that is a lot faster than was originally feared.
- I realise that there are separate ongoing problems with Northern Rail's replacement service, both as to timetable marriage with bus services, which is not synchronised properly at the moment, the failure to provide any train service to Riding Mill and Stocksfield, and a lack of information. I have met received representations on this from several sources, notably the Tyne Valley Rail Users Group and I am in contact with Northern Rail and will update with answers on this and other issues shortly.

Fascinating insight into the PMs management style - pick a minister and stick with them - worth a read

The blog site Conservative Home profiles 4 ministers who have been in place since 2010 - demonstrating an admirable quality in the PM: pick someone to do a job and let them get on with it. The ministers for the arts, Europe, immigration and tax reform are all profiled.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Northumberland County Council should shelve its £40 million + move of its HQ to Ashington and save Haydon Bridge Fire Station
The decision to close the Fire Station is clearly not supported locally and the fire station have played a crucial role in helping flood victims this last month. The Local Authority should think again - if they did not proceed with their insane decision to move from a perfectly serviceable building in Morpeth to a £40 million + new build in Ashington [which of course is even further away from Tynedale] then this decision would not be going ahead. This is all about choices and the Labour NCC are choosing Ashington over Haydon Bridge. I could not be at the meeting in the school last night because I was in the House of Commons in Westminster but I support the Haydon Bridge Fire Station. The local authority must think again.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Dualling the A69 Meeting next Friday in Haltwhistle: come along + have your questions answered as our campaign to get the A69 dualled gathers momentum

Next Friday 15th January, there will be a Stakeholder meeting at Haltwhistle Library on the dualling of the A69.

This will be a great opportunity, for anyone interested, to come down and hear a presentation from the Policy Lead at the Department for Transport, and have any of their questions answered.

The details of the meeting are: 1.30pm-3.00pm on Friday 15th January, Room 2 Haltwhistle Library.
There is a further meeting with locals in Cumbria that afternoon.

Monday, 11 January 2016

How to tackle sugar dependency / obesity / diabetes? A sugar tax / measures may be needed

Successive governments have failed to address obesity/ growing diabetes diagnosis and a general addiction to sugar that is a health time bomb. Individuals are clearly struggling to address the problem. Is a sugar tax one way of addressing this, with the proceeds going to support the NHS, which is being overwhelmed by this problem?
One view is expressed here:
I genuinely am interested in Responses - email, comment or write in as per usual. Thanks

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Westminster this week - 6 London meetings with constituents, multiple debates, and ongoing efforts to get better flood protection

Really busy week in Westminster with consideration of the Armed Forces Bill, the Housing and Planning Bill and several other debates. We continue to work very hard on the practical realities of the flood clean up and campaign to ensure we get better protection going forward in Northumberland. As always if you need my help please email in - I met several groups of residents this weekend in Hexham, Corbridge and outlying areas to help them.

I also have meetings in Westminster with representatives of Northumberland College, Vodaphone regarding better Northumberland broadband and phone coverage, and constituents attending events representing Mencap, or to raise the issue of colour blindness or regarding planning / housing.

Thoughts on the Labour reshuffle: the evidence is clear - this is a far left /Momentum takeover of a party that used to want to govern

Who thought we would miss the consensus of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls?
They at least managed to keep Kevan Jones, Pat McFadden and others on board. This is a Labour party now utterly bent on self destruction.
3 Shadow Ministers including Jones quit the Party front bench yesterday - 1 on live TV - see the BBC Link:

So we have a situation where:
- At a time when the news agenda is dominated by the threat posed to our way of life by angry, murderous Islamist extremists, the shadow Europe minister Pat McFadden was sacked for rejecting the self-loathing idea that the West, rather than the terrorists, is to blame for Isil’s atrocities.
This was how this was interpreted:
"Sacked Shadow Europe minister Pat McFadden says Corbyn told him he was being fired “because of questions I asked about terrorism… following the Paris terrorist attacks”. This is the question McFadden asked:
“Can I ask the Prime Minister to reject the view that sees terrorist acts as always being a response or a reaction to what we in the West do? Does he agree with me that such an approach risks infantilising the terrorists and treating them as children when the truth is they are adults entirely responsible for what they do. No one forces them to kill innocent people in Paris or Beirut and unless we are clear about that we will fail even to be able to understand the threat we face let alone confront it and ultimately overcome it.”
So, according to McFadden at least, he lost his job because he made a point of refusing to blame the Paris attacks on the West. Corbyn’s people say it was because he was disloyal, which to be fair is not mutually exclusive. The Stop the War takeover over the Labour Party is complete…"

- As North Korea claimed to have detonated its first Hydrogen bomb, Emily Thornberry, who wants Britain unilaterally to give up its nuclear deterrent, was appointed the new shadow defence secretary, replacing Maria Eagle, a supporter of Trident.
- Just in case the direction of travel wasn’t clear, Michael Dugher, one of the last pro-Israel Labour voices, was sacked.
- Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary who backed intervention in Syria, survives, but only because the Labour leader was too weak to remove him.
There is no going back from any of this.
Allister Heaths take on this is here:

Friday, 8 January 2016

Kielder Development Trust Goes Wild

I am delighted that Kielder Development Trust have been awarded £17,700 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, to develop a new visitor attraction, which is all part of the ‘Living Wild at Kielder Project’. 

This fantastic project aims to help people experience and learn about the area’s wildlife through the development of ‘nature hubs’, and a year-round events and activity programme. Trails will also be created from Stonehaugh, Falstone, and Greenhaugh, with wildlife ambassadors and volunteers engaging with visitors.

Such work in supporting our fantastic natural heritage in Kielder, whilst promoting engagement and learning is vital, and this latest grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund is a great step forward. 

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

UPDATE: Help for those affected by flooding

Here is the latest help that is available to people who have suffered damage to homes and businesses.

The latest information about the schemes which the Government is providing is available below.

Most of these schemes are being administered through local councils, so the best way to find out what you are eligible for and how to apply for it is to check the information available here: 
or call Northumberland County Council on 0345 600 6400

Here is a summary of the main schemes: 

Community Recovery scheme 

This money has been provided to councils for local recovery priorities such as helping people made homeless by the floods, finding temporary accommodation, mental health and wellbeing support and waste disposal. Information about how to access these resources is available from the council (details above).

Property Level Resilience scheme 

This is money to help households and businesses pay for work to their flooded properties to increase their resilience against future flooding. Up to £5,000 per affected property is available. Information about how to apply for the scheme is available from the council (details above).

Business Support scheme 

This is money to help businesses to recover from the impact of the floods and to make themselves more resilient to severe weather events in the future. The priority will be direct grants to flood-hit small and medium-sized businesses. Contact the Council for details of how to apply.

Council tax discounts 

Government will fund council tax relief in the following circumstances:

  •  A 100% discount for any domestic property flooded as a result of the storms in December for a minimum of three months or while anyone is out of their home due to flood damage. 
  •  A 100% council tax discount on temporary accommodation for anyone out of their homes (in addition to the discount on their flooded property). 
  • Discounts will be also available for properties where access was cut off, or services were unavailable, as a result of the floods, even if the home itself was not flooded (e.g. a 2nd floor flat). Council tax relief will be provided by your local district council, who will determine the final administrative arrangements.
Business rates relief:

The Government will fund 100 per cent rate relief for a minimum of three months or until the business restarts trading from the property, up to state aid de minimis levels, in the following circumstances:

  •  For any day the property was flooded in whole or in part as a result of adverse weather conditions; and
  • on that day, as a result of the flooding at the property, the business activity undertaken at the property was adversely affected; and
  • the rateable value of the property on that day was less than £10 million. 
Business rate relief will be provided through the Council, who will determine the final administrative arrangements.

Support for farmers:

Support payments worth up to £20,000 will be available to farmers who have been affected by flooding to help restore damaged agricultural land. They should contact the Rural Payments Agency contact centre on 03000 200 301.

The application form is available here: 

You may also wish to know that Environment Agency’s Floodline service (0345 988 1188) is available to sign-post callers to relevant recovery support initiatives that are being provided by the council for householders and businesses.

It's a wonderful life actor Henry Travers deserves honouring in Northumberland

Clarence is the kindly angel who shows the lost soul that is Jimmy Stewart the road to redemption in the timeless classic that is Its a Wonderful Life. Born in Prudhoe he grew up in Various other parts of Northumberland before becoming a famous English theatre actor and then an American based character movie star. I am fully behind the desire to honour one of our great forebears.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

One Public Estate in the North East - help for Northumberland County Council

Excellent news as the North East Combined Authority has been conditionally accepted to Phase Three of the One Public Estate programme.
The programme brings together all public sector bodies within a locality to work together to develop a radically new approach to managing their land and property.
In each area the programme will deliver significant savings as well as providing better and more integrated local services in places that are more convenient for users. They will also release land and property, which can be reused for housing and new enterprise, boosting local jobs, growth and house-building.
Since its launch in 2013 One Public Estate has supported 32 councils in England, which are set to create an additional 20,000 jobs and around 9,000 homes; raise £129 million capital receipts from land and property sales, and save £77 million on running costs. Northumberland County Council have been welcomed on board in Phase Three with a grant of £130,000. The council now has an opportunity to build a strong partnership and develop a full programme of ambitious projects to be delivered as part of One Public Estate. I sincerely hope they grasp this fantastic opportunity so they can become fully integrated into the project.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Rreflections on how Labour are faring in the North - does Labour's win in Oldham spell good or bad news for Labour in the long term?

This from the Labour List website makes interesting reading:
At the by election I spent some time campaigning in Oldham. Even by Greater Manchester standards I think we arrived during monsoon season. The wind was biting and the rain was relentless. I was in Oldham to support our candidate Cllr James Daly in the by-election, with a team I’d brought down from the North East. Oldham West and Royton is one of three seats which cover the Borough of Oldham. This seat, covering the western part of the borough, was once as Labour as they come. In fact, Labour have held the seat on various boundaries since the 1970’s, and in May 2015 - even under Ed Milibands’ ill-fated leadership - Labour racked up a majority of 15,000.
Labour chose a strong local candidate, and he won well. The question is whether this win was a win for Jim or Corbyn? Some were highlighting how poorly Jeremy Corbyn was resonating with those on the doorstep, even as there was disdain for the hard left, north London, elitist direction in which Jeremy has taken the Labour Party. According to YouGov, Corbyn was the first opposition leader in polling history to start off his tenure with a negative rating. Since then things have worsened – Corbyn’s personal ratings have slumped even further - to minus 20. Locally, Labour tried not to talk about Corbyn because the simple truth is that he does not have mass appeal. Corbyn’s supporters argue very robustly that general consensus does not matter – and that he is reenergising Labour with those that matter. However, the gulf between Labour’s target voters and Corbyn’s supporters is visibly growing day by day. 71% of Corbyn supporters believe that competition among private companies does more harm than good, compared to just 25% potential Labour voters.
It is little wonder then, that when asked who they trust more to improve the economy, 40% of voters say the Conservatives, and only 23% say Labour. Under Corbyn’s leadership, this 17-point lead is the Government’s greatest since Labour lost power.
Even amongst declared Labour voters, only 56% trust Corbyn over the Conservatives on the economy. In other words, of the nine million people who voted Labour in the General Election, around four million now tick the boxes that they trust the Conservatives more, neither party, or simply ‘don’t know’. That is a notable decline in the short time since Corbyn and MacDonnell took over. Support from northern voters, who had previously stuck by Labour, has been rejected in favour of the nodding approval dog from the Twitter echo chamber.
Perhaps less well known is that members of Corbyn’s left-wing faction, Momentum, have already ousted a Labour MP’s husband as a local Labour campaign co-ordinator here in the North East - after allegedly claiming they had “a mandate to assume control.”
The long-standing members of the North West Durham Labour Party found their AGM packed out, and Paul Simpson, who actively campaigned for Mr Corbyn’s leadership was voted in as Mr Glass’ enforced replacement.
Election result’s aside, the revolution, comrades, is already underway.
And if the reshuffle rumours are true then labour MPs in e nor east who are not 100% Corbynista in fact, word and deed will know that their time is shortly up. 

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Congratulations to the Ponteland and Tynedale residents recognised in the Queen’s New Year‘s Honours

Congratulations to Bellingham County Councillor John Riddle who has been awarded an OBE his services to the community, environment and business in Northumberland through his chairmanship of the Northumberland National Park. 
John truly deserves this honour for his incredible hardwork over the years. 
Also recvieing an OBE, for services to the computer games industry in the North-East, was Ponteland resident Giselle Elizabeth Stewart.

Managing director of management consultancy firm Accenture, Bob Paton, of Hexham, was awarded the CBE as was Corbridge resident Caroline Helen Theobald, the founder of Bridge Club Ltd.

Delinda Virginia Conlon, of Darras Hall, received the MBE for services to science education in the

North-East through her capacity as chief executive of Newcastle‘s Centre for Life.


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)

Friday, 1 January 2016

Can you help find Sally Allan?

Many local people will be aware of Sally Allan, who went missing from her home in Darras hall at 3am on Boxing Day.
Police have confirmed that there have been reported sightings of Mrs Allan, of Errington Road, Ponteland.
These include the Newburn area, where the grandmother-of-one, who is a popular walker, is known to visit.
And CCTV footage shows Mrs Allan on Newcastle’s Quayside, close to the Swing Bridge, shortly before 6am on Boxing Day.
As reported in the Hexham Courant Chief Insp. Stephen Readdie said: “We are still very concerned for Mrs Allan’s welfare and are desperate for her to be reunited with her family.
“If you see Sally, or anyone who you may think could be Sally, then we urge you to call the police.
“This is completely out of character for Sally and she has never been away from home for this length of time without contacting her family.”
Mrs Allan is 5ft 7in tall, of slim build, with short silver/grey hair, and may be wearing gold rimmed glasses. She is believed to be wearing pink pyjamas, a cream coloured fleece and cream coloured Regatta waterproof anorak.
If you have any information please contact police on 101 quoting reference 0258 26/12/15.

2016 will see the Tynedale Community Bank truly take off

A Local organisation, providing Local savings and loans, to local people, with dividends and profits going back to local people and local causes.
I do not think this is too much to ask.
And today this is a reality.
I want a bank that is based in the community, run by someone from that community, with profits going back to that community - like a German Sparkassen  .... rather than that which you call Lloyds / HSBC or another of the big banks, who are based so far away in so many ways, and who struggle - despite the best efforts of local staff - to be a truly local bank.
To that end we have done many things:
First we have changed the law to make it easier to set up local community banks and enhanced credit unions. I spent a large part of the last parliament doing this.

Then we started by setting out our vision and an idea of a community bank / beefed up credit union would look like and work upwards from that. For more details of what our plans are read here:

We have set out to convert people locally with regional banking events in Gateshead and elsewhere covered by the media and featuyring local successes in banking:

Finally, we are taking steps to expland our offer to cover not just those in fuel poverty but anyone who is struggling with pay day lenders and / or are unbanked; we are also unashamedly seeking to attrract middle class savers, which is the perennial failing of an old style credit union. This has been a journey of many years but we have much more news to follow. I am spending a lot of the spring and summer taking this forward.
We are now beginning to take shape locally with
- a number of local champions across Tynedale
- a proper board of key local supporter and community leaders
- a partnership, and common bond, with the Prince Bishops Bank in Stanley, County Durham
- a formal proper launch today, after several months of soft launches, visits to interested parish councils, oil buying clubs, and discussions with clergy and commuinties.
We are fully regulated and your money is as secure as is it were in a high street bank.
As always, we need volunteers interested in contributing by action or outreach, fundraising and engaging with the wider community. This is an utterly apolitical project. Anyone interested should get in touch with me and I will pass on details of the key players taking forward this exciting project in our community.
Or you can visit our website at
Application forms can be found there too.