Thursday, 31 March 2016

BBC: Manchester devolution shows what NE Counxils are choosing to miss out on
For the first time in over a century, municipal power is returning to Greater Manchester. But this is not simply about shifting budget meetings from Westminster to the North West. 
True to their traditions, the local leaders of this proud industrial region are planning something utterly radical. They intend to abandon the Whitehall model, completely rethinking how services are run and how lives can be changed.
At midnight tonight, the 10 councils in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority will take direct control of £6bn of annual health and social care funding, money previously administered by central government ministers in London. Rather than following departmental priorities and targets, however, they are posing a question - how can we use what resources we have to ensure the greatest and fastest possible improvement to the health and wellbeing of the people of Greater Manchester? 
And the answer is to smash the silos. Mark Eastons report and film are well worth reading and watching. The north east councils should ask themselves - why would we not want to be part of this.
Oh and by the way. . .Greater Manchester is a labour controlled area. They have just learned to get along not fight amongst themselves. 

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Sovereignty and borders of the Falkland Islands are non negotiable. These wonderful islands deserve + will receive full UK support

At half term I visited the Falkland Islands as part of a cross party group of Labour and Conservative MPs to support the Falkland Islands right to self determination and their continued desire to remain British. I met the armed forces stationed there, had multiple meetings with the Governor, the Falkland Island Goverment, and met many locals both to get a better understanding of the Islands wants and needs, and to learn from the way in which the islanders live their life in a very difficult environment. 
I travelled at the invitation of the Falkland Island government. Our purpose was also to meet with the forces commander, and many of the troops, at The Mount Pleasant military base on the Falklands. 
After meeting the troops we agreed that there is no doubt that the troops presence is strongly welcomed by the Falkland Islanders, and the base ensures the continued protection of the islands. It also provides the best possible training ground for the troops, with inter operability a key factor as all three services are based together - a situation that is fundamentally unique in the British Armed Forces. 
I was on a cross party trip of 2 labour and 2 conservative MPs, invited by the Falkland Islands Government. We spent 5 days on the Falklands. I also asked for and got the chance to see how the government provided public services to a population of 3,000 in an area nearly the size of Wales. How they provide healthcare, schooling, and all the services of a county council in such a vast area was fascinating, and I learnt a lot of lessons for use in Northumberland.

The most memorable and moving part of my trip was the day I spent visiting San Carlos Water, and the surrounding sites of several of the key battles in the Falklands conflict. I particularly wanted to pay respects to the life of Able Seaman Derek Armstrong who lost his life when the ship, HMS Ardent, was attacked and then sunk by Argentinian fighter aircraft. 
The background to the conflict is well known but bears repeating. 
After an Argentine invasion in April 1982 a British naval task force was dispatched by Margaret Thatcher to retake the islands. The islands have always made clear their desire to remain British. A total of 255 British lives were lost, with many hundreds more wounded. On 21 May 1982, whilst lying in Falkland Sound, and supporting the offloading of the military, and bombarding the Argentine airstrip at Goose Green, Ardent was attacked by at least three waves of Argentine aircraft. The ship sank the next day after over a days fighting; there was the loss of 22 Lives, including the death of Prudhoe's Able Seaman Derek Armstrong.
On my trip I went to 3 separate war memorials. The main memorial site is in Stanley, where I  paid my respects along with the other MPs; separately, I also trekked up the steep hills surrounding San Carlos Water, with a local expert guide, to lay a separate wreath at the Ardent memorial. The weather that day was genuinely biblical with a howling 50mph gale coming in from the south. 
The Handwritten note left on the Ardent memorial wreath read: "In memory of A/S Armstrong and all who died when HMS Ardent sank during the Falklands Conflict. Wreath lain by Guy Opperman MP, on behalf of the Northumberland constituency of Hexham, and the pupils of Prudhoe Community High School." Pictures of both are below. I also met the Governor and the commanding officer of the Mount Pleasant Base - pictures of both are also below. 

In a 2013 referendum Falklanders voted overwhelmingly to remain a British overseas territory. I made clear both before the trip, and at the time, that I am strong in my continued support for the Falklands - which was welcomed by the Falklands islands government. 
The debate I held in the commons in 2013 is here: and the extent of UK support can be gauged from that debate. 
Recently the Argentinian government has changed, and there are hopes of a thawing in relations, with an end to the trade embargoes and other arbitrary actions by the Argentinians who have repeatedly asserted that the  archipelago, known to Argentinians as the Islas Malvinas, should be returned. That will never happen.
It seems that yesterday the UN appears to have created a preliminary report, as yet unpublished, on the territorial extent of the fishing rights of Argentina and the Falkland Islands. 
I note that the UK government is being asked to clarify this by Mike Summers, chair of the FI legislative assembly, who I met when I was out there. The islanders should know that on this, as in all matters, they have our full support in the UK. There is no doubt that fishing is a massive part of the Falkland Island economy. Sadly I suspect the UN are at fault. Indeed the PM has responded overnight on this point here:

Locally, I am going shortly to the Prudhoe Community High School and will explain details of the trip to the senior students. Every year the High School awards the Derek Armstrong award to a pupil in memory of their former pupil who lost his life serving his country. 

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Living Wage at £7.20 in 2 days! Really proud this government has introduced a British pay rise

On 1st April 2016, the National Living Wage will become law. From this date employers need to pay eligible employees, aged 25 and over, at least the new rate of £7.20 per hour.

You should see the increase in your pay automatically from April, if you currently earn less than £7.20 per hour, and are eligible. If you don’t see a difference in pay, you can speak to your employer or get in contact with the Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (ACAS) helpline on 0300 123 1100 or visit the ACAS page. Equally, businesses need to update the company payroll in time for 1 April 2016 to make sure they are paying their workers correctly, and communicate the changes to staff as soon as possible.

This was an issue I championed in the previous parliament. We need to ensure that work always pays, and that a hard day's work always mean a fair day's pay. Employers have a duty to look after their employees, and the evidence suggests that this helps businesses as well; by increasing retention, motivation, and profits in the long-term. A link to an article I wrote in the New Statesman about this, can be found here

The National Living Wage will provide a direct boost to over one million workers in the UK this year – rewarding and providing security for working people. It is a key part of this Government’s plan to continue to move to a higher wage, lower tax, and lower welfare society, building a more productive country, and giving families the security of well-paid work.

For more information you can visit the website:

Monday, 28 March 2016

Reasons why we need the Investigatory Powers Bill - these highly scrutinised powers are needed

This is part of our commitment to providing a new law consolidating and updating our investigatory powers, strengthening the safeguards, and establishing a world-leading oversight regime.
We live in a digital age. Technology is having a profound effect on society. Computers are central to our everyday lives. Big data is reshaping the way we live and work. The internet has brought us tremendous opportunities to prosper and interact with others. 
But a digital society also presents us with challenges. The same benefits enjoyed by us all are being exploited by serious and organised criminals, online fraudsters and terrorists. The threat is clear. In the past twelve months alone six significant terrorist plots have been disrupted here in the UK, as well as a number of further plots overseas.  The frequency and cost of cyber attacks is increasing, with 90% of large organisations suffering an information security breach last year. And the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command estimate that there are 50,000 people in this country downloading indecent images of children; the bill will allow:
  • The ability to intercept the contents of communications in order to acquire sensitive intelligence to tackle terrorist plots and serious and organised crimes;
  • The use of equipment interference powers to obtain data covertly from computers;
  • And the use of these powers by the security and intelligence agencies in bulk to identify the most serious threats to the UK from overseas and to rapidly establish links between suspects in the UK.
    It cannot be right that today the police could find an abducted child if the 
    suspects were using mobile phones to coordinate their crime, but if they were using social media or communications apps then they would be out of reach. Such an approach defies all logic and ignores the realities of today’s digital age. So this Bill will also allow the police to identify which communications services a person or device has connected to – so called internet connection records. The oversight will be with a powerful and independent Investigatory Powers Commissioner. This will be a senior judge, supported by a team of expert inspectors with the authority and resources to effectively, and visibly, hold the intelligence agencies and law enforcement to account. These will be world-leading oversight arrangements. The First duty of Government is the protection of the public – and it is a responsibility this government takes extremely seriously.
    The legislation we are proposing is unprecedented. It will provide unparalleled openness and transparency about our investigatory powers. It will provide the strongest safeguards and world-leading oversight arrangements. And it will give the men and women of our security and intelligence agencies and our law enforcement agencies – who do so much to keep us safe and secure – the powers they need to protect our country.
    More details can be found here:

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Update on County Council approach to Ponteland Schools

The four County Councillors for Ponteland and I are furious we were not consulted in any meaningful way, and that the Council is once again trying to impose its own plans on Ponteland.
I know this outstanding school, and its outstanding headteacher Dr Carolyn Pryor very well. It has outstanding results and I know is strongly supported. I have visited the school, and met the teachers, parents and pupils many times. Indeed, we have worked very hard to improve the facilities there. In April 2015 I was part of the opening football match at the new football pitch that was funded by the Premier League, the Football Association and Sport England money, on the basis that the school would be there on a long term basis. 
We cannot see why there is such an unseemly rush for this unprecedented upheaval. There is a real danger the County Council is now setting one school against another. Whilst there may be benefits to the surrounding first schools in extending their age ranges, we personally could not support a consultation which proposes closing Ponteland Middle School, which is one of Northumberland's most outstanding schools.
The formal consultation on the closure of Ponteland Middle School is rushed and has been decided behind closed doors.
It is now vital the County Council listens to the people of Ponteland. If local people are opposed to these plans it would be a real mistake for the County Council to go ahead. Politicians should listen to local people and so I would urge the County Council to listen to what local people have to say. If they say that the County Council should abandon these proposals and maintain the three tier system then that is exactly what the County Council should do.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Looking forward to doing the Sandstone Way = Northumberland's cycling success story this Easter between Hexham + Berwick

On April 2nd I have agreed to accompany a bunch of intrepid cyclists on the 120 mile mountain bike trail that is The Sandstone Way. My thanks to my friend the veteran cycling enthusiast Ted Liddle for organising the trip. It has been postponed once when I had an injury, but Ted and others have kindly let me tag along on a future trip next weekend. I am much looking forward to it, and will be doing all I can to help further promote cycle tourism. We are doing a version Ted has designed over 2 days.

The 120-mile (193 km) mountain bike trail between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Hexham passes through numerous villages and small communities including Wooler, Belford, Rothbury, Elsdon and Bellingham, hugging the coastline before taking in the Simonside sandstone ridge and other features of Northumberland National Park.  Cyclists will ride through an amazing, ever-changing landscape, rich in history, geology and iconic scenery.
Maps can be purchased either through local retail outlets such as Tourist Information Centres or on-line at: Northern Heritage or
Background: The new Sandstone Way website: , created by Blaydon-based social enterprise, The CyclePAD Ltd, is an essential aid to all those planning to ride the route, with information on local facilities and cycling-friendly accommodation along the way.

Most riders are encouraged to take 3 or 4 days to complete it, whilst the ‘fit and the fast’ could possibly ride the route in 2 days. Organisers hope that families will be encouraged to ride safe, traffic-free sections of the Sandstone Way with older children. The route is clearly waymarked with the distinctive green and yellow “S” roundel, and ten optional loops are also offered to appeal to ‘day riders’ who wish to cycle back to their starting point or follow a more challenging option. Package holidays to cycle the Sandstone Way are being developed by Skedaddle.

The Sandstone Way is the brainchild of local passionate cyclist, Ted Liddle, and was seed funded by Northumberland National Park Authority, Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural 
Beauty Project, Northumberland County Council, Tyne Valley Mountain Bike Club and the Rural Development Programme for England through the Northern Lands Project. Full credit to one and all. The County Council are genuinely making an effort to improve cycling in Northumberland. 
Ted Liddle is our local cycling champion and, along with other local projects,we have agreed to try and do some or all of the ride sometime later this summer. He said this about the Sandstone Way:
“The Sandstone Way was designed to link some of the best lengths of off-road track in Northumberland taking mountain bikers into Northumberland’s hidden corners on centuries-old tracks and historic byways. Cycling the Sandstone Way really is an adventure which guarantees a truly memorable experience for all the right reasons.”

Cycling tourism is on the increase in Northumberland with many visitors making the most of the county’s quiet and scenic roads and challenging hills. The boost has come about through a wide range of new events and facilities that have made it easy for people to bring their bikes north to enjoy challenging but unpressured rides.  

Both Hexham and Berwick upon Tweed are served by rail, and there are bus connections along the Northumberland Coast AONB and into the valleys of the National Park for those wishing to make a holiday of it and leave the car behind.  

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Job figures for Hexham constituency show progress in that they are up 10% again when compared to last year

The number of unemployed in the receipt of JSA is 495 people. This is still too high but it is down 47 on last year and down 677 as compared to 2010. Full credit to the Job Centre Support team in Hexham and all the people who helped hold our Jobs Fair, which I know made a difference.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

24/3/16 is the date for independence if Scotland had voted for independence - the finances don't add up

The Spectator analysis is based on the SNP governments own figures: it does not make good reading for a unionist or an ardent independence campaigner as Scotland is clearly spending way more than it earns; if Scotland had gone independent the oil price would not have paid the bills in any way. Worth a read:

Monday, 21 March 2016

Good visit to thriving Prudhoe business Tyne Valley Plastics - and meet 2 former Hexham QEHS students doing apprenticeships

I went to Prudhoe 2 weeks ago to get to know the local business Tyne Valley Plastics, and meet their employees. The business is based in low Prudhoe and is a bespoke plastics business that provides a specialist local service and great local employment. I also got a better understanding of how the December floods had affected low Prudhoe, and was able to update as to how we are trying to ensure that this does not happen again.
Given that it is National Apprenticeship Week this last week it was also good to hear the stories behind how James Whitmore and Sam Stoves became Apprentices in the business. Both went to school at Hexham QEHS and are clearly relishing their new role. Great credit is due to the team at Tyne Valley Plastics for giving these two young men their opportunity, which they are clearly relishing. Apprenticeships have changed: you can earn, and learn now on a long term basis emerging with real skills, and real opportunities. Both James and Sam were clearly enjoying their first jobs, first proper pay packets and all the responsibility that employment brings. 

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Fairer Funding progress for our schools - ending the system where Northumberland gets less than the funding for urban schools

Fairer Funding, an initiative pioneered by this government, received a firm forward push, in this week’s Budget. I, and others, have pushed for this to happening sooner rather than later and I am delighted that the Chancellor has  agreed to bring this forward.
George Osborne set out the government’s acceleration of fairer funding, with the first National Funding Formula for schools to be in place from 2017-18. The funding ramp-up aims to have 90 per cent of schools, which are due additional funding under the National Funding Formula, to receive the full amount they are due by 2020.

The government will also provide around £500 million of additional core funding to schools over the course of this Spending Review, to speed up the process. This is on top of the commitment to maintain per pupil funding in cash terms. A fairer deal for schools is getting a real shot-in-the-arm.

There was also more excellent news for schools in Tynedale, and the wider North East, as the Chancellor pledged a further £20 million a year of new funding for a new Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy.

This new funding will ensure rapid action is taken to push up educational progress in the North. The investment will support “proven leaders and outstanding schools”, in a mentoring scheme that will see our best schools helping to bring up neighbouring ones that are not doing so well.  It will also pay for the best schools to fast-track to become teaching schools, and the best heads to be national leaders of education.

The Budget also saw a government that is committed to ensuring that all school pupils achieve a good standard of core skills. The government will commission Sir Adrian Smith to review the case for “more or all” students, to continue to study maths at 18 in the longer term. Maths is a vital core subject, fundamental to everyday life, and the modern economy. Surely, it makes sense to ensure that all pupils leave school with Maths as part of a solid educational foundation.

Friday, 18 March 2016

The Chronicle on the "White Elephant" £40 million+++ move from Morpeth to Ashington

Budget action on sugar I support totally - it is a real problem, + the consequences of the tax go to fund school sport

The Chancellor’s announcement of a levy on soft drinks, was much more than a crowd, or celebrity chef pleaser. It represents real sense. Obesity and weight-related diseases are not just inconvenient truths, they are killers, costing the NHS £5.1 billion. That’s more than smoking at £2.7 billion.

One in 10 children start primary school obese. By the end, one in five are obese. If you add in those who are overweight, it's one in three. Sugary drinks, often a child’s favourite, are a major part of this. Crucially, evidence shows that millions of people could be discouraged from becoming obese because of this levy, with the higher price aiding a cut in consumption.

But it is not just about discouraging drinking super sugary drinks. This levy is about proactively encouraging exercise, to tackle the problem of obesity. The estimated £520 million raised from the levy on soft drinks will be spent on doubling the primary school PE and sport premium from £160 million to £320 million per year, and on providing up to £285 million a year to allow 25 per cent of secondary schools to extend their school day. This will mean more kids, staying active, and enjoying sport.

This measure will help keep kids active, save money for the NHS, but most important of all, will go some way to help ensure the long-term health of our children, and the nation as a whole.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Less tax for low paid as tax threshold goes up to £11,500, and strong support for small businesses in the budget

The Budget provided some excellent news on tax and business rates:

- Tax on working people will be reduced further by increasing the personal allowance to £11,500
The personal allowance will be 70% higher in April of this year than in 2010-11. All of this, continues to ensure that no-one working 30 hours per week on the National Minimum Wage (NMW) will pay income tax in 2017-18.
In short - a typical basic rate taxpayer will pay over £1,000 less income tax in 2017-18 than in 2010-11: more money in the pockets of everyday working people and out of the hands of the tax-man.
- The higher rate threshold is now £45,000 in 2017-18.

Small-business also received a real boost, as the Chancellor cut the burden on ratepayers in England by £6.7 billion over the next 5 years. Business rates will be cut for all properties and, the smallest businesses will pay no rates at all. This is the key help that small businesses have been asking for locally in Hexham.
Equally, from April 2018, Class 2 National Insurance Contributions will be abolished. This represents an annual tax cut for 3.4 million self-employed people of £134 on average.

Finally, savers have been given a hand-up by George Osborne, with the new Lifetime Individual Savings Account (ISA). Millions of adults under 40 will be able to use the new ISA, to buy a home or provide for a pension, from April 2017. Eventually replacing the Help-to-Buy ISA, savers will receive a 25% bonus from the government, on top of their savings. They will be able to put in up to £4,000 a year, with an annual bonus of up to £1,000 paid until the age of 50. From April 2017 all savers will be able to put up to £20,000 a year into ISAS, a marked increase from the current £15,240 limit.

The Lifetime ISA will be a fantastic boost for anyone under 40, wanting to get on the housing ladder, and will provide a secure, tax free solution for retirement savings. Broadly, the Chancellor’s efforts on ISAs will encourage, and reward people who do the right thing, and save.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Chancellor announces A69 upgrade in Budget

The Chancellor George Osborne has given the go ahead for an upgrade of the A69, alongside delivering extra funding to speed up the timetable.

Mr Osborne used his budget to allocate funds for a number of high profile transport projects, including the A69 and A66.

Despite our long running campaign, no funding had previously been granted to allow for an upgrade to the A66 or the A69.

Improving the A69 and A66 were among recommendations made by the National Infrastructure Commission, led by Labour peer Lord Adonis, who was asked to suggest ways that transport bottlenecks can be eased to boost the economy.

The A66 runs from Teesside to Cumbria and the A69 from Newcastle to Carlisle and both roads have notorious traffic blackspots. Improving east-west routes across the North is seen as key to creating jobs and growth.

The news today from the Chancellor is fantastic victory for Tynedale. Myself and Haltwhistle Councillor Ian Hutchinson have been working hard for a very long time to secure this upgrade and it is incredible news that we are now on the road to getting the upgrade.

The A69 is the key route that connects east and west across the rural north and it is fantastic to see the Chancellor delivering invest in our infrastructure. The A69 has seen far too many accidents, and has held back the growth of the economy in west Northumberland for too long. Thanks to the Chancellors announcement we now have improved safety, as well as boosting tourism and industry.

Haltwhistle Councillor Ian Hutchinson said "For so many years people have been telling me that we will never see the A69 upgraded. I am so pleased we have kept on fighting and we are finally going to get the invest out infrastructure deserves."

Get Digital North East - a celebration of creative and digital media

This Thursday, 17th March, marks the launch of the North East’s first GET DIGITAL festival: a celebration of the Creative and Digital Media section in the region.

The festival will showcase over 100 Creative and Digital Media companies: from App developers to software engineers. The event promises to have something for everyone, in this immensely exciting cutting edge industry sector.

School and college pupils can learn more about the industry, university students and apprentices can talk to potential employers, and businesses can showcase their innovations to investors, and the public. Everything from Digital Workshops and Jobs Courts, to Playground areas promising hands-on interactivity, and Innovation Labs, are on offer.

I would recommend all, who are interested, to go along to The CastleGate centre, and receive a real insight into the Creative, and Digital Media sector in the North East. The North East is a real leader in technology, with a regional turnover of £1.7 billion a year, and this festival promises an ideal opportunity for all to see what this ever evolving industry has to offer. I will sadly be stuck in the House of Commons so I cannot go. 
More information can be found here:

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

The tech revolution continues in the North East - tech is the new jobs revolution in the North East

I have seen the changes brought about by the tech businesses setting up in the North East. Last year we had the second highest number of tech start ups outside London. That is a big deal. The reasons why are explained in the article below:

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Cheltenham, reforming the Levy, Victoria Pendelton + more

The best news is the developments on a fair tax for the bookmakers who benefit from racing. This should give a long term future to racing, which provides hundreds of thousands of jobs in the UK and Ireland. This is the result of a long effort by many people but I am pleased the government are sorting this.
Sadly I cannot go to Cheltenham this year, as I am stuck in Westminster, although I will be glued to the highlights; I am a massive supporter of the Victoria Pendelton fox hunters challenge. She is a great advert for racing and the Corinthian spirit. I hope to be racing myself later in the season. 
As to Cheltenham tips the best advice to double your money is to fold your money and put it back in your pocket but here goes for a couple of steers:
- Gold Cup: Cue Card is a big price for a great horse. He carries my money. Djakadam also has a great shout. Who ruby Walsh rides will be a big guide to which of the many Mullins horses is most fancied. 
- Champion Hurdle: Annie power is way too short odds, for a great horse who has not run in this sort of company before. Bet against her. I like the new one or old guard each way. 
- Cole harden in the world hurdle is a good prospect. 
- Balthazar King is a great each way prospect in the cross country chase
And finally the last televised race is the Foxhunters. Vicki Pendelton will not win although she has a lovely ride. She will find the race goes a stride quicker than anything she has ever done before. But I will be cheering her all the way! It is the amateur riders Gold Cup and she is both very lucky and a great ambassador.

Westminster this week - from investigatory powers to brain tumour research to the energy bill - a busy week

Debates this week include the Energy Bill, and the Investigatory Powers Bill, and then several days of the Budget debate, which follows the chancellors announcement on Wednesday at 12.30.
I have the graveyard shift of the final session of the day as the whip on duty this week so I will be in the house till gone 10.30 on Monday in particular. I have meetings with everyone from the BBC to local anti alcohol campaigners. But I am particularly looking forward to providing support to the Ridley family who are coming to Westminster for the launch of the inquiry and report into brain tumour research and funding on Monday afternoon. They are one of many families, clinicians and interested parties who are attending Westminster. 
As someone who has been through this in 2011 when I successfully had a meningioma removed by a craniotomy in an NHS hospital I have seen all aspects of this terrible disease, and raised funds for it after the event. The disease is notoriously hard to treat and I was very lucky. We need to do more to create specialist hubs of excellence and then provide the services they need. 
I have raised money in the past but there is always more to do:

Saturday, 12 March 2016

The Apprenticeship Revolution Continues - lots of good apprenticeship news in national Apprenticeship week

This coming week is National Apprenticeship Week, a time when all businesses should be thinking doubly hard about taking on an apprentice. In the last government we created 2.4 million apprenticeships, and under this one we are aiming even higher – looking to deliver 3 million apprenticeships by 2020.

Apprenticeships offer an outstanding opportunity for young people. They are real jobs with a real wage, offering an opportunity to gain valuable work experience, genuine skills, and finally lead to recognised qualifications.

They are just as good an opportunity for employers, with 70% of participating businesses saying that apprenticeships had improved the quality of their products or services. As the first MP to hire, train, and retain an apprentice, I too can testify to the great service apprentices provide, as well as the youth and enthusiasm they bring to any workplace. Small businesses concerned about taking on the responsibility, can also receive Government funding; ensuring they have a stronger and better skilled workforce.

Apprenticeships are now offered in more than 170 industries, and employers are in the driving seat of reforms. Employer trailblazer groups are developing the new apprenticeship standards, ensuring that apprenticeship training really is exactly what employers want. These new industry standards range from nuclear engineers, to fashion assistants, live event technicians, personal trainers and welders – there are thousands of current opportunities.

Beyond this we can still do more, and that is why, this week, I am asking any and every employer across Tynedale to consider taking on an apprentice. There were 660 apprenticeship starts across the area last year, and together we can make this year even better for our aspiring young people by providing even more.  

Friday, 11 March 2016

Progress on Fairer funding for our schools in Northumberland

On 7 March 2016, the Education Secretary announced plans for fairer schools funding.

• We want every school in England to get the funding it deserves, so that all children get a great education – whatever their background and wherever they live. 
• The introduction of a national funding formula from 2017/18 will see the biggest step towards fairer funding in over a decade – ensuring that pupils get funding that genuinely matches their need. It will also ensure that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds continue to receive significant additional funding to overcome entrenched barriers to their success.
• This is a key part of our core mission to extend opportunity to all children and provide educational excellence in all parts of the country: rural and urban, shire and metropolitan, north and south.

We are doing this by:
• Ending the postcode lottery of education funding – so all children receive the education they deserve wherever they live. The current system for distributing funding is inefficient and unfair - a school in one part of the country could receive over 50 per cent more than an identical school in another area. Our changes will mean that pupils with similar needs will attract the same level of funding to their school. 
• Giving funding straight to schools – so pupils with similar needs attract the same level of funding. Currently, local authorities are responsible for deciding funding allocations for schools. A national funding formula will remove the role of local authorities and give headteachers more certainty over future budgets. 
• Giving additional funding to pupils from disadvantage backgrounds – ensuring children get a great education whatever their background. A national funding formula will help pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds have the opportunity to overcome entrenched barriers by ensuring they continue to receive significant additional funding. 
I urge all my schools to get involved and will be writing to the, specifically 

Primary Inspiration through Entreprise - the PIE challenge -a great project I support

Next Friday, 18th March, every Primary School in Northumberland, North Tyneside, and Newcastle will be invited to participate in a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Competition, set up by the PIE Project. As many as 250 schools in total.

Targeting 10, and 11 year olds this unique, and exciting challenge will aim to engage, and inspire future generations in enterprise, and STEM based activities.

On the day, pupils will have the opportunity to get involved in Hackathon, and Science / Engineering activities. Beyond the day itself, there will be a school enterprise competition, for five winning schools, and the delivery of vocational industry recognised qualifications to 10-11 year olds, accredited by the Northern Council for Further Education (NCFE). Finally, an awards ceremony will be held to recognise the schools' achievements.

Crucially, this will be the largest single STEM activity ever undertaken, across Primary Schools.

The PIE Project aims to counteract the current negative misconception around STEM, and enterprise education, and demonstrates how the North East is truly committed to investing in its future generation.

I encourage every school that can, to take part.

For more information, you can visit the website:

Thursday, 10 March 2016

At the General Election we warned the SNP tail would wag the Labour Dog. Last night proved we were proven right

Last night exactly this happened. Don't take my word for it. Read the Guardian below: the reality is that this is all about Scottish politics, Holyrood elections, and who is really in charge between labour and the snp. Put to one side your views on the merits of having pilot projects for certain local authorities to pilot zoned extra hours on Sunday, particularly focused on businesses that are crying out for this, eg garden centres - and the hundreds of local authorities who made the case to government that this was a good idea for them to help their high streets. This from one of the hundreds who wrote in supporting the proposal:

"Councillor Bob Standley, Leader of Wealden District Council, added: “I support the proposal that decisions on shop Sunday opening hours should be devolved from Whitehall to local communities. Shops of all sizes are competing with 24/7 online trading and we need to encourage maximum use of the High Street. Wealden District Council’s Streets Ahead initiative puts the High Street at the heart of our communities and a more relaxed approach to Sunday trading hours will help those High Streets prosper.”

At the very least let us look at the case in pilot projects? This sounds utterly reasonable to me, and is what we voted upon, albeit there were clearly there were some concerns on the conservative side; it should be noted that the Liberal Party leader Nick Clegg and Norman Lamb both voted in favour. Labour of course was whipped to get behind the SNP.

And so the England and Wales MPs voted on a matter only affecting them, in favour. But the Scots Nats decided to be totally political, and vote against, even though it does not affect Scotland, and they have very liberal Sunday trading laws themselves, which work very well!!!

This from Michael White at the Guardian, hardly a Tory paper:

"Yes, I know, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said before the election that her flock would not vote on matters that did not affect Scotland. That ought to include Sunday opening hours because Scotland controls its own and has more relaxed rules. 
During negotiations over Scotland’s block grant, the Barnett formula and other thorny financial matters, settled favourably for Sturgeon, UK ministers thought they had won an understanding that the SNP would steer clear of Wednesday’s vote. That is denied. 
In any case, as she explained, Sturgeon changed her mind. This week her troops changed theirs over Sunday trading on the declared grounds that the change might undermine the “premium” protection given to Scots retail staff for working Sunday shifts."
You can draw you own conclusions as to what I think of the SNP. They cannot be trusted. They are doing all this solely for one reason - to be a wrecking ball. 

The change in employment since 2010 - private / total jobs up, public sector down: great graph by the Spectator

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

International women's day debate in parliament - full transcript and great speeches

Scottish, Welsh, local, PCC + Mayoral elections are the key focus till May 5

In less than 2 months we will have 5 sets of key elections that will determine the direction of travel for our United Kingdom, and none of these involve the EU.
I am a committed unionist and will continue to campaign for Ruth Davidson and her band of Scottish brothers and sisters in the Scottish Conservatives, who are providing a unionist, fiscally strong, socially liberal alternative to the SNP, and the ever more leftwards lean of the Scottish Labour Party. I have already been once these last few months to help John Lamont, MSP, my neighbouring conservative over the border at Carter Bar, and will go again with supporters before May.

Anyone who was at our rally last Saturday to hear Ruth speak will understand why we support Ruth and her team so much:

Later this month of March I will give 24 hours of time and support to some of the key Welsh Conservative candidates like Andrew Atkinson, who is contesting the key Welsh Assembly seat of Wrexham.

I have a good friend in the Commons in Zac Goldsmith, and was one of those who say him down and encouraged him to run for Mayor. The fate of London is key to the economic and general outcome for this country and I am certain that Jeremy Corbyn's mate, Sadiq Khan, is not the answer for London. I will be giving more time to campaign for Zac in the coming months, when I am down in Westminster, whether that is by telephone canvassing, morning leafleting at tube stations or physical door knocking when time allows.

Closer to home we have the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner elections and in former policeman, Stewart Hay, locals in my Hexham constituency have a great choice.

And finally we are in Northumberland are playing our part in helping support the hard work of the Newcastle Conservatives who are trying to provide a sensible, robust alternative to the Labour dominance of Newcastle.

Our country does face a Euro referendum in June, but for this Conservative MP that referendum comes second to the need to help strong Conservative candidates get elected in May. My advice to all activists is what all steeplechase jockeys are taught - jump the fence in front of you - not the ones further down the track. There will be time enough for the Euro campaign after May 5. My job till May is to get Conservatives elected.  

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Trump may be a misogynist anti Muslim / Mexican / etc bully yet parts of USA seem not to mind

I agree with Mitt Romney. Trump is a political fraud, with no policies, a few empty slogans, a lot of abuse, and his Presidency would be a disaster for America and for us in the West. Nationalism and populism comes in many forms - and some is more extreme than others. But Trump, La Pen, Farage, are peas from the same pod. But clearly many Americans like his easy simplicity, don't like immigrants and feel powerless in a globalised society where the old certainties are simply not there.

And Super Tuesday is actually today - with crucial key votes in Florida and Ohio. Yet America's problem is that it is rejecting the rational Republican politicians like Kasich and Rubio, who dare to speak the truth about society's problems, and embracing the two worst = Trump and Cruz. To me this is a sadness. Politics is tough enough as it is, but if you do not get the chance to make a reasoned rational case about the problems of a global society with many issues, then we are all poorer.
We may be heading to a brokered convention in July at the republican convention in Cleveland, Ohio, but if your options for a leader are that bad what is the point and likely outcome of a brokered convention?
But the prospects of a third party entering the race are looking more and more likely.

On the democrat side Mrs Clinton is slowly sealing the deal. And rightly so. Bernie Sanders is America's Jeremy Corbyn.

Monday, 7 March 2016

English Tourism Week this week - so much to celebrate in Northumberland

This coming week, 5th-13th March, is English Tourism Week 2016. Tourism is a vital regional industry; generating £3.1 billion, and providing 58,000 jobs in the North East, last year. The industry is also England’s third largest employer, directly providing jobs for over 1.5 million people, and generating £82 billion a year for regional communities.

In Northumberland we are very fortunate: we have award winning hospitality, glorious natural spaces, and history in abundance. This week, therefore is the perfect opportunity to go out and enjoy all our county has to offer, and support our local tourism industry.

Last month I attended a key tourism reception in the Commons. The striking difference was that there was lots of evidence of the North's many tourism organisations working together and not in competition. This is another example of the change that is happening by reason of the Northern Powerhouse leadership and drive towards a view that we are better together up north.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Westminster this week - international women's day, constituents in Westminster and multiple debates / meetings this week

Police and Crime bill is debated this Monday till 10pm, then we debate the Enterprise Bill for 2 days Tursday and Wednesday. There is also debates on Northern Ireland's new bill, various private members bills, and Westminster hall debates and a key celebration of International Women's day on Tuesday. I have a variety of meetings with constituents, including Olivia Grevett, who is attending parliament from Northumberland to celebrate international women's day on Tuesday. I also have a variety of Northumberland school related meetings and phone conferences, time on the bench as a whip, and will be spending part of Thursday helping Zac Goldsmiths campaign to be the new mayor of London.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Mega campaigning action day and dinner afterwards with the amazing #RuthDavidson

Over 80 young and old attended the regional conference today and then went campaigning in a wet wintry Newcastle. Every person who heard Ruth talk later on at the meal afterwards would realise why she is genuinely the real deal: articulate, passionate, funny, and a very modern conservative. We, and Scotland, are very lucky to have her. She is going to do great things in the Scottish elections.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Donald Trump taking USA to the abyss says Romney
This from his speech
- "Trump’s personal qualities, the bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics,” Romney said.
“He creates scapegoats of Muslims and Mexican immigrants, he calls for the use of torture and for killing the innocent children and family members of terrorists. He cheers assaults on protesters. He applauds the prospect of twisting the constitution to limit first amendment freedom of the press. This is the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss.”

Thursday, 3 March 2016

International Women’s Day next Tuesday - building on Women2Win great work in politics

Next Tuesday is International Women’s Day. International Women’s Day was marked for the first time in 1911 and was established to honour the movement for women’s rights.

In Northumberland, it is right that we have come to mark the day each year by paying special tribute to Morpeth's Emily Wilding Davison, whilst recognising the contribution many other local women have made in striving for equality.

Emily spent much of her adult life campaigning for women’s rights through the Suffragette Movement and died as a result of her protest at the Derby in June 1913 after running in front of the King’s horse to draw attention to the cause she believed in and fought so strongly for.  She paid the ultimate price.

Next week, to mark the occasion, there is a service at St Mary’s Church in Morpeth at 12:00 noon, followed by a procession to her grave, and the laying of wreaths and flowers. It is absolutely right, that we continue to mark this day - women’s issues far from stopped at universal suffrage. This year, International Women’s Day is geared towards a campaign for complete pay parity, a crucial issue in our time. Women’s issues are everyone’s issues. I remain very active in Women2Win,  the campaigning group that exists to get more women into public life. Have a look at their video here:
Some examples of what we have done are here:
For more information on International Women’s Day visit the website:

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

School visit with RGS last week

I do lots of school Q +As and was delighted to accept the chance to go to newcastles Royal Grammar School to be grilled by the students last Friday lunchtime. I answered questions on the life of an MP, the EU referendum, labour under Corbyn, whether political parties are a thing of the past and many more. Pleased to see 2 students put their hand up and say they wanted to be an MP one day.