Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Opportunities to go to Q+ A or debates on EU referendum - Hexham Debates Saturday 4th June QEHS or Q+A next Tuesday 31st in Corbridge

Next Question and Answer session will take place in Corbridge parish hall on Tuesday 31st May at 7.30pm, with former MEP Fiona Hall who will be answering the questions put to her in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.  There will be no speeches!  All are welcome to come and find information on which to make that important decision on 23rd June.  To enjoy the sounds of Europe, including our local tunes, there’s a Ceilidh at the Hexham Community Centre on Friday, 27th May at 7.15 - details from Core Music.
Anyone who is not yet on the electoral role can register up to 7th June. 

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Cycling in Northumberland is going from strength to strength - the Sandstone Way adds to this

Recently I got the chance to ride the Sandstone Way, the epic journey from Hexham to Berwick by cycle route, cross country and forest trails, cycle paths, and quiet back routes. It is a wonderful thing to do with beautiful views, great stopping points, easy navigation due to the great signage and some spectacular climbs and ascents. I have never been on a cycle route like it, and am eternally grateful to the Tyne Valley Mountain Bike Club for letting me join them. A short report of the routes progress, the numbers of people who are using it and thereby boosting the rural economy, and the sheer fun of the trip are found in this good report by the Journal.
We are slowly making progress on the provision of greater cycling provision in Northumberland. I look enviously at what Newcastle has achieved with significant government support, and await the changes we all seek from NCC. For my part I am doing all I can to support the various cycle routes, the pubs and tea rooms that so depend on them and the expansion of cycling across Northumberland. I am not doing the Dunwich Dynamo this summer but have signed up to the Ride100, https://www.prudentialridelondon.co.uk/ raising money for Brain Tumour Research, which is a pretty ardous cycle project for the summer.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Constituents want certainties about the EU debate - the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies provide this

Paul Johnson (IFS director and an author of the report published yesterday) said: ‘Leaving the EU would most likely increase borrowing by between £20 and £40 billion in 2019–20. Getting to budget balance from there, as the government desires, would require an additional year or two of austerity at current rates of spending cuts. Or we could live with higher borrowing and debt’ (IFS Press Release, 25 May 2016, link).

The IFS also pour further scorn on the Leave campaign’s claims about the cost of EU membership:Claims that we would have an additional £350 million a week to spend are wrong. They imply that following a UK exit other EU countries would continue to pay a rebate to the UK on contributions it was not making. Such claims also imply we would simply stop all existing EU subsidies to farming and poorer regions (such as Northumberland, Cornwall and west Wales) (IFS Press Release, 25 May 2016, link).
Paul Johnson also told Today: ‘You cannot get a better trading relationship with the European Union than the one we already have. It is as free as it is possible to have between one country and another set of countries...at the moment nearly half, 44 per cent of our exports go into the European Union and whatever deal we came out with would be worse than the deal that we have at the moment’ (Today, BBC Radio Four, 25 May 2016).

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Real pleasure to meet, talk + then listen to maiden speech of new Bishop Christine of Newcastle today

  • My Lords, the theological understanding of grace is of the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to deserve it. In these early days in your Lordships’ House, it is grace that I have experienced—wonderful kindness and a warmth of welcome from your Lordships, the staff and all who work in this place. It has been entirely undeserved but a truly heart-warming experience. It will be no surprise to your Lordships that one of the loveliest and warmest welcomes came from the late Lord Walton—a fine and godly man, and a distinguished son of the north-east.
    I grew up in the 1950s on a large London overspill council estate. In those large sprawling estates there were precious few community facilities and the school I attended had two classes of 45 children in each year group. The life chances of many growing up on that estate were very limited. Out of the 90 children in my year group, only 10 went to grammar school.
    Two things were key in supporting me through those childhood years. The first was to be fortunate enough to be born into a loving family and the second was to be blessed by some truly inspirational, vocational teachers, who gave so generously of their free time to expand our horizons above and beyond the ordinary. One of those teachers was Mrs. Boyd, who started a debating society at our school. She had a passion for the art of debating and wanted us to catch that passion. Her sister, the late Lady Birk, had just been introduced to the Lords as one of those pioneering early women life Peers. Through Lady Birk’s good offices, Mrs Boyd brought our little debating team to this place to inspire us by witnessing debating at its best. How could I have imagined, as a 16 year-old girl up in that Gallery, that one day I would find myself making a maiden speech in your Lordships’ House?
    I have the privilege of being the 12th Bishop of Newcastle. I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Bishop Martin—a fine Bishop and one of the longest-serving Bishops in your Lordships’ House. I will do my best to be a worthy successor, with the important exception that I will probably spend slightly less time in the smoking shed.
    My diocese stretches from the River Tyne in the south to the River Tweed in the north and encompasses the city of Newcastle, North Tyneside and the county of Northumberland, together with a very small area of eastern Cumbria and four parishes in northern County Durham. Newcastle diocese is wonderful, with extraordinary contrasts: from the vibrant regional capital of Newcastle upon Tyne, with two world-class universities and 50,000 students, to the remote hill farms, some still without mains electricity and water; from the Northumberland Church of England Academy with 2,500 students in Ashington, to our smallest Church of England school on Holy Island with just four children. We have the stunning Dark Skies at Kielder and the bright lights of the big city, alongside places of pilgrimage such as Holy Island—or St James’ Park. The beauty of my diocese takes my breath away.
    The gracious Speech emphasised the importance of increasing life chances for the most disadvantaged, supporting economic recovery, creating jobs and apprenticeships, and creating the kind of infrastructure that businesses need to grow. All these issues are absolutely key to economic and human flourishing in the north-east. The issues around the development of the northern powerhouse are also of great significance. I therefore warmly welcome the commitment from the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, earlier in this debate to regional growth in the north and the Midlands.
    The people of the north-east are warm, hospitable, proud and resilient. Our workforce is famed for its loyalty, with a very low staff turnover. The north-east is not a problem to be solved by the rest of the country but an asset to be valued. We are one of the very few parts of the UK with a surplus of both water and energy. Rather than transporting these vital resources to other parts of the country, we should be looking to relocate water-and energy-intensive businesses to the north-east. We are the only region in the UK with a consistent positive balance of trade and we export nearly a third of everything we make and do.
    As I have journeyed around the diocese in my first five months, I have seen more signs of hope than I have time to talk about. Let me give just one example— Port of Blyth. Blyth, on the coast in the south-east corner of Northumberland, is one of the most deprived areas in the whole of England. With the closure of the Alcan Lynemouth aluminium smelter in 2012, the future of the port looked bleak. But with great leadership, a determination to find new trade and a policy of recruiting local young people who stay, Port of Blyth is now facing an increasingly optimistic future. It has just announced record results for 2015, with a doubling of pre-tax profits to £1.2 million.
    Human flourishing in all its forms, including economic flourishing, depends above all on our most precious resource: our people. If these signs of flourishing are to be sustained and grow, we need the commitments in the gracious Speech to be made real in everyday lives. The most important of these commitments is to our children. There are many areas of poverty in the north-east, Blyth among them, where children’s life chances will continue to be curtailed without the determination and ambition to give such children the start in life that they deserve.
    As I experienced so powerfully in my own early life, education can be absolutely transformative. Northumberland is the most sparsely populated county in England, so it is not surprising that our schools are inevitably among the smallest in the country. I therefore warmly welcome the commitment in the education White Paper to provide sparsity funding for every single small rural school, but I hope that this will not be at the expense of schools in urban areas. We need to support schools in all disadvantaged areas if the commitment to life chances is to be realised. That is made very clear in the report on northern schools issued this week by the IPPR North and Teach First, where the gap in secondary education for disadvantaged children is particularly highlighted.
    The northern powerhouse will be anything but unless there is a 100% commitment to adequate funding—funding for education, apprenticeships and the infrastructure that the north-east needs. It would be this kind of vision and commitment that would make a real difference.

As Queens Speech debate ends - pls read my friend + fellow MP / Dr Phillip Lee's brilliant + v funny speech seconding the Loyal Address

"I was surprised to have been given the privilege of seconding the Loyal Address this afternoon. I am not, for example, the son of a bus driver, although my father did once drive a milk float in the constituency of my hon. Friend Mr Baker. Just as an aside, why is it always the case that we have to wait so long for these sons of bus drivers, and then two come along at once?

It might be my education. I am, like the Leader of the Opposition, an ex-grammar school boy and like him, I gather, I rather screwed up my A-levels, so perhaps there is hope for me yet. Or it might be my extensive experience of PR before entering politics. As the House knows, I am a practising doctor. Unfortunately, in a medical context, PR does not stand for public relations, but is shorthand for the type of examination that involves putting on rubber gloves, applying gel and asking a man to cough. May I give my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister a little advice? If, in the future, he finds himself speaking at a medical profession dinner, under no circumstances should he tell the audience that in his life before politics he was into PR, and that he found the work very stimulating.

Many of my predecessors in this role have had a reputation for humour, so I think that it was courageous of the PM to ask a doctor to second the Loyal Address. As the House can already tell, medical humour is a famously acquired taste, and it would be all too easy to share some of the stories of which every doctor has an infinite supply—many may not be appropriate for this place and its refined audience. However, I can perhaps report on the lady who complained of, as she put it, a history of “erotic” bowels. I resisted the temptation to ask whether her erotic symptoms were erratic in nature. Or the elderly man who said that his secret for looking so healthy was to do Kama Sutra exercises every morning, only to be corrected by his wife: “Gareth, I think you mean Tai Chi!” If colleagues do not think that I deliver this speech very well today, just be grateful that we are not holding this debate at a weekend, when I understand from some that doctors do not perform as well.

I had hoped that my medical background would be an advantage in politics, but I have been disappointed. My first disappointment came when I stood for election as the Conservative party’s candidate in Blaenau Gwent. I am not sure that Nick Smith is with us today, but I am sure he would agree that sporting a blue rosette outside the Tredegar Kwik Save takes a certain type of character: mostly delusional, and perhaps even masochistic. In fact, the president of my constituency association, Mr Rob Stanton, was elected to Wokingham Borough Council with more votes than I received at that election. However, I was able to comfort myself with the fact that my modest 816 votes nevertheless represented the biggest swing to the Conservative party of any candidate in Wales that night. In retrospect, I should have taken more note of the lady in Abertillery market who, when I asked her why she supported Labour, replied, “Don’t you get complicated with me!”

Delivering this speech is, of course, really an honour for the constituency of Bracknell, which I am privileged to represent. It is a particular honour in this year of Her Majesty’s 90th birthday. The constituency has long-standing royal links. It is proud to host the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, which celebrated its bicentenary in 2012 and has trained successive generations of British, Commonwealth and international officers serving in Her Majesty’s Army and elsewhere around the world. My constituents also enjoy access to the extensive woodland of Swinley forest, which is wonderfully maintained by the Crown Estate. With its vibrant economy and town centre regeneration, the Bracknell constituency has a very bright future.

This is the 63rd Gracious Speech that Her Majesty has given since her accession to the throne. On this occasion, it is apt to look back to Her Majesty’s first Gracious Speech and at the changes that there have been since. The preservation of peace was the first emphasis in 1952. Our country was still recovering from war. The grandfather of my right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames was Prime Minister. The nationalisation of iron and steel was the subject of heated debate. Slums had to be cleared and people housed. This led to the creation of new towns, of which Bracknell was one. Communicable diseases such as tuberculosis challenged our young health service. Abroad, closer unions were foreseen to cement the ties on which peace depended: with the United States of America, with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, with the Commonwealth and with a recovering Europe.

The vision of the post-war political generation was a big vision: of a country that would never again suffer the insecurity and hardship experienced by those who had to pick up arms and fight for our existence; of every person being able to get a chance in life—of health, education and employment; and of a society that is fair, just and free, in which freedoms are earned because we value our country, our environment, our world, and in which rights are balanced by responsibilities, for each other and for ourselves; and, most importantly, to prepare for the future. Variations of this vision have guided successive Governments ever since, with varying degrees of success.

The generation Her Majesty addressed in 1952 had fought for that vision, displaying a deep consciousness throughout our nation that individual lives are fleeting: that we must take care of the world we inherit—conserve it—so that we pass something better to our children; that we achieve more by coming together with our neighbours, with our friends and with our former enemies by respecting our riches, and each other; and that humanity is the vital bond without which our society, globally and nationally, our communities and our families will disintegrate.

On a personal level, I am humbled by the experiences of that wartime generation. My grandfather was under fire at the age of 20, in the tail end of a Halifax bomber. I also recall caring for an 89-year-old Polish patient who was short of breath and experiencing angina. He had taken the time to put on a tie and a suit adorned with military ribbons, and he apologised for taking up my time. I asked him about his military experience. He told me that his village in eastern Poland had been overrun by the Soviets in 1939. He was deported to a Siberian work camp and, in his own words, wore the same socks for two years. He was handed over the British in 1942 in Baghdad, and fought with Montgomery’s 8th Army across north Africa and up the spine of Italy via Monte Cassino. When reflecting on his heroic story, I humbly ask whether my generation would display the same values, the same stoicism, the same modesty, the same courage, and the same respect for others, and I recall his loyalty to his adopted country.

The closest I have come to fighting has been as a doctor battling ageing, obesity and the challenges of cultural dislocation. In the course of Her Majesty’s reign, life expectancy has increased by a decade. The percentage of people aged over 85 has grown by a factor of five. The world’s population has virtually trebled, and our own has gone up by a third. The proportion of our population of foreign birth has more than trebled, albeit from a low base. It is clear that we must not only treat the symptoms of the challenges that come with such marked change, but strive to cure their causes. That is why this Government’s commitment to helping to improve the life chances of those who have the misfortune to be born or raised in circumstances over which they have no control is admirable and right.

The generation Her Majesty addresses today must rediscover the values of the past to face an ever-accelerating pace of change. It is a world that is more connected and more conscious of its differences, but also more conscious of what we have in common than ever before. This time, we have the opportunity to rediscover those values peacefully, and the important legislation outlined in this Gracious Speech will help us to do so. The challenge of overcoming extremism without compromising our humanity is one that deserves the support of the whole House. My right hon. and good Friend the Home Secretary knows that dealing with our society’s failure to integrate some communities will be integral.

The space industry received the attention it deserves as one of Britain’s most successful industries with a power to inspire that is unmatched. I am sure that all members of the previous Parliament recall that I mentioned the UK space industry in my maiden speech in 2010. As British astronaut Tim Peake was a graduate of Sandhurst, I am shamelessly going to claim him as having been educated in my constituency. As such, I am concerned for his welfare. Tim is due back from the international space station just before the EU referendum vote, but if he is slightly delayed, and the country votes to leave in June, he need not worry about getting home, since the European Space Agency sits outside the European Union. Seriously, though, the Government’s support of the space industry will help to secure Britain as a globally recognised centre for high technology, whether we are inside or outside the European Union.

Finally, some hon. Members will know that I have kept my own counsel on June’s big European event, but the time is fast approaching when I feel I should make my position clear, if only to deal with the alarming possibility that as time moves on, I and other hon. Members who have taken a similar approach will have to deal with the advances of two charming men, one with blond hair and one with spectacles, approaching us in the Members’ Lobby to ask when we are coming out. I can see no good reason why we should exit—at least not before the semi-finals, and preferably not after the pain of extra time and a penalty shoot-out.

Keeping up with change is a tough enough job for any Government. Conservative Governments do not just want to keep up; they want to do better. That is why I am not only privileged to represent the good people of the Bracknell constituency, but proud to second this motion on the Gracious Speech."

Northumberland County Show - Bank Holiday Monday May 30 - have you decided to go yet? Fun for all the family

There is no show like the county show, and it is bigger and better than ever this year.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Make your own mind up - but do read the report: shock or severe shock? The Treasury analysis of the short term impact of Brexit is here

The Treasury’s analysis of the short-term impact of Brexit offers us two scenarios for the two years following the referendum: a base ‘shock’ and a ‘severe shock’ scenario. The base case means 3.6pc less economic growth in the two years following Brexit, with inflation up 2.3 percentage points and house prices down 10pc.
The full report is here:

Monday, 23 May 2016

Universal Credit a positive local change in Northumberland to the way we provide welfare support

The Universal Credit is a key part of this Government’s welfare reforms, replacing six benefits with one monthly payment. It is designed to sweep away the complexities and traps of the previous system, to ensure work always pays.
We are making positive progress. Those on Universal Credit compared to the old system spend around 50% more time looking for a job, are 13% more likely to be in work, and are twice as likely to be looking to increase their hours.
I am proud that we have reached this important milestone. Universal Credit is now in all 712 jobcentres across the country for single jobseekers, giving them the right incentives to move into work. In the system Universal Credit is replacing, at certain points, for example at 16 hours of work, work simply doesn’t pay. Universal Credit ends this – as earnings increase, Universal Credit payments reduce at a steady rate, so claimants can be sure they will always be better off working and earning more.
Crucially, it also gives people the tools they need to change their lives for the better. Universal Credit claimants are given a dedicated work coach, to mentor and support people into work. And, for the first time, that work coach will stay with a person once they are in work, helping them increase their hours, earn more – and eventually move off benefits completely.
I have seen the motivation and dedication of these work coaches first hand, and the real difference they are making to people’s lives. I encourage colleagues and councillors to visit their local jobcentres to see for themselves how Universal Credit is giving people a helping hand, rather than leaving them trapped on benefits.
This is all part of a wider package to make sure people on low pay keep more of the money they earn in work: raising the tax-free personal allowance to £12,500 by 2020, doubling free childcare to 30 hours a week; and introducing the National Living Wage, which will give someone working full-time on the minimum wage a £5,000 pay rise by 2020.
There is more work to do as we continue Universal Credit’s expansion to all claimants.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Brilliant article by William Hague on Trump+ the implausibility of Brexit

"Donald Trump does not have the encumbrance of policies, with details attached, costs identified and implications analysed. He only has general statements, which he modifies or abandons as necessary: a recipe for an easy campaign and a catastrophic government. Similarly, the Leave campaign does not have an agreed alternative to put into action following a victory on June 23; the consequences will somehow be sorted out later. Any plan has been quickly abandoned when criticised: first we were going to be like Canada, then like Albania. Now we are just going to have “access to the single market”, which means: be like all the countries whose goods have to clear EU customs, have EU tariffs added to them, and are subjected to EU standards, without having any influence over what they might be. The Leave campaign is really the Trump campaign with better hair."
The full article so you an make your own judgement is here:

Friday, 20 May 2016

The Royal Institute of British Architects awards two amazing Tynedale homes

Two homes in Tynedale have won the prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) North East awards. The RIBA Regional Awards celebrate the best of architectural design across England and Wales.

A home on Edge Hill was bestowed one of the RIBA North East Regional Awards, and also won special prizes for RIBA North East Building of the Year and RIBA North East Client of the Year. https://www.architecture.com/Awards/Awards2016/RegionalAwards/NorthEast/EdgeHill.aspx

A home in Hexham was awarded a RIBA North East Regional prize, and special prizes for RIBA North Project Architect of the Year and the RIBA North Sustainability Award. https://www.architecture.com/Awards/Awards2016/RegionalAwards/NorthEast/ThePaise.aspx

Congratulations, to both home owners, and the respective architects!

Prime Minister sets out the case for Remain in the Mirror newspaper


Thursday, 19 May 2016

Details of the future years business in parliament set out in yesterdays Queens Speech by Her Majesty

HM The Queen has delivered the Queen’s Speech 2016.


This is a One Nation Queen’s Speech from a One Nation Government. It uses the opportunity of a strengthening economy to deliver security for working people, increase life chances for the most disadvantaged and strengthen our national security.


Deliver security for working people

This is the next step in our long-term economic plan for our country. Whether it is continuing to bring the public finances under control so that Britain lives within its means; delivering the infrastructure that British business needs to carry on creating jobs; making our country a world leader in the digital economy; spreading prosperity across our country and building a Northern Powerhouse; or supporting aspiration by promoting home ownership, this is a Queen’s Speech that delivers on the Government’s promise of providing security at every stage of people’s lives.  

  • Digital Economy Bill. To help create jobs, we will make Britain a world leader in the digital economy, with new obligations on broadband providers to make sure everyone in Britain has access to an affordable high speed internet connection. 
  • Modern Transport Bill. This Bill will put Britain at the forefront of the modern transport revolution, so that we create new jobs and fuel economic growth around the country. It will include legislation to enable the future development of the UK’s first commercial spaceports and new laws to make the UK ready to pioneer driverless cars. 
  • Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill. This Bill will reform planning and give local communities more power and control to shape their own area. That means we can build more houses and give everyone who works hard the chance to buy their own home. 
  • Local Growth and Jobs Bill. We want to make sure every part of our country shares in our rising prosperity. This Bill is the biggest change in local finance for decades, giving local authorities full control of the money they raise through business rates, so they can attract business and investment to their local areas. It will include a transfer of up to £13 billion to councils through allowing them to retain 100 per cent of the business rates they collect.
Increase life chances for the most disadvantaged

At the heart of this Queen’s Speech are bold reforms that tackle some of the deepest social problems in our country and remove all barriers to opportunity. Giving children in care the best possible start in life, reforming our prisons; transforming the education system, and helping people save – this is a Queen’s Speech aimed at giving everyone in our country the chance to get on. 
  • Children and Social Work Bill. This Bill aims to improve the standard of social work and opportunities for young people in care in England, so that we give all of them the hope of a better life. It will include changes to the considerations that courts must take into account in adoption decisions, tipping the balance in favour of permanent adoption where that is the right thing for the child, and new system of regulating social workers. 
  • Education for All Bill. This Bill is the next phase of our transformation of education, extending the principles of freedom and accountability across the country so that we encourage excellence everywhere and give every child the best start in life. It will include new laws to expand the academies programme in the poorest performing local authority areas and a new funding formula to deliver fair funding for every school and pupil in the country.
  • Higher Education and Research Bill. This Bill encourages the new universities that will help educate the next generation, so that we give more young people – from all backgrounds – the opportunity to go to university. It will include measures to make it easier for new high quality universities to open and new requirements on all universities to publish detailed information about application, offer and progression rates to put a spotlight on social mobility. 
  • Prisons and Courts Reform Bill. This Bill represents the biggest reform of our prisons since Victorian times, ensuring they are not just a place of punishment but also rehabilitation, so everyone has the chance to get on the right track. It will include new powers for prison governors to allow them unprecedented levels of control over all aspects of prison management. 
  • Lifetime Savings Bill. This Bill helps people to save and make plans for the future, so we build the financial resilience and security of people across the country – especially the young and those on low incomes. It will include the new Help to Save scheme and a new Lifetime ISA for young people.  
  • National Citizen Service Bill. This Bill will see the expansion of the Government’s hugely successful National Citizen Service so more young people can mix with people of other backgrounds, and learn what it means to serve their community. 
Strengthen our national security

The first duty of Government is to keep our country safe.  So this is a Queen’s Speech that invests in Britain’s armed forces, secures the long-term future of our nuclear deterrent and gives our security and intelligence agencies the powers they need to keep us safe. 

  • Bill of Rights. This Bill will support and reinforce Britain’s long-standing commitment to human rights and restore common sense to the way human rights law is applied. It will include measures to reform and modernise the UK human rights framework, and protections against abuse of the system and misuse of human rights laws.

  • Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill. This Bill gives law enforcement agencies new powers to protect vulnerable people – including children – from those who seek to brainwash them with extremism propaganda, so we can build a stronger society around our shared liberal values of tolerance and respect.
  • Criminal Finances Bill. This Bill will cement the UK’s leading role in the fight against international corruption, cracking down on money laundering and people profiting from crime, so that we root out corruption. It will include a new criminal offence for corporations that fail to stop staff facilitating tax evasion.
  • Policing and Crime Bill. This Bill is the next phase in our reform of the police, reforming out-of-date complaints and disciplinary procedures, so we increase public confidence in the people who keep us safe. It will include a new duty to collaborate on all three emergency services, to improve efficiency and effectiveness. 
  • Investigatory Powers Bill. This Bill will fill holes in our security apparatus so that we give law enforcement agencies the tools they need to protect the public in the digital age, while building confidence in the public that powers are operated sensibly.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Delighted to see Prison Reform at the heart of the Queens Speech - with governors getting more power over local prisons

One of Europe's biggest jails, HMP Wandsworth, is among six institutions where governors will be given new powers over budgets and setting the daily regime.
Satellite tracking tags which monitor the movements of offenders using GPS technology will be piloted in eight police areas from September, in a move which could see prisoners become weekend inmates and spend the rest of the week at home as they hold down jobs as they prepare for their release.
Prisons will also be forced to publish statistics on education, reoffending and inmates' employment on release.
The Guardian, outlines how the government will also adopt the findings of a review of education in prisons, which will recommend allowing inmates to use iPads in their cells to "learn independently" and stay in touch with friends and family via Skype.

Deal on junior doctors pay dispute is v welcome but remember we in Northumbria NHS have junior doctor/consultants on a 7 day system already

I am well known for my support for the NHS, not least as I owe my life several times over to the NHS, and my grandmother was a hospital matron. And I delighted to hear from the BBC
that the junior doctors dispute over weekend pay will soon be resolved. All other concerns over 3 + years of negotiations have been met. The fair point to make is that the issue of Saturday pay sees doctors being offered a better deal than all other comparable services like Police, Ambulance, paramedics etc. Their increased pay also comes out of the overall NHS pot of money, which has gone up under this government, but is still stretched. Given a limited financial pot of taxpayer’s money many of my other constituents are asking why should junior doctors be paid more than other public professionals?
Most importantly, we already have a pilot project of 7 day NHS – here in Northumberland. The Cramlington Emergency Care Hospital operates a 365 days per year consultant and junior doctor cover: this is a true 7 day NHS. This is the model for the future that does not presently exist in the rest of the NHS. So anyone calling for a pilot project can see examples here in Northumberland ,or at the Salford Hospital in Manchester. I have been to Cramlington several times and met the teams of doctors, consultants and nurses. Although there have been teething problems the system work very well. Health outcomes are better.
I would make four other key points:

Firstly, the health service is now treating more people, has more doctors, more nurses and even more midwives. The funding is going up and it remains free at the point of delivery. This will never change. There is no privatisation or forced payment agenda, and anyone who says so is simply scaremongering. However, the NHS rightly gets value for your and my taxpayers funding and long may that continue. The Government’s financial commitment to the NHS has already seen a like-for-like increase of 10,700 more hospital nurses and 10,100 more doctors. Despite the pressure on national finances, last year’s spending review committed the Government to a £10 billion real-terms increase in the annual NHS budget by 2020. By the end of the Parliament, the supply of doctors trained to work in the NHS will have increased by a further 11,000+. While it is true that pressures on the NHS will continue to increase on the back of an ageing population, we are not saying that the current workforce will have to bear all the strain of delivering a seven-day service, even though, of course, they must play their part.

Secondly, there is a concern that the Government may want to see all NHS services operating seven days a week. Let me be clear: our plans are not about elective care, but about improving the consistency of urgent and emergency care at evenings and weekends. To do this, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has prioritised four key clinical standards that need to be met. These include: making sure patients are seen by a senior decision maker no more than 14 hours after arrival at hospital; seven-day availability of diagnostic tests with a one-hour turnaround for the most critically ill patients; 24-hour access to consultant-directed interventions, such as interventional radiology or endoscopy; and twice daily reviews of patients in high dependency areas, such as intensive care units. About one quarter of the country will be covered by trusts meeting these standards from next April, rising to the whole country by 2020.

Thirdly, there is the concern that proper seven-day services need support services for doctors over the weekends and evenings, as much as doctors themselves. Less than half of hospitals are currently meeting the standard on weekend diagnostic services, meaning patients needing urgent or emergency tests on a Saturday or Sunday, such as urgent ultrasounds for gallstones or diagnostics for acute heart failure, face extra hours in hospital at weekends or even days of anxiety waiting for weekday tests. Our new standards will change this, with senior clinician-directed diagnostic tests available seven days a week for all hospitals by 2020.

Finally, there is a legitimate concern that a seven-day NHS needs to apply to services offered outside hospitals if we are properly to reduce the pressure on struggling A and E departments. So, as announced last month, the Government’s seven-day NHS will also see transformed services through our GPs. We are committing an extra £2.4 billion a year for GP services by 2020-21, meaning that spending will rise from £9.6 billion last year to over £12 billion by 2021—a 14% real-terms increase. Thanks to this significant investment, patients will see a genuine transformation in how general practice services operate in England. By 2020, everyone should have easier and more convenient access to GP services, including at evenings and weekends. We will not be asking all GP practices to open at weekends to deliver this commitment, but instead using networks of practices to make sure that people can get an evening or weekend appointment, even if not at their regular practice. We have committed to recruiting an additional 5,000 doctors to work in general practice to help meet this commitment, and we will support GPs in this transformation by harnessing technology toreduce bureaucratic burdens.

I am delighted that there appears to be a resolution to this dispute. 

Widespread delight at agreement to the Devolution deal - this is good news!

I have long argued for a regional Mayor for the North East. This will now go ahead in May 2017. But don't take my word for it - here is what the regions biggest business organisation says:

James Ramsbotham, Chief Executive, North East Chamber of Commerce said: “It is very positive to see the North East Combined Authority pressing ahead with a devolution deal,  just as the Tees Valley is.   The North East has huge assets including our export record, energy expertise and world class sectors such as subsea and automotive.  Our economy, however, is still performing below its potential and it is clear we need to do things differently. Devolution is an important part of that.
“This deal will allow us to tailor policies in areas like skills and infrastructure investment to the economic condition of the North East.  We need to harness all the expertise in the region to make a success of this, and we will be working with our elected representatives in the months ahead to ensure the business community can make a strong and positive contribution.”

Schools and education update - progress in turning around local schools and a Ponteland / Whitfield update

Whilst Northumberland County Council run the schools in the Hexham constituency the key issues that I can help with is school funding, general support to our local schools, and trying to act as  a middle man between the Northumberland County Council and parents. I am not responsible for the education of the children locally, but I have visited every school in the area - which equals over 40+ schools - some many more times than others, and have long campaigned for fairer funding for our schools. This has seen a 6% increase in school funding and this long term problem is slowly changing the way our local schools are funded. School funding has been my focus and thanks to the Fairer Funding Campaign, which is cross party and based upon the long term disparity between Northumberland and other areas we are making a difference.
Parents who I have met and / or have written to me in Northumberland want their children, when they leave first / primary schools, to be able to write neatly and legibly, spell correctly, read confidently, be able to add up, take away, multiply and divide, know all of their times tables by heart, mix well with other children, realise that they in themselves have lots of potential, and have a thirst for knowledge that they can develop in their Middle and High school career. The key point is the best education for the children. 

But we cannot deny that the quality of education provided by the NCC has struggled of late. There are a number of schools in our area that have been struggling, with some in special measures the key examples are Haydon Bridge High School, Haltwhistle, and Whitfield Primary. This does not mean that such schools cannot be turned around - over the last 5 years I have played a small role / been part of the attempts to address the problems at Prudhoe Community High School and Otterburn First School, both of which were temporarily in special measures. But I look today at the new build at Prudhoe High School, which I long campaigned for, and the school assembly I recently addressed there, and I see true change, with an inspirational head and genuinely motivated teaching staff. 

So I am disappointed by the events in Ponteland as there is no doubt that Ponteland Middle School is an outstanding school in many ways. One has to ask at Ponteland if the destruction of 3 tier is the right thing to do? I don't think so,  and have campaigned against the original proposal, as the support group and local councillors know. The consequences of the action of the NCC, if they had gone ahead with the closure, would be to have got rid of one of the best school in the area. And it is one of the best schools on so many levels. This is not a proposal that I support, as I have repeatedly made clear both at the 10 Schools Consultation, in conversation with parents and governors, and on the blog: http://guyopperman.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/update-on-county-council-approach-to.html.

Update: Subsequently to the original NCC proposal the Ponteland Middle School was granted academy status, which means that the school will survive long term. I recently met local parents all of whom were supportive of the school on an ongoing basis. 

I recently went to Whitfield, and held a long meeting with John Blackett Ord, who owns the building, many of the governors, some of the parents, and the rest of the support group. We spoke for several hours and subsequently have worked to secure both
- an extension of the consultation period
- and the granting of an academy order.
Both these matters have now been sorted. It remains the case that Whitfield needs to find a suitable partner, and to prove it is making sufficient progress in all the ways that such a school needs which has struggled needs to show. There is no doubting the desire locally to save the school. But the key point is that Whitfield will be open in September 2016. I am helping in whatever way I can, and am in regular contact with the key players. 

In relation to Haydon Bridge and Haltwhistle schools I have made it clear I support the turnaround of the schools with outside support. I have met some of the parents, governors and teachers of both schools. I have also met the team behind Bright Tribe who are keen to help. I believe they are a good team and will provide the support to the schools that they have lacked for some time. 
On top of this I have held repeated meetings / conversations with the DFE and the Church of England representatives, where applicable. There is a collective will to try and provide solutions to the complexities of education in rural Northumberland, which has struggled for some time. 

Aside from the schools themselves I have been asked by a number parents about the recent testing of children. The vast majority of schools, parents - and the children - are in favour of testing and have no complaint about the attempts to drive up standards. There is a robust group who oppose the more rigorous testing, and the change that is going with this. It should be understood that KS 1+2 testing has been in place since 1994, and exists fundamentally as a test of the school, not the pupil. Successive governments have agreed this is the right way forward and I do not believe there is any real opposition to this in parliament, on any side of the political fence. 
I do believe that standardised testing of children through the primary and junior years, and the insistence on driving up standards, remains vital. This is especially true when we are struggling academically when compared to our international neighbours.
According to the most recent PISA tests of 15-year-olds in 65 different countries, the UK comes 26th in maths and 23rd in reading. As one commentator has put it – “when the English are worse at English than the Chinese, you know you’re in trouble.
Testing is a vital part of teaching: it is the most accurate way, bar none, that a teacher, school or parent can know whether a pupil has or has not understood vital subject content. What is more, the process of taking a test actually improves pupil knowledge and understanding. As such, testing should be a routine and normalised part of school life. When the time for national curriculum assessments comes around, pupils should be entirely accustomed to the process. 
Many of the reforms that we are addressing now began under the Coalition Liberal / Conservative government from 2010-2015 and are being continued under this Conservative government.  
In 2011, we conducted a review of the primary curriculum to ensure that it was closer to the curriculums being taught in the most successful education systems in the world. The review was overseen by the national curriculum review panel, which was made up of highly experienced headteachers and teachers in this country. We introduced the phonics check to ensure that six-year-olds were learning to read properly, and as a consequence of that reform 120,000 six-year-olds are reading more effectively today. We reviewed the reading curriculum—the English curriculum—to ensure that children became fluent readers who developed a habit of reading for pleasure. We reformed the maths curriculum so that children learn how to perform long multiplication by year 5 and long division by year 6, and so that they know their multiplication tables—up to 12 by 12—by heartby the end of year 4. Our Government are determined to address those issues. We have taken clear action to strengthen the primary curriculum, to ensure that children today are being taught the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy that are vital for their future success. There are some who say that tests are inherently wrong, that we should not test children and that we are creating a regime that is overly stressful. I disagree. One reason why some people regard the assessment this year as challenging is that there are questions in it that previously were not included in the standard test. They were called level 6 tests and were taken separately. We now include those challenging tests within this test so that schools can get credit for the progress of children who start their school with high levels of prior attainment.
There is a legitimate argument / criticism that there was a delay in the release of the writing tests, and problems with a leaked grammar test, and further I accept that the paper is harder, as level 6 questions are included with the level 3-5 questions. But this is a decision done on the back of advice from a lot of education experts, and is done for a reason; put simply, we wish to drive up standards.  Clearly, however, the DFE and the Education Select Committee will look at the process and review it once results come in. Finally I should comment on one key issue that has made the news lately: for my part, I do not believe it is right to take a child out of school, except in exceptional circumstances.  
I would like to finish by making the point, which is oft forgotten, that there are more teachers—450,000—in the profession today than there have been in history. There are over 10,000 more teachers today than there were in 2010, and over 12,000 returners came into the teaching profession last year, which is more than the 11,000 who came in a few years before that.
I fully accept that this is a new process and that there have been teething problems, but I remain utterly supportive of the need to drive up standards, raise expectations and provide children with the skills they are going to need in a very competitive world.  As always if anyone wants to raise any issue with the points that I have attempted to address in an all encompassing blog they should contact me on teamoppy@gmail.com. I have already spoken to dozens of parents, governors and teachers on all these issues over the last 3-4 months.