Friday, 30 September 2016

The 3 local authorities north of the Tyne have a great opportunity with devolution.

I am a strong believer in Northern Devolution and am sure that this is too good an opportunity for the 3 northern local authorities of Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside to turn down. Hard to disagree with the front page of the Journal from last Saturday.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Hexham Courant report of our recent #JobsFair

The evidence is overwhelming that both the employers and the visitors who came looking for work, apprenticeships, and future opportunities found the event really positive. We will do it bigger and better next year

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Tannery in Hexham shows what makes a successful local pub

What makes a good pub? How do you attract locals to a former unloved boozer? How do you appeal to a broad cross section of the local community thereby making the enterprise commercially viable? How do you survive in an era where pub usage competes with supermarket bought at home drinking, and justified but financially punitive drink driving and anti smoking laws?
I have no qualifications on this issue but based upon a lot of observations and chats to locals I think I can explain a bit.
I have been engaged on an assessment of local pubs both for work and pleasure since 2010, when I became the MP. I have visited pretty much every pub in my massive 1000+ square mile community from the most northerly pub, the First and Last just inside of the Scottish border in Redesdale, to the Lord Crewe in Blamchland and the Allenheads Inn on the southern Durham border. From the Ridley Arms in Stannington in the east, to the Holly Bush Pub and the Pheasant Inn on the edge of remote Kielder Forest.
It has been an exhaustive study, but great fun!
To be fair I am a big real ale man so any pub that supports this gets my vote. I have recently supported and helped reopen several local pubs - notably the Dyvels in Corbridge which is doing well, with good beer and nice people running it:

But it is clear that today's consumer wants something special from his pub. The old style spit and sawdust pub can survive, but it is difficult. You need an edge, a selling point, a trademark. 
The Dipton Mill Inn is very very good, but probably thebest ale pub of them all, for example, is the Boat House in Wylam which takes beer so seriously is has up to 18 ales at any one time: 

Different places want different things, so it is not for me to prescribe what works in Prudhoe (The Falcon is doing very well with its Carvery) or out in the sticks - but pubs like the Barrasford Arms, the Rat in Anick, and the Feathers in Hedley, are all doing very very well; and the Battlesteads in Wark is probably the most successful pub / small hotel in the county. All have found their model. Others are struggling and there are pubs closing all across the country, and in Northumberland. But there are clearly very successful local town pubs. For an example of this I would urge you to go to The Tannery inHexham, which I helped relaunch last Friday, with the owner and the support group from Punch. I have got to know Punch very well over the last few years, as they have rebuilt and renovated a number of key local pubs, and even hotels like the County Hotel. It is hard to argue against their commitment to our area, their financial investment, and their use of local tradesmen / builders where possible, and their general support. Without their investment many fine institutions would have withered and died - for example the County Hotel which was shut for years, and rebuilt at massive cost. I confess an interest, as they also have for two years helped sponsor the Hexham Jobs Fair which I have run to get more young (and older) people into work and apprenticeships.  
But go back to the Tannery. This pub was really struggling before Dave took it over. It is now packed, and it is easy to see why. 
Start with the beer - a great place to start! 6 proper ales on hand pump is rare, and the quality is excellent. I would go myself just for the ale, and it is better than most other pubs on beer.  Add in plenty of ciders and speciality gins and good wine and you have an offer that clearly appeals. But the renovation has added a great garden area and table tennis table out back, and the food is consistently very good. 
But it is the attention to detail and the quirkiness that impress about the Tannery. It is bright and open, with the best toilets for miles around as one discerning female punter described the newest addition! One male punter on Friday described how "the quirkiness makes the place feel like a much loved room in your home" - and Dave has great plans to add a train that will go all around the bar. This has got to be seen, as it is clearly no normal train! I wish the team behind the Tannery pub well. It is a big addition to Hexham. Their Twitter account is worth a follow on its own. Find it here:

Monday, 26 September 2016

Really positive morning spent last Friday at Haltwhistle First and Middle School

Pictured with Mrs Susie Drake, and Dr Judith Greene, in the grounds of Haltwhistle First School.  There is no doubt that the team at Haltwhistle Community Campus have really begun to turn the school around. With a new team of headteachers, working with a enthusiastic governing body, there is a different atmosphere and a positivity at the school. I stayed for lunch with the children - my favourite pupil was the young lady from Haltwhistle who was keen to study Astro Physics at Harvard. Now that is aspiration, and all credit to her. This is a school that is on the up. I also did a surgery and door knocking in the town on Saturday. Good responses all round.

Friday, 23 September 2016

When Corbyn wins will his Momentum supporters will turn their attention to "the #172" - the 172 labour MPs who defied #Corbyn

"Labour / Leftwing politics will be subsumed into a struggle against “the 172” – the number of MPs who voted no confidence in the leadership "
This is the Guardian speaking not me. They sum up the problem here: 
"A movement that aspires to succeed has to begin by accepting that most people don’t think like it. It must obsess not over why people agree with it but why millions don’t.
It must focus its resources on seeking converts, not traitors. It must avoid becoming a subculture with its own language and rites, all of which are bemusing and alien to most people. It must spend every spare moment debating and discussing a strategy to victory, not confusing the enthusiasm of a minority for a plan to win. It must project an image of positivity, optimism and inclusivity, not of anger, bitterness and vengeance. It must make the average punter feel as though they could easily be part of the movement, without feeling they’ve signed up to a never-ending exam that other activists are always waiting for them to fail.
Most people have spent the last three months slogging away at their job, going to the seaside, having after-work drinks, picking their kids up after school – getting on with their lives. Let’s be blunt. If members of the public are even paying attention to Labour’s car crash – and most have switched channel – “freakshow” is probably one of their kinder words."
The full guardian article is here:
The question is which way does the Labour Party go post a Corbyn win? I know where I think it is going. It is genuinely not good if it does do this either for the party's sake or the 
country. All countries need a functioning opposition. Labour is not it.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Worlds Biggest Coffee Morning - which event will you support for the Macmillan Coffee Morning?

Tomorrow and next Friday September 30th homes, schools and offices up and down the country will be doing their bit for cancer support. What are you going to do? Have your friends round? Organise a village hall or work event? Get your school to do an event? I have been to many of these events down the years and they are always amazing. My thanks to all the local community businesses and pubs who have already got involved. I shall be supporting several such events over the next ten days.

Roman shoe fashions discovered at Vindolanda. More reasons to go visit the roman site on Hadrian wall

Archaeologists were left stunned when they uncovered a near 2,000-year-old shoe which looks just like the Adidas Predator football boot famously worn by David Beckham.
The distinctive ridges on the shoe's outer shell and curved space for laces winding down to the toe give it an uncanny resemblance to the 21st century trainer.
The ancient sneaker was discovered in a ditch at Roman fort Vindolanda close to Hexham, Northumberland.
Staff soon realised it looked more like a modern day football boot than a shoe worn almost two millennia ago. 
Full story here:

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Financial services forum: lessons in behavioural economics, simplicity, the nudge factor and more

The science of behavioural economics has fundamental application to business and the choices we make in our purchases, our brand loyalty and our interpretation of a customer experience. But it also has massive application to government, politics and how the state interacts with its population.
For 2 days I have been studying (and speaking) at the Financial Services Forum. When I spoke I particularly focused on the creation and significance of the Tynedale Community Bank, which I, and others, helped launch last November after a 4 year struggle to get it off the ground.
For those interested in the bank there are reports of our launch and links to our website here:

More recently the team were able to update the Northumberland community with progress as reported here:

Present at the forum were some of the biggest financial service providers with major representatives from big insurers to banks and all aspects of FS. Full credit to the FSF. But the speakers brought in to make us think differently and reassess our lives and businesses were particularly fascinating. I would happily hear them all again, and took copious notes.
4 in particular stood out:

Paul Craven discussed and set out the details of Nudge Theory: his talk "What makes a good Nudge?" was fascinating: examples of Nudge theory are many but always astounding.
- the university of Newcastle did a power of the unconscious when doing an honesty bowl - where there was a picture of a pair of eyes next to the honesty bowl people paid more than when there was no eyes next to them. The theory of this is the power of suggestion on the brain. Nothing is said. There is simply a pair of eyes "watching over you". And yet this makes people more honest. Likewise:
- where you put a picture of someone's car on the form when the person receive a fine for the actions of that car / driver, the individual is more likely to pay than if you send them a straightforward bill. The French authorities saw a massive rise in payments by putting a picture of the offending car on the bill.
- I smiled and loved the sign as you enter a restaurant that says:
"Please remember to turn your phone back on when you leave the restaurant." This worked to persuade people gently to turn off their phones by a positive suggestion, rather than the usual - Turn your phone off!
- opt in or opt out of organ donation: if you ask people to opt in very few do. If you ask people to opt out of organ donation then they rarely do refuse to donate. It is the same question just asked in a different way.
- hospital and doctor appointment texts the day before the appointment greatly increase attendance.
- in hospitals hand sanitisers are rarely used by members of the public. Yet if you put up a sign in such a hospital that says "here we use hand disinfective in order to protect your relatives" - the result is massive increase in such usage.
In some companies they have got people to sign an affirmation of the truth of the contents of a document eg a tax return or expenses claim - at the start of the document then it will be way more accurate and truthful than if someone has to sign such an affirmation of truth at the end of the document.

And Philip Davies, of Siegel + Gale, is clearly a king of brand management. He discussed how businesses and brands attempt to make things simpler for people. His simplicity index of firms and brands and the way they go up and down was fascinating. His most simple and successful brands for 2016 were Aldi and Lidl and 1st direct.
A couple of points jumped out of his talk:
- simple is smart. Work hard to make things simple. Be ruthless in driving simplicity. Overcome complexity by having clarity in everything you do. Have a clear purpose, remove uncertainty and have engaged people.
- "strategy is about understanding future implications of today's decisions".
- In 2000 the attention span of an adult was 12 seconds. In 2015 this had reduced to 8 seconds.
By contrast, a goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds!
- His simplicity index has various rules: is it easy to understand? Is it transparent and honest? Is the customer experience good? Is it innovative and fresh? and finally is it useful?
- His definition of a great CEO ascertained that all such people had empathy, were logical and were authentic.
The advice was to entertain before you sell, to get noticed but don't disrupt, but, above all, keep it simple.

Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy + Mather took us on a 100 minute discussion of the science of knowing what economists are wrong about. His treatise on trustanomics was fascinating.
A couple of phrases jumped out at me:
- "successful innovation is behavioural change"
- "marketing is simply the signalling of faith in your own futurity"
His examples/phrases were numerous = "a flower is simply a weed with an advertising budget"
I liked his cou ter intuitive tales, like the story of the impact of reducing ticket prices on actual sales of theatre tickets (actually you sell less tickets and at a lower price!)
Yet bizarrely everyone does this because there is a bias in corporate decision making (and civil service) against innovation and a push to defensive decision making.
His conclusion that economic theory presupposes perfect understanding and trust, and therefore can often be wrong as such things rarely exist,was hard to argue with.

Finally the futurist Rohit Talwar dazzled with his assessment of what the future holds
His three horizon approach assesses:
A 1-12 month approach as to what are we bringing into land / completing in this period
A 1-3 year search for growth areas and future events
A 4-10 year understanding of future drivers.
His treatise on the
- massive likely increases in life expectancy,
- and the ever growing number of automated jobs (1 Billion more such jobs automated by computers / robots by 2030)
- and the exponential growth in artificial intelligence and its permeation into all forms of our lives at an ever faster speed is so rapid that we, as a Society, are only just beginning to grapple with both this opportunity and its consequential effects.
His advice as to How we embrace the future was clear:
1. Create a team of future scouts - involving people who don't fear change.
2. Scan the future, share the insight and shape the change.
3. Develop key insights and build key muscles
But above all simplify - that word again.

His last Moment I liked: all of us have a To Do List but none of us have a To Stop List. And we definitely need this!

Monday, 19 September 2016

Verdict on Hexham Jobs Fair is that it was a big success!

Both my small team, and all our helpers from Job Centre Plus, are recovering from the massive undertaking that was Thursday's Jobs Fair. Dozens of local businesses, third sector and public authorities provided advice, apprenticeships, opportunities and jobs to over 600 people who crammed into the Hexham Mart. Our visitors included many of the local unemployed and not just from Hexham. There was also a lot of people coming who wanted to change their job or retrain. And finally we over 150 school kids from many of the local schools from 12-18. It was a great day and my massive thanks to all the employers, the JCP staff, the sponsors Egger and Pubch, the Mart and everyone else who made it possible.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Real opportunity for the Councils north of the Tyne to forge ahead with devolution

I am unashamedly committed to devolution of powers from London to the regions. The chance to run transport, skills, and so much more including health and justice is a huge prize. So, It is very disappointing that the 4 local authorities south of the Tyne have backed out of the devolution deal. Even the Guardian are critical of the decision. This is from their article earlier in the week:

"Local government itself needs to accept a large share of the responsibility. A lot of councils across the country have spent huge amounts of time agonising about geography, mayors and rivalries, often in the belief that, if only they wait long enough, a better deal will come along. It won’t... the devolution process ... is the only game in town for local government for the foreseeable future, and Whitehall holds most of the cards."
For my part, I will be doing all I can to support devolution. 

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Jobs fair today! 10-4 at Hexham Mart - list of attending companies / organisations

B & M
Disability Confident (DWP)
Generation North East 
Go North East
Helen McArdle Care
Helping Hands
INTU - Metro Centre
Matthew Charlton - Jewson
McGinley Support Services
Sir Robert Mcapline
National Careers Service CFBT
National Parks
Natural Ability
NEEC Training
Northumberland Adult Learning
Northumberland College 
Northumberland Joinery
Princes Trust
Release Potential 
Reserve Army
Sure Start
Teleperformance Contact Centre Gateshead
Tesco Extra
Tynedale Community Bank
Walwick Hall

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

10 days to go until Labour select Corbyn or Smith - my key questions before the vote

The evidence locally is that labour members prefer Corbyn to Smith. That is their choice. I want to try and drill down as to what is the Labour offer and more specifically what is the offer by each candidate
The questions I am interested in having not been to any of the hustings with the labour candidates are
- why each candidate is preferred?
- are they the person to persuade the voters who did not vote labour to return to the fold?
- what are the 3 key policies to appeal to the middle ground where most of the voters live and have their political approach (in my experience very few people are genuinely far left or far right)
- what are they going to do to ensure we grow the british economy and support british SMEs?
- what are their approaches to NATO, defence, and the terrorist threat?
- what is their definition of brexit?
The link to one of the debates locally is here:

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Cycle to work day tomorrow - get involved and get on a bike!

Tomorrow is your chance to get back on a bike, choose one of the best forms of fitness and the best way to see the world. Don't take the car, tube or bus. Try and cycle to work.
Details of the plan and why it matters are found here:

Monday, 12 September 2016

Westminster this week - a lot happening in the commons, constituents here and a charity quiz

Today in the commons is packed with defence questions, an education statement and then the final stages of the Wales Bill. Tomorrow we have the digital economy bill and multiple other debates in the  other parts of the House. I have constituents like Bob Paton down meeting ministers today and a variety of other constituency related meetings.
I am doing a lot of other stuff in this busy week, notably hosting the charity quiz in the commons tonight in aid of brain tumour research.
Wednesday i will be supporting and taking part in Cycle to work day first thing.
Up in Northumberland very late Wednesday night as we have the jobs and apprenticeships fair on Thursday at the Hexham mart.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Disappointed at latest setback as 4 NE councils delay devolution but still committed to making devolution happen

The news that the 4 councils south of the Tyne have put the brakes on devolution is not good news. I am certain that we should be following the example of the Labour led areas like Greater Manchester and Liverpool that have embraced devolution, greater powers over transport, skills and so much more, but it is interesting that all 3 Councils North of the Tyne, including, to their credit, my own in Northumberland, are keen to press ahead. I know that this government is absolutely committed to devolution and a massive transfer of power from Westminster to the regions. Sajid Javid could not have been clearer about this. Why the 4 south of the tyne councils do not want to proceed is a matter for them but it is not what I would advise.
The Guardian reports the story in part and in full here:
"Sajid Javid, the secretary of state for communities and local government, said he was disappointed with the decision but indicated devolution was not dead in the north-east. A spokeswoman for his department said: “It is disappointing that some north-east councils have been unwilling to support this deal, which would certainly have benefited local people. If councils in the region wish to discuss devolution proposals further, our door remains open.”

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Newly built Prudhoe High School looks amazing after massive investment

They were still unpacking last week when I went round with headteacher Deborah but there is no doubt - the High School is really going places. With great results, the first newly built school in 30 years in our area, a new uniform and approach and staff who have worked over the summer to get the school ready you cannot fail to be impressed. Very proud to have played a small part in getting the rebuild from DFE and making it happen, and sorting some teething problems along the way. This rebuild has been the plan since I got elected in May 2010 and got the then education secretary to meet our head teachers. Any pupil would be very proud to go to this school now

Monday, 5 September 2016

Westminster this week - busy week in the Commons as the new PM is in China for the G20

The Prime Minister is in China for the G20 Summit – where she is showing that Britain is a bold, confident, outward-looking country.
At this meeting of the G20, we are showing that Britain is open for business as a bold, confident, outward looking country. The Prime Minister will be highlighting that, while we will continue to play a key role on the world stage, we will be talking to other nations about the opportunities for trade around the globe that will open up for Britain following Brexit.

Our ambition is that Britain will be a global leader in free trade. We are going to make the most of the opportunities that our departure from the EU presents – getting out into the world and doing business right across the globe, while at home building a Britain that works for everyone.
In Westminster we have the Funance Bill today and tomorrow and various other debates in the house this week. I am on the bench in the house on Tuesday morning for Justice Questions with the new Lord Chancellor. This week I also have a variety of constituents coming south to London and meetings in Westminster re Northumberland. 

Friday, 2 September 2016

Hexham Abbey Music Festival in 2 weeks - still tickets available for Hexhams amazing celebration of music and art

Framed by classical music, we also explore Balkan folk music, electronics and even a live graffiti event! Our desire to provide interest and engagement for children has again been a major feature of the programming, with a series of workshops in addition to a number of child-friendly concerts and other opportunities.
As ever, we are proud to welcome a fantastic number of local musicians, both professional and amateur, who enrich the Festival. These include the Hexham Abbey Festival Chorus, the Abbey Choirs, young musicians and many others. We are grateful that, once again, Arts Council England has given full endorsement to the plans, making the Festival possible with a generous grant. We look forward to welcoming you to what promises to be a very memorable Festival.