Sunday, 29 November 2020

Investing in education at Haltwhistle Primary School

The Hexham constituency is home to so many incredible schools, and I was pleased to recently be able to visit a great local school that is looking forward to a bright future.

Haltwhistle Primary School is currently undergoing a full multi-million pound refurbishment and I was delighted to be given a tour of the school by Headteacher Susie Drake and local County Councillor Ian Hutchinson to see for myself how the work is coming together. 


The school is part of the group of WISE Academies and is expected to open in Spring 2021. 


It was fantastic to see the impact of this significant investment in the education of our local children from Northumberland County Council. The new and improved facilities will make a huge difference not only for pupils and staff, but for the wider local community as well. The refurbishment really is progressing brilliantly and I was so impressed by what I saw. 


I have no doubt that Haltwhistle Primary School is set for a positive future! 

Friday, 27 November 2020

Tier 3 explained for Northumberland

Since news emerged yesterday that Northumberland will enter Tier 3 restrictions as we leave National Restrictions, I wanted to take a moment to set out some of the data and explain why this is the case.

Tier 3 is far short of the full National Restrictions we have recently experienced, and means:

  • You can leave home for any reason, and meet with up to six people in outdoor public spaces, such as parks, beaches and public gardens.
  • All non-essential shops can re-open.
  • Indoor leisure – such as gyms – can re-open.
  • Personal care – including the hair and beauty sector – can re-open.
  • Places of worship can re-open. 
However, as a result of our increased infection rates in Northumberland, there are a number of additional restrictions in place, and some businesses will be unfortunately unable to re-open at this time.
  • Pubs, bars and restaurants will remain closed, with the exception of for takeaway and delivery.
  • Group activities cannot take place in indoor leisure.
  • Hotels and self-catered accommodation will remain closed, except for those travelling for work.
  • Wedding receptions cannot take place, though weddings are permitted.
  • Indoor entertainment venues will remain closed.
I know how tough this is going to be – especially for the hospitality industry. We have already faced additional restrictions in Northumberland since the middle of September, and nobody wanted to see these restrictions last this long.

Infection rates in Northumberland and the Tyne Valley

Over the last few days, many people have asked me why we are being ‘lumped in’ with Newcastle, and other urban areas such as Gateshead. Many people have also told me that cases in Northumberland are lower than elsewhere, or that it is cases in Blyth and Ashington are dragging us into Tier 3.

Across the County, our cases per 100,000 sit at 189.8. A significant number of wards within the Hexham Constituency have higher or similar rates to this, as you can see from the chart below.


Although infection rates have fallen in recent days, we do have to face the fact that cases in Northumberland continue to be extremely high. The sad reality is that Northumberland would be in Tier 3 on its own infection rates, and rates in much of the Tyne Valley are similar to the rest of Northumberland.

Some have argued they would like to see specific wards removed from the restrictions. This would, however, be unworkable. We all travel across the Tyne Valley on a regular basis for shopping, education, work – and indeed, to socialise. There would be little to stop somebody from a high infection area (where pubs would be closed), visiting pubs in a low infection area (where they would be open).

This would be unfair on local residents and would simply not work. We could not put additional restrictions in place in Prudhoe, but not Wylam, for example.

Clearly if there was to be a massive, sustained difference between rural and urban areas, and it is workable, we may be able to take a super-localised approach. However, when this was tried in Nottinghamshire, it simply did not work. We are all looking at finding a way to get out of Tier 3, but most of all this relies upon people looking after themselves.

The World Health Organisation assesses that once cases hit more than 50 per 100,000, action needs to be taken. Over 80% of wards in the Hexham Constituency have case rates higher than this.

In addition, during the summer, travellers returning from countries with a positivity rate of more than 20 cases per 100,000 were required to self-isolate on arrival. All parts of the Hexham Constituency now have rates higher than this.

Hospital Capacity

When taking decisions about which Tier to place local areas in, infection rates are not the only measure used. Hospital capacity is also crucial.

Our Northumberland hospitals in Hexham and Haltwhistle are doing a great job. However, the most seriously ill patients require care the Northumbria NHS Trust's hospital in Cramlington. That is why it is important to look at the county-wide picture.

The NHS cannot become a National Covid Service. It has to be able to treat others too. From heart attacks, to cancer patients. Every critical care bed occupied by a COVID patient is another bed that cannot be used to treat others. By keeping our COVID numbers down, we can ensure those beds are there for others.

Support to protect people’s jobs, businesses and incomes.

As we are in Tier 3 restrictions, businesses will be eligible for additional financial support. Business properties forced to close will be eligible for cash grants of up to £3,000 per month based on their rateable value. Businesses adversely affected (such as B&B’s and hotels) will also be eligible for support.

The Furlough scheme will remain open until end the of March, paying 80% of people’s wages, up to £2,500 per month. A third grant for those who are self-employed will also open for applications from Monday.

Details of the all the financial support packages is available here.

How can we get out of Tier 3?

The question now is how can we get out of Tier 3 restrictions.

Infections are falling across Northumberland, and indeed across the country. The Tiered system will be reviewed every two weeks, with the first review taking place on December 16th.

I want us to return to Tier 2, but, put simply, that cannot happen unless our numbers fall. So we all need to play our part and follow the rules.

The future

There are reasons to be optimistic. Our cases in Northumberland have fallen by almost 20% in the last week. As a Tier 3 area, we will also now be eligible for mass Coronavirus testing.

This means that very soon, everybody locally will be tested, even if they don’t have coronavirus symptoms. This mass testing follows a successful trial in Liverpool, which has seen case numbers fall by 75% in the city. It is my hope that this scheme will be rolled out in the coming weeks.

There have been medical advancements too. From drugs like Dexamethasone – discovered by UK experts, to antibody cocktails – which begin clinical trials this weekend – which aim to protect those who may be unable to be given vaccines. We have three strong vaccine candidates in the pipeline – including a huge breakthrough this week from Oxford University - with a real potential for the first vaccinations to take place before the end of the year.

We will get through this, but we all need to work together. Remember the basics. Wash your hands, cover your face in enclosed spaces, and keep apart from others. And if you have symptoms, self-isolate immediately and get a test. The more we follow the rules, the quicker we can return to normal.


As ever, my small team of staff and I are here to help you in any way we can. My coronavirus website contains the latest information and support for businesses. I’ve included some useful links below.

Coronavirus Latest

Getting tested

Financial support

Foreign travel

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Test to Release

Passengers arriving into England will be able to reduce mandatory self-isolation by at least a week, as the government launches its new strategy for testing international arrivals.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has today announced that from 15 December 2020, passengers arriving into England from countries not featured on the government’s travel corridor list will have the option to take a test after 5 days of self-isolation, with a negative result releasing them from the need to isolate.

The move will give passengers the confidence to book international trips in the knowledge that they can return home and isolate for a shorter period if they have received a negative test. With those opting in to the scheme having to book and pay for a coronavirus (COVID-19) test from a private provider on the GOV.UK list, to ensure the NHS Test and Trace testing capacity is protected.

Under the ‘Test to release for international travel’ strategy, passengers arriving into England by plane, ferry or train should book their test before they travel; must complete a passenger locator form; and will still need to self-isolate for 5 days before taking a test – rather than taking it at their port of arrival.

The ‘Test to Release’ scheme is announced as the government introduces new financial support for English airports and ground handlers serving them. This support, which will shore up jobs and reinforce local economies, will be available to commercial airports in England. The support will address fixed costs and be equivalent to the business rates liabilities of each business, capped at up to £8 million per site, and subject to certain conditions. This scheme will open in the new year.

This is welcome news for Newcastle Airport as we hope to see the sector take off again as we emerge from the pandemic. 

Monday, 23 November 2020

Covid-19 Winter Plan

The Prime Minister has updated the House of Commons on the Government's next steps of tackling the virus over the winter period. The current National Restrictions in place will end on Wednesday 2nd December.

This morning's announcement of positive stage 3 trials of the Oxford - Astra Zeneca vaccine is yet more news that science is delivering hope of normality resuming in the not so distant future. However, Coronavirus rates remain high in Northumberland so it is vital we follow the latest rules to continue stopping the virus from rising. SAGE estimates our current R is between 1.0-1.1, with infection rates remaining high in many areas across the North East.

The Prime Minister has set out a new strengthened 3 tier system, which will replace the National Restrictions on 2nd December. Due to Ministers closely scrutinising the latest data, the government will announce which areas each tier will apply to on Thursday this week. 

The following restrictions will apply from 2nd December:

Meeting friends and family




Bars, pubs and restaurants








Overnight stays and accommodation 




Work, businesses, education and places of worship 




Weddings and funerals








Indoor leisure and large events - Elite Sport, Live Performances & business



Stronger measures have been introduced to keep the virus under control.

  • In tier 1, the government will reinforce the importance of working from home wherever possible.
  • In tier 2, pubs and bars must close, unless operating as restaurants, and hospitality venues can only serve alcohol with substantial meals.
  • In tier 3, all hospitality will close except for delivery, takeaway and drive-through; hotels and other accommodation providers must close (except for specific exemptions, including people staying for work purposes or where they cannot return home); and indoor entertainment and tourist venues must also close.

The Government has set out its Covid -19 Winter Plan in full. You can read this here

The Prime Minister also announced that Tier 3 areas will be supported with the roll out of mass testing to drive the virus down. This follows the successful pilot in Liverpool, where the virus has been rapidly in decline after 200,000 asymptomatic people being tested in the city to date. 

Additionally, to further prevent the risk of infections entering care homes, the Government is working with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the NHS to ensure everyone discharged to a care home has an up-to-date COVID-19 test result, and anyone testing positive will be discharged to a setting that has been assured by the CQC specifically for the purposes of providing safe care for COVID-19 positive residents. Moreover, two care home visitors per resident will be entitled to repeat rapid testing to allow vital care home visits to continue safely.  

Saturday, 21 November 2020

Nominate an outstanding local business for a Small Business Award

2020 has been an incredibly difficult year for small businesses across Tynedale and Ponteland. From adapting to become Covid-secure, to going the extra mile to support the most vulnerable in our local communities, I know how hard our small businesses have worked in this most challenging and unpredictable of years.

That’s why this year’s Small Business Saturday is more important than ever. The day is an annual celebration, designed to encourage customers to shop local and support the small businesses that are so often the backbone of their communities. 

This year’s event takes place on Saturday 5th December, and as the day draws ever nearer I would like to turn to you to nominate a stand-out small business, that has gone above and beyond this year, for one of my Small Business Awards. I have heard from countless constituents over the past year who have shared their stories of the tireless work being done by outstanding local small businesses, and these awards are an opportunity to celebrate them. 


So, if you too feel that your local small business deserves recognition for its hard-work and dedication, then please nominate them for a Small Business Award. 


Nominations can be made here:


For more information about Small Business Saturday, visit here:

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Business support to get us through this pandemic

I know that people are frustrated with the new restrictions that have been imposed on our lives, both over the last few weeks, and the new National Restrictions in place until 2nd December. 

In Northumberland, we have already faced further restrictions on our all lives since mid-September, so I know how difficult this will be. However, we do need to face the fact that infection rates across the country are high, and rising. SAGE now estimates that the R rate is between 1.1 and 1.3. That means on average, 10 people will infect between 11 and 13 others. The epidemic is growing between 2% and 4% per day.

Without the action the government has taken, there is a serious risk of our hospitals becoming overwhelmed. If we run out of NHS capacity, it means those who suffer from heart attacks, strokes, and who require cancer care won't get the treatment that they need.

The new National Restrictions mean, far as possible, you should stay at home, except for work, education, exercise or to provide care. Non-essential retail is closed, alongside pubs, bars and restaurants.

These closures will have a significant impact on the economy, and as such, the government has taken steps to introduce new economic support packages.

Extending the Furlough scheme

The Coronavirus Job Retention (Furlough) scheme was first introduced in March to help businesses pay the wages of employees who could not work because of coronavirus. The scheme was due to last until June, but was extended until the end of October.

As a result of these new National Restrictions, the government has extended the scheme until the end of March, providing certainty over these winter months.

Employees who are furloughed will continue to receive 80% of their salary, up to £2,500 per month. Employers will only need to cover pension and National Insurance contributions.

Flexible Furlough continues, so employees can continue to work part-time if necessary, with the government covering 80% of wages for the hours not worked.

Boosting support for the self-employed

The Self Employed Income Support scheme has offered support on the same level as that offered to employees in work. 

In order to reflect changes to the Furlough scheme, the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme will open for a further grant at the end of November, covering up to 80% of average trading profits, up to £7,500 per three month period. This is an increase from the previously announced amount of 55%. A fourth grant, covering February 2021 to April 2021 will also be paid, with further details to be set out in due course.

Mortgage Payment Holidays

In March, the government introduced mortgage payment holidays to help those affected by COVID-19. These have been extended.

If you have not yet had a mortgage payment holiday, you can apply for a six month holiday. If you already have a mortgage payment holiday, this can be extended up to six months without being recorded in your credit file.

Business Support Grants

In order to support business properties that are forced to close as a result of these new restrictions, the government is providing grants, based upon their rateable value. 

Business properties with a rateable value of £15,000 or under will receive £1,334 per month

Business properties with a rateable value of between £15,001 and £50,999 will receive £2,000 per month. 

Business properties with a rateable value of £51,000 or over will receive £3,000 per month

Councils will also receive £20 per head (approx £6.3m) to support businesses more broadly, using targeted schemes. 

Bounce Back Loans

The government has also improved the Bounce Back Loan scheme. Businesses can now apply for loans until 31st January, and for businesses that have already had a loan, they can top up their existing loan to the maximum amount if required. 

As ever, my team and I are here to help. My Coronavirus website - - contains all the latest information and FAQ's, or you can get in touch by email - 

This is going to be tough, but we will get through this by working together and looking out for each other.