Thursday, 21 October 2021

I urge Lloyds to rethink closing their Ponteland branch

I am very disappointed and concerned by the announcement from Lloyds that they are closing their bank branch in Ponteland.

Lloyds have announced that they are closing a total of 48 bank branches nationally, including Ponteland, in the Hexham Constituency. This news follows a recent spate of bank branch closures in rural areas, where access to cash and banking facilities are vital for residents.

I urge Lloyds to urgently rethink their position. Access to cash and an in-person counter are vital services to residents who may not be able to access online banking services. The Ponteland branch serves many of the surrounding villages meaning it will hit another one of the rural communities in my constituency very hard.

Clearly, footfall in branches has reduced since the advent of the pandemic. However, in-person banking services continue to be vital – we must save this branch!



Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Sir David Amess

The whole country has been shaken by the senseless death of my friend and colleague Sir David Amess.

David was such a kind friend, always supporting colleagues no matter what political side they were on. Tributes over the weekend showed the breadth of friendships David had in politics.

Neighbouring MPs of David's Essex constituency; Labour MP Wes Streeting and Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell gave a moving tribute in a joint interview to Sky News on Sunday showing that whilst we might campaign with different colour rosettes, as Jo Cox said so eloquently, 'We have far more in common than that which divides us.'

On Friday, when the awful news of David's death was announced, I was conducting constituency street surgeries in Allendale. Meeting with constituents face-to-face is a vital part of my role of representing the people of Tynedale and Ponteland as your Member of Parliament. Gordon Brown said the legacy of this tragic event can't be 'less democracy'- and he's right.

Questions of security for MPs have been raised and I think it’s right for these issues to be investigated. However, there are many other public servants in public facing roles that face similar risks. We must always do our best to protect our public servants and I was very impressed that almost immediately after the news broke that Northumbria Police were in touch to ensure my staff and I were safe and well.

David would’ve expected nothing less than democracy to prevail from this horrific incident. That’s why the job must go on. On Friday I knocked doors in Allendale, held surgeries and went to my local pub afterwards.

This Friday, I will still be hosting the annual Tynedale Jobs Fair at the Wentworth Centre in Hexham between 10am and 3pm. I would encourage as many as possible to attend – if you are out of work or looking for a change in career. There are over 70 local employers recruiting from a range of industries, including hospitality, retail, manufacturing and transport.

Dedicated members of my team alongside the brilliant team at Hexham Jobcentre Plus have worked extremely hard to put this event together. Confirmed attendees include Britishvolt, Nissan, Network Rail, Aldi and McDonalds. What’s more, for the first time ever, this year’s event will include a ‘Kickstart Zone’ for young people who are on Universal Credit, and a dedicated CV writing advice area.

Holding this sort of community event is exactly what my constituents expect – and I will continue to work hard for people across Tynedale and Ponteland despite the awful atrocity we saw on Friday.




Thursday, 14 October 2021

Vote for Zola at the Westminster Dog of the Year competition!

If you see me out and about in the Hexham constituency, then there is a very good chance that I will be accompanied by my fox red Labrador Retriever, Zola.

Zola is my biggest supporter and regularly charms Secretaries of State, as well as always helping me prepare for select committee appearances. She is much-loved by MPs and staffers alike and the rural lanes of Northumberland would be difficult to canvas without her invaluable help.

Zola is taking part in this year's Westminster Dog of the Year, organised by Dogs Trust and The Kennel Club. On Thursday 28th September, Zola will be joining other MP's dogs of all shapes and sizes at Victoria Tower Gardens to compete for the title, and we need your support!

The 'paw-blic' vote element of the competition is decided by the public, and you can cast your vote for Zola here- https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/wdoty 

Westminster Dog of the Year is not only a fun event to be involved in, but it also provides a great opportunity to highlight the importance of responsible dog ownership and the work that MPs are doing to improve dog welfare. This year's event is focusing on promoting responsible dog ownership, so that owners recognise their responsibility to ensure that their pet lives a healthy and happy life.






Monday, 11 October 2021

Haltwhistle's state-of-the-art new school opens its doors

I was delighted to attend the opening of Haltwhistle’s brand new Primary Academy recently.  

After years of campaigning to ensure that West Tynedale’s children have access to state-of-the-art learning facilities, the new building was officially opened by children’s author and ex-pupil, Iona Daley.  

 

I joined Iona, Head Teacher Susie Drake, WISE Academies Chief Executive Zoe Carr, Haltwhistle County Councillor Ian Hutchinson, Northumberland County Council Cabinet Member Guy Renner-Thompson, and current Haltwhistle Primary Academy pupils Mason and Charlotte to explore and celebrate the fantastic new building and Children’s Centre.  

 

Since becoming MP in 2010, I have campaigned relentlessly to ensure that the most rural communities in our area receive investment in their schools. The opening of the new Haltwhistle Primary Academy building follows recent successes at Queen Elizabeth High School and Haydon Bridge High School, which have seen a full rebuild and a major refurbishment respectively. 

 

Thanks to funding from Northumberland County Council and WISE Academies, the trust that oversees the running of the school, Haltwhistle Primary pupils now have the opportunity to learn in these excellent new facilities, getting the very best education that they all deserve. 


Headteacher, Susie Drake said:

‘’We are delighted to have successfully moved into our new school site on Park Avenue, Haltwhistle.  We are already seeing the benefits of our first class educational facilities and our children are excited by their new modern classrooms and specialist teaching spaces. Our Early Years department provides a homely, creative setting to spark children's imagination alongside an inspiring location for outdoor adventures.

The additional capacity across school means that we are able to welcome new families who are looking for excellent teaching and a fantastic learning environment for their children.  This is a wonderful opportunity for children in the Haltwhistle area and we are excited about the future for our school community.’’

Zoe Carr, Chief Executive of WISE academies said:

"It is a great delight to officially open the remodelled Haltwhistle Primary School. The transformation to this building has been quite remarkable. Now the children of Haltwhistle have a school they can be proud of.  Bright open spaces, enhanced library provision, a spacious dance studio, and specialist art and music rooms are just a few of the features that pupils can now enjoy.

The outdoor play space for the youngest children, set against the beautiful Northumberland countryside, rivals any National Trust park. Whatsmore, it is exciting to be located on the same site as the Western Tynedale Children's Centre. Now local families have a fantastic facility that can provide many services both now and into the future."

Guy Renner-Thompson, Northumberland County Council Cabinet Member for Children’s Services said:

‘’This is a fantastic day for Haltwhistle and the surrounding area. The Council continues to invest in education in the west of Northumberland for the future of our children. After the community was so badly let down by the failed Bright Tribe Trust, our partnership on this project with WISE Academies is an examplar of how Councils can work Academies that could be replicated across the Country.’’



Saturday, 9 October 2021

MRI scanner opens at Hexham Hospital

Last month I visited Hexham General Hospital to unveil a plaque to mark the opening of the hospital's state-of-the-art new MRI scanner.

Although the machine has been in operation for more than 18 months now, the opening ceremony was delayed due to the pandemic. The MRI scanner has seen around 300 patients per month for key diagnostic scans, including around 25 cardiac patients per month undergoing specialised scans and 15 arthrograms- high-tech imagine for musculoskeletal conditions.

It is vital that Tynedale's patients are able to access diagnostic scans close to home and quickly so that they can start treatment as soon as possible. Where previously patients would have gone to North Tyneside or other hospitals for diagnosis prior to their elective surgery here, now they are able to do both the diagnosis and the surgery in Hexham.

The new MRI scanner has replaced the previous mobile unit and represents the most recent step in the 15-year + partnership between Northumbria Healthcare and InHealth, which has already seen scanners installed at the Trust's North Tyneside, Wansbeck and Northumbria hospitals.

It was fascinating to be able to tour the new MRI scanner facilities at the Hospital with Northumbria Healthcare and InHealth representatives, who manage the scanner day-to-day. I have always said that I will fight for as many health services as possible to be delivered locally in Tynedale and this is a brilliant facility, which is now available to patients across Tynedale.



Tuesday, 5 October 2021

The Tynedale Jobs Fair returns on Friday 22nd October

The Tynedale Jobs Fair is back on Friday 22nd October!

The 2021 Jobs Fair will take place on Friday 22nd October from 10am-3pm at the Wentworth Centre, Hexham. Organised in collaboration with the Hexham Jobcentre and kindly sponsored by Essity, employers and businesses from a wide range of sectors will be attending, from hospitality and retail to manufacturing and transport.

Confirmed attendees include Britishvolt, Nissan, Network Rail, Aldi and McDonalds. For the first time ever, the 2021 Jobs Fair will also feature a Kickstart area, promoting the Government's Kickstart Scheme which helps to create jobs for 16-24 year olds on Universal Credit.

Also new to this year's Jobs Fair is an area dedicated to CV writing, run by recruitment company Reed in Partnership, to give job-seekers advice on how to put together the perfect CV.

Whether you are looking for a change of career or to get back into work after a break from employment, please do come along on 22nd October.



Thursday, 30 September 2021

Ponteland Flood Alleviation Scheme

I am delighted that work on the Ponteland Flood Alleviation Scheme is now complete, meaning that more than 250 homes and businesses in Ponteland are now better protected from the devastating effects of flooding.

Work on the £2.7 million flood scheme began in August 2020. The existing flood defence on the south bank of the River Pont has been replaced with one continuous sheet piled flood wall, which uses a stone effect and complementary colouring to fit in with the existing local environment. Furthermore, over 250 trees have been planted to replace those lost during construction, including by the river and in a meadow at Ponteland Community Primary School.

This additional investment from the Government for flood protection in Ponteland is hugely welcome news for the many residents and businesses who have been affected by the devastating consequences of flooding in the past.

The Government announced a funding boost for flood defence projects back in July 2020, and the Ponteland scheme was one of 22 projects chosen to benefit from the fund. 

I have been able to see first-hand the vital work that has gone into protecting our communities in Ponteland and it is brilliant that the work has now been completed. I hope that this Flood Alleviation Scheme, which has seen extra investment quickly turned into action, will give confidence and reassurance to local people who are concerned about flooding in the area.




Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Booster vaccines- what you need to know

As winter approaches, the NHS is expected to come under more pressure than usual, with COVID-19 circulating alongside other viruses and the seasonal flu.

That is why it is so important that you take up the offer of a third or booster jab if you are invited to do so. A booster jab will help improve the protection you have from your first two doses and will give you longer-term protection against getting seriously ill from COVID-19.

Booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are now being given to those who were vaccinated in the first phase of the rollout earlier this year. Booster vaccines will be given at least six months after your second dose.

Those people most at risk from COVID-19 are eligible for a booster vaccine, including:

  • People aged 50 and over
  • Frontline health and social care workers
  • People who live and work in care homes
  • People aged 16 and over with a health condition that puts them at high risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19
  • Carers aged 16 and over
  • People aged 16 and over who live with someone who is more likely to get infections 
The NHS will contact you when it is your turn to have a booster vaccine. However, frontline health and social care workers can book their vaccines online and do not need to wait to be contacted by the NHS.

I am immune compromised and so recently had my third vaccine dose- if you are invited, I highly recommend that you do the same!

Please book to get your booster jab as soon as you are invited. It is by getting vaccinated that we will be able to protect our health, economy and freedoms and get back to a sense of normality.




Thursday, 23 September 2021

Decade long campaign pays off for Hexham's schools

After a ten-year campaign, I am delighted that Queen Elizabeth High and Hexham Middle schools' brand new school buildings are finally complete. 

The new buildings are part of a £36 million investment in Hexham's schools, with state of the art new buildings and facilities, and sports and leisure facilities for community use.

Since I was elected in 2010, I have made it a priority to secure more money and better buildings for our local schools. Back in 2013, I launched the 'Invest in QEHS' campaign with Hexham Councillors Trevor Cessford and Cath Homer and brought the then Liberal Democrat Schools Minister David Laws to Hexham to lobby for a rebuild. 

The completion of the Hexham schools rebuild means that every high school across Tynedale and Ponteland has now been rebuilt or refurbished in the last decade, marking a significant moment in my campaign for better school buildings.

These state of the art new facilities will ensure that pupils get the very best education locally. My thanks to the government, Northumberland County Council and Councillors Cath Homer and Trevor Cessford for all their hard work. 

The new school buildings coincide with a funding boost for schools across Northumberland, with secondary schools across Tynedale and Ponteland now attracting an average of £6150 per pupil- an average increase of £160 this year. Meanwhile, primary schools will see an average of £4800 per pupil, meaning an average increase of £120.







Monday, 20 September 2021

Back British Farming Day 2021

I am proud to represent one of the most rural constituencies in the country, and so it was great to be able to support Tynedale and Ponteland's famers and growers on Back British Farming Day last week.

The National Farmers' Union provided me with the Back British Farming emblem- a wool and wheatsheaf pin badge- to wear with pride and convey my thanks to the farmers who feed us and take care of our countryside.

The food and farming sector is worth more than £120 billion to our national economy and provides jobs for nearly four million people. 

The NFU launched a new report on Back British Farming Day, asking the Government to complete a comprehensive report on UK food security later this year, covering the country's production of key foods and its contribution to global food security. This would be the first meaningful assessment of UK food security in over a decade and the first under the requirements of the Agriculture Act that mandate reporting every three years.

I fully support the Back British Farming campaign. Farmers in Tynedale and Ponteland play an undoubtedly crucial role in producing food both for our local area and the nation, so I was delighted to be able to thank them for their vital work.



Thursday, 16 September 2021

Our autumn and winter Covid plan

This week the Prime Minister set out his Covid winter plan to protect the gains from the historic vaccination programme which has allowed us to return to a sense of normality.

Data shows that, thanks to the vaccine rollout, the link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths has weakened, while the number of hospital admissions in England has remained relatively stable. However, the winter months ahead will undoubtedly bring renewed challenges, and so the Prime Minister has announced the autumn and winter plan to manage Covid.

Measures announced in the winter plan to manage Covid levels and protect the NHS include:

  • Booster jabs to priority groups 1-9 to boost immunity among the most vulnerable groups
  • Continuing to make use of the Test, Trace and Isolate programme 
  • Symptomatic PCR testing throughout autumn and winter to identify and isolate positive cases and limit transmission
  • Lateral flow tests will remain free of charge this winter
  • Continued legal obligation to self-isolate for those who test positive and their unvaccinated contacts
  • An extra £5.4 billion of extra funding for the next six months to support the NHS this winter
  • Continued guidance offered to the public on how to protect themselves and others, including ensuring ventilation, wearing a face covering in crowded and enclosed places, getting tested and self-isolating if required
A range of 'Plan B' measures will also be kept under review to help control transmission of the virus. This would include:
  • Mandatory vaccine status certification in certain settings
  • Legally mandating face coverings in certain settings, eg. public transport and shops
  • Asking people to work from home
These measures will only be implemented if necessary, such as if the NHS is at risk of becoming overwhelmed.

Covid is still out there and remains a risk to us all. However, together we can take actions to protect ourselves, each other and the NHS, and avoid plan B to protect our freedoms in the winter months. 



Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Celebrating a Prudhoe Community Champion

I launched my Coronavirus Community Champion Awards earlier this year to recognise and celebrate the amazing people who have gone the extra mile to support their local community throughout the pandemic.

The Awards are nominated by local residents, and one such nomination went to Prudhoe's Kiran Bell. Kiran was nominated for her work supporting the local community in Boots, with her hard work to make sure that vulnerable community members were able to continue receiving their medication and essential supplies highlighted by grateful residents in Prudhoe.

I was delighted to be able to meet Kiran recently and present her with her well-deserved award along with Prudhoe County Councillor Gordon Stewart. Congratulations to Kiran and all the team at Boots who have worked tremendously hard throughout the pandemic to support the Prudhoe community. 

If you would like to nominate a local person or business for a Coronavirus Community Champion Award, please send your nomination here- https://www.guyopperman.co.uk/campaigns/guy-opperman-mps-coronavirus-community-champions 



Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Northumberland prepares for the return of the Tour of Britain

This Friday, Northumberland residents will be able to see some of the world’s best cyclists pass through their towns and villages, as Stage 6 of the Tour of Britain comes to Northumberland. 

Stage 6 of the Tour takes place on Friday 10th September in Carlisle and Gateshead, with the 198km route passing through towns including Hexham, Stocksfield, Riding Mill and Prudhoe. The stage will finish up outside the iconic Angel of the North. 

 

Local residents should be aware that there will be road closures on Friday due to the race. Junction 66 of the A1 (Gateshead South) will be closed to all traffic, so vehicles should use Junction 67 to access the finish.

 

It is fantastic that Northumberland is once again included in the Tour of Britain route. The Tour brings with it great opportunities for local shops and businesses as we welcome visitors to the region for the event.  I have no doubt that it will be a great day- good luck to all cyclists taking part.


https://www.tourofbritain.co.uk/stages/stage-six/




Tuesday, 7 September 2021

The Tynedale Jobs Fair is back!

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, the Tynedale Jobs Fair is back next month.

The 2021 Tynedale Jobs Fair will take place on Friday 22nd October from 10am-3pm at the Wentworth Centre, Hexham. Organised in collaboration with the Hexham Jobcentre and kindly sponsored by Essity, employers and businesses from a wide range of sectors will be attending, from hospitality and retail to manufacturing and transport.

Confirmed attendees include Northern Rail, Aldi, Barclays Bank and Northumbria Police. For the first time ever, the 2021 Jobs Fair will also feature a Kickstart area, promoting the Government's Kickstart Scheme which helps to create jobs for 16-24 year olds on Universal Credit.

Also new to this year's Jobs Fair is an area dedicated to CV writing, run by recruitment company Reed in Partnership, to give job-seekers advice on how to put together the perfect CV.

This year's Jobs Fair is more important than ever, as businesses continue to reopen and we look to get the region's economy back up and running. If you are looking for work or for a change in career then please do come along on 22nd October.

Employers who are interested in attending the 2021 Tynedale Jobs Fair can sign up here-  www.guyopperman.co.uk/jobsfair



Thursday, 2 September 2021

Love Lamb Week 2021

Love Lamb Week kicked off yesterday, running from 1st-7th September. The week, which was first held in 2015, aims to highlight Britain's lamb farmers and the work they do year round to support sustainable production on their farms.

Love Lamb Week is supported by AHDB, the National Sheep Association and the NFU, and is this year focusing on the sustainability of sheep production. The NFU have reported that the UK produces some of the finest quality lamb in the world, as well as having some of the most sustainable systems using natural resources and landscapes. English sheep farming helps provide 19,000 hectares of wildflowers to aid the recovery of our bee population, while the UK's weather and landscape make it one of the most suitable places to produce lamb. 

This year, the Love Lamb Week website has also produced some delicious lamb recipes that you can download and enjoy- https://ahdb.org.uk/lovelambweek

It's fantastic to hear about all the benefits of lamb production for our landscapes and I am really pleased that Love Lamb Week is highlighting this brilliant work. To find out how you can support Love Lamb Week visit here- https://ahdb.org.uk/lovelambweek




Wednesday, 1 September 2021

The Tynedale Beer Festival returns this weekend

Just one of the many events that had to be cancelled last year due to the pandemic is back this week. After a year's break, the annual Tynedale Beer Festival returns on Friday, with the chance to enjoy beer, cider, wine, food and music from across the region.

The Festival is one of the North East's biggest beer and cider festivals, taking place at Tynedale Park in Corbridge. This year's event runs from Friday 3rd- Sunday 5th September, and will this year thank our brilliant NHS by inviting 500 NHS staff to come along for free on the final day of the festival. Also new at this year's festival are new street food stalls, bands and extended opening hours, so that the event will now begin at 1pm on Friday.

It is fantastic news that the festival is able to return this weekend- cheers to a great event!

For more information about the Tynedale Beer Festival, and for information on how you can book your tickets, visit here- https://www.tynedalebeerfestival.org.uk 



Friday, 27 August 2021

Billy Bell- an outstanding local small business

After a considerable wait, I was finally able to present Billy Bell Fish, Game and Poultry in Haltwhistle with the Small Business of the Year Award for 2020.

The business was nominated, along with many other local small businesses, by local residents as part of Small Business Saturday, an annual campaign which aims to highlight the importance of small, independent businesses for our towns, villages and high streets. However, due to the severity of the pandemic last winter, the presentation of the award was unfortunately delayed.

It was therefore great to be able to meet Cameron Bell, who runs Billy Bell with his father Miles, to present him with this well-deserved award. Billy Bell is a really popular business on Haltwhistle Main Street, selling pies, fish and baked goods, and has really gone the extra mile throughout the pandemic, providing meals for vulnerable local residents.

Small businesses are the backbone of our local economy in Tynedale and Ponteland and it is right to recognise the hard work they do for our local communities. Please do continue to shop local and support our local small businesses.

Congratulations to Miles, Cameron and their amazing team. 



Tuesday, 24 August 2021

The Queen's Hall is back and open to visitors!

Earlier this month the Queen's Hall reopened its doors to welcome back visitors ahead of a busy schedule of events and shows.

I visited the Queen's Hall earlier this year and met with Chief Executive Katy Taylor to discuss the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the venue, as well as to hear all about the refurbishments that were being carried out ahead of reopening. I know that the past year has been incredibly difficult for venues such as the Queen's Hall, and so I am delighted that, not only have the first events been able to take place, but that they have been such a great success. 

The recently announced autumn programme of events is packed full of a wide variety of events. From comedians such as Jason Manford and Chris Ramsay, music including Thank ABBA for the Music and a Candlelight Concert, and children's events including Stick Man, there is something for everyone!

It is fantastic to have the Queen's Hall open to visitors once again. I would encourage everyone to take a look at the upcoming programme of events and go along to support this brilliant venue.

https://www.queenshall.co.uk/whats-on



Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Cycle to Work Day

Thursday 5thAugust is Cycle to Work Day, a day dedicated to encouraging commuters to leave their cars at home for the day and get on their bike instead.

There are so many advantages to cycling to work- it is cheaper than using a car, is great exercise and of course is much better for the environment.

You don’t have to be an expert to take part. Even if you have never cycled before, Cycle to Work Day is all about having a go.

Here in Northumberland we are so lucky to be surrounded by beautiful countryside and scenery. Whether you are an experienced cyclist or a complete beginner, I would encourage you to make the most of the weeks of summer and (hopefully) good weather ahead to get outside and try out one of the National Cycle Network’s, run by Sustrans, routes- 

https://www.sustrans.org.uk/find-a-route-on-the-national-cycle-network/?location=null&routetype=null&distance=null

https://www.cycletoworkday.org






Friday, 30 July 2021

Back the Boundary Review

The Hexham Constituency is currently significantly smaller than other constituencies, and therefore must expand in size.

The proposals set out by the independent Boundary Commission for England expands the current constituency to include Callerton and Throckley, parts of Ponteland, and the Longhorsley Northumberland County Council Division.

The review aims to ensure that every constituency in the country has roughly the same number of voters, ensuring every vote has equal weight. The proposals do not affect the services provided by Northumberland County Council.

I am urging local communities to back the new constituency boundary proposals set out by the Boundary Commission for England. Whilst the ideal situation would be for the Hexham Constituency to remain unchanged, this is clearly not possible. 

As our local MP, I support the sensible additions of Callerton, Throckley, Longhorsley and parts of Ponteland to our constituency. Previous reviews have seen parts of Ponteland merged with Newcastle and I am delighted the Boundary Commission have listened and these proposals have been stopped.

The public consultation on the Boundary Commission for England's suggested new constituencies closes at midnight on 2nd August.

You can submit a response to the proposals here- https://www.bcereviews.org.uk 



Monday, 26 July 2021

Haydon Bridge High School

Haydon Bridge High School has undergone a transformation, and I recently visited the school to see the results of its £4.5 million refurbishment for myself.

Thanks to investment in recent years from Northumberland County Council, Haydon Bridge High School offers a variety of courses for students over 16, including hairdressing, engineering and catering.

I sat down with the school's new head teacher, Michael Smith, to discuss the huge range of courses and facilities on offer for students and how staff and pupils have been coping with the unprecedented challenges of the past year. 

It was great to be able to visit the school now that restrictions have eased and to meet Mr Smith, who I look forward to working with to take the school forward and provide the very best education for pupils across Tynedale.




Thursday, 22 July 2021

The Tour of Britain returns to Northumberland

When the world's best cyclists set off on The Tour of Britain in September, they will once again be racing through Northumberland.

World-class cyclists will head through the west of the county during Stage Six of the bike race on 10th September, with cyclists entering Northumberland just south of Allenheads, before cycling 64km through the county and finishing with a sprint through Prudhoe.

Previous Tour of Britain stages held in Northumberland have been brilliant events, and I am sure that this year's race will be no different. The Tour will attract fantastic opportunities for local shops, pubs and businesses, and I look forward to welcoming everyone to Northumberland for this exciting event.

Monday, 19 July 2021

Recognising a Hexham Community Champion

One of the best parts of my job is being able to recognise and thank the incredible people in the Hexham constituency who work so hard to make their communities a better place to live.

It was brilliant to be able to present one of my Hexham Constituency Community Champion Awards to Liz Clark of the No. 28 Community Project in Hexham.

Liz volunteers with the No.28 Community Project, based on Derwent Road, Hexham. No. 28 provides information and advice on issues such as housing, health, employment and domestic abuse to residents, as well as free training in gardening, IT skills, cookery and self-care.

Liz is one of twenty volunteers at No. 28, and it was great to be able to recognise Liz and all the team for the fantastic work they do, by joining Councillor Cath Homer to present Liz with her award.

If you would like to nominate someone who goes above and beyond in your local community, please do get in touch and nominate them for an award here- https://www.guyopperman.co.uk/campaigns/guy-opperman-mps-coronavirus-community-champions 



Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Step 4 of the Roadmap

The Prime Minister has now confirmed that we will proceed to Step 4 of the Roadmap for easing restrictions on 19th July.

Thanks to the success of our vaccination programme, the link between infections and hospitalisations has been severely weakened, meaning that we are able to move onto Step 4 and lift the majority of legal restrictions.

It is important to remember that the pandemic is not over, however, and cases will continue to rise over the coming weeks. People are encouraged to remain cautious as we move away from legal restrictions, and instead to take personal responsibility towards themselves and others through informed choices, such as wearing face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces.

From 19th July:

  • There will be no limits on how many people can meet
  • Face coverings will no longer be required by law
  • The 1m social distancing rule will no longer be in place
  • Nightclubs can reopen, and restaurants no longer have to be table service only
  • No limits on wedding and funeral guests or at events such as concerts and sports events
  • Limits on care home visitors will be removed
  • Fully vaccinated adults will no longer have to quarantine for ten days after returning from amber list countries 


Thursday, 8 July 2021

Kirkley Hall- meeting the skills needs of the future

As we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever that young people have the skills they need to be successful in the future. I recently visited Kirkley Hall with local County Councillors Lyle Darwin and Richard Dodd to meet with new Principal Nigel Harrett and for a tour of the campus.

Northumberland College is the only Further Education College in Northumberland, and plays a vital role in meeting the skills needs of the future for the community and employers across Northumberland. With a wide range of courses, from dog grooming and animal care to veterinary nursing, the campus is a fantastic asset to Northumberland, its businesses and economy.

Further Education Colleges will play a hugely significant role in our recovery from the pandemic. It was brilliant to visit Kirkley Hall's campus and meet with Nigel, who has shown such engagement towards local representatives, community groups and employers to ensure that our young people acquire the skills they need. 



Monday, 5 July 2021

Happy 73rd birthday NHS

Today we celebrate the 73rd birthday of our amazing NHS.

Over the past year, the NHS has been at the forefront of our response to the pandemic and its incredible healthcare workers have gone above and beyond in the most difficult circumstances.

I am delighted that Her Majesty the Queen has paid tribute to our healthcare workers by awarding the NHS the George Cross, and would like to thank NHS staff for everything they have done for us both over the past year and since its inception.

Happy 73rd birthday to the NHS.







Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Wag and Company are recognised as a Point of Light

The Points of Light Awards were launched in Downing Street in 2014 to recognise outstanding volunteers who make a positive change in their community. First established by President George HW Bush in 1990, the UK's programme was developed in partnership with the original scheme, and I recently had the great honour of presenting one of the awards to Diane Morton, the founder of Hexham-based charity Wag and Company.

Wag and Company is the UK's only dog befriending charity for older people facing loneliness in their own homes. The charity uses friendship dogs to combat loneliness, and their more than 400 volunteers take their dogs to homes, care homes and sheltered housing to provide much-needed companionship to residents. Throughout the pandemic, Wag and Company has continued to provide virtual visits.

It was very special to be able to present Diane with her award, along with a letter from the Prime Minister. I was joined by Councillor Cath Homer and was also able to meet volunteers Tonia and Linda, and their wonderful dogs Belle and Ollie. 

I know through my own experience that a dog can have a massive impact on physical and mental health and wellbeing. Wag and Company is a very special charity and I would encourage everybody to support them in whatever way you can.

Congratulations to Diane and all the volunteers at Wag and Company!

https://wagandcompany.co.uk

https://www.pointsoflight.gov.uk/wag-and-company/ 




Thursday, 24 June 2021

Alan Turing and the new £50 note

This week the Bank of England's new £50 note, which features Alan Turing, the codebreaker and computer scientist, entered circulation.

Alan Turing played a pivotal role devising code-breaking machines during World War II and was a significant figure in the development of computer science. Turing's work not only continues to influence science, but his legacy is also incredibly important in our society today, as he was homosexual and was posthumously pardoned by the Queen, having been convicted of gross indecency for his relationship with a man.

The £50 note features various symbols that represent aspects of Alan Turing's life and work. For example, the design includes a mathematical table and formulae from his 1936 paper "On Computable Numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem", which is recognised for its importance in early computer science, and ticker tape depicting his birth date- 23rd June 1912- in binary code.

You can read more about the Bank of England's new £50 note, as well as the extraordinary and inspiring life of Alan Turing, here- https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/banknotes/polymer-50-pound-note?fbclid=IwAR37phzdyJeHiQLirIQ7uszMQiWMDsgJFYXqSY4jWIqJMYwtWbXQlNrS9oU 




Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Getting ready for curtain-up at the Queen's Hall

The Queen's Hall is one of Hexham's greatest cultural assets, and as we start to count down the days until the building reopens its doors on 11th August, this really is an exciting time for the Queen's Hall.

I recently met with Chief Executive of the Queen's Hall, Katy Taylor, to discuss plans for reopening for shows in the summer, the challenges they have faced throughout the pandemic and the support they have received from Historic England. I was also able to see first-hand the amazing backstage refurbishments that are currently being made before shows restart in the main theatre. 

Venues such as the Queen's Hall have been hugely affected throughout the pandemic, so it was great to be able to discuss the support Katy and the team have received from Historic England. I would encourage everyone to support our local businesses and venues as we come out of the pandemic. The Queen's Hall will be opening for shows on 11th August so please do support them- I will certainly be returning to see the finished refurbishments for myself!




Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Find out if you're eligible for Pension Credit


The UK has never paid our pensioners more, with our annual state pension bill at £100 million, up from £60 billion in 2010. 

Around 1.5 million pensioners across the UK receive extra help from Pension Credit- a top up to their retirement incomes, which offers a springboard to a variety of other financial support, such as a free TV licence, housing support and more.

But there are still hundreds of thousands of pensioners who might be eligible for Pension Credit but are still not claiming what could be worth an average of £64 per week. That's why the Department for Work and Pensions is teaming up with Age UK and the BBC to raise awareness of Pensions Credit and help people understand what they are eligible for and how they can apply.

Pensioners whose income is below £177.10 (for individuals) or £270.30 (for couples) per week may be eligible to receive Pension Credit. If your income is higher, you might still be eligible if you have a disability, care for someone, or have particular housing costs.

To find out whether you are eligible for Pension Credit and to get an estimate of what you might receive, you can use the DWP's free online Pension Credit calculator. If the calculator shows that you might be entitled, or even if you aren't sure, then I strongly urge you to make a claim. This can be done online or by calling the DWP Pension Credit Freephone claim line on 0800 991234, or by post. Organisations such as Age UK or your local Citizens Advice Bureau can also help you to claim.

https://www.gov.uk/pension-credit-calculator 

So, if you have a relative or are caring for someone, please help them make a claim. Even a small amount of Pension Credit can open the door to other support, including a free TV licence or help with council tax. The application process is straightforward and will ensure that you receive the support you are entitled to.


Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Book your vaccination now!

The vaccine is our way out of this pandemic and restrictions. Vaccines reduce the likelihood of serious illness from coronavirus, as well as reducing transmission of the virus between people.

That's why it is great news that, from today, 23 and 24-year-olds can book their Covid-19 vaccine. If you are 23 or over, or will turn 23 before 1st July 2021, you can now go to the NHS website to book your appointment- https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination/book-coronavirus-vaccination/ 

Meanwhile, over 40s are being encouraged to receive their second vaccine dose earlier than originally planned. Rather than the original 12 week interval between doses, over 40s can now change their second dose appointment so that it comes 8 weeks after the first. This is to make sure that those aged over 40 have maximum protection against the virus sooner.

To bring forward your second dose, visit the NHS website and go to 'Manage my appointments'- https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination/book-coronavirus-vaccination/ 

Evidence shows that it is so important to get your second dose to ensure that you have longer term protection from the coronavirus. If you haven't booked your appointments yet, please do it today!



Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Carers Week 2021

7th-13th June is Carers Week, a time to thank unpaid carers for the incredible work they do in their families and communities, as well as to highlight the challenges facing unpaid carers, particularly throughout the past year.

A tenth of adults in the UK provide unpaid care for a friend or family member, and some of these people may not think of themselves as carers. However it is really important that carers are able to access the right support to help them carry out their roles, and one of the aims of Carers Week is to make sure that carers know where they can access this support. 

The following links contain useful information for unpaid carers:

https://www.carersweek.org/about-carers-week/information-for-carers/ 

https://www.northumberland.gov.uk/Care/Support/Care-support-for-adults.aspx#carers

In Northumberland, Carers Northumberland is there to support carers, including by providing a support network with other carers in order to tackle isolation and loneliness:

https://carersnorthumberland.org.uk

Carers make such a valuable contribution to the lives of their family members, friends and neighbours, spending a significant proportion of their time providing support to those who need it the most. Thank you to all carers for the dedication and valuable service they provide to their families and communities.



Monday, 7 June 2021

Conserving the planet's rare habitats and species

World Environment Day, which took place on Saturday, encourages us all to take action to protect our planet before it is too late.

To coincide with World Environment Day, the Government has announced a range of measures designed to tackle the biodiversity crisis worldwide and protect rare and vulnerable habitats across the planet.

Over £8 million is set to be invested in projects in the UK Overseas Territories over the next three years to conserve significant habitats that are threatened by climate change. The Darwin Plus scheme will see 31 projects receive funding to protect habitats and species, including coral reefs in the Indian Ocean to help small-scale fishers sustainably manage the habitats, and marine turtles in the Ascension Islands.

As president of the G7 and COP26, it is right that the government is leading the way in the fight against climate change. It is vital that we act now to conserve ecosystems and species, and this funding, along with the £220 million already announced for biodiversity conservation in developing nations and the doubling of UK international climate finance announced in 2019, is hugely significant.

https://dplus.darwininitiative.org.uk



Friday, 4 June 2021

Happy National Fish and Chip Day!

Happy National Fish and Chip Day!

Today is the sixth annual National Fish and Chip Day, celebrating Britain's favourite dish and the people, from fishers to shop owners, who work hard to get it on our plate.

The Hexham constituency is home to so many brilliant fish and chip shops, and with more glorious weather forecast to be on the way, this weekend is the perfect time to support your local chippy. 

Where is your favourite place to get fish and chips in our local area?



Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Happy Pride Month

Today marks the beginning of Pride Month, an event which celebrates LGBTQ+ people and their contributions to our society. It is also an important time when we can reflect on the remarkable achievements of campaigners, which have made the UK one of the most tolerant and diverse countries in the world.

This year, Pride Month undoubtedly looks a little different, with marches and celebrations postponed until laster in the year. But with the recent announcement that Hexham has been awarded £80,000 by Historic England to improve cultural activities on Hexham High Street, including Hexham Pride, it will not be long before we can once again celebrate the valuable contribution of LGBTQ+ people to our local communities in person.

I was proud to vote to legalise same-sex marriage in 2013, as well as to vote in favour of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland two years ago. Everyone should have the freedom to live and love without fear. There is more to do to stamp out prejudice in our society, but we have come a long way over the last decade. 

Happy Pride Month!

Sunday, 30 May 2021

Happy Northumberland Day

Today is Northumberland Day.

First held in 2017, this year's Northumberland Day will no doubt be a little different, with many events to celebrate taking place online. However, with celebrations being held into June from Hexham to Holy Island, there are so many great ways to get involved and celebrate our beautiful part of the world.

https://northumberlandday.co.uk/events/ 

https://northumberlandday.co.uk/2021-zone/

Northumberland is the most northern county in England and has a truly unique history. Because of its position between England and Scotland, historically Northumberland has been the site of many battles, as evidenced by the large number of castles in the county- more than any other in England! And, of course, for hundreds of years the Romans controlled Northumberland, constructing Hadrian's Wall and many of the fascinating sites we can still visit today, such as Housesteads and Vindolanda. 

Northumberland is home to the stunning Northumberland National Park, which covers more than 400 square miles of nature, hills and walking routes. It's also the perfect place to enjoy Northumberland's Gold Tier status dark skies at night in the winter. We also have England's largest forest here in Northumberland, Kielder Forest, which is also famous for providing the magnificent Christmas tree in Westminster every year. 

Today Northumberland is one of the most popular tourism destinations in the country, and it's not difficult to see why. With its historical sites, museums, stunning nature and landscapes, proximity to the coast and an outstanding range of small businesses offering shopping, food, activities and accommodation, there is no doubt that there is nowhere else like Northumberland.

Happy Northumberland Day to everyone who lives in, works in or loves our wonderful county.




Thursday, 27 May 2021

Celebrating the reopening of retail with Prudhoe business owners

Last week, as part of Step 3 of the roadmap for easing restrictions, shops and indoor hospitality businesses were able to reopen.

Local businesses have endured an extremely difficult year, whilst going above and beyond to support their communities. I spent time last week visiting businesses across the Hexham constituency in a reopening tour to find out how they are finding being open again.

One of the stops on my tour was Prudhoe, where, along with County Councillor for Prudhoe South Gordon Stewart, I stopped by businesses on Front Street to chat with business owners about what the relaxation of restrictions has meant for their business. It was great to speak with business owners, including at the Tyne Valley Appliance Centre and Prudhoe Vapes, who have worked so hard to keep their businesses going throughout the pandemic, and I was so pleased to hear that their first week of being open again has been such a success.

Local businesses are the backbone of our communities, and being able to visit these businesses in person again is so welcome. Please do remember to support our brilliant small businesses and shop local.






Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Activities and support for those affected by dementia in West Northumberland

Last week was Dementia Action Week, an event which encourages us all to come together to take action to improve the lives of those affected by dementia. 

As part of the event, organisations across West Northumberland have come together to create this year's information booklet of activities and support available to older people affected by dementia in the area. From telephone friendship lines and community cafes to singing and chess clubs, the booklet list a huge variety of activities focusing on both physical and mental wellbeing.

Although some of the groups listed in the booklet are not yet able to meet face-to-face due to the pandemic, many are still continuing to provide support through other means, be that online or over the phone.

Cllr Veronica Jones, Cabinet Member for Adult Wellbeing, welcomed the booklet, saying "After a really difficult year, the physical and mental health of older people affected by dementia is more important than ever."

This is an incredibly detailed booklet, which showcases just how many brilliant organisations and groups are working hard to support those affected by dementia in West Northumberland. Please do share this booklet with anyone who might find it useful.

https://healthwatchnorthumberland.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Summary-of-Activities-and-Support-in-West-Northumberland-for-older-people-and-those-affected-by-dementia-2021F.pdf 




Sunday, 23 May 2021

The White Swan- Coronavirus Community Champions!

In a year that has challenged us all in countless ways, it is brilliant to see that so many people in our local communities have stepped up and gone the extra mile to help others through this difficult time.

One example of a business that has gone above and beyond for its local community is The White Swan in Ovingham, and this week I was delighted to present owners John and Lyndsey Sharkey and their team of staff with a Coronavirus Community Champion Award.

Throughout the pandemic restrictions, John, Lyndsey and their team have carried on and have earned the gratitude of their local community, delivering hot and delicious meals every week to those who are shielding or vulnerable. Various local residents contacted me to nominate The White Swan for this award and to tell me about the amazing work The White Swan has been doing.  

The good news is that The White Swan is now back open to all, with seating both inside and outside- and an impressive tipi as well! I definitely recommend a visit to support this fantastic local business.

Congratulations to everyone at The White Swan- they truly are Community Champions.

https://www.thewhiteswanovingham.co.uk 



Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Leading the way on animal welfare

The Government's Action Plan for Animal Welfare was launched last week, with the aim of strengthening animal welfare standards in this country and reinforcing the UK as a global champion of animal rights.

Meanwhile, the Animal Sentience Bill, which was introduced to Parliament last week, will formally recognise animals as sentient beings.

The Action Plan for Animal Welfare sets out how the government will protect and improve welfare for all animals, including-

Pets- by tackling puppy smuggling, cracking down on pet theft, banning remote controlled training e-collars and introducing compulsory microchipping for cats.

Wild animals- by funding wildlife conservation projects at home and abroad, cracking down on illegal hare coursing, making it illegal to keep primates as pets and restricting the use of glue traps.

Farmed animals- by ending the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter, introducing measures to improve welfare during transport, improving animal welfare at slaughter, examining the use of cages for poultry and farrowing crates for pigs and giving the police more powers to protect farm animals from dangerous or out of control dogs.

Animals abroad- by banning the import of hunting trophies from endangered animals and the sale of ivory, exploring a ban on the sale of foie gras, banning the advertisement of low-welfare animal practices abroad, such as elephant rides, and prohibiting the import and export of detached shark fins.

This Action Plan will ensure that the UK is leading the way on animal welfare, by introducing world-leading standards and measures to protect pets, livestock and wild animals. 



Wednesday, 12 May 2021

International Nurses Day

Today is International Nurses Day, and after the events of the past year, this year's event means more than ever.

I am incredibly thankful for all of the nurses and healthcare workers who have worked so tirelessly in our NHS throughout the pandemic. Their selfless dedication and commitment to caring for others is extraordinary, and I am very grateful for all they do.

It is brilliant news that their work has inspired others to take up the profession, with 11,000 more nurses, midwives and health visitors now working in the NHS.

Thank you to each and every one of our incredible nurses.




Step 3 of the roadmap- what's changing on Monday 17th May?

The Prime Minister has announced that, on Monday (17th May), the next stage of restrictions will be eased. 

The collective efforts of people across the country and the incredible success of the vaccination programme, through which more than two thirds of adults across the UK have now received a vaccination, mean that the four tests for easing restrictions have all been met. Deaths and hospitalisations are at their lowest level since July and the alert level has been lowered from 4 to 3.

As part of Step 3 of the roadmap out of lockdown restrictions, from Monday the lockdown rules are changing:

  • People can meet in groups of up to 30 outside
  • Six people or two households can meet can meet indoors, and overnight stays are allowed
  • Up to 30 people can attend weddings, receptions and other life events
  • The number of people who can attend a funeral will no longer be capped
  • Care home residents will be allowed up to five named visitors
  • Pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants can serve customers indoors
  • Indoor entertainment, eg. museums, theatres and cinemas, can open
  • Sports stadiums can reopen
  • Indoor organised sports and exercise classes can take place 
  • Hotels, hostels and B&Bs can reopen
Please remember to keep getting tested regularly and continue to follow social distancing when not with family and friends. We must remain vigilant and protect all of our hard work by exercising caution and common sense.



Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Vote Stephen Westgarth on Thursday 6th May

On Thursday 6th May, we will all have the chance to vote for the County Councillors who will represent our local towns and villages here in Northumberland.

I have been asking local Conservative candidates across the constituency to set out why they are standing to be County Councillor.

Stephen Westgarth is standing for County Councillor for Bywell.

Northumberland is a beautiful county. Wild woods and moors, beautiful beaches, vibrant city life, and historical villages. There is much to be thankful for, but it's far from a perfect world and life could be better. 


I'm standing for election as Conservative councillor in East Tynedale (Bywell Ward) because I want to make a difference. 


I came to Newcastle University in 1988 to study medicine, and stayed because I love it here. I live in Wylam, where with my wife, weve raised two boys through local schools. I love fishing the Tyne for salmon, and our spending time on our allotment. 

 

My plan for East Tynedale-


1. Coronavirus has hit our community hard, but the vaccine rollout means the end is in sight. I will work with the County Council to support our local businesses so they can bounce back from the pandemic.


2. Roads across Northumberland have seen real improvements over the last four years, but there is always more to do. I will make sure East Tynedale gets its fair share of the £120m road and footpath repair fund.


3. Many residents are concerned about crime and anti-social behaviour locally. I will work with the police and community groups to deliver proper enforcement and on the spot fines with public space protection orders.


4. Friends of the Earth has rated Northumberland as one of the cleanest, greenest councils in

the country. I will work to clean up the Tyne for wildlife, swimmers and fishers, and to make Tynedale a ‘net-zero’ district by 2030.


5. I will work with the police to tackle speeding and pavement parking in our villages and will fight to make sure we get our fair share of the 219 new police officers recruited to the Northumbria Force by the government.


It would be a privilege to represent East Tynedale.  There is no question that it is a challenge but Im committed to working hard for my community to bring about the changes we all want to see.


Vote Conservative on 6th May