Friday, 29 April 2016

An impassioned and positive brain tumour debate in Parliament last week

The Brain Tumour Debate in Parliament last week was a very moving and positive one. It involved excellent interventions from across the House, and strong, clear commitments from the Government to look to redress the balance in funding, towards this vital cause.

In my view, every type of cancer research is incredibly important. However at the moment there is an imbalance. Funding may be increasing, but this needs to de directed more towards investigating brain tumours. However to do this the applications need to be better, the charities and hospitals need to work collectively with centres of excellence, and we have to make the case to the clinicians who allocate funding better. I'm a survivor, and it’s vital that more people can state that in the years to come.
The full debate and closing comments from the Health Minister, George Freeman MP, can be found here, and are worth a read: http://goo.gl/x93fdF

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Tynedale Community Bank - Tomorrow we will update locals on our community lending

What is it?
Tynedale Community Bank is the brainchild and product of the work of many locals but Lauren Langton has been the lynchpin of our efforts to provide a not for profit community bank that is one step above a credit union and more local and accommodating than a High Street Bank.
High street banks have closed hundreds of branches in recent years - many of them in the North East.
Our new Tynedale Community Bank is an old-style savings and loans business; it is similar to a credit union, but on a larger scale.
People want a community lender, based in their community, with the profits going back to the community. I am absolutely certain that large numbers of people will make the decision that some or all of their money should be in our community organisation rather than a multi-national bank based far away. Why would you want to bank with a bank in Frankfurt or Shanghai or London when you could trust your money to a community bank, which is helping your local community? Thus far we have had a lot of success.

How safe is my money?
Tynedale Community Bank is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority, like the big-name high street banks, to ensure savings are protected as they would be anywhere else. Your money is fully regulated and protected. We are in partnership with the Prince Bishops Bank in Stanley, County Durham.

Taking on the pay day lenders: 
The bank will help fulfil the Church of England’s aim of ensuring people no longer have to rely on “payday lenders” which provide loans but charge massive interest rates. Payday lender Wonga currently advertises loans on its website with interest rates of more than 1,000%.
In 2013 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the Church would put Wonga out of business by helping local financial co-operatives play a much bigger role in helping people with money problems.

Cross Party Support:
The Labour MP, North Durham MP Kevan Jones, who is involved with the Princes Bishop Community Bank in Stanley, County Durham, is also a supporter. Kevan and I disagree on several things but we are as one on why the Tynedale Bank is a wonderful thing. We have worked together hand in glove to make is work.
At our launch in November Kevan Jones said: “People tend to look at rural areas and think there is no poverty there, but there is financial poverty in these communities. That’s why a bank like this can make such a difference.”

Media / TV coverage:
This is the ITV take on our launch. 
http://www.itv.com/news/tyne-tees/update/2015-11-06/archbishop-of-york-opens-northumberland-community-bank/

The Chronicle has done a piece on the launch last November here:
http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/archbishop-york-open-new-community-10367546

Our website:
http://www.princebishopscommunitybank.org.uk/tynedale

Update Meeting:
We are in the Beaumont Hotel this Friday from 9.30-12. Lauren, Alastair, and other members of the team will outline what we have done, the nature of the deposits, the way in which we make loans, and how the bank works. You can also sign up for savings or a loan then.
Please come down and find out more.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Hillsborough Inquest provides final verdict - Home Secretary's full statement to the Commons

Yesterday the jury delivered their verdict into the Hillsborough Disaster. 
This is a landmark moment in the quest for justice for the 96 Liverpool fans who died on that dreadful day in April 1989.

It is also a long overdue day – the bereaved families and survivors of the Hillsborough Disaster have had to wait 27 long years for the full facts of what happened. And it is only due to their tireless bravery in pursuing the truth that we arrived at this momentous verdict.

All families and survivors now have official confirmation of what they always knew was the case, that the Liverpool fans were utterly blameless in the disaster that unfolded at Hillsborough.
The Home Secretary's statement to the Commons is here: 

Tynedale Community Bank Conference this Friday 10-12 Beaumont Hotel - local savings, local loans

This Friday, at the Beaumont Hotel in Hexham, the Tynedale Community Bank is hosting its update conference. This will bring together members and supporters to receive an update on the progress that has been made since the bank’s official launch in November last year. We already have a lot of deposits, and will be describing both our progress so far and our plans for more loans and support locally. If you want financial advice and a loan then come along. 

The bank has been a key project for many of us locally who want to take on pay day lenders, and provide local loans at a good rate. I wanted a bank that was based in my community of Northumberland, serving my community here in Northumberland and whose profits went back to the community of Northumberland.

Officially opened by the Archbishop of York in November, the picture six months on is very encouraging. My hands now off the tiller, the Tynedale Community Bank is pushing on and wants to update all those interested on what the bank can offer you, and how it can serve the community. Tynedale Community Bank has a clear mission to help those in need, and deliver safe and stable community banking through affordable loans and secure savings.

Please do come along, 10:00 am on Friday, to find out more and see how you can support the bank that is helping others across Northumberland.

More information is also available on the website at: http://www.princebishopscommunitybank.org.uk/tynedale

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Stewart Hay will be an outstanding police and crime commissioner - please vote for him for Northumbria PCC


I am a local man, well-known in Northumberland and Tyne & Wear. I am currently working as a criminal law consultant solicitor across the local courts. My former police service, added to my work as a lawyer (coming to four decades of experience in the local criminal justice system) makes me a strong candidate for the challenging role of Northumbria Police & Crime Commissioner.
I joined Northumbria Police in 1975, retiring at the substantive rank of Detective Inspector (Acting Detective Chief Inspector) in 2007. Immediately prior to retirement I was the operation Detective Inspector for the Northumberland Area Command.
When I was the Detective Inspector in the north of the force I had responsibility for everything from minor crime and disorder to murder, although fortunately that was a rare occurrence. I was aware of the results of police surveys which frequently raised the issue of anti-social behaviour. This is still of concern as it is what everyday people experience as it effects everyday life.
I have well-rooted local family ties, in that my parents and grand-parents lived in this county, and I have always lived in the county. I was educated at Monkseaton Grammar School and Northumbria University.
I can bring vast experience to the role, with a unique viewpoint, having worked in the police service and outside it, seeing what does and does not work.
I would like to dispel some of the myths about the changes which have been brought about through the appointment of Commissioner. The position is not political in the normal sense of the word, in that whoever is elected will not effect the balance of political power in any council or in government. This, combined with the oath of impartiality, should persuade voters to elect the best person for the job, not just the name next to their favourite party.
My priorities are:
  • Maintaining an effective visible community-based police presence on the streets as this provides the reassurance and deterrent needed in communities.
  • A balanced police plan addressing what the public want: usually effective methods of stopping anti-social behaviour as well as an effective investigative ability to detect serious crime.
    • Policing with respect, integrity and confidence: not treating people the same but in accordance with their individual needs.
    • Multi-agency working and being opened-minded to change as the police are not the answer to every problem. A local authority or housing association often has the option of positive long term improvements which can be more effective than simple enforcement.
    • Policing must embrace and be part of all ethnic groups and religions; problems occur when groups or individuals are marginalized.
    In addition to local issues, there is a role in national issues, anti-terrorism being the most obvious.
    The Commissioner, who should have only a small administrative staff, must allocate funding, ensuring value-for-money policing.
    It is my pledge that if elected I will engage with the public and give explanations for what I do. My overall priority will be to maintain an effective visible community based police presence on our streets. With the Chancellor’s announcement of no further cuts to police budgets, and a further £900 million to be put into policing, I would fight for as big a share of that money for our police service here.
    Stewart will be a great police and crime commissioner and I urge you to support him.
    The Courant ran a short piece on him here:

Monday, 25 April 2016

Obama could not be clearer in his economic assessment of the impact of Brexit

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/apr/24/leave-campaign-obama-trade-warning-eu-referendum

Westminster this week - Countryside Alliance Awards, Flood Re, and meeting Woodland Trust

A busy week of debates on the Police and Crime Bill, and various other matters in both Houses of Parliament. I am meeting the Woodland Trust to discuss the ways in which we try and plant more forests and woodland in Northumberland, attending a Housing in the North meeting, and having a long scheduled meeting with the director of operations on behalf of Flood Re.
If you do not know how this groundbreaking scheme is helping to transform insurance in flood affected areas after years of effort to create a scheme then have a read here: http://www.floodre.co.uk
On Wednesday I will be attending the rural oscars, which are the countryside alliance awards, primarily for outstanding village shops. Bardon Mill village store and Blagdon Butchers have both featured prominently these last few years, and I will be hoping for more success for Bardon mill. I also have a number of constituents coming down to Westminster.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Hexham has Farmers Market, Spring Fair + literary festival today!

It's St Georges Day and there is so much going on in the town today. Shop local and support your local farmers at the Market. 
Then there is the Fair:
With bands, dancing, 'have a go' events and plenty for all the family, this is a great event with a bit of something for everyone. Street stalls and activities for all the family take over the town centre and park; it's big and it's brilliant!
(There is no charge to attend). 
You would be mad to miss it

The Queens birthday in Parliament - great tribute by the PM

Today we celebrate the 90th birthday of our country’s longest reigning monarch. Her Majesty the Queen—our Queen—has lived a life of service that began long before her accession to the throne. In 1940, at just 14 years old, the then Princess Elizabeth made her first BBC radio broadcast, to bring comfort and hope to children who had been evacuated from Britain’s cities during the war. At 18, she became the first female member of the royal family to join the armed forces, joining the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, training as a driver and a mechanic. At just 21, she made the exquisite and defining broadcast from Cape Town in which she uttered the famous words
“my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service”.
Never has such an extraordinary promise been so profoundly fulfilled.
As I said when we gathered in September to mark Her Majesty becoming our longest-reigning monarch, for all of us in this Chamber who seek to play our part in public service, it is truly humbling to comprehend the scale of service that Her Majesty has given to our country over so many years. If we think of the vital landmark in completing our journey to democracy when everyone over 21 was finally given the vote in 1928, it means that Her Majesty has presided over two thirds of our history as a full democracy. In that time, she has met a quarter of all the American Presidents since independence. She has provided counsel to no fewer than 12 Prime Ministers, and that is just in Britain. She has worked with well over 150 Prime Ministers in her other realms. If anyone can come up with a collective noun for a group of Prime Ministers, it is probably Her Majesty. I think I will leave it her to make some suggestions.
I know that, like me, every Prime Minister has found Her Majesty’s counsel an incredibly valuable part of the job. Her perspective and length of experience are unique and utterly invaluable. Her first Prime Minister, in 1952, was Winston Churchill. Like him and all those who have followed, I can testify that she is quite simply one of the best audiences in the world. There is no one else in public life to whom any Prime Minister can really speak in total confidence, and no other country has a Head of State with such wisdom and such patience. There are some who suspect that, at times, I may have put her patience to the test. In the play “The Audience”, the character who portrays me goes on and on about  Europe so long that she falls asleep, but I can guarantee that that has never happened. I may not have kept my promise not to bang on about Europe in every forum, but this is certainly the one where I try the hardest.
As some have pointed out, Her Majesty is now entering her 10th decade and starting to take things a little easier, which is why in the last year alone she has only undertaken 177 public engagements. In 90 years, Her Majesty has lived through some extraordinary times in our world, from the second world war, when her parents, the King and Queen, were nearly killed as bombs were dropped on Buckingham Palace, to the rations with which she bought the material for her wedding dress; from presenting the World cup to England at Wembley in 1966, to man landing on the moon three years later; and from the end of the cold war to peace in Northern Ireland.
Throughout it all, as the sands of culture shift and the tides of politics ebb and flow, Her Majesty has been steadfast—a rock of strength for our nation, for our Commonwealth and, on many occasions, for the whole world. As her grandson, Prince William, has said:
“Time and again, quietly and modestly, the Queen has shown us all that we can confidently embrace the future without compromising the things that are important.”
As Her Majesty said in her first televised Christmas broadcast in 1957, it is necessary to hold fast to “ageless ideals” and “fundamental principles”, and that requires a
“special kind of courage…which makes us stand up for everything we know is right, everything that is true and honest.”
In this modern Elizabethan era, Her Majesty has led a gentle evolution of our monarchy. From the first televised Christmas Day message, more than three decades before cameras were allowed into this House, to the opening up of the royal palaces and the invention of the royal walkabout, she has brought the monarchy closer to the people while retaining its dignity.
Her Majesty’s role as supreme governor of the Church of England has also been incredibly important to her. She has often said that her life is inspired not only by her love of this great country but by her faith in God. As she has said,
“I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God.”
In standing up for Christianity, she has been clear that the Church of England has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in our country.
Her Majesty always performs her constitutional duty as Head of State impeccably, but as head of our nation she is held in even higher regard for the way in which she represents the United Kingdom. It has rightly been said by some constitutional experts that Her Majesty the Queen is the only person born in the United Kingdom who is not English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish; she is all and none of those things and can represent all the nations of the United Kingdom on an equal basis in a way that no President ever could.
The Queen has also constantly represented the nation when abroad. Foreign leaders from President Truman to Nelson Mandela and Ronald Reagan have all testified to her extraordinary ability both to represent this country and to understand the world. On her hugely important and healing state visit to Ireland in 2011, Her Majesty began her remarks in Irish and spoke about the history of the troubled relationship between the UK and Ireland.  She did so with a kindness as well as an authority that went far beyond anything that would be possible for an elected politician.
As a diplomat and ambassador for the United Kingdom, the Queen has represented our country on 266 official visits to 116 different countries. As I saw again at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta last year, she has made an extraordinary contribution to the future of our Commonwealth, growing it from eight Members in 1952 to 53 today. In doing so, she has helped to build a unique family of nations that spans every continent, all the main religions, a quarter of the members of the United Nations and nearly a third of the world’s population. The reach of Her Majesty’s diplomacy is without parallel—so much so that, as a result of a visit to Balmoral, she can claim to be the only woman ever to have driven the King of Saudi Arabia around in a car. I have that story sourced from both the participants.
Through it all, Her Majesty has carried herself with the most extraordinary grace and humility. When people meet the Queen, they talk about it for the rest of their lives. She understands that, and she shows a genuine interest in all she meets. They can really see that she cares. As the constitutional historian Vernon Bogdanor has said, Her Majesty understands what might be called
“the soul of the British people.”
Her Majesty has done so much throughout her life that when it comes to her 90th birthday, there cannot be much that is new for her to try, but I am pleased to hear that she will be sampling the orange drizzle birthday cake baked by the winner of “The Great British Bake Off”, Nadiya Hussain.
As she lights the first in a chain of 1,000 beacons, Her Majesty will be joined, as ever, by her family, including her son the Prince of Wales and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh, who has stood by her side throughout her extraordinary reign. They have both served this country with an unshakeable sense of duty, and their work, including the Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme and the Prince’s Trust, has inspired millions of young people around the world. As we see in those delightful birthday portraits released this week, family has always been at the heart of Her Majesty’s long life.
Mr Speaker, we are uniquely blessed in our country. Her Majesty’s service is extraordinary, and it is a joy for us all to celebrate, to cherish and to honour it. In June, the whole country will share in this special milestone, with a service of thanksgiving in St Paul’s cathedral and a wonderful royal street party. But today, I know the whole House and the whole country will want to join me in wishing Her Majesty the Queen health, happiness and, above all, a very special 90th birthday.

Friday, 22 April 2016

3 key events in Ponteland next few days: school consultation, neighbourhood plan consultation + beer festival

Last night I went to the Neighbourhood Plan Consultation. It is brilliantly organised and the website is also superb - check it out here http://www.pontelandneighbourhoodplan.co.uk
I would urge anyone affected in greater Ponteland, which includes Medburn and Milbourne, to go:
Times at the Memorial Hall are:
Friday 22nd April 10.00-12.00, 2.00-4.00, 6.00-8.00pm
Saturday 23rd April 10.00-2.00pm

Saturday sees the school consultation - I will definitely be there, although I am juggling diary commitments that day. I have separately met or written to a variety of those affected. My views, and affinity to Ponteland Middle School, are well known, but for the avoidance of doubt I do not support the County Councils plan. 
Finally I must also plug the brilliant beer festival. I went last year and it is great fun. I drove past last night and Saturday looks like it has sold out but there are still tickets available Friday evening. 



Thursday, 21 April 2016

Happy 90th Birthday to her Majesty! How are you going to celebrate the Queens birthday?

Clean for the Queen is a great idea. I have already done sessions in Prudhoe tidying up, and have a series of further events planned for the summer. The courant did a great preview last week of the many events in Tynedale across the spring and summer in celebration of the Queens birthday
I am getting behind this campaign and have plans to do further litter picks in various places with schools and local voluntary organisations over the summer. It is a great idea and I urge you to get involved; if you need more information you can get more details here:http://www.cleanforthequeen.co.uk/home/2365

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Farmwatch sending a clear message to deter thieves in Northumberland.

Police, the NFU and insurers NFU Mutual have joined forces to help highlight the strength of Farmwatch across rural Northumberland.
Together they have produced 300 new Farmwatch signs for mounting to gates, fences and farm buildings and so send a clear message to would-be thieves.
The collaboration comes as a result of an increasingly close working relationship between the Police and the local farming community. A regular rural crime forum has also been established bringing farmers and police officers together every three months to discuss issues and share information.
Farmwatch in Northumberland is a longstanding success with hundreds of farmers right across the county signed up to receive regular updates and information about criminal activity in the area.
Neighbourhood Inspector, Kevin Oates, said: "The new and updated signs are perfect for spreading the message about Farmwatch and the work we are doing in our rural communities to keep them safe.
"Farmwatch is a really useful tool in the fight against rural crime. It allows us to be in constant contact with our most rural communities.
"I'd urge anyone who lives in rural Northumberland to sign up and play their part. We need as many of our rural residents signed up as possible as they are our eyes and ears.”
This is a view shared by NFU Northumberland County Adviser Samantha Davies who said: “Rural crime is a significant national issue and the NFU has been focused for several years on building better links with police forces across the country.
“We have just produced a rural crime manifesto for the Police and Crime Commissioner elections and that highlights the importance of good communication to encourage maximum community engagement.
“In Northumberland we are forging ahead and this latest collaboration shows what can be achieved by working together. Good signage is crucial to the success of Farmwatch as a visible reminder to would-be thieves that their activities will not go unnoticed. These signs are not cheap, but by pooling our resources we are now able to provide them free of charge to Farmwatch members.”
Rural insurance specialists NFU Mutual are also very active supporting Farmwatch and other crime prevention initiatives across the country.


Farmwatch members wanting a sign should contact either local policing team or their NFU local group secretary. Anyone interested in joining the Farmwatch scheme should contact their local policing team on 101.

Monday, 18 April 2016

My guest post on the brain tumour warrior blog

https://braintumourwarrior.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/an-mps-first-hand-perspective-brain-tumour-research-funding-debate-on-18th-april/

Westminster this week: brain tumour research and living wage debates, meeting Air Ambulance teams, + rail in the north dominate

The Commons today has a double header which I am trying to attend - a debate on the living wage and its impact, and a separate debate in Westminster hall at the same time on the petition relating to brain tumour research. 
My views on the living wage are well known, but here is my recent Morpteth Herald article: http://www.morpethherald.co.uk/news/local-news/millions-will-benefit-from-living-wage-1-7846301

The Brain Tumour Research Petition, and the evidence gathered as part of this, has produced a full report, and it is the findings of this report that the Commons will debate upon. Local mum of Stu Ridley, Celia Ridley, has helped with this evidence making process. 
It is clear from the report that we need to change the emphasis of cancer research funding so that more funding can be channelled into researching brain tumours. Importantly, central government only has the power to assign the money, but not what areas that money is invested into. The actual total amount available has gone up, but the allocation to brain tumour research is low as they are competitive with other cancer charities and research specialisms. This is something which the relevant bodies – Cancer Research UK & the Cancer Research Institute in particular – ultimately decide. However today's debate in the House of Commons can help to shape the future of funding. I will be attending for at least part of the debate. 
Sedately this week I shall be getting a briefing on air ambulance developments, both locally and nationally, and debating the financial services bill, along with trying to make the Rail in the North meeting on Tuesday. 

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Skylarks, Golden Plovers, and Curlews: Summer is on its way, and our local birds are out reminding us of the immense natural beauty of Northumberland

We are very fortunate in our part of the world, to be surrounded by such a wealth of natural wildlife. Northumberland is home to the northernmost national park in England: Northumberland National Park, covering a quarter of the whole county; as well as the largest forest in England: Kielder Water and Forest Park.

As we approach summer, I personally, and I am sure many others lucky enough to live in these parts, are reminded of the abundance of natural wonders on offer, by the appearance of many of our local, and seasonal bird species.
Skylark [Courtesy of rspb.org.uk]
Skylarks, Golden Plovers, Curlews are all local treasures and now as we approach the summer months, this an ideal time to go and see them. Skylarks, as seen in the picture to the right, can often be heard in the hay meadows around Greenhaugh.

Curlew [Courtesy of rspb.org.uk]
Golden Plovers, just a little smaller than a lapwing, specifically come up to our moorlands for the summer, from their winter coastal, and farmland habitats.  Curlews, are synonymous with Northumberland, being the emblem of Northumberland National Park, and with the National Park providing a haven for the threatened species.

Seasoned bird spotter, or amateur nature enthusiast, it makes no matter. Northumberland is a great place to see these wonderful birds, and experience some truly breath-taking natural scenery, and wildlife.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

The Weekend read: Sir John Major speech on the issue of the EU - it is a brilliant speech and overwhelming in its argument

On a multitude of levels the former PM makes a strong case for the remain campaign. I urge all constituents to read it before making their decision
http://www.johnmajor.co.uk/speechhongkong.pdf

Friday, 15 April 2016

Brain Tumour Research debate in the House of Commons - Monday Afternoon Westminster Hall 4.30-7.30

It is common knowledge that I suffered a brain tumour and had a craniotomy in May 2011:
My short version of events is here:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2035955/MP-Guy-Opperman-recalls-owes-NHS-life-diagnosed-brain-tumour.html
Next Monday, the House of Commons has a special debate on the issue of Brain Tumour Research + the petition to the Commons on this issue:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmpetitions/554/554.pdf
This is the issue which Celia Ridley, mother of Stu Ridley, has given evidence to both in writing and when the Petitions Committee first considered this matter.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Future EU debates in Hexham - June 16 + June 4

In the months of May and June I have a variety of debates across the wider North East, both with specific business groups, and general debates in Tynedale.
The precise details of the local Hexham debates are as follows:
- June 16 at Hexham Abbey, at 7.30
- June 4 at Hexham QEHS, at 2
I am definitely speaking at the former, and am trying to free myself up to speak at the latter.
My thoughts and approach on the EU are set out here: https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=5077636819382533422#editor/target=post;postID=7109660053298986926;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=67;src=postname

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

A North East Mayor and the devolution deal is crucial for the future prosperity of the North East

I am strong advocate of devolution and the opportunities are massive for the North East. But Gateshead has now decided - after having sign on the dotted line last year - to back out. It is a great shame. I would urge them to get back on board. Why does this matter? Because Teeside, Liverpool, Greater Manchester, and others have seen the massive benefits that devolution has to offer: control of transport, skills, business rates, job creation and so much more. This project will proceed without them but they would be the losers. Crucially the business community is heavily critical of the Gateshead decision.
The chronicle assessment is here: http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/devolution-everything-you-need-know-11082124

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

£1.1m pothole funding boost for Northumberland

Today I am pleased to welcome new dedicated funding from the Government to fill nearly 1 million potholes across the UK, including £1,111,000 for Northumberland, enough to fill an estimated 20,962 potholes

Local motorists will benefit from the dedicated funding after the Government announced that nearly £50 million of funding will be made available to local councils over the next 12 months.  This is part of a wider move to fill 58,039 potholes across the North East with over 100 councils in England receiving funding. Northumberland received more than a third of the total North East funding allocation. 

The funding has been made available to councils as part of the Government’s £250 million Pothole Action Fund included in last month’s budget, which will see over four million potholes fixed by 2020/21, and is part of the Government’s plan to invest in infrastructure to secure a better future for our economy. 

The state of our roads is consistently raised with me by local residents and remains a great source of frustration for drivers. 

This new funding is welcome news for families and businesses in Northumberland who rely on our roads to get around.  I’ve been campaigning for a long time for greater investment in road repairs, and I’m encouraging the County Council to make full use of their allocation to help improve Northumberland's poor roads.  

I am very pleased that the Government is investing to improve the standard of our local roads.

Northumberland national park welcomes support for schoolkids to come to the park

http://www.hexham-courant.co.uk/news/Northumberland-National-Park-welcomes-pledge-on-schools-ce469a38-9152-4250-b737-acd89c2ad51f-ds

Monday, 11 April 2016

Still time to book places on the Haltwhistle Walking Festival and enjoy great Northumberland hiking

Marjorie Baillie and her team run a great walking festival and I warmly recommend it. The west of Northumberland has great country to hike over. The dates are April 23-May 2. Full details here:
http://www.haltwhistlewalkingfestival.org/page17.html

Westminster this coming week- preparing for the week ahead with various debates + meetings with schools, tourism and more

Parliament is packed this week with debates and multiple meetings I have with everyone from the Northumbria NHS Trust, Visit Britain, concerning concerning Hadrians Wall, and tourism, to Northumberland, and discussions with the County Council. I also have Hexham Middle School coming down to the House of Commons to see Parliament, and have a Q +A with me. Luke is our work experience helper this week.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Hexham Literary Festival - still time to book places for everyone from Louis de Berniere + James Naughtie

Joanne Harris, Anne Strathie, several politicians, Melvyn Bragg and so much more! April 22- May 4. Full details here:
http://hexhambookfestival.co.uk

Saturday, 9 April 2016

The Living Wage is making a difference - a very positive difference

On 1st April 2016, the National Living Wage became law. From this date employers paid eligible employees, aged 25 and over, at least the new rate of £7.20 per hour.
O
You should have seen the increase in your pay automatically from April 1st, if you currently earn less than £7.20 per hour, and are eligible. If you don’t see a difference in pay, you can speak to your employer or get in contact with the Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (ACAS) helpline on 0300 123 1100 or visit the ACAS page. Equally, businesses need to update the company payroll in time for 1 April 2016 to make sure they are paying their workers correctly, and communicate the changes to staff as soon as possible.

This was an issue I championed in the previous parliament. We need to ensure that work always pays, and that a hard day's work always mean a fair day's pay. Employers have a duty to look after their employees, and the evidence suggests that this helps businesses as well; by increasing retention, motivation, and profits in the long-term. A link to an article I wrote in the New Statesman about this, can be found here http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/08/guy-opperman-conservative-case-living-wage

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

For more information you can visit the website: http://bit.ly/1RbKs8Z

PM has done nothing wrong and has my full support

The bottom line is this: 
- the PM has not broken the law, 
- his family has not broken the law, 
- and he paid tax on all matters

I suspect that the Prime Ministers approach might be explained by his finding the focus on his recently expired father upsetting - I remember feeling the same when the daily mail had a pop at Ed Miliband's parents: http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/hexham-mp-supports-opposition-leader-6142212

As one journalist has put it this week: "Some Labour MPs - particularly on the Corbynite flat earth left, but a few others who should know better too - have in their attacks displayed an extraordinary and terrifying ignorance of law and economics. The Cameron family trust is entirely legal. Tax avoidance, which many of us practice when we put money in an ISA rather than an account subject to tax, is emphatically not the same as tax evasion, which means evading taxes you are legally obliged to pay. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Britons have ordinary investments in trusts that may involve off-shore activities. The income that flows back into the UK and any capital gain is subject to UK tax, which the Camerons paid. In their case the tax that has been avoided - not evaded - is tax in Panama. The Panamanians don't want it. They deliberately keep their taxes right down to attract investors and trusts. 

But aren't there some dodgy money-launderers and foreign despots using the same techniques as the Camerons used? Yes. But there are some dodgy people operating inside the UK too. Does that mean we should we all close our bank accounts here and cease trading for fear of taint by association? The implication is that the Camerons shouldn't have a legal - entirely legal - trust because some bad people from shady countries use similar vehicles as the end point for their ill-gotten gains. It makes no sense.
It is hard then to avoid the conclusion that the only reason the Camerons (who have handled the media response poorly) are under attack is because they are wealthy and by most people's definitions rich. Add in the hilarious spectacle of moralising by certain newspaper groups that have used off-shore vehicles themselves in their dealings, like the Guardian of all people, and you are left with a week in the UK that might have been scripted by Victorian genius Anthony Trollope. It has been sanctimonious, envious Britain at its worst."

Clearly, the benefits of capitalism need to be seen by all, but the free movement of capital and cross border investment - fuelled by deregulation and technology - has had overwhelmingly positive effects, both for the UK generally and all of us as citizens. Has the PMs team communicated badly this week - probably. But has he done anything wrong? No. Not at all. 
The last and best word in this is from the Spectator:
http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/04/david-cameron-is-guilty-of-bad-spin-and-nothing-more/

Friday, 8 April 2016

Visit the Somme this Summer - 100 years on we should pay our respects

Visiting the Somme is a truly momentous and very sobering experience. It is often hard to believe the sheer scale of conflict gone before, when you are looking out across the lush Belgian and French fields that were the setting of some of the most gruesome, and horrific battles of the First World War. A trip to these battlefield, and the various cemeteries in the region, provides a unique experience for reflecting on the sacrifices made of this generation, so that we today can enjoy our current freedoms.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission pays tribute to the 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in these two world wars; and does a fantastic job of maintaining these historic sites.
To assist with any trip you may have planned, they have just released new essential information for anyone travelling to the Somme this summer 2016. The link to this can be found here: http://www.cwgc.org/the-somme/visiting-the-somme.aspx

I strongly recommend a visit to this historic region - any trip here is a truly unique experience.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Your first £11,000 of earnings are now tax free - great change for the low paid


Less tax for low paid. More money in your pocket. A far cry from Labour and the 10p tax, and a taxing of all people on earnings from £6,000-£11,000. This does not happen now - this Conservative government has continued the great work of the Coalition in taking the low paid out of tax. It is also a tax cut for all working people - that's 30 million people - giving them more moment in their pocket. This puts us well on target to raise the personal allowance to £12,500 by 2020.  

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Grand National tips: my heart says Many Clouds but Gallant Oscar / Boston Bob = good outsiders


Last month I popped in to ride out at Oliver Sherwoods yard in Lambourn and said hello to the legend that is Many Clouds, who won last years Grand National. He is very well and will carry my emotional support and some money. But he is the favourite, so you won't get better than 8-1 I suspect.
I think lower weighted horses like Druids Nephew and Boston Bob are very good each way bets at more attractive odds. If you want a long shot then Gallant Oscar appeals. But I will be cheering for Many Clouds.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The Republicans and Trump deserve each other. I support Hillary Clinton for the USA President

The presidential election may sadly feature Donald Trump on the ticket, unless strange things happen at the Republican convention. The present republican alternative is not much better as Cruz is a pea in the same pod. The moderate and very capable candidates have not cut through. This is a shame. I like the look of John Kasich, who has actually run a state successfully in Ohio - see here: https://www.johnkasich.com/meet-john/
Or Rubio, who has failed to translate a ground up back story into a viable candidacy.

But the truth is that they have been drowned out by a Republican Party that is behaving like UKIP on steroids. Cruz and Trump are tapping into American fears, anger and popular nationalism in a way that will solve little. There are few easy choices as any MP, county councillor, or parish councillor will tell you, but this is not the way ahead.
But there is no question that across the world there is an anti everything campaign that is gaining traction - whether this is far right in the USA or France or far left in Greece and Spain. In my experience, the majority of the population are in the middle ground. For that reason I do not believe trump will win the presidency. He is also up against a formidable lady in the form of Hilary Clinton. She is well qualified for the job, having been an American lawyer, senator and foreign secretary.
She will have my support. She will do what she can to unite her country. Trump would divide it. I also think - as a former chairman of Women2Win - it will be a seminal moment for a woman to have the top job in the USA
The guardian take on her is here:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/28/hillary-clinton-honest-transparency-jill-abramson

Monday, 4 April 2016

Flood Re goes live today - find out more here: floodre.co.uk

Action plan for our National Parks - well worth a read. Northumberland features a lot

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-parks-8-point-plan-for-england-2016-to-2020
This 8-point plan sets out our priorities for improving National Parks in England over the period from 2016 until 2020.
It includes plans to connect more young people to the environment through National Parks, and to increase visitor numbers. The plan also includes plans to develop apprenticeships through National Park Authorities, and to protect and enhance the natural environment.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Northumberland Tourism: epic 2 day Sandstone Way cycle trip this am

http://www.sandstoneway.co.uk is the ultimate cycle trip from Hexham to Berwick and a large group of us are braving the weather today and tomorrow. For my part I am doing all I can to support the cycling in Northumberland which supports tourism, rural businesses, b and bs, pubs and tea shops.
Our itinerary is:
Saturday
Leave Cafe Enna Tyne Green Hexham at 0815 to cycle northwards 
Simonburn tearoom – pit stop
Bellingham – lunch stop 
Rothbury – Tomlinson’s cafe and bunkhouse for D,B&B. 
Sunday
All ride to Ingram for lunch then Chillingham Castle for a mid pm tea stop: ETA at BoT is 6 to 6-30 pm. 
Sunday night - sleep very well!


National Living Wage, rise in tax threshold, savings+pensions reforms all come in this week

This week, we’re demonstrating what a modern, compassionate, majority Conservative government ‎is all about.
Over the next seven days, we’re taking transformative steps to support decent, hardworking people and the businesses that they work for and run.
For me, these reforms – including the new, compulsory National Living Wage, which came into effect at midnight – demonstrate exactly who and what we’re fighting for. 
As Conservatives, we know you can’t deliver social justice without ‎economic security. So these latest changes we’re making will help to deliver that – making a real difference to millions of people in terms of their family and business finances straight away. But I believe their impact will be felt much further into the future too. Many will see a significant pay rise, keeping more of what they earn, and more dignity when they retire. For businesses, which have already created over 2.8 million jobs since 2010, there will be lower taxes, more help to create jobs, and a better-skilled population to fill them.
We’ve already achieved a great deal to be proud of. We have the fastest growing major economy in the world, more people in work than ever before, and a deficit that is a third of the ruinous level we inherited from the last government.
But our party knows there is much more to do. More to do to deliver economic and national security. And more to do to make sure that everyone in the country – whether an apprentice learning a craft, a teacher or a nurse, a solicitor or an entrepreneur – feels the full benefit.
A centrepiece of our plan is today’s new National Living Wage. It’s a radical new policy that means that from today, 1.3 million of the lowest-paid in our society are earning more for every hour they work than they did just yesterday.
It means British workers aged 25 and over on the minimum wage are getting a bigger increase in their annual pay than any of their counterparts in the world. In fact, it’s the biggest such rise in any advanced economy since the financial crisis seven years ago.
The National Living Wage will increase every year, and is forecast to reach £9 an hour by 2020.‎ Our analysis shows that women, in particular, will benefit – meaning significant progress in closing the gender pay gap‎ for the lowest paid. It’s not just those on the minimum wage that will benefit. Experts predict a ripple effect up the income scale, meaning that in total as many as six million will benefit.
The second change taking effect is one that ensures people keep more of what they earn. In the last Parliament, we dramatically increased the amount of money a person can earn before paying any income tax, from £6,500 to £10,600. That took almost four million of the lowest paid workers in our country out of tax altogether. And when we went to the British people last May, we said we’d go even further.
So next week, all but the very highest earners in Britain will see their tax bill cut as the personal allowance increases again from £10,600 a year to £11,000. And from next year it’ll rise even further to £11,500 , as I announced in the Budget last month. For a basic rate tax payer that will mean over £1,000 more in their pockets than Labour offered them in 2010. Over 30 million people wil benefit. We also said we recognised the enormous contribution that those on middle incomes make to our economy. Let’s be honest about it: too many families have been pulled into the higher rate of tax.
So next week, the higher rate threshold will also increase, to £43,000. Combined with the changes we’re making to the personal allowance will mean that a typical higher rate taxpayer will pay £818 less this April than they did in April 2010. At the Budget, I promised we’d go even further next year – lifting that threshold to £45,000 in the biggest above inflation cash‎ increase since Nigel Lawson introduced the 40p rate in 1988. Hundreds of thousands of people will be lifted out of higher rate income tax altogether. Keeping more of what you earn – that’s what we Conservatives believe, and what we’re delivering this week.
The third change we make this week is to introduce a more generous system for saving. The new personal savings allowance comes into effect, so that the first £1,000 of interest a basic rate taxpayer earns on their savings becomes completely tax free. To ensure higher rate taxpayers enjoy the same benefit, we have set their allowance at £500. From next week, that benefit will be felt by 92 per cent of Britain’s savers – and 18 million people will now pay no savings tax at all.
We have also announced radical new ISA flexibilities to build on what we achieved under the last parliament, because I’ve always believed that people should be trusted with their own money. So from next Wednesday people will be free to access the money they put into an ISA, up to £15,240 a year, whenever they want – without losing any of their tax free entitlement.
We’re also launching new products to increase choice, just as the new Help to Buy ISA is already helping people buy their first home. From next Wednesday there will be an innovative new finance ISA to support those that want to invest their savings in a company to help it grow; the Budget announced a landmark new lifetime ISA to help people save for their retirement and first home. From April next year any adult under 40 will be able to save up to £4,000 a year, and receive a 25% bonus from government.
And finally, another change that will benefit millions in the longer term is a radical new state pension. Dignity and security in retirement is at the heart of what this government and we as Conservatives stand for. So from next Wednesday, those reaching pensionable age will receive a new ‘single-tier’ pension. The starting rate for the full new state pension will be £155.65. It will ensure that those of working age can save for their retirement with confidence and a new understanding of exactly what they’ll get from the state when they retire. It is simpler and fairer, with all employees whether in the public or private sector paying the same rate of NICs. Over 70 per cent of people will be receiving an average of £200 a year more than they would have by 2020.
When we first came into government in coalition we set about turning this country around. We’ve achieved a great deal already, and have been backed by the British people to get on with the job as a majority government.
I’m determined that we do that as progressive, modern Conservatives fighting for everyone in our one nation.

Friday, 1 April 2016

A quarter of Northumberland employees are getting a pay rise today - the living wage is a great thing

A quarter of Northumberland employees are set to get a pay rise when the new “living wage” comes into force Today. That figure will rise to almost a third of employees by 2020.

I have long campaigned for the introduction of a Living Wage. Here is my article from August 2013:

The living wage is added to the minimum wage for workers aged 25 or over. It means the effective minimum wage will be £7.20 an hour from Friday, rising to nearly £9 an hour by 2020, up from the current minimum wage of £6.70.

Eligible workers will receive an 11% pay rise this year.

The Resolution Foundation says that people benefiting most from the introduction of the living wage are those living outside London and the South East, where wages are already relatively high.

Its research shows that 25% of employees in Northumberland, one in four, and 21% inCounty Durham, one in five, will receive a pay rise this year.

Torsten Bell, director of the Resolution Foundation, said: “The National Living Wage will transform the low pay landscape in the North East.

“Northumberland is the most affected area in the region, with one in four employees aged 25 and over set for a pay rise. 
The proportion of employees to be affected by the introduction of the National Living Wage this year, by local authority:
Redcar and Cleveland: 26%
Northumberland: 25%
Middlesbrough: 23%
South Tyneside: 23%
County Durham: 21%
North Tyneside: 18%
Sunderland: 18%
Stockton-on-Tees: 17%
Newcastle upon Tyne: 17%
Gateshead: 17%

Thursday, 31 March 2016

BBC: Manchester devolution shows what NE Counxils are choosing to miss out on

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35935386
For the first time in over a century, municipal power is returning to Greater Manchester. But this is not simply about shifting budget meetings from Westminster to the North West. 
True to their traditions, the local leaders of this proud industrial region are planning something utterly radical. They intend to abandon the Whitehall model, completely rethinking how services are run and how lives can be changed.
At midnight tonight, the 10 councils in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority will take direct control of £6bn of annual health and social care funding, money previously administered by central government ministers in London. Rather than following departmental priorities and targets, however, they are posing a question - how can we use what resources we have to ensure the greatest and fastest possible improvement to the health and wellbeing of the people of Greater Manchester? 
And the answer is to smash the silos. Mark Eastons report and film are well worth reading and watching. The north east councils should ask themselves - why would we not want to be part of this.
Oh and by the way. . .Greater Manchester is a labour controlled area. They have just learned to get along not fight amongst themselves. 

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

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

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

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

In a 2013 referendum Falklanders voted overwhelmingly to remain a British overseas territory. I made clear both before the trip, and at the time, that I am strong in my continued support for the Falklands - which was welcomed by the Falklands islands government. 
The debate I held in the commons in 2013 is here:http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2013-03-12b.277.0 and the extent of UK support can be gauged from that debate. 
Recently the Argentinian government has changed, and there are hopes of a thawing in relations, with an end to the trade embargoes and other arbitrary actions by the Argentinians who have repeatedly asserted that the  archipelago, known to Argentinians as the Islas Malvinas, should be returned. That will never happen.
It seems that yesterday the UN appears to have created a preliminary report, as yet unpublished, on the territorial extent of the fishing rights of Argentina and the Falkland Islands. 
I note that the UK government is being asked to clarify this by Mike Summers, chair of the FI legislative assembly, who I met when I was out there. The islanders should know that on this, as in all matters, they have our full support in the UK. There is no doubt that fishing is a massive part of the Falkland Island economy. Sadly I suspect the UN are at fault. Indeed the PM has responded overnight on this point here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/falklandislands/12206454/David-Cameron-dismisses-Argentinas-claim-to-the-waters-surrounding-the-Falkland-Islands.html

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