Saturday, 13 February 2016

Update on Aid support for Syria following last weeks conference

Last week the International Development Secretary Justine Greening updated the House on the London Syria Conference and the UK’s response to the Syria crisis. She delivered extremely important news, which I have broken down below, although I would encourage everyone to read the full statement found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/justine-greening-statement-to-parliament-on-syria

The Syrian conflict has created untold misery for the Syrian people, at the hands of the Assad regime and Daesh. There are 13.5 million people in desperate need, and 4.6 million refugees.

Our efforts, to help Syrians in Syria, refugees, and to defeat Daesh, are having a real impact. However, we must remain focused on ensuring political discussions between the key parties restart in order to create a lasting solution for the region.

On a humanitarian level, our efforts have doubled. On Thursday 4th February the UK brought together over 60 countries and organisations including 33 heads of state and Governments. Countries, donors and businesses all stepped up and raised new funds for this crisis to the amount of over £7.7 billion. This included £4 billion for 2016 and another £3.6 billion for 2017-2020. This was the largest ever amount committed in response to a humanitarian crisis in a single day. More has been raised in the first five weeks of this year for the Syria crisis than in the whole of 2015. The UK, once again, played our part. We announced that we would be doubling our commitment – increasing our total pledge to Syria and the region to over £2.3 billion.

Politically the UK continues to call on all sides to take steps to create the conditions for peace negotiations to continue. In particular Russia must use its influence over the Syrian regime to put a stop to indiscriminate attacks and unacceptable violations of international law.

Militarily, the Global Coalition, working with partner forces, has put further pressure on Daesh. Iraqi forces, with Coalition support, have retaken large portions of Ramadi. In Syria, the Coalition has supported the capture of the Tishreen Dam and surrounding villages as well as areas south of al-Hawl. As of 5th February, RAF Typhoon, Tornado and Reaper aircraft have flown over 2,000 combat missions and carried out more than 585 successful strikes across Syria and Iraq.

The UK has been in the vanguard of efforts, to solve the Syrian crisis, but we can always do more. It is crucial that we secure a political solution to the conflict, without which it will be almost impossible to establish a stable, and secure future for the region.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Corbridge open for business with pop up market tomorrow 10-2


The Guardian miss the point about voter registraion - it is common sense and there to combat fraud

A couple of Mondays ago the Guardian features this headline:
"Figures compiled by Labour find register has shrunk dramatically in areas with high student population"
As one columnist puts it in rebuttal of this bizarre argument.
"The students referred to in the Guardian report have not had their vote taken away. They are simply now being asked, under the individual electoral registration system, to spend three minutes online to personally register to vote."
This is being done to combat voter fraud. The new voter registration rules came into force last December, ending the out-dated system whereby the (often self-appointed) head of a household registered all eligible voters at a particular address. This was wide open to abuse, error and fraud so now every voter has to register themselves individually, which includes students who have moved into halls of residence at university. It is easy to do. The Guardian have nothing to complain about - in fact they should be applauding the end of the old abuses. The full commentary on why this is a good thing is here:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/12133872/Students-who-dont-have-the-vote-arent-being-disenfranchised-theyre-just-lazy.html

Thursday, 11 February 2016

I would strongly urge local Hexham businesses to vote for the Hexham BID Project - key financial and other support for the town

I am backing the Hexham BID Project = an exciting government backed initiative to promote, expand and enhance the business opportunities in the Town. But we need Hexham businesses to get involved. Full details are found here and set out in more details below: http://reviveandthrive.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Hexham-BID-FAQ-1.pdf

1. Marketing and Promotion - To market and promote Hexham as a centre for retail, leisure and tourism, including better use of digital and mobile technologies, and extending cultural activities, festivals and events. To include comprehensive and coordinated marketing, promotion and events campaigns for the town and support for the development of a Hexham Loyalty scheme.
2. Town Pride - To take pride in Hexham by building on its fantastic heritage and creating a more attractive town for workers residents and visitors. This would be delivered through improvement works designed to raise standards of appearance, accessibility, cleanliness and security throughout the town and will include action aimed at improving signage and linkages within the town.
3. Business Investment - To invest in people and businesses to enable Hexham to build upon its reputation for high quality services and goods. To deliver high quality customer services and an effective network across the town. This will include a series of initiatives to achieve business excellence, better business networking and deliver cost savings for individual businesses linking into the Hexham Business Forum and Tynedale Business Network. Work will be undertaken to build upon the two newly created Enterprise Hubs operating in the town and the benefits that could be accrued in attracting and supporting new and existing businesses.
4. Vibrant Markets – To invest in and build upon the Hexham Markets as an excellent way of bringing people into the town, and enabling new traders to test out their idea before committing to permanent facilities. This may include the purchase of new stalls and equipment and is linked to the Business Investment and Marketing and Promotion themes.
The BID will only deliver additional projects and services. The BID will not duplicate or replace services provided by public bodies but will, in particular, work with Northumberland County Council, Hexham Town Council, Northumbria Police and other relevant service providers to ensure their continued delivery of high quality services.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Digital Skills for the Northern Powerhouse - Code is key to the future of IT business in the North

Tomorrow the Code Academy is launching at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead. This is a very encouraging step by industry, helping to fill the digital skills gap, and complements the work being done by Local Enterprise Partnerships, and the Government.

These are the skills we need in the North East for the future. Already a leading technology centre, the North East is well placed to push on to become a real centre of excellence, as part of the wider Northern Powerhouse. Only last month, GP Bullhound, one of Europe’s largest technology investment banks, came out in emphatic support of the technology industry in the North East, publishing a list of nine companies with the potential to become $1 billion businesses. The region already has a turnover of £1.7 billion, across 199 different technology firms. 

Moving forward, it is vital that we maintain and build on this success, and it is with schemes, like the Code Academy, that we can ensure that the skills of the future stay in the North East.

The Trident debate + what use / or not you make of the submarines is the debate occupying the Labour Party party now in Westminster

Having the expensive submarines without the missiles [The Corbyn Approach] seems to be the one course of action that no one else in the Labour party thinks is a good idea. Except Emily Thornberry, their defence spokesman.
Whatever your views on Trident as a defence mechanism the one thing everyone seems to agree upon is that you either have the missile system and believe in deterrence, or you do not have the missile system and do not believe in deterrence. Yet there is a difference on so many things between leadership, Labour party policy, and the views of the MPs and membership.


This from Jamie Reed Labour MP in this weeks Spectator:
"These are wild times in the Labour party, as an appetite for self-destruction grips the party leadership. Central to the ‘new politics’ approach of the party leadership is a deliberate abandonment of basic political professionalism. Positions don’t have to make sense, policies don’t need to be thought through, the political concerns of the public can be dismissed and the media should be hated at all times and ignored wherever possible.
This new approach represents an orgiastic embrace of the chaos theory: anything goes and no one is to blame. To understand this approach is to understand the Labour leadership and it is through this peculiar prism that the internal Labour debate about Trident should be seen.
Trident renewal is Labour party policy; it is the settled will of the country, and every decision relating to it will have been taken by 2020. Renewal is morally right, strategically justified and overwhelmingly in the national interest.
Creating our independent nuclear deterrent and our civil nuclear industry should be a source of immense pride for Labour. We should take great pride in being the standard bearers for one of Attlee’s most important legacies."

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Great visit to Highfield Middle School in Prudhoe last week - good Q+A with Year 8

The Head of Citizenship at Highfield Middle School, Prudhoe, Carly Nichol invited me in to talk to the year 8's about parliament, how it works and what it is like to be an MP.
I was delayed by a flood meeting that overran, but had a great time explaining the job and taking questions from the students. 
The questions and general discussion ranged from: 
- what got you first involved with politics
- why did you become an MP
- what did you do before
- how do you spend your time as an MP
- what are your priorities
- do you enjoy the job
- and various substantive questions on Europe, schools and policy issues

These are all fairly standard, albeit perfectly legitimate questions, but my favourite question was from a libertarian who asked are you in favour of more laws or are fewer laws better? And the children really enjoyed the tales of going to Buckingham Palace, nearly getting into trouble for taking pictures there and tales of how amazing, but really quite short, the Queen is. My thanks to the school and all the children. 

Monday, 8 February 2016

Great news PM focusing on prison reform: putting governors in charge, reforming education and ranking our prisons

I have long campaigned on prison reform and am really proud our PM is taking up the cause.
Explaining the need for reform in what No 10 is describing as the first speech from a prime minister focusing solely on prisons since John Major in the 1990s, Cameron will say: “The failure of our system today is scandalous.”
“Forty-six per cent of all prisoners will reoffend within a year of release; 60% of short-sentenced prisoners will reoffend within the same period. And current levels of prison violence, drug taking and self-harm should shame us all.
“In a typical week, there will be almost 600 incidents of self-harm; at least one suicide; and 350 assaults, including 90 on staff. This failure really matters.”
He will argue that reoffending costs the country up to £13bn a year. But Cameron will also make a moral case for a renewed focus on cutting reoffending through education and rehabilitation, saying that for too long governments have adopted an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to prisons.
“When I say we will tackle our deepest social problems and extend life chances, I want there to be no no-go areas. And that includes the 121 prisons in our country, where our social problems are most acute and people’s life chances are most absent,” he will say.
Even the Guardian approves:
http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/feb/08/cameron-give-more-power-governors-prisons-shakeup
If you want to read more my book on prison reform, Doing Time, is still available in all good book shops.

Westminster this week

The N8 Universities event on Monday promises to show good examples of the collaborative working that underpins so much of what the northern powerhouse is about. Leeds, Liverpool, York, Sheffield, Newcastle, Lancaster, Durham and Manchester universities are all coming together to showcase their collective skills of research and innovation. I also have meetings at the department for transport. We have multiple commons debates and I have meetings galore most notably the events on Wednesday to support apprenticeships, and in support of dementia research and treatment as organised by the Alzheimer's society.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Action on the flood problems that Hexhams Tyne Green suffered


In December the area around Hexham Tyne Green flooded badly when the Tyne flooded the golf course and then went through the underpass under the railway. Many houses and several businesses were severely flooded. Last week we held a successful meeting in Hexham with Network Rail, key members of the NCC team, Northumbria Water, the Environment Agency and several local residents. It was a very productive meeting and my thanks to everyone who attended. The proposal is to construct a flood barrier that continmues to permit the right of way but provides protection to the residents and businesses.  

Saturday, 6 February 2016

NE Tourism growing and backed by several funding boosts as Northumberland clearly open for business

Interesting report in the Chronicle showing tourism numbers on the up and boosted by strong support from the Regional Growth Fund and other national marketing campaigns:
http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/north-east-economy-receives-multimillion-10828040

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Tyne Valley line to reopen in full on Monday - great job Network Rail

This has been a massive engineering task and Network Rail and the dozens of men on the site have moved more than 35,000 tons of soil and debris. I have inspected the site and met the team. The pictures below show some of the mess the giant landslip caused. This all occurred in January. Many are quick to criticise Network Rail but I have nothing but praise for them on this job. Local people should be really grateful. 


Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Northumberland County Council By Election tomorrow - if you are in W Hexham please vote for Tom Gillanders, a great local candidate

Tom is super local, a tireless campaigner for many great local causes, and passionate about Hexham. He will be a superb local County Councillor fighting for a fair deal for Tynedale. I urge you to support him tomorrow. If you have a postal vote and have not voted yet then you can still vote in person.

In Marco Rubio the Republicans may have found a candidate to give Hilary Clinton a run for the Presidency

The Iowa caucuses, in my view, are all about one man. Ignore the Trumpster, albeit his fire will continue to roar for a while. He will burn out. Ignore the serious religious fundamentalism of Ted Cruz, who won Iowa. The only Republican who has a real chance of widespread appeal, aside from a very narrow base, is Marco Rubio, the second generation son of Cuban immigrants. He came a close third in a seriously rural mid west state where he has limited appeal. His star is on the ascendancy.
As for Clinton she should see off Bernie Sanders, who is pursuing the Jeremy Corbyn approach.
Dan Hodges always writes well and his take on the American election is here:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/us-election/12137191/Donald-Trump-and-Hillary-Clinton-are-damaged-but-the-Republicans-have-a-winner.html

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Westminster this week - banking life savers, the Entreprise Bill and health + forestry meetings dominate this week

This week sees debates on various matters but notably today there is the enterprise bill. I have a variety of meetings this week - most notably with the Church of England who are launching their Life Savers Programme, which is a great junior savings club. On Wednesday I have meetings with the new chief executive of the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust, and will be going to the forestry event which is in support of woodland planting in the north of England.
My plan is to be on the last train home on Wednesday night after votes, but this requires a lot of sprinting to and at Kings Cross!

Monday, 1 February 2016

Iowa state republican election is the real start of a USA election campaign which Trump will not win

Every four years, when the race for the White House begins, Iowa - a place with six times more pigs than people - is thrust into the global spotlight. The voters decide today in Iowa. Their opinions will matter, but this is merely one event in a long campaign. 
Why do presidential candidates - and the world's media - descend on Des Moines in the middle of a bitterly cold winter? It's all because Iowa holds the first contest in the months-long nomination battle. 
What is this election like? It's like sending all our politicians to any British county, for months in mid winter to try and persuade only 20% of the voters (or less than that number who turn out in the republican primary) to vote in dozens of caucuses. By all accounts Trump seems likely to beat Cruz, who has worked the state hardest, but the likely long term winner is Rubio. I certainly do not subscribe to the view that Trump will win the republican nomination.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Homes for the North group shows why we need a North East Mayor

Interesting debate Thursday in the House of Commons when a large group of northern housing associations came together to make the case for devolution and the consequential policy and overall solutions that would result in more and better homes. I attended the debate, spoke v briefly - and afterwards chatted to two of major  housing providers that live and work in the north east and particularly Northumberland: Mark Henderson of Home Group and Keith Lorraine of Isos (see picture below) have many thousands of properties under management. The debate focused on many issues, but I found very interesting the much expressed complaint that in the north east we have multiple different local authorities, differing local housing plans, differing agendas to green belt, urban renewal and definitely different planning teams at the local authorities. The consequence is obvious - less building, fewer homes, greater costs to both local authorities / taxpayer and the developers, and an overall lack of any coordinated regional plan.
I am of the view that one of the benefits of a North East Mayor would be that regional overview.
Similarly, the impression of the housing needs not featuring in infrastructure renewal and expansion also featured. The flip side to that argument is how often does the housing developer reach out to the highways team, the combined local authority, and more particularly the LEP?
That development of an integrated approach and proper focused liaison rather than a wish list to the LEP will be one thing I hope Homes for the North take forward.
Finally, I challenged my two largest housing providers to look at the NCC estate - which is in excess of 100 properties - following the amalgamations of the district councils, and the movement of many things to Morpeth and beyond, and address their suitability for conversion into housing accommodation property. I remember in 2008 touring the two large former hospital sites at Stannington and Prudhoe - both had lain idle for many years at great cost to the taxpayer = well over £1 million dating back over 15 years in Stannington case. They were public land formerly used as public buildings and costing us a lot in security, whilst declining all the time.
I was determined that both would developed and one of my proudest achievements is the backing of both developments thereby releasing an unused state asset, providing much needed new housing and other benefits, without impacting on traditional unused virgin green belt.
I want a similar approach to the former Tynedale and castle Morpeth sites in my constituency, subject to the usual rules on consultation, planning and local views. Everyone in the Hexham constituency knows several buildings that have lain unused for years, quietly deteriorating at significant expense and nothing is done about them. The ball is in my local housing associations court.

In 2017 three things will happen:
- mayoral elections for the north east, with the significant changes this entails.
- a local authority that may failed to do a local plan will have its functions taken over by central government in order for such a plan to be produced under the housing act. Will Northumberland be finished by then?
- and local elections and I hope a fresh start as to the way in which Northumberland is run.
If you are interested in more detail their website is here:
http://www.homesforthenorth.co.uk

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Hexham Farmers Market today - shop local and support our farmers

Use your local farmers markets or lose them! So much effort goes in to support them, and produce great fresh produce direct to you the consumer you would be mad not to support them. I do and would urge you to do so as well.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Flood meetings tonight in Corbridge and tomorrow in Haydon Bridge next week in Hexham

Corbridge: Friday 29th at 7.30 in the Village Hall
Haydon Bridge: Saturday 30th at 10am in the Community Centre
Hexham Tyne Green - February 4 

Over the last few weeks I have met extensively with the Environment Agency, Northumbria Water, and Newtork Rail to try and get answers, and an explanation of the options for the way ahead in relation to the various flood events that befell everywhere from Ovingham to Corbridge to Tyne Green in Hexham, Haydon Bridge, Warden, Bellingham, Bywell and all places in between, as well as making multiple site visits to meet a variety of constituent householders, businesses, farmers, and sports clubs.

I accept that I have not been able to meet everyone, but Karen in my office is doing a great job trying to get everyone the answers and explanations they seek. We are holding a number of other meetings with local flood action groups and residents over the coming weeks notably a 6 way meeting with network rail, residents, NCC, Environment Agency, and my team and councillors, to try and sort the flooding on Hexham's Tyne Green, where negotiations are ongoing as to how we sort the underpass under the railway into a flood defence that still allows access. Where possible I would urge residents to form a flood group and it is this, along with local residents, that I am meeting in Corbridge tonight.

More detail on flood assistance can be found in my earlier blog post here:
http://guyopperman.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/update-help-for-those-affected-by.html

Good to see that unemployment falling locally as Job Centre's hard work and impact of our recent Hexham Jobs Fair take effect

December’s figures for Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants have been published recently and continue to show Tynedale as a leader in getting people into work. The total number of claimants for the Hexham constituency in December 2015 was 432. This represents a rate of just 1.2% of the economically active population - crucially this is half the wider UK rate at 2.4%.
Full credit to the Job Centre teams who are helping long and short term unemployed back into work. I know that our Hexham Jobs Fair has also helped, and I will be holding another one this year. 

Not only are we doing better than the wider country, but also we are building on our work already done. The total number of claimants was 89 lower than at this time last year. The situation continues to improve for our young people also as the number of claimants fell by 40, from last year, to a present total of 90. That is 40 young people who have a wage packet and a fresh start who did not have it before.
In the North East as a whole unemployment is also down. 
These figures demonstrate how our long term plan is working, and reinforce the importance of safeguarding this economic security for our younger generations. Nationally I should also point out that we now have more people in work in this country than ever before. Noone is complacent, but progress is being made. 

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Fascinating article by French journalist on the changes in France over the last year

Clearly the French approach to security, terrorism, checks and balances is different to this country. But just how different is hard to grasp until you read Anne Elizabeth Moutets article. France is in an extended state of emergency. This has serious consequences:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/12121116/Authoritarianism-is-the-norm-in-France.html

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Proud to support Core Music in Hexham, who provide training, real craftsmanship and great musical instruments

I recently visited Core Music, in Hexham, to see first-hand the great work they are doing as part of their Ucorelele project. The scheme is focussed on the manufacture of ukuleles out of wood that otherwise would have been thrown away. This of course is brilliantly environmentally friendly, and an excellent example of sustainability in action.

However, it does not stop there. The project also employs and trains long-term unemployed in the area, helping to provide those people with new skills, and increase volunteering within the community. The ukuleles themselves are sold in Core Music’s shop in Hexham, which is also an excellent place to try, and buy instruments. All money made goes straight back into community projects.
This social enterprise creates unique musical instruments to play, and supports our community both environmentally, and through tackling unemployment. It was great to look around the facility, and if you are ever passing by - pop in and have a go! More importantly if you want to back the project financially or in any other way then this support is both really needed and very welcome. 
Link to the Core Music website: http://www.coremusic.co.uk/

Monday, 25 January 2016

Arch Cru Update: progress being made on litigation, mediation and some further recovery for victims


The Arch Cru APPG does not exist anymore, for a variety of legitimate reasons, but Alun Cairns MP and myself have agreed to continue to follow any progress to ensure that MPs and their constituents receive any necessary updates.  

With this in mind, please find below further information on the latest progress:  
Mediation: The mediation process, facilitated by Bill Wood QC, continues, but correctly for a confidential process, there is no public information while that progresses. 
Reporting by the Guernsey Board:

The money invested by UK constituents in mutual funds was in turn invested by the managers of those funds, Arch Financial Products LLP (“Arch”) in the shares of Guernsey companies (“Cells”) listed on the Channel Islands Stock Exchange and also managed by Arch. The assets of those Cells were then invested by Arch in a range of investments, several of which lost, permanently, a great deal of value.  Failures by Arch have since been detailed by the FCA in its Decision Notice of September 2012, and in the judgment of the London High Court on Arch and its CEO delivered in December 2014.  The Guernsey directors were replaced by a new board of directors from 2010 onwards;  there is a recent published statement from Hugh Aldous, Chairman of that new board, which highlights progress made up to July 2015.    
Litigation:

There has been considerable progress. 

In December 2014, in the London High Court, the Guernsey Cells obtained judgment against Arch Financial Products LLP and Mr Robin Farrell personally, with orders for over £24 million in favour of the Cells.   The Court found Arch FP liable for breach of fiduciary duties, breach of contract and negligence and also found Mr Farrell liable for dishonest assistance.  Constituents should not however expect a recovery of that order; Arch has gone into liquidation and Mr Farrell declared bankrupt. 

In January 2015 the Upper Tribunal (Financial Services) upheld the FCA's Decision Notices against Arch FP, Mr Farrell and Mr Addison and thereby confirmed that Mr Farrell and Mr Addison are prohibited from performing any function in relation to any regulated activities on the grounds that they are not fit and proper persons.  It confirmed the fines on them. 

In October 2015 Mr Farrell’s request for leave to appeal against the judgment of the High Court was turned down by the Court of Appeal. 

In December 2015 Mr Farrell was declared bankrupt.   Arch FP is in liquidation. 

Claims against the former directors and administrators proceed and, if there is no successful outcome from current continuing mediation, the case will be heard in Guernsey in 2017. 

It may be recalled that the Cells also secured judgment in the London High Court in 2011 against Mr Koros and his interests, which had received some US$200 million of shareholders’ money, for US$86.8 million.  Judgment against Mr Koros and his interests has been confirmed by the courts in Greece.  Mr Koros says he has no assets. Matters in Greece are complex and may continue until 2018. There are nevertheless recovery prospects ,but if litigation is the way forward, that may take time and be costly.  Therefore, to try to cut through some of that, mediation remains open and active for the remaining Guernsey claims.

The former auditors of the Cells settled out of court almost 18 months ago. 
Guernsey:

In August 2015 the Guernsey Financial Services Commission published its decision against the Cells’ former administrator and its directors who were also directors of the Cells, although that latter role was not examined by the GFSC and is the subject of current litigation.  The GFSC’s decision made serious criticisms of the conduct of the administrator, found that the directors “demonstrated a consistent and serious lack of appropriate competence, judgment and diligence”, prohibits them from holding any position of responsibility in financial services in Guernsey for 5 years and imposed financial penalties.  Since it was from those Guernsey Cells that investors’ money was lost, and the notice of the decision is relatively short, we attach a copy of that decision.  It makes interesting reading. 

Achievement so far:
Although immediate financial rewards from these actions may be limited, the success ought to satisfy shareholders that those responsible for their losses are steadily being brought to book and, although it may be of only moral satisfaction, the cases against Arch and Mr Farrell concluded with robust judgments that have been noted by the industry and its lawyers. The next challenge is securing recovery under insurance policies. 

Assets and potential distributions:
Total assets under management hover around £50m after some further write-downs of illiquid hedge funds and some of the remaining real estate.  Taking into account announced settlements, a little over £190m has been returned to shareholders so far.  A reasonable proportion of the remaining assets should be readily realisable, or are seen to be in due course.  Some investments, now heavily discounted, are likely to remain a problem.  

Reports and Accounts will be drawn up at 31st March 2016 with a full Chairman’s Statement.  MPs with constituents with losses will receive a copy of that Statement. 

The costs of the legal proceedings undertaken by the Board to bring those responsible to book along with the greatest return to investors, will mean that some of the finance from assets that can be realised will still need to be used.   
However, even though Hugh Aldous tells us that he fears that current legal battles may continue for two or three years (if mediation fails, the claims in Guernsey may continue through 2017, some may go to arbitration and cases in Greece may still be under way in 2018) he still intends that the Board will make a further distribution within the next three to four months.  He, and the Board, are working on first getting shareholders’ representatives to accept a simplification of the existing, unnecessarily complicated and costly structures that hinder efficient distribution.  If that can be achieved, a further pay-out should be achieved in the Spring of 2016. 

We hope this information is helpful and provides a useful update on the continuing work of the Board.  Please be assured that we will continue to follow progress closely. I do stress that any affected constituents have to access information through their individual MP. 
Further info is found here:



Westminster this week - Childcare Bill providing free childcare dominates parliament this week - another manifesto commitment fulfilled

Today sees the debate on the Childcare Bill
Details can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32896284
The extended free childcare entitlement for working parents of three- and four-year-olds will provide eligible parents with a total of 30 hours of free childcare per week, over 38 weeks or the equivalent number of hours across more weeks per year. This dominates the week which sees full debate of the Charities Bill and an opposition day debate. I have a variety of other meetings and jobs as a whip this week which I will blog more on later.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Flood meetings organised for Corbridge and Haydon Bridge this weekend

The Environment Agency and Northumbria Water have both now agreed to attend the further flood meetings we have organised for this coming weekend.

Corbridge: Friday 29th at 7.30 in the Village Hall

Haydon Bridge: Saturday 30th at 10am in the Community Centre

Over the last few weeks I have met extensively with the Environment Agency to try and get answers, and an explanation of the options for the way ahead in relation to the various flood events that befell everywhere from Ovingham to Corbridge to Tyne Green in Hexham, Haydon Bridge, Warden and all places in between, as well as making multiple site visits to meet a variety of constituent householders, businesses, farmers, and sports clubs.

I accept that I have not been able to meet everyone, but Karen in my office is doing a great job trying to get everyone the answers and explanations they seek. We are holding a number of other meetings with local flood action groups and residents over the coming weeks notably a 6 way meeting with network rail, residents, NCC, Environment Agency, and my team and councillors, to try and sort the flooding on Hexham's Tyne Green, where negotiations are ongoing as to how we sort the underpass under the railway into a flood defence that still allows access.

More detail on flood assistance can be found in my earlier blog post here:
http://guyopperman.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/update-help-for-those-affected-by.html

Success! Trains will run to/from Riding Mill + Stocksfield from tomorrow as Northern Rail change their timetable

Northern Rail and Network Rail have listened to the concerns of local people and will now be running commuter trains at peak times. My thanks to the Tyne Valley Rail Users Group and their stalwarts (they know who they are!) for providing me with the key technical material to take to Northern in particular, with who, I have been in regular contact all the last week.
The full revised time table is here: http://www.northernrail.org/pdfs/trackworks/Corbridge_landslip_SX_v4.pdf

The key points to note are that the only extended services are
6:11: Riding Mill
6:21: Stocksfield
6:55: Newcastle via all usual stops

With a second commuter train at 7:39 and 7:49 respectively. I know local residents in riding mill and Corbridge will be delighted.

And then commuter service coming back leaving at 4:54 and 5:54 respectively. All other services are the bus connections as has been the case since the landslip, but my advice is to check the timetable regularly, in any event. This service will stick dovetail with the revised bus time table.
A few points to note: this service will be slower until Prudhoe as the nature of the service on such a track requires a slower speed, and assistance from network rail and a change to signalling. However, the key point is that there is now a service for 2 commuter trains into and back from Newcastle. It has required a reallocation of northern and network rail resources in several ways and I am grateful to them.

Northern Irish MP at PMQs speaks for everyone that Labour should not accommodate Argentina over the Falklands

The Labour leader has called for an “accommodation” with Argentina over the Falkland islands - despite 99.8 per cent of the inhabitants wanting to remain British. I disagree with Corbyn.
The matter featured at prime Ministers Questions this week.

Nigel Dodds MP                                           

Will the Prime Minister reiterate, not just on behalf of the Government, but speaking for the whole House I believe, the unconditional and unequivocal support of the British people for the people of the Falkland Islands and their right—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]—their inalienable and British-held right to self-determination? Will he confirm that that will not be undermined in any way by some kind of accommodation or negotiation in which the people of the Falkland Islands may have an enormous say, but have no veto? They should have a right to determine their own future.               

David Cameron The Prime Minister,                                          

The right hon. Gentleman has put it better than I ever could. The people of the Falkland Islands spoke as clearly as they possibly could in the referendum. They want to maintain the status quo. As long as they want that, they will have it guaranteed from me. I find it quite extraordinary that the Labour party wants to look at changing the status and giving away something people absolutely consider to be their right. That will never happen as long as I am in Downing Street.


Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 20 January 2016, c1415)

I held a debate after the last referendum in the House of Commons, the details of which are here: http://guyopperman.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/falklands-vote-to-stay-british.html

The full Corbyn story is here; I can find no Labour MP in the Commons this last week who thinks his approach is correct: 
http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/635487/Jeremy-Corbyn-calls-for-Falklands-deal-with-Argentina-and-Trident-subs-minus-warheads






Saturday, 23 January 2016

Reporting back: Progress on A69 dualling as locals get to meet the Department for Transport Policy Lead for Future Roads



On Thursday of last week I was delighted to welcome many local residents, local businessmen and women and members of the local council to meet Shona Johnstone, strategic studies policy lead for future roads at the Department for Transport. She is collating the responses to the feasibility study for the dualling of the A69 and part of that is engagement with local residents. We spoke for over 90 minutes and took a multitude of Q and A. Shona certainly got the message that we want the road dualled! I am very confident that we gave a good account of ourselves as the room in Haltwhistle was packed with standing room only at the back and a wide variety of voices and opinions were heard. I will update with more info in the next 7 days as to how residents input further in to the feasibility study. My thanks for Councillor Ian Hutchinson for all his help in getting this sorted and leading the local campaign.

Friday, 22 January 2016

National Libraries Day Feb 6th - make sure you visit, celebrate and support your local library in the lead up to 6/2

National Libraries Day will be taking place on 6 February 2016 to celebrate public libraries and the library workforce.

Libraries form an invaluable asset at the heart of local communities: providing sources of information, entertainment and inspiration; a gateway to literature and learning, and offering a practical support network for those in need. They are free to enter and open to everyone, allowing all to come in and expand their horizons.

To celebrate the great role they play, across Tynedale we will be treated to a great variety of events taking place in our libraries next week.

Monday 1st February
Digital Drop-In: eBooks, eAudio, and eMagazines at Hexham Library, 10:00am-4:00pm

Tuesday 2nd February
Winter Tales Bookmaking Workshop at Wylam Library, 3.30pm-4.30pm

Thursday 4th February
Winter Tales Calligraphy Workshop at Wylam Library, 3.30pm-4.30pm

Saturday 6th February
Chinese New Year Crafts and Stories at Hexham Library, 10.30am-11.30am

For full details of the various events visit the National Libraries Day website: http://www.nationallibrariesday.org.uk/get-involved/add-your-event/events/

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Progress on Tyne Valley Line - a revised bus schedule, more carriages, and working on extending the reach of the temporary line

I have been contacted by a number of constituents, and the Tyne Valley Rail Network, about the real difficulties in getting to work with the current problems on the Tyne Valley line. This is not about attributing blame for the floods and landslip, but about trying to get the best deal for local residents, whilst the problem is solved.

Thousands of tonnes of earth need to be removed from the site at Farnley Haugh, near Corbridge, after exceptional rainfall caused drainage to become overwhelmed, leading to a major landslip near the railway line.

I have met with Network Rail, and the many contractors on site, to see the problem for myself. It is one of the biggest engineering problems I have ever seen. Over 35,000 tons of earth, trees, and debris have to be made safe, moved and then reinstated. That work will not be easy but in the mean time we must make it as easy as possible for people to get to work.

Following representations i have made to Northern Rail they have now changed the timings of it's replacement bus service to ensure it connects into the 8am train departure from Prudhoe. The new timings are below:

Arr - Dep
Hexham 07.20
Corbridge 07.27 - 07.27
Riding Mill 07.34 -  07.34
Stocksfield 07.41 - 07.41
Prudhoe 07.52 -  07.52
MetroCentre 08.17 - 08.17
Newcastle 08.32
In addition, there are now more carriages both ways and they are getting back to me on the extension of the service to include Stocksfield and Riding Mill. I will update on progress


Ensuring the replacement service was linked up to the trains leaving Prudhoe station has been the most important issue and that is now resolved. I will be having further discussions about capacity, extra services and hope to make this difficult time for commuters are painless as possible. Discussions with northern rail and network rail are ongoing

Ouch: the Guardian damining on Corbyn's Labour: "Labour isn’t just out of synch with the country. It has landed in a different political time zone."

Fascinating article on the Corbynisation of the Labour Party by the Guardians political editor. Both the Guardian and labour backbenchers:
-"The eggs are broken + Labour will end up having to serve some scrambled version of radical left politics"
This final paragraph is damning:
"Labour is certainly on a long-haul flight to somewhere and MPs are still suffering from jet lag. They are accustomed to politics that meets the deadline of wooing voters in time for an election. That would require dealing with the well-documented reasons why the party lost last May: lack of trust on the economy, immigration, benefits, leadership. But that task hasn’t even begun in earnest. Instead, all sides are consumed by a slow-motion, introspective war of attrition for control of the agenda. It is the kind of combat that Corbyn and his allies know well, while their fidgety opponents are still adjusting to the pace. Those impatient for effective opposition need to reset their watches. Labour isn’t just out of synch with the country. It has landed in a different political time zone."


The full article is here:http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/19/jeremy-corbyn-race-control-labour-party

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The Sill Project has begun in Northumberland National Park

Great to visit the site of The Sill building project and meet the new director Dr Sarah Glynn. The Sill is providing lots of jobs in the building process and will be an iconic visitor centre, with amazing architectural design, at Twice Brewed. The bed capacity for young people to visit the park, the enhanced visitor numbers to the National Park and west Northumberland generally, and the business units created, are all only good things. I have played a v small part in helping get this project off the ground and was delighted to see the progress being made. I met the building team and they are on track and on schedule. But rest assured this design - whilst only a building site now - will make us all feel very proud. Will update as the building goes up. 

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Labour position on defence now equates to "have guns but no bullets" - another bizarre announcement criticised

Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party staggers from worse to worse on matters military / armed forces.
On Sunday he was interviewed on Marr on BBC1. His approach was then expanded upon in defence questions yesterday.
Calling for a Vanguard submarine without warheads by Labour is as dumb as calling for soldiers to be marched into battle with rifles but no ammunition. It ensures the troops become targets but gives them no ability to defend themselves.
Worse still, by announcing it on national media any enemy will know that, if they can be found, they can be forced to surrender or killed.
Even labour MPs criticised Corbyn's approach: this from Kevan Jones, labour MP yesterday-
‘Would the minister agree that it’s not just about the number of jobs involved in the successor programme, but the high-skilled nature of those jobs? Despite ill-informed comments from my own party at the weekend with regard to those jobs, would he not also agree with me that simply you cannot turn them on and off like a tap when you need them.’
There were then interventions backing the nuclear deterrent from a number of other MPs, including Angela Smith, Madeleine Moon and John Woodcock. 
Corbyn's Labour approach is an extraordinary plan. Both disarmament and expensive, ineffective job creation. Worst of all, it is dangerous. By giving the semblance of credibility to those who have consistently sought to destroy our defences, this job scheme not only robs the taxpayer, it deceives them. It encourages our enemies to think us weak, encouraging them to act and makes war more, not less, likely. In pretending the money spent is the effect sought, it is in keeping with his philosophy elsewhere, but it is a lie.
The money spent on defence has a purpose – to defend our people, not just employ them.
The former Army officer Tom Tugendhat MP has written of why the Labour approach is so wrong.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/Jeremy_Corbyn/12105376/Jeremy-Corbyn-is-no-pacifist-he-wants-to-see-Britain-defeated.html

Monday, 18 January 2016

Westminster this week - meetings with Environment Agency, Northern Rail and the Energy Bill dominate

I have a packed week with the Energy Bill being debated all Monday afternoon and evening till 10. Later in the week we are also debating the Psychoactive substances bill, which particularly addresses the problem with legal highs.  I have meetings with the Environment Agency, a telephone conference with Northern Rail concerning the Tyne Valley line, and a discussion with the Centre for Social Justice about prison reform.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Brilliant article from the Spectator showing how poverty is falling all around the world including the UK - well worth a read

The World Health Organisation, the United Nations, the OECD, the World Bank – all of them now keep annually updated records of human progress, and the story told by these metrics is the greatest story of our age. A few weeks ago, Fraser Nelson wrote this piece on malaria for the Telegraph – once (but no longer) mankind’s biggest killer. Each year you check the statistics, they’re even more jaw-dropping. For example: remember polio? The disease that crippled Roosevelt and afflicted 350,000 children as recently as the 1980s? Last year, fewer than 100 cases were diagnosed. It’s on the verge of going the same way as smallpox: to extinction.
As we become more prosperous, as we deal with poverty, we become less tolerant of it. No one is seriously arguing that there is more hunger today than in the 1950s. But we have food banks now, and didn’t then, because we’re less tolerant of the (far lower) level of hunger in our society.
As Nelson argued in my Daily Telegraph column, the need for food banks is deplorable but their emergence is a welcome sign of progress. And on a global basis, wealth of the rich world is being shared by the poor as never before, as shown by overseas aid figures (below) both private and public. It’s a paradox: a generation ago, there was far more global poverty yet far less anger about it. As the West grows richer, it starts to care – quite rightly – about problems that we can now solve. Chiefly through the promotion of free trade.
The full piece is here:
http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/01/why-2016-will-have-less-poverty-hunger-and-disease-than-any-year-in-human-history/

Saturday, 16 January 2016

2016 Energy Booklet out and online - it will save you money on your energy bills

Following on from the success of the Energy Booklet in the past three years, I am pleased to announce that a new and improved booklet is now out and online. I have organised for its delivery, at no cost to the taxpayer, to thousands of homes in the area, but I also wanted to provide details of it online.
I know many residents are concerned about energy costs and fuel, and hopefully this booklet willgo some way to cut through the complexity, and provide some much needed simple answers.

The main purpose of the guide is to help you make your home more energy efficient, and make you aware of what support is available. There is advice on how to get the best deal from your energy supplier and details about a range of schemes. Included is also information on financial assistance to which you may be entitled, as well as details of various organisations from the Citizens Advice Bureau to local Oil Buying Clubs whom you can contact.

Finally, I am very pleased to say, I have provided information on the new Tynedale Community Bank: a real alternative to the major multinationals. The TCB is a local bank, providing savings and loans for local people.

I hope that you find this booklet useful. Now is the time to start thinking about how you can stay warm and save money, this winter. Link to the online version here: https://www.docdroid.net/01LvRnA/energy-guide-final-2016.pdf.html

Friday, 15 January 2016

Busy day in Tynedale - Hexham Priory School, Tynedale Bank and A69 dualling meeting , surgeries and a lot more

Today is a 12 hour shift starting at Core Music in Hexham, then the Hexham Priory School, then a meeting with the Police, before a visit to the Sill Project at Twice Brewed to get an update, and meet with the Northumberland National Park. In the afternoon I have organised a Dual The A69 meeting in Haltwhistle at the library, which I would urge interested parties to come along to. Then in the later afternoon I have a meeting with many of the oil buying clubs, followed by the committee of the Tynedale Community Bank and meetings in Corbridge to finish.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Update on Tyne Valley line landslip and return of local railway following today's visit

Today I met with Network Rail, and the many contractors on site, who are grappling with one of the biggest engineering problems I have ever seen. Over 35,000 + tons of earth, trees, and debris have to be made safe, moved and then reinstated following the landslip that blocked the Tyne Valley railway line last week. I have attached below some photos to give an idea of the huge scale of this landslip. It extends over a hundred yards wide and goes back well beyond the slope itself that goes down steeply to the railway. There are around 50 people on site and a plethora of diggers, and other machinery being used  to make good the site. Everyone understands how important the line is for commuters, business, freight and tourism.

My thanks to Rob McIntosh of Netwrok Rail (pictured) and his team - many of whom I met and talked to - for allowing myself and others onto the site today, and for explaining in detail how this happened, what the engineering and restructuring task is that they are undertaking, and how long it will take to reinstate. The original fear, as reported in the Hexham Courant, was that it would take months to clear the site. That is not the expectation any more. In the last week the team have taken over the farmers field, created an access road, brought over a dozen heavy goods machinery and vehicles onto the site and organised dozens of engineers, clearance contractors, digger drivers, chainsaw crews to attend and sort the problem. I genuinely do not believe that the effort of Network Rail to correct the problem could be faulted. They have brought several teams urgently onto the site where needed, including specialists from out of the area, and they are working 12 hour shifts, with some staying in local pubs and bed and breakfasts in Hexham and Corbridge.

The way ahead is as follows: the site is being made safe and cleared. I do stress that no one uninvited should try and visit the site for their own safety, which was clearly an issue on several levels. There are significant on site complications, including ruptured drains, and a broken pipes that were underground and which has needed temporary and long term repair. In addition, part of the field above and on the edge of the works being done in the field are old Roman settlements and this has required approvals and assistance from the relevant heritage and archeological teams. This is sorted. The site is being made safe. Dozens of trees which have moved, fallen or become unstable are being felled, chopped and then removed. Some of the trees and soil will then be extracted by special train or lorries in the near future. The site can only be cleared and then reinstated from the top down for safety reasons. Bear in mind the men are working on a steep incline. But the soil will then be reinstated in a series of large drop offs. The reality now is that it is expected that the railway will be open again in around 3-4 weeks. Clearly the teams are working in early January in very challenging Northumberland conditions so there is a potential for weather delays, but I was impressed by the competence, commitment and quality of the all team working on this massive site. They are genuinely confident that the railway will be able to be operational in 3-4 weeks. They will be completing the reinstating of the site above the railway for a month or so afterwards. As I say, some of the teams are staying locally and have been made to feel very welcome locally in Tynedale (particular thanks to the people who dropped off a cake to the workmen - it did not last long - and praise to Station Inn in Hexham, where several of the lads are staying and are being very well looked after).

Two final points:
- this job could not go any faster, and be safe, given the dozens of men working with machinery from diggers to cranes to chainsaws in close proximity on unstable, highly sloping ground. Network Rail have really put their backs into this. The teams of men I met assured me that they were getting all the assistance they needed locally from every government agency and connected quangos, but by and large it is their problem and they are getting on with it. In reality, they have a big engineering job to do and are getting on with it, and with a likely outcome that is a lot faster than was originally feared.
- I realise that there are separate ongoing problems with Northern Rail's replacement service, both as to timetable marriage with bus services, which is not synchronised properly at the moment, the failure to provide any train service to Riding Mill and Stocksfield, and a lack of information. I have met received representations on this from several sources, notably the Tyne Valley Rail Users Group and I am in contact with Northern Rail and will update with answers on this and other issues shortly.



Fascinating insight into the PMs management style - pick a minister and stick with them - worth a read

The blog site Conservative Home profiles 4 ministers who have been in place since 2010 - demonstrating an admirable quality in the PM: pick someone to do a job and let them get on with it. The ministers for the arts, Europe, immigration and tax reform are all profiled.
http://www.conservativehome.com/thetorydiary/2016/01/vaizey-gauke-lidington-ministerial-survivors-of-the-cameron-era.html

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Northumberland County Council should shelve its £40 million + move of its HQ to Ashington and save Haydon Bridge Fire Station


http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/fight-keep-haydon-bridge-fire-10719386
The decision to close the Fire Station is clearly not supported locally and the fire station have played a crucial role in helping flood victims this last month. The Local Authority should think again - if they did not proceed with their insane decision to move from a perfectly serviceable building in Morpeth to a £40 million + new build in Ashington [which of course is even further away from Tynedale] then this decision would not be going ahead. This is all about choices and the Labour NCC are choosing Ashington over Haydon Bridge. I could not be at the meeting in the school last night because I was in the House of Commons in Westminster but I support the Haydon Bridge Fire Station. The local authority must think again.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Dualling the A69 Meeting next Friday in Haltwhistle: come along + have your questions answered as our campaign to get the A69 dualled gathers momentum

Next Friday 15th January, there will be a Stakeholder meeting at Haltwhistle Library on the dualling of the A69.

This will be a great opportunity, for anyone interested, to come down and hear a presentation from the Policy Lead at the Department for Transport, and have any of their questions answered.

The details of the meeting are: 1.30pm-3.00pm on Friday 15th January, Room 2 Haltwhistle Library.
There is a further meeting with locals in Cumbria that afternoon.

Monday, 11 January 2016

How to tackle sugar dependency / obesity / diabetes? A sugar tax / measures may be needed

Successive governments have failed to address obesity/ growing diabetes diagnosis and a general addiction to sugar that is a health time bomb. Individuals are clearly struggling to address the problem. Is a sugar tax one way of addressing this, with the proceeds going to support the NHS, which is being overwhelmed by this problem?
One view is expressed here:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3388094/Is-sugar-tax-agenda-Ministers-consider-U-turn-growing-public-support-seeing-quick-win-5p-plastic-bag-charge-changing-people-s-habits.html
I genuinely am interested in Responses - email, comment or write in as per usual. Thanks

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Westminster this week - 6 London meetings with constituents, multiple debates, and ongoing efforts to get better flood protection

Really busy week in Westminster with consideration of the Armed Forces Bill, the Housing and Planning Bill and several other debates. We continue to work very hard on the practical realities of the flood clean up and campaign to ensure we get better protection going forward in Northumberland. As always if you need my help please email in - I met several groups of residents this weekend in Hexham, Corbridge and outlying areas to help them.

I also have meetings in Westminster with representatives of Northumberland College, Vodaphone regarding better Northumberland broadband and phone coverage, and constituents attending events representing Mencap, or to raise the issue of colour blindness or regarding planning / housing.

Thoughts on the Labour reshuffle: the evidence is clear - this is a far left /Momentum takeover of a party that used to want to govern

Who thought we would miss the consensus of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls?
They at least managed to keep Kevan Jones, Pat McFadden and others on board. This is a Labour party now utterly bent on self destruction.
3 Shadow Ministers including Jones quit the Party front bench yesterday - 1 on live TV - see the BBC Link:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-35239232

So we have a situation where:
- At a time when the news agenda is dominated by the threat posed to our way of life by angry, murderous Islamist extremists, the shadow Europe minister Pat McFadden was sacked for rejecting the self-loathing idea that the West, rather than the terrorists, is to blame for Isil’s atrocities.
This was how this was interpreted:
"Sacked Shadow Europe minister Pat McFadden says Corbyn told him he was being fired “because of questions I asked about terrorism… following the Paris terrorist attacks”. This is the question McFadden asked:
“Can I ask the Prime Minister to reject the view that sees terrorist acts as always being a response or a reaction to what we in the West do? Does he agree with me that such an approach risks infantilising the terrorists and treating them as children when the truth is they are adults entirely responsible for what they do. No one forces them to kill innocent people in Paris or Beirut and unless we are clear about that we will fail even to be able to understand the threat we face let alone confront it and ultimately overcome it.”
So, according to McFadden at least, he lost his job because he made a point of refusing to blame the Paris attacks on the West. Corbyn’s people say it was because he was disloyal, which to be fair is not mutually exclusive. The Stop the War takeover over the Labour Party is complete…"

- As North Korea claimed to have detonated its first Hydrogen bomb, Emily Thornberry, who wants Britain unilaterally to give up its nuclear deterrent, was appointed the new shadow defence secretary, replacing Maria Eagle, a supporter of Trident.
- Just in case the direction of travel wasn’t clear, Michael Dugher, one of the last pro-Israel Labour voices, was sacked.
- Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary who backed intervention in Syria, survives, but only because the Labour leader was too weak to remove him.
There is no going back from any of this.
Allister Heaths take on this is here:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/Jeremy_Corbyn/12085872/No-self-respecting-politician-could-remain-in-Corbyns-shadow-cabinet.html

Friday, 8 January 2016

Kielder Development Trust Goes Wild

I am delighted that Kielder Development Trust have been awarded £17,700 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, to develop a new visitor attraction, which is all part of the ‘Living Wild at Kielder Project’. 

This fantastic project aims to help people experience and learn about the area’s wildlife through the development of ‘nature hubs’, and a year-round events and activity programme. Trails will also be created from Stonehaugh, Falstone, and Greenhaugh, with wildlife ambassadors and volunteers engaging with visitors.

Such work in supporting our fantastic natural heritage in Kielder, whilst promoting engagement and learning is vital, and this latest grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund is a great step forward. 

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

UPDATE: Help for those affected by flooding

Here is the latest help that is available to people who have suffered damage to homes and businesses.

The latest information about the schemes which the Government is providing is available below.

Most of these schemes are being administered through local councils, so the best way to find out what you are eligible for and how to apply for it is to check the information available here:
http://www.northumberland.gov.uk/Campaigns/Flood-support.aspx 
or call Northumberland County Council on 0345 600 6400


Here is a summary of the main schemes: 

Community Recovery scheme 

This money has been provided to councils for local recovery priorities such as helping people made homeless by the floods, finding temporary accommodation, mental health and wellbeing support and waste disposal. Information about how to access these resources is available from the council (details above).

Property Level Resilience scheme 

This is money to help households and businesses pay for work to their flooded properties to increase their resilience against future flooding. Up to £5,000 per affected property is available. Information about how to apply for the scheme is available from the council (details above).

Business Support scheme 

This is money to help businesses to recover from the impact of the floods and to make themselves more resilient to severe weather events in the future. The priority will be direct grants to flood-hit small and medium-sized businesses. Contact the Council for details of how to apply.

Council tax discounts 

Government will fund council tax relief in the following circumstances:

  •  A 100% discount for any domestic property flooded as a result of the storms in December for a minimum of three months or while anyone is out of their home due to flood damage. 
  •  A 100% council tax discount on temporary accommodation for anyone out of their homes (in addition to the discount on their flooded property). 
  • Discounts will be also available for properties where access was cut off, or services were unavailable, as a result of the floods, even if the home itself was not flooded (e.g. a 2nd floor flat). Council tax relief will be provided by your local district council, who will determine the final administrative arrangements.
Business rates relief:

The Government will fund 100 per cent rate relief for a minimum of three months or until the business restarts trading from the property, up to state aid de minimis levels, in the following circumstances:

  •  For any day the property was flooded in whole or in part as a result of adverse weather conditions; and
  • on that day, as a result of the flooding at the property, the business activity undertaken at the property was adversely affected; and
  • the rateable value of the property on that day was less than £10 million. 
Business rate relief will be provided through the Council, who will determine the final administrative arrangements.

Support for farmers:

Support payments worth up to £20,000 will be available to farmers who have been affected by flooding to help restore damaged agricultural land. They should contact the Rural Payments Agency contact centre on 03000 200 301.

The application form is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/apply-for-the-farming-recovery-fund-frf 

You may also wish to know that Environment Agency’s Floodline service (0345 988 1188) is available to sign-post callers to relevant recovery support initiatives that are being provided by the council for householders and businesses.

It's a wonderful life actor Henry Travers deserves honouring in Northumberland

Clarence is the kindly angel who shows the lost soul that is Jimmy Stewart the road to redemption in the timeless classic that is Its a Wonderful Life. Born in Prudhoe he grew up in Various other parts of Northumberland before becoming a famous English theatre actor and then an American based character movie star. I am fully behind the desire to honour one of our great forebears.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Travers

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

One Public Estate in the North East - help for Northumberland County Council

Excellent news as the North East Combined Authority has been conditionally accepted to Phase Three of the One Public Estate programme.
The programme brings together all public sector bodies within a locality to work together to develop a radically new approach to managing their land and property.
In each area the programme will deliver significant savings as well as providing better and more integrated local services in places that are more convenient for users. They will also release land and property, which can be reused for housing and new enterprise, boosting local jobs, growth and house-building.
Since its launch in 2013 One Public Estate has supported 32 councils in England, which are set to create an additional 20,000 jobs and around 9,000 homes; raise £129 million capital receipts from land and property sales, and save £77 million on running costs. Northumberland County Council have been welcomed on board in Phase Three with a grant of £130,000. The council now has an opportunity to build a strong partnership and develop a full programme of ambitious projects to be delivered as part of One Public Estate. I sincerely hope they grasp this fantastic opportunity so they can become fully integrated into the project.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Rreflections on how Labour are faring in the North - does Labour's win in Oldham spell good or bad news for Labour in the long term?

This from the Labour List website makes interesting reading:
http://labourlist.org/2015/12/the-tories-lost-elections-when-they-didnt-understand-modern-britain-labour-is-at-high-risk-of-doing-the-same/
At the by election I spent some time campaigning in Oldham. Even by Greater Manchester standards I think we arrived during monsoon season. The wind was biting and the rain was relentless. I was in Oldham to support our candidate Cllr James Daly in the by-election, with a team I’d brought down from the North East. Oldham West and Royton is one of three seats which cover the Borough of Oldham. This seat, covering the western part of the borough, was once as Labour as they come. In fact, Labour have held the seat on various boundaries since the 1970’s, and in May 2015 - even under Ed Milibands’ ill-fated leadership - Labour racked up a majority of 15,000.
Labour chose a strong local candidate, and he won well. The question is whether this win was a win for Jim or Corbyn? Some were highlighting how poorly Jeremy Corbyn was resonating with those on the doorstep, even as there was disdain for the hard left, north London, elitist direction in which Jeremy has taken the Labour Party. According to YouGov, Corbyn was the first opposition leader in polling history to start off his tenure with a negative rating. Since then things have worsened – Corbyn’s personal ratings have slumped even further - to minus 20. Locally, Labour tried not to talk about Corbyn because the simple truth is that he does not have mass appeal. Corbyn’s supporters argue very robustly that general consensus does not matter – and that he is reenergising Labour with those that matter. However, the gulf between Labour’s target voters and Corbyn’s supporters is visibly growing day by day. 71% of Corbyn supporters believe that competition among private companies does more harm than good, compared to just 25% potential Labour voters.
It is little wonder then, that when asked who they trust more to improve the economy, 40% of voters say the Conservatives, and only 23% say Labour. Under Corbyn’s leadership, this 17-point lead is the Government’s greatest since Labour lost power.
Even amongst declared Labour voters, only 56% trust Corbyn over the Conservatives on the economy. In other words, of the nine million people who voted Labour in the General Election, around four million now tick the boxes that they trust the Conservatives more, neither party, or simply ‘don’t know’. That is a notable decline in the short time since Corbyn and MacDonnell took over. Support from northern voters, who had previously stuck by Labour, has been rejected in favour of the nodding approval dog from the Twitter echo chamber.
Perhaps less well known is that members of Corbyn’s left-wing faction, Momentum, have already ousted a Labour MP’s husband as a local Labour campaign co-ordinator here in the North East - after allegedly claiming they had “a mandate to assume control.”
The long-standing members of the North West Durham Labour Party found their AGM packed out, and Paul Simpson, who actively campaigned for Mr Corbyn’s leadership was voted in as Mr Glass’ enforced replacement.
Election result’s aside, the revolution, comrades, is already underway.
And if the reshuffle rumours are true then labour MPs in e nor east who are not 100% Corbynista in fact, word and deed will know that their time is shortly up.