Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Prime Minister sets out her 12 negotiating objectives for Brexit in detail

Today I set out the Government’s 12 negotiating objectives for leaving the European Union - part of our plan for Britain, which aims to get the right deal abroad while ensuring a better deal for ordinary working people here at home – and I wanted you to be one of the first to know about it.
The referendum last June was a vote to leave the European Union. But it was also a vote for change – to shape a brighter future for our country, to make it stronger and fairer, and to embrace the world. And it is the job of this Conservative Government to deliver it and to get the right deal for Britain as we do.
We seek a new and equal partnership – between an independent, self-governing Global Britain and our friends and allies in the European Union. We are leaving the EU, not Europe.
Tell me what you think about our plan.
That means taking the opportunity of this great moment of national change to step back and ask ourselves what kind of country we want to be. To pursue 12 objectives that amount to one goal: a new, positive and constructive partnership between Britain and the European Union. 
1. Certainty: whenever we can, we will provide it. And we can confirm today that the Government will put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament. 
2. Control of our own laws: we will bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain. Because we will not have truly left the European Union if we are not in control of our own laws.
3. Strengthen the Union: we must strengthen the precious Union between the four nations of the United Kingdom. We will work very carefully to ensure that – as powers are repatriated back to Britain – the right powers are returned to Westminster and the right powers are passed to the devolved administrations. We will make sure that no new barriers to living and doing business within our Union are created.
4. Maintain the Common Travel Area with Ireland: we will work to deliver a practical solution that allows the maintenance of the Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland, while protecting the integrity of the United Kingdom’s immigration system.
5. Control of immigration: the message from the public before and during the referendum campaign was clear: Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe. We will continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain but there must be control. 
6. Rights for EU nationals in Britain, and British nationals in the EU: we want to guarantee these rights as early as we can. We have told other EU leaders that we can offer EU nationals here this certainty, as long as this is reciprocated for British citizens in EU countries.
7. Protect workers’ rights: as we translate the body of European law into our domestic regulations, we will ensure that workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained.
8. Free trade with European markets: as a priority we will pursue a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement with the European Union. This agreement should allow for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and EU member states. It cannot mean membership of the EU’s Single Market. That would mean complying with European Court of Justice rulings, free movement and other EU rules and regulations without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. And because we will no longer be members of the Single Market, we will not be required to contribute huge sums to the EU budget. If we contribute to some specific EU programmes that we wish to participate in, it will be for us to decide. 
9. New trade agreements with other countries: it is time for Britain to become a global trading nation, striking trade agreements around the world. Through the Common Commercial Policy and the Common External Tariff, full Customs Union membership prevents us from doing this – but we do want to have a customs agreement with the EU and have an open mind on how we achieve this end. 
10. The best place for science and innovation: we will continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research and technology initiatives.
11. Co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism: we want our future relationship with the EU to include practical arrangements on matters of law enforcement and intelligence. 
12. A smooth, orderly Brexit: we want to have reached an agreement about our future partnership by the time the two year Article 50 process has concluded. From that point onwards, we expect a phased process of implementation. We will work to avoid a disruptive cliff-edge.
These are our objectives for Brexit. A truly Global Britain - the best friend and neighbour to our European partners, but also a country that reaches beyond the borders of Europe and embraces the world. A country that gets out into the world to build relationships with old friends and new allies alike – a great, global trading nation that is respected around the world and strong, confident and united at home.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Oxfam should be applauding Bill Gates not attacking him - the worlds greatest philanthropist is single handedly ending diseases throughout Africa

Oxfam loses a large part of its credibility today. I met Bill Gates when he presented to the Houses of Parliament and was supported by politicians of all backgrounds for the amazing work he is doing through his foundation to eliminate diseases. If you support the 0.7% contribution to international aid, as I do, you will know that Gates efforts dwarf this, and yet he works in close partnership with the UK government of all persuasions, and has done so for many years.
And Oxfam are also wrong on global inequality.
Global capitalism is lifting people out of poverty at the fastest rate in human history. Global inequality is narrowing, fast. Oxfam will not, and cannot, dispute such things – but this doesn’t suit its new anticapitalist agenda. A great charity lost a lot of credibility today.
The Spectator does an expert demolition of Oxfam here:

Westminster this week - women2win training, debates aplenty and many meetings in westminster

Tonight sees the return of our regular women2win training sessions as I do all I can to increase the number of female MPs in the House of Commons and elected offices generally. In addition, this week we have the debate on the national citizen service bill, a day debating SNP opposition matters, PMQs,  debates on the impact of Brexit and national security and justice matters, and further backbench debates. I am also helping in the campaign to get a central Newcastle UTC with a meeting at the DFE on Thursday. I have a busy weekend of work ahead including multiple surgeries, school visits, and constituent meetings this coming Friday.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Government backed Flood protection works begin in Corbridge -

The sight of the damage to Station Road, the rugby club and the entire south bank of the Tyne at Corbridge with storm desmond will live with us all forever. The community has slowly but surely got themselves back on track but I am really pleased with the progress made in flood prevention. Government funds have been allocated for work done to improve the situation as set out in the courant this week: http://www.hexham-courant.co.uk/news/corbridge/Work-starts-on-15m-scheme-to-reduce-flood-threat-in-Corbridge-bd13b65e-ba1e-46fb-9db5-f3c0daa552ef-ds

Friday, 13 January 2017

Success on Matfen broadband campaign after a long campaign - really well done Councillor Veronica Jones

Really pleased that one of our largest villages with poor broadband has now been connected up by BT, after along campaign. Details are here:

Details of the long campaign we fought to get BT to spend a very large amount of money connecting up this village and the local businesses are here:http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/mp-guy-opperman-takes-up-8550324

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Meeting Northumbria Water at Kielder dam for further progress on the use of Kielder Reservoir for flood defence

Today I have a variety of meetings in Kielder, and Bellingham; but the key development is the progress made on flood prevention. This has been done by persuading the Environment Agency and Northumbria Water to lower the level of the reservoir to allow for water to be stored in the lower reservoir rather than cascading down the North Tyne, with all the flooding consequences.
More details are here:
The key passage from my report is this
"Kielder Reservoir. 
Flood alleviation will now start at 80% and more water will be released in the future, resulting in at least 6-7% more storage in the reservoir. This will be an ongoing operation and will also be assessed as it is being done"

I will also be visiting Kielder School, the Bellingham Sure Start, and meeting various teachers, councillors, governors and constituents. Looking forward to the day, albeit a bit nervous of the snow / gales and bad weather.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

We will miss Obama - a game changing President

This is his final speech in an emotional farewell in Chicago: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-38580849

The Prime Minister is right to talk about mental health and the governments efforts to combat this

It was, in fact, the man once voted the greatest Briton of all time, Winston Churchill, who first popularised the euphemism “the black dog” as if talking in stark terms about depression and anxiety would hardly be befitting of a Brit. 
Mental health touches every one of us in some way; whether personally, professionally, or through friends and families, the damage caused and the failures that are sometimes evident in the system certainly prove  the argument that it is morally wrong not to address this issue. More details in the attached report:

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Copeland by election is turning into a referendum on #Corbyn and his nuclear views

The labour MP Jamie Reed is standing down. There are many reasons for this but his dismay at Corbyn and the direction of the Labour Party is well known. I was in Cumbria on Saturday knocking on doors in 3 separate villages and towns.
It is clear that Corbyns desire to get rid of nuclear power is a disaster on the Copeland doorsteps. But don't take my word for it.
This bizarre disavowal of his own leader from a local labour councillor in Sunday's Observer:

Whitehaven councillor Bill Kirkbride. “We’d have no economy (without nuclear) otherwise. But the general view on the doorstep regarding the leader is an issue without a doubt. If they bring up the issue of Jeremy’s attitude to nuclear, we have to tell them he doesn’t write party policy. He’s entitled to his private thoughts like any MP and councillor.”

The reality of course is that labour elected Corbyn as their leader and his anti nuclear power views are more than just his personal views! 
His views on everything else from his links to the IRA, Cuba, Hamas and his attitude to the army and the royal family are also irrelevant I suppose?
Of course not.

My fellow northern MP Andrew Stephenson has written this assessment of the Copeland by election

Today is the chance to see the Northumberland NHS Vanguard programme pioneering integrated joined up healthcare - come find out more Hexham January 10 2-4pm about the Vanguard programme

The NHS in Northumberland has been awarded £4.29 million funding from NHS England as part of its vanguard programme to integrate health and social care services across the county.  
From April 2017 health and care partners in Northumberland are set to form England’s first accountable care organisation (ACO), building on successful work over many years to join up services.
The ACO for Northumberland will be the first of its kind in the whole NHS and is a partnership between both providers and commissioners of local NHS services including Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, primary care services, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust and North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust.
Crucially, the ACO will also include commissioners of NHS services with a shared support structure already in place, in shadow form, between Northumberland County Council and NHS Northumberland CCG.  This pioneering approach will maximise the opportunities for an integrated, strategic commissioning approach across NHS services, social care and public health. 
The new way of working in Northumberland aims to create a much more sustainable NHS for the future, by breaking down organisational barriers and joining up services for patients.  Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust will be the host provider of the new ACO partnership, which will build on work which has been taking place over the past two years in Northumberland since the county was awarded ‘vanguard’ status*. 

To help people understand more about the new ACO partnership in Northumberland and how this will help deliver the ambitions of the wider draft regional sustainability and transformation plan, members of the public are being invited to a series of engagement events in January to find out more.
Supported by Healthwatch Northumberland, the events will be held as follows:
·       Tuesday 10 January – Hexham Community Centre (2-4pm)
·       Thursday 12 January – Blyth Community Enterprise Centre (10am-12pm)
·       Thursday 12 January – Northumberland CVA, Ashington (2-4pm)
·       Friday 13 January – Bellview Resource Centre, Belford (10am-12pm)

Local GP Dr Alistair Blair, who has been at the forefront of the vanguard programme, said: “In Northumberland we’re well ahead in terms of joining up different parts of our health and care system and we’ve already delivered some major innovations. The transformation of emergency care, despite some of the teething challenges at The Northumbria, is already having a very positive impact not only on patient care, outcomes and experiences, but also on the efficiency of our system as a whole. We now need to build on these achievements and really focus our collective efforts on supporting people to stay healthy and well.  The development of an ACO will allow us to do just that and will be a major step forward in helping us to proactively address some of the really big challenges facing the NHS.”

Mr David Evans, chief executive of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said: “The ACO development represents new territory for the entire NHS and means, for the first time, all health and care organisations will be around the top table to discuss and agree, as strategic partners, how best to invest in patient care and develop services.  Nowhere else in the country is doing this and it is testament to the strong, positive relationships that exist right across our system that we are so far ahead.
“Our vanguard work is critical to the successful delivery of the ambitions outlined in both the NHS Five Year Forward View and the sustainability and transformation planning which has been taking place right across the NHS. All of this work fits together and is focussed on three simple things; improving the healthcare people receive; preventing ill health; and making sure the NHS operates as efficiently as possible, both now and in the future.”

Monday, 9 January 2017

Busy week in Westminster - house returns to a late Monday night, multiple debates and more

Tonight will be a 10:30 finish in the House of Commons as we have a packed afternoon followed by the remaining stages of the Technical and further education bill. Tuesday we debate the Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill following the lords amendments. Following PMQs on Wednesday I have a meeting on prison reform and another opposition day debate but I will be heading north late Wednesday night. On Tuesday I am also trying to meet with the FCA on the issue of  local banks, and meeting andrew Bailey, the chief exec. I also have meetings with a variety of constituents this week.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

So union baron McCluskey now says he wants #Corbyn to step down

The labour leadership crisis has gone from bad to worse. If there is no dramatic sign of Corbyn convincing the country that he is Prime Minister material then the union baron will effectively force Corbyn and McDonnell to stand down.
This from the Mirror: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/union-chief-len-mccluskey-claims-9547935

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The Elderly Assessment + Ambulatory Care Unit at Hexham Hospital is both a good thing + the way ahead - a welcome innovation in local healthcare

In July 2015, Hexham Hospital opened their Elderly Assessment and Ambulatory Care unit, with a view to treating as many patients locally as possible. This dedicated centre is run by specialist nurse practitioners and an elderly care doctor who is based permanently in the unit at Hexham, with support also available from elderly care consultants. It is situated right next door to the urgent care centre and provides an environment where frail older people can be quickly assessed by a team with the right skills to determine the most appropriate care for their needs.

This often involves working with community colleagues and local GPs to put plans in place for ongoing care and, wherever possible, avoiding the need for people to be
unnecessarily admitted to hospital, when we know their recovery would be much better supported in the comfort of their own home. If this is not possible and a hospital stay is required, we can, and we do, regularly admit elderly patients directly to Hexham hospital via the elderly assessment and ambulatory care unit.

Since July 2015, 824 elderly patients have been directly admitted to Hexham hospital for urgent care via this route and, on average, this equates to around 48 elderly admissions a month. I recently met the teams running this unit and am pleased to see more elderly people being treated locally at Hexham hospital. It is a system that needs to co exist with Cramlington Hospital, and the other hospitals locally, with clinical needs dictating the best place to be treated, but this is clearly a good use of Hexham's facilities, staff and clinical capacity. I am pushing hard for greater usage and expansion of this system locally.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Voter ID pilot is a good thing - it is already the law in N Ireland + most other countries, and prevents voter fraud

Plans to demand proof of identity before voting in a bid to combat electoral fraud are quite right in  my view. Councils in England, including Bradford and Birmingham, will trial the pilot scheme at local elections in 2018.
The government Wants to "ensure the integrity" of the electoral system.
Labour bizarrely have said it amounted to voter "suppression".
Different local authorities will trial different types of ID, including driving licences, passports and utility bills, before reviewing the evidence
Northern Ireland already requires voters to show ID before casting their vote.

The full story is here from the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-38440934
As always please write in and tell me what you think. I support this pilot.

Monday, 2 January 2017

New Year Resolution? Open a bank account with #TynedaleCommunityBank - #local savings, local people, local solutions, local loans

As we consider possible New Year Resolutions, we would like to take this opportunity to wish you a very Happy New Year from Tynedale Community Bank.
We are looking forward to the second year in our efforts to create a Community Bank that becomes the first choice for anyone looking to save money for any reason, including a special occasion or a rainy day, or anyone who is looking to borrow money.

We hope you join with us on our journey and if you are already supporters, in whatever way, we would like to thank you for your continued support.
·       Find us Online at: http://www.tcb.org.uk
·       Contact us by telephone on 01207 284851 – Monday to Friday, 10.00 am to 4.00 pm.
·       In person at our Information Point at the Parish Centre (behind Hexham Abbey) every Tuesday from 2 pm to 4 pm, and at the Allendale Village Hall (Fawside office) Monday to Friday 10.00 am to 1.00 pm.  We are also regularly based at the Hexham Job Centre where we can hold private meetings with anyone who would like to speak with us.
·       Or simply email us at: info@tynedalecommunitybank.org.uk and we can arrange a mutually convenient time and place to meet. 
·       For Facebook users, please like and share our page, which will help us keep you up to date with developments and spread the word.  The Facebook link is below or simply click on the icon below, to like our page. https://www.facebook.com/tynedalecommunitybank/

Tynedale Community Bank www.tcb.org.uk

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Issues for the year ahead in 2017 - Article 50, Brexit, Trump as leader of the free world + elections in France + Germany will dominate

For us in the UK Brexit is clearly going to matter hugely as Article 50 is triggered in March and we embark on the 2 years of negotiations.
What Trump does as American President is going to matter massively. Is he going to be a Reagan style politician who is pro business, jobs and growth? I hope so. The jury is out but I am pleased to see him dumping some of his campaign promises.
But I suspect that the French and German Elections and their impacts will be all the more important: if Le Pen wins and Merkel loses then it is hard to see the European project surviving. This will impact on the UK.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 gaffe of the year, comeback, non political hero, + unnoticed backbench stars of the commons

  • Gaffe of the year - "Brexit means Breakfast" was a classic - done twice as well, first by a conservative, then many times by labour. First Andrew Davies in Birmingham - albeit the poor man had just been deprived of his own breakfast, and was speaking at 8;45, so I have sympathies. Then John McDonnell said it 3 times in 1 speech, including the classic "Brexit means a chaotic breakfast" - whatever that is??http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/brexit-means-breakfast-john-mcdonnell-9136865
  • Events of the Year – only 2 really matter- Brexit and Trump winning.
  • My Northumberland Highlight of the Year – The growth of tynedale community bank in Northumberland - a community success story that is making a massive difference

  • Most Unlikely Political Moment of the Year – The return of Balls...End of ...
  • Best celebration: Iceland at European football and on their return home
  • Most interesting appointment - Trump
  • Most obvious appointment - Theresa May as PM: a strong woman for a difficult time.
  • Mistake of the Year – Labour not getting rid of Corbyn.
  • Comeback of the year - Balls again. Now the most popular labour politician ... a commons comeback beckons for my nemesis?
  • Non political man of the Year – Major Tim Peake. Amazing bloke. Great tv and radio. Better still on twitter. Made space v interesting to all the kids in my locals chools
  • New political party - the ABC party= anyone but Corbyn ... as leader of the labour party. Particularly strong in the House of Commons
  • Political Achievement of the Year – Jeremy Corbyn is the only political mainstream leader to survive since summer 2015. Pretty impressive as he was the only mainstream leader who opposed Brexit, and 172 of his own MPs led a campaign against him. Odds on Corbyn being labour leader after 2017? Pretty good I reckon, although the mechanics are difficult. The longer the labour MPs leave him there the greater their prospects of problems. 
  • Best unsung heroes of backbenchers in the House of Commons: for labour Chris Matheson, the labour Chester MP is very good, and I spent time with Pete Dowd, who is a decent man with a lot of Local Authority experience. It remains amazing so many of the other labour stars are unused as they are out of favour with Corbyn.
  • On our side Andrew Stephenson and Graham Evans, the MPs for Pendle and Weaver Vale, are consistently outstanding in the chamber, great PPSs, and good people. All of my flock are amazing but both go the extra mile. Hard to think of a liberal star, but given their lack of numbers and dislike of the house of commons [they are never there] it is not surprising. For the SNP Hannah Bardell MP remains their best rising star.  Of the Irish, Danny Kinahan MP is hard working, a nice bloke and very empathetic.  

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Creating more jobs, businesses, apprenticeships, in the North East, and reducing taxes on the lower paid

We are creating more jobs in the North East
·       Employment is up in the North East by 74,000 since 2010. That’s 74,000 more people who are earning a regular wage and are better able to provide for their families.
·       Unemployment is down in the North East by 35 per cent since 2010. That’s fewer people out of work and more who now can get on in life and have the confidence to plan for the future.
·       In 2016 there were 24,410 more small businesses in the North East compared to 2010 – providing more people with the safety and security of work. We are backing businesses and creating jobs.

We are cutting tax so families are more financially secure
·       Over 1 million more people have more money to take home each month because we have cut their income tax. The typical taxpayer is better off by £905 and 56,000 people will have been taken out of income tax altogether by April 2017.
·       Freezing fuel duty saving drivers in the North East money at the fuel pump. Freezing fuel duty for the seventh successive year, which will save the average driver in the North East £10 every time they fill up the car.

We are helping young people get the skills they need to succeed
·       38,210 apprenticeships started in the North East in 2015/16– meaning thousands of young people can gain the skills they need to get on in life.
·       46,000 more children attend good or outstanding schools in the North East since 2010.
·       We are providing over £140 million in education funding for disadvantaged children in the North East – so they can get a decent start in life. In 2016/17, schools in the North East will receive over £140 million Pupil Premium funding.

We are securing the best healthcare in the North East 
·       There are now 1,100 more hospital doctors looking after patients in the North East than under Labour, ensuring that people receive the care they deserve.

We are investing in the North East
·       Investing up to £556 million to boost productivity and promote growth and jobs across the North of England. The government’s investment in infrastructure will result in an increase of £556 million to Local Enterprise Partnerships in the North of England.
·       Building the Northern Powerhouse. The Government has today set out our strategic vision and next steps to boost productivity in the North – focussing on skills, connectivity, innovation and trade. We will:
o   Work with Northern city regions to explore options for improving Early Years outcomes, attract and retain high quality teachers, improve schools and grow capacity.
o   Support Northern city regions to work with employers and providers to promote uptake of high quality local apprenticeships, and ensure careers advice is employer-led, integrated and meets local needs.
o   Work with Northern city regions to develop innovative proposals for attracting skilled workers.
o   Upgrade the A66 across the Pennines to dual carriageway to improve east-west connectivity, and work to improve the A69 in the short and longer term.
o   Support enhanced collaboration between universities and businesses in the North to develop a business incubator and commercialise research.  

·       Boosting important causes in the North East with the money from LIBOR fines. The Government will use LIBOR fines to provide nearly £1,462,093 funding for good causes across the North East. 


o   Great North Air Ambulance Service Charity - £1 million

o   Finchale - £462,093


·       Doubling rural rate relief to support small business in rural areas. To remove the inconsistency between rural rate relief and small business rate relief, we will double the rural rate relief to 100 per cent from April- benefitting 210 properties in the North East. 


·       Boosting science, research and innovation in the North East. Our £2 billion R&D funding package will provide new opportunities to the North East’s thriving universities and research centres.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

In a battle between Obama and Corbyn I fear Barack wins every time

Obama is pretty clear in his view of Corbyn and the Labour Party - this from his recent interview:
AXELROD: Just a couple more things. Are you worried about the Corbynization of the Democratic Party? Saw the Labor Party just sort of disintegrated in the face of their defeat and move so far left that it’s, you know, in a very — in a very frail state. And there is an impulse to respond to — to the power of Trump by, you know, being as edgy…
OBAMA: On the left.
AXELROD: … on the left.
OBAMA: I don’t worry about that, partly because I think that the Democratic Party has stayed pretty grounded in fact and reality. Trump emerged out of a decade, maybe two, in which the Republican Party, because it had to say no for tactical reasons, moved further and further and further away from what we would consider to be a — a basic consensus around things like climate change or how the economy works. And it started filling up with all kinds of conspiracy theorizing that became kind of common wisdom or conventional wisdom within the Republican Party base. That hasn’t happened in the Democratic Party. I think people like the passion that Bernie brought, but Bernie Sanders is a pretty centrist politician relative to…
AXELROD: Corbyn.
OBAMA: Relative to Corbyn or relative to some of the Republicans.

Full story according to the Guardian is here: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/dec/27/corbyn-hits-back-obama-suggests-labour-disintegrating-grounded-fact-reality

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Interesting article by the Guardian on the dilemmas of the problems of the future

Fight the next battle, not the last

Successful politics requires an unsentimental readiness to identify the problems of today, not yesterday. Margaret Thatcher fought inflation, union power and Soviet communism. Tony Blair sought to combine economic efficiency with social justice. In 2017, the challenges are no less specific: globalisation (opportunities and discontents); Islamist and far-right extremism; the cult of autocracy fuelled by populism; climate change; the consequences of human longevity. Be uncompromising in your focus. Don’t let the other side frame the debate.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Memories of 2016: visiting Kirkley Hall with Nick Boles MP shortly before his illness became known

Nick Boles MP and I have worked together for 6 1/2 years and he was an outstanding Minister. He is now off work struggling to overcome a serious brain tumour. I wish him well. Our trip earlier this year saw us plant a tree, discuss the huge progress MP being made in FE and with UTCs and then on to the Kirkley zoo and the lemurs. His illness, and its unfairness has affected a lot of people in Westminster. And it puts everything else into context.

Memories of 2016: many successes but the growth of Tynedale Community Bank stands out

MPs can get buried in the day to day casework, and the constant cut and thrust of Westminster so I wanted to highlight some of the real positives I have seen this year:
- a sense of resilience and a "Can do / making it work" approach post Brexit has been really noticeable from businesses, and from talking to people when out and about.
- slowly but surely we are getting ourself back together after the floods and I would cite the creation of the flood forums, the greater cooperation between the agencies, and the agreements on the reduction of Kielder reservoir levels as a real success

But the thing I am most proud of is the growth of the Tynedale Community Bank: we are just over a year old and going well: http://guyopperman.blogspot.co.uk/2016/11/banking-is-changing-and-tynedale.html

Memories of 2016: lowlight of the year: the Brexit campaign itself, the loss of Jo Cox

There is no doubt that politics has become more divisive, more bitter and angrier. I saw this in America when I observed the American election, and I saw it in the Brexit campaign. This culminated in the killing of Jo Cox. The campaign itself was messy and divisive. We are all brexiteers now, and I am certain we will make this work as a country, but this will take time to heal.

Memories of 2016: most humbling and moving trip to the Falkland Islands on a cross party trip to meet our soldiers and the people there

I was very proud to be asked to lead the UK delegation to the Falkland Islands this spring. My full report is here: http://guyopperman.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/sovereignty-and-borders-of-falkland.html

Mitochondrial Donation - a technical success story born in the North East is a profound source of optimism at christmas time

It is North East scientists who have developed this cure to this terrible illness. This biotech success story was one of the most important debates in the last parliament and we are slowly getting there. The impact of this and other science based developments only enhance the North Easts place as a serious player in science, biotech, and innovation. This is good news for jobs, science and so much more - for the future of our universities, for funding and most importantly the mums who want children who will not have this terrible disease.

Last Thursday 15 December 2016, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Association (HFEA)  announced their decision to licence mitochondrial replacement therapy as a reproductive technique to allow families affected by mitochondrial disease to conceive a child free from the condition. Problems with mitochondria cause many serious, rare, childhood conditions.
Alastair Kent OBE, Director at Genetic Alliance UK said:
"Mitchondrial replacement therapy is an increasingly promising new option for families to overcome the impact that these serious rare genetic conditions have on their lives. This step brings us closer to the end of a pathway which we hope will end at the delivery of a new treatment for couples that currently have no alternative
For more details have a read here:

Friday, 23 December 2016

Understanding the restrictions on the west intervening in Aleppo - an update on the UN and British efforts

As this tragedy has unfolded, the Government has sought to reduce the suffering with every diplomatic and humanitarian lever at our command.
Indeed, the Foreign Secretary made very clear at the emergency debate that was held on 13 December on Syria that the UK’s first priority must be the protection of civilians and ensuring access for humanitarian aid. The Foreign Secretary also made it patently clear that there can be no military solution in Syria; I agree with him. Britain must keep pushing for a return to a political process with the credibility necessary for all parties to commit to an end to all the fighting. Despite serious obstacles, there have, nonetheless, been several successful evacuations of civilians over recent days. I hope that this continues, and that the UN is able to oversee more evacuations in the near future to ensure the welfare of civilians. Yet, it is essential that the Assad regime and its supporters provide the United Nations with access for humanitarian aid with immediate effect. Whilst the deterioration of the situation in Aleppo is a setback for the Syrian opposition, it will not change the fundamentals of the conflict, nor the requirement for a political as opposed to a military solution. I hope to explain why this is the case, drawing on what the Foreign Secretary explained in the House of Commons a couple of weeks ago.
Firstly, the UK has utilised every avenue for action at the UN. You will recall that, back in December 2015, Russia voted in favour of UN resolution 2254, which urged all parties to “allow humanitarian agencies rapid, safe and unhindered access throughout Syria”. Russia has now chosen to flaunt the very resolution that it supported. On 8 October this year, we tried to secure a new UN resolution that would have urged a ceasefire. It demanded that “all parties immediately end all aerial bombardments of Aleppo” – a resolution that was vetoed by the Russians. On 5 December, we tried again, throwing our weight behind a draft resolution that urged a seven-day ceasefire in Aleppo to allow the evacuation of casualties and the delivery of aid. Once again, Russia vetoed the resolution, as did China. Russia and China would not even allow the people of Aleppo a mere seven-day respite. Moreover, the Russians have been blocking the evacuation of the injured and of medical staff from the very zones they are attacking. We are gathering all the information that we think will be necessary for the prosecution of those guilty of war crimes but, as the Foreign Secretary said, “the diplomatic pressure must continue”. The UK stood up at the last meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council and argued for tightening sanctions against Russia in respect of Syria, and the Foreign Secretary stated his wish that the rest of the EU follow suit. In addition, the Foreign Secretary recently met with the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, in Paris to discuss this matter. They demanded, jointly, that the “regime and its backers” allow the UN to deliver aid “with immediate effect.” On this, the Foreign Secretary reported back to the House of Commons that “Assad has doggedly refused to allow the UN to deliver supplies to hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom are now starving. He is content for his own people to be reduced to starvation, even though there are UN warehouses full of food within easy reach.”Let it not be forgotten that, in spite of all the constraints that we are facing, the British Government continues to be at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The UK is the second largest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid, having already pledged £2.3 billion. Some £105 million of this funding will help Syrians who are still in Syria. However, after being studied with great care, it has become clear that there are some harsh realities that must be accepted. For air drops to be accurate, they must be conducted at low level and low speed. Russia has deployed its most advanced jet fighters and surface-to-air missiles in Syria, which makes it impossible for us to carry out air drops without Russian permission. Even if Russia were to give its consent, our aircraft would still have to fly over areas of Syria that are hotly contested by a multitude of armed groups, including Assad, Daesh and al-Qaeda. They would make every effort to shoot down a British plane, and a lumbering, low-flying transport aircraft would be a sitting duck. Reluctantly, the conclusion was reached that air drops over Syria, under those conditions, would pose too great a risk. As things stand, we would be risking the lives of our air crew if we tried to drop supplies into eastern Aleppo. Primarily, it is up to the Russians and the Assad regime to institute an immediate ceasefire.
When it comes to drones and other devices, we still face the problem that the Syrians and the Russians control the airspace. Of course it is possible that circumstances might change, so the Foreign Secretary did not explicitly rule out any option for delivering aid at some point in the future.
However, there is another inescapable reality that must be accepted. On 29 August 2013, the House of Commons voted by 285 to 272 votes not to use force against Assad, even after he had poisoned hundreds of his people with sarin nerve gas. We, as a country, thereby vacated the space into which Russia stepped, beginning its own bombing campaign on behalf of Assad in 2015. Ever since that vote, our ability to influence events in Syria, to protect civilians or to compel the delivery of aid has been severely limited. We will continue to do what we can but this is a conflict in a country over which we have minimal control so long as these opposing forces exist and the UN is powerless .

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Labour MP Jamie Reed stands down in marginal Labour seat of Copeland - a crucial test awaits #Corbyn in West Cumbria

My colleague for the last 6 1/2 years, Jamie Reed, was a Blairite; a modernising Labour politician. He has decided to stand down as an MP. Jamie has stood down for a number of reasons - many of them personal, and entirely understandable with a young family. But there are other reasons too - just as other Labour MPs have decided to do other jobs in Manchester, London, or in select committees, or are considering packing it all in either now or at 2020.

In truth, there are many in the Commons like Jamie on the labour benches. They feel
- undermined by Corbyn,
- they face deselection by new Momentum labour members = the activist wing of the far left
- and have no confidence in Corbyn forming a government.
There are similar colleagues in the North East. If I named them they would be the subject of a torrent of abuse by their "new" Momentum members. It is very sad to see where the Labour party has got itself.
The Guardian take on this story is here: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/dec/21/corbyn-critic-jamie-reed-quits-labour-mp-byelection-copeland

At the last election the labour party held the seat by a couple of thousand and they have never lost it since the 1930s. But I genuinely do not believe that #Corbyn is the man the good citizens of west Cumbria want to put their faith in. His Islington politics, and some of his weird stances of being of anti defence + anti monarchy, pro Cuba / IRA and more do not go down well in the North and I suspect will not go down well in Copeland. Corbyns uncertain views on Brexit will also be a struggle in Copeland    

By 34 to 27 the Labour Northumberland County Council decide to move from Morpeth to £40 million + new HQ in Ashington

This is a move that I oppose. It is not justified on costs, and sends a poor message to the Tynedale area as the County Council moves further into the Labour heartland of Ashington at massive expense. Full story here:

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

3 Hexham business are Regional Finalists in the Rural Oscars 2016

The finalists in the Countryside Alliance Awards, otherwise known as “The Rural Oscars”, have been announced. The Awards are distributed in six geographic regions, and in the North region there are 3 businesses from Hexham that are in contention for a regional title.

North Acomb Farm Shop is one of four Northern regional finalists in the “Butcher” category, Northumberland Honey + Sovereign Nectar Meadery in Haltwhistle is one of four in the “Local food/drink” category, and Blanchland Post Office is one of five in the “Village shop/Post Office” category.
The Awards are an annual celebration of rural produce, skills, enterprise and heritage through our small hard-working businesses. This is now the twelfth year that the Rural Oscars have been awarded, and it has become the definitive and most prestigious rural business award to win. The Awards have successfully highlighted the diversity of rural enterprise and the determination of rural communities to survive and prosper, often against the odds.
This year, over 7,500 nominations were received across the country, meaning these finalists really are the best of the best. It is clear, therefore, that these 3 outstanding small businesses in Northumberland are truly appreciated by, and important to, local communities.
Each business that has reached regional finalist status will now be visited by the judges. Regional winners will be announced in February, and will then advance to compete against other regional winners in their respective categories in the national finals. There will be a winners’ reception held at the House of Lords in London on Wednesday 22 March 2017, where the overall national winners of each category will be announced. I am so proud that we have three of the Northern regional finalists, and I am sure that all of you will join me in wishing them the very best of luck in the further stages of the competition.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Westminster this week

I will be in Westminster most of this week, although the House of Commons formally rises for Christmas recess on Tuesday. Today in parliament we have an extended debate on the impact on science and research upon exiting the EU, and what measures he government should put in place to ensure the continued success of the uk in these fields. I have a meeting at the Department for Transport in support of cycling in Northumberland, and a variety of other meetings today.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Haydon Bridge High School - Where possible I believe we should keep open and support local schools rather than close them.

Where possible I believe we should keep open and support local schools rather than close them. I have seen the difference the teachers and support from Bright tribe have made at the Haltwhistle campus and the Haydon Bridge High School, and I believe they should be allowed to continue the job of turning these schools around.

One of my abiding memories is learning that Allendale Middle School was going to be closed in 2013 by the Northumberland County Council, when I read it in the Hexham Courant. There was no warning, or even discussion with the elected MP. That move has had a knock on effect ever since, where the NCC effectively forced a two tier system on schools in the West of Northumberland, meaning a split mixed system of 2 and 3 tier in tynedale.
Now we face a proposal from the County Council to close Haydon Bridge High School and merge it with QEHS initially at QEHS and then by 2020 on a single new mega school site on land in the West End of Hexham. (The plan does not address what would happen to Haltwhistle Middle and First schools if Bright Tribe are prevented from proceeding as planned for over a year.) 

I have spoken at length to parents, pupils, teachers, and local Haydon Bridge community leaders over the last 48 hours. I spent Friday and parts of Saturday in Haltwhistle and Haydon Bridge. I went, once again, to Haydon Bridge High School on Friday morning. I can only be honest and say that nobody I spoke in the last 48 hours supported the County Council's proposal to close the school.

The alternative is to keep Haydon Bridge High School open with a sponsor in Bright Tribe.

I have visited both of Haltwhistle and Haydon Bridge schools and met with teachers, pupils, and parents and more at both schools since Bright Tribe became involved. There is a big collective effect that has gone on by everyone, but some people deserve to be named. I have been very impressed with the difference that they and their outstanding key teachers are making at both the first and middle schools in Haltwhistle. The change in the school, the change in the pupils, and the measurable statistics since their arrival are clear.
This is my report of my recent visit to Haltwhistle school earlier in the term http://guyopperman.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/really-positive-morning-spent-last.html

I have spoken to many of the pupils and parents and they are delighted in the change. It is all hands to the pump, but you do need good leaders. So special praise is due to the new upper school head, Paul Sampson and the new lower school head Susie Drake, at Haltwhistle. Likewise, Mrs Helen McCormick, Acting Headteacher, and Mr Darren Glover, Consultant Headteacher (Bright Tribe) at Haydon Bridge. Dr Judith Greene is the executive principal for both schools;she has an outstanding track record and she and her team are passionate about improving education in the west.

There is no doubt that this last term Haydon Bridge High School is working way better than before. Teachers are more organised and lessons are better planned. Pupils are definitely happier. Attendance figures are better. Problems with some pupils behaviour has been resolved.

It is my understanding that the original plans to keep Haydon Bridge High School open with Bright Tribe as its sponsor are well advanced and continuing. The County Council allowed Haydon Bridge High School to get itself into difficulties, I believe Judith, Darren, Helen and the Bright Tribe support team can sort this school out based on what I have seen, heard, and the measurable stats. The alternative proposal by NCC to close Haydon Bridge High School, and Ridley Hall, and move 500 pupils and teachers to Hexham onto an already cramped Hexham QEHS site with no spare classroom capacity is a massive undertaking. And all this in 9 months?

My view is simple; I believe we should keep open and support local schools rather than close them, and I have seen first hand the positive difference the new team brought in by Bright Tribe are making in supporting Haydon Bridge and Haltwhistle.

The key thing now is we hear from the staff, pupils and parents at all the affected schools. I will update when I know more from the Northumberland County Council.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

The Weekend Read: How to save money on your Energy Bills - our energy booklet will save you money this winter!

Winter is with us, and with nights long and cold mornings, residents across Tynedale sometimes really struggle to heat their homes. Turning the heating on is, for many, the only choice. Yet, doing so is becoming increasingly costly. Increasing fuel prices are leaving homeowners feeling the pinch and residents are faced with a difficult choice; save money or stay warm. 

I have long been campaigning against fuel poverty. It was back in January 2011 that I first said families face the choice between ‘heating or eating’. For some time I have thought we should try and bring together all the key info, and the key local suppliers, in one available online and physical booklet.

Following on from the success of the Energy Booklet in the past four 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 will go 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 have also provided information on the Tynedale Community Bank: a real alternative to the major multinationals. The TCB is a local bank, providing savings and loans for local people. 

I stress this booklet does not have all the answers, but I know it can help. Now is the time to start thinking about how you can stay warm and save money, this winter. You can download it here: https://view.publitas.com/p222-11112/energybooklet2016-17

Friday, 16 December 2016

First and Primary Schools Update - slowly but surely seeing good progress at Whitfield, Haltwhistle, Adderlane and other schools

I wanted to update constituents on some developments that are happening in our local schools, with especially good news to report about Whitfield Church of England Primary School. I will blog separately on the Fairer Funding settlement, and the issues on other bigger schools, but this blog is focused very much on first and primary schools. As always, I would make the point that I do not run the schools - that is the responsibility of the Northumberland County Council, save when the schools go into special measures. Sometimes I do wish I did run the schools. I do, however, do all I can to help the individual head teachers, governors, parents and pupils in whatever way I can. I have over 45 schools in my area and am in regular contact by visits and phone conversations with many of these. As always, my door is open.

Whitfield Primary:
Whitfield Primary has clearly had its problems over the last two years, but I am now 100% confident that the school will survive, will be open in September 2017 and beyond, and also prospering.
The new academic year has started very brightly. There is a new team of Governors, led by Mrs Amanda Stembridge, who are clearly working really well together.

Whitfield Primary now has an Academy Order in place, and The Good Shepherd Multi Academy Trust has been approved as a sponsor. The Good Shepherd has experience running four other Church of England Primary Schools in Cumbria. While there is still work to be done before Whitfield Primary formally opens as an academy (likely to be in Spring 2017), the school will be able to draw on The Good Shepherd’s resources, expertise and support, whilst also ensuring it stays true to its desire to serve the needs of local families and their children.

Additionally, the SAT results for Whitfield Primary show significant improvement, a testament to the hard work of teachers, parents and pupils alike. There is now an air of optimism around the school and I believe that Whitfield is firmly on the road to recovery. I am also fully supportive of plans to develop a pre-school class for local families as a precursor to the school’s reception class. This will help to boost numbers and retention, and further secure the long term future of the school. The school’s survival is a tribute to the efforts of a great many local people – too numerous to name – but they all know who they are. The school website is here: http://www.whitfield.northumberland.sch.uk/website

The Adderlane conversion went ahead as planned on 1 December, into WISE Academies. There is no doubt that the team at the school, who I have met, have worked really hard to make this transition work. They have a good partner and are optimistic for the future. I have met the team at Adderlane earlier this year and they have worked really hard to turn the school around and I am delighted for their Headteacher, Emma, the parents and the pupils.
The courant reported their recent successful partnership here: http://www.hexham-courant.co.uk/news/prudhoe/Adderlane-First-School-links-up-with-academy-trust-a03880a3-5332-4047-a70f-9fbaf52e00c2-ds

I met with the headteacher, the governors, supporters and some of the teachers approximately 7 weeks ago for a 2 and a half hour in depth discussion of the way ahead. I accept that the recent Ofsted findings have come as a bolt from the blue, but there was no doubting the determination of one and all to ensure the continued survival and enhancement of the school. The school has good numbers, a great location and a very positive commitment to the future in so many ways. The school website is here: http://www.shaftoetrust.northumberland.sch.uk/website

Ponteland Middle:
The school is definitely going to be open and fully functioning in 2017. I met Caroline, the headteacher, recently and all the pupils - the spirit in the school is excellent: full report here: http://guyopperman.blogspot.co.uk/2016/11/meeting-with-remarkable-school-council.html

Haltwhistle First and Middle School:
I visited there for a morning about ten weeks ago - there is no doubt that the new teaching team are doing a fantastic job. The pupils were happy, focused and well led by the teaching team when I visited. I am going back there v shortly.  

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Tuesday's Commons debate on Aleppo, diplomatic urgings for ceasefires and options in the face of Russian and Assad aggression

This week the House of Commons debated Aleppo, and all the conflicting choices, or lack of them ,that are available to concerned western powers who wish to stop the fighting. It is easy to say that something must be done. I know of no one who does not wish to see an end to the bloodshed. But any action requires putting british airmen potentially in harms way, even if they are attempting merely a drop of humanitarian supplies. 
Such an airman could be shot down by Assad, Russian, rebel or Isis forces. If they were so shot down then what does the uk do? These were some of the issues raised in the debate. The full debate is here:

Best speech of the day was by the former chancellor George Osborne:
"I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on speaking with such passion and compassion for the citizens of Aleppo, and on bringing to bear his experience as one of the country’s outstanding International Development Secretaries. I also thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this debate; it is good to see my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary here to respond to it.
What we have heard already moves us to tears: the tens of thousands of civilians trapped in Aleppo; the reports today of residents being shot on sight; and the barbarous assault by the Syrian army, Iranian militias and Russian airpower that the Morning Star, as we have heard, describes as a “liberation”. Let me offer my support and gratitude to the incredibly brave people who are risking their lives as doctors and White Helmet workers in that war zone. I support everything that has been said about what we need to do to get aid into Aleppo, or to provide some kind of ceasefire so that civilians can get out of Aleppo.
The whole concept of an emergency debate suggests that this tragedy has somehow come upon us out of the blue and that there is an almost natural aspect to it, but that is not the case. The Syrian civil war has been waged since 2011, so this is something that we could have foreseen and done somethingabout. We are deceiving ourselves in this Parliament if we believe that we have no responsibility for what has happened in Syria. The tragedy in Aleppo did not come out of a vacuum; it was created by a vacuum—a vacuum of western leadership, including American and British leadership. I take responsibility, as someone who sat on the National Security Council throughout those years, and Parliament should also take its responsibility because of what it prevented being done.
There were multiple opportunities to intervene. In 2012, David Petraeus, the head of the CIA, devised a plan for a much more aggressive intervention in Syria, providing lethal support to what was then clearly a moderate opposition in the Free Syrian Army. That approach was rejected. Britain provided support for flak jackets, medical kits and so forth, but it was clear throughout 2012 and 2013 that there was not a parliamentary majority in this House for providing lethal support to that opposition so that they could shoot down helicopters and aircraft, and fire back with sophisticated weaponry.
In 2013, of course, this House of Commons took a decision not to back a Government motion to authorise airstrikes when Assad used chemical weapons, breaking a 100-year-old taboo—we established it in the west and it survived the second world war—that you do not use chemical weapons, as well as crossing a red line that the President of the United States had established.
On the narrow point, in August 2013, we were responding to the use of chemical weapons and providing airstrikes as a demonstration that the use of those weapons was completely unacceptable and that a red line had been crossed—and, indeed, that the west had established that red line. Of course, once this House of Commons took its decision, I believe it did have an impact on American politics. We cannot have it both ways—we cannot debate issues such as Syria and then think that our decisions have no impact on the rest of the world. I think that that did cause a delay in the American Administration’s actions and did cause Congress to get cold feet.

This is where I want to begin to draw my remarks to a close, because I know many Members want to speak. The last time I spoke from the Back Benches was in 2003, from the Opposition Benches, when we were debating intervention in Iraq. We all know the price of intervention. My political generation knows the price of intervention: the incredibly brave servicemen and women who gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan; the thousands of civilians who died in those conflicts; the cost to taxpayers in this country; the chaos that inevitably follows when there is intervention in a country; and, of course, the division in our society, our families and our communities.

I believe, however, that we have come to a point where it is impossible to intervene anywhere—we lack the political will, as the west, to intervene. I nevertheless have some hope for what might come out from this terrible tragedy in Syria, which is that we are beginning to learn the price of not intervening. We did not intervene in Syria, and tens of thousands of people have been killed as a result while millions of refugees have been sent from their homes across the world. We have allowed a terrorist state to emerge in the form of ISIS, which we are now trying to defeat. Key allies such as Lebanon and Jordan are destabilised, and the refugee crisis has transformed the politics of Europe, allowing fascism to rise in eastern Europe and creating extremist parties in western Europe. For the first time since Henry Kissinger kicked it out of the middle east in the 1970s, Russia is back as the decisive player in that region. That is the price of not intervening.

Let us have our debate, and let us do everything that we can to help the civilians of Aleppo. Let us hope that the new American Administration and the new Secretary of State work with the Russians to get the ceasefire, but let us be clear now that if we do not shape the world, we will be shaped by it.

I will finish on the words of one columnist who put it well:
"We did not learn the right lessons from decades of war. Non-intervention is not the answer to the failures of intervention. The truth is that full-scale interventions as seen as in Afghanistan and Iraq are difficult. And so are partial interventions as we have experienced in Libya.
But if anything, Syria has shown that consequences of inaction must not be ignored or forgotten, for they can sometimes have repercussions even more devastating than the choice to take action."