Monday, 31 December 2012

Looking back on my 2012 predictions

In January 2012 I made a few predictions for the year ahead, see how well I got on...
"Boris will beat Ken Livingstone for the Mayoral Elections and finally consign Livingstone to the electoral scrap heap" - I got that one right.
"Newcastle will beat Man City and Everton in the last 2 matches of the season and qualify for Europe" - We drew against Everton and got thrashed 3-1 by Man City. Sorry lads.
"Obama beats Romney to win the USA Presidential Election" - I got that one right
2 out of 3 isn't bad but I think I better stick to politics!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Good profile of the Boss - Theresa May

Just last week there was a wonderful article on the Home Secretary, Theresa May. She is a genuinely impressive woman who is doing one of the hardest jobs in politics very well. In my first 6 weeks in the Home Office we had to deal with Abu Qatada, Gary McKinnon and Abu Hamza, as well as cutting immigration, police commissioner elections, and a whole lot more.
She is unflappable, extremely competent and genuinely kind: for example,when I got sick last year she wrote me the sweetest hand written personal note and get well letter.
Have a read for yourself: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9762170/Theresa-May-interview-I-probably-was-Goody-Two-Shoes-at-school.html

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Our police are doing a great job

Thanks to recent problems there have been many lately tempted to criticise the police. Yes, one or two stories about the behaviour of certain officers may not show the force in a great light, but that does not reflect on the excellent work of the 99.99% of all police officers.
All my personal experiences, both as a criminal barrister, and as an MP, have shown me that the police are very straight, honest, and hard working, in often very difficult circumstances.
Police Officers continue to have an excellent reputation, both locally in the Northumbria area, and nationally. They continue to enjoy the trust, support, and respect of the public and politicians alike.
Northumbria Police under the stewardship of Chief Constable Sue Sim do an excellent job. They have absorbed a reduction in budget, yet continued to cut crime. They are doing more for less. They deserve our praise.
When I regularly meet with local officers, whether on the beat, in surgeries, or knocking on doors, or with senior officers at Force Headquarters in Ponteland, I find them helpful and hardworking public servants.
The Police Federation has also came in for some criticism lately because of the way some of its members acted during in the aftermath of the Andrew Mitchell affair. Again that is not my experience locally. I regularly meet with the Police Federation officers both formally and informally to hear officers concerns. Indeed 3 of the Federation Reps sat down with me for nearly 2 hours in the House of Commons less than 5 weeks ago, and I have another meeting upcoming with other reps in January in Northumberland. The media sometimes make things out as if there are factions in Whitehall for or against any particular organisation. That is not the case in my experience.
In relation to the police I am not surprised that some officers are upset that their pensions and expectations of working life in the police are changing. Such upset is perfectly understandable. Teachers, doctors and the military are also upset. But that is the reality of the financial climate that we live in. There is simply not the public money to support the pay and pension packages that existed previously. We as a nation have spent too much, borrowed too much and delayed too long harsh and tough public spending decisions that have to be taken. I take no pleasure in it.  These decisions are being taken by the Coalition government, but any government in power right now would have to take these decisions; and no party who wins the next election will change these decisions.
The only difference between me and Ed Miliband is I wish we had a money tree and he thinks we actually have one.
The police, like those in the NHS, are there when you need them most, often in the worst possible circumstances. They have my full support. I will not hear a word against them.

2012 in review; September, October, November and December

And so it was autumn / winter. I take look back at what went on this year as winter drew in...

September: the feature was Northumberland Day:http://www.itv.com/news/tyne-tees/2012-09-11/pm-drops-in-on-parliaments-northumberland-day/
September saw me working with the Guardian's Polly Toynbee as I joined her and others in penning articles on why we need more responsible capitalism for the High Pay Centre on whose board I sit. The resulting pamphlet I am really proud of. September was also the month of our first ever Northumberland Day when we brough the Counties finest producers and suppliers to the House of Commons to show off their goods. Even the Prime Minister was impressed! September also saw plenty of time in Stannington, including a trip to their wonderful Church. I popped in to see the wonderful Joan and her team and see the entries at the Prudhoe Town Show. On top of that I had a visit to Albermarle Barracks, a working visit to Kielder forest, and visited the wonderful Haltwhistle, Bellingham and Ponteland Middle Schools and met the staff who are doing a great job.

October:
Ocotber was a serious political month. In the reshuffle I was asked by the Prime Minister to help in the Home Office ,and given the job of PPS to Immigration Minister Mark Harper. October was party conference season and I spoke 9 times in Birmingham - all in fringe events far from the main stage. Conference is a chance to speak on ideas and blue sky thinking and debate. My favourite event was the 2 Policy Exhange events where 400 people crammed in to 2 separate events - one debating Conservatives in the north, and the second an event with Jesse Norman MP and Polly Toynbee again - on executive pay and radical solutions to big business - for the High Pay Centre event.
After conference I spent 4 whistle stop days in Israel on a cross party trip: it was fascinating. I love Israel as a country but our trip saw us go to the edge of war torn Gaza, to the key church and disputed sites in Jerusalem, and 2 cities subsequently attacked 4 weeks later - Ashdod and Tel Aviv. Our trip brought home the terrible difficulty of finding peace in Gaza, the west bank and Israel generally. A two state solution seems a long way off right now but I continue to meet with the Friends of Israel to discuss what we can do to help both in Westminster, and locally next year in Newcastle

November:
This was the month of the Remberance Day service - I was at Haydon Bridge in the morning and Hexham in the afternoon. For me the month featured the Home Office very heavily as my first 6 weeks saw decisions on Abu Qatada, Gary McKinnon and Abu Hamza as well as the usual maelstrom of events at the Home Office. It is a fascinating place to work. I am very lucky to be there.
Locally, the campaigns on the Middle School closure fiasco in Allendale, and the problems with development in Ponteland on green belt have dominated. In addition, I was really pleased to go to a great event in Mickley where their local history has been faithfully recorded in a great local book.

December:
I am Secretary of the All Party Group on Apprentices and we invited dozens of apprentices in to the House of Commons to meet with business leaders and both sides to exchange their experiences. It was a great event. Throughout this year Jade, the apprentice I originally hired just after my election has really improved and I was pleased to offer her a proper job at the end of her apprenticeship.
December also saw the launch of my book "Doing Time" with events in London and Hexham, with plenty of local radio and TV follow up. I am really pleased with the reception and feedback. We have had a busy month in Westminster with everything from the debate on Women Bishops, to the Energy Bill, and the decision to bring more of our troops home from Afghanistan. As we enjoy the festive season spare a particular thought for our troops in far off places defending us and doing their best to keep us safe. We are forever in their debt.

Friday, 28 December 2012

2012 - the year of the Apprentice

Apprentices have doubled in the North East since 2010. This is not the work of Alan Sugar, or Donald Trump, but local businesses keen to give youngsters a real chance. I have helped by taking on Prudhoe's Jade Scott, who started out with me in the Hexham Office shortly after the 2010 election, and has combined work experience with study to qualify and then be given a long term position.
On February 1st I am pleased to be welcoming Matt Hancock to the region - he is a mate of mine and the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister. He has written a good piece in todays telegraph:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/9767605/An-apprenticeship-will-soon-match-all-a-degree-has-to-offer.html

2012 in review; June, July and August

This is the third part of my review of 2012, this time we look back at those jubilympic summer months...

June:
June saw another step forward in my campaign for local banking, when I met FSA chief Hector Sants. The June Bank holiday saw a fantastic County Show in Corbridge where I took the role of judge in three sections. June was also the month of the wonderful Prudhoe Street Party - it was great fun and Rev Charles Hope and his team did amazing work to pull it off. I was also named the first MP of the week by Petrol Promise for my campaign against fuel duty and the big oil companies. We got the fantastic news of the go ahead for the new Haltwhistle Hospital and saw the Olympic Torch travel through Northumberland. I also became the first Conservative MP to come out against Regional Pay. June also saw us take forward in our campaign for Air Ambulances to recover the VAT when I secured a debate on the issue. June came to a wet end with the #ToonFlood. I got stuck in Newcastle and literally had to start the long walk out of town as the place was gridlocked.

July:
July saw the news that our campaign to keep Kielder Forest and the rest of the UK's woodlands in public hands was a success. It was also the month that saw my local constituent Doreen Soulsby have success in changing the law on sex crimes after we visited the Director of Public Prosecutions. We had another wonderful armed forces day in Hexham. The doyen of North East Journalism Adrian Pearson wrote that my approach just might help the Conservatives make progress in the region. July also saw Milk Prices on the agenda, as I launched my campaign for a Fair Deal for Tynedale's farmers and called for a boycott of Supermarkets ripping off dairy farmers. We pulled off a sensational victory in West Hexham winning the seat from the Lib Dems and setting up Colin Cessford to hopefully win the County seat this coming May. July finished with the Queen jumping out of a helicopter for the best Olympics ceremony ever seen.

August:
My main memory of August is being very wet and very tired. I spent the first two weeks of August covering the ground between Sheffield and the North East on my charity Walk of the Pennine Way. 275 miles later, after stop offs in Slaggyford, Haltwhistle, Halton Lea Gate, Wark, Haydon Bridge, and Byrness I finished the walk on the 24th August. I was Knackered but we were able to raise thousands of pounds for the Great North Air Ambulance. I finished August toasting the success of my apprentice, Jade, after she became one of the first ever to complete an apprenticeship with an MP, and gave her a job in my office. We also packed in a dinner at the Valley with Northern Rail and a meeting with the TVRUG concerning rail transport in Northumberland with Robert Forsyth and other local enbthusiasts. The Valley were on great form throughout the year and came to London to come fourth in the annual Tiffin Cup - a contest for all the curry / asian restaurants in the UK. Its a unique restaurant on so many levels.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Syria reaches its end game

There is an eerie predictability about the demise of Presdient Assad's Syrian regime. I have no doubt that his authority is ebbing away daily through a combination of four things:
- greater organisation by the Syrian opposition groups, who are resolving to fight the common enemy, even though they cannot get on with each other
- an increasing stranglehold by the opposition on the key capital city of Damascus
- greater weaponry for the opposition, whether it is captured from Assad or given by overseas Arab powers, and
- key defections from his own side: only this week the head of the Military Police defected to Turkey and sided with the rebels: see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9766131/Head-of-Syrias-military-police-becomes-latest-to-defect-to-join-the-rebel-uprising.html

What is clear is that between 50,000-100,000 people have been killed in Syria since the outbreak in March 2011 of an anti-regime revolt; the insurgency is not backed by specific British action and there is little that the UK could do, even if it wanted to, given the complexities that exist in this conflict.
The concern that really troubles the western powers is the possibility of the use and general deployment of chemical weapons. If a country wants to fight itself that is one thing. The age old question of "the extent to which the UK is the world's policeman" comes to mind? Are we willing to risk British soldiers and British financial resources to pick and then support one faction, or collective group, in a domestic civil war - however much we detest what the Assad government is doing? I do not believe so. There is no UN Directive and a split international view prevails leading to a lack of any Mandate; therefore, my strong belief is that any British involvement would cause more trouble than it would solve and we must sit by, and be ready to assist when this bloody civil war resolves itself. But it will be tragic viewing. And the conflict is already spilling over into Turkey, Lebanon and Israel. The Middle East is entering a year of great danger and uncertainty. Syria will be the first to resolve but Iran will still be the biggest concern.

2012 in review, March, April and May

March:
In March we got the report back on the Boundary Commissions consultation to remove Haltwhislte, South Tynedale and Ponteland East from the Hexham Constituency. I was overwhelmed by the backing our campaign got to retain them. For the entire North East [29 seats] there were 1950 representations, of those 950 related to the Hexham constituency alone. Later that month I put the cat amongst the proverbial pigeons by backing a Mansion Tax, asking "Since when did helping those on the lowest incomes be something only the Lib Dems and Labour talked about? What has happened to our party?" In March I also hosted a two hour meeting to support the Hexham River Hydro project. I also launched the campaign for an elected Mayor of Newcastle. Safe to say one was more successful than the other.

April:
April was another busy (and diverse) month, spending time visiting Community Projects in East Hexham to opening a petrol station in Kielder! I made a speech in the House of Commons in favour of Assisted Suicide. Locally we held the Gilesgate seat in Hexham where the Lib Dems went from 2nd to 4th. April also brought sadness with the passing of Lord Ridley; he was truly good man and a great voice for Northumberland.

May:
May saw some tough local election results for the Conservative Party in Newcastle but Boris Johnson's fantastic re-election victory rightly dominated the news. In May I also met with our ambassadors Jane Owen [Norway] and Paul Johnston [Sweden] to see how we can boost trade with our region, it's a theme I will be returning to this year. May also saw success for Cllr Jean Fearon and our campaign to keep Palliative care in Corbridge. The icing on the cake in May was the news that all our lobbying had paid off and Prudhoe High would be getting the rebuild we had been fighting for. It is fair to say Micheal Gove will rest easy if I never badger him about it again

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The "Unofficial" Boxing Day Northumberland Awards

As an MP I get to see dozens of great local schemes, initiatives and ideas pioneered by local people, I get to go to lots of tea shops, pubs and see businesses all across Northumberland. This year also saw the Pennine Way walk which gave me a chance to get to know the byways and backwoods of the west, in particular. So here is my annual unofficial 2012 Awards:

Community of the Year: Tarset - who pioneered the Oil Buying Groups, helped make the bastle trail happen, and produced the famous Murray Henge amongst many other things. No small community does more: check out their website: http://www.tarset.co.uk/index.cfm
Church of the Year: I have been to many this year but loved the beautiful Byrness Church. It is tiny but possessed of famous stained glass windows: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byrness
Best Pub: Battlesteads Inn in Wark - it ticks every box: a great restaurant, good beer, run by lovely people who really understand the business they are in - they put a lot into the local economy.
Honourable mention to The Bay Horse in Stamfordham - which is thriving under new management.
Best Teashop: The Old Forge Tea Rooms in Greenhead - a livesaver for many a hiker. Great home made cakes! See:http://www.hadrianswallvillages.org.uk/BusinessDetail.aspx?ID=33
Party of the Year: Prudhoe Jubilee Party - made possible by countless people but particvularly the local council, the community partnership and the Rev Charles Hope, who showed how not to light fireworks - do not try this at home kids! A close runner up was the Haydon Bridge Beer Festival http://haydonbeerfestival.co.uk/july-2012-photographs/ who provided a great event in torrential rain. I learnt how to be a proper beer barman thanks to the team from CAMRA. Next years event is 12-13th July 2013.
School of the Year: I visited many this year but the one that really impressed above all others was Prudhoe Castle First School. This is not because it has the best ofsted, or the best facilities. I just loved the commitment and enthusiasm of the teachers, the support of the local parents and most of all the attitude of the kids. They took huge pride in their school: http://www.prudhoecastle.northumberland.sch.uk/. An honourable mention also to the wonderful Ponteland Middle, the Head Caroline Pryer is an inspiration.

Local Campaigners of the Year: the team behind the Opposition to Development on Ponteland Green Belt need to be seen to be believed. Alna nd her team are a formidable group capable of great things. Check out their website: http://www.pontelandgreenbelt.co.uk/
The signs that Lesley Noble has organised all along the airport road and make an impressive statement.

Best Fete: a tough call but I spent a wonderful day in Humshaugh in the summer - only slightly hampered by having to try every single one of the 15 cakes in the cake competetion - and people wonder why I am not at jockey weight any more!

Best Village Hall: I have held surgeries in many of the village halls this year but was really impressed by my time in Corbridge - if only because it is clearly so busy. I finished my surgery and then had 10 mins chatting to the mums and dads who were there with their kids at a packed judo class. There are lots of village halls that are busy and thriving but Corbridge is clearly doing a lot of the basics very well.

Most impressive People and Best Day of the Year: Our Northumberland Day in the House of Commons was very special. A great effort by Pete and the London team for making it happen. To all the people who came 320 miles south in September to showcase Northumberland Day in Westminster - I cannot thank you, and your businesses, and organisations enough - from Taste North East to Fentimans and Gilchester Organics and many more. The team who stole the show were Trees Can't Dance http://www.treescantdance.co.uk/ - who produced a chilli sauce that almost rendered the Prime Minister speechless - see the video above. No wonder he needed some Wylam Beer to take the edge off! http://www.wylambrewery.co.uk/

Politics Awards 2012: Part 2

It's the second part of my Politics Awards 2012. See who takes home my final four awards:


Backbencher of the Year: Nadhim Zahawi MP (Con)
Nadhim has been the MP for Stratford-upon-Avon since 2010. Before that he was co-founder of the polling company YouGov. Nadhim will be playing a big role in the Conservative Party in the next decade. He made an excellent and interesting speech about the rather dry subject of planning last month, you can read it here.

One to Watch: Rt Revd Justin Welby
Bishop of Durham Justin Welby will soon be the new Archbishop of Canterbury. The church have chosen well. He is a rounded man, with great faith, and a true concern for the poor. All I have seen of him, and the times I have listened to him speak, I have been extremely impressed. I wish him well, although he has a tough in tray in the next year, he will certainly be making a big impact over the next year.

Candidate of the Year: Phil Butler
My award of Candidate of the Year goes to Phil Butler. Phil was the Conservative candidate for Northumbria's Police and Crime Commissioner. A former copper and never having been member of a political party he really threw himself into the role. Phil earned the respect of a lot of people in the party and more importantly made a lot of friends along the way. He also secured an excellent result for us here in Northumberland, coming just 200 votes behind Labour despite there being two Labour MPs and just one Conservative MP in the County. Most importantly of all Phil showed nice guys can do well in politics.

Politician of the Year: Iain Duncan Smith MP (Con)
There are few more passionate MP's than Iain Duncan Smith. Now Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain is passionate about making welfare work in this country. A committed Christian, he has done much work already in removing the perverse incentives that encouraged people away from the job market. As Peter Oborne put it "Mr Duncan Smith believes it is his life’s work to end this monumental tragedy, and for the unemployed to find work and obtain the human dignity that a job brings with it." Next year is a big year for Iain with the introduction of the Universal Credit.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

On this special day we should remember those less fortunate than ourselves. My experience with the Salvation Army in Newcastle, and the Soroptimists, who are another world-wide volunteer service organisation, which are also very active in Tynedale, has been able to bring toys and good cheer to so many local children who are not so lucky. We collected over 400 toys for local kids.  My thanks to everyone who donated to our Buy one more toy Appeal. The Salvation Army will be open and busy on Christmas Day. They do an amazing job.

Also a note of thanks to the many public sector workers, who will be working hard over the holidays. More often than not they are the low paid women caring for our elderly relatives, or those giving extra support, helping our children to learn to read and write. The policemen, the firemen, the doctors, the nurses, the porters, the cleaners. We all owe them a great debt.

Monday, 24 December 2012

2012 in review: January and February

2012 has been a record year for the blog, with more of you viewing it that ever before. Since the blog began in 2008 I have posted 1100 blog posts, and we have been visited by several hundred thousand people. It is one of the most visited blogs in the North East - thank you for all your comments and feedback.

January:
January kicked off with me running a debate in Westminster around the future of the Falklands. Torchgate hit the front pages and Mike & Lauren came to London as part of our campaign against fuel poverty to give evidence to the DECC select committee. I handed over a cheque of £3000 to the NHS hospital which saved my life in 2011 after my charity walk of Hadrians Wall.

February:
Rory Stewart MP joined Hexham Conservatives as the speaker for our Annual Dinner; he was fascinating. We also welcomed Chris Grayling, the then Jobs Minister, to the North East Jobs Summit which I organised in Prudhoe. February was also National Apprenticeship Week and my own apprentice Jade hit the papers. We pulled off a great local win at Heddon on the Wall after energy giant Npower slapped the local WI with a bill for £5,315 - after some strong words Npower dropped the bill. Our campaign to protect the Greenbelt was launched in 2011 but we won a small mercy in February when Newcastle began to row back on it plans for 3,500 houses on the Ponteland Greenbelt. After our campaign the Council was magically able to "identify more deliverable housing sites within the urban area"

Politics Awards 2012: Part 1

It's Christmas Eve so its time to turn off the party politics and hand out the first lot of my political awards 2012!

Campaigner of the Year: Stella Creasy MP (Lab) and Robert Halfon (Con)
This award is shared between two MP's; Stella for her powerful campaign against Pay Day Loan companies and Robert for his successful campaign against the rise in Fuel Duty. Both MP's will no doubt continue to be hardworking campaigners in Parliament over the coming year. Good luck to them both.

Speech of the Year: Charles Walker (Con) and Kevan Jones (Lab)
It is so easy for people to think of politicians simply as robots. The truth is we are normal people, we make mistakes, we get stuff wrong, we are far from perfect. Another shared award this time. Charles and Kevan both made amazing speeches in the House of Commons this year, speaking out about their mental health problems, breaking the taboo around the issue. Charles told MPs he was a "practising fruitcake" as he described how he had lived with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) for more than 30 years. Kevan told of his battle with depression and the "difficult" decision to speak out.  You can read Charles' speech here.

Peer of the Year: Lord Shipley (Lib Dem)
Lord Shipley OBE, is a Liberal Democrat peer and former leader of Newcastle City Council up until 2010. Despite being of different political colours I have been impressed by the way he has championed the North East over the past year. I am sure he will continue to be a strong voice for our region. He was recently appointed Deputy Chair of the Regional Growth Fund.

Minister of the Year: Theresa May MP (Con)
I nominate Theresa (not just because she is ultimately my boss at the Home Office!) but because she truly deserves it. The Home Office is a hell of a department to run and she has handled the brief brilliantly. Not only has she managed the department well, she has taken some really brave decisions. When she decided not to extradite Gary McKinnon to the US, it stunned MP's in the commons. You can read a wonderfully insightful interview with Theresa from this weeks Telegraph here.

You can find out who I nominate for Backbencher of the Year, Politican of the Year, Candidate of the Year and my One to Watch on Boxing Day.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

1000 new jobs for the North East

More good news for the North East; Nissan is investing £250m at its Sunderland plant which will create around 1,000 new jobs.
 
This is both good news for the North East and of Britain’s car industry which is creating jobs, taking on apprentices and becoming a growing part of our economy. I am a strong champion of manufacturing and this is exactly the kind of investment I want to see in our economy.
 
Nissian is a real powerhouse in the North East, originally coming here under the last Conservative government, the factory now employs around 6,000 people.

John Cridland, the CBI's director general, has described the news as the "the cherry on the cake" for the UK car industry in 2012.

Prime Minister David Cameron said “This announcement shows how the car industry in partnership with the Government continues to win important long term investment projects in a tough competitive sector, helping the UK to get ahead in the global race.”

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Affordable Housing in a Community Setting - Rory Stewart MP tells how it can be done

Todays guest post is from my friend and neighbour Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Borders. He describes how the need for sustainable community development can be done, by the community, for the community. Rory came to speak to over 110 guests in January this year and I am repaying the compliment by speaking at a Penrith event on the 20th January 2013, with Rory. But until then have a read of how his local people transformed one village and approached their problem of local community affordable housing.

"In many Cumbrian villages residents cannot afford to buy or rent homes, so they leave, taking their families and their businesses with them. As a result, shops, pubs, and primary schools close. And villages become increasingly reserves for the elderly, whose children and grandchildren live in distant towns. We talk about this all the time. But what do we do about it? How do we produce houses which the young can afford to rent or buy? The answer can’t be simply to allow developers to swamp villages by building a hundred full-price houses to subsidise a dozen affordable homes, nor to build new estates of social houses in which locals are reluctant to live. Is it possible instead to build affordable houses without making villages uglier and bigger, and without alienating the residents?
Crosby Ravensworth suggests it may be. Crosby Ravensworth is, of course, a very beautiful village, with its dry-stone walls, its Norman church, and gentle stream. But two years ago the average house price was £315,000 – eleven times the average household income. The last pub was closing (the Sun was already a home). Eight in ten residents had not been born in Crosby. And a dozen families, who worked in, lived in, or had connections to the village, couldn’t afford to rent there. So, instead of fighting against development and affordable housing, the village decided to build themselves. They didn’t want a developer building a hundred homes on a greenfield site. They identified a good place – on the site of an old stone business – in the village centre. They wanted to build 22 houses, rather than trying to squeeze in the 34 which the planners insisted should fit. And they wanted the affordable houses to be larger, more attractive, and better designed than the standard.
There must have been many occasions when they wondered why they had ever begun. Their work had all the intensity, risk, and personal responsibility of setting up a small company. People such as David worked unpaid for two years, putting all their spare time after work into the project. They did it not for themselves, but because most of them had had families, and understood how important it was to keep young people in their community. They learned acronyms they never wanted to hear, encountered agencies they never suspected existed, and were shuffled from architects to code assessors, from engineering designers to surveyors and builders. They were drawn into the strange world of grant proposal writing, agreed to be a Big Society vanguard, and struggled with the sustainable building code. They received a grant from Eden District Council, and one from the Homes and Communities Agency, and borrowed over a million from a charity bank. They were nearly stopped by the discovery of rare bats, and it seemed for a moment as though the money would never come and the entire project would collapse. And by the end, one wondered how they had the energy to continue.
But they succeeded, quickly. And because they did it themselves, there were none of the objections which you find when development is imposed from outside. A year and a half ago there was nothing to be seen in the centre of the village except cracked concrete paving-stones and the bat-haunted quarry sheds. Three weeks ago, we buried a time-capsule (containing a copy of the Herald) in the grass of a new village green. Around us were 12 new homes – all affordable –and available to be rented, or part-owned. They were arranged in a square, with projecting wings and slate roofs – some rendered, some faced in limestone, and some in sandstone: a very Cumbrian family sitting comfortably in the heart of the village, without any two houses quite alike. Between them you could glimpse (it was a sunny Autumn morning) sheep and fells, the community hall, the church. The houses were owned by the village, in a community land trust. Behind them was the pub, also saved by the village, also owned in common.
The houses are not twee. All those individual designs are made from just two standard kits – one for a two bedroom and one for a three bedroom house – arranged in different combinations and facings. They are affordable to build as well as rent. There are broadband ducts ready in every property. The houses are heated by air source heat pumps, with no oil or gas. The residents pay only an electricity bill of 7 or 8 pounds a week (their neighbours pay ninety pounds for the same services). The land trust has ensured the houses are limited to locals in need. There are now tenants in all ten of the rented affordable houses, with 8 people under 18. And a brand new addition was born this Monday.
Now a dozen other villages - Culgaith or Lazonby, Barton or King’s Meaburn, perhaps – could, I think, do the same. Some things will be easier second time round –the pain of Crosby Ravensworth may save some pain for others. Extraordinary figures like Andy Lloyd of the Cumbria Rural Housing Trust can help establish community land trusts. And Crosby Ravensworth has offered to share its experience. Some things will be more difficult – there will be fewer grants available, and communities will need help securing larger loans. A community must still put immense time and effort into developing the kind and number of houses it wants, for the people they want, in the place they want. The government and charitable foundations need to be more flexible, and imaginative, in supporting such schemes. We all have a lot to learn before we can spread this model across rural Britain. But Cumbria, and in particular Crosby, has proved – magnificently – what can be done."
Rory's website is here: http://www.rorystewart.co.uk/

Newcastle arts debate

As most people will be aware there is a big debate raging over Labour controlled Newcastle Council's decision to slash 100% of its funding for culture and the arts.

I have stayed out of the debate as I have enough trouble with Northumberland County Council, from the greenbelt, equal pay for women and rural broadband - to name just a few issues!

The famous playwright Lee Hall has written a very passionate piece about the issue for the Guardian. Regardless of your politics I think it is well worth a read...

"What is clearly going on is a game of politics. In order to shame the coalition the council is willing to risk the future of the Theatre Royal, the Laing Art Gallery, the Tyneside Cinema and more. These are places open to everyone. These are the things which make Newcastle a place to be proud of, a place worth living in. This is not about some fancy stuff for a few people. It's about the identity of Newcastle as a city, a regional capital. No attempt has been made to save a single organisation or even a small part of their work. The council is willing to make Newcastle a cultural wasteland to make a political point."

You can read Lee's full piece here:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/18/newcastle-arts-funding-cut-vandalism

Friday, 21 December 2012

£3.9 million boost for Northumberland's roads

This week I have been pleased to welcome a £3.9 million funding boost to tackle Northumberlands road network.

The County takes the lions share of an extra £11.8 million fund for local road maintenance in the North East.

The fund is part of a £333 million fund announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement for essential maintenance to renew, repair and extend the life of roads in England. This funding is in addition to the £3billion the government is already providing for councils in England between 2011 and 2015 for highways maintenance.

This maintenance funding could be used for improvements such as road resurfacing and maintenance to bridges.
We have been lobbying hard for extra funding for Northumberland. Our roads are in crisis at the moment, the number of potholes in my part of Northumberland is becoming dangerous.This extra money should help the County Council get the best out of the road networks.

A fair share of this extra funding most come to us here in West Northumberland. I will be keeping a close watch of where the Council actually spends this money."

As a condition of the funding local authorities must commit to publishing a short statement on their websites at the end of each financial year setting out what and where this additional funding has
been spent.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Get your flu jab!

If you haven't done so already now really is the time to get your flu jab. People who are at risk from flu need to protect themselves and their families, and get flu safe with a free flu jab.
I got this jab several weeks ago after a horse racing accident left me with no spleen.
I want to remind everyone of increased risk that they really need to make sure they protect themselves and have the vaccine. I know people will be busy with Christmas but it is not to late. It is very important to protect yourself as Flu can kill you. Even a mild dose can make it hard to look after the kids or go to work.


Flu can also increase the risk of developing more serious illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
Those people at risk who are under 65 can also go along to participating pharmacists and have the flu vaccine. Patients who choose to go along to the pharmacy will need to take their GP letter and photo identification along to prove they are eligible for the vaccination.
Last year, 76% of people over 65 years and 57% in the at risk groups were vaccinated against flu in the Hexham area compared with the national averages of 74% for the over 65s and 51.6% for those ‘at risk’.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Good meeting with the PM tonight

The top floor of the house has the committee rooms, and tonight Committee Room 14 saw the PM come and talk to MPs and answer questions. He made the point that we should not be afraid of talking up our successes in government which includes:
- cutting the deficit by a quarter
- Legislated for a benefits cap so no household receives more in benefits than the average family earns;
- Helped open more than 1000 new Academies;
- Seen almost 500,000 more people in work than this time last year;
- Changed the tax system to cut the income tax bills of more than 24 million workers;
- Cut net migration by a quarter;
- Protected the NHS budget, even at a time of tight spending;
- Helped thousands more patients access life-saving cancer treatment thanks to our Cancer Drugs Fund;
- Brought in the biggest-ever cash increase in the state pension;
- Froze fuel duty, meaning that families are saving an average of £159 compared to what they would have paid under Labour;
- Helped freeze Council Tax bills for the third year in a row; and
- Cut billions of pounds of Whitehall waste.

This is a very good start. There is more to be done, and many more achievements but it is worth setting out what the Coalition has done and is trying to do.

Book offically launched

After several months of work I am pleased to say my book, 'Doing Time' has now been officially launched. As many of you will already know, the book is about reforming our prison system and tackling reoffending.

The launch took place with me giving a talk to invited guests at the Beaumont Hotel on Saturday December 8th and an event in London organised by the think tank Policy Exchange.
 
It was wonderful to have the support of local people in launching this book. Sorting out our prison system so that we cut reoffending rates is a major issue facing this country. Not just to help turn around the lives of those involved in crime, but to ensure we have less victims of crime in the future.

Thank you to everyone who has a bought a copy. It is available HERE on amazon. All profits from the book are going to the National Brain Appeal, which is the charity that supports the hospital that saved my life last year following a Brain Tumour.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Energy Bill tomorrow!

Tomorrows Energy Bill has 3 key elements:
It Limits energy companies to providing four core tariffs per fuel to end the proliferation of tariffs that has taken place over the last few years. We will require suppliers to have one standard variable rate tariff, and one fixed term fixed price tariff. This will ensure that these two tariff types, which account for 85 per cent of all customers, are clear, simple and easy to compare across suppliers.


It Requires suppliers to switch customers to the cheaper tariffs. We will also use the Bill to require energy suppliers to switch their customers who are on expensive ‘dead’ tariffs (old tariffs that are more expensive than current deals) to the supplier’s cheapest tariff which suits them.

It Provides for simpler bills. We will also use the Bill to make suppliers provide estimates of savings that could be made by moving to the cheapest tariff on customer’s bills. This will include the cheapest tariff for the customer’s current payment method, and the cheapest tariff provided by the supplier overall.

The Bill's effect on UK Energy supply will be massive:
- We are also reforming Britain’s electricity market
- There are new support measures for generators of low carbon power.
- There is a capacity marke to guarantee that the UK does not suffer from power outages if there are times when low carbon electricity providers are not able to meet the country’s needs.
- There is an Emissions Performance Standard (EPS) to promote carbon capture technology.
The Government will introduce a limit on how much carbon a power station can give off so investors are encouraged to back carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. Fully developed CCS will allow fossil fuel power stations to continue operating by capturing the carbon dioxide they produce to stop it entering the atmosphere.
And there will be new requirements for Ofgem to boost consumer protection. The Bill will include a new Strategy and Policy Statement for Ofgem that will set new five year objectives for Ofgem on protecting consumers and require them to report on them regularly. Ofgem will report every year on how they are doing on enforcing greater transparency and accountability in the energy market.

What is wonderful is that this reform is long overdue. I am really pleased we are grasping the problem and making the case for reform. If you do not think that reform is needed please take on board a few stats.
• Gas and electricity bills more than doubled under the previous government. Between 1997 and 2010, the average domestic gas bill (standard credit) went up by 108 per cent, from £328 to £681. Electricity bills went up by 53 per cent, from £285 to £435
• Fuel poverty rose by 2.8 million households in Labour’s last five years. There were 4 million households living in fuel poverty in England in 2009, up from 1.2 million in 2004

An afternoon before the Home Affairs Select Committee

Today my two bosses Theresa May and Mark Harper were giving evidence before the all party Home Affairs Select Committee, in the House of Commons; I went along to support and assist. The committee grilled them and the head of the UK Border Agency for over 3 hours on the reduction in immigration targets, net migration, the impact on students / universities, the deportation of overseas offenders and more immediate issues like the removal of Abu Qatada. People forget that away from the main chamber all Ministers from the Prime Minister downwards have to present themselves before various selct committees who then grill them and hold them to account. In addition select committees study legislation and provide reports on key issues on an ongoing basis. It is a good system.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Welfare Debate: The evidence

Last week on the blog I wrote about how I though Labour was wrong to oppose the Government's plans to cap certain benefits at 1% (not including benefits for the disabled, or pensions which will rise at 2.5%)

The graph below, from the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies, shows that at the moment benefits have actually increased much more than wages. Our plans (in yellow) simply bring benefits back into line with wages.

As well as the fairness argument I think its also important to recognise that when benefits increase much faster than wages that creates a real trap for low paid workers. For many years under Labour it made more financial sense for some people to be on benefits rather than to work. We are changing that with the Universal Credit and Benefit Cap to make sure work always pays. Limiting the latest benefits rise to 1% is part of restoring that balance.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

New tough immigration measures

I see no difficulty with the proposition that mass immigration can be controlled, but we welcome the students who legitimately want to come and study in this country. This week the Home Secretary announced new measures to combat the immigration abuse associated with student visas - an issue Labour let spiral out of control. The new measure follow news, as reported on the blog last week, that the government’s tough reforms have cut net immigration by a quarter.
To tackle bogus student visa applications, the border agency’s interviewing programme will be radically extended. Recent pilots found that student visa applications were subject to abuse because many of the checks were paper-based and therefore easier to fake. To address this the number of interviews for those applying for UK student visas will be considerably increased.
Official statistics, released two weeks ago, show that in the year to March, net immigration to Britain has fallen by one quarter. This is a reduction of 59,000 people – the biggest fall in net migration since 2008.

Although the number of people entering the UK on student visas has fallen by 26% in the year to September, the number of foreign students coming to study at UK universities has shown an encouraging increase.
The Labour party made a speech on this issue this week but refused to accpet that they got it wrong when they had uncontrolled immigration. All the papers rightly rubbish the Labour position: see:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2248433/Labour-t-face-facts-immigration.html

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Women Bishops and Faith

Todays Daily Mail has this article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2248292/Tory-MP-thanks-God-s-alive.html#comments which follows Wednesdays debate on women bishops and faith, which is here: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2012-12-12a.376.0&s=speaker%3A24962#g386.0

Quentin Letts column is a good piece but I should make 2 points clear, which don't get mentioned in the article, which is based on a brief exchange after the women bishops debate. I have repeatedly thanked the NHS, and the wonderful doctors and nurses at the National Hospital in Queens Square, for saving my life. As to the question of faith I go to church when I can, but do not believe that you need to go to a specific building every day to have faith or belief. That having been said I am attempting to go and worship in every church in the constituency of Hexham [which has a very large number of churches] during the duration of this parliament.

The full article from todays paper is here:
Guy Opperman (Con, Hexham), 47, was taken ill last year and told that even if he lived he might lose his speech, his eyesight and be paralysed.
His good fortune in making a recovery after two operations, including a craniotomy, has, he says, ‘changed my view on many things’.
Mr Opperman, a convivial barrister and former jockey, spoke briefly in the Commons this week about how he has reverted to his Anglican faith.
He tells me more: ‘I am not “born again”, but I now have a genuine sense of faith, a sense of purpose. My abiding memory of before and after the operations was the desire to be “of use” if I was given my life back. This provides the backbone to everything I am now doing as an MP.’
Previously a sporadic churchgoer, he has become an ‘enthusiastic’ member of the Church of England and intends to worship at the more than 50 churches in his Northumberland constituency.
‘The morning after one of my operations, as I awoke at 7am in the high dependency unit at the National Neurological Hospital in London, I found the Canon of Hexham Abbey, Graham Usher, seated quietly at my bedside. He had travelled there to give me support. We talked and prayed together. It was a moving spiritual experience.’
Mr Opperman says his illness, and the experience of being in a ward where several of his fellow patients died, has left him with a better understanding of the NHS. He says he also now has a greater sense of empathy and a belief that it is possible to be Right-wing on Europe and other matters, but Left-leaning on what one might broadly call ‘social issues’.
His jockeying days may be over but that, he says, will only generate further allelulias — from racecourse punters.

Saturday in Westminster

Sat at my desk in the House of Commons trying to catch up on hundreds of emails and letters, and prepping for next week which sees several major parliamentary bills including the first reading of the Energy Bill. Work today considerably helped by listening to the Test Match from Nagpur in India. Would be lying if I did not admit to wanting to be at the cricket, but genuinely adore this job. My apologies that some of your letters and emails have not been replied to as quick as I would like to. We reply to everything. I had to write to one constituent this week and apologise for the delay in the reply to his email but pointed out that we have been dealing with the
Allendale Middle School crisis and how it impacts on other schools in the area, 3 potential green belt planning applications, the whittonstall open cast application, a new job in the Home Office, and pretty big national matters like the EU Budget and Levesons report on press regulation amongst other things, all in the last 4 weeks. My hope is that I will speak in wednesdays energy debate although it is already oversubscribed. On Thursday I may be speaking further in the main chamber of the House of Commons on local Northumbrian issues, although separately there is the 3 hour Human Trafficking debate in westminster hall, which is part of the Home Office brief I have to help with, at the same time.

If I do get in to the Energy Bill debate I hope to debate
- whether the government should continue to subsidise companies to buy UK timber for biomass as it distorts the timber price for non subsidised timber purchasers
- the cumulative impact of energy sources on one area - whether this is wind or coal in one particular place
- future policy on renewables, in particular wind power
- the issue of regulation / improvement of the provision and price of heating oil  and LPG
- our plans to combat fuel poverty  
All this in under 10 minutes. The debate starts at around 1pm on Wednesday

Good News on Employment

Good news for North East this week. 

Britain recorded its sharpest quarterly drop in unemployment for more than a decade. The regions with the largest decrease in the unemployment rate on the previous period were Yorkshire and The Humber at 1.1 percentage points followed by the North East and Wales both at 0.9 percentage points. 
The long term trend is even better as over the whole year the region with the largest change in the unemployment rate was the North East with a decrease of 2.2 percentage points. Wales was next with a decrease of 1.2 percentage points.

The figures show that strong jobs growth by private companies is more than offsetting reductions in the public sector. Employment in the public sector has fallen by 24,000 but this has been outstripped by a 65,000 person increase in private sector employment.
Overall figures from the ONS show that employment was 499,000 higher in the three months to October 2012, at a total of 29.6 million – which means there are more people with jobs now than ever before.

The figures also show that the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance has fallen by 3,000 and stands at 1.58million. 

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Welfare Debate

Public sector wages are frozen; this is not popular but the nurses and teachers I meet in the streets of Northumberland, in their places of work, and at surgeries, can see why we are having to deal with our debts, and have got on with the job. One of the reasons I am so proud of our public sector workers is the way they have coped with these tough times.

Separately, the Coalition have decided to increase welfare benefits by only 1%. That excludes most benefits for the disabled which are rightly protected and the state pension which will rise by 2.5%. The Labour party oppose limit increasing benefits to 1% and want to see higher spending on welfare - just as they have opposed every single attempt to limit public spending. As always, Balls and Co. just want to spend, spend, spend.

I believe that at a time when tough spending choices are being made across the board it is not credible, nor fair, to increase welfare payments by more than 1%.

 There is also the broader argument – articulated with intelligence and conviction by Iain Duncan Smith – that the modern welfare system acts as a cage for Britain’s poor, rather than providing them with ladders out of poverty. Anyone who has read the Centre For Social Justice Report knows that there is huge evidence to back this up.

As one commentator put it: Ed Miliband’s decision to fight the Coalition for even more welfare spending is the biggest tactical blunder since General Custer said “I hear the Little Big Horn’s looking good this time of year”.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Hexham Bandstand Appeal


Hexham Mayor Rad Hare has launched an appeal to renovate the Bandstand in the Sele. It plays a big part in the many events the Town organises but is in major need of refurbishment.

In launching The Mayor’s 2012 Bandstand Appeal Hexham’s Mayor, Councillor J V Rad Hare said,"We hope everyone who has enjoyed the wide variety of Bandstand events in the setting of our beautiful park will show their appreciation with a contribution, however big or small to The Mayor’s 2012 Bandstand Appeal and this will confirm what the Bandstand, given to Hexham one hundred years ago, means to the people of Hexham".

You can find out more about the appeal here:



Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Women Bishops debate and meeting the future Archbishop

Tomorrow there is a general debate in the House of Commons on women bishops. I have met with and spoken to many constituents and church leaders on this issue. On thursday I am also looking forward to a breakfast meeting with Bishop Justin Welby. I know that Bishop Justin, soon to be Archbishop, is keen to sort out the 'anomaly' of having women priests, but not women bishops, but that he is also a respecter of the  church democratic process.
I want women Bishops. But I am strongly of the view that by far the best outcome for everyone will be for the church to resolve its own issues. That is what I shall be arguing if I get the chance to speak tomorrow. To be fair there exists maybe a dozen MPs  [at most] out of 650 who are so exorcised by the failure to allow women bishops under the church's own democratic system that they wish to seek parliament to change the rules. Given the amount of issues that our parliamentary members disagree upon a majority of 640 to a dozen is amazing. There is zero prospect of parliamentary action.
The last word on this issue should go to one of my local priests who wrote very eloquently:
"It is worth reminding ourselves that there will be women bishoips, the principle has already been decided. We've failed in the small print." She added that whilst the press focused on division and difficulties the press gallery was empty when the Synod discussed youth unemployment and supporting better wages for the poorest in our society. On that point I sympathise! For my part, I am confident that women bishops will happen, and the church should be given time to resolve this matter itself. But the final word should go to Bishop Martin of Newcastle who commented wisely that the Church "remains lovingly and faithfully at the service of the people of England".
I could not agree more. As we approach a cold winter, with genuine economic problems and considerable ongoing social deprivation at home, and serious conflict abroad, now is the time when we need the Church more than ever - whether the leaders of the service, or the church, are a man or a woman.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Scotland would have to apply for membership of the EU

I never thought I would welcome the words of Jose Manuel Barroso, but he has now declared in his capacity as The European Commission President that not only would Scotland have to re-apply for membership of the EU but that a newly independent Scotland would be treated as a ‘third country’ – not a member state and not a member of the EU. Europe is skewering Alex Salmond and his claims that independence would be "easy" to organise.

The Scottish First Minister has long campaigned for Scottish separation under the slogan ‘independence in Europe’. One critic pointed out that he was justifying the departure from one Union, only to become a junior member of another. The main reason for the SNP’s vulnerability has been that no-one has really ever known how Scotland could leave an existing member state and automatically become another one in its own right – not without having to drop all the opt outs and advantages that the UK has squeezed out of Brussels over the decades.
Last week all that changed again as Barroso made the EU position crystal clear.
As a result, all existing agreements that the UK has secured – including an opt-out from the euro – would not apply to Scotland. This changed the debate in Scotland considerably and while it is true that no-one knows what form an independent Scotland’s EU membership would look like, nor whether it would be forced to take the euro or how long it would have to remain outside the EU it is clear that other member states will object to Scotland getting any opt outs. Scotland might end up with a very bad deal indeed, as well as having to spend some time stranded outside its most important market.
The independence argument is an idea built on limited foundations that are rocking badly. The membership problems I discuss above, but there remain other huge issues which Mr Salmond has no answer to - ranging from NATO, the Monarchy, Scottish bases / armed services, NHS pension liabilities, RBS, the English Pound and the Bank of England setting fiscal policy to name but a few.

Conservatives deliver free parking

One of the policies which the Conservatives will introduce if elected at the next County Council elections is to introduce Free Parking for Northumberland residents. However your local Conservatives arent waiting until May...
Shoppers in Hexham and Corbridge, as well as Berwick, Alnwick and Morpeth will have seven days free parking in the run-up to December 25. The change comes after Labour councillors supported a Conservative motion calling for the concession. The Liberal Democrats voted against the plans, but it was passed 23 votes to 22. That means parking charges will be suspended from Tuesday, December 18.
This is a fantastic boost for local traders and small shops in our towns at most important trading period of the year. It is hard to underestimate how important the Christmas season is to the retail business - it can make or break the year ahead.
Why the Lib Dems opposed a motion to help boost our towns' small shops I will never know. They also continue to support free parking for Blyth and Ashington all year round but insist people in Hexham and Corbridge must pay.

*Update: On street parking is not included

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Fire fighting

I had a very interesting afternoon on Friday visiting Northumberland's Fire Headquarters in Cramlington. I met with senior officers and Chief Fire Officer Alex Bennett to discuss a whole range of issues, including the proposed new Hexham Fire station. Alex and all his local fire fighters do an excellent job of keeping us safe here in Northumberland.
 
 


Saturday, 8 December 2012

Hexham Christams Fair and Hexham Book Launch of "Doing Time"

Today will see 70 stalls, some very happy Reindeer, and so much more in Hexham. I urge you to come down.
I am having a surgery in the afternoon but at 11 I will be in the Beaumont Hotel with the team from Cogito Books explaining what my book is about and then selling copies - all proceeds go to the NHS charity that saved my life

Friday, 7 December 2012

Back up North

Just arrived back in Northumberland for a busy day ahead. First off is a visit to Cramlington to meet with Northumberland's Fire Chief. Then I have a fully booked Advice Surgery in Ponteland, after which I am heading into Newcastle to drop off the toys people kindly donated for our Christmas Appeal for the Salvation Army.

Tonight I am having dinner with some of Hexham's young cadets.


Thursday, 6 December 2012

Right decision on Regional Pay

The Chancellor announced yesterday that regional pay would not be going ahead. I am very pleased we have won the argument on regional pay. I have campaigned hard on this issue alongside the TUC to ensure a fair deal for our public sector workers. Regional Pay wasn't fair and I was happy to say so. People should be paid according to thier ability and effort, not where they live. The Northern TUC and especially Neil Foster did some excellent work on this campaign. It just goes to show what we can do when we work together.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

What the Autumn Statement means for the North East


Income Tax:
The Personal Allowance increase to £9,440. This change will benefit 961,000 people in the North East, lifting an additional 10,000 people in the North East out of income tax altogether.

State pension:
519,000 pensioners in the North East will benefit from another rise in the basic state pension.

Fuel duty:
Cancelling the Fuel Duty rise planned for January 2013 will help the owners of the 1.27 million vehicles in the North East, saving a typical driver £40 per year. Fuel prices will stay 10p lower than under Labour’s plans.

Roads:
The Government will invest £64 million to upgrade the A1 to motorway standard at Lobley Hill, Gateshead and consdier further upgrades north of Newcastle.

Small businesses:
The North East’s 133,000 small businesses will benefit from the Small Business Rate Relief being extended for another year from April 2013. Businesses in the North East will also benefit from increasing the Annual Investment Allowance limit from £25,000 to £250,000 for two years, as well as £25 million per year more for UK Trade and Investment’s export support to Small and Medium Sized Enterprises.

Good News for the North East

The Chancellor has today announced critical measures that will be welcomed across the North East.

The personal allowance will rise further, meaning people will keep more of the money they earn before income tax kicks in.

Labour’s planned fuel duty rise has been cancelled. Small businesses rate relief has been extended for another year.

The measures announced today will support the cost of living for households and unlock growth for our businesses and industry.

The North East will see 961,000 people get an income tax cut. The 1.2million people who drive in the region will welcome the cancellation of a rise in fuel duty that the Labour Government had planned for. Businesses will welcome the drop in corporation tax and the small business rate relief.

The news that the Government will invest £64 million to upgrade the A1 to motorway standard at Lobley Hill, Gateshead and consider further upgrades north of Newcastle will be welcomed by everyone.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Hopes for the Autumn Statement

A fuel duty freeze is top of my wish list - this may not happen but we have pushed as hard as we can, having met the Treasury team several times to stress the point that a car in Northumberland is a necessity not a luxury. Fuel is still on May 2010 levels of duty, and it went up 10 times under Labour, so I think we are doing well on this issue so far.
- further infrastructure spending - this looks likely to happen for sure
- a statement that sees the wealthy pay more and bears the biggest load. I have pushed for a type of mansion tax or a raising of the highest council tax band payment.
- an increase in shale gas exploration
- further clamping down on tax avoidance - I think it is good news that companies like Starbucks are being brought to book
- there will have to be further savings made though. We need to bring our debts under control and cut our spending.

On the BBC on Monday I again stressed the point, with my Liberal colleague Stephen Gilbert, that jobs have increased this month, last month, the month before that and the month before that - and that youth unemployment is down. The economy is turning round but it is very slow to do it whilst the eurozone is going to hell in a handcart.
I will be doing BBC Radio Newcastle at 9.10, and then TV later in the day after the statement

Grocery Bill finally gets its fining teeth today

During the HC Debate on the 19 November 2012 we passed the Grocery Code Adjudicator Bill into committee, with big support, but a disappointment that the ability to fine supermarkerts was not as robust or immediate as it should be. My Defra specialist colleague Neil Parish replied to my question on this issue, when I asked him as follows:
Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
I endorse what my hon. Friend is saying and I know that the growers and producers in Northumberland will support this Bill wholeheartedly. What robust measures does he think would genuinely hold the supermarkets to account?

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton, Conservative)
I would like to see fines incorporated into the Bill—I am sure that the Government will listen when it is debated in Committee—so that there is real pain. I believe that the threat of fines, as well as that of naming and shaming, will help make sure that not too many of the large retailers will have to go before the adjudicator. If they have nothing to hide and if their retail trade practices are right, they will have nothing whatsoever to fear, either from the Bill or from potential fines. It is not only the producer who is at risk in these trades. Many of the direct contracts that the supermarkets have with farmers in the dairy and meat trades are excellent. However, supermarkets may decide to have a price war and to reduce their prices, perhaps by using these products as loss leaders. That is wonderful for consumers, provided that it is the supermarkets who pay for those loss leaders, and that they do not go back down the chain and squeeze not only the producer, but the processor.
The great news is that in Committee today the Business Department, having consulted with Defra and colleagues, has agreed and there will now be real fines going forward, from day 1, to hold supermarkets to account. I am delighted, and it is a good sign of a government who actually listen to parliamentary debate.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Ponteland green belt newspaper report

My speech in the House of Commons last week forms the basis for much of todays coverage in the Journal.
You can read the article here: http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2012/12/03/legal-threat-to-hexham-mp-in-row-over-northumberland-green-belt-plan-61634-32350445/

The key point is that these proposed developments are for green belt land. This government has enhanced the protections for the green belt. There is a reason for this.
I can only repeat the point made by the Secretary of State Eric Pickles on the 17th September 2012 in the House of Commons:
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): "The green belt is an important protection against urban sprawl, providing a green lung around towns and cities. The national planning policy framework delivers the coalition’s agreement to safeguard the green belt. Inappropriate development should not be approved in the green belt, and boundaries should be altered only in exceptional circumstances."
The full debate is here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm120917/debtext/120917-0001.htm

Thus, there are protections around towns like Ponteland. Given the housing development on the police site, the development at the old hospital site near Stannington, the other brown field sites, and the unoccupied local authority and private housing - coupled to Newcastle Councils decision to build thousands of homes in nearby Callerton, I see no need for further housing in the green belt.
Its called green belt for a reason. You cannot retain, or have green belt, if you build hundreds of houses over it. Its that simple. This point seems lost on companies like Banks and Lugano.



Daily Politics on IPlayer

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01pbm3j/Daily_Politics_03_12_2012/
41 minutes in, on the economy and Leveson, until the end

Last week for my Christmas Appeal

Every year I organise a Christmas Social Action Project to help those in need over the Festive period. Last year myself and my colleague Anne Marie asked people to help us brighten the Christmas of local North East kids, who were in poverty, with our “Buy One More Toy” Campaign.

Your generosity was extraordinary, and we were able to deliver over 300 presents - from Barbie dolls, to puzzles to remote control cars – to the Salvation Army who distributed to children in need right here in the North East.

Already we have had loads of great toys donated as you can see!
 


Thank you if you have already got involved. If you feel you can help out, that would be fantastic. Pease drop off toys at any of before FRIDAY 7th DECEMBER at 1 Meal Market, Hexham, NE46 1NF

Daily Politics and 2 new laws

Doing BBC today at lunchtime on Leveson report, the Autumn Statement and what should be in it and anyhting else the BBC throws at me. Just time to add that the good news is that:
- The Scrap Metal Bill comes into force today - it will do great things to stop churches and metal theft generally.
- The Stalking Bill came in to force last week - again a real help for those who have been subjected to this terrible crime. 

Sunday, 2 December 2012

£130 off energy bills for those in need

Two million low income and vulnerable households will get a £130 discount on their fuel bills this winter.

Those being helped by this Government's Warm Homes Discount include over 1 million of the UK’s poorest pensioners. This discount is on top of any money that is received in Winter Fuel Payments or Cold Weather Payments.

I am proud to see the Conservatives  delivering on our commitment to help pensioners and vulnerable people with their energy bills.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Lib Dems Greenbelt U-turn

Well another day, yet nother desperate attack from the Liberal Democrats in Northumberland.

This time Hexham West Councillor Derek Kennedy has challenged me tell local people what effect national housing policy will have on my own constituency. I am very happy to. Most of Tynedale and Ponteland is Greenbelt land which has had its protections enhanced by this Government.

Cllr Kennedy apparently says I should be “very worried” at recent statements by new Planning Minister Nick Boles. This is what the minister said "We're going to protect the greenbelt but if people want to have housing for their kids they have got to accept we need to build more on some open land."

I actually welcome the Planning Minister’s comments. He makes it clear we, the Government, are protecting the Green Belt. The land around Hexham and Ponteland, which we are fighting to protect, is Greenbelt land not open greenfield land.

I find it shocking that Cllr Kennedy doesn’t seem to know the difference between greenfield and Greenbelt land.


Our campaign to stop Northumberland Lib Dems from removing the Green Belt designation around Hexham and Ponteland will continue.
The Liberal Democrats will never be forgiven if they hive off our Green Belt to big developers. 
Councillor Kennedys personal attacks of course have nothing to do with the fact he is defending a very slim 200 Majoirty against the excellent Conservative candidate Colin Cessford this May.

Friday, 30 November 2012

The best teachers

One of the bits of this job I most enjoy is visiting my local schools. It is really heartening to see excellent teachers engaging their pupils and pushing them to be the brightest and the best.

To ensure as many kids as possible get that sort of excellent teaching the Government has been pushing for the best graduates to go into teaching. Now more than seven out of 10 new trainee teachers now have a high-quality degree - the highest proportion ever recorded.
The data from the Teaching Agency reveals that 71 per cent of graduates choosing to train for a career in the classroom now have a 2:1 or higher. This is a record rise of six percentage points compared to last year.
That is great news, teaching is a hard, but very rewarding profession and our children deserve the best.
Under the Coalition Government, many of the brightest and best graduates now receive a tax-free bursary of up to £20,000.
Having an excellent teacher in every classroom is clear aim of this government. Nothing matters more if we are to ensure our young people to succeed in the future.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Net migration in last year fell from 242,000 to 183,000

This is the largest drop for four years. Sir Andrew Green of Migration Watch UK said
“At last we can see some light at the end of the tunnel. We can now see the first effects of the government’s measures to reduce immigration. There is a distance to go but they are on the right track.”

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Policy Exchange Book Launch at breakfast today

Oscar Wilde said that "Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast". Normally I would have to agree with him being a notoriously slow starter, unless I am outdoors on the gallops on a 3 mile chaser. But today I am having the first in a series of book launches with a breakfast discussion forum with the think tank Policy Exchange at their premises in Storey Street in Westminstera from 8.15 to 9.30. Assorted journalists and clever people are coming along to grill me on the book "Doing Time" and my thoughts on literacy in prisons, how we stop drugs in and out of prisons, and the need to address a different type of community prison. Had a good meeting yesterday with the amazing Howard League, who have long been the leaders of prison reform and am sure we will work together in the future. Obviously if you are footloose in Westminster and want to come and listen to me talk and being grilled then the added bonus is that you do get given breakfast.
I am having a separate book launch at the Beaumont Hotel, during the Hexham Christmas Market day on Saturday 8th of December at 11