Saturday, 31 March 2012

My work in Parliament

A quick update on my work in parliament:

Guy Opperman:
Has spoken in 51 debates in the last year — above average amongst MPs.

Has received answers to 36 written questions in the last year — average amongst MPs.

Has voted in 68.78% of votes in this Parliament with this affiliation — below average amongst MPs. (From Public Whip)

You can find out more about my work in Parliament by clicking on the 'speeches' section above or clicking here

Friday, 30 March 2012

Avanta - Delivering the Work Programme

Whilst in Newcastle this week I took some time to go and meet the team at Avanta. Avanta are the people delivering the Government's new Work Programme in Newcastle and Northumberland to help those unemployed find work. It was really interesting to see how Government policy is working on the ground and to see the process for myself. I was genuinely impressed with Kaye and her team at the Newcastle Office - their enthusiasm for helping others into work is infectious. We all know that it's how these things are delivered at the grassroots that make the difference.

I look forward to working with them.

Academies


Yesterday I had the great pleasure of visiting the Excelsior Academy in Newcastle's West End. It's not often I visit schools outside my own constituency but it was fascinating to see the impact that this academy is having on the children in what is quite a deprived area of the city. Mrs Marshall (pictured) the Principal, does an excellent job driving up standards and fueling aspiration.

It is also a very innovative place. It's actually four schools in one. The four schools each admit 75 pupils into year 7 each year. There are 375 pupils in each school, plus 300 sixth form places, making a total of 1,800.

The aim is to create a closer ‘family’ feel within the academy. Each school will, as far as possible, have a balanced intake based on gender, aptitude and ability.

I was very impressed with all I saw. A great school, a great head and great kids.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Elected Mayors make a difference in London, New York and Paris - why can't we have one in Newcastle?

I was in Newcastle yesterday urging local people to back a city mayor. The alternative is continued failure on major regeneration projects.
The launch of our Yes campaign to the Mayor vote in May sees voters being asked if they want to replace city leadership with a directly elected, and potentially very powerful, city mayor. The photo is taken with Jon Jo MacNamara, spokesman for the Yes Campaign and Newcastle Conservatives chairman Will Holloway, as we did a tour of some of the City's failed projects such as Newcastle’s East Pilgrim Street scheme, a regeneration effort which has repeatedly failed to get off the ground. Clearly what the city needs is new businesses and jobs - which is not helped by a semi-derelict entry to the city centre.
My view is that an elected mayor would be a really strong voice not just locally but directly to Government. If the Prime Minister wants to make a decision which affects Newcastle right now who does he call? An elected mayor would provide real leadership for this city which is the flagship of our region.

After campaigning in newcastle I also got the chance to go to North Tyneside to help in the local election campaigns there

Kielder News - fuel for thought in the west

The issue of how we sustain rural communities is one of the most fascinating aspects both of my job, but also the many people who work on a local level to assist communities like Kielder and the rural area around Bellingham, Wark and the far west of the County. Sustainability is an oversued word but without a key range of vital community services, one of which is the provision of fuel, these communities struggle. I would dearly have liked a cut in the fuel duty in the budget but know that access to a petrol pump is ever more important.
Thus, the formal re-opening of the petrol station in Kielder Village, which takes place this Friday is a great team effort by so many who should be applauded: it means that the 180 local residents, hundreds of thousands of tourists and large rural businesses based there, such as Northumbrian Water and the Forestry Commission, no longer need to complete a 35 mile round trip to get fuel.

The project has cost £90,000 and a lot of long hours of effort. It is clearly a resounding success and the newly opened un-staffed station, run by a local community group, is thought to be the only one of its kind in England.

The previous station closed in 2008 and it has been an amazing community effort to ensure it reopens. On the announcement, Steve Webb, the owner of Kielder Village Store and Post Office said: “The positive impact this will have on the whole area must not be underestimated. We are now able to offer the local resident, business or visitor as seven day a week fuel supply. The saved time, mileage and confidence to travel around the area knowing Kielder has fuel again is very comforting. Well done to all who made it happen.”

The petrol station will not be staffed so customers pay by credit or debit card prior to filling up. It is open for fuel from 7am to 7pm (with longer opening hours during the summer) seven days a week. There will also be an electric hook up point later in the year.

Funding for the ground breaking project has come from Northumberland Uplands Local Action Group (NULAG) – LEADER, Kielder Limited, Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust and Northumberland County Council through its social enterprise and regeneration services. Forecourt Solutions from County Durham carried out the building work to get the petrol station up and running again and Lloyds TSB invested in the project.

There is now even more reason to visit Kielder Water & Forest Park: it is the largest forest in England and the largest man-made lake in northern Europe. It has accomodation and food for every taste and wallet, and is a truly tranquil landscape -rightly recognised by the Campaign to Protect Rural England as our most tranquil spot in this land.
For more information go to www.visitkielder.com, but more importantly Book Now!

Tyne River Anglers meeting with Environment Agency and the Hexham Hydro team

A very positive meeting last night with many of the Tyne River Angling groups, notably the Tyne Rivers Trust, and the EA and the Hexham Hydro project leaders. No decisions were made but a lot of very constructive talking and discussion took place over 2 hours at the Mart in Hexham. My thanks to all who came.
I had to explain that I am bad fisherman, but a fervent supporter of the Tyne and all the sport and tourism opportunities it provides. That there will be a new fish pass on the Tyne organised by the Tyne Rivers Trust seems almost certain, although hurdles remain. It will be up to the Hexham Hydro team to convince the community, the anglers, the riparian owners - and the 2 regulatory authorities in the form of the County Council and the Environment Agency - that a hydro can be added without compromising the river and the fish who swim in it. That is a big hurdle for them to overcome.
I was really pleased at the turnout, and hugely grateful to the people who came along.

It has been agreed to hold a further meeting in the latter part of the summer / early autumn when all will be much clearer as to plans. I stress that nothing is set in stone, and noone wants anything that will in any way damage the river, and what runs through it.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Listen: NHS Debate

As the Health Bill becomes law today you can CLICK HERE to listen to me discussing the NHS Reforms with Johnathan Miles on BBC Radio Newcastle. The debate starts at 1.18 for around 40 minutes

Monday, 26 March 2012

Big Meeting on Fuel Poverty tomorrow in Hexham

Tomorrow Westminster finds out what is going on in the real world when the Office of Fair Trading come to Tarset and Hexham as part of their research into remote communities.
Many congratulations are due to the Tarset Community Oil Buying Group, led by Mike Murray and the other Oil Buying Groups
The OFT are keen to hear the views of local constituents:
Full details on the OFT website
http://www.oft.gov.uk/OFTwork/consultations/remote-communities/#named2
They are looking at how "the prices of many goods and services are frequently higher in remote communities and access to key services such as shops, banks and public transport can be limited.
Fuel prices, in particular, are a common cause for concern given that distance affects costs of distribution. Online purchasing may expand opportunities for broader choice and quality, but we also recognise that delivery can be problematic or costly. In other circumstances variety of choice may be restricted or the quality of goods compromised."
The short point is that they are asking for your views - please write in and make sure they hear what is really going on in Northumberland or go tomorrow to the Mart in Hexham.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Northumberland Culinary Tour, and the loss of a true giant of Northumberland

I have not been able to blog much these last few days becasue I have been charging around Northumberland doing 16 hour days. In that time I have had the pleasure of being the guest speaker at the
- Tynedale Business Network [they meet at 7.30 for bacon butties in the wonderful Mrs Miggins cafe in Hexham] where we talked through the budget from a business point of view. These men and women are the backbone of local small businesses and it was a very good discussion. I wish we could do more to cut their taxes, and cut the price of fuel, but there are good incentives for small businesses and excellent news on apprentices and skills. A really good discussion of the budget and what we are doing for locals in the North East.
Also had lunches / spoke at
-The Northern Counties Club, in Hood Street, Newcastle and with the Berwick Upon Tweed Conservatives at the Marshall Meadows Hotel just 1 mile shy of the Scottish border where I was the speaker at their respective lunches to over 150 people.
My thanks to all the staff - the food was excellent all round.
Took questions on over 15 topics ranging from the budget, labour opportunism, fuel prices and the folly of Scottish Independence and greatly enjoyed meeting everyone.

We also fitted in some exercise [thank god] - helping out in the local election campaign in North Tyneside. Last night I had a 3 hour surgery in Merton Hall, Ponteland. As we ended the Bridge Club were meeting in the next door room. Had a lovely chat with everyone there, who were warming up for the bridge with fish and chips - my diet not going well: ended up being given too many chips by the Bridge Club Members.

As I was leaving last night at 7 I heard the awful news that Viscount Ridley had passed away - he was a wonderful man who did so much for Northumberland - as Leader of the County Council, Lord Lieutenant and head of Northen Rock. I had seen him barely a month ago, and he was on sparkling form, although struggling with his health. I will write more of him shortly.
He will be much missed and my thoughts go out to his family.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Farming / DEFRA Update

Yesterday I had a good meeting with Richard Benyon and Caroline Spelman, the DEFRA Ministers.
We have been trying to engage with DEFRA on a number of key issues in the last few months and fundamentally helping them to try and make their Ministry more supportive of rural communities. The old adage was that DEFRA was there to catch out farmers and not help them. That, I hope, is changing, albeit it is taking time.

We discussed everything from
- The Forestry Review [the final report from the Independent panel is confirmed to be expected in June]
- Bats and the Habitat Dierective [statement in the House on Thursday]
- the Nitrates Directive on slurry [progress is being made]
- CAP Reform [on going, as ever]
- Private Water Treatment Testing [Richard Benyon is looking into this again]
- Flooding action [lots of good work done]

and a lot more...
I am hoping to make a number of announcements to the Courant in the near future on a variety of these matters

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Queen in Parliament for her Jubilee

The sun is shining in London today - the day the Queen is coming to parliament to address the House of Commons and the House of Lords. This is in celebration of the Jubilee and also for a special celebration window to be unveiled to her. It will take place in Westminster Hall, the ancient hall which is the founding hall of parliament, and where every week I welcome schools who visit the House.
The first recorded address by both Houses was in 1540 and throughout history, the subject matter of addresses has been varied. While some earlier addresses were contentious, pressing on the government particular courses of action; increasingly addresses have been used for expressions of congratulation or condolence.
The Diamond Jubilee window consists of up to 1,500 pieces, and takes its inspiration from the seventeenth century heraldic art and this country’s long tradition of stained glass. The design process involved looking at heraldic art in other media, particularly woodcarving, in order to provide the three dimensional quality and the liveliness that the artist desired. The window was designed and made by British artist John Reyntiens working with a team of experienced draftsmen, painters and technicians in his studio. The window will remain on display so that visitors can examine the craftsmanship in detail until it is formally installed in the three central panels of the north window in Westminster Hall.

Full credit to my colleague Michael Ellis MP who has organised this window. I should add, in this time of budgets, that the cost of the window has been met entirely by voluntary subscription by members of the House of Commons, House of Lords and staff at the Houses of Parliament as a thank you to Her Majesty. I paid my contribution willingly - and am a huge supporter of the amazing work she does. I wish her Majesty very well.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Letter to the Telegraph on the Budget

This is my letter to the Saturday Telegraph:

A fair tax on wealth
SIR – There has been a lot of debate about whether to tax income or wealth in the forthcoming Budget. I believe anyone on the minimum wage working a full week should not pay income tax, and we must find a way to exempt them.

I think that a type of mansion tax is the sensible way to pay for this. A bit of extra tax on properties over £2 million seems perfectly fair to me, especially given the huge benefits to the poorest in society.

The average house price in the UK is £161,545. In the North East, where my constituency of Hexham is, it is £102,066. At what point did it become “Conservative” to worry about those with a £2 million house, before those struggling to pay a £100,000 mortgage?

Too often we are talking about the 50p rate of income tax. We should be the party of the strivers, of aspiration, of helping those who want to get on in life. These are the principles and priorities that we must focus on. These are the people who must benefit from Wednesday’s Budget.

Guy Opperman MP (Con)

Sunday, 18 March 2012

"I am just going outside and may be some time" - Remembering Captain "Titus" Oates 100 years on...

On a day between the 16-18th March 1912, 100 years ago, Captain "Titus" Oates died of exposure in the Antartic cold. He had been suffering desperately from his injuries as he and his comrades faced a titanic struggle to walk back from their journey to the South Pole. Realising he was impeding the lives of his friends he decided to leave the tent, and walked out into the blizzard and certain death, leaving his comrades with the famous words:
"I am just going outside and may be some time".

Born on the 17 March 1880 his death is rightly seen as the ultimate act of self-sacrifice.
His life story was truly remarkable. I have always admired him as he was the ultimate horseman and a great soldier. His body was never found. Sadly his sacrifice was in vain - Captain Scott, Bowers and Wilson all died 10 days later of the cold and exposure.
The Oates Museum at Gilbert White's House, Selborne, Hampshire focuses on his life, and is a wonderful museum. His reindeer-skin sleeping bag was recovered and is now displayed in the museum of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge with other items from the expedition - the 100th century exhibition this year is well worth going to I am told. Oates Boer war medals - the Queen's South Africa Medal with bars and the Polar Medal are held by the Museum of The Royal Dragoon Guards in York.
A great man. The world was very different 100 years ago.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Rowan Williams announces he is going to stand down. Who will be the next Archbishop?

Rowan Williams feelings upon deciding to retire as Archbishop - as interpreted by the legendary Matt:
there is no doubt that the job of being the Archbishop of Canterbury is one of the toughest jobs - something that would stretch anyone. I have nothing but praise for the work of Dr Rowan Williams. He was confirmed as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the 77-million-strong Anglican Communion in December 2002, and will step down at the end of this year.

The procedure for the next Archbishop is as follows:
Dr Williams' successor will be named by the Prime Minister, after being given a "preferred name" by the Church's appointments commission, which is made up of three clergy and three members of the laity. It is chaired by a civil servant.
The widespread favourite is Dr John Sentamu, the Bishop of York.
I often see John Sentamu on the train to and from the North East [we are both in second class]. I do not think I have ever come across a man who smiles so much. If faith is about inner peace then Dr Sentamu seems to have it absolutely.
However, I note that the Bishop of York has initially said he would not want the job. Many locals in Northumberland would suggest that Canon Graham Usher would be perfect for the job but we are reluctantly to let him go as yet!

Finally, a word on Dr Williams:
Dr Williams said his successor would need the "constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros". He described the Church of England as a "great treasure" which was still a place where many people sought inspiration and comfort in times of need. He added, "I would like the successor that God would like."
"But he will, I think, have to look with positive, hopeful eyes on a Church which, for all its problems, is still, for so many people, a place to which they resort in times of need and crisis, a place to which they look for inspiration. I think the Church of England is a great treasure. I wish my successor well in the stewardship of it."
We should be proud of the efforts this good man has made to steer the Church through difficult times.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Article for ConHome: Put low earners first

Today ConservativeHome have published my article calling for the scrapping of income tax on the lowest paid and the introduction of a mansion tax:

In the run up to the budget MP's up and down the country get asked what they would like to see the Chancellor do when he stands at the dispatch box to deliver his budget.

The government has very little money, which means very little help to go around. But I believe very strongly that those at the bottom must get the help first.  Under the previous Labour Government millions of people on low incomes were forced to pay hundreds of pounds in income tax every year. Hands up who remembers the 10p tax?

A mum working full-time, stacking shelves in my constituency, earning just the minimum wage, has nearly £1000 taken from her in income tax. In fact, everyone on the minimum wage putting in a full weeks work does. That's wrong.

The Government is right to be raising the tax threshold to £10,000, which will put £700 into the pockets of everyone working hard for a living. But I would like to see the Government go further.

I believe that nobody earning the minimum wage and working a standard week should pay tax on that income.  This is a radical proposal, but one I believe is right. It's not Lib Dem policy. Nor is it Conservative policy. But it should be. It's one I'll be championing, alongside supporting the fantastic Right Angle project by my friend Robert Halfon MP.

Over past weeks, on ConservativeHome, Tim has outlined practical ways we can reconnect with the North, and indeed the wider country to help us win a majority. However it's not just our campaigning priorities we need to fix, it's our principles too.

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? We are the party of Right to Buy, of the Strivers, of aspiration,  of helping those who want to get on in life. Yet too often we are talking about the 50p tax, a tax which effects those on six times the average salary, rather than the taxes on the lowest paid.

Of course, unlike Labour, I know that any tax cut has to be paid for, and unlike Labour I know borrowing more money is out of the question. There can be no unfunded tax cuts.

That's why I do support calls for a mansion tax. A bit of extra tax on properties over £2million seems perfectly fair to me.

There are lots of ways such a tax could be made to work. I would propose the tax would be paid only when a property is sold - becoming a mansion sales tax, in many ways what Stamp Duty was always designed for.

I have heard a lot about why a Mansion Tax is unfair on those it would hit. At what point did it become 'Conservative' to worry about those with a £2million house, before those struggling to pay a £100,000 mortgage? Think about that for a minute. Not a £200,000 house, but TWO MILLION.

The average house price in the UK is £161,545. In the North East, the region I represent, it is £102,066. If we ever want to win significant numbers of seats in the North again, and we must to win a majority, we need to remember those figures every time we talk about our tax and spend priorities.

It's not envy to ask those with the broadest shoulders to help those at the bottom. It's called fairness.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Assisted Suicide Debate

Parliament sees a serious issue of conscience debate coming up on Tuesday 27th March. I had wanted to be at the Fuel Poverty day that we and the OFT have organised in Northumberland but have decided to stay in Westminster to debate the issue of assisted suicide. I have received significant correspondence on the issue and have already spoken briefly on it before in the House last month.

The motion is that
"This House welcomes the Director of Public Prosecutions Policy to prosecutors in respect of cases of encouraging or assisting suicide, as published in February 2010,"
with a secondary debate on
"whether the government should be invited to put the guidance on a statutory basis."


There is no whip or government advice, as it is matter of conscience, and I am taking soundings in the constituency before speaking, but I am, of course, aware of the strong feelings on both sides of the argument. I am a huge supporter of palliative care and have been supporting and campaigning at length on this issue recently. I am also mindful of the excellent work done by the north east NHS, which has launched its Deciding Right initiative on end of life care [I stress the NHS intitaitve relates to advice, and care and not anything to do with assisted suicide].
Many constituents and MPs will argue very strongly on religious and other grounds that assisted suicide should not be allowed, and there are significant and real issues on both the probity and the practicalities of the state authorising such assistance. However, I am very mindful of the experience I, and other members of my family, have been through and will certainly be speaking in the debate: I certainly welcome the work of the DPP, Keir Starmer, and will support the precise wording of the motion. It is clearly a step in the right direction to have clarity. The vexed issue of what further steps the state should authorise, and what rights a person has to be assisted in ending their own life is something that will create a signficant debate. For my part I believe a person's life belongs to that person, and his or her loved ones, and I will need a lot persuading that the state knows best, and that there is no way around the clear problems that do exist. I am aware that many constituents have written in but I would ask for their patience as I wish to reply in detail.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Keeping Northumberland Whole! Boundary Change Update

The Allen Valley - part of the countryside the Boundary Commission tried to take from the Northumberland seat...
Thank you so much to the people of Northumberland.
The Boundary Change Committee have published the full list of responses to the Consultation on Hexhams Boundaries, and the rest of the North East.
You can try and go to the website but it is tough reading so here are the stats for you:
For the entire North East [29 seats] there were 1950 representations.
Of those 950 [ie 50%] related to the Hexham our constituency
... this is a staggering figure:
This means half of all the responses for the North East in its entirety concern Hexham. The other 50% related to the other 28 constituencies in the North East put together! So I think we can be pretty satisfied our campaign worked. Of the responses, about 550 were made up of our leaflet [which we hand delivered across the region] and 450 individual letters which is great going.

There was also a strong representations from Rothbury. Almost every one of the representations objected to the commissions proposals. The majority that did object supported our counter proposal. There was no significant dissent from our Counter proposal.
Of the parish councils who wrote in 21 out of 22 supported our desire to keep Northumberland whole. It remains a mystery to me why Prudhoe town council wanted to break up Northumberland.
Many thanks to all the Councillors, members of the public and other individuals who wrote in.
I should add that all three political parties supported our Counter proposal in their official submission.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Parliament pays tribute to the Queen and her Diamond Jubilee -

Last week the House of Commons presented a humble Address to Her Majesty The Queen to mark the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne. David Cameron led tributes, highlights of which are summarised below.
The Queen's grace and dignity: "On her first address to the nation as Queen, Her Majesty pledged that throughout all her life and with all her heart, she would strive to be worthy of the people’s trust. This she has achieved beyond question. The nation holds her in its heart not just as the figurehead of an institution, but as an individual who has served this country with unerring grace, dignity and decency."
The Queen has adapted to a changing world: "While the sands of culture shift and the tides of politics ebb and flow, Her Majesty has been a permanent anchor – bracing Britain against the storms, grounding us in certainty. And crucially, simultaneously, she has moved the Monarchy forward. It has been said that “the art of progress is to preserve order amid change and change amid order”, and in this the Queen is unparalleled. She has never shut the door on the future; instead, she has led the way through it. Ushering in the television cameras. Opening up the Royal Collection and the Palaces. Hosting receptions and awards ceremonies for every area of public life."
The Queen's years of work: "Over sixty years, according to one royal biographer, she has met four million people in person equivalent to the population of New Zealand. In terms of garden parties alone, she has invited some two million people to tea. She is, of course, Queen of sixteen countries and has surely travelled more widely than any other Head of State in history. As she herself has been heard to say – and it is a lesson for all of us in this House – ‘I have to be seen to be believed.’"
The Queen's statesmanship: "Like her previous eleven Prime Ministers, I have been struck by Her Majesty’s perspective on world events. And like my predecessors I am truly grateful for the way she handles our national interests. Last year’s visit to Ireland was a lesson in statecraft. It showed once again that the Queen can extend the hand of friendship like no other."
The Queen's role in building the Commonwealth: "It is doubtful whether this great alliance would ever have thrived without the dedication of Her Majesty. When the Queen became Head of the Commonwealth in 1952, it had eight members; today, it has 54. No one has done more to promote this unique family of nations, spanning every continent, all the main religions and nearly a third of the world’s population. And in all her realms... she is loved because she is a Queen for everyone; for each of us and all of us."
The Diamond Jubilee gives us the chance to show our gratitude: "By the time she opens the Olympics, the Queen’s Jubilee tour will have taken her and Prince Philip to every part of the United Kingdom. In June, London will see a huge pop concert, a great procession and the largest gathering on the Thames for more than three centuries barges and cutters; narrow boats and motor boats square riggers, naval vessels, the little ships of Dunkirk all of them will be there to pay tribute to our magnificent Queen. Diamond is an appropriate epithet for this Jubilee. For sixty years Her Majesty has been a point of light in our national life; brilliant, enduring and resilient. For that she has the respect of this House, and the enduring affection of her people."

Monday, 12 March 2012

At work in westminster - but Cheltenham racing might be on in the background this week!

Everyone knows I am overweight former jockey, and this week it is Cheltenham - the Olympics of steeplechasing. Sadly I have had to turn down an invite to go to the Gold Cup on Friday but at the risk of losing all your money here would be my tips for the festival [in truth if you want to double your money fold it and put it back in your pocket]:
Tuesday:
- Montbazon in the novices opener for alan king
- Binocular each way in the Champion Hurdle - McCoy will be giving everything hes got
- Wedger Pardy in the cross country [jockey went the wrong course last time]

Friday is Gold Cup day: I will be glued to the TV at 3.15 to see Kauto Star beat Long Run which is my romantic choice, with Midnight Legend a good bet for a place. De Boitron is a good bet in the last race
Now do not blame me if you lose your shirt but many years ago I used to be a tipster and I do like all these horses!
Good news is female jocvkeys like Lucy Alexander are breaking into the ranks, and may have a winner, and here's hoping the whip rules bed down and cause no problems.
When all is said and done - of course I am having a bet or two...
PS
If you are fiscally conservative and have an eye on the budget next Tuesday then doubtless you will have money on a nice horse called Quantitative Easing in the 2.40 on Tuesday

Sunday, 11 March 2012

We know what Labour are against - but what would they do?

Since Ed Miliband reshuffled his shadow cabinet in early October, the Labour party has issued 830 press releases.
Out of these, there have been just two on spending restraint / deficit reduction. Two.
In terms of Labour’s media effort since this shadow cabinet was appointed, the party has devoted 0.25% of its output to tackling the reason it lost the last election.
The two press releases came in January, like buses, when Ed Miliband and Ed Balls gave speeches on public sector pay restraint a couple of days apart.
But since then, nothing. In the House of Commons the standard question I ask Labour MPs is, "what would you do? How would you cut back spending such that we only make £300 for every £400 we are spending?"
The reality is that all they do is oppose every single spending cut. Remember this: every single spending cut has been opposed.
As one Labour supporter recently put it:
"Having a hole in the middle of your product might work if you are marketing a polo mint or a doughnut, but it makes less sense when trying to construct a viable economic alternative."


It is for this total inability to understand basic finance that Gordon Brown got this great country hock deep in debt. Last Sunday brought a pivotal result in the polling. One of the intermittent questions asked by YouGov is whether voters prioritise action on the deficit or growth.

In last Sunday’s results, 38% agreed with the proposition that the government should stick to its current strategy of reducing the deficit, even if growth remains slow while 34% agreed with the statement that the government should change its strategy to concentrate on growth even if this means the deficit stays longer or gets worse.

Ed Miliband is a decent man: but until he persuades Ed Balls to accept that you cannot spend your way out of a debt crisis, he will have no credibility on the economy. I want to balance the books and get this country going again. I do not want our children burdened with an ever increasing debt that they should not be responsible for.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Humshaugh Village Shop wins North East Regional Champion Countryside Alliance / Daily Telegraph Villlage Shop Award

Humshaugh Community Village Shop is truly special and a success story on so many levels: its proof that when a determined and enlightened group of local people decide to take control of their village's destiny anything can happen.
This week I was delighted to welcome 3 of their representatives - Steve Robins, Sally Douglas and Ray Blanckley - to London for the Countryside Alliance / Daily Telegraph Awards: they left behind dozens of the other volunteers. Steve was snaffled by Gerry Foley for ITV Tyne Tees News, as part of the media blitz and many photographs / reports will follow.
I have unashamedly taken part of Sallys report of the day, which described the ceremony:
"The presenter for the Awards was Kate Hoey MP and our category was the first to be announced so we quickly found ourselves in the spotlight being presented by Richard Benyon MP (DEFRA) - much applause and many congratulations from all round. Much praise also for the fact that the shop is run by the community, for the community and that any profit is ploughed back into the village."
There was great admiration for the famous Humshaugh Village Shop bag - which is now known worldwide - see:
http://www.humshaughshop.co.uk/?page_id=410

My hope is that we can take all the lessons learnt from this amazing shop to other community organisations in Northumberland and around the country. My view is that there is much more that we will be hearing of from Humshaugh in terms of what they can teach others to help their own local communities.

Friday, 9 March 2012

A bad week in Westminster - RIP our soldiers and nationals lost in Afghanistan and Nigeria

Wednesday and Thursday in the House of Commomns depressed me hugely. Too many good people lost their lives this week. There were tragedies in Afghanistan and then in Nigeria. Everyone in the House of Commons is acutely aware that our troops are fighting in far off lands. Every Wednesday before PMQs the names of those who have been lost are read out. I know that all off my colleagues across the House of Commons worry desperately about our troops in Afghanistan, and whether we are doing the right thing. The time table for withdrawal is 2014. The plan is, at least, now clear - train up the Afghan Military and Police so that they can police their own country, and then leave. That is the fundamental focus of everything the Allied troops are doing. For many years I have had grave doubts about whether we are the problem or the solution by being in Afghanistan in the way we are. However, I see no choice but to see this through, given where we are now.
I have met many of the troops on the ground and they all speak of actually making a difference by being there in Afghanistan, and previously in Iraq. Their professionalism and commitment is beyond question. Politics is many things but it is fundamentally about making hard decisions. The losses in Afghanistan were compounded by the failed rescue attempt of a British and Italian National in Northern Nigeria on Thursday. They were shot by their extremist captors whilst special British Forces were attempting to rescue them - at great risk to themselves.
There is a reason Prime Ministers go grey - leave aside all the tough decisions on the economy, welfare, NHS to name but a few. The decisions as to whether you put someone's life at risk is a judgment call that weighs heavily on the leaders mind before, during and for ever after that decision is made.
I feel it too, although a long way from the decision making process.

My week on defence was punctuated by a good meeting on Monday with the new Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond, MP, who has promised to come to Northumberland and see 39 Royal Artillery and the Albermarle Barracks, when time allows; then I got the chance to speak up for Veterans and their Mental Health upon discharge.
You can read my speech by going to this link - it is a speech I am very pleased to have made and my thanks to all the support groups and charities like the Royal British Legion and Veterans in Action who helped in the drafting:

http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2012-03-07a.302.1&s=speaker%3A24962#g308.0

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

2000 new jobs

Some great news for the region - Nissan is soon to create 2,000 jobs after announcing they will build its new model in Sunderland.

The production of the new model will create 400 direct jobs at Nissan’s Sunderland plant. The key is that it will also create 1,600 jobs in the factory’s supply chain, much of which is based in the North East and is mainly small and medium businesses.

Trevor Mann, Nissan’s senior vice president for manufacturing in Europe said:

“I’m delighted Sunderland has secured what will be another very important model for Nissan in Europe. It is a testament to the workforce, the ongoing support from the UK Government and all of our regional partners and suppliers."

Monday, 5 March 2012

Victory for the WI in Heddon

The never-say-die ladies of the Women’s Institute have triumphed in the battle of the bill. Heddon-on-the-Wall WI, Northumberland’s oldest branch, have been told by energy giant Npower that the £5000+ electricity bill which threatened their future has been dropped. It was a bill created after an NPower error dating back several years. I am also pleased that as a gesture of goodwill, npower chief executive Volker Beckers has also refunded the branch’s regular £530 power bill.
I wish the Heddon branch, which celebrates its 95th anniversary this year many congratulations.
Paul Tully in todays Journal has a full breakdown of the story and quotes the happy secretary Pauline Wright who declared: “It’s taken us by surprise – but what a very, very pleasant surprise! I received a phone call from a senior official at npower to tell me that they had finally decided to scrap the bill – and on top of that, refund the regular bill.
“It’s fantastic news and gives us an extra reason to celebrate at our birthday party on Monday.”

Read the sory in full here: http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2012/03/05/heddon-on-the-wall-wi-win-battle-over-electricity-bill-61634-30459697/

Putin wins in Russia - will this mean a change in Syria?

Vladimir Putin, last night won the Russian election. He is President for the second time - even though the old law meant that this was not supposed to be possible. Leave aside whether he is a good President, or whether it was right for him to engineer a change in the law to ensure that he was allowed to run for President again - previously there was a constitutional ban on a third consecutive term as president, and leave aside many of the other ramifications concerning electoral fraud, and russia being effectively a one party state.
He will now be in office until 2018, and possibly longer, unless there is a Russian Spring.
Of more concern in the short term is the Russian attitude to Syria - they have been staunch supporters of Assad, and blocked the UN sanction attempt. Before the election the Times ran a story asbout how Putin may be softening his support for Syria. It is on this international issue that the new President will first be judged.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

A busy week ahead - local banks, police commissioners and a lot more

Have a very busy first few days of this week coming up
- Monday: very pleased that our long awaited meeting with Hector Sants of the FSA is taking place in Westminster, along with the Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, Andrew Tyrie MP. We will be discussing local banks and discussing ways in which it may be easier to set up the Bank of Hexham or the Bank of Northumberland. Then meeting with Philip Hammond, the Minister for Defence.
- Tuesday: up early on the 7am morning train to Newcastle for meetings with Nick Herbert the Police Minister who is in the region, plus a meeting about the Charlotte Straker Hospice in Corbridge with the NHS Care Trust. Then have an urgent surgery in Hexham that night.
- Wednesday: very early train back to London, where I will be welcoming the team behind the Humshaugh Village Shop, who are once again the regional North East Champion of the Countryside Alliance Village Shop of the Year award. Hoping they will win. Also have PMQs and speaking in the Military debate.
- Thursday: National Womens Day, and social care debate in the House, plus meeting the head of the Metro Bank, the first new local bank set up recently.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Campaign Update: Ponteland Greenbelt

I suppose I should welcome the partial u-turn by Newcastle's Labour administration to cut the number of houses it plans to build on the greenbelt. You will remember Labour administration at the city council were proposing to build the thousands of houses on the greenbelt near Ponteland.

Truth be told there is some good news here for our campaign. The amount of greenbelt housing will be reduced. Despite telling us they had to go ahead with the plans, they have now agreed to cut the number of house planned for the Ponteland greenbelt by 1000. I would like to see no building on the greenbelt but it's a step in the right direction. Just months after taking control of Newcastle Council, Labour announced their plans to build on much of the green spaces in and around the city. I fully understand the need to build new homes but their failure to consult with neighbouring Ponteland or consider the wider housing strategy was bizarre.
Newcastle Labour's claim, that there was no alternative to Green Belt development, has now been proved to be utter rubbish. They have now accepted our argument that they can make better use of brownfield sites and empty homes in the city.

Our campaign isn't over and the fight continues to protect our greenbelt. Many congratulations to all the Ponteland and Callerton objectors.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Tackling fuel poverty - the Office of Fair Trading are coming to Tarset on March 27

Fuel prices and fuel poverty - particularly in rural and remote areas are a major issue in Northumberland, and to be fair in Westminster. Persitent pressure on the OFT, The Energy and Climate Change Select Committee and the efforts of local people coming down to London to tell Westminster what is going on in the real world has brought serious action. Many congratulations are due to the Tarset Community Oil Buying Group, led by Mike Murray.
I am delighted that there is to be a local meeting with the Office of Fair Trading in Tarset on 27th March as part of their research into remote communities. The OFT are keen to hear the views of local constituents:
Full details on the OFT website
http://www.oft.gov.uk/OFTwork/consultations/remote-communities/#named2
but here is the details of their study:
"The prices of many goods and services are frequently higher in remote communities and access to key services such as shops, banks and public transport can be limited. Fuel prices, in particular, are a common cause for concern given that distance affects costs of distribution. Online purchasing may expand opportunities for broader choice and quality, but we also recognise that delivery can be problematic or costly. In other circumstances variety of choice may be restricted or the quality of goods compromised.
Call for evidence:
The main call for evidence will be conducted through an online and postal survey. Through March 2012 the OFT will also host a series of local engagement groups to explore market issues arising in remote communities across the UK. These will be conducted alongside local partners including Local Authority Trading Standards Services and Citizens Advice Bureaux. Seven locations have been selected: Highland and Shetland in Scotland; Llyn Peninsula and Bridgend County in Wales; Northumberland and Devon in England; and County Tyrone in Northern Ireland.
If you consider that you live in a remote community, the OFT would be extremely interested to hear your views on the issues that are most important to you in relation to the supply of goods and services in your particular locality."

I urge everyone to get involved.

Our team of General Election volunteers are at the heart of the campaign to secure a better future for Northumberland – and we want you to be part of it. So get involved today, make great friends along the way, and experience the excitement of being on the front line in the most important election for a generation. Together we can win that election – and help secure a better future for Northumberland, and a better future for Britain. If you can help us please sign up here