Saturday, 30 June 2012

House of Lords Reform

I think we can all agree that the Government's number one priority is getting the country's finances back on track. I am the first to admit House of Lords reform isn't the number one topic in the pubs of Hexham, but it is still an important constitutional issue none the less. I had some concenrs with the original proposal but have now been impressed by the compromises that have been reached between elected and peers appointed by an independent commission.

I thought you might be appreciate to know just where I stand on this issue, which seems to divide the House. The idea that in 2012 you can have people making our laws because their ancestors did a cushy land deal with the King, or because they were a mate of Tony Blair’s is just wrong.
I want to see voters, in places like Stocksfield and Haltwhistle, deciding who should makes their laws.

I was elected on a manifesto of reform of the House of Lords. I am in a coalition with my Liberal colleagues, many of who's views I share on this issue. I will vote for a majority of the House of Lords to be elected because in the 21st century the only way that the Houses of Parliament can be legitimate is for them fundamentally to be made up of people elected directly by voters.

People are right to praise the hard work of local peers like Lord Bates and Lord Shipley, but with progressive reform the House of Lords can only improve. The 826 peers will replaced by 360 elected and 90 appointed members, plus12 Bishops, making the Lords a lot more democratic.
I can never understand why some politicians are so afraid of the people; in my view, the people are pretty wise. We have got to break down the status quo and put the people in the driving seat.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Weather Chaos last night

Rain stops everything: I would love to give you tales of my exploits in Edinburgh convincing the masses to remain in a United Kingdom BUT...just  the heavens descended, flooding the motorway and preventing all rail travel. Managed to get home via Ponteland and the small river by the golf club was beginning to flood. Many congratulations to the emergency services who did a great job. I will spend today checking everyone is all right. One farmer friend said the brook at the end of his lane, "looked like the Zambezi."
When in Ponteland I also checked out the state of the River Pont, which seemed to be coping reasonably well, although rising rapidly. The bund and power station to the Haugh were clearly in no danger last night.
However, opponents of the proposed property development schemes in Ponteland - as put forward by Banks and Lugano - would be well advised to look at yesterdays flood water: it is patently clear that the low lying ground around Ponteland, to the east of the golf club in particular, cannot be built upon.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

To Edinburgh and Beyond

I am travelling to Edinburgh today with Michael Gove MP to help make the case for a United Kingdom. I believe in the Union and believe that we are better off together. I will be at the Scottish parliament briefly, and then at a dinner in Edinburgh at the Signet Library in Parliament Square, where I am looking forward to seeing the inspirational Ruth Davidson MSP - the leader of the Scottish Conservative Group. Both Ruth and Michael are speaking at tonights event. Ruth and I last campaigned together in the Glasgow By Election, which was an experience by anyone's standards.
I will be making the case strongly for the Union to all and sundry and hope to make several visits to Scotland campaigning and arguing the case over the next 24 months. An independent Scotland would never be able to finance itself or its accrued debts of pensions, and public service liabilities. We fought Napoleon and Hitler together, and we are stronger as united partners in a United Kingdom.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Volunteering at Prestwick Carr with Carillion and the Northumberland Wildlife Trust

A couple of Fridays ago I popped in to Prestwick Carr, which is just east of Ponteland to see the work being done by the Northumberland Wildlife Trust, in partnership with Carillion, whose staff all gave up a day to help out. Prestwick Carr is a key wildlife and natural site, which forms part of the Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Living Landscape project. The plan is to crerate a series of dams to the various waterways that exist on the project to help retain carbon, and keep the site in perfect condition.

As can be seen from the pictures the team from Carillion got very wet but were clearly really enthusastic about helping their local environment. For my part, I was really pleased to see companies like Carillion getting involved in their local community. This site matters particularly as the dams that were being put in reduce the potential for flash flooding and improving Prestwick Carr's water storage facility. This is crucial to the people of Ponteland, because the water that drains off Prestwick Carr will affect the levels in the River Pont, and any flood concerns in the town. Rewetting the site also creates a valuable carbon store helping to reduce the level of CO2 in the atmosphere and improves the site for wildlife. My thanks to everyone who got involved, and full credit to the Northumberland Wildlife Trust who are doing a great job.



Tiffin Cup - The Valley of Corbridge comes to Westminster


Tonight sees the Valley Restaurant, my local Indian restaurant, competing in a national competition held in Westminster, the Tiffin Cup. It has already been judged best in the North East. This sees all the South Asian restaurants, who are regional winners in the country, competing against each other. I was pleased to visit again recently and try the amazing food. This restaurant is not only delicious but has the added value that you do not need to drive as it is in the old waiting room / ticket hall of Corbridge station = you simply take a train to and from the restaurant. I shall be supporting them tonight when they cook for a team of their peers and chefs.
UPDATE: Just back from the Tiffin Cup - we came Fourth in the country, out of 13 regional finalists! Well done to all the team from the Valley 

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Fuel Duty Frozen

Some excellent news for our campaign for lower fuel costs today. The Chancellor has announced that the planned 3p increase in petrol duty will be cancelled and duty frozen for the rest of the year. That now means fuel duty is 10p per litre cheaper that it would have been under Labour's plans. The Chancellor said: “We will stop any rise in fuel duty this August, and freeze it for the rest of the year We are on the side of working families and businesses and this will fuel our recovery at this very difficult economic time for the world". This will be really welcome news for local people and small businesses in the North East. Don't just take my word for it, John Walker chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses said the move was "excellent news" for business.

The cost of Oil

It is welcome news that the cost of petrol and oil generally has fallen significantly these last few weeks. I have long campaigned to try and bring the cost to the consumer down but the key issue is the oil price, and it is worth analysing its cost:

2012: up from $75 a barrel of oil to $100, although coming down again now
May 2010: $55 dollars a barrel
2008: $73 a barrel
2007: $30 a barrel
around 2000: around $20 a barrel
In the 1970': $10 a barrel

The cause of oil prices rising is fundamentally due to unrest in the Middle East. Sanctions on oil from Iran and Syria have had a big effect on prices, coupled to the unrest of the Arab Spring. Democracy may slowly be coming to the Near and Middle East but it is at a cost to the consumer.

In addition, there is ever greater demand for oil. Capacity is at tight levels. For example, Saudi Arabia's production is at a 30 year high. As Iran behaves ever more aggresively, and as Syria descends ever more quickly into the mire of civil war and anarchy, it is worth remembering that any escalation in conflicts in these regions will affect the oil price. We are going to be vulnerable to oil prices and shocks, so long as supply is stagnant, demand is constant, and unrest likely.

The argument that the Chancellor could change the position if he stopped taxing the citizen so much is true to a degree. But the tax that he gets in for petrol is a supply of money that is used on schools, hospitals, public services and repaying the deficit. He has frozen the tax take since the May 2010 election [which is a very different approach to Mr Balls - who would raise the petrol price all day /  every day - as the previous government did repeatedly]. Fair Fuel and other organisations are fighting a good campaign but it is simply not correct to say that cutting the cost of fuel would boost the economy by exactly the equivalent amount.

Here in Northumberland we are doing what we can to ease the pain: oil buying clubs are making a difference and support for the Petrol filling stations, and the opening of the Kielder station, are positiive steps. On this issue the key message is use it or lose it! Our local stations need our support or they will not survive. It is no different to a village shop, post office or village pub.

For my part in the House of Commons I am lobbying for a reduction but more particularly I seek an investigation into the Oil Companies by the OFT. This is what I have called for and continue to pursue.

Monday, 25 June 2012

The latest madness from Europe - paid leave if you get sick on holiday

If you get sick on holiday through sun stroke or excessive drinking the European Court has decided you can now claim an extra days holiday when you return from Spain or Greece, at the expense of your employer. For full details read here:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/eu/9348026/EU-workers-sick-on-holiday-must-get-extra-time-off.html

This is at a time when the EU Recession is causing jobs everywhere to go.
Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain are all in the depths of the mother of all economic depressions, with unemployment at huge levels - 3 times our own.
There is an urgent need for jobs, growth, and hope.
It is well known that I support the work of trade unions, but I find the latest claim by the Spanish Trade Unions, now backed by the EU Court, to be bizarre.
Under the Working Time Directive, this judgment will be binding on all European countries, and all UK employers.
It will add an estimated £100 million a year cost to British employers. Spread throughout the economy, that is an irritation, not a catastrophe. But it is an unnecessary irritation. It sends all the wrong messages.
It reinforces the impression which many employers have formed over the past few decades: that hiring workers is risky, and should be avoided wherever possible.
I do not believe that the judges who ruled in favour of the Spanish trade unionists know anything about business, and seem to care nothing about the problems faced by employers, and are promoting a system that is destroying jobs.
Spain has youth unemployment at 50 per cent.
Europe’s problems far exceed the latest nonsense from the ECJ. Our self-interest is bound up with our neighbours’ fate. We do urgently need a renegotiation so that the EU’s power to interfere with us is circumscribed. Just when it seemed that Europe had crawled away from the chaos and conflicts which had threatened to destroy it, instability is back on the agenda.Yet all this is happening in the name of idealism.
The European project is such that a noble idea starts a process that takes us ever more illogically away from job creation, growth and a fair economy for all. Giving employees an extra days paid holiday for when they were ill abroad is both almost impossible to regulate [do you get a local GP sick note to prove your sunstroke or delhi belly?] and trouble for businesses. It sends the wrong message.
I find it hard to believe that when they started with the Euro project, did the founders consider this was the Euro dream?

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Prudhoe event this Sunday at Highfield Park

This sunday do not forget to take in the Family Fun day at Highfield Park in Prudhoe - yet again Prudhoe is proving to people that there is much going on in East Tynedale. Full credit to James Armstrong and his mates for organising a mini Olympic style games, Climbing Wall, Tug of War, BMX / Skate compettion and so much more. It lasts from 11 to 5 tomorrow, and is supported by the Army Cadets and the Prudhoe Childrens Centre amongst others.

Air Ambulance debate - July 5th in House of Commons

The Backbench Business committee of the House of Commons have awarded me a debate on the Air Ambulance campaign to recover the VAT that this special charity, which is not funded by government, incurs when it buys fuel. The debate is on the 5th July and will be the first step in a change that many have long sought for this organisation that saves so many lives.
Our hope is to have a cross party debate and seek grants similar to the lifeboat service, which is exempt from the EU Vat rules that affect the Great North Air Ambulance.
For my part I look forward to seeing the team from the Great North Air Ambulance at the Otterburn Show on Saturday July 14th - I will be at the show in Northumberland pretty much all day from 10 am onwards and hope to see many there.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi speech in Westminster Hall

This incredible lady who fought house arrest for 20 years spoke movingly of her peoples desire for the right to vote, for democracy and the effectiveness of proper international aid. A couple of her comments really struck a chord [she has both an amazing quiet but firm style of speaking, and a great speechwriter].
The right to a free and fair vote in an election, she said,"is born out of a passion and a hunger for something long denied"
Democracy, she described, "is a constant struggle for liberty, for a free press, an independent judiciary and the power of the people."
On people not exercising her right to vote she said: "politics is neither beneath is, nor above us, but part of us"

Thursday, 21 June 2012

The Regional Pay debate in the House of Commons

Many of you have asked for the speech I gave to the House of Commons on Wednesday on the issue of regional pay. I set out the key points below:
"My entire career has been spent being part of the national health service. My grandmother was an NHS matron, and I came into politics when the hospital in which I was born and which saved my mother’s life was threatened with closure. In 2011 I was diagnosed with a tumour and spent several weeks in the London NHS hospitals. I saw all that was good in those hospitals and literally owe my life to the treatment I received. I will be for ever grateful.

If I took one thing in particular away from that experience, it was an understanding of just how many individuals are involved in making the whole process work. From the porter and the nurse to the physiotherapist, the care lady and the cleaner, everyone is just as important as each other. I think that all Members of the House should remember that when we talk about the public sector we are talking about not only the unions and Unite but the care lady who looks after our mothers and the dinner lady who keeps our children safe at lunch time and provides them with food. It is much more personal than the dry debates we engage in.

There are two key arguments in the debate, the first of which is economic. Having worked as a legal aid barrister or state prosecutor for 15 years, I should declare that I, like many public sector workers, am still owed money by the state, notwithstanding the fact that I stopped working for the state on a legal aid basis two years ago. It was during that time that I saw the effects of local pay, as it is described, and took into account the arguments of Gordon Brown,as usual, he is absent from his place—who first contemplated it in 2003 and then forced it on the Courts Service in 2007.
As with so many of the right hon. Gentleman’s economic policies, I see little evidence that local pay was a success. I have tried to study the economic argument behind it, which is based on the Heckscher- Ohlin factor proportions theory and various academic studies performed by august institutions such as the LSE. I do not support such arguments, which are obscure at best and have not been shown to work in real terms. Also—surely this is the crucial point—it is not supported by businesses in my constituency, none of which has come to me to press for it.

I also believe that regional pay is divisive and manifestly unfair. Members who read The Daily Telegraph today will know that it has criticised me personally for leading the opposition to these divisive plans. It must be very rare to be criticised by The Daily Telegraph and praised by the MP for Sedgefield all on the same day. I was interested when I read on to find that its argument is that pay distortions are:
“economically destructive. They make it harder for businesses in the regions to recruit workers at competitive wage rates and as a consequence they stifle enterprise.”
That is not what individual businesses, whether small or large, in the north-east are saying to me.
This Government, like previous Governments in 2003 and 2007, are right to look at all potential options for boosting growth, and I have no difficulty with them referring the matter for consideration by the pay review body, but ultimately this will not find business support or create the prospect of business growth in the regions that we represent, and we should not support it if it becomes Government policy.
The majority of public sector workers in my region are doing their bit already. They are hard working, and along with the vast majority of my constituents they accept that the Government are right to reduce the deficit, to cut public sector spending, to reform public sector pensions, to freeze pay in some areas and to eradicate some of the non-jobs and excesses that we saw before 2010. That is accepted.

I do not accept that regional pay will be agreed to or supported by the public sector workers who are already experiencing their fair share of the problems that we all have to deal with.
What public sector workers and businesses want is continued investment in manufacturing, something that fell—effectively halved—under the previous Government; the groundbreaking reform of, and improvements to, our schools, and investment in the next generation; continued Government support for apprenticeships, the number of which in my constituency has doubled over the past year; and the maintenance of the Government’s focus on boosting exports, all of which are happening and making a difference to the regional economy.
I have always said that I will put the north-east first, and defending the pay and conditions of public sector workers in this economic climate is just as important as, if not more important than, building up the private sector. I do not deny that I come to this debate with strong opinions on what is economically right, but on this issue I have engaged with union leaders, businesses and local people, and others would be well advised so to do.
We need to be a one-nation coalition, and our focus should not shine too brightly on London and the south-east. We should represent all the people in our constituencies, from the dinner lady to the gentleman who employs 200 people; it is not an exclusive, either/or matter. On this issue, I look forward to the forthcoming visit to the north-east of The Daily Telegraph, which will doubtless come to question many businesses in my constituency.
I make it clear that I do not particularly support the policy under discussion, but I take no pleasure in these debates. This issue is too important to play politics with, so I hope that my friends on the Opposition Benches will spend more time with me, and with their union colleagues, making the case as to why regional pay is wrong, rather than trying to score cheap political points. This is about people’s jobs and pay packets, and I refuse to play any political games with those.
I will not, however, support the Government today, and if this matter were ever put forward as part of Government business, I would not support it.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

School Funding debate and Prudhoe expecting a visit

Good news on School Funding: yesterday was the first Education questions since May 24th announcement that Prudhoe was going to get a government support for its ailing school buildings. I was able to raise the school funding issue in parliament and thank the DOE for their decision. A Liberal colleague also helpfully provided a follow up on the situation as to the future funding formula and how rural counties will fare.  The full exchange, along with all folow on questions is here:  http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2012-06-18a.589.3&s=speaker%3A24962#g589.6

Foe ease of reference I set out the key Q+A of Michael Gove:

Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
What is his policy is on funding by his Department of schools in Northumberland; and if he will make a statement.

Michael Gove (Secretary of State, Education; Surrey Heath, Conservative)
We plan to introduce a new national funding formula in the next spending period. It is, however, important that we introduce reform at a pace that schools can manage. As a first step towards a new formula, we are simplifying local funding arrangements from 2013-14, ensuring that more funding is passed to schools.
 
Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
The decision on 24 May to grant Prudhoe community high school a rebuild was wonderful news and formed a great birthday present for its head teacher, Dr Iain Shaw. It was also a huge boost to a community that had been long neglected in terms of funding. May I invite the Secretary of State to visit this fantastic school when the rebuild is complete to see for himself the positive difference that it makes, both to the school and to the wider community?

Michael Gove (Secretary of State, Education; Surrey Heath, Conservative)
It is always a pleasure to visit Northumberland. I hope that I will have a chance, even before the school is rebuilt, to visit Prudhoe to congratulate it on the fantastic teaching that goes on there, and perhaps I shall take in Alnwick while I am there.

John Bercow (Speaker)
I should explain for the benefit of the House that as the Secretary of State has given what
might be called a national answer, slightly opening up Question 3, for which I do not in any way excoriate him, the field is now open.
Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall, Liberal Democrat)
I thank you, Mr Speaker, and through you the Secretary of State for his generosity. Areas such as Northumberland have sometimes lost out, as the Secretary of State has pointed out, through funding formulae that do not recognise deprivation that is more dispersed. I urge him to ensure that the review takes full account of that, so that areas such as Northumberland get their fair share of national funding and to ensure that the pupil premium continues its progress in tackling deprivation across the country.
Michael Gove (Secretary of State, Education; Surrey Heath, Conservative)
Since the days of the Venerable Bede, where Northumberland has led, the rest of the country has followed. My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Northumberland and Cornwall have similar challenges that will be taken into account in our review of funding.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Westminster Week

Education Questions in the House at 2.30 today - Prudhoe and my thanks to the Department of Education team for setting aside money to rebuild Prudhoe Community High School in these difficult times will be top of my list.

I am also looking forward to Thursday when I am spending time with Aung San Suu Kyi, when she comes to the Houses of Parliament. Her story is amazing, and a triumph of hope and perserverance over adversity. The daughter of the Burma’s independence leader was a housewife living with her academic husband and their two sons when she went to nurse her dying mother and found herself thrust into the leadership of the country’s democracy movement. Her husband, Michael Aris, has since died of prostate cancer and she was unable to see her two sons, Alexander, 39 and Kim, 34, grow up. When she left her home in Oxford to care for her ailing mother in her native country in 1988, she expected to be gone for just a matter of weeks. Neither she nor her family could possibly have imagined that she would return 24 years later, a Nobel laureate, having spent 15 of those years under house arrest. She is, quite simply, a truly great woman. 
Amongst many meetings this week I am also meeting with:
- the energy company concerning the problems caused on the Otterburn road by the Green Rigg wind farm installation
- and trying to meet with several constituents who are coming to London

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Torch relay today

The Olympic Torch travels through Northumberland today, and after last night's extravaganza in Newcastle the torch goes through Prudhoe and Stocksfield to Hexham and then back to Riding Mill, before departing to Durham.

Friday, 15 June 2012

A fresh Greek Election this Sunday

For the second time in a couple of months the Greek people go to the polls this Sunday.
Their country has three choices:
1. accept the austerity measures previous governments have agreed to,
2. default and exit the euro
3. or choose a new government, which will ditch the latest deal and demand yet more money from Germany and the rest of the Eurozone. No prizes for guessing what is the most likely outcome.
The tragic fact is that the Greeks do not want to leave the Euro, but do not want to pay for their debts incurred as part of the Euro = the ultimate having your cake, eating it, not paying for it ... and then asking for more ... on credit. People also forget that this would be the third time Greece has defaulted on its agreed bailout terms.

That Greece will eventually leave the Euro is inevitable even if many do not want this to happen. Greece is playing poker with a currency, their prosperity and so much more. They will lose. The currency and the bailout scheme is unsustainable in its present form.

Similar comments could be made about Spain's position - albeit I suspect that the demise of Greece would draw a line in the sand, not least because the Spanish economy is a big beast if it fell. Meanwhile in France, they have subsidiary elections on Sunday as well, and Mr Hollande, the new French President is embarking on a spending spree that is clearly beyond the French economy. Bear in mind that whilst the rest of the world accepts that people are living longer and the state cannot give pensions as they once did when we only lived "3 score years and 10", Monsieur Hollande's big step is to have the French retiring on a state pension at 60. This is a financially disastrous decision, however much some lucky French pensioners may like it.

Next week will be a very significant week for Eurozone politics.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

14 June 1982 - end of the Falklands War

Thirty years ago today the Argentines surrendered in Port Stanley, on 14 June 1982, and returned the Falkland islands to British control. 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel and three Falkland Islanders died during the conflict. We should remember them all.
Yesterday the Falkland Islanders announced that there will be a referendum on self determination. I hope that they vote very strongly to remain British and stop the Argentinian colonialists from blockading their trade and making life difficult for people who just want to live in peace.
Would be only too happy to go to the islands as an election monitor [they will need some monitors as the vote matters so much] but suspect that I have plenty to do here!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Hexham Abbey success!

I have just had offical confirmation of some very good news. The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) have given Hexham Abbey a confirmed grant of £1.8million! For over 1300 years Hexham Abbey has been a special place of learning, worship and refuge. HLF’s grant will focus on acquiring and conserving the Grade I listed Carnaby building - a former monastic building that sits within the Abbey grounds – and giving it a new long-term use. This site will enable the Hexham Abbey Heritage Group to put on a varied programme of community and visitor activities including a series of talks, guided tours, new exhibitions and open days helping to shed light on the Abbey’s long and intriguing history.   Hexham Abbey is at the heart of the local community and this project will give people the chance to get involved through a range projects. The grant from HLF will make a huge difference. For more information about the scheme see below: http://www.hlf.org.uk/news/Pages/Investmentforthreeambitiousheritageprojects.aspx  

Phil Butler - the right man for Police Commissioner

72 hours on from Phil Butler's selection as the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner has given me the chance to reflect on what a good candidate we have: a 30 year detective inspector, a qualified accountant, genuinely local and with a passion for the chance to serve his community once more.
He is beginning to get out and about and start the process of meeting people.
He is also going to be on the road with me in Northumberland this August, doing a series of town hall events. Details to follow

Regional Pay

I oppose regional pay policies - they simply do not work. My opposition to this policy was widely featured in the BBC report, Mondays Journal and yesterdays Telegraph: see http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2012/06/11/guy-opperman-attacks-chancellor-s-regional-pay-rate-plans-61634-31154414/

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Sunday Politics today: Discussing Local Banks and Policing

BBC Politics show today: go to BBC Iplayer link below; the local element is 30 minutes in:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01jlc1r/Sunday_Politics_North_East_and_Cumbria_10_06_2012/

Local banks will happen, I can assure you - watch this space.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Police and Crime Commissioner - Philip Butler - former policeman, is chosen as our candidate

This morning we are choosing our local Police Commissioner candidate from a shortlist of three. The candidate will, I hope, have the chance to make the case for local policing and a more reactive service. They will also have the chance to take on Vera Baird, who has been promised the Labour candidates's role, I hear. Full details will follow when the candidate has been chosen.

Update: Congratulations to Philip Butler who was chosen today as the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner. Fascinating morning in Ponteland listening to 3 candidates discussing how we tackle urban, suburban and rural crime. Philip is a former 30 year policeman and will be an excellent candidate.

Friday, 8 June 2012

OFT Report into Remote Communities

Just received the OFT report and have posted it below: http://www.oft.gov.uk/OFTwork/consultations/remote-communities/

It is interesting that it:
- confirms many of the things we have been saying about the lack of competition and availability of services
- shows that Northumberland is leading the way in providing solutions eg by the multiple oil buying groups, or the self service unmanned petrol station in Kielder
Will sit down this weekend and have a proper read. I have a meeting scheduled next week with Charles Hendry, the Energy Minister, in Westminster, so I will be pointing this out to him for sure.
Many thanks to all who took part and made submissions.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Haltwhistle Hospital gets the Go Ahead


Great news last night when the Northumberland County Council granted a full unanimous approval to the plans for a new £5.5 million hospital and care facility in the town, on the site of the old 19th Century War Memorial Hospital. This is a real boost to the Community and further evidence that Haltwhistle is on the up. Many congratulations to everyone in Haltwhistle, particularly the town council, who have worked for many years on this project; and due credit to the Trust who have found the money and the intiative to provide a solution to the town's health needs. A full report is set out in Thursdays Journal:
http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2012/06/06/new-haltwhistle-health-unit-set-for-green-light-61634-31120208/

Analysing the case for Scottish Independence

As the Jubilee stardust fades, our thoughts turn once again onto the big decisions that lie ahead and the SNPs argument that Scotland would be better off independent merits serious consideration - not least because Question Time comes from Inverness tonight.
Certain key decisions jump out for an aswer, of which there is preently none:
- If Scotland does not join the Euro [as the SNP have indicated they want to do], do they accept that the keeping of the pound will necessitate interest rates and governance on this issue from the Bank Of England's Independent Monetary Policy Committee?
- Military bases: is the rest of Britain to keep and pay for the bases in Scotland [Faslane, for example, employs 11,000 directly or indirectly] and fund them - given that Scotland would not have its own army / subs? Why not move the jobs all to England or Wales if we are paying for them down south?
- Pensions: how will Scotland pay its massive public sector pensions bill on its own?
- What if the Shetlands and Orkneys declare independence from Scotland? Does that not mean that they would get most of the oil rights? I am afraid it does.

Alex Salmond is totally wrong, and on a vanity trip, to declare independence. Any serious analysis shows that we are better off together. I look forward to making the case in Scotland when I am visiting and meeting Ruth Davidson, MOSP, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, in late June in Edinburgh

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Petrol and Fuel campaign gathers momentum

PetrolPromise.Com have made me their first ever "MP of the Week" for our campaigns on all matters fuel. Check out full details on http://www.petrolpromise.com/news/mp-of-the-week-guy-opperman.html
But for now here is an extract of their site:

MP of the Week: GUY OPPERMAN

June 3rd, 2012
Welcome to "MP of the Week", a brand-new regular feature, on PetrolPromise.com! The truth is, some MPs are working hard for cheaper petrol and diesel, but others are doing sweet nothing.
So our top investigators have been researching inside Parliament, to see Who's Who, and What's What.
Is your local MP doing anything to help? Who can YOU trust? PetrolPromise.com is here to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Our first MP of the week EVER is a backbencher from the North of England: Guy Opperman MP. Despite only being elected two years ago, in 2010, he has consistently had the courage to stand up to the Government, and the big oil companies, about rip-off fuel prices.

Only a few weeks ago in Parliament, he said:
"I represent the least densely populated constituency in England. In Northumberland, fuel is a key issue, as I am sure it is everywhere else. I suggest that there should be an Office of Fair Trading examination, much like those we have carried out so successfully in remote communities into other forms of heating and other oil."
Well done Guy! Let's hope that other MPs start following his example. You can follow him on Twitter at @GuyOppermanMP
By Paul Abbott, PetrolPromise.com campaigner

The campaign website is supported by The Sun and my Harlow colleague Robert Halfon, MP.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Prudhoe Street Party

The Reverend Charles Hope and I with the "Three Amigos" from TV Land, before the start of the Prudhoe Street Party on Front Street. Thousands flocked to Prudhoe this weekend to eat, meet friends and take part in the many games and events that were on offer. It was an incredible feat of organisation and the party spirit was superb. There was no trouble and the only moment of danger was watching Charles Hope set light to some fireworks with a small match - "Don't try this at home, please". Many thanks to the local TV stars for giving up their time for free for such a good cause.  

The County Show at Corbridge


Bank Holiday Monday was one of the best days I have ever had as an MP. I was a Judge in 3 sections of the show [Sadly not the amazing livestock seen above] but this gave me a great opportunity to get up close and personal with hundreds of people, who had made a tremendous effort to participate or sell their goods at the Show. People came from far and wide - with plenty from out of County [I met 2 groups from Redcar, and many from Yorkshire, for example] and lots from over the border.
My morning was spent judging the Indoor and Craft Tents, where hundreds of people battled to sell their wares to the 25,000+ people who were attending. For me, what was particularly interesting was to see so many thriving little cottage businesses, or locals with weekend jobs selling their wares on the side.
My job was to judge the quality of the stand, the product being sold and the display, along with the attitude and enthusiasm of those selling their product. There were special commendations for very few - but I was particuarly impressed with 2 local businesses
- Jamie at Home, run by 2 charming women from Corbridge and Hexham, who seemed to be perpetually smiling and had a great stand and
- Aprons Etc - the husband and wife team from nearby Ingoe selling interesting and fun home products with a flair, a smile and a twist.
The two amazing local photographers Will Nichols and Calcara Crafts impressed, as did the wonderful Claire Myers' beautiful drawings / cards - and special mention has to go out to both Will and Claire's respective Mums, who were there on the stands helping out and lending moral support.
Of the Craft Stands I gave first prize overall for the outstanding work of David Lawson Ceramics - see his work at: http://www.davidlawsonceramics.com/
David works locally in Hexham, and his hand thrown stoneware and kitchenware were beautiful to look at and very well presented.

Howey Nichols, from County Durham, came second overall - with a real stand out stand. They sold their mens gifts products really well, with a ready smile and easy manner.
Other notable entrants were Nikki and Michelle's beautiful Butterfly Barn, and the enthusiasm of Treasure Trails Northumbria = a great idea for a business, really well sold, with total commitment.

After three hours in the tents it was off to see the animals, and then down to the equine ring to judge the Light Horse Championship. Sadly I did not get to ride the winners! I was very impressed by Jade Thompsons 2 winning ponies but one horse stood out - Sir William John, ridden by Melissa. She was a worthy winner and champion of champions.

After 8 hours I should have gone to the Hexham Beacon celebrations but exhaustion took the better of me, and I settled for popping in to the Rat Inn at Anick for a pint on the way home.
Huge congratulations to everyone responsible for the show - from my point of view I thought it ran like clockwork.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Jubilee celebrations begin


Today an elegant but small pensioner, who is also a grandmother, will celebrate her 60 years as head of state by going racing to the Derby. I speak, of course, of the Queen. You cannot find anyone who would reproach her. She is an example to all of us.Yet if one thing shines through above all others it is her sense of duty and pride in her job.

Yet she works harder than almost anyone I know; for her, I get the impression that doing a good job for the benefit of others is the most important thing. Her dignity derives from her invariable respect for the role that birth and fate have given her. The Queen is religious, but accepting of all faiths. She also has grace - both generally and under pressure. We are very lucky to have her.

Hope she enjoys the Derby - my tips are in todays Journal, where I am the guest racing correspondent - am having a go against the hot faourite Camelot.

Friday, 1 June 2012

The path to a local Bank of Northumberland gets easier

I have long campaigned for the banking system to be transferred back to its traditional community role. Slowly this is becoming a reality, as a series of incremental steps take place in Westminster, Europe and the North East. In Europe the ever worsening demise of the Greek and Spanish banks is testament to easy credit, loans without thought or consequences, and the steady flight of capital from these two countries banks. Whatever the leaders say, the voters simply do not believe that their banks in thse countries will survive. Speak to any property expert in London or a London banker and they will both tell you that it is clear that many Greeks and Spaniards are depositing their money in London property and banks.

There are two solutions emerging from the car crash that is the banking crisis.
i). Firstly, you have to wonder why the German economy is doing so well and they have no property crash or failed infrastructure "bridges to nowhere"? It is simple. 70% of all German business lending is done by way of the local community banks. In most countries the lending is done by big superbanks, which are impersonal, and dominated by a London knows best attitude. German SME lending is done by local people to local people. It is a model that we would be well advised to take note of because we can replicate it here.
ii). Secondly, both in Westminster and in the North east people are beginning to take notice. Interest in local banking has grown to such an extent that the BBC's Sunday Politics Show is focusing some time on the issue next Sunday June 10th. For my part I was pleased to get the chance to speak on this issue in the House of Commons recently. The key extract of the speech is as follows:

That is why I support wholeheartedly the competition objectives set out in new Financial Services Act, clause 5, states that there should be an emphasis on:
“the ease with which new entrants can enter the market, and…how far competition is encouraging innovation.”

I am grateful for what Hector Sants, the present chief executive of the FSA, told me in a letter dated 12 March:


"We are conscious of the balance to be struck between ensuring high standards at the gateway, and the importance of allowing innovation and appropriate levels of access for new firms.”


The letter continues:
“there has been public debate about the potential advantages of new entrants in the area of small, regional banks focused on servicing the SME sector. In such cases we will be proportionate in our approach and would invite all firms with a viable business model and appropriate levels of resources to a pre-application meeting to help guide them through the application process”.


The Bill will, I suggest and sincerely hope, make it easer to establish local banks, which can only be a good thing.

The momentum is growing: a local community bank run by local people for the investments of local people will happen in the North East, and not before time. I hope the BBC programme on Sunday week shows more on why this is such a good thing.

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