Friday, 28 September 2012

Question: what is Ed Balls Economic Policy?

Answer: ask us after the next election. So although they criticise the Coalition for every spending decision they will propose no alternative. Little surprises me about Ed Balls, but Labours shadow chancellor announced today in the Guardian interview that he would not be making any decisions about Labour spending plans until post the 2015 election. As one commentator puts it:
- its like a man with a serious weight problem saying he will diet after christmas or an alcoholic deciding to stop drinking after new year ... with Labour it is always tomorrow, tomorrow.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Be very careful if you go out today:

Limited trains, affected roads, including the A1 in North Yorkshire remaining closed between junctions 49 and 60 for the moment - there is flooding everywhere. Do not go out unless you have to.



Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Kielder Forest Day:

Spent the day with some of the Forestry Commission team, who allowed me to get up close and personal with this beast of a machine that in seconds cuts down a huge Spruce, trims it, and then cuts it into manageable lengths. My thanks to Stuart for showing me how his machine works - he was cutting down spruce - that will be used in a variety of commercial ways. Kielder is both a working forest and one of Englands finest natural habitats for everything from the red squirrel to hawks to bicycle trails to the famous observatory. The day was a great opportunity to engage with many of key stakeholders whose lives, and livelihoods, revolve around Forestry and the use of wood. We discussed in detail the Independent Panels report on Forestry, its consequences, and the need to ensure that there is more woodland in the future for all to use, work with and enjoy. Learnt a lot and very grateful for everyones time.

Abu Hamza extradition confirmed

Full credit to all the government lawyers and civil servants who have fought so long to ensure that this man is extradited to the United States to face serious charges of terrorism, along with 4 others facing similar allegations. Yesterday, the European Court of Human Rights refused a final request for appeal. They will be on their way in weeks.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Amazing Hexham Abbey Festival:

The sun shone all day yesterday in Northumberland with not a breath of wind. Full credit to all the many organisers in Hexham who organised the Hexham Abey Festival, including the dozens of stands of food, drink and items to buy in the Park. Lots of local organisations turned up to give a hand. I was pleased to see Fentimans, Wylam Brewery and Kenspeckle Chocolates there and had a pint of wylams new summer beer, which was delicious [probably on the last day of summer]. Popped in to the Abbey to see the Soloists, choir and Musicians, who number over 100 people, practising. Also knocked on lots of doors in the morning Collingwood Drive in Hexham and did a bag pack for the Toma fund = a charity supporting families going through cancer. However, my favourite stand I had to take a photo of was this stand in the park run by the Stocksfield Scouts. They were the human fruit machine. You paid a pound, the Scout Leader would blow a whistle, and the 3 lads would show a particular fruit. Never have I seen a stand more covered with Union Jacks and flags of st George. They had made the stand themselves and were having a great day. This was one of dozens of stalls. 

Friday, 21 September 2012

Hexham Abbey Festival Starts Today!

Over the next 9 days there are many of the very best world-class musicians and artists performing in  Hexham. These include twilight concerts, a celebrity organ recital and the Amsterdam Cello Octet performing a World Première by Arvo Pärt. There will be plenty of local artists and young musicians
Tickets are still available.
I am going to try and go Sunday to the Festival Eucharist, with the combined Choirs of Hexham Abbey with Orchestra perfoming Mozart’s Coronation Mass
The website is here: http://www.hexhamabbey.org.uk/festival/

With content here: http://www.hexhamabbey.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Festival-Booklet.pdf

Civil Servants should not earn more than the PM

Civil Service Pay has been drastically cut by this government, and not before time. Bear in mind the PM does not make this much. His salary is £142,000

The figures for those civil servants earning more than £150,000 are set out below
In 2010: 372 earned more than 150k
2011: 291 earned more than 150K
2012: 234 earned more than 150k

When people talk about cutting te cost of the state this is one very good example.
The salary bill for senior government officials has been slashed by 18%, saving some £9 million. The civil servant who raked in the most cash was Olympics boss Dennis Hone, who pocketed £315,000 for his troubles. The 234 still share almost £50 million between them…



Thursday, 20 September 2012

American Election Update - Just a few states decide everything

47 Days to the US Election, which will be held on November 6, 2012 and which will determine where the world is going on so many things in the years ahead.
Just nine states look competitive:
Colorado and Nevada in the Southwest;
Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin in the Midwest;
Florida, North Carolina and Virginia in the South;
and New Hampshire in the Northeast.
Obama is currently the favourite in eight of those nine states (all of them bar North Carolina).

The President looks particularly good in Nevada and Wisconsin — he leads by about 5 points in each. If he takes those, he’d be on 253 electoral votes and either one of Florida or Ohio would be enough to get him over the finish line.
Romney has not helped himself by having a bad week but 7 weeks is a long time in politics and much can happen.




International Book week: you have to read "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry"

 "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" by Rachel Joyce is brilliant. I laughed more reading this book than I have in a long time, and cried plenty at the end. It is a classic novel. I have just bought lots of copies to send to friends.

It is the story of recently-retired Harold Fry, who sets out one morning to post a letter to a dying friend. Quite unexpectedly, in a moment of impulse, Fry finds himself at the start of a journey which will lead him to walk hundreds of miles from home, en route making chance encounters and reflecting on tragic events from his past which transform his life and in turn alter the lives of the people he meets.
I particuarly like that he decides to walk to Northumberland!!

The book was on the longlist for the Booker Prize and was cruelly denied a final place - probably the only bad decision actor Dan Stevens [who is the star of Downton and on the Booker Prize panel] will make all year.

It is International Book Week - buy this - you will not be disappointed.



What are the Lib Dem up to with our Middle Schools?

This week I have written to county council bosses warning them that the possible closure of a rural middle school must not be part of a plot to introduce two tier education by the back door.

Northumberland County Council say they are starting a consultation on the closure of Allendale Middle School. With governors from other schools in the 18-school Haydon Bridge Partnership considering moving to a two tier system, the closure of Allendale could usher in a two-tier system in West Tynedale. Now there are specific issues relating to Allendale Middle, and I have made it very clear that closure should be a last option because I have urged the Council to consider Academy status. Local Councillor Colin Horncastle is doing a great job steering the community through this difficult time. 

However questions have to be asked about why the Council was so determined to push for just consulting on closure and turning Haydon Bridge from a High School to a seocndry school. Just what are the Lib Dems up to? In my letter to Council Leader Jeff Reid I have said: "Your council administration has already made it clear that your preferred course is to close Allendale Middle School and turn Haydon Bridge High into a secondary school. A rush towards closure could see the end of the three tier system, which would be a betrayal of local people.  

Your request for me to lobby the Department of Education shows that you are taking local people for fools. You have despatched senior council officers to evangelise about the two tier system to local governing bodies. A senior Lib Dem county councillor is the Chairman of Governors of a local first school federation and is pushing the area towards two tiers.

No one will be fooled by your shameless sleight of hand. The County Council did not bother to contact me about their decision to close the school and have presented the local community with no option but closure, even though they know that academy status is a possibility for Allendale Middle School. I have already spoken to the Department of Education about this matter and they are clear that the choice for a council with a failing school is Academy status or closure, and there are no exceptions, as the County Council knows full well."

There are specific issues relating to Allendale Middle and we need to solve those issues sensibility. A rush to closure does no one any favours. I am on record as saying I would prefer to see Academy status rather than closure.

Heading Home to Northumberland

Leaving Westminster today and have a packed diary in Northumberland for the next 8 days. Off to Albermarle Barracks, Kielder, Haltwhistle and Bellingham Schools next week, plus multiple surgeries and spending tomorrow afternoon in Ponteland, including a visit to the Middle School - really looking forward to it.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Long road back

Recovery signs are slowly multiplying: look at the evidence. Private sector jobs are up. Manufacturers report that slowly things are getting easier Growth is beginning to return and multiple businesses now talk to me with optimism, rather than baited breath. The funding for lending scheme here in Britain has seen up to 80 billion available as credit for SMEs and smaller firms. It is still a long road back, and growth is in spite of the disaster of the eurozone. Our worldwide exports compare really well when compared to the eurozone, but even that sees some hope with the actions of both the Germans this week, and the Fed in america, who are buying bonds and doing all they can to kick start their economy. For the first time in a long while I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Teddy Roosevelt day

The youngest president was the all action hero who assumed office as the president when McKinley was assassinated on September 14 1901. He went to work the next day 111 years ago as president. Teddy was robust in everything but health, but overcame this by sheer force of will. One of the great police commissioners of new york he was also a countryman, naturalist, soldier in Cuba, multi published writer and the man who really first addressed the problem of race in the usa. On the world stage, Roosevelt's policies were characterized by his slogan, "Speak softly and carry a big stick". Roosevelt was the force behind the completion of the Panama Canal; He also came up with one of my favourite quotes: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat." "Man in the Arena" Speech given April 23, 1910 26th president of US (1858 - 1919)  

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Petrol Debate today - good progress made

I was not called to speak today but sat in much of the debate before going to the dairy debate and it is worth noting the words of the newly appointed Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change, John Hayes. Mr Hayes agreed to look into the issue of fuel pricing and transparency. John Hayes, MP said: "When the review into LIBOR is looked at, it will of course include this market [the oil market], and will aim to publish conclusions by the end of September... as a result of this debate, and the arguments from my Hon. Friend [Robert Halfon], I will also write to the FSA about concerns raised today... It is absolutely right that we enhance transparency in the oil and commodity markets... It is clear from the data that there is a considerable time-lag involved [between oil prices and petrol prices]. My Department's analysis shows that falls in the oil prices are passed on, but nevertheless, I am going to ask my officials to look at this matter again, to revisit their analysis, as a direct result of this debate and my Hon. Friend's [Robert Halfon's] contribution today... The Government would be happy to take action again if the evidence legitimises it. As a result of the arguments that Robert Halfon has put today, I will instruct my officials to do a detailed study, with analysis of how far people have to travel to reach their nearest petrol station and how this can change over time. He can count that as a significant victory." Afterwards Rob Halfon commented: “The Government has frozen fuel duty for two years - and I want them to cut tax even further. But we have to look at the oil market as well. There have been serious accusations of oil fraud and market-manipulation. After the MPs' debate today, I welcome the new pressure the Government will bring to bear on the oil companies. John Hayes has stepped up to the plate. He is determined to find out the truth about the huge delay that it takes for oil companies to pass on cheaper oil to families across the UK.” A good day.

Debates today on Dairy Farmers and Oil / Petrol Prices

Two debates today at the same time in the House. Have long been campaigning to get the OFT to investigate the lack of competition in the UK petrol and diesel market. In particular we are concerned that oil companies are not necessarily passing on commodity price reductions to consumers. On the issue of milk prices I am trying also to get in to the debate on dairy farmers plight. As always we are at the mercy of the speaker who determines who is called.

Working for Mark Harper, MP, at the Home Office

Was delighted to be called earlier this week by Mark Harper, MP, who is the Home Office Minister responsible for Immigration. Mark has asked me to be his Parliamentary Private Secretary. I accepted straight away. Very proud to be asked to help. Have had my first meeting in the Home Office, a place I will spending a lot more time in over the coming months I suspect.

Northumberland Day coverage

Such was the enthusiasm for Northumberland Day that both ITV Tyne Tees and BBC Look North were there to see the Prime Minister sample the best of our county on Tuesday. You can see ITV's coverage here

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Hillsborough Report Published

I have listened to many parliamentary statements but none have been greeted with such sadness and horror as the report into the Hillsborough disaster, which was published today and discussed in the House. The BBC has reported this as follows: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-19543964

Government Business Bank plan announced

Good news that our long campaign to get a business bank that is set up by government and which supports industry and investment is finally bearing fruit. Full details here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19554471

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Northumberland Day is a great success

Today 7 Northumberland Food and drink producers ventured south to the House of Commons in Westminster, backed up by Visit Northumberland and Hadrians Wall Heritage representing tourism. We had over 500 people through our doors and everyone from the PM, to Cabinet Ministers, MPs from all parties and dozens of House of Commons staff were all curious to see why they should be visiting then eating and drinking in Northumberland. Jane from Tatse North East was amazing too - I will not repeat the story of her boots and the photographer. Huge credit to my office in London particularly Pete, who worked his socks off to make this happen. Massive thanks to the producers /tourist team who came down. Really hope you felt it was worth it - I and all of Westminster thought so. Fantastic Pics will follow soon.

Stannington Church

Lovely church service in Stannington on Sunday. It is a beautiful building, built on a large scale with a great choir and congregation. It was particularly special to be there to see the wonderful lay reader formally adopted after long service to the church.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Reshuffle Days

A focus on business, jobs and delivery is my take on the reshuffle.
More junior ministers were moved than many expected but am pleased to see several members of the 2010 intake get promotion, including 6 very capable new intake female MPs. My former whip, Michael Fabricant, has stood down, so I popped in to the chamber at 5.50 to thank him and see him off the government bench for the last time. He had earlier tweeted "I am free!" before he realised he needed to do the 5-6 pm slot on the whips bench in the house. Cue much hilarity as he had to announce that "Cry Freedom, and the back benches", was going to have to wait a little while.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Prudhoe Show - when they grow vegetables / bake cakes in Northumberland they do it properly ...




My thanks to the wonderful Joan Russell and all her team and huge good luck tomorrow!

Friday, 7 September 2012

Obama speech in Charlotte

Great speech last night by Obama. Best argument was this:
Pointing to last week’s Republican convention in Tampa, Obama said the speakers there talked more about the country’s problems than about how they would fix them: “They want your vote, but they don’t want you to know their plan. And that’s because all they have to offer is the same prescription they’ve had for the last 30 years.”

If you ever listened to the debates in the House of Commons you would realise that the Labour party are against every government action ... without an alternative.
He then added a great section to his speech:
"We insist on personal responsibility, and we celebrate individual initiative. We’re not entitled to success. We have to earn it. We honor the strivers, the dreamers, the risk- takers, the entrepreneurs who have always been the driving force behind our free enterprise system, the greatest engine of growth and prosperity the world has ever known.

But we also believe in something called citizenship - a word at the very heart of our founding, at the very essence of our democracy; the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations."

Obama’s convention played out against the backdrop of a country still mired in problems caused by the huge financial and housing collapse four years ago this month. The economy’s weakness and the public’s dissatisfaction with Obama’s handling of it pose the greatest threat to his prospects for reelection.
Does this sound familiar? Both Obama and Cameron are doing everything to turn their economies around but it will not be an easy struggle.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Community Hospital Debate this afternoon

Today we debated Community Hospitals in the House of Commons - an important issue you may think. There were 2 labour speakers who turned up throughout the whole debate - the picture shows labour occupingy the right hand side of the house. Out of the whole Labour party that is all they could muster and at no time did they have more than 3 people in the chamber. This picture is taken later on in the debate but I was pleased to speak and support the efforts of my local health trust in a debate which featured contributions from Conservatives Dr Sarah Woolaston [Totnes MP] and Dr Philip Lee [Bracknell MP], both GPs. We have just made Obs and Gynae surgeon Dr Dan Poulter the Health Minister. Never believe it if Labour say they are "the party of the NHS". We are the ones with doctors in our party making a contribution. The cynicism and arrogance of the opposition is shocking. Apologies for being political but today was a joke.
For my part I had the opportunity to raise and discuss Haltwhistle Hospital which is the model rebuild of a community hospital, and Hexham Hospital, which is the first local PFI buyout. Our local teams across the county do fantastic work as a local health service.
I also had to make a declaration [as we have to in every debate where we have an interest] that I had far too much knowledge of the NHS lately as a 2011 brain tumour patient, charity fundraiser and former jockey who sadly took a few too many falls...

Northumberland Day next Tuesday!!

Great news that Northumberland is coming to London - marketing their food, drink and the wonderful tourist opportunities. The following companies are coming to the House of Commons
Fentimans
Wylam Brewery
Gilchester Organics
Doddingtons Cheese
Trees Can't Dance
Kenspeckle Confectionary

Hadrians Wall Trust and Visit Northumberland will be providing all the tourism guidance. It is our way of showing Westminster that we live in God's Own County, with the best food and drink to boot!
The event takes place from 10-3 in Westminster Hall, the ancient hall that is the heart of Parliament.
Several key Ministers are coming and it is to be hoped the PM will pop in too

UPDATE:
Forgot to say we are really grateful to the team at Taste North East, particularly Jane, Jo and Sue, who have helped us make this event happen. Check out their website on: http://www.tastenortheast.co.uk/

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Oil Companies Beware

Rob Halfon and my campaign to bring the oil price down at the pumps has gained new force today: firstly there is the announcement that the Backbench Business Committee have given us a debate slot shortly in the House to force the petrol companies to pass on reductions in the price of crude oil to the consumer - we have all seen situations when the price goes down but the price at the pump stays the same. This is wrong. Aslo, the Office for Fair Trading has just issued a "call for information" to see whether reductions in price of crude oil are being passed on to motorists. This will trigger a full blown OFT inquiry, which is a good thing.

Meeting Vince Cable

Good meeting this afternoon with the Business Secretary Vince Cable. We discussed banking reform and he agreed that our campaign for both a local and business bank is something he supports.

High Pay Centre

Last night I hosted Polly Toynbee, the TUC, Deborah Hargreaves and many more as the High Pay Centre held a seminar in the House of Commons to discuss how we can get better business morals: more details of the pamphlet I and others have written are found here: http://www.highpaycentre.org/blog/better-business-morals-matter-a-collection-of-essays-about-business-ethics
I am discussing this, and the role of companies in their community, at the Conservative Party Conference in Ocotober in Birmingham:
http://www.highpaycentre.org/events/how-to-rebuild-trust-in-business-panel-discussion-at-the-conservative-party

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Interesting first day back at Westminster ....

House of Lords reform and immigration dominated the return to westminster with parliamentary statements by both the key Ministers
I am still amazed that the deputy prime minister has elected (forgive the pun) not to pursue house of lords reform and effectively given up, describing as he did so the David Steel reforms as puny.  I stil believed a deal could be done given that the vote at second reading backing the bill in principle was 500 to 120 odd.
On immigration there was discussion about the clampdowns on unlawful immigration and it is worth reproducing the latest figures. I speak as the ancestor of immigrants and hope I can see both sides of the argument.
Damian Green the immigration minister said yesterday:
"Net migration is falling as our reforms take effect. It is down by 36,000 between December 2010 and December 2011, with 26,000 of this fall occurring in the last quarter. There has been an overall fall in net The numbers for visas issued, which are more up to date, covering a period to June 2012, show:
• Student visas down 30%
• Work visas down 7%
• Family visas down 10%.
Grants of extension to stay are down 11% in the year to June 2012, and settlement grants fell by a third over the same period.
Apart from our commitment to reduce the numbers we are also determined to make the system more selective and the evidence of our success is emerging in these figures. Despite the fall in overall work visas, skilled work visas rose 4%. There was a 3% increase in tourist visit visas, and in the vital Chinese market we saw a 28% increase in visitors. This shows that immigration control is compatible with the growth agenda."

Monday, 3 September 2012

Northumberlandia ...worlds biggest Sculpture opens


Today Princess Anne opens The Charles Jenks sculpture in the Northumberland Earth of a naked woman.
She is very beautiful but huge in scale. She is 1300 feet long and made up of the reclamation work from the Shotton open cast mine. Full credit must go to the sculptor, Banks the developer, and Matt Ridley, who owns the land and who has allowed it all to happen. Full report and video here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-19458150

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