Sunday, 31 March 2013

The Therapy Centre in Hexham

D121301 Therapy Centre
Two weeks ago I was delighted to open officially the Therapy Centre in Hexham - a restored workhouse on the Corbridge Road with 30 practitioners, a dozen therapy rooms, three studios, a cafe and kitchen.
The premises and the people behind them are the most impressive group of people I have met in Hexham for some time. Their drive, business sense, motivation and the quality of the therapy centre itself are superb. I urge you to go.

There are specialists in physiotherapy, natural pain relief, osteopathy, kinesiology, allergy and sensitivity testing, hypnotherapy, podiatry, chiropody, pilates, yoga, tai chi, Indian and Thai massage, counselling, and a whole host of beauty therapies.
The efforts of Suzanne, Duncan and Martyn have created a great cafe [top cakes - thanks], and a schedule of affordable classes and workshops.
What excited me most, however, was the fact that this therapy centre represents the missing fourth link in a chain of support that encompasses an individual's home, the hospital opposite the centre, and the care homes nearby.
Integrated care and support in a non hospital setting is the holy grail for all healthcare providers and this therapy centre is a vital part in the journey to that better place. We all want to avoid hospital or care homes, and maximise the body that we have got. The centre helps all these things.
Full credit to the landlords the Helen McArdle Care Group Ltd, who run the nearby excellent care home at Acomb Court, for enabling this restoration and centre to happen. It goes without saying that this also is job creation in a local town, with specific skill sets and flexible hours for local people. It met lots of the staff, and you could not fail to impressed by the enthsiasm of everyone from the team in the kitchen to the therapists themselves.
Full details / contacts here: http://176.32.230.11/thetherapycentrehexham.info/

Summer has arrived in Northumberland!

The events 2 look forward to...once we have cleared the snow:
May 27 [Bank Holiday Monday]: Northumberland County Show at Bywell - I am pleased to say the event is a massive one this year and bigger and better than ever. After a marathon all day judging effort of the 250 trade stands last year http://en-gb.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.419219181433981.87004.360278343994732&type=1
I am to judge the outdoor trade stands this year - I cannot wait. Put the date in your diary

Other upcoming events I would really recommend:
- The Haltwhistle Walking Festival April 27 - May 6
http://www.haltwhistlewalkingfestival.org/index.html

- Hexham Book Festival: ongoing and through May
http://www.hexhambookfestival.co.uk/

If you like Shows then here are a few of the best:
June 15: Roman Wall Show
August 4: Gilsland Agricultural Show
August 17: Allendale Show
Bank Holiday Monday August 31: Bellingham Show
September 28: Upper Redesdale Show, Rochester
I am also a big fan of Kirkwhelpington Show on the first Saturday in September, where the food is amazing, and the Humshaugh Fete in June where it is an all day event all over the village - a great day out with the best of local bands, Canny Crack.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Good meeting with Friends of Corbridge concerning housing plans

Good meeting this afternoon with residents of Cragside and Synclen Avenue in Corbridge, who are concerned about the proposal to build houses. We spent over 2 hours on a site view, talking to residents, answering questions and helping to plan their campaign.

Going to church this Easter Sunday at Stocksfield Church tomorrow

Tomorrow I shall be going to church on Easter Sunday at the invitation of the Rev Paul Revill of the Stocksfield Baptist Church - looking forward to it. 10 am start - all are welcome.
Full details here: http://www.stocksfieldbaptistchurch.net/index.shtml

Campaigning in Prudhoe today

This morning I shall be in Prudhoe with Gerry Price and Jade Scott, our 2 County Council Candidates. You are welcome to come along - we are meeting at 11 in the station car park.
Later this afternoon I am in Corbridge to help the campaigners against the proposed housing development.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Cyprus banks reopen but its exit from the Euro is a matter of time

Cyprus bank lending has restarted with significant restrictions, but the demise of the small country's financial infrastructure is sure to be followed in time with an exit from the Euro. I fail to see how it can restructure long term given its problems without changing and devaluing its currency.
The comparisons with Iceland and its bank crisis are marked.
My sympathies go out to those affected. The full disaster of the bank restrictions are as follows:
- Daily withdrawals limited to 300 euros
- Cashing of cheques banned
- Those travelling abroad can take no more than 1,000 euros out of the country
- Payments and/or transfers outside Cyprus via debit and or credit cards permitted up to 5,000 euros per month
- Businesses able to carry out transactions up to 5,000 euros per day
- Special committee to review commercial transactions between 5,000 and 200,000 euros and approve all those over 200,000 euros on a case-by-case basis
- No termination of fixed-term deposit accounts before maturity

PM in Sunderland and Newcastle yesterday

PM visited Nissan and Newcastle and was there to see the first Nissan electric car roll off the production line http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2013/03/29/pm-david-cameron-hails-the-nissan-juggernaut-61634-33081446/

Hexham Bus Station Petition

For too long Hexham’s bus station has been in need of upgrading.
For years the Lib Dems and Labour have done nothing to improve our bus station. Hexham needs investment if we are continue to draw in visitors and tourists. Our residents also deserve better.

Why is Blyth having it's bus station revamped whilst if you go to ours you still don't have somewhere to sit? It is just not good enough. Your local Conservative council candidates in Hexham, Terry Robson, Cath Homer [pictured outside the station] and Colin Cessford have set up a petition to try to get the County Council to take notice of our town.
Help us end the neglect of our town and it’s bus station by signing the petition HERE


http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/hexham-bus-station/

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Well Done Callum

Well done to Callum Crozier who has been elected as the North East Chairman of Conservative Future. Callum is from Prudhoe, and a key part of my team in the constituency. I am sure he will do great work for the region.

Last weekend Callum and I were out with our Action Team in Hexham East (below). This Saturday we will both be out in Prudhoe North supporting our excellent candidate Gerry Price, email hexham@tory.org if you would like to join us.

12 Conservative Achievements...


Monday, 25 March 2013

Equal Pay claims - the Council have still not settled after 5 years in charge

There are still equal pay claims that this Lib Dem Council have not settled despite being in power nearly 5 years: if you have outstanding equal pay claims please get in touch.
I still have local residents - particularly in Haydon Bridge and Hexham - who have not had their claims settled
There was some good news when NCC decided last week to back down on one part of their treatment of care staff workers but the failure to resolve the rest of the equal pay claims is a running sore:
More details as reported on the latter story here: http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2013/03/22/northumberland-care-staff-win-council-battle-over-wages-61634-33037045/

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Local Community Banks - conference on 7th June

Spoke in the House Thursday: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2013-03-21a.1091.2&s=speaker%3A24962#g1159.0
Was able to announce the regional banking conference that will be taking place in the North East on the morning of the 7th June
Greg Clark, MP, from the Treasury, plus several other MPs and key representatives from the FSA and PRA in London will be there.
It is only through local community banks that we will fix this economy from the ground up

Saturday, 23 March 2013

18th September 2014 is Scots Referendum Day

So, 3 months after the Commonwealth games in Glasgow, and the 700th Anniversary of Bannockburn the Scottish independence referendum will be held on 18 September 2014.
Voters will be asked the yes/no question, "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
Mercifully, Alex Salmond will have a tough job winning. The Nationalist policy of "Independence in Europe", which held that a small country such as Scotland would prosper in the supposedly vibrant, forward-looking, optimistic union of the future (the EU), now looks rather unconvincing. How is it working out for Cyprus?
Salmond may have overreached himself this time and overestimated the appetite for separation. He certainly never intended to be asking his countrymen this question in the aftermath of a global financial crisis which wrecked what he used to describe as the "arc of prosperity". He saw it stretching from Dublin, to Iceland and. Norway, taking in Scotland on the way. This is more of a wavy line than an arc when you think about it.
But still the referendum could be close
I shall be going north this summer to make the case against Scottish independence.
We are better off together.

Leveson Debate - Harriet Harman is bizarrely afraid of me?

The debate is now online. My speech and Jacob Rees Mogg's intervention is here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/house-of-commons-21834786
At 2 hours 46 and a half minutes in, for 6 minutes

The bizarre Question and Answer between myself and Harriet Harman, the Labour Spokeswoman is at 1 hour 36 minutes in. I did not realise Harriet Harfman was so scared of me. The transcript is a delight [and a worry], given that she was co-proposing the Bill.

Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 18 March 2013, c705)

Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham, Labour)
If the hon. Gentleman is going to ask me a difficult, complicated question, I can tell him the answer. It is “The Secretary of State will respond on my behalf.” However, he is welcome to ask the question anyway.
 
Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
I am delighted to observe that the Labour party studied the legislation in such detail before presenting it.
I should probably declare that I am a qualified mediator and arbitrator. Under the current system, people involved in arbitration can appeal against the process if they are not happy with it, and the litigation can begin anew. Would that arrangement continue, and how would an individual litigant defamed by a newspaper or any other publication bring an action, given that—contrary to what the right hon. and learned Lady has just said—the costs of arbitration are very high?
 
Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham, Labour)
The royal charter requires the regulator to provide for an inexpensively run arbitration service which will impose no costs on complainants. As the hon. Gentleman will know, things can happen further along the chain after arbitration has been agreed to, but the essence of arbitration is that both sides embark on it agreeing that the arbitrator will settle the issue.
I think that this will be a great step forward, because it will deal with the problem of inaccessibility. Most people who are defamed, or whose privacy has been invaded in what is termed a media tort, would never dream of being able to go to court, although many lawyers are prepared to act on the basis of conditional fee arrangements. A free-to-use arbitration service is therefore an important component of the Leveson package contained in the royal charter. It is good news for claimants, but it also means that newspapers will be well and truly incentivised not to remain outside the regulatory body. If they are not in the regulatory body and arbitration
is therefore not available to those who may complain about them, it is possible that when the case goes to court, costs will be awarded against them even if they win.

The reality is that an awful lot depends upon the house of lords revision assessment of the Charter on Monday

Friday, 22 March 2013

Balls gets a savaging - from Mandelson

More bad news for the Ed Balls:
Lord Mandelson has launched a damaging critique of Ed Balls as shadow chancellor, accusing him of living in the past and focusing on “tiring” arguments about the pace of spending cuts. Speaking at the CBI’s annual dinner in London last night, Labour's former business secretary said the Labour party’s economic strategy was failing to win over voters.
My favourite quote:
"The whole argument about whether we are cutting too far and too fast its in the past. It is rather predicatable party political stuff from over the dispathc box....the Labour party has got to offer more than that".
I could not agree more
I guarantee the Ed's will not listen.
They have voted against reductions to every single budget since 2010.
They never apologise, and simply oppose everything. It is vacuous politics of the worst kind.

Obama is a critical friend in Israel with great speech

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-21886557 is the report of the President's very powerful appeal to a group of local Israeli students. Obama was clearly preaching to the congregation not the choir.
The only good future for both peoples, President Obama said, had to include an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. His young Israeli audience clapped enthusiastically. The continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories that the Palestinians want for their state was, he said, counterproductive to the cause of peace, and Israelis had to realise that. An independent Palestine would, the President said, have to be "viable". That word rules out the limited autonomy suggested by some members of Mr Netanyahu's government, enclaves that Palestinians refer to as "bantustans". 
He asked his audience to put themselves in the shoes of a Palestinian child, growing up without a state, living in the presence of a foreign army controlling the movements of their parents.
It is not fair, he said, when violence by Jewish settlers against Palestinians goes unpunished, when Palestinian farmers cannot work their lands, when Palestinians are displaced from their homes.
And the Israeli audience, not all of them but very many, applauded loudly again. 

Jeremy Bowen reports it well when he added:

"Extraordinarily for an American head of state in his second term, he presented himself almost as a political insurgent, telling them that politicians would only take risks if the people pressure them to do so. He told them they had to create the change.

The implication was that it would not come from Israel's leaders on their own. Mr Netanyahu's government depends on the votes of the Jewish Home party, led by Naftali BennetWt, who has said allowing a Palestinian state would be national suicide for Israel.

The truth is that the way things are now, neither Israelis or Palestinians could deliver the necessary compromises for a peace deal, even if they could agree a form of words. Both sets of leaders face too many internal political problems."
I should make it clear that I am a huge supporter of the state of Israel, and visited the country and toured many sites, meeting lots of locals last October. The people are brave, warm, intelligent and highly motivated to live and thrive in their wonderful country. But, I find it hard to disagree with much of what the President said. There has to be a Palestinian state. No change is not an option.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Budget Day debate

Spending the day in the Commons chamber debating the budget and trying to get called this afternoon. Very pleased to see a good support from business and locals in the north east. It must be a good budget when even Ed Balls grudgingly accepts there is "good news" in this budget!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

My 5 key budget highlights for the North East


Action on fuel, no income tax up to 10k, corporation tax coming down, a new Employment Allowance which will give £2,000 to businesses, and action to help pubs and brewers
Help for North East Families: Labour’s planned fuel duty rise is cancelled,saving 1.2 million motorists in the North East over £170 every year. I have long championed lower fuel duty and had called on the Chancellor to deliver a freeze. Because of the action we have taken, pump prices will now be 13 pence per litre lower than if Labour were in power. For a Vauxhall Astra that is £7 less every time families fill up the tank – or £9 less for a Mondeo. A van driver will save £340 per year and a haulier will save £5,200 per year.
Fuel duty will now have been frozen for nearly three and half years - the longest freeze in duty for over 20 years.
The limit at which people start paying tax to be raised to £10,000 in 2014 - a year earlier than planned
Help for North East Businesses:  A new Employment Allowance will take £2,000 off the National Insurance bill of every employer – open to businesses, charities and community amateur sports clubs. This great news for local small businesses. It will help 25,000 employers in the North East
Employers will be able to hire one extra person on £22,400 a year, or four people working full time on the minimum wage, without paying any National Insurance.

Plus A further corporation tax cut to 20 per cent in April 2015 will see the UK having the lowest corporation tax rate in the G20, which sends a clear signal that Britain is open for business.
This really is fantastic news for businesses in the North East. The Employment Allowance will make it easier and cheaper for firms to hire people – an employer could hire four local people in Hexham for example, working full time on the minimum wage, without paying any National Insurance to the Goverment.
These and the other business measures in the Budget are exactly what local businesses need to hire, to expand and to grow.

Help for North East Pubs: The Chancellor of the Exchequer has scrapped Labour’s plans to increase beer duty in today’s Budget, and instead cut it by a penny, meaning beer will be 1p per pint cheaper after Sunday night – 4p per pint cheaper than it would have been under Labour. Labour increased beer duty by 60 per cent and left our pubs fighting for survival. It is a real boost for local pubs that we have not only scrapped Labour’s planned increase – we’ve actually cut it.
It’s great for beer-drinkers, it’s great for breweries, and it’s great for the North East’s thousands of pubs.
I have received warm congratulations from my pubs / brewers and will defintely be celebrating with a pint!

Full report here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21851965

Budget Day today

I am looking for action on fuel, the Heseltine Report being implemented and a boost for small businesses. I will be speaking in the Budget debate tomorrow.

Obama in Jerusalem and West Bank today

Barack Obama is visiting Israel, the West Bank and Jordan in the next few days: this is good news: there are good reasons to go - general instability in the region, Syria's civil war, and profound uncertainties about Iran's nuclear programme.
Syrian solution?
Most immediately, there is as yet almost no clarity about the potential outcome of the Syrian civil war. Already, the civil war has claimed tens of thousands of lives. There is a Sunni and Islamist fundamentalists conflict and so much more.
It is unlikely that what Obama says or does on his Near East trip is likely to move the Syrian situation in one direction or another, unless he is prepared to put US military power - even limited to significant arms supply - heavily into the balance, which does not seem likely nor is it necessarily advisable. Certainly without air support / cover there will be no resoultion of the conflict in Syria and many thousands more will die.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Iraq conflict 10 years on

It is 10 years since the tanks rolled in to free Iraq.
We still await the Chilcot Inquiry's report into the build up and decision to go to Iraq and shortly the House of Commons will debate the conflict once again but aside from remembering those who lost their lives it is a good time to pause and reflect on the conflict. This is particularly important given the potential trouble we face with Iran and North Korea.
Iraq is now a democratic country, with people free to express their beliefs without fear of being carted off to one of Saddam's torture chambers.
We focus often on the justification for the actions, and rightly so. But we should not forget that Saddam freely admitted in his interview to the Iraq Survey Group after his capture that, although he had put many of his WMD systems into cold storage, he fully intended to reconstitute them again the moment the sanctions regime collapsed, and he was no longer subject to a regime of international inspections.
There are lessons to be learnt: this is the basis on which the Chilcot report is set up:
"It will consider the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, the military action and its aftermath. We will therefore be considering the UK's involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. Those lessons will help ensure that, if we face similar situations in future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country."

Monday, 18 March 2013

Leveson reaches a conclusion

It's approaching 12 midnight and we are still debating Leveson and the Royal Charter.
For my speech and contributions see here: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2013-03-18a.697.2&s=speaker%3A24962#g723.0
I spoke briefly this evening and support the compromise that has been reached, although I am never happy when we have regulation or law that is created at speed.
This Charter has been a long time coming but a short time in the physical draftying, which is never a good thing. I would have wanted more time but the government was bounced into a speedy resolution.
Much will depend on the House of Lords tweaking and improving on the draft Royal Charter on the press, when it considers the Charter in detail; but, on balance, I believe we have a reasonably good all party agreement; I spoke in the brief time I had in the House tonight on the issue of costs, exemplary damages, arbitration and the objectives of my constituents.
The Charter provides for many things but includes:
- proper apologies from the press to victims of bad practice
- fines of 1% of turnover for publishers, up to £1million maximum in truly extreme cases
- a self-regulatory body with independent appointments and funding
- a robust standards code
- a free arbitration service for victims
- an attempt at speeding up the complaints system
The charter defines publishers as newspapers, magazines or websites containing news-related material.
A paper that commits wrongdoing is now more accountable - that is clear.
A paper which believes in its story should have nothing to fear.

UPDATE: yesterday Wednesday Hacked Off, the campaign group, rang me for the first time to lobby me about my comments in my speech. I replied by explaining that I did not wish to speak to them, not least because I have been flat out on constituency business / speaking and debating in the House.
I would expect many papers not to sign up to this system but it remains to be seen by how much the proposed charter will be amended in the House of Lords on Monday.


Sunday, 17 March 2013

On St Patricks day, the Irish jockey JT McNamara is in all of our thoughts and prayers

On Friday the Irish amateur champion had lengthy surgery to his neck after taking a bad fall at Cheltenham. He is in hospital in Bristol. We will know more of the diagnosis and prognosis next week.
Every jockey knows there is a good chance of being injured in a fall anytime you sit on a horse, but this is obviously a risk multiplied by trying to go over big fences at speed. We all wear protection but our necks, back, and head do not take heavy impact well.
I have broken ribs galore, a collar bone in 4 places, and suffered back and sacroiliac injuries, but nothing more life threatening than a ruptured spleen.
Yet I would get back on a racehorse and ride again in a race tomorrow if I had the chance, the horse to do so, and the fitness / weight required. Every jockey I know rides because they love it.
Every horse I have ever ridden loves racing, even if they are not good enough to win.
We all know there is a risk of injury, but life is inherently dangerous, and the avoidance of risk makes us lesser men. That does not mean that we do not fear and try avoid injury, it is just that racing makes you feel alive more than anything else I know. 
Marcus Amitage, who rode the National winner, put it well in todays paper when he wrote:
"Broken limbs, knocks and bruises are an occupational hazard, part of the job description.
But the elephant in the corner of the weighing room, which sits there most of the time covered up by a blanket, are serious spinal and head injuries, those collectively bracketed together as ‘life-changers.
This week that elephant reared up, shook off the blanket and stomped across toes protected only by a layer of paper thin leather."
JT was a great jockey - far better than I was or ever will be. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today.

Hexham Book Festival - top authors speaking [& me too - on "Doing Time"]

http://www.hexhambookfestival.co.uk/
A packed programme featuring Claire Tomalin, Michael Frayn, Joe Simpson, Dan Snow, Gavin Hewitt, Alan Johnson, Martin Bell, Edward Stourton, Chris Mullin and many more ... including yours truly on Monday April 29th April at 6.30 in the Queens Hall, Hexham
I shall be talking about prison reform and my book, Doing Time.
To my amazement the book is selling really well!
My publisher recently informed me that I am shortly to receive a royalty cheque - which goes to the National Brain Appeal, the NHS charity that backs the hospital that saved my life, and which pioneers treatment and research in to brain tumours
http://www.hexhambookfestival.co.uk/programme/guy-opperman-doing-time/

The IF Campaign and the issue of International Aid


With local Campaigners in the Hexham Office on Friday evening.
The IF campaign is a huge coalition of charities, notably Christian Aid, Oxfam, and so many more who are trying to raise awareness of the fact that millions across the world do not have not have enough to eat: 1 in 8 of the people on the planet go to bed hungry. Last Wednesday I met with the Green Alliance [for whom I am a climate change ambassador] and Tearfund, and Greg Barker, MP in Westminster.
On Friday evening I met with representatives of several local churches and charities to discuss what we are trying to do.
The PM, David Cameron, is holding a hunger summit in june, shortly before the G8 meeting in Northern Ireland, to make world hunger a key issue for the key countries this summer

There is a big campaign to ensure that we do three things in particular:
- Make sure that the budget statement next wednesday features a commitment on tax reform and international aid. I have written to the Chancellor and will reply to everyone who has written to me in the fullness of time.
- Tackle tax dodging: the key will be to ensure that all the key countries sign up to a regime where companies pay tax: this will take time but last year's naming and shaming of Starbucks and Amazon is the first step in a long journey towards worldwide accountablility. As I explained in my meeting on Friday the issue is very similar to action on climate change - it requires everyone to sign up. To that end the G8 summit is clearly key.
- Affirm our commitment to 0.7% contribution for international aid - and persuade other countries to step up to the plate on this issue. I do believe our position on this issue is changing other countries views.
As one charity put it when they wrote to me: "Through our actions, and his leadership, we can persuade governments to act too, and when they do, everyone on this planet will have the chance of getting the food they need to live a healthy, happy life."

It would be wrong to deny that the issue of International Aid does divide people's opinions, both locally and in westminster: by agreeing to safeguard this 0.7% of our Budget, and also the health service budget it does mean that other budgets gets squeezed harder - that is the principle complaint of people I meet. But as with all political choices there are consequences. The Coalition are having to make very significant choices on the budgets for everything from defence to welfare, justice to local government and so much more.  But we need to sell the reasons why it is good for Britain to make our aid contributions, not just why it is good for the starving and unlucky in Africa and beyond. This weekend the Courant talk about the formalising of plans for a food bank; my trip to the Samaritans last christmas once again made the point that there are plenty of people in the North East who are struggling badly to survive. It is not just abroad where these problems are.

But we need to repeat the key points that
- Aid saves countless lives, pure and simple.
- Aid is now being spent smartly - to alleviate poverty, hunger and so much more
- That Justine Greening, and successive Ministers before her, are ensuring that the Aid is going to where it is needed most
- Aid supports countries that might otherwise descend into chaos - which leads to death, mass migration, a failure of the economic system and a whole nation of dependents for the world to care for.
- We want other countries to thrive and prosper and become new economic markets for the UK
- 0.7% is a tiny proportion of our nations budget.

A few stats to finish on:
- The number of deaths of children under the age of five declined from 12.4 million in 1990 to below 8 million in the 20 years since then, which means nearly 12,000 fewer children die each day. Much of that decline has happened in the last five years since campaigns like Make Poverty History called for increased investments in vaccinations and anti-malarial bed nets.
- Increased funding and intensive control efforts have cut deaths from malaria by 20 per cent worldwide - from nearly 985,000 in 2000 to 781,000 in 2009, with most of the decline concentrated in 12 African countries.
- New HIV infections have also declined steadily. In 2009, 2.6 million people were newly infected with HIV - a 21 per cent drop since infections peaked in 1997. The number of people receiving antiretroviral therapy has increased 13-fold from 2004 to 2009 with 5 million Africans in need now on life preserving antiretroviral therapy. That is down to effective, innovative and donor-supported mechanisms such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.
- Primary school enrolment in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 18% between 1999 and 2009, the best improvement of any region.
It is absurd to argue that aid played no part in making this staggering statistics of progress happen.

Northumberland Roundup: surgeries, door knocking, opened a business, and so much more

A very busy three days which saw me
- open the Therapy Centre opposite the hospital in Hexham, which is fantastic
- meet voters in Haltwhistle, Gilsland, Greenhead, Halton Lea Gate, East Hexham, Stocksfield and Stamfordham.
- hold one public meeting and surgeries on several issues, including with the "Enough Food for Everyone If..." campaigners
- meet with retailers to discuss the decline of the local high street, particularly in Hexham

Now sitting down and going through the proposals on Leveson and the Royal Charter in preparation for the debate on Monday night.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Red Nose Day!

Make sure you do something funny for money and give to the great schools, employees and charities doing so much today

School transport meeting with parents of west tyne schools last night

Nearly 2 hour meeting in Halton Lea Gate village hall last night and my thanks to all the parents who came along. We propose to have a further meeting on this issue and the open cast issue before too long.
The key messages to emerge last night were that:
- all the parents supported their local school Herdley Bank School, but locals felt they were being unfairly penalised by the Northumberland County Council proposed decision to take away the provision of transport to the Middle School. - this decision is not set in stone: I would urge residents - parents and locals without children - to write to the Council in Morpeth objecting to this proposal, making it clear that there is provision in the County's transport policy to support rural parents who want to send their children to Haltwhistle Middle School. The letter I showed parents at the meeting from the Council is simply wrong to say that there is no ability to support such parents. We have till around April 23rd to make the further representations and change their mind.
- This is all about fairness and choice. The proposal is neither fair nor does it give local parents a choice.
The ultimate illogicality is that parents would see their children drive past the school of their choice, which is closest, to a school at Haydon Bridge, which is further away, which they the Council will pay transport for, but they will not pay for travel to the local Haltwhistle School.
Everyone supported Herdley Bank - but if it is to become a Primary then the support must be proper and ongoing, as it was at Allendale First school, for example, after their proposed change.


Calling for action for Haydon Bridge residents

This week I have written to boss of Homegroup, a housing management company, asking for an urgent meeting in the House of Commons.

I recently held a public meeting for residents of the Showfield estate in Haydon Bridge afterI was contacted by residents complaining of long delays for repairs, poor communication and little value for money. The issue of boilers was particularly raised at the public meeting.

I have asked the Chief Executive to meet me because quiet frankly the situation is not good enough. I am determined to get action to put things right for local residents.

The estate is managed mainly by Homegroup, who house over 120,000 people a year across the country. It is vital that we get these issues sorted out as quickly as possible. I am not prepared to let people suffer in silence. I hope we can agree an action plan for solving the outstanding issues and residents will be able to enjoy their homes.


Thursday, 14 March 2013

Ponteland Town Council Candidates


I am pleased to announce we have now selected all of our Conservative candidates for Ponteland Town Council. We will be contesting every seat with a full slate of candidates. As far as I am aware we are the only party so far to be doing so. Good luck to all of our excellent candidates!

Is school transport being used to push for two tier?

I have some concerns about the plans of the West Tynedale Federation of First schools, backed by the County Council, to convert into a Primary schools.
My concern centres around the fact the County Council is presently refusing to provide school transport for children wishing to attend Haltwhistle Middle in Year 5, with effect from 2014. We hope to change this.
The County Council has confirmed it will however provide transport to Haydon Bridge Secondary School in year 7, despite the fact that this will not be the nearest school. It is unfair that most parents whose children attend Herdley Bank, one of the Federations School, and wish their children to move to Middle School in year 5, will not be provided with school transport by the County Council.

Herdley Bank is a great school, I have no problem with it extending it's age range. Similar concerns apply to Henshaw, and Greenhead. However, it seems clear the County Council is using its school transport infrastructure to push children away from going to a Middle School, in this case Haltwhistle Middle. That is totally wrong. If First Schools are going to become Primaries, then it is vital that the County Council ensures parents still have the choice, and means, to send their children to a local Middle School.

When parents are told their children will not be provided with a school bus to Haltwhistle Middle, but there will be one to Haydon Bridge Secondary School, which is further away, what other conclusion can they draw than that the County Council is pushing them into the Two Tier system? This should not be done by the back door. Parents must have a free choice.

I met a small group of concerned parents a fortnight ago, and I have called a public meeting with local County Councillor Ian Hutchinson to discuss the issue tonight (14th March) at 6.30pm at Halton Lea Gate Village Hall. All parents / locals are welcome.

Halty Councillor Ian Hutchinson has gone on the record to say: "We have called the public meeting because these issues need to be discussed out in the open. This is a very important issue for the local parents effected, but also has clear ramifications for our education system across Tynedale. There is no point in the County Council saying they are not pushing for Two-Tier if they make it almost impossible for parents to send their children to local Middle Schools. When Labour tried to close down all of our Middle Schools it was local parents that stopped them, and the County Council must listen to parents again."

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Humshaugh Village Shop pipped at the post again

Went to the Countryside Alliance Awards today which celebrated great local producers, shops, butchers and so much more. Humshaugh have been nominated three times but sadly were pipped at the post again.
It was a pleasure to welcome Ray and Sally Blanckley who represented the shop today in Westminster.
I am confident that they will win next year! If you have not been to the shop - please go - it is groundbreaking on so many levels. My thanks to all the volunteers.
http://www.humshaughshop.co.uk/

Pensions and Prospective Academies

Local schools are being prevented from becoming academies by Northumberland County Council's decision to impose massive local government pension scheme payments on prospective schools.
No other County in the country does this.
In addition schools who are academies are struggling with the burdens the NCC are placing upon them.
Yesterday in the House of Commons I again raised this matter http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2013-03-12a.31.0&s=speaker%3A24962#g38.0
Later I met with Micheal Gove, the Secretary of State, to make the case that this is wrong. It is very clear to me that this is a situation that is totally inequitable.
There is no reason why an academy should be treated differently from other schools in the County.

Falklands vote to stay British!

Update: you can watch the debate here:
On Tuesday I was lucky enough to secure the chance for MP’s to discuss the results of the Falkland Islands Referendum. Yesterday it was announced that the Islanders overwhelmingly voted in favour of remaining a British Overseas Territory (BOT), with only 3 voting against, a majority of 99.9%.

In the House of Commons I reminded the House of Able Seaman Derek Armstrong, from Prudhoe in Northumberland, who died when HMS Ardent was sunk on 22 May 1982. He was only 22 years of age. All troops, on all sides, should be remembered. We should pay particular tribute to those who are serving there and giving up their time to look after the Falkland Islands on an ongoing basis.

The House was united, on all sides of the political spectrum, behind the Falkland Islands right to remain a BOT, something that I had been keen to achieve.

I asked for the debate because I wanted to send a clear message, not only to Argentina and the Falklands, but to the rest of the world. As long as the Islanders want to remain British, we will stand full-square behind them and support them in their wishes. I also wanted to pay tribute to those fallen soldiers, including Mr. Armstrong, who gave the ultimate sacrifice. We will always remember them, and those loved ones that are currently serving right around the world.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Puffin Billy - a sure Northumbrian sign for punters at Cheltenham today

Puffin Billy each way is a must do north east bet today.
Admittedly my days as a racing journalist / tipster are long gone, and the old adage of Cheltenham is that if you want to double your money you should fold it and put it back in your pocket. But I have to receommend a few quid each way on Puffin Billy in the first at Cheltenham today for two reasons:
- The Puffing Billy was the famous first commercial steam locomotive built by Hedley for the owner of the Wylam Colliery, Mr Christopher Blackett. It replaced horses with a steam locomotive for the transport of coal. It was a significant step in the engineering revolution which started in the North East. Its construction was in 1813 and we are having a series of celebrations in Wylam this summer to commemorate the 200th anniversary.
- The Horse, Puffin Billy, which runs in the 1.30 today is trained by my good friend Oliver Sherwood for whom I have ridden out in Lambourn. I wish horse and rider well - they shall be carrying my £2 each way.
If I could own one horse at the meeting it would be Simonsig, who runs in the Arkle Chase. This big strapping grey is one I would love to ride.

Academy Schools Debate

This afternoon in westminster hall I shall be debating at 2.30 whether it is right to allow local schools to convert to academies and attempts to prevent schools converting to an academy. Liz Truss, the Education Minister is responding to a debate inititated by a Southport MP, in which I will try and speak briefly.

Falkland Islands debate in House of Commons tonight

Today the islanders showed their unity over their future, with a referendum that showed 99.8% of votes cast in favour of remaining British. The referendum had asked: "Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?"
These may be small islands almost 8,000 miles from the UK, but the islanders' hope is that their voices will be listened to all the way to Buenos Aires and beyond - not least by other nations and capitals that Argentina has been seeking to convince of its claims.
The response locally was unequivocal:
- Nigel Haywood, governor of the Falkland Islands, said: "Obviously it is a major principle of the United Nations that a people have their right to self-determination, and you don't get a much clearer expression of the people's self-determination than such a large turnout and such a large 'yes' vote."

- Dick Sawle, a member of the island's legislative assembly, said it was an "absolutely phenomenal result which will send out the strongest possible message to the rest of the world about our right to self-determination - a right that was fought for in 1982, and which we have honoured tonight."
Islanders had "very, very clearly said they wish to remain as a British overseas territory with those rights", he said, and it would "be our job now as a government to get that message out to the rest of the world and every country that will listen to us".
He added: "What is very clear is that these islands never have belonged to Argentina; what is also extremely clear to me here, and from the results that we heard tonight, is that they never will do."

Tonight at around 7.15pm UK time the House of Commons will debate the referendum and show parliament's support for the locals. 
Two comments stand out for me:
i). The recent comment by the Argentine foreign minister that the islanders' wishes didn't count because they were what he termed an "implanted" population.
Many locals are 8th or 9th generation, which puts the lie to that.
ii). MPs all received a fanciful letter from the Argentine ambassador to the UK which was riddled with factual and legal errors. Worst of all was her comment that the UK and the world should not respect the "wishes" of the islanders. We, in the House of Commons are 100% behind the islanders.
The last word should go to one of the international observers, a Uruguyan, Senor Jaime Trobo, who said that:
"The Falkland Islanders are citizens and they have the right to express themselves."


For my part I want a return to better relationships with the south american countries, but an understanding that local islanders right to self determination must be respected. The UN Charter says this but the Argentina does not seem to be listening.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Hexham Town Council


I am pleased to announce we have now selected all of our Conservative candidates for Hexham Town Council. We will be contesting every seat with a full slate of candidates. As far as I am aware we are the only party so far to be doing so. What is so wonderful is the excellent range of candidates; from a TA solider to a nurse, from a maths teacher to a local businessman.

Good luck to all of our excellent candidates!

Busy week in Westminster

Tomorrow I am in charge of a debate on the Falkland Islands Referendum, but we also have debates this week on academies, apprenticeships, the new banking bill, and the remaining stages of the crime and courts bill. I will be coming home first thing Thursday morning and am then opening the new therapy centre in Hexham before events that evening in Haltwhistle.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Red Nose Day - Miranda Hart in Newcastle tomorrow

Are you doing something funny for Money? Help Miranda Hart in Newcastle tomorrow
For her challenge, “Miranda’s Mad March”, Miranda will have to complete one mystery task a day in five UK cities, from March 11 until Red Nose Day, March 15.
The details of what she’ll be doing will not be revealed, even to Miranda, until Chris Evans’s Radio 2 Breakfast Show each morning. Miranda will then have to finish her task within a time limit, relying on members of the public to help her and raise as much money as she can for Red Nose Day along the way.
To support her, BT has nominated Thursday March 14 as “Chat for Change Day”, when the company will donate 1p to Red Nose Day for every call made from a BT home phone line or BT business line.

Miranda’s Mad March

Monday 11 – Newcastle

Tuesday 12 – Manchester

Wednesday 13 – Birmingham

Thursday 14 – Oxford

Friday 15 – Red Nose Day – London
Full details and a great story here:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/9915323/Miranda-Hart-why-its-good-to-have-a-laugh-on-Red-Nose-Day.html

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Best B and B in the land? Its in Nortthumberland!

Congratulations to the Blackcock Country Inn, just outside Kielder. They win the Les Routiers B and B award. Full story here:
http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2013/03/09/falstone-village-bed-and-breakfast-scoops-top-national-award-61634-32953022/
If you have not been - then you must come to Kielder - it is God's own country.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Still time to catch up on Countryfile on Northumberland on BBC Iplayer

Great profile of Northumberlands history and wild beauty on iplayer:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01r6bc7/Countryfile_Northumberland/
Great stuff on Vikings! And their dialect that now shapes Northumberland

2013 County Council Candidates - from 20 year olds to seasoned veterans

I am pleased to say Hexham Conservatives have launched their local election campaign with a pledge to fight every seat in Tynedale and Ponteland.
As well as nine sitting Councillors standing for re-election, we have eight excellent new candidates.
Among them will be Jade Scott, my apprentice from Prudhoe. Jade began working for the me soon after I took office in 2010. If you call the Hexham office you will often speak to her; I was the first MP to take on an apprentice.
Jade has now completed her apprenticeship in Business Administration after working in my busy Hexham Office and has now decided to take her first steps into front line politics. She will be standing in Prudhoe South.
I have been so impressed with her I handed the young apprentice a year long contract to join my team. She is a real worker. It is really important we support local young people to get into politics. Jade already has experience of working hard for local people and would make an excellent local Councillor. She will go on to do brilliant things I'm sure.
I am hopeful of gains in the elections despite the Conservatives already holding 12 out of the 17 seats making up the Hexham constituency.
We do have some tough fights, but I think our record of working all year round will win through. Our canvass suggests we can add another 2 or 3 seats, but we will see on the day.
We have seen from the by elections last year how unpopular the local Lib Dems are. They ended up fourth in one of the recent by-elections. I think its not too much of stretch to say it is very likely they will have no seats in Tynedale after May's elections.
One of our big battles with the Liberal Democrats is in Hexham West where former paramedic and Leazes Town Councillor, Colin Cessford, is taking on Lib Dem Derek Kennedy who has just a 250 vote majority over the Conservatives. Cllr Cessford was elected to the Town Council last year taking the seat from the Liberal Democrats with almost 60% of the vote.

Colin says "When I retired from the Ambulance Service I never imagined I would end up in local politics but I have really enjoyed it. There is a real sense on the doorstep that we need change at County Hall"

Not all of our candidates hoping to be elected are newcomers to fighting elections. In the Bywell Divison former Tynedale District Councillor Fiona Hunter is looking to take back the seat she once represented for the Conservatives.

Mrs Hunter previously represented the area on Tynedale beating sitting Independent Councillor Paul Kelly, who is currently the County Councillor. Fiona says "The County Council has forgot about us here in Tynedale. If I win my seat I hope to take the message loud and clear to Morpeth that Tynedale won't be ignored any longer."

Two other candidates for the Conservatives will be looking to take over from sitting Conservative Councillors. Cath Homer in Hexham East is hoping to inherit Ingrid Whale's healthy majority after being endorsed by the popular County Councillor.
Well known Parish Councillor Rupert Gibson is also hoping to take over in the Humshaugh Division after being recommended by retiring County Councillor Conservative Councillor Edward Heslop.
Finally, in Prudhoe North I am delighted that Gerry Price has answered the call and decided to run for elected office
The Conservatives new candidates are:
Jade Scott - Prudhoe South
Gerry Price - Prudhoe North
Fiona Hunter - Bywell
Paul Vickers - Stocksfield
Will Green - Haydon and Hadrian
Colin Cessford - Hexham West
Cath Homer - Hexham East
Rupert Gibson - Humshaugh

Conservative candidates up for re-relection:
Peter Jackson - Ponteland South with Heddon
Veronica Jones - Ponteland West
Richard Dodd - Ponteland North
Eileen Armstrong - Ponteland East
Terry Robson - Hexham Central
Colin Horncastle - South Tynedale
Ian Hutchinson - Haltwhistle
John Riddle - Bellingham
Jean Fearon - Corbridge

International Womens Day today and the role of International Aid.

A day for celebrating progress in the great strides made for girls and women, but also underlining the clear and urgent need to do more. We have made strong progress delivering results for girls and women as part of
the UK’s international development work. As a result of UK support, last year over 2.5 million girls took their first steps into primary school, with a quarter of a million making the crucial transition to secondary school. We helped nearly three quarters of a million women access financial services; secured property and land rights for nearly a quarter of a million women and supported 1 million additional women to use modern methods of family planning. But there is much more to do. It is simply unacceptable that around the world
one in three girls and women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime. Dfid is also developing an ambitious new programme to combat Female Genital Mutilation, alongside new programmes responding to the specific needs of women and girls in current emergencies in DRC, and for Syrian refugees.
Finally, the UK will be funding the Leadership for Change Programme that will support the leadership skills and opportunities of a network of girls and women in a number of countries. We are also taking the lead role in building the critical evidence base on what works to enable girls and women access and control economic resources in sub-Saharan Africa.
International Women’s Day is just the start of a series of opportunities we have to show international leadership on these issues that affect women throughout the world.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Falkland Islands Referendum this Weekend


On Sunday and Monday the residents of the Falkland Islands will have the chance to vote in a referendum to decide their fate. The question is simple:
"Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?"
I met with a representative of the Falkland Islands Government in London yesterday.
According to the Falkland Islands Government: "We are not a colony of the United Kingdom; we are a British Overseas Territory by choice, which is something entirely different. We are not governed by Britain: we are entirely self-governing, except for defence and foreign affairs."
 
The question is preceded by the following explanation: "Under the Falkland Islands Constitution the people of the Falkland Islands have the right to self-determination, which they can exercise at any time.  Given that Argentina is calling for negotiations over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, this referendum is being undertaken to consult the people regarding their views on the political status of the Falkland Islands."
David Cameron has criticised Buenos Aires for "shouting down the islanders' ability to speak for themselves and punishing them for exercising their own free choice". He said Britain would resolutely support the choice the islanders made in a referendum.

He added: "I have always said it is up to the Falkland Islanders themselves to choose whether they want to be British and that the world should listen to their views."

The Argentinians argue that the Falkland Islanders are illegitimate settlers - yet the locals have lived there for 9 generations and nearly 200 years.
Jan Cheek of the Falklands Legislative Assembly recently said: "we are settlers. Like countries across the continent of the Americas, we came into existence through waves of settlement from Europe and elsewhere."

In my view the Argentinian approach is comparable to saying that Americans or Canadians have no right to their country because they were settlers. The BBC has done a good report on the issue here:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-21673504

We will be worse off Independent: Scottish Finance Minister cabinet report leaked

John Swinney, the Scottish Finance Minister, has had his internal cabinet report leaked. Put simply it shows that defence spending would be cut in Scotland [contrary to all public statements by the SNP],
that pension and public sector costs would rise to unsustainable levels, and that The Bank of England would have an input on to Scottish finances [again contrary to what the SNP are arguing publicly]
The Telegraph has a good report on the leaked report which once again shows that Independence simply would make Scotland a lot poorer.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scotland/9914432/Secret-SNP-report-questions-state-pension-after-independence.html

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Gordon's Alive - the former PM makes one of his rare returns to the Commons

This evening saw one of Gordon Brown's rare appearances in the Commons - no surprise that he argued for greater spending by the government ... for a problem caused in his own area ... when he was Prime Minister... does this sound familiar?

Albermarle Barracks saved as a base after long campaign

Delighted to report that Albermarle Barracks will stay open after the basing review that will take place in 2015 following the return of troops from both Afghanistan and Germany. In 2015 we will be wishing a sad farewell to 39 RA but will be welcoming the 3rd regiment of the Royal Horse Artillery, who are returning from Germany. This is good news also for the civilian staff on the base. Yesterday I raised this in the House of Commons with the Secretary of State and stressed the need for the upgrade of existing and future facilities at the base. The full statement to the House of Commons and debate is here: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2013-03-05a.845.0&s=speaker%3A24962#g860.1
My contribution was as follows:
Guy Opperman (Hexham, Conservative)
People in Northumberland will be delighted that our long campaign to retain Albemarle barracks has been successful, for which I thank the Secretary of State. We will welcome the 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, as much as we have supported the 39th Regiment Royal Artillery. I visited Albemarle again only three weeks ago. Will the Secretary of State meet me again to ensure that the present troops have the broadband, local transport and mobile facilities they need and that future, post-2015 troops will have the facilities they should enjoy as well?

Philip Hammond [Secretary of State for Defence]
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, who has responsibility for such matters, will be very happy to meet my hon. Friend to talk about those issues.

For those who are interested in the basing review the full details are here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/regular-army-basing-plan

Prison Reform Update

The book "Doing Time" is not 50 shades of grey but it is selling well!
It is still available at all good bookshops and on Amazon / Kindle.
These last few months the campaign for prison reform has not stopped and I wanted to update regular readers of what we are doing. The Justice Secretary, the Prisons Minister and the PM have all got a copy of the book, and we have continued to take the message of change through rehabilitation far and wide:
- In december we held a debate in parliament on literacy in prisons: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2012-12-12a.128.0&s=PRISONS+speaker%3A24962#g128.1
- I have held a series of book launches, seminars and discussion events in Hexham, and in several events in London, with think tanks like Policy Exchange and more recently with the new Think Tank, Bright Blue: http://brightblueonline.com/index.php/events/past-events
Their event last week in the Two Chairman Pub in Victoria, London was a lively old fashioned pub based Q+ A that went on for nearly 2 hours as we discussed issues of crime, punishment, rehabilitation, victim expectation, deductions for literacy and so much more over a couple of pints - a genuine pub and sawdust event with no holds barred - I loved it! They are a very interesting bunch of innovative young thinkers and political free spirits, and worth getting to know / going along to their events.
I have also done a legal book launch with Hammicks in law land on Chancery Lane / the Temple and am speaking at a number of future events in the north and across the country over the next months, and may even be taking the ideas behind the book to our Europeans neighbours at a policy seminar in the summer - details all to be confirmed but my thanks to the Institute of Economic Affairs for the invite:http://www.iea.org.uk/home

Finally, I have also met with 3 fascinating people who have helped shape my views on prison reform: two former prisoners Jonathan Robinson and Jonathan Aitken have both served their time and are now providing their insight on changes to the prisons they occupied for the wrong reasons. The former MP Jonathan Aitken is a genuinely contrite and deeply insightful man who is doing all he can to make our prisons better. I have got to know him and hope to tap his massive knowledge of the subject some more. Likewise Jonathan Robinson, formerly of HMP Bedford and now author of his book "In It", a warts and all study of his time inside and his proposals for change.
My last special meeting was with Sean Prendergast, who runs the most important Jamaican prison, the Tower Street Correctional Facility. He explained to me the difficulties that he faced with over 1800 inmates in a Victorian prison designed for 800, with 3 to a small cell and no toilet, and minimal ability to provide rehabilitation facilities. We spoke at length. I am grateful to all 3 experts for their insight, wisdom and advice.
One of the great things about being an MP is the ability to try and take an issue and attempt to influence the way a country and other places address their problems. I do not presume to have the answer to all of prisons problems but I do want to try and make a difference on this issue in the years that lie ahead. Finally, if you have not read my book I urge you to do so! All proceeds go to charity.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The Sunday Politics in Newcastle

Dog micro chipping and my shared experiences with a postie of being bitten whilst on the campaign trail, probation reforms, and a brief discussion on housing benefit / under occupancy subsidies featured in Sundays edition in the North East / Cumbria: you can watch it on BBC IPlayer here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01qy5rd/Sunday_Politics_North_East_and_Cumbria_03_03_2013/

Charity Quiz last night

£2,000 + raised by the 100+ people who came to our charity quiz last night for Tommys: http://www.tommys.org/ and the National Brain Appeal: http://www.nationalbrainappeal.org/?gclid=CLztvZyi5bUCFUbMtAodUnIAYg
= two fantastic NHS charities. The latter is very dear to my heart [and head] as it funds treatment, research and innovation into brain tumours, and supports the National Neurological Hospital in Queens Square, London - the hospital that saved my life.
Many thanks to all the sponsors and my congratulations to team Walker, Bingham, Heaton Harris, and their so solid crew who were so successful; not only did they win the case of wine for coming first in the quiz [a triumph secured I am told solely by two members of their team = Emma and Andrew] but they also bought one of the star prizes in the auction, 7 tickets to go horse racing at a venue of their choice.

Under occupancy deductions and housing benefit

There are 12,000 people on the social housing waiting list in Northumberland, including several thousand in my constituency.
We also have many homes occupied by social housing tenants where the present tenant is living in a home with more bedrooms than the present occupant needs.
Housing benefit costs the UK taxpayer £23 Billion. It used to be £11 Billion barely 12 years ago. All of this has to come out of working people's taxes.
Its cost has risen self evidently by over 100% in the last 10 years.
Our welfare bill in this country is also simply unsustainable.
The Coalition are trying to address this problem. Before anyone gets too political this policy we are pursuing is exactly the same as was in the Labour party manifesto, [and as set out by James Purnell, the former Labour Work and Pensions Minister before 2010], which promised to reform housing benefit to ensure that people on benefits do not end up getting subsidies for rented accomodation that those who work could never afford to live in. Thus all political parties accepted at the last election that this was an issue that had to be tackled. Like lots of our countries problems the reality is that this government is the one that has to take the hard decisions.

What to do?
Clearly we should tackle the need for social housing by building more 1 bed and 2 bed social housing bungalows and flats. This we are doing both locally and nationally. I can point to a large number of great projects locally - Trinity Court in Corbridge is but one that ISOS is opening soon.
The government has made it easier to build homes in a variety of ways, and relaxed certain rules to help housing providers. Contrary to popular belief there are both lots of housing projects in the Hexham constituency, and lots that I support.

But this will not be enough. We need to move people to homes that the state will continue to provide, but free up housing stock for people who need 2, 3 or 4 bed homes. I have local people who have been on waiting lists for well over 5 years.

This change will come in to force at the beginning of April. There are large numbers of exemptions, and the implemementation is still being tweaked to ensure that local providers look after those who are affected in the best possible way.

There is a very large pot of money available to ensure that those who either cannot move or cannot afford to pay the difference can do so. I have met with several local housing providers in the last few weeks, notably Isos, but if there are local cases which need addressing then please write / email the HOC office and we will do all we can to help.

Monday, 4 March 2013

How to make localism happen - the Tynedale way

Tynedale DC is much missed, and Lord Prescott a dirty word for his actions regarding Tynedale district council. I have been overwhelmed by the number of people getting in touch on this issue. Everyone appreciates how difficult it would be to bring back the old District and County system straight away. However, that doesn't mean we just have to stick the present system we have. Between Tynedale DC and NCC there is clearly a middle ground that would make a huge difference.

There is clearly an opportunity to build on the sense of community that exists in the old Tynedale district area. How? We could hand over a chunk of the County Council's budget and decision making to a local Committee based on the old District Councils. The County Council's West Area Committee is currently part of Northumberland County Council made up of Councillors from Tynedale and Ponteland. This is the perfect vehicle to deliver more power and financial control back to to Tynedale by beefing up the West Area Committee into a powerful local body.
 
The devolution of these powers would be to a local decision body, possibly including representatives from Town and Parish Councils as well as County Councillors based on the current West Area Committee. At present the West Area Committee is purely a discussion forum with very limited powers; the West Area Committee would take a leading role on all decisions affecting Tynedale and have a substantial budget to spend within the area. The County Council would devolve actual budgets and responsibility for many local services such as grass cutting, street cleaning and road maintenance.
Priorities and budgets could once again be set at a local level.
 
Terry Robson, former Mayor of Hexham and County Councillor for Hexham Central backed the plans saying
"The County Council has handed responsibility for some services, such as play areas to Hexham Town Council, however with no actual budget to back it up. That's just passing the bill. What we really need is more power and devolved budgets from County Hall to allow us to deliver locally on the services people actually want. This would not only guarantee a better service, focused more on local needs but also give people better value for money as it would cut out the layers of management that are currently occupying County Hall in Morpeth. We have much of the infrastructure left over from Tynedale to get this all new powerful local committee going and if the Conservatives win the election I hope it will be one of the first things we do. We may be stuck with the Unitary structure but it doesn't mean we can't alter that structure to work for local people. Our plan would also bring back some of the local jobs that have been lost in Hexham in particular. Up to 300 jobs have been drained from the Hexham economy as a result of the Lib Dems' centralisation to County Hall and the south east after the local government reorganisation."

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Whistle Art Stop Project in Haltwhistle

Kids helping to paint the Whistle Art Stop buildings in Haltwhistle with MP Guy Opperman
http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/todays-news/2013/03/02/whistle-art-stop-in-haltwhistle-flies-its-colours-proudly-61634-32907968/
You have to read this article - it will warm your  heart!
well done to Alison and all her team of helpers young and old, the local councillor Ian Hutchinson whose members budget made it happen, and a big thank you to Dulux Paint who donated the paint [quite a lot seemed to end up on me, and Ian ruined a nice shirt in a good cause!]

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Radio 4 today: the week in westminster

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01qzj1c

Say no to the Lib Dems Bus Station Tax


As I am out campaigning in Hexham later I though I should let you know about about our campaign to stop local residents in Hexham having to face ‘day light robbery’ over plans for a new bus station.

Local Liberal Democrats have put forward plans to fund repairs to Hexham Bus Station with receipts from additional charges in the town such as in car parks, plans which would see Hexham residents suffering double taxation.

I was one of those last year who signed a petition urging the County Council to rebuild the bus station. We all agree Hexham bus station needs to be revamped, yet now they are telling us local residents must pay for it, rather than it coming from County Council coffers.  What do our residents pay their council tax for?


The proposals have been put forward by Hexham West’s Lib Dem County Councillor Derek Kennedy, which would see Hexham residents left to foot the County Council's bill for the revamp of the bus station.

While the Lib Dems are happy to pour £20m of council tax payers money into Ashington for a new leisure centre they are now saying Hexham residents must pay extra for any investment in our own town. At the same time Lib Dems have also given free parking to Ashington, it is very unfair.

Our bus station is the responsibility of Northumberland County Council and our residents pay their council tax just like everyone else in Northumberland, so why should they have to pay twice? This really is a double taxation on our residents.
 

All action Saturday

Appearing on Radio 4 at 11am = "Week in Westminster" - by the magic of recorded radio - with John Denham MP, and the Spectator's Fraser Nelson discussing Eastleigh,

+ Appearing at 11am in Bishopton Way, in Hexhams West End, knocking on at least a hundred doors with Colin Cessford, our candidate for the May elections - anyone who wants to come canvassing can come along and meet us there

Myself and Ian Hutchinson will also be on Look North at lunchtime / evening showcasing the amazing work being done for Community Art in the centre of Haltwhistle.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Hexham Middle School Maths students are changing policy

Today I met 3 of the most remarkable pupils I have ever met. Elizabeth, Amy and Anisha are all at Hexham Middle School. They are all Key Stage 3. We have been in correspondence since last September - they are amongst the youngest of my regular letter writers in my post bag.
They all wrote to me complaining about chunking as a method of calculating division - they all wanted a return to long division, which they found quicker, better, and a greater test for the skill of the student. I forwarded their concerns to Michael Gove and Liz Truss, the education Ministers in Westminster. I am pleased to say that the government announced in January that in future the method of calculating division  was changing - with a return to long division - as Elizabeth, Amy and Anisha had wanted. I know that their letters really impressed Liz Truss, the Minister who is in charge of Maths. Interestingly Liz has two young children herself. Liz and I have discussed the input of these three impressive young ladies and today I saw for myself how bright, personable and motivated they were. They were my guides and questioners today as I dropped in to the school and met Mrs Parker, their inspirational teacher.
Hexham Middle School likes long division - that much was clear when I sat in on Mrs Parker's maths class today. It was a privilege and a pleasure to see well behaved school children, highly motivated to learn, well taught, disciplined and good at maths. One calcuation saw them being asked to divide 697 by 7. The speed and precision of calculation by some of the pupils using long division was remarkable.
They clearly preferred to long division to chunking - I asked specifically - "what do you prefer?"
All agreed they liked long division. One young man put it best when he said: "what idiot invented chunking?" I decided not to discuss educational policy on maths from 10-15 years ago and merely assured them that long division was the future!

We finished by agreeing that the 3 star pupils, and their teacher, should come to Westminster to see the House of Commons. I will try and set up a meeting with Liz Truss or Michael Gove as part of a tour of the Houses of Parliament. There is a bit of logistics / parental permission to be sorted before the visit goes ahead but with a fair wind I see no reason why it could not take place at some stage in April.

Off to Hexham Middle School to meet the maths gurus today

This morning I am meeting kids like Elizabeth, Anisha and Amy who are key stage 3, and who wrote to me [and the Education Minister] last autumn seeking a change in the national policy on the teaching of maths - they have successfully campaigned for the return of long division. Their teacher Miss Parker is rightly very proud of her charges enterprise, ability and enthusuiasm. Later in the day I will be heading to Haltwhistle.