Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Reform Prisons front and centre of the Prisons and Court Reform Bill debated in the Commons yesterday

I am very much involved in the legislation that is the Prison and Court Reform Bill. It was debated at length in the commons at second reading yesterday and passed with the support of the labour, and snp parties who attended and debated the matter at length. No one from the liberal or green parties turned up to debate the issue, which was surprising.
The full debate is here:

In the last two months I have taken time out to visit two of the Reform Prisons, which include Wandsworth and Coldingley. Wandsworth is outstandingly run by Ian Bickers, whose twitter account is a brave new development in the world of prisons. The changes there are positive and palpable.
As to Coldingley for background more details see here - http://www.justice.gov.uk/contacts/prison-finder/coldingley
- but all you need to know is that it is a groundbreaking prison in so many different ways; every inmate effectively works a normal working day, and the quality of the work they do in the large and well equipped engineering workshops, print shops and more is outstanding. This is all part of my attempt to visit as many prisons as is possible and get a better understanding of the many ways in which reform is being engaged with. There is better news on officer numbers, and there are many measures in the bill and revised guidance which will free up governors for the way ahead. Having seen both Wandsworth and Coldingley recently the reform prisons are palpably the way ahead. The governors, the officers and the prisoners are all welcoming the changes. At Coldingley, I am particularly looking forward to the upcoming opening of their cafĂ© and garden centre which will be selling produce, flowers and equipment that are produced in their entirety by the prisoners. My thanks to all the prisoners, staff and the governor who welcomed me to the prison last week.

Article 50 will be triggered next week on Wednesday March 29 - thoughts and analysis of the recent debates in the Commons and Lords

I have received a lot of correspondence on this issue, particularly as the Art 50 Bill has been debated in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. I did not support the Lords Amendments. You may not agree with my approach, but I hope you will see that I have set out my reasoning both here and repeatedly over the last few weeks on the blog.
For example this is my blog from January:

There are a number of issues that I have had to consider carefully.
First, should the Brexit Bill have been amended?  I think the government has the right to pass a 10 line piece of legislation that allows it to trigger article 50, following and to enact the referendum result, without the Bill being fettered by individual clauses that mandate certain outcomes.  To add clauses to the Bill would risk judicial proceedings and definite further delay, as well as tying the Government’s hands when it comes to its negotiations.  For that reason, I did not support any amendments. These matters of genuine concern to many will be dealt with separately over the coming months and years. 
Second, let me try and address the discreet issue of what should we do to secure the rights of European nationals living here?  Everyone wants the Government and the EU to agree, and grant EU nationals already residing here the right to permanently remain.  However, I understand the position of the UK government, that it also wishes to secure the rights of the million + UK nationals living in the EU at the same time.  I am also pleased that the Government has made it clear that securing the rights of EU nationals will be its first priority post the triggering of art 50.  I am well aware of the uncertainty that this situation generates, and am meeting local residents affected by this shortly.
The fair point also to be made is that the government tried to resolve this matter earlier this spring but several eu countries objected until article 50 had been triggered.

Third, the government has already said that Parliament will have a vote on the final deal.  The Lords amendment - that they ultimately decided not to pursue - effectively amounted to a wrecking amendment. I listened to the debate and accept the assurances that there will be a meaningful debate and vote at the end of the process, without effectively putting a veto on the whole process of the June 2016 referendum.
For those who want to read more of the debate itself then please go here:

Finally, some have asked about access to the single market?  Apart from the rights of EU nationals, this is the most important issue, as it both affects our trade with the EU, and our right to trade with other countries, and also has an impact on free movement.  We will formally leave the single market when we leave the EU – that is the only outcome.  The Government’s challenge, therefore, is to try and recreate, as much as possible, the benefits of the single market, which is so important to many of our industries, from car manufacturing to broadcasting to agriculture.  I want the Government to ensure that our businesses have the best access possible to European markets after Brexit. 
As you can see from the above, there are a huge amount of issues that need to be dealt with. I tried to persuade the country to vote Remain, but that was not the outcome.  Brexit will consume our energies for many years to come, and I believe it will cause uncertainty to the country for a while. But given that there was a clear vote, I believe that we need to get behind the PM and make a success of this. You don't get to pick and choose your democracy.  

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Westminster this coming week: Prisons and Court Reform bill dominates but rural oscars, Red Nose Day also feature

Monday sees the Prisons and Court Reform Bill begin its 6-9 month journey through the Houses of Parliament. The second reading debate is from 3:30-10.
More details about the bill are found here: https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2016-2017/0145/en/17145en.pdf
There are multiple other debates next week, and key celebrations, notably the Countryside Alliance Rural Oscars - where we celebrate some f the best rural shops and businesses in the country. I have multiple meetings this week in Westminster, but am heading north on Thursday as Friday is a packed surgery and meeting day, starting with the launch of the LifeSavers project teaching financial education in our local schools. I am also starting a short course of lecturing at newcastle university where I have volunteeered to help out the teaching staff on a couple of lectures and seminars over the next six weeks. In addition to all that we also have multiple celebrations in London and Northumberland for Red Nose Day.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Northumberland Honey & Sovereign Nectar Meadery given “Highly Commended” by Countryside Alliance.

The Northumberland Honey and Sovereign Nectar Meadery in Haltwhistle has been given a “Highly Commended” as a new business by the Countryside Alliance.

Now, the Northumberland Honey Company has been deemed a HIGHLY COMMENDED business in the “Local Food” category. The Countryside Alliance received over 7,500 nominations in the five categories this year, so their success is testament to their tremendous contribution to our local community.

On hearing this news, I went, with local councillor Ian Hutchinson, to visit the Northumberland Honey Company (http://www.northumberlandhoney.co.uk/) and met with Luke and Suzie on Friday 24 February. They are an incredibly pleasant couple with a brilliant business. I hope that everyone will flock to Haltwhistle, experience something new and support one of the many fantastic local businesses in our constituency.
The Rural Oscars were devised by the Countryside Alliance as a way of celebrating our communities, skills, and produce through those who work so hard to keep rural life ticking. Regional winners have now been announced: https://countrysideallianceawards.org.uk/caa/article/2016-rural-oscars-regional-champions-for-the-north.

Please continue to support our local businesses and, in turn, our local rural community. 

Friday, 17 March 2017

Theresa May launches fight to save the United Kingdom in face of Scottish independence threat

Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to fight to keep the United Kingdom together as Brexit takes place, when she launched her “Plan for Britain” this week.

Mrs May said that “All of our efforts and energies as a country” must be focused on getting the right deal from the EU. We need to do so united, as one United Kingdom, all pulling together to get the best outcome.”

More here:

NCC approves Ponteland housing applications

The long campaign to preserve the green belt around Ponteland, Hexham and other parts of Northumberland has occupied a huge amount of my time as the MP this last 7 years.

Our struggle to prevent the Birney Hill green belt site, seperating Ponteland from Newcastle, is documented in repeated posts on this blog, culminating in the final decision in summer 2015 here:
and here: http://www.thejournal.co.uk/north-east-analysis/analysis-news/hexham-mp-guy-opperman-green-8455522

Since then there have been multiple applications locally in Ponteland, and a disastrous application to knock down the County Hall site in Morpeth and build houses on it, so the Council can build a new £80m HQ to Ashington. I have repeatedly met local campaigners, along with local councillors and have watched the Morpeth application any local support. The disastrous plan was probably best summed up by the decision to cut down prized local trees in Morpeth. The Daily Mail covered the story here:

This week the County Council approved further housing applications in Ponteland. I could not be present as I was in Westminster. However, local Ponteland town and County Councillors, along with many local campaigners, did attend and rightly made their feelings very clear. Given the impact on the Greenbelt, and the pressure on public services, I simply could not support these proposals. It is to be hoped that the Secretary of State calls in the many Ponteland applications. My views and the views of the local county and town councillors have not changed.


Thursday, 16 March 2017

Gilsland Station meeting with Trains Minister Paul Maynard - positive steps forward on a long journey to a rebuilt station

This week in Westminster I sat down with Paul Maynard the Trains Minister to discuss the Gilsland Station rebuild project. This follows on extensive discussions with Network Rail and Northern rail. As everyone at the Campaign to Reopen Gilsland Station [COGS] knows this is a long journey. The many steps along the way can be charted here:
But the overall objective is keenly supported by locals, by the train company who would like to see it happen, local MPs and more and more of the key stakeholders.
The problem as always has been the cost. If one approaches this from a requirement for a state of the art, brand new station with everything attached then the original Network Rail report of £28 million + is clearly a big ask in these straightened times. However, I have been impressed by the way in which Network Rail and Northern Rail are trying to come up with innovative, and potentially more cost effective, solutions to a tough problem.
I meet again with these two organisations shortly and there is a germ of a good plan that we are working on.

We need to bolster the business case and show that the usage is there to justify the taxpayers money - whatever that sum is going to be. Critical to this is the enhanced use of the area by 4 key things:
- increased service of Gilsland as a critical hub for the two walks that meet right next to it - namely Hadrian's Wall and the Pennine Way, + the greater cycling use of the area
- the impact of the tens of thousands of extra visitors who will arrive by reason of the Sill Project that opens in the summer. How do we add to their visitor experience and increase their time in Hadrian's Wall country, with particular reference to all the diverse Heritage assets that are close by the station site?
- and the potential to support business and regeneration of the area of West Northumberland and East Cumbria that has clearly struggled under successive governments for generations
- and numbers as to the fundamental greater usage of the Tyne Valley railway, and the new station itself, to justify Northern Rail and the other support agencies getting behind the project.
We have recently met Heritage Lottery and engaged with the Northumberland Tourism Team and the Borderlands project are also supportive so I am hopeful that we are building up steam - if you forgive the pun. The critical issue is this - can we build a station at a reasonable cost that does the job without breaking a limited bank account? That is what we are seeking to do. Paul can definitely help and, whilst the devil is in the detail, he is very supportive and is taking this to the highest levels of the train food chain. I will update more after I have met with Northern and Network Rail in a couple of weeks time.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Still not booked a Easter break? Come to Northumberland. England's most beautiful County has much to offer

The perfect Northumberland day would feature:
A good walk - you could go to Hadrian's Wall http://www.visithadrianswall.co.uk/
ending at a good pub like the Twice Brewed Inn, or do a stretch of the Pennine Way, or take in the gentle wildness of the St Oswalds Way.

Where to stay:
If you have to have the creature comforts then Matfen Hall is a top destination but
Hexham's Beaumont Hotel http://www.bw-beaumonthotel.co.uk/
is family run and was good enough for Pippa Middleton when she came to stay a year back!
We also have all manner of brilliant pubs and Bed and Breakfasts but if you want a good alternative then the Battlesteads Hotel in Wark http://www.battlesteads.com/ consistently wins prizes; the best Bed and Breakfast in the country was recently adjudged by Les Routiers guide to be The Black Cock Inn: http://www.blackcockinn.co.uk/
Where to eat:
If you want great pub food then I am a big fan of the Barrasford Arms,http://www.barrasfordarms.co.uk/
and the pub also has great beer and a bar where you will discuss everything from sheep prices to current affairs and who won the big race of the day. Great people and a top dining pub.
The Feathers in Hedley, and La Bouchon in Hexham are both prize winning and the destinations for fine dining along with the Rat which has won recent awards.
You will need a tea shop on your travels:
My friends say I am on a mission to try every tea shop in Tynedale but the county is justifiably famous: on your Pennine Way travels do not forget to stop at the Greenhead Tea Room: http://www.heartofhadrianswall.com/tea-rooms/60-greenhead-tea-rooms
Alison makes great cakes and scones.
Corbridge has more tea shops that any other but my favourite is Tea and Tipple, where you can while away an afternoon - they do great Northumberland Scones, including the normal cheese scone but also Blue Cheese and Caramelised Onion Scones: http://teaandtipple.blogspot.co.uk/
Their web site has a special "Sconage" section...
Beer: this is obviously essential. We have lots of brilliant brewers, but I have worked a lot with the Hadrian Border Brewery, who produce the deliciously summer ale which is Tyneside Blonde. But my favourite would be a pint of Golden Plover, made locally by the Allendale Brewery, and found in most of the pubs: http://www.allendaleale.com/index.htm

What to see; the wildlife the visit alone: http://www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk/understanding/wildlifehabitats/heathermoorland/curlews
But if you want 5 places to visit these would all make anyone's top spots:

- The Beach at Bamburgh - a great walk and a top castle
- Roman Vindolanda http://www.vindolanda.com/ = our best Roman and historical site
- Kielder Water and Forest Park: http://www.visitkielder.com/
They win awards all the time!!
- Alnwick Castle and its magnificent Gardens http://www.alnwickcastle.com/
But if you go to one for engineering / spring flowers then I would probably pick Cragside: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cragside/
-It is a stunning house with amazing engineering everywhere and beautiful gardens filled with 40 miles of walks, rare flowers and so much more. It is a special place.

What to Buy:
Whether you want to browse the independent shops of Hexham or Corbridge or purchase pottery in Bardon Mill or visit some of the amazing markets there is so much to do.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Good news as People's Health Trust gives to two great local causes

The People's Health Trust has awarded sizeable grants to Northumberland Community Development Company and Hexham Youth Initiative to help them continue and drive forward the great work they do.
People's Health Trust is an independent charity which invests in local communities to help specifically target the issue of health equality.

£44,200 has been allocated to Northumberland Community Development Company for their "Let's Get Together" project. This new two-year project aims to build on existing activities taking place in a cluster of five villages in South Tynedale and create new opportunities for inter-village projects. Community volunteers will be trained in each location to help local people develop and deliver a programme of inter-generational activities.

£18,732 has been allocated to Hexham Youth Initiative for their "Hexham East - Fit for the Future" project. This new two-year project aims to deliver seasonal activities during term-time and school holidays for children and young people aged 8-16 years living in Hexham East, Northumberland, in order to build self-esteem and improve wellbeing. A Youth Leaders Group will design and organise the programme based on the requests of the young people. Day trips will also be organised in the school holidays for the young people and their families to socialise together and with others in the community. There will be steering groups which will include at least six young people to oversee and further shape the project as it is being delivered.

It is great that these two excellent initiatives have been recognised by PHT, and that with these grants the project can continue to go from strength to strength.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Northern Rail strike on Monday unjustifiable on a multitude of grounds, but all locals should be aware

It is a depressing reality that we are in another era of rail strikes. There are many reasons for this and now is not the time and place to get into a detailed analysis of why the RMT union have chosen to strike, although I will comment briefly below.
The important issue is the nature of the strike, the impact it has on customers both local nad visiting and the extent of the strike.
The best source of information is here: https://www.northernrailway.co.uk/industrial-action
It is important to note that some services are running still.
Of course this could change so keep checking the Northern web site.

The issue: this is one that is being faced all over the world = automation and modernisation:
The consequence of both is whether, in the future, a modern train can be operated by a driver as they are designed to; or whether modern trains have to have the doors opened by a guard, not the driver. I oppose the strike for a number of reasons but .....
To try and give a balanced view of the strike and the background have a read of the Guardian (not exactly a friend of the govt or railway companies) here:

Politics: that this is a politically motivated strike is without a doubt. This relates to specific union politics, namely who is top dog in the union movement, and a bit against the government. The rail companies are caught in the middle.
Do driver operated trains work?
In urban areas the answer is clearly yes. See the Metro in Tyne and Wear and the London Undergound. And large parts of Scotland, mainland Europe etc etc .
This does require the right technology / trains. Clearly there are not happening in our area of the North East or the Tyne valley line either right now or in the near future. So again the strike is premature. But what is more galling is that Northern - since they acquired the franchise - have accepted that on the Tyne valley line we should have more security and protection for passengers, notably on Friday's and Saturday nights, and have acted. I would urge union members to think long and hard about Mondays strike and the way forward.
This is what the RMT union rep says:
“The union’s position on driver-only operation [DOO] is perfectly clear,” he said. “We will not agree to any introduction of DOO and will fight to retain the safety-critical role of the guard and to keep a guard on the train.”
He said the action would have been preventable if the companies had “listened to the union’s deep-seated safety concerns, had taken them seriously and had put passenger safety before profit”.

The right to strike: I do not disagree with this but already certain mission critical jobs and services are not allowed to strike by law. For example the army, security services, police, etc.
Other countries have rules preventing strikes by key providers of commuter services. Many of the upset southern rail suffererers want this law introduced allowing a judge to balance the right to strike as against the right of ordinary commuters to get to work: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/22/rail-workers-could-banned-striking-protect-peoples-right-get/
This proposal did not pass the House of Commons, and is not I stress proposed as law by government. But the RMT is playing a dangerous game.
Ultimately, this issue comes down to one key thing: can unions hold back the march of machines?

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

At the budget the new Chancellor increases support for skills, social care, NHS, education

Nearly seven years ago, we took over an economy on the brink of collapse, with the highest budget deficit in our peacetime history. We took the tough decisions to tackle that deficit, rebuilt Britain’s shattered fiscal credibility and created more than 2.7 million new jobs. 
The Budget announced today helps us make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead – keeping our economy strong as we leave the European Union. It builds the foundations of a Britain that is stronger, fairer and more global – a country that works for everyone
It supports ordinary working families in their aspirations for a better life for themselves and their children.Last year we delivered a pay rise to a million of the lowest paid with the National Living Wage, which will rise again to £7.50 in April – an income boost of over £500 for a full-time worker this year. The personal allowance will rise for the seventh year in a row, benefitting 29 million people and meaning a typical basic rate taxpayer will pay a full £1,000 less income tax than in 2010. But more needs to be done to make ends meet. That’s why, we are rolling out our Tax-Free Childcare policy worth £2,000 per child up to the age of 12 and doubling the free childcare amount for working parents with three or four year olds. Together, these are worth up to £5,000 a year.

It ensures that people have the skills that they need to succeed in a global Britain. We have ensured that young people have the skills that they need to get on in life, with 2.4 million apprenticeship starts in the last parliament and 3 million more by 2020. Today, we have announced the most ambitious post-16 education reforms since A-levels were introduced 70 years ago. We will provide funding to increase the training for 16-19-year-old further education students by over 50%, with 15 new technical routes and a work placement for every student. Once this programme is rolled out, we will be investing an additional £500 million a year in our 16-19 year olds, giving them the technical skills they need to succeed in the world of work, and giving businesses the edge they need to compete in a new, global Britain. 

It provides help and support to our NHS and social care system. The NHS is an important national institution that helps to bind us together as a country. This budget continues to support our NHS by providing new funding to support our social care system – worth £2 billion to social care in England over the next three years – reducing the pressure on our hospitals. 

And it keeps our economy strong – preparing for our future outside the European Union. When we came in to government, we were borrowing £1 in every £5 we spent. This year it is set to be £1 in every £15. We remain committed to returning the country to living within its means, and this Budget makes progress on this by reducing borrowing as set out at the Autumn Statement.

This is a Budget that will build an economy that offers better jobs, with better pay.
The economy that Labour left us was on the brink of collapse. Labour are out of step with the concerns of ordinary working people. Labour would not control public finances and would crash the economy like they did last time. Labour are too divided and divisive to build a country that works for everyone.

Today as we prepare to begin our negotiation with the European Union, this Budget prepares Britain for a stronger, fairer future.

Busy day in the commons with the Budget - the Chancellor will be on his feet at 12:30

Budget day is a key landmark for any government. I shall be in the commons to listen to the chancellor. He has a tough job, given the state of the country's finances and the difficulties reducing debt and dealing with the issues we face as a country. I shall blog more post statement which is from 12:30-1:30.

International women's day - a day to celebrate - but also take action and #BeBoldForChange

For International Women's Day 2017, we're asking you to #BeBoldForChange
Call on the masses or call on yourself to help forge a better working world
- a more inclusive, gender equal world

I know that the biggest difference I am making is with women2win, which helps to mentor, coach and assist women into politics. Delighted to play a small part
More details about how to be a candidate and get involved in public life here: https://www.women2win.com/about-us

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Setting out the uk government approach to Syrian and other refugees, and why it is right to take these refugees from the camps direct

wanted to set out the work of the Government in this area as I know it is important to many constituents. This Government is committed to supporting, protecting and caring for the most vulnerable asylum-seeking and refugee children. We are doing more than ever before to support those affected by this crisis. Our resettlement programme – which will bring 23,000 vulnerable people to the UK to start new lives by the end of this Parliament - is one of the biggest in Europe.

The Government wants to resettle the most vulnerable refugees directly from the camps in and around Syria; this is how we stop traffickers and smugglers from exploiting vulnerable people and children affected by conflict and prevent them from embarking on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean.  By the end of this Parliament, we will have resettled 20,000 vulnerable Syrian nationals and a further 3,000 of the most vulnerable children and their families from the Middle East and North Africa.

I have been to the Syrian refugee camp in Turkey and witnessed the fantastic work to identify those children and families most in need of resettlement to the UK and I am in no doubt that our approach is the right one. See more detail here: http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/hexham-mp-guy-opperman-calls-6521153
These are the most vulnerable children, not those who have made the crossing to Europe. Our work in Calais showed this; fewer than 10 of the 750 children we brought to the UK were Syrian. Crucially, our resettlement schemes help ensure that children do not become unaccompanied.  They allow children to be resettled with their family members – without ever needing to make those dangerous journeys seeking to get to Europe’s shores.

These safe and legal routes help combat trafficking; as does the aid that we provide in the region; we have pledged over £2.3 billion in aid in response to the events in Syria and the region - our largest ever humanitarian response to a single crisis, and we are one of the few EU countries to meet our commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on overseas aid.  We have also committed over £100m of humanitarian support to help alleviate the Mediterranean migration crisis in Europe and North Africa.

We should be proud of the very real difference that our aid spending is making to the lives of children in the conflict zone and the surrounding countries – including Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.  By prioritising our resources there we are able to reach more children; to provide them with education, with healthcare, with support. Last year we were able to provide this help to over 800,000 children in Syria and the surrounding countries for the same investment that it would take to support 3,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children under 16 in the UK for one year.
In 2016 we relocated almost as many children from within Europe to the UK as the entire of the EU’s relocation scheme. This was because of our efforts to support the camp clearance in Calais where we took over 750 unaccompanied children.  200 of those children from Calais were brought to the UK under the Dubs amendment and we have committed to take a further 150 ‘Dubs’ children from France, Italy and Greece.

The Dubs amendment required us to consult Local Authorities on how many additional children they can manage.  Each year 3,000 children arrive in the UK and claim asylum and we are taking approximately 2,000 – 3,000 each year through resettlements schemes. All of these children need support and protection – as do the British children in our care system. It is right that the Dubs amendment requires us to ask Local authorities how many more children they could safely accept - and that is exactly what we did.

If Local Authorities do come forward with any further spare capacity then we welcome those places to support the unaccompanied children already being cared for in the UK and those who continue to arrive and claim asylum.  Some Local authorities are currently taking a disproportionate share of this burden; they are struggling to place the children in their care and have to pay for children to be supported in other Local Authority areas. We cannot allow a situation where councils choose to prioritise certain children over others and our National Transfer Scheme is intended to support a fairer distribution of vulnerable refugee and asylum seeking children across the UK.

The Dubs amendment was never intended to be an open ended scheme. If we were to continue the scheme indefinitely then that would create an additional pull factor – children sent alone, from danger into danger, because of their belief that if they make it to Europe, then they just might get to come to the UK. It is right that we acted in this way but it is also right that we now prioritise our efforts on those children caught up in the conflict in Syria and the surrounding area - so that they can come to the UK safely and directly and with their families. 

Rest assured that this Government takes its responsibilities seriously and will continue to work to protect those children most at risk.

Monday, 6 March 2017

The Northumberland County Council refusal to publicise planning / statutory notices in the Hexham Courant is illegal, morally wrong and a "punishment beating" as it does not like the coverage

The law is clear that Local Authorities must publicise statutory and planning notices in a local paper so as to ensure that the local community are properly put on notice of what is happening or what could happen locally. The NCC have stopped this.
Because they don't like the coverage the Courant are giving them. Sadly there is no other explanation. To be fair to the NCC they accept the statutory obligation as they are spending money - by putting the notices in the Northumberland Gazette. The problem is that only someone who has ever left Morpeth or Ashington would know that no one buys the Northumberland Gazette in Tynedale or Ponteland. Why? Because it is an Alnwick and North Northumberland paper that sells barely 1-2 copies a week in Hexham, and not at all in Haltwhistle or Allendale. The argument that has to follow is that this is a decision taken to punish the Courant - who clearly lose revenue - for daring to challenge the NCC in their paper. Sadly this is the sort of madness that we see every night on the TV with Donald Trump banning everyone from the BBC to CNN from his press conferences.
If you do not want to face public scrutiny don't do public service is the answer. It is only the totalitarian regimes or the very ill advised that think they can control a free press.
And we have not even started to assess the potential cost of overturned planning applications not properly notified, decisions not properly communicated and the wider impacts on the local community. It also ties in with the apparent disinterest of the NCC in the west of the County. Lord knows we are trying to deal with the proposed move from Morpeth to the new build at Ashington, but this approach really does not help. I question why the 2 Labour Councillors in Prudhoe or the 2 "independent" councillors in Bywell and Riding Mill have not stopped this action which amounts to a deliberate blocking of the Hexham Courant, or at the very least pointed out the illegality and consequences of this action
The Story is reported in more detail here, but the NCC should reflect and change their mind. They are shooting themselves in the foot in so many ways at the moment. But this approach really does reflect badly on them.

The key message from the PM to the Scottish people, and the SNP

I am a strong unionist, and support all efforts to keep our country united as the United Kingdom. I applaud the PMs efforts to make this case in Scotland this week. The bbc sets out the details here:
One has to ask why the SNP in government don't concentrate on running their public services better? Analyse the education, health, police and other public services and they have got considerably worse under the SNP control. A point my friend and colleague Ruth Davidson, MSP, has been making to great effect.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Westminster this week - dominated by the Budget in the Commons and the Brexit Bill in the lords

A very busy week in the houses of parliament. The Budget will be delivered by Philip Hammond, MP, on Wednesday at 12:30. At about the same time the lords will give their final determination on the article 50 bill that has previously passed the commons, and send it back for further consideration in the commons sometime in the ensuing next week.
I have a packed week this week in the commons, which includes debates on Monday until 10pm on the vehicle technology and aviation bill, which will set out new laws on everything from drones to driverless cars.  Tuesday sees further consideration of the Children and social work bill. After the delivery of the budget on Wednesday there is a 4 day debate on the budget until next Tuesday week.
In other news, this week is the national apprenticeship week and I will be writing about and meeting with many on the subject. I have a number of constituents down in the commons this week, and will be in Westminster until late Thursday night.