Friday, 17 June 2016

I have a feeling about the EU...

I am neither a Eurosceptic, nor a committed Europhile. There are things about the EU that I don't like such as the unelected nature of EU commissioners, and it’s pretty unheard of for me to be on the same side as Cameron and Osborne, but I will be voting to remain part of the EU. There are 5 reasons for my decision.

1.       Rights at work

While it is true that voting to leave the EU won’t change the terms and conditions of people’s employment overnight voting to leave could have very serious long term consequences for rights at work.

EU laws set a bottom line, they are the minimum we should expect from an employer on issues such as maximum working time, paid annual holidays, rights to parental leave, rights to time off work for urgent family reasons, equal treatment of part-time, fixed-term and agency workers.

Workers and their unions have fought hard for policies that go beyond these minimum requirements but all too often, National governments push back workers’ rights, as we have seen recently with the introduction of charges for employment tribunals and the reduction of redundancy consultation from 90 to 45 days. The Conservative governments of the 1980s went even further. Remaining part of the EU offers some long term protection of basic rights at work.

2.       The Economy

Growth in business depends on many things, a skilled workforce, investment in infrastructure and access to both UK and export markets. One thing that is sure to stifle growth and investment is uncertainty; a vote to leave would fire the staring pistol on at least two decades of uncertainty. While the benefits of economic growth are not shared equally the problems associated with an economic downturn fall disproportionately on ordinary people in the form of fewer services, lower wages and job insecurity.

We can learn from the past; the impact of the banking crisis was felt by millions of people who did nothing to cause the economic crash, the economic impact of leaving the EU would fall squarely on the shoulders of those least well placed to deal with the effects.

      3.       Investment in our Region

The North East of England is a net beneficiary of EU funding. We get out more than we put in. Two local examples of large scale projects are Consett Business park and Northumberland’s Rural Growth Network, there are many smaller projects that receive EU funding.

The best thing about the EU funding mechanism is that it effectively redistributes funds from the rich to the poor; a greater proportion of funding is spent in less well-off areas. We have heard a lot about the Northern powerhouse but National governments have consistently underinvested in our region and our EU membership goes some way to redressing the balance.

4.       Security

The EU referendum debate has been dominated by the issue of immigration, I can understand why. There are genuine concerns that immigration drives down wages and puts pressure on public services. It is true that migrant workers from both inside and outside of the EU are employed illegally and paid far less than the minimum wage, it is the job of the nation government to stamp out this practice.

Migration does put pressure on public services but the biggest current threat NHS and local services is not immigration, it’s political views of people like Gove, Boris and Farage who don’t think the rich should have to pay the taxes that fund our public services.

A lot has been said about illegal immigration and foreign criminals entering our country, this is matter of huge public concern which cannot be dismissed. Leaving the EU could make reduce our security in the long term as we could risk the loss of UK border controls on the EU mainland and the first UK border control could end up in Dover rather than Calais.

The UK police force should be proud of their record in enacting European arrest warrants. The UK  should lead the Europe wide fight against terrorism and human trafficking. We are best placed to take a lead role in tackling these problems from inside the EU rather than trying to hide from the world by leaving.

5.       The main reason
All of these are massively important issues but this vote is about more than workers’ rights or economic benefits, it's about more than security and it's about more the European investment in our region.

For me it comes down to this:

I'm voting to remain part of something bigger than the UK. It's not an argument based on the facts and logic outlined above, it's just a feeling that we are better off in than out. I feel that what unites people across European countries is greater than that which divides us, that's why I'm voting in.

  
Note: I must mention the tragic killing of Jo Cox MP. She is such a great loss. My thoughts are with her young family and those who knew her best.

Friday, 1 January 2016

2015

For me, It's been a year of two halves. Before May 5th and after May 5th.

Before the election was the busiest year ever, balancing the work as Labours parliamentary candidate in the Hexham constituency with full time work and family life. We fought a good but tough campaign; knocking on doors, listening to concerns of voters fighting a very difficult election in what has been Tory seat for a very long time. I worked with some of the most committed activists in the country, we heard from voters who were worried about rising prices, static wages, job security and a lack of transport and infrastructure investment in our local area.

These concerns are real and they remain, but ultimately most voters decided that we needed continuity in government. Candidates and Labour supporters woke up on May 6th to learn that despite times being very tough especially for those on low incomes, the majority of people who voted did not think that a Labour government was the answer to the difficulties facing the country.

The issues on which the general election was fought have not gone away. I am ashamed to live in a country where foodbanks are not an emergency measure. People, often those in work, have to rely on the charity of others in order to eat. Benefit delays are an accepted part of the system, leaving people unable to afford to feed themselves and their families.

Charities are providing services that were once provided by local councils, while the conservative government, now with a mandate to cut restrict funding to local councils to a point where it is difficult to provide even statutory services. The ideological position of cutting local government combined with low levels of investment is set to continue will mean the UK economy will continue in the same way for the next few years with low wages, and falling living standards.

The lack of infrastructure investment has come into sharp focus. Floods have ruined Christmas and New Year for too many families. The coalition government appointed a climate change sceptic as environment secretary, while he was in office the budget for climate change adaptations such as flood defences were cut by 40%. Land use regulations which include planting to prevent run off, were also scrapped. The government should apologise for these these two decisions and reverse them both this year.

Labour has a new leader and he needs time to settle into the role. Large sections of media and conservative head office are trying to do hatchet job at such an early stage in the electoral cycle. Jeremy has a pretty hard job, leading the Party in opposing the worst excesses of the conservative only government in the next few years and convincing voters that there is an alternative to more years of Tory rule.

I said, after the hectic pace of the general election campaign I would take a break from politics. In the second half 2015 I have done exactly that. I didn't take too much of an active role in the leadership election but I was pleased that Jeremy won and he has my full support. I haven't even been staying up to watch Question Time on a Thursday night and my twitter feed and blog has been a bit neglected. Instead in my spare time I have been cycling, playing guitar, doing voluntary work and spending time with my family.

There is now four and a half years to the next general election. There are local elections which are increasingly important because despite councils' having far less funds to provide services than ever, power is being devolved to local regions.

The fight for a fairer society continues and that fight has to become a local one; in our workplaces, for fair wages and in our communities, to try and safeguard relied on services. In 2016 I remain optimistic about politics. The Labour Party and the Trade Union movement are still a drivers for positive change in society.

All the best for the coming year.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Taxes, Tampons and Trainee Nurses.

Looking at the Autumn statement it's typical Osborne, highly political and hoping for positive headlines.

The fact that Working Families Tax Credits will remain is some help to working families. Credit goes to MPs and Peers who opposed this measure.

The changes in adult education stood out for me. The plan is to introduce adult learner loans for 19 year olds who want to return to education but need to study access qualifications before University. This may be a barrier to some before they take the first step towards a new career.

The other big change in education funding was the end to government funding of Nursing degrees. Trainee nurses, serving our NHS will now have to pay for the privilege and start their career in debt. At a time when we face a shortage of Nurses these two changes will do nothing to help.

The final change borders on victim blaming: Campaigners have been calling for an end to the 'tampon tax' - VAT levied on these products. This taxation will be to offset cuts to services to rape crisis and domestic abuse centres. I'm pretty sure this plan was dreamed up by a man and discussed in a room full of men. The thought processes that led to this are disgraceful "Women use tampons... Women use women's charities..." This sort of thinking makes me ashamed to be a man.

The briefings to the press before the Autumn Statement were designed to convince us that things could be really, really awful. Then when the statement itself is slightly less bad the public supposed to be relieved.

I'm not relieved, more concerned that we have got more budgets and more statements to come before we get another chance to vote the Conservatives out of office.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Solidarité avec Parisisians

The world was rocked by the recent attacks in Paris. Killers who belonged to the organisation which calls itself 'Islamic State' murdered 129 people as they on what was until then a normal Friday night in a busy multicultural area of the city.

One response to the atrocity was an outpouring of sympathy and support. Messages of solidarity have come in from around the world including from the Lumierie festival in Durham City, locally the tricolour flag has been prominently displayed by local councils and individuals.

Durham Cathedral Sunday 15th November


Another response has also been evident. An online petition emerged calling for UK borders to be closed until ISIL has been defeated. The majority of the signatories may think that borders need to be closed regardless of the perceived threat. Marine le Pen, leader of the far right French National Front party has always wanted to withdraw from the Shengen agreement and end immigration, that position remains the same after these attacks.

The mode of operation of the I.S. organisation is to promote division, and launch attacks where they see harmony. They see Sunni and Shia Muslims living together in Syria and the response is to divide, they see Iraqi Christians co-existing with Muslims and the response is brutality, torture and murder.

It is exactly this brutality that refugees fleeing into Turkey, Jordan and Greece are trying to escape. Terrorists would hope that the refugee crisis would cause division, and unrest. Increasing tension in Europe. This increasing tension brings the aim of a divided, separated world closer. The 'Refugees Welcome' demonstrations in Germany, Holland, France and across Europe are demonstrations of values that are in exact opposition to those of I.S.

The international response to this attack will almost certainly be to increase air strikes in both Iraq and Syria, whether or not British planes should be operational in Syria as well as Iraq will depend on parliamentary approval and public opinion both of which are subject to change.

Where terrorist organisations try to create a climate of fear we have to try, as Parisians have done, to stand firm and get on with our daily lives.

Where they try to end unity we must build resilient, multicultural communities.

Where they try to radicalise the young, we have to educate and promote a sense of belonging.

My thoughts and prayers remain with the families of those killed.

Monday, 9 November 2015

November Podcast

New podcast discussing Tax Credits, the Trade Union Bill and Jeremy Corbyn's approach to PMQs

If Malcolm Clarke is any good at writing HTML code you should be able to listen to it by clicking on the play button below...


Saturday, 25 July 2015

Welfare of the Party

I am becoming concerned about the nature of the debate around the Labour leadership. The Tory press are attacking all the candidates and we have to accept that they will relentlessly attack whoever is selected right up until Thursday 7th May 2020. Naturally, the right wing press have focused their vitriol on the most left wing candidate, Jeremy Corbyn, it is becoming particularly bad now that Jeremy has closed the gap in the polls and the result looks like it could be close.

I rejoined the Party in 2010 after Iraq and was selected to stand for parliament in 2015, I'm an active trade unionist and would be considered by many to be on the Left of our Party. I will most likely be supporting Andy Burnham in the election, I have met him, most recently at the Miners Gala and he has broad appeal. My second preference will go to either Jeremy or Yvette Cooper. I will continue to work tirelessly for the Party and give my full support to whoever is elected. I have a lot of respect for Liz Kendall but her politics are probably furthest from mine. I agree with what Tony Blair said last week; 'Labour should modernise, look to the future and move on' He should acknowledge that 1997 is also in the past, we have to move on from then too.

Tony also said that when a traditional left wing party contests and election against a traditional right wing party we get a traditional result (Tory win). This may be true but what is also true is that divided parties aren't much good at winning elections either, that '97 win was historic but helped in part by John Major being unable to unite his Party which were split over the EU.

Last week I was disappointed to see the Labour MPs split over their opposition to the welfare bill in which George Osborne had to outline how he will cut £12Bn from an already squeezed social security budget. Our tactic of seeking amendments to curb the worst excesses in the bill was a sound one but the amendments were voted down and what followed was a mess, with some Labour MPs abstaining, as the temporary leadership had suggested, and others voting against the bill. The only people what benefit from division in the Parliamentary Labour Party are those in the Conservative Government.

Corbyn was one of the MPs who rebelled and while I both respect his decision and understand the reasons behind it, his persistent rebellion is about the only reason why I'm undecided about supporting him. To vote against your party once over something like Iraq shows character, to do it twice could be described as carelessness but to rebel on over 500 different occasions shows a disregard for the principle of collective action.

We must not forget what is painted on our Union banners and printed on old posters. 'Unity is Strength'. The opposite is also true, 'division is weakness', a fact not lost on the Tories.

The Tories are the real enemy, they wrote the welfare bill and voted it though. The electorate have given them enough MPs so it would have gone though even if had there been a three line whip to vote against. Maybe Harriet's call to abstain was a misjudgement but Labour MPs didn't draft this bill, they didn't vote for this bill and if the campaigned anything like I did, they would have spent 18 months before the election putting family, work and social life to one side, listened to countless voters on the doorstep and tried to make sure the Tories were out of government and not in a position to inflict such cuts.

The election result was difficult. This selfish, out of touch, ideological Tory government now have a mandate to cut. I hope that at the end of our selection process, everyone who opposes them can unite behind the new leader and join the fight to end 10 years of Tory rule.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Developers Win Coal

After years of campaigning I have today learned that the UK Coal appeal to opencast the Bradley site on the County Durham side of the river Derwent has been successful and that they have been granted permission to start work.

There has been a long protracted legal battle which follows the High Courts decision to quash the original decision by both the county council and the previous planning inspector to refuse permission to opencast. The local activists who want the rural landscape conserved including the campaign group the Pont Valley Network, will consider all options. The last practical step that local people can take is to at least ensure planning conditions are met; such as leaving agreed areas undisturbed and movement of coal at agreed operating times.

The decision highlights the unfairness in the planning system whereby developers can be refused permission on numerous occasions, re-appeal and re-apply over a period of several years (or in this case decades) until an they come across inspector or a planning committee who will capitulate to their wishes. I feel that a change in planning law is desperately needed. Local people have no other option other than to lobby parliament in order to effect change in legislation which address this inherent bias towards developers.

The inspectors assertion that biodiversity will be increased as a result of the opencast is incorrect and makes for particularly painful reading for me as I spoke on that subject at the enquiry. (Details here http://liamrcarr.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/succession-genetic-diversity-and-coal.html) It is disappointing that the inspectors report agrees with every assertion UK Coals highly paid lawyers and 'experts' put forward. Local feeling and local expertise has been ignored.

I hope that this decision does not have any implications for the rest of our rural outlook and that the rural area of the Northumberland-Durham border remains unspoilt. UK coal may have got their way this time, but I still believe that as a country we should look forward to renewables rather than to the fuels of the past. Coal is our heritage, not our future.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

On The Buses (and trains)

Those of us who live living in rural communities often feel that they have little influence over the local transport we depend on. It can prove impossible to prevent the loss of a much valued bus service or improve the condition of a local train station. Services often do not join up I have seen the ridiculous situation in Prudhoe where buses often leave the train station bus stop just a few minutes before a train full of passengers pulls in. It is the absence of integrated ticketing and co-ordinated timetables put barriers in the way of people choosing public transport.
 
We have to acknowledge that a privatised train industry and a deregulated bus market has failed passengers. It impossible for communities to influence decision-making, when profit is put before passengers and we are never consulted over the loss of services or increases in fares.
 
The next Labour Government will give county regions greater ‘London style’ powers over bus and rail services. A regulated bus system, with fares and routes set by an accountable transport authority and not by private operators. We will enable better integration between bus and rail services, helped by smart integrated ticketing.
 
Transport investment in our region is tiny compared to the capital. Crossrail and tube improvements may be needed but if you do add everything up it means that £2,700 will have been spent on each resident of London compared to just £5 on those in the north-east1. That’s over 500 times as much and is simply not fair.
 
The Tory-led Government have failed to support transport authorities who want to use the legislation passed under Labour to improve bus services, the only reforms we have seen help the operating companies increase profits while we have to make do with a worse service. The biggest example of this is the continued use Pacer trains on the Tyne Valley line. The Tories have changed the law to allow the Train operators to impose above inflation rises but not imposed the condition which should include replacement of out-dated rolling stock.
 
Labour will devolve £30 billion of funding over five years which including funding for housing, transport, business support. That’s £30 billion that will come out of Whitehall and into our regions. If elected, I will work with residents and the local authority to ensure that a fair proportion of that, is used to address transport issues in our rural communities.
 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Grand Great Parents

When I have time to pick up my daughters from school I am struck by the number of grandparents at the school gate waiting for their grandchildren to emerge form school. The financial contribution that UK grandparents make has been estimated in 2010 to be £12.5Bn1 in childcare savings, but their contribution to child development is underestimated.

When a grandparent picks up a child form school the child is met by a loving, familiar face and a person they know will always have time for them. They spend time reading stories, encourage kids to count everthing in sight and impart not just knowledge but wisdom, as only people who have been there, seen it and done it can.

It is difficult to quantify how much we gain from the input of our grandparents but I will try to briefly summarise the qualities for which I should thank each one of my four grandparents: An acute awareness of the local environment. A work ethic. How to care without mollycoddling. Generousity of time, money and spirit. Without them I would not be the person I am today and I am greatful that my Grandfathers lived long enough to influence my life in this way, my Grandmothers are still an inspiration today.

The Grandparents at the school gate are doing a service not only to thier children and their children's children but to society as a whole, this vital work has been ignored by the Conservatives for too long. The next Labour government will allow Grandparents in work to take time off to look after their grandchildren.

Grandparents could share the 18 weeks leave, or four weeks in any year, that parents can already take for each child and adopted child up to their 18th birthday without losing their job. At present, only a parent or someone with legal parental responsibility qualifies.

Harriet Harman said “Public policy has not caught up with the reality of families’ lives. It is rooted in the past and has to change. It is not for us to dictate what families do but to back them up.

"Allowing grandparents to share parental leave would help working parents cope during the 'annual nightmare' of the school summer holidays."

I don't really think about my own retirement but questions must be asked: ...Are the government just going to keep upping the retirement age for those who cant afford early retirement..? Will we just all work until we die..?

Every generation should do better than the last. When I became a Dad I made an unwritten promise to  my children to work and make sure that they have a better life than I did. The present government policy on exams, tuition fees and lack of policy addressing rising youth unemployment are making this a difficult promise to keep.

Labour will back the next generation with careers education that looks to the future, a youth jobs guarantee, an end to exploitative zero hours contracts and a reduction in tuition fees. Older people I meet are concerned about pensions, fuel bills and the getting good care in old age but they are also concerned about the next generation.

I would urge all parents, grandparents to vote for hope rather than fear, at this election.
I would ask any younger people reading this to make sure your registered to vote using the link below. Some of our great grandparents fought for the right to vote, now all we have to do us click on a link.

https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

1. http://www.livehappier.com/grandparents-continue-making-major-contributions-to-their-families-and-the-economy
2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Zl4Mmgrph8

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Tony Blair back in Sedgefield

I went down to Sedgefield to hear Tony Blair speak today. I went with an open mind but I did worry about the intervention of someone who divides opinion among Labour Party members. Before this speech, I could say with confidence on the doorstep, that the next Labour Government will be very different than the one elected in 1997. I can still make that pledge, this was a speech by a former Prime Minister on a very specific subject which did not blur any lines. I'm glad that I can also still say that Labour is more united now than it was during Tony's time as leader.

The journalists had all made the trip up from London to try and get the story they wanted, and maybe longing for the days when they could have filled bulletins and column inches with talk of splits. They asked Tony about Ed taking on businesses: Tony said that he fully agreed with Ed that it was right to challenge inequality. They asked why he wasn't on the platform with Ed: Tony quipped that we are a Party that can do more than one thing at the same time.

The speech itself was well received in the room and was very positive throughout. Tony turned the Tory mantra of competence vs chaos on its head, and making the case for a confident, outward looking Britain and describing the UKIP and the Tory Right as mean spirited. He asked if we would rather be seen as adventurous or timid. If we should have global ambitions or be a parochial bystander and if our nation which has built its history on confidence towards others should choose to define itself by resentment to others.

My own position on an EU referendum is very straightforward. We don't live in a country that holds referendum after referendum. Instead we elect a government which we hope share our values and then we let them get on with the job. We know where the parties stand on the EU and other issues, we make our choice at the ballot box.

 I know we didn't get everything right in government and I know that the former Prime Minister will be (quite rightly) followed around for the rest of his life by the shadow of the Iraq war. But during the speech I wasn't thinking about the mistakes we made in the past. What I was reminded of, was that for a large part of our time in office he wasn't such divisive figure and that he led a competent and capable Labour government.

Tony acknowledged that there are disagreements in our Party but firmly stated that what unites us is greater than that which divides us. He said;

"What we share in common is a deep and profound belief in social justice, in the belief that it is the purpose of a Labour government to bring opportunity to those people that don’t have it, and a belief also that it is right that our society, our country and its economy, are run in the interests of the many and not the few. And those are values that unite the Labour party, they are what keep us strong and what should see us on course for a general election victory on May 7."

I'm backing Ed Miliband, and so is Tony Blair.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

#AskCameron

The Conservatives have tabled a motion to get rid of Conservative MP John Bercow as speaker. David Cameron is arrogant enough to start the contest for the Tory leadership 6 weeks out from the General election. People have come expect infighting rather than any meaningful governance from the Conservatives.

David Cameron is too scared debate with Ed on TV so it's now up to the presenters to ask the questions. I have got a few I would like to ask.

1. The Conservatives have tabled a motion to get rid of. Conservative MP John Bercow as speaker, if you show such a flagrant disregard for the job security of one of your own MPs what chance have the rest of us got?

2. You didn't really win a first term in office, voters have not yet decided if they will give you a second term yet you are arrogant enough to take a third term for granted. You have, in effect started the contest for the Tory leadership. Are people right to expect infighting rather than any meaningful governance from the Conservatives?

3. Why do you insist on standing up for the wrong people, such as private healthcare providers and tax avoiders with offshore accounts? Tax is not a choice for the majority of society why should it be a choice for large corporations and very rich individuals?

We will see if anything like this asked in the forthcoming election interviews. It would have been good to see a proper head to head debate. The next Labour government will make both the debates and the format non-negotiable. Voters deserve nothing less.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

The Tory and the EDL

Reports indicate that a Conservative parliamentary candidate has promised to be an "unshakeable ally" for the EDL in parliament and to help bring their views to the mainstream.

The allegations are that he made this plegde in return for EDL cooperation on a publicity stunt which would have allowed the candidate to play the hero, by stopping a fake EDL demonstration.

This is a desperate move from a desperate candidate, it's worrying, the depths this Tory hopeful may have gone to. It is a stain on the whole of politics when the majority of candidates, on all sides will be working hard in their communities up until May 7.

Stories like this fuel voter apathy, people are understandably put off politics by scandal after scandal but, this election is going to be very close and it's incredibly important to use your vote, as candidates are not the same.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-32005848

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Budget 2015: 5 Key Points

Key points from the budget:

1. The NHS was omitted completely from Osborne's speech, the Tories are hiding from their record on Health and Social care. All of the 'easy' efficiency savings have already been made, the Conservative plan represents a real threat to relied on services.

2. Osborne was bullish about his 'recovery' the average weekly wage in our region dropped from £485 to £479 last quarter he did keep repeating the words "long term economic plan" hoping that voters will believe the Tories actually have one.

3. Despite the talk about 'The North' there remains 75% bigger cuts in the North than the South and for every £25 spent on transport in the capital just £1 is spent in our region. I'm not convinced Osbourne could point to Northumberland on a map, it was a London-centric budget with transport infrastructure announcements for the South, this really was a desperate chancellor trying to shore up core support.

4. The measures announced on tax avoidance are blatant electioneering. We know who is paying for the Conservative election effort, they remain the party of tax avoiders. I don't trust what Cameron and Osborne say on tax avoidance if they did tackle it, too many of their friends would get caught out.

5. By all measures the austerity-only approach has failed. But Osborne continues to cut services not because it's right for the country but because that's the reason he came into politics.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Out Foxed

I was lucky to be brought up in a rural area, spending most of my time outdoors my grandfather and uncle worked as gamekeepers in County Durham. I have eaten my fair share of game and still enjoy the odd pheasant when visiting my mam for Sunday dinner.

I accept that where game is kept for shooting, there is a real need to control fox numbers, but there is no need to resort back to hunting with dogs to achieve this. While I recognise the value of shooting sports and other forms of hunting to the rural economy I see no reason to change the law on hunting with dogs.

It's ten years since Parliament voted to end hunting with dogs. Legislation put forward by the Labour Government at the time was controversial, Peter Atkinson, Hexham's Tory MP at the time voted against the ban.

Supporters of the Hunting act believed that the unnecessary and prolonged suffering of defenceless animals has no place in civilised society and the legislation was passed with the majority of MPs voting in favour of a ban on hunting with dogs.

Despite the controversy at the time, most people now support the ban on hunting with dogs. A poll conducted in 2010 showed that 76% of the population were opposed to repealing the hunting act the figure drops to 71% when only rural areas are included in surveys.

The Labour Party has used this ten year anniversary to set out key commitments to protect animals in the next parliament including, defending the Hunting Act, ending badger culls which scientists consider to be inneffective and banning the use of wild animals in circuses.

The hunting ban shows how far we have come since the days when blood sports such as dog fighting and badger baiting were quite common in rural areas. I'm not sure why the Conservatives and even the Lib Dems have shown interest in the possible repeal of the Hunting Act by calling for a free vote on the issue.

After 10 years it's time to move on.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Tax Avoidance

It is positive that tax avoidance has been getting a lot of coverage recently. Comments from Conservative donor and peer Lord Fink were surprising and massively out of step with public opinion. He said that tax avoidance is widespread indicating that he thinks that everybody does it. 
 
Everyone does not avoid tax, because tax is not a choice for the majority of society: Small business owners fill in tax returns and pay their tax on time and in full. Most workers have tax deducted from their wages every month through the standard ‘pay as you earn’ (PAYE) system. I do not see why it should be any different for large corporations or very wealthy individuals. Tax is an issue of fairness, for example how can a small independent coffee shop compete on a level playing field with a multination corporation with sophisticated mechanisms to avoid paying tax in the country in which it operates?
 
This week we have seen that the Conservative party is incapable of tackling tax avoidance, maybe because many of their donors avoid tax. UKIP don’t seem interested in the issue either. Yesterday their MEPs were the only ones who voted against setting up a committee to look at the tax affairs of EU member nations.
 
Labour’s measures to tackle tax avoidance will include:
• Forcing the UK’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to produce publicly available registries of beneficial ownership.
• Ensuring stronger independent scrutiny of the tax system and of the government’s efforts to tackle tax avoidance.
• Making country-by-country reporting information publicly available.
 
In our first finance bill we will:
• Introduce penalties for those who are caught abusing tax rules.
• Close loopholes used by hedge funds to avoid stamp duty and the Eurobonds loophole which allows some large companies to move profits out of the UK and avoid Corporation Tax.
• Scrap the “Shares for Rights” scheme, which could enable avoidance and cost £1bn to administer, ensuring that HMRC can better focus on tackling tax avoidance.
 
Senior Conservative may claim that they only do the 'vanilla' sort of tax avoidance . I did not know that dishonesty came in different flavours but comments like this comments really do leave a bad taste in the mouth.
 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Less than 100 days...

It's less than 100 days until the most important election in my lifetime. I would say that because my name is will be ballot paper, but it really is going to be close and it's a fight for the kind of society we want to be part of.

Ed Miliband, has chose the 100 day milestone in the campaign to outline Labour's plan for our NHS. Since 2010 the Tories have caused an NHS crisis, undermined healthcare workers and put the profit of private companies before care of patients. Labour built the NHS and we have a plan to re-build our NHS so it is there at our time of need.

We will build an NHS with the time to care: 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 more GPs. Integrate services from home to reversing the decision to scrap the cancer test target when a doctor suspects something might be wrong, tests are conducted within a week.

Our NHS message is in stark contrast with how David Cameron chose to mark 100 days until we can vote him out of office. His announcement on further benefit caps would make more sense if it was accompanied by measures to address problems with the rental market. As its not, it simply represents yet another attack on the poor.

Political leaders are not all the same, in just 100 days the country has a clear choice to make, between governments which would have very different priorities.

I'm backing Ed

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Conservatives pledge to be more anti-trade union

The Conservatives are planning more anti-trade union legislation if they are in government beyond 2015. Under draconian new plans, strike ballots will not be valid unless at least 40% of members vote in favour of strike action. This isn't a minimum turnout level, it means that a close ballot will require a turnout of almost 80% for strike action to be legal. To put the figure into perspective general election turnout is around 60% Council elections are around 30% and the some police commissioners gained the support of fewer than 10% of the electorate.

This move is further evidence that the Tories are retreating to their old ways: It is as if the last 30 years never happened. Most employers no longer view unions as the enemy, and most unions are not at war with employers. Forward looking employers work with unions to improve staff relations and solve problems proactively. Unions work with employers to safeguard jobs and pay even when budgets are under pressure.

Strike action is always a last resort - refusal to work for a day or an extended period is by its very nature, a failure of all other negotiations. It results in hardship for workers and damage to employers. Unions only call strike action when jobs are at risk or hard won terms and conditions are under threat. Members only vote in favour of strike action when they feel they have exhausted other options.

Before elections, governments make many promises. Pledging to be more anti trade union is a strange promise, unlikely to win many friends other than traditional Conservatives who, like their leadership, cling onto an outdated vision of industrial relations. Policies like this are more about stopping old school Tories turning to UKIP and appeasing backbenchers. It is yet another case of David Cameron putting the interests of the Conservative party before the National interest.

The big issue facing the country today is not that workers have too many rights. It is that too many people are on working too few hours in precarious jobs. There are areas of employment law where there is need for change; to prevent extended use of exploitative zero hours contracts, which trap people unable to get on the housing ladder or plan for the future.

In making changes to strike ballots pre-election pledge, we can see that Conservatives have very different priorities than most people. They are out of touch, this year, they could also also find themselves out of government.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

My New Year's Message for 2015


I have spent 2014 listening to voters across the Hexham constituency. I have found that people are working harder and harder, but standing still, families struggling with bills that are growing faster than their wages; young people, taking on mountains of debt to get a proper education, only to find themselves with no job at the other end

and most importantly an NHS where we face restrictions to A and E services with people waiting longer and longer to get the care they need.

I have listened to many residents across the constituency,

I have met with trade unions, employers, small business owners and visited two of our large employers SCA in Prudhoe and Egger in Hexham,

we discussed the shortage of skills in engineering related subjects, we have a skills shortage at a time when youth unemployment remains stubbornly high,

government has a role in making sure that both problems are solved together.

I have seen first hand the impact that Tory policies have on people in our region.

I have listened to people who have been hit by the bedroom tax, one parent who was separated from their partner who and had children to stay but still had to pay.

I visited West Northumberland Food Bank who continue to help individuals and families in crisis due to delays in support that now, unfortunately, seem to be designed into our welfare system.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I don't need reminding that there is only four short months until the general election,

This year, we have the chance to change direction;

a chance to build a recovery that benefits all and not just the few at the top,

a chance to fight for fair wages that actually reward hard work.

A chance to elect a government who is bold enough to stand with the many in taking on vested interests wether they are in the press in the banks or in the energy sector.

At the start of the new year we look forward, not back

which is why I can say with confidence a Labour government will be a stark contrast to Cameron and Osbornes austerity only approach

they have used the deficit as an excuse to sell off national assets like the Royal Mail and East Coast mainline to their rich friends at the same time as growing the national debt.

But the 2015 Labour government will also be different from the one elected 1997,

Of course I will challenge criticism of our achievements such opening sure start centres and rebuilding schools and hospitals...

but we have learned from the past, we could have regulated the financial services sector and we could have stayed out of Iraq,

the Labour MPs voting to stay out of Syria shows a more measured approach to Foreign policy

and the willingness to tax bankers bonuses is evidence that we are not afraid to intervene when we see those at the top being rewarded for failure.

I believe we have the right policies for the future of our region and our country as a whole.

There will be a long overdue increase in the minimum wage, which will reduce the welfare bill by reducing the demand for in work benefits

we will address the ongoing crisis in our NHS and protect relied on services.

We will introduce fair rules on immigration which will not only will address people's fears about the negative effects of immigration but also end the exploitation of workers,

we will repeal the unfair bedroom tax

And we will build an reformed economy, so that the benefits of growth are felt by working people and not just the few at the very top.

I am proud to be part of a forward-looking Labour Party which puts the long term future of the many before the short term gains of the few,

A Labour Party who represent the North and not just the south.

And a Labour Party which needs your support to bring about the change we all want to see.

I will finish by wishing you a Happy New Year, and all the best to you your friends and family for 2015.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

A Christmas Carol

Christmas is a time to spend with family. There are two groups of people who are in my thoughts at Christmas, those who are struggling to get by and those who have to work on Christmas Day.

Donations to foodbanks increase before Christmas. The students I teach asked if they could have a Christmas party in the lunch hour before our last lecture of the term and I asked them if they would like to donate to a food bank instead and they made me quite proud by bringing in 4 bags of food. I thought about the people who would be receiving this food. Christmas must be a difficult time to be struggling financially, particularly for families with young children. Benefit sanctions and delays do not stop at Christmas.

My eldest daughter is in a drama group. This year she was in A Christmas Carol with Spotlight CTP. It is difficult not to make comparisons with Dickensian times. Scrooge asks "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?" A Conservative MP, after voting for the bedroom tax might ask "Are there no foodbanks? Are there no zero-hours contracts?"

There are also jobs that still have to be done on Christmas Day; firefighters, midwives, nurses, care workers, prison officers and the Police will be working while most of us are tucking into our turkey. They do vital work all year round, sacrificing time with their families to keep our families safe and healthy.

Recently I recorded a song, which for me, strikes a chord at Christmas: Winter Song written by Alan Hull is a reminder to spare a thought for those who are less fortunate than ourselves at this time of year...


Merry Christmas.

Friday, 19 December 2014

West Northumberland Food Bank

I met with volunteers at West Northumberland Food bank yesterday. I thanked them for their ongoing work to help those most in need. They were busy but still found time to discuss the issues around food bank use in the Hexham constituency. The visit was an emotional one; gratitude for the work being done, upset at seeing parcels packed with baby food and anger that food banks seem to be replacing the safety net that our government has a duty to provide.

Redundancy, illness, welfare reform, rising costs and falling incomes are still the main reasons people are forced to turn to food banks. Since opening in 2013 West Northumberland food bank has responded to over 1200 requests for help from individuals and families in crisis, operating over a rural area, where the effects of poverty can be particularly isolating.

Their work, in providing a safety net to those in greatest need is unfortunately vital, not only at Christmas but throughout the year.

Donations can be left at Tesco and Waitrose in Hexham and the Cooperative supermarkets in Prudhoe and Haltwhistle.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Autumn/Winter Statment

The autumn statement has been transformed. It used to be an ordinary day in parliament where the chancellor updated MPs and the the public (or at least the public who read the FT) on the progress made since the budget. It is now a set piece event to rival budget day, taking on even greater importance five months out from a general election.

Most of what was said in the autumn statement had already been announced, the dualling of 13 miles of the A1 was lauded as a victory, with North East Tories and Lib-dems tripping over each other to take credit for a road improvement which is welcome, but amounts to less than half a job, stopping 25 miles south of the Scottish border.

The NHS was promised extra cash, which would be welcome, if some of had not previously been cut from NHS budgets. The chancellors smoke and mirrors on the NHS will fail to hide the squeeze NHS budgets caused by a costly £3Bn top down reorganisation.

Stamp duty hit the headlines, I'm still yet to see a simple breakdown of how this will work, it sounds like tax cut for those moving house, but the chancellor failed to address the unfairness in the system when someone living in a £290,000 family home pays the as the owner of £10M mansion.

Hexham's current MP was mentioned in the debate, not by Osborne, but by the speaker, who on two occasions had to ask him to stop heckling loudly. On the first occasion the telling off was jovial, speaker Bercow saying that Northumberland's only Tory MP was normally a 'good boy', the second time the speaker had to intervene he invited Mr Opperman to leave the chamber.

The sitting MP for Hexham in transmit mode, when he should have been listening. On the first occasion he was rebuked, The shadow chancellor was explaining that the since the Conservative-led government came to power wages have fallen by £1600. Low wages are at the core of the deficit problem. People on low pay quite rightly, do not pay tax. When people are having their wages driven down, it not only affects their family and quality of life, it affects the government and borrowing gets out of control.

The second time the speaker had to intervene, Ed Balls was talking about an issue that affects the Hexham constituency directly. Air passenger duty in Scotland is now devolved, Newcastle airport has to compete with Scottish airports and could be disadvantaged if central government do not act, concerns must be addressed, rather than shouted down.

The chancellor's autumn statement was an attempt to distract from the fact that he has failed in his own terms, the deficit is still growing while pay is falling. The next Labour government will be faced with some difficult decisions, but we will see a real change from the status quo. We will implement a progressive mansion tax, and use tobacco levies to properly fund our NHS and provide an integrated health and social care system. We will end exploitative zero-hours contracts and tackle low pay. The choice in May 2015 is clear, the electorate have the chance to elect a government who will build an economy that works for all, and not just the few at the top.

Monday, 24 November 2014

NHS amended duties and powers bill

I have always opposed the privatisation of our NHS.

It is the duty of the UK government, rather than the EU parliament to protect the Health Service from the possible negative effects of trade deals such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Exemptions can be secured but the current conservative-led government have made no effort to secure any, in fact David Cameron has been more than a cheerleader-like rather than statesmanlike when it comes to TTIP.

The needless top down reorganisation of our NHS has resulted in thousands of nurses and frontline staff being lost from the NHS. We are seeing the unwelcome return of waiting lists, there is a crisis in A&E; in the last 12 months, almost a million people have waited more than four hours to be seen in and more people are being kept in ambulance queues outside A&E. Treatments like cataract and knee operations are being rationed.

I know that we did not get everything right in Government so the decision by Northumberland County Council to end the PFI arrangement for Hexham Hospital is welcome. Labour had to rescue the NHS after years of Tory neglect, but PFI locked hospitals in to agreements beyond the parliamentary term, It is clear that the next Labour Government will be different from the last: We will build an integrated health and social care system for the benefit of patients and put an end to privatisation

Last Friday that work was started,
The National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill 2014-15 has made it through to the next stage. This will make it possible to reduce the potential damage that privatisation could do to our NHS, The bill also aims keep it from being adversely affected by the TTIP.

The sitting MP for Hexham was absent and did not vote for the bill, If I was an MP, I would have been in Parliament, along with the other North East Labour MPs supporting the NHS Amended Duties and Powers Bill. With the aim of defending our NHS.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Tory Attitudes Towards our Region

Guest blog: David Williams from Stocksfield writes;

"I was interested to read in The Journal on 6th November that the Hexham MP, Guy Opperman, has got his foot on the first rung of the ladder of government. I refer to his position as pump-primer at Prime Minister's Questions which permitted David Cameron to make the outrageous claim that his Government has been responsible for the small (2-3%) rise in exports from the region but ignored the fact that the number of young people unemployed for over a year is up 62% since he came to office.

To get an accurate view of the Tories attitude to this region, people should have watched the debate on 28th October in the Commons to consider if the Thatcher government misled the country over the pit closure programme thirty years ago . It was an eye-opener!

Labour MPs from all the major coalfields in the North East, Yorkshire, Nottingham, Scotland and Wales spoke. The only exception was the small Kent coalfield which was not mentioned at all. These MPs inluded many who were personally involved in the dispute and experienced the strike and its aftermath. These included Dave Anderson, Ian Lavery, Ronnie Campbell and Pat Glass who pointed out the lack of support for the communities affected and went on to call for regeneration assistance now to help communities which are still suffering today from the closure of their pits.

Most Tories, including Mr Opperman, were absent for the duration of the debate which indicates their lack of true conern for the future of the former coalfields.

The opening proposal for the debate was responded to by a junior minister with a prepared statement who then immediately left the Chamber never to reappear. His interest was over!

Some two and a half hours later, another Tory minister, female this time, entered the Chamber and sat on the Front Bench. Significantly she was accompanied by Cabinet Minister, Eric Pickles.

She then read another prepared paper to wind up the debate on behalf of the Government but believe it or not, all she spoke about, in some detail, was the developments on the former Betteshanger Colliery site and how her Government had funded new buildings, etc. which had created jobs for former miners and their families.

Where is Betteshanger? In Kent, of course. The one former coalfield never mentioned or represented in the debate but very near Rochester & Strood constituency where a crucial, to the Tories, bye-election is imminent.

When her blatant electioneering was greeted wth cries of derision from the opposition she paused, only to be told by Pickles to “plough on”.

This proves that the Tories have no interest whatsoever in the future of the North East but are prepared to put their Government's and party's survival before the interests of the nation."

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Egger

I had an interesting meeting with senior managers at Egger in Hexham last week to discuss the achievements and challenges faced by the company. I was accompanied by Paul Brannen one of our North East MEPs. It's great that we have two Labour MEP for the North East, Jude and Paul are have met with many of the regions main employers since they were elected and are working hard to achieve policy changes at a European level, that secure jobs and promote growth here in our region. Paul and I met with the management teams for Egger, the chipboard manufacturer and Egger forestry, which is a separate company offering a complete forest management service.

Egger has remained in a strong position, in spite of the global economic downturn, producing materials not only for the building trade but also finished products for home improvements such as laminate flooring and furniture. Two separate policy areas which could help employers like Egger and SCA paper products in Prudhoe are agriculture and skills.

The supply of high quality raw materials is vital to the business. Up to 40% of recycled wood can be used but the rest must come from sustainable sources such as Kielder forest. There is a biomass power plant on the Egger site which burns wood particles that are too fine to be incorporated into wood products but any policy that encourages burning wood before it has been used for other purposes does not help manufacturers of wood products.

The one of other challenges faced by employers is a shortage of skills; across the manufacturing sector skilled engineers are in short supply. Egger do a great job in training their own apprentices but more are needed and if I was giving careers advice I would advise young people to give careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths serious consideration.

Work must be done to address the skills shortage. Vocational routes are just as valid as more traditional University courses. I also think that there need to be a radical change in the way that vocational qualifications and apprenticeships are applied for. One change would be to have higher level vocational training and apprenticeships applied for via the UCAS system, so that students studying Level 3 qualifications such as A-Levels are presented with a full range of options.

It was great to join Paul for this meeting, afterwards he said;

“Egger is the jewel in the Hexham economy and is a real European success story. Not only is Egger an economic force in its own right but it brings jobs through the supply chain. It is the biggest single buyer of timber from Kielder for example. As a member of the European Agriculture and Rural Development Committee I believe that the North East is well poised to expand our rural economy and deliver growth and jobs.”

Monday, 29 September 2014

A Better Future?

Today at the Tory Party conference we have seen more complacency from George Osborne, saying 'job done' when most people are still worse off than they were in 2010. He also said the 'economy is fixed' but national debt has grown since 2010 to a staggering £75bn.

There were 2 contrasting announcements: Firstly, the 4% of richest households will be able to pass more money onto their offspring (if they have any) because inheritance tax is being scrapped. I can see why the thought of a 'Death Tax' might be unpopular but it affects so few estates, now is not the time for more measures to help the few and not the many.

On the other side of the coin there are 10 million households on low to middle incomes claiming tax credits or some sort of in work benefits. These are the people who will be hit hardest by the Chancellor's announcements today. In-work families with children will lose as much as £490 a year in child benefit and tax credits.

The Tories are again standing up for the wrong people, offering nothing to families who work hard to provide a decent standard of living for their children, but instead implementing changes, which only serve to build an economy that is skewed towards those at the very top.

Their conference slogan needs an added strap line: Conservatives: 'Securing a Better Future' ...for themselves and their donors since 1832.


Monday, 1 September 2014

Bercow

MPs have returned from the long summer recess to debate the issues of the day. There was some serious debate about the very worrying situation in Iraq and the Middle East. Dennis Skinner was on form as usual suggesting that the PM should be thanking the Labour Party for preventing Government plans, just a year ago, to arm Islamic State militants so they could fight against Assad. With such important issues being debated I was surprised that the evening news reports were not about global issues but about one of the most inward looking debates about procedural issues that has made the headlines; the appointment of a civil servant the Clerk to the House.

Sir Robert Rogers the long-serving Clerk to the House has retired. He had a wide ranging role that included responsibility for ensuring parliamentary processes are followed and the running of the parliamentary estate. The speaker has a role in making the appointment and Speaker Bercow has recommended Carol Mills who currently oversees parliamentary services in the Australian parliament. Tory MPs have taken issue with this and decided to raise several of points of order and repeatedly shouted down the speaker. The speaker's job is to keep order, today some MPs it impossible.

I'm not sure of the reasons for the vitriolic reaction to this recommendation. It could be an excuse to have a go at the Speaker. Bercow, who despite being a Conservative, has upset many in his own ranks with his wide ranging reforms. He has given select committees and backbenchers real power to hold the government to account. Bercow has got into the habit of calling out individuals at PMQs with pre-planned put-downs, which would anger any unruly MP.

Women are underrepresented in the Conservative Party. The disproportionate reaction could even have been because the recommendation was that a woman should take on the role of the UK's principal constitutional adviser, a position which has been held by a man for the every one of 651 years since the post was created.

There may well be valid concerns about the recommendation but today, certain MPs behaved in a way that would be unacceptable on the first day back at any school, summing up precisely what members of the general public dislike about politics.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Kielder - Midge Free Zone

I recently returned from Kielder in the North of the Hexham Constituency. When I told friends that I was spending a few days up there the reply was, "Watch out for those midges," or "Make sure you pack insect repellent," and while it is true that at this time of year when the air is still and damp, swarms of the little biters can be seen, it should not put you off visiting one of the best destinations for both relaxing and outdoor activities in the whole of the UK.

The group that runs the community-owned Kielder Campsite have decided to take matters into their own hands and try and reduce the number of midges. There are a number of ways to do this:

  • Chemical sprays.
  • Reducing the amount of standing water.
  • Encouraging predators such a trout fry.


At Kielder they have chosen a high-tech approach; installing midge traps. These have flashing green, blue and white LEDs, a small fan to draw the midges in and then a water trap, which drowns them.


The science behind the traps is quite interesting with the light designed to be most attractive to midges looking for a mate. The water needs to have no surface tension that would save the insects from their fate, and no chemicals such as chloride or fluoride ions to put them off. At Kielder they have discovered that dissolving demerara sugar in rain water seems to do the trick.

Each unit is effective over one hectare and there are three on site. A significant reduction in the midge population is expected over the next year with the result that sitting outside on warm summer evenings at Kielder is likely to be a lot more comfortable.

Kielder is much quieter than other Northern England tourist destinations such as the Peak District and particularly the Lakes. This is great for people who have discovered the North of Northumberland, but tourism brings benefits and should be encouraged. Come to Kielder, enjoy the dark night skies and the long warm days and don't worry about the midges!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Reshuffle


On hearing the recent news that Baroness Butler-Sloss had stepped down as the head of the historic child abuse inquiry because she felt that she 'wasn't the right person for the job' Dennis Skinner cut to the point as usual "Most of Cameron's cabinet should do the same."

I don't know if William Hague was listening to advice from the long standing MP for Bolsover when he threw the towel in, but the loss of experienced cabinet members like Hague and Ken Clarke is worrying, we could see a lurch further to the right before the election. And while I don't agree with Hague's politics he was a statesmanlike Foreign Secretary. Philip Hammond is a bizarre choice, described by Rhonda MP Chris Bryant as "a man trying to catch up with the 1990s whilst busily shouting at foreigners" Foreign office staff could be worried for their jobs, it is difficult to see him as anything other than a 'hatchet man' after making 3000 armed forces personnel redundant since 2010.

Staff rooms were relieved that Gove is no longer at Education. He consistently put ideology before outcomes and stubbornly refused to listen to teachers. He prioritised free schools over the vast majority of existing schools, diverting £400M from the education budget into his free school pet project. He will not be missed, but why has Cameron made him chief whip? Gove the enforcer? If he is as good in the whips office as he was at education, the Government could be losing divisions in the commons soon.

His replacement Nicky Morgan has one thing going for her, she is not Micheal Gove, however Cameron has also made her Women and Equalities minister at the same time. That is clearly two roles. What is it with Tories and 2nd jobs? Being an MP is a full time job there should be no time to earn on the side as a consultant, barrister or company director. Ministers are also MPs and giving one person 2 briefs to look after means that something will have to suffer, probably Women, and Equalities.

It is too easy to gloat when this Tory government gets things wrong, but there are real consequences of incompetence, people are struggling while they say 'tax cut for the rich, real terms pay cut for everyone else, job done. Now time for a pre-election reshuffle so people think we've changed' 

The headlines are that the Conservatives have tried to make the cabinet a bit less male and a bit less stale. Outside of the Westminster bubble and buried under the blanket of reshuffle news was a significant jump in inflation, with many of us already finding that our pay is not going as far as it should, this is unwelcome news.


Monday, 14 July 2014

Judge Butler-Sloss

Baroness Butler-Sloss has stood down from the her appointment leading the enquiry into allegation that government ministers either abused children or covered up child abuse. She has shown some integrity by saying shes not the right person for the job. She is probably right given her ties to the structures of the past which have failed to protect children from abuse.

What is incredible therefore, is that David Cameron is so arrogant says he still made the right choice. A Judge has judged herself unsuitable for the role she was given yet our Prime Minister refuse to question his own judgment. He badly judged the situation in the EU when he chose to fight a losing battle over the appointment of Junker. These poor judgement calls are not in the same league as ignoring repeated warnings by bringing Andy Coulson straight from hacking phones at the News of the World into the heart of Government but again, demonstrates a worrying lack of judgment.

The Beast of Bolsover in Durham Photo Credit: David Crockit
Veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner spoke at Durham Miners Gala and said that if he had a question  PMQs he would have asked Cameron if he had any prison visits planned, to visit his mate Andy Coulson. On hearing the news that Butler-Sloss had stepped down because she felt that she 'wasn't the right person for the job' Dennis cut to the point as usual "Most of Cameron's cabinet should do the same."

There is speculation about a reshuffle, Cameron will may reappoint some of his old friends Liam Fox or maybe Andrew Mitchell to top jobs, he might try to make his cabinet a bit less male and a bit less stale, but with his judgement so lacking, I wouldn't trust him to pick a 5 a side football team.


Saturday, 5 July 2014

Restrictions on 16-18 Transport Funding

A lot has been written about Northumberland County Council's decision to reduce funding for home to school transport for students aged 16 to 18. I am sure that this decision was a difficult one; no Labour activist gets involved with local politics to cut services that are relied on by young people.

Map first published in the Journal
The Tory government are not demanding that all councils make such tough choices. The burden of austerity is not equally shared; there are councils such as those in some of the most well off areas in Hampshire, where the amount they receive back from central government has actually increased whereas NCC is required to cut £130m.

Austerity is not just a word we hear on the news. It is not just about efficiency savings and 'working smarter'. It is impossible for cuts of such magnitude to have no effect on people's lives. Home to school transport has already been removed by neighbouring authorities. Northumberland have managed to provide it for two extra years compared with other councils facing similar budget cuts.

There has been been some scaremongering from Tories, led by the sitting MP for Hexham, but to clarify: There will still be some funding for transport. Northumberland college will use some of the funding it receives to provide a bus service from Hexham to its campuses. Students whose parents are on low incomes will still get a bus pass. There is also ongoing work to negotiate reasonable rates for bus passes.

I can't welcome the decision to restrict funding for home to school transport, and I don't agree with some of the justification for it. As well as a Parliamentary Candidate I am Branch Secretary of the University and Colleges Union at Newcastle College. Many of my students attend college in Newcastle because their chosen course is not available close by. Restricting home to school transport could have an impact on student numbers and therefore jobs at Newcastle College. And while it might be true that Northumberland County Council has been paying to export students to Tyne and Wear, I don't think that in itself is a reason to cut transport.

The disparaging remarks about the quality of post 16 education in Northumberland from a Tory councillor are out of date and out of touch. I doubt if the councillor in question has any experience of 6th form or Further Education provision in the County. In the Hexham Constituency alone we have the outstanding QE 6th form and Northumberland College's Kirkley Hall campus where success rates for 16-18 year olds have risen, and are now in the top 10% nationally.

We must not lose sight of the fact that the provision is only being reduced because of the disproportionate impact of government cuts on North East councils. Transport spending on London is £400 per head while in our region the figure is less than £18.

The council has also received criticism for not holding the July meeting when this decision could have been discussed. The criticism from the sitting MP for Hexham at first seems justified 'council running scared' etc. Until you learn that not one alternative motion had been put forward for discussion at the meeting by either the Tories or the Libdems!

Instead of trying to stop his own government from targeting our council, by imposing cuts that are way above the national average, Hexham's Tory MP is now looking to legally challenge the basis for cancelling a meeting which would have cost £18,000 to hold. The only people that benefit from this sort of childish behaviour are expensive lawyers. Taxpayers will no doubt end up footing the bill if this goes any further.

I wish the council wasn't forced into making such choices, but unfortunately this government has chosen to pursue an austerity-only approach to economic recovery which is failing our region. Tory MPs in parliament have voted for these cuts but then Tories in Northumberland oppose their implementation. If Conservatives are looking for division, they don't have to look very far.