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My last constituency event before the Commons returns after recess was presenting awards to the winners of the 10K Road Race.  Thousands of runners took part in what must be one of the most picturesque races. How many road races pass a castle, a priory, a working fish quay, great beaches and finish at a lighthouse? The coast has been particularly busy in the last few weeks, signs of growing evidence that regeneration is taking shape.

 

About time some would say.  Until twenty years ago in true British fashion, the economic decline in seaside towns, as holiday makers chose warmer destinations, was basically ignored.

 

The incoming Government had to be persuaded that investment was needed, hence Labour’s Sea Change programme, followed, to this Government's credit, by the Coastal Communities Fund.  Government action alone was never likely to be enough which is why regeneration has been a partnership between the local authority, local communities and businesses.

 

It has also had to be regeneration for everyone, visitors and residents alike, including residents of other parts of the borough.  It's a job not yet complete – for example, a few weeks ago I lobbied Minister on behalf of Friends of Tynemouth Outdoor Pool to ensure funding was still there to bid for. But I genuinely believe there is a growing confidence judging by the number of local people and groups, getting involved and the quality of much of the investment.

 

Regeneration on track

My last constituency event before the Commons returns after recess was presenting awards to the winners of the 10K Road Race.  Thousands of runners took part in what must be...

Last weekend I joined dozens of volunteers on a clean up of Longsands organised by Surfers Against Sewage. We've got some great award winning beaches. In the last few years our beaches have won blue flag awards, Trip Advisor has given Longsands an "Award for Excellence" and last year Rough Guides said Tynemouth was the best seaside town in Britain. But however clean the beaches and bathing waters are there was still work to be done particularly to highlight the problem of plastics in our seas and along our shores.

 

Inevitably the conversation shifted to Brexit and what it means for our coastal communities and the environment in general. Earlier that week in Westminster the Prime Minister had triggered Article 50 to start the process of negotiating our exit from the EU. The improvement of bathing water and higher environmental standards have coincided with our membership of the EU. They are crucial to the ongoing coastal regeneration which is improving the coast for residents and visitors alike.

 

The Government says the Great Repeal Bill will incorporate EU regulation into our domestic law and then allow the UK to decide which bits to keep. We have laid down six tests for any Brexit deal including maintaining environmental standards and where possible improving them. The hundreds of people using Longsands last weekend, the dozens of volunteers and the businesses and community groups who have bought into regeneration demand nothing less.

 

Environmental standards must be maintained

Last weekend I joined dozens of volunteers on a clean up of Longsands organised by Surfers Against Sewage. We've got some great award winning beaches. In the last few years...

Every parent wants the best start in life for their child which is why schools are so important.  In North Tyneside 95% of children attend a Good or Outstanding school, a higher proportion than any local authority outside London.  That success is due to the work of students and staff but also support from parents and the local authority.  There's growing concern however that cuts to school funding will leave schools struggling for resources.  Spending per pupil in North Tyneside is already projected to be £1500 less than the average London borough by 2017-18, showing where Government priorities lie.  But further changes to the National Fair Funding Formula are set to take a further 2.7% from school budgets, that's before schools have to pay the cost of pay rises, pensions and NIC changes.  For schools with big sixth forms it's worse, as they struggle to cope with cuts to Post 16 funding.  The cuts will mean fewer staff, less buildings maintenance or a reduced curriculum or most likely all of them.  North East Schools would need £323 million to match London levels yet the Chancellor set aside £360 million for unnecessary grammar or free schools.  I've already raised my concerns with Ministers and will be meeting local Headteachers to see what more can be done.  The Government U turned over changes to National Insurance and they need to do so again before our children's futures are damaged.

Worries over Government cuts to school budgets

Every parent wants the best start in life for their child which is why schools are so important.  In North Tyneside 95% of children attend a Good or Outstanding school,...

This week’s highlight in Parliament is the Chancellor’s Spring Budget.  The Budget is actually a statement in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer sets out the state of the nation’s finances and his plans for the year to come.  As with all big parliamentary occasions there’s an element of tradition whether it’s the Treasury team photo on the steps of Number 11 or the use of Gladstone’s original Ministerial Red Box.

The statement is longer than is typical and the response is made by the Leader of the Opposition, in what is probably the hardest task in parliament.  The ministerial rules demand all statements are given to the Opposition before delivery but in my experience the Budget statement is often delayed and when it comes it’s redacted, making a response even tougher.  It does help however that traditionally neither the Chancellor of the Exchequer nor Opposition Leader are intervened on.

This year’s Budget will be a tricky balancing act of controlling rising debts to satisfy the markets but also prepare for an economy post Brexit.  As ever it’s about priorities, whether inheritance tax should be cut, which would have only a marginal effect on my constituency, or invest more to tackle the crisis in the NHS and social care.  But the real test is how Wednesday’s statement will seem after the weekend and whether or not households, after years of being squeezed, feel better able to cope.

Budget 2017

This week’s highlight in Parliament is the Chancellor’s Spring Budget.  The Budget is actually a statement in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer sets out the state of the nation’s...

Small businesses are the backbone of our economy yet in a few weeks’ time many face eye watering increases in their business rates.  Shifting property values made a revaluation of non domestic properties - business rates - necessary but two years ago, on the eve of a General Election, that was postponed.  From April 1st 2017, however, many businesses will see the impact.  Some revaluations seem perverse, for example stables and riding schools will see significant rises. Elsewhere it's on our high streets that the effect may be most felt. There are transition arrangements - but less generous than previously. There's a new appeal system but with the purpose of reducing the number of challenges.

 

The outcome is likely to be greater uncertainty for town centres at a time when, for example, in Whitley Bay the proposed closure of the Job Centre threatens to take services out of the town. There is however a further worrying aspect to business rate revaluation.  With London property prices, and therefore rates, rising faster, London and the South East are likely to pay around 32% of all business rates across the country. Pressure is growing for those areas to keep all their business rates rather than pool them for national redistribution. Areas like North Tyneside would lose more than £20 million, adding to the existing regional imbalance. It's time for an overhaul of the system before it's too late for our vital small businesses.

Business Rate Revaluation

Small businesses are the backbone of our economy yet in a few weeks’ time many face eye watering increases in their business rates.  Shifting property values made a revaluation of...

Some issues coming before Parliament are of such importance that they take on an historic significance. And so it was this week when The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – triggering Article 50 to you and I – was being debated.

 

I voted to Remain, I campaigned to Remain. I wish the Referendum outcome had been different, but it wasn’t.  I respect the result just as I would have expected a different result to be respected.  We need to know what a Brexit deal might look like and the European Union have clearly said that substantive discussions can only happen once Article 50 has been triggered.

 

We argued that the Government should bring forward a White Paper setting out its position and a vote for Parliament on any deal before it is concluded. The Government was forced to concede on both points.  Parliament must also have a role in ensuring any Brexit deal focuses on the economy and jobs, rights at work and environmental protections.

 

Feelings run high on both sides. For some MP’s the referendum result in their area was clear cut, one way or another. In North Tyneside the result was much closer, and in Tynemouth closer still.

 

However, the decision to trigger Article 50 was not made this week, it was made on June 23rd 2016 by the British people.  Now the work starts in getting the best deal for everyone regardless of how they voted.

Working for the best Brexit

Some issues coming before Parliament are of such importance that they take on an historic significance. And so it was this week when The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill...

The Prime Minister recently called for a step change in the way we deal with mental health and in particular children’s mental health. One in ten children have a diagnosable mental health condition and without help and support the cost later, to them and to society, is huge.

 

In November in Parliament I met my constituent Dr Martin Lee when he received a Healthcare Champion Award. We talked then, and since, of his concerns about adolescent mental health and what he terms Smartphone Overuse Syndrome.  Smartphones play an important part in modern lives but in Dr Lee’s view overuse can affect family relationships and have a harmful effect on children’s sleep patterns and mental health.

 

A recent survey by Digital Awareness UK found that almost half of teenagers checked their phone during the night and almost a quarter of these checked their phone more than 10 times a night. Two thirds said they felt tired during the day and their schoolwork was affected. A number of studies have demonstrated a correlation between increased Smartphone use and poor sleep patterns. And a number of studies have linked sleep disturbance with mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.

 

Dr Lee believes students need to be educated about Smartphone use and is so concerned he’s set up a website www.nophonezone.co.uk and developed a parenting aid to create phone free areas within our own homes. Concerned parents and teachers should take a look.

No Phone Zones

The Prime Minister recently called for a step change in the way we deal with mental health and in particular children’s mental health. One in ten children have a diagnosable...

Parliament returned after the recess with major headaches for the Government over the NHS and the resignation of Our Man in Brussels.  As 2017 begins exiting the EU remains at the centre of politics and at the core of that lies the thorny matter of freedom of movement.  Wherever I go I am told by people who voted Leave that freedom of movement, immigration to you and I, was at the heart of bringing back control.  But doing so without causing economic harm will not be easy.  Last week I met the owners of an award winning Whitley Bay Indian restaurant working in a sector which often needs to bring in skilled workers.  At a constituency event on Boxing Day an eminent academic told me of the potential multimillion pound loss to regional universities if foreign students are prevented or discouraged from studying here.  It seems to me we need rules which need to be fair but we also need a big investment – a national crusade – to make sure we have the skilled people to capitalise on the opportunities we are told exiting will bring. Before Christmas I spoke to apprentices at an excellent accountancy firm in North Shields – another award winning business – and they told me the hardest part of their training was surviving on the low apprenticeship rate.  If we want a skilled, well motivated workforce we could pay apprentices more, perhaps from the benefits exiting will bring.

We need fair rules in Brexit

Parliament returned after the recess with major headaches for the Government over the NHS and the resignation of Our Man in Brussels.  As 2017 begins exiting the EU remains at...

I intend to stay up until midnight on Saturday not just to see in the New Year but to make sure the Old Year leaves. 2016 has been a very strange year. Events like the EU Referendum and the US Presidential election have confounded pundits and added greater uncertainty to a world still struggling to come to terms with the banking crash.  

 

I've written before about the strength of our local community, hardworking families who get on with the job and the public services we depend upon.  All of that should give us cause for optimism.  

 

The fact is we need better direction to tackle some of the big issues of the day.  We know what we want from our health service and schools but we need clarity and nerve to transform and pay for them.  And top of the list must be social care. 

 

We need to be told what Brexit means apart from....well, Brexit.  No one I know voted to leave the EU to be worse off, so when Article 50 is triggered next year, as it must, what's the plan?  We also need a grown up conversation about issues like immigration, which fuelled the EU debate and which is an understandable concern for communities feeling left behind.

 

2017 will be born in challenging times and we must rise to those challenges.  So to you and yours I wish you a happy, healthy and safe New Year.

New Year - New Challenges

I intend to stay up until midnight on Saturday not just to see in the New Year but to make sure the Old Year leaves. 2016 has been a very...

This is my last column before Christmas so let me start by wishing you and your family a Happy Christmas.  2016 has been a remarkable year.  In politics the unexpected has become the norm. From our relations with Brussels and Brexit to the state of the Brussel sprout crop there’s been no shortage of sensational headlines.

In these uncertain, and still tough, times however people across our community are getting on with making this the best possible Christmas. There was the LD:North East carol service at Christ Church with inspirational performances by pupils from Beacon Hill and Woodlawn Schools. There’s the practical application of faith with Street Pastors out over the festive season keeping revellers safe.  There’s the Salvation Army, providing the soundtrack to Christmas, and feeding otherwise lonely people on Christmas Day.

There’s the Churches Acting Together service emphasising tradition at the opening the North Shields Christmas Market and there’s the first switching on of Christmas Lights at the Cedarwood’s new centre on the Meadow Well allowing them to do  more good work on the estate.

Add to that there are the doctors, nurses and healthcare workers doing their job over the holiday to keep us well and the police and fire fighters working to keep us safe. And countless others in hospitality, transport and retail working to make Christmas enjoyable for the rest of us.  Thank you to all of them and Merry Christmas.

A very Merry Christmas!

This is my last column before Christmas so let me start by wishing you and your family a Happy Christmas.  2016 has been a remarkable year.  In politics the unexpected...

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