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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...

 

In the week of the Autumn Statement, funding for public services is once again at the forefront of parliamentary debate. There’s increased concern about the state of NHS with a growing belief that the service is understaffed and underfunded.

The National Audit Office says that the trend in the financial performance of NHS Trusts risks making local health and care services unsafe and unsustainable.

Little surprise then that some see the Draft Sustainability and Transformation plans for the NHS over the next 5 years as an agenda for cuts.

Or when our local Trust temporarily closes Emergency Departments to cope with winter pressures by concentrating services at the new Critical Care Hospital it’s no surprise when eyebrows are raised.

But it’s not just the NHS under pressure, with local schools facing real term cuts in their budgets, as per pupil funding is frozen while inflation and staff costs rise. Local schools face the biggest cuts in a generation with many teachers set to lose their jobs. The Governments response, instead of better funding, is to offer a new funding formula which we know will hit areas like ours hardest.

Educating our children, and tomorrows workforce, and keeping people healthy and safe is not what matters to someone else, it matters to all of us. Our public services need proper funding – perhaps we could start with a share of the £350 million a week exiting the EU is meant to bring.

Autumn Statement

  In the week of the Autumn Statement, funding for public services is once again at the forefront of parliamentary debate. There’s increased concern about the state of NHS with...

Like millions of others this weekend I will be attending Remembrance Services in honour of those who gave their lives in war. On Saturday evening I will be in the magnificent setting of Durham Cathedral and the following day I’ll be at services across our community.  This year is the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and so the wearing of a poppy will seem particularly apt. Across the country the Royal British Legion expect around 150,000 volunteers will sell more than 45 million poppies.

 

The British Legion is calling upon people, when they donate and wear their poppy, to think about all generations of our armed forces. As well as associating the poppy with   the First and Second World Wars, Rethinking Remembrance is urging us to also remember younger veterans and serving soldiers. As well as the two world wars the British Legion is urging remembrance of those killed and wounded in action in conflicts including the Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland. Much of the Legion’s work is with veterans on health, jobs and homelessness.

 

I would also urge people to keep in their thoughts our armed forces serving around the world today including the brave RAF pilots and crew who are assisting in the defeat of Daesh in Iraq and Syria.  In honour of those who died and in support of those who served, and are serving, I shall wear my poppy with pride.

Remembering the fallen

Like millions of others this weekend I will be attending Remembrance Services in honour of those who gave their lives in war. On Saturday evening I will be in the...

It was something of an understatement when the Transport Secretary said the Government wanted to make sure they took time to consider plans for airport expansion. In the Airport Commission's final report in July 2015 a strong case was made for a third runway at Heathrow and this week the Government finally accepted that recommendation. The Government had not been short of advice on the subject including strong campaigns by North East MP's and the North East Chamber of Commerce.

There are already good links between Newcastle International Airport and Heathrow with half a million passengers choosing the route each year. Expanding Heathrow would allow Newcastle to offer a wider range of destinations, including more flights to New York after the disappointing loss of the United Airlines direct flight from Newcastle.

The benefits of Heathrow expansion for the North East would include a boost for exports, greater competition between airlines leading to cheaper flights and more tourism, hopefully bound for the regions. On top of that there are the jobs created in construction and investment in infrastructure which offer a better route to economic growth than more austerity.  Furthermore as the economic storm clouds gather around Brexit, now is the time to build better links with the rest of the world. So my message to the Government on Heathrow expansion, notwithstanding the requirement for consultation, is the case has been made, let’s get on with it.

The importance of transport links

It was something of an understatement when the Transport Secretary said the Government wanted to make sure they took time to consider plans for airport expansion. In the Airport Commission's...

Parliament returned this week to debate matters of local and global importance such as Neighbourhood Planning, Syria and Brexit.  The Unlawful Killing (Recovery of Remains) Bill– or Helen’s Law –perhaps got less attention.  I put my name to the Bill because I believe it’s an important measure which has widespread public support.

Helen McCourt was just 22 when she was murdered by Ian Simms in 1988. Her body was never found. Simms was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum tariff of 16 years. It was only the third trial in Britain since the Second World War without a body. The conviction was secured on overwhelming DNA evidence.

To this day however Simms has refused to reveal how he disposed of Helen’s body or where her remains are. As the law stands murderers do not have to show any remorse or compassion by revealing where their victims are. The decision for release on parole is that they are unlikely to commit further crime or be a danger to the public.

This Bill would change the law by denying parole to those who refuse to cooperate with the Police regarding the location of their victims.

We debate the great issues of the day in Parliament but it’s equally important to remember the very human stories and the simple rights of people like being able to bury a loved one. I very much hope Helen’s Law passes and makes a difference.

Remembering the human stories

Parliament returned this week to debate matters of local and global importance such as Neighbourhood Planning, Syria and Brexit.  The Unlawful Killing (Recovery of Remains) Bill– or Helen’s Law –perhaps...

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