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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...

Parliament returned for two weeks in September with important matters to consider including the state of the NHS and the proposed return of grammar schools.  Members could be forgiven however if their minds drifted elsewhere with the Boundary Commission publishing initial plans to cut the number of MP’s.

 

After the 2010 election the Coalition committed to fewer and equal sized constituencies. Equal electoral districts were an objective of the Chartists 150 years ago but they’ve proven more difficult to achieve in practice. The motivation for the Conservatives this time is that Labour stands to lose most seats.

 

The Conservatives claim that they are making democracy fairer and saving money. But by rushing in the way they are they are excluding more than 2 million new voters who signed up to vote in the EU Referendum, many of them young people. As for cutting costs, the plan aims to save £12 million but ignores the fact that David Cameron created 260 new Lords at a cost of £34 million, on top of spending £45 million on Special Advisers. And with MEP’s going, the workload for MP’s can only increase.

 

There’s a wider point as well. By cutting the number of MP’s but not the number of Ministers the Executive faces even less scrutiny.  There is a case for saving money and for real political reform but this is more about the narrow interest of the Conservatives and deserves to be opposed. 

Proposals to change constituency boundaries

Parliament returned for two weeks in September with important matters to consider including the state of the NHS and the proposed return of grammar schools.  Members could be forgiven however...

Every year MP's are asked what their summer reading will be. This year mine included a book about Harold Wilson, Prime Minister in the 1960's and '70's and for whom 2016 is the centenary of his birth. Wilson's career is long overdue a revision not least because many of his achievements have been forgotten.

 

Wilson set up the Open University and Polytechnics to challenge the University establishment and widen access.  So in sending congratulations to this years A level students many of whom will be off to University it's worth remembering Wilson's success in opening up access for children from ordinary backgrounds.

 

Studying for A levels seems like a marathon and on that note well done to our Olympic athletes who did our nation proud at Rio.  Here again Wilson's legacy is interesting.  It was his Government which set up the Sports Council and shifted sport to a more professional approach.  The investment he began was built on by John Major and Tony Blair and may have played a part in later success.

 

Harold Wilson understood the need to invest in a modern economy and he understood the importance of winning. He's regarded as a manager and fixer rather than a leader of principle.  In fact he was both, never forgetting that to actually change things you have to be able to win power. It's a lesson we forget at our peril.

The legacy of Harold Wilson

Every year MP's are asked what their summer reading will be. This year mine included a book about Harold Wilson, Prime Minister in the 1960's and '70's and for whom...

Our coast has some of the most beautiful, cleanest beaches in the country. That’s important for tourism but also for those of us who live here. In the last 25 years there’s been a massive improvement in the state of our bathing waters and our beaches. In 1990 just 27% of our bathing waters met minimum standards, by 2014 that had risen to 99.2%. Part of the reason was our membership of the EU which insisted on higher standards. The EU has had an enormous and positive impact on our environment. It showed that global challenges on environmental matters and climate change require international cooperation.  Crucially it helped to bind successive Governments into positive action. Now that the UK has voted to Brexit we cannot afford to backslide. Progress through EU Nature Directives protecting our most threatened species in our protected sites must be enshrined in any post Brexit programme. There must also be continued improvement in animal welfare and water quality. It’s worrying that one of the first acts of the new Conservative Government was to get rid of the Department for Climate Change and that so many climate change sceptics are at the heart of the new administration. Campaigners are already mobilising to hold the government to account including animal welfare groups arguing for an Animal Protection Commission and groups like Surfers Against Sewage, determined to ensure that legislation is strengthened and not weakened. Good luck to them!

The environment post Brexit

Our coast has some of the most beautiful, cleanest beaches in the country. That’s important for tourism but also for those of us who live here. In the last 25...

It’s claimed the falling pound, after the post Brexit vote, will be a boost to the number of tourists coming to Britain. I imagine most of the people coming to the Coast, whenever the sun shone in recent weeks, are more likely to be home grown but it's great to see so many.

 

As Parliament rose for its summer recess I met the Mayor and senior council officers for an update on regeneration. I agreed to lobby Ministers for help to secure the funding necessary to redevelop the northern promenade in Whitley Bay, which I have duly done. I also went away with a lasting impression of our Elected Mayor Norma Redfearn’s steely determination to see the regeneration completed soon.

 

I helped to set up the Seaside Group of Labour MP's in Parliament to draw attention, for the first time, to the decline of seaside and coastal communities. Since then, successive Governments have instructed their departments, when making decisions, to consider the needs of seaside and coastal towns including regeneration. It makes political sense to do so since there are around 20 to 30 seaside seats whose votes could determine the outcome of an election.

 

Looking forward, I've pencilled in a September meeting with the New Economic Foundation to discuss their New Deal initiative, the centre piece of which is delivering new jobs for coastal communities through a healthier coastal and marine environment. The campaign goes on.

Regeneration for Seaside Towns

It’s claimed the falling pound, after the post Brexit vote, will be a boost to the number of tourists coming to Britain. I imagine most of the people coming to...

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