Tagged: Guy Opperman

Thousands could lose benefits in Government plan to end youth unemployment

Thousands of unemployed young people across the North East could be stripped of benefits under tough plans in the Government’s Queen’s Speech.

David Cameron insisted the crackdown was designed to end youth unemployment, as he set out his plans in the House of Commons.

But Labour MPs said the plans effectively meant young people would be forced to work for as little as less than £2 an hour – payment far below the minimum wage.

The North East has the highest youth unemployment rate in England.

Office figures show 21.4 per cent of young people aged 18 to 24 are unemployed.

The figures cover people who are “economically active”, which means they are in a job or looking for work. Full-time students are not included.

This is a higher proportion than in any other part of England. It’s also higher than Scotland or Wales, and roughly equal to the Northern Ireland figure of 21.8 per cent.

By contrast, the unemployment rate for people aged 18 to 24 in the south east is 11.4 per cent. And in the West Midlands, it is 16.1 per cent.

Official figures also show that 4,000 people in the North East aged 18 to 24 have been claiming Jobseekers Allowance for six months or longer.

But under Government plans, anyone aged 21 or under will lose the right to this benefit – and be put on a new “youth allowance” instead.

They’ll get the same amount of money as before, up to £57.90 a week, but if they are unemployed for six months then they will be given compulsory community work such as making meals for the elderly or working for local charities – and they’ll lose the right to claim benefits if they refuse.

If they will have to work 30 hours a week as expected, that would be a payment of £1.93 for each hour worked, well below the minimum wage of £5.13 for people age 18 to 20 and £6.50 for those older.

 

The Government says it plans to prepare young people for work and will create 200,000 new apprenticeships in the North East.

And Conservatives point out that the number of people aged 18 to 24 in the North East actually in work has risen by 13,000 over the past year.

David Cameron told the House of Commons: “One of the most important things we can do is give young people the chance of an apprenticeship and the chance of work.

“What we have done is expand apprenticeships and uncapped university places, so that there is no cap on aspiration in our country.

“We now want to go further by saying that every young person should be either earning or learning.

“Leaving school, signing on, getting unemployment benefit, getting housing benefit and opting for a life out of work—that is no choice at all, and that is why we will legislate accordingly.”

And Conservative MP Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham, said:

“This Bill will provide assistance to young people to earn and learn, and give them the skills which they need to have a long term future in employment.

“We need to address the skills gap and using apprenticeships will really make a difference to do that.”

Labour Gateshead MP Ian Mearns said:

“If young people are expected to work in order to get benefits then they should be entitled to the minimum wage.

“To tell them to work for £2 an hour is ridiculous. We have legislation which says there is a minimum wage in this country and that should be the minimum level people can expect.”

Conservatives will face a battle over plans to stop people aged 18 to 21 claiming housing benefit – with Labour MPs and other critics warning it will put young people who are forced to leave home because of abuse in danger.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 May 2015

Leazes Homes chairman pens open letter to David Cameron on extending Right-to-Buy

A stark warning setting out “grave concerns” about extending the right-to-buy to housing association tenants has been issued to Prime Minister David Cameron.

Bill Midgley, chairman of Newcastle-based social housing provider Leazes Homes, accuses the politician of using “the sanctity of a person’s home” as an “election bargaining chip” after the pledge was revealed in the Conservative Party Manifesto last week.

Mr Midgley echoes fears voiced by others in the sector as he outlines how a policy that forces associations to sell off their assets would mean they have less borrowing power.

Because of this, he says, associations could not build more homes for some of the most vulnerable in society, including “older people, those with learning disabilities and those with mental health problems.

The letter reads:

“If organisations like us are unable to secure loan funding for supported housing properties then the potential damage is unthinkable. It is essential that such accommodation can be provided by the affordable housing sector.”

The Tories say the plan opens the possibility of home ownership up to thousands of people who may otherwise be locked out of the market.

The National Housing Federation estimates there are 19,620 people in the North East who would be eligible for a mortgage under the plans and that it will cost £808m to implement the policy.

But Mr Midgley fears poor people may be forced to pay higher rents in the private sector.

Signing off the letter to Mr Cameron, he said:

“I urge you to reconsider this proposal. We have a duty as a society to provide our citizens with good-quality, affordable housing, but the sanctity of a person’s home is not something to be used as a bargaining chip to secure election votes.”

Guy Opperman, the Conservative candidate for Hexham defended the policy –

“We want more people who work hard and save up to be able to enjoy the security of owning their own home.

“Right now it is too difficult for housing association tenants to buy their own home. Until now the Right to Buy has only been available to tenants in local authority properties. This means there are around 500,000 housing association tenants who have no right to buy their home.

“The Right to Buy scheme has already helped around two million families to realise their dream of owning a home. By now extending the Right to Buy to housing associations tenants, we will help more people who want to move on and up the housing ladder.

“Our proposals will increase house building, increase home ownership and reduce waiting lists. Right to Buy improves social mobility and builds mixed communities.

“It gives something back to families who worked hard, paid their rent and played by the rules and gives people a sense of pride and ownership not just in their home, but in their street and neighbourhood.”

The Conservatives have pledged to improve their help-to-buy scheme and have also committed to 200,000 new starter homes in their manifesto.

Similarly Labour says it will build 200,000 new homes by 2020 and that private sector rent would be capped should Ed Miliband be Prime Minister.

The Lib Dems have pledged 300,000 homes a year, and ten garden cities as well as a rent-to-buy ownership scheme.

UKIP plan to build one million homes on brownfield sites by 2020, and Nigel Farage wants to restrict right-to-buy and help-to-buy schemes to British nationals.

Should the Greens win power they will regulate private sector rent and build 500,000 social homes.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 20 Apr 2015

Red-faced Tories blast one of their own MPs for low speech-rate

North-East Tories were left red-faced after accusing one of their own MPs of failing to “fight for” his constituents in the Commons.

The leader of North Tyneside Conservatives attacked MPs who “short-change” voters by making only a small number of speeches in the chamber.

Councillor Judith Wallace produced a table claiming that such MPs were costing taxpayers many thousands of pounds for each speech they made.

And she said: “Politicians think that they can just turn up at election time, push a few leaflets through the door and think ‘job done’. Well it just isn’t good enough.”

However, the table – based on the number of speeches made during the 2014 calendar year – listed only two North-East MPs as “well below average”.

And one of those two was fellow Tory James Wharton, who faces a crucial knife-edge battle to cling onto the Stockton South seat, where he has a majority of just 332.

Mr Wharton spoke just 12 times last year, the Tories said – at an alleged cost of £5,589.17 per contribution – two more occasions than Tynemouth Labour MP Alan Campbell (£6,707).

Cllr Wallace added:

“Voters expect their MPs to be working hard for their salary.

“An MP’s job is to stand up in the House of Commons and make the views of your electors known to the executive – to challenge and to fight for your constituents.”

Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland – second in the table (76 speeches) – pointed out that Mr Campbell was Labour’s deputy chief whip, so spoke very little by convention.

And he said:

“I’d like to congratulate the Tory party for highlighting how little James Wharton has done in his five years – and also for highlighting how much I have done.”

Mr Wharton did not return messages left by journalists, while a spokesman for Cllr Wallace insisted: “Judith’s comments are specifically about her sitting MP Alan Campbell, for Tynemouth.”

The list put Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman top (116 speeches), with Labour’s Ian Lavery (Wansbeck – 66) and Grahame Morris (Easington – 64) third and fourth.

 However, most Westminster observers believe such tables are a poor measure of an MP’s effectiveness – as they ignore constituency work and private lobbying of ministers on key issues.
Source – Northern Echo, 21 Mar 2015

Tynedale Green Party vow to contest Hexham parliamentary seat in 2015 General Election

A relaunched Northumberland Green Party branch has vowed to build on growing national support when they take on the Tories in next year’s General Election.

Tynedale Green Party, which has reformed in Hexham, will put forward a parliamentary candidate in 2015 for the first time since 1992, challenging Conservative MP Guy Opperman.

And its newly elected officers hope their efforts will be boosted by a 100% rise in England and Wales Green membership since the start of the year, and the possibility of joining further coalition governments in the future.

Graham Howard, who lives in Hexham and has been a supporter of Greenpeace since the 1980s, is press officer for the branch which covers all of Tynedale.

He said:

“We have a broken political system supported by vested corporate interests that resist any change.

“I work in the NHS and have seen this coalition turn the service on its head after it had been rebuilt under the previous Government.

“The Tories promised no ‘top-down re-organisation’ and then quite cynically reneged on that manifesto promise by instituting a totally unnecessary and brutal shake-up.

“Privatisation has been the mantra which has ruined so many industries at the expense of our basic infrastructure, for the financial benefit of a minority. The Greens must participate in the 2015 TV debates – they are the fastest growing party membership in the country.”

“Young voters are already much greener than older generations. That there are still climate change deniers able to get away with denying reality in the face of the science, would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous.”

John Hartshorne, a former Prudhoe schoolteacher, was the last Green Party candidate to stand 23 years ago.

He said:

“I joined because I believed that fundamental issues were not being discussed by politicians.

“Every one of us should have an interest in protecting and nurturing our world for our children, and teaching them the importance of compassion, tolerance and the inter-connectedness of all life.”

The next meeting of Tynedale Green Party is at 2pm on Saturday at Hexham Community Centre.

Mr Opperman said: “I look forward to a robust and honest debate on my record as Tynedale and Ponteland’s local MP.

“I am proud of my achievements such as protecting our local NHS, securing an extra £12m for our schools, fighting for our greenbelt and under this government seeing local unemployment fall by 51%.

“It has been a real honour to serve as the MP for my part of Northumberland over the last four years and I look forward to the campaign ahead. I hope I have tried to do things a little bit differently from the standard MP.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  10 Dec 2014

The Chancellor spoke more about Mars than he did about the North East

George Osborne insisted his plans to boost the North were “at the heart” of his Autumn Statement, as he announced plans for a science centre in Newcastle, a centre for advanced manufacturing in Sedgfield and a “Great Exhibition” to celebrate the great art, culture and design of the North.

But his key statement on the nation’s finances also confirmed that local councils face years of further deep cuts.

And the Chancellor’s big surprise, changes to Stamp Duty leading to lower bills for many buyers, will have limited impact on the North East because low property prices in the region mean many home buyers don’t pay the duty anyway.

The Autumn Statement also confirmed that outdated Pacer trains still in use on some routes in the North East will be replaced.

Mr Osborne told the Commons that his goal was to create “a more balanced national economy” and that meant creating a northern powerhouse “as a complement to the strength of our capital city, where we bring together our great cities of the North.”

He announced £20m for a Ageing Science centre in Newcastle, to “back the brilliant work on ageing being conducted at Newcastle University”.

There was also £28m for a world-class research and development centre, to be called the National Formulation Centre, that will specialise in the development of products such as medicines and chemicals, based in Sedgefield.

And documents published by the Treasury also revealed plans for a Great Exhibition in the north.

But local authorities face at least five more years of further dramatic cuts in spending, the Autumn Statement confirmed. Funding from the Treasury for local services is to be cut by more than a fifth by 2019-20.

The figures are included in forecasts published by the Office for Budget Responsibility, the official Treasury watchdog, as part of the statement. It predicted that the main grant provided to local councils will fall from £60.3bn in 2014-15 to £50.5bn in 2019-20.

Mr Osborne insisted: “I do not hide from the House that in the coming years there are going to have to be very substantial savings in public spending.”

This would mean cuts of £13.6bn in 2015-16, as previously announced, and “two further years where decisions on this scale will be required”.

He added: “We’re going to have to go on controlling spending after those years if we want to have a surplus and keep it.”

Another key announcement was a change to stamp duty, previously charged on homes costing more than £125,000.

Buyers eligible for the tax paid one per cent or more of the purchase price. In future, stamp duty will only be paid on the portion of the price which is above the threshold, leading to significant reductions for some properties.

However, an analysis of house prices shows that average prices in the North East are below the £125,000 threshold anyway, which means many buyers will not be affected as they pay no stamp duty.

Average house prices are £120,545 in Newcastle, £124,338 in North Tyneside, £123,766 in Northumberland, £99,837 in South Tyneside and £85,438 in Sunderland.

Nonetheless, buyers of more expensive homes will make savings as long as the property is worth less than £937,000.

Responding to questions from Conservative MP Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham, and Labour Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson, the Chancellor also said there would be help for airports in the North if they were hit by a potential cut in air passenger duty in Scotland, following the announcement that aviation duty will be devolved to the Scottish government.

Responding to the statement, Newcastle East MP Nick Brown pointed out that the Chancellor had announced Britain was awarded the lead role in the next international effort to explore the planet of Mars, adding:

“The Chancellor spoke more about Mars than he did about the North East of England. His Northern Powerhouse is located over 100 miles to the South of Tyne and Wear.

“His statement contained no commitment to any type of workable regional policy in the context of further Scottish Devolution. This is grotesquely one-sided. Even his stamp duty changes were focussed on London and the South East.”

But Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith, who represents Berwick, said:

“The Autumn Statement sticks to our strategy to deal with the deficit, enabling us to release funds for key Liberal Democrat priorities that bring fairness and a stronger economy.”

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  03 Dec 2014

Parties clash over claims North East economy is booming

> Comedy time at the House of Commons…

North East industry is thriving, a Conservative MP has told the House of Commons.

And the Government has created jobs in the region – while Labour was happy to concentrate prosperity in the south of England, according to the Prime Minister.

But the bold claims from the Tories sparked an immediate backlash from Labour, which claimed the Government had failed to tackle the region’s high level of unemployment.

 Guy Opperman, Conservative MP for Hexham, highlighted what he said was the region’s strong economic performance as he questioned David Cameron.

He said:

“Is the Prime Minister aware that the region with the most tech start ups outside of London, and the fastest rate of growth in private sector businesses over the last quarter, and the highest rise in the value of exports, is the North East of England?

“And does he agree with me that we should stick to the long term economic plan so that we all have the benefits?”

The Prime Minister told him:

“It is notable that when we look at things like small business creation, exports, investment, the growth is coming from around the country including the North East – and that is a huge contrast.

“Under 13 years of Labour, for every 10 jobs created in the south they only created one in the North. That is the record of the last Labour government.”

He added:

“What we need to do is to increase entrepreneurship and start ups in every part of the country . . . there is a new spirit of entrepreneurship in Britain and this government is backing it.”

Mr Opperman was referring to a report by the British Chambers of Commerce which found there were more than 300 high tech and digital businesses in the North East, and that only London has a higher rate of tech start ups in the UK.

He also highlighted the Lloyds Bank Regional Purchasing Managers’ Index, which measures business activity in each region and shows that the North East has the highest rate of growth over three months. The latest index, published on October 13, shows activity in the North East growing in line with the national average, although faster than London.

And in September, official figures showed total value of exports in the North East had risen by 2.32% over a year – the highest figure recorded by any English regions.

Second quarter statistics for 2014 showed £3.102bn worth of goods were sold to foreign markets from the region, up by 9.66% compared to the same period last year.

But Labour pointed out that the North East still had the highest unemployment rate in the country. Most recent figures show unemployment in the region is 9.3%, worse than any other region of England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The overall UK rate is 6%.

Newcastle North MP and Shadow Treasury Minister Catherine McKinnell, questioning Chancellor George Osborne in the Commons, said:

“Whilst he’s been shifting funds from Northern cities to wealthier parts of the country, unemployment in the North East is the highest in the country; wages for working people in the North have fallen by even more than the national average; and, across the North, the number of young people unemployed for over a year is up 62% since the election.

“Why won’t he match Labour’s plan to devolve real power and £30billion of funding, not just to the North but to all city and county regions?”

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  06 Nov 2014

Conservative Party try to reinvent themselves as the party of the North East

> Is there a General Election on the horizon or something ? The Tories are getting all concerned about the North East…

Growing the economy in the North of England and closing the wealth divide with London and the south east was one of the major themes of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, spoke repeatedly about backing the North in his keynote speech at the  conference.

The focus may seem surprising given that the party has few MPs in the North East.

Guy Opperman in Hexham, Northumberland, and James Wharton in Stockton South are the party’s only North East representatives in the Commons, although Tories believe they have a chance of taking Liberal Democrat-held Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, at the next election.

But William Hague, the former Foreign Secretary regarded as unofficial deputy leader of the party, pointed out to journalists that there were many more Conservative MPs in the North West and in Yorkshire.

Mr Osborne, who represents a constituency in Cheshire, even told the conference: “I am also the first Chancellor for almost forty years to represent a constituency in the north of England – and I can see the risk of our capital city’s dominance.

> Yorkshire and Cheshire are quite different from the North East. That’s exactly why they do elect Tories.

“It is not healthy for our country or our economy.”

He pledged: “Let us choose today to make reducing the gap between north and south, London and the rest, one of the central ambitions of the next Conservative Government.”

And he highlighted the Government’s plan to create a “Northern Powerhouse”, saying: “The answer is to build up the rest of our country. To create a Northern Powerhouse of the cities across the Pennines.”

The Chancellor’s plan is to turn the North into an economic powerhouse rivalling London by investing up to £15 billion on local transport links, picking a scientific speciality for universities to become world-leaders in, possibly building a high speed line across the Pennines, linking the North East and North West, and giving cities more autonomy and cash – if they agree to transform local government by introducing directly-elected mayors.

Mr Hague insisted the party was on course to win in the North.

He said: “At the last general election we made a major breakthrough in the North – if you take the North as being Yorkshire, the North East and North West. We went up at the last election from 19 MPs in the North to 42. That was a huge expansion, including in the North East of course, where we gained Stockton South.

> And… and… oh, just Stockton South, then ? Along with Hexham, that’s a really huge expansion in the North East.

“I hope we can add to that – there will be seats we will be targeting in the North including the North East.”

Major announcements at the conference included plans to freeze working-age benefits – including benefits received by working people on low salaries – for two years.

This means cutting benefits in real terms, because of the effects of inflation.

Conservative leader David Cameron, in his conference speech, announced plans to raise the income tax personal allowance to £12,500. This would take one million more workers out of income tax entirely and give a tax cut to 30 million more, Mr Cameron said.

An estimated 51,000 North East workers would pay no income tax at all because of the change. Many others would pay less tax.

> Isn’t this because wages are so poor to start with ?

Mr Cameron also announced plans to raise the threshold at which people pay the 40p income tax rate from £41,900 today to £50,000.

It means a tax cut for many people earning above-average salaries. Mr Cameron said the 40p tax was supposed to be for the rich, but it’s currently paid by some senior nurses, teachers and police officers.

But critics pointed out that the Conservatives had failed to explain how they would pay the £7 billion cost of cutting tax.

Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said: “Nobody will be fooled by pie in the sky promises of tax cuts in six years’ time when David Cameron cannot tell us where the money is coming from.

“Even the Tories admit this is an unfunded commitment of over £7 billion, so how will they pay for it? Will they raise VAT on families and pensioners again?”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 Oct 2014

Tory MP calls for Northumberland to be split in two

A Northumberland MP has issued a renewed call for the county to be governed by separate urban and rural authorities in the ongoing row over the future of its civic base.

Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman has revived a debate which raged prior to the creation of a single unitary authority for Northumberland in 2009 in the continuing dispute over county council plans to move its base and decentralise services.

Yet Labour leaders on the council have accused him of an “attempt to divide the county for purely party political ends” and of being “prepared to turn down hundreds of jobs and decentralised services for his constituency.

The county was once governed by Northumberland County Council alongside six district councils.

A referendum in 2004 saw residents voting for two unitary authorities for the county, along a rural urban split, rather than one.

Labour leaders at the county council then submitted a proposal for a single unitary authority.

However, the districts favoured the creation of two authorities, one for the urban areas of Wansbeck and Blyth Valley and one for the rural centres of Alnwick, Berwick, Tynedale and Castle Morpeth.

Yet the government in July 2007 chose the single authority option.

Mr Opperman has now proposed a public debate on the creation of two authorities for the rural and urban areas, amid his opposition to the county council’s plans to move its base from County Hall at Morpeth to Ashington and to create nine service hubs around Northumberland.

The MP suggested a new unitary authority covering the Hexham and Berwick parliamentary constituencies could take over services now provided by the county council.

He questioned why Ashington should benefit from a new £40m council base, a £20m sports centre and a £74m overhaul of the town centre, while his constituency is “losing out.”

> Possibly because Hexham is a much richer town than Ashington, which has a lot of catching up to do. Anyone who has visited both towns will know what I mean.

Mr Opperman furthermore claimed the recent abolition of free transport for students in post-16 education demonstrated the council’s current leadership “simply don’t have an interest in the issues in rural communities.”

The MP said: “Perhaps now that Labour are wanting dramatic change it is time to consider whether the current county council should be made into two unitary authorities, one urban and one rural.”

He added: “Hexham certainly has a lot more in common with Alnwick than it does with Ashington or Blyth. A rural Northumberland authority covering West and North Northumberland would give people back a council which worked for them, listened to their concerns and didn’t ignore them in favour of the urban South East.”

Responding, a spokesman for the Labour group on the county council said: “This is Guy Opperman’s latest political wheeze. “Last week he was arguing that Scotland and the UK are better together and this week he wants to split Northumberland up.

“Here are the figures, the county population is 47% in the South East, 27% in the West and 26% in the North.

“His half baked proposal would see more than 55% of the government’s grant disappear to the South East and would see the West having to make do with less than 25% of the current grant.

“His figures just don’t add up.

“This is his latest attempt to divide the county for purely party political ends.

“Residents will rightly note that he’s prepared to turn down hundreds of jobs and decentralised services for his constituency and yet he stays silent as his government slashes the county council budget by a third.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 26 Sept 2014

Hexham MP to set off on referendum “battle bus” to persuade Scottish Border towns to stay in the Union

A North MP has launched a referendum battle bus to persuade voters in the Scottish Borders that “we are better together.”

Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham, in Northumberland, will set off on his campaign to save the Union on Saturday August 30, when the postal vote forms will be landing on the doorsteps of all Scots.

He intends to be in the Borders leading a team as they try to persuade the people of Border towns Jedburgh and Howick to stay before September’s referendum.

> I suspect they may mean Hawick, not Howick…

Mr Opperman is calling on members of every political party to join him on his journey up the A68 trunk road in a bid to keep the two neighbouring countries together.

Every two or three weeks I have been going to Scotland to campaign for Better Together for the last six months,” he told The Journal. “I’ve gone from Aberdeen to Fife to the Borders to Dumfries and up to Argyle and Bute either speaking or debating, rallying or simply knocking on doors with the Better Together campaign.

> Really ?  Hope he hasn’t been neglecting the people who voted him in… although I do tend to think that anyone who votes Tory gets what they derserve.

“I’ve campaigned with Labour MPs, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives all of whom have come together and put party politics aside to ensure that we keep the Union. It is important that people living in the Scottish Borders know that we do not want then to go. Saturday August 30 is an important date because it’s approximately 18 days before the referendum when postal votes will be landing on Scottish voters’ doorsteps.

“A huge proportion of the votes in the referendum will be done by post and we need to make this date a significant one.

“My proposal is to get as many people as possible who wish to come and campaign with the team from Better Together to travel with us from Newcastle, Hexham and wider Northumberland on August 30.

“This is cross party because the Better Together campaign does not take into account an individual’s political view, provided he or she is in favour of the Union.”

The Tory MP has long called for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.

He said: “Scottish independence is not what I want. I am a passionate supporter of the Union, as are the vast majority of our constituents.

> But you’re not Scottish… what you want is neither here nor there ultimately.

If I was an undecided Scot, I think a bus full of English Tory MPs and other Little Englanders telling me what I should do would ensure another “yes” vote.

“The impact of Scottish independence would be a significant effect on cross-border trade, and there are real concerns amongst my businesses that independence will affect the financial state of the North East.”

Mr Opperman proposes to leave from Wentworth car park, in Hexham at around 9.30am on August 30. Those interested in being on board the referendum bus later this month should email the MP direct at guy.opperman.mp@parliament.uk

> Or if you live in Hexham, you could email him and tell him to get his arse back and do some work for the people who elected him.

I’m thinking of starting a campaign to extend the Scottish border south to the Tees. That’d solve all these perceived lost business opportunities along the border.

Source – Newcastle Journal, 09 Aug 2014

‘We must do more to teach British values’ – Hexham Tory MP

The UK needs a dedicated minister for integration to promote British values and identity, according to a North MP.

Hexham  MP Guy Opperman urged the Government to consider appointing a dedicated minister as he backed the Government’s plans to require schools to teach British values.

It follows claims that extremists or religious conservatives have attempted to take over schools in areas of Birmingham with large Muslim populations.

Independent schools, including state-run academies, are already required to encourage pupils to respect British values, which are defined as democracy; the rule of law; individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has announced this requirement is to be extended to include local authority maintained schools.

But the Muslim Council of Britain has expressed “deep concern” at the debate over British values, saying: “We have no objection to British values. On the contrary. We believe in a tolerant, more free and more equal society.

“We want a real debate that does not regard us as conditional Britons.”

Other critics have claimed it is wrong to suggest tolerance and rule of law are British values, as if the UK is more committed to them than other countries.

But speaking in a Commons debate, Mr Opperman said: “One would hope that those are universal values, but we know that the reality worldwide is that they are not universal values, but are particular values of this country.

“In that respect, these purportedly universal values are, in fact, very British and their promotion must be a very good thing.”

He said he wanted to ask “whether we need to consider introducing, as the Canadians have, a Minister for integration.”

Canadian Minister Jason Kenney had succeeded in “formulating and promoting integration of people of many different faiths,” Mr Opperman said.

“His portfolio includes citizenship, multiculturalism, immigration and integration. It is the unification of those strands of Government Departments and the difficulties faced that we genuinely need to address.”

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said he agreed with Mr Opperman that British values were not shared by everyone.

He said: “British values are not universal around the world, and we should be proud that they are very widely, if not universally, accepted here at home.

“Those universal values flower in Britain because of the protection of our strong democratic state, defended through liberty – with blood, in times gone by – by our forefathers and the forefathers of those from many different backgrounds.”

The Department for Education says that the new regulations will take effect in September 2014.

Schools will be expected to show how they are promoting fundamental British values and challenging pupils, staff or parents who express opinions contrary to those values.

Action will also be taken against schools where, for example, girls are disadvantaged on the grounds of their gender – or where prejudice against those of other faiths is encouraged or not adequately challenged.

Labour MP John Denham said teaching British values was “ill-judged and may be counter-productive”, adding: “All the attention has been focused deliberately on one community, the Muslim community.”

Source – Newcastle Journal, 29 June 2014