Save the Derwent Walk

The Derwent Walk Country Park is a great mixture of woodlands and riverside and it is such an important part of our community. People from across the region come here to walk, sight see, fish and enjoy a lovely day out. I’m proud that my constituency contains such a great part of our history and our heritage in the North-East.

I strongly condemn the idea that we should tear through this country park to unearth a railway. With so many visitors and with it being such a popular cycle route (both for days out and as a main path on the coast-to-coast route) it would be devastating to lose this at the heart of my constituency, and I know this will be a concern for all of the surrounding communities

That is why we need as many people as possible to sign the petition below. Please click the link to download the petition, fill out your details and send it across to sam.grist@parliament.uk to help us stand up and help us save our Derwent Walk.

Derwent Walk Petition

p.s. if you know someone else who is passionate about the Derwent Walk, ask them to sign too

A difficult week, An uncertain time and no Tory to be seen

This has been an incredibly difficult week for some in our region, as they deal with the devastation left by Storm Arwen.

In my own constituency, hundreds of homes in places like Marley Hill, Winlaton, Blaydon, Sunniside, Whickham, Chopwell, Greenside and Coalburns were left without electricity and hot water for days. At the time of writing, some of my constituents are in their sixth day without life’s essentials.

For families the disruption has been enormous. Children have once again had their learning disrupted, with schools left without power and water and therefore unable to open to pupils. I have been particularly concerned about those who are medically dependent on electricity and our older and vulnerable folk.

My office has fielded dozens of enquiries and continues to keep constituents updated on progress by Gateshead Council, Northern Powergrid, Northumbria Water and other partner organisations, who have responded well to difficult circumstances, prioritising the most vulnerable. I also demanded the Government give us more information on support available in the House of Commons yesterday, and I’ll continue to ensure everyone gets the help they need.

In the face of adversity there have been glimmers of hope. I would like to put on record my thanks to our council and emergency services, and all those volunteers who have played a part in helping others over the last week.

It is no surprise that volunteers, business and local groups were once again out on the frontline on Saturday morning, opening emergency hubs in places like the Winlaton Centre, the Riverview Bakery in Blackhall Mill, Sunniside Club and Ye Olde Cross pub in Ryton, as well as Chopwell Community Centre, Barmoor Hub and AJ Cook’s lounge.

They provided space for people to come and charge their devices, sit down for a bite to eat and a drink or simply to warm up. We have once again seen our community at its very best, while dealing with the worst of events.

Over the last two years we have seen the effect of the pandemic on our transport systems, with services cut and routes being cancelled due to driver shortages. Last week I led a debate in Parliament about the urgent need for more funding for public transport in the North East.

Nexus fears the Government will cut all support which could result in a further reduction in bus services of up to 20%. This simply cannot happen. I will be meeting government ministers next week to pursue the matter.

The lack of engagement from Tories in the North East in this debate was astounding and another sign that their priorities are all wrong. Of course they did turn up to vote to protect one of their own MPs mired in Tory sleaze.

We’re all tired of sleaze dominating the headlines. I was pleased to see Angela Rayner announce Labour’s plan to overhaul and strengthen the rules that govern the conduct of government ministers and protect taxpayers’ money by establishing a new independent watchdog.

The next Labour government will bring forward a fully Independent Integrity and Ethics Commission to replace the current the regime, which is controlled by the Prime Minister. The system as it stands has failed to prevent Boris Johnson and his government’s corruption.

Weak rules and a lack of proper enforcement have allowed this government to break the Ministerial Code and rules repeatedly, without sanctions or consequences. We’ve seen former Ministers such as David Cameron and Philip Hammond take up paid lobbying jobs and £3.5bn of taxpayers’ money was handed to Conservative Party donors and friends of the Conservatives in Covid contracts.

We will deliver tougher rules and enforcement by a truly independent body, to clean up politics and protect taxpayer’s money. We’ll ban all second jobs for MPs, with limited exemptions and stop the revolving door between government and the companies that ministers are supposed to regulate with a ban for five years after leaving office.

It is only right that we stop murky foreign money interfering in British politics and create stricter rules about political donations. Our new Office for Value for Money and reform of the public procurement system will stop more dodgy contracts going to ministers’ mates.

Business Breakfast

Throughout the last couple of years, our local businesses in the constituency of Blaydon have been through so much. From unexpected lockdowns to leaving the European Union, our businesses have had to adapt to keep going. What is important going forward is that we can find a way for all of our local businesses to thrive.

That is why I am holding a Business Breakfast.

I want to open up the avenue for every local business in my constituency to come and tell me what we need to do so that you can thrive. By beginning this conversation, I want to make sure I am giving a voice to your business and a direct route to change through parliament.

When is it?

Monday 29th November

8:30-9:30am

If you would like to come, please make sure to fill in the form below and we can let you know the details.

I hope to see you there!

October Article for The Journal

Boris Johnson is right. On climate change, it really is one minute to midnight. So it beggars belief that in the run up to this month’s UN climate change summit, COP26, the Prime Minister was practically sleepwalking. He even appeared to nod off during the keynote speeches on Monday, flanked by 95-year-old Sir David Attenborough whose laser-focused attention contrasted sharply with that of our PM.

The scale of the climate crisis is stark. Between 1906-2005, the average global temperature rose by 0.74ºC, with most of that warming occurring since 1970. By 2015, the average global temperature had warmed by over 1ºC since pre-industrial times. Sixteen of the 17 warmest years on record have been in 21st century and the warming isn’t the same everywhere; in the polar regions temperatures are rising up to three times the global average. Over the last 30 years we have reduced our carbon emissions by 44 per cent. But, there is so much more to do.

Reliance on fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, along with deforestation and intensive agriculture, are some of the key drivers of climate change. Our addiction to these is responsible for droughts in Madagascar, and ice sheets melting in Antarctica. Closer to home, parts of the North East costal region could disappear as sea levels rise, as could some of our low-lying areas along the River Tyne. 

Around the world we’re seeing more wildfires, extreme weather events, and food and water shortages. The UN Refugee Agency estimates such climate-related disasters could double the number of climate refugees to over 200 million each year by 2050.

More than 120 heads of state and representatives of nearly 200 countries have gathered to forge a plan aimed at holding global heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. They must now agree a radical plan, with the wealthiest countries shouldering the balance of the economic burden as we move to a green transition, with green jobs and energy leading the way.

Even our own government’s announcements in the lead up to COP 26 will only tinker around the edges of the climate crisis. Johnson’s Net Zero strategy, squeezed by the Treasury in the Budget, only provides for piecemeal projects, such as the £450m boiler upgrade scheme that will support less than 5 per cent households, those able to invest their own cash, to make changes from gas to air source heat pumps. 

Homeowners are left to face the costs of insulation on their own, industries like steel and hydrogen are left hobbled in the global race without support and the government cannot confirm they will meet their climate target for 2035. So, Labour is demanding the Government keeps the 1.5C target alive and we have a five-point plan to get there.

First, Britain must lead by example. Climate action ​must start at home. ​By investing £28bn every year until 2030 to tackle the climate crisis, we can protect the planet and create secure jobs in the UK. Its also our duty to support the most vulnerable by permanently reversing the overseas aid cut, delivering and surpassing the $100 billion pledge to help developing countries cut emissions and adapt to climate change.

We need to pressure the big polluters by calling for 1.5C-aligned targets from the big emitting countries, phasing out fossil fuels, and ensuring a just transition for workers. protecting nature by ending deforestation and ensuring all emissions reduction protects and promotes nature. We also need a robust Net-Zero and Nature Test to measure the impact of all government spending. Finally, we must require financial institutions and major companies to publish their carbon footprint and adopt credible 1.5C-aligned transition plans.

Locally, Labour councils are leading by example. Gateshead’s district energy scheme, the Hebburn minewater heating project and Newcastle’s plans to plant 20,000 more trees are just some of the ways we’re innovating.

We all need COP26 to succeed. But if we are to stop the world warming, we will need more than warm words. Glasgow must be the summit of climate delivery, not climate delay. All our futures depend on it.

Baby Loss Awareness Week – Wave of Light 2021

CRADLE would like to invite anyone who has been affected in some way by pregnancy loss to join us and others around the world for a Wave of Light on Friday 15th October at 7pm. Each light represents the different journeys and experiences of pregnancy loss and each one deserves a moment of reflection.

 

CRADLE is a UK based national charity that provides support to women and their families, before, during and following early pregnancy loss, up to 24 weeks. We are supported by a national team of early pregnancy loss ambassadors, all who have experienced pregnancy loss themselves.

 

We know that different types of pregnancy loss require different types of treatments, meaning different experiences and we want to make sure we are there to support each and every one. We also support families who have to make difficult decisions leading to TFMR (compassionate induction) and we are here when a fertility treatment doesn’t go to plan.  Because every pregnancy matters.

 

We run a local service at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead and also offer support through our local Facebook Group (search on Facebook ‘CRADLE’ Newcastle) and through a number of therapy projects. One of our Ambassadors in Gateshead, Gemma, was keen to share her story with you;

“My husband and I have experienced 7 losses under the care of the QE in Gateshead. We’re extremely fortunate and grateful to have had our little girl at the QE as well. The recurrent losses have taken their toll on my mental health and there has been limited emotional support available over the years. That is, until the wonderful team at the QE Women’s Clinic pointed me in the direction of CRADLE after my last loss in August 2020, when the services were first launched. The counselling, community and support that CRADLE offered me has been transformative, and they’ve given me the tools I need to manage my wellbeing daily. I feel so strongly about the importance of early pregnancy loss support that I began volunteering as a CRADLE Ambassador at the QE in 2020. CRADLE understands that every pregnancy matters and as such provide practical and emotional support to everyone who experiences this heart-breaking situation. I will be forever grateful for the partnerships between the QE and CRADLE, and for them being there when I needed them most.”

 

 If you or anyone you know, requires more support or information or you would like to make a donation to the charity then please find us on:

 

Twitter @cradle_charity

Facebook Cradle

Instagram cradle_charity

 

Liz writes May 2021

Today, you will have your say on your next local councillor and the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner. And for readers in North Tyneside, the Elected Mayor is also on the ballot. The real choice on most ballot papers is between a Labour Party committed to a better future – improving local services after a decade of austerity that saw our council budgets decimated and key workers betrayed, and a Conservative Party mired in sleaze, cronyism and incompetence.

The NHS has done a wonderful job on the vaccine rollout and I’m grateful that it wasn’t contracted out to Matt Hancock’s mates. But let’s be in no doubt, on every other issue this has been a terrible year for Conservatives in power. 

We mustn’t forget this Government’s failure to lockdown fast enough, the incompetence of Health Ministers to get a proper test and trace system running or comments by the Prime Minister about letting the bodies pile high. Nor should we forget that Britain has suffered the highest death toll in Europe and the deepest recession in 300 years. We’re not out of the woods yet, with uncertainty on the future of the virus and the economy.

It is now clear that Boris Johnson has presided over the greatest abuse of British taxpayers’ money in history, through his wasteful approach to outsourcing public contracts to his chums. It really is infuriating to read about the friend and neighbour of a Tory minister getting £30million of taxpayers’ money, while towns and communities across the country see their local services slashed. And it’s even worse when taxpayers cash is wasted on government contracts that don’t even deliver.

Not content with wasting public money on handing failed health contracts to his cronies, Johnson still hasn’t answered questions over whether he sought to squander tens of thousands of pounds of Conservative donor cash on his flat in Number 10. The “Cash for Curtains” scandal is a national embarrassment. Any other Prime Minister would show remorse, but not Johnson. On his watch, sleaze is back in a big way and just like a fish rots from the head down, this toxic culture started in Downing Street but extends into the country.

Closer to home, Conservative-controlled Northumberland County Council has been rocked by scandal over the last year, with accusations of wrongdoing, racism and failure to act in the best interest interests of the Council leading to the eventual departure of the Tory Leader, following a vote of no confidence. Such was the sleaze that even his own side voted him out!

In contrast, we see a changed Labour Party. We’re putting working people and their communities first, focusing on creating jobs, tackling crime and protecting the NHS. As we emerge from of the pandemic our vision for Britain is simple: we want this to be the best place to grow up in and the best place to grow old in, whoever you are and wherever you live.

We would invest billions in the economy to create hundreds of thousands new jobs in the industries of the future, including steel and manufacturing. We would also introduce a guarantee for young people to get them into work, training or education and end long-term unemployment. And unlike this government, we won’t just clap our key workers, we’ll pay them properly. Thats why we’re guaranteeing the proper pay rise our NHS heroes were promised.

There’s no reason we can’t have better paid jobs, better schools, thriving high streets, public services that put people first and an NHS that is the envy of the world again: we just have to prioritise them. And those priorities are on the ballot paper today.

A vote for a Labour councillor is a vote for a better future for your community. I urge readers to re-elect our brilliant Police and Crime Commissioner, Kim McGuinness. Kim is investing in more frontline police, way more than the government has offered. And 60 new detectives to take on the more sinister, organised and violent criminals. Kim’s work to deter young people from falling into crime is making a real difference, but there’s always more to do.

Liz writes March 2021

Every day that Labour is in opposition is frustrating and until we get into Government we will not be able to deliver on many of our priorities that will make this a fairer, more prosperous country. But there are moments when we can make a difference for people and now Parliament is in recess for Easter I’ve been reflecting on some of our recent successes.

One of my priorities over the past year has been campaigning around reducing sewage discharges into our rivers. This week the Environment Agency published alarming data showing water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers and coastal waters in England more than 400,000 times last year – a 27 per cent increase from the previous year.

Untreated human waste flooded into rivers and seas for a total of 3.1 million hours via storm overflow pipes that are only intended for use in extreme weather to relieve pressure in the sewage system. This pollution of our rivers poses a real threat to wildlife, agriculture and potentially to public health, so it is vital that Britain’s “blue arteries” are much better protected from harmful discharges.

So, I welcomed the news earlier this week that following the campaigning of MPs and third sector organisations like The Rivers Trust and Surfers Against Sewage, new legal duties will be placed on water companies and Government to stick within defined limits.

The Government will be duty-bound to publish a plan by September 2022 to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows and will have to report to Parliament each year on progress on implementing the plan. Water companies will also be expected to play their part, by publishing yearly data on storm overflow use.

As always, the devil is in the detail and I will be following this development closely. And as The Rivers Trust have said, it will be good to see more funding for water infrastructure improvements and much-needed public education.

Over the Easter break many of us will be heading out to enjoy the countryside, but it’s vital that we all play our part as individuals and utility companies to protect our shared natural habitat, including the littering which blights so many of our otherwise beautiful landscapes.

Since joining the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Loneliness, I have been working across Parliament and alongside the British Red Cross and Co-op to develop the right long-term solutions and policies to tackle loneliness.

In 2020 we led an independent enquiry, collecting evidence and gathering hundreds of views and expert opinions. The result of this work can now be found in the British Red Cross report, ‘A Connected Recovery’, which you can read on their website.

We are now calling on the Government to adopt 15 recommendations from the report to reconnect our communities – from investing in public spaces and transport, to closing the digital divide. All of these things are crucially important in order to have a joined-up approach to tackling loneliness properly and our work continues.

Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness has warned violent crime could increase in the North East after the Tories cut a dedicated knife crime fund by 40%.

Home Office Surge funds are handed to police forces to pay for enforcement activity in hotspot areas – for increased patrols, preventing street-based violence and weapons sweeps. But I’m concerned that fighting crime in Northumbria will be harder following Government funding cuts.

The Home Office claims to back local police forces to deal with violent crime. But the Surge funding figure announced for Northumbria – £906,500 – was, in fact, a 40% reduction in the previous year’s vital knife-crime cash. The previous £1.524m Surge funding was used for targeted knife crime crackdowns, with several operations targeting street gangs and known offenders.

Northumbria Police have worked hard to get violent crime and knife crime down – but with lockdown ending and pubs and clubs set to re-open shortly, I’m very concerned the funding cut from the Conservatives could have dangerous consequences. As restrictions are eased, the Government may have serious questions to answer over public safety.

Liz writes February 2021

Shop workers, particularly those in supermarkets and other food stores, have been on the frontline during this pandemic, supplying us with the essentials of life and keeping the nation fed.

Unlike many of us, they do not have the option of working from home and play an essential role in society and the economy as key workers. For some vulnerable members of our community their local retail workers may be their only human contact each week, providing a social lifeline in this difficult period of isolation.

My constituency, Blaydon, has one of the highest densities of shop workers in the country, with 24% of all jobs in retail with the Metrocentre and a number of local shopping centres providing much of our employment. While many supermarkets have reported a good year, other stores face real uncertainty over their future, and that of their staff, who may have been furloughed for many months.

Throughout the pandemic, the majority of customers have shown real support for the critical role that shop workers and delivery drivers are doing during this crisis. In some cases though, low stock, restrictions on product availability, face masks and social distancing requirements have provided new flash points for the longstanding problem of abuse against workers.

Violence and abuse should never be tolerated in any workplace, yet retail workers continue to face situations that are not only deeply unpleasant, but at times put their health and lives at risk.

Just like our emergency services, many of us will have read reports of customers coughing or even spitting at shop staff in an attempt to infect them. The Crown Prosecution Service has made it clear that such incidents will be treated as assaults and these events should always be reported to the police.

And as a result of panic buying, a number of retailers are continuing to enforce restrictions on the number of certain goods that customers can purchase. When shop staff have been asked to enforce these restrictions at the tills, all too often this has created another flash point for threats, abuse and violence.

Last week, a member of my own staff witnessed such an incident, where a shop worker was spat at for asking someone to wear a mask going into the store. I raised the issue in the House of Commons the following day and called on the Government to bring forward a debate in Parliament on the unacceptable behaviour of a minority towards shop workers.

I am pleased to see that the shop workers union Usdaw is also campaigning for ‘Protection of Workers’ legislation that will tackle abuse against workers dealing with the public. assaulting a shop worker to be made a specific criminal offence, to make it clear that abuse is not part of the job. I support their calls to the Home Secretary to request that this is dealt with as a matter of urgency given the current situation.

But to provide full protection, the government must go much further. Usdaw is demanding that shop workers must be entitled to a real living wage of at least £10 per hour, with a minimum 16 hours per week for everyone who wants it, with contracts based on the normal hours worked and an end to zero hours contracts.

If we truly value our key workers we must make sure they have better rights at work and a proper living wage. Too many people who are in receipt of Universal Credit are already in work.

New research published by Newcastle University this week confirms the link between cutting social security and mental health issues.That’s why I’ve been urging the Chancellor to retain the current £20 uplift to Universal Credit in next month’s Spring Statement. The uplift has made a significant difference to many families. If the government is serious about “levelling up” this is the very least they could do.

Liz writes January 2021

Yesterday, MPs voted through new coronavirus restrictions that effectively put our country into a third national lockdown. The new measures are a last resort; none of us want to restrict your freedoms, but with public health at the front of centre of our decision making, this really is the only option.

Health experts now believe one in fifty people in the UK has the virus, and it is spreading exponentially across the UK. Hospital admissions are rising day by day and our NHS is under intense strain.

Here on Tyneside, we have been living under strict measures for some time now, and I know how difficult another lockdown will be for families across our region after everything they have already sacrificed. Despite this government’s many failures on covid-19, Labour supports the new restrictions as a national effort to protect the health service and save lives.

But our support for the government’s measures is in no way intended to let them off the hook on their broader mishandling of the crisis. There are serious questions for the government to answer on why they didn’t impose restrictions sooner, given that the scientific advice informing this lockdown was first presented to ministers over a fortnight ago.

As Her Majesty’s Opposition, Labour will continue to support the government where it gets it right and provide constructive criticism where it is failing. So, we’ll be pressing the government on a range of issues over the coming days.

Health ministers must explain why Serco’s testing system still isn’t working. And on vaccinations, we need a clear plan. We believe the NHS can deliver two million vaccines a week, but the government must clarify whether enough doses will be available and how they plan to remove the red tape that is making it difficult for retired health professionals to volunteer.

The chancellor must come to the house to explain why, once again, millions of working people have not been given the support they need, especially those three million self-employed who have been left without support for almost a year now. This is nothing short of a scandal.

Our lowest paid key workers need clarity on whether the government still plans to cut £20 a week from Universal Credit from April and whether they will implement the planned public sector pay freeze, which will affect the same nurses that have kept our country and our NHS going over the last 10 months.

On education, we face an unprecedented crisis. Last Sunday, despite growing evidence from the unions, our schools were deemed to be safe by Boris Johnson. By Monday afternoon he decided to shut them to most children, with no timescale for full re-opening, in another failure of his government to act swiftly.

Most children are now at home seven days a week, and for the most vulnerable this will have a detrimental impact on their learning and in some cases their well-being and safety, too.

Yesterday I asked the prime minister to keep his promises on levelling up. That means accelerating plans to provide laptops to the 1.8 million children without one, and a new national plan for education, to close attainment gaps exacerbated by the coronavirus.

My inbox is full of messages from constituents on issues like statutory sick pay and support for those self-isolating, nurseries, the ban on evictions that is due to expire in the cold of winter, provision for homeless people and local authority funding. On these and many more issues, I’ll continue to raise the questions and press for solutions.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Thanks to our brilliant scientists, there is hope of a way out of this nightmare with the vaccine. Every aspect of our national life must now revolve around an ambitious vaccination programme, to re-open society and the economy, and get children back in school as early as possible.

Until then, I urge you to stay at home to protect our NHS, so we can get Britain vaccinated in 2021.

Liz writes December 2020

For many of us, Advent is a time of hope, preparation and anticipation in the run up to Christmas. And this Advent has started like no other. Yesterday’s announcement that the United Kingdom is the first country in the world to approve the use of a vaccine is a welcome step in what has been a long and painful journey for many of us. But while the end is in sight we must be prepared to wait a little longer, and to keep public health at the forefront of everything we do.
We must recognise the scale of the challenge that has been overcome. Our world-leading scientists have succeeded in the monumental task of delivering a brand new vaccine for a novel virus in under ten months – a process that would usually take ten years in normal circumstances. So, I would like to pay tribute to our scientists, who alongside our NHS and so many key workers across many sectors, have been the true heroes of the 2020 story. Despite the failings of the Government on coronavirus – and there have been many – it should come as no surprise that Britain is the first to sign off a vaccine.
We have an outstanding reputation in the field of scientific research and development around the world, which is why I am calling on the Government to listen to leading medical research charities, who have come together to propose a way to ensure that vital research for both rare and widespread conditions can continue throughout this period of financial difficulty. They are asking the Government to create a life sciences charity partnership fund over the next three years, starting with £310 million in year one to meet the financial shortfall. I raised this in last week’s Westminster Hall debate on charity-funded medical research and will continue to do so where I can.
Our reputation was, however, diminished, following the announcement by the Chancellor last week that the Government are to cut our international aid budget – a cross-party achievement that showed our commitment to those in most need. As the vaccine is rolled out the Government will be judged on how it ensures that the poorest around the world will benefit from immunisation. This will be a critical test and one I will certainly be holding them to.
Fairness must be at the heart of the next phase of the Government’s coronavirus response. Earlier this week Labour abstained on the vote over the Government’s new restrictions. We support the need for measures but the new tiers continue to punish the North and there was nothing new for businesses across the country crying out for more effective economic support to get them through the winter months.
Too many hard-working people have been left to fend for themselves, especially many self-employed and freelancers who have been excluded from the financial support packages available to other businesses. Hospitality and retail have been let down again and we still don’t have a functioning test and trace system.
While yesterday’s vaccine announcement is welcome it has still come too late to save many jobs. The collapse of the Arcadia Group and Debenhams alone in the last 48 hours, putting at least 25,000 thousand jobs at risk, is a real tragedy for many of my own constituents. For areas like Blaydon, retail is a major sector for employment. I can’t imagine the challenge that some families now face in the run up to Christmas. That’s why Labour is calling for urgent action to protect jobs, pensions and communities.
In the coming weeks we will start to see the roll out of the largest vaccination programme in the history of the NHS. With no time to learn lessons from our neighbours, this is no easy task. Boris Johnson likes to portray himself as a great heir to the wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill. But with backbench rebels rising Mr Johnson’s premiership is showing signs of trouble. If he is looking to secure a legacy, he must finally get serious and take control of this virus so that lives can be saved, our NHS can be protected, and our economy can start to rebuild in 2021.