SINCE the last column, life has changed considerably in my household.
As many of you know, our baby daughter Orla was born five weeks ago.
My husband and I have been touched by the kind wishes and congratulations.
Orla has already sampled train travel so that I could take part in the Home Affairs Select Committee meeting last week into the border checks scandal.
However, as the last five weeks haven’t involved a weekly commute to London, I’ve been able to spend more time based in the North East.
We’ve come such a long way in terms of facilities for parents. We take for granted the changing facilities, accessible buses and the fact that many shops and cafes now actively welcome mothers nursing their babies.
I’m grateful to those who campaigned to make this happen and the benefits it brings to family life in this country.
The government announced this week that Northern Rock will be sold to Virgin Money. It was the right decision to take Northern Rock into public ownership in 2008 and the decision to now sell at least ends the uncertainty the staff have faced about their future.
However, serious questions remain about the timing and the manner of the announced sale.
The deal does not appear to be in the long term interests of the taxpayer. The government has offered no compelling reasons about why the sale needs to happen now, which suggests they believe that economic conditions are likely to worsen.
Attempts to blame the sale on EU rules are misguided. The agreement reached at the time the bank was nationalised allowed Northern Rock to remain within public ownership until 2013.
As it’s only 2011 there seems no need for undue haste to sell at a loss, and surely the government could have made the case for an extension to this agreement in light of the Eurozone crisis.
It is also disappointing that no real consideration appears to have been given to the remutualisation of Northern Rock, something that many people in the region supported.
While it is positive that Virgin Money have said that there will be no compulsory redundancies or branch closures in the short term, these assurances aren’t binding on the company.
We also need answers about the long term future of the Northern Rock Foundation, which has done such fantastic work with local charities.
I want the sale to be a success, but it’s hard to see how this can be achieved with what appears to be a firesale at the worst possible time.
It’s a matter of pride that Sunderland has the biggest Remembrance Sunday Parade outside London. Across the city many smaller services take place and this year it was my honour to lay a wreath at the war memorial in Silksworth.
It is always moving to see so many local people of all ages and backgrounds coming together to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can be free.