Friday, 28 October 2011

I welcome the Government's support for the Daylight Savings Bill today

Today the Government announced support for the Daylight Saving Bill – calling for a change to the way we set our clocks. As a long-time supporter of the bill, and the Lighter Later campaign behind it, I welcome the move.

Today's announcement will be warmly welcomed by the road safety organisations, sporting bodies, tourism industries and community groups that make up the 80 strong coalition backing the Lighter Later campaign. Evidence suggests that moving an hour of light from the early morning to the evening could make our roads safer, cut the UK’s carbon while boosting its economy and provide more time for leisure activities and sport.

Government's Community First Programme somewhere between a sticking plaster and a joke

Government's Community First Programme somewhere between a sticking plaster and a joke. The £30 Million available over the next fours years is to fund community projects in some of the most deprived areas of the country.

Looking at the list of the 597, it is clear that Lancashire has been abandoned again. East Lancashire has faced the heaviest of al the Government cuts and has disproportionately seen unemployment rise faster than elsewhere in an area where wages are amongst the lowest in the country.

Lancashire - Hyndburn - Central £33,910
Lancashire - Lancaster - Heysham North £33,910
Lancashire - Hyndburn - Peel £33,910
Lancashire - Preston - Ribbleton £33,910
Lancashire - West Lancashire - Tanhouse £33,910

Whilst some metropolitan areas have numerous wards and are in receipt of £150,000 per ward, Lancashire has just 5 and they receive the minimum amount. It is amazing to think that Burnley gets nothing. It's a joke.

Even in Hyndburn, my own ward Peel is ahead of Church and Spring Hill surprisingly. That in itself seems inequitable and more over, a top down diktat rather than a local decision which the Government seems to want to trumpet so often.

My Campain to combat Metal Theft

Since my debate in Parliament with the minister and my Twitter exchange with Channel 4's Jon Snow, the issue of metal theft has taken on more national and local significance. Channel 4 TV followed this up with a 'Fact Check' (follow the link on Ch4's website).

The Accrington Observer carried a front page headline this week highlighting the issue. On the 23rd of November I will, in partnership with the Energy Networks Association be tabling a Private Members Bill to amend the law and bring in restrictions.

Thefts are occurring from our nation infrastructure; overhead power lines, substations, railways, BT, gas and water, from our local infrastructure; grates and gates, park benches, graves and public art, and individuals and organisations; from back yards, lead theft from roof's and all the metal in abandoned and empty dwellings.

It's happening to more and more people and when it does, there is a sad realisation that no-one is immune. That it anyone is vulnerable. That upsetting the voltage by removal of copper at a substation that happens to provide you with electricity may well double the current to all your electrical devices causing them to overheat and burn out. Boilers, electrical cabling running alongside gas pipes, TV's. For those affected it has brought them in to a three way argument over responsibility. You, your insurers and the electricity provider.

It is right to assume that scrap metal merchants will be at the forefront of the distribution problem and that police enforcement is almost impossible given so much metal is in existence.

At the debate I highlighted six points. Each of the changes was accepted by the minister.

From Hansard
House of Commons Hansard Debates for 06 Sep 2011 (pt 0005) - Scroll to near bottom

I call on the Government to consider making the following changes.
  1. They should amend the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964. Instead of the current registration scheme, the UK needs a robust licensing regime, with scrap metal dealers paying a licence fee to fund the regulation of the licence.
  2. Property obtained through theft should be regarded as criminal assets; that would allow the provisions in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to apply.
  3. In line with alcohol licensing powers, police authorities should have the power to search and investigate all premises owned and operated by a scrap metal dealer, and to close scrap metal dealers where criminally obtained materials are discovered.
  4. We should restrict trade in scrap metals to cashless payments, and introduce a requirement that scrap metal must not be sold or processed until payments have been cleared. Photo identification and CCTV should be used to identify sellers of scrap and their vehicles.
  5. Magistrates should have powers to add licence restrictions and prevent closed yards from re-opening, and
  6. Criminal gangs should be charged in a way that is proportionate to the consequences of the crime, not the scrap metal value. I ask the Minister to use all his efforts to ensure that something is done before it is too late.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Channel 4 - FactCheck: Why copper theft is the perfect crime

FactCheck: Why copper theft is the perfect crime

Metal theft has caused at least six deaths, 50 injuries, 60 fires and - a contender for stat of the year here - a total of 673 days of train delays in the last three years. But unless personally blighted by it - as Jon Snow was over the weekend - you'd be forgiven for being oblivious to the problem.

Graham Jones, MP for Hyndburn in Lancashire, says it was the "constant concerns" of his wife and son - who both work for Electricity North West - that brought it to his attention. He is not alone in calling for a reform of the Metal Theft Act of 1964, which was slammed in the Lords last month for being "still legally in the age of Steptoe and Son". But are we really dealing with a cable crime wave or has Mr Jones got his wires crossed?

FactCheck dons its hard hat.

The claim
“Metal theft (has) grown over 700 per cent in two years”
Graham Jones MP, in a Twitter response to Snowblog, 10 October 2011

The background
Metal theft has caused at least six deaths, 50 injuries, 60 fires and – a contender for stat of the year here – a total of 673 days of train delays in the last three years.

But unless personally blighted by it – as Jon Snow was over the weekend – you’d be forgiven for being oblivious to the problem.

Graham Jones, MP for Hyndburn in Lancashire, said it was the “constant concerns” of his wife and son – who both work for Electricity North West – that brought it to his attention.

He is not alone in calling for a reform of the Metal Theft Act of 1964, which was slammed in the Lords last month for being “still legally in the age of Steptoe and Son”.

But are we really dealing with a cable crime wave or has Mr Jones got his wires crossed? FactCheck dons its hard hat.


 

The analysis
The police don’t yet have a crime code for “metal theft” so there’s no national figure for it – but as you can see from our graphic, it’s on the rise across the board.

It costs the economy an estimated £770m a year, according to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). And that’s a “conservative estimate”, a spokesman for the British Transport Police (BTP) told FactCheck. He said the rail networks are the worst affected, as it is extremely difficult to protect thousands of railway tracks with cable running alongside them, especially in rural areas.

Network Rail puts the costs at £43m over the last three years, while the Energy Networks Association claims that in the first six months of this year cable theft has cost the energy industry £13.25m.


Why copper?
Copper wiring and plumbing are vital in the construction of buildings and in power generation, but demand in 2011 is expected to outstrip supply growth, according to the International Copper Study Group (ICSG).

In the last 50 years, world demand has surged by around 300 per cent, the ICSG estimates, and in 2009 China was the largest consumer of refined copper – gobbling up 7m tonnes. Electrical power companies were the largest consumers of copper last year.

At its peak of $10,000 a tonne in February, copper was worth more than seven times what it was in 2001 – $1,425 a tonne, the London Metal Exchange told FactCheck.

As it is used so widely for infrastructure projects, copper is often seen as a thermometer for the global economy – so while copper prices peaked in February, the recent drop off to $8,313 a tonne last month made grim reading.

Who’s stealing it?
Both BT and Electricity North West have raised concerns that they are being targeted by organised crime units. A spokesman for BT told FactCheck: “There’s evidence of criminals selling for a (drugs) fix but there’s a lot of evidence now that points to organised crime gangs moving in, in quite a big way. BT is working with SOCA (the Serious Organised Crime Agency) to look at how to identify and curb illegal exports outside the UK”.

Mr Jones too, has raised the issue of “theft tourism” in parliament last month, explaining to FactCheck that Electricity North West recently recovered some of its stolen copper from a container at Hull port.

He said: “They believe it was about to be shipped directly to China.”
However, across the tracks the British Transport Police told FactCheck it was largely opportunistic:  “The vast majority of the attacks are low level – people wanting a quick buck.”

BT, among others, wants the government to introduce a cashless trading model to stop people walking into scrap metal traders and handing over bits of copper wiring with no questions asked. At least 30 states in the US now operate cashless systems, alongside France, Holland and Belgium in Europe.

BT’s spokesman told us: “The UK is a bit behind the curve”.

The verdict
No need for a scrap on this one: Mr Jones is right. Metal theft rose by 700 per cent in the two years to June 2011 according to the Energy Networks Association. And BT told us it has already seen a rise of more than 100 per cent this year, compared to last.

Why should you care? Not only are the costs directly passed on to customers in their electricity bills and train tickets, but the power surges blow up houses, kill and maim people – and at the very least cause thousands of pounds worth of damage to TVs, boilers and other household staples.

In July alone, a 16-year-old boy died attempting to steal copper from an electrical substation in Leeds, and in West Yorkshire a botched theft sparked a dramatic explosion along a row of houses, moments after firefighters evacuated 30 people from the scene.

Cable theft brought down 16,000 phone lines and 20,000 broadband connections in Salisbury in July – it even affected air traffic control and Inland Revenue operations, and it took up to three days for BT to fix.

Graham Jones told FactCheck that copper theft is the perfect crime, because the crime doesn’t equate to the punishment. “The sanctions are disproportionate,” he said, “They are charged on the basis of the sell-on value of the copper; which might be £20 – but it doesn’t equate to the damage done to the 500 or so properties (which are disrupted or damaged by cut cables).”

The Home Office told FactCheck that the first cross-department ministerial meeting on the topic was held last month. We’ll be keeping an eye out for any sparks that fly.

By Emma Thelwell

Why Haslingden & Hyndburn people should sign the petition to end legal loan sharking

Many Haslingden and Hyndburn residents will have noticed an alarming increase in the number of payday lenders on our streets. These high-cost credit providers are taking advantage of recent economic woes by offering short-term loans to people desperate for cash to make ends meet. And as Christmas approaches, with all the financial pressures the season brings, these lenders are set for a bumper haul at the expense of vulnerable consumers. There is no legal limit to the amount they can charge, and as a result residents in Haslingden and Hyndburn regularly come to me in dire financial straits as a result of taking out loans with payday lenders and other similar high-cost credit providers.

In other European countries, consumers enjoy protection from exploitation by the high-cost credit industry, but in Britain Government has consistently delayed taking action. That’s why I am supporting a new petition calling on the Government to introduce a range of caps on the total cost of credit that can be charged by these lenders.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The National Planning Policy Framework. My comments on the floor of the Commons

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has had been a topic of concern recently. You may have read that many people who live near green fields have been out objecting to the government's proposal to relax plannng constraints on virgin turf.

Led by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) and the National Trust with over 5 million members combined.

There argument is to build on Brownfield sites. An argument I am concerned about. I do not want to see towns and cities, particulartly deprived areas who are sat in old industrial inner urban areas having to shoulder future development.

This will deny the open space to deprived areas, open spaces CPRE and NT are trying to protect for their wealthy supporters. It will result in low value, low demand areas suffering cheap developments that refelect the surrounding market conditions.

How often do we see in Hyndburn's poorer areas, aspirational or affluent housing being built. Never. It is usually cheap build unless the site is significant to buck neighbourhood market values.

The debate was about many aspects but inthe time I had to speak I wanted to concentrate on this issue. Unfortunately my 10 minutes speech was incomplete when the time allocated by teh speaker was reduced to 5mins only moments before I spoke.

This is the full draft text which I spoke around on the floor of the House of Commons and the parts I didn't get to say.

Green Grants

Dear Member of Parliament,
As you’ll undoubtedly be aware, volunteers, schools and non-profit organisations across the country are coming together to create wonderful environmental projects for the benefit of the communities in which they are based.

At The Green Insurance Company we like to encourage such projects and last year launched our Green Grants initiative inviting community groups with green projects to apply for individual grants of up to £2,000 either to get an idea off the ground or expand already successful projects. We were delighted with the success of the scheme and are launching Green Grants 2011 this week, offering £40,000 of grants including a one off special grant of up to £10,000 which will be voted for by the public.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Why Osborne is wrong on the economy and Labour's response - Ed Balls

Dear Graham

A year ago this week, George Osborne announced the biggest spending cuts and tax rises of any major country.

He boasted that Britain was out of the danger zone. And he claimed austerity would boost confidence, jobs and growth. Do you remember how Tory MPs cheered and waved their papers in glee?

Well I can’t hear anybody cheering now. Because the evidence is mounting day by day that this reckless Tory plan is hurting but it’s not working. Our economy hasn’t grown since this time last year.

Families and pensioners are being squeezed by soaring inflation. And here’s the real scandal: there are now more people out of work than for 17 years – when the Tories were last in. And the result? More people out of work and the dole means it's going to be harder to get the deficit down. In fact, there’s going to be £46 billion more borrowing than the government planned.

There’s got to be a better way.

And that’s why Labour has set out a five point plan for jobs and growth – to help struggling families, get young people into work and support small businesses. If you’re out campaigning this weekend help us get the message out there.

Ed Balls

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Individual voter registration

Today's date has been put back due to 2 government statements. The motion aims to question the Governments proposals to move from mandatory household voter registration to individual registration which is optional.

This issue is part of the gerrymandering of the next election. In short some estimates put the numbers of voters who will choose to register will be 60% of those currently registered.

The vast majority of unregistered voters will be urban areas that traditionally vote Labour.
There are now between 3.5m and 6.5m unregistered voters. This is going to make a mockery of the new boundaries under discussion. It will also ensure that elections will be meaningless and that we will have a Tory government for the next few decades.





Helping young people - a very special community bus

Community Evolved Learning - making learning more accessible

The Community Evolved Learning is an extension of Resolve 180, but it uses a mobile learning vehicle, operating directly into the heart of the community. It delivers a range of programmes and accredited courses making access to learning more achievable to adults.

The benefits of our mobile unit is that learners can not only access training programmes and courses, but also use its facilities to search for jobs, receive support to complete job applications and CV’s, with access to the latest job vacancies through the internet, newspapers and bulletins.

http://www.canwesolutions.org/community/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3&Itemid=18

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Private rents in England unaffordable, says Shelter - and I agree

Shelter last week  published Shelter’s Rent Watch. It is the first in a series of reports examining local rent levels and affordability compared to average earnings in each local authority.

The report reveals just how much people are struggling to pay their rents in each area of the country and includes statistics for people living in Hyndburn.

• Private rented sector rents are unaffordable for average earners in over half of local authorities.
• In the last five years, the number of people renting privately has increased by almost 40%.
• It’s not just students and young professionals who rent: there are now more than a million households with children who rent privately - almost a third of the whole sector.
• From 1997 to 2007, rents increased at 1.5 times the rate of incomes.

People in the Private Rented Sector are trapped. 50% work and with rents running at near £100 may always be priced out of home ownership. Those on benefits will trapped between the Governments decsion to cut benefits to force landlords to cfharge less and landlords who will always want a fixed return on their asset.

People are being treated like rabbits in hutches. Properties that are so bad they aren't homes and rents that result for manty a life sentence of dispair, lack of any hope or aspiarion and at worst absolute misery. The children affected by this have poorer health, poor educational achievement and I was delighted that Jack Dromey' labour's new hosuing minsiter has committed Labour to establishing standards in the PRS.

Find out more about rents and affordability in your local area by visiting Shelter’s Rent Watch.

We think that both national and local government strategies need to contain significant new thinking to tackle rental affordability. If you would like to find out more about this or wider issues affecting the private rented sector please get in touch with Shelter’s public affairs team at public_affairs@shelter.org.uk.

Shelter, 88 Old St, London, EC1V 9HU
0344 515 1182
07899 918597
www.shelter.org.uk/parliament

Private rents in England unaffordable, says Shelter
from BBC
Just 12% of areas in England have affordable rents, research by housing charity Shelter found.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Lancashire County Council suffering epidemic of grate thefts

My campaign for the Government to act on this matter has gathered momentum in the last few weeks.

Last week MP's raised in the Churches debate the increasing incidence of lead theft from the roofs of church estates.

Last weeks Hyndburn Highways Bulletin report the theft of 230 gully grates in Hyndburn with "officers having difficulty ensuring locations with missing grates are maintained in a safe condition". It is presenting a danger to pedestrians and vehicles.

Today I wrote to the Police to clamp down on vehicles which appear to have 'rounds' cruising frequently back alleys (and avenues) with people stood on the back prying into back yards.

Great Harwood residents press the case for saving their Recycling Centre

Great Harwood residents have made their views known to the County Council in significant numbers. A huge 5,252 objections were received by County, almost three times as many as were received for Garstang and over a 25x greater than Bacup.

The table below highlights the passsion of Great Harwood residents to save their recycling centre.

I have taken this up on their behalf in Parliament, supported the grassroots campaign and wrote to Lancashire County Council. MP's in the other areas who have remained silent on closures.

County Councillor Ciaran Wells and Councillor Gareth Molyneux of Great Harwood have worked with Great Harwood residents and Great Harwood Community Action Group to ensure that local views were represented in the County Hall consultation.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Results - Shelter England

People come into my surgery complaining about the private rented sector. Desperate cases. Children and families with only a miserable future to look forward to. Condemned to a life of poverty in childhood. Where home is a damp and mould. Cold and sometimes dangerous. Bleak.
I make the point that voting matters. That campaigning matters. Below is the data set for your previous Conservative Council (1999-2011) who were given nearly a £100million in housing funding from the Labour Government but who allowed this shocking rise in misery. Local Conservatives never cared enough. These figures, given the staggering amount of money they were given is shocking.
Hyndburn (Stats provided Shelter's rent watch)
1997 - 1203
1998 - 909
1999 - 640
2000 - 1096
2001 - 1243
2002 - 1193
2003 - 1455
2004 - 2392
2005 - 3251
2006 -3430
2007 - 2643
2008 - 2831
2009 - 2088
2010 - 2842
2011 -

http://england.shelter.org.uk/professional_resources/housing_databank/results?area_selection=30UG&data_selection=A6&selected_min=1997&selected_max=2011

FactCheck: Why copper theft is the perfect crime | The FactCheck Blog

Following the debate I had with the minister in the House of Commons on the increase in Metal Theft, several journalists and MP’s have picked up on the issue which seems to be gathering momentum. This week I did an interview for Channel 4 and you can see the FactCheck on the issue on their web page here;

http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/factcheck-why-copper-theft-is-the-perfect-crime/8134

Friday, 7 October 2011

Todmorden Curve - a decison due anytime now on the £8m funding

Anytime now the Government are going to make a decision on the Regional Growth Fund (RGF) bid to Government for around £8m to rebuild the direct train route between Accrington and Manchester (Victoria) via Burnley and Todmorden.

I have campaigned over many years to see this line reinstated which will provide around a 40 minute journey to Manchester rolling back the Tory 'Beeching' cuts made of 1962 which cut Hyndburn from Manchester and the south.

There are real economic opportunities for Accrington town centre and the wider area.

Should it get the green light we should see increased development around the train station in Accrington. Buildings such as the Conservative Club and other historic buildings need regenerating. It should also increase the desirability of current sites such as the Globe Centre. Hyndburn is in a beneficial position with development and business opportunities around the station with the station is near the town centre.

Crucially it will be reliable direct service offer an alternate offer to commuters working in Manchester. The X40 and X41 despite being frequent but always caught up in heavy congestion and been late when I have caught them. Average weekly wages in Hyndburn are £380 compared £500 per week in Manchester. This rail link has the potential to make Hyndburn a satellite of Manchester's economic growth.

It will also connect Hyndburn better to West Yorkshire and Manchester Airport through Victoria Station. Should it get the green light, it will be about taking advantage rather than sitting back.


http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=Todmorden+Curve+info&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&client=firefox-a

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Questions remain about Treasury's role in the 3000 job losses at BAe systems.

An article in the FT yesterday - EADS to slow production of Typhoon jets - FT.com -  is interesting as it is saying there will be no job losses from our Eurofighter partners in Finmeccanica in Italy or EADS in Germany who are part of the agreed slowdown.

BAe tell me the number of units produced is being reduced from 61 to 36 resulting in the partner companies reducing the numbers of parts required and made from 61 to 36 at all companies. Each company makes one part of the Eurofighter exclusively and swaps it with the others. The article says the reduction is from 53 to 43 but BAe deny this is the slowdown numbers.

These orders are made exclusively by the 4 core nations who have control over production and who have exclusivity over export orders too.

The slowdown agreement with the other core nations seems to have been struck in July by the MoD and Treasury, well before Biz turned down the Lancashire's Enterprise Zone bid for BAe's sites Wharton and Salmesbury. A decision that was reversed last week when the job losses were announced.

Serious questions now need to be asked of the Treasury, Biz and the MoD over the loss of so many British jobs in light of information that is surfacing.

EADS to slow production of Typhoon jets - FT.com www.ft.com
EADS will slow the production of Typhoon fighter jets at its German and Spanish factories without cutting any jobs, the aerospace company said on Monday. The news marks a contrast with BAE Systems, which last week said it was laying off almost 3,000

Campaign to re-instate the No12 service goes on

In the last two months June Harrison who has been tireless in her efforts and I, along with Terry Hurn (Baxenden Conservative Councillor) and David Hartley (Labour Baxenden candidate) have campaigned for the reinstatement of a Baxenden bus service following the subsidy withdrawal from LCC and consequent ending of the previous service.

We have spoken to bus operators in the hope that a market day service may be revived based on sufficient patronage on that particular service.

Both as a County Councillor and MP, I have also begun a review of the County's bus operations and whether it may be beneficial to change the system to a franchised system with franchised routes as in London.

Michelle's Accrington & Rossendale Jobs Page

Michelle is an Employment Support Officer at Accrington & Rossendale College. She has set up a job page to try and help out with job vacancies. You can ascribe to Michelle's Facebook page to receive updates. http://www.facebook.com/MyJobPage

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Help Direct - Safe Trader Scheme in partnership with Lancashire County Council Trading Standards

Help Direct - Safe Trader Scheme set up by the previous Labour County Council through County Council Trading Standards department aims to protect consumers across Lancashire.

Since being elected I have pressed for empowering consumer rights and this is one way. I wrote to Ed Miliband back in the summer to highlight what a big issue this is for ordinary people and I am grateful he has made announcements that the Labour party aim to tackle this issue.

I spoke with John Denham at Party conference on this matter and I am delighted we are going to put bad businesses and bad traders on the back foot. I will keep pressing this issue of responsibility in business or elsewhere.

Send a message to the cowboys and rip off merchants by only using traders accredited on LCC's HelpDirect Safe Trader Scheme website. With your help they will soon be struggling for business.


https://www.traderregister.org.uk/index.php?


The Safe Trader Scheme aims to help people find traders for property repairs, home improvements and also domestic services such as cleaning, laundry and shopping delivery. It is funded by Lancashire County Council as part of the Help Direct service.

Find a trader

All members of the Help Direct Safe Trader Scheme have shown they are committed to treating their customers honestly and fairly by committing to a Code of Practice. Traders also agree to work with Trading Standards to resolve problems if they should occur.

Businesses on the scheme are monitored using customer feedback. Read more about our membership criteria.

Need extra help?

Home Improvement Agencies (HIAs) in Lancashire provide impartial help, advice and support on all aspects of home improvements, adaptations, repairs and maintenance works to your homes. For more information see: www.lancashireagenciesforum.org.uk

The Scheme cannot guarantee the financial standing of members, their health and safety procedures, or that their work will never give rise to complaint. By using a member firm, consumers can minimise the risk of dispute and be assured that if there are problems we will assist in resolving them.

LCC Chief Exec paints a pessimistic outlook for the future of Great Harwood Recycling Centre

I wrote to the Chief Executive of Lancashire County Council over the proposed closure of Great Harwood's recycling centre which I have objected to along with thousands of people from Great Harwood, Clayton and the Ribble Valley.

An online epetition can be found here. A written petition was also collected and this I presented to Parliament.

The reply (see below) paints a gloomy picture and gives the impression that it will close. The arguments why this is the wrong decision can be found here