Tuesday, 31 January 2012

979 households in Hyndburn are set to lose at least £483 a year under Governments Bedroom Tax

Imagine being forced to pay an additional £483 every year simply to stay in your home. That is the stark reality facing an estimated 979 low income households in Hyndburn if Government proposals to penalise social housing tenants for ‘under-occupying’ their properties become law unamended.

There is an alternative. In December, peers from all three parties voted overwhelmingly to exempt households who have just one extra bedroom and nowhere else to move to. This amendment will mitigate the worst impact of the bedroom tax.

The Welfare Reform Bill returns to the Commons this Wednesday. By accepting this reasonable compromise, you will protect some of the most vulnerable UK households.

Your support will mean the difference between them making ends meet and living in hardship.

To find out what you can do, please visit www.housing.org.uk/bedroomtax or contact James Green on 020 7067 1185 or james.green@housing.org.uk.

The Federation's bedroom tax campaign advert at Westminster tube station

Monday, 30 January 2012

Cold Weather alert - BB4 residents, make sure you get your payment!

The Department for Work and Pensions have issued a cold weather alert for everyone with a BB4 postcode.

This is the result of the temperature being at zero degrees or less for seven consecutive days (predicted to last from the 29th Jan to the 4th February), and it entitles individuals receiving income support, JSA or pension credits to £25 a week to help through the cold spell.

Those entitled shouldn't need to take any action as the money should be paid automatically - but if you believe you are entitled to this and have not received it, you should contact the Pension, Disability and Carers Service, or Jobcentre Plus.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Metal Theft - a media roundup

As part of the private members bill I had before the Commons on Friday I was asked to do quite a few broadcast news. ITV Daybreak, BBC Breakfast, Sky News, BBCTV London as well as regional radio and Radio 1.

Some of those news pieces can be found below;


Labour's response to todays economic figures

Ed Balls has responded to the growth figures issued this morning for the final quarter of 2011. He said:

“The British recovery has been stalling since the government’s spending review in the autumn of 2010, but now the economy has gone into reverse. Since the Chancellor’s spending review the economy has grown by just 0.3% compared to the 3.0% the government predicted.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Lancashire County Council's £50m "Spend, spend, spend" lacks thought

A golden inheritance from Labour in 2009 and improved financial investments has left Lancashire County Council with a surplus of £50m.

The Council have now decided to allocate (spend) this funding to various new schemes.The problem is this is a top down decision, there has been no wider consultation or  'green paper'. It appears rushed and leaves too many unanswered questions.
  1. Spending £15m on four existing projects to improve the county's transport infrastructure is reasonable. Improved transport invariable provides a good long term return.

    The County Council also intend to spend £10m on a new apprenticeships programme to help young people into work, supporting employers to take on apprentices and creating further professional apprenticeships within the county council.

    The Government claim their apprenticeship scheme's are working. Observers say there is a real danger that this just funds intended apprenticeships and creates few if any new ones. The County are intending to create County Council apprenticeships. All sorts of questions flow from this as to whether this is sustainable and to what purpose? It's a laudable aim, but will it work?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Bold Street, Accrington

Dear constituent (affected),

Thank you for expressing your concerns about the dire state of the PRS in Hyndburn. Hyndburn Council is now at last a Labour Council and this has provided an opportunity to deal with rogue landlords.

I have campaigned relentlessly on this issue since 2004 and do so now in Parliament. You may be interested to read Jack Dromey, Labour's Shadow Housing spokespersons comments recently on the matter.

I have been involved closely with Shelter (who sponsor your email) and for whom I work closely with. I have also instigated Channel 4 into producing Dispatches 'Landlords from Hell'. I have also brought BBC film crews to Bold Street highlighting the problems in Hyndburn. More recently I have sponsored Channel 4's Empty Property Scandal which you may have seen with George Clarke - around 90% are PRS properties in Hyndburn are owned by private landlords.

Jobs must be our priority - Ed Balls

These are tough times and they require tough decisions. As I will say at the Fabian Conference tomorrow, even with our five point plan for jobs and growth and the long-term reforms of our economy that Labour has been calling for, getting the deficit down will mean difficult choices on tax, spending and pay.

On pay, we recognised in government that – to secure the recovery, get unemployment falling and reduce the deficit – we would need restraint on pay in the public sector to match the private sector wage restraint we had seen in the recession.

So in 2009 we announced a 1% pay cap for two years, including a freeze for the highest paid workers like senior civil servants and NHS managers. And we also set out a process to limit the state’s contribution to public sector pensions in a fair and negotiated way – known as ‘cap and share’.

George Osborne continued Labour’s policy and went further, but has gone about it in a typically unfair and ill-thought out way. When he announced a two year pay freeze, he promised a £250 a year increase for all the lowest paid workers. But he has failed to deliver that promise for hundreds of thousands of low paid workers.

On top of that he undermined our sensible approach to public sector pensions reform by imposing, without negotiation, a 3p in the pound rise in pension contributions for all public sector workers.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Government puts politics above action to save war memorials and train lines

Today the Government decided to object to my Private Member’s Bill on metal theft, which would have gone a long way to cracking down on the scourge of metal theft on our national infrastructure and our national heritage.

We have all seen the stories of train delays caused by cable theft, and damage caused to churches by lead taken from the roof. Worst of all we have been appalled by reports of war memorials being melted down by amoral individuals looking to make a quick profit.

My Bill was particularly timely and reflected the urgency of the need for change. But the Government decided to put party politics above the potential for loss of life and the costs to business and the public. The Government have stated that they support the provisions in my Bill, but out of pure vanity, they will introduce the same measures themselves. I hope next time a war memorial or piece of public art is desecrated, the Government realise they could have done something about it.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Labour promises to take tough action against Rogue Landlords

I have worked very closely with Shadow housing minister Jack Dromey on this matter and other housing matters. Committed, hard working and consious of the huge negative impact poor housing has. It is one of the main contributors the widening gap bewteen rich and poor and the growth of disenfranchised and dislocated underclass.

Jack Dromey has backed my view and reiterated the Labour Government's intention to regulate the private rented sector (PRS) after he said the abuse of tenants shown in Channel 4's Landlords from Hell programme was 'truly shocking'.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Clocks change could save lives, increase recreation and create jobs locally

I am backing a bill to objectively look at the benefits of moving the clocks forward by one hour.

This Friday the Daylight Saving Bill receives its Third Reading in the House of Commons. The bill calls on the Government to conduct a comprehensive review of the costs and benefits of putting clocks forward an hour throughout the UK, resulting in lighter evenings every day of the year.

The arguments in favour of clock change are compelling. This one simple low-cost policy could bring wide ranging benefits to the whole of the UK including saving lives on our roads, creating much needed jobs in the tourism sector and reducing the fear of crime on dark evenings.

Big Energy Week Campaign aims to cut fuel bills

Rising fuel bills are stretching household finances and people are looking for ways to save money on their energy bills.

Help is at hand through Big Energy Week (16-21 January 2012) which is being run by Citizens Advice.

During Big Energy Week you can get practical advice on cutting your fuel bills and help to see if you are getting all of the financial support you are entitled to. You can pick up a leaflet with tips and advice on cutting your fuel bills at your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

A new website – www.bigenergyweek.org.uk - is full of tips on how to cut your energy bills. The website also has details of local Big Energy Week events in your area.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Devolution contagion speeding south. Hannah Mitchell Foundation is founded.

On the Andrew Marr show today Ed Miliband briefly mentioned devolution in England. Those with quick minds will be pricing together a picture of determined, bright and focused Labour leader Ed Miliband who everyone seems to following at the moment. Economic and social changes that question the last 30 year consensus. From 'crony capitalism' to a 'something for something' nation. 

When Ed Miliband briefly mentioned English devolution Marr seemed to miss it, focused confusingly on what the viewer had already understood Mr Miliband was saying on spending cuts but Mr Marr hadn't. It was a simple coherent answer on spending cuts and Marr missed his a golden opportunity to press on something quite radical and quite new.

Ed Miliband is once again ahead of the curve. He realises what a good Prime Minister should realise. The West Lothian question is a can of worms; that the top down Whitehall problem persists and the regions crave for their identity and self determination. That other nations have a more decentralised approach, notably Germany.

Andrew Mitchell says aid to Ghana is working. A complacent view at odds with my experiences?

Written on iphone. Sent from iPhone.

Andrew Mitchell, the minister for International development has put a positive case for aid using Ghana as a template.

Having visited Ghana last February in conjunction with aid agencies to look at world food challenges my own view is at odds with Mr Mitchell's.

We should be providing aid, no doubt. At times you have to turn your head away and avoid looking at some of the sights you see. Especially those involving young children. It's sickening.

These sights are not isolated. Having visited the south, north, east and west of rural Ghana the dollar a day poverty (or even less) is constant and grinding. Corruption appeared rife and the country is dominated by feudal farming. The idea of any commercial activity has to be set against a poor network of roads and little or no infrastructure.

The only degree of commercial agriculture being cocoa around Kimasi and to the south. Most aid appeared to go on administration and headquarters. It was hard to find any evidence of it helping farmers or the poor.

Many places had no water, sanitation, roads or electricity. Schools with little but at blackboard in the age of the internet. Children with little reason to go to school when grinding poverty surrounds.

Ghana is a country that has oil. Offshore. Oil that can be drilled and shipped without ever reaching the Ghanaian mainland. Cocoa adds to the countries wealth but it does not create much wealth for Ghanaians. Oil and cocoa cause currency problems leading to the import of rice at the cost of domestic production.

The one aspect of Ghana that stood out above other aid recipient countries is stability. Peaceful elections and a degree of political continuity. This is not something that is consistent with aid funding. Many countries in receipt of aid are unstable.

Andrew Mitchell's success story strikes me as political statement rather than a statement of the reality of international aid and what is really happening.


Sent from my iPhone
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David Gibbens (empty homes network) misses the point in reporting the debate about Hyndburn

In December I initiated a debate on empty homes in Hyndburn which was reported on the empty homes network site.

My main point which was totally overlooked in the article is simply this; Hyndburn has 34,000 families and 36,000 houses and 2,000 empty properties. Regenerating them alone is not the answer.

It is possible to identify many people who want a home and can't get one in Hyndburn. Probably nowhere near 2,000. However they clearly cannot afford and some form of lower than market value mechanisms has to be put in place and when you are dealing with retrofitting old abandoned victorian houses then the cost is quite high.

The Government claims there are 750,000 empty homes which will could help solve the housing crises. David Gibbens in his reporting missed the implications across the both of this obvious point. That the majority of these are depopulated areas (Burnley's population has fallen 20,000, Liverpool's 500,000). Areas of low demand. Areas where supply exceeds demand. Empty properties that require an intelligent more broad based response too if they are to be brought back into use. That's where HMR was partially successful.

In reporting the detail he supported the minister in highlighting the simplicity with which Hyndburn's could access the new government funds (as a non HA provider) missing the points that this was not made feasible before for Hyndburn and the government have now found a means to allow that. Secondly that as an HMR area with some 125 properties still in Council ownership, there may be a financial liability in becoming a landlord again (Hyndburn stock transferred in 2005) as a Council and having a Housing Revenue Account.

It would have been helpful if Mr Gibbens had sent a courtesy email to my staff or I and we could have pointed out the problems that exist with dealing with these matters particularly as a small District Council.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Big Energy Week, the Citizen’s Advice initiative to help consumers spend less heating their home

Next week is Big Energy Week, the Citizen’s Advice initiative to help consumers spend less heating their home. Many older constituents will be struggling with energy bills this year, following the impact of last year’s hefty 21% or £224 price hike on their winter fuel bills.

As a result, growing numbers of concerned consumers may wish to get ion touch with me for help, support or advice on how they can manage their energy costs, with no access to the internet.

As part of the solution, uSwitch.com has launched a service called ‘Send us your bill’, designed to help households that are not online to get accurate and impartial information about energy prices and to switch to a cheaper deal.

Instead of going online, customers can post their energy bills for free to uSwitch.com so that a trained adviser can use the information to find the best deals and then call the customer back to talk them through their findings and the potential savings on their energy bills.

These vulnerable groups, including the elderly, are more likely to switch with a doorstep seller and therefore lose out by being sold an uncompetitive new energy plan, often costing more than their existing plan.

Households interested in the ‘Send us your bill’ service should post a copy of their latest energy bill with a contact telephone number to: FREEPOST USWITCH. Alternatively, people can call 0800 093 06 07 to speak to a customer services adviser. Copies of bills will not be returned afterwards, but will be destroyed.

uSwitch have said they will provide my constituency office on Abbey Street with a number of FREEPOST uswitch PREPAID envelopes.

uSwitch.com are consistently campaigning to make it easier for people to reduce their energy bills and Big Energy Week will really help raise the profile of these issues. If you would like any further information or have any questions about the envelopes or about uSwitch.com, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Latest survey of MP's backgrounds is disappointing

Double click to enlarge in new window

The latest survey of MP's backgrounds is very disappointing. (Nuffield election studies)

It shows the rise and rise of the professional politician, now the largest group of MP's (90).

The most shocking aspect of our current representation is the number of manual workers which will reflect no doubt the number of working class MP's.

Miltary Academies - An answer for troubled familes and failing pupils?

I live in the one of the most deprived wards in a two up two down terrace in one of the most deprived constituencies Hyndburn. I see every day the issues of youth failure. Either passive failure or worse, young people who enter the criminal justice system.

Respublica's report on Military Academies is interesting. I am sure it's emphasis will be about promoting positive self esteem in the most resistant of pupils and engaging in basis life skills. Those pupil's for whom poor parenting or negative peer pressure or a negative environment leaves schools unable in the few short hours they have with that pupil to help them. Unable to help them in life skills that should be taught outside of school. Morality, personal hygiene and health, self esteem and confidence.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Hyndburn Council begins it's own Grand Design - can Hyndburn tempt interest from Msrs Clarke or McCloud?

To George Clarke Ch4 Property Scandal; To Kevin McCloud Grand Designs.

Dear ....

I hope you thought the launch in Parliament (I organised and sponsored the room for Channel 4 as a board member of the Empty Homes Agency) for the launch of Channel 4's Great British Property Scandal week which went very well. There was a packed attendance and a huge amount of interest.

It is exciting that Grand Designs has taken on the challenges of the bottom end of the market and with that in mind I thought it would be worth drawing your attention to the actions of Hyndburn Council who are about to undertake an 'empty homes Grand Design project'. Rather than simply demolish they have taken on some of the most appalling Victorian terraced houses in order to to bring them back into use for affordable rent.

The properties are almost all in the Council’s hands and a preferred partner has been chosen; plans will be considered in the next two months. The transformation will include making them into low-carbon homes and remodelling something old into something contemporary. There are of course wider issues and the Council will be using its powers to do other work on the remaining houses not in their ownership but which are in a poor condition.

I thought you may be interested and I am sure your views would be welcome at such an early stage. The contact details at Hyndburn Council are...


Graham Jones MP
House of Commons

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Minister says the Government may back my private member’s bill to tighten the 1964 Scrap Metals Dealers Act

My private members bill seems have some support from the minister Lord Henley. I met with Lord Henley in early December and have since submitted the full draft of the bill.

I have done a lengthy interview for Radio 4 which will be broadcast tonight at 8pm on Metal Theft. In advance of that the 'The Metal Recycling Weekly' has reported today that;
Home Office minister Lord Henley suggested the government was moving towards supporting legislation to deal with the booming trade in stolen metal estimated to be costing the UK economy £770m a year.
Henley told BBC Radio 4’s The Report, due to be broadcast tonight at 8pm: “The idea that possibly you could go cashless is something we’re considering, as well as the idea that you should provide proper proof of identity when you get to a scrap metal yard. 
“At the moment you can just go there and sign in as Mickey Mouse or whoever. We want proper ID so there’s greater transparency and a greater chain of who owns what.”
Henley said the government could lend its backing to a private member’s bill to tighten legislation, saying the 1964 Scrap Metals Dealers Act needs improving.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

No child left in the cold this winter

This winter many families living in poverty are struggling with increased pressures on their household budgets. One of the biggest financial strains they are facing is the rising cost of energy bills. New evidence from Save the Children in the attached report shows that across the UK, children’s well-being and health is being put at risk by rapidly rising energy prices.

Our latest survey found that 45% of parents living in severe poverty are considering cutting back on food in order to pay their energy bills this winter. Almost a third of all parents on the lowest incomes said they won’t be able to afford their winter energy bills even if they cut back on other essentials.

These findings are especially worrying in the context of increasing evidence which shows the negative impact of cold homes on children and especially the poorest children. Homes that are under-heated have a negative impact on the health of children and on the mental health and well-being of adolescents.

According to our survey, 54% of parents on the lowest incomes are worried that their children’s health will suffer because their house will be too cold this winter. The indirect consequences are also significant and relate primarily to lower educational attainment and resilience.

One million people have taken out a payday loan to help pay their rent or mortgage in the last 12 months

One million people have taken out a payday loan to help pay their rent or mortgage in the last 12 months, according to survey findings released by Shelter today. The astonishing results reveal the spiral of debt that people are falling into in order to keep a roof over their head.

Shelter has a network of debt advice services across the country, I would encourage people in difficulty to contact them. Their online advice is available at www.shelter.org.uk/debt and the free telephone helpline number is 0808 800 4444.

The survey also reveals that almost seven million people are relying on credit in some form to help pay their housing costs; using payday loans, unauthorised overdrafts, other loans or credit cards. For many the New Year brings with it the risk of homelessness and we are urging anyone worried about their debts to make seeking early debt advice their New Year’s resolution.

You can also follow Shelters campaigns on twitter @shelter for links to advice services for your constituents and feel free to retweet details to your followers.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Governments Council Tax premium on empty homes is right in principle but ...

Councils have been requested to submit responses to the Governments "Technical Reforms of Council Tax - Response to Consultation October 2011”; In short the Government are going to allow Councils to charge, say 150% Council Tax (and removing any discounts) on empty properties in an effort to deal with the 750,000 empties in the UK.

I believe these proposals as a whole may lead to a reduction of empty properties in England and provide a boost for local regeneration and that the Government should be committed to taking them forward.

However there are serious flaws in the Government thinking and as usual, it is East Lancashire and Haslingden & Hyndburn that will lose out. Following helpful discussions with my Labour colleagues at Hyndburn Council, I have written to the minister to highlight amendments to the reforms that would be helpful in areas like Haslingden & Hyndburn.

The key points the Government needs to take onboard are;

Campaign for Better Bus Services in Lancashire

I have always had a strong view that public transport is underinvested and vital to economic wellbeing. The campaign to get the Todmorden Curve reinstated and a direct rail link to Manchester from Accrington Station was successful and the track and service should be operable early 2013.

It is buses though that are the staple of public transport in Lancashire and yet we suffer a third class service. Punctuality, information, frequency, lack of provision, withdrawals of service, old vehicles the list goes on.

Lancashire should have information systems that rival those of London. Real time information. It should not end at electronic signs a bus stops but include smartphone apps and a frequent service with better maps.

I have raised this issue several times with the cabinet member Tim Ashton and whilst sympathetic, Lancashire's Conservatives have no intention of spending extra money on bus services. In fact they have cut the funding for the pilot for electronic signage in Preston.

It's about making a difference and this new year marks the beginning of a new campaign for improved bus travel.

Up to half of 160,000 NHS beds could be turned over to private patients

• Ministers forced to reveal their private ambitions for the NHS
• Health Bill will turn England's hospitals into American-style hospitals

Labour today reveals the full extent of David Cameron's ambitions to turn NHS hospitals into private businesses, pitting one against another in a competitive market.

In a move that will send shock-waves around the NHS, the Government is seeking to amend its own Health Bill to allow NHS hospitals to devote up to 50% of their beds and theatre time to private patients, replacing Labour's stringent private-patient cap.

The free-market plan will give patients and the public the clearest sign yet of how the character of England's NHS will change if the Government's Bill gets through Parliament in early 2012. It will open the door to an explosion of private work in NHS hospitals.

UK immigration target will not be met, IPPR warns

Chris Bryant MP, Labour's Shadow Home Office Minister, responding to the IPPR report on immigration, said:
"The Tory-led Government has failed to set out workable policies which might achieve its promise to cut net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015."
"The number of people coming to the UK for intra-company transfers is going up, student visitor visas are going up, while the number of foreign criminals being deported is going down."

"There is a big gap between the rhetoric and the reality of the Government's immigration policies. It's this gap that is further eroding trust and shows David Cameron is out of touch on this issue."