Monday, 27 February 2012

Speaking out for the local furniture industry

Taken from the British Furniture Federations website

The Adjournment Debate, on the Future of Biomass, was introduced by the Member for Blackley and Broughton, Graham Stringer MP. Greg Barker MP, Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change, represented the Government. Although carbon issues and health concerns were raised in the debate, there was a significant exchange on the subsidy for woody biomass and its impact on the price of wood.

Graham Jones MP, Labour Member for Hyndburn and a member of the Furniture Industry All-Party Parliamentary Group, raised the concerns of the furniture industry. He referred to Senator in his constituency: “In the past five years we have seen wood prices rise by 55% because of biomass subsidies. An employer in my constituency, the furniture manufacturer Senator, which employs about 1,000 people has to compete against rising wood prices simply because of the biomass subsidy. Should not the Government consider the impact of biomass subsidies on employment in furniture manufacturers and other wood-using companies, as well as the impact on the environment?” (Hansard, 20 February 2012, Cols. 717)

HMR - A summary of the programme

Hyndburn (and East Lancashire) has an oversupply of housing. It also has an undersupply of desirable housing exacerbating the problem further. That is what is generating empty homes. It cannot be reversed because it is linked to the economy. There are only two options. Demolition or remodelling with a reduction in numbers and increase in size. The latter is the preferred option and, in May, Labour scrapped Tory demolition proposals.

Empty Homes Agency v. Hyndburn Council

(and Hyndburn Council are right to a point)

Following last weeks press release by the Empty Homes Agency which I am am a member, and Hyndburn Council in light of the EHA's criticism of HMR and post HMR funding. I thought I'd publish the  correspondence - in this case healthy debate - so readers can review the arguments on both sides.

The Government’s Bedroom Tax attacks the most vulnerable in society

One of the most unjust and ill-thought-out aspects of the Government’s Welfare Reform Bill is the ‘Housing Benefit Under-Occupation Penalty’ – better known as the Bedroom Tax.

This is a very poor piece of legislation. The proposal would financially penalise households in the social rented sector who have at least one empty bedroom.

Under measures in the Bill, 670,000 households - two thirds containing a disabled family member – are set to be hit by an average £728 bedroom tax every year because they are deemed to have one or more additional bedrooms.

The penalty is £14 deducted from housing benefit which will mean effectively a tax of £728 a year. This is three and a half times the winter fuel payment, to put it into perspective. The impact this tax will have, particularly on vulnerable households in these harsh economic times is devastating.

It fails to recognise the upheaval of someone who has had to move due to under occupancy, the penalty placed on those seeking work and that this punitive change will hinder someones access to work either through upheaval or reducing their income.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

A failure to learn valuable lessons from the HMR programme.

I am deeply concerned about any suspension of the HMR Transitional Fund that may occur with any legal challenge to the way the fund is being spent.

In Woodnook last May, the new Labour Council scrapped the demolition programme of the outgoing Conservatives and began a programme of refurbishment turning some 100 unwanted and mostly empty properties into 70 modern, larger, desirable properties.That £7m scheme would be in jeopardy without HMR TR which is required to fund the purchase of the remaining properties.

The criticism by the Empty Homes Agency is around demolitions. In Hyndburn there will be no demolitions. 

As a board member of the EHA I have to say that I do not recognise the wholesale criticism of the HMR programme or the reasons given in the opposition to demolition. Housing minister Grant Shapps has also made unfounded adverse comments about HMR that diversified from reality from the very first word. 

This weeks summary document form the 12 pathfinder chairs offers a balanced review of the programme and should be obligatory reading if lessons are to be learned.

Like many HMR areas there are more houses than people. Critics have failed to recognise this point and subsequently are unable to determine a satisfactory outcome.

At the end of the HMR programme empty rows were left with residual residents for whom this 'winding up the scheme' fund was clearly targeted on trapped residents based on occupancy rates of 50% or 10%. That those people should be helped. 

The Housing Ministers offer of an exit fund included no indication of, and neither should there have been, a top down prescription for the future of those empty terraces once trapped residents had been relieved. Demolition was always an option and should have been an option. Criticism of demolition fails to recognise the facts on the ground. Local authorities should be able to exercise localism on the future of these empty rows of properties.

It is simply a vain argument to say there are 750,000 empty properties and housing shortage crises. Conflating low demand in HMR areas with waiting lists in other parts of the country where excessive demand does exist, shows a complete misunderstanding of the issue in areas where there are more properties than people and further, where housing choice is limited by mono-type.

I would urge critics to come to Hyndburn and review the consequences of these dislocated arguments. Schemes such as the one in Hyndburn seek to attain the governments preferred aspiration of refurbishment.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Booktrust celebrating 20 years

The world-renowned early intervention reading programme which gifts free books to babies, toddlers and 3 year olds

In 2012 Booktrust will be celebrating 20 years of Bookstart – the world-renowned early intervention reading programme which gifts free books to babies, toddlers and 3 year olds. They'll be celebrating everything that the programme has achieved, including the 30 million free books that we have been able to gift since it began in 1992.

Reading aloud to babies and toddlers from their first days helps them to do better in all subjects when they go on to school. It is also known that for many families the books which we give them through Bookstart are often the first that their children will own.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

No Child Born To Die - Save the Children

Dear Mr Jones, A year ago we launched our most ambitious campaign – No Child Born To Die. We made some major breakthroughs in 2011: Inspiring huge investment in vaccines that will save 4 million children's lives by 2015. Securing commitments to train and equip many more health workers, so children can get to a nurse or doctor when they need to.

Government plans to slash housing allowances for 25-35 years olds is a disgrace

The Government, both parties has treated young vulnerable people with disgraceful contempt. 

A few years ago I had to help a young girl who had been in care. We made and took her a hot meal (all wrapped up) that evening such was the shocking state I encountered. She lived on neighbouring street. She couldn't read or write, couldn't cook, had no brothers or sisters. He mum died when she was 3 and her father didn't care less about her. She ended up in care having several step parents before being discharged aged 18 from state care. 

She had been placed in a Council home in a flat in an area with anti-social behaviour, drugs and criminals. She left and forfeited any right in future to a Council house. She admits to making a mistake. However this individual in my view cannot be held accountable, she is incredibly vulnerable. Society should be helping people, not turning their back on them....

She ended up with a deplorable landlord who put her in his worst property because her housing benefit was only £44 (then). Half the rate for under 25's. She gave him the rest of her benefits to keep a roof over her head. The heating didn't work properly and she had no credit so she lived under a duvet living out of packets of the cheapest food. No one in the world cared for her at all. Least of all her greedy landlord. Her life was one of misery. She struggled to get through every day, lost and frightened. Social Services have questions to answer as to the scope of their post 18 pastoral care.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Radio 5 Live Investigates 'Housing Market Renewal'. A poor insight.

Did anyone else think like me, last night R5L investigates Housing Market Renewal was uninformed opinion? Mr Nevin, the most articulate and a HMR proponent did well to get around the barrage of uninformed questions which seemed to be just about emotion.

Come on the BBC! I am an avid supporter but this was dumbed down journalism. The first 15 minutes was spent listening to ordinary families trapped in ghetto streets half way through regeneration who had little or no knowledge of HMR or the consequences of its early demise. Those desperate people would have been far better served if they could have heard a full 30 minute discussion on the history of housing regeneration, the problems in the first place and the successes and failings of the HMR programme.

There are 34,000 households in Hyndburn and 36,500 properties. There are 2400 empties. One key problem problem is depopulation. Another is low income home owners in poor areas who were never able to afford the upkeep of expensive to maintain Victorian homes over past decades. The BBC should have been questioning the value of home ownership, particularly in older housing. The damp north west climate. That there is significant fuel poverty (with hypothermia rates amongst elderly rising) in solid wall housing and the replacement new builds are far superior for open space, motor vehicles, build design and energy efficiency. People prefer them according to the market mechanism.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Will the Housing Minister tackle rogue landlords? Probably not.

Housing minister Grant Shapps has been urged to make good his promise in the Government's housing strategy and tackle rogue landlords. (From 24

Shelter says that rogue landlords are still "cashing in" on the high demand for rented homes, and "trapping families in squalid and sometimes dangerous conditions".

Devolution for the North - An age old aspiration for Brigantes

The North of England and the South of England have enduring and deep-rooted differences; some subtle, some stark, cultural, economic, natural and political, that are born from a long history of tension and conflict. These differences, when driven by the landowning southern gentry, The Conservative Party,  and which cause an inequitable and unjust distribution of national resources, should be a matter of grave concern to the regions.

It is frequently commented that concepts of community and friendship are valued more highly in the North than in the South, perhaps due to the rich heritage of cooperation and collective action of the North’s history in having to overcome greater economic hurdles and greater hardship. This is nowhere better exemplified than in the Cooperative Society itself, being born out of the ‘Rochdale Principles’ of the weavers and artisans of 19th Century Rochdale.

It is without exception visitors to East Lancashire or Hyndburn for that matter note this extraordinary sense of solidarity found in the North which forms the basis of a completely different political outlook to much of the south.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Queen to visit Accrington

This is a great honour for the borough. Having one Royal visit this week and Her Majesty in May is a great privilege and an opportunity for local people to see our head of state step foot In Accrington.

There is much to look forward to rhis summer. Following the head of state in her Diamond Jubilee year in May the Olympic Torch will pass through in June.
Sent from my iPhone

House of Commons backs my co-sponsored metal theft motion

Last night the House of Commons debated a backbench motion brought forward by myself, Chris Kelly MP and Robin Walker MP which called on the Government to introduce a full set of measures to combat metal theft.

I argued that though the Government have made some progress on the issue, they are going about changing the law in an incoherent fashion and without a clear strategy. The motion was passed unopposed, giving the Commons a clear mandate to push the Government to act on the specific measures in the motion (emboldened below). Despite my pleas I did not get a clear timetable from the Government as to when they are going to change the law.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Article "MP Graham Jones tries to knock Government's Empty Homes Premium into shape"

Below is an article by David Gibbens from The Empty Homes Network   regarding my amendments to Local Government Finance Bill last week.

The amendments were of huge significance to Haslngden to Hyndburn and I will keep campaigning to ensure the Government accepts the key points.

It is fairly accurate and raises further questions I followed up on on this bliog not having had the chance to debate them due to teh debate being talked out short of discussing all the matters. Sadly the Empty Homes Premium was one of those items not discussed at all.

Al I would add is that some of my amendments were probing amendments which I would not have pressed to the vote but which I hope the government accept iat 3rd reading or in the Lords. I otherwise intend to field similar amendments at further stages of the bill.

Graham Jones MP tries to knock Government's Empty Homes Premium into shape
Submitted by David Gibbens on 5 February, 2012 - 09:38

On 1st February, Hyndburn MP Graham Jones tabled a number of amendments designed to reshape the proposed Empty Homes Premium into something more coherent and workable than what is to be found in the current Local Government Finance Bill going before Parliament.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Government’s Local TV policy will fail to serve local communities

Government’s Local TV policy inadequate

Graham Jones MP criticises Government plans concerning Local TV as short-sighted, naive and monopolistic

Hyndburn MP Graham Jones has attacked Government legislation building a framework for a Local TV channel as poorly thought-out and ‘short-termist’.

Why I objected in Committee to the top down proposals for Local TV put forward by the Govt

Why I objected in Committee to the top down proposals for Local TV put forward by the Govt

On Tuesday 31st January I attended a Delegated Legislation Committee meeting on the subject of the Government's recent statement of policy concerning Local Television. Their policy is outlined in policy documents; A new framework for local TV in the UK, Local TV: Pioneer locations, and Local TV: Making the vision happen. Three Orders have been put before Parliament, and if these enter into force, the result would be a new statutory framework for local television.

I have extremely serious reservations about the direction this legislation is moving in. It has numerous shortfalls, flies in the face of significant evidence to the contrary and will leave the Government lagging far behind the real innovations that are currently occurring in the industry.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Responsibility is at the heart of rising allotment charges

The last fortnight has seen the issue of rising allotment charges enter public debate.

District Council matters are not within an MP’s remit and it a matter for District Councillors to determine. Normally I would leave such matters to those responsible to consult and decide.

In this instance and as your MP I have taken the time to speak with both the cabinet member Ciaran Wells and Council Leader Miles Parkinson about this decision and questioned whether these rises may be too much. Ciaran Wells and Miles Parkinson are two of the most pleasant and honest representatives you will find. They will not make rash or ill-informed decisions.

I understand allotment holder’s grievances. Large rises, and in the case of 19 allotments (out of the 21), poor management and no investment for over a decade have left allotment holders perplexed at best, angry in the main.

Home Heat Helpline not-for-profit energy advice helpline

I am very much aware of the challenge that many households are facing to keep their homes warm, particularly at this time of year. However, around one in ten households in the UK are eligible for some form of help - many more than most people realise. This may be a special price for their fuel, free insulation or a grant for something like a new boiler.

My amendments to the Local Gov't Finance Bill to better tackle housing problems in Hyndburn

Yesterday I tabled a number of amendments to the Local Government Finance Bill to make the Bill more effective and better able to tackle certain housing problems facing areas such as Hyndburn. Regrettably the debate ran out of time and the amendments were not voted upon, but they still reflect concerns I have about certain details of the Bill.

My amendments concerned changes to the setting of Council Tax and issues surrounding long term empty homes. This issue is particularly relevant to Hyndburn – Hyndburn Borough Council currently has 2400 empty homes. I hoped to push for the Council Tax premium on long term empty homes to be raised to 200% to incentivise landlords to fill them as quickly as possible, and to better refine the definition of long term empty unfurnished dwellings to minimise loopholes.

I also wished to draw attention to the danger of applying Council Tax policies uniformly to different types of local authority structures – two tier local authority structures like in Lancashire will be disadvantaged if attention is not paid to the different structure. I hope to urge the Government to take these concerns into account as the Bill progresses.


Article this morning in Independent highlights Tory attack on North

Article this morning in Independent highlights Tory attack on North