Friday, 27 April 2012

Change must happen now to solve the housing crises

One of the biggest post bag issues for me, like many MPs, is housing which is why Ministerial Questions on the subject is always well attended.

This week was no different. With Britain facing the biggest housing crisis in a generation Labour MPs demanded to know why, when the Tory-led Government promised change on housing, nothing is happening.

In fact their economic and housing policies are making things much worse.

House building is down, homelessness is up, private sector rents are unaffordable for far too many people and we have a market where too people can’t get mortgages.

The Tories are out of touch on housing.

Labour will face the housing crisis head on – building more affordable homes to buy and rent, helping homeowners make home improvements and making the private rented sector fit for families.

Cameron's integrity questioned over murky Murdock links

This week the shadow of sleaze and cronyism hangs heavily over David Cameron as he refuses to come clean over evidence that his Government provided privileged access to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation when it tried to take over BSkyB last year.

First he refused to sack Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, despite the weight of evidence against him. Then, despite all-party calls to do so, he refused even to ask the independent adviser on ministerial interests to examine whether Mr Hunt broke the Ministerial Code.

When it comes to the Murdochs, this is an out of touch, weak Prime Minister. He is unable to discharge his duties and stand up for the public interest.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Consumer Focus’s ‘Plug the Debt’ energy bill campaign

Consumer Focus’s ‘Plug the Debt’ campaign is raising the awareness of what people who have fallen behind with their energy bills should do.

At this time of year, many residents will be receiving energy bills for their winter usage, something that can be a shock for some, so I want to rehighlight Consumer Focus’s ‘Plug the Debt’ campaign.

Jeremy Hunt's defence: how the minister's statement stacks up

The Guardian carries a forensic analysis explaining why Jeremy Hunt's defence is at odds witht the evidence.

The accusation is simple.
That The Tories wanted Murdock onside before the last General Election and Murdock (News Corp) wanted to extend the media ownership beyond what is acceptable. They own 40% of worlds media, numerous UK newspapers and a large shareholding in BSKYB and Sky News Channel.

The concerns is a deal was done. The Sun (and other titles) switch support to the Tories and when in Government Daviod Cameron who is personal friends with several News International senior figures will facilitate a Murdock takeover of the remainig shares of BSKYB.

A minister who is a friend, a safe pair of hands, loyal to David Cameron takes up the post of Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, (Jeremy Hunt) to deliver the dirty deal whilst proclaiming impartitality.
Of course this is just an opinion based on the evidence presented so far. The Guardian article disects the Culture Secreatry's defence and draws a clear conclusion that Mr Hunt's arguments do not sit witht the evidence.

I find it incredible that Adam Smith, his special advisor acted without his knowledge. Adam Smith has not denied the content - how could he - and provided a back channel to enure the Murdocks takeover of BSKYB went ahead.

LINK: Guardian analysis of Hunt's defence.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

A Call to the Housing Minister to take action against Rogue Landlords

The recent Laying the Foundations: A Housing Strategy for England rests its plans for the private rented sector on the claim that most tenants have a good experience of renting.

The Strategy cites the findings of English Housing Survey research showing that 84.6% of tenants in the private rented sector describe themselves as very or fairly satisfied with their accommodation.

This supports the Housing Minister’s statement in 2010:

"With the vast majority of England's three million private tenants happy with the service they receive, I am satisfied that the current system strikes the right balance between the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords. So today I make a promise to good landlords across the country: the Government has no plans to create any burdensome red tape and bureaucracy, so you are able to continue providing a service to your tenants. But for the bad landlords, I am putting councils on alert to use the range of powers already at their disposal to make sure tenants are properly protected."

It is clear that the Government’s laissez-faire attitude towards standards in the private rented sector has remained unchanged in the last few years.

I would make two objections to this approach.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Why a strong and open for business Labour Council is vital for Hyndburn

This election is about big priorities. Labour is the only Party focussing on what's important to you. Jobs and employment. 300 new jobs at Globe Centre and 200 more at Whitebirk which have recently been announced. In these tough times Tories, Liberals and Independents remain mired in personal ‘park bench’ and ‘firework celebration’ politic of the past that saw Hyndburn slipping ever backwards. Labour's record on jobs stands out; the Party that built the Globe Centre; the Party who built our industrial estates; the Party that will continue to focus on what matters.

Labour are the only Party who have a clear, compelling vision for Hyndburn; jobs, transport, infrastructure. In 11 months Labour has helped secured £9million funding which will reinstate the direct hourly rail link to Manchester giving residents better employment opportunities and opening Hyndburn’s heritage to rail visitors.

Labour has secured £8m for a new Accrington bus station improving bus travel throughout the Borough; brought together the first credible comprehensive retail plan outlined in detail in last week’s Accrington Observer; and revived Great Harwood’s new Health Centre project, a project abandoned by the Tories.

The Tory-led Government is reducing the Councils budget from £17m to £11m - hurting jobs, council services and the local economy. Residents need a Council that can produce a credible budget, no matter how tough - one which focuses on these priorities. Contrast that in February where no other Party brought forward a budget proposition. Reckless Tory promises on leaflets of spend-spend-spend lack responsibility, credibility and the finances to carry them through.

Quite simply this is choice between the credible and the incredible.

Huge and unfair Government cuts have meant Labour has taken decisions to raise some charges; terminate Tory funding of the “Asian” Community Advice Centre; freeze taxi fee's and importantly in tough times set a 0% Council Tax.

The Labour Council has had to clear up the phantom spending regeneration mess totalling £6.9m left by the Conservatives which could only be funded by further bank borrowing and more council debts.When it comes to winning votes, local Conservatives just can't stop spending money they don't have mortgaging future generations to failed projects such as the £700k Hyndburn Life website - scrapped after 6 months, £1.4m spent in the Blackpool Street area on houses they can't sell at a loss or the £10's millions given away on property grants to individuals.

In contrast, following 10 years of Tory neglect, Woodnook is to receive £7m of private money from a pension investment company in a ground breaking deal and £2.3million of 'phasing out money’, ring fenced by the Tory-led Government. Funding local Conservatives are misleading voters on promising to spend it ‘in other areas’.

Labour is the only Party committed to licensing landlords; the only Party committed to beefing up environmental enforcement services and ensuring there are no cuts to front line staff including street cleaning, parks and refuse collection. Last May Labour inherited old and dilapidated bin wagons. A Labour Council will be replace these vehicles.

Labour is committed to the outer townships with improvements in parks, improved street cleaning. In Rishton Labour in it's first month in charge of the Council took long overdue action and demolished old housing on Spring Street left abandoned for years by outgoing Conservatives.

Labour are opposed to local Tory plans to cut police numbers. Only a Labour Council understands the importance of police numbers and will oppose any further Conservative plans for reductions in police or PCSOs in Hyndburn. A Labour Council will protect PCSO funding.

Labour in just eleven months has brought greater transparency over decisions. Members of the public have been given time in public meetings to speak ending years of Tory dictatorship and one man holding court and making all decisions.

Contrast that with the Tories who have been filling their boots with increased personal allowances and where the Conservative leader justified his £43,000+ salary by suggesting "He had to live". Last April before the local elections the Tories promised to reduce their allowances. One month later after the polls had closed they abandoned that pledge and claimed full allowances again. The Independents voted for a cut but their actions have subsequently been inconsistent with what they are telling the electorate.

Labour Councillors by freezing their allowances voluntarily since 2009 have taken more than a 10% cut in real terms.

On the 3rd may Hyndburn can confidently carrying on going forward under a Labour Council or go back to the dark days of Councillor Britcliffe and his Conservatives or return to the mired and confused personal politics and back room deals of Independents of 2010 and 1999 when they held the balance of power.

It's a straight forward choice. A return to a dark Conservative past or alternatively a brighter Labour future. A clear, strong Labour Council or a byzantine, murky Council with Independents playing of all sides.

LloydsTSB Foundation offering grants in Hyndburn

The Lloyds TSB Foundation provides support for core costs faced by small and medium-sized charities, to help them to grow organically by funding, for example, salaried and full-time members of staff.
  • · Last year, the Lloyds TSB Foundation made 123 grants in the North West of England, totalling £3.4million.
  • · Overall, Lloyds Banking Group gave £76million to communities across the country in 2010 – making it Britain’s biggest corporate investor in communities.
For more information on the Foundation – and their work in Hyndburn – please visit their website at:

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Capital still available for new Great Harwood Health Centre

There's been talk that Great Harwood's new health centre had been shelved for a second time following a breakdown in a deal between Morrisons and the PCT. On behalf of Great Harwood residents I have written and spoken to the PCT regularly about the urgent need for a new health centre in the town.

The current centre is overcrowded and cramped, so I am pleased to see that the capital reserve is still available and the possibility of a new health centre remains on the cards. I will continue to push for this much needed new health centre.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Itinerant Scrap Metal Collectors Exempt from New Cashless System

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill passed through the last stage in the Commons last night and will soon become law.

Unfortunately the Government decided to take a soft on crime approach and ridiculously exempt mobile collectors from the new regulations.

Every constituent I speak to shares the view of the British Transport Police that mobile collectors are a significant problem in the theft of metal. The same vehicles week after week cruising suspicously Haslingden and Hyndburn's estates and back streets.

The Bill includes the Government’s new scrap metal legislation, banning cashless payments by scrap metal dealers. This is a move I have long been campaigning nationally for and I am delighted that the Government has taken this step in the right direction. It would mean that scrap metal collectors would not be able to sell their scrap metal to dealers for cash but instead would have to go through the proper channels and receive a payment into bank accounts.

Tories double deceit on Woodnook regeneration

The Tories are running a local election campaign that says outside of the Barnfield ward they will pull the £2.3million their government has ringfenced for the area - incompetence in itself - and spend it elsewhere. In Barnfield ward itself they are suggesting that it will remain in order to appeal to all people.

The reality is this funding is allocated by government and the promises of spending elsewhere malcious campaigning for the purpose of stealing votes under false pretences.

The second deceit is their claims that they have private investors. Private investors who feel they need to talk to the Councillor in the ward and not to the Council for no such approach has been made to the Council.

What the Health and Social Care Bill will mean for East Lancashire

It is difficult for local people to understand the top down restructure of the NHS the Government are imposing. For most people the reorganisation goes against the high profile poster promise at the last General Election when Prime Minister David Cameron proclaimed; ‘Trust me on the NHS’ and ‘No more top down reorganisations’. The Bill was forced the Commons last month and the NHS will soon see the effects.

However, the NHS reforms will be at best pointless to Lancashire - with its one hospitals trust - and at worse highly destructive as it breaks up any combined health care planning.

As with much of this Government’s policies, they are designed with London in mind, with little if any consideration of areas such as East Lancashire. Essentially, the reforms are intended to allow choice, which exists in London because of the high numbers of GP’s clinics and Hospital within a small area. This is simply not the case in areas such as Lancashire.

The NHS restructuring will see groups of GPs joining together to form Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). These groups will be given a budget by the Government and will decide from within this budget which healthcare providers they will pay to treat their patients.

This will mean giving GPs responsibility for deciding which healthcare providers –e.g. hospital trusts – to send their patients.

I and the rest of the Labour Party had a huge number of serious objections to these reforms nationally. The Bill unfortunately passed, despite our efforts to defeat the Bill.

Nonetheless, my criticism of these reforms from a local perspective should still be addressed as many local issues exist. This won't bring choice, it will end health care planning such as new health centres; it may allow GP's to operate under the radar of scrutiny; it leaves a confused estate of buildings that may lead to rationalisation - closure of smaller hospitals unable to meet health care market demands; it may well bring extra bureacracy or gaps in service.

East Lancashire Hospitals Trust is the trust that manages the main hospitals in East Lancashire: Royal Blackburn Hospital, Burnley General Hospital and Pendle Community Hospital. The Trust also provides services for The Accrington Victoria Hospital, Clitheroe Community Centre, Blackburn Birthing Centre and Rossendale Primary Care Centre.

Once the new East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group is up and running, the vast majority of patients will continue being sent to one of these local hospitals. This will be from logistical practicality alone, to say nothing of relationships developed between CCGs and local Trusts.

The government’s argument that this will introduce choice is facile and totally misrepresents the situation.

The Government’s only intelligible and tangible reason for the reforms is that giving GPs power and forcing providers to compete with each other for contracts will drive up standards.

Clearly if the vast majority of treatments will be, as always, provided by the nearby Trust hospitals, then any potential benefits of competition will be immaterial.

However, despite these natural links that develop between GPs and their local hospitals – where they will clearly want to send most of their patients - and where patients will want to go – GPs may be subject to EU competition laws. If they are seen as having favourable relations with a local, trusted hospital trust, there is a concern that they may face penalties for anti-competitive behaviour.

It is difficult if not impossible, then, to see the benefit to people of East Lancashire. GPs have little alternatives to the local Trust to send their patients. Patients do not want travel further for treatment and for many poorer people in East Lancashire, travelling further is not an option. It is ridiculous to think that GPs should look around the country for hospitals to send their patients when there is a perfectly good local hospital with which the patients are familiar. To say that standards will be driven up by introducing choice and markets is therefore simply misleading.

If we are as optimistic and trusting as possible about the Government’s claims of the benefits of competition, we can see that at best the plans do not benefit East Lancashire and other regions where most local hospital services are run by the local trust.

There are no benefits to the reforms for areas such as ours where there simply isn’t a wide variety of hospital service providers. This lack of options is not a weakness of the current system – it is inefficient to suggest that we should replace our excellent local hospitals with more, spread-out and less integrated service providers. We should concentrate instead on improving the existing hospitals.

Furthermore, the argument for competition threatens predatory clinical provision by greedy private sector providers who cream off profitable, easy services and leave Hospitals such as Royal Blackburn to carry all the cost of less profitable services that must be provided.

Of course, we have already seen in West Yorkshire that some of these less profitable services do not need to be provided. GPs have sent letters out informing patients that GPs will provide certain medical treatments privately only – clearly a conflict of interest when they are the fund holders of NHS budgets and patient budgets.

The Government have pushed through the reforms with the competition argument that has only London in mind. Only in London and some other cities there are more providers packed into the city so there are more procurement options for GPs.

Primary Care budgets and the PCTS themselves have been abolished leaving two fundamental problems? Who will manage their buildings and will they be managed for profit eg the seven new East Lancashire health centres. Their ending also ends the three proposed new heath care buildings and I intend to write to Andrew Lansley to ask if this is his vision of on a new NHS? Secondly it puts the budget for health care prevention in the hands of unqualified GP's. It's one thing to say 30 minutes of physical activity saves the NHS £millions. it is another to ask a group of people who have no experience of delivering such a programme to begin understanding and spending such a budget.

It reverses the logic of the last Government and the former Tory led Blackburn Council which merged the PCT and The Council and offered free recreation at all it's facilities part funded by the PCT through the Bee Card. Do GP's have this experience and nous? This NHS Bill is clearly a huge backward step for East Lancashire in primary care.

Yet again the Government is making decisions with no regard to rural areas and regional issues. The only possible tenuous argument they have given for the reforms will not benefit Lancashire. We are only left with the downsides. And there are many.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Peel Holdings can't assume they can have all their own way

Peel Holdings, having lost a planning application for a conversion of Whitebirk retail park have to accept the democratic process. Hyndburn Councillors turned down their application and quite rightly so.

Peel have been engaged in a backdoor campaign to acquire permissions they had already failed to achieve at Hyndburn's planning committee and for which they had appealed and lost previously.

There reputation as a predator company has seriously dented their reputation. They have pushed through a number of minor seemingly inconsequential permissions, fought then to amend legal precedents in the courts in Sunderland that potentially turn those minor permissions into a full blown undemocratic approval.

Peel had provided written email agreements to Hyndburn Council accepting that binding 106 restrictions on restricted planning use would remain even though minor planning conscent was being sought for minor changes of use, moving a door, a window or an internal wall.

No Peel are arguing that these email agreements are worthless and as such Hyndburn Council has negated it's own previous binding 106 restrictions allowing Peel to develop the site as they wish without any further approvals.

Jack Straw has secured the support of the Secretary of State Eric Pickles in accepting that minor changes should not aggregate up to a deceptive full blown application that no longer requires planning permission.

What Peel have done is sneaky and underhand. Predator capitalists willing to bend the rules via the back door, exploit local people and the democratic process for commercial gain.

Their arguments about more jobs and more business are to me pie in the sky figures, promises from a company who how lowered their standards of conduct considerably in order to get what they want. Nowheer does it mention the economic damage or jobs lost elsewhere.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Eurofighter Typhoon BBC North West interview

Last week I did an TV interview for BBC North West on the Indian enquiry into irregularities in the process which led the Indian Government to choose the Rafaale rather than the Eurofighter Typhoon which supports tens of thousands of North West jobs.

An Indian MP has called for enquiry which the Defence Minister has accepted. I do not think this a great news as sources from India indicate this will only delay the process not reopen the tendering process.

I asked the minister on the floor of the House of Commons.

Graham Jones (Hyndburn, Labour)
May I associate my views with those of other hon. Members regarding the loss of life in Afghanistan?

Last week, the Indian Ministry of Defence ordered an internal review into the procurement process that led to the French Rafale aircraft receiving preferred bidder status despite the fact that it was apparently out-performed by the Eurofighter in tests as well as in operations in Libya? What discussions has the Minister held with his Indian counterparts to seek reassurances that Britain’s defence export industry is not losing out because of unfair and uncompetitive practices.  

Gerald Howarth (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (International Security Strategy), Defence; Aldershot, Conservative)
The hon. Gentleman takes a close interest in these matters and took part in the Westminster Hall debate introduced by my hon. Friend Mark Menzies on 7 March, so I understand where he is coming from. I can assure him that I take these matters very seriously. I have read the reports about the internal investigation that Minister Antony, the Defence Minister in India, has instigated. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I shall be flying to India tomorrow, where I hope to have discussions with Indian Ministers and other officials.

Metal Theft | Cashless exemptions | Alchemy Metals response.

Following considerable correspondence with the Home Office it came to light that yes indeed, this is a limited exemption. I have spoken to some 14 different Councils over the last few days in order to try and identify how many registered Itinerant Collectors had this exemption in place and was able to identify precisely none. (Please do also note that the Councils we spoke to were not at all in support of this exemption and in the case of the larger ones simply not geared up to handle an influx of applications). This in and of itself sounds like good news and indeed, on the surface of it, perhaps we should have little concern about a limited exemption, however:

Metal Theft | Cashless Payments | ENA opposes the government exemption for itinerant collectors




The Government has amended the Bill via clauses 146,147 and 148 to implement a cashless system for the scrap metal industry to address the issue of metal theft. Whilst these are to be welcomed the Government have also included an exemption for itinerant scrap metal collectors. They will be permitted to continue offering cash payment when purchasing scrap metal, while the rest of the scrap metal industry must employ cashless systems for such purchases.

The concerted view of the scrap metal industry, expressed individually and through its relevant trade bodies, is that the Government’s proposal to mandate cashless payment for the purchase of scrap metal must apply to all dealers, with no exemptions allowed. This view is strongly endorsed by the sectors especially hard-hit by metal theft – transport, infrastructure, the Local Government Group, the Church of England and the War Memorials Trust – and by the law enforcement agencies.

During the Third Reading of the Bill on 27 March 2012, the scrap metal industry urges Members of the House of Lords to support the amendment moved by Lord Faulkner of Worcester, which deletes this exemption for itinerant collectors, and in addition permits a court to take into account while sentencing, wider aggravating factors (business interruption, disruption to public services, etc) arising out of the theft.

The exemption for itinerant collectors

The Government has proposed that itinerant collectors can continue paying in cash for the purchase of metal, although the obligation to accept cashless payment would still apply when the metal is sold to a scrap metal dealer. Furthermore, under Section 3.1 of the SMDA 1964, itinerant collectors may request the Local Authority for a relaxation of the more detailed recording and recordkeeping obligations that apply to the rest of the sector.

GRAND OFFICIAL OPENING of Hyndburn Heritage Museum at The Market Hall

Forthcoming Event: GRAND OFFICIAL OPENING of Hyndburn Heritage Museum by The Mayor of Hyndburn Cllr Colette McCormack at The Market Hall Accrington on Saturday 7th April 2012 at 11:00am – Please go along and give your support.

From Angela @ Hyndburn Heritage & Community Group 

Members of our group are all volunteers from within our local community. We are a non-profit making non-commercial group who are establishing a heritage museum for the community of the borough of Hyndburn. Our main objective is to, “to advance the education of the community of Hyndburn regarding the heritage of Hyndburn and in particular by the establishment and maintenance of a public museum.”

As a temporary residence we have been offered the use of two vacant units on the balcony of the Market Hall in Accrington and two vacant stall units downstairs in the Market Hall. We will display and exhibit articles and items of interest that have been offered to us, on loan or donated to us, by members of the community of Hyndburn. These are representative of our rich and diverse cultural, social and industrial heritage.