Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Future of the F35

Recent US articles have hinted at cuts to the F35 programme - partly made by BAe at Salmesbury and Warton, or at least the order numbers. I raised this question with the defence minister in the Commons and attached is his courteous written reply.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Peel Holdings - back door at night tactics to defeat planning committee

Jack Straw and I, along with Hyndburn Council and it's leader Miles Parkinson have been fending off Peel Holdings desire through expensive barristers to reverse a planning a decision by a back door technicality. Jack has written an article on the issue for The Times which I have reprinted;

Times230712 JACK STRAW – TIMES – PLANNING LOOPHOLE – 23 JULY 2012 hitebirk retail Park

In a no-man’s land between Blackburn and Accrington, there’s something going on which could adversely affect your town centre, and undermine this government’s commendable efforts to implement Mary Portas’ excellent proposals to revive our high streets. Developers are using an obscure technical loophole to override decisions by local councils against out-of-town retail parks. It’s entirely lawful – but to me it’s neither democratic, nor acceptable. It could be coming soon to your area.

Whitebirk Retail Park was built in the nineteen eighties on the site of the old municipal power station. Geographically, it’s Blackburn; administratively, it’s within the Hyndburn Council area.

It’s a windswept collection of retail sheds with no humanity, no merit save that it’s a few hundred yards from a junction of the M65 motorway.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Eastgate Retail Park - car parking charlatans

There seems to be an issue with rescinding car parking charges on East Gate Retail Park between the dates of the 2nd June and the 8th July. Both companies are acting in a disreputable and greedy manner;
  1. Those who have not paid contact me as your MP or the Council. Excel have stated they will not fine these persons.

    However people are still be told by Excel front line staff to pay despite the recent agreement not to pursue them. John Williams the MD at Aston Rose and Excel parking having have both been made aware of the current situation and there seems little effort or will to resolve this matter. Perhaps the greedy profits are more important.
  2. Those who have paid must appeal and there is confusion as to whether the company will refund the fine. There is real confusion as to whether they will actually receive a refund.

    The Council have spoken to both Aston Rose (owners) and Excel parking this week regarding the car park. They seemed to have reached an impasse i.e. they cannot seem to agree a way forward. 
Excel say their front line staff are asking all people who call to ‘write in’ and appeal. They say these are not being actioned yet and they are gathering them together so when a decision is made they know who to contact. Again, I would advise people to go to the money saving expert website as there is a particular way to appeal in terms of wording etc. http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/reclaim/private-parking-tickets#fight

If you are aware of advice being given by Excel which is contrary to this information i.e. they are still informing people to pay then please let me know immediately.

I think this may drag on for a while yet.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Time to end the private pensions rip-offs

It’s not just working families today that are taking a hammering from the government. It’s tomorrow’s pensioners too. Hard-pressed families have so little to make ends meet these days that convincing them to save for pensions is hard.

That’s why Britain’s new private pension system which starts in October is so important. Developed by Labour with cross-party support, 10 million workers will be ‘automatically-enrolled’ into private pensions that together with state pension, could help workers replace up to half of their salary in retirement.

There’s just one big problem. The government’s refusal to get to grips with the hidden costs and charges that could cost savers up to half of their pension pot if they end up in the wrong scheme. Today, as we publish, “Pensions people can trust,” as part of Labour’s policy review, we say that must change.

Right now, too many people don’t save for a pension because they don’t trust the system. Pollsters, ICM Research say 56% of savers lack confidence in those who manage their investments. And Which? Say that just 6% of the public believe our financial services industry is the most trustworthy custodian of a pension savers’ money. Bad schemes are undermining the many good ones.

If the government does not act fast to restore public trust in the pensions industry then savers could vote with their feet and opt out of the new system of private pensions for all. That would be a disaster.

That’s why today, Labour is saying that if the new private pensions system is to work the government should do four things.

First, we need a clear and standardised system that makes it possible to compare the costs of pension schemes properly. It means banning penalty charges on pensions when people move jobs. It means giving everyone access to the best deal when it’s time to collect. And it means ending the unfair charges that prevent savers from ‘rolling-up’ small private pension pots scattered around old employers.

Second, we need to head off the rip offs of tomorrow, by placing a new legal 'fiduciary duty' on all pension providers. We need every pension scheme in Britain managed by independent trustees obliged to act at all times in the savers’ – not shareholders’ - best interests. Just like our traditional defined benefit schemes and some of the new schemes like the National not for profit Trust.

Third, we need to end the ban on savers transferring small pension pots or significant savings into the new National not for profit pension Trust. Labour set up this Trust to make sure employers and employees had an easy to use, low risk, low cost, high quality, not-for-profit pension scheme. Yet the government dithers on lifting the ban on transfer existing pension pots in or lifting the cap on annual pensions saving. We say: lift the ban and let the Trust drive up standards and drive down costs across the pensions industry.

Fourth, we want a private pensions system for all – including the low paid who want to do the right thing and save. The government keeps moving the goalposts it has barred 690 000 of the lowest paid, often women in part-time work with caring responsibilities, from the new automatic workplace pensions. We say this is wrong.

Labour is the party of hard working people. We want to put the “something for something” bargain back on the table for savers. Labour's offer to the pensions saver was a good deal: for every £4 she or he saves another £4 paid is paid into their pension pot by government and employer.

It’s exactly the way we should be modernising social security for new times; times in which lots of hard-working people feel they pay a lot in – but get very little out.

We all know we need to save more for tomorrow; right now 60% of private sector workers aren’t saving for a pension. The old defined benefit schemes are available to fewer and fewer private sector workers – this is why we need people to engage with the new workplace pensions system and why it must be high quality.

In October, the new foundations for a private pensions system for all will fall into place. The government must now act to ensure that on those foundations we build a world-class pensions system for 21st century Britain.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Minister doesn't answer my question on F35

Yesterday I asked a question to the Defence Minister about news reports that the US was likely to cut its F35 Joint Strike Fighter programme – the knock on effect of which is a reduction in orders.

The manufacture of the JSF provides a large amount of employment in East Lancashire, and I don’t think the minister’s flippant response is appropriate if you look at the amount of unemployment we have, and the jobs which have already been lost in defence manufacturing. The exchange went as follows:

Graham Jones: There are reports today in the newspapers that the F-35B programme is to face substantial cuts in the US. Has the Minister had any indication from his counterparts in the US of a reduction in the number that will be procured, which may affect defence jobs in east Lancashire?

Peter Luff: I remember a good friend of mine, a general, who retired recently from the British armed services, who said he would know that he had retired when he started believing what he read in newspapers. I would strongly recommend to the hon. Gentleman not to believe what he reads in newspapers. The United States remains strongly committed to the programme. The F-35B is an outstanding aircraft, it is flying extensively, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will receive our first two aircraft on Thursday. The hon. Gentleman should be a little sceptical.

I take several points from this.

Firstly, this is not a denial or a refutation of anything which I raised. Saying that the United States is committed to the programme is not the same as saying it will not reduce orders. I asked specifically about discussions he has had with his US counterparts about this topic. We all agree that the F35 is an outstanding aircraft, but if the US Government decides it cannot afford them, then it will obviously have to reduce orders.

Secondly, this is an unnecessarily petty response. I did not ask a belligerent or point-scoring question, it was a simple request for clarification on the Government’s position, because of media reports which could have caused a large amount of concern to a number of my constituents and businesses.

Finally, I think this is a completely out of touch response. There are a lot of people without jobs, and it is simply not a good enough thing to say that we should be more sceptical about news reports. The Government has already performed 2 U-turns on the F35 launch system – why would we trust their claims any more than those of a newspaper? Obviously the real world does not penetrate the walls of the Ministry of Defence.