Thursday, 16 August 2012

Jobs or Flowers? A letter to the Accrington Observer

I would like the opportunity to respond to the letter by Councillor Terry Hurn (Tory, Baxenden) last week suggesting that the MP was doing nothing for businesses in Hyndburn.

Long before I was elected as MP jobs, growth and businesses had been the local Labour Party's number one priority. In fact I helped Mr Hurn's own business providing state-of-the-art neighbourhood CCTV cameras and liaison with the police when the family business was under threat from vandals. I believe the family indicated the business may close unless something was done.

My parliamentary caseload includes a vast number of examples of intervention to help local businesses, including challenging unfair government subsidies that would lead to potential job losses on the floor of the House of Commons and liaising with the Department of Business to support exports to developing countries. I have helped with regulations and stepped in to facilitate recruitment and redeployment following closure and redundancy. I have acted to tackle anti-competitive practices of a major business and made the UK government give an official response. When the Government threatened to increase tax on skip hire companies, my office spoke to every skip company in the constituency in order to build a case to bring to the Government.

I wonder why Mr Hurn thinks I ask so many questions in Parliament to the Ministry of Defence? It is because of the huge number of jobs and level of industry in Hyndburn which is reliant on the BAE's defence manufacturing supply chain. In fact the last thing I did, on the last day of Parliament, was to ask what the Government was doing to protect skills in defence manufacturing. I have even met the Prime Minister in Downing Street to discuss defence jobs in Lancashire.

Employment in Hyndburn is, and has been, my number one concern.

Contrast that with the local Conservative Party whom Mr Hurn represents on the Council. Their thinking has been to prioritise Floral Market Towns, spending £100,000's on flowers and park benches and ignoring the real issues that face people, namely their employment prospects. In the last 10 years they have paid consultants for up to 5 town centre master plans and yet 22% of shops in Accrington lie vacant, retail being a large constituency employer. The most damaging decision by the former Conservative Council was to oppose the Todmorden Curve, providing a direct rail link to Manchester. In 13 years they failed to deliver a new bus station for Accrington town centre and the Borough.

In my first year as MP when there was a Conservative Council, it was not easy to press on with jobs and business agenda. They were always been more interested in elections. Things could not be more different in the last 12 months since with a far more pro-business and responsive Labour Council. Miles Parkinson and Clare Pritchard have changed the Council's priority to jobs and growth.

Mr Hurn's criticisms couldn’t be further from reality. The council and I are now pushing on with a jobs and growth agenda. I meet with the Chambers of Commerce regularly and stated my ambition that a business forum be established in Hyndburn with business breakfasts becoming a routine part of an MP and Council Leader's diary. The business forum is taking shape. Last week I met with the Council and the Accrington Observer, supported by a major training organisation to talk about a whole new approach to promoting Hyndburn as a place for business, to attract inward investment and to begin to present a very positive image of the successful businesses in the area, to promote what this area has to offer to prospective employers. All of this could have been done in the past 13 years of a Conservatives controlled Council, but it wasn't. Mr Hurn’s fellow Conservative Councillors lacked the vision and direction of even a parish council.

Contrast that limited view of Hyndburn with Labour. In the 1990’s Labour built the Globe Centre facilitating over 700 well paid jobs and developing East Lancashire’s premier office centre. In the 1980’s Labour built Hyndburn’s industrial estates providing thousands of jobs. In recent times it is Labour that has pursued the restoration of a direct rail link to Manchester and investment in transport infrastructure and it is a Labour Council and a Labour MP in Hyndburn that is focusing on business, employment and entrepreneurship.

All I can say to Mr Hurn is rather than stand outside throwing brickbats in, he welcomes the change of direction and contributes to the wellbeing of Hyndburn and recognises that jobs and growth are now under Labour the number one priority, not expensive flowers, endless celebrations and fireworks displays and park benches as when his party was running the council.