Friday, 28 September 2012

Womens Centre, Accrington - Raising money raising awareness

Hello all, We’re really pleased to let you know that we are one of just ten organisations who have been selected to take part in a national “Crowdfunding Challenge” which is being organised by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). It’s a new way of fundraising which makes use of your social (real and online!) contacts and local community…

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals - Letter to the Observer

At the start of the recess the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Harriet Harman spoke out against Fixed Odds betting Terminals found in bookmakers. The Daily Mail, not a paper I always agree with ran with the headline “They're the high-tech one-armed bandits spreading like a cancer across High Streets. To their eternal shame, MPs want more of them”. The Daily Mail adding; “They are so addictive they have been called the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling”. Powerful words and it is a shame, a point made by Harriet that Labour brought forward the legislation which allowed this.

These FOBT look like one armed bandits and the principal game played on FOBT, roulette is by nature, highly addictive. As one former industry employee said ”The high stake, fast spin nature of Roulette as played on FOBT is very different to that of Casino Roulette which leads players to stake up and therefore accumulate bigger losses. Bookmakers know this. Lewis Rogers (Bookmakers PR spokesperson) is quite inexperienced in this field and is just espousing company the company line.”

I have written to the Government to find out the facts here in the constituency including importantly Haslingden. The governments answer was evasive saying they had already been published online but in further examination this was not the case.

In absence of the facts ‘Fairer Gambling’ stated there were up to 22 in Hyndburn and Channel 4 programme Dispatches stated that these deadly machines ‘took in up to £18,000 per hour’ supporting the horror stories that now are appearing in public. It is worth making the crucial point that the gambling industry have not disputed these figures.

Apart from Channel 4 no research has been commissioned into the cash consumption per hour of these machines because the reality of all the bluster in last week Observer (and nationally), bookmakers are terrified of what it will show.

It is ironic that Lewis Rogers, a bookmakers PR spokesperson should base his case simply by accusing the other side of erroneous facts. He argued the £18,000 per hour consumption rate is false because there is a 97% payout. Opponents argue that “they actually operate on a ‘theoretical’ margin of 2.7% per spin. Hence the cumulative effect of a session of plays is that the machine will retain minimum 17% of money gambled”.

The PR spokesperson also stated that there were 12 not 22 as Fairer Gambling had claimed. I believe there are roughly 15 but when contacting the Accrington Observer, why didn’t the industry come clean instead of simply criticising Fairer Gambling (or myself)? Perhaps because they don’t want the public to know the true facts or discuss the issue? This week the industry contacted the Accrington Observer to spread confusion, doubt and to maintain its position of ‘profitable denial’ of its responsibilities.

National figures released show that a staggering £12.5 billion was gambled via William Hill and Ladbrokes’ betting machines in the first six months of this year alone.

What has sparked this debate was the MP’s Select Committee who wish to increase the numbers of these gambling machines (FOBT) from 4 to 20 per shop. Some newspapers attributed the critical quotes to myself and whilst I share their argument, for clarity readers ought to know who originally said what. I believe the majority of people in this constituency do not want 20 of these machines per bookmaker and why now is the time to say something.

Gambling is there for pure enjoyment, not to make it easier for more people to become addicted. Nor is it there to wreck families. Gambling has a responsibility not to just to its customers but society, all of us. It’s time the industry came clean on these machines instead of trying to protect their corporate profits.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Fresh crackdown on gambling machines (FOBT) unveiled by ministers

Following criticism from MP's including myself, the Government has decided to have a crackdown on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. Last weeks local news carried an article on my comments.
"A fresh crackdown gambling machines unveiled by ministers has immediately come under fire from bookmakers.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat communities minister, told his party's conference there would be a Government review of high-stakes gambling machines. It could mean gamblers are restricted to spending to £2 per spin, bringing the machines in line with bingo halls and casinos."

Monday, 24 September 2012

Future Accrington Olympian and the Mencap Mile at Dorney Lake needs £150

We’d like to help Niamh Robinson, an Accrington swimmer, and one of only a few that has been recently chosen by the ASA to attend their talent development programme (north west region).

She’s going to swim the Mencap Mile at the Olympic and Paralympic Dorney Lake in aid of Mencap, at the end of September. She’s set herself £150 total.

Can you help us to spread the news and reach this target? It’s inspiring to see the local youth being consumed by the Olympic and Paralympic spirit, getting fit and helping others. Anything you can suggest would be so helpful.

Warm Front underspend - More people now elegible

Dear Mr Jones, I wanted to write to alert you to a new awareness campaign on the Warm Front scheme from Consumer Focus, Citizens Advice, Age UK and National Children’s Bureau which we launched last week.
Crucially the eligibility criteria for help under Warm Front has broadened from the 12 September. So even if someone has been turned down before, they may be able to get free help this year.
Why are we launching this campaign now

The Government’s Warm Front scheme was under-spent by over £50m in the last financial year, in large part due to poor promotion of the scheme, and claim rates are low again this year.

It is particularly important that as many people as possible are encouraged to get help from Warm Front now, as it is the final year of the scheme.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Nook Lane - Latest site visit

Last week I went to Nook Lane, the former NIPA chemical site with Steve Molyneux from The Environment Agency, Paul Fleck from Hyndburn Borough Council, Miles Parkinson, Leader of Hyndburn Council and offsite, June Smith local campaigner. The HSE and LCC were not present even though both are actively involved.

Following on from the site visit a month ago it was pleasing to see the rubbish removed including the waste that had been buried. meeting is scheduled to take place with The Environment Agency and residents to discuss the ongoing situation.

The contamination at the moment is trace except for DDT which is above normal levels.Site security is major issue and notices have been served which breach of is a criminal offence and the HSE has served notices. The Environment Agency have also served a notice that the owners, Lock Gate Mount must have a plan to deal with with the on site water management.

All of this will eventually be presented to Hyndburn Borough Council as to whether the Council designates the land contaminated. At the moment it is not and historically the reason has been to encourage not limit the development opportunities the site. A review will take place by the new Labour Council as to whether to whether that remains the best option.

Whilst there we shot some shot some short interviews and footage from the site.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Scrap Metal Dealers Bill passes through committee stage

As observant watchers may realise, I have been at the forefront nationally of trying to tackle the costly crime of metal theft.

Doing live TV news and an incredible amount of media, broadcast, online video and written has been fascinating.

So it has been pleasing to see Richard Ottaway MP private member's Scrap Metal Dealers Bill, albeit a dressed up version of my private members bill last spring, progress last week.

The government has quite frankly handled this in a shambolic way. Dithering and lack of direction in dealing with metal theft has embarrassed the Home Office over how to deal with regulation of scrap metal dealers a significant increase in thefts.

Following defeat of my private members bill by the government, the Home Office brought forward a late and undebated addition to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 to ban cash payments and increase the tariff for offenders.


Thank you for your email dated 11 September 2012 regarding Transdev Lancashire United's revisions to commercial bus services in the Accrington area from 16 September 2012.

I appreciate the concerns you have raised on behalf of constituents about Transdev's decision to withdraw their commercial daily evening Hyndburn Circular journeys between Blackburn and Accrington via Rishton, Great Harwood and Clayton-le-Moors, and the difficulties this would create locally.

However, I can now confirm that following on-bus surveys and the examination of electronic ticket machine data, Lancashire County Council has arranged to subsidise the Monday to Saturday evening Hyndburn Circular journeys which were proposed for withdrawal.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Hyndburn to bear the brunt of Osborne's next round of cuts?

CC Don Foster (Minister),
To Mr Brandon Lewis - DCLG Minister

I would like to raise with your, the minister responsible the very significant issue of transitional funding which Hyndburn Borough Council has received in the last two years to offset the scale of your cuts in the Autumn Statement of 2010 that severely affected 12 Councils.

As you will be aware, a small number of Councils received transition funding in the Local Government Finance Settlement for 2011/12 and 2012/13.  This funding protected these Councils against unsustainable reductions in their spending power, limiting the cut to 8.8% in each financial year.

For next year (2013/14) onwards Government is introducing a new funding mechanism for local government, the Business Rates Retention Scheme.  The indications are that it is not the Government’s intention to include transition grant in the calculation and a final decision on this matter is due in the next weeks. This will have a very detrimental impact on a small number of Councils, which include some of the most deprived communities in the country. As a former leader of Brentwood Borough Council I am sure you appreciate the impact this will have.

Without this transitional relief Councils affected like my own, my neighbour Burnley Council and your own, Great Yarmouth will have to consider 'the unthinkable' to balance their budgets. 

As you can see from the table of those affected the worst affected Great Yarmouth on top of all the other local government cuts will lose a further third of its funding.

Grant    £m
Transition Grant as % of Core Funding
Great Yarmouth

As you can see, this table demonstrates the fundamental importance of this funding to a small number of Councils, including your own constituency.  The table also demonstrates that, in national funding terms, the bill to fix the problem fairly and properly (£20m) is modest.  It is clear to me that Government should be building this funding into the baseline calculation for the new funding regime.

I am very concerned about this and would value the opportunity to meet to discuss this very serious matter and receive your and the governments view on this matter. Hyndburn has been disproportionally hit by the cuts and unemployment continues to rise despite falls nationally.

I look forward to your swift response given the urgency of the matter,

Yours sincerely,

Graham Jones MP
Member of Parliament for Hyndburn

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Hyndburns Fixed Odds Betting Terminals; The Crack Cocaine of Gambling

I am deeply concerned about the number of bookmakers in Hyndburn (and Haslingden) and the cumulative impact of the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals that appear to be driving this growth.

Constituents may have noticed the increasing number of betting shops that have sprung up in the constituency over the past few years. Fairer Gambling indicate there are "as many as 22 in Hyndburn". A quick count by my staff indicates there are at least 15 bookmakers and contradicts the figure quoted by William Hill of 12. (see list at foot of page)

Further to this, last week I tabled a Parliamentary Question asking how many licensed FOBT there are in bookmakers in the constituency.

The reason behind this increase in betting shops I believe is the profitability of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs). The Gambling Act 2005 limited each betting shop to four FOBTs, but bookies leapfrog regulations by opening up as many shops as possible.

FOBTs have been described in the national press as the "crack cocaine of gambling" because of their propensity to turn people who enjoy a bet into problem gamblers. Research commissioned by a recent Dispatches programme found that there are 'more than twice as many betting shops in areas of high unemployment than there are in areas of low unemployment'.  Channel 4 in the their documentary state that "it is possible to stake up to £100 every twenty seconds on the machines, meaning it's possible to lose up to £18,000 an hour"(1) .


Tuesday, 11 September 2012

FOI survey of English Councils shows unfair play cuts to childrens play

Fair Play for Children has discovered that English Councils are unfairly cutting funding for childrens play.

Children's Play and Youth Services have suffered markedly greater cuts over three years than comparable adult leisure services accrding to a Freedom of Information Survey conducted by Fair Play for Children, the independent organisation campaigning for the Child's Right to Play in the UK.

Former NIPA Chemical Site - EA answer some key questions

I am visting the site this week but in the meantime on behalf of a constituent have asked Steve Molyneux at the Environment Agency to answer some more recent queries I have received.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Increasing numbers of British children facing starvation, Hyndburn kids going hungry

I have written before about the increasing numbers of children facing hunger as they head off to school.
  • Particularly form private rented homes where landlords rip off tenants with sky high greedy rents and poor conditions. 
  • At a primary school in Hyndburn last week, a head teacher told me of the shocking rise at her school. 
  • The Accringotn Observer has highlighted the growing demand at Accrington food bank.
The situation in Hyndburn is shocking and the fact that we allow the next generation, toddlers in many cases to go hungry is scandal. This Tory-led government don't seem to care.

In response to the growing daily struggle of children and families in poverty in the UK, Save the Children is launching its first ever fundraising appeal for our UK work. Please find attached our new report, Child Poverty in 2012 – It shouldn’t happen here, which highlights the physical and emotional strain poverty is having on children and parents and the urgent need for action. It shows that, despite the best efforts of their families, children are missing out on basic essentials and the things they need to have a fulfilling childhood.

The day I met fleeing afghan child refugees

I donned my cricket gear for the second time this summer. A charitable turnout of the Lord & Commons Cricket Club against the cricket mad youth of Afghanistan. Not an overseas junket but a put your hand in your pocket excursion to Surrey.

These young boys had swapped their war torn country averting torture and death for the terror of being trafficked half way around the world by unscrupulous gangs in the hope of reaching freedom.

Their journey had reached the child asylum refuge in London and the 'cricket for change' charity. Afghanistanis are mad on cricket. It's that colonial connection and there grasp of pigeon English that brings them to these shores rather than anywhere else. Colonial connections are the basis for most immigrants choice of destination.

Their reason for leaving is the violence and death. Often the reason is that their father has been executed for association or perceived collaboartion with ISAF forces and the eldest son is then also executed or mutilated to prevent them fulfilling the revenge of their fathers murderer. In such violent circumstances where their mother and siblings are also at risk they choose to abscond running a risk that the traffickers may abuse them along the way and they may never reach the end. Cooked in a truck, killed or abandoned. Many are forced to act as drug mules. Some do not make it. They arrive in the UK knowing they can never seek out their mother or their family for fear that those left behind will suffer retribution in Afghanistan. Some of the young boys who have made this incredible journey are as young as eleven.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Letting Away with it - 1 in 4 tenants ripped off by letting agents

New research by Shelter has found that almost one in four British people have been ripped off by a letting agent. In a YouGov poll of 5379 adults commissioned by the housing charity, 23% - equivalent to 11 million people - said they had been charged unfair fees by letting agents in England.

We have seen letting agents in Accrington align themselves with landlords whom the Council has had continual complaints about from tenants. Landlords who have numerous problem properties. Together they have resisted regulations brought in by Hyndburn's Labour Councillors that will improve the quality of private rented accommodation.

Shelter are a fantastic national charity and I would urge anyone with a housing a problem to contact Shelter first to draw on their vast experience and compassionate advice. Hyndburn Council under Labour and Citizens Advice Bureau (located at New Era) are also there to help.

It is vital that we protect vulnerable people and it is reasonable to expect that every home that is let meets a decency standard. It is appalling that our young children are brought up in damp, draughty often dangerous properties. Some of those I have witnessed you would not let you dog live in, yet these landlords can afford to drive around in big cars and live in expensive properties. Young children are innocent victims in all of this and should be protected from the activities of lettings agents and landlords.

Tenants stories

Opinion piece on Shelter.

Jack Dromey MP, Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister, responding to new research by Shelter which shows one in four Britons are ripped off by letting agents, said:

These shocking new findings show why Labour is calling for action to tackle unscrupulous lettings agents who rip-off tenants by charging them fees they didn’t know they would face, and who exploit landlords and tenants alike by failing to protect the money they hold for them.

As the growing housing crisis and double dip recession put the one million families in the private rented sector under pressure, the last thing they need is to be ripped-off by unscrupulous letting agents. And yet this out of touch Government stands by and does nothing.

Landlords, tenants and many professional letting agents have all called on the Government to take action, but Grant Shapps has said he believes the current arrangements to be satisfactory. Tenants and landlords will quite rightly be asking what planet the housing minister lives on.

Please click here to download Labour's Policy Review document, "Private Rented Housing".

Monday, 3 September 2012

Lets make a night out safer...

I am backing a Bill being brought forward by Ian Lucas, the Labour MP for Wrexham which would require nightclubs to provide drinks in plastic bottles - banning glass.

I have added my name to the face of the Bill as a sponsor.

Ian brought this bill around as the result of an incident in his constitency involving a young woman having a glass bottle smashed in her face, leaving her seriously scarred. However incidents like this have been happening up and down the country for years now, and though there is no quick-fix to anti social violence, this change could make a big difference.

Hyndburn Community Partnership with Hyndburn Council piloted a plastic glass scheme between 1 July 2009 to 31 March 2010 which by its end, had 20 pubs and clubs using the polycarbonate glasses. During this period there were no glass related assaults or incidents reported during the period covered.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Fracking - safety not profits must be paramount

As a Lancashire MP I still have concerns about the real benefits that fracking could bring to the UK, and whether these outweigh the environmental and safety concerns that have so far kept the technology on hold in the UK and across Europe.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Update on Nook Lane from Hyndburn Council

As of this morning Friday 17th August, all of the waste material have been removed from site. The Landfill waste transfer notes have indicated a few tons short of 4000 tons across the both site. The waste was classed as none hazardous domestic / commercial waste.

Blakeleys are still on site caring out a litter picking exercise to ensure that any material that may have been blown about is collected and placed in one of their own skips.

It is important that residents are warned of the dangers on site and the clear advice is not to enter. As you can see from the attached photo that there are two substantial pits, plus unguarded pools, together with several uncovered man holes.

Nook Lane has never had planning permission from Lancashire County Council however it has had a permit from Environment Agency for inert waste only. This was withdrawn with immediate effect.

Hyndburn Borough Council as a the co-ordinating authority as Nook Lane is within the Borough is responsible for any infestation through its environmental health obligations. This it has been doing with pesticide to control the flies.

The responsibility for the waste is the landowners (Lock Mount Gate) though the transportation company Blakeley's are classed as the waste producer and also responsible. An estimate of the cost of removal so far is in the region of £300,000. 

Monks of Blackburn, the hauliers removing the household waste (at Whinney Hill) have had no previous involvement. The grabber on site is Blakeleys and the first dozen lorries that deposited waste at Pilsworth were JWT.

The cloudy water that has been seen on the site been looked at and is being analysed but it appears to be chemicals seeping from the site. The hole where waste was initially buried and which is being removed as flooded and it appears groundwater is leaking form this area.

The Environment Agency and Hyndburn Borough Council will continue to monitor the site. The EA will be updating their web site information on Monday.

I have posted the latest information from the EA a few days agin in response to a video highlighting several issues including the cloudy black water seeping from the site.

I will be going on site again with the Leader of the Council Miles Parkinson to inspect the site.

Councils & business to go to court to contest Whitebirk Retail Park

Hyndburn Council has taken the decision to defend the interests of shop keepers in Accrington town centre against Peel Holdings. Peel are taking an aggressive stance calling for both a judicial review and appealing the planning decisons to ensure they protect and increase their interests despite having planning permissions turned down by Hyndburn councillors.

Backing the campaign for healthy packed lunches

Healthly living is one of the great challenges East Lancashire faces and what better than to encourage our children to live healthier longer and hopefully happier lives. That's why I am backing the campaign for 'Healthy Packed Lunches Tips for the New School Year'...

A collective sigh of relief will be heard around the country in a matter of weeks, as many exhausted parents send their little loved ones back to school.

However, with the new school year about to start, many parents begin the process of that infamous New School Year Resolution: Healthy Packed Lunches.

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) is issuing some quick and handy tips to create, not only healthy packed lunches, but packed lunches that are full of flavour and variety.