Monday, 26 March 2012

A ministerial reply on the Governments failure to tackle metal theft

Dear Graham
Thank you for your letter of 6 March to the Home Secretary regarding the progress the Government is making to tackle metal theft. I am replying as the Minister for Crime Prevention and Anti-social Behaviour Reduction with responsibility for metal theft.

I do not accept your accusation that the Government is not taking metal theft seriously, or that we are making insufficient progress.

A ministerial reply on Gypsy and Travaller policy.

Dear Graham
Thank you for your letter of 29 February' to the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, on behalf of a number of your constituents, regarding planning policy for traveller sites. I am replying as this matter falls within my Ministerial responsibilities.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

George Osborne used to say “we are all in this together”. Well, not any more.

George Osborne used to say “we are all in this together”. Well, not any more.

Because today he gave a Budget where - as Ed Miliband said in the House of Commons - millions were asked to pay more, so millionaires can pay less.

In tough times the choices this Tory-led government is making tells you everything you need to know about them.

They prove that George Osborne and David Cameron are totally out of touch with what life is like for people in our country.

At a time when bills are going up for families on middle and low incomes George Osborne has added to them all. Fuel duty is going up this summer, even though petrol prices are at a record high. He’s even added to the cost of a sausage roll from Greggs.

And at the very same time the Budget gave a tax cut to the very richest people in our country. Just 14,000 people earning £1 million or more will get a Budget boost of over £40,000 each year.

David Cameron and George Osborne could have used the money to cut fuel duty or reverse unfair and perverse cuts to tax credits – which will see thousands of working parents better off quitting work from next month. They could have used the money to reduce the cuts to police officers or help pay the down the deficit.

Instead they chose to cut taxes for the 300,000 people earning over £150,000 - the richest one per cent. How can this be the right priority now?

Whatever he says about increasing the income tax personal allowance a family with children earning just £20,000 will still lose around £253 a year from this April.

And shockingly he slipped out a £3 billion tax raid on pensioners over the next four years. Nearly four and a half million pensioners who pay income tax will lose an average of £83 per year next April. And people turning 65 next year will lose up to £322.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

News: Update on Hyndburn adult disability day service

Lancashire County Council has refurbished Enfield Day centre and aims to consolidate services on that site clsoing Hyndburn Resource Centre and the service it provides at Scatiliffe Community Centre.

I am concerned that the closure should not become a boarded up eyesore like Peel House [NHS]. The County promise the centre "will be considered for alternative community use". I will be writing to County to find out their plans and what progress they expect to make in re-using this building.

Labour Council removes another illegal traveller encampment

Your Labour Council has once again removed an illegal traveller site in a short space of time.


Whilst it is illegal to set up such encampments, there are some 90 traveller picthes in Hyndburn, far higher than other local authorities so there can be no excuses for such behaviour.

Congratulations must go to Deputy Leader Clare Pritchard whose sterling efforts resulted in a swift-ish removal.

The initial delay was caused by the roadside encampment being under the jurisdiction of the highways authority Lancashire County Council and not Hyndburn Borough Council where previous illegal encampments have been established.

Under the Tories much handwringing took place and traveller sites permitted to last for months with a total lack of will to overcome any problems to their removal.

Councillor Pritchard's tenacious approach, including court appearances ensured not only have the travellers been removed, but the land and the highways have been sealed - as at other sites she has cleared - to prevent any return.

Hyndburn's Labour Council is making the borough a no-go area for illegal encampaments. I have written to the Secreatary of State to ensure changes in the law will support the powers local councils have in tackling this issue.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Join ‘The Big Switch’ to cut energy bills

I am backing ‘The Big Switch’ campaign for consumers to get a cheaper deal on their energy bills.

The Big Switch, launched last month by consumer champion Which? and 38 Degrees, is a new way for people to buy their energy. This will be the first time in the UK that a very large number of people will join together as a group to negotiate a deal with energy companies.

Haslingden and Hyndburn’s residents can join the more than 200,000-strong group who have already signed up to The Big Switch, and to use their collective power to try to cut their energy bills and help shake up the market.

Which? has invited all energy companies to take part and will be negotiating with them to secure the cheapest deal. Energy companies will be asked to submit a market leading deal and take part in a reverse auction. If a deal is secured, Which? will contact everyone who signed up with a personalised savings estimate. Which? will handle the switching process, making it as quick and easy as possible.

Loss of 116 police officers who respond to 999 emergency calls in Lancashire

There has been a loss of 116 police officers who respond to 999 emergency calls in Lancashire, a 6% cut.

The cut in Lancashire contributes to a loss so far of 5,200 emergency response officers in England and Wales.

Analysis by the House of Commons library of data provided by every force in England and Wales has shown a shocking cut of 116 in the number of police officers who respond to 999 emergency calls in Lancashire.

The independent police watchdog, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, considers the following units as those that respond to 999 calls: Response; Neighbourhood; Community Safety/relations; Probationers (Student Officers); Traffic; Dogs; Mounted.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Buy to Let mortgages 'on four out of ten rental properties'

Four out of ten properties are rented properties in the PRS are buy to let mortgages following an question I asked of the minister. 

This is predominantly amateur and long distance landlords leveraging debt against the property and a much higher cost than normal or commercial credit, the cost of that and of cottage industry and cowboy procurement being borne by the tenant. 

There are 3.6 million  PRS properties equating to 1.4 million with BTL mortgages.

BTL mortages have according to one study added 6% to the cost of all housing.

BTL mortgages 'on four out of ten rental properties'
Residential Landlords Assoc.
The estimate was made by Communities and Local Government minister Andrew Stunell in response to a question from Labour MP Graham Jones asking about “the ...

Friday, 16 March 2012

Ed Balls MP, Labour's Shadow Chancellor, speech

...at the British Chambers of Commerce Annual Conference 2012

Ed Balls MP, Labour's Shadow Chancellor, speech at the British Chambers of Commerce Annual Conference 2012

Ed Balls MP, Labour's Shadow Chancellor, said today:

John, thank you for inviting me here today to Westminster Central Hall to address your annual conference this afternoon.

And Iet me start by sympathising with you all – as I am now the third politician you have heard from today – and with two more to come, I am sure you are all flagging a little.

But I know, from my own direct experience, the passion of your members and their commitment to their businesses and their communities.

Over the last decade and more I have had the opportunity to work closely with the BCC and my local chambers in Wakefield and Leeds on many important issues from regional funding and apprenticeships through to enterprise education in schools.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

MP & Councillors unite save the No.12 Bus Service to Woodnook & Baxenden

I have written - and even bemoaned - about the fragmented bus system in Lancashire and the loss of certain routes. Baxenden (Southwood Drive) via Woodnook was one.

June Harrison Labour Councillor for Barnfield, Terry Hurn Conservative Councillor for Baxenden and I have made representations to LCC and to bus companies to seek a possible commercial reinstatement of the much needed No.12 route through Woodnook to Baxenden and down Southwood Drive.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Energy prices and the Big Switch campaign.

Soaring energy bills are driving up inflation and contributing to the cost of living crisis afflicting millions of families. Labour believes that community action, including collective purchasing, is essential to reforming our energy market, and I am pleased to support the Big Switch campaign. We need to break the stranglehold of the big six energy companies, so that communities can work together to generate clean energy in their own area and be more empowered when purchasing energy from other suppliers.


As Caroline Flint MP, Labour’s Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary has said, collective purchasing is a simple but potentially trailblazing way to help bring down soaring energy bills. When people come together, they’ll have more power to negotiate cheaper energy bills with the big energy companies. It sets an exciting precedent which organisations such as local authorities and housing associations could take up to negotiate better energy deals on behalf of their residents.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Working Tax Credit and for Hyndburn

In Hyndburn, 515 couples with children work who both work between 16 and 24 hours a week and are currently entitled to Working Tax Credit.

These couples have 1,235 children, so a total of 2,265 people are affected.

If they cannot find more hours of work by 5 April to take them over 24 hours a week, they will lose all their Working Tax Credit of £3,870.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

169 front line Police officers lost in Lancashire - Local Tories demand greater reductions

Between March 2010 and 2011 police officer strength in England and Wales fell by approximately 4,600 (3.2%).

Now Peter Britcliffe, Tory leader in Hyndburn is demanding more. They are unhappy at the 2.5% rise in Council Tax (below inflation so a cut) and think it should be 0% resulting in further front line police officers being lost including the neighbourhood police unit in Baxenden.

HMIC data suggests that approximately 4,100 of these were front line officers and 500 non-front line. This is a fall of 3.5% in the number of front line officers and 2% of non-front line.
  • 16,000 police officers being cut by 2015
  • 8,000 already gone since the general election
  • 4,000 frontline officers lost in the first year alone of the Tory Government
In Lancashire there has been a reduction in 2010/11 of 169 front line police officers over the 14 districts. Thats 12 front line officers lost in Hyndburn as aresult of the goevrnments 20% cuts to Policing budgets.

Chief Constable Steve Finnigan of the Lancashire constabulary, who is the ACPO lead on police performance management said:

“Let me be really clear. With the scale of the cuts that we are experiencing…we can do an awful lot of work around the back office…but we cannot leave the front line untouched.”

Working Tax Credits cuts affect 2,265 people in Hyndburn alone

I fully support the shopworkers union Usdaw and national charities campaigning against the £3,870 ‘Tax Credits Bombshell’ that the Government is set to drop on 2,265  low-income families in Hyndburn on 6 April.

In just a few weeks’ time, couples with children who currently work between 16 and 24 hours a week will have to increase their hours of work to 24 hours a week, or face losing a staggering £3,870 in tax credits. 17,370 people across East Lancashire in employment will be affected.

Hyndburn
515
1030
1235
2265
Blackburn
1455
2910
3690
6600
Rossendale and Darwen
305
610
655
1265
Pendle
865
1730
2230
3960
Burnley
635
1270
1550
2820
Ribble Valley
125
250
220
470 

The Government doesn’t seem to realise that extra hours of work, or alternative jobs are just not available for most people at the moment because unemployment is so high and many employers are having to cut costs.

Cabinet Action Days - Hyndburn's Labour Councillors leading the way

Under they Tories it was business as usual. Sorry to be start critical but starting with facts requires less subjective opinion. Allowances rose generously. Expenses rose is even more generously and were indulged. New and more innovative ways were thought of to fill the trough. It's all on the record. The blue corner had a knees up. Awash with money, meetings were about carefree and careless multi million £ handouts. No one lifted a finger, it was all easy go.


This was always going to change under Labour and 10 months it what a refreshing change it has been. Cabinet Action Days follow on from Cabinet street surgeries. Both supported by all elected members.

It's a pleasure to see an absence of bickering. A willingness to graft. To see MP and senior councillors leading. Showing staff and residents they care to the extent of getting their hands a little dirty. Litter picking, rubbish clearing, back yard clearances in various neighbourhoods throughout Hyndburn. Not content with the grime end of business, Labour cabinet members and I have been holding various street surgeries listening to your issues.

Following on from Friday's street surgery on Oswaldtwsitle high street - Union Road - Hyndburn's Labour Council Cabinet with a community clean up @ Spring Hill - Miller Fold this morning.

The challenge is for the blue corner to show as much civic pride and leadership?

National No Smoking Day - Wednesday 14 March.

The National No Smoking Day Campaign is all about helping people who want to quit – which two thirds of smokers tell us they want to do. The focus is on letting smokers know the benefits of quitting and telling them about the different methods and aids available to help them quit.

This year they kicked off the campaign early on Leap Year Day to help reach more smokers. This was in response to feedback from previous campaigns when smokers said they often didn't hear about No Smoking Day until the day itself and weren't ready or prepared to quit then and there. By using the Leap Year Day to promote the campaign smokers are being given the time to see their GP or local smoking cessation advisor, stock up on gum and patches, tell friends and family they're quitting and make any other preparations they need to be ready to go smokefree on 14 March 2012.

Hundreds of local organisations – local stop smoking services, health authorities, pharmacies – will be running local events in the run up to No Smoking Day and on the day itself to promote the benefits of quitting and give people information about how they can stop smoking.

The No Smoking Day campaign is still on so please continue to show your support by sending a message via Twitter and Facebook to help us reach as many people as possible.

Twitter
@TheBHF I'm supporting all smokers in [INSERT AREA] to #taketheleap and quit @NoSmokingDay

Facebook
Good luck to all smokers in [INSERT AREA] who are going to take the leap and quit on No Smoking Day on March 14. If you need more inspiration visit www.taketheleap.co.uk

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

LCC must lead on a Rossendale Rail Link

A debate in Parliament on the establishment of a functioning Rossendale rail link by Jake Berry MP united East Lancashire MP's in seeking a direct commuter rail link to Rossendale.

It was clear from the minister's comments, Tory-controlled Lancashire County Council needs to step up to the plate on upgrading the rail link to Rossendale and establish a framework for building up the case and taking this forward. To recognise the widespread support from all political parties and in particular from businesses in East Lancashire.

I'd suggest that rather than spending £32million on rural broadband, perhaps Lancashire County Council could consider the people and economy of Haslingden and commit to this rail link. According to TomTom, in October last year, the M66 was one of the most congested roads in the country last year – a functional rail link could really make a difference.

Rossendale Radio closure ‘a huge loss’

Haslingden and Hyndburn MP Graham Jones has expressed his disappointment at the recent closure of Rossendale Radio in the constituency.

I am disappointed by the closure of this Haslingden-based volunteer radio station. It is incredibly disappointing for everyone in Rossendale that Rossendale Radio has had to close after less than two years of broadcasting. This is a huge loss.

The local radio station has had to close due to “insurmountable” financial problems that have been ongoing for the past 18 months.

Government chaos on tackling Metal Theft - Letter to the Home Secretary.

Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Secretary of State for the Home Department
The Home Office
2 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DF

I am writing to you to highlight the lack of recent progress made by the Government on its efforts to tackle metal theft.

Presuming that the Government honours its commitment to the introduction of cashless payments for scrap metal and penalty increases, Parliament and the public more widely still have been given very little assurance that the full package of measures is going to be introduced, and in a timely manner.

My friend the Hon. Member for Delyn recently received a written answer following a question regarding the Motion which was passed unopposed by the Commons on the 7th February, which called on the Government to license the scrap metal industry, to give the police greater powers to search and close criminal yards, to introduce mandatory photo ID and CCTV use, to introduce vehicle badging and to give magistrates powers to restrict dealers’ licences. Importantly, the motion called on the Government to do this as a matter of urgency. Over one month on we are non-the-wiser as to the vast proportion of the measures.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Poorest working families cease to qualify for Working Tax Credit of £3,870

1. Change to Working Tax Credit rules for couples with children – April 2012
In April 2012 the rules for Working Tax Credit for couples with children will change. Currently, couples have to work at least 16 hours a week between both parents. From April they will have to increase their working hours to at least 24 hours, or they will lose their whole entitlement to Working Tax Credit, worth £3,870 a year.

2. Nearly a million people will be affected
House of Commons figures show that 212,000 couples will be affected by the change – 424,000 adults. These families include 470,000 children.

This is a total of 894,000 people, an average of 1,375 in each constituency.

3. 78% cannot find the extra hours of work they need

Most people working 16–24 hours on a low wage work in the service sector. This sector has been very hard-hit by the recession and is cutting all possible costs.

Labour call for urgent review of child benefit changes and cancellation of working tax credits

Happy Chancellor of Exchequer
Labour will use an Opposition Day debate in the House of Commons next week to step up the pressure on the Chancellor to come up with a plan for jobs and growth in next month’s Budget and reconsider changes to tax credits and child benefit which will cost families with children up to £4,000 per year.

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls will this weekend call on the Conservative-led government to cancel changes coming into force in April that will see up to 200,000 working parents lose almost £4,000 in working tax credits.

He will say this could be funded by closing a stamp duty tax avoidance loophole on properties over £1 million which is costing the Treasury hundreds of millions of pounds.

A letter to Mr Pickles - Last July you consulted on Gypsy and Travellers...


29th February 2012

Rt. Hon Eric Pickles MP
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Eland House
Bressenden Place
London
SW1E 5DU

Our Ref: GJ/NS

I am writing to you concerning the consultation on a draft planning policy for traveller sites.

I understand this consultation closed on the 3rd August 2011 and was intended to gather views on the consistency of the draft National Planning Policy Framework with the draft planning policy for traveller sites. I wrote to Andrew Stunnell MP last July with suggestions.

The Department website states that the Government will publish a new Planning Policy Statement for traveller sites in response to the consultation “as soon as possible following due consideration of the consultation responses”. This new Statement is then to be reviewed and incorporated into the final National Planning Policy Framework.

This is an issue on which many of my constituents are very concerned and wish to know when this new Planning Policy Statement for traveller sites – or any other response to the consultation – is due to be published. They have expressed the belief that the response is overdue, so an indication of any reason for delays would also be informative.

I would be grateful if you could give me a timeframe for when the response to the consultation on planning for traveller sites is to be expected.

Yours, Graham Jones MP

The debate on Football Governance is now gathering momentum

Following last months football governance debate in Parliament in which I criticised the ownership arrangements of Blackburn Rovers (see previous posts or Hansard or BRFCS.com), media reports have begun to appear tracking what has been a two year debate.

This week I received the first of what appears to be a round robin circular addressed to MP's to take action. Importantly I think it is a very informative letter and have posted for others the benefit of readers.

Dear Graham Jones MP, The Government has this week received the response from the football authorities (the FA, Premier League and Football League) to the DCMS Select Committee's report on Football Governance (published in July http://bit.ly/AioQKr), and the Government's subsequent response (published in October http://bit.ly/AFh41s). The next few days are therefore a crucial period while the Government considers how to respond.

As you are probably aware there is huge concern about ownership and governance of football clubs amongst supporters but there is currently a very real opportunity for change. I'd be grateful if you'd contact the sports minister urgently to ensure he understands how strong the support is for real reform of football with both a truly independent FA Board and also a truly independent club licensing system. The DCMS Select Committee recommended this and it was also recommended by Government and received cross party support but it appears football's vested interests are resisting change.

Friday, 2 March 2012

New source of help for local SMEs

Dear Mr Jones, you may be interested to know that a new source of help for your local SMEs was made available yesterday when Lord Sassoon launched a major new on-line directory of finance companies providing alternatives to conventional bank loans or overdrafts.

The Small Business Finance Directory covers leasing and hire purchase, commercial mortgages, asset-based finance and invoice discounting and factoring. It was developed by the Finance and Leasing Association and the National Association of Commercial Finance Brokers (with the support of the Asset Based Finance Association) and allows businesses to search finance providers and brokers by postcode. There are nearly 1,000 sources of finance listed and the directory is simple and free to use. It is available at http://www.smallbusinessfinancedirectory.co.uk/.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Cameron's broken promise on Tax Credits and Child Tax Credits

From April this year changes to Tax Credits will require couples with children to work up to eight extra hours a week. From 16 hours to 24 hours.

Over 212,000 couples with 470,000 children will be affected. If they cannot find extra work, these families will lose their whole Working Tax Credit worth £3,870.

This change will mean:
  • Many families would be better off claiming benefits than continuing in work.
  • Couples with children will lose Working Tax Credit worth £3,870 if they stay together, but not if the parents split up.
This follows on form the lowering of the Tax Credit threshold from around £40,000 to £30,000 in George Osborne's first budget which saw many households lose out on the Child Tax Credit element that partially paid a substantial amount towards nursery fee's and forced some mums to give up work.

The 50p Tax is fair and should be kept

Today 537 wealthy businessman keen to have even greater wealth have begun a campaign to scrap the 50p tax.

Staggeringly they argue "The 50p tax is set to reduce government income". The reason for this is well documented; tax avoidance. The answer is to close the loopholes.