Sunday, 30 June 2013

DOING RIGHT BY OUR ARMED FORCES

With Armed Forces Day coming up this weekend, I’m giving my support to Labour’s campaign to provide members of the Armed Forces with discounts at health and leisure clubs – ‘Fighting Fitter’.

Whether council-led or privately-run, fitness facilities play a vital role in our community keeping people fit. And that’s essential for members of the Armed Forces who, when away from their base, can often lack the resources to access health and fitness centres.

Labour launched this scheme in April with Pure Gym and Virgin Active. Now Nuffield Health are offering a 25 per cent membership discount to the Armed Forces and David Lloyd will offer free access to their clubs for Forces and their families over the Armed Forces Day weekend.

‘Fighting Fitter’ is now a national scheme, with discounts in over 450 health and leisure sites across the UK, including here in Haslingden and Hyndburn. I’m really proud that Labour launched this campaign – alongside others like our work with companies to guarantee veterans job interviews, naming local streets after our fallen heroes and Veterans Champions in our local authorities – and that it’s now got backing from the Government.

‘Fighting Fitter’ will benefit those who serve in the dust and danger of battlefields overseas. It’s essential that all parts of our community give back to those who give so much on the frontline. We must protect the health and fitness of those who protect our nation.

Smart meters are coming to Haslingden and Hyndburn and could save you £65 a year


I recently visited a event in Parliament to find out more about smart meters. Most of you will ask straight away what a smart meter actually is. They’re a new energy meter that is due to replace your existing gas and electricity meter. Some of you will have already had one installed. British Gas has installed 653 in Haslingden and Hyndburn. It’s estimated that they can help you save around £65 a year on your energy bill.

So what do they do, you ask? Smart meters primarily do two things. Firstly they let your energy supplier, British Gas or otherwise, know exactly how much energy you are consuming. This means that you won’t receive estimated bills like you probably do at the moment, and you’ll only be charged for exactly how much energy actually used. Secondly, you’ll be able to see in pounds and pence, how much energy you are using at any one time – putting households in control of what energy they use.


Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Spending Review shows that David Cameron’s economic plan has failed

This week David Cameron and George Osborne presented a Spending Review in which they were forced to make more cuts because their economic plan has failed.

They have failed on living standards, failed on growth and failed on the deficit. And Britain’s families and public services are paying the price. The scale of the cuts is a direct result of their failure to get the economy to grow.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of planning cuts two years ahead George Osborne should be acting to boost growth this year and next year

Boosting growth and living standards this year and next year would bring in more tax revenues and reduce the scale of the cuts needed in 2015. That’s why the Government should be taking action now to boost economic growth – for example, by bringing forward infrastructure investment this year as the IMF has called for.

But if David Cameron and George Osborne continue failing to act, Labour will have to deal with a difficult inheritance in 2015. Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have said these totals for day-to-day spending in 2015/16 will have to be our starting point, but we will make different choices.

For example, we would not continue paying the winter fuel allowance to the richest 5 per cent of pensioners at a time when the NHS and social care are under such pressure. And we would not be paying for new free schools in areas where there are enough school places, while parents in other areas struggle to get their children into a local school.

And our root and branch review of every pound spent by government will look at how we can root out waste and inefficiency so we can focus spending on our priorities and on areas where we can save money in the long term.

Labour will root out waste and have an iron discipline on public spending, but we will make different choices so that we can turn our economy around and get the deficit down in a fairer way.

Woodnook - Phase 1 update

PHASE 1 UPDATE
The strip out and partial demolition of Phase 1 properties between Augusta Street and Booth Street has now been completed, with the main refurbishment works expected to commence in the Autumn.

EMPTY HOMES FUNDING
As outlined in the previous newsletter, the Council have secured £3.76m from the HCA Empty Homes Cluster Fund. This funding will be ‘matched’ by Woodnook JVCo, the joint venture between PlaceFirst and Twin Valley Homes, and will deliver a range of interventions to address the problem of empty homes in Woodnook. These include:
  • buying empty homes at open market value - properties will be refurbished by Woodnook JVCo and either sold or rented
  • lease & repair - owners of empty homes can choose to lease the property to Twin Valley Homes via Linked Up, who will
  • subsequently refurbish the property and manage the property for a period of 5-10 years
  • owner grants - a limited fund has been allocated for owners of empty properties who need financial assistance to bring the
  • property back into decent use. All grants will need to be ‘match funded’ by the owner and will not exceed £12,500

Friday, 28 June 2013

I am backing Paul Blomfield's private member bill to regulate payday loan companies

Last week Paul Blomfield introduced his Private Members Bill on High Cost Credit which aims to tackle the problems being caused by payday lenders. Paul has written the Bill in consultation with Citizens Advice, StepChange, Which?, and the Centre for Responsible Credit, as well as other MP's involved in the APPG for Debt and Personal Finance, and it has attracted broad cross-party support for it.

Much of the credit must go to my Labour colleague, Stella Creasy MP (Walthamstow) who has led the campaign to tackle payday lenders who are plaguing our high streets and preying in the vulnerable. You will have no doubt read about the shocking levels of interest charged by such companies, up to 16,000% in he worst cases. Many are household names. Wonga, KwikCash, PaydayUK, QuikQuid, Cash Lady, Uncle Buck. The top ten charge between 5,835% and 1,737%.

Payday lenders are causing serious debt problems for many people in many constituencies. Indeed, concerns about the sector have been reflected in a number of Parliamentary reports and debates. Ysterdays’s decision by the OFT to refer the payday loans market to the Competition Commission provides further confirmation of the need for action.

The High Cost Credit Bill aims to tackle the problems that are being caused by payday lenders in a number of ways: by regulating their advertising and ensuring clear information is provided on the cost of loans; requiring lenders to undertake affordability checks and limiting excessive charges; and introducing measures to protect borrowers in difficulty by requiring lenders to refer them to free independent debt advice. If you’d like more information about the Bill please do get in touch.

New research by ABTA – the Travel Association, many UK holidaymakers are travelling uninsured

I am backing ABTA and FCO’s awareness campaign urging holidaymakers not to travel abroad uninsured.

The campaign by ABTA – The Travel Association and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is urging holidaymakers to “pack your policy” ahead of the great summer getaway.
According to new research by ABTA – the Travel Association, many UK holidaymakers are unaware of the costs of medical treatment abroad and may be putting themselves at risk of sky high medical bills if something goes wrong. 1 in 5 (20%) (1) of people including people in Haslingden and Hyndburn now travel abroad without insurance, despite the need for medical assistance being relatively common. According to ABTA research, 16% (2) of people from [Insert constituency name here] have visited a doctor or hospital while abroad.

Most at risk are younger travellers as almost half (48%) (3) will have a holiday abroad without taking out travel insurance. Recently released FCO research has found that 4 out of 5 (82%) (4) young people admit to taking part in more adventurous behaviour on holiday – yet fewer than half (45%) check that their insurance covers risky pursuits.


Raising the matter of rogue car parking companies in the Commons

Double click to open
Yesterday I raised the issue of rogue car parking companies having unchecked access to the DVLA website.

Last year DVLA were forced to admit and finally take down from its website a statement that said they checked every request for information. The reality was the DVLA's EID computer system is automated and not checked and does not refuse requests.

Last month I received a parliamentary answer to the issue of zero rateable free car parks becoming money making businesses by virtue of the fact they were now charging and deriving an income. As you can see I have referred Eastgate to the valuations office and will watch the outcome with keen interest.

This week I had correspondence from the national motorists action group NMAG over a recent FOI to the DVLA over breaches in the Protections of Freedom Act 2008 schedule 4 designed to protect motorists. Every notice or fine and every piece of correspondence between DVLA and Car Park Co's must be checked to ensure motorists are not being sent rogue information.

The 18th June reply from DVLA confirmed they do not do this and breach the duties in the Act. I will be writing to DVLA to ask what compliance here was to protect Hyndburn charged for parking on Eastgate retail park. 

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Back Britain's Charities - Campaign Update

Dear Member of Parliament, We are contacting you from the Charities Aid Foundation, a charity that works to improve the charitable giving environment and to ensure that donating money is as efficient as possible.

As you may be aware, we recently launched the Back Britain’s Charities campaign, which is calling on people to do their bit to support charities during this difficult economic time. The campaign follows the publication of the UK Giving 2012 report, which found that donations to charities have fallen by 20% in the past year. In fact, one in six charities fears being forced to close in the next year.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Hundreds of young people attend the Apprentice event at Accrington Town Hall last Friday

Hundreds of people flocked to Hyndburn's Labour Council apprentice event at Accrington Town Hall last Friday, where a range of apprenticeships and training places were up for grabs.

Aimed at people aged 16 to 24, attendees found out about apprenticeships direct from employers and training providers and got expert advice and one-to-one support in applying for apprenticeship vacancies.

Many would - be apprentices applied for apprenticeships and had an interviews with potential employers on the day. They also got the chance to get hands on and try out a range of skills and trades including dentistry, joinery, painting and decorating, childcare and catering.

Council Leader, Cllr Miles Parkinson, said; “The event was really well attended and lots of people tried their hand at a range of skills and trades. I’d like to say a big thank you to the organisers and everyone who came along on Friday.”

Hyndburn MP Graham Jones opened the event, which was organised by Hyndburn Council in association with Hyndburn Chamber of Commerce, Accrington & Rossendale College, North Lancs Training Group, Training 2000 and Lancashire County Council.
Mr Jones said; “Organising this apprenticeships fair is part of the Council’s determination to focus on what really matters. It was a wonderful opportunity for young people to seek apprenticeships and meet employers face to face. With so many young people unemployed, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed; getting young people into work is part of being a better society.”

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Tory-led Government’s back-to-work scheme, the Work Programme, is clearly failing

Alarming figures out this week show that the Tory-led Government’s back-to-work scheme, the Work Programme, is clearly failing.

In the two years since the Work Programme was launched, nearly 900,000 people on the programme haven’t even started a job. That means three quarters of the unemployed people on the scheme haven’t even started a job, and half of young people have still to get a single day’s work out of it, at a time when almost a million young people are unemployed.

This is a disaster for those who are out of work. But it is also a disaster for the taxpayer who has to foot our growing benefits bill which is now £20 billion higher than the Government planned.

We can’t go on like this. We need urgent action to bring the cost of social security spending under control for good – starting with Labour’s Compulsory Jobs Guarantee to get the long term unemployed off benefits and into a real paying job they would be required to take or lose their benefits.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

For ordinary families, life under the Tories is getting harder

This week’s inflation figures confirmed what many of us are living and feeling day to day.

The cost of living crisis is deepening, with prices now rising much faster than wages.

While the Tories say the economy is healing, for ordinary families life is getting harder under David Cameron’s Government.

The figures are stark. Wages after inflation are now on average £1,300 a year lower than when this Government came to power.

People know times are tough, but when millionaires have got an average tax cut of £100,000, being so much worse off under the Tories is really hard for millions on middle and low incomes to take.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Labour is setting a high bar for all children and all schools

If we are going to turn this economy around we need everybody playing their part and getting education right for all children is a really important part of that.

Labour is setting a high bar for all children and all schools with our One Nation plan for education set out this
week by Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg.

We’ve had an excellent response from teachers, parents and the business community who welcome Labour’s ideas for raising standards for all children in all schools.

Many people are concerned about the chaos David Cameron and Michael Gove’s divisive reforms have bought to our schools system.

A key part of Labour’s policy will be to extend freedoms to all schools. Headteachers and teachers have told us this will be key to raising standards – giving them more freedom over how they teach and how to run and organise schools.

Labour will also put an end to Michael Gove’s Free Schools programme, which has led to the setting up of schools in areas with surplus places and allows unqualified teachers into the classroom. This can’t be right when children and parents are struggling to find a place due to the Government’s crisis in primary school places.


Rolling Stock on East Lancs rail network

I have raised the issue of poor rolling stock on East Lancashire's rail network in the House of Commons.
Graham Jones (Hyndburn, Labour)
The Secretary of State says that success on the railways has been achieved because of privatisation. The rolling stock in east Lancashire must be among the worst in the UK—it is absolutely dreadful. Privatisation has certainly not worked. The northern franchise is coming up, so what will he do to ensure that my constituents and others in east Lancashire benefit from that success?

Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire Dales, Conservative)
A lot of rolling stock has been and is being ordered. I hope to see a roll-out to all areas, including the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.
The Northern rail franchise is up for renegotiation and the new direct rail link between Manchester and Accrington is soon to begin service.

With this is mind I have written to the Passenger Transport Authority, Lancashire County and Council and they have provided this response.



British Parking Association response to issues of poor practice by BPA members

The issues around Eastgate Car Park remain unresolved. Last week I provided an update on where I am in pursuing justice for constituents who felt ripped off by the owners and their contractual car park enforcement company. I raised the issue this week in Parliament.

Further to my enquiries I have received this response from the British Parking Association about vetting their members who through the BPA have access to the DVLA database.



Wednesday, 19 June 2013

DAB+ would open up radio to local operators and prevent further monopolisation of commercial radio

The Government’s decision not to push ahead with DAB+ is not an answer that will promote local radio. It may even lead to the demise of some local radio stations. I have written to the minister to express my concerns.

It was the plan of the previous Government to push ahead and update the current DAB system of digital broadcasting to DAB+. This Government has not reversed the policy, but it has certainly taken lost the impetus. DAB+ offers a much wider bandwidth accomodating greater content from more radio stations.

Currently, a huge proportion of the DAB bandwidth is taken up by the big players in radio; DAB+ would increase that market space and allow more competitors in. In Hyndburn and Rossendale local radio stations 2BR and The Bee Radio are opposed to the governments rollout of plain DAB because it would enshrine the monopoly of the big broadcasters who control 72% of commercial radio consumption. Indeed it is their view that neither of these stations could exist in their current form if the Government enforced a rollout of DAB rather that the wider spectrum of DAB+.

The problem for local radio is the growing sales of DAB only equipment. Whether over the counter DAB radios or crucially factory fitted in-car DAB radio's. Digital only and lacking FM they threaten to strangle local's radios means by which to broadcast and be received. In other words a diminshing audience.


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Update constituents regarding the issue of Eastgate Car Park

I'd like to update constituents regarding the issue of Eastgate Car Park.

- The issue of unpaid fines appear resolved
- The issue of a refund for paid fines is making some progress
- Issues around Eastgate Car Park charging have progressed
- Wider issues about car park fines is making progress

Eastgate car park started issuing Parking Charge Notices in summer last year, after having decided to introduce a 3 hour limit on a previously free car park. Many people got in touch with either the Council or myself outraged about this devious tactic.

Following this public resentment and representations made by my office, as well as legal proceedings, Excel Parking have stopped trying to claim unpaid parking charges, and have been successfully taken to court by Neil Herron of the National Motorists Action Group and ordered to repay at least one fine. It is nothing but greed that caused this to come about in the first place.

But this whole issue has thrown up a many wider issues that need to be resolved. For instance, the car park in question was designated on its planning permission as free to use, however it has since then had charges applied to it. In response to a Parliamentary Question I submitted recently, Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis wrote on behalf of the Government that there are situations under which a car park could be revalued for tax purposes, and I will be writing to the Valuation Office Agency to raise the case of Eastgate car park.

Moreover, the charges for use of parking on private land are to be levied as a result of ‘lost earnings’, and I do not see how this instance, or any other across the UK could conceivably be a loss of earnings. A car park that was designated as free to use in its planning permission, fining people £100 to use it because of loss of earnings is nothing but greed.

This may well lead to a business rate being applied to the car park and forcing the owners to reconsider whether a fines system is worthwhile.

Neil Herron and the NMAG have been doing a lot of good work in recent months on the matter of rip off car parking companies, and have highlighted some problems about the way the British Parking Association’s corporate self-government operates, and the law surrounding access to the DVLA database.

Currently companies are given access to the DVLA database to pursue violations of their parking rules if they are a member of the British Parking Association. I recently wrote to Transport Minister Norman Baker to raise the issue of access to the DVLA database, and to ensure that privacy rules are properly being protected and that he is confident in the rules governing access to the DVLA database.

Mr Herron was pivotal in the case I presented to him, where Jean and David Whittaker of Knuzden were able to win an 8 month legal battle backed by NMAG against Vehicle Control Services, the company that issued the tickets. They were issued a ticket, but I advised them not to pay, and instead to contact the National Motorists’ Action Group, who very kindly gave free legal advice and backing. After making the Whittakers’ rights known, Vehicle Control Services dropped their claim – knowing it was unfair and nothing more than an attempt to take money from people.

Disgracefully disabled people were given tickets. We are now pushing a further case with NMAG that the car parking charge time limits breach the Equality Act 2010.

The prevailing view was that nothing could be done and it was certainly the intention of the parking companies to reinforce this belief. However as your determined MP, I have pursued this matter and in conjunction with the NMAG significant progress is being made and Hyndburn constituents are receiving justice.

I would encourage anyone who is interested, or feels that they have been unfairly treated by a private car parking company to visit the National Motorist Action Group’s website.

The Tories are making it much harder to fight anti-social behaviour

Vandalism, dangerous dogs and nuisance neighbours can make some families’ lives a misery. That’s why I supported Labour’s tough action against crime and anti-social behaviour.

Now I’m worried the clock is being turned back. On top of big cuts to neighbourhood police, the Tories want to weaken police powers to fight anti-social behaviour. They need to rethink. We need stronger, not weaker, action against crime.

This week, Parliament debated the Tories’ plans to water down ASBOs, which mean that someone who keeps ignoring police warnings, court orders and injunctions to stop terrorising their neighbours won’t be guilty of a crime.


Monday, 17 June 2013

My speech supporting the EU European Arrest Warrant

Eurposceptic and anti-EU demands will result British and foreign sex offenders, child traffickers and violent criminals, organised criminals escaping justice. Britain becoming a safe haven for foreign criminals escaping justice elsewhere and foreign criminals caught here, languishing in UK prisons instead of being shipped back to prison elsewhere in the EU.

Only pro-european Labour will sign up for these European Union joint policing policies that catch and convict criminals. UKIP and the Tories both soft on crime, both oppose the European Arrest Warrant and shared police information services.

Graham Jones (Hyndburn, Labour)

Mr Deputy Speaker, I will try to make some brief comments in the short time available. I walked up and down many streets in Hyndburn and Haslingden during the recent county council elections, and it was clear to me that many people are unaware of how important the European arrest warrant is, so this debate is welcome. Among those constituents who had some knowledge of the EAW, there was universal support for it.

As my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary and my hon. Friend Steve McCabe have pointed out, there are some 3,600 organised criminal gangs active in the EU, and they are involved in drugs, human trafficking, online child exploitation and theft. Cross-border crime is a reality, and we need 21st-century tools to meet the challenge.

Family Life : Labour supporting mums and dads

Thousands of dads in Haslingden and Hyndburn are celebrating Father’s Day with cards and presents with their families.

But too many fathers struggle to make the most of their time with their children because as a country, and as a society, we fail to offer enough support for families.

When in Government, Labour introduced many changes that made a real difference to family life such as 3,500 sure start centres, statutory paternity pay and extra help for mothers, but the current Tory-led Government is making it harder and harder for parents to make the most of their time with their children.

Families need support which is why Labour is exploring ways of easing the pressures parents face and, on Father’s Day, we need to think about how to make balancing work with family life easier for both mums and dads.

You can share your experiences of trying to balance work and family life, and let Labour’s Policy Commission on Education and Children know how you think a future Labour government could make things easier, on Your Britain, Labour’s online home of ideas and discussion.

No answers from Government on the living standards squeeze

David Cameron had no answers this week on the living standards crisis facing families in this constituency.

While any fall in unemployment should of course be welcomed, the Tory-led Government are dangerously complacent about the challenges facing the country.

The truth is that the jobs market remains extremely fragile. There isn’t enough work to go round and pay packets are taking a kicking as a result.

If the latest figures are anything to go by, basic pay has fallen by over £1,300 since the General Election. And all the time, prices keep on rising.


Sunday, 16 June 2013

Shocking A&E stats show the NHS is struggling under the Tories

Britain is facing an A and E crisis that only started on this Government’s watch.

When Labour left office, A and E was performing well with 98 per cent of patients seen within four hours; but since the election, the number waiting over four hours has more than doubled, and ambulance queues have doubled too. Figures published by NHS England shows that the four-hour A and E target has been missed by the A and E unit at Royal Blackburn in 20 of the last 26 weeks. But there is a deeper cause of the A and E crisis; the Government's devastating cuts to budgets for social care mean fewer older people are getting the help they need to stay healthy and independent in their own homes.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Supporting our High Street

I am opposed to the Government changes which deny communities the right to shape their high streets and stop payday lending and betting shops taking over.

On 9th May 2013 the Government laid before Parliament The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (England) Order 2013. It came into force on 30th May 2013 and changed the rules on high street planning without any parliamentary debate.


We need a new aproach to family life - both for mums and dads

Thousands of dads in Haslingden and Hyndburn are celebrating Father’s Day with cards, presents and quality time with their families.

But too many fathers struggle to make the most of their time with their children because as a country, and as a society, we fail to offer enough support for families.

In Government, Labour introduced many changes that made a real difference to family life such as 3,500 Sure Start centres, statutory paternity pay and extra help for mothers, but the current Tory-led Government is making it harder and harder for parents to spend enough quality time with their children.

The Tories’ economic failure is making life worse for families, with prices rising faster than wages and living standards falling faster than ever – adding to the pressure families are under.


Friday, 14 June 2013

Tackling Low Demand and Empty Homes - The campaign goes on... My meeting with the Minister

This week I had a meeting with Don Foster, the Communities Minister, to discuss how the Government can better support communities like Hyndburn to deal with empty housing and low demand areas.This included the problems caused by poor quality private rented housing.

I made it clear to the Minister that my constituents are deeply concerned about the increasing volume of empty homes in Haslingden and Hyndburn. In Hyndburn alone now stands at 2,500 plus - 7.6% of all houses or more bluntly one in every thirteen. In many neighbourhoods this figure is far higher.

Part of the problem of low demand is poor quality accommodation driving demand for new housing. The underlying frailties of the local economy has led to young people looking for work elsewhere and like many east Lancashire towns, population decline. In short more houses than people.

My meeting with the Minister was extremely positive and I believe I am making headway on this issue because it is important that positive solutions are found. Reporting a negative situation in itself does not solve the chronic problems. In short by regulating for higher standards, declining neighbourhoods may become more appealing.

I raised with the minister these points;
1. Poor housing standards (HHSRS primarily) mean higher standards cannot be enforced.
2. Differing standards for social housing (Decent Hones Standard) and private let housing (weak HHSR)
3. Ageing stock. Terraced, 100 years old, damp climate in need of huge repair.
4. 26.1% of private let housing with Category one hazards; 60% with Category 2 hazards.(2009 HBC Housing report)
5. Poor standards/quality were undermining the terraced property market.
6. Ill health as a consequence
7. Local Council cuts undermined enforcement
8. Landlord Licensing needs amending to include higher local /discretionary fitness standards
9. Local Councils cannot afford housing regeneration themselves any more
10. Woodnook scheme - pioneering - including 2 into 1's - but the last such of such schemes

And the changes I want to see are as follows;
1. Improved standards. Consideration of a DHS, replacing the HHSRS
2. More flexibility and freedoms with Landlord Licensing including fitness standards
3. Central Government funding for modern conversions of old housing (eg as in Woodnook)
4. Building Control departments to take responsibility for helping landlords improve properties.

The fact of the matter is that councils are unable to enforce the word of the law, because they simply do not have the funding to force bad landlords to take action to protect people who live in their properties. It is a sad truth that a great number of people are living in properties which do not meet Government standards for decent homes, nor do they even meet the more basic Housing Health and Safety Rating System. There are a tragically large number of landlords who are happy to take money from their tenants but refuse to use any of it to maintain their properties.

I raised the issue of the selective licensing of landlords, whereby local authorities are able to impose certain conditions on private sector landlords in areas of high levels of anti-social behaviour or whether there is unusually low demand in the market. However there is a missed opportunity here, which is the ability to use selective licensing as a means of forcing landlords to improve the standard of their properties, I talked with the Minister for some time about this, as I think it is potentially a means by which we can finally create a mechanism that will force all landlords with properties below the DHS to take responsibility for the properties.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

A ONE NATION PLAN FOR SOCIAL SECURITY REFORM

Ed Miliband has this week set out what One Nation Labour would do to control spending social security and get Britain working.

David Cameron and George Osborne’s economic failure means there will be less money around in 2015. We need to start planning for that difficult inheritance now. If we are going to turn our economy around, protect our NHS, and build a stronger country, we will have to be laser focused on how we spend every single pound. And that includes social security.

But One Nation Labour will control spending on the basis of our values, not the Tories’ failed approach.


Government legislation which poses a threat to local pubs.


In the past pubs could be replaced by some retail establishments under rules introduced by the Conservatives in 1995. On 9th May 2013 the Government laid before Parliament The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (England) Order 2013. It came into force on 30th May 2013 and changed the rules on high street planning without any parliamentary debate.

Under the new plans they can now be converted into offices, in addition to the existing rules allowing conversion into fast food outlets, payday lending shops and other retail uses, without permission for change of use. This means local communities will have even less ability to protect their local pubs.

Furthermore, existing pubs can now have part of their premises turned into any type of retail or business outlet. For example, a betting shop could now be placed in a pub. This may lead to real problems where people on a night out would be besieged by advertising from a shop on the other side of a glass wall and would find it much easier to gamble in a state where their judgment may be impaired.


Shelter: The high price of letting fees

Dear Mr Jones, An investigation by Shelter today reveals that renters are being hit by unfair fees of as much as £700 by letting agencies. These charges are having a worrying impact - squeezing disposable incomes and leaving many in debt and financial worry, separate Shelter research has found.

Over 9 million people now rent their homes privately in England, including 1.3 million families with children. Letting agents: the price you pay finds that millions are being forced to pay high and unfair letting fees. Renters face an average of £350 in fees to letting agencies when moving - which is on top of what landlords are already paying agencies.

Fees are most commonly for administration and credit reference checks, with one in seven who used a letting agency charged more than £500.

Raising the Participation Age - Lancashire Country Council's obligation to young people

I have challenged Lancashire Country Council over it's carefree approach to statutory legislation on raising the Raising of the Participation Age (RPA).

LCC have a legal obligation to young people confirmed by the minister in the first paragraph of the second page of the Minister's reply (see below).

I have written to LCC four times and spoken to staff verbally and as yet the County have been unable to provide any information to confirm they are abiding by the Act of the Parliament.

Notably that LCC have identified those vulnerable of not taking up education or training post 16 or that they have a system in place to register any youngster who may fall out of education or training. Further more LCC appears to have not put in place any advisory service to prevent problems arising, either with parents or young people whom the law applies to.

This lack of any acceptable response leads me to question whether our young people (of which there 7.6% NEETs in Hyndburn) are being simply and disgracefully abandoned by Lancashire County Council.

I have raised this issue with the new Labour Group at County Hall.




Michael Gove believes education should be subject to market forces

I have written many times to the Secretary of State for Department for Education Michael Gove  on the matter of unintended consequences of Academy schools and their freedom to set school roll numbers.

I have expressed careful and considered concern about the academisation process in the past and the way that it can damage the local education system if the problems it causes are not properly mitigated.

I have stopped Mr Gove in the lobby and highlighted the simple concerns of one school draining children from another because of its superior resources.

The written and verbal answers have left me believing either the Secretary of State does not understand the simple issue or is deliberately obfuscating to avoid answering a troublesome question. A question which undermines his very ambitious ideological ideas.

A school in my constituency has become an academy, and has received substantial private funding from a wealthy benefactor. It has also facilitated
a significant rising number of pupils enrolling. This has put unfair pressures on other schools to maintain their current rolls and through payment per pupil, their existing funding.

Michael Gove believes that education should be subject to market forces and failing schools be subject to the rigours of the market.

As Secretary of State he has introduced a funding arrangement by which schools with falling enrolments receive falling amounts of funding and this effectively ensures a downward spiral in some instances.

The pupil premium was supposed to offset this but changes to SEN and other deprivation based funding has struggled by the failure to increase the numbers of children free school meals which trigger the premium.

I have worked hard locally with Lancashire County Council and Hyndburn Borough Council to target parents with child entitlements to free school meals but a data protection barrier and culture resistance leave many eligible children not taking up free school meals.

Falling rolls, leading to falling funding, leading to potentially serious problems for the school. It has been tiresome writing and speaking to Mr Gove, the responses have always been short, irrelevant and in my view, lacking care.

Tackling a different tack to this problem I received on the 2nd June I received a far more comprehensive letter recognising the problems and and attempting to answer the questions from the Education Minister David Laws. It announced some measures which the Mr Laws thinks will  address the concerns of Hyndburn secondary schools. I have to say they still miss the point; Government policies are damaging a good and popular school.

David Laws states in his letter that they “would not support schools which have falling rolls because they are unpopular” – the inference there being that schools rolls are simply the product of market failure. It still refuses to accept the obvious that a well funded Academy will be attract parents over and above added academic value.

There is nothing wrong with a school receiving an injection of capital. There is a problem when it has negative consequences for other schools and crucially for the children attending that school. Those children are as equal and and important as those that go to a well funded academy.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Mandatory smoke alarms and Residual Consumer Devices in private rented sector

I recently received correspondence from the Chief Fire Officers Association calling for mandatory installation of smoke alarms in private rented housing. I have already called for better electrical safety including the fitting of Residual Consumer Devices (RCD) which trips all electrics in a property off before the current electrocutes the victim. Fitting smoke alarms would not only be effective in combatting fire related deaths but would be more effcient if done in conjunction with improved electrical safety.


Monday, 10 June 2013

Labour too must plan for difficult times ahead

We all know that in 2015 there will be less money around.

Three years into this Government it is clear their economic policies have failed. People are worse off, growth has stalled, investment has fallen and the deficit is not coming down. High unemployment and no growth are costing us a fortune in benefits and lost tax receipts.

David Cameron and George Osborne are making a terrible mistake in ploughing on with their failing plan. Action for growth this year, next year and the years after should be the purpose of any Spending Review this summer.


Today is the start of Carers Week

Dear Sir/Madam, Today is the start of Carers Week an annual campaign to celebrate and recognise the contribution made by the UK’s 6.5 million carers. 2013 has seen the greatest ever engagement of MPs throughout Parliament.

To mark the launch the Carers Week partnership has published a report Prepared to Care? exploring the impact of caring on people’s lives. Prepared to Care? concludes with six recommendations from carers about what they need to help them manage their caring role:

Let’s open up a positive debate on transgender issues – not peddle the myths that led to the suicide of Lucy meadows a constituent of mine.


Let’s open up a positive debate on transgender issues – not peddle the myths that led to the suicide of Lucy meadows a constituent of mine.

In March this year Mrs Meadows took her own life. She was a primary school teacher, much liked by her colleagues, pupils and parents. She was also born a man.

The press first became interested in Lucy as a result of a newsletter from the school she worked at informing parents of her decision to undergo gender-reassignment surgery being made public. It was a standard school Christmas newsletter, except at the bottom it said “Mr Upton has recently made a significant change in his life and will be transitioning to live as a woman”. Where some people saw a charming example of a school trying to deal with an unusual situation in a compassionate way, the Daily Mail and others in the press saw something shameful and unacceptable.

Projecting their prejudices onto this story, and seeking information on Lucy in an intrusive and what must have been an oppressive manner, the papers put an enormous amount of pressure on a vulnerable individual. We now know that the coroner believed the media did play a significant role in the decision of Mrs Meadows to take her own life.

Richard Littlejohn wrote, in an unnecessarily prejudiced article (Littlejohn intentionally says ‘he’ all the way through), that Lucy was “not only in the wrong body, but in the wrong job” and cites a concerned parent who was worried about explaining what had happened to their child. It is my view that consideration of a child's welfare should be based on happiness and education. Parents I spoke to were concerned that they had lost a great teacher. That the majority of parents allowed their child to attend Mrs Meadows funeral service.

It should have been a case of live and let live; that a teacher was finally getting a lifelong personal issue resolved with the support of her employer.


Home Secretary Theresa May plans to water down Asbos

Vandalism, dangerous dogs and nuisance neighbours make families’ lives a misery. People in Haslingden and Hyndburn want to know that if they are a victim of crime, or if they are being regularly harassed by yobs on their street, that the police will have the power and capability to restore peace as quickly and efficiently as possible. That’s why I supported Labour’s fight against crime and anti-social behaviour.

But I’m worried the clock is now being turned back. On top of big cuts to neighbourhood police, the Tories want to weaken police powers to fight anti-social behaviour. They need to rethink these policies as we need stronger action against crime instead of their weak approach.

Home Secretary Theresa May plans to water down Asbos so that someone who keeps ignoring police warnings, court orders and injunctions to stop terrorising the local estate will no longer be guilty of a crime. May plans to introduce the Community Trigger which gives people the right to demand that police deal with anti-social behaviour, meaning forces would have to investigate any incident reported by at least five people or any three complaints by the same person.

But victims who complain three times will only have the right to a review, and this is just the minimum requirement with the authorities able to wait much longer before taking further action if they choose to. The statistics from the Government’s own pilot scheme in Manchester, Brighton and Richmond show that of 44,011 antisocial behaviour incidents, the Trigger was only successfully activated 13 times.

The plans are weak on support for victims of repeated harassment and there are too many loopholes to let offenders off if police resources are tight. All this when the Government is already cutting 15,000 police officers.

They are also making it harder to use CCTV cameras by introducing more red tape at a cost of £14 million – money that could have been used to pay for 400 extra police officers. The Home Secretary supported CCTV in her own area – so why is she making it harder for everyone else?

This Bill should also do more to tackle dangerous dogs, especially after the awful attack on Jade Anderson. Labour wants Dog Control Notices which would force owners of problem dogs to keep them muzzled and on a lead in any public place in order to prevent attacks in the future.

This all goes to show that the Tories simply don’t understand the strains and pressures some of our communities are under. People in Haslingden and Hyndburn don’t want a Government that is soft on crime, and unfortunately that is exactly what they have at the moment.

The Home Secretary should change course and set out the stronger action our communities desperately need.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

I support womens rights in Afghanistan



This week Amnesty International wrote to MP's to ask for their support of women's rights in Afghanistan. An issue which is of great concern. Back in July of 2011 on the debate of female education in Afghanistan I had the chance to ask the Prime Minister;

Graham Jones: I welcome the Prime Minister’s comments about education in Afghanistan, but can he update the House on how much progress has been made from investing in schooling and education over the years, and on where that leaves us now?

David Cameron(Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)
The hon. Gentleman asks a good question. I shall write to him with the specific figures for the number of Afghans in school in Helmand province and elsewhere. I think that he will see very good progress, but I will write to him with the exact details.

This week I watched the film, 'The Stoning of Soraya M'  [DVD] which you can get from Amazon.co.uk and
ebay as well as other sources. A French film (with subtitles) beautifully shot and acted which has occasional spoken English dialogue, it is a true life drama about women's rights in Iran leading to the stoning to death of the central character. It is an insight into the type of oppression the Taliban inflicted and will inflict should they regain authority on women in Afghanistan.



Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Metal theft - new legislative changes that will force rogues to pack up or abide by the law

I note last week’s article on itinerant metal thieves plaguing Hyndburn.

As your MP I successfully led the campaign to change the law. The 1964 Act simply wasn’t working. Even under the 1964 Act metal dealers must legally register with the local authority, yet we know that none are registered in Hyndburn and our streets and avenues are plagued by audacious and in too many cases kleptomaniac rogues.


Dyke Nook Gardens makeover





Dyke Nook Gardens, Accrington

Local volunteers with BBC Radio Lancashire at Dyke Nook Gardens community project.

I along with Steve Lowe of Radio Lancashire (who broadcast live from Dyke Nook) went along to Dyke Nook gardens to see the community inspired makeover as seen on BBCtv NW. Residents are making Dyke Nook a community food garden and orchard adding the originally designed flower beds.

The crises in A&E

As I wrote at the end of May, the public, patients and hospitals are suffering because of David Cameron’s mishandling of the NHS.

During the 2010 election campaign, Cameron appeared on billboards with large airbrushed photos claiming that the NHS would be safe in his hands. However data which has now been revealed shows plain and simple that you can’t trust the tories with the NHS.

As you can see from this graph, since Cameron and Clegg have had their hands on our health service, A and E waiting times have sky-rocketed and an unacceptable number of people are having to wait over 4 hours to be seem.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Lancashire's Health and Wellbeing Board. A victim of dirty politics?

I have written three times before in some detail about the scandal surrounding the £46m expenditure allocated from the NHS to Lancashire County Council for Health and Wellbeing in the County starting April 2013.

I am told that the whole amount has been spent by the outgoing Tories and crucially - and endorsed by the former shadow board who should have had no executive powers to do so. That responsibility should have been handed to the new board who began life on the 1st April 2013, just 31 days before the election and crucially within the restricted purdah period. Any decisions bearing in mind the small issue of an election you would have thought should have done on a cross party basis and signed after the election.

The crux of the problem as I wrote previously is those on the former board had no idea about Health and Wellbeing in Lancashire. The Health sand Wellbeing Boards plans were a long way from reality and rather than thoughtful, cross cutting, holistic and effective they were narrow based on protecting clinical self interest with the people of Lancashire being put last in the thought process. The whole consultation process was a sham, those that would have added to the consultation were bot consulted and shadow board members were brought in despite their vested interests. The public and those who had a lot more to offer were frozen out.

Great Harwood sunday market success



The Hyndburn Labour Party's ambition to develop a Sunday market with the help of Gaskell's Motors has turned into a tremendous success. This short video is from yesterday's market, 2 June 2013.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

ASDA - Family spending power at a 12 month low as wage growth sees steepest decline since the start of the 2008 recession

£1 a week fall in discretionary household income for UK families last month says Asda Income Tracker – the second consecutive year-on-year decline

• The average UK family had £155 a week of discretionary income in April 2013, down £1 a week from the same month last year and £10 a week from its peak in February 2010
• Rising unemployment and the lowest wage growth on record were both key factors in the fall in spending power in April
• Steepest decline in wage growth since the start of the 2008 recession
• Soaring energy prices continue to squeeze household budgets, with the price of gas up 8.3% year-on-year
• Good news for motorists, with the cost of fuel falling 3.7% year on year, reflecting the recent drop in the cost of Brent crude oil

The latest Asda Income Tracker has revealed that family spending power fell by £1 a week year-on-year in April 2013 – driven by the sharpest decline in wage growth since the start of the economic crisis.