Wednesday, 31 July 2013

How Labour will work with business to build a better economy for the future

This week, Ed Miliband met business people from across the country at a Labour business event, during which he set out how One Nation Labour will work with business to build a better economy for the future.

We want to reform financial services so that banks, including regional banks, work for business, rather than businesses working for the banks.

Labour has told the banks they have between now and the General Election to deliver change, showing that high street banks will operate in a genuinely independent fashion from their casino arms and will focus on supporting British business. If they don’t deliver a Labour Government will legislate to split high street from casino banks.

This week we’ve seen a shred of progress on jobs – but David Cameron and George Osborne are worryingly complacent about the challenges facing the UK.

Those in work are working harder and earning less – £1,350 a year less than they were in 2010. There are
now more people unemployed long term than at any time since 1996 and we still have a nearly a million young people out of work.

I want to get more businesses involved Labour’s plans to get the economy back on track – we want to talk about skills and the tackling the short termism that stands in the way of them and success. We have fantastic, innovative businesses here in Haslingden and Hyndburn and Labour wants to work with them to reform our economy, secure a recovery made by the many, and ensure we have prosperity build to last.

If you have an idea on how Labour can work with businesses – small or large – to get our economy back on track, visit Your Britain and tell our Work and Business Policy Commission about it. The ideas posted on the website go towards helping Labour draft a One Nation manifesto for 2015.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Google: The Digital Economy in Hyndburn

Dear Mr Jones, I wanted to write to you to let you know about some new data on the digital economy in Blackburn.

Last Monday, the National Institute for Economic and Social Research launched a new report that shows:

  • the digital economy includes over 270,000 companies nationally
  • there are over 844 digital companies in the Blackburn travel-to-work-area, employing an estimated 19412 people
  • these digital companies are increasingly the engine of growth in your local area, growing 25% faster than non-digital companies.

For the full details you can read the NEISR report here 

This is a great story about innovation in Blackburn but it also presents a challenge: how do we make sure people have the digital skills they need to find work and spur growth? 

We think digital skills - not just for children but for everyone in work or looking for work - is one of the most important issues facing the UK and we are determined to do our bit.

We have already helped 250,000 small and medium sized businesses in the UK to develop their digital skills and, earlier this year, we made a major donation to the Raspberry Pi foundation to provide 15,000 British children with computers and digital training.

To find out more about the digital economy in your constituency or any Google-related issues, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Theo Bertram

Public Policy Manager

Google UK

tbertram@google.com

 

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Campaigning to save Homewise & St Vincent's Services

CAMPAIGN TO SUPPORT HYNDBURN HOMEWISE  AND ST VINCENTS  (Rossendale) PAYS OFF 

Local Home Improvement charity, Hyndburn Homewise have had their contract with Lancashire County Council extended until March 2014 following a campaign from local residents, local councillors and Graham Jones MP for Hyndburn and Haslingden.

The firm will now play a full role in the review of how Lancashire County Council funds home improvement services. Under previous plans, their contract would have ended in June and there was a threat of redundancy to staff and a poorer service to local residents.

Sue Sinclair, the charity's manager commented: 'We have been providing a service to Hyndburn residents for 20 years and have helped over 4000 people in improving their homes and lifestyles. For many we are a lifeline and since Christmas all of this has been under threat. I'm delighted that we will now be able to play a part in the review and that we can continue to help Hyndburn residents. I would like to thank everybody who has campaigned with us to reverse this decision'.

Hyndburn and Haslingden MP, Graham Jones added 'The new Labour administration at County Hall has shown a strong commitment to Hyndburn and I'm delighted that following my lobbying we have managed to change the original decision. Hyndburn Homewise have an excellent reputation in the Borough and have helped thousands of residents'.

 'Labour in local government is about acknowledging that there are tough decisions to be made but with an understanding that local services are best delivered at a local level by local organisations. This decision is a clear sign that voting Labour in elections makes a difference, Labour has listened and Hyndburn Homewise can continue to provide support, keep people safe in their homes and keep jobs in the Borough'.  

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Letter: Second National Food Collection thank you

Dear Mr Jones, I wanted to thank you for supporting our second National Food Collection, held in partnership with the Trussell Trust and FareShare, on 5 and 6 July.

Thanks to the generosity of our customers, staff, and volunteers from the two charities, the collection was a fantastic success. When coupled with our 30 per cent top we collected over 26,000 shopping trolleys worth of food - the equivalent of 3.5 million meals. Your local Accrington Extra store collected enough food to provide 2,145 meals to those in need in your constituency this summer.

As you may know, last December, we held our first National Food Collection, which was the biggest ever food collection in the UK. For our second collection we wanted to build on the work we have already done to provide much needed support and therefore extended the scheme to every Tesco store across the country enabling us to collect even more food. I’m delighted to confirm that the second collection is now the biggest ever national food collection.

The support we received for the collection from MPs, MSPs and Assembly Members was fantastic, and the charities were delighted to see an EDM put down in support of the collection and their valuable work. We feel it is important that we support those in need in our communities and we will continue to hold two National Food Collections a year. Our next collection will be held at the end of November and I will update you with further details nearer the time.

You can find out more about the collection and our partnership with the Trussell Trust and FareShare at www.tesco.com/food-collection or if you have any specific questions you can email us at nationalfoodcollection@uk.tesco.com.

Best wishes
John Timothy
UK Head of Government Affairs

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Royal Charter for a new system of press complaints


The Prime Minister – with the support of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition – set up the Leveson Inquiry in July 2011 following the revelations of the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone, the treatment of the McCanns and serious abuse by the press that, in the words of the Prime Minister, led to victims suffering ‘in a way that we can barely begin to imagine’.

In November 2012, Lord Justice Leveson produced a report that recommended a system of independent self-regulation, guaranteed by law. After over three months of cross-party talks and discussions with both the newspaper industry and the victims of press intrusion, agreement was reached by all three party leaders on 18 March 2013. That Royal Charter was then approved by both Houses of Parliament. It complies with Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations and sets up a proper complaints system.

Under the terms of the cross-party agreement, this Parliamentary Royal Charter should have been submitted to the Privy Council in May.

However, there has been a delay because parts of the newspaper industry were unhappy with the Parliamentary Royal Charter. PressBoF, the body that funds the current Press Complaints Commission on behalf of the industry, put together their own Royal Charter and submitted that Royal Charter to the Privy Council.

It is unusual for the Privy Council to be dealing with such controversial issues and it now has two Charters to deal with.

The delay in submitting the Parliamentary Royal Charter is regrettable. But it is important that the Privy Council adheres to due process.

Labour hopes that the Royal Charter agreed by Parliament on 18 March will be submitted to the Privy Council as soon as the process allows. We remain committed to that Royal Charter, the subject of cross-party agreement and approved by both Houses of Parliament, which delivers the recommendations of the Leveson Report and is the right way forward.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Tough new action on dangerous dogs required

The Government to accept Labour plans to take tough new action on dangerous dogs by voting to give tough new powers to local authorities.

After the Government voted against similar measures during the Commons committee stage of the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, I am backing a new proposal to help keep the public safe and stop dangerous dog attacks.

Labour's proposals which are backed by the RSPCA, Battersea Dogs Home, The British Veterinary Association, the pet Charity Blue Cross, the Communication Workers Union and the Association of Police Chief Constables come in the wake of the deaths of eight adults and nine children since 2005 due to out of control dogs.

The new law would introduce Dog Control Notices in England and Wales and would give local authorities the ability to take action against people in charge of out of control dogs and to take early action to stop problems before they happen.

12 people have been killed in dog attacks since 2005, but despite this the government have so far rejected calls from Labour and others and have voted against introducing Dog Control Notices and giving kids and communities the protection they need from dangerous dogs.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Meeting the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)

I met with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) at a parliamentary reception where it launched its new report which reveals a regional variation in access to cataract surgery across England.

Cataract surgery is safe and has been shown to be both cost effective and clinically effective. However I  was deeply concerned to find out that many patients are missing out on the vital surgery simply because of this postcode lottery.

This is an issue I have written to NHS East Lancashire CCG to ensure that cataract provision is meeting demand and that no patient is being denied treatment in the area. I will also be writing to Earl Howe requesting that NHS England establish a National Clinical Director for Eye Health, and asking for NICE to prioritise the production of its cataract clinical guideline and quality standard.

Select Committee recognises the need for self-finance to enforce standards in the Private Rented Sector

The Communities and Local Government Select Committee has today published its inquiry into the Private Rented Sector. The report made a number of recommendations about how the sector can be ‘matured’; currently privately renting is the most expensive, the worst in terms of conditions and the most insecure in terms of tenancy contract.

I am incredibly pleased that the Select Committee has recognised the problem that exists with regards to the costs of enforcing housing standards. The report states:
We are concerned about reports of reductions in staff who have responsibility for enforcement and tenancy relations and who have an important role in making approaches to raising standards successful. Given the financial constraints that councils face, it is important to identify approaches to raising standards that will not use up scarce resources. One approach is to ensure that enforcement arrangements pay for themselves and help to fund wider improvement activity. Therefore, where possible, the burden of payment should be placed upon those landlords who flout their responsibilities.
Addressing this point is exactly why I introduced a Bill to the House of Commons yesterday that would open up the selective licensing system and allow local authorities to licence landlords on the basis of poor standards. The Selective Licensing (Housing Standards) Bill would create a system by which landlords could be brought into a fee-paying licensing system that would fund the policing of their industry. I am glad the Select Committee have recognised the importance that enforcement arrangement fund themselves.

Indeed the report goes further and advocates a direct method of recouping costs, which is something I would certainly support:

Neighbourhood approaches could be funded by local authorities recouping costs from landlords whose properties fail to meet minimum standards. We further recommend that the Government initiate a review of the fines imposed by the courts for letting substandard properties, to ensure they act as a sufficient deterrent.
The further recommendations and points made regarding legally enshrined standards are also interesting. According to the 2010 Private Landlords Survey 85% of landlords had not even heard of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System – no wonder there is such a proliferation of bad housing stock up for rent when an absolute majority of landlords are not aware of their responsibilities in terms of standards. The report thus recommends the Government consults on replacing the HHSRS with a simplified set of quality standards – this would raise awareness and tenants would have something to refer to with confidence when disputing the standard of their property with the landlord. I would like this to go further and the consultation to consider the actual content of the standards – there is no justifiable reason that privately rented housing should be legally bound to a lower standard than social housing.

The report does go on to advocate that electrical safety be brought up to the same regulatory level and finally put on par with gas safety. The Electrical Safety Council have been calling for this for some time – and I think many people will find it shocking that there are no laws that guarantee regular safety checks on electrical fittings.

Unfortunately we have the former Minister for Deregulation as Housing Minister in the shape of Mark Prisk. I hope that the Government will see that protecting people from living in dangerous and unfit conditions is not ‘red tape’, it is protection. I cannot think of any other thing that people spend their money on where they pay so much for so little and all within the context of a poor legal framework.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

£5m Youth Social Action Fund

I am calling on all youth groups and charities dealing with young people get in contact with the Cabinet Office and bid for funding from the £5m Youth Social Action Fund. The Money is intended to improve the quality, quantity and frequency of social action for young people aged 10-20.

I received a letter this week from the Cabinet Office asking me to highlight to my constituents that this funding is open for bidding until 29th July – I realise this is short notice and the Government could have push on this a lot earlier, however if you were not aware of it, please visit https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/youth-social-action-fund for more information.

It is vital that constituencies like Hyndburn are able to take advantage of these kinds of schemes and I urge any group who feels they may fill the criteria to come forward.

This year’s Summer Reading Challenge

I am supporting this year’s Summer Reading Challenge. Last year, 780,000 children took part in the Challenge, and the testimonies on the Reading Agency website show just how much the young people enjoy it and how much parents notice the benefits.

The amount that children read has a tendency to drop during the summer months and – while that is to an extent unavoidable – it is still important to encourage them to keep up their reading. The Challenge encourages children ages 4-11 to read six books during the summer holiday that they can borrow from the local library. When they have finished a book, the children get stickers and other rewards – and everyone who reads all six books over the summer holidays gets a certificate.

The target age bracket is an important one in terms of the development of reading skills, and the scheme is an excellent way to avoid a summer reading ‘dip’. The reading challenge website has a number of interactive features and explains in detail how kids can get involved and begin their own challenge.

I have previously supported book reading scheme's. Parents should take the time to read books to their children as frequently as they can.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

TORIES IN WESTMINSTER ARE FAILING LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND FAILING LOCAL PEOPLE

People in Haslingden and Hyndburn value and rely on local services like libraries, health facilities, childcare and care for the elderly, but the incompetence and arrogance of the Tory-led Government in Westminster means that Hyndburn and Rossendale Council’s ability to provide those services has been significantly weakened and it’s local people that will suffer the consequences.

Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, likes to present himself as a straight talker, rarely missing an opportunity to talk up his record and lecture councils about the right way to do things. But as we have come to expect from David Cameron and his Government, the gap between what they say and what they do is huge. They are letting local people down – more interested in pursuing headlines and playing political games than addressing the big problems facing places like Haslingden and Hyndburn.

Some of Pickles’ biggest failures include lecturing councils on cutting their costs while his own department was fined £20,000 for having an unauthorised bank overdraft of £217 million, claiming a poorly conceived £250 million scheme had “put a stop” to fortnightly bin collections when only five local authorities have said they will use the funding to bring back weekly collections, and saying that nobody should have to be homeless when there has been an increase of six per cent in the number of people registered as homeless or living in temporary accommodation.

Pickles has also said he would improve our high streets when he has actually made it easier for payday lenders, betting shops and fast food outlets to open in vacant shop properties, and he has claimed that he would build 170,000 new affordable homes by the end of this parliament when the number of affordable home completions has actually fallen by 29 per cent in the past 12 months.

People in Haslingden and Hyndburn are tired of the empty promises of the Tory-led Government in Westminster. They value local services but Eric Pickles and David Cameron have imposed the biggest cuts on local communities. That's plain unfair.

GOVE IS PRESIDING OVER A CRISIS IN PRIMARY SCHOOL PLACES

Alarming figures out this week show that the Tory-led Government have created a primary school places crisis, with an additional 240,000 primary places needed by 2015.

The Government’s failure on primary places was exposed again on Wednesday as we learnt that the Spending Review gave no guarantee that new places would go towards addressing the primary shortfall. Instead, the Government is prioritising capital investment on more Free Schools – many of which are being set up in areas with no shortage of places, while those areas with a desperate need for places are ignored. The crisis is getting worse, with a sharp rise in infant class sizes exceeding 30 pupils and growing numbers of children being taught in temporary overspill buildings.

We can’t go on like this. We need urgent action but the Government has no plan to address this crisis of its own making. Construction for the Priority Schools Building Programme that was announced two years ago has started at only one school. Of the places created under the Free Schools programme last year, only a third of places were in primary schools.

We need a better vision for creating new schools, with qualified teachers, opening them where they are needed, where there is real parent demand and holding them up to the same high standards as other schools.

North West missing out to the South on infrastructure spending

Infrastructure is vital to economic growth and prosperity. It is a great disappointment to me therefore that this Government has not seen the potential of the North West to play a great role in the UK’s economic recovery by investing in the north wests infrastructure more considerably.

The North West was at the forefront of the industrial revolution, and the infrastructural developments which came with the steam train and the expansion of rail allowed the region to become a manufacturing superpower. I want to see that replicated in the modern age – and will only happen if the infrastructural groundwork is laid.

The rail suffers with congestion in places, un-electrified lines, and too few services in other areas. The demand is certainly there, and if you roll out a quality service, people will forget what it was like not to have quality trains and links to regional economic hubs. We also have some of the most congested motorways in the UK – making an already expensive means of transport both unpleasant and slow.

The poor services that the North West’s infrastructure provide for individuals and businesses add time costs, add inefficiencies and make the region a less effective area to do business and a less attractive area to start new business. Haulage trapped in traffic jams adds costs to business, as do staff late to work. The high cost of using the roads in comparison to the cheaper costs of travelling by train is another problem that could be addressed by better rail provision. These matters must be addressed urgently if we are to take part in the new century.

But what is the Government doing to address these blockages in our economic pipeline? According to a report by IPPR North the infrastructure spend in the North West is £178 per head in the current control period, vs. £2,731 per head in London and South East. Though there are obviously different operating and land costs in these different areas, the disparity in spending is incredibly worrying.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

A better politics for Haslingden and Hyndburn and for Britian

We need to build a different kind of politics; one that is open, transparent, trusted and rooted in every community and every walk of life.

I know from talking to people in Haslingden and Hyndburn that there are many out there who think politics in Britain is broken. Ed Miliband’s bold announcements this week show Labour is determined to lead the change we need to fix our politics and that change begins within our own party.

I’m proud of Britain’s trade unions and I’m proud of Labour’s links with the thousands of nurses, teachers, engineers and bus drivers in Haslingden and Hyndburn that are in trade unions and part of the Labour family. We need to ensure that these union members are more involved in everything we do. They are often not members of local parties and they are not active in all of our campaigns.

We’re setting out a new relationship with individual trade union members. I want union members to actively choose to join the Labour party alongside millions of other ordinary workers. This way we will be a mass movement for ordinary working people.

Ed is also leading change on party funding reforms. His proposal for a £5,000 limit on donations from everyone - trade unions, businesses and individuals - is fair and should be pursued. But the Conservatives, bank rolled by millionaires, are dragging their heels. They represent the old way of doing politics - they have accepted a £25 million donation from hedge funds and then followed this with a £145 million tax cut for the sector.

Ed is also demanding an end to second jobs for MPs. People should expect an MP’s allegiance to be to their constituents alone and people should expect their MP to devote themselves to their constituency full-time. He’s right to say there should be a limit on how much MPs can top up their income. But the Conservatives have rejected these reforms and it’s not surprising - they don’t want change because they are the party of privilege whilst we are the party of the people.

I am proud we have links with millions of ordinary people in and out of the trade unions. We will continue to strengthen our connection with working people, continue to engage with individuals who are passionate about improving their communities and continue to reach out to those who want to play their part in rebuilding Britain.

Celebrating disabled kids’ achievements at star-studded ceremony



Yesterday I attended The Kidz Unlimited Awards held by ‘Whizz-kidz’ in Parliament to celebrate and support the achievements of young disabled people from across the UK. The Kidz Unlimited Awards, held in the House of Commons, and hosted by Channel 4’s Rick Edwards, showcased the talent and achievements of Whizz-KidzAmbassadors from across the UK.

It was fantastic to see the work of Whizz-Kidz Ambassadors at the Kidz Unlimited Awards – they really are an inspirational group of young people.
George, 18, Chair of the Whizz-Kidz Kidz Board said:
‘The Kidz Unlimited Awards were a brilliant way to recognise just some of the amazing achievements of Whizz-Kidz Ambassadors, and we were delighted thatGraham joined in our celebrations! We are very grateful for their support for Whizz-Kidz in Westminster and Hydburn.’

Whizz-Kidz do great work locally providing disabled children and young people with wheelchairs and with life skills through their work placements programme and wheelchair skills training.

Whizz kidz’ is a commendable and progressive charity, dedicated to providing life changing experiences for disabled young people on a local and national level. They work to provide essential access to correct mobility equipment and deliver wheelchair skills, training, work placements, and other life skills to help their transition from childhood to adulthood.


Friday, 12 July 2013

Supporting the call for action on pay-day lending

It is the second reading of Paul Blomfield's Private Members Bill curtailing the excessive activities of payday lending companies today.

Yesterday I joined Paul and all the those calling for action on pay-day lending in Parliament to lend my support to his Bill.


Payday lenders are causing serious debt problems for so many people. Their massive interest rates, rip-off charges, irresponsible lending and misleading advertising of payday lenders are pushing those who can least afford it into spiralling debt. Wednesday's decision by the OFT to refer the payday loans market to the Competition Commission for ‘widespread irresponsible lending’ just shows why we need regulation.

You can read a more detailed article about the impacts here - Boom-time for legal loan sharks: How deregulation, market failure and a crisis in wages has led to the rise of payday lenders - by credit market expert Carl Packman, which calls for urgent action to protect the most financially vulnerable.

Ahead of the Second Reading of Paul Blomfield MP’s Private Members Bill in the House of Commons tomorrow, this paper is an important reminder of the urgent policy changes that are required.

You can find out more about the paper below and the High Cost Credit Bill here.
This morning the Guardian carries an article on payday loans; ​‘Rise in payday loan debts alarms charity’ (Guard p25) -

It revealed that; more than 30k people with payday loans have sought debt advice from the charity StepChange in the first six months of 2013 – almost as many as in the whole of 2012.

The charity said that between January and July it advised 30,762 people struggling with high-cost short-term loans, against a total of 36,413 in the previous 12 months.

The figures come as Paul Blomfield MP prepares for a second reading of his private member's bill calling for more regulation of the sector.

StepChange said the amounts owed by its clients increased only fractionally in the first six months of 2013, rising by £8 to £1,665, but it was alarmed by the continued growth in the number of people with more than five payday loans.

Blomfield: “These shocking figures from StepChange show the huge growth in the number of people who are getting into debt as result of payday loans," he said. "Payday lenders are targeting people who are short of cash and claiming to offer help, but their massive interest rates, rip-off charges and misleading advertising often just push vulnerable people further into a spiral of debt." (Guard)

Class - Boom-time for legal loan sharks: How deregulation, market failure and a crisis in wages has led to the rise of payday lenders - by credit market expert Carl Packman, which calls for urgent action to protect the most financially vulnerable.

Ahead of the Second Reading of Paul Blomfield MP’s Private Members Bill in the House of Commons tomorrow, this paper is an important reminder of the urgent policy changes that are required.

You can find out more about the paper below and the High Cost Credit Bill here.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

A reply on DAB after my criticism off the Government abandoning of DAB+

A reply on DAB after my criticism off the Government abandoning of DAB+.

Click read more below to view letters.


Sunday, 7 July 2013

Ownership and Management of Great Harwood Health Centre

With the new changes and the abolition of the PCT I have made enquiries as to the ownership of Great Harwood Health Centre. It would appear it will be owned by a NHS Properties services, a national quango. I do not foresee major problems however I am concerned that is far from the localism the government promised and locates decisions far removed from local people who will the users of the building and it's services.


Donors in Haslingden and Hyndburn are urged to make checks when giving this Ramadan

Donors in Haslingden and Hyndburn are urged to make checks when giving this Ramadan

It is worth reminding people in Haslingden and Hyndburn to make simple checks before giving to charity collections this Ramadan and has issued ten safer giving tips to help donors identify genuine collections so they can give with confidence.

Almost all collections are genuine, but some people will try to abuse the generosity of others for their own gain. In the last year 1 in 10* charities with incomes over £100,000 have been victims of fraud. Charities are working hard to protect themselves but the Charity Commission is also working to promote safer giving amongst the public.

By following a few simple steps and, most importantly, asking questions about how your money will be used, donors can have the confidence that their money will go to charity as they intended.


Thursday, 4 July 2013

Cystic Fibrosis in Parliament

Dear Graham, we really appreciate the interest you showed ahead of the reception and understand that you were unable to attend because of other priorities. I am pleased to report that the reception was a great success with many supporters attending.

We have produced a short inspiring and informative film of the event which you can view here.

I have attached the consultation paper which we published at the event. We very much hope that you will engage over the coming months. We intend to publish a report detailing recommendations for improving the rate of transplantation and the experience of transplantation later this year.

If you require any further information please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Best wishes
Claire Francis
Policy and Public Affairs Manager
020 8464 7211 DD: 020 8290 7919
cysticfibrosis.org.uk
Cystic Fibrosis Trust, 11 London Road, Bromley, Kent BR1 1BY
Registered as a charity in England and Wales (1079049) and in Scotland (SC040196). A company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales number 388213.

Let’s celebrate the NHS’s 65th birthday and protect it for future generations

The NHS was founded sixty-five years ago by a Labour Government that recognised Britain needed a health service that was available to everyone according to their need and regardless of their ability to pay.

The NHS today is suffering from an A&E crisis which is why I am asking  people in Haslingden and Hyndburn to visit labour.org.uk/nhs-crisis and join Labour’s campaign calling on David Cameron to keep his promise to protect our health service.

The NHS remains an incredible institution to this day and is rightfully one of Britain’s, and Labour’s, proudest achievements. But the NHS today is suffering from an A&E crisis that proves the Tories can’t be trusted with our health service.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

My article in the Huffington Post: Housing standards: It’s time to give Councils the powers to act

At present, many of our Local Authorities are in the strange position of being legally required to do something that they cannot do, and no one seems to mind, not least ministers with whom I have raised this matter. It all seems to a step too far for Government. After all, they don’t have to suffer the misery of poor housing personally.

The law of the land puts the responsibility for dealing with poor housing standards in the private rented sector the hands of our councils. Social Housing has long been the beneficiary of national legislation, the Labour government introduced the minimum requirement in terms of standards: the Decent Homes Standard.

Councils are the people who are charged with inspecting, reporting and taking enforcement action against landlords who do not keep their properties up to the standards enshrined in law under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). Why therefore are so many rented properties not fit for habitation, and so many landlords doing nothing about that fact, particularly in low demand areas? The reason is that councils do not have the money to employ staff to inspect and take the subsequent necessary action to improve properties to a standard that most people would see as a basic. It is also sadly true that tenants are not aware of such minimum standards until they reach the depths of dispair.

For the Government the position is simple. The law says councils should do something, therefore there is nothing else that needs to be done – and this has seemingly informed their policy on standards in the private rented sector. A ‘Whitehall shrug’ has not changed the facts on the ground for many tenants. In response to my Parliamentary Question last week, the Housing Minister simply reiterated the fact that the legal obligations and powers exist – but with no recognition of the financial reality.

Nationally, 17% of social housing is non-decent, and 35% of private rented housing is non-decent. Zooming in on places like Hyndburn you see the scale of the problem and the concentration in some areas of chronically poor standards. There are wards in Accrington where over 72% of private rented houses are non-decent. 40% of rented properties in some parts of my constituency do not even meet the basic Housing Health and Safety Rating System standards – that is 40% of renters living with serious health hazards, cold, damp, exposed wiring or unsafe gas appliances.

Whilst the south and high demand areas suffer a housing crisis of undersupply and high rents – low demand areas suffer an altogether different housing crisis, a crisis of sub-standard accommodation and unwanted properties to let, to often abandoned. It is the mark of a civilised society that landlords should provide tenants and what is crucial their children, with reasonable windows, decent heating systems, good insulation, electrical safety and modern kitchens and bathrooms.

The Housing Health and Safety Rating System in itself is not fit for purpose such is its low standard. It falls well below the Decent Homes Standard afforded those in social housing. A most basic of criteria which allows poor properties in the private rented sector to remain let-able, only tackling the very worst of slum conditions.

Cuts to local councils have made inspections more difficult as Council’s struggle to afford current staffing levels. A problem exacerbated by the deepest cuts falling correspondingly on Councils with areas low demand and where some of the worst private rented sector housing occurs.

There is a in part a solution to this, and with concerted action, political pressure the Government may find itself having to consider changing the law that to end, or at least cut down on this unacceptable aspect of private rented tenancies.

Inserting a few lines into Section 80 of the Housing Act 2004 on Selective Licensing of Landlords would give Local Authorities the power to apply licensing conditions in relation to fitness on the basis that there is a high concentration of poor quality homes. A decent homes standard set by local councils on a neighbourhood or street by street basis as an addition to other licence conditions. Councils would not be impaired by further regulation as such additions would be a minor addition to current inspections. Windows, doors, loft insulation, heating system, modern kitchen and bathroom. This approach would be funded from existing licence fees and as a standalone scheme, separate to normal Council expenditure.

Landlords would be required to get approval from the council to get a license to carry on his business as a landlord.

The current Housing Act allows for a licensing scheme where there is anti-social behaviour or low demand, neither relate to property condition and the Act does not facilitate much by way of housing standards. By improving standards there is a much wider objective. Making low demand neighbourhoods more appealing to both owner occupiers and tenants. Reversing the decline that has seen 1 in 13 properties left empty in my Haslingden and Hyndburn constituency and a significantly higher percentage in low demand neighbourhoods. In some of the worst streets over half the houses have been abandoned. The people that are left blame the decline almost universally on private landlords and poor quality of their properties.

I understand there will be concerns even around amending the 2004 Housing Act, but it’s about time local communities and their representatives were able to decide these issues, not the Government or MPs.

I am holding a debate in Westminster Hall on Wednesday 3rd July on this very topic. If you agree with me that we should be doing something about this, email your MP and tell them to come along, or even better get them to write to the Government and ask them to make these changes.

The problems in the private rented housing sector are chronic. Sometimes it is the landlord’s fault, sometimes it is not. If we make a very small change in the law, we could begin to tackle endemic poor standards in the private rented sector, importantly giving the young children there hope of a decent life away from squalor and more crucially begin to seriously tackle low demand and regenerate some of England and Wales most deprived areas.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

50,329 people in East Lancashire say local GP opening hours are inconvenient

New analysis published today by Labour shows that 14% - around 50,329 people - in East Lancashire find their local GP opening times inconvenient.

70% of these patients want to see their GP surgery’s opening hours extended to include evenings and and 72% Saturdays, whilst 34% would like appointments earlier in the morning.

It’s really tough for people to juggle their work and family commitments. I know how difficult it is to get an appointment when you have to fit around work and family. On top of that are visits to GPs with your children.

Many local residents tell me how hard it is to squeeze a visit to the GP into their already busy schedules.

GP surgeries in East Lancashire should listen closely to what their patients are saying and offer more flexible opening hours, especially for working people.


Monday, 1 July 2013

Campaign for Fairer Gambling - Latest shocking research into Fixed Odds Betting Terminals



Campaign for Fairer Gambling - Fixed Odds Betting Terminal Research - 7th June 2013

Campaign for Fairer Gambling have commissioned a survey by 2CV Research Ltd with 501 betting shop customers in Newham where PaddyPower recently defeated the Council's licensing committee decision to refuse on application for a FOBT/bookmakers on appeal in court.

No survey like this has been done since the 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Survey and the results are quite worrying. That the poorest people in society stake on average £19 per 20 second spin and on average lose £55 with 1 in 5 inserting over £100. Over a third of FOBT users are gambling on more than one machine per day and on average they gamble at 2 shops per day. 87% of FOBT users agree that the machines are addictive.

These machines have been labelled the crack cocaine of gambling by the Daily Mail and are increasing in prevalence in the constituency. They are known to increase aggression in betting shops where they exist.

Key Summary of findings